I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about how Tunisia changed things.
A Muslim man holds my head back. He puts a blade to my throat. He laughs manically. His assistant, Mustapha, grins.
A shave at the Lady Diana barbers is a Kalkan holiday favourite. We met Ilcan the barber five years ago and we have grown to love him and his apprentice barber-nephew Mustapha during our annual holidays to this Turkish seaside resort.
We booked our fortnight in Kalkan months ago, BT. Before Tunisia. The climate of fear generated by Seifeddine Rezgni’s killing of 38 holiday makers on the Sousse beach changed things. Tunisia changed things.
Suddenly I was checking the Foreign Office  website for advice on visiting Turkey. The opening paragraph didn’t help: “There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners.”
It didn’t help that the Turkish government went on the military offensive against the so-called Islamic State and the PKK the day we left England. And according to the front page of the Daily Mirror on display at Leeds/Bradford airport, the SAS had supported their Turkish counterparts in arresting 250 lone wolf IS terrorists in Turkey the previous week. Those headlines didn’t help. Not one bit.
Halfway through the 90 minute night time minibus drive from Dalaman airport to Kalkan the driver suddenly pulls over behind a parked car on the hard shoulder. The side door swings open. I anticipate a gun barrel in my face. This, I tell myself, is how kidnappings begin. Instead, two smiling Turkish men squeeze a spare mattress for our villa onto the minibus. I feel foolish but no less fearful. Tunisia changed things.
Our villa sat high above the town’s small beach. I wouldn’t have minded if we had remained villa-bound all fortnight. Kalkan’s visitors are 95% British. It is perfectly vulnerable to a Tunisia-style attack.
One morning, as three of us walked into town, we looked down on to the beach. We discussed the virtues of that elevated vantage point for a sniper with a high velocity rifle. How many bathers could he snipe before people realised what was happening? How easily could he get onto the main road and away? Tunisia changed things.
Later, sitting in the medical centre with my ear-infected son and my imagination is at work again. Opposite sits a young Turkish man who looks a little like the Tunisian gunman. He has a swollen hand. I smile at him. He is impassive, cradling his injury. And off I go. “That’s what terrorists look like. Ordinary. Slight. It’s the machine gun that makes them fearsome.”
Three years ago, sitting in the same clinic, waiting for the same doctor, with the other ear-infected son, such irrational thoughts would never have wormed their way into my brain. Tunisia changed things.
At least we came to Kalkan. Compared to previous years the town felt half-empty. The shopkeepers, restaurant owners and one special barber all told the same story: business is slow.
I went looking for a “genuine fake” leather wallet. I had most shops all to myself. One proprietor said, “People don’t come. They are maybe scared. I have only six weeks to sell and then winter. It is very bad.” Tunisia changed things.
The fear I have experienced is exactly what the perpetrator of the Tunisian attack intended. It is galling to be afraid. It belittles me. I feel diminished. The friendly Turkish people who have made our stay in Kalkan a sunlit delight deserve better than my fearfulness.
I am, however, only human. I have my frailties. I know we will all die eventually, but I don’t want to go quite yet. And I love my family. We all have lots to do.
I know my fear stinks. But Tunisia changed things.
We’ve already begun discussing next year’s summer holidays. Cape Cod maybe? Cornwall might be fun, but what about the weather? Abersoch perhaps?
We all agreed a return to Kalkan was unlikely. So, no more swimming with turtles at the beach club, no more roof top dining at the Olive Garden restaurant  and no more laughing uproariously with the sparkling barber, Ilcan from Kalkan.
I know in my heart  it shouldn’t have done, but, the truth is, Tunisia changed things.

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This post has 7 Comments

  1. Great blog John! The beginning got my attention! Yes Tunisia can’t be ignored…I suspect other destinations will be got at too…depressing times. This govt. are making it worse by their little island mentality too!

  2. Yes, I’d stay and be a tourist but I can’t take the gun play
    An’ sitting here in my safe European home
    I don’t want to go back there again

  3. I hope you go back to Kalkan, John. That blameless, beautuful place needs its old friends.
    When I was there in August with the kids I told myself it was safer than Kings Cross – or Paris.

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