Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hello and Goodbye...

Two weeks into April, and I'm enjoying the fact that the weather is still relatively cool; it hasn't been more than about 21C [70F] and today was quite grey, so I have worn a sweatshirt all day. It even rained this afternoon, for the first time in weeks.

The past couple of weeks have seen a series of 'goodbye' scenarios, something which is all too common in Cyprus.

But first, a couple of days before the end of March, there was a surprising new arrival on our utility balcony, which I discovered when I went to get our vacuum cleaner out. There, sitting in an empty box, was a rather pretty grey tabby cat.

Alas, her temper did not match her appearance:

She hissed and spat, and let me know that I was not at all welcome. I assumed she had simply slept there, and would vanish... but she was still there when I returned to put the vacuum cleaner away. Since I didn't really want my hands ripped to shreds, I put it somewhere else.

Gradually I realised that she had kittens in the box, and was being very protective. I gave her a bit of food and some water, but she was not appreciative, although I noticed later that the food had gone.  

She stayed about twelve days, hissing viciously every time I went near, batting away my attempts to give her food (although she did eat it). She terrified our cats, who still don't want to go on the balcony, even three days after her departure, and she didn't use the cat litter that sits on the balcony. However she didn't make any messes or smells, and when she finally removed the kittens - we have no idea where - she left her temporary lodgings quite clean. 

Meanwhile, our good friends Mark and Joan returned to Cyprus for just a few weeks to close down their apartment, since they are returning to the US. They spent their last couple of nights here in our guest flat, since most of their belongings were sent by freight. 

We're going to miss them.

The day after they flew, another good friend called in to return some books she had borrowed... but she didn't take any more. She and her husband are also leaving Cyprus, returning to the UK. They're keeping on their apartment here, so will be back for holidays, but it won't be the same.

Then on Friday we said a temporary goodbye to Tim who flew to the UK to spend his Easter break with various family members, and is then going to be the 'best man' at a wedding early in May.

So our nest is empty again, for a few weeks. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Walking by the sea-front, for a change...

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, the Salt Lake trail was due to be sprayed against mosquitoes. I don't know if this happened on the rainy day when Sheila and I got drenched to the skin, but the notices stayed up, and the second spraying was due on Thursday and Friday.

I've been waking fairly early, assisted by Sophia, so I texted Sheila and set off to meet her. The sun was just poking through the clouds at about 6.20am as I crossed one of the local streets:

It wasn't as dark as it looks in the photo, but it's quite a dramatic effect. 

Since we couldn't walk along the trail, we walked through part of the park and then down to the sea-front. The sun was shining by the time we got there, and it was interesting to see some of the ongoing construction work, as the promenade is - slowly - upgraded. I had thought these concrete wavy things were going to give the edge of the beach an interesting shape:

But apparently they are just supports.

An interesting feature of the new pavement (sidewalk) that is being constructed is the set of grooves, clearly marked (yellow in the photo) and easy to feel with the feet - or, I imagine, a stick - when walking on them:

We've been told that these are to help blind people to keep on the path - and thought they were an excellent idea.

Except that in some places they come to an abrupt halt:

The notice in Greek says 'Entrance forbidden', which is clear to those with sight, but could be quite distressing to someone using the grooves to navigate along the path.

But at least there was some fencing there, albeit rather flimsy. 

More worrying was this:

It's not obvious from the photo, but the drop down to the sand must be almost a metre. And there's nothing to stop someone from walking right off it, and sustaining a nasty injury. 

But, as they say, 'This is Cyprus!' 

We kept walking, and probably managed about 10km in all. By the time we were back it was nearly 8.30am and the sun was already too hot for my tastes.

Thankfully the clocks go forward in Europe tonight; we lose an hour, but will then be able to enjoy lighter evenings - and cooler mornings. At least until Summer really sets in. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring along the trail...

The word 'Spring' in the title is not a command, I hasten to add. While Sheila and I walk at a fairly brisk pace, covering 4km in around half an hour, or a little more, I certainly don't feel like springing along in the early hours of the morning.

Yesterday, however, was officially the first day of Spring. That means, in Cyprus, that we start to think about shedding our sweatshirts or sweaters during most of the day, but still put on something warm for the evening or early morning, and still definitely need a duvet at night. It's been a pretty mild winter, and dry too, so that I've had to water our plants a few times already, and the Salt Lake has never really filled up at all.

