surinenglish

From boat to books - via cats, dogs and lessons taught and learned

Steve Davies. SUR
Steve Davies. SUR
  • Steve Davies

  • "My Spanish teacher didn’t tell me about the Andalucía accent," says the owner of the Sabinillas Bookshop, who swapped his UK boarding kennels for a classroom in Spain in 2001

He's a familiar face to countless foreign residents living in the Manilva area.

But there's an interesting story behind how Brit Steve Davies came to be living and working on the Costa del Sol.

Steve was born in Stockport, Greater Manchester in 1969, which is also where he grew up.

After leaving school at 16 he started to work for the family business, selling arts and crafts until the age of 20.

He then went to work as a bar steward on a cruise liner called the Star Princess, which sailed around the Caribbean for three years.

Steve, 51, who lives in Estepona, told SUR in English: "It was a fantastic way to see the Caribbean and get paid for it. My favourite place was the island of Saint Thomas, it was beautiful."

After that Steve returned to the UK where he started working in a country pub/hotel in Nantwich, Cheshire, as an assistant manager.

But it wasn't long before he was off again to south Devon, where at the age of 27, he started running his own boarding kennels and cattery.

"It was a dream come true," said Steve.

"I thought I would be doing this for the rest of my life, as it was my dream job. But I needed a hobby. So I started learning Spanish to distract me from the long hours and working seven days a week.

"I was lucky as I hit it off straight away with my Spanish teacher; she came from Colombia and I went for three hours every week for two years. I thought my Spanish was great."

Then, at 31, Steve sold his business and his family encouraged him to put his Spanish into practise.

He explained: "I took the plunge and moved to Estepona in 2001. At the time I had five dogs, a tortoise and a cat. I came over for three months initially to find a property and drove over with the dogs and the tortoise in a minivan. The cat was flown over - it was the most expensive flight ever!"

But as with a lot of people who move to the south of Spain, Steve initially struggled with the local accent.

He said: "My Spanish teacher had taught me all about the verbs, grammar and vocabulary, but she didn't tell me about the Andalucía accent. I understood nothing and my Spanish wasn't as great as I thought it was, so I enrolled in a language school in San Pedro.

"I did a three-month intensive course and learnt even more verbs, grammar and vocabulary but still understood nothing. So I told my teacher, the owner of the language school, that I needed a job to help me understand more and she asked me if I would consider teaching English to adults in her school. I had no experience but she said that the knowledge of the English language was more important than the certificate, so I accepted and began what would be my first 10 years in Spain working as an English language teacher.

"The first few weeks were great and I spoke only in English but then I had to cover the classes for the six to ten-year-olds. They were brutal! They said my accent was funny and my handwriting was weird, but I wasn't going to let a bunch of six to ten-year-olds intimidate me and within six months I understood everything, including the insults!"

After that Steve did his teacher-training course in Barcelona and officially became an English-language teacher.

He worked in two language schools, one in San Pedro for four years, and another in Estepona for six years.

"I loved it," he said.

"But one day in 2011 I went into what was then The English Bookshop to buy a card and I overheard the owner telling her friend that she was thinking of selling the business."

Three months later Steve had bought the business and in the past 10 years has transformed a small dusty little bookshop into a bustling hub of the community.

"I renamed it The Sabinillas Bookshop but everybody still calls it The English Bookshop," he joked.

Steve, who owns two African grey parrots that greet his customers and is also a balloon artist, is a big fan of the Manilva area.

He said: "Manilva, which covers Sabinillas, La Duquesa and Castillo, has a fantastic international community. All nationalities have integrated and it is clearly shown within the local festivities.

"Although everywhere is on standby at the moment, the shows will go on again. Sabinillas hosts one of the best San Juan nights as well as the Full Moon festival, medieval markets in Castillo, a summer market in the port of La Duquesa and the Grape Harvest Festival in Manilva village.

"The one event that has really put Manilva on the map is Manilva Pride. This event has brought in many people from other communities, as well as bringing people together from our ever growing community."

When asked what the future has in store for him, he replies: "Well, as I keep thinking up crazy ideas, you'll have to watch this space."