I’m a squirrel on the rack here. #PackingToMove

Why why why is it so hard to throw out stuff?

I’ve just hauled one of my mother’s favourite antiques out to the car – it will go to the dump tomorrow. It’s Victorian, and an awkward shape, and when it was shipped to me after her death with a few other much-loved items it lost a leg in transit. The leg has been re-attached twice, but if so much as a feather lands on it the leg comes off again. Take it to Spain? No.  Oh, Mum, I’m so sorry.

She’d have kept it, because she was a squirrel, and because we all turn into our mothers eventually I am a squirrel too. A squirrel packing up after a dozen years in the same house, was there ever a more pathetic sight? I did the giant clear-out once before, 17 years ago almost to the week, and I was bad then, I am so much worse now.  Oh, I know why – the older we get, the more memories we’ve accumulated, and the more often we experience discarder’s regret. You know how that works – you throw out the bottom half of the Christmas tree because the top is nowhere to be found. A week later you find the top half under the spare bed.  (Yes, okay, if I was a more diligent housewife that couldn’t have happened. Bad example.)

Six months ago I put the house on the market and did a drastic clear out into the garage to make it look bigger. I should just be piling those boxes into the car and taking them straight to the dump because in six months I have never gone looking for anything.   I know I don’t need any of it. But no – I’m going through boxes to see what can go to the charity shops instead. Ask me how much I have put aside to take with me?

Don’t ask. It’s not a lot, but it shouldn’t be anything at all.

I’ve moved often in my life – in fact the dozen years in this house might be my longest stay anywhere, ever – and you’d think my belongings would be pretty streamlined. Nope. Auction junkie who can’t resist a bargain, with hoarder genes – disastrous combination.

The movers will be here next Saturday to move goods and boxes into storage and right now I’m having to hope they’re bringing a pantechnicon.  Not only that – there’s so much being put aside to go under the bed in the van that it will be teetering near the roof.  That’s if the van doesn’t just go spatchcock on me, because a lot of what I’m taking is small but too heavy to box.

I need an intervention.  moping

2017 UK  regulations for a pet passport #petpassport

It isn’t impossible that someone someday will ask me about moving to Europe, although probably they’ll be using me as an example of how not to do things.  Since these days I am hard put to remember my name (be fair – I have about 5, I use 3 different ones just for my books)  I shall track my findings on the blog, under the category TRAVELS, tagged ‘travel advice’.

UPDATED COMMENT – no-one cared at the border whether the animals had passports or not. The ONLY time you need them is if returning to UK. If your move is long-term, especially if your pets are elderly, you probably don’t need them. 

NB – always worth checking the regulations as they have changed from what they were and Brexit means they will likely change again. As at July 2017, here we go

  1. The pet must be in good health, because a healthy immune system is essential. Age of a full-grown adult pet doesn’t matter, state of health does.
  2. All those expensive boosters you’ve scrupulously kept up to date all these years? Forget them. No-one cares. The only record that matters on the passport is the rabies shot.
  3. The rabies vaccine needs 28 days. Despite this, passports can be issued, and the pet can travel, 21 days after the vaccination, without a further blood test. That’s one of the big changes and many vets don’t approve; it could well change again. For your own peace of mind, allow 28 days, especially if your pet is tetchy and argumentative with strange animals.
  4. If your pet isn’t looking well, even just has the sniffles, it will not be given the shot. You’ll be sent away, to try again in a week. A strong immune system is essential for activating the vaccine.
  5. The passports will be issued during the waiting period. Photographic likeness is not required. Instead, the pet’s chip will be read and put on the passport, so you can’t get a passport for an un-chipped pet. The cost for the microchip is around £15.
  6. Once issued, the passport is valid for a year. If you get the rabies booster done before the year is up, the passport is valid for a further 3 years (another change from before, when it was 2 and 2).
  7. The price hurts a bit – £175 per pet. They’re worth it, but I will not be impressed if either cocks their toes up just afterwards. (Update – As nobody at any point asked to see them, and I wasn’t planning to return, 350 quid down the drain.)

Pity the Customs officer trying to scan my xenophobic paranoid dog’s ear when she’s at best a testy traveller, but we’ll manage somehow.  I just hope that she passes the physical, rising 12 is geriatric for an English bulldog but her Frenchie half does keep her bouncy.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

Final updated comment: and as I said above, do check as regulations could change: if you do want to return to the UK, there is currently a further inoculation which has to be done 48 hours or more before your return. Since I was told I couldn’t leave the country without passports, and that was totally wrong, I have no idea how strictly they monitor the returning pet. However, British bureaucracy being what it is, assume the worst and check for the latest regulations.  If you get a pet in Europe and want to take it to the UK, you will have to do the rabies vaccine thing and I would suggest 28 days in advance, to be on the safe side.

