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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A glut of soft fruit

One of the things which, on balance, I like about Cyprus is that fruit and vegetables tend to be quite seasonal. Most of what we find at the fruitaria is locally grown; there are imported apples, bananas, and potatoes much of the year, but soft fruit such as peaches and plums, and the huge inexpensive watermelons only appear during the summer months.

Of course, this is how it always used to be all around the world. People used to use the months of plenty to preserve fruit for the leaner winter months. And while I've always made jam using fruit in season when it's good value, it's only in recent years that I've started lightly stewing and freezing soft fruit, which I use instead of cans.

Soft fruit starts appearing in May, but it usually seems to be about the 10th-12th June when there's so much that it's available remarkably inexpensively. I have enough Scottish in me to like a bargain. I thought I might make apricot jam yesterday, before the weather gets too hot even to think about jam-making, so on Friday, when we do our weekly shopping, we made sure that we went to the outside fruit stall around 9.00, before all the best buys had been taken.

Sure enough, there were tubs of apricots, each around 1.5kg according to the woman selling them, marked at two euros. I thought that wasn't bad value, then she told me that they were actually one euro each. I said we would have two, and she gave us a third tub for nothing.  Then I chose a 2kg tub of plums, also at a euro, and then spotted an entire small crate of peaches at the same price - weighing them later, I discovered that there were over 5kg of them, all perfectly ripe.

So we bought around 12kg soft fruit for four euros.

We did the rest of the shopping and then I had the task of trying to fit everything in the fridge. I didn't have time to process the fruit on Friday, and I knew from experience that even one night left out would mean that the fruit would start to go bad.  We have quite a big fridge for two people, but it was a tight squeeze:

On Friday night I stayed up too late, and then woke very early Saturday; I don't do well with only five hours sleep but knew I had to deal with the fruit. So I started with the apricot jam and made nearly eight jars, using 2kg of the apricots:

I counted the other jars I made earlier in the year, and the few left from last Autumn, and there are around twenty so that should be plenty to last until next March when I will make more strawberry jam.

Next thing was to stew the plums. I might have dried them - dehydrated plums are delicious! - but they were the kind that didn't easily give up their stones, so I cut them in half, stuck them in a pan with a little water, and stewed them for about half an hour. Four 450g tubs resulted, and I've labelled them as 'plums with stones'.

Since I couldn't dehydrate the plums, and didn't much like dried peaches when I tried with those a year or two back, my next task was to put another couple of kilograms, or so, of apricots in the dehydrator, which then ran all day:

I don't dry them completely, but freeze them in little pots. The total was about 400g. A large part of any soft fruit is water.

Most of the rest went into another pan to be stewed; since I wanted to make a dessert the following day using stewed apricots, I only froze one tub and put the rest in the fridge overnight.

I did keep a few for eating during the week. I hope to buy more apricots next Friday so I can stew and freeze some more.

Finally the peaches.  Thankfully they were not 'cling' peaches, so it was easy to halve them and remove the stones, and then roughly slice them for stewing. I kept the best ones for eating, and stewed the rest; here are some of the resultant tubs ready for freezing:

Those Flora spread tubs make perfect containers for around 450g stewed fruit, making them a perfect substitute for the (less healthy) canned equivalent, for cakes and puddings and pies.

It took me most of the day, off and on, to do this, but none of it was particularly strenuous and it was most satisfactory to have so much fruit processed and stored for the future. I don't think I had to throw anything away.

Alas for my pride. I had made the decision not to make a batch of granola yesterday, while I was dealing with all the soft fruit. It would be more efficient, I thought, to use the oven which would be on for our Sunday lunch. So I put the oats in about fifteen minutes before our roast potatoes were ready, and turned the oven off while we ate, not wanting anything to scorch.

After lunch, I turned the oven on again, added the seeds, nuts and coconut (etc) to the oats, along with the oil and carob syrup, mixed it up, and put it back in the oven.

Then I saw the vast array of dirty dishes around the kitchen. It felt daunting. Richard and Tim had both had to go out to do other things, so I decided to sit down for ten minutes to check email and one or two other things on my computer.

BIG mistake.

With the warm temperatures, we have lots of windows open and ceiling fans going, so the scent of my over-cooking granola did not reach me in my study, where I remembered something else I needed to do...

.. it was an hour and a half later when I went through to the kitchen with a sigh, knowing I had to sort out the mess. My nose was instantly alerted to the granola, which I had completely forgotten about.

