Monday, December 17, 2012

The Joy of Raki...again

Seeing as the title of this blog is 'The Joy of Raki', it would only make sense to have a bit of Raki-based Joy in it from time to time.

I've just been cleaning out some old files from my PC, and came across this fragment of writing from early 2004. I'd completely forgotten I'd done it, and it had me snorting into my Lemsip.

I should point out that while the names are real, the action is, in fact, fictional.

I think.

The joy of raki (again)

Stepping up to the rusty balcony overlooking the back of the Greek Orthodox church in Taksim Square, I looked up to the rusty red sky, at the few weak stars peering down onto Istanbul. I was, as ever on a Tuesday night, pissed. The tequila and beer were still doing the rounds, and the Vivache’s huge psychotic St. Bernard was blocking the way down to the bogs. The guitarist was strumming out his song, a lament for a lost one, a lost time in Bodrum. I lit a Tekel Iki Bin, took a drag, stared down onto the street. I absolutely, desperately needed a piss. There was no way, however, I could get past the bloody dog. For some reason, it had taken a total aversion to me, and every time I came to the Vivache it would go for my legs. Guy staggered out to join me.
‘I need a piss.’
‘The bog’s in there.’
‘So’s Bruno.’
‘What are you frightened of him for? He’s a softy.’
‘No he’s fucking not. He nearly had my fucking leg off earlier.’
I decided to piss off the balcony and give this late summer’s evening an early taste of rain.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ said Guy
‘Taking a piss’
‘Don’t be a twat! We’ll get kicked out. Besides, I just got us some free beers.’
He finished off his bottle.
‘Give me that’
I slashed in his bottle, but still had to water one of the pot plants.
‘ right, what you going to do with that now?’
‘Give it to the sodding doctor. C’mon, let’s get those beers’
I took the bottle and, being too drunk to dispose of it in a reasonable, adult fashion, left it on our table.
Just then, Colin walked in.
‘Hi guys, oh, sorry Guy, ha ha, I mean chaps, how are you?’
‘Yeah, fine Colin, just got the beers in. Join us’, I said
He came over, fell over Bruno, who tried to bite him, then slumped into one of the wire chairs. His head weaved and nodded on his thin neck; sweat glistened over his half-bald head and trickled down his bony face. He took his glasses off, wiped them absently on his shirt and put them back on, greasier than before.
‘God, I’m drunk!’ he bellowed, then laughed, then frowned at the guitarist.
‘Mehmet, what the fuck are you playing? Give me some Nirvana or something’
He reached for the piss-filled bottle, then changed his mind, and reached for my pack of fags.
‘You know’, he said, ‘I’ve had such a bastard of a day. I met my girlfriend’s mum today, and I’m sure she didn’t like me. Looked at me like I’m some sort of weird bastard or something. Mind you, I was pissed. I don’t think I impressed her by farting loudly. And then, of course, was fucking work…..’
He carried on braying, dragging on the cigarette, while Guy and I, in a kind of drunken fascination, watched his hand weave towards the bottle, then seemingly think better of it.
‘D’you think we should tell him?’ I asked Guy.
‘And ruin the fun?’
‘….so, you guys, ha ha, how’s your day been? God, I’m glad I’ve got a day off tomorrow.’
‘Yeah, not bad, Colin, not bad’, I said, trying to finish off my beer as fast as possible.
‘Actually, I’m about to get off to the Eski Kemanci. I’m meeting up with a few chaps there – more drinking and all that. Here, let me take that.’
I reached for the bottle. Colin suddenly grabbed it.
‘Hold on! Why take away a free beer?’
He put it to his lips, and took a deep, long drink, like one parched in a desert. Guy and I waited, our faces like those of people watching something inevitably painful.
He put it down on the table.
‘Jesus Christ!’
‘Uh…Colin.. .’, I started.
‘The fucking beer tastes worse in here every time I come in! That was like piss! Come on, let’s get drunk!’

