Thursday, January 02, 2020

New year, new decade, new (to me) phone....

Back in September 2018, I wrote about starting to use a basic smartphone. I called it my 'slightly intelligent' phone as it didn't actually do all that much. That was good, I thought, as I had resisted the idea of a smartphone for a long time. But being able to see photos of the grandchildren via Whatsapp was a big motivation to acquire one, and to start using it as a phone when my old phone (which was not at all intelligent) was becoming unusable.

I was surprised how much I liked it. It didn't have room to install much, but my son put an extra chip in it, and I was able to download an app for gmail, and Facebook 'Lite', and a few other things. When I travelled briefly to the UK a year ago, to see the family, I didn't take a computer; I was able to keep in touch with friends and Facebook via my phone.

What I liked most of all was being able to check email and Facebook updates quickly in the morning, before going out for a walk or having breakfast. Sometimes I'm anxious to hear from someone, or concerned about something, and in the past I would have turned my computer on - only to get distracted, possibly for hours. With the phone, I could check all I needed in about five minutes, and then get on with my day. I've reached the point where I don't usually turn my computer on until after lunch, meaning I get a lot more done in the mornings.

There were some disadvantages to such a basic phone, however. The main and most frustrating one was not having a camera on the front. Not that I wanted to take selfies; the problem was that trying to video chat with my grandchildren meant I had to stand in front of a long mirror in order for them to see me. We would try the computer, but the technology doesn't always work. So we would usually end up waiting for Richard, if he was out, so we could use his phone.

I was mildly disappointed that there was no way to instal a step-counter on the phone, and also found the poor quality of the photos on it a bit disturbing. I still have a camera and mostly use that. But when I go walking with my friend Sheila early in the morning, I don't usually take anything other than my house keys and phone.  There are a lot of flamingoes on the Salt Lake this year (over a thousand, we're told), but when I tried taking a photo with my old phone, the best of them looked like this:

If you click to enlarge it, you'll see that they just look like pink blobs.

Back in the summer, my family tried to persuade me to buy a better phone, and I did look at some options. But some were too big, and some were too heavy, and the ones that quite appealed (and which weren't horrendously expensive) had poor reviews.  So I decided not to bother.

However, Richard bought a new Android to replace the one he had been using for work which had become unreliable, switching itself off every couple of minutes.  He had hoped I might like one the same, but it was too big for my hands, and too heavy to feel comfortable.

In an idle moment I did some online research and learned that random turning off is a common feature of this kind of phone when the battery needs replacing; it swells slightly, and triggers the off button. I quite liked that phone - so we decided to order a replacement battery, to see if it could be made to work.

Our son brought it out with him when he came for a week over Christmas, and I agreed to try it. He moved my sim, and the extra memory chip, and put the new battery in.  It worked!  It was so much faster than my other phone! Installing the same apps was easy and quick!

Yes, it really is only 15 degrees here at present, down to about 9 overnight.  Not warm at all.

The phone is bigger but not much heavier than my old one, and it has a camera on the front as well as the back. It also let me instal a step-counter, which I hope will motivate me to do a bit more walking. I'm not doing very well so far; this morning it was raining at 6.00am so I didn't go out walking with my friend.

The pictures taken still aren't as good as my real camera, but they're a lot better than the other phone was.  Here's how the flamingoes looked on the 'new' phone when we walked early in the morning on New Year's Eve:

They're still not particularly clear in a photo this size, but much more obviously flamingoes if you click to enlarge the picture.

Within a couple of days, I was carrying the phone around with me everywhere. I'm still getting used to some of the functions, and am quite slow with it. I am not planning to use it for YouTube or even browsing, but I like the speed, and the quality, and the ease of use.

I passed my other phone to my friend, for her younger daughters to use when out and about. They have already done more with it than I ever managed to do.  No doubt there are far more features on my 'new' one than I am aware of, and I probably won't ever discover the majority.

But, as we start the 2020s (yes, I know, this is technically the last year of the previous decade, but still the first year of the 'twenties') I don't expect to return to using a non-smart phone.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Greetings from Cyprus

Once again I take keyboard in hand to write a Christmas Eve blog post.  As usual, I'm illustrating with this year's Christmas cake.  I made it at the start of November, and decided - for a change, I thought - to make it square rather than round.

