Well, it was my four year anniversary, last week, of moving to Mallorca, and I felt that I should tell you my little story of how, and why, I ended up here.
The story can be split into parts, with the benefit of hindsight.
When I was a kid (before I turned ten and my father decided to buy a boat which meant all of our family holidays revolved around Poole Yacht Club and the English Channel), my father thought Spain was common. We never went to Spain on holiday, instead we would go to Malta or other places in the Med which offered good scuba diving (for him) and sunshine (for my mum) but Spain? Never.
Roll on a few years and I remember listening to my parents talking about travelling around the world, sailing in a yacht they had worked hard to buy and maintain.
Roll on again, to their divorce. Classic empty nest syndrome – oh, the kids have left home, do we still like each other? Er….
After my parents divorced (which is a whole other blog, which I won’t ever write as it’s far too messy and complicated) my mother headed for France, and my father headed for Mallorca, he’d been offered a job on the island, running a sailing school.
I couldn’t believe that he’d moved to Mallorca, surely that was the most common of all places to go? Wasn’t it full of lager louts and fat men in Union Jack shorts? (Although, I can recommend fat louts in UJ shorts, they are rather fun). I went to visit him a couple of months after he had moved to the island, and could not believe my eyes. Mallorca was the most enchanting place I could have imagined, I loved the mountains, the landscape, the beaches, the lifestyle, the people. I returned to London, to work, with a thrill. Cheap lovely holidays were on the cards for me. …..
Roll on again, not too far this time…
September 11 2001 does have a place in this story (as I should think it has in many peoples’ stories) – my boyfriend (bf, who I had met at the beginning of 2001) and I were staying at my Mother’s house in France when the planes hit the towers. We had no idea about it as we were gaily canoeing around a medieval moat in the Dordogne at the time (one of the rare occasions you will get me on the water these days). It wasn’t until later in the day when I received a rather misjudged and misguided text message from a good friend of mine that I began to realise that something had happened and that perhaps we should turn on the tv right now.
We didn’t turn the tv off again for 48 hours, we watched every second of those momentous and tragic events ….. My bf even knew someone who had died in the towers as he worked for a financial institution based in the States, whilst the bf worked in a satellite office at the top of the Canary Wharf Tower (could it be a future target for the same sort of attack?). On our return to London and our return to commuting to work everyday through the traffic and fighting against the tide of tube traffic, saying goodbye in the morning, every morning, became a rather more solemn and meaningful affair. In addition to that I had a couple of health scares, and just more and more pressure was piled onto the both of us at work. We offset it by being real London junkies – we knew every market, every museum, every interesting nook and cranny, intimately. But it was not shared by many of our friends, everyone was just too busy to really enjoy it with us.
Roll on a couple more years, and after a few more visits, and meeting my father’s friends, I came to realise that Mallorca was a very friendly place to be, that the spirit of the community was strong. After one visit I returned to work and someone who barely knew me commented immediately on how much nicer I was being, and how much better I looked. I couldn’t believe how transparent I had been. How obviously under pressure I seemed.
On my visits I met local Mallorquins, English, Dutch, Germans, French, Americans, Italians, and many other nationalities. I felt at home on this island, more at home here than I did at home (although, unlike many Londoners, I did actually know the names of my neighbours, on both sides of my little flat). The time came for me and bf (later to become husband) to go home from one particular trip. My father drove us to the airport where I actually broke down in tears as I simply did not want to leave.
On the plane back to London, bf and I examined why I felt so sad and so low. We concluded it was the lack of feeling part of my local community, and the draw of being included in something that I really missed.
I realised that I needed to escape, to grow, and to develop. I didn’t want to work for other people anymore, I wanted to work for myself, to be creative and to do my own thing. In short I wanted to have an adventure. Could Mallorca offer me these things? I craved something that the big city could not give – intimacy. (Although I’ve come to realise now, in 2008, that sometimes I crave that anonymity that the big city could offer, the freedom of movement, without bumping into people you know… I can’t remember the last time I was on a plane back to London without recognising the other passengers!). More importantly, I wanted a family of my own, and I couldn’t accept the idea that any child I might bear would grow up amongst a concrete jungle when I had grown up in such a paradisical setting – okay it was only Hertfordshire, but it was green and we were free to move around without fear.
And so, the great ‘Move to Mallorca’ project began. It was not an easy undertaking given that neither of us had any money, although I did have a flat in Walthamstow that I was loathe to sell. The flat however was not in a condition to rent out either, and neither were my bf or I really in a position to take on a new job in a new country…. given that we both had very language based jobs. So I retrained as a massage and beauty therapist, and my bf worried about the fact he wasn’t retraining as anything, but instead acted as backup – driving me to college, wiping my brow when exam times came round, and generally ignoring me when I became insufferable from the stress of having a full time job and a full time programme of lessons.
After two years, where the money was scraped together to make the flat into a nice rentable prospect, and I had sat, and passed (with distinctions, thank you), about twenty different qualifications, the time came to make some real plans and book some one way tickets.
