Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bodrum (Part II)

This is what I found when we first heard of Bodrum: 
"Bodrum is a charming and fascinating little port, 270 km. south of Izmir, on the Aegean coast of Turkey. It is located on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula, it faces the Greek island of Kos and at a point that checks the entry into the Gulf of Gokova. 
The center of an administrative district, Bodrum, has a permanent population of some 30,000 and stands on the site of the ancient city of Halicarnassus, once the capital of the kingdom of Caria. Located in the southwest corner of the Aegean region of Turkey, Bodrum is a major tourist attraction due to its beautiful coastline, excellent climate and a plethora of proximate sites of historical importance and natural beauty."  -

Who wouldn't want to visit such an exotic and historically rich sounding place? Also, the fact that we hadn't been before (and I really love visiting new places) and it was only a three hour and forty minute flight from Gatwick made Bodrum an attractive destination for part of our summer holidays. Originally I had also wanted to tag on Istanbul, a city which I hear is incredible, but as per my previous post, we decided against it because of the anticipated heat at that time of the year.

The region is indeed very picturesque and reminded me a lot of the Greek landscape. Ahead of visiting, I expected Turkey to resemble Morocco, which I had visited when our daughter was roughly two years old and I was pregnant with our son. There are certainly some similarities, like the food which is also quite like Middle Eastern and Greek food. Also the design of some of the crockery, fabrics,  and handicrafts in the bazaars are of a similar style. Moroccans favour the public bath houses where you get a good scrub down - much like the Turkish Hammam. However a stark difference for me turned out to be the shopping experience. Shop and stall owners in Bodrum do not hassle you in the same way I had been hassled in Marrakech. Obviously people will attempt to get your business and will heartily invite you into their restaurant or shops, but if you say 'no thank you' they give a jovial disappointed shrug of the shoulders, utter something to the effect of 'Maybe next time, enjoy your day' and it's left at that. In Marrakech you dare not glance at something in the bazaars, as you are set upon by an incredibly zealous shop owner or two until you feel forced to buy something just to shake them off. And when I took a picture of a boy in the market, he came up to me demanding a not inexpensive amount of money. It's also a demonstration of desperation and poverty I appreciate. 

In Marrakech there are tens of scooters weaving in and out of the narrow alleyways of the bazaars which means you are trying to fend off the insistent shop keepers, keep a hand on your small child who keeps wanting to wonder off, all the while keeping one eye open behind you so you don't get mowed down. And don't get me started on the not very charming snake charmers - one of which insisted on waving a snake extremely close to the face of my delighted toddler daughter despite me shaking my fist in his face telling him not to. In retrospect, it was ill advised to visit such a frenetic place being so pregnant and with a small child, but I suppose that is travel for you - you don't know until you do it. I say all of this and yet I had an incredibly congenial exchange in a shop with a man in Marrakech which included sitting down and drinking tea with many awkward silences and some polite chit chat, once a price had been agreed on that is. And we stayed in a beautiful riad guest house with baby tortoises and fountains in mesmerising courtyards, and we had this fascinating tour of the city by a local guide. But the shopping, well, that was pretty full on and hair-raising. 

Like Morocco there are a lot of stray animals in Bodrum, which is always distressing. But the strange thing was, although there were a lot of dogs lying about the marina they all looked quite fat. And I noticed water in bowls outside some of the shops. And while the stray cats looked a bit on the thin side, they also sort of lounged about outside of the shops in a non-plussed manner like small furry and not particularly friendly gangs. In Marrakech and Morocco I had seen some very put upon donkeys with mange, and a dog quite literally dying on its feet. I would like to say I set about trying to save all or at least one of these animals but the extent of need was simply overwhelming and I was heavily pregnant and afraid of getting bitten. I'm ashamed to say that even if I had wanted to I didn't know where to start. In my fantasies I return there, establish an extensive animal shelter, and attempt spay and neuter all the feral animals I can find, and provide a place to care for and feed them.

Back in Bodrum, on the one occasion we were mad enough to risk the day time temperatures in town, we sat down for a drink at a harbour side restaurant. My daughter spotted a thin-looking cat and asked if we could feed it. We had to explain to the waiter, who was so incredulous as to what we wanted to do, that he imagined he must have misunderstood us, and therefor called over his manage to translate. The manager listened to us patiently, with a surprised and amused expression on his face, clapped his hands together and explained to the now gathered and inquisitive party of about three staff that we wanted food not to eat, but to give to a stray cat. Soon a small plate with three pretty little raw fishes - completely intact from head to tail, were brought to the table. And then the staff watched with much delight, as my daughter and I called over the cat, presented the fishes, and watched as it grabbed them, one at a time, and raced off to enjoy them in solitude, before returning for the next one. Evidently this animal had some experience in needing to protect it's surprising bounty from other animals in similar need. The manager told me he was surprised that the cat had eaten raw fish as they tended to like cooked food, which explained why so many of the animals looked a lot less distressed than the ones I had seen in Morocco - they were being fed leftovers by the restaurant owners.

Travelling with my children who are now not so little - five and seven years old, meant that we were quite happy to experience some of the night life with them. The food in Bodrum is so very good - fresh fish everywhere including giant prawns, octopus and a variety of side dishes so delicious and sumptuous I'm amazed I didn't go up several dress sizes. The fact that you are served several sharing dishes encourages you to try a lot of new and different things, and it makes the dining experience extend over hours, rather than what so many of us are used to in more Westernised cultures -  where we get given a large plate of individual food which we wolf down, have a cup of coffee and leave a restaurant sometimes all within an hour. This sharing of multiple dishes system becomes a more drawn out, leisurely, and sociable experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.

There is certainly a very active and fun night life in  Bodrum, with lots of people eating on boats in the marina, and what looked like restaurants at the back of some of the boats. Alfresco dining on pavements, live music, and the shops are open until very late. And yes, in most of the shops and bazaars, you can negotiate on price and often have a very enjoyable and informative chat with the shop owners who not only like to sell but enjoy the art of conversation. We met some really interesting and nice people doing this, giving the place a genuinely welcoming feel to it.

Here is a transcript (with some amendments) of something I posted on FB following an evening out in Bodrum. I think it captures some of the festive nature of the place, the generosity of the people, and the lunacy of the taxi drivers:

"A truly crazy and chaotic evening tonight. Thanks to terrible traffic we wait over an hour for our previously arranged hotel car to collect us at our designated pickup spot. By this point we are stationed like well attired urchins on the pavement outside an Argentinian restaurant next to a life sized plastic cow, a live band, and tango dancers. Joined by the occasional stray cat and roaming dogs. Through intermittent phone calls (where we get the impression the driver doesn't really understand us nor we him) he keeps promising us that he is 10 minutes away. Or at least we think that's what he is promising. 
The children are exhausted and falling asleep in our arms. I am trying to be upbeat about things, as you do when you children are beginning to get distressed and you are trying not to show that you are too. So I sort of try and dance around with one of the children hanging off of me Pietà-style. On two separate occasions young men who are clearly on dates, get up from their alfresco seats at the restaurant and offer us help. One young man and his girlfriend offer us a lift home, and another offers to talk to our driver and translate if necessary. We thank them and say, while we genuinely appreciate it, our driver is just 10 minutes away.  
An hour later of waiting , we get fed up and are approached by an elderly taxi driver who grabs our shopping bags and frog marches us to his car. The traffic is indeed horrendous that evening, and our driver proceeds to not only mount islands but actually drive on them to get past the traffic. It's like being in a Die Hard film. Hard shoulders are similarly travelled on to get some advance. 
Eventually we are through the various traffic jams, and on the dual carriageway. And then our small somewhat banged up taxi appears to propel forwards into the night with lightening speed. Lots of tailgating and haphazard changing of lanes,  and I lean over to see our driver is travelling at 85 miles an hour. All the while using google translate (voice version) to chat to us in a jolly manner and ask us how much we are paying at our hotel. The children feeling my clenched knuckles are as I clutch onto their small hands, enquire as to what kind of driving this is to which I reply 'the illegal kind'. The driver laughs. I'm beginning to realise that my husband was right: forget possible terrorism, the most dangerous thing here is the driving."