Life – that thing that flashes past your eyes before you die.

I live it pretty much alone – great friends, some lovely relatives (and some not so lovely), but I do live alone and I’ve finally had to realize that’s by choice because even when someone suitable for a home share comes along I’m not entirely comfortable until they’re gone.  The cat that walks alone, that’s me, and usually, I’m absolutely fine with that.

And then something has to be done and you realise having another human being in your life can be truly useful. Whether it is as minor as putting up a six foot curtain rail, or as major as trying to work out how to get a dog + cat + car + furniture from point A to point B 2000 miles away – and on a very, VERY, tight budget.

I’d like to drive, in my much-loved car, with my dog and my cat, sending the furniture via professional movers, but I can’t, obviously, drive 2000 miles in a day and I don’t know if I will be able to find pet-friendly hotels all along the route at exactly the point where I am tiring and thinking it time to call a halt.

My sister and her bloke have done the same trip every winter for years (well, without the furniture, of course). They plonk the cat in the motorcamper, he drives, (her bloke, that is, not the cat) and she follows in the car, and they stop whenever they want for as long as they want.

Could be a plan. I could buy a fairly elderly but hopefully reliable left-hand-drive motorhome, and sell it when I get there. That’s me and the pets sorted, but unless I’m going to nip to the shops in a motorhome, mmm, what about my car?

A clone would be extremely handy at this point. Or a second driver – someone I like enough to share the close confines of a motorhome with, overnight  – bringing up the rear.

I had a eureka idea moment – tow the car! I mean we’ve SEEN those campers, right? And yes, we’ve been caught behind them as they pant up hills at ten struggling miles an hour but . . .  if my aging motorhome did break down, it wouldn’t be impossible to unleash the car and go hunting for help. I was really rather pleased with that. See? It is possible to have it all!

motorhome and trailer

 

Apparently it’s a bad idea. Towbar expensive, trailer expensive, taxes, tolls, and fuel all doubled, not to mention straining the elderly motorhome to the point where it will die on me. Not worth taking a fairly old car which is right-hand drive anyway, no matter how loved or reliable it is.

So my brain has quietly exploded.  I even wonder if I am past the age of adventure. Everyone said I’d never cope when I came to the UK (no pets, no car, too many boxes of books) 17 years ago – in fact, the way things are panning out, it would be 17 years almost to the day when I leave again – and maybe this time they’re right.

And yes, I do hear your eyes rolling. Pete’s sake, woman, you’re saying out loud, just fly with the animals, rent a car, be at the house to meet the movers, then buy a car and return the rental, bob’s your uncle.

Oh, would it were that simple. I’m on my third offer for this house. I rejected the first, the second fell through, and although third time can be the charm, ain’t no guarantees.  The one thing I cannot afford to risk is buying t’other place before I have sold this one, or I will own both and eek, that tight tight budget will go nuclear.  So that’s on hold until missives are concluded (which may only be a Scottish term?  basically not before the deal is signed, sealed, and funds transferred).

Missives are often only concluded on the day of occupation. Okay – furniture into store, and you suddenly start to see the attraction of the motorhome, rather than me to a hotel and the animals into pet storage.  Once I have the money in my hot little hand I can re-start the process in Spain, but it could be weeks before that completes and I can move in. Again, the motorhome means I can be there on the spot, hopping from foot to foot and spurring them on.

So I am bidding for one on eBay.  Never seen it, although I’ve pored over the pictures and researched the make intensively and will come back and kill the seller if it’s a pup – I write whodunits, I know how to kill.

So far I am still the winning bidder. 5 days to go. I genuinely, now that my brain has exploded, don’t know whether I want to be the final winner, or whether that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made so far. In fact I don’t even know if the house in Spain will still be on the market when this sale does complete. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Things that are meant to happen fall neatly into place. This is not falling into place!

I’ve not blogged much lately so with any luck no-one will even see this rather forlorn ramble. I can’t write. I can’t think. It’s as much as I can do every day to teach, both to keep at least some tiny income trickling into the coffers and increase my experience as a very newly-qualified teacher of English as a second language.

And yet – in some bizarre way – I’ve never felt so alive, so challenged. If it does all fall through and I have to settle back down to life as it has been (with or without an expensive left-hand-drive motorhome sitting outside, eep) it will be very anti-climatic.  A sneaking relief, the easy option but – very flat indeed.

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 best 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.