Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Antenna Huts

The arrival of the antenna huts was just the begining of a long saga involving many problems and much expense. The British contingent at the Turkish - British - American base at Sinop was eagerly awaiting the delivery of a new antenna hut unit. It is 1985.

Many things have changed since this event was recorded. Turkey was a very different place in those days.

The day started quite well, everything under control, no mad panics. A telephone call from Sengeller ( our local one eyed agent ) announced the arrival of a UK TIR truck with a wide load. The driver wanted to know whether the load should be taken to Sinop or to the Ankara customs depot. ( Apparently the UK agent had sent him a telex to the effect that the customer may want the load taken to Sinop ).

We took a landrover and headed down to Sengeller's and met with the driver. We then went down to the TIR park on the Ankara highway just outside the city to see the load.

The load was not excessively heavy but it was wider than the bed of the TIR truck. The driver had come from Istanbul with no escort and risked the fines along the way  ( He had actually paid TL50,000 in fines which is approx £70 ) but was quite happy considering an escort would have cost around £250. By Turkish law, any load wider than the bed of the vehicle on which it is loaded, must be accompanied by an escort and have red flags measuring 30 cm square on each corner, both front and rear of the vehicle.

What do we do with now? he cried !!! The easiest solution would seem to be to ask the driver to take it direct to Sinop. A wonderful idea. It certainly would be easier and more convenient if not cheaper than trying to load our Ford Cargo truck, arrange an escort , inform the traffic police and send two drivers with an overnight stay in Samsun etc etc. However, this is Turkey and there are a few problems that we need to think about;

1. There are no customs officials at Sinop which means we still have to clear customs and import the huts here in Ankara, possibly unloading and re-loading the TIR.
2. The TIR would still need an escort.
3. The drivers police paper was only valid for a four day stop-over in Turkey and he would not have enough time to make the trip and leave Turkey within this time schedule.
4. Would it be more expensive or would it work out cheaper if we used our own truck?

In the end, after much discussion it was decided that the best idea was to unload the truck into the Ankara customs and let the driver get on his way and for us to handle the problem ourselves.

Right, let's take the truck to customs we said eagerly. What about an escort was the reply from the driver. He was very concerned that he would get fined in a big city like Ankara and besides it was illegal to travel through the town centre with a  TIR with such a load between the hours of  8 am - 5 pm.

The customs in Ankara is right in the centre of the city and the driver had to wait until 5 pm before he could move. However, he was also eager to get unloaded and on his way and asked us if we could escort him to the customs yeard with a landrover at the front and rear of his vehicle. With two landrovers we pulled out of the British Embassy and into the traffic at around mid day. This is not the best time to be negotiating a TIR around such a busy city. Heads turned, roads were temporarily blocked  as the TIR rumbled through the main streets.

Prior to arriving at customs the load would need to be weighed at a weigh bridge. Luckily we found one and got the precious load details ticket ( a very necessary document before the TIR is even allowed into the customs area ) and proceeded on our way. So far so good. Unfortunately as we approached the customs area we were spotted by a patrol car. The loudspeakers echoed above the din of the Ankara traffic - No TIR vehicles allowed....... trailed off as we thundered past a crossing with its light changing from green to red.  The policeman on the other side of the road threw his arms up in the air in a gesture of - I don't believe it, they must be mad - as we passed by belching diesel fumes.

Thankfully the sight of two green army landrovers with NATO signs in the windows prevented us from being apprehended and we shot down a side road, past the heavy goods vehicles and buses forbidden sign and entered the customs yard from the rear entrance. Never again we cried !!!!

Customs. The very thought is the stuff of nightmares. Customs Ankara is a real nightmare. Sprawling down both sides of a railway line, crates of equipment, vehicles, heavy plant machinery, all lie there for years, the owners being unable to pay the taxes or afford to buy their way through the red tape. The customs officials all come from the same mould, miserable, overworked ( at least that is what they would have you believe ) and bestowed with the ultimate authority to clear or not clear your  the goods, as they think fit.

Your paper work could sit there all day if they take a dislike to you. The officials work in dingy, hot and smelly little offices in a dusty old building that must be pre first world war, with not a repaint since that time.

However, with a suble line of approach ( TL 5,000, slipped into the hand of the right person ) you are suddenly a long lost friend, you are their abi ( brother ) and hey presto - Finito - Bitte - all complete - No problem.

The truck is waiting for the crates to be unloaded and we hang around for the winch to arrive. Eat lunch, wait an hour, glass of Chai ( tea ), wait another hour. Where is the winch? Wait an hour.

Where is that bloody winch?  A carton of the magical Rothmans cigarettes soon speeds up the arrival of the winch operator. We finally have a winch. Truck unloaded. End of story? No! We have only just started. By this time our happy go lucky TIR driver has decided that he hates everyone in customs and has spent the last hour mumbling obscenities at any official person in the vicinity.

Having completed the formalities for customs procedures for the unloading of the TIR ( not to be confused with customs clearance of the goods, which is yet to come ) we can return our tired and exsasperated TIR friend to the Telex Motel truck park. Never get the idea that a TIR driver's life is always behind the wheel of his truck. A great deal of time is spent in dusty, hot customs parks, waiting for customs clearance. One point worth mentioning is that this particular driver said " In twelve years of TIR work through Europe I have yet to see a more disorganised, corrupt customs than that of Ankara.

It's now battle stations again and Ankara traffic!. We have 15 minutes to get to the weigh bridge before it closes, to weigh the truck now that it is empty. This piece of paper is the driver's final document before he can proceed on his journey.

It will take more than 15 minutes through traffic if we go back the way we came, so we decide to take a short cut - through the town centre. The time is 5:30 pm - rush hour!. How we did it I shall never know. Why we didn't get shopped I cannot understand. Passing through the main highway we shoot past a sign - Danger: Bridge height 3.6m. Panic!. What do we do? The truck is about 3.600001m in height. Ever tried turning a TIR around in a town centre? Panic again. I wish I wasn't here. I should never have got involved in this mess.

The TIR clears the bridge without exageration having no more than an inch in clearance. In fact, the underneath of the bridge is not even and the trucks canvass rubbed in places. Luckily no police, and we were away - weigh bridge 2 minutes to spare. Ticket of weight that all important and precious piece of paper and a happy if not exhausted TIR driver heads back to the Telex Motel, out of town now hes only 2 km up the road before safety and a half a dozen bottles of finest Efes no doubt.
The action is now over.

The next day arrangements are made for the customs clearance of the goods and their onward transmission to the base. After 2 days and a military escort the units reach their destination.

July 1985

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