To cut a sad story short, we went over the road to the Eski Kemanci, possibly the vilest bar in Taksim. We passed a time there, which was, as the Hobbesian maxim, nasty, brutish and short, then on to one of the chicken kebab vendors lining the road. I poured myself into a taxi at gone 2.30, waving goodbye to Guy and a suddenly retching Colin.
‘Where to, mate?’
‘Atakoy. You know, uncle? Just past Bakirkoy. Take the Sea Road.’
‘Right you are’
I didn’t feel like getting into a conversation with a taxi driver that night. I was too pissed to get into full Turkish Chat Mode, no matter how interesting it might be. The car dived down Taksim Avenue, across Unkapani Bridge, then under the wonderful arches of the Valens Aqueduct, then through the sad roads of Yenikapi where Russian prostitutes sweated and slinked past corners. After that, left by the Gazino and the seabus terminal, and then the remains of the Byzantine walls with their haunted eyes. I lit a fag, and offered one to the driver.
‘No thanks. You from round here?
‘Me neither. I’m from..’
‘Trabzon’, I said
‘How’d you know?’
‘Your accent’, I said, silently adding ‘plus the fact you’ve got an enormous nose and every single driver I’ve met in Istanbul comes from Trabzon’
We came to the Theodosian walls just as thunder began to crack in the sky.
‘So, where you from?’
‘Really? But your family are Turkish.’
‘No, I taught myself’
Now, this sound should not be mixed up with the English ‘Oohh’, which can have a variety of meanings depending on the tone deployed, from the mildly surprised to the deeply (and pleasurably) shocked. This one conveyed a sense of exaggeration, amazement and pleasant surprise.
‘ So, do you like Turkey?’
‘Well, I’ve been here for a couple of years now.’
Right, here they come, the usual questions…..In order to save the reader undue distress, I will bullet point them with the usual answers.
  • Why did you come to Turkey?
    • It was my first job offer
  • Are you married?
    • No, I’m not (that does not mean, by the way Mr. Taxi driver, that I’m gay. Keep your hand on the steering wheel.)
  • Where are you from?
    • Reading, a small town near London. It’s very nice! (The latter said through gritted teeth.)
  • What football team do you support?
    • (After a quick glance at the blue and yellow pennants, the blue and yellow seat covers, the huge sign covering half the rear window) Fenerbahce, of course!
  • Do you like Turkey?
    • Hey, why am I here? Life is good, the weather is good, the food is cheap, the girls are hot………….
  • Ahhh yes, the girls? You have a Turkish girlfriend then?
    • Not at the moment, no. (And that still doesn’t mean I’m interested in you)
  • How much do you earn? You are a foreigner and a teacher.
    • Do I look like I earn much? (said with an ironic gesture at the sad state of my clothes. Little does our taxi driving friend know that English people, unlike the usually scrupulous and neat Turks, are born scruffy. I also earn roughly the equivalent of a senior civil servant, which isn’t saying much.)
I suggest that you cut out and keep these questions. They may come in useful should you ever find yourself teaching in the Big Stan.

We zipped past Zeytinburnu, past the hippodrome, then the apartments of Bakirkoy facing the sea. A few drops of rain spattered on the windscreen, and loud music, courtesy of Mr. Ibrahim Tatlises, He of the good voice, television show, coach company, kebab shop and enormous ego, filled the cab. From Bakirkoy we swooped past the huge shopping mall and turned into Atakoy, past the police station with its single machine-gun wielding policeman on duty, then down the main boulevard. The half-built Olympic stadium rose to view, cranes poking their heads over the top like storks nodding their heads in their nest, then across the roundabout, a turn left, and finally the eleven storey building I called home. I slipped him a 500,000 lira note (worth about five quid), and staggered into the lobby, then poured myself into the lift and up to the seventh floor. When I got into my flat, Martin and Graham were still up, playing backgammon and slopping red wine over the carpet.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ghost Town

So, tell me: Where were you, and what were you doing, at 9.00 this morning? That's an easy one to answer, yes? In my case, I was in college, lugging my bag up to my staffroom and thinking about the day ahead.
OK, so what about the same time yesterday? Yes, still easy. Last week? Can you remember what you were wearing? Is it getting tricky now? What about a month ago, or a year? Or how about, ooh, let's say, the last week of May, 1994? That's an impossible one, right?
Well, during that week, I was apparently loafing round my flat in Izmir: It was the time of Kurban Bayram, I'd been reading and talking, apparently, and I was scrabbling round for something to write down.....
I've been amusing myself for the last few weeks by reading my old diaries - the ones covering my first teaching job in Izmir, from October 1993 to August 1994. It has been an odd experience, as I find myself occasionally wondering who this idiot is who has written it. Every few lines record the fact that I have been reading something, or wandering round somewhere, or chatting to somebody about something, or sitting somewhere, or eating some meal or other, and I'm staring at this drivel, silently shouting 'Yes, but WHAT? What did you eat, what did you talk about, what did you read?'

