Equi's Fish & ChipsTo be honest, I do not enjoy eating fish. Well, the notable exception is the excellent Fish& Chips from Equi’s in Hamilton, Scotland. Their Fish & Chips are light, fluffy, not oily, no bones – absolutely wonderful.

But in all other cases, is it the taste, or the bones, or the smell or the skin that I find offensive?

Probably “Yes” to all the above.

However, my better half has a deep felt appreciation of a good fish meal. I encourage her to indulge and have fish whenever she so desires; as long as I do not have to join with her, I am happy. But she is not keen on preparing two different meals – the old cost – benefit calculation: the cost (preparing two different meals) against the benefit (having a fish feast) generally results in her not having fish as often as she may like.

Maybe, just maybe, having fish less frequently enhances the pleasure when she is able to partake of it.

However, if we ever go out for a meal, it is a prime opportunity for us to have something different, without the hassle. Well, there is always the hassle of the bill, but that is a different story.

Recently we were blessed by two young people who came down from the UK to help with the refugee ministry. They may not appreciate being referred to as ‘young people’ but at less than ⅓ of my age, to me they are young people – full of vim and vigour. Therefore, although they are older than I was when I married my wife, and they are in full time education in University, for the duration of this blog, they will be referred to as ‘young people’.

They helped in preparing the bags of food stuffs, in loading the lorry and in the distribution of the food to the Syrian refugee field workers living in the fields northeast of town.

They also helped with the children’s work, both in the city and out with the refugee children. They do not speak either Turkish or Arabic, but the children responded to the attention, playing games and interacting with adults who have time for them.

They also dug a pit in the middle of our courtyard, ½ metre deep and roughly 1½ metre by 1¾ in size.

the holeYes, we wanted the hole dug.

So it seemed only right that on the day before their departure, after all their diligent labours and as a small way to say ‘thank you’, my wife and I took them to see a few of the local sights.

We had suggested a walking tour of the so-called Titus Tunnel – this amazing civil engineering feat; a tunnel dug, with hand tools, through solid rock, roughly 2,000 years ago, in the time of the Roman Empire.

Seleucia & AntiochThe tunnel was initially commissioned by Titus’s father Vespasian as a water diversion project to protect the harbour of Seleucia – the harbour of Antioch. Antioch is twenty odd kilometres inland, and Seleucia acted as the harbour of Antioch and from time to time hosted elements of the Roman navy.

The project consisted of a dam, upper approach channel, the first tunnel, a short intermediary channel, the second tunnel and a very long discharge channel to take the waters to the sea – all to by-pass the harbour and the inevitable slitting that resulted. The whole series runs roughly 1.4 kilometres in length.

The work was begun by Vespasian, carried on by his son Titus and, finally, it was fully finished some thirty years after it was begun by Antoninius Pius.

This amazing undertaking was designed by engineers of the Tenth legion Fratensis, and built by Roman legionaries, sailors, and, unavoidably, prisoners. Some scholars believe that Jewish slaves, who were taken by Titus in the siege and destruction of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 – as recorded by Flavius Josephus, a Roman-Jewish historian – were employed in the construction of this channel.

The works began with a dam to divert the waters of the gorge to the tunnel. The dam was constructed of a masonry structure 16 metres high and was 5 metres wide at the crest. From the dam to the tunnel there was a 55 metre long approach channel.

Upper Entrance - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2769The tunnel itself was to be forced through the base of the intervening hill – a rocky spur of the mountains from which the flash floods would torrent down the narrow ravine and, before this civil engineering marvel, deposit their debris into and silting up the harbour.

Here is where it becomes truly amazing. Using just hand tools, the living rock of the mountain was excavated, creating a channel 6.3 metres wide, 5.8 metres high and for a length of 90 metres and that is just the first tunnel.

This tunnel is high and wide enough for two articulated lorries to pass side by side!

After the first tunnel, there is an intermediate channel which connects the two tunnel sections. This channel is still deep under the hill, being 5.5 metres wide, 64 metres long, but, significantly, 25-30 metres high and with just a narrow slit, 2 metres or so wide, open to the sky.

Following this is the second, shorter tunnel which is 31 metres in length, 7.3 metres wide and 7.2 metres in height.

Thus, to traverse under the mountain spur required tunnelling for a distance of 185 metres through solid, rock-hard rock. But this, in and of itself, was not the solution to the problem.

Once on the opposite side of the hill the flood waters still had to be safely directed away from the harbour. Hence, a discharge channel to the sea was constructed. This was 635 metres long, with varying widths ranging from 3.8 to 7.2 metres and the height of the walls of this channel vary from 3.7 to 15 metres. This, once again, was hand chiselled out of the unbroken bedrock. The course of the discharge channel travelled towards the Mediterranean Sea, following the hillside and bending to the right to carry the waters well away from the harbour mouth.

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It really is an awe-inspiring structure and I felt, well worth sharing with our visiting young people. One of the young people is reading engineering and this is a good example of Roman engineering, and the other is reading architecture and funnily enough, this is a good example of Roman design.

They seemed to appreciate it. Mind you, I did get a bit lost – how do you get ‘a bit lost’?

This is how: after we exited the tunnel on the topside, I struck out to find the overland trail that takes you back over the top of the hill – something I’ve done numerous times in the past. Initially things went well, but after a while, it became clear to me that we had passed the point where the stream bed, where we were walking, and the trail intersected. This would be the ‘little bit lost’ bit, as I did not know where we were, where the path was, but I did know how to go back if it came to that…

Over Top Trail - 06-09-08 Titus Tunel Samandag DSCF2790In the end I did find the trail head! We returned via the overland route, standing above the entrance to the tunnel which was at the bottom of a vertical drop from the trail side and cresting the hill, seeing the expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea with an incredibly long, straight stretch of sandy beach for kilometres going south ending in the spectacular, in Turkish `Kel Dağı’ being translated as ‘Bald Mountain’ – in ancient times it was known as Mt. Casius now is also known as Jebel Aqra – rising out of the sea and the far slopes of the mountain demarcating the border of Turkey and Syria. It was a bit a palaver finding the start of the trail, but I think well worth the effort. Not sure what the young people thought….

After our walking tour through the tunnel and back over the hill – and after looking down through the 1½ – 2 metre wide slit at the top of the 64 metre interconnecting channel of the two tunnels – we took a short excursion to the local necropolis Beşik Mağara – The King’s Grave, an ancient graveyard carved, once again into the solid rock, with rooms, and rooms off rooms, and chambers and graves filling all the spaces.

When all was said and done, we returned to the ticket booth at the entrance to the combined site. It was time for lunch.

As we were by the sea shore and in the small village of Çevlik, I asked what the young people would like to eat for lunch.

Actually, what I asked was if they enjoyed ‘fish’ – I already know my wife does and this seemed like a natural opportunity.

Our young people enthusiastically said they very much enjoy fish.

So I asked the man in the ticket booth if there was a ‘good’ fish restaurant nearby. He had a recommendation. He also left nothing to chance, he made a call and the owner of the restaurant hopped on his motorcycle and sped up to the entrance of the Tunnel to guide us back to his restaurant.

Good thing, too, as I would never, ever have found it otherwise – it was past all the restaurants in the village proper, and a good ways down a road that led to the harbour side.

The restaurant was right on the harbour front, one side facing the road, the opposite side was the concrete apron of the harbour.

The building consisted of a large, high roof with open sides, gravel floor, simple tables and the ubiquitous plastic chairs which are normally white, but in this instance they were brown – on the left, under the large roof a small kitchen area had been created and with a cement floor.

