Friday, 29 January 2016

The pipes, the pipes are calling....

The traditional way to heat a Turkish village house is by using a soba, essentially a tin box with a cylindrical bucket inside. You burn wood and coal in the bucket. But you have to be careful not to fall asleep with the soba full because the wind can change direction and you may wake up wearing a white kaftan and holding a harp.

A series of connecting pipes takes the smoke from the soba through an outside wall. The pipes spread the warmth through the building. The system works relatively well, especially if you have a load of  spare wood. The downside is that once every winter your pipes need cleaning.

The dreaded day duly arrived and with the help of neighbour Huseyin and supervised by another neighbour, 80-year-old Ayşe Hanem we took down the Heath Robinson contraption. Inside we found the kind of build-up of soot and tar that surgeons might find in a 40-a-day smoker.

The usual solution is to wrap a sack around a stick and repeatedly push the stick up and down each section of pipe. That seemed like hard work to me, so I suggested to Huseyin that we might light a small fire inside each pipe and try to burn off the black gooey residue.

We had tried the idea on a couple of pipes when Ayşe Hanem arrived and suggested an even quicker method: benzine!

Eschewing all maternal warnings about playing with fire, Huseyin filled an empty plastic spray-topped bottle that once held cleaning fluid with petrol and coated the inside of each tube.

Then with the confidence often seen misplaced on many a You Tube video he lit a piece of paper and dropped it into one of the pipes. Whoosh. There was a dull, mini explosion and a plume of smoke.

But incredibly the method, doubtless forbidden in every health and safety manual, proved to be the most effective.

When the pipes cooled, I got to work with a wire brush and before you could say Chim, chimney, chim, chim, chim, chim, cher-ee.....the pipe was ready for re-assembly.

Ayşe keeps watch

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Tanks for the memories

So far the extensive renovations at our new plot have gone reasonably smoothly. But sooner or later we knew there had to be a Frank Spencer moment....and it duly arrived today.

House number two boasted two large galvanised water tanks, part of a long defunct solar energy system that had already been partly dismantled.

The tanks measured 120cm by 60cm, that is about 47 inches by about 24 inches in old money, the size of the sort of thing Barnes Wallis might have strapped underneath a Lancaster bomber.

Huseyin at work

We had already had one go at dismantling the tanks. One was found to contain a wasps' nest. So a can of insect spray later, we decided to beat a retreat and leave it for another day.

Our brave, handyman neighbour Huseyin duly climbed the rickety metal structure that held the tanks, like some kind of trapeze artist.

The higher one proved fairly easy to dislodge and he duly pushed it off its moorings onto the ground below.

The one underneath, however, was a lot heavier, suggesting it was full of water, rust and sludge, dead wasps or all four.

First he drilled a hole in the underside with a power drill. Nothing.

Then he used a grinding machine to make a cut along a seam. Again nothing came out.

It was too heavy to there remained just the nuclear option. We would have to cut one of the support legs and hopefully guide it to fall more or less in the same spot as its predecessor.

Like some manic pole dancer with his grinder, Huseyin contorted himself around the structure cutting here, cutting there.

Then he went home and returned with a length of mountaineering rope which he tied to the frame just beneath the metal tank.

The other end he tied to a pomegranate tree, below.

What happened next was like one of those never-to-be-forgotten Firework Night incidents when your rather tipsy uncle decides he is going to light the giant Catherine Wheel that cost £20.

Huseyin made one final cut and ......KERRASHHHHHHHH.

With the noise of a motorway pile up, the whole structure toppled over off the roof of house number two....onto the roof of house number one.

Luckily, a huge fig tree was in the way and broke its fall, otherwise the tank might well have ended up in our makeshift kitchen.

As luck would have it, the "Dambuster bomb" merely dislodged three tiles and squashed about 20 Turkish liras worth of figs.

It began disgorging the rust-coloured sludge that we suspected was inside, all down the side of the house.

Bombs away.

Errr....shurely shome mishtake.

That's torn it.

A few tugs of the mountaineering rope and the tank, frame and all were safely grounded.

A few red faces were the only signs of casualties.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Takeaway Pig

Before we start, I want to make it clear I didn't shoot anything....I am not like that idiot American dentist who killed Cecil the lion. I was minding my own business, sipping a cold beer in a restaurant at 9.30pm when my pal Levent's phone went off. It was our friend the marangoz (joiner). He had been out hunting and had shot a pig (wild boar). Did we want it?

Of course, for many people in Turkey eating pig meat is forbidden on religious grounds.

Many Turks in fact do eat pork.  We have often brought bacon to Turkey for friends. But there is still an element of the forbidden about it. When Turks talk about pork they often lower their voices.

