Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meze at Kura Giorgina in Larnaka

A few weeks ago, some friends stayed in our guest flat, and, during the course of the week, offered to take us out for a meal. When they were here a year ago they took us to a meze at a taverna called Kura Georgina. It's in William Weir Street, about a kilometre away from where we live, so easy walking distance. We all liked it, and they suggested going there again.

We had booked a table, although it wasn't necessary when arriving at 6.30, as we tend to do. Cypriots often eat much later, arriving at restaurants at perhaps 8.00 or even 9.00pm. But my metabolism doesn't do well with late eating, and we much prefer to be in an uncrowded environment, free from smoke. Cypriot restaurants are now smoke-free indoors, but there's still usually smoking outside making it unpleasant to go in and out.

Kura Giorgina's is a traditional building with a bar near the entrance, and tables laid out in typical Cyprus style:

Since there were five of us - our younger son was visiting too - we ordered a meze for four. There's always so much food that it's normal to ask for fewer portions than the number of people, unless everyone has a huge appetite. We debated ordering for just three, and in retrospect that would have been plenty.

Two of us drank water, but the other three ordered a bottle of wine. It came in an unusual traditional bottle, and was poured into pottery cups, which were quite attractive:

The 'first course' of a meze, if one thinks of it that way, is usually a Greek salad, complete with feta cheese, bread of some kind, and dips.  That's exactly what arrived on our table within a few minutes of our order:

Unusually the bread was neither pittas nor village bread, but a warm, apparently freshly baked bread that was very good. There were also some slices of processed meat and cheese, and some capers. I had a lot of salad, some bread, tahini dip, tsatsiki, and a pepper/yogurt dip which was delicious. It's all too easy to eat a lot of the starter, when one is the most hungry, and feel almost full by the end but I know from experience that this is a bad idea.

It wasn't long before other dishes started to arrive. There were plates of meat of varying kinds, baked eggs, a plate of freshly cooked chips, and - my favourite of all - some deep-fried aubergine slices with Greek yogurt.  I had a lot of those!

There was a great deal more which I forgot to photograph: halloumi, other vegetables, scrambled eggs with courgettes, olives, and much more. Each dish arrived just as we were wondering if we had come to the end. And, as so often, there was a large dish of different kinds of fried meat near the end.

We were told that this was the end, which was fine since we were all quite full. I eat almost no meat but I had a small piece of chicken, and it was very good. The rest of the party managed to finish most of what remained.

We chatted a while, and nibbled at bits and pieces, and then, after the waitress cleared away most of the dishes, it was time for dessert. This is often included as part of a meze, but we were still pleasantly surprised and very impressed with what they brought.

There was a selection of fresh fruit, clearly only just prepared, and some candied fruit which was a bit too sweet for me, but which the others liked:

And then, when we thought we couldn't manage another bite, they brought out loukoumades:

These are a sort of deep-fried doughnut batter with honey; probably very unhealthy, but rather scrumptious. And despite our order being for four people, they brought five loukoumades... so we decided we should each have one....

We were probably there for a couple of hours, and could see that the area outside was getting quite full. People started arriving to eat inside, too, but we thought it was about time to leave. We could have had coffee if we'd wanted to, but that would have kept us awake all night.

Here's what the front looks like after dark since I forgot to take a photo on the way in:

All in all, we thought it an excellent meal.  While some mezes can be very meat-focused, we liked the wide range of non-meat options at this one, and the friendly family atmosphere. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Sudden switching of seasons...

When we lived in the UK, seasons were inevitably based on dates. We might argue whether Autumn started on the first or the 21st of September; we might comment that it was really quite warm and summery for September. But we were pretty clear: December to February were winter, March to May were Spring, June to August were Summer - even if it rained most of the time, as happened some years - and September to November were Autumn.

In Cyprus, seasons are a lot more predictable in one sense; during July and August it will be hot (over thirty degrees celcius) during the daytime, and probably humid too. However, the seasonal changes can happen at varying times. Some years we have some rain by early October, and it feels pleasantly cool after the summer, even if visitors tell us it's far too hot. Sometimes Summer starts in May, sometimes not until the end of June. Spring and Autumn can be tricky to spot sometimes, if we believe that it's Summer when we're comfortable spending all day in shorts and tee shirts.

