Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Being Sandra in Spain

Being Sandra in Spain is about what living in Spain is really like, and my personal experiences as a Writer On Spain. Obviously, I get to see things and go to places that others don’t, so being the generous soul that I am,  I’ll share all these things with my readers. Feel free to invite me to anything that’s happening in your corner of Spain, and I’ll do my best to turn up and get the word out.

The Red Knickers Report 2018

It’s that time of year again – the eagerly awaited review of the year, which I call the Red Knickers Report, due to the Spanish New Year custom of wearing red underwear for luck in the coming year. Whether it was because last year’s red knickers came from Sainsbury’s instead of Spain, or it was because they were reduced, they obviously haven’t worked their magic. I thought 2017 was a bad year – as you can read here, if you haven’t already seen it – but it was obviously just a tough training session for what was to come in 2018.

The first real indication that maybe 2018 was picking up where 2017 left off came at the end of January. We’d taken Paddy for a run by the Ermita in Algorfa, and he spotted a rather attractive lady dog on the other side of the road. Not being one to waste a chance – even though he has nothing to back it up with –  he dashed across the road, straight into the path of an oncoming car. We thought that, like the Monty Python parrot, Paddy had become ‘An ex dog, and had ceased to be,’ but it all ended well, as Paddy himself explains in this guest post.

That was a bit of a bad move, letting him loose on the keyboard, because he demanded another guest spot in July when Gizmo was getting on his nerves a bit. Then, of course, Gizmo demanded the right of reply, so there was a bit of Dog Wars going on for a while. Paddy and Gizmo may be very different in size and temperament, but they really are the best of friends, and spending a year together has given us a lot of laughs, at a time when we needed them most.

‘Spending a year together? How did that happen?’ I can hear those of you who are still awake asking. Well, I can’t actually, but it makes a good link to the next bit. You may remember I spoke about Tony’s health in last year’s review, and sadly, it’s continued on a downward spiral. We came over to the UK in May for a 6 – 8 week visit, and we’re still here as I write this on the penultimate day in December. Not only has Tony’s health been very poor, I’ve had a shaky time of it too, culminating in being rushed into hospital with pleurisy in August.

Things are starting to settle down for me now, but Tony still has a lot to deal with, so we’ve been staying with Glenys, my very good friend and Gizmo’s Mummy. I really can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done for us this year. There are friends, there are good friends, and then there’s Glenys, who has gone way above and beyond the call of friendship. She’s a true Earth Angel.

Normally, our visit to the UK is during the hottest time of the year in Spain – July and August – but we brought the trip forward, as my daughter in law was due to celebrate a big birthday in June. However, we were devastated to receive a call from my son in Shropshire to say she’d passed away from sepsis after apparently making a good recovery from surgery. As you can imagine, it’s left an enormous gap in the family and in our hearts, although I’m really proud of the way my son has dealt with everything since that terrible day in April.

My younger son also had a health scare in June, when he was taken into hospital with a suspected heart attack. It turned out to be a viral infection of the pericardium, and it’s taken several months for him to recover fully. Thankfully, there seems to be no lasting damage to the heart, and he’s enjoyed a very boisterous Christmas with the family.

For the first time since 2007, we’ve spent Christmas in England rather than Spain, and we’ve had a good time – although we haven’t had as many evenings out as we would have had in Spain. Our health and the exorbitant price of eating and drinking out has seen to that. However,  it was good to be able to hit Morrisons for the Christmas Eve bargains – you don’t get Yellow Sticker Fever in Spain, as the store buyers there seem better at getting the ordering right. Or maybe they don’t mark stuff up so much in the first place.

You may be thinking by now that 2018 has been a very challenging year for us – and it certainly has. However, one way or another, I’m going into 2019 with a smile on my face. One friend remarked that ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, you wouldn’t have had any luck at all, Sandra!’ While I can see where he’s coming from, I don’t agree with that. Luck implies you have control over what happens, and clearly we don’t. I do have control over my reactions to events  and people though, and that makes it possible for me to look forward with optimism.

Two things have stood out as great positives in a year of physical and emotional challenges. One thing is the support and love of friends all over the world – those I already know, and those I have connected to, heart to heart and soul to soul, although we have never been in the same room together. The other thing is the way my spiritual journey has progressed.

One thing I’ve noticed is that almost everyone who comes to spiritualism doesn’t get there because they just fancy trying something new. They want to find a way to cope with the terrible things that life has thrown at them, because they want to grow stronger, rather than buckle under pressure. When I knew I would be facing an extended stay in England, I set about joining a development circle and finding a Spiritualist Church where I could develop my own powers, attend workshops and see good mediums at work.

The lovely Alison Wynne-Ryder has given me such enthusiasm for working with Spirit and the Angels, and 2018 was the year I was certified – although most people who know me think that should have happened years ago! Having completed Level 3 of Alison’s excellent Psychic Development Course, I now have the piece of paper that says I can call myself a Psycic Intuitive and/or Clairvoyant. I also have the strong desire to use my gifts to help others heal and gain comfort and guidance from the Universe, so I am every excited about strengthening my connection with Spirit in the coming year.

June 2018 saw me give my first psychic reading by Skype for a friend in England, and it went better than either of us could have imagined. You can read about it here, if you’re interested. I’ve also taken my first steps in communicating with animals, and I’ll be progressing that further by doing a course with the lovely Maureen Rolls in February. I contacted Maureen in October, when Paddy seemed to be affected by everything that was going on around him, and she was able to communicate telepathically and give me a lot of helpful information. Within days, he was back to his normal, happy self. We don’t just talk to dead people, you know!

On 12th January, I’ll be taking another giant step on my spiritual path when I take part in a Fledgelings Evening of Mediumship in Plymouth. Basically, I’ll be working on the platform with other mediums-in-training and – hopefully – bringing through messages from Spirit for members of the audience. It’s exciting and scary at the same time, so wish me luck!