I would like to say we travelled around to other towns, taking in the sites and absorbing the rich history while were there, as we usually like to do when we travel. However two things prevented this: For one it was absolutely blisteringly hot during the day. Full sun and temperatures at nearly 40 degrees celsius, meant sticking close by to an accessible body of water during the day, and visits anywhere else were restricted to the evenings, which were still pretty hot but without the unforgiving sun. Also, the driving was so appalling that I decided against it. Had it just been my husband and I, I would have been more relaxed, but I just didn't want to risk it with my children. A couple of days after our second hair raising taxi experience, my husband told me he had spoken to a couple at breakfast one morning and the young man, a race car driver, told him he found the driving absolutely terrifying. "See?" I told my husband, "It's not just me."

Friends of ours came and stayed at the hotel for a bit, and my girlfriend told me to get the Hamman - which is the traditional Turkish bath. She had done it the day before, and invited me to touch her leg, which was indeed incredibly smooth. I vaguely recalled hearing about the Hammam from my sister who had had one years before - performed by two men while she was stark naked. Anything with the word naked in it sets off alarm bells for me. This did not appeal to me in the least, but when I visited the spa and got assurances that I could have this experience with a woman, I decided to do it. 

My friend told me she had worn her bikini throughout the experience, but I have to confess although I am painfully shy of being naked (I fear and loathe changing rooms) I also thought to myself: If I am going to write about this, I have to have an as authentic experience as possible. So when the woman at the spa led me to the changing rooms and told me to remove everything and motioned to a pair of disposable g-string knickers, I thought: OK, here goes. The knickers resembled a paper loin cloth - the kind of thing Gandhi might have worn, were he, say, a stripper hoping to avoid tan lines. There wasn't much of it and I may as well have worn nothing, but mentally, I felt covered. It was effectively the fabric version of a rationalisation. 

I was given a small woven looking towel called a Peshtemal and told I could use it if I wanted to in the steam room - like it was an option for people who are weirdly shy about such things. I asked if the steam room was for both sexes and the woman nodded 'yes'. I found this surprising given I thought of Turkey as a Muslim country and imagined things like a steam room to be separate for the sexes. I clung onto my Peshtemal and followed her in, relieved that no one else was in there. Because really, what do you say to someone in a steam room apart from the obvious: 'Boy it's hot in here huh?' I was gearing myself up, somewhat nervously, for what lay ahead, and I genuinely wasn't in the mood for small talk.

The bath house itself looked like some strange inner sanctum - all marble and shaped a bit like a star of David. It reminded me of something I had seen in my one of my children's books on Ancient Egypt where the pharaohs and other important people got mummified.

I was led to a sort of chamber off the side of the central bit which consisted of a marble alter - again with the Ancient Egypt mental reference - which had a thin woven towel on and was told to disrobe and lie on it. Now I've had a few massages in my time, but this was not a nice soft massage bed - this was a flat solid piece of stone, but actually, once I lay down, it was remarkably and surprisingly comfortable. That is once I tried to get over (using attempted ancient Tibetan mind leaving body techniques) the fact that I was lying there with my breasts exposed and tiny disposable knickers in front of a stranger who was reading herself to wash me. I had not been washed by someone else since I had had a c-section with my children, and before that when I was a very small child.

And then it began: The small Balinese woman called Putu, who was herself wearing a bathing suit and a peshtemal around her waist,  began to run water in a large sink in front of me, water splashing everywhere on the floor which explained why the floors were also made of stone. And then she proceeded to pour small buckets of deliciously hot water over my body. The experience, on some strange subconscious level, took me back to being an infant. It was that sensation of being totally helpless and in someone else's care. And once I recovered from the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to get the hell out of there (the fact that I was now only wearing a very soggy and see-through loin cloth aside), I kind of relaxed into the experience. It reminded me a bit of how my cats react when they are on a very soft fleece blanket - they get their claws out and go into a sort of trance - rhythmically kneading it with their claws. I had seen our cat kneed his mother in this way when nursing as a kitten, and I understood it to be a sort of comforting regressive thing. 

What followed was a lot of exfoliating. It took me back to our visit to Morocco, where our guide -  a small pot bellied man in traditional dress called Mohammed, advised us to visit a bath house and said, with a somewhat disgusted look on his small brown face, that one couldn't possibly hope to get properly clean only with regular showers. That a proper exfoliating bath of this kind from time to time was absolutely vital. Putu then sort of swirled what looked like a pillow case into an urn of soapy water and then lot of bubbles were wrung out over me, and massaged over my body.  The massage was wonderfully relaxing and a welcome change from the exfoliating cloth which was more on the invigorating side and had a texture not unlike a cat's tongue. Lots more rinsing with hot water, and then an all over body mask was applied that felt both hot and tingly and incredibly cold at the same time. Oh and a head massage while the mask was working its magic, and having my hair washed. The hair washing was heavenly, and made me think of that scene in the English Patient where Kristin Scott Thomas is washing Ralph Fiennes's hair in the bath. Only in my case it wasn't Kristin Scott Thomas, it was Putu, who was probably thinking about how many more people she had to wash that day, and what she was going to make for dinner. 

To sum it up the Hammam experience was relaxing, invigorating, and at times mentally uncomfortable. It's safe to say I had mixed feelings about it, mostly I think because I didn't really enter the experience with much information. But sometimes, when I want to write about something, I do this purposefully. I don't research something too much, because I want to go into it with a sort of blind date approach, so that everything is new and I am able to be present, and experience it with fresh eyes so to speak.

Afterwards I felt exhausted, and clean, and a bit endorphin-like, but without any of the hard work required by exercise. As I was lying in the relaxation area on a similarly uncomfortable looking but actually quite comfortable curved and heated stone lounger, Putu offered me a card to rate the experience before scooting off to do the next Hammam. She was all business as she bustled off and I couldn't help thinking the experience had been intimate without being in the least bit sexual. I gave her a good rating.

The rest of our stay in Bodrum consisted mostly of hanging around in the area between the kids club and the pool, some shopping and dinner in town in the evenings, and enjoying the beautiful sunsets at our resort. There were a lot of people from Lebanon, Jordan and Dubai, some Turkish people and some Russian people. And apart from an American man and his young Russian wife and daughter, and possibly one other English couple at a given time, as Westerners were were in the minority. The Lebanese families arrived with teams of nannies who ate breakfast with the children and minded them at the pools. The women, beautiful with their incredible manes of long dark hair, arched eyebrows, and large sunglasses looking impossibly glamorous in their bathing suits.

