Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Restoration of Bathroom Renovation

 In my previous blog post, I mentioned that we were having some work done upstairs, and that I would write about it when it was complete. 

To introduce it, I need to backtrack six years, when we employed a local builder to remove the old-fashioned bathroom from our house and instal a new one, with an extractor fan, better lighting, and an altogether more modern appearance. We were very pleased with the result. 

Anyone who is curious to read more about it can check the lengthy post I wrote at the time about our bathroom renovation

However, about a week after we had been using the new shower regularly, I realised that a couple of the tiles around the tap didn't look quite the same as the rest. I thought I was imagining it at first. Then I wondered if we had somehow bought a box of tiles in a slightly different shade but hadn't noticed at the time. This theory was disproved when a third tile started changing colour. And we found some water on the floor. It wasn't just shower water that had splashed over; this was behind the bath, where there shouldn't have been any water.

And then we noticed some of the paint starting to bubble on one of the walls. We contacted the builder - I don't recall the time-frame, but it was probably some months after the renovation. He came back, and said that the bubbly paint was possibly due to the plaster not having dried out fully before it was painted. He was more concerned about the water and the different shades on the tiles, and he managed to find a joint that wasn't quite right. 

He said he had employed a plumber who rushed his work and had made some other mistakes. So he fixed this leaky pipe joint, and said he would talk to his brother - who is a plasterer - about getting the bubbly paintwork dealt with. 

Time passed. Not months but years.  If we were away for more than about a week, we returned to find that all the tiles were the same colour, but a couple of days later, with regular shower use, the ones around the taps turned back to the different shade.  And the patches with bubbly paintwork turned into large patches of bare wall, including one in the wall outside the bathroom which seemed to be getting worse and worse. 

The builder and his brother did come and look at the bathroom a couple of times, where the walls were getting worse, and said they would come back some time. But they're very busy with other work, and it didn't happen... and we didn't know anyone else who would be able to do the work. Word of mouth is the best way to find skilled handymen here, but unfortunately most of the people we knew with experience of this kind of thing had been disappointed (or worse). The people we used were some of the best locally. 

A young friend who had done some other work for us suggested that perhaps the sealant around the bath was causing the tile problems, and added some more. It looked good, but didn't seem to make any difference to the colour of the tiles. 

More years passed, with the pandemic stopping everything from happening, and finally we talked to another young friend, whom I will refer to as L, the son of some close friends who has worked with a builder in the UK, and did some excellent plastering for us downstairs. He doesn't particularly like working inside - his passion is horticulture - but he said he thought he could fix our problems working just an hour or two per day for a couple of weeks. 

This is what the wall outside the bathroom looked like when L had removed the radiator, and chipped away the loose plaster. He said the wall was very damp, so clearly there was a problem inside the wall, one which he could only tackle from the bathroom side. 

This was what the wall inside looked like: 

And this is the wall opposite, where plaster had fallen away but it was no longer damp, and it had stopped getting worse. The problem that caused this was that the exterior wall had been sucking in water; a year or so ago L had painted the outside wall, which stopped any more damp getting in.

A couple of days later, the tiles around the taps looked like this:

In pulling away the worst of the tiles, L discovered others that almost fell off the wall. 

The timing worked well, as there were no visitors in our guest flat during May, so we were able to go downstairs to shower. Not ideal, as the guest flat stairs are outside, but we were thankful to have that option while the bathroom was unusable. 

We were also very thankful to have discovered an almost-full box of the tiles. That meant we didn't need to try to find matching tiles, or - worse! - replace all the tiles. And in feeling around the plumbing, L found a place that was wet - a joint that had never properly been made, which was the cause of the leaking. At least, he hoped that was the only cause. He managed to fix it, and then we had to wait for everything to dry out. 

All seemed to be dry a week or so later, so he started plastering. First he used the mixture commonly used in Cyprus that looks to us more like concrete:

He plastered the other walls too, and then we had to wait for those to dry out. May was a good time for this to happen; it was warm but not yet humid, and we were able to use a small upright fan to help the process. 

Over the course of the next few days, further plastering happened. Then there was a big leap forward in terms of appearance ,when L called in his brother J to help with the tiling. 

Alex, who appears sporadically in this blog, assumed that the dust sheet was put there for his comfort, and tried to persuade us to turn on the taps to give him a drink. He was rather annoyed when we refused, not wanting any excess water until everything was complete. 

The walls opposite and outside were also being plastered, and sanded, and skimmed, and looked better than they had in years.

Since we were having all this done, and since our previous shower fittings had become quite corroded, we decided to splash out (so to speak) on new fittings, which improved the appearance significantly: 

I wouldn't have minded too much if we had had to change the colour of the bathroom walls, as the orange used six years ago was rather more vivid than I had anticipated. But when we found a half-full pot of the paint, it was an easy decision to use that rather than embarking on a complete re-paint. Richard and I did the painting (mostly Richard) and at last, over a month since it was started, our bathroom was back to how it was after the first renovation six years ago:

It was very good to be able to take a shower in our bathroom again after more than three weeks of having to go down two flights of stairs (one of them outside). We know we're very blessed to have options like this, but guests were expected for our flat early in June. 

Here's the wall next to the bath:

And here's the one opposite:

The only thing remaining was for L to cut some more skirting board pieces and fit them, which he did a few days later. 

We've been using the shower for nearly four weeks now, and are delighted - and relieved - that none of the tiles is showing any indication of changing colour, nor is any of the plaster bubbling or crumbling. And, as mentioned in the previous post, our Roomba has worked hard at eliminating the last of the plaster dust. L did an excellent job tidying and sweeping every day he came, after finishing, but inevitably there was fine dust that kept falling. 

We hope that this bathroom renovation will last considerably longer than six years, and appreciate it all the more after having been unable to use it for most of May.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Introducing... Dustin!

