An old colleague from my Istanbul days emailed me today, praising the accuracy of an old post that related a typical day for the gang of teachers in Bakirkoy, circa 95-96. Jimmy was, at first encounter, a tough, hard-drinking Irishman. He used to go round with Kevin, the former DOS at Antik English, the pair of them getting spectacularly drunk. Kevin would sing folk songs of his own making at some point in the evening, before going home to his long-suffering Japanese wife, Keiko. He once set fire to Jimmy, mistaking him for his sofa - this is what led to him being fired.
Jimmy once related to me one of his more bizarre jobs he'd had whilst travelling round Europe; hurling stones at children.
'So you see', he said, sipping a konyak and coke, which was the winter drink of the time in the Cicek, ' There was I and my mate in Italy, no money at all, when this circus appears. A proper fucking circus, all horses and performing elephants and all that. They also had, as it happens, a tiger. A female tiger, she'd just had cubs, so all these wee kids from the town they were in are trying to sneak up and have a look at them. Anyhow, me and my mate pitch up and ask your man if he's any jobs going, and he says, 'yeah, look after the tiger. If any of those little bastards try poking their nose near the cage, heave a bloody stone at them.' And I did.'
Anyway, Jimmy, in honour of days past, here's a few more descriptions of times and events back then, including a vignette of Kevin in full throttle. They're extracts from a book I started writing but then gave up on, thinking that there were quite enough novels and memoirs written by TEFLers already.
THE FISH BAR
The Dilhan was the pub we d frequent in my first year in Istanbul. It was situated over several floors above a fishmongers, hence us always calling it the Fish Bar. It stank like it, too. Actually, it stank of all sorts of things. Fish was probably one of the nicer smells. Inside, the decor was decidedly on the basic side, although the fishy theme extended as far as the odour did.There was netting festooned on the walls and ceilings, along with the odd pufferfish, floating blankly in a sea of booze, nicotine and fried things, as well as one or two stuffed lobsters and fishing buoys. There were also cats. One tabby had made a nest somewhere on the top floor, and seemed to be continually having kittens. In the evenings, the kittens would stare at us from the stairs, like naughty children who can‘t go to sleep until theyve seen what the adults are doing. The bolder cats would actually race across the netting, running across our heads from stair to wall and back. We ‘d occasionally play cat racing, where we‘d bet on which cat could go fastest round the nets. The furniture consisted of long wooden tables with benches and stools. This meant that whenever we were drinking, we all sat on one big, long table, shouting, singing and banging our glasses, which meant we‘d inevitably have up to forty people on the same tab, which inevitably led to huge bills, which inevitably led to huge arguments .
The place was definitely on the unsanitary side. Apart from the smell, there were the cockroaches everywhere. I wouldn t touch anything apart from the booze. On the top floor were the toilets, which didn t work, and whose rank stench would ooze and dribble down to where we were sitting. These toilets were, however, preferable to the one down in the basement, in the kitchen. This one was a hole in the floor type, stowed in a kind of cupboard under the stairs. It was pitch black inside, and the smell was indescribable. It was better to try and piss in the dark: once I lit a match to try and get a better aim, and saw cockraches, shit and fish heads and guts everywhere. One look at the kitchen made me swear never, ever to eat there. Despite the smell, despite the cockroaches and cats, we all quite liked it, because it was dirt cheap, and it stayed open later than most other places. The staff were generally friendly, although the owner, Toad Mehmet, was a fat old bastard. He looked a bit like Jabba the Hutt with a moustache. He d sit in the corner of the first floor, all lardy and constipated looking, a cigarette forlornly dangling from his mouth at all times. He hated foreigners, I think: He looked at us with a bleary eyed contempt, but we paid well. You d be lucky to get a good evening out of him.
