Ataturk airport is enormous and pleasing. As an international hub it feels reassuringly messy and Turkish and human. It’s nearlymidnight, not that time has much meaning in these non-places. There’s plenty going on.

I write this from a bar having just queued behind an Uzbekistani guy spending 147 euros on bulk pack m&ms and Turkish delight at duty free. My single box of baklava (a traditional British gift) seemed apologetic by comparison.

Elsewhere, all was sleepy chaos. There were a bunch of indeterminate holy women in white robes sat cross legged on the floor awaiting their connection, while a sports team in the international red and white of Turkey power walked up and down the corridors, determinedly lost or in training. I popped to the bathroom. White clad monks were washing their feet in the sinks.

As I nibble on my nuts and sup my Efes (it’s just like being back in Hackney), I want to write about the woman I sat next to on the flight from London.

I assumed she was Turkish. She was around sixty, and was impeccably turned out in the manner I’m familiar with for a certain kind of high class lady of a certain age. She smiled at me as I helped her designer handbag into the overhead locker, before settling in. She looked like the sort of person who would order a G&T.

She ordered a G&T.

We took off, it was terrifying. I read, slept, read, ate, played mario kart, listened to hyperballad, slept. Bjork, Luigi, a murder on the Norfolk broads in the 1930s. Forgotten dreams.

I woke as we approached our destination. There were fireworks down to the west of the city as we flew down over the Bosphorous. Party boats twinkled in the dark calm expanse of the sea. As soon as we landed, the magnificent woman relaxed and turned to me as we taxied.

“Is this your first time in Istanbul?”

It wasn’t, of course, but I explained I was getting a connection. Her too.


Between providing some of my comparatively dull biographical details, I eked out bits of her story. She made clear her contempt for the current Tehran regime with great economy. An unfinished sentence in broken English, ending “but now…”.

I asked when she got out, and how she went about it.

“If you were rich, you sent your children out to study. My son was at university in Ohio, my other a private school in Greenwich. He stayed with an English family.”

This was a reunion, of sorts. A sister flying back from America, her flying in from London. They usually met up in Istanbul, but a relative had paid for them to meet in Tehran. She liked Istanbul: “such amazing fruit, vegetables, people. The tomatoes. Not like in England…”

I talked about my friend Tom who worked in Tehran, and how me and Denny planned to take the train from Istanbul but circumstance (and topical worries about having an Iranian stamp in my passport) put paid to that trip. A regret, a missed memory.

“My husband, God bless him, took us to Turkey, Yugoslavia, Italy, all the way to Frankfurt to visit his brother, who was a professor. This was 35 years ago. You must put Italy on list to visit.”

“By train?”

“By train.”

She was great; I wish I’d asked her name. She’s settled in Surrey, very close to my parents. She works at John Lewis in Kingston, where I went to school. The town, not the shop.

“Small world.”

“Very small.”

I think I’m going to look her up when I get back to London, buy her a G&T by the river, and ask her more about Iran before the revolution.


One comment

  1. Another great post. I love how the Iranian Lady escaped pre-revolution Iran and ended up in the quintessential British middle-class working Utopia of John Lewis, The Guardian of the retail world.

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