The best jokes will make you cry

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Towards the end of my dad’s life, I remember feeling close to tears whenever we spoke on the phone. I was desperately trying to disguise the strangulated quality of the lump in my throat. Desperately trying to savour his voice. Because I knew there would be a time when I wouldn’t be able to hear it . That time is now.

Phil used to say that he could tell whenever I was talking to either my aunty or my dad on the phone, because I would cackle like a wild woman with laughter.

My dad’s humour was elaborate; hidden like a present in the depths of a long story. Lapsing absentmindedly from English to Greek. Across the warm gravel of his throat, his words came with the exhalation of smoke, like long semi-colon pauses. I smile-waited, throwing my legs up on the sofa.

I don’t remember if I’d spoken to him the day that he died. But I do remember speaking to him the day before. And whatever it was that he’d said to me, he’d made me feel more positive that he was going to be ok. Horrible trick of the light.

So three years ago today, around this time of day, I had lunch alone and texted a childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I told her I loved her and missed her and hoped that my text would repair the hole of time since we’d last spoken. Later that night I would be calling her with very different news.

I went home from work and idled about waiting for my husband to come home. I made a list, asked the universe for a sign and then the burger phone rang; it was my mum…

I could detail the stilling sadness of the events that followed but they would just be words spoiling the whiteness of the page. You wouldn’t be able to feel them as I did. Instead I’m remembering how much he made me laugh. The wild whirl of his personality was like the swooping of birds, cutting through the sky in formation. Plunging bravely headfirst: magnificent in their fearlessness.

Thinking back now, I wonder how exactly I knew that the best comedy requires an equal measure of tragedy.

He received a card one Christmas, with nothing written inside. I commented it on it as I handed it to him, confused who the hell it was from. “Ah that’s from Costas” he replied without hesitation. Quizzing him on how he knew, his answer came straight off the cuff “because he’s not speaking to me”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is your father daft?

Being at Uni felt like a whole world away. A time when I boldly went where no Greek had gone before me: outside of palmers green. Way way beyond the north circ. To a land where there was no Yashir Halim, no deli’s whatsoever in fact. No streetlamps, no 24 hour shops, no nothing. ‘Cept the odd fish and chip shop and a pub.

Rolling hills as far as the eye could see. God’s country.

Fuck knows how I ended up there: with my poor attendance and my 2 lonely a-levels. But I did and at times it felt serendipitous, like all meaningful things.

So the people talked funny around me, stoned I smiled and smiled. So pleased with myself that I was finally there. Calculating my time like orange segments, divided between the places and people that made my heart feel alive. And yeah for a time, he was one of them, that hippy fish can’t be arsed man with the turtle green eyes. And I tried not think of my mum, back home crying over the baked beans and freaking out that she didn’t have a touch tone phone. She had my dad, and I had my freedom and that was all that mattered in the world to me.

Aside from the obvious differences in vowel pronunciation, the language was bejewelled with new and exciting treasures. Phrases and words assigned new meaning and a new context, intonations sweeping high up into the sky and I couldn’t fucking wait to rush back to London and share all I’d learnt. ‘Is ya father daft’, ‘it’s as near as damn it’ and despite how it may sound, ‘are we havin out for us tea’ doesn’t mean ‘are we going out for dinner’, it meant ‘make me some dinner bitch, I’m starving’, or there abouts.

Travelling between South and North England relentlessly on the Dad-express, we learnt every service station between here and there. We talked and my dad measured the road in spliff-miles. On average 8 between here and there. And I tried not to get stoned from the fumes but failed because the draft from the windows reeked havoc with my dads neck.

It was a time of freedom. Both geographical and emotional. Something about there being so much sky to see that’s restful. Something about the stretch of the green hills dominating the view that heals. It’s fair to say that I was an entirely different person then. I was afraid and death plagued me sure, but it was more a premonition of who I was going to be and not the actuality. Did I dream myself up and then become, or did I dream of the woman I knew I would be? It’s hard to say. All I know is the anticipation was far better than the actuality. When I think back, I love the girl I was. Deceitful and duplicitous and daft.

But now not-far-from-forty and how do I like the new view from the mountain? It feels less safe than when I was lower down that’s for sure, less certain. Being both wary of the bottom and the top is a really strange headspace to be in. Perhaps in the panning out of our existence we become invariably less distinct, less definite? Does the sea fear it’s own depth? And the sky it’s height?  Will I ever get used to how big my hair gets in the humidity? Will I ever be able to handle these curls?

Was my father daft as well?

On Being Too Greek

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To simultaneously think too much and too little of yourself. Perhaps. even, to be proud that you’re a fuck up. In some strange way.

