Insurance is easy cash for the fat cats, as simple as falling off a log. When we shipped the tarnished family silver back to Blighty, cover was compulsory: no pay, no way. It’s one of life’s expenses that you put down to experience and write off, like the unrequited Christmas card to an ungrateful relative. Regular readers may remember that our tatty heirlooms were raided by the fuzz and that an ostentatious hi-fi speaker was badly damaged. Time to claim, we thought – in for a penny, in for pound. In went the claim, back came the cash. A check (Yankee spelling), landed on the mat for $250. God Bless America and God bless Travel Guard, Inc. Of course, by the time all the middlemen down the monetary line took their cut, I only ended up with £130.
Our tatty chattels finally made it across the high seas, landing safely at the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. Her Maj’s Revenue and Customs eyed the consignment with cynical suspicion and decided to x-ray the boxes for contraband Turkish delight. This public service was provided at our expense, incurring a charge of £100. Isn’t this a bit like being frisked by the fuzz and paying for the privilege? The boys in blue found nothing untoward and the family silver was released. That was that, or so we naively thought.
We received word from the carriers that our precious cargo would be delivered by a 19 metre road train (their words) and if they couldn’t park within 15 metres of our new gaff we could kiss our goods goodbye (my words). When I pointed out that the medieval streets of old Norwich are characteristically narrow and that a 60 foot mega truck was a tad excessive for our modest six square metre load, they recanted and decided that a van of standard girth would suffice.
D Day arrived. The van pulled up outside and two large gentlemen swung into action, huffing and puffing as they piled the boxes into neat rows inside our new living room. The entire sweaty exercise was completed in under 30 minutes. As we unpacked each box, it was obvious that spooky hands had been fondling our family jewels. A shattered lamp emerged from one battered box. Glass fragments from the same lamp magically appeared in a different box. Hey presto. The backs of photo frames had been removed and replaced with the clips left open (the same photo frames suffered the same fate when they delivered to Turkey four years previously). Most distressingly, the base of one of our tall super-sleek speakers had been hack-sawed off and the broken thread lay discarded at the bottom of the box. Just as well we smuggled out the rechargeable marital aids in our hand luggage. Clearly, this bump and grind was much more than a bit of rough handling by a hairy docker. Who would have thought?
Our chattels have been delivered to the house. As we unpacked each box, we were delighted to find that we had suffered few breakages, but gradually developed a nagging suspicion that someone had been subtly rummaging about. A number of the metal clips that hold the back plate in place for the smaller picture frames were in the open position. It was as if the backs had been covertly removed to check what might lie behind. Given the total apathy of the Turkish customs officer, I assume it was a sneaky British spook making sure we weren’t drug smugglers or money launderers. Little did they realise that we stuffed all the dirty cash down our trousers (that’s a joke, by the way).
We met the rude little man outside the Customs House at Izmir Airport. As the goods were registered in my name alone Liam had to wait outside. I then embarked on my second major appointment with the Byzantine Turkish bureaucratic system. The rude little man ferried me around various offices to pay various official fees to various bored officials, obtaining various bits of official paper, all duly officially stamped along the way. He then deposited me in a holding pen and wandered off, returning now and again to demand ever more cash. I sat there for about an hour and a half with not so much as a cup of a çay for solace, observing the drama unfolding around me. So much of Turkey appears modern or modernising but alas, not the State Sector it seems. My place of confinement was bleak and starkly furnished. Lonely electric wires twisted aimlessly from the cracked ceiling, and an ancient typewriter sat sadly neglected in the corner.
Next to me was a glass fronted office where five of six apparatchik sat working at their desks. Well, I use the word ‘working’ euphemistically. All I witnessed was a lot of gossiping, tea brewing and reading of newspapers, periodically interrupted by someone waving a piece of paper in need of an official stamp. Stamps are big in Turkey; everything must be stamped. Without a word, a heavy-boned, hirsute man would give each document a cursory glance, apply the requisite official stamp and then return to his newspaper. Clearly, this is his job, probably his only job: keeper of the official stamp. However, I assume all the over employment keeps the unemployment figures down and each of these underemployed men probably saves a large extended family from destitution.
The waiting was finally over and the rude little man led me to the depot for my goods to be scrutinised by a rude little customs officer. She didn’t seem much bothered and only inspected the top layer of one crate, though much hilarity was generated by my embarrassing and doomed attempt to mime the function of a terracotta patio heater. At last, I got the last official stamp I needed to release the family silver. I emerged from the Customs House two hours later to a relieved Liam, who had convinced himself that I had been arrested and carted off to prison in a ‘Midnight Express’ kind of way.
We received word that our cargo has arrived from England. We are thrilled. A gay boy just can’t survive for long without the little essentials of life like decent cookware, ethnic knick-knacks and gallons of scent. We paid quite a bit extra to have our precious accessories air freighted and were assured by Pickfords that the crates would be flown direct to Bodrum; a naïve notion. A rude little man from the Pickfords nominated Turkish agents told us to get down to the Customs House at Izmir Airport and to get there pronto otherwise we’d be charged warehousing fees. Off we go on our second Izmir junket at the crack of dawn.