So much for being more efficient with the oven usage. I was particularly annoyed because there's an 'off' timer on my oven, which I could easily have set. It might have been slightly over-done, but it wouldn't have been completely un-rescuable.

It actually looked worse than it does in this picture:

Nothing was edible. If I'd needed charcoal I might have been able to use it.  As it was, I had to wait until it was cool enough to pour into a plastic bag and throw it away.

I hate throwing food away.

So I felt suitably humbled, and made another batch. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Preparing for the Onslaught of Summer in Cyprus: cleaning curtains and air conditioners

Here's what I had been saying to various people:

- Every year since we moved to this house (almost exactly ten years ago) we have cleaned our air conditioners before using them for the summer.
- We had not, however, had them properly serviced, even though one is supposed to do so every three or four years, so they were well overdue.

Apparently, however, memory - as so often - is faulty. Searching in this blog for previous posts about air conditioners, I discovered:

- We didn't even find air conditioner fluid in the shops until the Autumn of 2008, and then only sporadically used it for the next couple of years
- We DID have our air conditioners - most of them, anyway - properly serviced in the summer of 2009

I wrote a lengthy post about the service, including the way we use air conditioning, and mentioning that a couple of them were very dirty and full of gunk, so we were glad that we did have them serviced. The one in what is now Richard's study was not working well, and was topped up with gas. The one in Tim's room had not been very effective, and had to be cleaned very thoroughly.

But although I remembered the study one being topped up (subsequently we replaced it with one from Richard's office when that closed) I didn't remember that we'd had any of the others serviced.

Still, that was seven years ago, so it was more than time for a repeat. And this time Richard knew of a firm that does this kind of thing regularly. He phoned on Friday, and they arranged to come yesterday morning at 8.00am.  We said that we would do the initial cleaning, so on Monday we went around the house, including our guest flat, taking out the filters, washing and spraying them, and running them to check if they were working. If anyone reading this would like to know HOW to clean air conditioners at home, then I wrote a post about that four years ago.

We have eleven air conditioning units in all, which might seem rather excessive for two people, but we both have studies, and our guest flat has two bedrooms, and is used extensively, plus an edit suite for Richard's work, so it's not unreasonable. Some are used far more than others, of course: the ones with computers in use are often on for several hours per day in July and August, and we run our bedroom one for an hour or so each evening during those months too.

Since this post is getting rather wordy, I thought I'd pause for a moment to show a picture of the air conditioner in my study:

...and the one in the living room:

...and the one in the dining room:

Yes, that's three entirely different designs. The one in the kitchen and in the two upstairs bedrooms are the same as the dining room one; the one in Richard's study, and two in the guest flat are yet another kind.  We have no idea if some are better than others, but several of them are considerably more than ten years old, so we wondered if we might need to replace some of them.

The men arrived promptly and set to work with a kind of power washer, catching the liquid (and dirt) in a trough which they strapped to each unit in turn. It looked a bit worrying (and we did ask them to cover the TV when they were near that) but was surprisingly non-messy.

We have no idea what chemicals were used, but the smell was quite overpowering at first. We opened all the doors and windows, and have done so today too, but it still lingers. It's not unpleasant, but gave me quite a headache yesterday afternoon.

We were surprised to learn that the air conditioner in Tim's room was very dirty and full of fungus, since it's not been used for the past couple of years, and not extensively before that. It was so bad that the service guy asked if we smoked in there! (No, we don't, and nobody in the house smokes). The one in the guest flat front bedroom was also very bad, but that's the room where we've had mould on the walls. We hope to have solved that problem by installing the damp proofing that I wrote about a few months ago.

Happily, none of the air conditioners needed to be replaced, and the only one that had to have some extra gas added was the one in our bedroom, so evidently the others are well-sealed and seem to be working well.

With that job out of the way, I decided to start my annual curtain-cleaning.  Probably more necessary than usual this year, due to our recent bathroom renovation. I don't know why I usually do this in June; perhaps it's an in-built need to spring-clean when it's clear that Summer will soon be upon us.

So today I laundered, hung out on the line, and then - about an hour later - re-hung back in place, all our main floor curtains:

Tomorrow I hope to do the upstairs ones. It's not a major job, though it felt that way when I first started doing it. It takes a couple of minutes to take each curtain down, slightly longer to re-hang them at the end, and the washing machine does most of the work. They don't need ironing at all, which is good because I don't iron in general.

