The stuff of nightmares.

Does this strike anyone else as odd?

Does this strike anyone else as odd?

More on this later.

It seems to be the fashion in ebook publishing these days to release books in parts. Give away part one and charge for parts two, three, four and five. I’m not like that (yet). You can get all parts of this blog for free.

Part One:

One of my earliest memories is of having my head in a newspaper-lined bucket being violently ill. As a young boy I suffered horribly with travel sickness. I’d only need to be in the car for five minutes before I started turning green around the gills. Ten minutes and I was breaking out in a prickly sweat. Any journey over fifteen minutes and you could bet a month’s pay I’d vomit. Hence the bucket was always in the car. In the end I think it became psychosomatic. I’d only have to see a newspaper-lined bucket, I’d only have to smell it and my gorge would be rising. Even if the car was stationary on the front drive. I know because my parents insisted we try it once.

My parents tried sitting me everywhere in the car. I tried the back seat, the front seat, and my dad’s lap when he was driving. I even made a few journeys in the boot. (It was a Fiat 127 hatchback and they took the parcel shelf out so we could still talk to each other.) Nothing helped because I suffered from travel sickness. And when you suffer from something it doesn’t matter where you sit.

Anyway. I grew out of it. Eventually. Travel sickness is not something that has troubled me for over forty years.

Last week I blogged about my enjoyable and varied commute across Istanbul. But it was only for the orientation week. This week, I started at my new campus which, it turns out, is one hour and eleven minutes away by school minibus. On a clearish run. Can you guess what’s coming up? Apart from the contents of my stomach on a daily basis?

It started on Monday. I have to get up pretty early now and I don’t have time for breakfast. I get picked up at the top of the road just before seven. (Insane!) And then I have the journey.

I want to share with you a video. It’s not of my actual morning commute across Istanbul but it’s pretty close.

(It took me until the ninth viewing of this video to see that the dad says he feels sick before they take off and then, when he pukes some of it goes in his daughter’s face and then she looks like she’s going to throw up, too. I haven’t laughed so much for ages.)

Honestly, these Turkish drivers are crazy. They all think they’re Sterling Moss and have divine rights over other road users, even when the other road user is driving a twenty ton construction lorry. For a joke, I suggested we have a sweep stake on how many accidents we have this year. That didn’t go down well in a highly superstitious culture. Lots of mumblings from the Turkish natives. I caught the word ‘jinx’.

So back to Monday. I’m in the fourth row of a packed minibus. The trapped air is stale and stifling. The morning sun is low and its heat pounds on the glass and metal of our oven on wheels. (Remember, in Turkey one can’t have windows open because of the airborne viruses that will flood in and kill us all.)

We hadn’t gone a couple of miles of erratic stop start Turkish driving before a dim and distant memory was stirred. And then the previous night’s kebab. I got very hot and I could feel myself turning pale.

‘Blimey, you don’t look so good, mate. Are you going to be sick?’ said the arsehole next to me.

That helped. I’m trying not to think about being sick in the school minibus that happens to be full of teachers – people who I don’t know yet and he’s talking about it. To me.

I remember dry retching into my hand and what do you think my ‘concerned’ colleague did then? Yes. He shoved his morning newspaper under my nose and said, ‘Catch it in this.’

It’s Friday. I’ve been sick three times this week. All on different days. There’s nothing I can do about it. One good thing – with my vomiting and jinxing, over half the teachers have decided to make their own way to work, so I get the whole back row to myself. Lying down helps. Only another eleven months to go.

Part Two: (That you don’t have to pay for.)

Back to that image.


After my initial shock on discovering this facility at my new place of work, I wondered whether it was simply a refreshingly liberal approach to the unisex toilet concept. It’s not. It’s just for men. But that doesn’t make this particular juxtaposition of urinal and bog any more understandable, to me.

On a more personally meaningful level, walking into this lavatory fairly took my breath away, and it had nothing to do with the bloke standing at the sink, washing his hands and grinning.

