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

…Breakfast. First down, first croissant. You had to be quick in this place or everything disappeared! The next venue was one of the English Churches for an afternoon performance which would be alive with numerous devout ‘ex-pats’. The kids slid into pre-performance mode while we adults formed another folding programmes conveyor belt. With that done and the rehearsal well under way Harry and I sneaked out to sample another Paris morning. Just wandering around with the feeling of relative freedom was enough in itself. The conversation ended up with the pair us analysing our fellow warders and that sent us off into mindless laughter at some of the attitudes, particularly the Welsh contingent, the Queen Bee and Angryhead.

By the time we arrived back at the Church we were a dual bundle of mirth, laughing none too quietly at the general situation. We sat up at the back like two naughty boys, stuffing handkerchiefs into our mouths to stop ourselves giggling. This just made things worse and we had to leave. We were met just outside the door by the agent who had organised the trip from the Paris end. He was a particularly oily character, oozing false charm and always wringing his hands. A true second hand car salesman if ever I saw one. Totally bemused by two helpless idiots he then asked if we could find him some cigarettes as he had to stay to see someone about the next venue.

After spending half an hour looking for some unspeakable French fags we realised that it had been a simple ploy to get rid of us. The wasn’t a fag shop anywhere to be found so we gave up and came back to the church. The agent, now known as ‘Slick’ to Harry and I, was still grazing around the entrance and didn’t seem too happy to see us. Up at the back again we managed to contain ourselves this time and caught the last thirty seconds of the concert.

Late afternoon and back at the Reform Centre we all had the evening off, or so we thought. Without telling us, George had organised a trip down the Seine on one of the Bateau Mouche, the large motorised sight-seeing craft which ply up and down the river. Thanks George. Into the coach again and off we all went. We arrived around 7.30pm by which time it was dark. The Buildings on the river were floodlit and, under other circumstances, it would have been rather pleasant, but with a large contingent of loony kids charging around the open top deck it was not a relaxing experience. Harry was probably the most offended. There was no bar.

Back on the coach, on the way to the reform centre, Flora insisted on stopping outside Christian Dior’s main shop to be photographed. That was one of the most irritating events of the whole trip. She had most of the kids fawning around her while she posed in front of the bloody place. The coach was blocking the street and the Parisian traffic behind us vented their collective spleens with an ear-splitting cacophony of horns while she had several photographs taken of ‘her favourite designer’s shop’. Arriving at the reform centre we now had the evening off, what was left of it. It was now almost 10.00pm but the rest of the time was spent in diffusing the ‘foothills of sex’ all over again. Two hours of that and we were all exhausted. At least tomorrow would be different. It was.

I hadn’t been looking forward to this particular day at all. It had been decided that the kids would need a break from a fairly intense programme of concert performances and that seemed at first to be quite reasonable. I think the actual truth was that George had cocked up the bookings and had to fill the day in somehow. That somehow was Euro-Disney! I’ve never seen such a tidal wave of humanity as on that day. Bundling off the coach we joined the throng trudging relentlessly toward the entrance. It was going to be a nightmare keeping our lot under any kind of control. We adults sorted the kids out into groups and with strict instructions to keep together we made for the gates. Laurence, the courier, shot off to organise group tickets and we hung around telling the kids it would only be a few minutes. How wrong can you be. It actually took one hour and thirteen minutes! Apparently the group ticket window, round the side from the main entrance, was completely unmanned and by the time one of the staff appeared to deal with ticketing for everyone the crowd was absolutely enormous with Laurence somewhere in the middle of it.

We tried to keep the kids calm but as the time ticked by tempers began to fray. At this point Queen Flora came to the rescue. A thirty foot circle of our kids were organised and expanded, controlled by Flora who completely ignored the relentless flow of humanity still flowing doggedly to the entrance gates. She began two mindless games, suitable for four year olds, of ‘Bunnies’ and ‘Murder’. I couldn’t understand it at all. The passing grey multitude wondered why a circle of Brit children were alternately acting like loonies or falling down for no particular reason. The depressing thing about it was that the kids were enjoying it.

