Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Gardens of Delight by Ken Dunn

Lapta, until recently, was renowned for its abundant water supply which percolated down through the mountains, cutting its way through the limestone rock and literally bursting forth as several clear, pure springs all over the village. Not surprisingly, this allowed for the extensive propagation of many fruits, vegetables and trees. To list them would take quite a while. Over time the folk of Lapithos, the Greek name for the village, cut channels into the rock, watercourses were constructed and small, simple sluice gates were introduced to re-direct the flow to virtually every house in the village

In the 50’s British engineers and builders completed the further improvement of these conduits and the remnants of these can still be seen running along the sides of the narrow roads throughout Lapta. Before and during this process new pipe work was also laid down to provide a more controllable and easily accessible supply.

Thirty years ago, during the summer, I was often honoured to help re-direct the constant flow from the natural springs to all the houses around us. Each household was allowed, as I recall, just under half an hour every week or so, for this precious liquid to run down into the separate gullies to their gardens, feeding the many fruit trees and plants. It was quite an event with many of the locals joining in to help each other.

These gullies had to be kept clear and there would be much activity from each household before the water arrived, clearing away weeds and any blockages. Once flowing freely down them it would enter the gardens and be caught in the pre-prepared networks of narrow troughs and the shallow, circular areas dug into the soil below each tree or bush. In those days there wasn’t a hosepipe in sight! No need!

Beşpinar, famous for many years, was, by far, the most spectacular spring of all. At the very top of the village it used to gush out at an incredible rate, much too strong to attempt holding a hand against the force of water as it erupted continuously from the rocks where it was then caught in a large concrete chute, directing it to the water channels below and throughout the whole of Lapta.

Many other, albeit smaller, eruptions of water could be found in several places below this as the water coursed down, often running quickly along the channels on the sides of the roads. Sadly, the power and flow from the Beşpinar spring is no more. It is now less than a dribble. Over the years the water table gradually dropped and the recent near total drought the island suffered for almost four years saw many other outlets below it virtually dry up.

Fortunately, the water situation has stabilised of late. The local authorities have been able to dig down into the mountain, creating a new well which seems to be serving the village reasonably well. So, that’s the background and the boring bit. Let me raise the level a little.

Being involved in the Lapta water ‘ritual’ of years before was not as easy as it you might think. If the soil in the garden had not been prepared properly the water would always find its own way somewhere else! A number of times I found myself up to my ankles and elbows in mud, desperately trying to stem the flow into the right direction. If this happened, Geoff, my father in law, would simply give me a disdainful look which plainly meant, ‘Amateur!’

In any case, with the garden relatively awash, the water flow was then redirected to the next house so we could settle back to get on with the needs of the trees and plants and for me, to scrape off the mud.

The task of picking lemons was always given to my wife and myself, while Eileen, my mother in law, busied herself around the house and Geoff was, well, somewhere else! We had a homemade ladder then, a ‘creative’ construction of the wooden variety, made many years before by someone in the village. Designed primarily to reach the tops of the mature Lemon trees it was a tad creaky and wobbly and did not inspire confidence to climb it. Yet it did the job and we were able to reach the very tops of every one of the trees to retrieve the biggest lemons I’d ever seen then or since.

They were junior sized rugby balls, a hundred to a hundred and fifty millimetres in diameter, or ‘in old money’ four to six inches. Once collected, Geoff would re-appear. He brought out a small table, a deep, wide plastic bowl, a chair, a massive, cast aluminium squeezer and, setting the squeezer on the table, the bowl immediately beneath, he sat down after having sliced the lemons in half and proceeded to release a regular torrent of lemon juice into the bowl. Within a few minutes he had gallons of the stuff. Eileen would then emerge, collected the juice and began the process of making the best lemonade I have ever tasted!

But what with lemons, oranges, pomegranates, plums, apricots and other fruit from the garden, all four of us would never have been able to consume more than a fraction of it. We gave most of it away rather then dump it into the bin. There were, however other methods of using the excess of the harvest. Geoff could concoct a mildly lethal cocktail, using pomegranate juice as a base with a liberal quantity of Gin and other ingredients which he never did reveal. Early evenings, sitting on the balcony, sipping this beautifully smooth libation was extremely enjoyable providing no more than two were imbibed. More than that could be rather dangerous!

