Firstly, I am issuing a warning. This is going to be a long one, so either give up now and go and do something more worthwhile, or make yourself a cup of tea, pour yourself a glass of wine and settle down for a bit.
So, Amazing People, here I am at the end of my sojourn in Cyprus and I can honestly say it has been the happiest two years of my life. I have had a fabulous time and I have learnt so much about myself that I am not the same person who arrived here.
I am aware I haven’t written anything for months, but I think I need angst to write and my life is fairly angst-free these days. Obviously there are the everyday worries that everyone in the world has, but I seem to have learnt to view them in a detached manner. I only hope it is a permanent change and not one that is dependent on sunshine or, as I believe a great philosopher once wrote: ‘I’m fucked!’ (Or was that: ‘Naughty, naughty, very naughty’ an in-joke for all you Shamen fans, of which I believe there are two of us!)
Way back in March two of my oldest chums (oldest as in I have known them a long time, they are only spring-chickens really), Stuart and Becky, came to stay to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and I had a lovely time with them. It was nice to play the tourist for a few days. We pootled around the area and did some sightseeing and ate and drank a great deal. Stuart brought his usual luck with him and we won twice at the bingo and then won the quiz - luckily the Pin let me back in the next week as I didn’t have them with me! However, by far the best comedy moment took place on the balcony. Stuart, who is only marginally less accident-prone than myself, and I were chilling out having breakfast whilst Becky was in the shower. The March sun was beautiful and warming and I suggested he used the sun lounger to make the most of it. ‘Will it take my weight?’ ‘Of course it will, it takes mine, go on you know you want to. No, pull it forward, no, further forward...’ CRACK! and there he was prone on the balcony as the arms rusted through and gave way beneath him. It is a good job that the complex was fairly empty as my laughter at the look of complete shock and surprise on his face as he felt himself go was incredibly loud and incredibly long. Becky came out of the shower to see what had happened as she could hear my laughter over the thunder of the water. Apparently their friends had all been having bets on what Stuart would break while he was away – generally a part of his body, or, quite frankly, wind!, but I don’t think that anyone had guessed that it would be my sun lounger.
When I had seen them back in the UK last August we had gone to watch their son and my nephew play cricket and to cut a long story short there was a friend of theirs who for reasons far too intricate to go into now we named Dave’s Finger, International Man of Mystery. My mum always makes a calendar of my nephew every year to send out to family around the world so we can see how he has grown over the last year. Stuart was flicking through it and he suddenly shouted out: ‘Dave’s Finger!’ I was completely non-plussed for a moment. I had had a picture on my wall of Dave’s Finger for the last four months and hadn’t even known it. He truly is an International Man of Mystery. He may turn up in your house next, beware!
Moving on to April, nothing much happened of interest, apart from the fact that it was my birthday and whilst nothing exciting happened, here is the big thing – nothing bad happened either! That is a first for me. I had a very pleasant day, a lovely meal with friends in the evening and no-one died, nothing blew up and my heart didn’t break. Utterly brilliant!
In May I went to Nicosia with Lynn, Jonathan, Lisa and Neil to see Deep Purple. Ian Gillan is another of the long-haired, gravelly-voiced dirty old men of whom I am very fond. His voice does things to my insides that I am not sure are legal. Ok, so they are in their mid-sixties, his hair is now short and grey and he has to have a lie down during the guitar solos, but he can still belt out a tune and I loved it. The concert was a double-bill with Greek singing legend (apparently) Vasilis Papakonstantiniou being on for the first couple of hours. He is absolutely huge in Greece and it was really weird being at that part of the concert. It was like we had wandered into somewhere by mistake and found ourselves in the middle of a cult where we didn’t know the procedure or the words. Six thousand people were singing along word for word with Mr. Papakonstantiniou and the five of us were just gazing around open-mouthed. I thought it was ok, although not really my thing, but what was amusing was seeing the expression on Lynn’s face, which was just one of absolute disgust. If she had held a sign up saying: ‘and what the fuck do you call this?’ she couldn’t have been clearer. Neil was also very amusing. The Cypriot who was sitting next to him had obviously noticed the expression on his face too and asked him if he was enjoying it. Neil, subtle as a brick as always, said: ‘no, I think he’s terrible!’ thereby offending six thousand Cypriots simultaneously. She was trying to explain to him that the lyrics were full of meaning and when Neil politely said ‘oh, just like David Hasslehoff’ I don’t think she got the irony. How we got out of there alive I will never know. What was fabulous, however, was seeing Cypriot teenagers all dressed like Bruce Dickinson from 1984, singing along with Deep Purple and going mad to ‘Hush’. A sight I will remember for many years.
