Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Welcome to Clementina Street

My friend Mrs Jolley should write a book about her street – at least then she would get something positive from the situation.

When she first moved there, Clementina Street was a quiet neighbourhood in suburban Paphos. It formed the stem of a T, and her stretch of houses was the second group to go up. Two or three households – retired English couples (including Tony, of whom, more later) had already moved in. The cross of the T included Cypriots, returned Cypriots, and mixed marriages rubbing along in a good humoured mix of cars, kids, and camaraderie.

So Mrs Jolley, Stavros (Mrs J's Cypriot partner), and Evelyn (her mother) paid their money, built their house – with the usual traumas and upsets that attend purchase and construction in Cyprus – and moved in.

Co-ordinated complaints by neighbours to the municipality saw the construction garbage cleaned up, and life flowed quietly along. Next door saw its tenants arrive – a pregnant young South African Cypriot called Katrina who argued constantly with her Cypriot fiance, Dinos. Katrina’s mother arrived, at daggers drawn with Dinos, but anxious to see her daughter married. The rows were furious, and while Mum was over from Cape Town, Dinos kept a low profile.

The baby was born. Maria was a cute little thing, but propped in front of the t.v. as soon as she could hold up her tiny head. Dinos appeared from time to time in the middle of the night, turning on the lights (which shone into Mrs J's room) and the rows continued. Marriage followed baby. Screaming matches, mutual swearing and shouting at the baby continued. Katrina tried one job, then another, then lost that when she fell pregnant again.

Meanwhile, building on the street continued. Skeletons went up opposite Mrs Jolley's house, and the plots beside her saw excavation, construction, and eventually the finishing of houses and a bungalow.

“You’ll never guess,” said Mrs Jolley when I saw her one lunch time. “The police came to Tony at weekend.” Apparently Tony liked to sit naked on his porch. An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but when low walls afforded the respectable matrons of Clementina Street a view of all on offer, the law came into play. One of the matrons saw enough too often and called the cops. Tony was warned and has not been seen on his porch since.

“We met the new neighbours,” Mrs Jolley related the following Monday. “The husband is called Nicos and he’s from Stavros’s village. The wife is Hugarian or something. Doesn’t talk much. They have two little boys and he’s putting in a kennel for his four hunting dogs.”

‘The Neighbours from Hell’ she called them as over the next year they completed their house. The woman never spoke, despite repeated overtures, the children were noisy and disobedient, and Nicos continued measuring for a large concrete kennel. “I’m not standing for it,” said Mrs J. “If he thinks he’s going to put a pack of dogs outside my bedroom window he’s got another think coming!” At the municipality a well-spoken young man murmured: “It’s awful, isn’t it? There are hunting dogs next to me. But the lobby is so strong that there’s nothing that I can do. If they become a health hazard from lack of cleaning, we can act. But no legislation says that he cannot keep as many dogs as he wants in his property in a residential neighbourhood.”

The house at the end of the row acquired some surprising topiary. “Whose is that?” I asked, passing one afternoon. “Oh, that’s a gay boy with a hairdressing salon,” Mrs Jolley replied. “He must be trying out new styles on his trees!”

“Karen’s boys got quad bikes over the holidays,” Mrs J announced after Christmas, referring to the young sons of an English neighbour. “Mum’s going spare. They roar up and down, up and down all day and Alf around the corner has said that if they go on his street any more he'll call the police. One fell off the other day and set up a great wailing… It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

The houses opposite were eventually finished after endless altercations with the builders who helped themselves to Mrs Jolley’s water and electricity, and left mountains of rubbish.

“Just look at that lot!” said Mrs J, pointing crushed cardboard boxes and a mountain of smashed tiles. “ The couple of lads that are moving into the first house decided that they didn’t like the tiles they had chosen, ripped ‘em all out, and dumped ‘em in the lay-by. Where are we supposed to turn around now? Their sand pile's here, their broken pallets there, chucked out tiles next…”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Clementina Street is getting another gay couple? A Cypriot gay couple?”

“Looks like it,” she replied. “Two young lads, nice enough looking. Don’t say much but they’re here every day. They’ve already put black tiles around the pool. And what do you think of the colour scheme: mauve and tangerine with the black and stainless steel?

“Going to be a family next to them,” continued Mrs Jolley. “South African, too. Pool's in already. There will be quite a few kids in the street…”

In summer here, people live outdoors. Windows stay open, t.v’s move onto verandas and the evening air is alive with cooking smells, the sounds of children playing, mothers calling… and the barking of dogs.

“Nicos' dog had puppies the other day,” Mrs J said one Monday. “Katrina says there’s six grown dogs and four puppies in the cage now, and someone must walk their dog early on our street to miss the heat because every morning for the past five days the bloody dogs start barking at half past five…”

“What does Nicos do about it?” I asked.

