Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Transports of Delight?” by Ken Dunn

Isn’t traffic wonderful? No it’s not. Apart from the national ‘disputation’ – good word that – over the horrendous price of petrol in the UK, it ranks as a topic of conversation with the weather, the spectre of rising obesity, stroppy school kids, the weather, inner city ‘social’ problems, the price of a pint, football, coalition problems, the weather, endless health warnings and the dangers about food, alcohol, breathing and, of course, the weather. It’s probably one of the most talked about subjects here.

Before we moved down to the South West we lived in London and the traffic there was a nightmare. In the South West we found that we were able to have the novel use of the four other gears above first! But that simple pleasure, of actually being able to travel at more than thirty miles per hour, is now under threat, again.

This is further complicated by the increasing numbers of the gleaming, huge, four wheeled drive, turbo equipped, cow catcher on the front, riot shields over all the lights, purpose fitted roof racked, roll bar protected, chrome dripping, spare wheel on the back, go faster striped, jeeps, cruisers, wagons, people carriers and many other monster vehicles.

Many of these leviathans, and this is not a misogynist statement, seem to be driven by women. And it’s not just for ‘the school run’ either. They’re seen at all times of the day. Usually there’s only the driver talking languidly into a mobile phone and wearing designer ‘shades’. Sometimes there might be a small child on board or a fluffy, yappy small dog or a small horse and very often the other five, six, seven or twelve seats are empty.

The interiors of these cavernous, leather upholstered, mobile living rooms bristle with switches, buttons, several cup holders, stereo radios and CD equipment, geo-satellite devices and multi TV channelled ‘stuff’. How they concentrate on driving is a minor miracle! And then there are the tractors, trucks pulling huge mountains of hay bales and in the summer, the dreaded caravans. Everything has slowed down dramatically. How long will this go on before that novelty of walking or climbing onto a push-bike will be the only options?

Many of the larger towns and cities in the UK are approaching ‘grid-lock’, especially in the mornings and at the end of every working day. The M25 is a classic example and was given the accolade of being, only months after it had been completed, the largest car park in the world. I fear that the TRNC is rapidly approaching the same status. Someone told me recently that there is something in the region of one thousand new vehicles being imported or registered in the TRNC every month! That’s a hell of a lot of cars for such a relatively small country! Who actually buys them is a mystery.

Going back in time, yes, yawn, yawn, here I go again, it was possible to drive from Lapta to Girne in less than half an hour and without the foot being flat down over the accelerator. Hardly any traffic existed then and the streets of Girne were relatively empty. Parking wasn’t a problem and anyone was able to leave a car in front of any shop, anywhere, back streets and High Street included! Happy days. It was only post 1980 that the Police began to irritate the driving public with the innovation of parking tickets but parking was still that much easier than it is now.

In those days there were hardly any new car imports. Most of the cars which had arrived, years and years before, had been brought over by the Brits in the 50’s and 60’s and by the various ex-pats who were content to settle in ‘Cyprus’, as it was then known. So, there was a varied range of vehicles including Morris Minors, Fords, Vauxhalls, Austins, a few VW’s and an occasional Fiat with a sprinkling of Renaults, all of the latter having been manufactured in Turkey.

The climate did not have the deleterious effect we all had on any metal mode of transportation in the UK. The creeping rust. Then, as now, the only and frequent need for TLC to bodywork and repair was from the ‘contact sport’ of everyday driving. Driving standards have not improved over all these years. So, with their slightly crumpled or patched ‘transports of delight’ everyone continued to traverse the winding roads of the island not giving a damn about trading up to a newer model, primarily because they were not easily available.

The years rolled by and improvements were made to the road system in Girne and beyond but some of them were somewhat odd, as far as the locals were concerned, and provided a high degree of spectator sport.

The introduction of ‘the roundabout’ was a particular example. The three that now exist – the one from the main road up to Lefkoşa, then going west, to the intermittent ‘water feature’ at the turn off up to the Wednesday market and finally the junction down into Girne – confused a few of the locals for a while. Mainly the ‘go faster’ variety. Great care had to be taken when approaching these ‘carousels’ as some folk had the disturbing habit of going round them the wrong way at the wrong time without having any notion or existence of a ‘highway code’. Mini grid locks were frequent at these circulatory devices. But, eventually, the correct use of roundabouts was understood and another driving hazard began to fade away, well, partially.

In the background, so to speak, many of the older locals had been buzzing sedately around on ancient mopeds for years, often loaded up with vegetation, wicker baskets of ‘stuff’ strapped to their backs or bags of other ‘stuff’ hanging on either side. But then, all too soon, came the infamous scooters to compete with them, streaking through moving and stationary lines of cars, totally oblivious of the danger they, and the rest of us, were being subjected to.

Things have improved with the opening of the new dual carriageway which takes some traffic away from the centre of Girne but not that much. It’s still something of a race track. Driving into Girne can still be tricky with long tailbacks stretching sometimes from as far back as the Karaoğlanoğlu Lemar supermarket and on into Girne. The ‘rat-run’ via Zetinlik can be used but some of those corners are lethal! Arriving in Girne itself and trying to park anywhere can be extremely difficult, even with the extension to the car park above the new amphitheatre, as I’m sure you all know.

And over the last few years the 4 x 4’s have arrived, en masse, to further intimidate and terrify us all. Why is this and who are the people who own them? The vehicles are not cheap and must guzzle enough fuel each day to supply the rest of us for a month. But I have a twin theory about that. They are either estate agents or builders, cruising along back and forth to their various venues or building sites of disaster, blocking out the light for anyone following. Who else could afford them? Then, alternatively, maybe, just maybe, are they of the ‘Hellenic’ variety? The emphasis should be on the first syllable of that word. Either way I do wonder.

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