It's really rather frustrating.

At other times, I wander at my 26-year-old self, seemingly drifting through the pages, uncertain, worried about writing, fretting about life, and then with a jolt I come across a line that could have been written by me now about things I still fret about.

Of course, the really jaw-dropping thing is the eye-watering amount of booze and fags we consumed back then - reading it, I'm slightly amazed that I still have a liver or functioning lungs. I also seem to have gone to bed at about 1.30 a.m. at the earliest as well. If I do that before a working day nowadays, I can barely function...

However, reading it, frustrating though it is, forces me to recall things as they were, and in so doing, brings up the fact that what I recorded is a ghost of things that were. Not only have all those people moved on, but the Izmir I wrote down, however fleetingly, is not the Izmir that exists today. My diaries record a phantom town, a place moving from being one thing towards being another,  and were I to return there (which I hope I do one day), I wouldn't find it as I recall. The Kordon has been expanded from just a strip of bars and restaurants with a busy road next to the waterfront, to an extended park made from reclaimed land and a wider boulevard. The waters of Izmir bay, which used to glisten with petrochemical sheens and effluent gunk, where children cast fishing lines into the sewage to catch fish for dinner, has been cleaned up beyond recognition. The air, which was heavy with pollution and, in winter, the acrid tang of thousands of coal-fired central heating systems, has also become more beneficent, and the city that was once called The Pearl of The Mediterranean is reclaiming that title for real, despite having a population that has exploded in the past twenty years.
As I read, memory forced itself into shape, and I began to reconstruct that phantom place, with images and odours, the odd remembered word - odd that, that it is words, the things I work with every day, that I have most difficulty in resurrecting from the cemetery of the mind.
Let's take one place from this ghostly, now unreal, place as an example - the Quartz Bar. I mention it several times, but I hardly ever actually describe it - here's a typical bit:
...we two caught a Dolmus to this bar, which was a darkened place, full of cigarette smoke + Turkish men. There was a small microphone + stand on a performance area, if anyone felt like doing a stint - sort of the equivalent of Karaoke Night, I guess.
That really is typical. Where is the rain-flecked cold night Guy, Luciano and me caught a taxi up there, where the driver didn't know where the bar was, and Guy directed him, arriving after a few minutes, and he indicated the Quartz with what seemed to me at the time a very Turkish gesture of the arm and said, 'Su bar, Abi'? What about the place itself, somewhere I am sure does not exist any longer? It was the end building of a little island of flats, with the doorway facing westwards. The road forked around it, the left side leading towards Bornova, the other towards the university. While there was a bar area downstairs, it was almost always deserted, with the real action going on on the first floor. It was, as I have said, dark: In fact, it was painted black, with glossy black and red furniture that had been very much fashionable in the 1980's but was already looking faded and chipped. The window blinds were red too, but covered in ash and dust. The seats were largely banquettes, with the odd bistro-type chair. As you came in the door, the toilets were immediately to your right, then there was a large seating area after that, just above the entrance, and another space, almost as large to its left as you looked. turning to your left, you next saw the tiny stage, where I saw some fantastic folk music being played on several occasions, including Grup Lacin, then further seating, which narrowed into odd angles. On the wall were some rather tacky Athena-type photos and cheesy landscapes - one that remains memorable to me is of a volcano erupting, while a woman's face weeps over it.

The place, to put not too fine a point on it, stank: cigarettes, spilt beer, stale raki, rancid oil, fried things, and a dodgy plumbing system, all vied with each other to produce the worst odour. But none of this mattered to us - we just wanted somewhere relatively local, relatively cheap and relatively friendly that stayed open until Stupid O'clock. It's where I had Turkish beer for the first time, and tried my first raki, where I sampled different mezes of various or dubious quality, listened to a whole new experience in music and saw that there was a different way to interact with music and food and booze from the tried and tested UK formula of just cranking up the volume and getting lashed.

And so, from the tiresomely incomplete sketches of things I wrote eighteen or nineteen years ago, I can conjure phantom memories of a now-phantom place and once again begin to cloak them in flesh. This is why a diary can be so important - maybe I can't recall with absolute clarity every last detail, nuance or word, but I can recall for another person's ear and eye the phantom place I once haunted.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The more it changes.....