The intense heat left my children with the demeanour and posture of wet lettuce but with attitude. That kind of heat is actually fairly debilitating, meaning my children were often uninspired (Kids: "But there's nothing to do in the kids club!" Me: "But there's air conditioning!") lethargic and somewhat sullen - especially when their little friends left. I perpetually looked as though I had stepped out of a sauna, and in all of the holiday photos, even those taken at night where I am wearing a nice dress, I look sweaty - like I have just engaged in a rather taxing, albeit elegant, wrestling match. In instances like this a good mascara that doesn't run pays for itself.

Breakfast at the hotel was a feast - hundreds of dishes of every variety including cooked dishes one tends to associate more with lunch or dinner time fare. Potatoes, cooked lamb, salads, an ice cream bar? My children loved that. One of the waiters at breakfast looked like a much younger, thinner, and dare I say it even more handsome version of Liev Schreiber than Liev Shreiber himself. And with his serious demeanour and smouldering good looks, from that point on he he became known as Liev Schreiber to us, well, to me that is. He appeared to be a stoic young man and not given to banter but I suspected, like a lot of the staff, this was a language issue. One morning I saw him talking to a Turkish family and actually laughing. "Look, look!", I said excitedly to my husband who was attempting to fend off my son from smearing chocolate sauce all over his nice white shirt, "Liev is smiling, he's actually laughing!" My husband gave me the kind of look that someone does when they are worrying about your mental health but don't want to say as much.

Google Translate was a heaven send. Interestingly enough, almost all of the shop and stall owners in the town of Bodrum had very good English, but in our hotel, not so much. I am never so arrogant as to expect people to speak my language when I travel, and rather I see this more so as my job to try and speak a bit of theirs, and along with some charade like gestures, meet each other half way. But I suppose when one is running an international hotel and hoping to attract an international clientele, which includes English speakers, you do need to take this into consideration in terms of your staff.  But what we might have experienced with the odd and sometimes humorous misunderstanding, was more than made up for by the willingness of everyone to make our stay a happy and enjoyable one, and everyone tried so very hard. It's safe to say that apart from the likes of the very serious Liev and a couple of the more senior staff who hoped to present an air of distinguished professionalism, most of the younger members of staff had boundless cheer and enthusiasm and sense of humour. Some of the young male waiters liked to steal my son's hat or ruffle his hair, and his grumpy demeanour was charming to them and an endless source of entertainment. Similarly the young women at the hotel were taken with my daughter and made a great fuss of her.

On the day we left our hotel in Bodrum most of the staff that had been involved with us in some manner or another during our stay, came and waved our car off as we wove our way into the chaotic traffic back to the airport. I was left with a resounding fondness for the warmth, humour, and eagerness to engage in conversation of the people we had met both at the hotel and in town. And the beauty of the place and those incredible sunsets over the Aegean sea. I'm already thinking of when we might next visit, but next time perhaps at a cooler time of the year.

For the first part of this post please see here: 
Off the beaten track drinking Evian: Or Bodrum (Part I)

Off the beaten track drinking Evian: Or Bodrum (Part I)

I have friends who have trekked through beautiful Vietnamese and Tibetan countrysides meeting monks, and having to do their toilet out in the open behind trees. A girlfriend who was adopted by an Iban family in North Borneo in a ritual that involved being marked by chicken blood and drinking copious amounts of Tuak (rice wine) and chewing paan. Another friend, a journalist, seeks out exotic dishes that most people would avoid like the plague - things like rotten picked fish or Mopane worms, and a variety of other disgusting sounding things which are the culinary equivalent of playing Russian roulette with one's digestive system. Or friends who have travelled extensively around Africa, having close encounters with wild life and sleeping in the backs of trucks or in tents.

I listen to all of these stories wide eyed and as someone who writes, with great admiration and some longing. But in truth, I am not a brave adventurous travelling sort of person. I enjoy foreign travel, and I've been to some incredible places all over the world, but always, at the end of the day, I put my head down on a soft pillow and have access to my own bathroom and room service. Although as with any travel, or with life itself, there are always things that happen that one does not plan for: the earthquake in Japan while on the thirty third floor of a hotel, for example. Being surrounded and sniffed at (while in an open top jeep) by a breeding herd of elephants in Southern Africa. Narrowly avoiding drowning while snorkelling during a squall in the Maldives. Waiting nervously in a taxi while outside of the car our driver engaged in a fist fight with a man in Naples. Or encountering truly life threatening driving and taxi drivers in various cities around the world. But none of these things are experiences I have actively sought out in terms a 'Well that sounds like something I'd like to do' kind of thing.

I like to think of myself as a traveller, as opposed to what I really am which is someone who likes to experience new things but in a fairly safe and sanitised manner. I see a lot of myself in David Suchet's portrayal of Hercule Poirot - doing my bit to learn some of the local language and customs  - just enough to be a congenial and respectful guest in whichever country I am visiting. But maintaining my personal idiosyncrasies and desire for cleanliness, comfort, dressing up for dinner, and having an elegant drink with a great view at the end of the day.

Our most recent travels took us to Bodrum in Turkey. We were due to travel just a week after the tragic shooting of so many British people on a beach in Tunisia, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned given what we were told in the press about Turkey being a thoroughfare for people with intentions of joining extremist groups in Syria.

Before going I spoke to a Turkish mum from my son's school over coffee. You know in that way you do when you choose one individual and assign them the job of being the expert and mouthpiece for the entire political and cultural situation of the country they hail from and quite possibly haven't actually lived in for many years. As a South African I am used to this.
Me: So what's the situation over there?
Her: What, you mean Turkey, or Bodrum?
Me: Bodrum, but we were thinking of visiting Istanbul too
Her: Oh I wouldn't go to Istanbul if I was you
Me (tensing up and leaning in): You mean, it's not safe?
Her: Yes, the sun, the heat, this time of the year - it's appalling. You are better off just sticking to Bodrum and being close to the pool.
Me (lowering my voice and with a conspiratorial tone): So I should avoid touristy public places?
Her: Oh yes, visiting touristy places in that kind of heat is terrible - especially for the children.

No matter how hard I tried to steer the conversation, albeit delicately and indirectly, to my concerns of terrorism, this woman's only concern was for my family and I avoiding getting heat stroke, sunburn, and blisters. Any kind of violence levelled towards tourists simply wasn't at the forefront of her mind.

Evidently this kind of practical and sound assurance was insufficient, and so I decide to do some serious factual research on the matter and asked my friends on Facebook what they thought. The reactions were mixed: A few people thought it was a bad idea. One friend has a husband in the US military and IM'd me that she didn't think I should go. I wondered if she was privy to some sort of secret military information and even though I failed to get anything more than her opinion that it was a bad idea, I convinced myself that she was right. Some friends pointed out the obvious massive distance between where we were going and Turkey's neighbouring Syria, and said terrorism was unlikely to be an issue. Looking at a map, Turkey is indeed vast. So I thought, yes they are right, we should go. Someone else pointed out that there are suicide bombings in Turkey from time to time executed by domestic extremists, especially in touristy areas, and I thought, yes they are right, we shouldn't go.

