Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cyprus sleepover....

Last night we had three young visitors to stay.

My friend Sheila's three oldest children are away at the youth group camp in the mountains; so I implemented an idle suggestion I'd made three years ago (and for which Sheila had been counting down the days...) to give her 24 hours with her husband, and no offspring at all.

This was a first for them, at least in the past 17 years, and it was also a first for the three girls, none of whom had previously been to a sleepover without parents. I know them well - our families spend a lot of time together - and the girls were looking forward to this as much as their parents, so we didn't really have any worries about them.

However, it was also a first for me. I'm pretty sure we had the occasional teenage boy staying overnight when our sons were that age; they kept out of the way, mostly. But we've never had younger children staying without their parents. I wasn't entirely sure how well I would survive... I like these three children very much, but they tend to be LOUD and I am quite noise-sensitive.

They are also full of energy, and we don't have any outdoor space; moreover, I don't go out in temperatures over about 30C (maximum) so there was no way I could take them to the park during the day. Essentially we were going to be stuck in my air conditioned study, where I keep Lego left from my sons' childhood and various colouring equipment, but not a lot else. I knew that, if all else failed, they could watch a DVD... but hoped not to be reduced to those straits.

On Tuesday, early, I did some extra shopping at our local fruitaria, ensuring we had plenty of potatoes, carrots, cucumber, bananas, eggs, edam cheese and chicken drumsticks. These children are quite picky eaters so I wanted to ensure there was at least something they would eat. Wednesday morning I cleaned the house first thing, put some bread ingredients in the breadmaker, chicken drumsticks in the slow cooker, yogurt mixture in the yogurt maker, and boiled some eggs... and was ready for the onslaught!

They arrived shortly after 11.00, as agreed. They brought their pillows, some clean clothes for the following day, their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and two 'American dolls' complete with outfits and beds.

They're quite self-motivated children, so when I asked what they would like to do first, Katie (nine) said she would like to do some more work on the story she is writing and saving on my computer. Sophia kept guard:

Helen (nearly six) and Elisabeth (just four) opted to play with Lego. 

Alexander (four-and-a-half months) decided to make the acquaintance of one of the dolls, and sat on her lap for a while:

(I probably didn't mention until now that we have recently adopted two of our friends' kittens.) 

Lego soon became boring, so that was put away and the colouring books came out. Colouring isn't something my sons ever did, but a few years ago these girls started asking for printed pictures to colour, and eventually I bought some inexpensive tear-out colouring books of various types from the UK. These are still popular, slightly to my surprise: 

This lasted until lunch-time, where the fresh bread, boiled eggs, cheese and cut up veggies seemed to go down well. After that they wanted to play some games; I wasn't willing to sit much longer in the over-warm dining room, nor to turn on another a/c, so we brought the games through to the study. All three of the girls like (and are good at) Uno:

We had some discussion about whether or not it was 'mean' to play certain cards; Helen can be quite sensitive, and Katie is very competitive. Elisabeth won in the end and I was blamed since the card I played enabled her to go out. I knew it would, as Katie had seen (and told us) what Elisabeth's one remaining card was. I played what I would have done anyway, and explained that it would have been cheating to avoid playing it, since we weren't supposed to know what it was...

We decided not to play another round. Helen and Elisabeth said they would like to play Misfits instead: 

Katie said it was boring, so lay on Elisabeth's mattress (which they had also brought) and read:

When it was clear that I was likely to win at Misfits (not that I was actually trying to....) the girls decided it was, indeed, boring, and they would rather do some origami - something Helen is really quite skilled at:

Meanwhile, Katie read another book: 

Eventually one of them asked if they could have a 'princess' picture to colour from the computer. Katie, who is quite computer literate, offered to find and print them:

Elisabeth collected the pictures from the printer:

They coloured for a while but started getting a bit hyper and wriggly. They really needed to use up some energy... and inspiration struck. They had previously done some of Leslie Sansone's 'three mile walk' at home with Sheila. I put it on, and they thought this was a great idea:

Helen kept starting and stopping, while Elisabeth kept going. Katie said that she only really liked the second 'mile' so she joined in for a few minutes too:

Here are a few seconds of Elisabeth, small but determined, who took it very seriously and kept going right to the end of the three miles: 

I'm not entirely sure how it's counted as three miles since nobody goes anywhere - other than a few steps forwards and backwards - and Elisabeth's steps aren't very big. But still, quite an achievement for one so young.

