Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Monolith Cocktail’s vagabond-about-town cultural critic, Sean Bw Parker‘s new misadventure feature. A serial offender when it comes to upsetting the proverbial applecart – Turkish authorities, David Bowie fans (re. his fake interview with the Thin White Dupe for God Is In The TV last year), Scottish record labels, Mumford and Sons – Parker’s musings on his life and a wealth of both tangent and bizarre subjects will be housed in this regular slot.
Deported recently from Istanbul, his home for the last decade, Parker has wasted no time in ingratiating himself with the locals (whether they wanted him to or not), as he settles into his new West Sussex environment – Chichester to be exact. That 48-hour tale of woe that ended in his return to the UK and all the repercussions will kick-off this new feature. Join Parker now as he navigates the idiosyncrasies of a world he left behind, back in 2004.
If this tickles your fancy and you need a tome of such miscreant tales from the acerbic, gutter-rolling, Parker, then he’s just published a book on his time in the Bosphorus straddling metropolis, entitled ‘Salt In The Milk – Ten Years In Istanbul’, of which you can purchase here.
I had been drinking heavily on a Friday night in the Istanbul central district of Besiktas, with a revolving assortment of friends, alternating between my two favourite bars, Aylak (Hobo) and Sair Leyla (named after a famous Turkish poet). At some early hours point I took my friend S’s phone and sent a text message to the woman who heats my heart – F – informing her, uninvited, that I would be dropping by her elite Nisantasi apartment. No response.
Well as we all know, copious alcohol bears no heed to ‘no response’, and I duly hailed a taxi and sped the two miles up the summer night Istanbul hills to the luxurious neighbourhood. Upon ringing her doorbell a few times, I remembered that she was in the apartment next door, at her flaming neighbour O’s house – tried that one a few times, and eventually the door clicked open.
Now O and I generally get on famously – I remember even French-kissing him once late on a more decadently extreme night – but tonight the energy and atmosphere was evil. In his house, we started snapping at each other, and then I started fully shouting. Subconsciously duelling for F’s affections, despite our respective preferences, and soon after I noticed a brand new luminescent green snake tattoo on her hand, glasses began to be violently hurled my way, some smashing to pieces, others not.
O, from his slight frame, was thunderously ordering me to leave his house, F offering me the key to her place next door – but alcohol is as stubborn as the mind is soft, and I refused – essentially believing that F would rather be with me than stay there. Well F is much more complicated than that, and soon O was threatening to call the police. ‘Call them then!’ I screamed. So he did. Alcohol is also punitively decisive, sometimes (too often).
Three policemen arrived, within ten minutes, baffled by these three polite urbanites having a pissy fit in the middle of comparatively sleepy, refined Nisantasi. O continued his complaint, and I had fallen silent by then, knowing what this potentially meant – but too inebriated and obstinate to protest or god knows, apologise for not leaving. O made a complaint against me (the Turkish equivalent of breach of the peace), and the three of us were hustled into the back of the waiting police van.
Harbiye police station is a quaint old one-storey building between Nisantasi and Tesvikiye, two minutes from the ‘scene of the crime’. We were put in the gorgeous back garden, surrounded by wooden benches and small, overhanging trees to think, smoke, and try to sober up. One by one, in thirty minute stretches, we made our statements – by dawn, with F trying to sleep in the holding cell after arguing with the police, they led me in there too, after realising I had no residence permit, and hadn’t had a visa for my near ten years in Turkey. The police’s smiling response to this news was ‘bye bye!’
F was released when her minor case was cleared up a few hours later, but also in our shared holding cell was a Libyan businessman, M, with connections in very high places – but who couldn’t speak about them, lest his family be involved in a media scandal. He was in for drink-driving. A charming, gentle, spiritually confused man, we later discovered we shared the same birthday, and supported each other with humour throughout our unwashed incarceration.
Saturday morning turned into Sunday evening, turned into Monday afternoon as M and I went through blood test after botched blood test, handcuffed to each other and separately, led from suburban hospital to neighbouring police station – never with any warning – and me translating with my pigeon Turkish to English for him as best I could. Friends, including the angelic N, N, S, J and F (2) would come to our elegantly barred window and bring food and coffee, smoke cigarettes and generally try to keep spirits up.
M and I were finally taken unshackled to the very impressive, newly built ‘Foreigners Office’, in the down at heel, immigrant-heavy Kumkapi district (near Sultanahmet, and more famed for its fish restaurants). The grandiose neo-Georgian façade of the place belied a dark, heaving underbelly of crowded, imprisoned Arabs and mental torture. To be fair to the actual office part, the twenty or so young well-brought up bureaucrats worked frenetically – while having their joust-about fun – to make things run smoothly, to get people in and out – but it definitely seemed like they’d never had to deport a fair-haired, greying, blue-eyed Englishman before.
Upon hearing that they would need to keep us in overnight, M desperately tried to change his story not to be put in with the incredibly dangerous seeming, jam-packed Asians behind the cage on the corridor –positively lowing with frustration and sullen, grim distemper. When it appeared I would also need to spend a night there, a panic attack began to descend, slurring my speech and disconnecting me from the environment.
