What does the last of the housewives do?

Culture Shock

I feel like a giant bug eyed pale frizzy headed alien. Possibly because I am.

Our little clan has ventured to Japan to get in a bit of “proper” skiing and to spend a week in Kyoto sharing a house with my sister and her little clan who also thought it would be fun to visit Japan this New Year. We arrived last night at Narita Airport, kind of feeling like we were only halfway done. International flights are usually longer than that. We managed to find the shuttle bus to get us to our hotel and collapsed into our three seperate rooms (you can only get doubles) for the night.

Today we thought we’d look around Narita and get our cultural legs going before heading to the snow tomorrow. There are two things, no, three things that stand out. There is much more politeness and neatness than at home. There is a drink vending machine every twenty metres. The last one might be related to this, there are many public toilets which are clean and very public – I could see into the urinals without even trying, and have heated toilet seats oh yeah.

We decided to wend our way to the Temple at Narita. Husband managed to sort the train ticketing system, and while waiting for the train we sampled the first vending machine. Muffet and the Horror stuck with what they knew, green tea. The Moose got a honey and lemon drink, which he said was the nicest drink he’d ever had. Husband got a can of coffee. It was at this vending machine that we discovered you can get hot and cold beverages. The honey and lemon, the coffee and one of the green teas was hot. There is actually a red line under the hot ones and a blue one under the cold ones, so now we know. The Moose is psyching himself up to try the can featuring brightly coloured, enticing corn.

We popped into a few souvenir shops along the way, the Muffet starting to bravely use her two years of expensive Japanese instruction to universal delight. The Moose did a year of Japanese too, but can only remember all of the rude stuff he looked up to annoy his two half Japanese friends with, so he’s of no use whatsoever. The souvenirs here, by the way, are lovely and I will definitely getting some form of dragon before long. Had to get the obligatory “aren’t translations funny” shot too, like I could translate anything into any other language.

At the temple complex we heard bells ringing and some locals heading up to one of the temple buildings. Following along, we rinsed our hands in the incense laden smoke dispenser at the foot of the steps, placed our shoes in a plastic bag and snuggled down on the carpet inside the temple for the ceremony. All religions have a lot in common with this kind of thing, don’t they? Men in fancy dress, lots of different noises, ritualistic movements, a focal spot in the building to look at. Anyway, an old chap in a beautiful embroidered outfit was escorted in by some of the younger monks and sat at what looked like an ornate writing table facing the Buddha. The younger monks all sat down behind him and took turns doing various ritualistic things, ringing bells, carrying a box around, one guy did a bit of a performance on a Taiko drum at the back, delighting the Moose. There was an even bigger drum, about the size of a small car, but I guess that was for special occasions, not Tuesday mornings. All the while there was a lot of chanting going on. Then the chap at the desk extracted a coal from the brazier beside him and lit a fire that he quickly had flaming up higher than his head. Monks took turns bringing what looked like cricket bats with scripts on them to be waved over the flames, then pressed to their foreheads. Then members of the audience lined up to – have their handbags similarly blessed. They were done in bulk lots, and no foreheads were involved. Was a bit tempted. Maybe next time. Then there was a bit of chat by one of the monks in purple, then three monks at the three sides of the altar not facing Buddha picked up what looked like giant mops (probably Mops of Righteousness) and waved them about for a bit. Then the old chap put out his fire and was helped up to come and bow to the audience, then pottered out, followed by the rest. It was all rather lovely.

The temple complex was enormous and beautifully laid out. Look at this little pavilion, the supports that look like trees are actually concrete.

 We spent quite a bit of time wandering about the little forest and the bridges and the koi ponds, working up quite an appetite. We got our courage together and went into a restaurant for lunch. There was a bit of English spoken, and the menu was the display of plastic dishes outside the restaurant. Muffet took a few deep breaths and ordered for us in Japanese, some udon noodle soup for three of us, and chicken and rice for the boys. I think it may be the first time we’ve been to a restaurant that the Horror has been able to order off the menu and actually eat what comes out of the kitchen. He also managed to get outside his fifth bowl of miso soup for the day (they had unlimited miso soup at breakfast!), we may have found his culinary home.