Here's a little quote for you - before you look below, guess who wrote it and when.
....What's more, the wretched earnings of the poor are daily whittled away by the rich, not only through private dishonesty, but through public legislation. As if it weren't unjust enough already that the man who contributes most to society should get the least in return, they make it even worse, and then arrange for injustice to be legally described as justice.
  In fact, when I consider any social system that prevails in the modern world, I can't....see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organising society. They think up all sorts of tricks and dodges, first for keeping safe their ill-gotten gains, and then for exploiting the poor by buying their labour as cheaply as possible. Once the rich have decided that these tricks and dodges shall be officially recognised by society - which includes the poor as well as the rich - they acquire the force of law.
Heady stuff, eh? Obviously the work of some deranged socialist or something. And so, therefore, right up my alley. However, there is one crumb of comfort - the person who wrote this described a world not that far removed from our own current one, where we seem destined to swell the ranks of the poverty-stricken once more to the kind of the levels this writer was talking about. We live in a country where the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has continued to grow beyond anything experienced in at least a century. We live in a world where the richest 0.13% of the world's population hold more wealth in secret accounts than the combined GDPs or the US and Japan, and quite possibly a lot more - in fact, a staggering $55 TRILLION may be involved. This is more than enough money to sort out the current economic woes of the world, to put it in context.
Yet why should we be surprised it's happening? After all, it's happened before, and I daresay it'll all happen again - humans being humans, after all. Yet I can't help but worry - I think that such a gross imbalance between what the very richest have and what the very poorest don't demeans the whole of society from root to tip. The distorting effect of this top-heavy money blossom at the very stem, as it were, this rotten stinking fetid bloom of lucre, overshadows the base of the tree, unbalances it under the weight of its foul petals, and poisons and saps the very bases of community and society. After all, a tree without roots cannot stand, so why should those who claim to lead expect the system from which they spring, and on which they gain sustenance, expect anything else?
There is a considerable amount of research that indicates that those countries that have a smaller gap between the very rich and the very poor are more likely to be more cohesive, have fewer social problems and greater social mobility, and, generally speaking, are more likely to be happy bunnies. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much chance of that happening in the UK or globally at the moment - instead, our Prime Minister seems hellbent on a deregulated goldrush for more of the Rotten Bloom's falling petals. And it's going to get worse at home - along with utilities bills increasing, fuel tax about to go on the rise, and, worse, a crappy grape harvest likely to lead to a quid on a bottle of wine, there will also be more benefits cuts to come in April. Life is going to get much, much harder here, and that worries me - look what's going on in Greece right now.Austerity breeds Nazis.
If the politicians are really serious about sorting out the economy, they should start at the top of the tree, not at the bottom - lop away a few blooms here and there, trim the branches a bit. It won't hurt anywhere near as much as attacking the roots with a jackhammer, which is effectively what the austerity measures announced across Europe and further afield are. Ah, I hear you cry, but then the rich will go elsewhere - my answer? Let them go - only a few will actually do it, and that ends up clearing a bit more space for everyone else. The fact of the matter is that the individuals who really make a difference are very, very few and far between - instead, society is the product of, well, society - you know, all of us, pulling together. May I point out that this is not the same as David Cameron's Big Society, or indeed Ed Miliband's One Nation - rather, it's the organic relationship between people that generally exists in spite of, rather than because of, politicians.
And anyway, we shouldn't be fooled into believing that money is the only true measure of an individual's worth, which is what the rich would have us think, or, to return to my rather organic analogy, what the flower on the stem would have the plant think: that its only role is to uphold a gaudy collocation of petals, doomed to wilt and fall all too soon. It's a pity that we associate wealth with power, really.
And the quote? Sir Thomas More, Book Two of Utopia, translated by Paul Turner in the 1985 Penguin Editon. A text written almost 500 years ago. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where is the New Ataturk?

As promised, a post about Turkey, considering that's how this blog was originally intended to be.