My mother has put up with a lot from me over the years, but when she came to stay with me in May, I still had the complete Ian Gillan/Deep Purple Discography on loop (in fact I still do) and I think if she had to hear me singing along to ‘Anyone’s Daughter’ once more she might have exploded. Luckily, she has a switch in her head that tunes out anything that is of no interest to her, and so she managed to survive. Without that switch I doubt she would have got through the last 48 years of being a mother to the three of us!
May was the month I realised it was time to go back to the UK. Obviously with the exchange rate as it is at the moment and the general increase in the cost of living it has been a bit tight for the last few months. I am very clear about what I need in my life and so I don’t spend money on clothes, or shoes. I certainly don’t spend money on paying for TV channels, and I live quite simply. This way I can occasionally do things like go to see Deep Purple, which to me brings quality to my life, rather than spend the same amount on a pair of shoes. Sadly, it had now got to a point where it was becoming untenable. I was fighting on, because I knew that my health is so much better here, but one morning I woke up and that familiar feeling was in my solar plexus – a true gut feeling – saying to me that my time here was up and it was time to move on. I have learnt to listen to this feeling as it always takes me on the right path, even if I don’t know why I need to do it at that particular point. The decisions I have made in my life that I have agonised over and tried to look at in detail have always ended up being disastrous, so I now know that I just have to trust myself. I spent the day chanting on it, making my mind clear and sitting with the idea and it just became stronger and stronger, so that was it, decision made and the next day I started putting the wheels in motion. I had to give two months notice, hence having to stay until now, and I am very glad as I have had such a fabulous time for the last two months.
My mother wanted to make sure she had her holiday before I left and so she came out for a week towards the end of May. It was a good excuse to eat a lot of Kleftiko and other Cypriot delicacies. I wanted her to have as much of a rest as possible, but she did help me pack the stuff I wouldn’t be needing over the last five weeks. My spatial awareness is so utterly rubbish that I knew she would be able to fit at least a billion times more in each suitcase than I would (no hyperbole there at all, honest!) hence meaning that the number of cases I would need to take back would be far fewer and as my brother, may 1000 blessings fall on his head, had said he would cover the cost of that, I didn’t want to go mad. She also only bought half a suitcase full out with her and so was able to take a few books back for me. I have managed to get it down to about 65 books I really can’t live without, which considering there were about 3000 in my house in Totnes, I don’t think is bad. In the end I have managed to fit everything I own in the world into 4 suitcases and a portable massage table, which I think is fabulous. In fact the less I own, the freer I feel. I am getting less and less reliant on possessions and attachment as I get older and am more than happy just to let things pass through my life.
