Hothousing, hot water and heated negotiations

Hothousing, hot water and heated negotiations

Illustration: Cem Kızıltuğ

September 09, 2012, Sunday/ 17:27:00/ THERESA DAY

Forty degrees and cabin fever would challenge any normal person, but after six summers in Antalya, and five of those as a mother, we can all assume that even before June my brain was far from functioning at peak performance.

This summer has been just as challenging as the previous ones, but in a different way, with phonics, plumbers and landlords keeping me on my toes.

“K” is for: … Kipa. No, I haven't just started working for them (nor do I have shares in Tesco), but, after mastering recognizing his name, that's the first word my 5-year-old son Scooby has been able to decipher on his own. After working with other people's children for many months now, I've finally got around to helping my own child with phonics as he's soon starting “big school” because of the new law. I should explain that as we now have an international school in Antalya, I'm working on his English, not Turkish, for the moment. Not being pushy enough to have used hothousing with Scooby, this is taking the form of rewarding (not bribing, not really) him with pieces of a dinosaur puzzle and dinosaur stickers for each letter sound he recognizes, as well as making a memory game (do I, er, get any points for creative teaching?)

Initially, things went well and it turns out that he can match half the single letter sounds to their written form; now, however, is the challenging part as there are letters he appears to really dislike. This is where Kipa comes in: Even though “K” was apparently on my son's banned list, while we were shopping today, he worked out which was the own-brand milk by sounding out the other letters and guessing the “k” sound (I am glad that Turkish is phonetic and corresponded with the English letter sounds this time around). He was also really pleased to discover that, added to Iguanodon, “i” is also for “İlknur,” the lady who works there that he's got a massive crush on. (Last week, he was actually worried that if he rubbed his cheek, he would “lose” her kiss; so sweet).

Shock, horror: another plumber on the make? As I'm in phonic mode, “d” is for not only “dinosaur” but also for “dodgy” plumber. At the beginning of the summer, I noticed that we didn't have much hot water, despite the solar panels on the roof that had worked since we moved in mid-winter. I wasn't too worried about this until during a power cut my son shone the torch on the bathroom ceiling and we saw water marks. The next morning, the marks were spreading so I had to take my head out of the sand, bite the bullet and call in a plumber. The phone call went something like this:

Me (feigning a carefree attitude backed up with self-confidence): “Are you free this morning?”

Plumber (with tangible excitement in his voice and dollar signs in eyes as he realizes I'm a foreigner): “Of course, hanım efendi. How's your son? Shall I come right away? Are you still at the Blue House?”

Me (feigning patience and calm, despite the spreading water marks, knowing I'm going to have to foot the bill, not my landlord): “Well, it's good that you asked that as I've moved across the main road. In fact, before you come, we should talk about the price. You will charge me the locals' price, won't you?”

Plumber (feigning shock, then pretending to be slightly insulted): “But of course. Why wouldn't I? Unlike other plumbers, I charge a fair price for a good job.”

I hoped that my new address would also make him realize that I'm not rich. Until the end of January, I lived in a flat owned by a foreigner whom the local tradesmen assume is very wealthy and I was concerned that he would assume that I am, too. I've only moved across the road but the new neighborhood is a totally different world -- mostly old buildings and Roma families, a far cry from the gated housing compounds in Lara and mythical amounts of money in foreign bank accounts. So, all in all, I felt I had done my best to make various points, but I was still on my guard when he turned up 10 minutes later.

The perception of plumbers worldwide leaves a lot to be desired and “cowboy,” “chancer” and “wide boy” are among the politer nicknames for them in the UK. And despite having only ever really paid attention to probability theory in “O-level” math, I really hadn't been able to predict the twist at the end of this one: After not obviously overcharging me for changing a leaking pipe on the water tank and some taps, he then tried to convince me that the solar panels needed replacing, for a mere TL 250!

Saved by the sun: Now you could write what I know about solar panels on the back of a 25 kuruş coin, so for the next hour or so I was involved in trying to convince my landlord to get them changed. Even though I was hopeful -- he had, after all, forked out for a metal gate for the front door after I was burgled -- that conversation became a veritable logic quest with a large pinch of threats accompanied by emotional blackmail thrown in for good measure.

Landlord: “But the panels were working when you moved in, so it's your responsibility to get them fixed.”

Nice try, Mr. Landlord! Now it was time to play my cards.

Card 1: Logic

Me (using my firm but very polite “hanım efendi” voice and paying a great deal of attention to vocabulary and verb endings): “But there's no way that we could have worn them out in six months; unlike the previous tenants, we are only one adult and one child.”

Landlord (who obviously didn't want to spend any more money on the flat): “But when you moved in they were working. You did sign a contract stating that everything was in working order.”

Card 2: Threaten to move. In this economic climate, and above all in my neighborhood, not many people are actually paying their rent on time, or at all for that matter. I was on the balcony and could see at least four “For Rent” signs on nearby blocks of flats.

Me (trying to disguise my nervousness at the potential outcome of what I was just about to say): “Look, it's not as if I'm going to take the panels, or the taps or the pipe I just had replaced, with me if I move out. As far as I'm concerned, that's all structural and not my responsibility. In fact, one of the reasons I chose this flat above the many, many others I looked at in the center of town was because of the solar heating.”

Landlord (now worried, but not budging an inch): “Ah, you're giving me notice. So what's the point of me having the panels replaced then?”

Me (now confused by this very unexpected tangent): “But if the panels are replaced, then we wouldn't have to move.”

Landlord (challenged by the heat, perhaps, despite being up in Isparta, where it's much cooler): “But you just said you were moving.”

Card 3: Sick kid.

Me (not wanting to move mid-summer, and on the offensive): “No, I said ‘if' we move out. I'm just very worried about this situation as my son was very ill earlier this month and ended up in hospital. That could have been the result of having cold showers.”

Landlord (admitting defeat -- phew! -- and obviously worried about losing a tenant in fulltime employment): “Geçmiş olsun. Well, I'll be in Antalya later this week and I'll see what I can do.”

And how did this end? Surprise, surprise, three hours later I had gallons of hot water. Hmm, had the plumber really thought that he could panic me into giving him out money on the spot to get those panels replaced? I then phoned the landlord to report the situation. Like old friends, we spent 10 minutes swapping stories about unscrupulous plumbers, both in Antalya and worldwide.