So after many years I came up with my own indicators: Summer is when we have to use air conditioning for the computers during the day, and for at least an hour at night to enable us to sleep, but we can guarantee hot water any time we want it due to the solar heating panels on the roof. Winter is when we have to use the electric water heater regularly and usually have the central heating switched on morning and evening. Spring and Autumn are the in-between times, when we use neither the air conditioning nor the central heating, and rarely need the electric water heater.

This year, I was in the UK for the first ten days of September, and when I got back to Cyprus we didn't use the air conditioning much, if at all. By mid-September the humidity had dropped - mostly - and the daytime temperatures were no more than 30C. Autumn, I decided, was here. It advanced very slowly: it wasn't until early October that I started using a duvet cover rather than just a sheet on the bed, and the middle of October before we decided that the nights were cool enough to warrant the thin duvet. But we were still using the ceiling fan all night.

There was a bit of rain in September, and perhaps half an hour of rain in October, but by the end of the month reports said that the reservoirs were at 20% of capacity. Not as bad as it was eight or nine years ago, but not good. The Salt Lake doesn't dry out every year, but this year it was dry for most of the Summer, and right up to the end of October.

The days were getting shorter, even before the clock change, and I did put on a very light jacket a couple of times for my early morning walks by the Salt Lake; but whereas, some years, I took my camera every time to capture a variety of sunrises, I only did so once in October towards the end of the month when I spotted clouds in the sky, and was quite pleased with this:

I keep an eye on the weather forecast, and had noted that thundery rain was due in the early hours of this morning, so I'd taken in dry laundry, and hoped I might not have to water the plants.

Apparently there was a major thunderstorm around 3.00am. Family members and friends woke, although I slept right through it. However I was awakened at 4.00am by Richard's phone, which reported a problem at his friend's shop at the marina. Most likely a false alarm, we knew, perhaps due to the winds. I was on the point of falling straight asleep again when Richard, who had decided to get up for a moment, said that there was water all over the bedroom floor.

My first thought was that the roof had been leaking, but we quickly realised that it was water flooding in from our outside balcony. It was evidently a LOT of rain, and something must have blocked the overflow. That had happened once or twice before, although never with enough rain to flood into the house.

I tried to take a photo of the water on the floor - at least a couple of centimetres of it - but it's not obvious at all, although this one does show the reflections in the water:

There was water on the landing, too, and in the bathroom, and the study, and the other bedroom....

Richard went to fetch one of the drain unblocking tools, then, splashing through the water on the balcony in his crocs, discovered that rather than being full of gunk, the overflow had been blocked by this:

Yes, a cat toy. Most of them are table tennis balls that float, but this one is heavier, and clearly didn't.

We knew we had to get the water out, before it damaged the wood of the bed, and the chest of drawers, and the bookcases. So Richard fetched our Bissell Green Cleaning Machine:

And an old-fashioned mop and bucket.

This Bissell machine, much smaller than our old one, only sucks up about a litre of water at a time, but it does so quite quickly and could easily be emptied into the bucket.  I used the mop to push some of the water towards the balcony, and more into the bucket. Richard must have emptied the bucket at least twenty times in the next hour, and gradually the water levels went down.

We then got rid of most of the water from the other rooms, and by then it was about 5.54 am and getting light. He went back to sleep for an hour, and I decided I might as well go for my planned early walk with Sheila, although we thought the trail might well be impassable. I decided to wear long trousers rather than shorts, and was glad I did.

On the way to the Salt Lake trail I saw fields full of water:

We were amazed to see that just one major downpour was sufficient to make the dried-out lake look almost full:

We walked perhaps 500 metres towards the Airport Road, and then saw this, with water flowing across the path:

So we turned back and headed the other way.  The light was stunning over the outskirts of the town, although - as ever - a photo can only give a slight hint of how it looked:

We walked perhaps a kilometre and a half of the trail before coming to this:

I was very tired by this point, so we headed back.