Another positive move for 2018 was to gradually shorten my trademark long hair. I had no intention of having anything other than a trim back in February, but as I was discussing the upcoming appointment with friends on a motor home rally, and they asked what I was having done, a voice in my head said ‘Cut it short,’ and it came out of my mouth before I could stop it. I thought – rightly as it turned out – that Spirit were telling me it was time for a makeover. I feel so much better, more confident, and everyone says I look younger too. I did it in stages – from a bob,  which Alison Wynne-Ryder saw in my future before I even thought about it – to a pixie cut in September.

It’s easier to look after, more modern, and my hair is in better condition than it’s been for many years. My new ‘do’ has brought about a change of attitude, and put a much-needed spring back in my step. I don’t think I’ll ever go long again, but hey, never say never!

So, although I’ll be glad to see 2018 bow out, there’s been a lot of lessons and laughs, along with the trials and tears. As a result of his near-fatal accident, I’ve been much stricter with Paddy, and it’s a joy to take him out these days. I don’t have to wonder if I’ll end up on the deck, or if he’ll behave when he sees other dogs – I know for sure I won’t and he will. I also won my first-ever photography competition, and although I’ve not been able to concentrate much on my writing this year, I’ve developed my photography skills in my down time.

I’ve learned to be much more calm and patient, because getting worked up doesn’t solve anything, and it doesn’t help your state of mind or your stress levels. If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it – just trust that all will work out for the best, because it will, whatever you do. And if someone is after a row and you don’t feed their anger, it’s much more effective and satisfying than getting into a slanging match.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it’s certainly true. There have been times this year when I’ve honestly thought I wouldn’t get through things, but guess what? With a little help from my friends, Spirit and the Angels, and a good helping of Sandra’s Special Stubbornness and Will to Survive, in the words of Elton John:

I’m still standing better than I ever did,

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.

I’m looking forward to 2019 with joy and anticipation. Yes, there will be more challenges, but whatever happens, I know I can deal with it, and I know I can’t be beaten. There are good things waiting for me, and for everyone. Wherever you are, I wish you a magical New Year, full of love, happiness, health and joy. It’s what we all deserve, and it’s there for the taking. Never let anything dull your sparkle. Love and blessings to you all.

Other great end of year round ups

Here’s more great reading from my blogger friends for inspiration and information in 2019:

Mrs Mummypenny

One year on, and the Glamrus Girls are going from strength to strength!

Last year, I reviewed a new salon – Glamrus – which had just opened in El Raso, near Guardamar. Glamrus is run by Sophie Morgan and Vicky Mannion, who has been my hairdresser since I moved to Spain 10 years ago. Fast forward 12 months, and the salon is offering even more value for money treatments, and has built up a loyal client base, welcoming new customers every week.

A couple of months ago, I decided my hair needed a new look. It’s been long for – well, as long as I can remember – and it was getting out of condition and a bit difficult to manage, so I went for a shorter look. My friend Glenys has been here through the winter, and she also needed a trim, so we decided to have a pamper day with manicures, pedicures and waxing. At least for me – Glenys is too much of a coward for that!

The salon is luxuriously equipped – Glenys, a retired nurse, remarked that the skin treatment room was better equipped than many doctors’ examination rooms in the UK. And the many certificates displayed on the walls bear witness to the deep pool of experience shared by Sophie, Vicky and their guest therapists.

The pedicure seats are particularly impressive, as was Sophie’s technique. The nail on my right big toe is frequently ingrown, with the result that the nail had a rather unsightly curve to it. I’m not sure what magic Sophie worked, but since my pedicure, the nail has been nicely flat, like its foot mates, and it hasn’t ingrown at all. And two months on, the skin on my feet is still nice and soft. It’s no exaggeration to say it felt like I was walking on air as I left the salon, and my feet are still very comfortable.

Glenys was a bit reluctant to have  a manicure, as she said her nails ‘weren’t worth bothering with’ because they never looked nice. However, Sophie’s  treatment has resulted in stronger, prettier nails, so she’s very pleased as well.

In total, I had a complete restyle, manicure, pedicure, lower leg wax, upper lip wax, eyebrow wax and tint, and the whole lot came in at less than €100. I have friends in England who pay more than that for a cut, colour and blow dry, and are not as delighted with the results as I was with my beauty makeover and pamper session.

That’s my personal experience, because mere pictures don’t tell the whole story – how everything is comfortable, friendly and relaxed, and how both Sophie and Vicky explain everything they’re doing, and exactly why they are doing it.

While the service is personal and tailored to individual needs, the Glamrus Girls have thought outside the beauty box, and offer a holistic approach to health, because true beauty starts from within. The latest offering is fitness walks and boot camps led by Lee, to get the circulation going for that healthy glow that can’t come from a bottle. And Glynis offers Reiki and Reflexology treatments. In fact, the Glamrus Girls are always coming up with new therapies and ideas to improve your health and beauty, and the good news is, you won’t need to mortgage your casa to fund them.

Glamrus also hosts themed health and beauty evenings, where you can learn more about available treatments and try before you buy. Sophie and Vicky are committed to helping their clients to look and feel good, in a friendly yet professional atmosphere. Why not give them a call or drop in for a chat and see what the Glamrus Girls can do for you?

Congratulations on your first successful year, Sophie and Vicky. Here’s to many more!

Contact Glamrus on 965 996 622, check out their informative Facebook page to find out more about their services. Maybe I’ll see you there soon.

Picture this – loving the results with my new camera!

Sunlight on the rocks in Calpe – the first photo I’ve felt confident enough to enter into a competition.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a good photographer – I’m a writer first and foremost. However, when you run your own website, it helps if you can also take your own photos for it, especially if you want something different  to the run of the mill stock photos many bloggers seem to rely on. So, over the years my efforts with a camera have improved. I’ve been the proud owner of a Canon Ixus compact camera for several years now, and what I love about it is that I can slip it into a pocket, pull it out and point and get a half decent photo. Sometimes I’ve captured some stunning images, and I thought me and my trusty Canon would be together forever.

