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Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Invasion by Ken Dunn

TouristsSpring is coming, isn’t it? It’s a bit brighter and a bit warmer in the UK and about time too. The bulbs are coming up, daffodils and blue bells are sprouting up all over the place, the buds on the trees are coming on a treat and the D.I.Y. stores are bombarding us via the ‘telly’ with enticing offers to change every dull corner in our homes. That’s always the unofficial sign that spring is definitely here.

Yet there is another more tangible sign that spring has arrived and will gather pace as the weeks quickly rattle by into the summer. No, it’s not more plant or insect activity and not even the single-minded, near manic reproductive fervour of our feathered and furry friends No, none of these things. It’s an invasive phenomenon and always begins at this time of year.

It’s the arrival of tourists or those who we refer to in the South West as ‘Grockles’. The name derives from a local in Torbay on the south coast who, fifty years ago, remarked that the stream of visitors to the town resembled little ‘Grocks’, after the celebrated clown, ‘Grock’, of the late nineteenth century. Fascinating stuff, history!

Anyway, Grockles are those who are, and I can quote from ‘Cassell’s History of Slang’ – ‘outsiders, with overtones of unpleasantness and boorishness’.

Their numbers at the moment are small but quite soon there’ll be hundreds of them in all shapes, sizes and nationalities, especially sizes! To be fair some of these folk are quite sensible and appreciative of the historical, cultural and all of the other varied venues which we ourselves are fortunate to have around us. Sadly, many of them are not. They invariably trudge slowly around, blocking the pavements and generally get in the way as they look for the nearest fast food joint.

If there’re not doing that they can be found sitting around their camper vans, sitting on fold up chairs and parked anywhere, except car parks, doors wide open, munching unidentifiable food. There have been suggestions that the incidents of shop lifting increases in parallel with the Grockle incoming ‘tide’ but I don’t want to get into that here. The one thing I do accuse them of is the amount of detritus they leave behind. Empty cans, bottles, cardboard and foam plastic containers which once contained chips, curry, ‘finger lickin’ garbage and all kinds of other rubbish.

The dark thought did occur of whether they were undercover ‘health and safety operatives’ checking out the efficiency of our brave street cleaners and then drawing up a league table of which town has the biggest problem. Surely not. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. But, and this is a very big ‘but’, I suppose we have to acknowledge that they do bolster the local and regional economy even if the do buy ‘tat’ and insist on eating the equivalent of that in food.

I just tend to wonder what their reaction would be if we chartered a few ‘charabangs’ drove to where they live and spent the day emulating their behavior. But, then again, that’s perhaps not such a good idea.

In the TRNC exactly the same problems exist. You can see these characters shuffling along the main street in Girne or down in the harbour, laden with plastic bags, dragging their offspring behind them, stuffing burgers into their mouths and probably looking out for the nearest bingo palace. To suggest they visit the Castle, or visit the many historical venues the TRNC has, would be ‘throwing pearls to swine’. I actually heard one of them mutter to another, ‘Castle, what Castle. Oh, that. Nah, I don’t like ‘old’ things.

When we come over to the TRNC we find ‘them’ in the airport departure lounge. We once sat next to a large family of them and fell into idle chat while we waited for the screen to show the number of the departure gate. They were off to ‘Majjjorca’ and we mentioned we were off to Cyprus, not wanting to confuse them by saying the TRNC. ‘Ooohh!’ said the main female of the tribe. ‘Luverlee! Paphos or Ayia Nappa?!’

Oh, dear. What can you say? It’s extraordinary how many folk have no idea about the situation in Cyprus after all this time.

Apart from the UK Grockles in the TRNC there are other nationalities, a few French, no Americans, or at least I’ve never seen any of them, and, a few years ago lots of Germans. They were notorious for getting up very early every morning to commandeer all the sun beds by placing their towels over them. They would then go off for a leisurely but huge breakfast to return much later and take up residence. One hotelier who, fed up with this, took action on behalf of his other visitors. He regularly gathered up all the towels and dumped in a heap on one side, hoping they might ‘get the message’. They never did.

A Brit who was staying there at the time, highly disgruntled at this early morning towel routine grumbled to me, ‘What a bunch of bloody..… Krauts! They’re still in bloody Blitzkrieg mode! This isn’t bloody Poland! The last bloody time we had the bloody beaches to ourselves was at bloody Dunkirk!’

There have been other funny incidents but I’ll only relate two more of these. Years ago the Turkish currency had several zeros on each note, the largest denominations being in the millions(!). At a restaurant of group of Grockles had just finished enjoying a large lunch and beckoned the waiter so they could pay the bill. They hadn’t been in the TRNC for more than a day and, for a change, they were very satisfied with everything. The waiter reappeared a couple of minutes later, handed over the bill, Chief Grockle took it, stood up, and then exclaimed with a huge grin on his face, ‘Well, I’ll be‘f’d’! I haven’t had a ‘f’n’ meal that cost me fifteen ‘f’n’ million before!’ Even the waiter cracked up!

During a visit to that delightful venue of the St Barnabus Monastery, in the east of the TRNC, we were surprised to find dozens of foreign Grockles there. All women ‘of a certain age’. I thought at first they were Italians but I wasn’t sure. I did then wonder if they were of the ‘southern’ variety but their rapid chattering made it difficult to tell. It’s usually very quiet there with few tourists but that was OK, except they were talking to each other, and across each other, very noisily, quacking away non-stop and gesticulating wildly with every word.

We had taken a friend of ours to see the place and as we wandered around we found many improvements had been made since the last time we were there. Once through the main entrance a large, square courtyard is surrounded by a number of stone built rooms in front of which runs a covered, but open, stone columned cloister. The rooms contain an amazing collection of ancient artefacts dating back millennia.

Up in the corners of the cloister were several swallows’ nests, each one with five or six chicks which were being continuously fed by their parents. The birds were not at all phased by the noise from the Grockles but a few minutes later something happened which not only startled the birds but everyone else and me in particular.

I had gone ahead of our friend and my wife and walked out to the open courtyard and leaned against one of the stone columns. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun when one of the foreign Grockles strode purposefully away from her group for about twenty yards and spun around on her heels to face the friends she had just left.

I’m not sure whether she’d noticed me standing there, even though I was no more than three feet away from her, but she then suddenly broke wind at great length and extremely noisily! Was she trying to tell me something? I don’t know but she scared the hell out of the birds and a number of other folk within hearing distance. She then walked just as purposefully back to her group again completely unconcerned!

As the saying goes, ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk’!!

So, as in the UK, the TRNC needs these idiosyncratic , unpleasant, irritating and boorish, characters to spend their money. Without that the economy would probably be in even greater trouble than it has been in the past or might well be now. We just have to grin and bear it but it could be useful to adjust the collective name they have been given to a more accurate description. From ‘Grockles’ they could be known as ‘Trockles’ or even more precisely ‘Tour-cles’ instead of the temptation of more defamatory terminology. Couldn’t they?

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