EAST SUFFOLK MORRIS MENS TOUR TO TURKEY AUGUST 1986
We were never quite sure whether this trip was on or off for the four or so weeks before hand. Originally we had been cultivating the contact for a tour during 1987, but suddenly the invitation came through this year. After that there was confusion without some sort of official confirmation and, although those who wished to go had taken the necessary precautions of having inoculation against the, surely mythical sub tropical diseases, as time crept towards August there was some doubt as to whether the trip would be on.
Suddenly it was off, the festival had folded. But almost as soon, the contacts we had so thankfully used in the British Council, whom God may preserve, found 'another festival' whose credentials they were prepared to support. And surely, a short while later a letter of confirmation was received and we were off, albeit with additional cost due to the delay in confirming our air reservations.
This tour had one slightly different dimension to ESMM tours, the presence of women!
But I rush ahead too fast! ESMM has not gained a Gaelic member from the Emerald isle, but female passengers - if they excuse the expression. Those being the fortunate appendages who could spare the time to mop the sweated brow of their beloved after dancing in the heat of the Turkish day. Liz Tydeman, having left her man at home, was nominally allocated the sticks.
I chose to drive to London taking up the offer of a lock-up garage for the week rather than cope with the erratic service British Rail can offer on Sundays, or any other day for that matter. When planning my clothing I had neglected anything too warm or waterproof having watched the travel programme on ITV during the week which conveniently had an item recommending the 31 degree sizzle of the Turkish beaches. Sunday afternoon was the beginning of the English monsoon season starting with the mere trickle of tears on leaving ones loved ones, and ending with a deluge along the A12 accompanied by Dire Straits - 'It never rains, it just keeps pouring down!' Not bad timing, along with 'Right across the river' whilst going under the Rotherhide tunnel.
The car safely harboured, we braved London Transport where Liz made her first kill picking up a nice looking boy en-route to South Kensington. He was, however, put off when Greg, Mike, and I rallied round in true parental style.
Heathrow, never the centre of civilisation, was a seething mass, including Des, Phil(P), Steve and Barbara when we arrived. At least Steve and Barbara were visible. Des had gone to get money changed, an inadvisable event since it is well known that the exchange rate is much better in Turkey.
Now if one were to speculate on a likely tale to be greeted by after a journey to the Metropolis involving Des and a car, what would one think of? Well the car was only doing 5mph and both drivers agreed there was no damage!
Much of life is governed by rules. Many of us regret this but accept there is reason for this madness. The first rule of air travel is get there on time to avoid overstress of the heart. The second rule is to get rid of the baggage with all haste. The third rule is to get into the bar in the departure lounge by the shortest and quickest route.
Des tried to frustrate the second rule by suggesting we wait for the trailing members of the party. Seasoned travelers, however, know that this does no practical good to be borne out when we finally persuaded him to check in and secure advanced seat reservations for the whole party. Emigration, as usual, required the musicians to prove the playability of their instruments so mysteriously outlined by the X-ray equipment.
So the party assembled with final beers on hand to bid farewell to homeland Adnams and all who sail with her, we board TK 982, albeit late, for eastern promise and a midnight destiny with adventure. (I promised not to describe Liz's white satin pajamas still under construction during the flight).
Istanbul airport digested the cargo from the Boeing 727 in very quick time and we spewed out into the heat of the night to be met by a party of Turks with a minibus, a car and a complaint that they had done all this last night and nights before misinterpreting Grahams description of Sunday as travelling day forgetting that the plane actually landed on Monday.
It was quite a long bus ride through Istanbul and we were disappointed that we couldn't see the sources of the twinkling lights festooned around the hills and valleys. We crossed into Asia via the Bosphorus bridge where the harbour was clearly visible outlined by thousands of coloured lights mirrored by the water. Our route was clearly towards the coast and we thought that, despite the late hour - 2am, we might be crossing to the Princes Islands. After one false alarm pulling up at a jetty deserted by everything, we arrived at a much bigger pier berthing a couple of ferries. We were going to Heybeliada, the second largest island, but as the ferry pulled away we felt our luck had run out.
It was warm, the sky was clear and the view resembled a fairyland of tinkerbell lights. There seemed to be a sense of Eastern magic beginning to cast a warm blanket over the party. Just then a white cruiser turned into the jetty and our personal transport took on its crew. There was an element of romance about that crossing to Heybeliada. The steady roar of the the diesel, the swish of the spume breaking against the side of the boat. A shooting star lacerated the sky and we pulled up at a deserted pier.