To be honest, it wasn’t the most attractive of places and if it hadn’t been heartily recommended and if the owner himself had not collected us and brought us here, I would never have darkened the doorway.

My first question was if they had any alternatives to fish.

I’m a diabetic, the others were understandably hungry and they wanted to eat, however, I needed to eat. Happily they cater for the odd non-fish eater.

We sat down a bit away from a party of what looked like dock and boat yard labourers. There was no one else in the, er, restaurant.

Also, there was no menu.

When asked what they had, he said he had two kinds of fish and he rattled off their names – in Turkish. Now, not being a regular fish buyer, I knew the words to be some kind of seafood, but what kind, I hadn’t the foggiest notion.

A quick recourse to my ever present dictionary (smartphones can be very helpful), I presented the two offerings to the fish-eaters; bass or sea bream. Not being a fish-eater, knowing the English names didn’t mean any more to me than the Turkish names.

They opted for bass, and for me, I took the chap’s recommendation for the non-fish alternative – never get clever and make suggestions in a restaurant like that.  Let them make what they know, are comfortable with and have the ingredients for.

My kebab came and it was fine. They will receive no prize for portion size , presentation nor flavour, but it did the job, seemed to be well cooked and safe meat – what more could I want?

IMG_2110The bass platters came and I was assured by those who heartily partook that it was not just good, but very good. The owner assured me the fish was not 24 hours out of the water caught in that general vicinity and landed in this harbour the previous night.

As we were sitting there, letting our meals settle, there was progressively intruding loud and distinctive noise coming from our left as we were looking at the harbour. Slowly, a massive and I mean a really, really, really big crane came crawling into sight.

No doubt there are larger such monstrosities in the world, but this was happening before our eyes and it was, for us, a very, very large crane.

IMG_2116It was moving along the harbour front; well, by ‘moving’ I mean it was slowly creeping along.

Nevertheless, because of it’s size it was mesmerising. As our guests seemed to be interested in the slowing passing sight, we remained at our table – I suppose it was our after dinner entertainment.

I counted the counter-weights on the back of the crane, it was carrying 100 tonnes of counter-weights in addition to its already impressive bulk.

One of our young people was now standing, staring, fascinated by the sight before him when the man guiding the machine forward saw him and called him over. He immediately ran over in front of the trudging mega-crane.

The modern, it looks brand new, machine shuddered to a halt and he scrambled up the broad, one metre wide steel tracks, then he moved along the top of the track and finally up to the control cab mounted on the front of the machine.

Not long after, our remaining young person, was encouraged to join him on the massive machine. She, too, scrambled up the steel track and was encouraged to sit inside the control pod – an operators view of the proceedings.

Whilst they were there, looking at all the controls they saw a multitude of monitors which showed various aspects of the machine and it was clear from what they saw and what the operator was able to communicate that these various monitors would show the angle, tilt, lifting, weight and a myriad of other technical and essential data that would be indispensable for a safe lift… maybe you noted that I said ‘would show’, this is because the operator indicated that these various monitors and sensors had not been ‘calibrated’ and hence they all were “kaput” (his word). He was operating this ginormous machine by his innate skill, his experience and fundamentally, by the seat of his trousers…

Nice to know.

Once again the machine was set into motion, slowly crawling towards some fishing trawlers which previously had been hoisted out of the water and were now sitting dock side for maintenance and repairs.

IMG_2330The operator indicated he was going to pick up and move the fishing trawler on his right and move it into the harbour.

To turn this massive creation, it uses the standard track vehicle technique, either stopping one track and the other continues to move causing the machine to pivot around the stationary track, or, when necessary, one track reverses as the other drives proceeds forward for a faster pivot. At diverse times, he used both methods to reorientate the machine.

There was a small fishing boat on the quayside, and this goliath had to be pivoted to its right to avoid it. Mind you, he could not go too far right as there was a line of parked vehicles there.

He pivoted and continued his trudge down the quayside. Finally around the boat, he pivoted back and straightened his path towards his destination – leaving massive white friction dust from pivoting such a mammoth machine on the concrete.

He came once again to a grinding halt to enable our young people to abandon the cab and they scrambled down the stationary track. They then came over and joined us on the water’s edge to watch the proceedings.

For our young people, the machine was stopped to enable them to climb on and off, but in the course of its travels we witnessed a couple of times young men clamouring on the moving track to chat with or get cigarettes from the operator before disembarking via the still moving tracks.

The operator then began moving forward once again but this time he opened it right up and it was moving along at twice, even thrice it’s initial speed. It was veritably sprinting down the quayside.

Truly, however, it was still slow moving – but such a beast at any speed is a marvel to behold.

He arrived and his prey, the fishing trawler was on his right hand side, the harbour – the watery destination – on his left.

The crane swung over to the right, massive cables were hanging from a rig suspended from the crane. These cables were unlinked and two cables were passed behind the trawler and their matching cables in front. There were people onboard the trawler helping to move the cables to their appropriate positions. The positioning of the cables seem to be selected by the ‘eye-guess’ methodology.

Once the cables were on either side of the fishing trawler, men clamoured underneath the ship to link the cables together, ensuring the linking point was exactly under the keel. The linking device was a massive ‘u’ shaped steel fitting with the open end being closed by fitting a huge pin. This device was to rest directly under the keel and hence they planned to lift the ship, basically from two points under the keel.

It was not easy to wrangle the unwieldily cables into the fittings, and then to manoeuvre the heavy, large pins to close the open ends. There was a considerable amount of time that the men struggled and laboured underneath the trawler and underneath the keel.

All the while this 75 tonne fishing trawler was being supported on some wooden beams beneath the keel and the sides of the ship held in place by eight or ten (per side) round wooden props, leaning against the side of the ship to hold it upright. Friction, it seems, is a powerful force.

In the fullness of time the men succeeded in getting the fittings fitted. The men onboard used ropes to secure the cables in the right place along the ship – then they disembarked.

The crane operator began the lift, monitors of no value, he trusted what he was seeing and his experience.

Tension was applied.

The precise lifting points under the keel had been selected by the ‘eye-guess’ method as well – so as the tension increased it was becoming evident if the correct locations had been used. The trawler lifted a bit, moving slightly forward and back, but, basically remained level.

A bit more lift, and all the supporting props on either side fell away – the massive trawler was now fully airborne. Once free of the supports, it immediately swung backwards towards another trawler on the dockside.

IMG_2337

This trawler too was ashore for maintenance and repairs and was supported in the same manner by resting on beams under its keel and with supports propped up on either side. It was at 90º to the first trawler, and so the back of the airborne trawler was swinging backwards and towards the broadside of the other trawler.

One touch and it was my fear that the trawler would toppled over, and then to probably collide with the trawler parallel to it, which would have toppled and onwards…. There were about five or six trawlers side by side on the quayside…. trawler dominos…

It was close. Well, it looked very close to me. It was a 75 tonne dead weight swinging on the cables – but by talent, efforts, planning or just dumb luck, it refrained from nudging the other trawler.

Whilst it was hanging there I noticed a number of workmen scampering around with paint rollers in their hands. Wherever the ship had been supported by various props for the repairs and maintenance, it could not have been painted. Now the supports had all literally fallen away and here was the only opportunity to paint where the supporting posts had once been – and oh, also painting where the keel had rested on massive wooden beams.

So these men, in their construction ‘flip-flops’, safety ‘hair gel’, busied themselves, scuttling around and under this massive, moving target to complete the paint job. Health and Safety must have been busy elsewhere on this day… for what could possibly go wrong…

Now the ship is lightly swinging in the air and they are getting ready to change its orientation; it is sitting parallel to the water and in order to move it across the quay to harbour waters it must be swung 90º. Meanwhile, the workmen continue to scurry around the underside of the trawler, feverishly painting any unpainted bit, or the bits that were scraped by the cables during the initial lift. They must get right underneath the vessel in order to paint under the keel.