Then I googled Bodrum, and came across a
Daily Mail article of Kate Moss's recent trip there (you know where she got into a spot of trouble on her EasyJet flight for getting a bit over enthusiastic - after returning from the detox place in Bodrum?). I have a loathing of the Daily Mail, but this time round I thought: You see, Kate Moss went to Turkey, and it's in the Daily Mail - a publication that loves terrorising people with it's knee-jerk fear-inspiring bad journalism, and they are saying how fantastic it is - so it can't be all that bad can it?

FB and The Daily Mail were proving far too confusing with all these mixed opinions, so I looked up the the UK Government travel advice regarding Turkey, and this is what it says:

Demonstrations regularly take place across Turkey, particularly in Istanbul in the area around Taksim Square and in Kadikoy (Asian side), in the Kizilay district of central Ankara and on the waterfront area in central Izmir. Demonstrations often coincide with important national anniversaries and there are likely to be additional security measures in place in major cities on these dates. Police have used tear gas and water cannon extensively to disperse protests. You should avoid all demonstrations.Demonstrations are expected on Sunday 26 July across Istanbul including in Okmeydani, Taksim, Istiklal Caddesi, Tunel, Tarlabasi, Sisli, Besiktas, Gazimahallesi, Esenyurt, Bagcilar, on the European side and Kadikoy, Sarigazi and Yenidogan on the Asian side. There may also be demonstrations in other cities across Turkey. Police have used tear gas and water cannon extensively to disperse protests. You should avoid all demonstrations and leave the area if one develops.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Turkey and there are active terrorist groups throughout the country. These include domestic religious extremist and ideological groups, and international groups involved in the conflict in Syria. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners.The terrorist group DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front) has launched a series of attacks in Istanbul in 2015 targeting the Turkish police and judiciary. On 5 June, two people were killed and many injured by an explosion at an HDP rally in Diyarbakir. On 9 June, 4 people were killed in an attack in Diyarbakir. You should exercise caution.Border crossings into Syria and nearby locations have also been targeted. On 20 July, a suicide bomber killed at least 28 people and injured over 100 others in Suruc, Sanlurfa. See Terrorism and the FCO’s travel advice for Syria
Many parts of Turkey are subject to earthquakes. An earthquake of magnitude 6.5 occurred on 24 May 2014 in the Sea of Marmara. See Natural disasters

So for someone who is travelling with small children all of my red lights were now flashing: Demonstrations, Terrorism and Earthquakes. Not again with the bloody earthquakes. The one in Japan was enough, and the 'high threat of terrorism in Turkey' was sufficient to convince me it was actually a really really bad idea. Plus my sister had WhatsApped me just that morning telling me that Sky News had said Turkey was a high risk country and they were expecting more problems.

By this point we were due to travel the following morning, I was in a flat panic, and I was running out of time to make a call on whether or not we were going. I say I was running out of time, because my husband had no doubts at all. There he was was whistling away, printing out our EasyJet passes and packing his socks, and evidently quite looking forward to our holiday with absolutely no concerns at all. While it can infuriate me sometimes, I inwardly envy the fact that he is so rational and unmoved by scare mongering and general panic and nonsense, the way that I am.

As a final bid for some reassurance, I emailed the hotel.

Me: To whom it may concern;

My family and I are due to travel to your hotel tomorrow for a 12 night stay. There appears to be a high level of warnings regarding the safety of visiting Turkey right now in terms of terrorists targeting British and American tourists. As you can imagine, this is of great concern to us especially as we are travelling with our children.

Can you please shed some light on whether or not this is something that is of a realistic concern in Bodrum and what if any security measures your hotel takes to keep its guests safe in the event of risks of this kind.

Many thanks
The hotel responded with:  
First of all, we would like to thank you for your e-mail. We do understand and respect all your concerns about the warnings especially as a mother. However, we would like to inform you that our hotel has 24 hours high level of security controls.
All our Hotel Managers and Colleagues are always an alert for any kind of threats because the safety of our guests is the first priority. Also, we want to assure you that our management has not received any warnings from the Government regarding a terrorist attacks for tourists in Bodrum or in other cities. Unfortunately knowing that these kinds of terror attacks can happen anywhere in the world makes us really upset as human and we do hope it will end soon to have a peaceful life for our children. Should you have any further assistance, please feel free to contact.  Kind regards

I felt heard, my concerns were not waved away as pure paranoia, but I think mostly it was the last bit about how terrorism could happen anywhere in the world that finally put things into perspective for me . Of course it could - how could we we forget the bombs that had torn through the public transport system in London ten years ago? Or 9/11 in the USA, or the killings of the journalists and staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris? Or the lunatic that took hostages in the chocolate shop in Australia? So many of these terrible things perpetuated in places one wouldn't ordinarily associate with such acts of terror by people with a form of mental illness or a criminal history who had chosen to align their actions with the Muslim faith. 

It's just that when you have children, everything changes and your happy go lucky devil-may-care adventurous approach to travel becomes outranked by your primary concern of keeping them safe. "Calm the fuck down." I told myself in that way I do when I have frank internal conversations with myself and one of my voices has to be the tough rational one. 
You cannot live your life fearing the worst. Bad stuff can happen anywhere, and sometimes it does. But are you going to lead your life being afraid to leave the house because of what might happen? Are you going to stop having incredible experiences and showing your children the world on account of a very vague possibility? In my experiences of travelling almost everyone had always been welcoming, and maybe my husband was right, maybe the thing we really needed to fear was being in a road accident, which statistically is the thing most likely to kill you when travelling. And given, unlike my aforementioned friend I am not someone who takes my life into my hands every time I have a forkful, chances are it would all be fine.

And so, not without trepidation, we went on our holiday to Bodrum in Turkey.

Continue reading Bodrum (Part II) here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sizing up

"I think maybe it's not such a bad thing that you are overweight. It means boys won't be interested and you can concentrate on your studies."

I was 17-years-old when my father said this to me. He said it casually, as though he were thinking out loud.  I wasn't shocked or surprised - a little humiliated and hurt yes. But this is how my family talked about weight and appearances: in a matter of fact cause and effect sort of way, and it had been that way since I could remember.

My extended family were at it too. Whenever you saw them, there'd be a comment on how you looked - if you had gained or lost weight, how you wore your hair, what you were wearing. Lunches at my mother's family's house were tremendously anxiety provoking to me as a teenager because my appearance was open for public discussion and opinion, whether I liked it or not.

And it wasn't just my family either. As a teenager I'd visit my brother's wife's parents house, and my sister-in-law's father would comment: 'You're getting a bit chubby hey?" And his wife, a petite redheaded woman who I adored, would admonish him. "Don't love, girls at this age are very sensitive." I'd smile awkwardly as though I was in on the joke, and inwardly I wanted the floor to open and swallow me up.  

