changing times….

Many years ago I travelled from Paris to Hendaye , a seaside town on the French \ Spanish border. It was only five years after Spain had ceased to be a dictatorship and although the tourist industry had seen the country modernise to an extent through the 1960s and 70s there was still a noticeable difference between these neighbouring countries. As we neared the border, the already crowded train became even busier. Standing in the corridors and sitting on suitcases was the norm. My friends and I were lucky, we had bagged a compartment in Paris and apart from having to share it with some rather too friendly French Army conscripts, it was relative luxury. As well as human travellers on the now crowded and noisy train there was an assortment of livestock, including a few hens and cockerels, alive and in baskets. The odd cock crowing as we pulled in to Hendaye at 6am, added to the mayhem and our relief at getting off after the ten hour journey was enormous.

This journey came to mind yesterday as I made the much shorter bus journey in to the city for an appointment. As usual, it was noisy. Spaniards don’t sit on buses with the spaced out , glum look of those in Northern cities. They talk , loudly and very often, even if in a group, at the same time. A very old lady got on the bus with her son or grandson, but he made a point of sitting some distance away from her. She had her pull along shopping bag positioned safely in front of her. Suddenly a very loud cock crowing broke through the hum of noisy chat. It went on for some time until the son or grandson turned round and shouted at the old lady, in Spanish of course…’ It’s your mobile , answer it for goodness sake.’ This took some time as said mobile was at the bottom of her shopping bag and so the cockerel continued to crow! She eventually found it and answered, very loudly. Normality resumed. It did however leave me wondering if the generation that grew up before the modernisation of Spain , sometimes miss the old days when shopping baskets had live poultry in them and not simply odd ring tones?


Before I begin , I know there are a few people reading my crazy thoughts and I really would love your thoughts in exchange .  Some of what I write must strike a chord even if it is one of ‘ what a lot of guff, she’s off her trolley, the way I see it is ….’  Today’s offering will I hope provoke some responses!

As Christmas approaches my life long struggle with stuff rears its head again.  I’m not sure where to start on this one. I am not a recluse living in a hermitage on top of a hill with nothing but a hair shirt and berries for survival. I am a fully paid up member of the first world , cosy home with all mod cons, two bathrooms – one each !  A long way from using a bush behind my hut! We have a car, two lap tops, a motorbike and I think I have about twenty pairs of shoes .  It doesn’t stop me lusting at the offerings in Rumbo and other beautiful shoe shops, even the shoes in our local market are made in Spain and are gorgeous .  It doesn’t stop me smiling when I look at our new dining room table and 70s style Perspex chairs , OK it’s from a big Danish chain store but the design is stolen from style icons and I love them. All in all, I love stuff but not too much.  And so as I begin to think about presents for the little people in my life ( and little things for the big people – we are all agreed that we don’t need anything other than kind thoughts) I remember all the stuff that has come and gone from mine and my family’s lives and wonder about its significance.

As Walt and I began to downsize in preparation for our move from a four bed detached via a two bed flat in Scotland to a two bed apartment ( with outside space!) in a foreign country we had to be brutal , this was happening shortly after my brothers and I had to sell and clear my parents’ 50 years plus of stuff and Walt and I sorted out and cleared his parents’ home.  Lots of stuff, lots of memories , but no one wanted it!  All those loved items , saved for , polished, cherished were no longer seen that way.  Perhaps 21st century life is geared up to disposable stuff, planned obsolescence?  It was really sad and tough but we couldn’t begin to take it all with us .  I carefully picked out bits of my mum’s favourite China, her mason cash mixing bowl ( when I ever I use it I know her hands have touched it too) some pretty cutlery , made in Sheffield , her few pieces of jewellery and her wedding veil, lots of photos , my Dad’s high school and apprenticeship certificates and his  RAF tie! I have Walt’s mum’s wally dugs and some very pretty earrings .  I tried to persuade other family members to do the same but as none of us have enormous homes it just wasn’t practical .  All this then begging the question – does stuff really mean anything ?  Recently we have watched the news of the dreadful wild fires in California and  families whose homes have literally been wiped out.  When interviewed , for the most part , many of these poor people were only concerned for the lives of loved ones and neighbours, grateful to be alive and anxious for those still missing.  One man even said on describing how he had lost all his stuff  ‘ it’s actually quite liberating’.

