Monday, 30 November 2009

Mustafa Kemal

One of the things Mausi found a bit astonishing in Ankara was the almost total absence of women with headscarves. There were some of course, but not nearly as much as Mausi had expected. The women in Ankara looked liked the ones in any other European Capital regarding clothes and hair styles. Thanks to their interpreter Mausi learnt a bit more about the history of modern Turkey.

After the Turks had unfortunately sided with the Germans in WW I they took a lot of punishment when the war was lost. Neighbouring states and also those from farther away like Britain occupied those parts of the country that had something to offer. Like oil wells in the south of Anatolia. Between 1919 and 1922 the occupants were driven out by force thanks to a young officer named Mustafa Kemal Pascha, who had been elected Head of the Great National Assembly in 1920. After the peace of Lausanne in 1923 he dismissed the Sultan and tried to transform Turkey into modern state of western European style. He wanted to turn Turkey into a Republic for his people, although he had to use dictatorial means to achieve this.

He abolished for example Arabic characters in books and newspapers and exchanged them for Latin ones. He abolished Islamic law and introduced laicism, the separation of religion and state. He was probaly too far ahead of his people in the 1920's because Mausi has a feeling that his ideas have not really rooted themselves firmly in the Turkish society. Sadly, he died in 1938 at the age of 57. Nonetheless he is still much admired and held in high esteem everywhere. One cannot walk through Ankara without seeing his portrait everywhere and his Mausoleum cannot be overlooked either.

The mausoleum and adjoining museums occupy one of the many hills in Ankara. From up there one probably has the best view over the whole city, in all directions. The museum contains several wax figures of the Kemal Ataturk (Father of all Turks) himself and every bit of his personal or state possession the museum people could get their hands on. It makes a very interesting collection indeed. Still, Mausi was not most impressed by the jewellery nor the porcelain or the state cars but by Kemal's library. There were books about philosophy, history, natural sciences, sociology and encyclopedias in several European languages.

Still, Mausi can't help the feeling that the pendulum is swinging back, despite the western looking women in Ankara. In the country it is quite a different matter and Laicism seems not to be that popular anymore. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next few years, especially as Turkey wants to become part of the European Union.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The "Traditional" House, Karsan

This house is built around seven courtyards. Built around 1600 in our calendar (This year is 1388 in the Shia Calendar), the house was the home of the family who controlled the road to Esfahan from Karsan Each courtyard had a function, the entrance one is the grand approach intended to impress visitors. It is flanked by two more, one on each side dedicated to trade and commerce. At right angles to these and to the central core of the house are two more, one for the women to relaxe and the other for the males to entertain their friends. Behind the house are still others which provide a kitchen garden and kitchen area surrounded by storerooms and accomodation for servants. The other provided space for the bath house and accomodation for minor members of the household. Wind towers channel cool air into the interior - Mark 2 airconditioning. Ducts and airpassages allow the air to circulate throughout the house and in winter wooden shutters can be closed in the towers and in the ducts to stop the flow of cold air and allow fires to heat the rooms. Not bad for 400 year old technology ...

The picture shows the facade that faces the Western courtyard. It is almost impossible to get a picture of the whole house as it is tightly surrounded by buildings. The "tower' is one of the six "wind towers" serving the structure. The central portion of this building is three storeys and a basement. The rooms are large, magnificently decorated and beautifully restored.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Fingarden Palace, Karsan

The well spring at Fingarden pours upward from the great cenral hole in this pool and in three others. The force of the water rising is tremendous and one can only marvel at the engineering feat that the taming of these springs represents. One marvels even more that it is still, after a little over 400 years, still functioning so beautifully.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Fingarden Palace

Built around 1580, this wonderful palace was a summer residence for the Shah and his court. It is laid out within high walls and has formal gardens cut by walkways and the pools, fountains and baths are fed by a natural spring. The detailed decoration on the ceilings and walls is best described as stunning and the state of preservation is a tribute both to the builders and to those who now care for it so lovingly. Located some 150 km South of Tehran it is on the outskirts of the City of Karsan.

