Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Peculiarities of Plumbing in Cyprus

One of the comments made, now and then, by friends or relatives visiting us in Cyprus is that the skyline is somewhat spoiled by all the water tanks and solar heating panels.  We've got used to them ourselves, after nearly twenty years living on the island, but they do have a point. This, for instance, is typical:

water tanks and solar panels are a feature of Cyprus roofs

(If the image seems too small, clicking it should lead to a bigger, clearer view). 

Whereas in cooler countries, hot water tanks are usually indoors, and insulated with warm lagged jackets, in Cyprus they are outside, on the roof, and (so long as the sun is shining) water is heated by the large solar panels.

Cold water tanks seem very old fashioned to many who don't live in Cyprus, but for many years there was a severe drought on the island. When we moved here, mains water was only switched on a couple of times per week. So it was vital to have cold water storage tanks for use in between times.

Most kitchen taps are still equipped with both mains and tank water availability, with the mains (sometimes filtered) for drinking, and the tank water, hot and cold, for washing dishes. Our dishwasher and washing machine run from the tank, as made sense during the drought years. Nowadays, with recent rainy years and the functioning desalination plants, water is on almost all the time, and some people now have their machines attached directly to the mains water inlets.

Since our house is in two parts, with a separate flat underneath the main part where we live (fairly typical in Cyprus) we have four tanks in all.  The hot ones, fed from the larger cold ones above them, are heated by the solar panels.

The trouble with tanks being on the roof is that, despite being strong and long-lasting, they are at the mercy of the elements. The sun is very hot in summer, and in recent years the winds have been extremely strong at times in the winter.

Seven-and-a-half years ago, we had to have the guest flat cold water tank (the one nearest the edge) replaced, due to a serious leak in the side. We had the pump fixed too, and various other repairs, and everything worked nicely. It was a little frustrating that the hot water never seemed to stay hot for more than an hour or two in the evening, after the sun had gone down, and Richard muttered now and again about having some extra insulation. But we have an electric water heater to supplement the solar power, so we used that when we needed hot water in the evening, or before it had warmed up sufficiently in the morning.

Now and again we noticed that drips were starting again, and we called in plumbers - I think we've used three different ones now, maybe more - who repaired problems in pipes, or outlets, or, on occasion, the ballcocks that are supposed to regulate when the tank stops filling up.  The latter seems to be a common problem; one of our neighbours has a tank that overflows for short periods regularly, as can be seen by the marks down the side of the top tank:

showing the drips down a cold water tank on a roof in Cyprus

Last year we realised that we were seeing were yet more drips, and they weren't just sporadic. We looked at them, and sighed, and said something had to be done. But it didn't seem like a huge problem and we didn't get around to it.

Then one day towards the end of the year, we had water not just dripping onto the balcony below the tanks, but pouring down. We called our friendly local plumber, who came pretty quickly and said that there were two issues. The guest flat hot water tank had developed a serious leak in one of the seams, and was spewing water out. That one was fairly easily fixed, which is good because some of the water was also leaking inside our roof and dripping through the bathroom ceiling.

However, the other hot water tank had a hole that couldn't be fixed, and needed to be replaced completely. But we couldn't have a tank off the shelf; it's pressurised and had to be built specially. So the plumber put in an order, and hoped it would be ready to install before Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, that didn't happen and we were in the UK with the family by the time Richard had a text message to say that the tank was ready.  By the time we were back in Cyprus, the plumber had too many other jobs, then Richard went away again.  Finally a date was arranged, only to discover that the company who had built the new tank had given up waiting for it to be claimed, and sold it to someone else.

But finally, a couple of weeks ago, the plumber arrived with a couple of other guys and the new tank. It took them a couple of hours to put it in place, and everything looked good. There was some slight confusion in that it looked, from the wiring, as if it was the guest flat tank and not the main house one... apparently both the wiring and the pipework are 'interesting'. As is not atypical in this country.

However, there were no more leaks for the rest of the day, and to our delight, the new tank is much better insulated than the old one was, meaning that the water is still hot enough for a shower even four hours after the sun has gone down on a chilly day.  It wasn't cheap having this new tank, but over a few years we should save quite a bit on our electricity bill.

The night after the new tank was installed, I thought I heard a drip, and saw a bit of a puddle on the balcony after dark. But it had been a cloudy day, and I thought perhaps it had rained. The following morning the balcony was dry, and there were no more drips for nearly a week.

However, we had people staying in our guest flat for that week. The day after they departed, there were more drips, which - as far we could tell - were coming out of the guest flat cold water tank, or possibly one of the pipes nearby.  Puddles were appearing yet again on the balcony:

puddle of water due to drips from our water tank, yet again

I thought I could temporarily stop the drips by switching off the guest flat mains water, thinking it might be an overflow problem. So I did that... but it made no difference.

So Richard called the plumber, who came to take a look. He said it was an overflow problem, and the ballcock wasn't working. So he used a little stopcock valve next to the tank to stop water going into it. He was rather surprised to discover, when up the ladder, that there was no round cover at the top of the tank, so it's open to the air... but said he could replace that too, early next week.

The dripping stopped... for a couple of hours.

By evening, it had started again. This makes no sense at all, but then I couldn't understand how the tank could still be leaking when the mains water to it is switched off.  We now think there must be some serious problem with pressure somewhere in the system, in a way that I don't begin to understand.

Life is never entirely straightforward in Cyprus. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Time and Trust in Cyprus

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy post bewailing modern technology as it gradually takes over life in Cyprus. Things are no longer as simple as they used to be.

