What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: June, 2015

The Other Side of the Story

It might just be me, but itnever occurred to me that if this was the centenary of Gallipoli, then there was probably a fair bit of a fuss being made on the Turkish side too, especially as it was their homeland being invaded and they won.

For the Turkish, it’s called Canakkle, after the province that the whole mess took place in, and it’s celebrated on the 18th of March, which was when the naval battle commenced. Did you know there was a naval battle? The idea was that bits of the British navy would sail up the Dardanelles, bomb the daylights out of the forts that guarded them, then the Colonial forces would have the simple and pleasant job of just occupying the smoking remains. This is one of the forts they were supposed to destroy.

As you can see, not destroyed, due to the Navy not being supplied with any minesweepers, instead being sent some North Sea fishing boats manned by North Sea fishermen with hooks for pulling up any mines they might spot. So that didn’t work. The moral of the story is if you’re going to take the Dardanelles, don’t be a tightarse. 

It was during this naval battle that the “Turkish Simpson”, Seyit Ali Çabuk, had his moment. One of the guns guarding the Straits had been damaged and the crane to lift the heavy shells was broken. Good Gunner Seyit is said to have heaved a shell rumoured to weigh over 250 kilos up the stairs, loaded the gun and damaged one of the British ships, which then swung around and struck a mine.  There are statues and cheap souvenirs of the good gunner everywhere, despite there being some doubt as to whether his gun really did strike that ship. Whatever. Simpson, of Simpson and the Donkey fame was only stretcher bearing for about three weeks before he was killed, and why isn’t there any carry on about any of the other, equally brave, stretcher bearers? The answer is because the journalist on the ground, Bean, wanted a good news story to send home and Simpson and his donkey fit the bill. Thus are legends made.

So that battle was won by the Turks, now there was just a bit of nasty business of getting rid of the Entente forces off the peninsula. Apparently what happened was that on April 25th some colonial troops were landed at a couple of beaches and fought quite hard to get away from them.  Some of the defending Turkish started running away, to be met by Mustafa Kemal, now the immortal Ataturk, Father of the Nation, who famously told them that he wasn’t asking them fight, he was asking them to die. Not what I’d call a pep talk, but apparently it worked, and the ANZACs were held to their positions around the beaches for the entire eight months we were here.

How many do you think the ANZACs lost? Around 10,000, which sounds like rather a lot for such a small battlefield, until you realise that the British and French lost 44,000 between them. And the Turks? The Red Crescent has recently done its most accurate estimate yet and thinks that 100,000 Turkish were martyred there. That’s how they refer to it, and fair enough I guess. Another 150,000 were wounded. Why is it an estimate? I’ll show you.

See that headstone? Ibrahim, son of Hasan, no known birth year. They didn’t have last names. No one knew when they were born. Sinan’s great grandfather died at Gallipoli but they have no way of knowing where and when. 

Ataturk fixed all that. Did you know that the poor old Turks having won Gallipoli had to spend a further five years after the Great War fighting for their country? Everyone wanted a piece of them, the Greeks, the Russians. Ataturk oversaw winning that war, no wonder they revere him and speak of his words almost as if they were holy. The stuff he got away with after that would make today’s politicians cry. He decreed that everyone must have a surname, pick whatever you like and get it registered. Cut out wearing fezzes, I’m not sure why that one was, he’s a man I need to learn more about. But the huge one, imagine this. He changed the alphabet. Until the 1920s the Turks had written everything in Arabic script. No way, said Ataturk. Roman script from now on. Again, I’d love to find out what the idea behind this massive upheaval was, but I’d imagine to make them more European. Overnight, everyone was illiterate. And the Turkish language has thirty two letters, not twenty six, so they’ve had to add on little curly bits and umlauts to make it work. All of their legal, political, historical and religious documents were in Arabic script and he just snapped his fingers and changed it. But they love him and his images and statues are still everywhere even though he died in 1938, and his words are still quoted.

The really big thing that strikes me is that they let us into their country. We invaded, caused a quarter of a million casualties, and here is one of the major images being used in their centenary occasions.

A Turkish soldier carrying an ANZAC. How about that. With the slogan Peace is Possible. What a nation. What a privilege to be over here and be part of it. 


