it was a very different Spain that Eileen Dry found herself in more than half a century ago. Back in 1959 when she first started visiting on holiday, there were hardly any foreign residents and Estepona was just a small fishing village.
After buying a house in Jimena de la Frontera (Cadiz province) with her husband John, London-born Eileen recalls that one of the biggest differences was a trip to the shops.
“In those day they had to walk the pigs in from the farms and down the main street to the shops,” says the grandmother, who now lives in Estepona.
“So you could be standing in the local shop and they would just walk the pigs past you to a back room in the shop where they killed them. Then once all the pork had gone that was it until the following week when they would walk more pigs down the street again, but that was 40 years ago. Times have changed since then.”
Due to the lack of modern supermarkets and convenience foods, Eileen quickly learned to cook traditional Spanish food with a little help from the local women in the village.
She explains: “I’ve been cooking Spanish food for 40 years. If you’re living in a Spanish village you could only buy what was available in the season so I learnt to cook Spanish style. We couldn’t search for things in supermarkets like you can now; you had to go across the road to the shop, which just had an open door and no windows. I miss that part of Spain. It was good for my daughter as when she came over she had to mix with the local kids and she more or less grew up with them.
“I learned to cook paella, to make gazpacho and potato salad as well as owning cookery books from all over Spain.”
Before Eileen and her family moved to Spain permanently 18 years ago, she used to work for London social services in the mental health department, helping to support carers who were dealing with illnesses including schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
However, she quickly found that she had too much spare time on her hands following her move to Spain and didn’t want her skills and experience to go to waste, so she started looking for volunteer work in the local community.
She explains: “I got a bit restless and most of the action is down on the coast. I thought I was wasting my skills so I started volunteering for Concordia [an HIV/AIDS charity] in Marbella for about four years.”
Around this time Eileen and her family settled in Estepona, which she adds, has changed a great deal over the years.
“I can remember when we couldn’t fly into Gibraltar because the border was closed and we had to get a taxi from Malaga. Back then Estepona was a small fishing village. Now there’re more expats and a lot more apartment buildings, but it is still very Spanish and that’s one of the best things about it - that it’s kept its original charm.”
Nowadays, Eileen spends most of her free time volunteering at Age Concern España, after taking on the role of President of the charity.
It’s not a role that has enabled her to slow down; if anything she is working harder than ever, even compared to her full time job back in London.
She says: “I think I work more hours now than when I was employed full time. I started off coordinating volunteers around 11 years ago and since then the amount of work has steadily increased and increased. But I enjoy working with people. I’m a hands-on person and a great believer in care in the community. If you can give people that little bit of care they can carry on, especially if they are looking after a relative with Alzheimers and just need a chat.
“I try to go into the drop-in centre in Estepona three times a week. Sometimes people come in just to unload, so you become a like a listening ear for people’s problems.”
Nowadays , when Eileen is not working at Age Concern, she and her husband like to kick back and relax on a cruise.
She explains: “The great thing about cruising is you can’t use your mobile or read your emails.”