Thursday, November 18, 2010

44. Christmas up the mountain.

There was a high level of security on the bases in Cyprus and so the wives of military personnel were encouraged to work in the offices. I brushed up on my typing skills, and went for an interview, and there something strange happened. I was talking to one of the other applicants, a corporal’s wife, and it turned out that we were sort of related. She was the only child of Evelyn, Grandpa Shaw’s step daughter. Evelyn was a very strange person, who walked around like a bag lady, was too mean to have electricity or television in her house, and when Meals on Wheels brought food for Emmie, her sick mother, she ate it. She would not light a fire for Emmie, and the poor woman died in misery. We knew all this from my aunt Doris who used to visit Emmie, who was Doris’s step mother I suppose. When Emmie died she left a barely decipherable will leaving all my grandfather’s fortune, plus two acres of prime residential land in Thundersley, to Evelyn, whereas my mother and my two aunts were entitled to 25% each. My mother wanted to contest the will, but it would have taken years and money to do so. When Evelyn’s husband had died he left several shops on a main road, which were rented out, so this young woman later became very wealthy indeed, and had not need to type any more!

I passed my typing test and became employed as secretary to a rather dishy Group Captain, I think he was Chief of Intelligence or something like that and I probably got the job because Tom was working in security. When the Group Captain had to formally entertain visiting Service Personnel he would invite Tom and me to join the party to help out. The most difficult dinner party was for some Iranian pilots who spoke no English. We were amazed to learn that they were paid about the same amount as our admin corporals.

Tom gave lectures on security and counter intelligence to all the personnel at headquarters, all except me because he barred me from attending. Perhaps he thought my presence would have made him nervous, but I was told that he was a very good speaker, which surprised me because he was normally so nervous and shy. Anyway, I was employed and I could start saving again.

We visited other old friends, Peter and Trottie Derby, with whom we had shared the disused NAAFI at Pershore. They were living in Larnaca and had two monstrous boys, Chris and Barry, right little terrors who treated their mother like rubbish, but she adored them. Barry, known as “Bar, darling!” would accidentally, on purpose, kick his mother’s poor arthritic leg whenever possible. He would also eat only burnt chipolata pork sausages. How I loathed that child. I hear he grew up to be a successful barrister!

While we were living in Limasol Tom would attend ‘dining in nights’ in the mess up at Episkopi. The narrow mountain road was dangerous in daylight with a sober driver, but at night coming down in the dark the worse for drink was lunacy, and I would be frantic with worry. More than one drunk went over the edge of the mountain. There was one awful accident there when a perfectly sober woman collected a new car in Limasol and, on her way back up to Episkopi, accelerated round a corner, instead of breaking, and literally flew off the mountain road into the forest below. Neither she nor her daughter was badly hurt because they landed in the trees! There was quite a hold-up on that road afterwards because everyone wanted to stop and look at the strange sight of the car sitting on top of the trees in the middle of the forest! The rescue operation was a mammoth task because there were no roads or tracks through that mountainside forest. The story goes that Volkswagen immediately gave her another new car. I always treat mountain roads with the greatest caution.

During the two and a half years we were in Cyprus we lived in six different houses, but they were all nice houses, with running water! However, water was in short supply and could be cut off without warning, like the time when I was in the shower, lathered from head to foot. We were going out to a mess function and it was a hot night, and so I hoped that I would not perspire soap bubbles through my evening dress. From then on we always had a bucket or two of water in reserve. Then, after a detachment to Ayos Nicholias, Tom was allocated a married quarter at Episkopi, which was our last move.

Cyprus in 1960-62 was a beautiful place to live. The sunshine, the views of the mountains and the sea were breathtaking. We could play in the snow up in the mountains in the morning and drive down to the beach and swim in the afternoon. We drove all over the island without restriction or borders, and even saw camels there. It was possible to drive a car on the beach right up to the edge of the sea, the beaches were deserted, the water clear and blue without waves or tides. The sea was so buoyant that Tom, who could not swim, would float on the water for hours, watching the fish through his snorkel. Standing upright on the beach we could see that he had a line running right down the sides of his body, the front part that was submerged stayed white while the back of his body was sun tanned brown. It looked quite strange. Jeni swam wearing a huge pair of flippers which looked like fins – hence her nickname Fins.

It was Christmas and Rachael decided we would all drive up the Trodos mountains and have a Christmas picnic up there in the snow! I took hot soup in a flask, the Christmas pudding, brandy sauce and jacket potatoes. Rachael provided the salad, rolls and meat for the braai. It was bloomin’ freezing up there. We arrived at the picnic site and Stan unpacked the braai and tried to get the fire going. He had not taken into consideration the difficulty of starting a charcoal fire at that altitude, especially in winter. Well, he huffed and he puffed while Tommy ran circles round the fire like and aeroplane, flapping his overcoat, trying to create a breeze. Rachael, Jeni, Sally, Robert and I huddled together in one car trying to keep warm. We ate the hot soup and the Christmas pudding, but Stan was determined that we would eat the braai before we left the mountain. By now we had eaten enough and did not want the darned meat. Almost two hours later, just to keep the peace, we choked down some pieces of undercooked, fatty lamb, broke camp and went home. Christmas never has been a very successful festive season for me.

Two smells of Limasol remain in my memory, the fresh sweet smell of the citrus blossoms wafting up the mountain from the lemon, grapefruit and orange groves, and the appalling smell which exuded from the carob factory! As soon as we neared the factory the windows of the car were quickly wound up. It was surprising that something that is used to make ice cream, and is so nutritious could smell so terrible. Chocoholic that I am, I never liked carob chocolate.

We left Cyprus shortly before the division of the country and I cannot visualise that beautiful place with refugee camps and high rise hotels. I could never go back; it would sadden me too much. I hated saying “good bye” to our dear little car and our good friends, but Tom was posted to Northern Ireland, and it was time for us to go.

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