The main part of the palace sits across the southern wall of the enclosure and the springs rise from the pools in front of it and beneath its wing pavilions. At this time there was nothing as splendid as this in Northern or Western Europe and even the Southern Europeans were not enjoying this degree of expertise except where they interacted with the craftsmen of the East.

The stunningly decorated vaulting of the eastern pool pavilion.

The interior of the large plunge pool in the Bath House of the complex. This has a number of rooms and includes a hot pool, a tepidarium, toilets (waterborne flush) changing rooms and a massage room. All courtiers were expected to bathe regularly, a marked contrast to European Courts of the time. James I of England (VI of Scotland) is reputed to have never done more than wipe his face and hands with a damp cloth.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Cyrus' Castle

Located above the town of Abyaneh, this castle was continuously occupied, extended and "modernised" for over two thousand years. It was fnally abandoned around 200 years ago.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Abyaneh Shrine

Exploring some history

Iran/Persia is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. It is also one of the oldest "nation states" with a history stretching back to around 1500 BC. Yes, it has seen invasions and conquerors, the last being the Seljuk Turks who brought Islam to the Persians, converting them from Zoroastrianism. Traditions die hard and some of their buildings and building techniques are still the same as they were when Xerxes invaded Greece or Alexander marched his conquering army across this landscape. Last Friday I had the interesting experience of visiting a town, once a city, founded before Cyrus the Great was born. That puts its founding at around 1000 BC. Abyaneh is a fascinating place, the buildings, all of them, constructed of mud and timber and literally clinging to a mountainside. Atop the mountain is the ruin of a castle built by Cyrus the Great and the town is home to a small Holy Shrine, the tomb of the son of one of the great Shia "Imams".

The pictures I wanted to include won't upload for some reason, but I'll keep posting them one at a time to show some of the streets, narrow winding alleys, paved with stone and having a central drain. The houses are all more than one storey, though some are no longer occupied. The ability to build these structures is still very much alive and well in this land of contrasts and proud people. I have also included pictures in the shrine and wish I could have taken some of the Great Mosque (It being Friday it was in use) which boasts what is probably an ancient Christian Altar table dated to pre-Islam and is certainly not Zoroastrian despite the signs!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


We have had a problem with our internet access for the last few days. Its back now, so posting on a regularly irregular basis may resume. Assuming there are no more disruptions to internet services at this end of the world.

Watch this space.

Friday, 20 November 2009

St Martin's summer

Germany is experiencing a spell of St Martin's summer at the moment, i.e. an unusually warm period at the end of autumn. It's been blue sky and warm sunshine all day where Mausi lives. Temperatures were about 15 degrees which made it quite pleasant to do some light gardening work. Yesterday they even had 20 degrees in Munich and people were taking sunbaths in November.

Legend has it that when the Roman officer Martin gave half his coat to the shivering beggar the snow storm suddenly stopped, the clouds vanished and the sun came out. Another story, though, says that when St Martin's coffin was shipped down the Loire the riverbanks suddenly turned green and plants burst into blossom. They certainly do in Mausi's garden: the snapdragons and roses are enjoying their fifth season...

Funny, when you think that what was regarded as a miracle at the time of St Martin's death nowadays is just seen as a meterological whim. Whatever, it's a nice spell before darkness and cold finally descend on us...

Thursday, 19 November 2009


The story of an elderly Australian motorist who managed to drive 370 miles after taking a wrong turn in New South Wales and wound up in Victoria near Geelong while out to buy a newspaper is amusing in one sense, espaecially as the old buffer has all his marbles and simply decided that, as he was lost, he might as well enjoy the drive.

If only one could say that of the State Opening of Parliament yesterday. If ever anyone was lost and without a GPS, roadmap or any other useful navigation tool it is Gordon Brown's government. Right from the farce of the Minister of Justice (formerly resident in the Lords and known as The Lord Chancellor) Jack Straw, tarted up in robes he obviously doesn't suit, through the rudeness and plain bad manners of the Commons parasites jabbering noisely in the lobby behind their respective "leaders" it was a pantomime. The "Queens Speech" lasted all of six minutes and contained nothing of any substance. In fact it was a classic example of Labour New Speak, nothing but hot air and vacuous slogans. Makes one wonder why the Queen bothered to get dressed for it and why the Lords even bothered to get out the vermin - sorry - ermine robes.

