From "Tales Of Cyprus"
Elias Peppis was born in 1931 in the village of Ayia Marina (known as Αγία Μαρίνα or Σκυλλούρας in Greek and Gürpınar in Turkish), which is located about 24 miles west of Nicosia. In the 1930s Ayia Marina boasted a mixed community of both Turkish and Maronite Cypriots. Although Maronite Cypriots lived in several villages and towns across Cyprus they were mostly settled in the villages of Ayia Marina, Kormakitis, Asomatos and Karpasia.
Elias’ mother Christalla Iosifidiou was only fifteen when she married twenty-eight year old Peppis Bartella from Asomatos in 1928. Shortly after Elias was born however, his parents decided to separate due to a financial dispute between their two families.
Elias and his older brother were forced to live with their father in his village of Asomatos. Their mother went to live with her parents in Varosha. The two boys felt like outcasts. Their parent’s separation would have a profound and devastating effect on them. Separation between couples was frowned upon in Cyprus at that time and nowhere more so than in a Cypriot village. The feeling of not having a mother to go home to was very depressing for Elias.
In 1937, aged twenty-four Christalla (Elias’ mother) converted to the Orthodox faith in order to be granted a divorce. As a Maronite, the Catholic religion did not allow divorce. Elias recalls how their church in Cyprus was very strict in those days. "Anybody who separated from their wife or husband where shunned and discriminated by all other Catholics in the village". In 1939, two years after her divorce was granted Christalla decided it was best to leave Cyprus (and the scandal behind her) and travel to England.
Life for Peppis (Elias’ father) was also difficult after his separation. Elias remembers that whenever his father would go to sit at his local kafenion (café), the other villagers would immediately get up and leave to avoid being seen with a sinner. After a few years Peppis became so depressed that he decided to leave his village and go and live and work in Lefkosia. His two sons were sent to live with their maternal grandparents Ioannis and Eleni Iosifidou who were living in Varosha (Famagusta). By this stage, their mother had already left Cyprus.
Peppis would eventually remarry, this time to an Orthodox Cypriot who herself had an interesting past. As the story goes, she was engaged to a man who killed an acquaintance after an argument. Her fiancé fled into the mountains to avoid being captured leaving her behind to the wrath of the locals. Just like Peppis she was shunned and outcast by the other villagers. That was until she met Peppis and they decided to escape to England together away from the persecution of the Catholic Church and the scorn of their fellow Cypriots.
In 1942 Elias went to study at the secondary school in Varosha. For two years he did not tell anyone he was a Maronite for fear the students would tease him. Instead he pretended to be an Orthodox Christian just like the other students at the Gymnasium. One fateful day, however when he was in his ‘religion class’ the Orthodox priest asked him to recite the Nicene Creed. When he got to the part that begins with “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” he left out the word ‘apostolic’ as he had been taught in the Maronite church. From that day forward his little secret was out and he was teased and bullied by many of the students thereafter.
Elias also remembers that on New Year's Day, he would wander around the village collecting money from his relatives. “On the first day of the year,” he told me. “The children of the village would wear little hessian bags around their necks and go and visit their Godparents, Grandparents and other relatives to wish them 'Xronia Polla." The relatives would then place some money in the bags. Elias collected around eight ‘degares’ that day which was around two piastres/groshia/kurus.
He also remembers that every Easter, his grandmother would make Flaounes (as did many Maronite Cypriots) just like the Greek Orthodox mothers. Many Maronite Christians share the same customs and traditions as their Greek Cypriot neighbours.
A few years after his mother Christalla had settled in England she met and married a young Greek Cypriot soldier named Victoras who was serving in the British Army during the Second World War. Perhaps he knew that as a British solider if he married a single mother such as Christalla he could double his salary (to around 14 shillings or 70 pence a week). In 1944, Christalla sent a telegram to her parents requesting that her sons be sent to her. The following year Elias and his brother were reunited with their mother. At first they all lived together in a rented one bedroom three-story flat on Gower Street in Central London near the British Museum. Twenty people were cramped together in that house. Elias and his brother slept in the kitchen while his mother and stepfather slept in one of the four bedrooms. There was one toilet for twenty people and it was located outside the house. There was no bathroom and gas was supplied by the use of a coin-operated meter. In winter, his mother would buy paraffin oil from the ‘paraffin man’ each morning to light the heater.
Christalla had some relatives who owned a restaurant on Charing Cross Road near Trafalgar Square called The Anglo-America. Elias would spent time after school washing dishes at this restaurant earning himself around one pound a week. That was quite a lot of money for a fifteen year old boy back then. The steak and chips deal at the Anglo-American restaurant was two and half shillings. Sausages and chips was one shilling and three pence. You couldn't eat more than five shillings worth. Elias remembers the queues extending out of the restaurant and down the street in late 1945. He also remembers being allowed to eat as much as he wanted on account that he worked there.