On Monday I sprayed the soft furnishings with 'biokill', against summer insects, something I do once a month from the end of May until the end of September.

About two weeks ago I switched from jeans to shorts for the summer, and started drinking lunch-time frapp├ęs rather than hot coffees.  And yet my coconut oil still hasn't fully melted; the temperature in the house is around 24-26C during the day, and there's almost no humidity.  We haven't even put our duvet away for the summer yet, and I'm still - so far - going out for early walks.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A few more additions to our house...

In this, the tenth anniversary of our selling our UK house and buying one in Cyprus, we have done a LOT of renovations and repairs. Some of them should really have been done years ago, including repairing some of our rotting windowsills and frames, but we're not very good at making decisions or at getting around to this kind of thing.

So we started by employing a teenage friend to some painting, and he did such a good job that he's done a great deal of sanding, repairing and more painting, and even some plastering.

In the middle of that, we had a damp-proof course installed. While it's still early days, and hard to tell now that the weather's warmer, we do think our guest flat seems to smell less damp and the kitchen and bathroom cupboards are a lot less musty.

Then we did the most major work of all, having our bathroom renovated. I'm still glad I was out of the country while that was going on, and am very much appreciating the new bathroom. It was basically complete about a month ago, but since then we've done a few extra bits and pieces - I bought a wooden toilet-roll holder in the UK, and Richard put that in.

We replaced the bathroom bin and loo-brush holder, both of which were ancient, and even bought some new scales when Lidl had some on special offer.

We spent a lot of time looking for towels, either in cream or peach, but couldn't find any at all despite searching in several shops locally.  The towels we had been using were ten years old and getting rather scruffy as well as having lost any hint of fluffiness. They were cheap ones and served us well, but having spent a significant amount on the new bathroom, we thought it deserved new towels.

We also realised that there was a bit of a gap in the corner next to the toilet, and that we needed somewhere to store toilet rolls. So after much pondering, we decided to buy another Ikea unit, in the same range as our sink cabinet and mirror.

The shelf in the middle clearly needed a plant, so we spent ages looking for one that would survive in partial shade and would not need too much attention, and are happy to report that, four weeks later, it's not just alive but has some new leaves:

Any time we go to Ikea - which is just outside Nicosia - we seem to find several other things we weren't expecting to buy... and in this particular trip, we found some rather nice brown towels, both large bath sheets and some hand towels that would fit perfectly on our towel rail...

... and even a matching bathmat.

Bathroom complete, we didn't want to do anything else major, but we realised we had a new problem. For the last few years we have used an upright fan in our bedroom overnight, from about May through to October.  In the hottest weather, when the humidity is high, we use our air conditioning too, but right now the heat is dry, and a fan is all we need.

The trouble with the fan was that in order for it to be effective, it had to be in a place where Richard tripped over it or bumped into it almost every night. So he thought about affixing a wall fan in a corner, out of the way. I don't think wall fans look particularly nice and didn't know if it would work well enough, so for a few days recently we put the upright fan on top of the chest-of-drawers, and angled it with a couple of books underneath... far from ideal.

The obvious solution is one we had thought about ten years ago... a ceiling fan. We even bought one at Kleima, but it had the wrong kind of fitting so ended up in our guest flat. We had thought that nice ceiling fans, such as we have in our living areas (bought second-hand just before we moved in, from friends leaving the island) would be very expensive new.

But Leroy Merlin, a big hardware/DIY store in Nicosia (not far from Ikea) sells ceiling fans at very reasonable prices. So we went there yesterday, and bought ourselves a ceiling fan, of very similar style to our others. It's perhaps twice the price of an upright fan, but the ones we have elsewhere have lasted well over ten years, whereas upright ones tend to stop working after three or four.

Richard and Tim, between them, put the ceiling fan up yesterday afternoon....

I think it looks good - and more importantly, it was absolutely wonderful overnight. I felt pleasantly cool, Richard even complained of being cold this morning.

As I write this, the ceiling fan in my study is on, providing a pleasant breeze; they are wonderful inventions, and I am so thankful we now have one upstairs too. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Re-designed Metro supermarket in Larnaka...

It was some weeks ago when Metro supermarket showed signs of redevelopment. Perhaps even months ago. It's our favourite supermarket in Larnaka, and we used to go there weekly. But with just two of us at home, and an excellent froutaria and discount mini-market within walking distance, we now only tend to go to Metro monthly.