A handcart took the luggage through the streets and up to a building completely dark and seemingly deserted. The proprietress eventually appeared in her nightgown, and it was clear that the mechanics of our arrival were not expected. After much confusion and scampering of attendants some rooms were crammed with beds and we divided with discretion, ladies in one room, Des in another, and the rest of us grouped together haphazardly by order of segmentation on Grahams list. I think we were expected, but not quite at that hour, not at 4-30am.
Immediately it became clear why there was a strong smell of horses when we landed last night.There is no motorised transport on this island (except for a few mopeds). Everything goes by two horsepower cart complete with pollution control, or alternatively, by boat. The old part of the town is falling apart a little in a pleasant sort of way. The streets are filled with small shops selling bread, greengrocery, drinks etc. The fish shop had its own special feline clientele arranged around the shop front in a hopeful semicircle.
By llam the sun was really up. The party fragmented to find a spot on the beach or under a tree. There was a pleasant breeze off the sea making ideal conditions for we ice cream skinned Brits to get thoroughly burned. I used plenty of sun tan oil. The sea was a pleasant temperature and clear too, warm enough to stay in for quite long periods. There are a few sandy spots, but mainly seaweed and rocks covered by huge mussels. Steve favoured a siesta.
Shortly after 3pm we warmed up with a few dances at the Hotel Panorama much to the bemusement of the staff and fellow guests. Then to town, firstly for a beer, and then more dancing. But at the cafe we stopped at no beer, only coke, strange! Dancing here captured a large and enthusiastic crowd which lifted the side and made us feel we were on our way. A couple of paces down the street we got a beer (at 40p per pint) and the world became mellow.
It seemed churlish not to dance for the cafe proprietor, and since our guide and host had just turned up, her name was Mine who had never seen the morris, we did a couple. Actually she was rather apprehensive, but was clearly amazed and delighted when another huge crowd was drawn around us. Now the cafe proprietor was fired up, free beer and an insistence that we come back for more as his guests anytime. The beer was strong and getting to our heads, or was it the heat.
By this time the local constabulary were taking an interest in us, in a friendly way. It was time to take a ferry to Buyukada the largest island. The police forced a route through the crowd and onto the boat past a pile of sheep carcasses. These boats provide the transport infrastructure between the islands, passengers share space with the cargo, but humans get the better seats. The journey only took 10 minutes.
On disembarking we saw that this was the metropolitan town of the islands, the crowds bustled. A few notes from the melodeon drew a seething crowd in the town center where we danced underneath a huge red flag imprinted with the crescent and star. This crowd was the most enthusiastic so far. When we eventually stopped dancing the people collapsed the circle around us trying to converse in whatever language came to mind. German was a popular first choice, possibly because of the migrant worker connection with Germany.
The constabulary were now firmly in command marching us off a few yards to a cafe where beer flowed and snacks of deep fried mussels and lamb innards appeared. The precise part of the lamb from which the meat came from was the subject of much discussion. I myself enjoy trying new foods, if the locals survive, I stand a reasonable chance. Across the road, there was a greengrocer with an interesting vegetable of elephantine proportions, reminiscent of a large cucumber with a bent end.
Our formal itinerary for the day, the reason we were taken to the island in the first place, was to go on a tour round the island by horse drawn carriage. Our constabulary friends pushed us to the front of the queue. The convoy took off euphoric in the atmosphere of paradise Asia Minor style. It was magic. The bells on the cabs had a timbre which reminded me of the trams in San Francisco. Away we went up hill and down valley, one cab overtaking another depending on the physique of the horses. Rest stops every quarter of an hour.
On alighting I spotted a Turkish copper shop selling copper coffee pots of unimaginable vulgarity. Another show with even more audience, but before we were able to capitalise on it, we were whisked off back to Heybeliada. Our hotel fed us macaroni cheese soup, grilled chicken with yoghurt and cucumber sauce and fresh pears. Afterwards we fancied a beer and wandered back to town.
The night was young, the air warm, but none of the cafes served beer.... A swift turkish coffee and back for aduty free whisky and sleep.
