Much as I love the bling of Marbella (it always amuses me, gold pouty lips etc) there is another world beneath the bling. It is the world of the expats. The people from the UK who settled here thirty or forty years ago. They were gay young things then, some of them had taken an early retirement and there were others who had no need to work any more. For one reason or another they settled in the sun. It was a fun life and really the beginning of bling in Southern Spain.
When I was first had an apartment there, more than thirty years ago, I remember telling my neighbour in the UK with absolute glee that I was rubbing shoulders with train robbers and all sorts of naughty people. I got so friendly with one family the dad offered to nick me any car I wanted in the UK and he would change the number plates and “give it a haircut” which is the expression for turning back the mileage clock for all those of you who do not know the lingo! I might say I did not accept his very kind offer.
The Brits had suddenly realised that living in the sun 12 months of the year was very pleasurable. Best of all living was cheap. You could buy a villa with a swimming pool for under £50,000, enjoy a glorious sun filled climate, and cigarettes and booze were pennies. Of course it especially appealed to expats who were loathe to return to the-freezing damp of the UK. Their blood had run thin! You could get help for cleaning and gardening at very reasonable rates, something that memsahib had grown accustomed to. Gated developments with lovely landscaped gardens, communal swimming pools (very good for socialising) and apartments and villas sprung up all over the place – some with planning permission, some without. Today you will often see skeleton buildings left to rot, the results of some rogue building company who hadn’t got their paperwork right and had no doubt fleeced various trusting souls along the way.
Some people embraced the way of life. They learned the language and bravely dived into the country and bought fincas, (a Spanish farmhouse.) They kept horses, or grew olives or their own grapes. All delightful pursuits when you have loads of energy but not the easiest place to live when you are over eighty, a widow, and don’t know how to work the generator or mend a fuse.
The Brits and indeed the Dutch Swedes and Germans all flocked to the Costa del Sol. They seemed to make their own ghettos, but then that is understandable thinking of the different languages. Only the Dutch who are so terribly good at languages seemed to integrate. There are still British people who have lived down here for thirty years who still don’t speak a word of Spanish… shame on them.
However as with everything, sooner or later things wear out. The houses once new and sparkling are fading a bit and so are their owners! As always the men seem to peg out before the women and so it is now that there are a huge number of old ladies living down here. And more and more they are finding that they can’t manage their big houses, the garden has become too much and the pensions have become too little.
Spain has moved on from the quaint rather old fashioned country of 40 years ago. It has become somewhere you need to embrace technology, not revile it. If you can’t do Skype or Facebook you won’t be able to keep up with people. If you can’t load money onto your motorway toll card you will have to use the back roads or always have the right cash. The lovely puppy that you rescued after it had been left on the road is now a very old dog and he or she needs the vet more than you need the doctor! Very few people have family with them. Sons and daughters have made their own lives overseas long ago. No one wants to hear about other people’s grandchildren, I’ve learnt that one, so what is the answer?
It seems that sadly there isn’t one. The truth is this coast is full of single ladies over a certain age who can’t sell their homes. They are trapped, some so trapped they fear answering their telephones in case it causes them huge charges. If only they could be less frightened of technology and join in they would realise there are lots of pleasures on the internet which are free.
Some people have been trying to sell their houses for so long they have died in the process. Most of the elderly, when asked, would love to be able to go back to old Blighty. They are even prepared to risk the weather just to be able to be nearer family. The few that I have spoken to who have no family seem to want to live in Gibraltar. The climate is the same but there are definite advantages there … health and no death tax. Something which becomes very important in old age .
So what do I want to do? Mmmmmmmm. As I travel around the world I often feel I would love to buy a little bolthole on an island in Greece (I must have been watching too much of the Durrells). Or perhaps a charming little attic overlooking the sea in Kalkan on the southern coast of Turkey. The lovely Malaysian island of Penang has tempted me many times. They even have a programme wooing Brits to go and live there. There are many advantages there and I adore Asian food. It has a very good medical system and I love the Orient. Oh so many places to go to!
Now that I have family in Australia, I keep dreaming of a beach house somewhere romantic where all the children could come and we could skinny dip and have BBQs on the beach …. but this is not reality. It’s not really even possible. The prices in Australia are sooooo expensive and Sydney is more expensive than London.
The sad reality is when I get home, I have a hearing test booked. I’m getting older though I hate to admit it and I don’t know how much longer I have. What am I thinking of trying to buy a property at over 70 years old!
“Don’t buy, rent“ my wise old dad said. Rent rent I keep saying to myself. Taste the life first. Be there in winter and see how quickly you can make friends. When you are young and meet other mothers at the school gate you make friends very quickly. It’s not so easy as you get older. So for the moment I shall continue my marvellous life of visiting other people’s countries and enjoying their customs and lifestyles. I’m off to visit Croatia soon. I will be driving down the coast very slowly and hopefully taking it all in. I have heard so many lovely things about Croatia. I can’t wait. I wonder if I will find a pretty house by the sea (to RENT!)
More on Marbella from BPG here and here