Back in 1999, just before the earthquake struck that flattened the region round Izmit, and officially killed 20,000 (although the real figure was almost certainly double that - however, 20,000 was the limit beyond which disaster funds would have had to be released by the government to assist, and they had no intention of doing that), that earthquake where the death figure was so high because government cronies, cowboy builders, get-rich quick merchants and generally crooked scum had built buildings out of sub-standard materials, back then, one of my better classes asked me what I thought of Ataturk. His picture stared down at me, as it does in every classroom, office, and workplace in the Turkish Republic: This particular one was of him with careworn blue eyes, moustached, looking off to the left, wearing what is called an English Jacket in Turkey, his face pensive, almost as if he was trying to work out the same question that my students had asked me.
I paused before I gave my answer. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, General, Leader, Teacher, Father, is a revered figure, even though he had died in 1938. He is a ubiquitous presence, a reminder of what was won, carved out of the wreckage that was the Ottoman Empire under its bloated, vain, witless leaders, of the hard bargains done, and a promise of what can be.
'I believe', I said, 'that Ataturk was a great leader.'
The atmosphere in the room eased. I'd given the answer they wanted to hear.
'However,' I continued, 'I'm not sure he was a good politician'.
It went very, very silent after that. I carried on.
'He was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He was a brilliant military commander, and he commanded affection and loyalty. He led, and others followed happily. He, and he alone, created the Turkish Republic. He made the ENTIRE country learn to use the Latin script in six months flat, increasing literacy by 90%, and that meant that your grandparents and parents could study, go on to university, and make a richer, better country. He gave women the vote. He separated the state from religion, and he created a judicial code that ensured, in theory, equality before the law. For all these things, yes, he was a great leader.'
The class waited, silent.
'But, a good politician? I don't think so - why? Because he wasn't a man who liked to compromise: His word was the law, and he wasn't that interested in many other people's opinions. He was a military man, a man used to being obeyed, and that doesn't always make for good politicians, because a politician has to be able to compromise, negotiate, be flexible. Ataturk would have seen that as being weak-spirited.
The other thing, the greatest tragedy, was that he drank himself to death, in effect - and that was a tragedy for him personally, for all of Turkey, and, I think, for the whole Middle East.'
I'm not sure how well that last bit went down, nor, to be honest, how my Turksih friends and colleagues will react to seeing it written here, but that was how I thought at the time, and, a few gaps in my knowledge that have been filled since then notwithstanding, not far from how I feel today.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was, without doubt, the Búyúk Ónder (Great Leader) and, I believe, thoroughly deserves the honorific of Father of the Country (despite that appellation being previously used by, among others, Gaius Julius Caesar). However, I can't help but feel that he was not the best of politicians, and unfortunately, this problem of Leadership and Politician still pervades Turkish politics today.
Turkey loves Strong Male Leaders - even Tansu Ciller, the first female prime minister and throughly rotten, corrupt leader, played up the Strong Man Role. The current incumbent, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has arguably taken this attitiude to ever more absurd levels, to the points that certain commentators accuse him of wishing to become a new Ottoman Padishah, and indeed, he has talked about the rise of a new Ottoman Empire. Erdogan is leader of the AKP, a 'mildly' Islamist party that has become increasingly authoritarian over the past ten years, imprisoning more journalists and writers than any other country, and resurrecting the war against the PKK and the Kurds in the southeast. This is a party that has placed internet filters meaning that school children cannot access controversial things such as Charles Darwin, for example. This is a party that has outlawed abortion. This is a party that sees conspiracy everywhere, and which has become increasingly, hysterically, antisemitic, and has passed the contagion of Conspiracy Theory to every corner of the land.
When I look at my Turkish friends' and colleagues' threads on Facebook, I can't help but see that political and religious opinion have become incredibly fiercely divided, perhaps worse than it was in the late 70's, and I can't help but think that it is squarely the fault of the AKP and their decade-long rule. And a phrase I see again and again is this:
'Where is Ataturk?'
I understand this sentiment - the need for the hero to rise and save the day: After all, it's universal - the cowboy in the white hat, King Arthur rising from his slumber of centuries, William Tell appearing with his crossbow - but the problem with this kind of yearning is that it ignores the obvious answer.
What is that answer?
Well, it very much depends on whether you want 'Great' or if you want 'Good'.
'Great' is for a short time: Someone comes in a time of crisis, leads, and seeks to solve the problems faced by a country or a society, or a group of people. The problem with this is that Greatness is addictive, both for those who wish to be great and for those who seek someone Great to lead them. It is not always the correct way to govern, as a Great Leader is someone who expects to be obeyed in all things political, religious, etihical and moral, just as Erdogan and the AKP have styled themselves.
'Good', by contrast, is for the long term - it may be hesitant; it may ponder; it may be conservative (with a small 'c'), for fear of causing more harm than good; but ultimately, good governance is all about considering the needs of society as a whole rather than the whims, religion, ethics or morality of a tiny ruling elite, no matter how egalitarian they try to make themselves seen.
And going back to what I said to my students about Ataturk, I said something else:
'I believe that he did everything he did for the sake of his countrymen - not for Turkey, but for Turks. He did what he did for people: the great shame for this Great Leader is that he never gave himself the opportunity to be Good, if you see what I mean.'
And there's the answer to the question - 'Where is Ataturk?' He was the father; It's the children's job to carry on where he left off, and be the Good Politicians, each and every one - so, my Turkish friends and colleagues, you yourselves are the answer to the question - it's up to you to make it happen. Turkey needs and deserves good leadership, not men who want to be Great.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

