Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Half-way through September

 I knew it was optimistic when I wrote, at the start of August, that we should be half-way through Summer. Cyprus Summers don't finish at the end of August. I knew it would still be hot at the start of September. What I didn't expect was another heatwave, temperatures up to 37 degrees in the shade (over 40 in Nicosia), and humidity worse than it was in July or August. 

It's been a strange year, and an unusual summer. Usually our younger son comes out for at least ten days or so. But with cancelled flights and the need for Covid testing, not to mention the way the Cyprus 'categories' changed almost by the day, it didn't make sense this year.  Two weeks of self-isolation is not so bad for someone arriving for a month or more. But it would be terrible for a short visit.  

We didn't leave the island, either, and don't expect we will until at least the spring. The pandemic is not over.  Numbers remain low in Cyprus, and we have a lot more freedom than many countries; but it could come back any time. Much of Europe is seeing a spike, possibly a second wave. Treatment for the worst cases is improving, and, at least in Europe, fewer people are dying. But until there's a reliable vaccine or a breakthrough in curing the disease, any travelling is going to be risky.

We didn't go to the beach this year, either. I think that's a first. In previous years we've gone on Friday evenings with our friends, and we've often gone there on other evenings, too, for a brief swim. But this year everything is different. We didn't want to risk a crowded beach, early in the summer, and somehow we never got around to it. The days passed slowly, but the weeks whizzed by. I could have gone to a friend's daughter's birthday party on a beach ten days ago, but the predicted temperature was about 35C and we had no idea if there would be any shade. So I didn't.  

I haven't used the oven since the end of June. I thought I might when September started, but it's remained too hot and sticky. We managed to eat salads in some form, albeit sometimes accompanied by hot potato wedges or slices, until the end of August. Since then we've had some cold food, some hot, but made in the air fryer or over the stove top, or a combination of the two.

Having said that, I've experimented a few times - with the kitchen air conditioning on - with different foods. I've been particularly pleased with some dairy-free vanilla ice cream, based on a recipe I found somewhere else, involving (among other things) a can of full-fat coconut milk and some whipped aquafaba. Gold syrup gives an almost caramel flavour, and canned coconut milk whips pretty well, after the more watery part is removed (and made into a custard to combine, when cold). 

coconut cream and whipped aquafaba to make ice cream

I tried a couple of other recipes, but although I'm not, in general, a huge fan of vanilla ice cream, I did very much like this one. 

vanilla dairy-free ice cream

I made 'fake feta' a couple of times, too, after realising that the 'fasting' (dairy-free) version available here is a bit tasteless. Here is the recipe I used (approximately):

Cooking in the air fryer worked well, and was much more efficient than using the oven. 

baked dairy-free feta (made with ground almonds)

But on the whole I kept cooking to a minimum; we had plenty of leftover curry portions in the freezer to reheat and eat with salad and pittas for our Saturday night curry nights, which has been a 'tradition' in our household for many years. 

And so to September. It's the middle of the month already, and although I've been for short walks around the neighbourhood first thing, just to get a small amount of exercise, I haven't yet resumed walking along the Salt Lake trail. We thought about it for this week, but the humidity is about 85% at 6.00am. Some mornings I'm absolutely dripping after just twenty minutes or so walking locally, in sandals. It would be much worse in socks and trainers - and I would not want to walk along the rough ground that leads to the trail in sandals. 

I was uploading photos to Facebook earlier and realised that, for the first time in probably fifteen years (since we had our first digital camera) I have only taken two photographs this month. So far, anyway.  One is of our large white cat Alex, who really doesn't like the heat at all:

The other is of Lady Jane, our small grey cat. She, in contrast to her brother, seems to thrive in the heat. She objects when we turn on air conditioning, and doesn't even like ceiling fans very much. 

On the other hand, she has an odd affinity for shoes...

I'm still checking the pandemic statistics regularly, though not as obsessively as I was a few months ago. I'm checking the weather more often than usual, too, in the hope that we'll see some rain, or at least a hint that autumn might be coming. It does look as if the heatwave has passed, thankfully, but it's still warner than I like. Still, the 'low' temperatures are better than they were, and if the humidity drops the early mornings should be quite pleasant by the end of the month. 

Larnaca weather forecast for the last two weeks of September 2020

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Half-way through Summer...?

July passed, a day at a time, rather more quickly than I had anticipated. It was apparently the hottest July in Cyprus for nearly four decades. I was very thankful for our new, more efficient air conditioning units. We also bought a new fridge-freezer towards the end of May.  These were justified to some degree by our recent electricity bill. Despite using more air conditioning than we did last year, we used just over half the number of units. 

As I said in my last post, we should have flown to Scotland towards the end of the first week of July.  We were planning to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary with our sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren at an AirBnB in St Andrews, the town where my family went on holiday every year when I was growing up. I was then going to stay with various relatives and stay out of Cyprus as long as possible during the heat and humidity of Summer. 

But the pandemic crisis ensured that didn't happen. We determined to celebrate next year, if at all possible, but in the event we had a very pleasant day.  It started the day before with a lovely basket of flowers sent by my sister:

anniversary flowers

Then on the day itself, several people at church congratulated us. Then we were surprised and delighted with a special cake afterwards (albeit with a minor spelling error - not unusual in Cyprus!) to share in the courtyard after the service:

anniversary cake

We went out for lunch to our old standby Alexander's, as we could park not too far away.  In the afternoon our closest friends in Cyprus were coming over anyway. So in addition to thawing some more apricots and making some more ice cream, I made some tiffin [chocolate biscuit cake], to my grandmother's recipe, since I'm avoiding using the oven during the summer. 

tiffin (chocolate biscuit cake)

We were given two anniversary cards on the day itself, and two more arrived in the post a week later. 

anniversary cards
For a non-celebration, it was very enjoyable. Forty years feels like both a long time, and almost no time at all. Will we still be around in another forty...?  It's not impossible. 

Other than that, life has continued in aestivation mode. I've been for a few very short local walks, not even reaching 5,000 steps most days. I've watered the plants and looked after the house, and made a lot of salads. It's been interesting experimenting with different ingredients and combinations for salads, and we haven't yet become bored with cold food. 

