I was having some health problems. After 2 years of doctor and hospital visits I was diagnosed with an illness called Sarcoidosis. It was making working difficult, and most days I was driving to work in tears feeling ill and exhausted. One day we were walking the dog along the beach near we lived, and I said to my partner Alan, “I’m not sure how long I can carry on like this.” We decided we needed a complete change of lifestyle. Alan suggested moving to Spain to breed alpacas! Initially he wanted to move to Florida. He would be happy selling Coca Cola in Seaworld, I had a 24 year old son and a 19 year old daughter and that was too far away. We needed somewhere closer.
Before Spain you were…?
We lived in Peacehaven, just outside Brighton on the south coast. I was mum to Mark and Frankie and life was great until I started to feel unwell. For over 30 years I had been a dance teacher. I taught everything from teeny, tiny tots to line dancing for my more mature ladies with a huge amount of sequins in between. It was a career I loved, and I had thought I would continue dancing for many years.
How did you chooseMontoro, Cordoba to live?
Well maybe Montoro chose us. Alan wouldn’t let me come on the first viewing trips as he knew I would fall in love with everything as I was desperate for a change. Estate agents kept showing him white boxes, with a chippie on one corner and an English pub on another. We know some people want that but we really didn’t. He had seen the Olive Mill on line and loved it. We were looking for something with land, and character, and the Olive Mill had both. It also had the added bonus of being off grid, which meant our bills and living expenses would be minimal. The first time we were staying in the hotel in Montoro, it was actually the local feria and we joined in the towns celebrations. We were totally unaware that life in Spain seems to be practically one long fiesta. There is always a party on or being prepared for.
And now you do something a little different… tell us more about your farm
Well, it all started in Prague. We were enjoying a weekend break, and being animal lovers we used to like to visit zoos and farms as often as possible. We took the opportunity whilst in Prague, and during our visit we were approached by a strange looking animal. He was a goofy, brown, and a fairly ugly looking alpaca. We now know they shouldn’t be kept on their own, they need company of their own kind, but this little guy sowed a bit of a seed. We rather fell in love with alpacas that day. Alan must have done some googling and found out that it was possible to make a living breeding these lovely animals. So, when we were discussing ideas for a new direction, Alan said to me, “Why don’t we move to Spain and breed alpacas?”
Which has also spun into a writing career for your husband! Tell us how that started?
It started out innocently enough. You know how it goes, you sit around the dinner table telling your guests about the Spanish neighbour doing drunken impressions of a friend riding a horse whilst having an epileptic fit, whilst being forced to drink strong home brewed wine. Plus the story of taking one of the dogs to the local vet to be castrated. When asking when to pick him up the vet shakes his head and tells you how to hold the dog’s legs whilst he prepares the operating equipment. On one of these occasions somebody said to Alan, “Why don’t you write a book?” The idea percolated for a while, and Alan wrote 50 pages and asked a few trusted friends for their opinion. They seemed to enjoy it, so he carried on. He was able to find out lots of info on the internet about self publishing, and then, once it went on sale, people actually started buying it. Much to his surprise and of course delight! We receive emails from people all over the world who have read the books. The title of the first one,Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? Came from when we told my daughter about our plans, and her reaction was, “What’s an Alpaca?” The sequel which he has just published is called Seriously Mum, Where’s that Donkey?
What has been your greatest challenge to starting the farm?
Our original plan was to breed and sell the alpacas. We have realised since moving here however, and I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but in our area many of the Spanish are not great with animals. We often have visits from the neighbours horses' who do not worry about secure fencing for their animals, and prefer to hobble them instead. This is distressing to see. Of course the crisis has hit everyone, and people do not have the money to spend that maybe they would have before these difficult times. Most alpaca owners breed their animals annually but we rested our girls for a couple of years as we cannot keep increasing our herd with no one to sell to.
Advice for Women just moving to Spain who want to do something different?
My main advice to women moving to Spain, firstly has nothing to with work. My daughter was 19 when we came here, she also came with us, with her boyfriend. My son was already in a relationship and stayed in Brighton. My daughter struggled with the rural lifestyle and they returned home. Just be prepared ladies it is difficult being away from the family. If you become a grandparent, it can be very tough too. Think about that seriously. If my gorgeous grandgirlies had of been born before we left England, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be here now.
Be flexible! We are on plan C at least. It’s is no good living the way we do, and worry about sexual equality. We have pretty much our own roles in life. I can cut wood with the chain saw, and light the fire and of course push a wheelbarrow full of alpaca poo, if I really wanted to, but I tend to sort the washing and deal with more of the household chores.
Charity Dog book – tell us more about that project
Last year we had a dog dumped outside our house. It wasn’t the first and we know it won’t be the last. A lady called Maria, from a rescue called A New Day in Spain, contacted us and said she thought she may be able to find a home for the little fella. We went down to see Maria and her husband and we gobsmacked to find them caring for over 50 dogs on just their UK pension. All we could offer to help was a small donation and a bag of dog food from Mercadona. Since then, Alan has tried to come up with a viable way to raise some money for these rescue centres that are all over Spain, often run by people just like Maria. Take Me Home, Por Favor was born. Alan invited people to send in their stories of rescued dogs. They are now being put together in a collection and will be released as a book, with all royalties being donated to rescue centres here in Spain. Alan hopes to have it ready before Christmas. So watch this space!
Oh yes! I was missing dancing, plus I felt I needed to get fitter. I used to teach Latin American dancing plus other styles and I loved the music. I decided to take an instructors course and threw myself into it. I have a regular little group of lovely ladies. It hasn’t been easy though, Montoro is a very traditional little town and the majority of ladies would not dream of doing any other exercise apart from their regular walk around the town.
Now you must tell us what you do to relax!
We enjoy the simple things in life. We love meeting up with friends, walking the dogs, and even the alpacas. The cats join us when we take the alpacas for a walk. Also a couple of new hobbies for me, in the last couple of months I have been learning Sevillana dancing, which I totally love, and I have also been doing a little crystallizing of shoes, phone cases etc, which I find very therapeutic, and I love a bit of glitter, I’m a bit of a magpie!
Favourite quote and why?
Simple and one of the most well known “Treat people like you would like to be treated” As a dance teacher when parents would discuss partnership problems etc, I would always say that to them.
Something you will achieve in 2014
God willing I will have my first grandson who is due in the next couple of weeks! Like all of us, it would be great to earn a bit more money, please! Continue to improve my Sevillana dancing as rumour has it we will be dancing at the Cordoba feria. ALSO year 1 of my online blog is in the process of being edited, to be published with lots of photos as an ebook. So people will be able to read my side of the story as well as Alan’s.
Who, or what, inspires you?
I think I would have to say my parents. They brought me up in a loving family, and encouraged me to study hard, and supported me during my professional dance teacher training, and taught me to work to achieve success. I was trying to think of someone totally inspiring, but no it had to come back to my mum and dad. They are both in a better place now and they are probably looking down at me thinking I’ve gone bonkers. Yes bonkers but happy!
What gift do you most hope Santa brings you?
First and foremost my little grandson to be fit and healthy of course. This year I will be in Brighton with the family to welcome him into the world. I’ll be looking forward to spending time with my little girlies that are 3 and 4, and of course my son and daughter. Alan will be here alone as he needs to be here with the animals, and I will of course miss him. He will be well looked after by our friends here and fed much better than I would feed him!
If they made your life into a film, who would play you and what would the film be about?
Felicity Kendal of course, as we are trying very hard to live “The Good Life”. Not always successfully, but we try! Shame we don’t have a Margot in our lives!
Where can we find out more about Alpacas, the farm, the Books etc.