Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – How Things Change by Ken Dunn

‘People watching’ can be quite interesting. I have a habit of doing that all the time but not in an intrusive, nosy way but simply because it can be both quite revealing and, sometimes, entertaining. This can involve fashion, or the lack of it, size or the quantity of it or, on a busy thoroughfare crowded with people, the simple consideration they give as they squeeze past each other but, all too often there is an incredible lack of that, especially in the UK.

Except for the harbour in Girne there were few places to do that years ago but many venues for doing just that now exist. Cafés, with their parasols and furniture outside, are particular good.

One of best ‘viewing points’ can be found at the top of the High Street, just along from the Turkish Bank and facing the Belediye, the administrative building for the town. When that whole area was pedestrianised, not all that long ago and courtesy of the EU if memory serves, three, or is it four, cafés took advantage of the open space to provide ample seating where anyone can now enjoy a coffee, a beer or a light snack while they ‘take the weight off’ after a bout of shopping or sight seeing.

The only distraction from this idle pastime are the several scooters which soon invaded the area with a very bad habit of rasping across, using it as a short cut to somewhere else. Roads don’t seem to be entirely convenient for these two wheeled projectiles driven by manic, speed crazy head cases. Yet the Police and the townsfolk don’t seem to be too bothered. It’s only the tourists who seem to have a hard time of it. For all that it is a great improvement and something of an asset to the town, but before this happened it was very, very different.

In 1981 this area, where the cafés now have their tables, chairs and parasols, was part of a road system. In fact, it was the north side of a large roundabout which encircled an island where the Belediye now sits. Many attempts were made to park around it but the Police at the time were fond of blowing whistles, chasing anyone away or handing out parking fines. I made the mistake of parking there once and disaster struck. When I returned, after only a few minutes, a Policeman was busily filling out a ticket in front of the car.

Lying through my teeth I tried to explain my ignorance of not being allowed to park there, pulling a ‘wheeze’ which I thought might get me off the hook.

‘I’m sorry, officer’ I said. ‘I’m a tourist here and didn’t realise.’

The fact that I was standing next to a substantial no parking sign did not go unnoticed. You know the kind – a large circular, white sign with a capital ‘P’ and a thick, red line scything through it. Not exactly subtle or invisible.

He closed his book with a snap, looked up slowly and asked, languidly, ‘Driving lizenze?’

Fortunately, I had it with me and, in as servile a way as I could, handed it over. He took it and looked at it, alarmingly for me, upside down for a few seconds. A British driving ‘lizenze’ must have been quite a novelty in those days. Then he slowly turned it the right way up, studied for what seemed like hours before strolling off across the road, holding it up in front of him. I was not, as they say, a very ‘happy pixie’.

He joined another policeman who was dealing with another offender, a Cypriot, who was obviously a very ‘unhappy pixie’, gesticulating and talking very loudly at high speed. The other officer took no notice whatsoever as he continued to write out a ticket. The policeman with my licence handed it to his colleague. He looked at it, then they both turned slowly to look at me for a worrying few seconds, then back to the licence and exchanged a few words. The word ‘agonising’ doesn’t cover how I was feeling by now.

A minute or so crawled by while more words passed between them, an occasional glance from both of them in my direction. The Cypriot kept up his noisy tirade but he might as well have not been there as far as the attitude of the second policeman. Then the one who had taken my licence nodded to the other and walked slowly back to me. This really did not bode well at all. He handed it back, stared evenly at me for a few more, very intimidating seconds, and then said, very, very slowly, ‘Go… away.’

I shot off at high speed before he changed his mind, which was just as well for I discovered days later that the car had no insurance, no tax and no equivalent of an M.O.T!! This, it turned out, was not a particularly rare circumstance as many of the locals had been driving around like that for years!

The High Street used to be a two-way affair for cars, not the single, one-way street it is now. The pavements on either side were much narrower, no trees then, and relatively hazardous with many irregular steps and broken concrete. To step off them was to tempt fate, that of being mown down by the traffic. But, to be fair there wasn’t very much traffic anyway, as you can see by the photograph taken then on a busy Saturday afternoon! It’s just a little bit different these days as I’m sure you’ll agree.

So, I can imagine sitting up there now, today, watching the hustle and bustle of a busy street full of locals and tourists and bumper to bumper vehicles, slowly crawling down. The locals will be mostly walking in the shade, wise people, but the majority of the tourists will usually be on the other side, slowly growing pink and then red under the burning sun. Oh, dear.

The next time I’m there, at one of the café tables, sipping a cold beer and relaxing after an ‘exhausting’ walk from the car park beyond, I must remember to take a pair of powerful binoculars. They are a wonderful aid to ‘people watching’!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.