Tuesday, 1 December 2015

1915 a scandal in Lusitania


exploding butter balls cried Sherlock Holmes
shaking out his gamp i'the vestibule
weather's filthy & thunder's hardly ceased
this seven days yet mingled with the sad
retort of guns from France there never raged
such dirty work abroad as here in port

good gracious man said I where have you been
to summon up that storm of metaphors

from supping with young Winston in The Strand
a Pinkerton to hand then all night long
perusing naval documents for proof
our famous commodore of Cunard line
deliberately sailed the Lusitania
across the sights of a German submarine

my flatmate’s beaten brows belied the truth
had stirred him more than Churchill's Sea-Lord wrath

good Captain Turner's no less loyal than
you I or any man of Blenheim mould
while butter has not melted in his mouth
it plain exploded i'the liner's hold


I should insert a portrait of the ship
now shallow bosomed on the ocean bed

conceived as microcosm of the Raj
her classes watering in strict compart
meant all aboard were sealed their letters marqued
for booty by the German High Command
though few who joined the liner at New York
believed the word she carried contraband
would make them fodder for the U-boats' jaws

still less would claim the Hun then justified
to sink our merchant navy's joy & pride
since Belgian massacres were of a kind
the question eating at the public's mind
not just what beasts they were to break such laws
but how so many passengers had died

when Sherlock Holmes was urged to take the case
I cried 'twas scarcely worth the candle wax
to answer queries scurrilously asked
since days when legions at a Caesar's word
would raze a city-state by torch & sword
had hunting leopards traded in their spots
to covet fleeces of escaping goats

but Churchill called in war and vainly Holmes
like Lusitania was easily lured


his pipe relit and legs stretched forth the sleuth
reprised the charges laid on Turner's head

commissioned commodore this mariner
is majesty's & merchant's man at once
serves Mammon & the Admiralty both
though neither master wears the cap aboard
supreme at sea our captain struts the bridge

his judgement overrules such orders as
endanger ship & cargo all who sail
make up his charge plus he must save the souls
of friend or foe imperilled by the waves

three times has Thomas Turner won awards
for daring rescues made in heaving storms

there's scarce a blemish on this common man
not fussed to grace a Captain's table though
as far as bravery and science go
the fellow's number one amongst his clan

I couldn't help from quipping at such praise
they like a skip who goes down with his ship

yet Holmes was ready for that heckler's jibe
they hate his guts because he dared survive


the fire glowed the tea was served we felt
secure in London town removed from storms
in France where shrapnel fell like rain on men
who ducked and died a thousand times each day

refreshed my friend resumed his peroration
what Winston told the chap from Pinkerton's
is not for me to say Americans
trust neither French nor Hun and Englishmen
they know too well tell fibs when it suits 'em

in Churchill's view the news is proof enough
to disobey commands jump overboard
with secret documents and save himself
the skipper breached his oath and shares the guilt
of those who launched torpedoes at the ship

court martial him he raged just find what grounds
you can old England's standing needs a quick
response pour encourager les autres
the sea lord quoth in schoolboy accent French


now Holmes is seldom one to dramatise
that's your department Watson he declares
the facts the facts and just the facts are all
we need to prosecute a criminal

but then he dropped his voice to whisper words
no living soul shall ever hear bar mine
this story mustn't go beyond these walls
a hundred years from now perhaps won't do
to hide the shame of Admiralty crime

