by Geoff Illes

It was Saturday night, my wife Sarah had gone to bed partly due to the fact that I was watching “Match of the Day” on our television. After matching the first halt of Manchester United vs. Chelsea, there was a large flash of light in the garden and as I went to the window to see what it was, to my surprise a spaceship had landed in our garden.

Was this my chance to get out of England, a country I had lived in for the past 50+ years, a country which in my eyes had been great, but now was only going one way and that was down…. A country with a government that doesn’t know what its right hand is doing from its left, but has both hands in its British people’s pockets. A country where it seems everyone is only interested in themselves, watching “Sadenders” and the other soap programmes on TV; a country where you go into shops only for people to groan at you, supermarkets that are far from super, checkouts take no notice of the customers but more notice of 10 items or less only, cash only, cheques only, credit cards only, no sex only, grockals only, one item or less only….Do they really care for the citizens?! Answer is NO. I had been a member of The Grumpy Old Men’s Club, a club that I didn’t really want to be a member of, but when the British Government says you will join, you are left with little choice. For years I had been asking the question how you can support a government, when the government doesn’t support its people, when the government controls the television and radio stations and welcomes free speech, but allows no one to speak, a government that looks after themselves at the expense of their British people.

Yes, thank you England for the past but I don’t want to be in your future and I don’t want to play your games any more, so goodnight and remember the last person to leave, please turn the lights out.

I went into the garden and spoke to the captain of the spaceship, who agreed to give us 10 minutes before he took off, and would take my wife and me with them. I went up the stairs to speak to Sarah and she said she would come along as long as she could pack a suitcase or two… But where was the spaceship going, anyway? I had forgotten to ask that question, but it didn’t really matter, we would be flying into the unknown, heading for a great new adventure! We climbed into the spaceship, knowing that there would be no return, and off we went into the future.

The alarm went off and I woke up, had a shower, breakfast and a cup of tea, got into my car and drove off to work. I was thinking if only my dream could come true… Well, we can all dream, but only some of us turn a dream into real life!

It was on the 26th August 2005 that we moved to our new life in Bulgaria. A lot of our family and friends were surprised by our choice and many didn’t really know where Bulgaria was! Today, four years later, we live in a beautiful country, three hours flight from England, and our home is in a lovely quiet village. It is a newly built bungalow with 3 bedrooms, large garden, swimming pool and great views across the countryside. In addition we own some more land overlooking a lake and some land with sea views. We are only 25 minutes travel from an International Airport, 30minutes from a wonderful City, and 35 minutes from the coast. We live in a country with our seasons, lovely summers, friendly people, attractive girls, not a lot of crime, and no “little bar stewards”. We live in what we call PARADISE.

Before that our life in the UK had become intolerable. We had many years of the good times, giving our three children and ourselves a nice standard of living. Unfortunately all good things come to an end and although looking from the outside-in everything looked fine, looking from the inside-out was not the same picture. The high cost of living in England was in our eyes just not worthwhile. Family problems, high taxes, road congestion, politics and life in general were putting a heavy weight on our shoulders, a weight that we didn’t want to carry. If we didn’t change something then who would?! We had never been a couple who made plans only to watch the world pass them by. Now we needed to make a big decision, agree it and then go ahead and do it. If we had lost the joy in our lives, now we needed to repair it or replace it to move on, so there came the decision to opt out and live somewhere else other than Great Britain. My first choice was Spain, but Sarah didn’t think she could settle there.

One evening my eldest son rang to say that he was interested in buying a property in Bulgaria and asked me to look on the Internet, and would I travel out there with him to view it. Bulgaria…where exactly was it? “Only 3 hours flight, cheap prices, with a lovely coastline, situated between Turkey and Romania…” so why not go and check it out. By chance a month later I was asked by my company to make a business trip to Bulgaria. I decided that I would go and took my son along. On our return Sarah asked how we liked the country and we replied that we both did, but were not sure whether she would.

Two months later Sarah and I decided to go to Varna, in Bulgaria, to celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary, Sarah having no idea what to expect. Our flight arrived quite late at night; we collected our hire car and drove to our hotel overlooking the Black Sea. When we arrived, we both wanted a long cold drink and sat in the garden looking out at the sea and watching the stars. I think we got to bed close to 3 o’clock in the morning.