Lets face facts, this government lost its way after the first term, in fact probably during it. Their cronism and ideological claptrap is now come home to roost big time and as usual it is the tax payers who must foot the bills. The country is bust, the capital and underpinning wealth left during Blair's first term of office and it won't be coming back. So yesterday's little bit of panto is really just the admission that Gordo and his coterie of sycophants, ideologues and social inadequates are lost. No map, no compass and no GPS - and probably no clue as to how to use any of those aids to finding one's way.

I suppose we can hope that Blair or Brown gets elected as EU President. After all why should we be the only people to suffer under these morons ....

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Change in the weather

We are currently having torrential rain here in Tehran, but higher up the mountains behind us it is snowing. And now we have thunder and lightning as well. From the way the rain is slashing down I expect there will be some flooding in lower lying areas and some of the expressways.

The forecast says that we can expect the temperatures to afll dramatically overnight and the weather seems set to deteriorate from now onwards. If this is a foretaste, I think I'll bring out the wellies and the waterproofs.

Tomorrow our plan is to go shopping in the main Bazaar. Should be entertaining if nothing else, the Bazaar is an interesting place to say the least.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Relax - everything is under control ...

My colleague in Tehran has been helping some of our other colleagues with their course. I took the opportunity to see what they were up to in the fire boxes. Unlike the one's George and I use, there is no pretence of making them look like a room The object of the exercise is to show fire fighters how to control the heated gases which develop rapidly at ceiling level. It is also an opportunity to show them things like the "neutral"plane which is the lowest level to which superheated gas and smoke will settle inside a compartment. George, having lit the fires in preparation for the student exercise, was in playful mood as I tried to photograph the fire development. Note the absence of George in the second picture as the fire spreads across the ceiling in the smoke plume and the neutral plane begins to form - thats the thin layer of white-ish smoke you can see around half the height of the unit from the floor.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Fire training

We are hard at it on our third round of students for fire investigation. I took a number of pictures during our burns for their practical investigation exercises. I've been doing this for a little over ten years now - and it still surprises me. The fire has both a beauty and a darkness, it is one of our most useful and yet most destructive forces. I hope this picture make you think about your own safety from this threat.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


Mausi was lucky enought during her stay in Ankara that her work load still left a little bit of time for sightseeing. A touristic must certainly is the Citadel on one of the hills that are dispersed throughout Ankara.

Apparently the foundations were laid by the Romans and the Byzantines built onto them. Today it looks like a very small, fortified village, very much in the Western European tradition of the Middle Ages.

This was supposed to be place where court was held in Roman times. The defendant was stood in the pit with the court sat in the gallery above him. If he was found guilty the lions were let into the pit...

Anyways, the citadel is well worth a visit. The view from up there is splendid and it is good fun walking along on the top of the walls...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Civil Service parasites

My blood boiled today. I received a copy of a UK newspaper a day or so old. Yes, you've probably guessed. It was the headline coupled with the date that had me speechless with fury. The Civil Servants in the Ministry of Defence have been paid out £47 million pounds in bonuses for "efficiency"..........

OK, now I'm having to carefully control my heart rate, my blood pressure and take some serious anger management exercise. This bunch of insufferable incompetents have been awarded BONUSES? For EFFICIENCY? Do they seriously think the rest of us are blind, half-witted idiots? We have our soldiers and sailors on such low wages that they need to draw "Income Allowance" benefits from the Department of Social Security to keep their families in the basics. And the Mandarins in their comfy offices (Refurbished at the cost of a new Type 45 Destroyer!) award themselves bonuses that would have seen all our fighting services given a decent pay rise!

This same bunch of utter incompetents can't manage any contract on budget and on time - in fact the doubling of the cost of replacing the Trident system is entirely the fault of these incompetents, and the spiralling cost of the new aircraft carriers is down to the same bunch of morons. And they give themselves £47 million in bonuses for EFFICIENCY?

Its not just a disgrace. Its a full blown scandal and its time that other bunch of parasites in the Palace of Westminster stamped on them and cut the Civil Service down to size. Its long past time for the Civil Service to be slashed and reduced to a fraction of its size. But it won't happen anytime soon - the Westminster W*nk*rs are so deeply embroiled in this disgraceful theft of the Taxpayers money they can't afford to do anything about it.

