Living the Dream – 41. Guest Season

Guest season is upon us. We have two sets during the month of April. They are looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it. I just hope that the weather Gods got the memo.

Not surprisingly, moving to a house with a pool, in a hot climate makes for a higher visitor count. Of course, this is in part, because we are much further from friends and family now, so it’s not as though we can hook up for a quick coffee any more: But the proximity of the beach helps.

Guest Season Management

Turns out that living cheek by jowl with other people is not the same as being friends with them. Things are further complicated by the fact that the guests are on holiday, but for us, it’s another week. Having guests is a privilege, and I don’t intend to ignore them totally, but these posts won’t write themselves and contrary to what you may have heard, Nero’s Notes does require a little bit of work from me too.

Cyprus is blessed with a wonderful coastline and gorgeous beaches, but my Celtic skin is not best-suited to beach days, so those will be the times when I get my work done. When it comes to long barbecues and cold beers however, I will be front and centre.

I have been tasked with writing the house rules. These aren’t actually rules, more a plea, “Let’s talk about stuff.” In our experience, the key things to work out are meals and plans. We can’t put our lives on hold every time that we have guests, but we want our guests to have the holiday that they want. So the rules are an ice-breaker, an enjoinder to start a dialogue before everybody ticks everybody else off.

Money

In true British fashion, a source of awkwardness is money. We’re happy to provide people with breakfast and a light lunch, but thereafter, things need to be split.

“Should everyone pay for what they consume? Shall we split evenly? Your turn, our turn?”

“But you had a bottle of expensive wine and I only had a sip! I didn’t have a starter, and he had a dessert.”

The British way is to find a way that suits nobody, pretend that everything is fine and then complain bitterly to your partner in private.

To avert this, I have declared a kitty. Each person pitches in a cash amount to fund communal evening meals at home and communal meals / drinks out. This is the start point, and we adjust from there if there is an obvious inequity in consumption.

(Put another way, I’m not allowed to outdrink guests four to one)

What could possibly go wrong?

There. You’ve heard the theory. If you don’t hear from me again, assume I’m at the beach, having beer for breakfast.

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Living the Dream -40. Walking

I have always been a fan of walking, in theory. In practice, less of a fan. There’s weather, traffic and other people. Largely therefore, I have gone through life seeing walking as a means to get from A to B. Much like a taxi, but slower.
I documented elsewhere, how I accidentally became a walker. Since then, I am a zealous convert. Most of the time, I am able to keep my walking habit within reasonable bounds, however, once a year, I spend a whole week walking, doing twenty miles or so a day.

Fitness

Thus far, I have completed three of these annual trips, a slightly slimmer man each time. Our first camino week involved the Pyrenees and on every ascent, I repeatedly wheezed that I was going to lose some weight. I did, mostly by turning my daily commute into ten miles walking a day. Recently however, I have changed my daily commute again, now to twenty seconds or so. As a result, some of those banished pounds have returned to my midriff.

The Plan

As I write, I’m five months from the next segment of the camino, with maybe twenty pounds to lose. The weather here is improving, so I will start my daily swimming routine soon. Spice is growing up, and so will enjoy a daily stroll beyond the confines of the garden and, and I am now a member of the Cyprus Rambling Club, which will get me out walking every second Sunday.

Dora

This weekend, I joined my first walk of the year, around a village called Dora. As I may have mentioned (once or twice), we have had a very wet winter, making for verdant views evocative of central Italy rather than Cyprus. I have never seen the island this green. Grudgingly, I’ll admit that the rain has done some good. I’ll still be glad to see the back of it though. The views were stunning and the weather kind. We were at altitude, had some hills to climb, and at eight miles, this was a perfect training walk for me. Talking to a fellow rambler, we marvelled at how the desire to walk takes us to places that we would not otherwise find. Here, less than half an hour from my house, were gorgeous views of valley and vineyards, as far as I could see. The only other people we met were a couple of goat herders, shepherding their flock across the path as we headed back to our start point.

Good Walking land

Benefits

Walking is good for you. Physically, mentally and dare I say it, spiritually. Get out there and do it. If it’s raining, put a coat on. You are, in fact, waterproof, you know.

Living the Dream 39. Zambartas Wine Tasting

“Zambartas.”
“Bless you”, rejoined Margaret.
She’s a wit, my wife. Zamabartas is indeed a winery, a short drive from the mountain hideaway. I had booked us “Experience 3” for the afternoon of Margaret’s birthday.

