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Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Seven Days – Part Three” by Ken Dunn

By 10.30am we had arrived at Chateaux Chambord, a huge rambling edifice built over two hundred years before at the height of the fashion for such frippery. Although a bit on the austere side it was certainly impressive. This would surely keep the kids happy for quite a while. It did. It must have been a whole twenty minutes before they were wandering around moaning about being bored. What I couldn’t understand is that you could never even have seen half of it if you’d been running round the damn place for at least an hour. But kids are kids and we were stuck with them.

An hour later we gave up trying to enthuse them about the history of France, this kind of architecture and pushed them back on the coach. We arrived back in Orlean a bit early for a reception at the Town Hall which the Major had kindly invited us to, so, with instructions to all to arrive back at 1.00pm the adults wandered off into the town. Lyndsey, Harry and I found a roadside cafe and basked in the warm sunshine. We didn’t talk much except for taking the piss out of the Queen Bee and just sat there enjoying the weather. A few of the kids bounced past us now and again, all good humoured and enjoying the freedom of being let loose in the town.

At 1.00pm everyone turned up on time. This was truly miraculous but probably more to do with the fact that the kids were told they would be given something to eat. Always a guarantee of punctuality. We trouped in and were seated around a splendid fifteenth century interior on the first floor. The Mayor and a few other worthies were gathered there to thank us for the performance and how much they’d enjoyed it. All this was haltingly translated by Slick who had obviously turned up to take advantage of the free nosh and the odd glass of wine. With the formal reply from George, equally haltingly translated again by Slick all pleasantries were set gently aside for the food.

The kids were not as animal-like as we had feared and although the grub disappeared at a fast rate of knots none of the kids disgraced themselves, except Harry and me that is. Harry had spotted something on the other side of the room and during the formal thanks and reply from George he became a helpless shaking blob just as we had done at the concert on the second day in Paris. He managed to contain himself until the informal lunch began but then retired shaking just as badly to an anteroom. I followed him wondering what the hell he was laughing at. With a hankie stuffed into his mouth, again, it took him a good three minutes to explain. There was a large painting on the other side of the room where we’d been sitting which showed a scene of a large bed, a figure, male, lying half under and half out of the bedclothes and half undressed. By the side of the bed and in the foreground of the picture was a female, again half dressed and leaning towards the male figure, her head blocking out his middle.

At this point the translation from the Mayor, via Slick, had been a comment upon the clarinet solo of the performance. It went something like, ‘And what a good blow job that was!’

Harry was looking at the picture at the time and that, coupled with such an unfortunate translation sent him off completely and as he explained it I went with him.

We had reduced ourselves to a state of total collapse yet again and were not appreciated by either the Mayor or George. Queen Bee and Angryhead were standing there sending bolts of disapproval through the air but the Gerbils had to ask what was going on. The kids thought it was hilarious and it took Lyndsey to get us out before we were thrown out. We’d arranged for the coach to pick us up at 3.30 so there was still over an hour to go. Everyone made a dash for the supermarket and grazed through the place looking for anything to take back. We three took up sentry position at yet another roadside cafe and watched the mayhem on the roads until the coach arrived.

Dinner saw the continuation of the rift between us but this time the Gerbils had given up wondering why Queen Bee and Angryhead were so ‘Celt-like’ and conversed happily with the three of us. Even George softened when we’d explained the nonsense at the town hall. This left the two virgins of the Apocalypse sitting by themselves. They didn’t like that.

The evening was a warm and balmy one and by about 8.30pm Lyndsey, Harry and I were sitting on the steps of the cow shed enjoying a large scotch each. We were running over some of the more daft moments of the trip when round the corner stormed the Queen Bee followed hotly by Angryhead, George and Laurence. My heart sank at this invasion and I wondered what the hell we’d done to deserve it.. Instead of a telling off, which is what I’d expected, she and they wanted our help and judging by their expressions it was serious.

‘What’s up?’ I asked getting up.

‘There’s a man!’ the Queen spat out.

‘A man?’ asked Harry.

‘A man!’ repeated George, ‘In there!’ and he pointed back to the hostel.

‘What man?’ Lyndsey asked, ‘In where?’

‘On our floor!’ the Queen Bee hissed at her, ‘Where do you think?’

‘What’s he doing?’ I asked.

‘How do I know!’ the Queen Bee snapped back. ‘He’s in the male toilets!’

‘Probably having a pee,’ Harry grinned.

She gave Harry a look which would have withered forests.

‘Where’s the patron?’ I asked. ‘He should sort this out.’