I pledged to seal the truth from public gaze
post dating publication ten decades
so on he went his eyes with morphia glazed

the records show but one torpedo struck
yet two explosions tore the hull apart
in less than twenty minutes sank the ship
so loss of life was due to speed and list
as insufficient lifeboats could be launched

still phased I failed to see what Holmes had found
a-new and trotted out the party line
the U-Boat hit her coal a lucky shot

not so the nearest bunkers lay to aft
midships of where the sole torpedo struck

yet still I couldn't twig how it was rigged
so then what caused the death blow of the ship

some ninety tons of butter margarine
and lard in unrefrigerated store


his monogram upon tobacco ash
so often quoted in the monthly press
shows Holmes has played the alchemist from time
to time indeed i'the days of his youth
he studied under Faraday no less

but this idea that lactic acid turned
by force of sudden heat to acetone
which more inflammable than household gas
ignited by the same torpedo blast
at best struck me as crazed at worst as crass

oh Watson must you play the clever ass
cried Holmes what use is rancid butter eh

indeed and ninety tons of it you say

without so much as chilled for seven days
at sea what's more then bound for the Navy's
Experimental Weapons factory

search me I scratched my head complacently
while Holmes blew rings of smoke a-hemmed then droned

all cargoes bound for ordnance facilities
are coded butter dripping and margarine
for marge read cordite lard is TNT
while butter stands for nitroglycerin


oh no great Scott I groaned this cannot be
the Lusitania carried contraband
which Cruiser Rules specifically banned
impossible for British hearts to know

so royally played the Navy with the lives
of children nannies concubines & wives
and not forgetting sailors' widows their
faces twitching lace in basement windows
have we not had enough of broken homes

now we've sunk as rank and low as Kaiser
Bill a-smiling under his linden tree
outwitted in port and outcast at sea
accusing Captain Turner of treason
while he no doubt is sworn to secrecy
the scandal's as deep as any ocean

so Holmes and I now partners to the crime
the seven percent solution of which
is take each other arm in arm and shoot
ourselves into the next millennium

©Philip Lee 2015
1915 a scandal in Lusitania
Never Sink!

Monday, 2 November 2015

game of stones*

block & tackle
blokes & tackle

hear Philip Lee read
"game of stones"
on YouTube


game of stones

thy mouldering shrines removed

By British hands, which it had best behoved

To guard
- Byron, “Childe Harold”, Canto II.

say what you doing in London
Godot at the Criterion
Superman at the Odeon
an actor's life eh all who what
when where how long the feeble plot
to settle in then off you trot
no job for Thespian is carved in stone
on the South Bank one false step & you're gawn

I hear that Kevin Spacey plans
to take over at the National
nothing but a bag of marbles
to him he's got the bloody Gaul
still summer's due the festival
season a fortnight's day release
of shifting scenery for strutting fools
in stand-up tragedies from drama schools

so Tuesday lunchtime still at home
in breaking news the telephone
is hanging off the kitchen wall
the agent of my dreams has called
to offer me a vindaloo
down The Cut behind Waterloo
can't help hoping this is it the Old Vic
Dynamo Kev has dived & broke his neck

I'm hardly joking there of course
would sooner end up on my arse
driving a bus or horse-drawn hearse
than shun some other player's purse
with actors honour it's a farce
they'd do their mums with deadly force
to chant two poxy lines on a chorus
never trust us as dreamboats we're porous

at the café I play it cool
order before asking what's new
talk pork pies through mouthfuls of food
we actors know how to be rude
& feigning hungry's no big do
when all you've had for weeks is gruel
to which the hennaed one leans on elbows
points riveting eyes out of the windows

yes careless when I'm good & fed
I size things up like what's next bed
bit early she's shaking her head
so out we trot to smoke the weed
drink pavement coffees I don't need
& then she shows her hand now read
'fraid I can't offer you the Dominion
but have you played the British Museum

well here's a potty history less
on the subject of temple thieves
than a saga of derring don'ts
it's Lord Elgin's tour with the stones
from swiping them under the eaves
to losing them in a tempest
of Britons that toff was not our finest
strike me who's producing this Rudolph Hess

the play if I may call it so
is a more a series of tableaux
where visitors prepared to queue
will pass along the hall & view
enacted scenes of peace & war
in which Lord Elgin breaks no law
but saves the marble effigies from harm
a loyal view that chokes me with its charm

