homesick

It’s Wednesday and for the first time in two months I’m thinking about feeling homesick…
How strange, here I am in a beautiful hot country surrounded by my immediate family and new friends, with all the comforts of home and I feel a bit out of place, as if I need to be back in England. I suppose this is a feeling that will come and go for the next two years, this time brought on by seeing one of our visitors off to the airport to fly back to the UK. Talk of, English harbours, train journeys and plans for weekends away have conjured up pictures of ‘our green and pleasant land’, which I know is more often grey than green, but I miss being there today and I miss my friends and my old workmates too. Strangely, I miss the routine of going into the office, making plans, solving problems, cracking jokes, dealing with stuff and even having a bad day!
I’m not without purpose here, but days seem to involve too much food shopping, cleaning and cooking and not enough stimulating dramas and pressing deadlines. I guess I’m a drama queen at heart then, and I’m reflecting that this quiet life away from it all isn’t always as perfect as it seems from the hubbub of a full-time job. It’s also puzzling me why I feel like this and what ties me to the UK and the places and people I know there.
There is a huge security in being in your own country, your ‘homeland’. Here I am, a foreigner, not speaking the language, attempting to find my way round and make life work, but differently. Life here has to be lived in the Mediterranean way, with down time in the middle of the day when the sun is too hot to bear. Meals are for sharing and evenings aren’t spent in the lounge by the TV, more likely outside chatting round the table, or playing a game of cards or backgammon where it’s cooler.
Last night we had a BBQ at the beach, we watched the sun go down, we drank some wine and ate delicious sausage and kebab filled pitta breads with salad. We put driftwood on the little BBQ to make a safe fire on the rocks beside the water and debated about the direction of the wind, the flames and any stray sparks as the waves crunched on the sand at our feet. We gazed at the stars as they appeared above us in a velvet black sky. Across the bay we could see the lights of some of the local resorts and out to sea fishing boat lights flicked on and off in the darkness.
I like this lifestyle very much, but today I’m missing ‘home’, I miss friendly Southwell and Nottinghamshire and I miss the possibility of what the weekend will hold after a busy week at work.

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mini mishaps

Problems come in threes don’t they? Well that’s what I’m banking on…
Yesterday we had a few and it started with a dawn attack by ANTS. Yes, my worst fears were realised when we sat down to breakfast. We’d been re-telling the slightly amusing tale of a friend showing us a sealed packet of muesli he had taken from the fridge earlier and saying it would get ants in it if they didn’t keep it in the fridge. Someone took a close look at the packet and said, “But there are ants in there now!” “No, there can’t be this is a new packet, it hasn’t been opened.” But it was true the ants were already in there…in a sealed packet of muesli. Where there’s a seam of plastic an ant can finds its way in. But seconds later as someone began to pour out their muesli, tiny ants were spotted in our own tupperware sealed muesli. It turns out the tupperware leaks…or at least that one did! Someone said the ants are just extra protein, but strangely I didn’t feel in need of that kind of protein. It wasn’t a good start to the day.

Still there was plenty of time for more upsets.

Going to the beach here is best done later in the day, after 4 or 5pm when the sun is slightly less burning hot. There are some beautiful little bays not far away, where the rocky cliffs and clear blue water make it ideal for snorkelling. So after flippers, snorkels, bottles of water and towels were bundled into the hot car, we all jammed ourselves in, a bit like neatly packed sardines, but ever so slightly less smelly. On arrival at the top of the cliffs we were all looking forward to a refreshing swim and there was plenty of space on the little beach, as well as some welcome shade. Very dodgy half made steps frame the approach to the bay, but at least there is a rail at the top to stop yourself sliding down the steps which slant precariously downwards in a zig-zaggy kind of way. The rocks on this side of the island are either a soft sandy colour or very dark brown with jagged surfaces. The light coloured rocks seem to be higher up, but many of the dark rocks protruding from the water are shaped like mushrooms, where the sea has eaten away at their base, leaving a strange flat top balanced on a narrow stem above the surface. Everyone was in the water busy fitting on flippers and adjusting masks and I was thinking, ‘what a beautiful spot’…then I looked down to watch one of the boys swimming under the water below me without flippers. What are those black things on his feet?…Oh dear, oil had struck. Large black patches of crude oil were splattered on his feet. His father sighed… “You must have stood on something.” Tut, tut how careless! He swam on out to sea, two black soled feet splashing in the water behind him. “You’ve got black feet too!” I called after him. Then followed a lot of diving to rub feet on the rocks below and scrub them on the sea bed to no avail. It wasn’t coming off. The sea seemed a little less magical after the oil encounter and I was slightly worried I would swim into a slick or come across marine casualties floating on the surface. Back at the beach we discovered the oil was lining the beach disguised as seaweed, we had all walked over it, bar one, who had waddled into the sea in his flippers…there’s always one! No-one could wear flip flops back as our soles were covered in tar, and arriving home, there was a dash for the turps before anyone could enter the house….but the day wasn’t quite over, nor were the hassles.