If it’s true to say I never much liked the Greeks it’s most likely because I don’t much like myself. I try to pretend I’m nothing like them. As a baby bubble all those years ago, I wished I could be any other race but Greek. And the it’s really upsetting to think I have acquired a racism from people who’s opinions I don’t value: people who bullied me for being Greek. Those nasty little shits that pelted me with berries, trying to get me in the tit. The same little shits that cornered me one day on the stairs ‘what sort of wog are you anyway?’ they asked, the answer to which I had no clue. The very same abortion survivors who lovingly asked an English little boy, Jamie, to step aside so he wouldn’t get hurt while they took aim at me again.

It’s not only the reason I don’t like the Greeks, but most likely the reason I don’t like anyone: myself included some days.

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If you met me, you might think, she doesn’t seem so Greek. And it’s true, I’m no Androulla Papadopoulos, I definitely know people much Greeker in looks and temperament than me. But it’s something inherent within me none the less. Sneaking around somewhere in my innards, popping olives and lemony salads. And yes I do believe it’s in your blood. It doesn’t mean that my front garden has to look like the Parthenon or that I have to bank with the Cyprus Popular Bank or risk being exiled from ‘the village’ or wherever the fuck it is I hail from.

No. But I am the best and worst of both worlds when it comes to being Greek and Cypriot. I can cook up a storm and I will over feed you if you visit my house, I will always bring you something when I visit your house (couldn’t bare the shame on my name of turning up empty handed). But I will also start planning a funeral if someone even has the slightest cold, I do have an unhealthy constant pre-occupation with death and I do have an intrinsic Zorba The Greek yearning to fuck everything off, eat a shitload of food and dance till my fat arse hits the ground with a thud.

It’s beautiful and loathsome all at once to feel relentlessly Greek Cypriot. And all those years ago when I watched The Weeping Meadow and took the piss, I now realise I am that guy who staggers forlorn through the sheets screaming for Eleni and the deep terrifying dread…all the live long day….the dread.

Do I need to quit and embrace my inner Brit? Which compared to most Greeks, I’m actually very good at outwardly doing. Or do I just go with it, keep staying awake at night stressing over everything that exists between heaven and earth. Feeding everyone that comes near me, loving the fleas that spring from their knees wildly into the air, smelling the sky with my bold Greek nose, truly madly Greekly happy to be alive. Do I just accept that I’ll have a beard and hoofs by the time I’m 60? That my voice will go raspy and my eyes will be glorious cola bottles imbedded in their baggy turtle sockets. I’ll laugh like the strum of a Bouzouki, toss my head back like the jump-flick of heals and I’ll have been a character, with plenty of stories to tell. Whatever transcends as the strongest of my essential flavours, there’ll have some family left to mourn the loss and revel in the deep loving amusement that was me.

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Clicked my heels 3 times: there’s no place like home.

 

One crow black night in March, I bungeed my way back with a snap, crackle and pop to the womb home where baby bubble was brought up like phlegm. I’d clicked my star ruby ring three times unwittingly while knitting and back I was zapped. In the doorway of our kitchen, with my dad’s body laying on the ground behind her: she asked me if I’d come back home and live with her. Those pleading watery olive-pip eyes of hers looking up at me and in that moment I realised we were slowly trading places. How could I deny her? It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.

And in the popping of a grape, I broke a habit 17 years strong. More than a decade of dusting my own dumping ground and lugging laundry from one floor to the next, ramming it through the round window while I watch it rinse and wring itself clean. Relinquished the right to re-order the cupboards according to my own rules. And the precise method for hanging the laundry in the correct way is suddenly something I suck at. No sheet hung by my own fair hand will ever stay hung in the way I’ve hung it. A magical mysterious re-arranging of everything I do like an automatic spell check and before I know it all my colours are colors and no matter which dictionary I use, I’ll always fail the Daz white challenge.

But she is sweet and she loves me without question. And without her need to breed, I would never be here in the first place. So we knit together and watch all her favourite crime shows, one after the other, in the steamy washing-on-heaters hushed orange glow of familial love. I call her for dinner when I’ve finished conjuring culinary delights in the kitchen. Down goes the knitting, off goes the latest episode of ‘flog it’ and in she shuffles with her perpetually slippered feet. Watching her eat, I wonder what she’s thinking and how she’s feeling. I wonder who she really is other than my mum. But I know she will never tell me, and she doesn’t know anyway because she keeps too busy for the neurosis that nags at me all day long. When she’s done, she’ll put down her fork without fail and proclaim that she’s bloated, shoulders relaxing down in an exaggerated sigh and hands resting on the belly where I once lived. A smile hits my mouth like an unexpected kiss because no matter how irrationally irritated with her I become at times, I know that I will always love her and that’s enough to see me through another season of CSI.