I say Lord Byron bless his socks
summed up the peer who snatched those rocks
cursing the hour the wastrel Jock
bribed their keepers then swung from block
& tackle rope & ox in yoke
to load a British heart of oak
with half the panoply of ancient Gods
carved by Phidias & his sculptor bods

she turns & looks at me askance
how is it that a proper dunce
like you a poxy mime can trounce
poor Elgin's ghost in tuppence rhymes
don't you go looking up those stones
no reading between given lines
she curses the world & questions the times
you'd think 'twas me had done the dirty crime

aren't you keen to earn some money
two shows a day your evenings off
play the world's greatest gallery
she twists me round her little stiff
after this you'll be on telly
Downton Abbey the sky's your roof
she's got a point there knows her stuff gawd 'strewth
but can't an actor have a conscience Ruth

look Phil she says you fit the bill
tall & thick with a turned up nose
the accent I'm supposing will
be Lowland Scots with half a dose
of Scarlet Pimpernel I'll kill
you if you turn this down & Rose
referring to her cunning friend below
will never ever see again her Joe

oh no not that she's got me there
who else but Ruth would brave my lair
who else admire this thinning hair
but think of Stravros what of Saph
oh would my Elgin make them laugh
or would they deem it simply naff
that I should play a character so far
removed from all the boy's ever stood for

Ruth takes another swipe at me
probing my face with fiery eyes
I turn away in fear she'll see
the brittle bones my cheeks disguise
I'd turn to stone as soon as be
the villain of her enterprise
& since she's staring at these knocking knees
I do affect a kind of wobbly freeze

& then a smile breaks up her mouth
the fair Medusa's wicked pout
she's had a second thought no doubt
I wait a moment catch my breath
you never know with Ruth it's life
or death she'll choose like old Queen Beth
to have your head brought in on a platter
or guide your teeth to the royal garter

dead right she says those Greeks deserve
some bod to speak on their behalf
you mentioned Byron now a perv
like him should make it half'n'half
I'll call the writer who's a lurve
the number's tattooed on my calf
just be a darling & pass the Prada
an old pal of yours he went to RADA1

so this one's for Stavros & Saph
oh in hopes they get the end laugh
I'm playing Lord Byron at last
& chasing a girl in the cast
if our producer's told the truth
or the good fairy's found my tooth
in a year we'll have transferred to Athens
toodle-pip till I tell you what happens

1. the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England

Lord Elgin's Tour with The Stones
Lord Elgin's Tour with The Stones
*Ekphrastik note: Although not strictly an ekphrastik piece, the structure of "game of stones" with its 17 verses of 8 lines each represents the 17x8 columns of the Parthenon in Athens, from which Lord Elgin took the stones.

Sock Puppeteer

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Postcards from Kos & Lesbos

Bodrum 2015

Freedom via Greece and Turkey

Them & Us

IN THRALL to Greece, and living near Turkey's Aegean coast, this year we visit Kos and Lesbos. From our home in Bursa, we can reach several Greek & Turkish islands by car and ferryboat. We are two adults and two children and dab hands at finding out-of-the-way, self-catering pensions, friendly people, wonderful food and drink, we take foreign holidays without breaking the bank. I'm a British teacher of English and Solmaz, my partner, is a veterinary. One of the kids is studying to become a vet, while the other's in middle school. I write stories and verses as a hobby, mainly posting them on my blog. This year, much of my writing has been preoccupied with ISIS and the refugee situation. By the way,  Turkey has been full of Syrians for some time now – they have brought us falafel! We visit Kos and Lesbos this year expecting to see more of our Arab friends.
In fact, there have always been networks of Arabs in Turkey - alongside the Kurds, Armenians, Georgians and others. Nowadays, many of our ethnic Arab friends are more-or-less assimilated and may not use Arabic in their everyday lives. Though they don't have anything like the number of Kurds, much of their culture persists. Urfa, the home of Arabesque music, looks as much like an Arab city as a Turkish one. And in Mardin we met Süryanis, a small group of Christians whose bible - written in Arabic script - resembles the Koran. During Ottoman times, there were also Turks who lived in Arab lands, some of whom have returned to the mother country. One of our close friends, for instance, is an Iraqi Turk whose family still live in Kerkük. In this part of the world your identity will have ties beyond nationality: there is ethnicity, language, religion and feudal allegiance. In my view, it's the breakdown of feudal networks that pushes people out of their jobs & homes.
Every summer, families of Arabs from the nearest parts of the Middle East would come to Bursa on grand shopping and sightseeing expeditions. They rented apartments on Altıparmak and could be seen and heard on the streets and in the covered market. Nowadays, Syrians come to Turkey in their millions to escape the civil war. But a small proportion of them have no intention of staying here, they merely pass through this country en route for Europe..


