. . telling stories from 20+ years of living and travelling in Turkey; some are informative, some cautionary and some are downright hilarious - all of them are interesting. There's never a dull moment.
Alan is the founder of the Okçular Book Project and author of 2 outstanding and best-selling books about Okçular Village; 'Okçular Village - a Guide' and 'Backways and Trackways' a walking and cycling guide to the area including Kösten and Ölemez Mountains. All of the money raised by the project helps his village community. More info: http://archersofokcular.com/okcular-book-bazaar/
Turkish, bok, -ku slang1. shit, crap, excrement, dung, ordure, feces, etc, etc; this according to my copy of ‘Langenscheidt’s Standard English-Turkish Dictionary’ (First Part); an erudite description of the word in question considering its place between the covers of this aptly-named tome dedicated to understanding between peoples.
Would that the bok that squits from the mouths of our political ‘leaders’ could be added to the steaming heap! The ‘system’ that drives our world drives me to despair – I expect that it does the same for you. With that in mind here’re a few images from a recent sunny day’s wander from our house to Kocadere Valley and back. As the human race slides towards oblivion, taking countless other species with us, may your spirits be lifted together with whatever glass they happen to be in.
Alkanna mughlae probably the rarest plant you’ll ever see
Finally, in the finest traditions of ‘stiff upper-lipmanship’, British phlegm and excitingly cheap tickets for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic . .
I feel like the Buddha looks – smugly happy, eyes half closed and with a nicely rounded belly that has followed a day of great expectation! That doesn’t read correctly, but you’ll get my drift.
It started with our very nice fishmonger at Ortaca veg market. After he’d safely pocketed the price of our çupra (sea bream), he went all conspiratorial on us. ‘Look, lady – taze karides (fresh shrimps/prawns), çok güzel!’ So we broke the first rule of survival in the commercial jungle and looked. Then we broke the second rule by agreeing with his pitch. And that was all he needed to start picking out the biggest and juiciest and arranging them under our noses on one of those styrofoam trays. ‘Not a kilo, a kilo is too expensive’, he said with his finest, unshaven smile. We ended up with 700 grams and considered we’d got away with a real bargain!
in goes the garlic
Yorkshire Prawn Cocktail
sorry about the blur, I was all of a tremble!
I don’t know how you like your prawns, but J and I enjoy them with shells on, cooked in olive oil with loads of garlic and sprinkled with chilli flakes, a splash of lemon juice (and salt and pepper to taste, of course). We serve them from the pan with chunks of bread to soak up the juices . . Heaven! Or, as our one Buddhist friend would say, ‘Seventh Heaven!’
So, there you have it – Bof’s first ever ‘foodie’ blog post. Now for a glass of rakı and a couple of episodes of ‘Dad’s Army’ my just rewards for J’s hard work!
Following the last posting and all the ‘Go on, tell us where it is’ and ‘Ah, ya will, ya will, ya will!’ via comments, pm and emails, here’s a few more shots of the bolt-hole taken at sunset, in the meadows and during the depths of winter. No give-away captions, I’ll leave you to work out which is which!
(salvaged from ‘Archers of Okçular November 2014)
So, are we happy at the thought of spending some time wandering and exploring at the other end of the rabbit hole?
I’ll let you be the judge of that – Alice with the Cheshire Cat, who once said, “If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.” … Cheshire Cat
As for ‘Go on, go on, go on!’ I say, in best Father Ted style, ‘I will not Mrs Doyle!’ Fans will understand.
‘Down the rabbit hole’ is, to quote Wikipedia, a metaphor for adventure into the unknown, from its use in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is also a slang expression for a psychedelic experience, but that is a different story – or maybe not!
another salvage job from ‘Archers of Okçular’ November 2014
J and I have been a two-man escape committee quietly seeking a rabbit hole to disappear down to escape the summer heat for some time. A place, in fact, that lends itself to a bit of ‘California Dreaming’ any time of the year. To be able to vanish and then reappear in a somewhat different world has its appeal. A world that could be on a different planet, Mars for example, now that would be really rather nice!
one of two places on Earth that (supposedly) resembles Mars
with medicated mud-pack
A world where images are turned upside down and where a unique species of fish lives, that would also be really nice.
with very friendly alien creatures
Adding in a few ponds and streams to paddle around in and new tracks to explore would be really, really nice. If you then sprinkle the mix with the odd wild white rabbit being casseroled in a delicious, peppery sauce then, to my mind, you are talking ‘Wonderland‘!
in good company
with beautiful wild flowers
and Martian cabbages
very welcoming local ‘Martian’ bureaucrats
Alan Fenn, following the White Rabbit!
ps you might think that I’ve forgotten to tell you where the entrance is . . I haven’t!