All that changed when I went to a writers’ convention in November 2017 and a friend of mine who is also an excellent photographer did a presentation about CRAP photography. That’s Clear, Relevant and Aesthetically Pleasing, if you’re wondering. A few minutes into the presentation, he startled me by saying it didn’t matter how much you spent on your camera, because – and I proudly quote:

Sandra has produced some brilliant images for her website with her little camera.

After I finished basking in my moment of glory, I began to think that maybe if I was that good, I could be even better with something a bit more up to date than my 8 year old Ixus. So when I went to England for the Santa Run, I decided that Tony was going to buy me a new camera for Christmas, and I’d tell him about it when I got back to Spain.

Testing the zoom lens – this balloon was hundreds of feet in the sky, and I was on the ground!

I snagged a good deal on a Canon Ixus 185 compact camera, in my favourite clour – red. However, I was a bit disappointed with the initial results – most of the photos were either out of focus, too dark, or both. In the last 8 years, technology has moved on so much that even a ‘point and shoot’ camera needs getting used to before you can get decent images, and once I got to know my camera, I was delighted with the results.

The great thing is there are about 20 zoom positions, as opposed to the two on the old camera. This zoom is much more stable too, so you don’t have to stand as still as a statue or use a tripod to get excellent close up results. I’ve become more experimental with angles and individual flowers, leaves and stuff as a result, and I’m taking the kind of photos I’ve always admired, but never imagined I could achieve myself – especially with a basic compact camera and no special lenses.

I’m so confident with my photography skills these days, I’ve done something I never thought I’d do in my life. No, not that – this is a family-friendly blog, thank you very much! At the grand old age of 65 and three-quarters, I’ve entered a photography competition with not one, but three photos. Astoundingly, the one of sunlight on the rocks in Calpe at the top of the page came first, and I won a beautiful canvas print of the photo. To say I was astounded is an understatement – there were many photos more deserving of the top prize than mine, but hey, I’m not complaining!

Closer to home, this is the nectarine blossom in our garden. An experiment with camera angles that paid off nicely.

These days, people seem to prefer to take photos with phones and tablets, but I’m an old fashioned girl who thinks cameras take the best photos, as long as they’re idiot-proof. I’m really pleased with my new camera, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an easy to use camera that they can just slip in a pocket, point and shoot. It’s got a fairly long battery life once it’s charged up, so I can easily get 400 or more photos from a single charge, which is great when you’re attending a special, annual event like the Benidorm Expats Parade. Last year, my old Ixus flagged after 300 pics, so I missed the priceless photo opp of the Policia Local ‘arresting’ a Brit dressed as a convict!

I think you’ll agree I’m getting some great results, and they’re getting better all the time. Maybe I’ll come across you while I’m out and about with my shiny new camera. If you see a red camera pointing at you, with me on the other end of it, give me your most dazzling smile, and remember to say ‘cheese’ – or maybe that should be ‘queso.’ We are in Spain, after all!

The Red Knickers Report 2017

Apologies to those regular readers who have been looking out for my year-end roundup for the last three weeks, but things have been rather hectic at Piddock Place of late. We ended 2017 with an occupancy rate of four adults and two dogs, instead of the usual two adults and Paddy. My friend Glenys is over for the winter, with her dog Gizmo, and another friend – Karen – has been staying with us until she could organise her return to England. I’ve not been too well lately, so it’s all got a bit on top of me, and I’ve lost my creativity a little. However, I’ve now given myself a boot up the bum, and I’m back writing.

New readers who might wonder at the title may want to check out my previous Red Knicker Reports for 2014, 2015 and 2016 before reading on, to see how they came into existence, but if you can’t be bothered, it’s a review of my year – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, how did it go? Read on, dear reader, and prepare to laugh a bit and maybe feel a twinge or two of sympathy along the way.

The year started well in the company of Glenys, Gizmo, Larry and June, who had come over from the UK for the winter. Together, we all explored the area, and did a few trips in our motor homes with MCC in Spain. We also managed to arrange a surprise birthday party for Glenys – no mean feat when she was only staying 200 yards up the road from us! We rustled up about 18 of our friends, and managed to smuggle them in without her knowledge. I’ve also managed to pull a surprise 75th birthday party for her this month, but as she’s now staying with us, we held it at the Camping Florantilles Show Bar.

I first met Martin and the fantastic team at Camping Florantilles when Glenys and I went to a charity poolside jam session there in June. Glenys was driving, so I overdosed a little on the vodka, to the extent that when we got home, instead of doing the promised barbecue, I crashed out on the sofa for several hours. I don’t remember much about that visit, but I was allowed back again, so I can’t have been too naughty. When we returned from our summer trip to England, I started going to their Wednesday afternoon poolside jams, and notched up another first for me. I’m a bit of a Karaoke Diva, as most of my friends know, but I’ve never sung with a live band. At the grand old age of 65, I finally did it.

Talking about being 65, when Tony asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I couldn’t think of anything. Well, I could, but apparently a ticket for the Widow’s Cruise around the Mediterranean wasn’t the answer he anticipated! So I had a rethink and decided that I’d rather celebrate my special day with all my favourite people, and organised a party at the Centro Rural de Algorfa for around 40 friends. It was a very special night, with music from Peter Taylor, one of Mike’s special chillis, and a beautiful bouquet from Tony, who by then had forgiven the Widow’s Cruise comment.

Another first was going to the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. If you paid attention to the blog posts, you’ll know that I’m involved with publicising the film, and helping to raise awareness of the wonderful job a group of local expats have done in making a feature film that showcased the area on a tight budget. In a whistlestop visit to Darlington, I had a wonderful experience, and an encounter with a mad Irishman. You can read all about it here.

Back from Darlington, and back to reality, we had a worrying couple of months when Tony was quite poorly. It culminated in collapse on a motor home rally in the Sierra Maria mountains in June, and as Tony refused point blank to see a doctor in Spain – despite the fantastic level of health care here – I brought forward our summer trip to the UK.