Which brings me back to Christmas and the not so subtle encouragement to buy stuff, any stuff , as much stuff as you can or can not afford.  I love giving presents to the people I love.  Over the years I truly have put genuine thought in to Christmas presents .  Last year the grown ups in the family received only cards which indicated that their gift was actually being given to some one else via UNICEF!  This year we have agreed on a secret Santa, with a very sensible budget as some of us are pensioners, have student loans or are between jobs.   It doesn’t stop me thinking about stuff for the wee ones however and then I am reminded that they have so much stuff already that storage space is a constant headache.  This reminds me of the silver Porsche Christmas!  When my parents’ business was doing well they took part in and attended packaging exhibitions around Europe.  One was held in London just before Christmas and as my Dad drove everywhere he could, they had their car with them . It was 1989/90 – no congestion charges- this allowed them to plunder Hamleys and bring home a silver pedal car … a Porsche for my then youngest son!  The Porsche was played with over the years by him , his siblings and friends and being from Hamleys, it stayed in good nick!  What happened to the Porsche?   It stayed with us until the accumulation of stuff with four kids going in to their teens meant we had no room, jammed in a shed, its pedals rusted and by the new millennium no one wanted it.  I have attachment issues to stuff relating to my parents and was so sad when it finally met its maker in the local recycling yard!  My son in law’s expression when ever I took ‘ precious child hood stuff ‘ belonging to my daughter round to their new home and Walt’s incredulity that I had lugged these memory boxes through several move , says it all!  Therefore as Christmas approaches what is the point in adding to their stuff?    Like my lovely parents and the Porsche ,  I am only human and a Granny.  Children in Spain are the centre of family life and our shopping malls and city centres still have wonderful independent toy shops and children’s clothes shops…. The temptation is phenomenal.  Then I put my sensible hat on and think that some money in their savings account  for uni or a rainy day!  Like the grown ups in the family, they really don’t need anything and will they cherish stuff much beyond the age tags on their new clothes or toys?  There is one notable exception to this argument , ‘ a baby , a buggy , a Santa Claus’.  This was the request from my daughter Hannah when asked age two what she would like for Christmas. ( Her big sister asked for a washing line that same year- did she know that 32 years later she would have three under fours and a Chinese laundry full of washing?)  I digress, Hannah’s baby and buggy were delivered by Santa ( the buggy was from Poundstretchers- I had a strict budget!) . The baby however was a fisher price doll called Julie who became Hannah’s comfort and 32 years later still graces her marital bedroom!  Julie is not just ‘stuff’ and maybe that’s the point, presents will be bought and wrapped as usual across the globe this Christmas . Some will meet their maker just days or weeks later but some, like Julie will become too precious to part with.  It still doesn’t help me answer my own question about whether to add to the piles of stuff acquired by big and little ones on Christmas Day.  It doesn’t stop me writing lists or thinking about what I can get for folks.  It doesn’t get me any closer to understanding why I cling to Mum’s old baking bowl while others would simply chuck it in the bin.  Help! What is the deal with stuff? 

some well travelled stuff!

Mum’ Mason Cash bowl!

Comfort zone? What comfort zone?

