Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Questions, questions by Ken Dunn

On our many visits to the TRNC in the past we were always intrigued at the way bars and restaurants appeared and disappeared with such regularity. In any given year this was further complicated by changes of management, names of venues and the familiar faces we knew who would come and go. It was a continuing and ever transient ‘whirligig’. Things have settled down of late but it still happens.

So, with the luggage unpacked, the house checked and a duster flicked around the place one of our first tasks was to find out where we could find ‘Alan’. Alan Cavinder was a bluff Yorkshire man who had been running many bars in the TRNC for years but he, as with all the rest, tended to move around. Tracking him down meant contacting any of the ‘Ancient Brits’ who had settled there. They would know, as many of them were loyal to his particular brand of humour and ‘bonhomie’.

We always found out where he was within the first day and made a beeline to him to find out what had been happening since we were last there. From gossip to politics, commerce to infrastructure Alan was ‘all-knowing’ without being patronising, over critical or dismissive, delivering information in a straightforward and usually humorous vein. It saved a great deal of time in catching up about all things TRNC. After that had been accomplished we could settle down to soaking up the ‘ambience’.

We would call in to see him from time to time, wherever he was working, and enjoy a good ‘crack’ while he dispensed libations and jokes with equal panache. I can remember only one occasion where his demeanour suddenly changed to one of abject doom. I was sitting at his alfresco bar and he stopped what he was doing, looked beyond me to the car park and said, ’Oh, no. The Glums have arrived!’

Now, for you younger folk, I have to explain that the ‘Glums’ were characters from a fifties radio comedy programme known as ‘Take It From Here’. They were a fictitious family of ne’re-do-wells who would today be known as ‘dysfunctional’ but, because of that, they were very funny. The father of this family was a miserable soul and so was his wife although she would only be heard grunting in the background. So, back to Alan’s pub.

I turned to follow Alan’s mournful gaze to see a couple of folk climbing out of an old, reddish, orange coloured car. This turned out to be one of the few Datsuns in the TRNC, a late sixties Japanese car. It was 1984 as I recall so the car must have been at least fifteen years old and it looked it. Having been under the Cyprus sun the paint work had lost a lot of its gloss, a few patches were evident here and there and it sagged over slightly to one side.

To the Glums it was their pride and joy, as I was soon to find out. Turning back to the bar I then realised that the few other folk who had been sitting there, on either side of me, had disappeared to the left and right and taken up residence at tables a good thirty feet away. This was strange. Alan recognised my puzzlement and simply said, quietly, hooking his thumb in the direction of the approaching Glums, ‘These two can clear a bloody bar in ten bloody seconds!’

Mrs Glum, I’ll call her ‘Doris’, shuffled along, arm in arm with him, looking like what can only be described as Gypsy Rose Lee’s granny. Her very black, short, dyed hair was thin to the point of being able to see her skin beneath. With bright red lipstick and terribly applied ‘wonky’ mascara over her eyebrows she was quite a sight.

Mr Glum, ‘Norman’ will do, flopped along beside her, very baggy shorts, ‘t’ shirt and a lugubrious expression on his face. Imagine an old bloodhound with a bland smile and that should give you a better idea.

Alan had already organised drinks for both of them as they were regulars, although thankfully for him, infrequent. Norman and Doris nodded to me, I returned the greeting and after a sip of his beer Norman opened a bizarre conversation.

‘Joohavacar?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied, wondering why he had asked that and where this conversation might be going..

‘Ahh. Is it a Datsun?’

‘No. It’s Renault,’ I told him. ‘That one over there,’ pointing over to the car park.

He didn’t bother to look round but simply began to talk about the virtues of Datsuns!

This went on for several minutes with Doris adding a monosyllabic, ‘Ohhyeah,’ at every opportunity. But most of my attention was drawn, not to what he was actually saying but to the way Norman delivered his lecture on Datsuns. Every time he spoke he ‘wobbled’ on his seat. When he stopped talking, however briefly, he stopped wobbling. It was fascinating! Wobble, wobble, stop. Wobble, wobble, stop.

I endured an endless list of the ‘unique’ characteristics of Datsuns which, unknown to me, all Datsuns ever produced had. My knowledge of the wonders and workings of the internal combustion engine and the attendant miracles of suspension, construction and everything else to do with the motorcar is meagre to say the least. I’m content to remember on which side of the car the petrol cap is, knowing how to drive and understanding how to stop.

Norman was keen to inform me, wobble, wobble, wobble, of a list of the special characteristics Datsuns had, over and above any car known to man. Spinkle valves, weegee rods, compression vectors or poofle tubes were vital to performance, apparently. Well, that’s what it all sounded like. He was at a loss to know, wobble, wobble, wobble, why other manufacturers hadn’t taken Datsun’s lead. Neither was I! Norman stopped to take a breath, stopped wobbling, and from Doris, rather than another ‘Ohhyeah!’, she said, a huge grin on her face, ‘Thass my hubby. He’s sooh clever!’

Alan came to the rescue.

‘Now, look here you two. I need to fill a couple of places for the opposition’s team for the Quiz night next week and I think you’re just what I’m looking for. Are you up for that?’

Norman wobbled his agreement and Doris just said, again, ‘Ohhyeah’.

‘Excellent!’ Alan beamed. ‘But I do have to give you a little test, just to confirm your obvious and extensive knowledge, OK?’

Norman wobbled a nod and Doris gave another, enthusiastic, ‘Ohhyeah!’

‘Right. Here we go’, Alan began, ‘Where was the Battle of the Nile fought?’

‘Oohh. I know that!’ Norman wobbled. ‘Thawass the second world war, wassin it? Yeah, thass right. South America somewhere.’

Undaunted, and with a completely straight face, Alan asked another question.

‘Which year did the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky celebrate?’

Doris had a completely blank expression. Norman wobbled a wobbly answer.

‘Thass an easy one! Spanish Civil War!’

‘Here’s another,’ Alan said, without a flicker. ‘Who has been recognised as the inventor of the first steam train?’

The wobbly answer from Norman was a self assured, ‘Aww, thass another easy one. It was Henry Ford!’

Alan slapped the bar. ‘Fantastic!’ He said. ‘You have to be part of the opposition’s team! Is that OK?’

‘Really?’ Norman wobbled.

‘Really!’ Alan answered.

‘Thessonly one thing’, Norman wobbled, a slightly worried expression on his face.

‘What’s that? Alan asked.

‘Will there be any questions about Datsuns?’

I could hardly contain myself as all this was going on but Doris capped the whole thing by saying, with a far away look on her face, ‘Ooohh, I luvv ‘isstree! There’s so much of it!’

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