Thursday, 28 February 2013


This week I have been sick .I was sick when I first arrived in Istanbul but now it seems to have returned with extra talons. I never understand why schools make you teach when your voice is going and your nose is running like a broken tap. I find it embarrassing to clutch soggy tissues the whole time and I am sure it is not pleasant for the students either. Sometimes I break out into a sweat as well and have to peel off my jumpers even though the actual temperature is only 6 degrees. My student at the American Hospital very thoughtfully gave me a surgical mask to teach through which felt very odd but thankfully meant I could let my nose run happily into the mask and no one was any the wiser.
Now at least it is the weekend and I can fever away in my bed without an audience. I did venture out to do some grocery shopping but I really couldn't find anything that interested me. I think this is often the case in a new land when the comfort of Heinz Baked Beans ıs no longer available. I came home with a bottle of peppercorns, two tomatoes, some labneh, a bottle of rosewater for my face and some Turkish Delight. Probably not quite enough to make a meal but I do have my trusty lentil soup guys at the top of the road if I can muster the energy. O...and I gave Three-Paw some salami.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Do(y)lmabahçe Palace

If you go down to the end of my road and follow The Bosphorus on your right you will soon arrive at Dolmabahçe Palace. It is a very beautiful building, almost Venetian. Apparently Mr Ataturk breathed his last within its palatial walls. I hope to visit it when the weather is more clement. 
In the meantime I have discovered a Do(y)lmabahçe Palace right on my door step. It is built along the wall of the mosque ın my street and is obviously home to the Kazanaçı cats of which there are many.

Here are a few of the lovelies up close.

This one is huge and very nervous. A mouse could take his dinner away.
This one is very friendly and enjoys his tucker.

And of course lovely Three-Paw
I have even bought an instrument of mass beautification now so I can comb them all into objects of true splendor. If they wıll let me of course. 

Oh and in case your wondering. No I haven't managed to make any fur-less friends yet.  

Monday, 25 February 2013

Me no speak Turkısh

I was on a tram the other afternoon when they played an announcement which saıd: Please may we draw your attention to the probable events of larceny that will happen at the next statıon. I was actually tempted to get off just to witness this probable event. I don't imagine the wording is quite the same in Turkish. Unfortunately I am yet to have a lesson in the language  The school said I would be offered lessons ( timetable permitting) but as such nothing  So instead I have to make do with my phrasebook and a smile  I have mastered kahve ( coffee), kedı ( cat), mercemek çorbası ( lentil soup) and  buradasınız ( you are here.) I really need lessons though because I haven't found a good grammar book yet. Besides my biggest problem is pronunciation. I am terrible at it.  I am not alone though. Today I heard a couple of my Korean students chatting for a good five minutes about the high cost of "loaming" on their mobiles. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Kazançı Street

If  you step out  onto my street you can see The Bosphorus (when the weather is clear that is). You can even see one of the Princes' Islands I believe. I feel vicariously responsible for this lovely appointment even though  The B and this street were no doubt in existence long before I and will no doubt be in existence long after I am gone. In fact my whole street which plummets down to the shore is quite interesting. There is a pet shop, dry-cleaner, bric-a-brac shop, electrical store, pizza restaurant, kebab houses, a school, a yoga studio and a few markets too. Oh and lots of cats.

There is an old mosque on the corner wıth a Muezzin who seems quite a songful chap. Not a shouter at all. Sometimes I don't even hear him in the morning and wonder if he has slept through his alarm. 

At the bottom of the street is a park which goes right to the edge of the water.  If you look straight ahead you can see Asia and if you look to the right you can see the silhouette of Sultanahmet. I try  very hard to appreciate these thıngs for no matter how İ feel about being here there is still something romantic about The Bosphorus I think..

Friday, 22 February 2013


So most days I see Three-Paw loping about looking for a pat or a piece of chicken. We have a cuddle and a bit of a chat by the bins.
I believe there is also a son/ daughter-of-Three Paw whom I have decided to call Four-Paw. This one is still a bit kitten like but is just as affectionate and somewhat more stable on the feet.

Roomed at last

So I finally moved into my room. The last few days were like pulling teeth. I wanted to go in and personally tape up the boxes myself. I resisted though and instead just wistfully gazed down upon the cardboard box where the  beast cat lives.  Actually the other day I left the door open and beast cat sat cautiously inside the house when it thought no one was looking.  But I spied its presence of course ( because I have an incredible doy radar) and captured its boldness on film.
Doy, by the way, is a term for cat which was coined back in 1996 on my first trip to Turkey. Turkey was in fact the first country I visited as an adult traveller. I remember being terrified of losing a kidney in the organ trade.