Rewind a few years before the 17-year-old fat shaming incident with my father: I am little and sitting at the table with my family.  My father is seated at the head of the table and is threatening my siblings and I with a spanking if we don't eat our food. "You are not leaving this table until you eat every last thing." I don't, and after everyone goes off to watch TV, I'm left behind at the table as my food slowly develops rigor mortis. Sometimes my brother comes into the kitchen for a snack (he is always hungry), and I bribe him to eat my now ice cold food with whatever sweets I've managed to save up. The only thing I genuinely enjoy and eat readily (apart from sweets) is marmalade on toast. I start developing white spots all over my body, so my mother takes me to the doctor. Sitting in his consulting room, a cigarette smouldering in his large fingers, he advises my mother and me that I have a deficiency, and looking me straight in the eye informs me that if I don't start eating I am going to die. I am about seven years old.

In his 30s my father used to go to the gym almost every evening after work. He'd come home with a pocketful of peppermints for us from the gym's reception. Occasionally he'd enter amateur body building competitions and one of the best things that ever happened to him was meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was Mr Universe at the time) who was a judge at a competition he participated in in South Africa . My father was handsome and in great physical shape. He was also naturally slender and I imagine the bodybuilding was a way of bulking up and feeling bigger and stronger - a form of compensation for his slender frame. 

My grandmother, my mother's mother,  and my aunt (my mother's sister) were always on some kind of diet - the mango diet, the carrot diet (my grandmother's hands started turning yellowy/orange), the watermelon diet. My own mother never dieted but she maintained her slender frame with portion control and is still to this day the sort of person who never sits still. At family lunches the women in my family would stand around in the kitchen with their hands on their hips comparing diet notes, and complimenting whoever happened to have lost a lot of weight recently. 

I was a slender child but I was also very active. Never particularly good at sports, I participated irrespective: Netball, softball, occasionally some tennis, the requisite school athletics. However when I went to high school I stopped doing sports because the school was a long way from home. I chose the drama club as my after school activity of choice, which was once a week, and a lot less hassle for my mother who had to play taxi. With the advent of puberty I started eating a lot more, and along with very little to no exercise, I started gaining weight as most young girls do. My sister and I joined a gym, and when I was around 14-years-old, worrying about getting fat,  I put myself on a diet and started running around the block each day after school. I had just started menstruating and it stopped because my weight dropped to around 41kgs. Everyone said I looked great.

At 17 my father died suddenly and I started eating and also drinking heavily when I'd go out with my friends on the weekends. I'd see people at school the following week and they'd tell me they'd seen me at this or that club and I had no memory of it. I look back on it now and it's obvious that it was a way of dealing with my grief and the many unresolved issues I had with my father. But even though he had passed, my father was right -  I had very little to no interest from boys. And compared to my friends who were all so enviably slender, I felt huge. My diaries from that time are miserable tortured entires of my weight, how much I hated how I looked, and endless lists of what I had eaten on any given day. Not long after this I left home for university, and the eating and drinking continued and very soon I weighed around 75kgs or 165 pounds. At 1.54cm tall it was a lot of weight on my small frame.

On returning home from my first term at university, my mother took one look at me and her face fell. I overheard her on the phone to my grandmother talking about how fat I'd become and she was truly devastated. I imagined had she discovered I had a drug problem it would have been preferable - anything but being fat. Thereafter jokes at my expense flowed: Referring to me and my tall slender first year boyfriend as Laurel and Hardy or Little and Large, or saying she was amazed my bicycle seat was even remotely visible when I used it. She thought these jokes were hilarious. Making fun of people who were overweight or skinny or different was so commonplace in my family that it wouldn't even have occurred to her that she was being hurtful. If you didn't want to be on the receiving end - it was simple: lose the weight and get your act together.

A few months ago I was at breakfast with my friend and her mother. Her mother told me that her daughter had gotten ill as a teenager and as a result of medication and hormones had gained a lot of weight over a relatively short period of time. Not realising how much her body shape had changed, she continued to dress as she had before - and a lot of the clothes were too short, too tight, and not right for her figure. "But I didn't want to dent her confidence or make her feel that I didn't love her for who she was, so I didn't say anything - I just let her get on with it," she said. My friend leaned in to her mother and smiled lovingly. I nodded my head thinking back to my own very different experience at that age.

After leaving university I moved in with my older brother for a while. He begged and pleaded with me to join a gym with him because he didn't want to go alone. For all I know this was his way of telling me I needed to get healthy and lose weight, but he never said that to me, he never made me feel bad about how I looked. I arrived and my initial gym weigh-in and physical assessment reeking of cigarette smoke and beer following a social function at the Taiwanese trade magazine I worked on. And so, begrudgingly, I agreed to join Golds Gym with my brother. Almost a year of going to the gym every day ahead of work later, I lost a total of 25kgs or 55 pounds. I recall going to buy a jacket with my mother and sister and asking the sales person for a large and she looked at me and said: "No no, my dear, you are a small." It was a whole new world.

After moving to the UK in my early 20s I lived in a bedsit for a while and gained a lot of weight once again. I was very lonely, didn't have much of a social life, certainly didn't attend a gym, and on the weekends I would spend most of my time in my room watching Sunset Beach omnibuses and eating take out and ice-cream. As the months passed and I started establishing a life for myself, making friends and having relationships, the weight came off again and apart from pregnancy weight, I've not had a weight problem in that same way since.

I recently read a fascinating article on the nature of addiction in the Huffington Post by Johann Hari, this bit really got my attention:

"If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments -- ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The advert explains: "Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It's called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you."
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did." Continue reading the article here.

How many of us see someone who is overweight and think only that that person is lazy, that they are hooked on rubbish and overeating, and that they don't care to exercise? Very few people stop and wonder what that person's life is like: Are they lonely? Have they had something traumatic happen to them? Are they in a destructive relationship? Are they facing hardships? Are they incredibly bored at work and under-stimulated? Are their primary relationships with their parents unhealthy? Do they feel alone and unloved?

For me the relationship between loneliness and unhappiness is directly linked to my weight and health. If I look back at the times in my life I have been very overweight - those were periods I was most unhappy or lonely. And I doubt I'm alone.

I was on holiday in December ahead of my 40th birthday and I started to have this panic about turning 40 and going on a beach holiday with my husband. And the fact that I don't have a bikini body (whatever the hell that is), and that I have cellulite, and that my stomach isn't flat, and my thighs meet and form these bulges on the sides that even industrial strength Spanx struggle to tame. And that a lot of relationships are failing around me and men are leaving their wives and young families for younger, slimmer models. And even though I was able to see the absurdity of these thoughts (and the inherent sexism and the fact this this kind of thinking was insulting to my husband), I was still irrationally panicked by them. So I decided that I must have a cross trainer, I absolutely must - my future happiness and my marriage depended on it.

So I hired one, and in three months I used it four times. It sat in my art room amongst all my paintings, my computer, and my books, and I'd walk in in the morning and I'd resent it. It was a constant reminder of the fact that I wasn't using it: so therefore it was a constant reminder to me that I was lazy, didn't have willpower, was fat, couldn't possibly be found attractive or lovable. Basically like my father's voice, or those historic lunches with my family coming back to haunt me each morning.