 We slowly made our way back home, popping into as many shops as we could – this is clearly the off season – and bravely sampling some of the snacks, but none of the ones with eyes. We were a bit puzzled by a sticker on one shop, Moose thinks it might be a result of Sharknado.

 I’m resisting the alcoholic beverage vending machine in our hotel, but I might sample another Japanese beer at dinner shortly, and we’ll see if we can get two unedited, non buffet, non chip meals into the Horror in a row. Early start in the morning for a shuttle bus/plane trip/bus ride to the real snow.


Sydney Aquarium

I’m at the aquarium in my professional capacity. We’ve set our students an end of semester activity to plan a science excursion to the aquarium, and answer a series of questions to demonstrate that they have a clue. Some of the slack buggers have just made it up after a quick trawl through the aquarium website. But in the spirit of being one of those tutors who is there for her students, I’m at the aquarium today and tomorrow, just in case some of my little bunnies actually decide to do the activity as planned. And then get stuck.

I know it’s under a lot of construction at the moment, but I’m going to cut straight to the chase and tell you it’s not currently one of the great aquatic attractions of the world. Most of the exhibits are currently signs on hoardings with one of three themes, how terrific sharks are, don’t use styrofoam cups, or give us money.

OK, there are a few things worth looking at. The very first tank contains platypus. I do recommend standing in front of these for quite some time, ignoring the waves of buffeting schoolchildren. It takes a while for it to dawn on you exactly how weird these dudes are. They look like they couldn’t operate on land at all, and they’re always smaller than I would have expected them to be. There are little yabbies messing about on the bottom, and some desultory fish, but these are of no moment. Regard the very webbed feet, the back feet almost vestigial. The flat tail. The duckbill, for heaven’s sake. So weird.

Around a couple of corners are my some of my favourite animals. Ignore the penguins, they’re just showing off. The jellyfish are where it’s at. These ones have a constantly colour changing light shining through the tank and they really are other worldly.


“Look at them going up and down” says a passing mum to her offspring. “That’s how they breathe”. And this is why I have my work cut out for me. They actually don’t breathe at all, their skin is so thin that oxygen from the water can just diffuse straight into their cells. Yes, I did just look that up, it really wasn’t hard. Don’t start me on jellyfish, those things are so very amazing I’m tempted to move to Queensland and research them full time. Did you know that box jellyfish have no discernible brain, but will actually hunt their prey? How???

Also amazing, and disturbing at the same time is the octopus. I’m always a bit perturbed by things in tanks, but this guy looks particularly unhappy. He’s definitely watching me. His eye is blinking in this photo, but wherever he put his abundance of legs, I could see his slitted eye watching, watching, always watching. 

He’s in a really tiny tank, and he couldn’t be happy. Why haven’t they got him in an adventure playground, with stuff to build with and hide inside, and friends? He’s doing circuits of the front of the tank, I feel like he’s banging on the glass, he wants to go back to Brazil. Hang on, no, that’s Harry Potter.But he is trying to communicate with me.

Yes, the rays and sharks and dugongs are cool, and the walk through is lovely, but, again, looking like too small an enclosure for those giant creatures, and the way is sometimes blocked by morbidly obese mums with their hands on their hips, or knots of perpetually self documenting tourists. There’s a tiny touch tank, with a young chap with the now ubiquitous beard and man bun, encouraging kids to touch, but DON’T PICK THAT UP!!!. Their touch pool used to be a lot bigger and less shouty. I pause to spare a thought for the Port Jackson shark, who lays what looks like really quite sharp, spiral shaped eggs. What a life.
There looks like there’s quite a bit of work being done on a Barrier Reef section, which will be quite handy once the real thing disappears, but it’s only a few flashes of colour for now. Too soon I am at the gift shop, which is full to bursting with schoolchildren in EZ Identify yellow caps, and almost all of the merchandise is, unlike the creatures they represent, fluffy.