Tony was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver a week after we put down the deposit on our home in Spain, and he was warned he had less than a year to live unless he stopped drinking. 10 years on, he’s still going strong, but initial investigations pointed towards bone marrow cancer, or myeloma to give it its posh name. Thankfully, it wasn’t that, but there was a significant deterioration in liver function, and again, we’re on the One Year Warning. At 84, Tony feels he’s lived his life, and wants to enjoy what’s left of it, which means he’s not keen on following medical advice.

Obviously it’s his body and his choice, but that bombshell, combined with a cold, wet UK summer which rendered me housebound – or more accurately caravan-bound – for several weeks, and a Poorly Paddy as a result of a severe ear infection, all took their toll. I racked up another first, but one I’d rather have missed out on. I came so close to a mental breakdown, that for the first time in my life, I find myself taking antidepressants, as well as the shedload of medication I already take to control the Lupus and my blood pressure. I have to sit very still for a while after taking my tablets, otherwise I rattle when I walk and get some very funny looks. I’m getting back to me again though, although I’ll be popping the happy pills for a while yet.

On the professional front, I’ve stepped back a bit from the writing for several reasons. Tony’s been out of sorts for most of the year, and my almost breakdown made me realise I have to take more time for myself, so I’ve kept my hand in, but basically given more time to me. However, I did rack up another first – my first-ever writers’ conference at Velez Blanco, hosted by my good friends Elle and Alan, who are fellow members of Writers and Bloggers About Spain, a supportive and creative Facebook group. We got a dog sitter, and Tony came along for the ride, but finished up participating in the whole programme and getting an idea of what I do and why.

Talking of ‘Me Time,’ I’ve expanded on my tentative forays into the world of psychic development. I’ve been working with the lovely Alison Wynne-Ryder through the year, and have learned a lot about myself and my psychic abilities. To coin a well-known movie tag line, ‘I see dead people,’ but I’ve also discovered I have a natural ability for clairvoyance, clairaudience and spiritual healing. Alison has opened up a whole new world for me, and I look forward to seeing where this takes me in 2018. Meditation is at the core of all things spiritual, and this has helped me to deal with what 2017 has thrown at me. I’m calmer, happier, and more emotionally resilient as a result.

One thing I have realised is that I need to get rid of the negative influences around me, and I made the difficult decision to sever some long-standing connections, because I realised they were emotionally draining, and I didn’t need the associated drama. I’m happier as a result, and although 2017 has been a difficult year, with no real progress in the achievement of my long standing goals, I’m optimistic about what 2018 has in store for me. Let’s hope the new red knickers (bought in Sainsburys with 25% off the normal price) can work their magic. Find out next year!

Some of my friends in the Blogging Your Way to Riches Facebook group have also done year end round ups, reviews and reflections. Check them out:

Kate Tunstall

Leah Richardson

Lynn James

Emma Maslin

Cat Plummer

 

Crack the cava – Two people in one day know what a conclusion is!

So you know how to write a proper conclusion? I’ll drink to that!

Being Sandra in Spain isn’t all glamour and film premieres, and interviewing famous people. Today, for example, I’m sitting here in our static caravan in Bigbury Bay in sunny – make that very rainy – Devon. Nobody famous – or even infamous – fancies being interviewed today, so while I was seeking inspiration for a new blog post, I did some of my ‘bread and butter’ work. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected ways, and today was such a day.

As well as being a writer, I’m a trained editor and proofreader, and one of my more challenging regular jobs is assessing and providing feedback to newbie writers on a training course. They write an article after completing the course, and I assess it for grammar, conciseness, readability, provision of relevant information, educational and/or entertainment value, originality and all the other stuff that goes into crafting a memorable article. The nature of the beast is that many of them are not memorable, or are memorable for all the wrong reasons. The only thing that keeps me going through the hundredth article of the week about weight loss, relationships and making money on the Internet is the hope that someone, somewhere will eventually ‘get’ the whole writing thing and go on to write stuff I’ll read because I want to, not because I’m paid to do it.

Regurgitated Google is normally the Dish of the Day, and I have a few stock phrases that I can copy and paste from a word document to save time. One of the most often used is ‘Needs a proper conclusion.’ It’s astonishing how many newbie writers have no concept of the function of a conclusion, and even less idea of how to write an effective one. All the best articles – those that make you glad you opened them in your news feed or clicked on them in the search results – have a beginning, a middle and an end, even if the reader doesn’t realise it. There’s an introduction to broach the topic in an engaging way to make the reader stay with you, a body of content that informs and/or entertains, and a conclusion that neatly summarises and wraps up the article, and reminds the reader what they should be taking away. Sounds simple really, doesn’t it, but it’s surprising how many people don’t latch on to this.

I see so-called conclusions that just say ‘Follow these tips and you will definitely lose weight/save your marriage/make friends/find your perfect date/make a six-figure income online…’ The list goes on and on in arrogance and ignorance. Where do I start on what is wrong? All these topics affect individuals, who are by definition different, so what helps you lose weight, etc. may not work for your friend or neighbour. These may not be the right tips for you, or anyone, so it’s arrogant of the author to promise results. Even the experts don’t do that, because they realise that nothing is universal or easy, especially when it comes to life as we know it.

But the real problem – and this is where the ignorance comes in – is that people do anything and everything in conclusions other than conclude the article. They’ll tack on afterthoughts like, ‘Don’t forget to exercise as well as count calories, or you won’t lose as much weight as you want to.’ This is the first mention of excercise, and it comes in the conclusion, which is not the place for new thoughts. Then there’s the trite statement that makes the reader cringe: ‘Your marriage is worth saving, because you are joined together by God for ever.’ Not everyone believes in God – or marriage for that matter – so this is patronising in the extreme. It’s going to make the reader feel bad if they can’t save their marriage, or it’s going to alienate them from the author. Either way, it’s not good, and it’s not what a conclusion should do.

