The Cat and the Bear

The Cat and the Bear
Charlie and his bear pal!

Ex-Pat to Re-Pat

Welcome to my countdown to repatriation!

After living in Athens, Greece for the lion's share of two decades I am on my way back to settle again in the land of my birth, Wales. I have a cat so that makes things a bit more complicated. Those of you in the same boat will know that you need a pet passport to take a pet into the UK, and that procedure takes at least 7 months. So, I decided to get the major removal upheaval over with and left Athens in January to winter on the island of Corfu. This is where my Greek odyssey began so I am very happy to have this chance to 'close the circle'.

So far I have focused on enjoying Corfu but the days are flying by and my mind is turning more and more towards Wales. This is starting to bring up issues and concerns about living in a new country. Yes, despite the fact that I was born in Wales and have visited regularly, after all this time of living away, it will be rather 'foreign' to me. I suppose that fellow ex-pats will appreciate more than anyone else what I am talking about. I would be very happy to hear from you!!

Thanks everyone for your encouragement so far in this adventure!
Love and light!

Monday, 5 December 2011

From Corfu to Wales! Quarantine Done!

It has been some time since I last posted. And in many ways the repatriation of my cat Charlie and myself from Corfu to Wales seems a distant memory. The event was though, rather traumatic, for a number of reasons.

First, Charlie has begun to be terrified at every journey now. I found this out the day before the flight when I had to take him for his last visit to the vet. Only 5 minutes into the 15 minute journey he began being sick, and not only. The next day on the way to the airport, the same thing happened. Ooh, er. Not pleasant for anyone concerned  - beginning with Charlie himself.

When we arrived at the airport the airline knew nothing of Charlie’s booking. I had nothing in writing as the payment was made over the phone by card. I had arrived about 3 hours ahead of our flight. We had to wait on tenterhooks until the flight was closing and only then was Charlie’s ticket confirmed. Wonderful, not! And neither was dragging him out of his cage in the middle of the airport while the staff took his cage away to x-ray it for security a picnic either. Thanks so much to the lady from Bristol who was travelling on the next flight who watched over Charlie while I battled over the missing paperwork with airline staff.

Anyway, board the plane we did! The Thomson staff were lovely and checked on Charlie for me. “He’s fine and he’s got his water,” they told me. But I couldn’t relax because I had never noticed just how noisy a plane is until that one took off and I knew my little scared puss was in the hold below me. The engines positively roared! In actuality they were no noisier than on other planes it was just that this time the decibels mattered. I only hoped that when we were airborne he would get bored with being scared and nothing happening and just settle down. There was apparently another cat in the hold with him, so that was a bonus. 

We landed. I got my bags – lots of them which had cost me a fortune in excess baggage! Then we began the next fraught stage – the dreaded document check.

I had sent scanned copies of all the paperwork to Devra in the UK. And they had said that they seemed to be in order. But no one commits themselves to say for definite that they are. And I worried about the chip in Charlie’s neck, would the reader be able to scan it okay, and so on. If anything whatsoever is not in perfect order your pet may be taken away and put into quarantine. And this time in a cage, for who knows how long until you can sort things out. Think – time, money, worry and you are on the right track. (People who travel with their pets for fun must have very strong nervous systems!)

So, what happens is – the authorities go to the plane and collect your pet from the hold. They then take them away – in this case about a mile away from the airport at Bristol. There they check the animal over to make sure it is healthy. And, in Charlie’s case, they were kind enough to clean him up too. Boy, he really needed it! Then they thoroughly check all the documentation, including the pet passport, which has to be attached to the animal’s cage in a plastic wallet. If all goes well you are then free to pick your pet up and take it home.

We had landed at ten o’clock at night. It was dark and pouring down with rain. The airport was confusing and it took some time for my brother, who was meeting us, to find me and my luggage. It was also a bit of a hassle subsequently trying to find Charlie’s whereabouts. But find him we did. And collect him without problems in documents or anything else, we did!

Our mission was accomplished!!! Amen and alleluhia!!

All we had to do was drive home and get on with the rest of our lives…

P.S. If you want to bring your pet from abroad and want any help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Pet Passports, Wellies, and Sunsets - 40 days and counting!

The time is flying by and I am not doing as much posting as I thought I would because there is a general Internet connection problem on the island. Ah well. It is but a small frustration in the grand scheme of things.

The weather is improving though the breeze is still a bit chilly and the evenings are too. Having said that one brave woman was sunbathing in a swimming costume on the beach today. I, on the other hand, was dressed quite warmly complete with hat and gloves and paddling in my wellies. I didn’t envy her!    

