From there to here and back again
“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be”
Chapter One: From here to there
In March 2002 with a greatly loaded car and our two little boys on board; we drove away from our predictable, comfortable English life in a pretty village on the outskirts of Bath for the unknown. We were headed for something we had given the rather grand and general working title of: “A new life in Spain”. If I’m really honest the anticipated feelings of heady excitement and brave resolve I had experienced over the preceding months, gave way to fear and bewilderment in that moment. What on earth had we done!?
Only a little under three years beforehand, we had headed west from Bucks to Bath with our very young family as Mark had fortunately secured a decent job in Bath. We had used our joint skills in DIY, design and enthusiasm to make a lovely, comfortable home, to forge good friendships in the village and to establish our boys in playgroup and school. However, despite this and to our own consternation, we both felt unfulfilled and confined. Mark’s job in advertising sales utilised his skills but did nothing to fulfil his inner passion, and I too felt restless and restricted. We had in fact, reached the mythical midlife crisis just at the point when settling down with our family was the sensible option. The tension of these contrary forces felt like a spiritual tug of war. Something had to give!
The catalyst for change presented itself in the form of redundancy for Mark, which contrary to feeling disastrous and alarming, actually felt like someone throwing the window open in a stuffy room filling the air with the scent of Spring after a damp cold, stultifying Winter. In actual fact, the preceding Winter had been the wettest for many years and, following on the heels of a dreary summer, it only served to fuel one of our longings: to live in a climate that virtually guaranteed a hot, sunny Summer every year. It was more than a change in climate we were after. We both longed for a combination of a challenge, a more integrated life and a way to express ourselves in a country that we both had a great affinity for. We wanted our children to experience a different culture, bigger horizons. In one word we wanted an adventure.
“Adventure” has a beguiling allure, associated as it often is with worthy notions of discovery; a journey towards a mythical place or aspirational existence in a sublime landscape where the sun always shines. I confess to experiencing all of these associations especially during the planning of our escape. I think it’s our soul’s way of enticing us out of our comfort zone or else we would never set out at all.
And so, after finally securing a sale on our house, putting our possessions in temporary storage and packing our remaining things in the car, here we were, heading off into the relative unknown, and I was tearful and apprehensive. We had done a ton of research online, read lots of relevant books, attempted to learn a little Spanish and had visited the Alpujarra, the area where we wanted to focus our search for a home. We had arranged a rented house in the main town of Orgiva in the Western Alpujarra and had a list of potential contacts. Furthermore, both of us had avidly read “Driving Over Lemons” by Chris Stewart. Nevertheless, no amount of dreaming, reading and planning had prepared me for that cold, conflicted feeling on the chilly outside doorstep of my comfort zone.
Chapter two : Setting Sail.
Our two boys were nearly three and six years old respectively when we left for Spain in 2002. In the end we lived there for only a little over two years; not as long as we originally anticipated, but like all true adventures it took on a life and a shape of its own that still feels like a lifetime if measured, not in terms of quantity, but intensity. Now as I write this, they are young adults of sixteen and nineteen. They are exceptional young men both rounded and grounded and both with a real affection for Spain. Both boys have taken A level Spanish at school — Our oldest son learnt to speak fluent Spanish (with an Alpujarran accent) after only six months in Spain, and has a good command of the language still. Our youngest has only hazy memories of his time there as he was still very young when we returned to Britain. However, he too has a great affinity for the language, the land and the culture. Moreover, they have spent every summer of their lives in Spain since because we, almost twelve years later, still own our house there; or rather it has refused to relinquish us! That is probably the most surprising twist in the tale of all…but more of that later.
Our last night in England in March 2002 was spent in a Travelodge on the edge of Dartmoor, before boarding a ferry to Santander from Plymouth the following day like pilgrims on a one-way ticket. I remember making an emotional phone call to my Mum before setting sail. Both her and I in tears at the end. It just further emphasised the enormity of what we were doing. We watched Plymouth shrink and disappear in the mist and foaming wake at the back of the ferry, and then took the boys to the on-board cinema to watch “Spy kids” and to romp around the cheerful and cheesy play areas. We looked like a version of every other family on the ship except that we had no return ticket, or a job or a home to return to. It wasn’t only the sea swell that was making my stomach churn on that boat that day.
The following morning, we drove on to Spanish soil and made our way past the elegant town houses overlooking the golden sands of the Cantabria sea. We had planned a circuitous route to our destination via the beautiful medieval University city of Salamanca. So we turned inland and headed up into the Pico’s Mountains moody and sublime and then on towards Burgos. The next day we wandered round historic, scholarly Salamanca and then pointed the car to the south via Seville. The sun was indeed shining and warm, and it began to feel like a good thing the further we drove into the heart of Spain.