If any one out there actually owns a long term, unconditional love type of comfort zone and can explain how they came by it, train it and keep can you please get in touch?  In recent years I have stumbled across many self help pundits and quotes encouraging us to get ‘out our comfort zones’ and by doing so we will become better, stronger , happier and more confident human beings.  I’m not totally convinced about this.  My family history has a split personality.  The comfort zone was possibly blown apart quite literally during WW2 when my Dad’s family were split up by evacuation and my Mum’s family by her Dad serving in the RAF.  My Dad eventually landed in Scotland aged nine or ten and where he lived for the rest of his life. Despite being an entrepreneur and slightly eccentric designer, travelling the world with his business and putting our family home up as security on the business , it would have taken dynamite to move him out of said family home. It was his beautiful comfort zone , much of it designed and built by him and Mum.   Dynamite or a certain Bank panicking during the mini recession of the early 1990s and pulling the plug on the business.  My parents lost their home in their early sixties and despite having a very cosy alternative thanks to Dad and Mum’s hard work and determination, they never fully recovered.  They didn’t bounce back as the self help gurus would have you believe and had a very quiet , financially difficult retirement .  My Mum’s way of coping was to work to exhaustion and she did this by looking after my Dad, my brothers, an aging Aunt and her grandchildren and me .  She never thought about herself or if she did, it was over a cup of tea and the People’s Friend after every one else had gone to bed.  My Dad’s was to believe that around the corner was a new business waiting so that ‘ this time next year we’d be millionaires’.  Perhaps because he was an East End boy, the Del Boy in him was indelible!  I meantime wanted nothing more for them than to have a ‘normal’ retirement …holidays, lunches out, friends to go bowling with or sing in a choir .  Perhaps I wanted this because I have always been seeking that elusive comfort zone? ( is it all it’s cracked up to be?)

The photograph above is me aged 22, the day before I started my first teaching job. I was climbing a ‘chimney’ on Buachaille Etive Mor in the Scottish Highlands.  I thought I was going hillwalking and ended up on ropes thinking I was going to die! I am not good with heights !  I was so far out of my comfort zone , there’s no describing it.  I clearly remember the relief of still being alive as I slurped my pint in The King’s House Hotel!  For some reason , similar to what I wanted for my parents, I have always craved a comfort zone or ‘normal’ but then go and actively do stuff that results in the opposite.   This I suspect means that ( be careful what you wish for ?)  a) I am not normal and b) I have a lower boredom threshold than I like to admit to.  As we get older, Walt and I have noticed that we feel physically and mentally better when we are off on an adventure!  The contradiction here is that desire for a comfort zone that seems to bubble up on a regular basis .

I had a wonderful childhood , free range , growing up in the 1960s with the Scottish country side and a safe pretty village as my playground.   My family was large and close , one grand parent living with us, the other along with a gaggle of Aunts, Uncles and cousins only a few miles away.  My Mum was a very strong woman and stood her ground when Grandma who lived with us and our Parish priest tried to persuade her to put me on two buses , aged five in order to attend the Catholic primary school.  My primary years , in the village were wonderful and yet when I passed the qualifier in primary seven instead of staying in the comfort zone of friends and going to High School with them , I let Grandma think she had won in the decision to send me to the Catholic high school on my own .  No friends, no induction, but it was my decision- I was curious and wanted to do something different!   I made life long friends at that High School and kept some very precious one from primary however the first few weeks as a wee smout , with glasses and a strange half English accent were challenging to say the least.  I didn’t even have the right colour of home economics pinny (apron) as  the sewing teacher in primary school didn’t see the need for fabric for a school that no one usually went to.  My decision also impacted on my little brother as two years later, no choice given to him I suspect because I was already there, was sent to same said High school.  He was not happy there and let down badly by the system, I am sorry and perhaps should have let Mum have her way back in 1970?  Perhaps comfort zones are there for a reason?