...but now for something completely different....

...or rather, a return to one of the more frequent topics of this blog, cycling, just to make a change from navel-gazing.
Today, Remembrance Sunday, started out under cold blue skies and a hard frost clamped down on everything. Fortunately, I'd already decided to sit this part of the day out, reading the paper and having breakfast. No point freezing one's nuts off by too early a start. In fact, I didn't get out of the house until 10.30, and, being at first undecided which direction to head in, finally thought aiming for the north would be good.
The trees were putting on their best, and probably final, autumnal display: Beeches and hornbeams were decked with vivid leaves, ranging in colour from pale yellow, through amber and orange to fiery red. I headed edgily down Highdown Hill and the acrid smell of a coal fire somewhere, past the golf course and up the other side, coming out as ever onto Shepherd's lane, then heading up towards Kidmore End. Coming past the New Inn, I saw that there was a Remembrance Day service spilling out of the church and into the road, people greeting each other, some with poppy wreaths held in hands. I made a detour round the back of the church in order to avoid cycling through the crowd, then carried on the Gallowstree road, and down to Reades Lane. The air was cool and held autumn's pungency, a mix of damp soil, leaves, earthy strange growth and animal dung. Bar a few walkers and a cyclist who didn't bother to reply to my hello, I saw no-one. A chcken coop went by, with one animal making a mad racket; I saw a few sad-eyed cattle over a hedge.
Then an extraordinary moment: Just past the crossroads with Wyfold Lane, where theroad dips down through woods, I suddenly saw movement - dun, large shapes, picking through the wood, then carefully crossing the road right in front of me - fallow deer! I was still going downhill at speed, and I wondered if I'd end up hitting one. They spotted me - well, it's hard to ignore someone in a bright orange cycling jacket - and began to run and jump. I found myself right in the middle of a herd of deer, running and leaping in front and behind - a truly extraordinary moment, made all the more so by the silence with which it happened.
I rode on up to Stoke Row, past the pigsty on the right hand side of the road, and ran into the fragance of freshly baked bread and pastries, making me feel hungry all over again. I stopped briefly at Maharajah's Well and had some water, then headed off towards Ipsden, via Uxmore road and the Black Horse, a pub that used to be run by two little old ladies with a relaxed attitude toward closing hours - they used to trust people to throw themselves out and pay for anything they drank once they'd retired to bed. On I went, past clip-clops of horse riders and the cack-a-carra of pheasants sprinting into undergrowth, enormous mushrooms, and got as far as the field just past the farmhouse that has its own little cottage industry, and looked down on the magnificent view that stretches all the way to Woodstock, somewhere past Oxford.
I turned back a bit then, and took the woodland road to Checkenden, going past the equestrian centre before going through the village proper, past the cricket ground and the Four Horseshoes, heading towards Woodcote, when I saw an even more extraordinary sight - a giant sculpture in the middle of a field, next to an abandoned barn. I turned off the road, left my bike propped against a tree, and made my way across the field to have a closer look. The air whistled with the cries of red kites as I looked at this weird thing, a statue of two people embracing, or rather, two giant skeletons.

I later found out that it's by John Buckley, and called either The Nuba Embrace or The Nuba Survival.
Well, that was enough weirdness for the day, so once I'd got to Woodcote, I headed back towards Goring Heath and from there to Mapledurham, banging along a rough, muddy-puddled lane until I reached the Warren and from there back to Caversham and finally Emmer Green.

Monday, November 05, 2012

not much of a muchness.