Not that it's been entirely cold food. We had been talking about buying an air fryer for some time, having read some enthusiastic reviews. These aren't just a healthy version of a deep fat fryer, but can roast or bake smallish quantities of food too. For just two of us, it sounded ideal. 

We hadn't actually decided on anything, though I was looking at one from Lakeland in the UK.  Then we were in SuperHome Centre looking for something else, and saw that they were selling air fryers. I wanted to know what they looked like out of the box, and a very helpful assistant (masked, of course) showed us in some detail. 

The price was good. And it was ready to take home. And it was a reputable brand, with a two-year warranty - much easier to take back, if necessary, than one ordered from the UK. 

So this was our anniversary present to each other: 

air fryer in Cyprus

I was a little anxious about using it at first, but tried it for re-frying potatoes in slices, and it was excellent.  I've made sweet potato fries in it, and baked potatoes. It's excellent for cooking frozen oven chips.  I've roasted a chicken breast to slice in a curried chicken, mango and cucumber salad, and yesterday cooked a small salmon fillet to flake for a lentil, pepper and salmon salad.  I've roasted peppers and even onions in the air fryer.  It doesn't heat up the kitchen like the oven does, and it's a great deal more efficient to use for just one or two items for two people. 

As for the salads... I've had to cook some ingredients over the hob, but again that's not really a problem. I've made - for instance - tomato/peach/fake feta salad, broccoli/leek/egg salad and avocado/mango/cashew salad.  We bought 500g farfalle pasta, something I wouldn't normally do as we eat very little pasta. A 500g pack of spaghetti usually lasts us around five months. But it's excellent in different salads to provide some carbs; 100g farfalle (cooked) gives us enough for two days' worth of salads. I made one with mushrooms, one with pesto and cherry tomatoes, and another which I've already forgotten.  Most days I make one new salad, and team it with at least one from the previous day, plus perhaps some extra lettuce or coleslaw or chopped cucumber. 

That's it for July, really.  

At least, it was until almost the end of the month, when the Cyprus numbers for Covid-19 positive tests suddenly went up from 0-3 per day to 10, then 13, then 25... big numbers, percentage-wise, for a small island.  

We breathed a sigh of relief when the numbers dropped to 5 over the weekend, but yesterday was another higher number.  Today they have just reported 15 cases.  Here's how the graph looks on the Worldometer site: 

Daily covid cases in Cyprus

It resembles what some countries are calling a second wave, although most of the cases are in Limassol and are being tracked with all contacts traced and tested.  Some are from airport tests of repatriations, too, not all of whom are self-isolating even when they come from 'high risk' countries.  But a few are appearing 'in the wild', which suggests that Cyprus hasn't eliminated the virus at all.

So as of last weekend, we must wear masks in all public indoor crowded spaces. They have spelled out what that means; the ones relevant to us are shops, banks, and churches. It refers to children over the age of six as well as adults. Limassol has had some extra restrictions and closures. 

I find masks unpleasant to wear, particularly in the heat and humidity. For ten minutes or so in a shop it's not a problem. For an hour in a church service last week, I found it increasingly difficult to breathe in properly and began to feel faint with the heat of my breath inside the mask. I will try sitting outside in the courtyard this coming Sunday, so long as we don't have another heatwave. And, of course, the church service will only happen if we're not back in lockdown mode.... 

Every time we see our friends, now, we wonder if it will be the last time for a while. The government had said there would be another lockdown if the cases rise too much. So far the experts seem to think it's under control, and that if everyone wears masks in public indoor spaces, it should gradually ease off again. But we're not taking that for granted.

We also know how well off we are in this country. It might be hot and humid but we have inexpensive and efficient air conditioning, with electricity that works all the time (barring very occasional power cuts).  There's plenty of food in the shops, it's safe to go out and about, albeit with masks on, and we have reliable, fast Internet. Cases of Covid-19 are rising, but they're mostly affecting younger people now so many are asymptomatic. Only four people are in hospital with it, none of them in Intensive Care. 

We have friends in Lebanon where there seems to be crisis after crisis. They aren't doing too well with Covid-19 either, and the whole country has been in financial chaos for weeks, getting increasingly worse.  Their electricity is off more than it's on.  Yesterday we heard - and felt - a loud bang which we quickly learned was from a huge explosion in Beirut, leaving devastation, serious injuries and over 100 people killed. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2020


At the end of May I wrote about Summer arriving in Cyprus.  But, thankfully, it was just a temporary heatwave. Longer than typical for the time of year, but by June 1st we were seeing more seasonally normal weather. I had put my jeans and jackets away in our overflow closet and packed up the duvets, so we didn't return to pre-summer mode, although we stopped using the air conditioning.

I'm not entirely sure what happened to June. Perhaps it just seemed short by comparison to the exceptionally long time April and May seemed to take, in different phases of lockdown.  In June life started to feel more-or-less normal, albeit a new variation on the theme. Marks indicating two metre physical distancing are commonplace inside shops, and on the pavement outside. Mask-wearing is expected for shop and restaurant staff (though less and less apparent in shops, as it becomes clearer that the virus is not at large in the community). Hand sanitising is normal going into shops, though nobody enforces it and I sometimes forget.

The anxiety we had at the start of lockdown is gone. I no longer wipe down everything I buy, or worry about other people in the shops. Our friends have been in our home, we've been to theirs, and we don't keep to any kind of distancing. At church services we sit two metres from anyone else, and don't have any physical contact with the other congregation members during the service... then we all hang out and chat in the courtyard afterwards.

Perhaps we're becoming blasé. The only new coronavirus cases in Cyprus in the past couple of weeks have been in people who have travelled, either repatriations or tourists from supposedly 'safe' countries, or their close contacts. Maybe it will become a problem when the island opens up to the UK and other less 'safe' countries, probably at the start of August,. But right now it's pretty safe to be out and about. 

So it's a tad ironic that July and August are, for me, months of aestivation. Not that I sleep for two months; it's not exactly the summer equivalent of hibernation.  Wikipedia tells me that aestivation is 'characterised by inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate'. I don't know about the latter, but I'm certainly much less active than I am the rest of the year.