‘He’s not here,’ George said mournfully. ‘The staff don’t stay over. There’s nobody at all.’

‘So?’ I asked. ‘What do you want us to do about it?’

The Queen Bee pulled herself up to her full height and launched into one of her bulletins of action.

‘I want you and Harry to ‘escort’ this French ‘gentleman’ off the premises. Then bring your mattresses over to the hostel and take them up to our floor. You can bed down at the top of the stairs and stop anyone coming in during the night.’

Harry and I looked at each other and at the same time turned to the Queen Bee and said in complete unison, ‘Sod off!’

She stepped back as if she’d been punched in the mouth which she’d come pretty close to anyway.

‘How dare you!’ she gasped.

Lyndsey stifled a laugh, George looked stunned and Angryhead stood there speechless. I couldn’t believe the gall of the woman and Harry just burst out laughing.

‘We’ll see to the frog,’ I said, before she could start ranting again, ‘but if you think we’re going to spend the night, on the floor, at the top of the stairs, you must be bloody mad!’

She turned on her heel and stomped off, closely followed by George, Angryhead and Laurence.

‘Come on, Harry,’ I said wearily. ‘We’d better get rid of the frog and try and calm things down somehow.’

‘I’ll hang on here,’ Lyndsey smiled and sat down on the steps again under the lamp over the door, picking up her scotch.

Harry and I found the bloke washing his hands in the gents and after a few gestures and garbled French he was outside and walking away. We later found out that he knew the patron very well and used the place to freshen up on his way home from work. Nothing more sinister than that although why he did that here instead of his own home was a mystery. At the same time the Queen Bee was winding everyone up, including the kids, about a major breach in the security of the building and she would personally be on guard against any other ‘penetration’ of our territory and safety. This had a startling effect on the kids who became extremely worried at this sudden change to their small, and now, thanks to that silly cow, highly vulnerable world.

I tried talking to her and gave her an undertaking that Harry and I would patrol through the night, if necessary, to make sure of no other intruders. She didn’t seem that impressed but she did nod a cursory approval. I left her to it and walked back downstairs with Harry to Lyndsey who was still sitting there with the scotch.

‘She’s crackers, that woman,’ Harry said.

‘Ah,’ Lyndsey said. ‘You’ve noticed that then?’

We poured ourselves another scotch and sat down again. Two hours later we’d emptied the bottle and were beginning to feel no pain.

‘I’d better go and see how the siege is getting on,’ I said and weaved my way to the front door. I pressed the numbers of the combination but the door remained shut. I tried again and it still wouldn’t open. What I didn’t know then was that the Queen Bee had double bolted the door from the inside so there was no chance of anyone, who didn’t have an axe, getting in at all. That left the problem of how Lyndsey was going to get back to her room. That was a problem. I could just see the verbal mileage that poisonous Welsh Celt would generate if Lyndsey had to stay down here with us. I walked back to the other two and reported.

‘The bitch has done that deliberately!’ Lyndsey said.

‘Without a doubt,’ I agreed.

‘Oh, to hell with her!’ Harry beamed. ‘Let’s have another drink.’

He beetled back into the cow shed and came back with another bottle of scotch. Now I realised why he had brought such a large suitcase. It must have been full of the stuff, although by now there couldn’t be much of it left. It became just a little cool for sitting out so we stumbled inside the cow shed. There were two beds in my room and we all flopped down onto them and discussed the week all over again. Just after midnight we still had the problem of how to get Lyndsey back upstairs.

‘If we can’t get in through the front door,’ Lyndsey said, ‘can we get in through a back door somewhere or a window?’

I hadn’t thought of that at all and went off to find out. By the time I got back Harry was spark out on one of the beds and Lyndsey was just sitting, humming one of the themes she and the kids had been performing through the week.

‘Nothing,’ I said, as she looked up.

‘Oh, great,’ she replied, ‘that’s just great’.

I poured myself another scotch and thought about the odd fact that there were no resident staff. I wondered what would happen in a real emergency, like a fire!

‘Hey!’ I said. ‘There’s a fire escape at the side of the place. We might be able to get in that way!’

At almost 1.00am the last thing I would recommend to anyone is negotiating a spiral fire escape, in the dark, in a foreign country. It’s no fun even especially when you might have had a bit too much scotch. Lyndsey followed me up the winding staircase right to the top of the building, the odd giggle popping out now and then. I put my hand on the fire door and twisted. It opened and no screaming warning bell!

