Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Spiginnit? by Ken Dunn

My wife loves the sun. So do I but I have to be careful as the skin hates it. That’s very annoying but I cope the best way I can. Anyway, on most mornings we take up station on the edge of our pool, the one called the Mediterranean. It’s bigger than many others in the village and requires very little maintenance. It also has a restaurant and a bar attached which is major bonus.

Lots of other folk use ‘our’ pool but that’s OK. There’s plenty of room but arriving early is the only way to ensure the best position, stake our claim if you like, to sun bed, parasol and easy access to the bar and restaurant. By early I don’t mean the Germanic crack of sparrow fxxt but the much more sensible ‘Cypriot’ early morning time of around ten thirty or at the latest, eleven o’clock.

So, there we were. The patron gave us a cheery wave and the waiters began to set things up for another glorious day. I set up the portable spit, loaded my wife onto that and left the waiters to give her a quarter turn every fifteen minutes. She was happy. I was happy. I settled down under the shade of the alfresco bar and opened the book I’d already started. With a fresh, cold Efes in front of me this was bliss. Nobody else had arrived and I began to read. Less than five minutes slid by when a heard a voice say, ‘Fwoarr! Spiginnit?’ I looked up but couldn’t see anyone. The voice came again. ‘Yeahh, Spig!’

Turning, I identified where the voice was coming from. A figure stood looking out across the Med, his back to me. Male, very thin, near white skin, wearing only white, baggy shorts but the head was a sunburnt red including the neck. It was just like looking at a large Swan Vestas matchstick! He spoke again. ‘Yeah, spiginnit?’

Was this a new language? Or was he referring to the size of the Med? I deduced that he was. ‘Spig’ probably meant, ‘It’s big.’ And this is where I made a big mistake. I answered with, ‘Yes, it’s the Mediterranean.’

Well, that was it for half an hour, or that’s what it seemed like. He turned and launched into an extremely enthusiastic, near non-stop monologue which didn’t allow me to offer anything else but the occasional, ‘Ahh’, or, ‘Mmm,’ or ‘Really?’ He began with, ‘Yeah, wewll, iss a bit like merica, innit?

Was that ‘A-merica? Apparently so.

‘Cos I wuzz there last year an, fwaorr, spiginnit? Got on the wassit, took off, zwaahh! Landed, then, fwaorr, into the car, cor, big car, an bbrmm, bbrmm, off like! So, then drivin along, drivin along an, fwoarr! Cos, merica like, spiginnit! Schurrrlpp! Drivin along, drivin a straight road like, bit rocky here an derr but flat, flat an nuffin, nuffin! Evry side, leff an ryte, same fing, same fing, nuffin, nuffin! Look in the behind mirra and same fing, same fing, straight road an nuffin, nuffin!’

This was, presumably, a flight to ‘merica’, the hire of a large car and out into the flat open space of ‘nuffin’.

‘Yeah, drivin along, drivin along an, whao, hey, look, pehril, yeah, pehril! Getting low, fwaur! Schurrrlp! But thess nuffin, nuffin, straight road front an back, nuffin, cos, fwaorr, spiginnit!’

As he burbled on he would occasionally suck in excess saliva from his mouth giving that disgusting ‘Schlurrping’ noise. As well as this his arms were flailing around like a pair of demented semaphore signals, sides, front and backwards, emphasising the ‘nuffin’of it all. By this time my wife had arrived to find out what was going on and she mouthed to me, ‘Who the hell is that?’ I shrugged and shook my head. Both of just stared at this vision, a character who might have been plucked from a Lowry painting. You know that artist, the one who paints industrial and townscape scenes with miserable, stick-insect like people trudging around. He kept going.

‘Cos, yeah, drivin along an whao, ooh, gettin very low on pehril but thess nuffin, nuffin!! Schlurrrp! An so drivin along, drivin along an pehril getting lower an, fwaorr, what we gonna do? An then, then, derrs diss speck in the distance, getting closer an closer. Yeah, speck, getting bigga, yeah bigga, fwaorr! It wuzz a shack, yeah shack, wivv a pehril pump, an a big man standin wivv a big gun an a dog, yeah, fwaorr, big dog! So, up I pulls, opens the cap and sezz politely, “pehril?”

‘In goes the pump, in goes the pehril and full!! Yeah! So, I sezz, “Fankyu! Fankyu! Harrmush?” He sezz, “45 dollars.” I sezz, “Harrmush!! Thassalot!” Up comes the gun, up gets the dog, cor, big dog, an he sezz, ‘Jewannit, orr nat?’ So, whao!, schlurrrp, paid quick like and off!!!

We both wondered how much longer this extraordinary, ‘schlurrrpy’ lecture would last but we were trapped, fascinated, rather like rabbits caught in the headlights of a speeding car, by the torrent of words which continued to flow and the emphasis given to them by his ‘expressive’ arm waving. Two of waiters were standing on the other side of the bar staring, open mouthed at this performance and I noticed that one of them was holding an empty wine bottle by the neck. They were obviously taking no chances and were prepared for any ‘escalation’.

‘So, drivin along, drivin  along, an derrs still nuffin, nuffin! But then, well, then, schlurrrp, derrs diss, diss, geometry, yeah, all diss geometry! All diss geometry gettin bigga an bigga! Cor, yeah, mega, massive, fwaorr!, wivv snow on the top! Spiginnit! Yeah, spig!’

We looked at each other, eyebrows high and wondered what the hell he was talking about! Then we both ‘twigged’ at the same time. Geography! Yes. That was it. He meant geography so that must mean mountains, the Rocky Mountains, didn’t it?

‘An yeah, schlurrrp, yeah, spigginit?’

We both felt obliged to nod. His arms came down slowly and he gave a huge sigh, a glazed expression sliding across his face and then just said, disconsolately, head down, ‘Yeah, spiginnit,’ and trudged slowly away. We have never seen him again, luckily.

There is a tail-piece to all of this. A few days later I was driving down the dual carriageway to Lefkoşa and as I negotiated my way around the big roundabout I caught a glimpse of a small road sign I hadn’t noticed before.  It was quite small, not of the ‘spiginnit’ variety, but, pointing along the road to the airport, it had the name of ‘Faor’ on it. Ok, it didn’t have a ‘w’ in it but I still wonder whether ‘matchstick’ man lives there.

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