By Colin Smith
The Cyprus Mail’s celebrated restaurant reviewer Alexander McCowan – always Mac to his many friends – has died after a long and gallant battle with cancer and other ailments. He was 81.
Alexander, the son of a Scots deep sea diver who became a wartime bomb disposal expert, had a long and varied working career. As a young man he sometimes played rugby for London Scottish and these contacts led to a job with the Metropolitan Police. At one point he worked as a plainclothes undercover detective in the drug squad based at the famously corrupt West End Central Police Station. In later years he took great pleasure in recounting tales of its almost daily malfeasance.
Seeking an honest living he left the police for the highs and lows of entrepreneurial activity mostly in Somerset where he restored Georgian properties in Bath and helped develop a slimline tractor custom built for the narrow avenues of French vineyards which should have made a fortune but a volatile pound killed exports. When through no fault of his own his company went bankrupt, he settled in Cyprus with his wife Christalla, who is of partly Cypriot origin, and one of their three children.
Here he started a flourishing garden maintenance business and St Paul’s Cathedral would eventually put him in charge of Nicosia’s British cemetery. A man of enormous energy he rarely missed an opportunity to participate in a game of scrabble or a quiz night yet still found time to become President of the Cyprus Rugby Association when the Moufflon’s were at their roaring best. An avid reader in later years, he took charge of the fundraising St Paul’s bookshop.
His weakness for a good cause was notorious. ‘For many years he was a valued member of our treasury committee,’ recalled Rosie Charalambous, founder of Cans for Kids which over the last 30 years has raised over a quarter of a million euros to pay for equipment in children’s wards. ‘He was shrewd, full of insight. He’d been ill for a long time but he never complained. If you asked him how he was all he’d say was: ‘Still above ground’.”
Not long after he and Christalla came to Cyprus in the early 1990’s they opened a shop selling aromatic herbs. In his polymath way he soon acquired an intimate knowledge of local plant life which would lead to his book The World’s Most Dangerous Plants. Kill or Cure? and, in addition to his restaurant reporting, a weekly column on the subject. His last byline appeared in this newspaper on April 1. It was on the Cypriot Myrrh plant – one of the gifts delivered by the three wisemen to Jesus.
But quite apart from all this, as many readers will probably remember, he was a wonderful writer. Here are some lines from a piece he wrote about his favourite taverna, Andro’s in Ayios Omologitis.
“This was the harbour of the most diverse dining coterie in Cyprus: mechanics and ministers, diplomats and designers, ambassadors, authors and academics – above and below the salt – lawyers, liars, accountants and actuaries by the bucket-load. And let’s not forget the lapidaries, millionaires, drivers and gardeners. Masters of the Universe broke bread with the United Nations, side by side with sheep shearing olive barons discussing prices with plumbers, plasterers and painters. But no matter how humble, rich or self-important, Andro, the master of ceremonies, and Floventier, his son-in-law, treat them all the same, be they hobbledehoy or autocrat.”