Living the Dream – 47. Hotting up

Hotting Up

Cyprus is hotting up. Overnight, summer arrived. In true British style, we had been lamenting how unsettled the weather was and how temperatures were below average. Then, boom. Temperatures leapt from low twenties (70f) centigrade to low thirties (90f). The dog appeared shocked initially, but has quickly dropped into a new routine. It’s taking us longer to adapt.

The upside is that the change in the weather has forced me to deliberately consider my daily routine.

Routine

#livingthedream is intended to chart our efforts to design a new life for ourselves, and we’ve been here nearly eight months now, so this is as good a time as any to look at how we’re doing.

I rise early, usually around 6.30am. I don’t use an alarm, nor have I made a conscious decision to rise at a particular time. It just happens. Once up, Spice, is up and wants out for her morning patrol. I’ll play with her, trying to activate her appetite by throwing a ball. (She has taken to not eating in the morning.)

Margaret and I will have an espresso or two for breakfast in the early sun, and I’ll write a gratitude note in my bullet journal. Then I’ll go swim for half an hour. By 8 / 8.30 I’m heading downstairs to the office as the day is hotting up.

Through till lunch, I am writing, or working on one of my businesses, usually with podcasts in the background. My tiny contribution to running the house is to hang out the laundry whenever the machine beeps insistently at me from the room next to the office. How things get into the machine is a mystery, similar to how the house is always full of food. I’ve asked Margaret, how all these things happen, but she just rolls her eyes…

Lunch is around 1, and we eat together, up on the terrace. Afterwards, I’ve taken to spending some more time in the pool and then having a nap. Traditionally, Cyprus shuts down through the heat of the afternoon, and I’m all for it.

Some time around four, the day restarts. I refresh myself with a shower and will either get back into work, or read a book.

Evenings

Dinner is getting lighter and lighter, and later and later. In the winter we ate around 6, but now don’t feel much like food until 8 or so.

Evenings are delightful at the mountain hideaway. It’s quiet and there is often a breeze. A chilled glass of wine with some olives on the terrace is the perfect evening as far as I’m concerned.

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Living the Dream – 46. The Trouble with Trees

The trouble with trees is that they keep growing.

“Sorry. We can’t stay long, we have to get home to meet our tree surgeon.”

Not words that I had ever imagined saying. My parents built the house nearly thirty years ago, and planted several trees then. One or two pre-date the house.

Carob, fig, pomelo, lime, mandarin and orange are the ones that I recognise and that produce fruit. There are several flowering trees too, that burst into colour at various points through the year. Some provide welcome shade in the summer.

The Plan

As the title suggests, the trouble with trees is that they grow. Pretty big as it happens. Some of them were touching the house, even towering above it. As I sipped a cold beer, I decided that a few hours with a wood saw would sort everything out.

Hmmm…

Several people have snipped at, and trimmed branches over time. A couple of them have cut back growth severely.

However, some of the larger trees remain pristine. As I stood at the base of one, craning my neck to see the top, it was clear that one man and his saw was not going to be sufficient.

Nor could I overlook the facts of the matter.

  1. I have not the faintest idea about how one properly reduces the size of a tree.
  2. There is a documented and demonstrated lack of competence with any and all tools.
  3. I respect hard, manual, work and if at all possible, avoid it.

Faced with these truths, I repaired to the terrace and opened a bottle of wine. (Playing to my strengths.)

Plan B

I spoke to the guys that put up the fence, and they put me onto Daniel, of High Access Point, and so it was, that yesterday, I met with him.

It is little known that “Daniel”, in Bulgarian, means “little tree squirrel”. As I write, Daniel is sucking his pencil somewhere, preparing me a quote to makeover all of the trees, with judicious use of ladders, ropes and power tools.

I am resigned to the prospect of a big, scary number.

This is made less painful by the realisation that I will, on a regular, if infrequent, basis be able to say,

“Sorry, must dash. Doesn’t do to keep one’s tree surgeon waiting.”

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Living the Dream – 45. Coptic Gales

The Khamsheen Winds, the last of the Coptic Gales are here. The air is thick and heavy. Everybody has a sore throat and irritated eyes.

Sounds like the opening of a Wilbur Smith novel. But it isn’t.

Coptic Gales

There are fourteen Coptic or Phoenician gales, between the end of September and the beginning of May, each named by Arabic fishermen. The gales come each year at broadly the same times. I am no meteorologist, and I can’t comment on the science, but there’s definitely something to these romantically named phenomena.

The storms often bring sand from the Middle East and Africa, of various hues. It can settle like snow. The red stuff is the worst. It’s a swine to get off garden furniture and cars, particularly if it comes down with rain. If there is no rain, then the dust simply constantly appears and reappears, silently settling on every surface. Many visitors feel that they must have brought a cold with them, that manifests as a scratchy throat and sore eyes.

When the gale comes as a real storm, it’s very identifiable. The sky is dark, the temperature changes (up or down) and winds and rain turn everything red or yellow. Then the skies clear, everyone cleans up and gets on with their lives.