Additionally, there are men, hanging on to ropes fore and aft of the trawler, who, through brunt man-force swung it 90º so now the trawler is parallel to the other trawlers on the dockside.

Slowly, this massive ship is moved across the dock, and to make matters a bit more challenging, it must pass through a narrow opening between the propped up trawlers and a smaller fishing boat resting on the dockside near the water.

To achieve this the crane is swinging as these machines do, on its central ring, but the machine must also be moved, forward and the machine itself must be turned towards the harbour – all while holding the trawler in the air, with men fussing around underneath and others hanging onto ropes to control the orientation of the vessel.

The men holding the rope off the aft of the trawler – the ship is moving aft first towards the water – are running out of quay to stand on and are on the far side, between the moving trawler and the propped up trawlers.

I am wonder what happens next, when they scramble underneath the still moving, swaying trawler, to our side, bringing their rope attached to the aft of the ship with them.

IMG_2355Also at this point I was puzzled as to how they were going to put the trawler into the water – it kind of looked like it was going to go aft in.

I was moreover, curious as to how they would get the cables out from underneath the ship – it was clear, once in the water, no one would go down to release the massive pins.

Then the men holding the aft rope, there were just two men, on the quayside, with the rope to the aft, were straining with all their might, pulling for all they were worth and relentlessly being slowly drawn towards the waters edge.

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They resolutely held on, in this tug of war; man versus 75 tonne fishing trawler.

Slowly, the back of the trawler began to pivot towards the harbour side, slowly moving to become parallel to the quayside – ultimately the men were victorious.

At the start, the trawler had begun parallel to the harbour but on the far side of the dockside. It had been brought 90º to move across the quayside, and now another 90º to realign it once again, parallel to the harbour side and ready to be deposited in the water.

A space, large enough, well, just large enough, had been cleared of the little fishing boats moored to the harbour wall to receive the trawler. Mind you, the space so created was just able to accommodate the trawler. Indeed, whilst the lowering the trawler was happening, a workman was diligently holding the nearest small fishing boat out of the gap. Slowly the trawler was lowered into the water.

Once in the water, the cables were relaxed and as the tension was removed, people quickly boarded the trawler and began moving the still connected cables along the side of the ship to pass underneath and come out on the aft end. The pins joining the cables would be undone, later, on land, where it would be eminently more feasible.

The trawler was free.

75 tonnes of ship lifted up, painting topped up and swung into the harbour, now back in its proper environment, fully supported by the water and ready to be about it business on the open sea.

For us, the show was over – and what a show it was; talk about dinner time entertainment. Evidently the other trawlers are to be lifted and deposited in the harbour waters – whether on the same day, or later, we didn’t know. For us, what we had seen was sufficient.

This was one ‘fish meal’ that I was more than happy to be part of! Sometimes, it is in the things that we would not normally choose to do that surprise blessings and intriguing situations develop – need to be ready to move our of my comfortable routine from time to time.

As we departed, leaving behind this most powerful and modern of machines we made our way to visit, among other sites, the Monastary of St Simon the Stylite, a ‘saint’ who lived 68 years on top of a pillar in a quest to know God – what a dramatic contrast.

Well, today has been a day.

I know we do not ‘control’ any of our days – we are dependant on so many varied variables, but today has been distinctly different.

My normal routine had already been knocked for six because a man was coming to fit a sump pump in the house (another story why we need this), and I needed to be in attendance and consequently, as my normal morning routine was superseded. This being the case, we arranged for a man who can install central heating systems to come and appraise our flats and produce a quote.

Consequently, I went for my morning constitutional at 08:00 – the time I normally give to practicing the guitar.

Just to complicate things, we had anticipated some visitors arriving on the previous day in the afternoon – but in the event, they actually arrived at 11:30 – er that is 23:30… a time that I call night.

A brother from Diyarbakir, in the east of the country, was shepherding them on their desired tour – they themselves visiting from South Africa.

In spite of arriving late the night before, they were leaving by late morning today – an exceptionally brief visit.

Over breakfast there had been a discussion of the work that the small Christian Fellowship here is involved in with the Syrian refugee field workers. They were interested to learn more, and see a bit of the work. Hence, in my absence, it was decided that I was drive the church vehicle and lead them up the valley to some of the Syrian refugee encampments that we labour amongst.
As I was scheduled to be at the house to ‘attend’ as the man was to fit the sump pump, he was rung and we cancelled the appointment – to be rescheduled for another day.

It was also suggested that rather than having the ‘man’ dig the pit for the sump pump, that I dig a hole 1 meter deep by about 80 cm square before we call the man to come back… Okay…

With these changes in play, we also rang the central heating man and arranged for him to come in the afternoon…

My plans for the afternoon have now been dealt a blow as well; my normal routine had been suspended and now the alternative plan (attending the sump pump man) was superseded.

I climbed into the church’s ten passenger Volkswagen Transporter and began my hour long drive up the valley to where we do our aid distribution…

There were about ten or twelve people in the other van.

On the way up the valley, I was leading, when, unexpectedly the following van overtook me. Now in front, he promptly pulled over to the side of the dual carriageway, stopping in front of a small shop. It seems they wanted to get some refreshments of some sort.

When they were ready, I headed out again – faithfully holding to the 80 kph speed limit. I utterly detest speeding tickets and paying money for, well, nothing really, just a certificate of speed attained.

We passed through the first police check point with no problem. But, further up the road, I was selected to be checked by the Gendarme at their security checkpoint.

I dutifully pulled in and stopped – the other van, not being so selected, carried on. I rolled down my window, greeting the soldier and then turned away to turn off my phone which was playing music to accompany me whilst I drove. The soldier looked in the empty van, looked at this late middle aged, white-bearded foreigner and when I finally turned from my phone, he told me to carry on.

Off I went, rejoining the traffic on the dual carriageway and powered up the valley – holding to the 80 kph speed limit.

Then ahead I spied the other van, moving slowly along on the side of the carriageway. Now the vehicle I’m driving is a rather distinctive black Volkswagen Transporter, so when I over-took them, I ‘assumed’ they would see and recognise me. The driver knows our vehicle.

After overtaking, as I pulled away, I checked my mirror and they seemed to be continuing to drive slowly along the side of the road. I assumed they would speed up.

I carried on… at 80 kph.

When I arrived at the turn-off point – there was still no sign of them – I stopped.

Now, I rant and rave against people using their mobile phones whilst driving; so I had purposed to neither initiate a call whilst driving, nor to answer any incoming calls. Stopped as I was now, I was still loath to ring the other van as they are most likely driving.

So, swallowing this, for me, rather bitter pill, I rang and the first question was “Are you still at the Security Control point?”

“Er, no, I was there very briefly, I am awaiting for you at the turnoff point”.

A few minutes later they roared up, and our convoy, now duly reconstituted, departed, me again leading the way to where the Syrian refugee encampments are situated.

We travelled up to Kırıkhan, and turn off the main road and headed towards the border. The encampment I had selected was not the first, but at a bit of a distance, but it was a good, all-round example of the encampments we deal with. Additionally, there is a real gaggle of children there and the visitors had purchased some sweets to give the children.

We call this encampment ‘The Grove’, not because there are trees in the encampment – there aren’t any – but because there is a grove of trees across the road from the make-shift encampment. This encampment is on a bit of a rise, and now, well into summer, baking hot. As I said, no trees within the encampment, everything is exposed to the unrelenting, scorching sun. Water at this particular encampment is provided by a water bowser which is topped up from time to time.

