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A Shout From The Attic: A Squeeze of Lemonade

...A double sized mattress was dragged into the square on which young mothers rolled their babies to make the marriage bed fertile. Others pinned paper money onto the gown and suit of the couple and the afternoon sped away into the evening when we sat at trestle tables to eat
the feast...

While serving in the British Army in Cyprus Ronnie Bray was a guest at the wedding of a village taylor.

whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones
a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple,
verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

God bless the good people of Cyprus for their open warmth, their good
nature, and their traditions of hospitality that cross the barriers of time,
place, and nation to enfold the fortunate stranger who finds himself in
their midst. I became one of the fortunate when, in early August of 1954,
I was part of the Green Howards troop movement on the Empire Kettle
that landed at Famagusta having travelled from the Land of Pyramids,
abandoning the Suez Canal to comply with government policy and military
orders, and getting mightily sick on the seaway from Port Said.

We went into tented accommodation at Twelve-Mile Camp, Dhekelia. A
place that was twelve miles east on the Famagusta road from Larnaca, our
nearest big town. Several small villages, the closest being Pyla
surrounded the camp, where Moses Nicolai, the camp barber, lived. As a
friend of Moses, I soon became friends with many other villagers and was
a welcome guest, receiving invitation to weddings and other family
celebrations, and festivities.

When the village tailor married, I was privileged to be invited to be one of
his cumparis. The whole village gathered in the old cobbled square on the
day of the wedding, to witness the shaving of the groom by the village
barber to the accompaniment of a solitary violinist. It was old-fashioned,
quaint, picturesque, and heart-warming; a world unspoiled, or so it
seemed, for the seeds that would plunge the island into turmoil had
already been sown. But, for today, the air was festive and gay and the
village turned out to do what it did best and enjoyed most.

We eventually ushered into the old tired church, lit by open windows, but
with plenty of dark corners where the summer heat mercifully did not
reach. There were not pews or seats, but older men and women hung
their arms over the mercy pegs against the walls. The bride, dark-skinned
and beaming, entered, wrapped in yards of brilliant white silk that
highlighted her complexion and made her spot bright in the gloom of the
church.

The cumparis stood to the left of the groom, and the bridesmaids stood to
the right of the bride, forming a horseshoe centred on the front of the
church where the dark robed, dark bearded
papas stood to conduct the
formality.
The wedding crowns were placed on the heads of the pair, the
papas did his magic, and the joyous couple burst through the suddenly
opened double doors of the church to burst out into the sunlight and
instantaneous roar of accord that filled the square and set the pigeons
soaring. The weeklong festivities began.

The fiddler re-chinned his instrument and the music began. Accordion,
drums, and concertina joined the bower in an unrestrained symphony of
love, and it seemed that no adversity or sadness was possible in the place.

The young marrieds danced with evident joy, smiles of anticipation of an
untroubled life brimming on their faces, looking into each others’ eyes,
and losing the sense that there was a world outside their embrace.

A double sized mattress was dragged into the square on which young
mothers rolled their babies to make the marriage bed fertile. Others
pinned paper money onto the gown and suit of the couple and the
afternoon sped away into the evening when we sat at trestle tables to eat
the feast.

That week the boys and young men of the village had been busy with lime
traps catching birds for the women to roast. I ate my first sparrow,
crunching the bones as directed, and following the example of my fellow
diners. The bottles of Keo Brandy passed from hand to hand and tumblers
were filled and emptied about as fast as it takes to say it. As a
well-known teetotaller in the village, I was asked what I would like to
drink. Not wanting to trouble anyone, I opted for the most common drink
that English teetotallers drink, “Lemonade?”

With a smile, my server abandoned the whiskey bottle he had been taking
around, and disappeared. Another who continued the round took his
place. The festivities and feasting continued and I waited for my drink.

And I waited and waited and waited. The day was sunbright but not so
hot that I was in fear of dying of thirst, although my mind did wander
back to Huddersfield and big cold bottles of Ben Shaw’s sparkling yellow
lemonade. After half an hour my man returned with a huge jug of freshly
made lemonade with bits of real lemons that he had squeezed by hand
floating in the divine concoction.

It wasn’t Ben Shaw’s lemonade; it wasn’t made with the special water
from the well under their factory at Willow Street, but it had something
more than any well could produce, it had heart; the kind of heart that
serves and provides. As I drank of the cooling brew on that day of
feasting, I got more than lemonade: I got to drink human kindness
thousands of miles from home among strangers
and foreigners of different customs and habits than I was used to, and I was impressed and moved
by the selflessness and care shown to a young man who was soon to
become their enemy when the battle clouds burst over the Jewel of the
Mediterranean.

Yet when the shadows of war turned to the reality of conflict, I continued
to visit Pyla to be made welcome as I sat with my friends, ate fried eggs,
chips, and tomatoes in the taverna, played backgammon losing every
game, talked of everything but our common strife, enjoyed the peace that
simple hearts untainted by prejudice alone can know, and drank
lemonade.

Now when I drink lemonade, I remember the convivial sound of the village
band honouring a young couple starting life in a community about to leave
behind its innocence, and I remember my first lemonade in Cyprus.

"How far that little candle throws its beams!
So shines a good deed in this naughty world.
(Shakespeare)

If he had ever been to Cyprus and been treated to fresh lemonade made
specially for him by loving hands, he might have written:

"How far that little candle throws its beams!
So shines a good deed in this naughty world,
And the lemonade ain’t bad either!"

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