The Turkish Bath

You know I only do these things so you can read about them.

We had shore leave today for good behaviour and were put on a ferry to Canakkle. Which is in Asia, therefore a ten minute ferry ride away. Sinan told us that there is good traditional Turkish baths there that he recommends, not like those nasty touristic ones you get in Istanbul. Turkish families will go to the baths once a week, it’s a good experience. Well, sign me up.

Only four of the ladies of the party have decided to bathe, and rumour has it that one takes spare undies. Sinan couldn’t tell us, because he’s never been in the ladies baths. We arrive at the baths, there is much back and forth in Turkish as we tourists stand against the walls pretending not to be there, then Sinan tells us it’s 65 lira each and ladies go out over there. Men, go into these lockers here and get into a towel. What, right here? Right now? Come on ladies, we’re round the back.

Round the back appears to be through someone’s living room where there’s a woman watching TV, but a tiny old lady appears and beckons us through, handing us a towel and rubber shoes each. She shoves Gayle and I into a locker room, without a lock and without half of its door, but in for a penny, in for a pound and we strip to undies and wrap ourselves in the hamam towel. Gayle is worried about her bag, so the tiny lady crams it into a drawer under a desk at the end of the room and very clearly fails to lock it. Whatever. The change rooms are pretty daggy, but when we get into the baths the whole lot has been constructed of solid marble. In the seventeenth century, according to Sinan.

Have you been to a Turkish bath? This one was a large room with a marble seat all around the outside with partitions at regular intervals. Each partitioned area has a couple of marble basins on the seat into which hot and cold water continually run, draining into a channel in the floor in front of the seats. In the centre of the room is a giant marble slab, exactly the type you’d perform sacrifices on at the full moon. The roof is a dome with orange sized holes in it to let the steam out and the light in. One is given a regular towel and a plastic dish as one comes in, one drapes one’s fluffy towel and hamam towel over a hook over your chosen basin, then you sit there with boobs out and scoop water over yourself.

There were a few Turkish women in there, a very elderly lady and a couple of mums with kids, and the bath attendant, all in just undies and all built for comfort rather than speed. Our tour group valiantly made eye level conversation while tipping the warm water over ourselves, which was rather pleasant, when it became apparent that it would be my turn first. I had stood up to see what pouring water over my shoulders would feel like when the bath attendant came over, placed a gentle but firm hand on my head and pushed me into a sitting position. She then started rubbing soap in my hair and I foolishly opened my eyes to see what was going on to confront a giant pair of boobs right at cheek level. I closed my eyes very very tightly and let her wash my hair, until I could definitely hear her walking away.

She spread my hamam towel out on the slab and indicated that I lie on it on my front. She then proceeded to take off a layer or two of skin from my back half in a very orderly and methodical manner with a plastic loofah. I then discovered that having hot water suddenly  thrown over excoriated skin is very good for the adrenal glands. After that I got a lavender scented massage from head to toe. While having my shoulders expertly massaged I had the new sensation of a pendulous tummy resting gently on the back of my head. And guess what. Then I had to turn over. And have a layer or two of skin taken off my front half. Yes. Head to toe. Including – my face. And another lavender scented massage which again had my eyes very very tightly shut. Because she had my arms out at right angles from my body, and I was lying nude on a marble slab with the sunlight streaming down on me I did feel like this is where I got my throat cut to appease the gods, and I’d paid 65 lira for it.But the last time I’d paid a woman to do that to my boobs it was a lot more, however she did have a medical degree.

Then you go back to your basin and try to work out whether you’d enjoyed the experience or not. On the one hand, I was cleaner than I’d ever been in my life. And I was lavender scented. On the other, boundaries! Eventually I was able to gather my thoughts sufficiently to wrap myself in the fluffy towel and go and get dressed and discover that my bag had not been pinched. Out through the living room, where there were now three people watching TV and smoking, to the reception area to find the men of the group standing around rather awkwardly also trying to decide whether they’d enjoyed it or not and having tea in miniature glasses forced on them by a four foot tall man – I think regular bathing may shrink one.