No, Dustin is not a new cat, nor any other animal. Neither is Dustin a lodger, or a guest or a new family member. Not a human one, anyway. But an extremely effective worker, mostly found under the front window in our living room...

Roomba in Cyprus

A decade or so ago, when I first heard about robot vacuum cleaners, I thought they sounded like a great idea. But they were very expensive, and reviews suggested that they had a lot of flaws. Quite apart from the infamous stories about dragging dog mess over expensive carpets, I was concerned about tiny pieces of Lego, or little electronic components that might have fallen to the floor. 

So I hadn't thought about them much until a couple of months ago when we were in a shop that had robot vacuum cleaners on special offer, at a price that was similar to that of regular vacuum cleaners. Not that we needed a new vacuum cleaner; the one we have works perfectly well. But it's noisy, and a bit heavy to take upstairs, and I find vacuuming one of the most tiring household chores - so I didn't do it very often. I aimed for once a week in the main part of our house, once a month upstairs. I rarely succeeded in either aim. 

We have mostly hard floors, so I did also clean them with a dry swiffer,  and mop with a wet one. My aim for that was once a week upstairs and twice a week in the main floor. I didn't always succeed in that aim, either, although it did help to reduce dust and thus sneezing and - most importantly - snoring.  Every so often I would read an article about dust mites, and shudder, and determine to vacuum more often. But 'good intentions' do not lead to a good place...

And mostly it didn't matter too much. Cyprus is a dusty country and if someone visiting the house feels judgemental about dust, it's their problem, not mine. Before it got too bad, I would take action, if somewhat half-heartedly. If guests were expected, I would at least dust the tops of shelves and mop the floor in the living and eating areas of the house if I hadn't done them on the previous Saturday. 

This year I have been a lot more tired than previously. I said in an earlier post that it was perhaps due to my advancing years, and two different people pointed out that my years are less than theirs, so perhaps not. It's not as if I have any chronic health conditions. But Covid in January left me very tired. I thought I was mostly myself by the end of the month, ten days after I was finally released from isolation, but I am not sure that I ever fully regained my prior energy. And I've never had a lot of stamina. 

I was beginning to feel more myself by the end of March. Then I had a booster vaccination in April, which made me feel extremely grim for 24 hours, and fatigued in the extreme for a couple more days. I still don't feel as if I've returned to normal. My brain is foggy, my energy levels fluctuating even more than they used to. If I have a busy, active day (and my 'busy, active' days are calm and relaxed compared to those of many people I know) I can't do much more than sit and read a day later.

All of which, combined with a generous financial gift, came together to convince me that a robot vacuum cleaner would be a Good Thing. We didn't just buy it in impulse, even so. We came home, and researched the many available options - most of which are now reasonably priced - and eventually decided on a 'Roomba'. 

There are buttons on top to tell it to clean, or to go home. But the instruction manual recommended downloading an app for our phones. My phone doesn't have room for any more apps, and I'd rather use the actual buttons anyway. But Richard downloaded it, and that's when we learned that we had to give it a name. 'Roomba' seemed rather boring, so I Googled for a site that listed names others have given to their robot vacuum cleaners. None of them appealed until we came to 'Dusty' - but, as I pointed out, we didn't want it to make the house dusty. We wanted it to eat the dirt, to suck the dust in... and thus it got its name. And we sometimes started referring to it as 'he'.  

One of the reviews I read said that these robot gadgets lurched around the room like drunken babies, and when we set it off for the first time, we could see what the reviewer meant. It started off in a fairly straight line, bumped into something, changed direction, set off until it bumped into something else... it seemed entirely random, and we could hardly take our eyes off it. 

The cats were puzzled too, disturbed at first, but quickly accepting that it didn't mean any harm. And over the course of the next ninety minutes or so, it managed to find the entire main floor. I hadn't vacuumed the rug for about ten days, and had swiffered (but not mopped) the floors a few days earlier. So it had to work hard. But I was still rather shocked when it returned to its base after about an hour and a half, and we opened the dust container to check and empty it:

Roomba full of dirt and dust!

We were surprised it hadn't choked and stopped. According to the app, it had found 39 'dust events' - places where it was so dirty it had to do a kind of twirl to get properly clean.

We thought we had better run it again the following day, and did so. It struggled a bit on some of the lighter-weight rugs, so we lifted those out of the way - they're easy enough to throw in the washing machine.  More of a problem was its proclivity for trying to swallow electrical cables, of which we had rather a lot on the floor: at the back of the TV, around my computer, and elsewhere. It was a good incentive to find ways to move them off the floor. 

On the Saturday, when I would normally procrastinate about cleaning as I so disliked vacuuming, I had a burst of enthusiasm for dusting the shelves, and even lifted the chairs so Dustin could clean under the dining room table: 

Mopping suddenly became less effort, too, as less dusty floors meant less general mess... so I didn't have to keep stopping to clean the mop. Dustin has cleaned upstairs, too, and is excellent underneath the bed. Twice a week seems to be about right for upstairs. We had read that it was supposed to be able to sense stairs, so we watched it the first time it ran upstairs, hoping it would see the stairs coming and move away. I sat on one of the top stairs watching it approach... and was ready to catch it, if it didn't turn around. 

What happened was that it stopped, rather precariously balanced with about a quarter of it hanging over the edge. A red light came on, and a message appeared on Richard's phone, telling him that Dustin was teetering on the edge of a cliff. We rescued it, and decided to put the cat litter box at the top of the stairs, as it's fairly heavy and bulky, and would prevent the robot from toppling over or sending out the SOS. 