Then there’s the favourite beloved of the sensationalist writers who think you have to lay it on to get on in the writing world:  ‘If you write informative blog posts, promote your product on Facebook and network effectively, you’ll soon earn a six-figure income online, from the comfort of your own home.’ That’s better, in that it’s summarising stuff you’ve mentioned in the article, but it’s holding out an unrealistic promise. There’s a lot more to making money online than this, and very few people achieve life-changing incomes just from working at home.

Times without number, I have to say ‘Please read up on what makes an effective conclusion, then rework this.’ Times without number, they don’t – they just resubmit it, hoping they’ll get a different assessor the next time, then get a shock when I tell them not to waste my time or theirs by resubmitting without following editorial advice and feedback.

Today was different though, and that’s why I cracked the cava a few hours early. Not one, but two people wrote a proper conclusion that briefly summarised the article and reminded the reader of the important stuff. Not only that, they didn’t try to fool me into thinking they know how to write conclusions by using a sub heading like ‘conclusion,’ ‘final thoughts’ or ‘the last word.’ It was a well-written resume of the article that flowed seamlessly on from the content, referred back to it and belonged there. And although there were other issues that needed addressing, it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling to realise that there are newbie writers out there who know what a conclusion is and how to write one. It made my day, to be honest. (I know – I need to get out more!)

GlamRus – So much more than just a beauty salon at El Raso!

Being Sandra In Spain means I get invited to all sorts of things, and recently I was invited to the opening of GlamRus, a new hair and beauty salon at the Plaza, El Raso, on the Lemon Tree Road. Vicky Mannion, who has looked after my hair for the 9 years I’ve been in Spain, and salon owner Sophie Morgan, who she met at Quesada Fitness Gym, have pulled out all the stops to create something wonderful. This isn’t just a salon, it’s pure luxuury and comfort. So that must have cost a hell of a lot of Euros to fit out to that standard then? Well, not as much as it might have, because Sophie did all the work herself over a period of four months before the salon opened.

Sophie and Vicky wanted the ‘Wow’ factor for GlamRus, and they decided the only way to get that was to plan and fit out the salon themselves. And they’ve certainly achieved what they set out to do. The salon is stylish, luxurious, yet comfortable and welcoming at the same time. There’s nothing of the ‘waiting room’ ambience that some hair and beauty salons in Spain seem to radiate. The Spanish idea is functionality, but the girls wanted more, because this is no ordinary salon. Vicky looks after hair, for both male and female clients of all ages, while Sophie is in charge of nails and other beauty treatments including facials, waxing, pedicures, permanent make up and eyebrow and eyelash tinting, among other things. They may be young, but these girls have a lot of experience between them. Sophie has been a beautician for 15 years, and Vicky has been awarded the accolade of best stylist on the Costa Blanca for three years running.

Between them, Sophie and Vicky can look after most of your health and beauty needs, whether you’re just looking for a shampoo and set or pedicure, facial, waxing or skin tightening and cellulite reduction. The atmosphere in the salon is welcoming and friendly, and if you’re a bit nervous about your treatment, it will all be explained to you clearly and honestly. The girls are all about helping you to be the best version of you possible, and they won’t recommend anything that isn’t suitable, or try to talk you into a treatment you don’t need. In fact, with their scope of knowledge, it’s more likely they’ll talk you out of treatments that they feel won’t offer you any real benefits, because they are passionate about their profession, and want you to leave the salon feeling like a million dollars.

Beauty may be a serious business, but the girls at GlamRus know how to enjoy themselves, and will help their clients to do the same. They also believe that it’s never too early to want to look lovely, and they offer Princess Pamper Parties for up to 10 children. The lucky young ladies can have their hair straightened or curled, and choose another treatment to go with that while they enjoy a buffet and drinks and pose for the photo call. The only difficult part is deciding whether the princesses will go for a manicure, pedicure or facial.

GlamRus can also arrange a wedding package, with hair, nails and make up for the bride and two bridesmaids, and they can advise on other aspects of the wedding planning too. In fact there is no aspect of beauty, whether for every day or special occasions, that the girls can’t help you with. You don’t always need an appointment – just drop in if you’re passing.

I took my friends Glenys and June along for our own bit of pampering before we went out to celebrate June’s birthday, While Vicky came up with some lovely new styles for Glenys and June and I awaited my turn, I watched Sophie at work on a manicure and a facial. She certainly knows her stuff, and the clients in question were delighted with their treatments. We all chatted away like old friends, and we were sorry when it was time to leave, because we’d had such a great time at GlamRus. Glenys is coming back over to Spain again soon, and she asked me to book another hair appointment. It’s not just princesses that need pampering you know!

Check out GlamRus on Facebook or their website, call on 965 996 622 for an appointment, or just call in and say Sandra sent you. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Richie Sparks and Big FM – One big, happy radio family

Since I came to live on the Costa Blanca 9 years ago, I’ve seen some English radio stations come and go, and others prosper and grow. Many of the most successful ones have been set up by or with the help of Rai Woods, to such an extent that he’s known across the Costa Blanca media community as ‘Radio Rai.’ For several years, Rai was the owner of CBFM radio station, but when he was let down at short notice by some presenters in June 2016, he decided that, rather than keep the station going, he’d collaborate with Richie Sparks, owner and founder of Big FM, and as much of a techie geek as Rai himself.  I caught up with Richie, Rai and some of the station’s most popular presenters recently, and it soon became clear why BIG FM is now the Costa Blanca’s most popular and fastest growing English speaking radio station.

Richie set up Big FM four years ago from a small studio in a concrete shed in his garden in Catral, broadcasting to around 20 people. Just over a year ago, it moved to larger, purpose-built premises in the campo, and with new transmitters in Gran Alacant, La Marina and Catral, it’s doubled its coverage. Big FM entertains listeners from Benidorm in the North of the Costa Blanca down to La Manga on the border with Murcia, and all over the world online. Despite its impressive reach, Richie describes Big FM as a community radio station, rather than a commercial venture. This is clear from the way the station operates. Big FM has no reps selling advertising – in fact 90% of the station’s advertisers approach Richie for air time, once they realise the reach of the station and the calibre of its presenters.

