You must be mad!

By: Alyson Sheldrake - Also see author's expat blog listing & expat interview

“You must be mad” was actually one of the many comments we heard from friends when we told them we were thinking of giving up our jobs, selling our home, and moving abroad.

It was often closely followed by an envious “I wish we could do that, you’re so lucky” which was usually then counter-acted by a deep sigh and a qualifying statement which began “... but we couldn’t do that because...” You can take your selection at this point from a whole list of reasons ranging from ‘our elderly parents’ through to ‘the children are still at school’; or ‘we couldn’t afford to’ and ‘we’d miss our friends ... or we couldn’t leave our vegetable plot’ (!) and sadly ‘our dog is too old to travel’.

Well we might not have had many of the above reasons to stop us – but I don’t consider ourselves to be particularly lucky – and we certainly don’t have much money – but we did have two very strong factors influencing our decision to move abroad: we had fallen in love with a sleepy, traditional fishing village on the Algarve; and we didn’t want to look back on our lives one day and say ‘I wish we’d been brave enough to do that’.

Life in the UK for us was frantic – a senior role in education for me and a busy police career for him – ensured that we had too many late nights, early mornings, long working hours, Friday night shops at the supermarket, traffic queues and TV dinners. We had lost too many friends to illness and even suicide, we had our own health scares and worries, and we asked the classic ‘there must be more to life than this?’ question on a regular basis.

And there was – and for us it was a screensaver shot on our computer – of a sun-scorched, golden sandy beach with a blue sky and an even bluer sea glinting in the bright sun.

Not just any beach – this was ‘our beach’ – and in winter some days it really was ‘our’ beach with over a mile of soft sand which was often completely deserted. Across all those air miles it called to us, like Mole’s house in the Wind in the Willows, and it called us back time and time again.

Each time that we visited we drove to our village and we always arrived ‘the long way round’ - there’s a shorter route, but this was our ‘special way’ – round the narrow streets and turn the corner – and there – laid out before us – was our village, sat twinkling in the hillside, white painted houses reflected in the harbour, boats gently swaying and clanking, lights twinkling, and the old-fashioned church standing guard at the very top of the hill.

Instantly the stresses and pressures of UK life would melt away, we’d sigh deeply, grin broadly, and we were ‘home’ – for a week or two anyway.

We’d always vowed that we would travel the world on our holidays, and never go back to the same place twice; and in our first years together we racked up some impressive destination stamps in our passports, including South Africa, Hong Kong, Venice, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic – and Ferragudo.

Yes, tiny Ferragudo on the Algarve was like a little puppy dog in a rescue centre, it was nothing special, it had no pedigree, but it had a big heart, and we instantly fell in love with it. And we returned seven times over the next three years, each time digging a hole in the sand on the beach on our last afternoon and carefully placing our hearts inside, ready to collect on our next trip back.

I blame the TV series ‘A Place in the Sun’ for what happened next – well, who hasn’t watched a programme like that – ‘couple sell up, buy a house in the sun, live happily ever after’ – and then looked out of the window at the grey skies and pouring rain at home and thought ‘we could do that’...

My only warning to you is this – if you think you can buy a house abroad, and then leave it sat there empty for weeks at a time whilst you frantically mark off the dates on your calendar to your next holiday – without dreaming of actually living in your beautiful home in the sun on a more permanent basis – then you have much stronger willpower than me!

If “home is where the heart is” then our home was most definitely Portugal! Buying was relatively easy but locking it up, and driving away back to the airport most definitely wasn’t easy!

The contrast between life in the UK and ‘home’ in Portugal was stark.

‘Home’ was where we could wander the cobbled streets, being greeted warmly by the locals, where elderly people sat on benches in the sun, smiled and said ‘bom dia’ to you as you walked by. Suddenly the frantic bumping and jostling on the High street was too much to bear.

