Denise and I have now been living in Spain for the best part of 3 years. We rented for 6 or 7 months and moved into our beautiful Spanish villa in December 2009. Over the past two and a half years we have made our house a home and we have even managed to grow some plants-not a particularly impressive achievement as they all grow wild near the house but given our propensity to kill anything green we thought this was worth mentioning. We now drive a Spanish registered car, have some Spanish friends which makes learning the language a bit easier and try very hard not to be seen as “Benidorm Brits”.
Integration can be a bit problematic at times because Spaniards have a completely different outlook to that of most Brits. In our village, for example, whole extended families still gather to kill a pig and divide up the whole carcass-it was a bit disconcerting to say the least to drive round a corner and find the poor pig stretched out on a trestle table. We did however receive as a present some of the most delicious pork that either of us has ever tasted. We also have to be careful what we say-Denise mentioned to our Spanish neighbour that I liked rabbit so the next day she arrived with three in a carrier bag-skinned certainly but complete with heads organs and plenty of lead shot!!!
Although we love it here we have to admit that our adopted country does have problems. In my opinion corruption is still widespread and although some effort has been made to resolve the problems of illegal building and payoffs to mayors and other officials there is still a long way to go. Spain has been hit hard by the financial crisis and unemployment is now almost 23%, rising to around 50% for young people-figures that put the UK problems into perspective. Most of the Spaniards in our village still rely on agriculture and work the land and keep goats and chickens. It is hard, back breaking work for very little rewards. Prices here are very low compared to the UK because people don’t have a lot of money to spend. The exception is a segment of the ex-pat community who are happy to spend until they drop, usually from alcohol. Yes this gives business to some Spanish owned businesses but it can also be a little bit patronising, particularly from a group who in the main refuse to learn Spanish.
One big plus about living in Spain is the weather. This year for example has been amazing. We have had hardly any rain and our almond burner has only been in use for a relatively few nights. Spanish houses are not built with the cold in mind so mild winters are a real blessing. Day time temperatures are already over 70 degrees making it a pleasure to play tennis outside. The local golf courses are already very brown which may herald problems later on in the year but despite living in a semi desert we have yet to have to worry about drought orders. Our Spanish friends are completely bemused when we tell them that the supposedly wet UK is suffering from drought!! However dry it gets we are lucky to live opposite a mountainside covered in pine trees. If you can stand the rigours of the climb it is beautifully cool in the trees even in July and August.
The one big problem with living abroad isn’t adapting to a new culture or learning a new language but having to do without physical contact with your family. Denise misses her grandchildren desperately (as a man I am duty bound to keep any such feelings under close control!} and the news that grandchild number 3 is on the way as our daughter who lives in Bermuda is expecting her first child this July, really underlined the emotional challenge of being an ex-pat. Skype is a wonderful tool, and virtually all the family have visited us here but it is still not the same as being able to be there in person.
This latter issue really underlines for us the importance of Andy and the Chesterton House team. Despite markets in turmoil and a Government that seems determined not to allow people to actually access their pension schemes, we have, thanks to Andy, been able to visit the UK to see the family when we want to. In the next few months we are off to Bermuda for our first baby sitting/grandchild spoiling session and we will be off back to the UK for a big family Christmas. Andy continues to maintain that we are living within the limits of our portfolio and has told us that he will let us know well before our level of spending exceeds our portfolio’s growth potential (bad luck Denise).
Living off pensions and savings income is obviously different from having a job. At times I have bordered on the paranoid, believing that our investments would never fund the things we want to do. I am gradually getting more confident but I do suffer the odd relapse at which times Andy has to hold my hand (figuratively speaking of course) and point out in very simple language just how we are doing. Denise and I both enjoy our 6 monthly reviews via Skype and we hope very much that Andy and his team will be around long into the future.
So what does the future hold? Hopefully more of the same, more integration into Spanish life, more visitors and more trips to the UK and Bermuda (please take note Andy). While Denise and I would never claim to be experts we have muddled through so if anyone out there wants to talk about what living abroad entails then by all means contact us via Andy and the team. Until then “Hasta luego”
Stephen & Denise Peete, March 2012
Did you enjoy this? Why not read about Philip & Violet's experience of a lifetime Taking The Orient Express?