I didn't need the water heater for my shower this morning, as the sun was out by this time, and I waited until after nine o'clock. But I did decide to put on jeans rather than shorts, and I'm pretty sure Richard will need the water heater for his shower this evening. With the time change and increasingly shorter days, this will be the pattern for the next two or three months.

So, even though the daytime temperatures are predicted to be around 24-25 degrees next week, and we haven't yet had our central heating serviced so it won't be going on just yet... I'm unofficially declaring that, this year, winter in Larnaka started today. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Knitted Nativity

As my young friend Helen pointed out to me this morning, it's exactly two months until Christmas. Even after nineteen years in Cyprus, I can't get my head around the thought of the approaching season while the daytime temperatures are still in the upper twenties.

However, it seemed an appropriate date to write about a small knitting project which has been ongoing for the past six months, and in my mind for a great deal longer.

I used to knit regularly when I was younger. Among other things I knitted several soft toys for the boys, a long scarf and - peak of my achievements - a cable-knit sweater for Richard, back in the early 1990s.  But the boys grew out of soft toys, and I did less and less knitting as other activities took its place. From time to time I thought about it; but the last thing I made, some years ago, was a small chicken that I gave to Helen's sister when she was born, a little over six years ago.

I had brought my knitting needles and yarn to Cyprus, but had a hard time finding any stuffing, until I needed it for the chicken, and had to buy a huge bag:

I thought that would motivate me to do more knitting, but it didn't. I started a cat, but got bored. I started a seasonal mouse, and got bored of that too. The pieces lay muddled up with my box of random yarns, and my knitting needles were idle.

In January this year, a friend on Facebook posted a link to an article giving the health benefits of knitting. Around the same time, I spotted on Amazon a booklet by Jean Greenhowe (the author who produced the booklet of knitting instructions for soft toys) featuring a knitted nativity scene. I had seen something similar at another friend's house many years ago and liked it very much. Our nativity figures are rather stylised - we were given them by people moving from the island - but I'd never found any affordable ones that I liked better.

So the Christmas knitting booklet went on my wishlist, and I was given it for my birthday, back in April. I hoped it might be - I would have ordered it myself, otherwise - and when I was in the UK earlier in the month I bought some very nice knitting yarn, a ten-pack of unusual colours that included some browns and greens; ideal, I thought, for my potential project.

One more thing to sort before getting started: I wanted a little drawer unit in which to store my knitting supplies, rather than keeping it in a box in a cupboard. I found exactly what I needed for around ten euros at the local thrift shop, and Alex gave it his stamp of approval:

I had already decided that, rather than knitting the people with light pink/beige skin, as in the instructions, I would make their faces olive or light brown, as is much more appropriate for people from the Middle East and Asian areas. So I visited a very nice little craft shop not far from where we live, and bought some suitable shades of brown too.

All the yarn, including the oddments from previous projects, fitted in one of the drawers nicely:

By then, it was the middle of May. I decided that if I knitted for half an hour each day, I might complete one figure per fortnight, meaning that I could finish all ten figures by about the middle of October.

I decided to start with one of the magi/kings/wise men. I opted for the 'green' one, since I had plenty of suitable colours. I followed instructions carefully, and was a little puzzled at the requirement to 'block' the outer cape, which seemed to require rather drastic acupuncture for the poor man overnight, after dampening it and turning it inside out:

I do trust Jean Greenhowe's instructions although there were times when I had no idea how something was going to work out. I am not at all good at thinking in three dimensions. Knitting the wise man's gift, I wondered if I'd done something wrong when I ended up with this:

However, I kept following the directions, and it turned into this:

At last everything was complete, just before the end of May. The sewing process is my least favourite part, but I was quite pleased with the result:

Next I decided to try Joseph. The main body was the same, with some variations, although I didn't think he looked as impressive as the wise man. Perhaps that's appropriate, since he was an ordinary carpenter:

However, I finished him in just a week. Without the fiddly gift and headpiece, and with more confidence in the instructions (and no having to hunt for suitable pins...) it was considerably quicker.