Anyhow, yes was the answer. But how to get the 50 kilo beast home? And then how to cut it up and where to store it with no deep freeze?

Eight or nine phone calls later a plan like a military operation was hatched and put into place.

The marangoz would borrow his friend's truck to bring the carcass to our house.

Meanwhile, a pal who knew a bit about butchery skills would borrow a set of knives and a chopper from his workplace, where we were to pick him up at 10pm.

The idea of asking a real butcher friend was abandoned because if the local community was to learn a pig had been chopped up in a butcher's shop that business would be toast.

Finally, another friend from whom we had bought a fridge three months earlier agreed to loan us another one for 24 hours.

So, a bit like Dennis Nilsen we rolled out a length of clear plastic on the garden patio and our apprentice butcher mate sharpened his knives.

On the lorry

in the garden

 Surprisingly there was not much blood but the smell was not good.

Around 40 minutes later it was all over.

Four legs were in separate plastic bags, the torso was chopped into four pieces and placed in another quartet of freezer bags and the head and entrails were in a bin liner to be discarded at a local tip.

I felt a bit like Warren Oates in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia as I walked to the landfill site.

What does boar taste like? Roast lamb if I am honest.

And how much did the marangoz want for the animal?

About £12 to buy some more bullets.

As David Dickinson might say "seems like the real deal."

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Go Figure!

We have five or six fig trees in the garden. So it made sense to use the fruit. To be honest I had never been a fig lover. But I was seduced after buying a bag of dried figs off a village woman earlier in the year. 

The next job was to learn what to do with them. A You Tube video gave one method, which involved drying them in the sun on a large tray under a muslin or cotton cloth.

Our 80-year-old neighbour Ayşe Hanem reckoned I was doing it all wrong and it would never work. Apparently in the village they pick them, just leave them in the sun for a week, then squash them like they do with steak or burgers and then put them in jars for the winter.

Anyhow, I persevered with my internet method.

My fig method

Figs can trace their history back to the earliest of times with mentions in the Bible and other ancient writings. They are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. 

They spread to ancient Crete and then subsequently, around the 9th century BC, to ancient Greece, where they became a staple foodstuff in the traditional diet. 

Figs were held in such esteem by the Greeks that they created laws forbidding the export of the best quality figs. Figs were also revered in ancient Rome where they were thought of as a sacred fruit. 

According to Roman myth, the wolf that nurtured the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, rested under a fig tree. During this period of history, at least 29 varieties of figs were already known.

The Romans introduced figs throughout the Roman Empire - all around the Mediterranean and to northern Europe and England. 
Figs probably first traveled east to China along the Silk Road. We first hear about figs in China in about 700 AD during the T'ang Dynasty.
Chinese peopled called figs by their Arabic name, "tin". 
But it took a long time before people started to farm figs in Southern Africa. When Spanish settlers came to Mexico and California from Spain in the 1500s they brought figs with them and planted them in North America as well.
In the late 19th century, when Spanish missionaries established the mission in San Diego, California, they also planted fig trees. 
These figs turned out to be inferior in quality to those that were imported from Europe, and it wasn't until the development of further cultivation techniques in the early 20th century that California began focused cultivation and processing of figs. Today, California remains one of the largest producers of figs in addition to Turkey, Greece and Portugal.

Figs are a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps to control blood pressure. 
Since many people not only do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, but do consume high amounts of sodium as salt is frequently added to processed foods, they may be deficient in potassium. Low intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when coupled with a high intake of sodium, can lead to hypertension. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Love Is In the Air

July and August are the traditional months when people in Turkey marry. We were very excited to get our first wedding invitation from a neighbour in the village. And the very next day we saw our own Romeo and Juliet in Tire. It seemed to be an omen.

Shakespeare goes football crazy

Wedding invitation

Bridal car

The bride (veiled) and groom

First dance

The Friday night saw about 200 people gather on open land in a housing estate for "kına", the traditional henna night. Guests arrived and were formerly introduced to the bride and groom's family. A singer provided live music. Eventually the happy couple swept forward and were escorted to two huge white chairs. They opened the proceedings by performing the "first dance" showered by pieces of shiny golden paper and everything captured on video, of course.

There was dancing but not a glass of alcohol anywhere. in fact, not a glass of anything. How strange to see so many people enjoying themselves without drink.

Later in the evening the bride was involved in a ceremony which involved putting henna into her hand.

Her fist was clenched tight and only opened when gold was proffered.

Henna'd up

The following morning relatives and friends gathered at the groom's house in the village to make a big pot of keşkek, a dish made of pounded wheat and meat. From around 10am a steady stream of well wishers descended on the family farmhouse.