Most of us adults tried to look as if we had nothing to do with any of it but after a few minutes I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went off to see how Laurence was getting on. Harry followed me. Lyndsey followed him. She was feeling just as fed up with this as we were but up until now hadn’t shown it. Now she did.

‘If that stupid bitch says one more bloody Welsh proverb I’ll kill her!’ Lyndsey said as she walked between us. Things were looking up. We eventually found Laurence almost at the front of the queue. The damned place was heaving! There must have been two or three thousand people all shoved up together trying to get a ticket to get in. Bloody tourists! A couple of minutes later Harry and I pulled Laurance from the throng complete with all the tickets. Without us she would have been there another half hour just trying to get out from the crowd.

Gathering up the whole group we made our way to the entrance which ran under the main hotel on the site, of which there were five others in various locations. I wondered about that afterwards. Who the hell would want to spend a holiday in such a bloody awful place as this? It was really only an upmarket Holiday Camp after all. As soon as we had managed to get the kids through the gates they vanished, disappearing at great speed in every possible direction. So much for the heavy advice about staying together. The rest of us shambled off into this international, but overtly Americanised, centre of ‘fun’ with Harry and I dreading the whole experience. On the way through the turnstiles we had found out that the place was dry! Not a drop of alcohol was available anywhere in this desert of wholesomeness. That was extremely depressing, especially to Harry.

The layout was impressive for all that. A complete mid-western, late nineteenth century American town lay before us complete with shops, cafes and restaurants. Sprinkled beyond and around this were dozens of ‘experiences’ from a haunted house to an enormous labyrinth of pirate caves, science fiction fantasy lands to eastern bazaars. It was all extremely well done but the cost was horrific. We had already been relieved of almost £30 each, thankfully paid for by the school, just to get into the place and although all the events were free the shops and cafes were not. Harry, Lyndsey and I settled in a ‘regular’ hamburger joint and were relieved of £7 each for one medium sized hamburger. This did not help our overall appreciation of the place.

Over the next three hours we saw quite a few of our lot rushing around the place and as they were obviously going to be fully occupied for some time in the mindless pursuit of trivia we decided to do something about the alcohol problem. The main hotel at the entrance seemed to be the likely place to tackle first. If there was no booze in that place then there would be no hope of finding any anywhere else. We found to our dismay there were no entrances to the place from inside the complex, only exits and ther were one-way only. It was impossible to open the doors from our side. We hovered a while at one of them and, as luck would have it, a woman came out while we were there. Before the self closing door could click back into place we were through it and nonchalantly ambling through the interior.

Sumptuous is the only word to describe what we found inside. It was a bit like entering the world of Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gadsby’. A large, circular central space held the reception area, a discreet cafe and bar with a huge staircase running off to the rooms above. The furniture, although economical in number was far from that in style. Palms and verdure was scattered everywhere giving the feeling of a country residence rather than a hotel. This was further heightened by a wide stone fireplace with a blazing log fire.

We made a bee-line for the bar but after first ordering a couple of beers we quickly changed our minds and decided on a large glass of Muscadet instead which Lyndsey had already ordered. After all this was France and it wouldn’t do to perpetuate the ‘Brit Beer Bonehead’ syndrome.

Settling into the capacious sofa’s in front of the fire we were graciously delivered of our wine by a young and very tasty waitress. She then charmingly asked for our room numbers, in an accent which didn’t quite grasp the English language. It was rather like a female version of Inspector Clouseau. We all smiled at this odd pronunciation but Harry solved the answer to the question without a flicke

‘Visiting friends,’ he said smiling. ‘Just let us have the bill.’

‘Certainly, Sir,’ the waitress said, bowing slightly but then before she walked off she turned back and asked, ‘Excuse me, but are you English?’