After that, I read some books, and prepared the rest of our evening meal while the children ran around the house and played with the kittens. My noise tolerance had about reached its limit... so Richard offered to take them out to a local playground after we'd finished eating to give me half an hour of peace!

In the event, Katie decided to stay here and opted to have a bath instead... and when the two smaller girls got back, they also wanted baths. Katie went to read in Richard's study since mine was turned into the girls' bedroom overnight, and around 8.30 the two younger girls were pretty tired and ready for bed. I read them a couple of books then turned out the light and combed their hair in turns; for some reason this calms them down and helps them to fall asleep. It wasn't instantaneous but shortly after 9pm they were both fast asleep.

Katie finished yet another book and then went to bed around 9.30 without any trouble; I hung around for a while but all was peaceful, so I took a cool shower, checked email and Facebook on my netbook computer and then fell asleep!

I woke about 5.00 with Sophia wanting to be fed... so I got up, fed all the cats, read for a while, and got dressed. It was about 7.00am before any sound came from my study; Katie and Helen emerged as I was juicing some oranges. They said they were hungry and that Elisabeth was still asleep.

So I gave them some (diluted) fresh juice, and yogurt with raw oats and bananas (their request):

After that they had some toast and butter. Katie said she often has four pieces of toast but could only manage one today.

Elisabeth appeared about an hour later, and lay on the floor for a while. I wondered if something had upset her but Helen assured me she is always like this in the morning. So I waited until the grumpiness subsided and she had breakfast, the same as her siblings but without the yogurt or oats.

Then I looked at my study: 

Helen was eager to play with Lego while Elisabeth finished her breakfast, so she helped me put the sofa-bed away and she and Katie played for a while: 

However their game seemed to consist in finding and storing 'jewels' so as to get rich, and the kittens wanted to play: 

So the girls raced around the living room trailing ribbons behind them, a wonderful game for young kittens.

One of the dolls stayed in bed for most of the morning: 

The other one got dressed but then fell in a heap, and was joined by Alexander when he was worn out by all the ribbon-chasing:

She wasn't allowed to rest long, however - Helen wanted to do her hair.  And Katie read another book: 

Elisabeth then said she'd like to do another 'three mile walk' with YouTube, so Katie found it for her on my computer, and the three of them started energetically... but once again the two older girls gave up after about five minutes, while Elisabeth kept going to the end, even though she was clearly very tired by the time it finished. 

After some more colouring, we played a couple of games of 'Probe' (a sort of board game variation on 'hangman') but since Helen and Elisabeth aren't reading much yet, we had to be in 'teams'. Helen and I won the first game although Katie was convinced we would 'never' guess her word: 

We then swopped assistants; this time Katie won, and decided to reveal her word, another one which she said I would never guess. She was correct. It was, she told me, an 'old American' word which she was certain I would not know. All I remember is that it started with J and ended with A. I said I didn't mind at all that she had won, but I didn't feel it was quite fair to use a word that I'd never heard of... 

During the course of the game we'd had a text from Sheila saying that as 24 hours were up, they could come and get the girls. All three said they wanted to stay to lunch (as I had expected them to) and after some negotiation they agreed that their parents could come at 3.00pm to collect them. 

After the game, I suggested they pack their clothes and dolls and also the pictures they wanted to take home. I read a few books to the younger girls but Helen said she was getting hungry. So we decided to have lunch at 12.30. 

After we'd cleared up, I read some more books, then Elisabeth said she wanted to go home. It was only 2.00pm (and the older two said they wanted to stay longer...) but Elisabeth was clearly starting to flag. She's really very young to have been away from her parents for a night. So I texted Sheila and she said she'd come over. 

Elisabeth put her shoes on and picked up her things, ready to go:

- although when her parents arrived she barely greeted them!