About ten days ago, I remembered that it's probably six months or more since we last moved our big sofa to clean underneath. Sure enough, when I moved it, this is what I saw: 

I had to pick Dustin up and put it in the right place a couple of times, but the resultant dust-free floor was quite a contrast: 

It's been quite a revelation having this robot vacuum cleaner. I didn't think the house was THAT dirty, and assumed that once or twice per week would be sufficient to keep it clean. But we've been running it six times a week in the main part of the house - we give it a rest on Sundays - and still it sucks up a significant amount of dust every day, albeit not as much as the first time. Here, for instance, is today's offering, after about six weeks of use and something like 55 hours running time in total (according to the app):

The white bits that fell out when I opened it are probably plaster dust; considerable work is happening upstairs, which will be the subject of another blog post when it's finished. But there's not much of that. The cats are moulting as the weather warms up, so no doubt a large part of the dust is due to cat hairs, but even so... the house must have been much dirtier than we realised, and it may be months before we can run the Roomba less frequently.

And I'm happy to report that both sneezing (notwithstanding the plaster dust) and snoring have reduced considerably. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

April, and restrictions ease in Cyprus

So it's over two years since the pandemic started. Case numbers are still fairly high in Cyprus, given that the population is not much more than a million. But restrictions are easing, as they have in many other Western countries in the past couple of months. We still have to wear masks in shops and other indoor public spaces, but safe passes haven't had to be shown in supermarkets or other grocery shops for a couple of weeks, and as of Monday they won't need to be shown anywhere. 

I mentioned in my last post that March had turned chilly, as often happens during the first week of March. I didn't expect that it would continue to be decidedly on the cool side for Cyprus. We've had to have our gas tank refilled at least three times this winter - it was only once a year ago. The central heating was coming on, if only for half an hour or so, every day until the end of the month. 

We realised how unusual that was the day after the clocks went forward (the last Sunday of March); we didn't change the central heating timer clock, and realised it had not previously occurred to us that we might need to. Never before has the heating come on during the daylight savings/summer time period.

I was still wearing several layers of clothes, using a microwave wheat bag every night, and still using our double thickness of duvet (13 togs and 4.5 togs together). Although I change the sheets and pillowcases every week, I only change the duvet cover once a fortnight - and both times, during March, I pondered whether to move to just the 13 tog duvet, and quickly decided against it. It's only in the past week that it started to feel over-warm, and today I put away the 4.5 tog duvet. At some point we'll have a couple of weeks when we just need that, then I'll wash them both and pack them away for the summer.

So it was no surprise to learn that March was the coldest ever for Larnaka (and other parts of the island). 

I took very few photos. I didn't even take one of yellow foliage - perhaps it took longer to appear. I did take this photo, however, which is mostly yellow, about four weeks ago:

lemons in Cyprus!

A crate of lemons, brought to us by a friend who had been employed to cut down an old lemon tree that was growing too close to someone's house. That wasn't all of them - we took maybe 25% of the lemons we were offered.  I don't know how many kilograms there were, but I spent a fair bit of time grating skin to freeze zest, juicing them - to freeze, or use.  

I've frozen two biggish boxes of lemon 'cubes' to use when I need just a tablespoon of the juice in the months when lemons are more difficult to get hold of, and several small boxes with 100ml each of lemon juice to use in various recipes that need more than a tablespoon. I've also frozen a couple of boxes of lemon slices, to use in water, or on salmon.  And during many of those chilly evenings we drank hot lemon and honey. 

I had to throw out maybe three or four that started to go mouldy, but I kept the crate outside, and the colder weather meant that most of them kept very well. I haven't used them all, even now. But the ones that remain are very small and getting a bit dried out.

As usual, I walked three times a week with my friend Sheila, along part of the Salt Lake trail. I say 'as usual' but for a couple of weeks in January I didn't walk due to having Covid, and for a couple of weeks in February she didn't walk, due to isolating and then having Covid herself. But in March we were both fine, and although we sometimes had to wrap up extra-warm, with woolly hats and scarves, it was good to get out first thing. 

In addition to being cold, there was a fair amount of rain, so that the Salt Lake was about as full as it ever gets: 

Salt Lake in Larnaka, quite full

The picture doesn't really show it well, but usually there are several metres more of 'beach' before the water starts.

Flamingoes, of course, have been much in evidence, though never close enough for good pictures:

flamingoes in Larnaka Salt Lake

My freesias came out, over a week later than their usual date, and didn't last long, but they were pretty for a few days:

At the end of the month, I popped around the corner to buy something from 'Kritikos', our convenient supermarket which was previously 'Savemore', and before that 'Micro', and before that 'Orphanides Express', and before that 'Kleitos'.  Yes, all those different supermarkets in the not-quite-sixteen years since we moved to this house (how can it possibly be sixteen...?)

And, like all its predecessors, it had closed. Abruptly, with no warning. 

closed Kritikos supermarket in Larnaka

I wonder what its next incarnation will be... or whether it just isn't commercially viable to have a supermarket in a residential area like this one. 

I don't even take as many photos of the cats as I used to. Alexander and Lady Jane are eight years old now, and Alex, at least, is just starting to slow down a little. He, like me, seems quite sensitive to both extremes of weather; he doesn't like it being cold, but he doesn't like heat either. Here he is, worn out after being outside in the unexpected warmth of April (and it was VERY hot for a couple of days - up to 27 degrees, with a dust storm from the Sahara)

sleeping white and brown cat

Jane, however, likes the heat so much that even in July and August she pointedly departs from any room where the air conditioning is turned on. She has spent much of the winter curled up in a beanbag right against a radiator. And even in early April, when I was, at last, shedding a layer or two, she was clearly hinting that she wanted the heating on again:

cat sleeping in a cat bed!

Yes, Jane is such an unusual cat that she actually sleeps in a bed that is intended for cats! 

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Visitors and Blustery Days in Cyprus

January, as I described at length, was mostly taken up with Covid. Not that I had it seriously, thankfully, and Richard never did catch it. By the end of the month normal pandemic life had resumed albeit with reduced energy levels and a nasty cough. 

In the middle of February we were delighted that one of my second cousins and her family were able to come and visit. I last saw my cousin thirty-five years ago but one of the great things about Facebook is the ability to get in touch with long-lost friends and relatives. 

