Monday, October 31, 2005

Is it only a week?!

Yes, only a week ago we were sitting at Heathrow waiting to board the plane, so we could return to Cyprus. It seems so much longer! The UK is like a distant memory. But it's always like that when we return; as if one life is switched off and another switched on, a bit like different TV channels. Whiehever one we're in is fully absorbing at the time, and seems to have been going on forever.

This morning I decided to organise the last few years' photos, many of which were still in sleeves from the printers. I found some albums recently that will take 300 each, and reckon I can fit two years' worth in each, by the time I've cut down the duplicates and got rid of the boring ones. With digital photos of course the process is much simpler: I only order prints of the ones I want to put in an album anyway.

I'd been doing this for about an hour when I suddenly remembered that we were having gas barrels delivered this morning. There's no mains gas in Larnaka, so people either buy barrels from the supermarkets or have them delivered. It costs a little more to have them delivered, but saves considerable back pain.

The problem this morning was that there was no way for the gas man to take the barrels to the side of the kitchen and collect the old ones, because the path was full of old branches and tree trimmings, left from about six weeks ago or more. So I went out and dragged them out of the way to a better temporary place. Then I raked and swept the pathways and trimmed some more of the fast-growing weeds - even our tiny front garden has a never-ending set of jobs, but at least it looks slightly better now.

This evening I decided I should get our finances up to date on Quicken (an excellent package which does multi-currencies easily). Easy enough for the banks, both UK and Cyprus; rather a lot on the British credit card, as we used it regularly while in the UK recently, though we always pay it off. But getting the cash to balance was tricker. Thankfully I wrote down everything we spent for our first three weeks in the UK, right down to small amounts for parking, so I only had to remember the last week or so, when we didn't do much shopping anyway. Eventually my figures matched the amount left in my UK currency wallet, so that was a relief.

Then, it being the last day of the month, I did a CD backup of the Quicken data, recently updated documents, and all the digital photos from October.

All I need to do now is an Ad-aware scan to make sure I haven't picked up any spyware, then tomorrow (as it's getting late) I'll de-fragment the hard drive when I switch it on. I know it isn't supposed to be necessary with Win2000, but my hard drive does seem to get very fragmented, perhaps because of all the digital photos that get edited, and the huge amount of email that arrives and mostly gets deleted.

Oh, and I had a Windows update arrive today. Every few minutes it asks me if I want to re-start my computer, and I keep saying, "later...'. I wanted to get the backup done first, since I've known Windows updates occasionally locking people's computers up entirely. Hence my determination to get the finances up-to-date and the backup done first!

Tomorrow perhaps I'll get back to those photo albums...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Recipes and lack of recycling

Today I finished a two-day project to update my recipe folder. LONG overdue, but I finally got around to it. I've been keeping recipes in Word documents for two or three years now, printing them to store in a folder with clear plastic sleeves for easy access in the kitchen. I was going to update it regularly, but of course that hasn't happened... instead the folder got filled with random bits of paper: hastily written recipes by other people, printouts from the Internet, cut out recipes from magazines or papers... and of course I made notes and minor changes to the recipes within the folder. What a mess. I did update and re-print a few pages, but not the whole thing.

But finally, I did a complete revision. I even figured out how to create an index (easy since I typed the recipes using 'styles' for different parts). This afternoon I finished and printed the entire 65 pages, so now my folder looks nice and tidy. At least for a week or two until I decide to put in something else...

The only problem is what to do with the previously printed pages. If we were in the UK, I could leave it out for the recyclers, or - at worst - take it to a paper recycling bin in a supermarket car park. But there's nothing like that here. The papers report of recycling initiatives, and the need to get rid of the horrible dumps to be in line with Europe, but I haven't seen it happening. There's a bottle bank of sorts by our supermarket, and a few places collect aluminium cans, but that's all. AT least, as far as I know.

It horrified me when we first came here, but gradually I became blasé and started throwing away paper, like everyone else seems to around here. Now after a month in the UK it seems almost immoral to do so. Everyone recycles there. Some town councils collect containers weekly or fortnightly. Some people don't even have to sort their recycling, they just have to leave it out. Real rubbish - the stuff that goes to landfills - is minimal. Here by contrast it's a HUGE amount. The dustmen come three times per week and will take whatever is put out for them. It's a good service... they do a great job. But it still goes against the grain to throw away so much.

So for now the previous pages of the recipe folder are stacked next to me for use as scrap paper. At least they'll get re-used once. I suppose I could shred them and add them to the compost eventually, but there's so MUCH paper here with all the advertising junk mail we get that it would be too much for my little heap.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Catching up....

... with sleep, and jobs, and laundry. Very slowly, but I'm beginning to feel like a human being again. Tim managed 14 hours of sleep on Tuesday night, but I can never do that. However for two days I didn't wake up till 9am. Amazing. We realised we don't need to adjust our body clocks fully since this weekend is clock-changing time anyway; they go back an hour, to give more light in the early morning and less in the evening.