Limbo

However, things are not always as straightforward. The Khamsheen Winds are due on the 29th of April, and since around that time, (it’s now May 3rd) there has been dust in the air. Some days have been unusually cool, some unusually clammy, and we have had winds; but a storm, per-say, has not quite happened. We’re in limbo, on the cusp of Summer, but not quite free of the last Spring storm. Some years, the dust just stops coming and one morning all is clear. I look forward to breathing easier soon.

Grumbling

Our weather remains cooler than normal. It’s actually pleasant, mid 20s centigrade (mid 70s to 80s Fahrenheit) during the day. Ideal for pottering around in the garden and playing golf. In true British fashion, everyone is so busy lamenting the wet winter just passed and predicting a long, too hot summer, that they are forgetting to enjoy the perfect temperatures of today.

Right, I’m putting my shemagh on, and gazing into the sky, with a faraway look. I might even play the soundtrack of Lawrence of Arabia for effect…

Living the Dream – 44. Contrarian

Contrarian

Winetasting. Supper. Up early for golf, back home for a swim, record a podcast, then out for grilled meat.

That’s more like it, truly living the dream. Nothing contrarian about that.

I wrote last week about expats and the collective consciousness. Often this group-think leads to the tiniest bit of hysteria.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard about Brexit: The process by which the UK is (maybe) leaving the EU. Fear not, I’m not going to get into the politics of Brexit, only the local logistics.

Drivers Licences

All EU countries issue a European driving licence. A licence from one member state is valid in all member states. The current practice for expats in Cyprus, is to drive on the UK licence until it expires. When it does, there are two options. If maintaining a UK address, then simply apply for a new licence at that address through the UK system. If you are not, then hand in your UK licence to the Cypriot authorities, who will issue you with the Cypriot flavour of the EU licence. No worries, no stress.

In a post-Brexit world, UK licences will no longer be valid in the EU. We are advised that we have a short window before the exit process completes, and we should hand in our UK licences for Cypriot ones.

Response

Several expats of my acquaintance have bristled at this:

“I’m not giving up my UK licence! They’ll make me redo a test to get one back.”

“I’m going to report my UK licence as lost and have a replacement issued. Then, I’ll hand in the old one in return for a Cypriot licence. That way, I’ll have both.”

Reality

Now, call me an old cynic if you will, but some observations.

  1. The Cypriot authorities have no desire to manage a rush of driving licence applications. Frankly, they would rather go to lunch. The obvious thing to do would be for the EU and the UK agree to honour each other’s licences (as they currently do), but politically, this may be troublesome as the EU may want to demonstrate how difficult life can be outside the family. A believable response to this is “do nothing.”
  2. I find it difficult to imagine that Senior Cypriot law enforcers are going to brief their colleagues: “Right you lot. Enough of this catching criminals nonsense. I want you to get out there and stop every car that is being driven by what looks like a UK citizen. Those UK licence-carrying individuals are Public Enemy #1.”
  3. One way to rile bureaucrats is to actively undermine their beloved systems. The replacement licence ruse looks doomed to me, the Cypriot licence will be issued on the back of an invalid UK one, and that’s not going to end well.

Solution

With regards to the driving licence, I’m adopting a contrarian approach. I’m doing nothing. I suspect that my licence will go from perfectly valid, to invalid, to illegal and back to legal again. It might not, of course, but I suspect I may avoid jail time, in any event.

If age brings experience, and then wisdom, then it has taught me that sometimes, the best course is to do nothing.

 

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Living the Dream – 43. Expat

Expat

If you choose to live the dream, to move to a new country, you will become an expatriate, an expat. I have been one, on and off, for most of my life.

I left school and went to live in France and was away for seventeen years. After thirteen years back in the UK, Cyprus beckoned.

Advice

Living abroad presents challenges. Everything works differently, often in a foreign language. Seeing a Doctor becomes a major project of its own, riven with anxiety. Fellow expats, those here longer, become your guides. They tell you where to go, who speaks your language, what to expect, how much it costs, and how to best go about it. In my experience, a large percentage of the advice received is selective and flawed, but it is almost always firm and definite.

If you are not careful, the self-appointed experts can end up curating your life. “Don’t eat there, so and so got food poisoning. She was in hospital for months.” Or “George’s? Don’t buy a car there. He’s a bandit.” Before you know it, you find yourself parroting this advice to the new person you meet in the “expat-approved bar”, without ever having had any dealings with George at all. An entire world is built by these interactions; you become assimilated into a collective consciousness. Everyone shops in the same places. Eats and drinks in the same bars and restaurants, uses the same banks, medical services and contractors. Wherever you go, you meet people you know, reassuring yourself that you are in the right place.

Transience

By its nature, expat-life is transient. People come and go for work, or return home, or even decide to go be expat somewhere else. Sometimes, this can be tough, and quickly expats become inured to goodbyes. This promotes self-reliance, but can make us seem cold and uncaring. I have forged deep relationships as an expat, but I have forged many, many more temporary ones, that were close, intense even, but always temporary.

My Advice

There is a joy in being an expat. A feeling of kindred spirits, but it is artificial too. If I were to give advice…

Be curious. Make friends of every nationality, listen to their advice but test it for yourself. Be on the edge of expat circles, not in the heart of them. I know of some people whose life is so expat, that they effectively live in Britain but with better weather. Hey, I’m not judging, each to their own, but for me, one of the joys of being somewhere different is that, well, it’s different.

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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 -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.