From about 2000 onwards, my business started dropping off and one of the reasons was that some of my clients could no longer deal with what was effectively a one-man-band. Regulations were becoming tighter, everything from standards for the solder I was using to ISO regulations. For some time I had been studying Spanish, either by watching TVE on satellite to buying El Pais in Waterloo Station on my way home from visiting a client but the idea of living in Spain was just a vague dream.
But I used to take a holiday for the whole of the month of May and rent an apartment, firstly in Lloret de Mar and later in Platja de Pals. This was a perfect time of year because it was still out of season but the weather was very pleasant. I would load up my car, a Ford Probe, with everything I would need for a month away and drive via the Channel Tunnel Shuttle to Paris, arriving late afternoon. I loaded my car (or rather they did it for me) onto Auto-train which has several routes in France. Not to be confused with Autorail which is much more expensive and one travels on the same train as the car. In the case of Auto-train, the car travels south overnight on a transporter and I spend the night relaxing in Paris. Next day I took the TGV to Narbonne and there was my car waiting for me. On one occasion, unfortunately missing a camera which I never recovered. But digital camera technology was moving very rapidly at the time so it wasn’t greatly missed in the long term.
But that particular year, that was just one of a number of disasters. The day before I was due to leave, the engine in my car packed up completely. It just stopped. I was in the Isle of Wight and all day was anxiously calling the repair shop to see if they had found the fault. Yes, I was mobile. As I flew down the autoroute to Paris, little did I know that in fact one cylinder wasn’t firing at all but I made it to Paris Bercy which is where the Auto-train terminal is. Next day I drove from Narbonne to Lloret de Mar but by now suspecting something was wrong with the car. The agent who I met have a huge bandage around her finger and was in considerable pain having trapped it in a garage door. We drove out to the house I had rented (emphasis on the word “out” because it was out in the middle of nowhere). My rather sick car hardly made it up the hill. All around was dark, empty houses out of season waiting fro arrivals the following month. I had no provisions so I went out to find a supermarket and had to drive a long way. When I came back I forgot to my cost to lock the back door into the kitchen.
I went to bed but, at 3am, I was woken out of a deep sleep by a sound and I saw a shadowy figure pass across outside my bedroom door. I shouted “get out” but my voice was deep and guttural because I was barely awake. After a short time, I went downstairs to check the “damage”. My credit cards gone, my treasured Seiko watch gone and cash I guess, I can’t remember. I was very shaken. It didn’t take me very long to realise that it could have been a lot worse. I am sure you know what I mean by that.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep much and then at 9am the agent turned up breezily with some food for breakfast. Soon, she was not so breezy. So we spent the rest of the morning in the Police Station. The rest of the week, some nights I was too afraid to sleep there because it wasn’t very secure anyway, lots of glass panels which could easily have been broken. I drove down the road to a hotel. And then of course I had to get my car repaired and that I did by finding a Ford dealer in Blanes.
My holidays in Pals were happier! I took classes in Spanish three times a week, drove around the area imagining what it would be like living there. So the idea formed slowly in my mind until I reached the moment in my work where I realised I could simply walk away from my company. “With a leap and a bound, he was free” is a caption from a boy’s magazine from many years ago showing a white man in khaki escaping from (presumably) savages in the jungle.
People often asked me how I came to live in Catalunya, either in Spanish or English. As I drove around, often visiting the city of Girona, I was imagining living there, with the distant mountains of the Pyrenees still with vestiges of snow on the peaks in May. In 2003, I was 60. My two private pensions matured and I found that I could walk away from my company without letting down too many people. The problem with building electronic products is that they require technical support for the lifetime of the product. No one else is going to have a clue how to repair them. But, walk away I did.
In January 2002 I spent a couple of weeks in Girona looking for a flat. I wanted to be near the city on the side towards the sea, somewhere where no one spoke English and I found a flat under construction for 110k euros which at that time was around £80k. I borrowed the money on my house in the UK and for £220 a month, I was the owner of a flat in Celrà, Girona. In any case, I only paid in stages, €4k when the roof was on, another €4k when the windows were fitted. I moved to the flat in 2004, then sold my house in the UK and in 2005, technically I became resident in Spain paying taxes there as opposed to the UK.