Spring in Cyprus, too, means that there is a lot of yellow. I write about this almost every year, but even now it startles and delights me with the suddenness of change.

Here's what part of the trail looked like just a month ago, when we were halted by a fallen tree:

Here it is now - as it's been for perhaps a week:

I was particularly taken with this bush, a kind of plant which I probably photograph every year: 

I am being woken by a persistent Sophia - mewing in my ear, batting my face, knocking things down - between 5.30 and 6.00am at present, when the sun comes up.  Sheila and I met at about 6.15 today, and then she walked back here with me afterwards, and we stood outside our house chatting for a while. By 7.30am it was feeling really quite warm - a reminder of the Summer which, in Cyprus is (unfortunately) guaranteed. 

I look forward to next weekend when, along with the rest of Europe, we will put our clocks forward an hour. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Changing our phone/internet provider, and a surprising consequence

Back in October of last year, I wrote a post called 'Images of autumn', which was a rather pretentious-sounding title for what was essentially a summary of several unconnected occurrences which I had not got around to writing about.

Amongst them was this picture of my newly-reorganised study, except that I have managed to add a little arrow near the bottom left:

The arrow shows where our wireless router was put, beside the tall bookcase, connected to the cables that can be seen (if you enlarge the photo) running untidily along behind my chair. 

A couple of months ago, Tim was looking at the costs of various phone companies that now operate in Cyprus, and commented that we could save ten euros per month AND have faster speed if we switched from CYTA - the national company - to Cablenet. We would also, for the first time, get access to cable television. Not that we watch any television, but the occasional news broadcast might be nice, and there was no package that did not include this. 

Various people had experienced good things with this company, so we went to enquire, and made the necessary arrangements. Richard and Tim spent a lot of time deciding how the house could better be wired, and said that the router would have to be behind our television. 

The workmen arrived when they said they would, and after doing some noisy drilling and installing, followed by some tweaking by Richard and Tim (this is about as technical as I get) we now have this arrangement:

And this is what we see on the wall behind:

The television, bizarrely, only shows us black-and-white pictures, because (apparently) there's something wrong with it, or perhaps it's too old (all of seven-and-a-half years), but no worries. Cablenet Internet works, and Richard returned the CYTA router at the end of last month. If CYTA ever manage to get their act together, our phone - on the same number - should work on Cablenet too.

Meanwhile, on an entirely unconnected subject - or so I thought - middle age has been creeping up on me. Last October, a few weeks after I re-started my walks with Sheila, I realised that I was getting backache. I put it down to carrying a heavy belt-bag with my purse and camera, so I stopped taking it. This helped slightly, but I still found my back was aching very badly any time I had been shopping, or if I spent more than about half an hour standing in the kitchen. 

I tried heat, I tried stretching, I tried wearing different shoes. Most of the time it was chronic rather than seriously painful, but there were moments when the twinges meant I had to sit down. Buying a shopping trolley from Lakeland made it easier to do the shopping, and we started getting most of our groceries by car on Fridays.  

But still, my back ached almost continually. I became gradually resigned to it, moving more carefully, doing less in the kitchen, carrying nothing I could avoid. 

A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly realised that my back was not aching. I stood in the kitchen doing various things, and was entirely without pain. It seemed so unusual that I commented on it; I assumed it was a temporary reprieve from the back pain, but it continued. I had not realised quite how continual the ache had become  until I was without it. I noticed it as I came downstairs, as I sat on the floor to put my shoes on, as I got up from my beanbag, as I was able, once more, to do things in the kitchen for an hour or more.

This happy state of affairs has continued. There's still a bit of an ache when I wake in the mornings; I suspect we need a new mattress, or at least a mattress topper. But it goes within a few minutes. And that's it for the day! I've had no painful twinges, and moving is, once again, easy. I'm still avoiding any heavy lifting, and I'm using my shopping trolley - no point taking unnecessary risks - but I am very much appreciating having a back which no longer aches almost continually. 

