Friday, 26 September 2014

I love Apple ... most of the time, I think.

Since the debacle of Apple's new IOS operating system, and the even more frantic efforts to patch the damage, I have not really been using my iPad for anything other than a bit of web surfing and, of course, Candy Crush. Thank heavens this morning IOS 8.0.2 was released and all is back to normal. As my friends know I have been an Apple user since 1989 but this last few days has sorely tested my patience. Onwards and upwards.

The most recent chapter of my book deals with snakes, bugs, insects and the like. How to identify them, what to beware of and what to do if you are bitten or bothered by them. I am waiting on my friend Dave to lend me his book on Cyprus snakes by the aptly named "Snake George", as it is the definitive guide to snakes here. I have lost count of the number of people who, having had a close encounter with a snake, cannot understand why the standard response is "What colour was it?"

Spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, sand fleas, and other "creepy-crawlies" are identified, with photographs, and advice given on living alongside them. It all sounds horrifying at first glance. But in our two years here we have seen two black whip snakes (great to have around as they like to eat the young blunt-nosed vipers), no cockroaches (except in a restaurant we have never returned to), no scorpions and - until recently - have not been bothered with sand fleas. We have had close encounters in our house with a couple of tarantula spiders but they seemed more frightened of us than we were of them. In any event Biokill was the answer.

Ants are everywhere in Cyprus and, after spending time in Cambodia in the 1970s, they are not my favourite creatures. Small ants occasionally invade the kitchen when we have left food out, and larger, black ants seem to invade the garden after dusk. Spraying once a month with Biokill (window sills, door sills and any other access points) keeps all "creepy-crawlies" at bay, as can be seen by the dead bodies you find where you have sprayed. And, best of all, Biokill is pet-friendly. And, if you find the nest, the white powder sold by the Farmers' Co-operative will eradicate the problem on a more permanent basis.

In fact, the fear many people have in their minds - especially those from more temperate climates, where only wasps at the picnic table are a nuisance - can be alleviated by living here and seeing that most of the creatures we dislike will do almost anything to avoid us.

A bad moment, as I lost today's blog post, when there was a brief power cut in Polis (as a result of the electricity authority needing to switch off the power briefly because of the fire in the dry river bed the other day) and the wifi at Miki's failed. But, IOS 8.0.2 did not fail me and when power was resumed my post miraculously returned. As Charles C. Clarke wrote "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Coming or going?

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that either people are leaving Cyprus in droves or people are moving to Cyprus in droves. What seems apparent is that Cyprus is not for everybody (thank goodness as this island would be very full) and that people leave to return "home" for many reasons. Missing children and grandchildren, advanced healthcare requirements and the death of their partner are all reasons I have seen given.

Reasons to move to Cyprus seem much more complex, and go far beyond wanting to retire to the sun. However I see posts on all of the expat forums which suggest that some, younger people view a move to Cyprus as an escape ... from what, I am not sure. Simple research will show that jobs are incredibly hard to come by, unless people possess a skill in short supply here. A command of spoken and written Greek is often essential, and more and more advertisements seem to be looking for Russian language skills as well. I have lost count of the number of people who enquire about employment and their tag line seems to be that "they can turn their hand to anything." Unfortunately there are only a limited number of opportunities for pool cleaners, odd-job men, "builders" and the like.

What is apparent is that for those not retired and in receipt of a UK State Pension (and thus access to healthcare here), and probably other index-linked pension income, it is very difficult to come over and prosper. The only recent arrivals who seem to be able to buck this trend are those that use the Internet and can therefore work from any country. One of our friends recently said that he would prefer to be poor in Cyprus than poor, wet and cold in the UK. Wall to wall sunshine (a myth) is attractive to many but does not pay the bills and put food on the table. And those who have school-age children have all sorts of other costs if they want an English curriculum education. Many people with young children plan to put them in Cypriot schools, believing that their children will become multi-lingual (and this will probably be true) but don't factor in the necessity they, the parents, having to be competent in reading, writing and speaking Greek in order to support their children at school. A conundrum if ever there was one.

