Monday, 31 August 2015

Expectation v. Experience

When I'm in England I get very jealous of all the beautiful gardens I walk past. I am not a good gardener. I have neither the patience nor the stamina to spend hours digging and weeding. I am however a good planter.  I plant anything I can get my hands on and in my mind's eye they grow tall, bushy and flower profusely.  I have lots of excuses as to why my garden isn't blooming - it's too hot, too dry, there are too many pine trees etc, but it's just as hot 100m down the road and our neighbour's garden looks great, we have an automated watering system and now the looming pine tree has been airlifted out, I can't use that excuse anymore.  Every year I buy packets of seeds in England and hope they will thrive in my Turkish garden. I had success once with Dahlias and Cosmos, so every year I hope ( if I invested as much energy in muck spreading as I did in hoping, I'm sure my garden would win a medal).  This year I'm banking on Aquilegia. They grew so well in my English garden and self-sowed with such abandon that I rarely had to buy a packet of seeds.

It will be a long wait as they flower the year after planting, by which time I will probably have forgotten where I planted them.  In the Spring I really thought I was on to a winner with my sweet peas. The plants were growing vigorously and even started to produce a few flowers but as soon as the temperatures rose, they turned brown and died, despite constant watering.  
I don't have much luck with locally bought seeds and bulbs either.  I planted 50 tulip bulbs last year and 6 came up.  But I'm not giving up; 33 years of indiffent success has not put me off, and I'm off to the garden centre tomorrow to stock up with Cosmos seeds and, on the one day next week that I'm back in Turkey, I will order a few tractor loads of manure to give them a chance of blooming. Hope spring eternal in the BacktoBodrum garden.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Çökertme - Captain Ibrahim

Captain Ibrahim and friend

As we left Captain Ibrahim's restaurant last week, the eponymous owner reminded us that he'd been born while Atatürk still drew breath and in historical terms, this restaurant keeps popping up in my time line.  I will probably tell my not-yet-conceived grandchildren that I used to watch the Captain dress up as a pirate, (complete with black şalvar, eye patch and dodgy fake facial hair) and dance around the tables firing a pistol into the air. A minion would be positioned on the roof to throw down a dead bird. I'm not sure what the life expectancy of this job was but it appeared to be as dangerous as being a rear gunner in a Halifax in 1942.  Incredulous foreign yachties would watch opened mouthed as the show continued, not entirely sure whether they should continue eating their meze, or run for the hills.  We were regulars; crew on the lead boat of a flotilla. We'd moor up our 12 or so sloops, take part in a bit of showing off;  being towed behind a speedboat on a windsurf board being one of the dafter activities, before donning our glad-rags (Yachttours t-shirt, very short shorts) and shepherding 50 guests ashore.  Alcohol was so cheap and plentiful that we were reluctant to let guests try and make their own way back after a night out so we were ferried by restaurant tenders.  In 1982 there wasn't much competition, everyone went to Captain Ibrahim's.  These days, each restaurant in Çökertme sends a dinghy out to newly arriving yachts to entice them to tie up their jetty.


There has rarely been a year in the subsequent 33 that we haven't paid at least one visit to the Captain.  There is no shooting anymore but the place hasn't changed much.  Except for the immaculate showers and toilets, it could still be 1982.

2015 with Simon, friend from 1975, on Captain Ibrahim's jetty. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

What's the point of offering an olive branch?

I'm back in Bodrum. It's the first time I can say it as last year was the first time I'd been here - in Turgutreis. This time I'm in the olive-groved hills. In fact, olives are everywhere. The trees line the roads, whether in groves of the kind that have patched the scrub for millennia or just as solitary, gnarled and impassive observers of the latest human folly. They fringe Annie's pool; they tower over the village, their topmost leaves reflecting the sun with surprising brilliance; the young ones have silver trunks that shine like birches and the old ones are grey like thick, cracked, grapevines moulded from ash.

All these olives, and the question nagging at me is: why are olive branches the age-old symbol of reconciliation? It's not as though they're difficult to find. You would have thought that the settlement of a dispute would start with the presentation of something difficult to get hold of: at the very least something you need to climb for, or dig for, or search for, or pay through the nose for. But an olive branch? They're everywhere - the ancient world's version of the petrol-station bunch of flowers, ludicrously easily grabbable on the way to the wronged girlfriend, or the irate friend, or the disappointed parent. You can close your eyes and stick out your arm round here and you're more likely to grab an olive branch than you are thin air. Not breathing them in is often an art as you amble across country.