The day I called the guys and they came and collected the cross trainer, it was like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like dancing a jig and singing "Ding Dong the witch is dead." Now while I write this I appreciate that for people who enjoy the gym and their running and their exercise classes, this sounds absolutely absurd. But you have to understand that a lot of these simple healthy occupations have very negative associations for me  - they exist solely to remind me that as I am, I am not good enough. This genuinely taints my relationship with exercise and diet in a way that it probably shouldn't.

My current level of activity includes a 25 minute walk most mornings, I do pilates once a week and play tennis once week, I refuse to see or call any of this exercise. Such is my resentment of the concept of exercise for exercise's sake (the gym makes me think of a hamster on a wheel). So I rationalise that my walking is to get home and not sit in traffic, and to get some fresh air and think. The pilates if for my neck and back, and the tennis is to master a skill.

I was at lunch with a really good friend of mine at the beginning of the year and I said to her: "I'm just so tired of this bullshit dysmorphia that I have going. Even when I lost all of the weight, I still found things about my body that I disliked and I wasn't particularly confident. I have UK size 8 dresses in my cupboard that look tiny to me now, and I remember wearing them about two years ago and worrying about the fact that I felt big. We are never happy as women are we? I mean, when will this self loathing stop?" And she looked at me squarely and said: "It stops when you decide it stops."

I was interested to see what people my age are doing in terms of exercise and why. Doing a small Vox Pop on FB it appears that a lot of people are keen on running these days, yoga is always a constant, and spinning is pretty big too. A good friend of mine has a personal trainer that arrives at her house a few times a week: "If he didn't, I wouldn't do it. But because he turns up I cannot get out of it." Then there's Karl Lagerfeld who said he lost the weight so he could wear nice clothes, which narcissistically I can relate to. I love clothes, but the clothes I love don't suit my figure. Not that I'm FB friends with Lagerfeld. Or the email I got from an old school friend who told me due to a debilitating illness she is no longer able to exercise in the same way, and that she has gained weight, but that fortunately her husband still loves her the way she is. And it made me think about myself, and how many of us equate being loved, being attractive, being accepted, with our dress size. And that makes me deeply sad. It really does.

Likewise I got a lot of emails from people talking about how exercise was a celebration for them; it made them feel good, it made them process their emotions better and they felt healthier not just physically but emotionally too. Or for my friend's young son, who following leg surgery and months in a wheelchair, has totally transformed his life and gained a new-found confidence by losing an astonishing 42kgs or 92 pounds. Some of my friends, also in their 40s, talked about adjusting their diet and exercise to encourage heart health  - obviously an increasingly worthy concern as you get older.

Fast forward a few months after my conversation about dysmorphia with my friend at lunch (because while one may have an epiphany, acting on it often happens a while after the fact) I decided I was going to get rid of my bathroom scales. I was using mine every morning - in the past I had used them morning and night, so this was a noticeable improvement. What I discovered is that far from helping me keep in shape, the scales were actually hampering my body image and relationship with food instead of improving it, and here's why:

Each morning, after peeing, I would weigh myself. Depending on the number (it usually varied by 500 grams up or down) I would reflect on what I had eaten the day before that might have constituted the difference. I'd quietly admonish myself if it was up (thinking of that extra glass of wine or bit of chocolate I had had before bed), and I'd feel enormously frustrated if I hadn't eaten very much the day before and hadn't lost anything. So basically, before my day had even started I was (a) Thinking about food (b) Having negative thoughts about myself all thanks to a couple of digits.

What the hell kind of way is that to start the day right?

So I got rid of them. The first few days were panicky. What if I balloon? I mean, if I don't see those numbers it might get completely out of hand. How can I trust myself? But slowly over the next few days, weeks, and months, I've found it totally transformative. And here's why:

I don't start the day thinking about food: what I ate the day before, and what I need to eat that day. More so I'm thinking about if I need to wash my hair, getting the kids up, hoping my son is in a good mood when he wakes up, and that I'd like a cup of tea. I might eat a piece of toast while I make my daughter's packed lunch, and sometimes I don't eat until I get back from taking the kids in to school because I've never really been a morning person when it comes to food. Ideally I like to eat at around 9 or 10am. During the day food doesn't really feature that much in my thoughts - if I'm hungry I eat, otherwise I don't. I eat what I want, and when I've had enough, I stop, not feeling compelled to finish what is on my plate. Meal times aren't really relevant to me, but then I don't work in an environment where I am restricted in that way, which I appreciate a lot of people are in terms of work.

My current clothes still fit me, some of them more snuggly than others which sometimes makes me panic all over again and think I need to get the scales out of the cupboard. But the reality is, I have not ballooned in weight, and even more interestingly, the self loathing thing is slowly starting to fade too, which I suppose is helped by the fact that I don't have those hateful conversations with myself each morning. 

My husband actually prefers a curvy shape - not to objectify people, but we are all of us drawn to certain things in terms of what we find attractive. For him it's Christina Hendricks, and failing that, me.  And after years of telling me this I am slowly starting to believe him, and not just thinking he says that to me to make me feel better about myself while secretly lusting after tall skinny model types. But even though I am now with someone that loves and accepts me unconditionally and actually finds my figure very attractive, that negative self loathing thing I have going is hard to beat. Indeed the voices from our past are hard to silence completely, but right now I'll settle for an occasional whisper. 

I probably massively over-compensate against the obsession with physical appearance I was raised with and don't use words like fat or thin around my children - nor do I ever identify people I am referring to in terms of these sorts of physical descriptions. I also never talk about my feelings about my own appearance in front of them. Food is simply something we eat to nourish our bodies, keep up our energy, and something that brings us together as a family. I get as frustrated and at times worried as my father and mother probably did when my children refuse to eat perfectly good food, but there are no threats of physical violence if they do not eat, and emptying their plates is not a requirement. However making an effort to at least try something is strongly encouraged. I also try and make things they enjoy eating even if the menu does become somewhat repetitive -  especially where my son is concerned.

I recently had an appointment and felt worried ahead of it that some of my 'thin' nice clothes don't fit and I didn't know what I was going to wear. Shopping is often frustrating because I don't think anything looks good on me because my body shape does not conform with an idea of what I think I should look like, i.e. Daphne Guinness. So a friend of mine offered to go shopping with me and suggested a few things that she felt would suit my figure. She was honest and encouraging and  I bought a couple of new items of clothing that weren't actually in larger sizes, but in cuts that were tailored to my figure and that suited my shape. And voila - I looked good, and I felt confident.

While I was trying on a pair of an excessively tight jeans in the department store the young sales person said to me: "Wow, you have the perfect figure - you have curves in all the right places." Obviously my immediate reaction was that she was flattering me to get a sale, because she couldn't possibly have been honest. I mean, how can I, with big backside and ample thighs be considered perfect? So I looked directly at her in that dead pan way I like to joke and replied: Thank you. You know, I have to eat a lot of cake to get my curves this way." And she responded earnestly with: "Really? Cake? I eat cake, I mean I do, but it just doesn't work for me." In that moment I realised that the compliment had been earnest. This slender girl wanted what I had and didn't want. And obviously she was completely stark raving mad. But it made me smile.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

To unfriend or not to unfriend

Back in March I posted a question on FB asking people what their thoughts on circumcision were. I probably should have known better because it's one of those contentious things that's associated with sex, and religion, and parenting. And any idiot knows it's dangerous territory questioning how people raise their children. Asking about these things on FB is also a great way to get unfriended, but more on that later. I think sex, religion and politics and parenting are exactly what we should be discussing because how we think about these things, how they drive us, or affect how we live our lives, has a very direct impact on the world at large. Also how can you possibly begin to know someone unless you know their opinions or beliefs on these things?