While my mum was here we borrowed a car off some friends, which although it was an older car, was no older than most of the cars on the road here. I asked them if it would get us to Nicosia, as I wanted to take my mum across the Green Line at Ledra Street so we could go to the Hamas, which was once the caravan watering place – much like a coaching inn in the UK. It is a beautiful and very cool place to sit and have a cold drink and watch the world go by. Pat checked the engine, the water and the oil and said he didn’t see why it wouldn’t. We got 20 kms outside Nicosia and my mum said very calmly: ‘is there anywhere we can pull over?’ I said I was sure we could find a village at the next turn off, as I thought she just needed the toilet, or a drink or something. She then told me she had heard a hiss, the temperature gauge had hit the big red H and there appeared to be steam coming out of the engine! Luckily, neither of us is the type to outwardly panic, no matter how worried we may be inside, so we carried on slowly until the next turning and managed to find a petrol station. I went in and got three litres of water and once the engine had cooled down we poured it in. We looked under the car but couldn’t see any water coming out, so we didn’t think it was a leak. We discussed it and decided that now it was full of water it was probably safer to carry on to Nicosia as it was so close and then leave the car there to cool down for a few hours. We got five minutes up the road and the needle flew up again and the hissing resumed. We managed to get into the next village, my mum cruised into a space and the engine gave out. Luckily I had noticed the name of the village and we were fairly near a Lidl, so I could use that as a landmark. The car had breakdown cover and I have to say they were brilliant. We only had to wait about 40 minutes and then with no nonsense he winched the car on the back of the truck, indicated to us to get in and proceeded to drive us back across the island. He spoke hardly any English and my Greek is execrable. So we just grinned a lot at each other. Well it was all worth it, the ride home was such fun. We were high up, so we got a great view. There were no seatbelts, and I have to say I now understand why people made such a fuss when seatbelts were made compulsory – it is so much more fun without them, if not terribly safe. His speedometer didn’t go under 130km all the way back and he was on the phone most of the time, so only one hand on the wheel. Some police motorbikes overtook us at one point – so goodness knows what speed they were doing – and we just looked at each other, said ‘Astonymia’ (Greek for police) and shrugged our shoulders in the universal language for ‘what a bunch of prats!’ I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Poor Pat was mortified that the car had broken down on us, but he had checked it before we left and it turned out that a valve (or something, I really don’t have a clue about stuff like that) had disintegrated, so he couldn’t have foreseen it. We won the snowball at the bingo at the Pin on the Sunday which meant that we had enough money to hire a car for a couple of days and go to Nicosia anyway.
So that brings me to my last month in Cyprus and I have not stopped partying for the whole of it. I have told my mother that when I get back I will probably not be conscious for at least a month! Still, I know that I am going to have to hibernate during the British winter, so I thought I might as well enjoy myself in the sunshine now, while I can. I am only existing on adrenalin at the moment, but it will carry me through for a bit longer yet, as I have been storing sunlight in my virtual solar panels for so long now it has given me the energy boost when I need it.
Also, as always seems to be the way, I have started to meet people in the last few months that I wish I had time to get to know better. But I am aware how fortunate I am that I have had even this amount of time with them. Gill, who I volunteered at Helping Hands with, and I, have become groupies of a band called Johnnie and the Jets. Well, sort of. Johnnie is our friend Kerry’s partner, and so we have gone along to their gigs at the Olympic Hotel in Agia Napa to support the band. They are all brilliant fun to be with. Charlie, the drummer, has such interesting stories of his time playing with bands in the 70s and 80s and apart from that is just a great bloke. Christine and Roger, Jeanette and Gary, Terry, Sue and Stan - all such a laugh. Gill’s son Clayton and his mate Dean came over to stay for the Napa Live festival a couple of weeks ago and they came out with us. At this time of year I drink wine and soda as it is cool and refreshing, so when it came to Dean’s round that is what I asked for. He came back with a pint glass with a straw and when I sipped it there was definitely no soda! Apparently they must just have completely misheard him and they just poured a bottle of wine into a pint glass, shoved a straw in and handed it over. I seemed to be ok and managed to have a good-natured discussion with Dean about the evils of MacDonald’s all the way back home. Anyway, if you are in Napa go and see Johnnie and the Jets, every other Wednesday at the Olympic. It is refreshing to see musicians rather than just a cabaret act.