All the broadcasters are volunteers, who recruit their own sponsors to pay their wages. Richie gives them air time and guidance, because he believes that for local radio to have a future, it needs new talent coming through all the time. Big FM does not buy in syndicated shows, so its team of 21 presenters is the largest on the Costa Blanca. In fact the only person on the station who knows everyone who works there is Richie himself! However, he does try to get as many people together as possible at the station’s summer barbecue and Christmas party. Richie aims for a family feel at Big FM, and this came through loud and clear on my visit. However, Rai offered some words of wisdom. ‘If you’re invited to the barbecue, and someone asks if you have your mobile with you, say yes, or you’re likely to end up in the pool!’

The presenters are indeed merciless with their mickey taking, and Richie looks on like a proud, indulgent father, joining in occasionally, but mostly observing and enjoying. When Dean Alexanda totalled the station’s car while he was waiting for his own to be repaired, you’d have thought Richie’s smile would have slipped, but no, he came up with a nickname. Dean is now known as ‘Crash Alexanda’ to everyone at the station – and anyone who hears the story. It may not be too long before Big FM’s legion of loyal listeners forget Dean’s real Christian name altogether!

The station’s youngest presenter, Zac Lloyd Rush has also come in for some on air horseplay. On one memorable occasion, Zac and Dean had been joking about presenting the show in a mankini to keep cool. Nick Gold turned up for his afternoon show, and just as Zac was in full flow, he stripped off his clothes and stood there resplendent in a lime green mankini and nothing else but a smile. It was one of those ‘Thank God this is radio’ moments, and it’s still the talk of Big FM, even in the depths of the worst Mediterranean winter in living memory.

The broadcast system at Big FM is designed with the presenter in mind, and Richie does his best not to interfere with how the DJs want to run the show, although he’s always ready with help, advice and endless cups of tea. That said, he’s no nursemaid. Once the Big FM volunteers have shown they have an aptitude for radio, they’re in at the deep end. Zac had never done radio in his life, and he was relieved when Richie said he’d train him before he went live. He did – for an hour or so on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Zac was live without a safety net. There’s a reason for this though, as Richie explained.

I’m here to fix the things that these guys break, and help them to get started and grow as presenters. The last thing I want is to turn out clones of me, and if you spend too long on training, that’s what you’re likely to end up with. They have to develop their own style, otherwise they’re just another DJ and Big FM is just another radio station. We have a good mix of presenters, with one thing in common – they’re all nuts!

Richie is not one to rest on his laurels – he’s always looking for gaps in the system and ways to increase Big FM’s involvement with the local community. He has an open door policy – anyone can come to the station for help, whether for individuals or the community as a whole. Recently, Big FM has announced partnerships with Villa Martin Plaza to publicise their summer entertainments programme, and the Valencia Tourist Board and Association of Journalists in Alicante Province to promote tourism in the region.

The station’s latest innovation is to introduce live, on air chats with the presenters, and they were working on this when I was there. Richie is always prepared for all eventualities, and has back up systems for his back up systems. However, he’s also notoriously impatient to get things done. He did pray for patience once, but said he wanted it immediately! Rather than wait for the shiny new telephone hybrid amplifier to arrive, Rai and Richie decided to try to repair one they already had, and I was privileged to be in on that magical moment. The discussion went something like this:

Rai: Is it working at all?

Richie: Yes, I’ll plug it in and show you. (Plugs it in, big bang, cloud of smoke, one blogger, two presenters and two techie geeks need scraping off the cieling). Oh – it was working!

Rai: How old is this anyway?

Richie: About 6 years old.

Rai: In that case, it’s far too young to smoke!

On that note, I made my excuses and left, as they say, but I left with an abiding impression – and a stitch in my side from all the laughs. Big FM is one big happy radio family, with Richie Sparks at its head as the proud parent. And it’s getting bigger all the time. Why not get in touch and see if the Big FM family can help with your business or community project? Or just listen in to one of Big FM’s talented presenters and bring a smile to your day or sparkling company to your evening. You can find the daily schedules here.

Orangegate: Plagiarism scandal rocks Algorfa

The orange groves of Algorfa – now teleported to Gran Alacant thanks to the wonders of plagiarism and Orangegate

Have you noticed every 20 years or so there’s a major scandal? In the 1970s it was Watergate and Richard Nixon, in the 1990s it was Squidgygate and the Princess of Wales, and now, barely into 2017 I give you – Orangegate and Sandra in Spain. Okay, the implications are not so wide ranging, and the players are not so well known, but it’s a scandal, and everyone in the writing world has been affected by it at some time or other.

Since the arrival of the Internet, it’s much easier to get published, but it’s also much easier for unscrupulous websites to trawl around blogs and magazines and publish stuff without paying the original authors. Around two years ago, I agreed to write a regular Around Algorfa column for All Abroad magazine, without payment, as a favour to a friend and to help publicise events in my home village. Now a new company  based in Gran Alacant  -owns the magazine, and they have chosen to publish my article, without my permission, without my name on it, and without a back link to my website.

However, the implications are much wider than mere plagiarism here. The article mentions my dog Paddy by name, and walking in the orange groves. Now not only has Paddy got to cope with Mummy’s name change – according to the All Abroad website, the author is now Webmaster, not Sandra in Spain – he’s also a displaced person, moved to Gran Alacant, where as far as I know, there are no orange groves. Not only is Paddy robbed of his bunny chasing activities and the wide choice of trees to decorate, it’s a long walk from Gran Alacant back to Algorfa, so at a stroke his young life has been turned upside down.