I thought I might do something a bit different with the icing, but although the home-made marzipan came out beautifully, the royal icing wasn't very co-operative, and I ended up just sloshing it over the cake and then putting ribbon around, and a few of the less tacky cake ornaments on top.

(Yes. These are the less tacky ones.  The ones I didn't use are much worse).

Looking at last year's photo, I realised it's really not much different from last year's cake, which I mentioned in last year's Christmas Eve post.  It was also square. It used four of the same ornaments, although I was a tad more creative with little marzipan snowballs last year.

I wrote about most of our Christmas preparation in my last blog post.  Since then, I've done one or two extra bits and pieces in preparation; but nothing of great import, other than the arrival of our son Tim on Thursday evening last week.  On Sunday we went to the local church Nine Lessons and Carols service, where Tim was the guest pianist (ten years ago he was their organist and choir director).  I very much liked the new Nativity scene, with the communion table as backdrop:


Today Tim cooked the turkey, with two kinds of stuffing inside. Richard carved it, and it's sitting in the fridge now, ready for re-heating tomorrow.  Our menu is much the same as always: in addition we'll have chipolata sausages, veggie sausages (already prepared), roast potatoes, carrots cooked in a little non-dairy spread, steamed brussel sprouts, peas (if we remember to put them on) and sweetcorn.  Plus cranberry sauce, of course, which is very easy to make.

One year we did broccoli instead of brussels sprouts, thinking more people would like it. But there was an uproar from two of the visiting children.  Brussels sprouts, they insist, are their favourite part of the meal.  I don't mind them too much, once a year, and will probably have two or three myself.

I made mince pies and Christmas puddings weeks ago, so they just need re-heating.  Lemon drizzle cake will be the alternative dessert, and some dried fruit (dates/figs/apricots).   Nothing complicated.  There will be ten of us, which is a good number. We'll all fit around the extended table easily.  Of course we'd much rather have our other son and his family here too, even if it meant a much more crowded dining room, but it's not to be. Not this year, anyway.

I've printed the newsletters which have arrived from friends.  I've sent out brief greetings to our email contacts, since we didn't write a newsletter this year.

And our knitted nativity members have been taking a nap, in preparation for the big day, courtesy of our friends' youngest daughter:

Wishing you a peaceful, relaxing day tomorrow.

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The first two weeks of December in Cyprus

Over the years, Christmas preparation has become easier and more relaxed in our household.  It helps that I have become a tad more organised, and give myself a kind of timetable to get things done. It also helps that we keep it fairly low-key, on the whole, and - most of all - that all the gift shopping is done online.  With no children living at home, no stockings to organise, no grandchildren visiting this year, it's all quite straightforward.

Early in November, I made this year's Christmas cake.  Later in the month I made a batch of mincemeat and some Christmas puddings. I organised and ordered our photo calendars for next year in plenty of time, and also gifts for the family members who will be here in Cyprus.

December 1st, very neatly, was also the first Sunday in Advent.  We went to the morning service at the local church where we're becoming more involved and later I thought about what still had to be done. It seemed remarkably little.

Ten years ago, I wrote and posted at least eighty Christmas cards, mostly to the UK, as well as family newsletters.  Gradually we started moving to email for many of our correspondents, and have lost touch with others. This year, we only sent thirty cards, mostly to family and very long-standing friends in the UK. We also decided, for the first time in thirty years, not to do a 'round robin' newsletter.

On Fridays we use the morning for what we loosely call 'house admin' - in theory doing any odd jobs that we wouldn't otherwise get around to. But more often than not, we do our grocery shopping and check our PO Box, and most of the morning is used up.  However, on December 6th, I had a strange urge to visit this large shop:

Jumbo superstore in Larnaka, Cyprus

Yes, a lot of what it sells is rather tacky.  But although I don't in general like shopping, it's kind of fun to browse through the kitchen section, amusing ourselves by pointing out all the things we would never buy, and even considering one or two that we might (but don't need).