How do you open your door? Slot the key in, turn it until it releases the lock and probably push it open. Sounds sensible. Some people though are in the habit of turning the key and if the door doesn’t budge, giving it a shove with their shoulder. To me this is a bit like kicking the boiler to make it start or smacking your computer when it misbehaves. You feel better but it’s not effective. However, opening the door to the house yesterday evening was attempted with a shove when the key didn’t open it easily. This particular shove from a 6ft something teenager resulted in one cracked glass panel on the top half of the door. Good end to the day! The next hour or so, after turps had been administered to oily feet and flippers, a couple of lads became glazing experts, tapping and removing broken glass from the door and clearing away splinters from the floor. That’s it, time for bed… this day of mini mishaps has to end now because three is quite enough.

The hot life

I’ve been holding back on talking about the weather, mainly out of respect for many in the UK who were suffering with rain and a lack of sunshine when we left…but I think it’s OK to say it’s hot here, now there is a mega heat wave across Britain.

The heat brings its owns joys and trials in Cyprus. First off, manual work needs to be tackled early and by that I mean before 9am! I’m not a morning person, but I do find it easier to get up earlier as the sun streams in and yes, ‘Surprise! It’s going to be another sunny day’. By 9 o’clock the temperature has risen enough to make you eat breakfast in the shade and from then onwards the heat builds steadily. Today we hit 37 degrees.

My skin is now accustomed to being semi moist most of the time. Before living here, I had to do a serious amount of exercise before my face was wet with perspiration….like running round the fields, or up and down the stairs at work with boxes of unwanted files. Now I can just be hanging out washing, sweeping the floor, making beds and as I lean down water is running down my face and dripping onto the floor. Apparently this is the humidity. It also makes getting ready for a night out tricky. No sooner have you had a shower, than your face is soaked again with the heat, so forget about wearing make-up boys! This also means a dress or costume have to go on at the very last minute, so advice is – stay in underwear as long as possible, only putting clothes on immediately before stepping out of the door.

I am not complaining though. It is relaxing to wear fewer clothes and good to hang out washing knowing it will be dry in less than an hour. Also weirdly liberating never to even consider taking a cardigan or a jacket with you for an evening out. At first I used to check myself English-fashion, Does it look like rain? Will it be cold later? The answer was always ‘no’, I can’t remember what rain feels like. The other day the sky was slightly less blue and I saw water running down a window outside… “Is it raining?” I asked. “No, silly it doesn’t rain in the summer, that’s the air conditioning unit dripping down the window.” Although there’s no rain, there’s often a warm wind here in the afternoon which is a blessing as it billows through the house, helping cool overheated skin and bringing relief from the intensity of the heat. At night we are saved by the ceiling fans, but if that’s not quite enough a cold shower before lying down seems to do the trick – the sheet acting as your towel.

Cooking can be a trial in the hot weather though, opening the oven door and stirring food on the hob is hot sticky work. But I have discovered the sun does a great job of making bread dough rise – no finding warm places in the house or balancing tins on radiators. The other day two tins of bread dough had risen in half an hour or so sat on a chair in the sunshine – easy peasy. I haven’t tried frying an egg on the patio yet, but guess all things are possible in this heat! 

cigar, cigar…

Eating out has been a fun part of settling in and getting to know people in these first few weeks. And there are also a number of local dishes which we’ve been sampling between us involving slow cooked lamb, tender pork and spicy meat balls. But the infamous dish is a ‘Mezze’, which I believe means a mix of lots of dishes. This is ideal for newcomers because you get to try out some 30 dishes in small portions and have a little of everything shared with everyone else on the table.
According to two expert local diners who treated us the other night, some restaurants try and fill you up with lots and lots of dips and pitta, then very few main dishes…and of course, as they explained, “Not everyone likes dips!” So, the other night we ventured out to a quaint local restaurant in a nearby village renowned for serving the best ‘Mezze’. It was not a lot to look at from the outside, just rough square tables, with blue and white check table clothes and little wicker and painted wooden chairs on the pavement by the road. But inside it opened up into a rustic scene, with wooden barrels and other recycled items made into furniture, a huge curving wooden bar and pieces of driftwood arranged into art forms hanging from ceilings and walls. We later discovered the owner, whose grandfather had started the restaurant, was a painter in his spare time and many of his highly original artworks hung along the walls, from faces and scenes painted on planks of crumbling wood to a clock build into driftwood with a 3d boat at its base.
The owner then came and sat down beside us, asking us which dishes we would like to have for the Mezze…a long list of mysterious names were reeled off, which he wrote down and made notes on and then disappeared with a smile into the kitchens. What followed was a whole lot of food! Starting with dips and salad, then meats and mushrooms and marrow balls and…it carried on. It turned out the key was to eat slowly and our hosts had given the owner special instructions on this. “But make sure, Cigar, Cigar,” he had emphasised at the end of the ordering. I was slightly puzzled, would cigars follow the meal? I like a cigar as much as the next woman, but it was unusual to order them with the food – I’d rather wait for the brandy or whisky…