My ebook will address many, if not all, of these intangibles and - I hope - ease the path of those who do move here, and also give a realistic picture of life here who might only just be considering moving. Get it right and life can be paradise, but get it wrong and you might be making a very expensive mistake. Availability will, all other things being equal, be this side of Christmas. What a present for someone ...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Those summer nights

September is almost gone and the most beautiful time of the year in Cyprus is upon us, in my opinion. Warm, sunny days and lovely cool(er) nights - no Aircon on in the bedroom and recently no fan either. Sheet bliss ...

Even more exciting was the fact that we had about fifteen minutes of proper rain yesterday, and what a difference to our pot plants. For all the love and care and water lavished on them by Ann, proper water from the heavens made them sit up and bloom. Jim, our friend from Prodromi (who was born with green fingers, I suspect), gave us a lovely plant which has grown well and comes up with gorgeous purple flowers in the morning. The flowers last a day, and you hope for more to grow overnight. Ann took a cutting in true Cypriot fashion, which is to cut a bit off, pop it into a pot full of compost and water it. Within a few weeks it is established and producing its own flowers. 

Interesting information about tenancy agreements in Cyprus and registering for tax, which will have to be included in my book. It appears that tenants should get their tenancy agreements stamped withing forty-eight hours of the agreement coming into force. This makes the document "legal" and also is obligatory when tenants go to register for tax here. Owners show their title deeds or their contract of sale. If the tenant does not have the appropriate stamp on their agreement (a cost of €2,00 from the Post Office) when they register for tax, then they are fined and charged a percentage of the rent they have paid since the agreement came into force.

This is a recent change in Cyprus, as far as I can tell, and is a way of the government making sure that the landlords pay tax on the rent they are receiving. If your landlord is paying tax, or intends to, then there will be no problem. But, for those in the black economy, this might be problematic. As all foreign residents need to register for tax after 183 days in Cyprus, then it might be a good idea to discuss this with any prospective landlord. I discussed this with a knowledgeable estate agent in Polis, and he had heard something about it but did not yet know the details. Hopefully by the publication of my book, all the details will be to hand.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

It'll be alright on the night ...

It's been a frantic few days, with our friends David and Letitia looking for houses to rent, meeting for drinks, having a BBQ (arrival at 15.30 and heading to bed about 01.30 the next day) and sundry other social events.

The great news is that they have found a lovely property a few kilometres from us, on the outskirts of Polis. When we went round to see the house, I could understand that it had the "Wow" factor. David has negotiated with the landlord (who happens to be a cousin of our friend Androniki) to fit gas central heating, and that will ensure they are snug and warm come the winter months. All in all it has been a great few days, and we have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the adventure.

After the BBQ on Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning, we woke up a little jaded. The good news was that we were due at friends in Pomos for a late lunch. A fabulous meal, Indian style, from Jill. The only downside of the evening was that I woke up the next day to find my feet, ankles and lower legs covered with bites - and my goodness were they itchy. The usual "bite serum" had no effect, and neither did the various other creams we keep for these frankly rare events. Eventually, before I was reduced to scratching through to the bone, I searched on the Internet and found a really interesting site in the USA, which suggested that the way to relieve the itching was to use ... a hair dryer.

With scepticism to the forefront I tried it, and found it worked. The bites were still angry and red, but the itching was gone. A few hours later I treated the areas again and managed a good night's sleep. The bites are still there today but are now manageable. When I write the chapter on all the bugs and beasties in Cyprus, some remedies like this will be quite fun.

Time to shower and change as we are due in Polis at four o'clock for drinks and a bite to eat with David and Letitia, as they fly back to Belfast tomorrow. Then the clock starts ticking until they use their one-way tickets to return here.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Hunting for that dream rental property ...

We've been busy helping friends to find their dream rental property in the Polis area, and it is interesting to see how the market has changed in the last couple of years since we arrived. There appear to be fewer properties on the estate agents' books, and - of course - when you deal with an estate agent who is on commission from the property owner, there is not much room for negotiation on price. The agent normally takes the deposit on the property (almost always a month's rent) as their commission, and obviously the more the property is rented for, the larger the commission.