Seconds later we had padded silently down the hall and reached her room. She gave me a peck on the cheek and slid inside. That left me in the low, yellow pallor of the night light and now facing the distasteful prospect of a steep descent down that fire escape. To hell with that. I was going down and out through the front door. I strode down the hall to the double doors which opened outwards to the main staircase and pushed. The doors clonked into something on the other side quickly followed by a high pitched, ‘OWW!’

I stuck my head round one of the doors and could see a rumpled mass of bedding stretching across the landing at the top of the stairs. Squeezing through the gap I could feel a large object moving under my right kneecap. I stretched over and switched on the light. Three bleary faces looked up at me from the floor, blinking in the sudden burst of light. They belonged to Laurence, Angryhead and the Queen Bee. They had dragged their mattresses out onto the top landing of the stairs and had probably been there for hours. The Queen Bee was rubbing the top of her head. That was the noise I had heard when I opened the door. It had smacked right into her! What a shame.

‘What the hell are you silly buggers doing out here!’ I said, very loudly.

‘Keeping vigil!’ the Queen Bee snapped back.

‘Keeping vigil?’ I asked ‘Against what?’

‘Intruders,’ she said sulkily.

‘Intruders my bum!’ I shouted at her. ‘I could be an intruder! And what about the fire hazard your causing by lying here, blocking up the doors like beached bloody whales? Get back to bed now! Come on, push off before we wake up the whole bloody floor!’

They got the point and sloped off to their rooms, dragging their bedding with them. George stumbled out to find out what all the row was about. He saw me and simply turned and went back into his room. It may have been the look on my face which persuaded him. I was not feeling very calm. A few kids poked their noses out but on seeing me they quickly shut their doors.

I waited for a couple of minutes, just to make sure everything was quiet, then made my way downstairs and back to the cow shed. Harry was fast asleep so I covered him with a blanket then crashed out myself.

I had one hell of a headache in the morning and it took me about half an hour to wake Harry up. We eventually trudged over to the restaurant and joined an unbelievably noisy mob of our kids who were full of the previous evenings ‘entertainment’. Lyndsey saw us arrive and organised two large cups of coffee for us as we sat down. She winked but said nothing. At the other end of the table the Queen Bee and Angryhead sat stiffly, picking at their plates. George was as bemused as ever and Laurence really wanted to be somewhere else. She was lucky. Slick arrived and took her off but not without effusive kisses and waves to everyone from both of them.

An hour later we were all packed and the front of the hostel was stacked with baggage and instruments waiting for the coach to arrive. The kids were hopping about all over the place, looking forward to going home. George was pacing up and down anxiously, occasionally looking up and down the street hoping to catch a glimpse of the coach. Mrs Mandon-Hackman stood silently with her daughter looking slightly haggard from the weeks events and obviously thinking to herself, ‘Never again, darling!’.

The Queen Bee and Angryhead were slowly walking to and fro in a state of self isolation and I suspect they were both pondering the possibility of how silly they had been, particularly about last night. Lyndsey sat on the steps of the hostel grinning from ear to ear watching all of this and then winking across to Harry and myself.

The coach arrived at last and Harry and I took complete control, bundling all the kids on board first and organising our own seating arrangements for the adults. The journey back was a long one but very satisfying. The Queen Bee and Angryhead had been relegated to the back of the lower deck while the rest of us moved around now and again, checking on the kids from time to time. The hyper market stop proved to be a smooth half hour of concentrated, selective purchases by all and within another hour we were half way out of the port of Dunkirk and on our way home. Mrs Mandon-Hackman left us at Ramsgate, swept away in a Rolls, one of the company cars of course.

We arrived back at the school just before midnight. It had been a long journey. Mums and dads surrounded the coach as it came to a stop and the kids bounced out finding welcoming arms to hold them close. The Queen Bee and Angryhead stomped off the coach, pushing their way through the throng of folk, and disappeared into the night without saying a word to anyone. I watched them go thinking to myself that it would be an interesting meeting when we all returned to school. Within another ten minutes all the kids had been picked up with their instruments and baggage and were well on their way to their own beds yet still full and overflowing with all the stories of the week, rabbiting away non-stop into the night.

Harry and I made a point of thanking the driver, so did George, but only because I frog-marched him round to do so. He’d done a bloody good job in the circumstances. School trips are never that easy.

Lyndsey gave Harry and I a kiss on the cheek and just said, ‘Thanks for everything.’ Then she was off to find her car and drive home. Harry followed her quickly waving back to me. He always was an optimistic sod. I walked off home opened the front door, shed my coat and flopped down into the chair. My wife appeared from upstairs.

‘Oh, your back!’ she exclaimed with a smile on her face. ‘Have a good holiday then?’

‘Holiday….?’ I thought.

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