The house is peaceful once more, the kittens asleep, my study my own. I enjoyed 27 hours doing the full-time parent thing, but was glad to be able to hand the girls back again. I suppose this shows quite clearly that I'm now at the stage of life where it's perfect to be a grandparent; hands-on 24/7 motherhood was something I thoroughly enjoyed in my late twenties and early thirties, but wouldn't want to repeat twenty years later. Not for more than a day or two at a time, anyway...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pondering on Swanwick after returning to Cyprus

With hands-on Grandma-duty taking up my time (and mind) for three weeks prior to going to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, I had barely skimmed the online brochure that explained the available courses. It wasn’t until I reached Derby station that the reality hit me: I had done virtually no writing at all for a couple of months, and not much for rather longer, yet I was about to attend a writers’ conference. What had I let myself in for?

Swanwick had been on my radar for a long time; a friend attended a few years ago and her enthusiasm was inspiring. Circumstances and finances conspired to allow me to consider attending in 2014. My mind was made up when I saw that there would be workshops by the writer Della Galton and the People’s Friend fiction editor Shirley Blair. Even so, I sent in my application quite late!

Arriving at the Hayes Conference Centre, which consists of a lovely old building (and some more modern ones) set in gorgeous grounds, I felt a little like I did when I started secondary school. I had only the faintest idea of what to expect, I didn’t know my way around, I didn’t know a soul. I had chatted to someone while awaiting the bus at Derby station, and to someone else on the bus; both pleasant people, both also new to Swanwick. But they seemed a lot more organised than I was, with a good idea of which sessions they were going to attend.

I didn’t know if I had to sign up for courses, nor how quickly I had to make my decisions. My mind buzzed with queries: Were numbers on the courses limited? Were there criteria we had to fulfil before joining any particular session? What would I do if I found myself out of my depth, or if I was simply too tired? Was it compulsory to go to courses every day? What about the speakers? And did I really have to attend the discos, that didn’t begin until 10.45pm? I like to be asleep by about 10.30 at the latest, not bopping in bright lights and loud music.

Observing people as they arrived and settled in, it was obvious that there were a lot more women than men on the conference. Rather to my surprise, almost all the attendees were white-skinned. Many were white-haired too; that was also unexpected, after I saw the lively late-night programme. While there were a few young people, the majority were around my age or older, albeit mostly fit and active.

I knew that Swanwick was a Christian centre, and saw from the programme that the conference hosted a church service on the Sunday, as well as short chapel meetings most mornings entitled ‘Lift up your hearts’. But this was not a conference for Christian writers only. There were evidently a variety of beliefs represented (or none); about 15-20 people attended each of the chapel meetings, out of 240 conference members.

One of the first questions I was asked on meeting anyone was, ‘What kind of writing do you do?’ I started by mentioning fiction; most of my recent writing has been fiction of one kind or another. I clung to what felt like my credentials: I had three short stories published in magazines some years ago, and won second prize in a story competition - again, a few years back. I’ve started a few novels, three of them with NaNoWriMo though they all need extensive editing and (now I look at them dispassionately) are not actually very interesting.

So I muttered that I was mostly interested in short stories, and asked the same question back. I quickly learned that Swanwick encompassed any kind of writer. People talked about columns, and non-fiction books; amongst the fiction writers there were some who wrote for children, some who had written crime novels or historical sagas, some who mainly wrote short stories. Then there were play-writers, poets, health writers, bloggers… such a variety that I soon realised it was also appropriate to mention my websites and blogs, and that I write book reviews.

I met people who were long established as writers and regularly published, and I also met those who were not yet published at all. Not that it mattered - there didn't seem to be any snobbery or cliquishness. Some have opted for self-publication - easy to do in the e-book/print-on-demand world - and some were in a similar situation to me, with just a handful of published pieces, and a lot of rejections. Although in my case it’s been a lot of procrastination and not much writing at all for some time. When asked what I hoped to get out of Swanwick, I replied that I hoped for some inspiration and motivation to get writing again.

So I perused my programme, and on the first full day (Sunday) I opted for a ‘long’ course on short story writing (one hour per day over four days), and a ‘short’ course (two separate hours on one day) on novel editing. Nobody, I learned, had to sign up for anything, or even attend anything - we could pick and choose whatever appealed. I decided to go to the church service too, and a (secular) morning meditation, as well as a tai chi style relaxing session before dinner. Then there were workshop sessions in the late afternoon where we would be guided to do some actual writing and read our drafts aloud to each other.