I've done seven loads of laundry so far, and still haven't caught up. It seems an immense amount, but we couldn't easily do any clothes-washing in the last 9 days of our stay in the UK. Also there was some laundry remaining from before we went away. At least I can get the lid on the basket though! Thankfully too it's dry and sunny here, so easy to get everything dry.

Weather's changed a lot in the past month, but it always does at this time of year. Before we left in the last week of September, it was still humid. We were sleeping with just sheets over us at night, and feeling hot in tee-shirts and shorts. In the UK of course we wore long trousers or jeans, and now we're back it's comfortable to continue in the jeans. In the evenings we even need sweatshirts as it feels quite chilly, and we've got out the duvets again for overnight. I prefer it this way, but no doubt in another couple of weeks it'll feel like winter again. Autumn is much too short in Cyprus.

Unfortunately mosquitoes are rife at this time of year, buzzing around our heads at night. We don't get bitten much - or if we do, we barely notice it - and there's no malaria risk here, but the noise drives us wild and keeps us awake. Eventually we plug in an insecticide pellet but the smell is horrible; I'm never quite sure which is worse. We bought - supposedly - an ultra-violet light thing that should attract mosquitoes and kill them, but they seem to ignore it mostly. Eating lots of garlic reduces the biting, but they still buzz around annoyingly.

The garden doesn't look as bad as I expected - it's still mostly brown as there hasn't been a huge amount of rain. There are leaves and pods all over the patio and elsewhere, but so far I haven't had the energy to sweep/rake them up. Maybe at the weekend. The pomegranates are almost finished, but the oranges and lemons are ripening fast.

Oh, and our local supermarket, Metro, has expanded. There has been building work going on for months, still evident on the outside. But inside are some extra aisles, with more space for things like cereals, and a new chilled fish counter. Several other things have moved too, and a lot of people seemed to be hunting for products (as we were) when we went there yesterday.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have thought about the design. The fish counter, for instance, is positioned such that a strong fishy smell greeted us as we went in. Not very pleasant. Moreover, the chilled meat section has expanded, but is no longer on the last aisle before leaving. We used to buy all the chilled and frozen produce last when doing our weekly shop, as the fridge and freezer cabinets, and the delicatessen were all in a row. Now they're in various places, so either we have to go back for the ones at the beginning, or risk them getting warm in the trolley while we buy other things.

There are other confusingly placed shelves, but no doubt we'll get used to them once we learn where everything is. It wasn't exactly logical beforehand; I don't suppose it's any worse. After all, as is so often said, 'This is Cyprus'.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some photos from our recent trip to the UK

I was going to call this 'holiday snaps', but it wasn't really a holiday in any sense, although it was lovely to spend time with family and friends. Having lived out of the UK for eight years (and it's exactly that - today is the 8th anniversary of our arrival in Cyprus) I found myself noticing things I might previously have taken for granted. And having a digital camera, of course I took dozens of snaps which I shall never get made into prints. Here are a few to give a flavour of our visit... oh, and if anyone reading this isn't familiar with blog photos, any of them can be clicked to see a larger version. But on a dial-up connection that might be quite slow.

We began in Sussex, staying with Richard's mother. The boys both inherited some money last year and wanted to buy professional musical instruments after many years on student types. So we spent much time in the first week in music shops, mostly about half an hour's drive away. Tim selected this keyboard after playing a huge variety:

... and Daniel eventually chose a clarinet from Hanson's, a store in Yorkshire, which sent it down for him to try before buying. They're both very pleased with their purchases!

At the end of the first week we drove to Birmingham to spend a couple of weeks staying with my mother. The day after we arrived, my sister and her family came to spend a day, and in the afternoon we went for a walk with their dog to the local Highbury Park. I found myself amazed afresh at the beauty and greenery of Birmingham parks, and particularly liked this pond:

Daniel's birthday was approaching fast, and he was interested in some Irish tin whistles. We'd been recommended a shop in Birmingham called Hobgoblins, which turned out to be a very friendly place full of fascinating instruments, some of them quite unusual. He was able to play several of the whistles and chose four in separate keys.

We were amused at the wall surrounding the car park we found nearby. After reading the notice saying that cars which had not paid sufficient parking money would be clamped, Dan asked if they received even more drastic treatment if they were left for even longer...

Yes, it was a wall of crushed cars! We made sure we paid for a couple of hours. After spending time in Hobgoblin's we still had a bit of parking time left so we went for a brief walk and saw this astounding statue. The boys posed at its feet just to give an idea of the size. Rather incongrous in the middle of a kind of shopping centre, we thought:

The following weekend, after spending most of the week trying to sort out the various boxes in our house, we spent the day with some friends who live near the enormous Sutton Park. We went for a walk in the afternoon, and enjoyed seeing wild ponies:and wild mushrooms. Or perhaps toadstools. They were amazingly colourful and bigger than I had expected. Suddenly I could see why Enid Blyton wrote about them as fairy houses:

As well as continuing to sort our freight the following week, we spent time with lots of different friends. At the weekend we made a quick trip to the Cadbury shop which is quite close to our house, and I took this quick snap of the famous factory... people used to ask us if there was a problem with factory smells, living in Birmingham. We always replied that we loved waking up to the smell of freshly-made chocolate!