“Well, if he’s there, he goes outside and claps his hands and says ‘Ssshhh!’ and they quiet, but most mornings he’s not there and if Stavros tries they only bark louder.

"And the wife does nothing about it," she continued. "Still doesn’t talk to me despite my having taken her children to the Luna Park with yours that time, and hers coming over to play in our yard. Not a dickey-bird!”

Open windows meant an even closer experience of Katrina’s family life. “That poor little boy!” Mrs Jolley said one lunch time, referring to the newborn that Katrina had brought home a week or two earlier. “He screams all the time. Non-stop.”

“Tell Katrina to stick him on the boob,” I answered with my stock reply to the crying baby problem. It saw me through four children without fail… if they wail, stick a nipple in their mouths, and give them something warm and tasty to suck on and a bit of a cuddle.

“I did, but she doesn’t want to breastfeed,” Mrs J replied. “Some nurse told her that she doesn’t have enough milk, and she thinks she’ll lose her shape. She took the baby to hospital, it was screaming that much, and the doctor said he was allergic to milk and should have soy. So she changed the milk but the baby still cries. And Maria, poor little thing, fell in the pool the other day – luckily fished out by a neighbour… Then Dinos came home at three o’clock in the morning, lights all on – and then they leave them on – then everything’s dead silent ‘til noon when he wakes up, they row, he roars off in the sports car. She stayed at home and screamed at the kids for a while, then bundled them off in the car and disappeared ‘til the middle of the next night. You could make a soap series about that house!”

“Anna?” I suggested, thinking that a session with our friend the child psychologist might do Katrina a world of good.

“I mentioned it,” answered Mrs Jolley. “A while ago. She had an appointment for next week. Then Anna cancelled. Meanwhile, Maria is either shut in the house with the t.v. on, or shunted off to school early and picked up at six. She’s never allowed out, and when she comes over here and runs around the yard or plays with my cat, you can see how delighted she is...”

“They’re not gay boys,” Mrs J reported when the new owners moved in opposite. “It’s the son of the man who owns a flower shop and his English girlfriend. And money’s no object. Apparently they’re living here while they finish another house… You should see the kitchen, and the bathrooms… coloured glass hand basins and all! I heard from the agent that the bath alone cost £4000…”

We began to refer to them as Adam and Eve, and the house as Paradise. Shortly thereafter a panel fence appeared – not wooden like others on the road, but shiny stainless steel. Paradise, in mauve and tangerine, complete with teak decking, black tiles, and a stainless steel fence. Ah well, there’s nowt like folk!

Rose moved onto the street before summer really hit stride. “She has a three-year-old,” reported Mrs Jolley. “Who's frustrated or something, and can only scream.” Rose was from South Africa, too. And her husband was away all the time, too. And every day, all day, Katrina and Rose were at each other’s houses. At least Maria got a breath of fresh air – and during one coffee morning, she fell in the pool again.

“The noise!” moaned Mrs J, haggard one lunchtime. “Children have to play and play can be noisy, fine. We all know that and all accept it. But the screaming… They’re either in Rose’s pool or in Katrina’s and it’s not just shouting and splashing. The boys from next door scream. Screamer and her brother scream, Maria screams, and Tanya's little girl screams…. And now Rose has a dog and it barks, and down the road's Alsatian barks and jumps over the garden fence. Adam and Eve have a Husky that barks. Karen’s dogs bark, Nicos’s dogs bark, Mr Jones’s three bark… We have fifteen dogs and sixteen children under the age of ten in this street, and they are all going full blast!”

I suggested the muchtar. Even if no town ordinances govern the number of dogs on private property, there are rules concerning noise. You can’t run power tools before eight in the morning and are not allowed to play loud music after midnight or through the siesta hours, so there must be a loophole allowing neighbours some respite.

“That’s a good idea,” said Mrs Jolley. “But what’s worse, the aggro of pissed off neighbours, or the noise?

“Stavros complained last night,” she continued. “I was upstairs and a dog fight started outside. The Alsatian started with Rose’s dog and another,and the kids were yelling and Rose and Katrina stood there watching and Stavros went out and said ‘Look! We work, we come home and want to relax in the evening. How can we with this going on?’ And they just shrugged and said ‘What can we do?’ and Stavros said ‘Get some control over your dogs and your children!’ And later I think he said something to Nicos because Nicos made a face at him and put his fingers to his head like horns and waggled them, as if to say ‘You’re becoming a devil!’

“Katrina had the nerve to say to me ‘Your husband’s changed a lot lately!’ the other day. 'He used to be so happy – always smiling and helpful. Now he looks cross all the time!’ ‘Well do you wonder?’ I said back. ‘This street used to be a pleasant quiet street. You can hardly draw a peaceful breath these days.’ I tell you, something’s going to go ‘Pop!’ on Clementina street soon, and I hope it’s not me!”

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