It's one o'clock in the morning and I've woken up in a panic in a Premier Inn in Northampton. A sleeping concern has proved so troublesome that it's woken me up. "Do you need a visa to travel to Turkey?" I'm googling. It turns out that you do. But it also turns out that one can be obtained online in just a couple of minutes - and all for the princely sum of twenty euros. And as Brexit draws ever nearer, the till-recently unthinkable prospect of requiring visas for more and more countries is becoming to feel less unreal.
But that was ten days ago - and now I'm here in Turkey - representing as creatives at the British Embassy School in Ankara (BESA), and having completed three days of our creative maths workshops. I've also sampled a wide variety of Turkish cuisine, including gulboregi (light and fluffy cheesy, herby pastries), pide (similar to pizza - but made on flat bread and featuring copious quantities of egg) and the most delicate falafels I've ever tasted. Tonight's offering (shared with Sarah, my host at BESA) was the fantastic koz patlikan (smoked aubergine burger), at the amazing Veganka, a bohemian, vegetarian and vegan restaurant in the heart of the city.
I've seen cats galore, both in the streets and at the school itself - and taken my life in my hands pretty much every time I've crossed a road (the best advice from the concierge at my hotel was to "watch for a little gap in the traffic - and run!"). Actually, life isn't that much safer on the bustling pavements - which often stop suddenly at the rims of holes up to three feet deep. Which may be why many of the locals seem to prefer to relax in the many small urban parks - the much-used Kigulu Park is less than three minutes walk from the hotel. There are statues and representations of Ataturk everywhere - not surprising, since he used Ankara as the base from which, in 1921, he launched his bid to transform Turkey into a modern, secular state.
This has been as creatives' (and my) fifth visit to an International School, following two trips to Malaysia and one each to Denmark and the Czech Republic. So while all these schools have followed a broadly British curriculum, we've now gained a good knowledge and understanding of both the similarities and differences between approaches to maths in these schools and those back at home. Which means, of course, that we're able to give solid advice on which workshops might best suit different schools' needs - and to put together programmes that make the best use of the time available. So the three days here in Ankara have seen Nursery and Reception classes exploring Pirate Shapes, every class from Year 1 to Year 6 taking part in Outdoor Maths workshops, every class from Year 1 to Year 8 enjoying our ever-successful CSI: Maths sessions - and Year 9 thriving on the challenge of our fiendish codebreaking activity, The Bunker. I've also delivered our best attended Family Maths workshop ever - ending everything off with a Twilight looking at Creative Approaches to Maths for staff not just from BESA, but from the two nearby establishments too: the Pakistan Embassy International School and the Oasis International School.
Ankara is a friendly city and, even though my Turkish is effectively limited to "Mehreba!" (an all-purpose "Hello!"), every single person I've met has been eager to help. This extends to BESA itself, where adults, children and young people alike couldn't have been more welcoming. Staff have seemed genuinely interested in what I've been doing - and I've enjoyed interesting lunchtime conversations in the garden of what is the only pub I've ever been too that's wholly situated in a school's grounds! Not that any alcohol is consumed at the Red Lion Club - or not during the daytime, anyway. I can't speak for Friday evenings, of course ...
The school first opened thirty years ago, but has grown rapidly in the last decade. So, as annexes have been added and new rooms built, it's a bit of a rabbit warren - albeit a rabbit warren that's well-lit throughout, with walls full of the children's work. Right next door to the Embassy itself, it has some princely neighbours, being just down the road from the former Presidential Palace (now home to the Prime Minister) and the only slightly less palatial former official residence of the Prime Minister. In a move that's not met with universal popularity, President Erdogan has built himself an even more impressive home elsewhere in the city.
One of the many reasons I enjoy my overseas trips with as creatives is that I'm forced to try new experiences - often enjoying them much more than I'd expected. And, in a revelation that will shock anyone who knows my coffee-drinking ways, the big discovery this time has been tea. Not any old tea, though. Turkish tea. Turkish tea is definitely something else - and Anne, BESA's librarian, kindly brought me some to take back home with me, together with a packet of halva and, apparently unobtainable in the UK, Turkish fig jam. It doesn't get much better than that.
Read more about our work with International Schools here.