the end of summer?

Today feels like coming towards the end of a very long summer holiday and the approach of September has a ‘back to school’ aura about it. The sand between my toes and now collecting in corners on the floor of the car is a tell tale sign of days spent at the beach. Damp towels, sandy snorkel masks and a striped beach bag in need of repair will soon be packed or thrown away, having served us for over two years.

It’s always sad feeling the summer come to an end. The past two years, although not a complete holiday, have felt more like a vacation than any other period of my life. Sitting watching the sun sink towards the horizon across the water tonight could hardly be more idyllic… as the sun sets on our time here. Even now there’s a warm breeze fluttering against my face while the sea is shimmering gold, and miniature waves lap with calming rhythm against the sand below us.

This week has been filled with ‘last times’ as we have revisited favourite haunts from cafes and umbrella lined bazaars in bustling Nicosia and the buzz of Kyrenia’s harbour at night to the remote wilderness of the Karpaz peninsular and its idyllic golden beaches.

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I don’t want to say goodbye to these places I’ve come to treasure and which are filled with happy memories of time spent with family and friends. Today we went to a different part of the beach and had a drink at a different cafe. This was partly for a change, but also on my part, I wanted to avoid the feeling of having to go somewhere knowing we’re not coming back any time soon. I decided I’d rather remember the last time there and hope we will return one day. I don’t like goodbyes.

Although we have been revisiting what I would call our ‘top spots’ on the island, we’ve also ventured out on a new experience.

On Friday we were guests on board an 80ft yacht with a Turkish captain and his mother. http://www.velayachting.com It was an unforgettable time from the moment we stepped aboard and removed our shoes to the fond farewells at the end of the day. Yacht ‘Vela’ was a treat. A beautiful old sailing boat with wood lined decks, neatly coiled ropes and relaxing navy cushions everywhere became our home for a few hours. A handful of us enjoyed a jaunt down the coast of northern Cyprus for the day stopping off at bays for swims and snorkelling along the way. This time it was a relief to know that while I lounged on a deck cushion the responsibility for dropping and picking up the anchor was someone else’s nightmare. It was a kind of treat not having to heave ropes or jump across jetties to secure lines, although one member of the party couldn’t resist lending a hand! I wasn’t even required to go below and rustle up rations as ‘Mama’, (we had been instructed to call her this), had already prepared a sumptuous feast of Turkish dishes spread out on the table when we returned from our swim.

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Meanwhile, Captain Serhat was doing his bit precariously barbecuing fish and lamb at the bows. Peaceful music tinkled all around and during the lunch we were serenaded by what sounded like snatches of an opera. It was a surreal yet lovely experience and Capt Serhat had some good banter with the other skipper on board, as they exchanged plenty of old sea tales. He also impressed us with a tight 360 manoeuvre below the castle walls… although someone kept muttering, “bow thrusters are cheating”. During the day there was ample time to watch the coast go by, muse on the identity of a flock of birds and natter with friends who had joined us, while we sipped strong Turkish coffee from miniature China cups. It was in fact a perfect finish to our Cyprus adventure as we sail into unchartered waters and life back in the UK.

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Last night was also topped off with a mini ‘night exercise’ along the beach. Having swum with turtles and seen their carefully marked nests on the beaches here, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some baby turtles making their way to the sea by moonlight. Torches in hand we followed a path and steps onto the darkened beach where the crashing waves drowned out all other sounds. We were alone on the beach checking the sand for signs of mini turtles or broken shells, even the tell-tale pattern of fin prints in the soft sand. Although we saw a few of these and some scuttling mini crabs, there were no turtles in sight. Gradually a silvery moon appeared from behind a cloud and we took a break on a couple of empty sun loungers. Sometime later I woke with a start realising we had both fallen asleep. We’d probably slept through the turtle-hatching bonanza and missed everything. Either way it was too late, as we drove back along the cliff tops a little while later, I wondered why the light seemed bright in the car and realised the driver still had his head torch turned on, adding a third beam to the car headlights on the dirt track… time to call it a day. The quest for hatching turtles will have to wait for another summer – maybe on a return trip?

Home sweet home

Gazumped! It’s an ugly word and being gazumped feels ugly too. But that was last week. Now it’s time to think again about where we will be moving and what it means to have a ‘home’.

I knew buying a house in the UK was fraught with ups and downs but we’d never had it this bad before. After taking months to decide what we wanted and where to buy, we thought the hard part was over. But there was worse to come – pitching bids, countering higher bids and finally that sickening feeling of being gazumped at the last minute. It was at times like this that I wished SNP MPs had more power and could bring in the same rules about purchasing houses as they have in Scotland. No fear of gazumping there as once your offer is accepted it’s legally binding.

After a dreary few days of mourning the loss of our prospective new home in the UK and watching the dreams and ideas we had been building sink to the bottom of the pool, we are picking ourselves up. There are consolations. We have an army quarter to move to. It’s got a roof and heating. I can’t vouch for the colour of the carpets or the state of the kitchen or even the age of the cooker….but it is on an island off the south coast and within a minute’s walk of the sea. It’s not right next to a main road either. In fact it’s part of an illustrious ‘gated community’ and you’d need photo ID to get there!

So, we will have a place to call ‘home’ again in the UK, even if it’s a temporary one.

So what makes a ‘home’? The perfect kitchen, open plan living, a fireplace, the tranquil garden and that climbing rose over the doorway? Trawling through estate agent house images on screen I find myself asking, what would this house be like with us living there… our pictures on the walls and our African carvings in the corner? In some places it’s hard to imagine, while others seem to fit. One of our children has told us “There’s no perfect house – there’ll always be something wrong.” And it seems very true, because with looking at so many different properties for sale the problems almost immediately jump out. I know ‘home’ is a million things more than bricks and mortar, or even stone and wood. It’s what we make it. It’s the welcome when you arrive. It’s the enticing smells from the kitchen, the familiar objects that have been with us for years and the permission just to relax and be yourself. The home I grew up in smelt predominantly of washing powder, because my mum often had clothes airing on a dryer high up above the Aga in the kitchen. That smell welcomed me into our rambling, often untidy home, whether I was returning from school or later back from university. It didn’t matter about perfection, what mattered was that my mum and dad were there and ‘Phew!’ I was back home – I could relax and I was safe.

Whichever house we end up buying in the future and wherever we settle, I want to make it feel like ‘home’ for all the family and friends that we welcome in. Time to put the coffee on and the bread in the oven – I feel in need of some ‘home cooking’ smells! And at least our Cyprus sign will still make sense in the next house for now…

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