THE OLD MANS PUB, EARLY 1996
I got into the Bakirkoy birahanesi, nicknamed the old mans pub, a little later than the others, due to sharing a raki in the cicek. This wonderfully horrible place is closed now, but suffice to say it is what disrespectable spit and sawdust pubs strove to escape from. It stank of stale beer, sweat, millennia of fried things, piss, and rank stale poverty: the ideal place for the average EFL teacher, then. The toilets, whilst not so bad as the fish bar, were pretty rank. There was one for the blokes, a waterless urinal, then another, locked, toilet for the occasional female visitor, which in effect meant the women English teachers. There were ten of us around one large table, made from a beer barrel with a disc of wood shoved on top: Myself, Graham, Carol, Launa, Craig, Mel with her boyfriend Luke(y-wukey), Cath and Tabby, and Matt. The talk was, as usual, quite varied. Grimbo was chatting about football with Matt and taking the mickey out of Carol, I was vaguely talking philosophy and applied bullshit with Craig, While Mel was loudly declaiming on how we weren’t fit to kiss Antonias boots. Of COURSE its hard for us, she said. Were in this country, we don’t know the language, everyones trying to rip us off....
Another round of drinks arrived at the table.
...quick, mark it down as nine, not ten, hell never notice, cant count can he?, but you imagine what its like for Antonia! I mean, she went to OXFORD, didn’t she? It must be just absolutely ghastly for her!
This was greeted by exclaimations of disdain from the blokes, but quick, defensive yeses from a couple of the women.
What the fuck has where you went to University got to do with anything, Mel? Come on!, said Graham.
What I mean is, said Mel, holding on to the edge of the table and rocking back and forth on her bar stool, is that shes used to a more privileged life than us. Shes been to balls and everything! We don’t have a clue what her lifestyles like- I certainly dont.
As she said this, she was leaning further and further back on her stool, while still clutching the table top. Lukey-Wukey picked up his pint, upsetting the delicate poise of the top, which we suddenly realised wasn’t fixed to the barrel. Mel went further back then and began crashing to the ground.
Im goiing! She squealed, and fell over backwards, bringing the table top with her. All the drinks on the table queued up to fall off and bounce off her skull , covering her with beer, vodka and raki. Everyone in the bar turned round to see this sight. Ayhan, the barman, rushed over with a bucket of sawdust, and began to scatter it all over her, so that she became covered entirely in wood shavings. The only drink to survive unscathed was Lukes, whod been laughing his head off. You alwight love? Cmon Ill help you up....
He extended his hand whilst still sitting on his stool. Mel took it.
Here you gooo.. He pulled her up, then himself fell backwards, pouring his pint directly over himself and pulling Mel diretly on top of him. More silence in the bar, more sawdust.
THE SCHOOL PARTY AND ITS AFTERMATH
…by this stage, we were all pretty horiibly drunk. Andy was having a difficult time staying upright: Mad Mark and Dappy Mel had disappeared, Mark yelling something about scoring some cannabis up in Beyoglu: John was staggering around the tables, bellowing ‘Right, who’s got it? Who’s got my fucking TAPE? I am SERIOUSLY unamused….c’mon you cunts…I mean it!’
The Turkish members of staff, those who’d remained, looked on bemused and disgusted. Finally, there were only a few drops of wine left. What now? The pub, of course. Ann, the two Grahams, Simon, Phillipa and my good self all lurched into the Cicek and clomped upstairs. Fehmi immediately cleared a table for us.
‘Beer, Fehmi…..and food, lots of food’.
He scurried away.
‘What the fuck did he just say?’
He came back, carrying a tray of beer and a tray of mezes and nuts. At first, we could hardly drink. Evening was drawing on and slowly thunderheads began to crowd the sky. The air closed in too, and soon became oppressively humid. We chatted feebly of this and that, or watched the football on the tv perched dangerously in the corner.
Even the cockroaches didn’t want to move. Strangely the beer seemed to bring sobriety.
It was at this point that Martin weaved his way to the table.
‘Well, hello lovecats, what’s going down tonight?’
Talk moved on to what everyone was doing that evening. A couple of people had to get the seabus back to Kadikoy, two others decided to dolmus it to Taksim, and someone else was almost unconscious. Martin looked at me.
‘Oh no, oh no no no..’
‘Oh go on, we can get tooled up on gin and eat loads of food’.
‘Martin, I’m too pissed for the casino’.
‘C’mon, we’ll go there for just an hour or so’.
‘We’’l need to go home and get togged up first’.
‘No problem. Then a taxi, then booze and food’.
‘just for an hour, yeah?’
‘Only an hour.’
Picture us, then lurking by the casino bar at 2.30 in the morning. I had very nearly been picked up by some overdressed middle-aged woman who looked like her hairsyle had picked a fight with a hedge and lost, while Martin had been casually propositioned by some fat businessman over the electronic geegees. We were deep in our G & Ts and eating out third breakfast.