The Christmas section is huge, and there were plenty of things that didn't tempt us in the slighest.  A dancing Santa and tree, for instance:

tacky Christmas decorations

There were a lot of quite attractive decorations too, some of which might have tempted us if we hadn't had two lively cats who would probably destroy them. Unfortunately they only had one kind of Christmas crackers; we had almost run out of our supply from the UK, and I had thought Jumbo would be a good source. We did buy one pack from there but they were a bit gaudy looking.

We also emerged with a sort of snowflake star and a string of LED lights for our tree, some cushion covers for my study and one or two other bits and pieces. But we were mostly quite restrained.

December is the only time of year we go to Jumbo, and it made me feel as if the countdown had truly begun.  We bought stamps and posted the cards, too.  And bought some more crackers at Metro, which had a much better selection than Jumbo.

Later in the day, I started ordering Christmas presents for family members in the UK.  We all have Amazon wish-lists so it's easy to do, and I send them directly.  It's not quite the same in that I don't get to wrap them - but I'm very happy not to have to go to any real shops to buy them.

On Sunday 8th December, the second Sunday in Advent, we went with our friends to the Christingle service. A local choir was taking part, and it was a friendly, enjoyable service.  Several people had prepared large numbers of Christingles the day before, so we all collected them, with the candles lit, and then sang 'Away in a Manger' by candlelight.

While many people ate the raisins and sweets afterwards, I decided to keep ours in the fridge for a few days and then use it as a decoration until the orange starts to go bad:


The following day it was the last meeting of the year for the local Christian writers' group, followed by our annual Christmas bring-and-share (potluck) lunch.  Twelve of us were there, and as always there was an excellent spread of food:

potluck lunch

I suppose there's a lot of comfort in familiar traditions such as this.  And on Tuesday morning, another annual tradition was followed.  I got out our modest supply of decorations:

Christmas decorations, still packed

One of my young friends set up the Nativity scene, with the addition of some tinsel and a former Christmas tree star.  The figure at the back, lying down, was supposed to be the third shepherd. But I didn't make a staff for him.  So my small friend announced that it must be the innkeeper, not a shepherd at all.  And she also decreed that he should be asleep.  I suppose he probably was, when Jesus was born...

knitted Nativity scene

The Kings, of course, should be further away but we always put them all together.

Each year we send and receive fewer and fewer Christmas cards, but I keep those from previous years (many of which don't arrive until January anyway) and hang them up in a couple of places.  And my young friends (two of whom are no longer small) not only assembled the tree without help, but decorated it too.

Christmas tree

Later in the day, I ordered the last of the Christmas presents for family members in the UK.

On Wednesday, we had an appointment at Immigration, where - in theory - our permanent residency was granted.  We have to wait up to three months for the actual paperwork to come through.

On Thursday we went to a pleasant and thoughtful advent meditation/discussion at the vicarage, followed by another potluck lunch.  Thursday was also the UK general election date. We're not eligible to vote, but we did hope the result might be different from what transpired.  However, this is not a political blog, so I will refrain from further comment on that topic.

On Saturday 14th, we celebrated 40 years since we got engaged, 42 years since our first date.  We went out to lunch in the pouring rain, and had to park in the Marina as Larnaka was packed with shoppers, most of whom had cars.  We had decided to go to the friendly, low-key 'To Kafe' restaurant, which was the other end of the town, but the rain mostly abated while we walked there.  We celebrated in burgers (a veggie one for me) and then discovered that they had a 'fasting' carrot cake (ie dairy free) so Richard had that, and I had a very delicious (and decadent) lemon cheesecake:

delicious cakes from To Kafe, Larnaka

As an added bonus, our friends had been able to get tickets for a local ballet school production of 'The Nutcracker' at the Municipal Theatre.  I don't think I've ever seen it live before; the scenery was excellent, and the whole thing was most enjoyable.

scenery in Nutcracker ballet

Then on Sunday, among other things, I made our first batch of mince pies:

twelve mince pies

We finished them today so I shall make more tomorrow, along with a few other goodies. On Thursday evening our younger son arrives to stay for a week, and that's when we'll feel as if the Christmas period has truly begun.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Insects in Spices in Cyprus

It was a normal Saturday, late in September.  I usually change the sheets and clean the house on Saturday mornings, in a fairly leisurely way.  Before that on this particular morning I planned to prepare our favourite pinto bean curry for the evening, and put it to simmer in the slow-cooker.  I had also bought a small crate of tomatoes, and was going to make apple and tomato chutney, as we had run out.