Throughout those childhood years our family holidays were on the road ,  touring caravans that gradually became plusher and more comfortable than the first ancient wreck that my folks lovingly renovated.  We toured Scotland and England , visiting Dad’s family in London . In my teens, we went abroad, France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.  My friends went to Morecambe and Blackpool and stayed in boarding houses where the loo was just down the corridor not across a field . Or they went to Butlins where the rides on the fun fair were free the whole holiday.  I must admit to a certain amount of jealousy and craving for normal.   Despite this, on gaining freedom to choose my own holidays , what did I do ( and continue to do)?  Road trips and camping in France as a student,  living in a tent while trying to find work in the South of France, camping and caravaning with my own children and then road trips by car and motorbike with Walt!  We have had a couple of ‘normal’ package holidays but even then one of those was an all inclusive in a Stalinesque hotel in Cuba!  We are just back from a road trip to Rome, however as we get older , hotels and B&Bs have replaced our tent!  While in Italy, we celebrated the marriage of my daughter Hannah and her wonderful new husband Richie , staying for three days at the venue in Tuscany.  A stately home and estate called Borgo Stomananno.  Our bedroom had previously been the summer retreat of a queen of Norway .  We had a suite, a 19th century bathroom to die for and our rooms made up discreetly every day while we drank prosecco and partied by the pool.  This was a ‘normal ‘ that we all agreed we could get used to!

At the same time, those blissful three days threw up another conundrum in my relationship with comfort zones and normal.   Family and community .  I have moved about a lot in my life, almost the opposite of my evacuee Dad who commented on more than one of our ‘For Sale’ signs ‘why? This is a lovely home’.  They all were and yet for various reasons I left them.  Initially the reasons were practical, more room for a growing family and laterally I could argue likewise as the family left home, we didn’t need four bedrooms.  However I do wonder if it is also partly to do with this subconscious need to keep blowing my comfort zone out of the water?  I have friends who have been in the same marital and family home since the 1970s , much extended, new kitchens,bathrooms and no sign of the now trendy retro 70s decor!  They are there and waiting for grandchildren to come running through their doors.  Ironically I have three gorgeous grandchildren and have chosen to live over one thousand miles away from them and my own children of course.   Now our plans to move to Spain were put in place before the grandchildren were born, our home in Murcia bought in 2007 and completed in 2010.   At this time two of my children lived in the south of England,  and the two boys were still at home with us.  We were going the move out here when my youngest went to university, me to teach English as a foreign language and Walt to use his Spanish to find a job.  The ‘crisis’ (recession) and elderly parents needing us put paid to that idea.   Besides which , although my job was becoming increasingly stressful, it was also a comfort zone!  My classroom, my routine, the bairns, my colleagues, all created a safe place where I ( a bit like my Mum) could work hard and not think too much.  In 2012 I joined my daughter in a net work marketing business.  It too created a comfort zone oddly enough!  The people I worked with were lovely, kind and trying hard to make good lives for their loved ones.  I was useless at the actual business side! Not my father’s daughter!  By 2016 when sadly we had become orphans, we had also become grandparents!  We were however still skint, juggling two mortgages on wages that in real terms had fallen. Walt was miserable at his work and if one of my loved ones is miserable then so am I .  My previous articles explain all of this and the subsequent , probably biggest jump out of my comfort zone ever , moving to the South of Spain.  Our home here is not on the Costas and not an ex pat enclave. This was a deliberate choice as we felt that if we were moving to a foreign country we wanted to feel as if we were in fact in that country.  Another ‘out of comfort zone’  choice .   No one forced me in to it!

I am a naturally friendly person and have made wonderful new friends here, Spanish, Scottish, English and Russian!   I am teaching a little, writing a little, reading a lot and walking everyday with my amazing husband and crazy dogs! I will see my bairns and grand bairns at the end of this month and again in January  I am incredibly lucky and while some things still feel strange; going to the dentist and having a Spanish lesson thrown in  ; providing our own health care , the reciprocal agreement is a myth; shops being shut in the afternoons and Sundays ; social events starting around my old Scottish bedtime; Brexit ,  it is home and with a bit of patience, love and care is fast becoming my new and forever comfort zone!

As to the benefits of getting out of one’s comfort zone, well maybe I am a bit more resilient, reflective and I certainly don’t feel my age ( most of the time).  Who knows, if we hadn’t put up all those ‘for sale ‘ signs , I might have been miserable  – or not!  What does a comfort zone mean to you?


thirty seven years later….

Not  a very catchy title I’ll admit, if you can think of a better one please suggest it to me!

