Dom Joly: I have nothing to declare but my genius and a whopping great penguin suit

I remember very little of Istanbul apart from a blurry bathroom and the look of distain on my date's face
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The Independent Online

You start to wonder about your life when you inform your four-year old daughter that Daddy is off to Turkey to be a penguin and she doesn't bat an eyelid. Even if she has now understood that part of my curious way of making a living is by donning fluffy animal costumes, surely she would find the concept of a country called Turkey amusing? Apparently not. She had just covered it in school and was aware of whirling dervishes, its bid to join the EU, and Ataturk's more secularist policies. I withdrew and started to pack.

You start to wonder about your life when you inform your four-year old daughter that Daddy is off to Turkey to be a penguin and she doesn't bat an eyelid. Even if she has now understood that part of my curious way of making a living is by donning fluffy animal costumes, surely she would find the concept of a country called Turkey amusing? Apparently not. She had just covered it in school and was aware of whirling dervishes, its bid to join the EU, and Ataturk's more secularist policies. I withdrew and started to pack.

I hadn't been to Istanbul for about 10 years. Then I was wooing a complicated girl with whom I was madly in love, and I thought that a weekend in Istanbul might do the trick. I had just got my first job in TV as a researcher and blew a month's wages on the trip. I was determined to do something a bit different from the usual Amsterdam/ Paris/Brighton weekend getaway, and thought Istanbul was suitably exotic.

It didn't start well. We got to customs only for my bag to be inspected in front of my beloved. I got progressively redder and redder as he poured out an optimistic assortment of loose condoms, a set of hair crimpers (I was just coming out of quite an intensive Goth period) and, worst of all, a booklet on how to be a successful lover that had been amusingly inserted into my bag by my then flatmate. I was mortified while she looked horrified, especially when my wallet was stolen at the bus station and she realised that she would be footing the bill.

To cap it all I decided to show her how cosmopolitan I was by laughing at her nervousness about eating from street stalls and munching carefree from a boat that was selling fish sandwiches. Half-an-hour later and, for the rest of the weekend, I was totally out of action. I remember very little of the city apart from a blurry, vomit-stained bathroom and the look of disdain on my date's face. We returned to London, my head hung low and she made her excuses almost before we were off the plane.

I was, therefore, quite excited to have an opportunity to see the place again in a different light. A friend of mine is travelling the world in a blag only slightly inferior to that of Dan Cruickshank and his Around the World in 80 Treasures jolly. My friend made a similar film two years ago called One Giant Leap where he travelled the globe interviewing people like Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer while playing music with people like Michael Stipe and Youssou N'Dour. When I got the call to come to Istanbul I was thrilled.

Philosophically I had a lot to say, but hoped that I could also be squeezed into a musical role as well. I was a little confused to be asked to bring a penguin costume but didn't think anything of it until I spoke to them the day before and it turned out that they wanted a "lonely penguin" to wander the streets and bazaars of Istanbul. I was a little put out but felt sure that they were only joking and that I would soon be ensconced in intellectual exchanges with some great minds of the 21st century.

I only had room for the very large penguin costume to go in my suitcase if I didn't take anything else, so I decided to buy what else I needed in Istanbul. This caused some consternation at customs. It wasn't exactly a Midnight Express moment, but getting a Turkish visa with the declared intent of "being a penguin" is not the easiest of tasks.

I was finally allowed into the country and arrived at the hotel to find that they were not joking, and I spent the day being poked and prodded by laughing Turks as I waddled about town in the penguin outfit, trying to retain some dignity. Come the evening, I was exhausted. I got very drunk and ended up at a fish bar having a sandwich. Twenty-four hours later I had emptied half my body weight. There's no business like showbusiness.

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