Tanya and I were in a relatively unique position with two older children and a ten-year gap before having two more children. What this meant was, when Max and Osher left home after finishing school, Zeb and Lola would still be young enough for us to leave the UK and start somewhere new.
At first we thought about just going off until they started secondary school, then maybe a permanent move. To be honest, it’s hard to really make a plan sitting back home in the UK, circumstances tend to dictate and scupper any plans you might have thought of.
A few years back I was made redundant. In order to make ends meet, I bought a van and set up a handyman business and ran that for five years. I then sold a flat that I had bought in my twenties and started buying flats down in Margate, when I saw an opportunity – two bed flats for £30k, which needed a lot of doing up, but I had the tools and err, some of the skills. If I could buy up as many as I could, we had a new business. By now I considered myself reasonably unemployable, so that was my only viable option. I had got close to securing a couple of jobs but my background always played against me. No one would quite believe I wanted the jobs I was going for – of course, they were right.
Things were further complicated by an unforeseen disaster. It’s hard enough to try to raise a mortgage when self-employed. It’s even harder when your income is low. But the icing on the cake was a huge mistake by me. Some year before, in the interest of getting Max and Osher to take a bit of responsibility and to learn a little about the value of money, I decided to give them an allowance instead of pocket-money. part of the deal was they would also have to take charge of paying for their mobiles each month and regulate their usage. But I didn’t follow it up and check what they were up to. nor did I put the phones in their name, I left them in my name. For months they had not being paying for their phones and although they got all the letters, it was my credit rating that showed all the months of non-payments. My credit rating had fallen through the floor. My choice of lenders had reduced to two and the interests rates were less than favorable to those at that end of the lending tree, it was a year before I could raise any money from anyone, until I found a broker who could help, which he did, but boy did he earn his money!
So that’s what I did, and a built up enough of a portfolio which would give us enough income to live off, assuming that I would top up getting some work when we were settled. The plan was to move to the Alps. Ten years ago I bought a tiny chalet in the Alps. It’s one up from a studio flat, but had the most amazing views in a very cute little village called Champagny en Vanoise. We have rented it out whenever possible, but like all holiday homes abroad, it never makes money and my holidays always involved DIY. As I have ten years left on the mortgage, we might as well move in, as we are paying for it anyway! That was the plan, then this happened.
Planning to leave was fairly straight forward. We were in a beautiful cottage in Kent, however, we had been renting since we had the house fire. The rent, the mortgages on properties we owned, four kids, two cars, it was all too much. Especially when it was not the life I really wanted. We lived in a very affluent area and expectations were high. I was working my socks off trying to build up a portfolio while more money than sense was being squandered to support us. We would leave as soon as Osher had finished his ‘A’ levels.
Now, I have taken a lot of stick from friends and family for being tough on my two older boys, for pulling the rug from under their feet and abandoning them to their fates in England. But here is the reality, we could no longer afford to stay in the UK. Osher was off to University, into Halls, and Max needed a kick to get him moving – he choose, wisely, not to go to University. It has been tough for them, and they have had incredible support from Tanya’s family. For both the boys and me, it has transformed our relationships and I really believe it has made them better and stronger young men.
Meanwhile, when looking out for another Margate flat to buy and desperately aware we were quickly being priced out, I saw cave houses on “A place in the sun” and choose to buy an eight bed house in rural Spain instead of another two bidder for someone else in Margate.
The problem was, as we packed up our possessions, closed accounts, put everything we could online, put all historical data onto dropbox, fought Max and Osher, got the kids out of UK school, etc, etc, we hadn’t quite bought the house we were heading to for the summer. We were dealing with our first set of Spanish bureaucracy, weirdly, I was not too phased, because as this point, in my mind, this was just going to be a holiday let which we might make more money out of than the Margate option. But the rules are different in Spain, we were committed to the sale, it was just a matter of time
It also solved our furniture issue. I would either have to try to sell, or through away all our furniture while still needing to use it. This way, we could take all our furniture to Spain to fill the house for rentals without spending any more money or having to throw away perfectly good stuff.
Somehow we got the Skoda down to the tunnel without ripping off the exhaust as it was only half a fist off the ground at its lowest point – so we swapped the jet ski and the trailer and hoped the VW at nearly 3000,000 on the clock, would continue to give us the service it so often had, one last time for its biggest challenge yet!
