Living the Dream – 69. Winter is coming

Our second winter is coming. As a special treat, our first winter in Cyprus was the wettest since records began over a hundred years previously.

Winter Chores

Like many expats before us, we discovered that it doesn’t need to get too wet or too cold to feel unpleasant in Cyprus. House-building here focuses on keeping properties cool, not on keeping them warm. There is no damp course on our house, and one side gets wet. Last year, it got so wet, that our main guest bedroom developed a very mouldy damp smell and some crumbling plaster.

Upon returning from our UK trip, we will address this with the help of a neighbour who is far more competent than I in this type of thing. My strength is probably in fetching and carrying and making coffee.

When not raining, (winter is coming) I plan to get some work done in the garden. The first stage of fence-painting, some burying of cables, and taking some electricity to the back garden, allowing us to add some lights and appliances to the pool area.

Back in Blighty

I wrote last week, that I was intrigued to see how Margaret found going back to the UK for a week. Overall, she had a great time, but within that, there was a lot to unpack.

We took a cab to the hotel (pen show) on landing, and once checked-in, we crossed the street to a busy pub. Bloomsbury is not Leicester Square, but it is central London on a Saturday night. The pub was packed – but we found a table. Mags was a rabbit in the headlights. There’s no noise like a busy London pub. You feel it as much as hear it. A cacophony of conversation in multiple languages, on top of music.

I marvelled at payments. I bought a few rounds and at no point, not once, did I see anyone use cash. Contactless via card or phone or even watch was de rigeur.

On the way to bed – Margaret stopped for a cigarette at the hotel entrance and watched a group of girls stumble out of a nearby mall, and one threw up colourfully on the street. Charming.

Mags and I met up again on the last night before returning here to Cyprus. We strolled through central London, stopped for a drink in the Crusting Pipe at Covent Garden, ate amazing food at Barrafina and watched the splendid “School of Rock” on Drury Lane. All the best of London. Wonderful architecture, a busy cafe with superb street entertainers, international food of the highest order and a West End show that left us excited and buzzing.

We spoke. Margaret loved London. She was delighted to be returning to Cyprus. When she was in Hampshire, from whence we came to Cyprus, she did not feel anything. Food for thought.

Living the Dream – 67. Permanent Holiday

“A permanent holiday, isn’t it? Living in Cyprus?”

That would be nice. Really nice. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy holidays. I eat too well, drink too much, exercise less, but have a terrific time.

Of course, this might explain why I put on 35lbs in weight in the year since moving here. Turns out, a low exercise, high-kebab, high-beer diet is a great way to expand the waistline.

Guests

I have written before about the privilege, and the challenge of having guests. As I write now, our two friends are beside the pool, soaking up the sun.

I must commend these guests, who like those before them, are understanding of the fact that I need to do some work, and are happy pleasing themselves.

The problem is not them, it’s us; or more specifically me. I want to show people #livingthedream. I want to open a bottle of wine and sit on the terrace watching the sun go down. I want to take guests to my favourite restaurant to eat amazing food, served by charming, happy hosts. Right now, I want to be up at the pool, discussing with my guests where we should eat tonight.

Discipline

I’m getting better at it. This morning, I walked the dog early, and was ensconced in my office before anybody else was up. Out of sight, out of mind. I joined them for lunch, and have returned here to my keyboard and my bullet journal. Once hidden down here, I find it easy to get myself into work.

I’m working very hard at moderating my eating and drinking, just having one meal a day and cutting down my alcohol intake, but I’m sure that I am not going to be able to be very strict on myself until we are guest-free.

It’s not a permanent holiday, but I realise how lucky I am – these are hardly tough problems are they?

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Living the Dream – 66. 12 months

12 months (and two days) ago, Mags and I arrived in Cyprus, to make a new life for ourselves. We were excited and full of optimism.

Tragedy

In October, our hearts were ripped to pieces, when our beloved and much-missed pet Nero was savaged and killed by a village dog, that habitually chained up, had been let loose, and snatched Nero from Margaret’s arms.

Nero chillin'

The fact that Nero’s killer remains in the village haunts me still. However, led by Margaret’s bravery, we persist. The winter was wet (the wettest in over a hundred years) and seemed to go on forever.

Recovery

Gradually, though, we settled into life. We have taken Greek classes, and it’s back to school next month for level 2. Spice, the smartest dog that I have ever met, has joined the household, bringing joy and enthusiasm to every day.