It's late, I'm tired, and sometimes I wonder what this blog is really all about - let's face it, it is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, isn;t it? However, it has been alive since 2003, so it's coming up to its tenth birthday, which must count as some kind of achievement. Don't bother looking back at earlier posts - they're all a wee bit embarrassing...
I gave this blog the name it's stuck with for a reason - basically, I couldn't think of a better name, and I initially wanted to talk about a couple of great loves in my life: Turkish food and Raki, the closest humankind has ever reached to liquid cannabis, in my opinion. What I have omitted to write about is my attitude and opinions about Turkey itself. I have always been a bit circumspect in this regard, out of respect to all my old Turkish friends and colleagues. I intend to remedy this somewhat. This doesn't mean that I'm about to slag it off - that would be pointless:  rather, I'm going to try and give my honest perspective, just as the quite magnificent Istanbul's Stranger does, but from someone who has been there and come back out again, and as someone who is concerned about the pressures and problems it looks like it's facing right now.
But not right now - right now, it's bed time.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Hello, little traitor.
I can see you, shuffling off down the sinuous paths of this labyrinth, forever scuttling away, hiding, shifting.
I am very, very angry with you.
Do you know why?
Of course you do. After all, you've been in the driving seat for years, haven't you? You're the one behind the bad decisions. You're also the one behind good decisions too, or at least ones that seemed good at the time, because you're good at those ones - hence my feelings of betrayal. You're the one that made me deflect decisions, shy away from things, settle for less than my worth. You managed to convince me that I wasn't good enough or smart enough or handsome enough or rich enough, that I was below this or that person, that I was lucky to be just as I was. You were the one who encouraged me to sneer at others; you were the one who said I was better off sat in the corner, reading a book, when I wanted to play as a child; later, you persuaded me that an aura of solitude was cool, and keeping people at arm's length was the right thing to do.
I've lost people because of you.
I lost my integrity, even though you kidded me into believing that I had it in spades.I lost any direction I might have had, because you persuaded me that there were so many directions to go in, so many paths.
when I landed a job, you told me it was all down to me being 'lucky', even though the job wasn't that great - after all, it was still a job. And then you whispered that it was, somehow, a great job and in some way better than others - god, it took me YEARS to suspect that wasn't really true. Now, it is, by happenstance, true that I am very, VERY good at teaching, but then again, I've had nineteen years of doing it, and not doing much else - and why?
Because, you whispered, I don't have time, or I don't have money, or I'm not good enough, or I should be doing it for serious purposes, rather than for pleasure.
And why not pleasure? Because you said it was worthless. The only fun I ever had was having a few drinks - but you spoiled that by pouring too much down my throat and ruining it all, you little sack of crap.
And then you cleared my wallet of money and made me worry about that, you backstabbing tosspot. And even while I was worried about that, I couldn't countenance getting a different job - why? because again, you said, I wasn't quite right for anything out there.
And then you allowed me to get angry and frustrated and long to hurt, because I was trapped in the inside of a labyrinth.
You have poisoned so much in my life.
And for the last few months, FINALLY, I have been treading this maze, seeking out all these my problems, trying to understand the shape and form of this puzzle. Slowly, I have linked passageway to passageway; I have a twine in my hand, and gradually, like Theseus seeking the minotaur, I have been edging towards the centre, but for a long time, I kept circling - and I didn't even notice I was doing so - why? Because you, who I thought was at the centre of the mystery, you were actually there, whispering directions to me, making me double back, pause, turn, then turn again.
And then, as if the sky had cleared, I saw through your tricks: the way you say, 'ah yes, but...' or 'well, like this is for the best...', or the way you divert my mind, my attention from what is, how you stop me from following a true path.
I saw you, and now you're bolting down the paths of my mind, a little black shape with a rat's tail - a mindrat, the festering little blister of darkness responsible for so much, for holding me back, for making me settle for less than I can be. I don't know exactly how you were spawned, where you come from, but I know that you are a thing of fear, and I will catch you.
Hello, little traitor - let me introduce myself. I am Paul Gallantry, and you are not the one in charge, not any more.This is my labyrinth.
Keep scuttling.

....and that's where I was several hours ago, except I realised that this cunning little bastard inside my head has made me define myself entirely by negatives, something that is not a reflection of me as an entire person! Damn, it's clever - I've been misdirected again! The thing is, I do not understand this strange sequestered bit of my soul - all I know is that it's responsible for tethering me back, but why, well, that's anyone's guess. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Did you miss me?