We went to Mallorca for a quick trip, for my father’s birthday celebrations, where my bf met his future boss – just like that. I should have known already that island life is like that, but I hadn’t quite caught on. He met his boss, over a beer, where they both talked about their love of food, and one thing led to another and wouldn’t you know it, a couple of days later, over another beer or two, my bf had a job in a full on, very busy, professional kitchen (whilst I had just spent two years re-qualifying in a vocational profession, all he had to do was have a beer with the boss and, bingo). On one proviso, that he could return to the island in three weeks time to take up the post. No problemo matey. Seize the nettle etc.
A little matter of a London Marathon, which my bf had been training for, had to be achieved, plus he had to hand in his notice, and we had to have an engagement/birthday/bye bye, we’re off to Mallorca party. It was a whirlwind. A canapé of what was to come.
Bf moved on April 18th 2004, after completing the marathon. His parents came down to watch him run, and his Mum had a bit of a moment whilst ironing his shirts (we had to prevent her from m
aking him a packed lunch for the plane). I waved him off at Stanstead Airport with a huge sigh and a full heart, and headed back into my studies. I quit my job at some point in the next six weeks or so, after raising enough money to redevelop the scheme I was working on, and concentrated on getting the rest of us (me and two cats, one with a questionable heart – which is why I drove, rather than flew) to Mallorca.
It was 13 weeks before I began my physical journey, but by this time I had already been on a journey for a couple of years. I had bored anyone who would listen that I was going to be moving to the beautiful island of Mallorca. Sometimes I had to tell other people to believe it myself. But the day did finally come where, after some judicious chicken wire placement (thank you, Mark) in the boot of my car, I packed the cats, and my most essential belongings, into a Mini Metro, and headed for Portsmouth.
The trip went … okay. After an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo I reached my Mother’s house on schedule in the Dordogne. There was a bit of an atmosphere, four years on I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but I think it had something to do with floors and varnish – she was preparing for her summer lets. The next morning I fished the cats out from underneath wardrobes, promised them that I wouldn’t make them do this journey again, attached them by special cat harnesses to the passenger seat of the Metro, took possession of a fried egg sandwich from my Mum, and headed South.
It’s quite a long way from the Dordogne to Barcelona, as I started to realise when I only had a couple of hours left to make it to the ferry port. And once I admitted that to myself I began to panic: what if I didn’t make it to the ferry before 16.00 which is when the fast ferry leaves, what if I had to wait until later that night when the overnight ferry would crawl across the Med? It simply wasn’t an option as I glanced across at my two hyperventilating cats. There was no way any of us could stand a third night on the road.
The Barcelona Via Cintura will remain with me for the rest of my life. The lack of road signs, the huge lorries, and the roadworks, all meant that I didn’t have a clue where or when I was supposed to leave the ring road to head for the ferry. I was not aided by ‘supportive’ phone calls from bf who rang me every twenty minutes or so to get updates on my progress. It disintegrated into me screaming at him to leave me alone so that I could concentrate on having a major car accident before reporting back.
Finally, finally, I managed to find the right exit. But it wasn’t so easy to get to the passenger ferry. I drove like a maniac, trying to find the Transmeditteranea offices, as of course, I didn’t have a ticket. Somewhere, somehow, a god, of some description, was watching over me as I did find the offices. Panicking and off-kilter entirely I ran into the offices to buy my ticket. I watched the clock slowly grind around to three minutes to four. Could I make a credit card payment, show the documents for the cats, and myself in three minutes? The man behind the counter picked up on my urgency and started asking strange, and laborious, questions in Spanish, which at the time I had no hope of being able to understand or to answer. Perhaps it was the murderesss glint in my eye that finally got him to step on it, but I managed to launch myself back into my steaming Mini Metro, and up a ramp onto the fast ferry at literally one minute to four. I was the last car on and the first car off.
As I came to a halt in the belly of the boat, and turned off the Metro’s engine, I was overcome. Heaving sobs of relief flooded out of me. I cried for a full five minutes before I could get a hold of myself. And so I completely missed waving goodbye to mainland Europe as I was having a moment in a Mini Metro, (not many people can say that).
After having made sure the cats were going to be comfortable, and not too hot, I went upstairs to the passenger deck. I bought one of those little cans of beer and sat down on a chair. I woke up two hours later in exactly the same position. Can of beer exactly positioned in my hand; I had not moved a muscle. I had simply passed out from the effects of stress and tiredness.
When I came round, having ignored the plaintive calls of my mobile phone, with beer intact, I immediately checked to see if I still had my wallet. Typical Londoner. (Although I know Barcelona is not a place for the gullible or the vulnerable, having heard enough rip-off stories about the place to fill a book).
Once the ferry had docked in Palma de Mallorca the trusty Metro was the first off pole. Rolling down the ramp onto Mallorquin soil, I don’t mind telling you I had another moment. I had no idea why I needed to be here, no real clue, really we’d been going on one of my ‘feelings’ for the past two years. My bf had turned down, and left, well paid jobs to work as a lowly assistant chef in a restaurant, and I had no job and no clue as to how I was going to make it all come together either. Little did either of us know how much was in front of us. As I answered his frantic call to tell him we’d arrived, all I could feel was achievement, having met the goal, with no idea why.
As I headed South West towards Andratx, my final destination, I heaved another sob, and squinted into the sun as it started to drop behind the Tramuntana Mountains.
Pity the Metro wasn’t a horse, as we could have ridden into the sunset.