Then I did a shepherd, and that took less than a week, though wrapping yarn around a bendy straw as the final touch was rather fiddly:

After three human figures, I decided to try something else. The manger wasn't a difficult pattern, but was remarkably difficult to knit as it required double thickness of yarn, which, on 3mm needles, took a great deal of effort.

Mary was a bit more complicated than the men too, as she is in a permanent sitting-down position. Moreover, as there's no beard she needed a mouth; I found it impossible to get that to look right, but hope that won't show too much when the whole scene is in place.

I put off knitting baby Jesus, for a while, wondering if this fell into the category of making graven images... however I could hardly have a nativity scene without him, so I continued, and was pleased that he is able to be taken out of the manger and held in Mary's arms:

I had realised that the cream yarn which I used for the shepherd's headdress was thicker than double knitting, and I didn't want to use it for the lambs. I also realised that I didn't have bright enough colours for the other wise men.

But I learned that the Zako shop on the main road nearby sells knitting yarn, so we went there and I bought yet more supplies:

By this stage, it was the end of June and I was way ahead of my provisional schedule. I was also feeling a lot more confident about how the figures worked, so I decided that, rather than having all the standing figures the exact same height, I would make my next wise man a bit shorter. That meant he was quicker to knit, too; here he is next to the first one:

Next I embarked on a lamb. I wasn't too sure about the eventual result, which included quite a bit of fiddly sewing:

But when placed next to the shepherd, the effect isn't too bad:

I did the third king mainly in yellow; I enjoyed making the wise men the most:

I know that there may have been more than three of the wise men; but there were three gifts mentioned in the Biblical accounts and there are three patterns, so I decided to stick with the traditional three.

I wanted one more shepherd, and thought I'd make him shorter than the first one too, as I was pleased with the effect of the shorter wise man.  I think perhaps I overdid it (or under-did it...) as he looks a bit too short; but never mind:

It was early August by now, and I'd completed almost everything well ahead of schedule. So I started a second lamb, but having knitted all the pieces, I realised there was no hurry to sew them together. And I started playing around with some of the tree decorations in the same booklet.

I also realised that I was lacking another important animal: the donkey that carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. A brief search online revealed that Jean Greenhowe had been asked repeatedly for a donkey, and had included one in a different Christmas knitting pattern book. No longer in print, it could be found very inexpensively from the Amazon Marketplace.

I had arranged to spend three weeks in the UK in late August, so I ordered the booklet, and was delighted to receive it in 'as new' condition. But the donkey instructions looked remarkably complicated. I didn't start knitting that until nearly the end of September, and it was, indeed, a more complex set of instructions than any of the others.

I played around with starting to knit a couple of other things. Then, after discussion with my small friends, I began knitting a doll from yet another Jean Greenhowe book.

I realised, about a week ago, that my knitting drawers had become very muddled. So I took everything out, and sorted the different pieces from different items, and put them in bags so that I could see what I had:

I set myself a target of finishing the donkey by Sunday.  Once again the sewing part was the most fiddly; the legs involved sections of straws as well as stuffing, to keep them sturdy, and the mane was very strange. But I was pleased with the result:

I also completed the second lamb. I haven't put everything out together to make the Nativity tableau, so that will happen mid-December, or whenever we decide to put up Christmas decorations.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Visiting a taverna at Zygi

It had been a busy few weeks, but at last we had bought a comfortable and - we hope - reliable car. Richard wanted to take it on a slightly longer journey than just doing errands around Larnaka, and since we had not been on a 'date' for a long time, suggested we have lunch at the fishing village of Zygi.

My knowledge of Cyprus geography is extremely limited, and I vaguely assumed it was about ten or fifteen kilometres away, so was a bit surprised when it took us nearly half an hour to get there - it was, according to the signposts, nearly 40km away. Still, the journey was very comfortable and smooth; Cyprus roads are really very bumpy, particularly around town, but this Megane seems to smooth them out better than any other car we've previously had.

Richard had heard good things about the main restaurant looking out over Zygi marina, and it was easy enough to spot from the car park. A covered area had lots of tables and chairs, and there were several people eating. There was a big menu on the way in so we paused to take a look.