To summarise the post: I couldn't pay our van tax because it needed an MOT, and when the MOT was done I couldn't pay it because my debit card had expired. When I went to collect my new card from the bank, they had returned it because I hadn't collected it in December, despite not knowing it was there. Meanwhile I couldn't pay our PO Box fee because the 'system' wasn't working, so I left the money with the postmistress who assured me she would do it the next day...

There's something about starting a routine, or habit, which makes it become easier as the weeks go by. Those two Fridays in January, I made sure I had things to post to motivate me to walk to the Post Office. It's only a mile away, and it wasn't as cold as it had been some early mornings when I walk with my friend Sheila, but I didn't much want to go out. However, Richard was away, and I don't drive.

I decided to combine the trips to the Post Office with my usual Friday shopping at our local froutaria...

The fruit shop - or froutaria - where we buy all our fruit and vegetables in Cyprus

... and the connected mini-market over the road from the froutaria:

The mini-market, Achna Discount, where we buy general groceries in Cyprus

The Post Office is about a mile from our house, near the sea-front. It's another mile or so in the other direction to the fruitaria, and then a short walk home. Quite a pleasant outing, once I was out in the sunshine, even if it was rather chilly.

So each time I took my Lakeland shopping trolley (one of the best purchases I have ever made):

The trolley that accompanies me on my shopping trips. Wonderful buy from Lakeland UK.

A few days after my foray into the bank, they phoned me to say that my card had arrived.  I could have gone to collect it at once (the bank is perhaps half a mile away) but decided I would leave it until the Friday, and do another round trip.  There was no urgency to pay the road tax, and I didn't need the debit card for anything else; I generally use cash at the froutaria and discount mini-market.

PO Box Rental part 3
So on Friday, just over a week ago, I walked down to the Post Office once again. There was no receipt in my box, so although I didn't have anything to post this time, I went inside.

Once again there was only one postmistress there, not the one to whom I had handed over the cash for the box renewal. She remembered me from the previous week. I asked her if, perhaps, the other lady had done the renewal and forgotten to give me my receipt. She checked the system, and said that no, it wasn't renewed.

However, she told me, I wasn't the only customer in the same situation. Apparently the other postmistress had been off sick, and had put the money for the PO Box renewals in some account which her colleague couldn't access.  She assured me it would be done on Monday, and they would phone to let me know.

Perhaps I should have ensured I was given a receipt for the cash when I paid it; or, even better, kept it and said I would return another time, since I did in fact keep on returning every week. But trust is important in Cyprus, and I couldn't imagine they would try to cheat me, or insist that I hadn't in fact paid anything. So I said it was okay, and I would wait.

New Debit card part 2
I quite like walking along the main shopping streets of Larnaka, occasionally popping into a shop, or looking in the windows, but my next stop was the bank.

I stood in the queue, as usual, and when I got to the front was told I needed to go to one of the desks further inside the bank. I eventually found it, and instead of just handing over my card (in a thick envelope) and asking me to sign for it, the man at the desk had to access my account, and spend several minutes entering things and eventually succeeding in printing a form. Then I not only had to sign it, I had to enter my passport number. I have no idea why, but it's a good thing I carry it with me. It would have been very annoying to have got that far and been unable to collect the card.

The design of the card is different - it's yellow rather than red - and it's equipped with contactless technology, which always slightly scares me. But we keep our contactless cards in little metal-lined folders so they can't accidentally (or maliciously) be triggered.

Car Tax part 4
I got home, and logged into the jccsmart website, and - at last! - succeeded in paying the year's tax for the van.


Side note
A few months ago, when we realised we had to write off our two old cars, the mechanic agreed to deal with the scrap merchant, and harvest any parts that could be used. They said we might possibly get €200, and that was only because one of the cars had fairly new tyres. They were supposed to let us know when the transaction happened, but we didn't hear anything. Then we went away shortly after Christmas, and hadn't thought much about it.

When Richard got back from his travels, ten days ago, he went to collect the van after its MOT.  They had had to sort out one or two things, and did a full oil change too, and - including the test certificate - the bill came to €70, which seemed quite reasonable. Better still, they said that our old cars had in fact fetched €250, so rather than having to pay anything, he was given €180 in cash as well as the van with its up-to-date MOT.

PO Box Rental part 4
There was no phone call on Monday, but on Wednesday I had a call from the Post Office! They wanted to check the details, then went ahead and renewed our box rental for another two years.


The receipt was awaiting me when I walked down to the Post Office yesterday.  So everything is now done. It might take much longer than it should, but I should have trusted that it would work out correctly. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Appreciation of my Dishwasher

A popular personality theory tells us that when we make decisions we each have a distinct preference for either 'thinking' (based on principles, categories, factual reasons, logic, etc) or 'feeling' (personal values, cultural expectations, pleasing other people, going with our heart, etc). It's not that simple, of course, and we all use all of the above at times, but the theory can be a useful way of understanding why some people make the decisions they do.

Recently, however, I read something which implied that in most cases, deep down, everyone makes 'feeling' decisions. Those who prefer 'thinking' may then try to justify those decisions rationally, or explain themselves, because (ironically) they care about their image and want to be thought of as logical. And, indeed, we all tend to find 'evidence' to support our decisions, whatever they might be. But the true 'reason' for most choices is - according to this - that it's what we felt was the best thing to do at the time.

I suspect there's some truth in this. Arguments and criticisms often arise due to differing principles and beliefs, yet in many cases decisions have been made due to personal preference or gut feelings. They may have been researched beforehand; there may be many 'thinking' factors taken into account: but when the purchase is made, or the contract signed, or the X marked on the voting paper, it's because at some level our heart tells us that it's the right decision.