A few days after my backache so mysteriously vanished, we were talking somewhat about electromagnetic sensitivity: a long name for an increasing condition, where people are (or become) sensitive to mobile phones, or wifi devices. I have never liked mobile phones - in the early days they all gave me a tingling sensation in my hands, almost like a mild electric shock - and although modern ones are better, I still have a problem with smartphones, or even my Kindle when the wi-fi is switched on. We used to think I was some kind of over-sensitive freak; in recent years we have met more and more people with the same kind of sensitivity. 

Then, idly browsing on the topic, I came across this article about electromagnetic sensitivity. Symptoms are far wider than a bit of tingling. I browsed some more, and found a surprising number of anecdotes about people who had aches and pains of all kinds, often headaches, which disappeared as soon as a wireless device - or router - was moved further away.  The 'problems' seem to happen when a device was closer than a metre to a sensitive person.

And, yes... this is where the diverse topics of this post converge. When we thought about it, we realised that the day my backache vanished so unexpectedly was the same day that Richard took the old wireless router back to CYTA. The one which had been about 60cm away from my back whenever I sat at my desk. Which is at least two or three hours per day, often more.  Prior to my re-organising of my study (and prior to my backache) the router had been in a small unit about a metre and a half away from me. 

Anecdotal only, of course. Anecdotes, as Tim has reminded me, do not constitute research. Nonetheless, it seemed to be a good idea to add my experience to the pool. If anyone who happens to see this has unexpected aches or other symptoms, and spends much of their day less than a metre from a wireless router (or smartphone/tablet) then it would do no harm at all to try a few days without it - and might, just possibly, make a difference.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wet and windy in Cyprus

The last week of February was really quite warm. I almost abandoned my sweatshirts on a couple of days. Oddly enough, this particular week of the year is often warm, and provides a welcome break for visitors coming from the UK for the school 'half term' break.

Each time the end of February is warm, I feel a little concerned about the rapidity with which Summer seems to be advancing. This winter has been quite dry - the Salt Lake is still only partly full, and we're told that the reservoirs are only at about 50% of their capacity.

However, as we were told when we first arrived, and as happens each year, the weather cools down again at the start of March. Temporarily, but still quite welcome from my perspective.

At the start of March, notices had been posted around the Salt Lake trail warning us that there would be aerial spraying against mosquitoes on three mornings, when the trail will be closed. One of those mornings was last Tuesday, so Sheila and I had already decided to walk elsewhere. We were not daunted by grey skies and a few drops of rain, but set off through the Salt Lake Park and headed roughly in the direction of the beach.

This meant that we were rather a distance from home when the heavens opened:

We were both wearing light raincoats, but they weren't much use against the torrential rain that we get here, when it actually decides to rain.

We took shelter where we could, then when the rain seemed to ease, we walked on - I suppose this was foolish, and we should have turned back. We passed a few typically Cypriot shops - the English word for this kind of shop is 'kiosk', but most people simply use the Greek word, 'periptero':

We didn't go inside although it was quite tempting.

We walked as far as one of the streets parallel to the sea front, still thinking that it might clear up.. then took shelter under a block of flats when there was another heavy downpour.

Eventually it eased, and we made our way back over rough ground. By then we were just about soaked to the skin, so didn't bother to shelter any more.

It took a while to feel warm again, but neither of us suffered any ill effects. I doubt if any spraying happened along the trail in the rain, so we might as well have walked there...

A couple of days later, it was dry - if a little windy - and our friend Alison joined us for a walk along the trail to the aqueduct:

The weekend was grey but mostly dry, other than a bit of thunder and light rain on Sunday morning. Today the sun is shining and the wind is quite strong. But the days are getting longer, and overall it does seem to be a little warmer than it was a month ago. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Being surprisingly organised and domesticated in Cyprus

I'm not naturally an organised person at all. As with most traits, to misquote Shakespeare rather drastically: some people are born organised, some achieve organisation, and some have organisation thrust upon them. I think I fall somewhere between the second and third categories. Nobody has ever forced me to be organised - just as well, or I might have refused completely. However, over the years, prompted by various circumstances, I've worked out ways to keep the house reasonably clean and tidy, to store financial records in case the tax office ever needs them, to ensure we all have clean and folded clothes, and so on.

