Saturday, 27 October 2012

Taken for Granted

I do try to count my blessings and not take too much for granted, but from time to time, something happens and I'm surprised at how much I rely on something which is suddenly unavailable.
Yesterday, I had no electricity for 4 hours - all morning. Some maintenance was planned on the line, but I had about 45 minutes notice of the downtime. I managed to make a cup of coffee and glance at a couple of emails before switching the computer off again before the power went off. My plans for the morning were scrapped, so I decided to do some housework.  My normal tolerance for housework is about 20 minutes - it's one of the few things which bores me. I managed 1 hour and 40 minutes before I was starting to twitch, then decided I would have a bath with the remaining hot water.  As I lay there, I thought about my use of electricity and what the lack of it would mean.  No ovens.  I would be able to use the gas hob, but would need to light it with a match. No heating, as the boiler relies on electricity for the controller. It was a grey day, but I would have to make do with natural light, so no beading or anything which requires good light.  The washing would have to wait.  Keep the fridge closed to keep the cold in.  The freezer is in an outhouse, so at least it's cool.  No computer.  My phone had just run out of charge, but charging would have to wait. The land line has a sort of roaming handset and that wasn't working either.  No sewing machine.  No TV, DVD, CD or radio. IPod possible, until it runs out of charge. I decided to do more cleaning, then remembered - no vacuum cleaner.  No more hot water, unless I boil a kettle.
The power came back on promptly and I was happy to be able to switch a light on, get the heating and hot water on, put some washing on and make a phone call.
All this started me thinking about the other things we take for granted, like health care. One of my friends is in hospital at the moment, having been suffering from a low grade fever and worsening left side visceral pain for 5 weeks or so now.  She's had a couple of scans and tests which found nothing much, antibiotics and increasingly strong painkillers which only serve to take the edge off the pain. She's been on 3 different wards in as many days. By the time I publish this, she will probably have been sent home, with no diagnosis and no treatment plan beyond having her in for another test as an outpatient at some time yet to be determined.  She is climbing the walls with pain and frustration.
Even if we don't take our health for granted, we do expect that when something is wrong, it can be found and fixed (or at least, treated). Too often, it seems that there is not necessarily the money, expertise or technology available actually to address the problem in a timely manner.  It's wonderful to have a national health service, but it's staffed by people who are well trained, horribly overworked and only human. The best you can hope for is that they will treat you the way that they would like to be treated, if they were the patient.
In my (thankfully limited) experience, that's not something you should take for granted.
With healing thoughts to all. Goodnight!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Cyprus Holiday 2: Ancient and Modern

It's a month since I came back from holiday and I've had some time to reflect and look back.  The bright sunshine seared itself into my memory, all the brighter and hotter because we always seemed to go somewhere during the hottest part of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen ...?

I knew Cyprus only gained independence from Britain in 1960, but I wasn't prepared for just how British it is.  It's not just the British who are moving out there, either. There is a huge amount of building going on.  I read more signs in English and Russian than Greek. I can imagine the locals might have a love-hate relationship with the ex-pats and tourists; a vital part of the economy, but the Cypriots might feel that they are in the minority and their language and culture comes a poor second.  I suppose it's just more of the same.  Tucked away in a corner of the eastern Mediterranean as they are, they've been visited and invaded so often throughout history, there's probably something in their genes which is resigned to a constant flow of strangers, languages and cultures.  Almost everyone seems to speak English.
It's easy to get a full English breakfast in the many cafe-bars down the main strips in Paphos and Coral Bay. Also curry and chips, fish and chips, pie and chips, steak and chips ... it reminded me of the scene in Shirley Valentine where a couple come into the taverna and would rather have Shirley's 'chips and egg' than kleftiko. There are Cypriot restaurants, of course, though apparently they are apt to hike up the prices for tourists, or give discounts to the locals. 
I got a smile from a waiter when I ordered my Greek salad in Greek (except for the bit when I wanted to say 'but NO onions!' - my Greek doesn't stretch that far.). After an initial mix up where I got someone else's side salad, it was put right speedily, without onions, with extra kalamata olives but really not enough feta cheese for my taste. I didn't like olives until I visited the Greek islands in the late 1980s. Oh, my! The meze of olives, feta, chunked cucumber and beef tomatoes, grilled halloumi and little stuffed vine leaves! Rings of squid in batter and lemony, herby grilled kebabs! The mixture of tastes and textures in a good Greek salad; soft, salty cheese and olives, crisp lettuce, savoury pepper, sweet, tart tomatoes and cool cucumbers, with perhaps some fragrant fennel leaves.  It's still one of my favourite things and, were I not writing this late at night, I would have to break off about now to go and make one.