A friend recently linked on Facebook to an article explaining why a large family in the United States have decided to wash their dishes by hand rather than using a dishwasher. Several people commented saying that they agreed, and gave reasons why they prefer hand-washing to dishwashers.

That's fine, and it's none of my business how anyone else chooses to wash their dishes. But it occurred to me that while I've read other posts, in the past, about why people choose not to use dishwashers (or computers, or air conditioners, or televisions, or whatever it happens to be) I rarely read posts about why people DO use them. So I started mentally composing my own blog post trying to refute each point from my own perspective.

Then I remembered what I mentioned above. People make their choices, sometimes based on past experience, sometimes based on hunches, sometimes on what they have read, or on inherent biases, or sometimes, (as is the case with the post concerned) to help family harmony. My viewpoint is equally valid, but there's no point presenting it as an argument.

We didn't have a dishwasher when we lived in the UK, but then neither did most of our friends. With a nice kitchen, built to suit my height (or lack thereof) and 'instant heat' water, washing up wasn't too much of a chore. We didn't entertain very often, and when we did it was usually close friends or family who helped with the dishes. At the time, I was ambivalent about dishwashers, seeing pros and cons, admiring them in other people's homes, but with no wish to have one of our own.

We didn't have a dishwasher at the house we rented when we first moved to Cyprus, either. But the sink was a bit too high to be comfortable for me. In Summer there was plenty of solar-powered hot water, but the kitchen was also hot and very humid. Washing up even just for the four of us was a major effort, and when we had guests, or visitors, even if they were keen to help, they were soon dripping and exhausted, unused to the temperature.

In winter the kitchen was cold and washing up much pleasanter... but without much sunshine we either had to run the immersion heater to get a tank full of hot water, or boil the kettle several times and risk being scalded (quite a high risk in my case!)

Now we have our own house, and one of the things that sold it to me was the space and plumbing for a dishwasher. Eleven years later there are just two of us living here, most of the time.  Recently I was here on my own for nearly two weeks. But I still used the dishwasher. Why? Because I like it!

Naturally enough, I can easily come up with some 'thinking' reasons, such as:

- I don't have to heat water specially to wash up
- I don't get the backache that inevitably comes with washing dishes at the sink
- Since having a dishwasher we haven't broken any glasses or plates while they're washed
- Everything is sparkling clean when it comes out, no matter how dirty it looked going in
- I pile dirty dishes inside at once, so they don't sit around on the counter top
- I don't have several soggy tea-towels to hang up every day

Since our dishwasher is very effective, we don't have to rinse anything beforehand, so there's never any doubt whether the contents are clean or unwashed.

We don't entertain as much as we used to, but a few days ago we invited a friend to join us for an evening meal. The dishwasher was almost full after lunch, so after we had our coffee I put it on and then started doing meal preparations. I made a turkey pie as we still had leftover meat in the freezer from Christmas. That meant I used a bowl for the pastry, and a pan for cooking the onions, mushrooms etc.

I made a quick chocolate dessert too, so that involved another couple of bowls; and there was also an empty 'spread' container, and two dishes from the fridge whose contents I had used as part of the meal. Plus measuring spoons and spatulas...

It doesn't look like that much:

I could have stopped, and boiled a kettle, and washed everything by hand. But some of the containers were quite greasy, so it would have taken more than one kettleful. I couldn't have fitted everything on the draining board, so it would probably have taken me at least ten minutes with a pause for drying the first load. By the end I would have developed a bit of backache. Being me, I would probably have splashed the front of my clothes, too, and I would be stressing about running out of time.

So I prepared all the vegetables instead, put the carrots and tomatoes in the oven, and sat down to relax with a book for ten minutes.

I did still have to wash a few things, but they weren't greasy and only took a couple of minutes. They fit easily on the draining board:

Shortly before our friend arrived, the dishwasher pinged and I was able to remove and put away all the clean contents from the previous day-and-a-half:

What a delight to have sparkling clean dishes with almost no effort

Having done that (which takes a couple of minutes and is still one of the most satisfying things I know of in the kitchen) I loaded in the bowls and other containers that I had used, leaving the kitchen surfaces clean and tidy. Clean, tidy surfaces make me feel much happier than cluttered ones.

We had a relaxed meal with our friend, and hot drinks afterwards. It was all very pleasant, but I was aware of the dirty plates and serving dishes etc piled in the kitchen:

Because our dining area is next to the kitchen, I was able to potter while still being part of the conversation, putting leftovers in the fridge, and then loading the dishwasher. Everything went in other than the saucepan, which had only contained broccoli, so was easy to wash in the water which was still hot from the kettle.

I'm a strong Introvert. While I enjoy having friends over, and chatting, it tends to leave me tired and somewhat drained. If I'd had to tackle the washing up after our friend left, even if it had only taken ten or fifteen minutes, I would probably have become very irritable. Alternatively I might have decided to leave it until the following morning, and would then have felt annoyed when I got up and was greeted by a pile of dirty dishes, with food hardened onto them.

Instead, the dishwasher was gently churning and I was able to go and read for a while in peace.

Many years ago we hosted a US-style Thanksgiving meal for the house group that used to meet here weekly. There were eight people, so by the end there were eight large plates, eight side plates, eight dessert dishes, eight water glasses, four or five wine glasses, coffee mugs, large amounts of cutlery, and the empty dishes from the food I had prepared (even though everyone else brought something too and took their dishes home).