This image is one of my repeating nightmares physically realised; a horror of my darkest subconscious brought to life. In my nightmares I’m desperate for the toilet (usually number twos) and the only toilet I can find is one in plain view of everyone. But no one is around and I’m so desperate I have to go. And I do. In my dreams, I’ve just reached the point of no return: I’m in the act of releasing the hounds – their leads are off – when the room starts filling with people. That’s usually when I wake up, sweating, gasping for breath and fumbling around in the bed sheets to learn whether I’ve crossed a line. (For the record I have never followed through, so to speak, with my bodily functions in my dreams.)

Back to this toilet. I have no intention of using it, no matter how desperate I am. (There is no lock on the door to the room, which opens onto a busy corridor.) I don’t even think I’ll use the urinal. I mean, can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to be making use of either item of sanitary ware and someone walks in to use the other? (Note roll of bog paper on the floor indicating someone is using it already.) You’d have to acknowledge each other. Eye contact would be inevitable. And then how could one not say something. If I was standing there taking a piss and someone came in for a dump I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from bursting out laughing. Even if I didn’t know them. It would be so embarrassing to have to stand there listening to them evacuating their bowels. And the smell. No, it’s not right. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of those involved in the process of planning to installation. It reminds me of the wheelchair access ramp fitted at my old school. (Always worth including my favourite image of all time.)


Good news for me this week is that I’m back doing what I enjoy most – making up stories and then writing them down. Monday evening, after the Halfling had finally succumbed to sleep, I opened up a bottle of wine and then the file on my computer that holds the second Booker & Cash. I had fifty thousand words done before I stopped for the summer break and couldn’t remember much of it. (Probably not a good sign, I thought.) But I like it a lot. It made me laugh in a couple of places. Most of the unfolding plot surprised me as I was going along, which was nice to experience, although, again, as the author mildly disturbing.

As well as a couple of deliberate chuckles I came across a couple of accidental ones that I think are worth sharing here.

We were almost at the car when I let out a loud, ‘Shit!’  (Need to be careful with the punctuation on that one.)

A man clutching a couple of straining black bin bags came struggling up the stairs from the basement flat. He spared us a cursory glance as he tossed his load into a wheelie bin.

On second thoughts maybe I’ll leave them in.

The ‘c’ word.

One week back at the chalkface. And how many words have I managed to add to the word count of my current blockbuster-in-progress since I returned from my UK holiday? Zero. Oh well, I knew it was going to be tough. I could always stop blogging, I suppose. Or sleeping.

Like the Ukraine, I’m in a period of transition. Upheaval might not be too strong a word for it. It’s all change and things have got to settle down. I must once again find my rhythm, a routine, into which I can find the opportunity and energy to sit down and write. I’m not crying about things. I’m being pragmatic. (That way I might stay sane.)

So why am I blogging about writing when I’m not – writing that is? The blog’s always been about the trials and tribulations, the journey, of trying to make it as an author of note, so I suppose that anything to do with anything that impacts on that aspect of my secret life should be recorded for posterity.

This week I’ve been on an orientation week with my new employer. This was on the European side of Istanbul. Next week I will be moving to the campus where I’ll be working for this year, which is on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Channel.

My commute (the ‘c’ word in case you still hadn’t twigged) this week has taken an hour and forty-five minutes each way. Gulp! you might be forgiven for thinking. In truth, and much to my surprise, I’ve enjoyed it. Really. I’ve used a right old mixed bag of transport and I’ve rubbed shoulders with the ‘common man’ in these parts. (And one or two of them don’t half pong.

Am I just procrastinating? Sigh.

The new people in my new job seem nice enough, which is good. Only one small hiccough this week. I might as well relate it. Sharing is caring and caring is sharing and all that.

There are quite a few new overseas teachers like me just started. They come from all over the globe to give the school a real multi-cultural feel. I like that. It’s a melting pot of difference.

During the parts of the week where we had no seminars or meetings we were kept busy with various tasks to work on. I was asked to look at the English language curriculum with a view to ‘tightening’ it up a bit. Another colleague – Canadian – was asked to cast their experienced eye over the school’s assessment policy. The school also has a Chinese teacher this year and he was given the job of performing an inventory and organising the office supplies. It all felt like we were being tested in some way.

