Thursday, 29 July 2010

Off to lift some spuds

Antonís was fed up. Really fed up. He hadn't left the outpost on leave in over a month, and the 5-6 new recruits the Captain had promised had failed to materialise, with the exception of Sotirakis. They were severely understaffed and had to do a combined 6 hour patrol and guard shift every day, including the outpost sergeant and sometimes the second lieutenant as well. Passes and leave were really hard to come by. Petros had to beg the captain to be allowed a three-hour pass every other day for his football training.

When this situation arose, the conscripts adopted various methods in order to go home. The most common one was of course doing a runner. The afternoons and evenings, when the officers had finished work, was the best time to jump the fence and hitch-hike home for some food and clean clothes. This was of course extremely risky, as being caught by the odd surprise visit by the officer-on-duty or even an external check, meant a certain court martial and a prison sentence. 

The ones who weren't lucky enough to be football or volleyball players in one of the region's clubs had to either shut up or go off sick. Going off sick wasn't easy either. Sick leave wasn't simply allowed to anyone with a mild cold,it had to be something serious. Or you had to know the regimental doctor, who could give you sick leave without asking questions. Or perhaps, you could ensure you were sick enough for a sick leave. Andreas had chosen the second way. His father, a known businessman in the area, organised frequent feasts (and brothel visits) with the regimental doctor, and was in a position to get Andreas out on 'sick leave' pretty much on will. And Andreas duly obliged-he was more or less permanently on sick leave. When his sick leave ended, he turned up at the outpost to a frosty and often hostile reception. Anton
ís hated him, as his sick leaves meant that everyone else had to patiently sit it out. Andreas knew this, and his first business after returning from sick leave was to hop on to the regimental jeep bringing the food and go see the doctor again, to his colleagues' dismay.

Antonís was determined to go on leave. He hadn't seen his fiancée in ages, and his father needed his help to collect the potatoes. His cunning plan was to acquire an injury which forced him to go on sick leave but also allowed him to do whatever he liked. He remembered hearing somewhere that if you held your hand over steam for some time, it was possible to break a finger without any effort or pain. This was probably another one of those urban legends conscripts ensured survived for generations from the times of Hammurabi's armies to our day. Unfortunately Antonís, out of school and into the building trade since the age of 13, was almost illiterate and had heard of neither Hammurabi nor his armies. 

So there he was, holding his left hand above a steaming saucepan where the lads were boiling potatoes. He had expressly instructed Stavrís to hit his pinky with the rifle butt while he held it against the kitchen sink. Any more damage and he wouldn't be able to lift the bins full of potatoes onto the lorry. He could do without the pinky, he thought, it was only a small finger at the end of the day. 

So there they stood, Stavrís with the rifle, Antonís with his left hand above the saucepan. "How long does it have to stay?" asked Stavrís. "I reckon about half an hour" replied Antonís, ridiculously over-confident. "Five minutes and we do it-are you sure you can handle it?" he asked, staring straight into Stavrís eyes for signs of fear. Stavrís' had been secretly cherishing the opportunity to smash Antonís' finger, and if anything he was over-zealous. "Sure, no problem at all. But hurry it up because I am on guard duty as well." The outpost dog, Linda, was sitting there, staring at them and patiently waiting for scraps-thinking they were cooking. 

"Let's do this" said Antonís as he turned away from the cooker and placed his hand, pinky outstretched, against the kitchen sink. Stavrís approached carefully, lifted the rifle and smashed it onto Antonís' hand as hard as possible. The loud bang, quickly followed by Linda's yelps, filled the tiny room and rang for a few seconds before the smoke and the debris from the kitchen ceiling cleared. All that could be heard was Antonís' screams of agony, as he was lying on the floor curled up and holding his left hand with his right. Stavrís had dropped the smoking rifle and was also curled up on the floor, holding his ears. The loud bang from the rifle had almost deafened them, and they couldn't hear the howls of laughter which came from the rest of the squad who had run to the kitchen door to see what had happened. 

When they finally managed to get up, they couldn't hear a thing. Kostís, the sergeant, had a notepad and was scribbling questions on it. "Can you move your finger?". Antonís nodded. "Can you bend it?" Antonís nodded again. "It looks very red but not broken to me mate-do you want to try again?" Antonís just burst into tears, more out of humiliation than pain. 

As it happened, both Antonís and Stavrís had about a couple of weeks off, as their eardrums had burst and the regimental doctor had no option but to send them off with antibiotics. They would of course be punished on return, as they discharged a rifle without permission, but for the time being they had the last laugh, although they could only hear a muffled noise. 