‘Home’ was where the still warm ‘pastel de nata’ pastry was accompanied by a tiny espresso and an hour (or two!) of sitting outside a local café watching the world pass by. Suddenly the bucket sized coffee from the super-size me coffee shop in the UK looked faintly ridiculous.

‘Home’ was where shopping for dinner involved wandering the local market, picking up local produce in season and selecting amazing fresh fish almost straight from the boat at such a low price – suddenly the pre-packaged food and ready meals from the giant supermarket tasted like plastic.

‘Home’ was where you could sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy a leisurely lunch with friends with a chilled glass of wine, and where the heady scent of blossom filled the air. Lunch at work usually involved eating a soggy sandwich at about 3.30pm before dashing out of the door to the next meeting.

‘Home’ was where exercise consisted of long walks on the beach, barefoot along the edge of the sand where the waves gently curled onto the shore, feeling the sun warm on your face – or even sometimes a ‘full pelt, dive in and swim’ in the almost cold water, surrounded by a shoal of tiny darting silver fish. Time and the inclination to exercise in the UK was non-existent.

And ‘home’ was where our neighbours gave us bags of fresh lemons and oranges, figs and home-made cake, and helped us to dig over our garden and gave us plants and compost. Our neighbours in the UK smoked dope, and played loud music and computer games all night.

Small wonder then that the call of our ‘home’ in Portugal became louder and more insistent!

And ‘home’ held another dream too – one that burned away inside – ‘home’ had space for the art studio I had always wanted – together with the most precious thing of all – time. Time to relax; time to paint; time to enjoy life – time to simply ‘be’.
It was a simple choice after all – not a ‘lucky’ choice – or a ‘brave’ choice – and I don’t think that we are mad (!) – and we are definitely poorer now if you define that simply as how much money you have in your bank account – but we are rich beyond measure in comparison to our old life in the UK.
So the only advice that I can leave you with is this – if your heart is buried in the sand on a distant beach – if you have a picture of ‘your beach’ on your computer at work – and you can hear the pull of a distant shore gently but insistently calling you ‘home’ – and if your friends say to you “You must be mad” – then it is probably time to start packing!

About the author:

Alyson is the author of the popular Algarve Blog and is now enjoying a relaxed way of life in Portugal with her husband Dave. Alyson is a former Director of Education and also served as a police officer in the UK; she now works full-time as an artist, revelling in the wonderful clear light, amazing landscape and stunning views of the sunny Algarve.
Blog address: Twitter: @AlysonSheldrake
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Contest Comments » There are 9 comments

Julie Dawn Fox wrote 11 years ago:

I loved the notion of digging a hole in the sand for your hearts each time you visited Ferragudo. Glad you were mad enough to take the leap of faith and live your dreams. I'd encourage everyone to go for it, whatever their dream may be.

Liz Allen wrote 11 years ago:

Thanks for reminding me why I came here to live and of the alternative back in the UK. I'm off to pick some marmelos to make some sweet chilli and marmelo jam now...!

Alyson wrote 11 years ago:

thank you to everyone that has liked and commented on my article - much appreciated!

Tracey Hand wrote 11 years ago:

Being mad helps, of course ;-)

GertryGiggles wrote 11 years ago:

The joy of reading this blog just captivate my husband and I whilst we sit in our favourite cafe over coffee and brandy reading about their exploits.

Johanna Bradley wrote 11 years ago:

Beautifully written, Aly. An irresistibly presented case. Love the *puppy from a rescue home" image. Signed- one who has that sunny screensaver photo.

Elías wrote 11 years ago:

every post i read remind me my time in Algarve and make me think in coming back again to live there. I miss the Algarve so much, please post more about there! obrigadinho :)

The Laughing Housewife wrote 11 years ago:

Struck a chord because I've moved countries twice.

Anna wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful part of your story! I never had this feeling of "my Beach" or "my village" - maybe simplly because I was brought up in different countries abroad. Today the Algarve has become my favourite region to spend my time.

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