Just as well that we did. The theme - unsurprisingly, perhaps - was sea-food.  While Richard does quite like shellfish, I can't bear any of them.  Even looking at them makes me queasy. And the prices looked extremely high. So we glanced down... there was a section of the menu that said it was for people who wanted something different, but that was all steaks, at even higher prices. All we wanted was a light lunch... but there were no sandwiches, no baked potatoes with fillings. There was a pasta selection, but it was all related to sea-food.

I expect the food is excellent quality for people who like sea-food, want a large meal, and don't mind paying high prices. But I could not find a single thing on the menu that I could have eaten.

So we decided to walk into the village itself. We rejected one or two rather scruffy looking places, and then we spotted this:

'The Plateia' looked like a pleasant little taverna. There was building work going on at the side:

But it was open, and when we sat down we were brought a menu almost at once. It was exactly what we were looking for: sandwiches, filled pittas, or platters, at very reasonable cost.  We decided on the platters, after being told that they came with both chips and salad.

Richard chose sheftalia, a kind of Cyprus sausage, and I chose halloumi.  It wasn't particularly quick, but that didn't matter; evidently it was freshly cooked, and when it came was nicely presented and delicious:

They brought us a bowl of pitta bread too, but we didn't want extra carbs so we didn't have them, although I'm sure they would have been good too.

We were there for about an hour, and nobody else came to eat there, but it didn't matter. The place was secluded and quiet, and while we couldn't look over the sea, there was greenery and fresh air and sunshine, and our table was pleasantly sheltered.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Buying cars in Cyprus

When we moved to Cyprus, almost nineteen years ago, we didn't think we would need a car. None of Richard's colleagues owned one, and the organisation had a few cars which could be borrowed, when necessary; we had to pay a mileage rate, but it wasn't too steep. For shopping trips locally, or even the occasional visit to another town, it was far better value than having to pay running expenses of a car ourselves.

But then we started attending regular meetings of home educators in Limassol, and wanted to explore the island when visitors came. When Richard's official secondment to the organisation here came to an end, we could still use their cars, but the mileage rate was higher. Then we were given a generous gift by a relative... and it seemed like a good idea to look into buying a car of our own. There were few, if any car dealers in Cyprus in the late 1990s, nor much available online. But there was a large classified ads section of the local paper, which we perused regularly.

In September 2000, we finally bought a car. A Lancer Estate, at first known as 'the car', but in recent years referred to as the old white car. It was around ten years old when we bought it, in good condition, and at a good price. I wrote in detail about it at the end of my September 2000 diary page of our family website.

We bought it from someone at the British army base who was leaving the island. In those days, there was a complex system of taxation, and while the vendor assured us that the appropriate duty had been paid, it turned out he was mistaken. Eventually, we were able to register for a duty-free car; and then, when Cyprus went into the EU, the distinction vanished.

It's been an excellent car. We drove it through Europe to the UK back in 2001, and there were no problems at all.  At some point - I forget when - we had a reconditioned engine put in, after some problems... but it kept going. We had a towbar fitted so it could be used for Richard's dinghy:

In May 2005 it started overheating when we took it any distance. Our mechanic fixed that problem, but it kept recurring. We realised that we could no longer trust it for trips further afield than the outskirts of Larnaka.

So in the summer of 2006, shortly after we moved house (and had 'change' from selling our UK house) we bought another ten-year-old car.

This was a Sang-Yong, a make we had not previously heard of, but at the time there were quite a few of them in Cyprus. We referred to it as the 'big white car'.  Richard bought it from a dealer in Nicosia, and it had a guarantee - of sorts. It was a comfortable and spacious car which had two extra flip-up seats at the back, which was useful when we had more than three visitors.  So, for a couple of years we used this as our 'main' car, and the old white one for the occasional short trip locally. We made the old white one available for guests, too, to get them around Larnaka - to the beach and back on a hot day, for instance.

Unfortunately, the big white car was very expensive to tax and insure. And then the Cyprus dealer for this car closed down, so it became almost impossible to get spare parts when there was a problem. We tried in vain to sell it at the end of 2008, and began using the old white car again, with the occasional car rental if we needed to go anywhere further.  Eventually, over a year later, we sold it for parts.

