Monthly Archives: December 2016

‘I’m Afraid To Get Used To This…’

This was going to be the light-hearted account of a long weekend in Istanbul. It certainly had all the initial hallmarks. There were the unintentional double-entendres of restaurateurs (‘Hello Bruce Willis. I look forward to receiving you later’), the T-shirt-worthy mantras a person needs in order to successful navigate a street vendor (‘No I’m not Russian, nor do I wish to buy a carpet’) and the lost-in-translation street signs (‘Place of Male Ablutions’).

Despite what later unfolded my lasting sense is of a culturally and historically rich city populated with warm, welcoming people.

‘The Blue Mosque’ was the obvious starting point for our adventure – huge, majestic and stunningly beautiful. In between prayers tourists are permitted to enter. Islamic design is based on symbols and patterns, and never on people or discernible objects so as not to venerate them as idols. With that in mind I experienced a strange washed-out sensation as hundreds of people took off their shoes, filed into a place of worship and immediately started taking copious photos of themselves.

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‘You know what would make that picture better? You not being in it.’

A glorious day was spent taking in the city’s fineries – an underground basilica containing the giant upside down head of Medusa, a church that had been burned down and rebuilt three times over the centuries and the grand bazaar marketplace filled his silk, spices and trinkets, Turkish coffee, Turkish street food, hecklers and bustle.

unnamed-2In the early evening we took a ferry across the Bosphorus and found our way to Taksim Square and to an underground eatery. Some people at the next table ordered an interesting looking drink. We asked them what it was and they offered us some. Introductions were made and a six-way conversation developed between my friend Romain (French), Sofia and Nora (Swedish and German), Fatih and Mustafa (Turkish and Kurdish-Turkish) and myself (English)…

At which point news broke that a bomb had gone off in the football stadium less than half a mile from where we were sitting.

Everyone in the restaurant started checking their phones and texting loved ones to say that they were OK. Shortly thereafter all access to phones and the internet were blocked by the government.

unnamed-3There then began the juxtaposing of six people from six different countries having an almost suspiciously convivial and multicultural night out against the unfolding of a horrific event and the locking down of a city.
I don’t want to create tension where there was none or inflate the sense of danger (that none of us felt!) As one of the Turkish men said: ‘It was more a feeling of creeping fascism and an erosion of rights.’ Everything was the same, but heavier somehow. Human nature being what it is we left together to witness people continuing with their shopping and drinking whilst nimbly avoiding armoured cars (and they witnessed us doing exactly the same).

At a cafe bar the waiter confirmed the current belief that 20 people had been slightly injured by the blast.

The European women attempted to lighten the mood by having a go at me over Brexit. After the obligatory apology I quickly disarmed them with a liberal quip (‘When your drinks arrive I will drink them, but I will expect you to pay.’)
Across the table things were a little more serious. Romain asked Fatih what he thought of what was happening.

‘I’m afraid to get used to this,’ he replied.

To my mind it eloquently summed up how it is to feel powerless in a maelstrom of changing and disintegrating events.

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Onto another bar where the pervading rumour was that things were much worse than had been reported before the blackout – at least a few people dead – maybe as many as 40 injured. ‘They were targeting the police,’ someone informed us. ‘They will blame the Kurds,’ said the Kurd. ‘They always do.’ They discussed the new far-right leader and talked of how the land was changing for the worse. We also did the duplicitous dance of holding conflicting emotions in our heads at the same time. Nora invited us to Berlin. Fatih spoke of opening a bar in Barcelona, and I told a story of going to Frankfurt zoo drunk and talking to the gorillas (which I considered to be top banter, but which caused Sofia to literally and figuratively fall asleep as I was talking).

That the two Turkish men were from different backgrounds was important. They joked that each was to blame for the current (and past) troubles. One of them became momentarily annoyed with the other for his insinuations before returning to ribbing and mild mockery.

