Interview with the BBC
Tell us a bit about yourself, your family and the background to the decision to emigrate.
I was born and grew up in the Leeds (West Yorkshire) area. I left school with hardly any qualifications and at the age of 19 married Heather. After drifting through a few jobs in sales we started our own office equipment business called United Stationers. Then along came our two daughters, Stacey and Ashlie. During this time I joined the Royal Air Force Reserves and later becoming a qualified aerobatics pilot. We had always had a dream of living in a foreign land, then one day, frustrated with the commitment the business demanded, we all sat down and decided it was now or never.
* What was it about your current home that attracted you? More than just the sunshine?
When we left the UK we had no idea where we were going to end up. We literally loaded the family car with all our belongings and set off. The first month was spent on the coast just south of Alicante. It soon became apparent that this wasn’t the life style we were looking for, so off we went to the remote countryside west of the Sierra Nevada. It was here that we found the small Spanish village and a house that matched the expectations we’d carried for years.
* What are the major differences between Spanish and British life?
The most common observation made by the many visitors we get, is how life in our area of Spain is like that of England back in the 1970s, everything from fashion, to general behavior. People take a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their neighbours, the young people respect their elders and the crime rate is negligible. Of course there is also the difference with regards the cost of living, petrol is about 20% cheaper than the UK, as are the general household bills. Taking a walk in the countryside is also a little different. In the UK you don’t have to keep an eye out for scorpions, snakes and wild boar, all of which have the potential to kill.
* How do the locals react to Brits moving in?
I must admit I was a little concerned how we would be received in a small closely knit village, where almost the 300 inhabitants are related to one another. Initially my British skepticism did make me question the generosity we encountered in the early days. People would come to our house bearing gifts, fruit, vegetables etc, in fact they still do to this day.
Within days of arriving we had been accepted. In fact I think they considered us a bit of a novelty and enjoyed introducing us to the Spanish way of life. Never a wedding or Christening goes by that we don’t receive an invitation to.
* Did you have the language skills before you went - or has it been a struggle becoming bilingual?
Ten years before moving to Spain I had studied Spanish for 3 years, even getting my GCSE. My wife, Heather, had also attended night school for a year. Alas we needn’t have bothered. When I first went into the small, quaint bar in the village, I asked for a couple of drinks using my newly acquired skill, It was then that it crossed my mind that 10 years ago I had inadvertently been attending classes in Russian, I didn’t understand a word they said, and they had the same problem trying to interpret my innate gibbering. Apparently the Andalucian accent is so strong it is the equivalent of somebody from another country studying English, then going to live in Glasgow.
Although, 3 years on we are able to get by, we still have occasions where we turn up at the wrong venue, or the wrong time, after misunderstanding instructions, but these are usually shrugged off and put down to the fact that we are English.
* What, if anything do you miss about Britain?
When you decide to move to a different country there is always a price to pay. The fact that I was the only member of the family not at my father’s bedside when he passed-away, is a typical example. Yes, when you own a house in a sunny climate friends and family are never in short supply (which itself can be a double edged sword) but there is no substitute for a good night out with all your friends. There is only one thing that I really miss….that pastry from paradise… A GREGS STEAK BAKE!!!!!!
* Many people move out to Spain but plenty return when the dream doesn't become reality - do
you think that some emigrants have a mistaken view of what life they're headed to?
I think the key to making your new life a success depends on your ability to get involved with local life. Of course on the coast it is much easier because you don’t have the language barrier, but once you move inland you don’t have to travel far before speaking English is an alien concept.
There many schools and individuals, all willing to teach you the local dialect, but to be honest the best places to learn tend to be the bars. Once you get over the Spanish fascination for learning the English for popular swear words and the private parts of the anatomy, they are all only too willing to help. Our motto is, ‘never turn down an invitation’ it could be to dinner, to go hunting or even to help pick olives for a day or two.
* Are you there for the duration - do you envisage moving back or elsewhere in Europe?
To be honest when we moved out here, Heather, and I agreed to give it at least 5 years. We have now been here for 3 years and already agree that this is where we envisage seeing out our old age. Only last week I was looking around the bar trying to decide which other 40 something’s will be sat in the village square with me in 20 years time, muttering about the good old times and arguing who laid the last domino.
* What's been the reaction to the book? Do your Spanish friends/neighbours know about it?
Amongst the few English in the surrounding area the book is eagerly awaited with anticipation. When I announced to the locals in the village that I had written a book they all clamoured to read the only copy I had, as soon as they realized it was in English it was tossed back across the table with a demand that I get it translated to Spanish immediately.
* Your children were travelling around the world when you moved to Spain so both generations had to cope with being in brand new situations in a foreign land - who coped better?
My daughters who were 19 and 21 at the time of departure, were the most un-street wise individuals you are ever likely to meet. As we waved them off on the first stage of their travels to Bangkok, I turned to Heather and said, “I hope they realise it’s a destination and not an instruction”.
Throughout the book we are updated on their whereabouts and deeds via e-mail and texts. Every time I logged on to the computer I cringed with anticipation, The message was either about swimming with sharks, bungee jumping, sky diving or the time they spent a month working in a gold mine, but I think we gave as good as we got.