As we went around the table after the meal saying what we were thankful for at that moment, my overwhelming feeling was extreme thankfulness for our dishwasher.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Complexities of Technology in Cyprus

Car Tax, part 1
In Cyprus, we don't get reminders in the mail (or even electronically) to renew car tax. We're supposed to know that it needs to be renewed every January, although it's not usually possible to do so until at least the 7th or 8th, and there's a 'grace' period until the end of February, sometimes early March.

And whereas, a few years ago, we could take the information into the co-op banks and get it dealt with by someone else there, it now has to be done at the 'jccsmart' website, a portal that allows for the payment of many bills that can't be paid directly at the bank website.

So, on Friday two weeks ago, when I was doing our weekly bookkeeping, I logged into jccsmart, and entered the information for our blue car. No problem: it recognised the combination of numberplate and the last three digits of Richard's ID, and I was able to pay for another year's tax on my debit card.  Then I tried to pay the tax on the black van which is used for our PA system, and various other loads.  A warning message appeared: it needed an MOT before tax could be paid.

Fair enough; Richard knew it was due its MOT (they happen every two years in Cyprus). He was due to be away, so took the van round the corner to our friendly mechanic, who said that he would sort it out, make any minor repairs or adjustments necessary, and have everything ready by the time he got back.

PO Box Rental, part 1
A few days later, I had to go to the Post Office to post something to the UK.

The Post Office by St Lazarus Church in Larnaka, Cyprus

We get our mail delivered to a PO Box connected to this post office, and we'd just received the reminder that our subscription had run out. We needed to pay for 2017 by the end of March. So I asked if I could pay it while I was there, as it can't be done online. I offered my debit card, and they tried to enter my details, but then said that the system wasn't working.

When we first moved here, the system was a huge hand-written ledger. It always took a minute or two for the postmistress to find our records, but there was never any problem.  For fifteen years we thought it was quaint, but very Cypriot. And it worked. Since they have a new computerised system, it has been much more complicated.

I had already tried to pay ten days earlier, and the system wasn't working then.  So the postmistress (a different one, but they get to know the regulars fairly quickly) suggested I leave the payment with her, and she would enter it the following day when the system was working again, and put a receipt in our PO Box. I could hardly leave my debit card, and didn't really want to give the details, but I had cash on me, so I handed over the amount for for two years' rental of the PO Box, and she clipped it to our reminder, with a note of our name and phone number.

Car Tax, part 2
On Friday, a week ago, I thought I would try again to pay the car tax.  Once again, the warning message about the MOT appeared.  Evidently they had not yet got around to doing it.

PO Box Rental, part 2
On Sunday I was in town, although the Post Office was closed, but I checked the PO Box anyway. Our electricity bills were there, but there was no receipt for the box rental payment. I shrugged, mentally. Perhaps the system was still down.

I thought no more about it until yesterday, when I needed to post something else, so I walked the mile or so to the Post Office again, and checked the PO Box. Our water bills were awaiting me, but still no receipt for the box rental.

So I went in to post my letter. There was a different postmistress there, looking a bit hassled (usually there are two of them), and when I asked about it, and explained, she said that 'the system' was now working but she would have to look for my payment and paperwork, and would let me know. She wrote down my name and phone number again. I was beginning to feel a little anxious, but this kind of thing usually works in Cyprus. So I hope I'll hear from her next week...

Car Tax, part Three
When I got home again, I logged onto the JCCSmart site, and entered the van information. This time, I was given the go-ahead to pay the tax. So the mechanic must have done whatever was needed, and it had passed its MOT.

However, as I was entering my debit card details, I saw that the card had expired at the end of January. Oops. A pity I hadn't realised earlier, as I came past the bank on my way home from the Post Office, as I needed to buy some fruit and vegetables. But I put on my shoes again, and walked to the bank....

New Debit Card
New debit cards don't get sent to the owners, for security reasons. But in the past when my card had expired - or when it was about to - I simply popped into the bank.  New debit cards were usually in a rather random looking pile of envelopes, and it would take the clerk a minute or two to locate mine, but it was always there.

At first, when they started issuing them, my debit cards were only valid for a year at a time. But the last time I collected one was at the end of January 2014. The one that had just expired had lasted for three years, so I had got out of the habit of popping in at the start of each year. Since then, the bank has moved to new, smarter premises, and updated their systems.

The new building where the Bank of Cyprus is now located in Larnaka

So when I handed my card to the clerk, after quite a long wait in the queue, he looked puzzled, but entered the number into his computer so he could see our bank account. I pointed at the date on the card, and said that it had expired, and I wanted my new one. He asked me if I wanted to withdraw cash. No, I told him, I just wanted a new card.

He asked if they had phoned me, to let me know it was at the bank. No, I said. When it had expired before, I came in, and they found my new one for me. He looked confused - this was not a clerk I had seen before - and went off to another office, before returning and saying that he couldn't find it. Then he turned to the clerk at the next desk, and asked him (in Greek) if he would deal with it.

The second clerk seemed to be more senior, but also went through the process of typing my card information into his computer. He clicked several things, and then said, 'Ah. Your new card has been cancelled.'

'Why?' I asked.

'Because you did not collect it in two months. It was at the bank on December 2nd. You didn't collect it so we cancelled it on January 25th.'

'But it hadn't even expired then,' I said, trying to stay calm and as assertive as I could. 'Why would you cancel it?'

'We telephoned and there was no reply,' he said. 'Maybe we have the wrong number?'

I checked, and they had both my mobile number and our house phone. I said that we were away for a couple of weeks after Christmas, and he said that perhaps they phoned then.

'So how can I get a new card?' I asked, realising it wasn't his personal fault that the card was cancelled incorrectly.  He said he would have to cancel the cancellation. He typed some more things on the computer, printed something out for me to sign, and said that there should be a card within the next few days, and that they would phone me....