Senior management checked up on us on Friday. I’d managed to complete my task. Jo, the Canadian, had finished his, but when we entered the office looking for Chen to see how he’d got on, the powers that be were very disappointed to find that nothing had been done and the shelves were still bare. No one knew where Chen was. And then he burst out of the stationery cupboard and shouted, ‘Here I am!’ in perfect English.

Good morning, Istanbulllllllll!!!!!

After six weeks ‘Internetless in Dymchurch’ (could be a film starring Tom Shanks and Smeg Ryan) I’m back ‘home’ in Istanbul. How do I feel about that? Honestly?

Well, let’s start Britishly. With the weather. I could do with one of these today.

No doubt about it, the temperature in UK was far preferable to how it is here at the moment. Istanbul feels like I’m zipped up fully clothed in an Arctic grade, double-goose down, four season sleeping bag, in a one man nylon tent in the middle of a blistering and breathless Gobi Desert on a summer’s day, and it’s not even noon (or it wasn’t when I started writing this post four hours ago).

Lying in bed last night I was forced to undo the top button of my Winceyette pyjamas as I felt the perspiration puddling around me. The fabric of my night attire had reached saturation point and was unable to retain any more of my body’s vital fluids that were flowing out of my pores quicker than US dollars are flowing out of Russia these days, such was the stifling oppressiveness of the trapped, stale night air. It was like trying to sleep mummified in warm, damp kitchen towel.

We can’t have a window open to encourage a hint of any available night-time breeze because of the ‘enormous infant-obsessed killer mosquitoes’ queuing up on the window sill with their ‘crazy straws’ to gorge themselves on the blood of The Halfling; we can’t have a fan in the bedroom because ‘they are dangerous to leave on unattended through the night in case of electrical fires’; we can’t have air-conditioning because The Halfling might ‘catch pneumonia or Legionnaires disease’ from the ‘impurities being forced into the atmosphere by artificial means’. So let’s all die in our sleep of heatstroke or drown in sweat.

To all intents and purposes (what does that actually mean?) today is the last day of my summer holiday and oddly the first day in the last seven weeks that I’ve been able to spend entirely alone. Christ, how I’ve missed my own company (and you, my best friend: my laptop x). I’m holed up in a coffee shop that has air-conditioning and WiFi and which overlooks the Sea of Marmara (not bad, I suppose). The current-future-ex-Mrs Tidy has dashed away to visit her parents for the weekend. (Naturally, sans enfant terrible.)

The Halfling is at home renewing his bond with his Turkish nanny who he hasn’t seen for six weeks (someone who, from the look on his face this morning when she pitched up, he obviously believed he’d seen the last of in July) while I’ve been ‘instructed’ to make myself scarce so that said bonding can be more easily achieved. Good luck with that. I might not know much about kids but I didn’t need to be Dr Spock (the child doctor so influential in my mother’s thinking regarding child-rearing and not to be confused with the pointy-eared alien who my mum simply resembled) to recognise the sense of betrayal on the angelic features of my son and heir when the nanny’s face loomed around the front door this morning, like something out of a Hammer horror movie, while calling his name in that curiously shrill tone she manages that actually rattles the fillings in my teeth.

My son’s features instantly resembled those of Luke Skywalker on learning that his biological father was in fact his chief enemy.

I could barely bring myself to meet his watery, accusing eye as I did up my laces in preparation to leave them to each other. (Mr Iscariot, I know your pain.) And then he made a bolt for his room before either of us could grab his sweaty little body. It was unfortunate that all that stood between The Halfling and his dash for refuge was the nanny. It was doubly-unfortunate that, owing to the regrettable brush with Rickets she clearly suffered in her youth (the sort that leaves the afflicted unable to stop a pig in an alley, which is exactly the expression that sprang to mind as he ducked under her crutch and scuttled up the narrow hallway to his sanctuary [if only she’d turned up in a long skirt instead of those skin-tight, leopard-print leggings she insists on wearing making her look like some form of bizarre, over-sized wishbone from the hips down], slamming the door behind him and twisting the key. I knew it was a mistake to leave that in the lock but ‘he must have his privacy’. He’s just three for God’s sake!) she was unable to snap her knees together (not without dislocating her pelvis in at least three places) and block his escape. Mind you, I did experience a grudging admiration for him. I wouldn’t like to be cooped up with the Turkish love-child of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the captain of the Swiss women’s Olympic yodelling team all day being force fed his mother’s idea of nutritious meals: a lentil and pulse mush that looks like it could have come straight out of his nappy.