Being humble villagers J and I are entitled, along with our neighbours, to purchase our winter firewood direct from the chaps at the local forestry department’s timber yard at a huge discount! We paid up-front a couple of months back and three days ago we came home from hospital to find this lot sitting outside the gate.
Salvaged from ‘Archers of Okçular 08.11.2014
Now, considering that I had just had my ticker check-up and J had had injections to help free-up her frozen shoulder, you might think that ‘getting in a chap to do the work’ would be the order of the day. Not so! Village life doesn’t work like that, especially if you value your street cred! Let’s face it, we have neighbours our age and some ten years or more older who are still out doing their thing with tractors, billhooks, cows and sheep, etc. And they never walk back empty handed, they always have a load of fodder or half a tree over their shoulder. I mean, old Veli still gets sent up the trees to harvest the olives and he’s so old he doesn’t have a birth certificate!
So, village cred starts with a bit of dress sense – when we work we look the part. J dons one of her scarves and does the fetching and carrying just like any good village wife should do. I’m working on the ‘following ten paces behind’ bit – give it a little time! I don my working togs – old, worn shirt with holes and baggy cotton trousers that has J calling me ‘Rhinoceros B@!!@cks’! That’s true, I’m not making it up!
village lady hard at it
Next comes tools and the need to look like you know what you are doing because every neighbour who passes will stop to chat and assess how we are going along.
Boffer pretending he knows where it is at
You can see their eyes taking it all in, usually followed by nods of approval if we’ve got it right or chuckles as they drive away if we haven’t. Finally, there is the need for ‘greasepaint’ in the form of sweat and grime – we usually have plenty and then some!
end of day one
These past three days have been hard work reducing more than two tons of timber to fireplace sized bits and stacking them away in the wood store. Our fingers can barely hold a spoon and our bones and muscles ache.
satisfaction at job jobbed!
Despite that we both feel pretty good (for our age). Tomorrow we are off with the local walking group for a gentle, season-opening ramble to the hot springs for a soak followed by a barby and a boat ride back to Dalyan. Then, on Monday we are wandering off to Burdur for a few days with a detour to stock up on some ‘vino collapso’.
Finally, here’s a bit of video if you’ve managed to get this far without dozing off. Taken on day three we are both showing signs of losing it – wandering about in a bit of a daze. I love the bit where J demonstrates her outstanding spacial awareness – we still can’t remember what we were looking for! J loves my display of sartorial elegance – Rhinos beware! The soundtrack is John Surman’s ‘Caithness To Kerry’ track from the album ‘Upon Reflection’ (ECM Records) – as he is family I don’t expect to pay royalties. Enjoy!
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü where we are still ‘in with the in-crowd’!
J and I love this time of year – the temperature is perfect, it rains, the sun shines, the shades of green and brown are gorgeous as leaves fall and plants of every sort grow – thrusting their way through barren layers of summer and out into the sparkle of spring. The smells of leaf-mould and mushrooms and damp, rich soil – the twittering of ‘garden’ birds and the calls of buzzards and ravens. Everywhere you look and listen and sniff, stuff is happening. There is new energy – from Mother Nature and from us!
Salvaged from my mutilated ‘Archers of Okçular’ blog 28.10.2014
An old friend has returned after a summer spent gadding about the forest chasing food and the ladies – now he just craves a bit of peace and quiet and his place in the sun . .
. . Owl is home again for the ‘winter’.
J is composting furiously as the pruning mounts up ready for the macerating machine . .
. . and ‘Yes, they really do get that hot!’ I’ve poached eggs in the compost heap before now, if you don’t believe me go here and check it out.
The colours of autumn are a delight to the eye and often it is the smallest of things that make the biggest impression – ‘suns’ glow . .
. . and ‘stars’ twinkle . .
. . and a Common Copper glows in the sun.
There was even time and energy for a bit of ‘reverse lens’ macro photography fun . .
. . staring down a Huntsman Spider
Finally, this being our so-called autumn, here are a couple of aptly-named flowers from this time of year – both are so delicate and beautiful and so worth taking a few moments to pause and enjoy.