Many of you are asking about the Pet Passport thing - how it works and so on – and I thought I’d tell you the details for those wanting to take pets into Great Britain from Europe. (I understand that from other countries there may be different rules so bear that in mind.). It wasn’t that long ago when to take a pet into the country it had to spend its first six months in quarantine. In that case the poor animal was holed up alone in a cage. This cost the owner thousands of pounds, and, too often led to the pet dying of a broken heart. I mean, you just can’t explain to an animal that they are in there because you love them and want them to continue being part of your life, can you?

I remember watching a programme on this topic in the mid-nineties. As I was already living abroad with two cats it was a sobering portent of what I would have to face if I decided to return to the UK to live. Some pet owners interviewed had chosen to remain outside the country until their animals passed away naturally.

Fortunately, all this changed just over a decade ago with the introduction of the Pet Passport Scheme. I was so happy about it that I immediately wrote it up in an article for the Athens News. I have heard a few bad stories over the years, of, say, cats going missing from their cages at airports, and so on. Bearing that in mind, and not being able to buy a cage on Corfu sufficiently secure for air travel I ordered one (that satisfies all the regulations) from the UK. It is a Vari Kennel which you can Google to find a supplier.

Anyway, the procedure to get a pet passport goes like this:

You go along to a vet who can supply one. (Sell you one I should say, it cost me 100 Euros.)

1) The vet starts by putting a chip into your pet’s neck. It’s about the size of a grain of rice and is inserted by injection. Its barcode is recorded onto the pet passport along with details of your pet – name, age, breed and so on.

2) The same day (in Charlie’s case) your animal is vaccinated against rabies. This is documented on the pet passport.

3) 30 days later your animal has a blood test to ensure there are sufficient antibodies present. This test is very unpleasant for the animal as the blood is taken from a vein in their neck.

In due course (in Charlie’s case after five weeks), the blood test results come back from the lab. If there are enough antibodies this is noted on the pet passport and a *six months waiting period begins – counting from the date of the blood test. Fortunately, Charlie’s results were good. I breathed a sigh of relief because…if there are not enough antibodies the animal needs another anti-rabies vaccination and the procedure of waiting and testing and waiting begins again. 

*In our case I decided to come to Corfu for this waiting period – hence this blog!

This bit was copied from Defra the government site:
Please note that steps 2 and 3 above must be carried out in a PETS listed country (Greece is PETS listed) and that your pet must remain within PETS listed countries.  Entry into an unlisted country would mean your pet could no longer be deemed UK PETS compliant and all PETS preparations (with the exception of the microchip) would have to be started again, whilst in a listed country.

Further to this, pets must be treated against ticks and tapeworm not less than 24 hours and not more than 48 hours before checking in with a PETS authorised carrier (on a PETS approved route), for the journey that brings the pet into the UK.

For further information on how to prepare your pet for export to the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), including documentary requirements and approved routes and carriers, please see the link below:

Please feel free to contact me if you want more info or if you want to pass on any advice on this whole procedure.

While I have been writing this there has been a gorgeous sunset over the sea which I have been peeking at from time to time. I am off now to enjoy the afterglow. Hope you are having a great weekend!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sun with teeth, Jamie Oliver and Martians - 58 days and counting!

After storms and high winds the sunshine is back – but it is “sun with teeth” as the Greeks put it; and they are right, it really is biting cold. But I did get my walk on the beach today and yesterday and, wrapped up well with a hat pulled right down over my ears, it was great.

As I walked I thought about how I can expect lots of this cold, windy weather in Wales. I remember almost crying with the pain in my ears from that very thing on many an occasion. I have with me the ear muffs I grabbed when they came into fashion one year and have never let out of my possession. I wore them once in January here but not since. It also brought up memories of iced up car door locks and windows. I remember bringing a can of de-icer to Athens. I never used it and finally threw it away. And oh, what about the joys of shovelling snow? Another winter treat to look forward to! Moving on…

I have been watching more television here than in Athens. I am following a cooking series featuring UK chef Jamie Oliver. I had heard his name but knew nothing about him. Now I know why some friends in the UK like him. I do too. His cooking is homely using lots of organic veggies from his garden. It is inspiring me and making me look forward to having a garden again. In Athens I had two balconies which I lined with plants in pots. Some grew quite tall. I miss them… Anyway, as I said, I like Jamie Oliver’s recipes and attitude. And when he uses dead flesh – I am a vegetarian and that’s what it is to me, I just watch something else until he gets back to, say, the dessert to follow that main course. (Just lurve desserts!)

So, now I have filled in the blanks below the name: Jamie Oliver. But! This is just one person and there are, well, hundreds at least that I know nothing about; not even their names. For instance, when it comes to music, someone in the UK will say things like, “Oh, I really like the new Moby CD,” and I’ve had to reply, “Moby? Don’t know them.” It was my brother who alerted me to this band years ago and I have since heard them, and I did know their music but just didn’t know their name. This is because on the radio in Athens, they usually don’t say who the artist is when they play the track. So, I know the music but not the name. So… mega gap in my knowledge which has already had people looking at me as if I’m a Martian. I can look forward to many more weird looks I’m sure…

I hope all is well in your world and that no one is giving you weird looks!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Syntax, Almond Blossom and Retreats in Wales – 70 Days and Counting!”