Kos is the island British newsrag The Daily Mail slags off for being spoilt by Syrian and other refugees. Although this June, when we arrive at Kos Town harbour there are no refugees in sight. Nor do we see queues as we drive past the waterfront Police Station. Either local officials have got them all out of the way, or the numbers have temporarily gone down. Anyway, late June is the height of the debt crisis and the Greeks have other matters on their minds. Our landlord tells us the island's economic problems are made worse by the European Union's dismantling of their old subsistence economy: they have no crops or animals to fall back on. Also, many villagers having emigrated to the USA or Australia, their homes are left derelict and the fields empty. Kos has been denuded by one exodus only to be swamped by another. So where are those scenes from the Daily Mail photographs?
On the afternoon of Day One, we manage a visit to the beach at Lambi for our first swim of the hols. News of that morning's shootings of British tourists in Tunisia has broken and I can feel the tension as the tourists sit on their loungers, drinking beers and frappés, staring across the sea towards Turkey. Solmaz says I am being paranoid. The trees behind the beach are littered with punctured inflatables and discarded life jackets. Incredibly, none of the little boats that hit the beach carry either refugees or jihadis. Up to then, there have been no fatalities on the beaches of the South Aegean dramatic enough to make the headlines - like the death of Alan Kurdi will do in September.
The weather, as June turns to July, is unsettled - which might have deterred crossing attempts for a while. Certainly, our time on the beaches of Kos is not as idyllic as the day trip we took here a few years ago. Though we have glorious sunshine for the duration, no matter which side of the island we drive to, there are strong breezes and high waves that make swimming a little too much effort. After ten days, we come home to Turkey feeling we haven't had our fill of the sea. So, for the end of August we book an extra week - this time on Lesbos, an island much closer to us. Meanwhile, the weather throughout the region simmers up to the sultry sultry high summer calm: temperatures in the mid 30s and only light winds. We leave Bursa again on August 22nd, fingers crossed the hot dry spell will last till the end of the month.

Turgut Reis

Before I go on to describe the scenes on Lesbos, here's a bit of back-story. My first sight of people smuggling from Turkey to the Greek islands was the summer of 2011. We were holidaying at Turgut Reis on the Bodrum peninsular – a stone's throw from Kos. About seven-thirty one morning I had gone down to the town's quayside looking for fish to buy. There's a slab of marble at the pier head, where the small fishing boat owners sell those parts of their catch they don't want for themselves. On the near side of the pier is a fenced off area where the Coast Guard boat ties up. Well, I'd had no luck with the fishermen, another guy having bid for the only lot on offer - a half-cannibalised tray of mixed bream and mullet – and I was about to head back to the place we were staying at. That was when the Coast Guard boat came in with a yacht on tow.
The arrival of the cutter created a small stir among the folk wandering about at that time in the morning. It was not by any means an ungodly hour, for Turgut Reis isn't rowdy like its neighbour Bodrum Town, where you get overnight revellers mixing with the early-to-work crowd. Here there were just a few tourist joggers, street gleaners and oddball characters like me. We moved forward to the fence and watched as the yacht was brought alongside. A couple of Coast Guard tars were on deck and at first I thought we were witnessing the recovery of a rich man's plaything that had gone adrift.
Once the boat was tied up, a hatch opened and people started to squeeze through. It was a yacht of around thirty feet, big enough for four berths - six at a pinch; but out through its hatch climbed such a procession of assorted men, women and children it was hard to fathom how they had all managed to get in. The men were mainly young - some not all that - while the women were covered. Of the half dozen children, two or three were little more than babes in arms. The people were either black or dark-skinned, African or Arab, apart from a couple of young Turks who must have been the crew. The latter had been cuffed and were led ashore by sailors of the Coast Guard. The whole group – not less than forty – filed across the quay to a grey-blue Jandarma bus. From there, military police with their side arms out took charge of them.
It was a real life example of what's called a 'doleful sight'. Clutching their possessions in small ruck sacks, plastic carriers or light bin-bags, the folk looked about them with a gloomy air. Their welcome to Turkey must have felt the very opposite from that of the tourists you see trooping off luxury yachts for a weekend in the fleshpots of Halicarnassus. And this was a costly business for most of those involved. The people, who had already travelled thousands of kilometres, would have paid handsomely for the cramped and dangerous crossing to Kos. Plus, if due procedure were followed, the yacht owner would have been fined heavily; while the fall guys in the crew would have gone to gaol. This was the rather amateurish precursor to the recent wave of people smuggling to Europe via Turkey and Greece.