Over a beer, we collated our stories of sleepless nights and the vagaries of turkish plumbing. The prospect of our dancing again attracted rivalry between two adjacent cafe proprietors who both wanted to supply beer. Who was objecting? After a very hot show (mad dogs and Englishmen) we settled down to a quiet and peaceful lunch where we were invited to inspect the merchandise before cooking. I chose fish and stuffed mussels, there were chicken kebabs, shish kebabs, steak and the ubiquitous pommes frites with plenty of salad and chillis. The whole meal was washed down with raki, a local version of an anise liquor. During the meal our hosts tried to work out what to do with us. Since the plan changed regularly, every 5 mins, no one took much notice. When we paid our bill the local constable checked that we had not been overcharged. After lunch we attempted to dance but, frankly, the performance was ill judged because the food and beer had taken effect.
The journey to Burgazada was uneventful. When we landed we were introduced to a stage of ephemeral quality. Remembering Phils personal disappearance through the stage in Alkmaar the prospect of fishing him out of the waters of the Bosphorus was not too attractive. In the meantime the local cafe proprietor beckoned to us to take tea with him while an entrepreneurial boy capitalised on our vulnerable position and shone shoes.
Meanwhile some amongst us were getting mildly irritated by the persistent demands from our hosts, both sweet nineteen year olds, to know how old we were. It's of no real concern to me who knows, but when the truth is misbelieved, I don't know what to do. A quick survey showed I was the third youngest present.
Burgazada is a smaller island than the two we have visited before, but more organised as a resort. In fact there are few tourists here at all, these beautiful islands seem not to be invaded at all except by inhabitants of Istanbul. There was a notable exception, a lady who came up to us and asked if we were the group she had seen on Jordanian television dancing in Jerash whilst at home in Israel:
There is a lido here, although why they bother with that formality when it is perfectly possible to bathe anywhere around the islands. We danced at the lido and at the harbour in the heat of the afternoon. Afterwards there was time to have a look round. Up a side street there was an art exhibition, probably amateur, which featured the theme of the decaying quality of life on the islands. There were cartoons of the islands overcome by population, pollution, and too many houses. Obviously the natives are feeling the pressure on the islands. They are very beautiful, I hope the aren't spoiled.
When we got back to Heybeliada we danced again, by this time in a bit of a haze, and then off to dinner at chez Panorama. Kebabs tonight. Whilst on Burgazada some had bought some wine for a late night beach session. In fact we took the bottles and smuggled toothbrush glasses down the hotel steps to the sea. It was very dark. The wine varied in quality between rough and very rough, but it had its loosening effect on most people. No one felt like swimming in fear of losing life and limb. Even navigation back up to the hotel proved tricky, passing close to the staff quarters.
On the way to the island the captain of the ship invited us onto his bridge. At first I was alarmed that a small boy was steering the ship, the captain took over for the tricky bits, like docking. The bridge had been personalised by the skipper with odd trinkets and climbing pot plants, some sort of vines, which had entwined themselves around the ample pipework. The ships radio was tuned to Turkish Radio 1. Docking was an act of great skill using the twin screws forwards and backwards to keep station.
We decided to find a quiet cove for lunch, to get there we hired a launch through the agency of the entrepreneurial shoeshine boy. He even went with us. The boat was a powerful cruiser with a cabin and a flat platform at the back on which we sat. Pat was a little apprehensive about small boats wedging herself against a bulkhead in the center of the boat.
At this time of the day the breeze is blowing up making the sea choppy. Everything was fine in the harbour, but on crossing the bar, the boat pitched, yawed and corkscrewed round to the agonised screams of Pat now flat on her back praying for forgiveness. It wasn't long before the speed of the boat gave it more stability, the motion reducing to a jerky pitch.
The objective was to find a deserted cove, in fact none with beaches were. When we had picked our spot there was the problem of landing with no jetty. The shore slopes steeply into the sea so it is possible to get the boat close to the shore if the rocks can be avoided. That was the problem, the rocks along with the non swimmers in the party. Eventually we managed to get the sharp end of the boat wedged up against two rocks, sharp rocks, slippery rocks under water covered in seaweed. Then the comedy show started for the few locals around who, if they had any impression of mad Englishmen, this must have confirmed it. Imagine a chain of gallant gentlemen dressed in Y fronts precariously balanced on slippery rocks passing assorted goods ashore including delicate ladyfolk. Then the boat marooned us.
