Epistles of John from Cyprus 2011

1 John

Letter from Cyprus Thursday 29th September

‘Oh to be in England, now that spring is here!’ – What a load of cac! Far better the poet should have written, ‘Oh to be in Cyprus now that summer’s gone!’
With the end of summer goes the riffraff that litters the foreshore, the blistering heat from which even the geckos hide and the logjam of traffic which dams every avenue into or out of every coastal retreat.

Autumn brings instead the genteel of middle England and the nobility of the north.(including, of course, Me!) And, of course, there are far fewer of us; and we use far less cars. Temperatures hover in the late eighties and a light sea breeze soothes the brow.

But life is still hard. As I rise from the garden Jacuzzi I only have the time that it takes to munch a light salad lunch to decide, ‘What next? Should I read my book? Have a nap? Or get back in the Jacuzzi?’

But thoughts stray back home. No footie to speak of out here…well, except for on the telly, where it is endless. Last night I caught the last 20 minutes of Amalfi Warriors versus Limmasol Pirates. Not good. HWGE would have pasted either of them….or both at the same time with Duke the novice goal poacher playing; even with Geoff playing in goal….no, that’s just being silly. No, the average Cypriot is really made for sitting under a tree, smoking a lazy joint and watching the world go by.

I think for the first week I will practise being a Cypriot.

Meanwhile, here is a very useful phrase Richard should practise in case he ventures to these shores

Tha ehete kero to savatokiriako?

Are you free over the weekend?

2 John

Letter from Cyprus Saturday 7th October

The Nightlife

Having practised all week, I am now very good at being a Cypriot. I can make a coffee break last 2 or 3 hours or sit in a taverna for a whole morning before retiring for a siesta, a Spanish custom which the Cypriots appear to have adopted, with good reason. I think the average British Gas man must do his training in Cyprus.

All this sitting and lying down has one big advantage….it leaves you in tiptop condition for stepping out in the town when darkness falls. I decided to sample the local hooch. First spot I hit was Spiro’s Village Taverna where the exotic beer of the week was John Smith’s Extra Smooth, which Spiro assured me was brewed in the village brewery. Amazingly, it tasted and looked very similar to a beer I have supped in Blighty, even down to the glass, with John Smith’s written on it.
I moved on to Mouskouri’s Bar, whose boards announced, ‘plate-smashing, fire on the floor, Zorb dancing, ouzo races and more..’ who could want more, I thought. This is local culture at its finest. The plate smashing was in full swing and I joyfully joined in, narrowly missing a waiter with a vinegar bottle. As I leapt into the hub of the action, armed with an earthenware bowl half-filled with someone’s moussaka, I was halted by a swarthy olive-skinned man, ‘Mister, Sir, what is it that you think you are doing?’ he was from Brixton. ‘Joining in the plate-smashing,’ I replied, gleefully. ‘This is not the plate-smashing, he explained, ‘ It’s the owner’s wife whose just found out her husband was having a siesta away from home. Now, please can I have my moussaka back?’ Chastened, I handed over his half-finished meal and slumped into a spare chair. The owner, glad to have a customer to escape to, rushed over to serve me. The Zorb dancing intrigued me, as the only Zorb I had heard of was a brand of carpet cleaner. ‘No, no!’ he remonstrated, ‘his a has gone.’ We do the famous Zorba Dance, we will show you’ It seemed to consist of hugging the nearest man and kicking his shin repeatedly. I quite fancied hugging a woman, but the owner insisted, ‘Only men’ Greeks are a bit like that, leaving plenty of idle women, which is possibly why Cyprus appeals to so many Brit men. I ordered an Ouzo race with a Greek side salad. The waiter explained the rules, which seemed pretty simple. I had to down a small jug of diluted anise and weave a circuit of the restaurant before the waiter had served me another jugful. After 3 laps the drinking wasn’t a problem but the weaving was a bit tricky. I never knew the origin of the phrase, ‘blind drunk’ until I had played that game. I’ll never know whether I won, because I woke up sitting under an olive tree in a different village and I’m a bit wary of going back to find out. I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t sampled Fire on the Floor, until I tried to stand up and found that the soles of my trainers had completely melted away.

All in all, I’d give the nightlife an 8 out of 10, although I heard the customers at Mouskouris gave me 10 out of 10 for entertainment.

Useful phrase of the week for Richard to listen out for is, ‘Mi mangizis!’
‘Take your hands off me!’ While he could practise, just in case things don’t go well,
‘Tha paro piso ta lefta moo?‘ ‘Will I get my money back?

Love from the Cypriot Exile, John

3 John

Letter from Cyprus Friday 14th October

Keeping Fit

It’s a constant psychological battle to keep in trim when every fibre of your body is willing you to go and sit under a tree for a couple of hours. I am, however, winning that battle.