Last time we went there, early in March, there was evidently a significant amount of construction work going on. Most of the upstairs was blocked off, and the small space remaining was cramped with stationery, kitchen equipment and the like. The only way to get there was by the stairs at the back of the shop, as the escalators by the entrance were not available.

We guessed that they might be installing a 'travelator' which would enable trolleys to be taken upstairs, rather than having to park them somewhere on the ground floor, hoping that nobody else would take them. And then, just before I went to the UK for a couple of weeks, Metro temporarily closed for the final reconstruction.

It opened while I was away, so the first time I saw the new design was just over a week ago.  I had already learned that, rather than a travelator, they had installed large glass-doored lifts by the entrance.  I didn't think to take a photo when we went in, but this is what they look like from the back:

We took a trolley (Metro are one of the few places that do not require a coin to collect a trolley - a definite plus point in my view) and went in the lift. It was smooth and quite pleasant; I'm no fan of lifts but it wasn't at all claustrophobic, and could easily have taken several people and their groceries.

Upstairs used to have non-grocery items: stationery, small kitchen appliances, cutlery and crockery, mops and buckets, plastic containers, vases, mugs and glasses; also sandals, slippers, bedding, towels, candles ... not as good a selection as at bigger supermarkets, but we've often popped up there to have a look round.

However it now also has items that I'd count as groceries: in particular cleaning products, shampoos and soaps, and cat/dog food and litter. There seem to be fewer electrical goods (though we did see and buy a fan on special offer) and we did not find ornaments, candles or crockery, though they may still be there. Oh, and the entire alcohol section seems to have moved upstairs - there were several aisles with wine and spirits. 

Then I realised that it's not just 'non-food' upstairs, but there are also apparently random items such as flour, nuts, health foods, and some cordials. Probably other things too but I was trying (in vain) to make sense of the layout. We found displays with sandals and slippers in at least three different places, and I'm not sure we went down all the aisles.

Still, we found the cat litter which was our main purpose for going to Metro last week. We went down again, and made our way around the ground floor level of the shop. I very much liked the style, which has much wider aisles than previously, making it much easier to navigate even when there are a lot of people around.

It will take a while to learn where everything is now being displayed, as lots of it is different from the way it used to be. It doesn't seem very logical, either; we found some flour downstairs, but nowhere near the selection they have upstairs. It would be annoying to do a big shop there and have to keep popping up and down in the lift; perhaps they will make it more clearly organised in future.

Still, the fresh fish and meat counters are in the same places, at the far end of the supermarket, and the freezer sections are where they always were, near the entrance (and thus also near the new lifts).

The checkouts are where they always were, too, with the same friendly people staffing them, and a display of chocolate nearby:

It was a quick visit, and my feelings were mixed. It looks good, and I very much like the wide aisles which makes the displays seem lower; the whole place looks more up-market and lighter.  Having to learn a new layout is a bit frustrating but then supermarkets change those from time to time anyway, and I try not to be annoyed by changes of that kind.

However I do hope they'll sort out the upstairs part a bit better, and make it more obvious what is up there.  I imagine we'll continue using Metro rather than any of the other supermarkets, and we'll get used to it. It will be interesting to know whether the new design attracts more customers, or causes some to leave, as it's unlike anything we've seen before in Cyprus.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Bathroom Renovation....

It's almost three weeks since I wrote about our proposed bathroom renovation, with the reasons for going ahead, and what we were planning. I was very pleased to be flying to the UK the following day... or so I thought. In the event, my flight for March 29th was cancelled - apparently one of the airline staff was ill - and rescheduled for the following evening.

I could have gone to a very nice hotel for 24 hours along with most of the other passengers, but decided I'd rather come home. It was useful in that I was able to pay some bills and catch up with a few things I'd neglected. But it was VERY noisy.

I had assumed, in my ignorance, that on the Wednesday, when work finally began (after a two-day delay) that the builders would first of all work on our guest flat shower, taking out the old one and installing the new one.


The guy who came was the demolition expert. So he did take out the guest flat old and tatty shower, and left it pretty tidy, but he then got straight to work starting to demolish our bathroom.  I didn't want to look at first, but after some hours I took a look:

Since the tiling had been done thoroughly, and expertly, over the entire bathroom, it wasn't an easy task to remove them. And the noise was horrendous.

Had my flight been cancelled again, I would have taken up the option on a hotel rather than returning to the house for another day of destruction!