After that we drove along a road I used to take quite for granted - the Bristol Road, or A38, a two-lane dual carriageway that's very busy. It also happens to be lined with trees which were in gorgeous shades of yellow and red, as Autumn approached. In my teens I went along that road every day going to school, and barely noticed the colours.

Two days later we drove to Cardiff to spend nearly a week with my sister and her family. On the way - or rather, not on the way at all! - we took Dan to Oswestry for an interview, as he's hoping to return to the Doulos ship for a couple of years, and so has to join the organisation officially. While he was there, the rest of us drove to Lake Bala. It wasn't as dark as it looks in this picture - it was mid-afternoon. I just haven't yet figured out all the camera settings, so the bright sunshine made it look as if it was dusk. Still, I liked the way this turned out:

We watched some ducks too, very tame and sleeping peacefully when we sat down nearby. Then a couple of women approached with toddlers in pushchairs. Immediately the ducks and nearby doves woke up and rushed towards them, quacking and calling. Evidently they associated small children with food, and sure enough a child started throwing them pieces of bread. Just like we used to when the boys were smaller.

On the way back we drove through Chirk, a small town which has a castle, although we didn't go in. We were a bit horrified to see this pollution pouring into the sky, although I suppose it's better to be in a country area than in the middle of a big city.

We were even more horrified when we realised where it was coming from: another Cadbury factory.

Finally we got to Cardiff. We did get slightly lost, but thank goodness for international roaming mobile phones (which, from Cyprus, aren't even very expensive). Dan called my sister and she navigated us to her home over the phone using her A-Z street map. Our time with her was a bit less busy, although we did a bit more shopping including buying some extra luggage. Cardiff is a lovely city; here's just one of the buildings near where we parked on our last day:

Finally we drove back to Sussex for a couple of last days before flying home. We'd almost forgotten how slowly night falls in the UK, and how beautiful some of the sunsets can be. This shot was taken from the car as we drove south, about 6pm.

The old rhyme about 'Red sky at night' was correct, as our first day in Sussex was lovely: mostly sunny, and quite warm. Indeed it was remarkably mild and dry for October during most of our stay.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Home again!

It seems as if we were away for months while we were in the UK - we did so much during the past four weeks. We stayed in three different homes and spent time with a large number of relatives and friends. Both the boys bought professional level musical instruments they had been wanting for a long time, using some money they had inherited, which took quite a bit of travelling and trying things out. Richard spoke at four different churches, too.

But one of our primary aims was clearing out the last of our possesssions from our home in Birmingham, since we're hoping to sell it to one of the people currently living there. There was far more than we had expected, so it took three days just to sort it roughly. We gave about four carloads of stuff to charity shops, took about the same amount to the municipal dump (why did we keep such rubbish?!) and the rest we moved to the garage belonging to some friends of ours, not far away. we then re-sorted with more space, got rid of a bit more, and packed the rest into boxes to be shipped out to Larnaka via sea freight. Here's Richard with the majority of it:

- which might not look like a huge amount, but there was more behind that front layer, and more still just out of the picture on the left. The whole came to seven-and-a-half cubic metres. What a relief it was when it was collected, although we weren't so happy to discover we had managed to miss an entire bookcase of books which we had to sort through a day later, and bring out as part of our luggage.

We also bought some necessary clothes - mostly from Primark and Bewise - and various other bits and pieces which kept mounting up until we found we had about 160kg of luggage between us. Oops. The limit for checked-in luggage is 20kg per person, and hand luggage is supposed to be under 6kg per person although we've never known it to be weighed. We ended up leaving three bags of books in Richard's mother's attic for next time. We packed our hand luggage rather fuller than we should have done, and still found our main bags came to 108kg. We hoped they would allow it through as Richard is a frequent flyer with Cyprus Airways. As it turned out, the check-in girl barely looked at the weights of our bags. Possibly this is because the flight wasn't full so they could allow a bit extra.

We took off at 11pm last night, nearly an hour later than expected, but the flight was otherwise uneventful (thankfully!) and we landed at about 5am Cyprus time. All the luggage arrived safely and we were home - exhausted - by about 5.45.

Our fourth cat Tessie had apparently vanished several days ago; the lady looking after our house was very worried about her but thankfully she reappeared early this afternoon looking much thinner than usual but otherwise healthy. We can only imagine she must have got shut in someone's shed or garage.

More tomorrow - perhaps - when I've had a chance to edit a few more photos.

PS - no, that tall box in the picture doesn't contain a new enormous widescreen TV!! It's a box that belonged to someone else, and contains a bookcase that belonged to my grandfather. Packed inside the bookcase (which has removable shelves) are several bubble-wrapped oil paintings done by my grandmother.