After more than a week I am finally able to write to you again. Without banging on I will tell you that I miss Hyena on my daily walk. And also to report that Charlie was subdued the whole time I was. Those of you with pets may have noticed that they reflect our moods back to us.

It has been very stormy on the island and on my walk yesterday – not on the beach as it was still awash with waves – I found that many of the spring flowers have been beaten down – daisies, buttercups and so on and most especially those gorgeous lilac sea orchids. But, during this natural hammering almond blossom has been defying the pelting rain and is looking fantastic.

It puts me in mind of Athens where an almond tree reached right into my front balcony. A few years ago after bringing in a few sprigs of it I got so inspired that I got a sketch pad and drew it. Then, got out my watercolours and painted it. I have not done this in years. I couldn’t’ resist scanning the painting which I will upload and share with you. It is very basic but gave me so much pleasure to create. I recommend sketching and painting as it is very therapeutic. You can read an article called “Let Daubing Put Colour Back Into Your Life!” on the Journalism page of my website if you need a little motivation.

Being on Corfu is a bit isolating but I do keep up with the news on the web – when I can get on line; that’s a bit hit-and-miss for me. When I was reading a report of the uprisings in the Middle East I realized that when I was trying to pronounce the word “protesters” I could not remember which syllable to put the emphasis on – the first or the second. It reminded me that I have this problem a lot!

Living abroad and speaking a foreign language I automatically follow the rules of the Greek language. Plus, it seems that the majority of Greeks in Athens speak English with an American accent (I have noticed that in ads for English lessons at home Americans are favoured (favored, ha, ha) – perhaps this is because so many of their relatives live in the States. This is ironic because generally, Greeks don’t have a high opinion of Americans as the quite frequent protestor attacks on the US embassy in Athens reveal. But they will explain that it is the US governments that they don’t like and not the citizens.) Anyway, between US English and Greek I am confused about my own language now. I hope that this problem will clear up when I am back in Britain.

Those of you that have lived abroad for some years will know exactly what I am talking about. When you visit – or even speak to friends in English here – do you find yourself stalling in your sentences too often for comfort saying “Ooh, sorry, I’m forgetting my English, can’t think of the word I want!”? Well, join the club. It’s very embarrassing isn’t it. As I do public speaking, radio shows, present workshops and so on it is something that is uppermost in my mind before each one.  Fortunately, I find that the adrenaline rush I get sharpens up my brain and helps me over this.

A friend (and former colleague) of mine from the Athens News, Kathryn Lukey-Coutsocostas, has a fortnightly column there that deals with issues like this. According to the particular column 'Are words failing you?', there is even an academically recognised name for this forgetfulness: first-language attrition. It is therefore a phenomenon which affects most people living abroad. So, don’t feel bad, you’re not losing it! I just hope that when I get home my brain will quickly take this block away and flood out English again.

Talking of flooding out – I finally had a big push on the content for a series of retreats in Wales, based on my book 9 Days to Heaven - which perfectly lends itself to this. Last night in the space of about two hours I came up with the outline of the whole 9 days (which I will present, probably as a series of one day a week for 9 weeks). I was so relieved. I have been berating myself because I was not working enough. But I don’t know why I give myself the hard time because I know that the creative process works like this. And I plan to hold a retreat specifically to help people (including other writers) to tap into this creativity through being still.

I hope that you find some time to be still this weekend…!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Rest in Peace Darling Hyena

“It’s only a dog,” protested Hyena’s callous killer when her owner caught up with the hit-and-run driver. She had not even been on the road but on the grass verge when she was struck - so make of that what you will folks. All I know is that she has left a lot of people – from the family that adopted her, to the many friends that she adopted, me included - feeling bereft.

She was hit at around noon and lasted about three hours. She was a sturdy dog weighing around 60 kilos and the vet thought there was hope. But it seems that her heart gave out. In the end she died peacefully in the back seat of the family car on the way home from the vet’s with her head on her master’s knee. (She was the beloved pet of Nula’s family whose apartment I am staying in.)

I had felt unsettled for hours but didn’t know why. I was going for a drive to do some errands and took a little snack out with me for Hyena. I looked around for her and when I didn’t see her I left it in the usual spot. Little did I know that at that time she had been dead for about five minutes. As I was coming back to my car the family arrived back and I learnt of Hyena’s sad fate. The sun continued to shine but I didn’t care. A while later when I went to say goodbye to her she was lying all cosy looking on a blanket as if she was asleep.

I have to stop now because I am crying. But I wanted to post this for her today because she was such a loving dog that she really deserves this small memorial.

