We’re home…

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Thank you for all of your thoughts and comments. We must have left the airport (in a plane on the way to Frankfurt) about an hour before the horror started. Thanks to Andy K who texted me at Frankfurt airport asking if we were OK – at that point we were in the dark. As we walked onto the plane I quickly phoned a few of our loved ones to tell them we were out of harm’s way.  Without that timely intervention we would have been in the air and out of reach for an hour and a half with all sorts of hares running.  So thanks Andy – and the rest of you who immediately got in touch.

So we’re okay.  But that’s not the whole point, is it?  Turkish tourism is down by 45% on previous seasonal highs.  We didn’t have to queue to get into any attraction – which is highly unusual.  And with the Turks hoping to cement Ataturk airport as a huge international hub, this is the last thing they needed.  That’s before you even start to consider the personal grief of those who have lost family and friends.  You have to feel for them.  This is a country trying to make the most of their past and present history.  Yes, their human rights record particularly in the east against the Kurds is not good, but they don’t deserve to be subject to this sort of man-designed horror.  And when, like us, you’ve just rubbed shoulders with scores and scores of them and realise they are just fragile human beings like you and me it makes you weep.  Bless them all.

For completeness I didn’t get the Exec Lead job.  I had to phone to find out.  But in the end the answer was going to be the same.  Never mind.  It gives us some freedom we thought we might have lost, and, let’s face it, after yesterday our whole life could have been considerably worse.

 

Topkapi – tick!

Okay, so Topkapi Palace is a world-class attraction, it wasn’t a mosque and it’s in Istanbul. We’ve not been to the Alhambra (it’s on our list), but we guess it’s the same intensity to Topkapi in terms of calm, beauty and magnificence among another bustling major city scorched by Mrs Sun and all of her relatives. It is a must see – the jewels, armour and clock museums alone are worth five-star status. But for both of us, leaving aside the overarching cool splendour among an urban miasma, clothes shops and mosques, it’s the small museum of religious writing which took the top award. Along with the Mullah who sat at a chair and beautifully chanted us around of the religious relic museums, the ancient, framed Arabic scrolls were the best bit of the trip. There is something mesmerising about Arabic. It does to the written word, what the French accent does to conversation. It’s elegant, lyrical and, when painted and framed, truly fabulous. Loved it.

After Topkapi we wandered down town and found the spice market – a rainbow of smells – had another picnic lunch by the water, tried to find a special mosque that had great tiles (but it was closed for restoration) and then ambled back up the hill through endless markets, stopping for fruit tea before we flopped into the hotel.

Surprisingly C, with me, sat by the pool and listened to PMQs on R5 and were immensely impressed with David Cameron and equally unimpressed with Boris who, for reasons I will never understand, didn’t turn up for the event? And he’s meant to be our next PM? Vote for me! Afterwards we walked around and found some supper. We then bought a couple of beers and retired to our hotel room to watch the footy.

So what have we learnt? Istanbul is a place you have to come to. As expected the Blue Mosque and Topkapi should be on your bucket list as should be having a drink in a cafe under the bridge, as well as a ferry ride (and back) across to Asia. Istanbul is a prosperous enough city. There are plenty of expensive cars and very few old ones (as you get anywhere south of Rome). I never felt threatened, although Turks are slow to smile and some appear disinclined to talk to Westerners. Many, however, were more than happy to chat, although we never got round to religion. I had my rucksack opened by an indigenous middle-aged Italian when we were in Naples (I turned and caught him at it). It never once crossed my mind that that would happen here.

It may be an Islamic country, but, unlike say, Jordan, few seem to stop for prayers and certainly many dress in a v western way – some not wearing much at all. All of the infrastructure works, but you don’t have to stray off the main road far to see a lot of broken stuff. But, it’s mostly very clean.

And, like Greece, there are Turkish flags everywhere – some huge ones. It is a v proud country. And, I’d say, a mark of their civility is the way they look after their strays. I don’t want to harp back on about Italy, but we got sick of seeing stray cats and dogs. Nearly all of them in a v poor state. Much the same was true of Greece. Here there are only a few stray dogs and most of them seem to have been tagged, and they all seem to be looked after. The same is true for the cats (there are more of them). The ones we saw were all fed and watered.

our hotel – worked for us

So, do you need to go? Ehh, yes. I think, on reflection, we could have got away with three nights – tomorrow is a free day for us and our plane doesn’t leave until 6pm. However, we did walk pretty much everywhere (a fitness thing, I think) and needed a late pm snooze and no rush in the morning. It has made it a real holiday for us.

So well done Istanbul. We won’t be coming back (Iceland next?), other than maybe to transit in Doris to do the south coast. But it was really worth the effort.