Background

I am fond of a glass of wine. In fairness, I’m fond of a glass of pretty much anything, but sensible, grown-up me tends to gravitate towards a glass of wine. I am a long way from expert, but I have, through practice, gravitated beyond the adjectives red,white and pink to describe wine. Over the years, I have struggled to find wines in Cyprus that I enjoy. Initially, I could only find local wines that were very cheap, and frankly, barely drinkable. Fear not, I persevered. Gradually, the choice increased. I was able to enjoy barely drinkable wines from all over the world. Of late, it has been possible to find good imported wine, at a price, and in one of our favourite restaurants, we were served a lovely crisp white; from Cyprus, called Zambartas.

Experience 3

We drove into the village of Agios Amvrosios. I was suspicious, there are unambiguous, prominent signs directing visitors to the winery. Reading road signs in Cyprus is usually more of an art than a science, but not even I could get lost following these arrows.
Experience 3 is a tour of the winery followed by a tasting of five wines with matching canapés. The naming could obviously do with some work, but that is my only criticism. We were hosted by Adriana, a witty, personable polyglot with a passion for people and wine. Mags and I joined a young couple visiting from the UK, and the four of us had a cracking time.

The Wines

I’m not going to write an extensive, detailed review of each wine. I lack the expertise and the inclination. The detailed appraisal of individual wines has no joy for me, I’m all about the combination of company, conversation and wine.

Our first was Xinisteri. Exquisitely described by Adriana as a “Veranda wine.” Light, easy drinking, either alone or with lunch. We worked through another white, a rosé, up into a couple of reds, the last of which is a big boy new world style Shiraz. I was going to write, “these won’t win many awards”, but actually, some of the wines are winning awards. What I mean is, that not one of the wines struck me as exceptional. They all struck me as good and approachable. There is sufficient variation across the line, for me to be confident that every guest to the mountain hideaway will find something that they like.

I left with boxes of wine of different shades and tastes, and fully expect to go back to Zambartas and try some other Cyprus wineries.

The last drop

Everyone sees #livingthedream differently. For me, a group of friends on the terrace, the coals burning, wine glasses full, IS the dream. There is nothing better.

Living the Dream – 38. Six Months

Six months? You’re kidding.

As I write this, we are a few days short of six months #livingthedream. I wrote last week about how I had become distracted. Before I could address that though, I had a Pen Show to do. London was great fun, and travel went well until the final leg. The airport is forty minutes from the mountain-hideaway. Usually. On Monday, it was one hundred and fifty minutes away. Ho-hum. I also brought home a gift, a sniffle. (The sniffle has become a full-blown head-cold now.)

Wins

That notwithstanding, I have managed to play two rounds of golf, been wine-tasting and eaten some tasty suppers out. As promised, I had a word with myself, and am back on track, or at least moving closer to the track.

I am hitting my move goals on my Apple Watch, which are 30 minutes exercise and 850 calories per day. I’m doing that through my static bike and walking with Spice in the garden. Beer consumption is down, although I remain far from abstemious. My trousers remain VERY tight, so there is plenty of work to do on the diet and exercise front, but I am confident that being more aware of the calories that I am putting in, and making more effort to burn them will quickly have me heading the right direction.

I suspect that the above might be over-sharing, but hey, I’m nothing, if not honest.

Margaret

Margaret is beginning to feel a little better. What she went through is not something that anyone should ever go through, but she is much stronger than she believes. We’re both ready for the wet winter to evolve into a warm Spring and we are making a real effort to go to new places and do new things. She has some travel booked, and we have a slew of visitors coming.

Spice

Spice is alternately infuriating and endearing. A proper tomboy, she is a digger and an eater. She likes nothing more than snuffling around in the garden and bringing in all sort of bugs, pieces of wood and assorted junk. Then, she curls up to sleep and is a canine angel. She sleeps through the night and is pretty much house-trained.

The next six months

We are beginning to see how our year is going to shape up and although the weather remains a mite unreliable, we do now get the odd glimpse of the spring and summer to come.

First sun in six months?

We are very lucky to have this opportunity, and we are both looking forward to the next six months.