We went into Paphos to visit a couple of archeological sites, which only scratched the surface of what there is to see. The first stop was a series of chambers cut into rocks below 'street level', dating from the Hellenistic period. (The Hellenistic period is a fairly modern - 19th Century - concept for the period after Alexander the Great had finished trying to conquer the world circa 323 BC and ending with the rise of the Roman Empire from 146 BC, ending completely with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.) The chambers were probably built as a tomb complex and later dedicated to Agios Lambrianos and Agios Misitikos and used for worship by Early Christians. 

The next stop a little way down the road was the Agia Solomoni catacomb. This was quite early on in the week, before my knees loosened up with swimming, so I didn't go down the steps, but stayed admiring the old terebinth (?) tree festooned in handkerchiefs and rags, tied on with a prayer for healing.

The 16th Century church of Agia Kyraki stands on the site of one of the largest basilicas found in Cyprus, that of Panayia Chrysopolitissa.  The site has raised walkways to allow visitors to view the excavated mosaics and litter of columns and wall remains. The earliest parts of the basilica apparently date from the 4th Century AD, but it is also the site of St Paul's Pillar. Tradition has it that during his first missionary journey in 45 AD, St Paul was tied to the pillar and received 39 lashes, later converting the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity.

The glare from the midday sun made some of the mosaics difficult to see (let alone photograph - no viewfinder!), but I took a few pics to remind me of some designs, because I could imagine them worked in beads and sequins on belly dance costume. There are better mosaics to be seen in the archaeological park near the harbour, but that will have to wait for next time.

Down in the harbour, the castle was inaccessible due to its use as set for open air opera every September. This year's opera was Othello. J had previously arranged to go with friends, so I amused myself that evening back at the villa, quite happy not to be going. Once you know the story, you know it's going to end badly and I wasn't in the mood for tragedy.

I was fascinated to find that all of these old sites were in Nea (New) Paphos, which is only 'new' in relation to Palae (old) Paphos to the east of the modern town, inhabited since the (ceramic) Neolithic (New Stone age, 6000-3500 BC) - or perhaps even longer.  According to legend, the goddess Aphrodite arose from the sea here, and remains were found of a Mycenaean altar to Aphrodite dating from the 12th century BC.  Considering that Paphos was the centre of the cult of Aphrodite, I expected to see little figures of Aphrodite in all of the souvenir shops. But no; perhaps the Greek Orthodox church takes a dim view of her. The little figurines I saw for sale were (rather pricey!) copies of the Idol of Pomos.  This is a Chalcolithic (Copper and stone age, 3900-2500 BC) female figure, with arms outstretched in the shape of a cross, and with a copy of herself worn as an amulet around her neck.  She is thought to be a fertility goddess, but figures were also placed in graves to protect the dead.  Although we shall never know what they called her (she predates the earliest Mycenaean writings) it is clear that the goddess was worshipped here for millennia. Fertility, protection, love, beauty and abundance; in an early farming society, what more do you need? Worship of the goddess waned with the rise of Christianity, but looking at the beauty and abundance of this region of Cyprus, all the signs are that she is still here.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


