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...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The end of Lent

Given to us in Advent, our poinsettia, now outside my study, is still thriving at the end of Lent:


We don't usually do a whole lot during Lent, other than (if we remember) eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and hot cross buns on Good Friday.

But at the end of February, while chatting over the dinner table about food in general and the cost of groceries, Richard made an idle comment that perhaps we could try giving up meat for Lent. Since I have decidedly vegetarian leanings I thought this was a great idea, and Tim said that in Anglican tradition, Sundays (and other feast days) are excluded from Lenten fasts, so perhaps we could stop eating meat for six days a week only...

As it happened, in the first week of Lent we had friends staying, one of whom is a vegetarian anyway. So it made a good excuse for me to experiment with a few new recipes, as well as making some old favourites such as Spanokopitta, or vegetable and nut cobbler.

It doesn't help that Richard and Tim are both dairy-free; cow's milk products cause their ears to block up. Goat and sheep cheese are fine in moderation - perhaps once or twice per week - but it meant that I had to experiment with other forms of protein, primarily beans and lentils. Some of the things we ate were pretty good; others less successful, although I don't think anything was inedible.

It's been interesting, but although I haven't felt any cravings or inclinations to eat meat for the past six weeks, Richard definitely has. I'm convinced that some people actually need meat for their metabolism and general health, and he seems to be one of them. So we'll be back eating meat four or five times per week as of tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Daniel and some of his colleagues in the UK were producing a series of mini videos which they released during Lent; one per week at first, and then several this past week. They are in the form of a modern video blog, taking the events leading up to Easter as if happening in the 21st century, from the point of view of the apostle Matthew.  This is the trailer for the whole series:

It took me a little while to get used to the style, but I've liked it very much. It's quite thought-provoking, and certainly helps to understand a little better what it might have been like to be one of the first disciples.

Links to the whole series can be found (with the most recent at the top) at the Matt's Blog, or the related Facebook page.

When we first moved to Cyprus, Lent was quite a big thing: the Greek Orthodox (who are the majority in this country) are supposed to fast from meat and various other foods during Lent. But even in fifteen years, secularism is growing stronger, and there seem to be fewer and fewer who take any notice of Lent.

Well, other than some teenagers and young adults, presumably bored and unemployed, who collect wooden items from around their neighbourhoods - not always with permission - and have bonfires each evening, usually culminating with a huge one on Easter Saturday. Here's a site of an unofficial bonfire site near where our friends live:

In recent years these have become more competitive, and are often accompanied by home-made firecrackers, which are extremely dangerous as well as illegal. Every year there is an accident of some kind; last night our friends' neighbour, a young man in his twenties, was rushed to hospital after a firecracker exploded in his hand. The police were involved, and the bonfire site cleared, later on; but how terrible for the young man and his family.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hello and Goodbye...

Two weeks into April, and I'm enjoying the fact that the weather is still relatively cool; it hasn't been more than about 21C [70F] and today was quite grey, so I have worn a sweatshirt all day. It even rained this afternoon, for the first time in weeks.

The past couple of weeks have seen a series of 'goodbye' scenarios, something which is all too common in Cyprus.

But first, a couple of days before the end of March, there was a surprising new arrival on our utility balcony, which I discovered when I went to get our vacuum cleaner out. There, sitting in an empty box, was a rather pretty grey tabby cat.

Alas, her temper did not match her appearance:

She hissed and spat, and let me know that I was not at all welcome. I assumed she had simply slept there, and would vanish... but she was still there when I returned to put the vacuum cleaner away. Since I didn't really want my hands ripped to shreds, I put it somewhere else.

Gradually I realised that she had kittens in the box, and was being very protective. I gave her a bit of food and some water, but she was not appreciative, although I noticed later that the food had gone.  

She stayed about twelve days, hissing viciously every time I went near, batting away my attempts to give her food (although she did eat it). She terrified our cats, who still don't want to go on the balcony, even three days after her departure, and she didn't use the cat litter that sits on the balcony. However she didn't make any messes or smells, and when she finally removed the kittens - we have no idea where - she left her temporary lodgings quite clean. 

Meanwhile, our good friends Mark and Joan returned to Cyprus for just a few weeks to close down their apartment, since they are returning to the US. They spent their last couple of nights here in our guest flat, since most of their belongings were sent by freight. 

We're going to miss them.

The day after they flew, another good friend called in to return some books she had borrowed... but she didn't take any more. She and her husband are also leaving Cyprus, returning to the UK. They're keeping on their apartment here, so will be back for holidays, but it won't be the same.

Then on Friday we said a temporary goodbye to Tim who flew to the UK to spend his Easter break with various family members, and is then going to be the 'best man' at a wedding early in May.

So our nest is empty again, for a few weeks. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Walking by the sea-front, for a change...

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, the Salt Lake trail was due to be sprayed against mosquitoes. I don't know if this happened on the rainy day when Sheila and I got drenched to the skin, but the notices stayed up, and the second spraying was due on Thursday and Friday.

I've been waking fairly early, assisted by Sophia, so I texted Sheila and set off to meet her. The sun was just poking through the clouds at about 6.20am as I crossed one of the local streets:

It wasn't as dark as it looks in the photo, but it's quite a dramatic effect. 

Since we couldn't walk along the trail, we walked through part of the park and then down to the sea-front. The sun was shining by the time we got there, and it was interesting to see some of the ongoing construction work, as the promenade is - slowly - upgraded. I had thought these concrete wavy things were going to give the edge of the beach an interesting shape:

But apparently they are just supports.

An interesting feature of the new pavement (sidewalk) that is being constructed is the set of grooves, clearly marked (yellow in the photo) and easy to feel with the feet - or, I imagine, a stick - when walking on them:

We've been told that these are to help blind people to keep on the path - and thought they were an excellent idea.

Except that in some places they come to an abrupt halt:

The notice in Greek says 'Entrance forbidden', which is clear to those with sight, but could be quite distressing to someone using the grooves to navigate along the path.

But at least there was some fencing there, albeit rather flimsy. 

More worrying was this:

It's not obvious from the photo, but the drop down to the sand must be almost a metre. And there's nothing to stop someone from walking right off it, and sustaining a nasty injury. 

But, as they say, 'This is Cyprus!' 

We kept walking, and probably managed about 10km in all. By the time we were back it was nearly 8.30am and the sun was already too hot for my tastes.

Thankfully the clocks go forward in Europe tonight; we lose an hour, but will then be able to enjoy lighter evenings - and cooler mornings. At least until Summer really sets in.