Sweets were happily received by the children.

After this encampment we swung by another encampment – but this was wholly redundant, and, as one of the visitors commented to me, “They all look alike”, to which he added, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” – let the hearer understand, he was politely declaring ‘No need to show us anymore.’

We powered back to the main road – the other van turning right to carry on up the valley and then back to Diyarbakır. I turned left to return to Antakya.

It had been stressed to me that I needed to be back by 13:00 as the van was required. Today was a deferred time for the team to go to one of the encampments where we do a children’s work – their departure time was slated to be 13:00.

So, in one sense, I was racing the clock. When we departed we had three hours for me to complete the journey, there and back.  I thought this was easily adequate amount of time for the task. However, in fact, it was taking more than three hours to complete.

I did not exceed the speed limit, if I arrive late, I arrive late.

I was patient at all the red traffic lights.

I think I made a record for the number of red traffic lights I encountered on the return journey.

Being impatient at a red traffic light profits me not at all; being patient, however, and remaining calm, blood pressure abiding where it ought to be is both profitable, pleasant and absent of stress.

I had been told that if I was late, then they would take Ö’s vehicle – it would not be the best solution, but it was a viable and a ready solution.

My better-half, T, can monitor where in the world I am as I have ‘shared‘ my location via my phone with her. Hence, I hoped that they would have an idea where I was and, roughly, how long I would be.

Again, I had determined that I would not ring T whilst driving, and I would not answer the phone if it rang.

Driving the speed limit, waiting patiently at all the red lights, I arrived at our home about ten minutes later than their planned departure time.

Happily, my ever-changing location had been monitored; consequently they knew where I was and about when I would arrive.

They had opted to wait.

I didn’t park up; I just stopped in the street in front of our house – which given how narrow our street is, I effectively blocked the road. But I knew they would be departing posthaste.

Personally, I was done in… being diabetic, I can not play loose and free with my meal times. I had grabbed some bites of my sandwich whilst up the valley – only whilst stopped, not whilst driving.

Now at home, I finished my meagre meal.

Immediately after the meal was my first opportunity to practice the guitar this day, but after just ten minutes, the man for the central heating system arrived.

Now, I thought he would come, do his investigation, make his measurements, and calculate the cost all before I would depart for my guitar lesson, which was fully two hours after his arrival.

Indeed, I even entertained notions that I would have time to practice some before the lesson.

The man and his helper came and examined the space we had identified as a potential ‘furnace room’.

It is not ideal, but, well, it is the only space that could be remotely converted into a furnace room.

It took quite a while to determine where the chimney could go and then to decide where it would go. The chimney will begin on the ground floor, pass through a disused stairway which is covered and made into a wee balcony area on the first floor and then pass up through the roof and then, it will pass through our neighbours roof which overhangs ours. All in all, it is proposed to be eleven metres of plastered, cement block chimney, reinforced with angle iron.

Just to make things more interesting, this is on the side of the house that is subject to our neighbours rather disturbing subsidence….

After sorting the furnace room/chimney out, they came into our flat to measure for radiators, decide where they would go and how the various challenges identified could be and ultimately, would be addressed.

Then we went upstairs to the elder’s flat and did the same.

For me, the clear priority is the upstairs flat as my motivation in going to a furnace system was to alleviate the labour and work load of the elder’s wife, E.

In Turkey, if you have a wood/coal fired, pot-bellied stove, it is the lady of the house’s task to operate it (fuel, light, maintain, empty ash) – it is a cultural imperative and, really there are no practical alternatives.

But when it comes to furnaces, however, they are primarily a man’s responsibility – it is a big piece of equipment that needs a man’s touch.

Interestingly, emptying the ash is still the ladies task – but I have been sold on the idea of a wood-pellet furnace which produces very little and very light ash – or so we have been assured. So the labour requirements for the elder’s wife will be greatly diminished – which is the goal.

Then, over a demitasse of strong Turkish coffee, he did his sums.

I, as seems to be my nature, complicated things.

I wanted a sum with the second-hand furnace, a sum with a new furnace, and a sum with the top of the line, fully automatic furnace.

I also wanted a sum calculated without doing the radiators in our lower flat, in an effort to save money.

However, this last request is extremely strange and a rather odd kind of request for Turks, and in the end, it seems, he just ignored it.

We got our prices.

We drank our Turkish coffee.

I buzzed with the effects of the potent caffeine hit.

I had been surreptitiously monitoring E.’s location (she has shared her location on her phone) and I knew they were well on their way back from the children’s work.

Before we were done, she arrived, and so, we began explaining everything we had determined, what could be done and what we suggest should be done – if we decide to have a system installed.

Then the elder, H, arrived from his secular job.

So, we began explaining everything to him.

It was in the midst of rehearsing all the salient facts, problems, compromises and solutions that my guitar teacher rang, wondering where on earth I was… because I clearly was not at my lesson…

Time had totally escaped me.

Profuse apologies, following profuse apologies… things really are not going according to any plan that I am part of today.

In the end we finished all our explainations.

We need to inform the central heating man by the morrow if we want to install any system and especially if we desire the second-hand furnace.

Today, nothing went to plan and I was bounced from pillar to post by various events…

But, life is like that… we constantly need to respond to events, assess, appraise, decide what we can and should do in the circumstance and all the while, to be true to who we are and our principles.

In the old section of Antakya, the pathways and byways are convoluted, narrow and, at times, rather Byzantine.  Many are impassible by any form of motorised transport.

And so the question arises: “How does the city council provide the basic services necessary in the 21st century?”

The solution is found inthe time honoured, tried and tested method of accessing and servicing these areas – let me introduce you to the city council donkey.

These determined, strong and dour creatures can navigate the narrow ways, and when you come to the houses pearched on the mountainside, they can climb the rough stairs and can reach all the properties situated there.

Of course you do not send out the donkey on its own, it is accompanied by and lead by the Council ‘donkeyman’.  Maybe that is not his title, but it does describe what he does.

Teams of men and their donkeys go out every night, collecting the trash and detritus of life set out in front of the dwellings in this, the old quarter of the city.

The rest of the city is serviced by your typical rubbish lorries – but here, in the old city, the new has had to give way to the old.

The technology of yesterday is helping to maintain the standards of today.


 

Ah, the mystery and the power of culture.

Culture is difficult to define because, well, it is ‘culturally defined’.

Culture is, I believe, a gift from God.  It relieves us from many mundane decisions in life.  We just ‘know’ what is acceptable and what is not… without thinking.

People sometimes query me on some aspects of Turkish culture:

“Why must you uncross your legs when you pray?”

“Why are crossed legs inappropriate?”

“Why is blowing your nose in public profoundly rude and offensive?”

“Why, when I have a cold, is it acceptable, a non-event, to continuously sniff, sniff, sniff?”

The simple answer, is “that is the Turkish, (cultural), way”.  But so often people are reticent to comply until they understand the ‘why’ and even then, I suspect that if the reason is not convincing enough, that they will feel free to reject the prevailing culture, opting, interestingly, for their own cultural norm.

Culture, generally, by-passes our conscious minds.  It is behaviour and values that we have learned as children and have become embedded in our hearts and minds.  They are not the result of reasoned thinking, deduction or conscious decisions.  They are, if you will, subconsciously inherited.

And they are powerful.

Culture is extremely persuasive and operating as it does underneath our conscious mind, the result is that we are more often than not, blissfully unaware of its very existence and yet all the while living according to its dictates.

For an inadequate example: if someone asks me what time it is, my natural answer will be a precise: “It is 10:36”.  My culture calls for and honours accuracy.