The next few days I took Sarah into Varna, and we drove along the coast showing her lots of the city and the region, then out in the evenings to nice restaurants and drinking Bulgarian wine. The weather was hot and as we travelled around we saw all the young girls dressed in orange, lime, and pink dresses, and Sarah thought they were very thin and beautiful. She even thought now that the UK looked drab and boring, so I knew that something here was beginning to steal her heart and we were both enjoying our week’s break. On the evening of our anniversary we went to a top restaurant and had a lovely meal, great service and we were again surprised by how little it all cost compared with England. Nothing was too much trouble and the table was ours until we wanted to leave – why couldn’t we have this service back home?! Or maybe were we about to cross that line, and call this our home in the near future – well, maybe dreams do come true…

There were many real estate companies in the city and we decided that the next day we would view some properties while we were here but we had only 4 days left. Bulgaria has so many houses, mostly in villages, some new, some old, some renovated and some just a shell or half finished due to the owner’s money having run out. My choice was a newly built house in traditional style, in what looked like a nice village, with good views, which we agreed, was promising. But when we arrived it was not what it seemed. The couple that owned it was lovely, giving us strawberries and other fruit from their garden – this was our first experience of how friendly the people are here. We both felt that we were made to feel very welcome by all the people we met. However the house was not for us, it had a staircase that you would never want to use, so we went on. After a few more viewings we found our dream house that we are living in now, very modern in design, not a typical Bulgarian style house. It has 3 double bedrooms, en-suite, open plan lounge with kitchen and dining area plus utility room. We share a nice swimming pool with three similar properties, a summerhouse and a nice well-kept garden.

We returned to England and completed the purchase. After that life began to take us down the path of selling our house, and in our case, all the furniture together with cars. We had decided to ship some items with us, but would buy everything new on our arrival. By January 2005 we were homeless, with what we were keeping in storage and I am sure people that knew us thought we had gone completely mad this time. However, our son had just purchased his first home and he would give us sanctuary. During this time we had the experience of obtaining a visa, which meant train trips to the Bulgarian Embassy in London and endless telephone calls to some office that only opens two days a week between the hours of 14.00 to 16.00. But mostly they didn’t pick the phone up. In the end I collected our visa and that was another chapter completed.

I came over to Bulgaria in the end of February to organize our new kitchen and white goods to be ready for our arrival in May. On my return to England, I went to my doctor’s for a health check, and now our, or mine, biggest problems were to start. As I was moving abroad, the doctor wanted to carry out some routine checks on me, this lead to another check, then another and another. The doctors and nurses were very good and carried out on me what seemed to be every check possible, but it was causing me to get very depressed. As soon as one check was fine, I was sent for a different test not knowing when they would finish and not knowing whether my luck would run out with the next result being not what I wanted to hear. So, our May date came and went, followed by June and July. It was now mid August, Sarah was out shopping, and I had to make sure what we were going to do, so I telephoned the consultant who informed me that I was fine and wished us luck for the future. By the time Sarah returned I had booked our flights for 10 days later. You can image the shock that she had, 10 days to get everything together, but I convinced her that was better than 10 minutes with the spaceship! That night we went out to celebrate my health being fine and our new life beginning.

Ever since January all of our possessions had been in storage, then came the day to load them into the container to be shipped to Bulgaria. That was another time that we realized we had packed some items that should

have gone to the car boot sales, but it was too late anyway. So with the days passing we bid our farewells to our friends and counted down the days, then the hours. I had booked a package holiday for two weeks. Two of our children and our grandson came to see us off at the airport, and we were all very emotional, even though we were only going to be 3 hours flight away. Our son would be visiting us in 6 weeks time and our daughter would come for the New Year, but as we stood at the airport saying our goodbyes it seemed like a long while in time.

We spent the first two weeks at the hotel, going out shopping for furniture and all the other items we needed. During the early weeks we had lots of paperwork to do concerning the container that arrived at the port three weeks after, but due to various holidays it took us another three weeks to get it delivered to our new home. Finally came the day when the container arrived in our village and with the assistance of our Bulgarian neighbours we unloaded it and finished arranging our home for the time-being.

So, our dream did come true, and we have no regrets about it. We have a lovely lifestyle that suits both of us, we can go out for meals in nice restaurants whenever we want to, the food and wine here are excellent and do not cost the earth as in England. We have made many new friends, some from England, some from Malta, but mainly Bulgarians, and spend many summer evenings enjoying their company sitting outdoors and having a barbeque. Most days we sit in our garden and watch sheep, cows, horses and carts passing down the lane, we have a stork’s nest in the garden. Our neighbours acknowledge us as they pass and are always there to assist us if required, and we are there to give them a helping hand. Yes, we miss our children, but they visit us regularly and we return to the UK to visit them and some friends. Our only concern is that we have become a pair of Bulgarian bores, asking our friends what they have done since we left, and boring them with what we have done!

Would we change anything – the answer would be no; was it all worthwhile – definitely yes; regrets – we have a few but then again, too few to mention. Finally, Sarah’s and my last words would be that as much as we love our children and do miss them dearly, we would never return to live in the UK. Maybe one day will come when they will come and live in Bulgaria with their now Bulgarian parents, but then that’s another dream…