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Fifth news item

"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Fourth news item

Have a look at my page on Amazon. Still plenty of summer left for challenging literature. on 2014-08-13
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Third news item

Check out my Amazon Kindle page. 'The Baby Who Killed People for Money' is now available. An utterly charming child with a unique and lucrative skill. A father with no defence against his daughter's impulses. Would you take your little girl around Europe for a spot of murder tourism? Of course you would. on 2014-06-30
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Second news item

My story on the Tate gallery website on 2013-11-11
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First news item

A Thousand Natural Shocks An anthology that includes two of my stories. Available now at Amazon. on 2013-11-11
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Posted September 1, 2018
  Posted by in Uncategorized

I am currently reading John Julius Norwich’s magnificent 3-volume history of Byzantium. The thing that stands out most to anyone who studies or lives in Turkish Thrace is the sheer number of times that disgruntled armies rampaged through it leaving ‘a nightmare trail of slaughter and destruction’ or warlords whose vengeance meant that ‘every living creature left unburnt was butchered’. For much of the latter part of Byzantine history, Thracian monasteries were not richly appointed repositories of precious objects. Those that survived outside garrisoned walls were carefully hidden and devoid of anything that might attract armed attention.

Main church inside natural cave

This monastery is about one hundred metres from the current border between Turkey and Bulgaria. It is well hidden, as the troubled history of that region would have demanded. It lies in a north-south valley (41°56’43.1″N 27°31’12.6″E) that is invisible until one is standing directly above it. This is about 1.3 km north-east of the village of Şükrüpaşa.

The valley from the south

The valley shelters a small natural cave system of the kind that the medieval monks of Thrace sought out to modify into their churches and monasteries. Presumably, most of the monks’ residences were structures built of wood and stone in the valley. There is little trace remaining of any of these. 

Bottom (north) end of the valley showing entrance to the cave of the main church

 

The main monastery church has been dug out of a cave in the east-facing wall of the southern side of the valley. The cave is about 15 metres wide and extends 7 metres into the rock at the point of the apse, unusually but of necessity pointing towards the west. The church is currently full of water. It may be possible to explore underwater in summer but I was there on February 1st, 2018. Five minutes of standing in there made me lose feeling in my legs for nearly an hour so I didn’t check much of the internal detail of the church. However, there are clearly niches in the wall of the apse; somewhat less developed versions of those in the south chapel at Asmakayalar.

 

Water-filled apse of main church

There is some evidence of carving in the rock wall above the cave entrance. Some of this seems to indicate that there may have been wooden beams attached here to support a roof. To the south of the nave extends a small chapel with no defined detail remaining. 

Carving (top) above the cave entrance

Chapel to the north of the main church

There are a few small tunnels carved into the rock in the uphill (northern) part of the rock face but nothing that indicates that it had any major part in the life of even such a small monastery such as this.

Passage carved into the northern end of the complex

It is difficult to estimate the construction date of the main church. The carving indicates that it is from a date later than the 6th century Monastery of St Nicholas in Kıyıköy. This one clearly comes from a more troubled time – perhaps the 10th century in the relative calm before the disaster at Manzikert. One presumes that the water table was lower when it was operating. No matter how hardy the outland Byzantine monks, surely even they could not worship with any real dedication in freezing water.

Water in the nave of the Şükrüpaşa church

Still, the remains of the monastery are more solid than any buildings in the nearby village of Şükrüpaşa. However, it does boast a nice version of the vernacular architecture of Thrace. The houses have a solid stone understorey with a wooden (often wattle and daub) upper floor. There is a great variety of balcony styles.

House in Şükrüpaşa

In addition, the area has a distinctive kind of A-frame barn.

One of the barns characteristic of the border region

 

 

 

 

 

Trakya Kalkınma Ajansını (2016) Şükrüpaşa Mağara Manastırı. Kırklareli Kültür Varlıkları Envanter. Available online at: http://www.kirklarelienvanteri.gov.tr/anitlar.php?id=268 Retrieved 27 Aug 2018

Norwich, J. (1992) Byzantium: The Apogee. Knopf, New York.