And then I come to this culture that seems to paint ‘word pictures’ that describe the scene, and include ancillary information but tend to be woefully inaccurate.

To the question of what time is it, the respondent, feeling it is late in the day and time is flying by, may well respond “It is 11:00” or if they feel there is much of the morning left, they may reply “It is 10:00”.  Broad-brush accurate, but patently and profoundly fuzzy and, well, inaccurate – after all it is 10:36 exactly.

So, when I ask a question, I prepare my heart for a non-accurate ‘word picture’ which both answers the question (generally) and gives an insight to the speakers feelings about it.

Now, when I am asked a question, my culture demands, requires me to answer ‘specifically and accurately’.  That is the way my culture was formed and it has an inescapable influence over me.  My reply will be highly accurate and utterly devoid of any emotional content, that part which gives a hint of how I feel about it.

Do I communicate?  Yes, but after a fashion.

Do I understand?  Yes, but there are times of frustration and struggle as I am stumbled by the patently obvious inaccuracies declared.  For the speaker, they are not ‘inaccuracies’ but the part that declares their feelings about their answer.

I have a question: “If smartphones are so smart, why do people act so, well, simply put, ‘dumb’ when they are using their smartphone?”

Since the advent of the smartphone, simple life tasks, like walking, talking, interacting, driving have all become more intractable and fraught with danger and difficulty.
It is uncomfortably common that when I am out, driving somewhere and I encounter a vehicle being driven in an erratic, unpredictable, inattentive, distracted manner – slower than other traffic, drifting one way or another, stopping at profoundly inappropriate places, it is most likely that they are engaged on a smartphone.

Recently I watched a video on Facebook whereby the driver of an intercity coach was engaged on a smartphone – regrettably not uncommon – but what stood out was the fact that he was looking something up on his second smartphone; all whilst charged with the safety of all souls on board as he ‘drove’ the coach down the motorway.

Even a mundane task such as walking down the pavement can be fraught with hitherto unknown challenges. You often encounter an individual who is walking slowly, apparently unaware of where they are, where they are going and yet they are not stationary but are walking – after a fashion. They are going somewhere, and they have a phone glued to their ear, or are head down, intently staring at the screen of their smartphone.

Motorcycles are used to move a vast array of things about. Sometimes they are over-loaded with goods or people. But, just to make things more, er, interesting, often the motorcycle operator will have pushed his smartphone up between his helmet and his head so he can engage in a conversation whilst driving his over-laden, motorcycle in traffic. This is the ‘positive scenario’.  You will also witness others who do not have the benefit of a helmet, holding the smartphone in place, so they have one less hand on the steering apparatus.

This is true for those who move about by bicycle as well.

Another phenomenon that is observed, again with great frequency, is the sight of two, three or more people, physically in the same room, be it a sitting room, a restaurant, anywhere basically, and each one, head down, intently transfixed on the small screen held possessively in their hands. Maybe they are ‘Messaging’ one another, or are Facebooking their exciting time to others on the web, or writing up a blog on their encounter with their friends – I do not know.

However, it seems self-evident that they could perform the same level of human interaction if they were in separate locales as much as being together.

Sad doesn’t begin to describe it, and yet, I, too, can succumb to the temptation to check my phone.

I find it rather ironic, bizarre, that the thing that routinely reduces mankind to a distracted, dangerous, wandering, discourteous, individual, behaving in a dumb state, is the use of the so-named ‘smartphone’.

On my morning constitutional, I noticed that in spite of it being a significant holiday in Turkey, the water company was out with a JCB and parts and things.  

It seems there was a water leak.  

As I continue my walk, I came past the bottom of the hill below where the JCB was parked and noted that there was a large quantity of water freely flowing down from the leak – a good thing they are working to make things right, even on a holiday. 

The next day, there was just a gravelly spot on the road to declare where the leak had been. The hill was liberally decorated with dirt and dried mud from the overflow.

On the following day, I am sitting in a wee coffee shop at the bottom of the hill when I see horizontal water spray flying down the hill.

Now this caught my attention.

Slowly a Fire appliance came into view; a tanker truck – it carts the water to accompany the other fire fighting appliances and ensures a constant source of water.

Today, in service to the local council, they were slowly driving down the hill spraying the road with a set of high pressure water nozzles at the front of the lorry.

Slowly coming down the hill, they drove all the dirt, dust, stones before them. The roadway is left free of debris; clean and spotless.

The appliance then stopped in front of the coffee shop and released a fire hose. With this the two firefighters began spraying the street, driving the accumulated dirt, mud and stones along the road and towards the storm drain.

They cleaned in front of the coffee shop, they cleaned the pavement in front of the shop. They sprayed, with diminished force, the ten or so planters full of colourful flowers in front of the coffee shop.

They were diligent, hard working, pressing on to make all clean and ship-shape.

I found the process reminiscent of the circle of life. They were called out because of a water leak which had besmirched the roadway. They cleaned the road by driving the muddy, soil laden water into the water drains; where, in the fullness of time, they will become clogged requiring a crew to come out and clear the drain, soiling the street which will require the Fire Brigade to once again come and clean the street.

And after all this diligent, hard work… the two firefighters (er, street cleaners?) came into the coffee shop for their full Turkish breakfast          

The street is clean… until the drain needs to be cleared… and then the cycle will repeat itself.

No action, no activity seems to occur in isolation.  

Actions need to be seen, to be assessed, in their context. The activity that I am about to engage in: what are the natural repercussions; what will naturally result; what are the responsibilities; what are the consequences.

Hmm, I need to bear that in mind…

I enjoy history, old photos, old travelogues, old stones, basically, things that are old and the older the better.

We have come across some old photos of Antakya which clearly depict the extent of the old town, pinned up tight to the skirt of the mountain rising to the south and hemmed in by the Asi (ancient Orontes) River to the north.

In days past – throughout the history of the city – buildings were constructed to the best of local knowledge of construction, and as is always the case, according to  available resources.  Many of the older buildings made liberal use of, shall we say, pre-existing building materials.

It has been a constant throughout history that old, decrepit, abandoned or damaged buildings have formed a source for building materials – suitable stones, arches, door lintels and supports being readily retrieved and re-purposed.

This ancient tradition goes contrary to our new, modern sensitivities to maintain and preserve these examples of the former.  But, throughout history, old buildings were viewed as valuable resources to be exploited.

A stroll through the old quarter of the city of Antakya will amply demonstrate this practice over centuries.  Many building will have lower courses of finely finished large stone blocks, superbly fitted together.  Then, as you look further up the walls, you see a change to less well finished stones which are not well set together, and, often, the upper sections will be formed from uncut, unfinished field stones mortared together.

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If I try to ‘read’ such a building, I may be forgiven for hypothesising that the lowest parts are the remains of the oldest building (maybe 100 years, 500 years, a thousand years….), and people reused the extant old walls in-situ, then, building on top with whatever other stones could be scavenged and reused and finally, the upper courses in the wall consisting of field stone, unfinished and simply mortared into place in the wall.

That is common among the old buildings of Antakya.  However, for the past sixty odd years or more, the modern inclinations of the inhabitants has been to abandon these old stone built houses constructed around private courtyards and to build with concrete and to go up in three, four, five, or even six stories, forming modern high rise apartment buildings.

A generation has turned their backs on the old, stone build courtyard houses preferring these ‘modern’ concrete boxes.

Of course, it is possible to accommodate many more people in the same building plot when you build up.

Okay.

I understand this.

However, when it is considered that this is an active earthquake area and for the past sixty years these buildings, these modern high-rise buildings, have been constructed, er, well, using the knowledge and building methodology adapted from single story buildings, we come to a point of concern.

