By Karon Grieve

In the mid eighties Madonna sang of Holidays and I went on one to the Greek island of Spetses. A holiday that extended via a romance with a Greek to working in bars and tavernas and becoming a holiday rep. While the romance barely lasted the summer my love affair with Greece, her islands, culture, people, history and food has never died.

Roll on 30 years and I find myself after a failed marriage and one gorgeous grown-up daughter at an age when the empty nest approaches and a fear of loneliness looms large. I could carry on or take a leap into the unknown. I chose the latter, a decision aided by the odd glass of wine. So here I am on Crete writing a novel in the sunshine.

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I have a tiny two-room apartment and am proving the words of CS Lewis to be true – "You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream". I am proud to be part of the FABOH (Fifties Abroad Better Off and Happy) trend.

I am no Shirley Valentine, no gorgeous Greek has whipped me off my feet this time, but like Shirley I have discovered a new me in this small fishing village far from the dreaded 18-30s Brits Abroad resorts.

The Brit Abroad still exists down here but they are a tad older having retired here rather than to the usual costas. You can spot them with their pressed slacks, socks and sandals (men) and acres of cheesecloth, enough to make a small marquee (women) and their proud boast that they’ve been here for over 10 years and don’t speak a word of Greek. Like their younger cousins they hunt in packs and congregate in the same bars and tavernas which offer cappuccinos and cocktails as opposed to Greek coffee and raki.

There is much talk of Brexit as the expats worry about the possible freezing of pensions when Britain leaves the EU. Other worries include the possible loss of the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) which allows for state healthcare all over Europe. Then there is the cheap flights issue, while now we have a number of budget airlines competing for business, come Brexit these could be cut down or even lost completely. The telephone companies who dropped data roaming charges throughout Europe this June would no doubt see this as the perfect opportunity to reinstate them. Finally there are the pessimists who think we’ll all get sent back to the UK.

I don’t have the pension worries but the other issues are a concern. My standard of living here is good. I can eat well, socialise, enjoy the glorious sunshine (though admittedly a bit too hot at times) and basically be far less stressed than I am in Scotland.

There are strange anomalies though; while this island boasts more than 30 million olive trees and produces more olive oil than all of the Greek islands and mainland combined, olive oil here is more expensive than it is in the UK.

I won’t say it’s been all sunshine and smiles since I got here in April. In fact I almost backed out from coming had my 19-year-old daughter not practically forced me to the airport telling me that I needed to do this (I’m not stupid though, I know she was looking forward to having the house to herself and moaning Mummy out of the way). You see my Greek dream was already tainted by the guy I had trusted to do the work on my apartment ripping me off for rather a lot of money. I thought this guy was a friend so stupidly didn’t get quotes, receipts etc.

There are always a few hitches, the Greek toilet system is something of a challenge and you are forever having to get something fixed that has to do with the sink, shower or the loo. The latter seem to have a mind of their own and either the seats fall off, the cistern won’t fill up or they will groan and vibrate alarmingly after flushing.

I miss my daughter but when I asked if she wanted to come over for the summer she pointed out that we are not living in a Durrells fantasy land. We both remember only too well when I brought her here on holiday two years ago and she turned into Kevin the whinging teenager the minute the plane touched down, Greece is not for her and we can now laugh about it.

There have been moments of loneliness when I have wondered if Greece were really for me. Times when I so longed to have a partner here to share this with, then the next day when I wake to the inevitable sunshine the clouds of doubt fade away.

You do have to harden your heart a bit. The sight of puppies and especially kittens abandoned in boxes by the bins or near the beach can be heartbreaking.

Like anywhere else you’ll find people who will always find something to moan about, yet there are so many who take life as it comes and always have a ready smile and a kind word for everyone.

As far as food and drink goes the local fruit and vegetables are second to none and incredibly cheap. Your taste buds will tingle and you’ll find yourself jolted back in your memory to how fruit and veg used to taste many years ago when we only bought what was in season and not shipped in from all over the world.

Greece produces pretty good wine and you will be spoiled by being able to buy a bottle for the price of a small glass of house plonk at home.

I have found a far more diverse group of friends than I have back in Scotland. Friends who will drive you three hours to hospital on a Sunday morning when they've only met you twice before. Friends who will fix your shower (and that pesky toilet), share their music and movies, teach you backgammon, take you on trips to the top of the mountains above the snow or to deserted beaches.

In the meantime I have learned a few life skills: Yes I can live alone, I can make friends easily, I don’t need a man to be happy (but if Johnny Depp should pull into the harbour I’d be there like a shot), I can make a pretty repulsive tiny apartment into something beautiful, I can wear short shorts and a bikini even in my fifties, I can laugh at myself, I can survive perfectly well in a kitchen with only a food processor, I can live on 8 Euros a day and that includes my frappe coffee at my beach office where I write every day and three glasses of wine at a local Kafeneon in the evening and food if cooking at home, you can clean almost anything with raki (local firewater) and it makes a great disinfectant, I can ask for help when I need it and I can do things that scare me.

I’ve also learned that having a laugh with people is so much better than television or being online, which brings us to my slow and sometimes nonexistent internet which has taught me patience (a virtue I am somewhat lacking in and one you have to have to live here). Slowing down in every way, enjoying each day and embracing the small victories; when the shy young priest smiles and says hello and local people start to call you by name and shorten the usual greeting of Yassas to Ya mean more than any gaudy prize.

I’ve realised that I am not invisible as I often felt in Scotland, being of that age when life seems to be speeding into antiquity and as a woman you have vanished from the radar. Here I am accepted for who I am, I’m noticed, talked to and appreciated.

My friend Ursula (she of the hospital run all those months ago) taught me the true meaning of Carpe Diem which no therapist had managed to get through to me. She of the mad road trips who tells me that whenever we have a choice in the roads always take the rocky one, it might just take you on an incredible journey.

Life as ever is a learning curve wherever you are. But like good old Shirley Valentine it took a bit of the magic of the Greek islands to remind me of the fun girl I once was all those years ago. Finally, at 57, I've realised I’m really not that bad at all, in fact I’ve learned to like myself at last.

Read more of my adventures at Facebook/KaronGrieve.


1 Slow down, learn patience. Greece and other southern European countries have a much calmer lifestyle and very often don’t see any rush in getting things done. GMT (Greek Maybe Time) can be very frustrating at first.

2 Get an EHIC card and take out good insurance. Many companies offer long stay options, shop around for the best deal.

3 If you are getting any work done, get recommendations, don’t pay for anything upfront and get receipts for expenses.

4 Go native. Embrace the local culture, customs, food and people. Don’t just hang out with other Brits.

5 Stock up on toiletries if you are coming to Greece. Even deodorant is ridiculously expensive here.

6 Rent property, don’t rush out and buy something. Rent is very reasonable and you avoid a lot of red tape.

7 Get a Revolut card which means you’ll cut out those pesky bank card charges that get whacked on to everything when you are abroad.

8 Remember you don’t need half as many clothes as you think. You’ll find yourself wearing a fraction of the things you’ve brought.

9 Do not eat and drink like a tourist. You live here and can’t afford to be out on the toot every night. Good fresh food is cheap, cook at home and eat out as a treat, you wouldn’t be dining out every night in the UK.

10 Leave all your preconceptions at the airport, nothing will turn out the way you expect it to. Be flexible and have fun.