Award-winning pooch
The summer has been hot, but not too hot and we look at each other wondering where it went. It seems only a few weeks ago that were welcoming the sun, and now the nights are drawing in and dawn is getting later and later.
As I type, we are entertaining guests and preparing to head back to the UK. I have some work to do there, and Margaret is seeing friends, family and completing some hassle/admin stuff.

Future

Can we see our future here? Yes, and No. Mags is firm that she wouldn’t want to stay here ‘forever’ but is happy to stay a while. We have 12 months under our belt and it looks like we’ll go for another 12 months. We are making the house our own, making friends and getting on with our businesses.

Brexit looms over us – mostly because of the seemingly endless prevarication of the politicians. It will be much easier when the guesswork stops and everybody just gets on with it.

The Last word

I’m loving the sun, the beer and the golf. Working from my own dedicated space is a true privilege – and as the clock ticks towards midday, I’m delighted to be able to type; I’m off for a swim.

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Going Solo. 10. Multiple Businesses

Multiple businesses is a side-effect of Going Solo. New projects can become an addiction.

My Journey

In Summer 2002 I got fired. My time in Central Europe came to an abrupt end. I moved from Budapest to Cleethorpes, a seaside town on the North Sea coast of England.

Consequently, I became a barman to try pay some bills and setup my first company. Stuart didn’t jump into Going Solo, he got pushed.

Lime Training and Consultancy was incorporated in February of 2003, although I had been trading as a sole trader in the second half of 2002. I was providing customer service training to the foreign exchange industry. I didn’t have a printer, so I used a print shop to put together training materials.

Money Transfer

In April 2003, my marriage broke up and I moved in with my Mum, in Cyprus. Lime spawned a Cypriot sister company. I started consulting for a local company offering MoneyGram money transfers. In 2004, I teamed up with the guy that fired me (A long story…) to setup Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd (MTI) and moved back to the UK.

Subsequently, the Cyprus company was folded up, but I kept Lime going, and it is still going now.

For 10 years, my professional life was all about MTI, until we sold the business in 2014.

stuartlennon.com

Footloose and fancy-free, I started this blog, ostensibly to record the writing of my novel. No novel yet, but I’m getting there, honest!

Pocket Notebooks

In 2016, I rediscovered my childhood passion for stationery. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was the proud owner of pocketnotebooks.co.uk, now nerosnotes.co.uk

1857

While I was diving into stationery rabbit-holes, I discovered podcasts. I got talking with TJ Cosgrove who has a healthy obsession with pencils. Somehow or other, we got to recording and releasing our talks weekly. Tonight, we will be recording episode 84.

Variety

Each of the above gives me something. Not always financial reward.

I’ll give some background on each one over the coming weeks.

Multiple businesses / projects is one way of keeping things interesting when #goingsolo.

Membership

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Living the Dream – 59. Sabbatical

“A sabbatical. We’ll try it for nine months.”

That was the original agreement. Margaret’s employer had a policy allowing her to take up to 9 months as a career break. Putting an end date on our adventure made it much easier for Margaret to acquiesce.

Sabbatical

Then, her employer made her redundant, and the artificial time limit was no longer there. Nevertheless, we both understood that we were burning no bridges and that the move to Cyprus was not definitive. It was a sabbatical.

Evolution

Margaret’s position then became, “we’ll stay awhile, until we can sell the house.” More recently, it has become, “we won’t grow old here. We won’t stay for ever.” Subtle changes; evolution not revolution, as it were. My position, much to many people’s frustration, is, and always was, “I dunno. Let’s see.”

In theory, we would have headed home last month, before the summer really hit. I’m delighted that we’re still here. Particularly after the start that we had, when I genuinely feared that we would choose to return to England sooner even than nine months.

Signals

We’re discussing whether to take the next Greek language course in the autumn and we have made plans for New Year. There has been no specific discussion, we’ve simply moved on.

Is this home now?

Posed as a simple question, the answer is more complex. What is home?

Home

Increasingly, soppy though it may sound, home, for me, is where Margaret is. I’m happy here, I was happy in England. In the Members posts of this site, I am writing about my time in Central Europe. I was happy there too.

Statistically, two thirds of British people who retire abroad, return to the UK. Grandchildren and health care being the two elements most often cited as reasons to return.

Mags and I have no kids and touch wood, are in good health for the time being. Part of the rationale of moving here was to do so while relatively young, and enjoy a new life.

The Future

Might we move back to the UK? Or move to another “foreign” country? Might we stay here?

Yes, to all of the above.