The circumcision question led to a torrent of heated response. It was a shit storm actually. And for a large part of the weekend over which this took place, I felt like I was backed into a corner with a chair in one hand and a whip in the other to defend the fact that I had dared raise this topic for discussion in a public forum, and for my own opinion on the matter. The responses from people went something like this: Those in favour cited everything from religious reasons, to health and hygiene benefits, to aesthetics (like father like son). Those against started off with the relatively tame: There is insufficient evidence to make this a necessary procedure. To those who felt it was an unnecessary painful and traumatic experience to put a baby through. To those who said it was infringing on the rights of a child to perform such a cosmetic procedure before they were of age to consent. To those who felt it was akin to female circumcision because you are removing a part of the penis that has a role in sexual gratification. 

You see where this is going right?

We all want to do what is right for our children - and that was abundantly clear even when the bullets were flying in this debate. No one was circumcising their child to mutilate them or deprive them of later sexual gratification - and no one was not doing it because they didn't care if their child, as an adult, might be more at risk of STDs. People were making decisions based on what they felt was right for their children, and there were good intentions all around - even underneath all the vitriol.

The content of this debate is valid but not the point of this particular post. What was interesting to me was that people are a lot more defensive of their beliefs than I had expected. I mean, really really defensive. It was easy to see how things like this lead to massive arguments on and off FB and the much dreaded 'un-friending'.

I question everything I believe in or think because arriving at some kind of informed objective truth is far more important to me than being right, and there are many times when I am proven to be wrong. It's also why I take advantage of using FB as a kind of vox pop source of information for things I am interested in or want to write about. By today's count I have 392 FB friends.You better believe that among these 392 people I am going to get a lot of very varied opinions, also included in that some direct experience and professional data because of the nature of some people lives or their work. It's an interesting, valuable and handy source of informal information, especially if you are genuinely interested in what people think, rather than people just agreeing with you. In my personal non FB life, I don't surround myself with people who are just like me either, but there is something to be said for likemindedness amongst one's friends. Discussion and even heated debate is something I value in my friendships and admittedly a commonality we share. We argue about pretty much everything, and in an ideal situation this happens over wine and good food. It is one of life's great pleasures and more so it serves a vital role in our personal development, education, and the continued betterment of the world at large.  

Among my 392 FB friends, some of these people I have known since I was five years old, but haven't seen in 30 odd years. Some of them are mums from the school run, people I used to work with, others I've met socially along the way, or through a class I am doing. And sometimes they are through another friend on FB which means I haven't actually met the person in real life. I'd say 98% of these people are not a regular part of my day to day life in terms of people I see socially, talk to on the phone or email. And there's a good chance that were some of these people a real and active part of my life, the friendships might not actually translate and endure.  

How often have you been genuinely surprised by people's posts or responses to things you post on FB? Certainly I have often thought to myself: Wow, I kind of thought I knew you, but I had no idea you were so religious or had such and such political views, or that you had a predilection towards kinky stuff, or that you were a gifted artist, or that you like base jumping or believe in spanking children etc etc etc. Recently someone I thought of as an artist and free thinker posted something intimating a strong anti gay marriage sentiment. I was at a loss for words. You make these assumptions about people, based on a handful of things they post and to a large extent what you want to be true about them, and then it turns out there's a sting in the tail. I suppose it's a cautionary tale of how we often get taken by con men for example, because we desperately want people to be like us and essentially good guys, and we project a whole lot of stuff on to them that is often nothing at all to do with that person's own character. But it's all good - differences are what make the world a more interesting place. I might not agree with this persons' feelings about not wanting gay people to enjoy their basic human right to be as unhappy as all the other straight married people in the world, but I'm not going to unfriend him over it. At the same time, geographical limitations aside, I'm not going to have him at my dinner table either. 

It occurred to me that people's FB posts and exchanges in the comments are a reminder of a few things: 1. Sex, religion and politics seem to be discussed a lot more and a lot more freely on FB than we do face to face.  2. Even though they might like your stuff from time to time, people you are friends with on FB are not always going to agree with you and not everyone is going to like what you have to say. So if it's important for you to be liked - don't share your opinions on FB. Stick to cute pictures of animals. 3. At some point, you are going to get unfriended or do some un-friending yourself.

I got lucky following circumcision-gate.  To my knowledge, or at least regarding people who I know well and care about, I was not unfriended for raising the topic or for my own stance on the subject. I am so used to healthy debate in my real life friendships that it would be a genuine shock to me that someone might actually unfriend me simply because we disagreed on something. However I also appreciate that by raising the subject I was not able to edit other people's responses, some of which were considered deeply offensive. I'll take that. I also however see this as freedom of speech in action, and all concerned had the option to simply opt out of the discussion at any time or silence it from their feed. No one was forcing any of us to fight this to the death - me included. But then personally, I am tenacious and stubborn like that, often to my detriment.

Following on from this, I was curious to find out what sort of things people do unfriend or get unfriended over. So once again I took to my handy population of 392 to find out what they thought, and posed the question. Have you unfriended or been unfriended (to your knowledge) and why? The responses were interesting, and not all of them for the dramatic reasons I might have imagined.

This first response sent to me by a friend articulates what I imagine most people fall out over - politics and religion. Those big serious subjects that people take so personally, and feel very strongly and emotively about. Also I appreciate his honesty where he talks about actively provoking people because I think we've all, at some time or another, been a bit guilty of that.

This is what he had to say:
"My unfriendings were mostly due to disagreements on two topics: religion and South African politics. In the former category, I suspect people unfriended me because I've been vocal about my own anti-religious views and they happened to be religious people, and in the latter category, I'm pretty sure I was unfriended because I called out white South African hypocrisy and racism, and that puts some people on the defensive. In terms of unfriending, I find Americans to be way more tolerant of different - even offensive - posts/views than South Africans. Most of my unfriendings, by far, were from South Africans and resulted, as I've said, from disagreements over politics and religion. Come to think of it, the few American FB friends that I've had serious disagreements with have not unfriended me. They might have unfollowed my feed, but I'm still "friends" with them. 
The most acrimonious FB disagreements I've had were with white South Africans (former classmates from either high school or college) who took exception to my liberal views on SA politics and race relations, and the accusation frequently thrown at me is that because I live abroad I don't know how "bad" things have gotten in SA and therefore can't judge the validity of their (right-wing) views. To be fair though, I do enjoy provoking people (because I believe it serves a purpose), and I'm therefore not all that surprised when my FB comments draw an outraged, angry reaction from certain people. 
I've also done my share of unfriending, and I usually do so because of overt racism on their part or because of insanely conspiratorial right-wing views. A few years ago, I unfriended an acquaintance because she referred to black people's dreadlocks as "dirty." I've also unfriended a number of American acquaintances because of their rabid - and frankly, racist - anti-Obama beliefs. No big loss there. 
Finally, I just want to say that I think the common wisdom that FB is a truncation of actual face-to-face interaction is actually quite wrong. The fact is that we tend to self-censor much more during face-to-face interactions because the threat and consequences of disagreement and offense are so much closer and immediate, whereas the indirect nature of FB actually allows us to disclose more and display parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain hidden. In my experience, FB has actually allowed me to "know" people in greater depth than before, and vice versa. FB doesn't obscure our "real" selves; it often brings them out into the light and puts them on display for the world to see."
Another friend added: 
"Once that I know about I have no idea why. Maybe because of my conversations with x where I sometimes take positions that others (including myself at times) wouldn't like. I have unfriended because of game requests. Otherwise I shunt people into a group that can see a limited part of my feed and profile. I take great pains to interact with people on fb as I would in real life." 
One person told me she often gets unfriended because she posted things about her vegan beliefs which some people felt were too harsh, but told me they weren't as bad as some of her other vegan friends who posted a lot of upsetting photos on the subject. She wondered why people didn't just silence her posts. This same person told me she in turn unfriended someone because they were advertising puppies for sale - something she felt very strongly about.