More mosques…

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Another hot day when we ventured into Asia. Overall our feeling is that Istanbul is somewhere you have to come to. There is something different about this city split between two continents which has more mosques than Rome probably has churches. But, and here’s the difference, Istanbul only has mosques. Okay, we did the underground Yerebatan Cistern, a huge vaulted ancient reservoir fed by aqueducts from a forest ten miles away, but other than that and its unique disposition, we’re talking a lot of mosques. There’s no Trevis Fountain, nor an Arc de Triumph. No great parliament buildings and no world-class art galleries. The mosques are huge – all of them. And with their achingly beautiful minarets, gravity-defying domes and significant mosaics, they are themselves must-sees. But once you’ve been in one, they’re quite samey in a jaw-dropping sort of way. I’ve just reread this and have to note that we are doing Topkapi tomorrow, which isn’t a mosque, so my view might change?

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Last night we went back to the bridge with the cafes and chose the wrong restaurant. The whole of Turkey was is Istanbul celebrating Ramadan, but we never felt uncomfortable. It was a big party, with all the public places brimming over – and this morning, everything was clean again. It is a clean city. This morning we visited Hagia Sofia mosque/museum, which is a cricket ball throw from the Blue Mosque. Ugly from the outside, but beautiful inside – with some great mosaics, many of which are Christian as it was originally a cathedral. Then to the underground cistern, followed by a boat trip to Asia – all courtesy of the Oyster card.

We walked along the seafront in weather that was just beginning to get unworkable without a portable air conditioning unit, had a picnic lunch looking back over to Europe and caught a different ferry back. There are boats everywhere crossing the Bosporus. And it’s an immensely pleasant way to travel.

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Tiring, we walked back a couple of miles to the hotel, up big hills through back streets. Here we were reminded that Istanbul is actually one massive clothes shop. There are thousands of them, some big, some small. Some spilling onto the street. The houses are either concrete, four/five storey affairs, or wooden colonial equivalents. There’s some interesting old brick buildings and, of course, a mosque on every corner – the architectural style is at best random. But there’s plenty of life and lots of colour.

We’re not sure about tonight yet. Hopefully we’ll chose a better restaurant. Wish us luck!

Every shape and silhouette…

The good news is our luggage arrived at the hotel first thing this morning. Not bad for what looked like a second-world lost luggage organisation at Istanbul airport which, on the face of it, seemed more likely to sell your luggage to the highest bidder than dispatch it to your hotel. Well done them and sorry for any aspersions cast.

lunch spot

lunch spot

We wandered round last night and found a two-course meal (no alcohol – our choice) for £12. And very nice it was too. Actually, on inspection today, with the Turkish Lira at about 4:1 (surprising considering Boris’ efforts), it looks like we will get away with that every evening. Add a couple of £s if we have a beer each.

Istanbul is as you’d expect it to be. Mystic, hot, slightly dusty, welcoming but not in an open way (as opposed to Greece, which we really loved), Islamic – with more mosques than you can shake a minaret at but still with its fair share of western-dressed women (short shorts and made up to kill) but with none of them actually working anywhere that I could see, even as waitresses – and colours and smells, and shapes and silhouettes which you only get the further east and south you go.

We did much of the left-hand bit of the city (Sultanahmet) and walked across the bridge over the Golden Horn to the middle bit (Beyolglu) before getting the tram back home. The Sultanahmet is the bit with the Blue Mosque (did that, it’s free and very impressive) and Topkapi (that’s for tomorrow). We ambled everywhere including, by chance, walking through the Grand Bizarre – think a couple of covered football pitches selling every exotic thing you can think of and then turn up the senses volume – which we were and are leaving for Tuesday morning before we fly back. We walked along the seafront at the entrance to the Bosporus and admired the view across to Asia (for Monday?), before stopping for a cup of tea on the double-height bridge with its many posh (but inexpensive) cafes underneath.

We ate a simple picnic lunch on the other side of the bridge and scaled the hill up to Galata Tower (the oldest in the world, so it says?) before – you’ll be pleased – trudging through quite hot heat now to the Pera Palace Hotel where Agatha Christie is thought to have written Murder on the Orient Express. We then ambled some more before eventually catching the tram back. By the way, public transport, which includes metro and tram from the airport, is simple, efficient and air conditioned. Every time you use it it costs 1.5 TL (about 30p) and you can buy an Oyster card (all done by a simple top-up machine) for 6 TL. Taxi transfer from the airport is in the region of £30. We did it for £1.20 and got so much more from the experience. For the record our hotel (via Expedia) is, wait for it, £70 for four nights B&B. (The second B is perfectly adequate, but don’t expect full-English.). And we have a pool on the roof…fab.