So now I’m in the cafe. I’ve had exactly six students through, none of whom have needed my help. I’ve done a bit of committee work. I’ve started work on sketching out what we’ll be teaching in summer school next year. I’ve just realised that if I stand up to succumb to the temptations of the deep fried section I will lose my excellent spot with a good view of the entry queue and out of the draught. The sacrifices one makes. 

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, if you have $40 burning a hole in your pocket, there are many better ways to spend it than here. Perhaps the Wildlife world next door would be better, the young lad on the ad loop above the entrance seems to think so. I might have to give you an update once they’ve finished renovating. Meanwhile, I might beg my boss for an early mark.

I done a sock.

I actually meant to make a cardigan. Oh, I’d done the scarves, long chunky ones, smart business ones, school coloured ones. And some hats on the old crochet hook, one of which has shrunk so catastrophically in the wash that it wouldn’t fit the dog even if he’d consent to wear it. Note to self, stop buying wool at Spotlight, it doth suck. And it was time to branch out.

There’s a number of directions you can go in the woollen arts once you’ve mastered the knit purl and the hook. You can crack into cable knit. You can start crocheting lace. And you definitely want to move beyond the circle and the square, you want to start making garments. So I thought I’d crochet a cardigan.

I got some multicoloured wool, I always feel like I’m getting value for money for some reason if there’s more than one colour. I found a pattern that looked very light and, well, not stylish, it’s a crocheted cardy, but not like something you’d find at a CWA stall. And easy, it was just make two cylinders for arms, and join them with rectangles and bung a border on them and hope for the best.

But no. Actually, it wasn’t really the pattern that was the problem, though the advertised hook size and tension were WAY out. I don’t know if it was the wool either, but after about three false starts I got the top half of the thing done (there’s a skirt to it too) and look.


It looks like something my grandma would wear. If she couldn’t get out of bed and was feeling the chill, and was too weak to fight off the nurse. And if she had dementia. Which she doesn’t.

Not only that, but I’d managed to lose the rest of the wool for it in the excitement of the move to the lair, never been seen again. I quit! No lovely summery cardy for me.

I fought off craft despair with a fisherman’s rib striped rainbow scarf, just in time for the last of winter.

I was saving up something special for the long weekend. We were going away to the mountains, and the children were planning many things that held no interest for yours truly, basketball, tennis, swimming, squabbling about who was the smartest, watching TV. I had decided that it was time to teach myself to Knit A Sock. And then, obviously, to knit another one just the same.

To do this I would need special help. There are many many sites on the Internet that hold sock patterns, but you have to already know how to knit in the round, and I’d never got the hang of it. And there are many Youtube videos also. But it’s a personal quirk of mine that I don’t watch videos on the Internet. I don’t know why, they just irk me. Give me a transcript! But I have found the perfect site, excellent instructions with photos and no moving parts and I shall share it with you so that the making of socks may extend over the world as it did in times of yore:

Come To Silver
That’s it. I haven’t explored any more of Silver’s work, there looks like a lot of good stuff there but first I must master The Sock. Dear friends, that weekend I did make a sock, and this very day I have completed its companion so that the feet of my husband shall be no more cold. Not that they will anyway in this weather, but winter shall come again.

 The detailed instructions were very easy to follow. Now I can knit in the round! And, as the Moose said, at least I’m making things that people will actually want to wear. Socks for everyone! Have a guess what that cardy’s going to end up as.

Postscript. The doctor hasn’t called me about my nose, which is a very good sign. I’ll call her minions next week hopefully to be told you’re all clear, see you next year.

What are you looking at?

“What happened to your nose?” asked the suspiciously slow talking chap on the Bay Run this morning. “did you bang it?”. “No, I had some extremely minor surgery on it”. “Did it hurt? What did it feel like?”. “Yes, it hurt quite a lot. And now it kind of feels like it has a staple in it”. “Well, I’d never have that done” he said, walking slowly away.

