Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – There’s nothing like a good ‘Laff!’ by Ken Dunn

That’s what my mother in law used to say all the time and she knew that more than most as she’d lived in the TRNC for a long, long time. With that as a loose theme I’ve brought together a collection of situations involving folk going to, found there and coming back from the TRNC. The kind of events which follow don’t seem to happen in the UK and that may have something to do with the pace of life, the ability to completely relax with such glorious weather or is it something ‘they’ put in the water

I don’t suppose it matters but people behave quite differently over here. It sometimes begins at the airport before flying to the TRNC.

Heathrow departure lounge is not the best place in the world to while away two or more hours before your flight is called. There are far too many people for a start and all too often too few seats. But then, at the height of the holiday season you don’t have any alternative but to join the scrum, grit your teeth and make the best of it.

There is, however, an ‘antidote’ to this and I recommend it to all. It will raise your spirits and help to endure the noise, bodies, detritus all around and the inevitable screaming child. It’s the ‘Uxbridge English Dictionary’. Disappointed? Don’t be. Find a copy, open it at any page and I defy you not to smirk, laugh out loud or collapse into giggles at its contents.

It’s been a near lifesaver for us and it could be for you to overcome the slow march of time before the plane is ready. It’s unlike any ordinary dictionary being an ‘A to Z’ collection of irreverent, alternative definitions of ordinary words. Its genesis stems from a radio programme called ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’, which I would also recommend. BBC Radio 4 to be precise.

So, there we were, in the middle of the lounge, having fortunately found somewhere to sit and with two good friends of ours, all of us bound for the TRNC, we began to leaf through the pages, reading out to each other random definitions. Examples. ‘Geranium – The cry of the Parachute Regiment’s Flower Arranging Team’. ‘Countryside – To Kill Piers Morgan.’ ‘Iconography – Filthy Byzantine pictures’ ‘Innuendo – An Italian suppository.’ As you can see it’s a very different kind of dictionary.

Half an hour of this and we were feeling much better, then another couple we’d met in the TRNC turned up, managed to squeeze next to us and listened to other ‘definitions’. She was sweet, a bit ‘dim’ and he was, well, shall we say a ‘bear of a much smaller brain.’ From the depths of the South West he was known to us as, ‘The Cornish Pasty’ and had a complexion to match the name. The definitions continued to flow. ‘Widdicombe – A brush to make your hair look like a wig.’ ‘Cockaleekie – Prostate problem.’ ‘Oxymoron – Stupid cow.’

What made all of this even funnier was the expression of complete confusion on Mr Cornish Pasty’s face He didn’t understand a word and was completely bemused about what we were all laughing about but didn’t ask!

When we arrive in the TRNC and settle down at our place in Lapta, we allow what we call ‘The Cyprus Mode’ to overcome us. So, completely relaxed and refreshed the following morning we pottered about, dusting, wiping windows, as you do, and then we were ready for lunch. Into the car, down through the village to a favourite restaurant. We’d been there only ten minutes or so, hadn’t looked at the menu, when Mr and Mrs Pasty arrived. They joined us and we chatted about nothing in particular. But the conversation began to dry up as they hadn’t much to say.

To enliven things I made an attempt at a very old joke. Looking at the menu I said, ‘I think I’ll have a Greekern.’

‘Wass a greek ernn?’ Mr Pasty asked. ‘About twice as much as a Turk!’ I answered brightly. Nothing. Not a Flicker. Oh dear. This was going to be a very difficult lunchtime. Then I remembered one of the ‘definitions’ in the Uxbridge dictionary. So I trotted it out. ‘Or should I have an ‘hors d’oeuvre’ first?’

Mr Pasty asked, ‘Wass’n haw derv then?’ Answer – ‘Ladies who hang around diesel pumps!’ Reaction? A frown as he was trying to work out what that meant. It proved to be the most boring lunch we’ve ever had.