We are lucky enough to be able to keep our options open, and that’s what we will do.

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Living the Dream – 56. Kyproulla

Kyproulla is my new car. When I say new, she is actually 15 years old.

Kyproulla is a small Japanese hatchback with a tiny engine and a lovely personality. She has taken us into town for a gig (more on that later), and along the highway to the golf course. Economical and a dream to park, we’re off to a good start. Of course, that could all change in a smokey, breaking down heartbeat.

Why a second car?

The mountain hideaway is isolated. Nothing is within walking distance. Therefore, if one of us is playing golf, then the other is either playing too, or staying in the house. That’s doable, but Margaret is improving rapidly as a golfer and sometimes (always) would like to play with people other than me.

Additionally, Margaret has taken employment. She helps out at a kitchen store in the mall. Already, a week in and her Greek is accelerating away from mine. So, several times a week, she takes the car to work.

I feel that Kyproulla would enjoy a little customisation, so I’m seeking an evil eye and some worry beads to hang from the rearview mirror. She is helping me find my inner Cypriot.

Gigging

UB40. They were great. Everything was incredibly well-organised, the weather was kind and the band were brilliant. We were both nervous that the event would be hot, chaotic and unpleasant, and so were surprised and delighted. A cracking time was had by all.

Last night, she took us to Il Divo, the “Popera quartet”. Mags and I are both big fans so were really looking forward to it.

Meh.

The danger of expectations. UB40, we expected little, and they delighted us. Il Divo, we expected a lot and they disappointed us.

They were OK. Personally, I expected better voices. Between songs, the four attempt a little Rat Pack-esque banter. Cringe!

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the evening, and will continue to listen to the music – perhaps with a renewed appreciation for the production team.

Transport

Kyproulla behaved impeccably, and I managed to squeeze her onto a pavement, between two trees. Dainty little thing.

Living the Dream – 55. Rock ‘n’ Roll

“Oh. A George Michael tribute. The same guy that was Freddie Mercury last month. Shall we go?”

Experience prompted me to take a moment before answering. I elected for “hmmm…”

Proof that I can be diplomatic.

Tribute Bands

Let me unpack this for you.

  1. “A George Michael tribute.” A person who may or may not look or sound like George Michael singing his songs. I want to know why the person isn’t singing their own songs. Is this a glorified karaoke, just without audience participation?
  2. “The same guy that was Freddie Mercury last month.” What? This person is essentially an impressionist, presumably without the humour.
  3. “Shall we go?” No. Let’s not. Please, God. Let’s really not. Let’s poke our own eyes out, it will be more fun.

As you may gather, I’m not terribly keen on the idea of tribute bands. I’m sure that they are brilliant and it’s a great night out, but I just cannot muster any enthusiasm for them. That’s not Rock ‘n’ Roll.

However, I am keen that we “live”, that we take as many opportunities as we can to have a good time, to live the dream as it were.

Rock ‘n’ Roll (and opera)

The Cyprus Mail came to my rescue. “UB40 and Remos.” I have no idea who Remos is, but UB40, English band of the 1980s? Them, I knew. I booked us tickets. A stadium gig, no less.

A page later, Il Divo. Pop/Opera crossover, and more importantly one of Mrs L’s favourites. Playing the week after UB40 at the Limassol Garden Theatre. Where UB40 was cheerfully good value for money, Il Divo made my eyes water and my wallet cringe.

Both concerts begin at 2100, meaning we won’t be home till gone midnight. Will we turn into pumpkins? Both are outdoor venues, and both are at sea level. Temperatures are likely to be high 80s, low 90s with high humidity to boot. Doing the concert any earlier would be even hotter.

Scorecard

Our “cultural” tally For Cyprus thus far then, will be:

  • The Central Band of the Royal Air Force in a modern amphitheatre
  • Wine Tasting in a winery
  • A street art festival in Limassol
  • A tour of the Olive Park
  • A book launch in Limassol
  • Hamlet in an ancient amphitheatre
  • UB40 & Remos in a football stadium
  • Il Divo in the Limassol Garden Theatre

Not a bad start, I think.

Amusingly, the promoter suggests ‘formal wear’ for Il Divo. Good luck with that.

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Living the Dream – 54. Smash

Smash. The smaller car lost all forward momentum and flew sideways off the road.

A normal day

We had been down the mountain to get some cash from the bank. Our shiny new tyres had emptied the wallet and our local taverna doesn’t take plastic. We were following a Japanese hatchback up the mountain road. Margaret was driving and we were discussing a potential vacation.