We nodded and she became slightly more animated and began the ‘Clouseau speak’ again. It was tricky to follow it but it was a straightforward question followed by a straightforward statement. It went something like this.

‘Do you know Kent?’

A multiple nod from us.

‘Ah. I know Kent. I have a friend who is a Kent person.’

Now that might seem fairly harmless piece of conversation but her pronunciation of ‘Kent’ didn’t quite work. Instead of the ‘E’ she used the letter ‘U’. You can imagine our reaction. She left us doubled up with laughter, a puzzled look on her face. The mirth quickly evaporated when she later brought us the bill for the wine. We had to pay £6 each. So much for having a quick drink.

By this time it was getting late and it was almost time for the pre-arranged meeting back at the main entrance. We ambled over to the main hotel exit but once outside we found the same masses of humanity streaming out relentlessly. The park was closing and the gates were now shut to anyone wanting to come in with several security guards manning them. There was no way we could get back inside. Rendezvous time came and went and we were still trying to find a way in but stymied every time by the guards. Twenty minutes later our lot came out, a knackered looking and ill assorted bunch, most of them wearing Mickey Mouse ears and carrying all manner of souvenir crap. Flora spotted us immediately and her face clouded over with venom. They had all been organised like a military exercise by Flora, of course, and she had been looking for us for well over half an hour. From that point the others joined ranks with the Welsh contingent. We were obviously ‘naughty’ and in disgrace. Oh dear. We all trudged back to the coach, the three of us being totally ignored by the others.

After dinner at the Reform Centre, George announced that he’d organised a disco for the kids. Harry and I groaned inwardly at this. We had hoped for a relatively quiet night. No chance. Half an hour later, down in the basement, not a window in sight, the place was pulsating with heavy metal ‘music’ and the kids were going wild, gyrating all over the place to the wall of noise which buffeted the rest of us. The only compensation was small bar which had been set up in one of the corners. Rough French wine and horrendously expensive bottled beer was the only fare available so we had to make the best of it. Harry and I stuck it out for an hour then managed to escape without the rest noticing we’d gone.

Once through the outer entrance we spun a coin and turned left down the road. The clatter of heels behind us heralded a breathless Lyndsey.

‘Hang on, you two!’ she yelled. ‘Wait for me!’

After a few minutes walking along we found a seedy little dive which was part cafe and part bar. Walking in we were studied darkly by the locals, who broke their eyes away from the TV set on the wall and a football match. A half dozen or so swarthy, dark skinned, suspicious, low brows watched us settle to a table on the far side of the room. This was still covered with the fly blown remnants of someone’s dinner and it took a few minutes for the patron to clear it and grunt something which must have been ‘Wajawant?’ in French.

‘Cognak!’ Harry grinned and stuck two fingers up, luckily the right way round, then realised we were three and adjusted his hand accordingly.

The patron raised an eyebrow but shambled off and after a deep discussion with two or three of the locals shambled back with a bottle of local brandy complete with an optic. He plopped three reasonably clean glasses on the table, up-ended the bottle and delivered half a glass each, pumping the optic into life each time. A different kind of delivery but non the less effective. We called him over for another top up a few minutes later and then noticed the locals were looking round in our direction more often. The football had gone from the screen and they seemed to be talking about us. Harry hadn’t noticed this and ordered more brandy. The patron obliged and then I became just a trifle worried. Two of the locals stood up, their chairs grating backwards behind them. The patron stood leaning over the bar watching them walk towards us. They were huge, ugly sods, stubble chinned and generally unkempt. This was not a healthy situation.

Harry was getting quite pissed, again, throwing the brandy back like lemonade and hadn’t given this any thought until they sat down at our table and slowly grinned at each of us, particularly Lyndsey.

‘Anglais?’ one of them grunted.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Ah, Oui!’

‘Ahh!’ the other said and nudged his mountainous friend. The other winked back at him, grinned and then leaned closer to both of us. Harry was just staring, a slightly wild expression in his eyes. Lyndsey had wrapped her coat tightly round her and looked as if she was ready to make a dash for the door. I was scared shitless by now.