On the topic of clothes, I used to do a bit of ironing... shirts, pillowcases, the occasional skirt - but gave up completely about five or six years ago. I don't think anybody has noticed (not that it would matter much if they did), and I find that if I fold or hang garments straight from the washing line, they don't develop creases anyway. Living in Cyprus, we don't have a tumble dryer; I have washing lines in a utility area at the back of the kitchen, where everything dries naturally within a few hours. Unless of course it's pouring with rain, in which case it gets an extra drenching, and dries the following day.

A few years ago, someone showed me a method of folding tee-shirts which made it quicker and neater for me. I don't usually link to other people's videos, but since this is impossible to describe in words, this youtube video demonstrates and explains as well as any that I've found. Apparently it's a Japanese method. It took me a few days to get used to it, but now I do this without thinking.

However, I continued stacking tee-shirts on top of each other in our drawers or closets, which is fine for a while, until someone happens to be in a hurry, but doesn't want the one on top. Or, worse, when someone burrows through them looking for a specific shirt. Then the piles get more and more crumpled and untidy, and when I try to put more clean shirts in the drawer, there's no room... and eventually I have to pull them all out and re-fold them.  Which is annoying.

At least, it WAS annoying until a few months ago when a Facebook friend linked to a site which showed neatly folded tee-shirts stacked in a row, rather than in a pile. I'm not going to give a link to that site since the language was not family-friendly.  Instead, here's a photo of Richard's tee-shirt drawer a couple of weeks after I first started doing this:

I do the Japanese-style fold, then fold them in half vertically, and put them in at the right of the drawer. Richard can then choose whatever shirt he needs at a glance, without having to move any of the others. So they stay tidy, and don't get crumpled - indeed, folding and putting them in the drawer like this means that they look almost as if they have been ironed.

I then started doing this on my own tee-shirt shelf, and am sure it has saved a lot of time, as well as being better for the shirts. 

Books - far more interesting than clothes - also have to be organised if we're to have any hope of finding them. We have around 3,000 in all, and as we acquire more (and more bookcases) I have to find ways to sort and arrange them. This is easy enough for the fiction; my main fiction (five bookcases in our dining room) is arranged alphabetically by the author's surname. Books we don't particularly like, or have duplicates of, or don't think we'll ever read again are downstairs in our guest flat.

Children's fiction is a little more complicated; the bulk of it is in our guest flat second bedroom, also arranged alphabetically. But my favourite children's/teenage fiction - the ones I re-read, or which friends borrow regularly - are in the main part of the house, and those I have kept for younger children are in my study, where I regularly entertain small people who love books too.

Then there's the non-fiction. We don't have so many of these, and about half of them are Christian books which I also have alphabetically by author, with a mini-shelf of Bibles in the middle, and a shelf at the bottom for study guides and larger reference books:

(If you are one of those people who likes to read the titles of other people's books when you see them in blogs, you will probably need to click on the photo to see a larger version. Then use the X or back button to return to this post, if you haven't completely lost interest by then). 

Then there are the other books. Biographies, science books, popular psychology, books about history, and about games, and so on... the ones that we acquire when we're interested in a specific topic, or when the blurb looks fascinating in a second-hand shop, or which we've rescued when someone else is having a book cull (shudder!) 

Richard has all his sailing books in the bedroom - at least two shelves of them - and I have a shelf in my study with books about writing. But I've never managed to work out what to do with the rest of the general non-fiction. I tried roughly organising by subject, but get stuck - is a book about someone climbing mountains classed as sports, geography or biography?  And then I want to put books by the same author together, which is fine if the author's just written on one broad topic, but sometimes one writer can encompass a wide range of subjects. 

So for the past few years our non-fiction has been quite muddled, which doesn't matter, in the scheme of things (I know, this is very much a 'first world problem' post) but sometimes makes it hard to find them. I said something about it a few weeks ago, and Richard said - jokingly - that I should arrange them by Dewey Decimal number.  I rolled my eyes... but somehow the idea was planted in my mind. 

So I browsed a little, and discovered a site where I could enter an ISBN and have the Dewey Decimal number appear. It felt like quite a daunting task, but I'd been thinking for some time that I should enter all our non-fiction books into our 'shelves' on Goodreads and Shelfari, where I rate and briefly review everything I read, and also enter new books we are given or otherwise acquire. And as with any daunting task, it can be broken down into small steps. So I use my little travelling Netbook computer, and spend about fifteen minutes each day generating the classification number for ten books, and entering them (if I haven't previously done so) on Shelfari and Goodreads. 