No one minded. The sun shone with a cooling breeze, the sea was warm, and we had our feast of water melons, wine, bread and cheese. The ants foraged the remains of the food. The boat didn't come back.
Hours after our next dancing appointment the boat finally turned up, not that anyone but the festival organiser minded. Such is the pace of life on the islands. The process of boarding the boat was much more straight forward than getting off because most were dressed in bathing costume. Pat took up her position in the center of the boat. The breeze was up a little more now and with it more waves. The singing of sea shanties didn't drown Pats screams completely. The waves lashed over the sides wetting us.
The prospect of dancing had to be abandoned. As a penance the boat set off back to Heybeliada making an emergency call in at Burgazada harbour to pick up the sticks and Billy. This had been another idyllic day completed after dinner at the hotel Panorama with a champagne reception started in the park and moving back to our spot on the foreshore below the hotel. Those still with stamina went into town in search of further entertainment.
Todays dancing was
on Kinaliada the smallest of the four islands. Our arrival was greeted
by a military looking gentleman wearing an impressive red armband embossed
with the word DUTY (in Turkish). He took charge, in fact he was obviously
a very important person commanding the traffic and crowds to keep back
with a wave of his fingers. The locals spat back angry words.
Lunch at a local cafe consisted of a number of traditional dishes based on vegetables, herbs and eaten with pita bread. This was followed by kebabs and water melon. Afterwards there was more free time which was spent variously on a rocky beach or walking around and around the island avoiding the Commodore who paced up and down the promenade occasionally being pelted by stones thrown by small boys.
He was, of course, the village idiot, we just had to put up with him although a much firmer hand was taken during the second performance, partly because Graham would have thumped him if we hadn't, and partly because he was interfering with the dancing and the crowd. The second show ended with an attempted Bonny Green onto the boat which failed because of the crowd and the impossibility of carrying all the equipment.
After dinner that evening we were to cross to Buyukada to give a couple of shows. The ferry we took was at 10pm and the last back was scheduled for 12-40am. The first show was OK at the island crossroads, then we quickly moved on to an open air theatre where a play was just about to start. We were supposed to be on stage after the play 50 mins later. A Turkish 50 mins later, as time was running out towards the last ferries departure, we burst onto the stage for three quick truncated dances. No one was sure if the wait was worth it. Mike wasn't.
I don't think I was quite prepared for the bazaar. It felt like entering Aladins cave modeled on an ants nest. Passages led off in all directions in a maze. Thousands of stalls in rows each a cave of treasures twinkling with small light bulbs. The jewellery quarter especially shone as each window flashed a reflection of gold and silver illuminated with clear light bulbs.
The main themes in the bazaar are carpets, leather goods, jewellery, cloth and brass chattels along with china and glassware for tea and coffee drinking. The buying and selling technique needs some getting used to. Most things are sold for less than the original asking price, reductions of more than 50% were normal. So you had to haggle, walk away, put it down until it was obvious rock bottom price had been reached. Gold and other precious metal base price was based on weight, the daily paper gave the current commodity price. Gold necklaces came down one pound per 30 sec of haggling
Some of our party proved to be very good at this type of shopping. The rest of us needed help from mine. Mike was a particularly hard man squeezing the last percentage point of profit from the impoverished stall holder. The range of goods we bought was enormous from leather, carpets, coffee cups, jewellery trinkets and souvenirs. There just wasn't enough time to see everything.
We all managed to
find our way out again, back to the busses the singles following the
doubles until our driver nearly hit a policeman who immediately arrested
him. Mine said he might want us to get out because he could impound
the vehicle. He came back eventually in a temper having been fined 5,OOOTL
for carrying tourists (us) in an unlicenced bus. When he complained
that he was working for the government, his fine was reduced to 2,OOOTL.
Only two pounds, but enough to spoil his day. The other bus was waiting
at an old mosque standing on the site of the first mosque in Istanbul.
Now heavily rebuilt, it was not the best of sights and we couldn't go
After the palace there was time for a quick tea and toast in a park then down to the harbour for the long ferry crossing back to the islands. It was a shame we couldn't have stayed longer.