Happily my flight went ahead on the Wednesday evening; I arrived in Liverpool about 1am UK time, and I spent the night in the nearest airport hotel; Richard had re-booked everything for me after the cancellation, and I was very pleased indeed to have somewhere to crash out for a night:

On the Thursday morning, the last day of March, I caught various coaches that took me up to Carlisle, and a wonderful reunion with my son, daughter-in-law and toddler grandson.

I had little thought to spare for the continued destruction of the bathroom, but Richard took photos such as this one, after more of the tiles were removed:

And this one, after the builders discovered that the entire bath was sitting on a slurry of concrete:

And this one, at the end of the day, after they had tidied up and removed the bath.  Alex was quite disturbed by it all, but determined to investigate:

Friday April 1st was a public holiday in Cyprus, and Richard had arranged to go sailing. So work was halted for a long weekend. And they still didn't install the guest flat shower. Thankfully we do have another loo; we also have another shower - in a sort of cupboard in my study. We use it for keeping heaters and/or fans (depending on the season) and our beach equipment. So he took everything out of it, and used the shower there for the duration.

Meanwhile, I was having fun with my grandson in the UK, where it was a bit grey and showery. But the only noise was that of a cheerful toddler, and the bathroom was functional!

On Monday April 4th, the work resumed. I had really hoped they'd have started installing the new bathroom by then, but no... there was yet more preparation work to be done, uncovering and moving piles, drilling more holes and doing some initial cementing:

And here's how it looked by the end of April 5th - not much different, but by now there were new channels dug into the floor and more concreting done:

Meanwhile in the UK, my grandson wasn't too well during the day, but enjoyed tucking into some curry and naan bread in the evening: 

Wednesday April 6th was both sad and happy for me: I had to say goodbye to my family in Carlisle, but the train took me south to stay with my father and his wife in the Midlands. It was very good to see them and to catch up with my siblings and their spouses too, at the weekend.

Back in Cyprus, there was some progress, in that the walls received their first cement 'skim':

But a day later, although it had dried out, it didn't look much different and I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever have a bathroom back again. I think Richard was getting a bit concerned too...

Then on Friday 8th - the day when it should all have been complete - construction began, and the tiles were put on two walls:

The builders realised that there was an imminent deadline: Richard was leaving the country on Tuesday 12th, so they worked through the weekend, grouting the tiles, laying the floor, and doing the electrics and lighting.

We had chosen some light orange paint for the other two walls - not wanting the entire thing tiled again - so that was the next task. By the end of Sunday 10th April, there was a shell with plumbing complete, lights installed, and tiling and painting done. It still looked a bit depressing.

And then it all started to come together on the Monday, more so on the Tuesday morning. By the time Richard departed for the airport, he was able to take this remarkably different picture:

I had to say another set of sad goodbyes, and travelled down by coach to meet Richard at Gatwick. We were able to spend a day and a half with his mother, and to my surprise the thermometer rose and the sun came out. Tuesday, when we went out for the day, was apparently the warmest of the year so far:

On Thursday we were back at Gatwick. I flew back to Cyprus in the evening, and about an hour later Richard flew in a different direction to some work-related meetings.

I felt a bit bad that Richard had put up with all the noise and chaos, yet I was the first one actually to use the new bathroom. It felt a bit strange at first, and the bath surface was so slippery that I went out and bought a non-slip mat as a temporary measure. When he's back we're going to put up some hooks, and pictures, and buy some new towels... but it's a very pleasant bathroom which looks amazing, and - due to an efficient extractor fan - should no longer attract mould.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Replacing our bathroom....

It's coming up to ten years since we moved into our house in Cyprus. It's more than ten years since we first saw it, and pondered, and prayed, and decided that it was the right house to buy. As, indeed, the past decade has amply demonstrated.

But back in January 2006, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't really know what we were looking for although we had a few important criteria. At first we tried to find a four-bedroomed house, but they were too expensive in the area we wanted to live. So we started looking at three-bedroomed houses... only to have an estate agent take us a three-storey house which had three bedrooms on the ground floor, which is a separate flat, AND three bedrooms on the top floor, as well as a good-sized room off the living room which could be used as another bedroom.

We fell in love with the kitchen immediately, we saw lots of potential in the main living area, and although the bedrooms seemed a bit small compared to the ones in our rental home, we knew they would be fine.

But we really didn't like the bathroom.

It's not that it was too small, but there was a huge sink unit that seemed to take up almost half the floor space, and there was mould growing around the bath sealant (although everything else was scrupulously clean):

We really didn't like the colour, either. And whereas we could easily repaint other rooms (and did so before moving in) it's a lot more difficult to change bathroom tiles.