The actual journey was pretty uneventful, four days working our way through France then into Spain. I do remember our first night in Spain though, we were treated to a display of children performing human towers five stories(people) high! Zeb and Lola making huge shadows against a building and eating Tapas in the street in the warm of the evening and feeling daring that the kids were up so late.
At some stage, as we were traveling, we completed on the sale.
We got to the estate agents on a Saturday evening. Of course not only was he not there, but he was actually on holiday, so he had left the keys to our house under the mat, about a week before. We picked up the keys from under his mat, outside his shop. We drove up through Galera past Shaun’s shop and in my tiredness decided this was a better thing to do than try to turn around – in fact my road train was way too long to even attempt turning round.
As the roads got narrower and I was going up instead of down, I felt a little uneasy, I need to get down, down was the way out of this town. I made a right and came over the brow of a hill driving the VW which by now was as tired and hot as we were. The street narrowed, then it turned…a U-turn of impossible proportions for my van and trailer with Tanya the Skoda and jet ski right behind me, we are stuck. I manage to squeeze the Van round, but not the trailer. Now I am beached on the inside corner of the turn, the van on one side, the trailer on the other. I have nowhere to go because I could not reverse, the van would not reverse with weight of the trailer and the steepness of the hill.
This was my living nightmare, stuck, and so close to our destination, but stuck on a Saturday night in a town, on a corner with no way of reversing out one car and trailer, let alone two. The kids smell my fear and bust into tears. I had one option left. Well, I might have had two but how on earth would I be able to find a tow truck to call upon in Spanish, (I didn’t speak Spanish), who would then understand where I was in a town with no street names, then get us out somehow the way we came?
Using gravity I am ashamed to say, was my last option. Drag the trailer round the corner and deal with the consequences as they happened. The VW touched the right-hand wall as I drove as wide as possible to get the trailer round the left-hand side, stuck fast, but not so fast. A bit of welly on the pedal and with all the gravity that the trailer had, it drag itself round that corner taking a bit/ a lot of Galera with us – we had one vehicle and trailer past the first turn and had yet to draw a crowd from all the commotion. We need to work fast for stage two.
With my adrenaline going through the roof, I jumped into the Skoda to repeat the process, Tanya knows to well that at moments like this, it is better to let me cock it up, than for her to attempt it and face my wrath, two cars round, we were free. The roads widened just enough for us to wiggle down to the point where we had started outside the agents and back out of the town for the last 12km of our epic journey. We had made it after a school boy error.
5 km out and we can smell the finish line, we get pulled over by the Guardia. ‘papers please’. My heart sank, not for the first time in the last hour, I pull out my papers and try to explain we have had a VERY long journey, I beg the children to start crying. For once, my look of desperation, expiration worked, they waved us on.
Just one last problem to solve, where was the house.
When I saw the house back in March I had been driven there. I knew it was past a restaurant on the left, I knew it was before the next town, I knew it was down a track and I knew there were some twisty turns round and about where it was. I also knew that if we took the wrong track we would be in another Galera situation. So we limped past the restaurant and stopped at every track and walked down until we found the right one, no, the left one.
Down we went and found the house!! We had made it! I leapt out of the van and pushed aside the curtain hiding the front door to open the door and was promptly stung on the nose by one of the horrible scary dangly legged wasps. I could see my eyes were streaming and I was in a lot of pain – all Tanya saw was me staggering back to the car crying my eyes out in a drunken trance.
With no way of cooking and no food, we jumped in one car and went to the local restaurant. The warm evening and cold beer was just what I wanted. We ordered what google translate told us and were promptly told that we wouldn’t like any of that, the English menu was for us. Ohh, was what I thought, the last thing in the world I wanted was this. A bar that catered for what they thought was what the English wanted to eat in Spain. We stood our ground and ordered from the Spanish Menu. ‘Great fish’n’chips on a Thursday night’, the table next to us kindly informed us, ‘And tomorrow morning they do a mean English breakfast’. Holly shit, we are in trouble.
The food came, and the waiter was right. We didn’t like it. But not because it wasn’t English, but because it was cooked from frozen and flavorless. But try explaining that to the waiter as he gave me a knowing grin and said, ‘I told you, you wouldn’t like it!’To add insult to injury, we had no choice but to go back in the morning for the full English, I had no idea Walls sausages still existed, but they do, in Spain.
We slept on the floor, all together on our first night. It was dusty and hot, but we were in.