We had to cancel our proposed visit to the UK. We were going to stay at an AirBnB in Scotland with our sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren for a week, and I was then going to spend time with other relatives, away from the heat and humidity.  But with no flights at all to and from the UK (apart from repatriations) until at least the end of July, we had to cancel. 

So I attempted to get ready for the Cyprus summer... as far as that's possible. Towards the end of June, I had a burst of food preparation:  I found crates of avocados and peaches at the local fruit stall, three or four kilograms of each for about a euro per crate.  They were a little squashy, so I lightly stewed most of the peaches:

Then froze them in 450g portions, ready to pull out to eat with ice cream when we have visitors:

I kept a couple of avocados in the fridge then lightly mashed and froze the insides of all the others for future guacamole:

I made a batch of ketchup and another of granola that same weekend, sufficient to last, probably, until the end of July.  I knew I wouldn't feel like much cooking in the hotter weather, so when we went to a supermarket, I bought a bottle of  ketchup and a couple of packs of granola that were on special offer.  They won't be as good as the home made equivalents, but in August I probably won't much care.

I normally cook a hot meal six evenings per week, and Sunday lunchtime. But our oven produces a lot of heat, and even cooking for more than a few minutes over the stovetop is exhausting at this time of year. So we decided, as of July 1st, that we would eat different kinds of salad all summer. Or at least until we get fed up of cold food.  I have a book of different salad recipes that I hadn't really explored, so I went through it thoroughly and made a note of all the ones I plan to try.

So far it has been very easy. Last Wednesday evening I made a chickpea, red pepper and green bean salad (for protein), accompanied by one of our standard favourites: red onions, tomatoes, peaches and fake (vegan) feta, dressed in lemon juice, honey and olive oil.  I microwaved a couple of potatoes to provide a bit of starch.

On Thursday I added a basic tuna salad  to the leftovers, and forgot to think about any extra starch/carbs - but we didn't really notice.  On Friday I made a big green salad and some sliced tomatoes with fresh basil to take to our friends' house, where they are still cooking hot food.  On Saturday Richard and some friends sailed all day, so I ate salad leftovers.

For Sunday lunch Richard went to a takeaway place around the corner that does roast chicken, lightly roasted potatoes and salad for just 13.60 euros. That might sound like a lot for one takeaway lunch, but it was a huge amount of food:

Although the salad was only enough for one meal, the chicken and potatoes will be plenty for two of us for at least four meals.  We froze the two pittas that were also included.  On Monday night we ate out at a taverna with the reading group I joined earlier in the year. Last night we ate cold leftover chicken, fried onions with leftover potatoes, green salad left from Friday, and a broccoli/leek salad from my book. Tonight I will repeat the fried potatoes, and make a new salad with lettuce and mango, in a yogurt/curry paste dressing.

Which is more than enough about food.

As for the aestivation schedule, such as it is: I usually wake between 5.30am and 6.00am, when the weather is cooler (around 23-25C, usually). I stopped going for 5km walks with my friend almost at the end of June, when the humidity started.  I'm trying to do a short 2km walk locally most mornings, though I've felt too tired or it's been too humid a couple of times. I water all our plants three times a week, and on a couple of days I take my shopping trolley to the fruitaria to buy more fruit and whatever vegetables we're going to need for the salads.

Then I sit on the garden swing, and read, and think, and pray... and usually go inside around 7.15am when the sun starts to hit the swing and the temperatures increase.  I feed the cats, and squeeze orange juice, and have breakfast, then take Richard's to him. I have a frappe, and read, and think about the day, then we usually spend anything from five minutes to half an hour or more together, before he starts work and I shower and turn on my study air conditioning.

Then I spend most of the time between about 10.00am and 6.00pm in my study, reading, or writing, or working on a blog or website, or doing something else online.  I emerge for meals and other random things, but always return to cool down.

I do laundry usually three times per week, and aim to clean the whole house on Saturday mornings, though that doesn't always happen. Last Saturday I turned on air conditioning in several rooms which made it possible to clean them, although it was still quite tiring.  I've made dairy-free ice cream a couple of times, although with the ambient temperature so high the churn doesn't do much to freeze the ice cream, even when I put it inside a cool bag with ice packs:

Still, the taste is good even if it has to be thawed and then sliced rather than scooped.

It's not as hot as it was at the end of May, so my forays into the rest of the house aren't too unpleasant, and so far the humidity is mostly bearable. 

One of our cats (Alex) doesn't like the heat at all, and will spend all day in one of the rooms with air conditioning if he can.  The other one (Jane) does NOT like air conditioning, and will leave my study when it's turned on. She doesn't even like ceiling fans, preferring to spend her time in one of the much warmer rooms.

In the evenings, we play games with friends usually twice a week, we watch a film once a week, and an episode of something like Doctor Who once a week. We go to our friends' house, usually, once a week.  And on the other evenings Richard often works, and I read.  Until the end of June we were going out for walks two or three evenings per week, but it's too hot for that now.

So the first week of aestivation has passed.  If lockdown had happened in July, I would hardly have noticed any difference.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Life in Cyprus as lockdown eases

The heatwave I wrote about in my last post reached the hottest temperatures recorded in May, and lasted almost a week. So despite being allowed to exercise with a friend, I didn't go out much at all. Even at 6am - the earliest we could leave our premises, during the curfew - the temperatures reached 27 degrees and by 8am it was over 30.

So I was very thankful that we cleaned the air conditioners, and even more thankful for the new air conditioning units which were installed just over a week ago. They are quiet, and efficient, and the air feels fresher when we use them.

On Thursday May 21st, since the new coronavirus cases remained in single figures in Cyprus, phase two of the lockdown release started. The curfew was abolished, and we no longer had to send text messages for authorisation to leave the house. Restrictions on travel are gone, so we can visit other parts of the island if we wish.  Best of all, we can meet friends, outside or in houses, so long as there are no more than ten people (including children) at a time.

So although it was still too hot to walk first thing, my friend Sheila and her daughters came over on Thursday mid-morning to play some games in the air conditioning in my study.  And in the evening, when it wasn't quite so hot, we had a barbecue in our side garden.