During and after World War Two the British government were worried about food shortages and so they introduced a food-rationing system. Every person in Britain was given a coupon book and had to register and buy their food from chosen shops. There were no supermarkets, so people had to visit several different shops to buy meat, vegetables, bread and other goods.
Christalla and Victoras eventually moved out of their rental property on Gower Street and bought their own house in London. They had earned enough money to also buy a fish and chip restaurant on the popular seaside resort of Barry Island in Wales. The shop was appropriately named ‘Barry Fish and Chips’ and was only opened during the summer months. Victoras used to travel back and forth from Barry Island to his home in London. Elias and his brother Yiannis decided not to live with their mother and stepfather. Yiannis did not get along with Victoras and so in 1946 he left to go and live with a Greek friend. Elias left soon after and went to live with the owners of the Anglo America restaurant.
In 1962, as Victoras was driving back home one night from his Barry Island restaurant he collided with another car that was stationary in the middle of the road. Unfortunately he died as a result of the accident. He was fifty-four. Christalla was devastated but continued to run the restaurant on her own until 1971. After that she retired and was able to live out the rest of her life on a State pension.
When Elias arrived in London aged fourteen in 1945, he studied at catholic school until he was sixteen years old. He then funded his own private education to improve his English. He used the money that he earned working as a waiter in a very exclusive night club called The Cyros Club. Among the many frequent famous patrons to the club was Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip.
Elias retells a funny story that happened at the Cyros Club one night in 1947. He was ascending the marble staircase at the Club holding hot plates of food to serve to the newly engaged princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. When he got to the top of the stairs to approach Phillip who was sitting at the head of the table the prince made a large hand gesture knocking the hot plates out of Elias’ hands and causing them to fall and crash onto the marble staircase. Everyone jumped of their seats thinking they heard gun shots. The furious manager fired Elias on the spot but thankfully Prince Phillip intervened to say that it was his fault and his job was saved. Elias joked that because Phillip was of Greek decent that would explain why he was making such ‘large hand gestures’ while talking.
When Elias turned twenty in 1951, he was required to undertake compulsory military service in the British army for two years. On leaving the army he decided not to return to waitressing as the hours were very long and tiring. Instead he joined the ‘fashion trade’ where he became an experienced pattern-cutter.
Although Elias had dated several English girls in London he decided in his late twenties that he should probably return to Cyprus to find a wife. Besides there were few eligible Cypriot girls in London at that time. In 1958, he returned to his father’s village of Asomatos. The first time he entered the ‘kafenion’ in Asomatos, the owners arranged for him to meet and marry their daughter Eleni (Helen) Ioannou. She was eighteen and Elias was twenty-seven. Within three months they were married by proxenia.
Initially Elias had approached Eleni to ask her out on a date. He had become accustomed to the British methods and had forgotten about the strict moral codes that still existed in Cyprus. He was promptly told by the locals that according to village traditions, dating was out of the question and not allowed. Instead he was advised to watch her from afar as she walked through the village. Elias waited patiently for the moment to arrive where he could get a good look at the girl. Unfortunately, just at that moment when Eleni walked passed him, a herd of cattle appeared and blocked his view. He had to therefore make his decision to marry her from the fleeting glimpse that he saw of her that day.
Elias and Eleni were married in Asomatos on the 28th of June 1959. They left Cyprus by ship two months later and arrived in London after a five day voyage. A year later, in 1960 their daughter Katrina was born followed by their son Michael (Mike) in 1963. Elias and his family lived for six years in a rental property on Gower Street in the heart of London. In 1966 they bought a house approximately 10miles away in Dollis Hill, North West London.
Elias would eventually use his pattern cutting skills and the experience gained to open a dress making factory together with his wife Eleni in Camden Central London. Together they both worked hard to establish a very profitable business. In fact, Eleni became a very competent machinist and started to teach other ladies at the factory how to sew.
In 1993, after thirty years in the rag-trade and with the fashion industry in a steady decline, Elias and Eleni decided to close their factories in Camden Central. Elias continued to work for a further three years at several other fashion houses until at sixty-five years old he finally retired with a pension.
Elias still lives in the same family home he bought in 1966. He is surrounded by his loving family which includes his four grandchildren, Stefan and Elena (from daughter Katrina and son in law Antonis) and twins Oliver and George (from his son Mike and daughter in law Carol).
I’d like to thank Elias’ daughter Katrina Makrides for her kind assistance in helping to edit and correct this translated version of her father’s story. Special thanks to my cousin Kyri Falekkos for introducing me to Elias Peppis when I was in London last October.
I know a lot more about Maronite Cypriots than I did before and for that I am truly grateful.
From "Tales Of Cyprus"