On a long weekend break to Andalusia, David Philpott meets some people who agree with Belinda Carlisle that heaven indeed is a place on earth.

BRITVILLE

About an hour or so eastwards along the Mediterranean Highway- some distance in miles away from the high living of Marbella - the early Autumn sea shimmers on the right side while white homesteads dot the landscape in the foothills of Andalusia to the left.  Leaving this major auto route at Algarrobo, a smaller road winds its way with twists and turns that would challenge Clarkson et al, up the side of a glacial valley and eventually through the white village of Sayalonga and the larger municipality of Competa.  Built into the hillsides, these Moorish citadels make use of every rocky outcrop in their construction and every aspect in their positioning – the views in each direction presenting a thousand observations to intrigue the curious mind.

Many of us had come here to the even smaller village of Archez from Blighty this past weekend – a pilgrimage of sorts – to pay tribute to one who had touched all of our lives in so many different ways.  As I sat in La Pena last night, taking in the scene, only the warm balmy air and the Spanish architecture of this restaurant reminded me that we were not in provincial England a long, long time ago.

‘I don’t want any presents’ Lyn had said. ‘Just bring yourselves and wear something from the nineteen seventies.  It’s fancy dress’.  So I did; I splashed it in all over, the smell of Brut reminding me of first dates and Glam Rock,  this even before the evening’s playlist had kicked in.

It was an eclectic bunch that had gathered for the celebration; those like ourselves who had flown in from a regional airport and those that had chosen to make this little village their home.  And not a few of them there were.

‘I’ve got the dream ticket’ Clint Eastwood (aka Phil) confided in me. ‘I have a contract with Competa Town Council to teach the kids football.  Who would have believed it?  A scouser teaching the Spanish how to play football?’ he continued.

‘And what do you do?’ I asked Olivia Newton John (aka Nicky from Middlesbrough). 

‘I teach Zumba.  How weird is this? Recently I had forty six middle aged local women in my class strutting their stuff in an aerobics workout to a Latin beat.’

‘Do you not miss England though?’ I asked. ‘Would you ever go back?

‘Never’ came the reply - in unison - with the assurance and certainty of a teetotaller being asked if he had ever downed a sneaky pint.

They had come here for a new life six years ago after toiling for Virgin Media in a job that brought neither of them any satisfaction at all.

Martin had come for other reasons.  When in the late nineteen nineties his mother died, having sold her home, he allowed serendipity to bring him here where now his days are blissfully whiled away to the soundtrack of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen and the Rolling Stones.

‘I have every original Dylan album’ he confided in me, ‘but Blood on the Tracks has got to be my favourite’. Like Phil and Nicky, he had no intention of returning to England, even though he had fond memories of running his antique shop in West Hampstead.

I reflected once again on the unassailable truth that it is not money that makes people happy but lifestyle, and here, these ex pats, whilst in some cases merely eking out a living, this was the place they had chosen to make their very own paradise.  It was as if they had all collectively agreed that this is as good as it gets and they were more than satisfied with that.

Round Midnight (see what I have done there Martin?), as I walked back to the Casa Verde - the little house where our hostess had regaled us in home comforts -  I reflected on something she had said earlier in the day. ‘Nobody here asks you what you do for a living. Nobody cares’ she had claimed and I now realised that she was right.  It had been so nice just to be me as a person and not me as a professional.

As I climbed into bed, my sweetheart at my side, I realised that if what Lyn Paver had told me was true, then it meant that none of these people living here in Archez knew that she had once been Chief Executive of the Devon Air Ambulance charity, having saved it from near financial collapse when she was handed the levers of power.

If they didn’t know before; they will now.