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Living the Dream -37. Distraction

If you have been following along, then you know that the dream did not begin as we had hoped. There has been a period of recovery and re-thinking, for both of us. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, life happens. However, distraction becomes a habit, and like most habits, it can be tough to break.

Distraction

I have allowed myself to become victim to distraction. Don’t get me wrong, I have been busy, too busy in fact. I have been focused on the wrong things. Let me explain.

We are building a new life, in a new country. We are in the extremely privileged position of being able to choose this course. Mags and I were not forced to come here, nor are we forced to stay. It’s our choice.

Distraction made me forget that. The most important thing that I need to be doing is focusing on “why” we are here, rather than “how’ we are here. We came here for the amazing climate (and one wet winter is weather, not climate) and the opportunity to craft a lifestyle that was healthy and relaxed. Let me use health as an example.

Healthy Living

  1. Fruit and vegetables are incredible here. I love them. Yet I seem to be eating more chips (French fries) and biscuits (cookies).
  2. Beer here is frankly, not great. Gassy and tasteless. Water is lovely. Yet I’m drinking more beer, and less water.
  3. I love to walk. Cyprus winter is perfect walking weather. Yet I have barely walked at all.
  4. Swimming. Sure, the pool is cold, (comparatively) but once I stopped my morning swim, in October, I have stopped entirely.
  5. An office downstairs meant that I could corral work into intentional time slots and close the day down, yet I find myself working in the kitchen, in the living room, everywhere.
  6. Golf. I have a membership that allows me to play as often as I wish. A beautiful course, and wonderful conditions. Yet I play less than I did in the UK.

Lesson

First conclusion is that I need to have a serious word with myself. However, what’s interesting is how easy it was to lose sight of why I’m here, what I’m trying to achieve. Yes, we have been presented with more challenges than we envisaged. Yes, I have achieved some good things, but what I haven’t been doing is focusing on building the life that we want.

A lesson learned.

My writing is supported by people like you. If you are able to support me, Im very grateful.  Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Living the Dream – 36. Flashbacks

Flashbacks

We weren’t around, but Hamlet, the dog that attacked Margaret and killed Nero, got loose again. Neighbours found him at their gate snarling at their dogs and nearby cats.

Vet

The next day, we were due at the Vet. Ordinarily, Spice would be spayed after her first season, but given the number of uncontrolled dogs in Cyprus, a bitch in season in the garden would be asking for trouble. Tempting though it is to buy a rifle, let Spice run free in the garden and wait for Hamlet to show up, the grown up thing to do is neuter Spice.

Scent Memory

Entering the “business-end” of the vet’s surgery, we were both instantly transported back to the last days of Nero. Collecting Spice, a plastic cone around her collar, her eyes unfocused by the anaesthesia was difficult. The most striking flashbacks were the smells. The mix of animals and antiseptic is, I discover, seared into my memory.

Effervescence

Spice, now 5 months old, is oblivious to these references. All she knows is that she was at the vet, then woke up, feeling fuzzy, with an itchy scar and a plastic cone preventing her getting to it. She has every right to look askance at us.

Of course, she doesn’t. As she does with every situation, she attempts to overcome it with full pelt sprinting, jumping and licking. However hard we try to keep her calm and relaxed, she is a puppy. As I type, 60 hours or so after we collected her, Spice considers herself cured. If only she could convince us to remove the awkward cone, then she could get back to jumping up on the couch, sprinting round the garden and as a bonus, she would quickly remove the troublesome stitches. That she can’t convince us, frustrates her. When frustrated, Spice likes to let us know. Day and night.

She’s quite a handful.

Lessons

Both Margaret and I are bags of nerves. Margaret’s heart stops every time Spice tries to stand on her back legs, or spins around, hoping that velocity alone will somehow dislodge the cone.

I’m not sure we will ever be over Nero’s end, but what I learned this week, is that the trauma is still raw.

However, I can’t help but admire Spice’s zest for life and enthusiasm. Despite being in pain, she wags her tail and wants to play. More flashbacks to Nero.

Living the Dream -35. Guest Management

Guest Management is hard. We have had 3 sets now and are still learning. Don’t get me wrong, we see having people come to stay as a privilege, but there is no doubt, guests in the house changes how life works. Guest Management is a thing.