I had forgotten to soak the beans overnight, but put them in cold water before going for my early morning walk with my friend Sheila. So when I had finished breakfast (and turned on the air conditioning) I decided to make the chutney first. I chopped onions and apples and tomatoes, and crushed garlic... and realised I didn't have enough malt vinegar.

So I popped out, despite the heat, to the supermarket just around the corner, and bought another bottle of vinegar.

Next I wanted to add the spices.  I opened the jar of cayenne, to add a quarter teaspoonful.... and something moved inside it.  I closed it quickly, and tipped it on its side, and held it up to the light.  To my horror, there were several tiny insects crawling around.  I shuddered, and decided not to use cayenne.  I picked up the chili flakes... and they were crawling too.  Both jars were only about a quarter full, and I could see that the tops weren't fully closed - although we have never had insects in them before.

So I checked every other spice jar carefully. Most were fine, but I also found insects in the ginger and the paprika.  (When I googled later, curious as to what insects could possibly live on hot spices, I learned that they are not unusual.  They were most likely either cigarette beetles or drugstore beetles. I did not research too deeply so have no idea which one it might have been. I don't really want to know).

I have to confess that I temporarily abandoned both my humanitarian and ecological principles.  I did not empty the jars somewhere outside to let the insects escape, and to allow me to put the jars for recycling. No, I sealed the lids as tightly as I could, and put the infested jars, in a sealed plastic produced bag, in the dustbin.

Then I went to the supermarket again, despite it being even hotter, and bought new jars of the four relevant spices.

By this time the beans were ready to be boiled, so I finished making the chutney and put that to simmer. Then I thoroughly cleaned the spice rack, and sprayed it with biokill, before replacing the jars.

It was past eleven o'clock by the time I put the curry in the slow-cooker, but it's a fairly forgiving recipe and was fine.  It was later still when I finished the chutney.  The kitchen surfaces were chaotic so I sorted them... and I still hadn't started cleaning the house.  So much for a relaxed afternoon reading and possibly writing....

The dusting and mopping was rather cursory that day. But at least the spice shelf was considerably cleaner than it had been, and I had - hopefully - a year's supply of apple and tomato chutney in the cupboard.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Cyprus in September

As Facebook keeps reminding me, there are several years where I have spent most of August in the UK, and returned to Cyprus early in September.  August remains my least favourite month in Cyprus: the heat and humidity are excessive, and many activities and businesses close down for two weeks or longer.

Not that local activities are particularly relevant now our children are grown up, living and working in the UK. But it does mean that a lot of people tend to travel during August. So it happened again this year: I was away for nearly five weeks, in cooler climes which I like so much better at this time of year. More significantly I spent some quality time with the family.

I flew back to Cyprus on September 3rd.  It hasn't been too humid since my return, and it hasn't been excessively hot. Daytime highs (in the shade) have been around 30-33C, and the nighttimes down to a much more pleasant 22-24C.  We're still using air conditioning when computers are on, and for a couple of hours in the bedroom at night to reduce humidity. I'm not walking anywhere between about 9.00am and 8.00pm. I'm not liking the fact that it's still hot for me, but I have to acknowledge that it's vastly preferable to August.

Last week I agreed to start walking early in the morning with my friend Sheila, again.  We stopped mid-June when it started feeling unpleasantly warm, but usually resume some time in September. I remembered to take my camera for the first walk.  The ground cover was mostly brown, after over three months without rain:

Salt Lake in Larnaka; brown ground cover, water remaining after a wet winter

But, as can probably be seen in the thin strip of blue in the middle of the photo, there is still quite a bit of water in the Salt Lake.  Some years it has dried up completely; some years there's just a little water by the end of Summer.  But this year - where we had a lot of rain in the winter and spring, far more than normal - it has as much water now as it sometimes has by the end of the winter.

