Blog Archives

ГОРОДЕЦ: A dark horse

I picked this up at a craft fair today. I was torn between an old spoon, a cocktail shaker and an old tin for tooth powder when I noticed it hiding underneath a green onyx frog. It was the horse which was the USP, obviously and its unusual script that I couldn’t read. Turns out, after a blind alley up the Greek alphabet, it is the Cyrillic alphabet and the writing is the name of a town in Russia, on the banks of the River Volga, called Gorodets.

Apparently the town Gorodets, or ГОРОДЕЦ as it is depicted on the souvenir, is known for its colourful folk art depicting, amongst other things, roosters and this Gorodets style black horse.

That’s something I didn’t know this morning. If I was in the market for a tattoo, this horse would be rather up my street. It proved awfully difficult to photograph too. Over-exposed or blurry seemed to be the choice. In the end I have just propped it up on the laptop and snapped it there. I think it is something to do with the surface being enamelled and slightly reflective. My digital camera is either too limited in its settings to cope, or I am too limited in mine…

It has reminded me of a story my grandmother used to tell me about her father. They all lived in Istanbul in the early 1900s and he was a collector of Russian icons. When Attaturk came to power there was some law made about foreign nationals not being allowed to be in business in the country (my great-grandfather was Scottish). He had to dissolve the business and trust his Turkish business partner to ship the icons to Scotland, but they never arrived. I have a number of questions about the story, which of course I wished I had asked her when she was alive. The thing is, I didn’t think they (my great-grandparents) ever left Istanbul permanently and what had a private collection of iconography got to do with business law anyway. Maybe I have mixed up the time period. I know the whole family were evacuated to Malta during the First World War, so maybe it was then. I think I might have to do some investigations. Either way, the art was gone, and a considerable family nest egg at today’s prices. The subtext is that the Turkish partner diddled my grandfather. This is not meant to represent Turkish people as a whole, of course. My grandmother’s greatest friend was Turkish, my grandmother an grandfather grew up in, and loved Turkey. Her parents and brother lived there until they died. I grew up knowing that the greatese cuisine in the world is not French, it is Turkish and only this weekend we found out that many European languages, including English originated in the Anatolian mountains of Turkey

I have digressed. Perhaps I will follow in the family’s footsteps and start collecting Russian folk art. At a £1 a pop it’s not going to break the bank quite yet…

Perhaps tomorrow I will photo an artefact I have from their evacuation in Malta during the First World War. It, like the Gorodets horse is going to be tricky to snap (reflective glass…)

Battery running low?

In education it is getting to the fag end of the year. All around me people are crawling on their hands and knees to the summer. A shame then, that we can’t have the human equivalent to this piece of equipment I found in the tea tent in the State Hospital, Marmaris.

It’s a slot machine, you put in your money and plug in your dying phone to the right charger which you must first find in the general spaghetti of wires. Unfortunately the light in the tent was a little dim so it has not come out too well.

You can get an ice-cream from the freezer next to it whilst you are waiting…

(We found a lone, unwrapped, burger floating around with the lollies – no accounting for taste I suppose.)

State Hospital (Marmaris)

Since the recent holiday in Turkey, I have learned the hard way that it is a high risk country for rabies, up there with India or Afghanistan. My children were given the lecture about not touching animals whilst on holiday, but given the outcome of the lecture I now wonder if I should have taught them to be scared to death of all animals abroad, like I was as a kid. My extreme fear back in the day was partly due to watching an Information Film at school of some poor person in the last stage of rabies dying a horrible death; this horror backed up by all those X-ray skull posters they used to plaster on the stairwell walls and car decks of channel ferries in the 1970s.

Anyway, on Easter Sunday during the holiday, due to a combination of happenstance and bad luck (probability taken personally, remember) the youngest daughter was scratched by a street cat. A pretty sick looking street cat with quantities of drool hanging out of its mouth.

