“It never ceases to amaze me how this tiny country, set high in the Pyrenees, yet manages to offer residence and visitors alike, a real smorgasbord of cultural activity”, – says Clare Allcard, author and freelance journalist.
Clare Allcard, author and freelance journalist, was born in 1946 and educated in UK, Belgium and Canada. She left school at 17 to act, then left acting to nurse and, after a detour through a nervous breakdown, finally left nursing to fall in love with an adventurer, the single-handed circumnavigator, Edward Allcard.
In 1968, aged 22, she set out with Edward, 31 years her senior, to drive from England to Singapore in a Land Rover. It took them five months, They then flew on to New Zealand and rejoined Edward’s 36ft sailboat Sea Wanderer. Their daughter, Katy, was born in Auckland. For the next 14 years they sailed the world.
In 1982, they were living aboard an ancient, 69ft ex-Baltic trader, Johanne Regina in the Far East. Beset by pirates, immigration officers, incipient skin cancer and the groping attentions of sex-starved bachelors, they decided to return to Europe. But where? It was then that Clare bought a Singapore stick of bread wrapped in a bit of newspaper. She smoothed out the newsprint and read an advertisement by an estate agent called CISA in a country she had never heard of, Andorra. A country where one didn’t need a visa.
Two weeks later she flew back to England, drove to Andorra – and discovered her destiny. They bought a small plot of land. CISA built a house and they took possession in 1984. The only thing left to do was to sail the boat from Singapore to Barcelona, a matter of 13,700 kms. On the way they stopped off in Turkey to fix the engine. They loved the country so much they stayed a year.
It was in Turkey that Clare finished her first book and started another: The Intricate Art of Living Afloat and A Gypsy Life. Both were published in New York and London and were selected as Book of the Month by the American Dolphin Book Club. Later A Gypsy Life was also translated into Norwegian as Havets Vagabonder and appeared as Rodamons de la Mar in Catalan.
A Gypsy Life, is being reissued this Christmas. She has written a few promotional articles about it and her husband’s new book Solo Around Cape Horn and Beyond. Here’s what she wrote about A Gypsy Life:
“A book jam-packed with drama: near fatal food poisoning, sailing on the edge of a hurricane with the engine on the blink and the rigging snapping like spaghetti. A collision at sea in the Bay of Biscay, rammed by a 50 foot French fishing boat doing 8 knots on autopilot, with the whole crew below cleaning fish. A raid by the Italian Mafia, attacks on consecutive nights by the Ethiopian Navy and the Communist Navy of South Yemen. The latter resulting in gun fire, capture and being thrown in jail accused of spying. And the eventual arrival in the Seychelles, that Garden of Eden, where we owned a little plot of land and some coconut trees”.
It wasn’t until 1986 that the couple actually took up residence in Andorra. And what a paradise of opportunity and activity they discovered. Edward started skiing again – and continued until he was 92. In 1989 Clare became a founder member of the International Singers (now the Cor Internacional d’Andorra with members of 12 different nationalities) and organized the choir for 23 years. The same year she also joined the International Club.
In 1991 another event occurred that had a major impact on their lives. On 18th July Edward’s best friend, Peter Tangvald, was shipwrecked and killed on the West Indian reefs of Bonaire along with his seven-year-old daughter, Carmen. His 15 year old son, Thomas, survived. Peter had left his children to Clare and Edward in his will. So Thomas, too, came to live in Andorra until he left for university in the UK.
In 1993 she co-founded the Writers’ Circle of Andorra and has co-authored two anthologies on the country: Andorra: Festivals, Traditions and Folklore printed in 1998 and available at La Puça bookshop. The latest book on Andorra, written by members past and present, is Andorra Revealed, published in 2016. But more about that anon.
In 2003, realizing that Andorra’s international community harboured a bunch of fascinating people, Clare started a monthly lunchtime talk in English, which has since evolved into the Wednesday Tea Talks, where an invited guest discusses a subject of general interest: climbing Everest, writing best sellers, taking part in the Olympics, weaving Persian carpets, being accidentally given to the wrong parents at birth, conserving Islamic art in Kuwait and then being interned during the Iraqi invasion, working 30 years in Silicon Valley as a top advertiser.
Meanwhile, harking back to those nursing roots, Clare became a volunteer hospital visitor and met another bunch of really interesting people.
In 2006 Clare gave up her British passport, changed her name to Clare Allcard Thompson Foster and became an Andorran Citizen. (This tale is described in the anthology Andorra Revealed).
In 2011, the Government rightly decided that the International Day of Music’s evening choir concert had had its day. But hey! What a marvelous opportunity! Why not expand the celebration? Have a whole day of music? Why not all types of musicians not just choirs? Why not celebrate outside in the squares as well as indoors in the auditorium? Clare contacted the cultural departments of the Comuns of La Massana and Ordino. As always they were incredibly supportive, working hard on the publicity side. She then contacted all the choirs and also many individual musicians. And it worked. In June 2012, the first Festa de la Música was born. The following year the Festa lasted nine hours, boasted 30 acts with some 300 participants of some 20 different nationalities. And the public turned out in force! Clare, however, was shattered. Anyone out there willing to take up the challenge? Clare would be happy to help.
In 2016 she joined Judith Wood to publish the anthology Andorra Revealed (available via amazon). Through fact and fiction, memoire and imagination the book takes the reader deep into the heart of this unique, pocket-sized country. Not so much a guide book, this is an entertaining companion for would-be visitors and a practical handbook for would-be residents. Crammed with facts, past and present, punctuated here and there by elegant haikus and cheeky limericks, it is interwoven with bedtime stories that reveal even more of this rare Co-Princedom. Eccentric and eclectic, it shares the allure that has brought foreigners from all over the world, including the authors, to make this country their home.
On the 9th July, 2016 Clare was named La Massana Citizen of 2016.