The staff are glaring at me with something akin to unpleasantness. I think that they think I’ve outstayed my welcome. They might have a point. I’ve been here a long time and only drunk two large cups of black coffee. They want the table for six that I’m stubbornly occupying for the family of nine that they want to cram in and make some profit from. Well I’m not moving. It’s hot out and I’m comfortable. And I’ve got Internet.

This summer I went away without any Internet enabled device: no laptop, no ipad, no Kindle fire. How liberating, I thought. How fucking stupid, more like. It wouldn’t have made much difference because the only Internet available to me in the UK would have been through my first son’s iphone, a device that always seemed to have either one bar of shaky Internet access or 3% of battery remaining. (Did I mention my first son before? The young man who is squatting in my English home. The son who should have vacated the property after giving it a thorough cleaning [make that fumigating] so that my Turkish family and I might enjoy the fruit of my pre-Turkish move renovation labours. On arrival the place looked like a scene from A Life of Grime.)

Where was I? Internet access. But still, I could have found somewhere, like the pub in the village that offered free WiFi if you bought a drink. I did that once. In fact I ended up buying quite a few drinks and making a bit of a spectacle of myself as well as a significant dent in the holiday spending budget and a smaller dent in the casing of my current-future-ex-wife’s brand new mini ipad that she’d rented to me for the evening. (We didn’t go to the zoo the following day, as I’d promised everyone. But that was because I was still being violently sick into a saucepan in the spare room. This was doubly-unfortunate because it was one of the three days that it didn’t rain in the six weeks we were there. How was I supposed to know that?)

I read quite a few ‘real’ books, which was lovely to be able to do. I got quite into Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montelbano series and I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that I enjoyed about them. I read JK Rowling’s A Cuckoo’s Calling and really enjoyed it, despite being determined to hate it. (Call it professional jealousy.) I read an Anne Cleeves, Shetland Islands book that was pretty good and Charles Cummings A Foreign Country that was very good. I also read a book about Ian Fleming, something that I ‘borrowed’ from the school library and took to read on the plane. I found out that Fleming and I share the same birthday. He wrote thrillers and so do I. He was enormously successful and rich…. anyway, spooky.

Talking of birthdays, I received a message from a reader yesterday, Erling Larson, who will have his ninetieth birthday in ten days time. Congratulations to him. I love the idea that a reader of such senior years is reading my books and getting on the Internet to let me know about it. If my dad had lived that long I know he’d of been just like Erling. Happy birthday, sir!

I need to get on with some work. I have emails, Amazon comments and blog comments to catch up on. I have a half-finished Booker & Cash to renew my acquaintance with (I can’t remember much of the forty thousand words I’ve already written. Bugger. I hope it all comes back to me quickly.) Smoke & Mirrors is still under construction.

I just read a blog post by a fellow author and virtual acquaintance

She says this:

I have come to realise I live two separate lives: a writer’s life which is quiet and solitary,  and a family life which is busy and boisterous at times. I love them both, but the twain never meet, they might bump into each other occasionally but that is all. 

How very true that is. Exactly how I feel. I’ve spent six weeks back in the UK surrounded by family and I could count on the fingers of one foot (in Turkey toes are referred to as ‘foot fingers’. How I laughed first time I heard that.) the number of times someone asked about my writing. It seems strange to me; they are my ‘nearest and dearest’ after all. Mum is always supportive but really no one else (apart from my daughter who has read all of them and my favourite nieces who have also partaken) is the slightest bit interested. It’ll be a different story when that seven figure, three book/film/TV series deal comes in, I’m sure. It used to bother me a bit but now I’m resigned to the truth: I’m living two separate lives.

And on Monday I start a new job, which I’m really looking forward to.

Anyway, back to my original question: how do I honestly feel about being back in Istanbul? Answer: things could be worse.