OK, so I haven't been posting much recently. Well, not at all for a few months. Alright, not a blinking sausage.
I intend to rectify this.
I should say that there have been three reasons behind my extreme rectitude of the last six months:
1. I have been in the throes of a separation, and to be honest, I can think of better things to think about than blog.
2. I have been up to my eyeballs in studying.
3. I am by nature a lazy git, and I couldn't think of anything worth saying.
4. OK, no. 3 is in fact two reasons.
5. All right, I've thought of something else: I was feeling weary of being online, on places like blogger and Twitter, where it seems you're surrounded by a myriad of voices all shouting 'Me! me! MEEEE!!' all the time.

The question is, where to start again?

Oh alright then, politics.
There have been, to put it mildly, what might might be classified as Interesting Times in the rarifed realms of politics, law, media and finance. Put simply, it would appear that we are witnessing a rather black farce, with the ruling elite's trousers falling down at an alarming rate.
 Unfortunately, there's no-one making a 'POOooo-oooOOP!' noise on a flute, or someone pretending to be a lampshade.
What we are witnessing is just how far the politicians in Westminster, of all political pursuasions, have been in thrall to the media and the banks, and just how scared of them they are. The Leveson inquiry has unveiled all sorts of shenanigans, chicanery and other words suggesting farcical black deeds in the press and its relationship to those nominally in charge; The utterly disgusting behaviour by Barclays and other banks is now the possible subject of another inquiry.
The problem is this: the people who have set up Leveson and are pushing for the banking inquiry are to some degree culpable. It's a bit like a witness for the defence in a murder trial being asked to set up the case. Why on earth is there not more anger about this issue? For the past four years now, we have increasingly seen the ways in which politicians, media figures and bankers have actively colluded to deceive, cheat, swindle and threaten. If these were people in your neighbourhood doing this, they would quite rightly be the subject of prosecution - but because these are the lawmakers, the purseholders, the newscarriers, they can make a law, keep hold of our money and tell us all that it is, somehow, all our fault.
Or worse, That We Are All In This Together.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

missed typo....

......or deliberate? This made me smile today: I was looking through the What'sOn section of GetReading, and saw this ad for a concert:
Now, how do you go around proving that you are qualified for free entrance?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Faffing about.

OK, this is one of these posts where I'm not sure where it'll end up, simply because I'm being a bit aimless, and also because it's mid-January, and that is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the month. In fact, thinking about it, January is one of my faffier months. This is probably because of several factors:
1) Resolutions crashing and failing miserably.
2) Lack of money due to Christmas.
3) It's bloody January, and it's dark outside and it's easier to sit in a pit at home, lurking and watching duff TV.
As I have mentioned on this blog before, I tend not to make any solid resolutions as such at this time of year, as they are almost certainly doomed to fail due to the fact that we tend to indulge in far too many bad habits around the winter solstice, such as drinking and eating too much or generally being a bit gloomy.
But one habit I've become more mindful of is mental faffing. Having completed a series of challenges last year, I find myself at a bit of a loose end, and I've noticed how much of my thinking time is taken up with idle speculation and random thoughts. At the same time, I've really noticed how much general faffing I do - at work, at home, whenever I'm on my netbook, whenever I'm standing in a corner and idly staring at drying paint, or whatever. Now, I'm certainly not alone in this - it's amazing how much faffing you can get away with: Boris Johnson appears to have set up an entire career out of being a professional faffer. And, come to think of it, virtually every presenter of daytime TV. But it sometimes seems to me that I've spent too much time in thoughtful idleness, and it leads me to wonder how much more I could do by being more mindful - that is, more focused on doing something rather than let my mind wander.
Then again, this makes me wonder whether it is worth being mindful: Would I actually be doing anything worthwhile, or would it just be Doing Stuff? In which case, it's faffing, but concentrated faffing. In fact, this is a variant on this good old question: 'What If...?' 'What if I'd done more at school? What if I'd jumped to this job? What if I'd stayed?' etc and so on and so forth.
The fact is, it's so easy to flail around in life, and it is extraordinarily rare to find people who focus single-mindedly on things - and it should be borne in mind that such people are committing themselves to a high-risk game - if they fail and fall, they fail and fall spectacularly. And they don't get to smell the roses along the way. There's nothing wrong per se with the faff: it's when the faff takes over from real life and we mistake it for such. But also, when we are jolted into notcing that what we are doing is an act of faffiness, then it is time to do something different.
And that's the end of this bit of faffery.