When the books are nice editions with dustcovers, I just put the number in pencil on an inside page. If they're older books with white spines, I write them on neatly in black ink. And for the rest, I use little sticky labels covered with sellotape.  Yes, it makes them look like library books, but at last I have a method for sorting and (I hope) finding them.  Here are the first three shelves - I'm about half way through, I think:

I know, we have shamefully few general non-fiction books. Excluding the Christian ones, and the sailing and writing ones, there are probably only about three hundred. I suppose this is partly because one can find so much online these days. And partly because we all tend to read fiction, primarily.

All of which sounds as if I'm actually a very well-organised person, but - alas - this is far from the case. If I were,  I would have worked out ways to be more organised a few decades ago. 

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Repairing an elderly clock

Many, many years ago we visited my parents when they were living in the Middle East. And they happened to have a clock with what I thought were Arabic numerals on the face. (It turns out that the numbers we use in the West are actually Arabic numerals, and the ones on this clock - the ones used in Arabic writing - are in fact Hindi numerals. However that's not relevant to this post, but if anyone is curious, the link in the last sentence takes you to the Wiki page that explains in full.)

Anyway,we admired this clock very much, and Richard decided it would be a good idea for us to have one. Not long afterwards, we managed to acquire one. My memory is hazy: did we buy it, or was it a gift? I have no idea. But Richard thinks it was probably around 23 years ago.

So. The clock hung in our Birmingham house - in the living room, if I recall correctly - for some years. Then we moved to Cyprus, and it either stayed on the wall or went into storage. It finally moved here too when we sold our house, but I don't think we ever hung it at our old house; I can't find any photos of it, anyway, until this one, taken in 2006, shortly after we moved to the house where we now live:

That's the clock on the wall, looking square and fitting really quite nicely, where we could glance at it as we relaxed in the evening, or came in by the front door (which is opposite). 

So as to show the Arabic (or Hindu) style of numbers on the clock, here's a closer view, which was taken six-and-a-half years later, in 2012, when I was actually photographing our display of Christmas cards (mostly cropped out of this):

If you click the image, a larger view should appear; the back button (or X if it appears that way) should bring you back to the blog.

So, for some years our square clock stayed unobtrusively on the wall, informing us of the time. Occasionally a visitor would notice and comment (a popular question was whether the hands went backwards - thankfully not!).  Once, one of the cats, running along the wooden shelf below, got annoyed by the ticking second-hand and managed to knock the whole thing down, destroying the glass cover and slightly bending one of the hands.

But the clock kept working reliably. All it required in terms of maintenance was a new AA battery, perhaps once a year. It let us know when this was necessary by running slow.

I suppose it was six months ago that I went to change the battery, and realised that it had only been a few weeks since it last needed one. Perhaps, I thought with a shrug, it had been an old battery. So I made sure that I took a new one out of a packet, and replaced it, resetting the clock as usual.

It was fine for a month or so, then suddenly it was an hour slow again. Maybe, we thought, it was trying to adjust to daylight savings by itself... but we didn't worry too much. We kept an eye on it, and it continued being exactly an hour slow, so eventually we put it right, and it was fine. For another month or two... then one morning I got up and it was an hour slow again.

We left it this time. We got used to it. We learned to adapt our view of the correct time, taking account of the clock being an hour slow. Then, one morning, it was an hour and a half slow.  It was becoming a little annoying, but we thought we could adjust to that too. I found myself regularly looking at the clock on the other side of the door to check the time, but we would have got used to that too.. until the day when it was six hours slow.

So Tim said it was too confusing, and we should take it down. I suggested that perhaps the time had come to buy a new clock, but Richard likes this clock very much, and said that he would prefer to get it mended. He found that it was easy to remove the little square black mechanism that powered the clock. He said it had probably got worn out - it's not something we've ever noticed happening before, but then we don't have many 23-year-old clocks.

