I’m so topical I don’t understand why I’m not an icon

Just call me Ms Demographic, Demi for short. I’m a babyboomer, for starters. Born between 1946 and 1964, and a little fed up that my retirement age moved from nicely handy to six years further down the line.

I’m a writer of breezy novellas who, thanks to the ebook and POD revolution, could publish myself. That’s a bigger demographic than you might realize. Last time I checked there were over 13 million books out there, and I checked Amazon.com right now, as I’m typing this – in my main category, Mystery Thriller and Suspense, there were 6829 new releases in the last 30 days.  (One of them is mine, 17 18, woohoo). There are over half a million in that category alone.  I do get pretty excited about occasionally popping into the top twenty thousand writers, but the reality is that only authors consistently in the top thousand enjoy the dizzying excitement of being able to support themselves with their writing.  Still. My books pay for my holidays, and I do take a lot of those.

I’m a mature single – that’s an absolutely huge demographic – and have been on a singles website for a few years now. Research, of course,  but I take my research seriously, been there, done that, got my heart broken (okay, dented) and wrote the book(s). (Being the mature single is the demographic, writing On Meeting Mr Will Do Nicely and a couple of novels was a bit more niche.)

I was made redundant  recently, that’s a growing demographic, and for the second time.  With all those extra years to fill in before I can start living off the fat of the land with a (partial) British pension, I’m part of that other demographic, the one that thinks oi, life the way it is hasn’t really ticked all my boxes or rung all my bells, is it time to try something else?

There’s the demographic of the many, many Brits who bolt to the sun to try that something else in a warmer climate. A staggering percentage of them chose Spain. Never one to buck a trend, I found a dilapidated (i.e. affordable) townhouse in a fairly perfect white village, and decided that was it, future sorted. Sell the house in Scotland, buy the house in Spain, which is way big enough to run a couple of Airbnb options (another growing demographic) and Bob’s your uncle.

Okay, working in Spain would be challenging, since my Spanish so far consists of knowing how to order coffee, and increasingly talented in the areas of point-and-or-mime, and that’s after seven holidays in rapid succession in Spanish-speaking territories.  All I can reasonably ask of the house is that it will earn enough to pay for its own maintenance and upkeep.

No problem. Teach the Spanish to speak English. So I did a TEFL course and am currently busily gaining vital experience as a teacher through an international online agency. That’s a smaller demographic, I’ll grant you that, but it too is growing.

Demographically, I am in so many Venn diagrams that Windmills Of Your Mind is becoming my theme song. I’m a human fidget spinner.

Surely I can turn this wealth of overlapping demographics into cash terms somehow? Brexit and the dratted General Election are playing merry havoc with the pound / euro exchange rate, and I do need that rate strong to do the house-and-fix-up thing. Scotland’s will-we, won’t-we rumblings about independence has slowed the house-sales market to a crawl. Tchah!

Ideas on cashing in on my demographic potential ? Anyone? Ta.

Totally loca

I spotted P, almost inevitably, on line – I mean you know me, cruising the websites, self-proclaimed champion of the autumn rose, the mature single woman –

Well, I don’t mind saying I did a double-take. Wow.  I laughed out loud. I looked again. I read the provided description greedily. I sent the link to my buddy in Spain, mourning the lack of photographs, there were only four. Lovely buddy in Spain promptly found P on another website and sent back 20 photos.

Oh

My

Word

P is gorgeous. Older than I’d normally have gone for, must be said, and absolutely crying out for some TLC, but “wow” factor second to none.

I sent a message email immediately and a hectic exchange of emails followed and, since I was about to visit lovely buddy in Spain, a meet was set up. I could hardly wait – and it was as good as I had hoped, better.  This was love across a, well, must be said, totally empty atrium, but at first sight.

Hard to know what P makes of it all, of course, since P is a large 200-hundred-year-old traditional Spanish townhouse, standing forlornly empty in a narrow re-paved street in the heart of a town stretching back to Moorish influence , between and opposite very beautifully refurbished houses. The P is short for Palabras – Casa de Palabras, House Of Words – because as I wandered starry-eyed through room after room (many of them leading only into each other) (Spanish houses mix up the generations and who needs privacy when you share with family?) the peeling flaking plaster faded away, the spacious empty rooms furnished themselves and P turned into a creative retreat for writers, artists, kindred souls. The faded tiles bloomed again and the hand-painted vivid green ones became more of a feature, less of an eye-sore. The weeds pushing through the cracks in the terrace modestly vanished.

Out of the twelve existing rooms (one a smokehouse for Spanish hams because, you know, every house needs one) my private quarters appeared, and four guest-house suites built themselves in my mind’s eye. Lovely buddy was a building contractor before taking early retirement in Spain and cautiously poked, prodded, frowned, shrugged, and said the house would outlast me and yes, my plans would work. So what if six of the rooms lead only into each other? Two would convert easily into bathrooms behind dividing walls creating short passage-ways. The only rotting roof timber wasn’t a support beam, so it was easily replaced. The dream could be . . .

Before I took my leave, that first time, my legs a little shaky with shock, I had nearly exploded my camera’s memory with hundreds of photographs.