OK, OK, I'm going to go and lie down for a bit.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Friday musings

It seems that there is the potential for a number of other jobs here in Tehran/Iran for the team currently engaged in training. Some of it will be quite intense if it is awarded to us and will involve a great deal of survey work for fire safety. While it is encouraging it is also a daunting prospect as there is more than just abricks and mortar/legislation thing to be achieved here. There is a whole cultural sea-change required.

For one thing this country has an unusual electrical supply system. Most countries use Three Phase Thre or Four Wire systems. That is, they have two "live" wires and one or two "neutral" wires with an "earth". The system here is Three Phase, Three wire - with all three wires being "live" and the "earth" acting as the "neutral". In essence this means many of the safety devices we use in Europe or the US simply don't work on this system. And then there is the approach to actually installing and installation or extending it. Spaghetti is the term that springs most readily to mind.

Stoarge practice, working practice even displays will all have to be addressed in the places it is proposed we advise on. And those are not simply a case of "show and tell" - this is going to be a battle for hearts and minds and to convince people that it is not the "Will of G-d" that fires happen or people die in them. They have done business this way for centuries, why change now? Just because some westerners tell you to? Not likely.

Coupled with that I'm not at all sure I really want to spend months at a time here dealing with this.

I think, as Fagan famously says, "I t'ink I better t'ink it out again!"

Thursday, 12 November 2009


Remembrance Day always brings out a sense of loss and of thankfulness for the sacrifice made on our behalf by so many in so many wars. It seems the human psyche is just incapable of learning from it all, we constantly find new excuses to be at each other's throats or at least our politicians do.

Peace is a relative thing, and it depends on being prepared to stand up for what you believe in and for what you believe to be right. Wras erupt when people are persuaded by their leaders, by media bias and by propaganda, that they are threatened by some other group. Sadly, nothing has changed in the thousands of years of human "civilisation" to change that.

As I recalled the sacrifice of so many lives yesterday, I also said a prayer for those who survived. They too were marked by their experiences and we should remember that.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Five to go ...

Only another five weeks and I'll be sat on the flight home for a short break. I must say, pleasant as the people are here, I miss having my own things around me and being able to set my own task ist daily.

And I miss Madam Paddy Cat.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Winter chills

This evening huge clouds appeared over the mountains here and then covered them. By the time we had fought our usual battle - or our driver had - through the traffic, it was evident that the mountains have a new layer of snow and the city has had a dump of rain. The wind is presently from the north east and is bringing the chill of the snow down to us.

The mountains look fabulous, the snow pristine and the stark rock strata stand out here and there. Lower down, the cooler air and the recent rain has brought the grass and shrubs to a late greeness, but the cooler air has trapped the smog. I guess you win some and you lose others. If I get a chance and a clear shot, I'll try for a picture of the new snow, but for now, we'll have to figure out how to deal with burning the scenes for our course if its snowing ...

Tomorrow is "Friday on Wednesday" and we can at least look forward to the weekend. It was suggested we go to the mountains earlier today for an outing on Thursday. Weather forecasts suggest it might not be an option!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Family enlargement ....

At the centre we are working in, there is a small collection of "feral" dogs. It is not customary for the Iranians to keep pets so we also have a collection of feral cats. Most of them seem to do quite well food-wise, but are very wary of people. The dog in the picture has recently welped, delivering eight puppies of her own and managing to keep another five from somewhere else as well. Between the feral cats and the feral dogs we hav to take care that none have taken up residence in any of our fire scenes when we fire them up.

The picture shows "mum" with a large part of her brood. Our students and the staff here regularly feed them on left-overs from their own meals and even ensure they have adequate water. It is, we are told, illegal to keep a dog or cat as a pet here since the revolution which probably explains the number of feral cats around our apartment block and the equally large number of dogs around the centre which is on the southernmost edge of Tehran and bordered by farmland.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Over the hump ...

We "celebrated" passing the midpoint in our stay here in Tehran yesterday. I meant to post something then about it, but, frankly, the day passed in a blur of work with our new course starting and today has been busy too. We have a new group of students and its tricky getting to know them, getting the characters identified and defining where the boundaries are.