Examples

  1. Eating. Some people eat breakfast. Others don’t. Some eat early, others late. Some break their fast in two minutes flat, others want to spend two hours doing it.
  2. Showers. For many people, showers are an essential ritual of the beginning of the day, others shower before lunch, dinner and bed.
  3. Some folk leave every door and window open, and others, the opposite.
  4. Some people like to plan, some people like to freewheel and improvise.

Such is life. When at a hotel, we all get on with what suits us. However, being a house guest is a different dynamic. Guests want to fit in, to go with the flow. They “don’t want to be any trouble.” Often, this means that the hosts are doing, not what they want to do, but what they feel the guests want to do. The guests are doing what they feel the hosts want to do. The result is that nobody is doing what they want to do. Out of a wish to be polite and accommodating, everyone is feeling a bit out of rhythm. “Awks.”

Communication

The key, of course, is communication. The trouble is, that everyone is being so nice and diplomatic, that seldom do people speak the truth.

Of course, I’m perfectly able to avoid all these issues. My default setting is to rise early, drink coffee and work. I can easily absent myself entirely from the morning routine, by having coffee early and going down to the office. This, of course, resolves nothing, placing the entire burden on Margaret. Tempting though.

I’m seriously considering a questionnaire, to be completed by all guests. It will need to be carefully designed, with multiple choice questions, designed to winkle out the truth, defeating attempts to answer every question “oh, I don’t mind”. I might need to get Belbin to design it.

This questionnaire, along with a detailed set of house rules will seem way over the top, but will make everyone’s life (well, mine at least) so much easier.

Rules

In the absence of the questionnaire, here are some sample rules, just around breakfast, if I was writing them.

  • Breakfast is from 7 till 9. There’s coffee, tea, cereal and toast. If in season, there’s fruit too.  Scrambled eggs or devilled kidneys? See *.  Breakfast at ten? See *.

  • We use a Nespresso machine for coffee. We have a kettle. Need a latte or a teapot? See *.

  • When I say, give me a shout if you need tea or coffee, what I actually mean is “between 7 and 9, I’ll make you a coffee. If you need one at 0930, see *, if you decide to help yourself, rooting through my cupboards, I’ll shoot you with a crossbow.”

*: A mere 12 minutes drive away is a beach, with not one, not two, but three restaurants catering to every taste and budget.

Conclusion

I think that my rules will soon have breakfast tamed, leaving only, off the top of my head,

  1. Water management
  2. Doors and nets management
  3. Lunches
  4. Dinners
  5. Pool use
  6. Bill splitting
  7. Car usage
  8. Car parking
  9. Shopping kitty
  10. TV use
  11. Toilet use
  12. Meal planning
  13. Event planning
  14. Leaving and arriving

Blimey. Guest management is complicated.

Living the Dream – 34. Renovations

The first round of renovations is now done. (I hope.) The house is pushing 30, and spent a few years unoccupied, and there are some parts of it that are showing their age. Such is the nature of houses. We will have plenty of projects to keep us going. Our first priority was around security, for reasons documented here and here.

Fencing

We have fenced the garden. Don’t get me wrong, we are not living in Colditz Castle, but bad people, or dogs, will have to make an effort to gain entry, rather than step across a low wall. We have added various degrees of electronic security too, the details of which, will, of course, remain confidential. Winter has been unusually wet, and much of the wetness has been violent, so we have had to make several repairs to a flat roof, which the rain overwhelms when the rain is heavy.

Renovations

As ever, the work took longer than expected, cost more than budgeted and bred more things as it proceeded. At times, we have been focusing on the imperfections that catch the eye, rather than the overall impression, which is overwhelmingly positive. However, I have growled. I’m generally an amenable sort of customer, but once disappointed, I get very vocal, very quickly. As I type, on a Sunday afternoon, I have crossed the line between upset to furious. I hope, that with the magic of the internet, by the time that you read this, the contractor will have resolved all outstanding concerns and a smile will be back on my face.

Spice up your life

Two days before my trip to the UK, my office wifi was finally full power. I ran a cable directly from a router down here up to the modem, creating my own private network. It was glorious, until Spice decided it that the cable needed trimming and bit straight through it. While I was away, the builders replaced the cable and I’m back online. First world problems!

Renovations II

We now have an electric gate and video doorbell. The bell rings to a video screen in my office and in the kitchen, so an unexpected bonus is that we now have an intercom.This is proving surprisingly useful.