I’ve fallen in love a couple of times over the years but nothing like this. Wow.

I’ll tag these blogs ‘Palabras’ so they can be followed, or avoided, but – could it be forever? Have I the energy, the sheer passion, to follow through? Hell yes. Structural surveys are happening. Currency brokers have been appointed. Future plans for earning a living (I’ll be happy if the guest-house suites support Palabras itself, anything extra would be a cherry on top) are fizzing. Baby steps are being taken when I want giant strides, but inch by inch life with P moves a little nearer.

Yeah, having read this far you probably want a photograph. Thing is, I saw with the eyes of love and fervent imagination. Believe me, I’m already taking some flak. You should just hear my very sensible daughter on the subject.  You’ll see faded and forlorn and what-on-earth-house has windows into its own atrium? But I did set up a Facebook page and I am likely to be a bit of a bore over the next few months.

Oh, and I need to sell my house in Scotland. Now. You want a compact two bedroomed townhouse with small west-facing courtyard, about as unlike Palabras as can be imagined? Call me.

Virtual friends – part two –

On the costa del sol March 2016 A couple years ago I did a fairly breathless blog saying I was about to fly several thousand miles to meet someone I had been talking to on line for several months. I hadn’t a clue, I gushed, whether he was my long-lost twin brother, my friend, or my future.

Well, none of the above, as it turns out laugh  although we’ve stayed friends, but on the strength of that meeting having been interesting, I flew off into the blue again last weekend. This time I was going to meet four strangers – two men and two women – who were not only strangers to me, but to each other. Age range, forty-something to the sunny side of sixty.  Why not? Safety in numbers, a gathering on the Costa del Sol, and two of them had, over the past year or so, made me cry with laughter with our brisk on-line banter. Three of them live there year round – one previously Australian, one a Londoner, one from Southern Africa – and the fourth was holidaying in the general area for a week from Ireland.

I say the general area, Spain is HUGE, but they would all be within an hour of each other. I suggested, rather enviously, that they meet up. Go ON, I urged. Tell the rest of us what you’re like. Okay, they said, you come too. Eek no, I said, I couldn’t – then I thought of all the advice I give on my blogs about getting out there. So I went. Taking, it must be said, some fairly Scottish weather with me. Coldest week they’ve had this winter!

SUCH fun. I’ll say right now that you have to pick your company, we’re talking mature single men and women here, they could have been gloomy and weeping into their second drink, we could certainly have exploded our virtual friendships into smithereens, I knew all of that. I’ve written loads of blogs on that, on what to expect. And yet – when would I get such a good chance again?

I knew the Irish woman would be worth meeting, whatever happened, even if she had needed elephants to carry her emotional baggage, (she didn’t) because she is both clever and howlingly funny. We’ve been giggling on the blogs for over a year and virtual is virtual, sure, but you cannot talk that much and hide the sort of person you are, over that long a time. I didn’t have a clue what she would look like – you don’t have to have a pic up, and she chooses not to be recognisable. Turns out, fantastic hair, fantastic skin, taller than me (I’m not used to that, men or women) and she annoyingly looks way nearer 30 than 50. I would have hated her if she hadn’t been such good company.

The other woman startled me by being absolutely tiny, I somehow expect Australian women to be strapping tanned Amazons with a surfboard tucked under one arm. I know, I know, but I worked for the company that marketed Fosters in the UK for many years. You get brainwashed. She’s a dynamo of energy, more fluent in Spanish now than in English after 30 years there, and herded us briskly around for the weekend like a tiny border collie working a herd of rather laid-back sheep.

I’d chatted on and off for a year on Skype with the oke from Southern Africa, so I was pretty sure what he would be like, and he was exactly as expected, another tick for using skype to talk to strangers, a very nice guy, and without his organizing we’d probably never have got the plan past wishful thinking into reality, despite all of Titch’s energy. One-time army men who now run their own businesses are good at organizing!

I’ve exchanged messages with the drily-witty Londoner for even longer, he’s even (unknowingly) featured once or twice giving advice in these chronicles, but he’s had the same pic up since I joined the website and we had no idea what to expect. Ten years older than he said? Five inches shorter? That’s pretty standard on singles websites, but it didn’t matter, this wasn’t a dating-type meetup. (He turned out to be exactly what it says on the box, that was a first!)

It really was fun. We ate a lot, drank gallons of coffee and a little alcohol, and talked and talked and talked. I didn’t get to bed before 3 am on a single night. At least twice before I set off I would have cancelled out of sheer nerves, but I was used to that from my first venture, we never met without me having a mini meltdown beforehand. Apart from anything else, any reader of this column knows I don’t much like flying.  grin However, carpe diem is one of my mottoes. If not now, when? is another.  Not to mention the less thrilling, if more prosaic, you aren’t getting any younger. So much for that one, I felt like a yearling all weekend. It was great.

Do it. Seize the day.

Ever researching on your behalf,

Elegsabiff  wave

The rain in Spain falls mainly well you know where. And there’s a local book if you’re planning a visit …

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.

contrasts

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.