Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – D.I.Y… Language! by Ken Dunn

Years ago, when we first took over the house in Lapta, there was a need for the application of a great deal of ‘TLC’. Built in 1960, bought by my in-laws in ’69 and decades later the house looked a little ‘tired’. It wasn’t going to be just a case of slapping a bit of paint around. The plumbing was creaking a bit, electrical circuits were generally OK but many of the formerly white outlet plugs had developed a slightly ‘brown’ tinge and many major and minor repairs were needed. Not good. The bathroom, kitchen, as well as some of the doors and windows were in need of updating and replacing so there was plenty to do!

At that time there were hardly any ‘Yapi’ markets to be found, purveyors of all things for building or D.I.Y. work. One that did exist, a very small shop, I found by chance in the village but that turned out to be as confusing and frustrating as it was hilarious to shop in, but I’ll come to that later.

Coming back briefly to the present time we have gradually managed to renew, replace and restore the house to a home, a subtle but important difference, but a process which has been extremely satisfying. Most of the work I was able to complete myself but a local builder, recommended to me by an ex-pat, handled the heavier work. I’ll call him Ali for this but that’s not his real name. He laid new tiles, took out a wall to open up the ground floor, sorted out a new bathroom, re-plumbed the kitchen and much, much more. A friend of his, a carpenter, constructed new windows, doors and cupboards.

Both of them are lovely blokes. I drop into their local coffee shop sometimes just to say, ‘Merhaba!’ (hello) to maintain contact with them and I still call them from time when I need their expertise. With hardly any English between them and very little Turkish on my side, communication between us was always an hilarious system of ‘cartoon’ language, scribbled drawings and lots of arm waving. But we always worked things out.

From the beginning we had a healthy respect for each other. I recognised their expertise and they could see I understood and knew precisely what was needed to be done. It was a very good working relationship. I insisted on paying a sensible percentage ‘up front’, for whatever materials were needed, and gradually paid for the work as it progressed. That made the payment process far less painful! But it wasn’t as easy as that to begin with.

The work began and progressed but Ali refused to take any money at all. I had, eventually, to stop him working and tried again to give him some cash. He sighed, stuck his hands in his pockets, looked me straight in the eye and said something which took me completely by surprise. He knew we were due to go back to the UK in a week or so and wouldn’t be back until the following May but he said, ‘I work now. I feenish later. You pay me next year.’

Now, the price we had agreed, before any of the work began, wasn’t just fifty quid or so. Oh, no. It was almost two thousand!! There was a lot to do! Can you imagine that happening with a builder in the UK! Fat chance! I had to insist and Ali did, at last, agree to take money on a regular basis.

So, with Ali’s help we continued over the years to improve, improve, improve. I could have launched into a major refit all at once but, me being me, I preferred to be ‘on site’ and take it on in ‘chunks’ rather than leave things to happen while we were back in the UK. Besides, it caused far less disruption this way and allowed us to use the place while we were in the TRNC.

But back to the small builders merchant in the village. I always preferred to use the local shops for any domestic shopping rather than the only other larger ones which existed then in Karaoğlanoğlu, Girne or beyond. Mehmet’s place, again not his real name, was highly convenient for most of my D.I.Y. needs. It was only a few minutes from the house and he carried most of the gear I needed. On a regular basis I bought timber, screws, tools, electrical bits and bobs and many other items, but I had to ‘go with the flow’ as far as his place was concerned.

A small counter at the front of his shop, with an opening on one side, stood in front of two aisles, each one stacked right and left to the ceiling with ‘stuff’. On the left, in another room, were shelves full of paint, varnish, silicon and so on. On my first couple of visits I stood at the counter with a number of the locals, all builders by the look of them, and waited. A true Brit, waiting and waiting. The air was alive with conversation from all these characters, the phone always ringing and Mehmet trying to hold at least three or four conversations as well as coping with calls on his mobile and those emanating from the land line on the counter.

With all this going on, several customers always walked past the counter and simply helped themselves to whatever they wanted from the shelves, returned to the counter, dumped it there, joining the several conversations while Mehmet took their cash and off they went. Others arrived to join in chatting, placing orders, Mehmet scribbling these things down, his phones constantly ringing while others rooted around in amongst the shelves behind him. Absolute chaotic mayhem!

So, when in Rome…. I joined in, walking through to the shelves, scanning everything to find what I wanted. What I found was a complete nightmare! Screws had been emptied into boxes of hooks, electrics were mixed up with bits of plumbing, door knobs lay scattered over open boxes of hinges, chains wove their way through lengths of pipe, plastic and metal and so on. It was complete tip and looked as if the proverbial bull has just charged through. Finding anything took ages.

It was always the same whenever I arrived to pick up bits and pieces for the house. But I usually found what I wanted and now that I knew the ‘system’ it became slightly easier to cope with, albeit confusing and very often frustrating.

However, on one occasion, the ‘system’ backfired somewhat. Walking into the shop one afternoon, I could see that it was much busier than usual and the noise from loud, Turkish ‘conversations’ was even worse than ever. I was able to squeeze my way to the shelves and, eventually found what I needed. Back at the counter I had to wait a couple of minutes before being served. The phones were still ringing, questions were being fired at Mehmet and he tried to answer these, cope with the phones and hastily scribbling down orders at the same time into his open book. He wasn’t having a ‘nice’ day, becoming more and more bad-tempered with the fracas surrounding him.

At this point a diminutive Turk forced his way to the front, coinciding with my turn to pay. He delivered a torrent of words, waving his arms around. This was the last straw for Mehmet. Sweating and furious he smashed the phone down he was trying to talk into, spat back to this little guy in Turkish, which I can only assume was not very nice language, in the middle of which he broke into English, almost shouting, ‘YOU WAIT, WAIT! I SERVE MR KEN NOW, OK?!

But the little guy didn’t stop. He kept going, with an even greater fervour. Mehmet then completely ‘lost it’, throwing back a verbal barrage, I presumed, of more not very nice Turkish words ending up, in a kind of English which was, ‘YOU FICKING WINKER!!

I couldn’t help cracking up completely at this but Mehmet spun round to me, delivering, ‘Why you laugh? He IS a ficking winker!’

I haven’t tried to explain the funny side of this to him, ever!

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