On the whole, I think yes. I do need rather urgently to replace the essential oils in my skin, but I do feel smooth and relaxed – in a muscular sense anyway. And really, I’m in Turkey. Of course I’d recommend the bath.

The ANZAC Landings

I am here on a battlefield tour, and this post is going to be about the beginning of the Dardanelles land campaign. I’m writing it more to keep it straight in my head than anything else, so if you’re after whimsical anecdote you’ll have to wait for another day.

I do actually know a bit more about the campaign than the average punter. Rod, our ANZAC encyclopedia with the walrus moustache, tells us that the general Aussie on his tours knows that there was a landing at ANZAC cove, everything went very badly and it was all the fault of the British. And if you’re looking for it in a nutshell, well, there it is. But we’re not. Far from it. The whole thing lasted eight months and we’re here for five days, so there won’t be a full reenactment but we’ll certainly be hitting the highlights.

We started off with a ferry trip along the coast from Gaba Tepe, a little knoll sticking out into the sea, which at the time of the landings had a dug in little Turkish fortification in it.

We went close to the coast all the way up to Suvla Bay, where the British later landed to have a crack at salvaging the whole mess. The whole way along it is pretty clear that there wouldn’t be a worse place to land than ANZAC cove and the little beach to the north of it. The beach to the north of Gaba Tepe where they were supposed to land makes for a boring photo because it’s fairly featureless, quite long, and no cliffs rising straight up from the beach. But they were landed in the dark, towed out by teenaged midshipman kitted only with a compass, starting from a ship who had had to sneak out, also in the dark, from behind an island so whose position was also a bit uncertain. No wonder they got it wrong.

So this is where they did land.

Of course, there wasn’t a wall there then to keep the crumbling cliffs from falling into the sea, but you get the idea.  It looked a lot smaller from the sea. No, this isn’t where they have the dawn services, that’s one beach up, and it’s even worse.

Although at least that had a little bit of shore to land on. Apparently ANZAC cove had a bit more beach a hundred years ago, but it has washed away. The feature sticking out in the above photo is The Sphinx, not the Egyptian one, but we were in such a small area of land for those eight months that every knob and gully in the landscape got a name. 

Once they had landed they were to struggle up to as high ground as possible, and many of them managed to get up to a feature to the right of the Sphinx called Plugge’s Plateau. The idea was that once they were up there they were to cross to the next height, and this is the suggested route.


Unsurprisingly most of them chose to go down into the valley on the right of Razor’s Edge, and that’s where many of them spent the next eight months, in this valley, and up to the ridge, dug into trenches. It’s a really small area, and despite having read many excellent descriptions of the land and how difficult it was to fight in, you can’t quite believe it until you see it.
See, even a photo doesn’t do it justice, there’s quite a valley down there, and not a nice flat valley, one seamed with ridges and gullies, and most of it fairly exposed to Turkish fire until they’d dug themselves trenches to hide in. You can still see the remains of trenches, and I guess I’d always imagined them in straight lines.

Obviously there weren’t any trees at all in the whole area, even the Lone Pine got blown to pieces fairly quickly. And these have had a century of erosion going on, but these are the real thing, untouched, unreconstructed, Australian trenches.

I can’t keep track of all of the battalions, platoons, regiments with their numbers and divisions that Rod can recite without notes, both Australian and Turkish. But the military guys are hanging on his every word, doing ground appreciations, suggesting alternative battle strategies, disputing who got the furthest inland. I can’t think of any other military engagement that so many Australians would know so very intimately.


Fellow Travellers

 It’s all got a bit technical now that we’ve reached the Gallipoli peninsula, so I thought I’d give you a bit of a sketch of my fellow travellers.

We’re split into three groups along military rank lines, we’re in the officers group, then there is senior soldiers, and then Other Ranks. I kind of feel that it’s a bit British class system, but it does increase one’s husband’s chances of having worked with people in his group.  

He’s off for a run at the moment along the Aegean with a 21 Construction Regiment mate who is ten years his senior, a triathlete, has climbed Everest and has a part time job guiding Kokoda treks. That should put him in his place.