With three full meals, a morning coffee break and an afternoon tea break, I was fully occupied, that first day, from 8.00am until dinner ended around 7.30pm. And then, although I’m not, in general, a fan of after-dinner speakers, I was eager to hear the People’s Friend editor, who was billed from 8.00 to 9.00pm. All day, I had been told - repeatedly - that I should ‘pace myself’, and not attend everything. I had already decided I would not go to any of the late night discos; nor was I keen to go to readings about World War I which didn’t start until 9.30. So at 9pm, my mind buzzing and my body weary, I retreated to my room. I checked my email (the onsite wifi is a bit slow, but available everywhere) and was fast asleep by 10pm.

Monday had a similar format course-wise, although there was no church service, and I decided not to ‘unwind my mind’ in a group at 5.15, but do a bit more recharging on my own between sessions and meals. I also opted out of the evening speaker. Once again, I was asleep by about 10pm. I slept extremely well, waking at 6.00am and wondering why there were so many late-night activities, but nothing at all in the morning until the chapel or meditation sessions at 8.00, followed by breakfast at 8.30.

By the end of Monday I felt as if I had been at Swanwick for at least a week. I could find my way around without consulting the plan (though I kept it in my bag), I understood how the days were structured, and I was beginning to recognise some faces. There were 60 first-timers, known as ‘white badgers’ because we were issued with white badges; as a newcomer I was made to feel welcome and accepted. Everyone was encouraged to talk to different people at the coffee breaks and meal-times - and I probably spoke to at least 100 different people through the week, maybe more.

At the same time, I began to feel rather out of my depth, almost as if I were just playing at writing. When I heard other people reading out their ‘drafts’ after the short workshop sessions, I felt like a beginner by comparison. I wandered around the ‘book room’ and was amazed to discover just how many people on the conference had written books; this was not, as I had vaguely imagined, the realm of the occasional short story writer.

Tuesday was a lighter day; I went to one talk, but there were no workshops other than a script-writing/drama one in the afternoon, which I did not plan to attend. I didn’t go to a talk on forensics, either; instead I did some editing and a bit of writing on my own. I could see quite clearly why so many of my short stories have not been accepted by magazines, reading them through on my computer many months after writing them. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to make them more interesting…

Wednesday and Thursday repeated the pattern of Sunday and Monday with courses, the writing workshops and so on. I missed the Wednesday night speakers; I did think about going to the drama performances afterwards, but they didn’t start until 9.30. I gather they were excellent. I would like to have gone to the ceilidh too, but that didn’t start until 10.45!

On Thursday night there was no after-dinner speaker; instead the 8.00-9.00pm slot was taken by a spoof game show, so I went along. It was amusing but extremely noisy. The audience had been issued with kazoos, and the PA didn’t work very well… but it was the last night, and I thought I should make the effort. This was followed by an official farewell with various awards and thankyous. It didn’t last long and I managed to get to my room by 9.30, unlike the majority who headed to the bar.

On Friday morning the coach to Derby station left at 8.30am. I didn’t have anyone in particular to say goodbye to; I don’t make friends easily, and had no interest in hanging out in the bar before meals. I was happy to wave in general to the crowd who gathered outside, smiling at a few folk I recognised. I was shattered, and relieved to be spending a long and peaceful weekend with my brother and sister-in-law, not far away, leaving the long day’s travelling back to Cyprus until Monday.

I have no idea if I'll go to Swanwick again. Lots of people go every year - I met some who had been regularly for twenty years or more. It's certainly a lovely setting, great food and accommodation and a friendly environment. The courses I attended were excellent too - and I'm sure the ones I did not attend were also very good; there were four options at each stage so I had to decide against quite a few.

So it depends partly on what courses are offered next time, and also whether I actually do some serious writing this year. There's not much point in learning about it if I don't put it into practise, after all... 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another month out of Cyprus whizzes by...

I think this has been the longest time I've been out of Cyprus since we moved there. When I eventually return, I will have been away for over two months in all, happy to have missed most of the summer - not to mention the acquisition of two kittens, and Timothy moving out - but most of all thrilled to have been able to spend so much time with my grandson. Those last two words are just beginning to sound natural, although as I only feel about 26 on the inside, it's still a bit surprising to me that my sons are in fact around that age, and that I am now a grandmother...

I have travelled the length of the UK twice since I last posted on this blog - so as I don't want this to be an epic post, I've selected a few photos to illustrate the past five weeks.