Easy for him to say. Yesterday I had my yearly skin checkup. Just mentioning that brings everyone out of the woodwork. “did you see Dr Wong? He’s the best, he looks after my dad. You should go and see him”. I can’t go and see him, because I have a special dermatologist. She works at the melanoma unit. And I see her because some years ago I had quite a nasty melanoma, and she’s been waiting for something like this to happen. “Just a matter of time”, she said.

My dermatologist is French. She looks older than me, but is utterly exquisite in that special French way. Perfect skin, cerulean eyes, slender, anything she wears looks incredibly expensive. She always wears beige. Yesterday she was wearing a light beige shift dress with what looked like a rope tied around it, topped off by a dark beige cardy and espadrilles. She looked a million dollars. When I see her I have to strip and lie on a bed while she goes over my entire skin with a bright light and a magnifying glass, squeezing various bits as she goes, always terrific for the self esteem. I drew her attention to a spot on my nose that occasionally gets a bit crusty. “Hmmm”, she said. She rubbed it firmly with an alcohol wipe (non flushable) and gave it the once over with the searchlight. “I think there is a spot there. Nothing much. Better to take it off. I have a cancellation this afternoon, I shall send you off for some lunch and then you shall come back. It will be just a small dent I will make in your nose, possibly will not even bleed”. I can’t do the accent.

Instead I went home, what makes her think you can park for more than hour in Newtown? I supervised several relays of children making the most of the pool, first some milk white nerds pew pewing each other with water pistols. Then a pack of twelve year olds on whom the length of the pool is wasted, they only clamber out and find an infinite number of ways to jump back in again, off the slide, the jumping platform, through the plastic donut, classic catches in the air. The rabble of girls had to wait until I came back.

It’s always a bonus to have your doctor run on time, you just sign the paperwork, nod as she rapidly outlines what she’s going to do in her incredibly melodious and somewhat incomprehensible French accent (fortunately everything gets written down). Take your shoes off, lie down under this giant light, you’ll have a cloth over your eyes so you won’t have to see the giant anaesthetic needle dig around in your nose. Yes it is very unpleasant. I do wonder if just taking the biopsy without anaesthetic would hurt less? Maybe not in my case, because after a bit of pushing and tugging on the old schnoz she said “Ah. Now I can’t see what I’m doing”. I could feel some kind of liquid running across my face and down my neck and devoutly hoped it was antiseptic fluid. There was a bit of repartee between the doctor and the nurse, ending with “it’s not stopping, we’ll need a pressure dressing”. “Is bleeding a bad sign?” I asked in my most light hearted voice. “Oh, yes. That was almost definitely a BCC, and it may even have roots which will mean more surgery, but we won’t know until the biopsy comes back. Call us in two weeks. But if it comes back and it is sinister, I shall call you earlier. You may sit up now.” “Gosh”, said the nurse. “You could go out to Halloween like this”, she said as she mopped blood off my face, neck, back and out of my hair. Tops.

I’m an old hand at this waiting for medical results, if it is really a BCC, that’s actually great news compared to what I’ve had in the past, especially if she got it all. But if any student complains to me this fortnight about not getting assignment marks back quickly, they’d better stand well back.

And now for one of the more interesting aspects of this kind of thing. How do people react to you with something really obvious wrong with you? When I had a massive slice out of my neck almost everyone’s eyes would slide to it, they’d do a double take, then suavely pretend not to notice anything. Interesting. And that’s exactly what happened with one of the parents coming to pick up a twelve year old, the slight pause and then polite ignorance of the dressing on my nose. I’ve taken the dressing off now, so there’s just a large black stitch sticking out of the tip of my nose, along with some bruising and swelling. I have fifty students tomorrow. Shall I do the social experiment? I rather think I shall.

PS. There has been a lot of “what does one say” floating about the social media lately. For the record, I’m always happy to give a gruesomely detailed description of what’s going on with me. But having read this post, now you won’t have to ask.