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Posted July 31, 2018
  Posted by in Uncategorized

All Turkish toilets have a bidet – not the mysterious free-standing porcelain object characteristic of mid-20th century French hotel bathrooms, but a handy water pipe on the back of the toilet bowl. This means that anyone moving from Britain or the US may become accustomed to a heightened standard of ablution procedure. Upon returning to the largely bidet-free western world, one may feel the need to maintain standards of post-procedural hygiene. Step 1 is simply placing a large bottle of water beside the bowl. This is the nature of the bidet used in this story.

The first unit to arrive

 

My family moved to Washington State in 2018. For the first few months, we lived in a nice apartment in a six-storey block in central Redmond. One night, the fire alarm went off. I got out of bed and looked in the corridor. It was full of smoke and people were running about in that way one does when one is awoken by hideous noise and apparently life-threatening circumstances.

One man opened the door to the stairwell. He recoiled, yelled ‘FIRE!’ and ran away down the corridor. I opened the same door. The fire was a small one on the stairwell carpet. There seemed to be a white line in the middle of it. Other than the fire, it was completely dark and there was a lot of smoke.

I returned to my apartment where my wife and child absorbed the small amount of information I had. It struck me that the fire was quite small but could grow quickly. I put a towel in a sink and turned on the water. Then I grabbed the wet towel and headed out. Before I left, I picked up the bidet bottle.

The stairwell looked the same. I couldn’t see any sign that the fire was electrical. I emptied the bidet onto the fire. It went out immediately and started emitting more smoke. I checked for flames. None. My family dressed for a cold night and headed past the doused fire to the street. It was about 5am.

Some of the 8 Fire Department vehicles that attended the fire

 

The first of the fire trucks arrived, a Medic van and a pumper. I learned the typology of Fire Department vehicles as the morning unfolded. Businesslike people emerged from the pumper and began suiting up. I told them what had happened and a man in medieval armour brandished a battleaxe and headed up the stairs. A tanker and a ladder truck arrived. Further battalions assembled for combat. Eventually, 8 fire units were there along with a varying number of police vehicles.

The inhabitants of the apartment block spread out along the footpaths. Most of them had small designer dogs. The excitement of the alarm gave way to frustrated boredom as everyone wondered whether they could get back inside in time to get ready for work or at least get a cup of coffee.

Amusing my daughter

 

Eventually a helpful policeman told us that the local coffee shops were opening. Our Starbucks was full of people in pajamas and ruffled lapdogs.

The Fire Brigade did far more damage than the fire. They needed to in order to remove the wall panelling to check that the fire had not spread to the wood below. Apparently, the fluorescent light tube had fallen and set light to the carpet.

Aftermath

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Posted June 9, 2018
  Posted by in Uncategorized

When I rented a Land Cruiser in Bishkek, I was pleased to see that it was a genuine offroad monster with raised air intakes and a ground clearance I could limbo under. I loaded my 6-year-old daughter into her seat and set off towards the Tien Shan. 

Two things I underestimated were how much fuel the  Land Cruiser used and how attractive it was to the police. I made the big mistake of driving along the northern side of Issyk Kul at the height of tourist season and was fined three times in half an hour for undefined offences. At least the prices were negotiable. One demand went from $US1000 to 500 Kyrgyz Som, about $US7.

In the mountains up to Son Kul, the Cruiser showed its value. It was only there that I started paying attention to the altimeter above the interior mirror. Climbing from rocky desert to what looked like the Swiss Alps, the reading started to mount towards 3000 metres and beyond. The track kept climbing and most of the traffic consisted of horsemen and yak herds. The analogue scale on the meter finished at 4000m but the needle kept turning clockwise until it started again from sea level. There aren’t many roads higher than 3000 metres in Japan so I guess there is little point in making the altimeters with higher scales.

 

The Cruiser managed several deep river crossings and coped well with the boggy ground as we descended towards the lake. Still, it was nice to change to a one horsepower vehicle.

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Posted November 10, 2017
  Posted by in Uncategorized

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Posted November 4, 2017
  Posted by in Uncategorized

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