The People Smugglers

Nowadays many illegal crossings to the Greek islands are done in slick operations that maximise the numbers of people smuggled while minimising the costs and risks to the smugglers. A dozen Greek islands lie within sight of the Turkish mainland. The gangs assemble inflatable dinghies from secluded beaches on the Anatolian side. The travellers are then left to steer the outboard motorised craft across to the beaches of Lesbos, Chios, Kos or Leros. In broad daylight, weather permitting, the launches are timed to avoid patrolling Turkish coastguard boats and take as little as twenty or thirty minutes to complete. The sight of the people arriving – often to chants of “Allah-u-Ekber!” - is startling to holidaymakers, who stare in shock and wonder, or film the events on their mobile phones. But if they think what they are witnessing with their own eyes to be significant in the course of human affairs, they are wrong. These individual events have become so common, they are special only to the individual passengers.
Not all people smuggling operations are organised to the standards of the Turkish public transport system, which is market-driven and usually quite efficient - if nail-biting. Anyone who has spent time in Turkey will warn you of üçkağıtçılar (sharks – literally, 'three card tricksters') and geri zekâlılar (idiots). The former will take your money and disappear, while the latter cut so many corners and take so many risks their success rate is dismal. Added to these are the migrants who take things into their own hands, some with disastrous results. Failures hit the headlines, with dozens drowning at a time; while four or five hundred cross each day to Kos or Lesbos stirring up nothing more than joy for them and their anxious relatives.