But, starting yesterday we are counting down towards our return home for Christmas and a bit of our own homes. It will be a relief to be able to deal with a number of things at home and to have my own things around me for a while. Even just to be able to walk to town and the shops and be able to speak to the shop assistant/keepr without the need of an interpreter. As I have several times stated, the Iranians are friendly, hospitable people. Their culture is an ancient one, though their religion is younger than mine, it is based on Gnosticism and much of their Holy Book is taken from Gnostic texts rejected by the Councils of Nicea and Trent in the 300's. For the record, it is the year 1388 (1423 in Sunni calendars) here and Islam is roughly where the Catholic Church was in the equivalent period in the Christian calendar.

OK, so I'm rambling. Its been a long day. 'Nuff said.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Palace views

The last Shah's palace stands lower down the hill than the Green Palace and is known as the Whiet Palace. This huge Parthian Archers stands at the entrance to the building which is on a more monumental scale than the older Green Palace. The entrance hall is vast, designed to impress, and occupies the central volume of the building. The Waiting Room is equally monumental and occupies one side of the front facade. The photograph shows about two thirds of the room and its furnishings which are, of course, French, 18th Century and lavish. Adjoining this is a small formal dining room for twenty people and next to that, toward the rear of the "public" half of the building, is the Shah's Office. This, again, is on a generous scale, but not as generous as some I have seen.And that concludes the Ground Floor for the moment!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A bit of history

Today we visited the former Shah's Palace in North Tehran. It stands in extensive grounds and is, in fact six or seven "palaces". It is now home to several museums all open to the public on payment of a small fee. From the entrance gate it is quite a steep climb up the roads to the Green Palace, the facade of which is shown in the first picture here. It is called the Green Palace as the stone used to build it in 1922 for Reza Shah (the last Shah's father) has a greenish tinge.
Inside is something else, the main reception hall is entirely covered in small mirror tiles and silver. The effect is amazing a can be seen from the picture here. The "palace" is quite small but is decorated in a lavish style. The rooms are grandly proportioned and the decorations include silk wall coverings, damask of course, original oil paintings from France and the UK of 18th and 19th Century vintage - in the "small" dining room I think I saw two Constables on the walls (see the picture) - and the furniture is French Empire period with some 18th Century as well. The Shah's bedroom is, like the reception room, decorated with silver and the mirror tiles. Hell to sleep in I should think.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Time flies when you're having ..... Fun?

First, apologies for the hiatus in posting, I do try to post everyday, but the last couple have been hectic. And last night we had a spectacular storm, lightning, lashing rain, hail, wind to rattle the building - the lot. Even a local lightning strike which knocked out phones and some TV channels - mind you, that last is always difficult to gauge. It may have been turned off deliberately.

Anyway, today we celevrate the half way stage in our sojourn, six weeks down, six to go and then we can come home for three weeks before returning for the final eight week haul.

Today dawned bright and clear after our "dark and stormy night" and, as you can see from the photograph taken at 07.30 from the Expressway junction immediately in front of our apartment (Its actually behind the building with the sail-like feature adorning its facade) the mountains now have avout a metre of snow down to around the 2,000 metre level and a dusting below that. Yup, its definitely cooling down around here.

The whole range that runs Eastward from Tehran is covered in a blanket of snow and we are told that the area North of the mountains themselves is under a metre to a metre and a half of snow already. Anyway, we're reasonably comfortable in our flat, a bit restricted as we are remote from anywhere we could wander round to have a look at, but tomorrow we have an outing to the former Shah's Palace, now a museum, to look forward to. And lunch, at The Blue Duck, possibly Tehran's best eatery.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints, the living, the departed and those yet to be. All Christians are called to be "saints", in the Celtic Church sense a "sain" is anyone who lives a Christian life and it is a distinction I like. Every Christian has a ministry to those around them and we should remind ourselves of this regularly.

Today has seemed rather strange, a major feast day and I am not able to keep it properly. Still, I have managed to find some quiet time to remember those saints I knew and who are no longer with us. May the all rest in peace and rise in glory.