Now that I have a room I feel a little better although I wake in the night with a most anxious heart and nothing really soothes it  My flatmate also likes to practise singing very late at night  The songs she sings sound sad and can vary between a tuneful lament and wailing. I complimented her on her  singing the other night.
"How lovely you sound in the early hours of the morn," I said.
" Oh yes," she said proudly. " Thank you. Very beautiful."
Such sweet confidence.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Shopping essentials

Today I bought a mug so I can drink proper English tea with milk. The coffee here is quite nice and I have been frequenting the nationwide chain of Kahve Dunyasi (which has a logo somewhat similar to Starbucks) but sometimes a proper brew is the only thing to calm the soul. I also bought a bag of dog food and a bag of cat food to carry around in my backpack for those emergency encounters (of which there are many.) The other day I met a three-pawed cat down my road. She was joyful fluffy thing, springing about on her one front arm but it must be exhausting and not easy to mouse with. She was very affectionate though. I would love to have given her a home. I hope I see her again soon.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Rolling with the punches

When I was looking for a new job a few months back) I had decided to focus on Italy and Turkey while keeping a slightly open ear to Portugal, Spain and Greece. I chose Turkey because it wasn't caught up in the Euro crisis and the demand for English was rising dramatically. I chose Italy because...well quite frankly...why would you not! (Apart from the whole-economy-down-the-toilet aspect I suppose.) Anyway what made me choose the job I have now ( and I need to remind myself of this daily) was the fact that I was finally going to get a salary and not just get paid by the hour. It also offered me private health insurance which was also very appealing although who really knows what this covers in reality. And it wasn't a particularly long contract either.
Another reason though was my boss. I liked her. She came across really well in the interview and I thought I can work with her.
Now I find out she is leaving. I mean obviously she has to do whatever she wants to do but I feel disappointed.
Still if I am to take anything away from this whole experience ( however long or short it ultimately lasts) it is certainly going to be how to roll with punches. I am not particularly good at rolling I have discovered. I like to be punched continuously until I fall into a heap. Or avoid being punched altogether. I'm not sure if I will ever truly learn to roll but they just keep coming right now -so who knows!
On a side note I found a note stuffed in my denim jacket today. It said I was a very nice person. Beautiful even!?! I suspect it came from the breakfast boy who worked at Otel'de'Charm. He was the only nice thing about the place and he was also probably about ten. Probably won't be reading too much into it though. But it did manage to cause an upward curl to my lips.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Asian delights

Yesterday I decided to go for a walk. I always feel better when I go walking.  I decided to head towards the Bosphorus because there is something about this body of water which always stirs my imagination. I walked past 3 hospitals within ten minutes of my home and one of them was the Italyen Hastanesi. It looked like a Tuscan villa with egg yolk walls and green shutters. I felt a pang in my heart for Florence ( which I find very telling.) Anyway I continued down towards the water where the waves were whipping at the shore in a bitterly ominous way. As I walked passed the Karakoy port I noticed a ferry was about to leave so I decided to leap on it. The boat was very comfortable with lovely large windows looking out over the churning water so I took a tea and waited to see where I would go. About twenty minutes later I disembarked in Kadikoy which is in Asia. I felt very very intrepid even though for everyone else on the boat it was was very ho-hum.

   I liked Kadikoy. It had some markets running along the back streets which brightly covered vegetable stalls and throngs of local folk. I bought some dolmades and stuffed tomatoes as well as olives and the best cappuccino I have had in a while.

 The below window was full of marzipan fruit. Yuk to marzipan. Hooray for fruit replicas.

Friday, 15 February 2013

New Place

At least the cat has a room :-)
So as I mentioned I have a new place to stay now. I am not going to use the word 'home' at this point because it doesn't feel like that at present.Actually, technically  I have a place but not a room. I was told there was a room ( and there is, I have seen it) but when I moved all my things across I was told it was not quite free yet but it would be 'soon'. I have since clarified 'soon' with my Turkish colleagues and they have said this could be anything from one week to ten years.
It is nice to be out of the hotel though even though I don't quite have a room.  My flatmate is a Kurdish actress  who is waiting for a new TV series to start.  She has built a little house for a stray cat that lives on the awning below the front window.  The cat is feral and has obviously been mistreated but it likes to be fed and is quite comfortable with batting your hand ferociously if you come anywhere near her. I have felt rather numb since I arrived in town so it's ok if she makes me bleed.
Feed me or I will beat you...I may even beat you anyway. Rar!!!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A long week

It is hard to believe that I have only been in Istanbul for one week. It feels like a lifetime. Honestly if I ever meet someone who thinks their life is passing them by too quickly İ am going to suggest that they uproot themselves to a place which is the complete opposite of where they have come. That should slow things down nicely for them.