The weather, as so often happens mid-February, was pleasantly warm and sunny, so they were able to get out and about, and the week flew past. Unfortunately my cousins were not able to meet our closest friends, who were isolating for most of the month, as one after another of them caught Covid. Happily it was even more mildly than I had it, and (so far, anyway) with no lasting effects. 

And so to March. 

Almost every year the balmier weather of February gives way to a much chillier March. Walking with my friend in the Salt Lake Park on Thursday morning, wearing a warm hat, rather than a sun hat, we were startled to see a rainbow:

Rainbow over the Salt Lake

It wasn't raining where we were walking (for which I was thankful) and the rainbow didn't last very long. But it was extremely windy. We watched some birds trying to fly from the top of a tree, apparently hovering or even flying backwards as they battled against the gusts.

Yesterday was quite pleasant, and Richard went sailing with a friend although it was so cold, with rain threatening, that they didn't stay out as long as they had hoped. 

Today, after lunch, Richard suggested a walk along the Mackenzie promenade, and perhaps an ice cream at one of the cafés. It looked very windy despite the temperature being 17 degrees and sunny, so we wrapped up warmly. Richard took a woolly hat. I didn't, but rather wished I had done so...

The waves, usually very calm here, were extremely choppy: 

choppy waves by Mackenzie beach in Larnaka

As we approached the section with the ice cream cafés, I saw a sign for hot chocolate. Somehow that seemed a lot more appealing than ice cream, as we were both feeling a little chilly. So I suggested we ask if they had any non-dairy milks. Yes, they told us, they had either coconut or almond milk. A great improvement on a couple of years ago when the only option tended to be soya. So we ordered hot chocolate made with coconut milk and sat down in some relief after the buffeting of the wind. 

drinking hot chocolate with coconut milk

They were very good, and warmed us up nicely. We don't think we've been in this particular café before - it had a typically Cypriot interior, with both a wood-burning heater for the winter, and high wall fans for the summer:

Inside of Cyprus café

Neither were switched on, since the temperature inside was just right, at least with our warm jackets on. 

The other typical feature was a cat, wandering around sniffing under the tables in case any previous customers had dropped anything:

cat in Cyprus

It was quite a large cat, evidently an elderly one which seemed entirely oblivious to people. Not a feral cat, however: it was clean and well-fed. 

Then, warmed by our hot chocolate, we set out again, this time against the wind so it was much more of a struggle. I got quite cold before we reached the turn-off for the car park.  Yes, we drove most of the way, as we have done before when walking along the promenade. We didn't walk nearly far enough to walk off the hot chocolate calories... but I was extremely thankful to be out of the wind at last.

This blustery weather is predicted to continue, along with somewhat grey days and some rain, and chilly nights, though reasonably warm in the daytimes: 

Larnaka forecast March 2022

I feel as if my energy levels are pretty much restored now, or as much as is possible at my advanced age. I still have an occasional cough, but it's a whole lot better than it was a month ago. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Isolating in Cyprus, recovering, and trying to get into the system...

Continuing the post I wrote ten days ago, about being ill, confusing test results and voluntary self-isolation. 

I was reassured by comments telling me I was doing the right thing, and suggestions that I should continue isolating until a home test proved negative, whatever the official rules might be.

The day after writing the email I mentioned, on the morning of Wednesday 12th January, I had a phone call in response. A helpful man with limited English told me I should go to the New Hospital for a PCR test at 7.30pm that evening. I had to turn left at the parking, he told me, and wait at the old container.

At around 3.30pm he called again and said that if I wanted to, I could go immediately. 

Of course it meant Richard and I had to be in the car together rather than isolating from each other, but we both wore masks. Since he hadn't caught it on the two days when I had symptoms but was testing negative with the home test, I didn't think there was a huge risk by this stage, when I no longer had any symptoms. Perhaps the PCR would prove negative, and I wouldn't be in the system at all...

The test wasn't too uncomfortable, and I assumed I would hear the result by the following morning. No, the doctor told  me, this wasn't  a quick PCR. This was a slow one, so I would hear in three or four days.  

I was not impressed! It was six days, already, after having had the first symptoms. But I knew I needed to keep isolating. So I didn't leave the house. We continued sleeping in different rooms, spending most of our days in other different rooms, and I wore a mask when I went into the kitchen or living room.

On Saturday, January 15th, I thought I was improving. The cold symptoms seemed to have gone, and I really wanted to get the house clean and aired, the bedding changed, and life beginning to be back to normal. So, feeling hopeful, I did another home test. 

It proved positive.

I wasn't happy. I stayed in my study, venturing out into the rest of the house in a mask to do as little as I could, and gradually realised I was still extremely tired. Perhaps it was as well that I wasn't trying to clean the entire house. We postponed our usual get-together with friends for Sunday and I knew I wouldn't be going to church. 

Then there was an update in the papers, about isolation periods, due to be implemented on 17th January. While some other countries were reducing the isolation period to seven or even five days (with negative home test to release them), Cyprus was making it longer. Instead of ten days from onset of symptoms, it became ten days after the first positive test. The only good thing was that no longer do doctors have to be involved - the article states that, 'The citizens will be automatically informed on the mobile phone with an SMS the night before their release.'

On Sunday 16th, I finally received a text message from the Ministry of Health with my PCR result. Actually, it was four text messages: two in Greek, two saying the same things in English. 

The first one said, in capital letters, 'Your Covid19 test is positive. Please self-isolate, inform your contacts and contact your general practitioner. You can find the official guidelines at https://bit.ly/2ZZEbtd". 

I had, of course, already informed my contacts, such as they were, and they had done tests to ensure they were Covid-free. I hadn't seen anyone other than Richard for over a week, and had kept my distance from him. 