These high-rises were built to meet an ‘aspiration’ to be modern.

They were built to meet a housing need.

Many were built, simply to turn a profit.

They were built to look nice.

They were built with a form of reinforcing steel, but of a smooth, outdated style which is not now used; the concrete was generally created by a pile of aggregate being dumped in front of the building under construction, water was added and cement dumped on top of the pile of aggregate and then the pile would be hand shovelled and turned over until it was considered ‘mixed’.  Then the cement would be shovelled in to old tin cheese containers, and then hand carried on the workmen’s shoulders to wherever the ‘pour’ was happening.  If on the top floor, they would lug all the concrete so mixed, trudging up the stairs to where the pour was happening.

There was no quality control on the cement mixture nor the effectiveness of the ‘pour’.  It is a sad fact that often insufficient steel was employed and the steel that was used was of the wrong style.  When you combine that with the poor quality cement mixes,  the result is buildings which looked good (plaster is a master of disguise) but are structurally suspect.

In those days there was less awareness of the building requirements which would enable a building to withstand the powerful forces of earthquakes which, from time to time, rock this particular part of our terrestrial ball.

These apartment buildings were built.  People moved in.  A generation has been raised within their walls.

But now the modern question is: “What do you do with these extant, existing, occupied structures which are inherently defective and vulnerable to earthquake damage and even catastrophic failure?”

There was an earthquake in 1997 which violently shook Antakya and reminded all citizens abiding here that Antakya has been utterly destroyed by earthquakes numerous times throughout its long history.

This was followed by the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul, which was centred near the town of Izmit, and devastated tens of thousands of houses, high rises and buildings – with over 17,000 fatalities.  The images of this earthquake exhibited scenes of rows upon rows of high rise apartment buildings collapsed, leaning over, pancaked and others  left standing but being inherently uninhabitable.

What was truly shocking was in the midst of this general, extensive destruction there would be the odd building, built to the building code and standing proud and true in the midst of the great devastation and death.

This highlighted that in many ways this was a man-made disaster.

Especially since that devastating earthquake of 1999, building methodology and practices have been brought into sharp focus.

Consequently, there has been a greater emphasis on the building code (which was good) – and the enforcement thereof (which was lacking).

Additionally, considering the vast amounts of old, substandard housing stock, there has been a real concerted effort to replace the worst, the most vulnerable buildings, with new proper, sturdy, strong buildings.

This national programme is called ‘Urban Renewal’ and it is a government scheme to assist in the tearing down of older, vulnerable  buildings and replacing them with new high-rise buildings, built to modern building codes and able to withstand – as much as anything built by man can – the effects of earthquakes.

Of course this is a costly business.  All the occupants must leave and be housed elsewhere.  The old concrete monolith must be totally torn down and then a new building erected in its place.

Often, from what I’ve observed, a four story building is rebuilt as five stories (five stories rebuilt as six and so on), the contractor having possession of the extra flats created and sells them as part of their fee in doing the work.

Sometimes the existing flats are rebuilt, but smaller, allowing the creation of additional flats that the builder can sell as part of their remuneration for the building work.

And I notice that the age-old process of stripping a building of the valuable bits continues.  Near where I am sitting a five storey building has been emptied and is about to come down.  There are men removing windows, any and all metal – basically anything of value – before the process of reducing the building commences.

Once the ‘recyclables’ have been reclaimed, then the work of reducing the building in earnest begins.

As this is occurring in many places in the city as I write, I have a general picture of the process.

Firstly the building is isolated by a high fence; a basic metal frame and sheets of corrugated metal.

After the scavenging, men enter the building and, using jack hammers, open up large holes in the floors of the larger rooms – creating voids to allow building debris to fall through the building.  They sometimes jack-hammer some of the balconies away.

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When the building has been thusly prepared, a tracked JCB with a hydraulic jackhammer fitted on the boom is hoisted to the top of the building.  I’ve never been present at this stage, but I assume a very large crane is brought in to lift the JCB to the pinnacle of the building.

Once there the operator sits in the cab and systematically jackhammers the floor out from underneath the machine he is operating.

How they move down to the next floor, I do not know.  I see the machines on the top floors.  I hear them hammering away.  I see the upper floor shrinking as they destroy it from above.  And I see the building getting shorter and shorter.  I’ve never been there when the JCB made the transition to a lower floor.

However it is accomplished, in this way the debris falls down, around, in and through the openings in the building.  When the building is reduced to a mound of debris two or so stories tall, the smaller machine is replaced by a very large, tracked JCB with a huge hydraulic jackhammer which continues the demolition process.

Finally, they replace the jackhammer with a big bucket and load the shattered debris into dumper lorries and cart it off.  The reinforcing steel is separated, collected, and compacted as much as they can with the JCB and then loaded into lorries for recycling.

At the end of the process, a new building plot has been created.  The old is gone.  What can be recycled, as in the ancient tradition, has been redeemed and removed.

After a suitable passage of time – is it for permissions, or checks or, well, I do not know, planning permission… the rebuilding process commences.

Modern, proper reinforcing steel, modern curtain walls and other structural principles are all diligently applied.  The cement is all proper, ready-mix, made to order and quality controlled.  The cement is  pumped up from ground level with massive concrete pumping lorries to wherever the pour is happening, ensuring a good, continuous pour.  Workmen with vibrator devices ensure the cement flows and fills all voids and is a good pour.

The new buildings will be substantially stronger and more resistant to the violent forces released by earthquakes.

When the process is all said and done, the former owners take possession of their new flats.  The builder takes possession of the new flats created and sells them.  And a neighbourhood which was slowly becoming dowdy, being amply littered with older, sadder, shakier buildings is slowly rebuilt with new, taller, smarter, stronger, stylish buildings.

True Urban Renewal transpires.

This causes me to think that as a follower of the ‘Way’, I have embarked on a process which doesn’t attempt to clean up and strengthen what was in my life, but like ‘Urban Renewal’, actually calls for the removal of the old, the substandard, the weak, and like the rusted and inadequate steel and poor quality concrete – it all must go, it can not be redeemed, can not be strengthened, can not be made right.  The only recourse is to demolish right down to and including the foundation and then to rebuild, correctly, from below ground level upwards.

My life is not subject to renovation or improvements – but the absolute removal of the weak and defective and a rebuilding, a making new, from below the foundations all the way up is underway.

With ‘Urban Renewal’ things do always go as planned.  If you would like to read a bit more of this blog, there is more below… or you could stop now.  The choice is yours…  Click Here for a wee bit more…

 

Being able to play some musical instrument has been a long held and long unrequited desire of mine. 

At diverse times in the past, I have made rather half-baked attempts to self-learn to play a musical instrument. These efforts routinely resulted in failure and heartfelt discouragement.  

Since those earlier attempts, which were attempted in the fresh vigour of my youth and have now passed into distant, indistinct memory, I am emboldened to consider, one last time, that latent desire to be able to play a musical instrument.

Now, well out of the vigour of my youth, my inner voice is saying the time has come: ‘It is now or never’ to learn an instrument… it is now… or never

Therefore, endeavouring to learn from my former mistakes, this time I determined to engage a teacher and enrol in a course of study to be taught how to play the guitar. No more self-instruction; no more trying to learn on my own.

My goal is not to lead worship in the fellowship, nor to take my place among the musicians on a Sunday morning nor any other ‘public’ expression.  Indeed, my goal is rather muted. It is much more, dare I say, selfish. It is born out of a frustrated desire to be able to express myself via a musical instrument, which, although that desire has long been neglected and has been withering on the vine, it still expresses a waning attraction to me. Fundamentally, I desire to be able to sit down and ‘make music’, quietly expressing what is in my heart.