thanks for the advice Al

To finish for today I’d just like to add to yesterday’s diatribe (thanks for the comments). When asked today “where ‘you from?”, which is normally a precursor to “and would you like to buy my carpet?”, I really struggled with English. I am, sadly, ashamed of where I come from at the moment. I struggled with ‘British’ as well. A couple of men said something along the lines of ‘big problem’ and one said ‘I will pray for you.’ Bless them. Now I don’t want to stereotype people, but I’m guessing the loud group of men drinking pints of beer at Wetherspoons at 4am Friday morning at Birmingham airport, probably took some delight in declaring their nationality as they got off the plane in Majorca a couple of sozzled hours later. But it didn’t work for me today. And I’m sorry – that says more about me than it does about them, I guess.

And finally, (other than, ‘Go for it Nicola S, we’re coming to join you’), if you’ve not seen the BBC chart about voting ages, have a look at the one below. What have we done?

Oh well…

What can I say? As a friend of mine commented just a few minutes after the final vote, “that’s a victory for the little Englanders then”. I’m not sure I can add much more to that. But I will. I was sick to my stomach when the news became clear. It’s not a personal thing, although I do think our livelihood will be influenced for worse by the decision. It’s a much more a feeling about the people I am sharing this small island with. I don’t want to brush shoulders with folk who voted to leave on the back of immigration and nationalism (to be clear, only 38% of us actively voted to leave which is a worry). With people who think that we’re clever enough to do things better on our own, that sharing our borders with fellow Europeans leaves a dirty stain. Who don’t quite get that most of the rights afforded to workers come from a Brussels diktat. That our fishermen are not restricted to what they fish because Europe says so – they’re restricted because there aren’t enough fish in the sea and somebody has to protect the shoals. I could go on.

I want to rub shoulders with the 70% of 18-25 year olds who voted to remain. The future of our small country. Our life blood, not the elderly who, pretty much (although not my Mum and Dad, well done them) voted to leave because they fear some mystical force which wasn’t around in their day which is forever binding us to a monolith-like organisation designed to suck out the Englishness (OK, and Welshness) from our veins and replace it with some woolly, bureaucratic fluid which turns us into European zombies. So, I exaggerated a bit there, but no more than the line that we lose £350m a week to the EU and don’t seem to get a penny back in return. I wonder where Cardiff would be without the EU waterfront grant?

Stop! I’ve said enough. Our plan now is to buy a place in Scotland and vote for independence. Seriously. And having had a finger, then two fingers and then some other gesticulation thrown at me whilst driving the other day (it doesn’t happen on the continent), you can keep your overcrowded, small-minded, xenophobic, bitter and frantic country and, until you’ve learnt some humility, compassion and some manners, we’re off to join our continental pals.

But…some balance. This was more than an EU referendum. This was a vote about the state of politics. This was a them and us, north and south, country and city vote. This was an opportunity to express wholesale disillusionment at where everyone finds themselves in the world. A world where there is so much expectation nowadays, built on a media-dominated painting where everything is shown as perfect – so that ‘just not quite perfect’ isn’t good enough. As a result, it became an opportunity for popularist politics – as we’re seeing emerge across the world. No manifestos required. Just shout louder and scare bigger than the other guy. With Donald and Boris just having to be larger than life and promise the world (in a language that expands no wider than the common denominator) and that’s good enough for me. Get rid of the bureaucrats and let’s have some people who talk our language have a go! And don’t give me any details.

And they may be right? Who knows? Perhaps we will be building a hospital a week come 2018? Perhaps Donald will construct a wall to keep out the murderous Mexicans? (Although, he will need to employ a few of them to make it happen – I’m not sure he’s spotted the irony.) But my guess is that the current so-called political elite aren’t in it solely for the brass nameplates and a seat in the House of Lords. I reckon that a good number of them are trying their best to build new hospitals and keep ISIS at bay. It just that they’re not explaining themselves clearly enough. They’re certainly not as loud (both vocally and presentationally) as the big men with the blond quiffs.

So, in the end, it was a protest vote and we should recognise that. We need to balance the metaphorical books in a way that everyone feels part of the deal. And that might mean we need Boris (someone has to replace ‘call me Dave’) to fool about on a stage and make people laugh? To communicate like Nigel F with a pint of beer in his hands. It is, after all, everyone’s country as much as it is everyone else’s. It’s just a shame that to achieve that, the world has become a much less pleasant and more volatile place – as if there wasn’t enough of that already. And, after yesterday’s vote, we are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Let’s hope that the US have got this out of their system before November. Otherwise #donaldandboris might just be beginning of the end of us all…

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the view from our hotel roof..