RIP Hyena you touched my heart and I will always remember you…

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hyena and Spring Flowers - 83 Days and Counting!

Today is once again warm and sunny and even warmer than yesterday because there is hardly any wind. This means that the sea – only yards from me – is calm and merely murmuring.

Charlie has been sunbathing on the balcony for a couple of hours – first on the table (naughty boy!) then on the chair facing the sea; my chair, but I’ve been busy with domestic stuff. I came onto the balcony to hang a little washing on my clothes horse (remember those?!) and as I walked past Charlie he languidly stretched out and hooked my trousers with one claw. This, of course, stopped me in my tracks. 
“What?” I asked him.
“Meow, meow, meow, meow,” he whined. (Cat language for, “Why aren’t you out here keeping me company” I presumed.)
“Okay, I’ll come and join you,” I assured him and he retracted his claw. It was time for breakfast anyway.

In a short time I was back bearing a tray of freshly brewed coffee, a warm croissant set on a plate along with a blob of cherry jam and knob of (real) butter.  I savoured all along with my gorgeous sea view.

Today the sea is a ruffle of pale petrol blue edged in white lace as it rustles on beige sand. The beach is inviting but I plan to walk there later in the day. For now I have more pressing things to do such as go and pick spring flowers for my little dining room table. Oh, and phone a couple of friends in Athens from the phone box down the road using the new card I bought yesterday. (It costs a fortune phoning from my mobile and I hope to enjoy a nice long chat instead of a garbled “hey how are you, yes I’m fine, bye” few minutes.

As I stepped into the sunshine my doggy friend Hyena (the woman who adopted her thought that’s what she looked like and the name has stuck) was waiting for me. She has been accompanying me on my walks for about 3 weeks now and it’s nice! So, she came with me to the telephone where I wasted about fifteen minutes trying in vain to get through to anyone. Part of the problem is that the number 3 key is faulty and you have to keep pressing and pressing it until it works and all my phone numbers contained a 3.

I gave up in the end.

As I started walking back home alone - I thought Hyena had left me; didn’t blame her – she came bounding out of a courtyard and we resumed our little walk. On the way I picked some delicate lilac flowers and some small orange daisy-like ones and some white daisies too. Fortunately it’s not necessary to know what flowers are called to enjoy them and they made a cheerful posy.

Yes, it is a day when a smile is on my lips the whole time. And the perfect day for thinking about projects…

Friday, 11 February 2011

Teresa and Charlie in Quarantine - 84 days and counting!

Hello from the beautiful green Greek island of Corfu where my cat Charlie and I are spending the winter while he completes his quarantine and I complete a number of projects.

Perhaps you know that it is not permitted to take pets into the UK from various other countries without them having a pet passport. This takes time and certain actions which take about seven months to complete. I am happy to say that Charlie is well along the way.

I have no complaints about the pet passport procedures. I'm just happy that it is possible to take him to the UK. It was not that long ago, when, to get your pet in, they had to stay caged up for 6 months.  Now that really was quarantine. This way, he’s doing his ‘time’ outside the country.  Just as soon as I work out how to do it I will upload a photo of Charlie so you can see how handsome he is.

Today has been warm and sunny. I went for a drive to enjoy the day and do some exploring. And, more importantly, to seek out some fresh supplies of food for Charlie. The local supermarket has a few of his favourites but not nearly enough of a variety to keep him happy for the next 84 days! Fortunately, I anticipated this and brought a stack of food with me, but I need to add to it soon.

The drive was lovely. Twisty turning roads through brooding olive groves dappled with sunbeams, and stuff like that - but more of that later. And, at my destination, Acharavi, I found not one, not two, but three pet shops! Unfortunately, not a one was open (closed for lunch – do you remember that?) but no matter. Now I know they are there I am optimistic that Charlie will be kept happy. I also popped into the resort of Roda but, apart from a few caf├ęs and tavernas that was also closed. But I had a little drive down to the sea and quickly drove away from it again. I did think to stop for a coffee and a leg stretch. But decided to drive back home to my own resort of San Stefanos (Avliotes – there are two resorts by the same name so mine is linked with the nearby village to identify it) and go for a walk on the beach instead.

It was while I was walking on the beach thinking about my projects and plans that I made the decision to set up this blog because: on one hand the time is flying by, but on the other it is not. And even as I write that I’m not quite sure what I mean either. Hmm. Well, I have been here for about 6 weeks and I don’t feel that I have achieved very much. So, that’s time flying by. But, 84 days remaining seems a heck of a long time to go and sometimes I wish I could just click my fingers and we could leave. But no. And in any case, I am not ready to leave yet, even if I could, because I have a stack of work to do.  So…that is my cue to finish this entry and get on with some work. What work is that? All will be revealed…Adio