Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Rupert Bear by Ken Dunn

My father in law, Geoffrey Brierley, thoroughly enjoyed his years in the TRNC, often to the great embarrassment of his wife Eileen, who, when faced with many of his slightly outrageous performances would shake her head and quietly say, ‘Ohhh,Geoffrey…’ But that didn’t have any effect whatsoever. He would simply grin and say, ‘Have another Gin dear!’

His most spectacular event was always on his birthday, every year in the Grapevine, a well known watering hole then and now, about half way up the main road from the Colony and just next to the second petrol station.

I’m going back to the early 80’s when all the ‘Ancient Brits’, folk often of three score years and ten plus, regularly met and swapped notes about the second world war, rationing in the UK after that, bemoaning the demise of real money – three-penny bits, half crowns, white five pound notes, when junk mail didn’t exist, except for the Daily Mirror, and an endless list of the ‘disappeared’ way of life they had known. Oh, dear. But all of that for me was fascinating. Many of these characters had been all over the world, Palestine, India, South America, China, and working and serving the ‘Empire’ on which the sun never set.

As a mere ‘child’ in my late thirties, with all my hair and teeth, I would engage with these sages listening to their accounts of flying Spitfires, building bridges across the Amazon, being a Policeman in the ‘colonies’, constructing railways across the middle east and many other accounts of a world now gone. As they talked we all would invariably become victims to the slow but steady anaesthetic effect of copious measures of Efes, Gin and an occasional Raki.

Geoff, bless him, was as a fountain of knowledge. He could add to and often correct the odd statement from some but always with humour, and he really did have a capacious memory for the past. And it was in the Grapevine where he shone as a raconteur par excellence, which quickly developed into the big birthday event.

But for the genesis of this I have to back a few more years from there, after he and Eileen had been over in the TRNC for a few years. The boat he’d sailed over from the UK was moored in Kyrenia harbour with a few others owned by ex-pats. They would regularly meet outside ‘To Limani’s’ café/pub enjoying the weather, usually not a hint of a breeze and a cloudless sky, and after a few drinks they would be ‘waiting for the wind’, a reference to being able to take their various yachts beyond the harbour. They rarely did!

In those days a rather intimidating Turkish gun boat was always moored next to the Castle, which tended to dampen their enthusiasm and the old ferry used to operate from the harbour. When that was in it almost blocked the way out. So, they would sit there, sipping a drink and nattering on about all kinds of things. During the summer it was, and still is, very hot but there were very few parasols over the tables and very few tables. The chairs were metal with plastic seat cushions and had been there since the 50’s. With the summer sun beating down one had to lower oneself very carefully onto them for fear of a third degree burn in a very embarrassing place!

Anyway, I remember being with them on one occasion, again listening to their banter of times passed, when Geoff decided they all needed some kind of formal organisation to belong to. A club of some kind. He came up with the name for it immediately and that was how the ‘Rupert Bear Sporting and Sailing Club’ was born. Why Rupert Bear I’ll never know but that was by the way. They now had a club but not a venue. Geoff held that to have it in the harbour might be a bit restricting and he didn’t want any old ‘oik’ joining it, especially these ‘tourists’. Certainly not. The Grapevine was the obvious place to establish it as all of the ex-pats used it, so that was that.

So, every year on his birthday he held the annual meeting of the Rupert Bear Sporting and Sailing Club. He always dressed up as Rupert Bear, just to make the point, and would call for order then launch into a series scurrilous and completely fictitious stories about them all. They loved it and it became so popular that everyone had to cancel or reorganise any trips back to the UK, business meetings, put off families due to come over from the UK, cancel even thinking about going shopping and anything else that might clash with his birthday and the latest stories from Geoff, aka Rupert. To miss this hilarious annual event was never contemplated and after two years there were hundreds of folk in the Grapevine, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for Rupert to appear.

Geoff was in his element and he could chunter on for hours, the crowd silent, hanging on his every word or exploding with laughter at the many jokes about themselves. You always knew when these events were taking place as dozens of cars were parked all over the place outside, almost blocking the road, and the noise of cheering and laughter from the Grapevine could be heard up and down the main street outside, much to the puzzlement of the locals walking passed.

But there is a single memory of Geoff I will always treasure and this happened when were, again, sitting in the harbour, ‘waiting for the wind’. It was late morning and we had already downed a couple of drinks, chatting away about nothing in particular, when two Europeans walked passed, stopped and came over to where we sat. It was obvious they were tourists, fresh of the plane, all white and slightly pink from the strong sun, silly sun hats on and awful baggy shorts. They turned out to be Brits and one said, ‘Oh, hello, excuse us, but we couldn’t help hearing that you’re English.’

Geoff turned and gave him a nod to confirm this with a withering look. Undaunted this chap then asked, ‘Well, do you know where the nearest boozer is?’

Geoff’s instantaneous answer was, ‘Yes, you’re standing next to him, dear heart!’

If Eileen had been there I know exactly what she would have said, yes, that’s right, ‘Ohh, Geoffrey…!’

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