Real Life: Leicester mum on why she chose to pack her bags and move to America at the age of 60
After a painful divorce, Glennice Sprigg was facing the prospect of spending her retirement years alone. So she sold her house and bought a one-way ticket to San Diego, California. Gemma Peplow hears about the life she made – and why she eventually had to come home
Friends in Leicester will often ask Glennice Sprigg how she did it. How, at the age of 60, she was brave enough to leave everything in the UK behind and start a new life for herself on the other side of the world; a new life that saw her sharing a hostel bedroom, living out of a suitcase, befriending travellers half her age and basically experiencing the teenage years she never got to enjoy when she was younger.
Turn the clocks back a few years and it's a question Glennice would have been asking herself.
Back in the 90s, Glennice was a happily married mother-of-two, living in Knighton and working as a careers adviser. Never in a million years, she says, could she have imagined then how her life would pan out.
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It started with her divorce in 2001, following almost 20 years of marriage. Glennice was 58 at the time, and her sons, Matt and Pete, were travelling the world.
"Pete was working at a hostel in San Diego and he asked me to go out and visit him," she says. "It was November, the weather was awful, so I just thought: 'I'm going.'
"I got two weeks off work, bought the ticket and went. It was the first time I'd ever been to America and I absolutely loved it.
"I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for 70 people at the hostel and just had such a great time."
After returning to the UK, Glennice started to think about her future.
"I thought about getting to 60 and rattling around in this big four-bedroom house in Knighton," she says. "I didn't want to be a lonely old woman."
Glennice retired on her 60th birthday. She had already made up her mind.
"I'd talked it over with the boys and asked if it was okay to sell the house and they said it was.
"We'd lived in that house for nearly 20 years and it was absolutely full, it took me ages to clear it all out.
"It was hard. I had to make myself look at things and tell myself: 'that's just a piece of wood, you don't need it.'
"I sold a lot of stuff on eBay. I packed the bits I was keeping – about five boxes of personal items – and put them into storage.
"The day I walked out of the house, closed the door and pushed the keys through the letterbox was just gut-wrenching. I remember thinking: 'What have you done?'
"But I did it. I packed my suitcase, got on the plane and went back."
It was February, 2004. Glennice spent three weeks in San Diego before travelling to Mexico and Cuba, "to see a bit of the world," but returned to the Banana Bungalow hostel to help out. She soon became known as "mum" to everyone who passed through.
"Pete had introduced me as his mum and it became my name. I remember once, taking a phone call from a guy who said: 'Is mum still there?' When I said who I was, he asked if I remembered him. He'd come for Spring Break and was really, really drunk one night. He was really cold so I put him in the shower and then put him to bed.
"I used to end up putting lots of people to bed.
"And people would ring up at Thanksgiving and ask if mum was cooking. I became a surrogate mum to everyone."
But although she was hostel mum, Glennice still found time to party with the best of the younger travellers.
"On the weekends we'd make Jungle Juice, which was lots of vodka and sprits and orange and fruit. I'm sure you could probably strip paint with it, but everyone loved it.
"I felt like I was living my teenage years again, and this time like a normal teenager.
"I was the oldest of five in my family and left school at 14 to work as a receptionist in a hosiery factory on Walnut Street, because I had to – we had no money. I never got to go out and do the things that teenagers do.
"In San Diego, I was doing all the crazy stuff and getting drunk and having a great time."
Glennice stayed at Banana Bungalow until she was about 65. "Until I got fed up of living in a hostel. It was the not having any privacy that got me. Sometimes I'd go and check into a hotel just to be on my own.
"I shared a room with three female members of staff, and when it was busy they'd put in extra bunk beds. For the first two or three years it was fun, but I moved into an apartment with Michelle, who ran Banana Bungalow, in 2007.
"It was in the ghetto area of San Diego, but it was great. We had all the drug lords and gangs around us, and there were drive-by shootings, but no-one ever bothered us. We had Mexican neighbours on both sides, and they were all so nice.
"I moved in in the July and that New Year's Eve, I just wanted to have some time to myself. So at midnight, I was sitting with a glass of champagne, with the countdown on TV, when suddenly all these doors opened outside and all the Mexicans came out and started shooting their guns in the air. It was crazy."
By this time, Michelle had left Banana Bungalow to open her own hostel, Lucky D's. So Glennice worked at both.
Life couldn't have been better.
"I could get up and swim with dolphins in the sea, if I wanted. In the mornings, I'd get up, get my coffee and sit out on the deck, look at the ocean and watch all the surfer guys – that, actually, was the best bit."
But in 2009, Glennice had a health scare. "I had a nosebleed that just wouldn't stop. It was pouring out for two days and it got to the point where I couldn't stand, I was so weak.
"I spent two days in hospital and they stopped the bleeding and gave me transfusions. I found out I had arthritis and osteoporosis."
After being discharged from hospital, she was presented with a bill for $119,000.
"For two days," she says. "Two days in hospital. I didn't have health insurance.
"Everything was itemised – every pill I took, every bit of food I ate and every drink. The whole thing was 25 pages."
Glennice was able to pay the bill thanks to the savings she had from the sale of her home. But it left her with just £2,000 in the bank.
"I just realised that if I got sick again I would not be able to afford it. I thought about it and thought about it, for nearly a year. I thought about getting health insurance, but with a pre-existing condition, it would have cost about $700 a month.
"I couldn't do it. But I knew that if I got sick, I would have been stuffed."
Glennice moved back to the UK in July 2010, and is now settled in a bungalow in New Parks.
Her illness is advanced, but she copes well. "The cold got to me when I first came back, and I was on crutches. The doctors told me I wouldn't get any better, but I did some research and found that something called Boron could help. I found some tablets on the internet and ordered them. Within two days I felt like I'd got new knees.
"I know there will come a day when they stop being that effective, but for now I'm just so pleased that I'm back here and I can get treatment."
There's no bitterness, no regrets, says Glennice. She had six years in America, and that was her time.
"I miss the weather in San Diego, and the people. People are so miserable over here. In America, people will smile and talk to you at the bus stop as if they've known you for years. If you smile at a stranger here, they think there's something wrong with you.
"And I miss going out for breakfast. You could get up early in the morning and the sun would be shining and you could sit by the beach and have Eggs Benedict and a Mimosa.
"I miss it on days like today, when the sky is grey. But it's just one of those things. I was never stupid enough to think that I would be able to carry on doing everything I was doing until I was old.
"I am so glad I did it. I have so many memories and so many friends. I could probably travel the world and never have to stay in a hotel because I know so many people.
"But I'm happy here. This is the first time in my life I've ever lived on my own, and I love it. I can do what I want, when I want. If I don't want to get dressed, I don't. Some mornings, if I wake up at 3am, I'll get up and watch TV, and I'll always have someone to chat to on Facebook, somewhere in the world.
"I wouldn't swap it for anything. Even if Brad Pitt came to my door, I'd have to turn him down.
"My travelling's not over, though. I want to go to Brazil, to see Christ the Redeemer, and I want to see the Taj Mahal. It's my 70th next year and they are my aims.
"I never imagined I would end up doing what I did. But it was the best thing I could have done.
"I think too many people are too scared to get up and go."