On a more serious note, it takes a while to craft an article worthy of publication – which this obviously is, since it’s featured on the All Abroad front page. Then there’s the matter of images and copyright, which rests with the author unless otherwise agreed. The new website is pretty flashy, but I get the idea that all the chairs aren’t safely under the table at All Abroad HQ, since a lot of people – including myself – have commented that the author should be credited for the article, yet the silence from them is deafening, and there has been no response to me emails to the head honcho.

To paraphrase Ali G, I have to wonder ‘Is it because I’s a woman?’ because a fellow – male – writer only had to rattle his sabre a little bit. Immediately his article – also used without permission and back link, although at least his name was on it – was removed and an apology of sorts was made. Personally I think they’re not sorry that they ripped off quality content without paying for it – they’re just sorry they were caught doing it.

Ah well, that’s got that out of my system. I shall be keeping an eye on the website to make sure no other material of mine appears. I’m a respected, professional writer, and I’m not used to dealing with the kind of amateurs who would do such a thing and imagine they can get away with it. If Orangegate acts as some sort of lesson to the people involved at All Abroad, at least some good has come out of it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Update: My article was taken down 48 hours after I originally contacted the website. However, there has been no attempt at apology, privately or publicly. Like I said – amateurs, and dishonest amateurs who refuse to take responsibility for their actions at that.

Smile Charity Group Review: Mind Me Ghoulies!

Smile Charity Group is a local amateur dramatics group that regularly produces plays, reviews and pantomimes in the southern Costa Blanca. As you might guess from the name, as well as raising laughs with their performances, they also raise money for charity. Their latest production – Mind Me Ghoulies – is a Christmas ghost story with a twist and a happy ending, which is what you’d expect from a group with smile in the name.

The puns come thick and fast from the title in, and it’s literally laugh a minute stuff, with a few well known songs thrown in for good measure. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Christmas Tree Fairy keep the story moving along, and provide a few laughs of their own. It’s a mix of play and panto, and it works really well.

The story is set in Boogher Hall on Christmas Eve. It’s almost a year since its last resident, Sir Nigel Seeley-Boogher, breathed his last while engaged in activity of the vertical, bedroom-based variety. Despite having an eye for the ladies, Sir Nigel seemingly died without issue, and if nobody comes forward by the anniversary of his death, Boogher Hall will be sold, and the proceeds of his estate will go to the local orphanage. With less than 24 hours to go, it really seems that Sir Nigel is the last of the Seeley-Booghers.

Not all the puns revolve around him though. Estate agent Des Resse of Floggit and Scarper and solicitor Shirley Shyster from Screwem, Goode and Leggate turn up with a couple of Euromillions lottery winners, determined to seal a deal and make  a packet for themselves in the process. However, there are a couple of things that make Boogher Hall a less than des res. Mad monster Maxwell resides in the cellar, and the ghost of Sir Nigel Seeley-Boogher haunts the place, furious that his butler Widgett has been selling off his best wines to pay the bills. After all with Sir Nigel’s death, there was boogher hall coming in, was there? (Sorry – couldn’t resist that one!)

Parlour maid Madeleine Fancy came to Booger Hall from the orphanage, and she’s lonely and longing for love on Christmas Eve. So is the cook, Victoria Sponge. And with no heir forthcoming, and Londoners Sid and Violet Scripps rapidly coming to the conclusion that their one bedroom flat in Camden Town is a much better proposition than Boogher Hall and its strange inhabitants, it looks like it’s going to be a decidedly unhappy Christmas. Especially when the news comes through that the orphanage has burned down – probably due to Maxwell’s ‘arson about.’

However, as I hinted earlier, there’s a happy ending in store, and it all works out to everyone’s satisfaction. I’ve seen several of Smile Charity Group’s shows, and each one has been polished and professionally presented. I have to say though that this is the best I’ve seen so far – and that’s no detriment to the others. The cast were clearly having as much fun as the audience, and since we were all well fed with chicken or fish and chips – included in the €10 ticket price – a great night was had by all. Madeleine’s fishnet tights grew gasps of admiration from the men in the audience, with someone – who shall remain anonymous since he paid me in wine for that privilege  – saying what a shame those lovely legs were locked away with boogher hall chance of poor Madeleine getting a man of her own to appreciate them. (Ooops – there I go again!)

John Wallace – a founder member of the group – wrote the original script, but the performance was tinged with sadness, as he passed away recently. As a mark of respect, the shows were postponed from December.  Mind Me Ghoulies is a brilliant swansong for John, and a fitting tribute to his comic genius. He will be missed, although in the best traditions of ‘the show must go on.’ the cast did his memory proud.

If you’ve never been to a Smile Charity Group show before, you don’t know what you’re missing. Look out for news of their next production in the local English speaking press and on their Facebook page. Tickets are usually €10, of which €5 pays for a meal and €5 goes to their chosen charities. Shows usually sell out quickly, so get in fast when you see the publicity. I guarantee you’ll have a great time and a good feed, while raising much needed funds for local charities. Smile Charity Group certainly have a knack for putting the fun in fund raising!

Image credits: Photo of Madeleine and Des Resse taken by Mandy Wright and used by kind permission of Bev McEwan. Other images are my own.

The Red Knickers Report 2016

Hola everyone, and welcome to 2017. It’s time for the annual Red Knickers Report, which is my way of reviewing the year. It’s a well established custom now, in fact Dave Allen of Algorfa calls it ‘notorious.’ Notorious is good but not always suitable for those of a nervous disposition, so if you haven’t already sampled the Red Knickers Reports, you may want to catch up on 2015 and 2014 to see what you’re letting yourself in for.

Looking back on 2015’s report, I haven’t done everything I wanted to, but I have achieved stuff I hadn’t even thought about this time last year. The Around Algorfa website is still just a domain name, and the book isn’t finished yet, but I don’t see that as failures on my part – it’s just not the right time for them or for me. It’s been another very busy year on the professional front, and I’ve had to prioritise. My main priorities always have been and always will be to entertain, inform and help and support the people who need it with my writing – what I earn from it is a pleasant bonus, but not the motivation behind what I do.