Living the Dream – 33. Settled

My trip to the UK presented an unexpected challenge. Snow had settled. The aircraft landed on time, I switched on my phone and it burst into song. Multiple message notifications flooded in.

Settled
Localised settled snow

Snowmageddon

Landing late at night rules out public transport as a realistic option, although I usually permit myself a private transfer at any time of day. However, my driver couldn’t get to me. Paul has never let me down and is a straightforward man. If he said he couldn’t get through, then I was happy that it was impossible. Heading to passport control, I called a hotel or two. No room at the inn.

Eventually, I found a room and headed to the shuttle bus-stop. Cold though it was, there was a distinct lack of snow. Not a flake of it had settled, in fact. The snowfall was unusually localised. The real problem, for me, at least, was around Basingstoke, with the M3, A303 and A34 all being closed. Lorries had jack-knifed.

Fortunately, I had no commitments for Saturday morning and was able to get down to Mum early the next morning, before hooking up with some friends to catch up, drink beer and watch rugby.

Work

The business elements of the trip went well, (you can read about the pen show [here](https://www.nerosnotes.co.uk/blogs/news/south-west-pen-show)) and I was soon back in to the swing of being on the road. Tuesday night, I slept in my own bed back in Cyprus and prepared for Thursday, where I was scheduled to attend a Symposium on Financial Crime.

After a couple of months working remotely, I was suddenly back into face to face mode, from a pen show, through client meetings, to full-blown conference mode, all in the space of a few days.

It strikes me how easy it is to switch mode. The trick, I suspect, is going to be maintaining a balance between my various incarnations. After a few days talking financial services and compliance, I see plenty of opportunities for both business and travel. However – I didn’t come to live here so that I would never be here.

Work on the house has dragged on. Errors and wet weather each playing their part. The garden is completely fenced now, with an electric gate at the bottom. My office is hardwired through to the modem upstairs, and we have a range of electronic security measures in place. Next week, we will be hooked up to TV services.

Settled

I finally feel settled to get on with my writing, my consulting and my ‘notebooking’ from my new home. This feeling will, of course, be immediately tested by warming weather, and inviting golf courses…

Living the Dream 32. Travel

As this post publishes, I’ll be setting out on a trip back to the UK. Travel was always going to figure in Living the Dream. I have two businesses based in the UK and though much can be done remotely, sometimes, boots on the ground are required.

The attack on Margaret and Nero led to a reschedule of plans, but as February begins, it’s time to get on the road. Or at least on the plane. I’m visiting my Mum, then off to a pen show to sell notebooks, before coming over all-corporate cobra and meeting some clients for my consultancy business. The trip is as short as I can make it; Margaret remains nervous and even though her sister is here, she will feel better when I’m back home.

Throughout the nineties and the noughties, I travelled extensively for work and developed a love/hate relationship with it. Mostly, I love a little travel, am comfortable with more travel and hate lots of travel. As with so many things, it’s about balance. It has been four months since I boarded a plane, so I am looking forward to this trip.

Cyprus to London is a five hour flight or thereabouts. Add on check-in times, transfers then the whole exercise takes nine hours. I’m flying in the evening and will either catch up with some work or some reading. I’m hand luggage only, so that cuts out some of the inevitable hassle of checking in, waiting for bags etc. Living from a small case, is, I discovered, liberating. I have made the decisions ahead of time, when packing. I’ll know what I’m wearing each day, weather and changes of plan be damned.

My last meeting is on Monday afternoon in London and I’m not flying until Tuesday morning. It may be that I catch up with some people, or perhaps not. A quiet evening in London might be just the ticket. If the weather is fine, I’ll walk around town, enjoying the shops, the wine bars and some food. If it’s wet, I’ll nest in the corner of a warm restaurant with a bottle of wine and a good book. As a young man, I loathed eating alone in a restaurant. Now, firmly middle-aged, I rather enjoy it.

Short trips focus the mind too. Having invested time and money to be somewhere, there is a natural inclination to want to make the most of the opportunity. I find myself more determined, persistent and absolute when travelling. There is a certainty about need to make a deal there and then. One thing that I have learned and integrated into my approach, is that I endeavour to complete all trip follow-up before I disembark the return flight. I compose E-mails, formulate offers, ready to send once I have had a chance to review them the next day. This contributes to maximising value from the trip.

Once off the plane, I’ll soon be back at home, playing with Spice and relishing the warmer temperatures.