They have seen properties with the help of estate agents and also properties that local Cypriots have known about. They have even seen properties where a "For Rent" sign has been placed on the wall of the house in question. Some owners are prepared to do a deal, some doggedly refuse to lower the price (with the result that the property remains empty) and others may or may not do a deal, depending on the way the wind blows.

What is also becoming apparent, at least in this area, is that many of the properties are only available fully furnished, which will not suit people with a container of their own furniture en route from the UK. Some owners will let partly furnished, and some will remove the furniture and put it in storage. What is without doubt is the fact there are many properties available for rent, and it is just a matter of finding them. Private advertisements on the various expat forums sometimes bring positive results, and Angloinfo can be a particularly good source of properties.

Of course, when you see a house that ticks all the boxes, there is a temptation to just offer the asking price. Head v. Heart comes into play here. Have you made a second or third visit (late at night, early in the morning or on a weekend) to check on barking dogs, neighbours who party 24/7 or to find out whether the local quad/motor bikes enjoy racing past the house at all sorts of times? What is your gut feeling about your prospective landlord? Is he or she likely to allow you your privacy? And will they sort out minor repairs when problems crop up? It may be their house but it is going to be your home.

All in all a tricky business and there is always going to be an element of luck in it. What we all hope and pray is that it is good luck and not bad luck. The property section in my guide (both buying and renting) I hope will help you on your way.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Form S1 - Medical Care

A lot of discussion on the various forums regarding the decision of the UK government to stop issuing the S1 Form to people relocating abroad in the EU. This gave UK citizens in Cyprus up to two years of health cover in the Cyprus system, paid for by the UK. This has now been stopped.

Considerable concern and opinion being voiced, but I should point out that if you are in receipt of a UK State Pension you and your spouse are unaffected and will continue to be so. It is only those not in receipt of the State Pension who are affected. This will, in effect, mean that private health insurance will theoretically be necessary from Day 1, although your EHIC will cover you for emergencies. Just as well my guide is not in paper form. I can just imagine having the first print run pulped, and starting again.

Writing going well and the recent drop in temperatures will make life easier.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Aircon solved ...

Got my aircon sorted out on the car today. I went round in circles yesterday and ended up at the official Suzuki dealer. They advised me their service was very expensive and I should visit Nικος who sorts out all their aircon. He rang him and gave us his business card to introduce us as well. To find Nικος, you drive from the new Lidl on Mesogi down to the Time Out kiosk, turn right and take the first left after Zorbas. Take the first left and Nικος is at the end of the road.

Telephone: 26 938416
Mobile: 99 620082

Diagnosing problem, making a replacement aluminium pipe and regassing.

Time: 2 hours
Cost: €60

Brilliant ...

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Aircon Saga ...

Drove down to Paphos this morning to try and sort out the car's aircon. The first place we went to (recommended by a friend) did not understand what we wanted and then directed us elsewhere. The second place couldn't help and we then went to a well-known aircon centre. They wanted €100-150 to investigate the problem ... I don't think so.

We then had a brainwave (sort of) and went to the Suzuki dealership. He advised us not to use them (as they are horrendously expensive) but to go to an aircon specialist they use. He rang the guy and then gave us directions on how to get there. In passing, he commented that the place wanting €100-150 was run by a "knobhead" and was the only place in Paphos which used the illegal aircon gas, outlawed some years ago.

Turning up at his recommended place, which was clean (unlike the others), busy and welcoming, we showed the owner the business card from the Suzuki dealer. We brought the car onto the forecourt and his apprentice looked at it. He said it just needed gassing, but we told him there was a leak. Out came the special goggles, and the magic torch (just like watching C.S.I. on tv) and ... there's the leak. Consultation with the boss. Don't weld the hole, but have the pipe replaced as if there is one leak there may be another in six months' time. They would make a pipe, fit it and regas the car. It would take two hours. Price ... €70.

Tomorrow morning at nine o'clock. With luck, job done.