Scilla autumnalis – Autumn Squill
Spiranthes spiralis – Autumn Lady’s Tresses
This orchid is such a tiny thing, so easy to miss and yet close up the flowers appear to be made of crystalised sugar . .
With the exception of the red berries, all the machines, creatures (human and non-human) and plants live in and around my garden!
Autumn. It surely is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
I hate shopping! Really! In fact I’ll go further and say ‘I really bloody hate bloody shopping!‘
Which probably accounts for the raggedy-arsed persona I project much of the time. The thought of having to wander around some Waikiki Outlet Store looking at endless racks of ‘classic cut’ or stupid, bloody ‘carrot cut’ trousers or slax whilst listening to endlessly looped, total crap warblers is just too much!
Better to just ‘make-do and mend’, I say. So it was that for the umpteenth time my mother’s old sewing machine came out together with a worn-out pair of J’s jeans. She throws them out and buys new – I salvage from the bin and chop them up for patches as required and feel doubly smug about saving the planet!
Anyway, as I was doing the job, I got to thinking about this machine and admiring its smooth, timeless lines and faultless engineering (for it truly is a gem).
It will perform just about any trick that a modern, expensive, all-singing, all-dancing, electronic, plastic-fantastic machine can do. Not with computer wizardry but with inter-changeable, smooth-as-silk cogs and gears! The drive belt alone would not disgrace a Lamborghini! And the bodywork is all cast – no bendy plastic here, mate! After all, it is a Husqvarna built in Sweden back in the days when that country understood that quality engineering counted for something!
‘So, how old is it, then?’ I hear you ask. Well, my mother bought it on hire-purchase in Malta on the 5th October, 1956 for £53/14/8 (or fifty three pounds, fourteen shillings and eight pence) with a deposit of £17/6/8 and six monthly instalments of £6/1/4!
I still have the original guarantee, bill of sale, inspection note, instruction book and a little ‘thingamyjig’ for working out all the fancy stitches that can be created.
I got to musing about how many of these wonderful bits of engineering might still be in daily use – probably not too many in this throw-away days. You can imagine my surprise when a search online led me to the ‘Husqvarna Automatic 21’ group on Facebook with 788 enthusiastic members – 789 now I’ve joined. It feels like I’ve come home!
My mother used to say that to me – a lot! Mind you, she was crippled up with arthritis so a bit of ‘Yah-Boo-Sucks!’ carried very little risk of retribution.
Back then I fancied myself one of the All Blacks doing their thing to intimidate and humiliate the ‘enemy’. My mother, on the other hand, considered me a little gob-shite with a lot of gall and a turn of speed she couldn’t match.
As you check out the crazed bunch of bone-heads depicted above, consider this should you think of taking a twenty three hour flight to visit the ‘Hobbiton’ set from ‘Lord Of The Rings – the bone-heads have sisters:
Anyway, this has nothing to do with what I thought I’d started with so it’s back to the mundane – ‘Galls’! Which is not, I venture to add, something a sane person would even consider muttering under their breath to these ladies.
Focus Alan! ‘Why galls?’ you might ask. And I would answer ‘Because galls are fascinating.’ Galls come in many shapes and sizes. They are mostly found on oaks and wild roses, they are mostly caused by varieties of little gall wasps of which there are around 1300 species world-wide with about 350 species in Europe and around 800 in North America.
What is amazing is that these tiny creatures will lay between a single egg and a small cluster in the joint between leaf and stem of the particular host that they have become genetically dependent upon. What happens next is still a mystery – either something is secreted with or on the egg which causes the plant to mutate and produce a growth. And here is what is even more amazing – every species of wasp causes a different type of growth or gall. Such is the difference that an expert can identify the species by the gall!
In the hedgerows surrounding our cabin garden there is a lot of scrub oak and to date I have found two different galls growing often on the same oak and even adjacent on the same twig.
On the left is the Oak Marble Gall (often mistakenly called the Oak Apple Gall) and on the right is what appears to be a Rose Bedeguar Gall aka Robin’s Pincushion (named for Robin Goodfellow an English ‘Will-O-The-Wisp’ sprite) or Moss Gall which shouldn’t be on oak at all but wild roses. I won’t bore you with all the names of which wasp does what because if you are interested this stuff is readily available online. Suffice to say that the relationship between host and the interloper is symbiotic. The plant reacts to whatever enzyme/chemical is secreted and the grub feeds on the growth and not the body of the host. There appears to be no permanent damage to the host.