The second text message told me that in order to submit contact tracing data, and to get a certificate of recovery, I had to fill in an online form. It gave me a code to enable me to do that, so I did. It felt rather like the cliché of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted but I wanted to show willing. So I filled in all my information again, made up a Greek spelling of my name (which was required in addition to the English spelling), and listed Richard and the friend I had seen most recently (eight days beforehand) as two contacts. Both are fully vaccinated and boosted so would not be required to isolate or have tests... but I assumed they would both get a message from the ministry of health.

But, over a week later, neither of them had heard anything. 

On Monday morning last week, I felt considerably better. By then it was two weeks after my likely exposure to Covid, ten full days after my first symptoms. It was eight days after my first positive test. By the regulations of most other countries, I would be free to go out and about, considered non-infectious. 

But I wanted to be sure, so I did another home test. And, hallelujah, it was negative!

They don't have QR codes here, and there was no way to inform anyone official, but we reckoned that meant I was no longer in danger to anyone. So I spent Monday airing and cleaning the house, doing extra laundry, and no longer wearing a mask. It felt as if I were no longer 'unclean', and it was awesome to be able to hug my husband again. 

Possibly I did too much as I was exhausted by about 6pm, but I was very relieved to think that life was getting back to normal again, and that I had escaped reasonably lightly. 

On Tuesday I emailed an address I found, for queries about release from isolation. I had no response, not even an automated one. Since I had decided I wanted to be in the system,  I thought I had better stick to the rules of not going out, even though friends came over, satisfied that I wasn't going to infect them. 

By Friday. I still hadn't heard anything. By Friday, it was two weeks after my first positive home test. I didn't go to the shops; my 'safepass', according to the local press, would not work (although when Richard scanned it with his CovScan application, it showed as fine). In the evening, we went to our friends' house but I was more tired than I had realised, and we left early. I really hoped I might get a 'release' text on Friday evening, ten days after my second positive home test. But nothing came.

On Saturday, I went out for an early morning walk with my friend, for the first time in a couple of weeks. I couldn't walk very fast, and felt that we had to turn back before we reached our usual destination. It was good to be out, although it's been very cold recently. Even the flamingoes seem to have got the message about distancing, although in this photo they just look like tiny white blobs:

flamingoes distancing in the Salt Lake

I know, I really shouldn't have left the house at all until I'd had my release text. But if my lab antigen test on Monday10th had been positive (as I'm sure it would have been if they had done it correctly) I'd have been released, at least in theory, a couple of days beforehand. And it wasn't as if I were seeing lots of people. 

Much as I enjoyed the walk, I was very tired by the time I got home. There's a cough, too; not as frequent as it was a week earlier, but quite hacking and unpleasant when it hits. Usually when I get cold, or when I'm talking. Hot drinks help, as does staying warm. And I do want to get a bit fitter again, but walking even a couple of kilometres appears to be as much as I can manage so far. 

I felt wiped out for the rest of Saturday and had another early night... but just as I was about to go to sleep, I heard two messages on my phone in quick succession.

At last!  My official release text, in both English and Greek. 

But that's not the end of the saga. 

My second vaccination (Astra Zeneca) was on July 7th 2021. In Cyprus, we were told to wait six months before booking a booster, so I had planned to have it as soon as possible after 7th January.  That guidance did in fact change mid-December to allow a five-and-a-half month gap. But it didn't seem like a great idea to have a booster right before Christmas. Besides, I didn't suppose I was at much risk... so I had booked it for January 11th. Obviously, I had to cancel since by that stage I was isolating. Even that wasn't straightforward, but Richard eventually found the right phone number and succeeded in doing so. 

While opinion is divided about how soon after having Covid one should have a booster, most of the advice I found recommends at least a month. In Cyprus 'safe passes' for vaccinations expire seven months after the second dose, if no booster has been given. That would mean that from February 7th my vaccination pass would no longer be valid for shopping or church or anywhere else I might want to go, unless I had the booster before that date, and I wanted to wait. 

No problem... or so I thought. Instead of continuing to use my vaccination safe pass, I could get a new one based on my having had Covid. That would be valid for at least three months, so I could wait a bit longer before booking the booster.

So on Sunday morning Richard used his phone app to try to get a new safe pass for me. But when he selected 'recovery from Covid', it told him that the system couldn't find a release certificate for me. He tried a couple of times, and I tried on my computer - nothing worked.

Perhaps, we thought optimistically, it would take 24 hours to update. 

So we tried again this morning, and it still didn't work. 

At the bottom of the page was a hotline number for questions, so Richard called that. And a helpful guy said, 'Oh, yes, it's wrong. I will update it. Try again in twenty minutes'. 

We rolled our eyes a little - surely the system should have automated it...? - and he tried again twenty minutes later.

This time it found the certificate. It produced a safe pass. 

But my name was spelled wrongly.  Not just one spelling error (which, in Cyprus, really wouldn't matter as spelling does tend to be variable for proper nouns) but THREE mistakes.  One in each of my three names. Since places checking safe passes are also supposed to check IDs, I thought it should really be more accurate than that. And where had it picked up the wrong spelling anyway...? We will probably never know. 

So Richard called the hotline AGAIN and someone else said that she would correct it. It's a tad concerning that all it takes is a phone call to have something like that edited... but 'this is Cyprus'. 

Sure enough, it worked. 

Well, almost. 

My middle name is given as part of my surname rather than as part of my first name, but at least the spelling is correct.

I now have a safe pass valid until July 7th. That's six months away. I don't plan to wait that long before my booster, unless Omicron proves to be the end of the pandemic (as some hopeful experts have suggested might possibly be the case) in which case I might not have one at all. But assuming it continues, I really don't want to risk another infection. I know my case was mild; I don't have any underlying conditions and I'm reasonably healthy. And I've had two vaccinations. But it wasn't pleasant, the lingering cough is nasty, and I'm still not back to my usual energy levels. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Isolation and Testing Confusion

On Monday January 3rd, we went to look for a new small upright freezer for our guest flat. There are several people booked to stay there over the next few months, including some families. Our old guest flat freezer was very inefficient to run by today's standards, and likely to stop working at some point due to its age (close to 24 years). 

