I never expected that we would buy a second home abroad and I never expected to write a book about it, but that is the joy of life’s journey. As one of my friends commented: “You have now exorcised the agony and the ecstasy of being a part-time expat!” She is absolutely correct.
Anywhere but Benidorm is the story of my glimpses into a slower pace of life, and the stresses and strains that only a “sí, mañana” can bring.
Being a broadcaster for many years, I was used to efficiency, precision, and speedy exactness in my life. But all that changed when my husband Bob and I attended a travel show at Manchester Central and we took up the offer of a property viewing trip abroad. We had no idea that it would change our lives for the foreseeable decade and a half.
Bob and I did what many couples did in the heady days of the new millennium and bought a second home in the sun. Initially we were going to buy a caravan in France, but once we had the travel bug our horizons expanded and the quest for a caravan in France became a hunt for our dream casa in Spain. Our explorations and mindful planning flew rapidly out of the window as our search for a house in Costa Cálida turned into a purchase of a house in under 24 hours – and in the one area of the Costa Blanca we swore we would never even visit!
We settled in an area called Polop de la Marina about 16 kilometres away from Benidorm at the foot of some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Costa Blanca; to our left was the Sierra Bernia, and in front of us the Puig Campana. From our sun terrace we had a 360-degree vista of not only these beautiful mountains, but also of the Mediterranean Sea as it washed various distant bays and headlands.
My book covers our 15 years of part-time expat existence. I began making notes about seven years in, with the vague notion that at sometime I might write a blog. Android phones were not around then so, sadly, most of the photographs I took were not of reproduction quality.
Talking of phones, I could have included an extra chapter on Spanish phone communication or lack of it, but, in the end, I kept it to just two lines about being charged 100 Euros a month for a landline that did not work. I endeavoured to entertain the reader with our humorous exploits and therefore chose not to expand on that one, as there were never tears of joy involved! There were many tears of joy, caused not just by the scrapes we managed to get ourselves into – as seen in the chapters concerning swingers, and banking in Spain – but also because of the sheer beauty of the region.
On our journey, I am proud that I almost made a new home for Coronation Street – as with many things in our lives, it happened by default. Whenever my Bob and I are on our travels across the world, it is a given that we will be asked where we come from. Our reply, “Manchester”, always initiates the same response – “Ahhh! Manchester United and Coronation Street!”
It therefore should not have been a surprise to me when, through two friends we had met in Spain, I was asked if I could ask the Coronation Street ‘people’ if the then Mayor of Benidorm could name a square in the town after the famous street, loved by so many. Thus, Operation Coronation Street Square was born. Never one to refuse a challenge, I interceded between the then Mayor of Benidorm, Señor Vicente Perez Devesa, and ITV’s legal department.
And so it was, in September 2005, Bob, the two friends and I found ourselves in the Mayor’s office at Benidorm Town Hall, an exceedingly modern building in the centre of town.
We were graciously received and, together with an interpreter (it was our first year of learning Spanish), we were introduced and exchanged handshakes. Many photos were taken, and I received a lovely book about Benidorm, signed by the Mayor. We truly believed the moment was over and as we followed the Mayor and his assistants, we thought we were being shown out through the front door. As the huge double doors open, we realised very quickly, that we were actually the main event of a huge press conference.
As I was shown to the imposing dais, I was relieved to see the interpreter arrive to my rescue. The Mayor gave a speech and I was asked to give my own, impromptu, speech, while both were simultaneously interpreted, and flash bulbs aplenty sparked across the lecture theatre. Bob later likened the experience to watching the top three Grand Prix drivers being interviewed following a race! My Spanish was appalling at that time, and the wonderful interpreter had also left the room. Did the naming happen? Well, if you decide to read the book, you might find out…
Having a base in Spain gave us the opportunity to explore this vast and rugged country, from Bilbao in the Basque country of the North, to the great cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Cadiz, Malaga, Granada and many more. We have left Madrid on a snowy Christmas Eve and been sitting in shorts in Jerez by Boxing Day. We have eaten tapas in villages, eaten oranges straight from the trees, taken our water from freshwater fountains, and participated in some of Spain’s astonishing and astounding fiestas.
I have relayed as many amusing happenings as I could recall, and there are many; for instance, the time we inadvertently introduced my friend, actress Sherrie Hewson (Benidorm’s Joyce Temple Savage) to Japanese food, or when I declined an invitation to become one of Costa Blanca’s new voices on the airwaves. I also experienced life in Spain as a wheelchair user for a spell after breaking my ankle. This experience was certainly the catalyst for me deciding to make notes about certain incidents, especially around car parking. Hopefully would-be purchasers of a house abroad might find some useful tips. Mainly on how not to do it.
I decided to publish my book during Lockdown. As an owner of a PR business, my clients didn’t need my services, so after clearing out the cupboards, changing five sets of European travel plans – trips about which I love to write – I decided not to write to prospective book publishing agents and just publish it myself.
I would definitely recommend others to self-publish. For me, the whole process was a learning curve. I am fairly proficient in all IT requirements but have definitely learnt new skills through trial and error. The most difficult part of the procedure was designing the front and back cover. I found writing the book an enjoyable task, but my design skills were non-existent. If you decide to publish an e-book, you don’t need a back cover but because I wanted to publish in paperback and e- book, I had to develop this myself.
It is possible to pay for this to be done but I was determined to see it through. When I finally pressed the ‘Publish Now’ button I had a whole host of emotions swirling around my head, but nothing prepared me for opening the brown box and seeing my book in print. I am able to plot readership and royalties and I am pleased to say that it has been well received. Would I write another? Well yes, I think I might.
In a recent radio interview about my book, I was asked: “If you could go back in time, would you do the whole part-time expat life again?” The answer is yes – we would not have missed our time in Spain for the world. However, there is a caveat – next time it will be France or Portugal, and we will rent!
Anywhere but Benidorm is a humorous account of Lorraine’s life as a part-time expat and her love/hate relationship with all things Spain. The self-published book is available as a paperback or Kindle e-book, via Amazon.
Read about Lorraine’s trip to Freixenet House of Cava