Utility bills
So I came home again, realising that I still couldn't pay the van tax.

However, I knew I could pay the water and electricity bills at our bank website. I was pleased that they were rather lower than I'd expected, probably because we were away for a couple of weeks during the billing periods.

I logged into the bank site, and was greeted by a screen telling me I needed to update my details, for security reasons.  Yet more new technology.  I checked that they had correct phone numbers, address, and my passport number - no problem.  But then I had to fill in all kinds of other information about our status in Cyprus, and whether we filed taxes in other countries (we do, in the UK), and what my source of income is, and what it's estimated to be in a year.

I became more and more bewildered, since none of the categories applied to me, and I had no idea if they wanted figures relating just to me, or to both of us. But it wouldn't let me leave it until another time, so I had to make best estimates and keep going through several pages.

At last this was complete, and I was, thankfully, able to pay our electricity and water bills.

But what a performance.

When we first moved here, online banking in Cyprus didn't exist. Nor were there debit cards. We had to write cheques for our rent, and at supermarkets, with our home phone number considered sufficient identification. We also had to write cheques for utility bills and take them to the relevant offices.  Like the Post Office box rental ledgers, it was old-fashioned and non-technological.

But it worked.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Cold and Frosty Cyprus

I know. It happens every year. Just as we think that Spring might be around the corner, as the days get longer... wham! We're in the middle of such a cold spell that it's almost impossible to stay warm.

December was bad enough; for most of the time Tim was here, hoping for a bit of sunshine, it rained or was grey and rather miserable. But although chilly, it wasn't bitterly cold.  Perhaps ten or twelve degrees, but the cloud cover meant that it didn't get much cooler at night. And our house isn't too badly insulated, at least compared to the majority of Cyprus homes.

Since we returned from our UK trip, it's been quite sunny, around 15 degrees in the daytime. Not too bad at all, I thought. We've been running our central heating for a couple of hours morning and evening, and the house has mostly stayed reasonably warm.

On Tuesday I could see quite a few clouds so took my camera when I went for my morning walk with Sheila. The flamingoes were in evidence, but I didn't want to get any closer to the Salt Lake, and my camera doesn't have much of a zoom... but for anyone interested, those little dots are hundreds of flamingoes; clicking the small photo should take you to a larger version:

Gorgeous sunrise over the Larnaka Salt Lake, where the flamingoes come in the winter

And yes, there was a pretty sunrise too, if a little spoiled by the overhead cables....

Sunrise over the Salt Lake, spoiled rather by telephone cables in the air

But this weekend was predicted by the local paper to be the coldest in a long time. As it was due to be around 2-3 degrees this morning, I wore a very warm jacket and gloves when I went out for my walk with Sheila.  That on top of two other warm layers. I did shed the gloves after about three kilometres of fairly fast walking, but put them on again before I got home.

The cats are spending a lot of time either racing around the house looking for things to knock over...

The cat Lady Jane Grey likes high places

...or huddled up near radiators.

Alex, the large white cat, likes to curl up and sleep in the beanbag on a cold day

Jane doesn't go out at all, other than on our balcony, but Alex has always liked running around the rooftops nearby, so we let him out when he asks in the daytime. Today he's been out briefly perhaps three times, quickly returning through the incoming-only cat flap. At lunch-time I opened it for him and a blast of cold air came through. He turned and looked at me with a shocked expression. Surely I couldn't expect him to go out in THAT...?!

This morning I stayed somewhat active and warmish in the kitchen. The oven was on as I made my next month's granola, and I also needed to process 5kg tomatoes that I bought (for a euro) yesterday at the local fruit/veg stall. I made around 800ml tomato ketchup:

tomato ketchup made from fresh tomatoes

I stewed another couple of kilograms gently, then froze in four portions to use in place of canned tomatoes in future.  And I also decided to dehydrate another kilogram and a half, to give me dried tomatoes to use in one of our favourite bread recipes.

sliced tomatoes dehydrating in my Lakeland dehydrating gadget

The dehydrator gives out a lot of hot air. While it's not exactly an efficient way to heat the kitchen, it's a great by-product at this time of year.

Even so, I gave the central heating an extra hour boost twice during the daytime, something I almost never do. Just as well it's only infrequently this cold.

Here's what the hourly weather forecast showed when I checked it just a few minutes ago:

chilly days ahead according to the forecast for Larnaca, Cyprus

Yes, it's due to be down to zero degrees, freezing point, by 8.00pm.

Still, I really don't mind the cold weather nearly as much as I dislike the heat and humidity of Cyprus in Summer.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ordinary days in an ordinary life in Cyprus...

I'm sometimes asked what I 'do' with my time, since I don't go out to work and no longer have children at home. I never know quite how to respond. I'm not a 'career' person; I've never had much ambition beyond a reasonably comfortable home and family life. I loved being a full-time mother of small children, and also thoroughly enjoyed home educating our sons as teenagers.

I dreaded the 'empty nest', but, over eight years later, I'm mostly contented with life as it happens. As I was trying to think about what to say in this post - at the end of a week where nothing much has happened, yet I feel that it's been quite busy - I saw this link on Facebook: What if all I want is a mediocre life?  I don't much like the word 'mediocre', but that's how some more driven or ambitious people see those of us who are contented to live life a day at a time, doing what needs to be done, offering ideas or sympathies or just a listening ear as required by those around us.  A 'small, slow, simple life', as the writer of that article puts it.