Here's a cropped picture which shows more clearly how much water there is:

close-up of photo showing water still remaining in the salt lake after a wet winter in cyprus

There even seem to be some flamingoes, although they were so far away that none of my photos show them.

We walked to the Airport Road end of the trail.  Three months ago the water was almost up to the trail, so it's gone down a fair bit:  there's dried salt on the sand, although it probably isn't obvious from the photo:

Water in the Salt Lake, September in Cyprus

I kept looking at the forecast, hoping it might cool down a degree or two. But the long-range forecast continued to show 31-32 degrees in the daytime, 21-23 overnight.

So it was a bit of a surprise to see a lot of cloud in the sky yesterday morning, and by about noon the clouds were grey and quite threatening. It was extremely humid, too; I turned on the air conditioning in the kitchen where I was cooking our Sunday lunch as I felt so sticky; the air was heavy, and I wondered if there would be thunder over the mountains.

It was even more of a surprise when it started to rain. It slowed down after about half a minute, which is normal for the first rain of the season.  It usually brings lots of dust from the trees and rooftops, and makes the atmosphere even more humid.

But then the rain started up again. It must have rained solidly - quite heavily at times - for almost an hour.  There was some hail, and the kind of torrential rain which is very unusual this early in the season:

Raindrops falling in the street, torrential rain in Cyprus in September

Our roof leaked over the stairs, as it does in heavy rain; local friends reported, on Facebook, that their roofs leaked too. And there was apparently some flooding in parts of Larnaka.

By about 3.00pm the rain had stopped, and the sun came out later.  The evening was a little cooler, but today the temperature is back to 31C.  The forecast doesn't show any significant reduction of temperatures for the next ten days - but then the forecast didn't predict over an hour of rain yesterday.   

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Photobooks on Photobox

I have always liked photographs. As long back as I can remember, anyway. I was given my first camera when I was seven. I took photos on holidays with my little Instamatic. At some point I was given my grandfather's old 35mm camera.

In my teens, I took photos at school; I embarrassed friends by taking photos at parties. I was absolutely thrilled with the gift of a negative album and half a dozen photo albums when I was about fourteen. I organised and annotated some of my pictures; I stored my negatives carefully, with dates, names and places.

I suppose it's because I'm not at all a visual person that I like looking at photos. I can't picture anything clearly in my head, with my eyes closed. So I rely on photos to remind me of scenes in the past, and people I have known. My parents had a darkroom in the house I grew up in, and I loved seeing the pictures emerging after developing the films, and then processing the images.

In the early 1980s, colour films dropped in price, and it was possible to send films to be processed, at a cost that was rather less than that of buying new chemicals for the darkroom. I was newly married, at university and then out at work, with a house that needed a lot of repair work and redecoration. So I appreciated the saving in time, too. I was much less disciplined about organising negatives - they came in nice little sleeves anyway - but I bought new slip-in albums and kept more-or-less up-to-date with the photos.

In 2005, we moved from analogue film to digital photos. But I still ordered prints. It was more economical and far more efficient - I could take as many photos as I wanted, choose the best ones, and order just those.  I didn't get them locally; I uploaded them to one of the online photo processing places; originally Kodak Gallery (which closed some years ago), and then the excellent Photobox site.

The number of albums kept growing. It was proving more difficult to find suitable new albums, however.  And I was running out of space:

Back in 2010, I had managed to make a digital 'photobook' at Kodak Gallery online. It was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and I wanted to make a memento. I scanned some of my favourite photos over the years, which I uploaded, then the site took me through the steps of creating a hardback book.  There were several different formats offered for each page - I could place just a single picture, or four, or nine... I experimented with the options, and we were very pleased with the eventual result:

I had wondered, more than once, about making more photobooks.  The Photobox site offered them, but they seemed extremely expensive.  However, they regularly sent me emails of special offers:  50% off everything on the site;  60% off photobooks;  extra pages free with photobooks; - I never knew what was coming next, but tried to take advantage of special offers with the prints I was ordering.