First there are the early morning runs. Some would say they are caused by the late night souvlakis and ouzo, and I admit trying to excavate my bowels in silence at 6.30am does call for a serious workout of a certain muscle group. Cypriot houses have no insulation and therefore no sound insulation and the recoil from my launching of my early morning torpedoes seems to ricochet off every wall in the house, just when I am trying to sneak out quietly in consideration for everyone else.
Then I can start my run.
Or I could, were it not for the Cypriot builders’ propensity for building their houses on a cliff. Any land with a greater than 1 in 3 gradient seems to be ignored as lacking a challenge. Give the builder a precipice and he stacks a dozen houses on it, no problem. I need a couple of ropes and a set of crampons just to get to the next villa’s front door.
But I manage it. I think of it as my ‘whole body workout’
The next Cypriot trick to extend my ‘run’ is the street pattern. Every big wide road you take becomes a cul de sac after about half a mile. Every little tiny back lane eventually becomes a motorway. What should be a 2 mile trot to the sea becomes a 10 mile stagger to the mountain top.
Maps are useless. They only ever tell you what the village used to look like before the second world war, but with all the MacDonald’s emblazoned in large yellow Ms across the important bits of the map so you can’t read it.
I decide to return to the villa, having cleverly memorized my route, but at every junction there is now a rabid dog blocking my turning. If the dog is growling, barking, loose and large, I decide it must be rabid and try a different turning.
Then there’s the sun. Of course, the whole point of setting off on a little jog at 6.45am was to do it in the cool of the day, no need for sun cream, no need for a hat…..but I didn’t account for the hills, dead ends, dogs or maps and I eventually wobble back for lunchtime with a head bearing an uncanny resemblance of a fried tomato.

Tomorrow I am going to do swimming instead.

Useful phrase for Richard when he’s cleaning up after a night out
‘Dhe mazevi?’ ‘Will it shrink in the wash?’

Love, St John The Red of Paphos

4 John

Letter from Cyprus Friday 21st October


As I become more emboldened through my familiarity with the geography of this area of Cyprus I venture into the seedier areas of Paphos. To give you a concept of how seedy that is, I can tell you that Paphos is contending for the EU status of City of Culture 2017, a competition previously won by Liverpool and Glasgow. Or, more graphically, it compares favourably with the floor of Joey the Budgie’s birdcage.
On Amiantos (Street), outside a particularly dimly lit taverna I see a sign proudly proclaiming, ‘Live dancers’. Well, I can’t imagine dead ones are much fun to watch, even less to join in with. Just round the corner I am informed by an even larger sign that there are, ‘Topless Table Dancers’. Now, I’ve seen Fire On The Floor and Light My Tail, but dancing on topless tables must beat that for skill. I am about to go in for my taste of culture when my arm is grabbed by She Who Must Be Obeyed who points out that its open ‘1.00am till late’ a time concept with which I am totally unfamiliar, and we carry on down the street. I must say, this is beginning to read like an Essentials Only Guide to Paphos for Richard.

On one of our wonderful coastal walks we visited a fabulous ‘end of the world’ taverna which was run by a lady and her deaf and intellectually challenged son, who was the waiter. All his utterances were emitted at around 150 decibels, and yes I am aware that’s louder than a jet plane taking off. A simple instruction from Mum that table 4 wanted two beers and bottle of red looked and sounded like a domestic to the death. I am not sure if Mum always had a barbecue fork in her hand due to her cooking or to focus his attention. My professional career has left me well-equipped to deal with such situations so, near the end of our meal when he lumbered over to our table and began bawling at us, I smiled, watched his mouth and hand gestures and could clearly translate that he wanted to know if I looked through the keyhole when he went to bed. I showed him with hands pillowing my head then bending down with left eye spying through a left hand telescope followed by a swift double hand sweep that I had never watched him in bed through the keyhole. Impassively, he repeated his question, but louder. And I replied. We were in the 5th cycle when Mum interceded. ‘He wants to know if you want more Keo (local beer) and bread,’ she explained. ‘I know that, ‘ I replied, ‘I was just letting him know I am feeling sleepy with looking at the views and I have finished my meal’
‘He understands No,’ she replied.

The most worrying misunderstanding in communication however was from Brit to Brit. We were on a pebbly beach with another couple, settling to eat our picnic sandwiches when the lady was obviously having difficulty getting comfortable. I showed her how to scoop out a hollow to sit in and dig two more as foot rests, in which position I could sit all day. I got on with my sandwich and she scuffed and scrabbled until she proudly proclaimed to me and half the beach, ‘Look, I’ve got a lovely little bum hole!’ I had difficulty with my ham and lettuce bun for the next 5 minutes.

Just in case you make it to the topless dancing bar Richard, this may be a useful phrase,
‘Boro na kano edho katadhisi?’
‘Can I dive here?’

Love, Adonis John