Below you can see the galls cut open to reveal the grub chamber. Under normal circumstances once the grub pupates and the wasp emerges it gnaws its way out of the gall and the cycle goes on.
Don’t feel too badly about this couple of grubs sacrificed in the name of science/learning – galls are a ready source of nutritious snack for squirrels and martens. Speaking of which:
This is one of the family of five that scamper about on the roof of our cabin at 6.30 in the morning.
So, there you have it. What the connection is between ‘gall’ and ‘gall’ I have no idea but that’s English for you! By way of compensation here’s what is arguably the greatest Haka ever by the All Blacks.
The Archers, as in The Archers, is not ‘an everyday story of country folk’! Let me explain – Hurriyet Daily News recently published some terrific photos of young Turks keeping alive their traditional skills as archers on horseback. These Archers are probably the best light cavalry the world has ever seen! My village being called Okçular in Turkish or Archers in English and my now defunct blog being ‘Archers of Okçular’ why wouldn’t I be fascinated?
(salvaged from ‘Archers of Okçular and first posted October 2014)
Skills that greased the explosive expansion of the Mongol Empire that by 1279 CE had it hammering on the doors of Western Europe. The storm troopers of this empire were the highly mobile and deadly efficient mounted bowmen with their small (by European and Chinese or Japanese standards), extremely powerful, recurved, laminated bows.
These images instantly transported me back in time to the Army Museum in Istanbul where I first saw the amazing craftsmanship that goes into the Turkish bow and began to get some inkling of how it delivers such terrific striking power to the arrow that it would penetrate European style plate-armour and have much-vaunted European armies fleeing the field of battle in total disarray.
What also flashed into my mind’s eye was meeting the national champion archer of Mongolia and her husband and child on a visit to that country a few years ago. They were both using traditional recurved composite bows not dissimilar to those the Turkic archers used to aid Genghis Khan in his empire-building.
They were kind enough to let a few of us tourists have a go and so I promptly stepped up. I well remember the embarrassment when I failed to draw his heavy bow more than a few inches! His wife offered me the lighter bow that she was using and with much huffing and puffing I managed to flight the arrow about 15 feet and strip the skin off the inside of my arm! I realise that technique counts for a lot in archery, but so does a back like a barn door full of muscle tissue! That was when I realised just how powerful the Mongolian-Turkish laminated bow really was. By way of comparison with my 15 feet, in a 1910 archery contest held on the beach at Le Touquet, France, a chap by the name of Ingo Simon was able to shoot an arrow 434 mts using an old Turkish composite bow! Heavier Ottoman flight bows have reached distances of around 900 mts.
Back to the Ottoman archers’ ability to penetrate the plate-armour much favoured by European armies – with a direct, head-on strike the arrow would penetrate plate and heavy padding but if the plate was curved or angled away then the arrow would likely glance-off. To overcome this the Ottoman horse archer or Sipahi would affix a small ball of bee’s wax to the tip of the arrow. This would prevent the arrow glancing-off and concentrate all of the kinetic energy at one point – in many ways similar to the principle of the modern HEAT (High Explosive Anti Tank) round. The effects of a needle-sharp war arrow head weighing between a quarter and half a pound travelling at speeds in excess of 200mph can be imagined. That said, the mounted archer’s target was often the enemy’s horse as a heavily armoured fighter brought to ground would be near helpless against massed infantry.
Ottoman arrowheads and fletching
The Turkish bow is a recurved composite bow that was brought to perfection in the time of the Ottoman Empire. The construction is similar to that of other classic Asiatic composite bows, with a wooden core (maple was most desirable), animal horn on the belly (the side facing the archer), and sinew on the front, with the layers secured together with Animal glue. However, several features of the Turkish bow are distinct. The curvature tends to be more extreme when the bow is unstrung, with the limbs curling forward into the shape of the letter “C”. With some bows, the rigid tips of the limbs (“kasan”) even touch. The grip area is not recessed like other Asiatic bows and is fairly flat on the belly, while the front of the grip bulges outwards.
The dramatic curvature of the bows makes stringing them very different from straighter bows found in Europe. There is an old saying in Turkey that there are “120 ways to string a bow,” though the most common methods involve sitting on the ground with one’s feet pressed against the grip. Heavier bows usually require the use of a long, looped strap called a “kemend” to pull the limbs back and hold them while the string is seated. Seasoning aside, these bows took more than a year to construct with much ‘resting’ between each lamination. Arrows would need even longer with seasoning and drying taking more than five years.