I’m also very keen to help other writers realise their potential,  so I’ve done a lot more work with  WriteLearnEarn.com and my good friend and fellow writer Spike Wyatt. It can be a bit frustrating when you see people use 50 words when 10 will say it so much better, and some people just can’t take a telling, but when just one novice writer takes on board what you’re trying to say, and goes on to grow and earn from their writing, it makes it all worthwhile. Thank you Spike, for trusting me enough to ramp up my editing role to take in assessment and advice to our writers. Here’s to another great year working together.

I’m proud to have helped publicise lots of initatives in and around Algorfa, whether it’s new businesses such as KD Designs or raising awareness of local charities and their work. I’ve met some truly inspirational people too, such as Karen of KD Designs. Soon after moving to Spain in October 2015, she lost her partner, and it looked like the dream of life in Spain was over, but within a few short months, she was back, running her own jewellery business from a retail base in Algorfa. As we go into 2017, she’s moving into party plan and mail order, and she has a new home and a new partner. Seeing her pick herself up from tragedy and start all over again has been one of the highlights of 2016. She’s also become a good friend, even if she does lead me astray now and again!

Talking of inspirational people, the production crew behind The Cucaracha Club have to be way up there. If you don’t already know – and if you’re a regular reader, you certainly do – that’s the independently produced spy thriller, filmed entirely in and around Torrevieja. Billie Anthony Gaddess wrote it, and recruited Tom Watt to star in it. Then when the original film crew pulled out 5 weeks before filming was scheduled to start, Clive Gray set up a production company and Rai Woods agreed to direct it – even though it was a first for all of them. Against all the odds, and on a budget of just €23,000, the film saw its world premiere in March 2016 and now has the British Board of Film Classification Certificate that allows it to be shown on general release. The Cucaracha Club 2 is already written and scheduled to go into production in October 2017, and I’m proud to call Billie, Rai, Clive and many of the actors involved in the film good friends.

I didn’t become involved in the film until the post production stages, after meeting Rai for the first time in February 2016, and I was in Portugal at the time of the premiere, but in the last few months I’ve been involved in promoting the film, and I’m looking forward to being in from the start on TCC2. I’ve even been told there may be a part in it for me. Having chatted to Tom Watt for publicity interviews, I’m secretly hoping I may  feature as his love interest, but hey, I’ll take what I can get – a film star at the age of 65 looks pretty good from where I’m standing.

I’ve also become a Page 3 girl in 2016. No, not that sort of Page 3 girl – my birthday suit needs a good ironing, and I don’t want to frighten the natives. However, I was very pleased to see one of my articles featured on Page 3 of the Coastrider newspaper in December, and it looks like I may be writing regularly for the paper in 2017, so that will be more exposure for my writing, and new friends and professional contacts to be made.

2016 has been a year of firsts for me too. I went to my first-ever pool party, and managed two during the summer. I also attended my first psychic development workshop, with Quirky Medium Alison Wynne-Ryder. It was interesting and empowering, so I’m looking to expand on that in 2017. And for the first time in my 64 years, I got to own an original painting. Rai Woods introduced me to local artist Jim Barry back in May. Jim and his wife Jan Cave Barry made fascinating interviewees for my ‘No Ordinary Expats’ series for Insiders Abroad, and they have since become good friends. So when Tony asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I knew straight away. Jim’s fabulous painting of the palm trees at La Mata now has pride of place in Piddock Place, along with a couple of prints from Jim’s ‘Gaslight’ series of paintings of Victorian London.

Another highlight of 2016 was finally meeting my website designer Elle Draper, who runs the successful Spain Buddy.com website with her partner Alan Gandy. We caught up with Alan and Elle in Albox on our way to Portugal, and again when they moved to Velez-Blanco. The subsequent blog post caught the attention of the town’s Deputy Mayor, and he’s invited me back for a guided tour, so that’s something to look forward to in 2017. I love it when people appreciate what I write, and it means more wine sharing with Alan and Elle, and cuddles with their three gorgeous dogs.

On the personal front, we finally made it to Portugal with our friends June and Larry, and we had a fabulous time. Definitely a place to revisit in the future. We continued to make good use of the motor home, and discover new areas of Spain and make new friends. I’ve also become group secretary for the Motorcaravanners’ Club Spanish group, so I’m involved in the organisation as well as the enjoyment. Looking forward to new adventures with them in 2017.

Health wise, it’s been a pretty good year, even though I was floored for the first month of 2016 with a vicious chest infection. Spain continues to be my healthy, happy home. Thanks to Paddy’s ever-increasing need for exercise, I’m starting 2017 at least one dress size smaller too.

My family has grown too, with the birth of Oliver in January, just 14 months after his brother Harrison. September saw Oliver’s christening and Adam and Helen’s renewal of their wedding vows after 10 happy years together. We all spent a weekend celebrating at the Harlyn Inn, Cornwall, catching up with family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for ages.

The first Red Knickers Report came about after my daughter Elizabeth suffered a horrific stroke which almost killed her in 2013, when we also lost a dear friend and Tony was diagnosed with additional health problems. Elizabeth is living life as best she can, but she still gets very fatigued, her moods are all over the place, and her appetite centre is shot to pieces. She never feels full, and never feels hungry. The all you can eat buffet places in Plymouth double up on the catering when they see her approaching, and on her birthday, her son Daniel insisted they left after her sixth plate of food! She asked her consultant how long these minor but irritating side effects were likely to last, and he said he didn’t know, because he had never seen anybody make such a full recovery from a brain stem stroke, so it was uncharted territory for him. Yet another reminder, were it needed, of how lucky we are that Elizabeth is still with us, and in relatively good health, considering what she’s been through.

So, all in all, 2016 hasn’t been too bad, but there’s always room for improvement. Let’s hope my new red knickers work their magic in 2017. According to Spanish tradition, they have to be new to be lucky. Thanks for all your support in the past, and please stay with me for more of the same this year.

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