However, it was 37 years later that I arrived in the French seaside town of Hendaye with Walt and Benny.  In June 1980 I camped in this beautiful little town with friends from college and student life in Glasgow.  I was a fully qualified English teacher with no job due to government cut backs and so I thought I’d give maize picking in the South West corner of France a go…… it didn’t quite work out and I came home with my first ever, but sadly not last, over draft!  Luckily I had my parents’ family business to go home to and a few months of doing VAT before a teaching job opened up.  However I remembered this little town fondly, it is very pretty with a beautiful Victorian sea front.   It gained some infamy in 1940 when Hitler met Franco there to discuss a Nazi/Falange pact but don’t let that put you off!

Walt retired from forty four years of engineering in January 2017 and we decided that he would move out to Spain as soon as possible with our black lab Ben.  That meant a road trip to Portsmouth and ferry to France as we could not get a berth on the Bilboa or Santander crossings.  We set of in the February break ( half term).  Walt had said goodbye to his workmates in the traditional fashion a few weeks earlier.. a few drinks in the pub!  He loaded our old car with his clothes and bike stuff,  not much else, he really isn’t a possessions sort of guy unless you count his motor bike.

I had always had romantic notions of driving through France on quiet, poplar lined roads and stopping here and there for good coffee and baguettes.  It was almost that wonderful.  For the first section of the journey, we did avoid motorways and drove on the tree lined roads of my dreams.  We stopped for coffee and baguettes, problem for Walt as is a tea only man but I didn’t let that spoil the atmosphere.  Eventually we had to take some motorways or we would not have reached Hendaye for days.  France is a deceptively big country.   As darkness fell, the cold, dry winter day gave way to a down pour.   We were using our mobiles as sat navs and just as we approached our destination, they both died.   At this point we were on a cliff top road in total darkness, and it was shear luck that took us in to the town below still clueless as to the where abouts of our hotel.  We are a good travelling team, and managed not to lose the head but being thrown out of the car in the pouring rain to get directions because ‘ you speak French’ did not endear me to my darling husband .   I did and the check out lady at a supermarket was very helpful.  We found our hotel, had a lovely dinner and woke up to sunshine.

After a walk along the beach and photos of the ‘twins’ ,  we drove home to Murcia in one long haul.   It had been a pleasure seeing Hendaye again after so many years.  It hadn’t changed too much,  I will be back!

I flew home to Scotland at the end of that week, leaving my man and my dug…  it was strange feeling but an adventure for both of us.  The next few months I would spend working and meeting friends to say good bye…lots of lovely lunches and much wine.  Walt would walk Benny, improve his Spanish at classes on the coast and paint… the house, he had not been inspired by the journey to become a Picasso. We also had to decide what to do with our Scottish home, sell or let?  On the advice of our estate agent, we decided to sell.  This was it… total immersion in a new country and no bolt hole to fall back on.  Scary and exciting at the same time.

The solo living experiment was interesting – something I had never done in all my 59 years!  I come from a large noisy family, left home at 18 to live in halls of residence and student flats , went home again for a year , got married the first time at 23 and had four children.  Walt has more experience , a seven year ‘cottage ‘ gap between marriage number one and me …besides which he had Ben! Our flat was so tidy and I enjoyed sleeping diagonally in our king sized bed but I missed my boys.  Four weeks in ,  I flew to Malaga as there were no Alicante flights that would tie in with leaving school on Friday and getting back for Monday morning. It was March and perfect sunny spring weather.  Walt rode down on the motorbike , picked me up at the airport and took me to our hotel in Torremolinos.  AKA the ‘Youth Club’.   Two months later Torremolinos would be full of heavy drinking, sunburned Brits but in March it was senior Spaniards, a few mature French folk and us.  These guys loved to party and dance and boy could they dance .  They were an inspiration – having fun and still wearing 4” heels!  The Costas get the reputation for being over commercialised and not ‘real Spain’ but the long walks along an immaculate sea front with not an English breakfast in sight , being the youngsters in our hotel and blue skies and sunshine made my Monday morning alarm much easier to cope with! ‘ y viva España ‘!

