Wednesday, September 11, 2002

I'm in Istanbul. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, brought on by the cheap flights available on the eve of September 11. The place I'm staying is an absolute dump - almost cave-like. There is an arch-shaped room, with a single bed covered with a horrible orange bedspread, and the room has a curtain instead of a front door. Still, it is gorgeously situated, with a fantastic view of the Blue Mosque. I arrived last night just as the sun was setting, and the cool blue twilight about the room persuaded me to ignore my misgivings.

I immediately set about photographing the deep indigo sky through the arch. Annoyingly, the washing line in the yard kept getting in the way of my shots, so I went outside to move some of the washing. That's when I noticed him - a tiny, dirty urchin, perhaps five years old, playing in the dust. He shouted something at me in Turkish, I mumbled something back in English. He decided I was funny, I decided he was cute. He followed me around all evening, watching me take pictures of his family home. He babbled away at me, no doubt telling me fascinating things about the village.

I ran out of film and went back to the room to get a fresh roll. I left the camera on the bed and went for a pee in the filthy toilet. When I came back, my camera had gone, and so had the kid.

I ran out into the yard, screaming blue murder, but there was no sign of him. I tried ringing the landlady's doorbell, as I assumed she was his mother, but all I got was a recorded message in Turkish.

I went back into the room and told Jonathan. [Oh, I haven't mentioned, he and I are travelling together.] Jonathan shrieked, "You left the camera in the open? You stupid twat!" and came out to help me find the boy. We did eventually find him on the floor in a corner of the yard, playing with the camera. Or, rather, the bits of the camera - he had taken it apart and was gleefully unrolling the film.

I snatched him up and bent him over my knee, giving him three short, sharp slaps to the bum. He screamed, then dropped to the ground, crying, and looking at me with incomprehension and betrayal. "He doesn't understand it was wrong," said Jonathan. I felt guilty, but we had to get ready for dinner.

We went back into our room, and we discussed what we would wear for dinner. "Just casual," I said, "We're on holiday - I'll just wear my shorts." While we were getting ready, Andy and Kevin, and my dad and his wife Jenny, popped in to see if we were ready. They were dressed smart-casual, so I put my jeans on. Then my MD and his wife, and the head of finance came in, along with the Swedish woman who works in the office behind me. They were dressed up to the nines, with Marie stunning in a gold sari.

My boss peered strangely at me and said, "God! What's wrong with your face?" I rushed off to the bathroom and looked in the mirror - my face was puffy; my skin was deep pink and had a weird rough texture. My eyes were droopy and set deep in my swollen face, hidden behind a deep layer of mucus.

I screamed and called for my dad, who was having a drink on the terrace. Jenny took one look at my face and said, "He's doing a Reenie." Fortunately, their friend Reenie was in the next room, so they asked her what she did whenever her face went like this.

"It's dehydration," she said. "When's the last time you had any water?"

I had been so busy, what with finding the room and taking the photos, I hadn't had time to stop for a drink. A couple of hours? All day? I had ignored my thirst, but now it was raging. I had to drink. Must have some water. Need some water. And thus, yes, I awoke. In London. With a raging thirst. But not a puffy face, thankfully.

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