We left Carlisle early July, and went to stay with my father in Alcester. While we wanted to see him in any case, the date was chosen to allow us to attend the wedding of one of my longest-standing friends in Birmingham:

It was a wonderful day. A packed church with a moving service, and then a relaxed reception, where we were able to catch up with various people we'd lost touch with. As the minister said, it was a taster of Heaven. 

While in Alcester, we were delighted to discover that we had hit raspberry season, and picked a bowlful like this almost every day: 

This is significant because fresh raspberries are almost impossible to find in Cyprus (and extortionately expensive). 

After a week in Alcester we travelled down to Sussex, on the south coast, to stay with Richard's mother. We spent a lot of time looking at old photos of Richard's ancestors, and went out and about too. But I didn't take any relevant photos that could give a taster.

On July 15th we drove to Gatwick Airport, and returned our rental car. Richard then flew back to Cyprus - with vast amounts of luggage - and I waited around in the airport, reading a Kindle book, until the evening coach [that's a bus to American friends....] to Carlisle. It was a long journey, and although I hoped to sleep it was almost impossible as I didn't have much room on my seat, and when I finally dropped off it was time to stop for a rest-break.

It was wonderful to see Daniel waiting for me at the coach stop in Carlisle at 5am; we walked back to his house (about a mile away) and I had a nap. 

I also had a siesta, knowing that I would not be able to go to bed early; the wonderful Adrian and Bridget Plass were doing a show at the local church, and I was determined to enjoy it. As, indeed, I did; very much: 

Of course the main reason I'm back in Carlisle is to be of some assistance to Daniel and Becky as they struggled with David's nocturnal habits, unpredictable crying and colic. He's a lively, wriggly baby with very little patience, and they would often start the day in a daze of exhaustion. It's astounding how one tiny 10kg person can disrupt the lives of all the adults around him... while also charming us utterly :-) 

When we were in Carlisle at the start of July, we bought a 'Babasling', as recommended by the NCT.  In our absence, Daniel had started to use it when David needed to be carried around, to give him a hand free for other things. David's not the kind of baby who wants to be in a sling all the time; he likes his hands and legs free to wave around, and he's extremely wriggly. But when he's tired, and wants to be held, it's ideal: 

A few days after Richard returned to Cyprus was the date of our 34th wedding anniversary. We had a brief chat online, and I'd almost forgotten about it when this gorgeous bouquet arrived: 

It lasted over a week.

Meanwhile, David has been growing, slowly - on the whole - getting over his colic, and becoming, generally, a more settled baby. I take him out for a walk in his pram most mornings, and he's started sleeping at least slightly more at night than during the daytime. 

He was given a little sunhat, which makes him look a lot older - here he is in his carseat, dressed to go out a few days ago: 

Of course he likes sleeping on people during the daytime; I take my turns willingly: 

Saturday was an extra special day, my father and his wife were in Carlisle for the weekend, and spent several hours here so they could meet David. We made sure to take several four-generational photographs; this is my favourite: 

I leave Carlisle on Saturday morning, and am going to miss this little guy far more than I would have thought possible. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Thankful for so much - currently not in Cyprus

When we learned that our first grandchild was expected towards the end of May, I leapt at the thought of spending a few weeks out of Cyprus during the summer. And as it turns out, I'm particularly glad to have been in the UK for the past week because Cyprus had a heatwave so extreme that there were health warnings.

Meanwhile we've been in Carlisle for the past eleven days, getting to know David Emmanuel who is now three weeks and two days old, and getting very alert and interested in both faces and his surroundings. I am loving being a grandma.

So without further ado, here are a few photos of the past week or so.

Our first meeting, when I was still rather tired from our flights:

Reading to him, a couple of days later:

He thought 'The Gruffalo' was a bit scary, though, so we bought him some more appropriate books for his age:

We took the family to register his birth last week:

The Carlisle birth registry place is lovely, although the foyer is rather spookily filled with a large number of somewhat surreal models:

On Saturday we went for a walk in the nearby countryside:

With some sunshine, some cloud, and temperatures about 18-20C, even the weather (from my perspective) is perfect.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Annual post about the approach of Summer

Every year, I am convinced that Summer in Cyprus will be here with a vengeance by the start of June. I have memories of 'holding out' until the end of May before using our air conditioners at night. I'm not entirely sure why I have this impression; last year at the end of June I wrote that Summer had arrived only ten days earlier. In 2012, too, we didn't clean our air conditioners until the start of June, and Summer was a week or two away. As had happened, apparently, in 2011 as well.