At our last stop we learned that the death toll had risen yet again (the final count was 38 dead and 166 injured). It was a little after 2am. Outside people were still laughing and haggling. It was suggested that we go to a place that stayed open till dawn. To my English body clock it was still relative early, but places that usually stayed open were now closed.

We said goodbye to our new friends and took a taxi to Sultanhamet – a district that was eerily silent. A few hours later we were awoken by the morning call to prayer.

At the airport security was noticeably more stringent than on arrival. In the departure lounge we met two people who’d been on the outbound flight – a child psychologist and a PA escorting her Turkish father-in-law to a wedding. We did the thing people do in moments of heightened reality – felt around the edges of the horror, talked of how close we were to it (The psychologist had jogged past the stadium an hour beforehand) and spoke with exaggerated fondness of pedestrian matters back home.

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Nature Abhors a Vacuum…

To mark the one-year anniversary of waking up in a car in a tuxedo during the school run I got back on the horse and accepted an invite to the Work’s Christmas Do.

T’was a cold night when I ventured into South London and to the exclusive Hurlington Club – a private members place with a 13 year waiting list to join. By the looks of some of the stumbling husks of decrepitude I encountered in the car park they got in by the skin of their teeth. I imagined myself, 13 years hence, a spritely 53 year old with many days still ahead to enjoy amongst these terrible people.

My vague hostility was born of an earlier phone call where I’d enquired whether or not, as a guest, I’d be able to make use of a shower.

‘I don’t have time to go home and change before the party, so was wondering if…’

‘Are you a member?’ the receptionist asked.

‘…No.’

There was a sharp intake of breath. ‘One moment please.’

A different voice joined the call – deeper, more abrasive: ‘We don’t have any showers.’

‘But you’re a health spa?’

‘That is correct.’

‘You must have a considerable number of showers.’

‘None that you can use.’

‘And why is that?’

(Words like ‘Why’ bring out a faint Brummie twang in my voice).

Shit, she knew I was northern. The gig was up.

I ended the call and took a moment to vent at one of my colleagues, but he was a little pre-occupied, having realised that he’d forgotten to buy a secret santa gift. We ventured into the tiny town of Egham where, in an act of sheer desperation, he settled on a bag of plastic dinosaurs and a cafetiere made from lead and asbestos. ‘That’ll bring the IT professionals joy / provide an hilarious choking hazard for their kids.’

I purchased a towel and used the bathing facilities of a recently acquired client (let’s not make this weird). Good! Cleansed and armed with tat we set forth.

Who the hell turns up to a black tie event wearing a blue tie? Oh…

My colleagues instantly earmarked me as a pariah and I underwent the walk of shame through a tunnel made of dickie-bows and judgement.

I opened my secret santa gift: A book on management techniques.

I thought back to when I was a child. I wanted to be an astronaut…

Several glasses of red wine and dad-dances later I found myself in a ‘Spouse-cab.’

‘Looks like the M4’s closed – Gonna have to drop you in an industrial estate just outside Winnersh Triangle I’m afraid.’

‘No problem – 25 miles closer than I’d planned to get. Thanks.’

I phoned for a taxi and stood outside a dormant looking Holiday Inn, its empty foyer pumping out Nat King Cole singing ‘Though it’s been said, many times, many ways – Merry Chriz-Maah tooooo youuuu.’

Across the way I heard someone throw up.

The taxi arrived and I started jabbering away to the driver (Mohammed). We covered a lot of ground in 6 miles – Uber cars and all the evil therein, the eventual heat death of the universe. We also agreed to open a bar together (in Banderowela, Sri Lanka).

Drink driving is a despicable act. As such I had failed to drunk-locate my car. Little did I know that I would spend two hours the following day moving between my usual haunts to no avail. It was as if I was deliberately trying to trick myself…

…But that was for later. Right now I had the munchies something fierce. A cursory dip into a barren fridge revealed my two great loves:  fudge and bacon.

‘We can make this work!’ I announced.

Turns out – we couldn’t…

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