Ottoman, Persian, and other Asiatic archers who all followed similar traditions would also extend the power of their weaponry by using a device called a majra or a siper. These devices are used to draw arrows past the bow’s front limb where the arrow would normally rest. The siper is a type of shelf strapped to the archer’s bow hand, which allows the archer to pull the bow back to extreme lengths in order to get the maximum amount of force behind the arrow. They are most commonly used to achieve the greatest distance.
The Majra is a thin piece of wood with a channel cut in it and small loop for the archer’s bow hand. The device allows the archer to pull back arrows that are much shorter than were intended for the bow. It is believed that this device was designed to shoot arrows that were too short for the enemy to pick up and shoot back, or it may have been a way to reuse bolts fired from crossbows.
Finally, there are the Zihgir or thumb-rings used by Mongol and Ottoman archers to draw and release the bowstring. Ottoman Sipahi were recruited exclusively from free-born Turks. They always fought on the flanks of the army with the Janissaries in the centre and were considered an elite that, unlike the Janissaries, never had their loyalty brought into question. The Zihgir was recognised as the mark or symbol of great distinction, rather like a masonic ring, and the horse-archer would tend to wear it at all times. Such was the prestige associated with it that it developed into a fashion statement and eventually some became so ornate that they were incapable of serving their original purpose.
To cap things off, here’s Genghis Khan from the exhibition of the same name.
‘Eye of the what?’ I hear you say, ‘Spiger! What the hell is a Spiger?’
This is a Spiger! Complete with stripes, bloody-great jaws, a span the size of your hand, eight legs, a burst of speed that would give Usain Bolt a run for his money, it’s a carnivore that hunts by night or day and it has eight, yes, eight eyes! What would you call it?
They hail from the Sparassidae family of what are commonly called Huntsman Spiders. There are more than a thousand different species in this family and they range from the size of your palm to enormous! Not bulky enormous, but like twelve inches leg-span enormous! They also display some interesting methods of locomotion which I’ll come to later. They are spread all around the world in tropical and temperate zones and ‘Yes, that includes the soon to be Disunited Kingdom!’
Spigers are built for speed and agility. Their legs are a bit ‘double-jointed’ which enables them to take off at speed in any direction. They have eight eyes in two rows which mostly point forward giving excellent vision for rushing around or laying in ambush. Spigers mostly feast on insects but are quite capable of snaffling the odd gecko or two.
They use venom through their considerable jaws to immobilise their victims and to aid the digestion process. That said, they are generally not aggressive towards humans and any bite, whilst painful, is not a hospital job unless there is an allergic reaction. When bites do occur it is usually as a result of handling. The exception to the ‘non-aggressive’ bit is the female when she has eggs or young – then, if you mess with her, she will generally give you warning by adopting a threat pose (see left) before giving you something else to think about!
Apart from their speed and agility, Spigers have developed some interesting escape and evasion techniques. Cebrennus rechenbergi, also known as the Moroccan flic-flac spider, when threatened can beat a hasty retreat by doubling its normal walking speed using forward or backward flips similar to acrobatic flic-flac movements used by gymnasts. Whilst Carparachne aureoflava aka the Golden Wheel Spider, from the Namib Desert, will literally cartwheel away from danger at up to 44 rotations per second and speeds of up to one metre per second! I find myself wondering how many failures and how many twists and turns there were along the evolutionary road before this little ruse was ‘discovered’.
We have Spigers in and around our home here in Okçular. They tend to lurk in dark places or the corners between wall and ceiling as well as inside J’s bath towel! From time-to-time they hatch out a brood and then we have hundreds of the little devils all over the ceiling. When that happens I’m ashamed to admit that the death spray comes out followed by the vacuum cleaner.
As a rule, J and I will attempt to capture the intruders and re-introduce them to the big out-doors. Jam jars are generally too small and you’ll end up injuring the creature or else it will see you coming and take evasive action which will only result in another sleepless night for you as your imagination works overtime! Use an old ice cream container and a sheet of card – if you use paper I guarantee that the Spiger will escape and head for the first dark place it sees – generally up a sleeve or down your collar. Always treat them with care because if they get handled or caught up in your clothing they have a tendency to display a ‘cling’ reflex which often then leads to bites and a broken neck at best or, at worst, a right ear-full for breaking the Tupperware as per the following bit of video.
I don’t have any good photos of a Huntsman with young but here is a wolf spider with her young on board taken in my garden. Spiders may give you the creeps but you have to admit they are fascinating creatures.