Some people seem to embody elements of nature and my friend J is one of them.  It took me a little while to put my finger on it, but now I am sure.  With her blond hair and smile, she is Sunshine.
J came to belly dance classes and was one of the rare people who don't need to be reminded to smile.  With good posture and presentation and a smile that says you are dancing for the love of it, people will see the smile and miss that you are (for example) temporarily on the wrong foot.  She stopped coming for a while due to a medical problem, which I think reminded her that life is short.  Problem sorted out, she and her husband G retired to Cyprus, where they already had friends and family, settled in ... and offered me the opportunity for my first proper holiday in over 5 years. And 50 years after leaving it, (if you don't count a short refueling stop-over) I returned to the land of my birth.
The promise of a holiday gave me some much needed focus, and after a flurry of knocking jobs off my To Do list, I zoomed off down the M4 to Cardiff Airport and my flight to Paphos.  It was a nice sunny day when I left - 21°C - but even warmer at night when we landed at Paphos, a balmy 27°. The luggage took an age to come through, then I found J outside, both wondering where I was (my phone was still off!) and trying to get hold of G who had gone somewhere with the car.
We went down to a bar in Coral Bay for a drink and to watch some dancers who changed from jumping, high-kicking cowgirls into Samba showgirls, with smiles bigger than their blingy bikinis. So fit, to be dancing so energetically in that heat - no wonder they weren't wearing much!
So began my holiday, tension draining away as I sipped ouzo and lemonade, and laughed and was entertained.
Late afternoon sun
Such an inviting pool!
The following morning, I put on my swimsuit and ventured into the pool.  With the water at 27°, it was warm enough not to trigger my cold-induced urticaria.  A hazy blue sky promising temperatures in the mid 30s by midday. It was luxurious, idyllic and a very pleasant physical shock to be somewhere so bright and warm. My photos look like shots for a holiday brochure. Just looking at them makes me want to go back.

I'd forgotten my unintentional habit of coming down with a cold almost every holiday.  It's as if my body decides I've got time to have a cold once I stop and relax. On the Sunday, I had a head full of cotton wool and eyes which wouldn't stay open. So, feeling feeble, I spent much of the day sleeping and reading by the pool, in the company of next door's cat, who seems to have adopted J and her villa as a preferred home. He often slept in the shade of the chairs and loungers around the pool, or sprawled in the shade of the olive trees and chased the occasional lizard. I missed my own cats terribly, but was warned he had a tendency to reward unsolicited stroking with a meaningful bite, so I left him pretty much to his own devices (but talked to him, of course, in English, Welsh and an odd word of Greek).  More than once, I woke after dozing on a sun lounger to find him snuggled against my legs. Apparently, after I'd left, the cat went around looking for me and then went off in a sulk for a day.
I swam every day, twice on most days.  It was just glorious to glide up and down in the warm water, with dragonflies skimming the pool. I trod water, twirled around, did ballet and belly dance exercises. By the end of the week I could definitely feel the benefits.  I'd forgotten how the rhythm of swimming in a pool helps me to get my thoughts in order.  I vowed I would swim more when I got back to Wales, although unfortunately, both of my closest public swimming pools are a 24 mile round trip, and the times for public swimming aren't really convenient for me.

I managed to get away with not getting very burnt (the spray-on factor 50 worked well) and not getting very bitten.  I did use an insect repellent, but usually I get bitten anyway.  However, J is an even bigger magnet for everything which bites than I am, and it was strange to stand next to someone who attracts the mozzies more than I do!

J and G took me out to do a few touristy things, including trips out to bars at night.  Even at the end of the season, there was still plenty on. We went to see a George Michael tribute act, an open mic night, and I even went to a pub quiz and enjoyed it! The highlight was seeing Ms Debonair at Charlie's Bar in Paphos, a drag act who lipsynched and mimicked some of the artists and their songs and sang some others.  It was all very entertaining and great fun except for the repeated link music between the numerous acts.  That pre-recorded driving beat and spoken build-up introduction quickly became very tedious, but probably acted as a timed cue because there must have been some very quick changing going on behind the scenes. After all the pouting and posing, (Warning, Spoiler Alert!) the finale was the wonderful Charles Aznevour song 'What Makes a Man a Man?', whilst taking off the wig and make up, changing the dress for trousers and transforming back from drag queen to man.

I stayed in a couple of nights, and let J and G do their own thing, as I was finding so much socialising and night life quite overwhelming.  And I really don't like football or anything too loud. One night was a karaoke down in Coral Bay, and from the villa a couple of kilometres away I could hear that the last song was The Green, Green Grass of Home.  Possibly people right at the top of Peyia village and as far as Chlorakas could hear it too.

At home, the grass would indeed be green, unlike the parched late-summer land in Cyprus. Suddenly, my week was over and it was time to go, with last minute souvenirs, a few pictures and a lingering memory of the warm brightness and smell of the sea and dry phrygana scrub.
Big thanks to J and her husband G, who fed me, entertained me, and generally looked after me and provided me with an opportunity to relax completely.