Friday, February 23, 2007

The Gas-man Cometh

In Cyprus, there is no 'town gas' (or mains gas). Most people have gas cookers, however, and use bottled gas to power them. At our last house, this is what we did. Each gas bottle lasted about two weeks before we had to change it; we could buy new ones at the supermarket or have them delivered. We opted for delivery, thinking the 25c charge was worth it to avoid the back problems that seemed to go along with carrying heavy gas barrel around. We kept five of the bottles, so had to phone to have more delivered about once every two months. When we moved here in 1997 each one cost about £2.50 to refill; by the time we moved last summer, they had more than doubled in price.

At our new house, the ovens are electric, but the hobs are all gas. More significantly, there is gas-powered central heating. Small bottles of gas would last almost no time in the winter, so the gas is kept in a huge barrel that sits at the back of one of the carports. When we moved, the previous owner told us that the gas man would arrive every two weeks to top it up. As described here, we didn't actually see the gas-man until the start of November, but until we started using central heating regularly, it didn't matter. Just using the stove-top hobs requires relatively little gas, after all.

Payment schedules are pretty flexible in Cyprus. The first time the gas-man came, he filled up our barrel and told us it would be about £50. He asked whether we wanted to pay then, or next time. So we opted for 'next time', as we didn't happen to have that much cash on us. Then, as we were away from Cyprus for most of November, we left the cash in an envelope, in case he came again..

The next time I saw him was at the end of the first week in December. I paid him for the first time, and he asked if we were using the central heating. Then he said he would come every two weeks during the winter. We weren't really sure how long the gas would last, with heating on for a couple of hours each morning and evening (but then we weren't heating the guest flat) but by the time three weeks had past, we worried a bit that we might run out. Of course we didn't expect him over the Christmas break, and as the New Year break approached I became even more concerned.

Then he arrived, about 5pm on the day before New Year's Eve. He said it was a busy time of year! Richard asked if he would take a cheque, which made life easier, so we paid him for both the previous delivery and that one, so we were up-to-date.

Then we didn't see him for nearly two months. I'm not sure quite how we managed to miss him, as there's usually at least one person in the house, but we were relieved to know that the gas wasn't running out. In our mail-box we received bills dated 19th January, and then 6th February, letting us know he had filled up. I thought perhaps he would be back again early this week, and made sure I was up and dressed by about 8am each morning, leaving vast amounts of cash in an envelope in case he came when only Tim was about.

But there was no sign. On Tuesday I heard a loud noise, and saw a huge blue gas van delivering gas to our neighbours, but although I couldn't really remember, I didn't think our man had a blue van. Anyway, it drove off again without coming here.

Today, I'd almost forgotten about it. The weather's getting warmer, and I realised that if the gas did run out, it wouldn't be a disaster. We could always cook on our various electrical appliances, and we have a couple of electric heaters (and an air-conditioner that will switch to producing heat, if needed). I was a bit later getting things done, and - wouldn't you know it - just as I was getting out of the shower, around 8.30am, I heard the doorbell and a loud knock on the door. And a truck outside.

Richard and Tim were still asleep, so I threw on my clothes, pulled a towel over my hair (feeling thankful I don't have the long hair I used to have), pulled on my slippers, and raced downstairs, just in time to see the truck starting to drive away. Happily, the driver saw me and stopped. 'I thought you were not in Cyprus!' he said. I said I was in the shower - which was probably obvious from the wetness of my hair - and that yes, we did want gas.

Then I wrote him a rather large cheque for this visit and the last two. He asked for a phone number so that next time he can ring to check if someone is going to be in before delivering, which sounds like a good idea.

I'm greatly relieved that we're not about to run out of gas. We so appreciate having central heating!

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