So, having engaged an instructor who I feel is an excellent tutor, one who is very encouraging and patient, I am encouraged.

So far so good.

In the first lessons, basic things were demonstrated and instructed. But, as with all things, the understanding does not come by the mind alone; this is not something that is solely grasped intellectually. To fully, truly learn what the instructor has so patiently demonstrated and explained requires that I take the time and practice it until my fingers as well as my mind have come to an understanding of it.

Herein is the rub — the practicing.

“It always is,” I hear you muttering…. “Stop muttering,” I mutter in response…

Now, I habitually, get up reasonably early. I have a morning routine which is fairly static. My mornings activities are fairly well defined. Following lunch, the afternoons are given over to a variety of tasks, and in summer this is often tempered by the degree of heat and humidity. Evenings are routinely committed and busy.

So, the problem facing me is when, exactly, will I ‘take the time’ to practice?

Jolly good question, methinks…

I feel this conundrum very deeply, for since I commenced the lessons, I have observed that there have been, not just single, isolated days, but, in fact, consecutive days that have passed with absolutely no practice being accomplished. (!)

I am ashamed to admit and declare this — I confess my abject failure to practice anything at all for, not just a single day at a time, but all too often, for days.

An inescapable truth stands proud: I cannot learn to play any instrument if I do not practice. Hand in hand they go, one with the other; in former times I did not have the instruction, and practice alone was insufficient — now, with instruction, it too, is insufficient in and of itself.

If I do not practice, all is for nought. I will not learn anything. I will utterly fail.

In this scenario, my failure will not be a failure of understanding nor a failure of skill — but a failure of trying.

We do not learn solely by hearing, but by hearing and applying/doing.

This is true in all aspects of life.

Recently our eldest son sent me a query on Facebook asking how my guitar lessons were going. I confessed to him my frustration — for the individual who is most frustrated with the lack of practice, is me.

Interestingly, his simple question did bring things into focus and clarity for me.

In my heart I was quietly tending towards: “If I’m not going to practice, then I should stop taking the lessons and cease this pointless charade of ‘learning to play’; I should return the borrowed guitar and admit that I am unwilling to make the effort to learn now – and if not now… ever.” 

These thoughts, though unexpressed, represented the clear drift of my thinking…

But, on writing my response to my son’s query, it struck me that the essential problem was that I was trying to ‘take the time’ to practice rather than being pro-active and ‘making the time’ to practice.

I thought, “Maybe it was time to make a change. Maybe I need to factor in practice time rather than waiting for opportune times to, miraculously, appear.” 

This was not a profound thought and you could argue, it is rather obvious, but, I hadn’t thought this through before.

It is true that I have a certain form and discipline to my day — and so I reasoned, “How hard would it be to schedule in practice time?”

Well, rather difficult actually for on the face of it, my day is already rather full — there are no easily identifiable times that are ripe and waiting to be picked.  

Additionally, there is no value in scheduling practice when I know I will be worn out and weary from other activities or drained of energy because of the heat. So, I would have to ‘make time’ in the premium times in the day.  

However, if the goal is worth it, then the effort can be, should be, and well, will be made.

Let it be that if I am to fail, that it be for reasons beyond my control or for lack of basic ability and not just because I didn’t make the effort.

Writing about this here opens me to future accountability as some who read this, may, when they see me in the future, rightly enquire as to how my quest to learn the guitar is faring….

If I’m embarrassed to confess my practical ineptitude at this stage, and I am, how much more embarrassing would it be, after having publicly identified the basic equation, to then abdicate my desire and goal and choose the easy, soft path and simply ‘give up’ the quest….

So be it. Here I have declared, and time will tell… and, yes, let the queries come…

My desire is to learn to play a musical instrument, and it requires, regular, extended practice. There are no short-cuts in the learning process. There really are no short-cuts – it takes time and effort.

If I am to progress towards my goal, then I will be required to make changes to my daily routine.

Additionally, by focusing on the ‘how’ I will achieve my goal I see what things are in my hands to do here and now, prioritising activities and involvement, difficult choices and the ‘practice and frustration’ that is involved in repetitious practice that will bring me, slowly, slowly towards my desire of playing an instrument.

And still, I must acknowledge that, at the end of the day, in spite of diligent practice and effort, I may still fail and be unable to play a musical instrument as I desire. But at least then, it will be an honest failure and a failure due to ‘inability’ and not, bluntly spoken, simple ‘laziness’.

I’ve identified times in my day; prime times, quality times, and difficult to sacrifice times to give to practice. Now, I am no longer attempting to ‘taking time’ to practice, but I’ve proactively, created or ‘made the time’ to practice. 

 It is a good beginning, but must now be maintained over the long haul.

I’ve tried to ‘take time to practice’ at appropriate times in the day since engaging the teacher — with extremely disappointing and rather embarrassing results. In the heat of the day, with all the various activities of the day, I have failed, spectacularly and repeatedly, to ‘take time to practice’.

Now is the time to come at this more aggressively, for, I believe, this very well may be my last crack at it; this may be my (final) ‘now or never’ moment.

My desire is not to be legalistic in my approach to daily practice. It is a target, a goal, an aspiration if you will. I will aim and discipline myself to attain it – but not at all costs.

When it comes, whether to personal discipline or life in general, some people see things in absolute, black and white — good for them. But my world has stark black and brilliant white and a whole lot of greys all over the place. Therefore, I can miss my target or goal, and not be overwhelmed by it. Life goes on… and the next target is before me.

Essentially, at least for me, my foundation is knowing that God is a God of Grace — He is One who is affording me unearned, undeserved merit and goodness. It is important for me to recall and remember that He is not a task master, with a ‘rod of discipline in one hand’ and a clipboard in the other, recording and holding all my failings and poor choices against me.  

Realising and being congnisant that He is Gracious, I acknowledge that I, too, need to be gracious to all those around me, especially when they stumble or fail. But, I must also be gracious to myself when I stumble and fail — in the big things in life, and in the little. 

Repentance, an inescapable and essential function in life, is acknowledging my responsibility and my failure — owning it if you will, not blaming others or circumstance; and then getting back up, determining not to repeat that error or poor choice, and pressing on towards the mark of my high calling in Christ.

This is true in all aspects of life: in morality, in the big things of life and also and importantly, in the mundane tasks of life, including learning to play a musical instrument.

With the dawning of the month long fasting of food and drink during daylight hours – the Islamic month of Ramada – a routine, commonly heard query is:  “Niyetli misinz” or, by translation, “Are you intending (to keep the fast)?”

This is a quick culturally specific means to know if normal Turkish hospitality – the offering of tea, coffee, cold drinks – should or should not be offered.

Now, as a non-Muslim, I am not attempting to maintain the demanding and difficult fast.

During the month of Ramadan, it would be fair to say that generally speaking, many people are tired from lack of sleep – the time to eat and drink are the dark hours, after the sun has set and before it rises in the morning.  Added to this are the normal demands of the working day compounded by the heat and intensity of the sun.  All combined together, this often makes for a miserable, difficult, trying day.

But, this year I’ve been struck by this question.  In years past, no doubt, I’ve been asked this question, but this year I’ve noticed it more and an answer, which I have not expressed to anyone, has been stirring in my heart.

The Question:

“Niyetli misiniz?” – “Are you ‘intending’ today?”

My unspoken response:

“Why, yes, I am intending to be honest and fair in my dealings with everyone I meet today.”

“Indeed, I am intending to be morally upright, not indulging my old nature and all its rampant passions and desires.”

