Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Friday Night At The Londra Camp, Istanbul.1984

Izmit was on the eastern side of the Bosphorus, about two hours’ drive from the Londra Camp, but on Friday morning, we could not leave until 10.00 o’clock. This was because of the rush hour restrictions on the Bosphorus bridge, where the toll doubled before 10.00 in the morning. This was not much of a deterrent for a car, but for a four axle truck, it was an extra £90.00. It was good for me that Rob Borgman had arrived a day earlier, as it was normal to loose a day while you went to tell your agent to arrange for Customs’ clearance: as it was Friday, I would not have tipped until the Monday. We were both back at the Londra Camp before dark, after having unloaded the diesel engines at a truck building plant, right beside the main Istanbul-to-Ankara highway. Hamish Jenkins and Chris Wood were still at the Londra Camp when Rob and I returned. They had been to see their agents and would tip on Monday.

“A good job well done: let’s go on the piss,” said Hamish as soon as we got back. This was Hamish’s second most popular saying after the much more often quoted, “The job’s fucked: let’s go on the piss.”

In the restaurant bar at the campsite, Hamish recommended the chicken – it was the only thing he recognised.

“That other stuff probably won’t do you any harm, but if you found out what it was – then you would be ill,” suggested Hamish.

Everybody drank Efes Pilsen, the local strong lager. Rob and I sat with Hamish and Chris at a table in the middle of the dining room, soon to be joined by other British drivers. A new Zealand couple also came to sit with us and listen to Hamish recount some of his road stories. The New Zealanders were studying music and the guy had with him a soprano saxophone. We cajoled him to play something and when his girlfriend brought out a small bongo drum, to beat a steady rhythm, the Kiwi blew an amazing set of ethnic Turkish tunes. A lot of the drivers there that night were Kurds from eastern Turkey, Iran and Iraq; they began chanting, dancing and clapping – they appreciated the New Zealander’s talent even more than we did. A whole stream of Efes bottles were sent over to our table and shared amongst us all.

We sat drinking away into the night and I was just thinking what a great job it was when Hamish came out with a chilling statement that stunned us all:
“We’ve got big trouble. Nobody leave the table. Stay exactly where you are,” he said soberly.

“What on earth do you mean?” we all chorused.

“Don’t look now, but we are surrounded: there’s one Turk at every table; earlier they were all drinking together – now they’re waiting for us,” continued Hamish.

Hamish was right. We were the only table of drinkers left in the room: there were two waiters standing behind the bar, waiting to close up, and the only other people present were the seven Turks, each one seated at a different table.

“What do they want with us?” asked Chris Wood, “nobody has upset them, have they?”

“I don’t think so. The way I see it, they see five men with one women, laughing, joking, having a good time. They reckon those five blokes are going to take turns with that woman and if they can take that woman away from those men – then they can take turns with her,” stated Hamish.
“Oh, thanks a lot, Hamish,” said the New Zealand girl, “that says a lot for me.”

“Well, it’s a different culture out here,” went on Hamish, “you just don’t see Turkish girls out for a drink with the lads. Most Turks only see western women on TV, in films or in magazines. It’s all glamour and sex. They think they’re easy.”

“Are you sure about this, Hamish? What are we going to do?” asked Rob Borgman.

“Not 100% sure, no; but I bet at least half of them are carrying knives. I, for one, am not going to do anything, and I don’t want any of you to do anything either. We’re out numbered and pissed and I don’t fancy a-beating. We’ll sit it out,” suggested Hamish.

“What if they make a move?” I asked, looking round for a suitable weapon.

“No. They won’t start anything in here. It’ll be outside, or in the bogs. If you want a leak, you’ll just have to piss yourselves,” concluded Hamish.

The stand-off lasted till dawn, when the Turks finally gave up and trooped out to their cars. The waiters looked as relieved as we all were. All in all, I thought Hamish had got it right. It was a valuable lesson about getting drunk and dropping your guard in a foreign country. Rob B and I decided to have a rest day on the Saturday, in order to catch up on our sleep, after sitting up all night.

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