Nevertheless, I've very much appreciated relative coolness during May and the first third of June. I don't think the daytime temperature has risen above about 28C and some days it's still a comfortable 24-25. Certainly not hot enough for air conditioning, and without any humidity, at least so far.

I'm still walking three times a week with my friend Sheila, setting out about 5.45am usually, or a little later, and not attempting more than 4km of the trail. On Tuesday I noticed some attractive summer flowers so I took my camera with me this morning. There was some white bougainvillea:

This pink shrub, which I've noted before: 

And this rather stunning yellow plant, which my little camera can't really capture: 

Unsurprisingly, the Salt Lake is rapidly emptying; it's been quite dry this year and the reservoirs are nowhere near as full as they were last year. 

Richard and I are flying to the UK at the end of next week to see our family and meet our new grandson, so I'm now wondering if we'll manage to escape the start of summer entirely.  The forecast is for slightly hotter weather next week - maybe 28C in the shade - but no more.

Having said that, I switched to wearing shorts rather than jeans a couple of weeks ago, and abandoned any jacket or sweatshirt, however light. We're using fans at night, and also ceiling fans (somewhat) during the day. But we still have a light duvet on the bed, and I haven't felt any urge to switch on the air conditioners, even though we did the annual cleaning a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, June 09, 2014

What a weekend....

I posted on Facebook recently, asking whether anxieties about one's offspring ever go away, and had a response from a wide variety of people. The consensus was 'no'. Once a parent, always a parent. Which is just fine as far as I'm concerned.

And now I'm a grandmother too! But more of that below...

The last couple of weeks have been somewhat more stressful in the parental respect than usual. Tim was involved in his primary school's first ever musical theatre production. One of the teachers produced it: she organised the scripting and coached the actors (all Year/Grade 6 children, aged about 11-13) while Tim orchestrated and recorded the music and trained the choir (including some slightly younger children). Far from an easy task as many of the children had previously done no drama, and not much singing. Arts are not taken very seriously in schools here, which is rather ironic considering the history of Cyprus.

Tim also ended up responsible for PA and general technology for the production; with 20 or so inexperienced children on a biggish school hall stage, some of them singing solos, it became clear that a large number of radio microphones would be needed. Tim arranged to hire some from a friend in the next town and also to be in charge of the PA in general.

Then there was a dress rehearsal with younger children from the school watching, and three full performances, two of which were sell-outs. Richard and I went to the last performance on Saturday night and were very impressed - amazing backdrops, terrific music, children who could sing, and lots of details, right down to the design of the tickets, beautifully done. Some of those with speaking parts inevitably stood out above the rest, yet they all did well: nobody forgot lines, and if some of them talked a bit over-fast at times, we could still hear every word.

At the end the cast took a final bow, the teacher who was producing it went on stage, and then some of the choir members stood up and called for 'Mr Tim!' to join them too.

Alas, photography was not allowed so I can't post any pictures of the production, but some official ones were taken and a local newspaper was there at the first performance. It was given an excellent review.

Tim was just recovering from the buzz late Saturday evening when we received a text telling us that our daughter-in-law was in the early stages of labour. This is the other reason we've been feeling a bit stressed for the last couple of weeks: our first grandchild, due near the end of May, had not yet put in an appearance.

We spent most of yesterday wondering how things were going, feeling anxious, praying... and then had a text message from Daniel letting us know that all was well and that our grandson David had arrived safely after a long labour.

Four and a half kilos (9lb 15oz) - that's a big baby.

Here's Daniel with his newborn son:

When I saw the photo, I was struck immediately by the resemblance to Daniel as a baby. I'm not one to notice newborn resemblances, in general, but it sent me to my 1986 photos; here's one of me with Daniel at a couple of hours old for comparison:

We are so pleased, and very relieved that David has arrived at last. Pentecost Sunday is the birthday of the Church, the start of many new things: a perfect day for Daniel and Becky to start on the lifelong adventure of parenting.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Changing my mobile phone provider

It's seven years since I first had a mobile phone. Five years ago I wrote about topping it up annually, having to buy a €10 card, since the €5 cards only lasted for 30 days. Normal users of mobiles would think nothing of this, but at the time I struggled to spend as much as €10 in a year.