Then, in the summer of 2009, the car rental guy was selling one of his cars, another Lancer ('the grey car') for a good price. It was newer than our previous cars, but quite high mileage, for a Cyprus car, as it had been used by renters to tour the island.

We were given a good guarantee on the car, and it proved very reliable indeed, although Richard never really enjoyed driving it.

A couple of years ago, when our son Tim was living and working in Cyprus, he realised that a former leg injury meant that he was unlikely to pass his driving test with a manual car, and his instructor suggested using an automatic. So he trawled the local adverts, mostly online now, and looked at several inexpensive automatic cars. He wanted one that would take his keyboard, which narrowed the choice down rather, but eventually he found a small car in a private sale.

They took a friend, who was working as a car mechanic at the time, to look at it, and he said it was sound, and that it wouldn't be too difficult to solve the few problems that we knew about. The make was Toyota Raum, and it was built in 1997.  It became known as the small grey car, or the grey automatic car. Richard didn't much like that one either, but it provided useful driving practice for Tim.

However it seemed ridiculous to run THREE cars. The old white car was still proving useful, with its towbar and spacious boot, and although the seats were falling apart and the air conditioning no longer worked, local friends borrowed it occasionally, and several visitors drove it locally. It was inexpensive to tax and insure, and we felt quite attached to it.

We needed the small grey automatic car for Tim, so the logical thing was for us to use that, until such time as he passed his test and wanted a car himself, and to sell the grey car. Friends took that off our hands almost a year ago, and (to our relief) it has continued working reliably for them.

Unfortunately the grey automatic car (of which we never even thought of taking photos) has not proved very reliable, nor easy to maintain. And a couple of weeks ago, both it and the old white car developed battery problems. Richard took them both to our friendly local mechanic, who told us that they would both cost quite a bit to put right, and even more to get through the MOTs, which are due in the spring.

The time had come to look at another car. Richard wanted one that he would enjoy driving, and started scouring the local adverts and dealers for his favourite kind of car, a VW Golf.

After test-driving several cars a week ago, from a local dealer, he decided that the VW Golf on offer, although very nice to drive, had too high mileage to consider. So - needing a car rather urgently, and not wanting to spend more hours searching and test-driving - we decided to choose his second favourite, a Renault Megane.

It's known, unsurprisingly, as 'the blue car'. It's about twelve years old but has only around 50,000 miles on the clock, and the condition is excellent. There's a year's warranty from the dealer, too.

We're a bit sad to say goodbye to the old white car, which can only be sold for parts/scrap now, but don't really have any attachment to the automatic grey car.

To summarise for those looking at buying used cars in Cyprus: over 17 years, we have bought two cars from private individuals, two from car dealers, and one from a car rental company.  One of the private sales, the old white car, proved excellent value, once the tax problems were solved. The other, the grey automatic, was never great. We don't think the vendor was trying to cheat us, but there's no warranty of any kind with a private sale, and since we're not at all mechanically minded, we'd probably avoid private sales in future.

Buying from the car rental firm worked well; but that's not an option that's available very often, and the choice is non-existent. They're not usually advertised at all.

Buying the big white car from the firm in Nicosia wasn't ideal, as it was a long way to go to get problems sorted, and they weren't great at doing them.  But buying locally, from a company whom our mechanic knows and recommends, with a year's written warranty, seems - at least so far - to be the best option.  We probably paid over the odds for a 12-year-old car, but think it's worth it. The body is in almost perfect condition, the engine as-new, and if any problems crop up in the first year, they should be covered. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Back in Cyprus, Lady Jane and the gradual end of Summer

When our son Tim moved back to the UK early in August, his cat Lady Jane Grey moved to our house, at least for now. Tim's new job is temporary and his accommodation not appropriate for a cat. Lady Jane is Alexander the Great's sister. Yes, historical chronology is a little skewed. Their other sister, no longer with us as long-term readers might recall, was Joan of Arc. And our elderly, eighteen-year-old cat is Cleopatra... 