“Yes, I am intending to be forgiving to those who may be contrary, awkward, miserable, simply spoiling for an argument or profoundly selfish or demanding.”

“Today I am intending to be loving to all I encounter; to those who are lovely, beautiful, pleasant, kind; and also to all the other people who are having a bad day, who are liberally sharing their difficulties with all they encounter; and the people that society in general has rejected; and the ill, and those with emotional problems, family problems, mental health problems; the foul mouthed, and the lusting, passion obsessed individual.”

“I am intending to be gracious to all I meet, encounter or have any interaction with today.  Being gracious, means doing good in situations and for individuals who, often, do not, even remotely, deserve it.  This is an expression of both the mercy and love of God being enacted by the proactive saying and doing of positive things for those who, from a purely human perspective, from a purely ‘natural’ point of view deserve to be ‘taught a lesson’ or ‘rejected’ or ‘shunned’ or ‘put out of the community’ or ‘locked up’ – because by their actions, their attitudes, their works, their words they have earned and deserve such a response.  Yes, today, I am intending to be gracious to all, especially the so-called undeserving.”

“This day I’m intending to be patient with everyone I encounter – regardless to how they maybe behaving, nor however demanding or profoundly, exceptionally, impatient they may be.”

“As I encounter the vagaries of life in this twenty-four hour period, I am intending to live in peace: the world around me can be falling apart; there may be horrors or terrors being perpetrated on the innocent; there may be turmoil and upheaval in the financial markets causing stress, worry and abject fear; events in my life may be flying wildly out of any kind of control; nevertheless, it is my intention, I am intending to live in peace despite all that may be unfurling around me.”

I guess, I am finding the question to be a good question that deserves to be seriously entertained and considered.  It is asked with regard to the demands of the fasting month – with a view to not causing a stumbling block or offence for those who are ‘intending’.

But, I am finding it a good question to contemplate and consider.

Of a truth, those around me, if they do not actively ‘intend’ to keep the fast, well, in the heat of the day, in the demands of work they will break the fast…

By the same token, if I head out into my day without identifying that which I am (actively) intending to do, then I will simply  react and respond to the events of the day and with very mixed results.

It remains a good question and I think, deserving of a serious answer:

“What I am intending for this day?”


I was out on my normal constitutional when I received a phone call that required me to return home. It wasn’t urgent or negative, just something I had with me that was required there and then.  It was a time sensitive need.

So I agreed that I would ‘power walk’ home – to arrive with the least delay. I often walk ‘quickly’ and this was just an impressive way to say that I wouldn’t dawdle, but I would walk with purpose and as quickly as a man of age and state can manage.

Normally, I try and walk a minimum of 10,000 paces a day – that is roughly 7 kilometres or approximately 4 ½ miles. Currently I’m at 75 contiguous days of hitting the target and basically, I have been hitting the target for the bulk of a year or so…the odd few days here and there where I have missed it.

So I set off at a quick but not murderous pace.

There weren’t many people about, so I basically had the footpath to myself. Hence, I applied myself to increasing my pace to my quickest rate.

Powering down the boardwalk, ahead of me, I saw a family, some ladies and children coming up the footpath and filling it from side to side. In order not to inconvenience them, nor slacken my pace, I opted to pass to my left, off the footpath where I would bypass them by utilising the verge.  The verge consists of some grass, some bedding areas with no plantings and some trees and the odd light standard.  It is rather narrow, separating the boardwalk from the roadway.

Many times previously, in like situations , I had performed this manoeuvre  and so I was expecting to power on by and loosing little momentum on my journey home.

Except things didn’t go exactly to plan.

Now I do not know the precise sequence of events, but at some point I must have tripped, or lost my footing, or made some other elemental, basic error.

The first that I knew that something was amiss was only as I was somewhat airborne and going down with no hope of stopping it.  

Out flew my hands to protect me as I plummeted. There didn’t seem to be anything else that I could do.

Oh, and I was tumbling off, or was it over, the verge and into the roadway.

Now, generally speaking, this is an extremely busy little road and drivers, when an opportunity presents itself, will power down the roadway with seemingly reckless abandon.  

It was, in fact, on this very road, just two years prior I was witness to a young girl being bowled over by an inattentive motorcyclist. The girl was wholly up-ended and the motorcyclist and his travelling companion were left skidding down the road independent of their motorcycle which was also skidding down the road.

Now, here I was, flying into the same roadway. Mind you, it was without the aid of a motorcycle, but it still was not the most desirable of destinations to be heading towards.

As with all these things, it happened incredibly quickly, literally, in the twinkling of an eye.

I’m down.

Face first.

When I hit, my left side took the brunt of the fall and my outstretched hands absorbed some of the violence of the impact. I was aware that my head did not come in contact with the road surface. My 65 kilos had come pell-mell from an upright, forward moving state to a prone and utterly stopped state in under a second or two at the most.

Things have happened rather unexpectedly and rather abruptly.

I’m lying there, gathering my thoughts, doing a quick check to see what is speaking the loudest to me, my left leg, hands, elbow, wrist… the list seems to be growing…I was generally occupied in taking stock.

I perceived that nothing was broken.

Oh, and I noted that there was no traffic this day – the road is strangely lacking its normal frenetic masses of traffic. Strange for a Saturday, or, better put, thankfully strange for a Saturday.

Hence, I haven’t been run over.

At the time, I would have preferred to lie there on the floor for a bit, just to collect myself.

But, virtually instantly, people have rushed to my aid. There is a lady in her twenties, a young lad of about ten or twelve – asking if I was alright. There was a middle aged council employee asking the same thing. Others were there, but my mind was somewhat preoccupied and my vision rather narrow. Many hands were outstretched to aid me to my feet.

I couldn’t say no to the assistance. I may have wished to lie there a bit longer and gather myself, but aid to pull me up, well that was not to be neglected. I appreciated the hands pulling me up. It would have been a slower and I dare say, a more painful experience, if I had attempted it on my own.

I thanked my helpers – there was a small crowd around me now.

Of course I was rather embarrassed. There was no real reason for my tumble. I was simply rushing. I was walking too fast and not being careful enough. No excuses.

Nevertheless, there was no end of people asking after me, offering assistance and ensuring I was okay.

I returned to the footpath and turned my steps, once again, towards home. I still needed to get there and I still needed to be there sooner rather than later – the basic equation on why I was heading home had not changed. It was a time sensitive situation.

My left leg was speaking to me in several places, both my palms were distressed, my right elbow was smarting, and my left wrist had things to say, but everything was functioning, and so I headed off, but at a rather diminished rate.

I still arrived home in good time – naturally, no record had been set. I surrendered the item that was in my possession and made my way into our home. My left wrist is reluctant to give me support, my left leg, is battered, banged and skinned in multiple places, but I am on the mend. No serious damage has been done.

But I think it is important to note that with all the violence that is happening in our world, with people demonising a whole society, culture and religion – I would like to point out that young and old, male and female, workmen and housewives all stopped what they were doing, they ceased going about on their own business and offered me, a complete and utter stranger aid and comfort without pause or hesitation. I know if I had needed water, it would have been procured. If I had needed other aid, it would have been provided.

Rarely in life are things black and white. Rarely are generalisations accurate for the individual. Rarely are caricatures even remotely helpful. Rarely can we extrapolate from the few and apply to the many and have anything remotely resembling reality or something that is in some way helpful – except maybe in reinforcing preconceived prejudices and biases.

All who were in the vicinity of my tumble, Sunni or Alevi, Turk or Syrian, (Muslims all) came to my aid, expressing concern and care and willing to do whatever was necessary for me in my time of need. All for a complete stranger.