I'm a strong Introvert (INFJ, for those who know and/or care about such things) and need quite significant time alone regularly. I'm also the kind of person who needs an approximate structure to the week, if I'm to get anything done, and a list of tasks to cross off as they are complete. I tend to think in terms of 'projects', and if I have one, I throw myself into it. So far, my favourite is being a hands-on grandma, but that can only happen when I'm in the same country as my grandchildren. Last year, I did a knitting project to create a Nativity scene, as mentioned elsewhere; then in December I spent many hours sorting, uploading and arranging all my 2016 photos to create a year's 'Photobook' to be printed.

I call myself a writer, since people seem to want some kind of label, and I've always loved writing. I have many potential writing projects in differing stages of completion, but in recent years have not felt much inspiration. I run a few websites but haven't felt much inclination to update those, either, unless specifically asked to add something. I update my books and DVD review blogs regularly, and am attempting to write on this one at least once a week, but have mostly neglected my other blogs. Since I aim to read and review at least 100 books each year, I read for perhaps an hour (in total) each day.

I have an ongoing project which I wrote about a year ago, to scan our entire collection of negatives. I think I'm about half-way through. I answer questions on online forums, sporadically, and I'm also using both the Memrise and DuoLingo sites to attempt to revise my schoolgirl French and learn more Greek.  I do some knitting each day... and I do our household cleaning, laundry and cooking, as well as weekly bookkeeping (on the computer) to keep track of all our income and expenditure.

My typical day starts between 6.00 and 6.30am. At this time of year I have no wish to get out of the warm bed after a chilly night, but at some point the bathroom calls, so I throw on my walking trousers and yesterday's shirt as quickly as possible...

Alexander the Great and Lady Jane Grey are always pleased to see me when I let them out of the kitchen/dining room area where they sleep at night. They don't snuggle together much, but sometimes we see this:

By the time I've walked for an hour with Sheila (three times a week), read for a while, chatted to God, thought about the day, cleaned the house (main floor on Mondays, upstairs on Wednesdays), squeezed orange juice and had breakfast, visited the local froutaria [greengrocer] for more fruit and veg (three times a week), taken my shower and put on clean clothes, it's usually about 9.00 or 9.30 - sometimes later - and I'm ready to sit down at my computer:

Not that I do so at 9.30 every day. On Sundays I try and avoid switching it on at all, and once a month on Mondays I go to the Larnaka Christian Writing group. On other Mondays - or perhaps Fridays - Richard and I do a supermarket shop, or catch up with paperwork, or household repairs or maintenance. On Tuesday mornings Sheila comes over with her three younger daughters, and on Thursday mornings the three girls are here while Sheila teaches English to adults.

We eat a cold lunch most days, with home-made bread, and salad vegetables, perhaps some leftovers from a previous night's evening meal, or hummus, or dairy-free cheese and chutney, or sometimes home-made soup if it's really cold.  It's fairly leisurely and a good break in the middle of the day.

In the afternoons I usually have three or four hours at my computer before I need to start meal preparation. I don't sit there solidly; I have an application that tells me to take a ten-minute break every hour, and that's when I might hang out laundry, or potter in the kitchen, or do some knitting, or sit and read.

I cook almost everything from scratch, but when I make hot meals it tends to be enough for at least four people, sometimes eight, so unless we're entertaining there's usually plenty to freeze.  I follow - roughly - a four-week menu plan that means I don't have to think about what we're eating each evening. If I'm making a new batch of granola, or ketchup, or chutney, I tend to do that at the weekend. And yes, just like the writer of the article I quoted, I believe strongly in real food and budgeting and planning, but sometimes break my own 'rules'.

We eat around 6.30 - 7.00pm most evenings. One evening per week we eat at our friends' house, and one evening per week they usually come over, after eating, to play a board game with us. Richard and I like to watch a film on DVD once a week, and occasionally we have someone over for an evening meal. But friends and acquaintances keep leaving the island, and that's not something we've done for a while.

Other evenings I might read, or we might play a two-person board game, or we might have a video call with one of our sons in the UK... or we might sit at our separate computers and continue what we were doing in the daytime.

When we were planning to move here, around twenty years ago, friends commented that it was exciting, and that they could never uproot, and how brave I was to embark on such an adventure. I didn't feel brave; I didn't want to leave my comfortable UK life behind. But my family mattered more, so we moved to Cyprus, and adapted, and adjusted, and I'm contented - mostly - even if my life seems dull or 'mediocre' to others. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Back in Cyprus

It feels like several weeks since my last blog post. Travelling can have that effect, as can the collision of two worlds. Normally when we are in the UK, we're focussed on the people and places there, and life in Cyprus takes a back seat. The reverse happens when we return home. It's as if, at some point on the aeroplane, one scenario is faded down, and the other faded up.

But when a crisis occurs, or someone we love is ill, or struggling in some way in the 'other' country, our focus moves to them, and it feels discordant, as if I'm in the wrong place, not entirely sure what I'm supposed to be doing. It was like that in December when our new granddaughter was in hospital in Carlisle, with the threat of a nasty infection. I could hardly concentrate on anything else until we knew that all was well.

Something similar happened last Sunday. I had mentioned that Cleo, our very elderly cat, had become disorientated and confused on New Year's Day. Perhaps, we thought, she had a stroke. But she wasn't in pain, and our friends in Cyprus were looking after her. As the days progressed I thought about her less. Then last Sunday morning, quite unexpectedly while we were at a church service, I had a sense of Cleo slipping away; an image in my mind of her being greeted with some surprise by someone who died a few years ago. I suppose I knew then that we were losing her.

