Recently I left misty Scotland for a week in sunny (and, it turned out, unusually humid) Spain. Bold blue skies, looming mountains, olives in profusion and splashes of colour everywhere, wow. I was visiting a sister who lives there half the year and reluctantly returns to beautiful Hampshire for the rest of the time, and her villa is halfway up a mountain in an utterly beautiful town with a nice mix of Spanish and ex-pats who have embraced the lifestyle and struggle manfully with the language and are integrating pretty successfully.
A surprising number of those I met are in my favourite Indian Summer age and have thrown over the conventional ‘wind-down towards retirement’ to follow a dream. I met two lively interesting women around my age who moved there for (or with) a fella and stayed when the wheels fell off because they had fallen in love with the country, hats off to them because I didn’t have the courage but boy, are they enjoying their lives. I met writers and painters and actors (there is a thriving theatre group, currently in rehearsals for a Federico Lorca play) and a fair number who were semi-retired or retired but following dreams and hobbies and activities of their own with vigour and enthusiasm.
Being a fish out of water does appeal most to eccentrics, and those I met were lively, deeply tanned, and interested in a far wider range of things than they would have been at home. I was delighted to be greeted in a soft Glaswegian voice by one man I had particularly wanted to meet because I swotted up for the trip by reading his book: Jim Mackie moved to that part of the world with his wife and the declared intent of saying yes to anything (however bizarre) that let him follow his love of music. His book, if you are a music lover (especially boogie) is a treat, just skip the bits on Bedar, Almeria, and the surrounding Andalusia. If, on the other hand, you are only fascinated by interesting Brits abroad who have found lovely places to live, skip the music. The book is selling fairly briskly so there must be those who like both but hey, look for yourself: Boogie Man book or, to give it its full title, Boogie Man (And His Cat) In Andalusia.
There are things about Spain that I loved – walking up to the fuenta to get pure fresh water (there are fountains in every town, no matter how remote, and residents will argue fiercely over the merits of driving the extra few miles to nearby Serena because their fuenta was better than the local one) and that deeply blue sky and the friendliness of everyone I met. Hola! Sitting sipping wine with my feet in a swimming pool (only my feet. The locals decreed it was too cold to swim in water that was a mere 24 degrees and I was for sure not going to cavort like a slightly portly dolphin on my own). Entertaining is cheap, with very drinkable plonk at around a euro a bottle, and paella for dinner can stretch to cover a surprising number of guests. Tapas is around a euro a shot so you can try several different ones, enjoy wine with your choice, and still waddle away with change from a fiver. We partied every single day for a week. I need a holiday to recover from my holiday.
There were things I found daunting: it is a seriously big country, and I speak as someone who hails originally from Africa. In Africa, when something is an hour’s drive away, you shrug and change your mind about going. In Scotland, you can pretty much cross the country in the kind of time that Spanish residents think is an acceptable drive to a good restaurant. I last experienced that kind of relaxed thinking in Florida but one important difference is that roads in Florida don’t wind round mountains, and I wasn’t being driven there by a sister who defaults, as often as not, to driving in the middle of the road rather than trouble her head about remembering whether she should be on the left or the right side. I am apparently the worst backseat driver ever but I wasn’t the only one to come away with new grey hairs, we met a few drivers around blind corners who are probably still palpitating.
And it was HOT. Even in October. Sleeping fitfully through the sound of a creaking fan, the windows thrown open to attract any flicker of a breeze and therefore a nightlong deafening chorus of cicadas, not to mention the unbearable weight of the sheet, was challenging. Forever sweating up a slope, or scuttling awkwardly down, is always going to make walking a problem when you are living halfway up a mountain.
When I landed back at Edinburgh it was 12 degrees, with a fine misty rain. NICE.