I’ve mention our Turkish guide, Sinan, who is all kinds of terrific and actually lectures in tour guiding at the university in Canakkle and really only guides now for fabulous groups like us. Our Australian guide is having the time of his life. He’s fun sized retired military chap with a walrus moustache and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ANZAC engagement which I don’t think he’s got to exercise before to quite the extent that he can with this group. He’s pleased to be able to speak to us in military code, such as Action on Lost, and that if he says wheels on the ground at 7.45, that is exactly when the wheels will be on the ground. A match made in heaven. He’s been guiding battlefield tours for three years and this is the first time his wife has come along to see what he’s been getting up to in Turkey. I have had a bit of a chat to her, but she’s a shy lady with a very low voice, so I’m none the wiser as to what she thinks of the whole thing.

We lunched yesterday with a couple from Another Group, who had stayed a different hotel in Istanbul to us. A truly terrible hotel, according to Pam. Why couldn’t they stay at the Kent where we were? Honestly, their room was a shoebox, and the lift! They waited ten whole minutes for the lift that morning. “What floor were you on?” asked husband. “The first. But I don’t do stairs. We’ve been travelling in Europe for a month and I’m staired out. I’ve been doing 30,000 steps a day”. I took a good look her a silently vowed to eat my hat if that were true. “Who’s your guide?” “Oh, we’ve got Sinan, he’s over…” “I don’t know what our’s is called, Barisin or something, we just call him Barry” “Is he happy about that?” “He seems to be, but he doesn’t like Bazza”. No, quite. “Have you been to Gallipoli before?” “No, we’ve got young children and…” “We were here in 2001, it was MUCH better then. Not so developed, more untouched. But you’ll love the graves. So eethral.” “So…?” “Eethral. Wayne, could you get me some tea?” “They don’t have tea at lunch love, just coffee” “Coffee! I told them I don’t drink caffeinated products! Why couldn’t they get me some tea?”

Yes, I took notes.

Anyway, I must go and have breakfast overlooking the Aegean now, before getting on a boat for a not getting shot at look at what the ANZACs saw before they landed, then a scramble around ANZAC cove with an avalanche of lovingly detailed commentary. So here is a bonus photo of Travelling David Tennant getting attacked by a giant Aegean sea snake.


Streets of Istanbul

You know, I thought it would feel a lot more Asian here. Who knows why, what do I know about Istanbul, except that it used to be the throbbing heart of the Holy Roman Empire, and some stuff about the Ottomans. It actually feels very European, except that everyone in the world is here. There are less covered heads than in Burwood. The traffic makes you pleased not to be driving, but all of the beeping is very polite, the beep seems to be interchangeable with the indicator, with lots of letting people in with a centimetre to spare. Cars don’t have the ubiquitous scrapes down the sides like cars in, say, Florence do, so it obviously works.

We’re staying in the old city, so our merry band of elderly military engineers and their wives with don’t care hair went on foot today to visit the Tokapi Palace, which is very spread out, apparently because the Ottomans who built it were nomadic and didn’t like to feel cooped up, and entirely populated by tourists and their guides. I should mention our guide, Sinan, because he is an absolute legend and ask for him by name if you happen to be visiting Turkey. He’s not just an experienced tour guide, his degree and Masters were in tour guiding and he is currently writing his PhD thesis on burn out in tour guides for some reason. I’m sure we won’t be contributing to that, he’s told us that we are the very first tour group he’s had with no food requests. There are nearly ninety of us, and no gluten intolerance, no allergies, no vegetarians, no paleo. That’s the military for you. I did notice that Sinan wears one of those rings with a little secret compartment that you can fit a knockout drop into, I should take bets on whom it’s for.

I won’t go into the intricacies of the Sultan’s court, I just want to give a special mention to some of the exhibits. I can’t show you photos, because “no picture”. One room was the treasury, and had some of the biggest diamonds in the world in it. One was 86 carat and, in a setting surrounded by smaller diamonds, it was the size of a small pear. There were crowns and brooches with ridiculously massive emeralds and rubies, and other slightly smaller diamonds, but still the size of a sugar cube, and all just in glass cases with one very bored looking guard, the “no picture” guy. I would assume that the glass cases are bullet proof, but it wouldn’t be Mission Impossible to break them out. Though if you were caught, there’s a tasteful little fountain in one of the gardens where they used to do all the executions that I’m sure they could put back into commission.