Gill, Kerry, Christine, Jeanette, Liverpool Sue and I went out to the Biker’s Festival on Saturday night, which was also great fun. The band that was on there actually played some music I could dance to. Metallica, Black Sabbath, Pearl Jam, Guns n Roses. It was such a relief to have a jolly good mosh instead of constant Motown. I actually quite like Motown, but I don’t think I will listen to it for a long time after I leave Cyprus as I seem to have heard nothing but that for nearly 2 years. The other song I will not miss is ‘Penny Arcade’ by Roy Orbison. I didn’t even know this song existed before I moved here, but everywhere you go someone insists on doing it for karaoke! Why, people, why?! It is mental cruelty, stop it now before it is too late. I am hoping that once I leave these shores I will never be put through that again.
I have also spent quite a lot of time with Jenny over the last month, which has been wonderful. She is often so busy working that it is quite rare that I get to see very much of her, but she has made a real effort to fit me in and we have had some very entertaining evenings together and some very illuminating conversations.
My Buddhist chums Davide and Ghislaine left the island this week to move to Djibouti and I went with Buddhist Sue to their farewell party in Nicosia. This brings me onto another thing that I really love about Cyprus. There must have been at least 5 languages being spoken at the party and yet we all found stuff to converse about. I had a wonderful conversation with a guy my age called Boris about a band called My Dying Bride. They are his favourite group and I listened to them a bit in the early 90s. But what is great is that two 35 year olds, one of whom grew up in the UK and one in Bulgaria, were sitting in a garden in Cyprus, in the home of a half Belgian/half Congolese and Italian couple, drinking Spanish wine and Russian Vodka discussing a rock band they both listened to when they were 16. That, my friends, is how we stop war, by discussing music and finding common ground. You can’t shoot someone when you have both moshed with teenage angst to the same tune!
One of the ways I can tell I am running on adrenalin and not living mindfully is that my clumsiness is at a high again. Something very important I have learnt about myself here is that to live a happy and healthy life I have to make sure that I have 70% of my time in rest, solitude and tranquillity, so that I can live 30% of it being the fun, vibrant Catherine that people are used to. My mother staying here for a week gave me a bit of a shock as I thought I was healthier than I actually am, having lived my life by this 70/30 rule for about a year now. She is great and makes no demands on me, but just the physical energy expended when there is someone else in your living space makes a big difference and I can only function really well if I can be in isolation for a good chunk of each day. It was a good pointer her being here and is now something else I can be aware of. The day after I made my decision to go back to the UK I had so many things going through my head that I wasn’t taking the time to think clearly and do things one at a time. I stood up having just been emailing my landlord, to go to the kitchen, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted my washing on the balcony and decided to get that in and at full speed I walked straight into my glass patio doors. It was a beautiful moment. I literally bounced off them and flew backwards in quite a graceful arc, leaving a mark on the glass where my head had collided with them. I sat on the floor for about 20 minutes alternately holding my head and giggling. Then on Thursday I coloured in the chips of my nail polish before I started chanting so that they could dry without me doing something for the next half hour. I then had one of my bright ideas and thought I would hasten the drying process by holding my nail over the candle flame. This was working fine until my concentration completely wandered. My hand must have been gradually getting lower and lower and the next thing I knew there were flames shooting out of my thumb nail! I couldn’t blow them out because I was laughing too much, not to mention still trying to chant! Another thing I have begun to understand about my dyspraxia is that my mind does not understand consequence. If I sit down and work something out logically of course I know what will happen, I am not unintelligent. I know that fire and nail polish do not mix. I know not to walk into doors. I know that if I bend over just there I will head butt a shelf. I know if I pick the middle book in the stack of 50 that the rest will fall on my head. Unfortunately when I am in the moment my brain just looks at that book, says that’s the one I want, grabs it and then sits there in surprise as book by book land upon me!