Life has been so busy since then, we have just come back from another epic road trip to celebrate the marriage of my daughter Hannah in Italy.  For the first time in over eighteen months, I have a quiet month ahead in which to contemplate what we have done and look back on the ups and downs of our retirement and move.   I exaggerate slightly here because we did have a very quiet May, despite plans to take the motor bike to Morocco.  It was the enforced quiet of that month that lead me to start writing and to think seriously about the choices we baby boomers have been given.   That is a story for another day and a whole set of questions for the wise old owls out there.

Other random stuff or my excuse for posting here.

I began writing on my lap top  about our journey back in May of this year after a rather scary accident. More of that later.  To begin with it was more of a reflection on getting older, retiring abroad and the nagging question in my brain ( I gave every one a huge fright and spent 5 days in hospital) –  what should a grandmother really be doing in her 60s?  There are many words stored on my documents and I will plunder them occasionally.  I am sure I am not alone in feeling a little strange at the end of an era, turning 60 and retiring. I am delighted but it does take adjusting to. More recently I have been recalling the  actual journey from work and home in Scotland to retirement here in Spain .

I have taken the advice of younger friends and jumped in to this Word Press world.   It is good fun.  I have an overwhelming fear of appearing to be ego driven.  In fact this fear is in itself ego driven ,  remember Dickens’ very humble character? Turns out he was the worst type of villain!   However Word Press feels safe as I can enjoy writing, popping things out there and if people have time to read and comment then great.   My chapters/ posts therefore will hover between the story of our adventures so far and thoughts on what we have learned and are still learning and how it feels to live abroad, the order may be a little chaotic but that reflects the way my head and heart tend to work.

I am not alone, some of us retire happily with out a back word glance.  Others struggle with what to do with our  days.  For those with a spouse or partner, being with each other all day and entry day can be a challenge . Some fill those days with so much that they are almost as exhausted as when working but it does keep thoughts at bay.  Some travel the world , some become full time child minders or still have even more elderly parents to look after.   It is a rich and exciting tapestry and I am just beginning to realise that like our younger lives, there is no one right way to be ‘ an oldie’ , senior citizen ( aargh), aging baby boomer or simply a daft old bat – me?

Making the leap….

Our decision to move out to our Spanish home was made in November 2016.  In some ways we had become complacent and almost comfortable with the idea of Calle Jacaranda always being a holiday home.  By that time we had become grandparents and I was teaching four days a week, trying to grow a business and learn Spanish in the evenings and was  spending the fifth day with my daughter and her growing brood.  Suddenly I was beginning to feel my age, it was pretty knackering!  On top of this,  to continue keeping our  two homes would have meant having to work for many more years.  Walt had already worked for 44  and although I had had gaps where I taught part time and brought up the kids I  was feeling the strain being experienced by many in my profession by that time.  That’s putting it mildly.  I love teaching but things had changed so much and the pressure on teachers had taken me to the point where I was no longer enjoying my job nor feeling confident in my skills.  Ridiculous after 40 years of looking after and working with young people, never the less I felt less like a wise old owl with years of experience to share and more like a daft old bat whose skills were out of the ark.