I eventually had to replace my original Sony phone; it still worked, but the battery life was almost non-existent. When I discovered that a basic Samsung phone in the UK would cost me £10 (unlocked) about three years ago it wasn't a difficult decision to make. Admittedly it took me a few days to get used to it, but I like the predictive text feature; it's light, and simple and - as with my first one - I can make phone calls and send texts.

Oh, and it tells me the time and occasionally acts as an alarm clock.

I have no wish for anything more advanced. I have continued with my pay-as-you-go contract from MTN and had no problems.

Last May, I was pleased to find that I could buy a €5 top-up card from MTN which would last me a year.  I had succeeded in getting my credit to less than €20 and wondered if I might actually succeed in running it down to nothing - after all, I send a minimum of three texts per week (when arranging morning walks) and often as many as ten. I just checked my call log, and it appears that I have made twenty actual phone calls in the past two months. Some of them as long as thirty seconds.

Last Summer, when Tim tried to top up his MTN pay-as-you-go phone, he was annoyed to find that a €10 card was only valid for 60 days. He thought it was because he bought it online - but then learned that they had changed their policies. A €20 top-up was the same - only valid for 60 days. Apparently they don't want light users any more. So, since we had a 'spare' contract (a long story) Tim took that over a few months ago.  Including the monthly charge (85c) he seems to spend about €2-3 per month - and he uses his mobile a lot more than I use mine.

The end of my last year's validity period was fast approaching. I went into an MTN shop to check that this really was the case - that I could no longer pay a small amount that would last a year. The girl in the shop confirmed it, and when I said I'd have to switch providers, she shrugged and nodded.

So it's a nice irony, really. Having moved our landline from CYTA to Cablenet last month, I'm about to move my mobile phone from MTN to CYTA. I double-checked, and their top-ups are far more reasonable: €5 last a year.

I knew I would have to buy a new Sim card, and thought that might cost me ten or fifteen euros... so when I popped into the CYTA shop last Friday, I was surprised to see this:

I told the cashier I would like a new pay-as-you go Sim, and she handed me the pack. Not only was it cheaper than I expected, it included €5 of credit. It's only valid for 90 days, but that's fine; I have 100 free texts included, too. 

Evidently I looked somewhat incompetent, as the cashier asked me (very nicely) if I knew how to activate the Sim. I told her that I didn't, but my son would help me. I'm sure she could have done it for me but I didn't actually want to start it until a couple of days before the end of my current validity period with MTN (which STILL has €12 on it, although I am trying hard to use it up).

I opened it up when I got home:

I assume everything is there. I will need to activate it (or, rather, have someone in the family activate it for me) within the next few days, because it occurs to me that my mobile number is used as a security measure for our online banking, and various other online services. In order to switch to a new number I will have to receive and validate a code on my current number.  Happily my original Sony phone is still usable (so long as it's plugged into the charger continually) so that seems like a good place to put my MTN Sim for the last few days of its life.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Terminating a phone contract... eventually!

Many years ago when we first moved to Cyprus, there was only one phone provider, the national organisation, known as CYTA. We needed a landline and (as I said, this was a LONG time ago) a modem with dial-up Internet connection. Since we were foreigners with no owned property, we had to pay a deposit - and presumably a connection fee - and after a few teething errors, it all worked.

Well, most of the time.

Our bills were initially sent to the PO Box of the organisation Richard was attached to. When that box was closed, we thought it would be straightforward to get everything sent to our own PO box - and it was, for the other utility companies, who still used the efficient method of jotting down notes randomly on ancient sheets of blotting paper or post-it notes.

Unfortunately, the phone company had computerised, so it took about three months for them to get it right.

Over the years we upgraded to broadband, and went through various routers. Mostly it worked; occasionally the service would go down, but - shrug - this is Cyprus. We couldn't understand why we received three different bills in the mail every month: one for the phone, one for the Internet, and one for the connected service. We asked several times if they would put them on just one bill, and the helpful people we spoke to assured us it was possible... but apparently not. Eventually the phone and one part of the Internet service were put on the same bill, so at least we were down to two per month.