When I opened my computer a couple of hours later, I had two emails from Sheila, our friend who was cat-sitting in Cyprus; the first one let us know that Cleo had stopped eating and, that morning, seemed to have lost the ability to walk. If nothing changed, she and another friend felt they needed to take her to the vet on Monday morning.

The second email, sent an hour or so later, simply said that Cleo had died. It must have happened around the time she came to my mind so strongly.

We felt numb at first, with that sense of being in the wrong place. Then sad, along with a sense of inevitability and rightness. Her time had come, and she slipped away peacefully in her own home. We felt worst about our friends having to see her go downhill so rapidly, and deal with what happened.

Daniel and Becky's close friends came over in the evening for a meal and a Settlers game, and it was good to be distracted, though I had an underlying sense of sadness and disorientation.

I don't remember what happened on most of Monday. I didn't take any photos at all. On Tuesday Richard drove them to have Esther's birth registered in the morning. He spent some time at Daniel's office helping him with some projects, and also sorting out some equipment he had ordered to take back to Cyprus.

On Tuesday evening, Daniel and Becky decided that it was time for David to have his 'main' Christmas present. For a long time they had been talking about getting him some kind of keyboard. They didn't want a 'kiddie' one with poor quality sound, but of course full-sized ones are expensive. They thought they should wait, in any case, until they know where they will be working next.

Then they managed to acquire an old but good quality keyboard that would otherwise be thrown away. Daniel checked that it was working, but didn't want David to have it amidst the excitement of Christmas and other presents. But on Tuesday evening they were starting to take down Christmas decorations, so David was given his 'plano', as he called it. He was thrilled, and quickly figured out how most of the buttons worked:

Meanwhile, Esther was growing stronger and more alert each day. Unfortunately being awake in the daytime did not mean that she slept any better at night, but it made a good opportunity for me to start reading some books to her, and she seemed to find the pictures interesting:

On Thursday we went into town, and Becky could not resist buying an inexpensive set of  four 'Tiger who came to tea' jigsaw puzzles from 'The Works'. David, it seems to me, is remarkably good at jigsaws; I've never before seen a child so young look at the colours and shapes, and deliberately find pieces showing faces or bodies to match one he had found already. He put the 12-piece jigsaw together in a couple of minutes, without any help, and then needed only a few hints to put together the 20-piece puzzle:

Our time in Carlisle was rapidly drawing to a close. I read large numbers of books, I played with David's Postman Pat figures, I helped him build structures with Duplo. He doesn't in the least mind his different worlds not just colliding but colluding: if Postman Pat has a breakdown, he calls Bob the Builder to help him. Mog the cat fell through the roof of the Duplo house and tried to make friends with Postman Pat's cat Jess. David himself was, by turns, Mr Strong and Mr Happy and Mr Slow.. and sometimes 'just David'.

Every so often he spent another five minutes at his 'plano', content to use a fairly low volume, and mostly very careful. I'm sure all grandparents believe their grandchildren to be uncommonly wonderful - as, indeed, toddlers are pretty much universally. At times he showed that he's still just a small child; he sometimes confuses words, telling us that a 'bandage' is a 'bank', for instance, or asking Becky to put Marmite on his 'Bridget' when he meant 'crumpet'.

I didn't understand what he meant by a 'bock' at first, until I realised that he was using it as the singular of 'box'. When I told him that one of them is a 'box' and two are 'boxes', he muttered, 'books and bookses'.  English is a very confusing language.

At last, it was time to leave. We had to book four pieces of checked luggage; in addition to the modest single case of clothes that we had taken out, we had been given a lot of Christmas presents, and bought some new jackets with Christmas money. We also had rather a lot of equipment which Richard had ordered, which needed flight cases to take them back.

Our flight was at 1pm Saturday from Liverpool. We had decided to drive to Liverpool on Friday evening rather than having to leave early on the Saturday morning; the weather was unpredictable (much of the country had snow, though we didn't see any) and we didn't want the stress of traffic jams or other holdups when we had a flight to catch. So we said our goodbyes and left around 7.15pm, just before David went to bed.

The drive was straightforward and took about two and a half hours; we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express, which is much like a Travelodge but (in our view) somewhat nicer. Our flight was on time and, since we had so much luggage, two friends met us, with two cars, at the airport.

We mostly unpacked last night, feeling sad that there was no Cleo to greet us, but pleased that Alex and Jane seemed so lively and (after pointedly ignoring us for a while) very friendly to us, and each other.

We went to the PO Box this evening. There were 21 Christmas cards waiting for us. Some had been posted as long ago as Dec 12th; yet they had not arrived by the 27th, when we flew out. For some reason, post to Cyprus always seems extremely slow during the second half of December and we usually receive most of our Christmas cards in January.

So, once again, we'll keep them with the Christmas decorations and next December will display them all and think of the recipients as we put them up.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Family visits (not in Cyprus)

Ten days ago, we flew from Larnaka to Gatwick. Winter is not a time when we normally choose to be in the UK, but events came together this year in a way that really gave us little choice. I wrote in an earlier post about our new granddaughter, born a couple of weeks early in Carlisle (and now in excellent health). Naturally we wanted to meet her as soon as possible.

I had also mentioned back in September that our younger son Tim is now living and working in Surrey. At the time he had a temporary job and was living in temporary accommodation. So a great deal of his stuff (particularly books and kitchen equipment) was stored in Cyprus. In November he was offered a permanent post, and was then in a position to look for a flat to rent longer term. He found somewhere and took possession in the middle of December, but since he was spending Christmas with us in Cyprus, the only things he had bought for the flat so far were a bed, bedding, and some crockery.