The two most important are the christian orthodox church later converted into a mosque called Aya Sophia, and the famous Blue Mosque. Both are very impressive buildings, their magnificence being largely the scale of the domed architecture and the decoration of the interior surface. Aya Sophia has a golden theme to its colours. There are some very good mosaics still partially intact depicting religious images, which is surprising since the muslims took care to remove all signs of the cross and substituting some monstrous discs proclaiming the wisdom of Mohamed. The scale of the main dome is impressive whichever way you look at it. From the floor it is about 100m in height, and from the balcony half way up reached by a long winding ramp, the volume of the place is cavernous. Lighting is provided by huge candelabra suspended from the ceiling almost to head height which looked out of proportion but would be very practical given the luminescence of mediaeval candles.
The Blue Mosque is famous for its blue and gold ornate ceiling. It was a great disappointment that, having taken the trouble to observe tradition in covering the body with modesty cloths provided at the door, we entered to find an enormous scaffolding under construction obscuring and obstructing the dome.
A walk back to the ferry and another (ante-pre-penultimate) idyllic crossing to the islands took us home to prepare for our big performance at the festival ball to be attended by all of importance and the 'President' of Istanbul. Home now contained very sick men, Des and Greg, both suffering from stomach upsets, and others less ill but also suffering. It was a sorry crew who boarded the ferry to Buyukada where we were escorted to the International Club.
There, by the side of the lido, was a huge banquet laid out for about 500 guests and a stage at one end set up for a band. Plates and trays of food were carried down from the hotel at the top of the cliff as an impressive spread assembled. We had nearly been forgotten (for food), but a table was put up near the stage underneath a loudspeaker. The guests arrived in dribs and drabs, all well heeled, the ladies wearing the padded shoulder look. Some arrived by boat landing at the jetty within sight of Des being ill.
Eventually the show was on the road, the warm up band played a few numbers, the buffet diner was announced. The hordes streamed away from the tables, piling into the food like starved rats. We joined them a little after the crush, at least those who had stomachs for food. During the meal a middle-of-the-road band played wallpaper music. The food was very good. There was a hot dish of doner kebabs and rice, a cold table containing all the usual things, and very sticky sweetmeats with fruit to finish. The sweets were popular with the ladies well enough to eat them.
The tables were well packed togther. The stage and cat walk were very thin and narrow. In short there was nowhere to dance. Eventually the management decided we should do a few at the bottom end of the tables furthest away from the stage where there was plenty of space but no stage or PA. Later we would do a couple of very tight Headington dances on stage.
If I were to describe those dances we did, it would bring back memories of a farce. We retook our seats with a sense of shame. This was supposed to be the big one. The only saving grace was that few could have seen us, and those uneducated and thus in ignorance.
The star billing came on, a famous singer with a sizeable orchestra and backing group of singers including a large woman resembling closely Miss Piggy. He was a very big man with a big voice soon having the audience in the palm of his hand. After 3 or 4 numbers he introduced each of his backing group in turn who each did a solo. To end, he did another couple plus encore.
All this took quite
a bit of time, and another band from Israel was setting their gear up,
and large chunks of the audience were leaving having seen the star attraction.
We were not going to dance for some while and miss the last ferry home,
or else we were not going to dance at all. Under the circumstances we
opted for the latter option and slipped away quietly back to the ferry.
The packing completed, we hired a horse drawn cab to take the baggage down to the pier. There we took a last beer with our friendly cafe proprietor who had a small parting gift, a candelabra. We presented him with an ESMM jacket, one of mine now out of shape. Late purchases of turkish delight nearly caught up with our remaining time. Then off the islands to Istanbul.
We took taxis to Istanbul air terminal where we said goodbye to Mine. At the airport security was very tight, Liz lost her turkish delight at one of these stages in confusion. The formalities completed there was time for a final cruise round the duty free shops where all the goods were priced in DM. They would accept sterling, but not Turkish Lira. At this very last stage there was a little irritation when Greg, Mike and Phil(P) failed to get a meal they had paid for, it took a fair bit of niggling to get it all settled.
The flight back was uneventful except for a fairly insipid meal. At Heathrow those with goods, especially jewellery, went through the red channel and, on the whole, were treated very generously by the customs men. We split up into our groups for getting back to Ipswich and dispersed.
Des took an airport bus to his car park which crashed causing delay in getting out of Heathrow. It was a dull evening which turned into heavy rain making the perfect bookend to the trip starting and finishing in rain, enclosing a week of sunshine.