The commissar was persuaded to call an ambulance crew, and I knew the best way to avoid this awful scenario would be to spend the night in hospital. However when the paramedics arrived thirty minutes later, they found an extremely psychologically stressed but apparently physically perfect specimen. I was to spend the night there, while my lawyer appealed (unsuccessfully) at a courthouse in a neighbouring district. M and I were let off to a windowless, burgundy and brown rubber room, just off from the office – mental row.
After three nights inside we should have known what to expect, but this was boiling. After lying on one of the two gym mats and trying to read (The Restaurant at the End Of The Universe, by Douglas Adams) for ten minutes, M called the guard, then called me. He was taking us into the Arab dorm, as they were ‘his people’, and we would be fine as long as we got the bunk with some air next to the window.
In this seventh layer of hell I spotted a familiar junkie-beggar from the streets of Beyoglu who had always hugged me and called me ‘brother’ on the street, because I tended to palm him a lira when I could. He now gave me up his bunk, and seemed a little offended when at the sound of the evening call to prayer (ezan), one of the inmates shouted/sang ‘Allah Akbar!’…and I motioned to M that I wanted to leave, immediately.
If you’ve seen the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’ where they move through the crows in tense silence at the end, that’s exactly what this was like, with more exposed deep brown torsos, knife scars and tattoos. I smiled my polite western smile and heaved a huge gasp of relief when we slammed the door of our hot rubber cell behind us.
Back on madness row, there were two flamboyantly gay boys from Turkmenistan and Iran, – who happened to be an absolute delight – and I gave them my cigarettes when I could. They didn’t have a cell to their own, so that they could flirt with the boys in the neighbouring buildings into the night. Their payment for this was to be directly outside the cell of a nameless Afghani bomb victim, who had had both his lower arms blown off, and was blind and mostly naked. They warned me about him, though when I saw him he was heavily sedated on his back, quiet as a very odd-looking lamb.
Sleep was near impossible in the heat, but just as the sweet embrace was closing in both M and I were shocked awake by an inhuman, repeated screaming from his cell. Then for five hours he kept on, a cat sound here, throwing himself at the wall there, causing unbelievable pandemonium solidly, from shell-shock or god knows what. The gay couple asked M to speak to him in Arabic, which he tried, but returned to our room highly disturbed. A night with a banshee on acid throwing themselves repeatedly around in a deliberate, incognent rage suddenly took on new meanings of real pain. The Turkmeni ladyboy explained that that night he had been comparatively restrained (the Turkmeni boy had been there for fifty days.) I had heard him excrete in the night, and no one cleaned up the next day. The whole row stank of piss and shit.
The next day was confusing as M was taken away at one point, and me at another to face our fates – though eventually I had to wait crouched and huddled with only Mr Adams for sanity until the evening. The commissar had found out about my ten year overstay, and was baffled. How was this possible?
He decided I was a ‘flight risk’, that I wouldn’t leave given a chance, and told my lawyer and F that the standard fifteen day appeal was not applicable to me, and to get the next plane home. No time to pack – airport, stamp, then out.
My flight was at 11pm from Sabiha Gokcen airport on the Asian side of the city, and my summons was an hour and a half late, and not with the trusted officer who had become my friend and promised to accompany me.
I sat at the back of a blacked-out-windowed van and sped through the Istanbul evening, over the Bosphorus with full red and blue deportation lights blazing –unclean! (Not to overstress the point.) An hour later, after the drivers had stopped for tea and got to know me, I fell into the arms of eight true Istanbuller friends who had been following the story and had gathered at the airport to meet me, and so send me off.
The bizarre, mixed emotion of sorrow to leave my friends and beloved city, with the excitement and relief after all these years of ‘going home’, is hard to overstate. Our police escort were charming and hospitable (as so many of the young policemen had been), and after a farewell beer with my entourage near the departure lounge, my passport was secretly stamped, and my flight took off into the turbulent, European night sky.
I did an eleven hour shift in a plastics factory today. It’s in the middle of an industrial estate in Chichester, but it’s a very nice, English industrial estate, being in Chichester. I had bangers and mash with peas and gravy for lunch at my favourite traditional English cafe. Not so much teaching English, as doing it these days. Helpfully, the God Of Plastics (Sussex branch) arranged it that the factory was staffed by 95% Poles and an Australian, however, so I didn’t feel too unusual. Like an inverse reflection of the 99% Islam demographic in Turkey, but with more Polandrianism. I’ll leave my hilarious Holocaust jokes and Union Jack hat at home for a while though
A fine start to the day, at 5.30am. My early smoking companion was a Latvian named Sardis, whom I had mistaken for a Pole. Sardis: ‘I hate them. Fucking bastards, I REALLY HATE them.’ Oh well, long live Glasnost…
Later I discovered that the manager had cottoned on to the fact that I was/am a teacher of English, and thus the whole place knew. I spent the rest of the day feeling like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, minus the books and spectacles. All that was missing was Pablo Di Ablo as Morgan Freeman at the end of the line (‘we’re all counting on you, John’, etc). I would have said stay tuned for the next instalment to see how my tunnel to France is going…
Until I spoke to the health and safety manager after 10 hours of mentally and physically exhausting manual work, saying that I felt dizzy and exhausted having not done such a thing in about 12 years, and would need to ‘build up’ to the agreed 12 hour shift. He said ok, and I went on my way. 15 minutes later, the recruitment company called and said my services were no longer needed. Where am I, Manila? If any editors are reading, do drop me a line if you’d like to run with it. The name of the company is…