‘right’. Said Martin, ‘I think it’s time to go.’
‘…After we play a teensy bit more. I think I’ve cracked the roulette…c’mon’.
3.30. I was still at the roulette table, having lost loads. Martin weaved his way across the floor, his tie somewhere around his waist, spilled G + T, whisky, red wine and vodka over his clothes, and lunged at me.
‘the bastards, the thieving, perfidious bastards!’
‘Calm down, what’s the matter?’
‘Some CUNT has stolen my POT OF CHIPS!’
‘Sure you didn’t leave it somewhere?’
‘Course I fucking left it somewhere! On a fucking table! Next to a fucking machine! I go for a leak, I come back, there’s a pot-shaped fucking HOLE where the fucker should be! They’re a bunch of thieving bastards in here, they all are!’
He stared around balefully, with the mad, paranoid and above all red eyes of the terminally drunk.
‘ Course they are mate, it’s a fucking casino, you daft tool!’
‘I’m not staying in the same ROOM as these, these..fucking fucks…..it’s all a SACK OF WANK!’
He stomped off towards the exit, muttering oaths and curses, and swearing never to come back again.
5 minutes later, he returned, wearing a sheepish grin and holding his pot of tokens.
‘They found it for me! I was going out and I told them, and they produced it out of nowhere. Aren’t they great!’
By now it was nearing 4 in the morning.
‘Martin, we should get going. We’re teaching in the morning’.
‘Yeah, in a minute’.
The minute passed, as did lots of others.
‘Shit, man, it’s 6.45!’
The kind of sobriety that hits you only when you’re really, really pissed and have been up all night hit me. Repeatedly.
‘We’re teaching at 9.30..’
‘I think, perhaps, we should…’
‘..go?’ I hazarded.
We oozed down the stairs and into the lobby, where bright shining lights and a crisp dawn mocked our wretched state. We retrieved coats and passports and were poured into a taxi by unnecessarily gleaming, shiny, smiling casino personnel. We got home by 7.
‘Right, quick hour’s sleep and then class’.
‘Paul, its 9.10 man! C’mon!’
Another taxi boarded, another day beginning.
How on Earth did we survive that day?
Sunglasses, aspirin, the odd shot of whisky and some mouthwash helped.
KEVIN AND THE GYPSIES
........I Saw Kevin, The DOS from Antik English, staggering up the road towards the Yesil. Hed been on the wagon for several weeks, on strict orders of his wife, Keiko: He had now most emphatically fallen off it again. His jacket was mired and dusty, and torn at the elbow. His hair, wild at the best of times, was utterly tangled and bespattered with whatever hed been drinking. He was also in the terminal state that required him to sing at somebody. His target was the gypsy flower sellers outside the cafe. Great banks of flowers in every colour were being bundled, tied and sold by the gypsies. In front of them, Kevin did a vague kind of dance, and then started on some kind of folk song rendition.
OHHHHHH LOL de ROL
YOUR flowers ARE
ON A fine SunnY DAAAY
YOUR FLOOOOOOOOOwers are
This went on for five minutes, to the general amusement of passers by. He danced and jigged, staggered, tripped over and rolled in the dust, singing and pointing at the flowers in a drunken spastic ecstasy. Afterwards, he weaved off in another direction.
I saw him again about half an hour later, while I was tucking in to a pide and ayran in the Karadeniz pidecisi. He was walking in a trance state down the road, eyes gazing at the rooftops, while behind him was a small wake of cars, beeping horns and trying to get past. He remained unaware of them, until the car directly behind him actually nudged into the back of his legs. Heturned round, smiled beatifically, then climbed on the bonnet, and began licking the windscreen. The driver sat and cursed, then got out of the car and chased Kevin down a side street.
The next day, I heard about his further exploits: Hed found a bar that would let him in, and he continued to get increasingly pissed up on raki.There was a match that night to decide the championship. Fenerbahce won, and The meydan was crowded with supporters. Kevin apparently staggered into the middle of this, and started shouting Fenerbahce are fucking shit! Boring, boring Fener! Chelsea, Chelsea.... He was lucky, apparently, to escape with only bruises.
Such was the Director of Studies for Antik English.