However, Lady Jane had lived in Tim's flat for two years as an only cat, and had apparently forgotten that other felines exist. The first stage in her adoption into our house was to bring her to our guest flat, where Tim stayed for about three weeks after moving out of his flat, before flying to the UK.

That in itself wasn't too traumatic, although when she arrived she didn't want to emerge from the cat carrier for quite some time.  When she eventually did, she hid on some bookshelves:

After a few days of very tentative exploration, she became rather more at home in the guest flat. Unfortunately her initial introduction to Alex was extremely stressful. We let them 'meet' through a gap in a sliding door, and Alex wanted to play. Jane saw this as a terrible threat; she growled and spat.

Then Alex managed to get into the flat - twice - when the door was briefly open. He saw a new playmate. Jane saw an enemy.  There was a great deal of noise and she refused to look at any human who was involved in the trauma, for quite some time.

But before Tim flew back, we knew we had to move Jane up to our part of the house. Tim's old bedroom became her 'safe haven', as advised on several websites, and we put some of his furniture there. She spent a lot of time sitting on her cat tree looking out of the windows:

We tried letting Alex and Jane see each other through narrow doorways, but it wasn't encouraging. He lay down, evidently wanting to wait. She growled and hissed and spat, apparently terrified.

At the suggestion of a Facebook friend, we acquired some of the plug-in artificial pheromone Felliway to use in Jane's room and the living room for a month. She did seem a little calmer after a couple of days, but perhaps that was a coincidence.

When I went away to the UK for three weeks, we were still keeping her shut in her room most of the time. She didn't seem to mind, but did like exploring a little further when Alex and Cleo were shut downstairs.

Richard reported progress over the three weeks that I was away. She and Alex got a little closer. She didn't growl quite so much. She didn't seem to understand how to play, but he was very patient. He started letting them be loose in the house when he was home. Jane started having food in the living room...

By the time I got home, she was a lot more amicable than she had been. Was the Felliway responsible or would it have happened anyway? We have no idea. But we like to think it probably helped.

A day or two after I got back, Jane was in the kitchen asking for 'wet food' at lunchtime, so I put hers on the boot tray that we use for cat food dishes... and for the first time all three cats ate together:

Since then, she and Alex have been very friendly, chasing each other, batting each other in a play-fighting way, and even rubbing noses sometimes. Jane still doesn't like Cleo and spits at her whenever she sees her, but we suspect that she's trying to establish dominance and doesn't understand that an elderly matriarch is de facto the queen of the feline household.

Meanwhile September's weather has, far too slowly for my liking, been cooling down, and the humidity reducing. So much so that a week ago I resumed my thrice-weekly early morning walks with my friend Sheila, along part of the Salt Lake trail.

The Salt Lake is entirely dried up this year:

My break in the UK resulted in a great deal more energy than I had before I left, so, combined with the not-quite-so-hot weather, I've been doing more in the kitchen again. I have been using our latest Lakeland acquisition, a three-pot slow-cooker, so much more useful than the one large one which we were using (and which I still have, and will no doubt put into use again when cooking for large numbers).

I still haven't quite adjusted to cooking for just two of us, and last Sunday put together a casserole that wouldn't fit into just one of the pots, but it simmered nicely in two of them. A few days earlier I stewed a couple of large and rather soft apples, which was much easier than doing them in a pan that might boil dry.

I expect to use this more as Autumn progresses, so I can make two different curries or soups at the same time, either for entertaining, or for us with plenty to freeze for future meals.

We had the first real rain this week, during Tuesday night. It hasn't made any noticeable difference to the Salt Lake itself, but the overall temperatures feel much more pleasant. It was almost chilly this morning when Sheila and I set out on our walk, and watched the sun rise behind some of the palm trees:

We wondered whether the new looking greenery in the park could have resulted so quickly from the first rain.

I was pleased to note that in the coming week temperatures are set to be between 28 and 30 degrees C at the most, which is very encouraging after being 30-33 in the past couple of weeks. Today I only used my study air conditioning for a couple of hours; the rest of the time the ceiling fan was sufficient.