When my husband and I announced that we were leaving Spain to return to the UK a couple of years ago, everyone asked the same thing. Why? And, wailed our British friends in particular, after living happily in the peaceful sunny hills of the Axarquía, how will you cope with the weather, with the traffic, the cost of living, the crumbling NHS?
Well we have coped, as people do. Some things are a shock. Predictably the traffic is dreadful and the parking situation worse. There is a long tailback driving into our small market town every morning and its centre is often gridlocked. Though supermarkets are slightly cheaper here, drinking in a bar is prohibitive in comparison to Spain. The husband is still reeling from buying me one medium-sized glass of wine which cost £8.90. (“Enjoy it,” he said. “It's your first and last.”) We both still long for the local bar culture we left behind where even the most modest of places in the scruffiest of towns offers all things to all men - not just cold beer but also decent coffee, cheap, tasty sandwiches and proper hot meals. And although the NHS staggers manfully on, GP surgeries exist in virtual reality - getting an appointment with our family doctor is as rare as finding hens' teeth.
Other differences are a welcome improvement. There are minimal queues in most places (a lot of tutting goes on if there is any waiting at all) and signing onto the electoral roll took a few minutes via the internet. The post is delivered to the door every morning - a far cry from our 'buzón', which was situated at a bus stop on a blind corner with a pack of feral dogs in situ - and though January goes on forever, the weather generally isn't that bad, or so we think. I love the greenness of trees, leaves and lawns and the countryside and coast of East Anglia are as beautiful as those of Andalucía. One of the more weird and wonderful changes I have really embraced is the way stuff is disposed of here. When we lived in Riogordo the village dump was closed because the fetid mounds of rotting junk were polluting the water source.
In Britain every town has a municipal tip and ours is run by a small band of cheerful workers who run about showing people where to put various items of rubbish. There are skips for every kind of unwanted thing - old washing machines and fridges in one corner, bikes set against the fence to be sent to underprivileged children, electrical goods set aside for charities, paperbacks in a book bank, wood, plastic and cardboard all in separate containers... It's like a giant filing cabinet and I make endless excuses to visit it.
And so 'aquí estamos', as our neighbours used to say to each other in the bank queue (see above), or waiting for a bus. It's a favourite Spanish expression of mine, implying as it does a steady resoluteness to shrug and accept whatever life throws at you. Here - for now - we are.