Nearly eight years ago when we moved house, everything was straightforward and re-connected quickly. We were impressed.

Buying our own house meant that Richard could, at last, have a mobile phone contract in his name without paying a huge deposit. Previously it had been in the name of a friend who was already a home-owner.  He went to register... and, bizarrely, they could not find any details of our landline contract. So they set him up a new account which - for some reason - had his two first names reversed.   So we were back to having three bills in the mail each month, two to Richard James... and one to James Richard...

There was a slight hiatus about six months ago when we received a bill with both Internet services on the same sheet - hurrah! - although the landline phone bill was still separate.

The problem was that they insisted we were in arrears with our Internet payments. On the other hand, our phone was apparently in significant credit. Happily the amounts were the same, but they had no way to transfer from one part of the account to another.... I paid what they said we owed, and it evened out over a couple of months while our phone bill stayed in credit.

All that is mere introduction to the confusion of trying to transfer from CYTA to another phone provider. It's six weeks since I wrote about getting rid of our CYTA router (and the unexpected benefit of my backache vanishing). Returning the router meant that our Internet contract was finished at the end of February.

Backtracking a little more to the middle of February: if we had wanted a new phone number, we could have had that from the start of March too when it was all installed. But we've kept the same number for over sixteen years, and lots of people know it. And it should have been quite straightforward to transfer it to our new provider...

Except that when Cablenet looked into it, they spotted that Richard's passport (used as ID for many things here) did not have the same number as the one he was registered to with CYTA. Hardly surprising, since passports only last ten years. So they told him to go to CYTA and get his passport number updated.

Unfortunately, CYTA said they could not do that, because there was already an account registered to his new passport number.

'Yes,' he said, when he looked at it. 'That's the account for my mobile phone'. This, of course, explained why they could not find him in their system when he registered the mobile: his passport number had changed. He assumed it would be straightforward to merge the two accounts....


The helpful person at the desk understood the problem, but the computer would not allow them to do it. No problem, they said, they would get someone to do it manually.

But, surprise surprise, when the new provider tried to do the procedure to transfer the phone number, CYTA said they couldn't, because it was the wrong passport number.

So Richard went again, and went through the same process, and another very helpful person said the same thing, and even phoned him an hour later to say it was all done. The new provider asked for copies of both the old AND the new passport, so they could put in two transfer requests, one for each, in case CYTA still hadn't done it.

And it still didn't work. It was getting frustrating. But they kept at it, and eventually, on April 15th, our phone service was transferred from CYTA to Cablenet. Yay.

All's well that ends well, even if the path is a little bumpy en route...?

But no, it wasn't that simple.

CYTA bills are paid in arrears, so I knew we'd still have to pay the February bills (phone and Internet) at the end of March, and the March phone bill at the end of April. I duly paid the February bills online on March 24th and filed them away. I thought no more of it until, in our PO Box a couple of days ago, we found this:

Essentially it says, 'You haven't paid your February Internet bill, and we're a bit worried that you might not, since the service is discontinued.' Dated April 10th. Yes, mail is pretty slow here.

So I checked the online banking and printed out the receipt for that exact amount, which I certainly had paid. It occurred to me that perhaps they had made the account transfer BEFORE I paid the bill. In other words, the bill was to Richard James.... and I paid it to that account. But they now thought it was owed by James Richard...

We went into CYTA on Friday, yet again. We talked to another very helpful person, who totally understood the problem, and could indeed see that the payment had been made - but couldn't do anything about it. So she had to go to the accounts department and get them to deal with it. She couldn't give us any kind of receipt, either, but assured us they had taken care of it.

Richard double-checked that our phone account is now fully terminated, and we were told it was. It then occurred to me that there might still be a deposit - I couldn't remember if we'd claimed it back when we bought our house and moved. So the lady on the desk had a look and said yes, there was indeed a deposit of 150 euros. Richard muttered that it was an odd amount, given that we paid in Cyprus pounds all those years ago; but we weren't going to argue, since we hadn't been sure if the deposit was still there at all.

We had to wait another five minutes while forms were filled in, and the accounts department had to be consulted at length again... but finally, when the phone bills for March and April were deducted, we were handed - and signed for - just over 125 euros in cash.

So it seems that there was, after all, a happy ending.

Just so long as we don't get a summons for an unpaid February bill in the name of James Richard...