Part of the Army Tales series

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Mastre Hambís put out his cigarette with his boot. 'Come on boys, not much left'. The soldiers lazily got up from the comfort of the giant carob tree's shade and prepared themselves for another couple of hours of work. Mastre Hambís owned the farm right next to their outpost, and they were helping him collect all the hay bales and stack them up in storage for the winter ahead. The July sun was scorching the red earth as they reluctantly came out of the shade.

Panikkos had a soft spot for Mastre Hambís, as he reminded him of his father who was also a farmer. Mastre Hambís only had one daughter, who had married and moved to Australia, so he had nobody to help him with the farm. An old man of an age impossible to accurately guess, he had the vivacity and spring of a mountain goat. He'd often turn up at the outpost with a tray full of kléftiko and a crate of beers for the boys. It was almost as if he had de facto adopted the soldiers at the outpost. He'd seen them come and go, fresh out of training and into the boredom and solitude of the ceasefire lines, hardened, disillusioned and hopeful out into real life. On his farm he grew potatoes, barley, kept sheep and goats and had the obligatory fruit garden, so common a pattern in the region. Whatever the season, there was something to harvest, something he needed help with, but also something he could offer the boys. Oranges, mandarins, potatoes, peaches, apricots, plums, water melons. They sometimes pinched some fresh milk from the jars he put out for the dairy collection. His contribution came to substitute the dreadful slops the regiment's kitchen insisted on calling food, a pile of something or other which arrived at the outpost in a tin container at the back of a truck, covered in the red Mesaoria dust. The contents of the tin pot inevitably became food for the six or seven dogs and puppies the soldiers kept at the outpost.

They hopped on the cart drawn by Mastre Hambís' tractor and he led them to a field about a mile from the main farm. The hay bales, cubic beasts peacefully sunning themselves, were waiting to be collected. Mastre Hambís parked the tractor in the middle of the field, and the boys started stacking them onto the cart, hauling them from the two plastic strings they were tied with, their heavy boots clumsily stumbling in the caked earth. It was hard work, the sweat was pouring down their bare backs, bits of chaff and dirt covered their bodies and faces, making them look like those images of the peasants of a bygone time. Their youthful bodies were so tanned they had the appearance of leather, their eyes burning bright from under the dirt.

"Aman kopelia*! We're fucked!", exclaimed Andrikkos. They all turned and looked at the cloud of dust following the fast-approaching regimental Mercedes jeep. There was no point trying to either hide or pretend they were on a patrol. Their weapons and kit were left behind at the outpost-they were there to carry hay bales. They just stood there, waiting for their approaching fate. The sight of the Mercedes usually meant the regiment commander or, even worse, the battalion commander, a development which would surely land them in court-martial.

The jeep pulled up and out came Lieutenant Hristofís with a folder in his hands. Their despair started evaporating, because the only person who could possibly let them off lightly was him. Hristofís was a mild-mannered chap who was clearly in the wrong profession as he couldn't harm a fly. His dream was to be a primary school teacher, but he got his exam preferences mixed up and ended up in military school instead. He was always bossed about not only by his superiors and his peers, but also by the odd conscript who overstepped the mark and gave him a hard time. The only time he punished a conscript, because the presence of the commander gave him no choice, he offered a tearful apology afterwards.

"Hey guys, what's up?", he asked as he approached the boys with his folder under his arm. "I went to the outpost and the lads there sent me here. Did you all become farmers now?". "Erm, Mastre Hambís here needed a hand sir, so we did it out of boredom. I hope you don't mind" said Kostís, the sergeant and technically the person responsible for the squad. "That's fine, I didn't see anything", replied Hristofís "as long as the commander doesn't get wind of this, he'll have your balls on a plate". Swearing just didn't agree with Hristofís, and the word 'balls' just sounded odd coming from his lips, even in an environment such as the army where swearing was common speak.

"They are very nice lads Mr. Hristofís, they were giving me a hand, I hope you don't mind", added Mastre Hambís. "No, that's fine, just don't say I said so" smiled Hristofís. "Anyway lads, I'm here for your payment". The statement was immediately followed by loud cheers which echoed in the almost desert-like landscape. The conscripts only received about £20 per month, barely enough for cigarettes, but pay day was always a good time nonetheless. "Thank you re Hristofí!*" they said, patting him on the shoulder, as if he was a mate who'd come back with cans of lager. After they'd all signed the form and pocketed their money, Hristofís jumped in the jeep and he was on his way to the next outpost.