We almost missed the interconnecting flight at Frankfurt. Lufthansa sent us an email at 2am saying the flight from Birmingham had been cancelled. Blooming Europeans. How can they do that? By that time we were on our way. We were then booked onto a second flight, which was also delayed and when we got onto the tarmac at Frankfurt (an airport we had to circumnavigate three times to find our gate) we had 35 minutes to connect. That included circumnavigating the v large airport three times, most of which was on foot. We got to the gate just as they were closing. Three young lads C had befriended and were nonchalantly following us to Gate B46 didn’t make it. It was a close thing. However, as I pen this on the flight, we have no idea if our luggage made it . We shall see.

Off to Asia…

Still no news from Exec Lead – they did say ‘next week’ so I’m still displaying acre loads of patience.  I had a day in Cheltenham yesterday mentoring two head teachers and really love it.  It is, however, very tiring.  For a two hour slot you have to be on your guard, careful of what you say.  C equated it to being a counsellor – and I guess it is v much the same sort of thing.

imageOther news includes that I have written to a number of folk suggesting that I may not be a bad author to sign up.  One book is already published and has 30 five-star reviews.  The other has been selected by Amazon for e-publication and has an in-place potential readership of at least 3,300 (the number of folk who visited my KS page).  And, yes it’s true, I have the outline plot for the third book in my head.  I can’t tell you how excited I am with that!
And finally, after a few days of not very much but some excruciating English footy, the news is that C and I are off to Istanbul.  I think we both had a down couple of days and Jen suggested that we go away.  We haven’t had a holiday…okay, so I won’t finish that sentence.  So for £500 including everything door-to-door (without spending money), we’re off to Istanbul on Friday for four nights.  Our 3-star hotel has a pool on its roof (well it looked like a pool) and we have an itinerary sorted.  Serendipitously as I pressed ‘book’ on my machIne, BBC 2 threw up Michael Portillo on a railway journey, where most of his programme was based in, you’ve guessed it, Istanbul.  How bizarre!  Anyhow, we’re really looking forward to getting away, having some time to ourselves and seeing the sights.  Of course Istanbul is overdue both an earthquake on a biblical scale and a major terrorist attack.  And, if you all vote to leave, we’re not coming back.  So it might be an eventful few days.
Good luck at the booth tomorrow.  And remember, if our pensions take a hit and the EU collapses and we end up in a war with Russia, then I’ll be after those of you who voted to leave.  But don’t let that influence you…

Drop me a line…

I have to say that my hour with Year 8 on Friday at Wells talking about Creative Writing was the highlight of the past four days. What a scream! It went along the lines of ‘any idiot can write a story – look at me’, combined with ‘Creative Writing – the clue’s in the title’. My writing is certainly creative, if you consider some of my sentence construction – which are often original and hardly textbook. It was fun.

I also did some mentoring whilst I was down there and I am still waiting for Executive Lead to get back to me after Tuesday’s interview. Having waited for 10 days for Kindle Scout to come back, I am now a self-proclaimed expert in hanging about for good or bad news. I’d really like the opportunity to work with state school academy heads during their training, but will absolutely understand if I’m not the man they want. We’ll see.

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Today we did a carboot. I’m sure there’s a better verb than ‘did’? Maybe ‘to carboot’ has already made it into the British vernacular. I can tell you now, it certainly has made it into the Eastern European dictionary. They were everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. In the monumental week where our politicians are asking us to vote on something which, frankly, I don’t think we should be asked to vote on, I’m not nailing my colours to the mast with that statement. In case you need any nudging, I am wholly European and dead against the 50% of you reading this who feel that nationalism has a higher priority than collectivism. I could go on forever describing my views, but I’ll just stick with a single sentence: the world is a more dangerous and unstable place today than it was during the height of the Cold War; our leaving the EU will inevitably undermine that organisation, and may even be the catalyst that breaks it apart – do we really want that on our conscience? And if you want another 50 reasons as to why we should stay, drop me a line…

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Anyhow, the carboot was great. We had a low hurdle of £50 profit and took home £60, so that was a good thing? And we were back at Doris in time for lunch and medals! Hurrah!

We’re helping Jen tomorrow and on Tuesday I’ve got a full day of mentoring up in Cheltenham. From Wednesday we’ve ring-fenced three weeks to be on our own (pretty much). We think we’re going to climb Scafell and spend some time up-north, coming back via my parents. During that time I should hear from Exec Lead, and whilst FtF is being edited by someone in the US, l’m going to start some of my own marketing. For completeness the latest copy of the FtF trailer is here: FtF trailer

Have a great week.