On August 22nd, then, we board the ferry boat from Ayvalık, in North West Turkey, to Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos. The car ferry is slow, taking around two hours. Chaos awaits us at the port as the Greek immigration and customs struggle to cope with around a thousand holidaymakers disembarking from three boats that arrive around the same time. But before we dock, we have our first sight of chaos on a bigger, human scale: the tents of the people camped out on the longshore next to the ferry terminal. These folk - migrants, refugees, <Boat> People whatever we choose to call them - have entered Greece illegally. The queue for legal entry – via Passport Control - curls round a huge pile of discarded life-jackets and inflatable dinghies. Most of the tourists – Turks with the Special Green passports (only issued to trusted civil servants) - have to wait over an hour in 35˚C while their right to entry is checked. Many of them are day trippers with only four hours left to explore Mytilini before the long trip back to Ayvalık.
The first sight of Greece the tourists have is of hundreds of non-tourists, resting in the shade of doorways, or patronising the coffee shops and eateries of Mytilini Port. It has taken us so long to clear Passport Control and Customs, we decide to have a snack in a favourite quayside cafe before resuming the journey to Petra (60 kilometres away) on the far side of the island. Leaving the car at the terminal and walking round the harbour, we see shipping offices full of people clamouring to buy boat tickets for Athens. The harbour front seems rather less swank than on our last visit two years ago, as though it had given over to a clientèle with lower expectations of service and less spending power. But it isn't until we got on the road that we see the true scale of the problem for the local authorities.
Dozens of groups of people are streaming back and forth along the coast road to Lidl, the supermarket we always visit to stock up at the start of our holidays - it's a couple of kilometres south of Mytilini Town. There is a camp on some waste ground right next to the store. That makes sense, as Lidl is a budget store. There is another, much bigger, camp near the village of Moria - a few kilometres inland. From here on, all the way to Petra, we see groups of mainly young men, also young women, children and some whole family groups, walking in the 35˚C afternoon heat. Our consciences are pricked many times to stop, but we are driving in the opposite direction; and anyway, what can we do? It seems polite just not to show too much interest.
Plus, they look so cheerful, even those who have already walked 30 or 40 kilometres. On the mountain pass between Kalloni and Petra, about 250 metres above the sea, there's a roadside drinking fountain. As we pass it, a large group of walkers have stopped for a rest and are posing for photographs. At this point, we burst out laughing. What is the big difference, then, between them and us?
Well, the car is pretty much loaded down with our stuff: cases, folding chairs & sunshade, kilims and picnic gear; and many of these folk are hauling twenty or thirty kilo rucksacks. One guy with his rucksack on a little trolley pulls it along with ropes . Yet there are plenty of others who have next to nothing. Wearing shorts, a t-shirt, flip-flops and clutching a mobile phone they are walking across a foreign country into their futures. And smiling. They are so unburdened, it is like they are out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Over the next week we witness many scenes that query our understanding of the situation. On the beach at Kagia, across from the Turkish resort of Assos (11 kilometres away, as the crow flies), we see two boats come ashore, each carrying forty adults plus a few children. It is late in the afternoon and the Turkish coastguard cutter, which had been anchored on the far side of the straits since the morning, has turned and headed back towards Ayvalık. The arrival of the first inflatable is rather sudden, as it comes from behind the small tree-covered promontory that lies between Kagia beach and the fishing port of Skala Sikaminia. Why have they not headed directly into the safety of a port? They could tie up alongside the quay and disembark without getting wet. The second boat comes directly in from the sea, again avoiding the port. Perhaps because they have been told not to go into any harbours. But again, why?
