Welcome to Bennett's World: a collection of articles and references covering a wide variety of topics in which I am involved. I am a very political person but I have no allegiance to any political party. Follow me on twitter @colinhove

Friday, March 23, 2012


Thousands of my blog readers have been clamouring for more news of me. I'm really sorry about my long absence but I have been engaged in serious matters of State. Here is a post containing my entry to the Sense Creative Writing Competition 2012. Unfortunately, it was not short-listed but J. K. Rowling (whoshe? - Ed.) also had difficulties with her prospective publishers. I wonder what happened to her. Enjoy "Turkish Delights" below. Devotees will also be interested to know that I am now also on twitter at www.twitter.com/colinhove.

Turkish Delights

Turkey is playing an increasingly important role in the world and I take an interest in it, as I do with all countries. It is more than 40 years since I have visited Turkey but I have some memories of exciting events that happened to me all those years ago. Here are some of them.

1. Only Half a Man

I had been sitting in the Orient Express (a misnomer on that occasion) and at last we pulled into Istanbul. The most interesting event on board had been the panic in the eyes of an American woman in the same carriage. We were travelling through Bulgaria and we were approaching a little salient of Greece into Bulgaria.The railway line crosses this little spit i.e. it goes from Bulgaria into Greece and then back into Bulgaria. The woman was terrified because she had been told that Greece was communist and she was worried something would happen to her during those few kilometres in that country. I explained that she had things a little wrong: we were travelling in Bulgaria, a communist country, and would spend a little time travelling across Greece which was a NATO member. She didn't believe me but that's understandable because from an American perspective all these countries are rather small and you can't be expected to know their politics!

Anyway, at the border the Greek immigration people came into the carriage and asked to see the American woman's passport. She handed it to them, quaking. They looked at it, smiled at her, clicked their heels and were gone. A few kilometres later the Bulgarian immigration people got on and they asked the same question and she complied with a big smile. They said "Welcome to Bulgaria", smiled and gave the passport back. The woman was so relieved… she looked out of the window at the Bulgarian farmers and said "You can see they're free; how happy they are compared to those in communist Greece!" I didn't say any more but perhaps somewhere in Indiana there's an elderly lady telling her grandchildren of her terrifying half-hour in 1960s communist Greece.

After our arrival in Istanbul, it was four hours before I could leave the platform. This was because the train was full of Turkish “gastarbeiter” who had been working in Western Germany and who had come home laden with mounds of luggage which all had to be checked.

It was 2 a.m. I was very tired and had no choice but to take a taxi and ask to be taken to a cheap hotel. I found one, had a word with the manager, established the price for the night and tumbled into bed.

When I awoke the sun was streaming in and I went down for some breakfast. When I was about to leave I was handed the bill and it was double what I had agreed! I protested and in his very limited English the manager explained that it was double because it was for me and for my woman. I explained that I didn't have a woman. He said "I know; that's why we provided one". I argued that no woman had come into my room and I hadn't asked for one. In those days most Turkish women were Rubenesque (no so much nowadays) and you would certainly notice one in your bed! I knew that if he wanted to he could summon up half a dozen women who would swear that they had spent a tumultuous night with me. The only way to get out of the situation was to use a little tact and humour – not to be confrontational.

I explained that Englishmen were so pathetic that they couldn't do justice to a magnificent Turkish woman. At that time everyone in Europe was talking about the Profumo Scandal in the UK and Christine Keeler’s name was everywhere (Ask your grandparents about this). I said it was well known that Englishmen were generally strangers to sex and he agreed. The outcome was that since I was so undersexed it was only fair to charge me for half a woman - which is what happened. So, I got away quite lightly.

If you ever stay in an Istanbul brothel, which is what it was although I didn't know at the beginning, and you see preferential rates for Englishmen, you'll know the reason why.

2. Long Distance Travel

I had boarded the train in Istanbul to travel to Erzurum and it cost me the equivalent of just £1 to travel a thousand kilometres. In those days travelling on trains with Turks was good fun (perhaps it still is). Soon after leaving Istanbul they all got out their food and began sharing it even though they didn't know each other. A samovar appeared and we were all drinking that delicious Turkish tea which is best savoured by sucking it through a sugar lump between your teeth. Because the journey was long and we were so crowded they employed a useful device. Every few hours one of them would climb into the luggage rack and would have the pleasure of a short period horizontal and unbent. Soon it was my turn and despite my protests (fairly muted) I was lifted into the luggage rack and that was the most blissful rest I can remember.

