In Istanbul in November of 2005, I had one of those rare ‘aha’ moments. One of those moments where I saw myself as others might see me, and realised why even those who like me refer to me as ‘mad’. Personally, I prefer the term ‘eccentric’ – but we all mean the same thing; that I do tend to march to the beat of my own drum.
So there I was, in Istanbul, with an 18 month old and a three-and-a-half year old. We’d just deplaned from Prague, and were in a taxi.
My Turkish is non-existent and the taxi-driver had just a smattering of English, so communication was minimal. I gave him the name, address and telephone number of our hotel – having typed it out before we left home. Our driver nodded.
‘I know,’ he said, with sage reserve.
Entrusting my safety, and that of my precious children, to him, I settled back to get my first glimpses of Constantinople.
In hindsight, I realise I should have asked him what, exactly, it was he ‘knew’. Was it the address he recognised? Did he know the hotel? Or was he just confirming that he knew how to read English?
On the outskirts of the city proper, with one hand on the wheel, the driver pulled out his mobile phone. He glanced at the piece of paper I had given him and punched some digits on the keypad. A quick conversation took place in Turkish before he looked at me over his shoulder.
‘I know, I know,’ he reassured me brightly and set off with increased confidence.
About fifteen minutes later my ‘aha’ moment dawned on me:
It was just after midnight, and I was going the wrong way up a one-way street, in a city I’d never visited before, with my children in the back of a taxi, with whose driver I could not communicate; I had a booking in a hotel neither he nor I knew the location of, and my ‘guidebook’ was two pages torn from a month old copy of the Sunday paper. Nobody knew where I was, and my mobile phone didn’t work in Turkey.
Still, something inside me knew it would all work out – and it did. Within another five minutes, we had reached our destination.
My girls and I had a wonderful five days in Beautiful Byzantium. Flying out of the city at six on the morning of our departure, I realised how grateful I was for my ‘madness’. I finally understood what Shakespeare meant when he wrote ‘To thine ownself be true’: That it is important to march to the beat of your own drum, no matter how out of synch with the rest of the world that beat might be.