Eileen herself was not without skill in the alcoholic stakes. On one particularly hot day I had been faffing about in the garden for about an hour, attempting to do some pruning but, sensibly, making sure I used the dappled shade the trees offered. She came up to me after a while and asked if I’d like a ‘little drink’. Her timing could not have been better. A couple of minutes later she appeared again and handed over a very large, dimpled, handled, pint glass, full to the brim with an exquisitely made Brandy Sour! I drank that far too quickly and within two minutes she had replaced it with another. After draining the second I felt no pain for the rest of the day!

With the four of us there, plus our young daughter Kate, the ‘facilities’ were often in use so, if we had enjoyed a good lunch in one of the watering holes the need for ‘relief’ was a tricky matter of either queuing or hanging on as best you could. The ladies always had priority for entry to the only bathroom. That meant Geoff and I had to wait, or at least I did. Geoff had his own, highly individual solution to this basic need. He would go upstairs, out onto the balcony, stand at the rail and, let me simply say, ‘perform’.

I have often wondered what might have happened if a sudden gust of wind had sprung up, as the windows of the kitchen were immediately below and wide open! Ever since that particular ‘event’ happened it has been known as ‘Doing a Geoffrey’!

In the same way the mornings were just as tricky. The ladies, again, had priority but, being a mere man, it always seemed to me to take an awfully long time. The temptation to ‘Do a Geoffrey’ was always there but, as a guest, I didn’t feel quite ready for that, yet.

On one evening a slight ‘complication’ made things a little worse. Eileen and I had had a minor spat about something, just before we all went off to bed and the prospect of a frosty atmosphere the following day seemed likely. So, after climbing out of bed the next morning I hung back as usual while everyone else used the bathroom. I left it a little longer this time, just to make sure, then heard Eileen clattering around in the kitchen preparing several bowls for the morning feed for the several cats she had taken in. Gingerly, I made my way downstairs but at the bottom I heard Eileen screech, ‘ Oh, fxxk, fxxk, fxxk off!!’

Completely taken aback by this I was convinced she was yelling at me and was just as surprised that such a demure, petite lady actually knew and used such words. Then she saw me appear and, colouring up, she apologised immediately with, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry about that but the damned cats get on my nerves sometimes!’

Other animals and wildlife played their part in the garden as well as those ‘damned’ cats. These included the odd metre long snake, black and harmless, sometimes the nasty diamond backed variety and a few tarantula-like spiders, always stalking in pairs although after spotting one of them you never knew where the other little sod might be. Very small mammals occasionally scampered through the branches of the trees, cutely known as ‘tree rats’, but the worst offenders of all during the summer were the cicadas.

These frog-like, fat, flying insect buzz bombs were a real pain. It wasn’t just the racket they made trying to find a mate but the habit they had of flying into your face. They had no sense of direction whatsoever, ricocheting of trees, walls, windows, each other and usually me as I walked in amongst the trees.

But all that was then and these days things are a little different. Because we’re not able to be there as often as we would like to be, the garden is a shadow of its former self. Some trees have died with others damaged by recent storms and weeds always gallop down to take over. We clear them away every time but they insist on re-establishing themselves, sometimes chest high! Walking through that kind of growth made me feel like a member of that little known African pygmy tribe, the ‘Fugarwee’. They would rush through tall elephant grass, jumping above the foliage yelling, ‘Where the fugarwee! Where the fugarwee!’

OK, lousy joke, but the weeds in the garden are still a problem until we can scrape the ground, apply copious amount of selective weedkiller, lay a plastic membrane, cover that with top soil or gravel and hope we can contain the next invasive growth of unwanted vegetation. Two years ago we arrived, again to massive weed growth. A machete would have been the only tool to have made an impact, even along the path leading to the front door of the house. I began the following morning with a totally inadequate old bread knife and an ancient, rusty pair of secateurs, to hack my way from the road to the house, to clear as much as I could. An hour later I hadn’t covered more than twenty feet and sagged, sweating and ‘knackered’, to the ground. This was going to take a long, long time.

Rescue, however, was at hand. Unknown to me a squad of workers from Lapta Belediye, the local authority for the village, were working their way down the road, clearing weeds! With strimmers, shovels, brushes and bags they were all hard at work clearing away the roadsides. As they came to the point on the road which led to our place they saw me hacking away, stopped and looked on. One of them walked down and simply said, ‘You stop, we come.’ And they did. The chap operating the strimmer took fifteen minutes to clear everything down to the front door. Others scooped the stuff up, grinning at me as I sat to one side in amazement, and carted it away to the truck they were using to take all the roadside growth. Then they were off, cheerily waving goodbye!

Now that’s what I call service! Spontaneously given, without a thought of payment, just part of the job, for a local, an obvious Brit or anyone else. That’s why I love the TRNC! Where else could that happen?

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