After Christmas, Tim prioritised his stored stuff, and we booked two 20kg suitcases for each of us (yes, that's 120kg of checked luggage!) on our flight, and Richard - who is excellent at packing - worked out what would go where.

We needed two cars to get to the airport, and happily two of our friends were willing to drive us there. Checking in was no problem, the flight was on time, and all the luggage arrived safely. Since we got to Gatwick after 11pm we had booked overnight at the Travelodge which, as usual, offered good value and a large breakfast.

In the morning, Richard and Tim went to pick up the rental car we had booked. They were expecting to pick up a VW Golf. Tim was then planning to get the train from Gatwick to his new place, while we hoped to fit the luggage in the car in full estated form.

However, the only Golf available was 500 miles away from needing a service, so they were offered a free double upgrade. It's a car which Richard likes very much, and which easily took all the luggage, plus the three of us:

Our first view of Tim's flat was a bit mixed.  The living room area was bare and empty, the second bedroom filled entirely with packing material from Tim's purchases so far - but no furniture at all. However, we very much liked the kitchen. It's quite compact, but fully equipped with oven, hob, a large fridge-freezer, and even a dishwasher.

After we had brought the cases in, my job was to sort and tidy rubbish and packaging material, and unpack suitcases (other than the two containing books) while Richard and Tim went to collect a transit van, rented for the day, and then to drive around collecting various second-hand furniture that Tim had ordered through 'GumTree', a classified site that, in Surrey, seems to have a great deal of inexpensive and high quality items.

By the end of the day,Tim had acquired a sofa bed for us to sleep in, an office table and chair plus a computer monitor, an Ikea sofa (in pieces, still) a dining table and chairs, bedside cabinets, and - his favourite purchase - a gliding chair, all for a fraction of their worth. Thankfully, although it was very cold outside, it was not raining.

On the following day, which was cold and frosty, they returned the rental van and then we drove in the large car to Newbury, where my brother and sister-in-law were hosting my family's annual post-Christmas gathering. It's the first one Richard and I have been to since the tradition started about twelve years ago. Fourteen of us sat down to an excellent lunch, followed by present-opening.

Yet more of Tim's stuff had been stored in my father's garage in Alcester, and that had been transferred to Newbury, so we collected a couple of boxes of kitchen and computer bits and pieces, and his bass guitar. We drove back through freezing fog, which was not pleasant: a cultural experience that we have never had in Cyprus.

On the Friday we spent the day with Richard's mother in Sussex, with lunch at a garden centre; then we managed to find some winter jackets, reduced by 70% or more. I'd been wanting a new waterproof winter jacket for a long time as my previous one was over thirty years old and rather falling to pieces.

On Saturday Richard and Tim put his sofa together, and he bought some more important items: a biggish bookcase, a digital piano, and even a picture for his wall. His living room was starting to look quite cosy by the end of the day:

On Sunday - New Year's Day, though it felt like weeks since Christmas! - we visited Tim's church, which was friendly and welcoming, then had a rather worrying phone call from our friend Sheila who is cat-sitting for us while we're away. Cleo, who is now about eighteen-and-a-half, had been getting confused, wandering around in circles, and got herself into a tight spot where she had to be rescued after some furniture moving.

I happened to take a picture of Cleo shortly before we flew out; she was getting frail, and thinner than she used to be, but her coat was still reasonably clean, her eyes bright, and she was eating heartily. As far as we could tell, she was quite happy, and in full possession of her sight, hearing and other senses. She slept a lot, and had some arthritis and a swollen (but not painful) leg... but otherwise was fine.

We wondered if she had suffered some kind of stroke.  However, since Sheila assured us that Cleo did not seem to be in any pain or distress, we suggested waiting to see what transpired. There would only be emergency vet services on New Year's Day, and it's not as if a vet could 'cure' such an elderly cat (she's around 112 in human year equivalency). Cleo has rallied before when we thought she was on her last legs...and indeed she was better on the Monday. Worse again on the Tuesday, but then livelier and very friendly to Sheila for the rest of the week... at least, so far. More than one person has suggested that Cleo may be missing us.

Back to our UK trip... we played a board game after lunch before setting off for Alcester, where we admired my father's wooden Santa collection, some of which was on display on the mantelpiece:

We relaxed there for a couple of days, though my father was plagued with a nasty chest infection and I was suffering from a nasty lingering cough. Then on Wednesday we drove the longer distance up to Carlisle to meet Esther:

She was four weeks old yesterday, and still sleeps most of the time, though she's quite windy at night which keeps her parents awake rather too much. She's gorgeous, but not yet reacting much to other people. So, inevitably, we're spending more time with David, who, at two-and-a-half, is delightful. He rarely stops talking, and has an amazing imagination as well as an apparently insatiable appetite for books, something we're all happy to encourage:

I had a bit of an adventure with him yesterday when I took him out for what I thought would be a fairly quick walk around a few blocks, to give him some fresh air and let him splash in puddles. I didn't take my bag, thinking I wouldn't want my camera, only to realise after he'd led me along several different roads and paths that I had NO idea where we were... and did not have my phone to call for help!

Thankfully he has a much better sense of direction than I do, and although we must have walked for more than a mile he led me back to the end of his street and home in time for lunch.

When he's not being read to, or playing with his diggers, or Duplo, or Postman Pat figures, or doing jigsaws (I was impressed to find that he can do a 12-piece puzzle without any help, and a 16 or 20-piece one with only a few suggestions) he's role playing in some way; here he is, in a cool hat, having clicked on his imaginary seat-belt, and donned his imaginary sunglasses, driving a car:

It's going to be harder than ever saying goodbye when we return to Cyprus in another week.