Celtic Illumination, part 156, Love you long time.
Well; I suppose it would only be fair to say that things had gone up a pace. Everything in Germany was so different, as I said before I was now in the real air force. I had managed to pick up some KD uniform (Khaki Drill) for Cyprus. I was worried as having the loveliest legs in Ireland, wearing short trousers to work might send some of the girls over the edge, some of the chaps too if I were to tell the truth. I was under a huge amount of pressure to get on top of the job. If you can imagine we actually patrolled, taking it in turn with 19 Squadron, the East West border and a fully armed aircraft and crew was always on standby.
Luckily for me Chris Baily had decided to take me under his wing and show me the ropes. It was party time. An advance party had been sent to Cyprus to prepare for the squadrons arrival. A forward party had been sent to Gioia del Colle, in Italy, where our aircraft would land and refuel before flying on to Cyprus and the main party, the bulk of the squadron, was flying out that night from Germany. Baily assured me that there was only one way to prepare for the long flight to Cyprus and that was to get blind drunk.
The squadron had their own accommodation block for single personnel so we gathered there and had our own party. It was great fun and I remember that the moment I sat down on the VC10 I passed out and didn’t wake until the doors opened in Cyprus. Many of the guys had been there before so it was quite easy to follow along. I soon learned that on the first morning, that the squadron was complete, would be a defaulter’s parade. There would be a line of miscreants outside the Wing Commanders office ready for a bollocking. I wandered over to have a look and laughed my head off as the first person in the line was a Squadron Leader.
Squadron Leader Keith Mac Burney was a lovely Scottish gentleman. He was a navigator and had just been promoted and arrived on 92 about the same time as myself. Keith, like many of us, was unaccustomed to the local hooch and late in the previous evening had gone to the bar in the officer’s mess for some more drinks. The bar was closed so Keith, as you do when you are drunk, kicked the door in, took a couple of bottles of brandy and left a note with his name, rank and number on, stating that he would return the following day to pay for the damage and the booze.
The national drink in Cyprus was bandy sour, a lovely refreshing drink and the measures were liberal enough that after half a dozen your knees would melt. As we were stationed in Germany, a great wine producing country, we were all wine experts and of all the available wines in Cyprus had two favourites. That would be the red and the white. Actually the local rot-gut red wine was known as Kokinelli and was produced from a second pressing of the grape. It was normally given away free in the local restaurants and was about two pounds for a gallon.
The white wine was Saint Panteleimon which we knew as Saint Pandemonium as it was basically a hand grenade in a bottle. For our first weekend Chris Baily took me to Limassol on the Saturday morning. He showed me, what was in his opinion, the best place to buy wine or brandy. It was a dirty, dusty, converted archway under a bridge. The fellow in charge gave us both a glass and invited us to taste whatever we wanted, and we did. Well; it would have been ignorant not to, wouldn’t it? I couldn’t believe that a gallon of five star brandy was five pounds. We bought a gallon each and wandered off. We saw some other squadron members milling about and a group of about eight of us decided to go to one of the hotels, along the front in Limassol, for afternoon tea.
I think it was the previous year that one of our guys had been killed by three soldiers from the Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders, so we knew it was safer to travel in groups. Limassol was full of soldiers and sailors and of course the accompanying military police and shore patrols. It was still a sore point among many of the chaps on the squadron as the soldier, who actually delivered the fatal blow, got off lightly by claiming he wasn’t aware dropping a concrete paving slab on someone’s head would kill them.
Afternoon tea of course was wine by the bucket load. There were some people dotted around actually having tea and scones but we had a constant supply of wine delivered to the table, both red and white. I remember the waiter coming along and opening a bottle. He was using a device, new to many of us, to extract the cork. It was a pump action cork extractor. Like a needle and syringe. He stabbed the needle into, and through, the cork then pumped air in and the cork popped out of the bottle. Chris Baily decided that he wanted to have a go at this so, with guidance from the waiter, held a bottle of wine in his left hand and brought the cork extractor, as instructed, down and into the cork with one smooth, positive, motion.
I think the other hotel guests were quite shocked to hear someone screaming during afternoon tea. I mean the scones couldn’t have been that bad, but Chris had missed the cork and having set the bottle on the table was holding his hand up, showing us all that the cork extractor was now firmly jammed into his hand. We continued laughing and drinking till it was close to midnight and ended up visiting the clubs in Hero’s Square, another new experience for me. The bars were stocked with miniatures and the clubs were stocked with prostitutes.
It was really interesting meeting and talking to these girls. Most of them were Asian and told us that they had to work and pay for their families back at home. I was amazed as what they were talking about was basically slavery. It certainly opened my eyes. Whatever club you went in to you would be approached by at least half a dozen girls and if you looked at their eyes, despite all the makeup and smiles, and bravado, you could see real loneliness and pain. It was very sad.
Chris had informed me that I couldn’t say I had been to Cyprus unless I ‘had done Hero’s Square’ this meant sitting at the base of the monument in the centre of Hero’s Square drinking wine as the sun came up. About an hour before dawn we found a sort of restaurant and had some chicken soup and bread for breakfast. We thought it was chicken soup but there was no meat in it so we asked for some meat for the soup. When the fellow brought the meat over we could see that these things were far too small to be chicken, so asked what they were. Seems he made the chicken soup from a packet and then added sparrow meat.
We waited at the monument for dawn to arrive and it did so and on time. We saluted the sun with a drink of brandy and went off to get a taxi back to Akrotiri camp. Chris Baily was sitting up front with the driver and had fallen asleep. The other fellow beside me, in the rear of the taxi, was fast asleep too. The driver didn’t hold back on the speed so it didn’t take long to get to Akrotiri. As he braked, at the guard post, Chris Baily slipped forward, with his head falling down to his knees. I showed my ID card and we were waved through.
One small problem was that the change in Chris’s posture now encouraged his body to release a certain amount of gas that had built up inside him. The driver stopped and the pair of us leapt out, gasping for fresh air. The driver, who was quite unhappy about this, opened all four doors on the taxi to help clear the foul smelling air. Once safe we jumped back in and I directed him to the block. I had survived and could now actually say that I had been to Cyprus.
I was aware that I would probably have much more to experience and learn, but I decided to put into practice some of what I had learned already. I got out of the taxi at our block and began to walk away. The driver jumped out and was shouting after me for payment. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. “He’s paying!” I shouted, pointing at the sleeping Chris, hoping as I walked away that he had some money. But I knew that it was the right thing to do because that is what he would have done to me had the roles been reversed.