Thinking about the bathroom almost put us off the house entirely, but we went back for a second viewing. When we saw it again - and I took the above photo - we realised it wasn't as bad as we had remembered. We still didn't like the style or colours, but it was quite adequate; a great deal better than the one in our rental home (of which I don't think any of us ever took any photos).

Besides, with the amount we sold our UK house for, we had some 'change' when we went ahead with buying this one. We used some of it to buy important items such as a large freezer, and an electronic piano, and a television (since our previous one had quit some months previously), as well as a few extra bookcases. But we promised ourselves that once we'd settled in, we would do something about the bathroom.

Time, as it is wont to do, passed.

Richard replaced the sealant around the bath.

A few years ago, he managed to cut down the shower doors which were a bit broken and somewhat mouldy.

But it's continued to cause frustration. Nothing major, in the scheme of things, but it gets very damp, and the condensation turns to mould on the ceiling and wall tiles. I clean them regularly, but it grows back, and we don't always notice black on the ceiling. We could keep the window open, but it would be VERY cold in the winter. What it needs is an extractor fan... but that's not an easy thing to install without taking the bathroom apart.

The radiator, too, is extremely rusty. Each year it looks worse, and we wonder if it's going to leak. We muttered that it would be nice to have a heated towel rail...

We're not good at getting around to doing things, and time continued to pass, but we seriously needed a new shower on the ground floor (which we use as a guest apartment). The doors have been wonky since we moved in, and are getting worse. There's mould there too. And we have been given money specifically for the upkeep of the guest flat...

So at the end of last year, we started looking at new showers, and other bathroom fittings, curious to know what was available, and what the likely cost would be, and whether we would even be able to find anything suitable.

Finding a new shower for the guest flat wasn't too difficult, but we also wanted to know what might - theoretically - be possible in our main bathroom. We discussed having only a shower with no bath, to make it feel bigger. But occasionally we both like to take a bath, and it's important to have one for visiting children.

Visiting the bigger DIY stores was discouraging; nothing was inspiring, and we'd almost given up when we decided to look at a local bathroom supplies place. There we saw a corner bath, the kind of thing Richard had always rather craved, which would take up rather less space (or less awkward space, anyway) than our current bath.

We saw a sink we liked too, and Richard said he would be able to build a small, neat shelved unit to go around it.

I didn't think we needed a new loo; this is our current one:

But they're not expensive, and this one has a lot of scale (and needs a new seat lid anyway)... so we thought that if we were buying the rest new, we should go ahead with that, too.

We contacted the builder who has done some other work on the house, and he gave us a quotation for doing the entire bathroom - removing all the tiles and old units, plumbing in the new ones to our specifications, re-painting the ceiling, doing any necessary plastering, putting up tiles... at least a week's expert work. It wasn't cheap but not unreasonable either.

Richard was eager to go ahead, but I was still resistant. Partly because I have an inherent dislike of spending money on myself (part of my Scottish heritage, perhaps) and also partly because I find it extremely stressful having builders in the house, no matter how friendly and efficient they are. There's inevitable noise, and dust, and chaos... I really, really dislike it.

But I'd been wanting to spend a couple of weeks in the UK visiting relatives, as it's over a year since we've been, and so the idea formed that I would go on my own, and Richard would get the bathroom done in my absence.

The vague idea turned to more concrete plans in the past month. My flights and other travel arrangements are booked, and one of our bedrooms is currently full of bathroom fittings and fixtures. We've chosen tiles and paint, and the builders are booked for this week. They're going to replace the guest flat shower first, and that should have been happening today.

This morning Richard had a message to say that they're going to start a day late. They're still finishing a previous job that took longer than expected.

I can't say I'm unhappy about that. That means they'll do the guest flat shower tomorrow, and probably won't start work on the main part of the house until Wednesday, by which time I'll be a few thousand kilometres away.

The only slight problem is that the heated towel rail (to replace the rusty radiator) was not in stock when Richard put the order in, so had to be ordered from abroad. And last week there was a port strike in Limassol. I gather it's now been called off, so we hope that shipments will be unpacked and will make their way to the relevant stores in time for us, and for the many other frustrated customers awaiting bathroom and other parts.

Tomorrow morning I'll take my last shower in the present bathroom. I don't think I'll have any regrets... it's served us well for the past ten years, but I'm not going to miss it.