Another revelation I had about my life in the last month is a big one for me. I have long said that I did not need or want a relationship in my life, however, that is easy to say when I haven’t met anyone I actually wanted – it is like me saying how good I am being not buying particular brands of sportswear because of their sweatshop use, I mean when was the last time I bought a pair of trainers! It doesn’t really make a difference to my life. Anyway, a few weeks ago I met a wonderful man; the first man in Cyprus I have been really attracted to. He was just my type: in his mid 40s, a totally dodgy geezer, dodgy estuary accent, dodgy lifestyle, just enough piercings and tattoos to make him interesting, fabulous sense of humour and we flirted shamelessly and outrageously all evening and a wonderful time was had by all. At the end of the evening I realised that I don’t need or want anyone in my life and I was able to walk away knowing that I had had fun, that if I bumped into him again we would have another fun evening and that I wanted no more than that. I am supremely happy being alone. I have never been less lonely in my life and never more sure that I want to be alone. It was a huge, self-affirming moment.
Don’t worry nearly there now; I did warn you it would be a long one. There is four months worth of stuff to fit in here.
I just want to spend a bit of time now looking at the things I will really miss about Cyprus. We all take a lot of time moaning about places but I want to focus on the things that have made my life so pleasant for the last couple of years. Things such as going to look for your coat in December and realising you can’t remember where you put it 8 months before; walking out from an air-conditioned shop and the hot air hitting you like the breath of a dragon and enveloping you in a blanket of heat; lying in my bed on days when I couldn’t get up and looking at the Mediterranean, or indeed it just being the first thing I see every morning; standing on my balcony and looking at the mountains stretching all the way up the pan handle and most of all, no matter what the temperature, no matter what the season, the bright, expansive, vastness of the sky - the ever pervading, energising, lightness of the place. Not to mention my flat, which I love and which is perfect.
And then there are the people! I will not be able to list everyone who has made my life so wonderful, but I will do my best. First of all, the Cypriot people in general who have all been kind, generous and helpful at all times. They are a bit confused by a woman of my age not only being single and childless but also not wanting to change the situation, but they have been polite to me about it anyway! Then there are the Buddhists, who have all ended up here from all over the world and have brought their wisdom, humanity, compassion and in some cases humour to my life. The coffee morning ladies who with their fundraising have given me a focus, not to mention all the fun trips, and a big lesson in not judging. There are all the lovely people I have met at the Pin on a Sunday night, who have put up with our uncanny knack of winning the bingo (I have only just owned up to the fact that I chant to have enough money to get by, and often the bingo wins come along at the most propitious moments!). Larry and Margaret who have let me have a share in their dog. I am dreading saying goodbye to Scruffy and I am trying to fit as many walks in as I can at the moment. Margaret has also fixed my bras for me on the occasions when the wires just can’t take the strain anymore! My pub quiz team of Lynn & Jonathan and Pat & Sandra, who have been fabulous to me. Lynn has been cooking me the most delicious meals and the beef stifado of last week was just amazing. The four of them have been great fun and put up with me nicking the cryptic questions first because they are the ones I love most, not only that but they have helped me when I have needed anything, or been stuck because I can’t drive, or just because... There are all the people I mentioned above who I have been socialising with and who are just fab on a stick. Gill, who has driven me to collect water from the water machine on so many occasions, and who has made the afternoons at Helping Hands a pleasure. All the varying Sues, for all their varying attributes. Lisa and Neil for being brilliant. Mick & June for being lovely. Cheryl, Ruth and Ken for all the Deeksha and especially Cheryl for being brave enough to deal with my eyebrows! And lastly Jenny and Chris who have managed the dichotomy of wisdom and madness very astutely. They have both given me some memories that I will cherish for the rest of my days, and which I will still be giggling about when I am 90, if I’m not dead after setting fire to myself whilst collecting a book from underneath a bus by then. Bloody hell I feel like I am collecting an Oscar!
So, enough already, I hear you cry. Bugger off to England and shut up! Ok, I’m on my way. Thank you Cyprus. Thank you for teaching me that it’s ok to be who I am and to finally rid myself of my puritanical soul. As Richard Bach said: ‘Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again, and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those that are friends.’ And as I am typing this last paragraph ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple has just come on and these lines seem to sum up my time here: ‘Maybe I’ll find on my way down the line that I’m free, free to be me.’ Ta’ra Cyprus Sausages, I love you – UK Sausages I love you too and see you soon.