Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Negotiating a battlefield keeps you busy

Preparing for winter proved to be a time-consuming process

By Gavin Jones

The antics and overt corruption displayed by Cypriot politicians epitomise the lunacy that seems to pervade many facets of society and resembles something more akin to the Jeremy Kyle show or Big Brother.

After my stint on the island between 1970 and 1974, I vowed never to return as I knew what sort of crazed behaviour existed. But to quote the Michael Corleone character played by Al Pacino in a scene in Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”, which is indeed what happened to me courtesy of my mother’s illness and its aftermath which continued for several years. In amongst the many positives that exist, everyday life here can sometimes be one long obstacle race resembling a war of attrition mixed with sheer illogicality and frustration which saps you mentally and, with this year’s vicious heat, physically too.

Here’s a classic example of the above which took up the best part of two mornings. Every year I get a good supply of logs delivered and stacked under our terrace several months in advance so I’m not caught short as well as allowing the wood to season. Every three years or so, I need to get the central bars of the grate replaced as they have to withstand a great amount of heat and get eaten away.

I phoned my usual guy who advised me that he’d retired. He gave me the contact of another artisan like himself and where he was located. I tripped down to find him and those of us who live in the Paphos district know only too well that the old town is like a battlefield with trenches resembling something like the Somme as they’re laying a new sewage system (I’ve made a pilgrimage to Picardy so I know what I’m talking about).

I had to park the car quite a way from the workshop and lug the wretched grate to my new contact and ask if he could do the job and for how much. Not only was he arguing the toss over which bars he thought needed changing but I also had to endure the fandango of him avoiding how much it was going to cost. After much humming and hahing, raising of eyes and shoulders and all the rest, I resorted to my usual routine in faltering Greek and Cypriot dialect and spewed out that ‘my mother was a famous Cypriot painter, my grandfather was a politician and put under house arrest by the British as he was a ringleader of an uprising against colonial rule in 1931 and I live in a nearby village’.

It did the trick, as it always tends to, and a reasonable price of €40 was agreed. I was told to return the following morning as from 9am the grate would be ready. Surprise, surprise. I duly turned up at 9.45 and was told that it wasn’t ready but that it would be at midday. I returned half an hour after the allotted time and thankfully it was ready. It was a job well done, I hasten to add. In Cyprus you can still find any number of such metalworkers if you take the time and trouble to hunt them down. One or two exist in Paphos and the same applies in Nicosia, especially in the old city on the Green Line. Now armed with my reconstituted grate, I had to hump it back to the car (the five inner bars were still hot), negotiating German frontline trenches, pillboxes, barbed wire and was lucky enough not to have been shot in the head by a sniper.

Finally, to prove the point that incompetence reigns everywhere including those multinationals ruled by computers, I was recently on the receiving end in the post of copious amounts of paper requesting this, that and the other, ignoring and countermanding what had been agreed and arranged over the phone. So on the day of the grate adventure, I was yet again forced to contact my bank, press several numbers and answer questions requested by a computer-generated voice to confirm my bona fides before being able to have a protracted telephone conversation with an actual human being. And all this in between my two visits to the ‘grate man’.

I won’t relate the details here as I’d be tap, tap, tapping away until midnight. Needless to say, I was offered and accepted £40.00 compensation for the inconvenience and cock-up that they’d created. At least the amount has enabled me to pay for the grate and, with what’s left over, bought two boxes of Felix pouches for the cats, a bottle of lemon squash and a takeaway lunch for my wife and I which we devoured on the terrace of our home. Hallelujah!

I’m now able to advise anyone when it comes to fire grates, logs, banking procedures, cat food and oaths in ‘Kypriaca’. As I’m often referred to as a retired person, a designation I loathe, people wonder what I do all day. Perhaps I ought to have several copies of the above readily available and thrust one into the hands of whoever asks.

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