‘Meeltun Keens!’ he said, grinning.

Now my French isn’t good at the best of times but this was gibberish to me. I shrugged and looked puzzled. Harry sat frozen.

‘Meeltun Keens,’ he said again, ‘You know zat playce in Ingland? You leeve zere?’

‘Ahh! Oh, you mean ‘Milton Keynes!’ I said, relieved. ‘Yes I know it but I don’t live zere, uh, there.’

‘Zo, Meeltun Keenes,’ he said again. ‘Verry nize playce. I spend holday zere two yearz ago.’

I looked at my watch and attempted a despairing look.

‘We have to go now,’ I said, ‘Have to get back to the hotel. People waiting for us.’

Pulling Harry up and shoving Lyndsey behind me, I made for the bar, clattered enough francs down to cover the ‘cognak’ and backed to the door, pushing the other two along and grinning maniacally. The two gorilla’s at our table got up and like little children waved their hands saying, ‘By, by. By, by!’

We ‘By, by’d’ back and then shot out, legging it back to the hostel as fast as we could. We found the place closed. The arc lamps were full on at the gate, the boom was down and the side gate locked. Harry and I looked at each other, shrugged, walked up to the boom and raised our hands above our heads.

‘Don’t shoot!’ shouted Harry, ‘We surrender!’

Lyndsey collapsed in a fit of giggles. It took all of us about five minutes to make our way, shaking with laughter, under the boom and back up the drive to the front door, holding on to each other, helpless and with tears running down our faces. Fortunately they hadn’t locked the front door and I don’t know what we would have done if they had. But it was bad enough. The Queen Bee, Angryhead and George were standing inside the door, waiting. We stopped laughing.

Breakfast the following morning was tricky. No one was speaking to us. I could see that the kids were wondering what was going on but we ignored it and then left them to it to pack. We were now about to leave for Orlean and the last part of the tour. We piled onto the coach again but this time the seating arrangements for the adults had been already reorganised by Flora to oust us from their company. Not a word was spoken. It was quite weird and, much to Flora’s annoyance, quite funny to the three of us.

A few hours later we arrived at Orlean dreading what the ‘accommodation’ would be like. We were pleasantly surprised. It was clean, tidy and very well organised, except for two small points. Our accommodation was on the third floor without a lift and they didn’t have enough rooms to go round. The kids had been taken care of, it was just the adults who had the problem. There was a third problem which Harry quickly discovered. There was no bar. George flapped about again and with Laurence to help him we managed to sort it out to everyone’s satisfaction except Mrs Mandon-Hackman and the coach driver.

They were allocated a couple of rooms round the back and away from the main building in a single storey structure which looked as if it had been a rehabilitation centre for down and outs. The interior was no better. Peeling wallpaper, raw wooden parquet floors on the point of coming adrift, steel shuttered windows and nails driven into the walls which would have to double as wardrobes. Very tasty. Mandon-Hackman and the driver were not amused. He was a veteran of thousands of trips and he reckoned this was the worst accommodation he’d ever seen, and he’d seen quite a few.

After taking one look at the place Mandon-Hackman refused point-blank to even consider it. I had to agree with her. Then, to cap it all we found out that there were no other people staying in the place. Just us. The problem seemed an easy one to solve. We could simply use rooms on the second floor. That wasn’t possible. They were only available at a higher rate and arrangements could not now be altered. Besides there was another party arriving in the morning. I tried to point out that the other group would arrive tomorrow and we could easily vacate before they came. The patron wouldn’t budge. The front door lock combination number was issued to us, 1943, a good year we thought, and that was that

Harry and I did the decent thing. We gave up our rooms. Not to ingratiate ourselves with either the Queen Bee, Angryhead or the rest or even to placate Mrs Mandon-Hackman, who was obviously used to much better things than this. No. Ours was a very practical decision. It would mean that we didn’t have to suffer the nightmare of settling the kids down quite so often and we could escape more easily without having to run the gauntlet of the Welsh faction. There was one other very practical point of view. We had to keep the driver happy for the return to the U.K. It had been known for disgruntled coach drivers to deliberately bypass the hyper markets on the way back for just this kind of reason. That we could not allow.