"An olive branch?! Could you think of anything else???!" you can image the tragic classical heroine crying. 

"No, no, this is special olive," our hero would stammer. "I didn't get it from the tree by your front door/front gate/opposite your front gate/ growing out of the pot in the corner/poking through the wall/in one of the rows of dozens in your dad's garden/your dad's garden/bloody everyone's garden [delete as appropriate]. I paid a fortune for it, honest. It's golden apples that are ten-a-penny, darling."

"Really? I'm sorry my love. Of COURSE you're forgiven!"

Ancient girls can't have got out much.

And yet, perhaps there's more to the olive branch. And not just because I'm all for a conciliatory gift that doesn't cost much (I've had occasion for many of them over the years and I'm bound to need plenty more). What I didn't realise until Annie explained the other day was the processing it took to make an olive (or several, to keep the cost down - top tip there) edible. Cutting each one in the right way, soaking in water, replacing the water several times, and then putting them into either salt water or olive oil is the basic process. Nothing as simple as a grape that you just pluck off an almost equally ubiquitous vine and bung into your mouth. 

So maybe that's what the whole olive branch thing is about: the symbolism of the branch merely being the beginning of a process that has to be worked on, and given time. And the ubiquity of the olive branch makes the point that the reconciliation is staring us in the face pretty much everywhere if we could only be bothered to see (and grasp) it. 

And now I realise I'm coming on a bit Thought for the Day here, and in my mind TFTD should be taken outside and given a good kicking before being forbidden to come within 500m of a radio microphone ever again, but perhaps we could all benefit from a lot more offering of the olive branch.

Mind you, next time I'm in hospital you can bring me grapes, please. And at other times a golden apple will do nicely.

A post kindly written by Simon Hardeman, our house guest this week .  Good isn't it!  Not surprising really as he is a journalist who writes for The Independent newspaper and  teaches fledgling scribblers various aspects of writing at Greenwich University. He has a band too.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

In Limbo in Bodrum

Respectable families who this time last year were probably spending their Sundays drinking tea with their nearest and dearest in local parks before going home to their orderly homes, are now camped out in Bodrum's covered market and are quietly waiting with what ever dignity is left to them, for the chance to get into a rubber dinghy and cross to a Greek island and from there who knows where they will be sent.
Ordinary folk, just like you and me. Not a 'flood', not a 'hoard' not 'economic migrants'. Just mothers and fathers trying to do the best for their children.

(Will they get to Europe? The Turkish Coast Guard has picked up 33,000 refugees from the Aegean Sea so far this year).

Monday, 10 August 2015

Up, up and away

When we built our house in the early 1990s, we were adamant that we would do so without cutting down a single tree.  Even the small pine in front was accommodated by a diversion in the terrace wall. This tiny pine repaid us by growing tall and providing shade for the whole terrace. We accepted that it would fill the pool with needles, kill the roses growing underneath and provide a home for squirrels whose clicking and scurrying drive the dog to barking lunacy (usually at about 3am). In the last couple of years we've started to get uneasy about its height and the prospect of a branch landing on our newly retiled roof.  This year, on a trip to Scotland, I drove past a familiar house and was shocked to see its gable end missing; a pine had fallen on it in the winter. I returned home with a picture of the shattered house and realised that if our pine was felled by a storm, it wouldn't just be the roof that was damaged. 
So the decision was made. The pine would have to go. But how?  Google "tree surgeon" in this area and you won't get any useful results. A call was made to the Forestry Commission office and they paid a visit to give us permission to fell the tree but couldn't help with the act. Various "men with chainsaws" were consulted but they didn't inspire confidence.  We had so protected our pine that its base was now imbedded in the terrace wall and apart from a 20 degree margin, it didn't have anywhere to safely fall.  If only it could be lifted up and away....