We had had a great adventure that summer, flying to Seville and travelling by bus to Granada and then home to Calle Jacaranda. We then took our motor bike to Denia in the Valencia region and stayed at the most amazing hotel, Los Angeles right on the beach. It was bliss.  Then back to work!   The Scottish winter loomed long, grey and wet!  In November Walt came out to the house and picked up our Suzuki 1250.  Big blue Suze!  He rode up to Valencia for the Moto GP and had a fantastic weekend, then took the bike home and flew back to Edinburgh.  Arriving home feeling great, his mood quickly changed after a few days back at the dark satanic!  My job was stressful and hard but his had become monotonous and dangerously boring.  Nothing worse for the human psyche.  At lease I knew my job had a point and purpose, the kids.  Despite the box ticking  and nonsense piled on us from on high,  the pupils were still our top priority and made getting up in the morning just about bearable. For Walt, a skilled tradesman and perfectionist, there was no joy left in what he was doing.  He was living for the weekends and of course the holidays.   I know that probably 80% + of the developed world do this but is it really any way to live?  It just came out , I heard myself saying ‘ we have a home in Spain where winter is pleasant, we can walk and cycle all year round.  Christmas day is now traditionally a hike up Pico de Águila  with a picnic and mini Cavas at the top!  (We have done this for several years now , spending christmas holidays in Murcia and abandoning the shops and commercial version back in Britain.) We can welcome friends and family and spend quality time with them instead of always rushing and squeezing every thing in on weekends or holidays.  I will miss the bairns and grand bairns like mad but it’s only a 3 hour flight away and at the moment by the time I do see them, work has wrung me out and I don’t feel that I have the energy that I should have…. ‘   Blooming Nora … I was  a  tad long winded  but you get the gist…. let’s retire and move to Spain.  Let’s be brave and impulsive.  We were when we bought the house and made our original plans… abandon the  comfort zone and go for it!

We are not alone there are thousands of expats out there, I have retired friends here in Spain, in France, Bulgaria and Thailand.  You may be one of the trail blazers who has gone before us.   We are newbies! We handed in our retirement notices in the new year of 2017, Walt retired at the end of January and I said good bye to my pupils and colleagues at Ross High in August.

If you are an old hand, what made you jump?  Why did you take the leap and what have you learned, loved and wouldn’t change?   I have spoken to a few retirees on the coast near us and not one is running back to Blighty despite what the tabloid press would have you believe!   We decided that we wanted to get off the hamster wheel , ditch at least one of our mortgages,  pay off car and bank loans, improve our Spanish , maintain brain cells and find a simpler, healthier way of life.  After lots of phone calls and emails to our pension providers,  chats to estate agents and on line research about living permanently in Spain  we felt ready to go.  The adventure started in February 2017 with a fabulous road trip in our old Vauxhall – Victor the disco dashboard  was on the road!

The Journey Begins

Thank you for joining me.

Our journey began just over ten years ago , a year ago it accelerated and while life’s journey is not over by any manner of means, the destination that is now home, stopped being simply a holiday home and became our full time base for retirement.  We bought our little Spanish home ‘off plan’ at the peak of the Spanish housing boom and took ownership three years late in 2010 as the Spanish economy was on its knees and ‘ el crisis’ was destroying businesses and lives.  Our building company hung on for as long as possible and unlike some horror stories, our urbanisation was completed .  Sadly so many people took fright and pulled out that in 2011, the builder went under and even today our estate is probably only a third occupied.  In some ways, this is amazing.  We are on the edge of a regional park and only ten minutes from the city of Murcia.  We chose not to buy on the costas as we did not want to be in an area of expats.  We wanted to live in the real Spain.  Only having a few neighbours means that life here is very peaceful , we know the neighbours that are here, Spanish and holiday owners and we have made friends of both, locals and holiday home owners.  There are draw backs… the bus service that was promised has never materialised, not surprising given the lack of potential customers!  We are at the top of a very steep hill,  three miles from our local small town ,  a lovely walk downhill in the winter or spring… for me at least, impossible at the moment as it’s too damn hot!  We have a car and a motor bike ( it has figured large in the journey) but the question does flit across our minds ,occasionally , about what will happen when we are too old to drive?   The shops and services that were also planned, not surprisingly, didn’t happen either.  This means no gentle strolls to the bakers for our morning bread!  Having said that, our local Repsol garage has a bread oven and very often when buying fuel , I get given a free baguette!