And I’m sorry, WordPress is being a dick about inserting photos, so you’ll have to work out which goes where.


The other place worthy of special mention was the holy relics rooms. Again, yes bulletproof looking glass, and one “no picture” chap. With not a lot of fanfare, and a fairly small queue you had a display featuring: some very fancy containers for the Prophet Mohammed’s beard clippings and one of his teeth, plus some dirt he had walked on, and a whole lot of associated kit. But not only that. A pot belonging to Abraham. Yes, that Abraham. The turban of Joseph. As in And the Technicoloured Dream Coat. A sword belonging to David. As in And Goliath. Aaaand, the staff of Moses. You know, the one that parted the Red Sea. It looked rather flimsy, actually, a bit reminiscent of bamboo. They also had an arm and a bit of skull of John the Baptist, but that guy seems to have enough bits scattered over Christendom to build an entire Baptist Church congregation. So, is it fair dinkum? I don’t even want to Google it. These guys were the Ottomans, they did ransack Egypt, which is where that stuff would have been. I dunno. The actual staff of actual Moses? Did I really see it?

We also popped into the underground Cisterns built by Justinian, and not used by the Ottomans because apparently they prefer running water, not stuff that sits around for any length of time, it’s a Muslim thing. We were a party of engineers, after all, and it was very impressive. A couple of the columns holding up the roof had leftover Roman heads of Medusa at the base to prop them up to the correct height. You think they could have at least put her the right way up. Though I guess they weren’t expecting tourists from fifteen hundred years later to be gawking at them, they were supposed to be under water.

And Travelling David Tennant got to have another much needed Turkish coffee.

Then the highly anticipated Grand Bazaar. Which was a lot less chaotic than I expected, plenty of sweets, scarves, leather, chessboards, crazy hats that I’ll have to revisit for the Horror, and carpets, obviously. I did want to buy some of those thin cotton Turkish towels that we used at the convent in Florence if you’ve been following my travels, but Sinan took us to a shop outside the Bazaar for that. Four for forty five bucks, which was very pleasing. The shops at the Bazaar seemed quite expensive, and a bit of a wander around the streets near our hotel showed us little markets just about everywhere. But there were some rather terrific looking winter coats I’ll have to pop back for if I don’t see them anywhere else. If only you didn’t have to establish a whole relationship with a shopkeeper to buy something. You know how I feel about that.

Departing from Gate 58

Half an hour to departure. I have deserted my children for two weeks to go to a dinner in Turkey. Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine, the grandparents are staying over and doing the extreme driving. I've left a page a day diary for them, what could possibly go wrong. All the kids have is a birthday party, a chapel service, an eisteddfod, Supanova, choirs, bands, tennis, basketball, Pirates of Penzance rehearsal, a learning showcase and about seventeen games of soccer. Plus the pool is being acid washed – not just for jeans! Apparently research shows that all of this will vastly reduce the grandparents' chances of getting Alzheimer's (thanks Kath!), so we're doing them a favour really.

I've left four kilos of chicken schnitzel in the freezer. I've also shown the kids how to defrost and cook it, they also now know the phone password for the smoke alarm monitoring service. I made four batches of biscuits over the weekend, but it was a long weekend and there was a teenage sleepover, so I had to spend yesterday evening making them again. Plus a jam slice. I made marmalade for my father in law and mixed berry jam for the Moose. I bought salami and Turkish bread for the Horror and shouted at the Muffet until she disgorged all of her dirty clothes so I could wash them. I also washed all the sheets and towels. My conscience is clear.

For the first time ever we are travelling with a tour. It's weird for us, the husband is used to doing months, sometimes years of research, torturing himself by obsessively watching Webjet to see if there's a cheaper airline than China Southern. Looking through Tripadvisor, reading travel guides, he likes to be prepared. Not this time. The dinner we're going to is the hundredth Waterloo Dinner. One hundred years ago the engineers at Anzac Cove finished building a jetty, noted that it was the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and held a dinner in a dugout to celebrate. Army engineers have celebrated the dinner ever since, in fact the husband was at a Waterloo Dinner the night before I started giving birth to the Moose. So a posse of engineers organised this tour to mark the hundredth anniversary of this dinner. Apparently the original plan was to have the dinner actually on Anzac Cove, but there's about a hundred of us going and the logistics were too much even for the engineers. So we're having it at a nearby hotel, it's for this dinner I made the necklace in the previous blog.