The occupants of the two boats are in a proportion by now familiar to us: three-quarters are young men, four or five young women, and the numbers made up by a family group or two. Going by their faces, they are mostly Arabs, with a few Afghans and South East Asians. One man with wife & children cries out – in good Turkish - for water, which we give. And then for towels, which we do not. Panicking, he has thrown his children out of the boat onto the beach and they are wet. They will soon dry in the heat. Solmaz is distressed to hear the Turkish voices. But the kids look excited and not at all disoriented by their situation or their father's lack of cool. Everyone else is smiling and unwrapping their phones from the improvised waterproof covers. The young men are slapping each other on the back, pleased to have made it.
A moped pulled up as soon as the boats hit the beach, followed by a quad bike and a pick-up. Local men take the inflatables in hand, removing their outboard motors and spare fuel tanks. They also salvage the stiff deck panels before slashing the boats to render them unseaworthy. While the new arrivals are trooping off along the road towards Skala Sikaminia, the locals load the motors and panels onto the pick-up. When Solmaz asks one of these men what will happen to them, she gets no answer. As we are finished with the beach, we begin to carry our things to the car. Just then, a gate into a field behind the beach is unlocked. The panels are stacked in there, and the motors driven off.
Finally leaving the beach, we pass the local team again. They have lined up and are having their photo taken with high-fives. I notice the guys from the pick up are wearing black waterproof jackets with dayglo yellow patches, making them look like members of an official search and rescue outfit. Cornish wreckers more like, characters out of Poldark.
We decide to drive into Skala Sikaminia for ice creams before heading back to Petra. The last of the new arrivals are walking that way too. But in the port there are far more than the eighty or so folk we saw coming ashore, which means more boats must have come into the beaches on the west side. There is a drinking fountain in the picturesque little port and a couple of volunteers, who are telling the arrivals what they must do. We speak to one of these, a woman with good English. I don't ask where she is from, but her accent is not Greek. She tells us they are directing the people to walk up to Sikaminia village, about 5 kilometres and 300 metres above the port by a steep winding road. From there buses will take them to Mytilini Town. I remember the junction she is referring to. We passed it two days before on a trip to Skala Tsonia. A bend in the road swings under a grove of tall trees, where a huge pile of discarded life jackets, clothing and other personal items were dumped. I am puzzled. If there are buses to take people, why are so many walking the 50 kilometres? Many of the walkers have Euros to spend. Some have bought ice creams.
We drive back on the coast road towards Eftalou, along the eight or nine kilometres of pebble beaches we passed on our way in. This area had already been littered with huge quantities of slashed boats and discarded life jackets. Going on, we see a Toyota pick-up parked on a small promontory overhanging the beach. The wind is stronger now and waves are picking up. Two guys are leaning over the bonnet, one of them staring out to sea through binoculars. They look somewhat dejected. It is hard not to assume that the other team have beaten them to the afternoon's spoils: four or five brand new Yamaha/Mercury outboard motors, each worth about a thousand euros.
Bouncing along in the car (the road here is unmetalled) we get into a rap about the oversupply of outboards on Lesbos versus the spike in demand across the straits in Turkey. I wonder if any of these motors will find their way back, via Greek and Turkish fishing boats hooking up at night, but I am told to keep my imagination under control. More of this type of speculation is soon to follow.
On the last couple of kilometres, the road turns inland and climbs behind a promontory to run out of sight of the island's unofficial nudist beach. I joke about what the migrants would see if their boats landed here. From previous visits, we know the place is popular with gay and lesbian folk. Of course, most of the migrants come from strict Muslim societies, so anyone cheeky with a camera could snap a sight or two here. Anyhow, my imagination is slapped down again.
The weather has turned. What was a lovely calm day, the sea a hazy blue, is rapidly becoming a grey squall. By the time we get to the hot springs at Eftalou, the waves have risen to over half a metre. We stop and look in at the old Turkish-style hamam. The place is closed – it's about seven pm - but we only want to peek inside. The caretaker is surprisingly rude and unfriendly. Greeks are usually so welcoming to all, paying customers and the just-curious. As we leave Eftalou, the heads of a few brave bathers are bobbing up and down like corks. Any inflatable overloaded with forty-plus people would be in serious trouble trying to cross.