One of the shops we went into was in the Metropolis Mall. I was aware, while there, that people were not really distancing from each other, and many were rather casual about mask wearing. There were a few coughs and sneezes, too. We didn't end up buying the freezer there, but we did find one at our favourite white goods' shop, George Theodorou, where health protocols were correctly observed.

On Tuesday I walked first thing with my friend Sheila as usual. Later, she and her daughters came over to help me put the Christmas decorations away, and to play some games. In the afternoon I finished cleaning the guest flat and made up the beds.

On Wednesday I did some shopping first thing for the first guests, due to arrive in the evening, since Thursday was a public holiday. Later in the day, we put away Tim's bed, turning his room temporarily into a kind of sitting room, soon to be occupied by Richard's electronics projects and repairs. 

bedroom turned into sitting room

On Thursday morning, I woke about 4am for no obvious reason, and couldn't get back to sleep. I was a bit headachey, and felt as if I were starting a cold. I didn't worry about it particularly; Sheila's daughters have all had colds recently and since they have twice-weekly antigen tests for their 'safe passes', I knew they were 'just' colds. So assumed I had finally caught one of them. I took extra Vitamin C and manuka honey, dozed for a while, and hoped it would be short-lived. At 6.15 or so I went out to walk with Sheila as usual. 

Gradually, as the day progressed, I started sneezing and coughing more and more. The headache got worse, and I felt incredibly tired. Waking up at 4am would have contributed to being tired, of course. But in the current pandemic crisis, my mind was, unsurprisingly, on the possibility of Covid. 

In the UK, most people we know test themselves at home a couple of times per week. We haven't had that possibility in Cyprus (possibly because the rather more authoritarian government here doesn't trust the rather less obedient public...) until mid-December. But as Christmas approached, each adult was allowed to collect one set of five lateral flow self-tests, intended for use over the festive season. It was a good idea, so that people could make sure they were Covid-free before spending time with elderly or vulnerable relatives.

We hadn't used any of ours, so I thought it would make sense do so. I knew that cold symptoms and headache could be a sign of the latest Omicron variant. The instructions were lengthy and confused, but Richard worked it out, and I did my test.


negative Covid test

I was slightly surprised but highly relieved. However I was so tired that instead of playing a game with our friends in the evening, I went to read in bed with a warm wheat bag for company.  

On Friday morning I woke at 4am again, this time with an absolutely raging headache, right across the front of my head. There was no way I could get back to sleep. I got up, and took some Solpadeine (after eating an apple to ensure my stomach wasn't empty). It helped somewhat, but not nearly as much as I would expect. A few hours later I took some aspirin and it did get a bit better.

But I felt quite grim; so before we headed out to do our weekly shopping, I did another home lateral flow test. 

That, too, was negative.

So we shopped, and went through the day although I felt washed out, and in the evening we went to our friends' home as we usually do for a shared meal, though I could barely stay awake and we left well before 9pm. 

On Saturday, another raging headache woke me up at 4am. I did not appreciate what seemed to be turning into a new daily routine. This time I just took paracetamol and dozed in my study. It very slowly got better, so that by 6am I was able to walk with Sheila. And for the first time in ages there was rather an attractive sky, though as ever a photo can't really do it justice: 

sunrise near the Salt Lake in Larnaka

As I said to Sheila, I thought a good walk would either make me feel better, or wipe me out for the rest of the day. It seemed that the former was the case. Though very tired by the end of the walk, through the morning I did start to feel more myself again. I put clean sheets on the bed, and cleaned the bathrooms, and put away Friday's laundry, and mopped the floors... I took breaks in between each burst of activity, but I felt less much less washed out than before. 

I still didn't feel up to playing a game in the evening, so when our friends came over, I went up for another evening with a book and a wheat bag. I was tired, but I also had a hunch that I really shouldn't be sitting close to folk and breathing on them. Even though my cold, as I thought, was almost entirely better.

On Sunday morning I woke early yet again... but only a slight headache this time, and getting out of bed eased it. I had a bit of a sore throat too, but more a tickle than anything. A glass of water helped that.

I went downstairs and since I felt quite wide awake for a change, I decided to finish a baby blanket I've been knitting off and on for the past six weeks or so.  I not only finished the knitting, I sewed it all together - much easier while the cats were still asleep in the dining room.  

80cm square baby blanket for refugees

Then I squeezed orange juice and made our breakfasts, and turned the water heater on. I planned to go to church at 9.30 so couldn't wait for the sun to warm the water. 

And then... being, basically, quite a responsible person (I hope), I thought that it would probably be a good idea to do one more home lateral flow test, before going out, just to be sure. There are some vulnerable folk at the church, after all, even though we are masked and distance. I had a busy day planned on Monday, too, with two different groups of people, and some of them are also vulnerable. 

I want to say I was surprised that this test proved positive, but I had a strong hunch that it might.  

Richard took one too, and his was negative, so he was able to go and set up the livestream at church. Vaccinated close contacts don't need to isolate here though tests are recommended.

Chatting online with my son later, I learned that with the Omicron variant it's not uncommon for lateral flow tests not to pick up an infection in the first few days. That's because it mainly replicates in the throat rather than the nose. This is why it's less likely to lead to lung problems, which is good; but it means that the home tests are less helpful in ensuring that someone is safe to visit vulnerable relatives.

Instructions are (we thought) clear: On receiving a positive home test result, we are supposed to contact our personal doctor who will arrange for a PCR test. And, indeed,  this article is a clarification that was published a couple of days ago, including: 

As soon as they test positive, the confirmed cases must:

  • Go in self-isolation
  • Inform their personal physician
  • Inform their closed contacts, employer, school, military camp, and so forth
  • Will get out of self-isolation only after the days, provided by the protocol, have passed

(There's also a rather mystifying comment that confirmed cases cannot use any mass media... I suspect this is a mistranslation of something, as I see no possible reason why I shouldn't watch television or read a newspaper if I wished to.)