Don't worry, there has been some preparation. Five days of the tour will be on the battlefields, so I had to read Les Carlyon's excellent work on Gallipoli, it was a gripping read and I highly recommend it. I've also had a crack at reading a book on the history of Constantinople, but I keep falling asleep after getting through another couple of pages of the Sultan oppressing the peasants, and everyone is called Mehmet. I'll have to have another go at it on the plane.

And I've been trying to teach myself Turkish with an app called Duolingo. Sometimes I think I'm getting somewhere, most of the time I'm just depressed that there's another word I'm going to forget in an hour or two. It's not close to European languages at all, so I was starting from scratch. I'd like there to be Duolingo for tourists, I can't help but feel that knowing how to say we haven't got any elephants (Biz filler yok, actually, no I can't remember how to say that) is not going to help me very much. I do hope to run into some turtles (kaplumbaga!). But all the bits that modify words tack onto the ends, and not always predictably, and I can't hear the g with a thingo on it, and it's all a bit gruelling. I don't want to have to use tuvalet orumcek var (the toilet has a spider), I'm just hoping that lots of lutfen and tesekkurler ederim will get me sufficient brownie points to be going on with.

OK, time for boarding. I'm actually rather looking forward to just sitting, watching some movies, roughing out my numeracy lecture, doing some crochet (don't worry, the plastic hook got through the checkpoint. The different perspective that motherhood gives one. All I've got to do is think of a way of avoiding the husband draping his giant legs on me and I'll have a lovely time. Don't tell me if my children are involved in any kind of anything, I don't want to know until I'm back.

Necklace o’ Squares

I done a necklace! I haven't done one for AGES, what with working and studying and kids managing to fit an an outrageous amount of extra curricular and making kilos of chocolate chip biscuits and moving upstairs. I'm going to a fancy military dinner next week, or possibly the week after, I really should pay more attention, and of course the outfit I plan to wear requires a rounded necklace, rather than the pendant type I tend to make.

And there it is. You'll notice that it's on my flashy new beading desk that I'm managed to clutter up extremely quickly. Yes, the renovation is finished, and you didn't hear about it because it was rather uneventful, which is excellent for living through but no good for blogging. Except for the shower screen, which I should have told you about, and the smoke detector which is too annoying for words and I'm worried that if I start writing about it I may actually set it off. And the painter's name is Silver. Either that or he's lost the battle with autocorrect.

I got terribly terribly efficient and went through all of my beading magazines and scanned all of the patterns I wanted to keep into Evernote, and I highly recommend it. You see, in my new work area, or the Lair as I like to think of it, I have ample shelf space and no desire to put anything on it. So the magazines all went out, and now I have this terrific system of filed patterns, searchable with tags and everything. When one wishes to produce a necklace based on a string of black agate squares, one merely searches the tag Square, and there's a pattern from Beadwork 2010 that fits the bill perfectly. The pattern was for the red square in the middle, but it scales down beautifully to 8mm rounds with size 15s and 1.5mm cubes to make the silver squares either side of the centre.

Do you want to see the Lair?

We put in an upstairs bedroom, and there was this space around the corner from the stairs and I baggsed it. Some amount of joinery later, and the kids are lucky to ever see me downstairs. To the point where the Moose has been known to email me goodnight. The curtain conceals, not a window, but an enormous amount of triangular storage space, all around the corner of the roof. It does require some stooping, but it tucks away ones various hoards of material, wool, coffee tables, craft stuff, suitcases, framing equipment, screwdriver collection and so on. IKEA has made a fortune out of me. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it.

I don't know if I've got time to do earrings. Oh, I do have some that would match it, but they're not long and dangly and fancy. Hmm. Depends what my hair is doing that day, it's very temperamental and one never knows until one gets there.

Did I mention that the dinner is at Gallipoli? Yers. Expect to hear a bit more from me in the near future.