Thursday, November 18, 2010

42. Cyprus

I cannot remember if we flew to Cyprus in a civilian or a military plane, but it was my first experience of air travel and it was not nice. There was a great deal of turbulence, and poor Jeni was very sick. Fifty years ago air planes were not as sleek as they are now. The landing in Nicosia was somewhat bumpy and frightening, and the heat that hit us on disembarking reminded me of Egypt.

By the time we arrived in Cyprus, British rule had ended and the island was independent; the war between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots was yet to come. We were very fortunate to be there in the quiet ‘in between’ time, but we were well aware of the hatred between the Turks and the Greeks which had its roots way back in history.

We had our share of moves in Cyprus. The first house, in Nicosia, we called Pink Pillars because the two pillars holding up the entrance were painted bright pink, and we rented ‘furniture’ at a weekly rate. The mattresses were new, stuffed so full of straw that it was like a ball, and when we tried to climb to the top we rolled back down again on to the floor! The other furniture had stencilled addresses under chair arms, at the back of drawers, under the table tops etc., like ‘Station Commander, RAF Nicosia’. It was rubbish stuff made out of scrounged packing cases. In a cafĂ© across the street the juke box played the theme tune from "Exodus" very loud all day long, and it echoed round the empty rooms. Very hard on the nerves. The local bread was not very nice and so I learned how to make my own, and the dough rose beautifully on the warm veranda. I cannot remember the school Jeni attended, she was whisked away on the school bus every morning and returned in the afternoon, but she learned to play the recorder and would sit outside playing
'Little Bird’ while, away in the distance, another young musician played the same melody on a violin. They never met, but it was very sweet.

A Greek family lived across the road from us, and I thought there was the mother and father and a young married couple, either the son and his wife or the daughter and her husband. When I became friendly with the girl I was surprised to learn that it was, in fact, her brother who shared the bedroom with her. She was not allowed to spend the night alone in case “something” happened to her! Apart from in her working environment, the girl was never allowed to be alone, in spite of being twenty two years old and earning her own living working in a bank. When she did finally meet a man she liked, and of whom the family approved, the two families used to meet on the beach and the courting couple would swim out to sea, dive down and kiss underwater! I was in their bungalow once and noticed that they kept brooms and stuff in their inside toilet and only used the toilet outside in the yard. They considered using the toilet in the house to be very crude and anti social. I tend to agree.

Tom’s father died and left Tom about two hundred and fifty pounds, which was enough to buy a little blue Simca. I just loved that car. One day I was driving from Larnaca back to Nicosia when a Greek Cypriot driver decided to harass me. He slowed down and kept close to me when there was no chance to overtake him, and then speeded up on the open road, and his behaviour quite unnerved me. Then he gained speed on a wide, steep hill but our little Simca had the guts to overtake him and then I dropped back and I played his game all the way back to Nicosia, which gave me great satisfaction and, I could see from his face in the rear view mirror, annoyed him intensely.

After a few months in Nicosia we moved to Limasol, to a hiring just outside the town, where we lived opposite our old friends, Stan and Rachael Grayson and their children, Sally and Robert. Rachael had been our babysitter years ago at Netheravon when she was a WAAF and before she married Stan, another RAF copper. We had also been stationed an hour’s drive away from them in Germany, so we were delighted to be reunited. Tom and Stan were both in the Provost Branch and, since our time in Germany, had both been commissioned from the ranks, so they had a lot of interests and old friends in common. We had so many happy times with them.

One evening I telephoned and asked them to come across for a bit of supper. Rachael said that they had just showered and were not dressed, so I told her it was only pot luck because I had cooked too much, so to please just come over in their dressing gowns, and I would expect them in about half an hour. During that half hour Tom and I rushed round like crazy; he put on full mess kit complete with miniature medals and I donned a long evening dress and put on my diamante earrings and bracelet and a quick dash of lipstick. The dining room table was decorated with bowls of hibiscus blossoms and lighted candles and we were waiting for them at the door when they arrived. Stan was wearing shorts and a Tee Shirt while Rachael was dressed in a cotton house coat with a scarf tied round her wet hair and we looked down at them with utter disdain. Their faces were a study and their greeting unrepeatable.

Another time I happened to say to Rachael that I was not happy with the arrangement of the furniture in our house, it lacked ‘style’. When I returned home a couple of days later, I thought for a moment that I was in the wrong house! Doors had been removed, rooms opened up and furniture rearranged. Pots of grasses and stuff stood in corners and it was all very much “Homes and Gardens”. Rachael had been very busy! Another Saturday evening Stan brought over some home movies to which he wanted to synchronise a commentary with our tape recorder, this was long before video recorders. Stan started off, “The car is all ready, and here comes mummy with the picnic basket. Doesn’t Sally look pretty in her new dress?” and all that sort of drivel. Rachael and I got bored with the whole thing, so she went home and I went to bed. The next morning I found an unhealthy number of empty beer cans on the table, so I rewound the tape and listened. Well, I had never heard such a load of drunken rubbish in my life. They had given up on the commentary and were pretending to be American news casters; they did commentaries on car racing tracks and told stories. I carried the machine over to Rachael, still wearing my dressing gown, and we listened in utter disbelief. I started to walk back home, forgetting that it was now Sunday morning and all our Greek neighbours were walking to church, and I got some funny looks. As I opened our front door Tom was standing there, already dressed, looking very sheepish and holding out his hand for the tape. After a mock struggle I said that he could have it, on condition that he listened to it so that he could hear how idiotic he sounded after a few too many drinks! It did not have the slightest effect on his future drinking habit. Stan had the largest repertoire of funny stories of anyone I've ever known.

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