So what have I done so far you may wonder...

Well, I finally moved out of my stinky cesspit hotel. I was beginning to worry I might start to smell like it too since none of the water ever pointed downwards in the shower. It much preferred to point itself at the un-closeable door and the carpet behind it.

I have eaten enough lentil soup (mercimek corbasi) to cause a world shortage of lentils.

 I have got myself a tax number from an uber-friendly tax office. Truly I wanted to spend the day filing for them because they were so kind to me.  In a city of 16 million there are a lot of unfriendly people.

I managed to finally register my telephone after a week of red herrings, misdirection and general unhelpfulness.  In Turkey it is compulsory for you to register the phone otherwise the government blocks it but they seem very disinclined to actually help you register it.

I have taught under the watchful of Mr. Ataturk. (Probably watching to make sure I don't sneak a Fez into the classroom.) My students ( all female) were, in the main, very nice. They all tended to ask a lot of personal questions, told me to 'trust no one' and said that the best thing about being married is you don't have to worry about the bills.  A couple of them were at the American Hospital and one of them very sweetly took me onto the roof of the hospital after the class to have tea at the staff canteen. The view over the city with its topography of minarets and tower blocks was spectacular and and it was good to be reminded just how big and mean this place really is.

I have not really enjoyed my first week here but I have survived it on a physical level although my heart and soul feel quite shattered.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Round One

My pitch for The Uncanny Abilities of Philomena Philpott has got me through the first round of the Amazon Break Through novel competition 2013.  Only 400 to beat now instead of 10 000.  Of course I hope it goes further but this is a nice  start for me anyway.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

First days

So new days are well and truly upon me. Not a very auspicious start I have to say. The driver forgot to collect me from the airport and my hotel  is redolent of cat pee. The nice thing  though is that when I come out of the hotel in the morning I see  local moustachey men feeding fat furry cats big chunks of raw at least the redolence has a good purpose.
I feel very overwhelmed here though and have cried a lot. Fortunately the sky doesn't stop raining so it covers my cry face. I am trying very hard to remain upbeat though (even though change is an anathema for me) so I will tell you that I am enjoying the lentil soup and the abundance of furry friends.  I won't write more though because I would say that  more difficult things have happened than easy and if I write about them it just fuels the fires of uncertainty within.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The eternal immigrant

Today I feel sad sad sad sad sad sad sad sad. Oh and did I mention I feel sad...My C permit is on hold now for a year and I am leaving on a jet plane this afternoon. Actually I am very grateful to Swiss Immigration for agreeing to put my permits on hold although they seemed rather shocked that I should even want to leave Switzerland. ( You want to go where?  You want to leave here?) I think want is definitely the wrong word in this context.

So I feel sad

And very afraid.

I am not as tough as I look.

And I am tired.

But at least I have all my own teeth!

Monday, 4 February 2013


It's funny because in my head I really thought I could ice skate. It turns out I cannot and I can safely say that I was worst-on-the-rink during my attempt. Which is a bit like being the-smelliest-at-the party. You just can't hide it!

D was far superior. He even turned.

Friday, 1 February 2013


Tombuctou necklace - once a passport to the town
I have been thinking a lot about Tombuctou of late. Not surprisingly given its prominence in the news.
What is it with these countries I have visited all turning to dust and mayhem!!! 
I have very strong memories of this town. Particularly the light, almost blinding and the watermelon vines sprawling their way out to the desert. It was a wild place even back then. I thought I might die there ( I had a flu that made my skin burn and my throat melt into swords.) I even had a possè of doctors ( only way to describe the bling that accompanied them) who came in to inspect me and prescribed me antibiotics the size of bananas. I remember looking out of my iron bar window at an encampment of Tuareg below me and thinking 'I may well die here but at least it is exotic.' It was certainly a difficult town to be in. Hard to find food or water and my favourite restaurant  Poulet d'Or  ( or Chicken of Gold as we preferred to call it) was so filled with flies the table hovered as we ate. But I remember the ornate doors of the mosques and the ancient secrets hidden within and it saddens me to think of what has been destroyed there now.
Tombuctou is not for foreigners. Myself or the Islamists. It belongs to the people who have struggled there for centuries, who have endured its barren wastelands and made themselves a home.