We had been delayed, dropping our dogs off in kennels in Torbalı and were among the last to give the couple a gift and say congratulations.

As usual a copious amount of food was brought forward, including keşkek and we did our best to do it justice.

As we were about to leave the groom and some young friends on the patio below began firing live rounds from a rifle. The noise was deafening. When we descended the stairs I was also invited to fire the shotgun. I had never fired a weapon since I was in the school army cadet corps aged about 17. But like riding a bike you never forget and I duly sprayed buckshot into the air amid a cry (in Turkish) of "don't hit the telephone and electricity wires." 

Shotgun wedding

Two hours later we headed off to the wedding party proper, held in a huge
open air arena in nearby Tire and attended by around 500 people. This is where
the couple take their vows.

The Turkish word for wedding feast is düğün, pronounced "doon" but almost making it two syllables, as in "doo-oon." It is also the word for circumcision party. So make sure what invitation you are accepting otherwise you may be in for a shock.

There was dancing, doves released, fireworks, a huge cake and finally the ceremony of
pinning money on the bride and groom.

Again there was not a drink in sight. But this was circumvented by
a Turkish friend who hijacked me and took me to a shop where several cans of beer
were purchased, to be drunk by the side of a busy road, outside the wedding salon
while we sat on small mats.

Saturday, 11 July 2015


Whenever you try to display or recreate something from a bygone era in Turkey, you will hear the word "nostalji". The dictionary, of course, says it means "nostalgia" but the Turks (in the towns if not the villages) often use it with a slight wry smile as if to say "why waste your money on such arty crafty tosh, you plonker?"

Although officialdom, rather belatedly, is recognising the importance of the country's rich heritage and old buildings are being lovingly restored, many Turks seem to put a greater value on the latest gadget, mobile phone app or having full central heating.

This is why you will see pieces of Greek or Roman columns used as flowerpot stands or to support door jambs as in the pictures below.

There is a wonderful story told in a blog called about a young photographer in the 1950s driving to Aydin to photograph a new dam. He lost his way and ended up in a village called Geyre.

As he sat there, drinking tea with the locals, he noticed houses built with odd-looking stones.

Locals shrugged their shoulders, said the stones had always been there and were amused at his excitement. He took photographs and eventually contacted the famous Turkish photographer Ara Guler, who alerted a Turkish archaeologist Prof Kenan T. Erim from New York University.

Erim came to Turkey and quickly realised that the wayward photographer had discovered the lost city of Aphrodisias. From there on Erim dedicated the rest of his life to excavation work. He died in 1990, but the Turkish government rewarded his dedication by burying him within the ancient city, next to the Tetrastoon, the gates welcoming pilgrims on their way to pay sacrifices at the Temple.

When we first arrived in Kaplan there were a number of artefacts and implements in the house that we vowed to restore and display. One was an old plough. I cleaned it up using a combination of baking powder, vinegar, some industrial cleaner and a wire brush. I then painted it. I am now waiting for a visitor to offer to buy it. Not for show, naturally, but to use on their allotment.

Friday, 10 July 2015

All Creatures Great and Small

One of the joys of living in a different country is to appreciate the local wildlife. There is an element of apprehension, of course when neighbours tell you that snakes and scorpions can climb into your house through windows. But so far all the dire warnings have failed to produce real threats. We have seen snakes. But they seem more scared of us and slither off into the undergrowth or down holes in the sun baked ground.

The ones we have seen live, I believe, are not poisonous, according to the internet.  The species is called "Uysal" which is Turkish for docile.

There are around 45 species of snakes in Turkey, and of these around 10 are poisonous. The most common venomous snake is the black viper. Snakes are very rarely seen in tourist areas. It may also comfort you to know that between 1995 and 2004 (the latest period for which data is available), while 550 people visited clinics or hospitals due to snake bites, there were no deaths. Most snake bites were contracted in Marmara, Central Anatolia and Turkey’s Black Sea region.

However, a neighbour managed to kill the one pictured below after it had eaten one of his baby chickens. This one, he assured us, was indeed poisonous.

More warnings were given about a huge local Kangal dog called Marco. But after feeding him a few meals he began to roll over and demand that we rub his tummy. The Kangal can weigh up to 66 kilos but it is not as heavy as some other mastiffs and can actually reach speeds of up to 30mph. It is primarily a shepherd's dog but it does not herd sheep. While Marco is a gentle giant with us, he growls ominously at strangers so is the perfect guard dog.

Marco, a big softy really.

Meanwhile the garden was invaded by tortoises. There were so many I decided to give them numbers.

I am up to number nine so far. Here is Darcy and Willow inspecting number 3. He comes most days for water.

 Finally, in the market in Tire you can find people selling leeches (sülük). A bottle of four for around £2.30.