The story starts as we were travelling to Syria from Istanbul in May 2009…….
Calm Before The Storm
We had a 4 hour stopover in the Turkish capital so set off to explore. First we needed coins for the lockers, but were one short. Luckily an upright English teacher called Neil came to our rescue.
We were to meet again later in the journey but for now we headed off alone.
We expected a lot of the capital but were sadly disappointed. It was a bit of a dump to be honest and after two hours we returned to the station.
Here we were to face a drama that threatened the whole trip…….
We had soup in the wood panelled station restaurant, no drama there even though the soup tasted pretty awful and the bread roll was stale.
Hamish then decided he wanted to buy a cake and an apple from the station kiosk for the journey. He sat down to pack the goods in his bag. Still no drama. Yet.
We decided to head to the platform in good time. A group of Turkish students then arrived onto our platform. We had met up with Neil again and in conversation, when one of the students interrupted us to ask if one of us was called Terry.
None of us were but were sufficiently intrigued to ask why. They replied that somebody had found a passport belonging to a Terry on the main concourse.
The students moved along the platform to ask some others and Neil announced that he reckoned it was a scam to get you to open your bag whilst you were pick pocketed.
I felt into my bag anyway to be reassured that my passport was there. It was. I mentioned to Hamish that I had the name of my father in the back of my passport as an emergency contact and he was called Terry so it was good to be sure.
At that point Hamish remembered that he had his then girlfriend’s name Terri in his, so decided to check also.
It seemed like mere moments later that the entire contents of his day pack were on the platform. His diary, pens, the cake, the apple, camera, baseball cap but no wallet containing £300 and his passport. “Fu*k fu*k fu*k I’ve lost my passport.” At that point and with only twenty minutes to go before our train was due to depart, he raced down the platform steps and fled back to the station concourse.
I was stunned and could only pack his day sack and wait. And wait. And wait…………..
With five minutes to go to departure time, I was getting decidedly agitated. ‘For the third time we would be scuppered (Hezbollah/Israel conflict had seen us postpone the trip twice before). What a prat losing his passport, the one thing that you guard above all others. Call himself a seasoned traveller? We are going to miss it! Not another embassy visit, just like Munich all those years before (when another mate called Poll lost his passport in a drunken stupor whilst we were on our first inter-rail trip in 1987). Maybe I should go on my own? No, I couldn’t do that. We will have to spend the night in this dump!’
These were the thoughts going on inside my head when with three minutes before D day, he resurfaced grinning from ear to ear and waving his passport. Phew!!!!
“I told you it would be OK,” said Neil. “Yes you did, thanks for that,” I replied. Neil was a bit of a bore I thought.
No time for explanations, our train was pulling in. That was bloody close!
10 minutes later in the restaurant car over a beer I fully learned what had happened.
A Fair Cop
He had rushed to the information kiosk in a mad panic, pushing the three people in the queue out of the way to blurt out that he had lost his passport and had it been handed in.
Luckily the lady behind the counter spoke English and was sympathetic to his plight, so pointed him in the direction of the station police.
He then charged to their office, where he was met with a burley policeman in his forties, who told him in no uncertain terms to calm down. Yes a wallet containing a passport had been handed in.
He then proceeded to ask Hamish his name. Hurst. H U R S T. Hurst. Hamish could see that it was his passport the copper was holding, but this did not stop him hyper-ventilating, even if the state of stress did reduce a notch or two. ‘Just give me my wallet and let me leave, I have a train to catch,’ thought Hamish. But no, this policeman wanted to talk.
He leafed through all of the pages in the passport, stopping to examine every one of the numerous visas contained therein. He stopped at the Syrian one. “Aah, you go to Syria I see. When is your train?’ ‘In ten bloody minutes!!” Hamish felt like screaming, though he actually answered very politely.
The reaction seemed to say ‘plenty of time then’, and he offered Hamish a cup of tea from his flask. As he had already poured it into a disposable plastic cup, Hamish had no choice but to accept. In the state he was in, he downed it in one, despite it being pretty hot!
“How much cash do you have in your wallet?” was the next question. Hamish knew exactly, £300. His answer was emphatic, leaving no room for any doubts, no abouts or approximatelies left his lips.
The policeman then proceeded to count the 10 twenties and 10 tens out very carefully and deliberately. “You are correct, £300.” At last he pushed the sacred bundle over to Hamish, “you were very lucky.” He retained a slight contact with the notes and hesitated, clearly a sign that he hoped for a reward. Hamish simply grabbed the notes, passport and wallet, gave his thanks and charged out of the room to his waiting and very relieved friend.
If it had not been for those students and if it had not been for me mentioning my Dad’s name in my passport, we may well have been none the wiser until we reached the Syrian border. Imagine that!
To celebrate his good fortune and to make up for my stress, beers were on Hamish tonight. Just a pity they only had gassy lager.