Monday, 1 November 2010

Facts and fiction

Wanted to post something, since it's been a while. I've been reading a bit, getting back into fencing, learning where to get a cheap pint, and have actually written an essay, for the first time in four years. But mostly I've been trying to write, in this case a comedy about being half Scottish and half Greek-Cypriot, and growing up in Yorkshire. And then becoming a burglar. Extract possibly turning up in the student paper next week, incidentally...

This, believe it or not, involves actual history: things that happened before I even considered becoming a foetus. And that, the horror the horror, means research. Obviously this is mostly a combination of Google and Wikipedia, but occasionally, in between making up lies, scripting bad jokes and inventing geography, it has involved creeping into the bit of the library normally reserved for people doing real subjects, and looking up facts and stuff. 

However, when you're trying to write about the Cyprus Problem (what Britain calls it when it wants to make it sound like Cyprus's own fault) or the Cyprus Dispute (what Britain calls it when it wants several thousand years of disgruntlement, unease and intermittent killing to sound like two neighbours squabbling over a leylandii), you don't get facts. Just stuff. 

This is because when you get to the library you find that most of the books about Cyprus are ridiculous rants so partisan they make Sarah Palin look rational. My particular favourite cover:

Ways to make it clear that your book will be completely worthless to anyone attempting to get a neutral perspective on a conflict:
  • Call your book 'Bloody truth'. The lack of definite article helpfully and accurately makes this sound like ''This bloody truth thing, it's always getting in the way of my attempts to write propaganda'. 
  • Also put your title in Greek, to make it clear which side of the Greek/Turkish divide you're on. 
  • In case the Greek lettering didn't give it away, draw the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus as if it's a tide of dripping blood. Because that's always classy. 
Luckily, most readers of this section of the library aren't bothered about disinterested research, because they already know everything that happened in precise detail. They're only in the library to correct the errors in existing books on the subject. So from another book, RR Denktash's The Cyprus Triangle, which takes the Turkish side, you get pages that look like this:

Not sure how much of this will be visible, but some of the crossed-out graffiti says that there's a lie on almost every page of the book. Luckily for me, at least three people have had an argument about almost every page of the book, and have detailed their disputes in the marginalia. This front page isn't exceptional: it's typical. Although I'm quite impressed by the way someone's actually annotated the author's name. 

Yes, Christopher Hitchens has written an apparently reasonably decent book about all this (it's partially accepted by both sides since it mostly blames Britain), but some bugger had nabbed it from the library already, without taking it out on their card, so I was left with the nutters, and a faintly apologetic volume by a British diplomat whose main thesis seemed to be 'it was like that when I got there'. 

Fortunately, once I'd had enough of all these serious secondary sources, I turned to advice leaflets for British servicemen stationed on the island:

Ah, the 1960s. How sad they're gone. Well, sad as long as you're a rich straight white male, anyway. 


  1. Cyprus is weird- too small to be important to anyone outside anyone living there, too integral to Turkish and Greek nationalism for either side to be reasonable about it, and involving a pair of NATO powers too important that anyone who could impose a solution is willing to look the other way for the sake of a quiet life. And for the time being, no-one killing each other.

  2. Oh, and with diaspora s on both sides who are so angry they manage to push out any moderates who actually live there and want to move on.

  3. That all sounds pretty much on the money, especially 'Cyprus is weird'.

    Things do seem okayish at the moment, and I want to be optimistic, but there's still a lot to sort out (especially to do with land, it seems) and there remains a worrying amount of fury floating about at a local level.