Early in 2016 I calculated the cost of making a regular photo album with prints ordered from Photobox.  I had discovered somewhere in Cyprus that sold photo albums holding 300 prints, which would - just about - take about a year's worth of pictures.  The album cost about €20.  300 photos at about ten pence each cost around £30.  Total: not far off £50.  The special offer reduced-price Photobooks, with up to 100 pages, cost about £40.  I could put in more photos - each page can take at least six photos - and I knew they would take up much less space than regular albums.

I decided to try it with our 2016 photographs. I finished my last analogue album, ensuring it ended at the end of 2015. And over the year, I sorted and uploaded to Photobox one month's photos at a time, then very much enjoyed playing around with the online system to create the photobook. I realised I didn't just need to use the pre-defined templates. I could add extra photos, place extra text, and change the size or shape of the pictures.  There were different backgrounds available, and also some extra illustrations I could add.

Many of my online friends were creating 'bullet journals' at the time; hand-crafted beautiful books containing memorabilia of their day-to-day lives, along with photos and hand-written text.  I am so un-artistic that I could not do that kind of thing; but making an online album fulfilled a similar function.  Early in 2017 I ordered my 2016 album, and was very pleased with it.  There were, inevitably, lots of pictures of my grandson:

I liked being able to include several similar images.  And at times I placed far more than six on one page:

Inevitably there were a few typos in the text, and I had not been consistent with the font size or colour. But I was so pleased with it that I've kept making the current photos into photobooks: 2017 and 2018 are complete, and 2019 is in process; I'm up to the end of June so far.

Having established that photobooks are good value, great quality, and - best of all - replaceable, should any disaster strike the ones we have - I started thinking about making them with older photos.  My first album, from the 1960s, has photos falling out; we don't have an album at all from Richard's childhood.  But I had some scanned copies of negatives of photos from both sides of our family, and decided to start with the year Richard was born.

I quickly realised that I didn't have all the available photos. So this project was going to have to pause until I could get hold of them to copy.

Meanwhile, our 1980 professional wedding album was looking considerably the worse for wear:

The photos inside fall out if we're not careful, and some of them are starting to fade.  We only selected about eight of them, but there were about fifty or sixty taken by the photographer, and more by my father and my father-in-law.  We had photographed the 'proof' album with all the professional photos (which my parents-in-law had bought), and I had scanned my father's negatives, and also some slides we had taken on our honeymoon.

So I decided to skip forward to 1980.  I first made us a new wedding/honeymoon album:

I even scanned copies of the wedding service booklet and hymn sheet to include:

And then I made the decision to create photobooks of ALL our photos - the analogue albums only ever contained a selection of the better ones, and some of them are very faded now.

So I got going on chronological albums, making one that covered the years from 1980-1983, and one that covered 1984-1985.  I've been reminded about my grandparents' golden wedding, my grandfather's 80th birthday, and some holidays we had in the Middle East, where my parents were living.

I was particularly looking forward to the next few, as they include our sons as babies.  I ordered 1986-1987 about a month ago:

Daniel had four grandparents and five great-grandparents still living when he was born, so I have loved seeing photos of them together.  I've also included pictures of Richard's work at the time - photos which never made it into our former albums.

I've been working on the next two albums as well, and they're just about ready to order; I'm hoping for a good special offer in the next few weeks.  There's no hurry - once created, they stay in my Photobox 'creations' collection, along with the ones I have ordered.

The bookcase in the photo above is about 60cm wide.  The middle shelf contains twelve books, which just about fit, covering something like 18 years of our married life.  The lower shelf contains ten slightly bigger books, covering ten years of our life.  Digital photography leads to more photos being taken, and as I get older I like more photos anyway. Particularly of our grandchildren.

By contrast, here are our first eight photobooks. The two on the left are the special anniversary and wedding ones. The remaining six, covering ten years (1980-1987 and 2016-2018) take up just eight centimetres of shelf space:

It's said that one knows how good a company is by the way they deal with things that go wrong. I had to test that out a couple of months ago, when I ordered two photobooks at the same time. When the parcel arrived, it contained one of the ones I had ordered, and one that was nothing to do with me - on the front was a photo of someone I did not recognise, and some text in one of the Scandinavian languages.