The re-arrangement was effected and things settled down again. Harry and I nicknamed our resting place the ‘cowshed’ and it wasn’t much better than that. The ablutions area was distinctly tacky and the view from the windows, when we eventually prised back the steel shutters, revealed bars on the outside and an alley of the red light variety, sprinkled with dead cars, dustbins, dying species of vegetation and the rising spectre of a pure gothic horror church spire. Harry pulled out another bottle of scotch and we drank each others health watching the moving protein crawling across the floor. At least the ants were happy.

Lunchtime arrived and we made our way to the restaurant which sat opposite the main front of the building. This was a great improvement over the last place. No ‘Barclay card’ and excellent food together with free and very drinkable red and white wine. Harry was very happy about that. George kept forgetting the combination number for the front door and eventually Laurence wrote it in ink on the back of his hand. Trouble was he kept forgetting about it every time and washed it off at least ten times.

A distinct chill was still hovering over the rest of them as far as we were concerned but Kevin, now known as the ‘Chief Gerbil’ was absent. Mrs Gerbil explained he was having a few digestion problems. That was code language for the runs. He had stuffed himself full of hot and very spicy Mexican enchilada’s at Euro-Disney and was now suffering the consequences. During the rest of that day whenever he turned up he would then have to quickly disappear almost at once to ‘off-load’. He was in a hell of a state and probably had a very sore rear end. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer man! He was in fact not only a pain in the nethers to most people at the best of times but now he was to himself. There was something like poetic justice to that.

Piling into the coach again we turned up at the next, and joy of joys, last venue, a crumbling old church which had once seen much better days. The interior was alive with ornate paintings which were now rather grubby and dark. A highly suspect verger ambled around the place wearing a long shabby old mac. Harry and I wondered if he when he would start flashing. Anything was possible on this trip.

With more programmes being folded by the two Celts plus a haughty Mrs Mandon-Hackman, Harry and I slid out to taste the streets of Orlean. We found a pleasant roadside cafe at a main, wide cross-roads and sat there watching the French trying to kill each other either by walking directly in front of cars tearing across the junction or by mad drivers attempting mass suicide ramming exercises. A few near misses but no blood. Most entertaining.

Back at the Church and the rehearsal was over. Mrs Gerbil had held this one, Chief Gerbil had been in the sitting position somewhere else for the whole time. We all piled on to the coach and arrived back at the hostel with a couple of hours or so to spare. Time enough for dinner and then into our party frocks again for the last performance. This one went down particularly well with the locals. A standing ovation! The kids deserved it as they had sang and played exceptionally well.

Later that evening they were more than just active. With the success of their performance they were almost uncontrollable. It didn’t help with the Queen Bee and Angryhead playing chasing games with them until well after midnight. The Chief Gerbil was still held in the grip of his own private misery and didn’t show at all. Lyndsey came down to share a bottle of wine with Harry and I and to get rid of a few more moans about Flora and Angryhead. Even George was showing a few signs of irritation with their non stop whittering.

We were quite a happy little group by now. Flora had successfully split us up into four separate camps. The Gerbils, George and Laurence, herself and Angryhead and then Harry, Lyndsey and me. Mrs Mandon-Hackman did not hob-knob with anyone and we hardly saw the driver at all. Wise man. As far as the kids were concerned they were having a whale of a time charging around like mad things. A few of the older ones were enjoying the obvious disintegration of mutual respect between the adults. You could feel their eyes watching us. I fell into bed just after 1.00am, exhausted. One more day and then home. No more performances just a gentle visit to the Loire Valley and the land of chateaux after chateaux. What else could happen now?

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