However, as it was Sunday, we couldn't reach our personal doctor by phone. I sent a text to her mobile number, but had no response.

So I called the official hotline and a helpful man asked if I were vaccinated (yes, but not yet boosted), and if I had any symptoms (not really, I said, other than a slight sore throat and explained that I had symptoms the previous few days). 

Okay, the guy said, the best thing was to isolate for the day, and contact the doctor on Monday morning.  She would then give me a code to authorise an official PCR test, he told me. And then I would have to isolate for ten days, although possibly I could count Sunday as the first. 

I stayed in my study all day. Richard cooked, and did the washing up, and re-made Tim's room back into a bedroom so he could sleep there while I isolate, even from him. I had already contacted our friends - we had only seen members of this one family all week - and they went for tests, which were negative.  I let folk know I wouldn't be at any meetings on Monday. 

I read a book, and wrote emails and Facebook messages on the computer, and did a few bits and pieces... and then slept pretty well Sunday night. I don't like having to isolate from my husband but we're fortunate to have a big enough house that it's possible without my being stuck in just one room. When I go into the kitchen, or other shared space, I wear my mask. Also when I am with the cats, who totally refuse to isolate from me. 

On Monday morning Richard called our personal doctor. The receptionist said that since I didn't have any serious symptoms, I didn't need a PCR test. Instead, she said, I should just go for a rapid test, and if it was positive the result would get recorded in the system and my official isolation could start. When Richard queried this, the receptionist checked with the doctor who said that yes, that was correct. 

We drove to the underground carpark at the mall where the official free testing happens, but there was quite a long queue. So we decided to go to the lab we went to in the summer and pay five euros rather than waiting around for half an hour or more. 

And.... the lab test came back negative. 

But by this stage I was feeling as if I had a slight cold - and my intuition still told me that I probably did have Covid, even if so mildly that it couldn't be detected by an antigen test two days later. My intuition can, of course, be wrong. But I don't think I'm a hypochondriac, and besides, it's better to be over-cautious as far as Covid is concerned than to risk other people's health.

So we agreed that I would continue isolating for the rest of the day, and Tuesday too, as minimum. On Tuesday morning I would do another self-test, and - if negative - I would be careful for a couple of days until the slight cold was gone, and then go back into circulation.

But this morning's test was not negative. It looked even more strongly positive than the one on Sunday: 

What to do? There didn't seem to be any point contacting the doctor again, since the negative lab test yesterday effectively released me - I only took the one today to be certain. I would probably be told to ignore the home tests. I don't want to have to pay for a PCR test, which could take a few days to come through anyway, and I would then have to isolate for ten days further. 

A bit of research turned up this page relating to the home tests. The instructions on that, right at the bottom, are rather different from those quoted above: 

In case of a positive result, citizens must contact the Coordination of Public Health Clinics via email... by sending their identification details... as well as a photo of their positive self-test.


So I composed a lengthy email (no, not as long as this blog post!) describing my symptoms and the tests, attaching the photo of the second positive home test as above. I said I have no more symptoms other than a mild cold; I haven't had a fever since Thursday, and then only a mild one (if at all). I mentioned the official negative test. I told them I have been isolating since Sunday.

I asked them what I am supposed to do. 

About half an hour later, I received a response. It said:

Your request has been received.

Should we require further information we will contact you.

I have done my duty. Indeed, I feel I have gone above and beyond, by taking the tests on Sunday and today, neither of which were required after the negative tests. I will continue to isolate for at least another couple of days but am not sure what else I can do. 

If anyone has any words of wisdom, please comment... 

(Continuation, official recovery and release in the next post: https://cypruslife.blogspot.com/2022/01/isolating-in-cyprus-recovering-and.html

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve 2021

 As has become a tradition, I'm writing a post on Christmas Eve to wish a very happy Christmas to anyone who might read this.  I don't suppose I'll turn my computer on at all tomorrow. 

So in keeping with the annual posts on this date, I'll begin with a photo of our Christmas cake which I iced this morning and decorated in much the same way as I have every other year. I was tired - it's been a stressful year, and a surprisingly busy December - so didn't feel like anything more creative: 

Christmas cake 2021

Richard and Tim took over the kitchen after I had done that, preparing and cooking the turkey. We always do this on Christmas Eve now; after it had stood for half an hour or so after being cooked, Richard carved it and it's now in the fridge in a roasting pan, so it can easily be reheated for an hour in the oven tomorrow. That way it can be served hot, rather than cooling down as everyone waits for it to be carved.

I'm not sure why I'm quite so tired this year; perhaps it's just my advancing years meaning I can do less. I've tried to limit extra baking and cooking to just one thing per day, and have not turned the computer on until after lunch. This means I've been slightly more productive in the kitchen than usual, but considerably less productive at the computer.  

In the early part of the month, other than making some mince pies (as mentioned in my last post) I didn't do much extra cooking; instead I focused on writing and posting cards, and organising Christmas presents for the extended family in the UK. However on December 9th I made three Christmas puddings, seen here in the steamer:

Christmas puddings in the steamer

A couple of days later, I tried out a recipe which claimed to be 'failsafe' (a politer way, I suppose, of saying 'foolproof'), lemon bars:

lemon bars

I used dairy-free spread instead of butter, of course, and half wholewheat flour in the base, and made exactly three-quarters of the given amount to fit my tin. But other than those modifications, I made it exactly as given... it was very tasty, but quite messy to get out of the tin. I wished I had greased it although the recipe specifically stated that an ungreased tin should be used. 

However they seemed to be appreciated by the Larnaka Christian Writers' Group; the December meeting was held at our house, followed by our usual pre-Christmas potluck/shared lunch. Much food was enjoyed by nine of us. 