To go back to the start of the journey…. before the recession or crisis.  We planned to move to Spain in 2011 when my youngest son left school and followed his older siblings to university.  Ours is a merged family although my amazing husband has no children from his first marriage,he has therefore taken on my crazy brood with no previous experience!   The move would be made easier by this however, as the father of my children would still be in Scotland and as I had parented consistently for 28 years and the kids were all now living away from home,  I would not need to feel too guilty!  Plus, what’s not to like about Mum and step Dad having a home in the sun,  free holidays for ever!  I completed a TEFL course in 2010 with the intention of  teaching English and Walt, having a good grasp of Spanish and being very practical was confident that he would find work.  Even if the recession hadn’t happened and brought unemployment in Spain to levels that meant we didn’t stand a chance of getting work here,  family stuff did happen that meant we had to postpone our plan…. the journey slowed down and our little home was used purely for holidays until 2017.   We had wonderful holidays, using Calle Jacaranda as often as possible.  As the family grew, they and their partners used it as well.  Sadly it was the failing health and passing of our parents that meant the original plan had to be postponed.  From 2011 onwards, we were on hospital and caring duty and in four short years both sets of parents died.  None of them managed to visit us here or sit on our sun roof enjoying the views of the forest and hills to one side and the city in the distance to the other.  It is one part of the journey that we had no control over and which still saddens us.  We had flights booked for them all in 2011 and 2012 but had to cancel them  due to their failing health.  I know my mum would have loved our little city of Murcia.  It is very European, with cafes to sit and people watch from … all day if you want to.  At the moment, it is deserted… Murcianos are all ‘de vacaciones’ ,  it is a little gem in the cooler months.

This blog therefore is partly the story of the journey and our adventures in getting here and settling to live here full time.  It is also a reflection on the getting older process and how to make the best of it.  Perhaps a little morbid but having lost all our parents so quickly, we are now the oldies in the family!  At 60 and 61, not really old but some of the adventures in our journey have made us realise that life is not finite and what should and could we be doing to have a satisfying and meaningful retirement?   I would love to hear of the experiences and views from you, the readers on this.   I will alternate between the physical journey to where we are today,  and the challenges of moving abroad ( Brexit included)  and the emotional journey which I hinted at when I described the original plan and ‘ not feeling guilty ‘at leaving my kids in Scotland.  We are hugely lucky , we have small pensions and little debt. Our home is small but   our back garden is a regional park. Apart from July and August we can cycle, walk our dogs in the hills and forest , plan picnics and barbecues  and know we will have blue skies and sunshine for them.  In July and August, we are becoming like the Spaniards, we tend to hide from the sun and go to the pool in the evening or our favourite beaches which are only over thirty minutes drive away. A big mention and praise here for my grandchildren who came for a holiday this August with Mum and Dad.  I was really concerned about the heat , they are pure blond, pail skinned, northern Europeans!  They were amazing and coped so well. Perhaps a little tetchy at the end of the day but with temperatures reaching 37 degrees C, who wouldn’t be? Lots of pool, beach and waterpark fun! We are healthy and active, most of the time but every now and then we feel just a little bit homesick and I start reflecting on  what is the way forward for our generation of  ‘baby boomers’ ?   What should we be doing?  Should we be doing anything or nothing?  Should we still be working? ( Walt will fall about laughing at that, he adores being retired and after 44 years of working, he deserves every minute of it.) Should I be a more ‘normal ‘ granny?  What is a ‘normal ‘ granny?  Should I still go pillion on our motor bike?   Our first year living now as residents, we have the tiny scrap of card to prove it, has been incredible with lots of  visitors, home improvements, activity, accidents , excitement  and quiet times.  August is traditionally a quiet time here, I now know why.  I feel chuffed if I  achieve a couple of things before 2pm when it becomes too hot to do anything other than lie under the fan and read something that doesn’t require too much brain power!  The heat melts my brain.  Walt thinks this is nonsense but honestly, it’s true.   In each of my ramblings, I will reflect on the questions above and hope to hear from you , your experiences, thoughts and opinions .  You don’t need to be over 60!  One of my biggest motivations for taking the leap and the road less travelled with Walt began when my own parents were forced to retire and the , possibly skewed , view I had of the way they coped with their latter years.  Younger readers, watching your own parents, will have opinions too and I would love to hear and discuss them.  As a retired history teacher, I am great at sitting on fences,  every side of an argument and discussion is valid!  (most of the time!)