Then there was Henry. Henry had been living in the TRNC for some time and was usually quite jovial. But on this occasion, at a popular Ancient Brit watering hole, he was looking somewhat ‘sombre’. I was pleased to see him but said, ‘Hello, Henry. Looking a bit down today?’ and gave him a friendly pat on his shoulder. He winced in pain, held his arm and said, ‘Oh, bugger! Don’t do that! It’s giving me so much jip!’

He’d pulled something or strained it somehow and went on explain how he couldn’t lift it further than waist height without being racked with searing pain.

‘Hurts something awful. If I stretch it up it’s terrible’. His arm shot up vertically, then down. Not a sign of a painful grimace. ‘Can’t do that anymore. If I do that,’ up went the arm again, ‘it hurts like hell! So, I don’t.’

At the height of the ‘cowboy’ invasion some years ago, when many ‘oiks’ came over to try to cash in on the housing explosion in the TRNC, I overheard a conversation between a bald headed, corpulent, tattooed twerp who was delivering his ‘patter’ to one of the tourists. He was extolling his expertise in construction and was trying very hard to persuade this poor unfortunate to have something built over here before the prices went up. The conversation went something like this.

‘So, if you git the f’n land while it’s f’n cheap, draw ya f’n plans up an I can f’n build ya a f’n palace, a f’n palace! No f’n problem!’

The tourist wasn’t so ‘enthusiastic’.

‘Is it that easy? He asked, eyes widening.

‘Cawse it f’n is. No f’n problem. Git the land an bish-bash-bosh! You’ll be livin like a f’n king! So, wajja say, eh?’

‘So, you’ve done this before?’

‘Well, no, not ere like.’

‘Ah, so what did you do in the UK?’

‘I wuzz a trainee plumber.’

Many years ago there was, and still is, a delightful restaurant below Lapta where we visited regularly and still do. Although on the shore of the Med it has its own pool as well as a well equipped alfresco restaurant and bar. An idyllic place to spend a langrous, quiet day. But, as with all things good, the word ‘got out’ about it and every weekend UN troops, stationed on the line and from the British bases in Akrotiri and Dekelia in the south, would travel all the way to the north to spend a full day there.

They often brought their families with them and that was fine, all of us enjoying the peace and quiet of the venue. But occasionally a cohort of unmarried soldiers, of varying nationalities, would arrive to overrun the place. They were pretty ‘frisky’ and sometimes their language was not exactly what you could call ‘refined.’ The owner of the restaurant at the time was a large lady from London who did not appreciate their antics and disapproved of their ‘communicative skills’ such as they were.

On one Saturday a bunch of these characters swarmed in and began to behave like naughty children, pushing each other into the pool, swearing, bulldozing their way to the bar and generally being quite obnoxious. London lady had had enough. It was time to do something. Now, bear in mind that these chaps were healthy, well muscled specimens and, in any other circumstances, not to be messed around with for fear of being ‘decked’ with one punch. That did not pose a problem for her.

She was always dressed in long flowing robes and she stomped towards them, as a galleon in full sail, a furious expression on her face, stopped in front of the main party and gave forth, very loudly.

‘Now look here you bxxxxxds!’ Silence fell like a ten ton weight. ‘If you think you can f’n behave like this, in my f’n place, you can f’n think again! You have two options. Calm down and behave or FxxK OFF! Do I make my f’n self clear?!!’ A two second pause. Nobody moved. ‘I said, DO I F’N MAKE MYSELF F’N CLEAR?!!! ’

She had. After that weekend, back at their various bases, the word had obviously spread rapidly and since then any troops coming over from the line or the south have been as adoring pussycats.

During the summer there is always the fear of fire. The vegetation and trees are always at risk from cigarette ends being flicked out of car windows or discarded bottles acting as focusing lenses to ignite anything around them. The worst conflagration was the fire of ‘95 when thousands and thousands of acres and houses were ablaze and destroyed. The Times in the UK summed this up across its front page, photograph included as, ‘Cyprus is burning!’ That was terrifying for everyone.