When I made the lemon slices again a few days ago (they really did taste good, definitely repeatable...) I used a silicon sheet underneath and greased the sides, and they came out rather better. 

I made other things to freeze for Christmas, managing to find space in the freezer although it's not easy, and did some extra cleaning, including Tim's room after Richard did significant amounts of tidying.  Yes, despite Omicron and increased Covid restrictions, our younger son was able to fly here on Monday. He said the flight was crowded and rather scary as several of the passengers were not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly. But he's here, and has finished the few days of isolating with us (Cyprus distinguishes 'isolation' from 'strict isolation', the latter only coming into play if someone tests positive).

We went to the Post Office yesterday to see if there was any mail and were surprised by quite a number of Christmas cards. Usually the majority don't arrive until after Christmas, so we keep them and then put them up the following year.  But we've had quite a few now, which is nice:

Christmas cards

We send most of our Christmas greetings by email, with an update of a few significant events from the past year - most of which can be found by browsing this blog, despite the distinct lack of entries for the year. 

Tomorrow we'll be going to St Helena's for the morning service, where Tim will be playing, then back here to finish lunch preparations. Our friends will be joining us, with four of their children - not really children any more as the youngest is eleven . We'll eat too much then play board games, and then eat some more. And we'll try to remember the real reason for Christmas amidst the light-hearted indulgences of the day. 

Wishing every blessing to all who read this, with a safe and happy celebration in whatever form it takes. And praying for a more hopeful New Year. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The First Week of December

 An anonymous comment on this blog reminded me that I had not written here for some time. I was a little shocked to realise that it has been almost three months. Not that a great deal has happened: for October and November in Cyprus in general, just browse the archives for those months, with a little masking and distancing thrown into the mix. 

We were delighted to be able to host two sets of visitors, although, sadly, others had to cancel. But in general, life has continued its normal daily round, as far as I'm concerned. And now we're in Advent: a week into December and already past the second Sunday of Advent, since the first one was on November 28th. 

Christmas preparations always begin with the Christmas cake; this year I made it on October 31st, and then put it in an airtight container to mature.  I have remembered to 'feed' it with a little brandy once, and will probably do so again, but I tend to forget about it until the week before Christmas, when I ice it. 

Other preparations began slightly before I was expecting them to, when we were on a hunt for Christmas cards on the last Friday of November. They weren't yet available in the UK on our visit there in August, and I've never had much success in finding them here. We didn't find cards but we did see some rather nice looking poinsettias at the size we wanted, for a good price: 

poinsettia in Cyprus

I mentioned on Facebook that I couldn't find cards, and a local friend let me know about two shops that sell them locally. It turned out to be much easier than I thought to find them. 

Two days later, November 28th, was Advent Sunday. Something else we had found in one of the shops that sadly lacked Christmas cards was a wreath that was decidedly less tacky than most of what that shop had to offer. It was probably intended as a door wreath, but I realised it would be just right for a candle.  So I put it up and we lit our first candle:

Advent candle in Cyprus

I also made some mincemeat, which I usually do every other year. It doesn't take long and is very simple - if anyone's interested, here's our family recipe for mincemeat, passed down at least two generations so far. The original one was for twice as much, and in pounds rather than grams... and the annotation at the end said it makes 'an enormous lot'.  Mine makes a much more conservative 2kg, which is usually plenty for us for two years. I keep the extra kilogram in the fridge.

The following day, November 29th, I went to the shops mentioned above and found a good selection of Christmas cards. Last year we only sent about eight, to close family members, as the postal system was so bad. This year it's better - we hope - and so we're back to sending about thirty. Far fewer than we sent ten years ago, but many people have stopped sending them altogether, and we've lost touch with some folk. 

We had agreed to host some Advent discussion groups starting on December 1st, so decided to do our annual tree-decorating (with help from young friends) on the last day of November. Outrageously early, as one friend commented on a Facebook post I made, and yes, that's true. But if not at the start of Advent, when...? Christmas Eve is too late, in my view, and any date between Dec 1st and Dec 23rd entirely arbitrary. Besides, I like seeing our tree and Nativity figures. 

Knitted Nativity figures

The cats are now middle-aged, but it didn't stop them attacking the tree about ten minutes after it was up: 

'Who, me?'  

His sister had raced through to the dining room and was looking entirely innocent although it was almost certainly her fault. 

The Advent discussion group for our church on Wednesday evening, a mixture of in-house and Zoom, was small but enjoyable - hopefully more will join for other discussions. 

On Saturday I joined the Christingle-making group at the church, for the first time. There were eight of us, and it took about an hour to produce over sixty Christingles. We all cleaned the oranges first (harvested from another church member's garden), and cut up foil. Then it turned into a production line. My role was to attach the red tape around the oranges. I don't know what tape it was, but it stuck beautifully. 

Freshly prepared Christingles

On Sunday, in addition to preparing soup, bread and a dessert for our friends who come over every other week, and lunch for the two of us, I made my first batch of mince pies:

mince pies

We went, with our friends, to the Christingle service in the evening. 

Cyprus Anglican church set up for Christingle service

We're fairly used to having chairs in groups of two, wearing masks, having our safe-passes checked etc, but I don't suppose I'll ever like it. It was a pleasant service, starting with a local choir singing (outside). Richard ensured it all worked, so that the choir could hear the music played back, and the congregation could hear the choir.  He also set up the livestream which, if you're interested, is here: 

(The actual service starts about 24 minutes into the stream). 

We lit our second Advent candle on Sunday after we returned from the service with our friends and ate our meal a bit later than usual. 

On Monday morning this week I went to the local Post Office to buy stamps, having written the cards in odd moments over the weekend, and plan to post them all tomorrow.

In the afternoon the local reading group met to discuss a couple of books, and to eat some shared Christmas goodies including more mince pies. 

Today I started ordering presents for the family in the UK... 

And we're only at the end of the first week of December.