And so it was we visited this hospital on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday whilst away. Easter Sunday for the first rabies vaccine, the second day for reasons that are still unclear but involved a policeman carrying a gun telling us that we should return the following day. Then we went again on Tuesday because, according the UK Public Health Agency, we should be getting another rabies shot that day. It transpired that, in fact, the shot was not due until Wednesday (that is a Letter of Complaint waiting to be written).

Please note dear blog reader that I could now go into a lengthy, confusing and LOUD rap about all the shortcomings of how the UK handled this whole deal and how I have had to fight, whilst containing my ferocious temper, to get my daughter’s subsequent vaccines administered in the UK on a Sunday but I don’t think you need to know about the vagaries of days 0 and 1 in the schedule or indeed how I… Anyway, I am sparing you all that. For now.

So we became fairly closely acquainted with The State Hospital Marmaris. In Turkey there do not seem to be appointments. Everyone waits in the corridor. Then when they have had enough of that they get up and try the doors to the consulting and treatment rooms. If a door is found to be unlocked, everyone piles into the room waving their paperwork. Then everyone is shooed out again, apart from one lucky patient. It is all quite good humoured, mixed with a little resignation perhaps.

This was the tea tent. We tried to make a day of it.

Handing Stuff In

to academic institutions makes me think, a lot.

Specifically, yesterday, it made me feel sick to think that whatever, and however, I regurgitate the received wisdom and body of knowledge from a prescribed list I am essentially being taught to think backwards and not forwards.

Because if you think forwards too much, no-one can mark it against the already determined learning outcomes…

Then I thought to charge people 9 grand a year for what’s already out there is a bit of a damn liberty and hardly a democratic education. And then I went home and told my kids to try and remember that their best learning is out in the world in the people they meet, and in the things they read, and the experiences they have and please not to think the only, or best, place for an education is in some ivory tower where you pay through the nose for the approved reading list.

And they said, Mum, you are random. And I suppose that is true. But I have learned for free that no-one ever looks their best in hammock.

Styling it out

Holiday reading: Russell Brand & Gandhi

I was making good progress, rattling through a few ‘good’ booky wooks by the pool on holiday the other week, when I was somewhat derailed by a bit of a to-do (more of which later).

The subject matter of my holiday reading: Russell Brand and Gandhi, may not, on the face of it, appear to have much in common as reading material. But, as it turns out, both have a considerable track record of getting in a bed with more than one young woman at the same time.

There is a key difference between their nocturnal activities though, but the blog is too refined (ish) to mention it.

All quiet...


The blog is meant to be in a hotel somewhere in Sussex before getting on a flight (yes, feel the fear and do it anyway…) abroad tomorrow morning. Instead of which, in a master stroke of disorganisation, I will be at the Passport Office in Victoria at 7.45 a.m. sharp in an attempt to get the eldest’s passport renewed.

You could kind of understand it if it was a few weeks out of date, perhaps a few months. In fact, hers is a full two years out of date and, despite my checking all this a month ago, the minor detail escaped my usually gimlet eye. I can only be thankful I did notice before the check-in desk. Oh the potential for public, come fly with me, humiliation. At least I have been quietly humiliated in private. Apart from when I told my neighbour, my colleague, my mum, my sisters and a couple of dear friends…

Oh and the Post Office woman. I had to go there and queue up. Twice. I got the same post mistress on each occasion. By the second time I was slightly hysterical with laughter, but at least I had the sense to ask for a couple of forms for all the additional, and elementary, errors I am bound to make.

So, the blog may be on holiday for a while, or the blog may not. It is all slightly out of my cold, yet sweaty, hands now.

Minding the Gap #1

In an information overload situation, such as we may find ourselves in an age where mobile phones outnumber toothbrushes two to one, catching the space between thoughts is vital to remain in balance. Seductive as thinking can be, it is also inclined to run away with one. You can’t actually switch off the internal monologue to order, but if you do happen to find a quiet moment in your mind, jump right in.