An abnormal sight

An oncoming car suddenly turned hard right into the oncoming traffic (We drive on the lefthand side of the road in Cyprus). Time slowed to a weird film-effect, like it was running under water.

We both felt we were watching a movie stunt as the larger car hit the hatchback on the front headlight. Smash. Both bonnets crumpled, airbags deployed and the hatchback jumped left onto the scrubland. The saloon stopped dead, a few metres ahead of us, on our side of the carriageway, spewing oil and water onto the tarmac. Margaret is a good driver and had left plenty of distance between us and the hatchback, allowing her to avoid us becoming part of the drama. I hit the hazard lights, jumped out of the car to make sure everyone was alright.

Aftermath

The saloon driver was out of his car, dazed, but upright, and on the phone. To the emergency services, I hoped. I asked if he was OK, and after initial language confusion, he nodded. I kept going to the hatchback. The front of the car looked as though it had been driven into a wall. The windscreen was gone, as was the side window. The young woman driver was vocal, which I took to be a good sign. She was talking and moaning, clearly in shock. I told her that she was OK, as I tried to open the door.

I remember her repeating, in English, that she couldn’t breathe. Judging by the way she was chatting away, there was no shortage of air getting to her, and there appeared to be no damage to her chest – and I surmised that it was the smell of smoke from the engine that was alarming her. (It was scaring the crap out of me.)

Resolution

Other road users joined me at the car, and we got the woman out from the passenger side. The drivers side was stuck solid. We got her away from the car. The emergency services arrived very quickly, whether by chance or in response to a phone call, I don’t know. I left everybody rattling away at each other in Greek way beyond my elementary level.

Analysis

The crash shook Margaret up. So I drove on to the taverna where we were meeting friends. Inevitably, we speculated as to what had caused the smash.

The roads are very lightly used here, and perhaps a consequence, people tend to drive too fast. (Myself included.) There remains a culture of using the phone while driving too. Sometimes, it seems that more people are on the phone while driving than not. Whether this was the case here, only the driver will know. The theory, that distracted, the driver thought he was going off the road, panicked and over-corrected, would fit the sudden lurch across the carriageway.

Thankfully, both drivers seemed OK, with no major injuries.

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Living the Dream – 53. Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold is what they used to call olive oil in these parts.

When I was a boy in England, oil was what you fried chips in. There was another type that you put in your car. Taste-wise, they were pretty similar.

As people traveled more, so did food. Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and with good reason. It’s medicinal powers are legend, and it’s taste unbeatable.

Before continuing, I should make the point that the majority of olive oil in shops in the UK (and probably elsewhere too) is a very poor imitation of the real thing. Some of it is a very well-marketed, premium-priced, imitation, but imitation it is.

To be honest, the majority of the stuff in shops here is pretty ordinary too. An Italian friend pointed me towards a place called Oleastro, in Anogyra where he felt the oil was good. Not as good as Italy, but good. (Italy – Greece – Cyprus. It’s complicated.)

Taste Test

Margaret and I went, and sampled some oil. Margaret gave a slight grimace, a partial shrug and pronounced, “it’s alright.” Higher praise from a Sicilian about oil, not from Sicily, does not exist. We took a litre for more extensive home-testing.

Ultimately, we agreed that though not Sicilian, it was the best we were likely to find on the island. We called up and ordered twenty litres. As expected, the oil came in a plastic jerry can, with strict instructions to get it decanted soonest.

Stocking up

Pouring liquid gold through a funnel into simple glass bottles is a ritual we intend to repeat. As the sun caught on the bubbles, the bottles sparkled. The oil reminded me of the golden syrup that I lusted after as a child. Rich, unctuous and well…golden.

That which remained, was left in a jug. Margaret urged me to dip my finger and taste it.

“This is better than the one litre we bought,” she confirmed. I knew better than to shrug and nodded my assent. The taste is extraordinary. A simple salad with a healthy pour of oil is a revelation here in Cyprus. It tastes divine.

Multi-purpose

As well as food, liquid gold serves as a cure-all. Actually, not a cure-all. Whatever ails you in Cyprus can be relieved by one of three things: Liquid Gold (Olive oil), Black Gold (Carob Syrup), or Fire Water (Zivania) but that’s for another post.

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27. Summertime

…and the living is easy.

What a song.

At the risk of annoying those people still wondering where summer is and whether it will ever be summertime;

“Phew! It’s hot.”

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