A necessary beanbag

I’m settling into the lair rather nicely, I’m finding very specific spots for my extremely wide collection of bits and pieces, and yet there was something missing. A something that loomed larger and larger in my fevered brain until it became a necessity and an urgent one at that.

Since I’ve been back from Turkey my time has been consumed with restocking the larder with muesli bars, choc chip biscuits, vanilla and cinnamon biscuits, jam slice, fruit toast, ANZAC biscuits, driving the children about, and working. Two weeks full time, which was probably a lot easier than driving the children around during the holidays, they just had to put up with a fortnight of watching TV and playing computer games, the poor dears. I teach at a university, so any amount of work that I do inevitably results in assignments or exams to mark. The course that I just taught results in large assignments, twenty four page assignments, and I have twelve of them to mark. It is therefore obvious to the meanest intelligence that I must have somewhere comfortable to sit while marking. You know about my white painted wooden chair, that is only good for about half an hour’s sitting before I lose all sensation in my lower limbs. You also know about the world’s most comfortable chair that hangs on our back verandah, but the weather is currently such that I’d have to wear ski gloves to have operational fingers, and that’s no good for typing the multiple exclamation marks that these assignments will gather in their comments section. What I needed was a beanbag.

I haven’t had a beanbag in years, mainly because it was a personality quirk of my first cat, Snoopy, to pee in them. He then taught my second cat, Linus, that this was the required behaviour of any civilised cat. I persisted with the washing and spraying for a while and eventually gave up altogether. Linus has been dead for over a year now, and the latest cat, Stormaggedon, has been very good in the toileting department, so it’s time to risk it again.

I don’t know if you’ve gone shopping for beanbags lately. You can get cheap shiny ones from the chain stores, if you’re lucky you’ll spot a denim one (the Moose recently acquired one as a birthday present, and the sight of him comfortably reclining all over the place has spurred me on), or you can get super deluxe ones that will part you from many hundreds of dollars in cash. My Scottish blood rules out the latter as an option, so my only real choice, dear reader, was obviously to make my own. How hard could it be? Not very hard at all as it turns out.

I wanted to make two really, one as an inner lining, and an outer case that I can slip off and wash. You can get patterns all over the internet, I used the Lincraft one. You just cut out three sail shaped bits and a couple of semicircles for the bottom. I had some superannuated curtains that worked well for the liner, and I had some help cutting it out. The reason this picture is a little blurred is because there was quite a lot of leaping and biting going on…

Then you just pin them and sew them together. The bottom has a zipper, and this was my first time doing a proper one. I had to watch three Youtube clips to get the hang of it, mainly because I couldn’t believe that you sew it in over an already sewn up seam, and then pick it undone.


So there. If I can do one, anyone can. I then spent two hours that I won’t get back at Spotlight giving myself a headache choosing the outer fabric. I wanted something tactile, less than $15 a metre (I needed 5 metres) washable, not too patterned, not pink, and durable enough to be sat on by someone who planned to spend hours clutching at her head while simultaneously typing questions marks and exclamations in comment boxes. 
I cut out the outer lining a few centimetres bigger all around than the liner. I added a strip 15cm wide to each of the bottom semicircles which would overlap because I wasn’t going to make that opening a zip, just a slip cover. It was even quicker to do because the animals were bothering a very slow moving electrician I’d got in to add some more power points that I hadn’t anticipated needing in the lair. I did fill the liner before squeezing it into the outer cover – three 100 litre bags if you’re planning to use the Lincraft pattern – it’s a big one.


It really only took a couple of hours, maybe three (I’m not counting the hours at Spotlight, I’m trying to forget those), and maybe half an hour to very carefully decant the beans into the liner and then vacuum up the strays. 

I’m extremely pleased with it. It’s very comfortable, I can move it close to whatever heater I happen to have turned on. The Muffet now wants me to make her one, but I’m only going to do that after she’s kept her room clean for a month, or after hell freezes over, whichever comes first. Anyway, I’ve got assignments to mark.

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.