They returned to their job with renewed vigour and in a good mood, quickly throwing the bales onto the cart. Mastre Hambís smiled from under his moustache. The sun was beginning to dip to the west, and the sea breeze was finally starting to blow.


*Aman kopelia = god help us lads
* re = you, hey you, mate

Part of the Army Tales series

With thanks to KnifeJuggler for the photo

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Peas and Mushrooms

Spaghetti with asparagus, peas and mushrooms

Simple recipe this one, but so tasty...

Ingredients (serves 4)
1-2 bunches of asparagus (the thinner the better)
a few mushrooms (chopped)
some peas
2-3 spring onions, chopped
chilli flakes
olive oil
white wine

500gr spaghetti

Wash the asparagus and cut off the harder part of the stem if it feels too hard to cook. Alternatively you can slice the harder part right through the middle. Cut the asparagus in pieces of roughly 2cm each (that's less than an inch you imperials).

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and toss in the asparagus. Add butter, peas, spring onions and chilli flakes. Cook for 4-5 minutes, drizzle some white wine, add the mushrooms and salt. Turn the heat down and cover, allowing it to cook gently for another 5 minutes or so. In the meantime...

In a saucepan add water, salt and bring to the boil. Add your spaghetti and cook for as long as you like-preferably the time advised on the pack.

Drain the pasta, return it to the saucepan and tip your asparagus sauce in. Mix gently and serve with some nice parmesan cheese. I use mature anari, a Cypriot cheese. Drink the rest of the wine with it :-)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Καρτερόντας τους βαρβάρους

Σε ελεύθερη μετάφραση.

Περιμένοντας τους Bαρβάρους

Καβάφης Κ. Π.

Ίνταμπου καρτερούμεν, συνάμενοι στο παζάριν;

Εννά φτάσουν οι βάρβαροι σήμερα.

— Γιατί έτσι κουνοσσυλιόν μες την Σύγκλητον;

Ίντα κάθουνται οι Συγκλητικοί τζιαι έν νομοθετούν;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι εννά φτάσουν σήμερα.

Ίντα νόμους να κάμουν πιον οι Συγκλητικοί;

Άμαν έρτουν οι βάρβαροι εννά νομοθετήσουν.

—Γιατί ο αυτοκράτορας μας εσηκώστην που το χάραμαν του φου,

τζιαι κάθεται πας της πόλης την πιο μιάλην πύλην

πας στον θρόνον, επίσημος, με την κορώνα πας την κκελλέν του;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι εννά φτάσουν σήμερα.

Τζιαι ο αυτοκράτορας περιμένει να δεχτεί

τον αρχηγόν τους. Τζιαι μάλιστα ετοίμασεν

για να του δώκει έναν χαρτίν. Τζειπάνω

έγραψεν του τίτλους πολλούς τζιαι ονόματα.

— Γιατί οι θκυο μας ύπατοι τζιαι οι πραίτορες εφκήκαν

σήμερα με τες κότσιηινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες·

ίντα εφορήσαν βρασιόλια με τόσους αμεθύστους,

τζιαι δαχτυλίθκια με λαμπερά, γυαλλιστά σμαράγδια·

ίντα επιάσαν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια

με ασήμια τζιαι γρουσά όμορφα σκαλισμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι εννά φτάσουν σήμερα ·

τζιαι τέθκοια πράματα θαμπώννουν τους βαρβάρους.

—Γιατί τζιαι οι άξιοι ρήτορες εν έρκουνται όπως πάντα

να φκάλουν τους λόους τους, να πούν τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι εννά φτάσουν σήμερα ·

τζιαι τούτοί βαρκούνται τες ομιλίες τζιαι το λαφαζανιόν.

— Μα ίντα άρκεψεν άξξιππα τούτη η ανησυχία

τζιαι η σύγχυση. (Ίντα σοβαρά που εγινήκαν τα πρόσωπα).

Ίντα φκιερώννουν γλήορα οι στράτες τζιαι οι πλατείες,

τζιαι ούλλοι γυρίζουν έσσω τους πολλά συλλοϊσμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσεν τζιαι οι βάρβαροι εν ήρταν.

Τζιαι εφτάσαν μερικοί που τα σύνορα,

τζιαι είπασιν πως έν έσιει πιον βαρβάρους.


Τζιαι τωρά ίνταμπου εννά γινούμεν δίχα βαρβάρους.

Οι άνθρωποι τούτοί ήτουν μια κάποια λύση.