The real meaning of “cigar, cigar,” or “siga, siga” emerged as the courses continued to arrive. Of course, it meant ‘slowly, slowly’…so the waiter was urged to bring out the different dishes more slowly in order for us to enjoy the meal, take our time as we ate and chatted and ate some more…
Had we tried this? No, not had any of that yet, another flavour and texture to experience…we had filled our plates several times over and although it had all been delicious, I was relieved to see the arrival of what looked like fruit salad, with big chunks of melon perhaps. What’s this now? Ah, this is the lamb with potatoes… Oh dear, more meat and then another dish that wasn’t fruit salad either, it was the slow cooked pork. It’s a very good job there were some big eaters on the table that night. We left very full, but happy. The fantastic thing about the Mezze was that the meal was so much more than just eating, it was sharing stories, passing the food around, making sure each one had tasted all the dishes and everyone was having what they needed. This was so much better than sitting down to a rushed main course, to be eaten quickly before someone jumped up from the table to get on with whatever they were doing before – probably back onto the computer. Here there was time for conversation and enjoying being there with one another, giving each other time, ‘siga siga.’
We have had another Mezze since that evening – more of an official engagement. The setting was beautiful, on a pier surrounded by the sea at night, but the hotel food was not a patch on the little village restaurant, either in quality or quantity. My very own ‘Good food guide to Cyprus’ is on its way…

In search of cowhide

It’s a constant mystery to me why my Needlework ‘O’ level is a source of ridicule to the rest of the family. Unlike Maths or English it is either seen as a poor qualification or used against me when a tear on the tent can’t be mended easily or a button pops off at an inconvenient moment. So there are comments like – “Needlework ‘O’ level? Well, I’ve got my ‘sewing machine driving license’ ha, ha!” or “But I thought you had a degree in needlework!”
Despite all of this I did bring my sewing machine with me, because like Mrs Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you never know when you’re going to need it. As it turns out it was this week.

Tonight I am off to the summer ball. It’s a bit sad, because a month into arriving here and I have been abandoned by my husband, who has disappeared to the UK on a ‘conference’ (yes, that’s what I thought!). So this evening I go, like Cinderella, unaccompanied to the ball. Except, I’m not going to look anything like Cinderella because it’s fancy dress and it’s a ‘Heroes and Villains’ theme. This brings us neatly back to the sewing machine – how could I create the necessary accessories for my costume without it?
What to wear? What to be? These questions were solved fairly quickly by seeing what I already had in the house… or what someone else had infact.
Found: 1 cowboy hat, 2 pairs of cowboy boots, 1 yellow check shirt, 1 red neckerchief, 1 leather belt, various jeans and sorts of denim options…. job done. I’ll be a cowboy hero then – infact a cartoon cowboy hero – Woody, from Toy Story. All I needed to complete this was a cowhide waistcoat and a gun and holster.

‘Adventure One’ begins as we head off to the notorious material shop in a secret location in a nearby town in search of cowhide….or something similar. This journey took us through the amazing network of little back streets, with dusty shops of all kinds and simple street bars and fruit stalls and hundreds of plain mainly single-storey buildings in terracotta and beige.  Junctions weren’t obvious and the main road was hard to distinguish. Everywhere was dust blown and dry. We eventually turned right as the buildings thinned out and a massive mosque loomed in front of us. In contrast to the poor and dusty buildings around it was gleaming in the sunshine with two peerless white towers reaching into the blue morning sky. Behind a dilapidated warehouse block was the entrance to the Aladdin’s cave of material shops, inside it was quite dark, which we later discovered was due to a power cut. Rolls and rolls and more rolls of material were packed into a massive warehouse from floor to ceiling. There was even a mezzanine floor above also lined with more bundles of fabrics and quilts. Some rolls were stacked upright, others in piles on their side and there was every conceivable kind of material you can think of from Sanderson look-a-likes to sofa upholstery fabrics and draylon, to nets of every colour and shade, bright coloured cotton curtain fabric in spots, stripes, floral or animal print and even some Turkish rugs rolled in one corner. If we were looking for plastic coated fabric there was a wider selection than I have seen anywhere or if you were into making soft toys there was fur fabric galore.

The shop owner appeared around the corner of one corridor of fabric rolls as we both stood open-mouthed taking in the vast array of materials towering above us. Tall and slim and with a cigarette draped from his fingers, he was dressed in a dark blue vest and open shirt and gave us a happy grin, shaking both our hands. I explained I was looking for cowhide and he beckoned us to follow…a few minutes later I had two rolls to choose from and it was job done for 5 euros.  It seemed incredible that like those people with awfully messy desks, in the chaos of the material stacks he knew exactly where to find the design I’d asked for. Was there a system, or did he just have a very good memory of where he had put things?

After a minor fight with the sewing machine, which seemed to have some technical issues to do with bobbin winding which I won’t go into, a little black and white waistcoat has been created. Cinderella you shall go to the ball! And although I go alone, I have warned my absent husband, that if I find another Woody I’ll be sticking with him for the evening – what are my chances?