A Few of the People

The next day, we speak to a young Syrian guy who tells us he's headed for Sweden, where he will resume his studies. He is light-hearted and lightly equipped considering how far he has to go by land: a small rucksack and his mobile phone are all he has. He and his friends have come via a short stopover in Istanbul, paying the Turks 1,100 euros each. They were brought 300 kilometres in a windowless van, so they had no idea where they were until they set foot on the shingle. Presumably it was somewhere near the Sivrice lighthouse, which is only 9 kilometres across the straits from the nudist beach of Eftalou – the narrowest crossing. Forty of them had bundled into the inflatable dinghy, the motor started, they were pointed in the best direction, then left to steer the boat themselves.
If that seems like a poor service, given the risks and the amount they paid, they are not complaining. He is one of four or five hundred who have made it onto European soil this afternoon, believing the hardest part of their journey is over. It's not part of our story, but ahead of him lies a route that dodges in and out of the European Union (of which countries such as Serbia and Norway are not members) in order to cross the borders without the Schengen Visa non-Europeans need. This means more illegal entries, more illicit payments, more dangers. The trip from Turkey to Greece, then, may turn out to have been the easiest part.
Alan Kurdi, his mother and brother, died because in the wrong hands they got into the wrong boat. People smugglers may be organised criminals, but they are also in business - and failure is bad for the trade. Word travels fast in the age of the mobile phone. The first thing people do when they reach the shore is to unwrap their phones and call or message their family and friends. And as I said above, anyone who has lived in Turkey for a while should have a pretty good idea of who to trust. After fleeing Syria, the Kurdis had lived here for most of little Alan's life. I'm sorry to say it, but his father should have known better than to put his family on that boat. But desperate times will always throw up desperate people. On the one hand, those like the poor Kurdis who have nowhere left to turn; and on the other, those who will say or do anything to make a fast buck.
On the road either side of Mandramanos we see two groups of women walking to Mytilini. The first lot are covered and have children walking with them. Solmaz is angry at seeing their scarf-covered heads and conservative clothes. What do they want from Europe? To her, such dress means only one thing: religion. Isn't Turkey good enough for them? Solmaz is part of the generation who fought for the right to wear trousers at work, and who argued against women civil servants covering their heads. Turkey has become more conservative in recent years, but women can still enjoy the freedoms opened up by Ataturk's revolution, and there are still many progressive forces at work in Turkey. But if these covered women want their children to grow up in a conservative Muslim environment, why have they left Turkey?
Next off we see a group of women dressed just like young Westerners on holiday, sunning their bare heads, arms and legs. They can't be tourists because the road here is far from any beaches or sights. They can only be people walking into a new life. They look happy, carefree, just like people on their hols.
I can't help wondering what kind of society has the cream of its youth walk away like that. And what kind of society wouldn't welcome them in?

Volunteers from Britain

no penny for the guy


hollow men may they make it as toast
fail the acid test but guess the rest
find god on a road to nowhere fast

suddenly their future is our past
all dressed up they are bullet proof blessed
least of people turned into the most

driven they learn murder are promised
virgins for every heathen silenced
fame on earth in heaven a palace

sup from manna's enchanted chalice
kill the unprotected unwitnessed
god's chosen morphed into accomplished

human beings finally & yet
pilots of drones seek & take them out
joystick geeks top the inadequate


all of twenty years ago I thought
find out how a fellow traveller's course
led him to the Spanish war Mum's coz

young & working class Sean Redmond was
quick to join the international force
raised to help the Republic he fought

fascism which was then taking root
everywhere in Europe like its curse
Liverpool stood there at the forefront

Vee's cousin was never to return
one of twenty-four brave lads we lost
dying on those foreign fields retreat

yes but not surrender Spain collapsed
slowly the world understood the cost
Franco lived on Hitler was caught out


why not socialism when Islam
Christianity & other spam
clutter up my inbox creeds are sham

mumbo jumbo ain't worth fighting for
she-devils orcs gods or elves may war
up & down the universe for sure

home on earth let's face it humankind
must admit the precious things to mind
wildlife children seas & woods not blind

faith in keeping wealthy people safe
greedy harvesters who never gave
caliphates for horses hold them babe

human rights are not divine there's no
better way to divvy up the dough
than fair shares for all & Sundays off


whether shooting people on a beach
having them drown as they try to reach
one or dressing in mufti to preach

hatred misguided men some young girls
even mothers & children in arms
flock to join this backward looking cause

Spain was controversial in its day
many an old soldier had to say
don't take sides in civil disarray

granted some that went were on the edge
homeless jobless even under-aged
women joined whoever felt obliged

Mum's cousin was a qualified man
union member scion of his clan
Liverpool Irish no desperate Dan


Palestine isn't Spain don't accuse
European guilt or US views
worst of all's to blame this war on Jews

when oil & gold exchanges fuel hate
secret protocols sub state to state
govern people's lives while human fate

how we live depends on who we are
killers out to rob some folk next door
or neighbours ready to care & share

time Muslims & Christians socialised
godless creedless not headless devised
how to struggle side by side advised

children not to bear the stranger grudge
kill a human from an abstract urge
die for nothing more than it is huge

(Kos, June-July 2015)

blood moon edict

Sock Puppeteer
Don't Shoot!