I clicked 'help' on the Photobox site, and was greeted by an online 'chat' box. I explained the problem to an extremely helpful assistant, who apologised profusely and said that just occasionally something goes wrong with the printing, and an order gets missed out. She ordered a replacement album to be sent to me, and asked me to return the one that wasn't mine, and to send them a copy of the postage receipt. I did so, and the amount was refunded to my Photobox account within a day.  I was very impressed with how quickly it was handled.

I would highly recommend Photobox to anyone interested in trying this kind of thing. If you do, make sure to get on their mailing list so they send you regular special offers.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Installing air conditioning in Cyprus

Two months ago, I wrote a post about having our air conditioners cleaned. I mentioned that the one in the guest flat front bedroom no longer worked, so we had to have it replaced.  This wasn't difficult; after a little online research, we went to our favourite white goods shop George Theodorou.

We bought the least expensive one whose brand we recognised, and which was recommended by the shop owner. A few days later it arrived and was installed, with minimal difficulty.  It's on the ground floor, and there was already a hole in the wall, wiring in place, and a suitable place for the outside part. Since the old one was at least fifteen years old, the new one should be far more efficient, and also quieter.

About a month later, I was sitting outside in our side garden after walking with my friend Sheila. We had guests in the flat, and they were using the air conditioning.  There was just a gentle purr, rather than the rather obvious noise that the older one had used. I commented that it would have been nice to have a new, quiet and more efficient one in our bedroom.  But we certainly didn't want to have to pay two installation fees, to have a new one upstairs, and then to relocate our current one in the guest flat.

Besides, we didn't know how long our upstairs one would last. It was also at least fifteen years old, probably more. But it was working fine...

older air conditioning unit in our bedroom

.. or so we thought.  Until one morning when I woke up and it was on, although I was certain I had set it to go off after an hour. The following night, I was awake when it went off... and then it came on again.  And refused to take any notice of the remote control. And it seemed to be getting colder... so eventually we turned it off at the wall.  

We changed the batteries in the remote; when that didn't help, we tried using a different remote (as there were three other identical air conditioners in the house).  The same pattern repeated. And unless we switched it off at the wall, it would turn itself on at random times.  

Evidently we needed a new one - and it wasn't a difficult decision to return to George Theodorou, where the same product we had bought in May was ten euros cheaper.  

Unfortunately, there was no way to get the external unit out of the window and secured into the brackets - or, indeed, to remove the old one.  So the installers had to rent a fork-lift truck for an hour, which cost us an extra forty euros. But there was no alternative:  

fork lift truck to instal an air conditioner in Cyprus

Sheila took this photo; if she hadn't, we would have no record. I was trying to look after our nervous cat Lady Jane who dislikes workmen of any kind.

Eventually it was installed.  It's smaller than the older unit, so at some point we'll have to touch up the paintwork on the surrounding wall.  But that can wait until the Autumn. 

The remote control has many more options than the old one.  The temperature setting is obvious. We use it at 28 or 29 degrees Celcius, to remove the humidity and cool slightly; too much cooling isn't healthy and can also be very expensive.  When coming into the room from 30 degrees and humidity in the bathroom, 29 degrees and dryer feels wonderful, particularly when the ceiling fan is circulating the air too. 

We knew about 'swing' too.  That moves the air more effectively than having it just pointing in one direction.  And we were relieved to see a 'lamp' option which allowed us to turn off the large LED light at the front of the air conditioner, when it's on. 

But the other controls were a little confusing.  

Chigo air conditioner remote control

The instructions were only in Greek, and we could not find this particular brand online in any other language. We haven't yet used Air Flow, Turbo, Short Cut, Clean, or Follow Me.  We decided to use the ioniser, which apparently should help to clean the air and reduce the dust, though we haven't noticed any particular effect.  We tried 'Sleep', one night, assuming it would turn itself off. It didn't. It seemed to get warmer - not turning itself off when it reached the set temperature, but (apparently) blowing warm air out. We definitely didn't want that!