Animals can do this most effectively. Here is a Turkish dog doing just that. He is today’s guru; listen hard for the silence…

Following a Star

It used to be that I did make a bit of an effort with the Christmas dinner. I was cured of that by the Kelly Bronze turkey I dragged home from Borough Market on Christmas Eve with my customary Christmas respiratory complaint about seven years ago. That year I had made a pilgrimage to order it a week or so before, and then forced myself out to collect it in freezing conditions not compatible with my consumptive state. The only reason I made it home was the restorative shot of single malt at the butcher’s counter, with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen for company; that was before they sent him off to Israel.

Anyway, I somehow heaved the mahoosive bird home and, in an even worse state of health on Christmas Day in the morning, was so sickened by the smell of the cooking bird I swore I’d never again a) travel that far for a bird b) pay that much for a bird c) defend the dark, free-range leg meat no-one wanted.

So between now and then I’ve dodged the issue by eating elsewhere mainly. I did do a Christmas dinner here about four years ago. I think there were crackers, something I realise I have forgotten to provide today, but who needs a party hat and compass anyway?

So that’s the preamble, here’s the confession: the whole Christmas confection has come from under this star (apart from the carrots which Alan Bartlett & Sons kindly grew for me). Note, this is not any old BP Christmas, this is an M&S Christmas. Ho ho ho.

There’s a epilogue to this sorry tale, eventuated by my not being able to resist popping into the BP Garage this very day to buy twiglets and fresh orange juice. I’ll see if I can relate that after the Queen’s Speech…

من صبر ظفر : An Arabic Proverb

Imagine this, if you can. Back in May, when we inflicted the Young Guns of the Right upon ourselves, amongst all the other savage cuts and general widening the gap between the haves and have nots, Dave also said something along these lines:

On the 1 January 2011 we are outlawing the use of English. From that date forward we are going to write everything in Arabic. All the newspapers, books and official documentation will be in Arabic. This is the way forward, it is better for us all in the long run.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but something similar happened in Turkey in 1929. Hold on, I’ll explain, and I’ll explain why I would even be thinking of it at all.

I don’t own much, I don’t think, travel light and all that. This man’s ring is one of my favourite things. It’s from Turkey and was given to me by my grandmother who was brought up in Istanbul.

The script is Perso-Arabic and the ring must pre-date 1929 because that was the year Atatürk (father of modern Turkey) enforced his Language Revolution or Dil Devrimi. On the 1st January 1929 the original Perso-Arabic script became illegal, meaning that everything written or printed had to be written phonetically in the Latin alphabet and that people who were fully literate (only about 10% of the population in fact) had to learn to read and write again.

It sounds a cruel thing to do on the face of it. My grandmother was about 15 when the reforms began and she said she felt sad for the old Turkish men in the Istanbul coffee shops who would have been reading their daily newspaper the week before in Arabic, but could not read the new script. But Atatürk was onto something. He had identified a number of things, working with the educational theorist John Dewey: 90% of the popluation was illiterate and learning to read and write Turkish with the Arabic script took about three years; surely the two facts were linked.

The linguists Atatürk worked with said introducing the new Latin based alphabet would take three to five years. Atatürk insisted on three to five months. He made it mandatory for people aged between four and forty to learn the new alphabet and opened People’s Houses Halk Evlen for this to take place. Older citizens were also supported to read and write. In fact, the reforms probably stand as an exemplar for the most comprehensive community education programme ever undertaken. Within two years, literacy rates in Turkey had improved from 10% to 70%.

Atatürk himself taught the new script in schools and village squares, which is probably the least he could do as he had rendered much of the formerly literate populace (only 10% though), illiterate. The language reform went further, dropping words that were of Persian or Arabic origin, resurrecting archaic words from old Turkish dialects and even asking the public to suggest alternatives to words and expressions of non-Turkish origin. In 1934 lists of new Turkish words began to be published, and in 1935 they began to appear in newspapers.

None of this has ever been mentioned to me by anyone other than my grandmother, yet in taking such a radical step a whole country was given a written language that most could use. Working with literacy in the community myself, the whole Language Revolution counts as an amazing undertaking, and on a potentially challenging day I like to wear the ring.

I didn’t tell you what the inscription means: Patience is Victory.