Three months ago I set off for London to fit out my new canal boat. It doesn’t seem a long time but for a number of reasons it sometimes felt like an eternity. So much had happened in that small window of time that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps it’s easier if I just take up where I left off, which was my approaching transformation as a novice buying the shell of a boat to a person now capable (most of the time) of cruising along the canals of Britain. I also spoke about the up and coming election in Turkey, called more than a year early because of the countries rapidly slowing economy, which to no one’s surprise was won by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June.
My plan had always been to fit out my boat in the relative cool of an English May. However, for various reasons the delivery slipped repeatedly so I didn’t fly to London until the end of that month and arrived during an afternoon of light rain. That was to be the last rain I would see until I left the UK almost 10 weeks later. The boat was finally delivered to me at a marina in Watford in the 3rd week in June. But by then June had proved to be unusually hot and prone to heatwaves… certainly not a good formula for heavy lifting and fitting out work inside the hull of a steel wide-beam riverboat. The heat pushed into the low to mid 30’s on many days and the surface of the canal quickly bloomed with a thick pondweed that even the coots and moorhens struggled to push themselves through. Some places where we stopped were also plagued by flies. So by the time I left London the Grand Union Canal felt more like some fly blown tributary of the Amazon or the Congo than the main riverboat artery through the capital.
Still as with any difficult project worth doing it eventually came to an end. Despite the tens of thousands spent trying to feed the fit-out in a just in time way and the layout changes and adaptations made and sometimes remade just to keep things moving – I am very happy with the result. I now have a wonderful floating home in England to escape to anytime I feel like a change from the tensions and drama that more and more reflect on our ability to enjoy living in an amazingly polarized Turkey. A Turkey where it seems you either love or despise the President and his party, with very little room in the middle for the very few who declare they remain politically uncommitted.
Predicted by many economic commentators the ongoing slide of the Turkish economy towards recession on the back of a rapidly devaluing Turkish Lira and soaring inflation was not unexpected. It was, as I said the main motivation for Erdogan calling the elections almost 18 months early. However, what has caught many out is the speed of that slide. In the week following the election the pound was sometimes trading at about 5.95 lira but less than a month later the exchange rate had crashed to almost 9 to the pound. The main cause – or so it seems – was an American pastor who few people had ever heard of not being released because Donald Trump wanted it to happen. The currency took a small hit as the rhetoric was ratcheted up on both sides. But it only went into freefall when Trump sent out one of his early morning toilet tweets imposing trade tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel.
Like so many things Trump says and does this did not have its desired effect and resulted in even more entrenchment on both sides. It also gave Erdogan a golden chance to deflect some of the blame for the deteriorating economic situation in Turkey – which is actually as a result of reckless fiscal policies that so overheated the economy prior to the election. Instead the blame was levelled at the usual suspects of unspecified ‘outsiders’ or ‘the west’, or on some banking conspiracy and finally Trump – all of which was repeated and amplified by most of the cowed and now almost totally government controlled media machine in Turkey.
Eventually, the crisis passed and the currency slowly made a modest recovery but it was way short of where it was pre-crisis. However, it didn’t take long for contagion from the collapse of another emerging economies currency to hit the lira hard. And yet the average man in the street doesn’t blame bad fiscal policies or the crash of the Argentinean peso, which are the main reason for this week’s lira sell off, but once again they point to some amorphous plot from the west fed to them by government compliant news channels or newspapers. So while they will soon probably blame a hapless Trump again, despite him not tweeting about Turkey from his bathroom in weeks, I have yet to see one TV news item or newspaper headline in this country that is brave enough to apportion the blame for the looming crisis where it truly belongs – much closer to home.