On our older air conditioner, there was a 'timer' button which let us tell it what time we wanted it to turn off (or on, although we never used that option).  We assumed this one would be similar.  It is... but rather more complicated. And with an odd quirk that if I set it to go off (for instance) at 11.45 pm tonight, then tomorrow I will have to adjust it by at least one minute, making it turn off at 11.44 (or 11.46).  If I try to keep it at the same time, it refuses to take it.  

I don't know if our electricity bill will be a lot lower due to this more efficient air conditioner; but it should be considerably better for the environment.  We're wondering, now, about replacing some of the other older ones before next summer, and possibly using them more often than we do to keep the house less humid during the worst of the Cyprus summer. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Kataklysmos fair in Larnaca

Today is Kataklysmos Sunday. That's Pentecost in the Greek or Eastern calendar.  Eastern Easter was a week later than Western Easter back in April, and thus Pentecost is a week later than the Western celebration of that important feast in the church's calendar.

However, whereas many folk in the UK were probably unaware of Pentecost (or Whitsun, as it used to be called) a week ago, it would be hard to miss it here in Cyprus. Larnaka is traditionally thought to have been founded by one of Noah's grandsons, and Kataklysmos (a word which means 'deluge') is a celebration - if that's the right word - of the Flood, as well as of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

At least, that's the official line.  As with many of the religious festivals, it has become an excuse for a sea-front fair, which lasts nearly two weeks, as well as concerts, games, and much more to attract visitors and locals. It's not something that appeals to me, particularly. When our sons were younger we visited a couple of times, but the noise, heat and general chaos left me with a headache.

Twelve years ago we went out to eat with our house group on the Friday before Kataklysmos Sunday (back then, the festival did not open until the Friday, and lasted only one week). Even sitting in a restaurant, it was noisy, and I had no wish to go anywhere near it again.  Then last year we took some visiting friends for a walk along the sea-front a week before Pentecost, when there were some stalls but it wasn't yet total chaos.

This afternoon we went out for ice cream about 4.30pm, and then I suggested we could have a brief look at the stalls.  Although summer is here, it hasn't been as hot in the past week or so as it was, and by 5pm I was fine walking mostly in the shade.  I certainly didn't want to go in the evening, when it will be very busy and loud, but a couple of hours ago it wasn't too bad at all.

There were far more stalls than I remembered from the last time we visited. Some were set inside little tents with pointy roofs, extending much further than they did twenty years ago:

2019 kataklysmos, Larnaka, Cyprus

What always surprises us is that there are so many duplicate stalls. We saw at least three (maybe more) lengthy stalls, in the main part of the sea-front, selling traditional Cypriot sweets and nuts.

traditional cyprus sweet stalls

There was a huge trampoline for children, and a bouncing castle, and bunting everywhere - the atmosphere is a carnival one, and I doubt if many people thought about the origins of the festival.

Kataklysmos 2019, bouncy castle and fair in Cyprus

There are some stalls selling locally made jewellery and other crafts - we glanced at a few, but we didn't plan to buy anything.

Kataklysmos 2019, touristy stalls selling crafts

Toy stalls are another kind replicated so many times that I'm amazed they manage to sell anything.  I hope the quality is better than it was twenty or so years ago when our sons bought super-soakers at one of these stalls, only to have them break within a few days. 

Toy stall at Kataklysmos 2019, Larnaka, Cyprus

There was one book stall amongst the many others.  I didn't take a photo, but there were quite a few Greek hardback children's books.  Unfortunately this kind of fair doesn't have second-hand books, and those are the only stalls I ever really look at in fairs of this kind.

We had parked at the Marina (a fringe benefit of Richard having a boat there is that he can park there free any time he wants to) and walked almost as far as the fort.  It was half-past five, and the noise was increasing; there was going to be a concert later, and loud music was coming from some of the stalls, as well as from the concert area.

So we walked back on the other side of the road, in the shade, by the restaurants, and then came home.  Many locals and tourists will be down there this evening; some of the restaurants had extended out into the street with extra tables and chairs, hoping for extra customers later.  The noise will be unbearable (from my perspective) and the crowds claustrophobic.  But for those who enjoy crowds and loud music, the Kataklysmos fair is a highlight of the early Summer in Cyprus.