I didn't leave the premises at all on Thursday, but on Friday we did some grocery shopping, feeling a little strange not sending a text message. I don't know what would have happened if we had sent one anyway.  And in the evening we went to our friends' house for a meal, as we normally do. Thankfully it was significantly cooler then, and on Saturday morning cool enough for me to walk first thing. We went to the aqueduct, for a change. The foliage along the Salt Lake trail was already starting to look very brown:

Later I cleaned the house, as I usually do on Saturdays - although the previous week it had been so hot I did almost nothing - and in the evening Sheila came over for a non-Catan board game.  Agricola was the one on the top of the pile, which we had not played for about three months with the lockdown.

With the statistics for Cyprus being so good, the government decided to allow churches to begin meeting again that weekend, so long as the official protocols were observed. So they required hand sanitiser on the way in, no more than one person per 8 square metres of space indoors, no hugging or shaking hands.  Doors and windows must be open, and general physical distancing is expected. External loudspeakers can enable people to sit or stand outside if there isn't room inside, or if they prefer to stay in the sunshine and fresh air.

This was mainly for the benefit of the Greek Orthodox church, of course. But St Helena's folk were keen to meet again rather than having online services, so Richard set up a speaker for the courtyard, and the clergy arranged the seating to allow for physical distancing in the building. 

It was a bit strange, but good to be there. Some people decided to continue isolating at home so Richard recorded the service on a webcam and it went out later. A few people sat outside, where - thankfully - the temperatures were much milder than the week before.

In the afternoon our friends came over, so I made extra bread and a cake, and we played a game while the children watched a film. Life is beginning to feel much more normal... even if a rather different normality than the one we took for granted until two months ago.

Yesterday, Cyprus reported no new cases of Covid-19.  That's only the second time this has happened since the first cases started appearing in the country, although figures have been low in the past week. It's particularly encouraging six days after the release of the lockdown, when it might have been expected that there would be an increase. Cyprus continues extensive testing of all contacts of known cases as well as frontline people in the community, and teachers and children returning to school.

But we don't know what the future holds. Airlines are still banned until June 9th, other than a few specific chartered repatriation flights.  In June, visitors will be allowed from a small number of countries deemed 'safe'; even then, they will have to have certificates saying that they are virus-free, and there will be extensive measures in place to ensure no transmission of virus if at all possible. It doesn't sound appealing, but some airlines are offering inexpensive flights in the hope of tempting people to a holiday in the sun.

Still, the tourism industry is going to suffer, even if there are tourists from these few countries. The majority of Cyprus's usual visitors are from the UK and Russia, and neither of those countries are anywhere near 'safe' from the point of view of Covid-19. Indeed, several of the new cases in Cyprus in the past couple of weeks have been detected from people repatriating from the UK.

So unless something changes, we will be here in Cyprus all summer. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Summer has arrived in Cyprus

I shouldn't have been surprised.  My Facebook 'memories' were full of reminders about Summer arriving in Cyprus in the middle of May.  Last year it happened on May 13th. But it had been a gradual process over the course of a few weeks.

This year we seem to have had quite a long and pleasant spring, even if most of it has been spent in lockdown mode. It has been sunny during the daytime, but cool enough to continue to wear jeans and - at least in the evenings - a sweater or light jacket. The heating hasn't triggered itself on since early March but we hadn't really noticed.

It's only three weeks since we moved from using our triple-thickness duvet to the double-thickness one. Last Saturday I did say that perhaps it was time to move from the double one to the 'light' 4.5 tog duvet, but Richard said no, he still wanted the warm one.  So I thought we'd keep that for another couple of weeks...

A week ago we were opening the windows that have fly-screens (to keep insects out and cats in) through most of the day, but closing them in the evenings. Each morning I pulled the curtains or blinds to let in as much sunshine.  I was still wearing long trousers and a long-sleeved top when I went out for a walk with my friend Sheila at 6.00am...

On Thursday, it felt a bit warmer first thing, and the day quickly warmed up, though not unpleasantly so. Now that most shops are open again, we decided to buy a few things we needed so we went out in the car for the first time in a while.

We had been convinced of the importance of Vitamin D in strengthening the immune system and giving protection against the more unpleasant effects of the coronavirus. It might seem unnecessary to take supplements in a sunny country like Cyprus, but once it gets really hot I will not be going out at all in the daytime. So our first stop was Holland and Barrett.

Then we went to Mr Bricolage, where Richard hoped to find some nuts and bolts which he needed for his boat. Alas, they didn't have the exact size he needed. But we did see that they had the water filter cylinders we use, at considerably lower cost than we have been paying. And they should have been changed at least a month ago. So we bought those. And at the check-outs we saw some cloth masks.

We had talked about making masks, and had been uncertain as to whether there is any point at all wearing non-surgical ones. The consensus seems to change regularly. But there are some shops or outside stalls where customers are asked to wear masks, and as these were both washable and fairly good value, we decided to buy some of those too.

Then on to Christou Bros where Richard found the nuts and bolts he needed (at the grand cost of a little over a euro for them all).  Then on to Shoebox, as my outdoor sandals, bought eight years ago, were wearing out. I realised that the children's section was likely to be best, and was pleased to find some sandals I liked, albeit not quite as sturdy-looking as my previous two pairs.

By this stage it was decidedly warm. We wanted to keep the 'tradition' started last year of having ice cream on the first day of summer (in our opinion). But all the ice cream places seemed to be closed. We had heard that an Italian one near where we live is open, but as we drove past we saw that it was closed. Perhaps it opens only in the evenings.

So we went home for a cool box and ice packs, then into FoodSaver, a frozen food market where, last summer, our son Tim discovered some delicious luxury dairy-free ice cream.

Thus we 'celebrated' the first day of summer in lockdown style at home:

I also got out the frappé machine for the first time this year, and made myself a frappé.

And because the temperature was predicted to rise, I did a bit of sorting in my closet. I put my jeans away, and found my shorts.  I also sorted out my reasonably respectable shirts and put away the large selection I have that have developed holes over the years, which I only wear under sweaters.

We started using our ceiling fans, too. And I remembered why we don't light candles at meals during the summer, although we have been doing so since Christmas. After the current candle had been blown out by a fan for the fourth time before we had even started eating, I decided that another feature of summer is to put away the candles.

Nothing prepared me for Friday. I don't walk with Sheila on Friday, but I've been going out for short walks on my own some mornings. I got up around 6.30am, and went outside to put my shoes on.  I felt such a rush of warmth that I wondered if I were developing a sudden fever. Then I looked at my phone. My weather app told me that it was 24 degrees already, due to be hotter still later on.

So I just watered the plants rather more thoroughly than I had been doing, and didn't stay out for long. By mid-morning it was well over 30 degrees. I didn't walk to the fruitaria for the week's fruit and vegetables; Richard drove me there.  In the evening we decided to go for a walk locally - just a couple of kilometres. We didn't go out until around 8pm and I nearly melted. It was still 31 degrees.

Later, I removed the medium duvet from the cover.  We might still need the thin one if it cools down a bit next week, but the cover on its own was just fine last night. We did think about cleaning the air conditioner in our bedroom but it was only 27.5 degrees and we run the a/c at 28, so there didn't seem to be much point.

This morning I wore my walking shorts for the first time to walk with Sheila, and still felt too hot.  We decided to clean the bedroom air conditioner in the morning so we could run it for a few minutes to get rid of the smell of the cleaning fluid before using it in the evening.

Then Richard cleaned the one in his study.

It doesn't take too long, but is important to do each year as there can be fungal growth over the winter.

We had been talking about replacing some of our air conditioning units this year, as new ones are so quiet and efficient, using very little electricity.  They're much better for the environment than older ones, too.  It seems, currently, that we'll probably be stuck here in Cyprus all summer and our computers can't work over about 30 degrees.  I feel ill if I get too hot.

In addition, the a/c unit in Richard's study is very noisy, and the one in my study doesn't always work, as well as being slightly broken.  We definitely don't want either of them to break down during the main part of summer, when there will likely be a dearth of units available, and we might have to wait a long time to have new ones fitted. Besides, there might be another lockdown, if the number of coronavirus cases starts to increase again once tourists are allowed into Cyprus.

So this morning we decided that if we were going to replace our air conditioners, it should be now. We went out mid-morning to George Theodorou, our favourite local white goods place, and ordered them.  Also, thanks to a recent generous gift, we decided to replace the old (at least 20 years old) and inefficient large one in our living room.

We went to a couple of other shops too, and by the time we got home I was almost dizzy with the heat and had to lie down for a while.

Summer is here.

Richard is happy about it.

I am not.


Saturday, May 09, 2020

After the first week of relaxed regulations

Living in Cyprus, where the infection rate is low and where we don't personally know anyone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19, the situation still feels almost surreal at times. We read news sites, both local and international, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have died.  But when we come across people who don't believe it's nearly as bad as reported, we can almost understand why they feel this way.  For most, the disease is mild. Many are exposed but don't catch it. Every day the Cyprus papers report hundreds of tests of known contacts, yet only a handful test positive.

Since I last wrote, we celebrated Greek Easter, albeit in a somewhat subdued way.  On Greek Good Friday (April 17th) I made hot cross buns for the first time in many years. Half a recipe was sufficient to make eight, and while they weren't very beautiful, they tasted good on Good Friday and Easter Saturday:

For Easter Sunday, we decided to have a proper roast lunch.  We almost always have a cooked meal at lunch-time on Sunday, although for the rest of the week I cook in the evening. But we don't usually bother with a roast chicken.  However, I made an expedition - using up my one authorised absence from home for the day - to the supermarket around the corner on Easter Saturday, to buy a chicken.

I also made cranberry sauce, as we had frozen some cranberries left from Christmas, roast potatoes and three kinds of vegetable.

Last year we bought some silicon moulds for chocolates, and I filled them in two different ways, wanting to make an equivalent of creme eggs that were dairy-free.  This year I simply made a dairy-free coconut mixture, something like the middle of a Bounty chocolate bar, and filled a variety of chocolates with that. They worked very well.

Of course, since we couldn't share either the lunch or the chocolates with anyone else, they lasted us a long time.  We had cold chicken on the Tuesday, fajitas on the Wednesday, and still froze some more for future pies. The chocolates lasted us all week.

I celebrated a milestone birthday that week, too.  I made a carrot cake, and for the evening spanokopita, my favourite food (dairy-free versions of both). We were eating them for several days, as we had nobody to share them with. In the evening, we went out for a walk. It was a very low-key birthday. I'm not sure what we'd have done if we had not been in lockdown; we hadn't made any plans. Just as well, really.

I mentioned in my last blog post that we were running low on cat litter.  But we had sufficient for the Easter weekend, even though it makes me a little anxious when we're close to the end of something. I usually buy new cat litter when we are down to our last couple of bags.  Instead, we almost reached the end by the time we went out shopping together, with the car, for the first time in over five weeks.  We did remember in time that Friday May 1st was a public holiday, so we went the day before.

To make it worthwhile both getting authorisation for shopping, we went to three shops (and the Post Office before that).  The first one was the shop we call the Nut Warehouse, where usually we can select different kinds of nuts to put in paper bags, though seeds and dried fruit come ready-packaged.

This time, however, even almonds and walnuts were pre-bagged.  The staff were wearing masks, but as there were no other customers we both went in.  When we got home, knowing that the coronavirus lasts less than 24 hours at around 20 degrees, but potentially up to two weeks in the fridge, I spread our purchases out on the work surface and left them until the following day:

Not that there have been any recorded cases of people becoming infected through stray viruses left on packaging, but it seemed safer not to refrigerated anything, even though it had all been at room temperature in the shop probably for at least a day or two already.

We went to Metro too; since they were counting people in and out, Richard stayed in the car and I went in. Someone waved a thermometer at my forehead, and told me to sanitise my hands and put on plastic gloves, People were pretty good about social distancing, and since they were limiting customers, it wasn't crowded. I bought four bags of cat litter and a few other bits and pieces that we were running low on.  We also went to the froutaria together, for a change.

When we got home, I noticed our glass recycling, which we'd forgotten to put in the car.  This is what six weeks of glass looks like for us:

One empty Marmite, two small instant coffee jars, one honey jar, one jam, a mayonnaise, and a few others.   We'll take them next time we venture to Metro.

May Day was inevitably muted; the government was wise to extend the full lockdown until the following Monday, rather than relaxing regulations on May 1st, as it would have been difficult for people not to want to march and congregate.

But on May 4th, since the statistics were pretty good, the first phase of relaxation began.  During lockdown, we were supposed to stay at home unless we had to get out for essential reasons (which included exercise) and could only go out once per day, sending a coded text message to get authorisation.  Now we can go out three times per day, and are no longer limited to 'essential' outings.  The construction industry has started up again, and many shops have opened.  We're no longer limited to exercising within a kilometre of our house, though we must stay in our district. And it's permitted for two unrelated people to exercise together, so long as they observe social distancing.

What a difference it makes to be allowed out three times per day!  I had not been out for any early morning walks for six weeks, not wanting to use up my one chance of getting out of the house in cases I needed to shop later, or go out for a walk with Richard.

So on May 4th I went out for a local walk on my own, just because I could, first thing. And in the evening we went down to the marina for the first time in six weeks.  It's about a kilometre and a half away, and certainly not 'essential'.  Richard was worried that there would be a lot of growth around the sides of the boat, but was pleased to find that it wasn't too bad at all.  He opened her up for a bit of fresh air, and emptied out the dehumidifier, but it wasn't overflowing.

It was strange seeing Europe Square, opposite the marina, almost deserted:

On Tuesday, since two unrelated people can now exercise together, I resumed walking with my friend Sheila.

We weren't sure about the Salt Lake trail, as it's only about 1.8 metres wide, but mostly we walked on either side, or one of us was slightly in front of the other.  Perhaps we weren't always quite 2 metres apart, but we observed the social distancing principles, and when both facing forward and walking it would be almost impossible for a virus to be transferred if one of us happened to be infectious.

Then on Wednesday evening, Richard and I went for a short walk along a part of the trail, so - for once - I saw the Salt Lake at sunset:

We still can't have any gatherings in our house, or go to anyone else's home. Not that our neighbours seem to be taking this too seriously, but they have many fewer visitors than they used to. Richard can't take his boat out for a sail, though he hopes to do some work on her in the next week.

If all is well, the next phase of the relaxation will start on May 21st, and he'll be able to sail then. We'll also be able to gather in groups of up to ten people, and are very much looking forward to doing so.  Yesterday there were only two new cases of covid-19 in Cyprus, and today only one new case.

This is very encouraging;  with six days of relaxed regulations, a spike was expected.  That may still happen next week, but figures suggest that the virus is almost entirely gone from the community.  There are still around 400 active cases, around ten of them serious, but extensive testing is not revealing widespread infection. Early lockdown with rigorous tracing, isolating and testing seems to be a good method of combating this horrible thing.

So life plods on.  We're still playing Settlers of Catan by a Zoom online meeting with our friends one evening per week. Richard is still recording (again via Zoom) and uploading services for St Helena's Church to premiere on Sunday mornings. 

But, all being well, we're hopeful of resuming something closer to normality within the next couple of weeks. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The middle of April, still under Covid-19 lockdown in Cyprus

Two weeks ago, the last time I posted, we hoped that the lockdown in Cyprus would prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and that the island might start to open up again on April 13th, as was first proposed.

It was no surprise, however, that this didn't happen.  Instead, the lockdown was extended until April 30th. And most recent news reports suggest that it might continue beyond that, with a few changes starting to happen mid-May.  That's another month. I like being at home, and my own company. But I'm finding it increasingly stressful, not being able to go out any time I wish, not seeing friends, not going for early morning walks. For those more active and extraverted than I am, it's extremely frustrating.

So we take one day at a time.  We try to stick to our normal daily routines as far as possible, eating regular meals, taking showers and getting dressed at the usual times.  I've been waking up around 6.30-7.00am most days. I have taken the opportunity to do a bit of watering and weeding amongst the plants in our side garden and front patio.  The herb planter has survived this winter much better than it did last year.  The basil and oregano died off, but the rosemary and aloe vera are still thriving, and the mint is threatening to take over entirely:

I was also pleased to see that a plant given to me by our younger son a year ago has not just survived, but is about to start flowering again:

After doing a bit of gardening each morning, I walk up and down around the side garden until I've done around 1000 steps. A very small amount, but at least I start the day with some fresh air and a tiny bit of exercise, without having to get permission to go out.

We've been out for a few walks in the evenings.  We have to ensure we stay within about a kilometre of our house, but that still gives scope for a fair bit of walking. We haven't been every day; sometimes it rained, sometimes Richard was too busy, sometimes we just didn't feel any inclination.  On Fridays I use up my once-a-day permission going to the local shops.

A few days ago when we set off to walk we realised that our white-and-brown cat Alex was accompanying us:

He used to do that when I went for early walks, until we shut the cats in the kitchen area overnight.  This is the first time he's done this in a long time.  So we walked around our block, Alex trotting with us all the way. When we got home again, we took him inside, and then went on our longer walk.  We did wonder what would happen if we put a collar and lead on him; Alex has a few dog-like tendencies. But we really don't want him to learn about routes that go further from home than he goes already, and suspect, in any case, that he would hate it.

Alex has not been so popular with either of us on three occasions in the past week, including this morning, when he caught a bird out on the balcony at the top of the house, then took it into Richard's study to eat.  It always leaves a terrible mess of feathers and worse.  He's caught birds on occasion before, but never quite so many in a short period of time.

I have continued going to the local fruit shop on Friday afternoons, as described in the post a couple of weeks ago.  The second time, on April 3rd, my experience was very similar.  I returned home with around 15kg fruit and veg, hoping I was not infected with anything as social distancing wasn't enforced, although most people were being careful. There were rubber gloves and open doors. Nobody was coughing.

Last Friday we needed a few extra things in addition to fresh fruit and veg:  grape juice, sugar, coconut milk, chocolate chips, matches.  Perhaps they weren't 'essential' in the way that fruit and veg are; I could make coconut milk with desiccated coconut again, Richard could drink water instead of diluted juice; we could not have any chocolate mug cakes on Sundays.  But they seemed important enough to me that I went to the mini-market opposite the fruitaria first. I did also buy some extra cat food, which is certainly essential in our household.

My trolley wasn't big enough for everything so I carried two bags back over my shoulders in addition, and this is what I unpacked:

I wiped down all the tetrapacks with kitchen roll and liquid soap, just in case they were infected. But didn't want to do that with the sugar, which is just in a paper pack.  So I put it in the back of the cupboard. We still have some open sugar, so by the time I start this one any viruses should have vanished.

It's not supposed to be possible to catch the virus from actually eating anything, but I still separated the new fruit and from the few that were left from the previous week:

(If that looks like a pitiful amount of fruit for two people for a week, I should add that there were also about 24 oranges and 500g strawberries which went straight in the fridge).

Unlike many of my online friends, I haven't done lots of extra baking in the past few weeks. I've made bread with the breadmaker, of course, and Richard makes a chocolate mug cake to share each Sunday after lunch.  But we've felt the need for extra sweet stuff. The first week, I had found a pack of Lidl chocolate biscuits at the back of a cupboard, well past their sell-by date, but still in good condition. So we ate those over the course of that week.

Then I decided to bake a coconut-chocolate thing that's very quick and easy:  just sugar, eggs and coconut on a chocolate base.  Except that we were a bit low on eggs, so I decided to use a substitute and thought a chia egg would work. It looked a bit odd - almost like the inside of a dragonfruit - but tasted just the same as the usual recipe, and, if anything, held together better.

When we had finished that, I decided to try our family favourite one-bowl brownie recipe.  When our son makes it, it's always perfect.  I did substitute three tablespoons of aquafaba for one of the eggs, but basically followed the same directions.... and failed. At least, I failed in making brownies.  Straight out of the oven, it was messy and gooey (albeit tasty).  But after a night in the fridge, it  turned into delicious brownie-flavoured fudge.

As for communication with others, it's been limited to online. We've had some lovely Whatsapp video chats with our grandchildren, and an enjoyable Zoom family meeting last weekend for a birthday.  Since none of us would have been together even without the lockdown, it's one small benefit, I suppose, that we've made the effort to connect the family this way.  I hope that will continue.

We've had Zoom meetings, too, of some of the St Helena's church congregation after (or before, last Sunday) the online services which Richard has recorded remotely, edited and uploaded.  And despite my being an Introvert, I find these online chats encouraging and even energising.

We've played a few games online, too. My friend Sheila and her daughters usually come over on Tuesday mornings to play board games. We can no longer do that, so we've managed to play 'One Word' and also 'Taboo' via Facebook messenger:

We had a family game of 'Drawful' one night, with our sons and daughter-in-law.  It's a short game, and perhaps a tad silly, but very enjoyable nonetheless.  It worked very well in three different locations.

Naturally we also played Settlers of Catan with our local friends which worked well by Zoom.

We did a five-player version with our sons, although it was a bit slow-going. Then last week, Alex tried to stop us.  We call this picture 'Cat-on':

Zoom allows one camera to show the board, and the other to show us so we can chat while playing. Much easier than when we first thought started playing Settlers via Skype with our younger son nearly ten years ago.

So three weeks have passed. In addition to a bit of cleaning, regular cooking and laundry etc, I have read books and written reviews, scanned slides, posted on help forums, updated the St Helena's website, and spent far too much time reading online news updates.  They are mostly very depressing. So many people have lost loved ones. Many more are struggling for their lives, without even being able to have their loved ones at their sides. We may be a bit frustrated here, but we are safe and healthy, at least so far. 

By the end of yesterday, Cyprus had 695 people who have tested positive to Covid-19,  and twelve people who have died of it.  The government has opted for extensive testing, tracking down every contact of everyone who tests positive, so many are found who are asymptomatic. Numbers are not increasing significantly, but they're not yet decreasing either.

Not knowing much about the illness makes it worse.  We know that people with underlying health conditions, or who smoke, are more likely to have it more seriously than those who are fit and healthy.  We also know that older people are more likely to have it badly than younger people.  But there are exceptions, and some young, apparently healthy people have died through complications.

Are there people who are naturally immune? It would seem likely, as many who come into contact with affected people do not test positive. In countries where there is limited testing, it's possible that contacts had the illness asymptomatically. But that's not the case here, where every possible contact of affected people, all hospital workers and most other frontline workers have been tested.  Does virus load make a difference?  Probably.  Hence the importance of self-isolating as far as possible.

So we wash our hands a lot, and keep away from everyone, giving a wide berth if we're out for a walk and meet anyone.  We eat plenty of fruit and veg in the hope of staying healthy. We also eat the extra cakes and chocolate to reduce stress (at least, that's the theory).  We've heard all kinds of speculations about possible drugs or other things that can help, many of them either untrue, or exaggerated, or potentially dangerous. Most are not available over the counter anyway.  But we do take extra Vitamin C and try to get a bit of sunshine each day for Vitamin D. If we feel any hint of cough or sore throat, we take manuka honey, which has some anti-viral properties. Perhaps these things don't make any difference, but they're unlikely to do any harm.

In the next week we really need to visit our PO Box; we're not sure quite what category of authorisation that falls under. But we might combine it with a visit to a supermarket, which will become necessary soon as our supply of cat litter is running low. It will probably be the highlight of the week. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A week of lockdown in Cyprus

As I said in the last post, from 6.00pm a week ago, Cyprus has been in 'lock down' mode. We aren't just advised to stay at home, we are required to do so by law, unless we have an acceptable reason for going out. And when we need to go out, we either send a mobile text message, or fill in a form (printed or hand-written) stating the reason. At least, that was the case until today; now anyone under 65 must request authorisation by SMS, and we can only go out once a day at most (other than for urgent medical problems, or to walk a dog).

There are those who find this extremely irritating, or even an infringement of liberty. Every day in the past week, the police have booked over 100 people around the island, either on foot or in a car, flouting the rules. Last night there were reported to be around 300 violations. It's not stated whether they didn't have the right documentation, or were in groups bigger than two people, or had been out too long, or something else. But each time someone is booked, they are either fined 150 euros on the spot. or taken to court.  I assume the latter is for the more dangerous violations, or perhaps for resisting the police. From today, that fine has doubled.

For us, while of course we don't LIKE being stuck at home without seeing anyone else, it seems like an acceptable way of trying to fight this awful pandemic. Cyprus is still seeing 10-20 new cases each day, and seven people in the main part of the island have died so far.  Possibly one of them, who was already ill, might have died anyway; but at least one was otherwise fit and healthy with no prior conditions.  The fewer people everyone sees, the easier it is to track contacts when someone is diagnosed with the virus, and - hopefully - the quicker it will be stopped.

Wednesday felt a bit strange. My phone alerted me to the monthly church book sale, which was, of course, cancelled. I was watching the news, and the worldometers site too closely - but fortunately for me, I had a project: to check continuity and proof-read a novel which my father has been writing and tweaking for at least five years. We decided at the end of last week to go ahead and self-publish it via Amazon KDP.  The title is 'The Finneal Solution'.

It was helpful having something specific to focus on for a few hours each day - and as of a couple of days ago, the novel is online, available for purchase.  Unfortunately, with postal restrictions and delays, the paperback edition won't be delivered for weeks.  So we've made the novel free in its Kindle version, until the end of this week. (If you try to download it, and your Kindle is registered to a different country, you should be able to find it, using the same code, at any of the other Amazon sites). 

On both Tuesday and Wednesday evening, we couldn't really concentrate on anything. The pandemic keeps spreading. We can pray, and we can self-isolate, but there's nothing else we can do to help.  However, I realised, as the week progressed, that I actually felt less anxious than I was the previous week. We knew a full lockdown was possible, maybe imminent; but we didn't know when it would happen, or what it would involve. But now we know. We can no longer decide whether or not to see anyone else - it's forbidden.

On Thursday night we decided to play a two-person came of Cities and Knights, for the first time in many months.  Usually our closest friends here come over to play the game with us - usually on Wednesday nights, but sometimes Thursdays.  We also play it with them every other Sunday. But that won't be happening for a while.

Alexander the Great was surprisingly disturbed. Instead of settling in the box lid, as he usually does, or even walking over the game to get our attention, he kept nuzzling the chair that Richard usually sits on to play the game, and mewing. It appeared that he was telling us we should wait for our friends...

One of the regulations which has been in force for a couple of weeks now is that supermarkets and other food stores are open only for over-60s and other vulnerable people between the hours of 6.00am-10.00am.  I won't be sixty for another few weeks, so although I prefer to buy fruit and vegetables at the fruitaria when it opens around 6.00am, I went at around 6.00pm on the Monday, before the lockdown, to make sure we had sufficient produce for the week.

I had hoped to wait until yesterday before going again, but by Friday it was clear that we were running low on fruit. It's important to stay as healthy as possible during this crisis, and to build up our immune system as far as possible. We've both had colds which seemed to be lingering, though not serious. We've been taking extra Vitamin C, and a little Manuka honey to ease sore throats.  But I didn't want to run out of fruit.

So on Friday, feeling oddly nervous, I sent a text message in the required format to the number given in the online press, and received a reply within a couple of seconds, telling me I was authorised to go out for a reasonable time. So I took my shopping trolley and ventured out.

Here's some of what I wrote on Facebook after the event:

The streets were pretty quiet as I walked there with my shopping trolley although there were a few people zooming up and down on motorbikes. At the fruitaria, which is about 500m from our house, there were disposable gloves by the door, but nobody enforcing them, nor checking my age, or ID, or stopping me going in.

It wasn't very crowded, so I'm sure there weren't more people there than there should have been, but nobody seemed to be practising social distancing... Nobody was coughing or sneezing, so I guess there's no problem but it felt a bit disturbing.

When I got home (with no spot check from the police) I looked at my receipt out of curiosity, as local delivery folk charge per 4kg of produce (I believe).  Apparently I bought around 15kg fruit and veg (at a cost of about 18 euros in total). We have plenty of other groceries in the cupboard and freezer, so all we need is fresh produce.

It occurred to me after writing this that 15kg fruit and veg sounded like quite a lot for two people for one week.  Then I remembered that 7kg of that was the oranges which I use to squeeze fresh juice each morning;  from about a kilogram of oranges we get around 400-500ml juice.  So in fact it's only about eight kilograms of fruit and veg for the two of us, or a little over 500g each per day (plus the juice). And that sounds like not much at all... according to the BBC site, 400g is the absolute minimum anyone should have each day. We're over that - but not much. 

But that's a digression. I expect to go to the fruitaria again on Thursday or Friday this week, but hope not to have to do any other shopping for the next couple of weeks. I know some people like to shop more often, and some don't have the funds to do a big shop once a month, but we're in the fortunate position of being able to - and we went a little more often right before the lock-down, to make sure we had plenty of crucial things like cat food and cat litter!  We had also visited the nut warehouse to stock up on nuts a couple of weeks earlier than we needed to. 

As well as his regular work, and doing the cover design and layout for my father's novel, Richard was working with St Helena's Church staff to try to arrange a live streaming from their house, since we're not supposed to go out or meet other people, even in a church building.  He tried various things, and hoped to make it work - unfortunately, this morning, it didn't upload properly. He was using a Skype link to the vicarage, and trying to livestream at the same time; we have quite a lot of bandwidth in our contract, and he used data on his phone too, but it wasn't good enough.  So, an hour later, they did the service again (about twenty minutes, all spoken) which he recorded, and then uploaded later.

So although the lockdown didn't actually come into force until a week ago this evening, by the end of Sunday it felt as if we had come to the end of the first week, and it had been fairly constructive.

Monday morning did not feel so positive. I don't have the same need of socialising as Richard does, but even I was beginning to wonder when this will all end. We have a lot to be thankful for, I know; we're safe and healthy in a spacious and comfortable house, we have good Internet connections with family and friends even if we can't see them for the foreseeable future.  Video chatting with our grandchildren most days, even for a few minutes, lifts the mood a little. And we have each other. It's much more difficult for those who live alone, or who are vulnerable and cannot get out, even for half an hour, to buy groceries.

But still. Cabin fever is setting in.