And it was.  Take one experienced chain saw operator in a cherry picker and another professional in a crane and bit by bit the tree was cut from the top down and lifted free.  I'm telling you this as if I was there. I wasn't - thank goodness. It all happened last week end: My daughter, Esi, can take up the story 

" I don't usually go to work with my fiancé but as he was off to my family house I was happy to hitch a lift. Getting into the massive mobile winch was a struggle, but I heaved myself up and I was able to appreciate my other half's skill in manoeuvring the giant through the summer traffic. On the way, I started to feel a bit apprehensive. What if something went wrong and my fiancé dropped a tree through his prospective father-in-law's roof. 
As we turned into our very narrow lane the size of the crane became even more obvious. We struggled to avoid trees and had to inch through the garden gate. By this time Jake had caught scent of something unusual going on and came running down.  He took one look at the metal mountain approaching and shot back up the drive, tail between his legs and hid behind Dad, who on second glance, seemed to be standing at a funny angle. He'd put his back out clearing the lane for us.  Whoops, not a good  start. 
 Jake and I sat back and watched as the chainsaw operator was lifted up into the tree, he peered down at us through the branches like Tarzan. After the first few limbs (tree not chainsaw guy) were cut, the winch bands could be tied to the trunk and the pine was dismantled bit by bit.  Hearing the loud crack as the trunk was split was like witnessing a thunderstorm without the rain or clouds. The first few bits were small and light but once it got down to the base of the tree the winch started to shake and the front wheels began to lift above the ground.  
Soon the tree was gone, the only damage being the underlying plants, which were covered with pinecones and needles. The pictures above show the mechanics of the lift but cannot describe how unnerving it was watching something so big 
being held by just a band and swung from a winch 
so close to my childhood home" 

If anyone reading this has a difficult tree to remove, send me an email at and I'll send you details. 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Epicurean Travels

In my 35 year long, varied career as a cook, I have occasionally been described by others as an epicurean.  It's a moniker I hated as it brought to mind plump, aged gentlemen feasting on quail stuffed with songbirds and other over constructed dishes. But thanks to reading "Travels with Epicurus" by Daniel Klein, I realise that I am a true follower of Epicurus' philosophy.   My ideal life is lived within my own garden; sharing simple but well cooked food and good conversation with close friends, ignoring as much as possible the politics outside my garden walls.  Which is a pretty good synopsis of how Epicurus lived. He was a man for whom happiness and contentment could be found in simple pleasures.  A true Epicurean could be described as being selfish, but after a lifetime of "good and worthy causes", the campaigning baton has to be passed to the next generation. The American author researched his book on Hydra and he has written a wonderful discourse on why those entering their third age on this island seem to be able to accept and enjoy their maturity rather than trying to prolong middle age with plastic surgery and viagra. It's a lesson we would all do well to note.

"It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate
but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime 
wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man 
has docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness" 

"Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance"

"He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing" 

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not" 

Epicurus  341-270 BC

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Good things come to those that bait.

The Mediterranean diet, and by association, the Aegean diet, is envied the world over. Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, olive oil and fish.  That's how the world sees it and I have no argument with the availability of the first three, but fish is not the mainstay of the diet that it once was.  Eat fish in a restaurant in Bodrum and your bill will show that it is now on the "luxury list".  Most of us have to make do with farmed fish in the summer as wild-caught is beyond our purses.  When I first started cooking in Hydra, I had difficulty buying fish; the fishmonger seemed reluctant to sell me any. It was a few weeks before I was given unrestricted access to the contents of his fridge.  So it was with great dismay that when I turned up in Hydra earlier this year,  I found the fish shop closed and it has remained so.  I tried to buy from the fishermen on the quay, but not recognising any of the bug eyed, strangely coloured seafood on show,  I threw away more than I could serve; the resulting dishes tasting more muddy than fishy.  So my quest for fish began.  Soon, the bait was taken.  The housekeeper returned from her shopping trip on the mainland with a bag of red mullet.  A shopkeeper produced a spear-caught sea bream of magnificent proportions and then, the best surprise of all, our electrical engineer came to sort out our lights and returned with a relative of a grouper as a gift.

Christos is as good at fishing as he is at keeping the island's lights on.

Decades ago, when I worked on a yacht, we would be offered groupers this size on a daily basis, now they are a rare sight.  Their meat is perfect for serving raw, marinated in lime or lemon juice but this one was baked in the oven and then served off the bone with a garlic, lemon, caper, dill, parsley and olive oil sauce.  The head and carcass boiled with celeriac, onions and parsley, made a wonderful soup the next day.
Maybe this is how everyone finds fish here. It would explain why the fishmonger closed down.