For a lot of people unfriending appears to simply be a pragmatic thing, but drama queens beware!
"I used to have exactly 100 friends and a strict one in, one out policy! I have no qualms about unfriending people. I normally do it because I want to limit the audience that I share with. I've relaxed a bit about it these days though..."
"Every now and then I go on a "spring clean " my friend list. They are mainly the needy, attention seeking drama queens. With us moving every 2.5-3 years there's just some people who don't need to follow my next chapter in life. I'm sure I've been Un friended for a number of reasons. I'm just not everyone's cup of tea." 
"Depending on how close I am to the person I unfriend or silence them. I usually unfriend people I've never met, or old "friends" from school days that I don't interact with, people that I am not close to who are drama queens, or who constantly post things I am not interested in. If I am quite good friends with them or I don't want to upset them, I'll choose to unfollow them - then I don't see their posts but I can still interact with them from time to time. Really like the comment above about interacting with people as I would do in real life and I also try to do that - not always successfully. I think it's key to remember that it's easy to offend via FB/email/text as it's the mood of the person reading your post rather than the mood you were in when you posted it that determines their reaction."
Interestingly, it also appears that people get unfriended when there is a change in relationship status:
"I got unfriended when I made some comments on somebody's picture and she did not like it. Another girl unfriended me once when we were still starting to get to know each other. I asked her what up, then she added me again. But I think a month later, she unfriended me for good when she got married and had a baby to her exercise coach. But that's ok. I gained two more friends from her."
"I've also had quite a few incidences of guys getting engaged and suddenly vanishing (in some cases because they did and others I suspect the fiancé went through and deleted on their behalf...)"
Some people seemed concerned about unfriending because they didn't want to offend people. This strikes me as a real life problem too - how many of us put up with genuinely unpleasant family members or people in our lives because we don't want to offend them? So effectively because we want to be considered nice people, we allow others to be awful.
"We all want to be liked I think it is definitely a form of rejection, which no one likes, so we take it personally. Even if we are not particularly fond of the person who had un-friended you."
"I discussed the topic with my teenage daughter and she uses the silencing thing, so as not to hurt other people's feelings OR cause trouble, as she says." 
"I contemplated the one in one out at 100 too! ... And I use the silence / I don't want to see these posts thing. I hesitate to unfriend due to possible offence being taken. I accidentally friended someone I don't really know recently and they accepted - feel bad now unfriending."
Personally, I have only unfriended a total of 2 people since I joined FB at its genesis all those years ago. For one thing, I am a lot more forgiving of people's nonsense, because I myself an guilty of it all too often. People say stupid things all the time, it doesn't make them a bad person. Also rightly or wrongly, I always assume ignorance first rather than genuine malice. I think were more people given to introspection, empathy, lateral thinking, properly informing themselves on a subject,  as well as good impulse control, life would be a lot easier for them and they'd alienate a lot fewer people.

However there are times when people post pictures of dead bodies, dead or tortured children, or likewise animals that have been subjected to unthinkable cruelty. And this is my greatest bugbear with FB. I can tolerate pretty much anything - even the bigoted crap, but to be unexpectedly
 faced with an upsetting photograph (where I've not actively been in a position to choose whether or not I see it by clicking on the link) I find close to unforgivable. I posted something about this a few months back and someone rightly pointed out that I was adopting a head in the sand attitude to the very real cruelties that are happening in the world. It's true, sometimes I do, for my mental health, there are days I cannot be reading about human and animal atrocities. But equally most days I'm clicking on news links and informing myself on another example of why man is hell bent on destroying himself, along with this beautiful planet, as much as the next person. I just ask, and is it so much to ask? to give me a little warning - so depending on what kind of head space I am in, I can prepare myself for what I am about to see - rather than get some horrific image staring back at me first thing in the morning right next to the ad that tells me I can lose 95% of my belly fat. These days I simply click on the 'I don't want to see this post' and it seems to be working - a lot fewer visual shocks first thing in the morning.

I see the unfriend button as this very serious daunting absolute last resort kind of thing - not unlike the big red 'fire missiles' button you see in war films or ones about nuclear devastation. That once pressed - there is no going back - it's final. So you've got to be pretty damn sure and you've got to live with the consequences of it.

The first of the two people I unfriended was a guy I was at junior school with who was an on off boyfriend - in that innocent way early childhood boyfriends are. I hadn't seen or spoken to him since I was about 13-years-old and saw him on FB and jumped at the opportunity to find out what had happened to him and where life had taken him. Something I'd often wondered about over the years. It started off well enough, and then he started posting these really snippy and gradually plain nasty comments in response to fairly innocuous day to day posts of mine. The words internet troll came to mind. It was like he had some weird bone to pick with me (unresolved relationship issues from when we were 8-years-old?) and I got a distinct toxic somewhat disturbed disengaged vibe from him. I unfriended him and that's the last I heard.

The other unfriending was actually a pretty big deal. A good and close friend of mine for many years and I got into what was a fairly stupid disagreement following a post about the origins of my family's ancestry. It moved off of the page into direct messages. We went back and forth a few times and it was escalating. At one point I offered an apology to deflect what was getting seriously and disproportionately out of hand and my friend continued to attack me with some very personal character assassinations. Feeling there was genuinely no way in for a resolution, I unfriended him. Had this been anyone else I wouldn't have cared, but it hurt deeply. A year and three months later of no contact both in the real world and on FB, I got a message with a heartfelt apology and fences were mended. I have no doubt that were we face to face when that initial conversation about my family had taken place none of this would have transpired, especially as our relationship had withstood a good few squabbles over the years. But, however narrowly, we survived it, and it was a slap in the face reminder of the dangers of how quickly these kinds of exchanges can lead to real destruction.

A big thanks to everyone who contributed to this post. This is by no means a well researched or exhaustive piece on the subject. It's simply an opinion piece and I'm sure there are still many instances of why people unfriend that I haven't covered. So if you would like to add your two cents worth or relate your experience on the matter, please leave a comment following this on FB or in the comments below.

And finally, here are some examples of FB and social media exchanges that didn't have quite such a happy ending: