Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A third sleepover for young friends

Three years ago, we experimented with a sleepover for our friends' three youngest children, while their older siblings were at camp. The idea was to give their parents 24 hours to themselves. Their parents were in fact expecting to collect them soon after breakfast on the following morning, and - at the girls' insistence - they ended up staying until after an early lunch, 27 hours in all, although tempers were getting a little frayed by the end, and Elisabeth, who was only four at the time, was very tired.

Last year we repeated it, with similar results. The girls ended up staying 26 hours and, once again, the last couple of hours were rather fraught.

This year, we weren't sure if it would be able to happen at all. I was hoping to go to the UK for three weeks but dates weren't arranged until very recently. I'm not in fact going until Saturday; moreover, camp is a little earlier than it was in previous years.  More of a problem is the fact that our son Tim's cat Lady Jane has moved here, as he has gone back to the UK, and she's treating what was his bedroom (years ago) as her domain. To have three lively girls sleeping there would have caused her immense stress.

However, Katie - who is 11, and quite outspoken - was sensitive enough to realise that this might be a problem, and said, about a week ago, how she understood that they probably wouldn't be able to have a sleepover this year. So I said that perhaps we could all sleep in our guest flat... and she was so pleased that we made a date for them to sleep over last night.

Since the paper dolls I printed for them last year were so successful, I looked for more a couple of days ago, wondering if I could find some with 18th century ball gowns of the kind that they like to colour. In searching online I discovered this wonderful website with printable paper dolls from many periods in history.  I only intended to print three or four... I ended up with about twenty pages for each of the girls. There are many more for future visits.

Remembering the somewhat stressful ends of the previous two years, I suggested agreeing in advance that this year's sleepover would be 24 hours only. And they arrived yesterday around eleven o'clock in the morning, after seeing their older siblings off to camp on the bus.

They were delighted with the historical paper dolls and started colouring immediately:

However, although Elisabeth is now six, she doesn't concentrate for as long as her siblings, and soon wanted a break. She loves to play games, so we had a few rounds of Ligretto:

Then Helen, who is very good with her hands, decided to continue some knitting she started a couple of months ago. She's becoming quite proficient, and has even managed to figure out how to reverse mistakes and pick up dropped stitches:

Katie, as ever, took some time to read:

Elisabeth asked if I would read to her; the only book I actually read her in the whole 24 hours was 'Dogger' by Shirley Hughes, which is my favourite children's picture book:

Richard was out all morning but came back for lunch. I'd made a new loaf of bread, and some peanut butter, and boiled some eggs, and cut up lots of salad vegetables:

After lunch, Helen and Elisabeth got out 'their' Lego. I've allocated a small crate to each of the three to store their various creations from week to week, so they don't fight over who built what, and this seems to work quite well.

Katie, meanwhile, continued colouring her paper dolls. She kept thanking me and saying how much she liked them.

Alex spent most of the morning curled up on top of the printer...

Elisabeth then asked if we could play 'Misfits', and Helen said she'd join in too. It's a very basic game suitable for children of about three, but they still like it, and are amused by the resultant ridiculous people that get created, different each time:

Afterwards, Elisabeth put them all together 'properly' before putting them all back in the box. Well, she insisted that she put everything away but then Katie found one of the pieces by the bookcase later in the day...

Out came the Lego again:

When they didn't need me, I sat in my beanbag and read, keeping half an ear open to respond to questions. There was a complex war of some kind going on in these two Lego worlds, but it was relatively quiet and civilised:

I haven't been doing much cooking in the past few weeks as it's been so hot, but I knew the girls would want a hot meal, so I turned the air conditioning on in the kitchen late afternoon, and made some pastry. Then I concocted a couple of sausagemeat pies, one with onions and one without, and also a spanopitta as I mostly avoid eating meat.

I made some coleslaw too, and produced some chopped up cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes. All the girls chose sausagemeat pie without onions, and between them ate what was officially supposed to serve 4 people. Richard, meanwhile, ate a quarter of the one with onions, and I ate a third of the spanopitta.

I was surprised when Katie informed Helen that in order to make the sausagemeat pie I must have taken all the skins off lots of 'English sausages' (as ordinary sausages are labelled here) and assured her that I'd done no such thing. I just used some frozen sausagemeat I'd bought before Christmas but hadn't used. She said that her brother Lukas takes the insides out of sausages to make this kind of thing, which seemed like a very complex process to me, and not something I would even think of doing!

I'd bought a melon that morning; it was a bit hard but still quite tasty so we had that afterwards. And then Elisabeth was quite eager to go to bed. I tried to dissuade them as it was only 7.15, and I didn't think they would get to sleep for at least another hour, but they wanted to brush their teeth... and as I hadn't slept well the night before and was very tired myself, I shrugged and agreed, and we went downstairs to the guest flat.

Helen and Elisabeth got ready for bed easily, and Katie, who stays up till 9.00, sat in the living room reading. Of course they didn't get to sleep at once... I ignored quiet talking, but Elisabeth came out about three times to drink water, or to tell me something Helen had done, and Katie went to turn off lights at least twice, and apparently found them jumping on beds. By then I had rather a headache and was feeling shattered so I got rather annoyed...

Richard, meanwhile, fed the cats, changed the litter, put on the dishwasher and locked up the main part of the house. And shortly after Katie went to bed, I did too.

I woke about 5.30am and came upstairs to have a shower, then went back down to read. Helen woke about 6.15 and had a shower in the guest flat, then came to play with one or two of the puzzles we keep downstairs, then the K'nex, which also lives in the guest flat.  I didn't take any more photos... I forgot at first, then thought there had probably been enough.

The girls had breakfast about 8.30; I knew there was some cereal in the guest flat, left behind by other visitors, so I brought it upstairs and they were delighted to find some chocolate granola, which they finished. Some of them had toast, some of them had bananas, some had some other cereal, and they had a few pieces of apple.

After breakfast, Katie coloured more paper dolls and read some more; Helen did more knitting and colouring; three of us played a few rounds of Ligretto; two of them played with Lego.... and at 11.00 their mother arrived to take them home again.

Elisabeth had become a bit bored and whiny a few times, not in a major way but often enough that I realised it was the right decision to stick at 24 hours, at least for this year.

Now they're a little older, I didn't feel nearly as exhausted afterwards as I did in the previous years, but still - being very much an Introvert - quite drained by so much focussed people-time.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Assimilating Bookcases

Our son Tim has been living in Cyprus for the past three years; initially with us, and then, for the past couple of years, in a flat he was renting close to his workplace. However he's now accepted a job back in the UK, and will be moving there in about ten days. So he and his cat have moved into our guest flat, temporarily, and the last fortnight has been spent clearing out and cleaning his flat. His landlord bought some of his furniture, some has gone into storage, and some has come to us.

I was particularly keen to have his three bookcases: two large black Billy ones which he bought from Ikea, and a light brown one which I think we probably bought at the thrift store some years ago.

I can never resist bookcases, but we did already have quite a few and are running out of wall space. We had some ideas about where to put three more, but it took most of last weekend to get them sorted. I posted on Facebook that I was 'assimilating bookcases', and someone queried the term; it sounds, after all, rather 'Borg' to assimilate something. Yet the word simply means adopting, taking as one's own, absorbing into oneself - or, in this case, into our home. Indeed, I realise it's the term I used five years ago in one of our previous acquisitions of bookcases.

The light brown one was the simplest. At least, I thought it would be. There's a space in my study where I used to have one of my bookcases, and I had decided I wanted to keep the photo albums there, rather than on a high shelf in our dining room. I am still slowly scanning through old negatives, and kept having to dash to and fro to check dates in albums.

However the one from Tim's flat was a little narrower than I had thought, so I decided to make that into my recipe bookcase at the end of the kitchen:

That meant that the one which used to hold the recipe books, which was a bit wider, could come into my study.  I already had a matching bookcase which held the fiction books I'm planning to read soon, my writing books and some other reference and useful non-fiction that I refer to often, so I moved those into this bookcase:

And the photo albums then went into the matching one by my desk, making them convenient to check quickly when scanning:

So that was the first bookcase sorted and assimilated.

We knew that we wanted one of the black Billy bookcases in our living room. But that was even less straightforward. We had a pale brown Billy bookcase that held all our DVDs, but it was - metaphorically speaking - bulging at the seams. There was no room for any new ones at all.  We had a couple of old-style dark brown Billy units that we bought from friends ten years ago, which are 90cm wide rather than 80cm, so I decided to use one of those for the DVDs instead, to give some extra space.

So the DVDs came out of the old light brown unit, and the books came out of the dark brown Billy, and that went next to the window in the living room to house our DVDs, with space for more:

We have around 300 DVDs, which compares nicely with our 3,000 or so books.

The new black Billy went in the gap where the wider one was previously. I had to move some of the books it had held into the one in the corner, but I managed to move other things around to allow for that.

Unsurprisingly, this new arrangement leaves a 10cm gap, and eventually we'll probably take the books out of the one on the right and move it up, but it's not urgent.

The light brown unit which previously held the DVDs was then moved up to the room which used to be Tim's, and where he will sleep on future visits from the UK. It's housing some of his theology books at present, since he's flying with just a couple of suitcases, staying in temporary accommodation until he has longer-term plans.

As for the other tall black Billy bookcase, I realised that could go in our dining room; or, rather, the place between the dining area and kitchen, where we had a shorter Billy that held my teenage fiction. We had the place mats and a few other bits and pieces on top of it, so it was easy enough to replace the books in the tall bookcase, and put the other things on shelves:

That left us with a short black Billy which sat in the living room for a while.  Eventually I realised that that could go on a convenient gap in our staircase, where we had another shelving unit that held tall art books, old computer manuals, and some folders of music that isn't currently used (piano, guitar and clarinet, primarily) but which might be needed at some point.

It fits nicely and looks much better:

But then we were left with the slatted shelving unit which previously held all these books....

No problem; I wanted something taller in the unused shower cubicle in my study, where we keep beach equipment, cool bags, my shopping trolley and a few other random things that don't go anywhere else.

So I cleared out the old unit, which was much shorter, and replaced it with the tall one, making everything easier to access:

That left me with a smaller pine shelving unit... and it didn't take long to realise that it would go quite nicely in our main floor loo, where there was an ancient white (and rather tatty) unit.  It felt a little awkward at first, but looks a great deal better:

... which left a small white unit, and I realised today that it's gone. I have no idea where.

I think 'assimilation' is definitely the correct term!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Laundering Lego...

As I have mentioned before, from time to time, on Tuesday mornings my friend Sheila comes over for a couple of hours, bringing one or more of her daughters. We started this when the 'Mums and Tots' group which she belonged to and where I helped stopped meeting on a Tuesday, many years ago now. The girls are a great deal older than 'Tots' age, but are all educated at home. So we've continued the tradition, and mostly enjoy it very much.

Sometimes they spend most of their time colouring or drawing, sometimes we play board or card games, sometimes we read a lot of books... and sometimes they spend their time with the Lego. I always considered Lego one of the most important educational tools: it teaches construction skills, various maths concepts, and also exercises the imagination. My sons had a lot of Lego as children, mostly sets given by generous relatives. They would always start by building the relevant objects or scenes, but would then quickly adapt them, and eventually incorporate them into other imaginative play. For some years they had a huge Lego city, which led to many hours of play with their friends.

We've gradually given away most of their childhood toys, but the Lego has remained. The boxes and instructions are long gone, but it doesn't matter at all.

A couple of weeks ago, H (7) decided to build a straw house, so she used a lot of yellow:

E (6) meanwhile had her king and queen feasting:

This 'forest' seemed a bit sparse....

K (10) had built this house, and was creating inside scenes:

E asked for some yarn, and then created a carriage out of what had been a ship:

After a couple of weeks of intensive Lego, I started thinking about the rest of our collection which was stored in our guest flat. From time to time we've gone down and gathered a few extra pieces - mostly dragons and horses - but I knew it was a muddle of pieces, some of which could potentially be useful.

So I went downstairs to fetch it. And the girls were delighted, and found several things they wanted to use....

Unfortunately, it had been stored for some years in an old trunk which had begun to disintegrate. While it was now in a more hygienic plastic box, it smelled very musty. So when Sheila and her daughters had gone home, I decided that it would be a good idea to wash it.

It was a pity I didn't think of that sooner, since a lot of the musty pieces had become mixed up with the Lego we previously had upstairs, meaning that ALL of it had to be washed. And this proved to be a major task, which took me most of the rest of that day, and almost all of Wednesday.  There were several times when I rather regretted having started, since the temperatures were quite hot - then again, it did all dry fairly quickly.

I used crates to wash pieces, a few hundred at a time, in the sink with a bit of washing-up liquid, then spread everything on a towel to dry.

As I did, I started some rough sorting, including finding parts of 'people' which, in many cases, were muddled up with other pieces. The heads, round and yellow, were fairly easy to spot but some of the leg pieces were hidden until I spread them out and began to go through every piece.

It didn't all dry quite as fast as I hoped, so the kitchen was a complete muddle for a day and a half, with scenes like this:

As well as sorting people, I made a box for trees and foliage of all kinds, and was surprised at how much there was:

Another box took wheels and the pieces that held them together.

The girls had told me that they didn't need many of them, so the big 'space' and 'snow' wheels went in a box to go downstairs, along with some of the basic bricks and all the 'technic' lego which is really intended for older children and teens. They never play with the 'space' lego either, so when I found something that obviously belonged to that, I put it aside for downstairs too.

One of the 'people' we had upstairs was a skeleton, and I knew there must be another one somewhere, probably in parts, as we had a spare arm or two.  To my astonishment, I kept finding more skeleton pieces, and Tim told me that the 'Pharaoh' masks were supposed to go on some of them, as they were part of the Egyptian explorers sets which they had at some point.

Eventually I put together six of them, three to keep upstairs, and three for downstairs:

The girls were coming back Thursday morning, so Sheila could go and help at the Oasis refugee centre, so it was a useful deadline.  And sure enough, with a great deal of sorting - it became compulsive, somehow! - I managed to get everything back in the cupboard by nine o'clock Thursday morning:

I even managed to find three stacking blue crates, one of which I allocated to each of the girls, so they can keep their current projects in them rather than having them muddled in with the main box.

As well as Lego in the downstairs box, I found the boys' old Meccano, which has gone downstairs again:

I also found several pieces of K'nex, which I added to the larger box of that, also downstairs currently:

And this miscellaneous box of bits, which I might sort one day:

Or maybe not. Most mysterious of all are three purple knobbly square plastic objects, about a centimetre across. I've put them with the K'nex for now, although I think they belong to something else. But despite asking around, and even putting a photo on Facebook, I still have no idea what they are, or what toy - or game? - they belong to:

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Ten years in this house - and yet more minor improvements

I'm not very good with dates.

I know all the family's birthdays, but if it weren't for my Google calendar reminding me in advance, I might well forget about them until too late to send a card or gift. I often don't even notice dates that other people celebrate - Valentine's Day, for instance, or Mothering Sunday. Facebook is quite good at letting me know when we, and other nationalities mark an occasion, so I spotted that yesterday was Independence Day in the United States.

But I had entirely forgotten that today, July 5th, is quite an important anniversary for us. Happily, Facebook told me that I'd mentioned it a couple of times in previous years... and so, this blog post is to celebrate that it's ten years today since we bought our house in Cyprus.

I would have been a bit sad if I'd missed it this year, though I'm sure I don't always notice it. That's partly because of it being a round ten years, and partly because in the first six months of this year we've done a great deal to the house, in recognition of our having owned it for ten years. It was looking tired; we had done very little before this year, and some of the paintwork was looking terrible.

I've written at length about the damp proofing system which we had installed back in March.  We won't know how effective it is until next winter, but the guest flat already smells less musty.

Before that, we had employed our teenage friend Jacob to do some painting; many of our window frames had lost all the paint, and some were quite rotten. So he sanded and painted, and repaired, and then painted the places where the damp proof course was installed, and the front of the house downstairs, which spruced it up nicely.

Then in April we had our bathroom replaced, something we had talked about for many years, but finally did this year. We did the last few bits and pieces for that in May, and are still extremely pleased with it.

But one thing that Jacob kept putting off was painting the railings on our front patio. We weren't surprised; it's something we kept putting off too. It looked like a very fiddly and time consuming job. However, our good friend Sheila (Jacob's mother) said that she would like to do it for us, so she came over early in the morning several times, and did a great job. I didn't take many 'before' or 'after' photos, but did manage to get this one, right after she had painted one half of the gate:

The difference is stunning.

When it was finished, we realised how very tatty the postbox looked. Like in the United States, people in Cyprus don't have slots in their doors for mail, but have little boxes outside. We have a PO Box at the Post Office where we get most of our mail, but there are vast amounts of junk mail advertisements for shops and eateries which arrive regularly, and it's a legal requirement to have a post box near the street.

This is what the box looked like:

The lock was a bit rusty, and it looked terrible on our newly painted fence. We thought about painting it to match, but it would have been quite a task, and almost impossible to hold the flap and the opening door out of the way while the paint dried. It was held on the fence by ancient pieces of wire.

So when we had to make a trip to the local SuperHome Centre, for a couple of things, I had a look at the mail boxes. There were dozens of them in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours. I nearly gave up when I spotted a small black one, at a good price, which would meet our needs perfectly. We bought a metallic number to affix, and Richard installed it... with cable ties:

On the same trip to the DIY store, we saw some mosquito netting that could be fitted to the window sections that open at the top of some of our doors. We thought it would be ideal for the one in the dining room, which we like to keep open in Spring and Autumn, but have had to close in the evenings to keep out mosquitoes.

So we bought it, and Richard installed it immediately:

It took a little getting used to, and now the weather is so hot that we mostly keep it closed if we want to be in the room in the evening, so we can use the air conditioning. But it should be very useful in the Autumn.

There are still a few small things that need to be done: the last bit of plastering and painting on the wall outside our bathroom, a new fitting in one of the loos, re-tiling in the guest flat bathroom. Our friendly local builder said he should be able to come some time this week. It will be good to have these last few bits done. There are still other more major jobs that the house needs, but we've had enough of house maintenance for now, and will leave the rest until next year.

Happy anniversary, house!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cyprus, the EU and Brexit

As my family and friends know, I am not a night-owl. Far from it. I like to be in bed by around 10pm (earlier if possible) and asleep soon afterwards.

I am also not a fan of big crowds, or loud noises, or cheering, or fireworks. I keep away from most of the major festivals and other celebrations in Cyprus which are exuberant, full of colour and cheering.

But twelve years ago, I went with my family to the sea-front at midnight. There were more crowds than I had ever seen before; there was scarcely room to move. People were excited, and in Cyprus that means LOUD.

There was patriotic music too.

Our older son was playing in the municipal band at the time (though we couldn't get a photo that included him), so he had to be there.

But I didn't. I was tired, but this was one celebration that I could not miss. It was the entry of Cyprus into the European Union.

At midnight, the fireworks started:

We went home elated. Not just because life would become so much easier for us: now we had the right of abode in Cyprus, whereas previously we had to spend many hours applying for visas, supplying different paperwork every year. Not just because it meant the start of better relations with other European countries; not just because it would help Cyprus economically, and improve the standard of living (or so everyone had been told...).

No, there was a sense of rightness about it. At last we could feel that Cyprus was truly 'home', part of what we - in our forties at the time - saw as our cultural and ethnic heritage.

A little history for those who read this from across the Pond:

The UK went into the European Economic Community in 1973. I was a young teenager then. I didn't understand most of the implications. I was aware that there might be some new - possibly over-the-top - regulations, but I very much liked the metric/decimal system (adopted in 1971, prior to this). It's great deal easier to use than the old style imperial one with its variety of complex units.

The 1975 referendum saw a two-thirds majority of people in the UK wanting to stay within Europe, and thus when the EU was formed, the UK became part of it. Brits did not want to take up the common currency, which was an important part of the EU formation, so they insisted on an opt-out clause. That's why the UK still uses pounds sterling (I fail to understand why it matters, but that's another issue entirely).

The Single European Act of 1987 created "an area without frontiers in which the free movement of goods and persons, services and capital is ensured." 

I'm only just old enough to recall anything about life before the EEC. But for our children - indeed, for anyone under the age of about 40 - European membership is all they've ever known. They have European passports. They have had the freedom of travelling and working anywhere in Europe, without the need for visas. We have been able to choose to live anywhere in Europe; we can transport and buy goods from other European countries without paying extra taxes.

Then on Thursday last week, the UK voted - by a narrow margin - to leave the EU.

The exit (dubbed 'Brexit') hasn't happened yet, and is likely to take many months, perhaps two years or more, to take effect. But still, it left us in a state of shock.

We had been following the campaign, at least on the news websites and social media, and it appeared that there would be a majority (albeit small) voting to remain, at least for now.

But the polls were wrong. The results became clear first thing Friday morning: almost 52% of those who voted wanted to leave the EU.

On Friday and Saturday we tried to understand what had persuaded so many people to vote that way.

Unfortunately, as is the way with the media (both the normal and social forms) extremists came to the fore. We saw articles about hate crimes from a tiny minority in the UK who are xenophobic, who somehow thought that leaving the EU would mean that all immigrants could be sent away. An interview clip went viral, showing a man insisting that he had no problem with Europeans in the UK, but had voted 'leave' so that all the Middle Easterners and non-whites would have to leave.

Assuming it was not satire, he had missed the point entirely. I hope someone explained to him that it's only Europeans who will find it harder to come to the UK as they'll no longer have right of abode. It won't make any difference to the refugee intake; indeed, it may lead to MORE refugees from the Middle East and other parts of Asia, as the EU border controls will no longer be relevant to the UK.

There was also an outbreak of 'ageism', which was unpleasant; charts showed that younger people mostly voted to remain in the UK, older people (including my generation) were more likely to vote to leave. Statuses and articles were being shared in the initial anger and deep hurt that so many, particularly those in their teens and twenties, were (and are still) feeling.  No longer will they have the freedom of travel, study and work that we have enjoyed for the past thirty or so years.

Europeans - particularly Eastern Europeans from former Soviet countries - in the UK often take low-paid jobs that Brits don't want. It's true in Cyprus, too.  Some euro-sceptics twelve years ago insisted that crime would rise when Cyprus joined the EU, and there was, for a while, a slight increase in burglaries. But violent crime in Cyprus has remained at the lowest percentage in Europe.  There's xenophobia here, but it's nowhere near as damaging as it was even twenty years ago.  We Brits and other Europeans have had to be treated the same as Cypriots legally speaking. It hasn't always happened in practice, but we've had the law on our side.

This will no longer be the case.

On Saturday evening, after spending far too much time on social media, feeling confused and upset by the result, and even more by the angst and negative feelings that were arising, I wrote this on Facebook:

"I honestly thought I would accept whatever the result was; indeed, though I was shocked and a bit numb at first, that's what I said when I heard the news first thing yesterday morning. But then, through the morning, the numbness gave way to an immensely deep sadness, which I compared to a bereavement. And no, that's not hyperbole. It honestly felt that way. 
When we lived in the US in the early 1990s, we realised how very European we were. We love being part of this big continent, both geographically and politically. We were thrilled when Cyprus joined the EU 12 years ago, as it made life so much easier for us as ex-pats, and there were a lot of benefits to this little island too. Around 10% of the population are ex-pats, many of them Brits. 
So the EU, despite its faults and bureaucracy, has felt like an extra guardian for decades. Now we're going to have to give it up, and it is deeply distressing. Not just to me: I've seen dozens of other people express exactly the same thing. There's a sense of grieving; those who wanted to leave may find it difficult to comprehend, but we're in a period of mourning. 
Normal expressions of grief, according to experts, involve feeling distant from others, feeling as if nobody understands, shock, numbness and anger. I've seen a lot of these things floating about and inevitably those who are not mourning are feeling attacked. I don't think it's intended."

I took a break yesterday. I didn't read any news articles, although inevitably we discussed the issue, yet again, at home. We hope the implications for us won't be too bad; Cyprus has issued a statement that Brits living here are still welcome, and if we have to start applying for visas again every year, it's an annoying inconvenience, but in the scheme of global tragedy and suffering, not much of an issue.

But what still concerns me is the huge divide amongst thinking, intelligent adults around the UK. If we exclude the extremists and those who voted in ignorance of what the EU is, people have taken the same facts, presumably seen TV news and read media articles, removed the inevitable bias one way or another, attempted to ignore the spin... and yet have been about evenly divided with two such different conclusions.

Nobody knows what the future holds now. Legally speaking the Referendum doesn't mean an inevitable exit. The government has to ratify it (as they have had to do with all EU regulations) and will have to make an official request to the EU for the exit, if they decide to go ahead. Many are calling for a further Referendum, since the margin was so narrow in the recent one; EU law itself suggests that, for such a big change, there should be a rather bigger majority wanting to leave than just under 52% of those who voted.

There are extra legal complications in that although the UK is a country, it is made up of three separate countries and a province (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Is it the UK that is part of the EU, or the individual countries? The Scots, in the recent Referendum, voted overall to remain in the EU. So did the Northern Irish. Does this potentially mean the end of the UK, or can Scotland force the Referendum results to be overturned?

The British Prime Minister has resigned, and there does not appear to be any clear plan for the way forward. At present, the UK is still part of the EU, although the pound sterling has dropped from 1.3 euros last Wednesday to 1.2 euros today. Share values have dropped, too. Perhaps this will change - perhaps not.

My impression is that the majority of 'Leave' voters have a stronger feeling for the UK than they do for the EU, while the 'Remain' voters are the other way around. Patriotism is a strange thing, something I have never really understood until the past few days, when I realise that yes, I did - and do - have a very strong allegiance to Europe as a whole. I visit the UK because family and friends are there, but if they all moved to Cyprus, I would have no reason ever to go to my country of birth.

I understand the dislike of 'big' government. I'm all for smaller city councils, with people who care about their local schools and hospitals and so on, rather than all decisions coming from bureaucrats who have never been to the places concerned. But those still exist. As do the individual country governments and parliaments.

So what puzzles me most of all is the claim that the EU makes 'most' of the UK laws. The EU does not make any UK laws. I checked an independent fact site and it said that EU regulations do affect about 13% of UK laws, and in addition there are a significant number of trade and travel details related to EU requirements.

There are, of course, some regulations which countries have to follow in order to trade within the EU (such as extensive labelling of food products, and various health/hygiene standards) but if the UK wants to continue to trade with European countries, they'll have to continue following those rules. And when I look at specifics of EU regulations, either they don't actually affect the UK directly (such as fishing rights in Scandinavian countries, or the processing of olives...) or they're helpful in maintaining standards of living, equality for minorities, treatment of animals, importing of products from elsewhere, and so on.

Since Cyprus entered the EU, quite apart from making it easier for other Europeans to live here, we've seen increased quality of restaurants and other food preparation places, the first few years of the major task of putting sewers everywhere in the island, full European style labelling of all food products (essential for those with allergies and intolerances), a much wider range of goods available from other European countries, laws requiring motor bike helmets, requirements of MOTs for cars, ramps and other facilities for the disabled, and introduction of no-smoking policies in many public places.

That's just off the top of my head.

And while smokers might disagree, I cannot think of anything negative about any of those laws.

Perhaps the Cyprus government might have passed some of these laws without being in Europe, but somehow I doubt it. They still had to ratify them although some were a requirement of receiving EU funding, some are necessary for trading. People still get around them if they can, as they do with any law, European or otherwise. But as far as I can tell, with my admittedly limited perspective, being in the EU has been overwhelmingly positive for Cyprus.

So I'm now wondering: what specific laws in the UK, originated in Europe, do people object to....?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer heat-wave and forest fires in Cyprus

I mentioned at the end of my last post that we started using our air conditioners on Friday, very thankful that we had them cleaned in advance. It's not unusual to become warm enough for air conditioning towards the end of June (anything over 30C counts) and occasionally we've had heatwaves this early in the year, but they're not usually as lengthy as the one which the island is still coping with.

This brief article about Cyprus in summer, written nearly a week ago, explains that the usual temperatures for this time of year are around 35C inland, and just over 30C at the coast. However there was a low pressure system, and it was a great deal hotter already, with predictions of 41C inland by Tuesday.

All of which is inconvenient, but I am very grateful for the ability - mostly - to keep cool. Far worse are the horrendous forest fires which are blazing in parts of the mountains of Cyprus. Started by careless people burning rubbish, over 15 square km of land has been destroyed, and at least two fire-fighters have lost their lives.

Fires are still raging, and volunteers are being asked to help, as it spreads towards some of the villages. Aeroplanes from Cyprus and several other countries are using sea-water to quench the flames; inevitably the salt will damage the forests further.

Back to everyday life... I didn't get my walk by the Salt Lake last Saturday, due to Alex being stuck on a neighbouring balcony, and yesterday I didn't wake until nearly 6.00. It already felt warm by then; but I wanted to see how empty the lake had become, so suggested Sheila and I walk at least a little way.

Last year was cooler overall with quite a wet winter, but we haven't had nearly so much rain this year, and Summer has come earlier. So this is what we saw:

There's still a little water some way out, but if this heat continues, it will have dried out entirely by the end of June.

I was struck by how very tall some of the weeds had become. Sheila kindly agreed to be in the photo too, to give an idea of scale:

They're already looking brown, however, as is much of the other foliage.

We walked less than a kilometre, and I was already feeling too hot. We still had to go and feed my son's cat, as he was in the UK, so we made our way back; it was probably a bad idea to go at all as I felt very headachey by lunch-time, and unbelievably tired.

Our house is much cooler than outside but the thermometer on the kitchen scales was showing 32C by 8.00 in the morning.  I realised that although the humidity is still relatively low, it's a problem that the heatwave has come early, as it's the Summer Solstice period, meaning it's light before 5am, so the sun warms everything up much earlier than it does in August, when we expect higher temperatures.

The heatwave is predicted to continue for at least another week. The humidity is 'only' at around 39% at present, which means that evenings and nights are not as unpleasant as they can feel in July. But even 39% humidity means that the temperatures feel hotter than they actually are. According to this chart, we're at 'yellow' alert (great discomfort) as far as heatstroke and other dangers are concerned. Inland, where the temperatures are due to rise to 40C or higher, it will be 'orange' alert, defined as dangerous.

So as far as possible I am estivating.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Another Adventure for Alexander....

For his first year living with us, our cat Alexander kept his own blog. With a little help, of course. As our two-year-old grandson realised today, while having a conversation with me on Facetime, cats don't have hands. That makes it remarkably difficult for them to type.

Around the time he was a year old, Alex discovered how to get out of the house from our utility balcony (where the cat litter is kept), leaping over a metal roof and down. There was no longer any way of keeping him in, and we decided to install another cat flap over our spiral staircase, so that the other cats could get in and out relatively easily.

With Alex's increased explorations of the neighbourhood, I had far less idea of what he was doing and his blogging ceased. It had been fun, but - we thought - he was turning into a more sensible cat who was less likely to do anything silly.

Then just before Christmas his sister Joan disappeared, and Alex - we assume - was in some kind of accident. We weren't sure he was going to survive, at first, but with a lot of TLC, and some pain relief from the vet, he pulled through and by the end of January was back to his normal self, going out and about, trying to follow us when we walked places, and generally being a likeable, if sometimes demanding cat.

We had an incident in February, when our damp proof course was installed, and Alex got stuck up a tall pine tree. He made a great deal of noise but resisted all attempts to tempt him down, and struggled to get out of Richard's arms when he put a long ladder rather precariously up the tree in order to rescue him.

Then he was sensible for a while, lulling us into a sense of false security.

When I woke this morning, around 5.30am I realised that Alex had not been in the room all night. My toes had not been bitten, and I had not been woken by any scrabbling at the door. With the much warmer weather, he's been sleeping all day and going out at night, so I wasn't too worried at first. I got up, went to feed Cleo, and texted my friend Sheila to say that I was about ready to go for our usual early morning walk.

I didn't have a reply at first, so I thought perhaps she was still sleeping, and decided to see if I could find Alex.  As I went down the stairs I heard his mew, loudly and clearly.

I looked all round, and it took me a few moments to locate him... on the upstairs balcony of one of the neighbouring houses:

I assumed he could get down, since he had evidently got up there, and walked along the front of the house, calling to him. At one place there's a gap before another balcony, and there's a ledge below which is quite wide enough for Alex. It's less of a jump than he makes regularly to get out from our utility balcony.

But he wouldn't do it. He jumped to the other balcony and back again, mewing the whole time. I began to wonder if the neighbours had gone away, as nobody was appearing from the house. This is Kataklysmos weekend - the Eastern and Orthodox Pentecost - and Monday will be a major public holiday, so I wouldn't have been surprised.

I wondered if he would do better if I stopped watching him but when I went back into our house for a minute, he stopped mewing and started howling. I was worried he might wake the entire street! So I went back outside.

At that point Sheila appeared and we discussed what to do. I'm not at all good in a crisis of any kind; I was prepared to keep walking up and down and encouraging Alex to try and jump down, but Sheila is better at taking action.  She went to try and get a ladder that we keep at the back of the house, but realised that it was impossible to get at currently.

So I went to ask Richard where our step-ladder was, and then found it in our guest flat. It wasn't really high enough but Sheila went into the neighbours' front yard and climbed to the top, then reached up... and Alex pulled away from her grasp. As when he was in the tree, it appeared that he didn't want to be rescued, or didn't trust his rescuer.

Sheila then managed to climb onto the ledge itself. I was holding the ladder, which was wobbling precariously, so couldn't take any more photos...

Then a door on the other balcony opened, and a tousled head looked out. Sheila spoke to someone in Greek - there are new tenants in that part of the house, whom we don't know - and they opened another door for Alex to go in, and let him out of the front door. We thanked her profusely and she said it was nothing; that she had heard the mews but had not realised it was so close!

Alex was rather subdued, and we didn't go on our walk; perhaps just as well as there's been a major heatwave today with shade temperatures up to almost 40C. We are very glad that the air conditioners were cleaned a few weeks ago, and started using them, when needed, yesterday.