3. Beware of Wolf Whistles!

I was hitch-hiking east from Erzurum towards the Iranian border. It was bitterly cold and I could hear wild dogs barking. I was rather frightened and was very glad when an Army lorry pulled up and a voice in English said "What the hell are you doing?" I said "I'm hitch-hiking to Iran" and the officer said "You must be absolutely crazy - jump in". I was indeed very pleased to do that.

The Turkish Army is enormous and regards itself as safeguarding the legacy of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. It is a conscript army. The officers are well educated and I was able to have very good conversations with them. They said to me "You had better stay in our barracks" explaining that the wild dogs I could hear were wolves and that walkers don't often survive when encountering them. I heartily agreed. I had a very comfortable night in the warm barracks and resolved never to walk alone on eastern Turkish roads.

4. Interesting Border Crossing

I arrived at the Turkish-Iranian border just before nightfall and was allowed through the Turkish Immigration and Customs. They said I had to walk to the Iranian side to enter Iran. There was a white pathway around the building which I could just see especially as there was a lamp or two. Suddenly the lamps went out and the next thing I remember was waking up with the hot sun on me and feeling very dirty. As I became aware of my surroundings, I discovered that I was under the cab of a wrecked lorry. I crawled out and realised that I could not have been seen from the pathway. It came to me that I was in a pit full of abandoned vehicles. I realised that the pathway had turned left but I hadn’t and had walked straight into a pit, rolled down and knocked myself out under the cab. I got out, climbed up the side of the pit and made my way into the Iranian checkpoint. They stared at me: "Where have you been? We have been expecting you since Friday". I sad "Well, what day is it now then? Saturday, surely?" They said "No, it's Sunday!" They let me clean myself up and told me what must have happened. Friday is a holiday both in Turkey and Iran and on Friday night it had been the custom for the Turkish and Iranians at the border crossing to have a joint film show. There was not enough electricity to drive both the projector and the outside lighting so they turned off the latter, hence my accident.

5. No Fool Like a Young One

I had been travelling from Damascus to Aleppo and into Turkey. Historians will know that this area has been disputed between Turkey and Syria especially since the Ottoman Empire collapsed and modern Syria was founded by the French. Anyway, wandering around the beautiful hills near Antakya (Biblical Antioch) a young man came up to me and said in broken French that he had discovered something that might interest me. He showed me a very old corroded coin with Greek script on it. He said they were always finding these old coins round there and would I like to buy it. I felt a bit guilty at perhaps buying an ancient treasure but I did so. In the morning I went into the celebrated museum in Antakya and showed the curator. He said "What did you pay for this?" I told him and he said "Dear oh dear when will they ever learn?" He showed me a box in which there were hundreds of coins all very similar to mine. He told me it was a local industry to manufacture these seemingly ancient coins and to sell them to gullible tourists.

6. Turkey or Switzerland?

I was sitting in a waterside restaurant in Mersin enjoying the Turkish cuisine which I like very much. Grilled fish, goats cheese, olives, aubergines, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, rice, raisins, dates, figs, vine leaves, peppers of all colours, wonderful bread, rum baba, sticky pastries, strong red wine, cold clear water, thick strong coffee, sharp-tasting endless glasses of tea and the occasional raki. Have you got the picture? Yum yum! I was the only Westerner there and I thought "What a wonderful place to spend a holiday instead of, say, Brighton or Spain". Little did I know that Turkey would become a major tourist destination. I took one of those famous or infamous Turkish buses that have got all manner of mascots etc. hanging from the windscreen and painted in very gaudy colours driven at reckless speeds. The luggage forms a mountain on top of the bus and the inside is crammed with many people and some animals. Turks speak loudly (which is very helpful for me!) and drivers like to honk so you are always aware when there is a Turkish bus around.

We set off for Ankara, the capital, about 500km inland. We drove upwards and the scenery was spectacular. Beautiful forests, mountains, streams and meadows all in crisp, clean air, and attractive villages. You could have been in Switzerland. I know many people imagine Turkey as being hot and dusty, even barren, but, believe me, central Turkey is very Swiss. Turkey could be a very rich agricultural country again (as Asia Minor and Anatolia it did of course supply the Greek and Roman Empires with food). The problem is that it doesn't have enough rain.