He looked online, and discovered that we could buy a replacement mechanism for two or three pounds from eBay in the UK. Of course, postage would be added to that, and it would be a few weeks before it arrived if we ordered one, so we thought we might see if something of the sort could be bought locally.

We walked into town on Friday, and did a few other errands, then we walked along one of the main streets, looking for a suitable shop. There are such a hotch-potch of different shops in Larnaka: here are a few that we went past:

At one watch shop, a woman was outside and asked if she could help. We showed her the mechanism, and she said that she didn't have one, but that if we wanted, she would phone her husband who was in Limassol, and he would bring one. Typically friendly and helpful - but we didn't really want to wait around for hours, and weren't sure that it would be the right thing anyway. So we thanked her, and said we would look elsewhere. She told us to come back if we didn't find it.

A few doors along, we saw a small shop with several clocks on the back wall. So we went inside and a very friendly man with excellent English took a quick look at the mechanism, and within a few seconds produced something looking almost identical. It had a longer bit sticking out - he asked if our clock had glass on it or was open, and when we said there was no glass (we never did get round to replacing it after the cat incident) he said it would be fine. 

I should, of course, have asked what price it was at that point. He had simply produced it, and we hadn't taken up much of his time. But we didn't think about it. And then he was rooting about on his shelves again, and returned with some plastic bags, from which he produced three clock hands; he said we would probably need new hands to attach to the new mechanism, and explained how to file them down if they were too long. 

Then he showed Richard how there was a slightly different way of fixing the mechanism into the back of the clock... and said that if he had any trouble we should take it back, and he would do it. And he told us that our old mechanism made the second-hand tick round, but the new one would go around smoothly without any ticks. Was that a problem? No, we said, that would be fine. 

He didn't got quite as far as to offer us coffee, but - such is the friendliness of the Cypriot that we felt welcomed and cared for.

Finally, as he was packing the things up, I asked him how much it would cost. I hoped three euros, expected five, maybe six.

'Ten euro', he said with a smile. 

It felt like a lot for a little mechanism that probably only cost a euro or two, but it was probably cheaper than buying a new clock. I wondered if we could have haggled, but by that stage it didn't feel right.  

So we smiled back, and I handed over a ten-euro note, and thanked him. 

I guess it's good to support the local economy where possible.... 

When we got home, Richard had to file the side of the clock very slightly but it fitted perfectly, and the new hands work just as we were told, with the second hand now gliding smoothly: 

It's quite disturbing to find that the clock is telling the correct time... but I'm sure we will get used to it. 

If it's another 23 years before we need to replace the mechanism again, we will be in our late seventies....! 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Rain, the Salt Lake trail and Flamingoes

It was a very dry January in Cyprus. At least, it was until about a week ago. I continued my three-times-per-week walks with my friend Sheila, along part of the Salt Lake trail, and from time to time we commented on how empty the Salt Lake still seemed, with very few of the usual flamingoes. Here's a sunrise from a week ago, with quite a few clouds in the sky, although I had almost forgotten that clouds often precede rain...

Then on Sunday, it rained. Not heavily,  but quite a bit.

On Monday it rained too, in short but heavy bursts typical of this region. We could do with some of the steady drizzle I was more accustomed to when growing up, but that's all too rare here.

On Tuesday, we decided to brave the trail in the hope that it would not be too muddy. We had to avoid a few puddles:

But were walking along at our usual pace when we rounded a corner and saw this:

Had it been a dry week, we might have tried to get around the fallen tree, but everywhere was still very wet, so we turned around and went the other way. I'm quite glad we did, because we got to see some flamingoes:

If you click the image, it should take you to a larger version of the photo that shows them more clearly. I did try zooming in on another photo, but inevitably it's not as sharp - however I quite liked this group of seven flamingoes in a row, with their reflections in the water:

It rained again somewhat on Wednesday, hard enough that our roof leaked quite badly over the stairs, but briefly enough that the sun came out again and dried up most of the rain.  On Thursday's walk, the flamingoes were even more in evidence:

We think there were around two hundred to be seen. That might sound like quite a few, but a year ago they arrived much earlier, and we estimated that there were over two thousand VERY noisy flamingoes! 

The Salt Lake still seems quite empty compared to last year. There isn't a whole lot of snow in the mountains, either. We  hope this is not going to be another year with enforced water restrictions.