Before then and since the fire services in the TRNC and the south have successfully controlled and dealt with many, and thankfully, smaller eruptions. The red machines and their crews are very, very quick off the mark to deal with any potential fire risk but there was one relatively small fire in Alsancak a few years ago which had many of us smiling.

This is the story I heard from two good friends of ours. I hope I can recount it as accurately as they told it. A short distance away from their house is a small ravine or maybe more of a man-made cutting which allowed heavy rainfall, when it happens, to drain away safely from any habitation. Over the years this must have become blocked with vegetation and a bit of ‘dumping’ from the locals. In any case something, possibly broken glass under the sun, must have started a small fire.

Smoke began to rise and nobody noticed until the unmistakable smell of something burning percolated into the surrounding houses. The fire brigade were called and within a few minutes the sound of, ‘he-haw, he-haw’ from the large, red tender from Girne could be heard, approaching very fast. Relief for all. The fire engine skidded to a halt within a hundred yards from the fire which was now licking its way down the ravine, clouds of smoke billowing up. The crew disembarked, and milled around watching the flames but didn’t immediately spring into action.

A languid conversation between them then ensued and a few of them pulled out packets of cigarettes and lit up,(!) still watching the flames beyond, unperturbed by the potential inferno which was rapidly gaining pace. More ‘he-haws’ were heard as the Police arrived. They shambled out of their car and, after having a few nonchalant words with the fire crew, also ‘lit up’, leaning against their vehicle as if nothing was wrong. A general and rather placid conversation continued between all of them as the flames grew higher.

The residents were now becoming somewhat alarmed as the fire was getting worse and wondered if these ‘official spectators’ were ever going to do anything to stop it! Then one of the fire crew busied himself with the hose and jabbed some of the buttons on the side of the tender to start the pump. Nothing happened. Not a drop of water dripped from the nozzle of the hose. Shoulders up, arms higher, palms spread. A classic ‘Izz Zprus!’ situation. What to do? The ‘on board’ battery which should have powered the pump was flat or the connection to the engine motor of the tender wasn’t working.

Ten minutes later, with the flames reaching really scary proportions the hose was working and the fire was gradually extinguished. But if it hadn’t been for the fact that our friends had had to rush around, find an extension lead, plug it into a socket in their kitchen, reel it out to the tender to use that as a feed to get the pump going…….?

To be fair the folk who run the fire service in the TRNC are extraordinarily good and have always performed to a very high standard keeping many of us safe. But there are times…

And then there was the only time I’ve ever come across an American in the TRNC. He wasn’t very happy. Standing at a bar in Girne he said, ‘My gaard. This place is the arrrsehole of the Univerrrse!’

A local sitting next to him looked up and said, with a grin, ‘Ah, just passing through then?

Leaving the TRNC to go back to the UK has its moments. On one of the few occasions we used the airport at Larnaca we were queueing up to check in and fell into conversation with a chap who had been working in Limassol. I can’t remember what he did there but I do remember that he looked like a dodgy car salesman. A bit ‘slick’ and over confident somehow.

The conversation rolled on about the weather and all that nonsense everyone comes out with but then he realised we’d been on ‘the other side’.

‘Oh!’ he almost gasped. ‘That’s awful! How are things ‘over there?’ Can you get food?’

All I said was, ‘ Oh yes. It’s fine. We’ve found a comfortable cave in the mountains and the Red Cross fly over and drop parcels twice a week.’

‘Oh,’ he replied. ‘I’m so pleased for you.’

So, there we are. A miscellany of sillyness. That’s what I love about being in the TRNC and I’m sure there’ll be lots of other daft situations to come across in the future. I’ll leave you with two other definitions from that magic dictionary.

‘Mangoes – I’m off,’ and ‘Picador – find your own way out.’

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