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.

Stevie Spit and Siesta Productions – What a winning combination for Children in Need!

Children in Need might be a British institution, but it’s also very close to the heart of many expats in Spain. And at Villamartin Plaza they love raising cash for various good causes – so much so that their total for 2016 has now hit €15,000. That’s pretty impressive, and it proves what I’ve always said, the best way to get people to part with their cash is to put on some fun-raising. In other words, give them something to enjoy, and they’ll open their hearts and their wallets.

For Friday’s Children in Need show,  Costa Blanca’s own Stevie Spit got together 15 class acts who agreed to perform for free while Stevie compered the show and talked the audience out of their spare Euros. It was quite a marathon, running from 1.00 pm until everyone got fed up and went home, with the official presentation at 9.00 pm. Clive Gray and Rai Woods of Siesta Productions were also there, filming for possible inclusion in the BBC telethon.

When Rai asked if I’d like to go along to do a piece about the function and chat to him and Clive about Siesta Productions and the making of The Cucaracha Club, I jumped at the chance. I love to have a good time and talk to interesting people, and it was pretty clear that was on the cards on Friday. And as anyone who’s ever been even slightly involved with filming will know, there’s lots of hanging about time, so I knew I’d have plenty of time to collect more material for the publicity campaign for The Cucaracha Club, which is awaiting classification by the BBFC so it can be shown in public and the production team can start to see a return on their investment and build up the budget for The Cucaracha Club 2. More about that in the next couple of blog posts.

Obviously the satnav didn’t share my enthusiasm for the trip, because when I put in Villamartin, it told me it would take over 5 hours to get there. Now I’m directionally challenged at the best of times – which is why I have the ironic nickname Satnav Sandra – but even I knew it shouldn’t take 5 hours to get to the other side of San Miguel from Algorfa. As the route emerged, it turned out I was going somewhere near Gibraltar. They may well have had a Children in Need function there, but I was pretty certain Rai, Clive and Stevie wouldn’t be waiting for me, so much as I fancied a road trip to Gibraltar, the satnav went back in its case.

So what’s a girl to do? When the satnav won’t play, and you haven’t got a clue where you’re going, the best thing to do is phone a friend, because there’s no audience to ask, and to stand a chance of a winning on a 50/50, you need something to discard. I phoned Rai, expecting him to give me clear, crisp directions and calm down my frazzled nerves. He might have done, if he’d heard the phone over the music and the appreciation of the crowds. I wracked my brain to think who else to ask and decided on Alex and Bev, who are always whizzing around the Costa Blanca in various amateur dramatics productions.They happened to be in a bar in Alicante with friends, and the raucous laughter that greeted my request for directions almost drowned out Alex’s instructions. They were pretty good too, because just 15 minutes later I rocked up at the plaza.

There was a raffle and tombola on the go as well as the entertainment, and each trip around the plaza with the change bucket resulted in a satisfying chink of coins. Stevie was confident we’d hit €1,500, and you couldn’t really argue – the Villamartin crowd are very generous, and they were enjoying themselves, so they were quite prepared to dig deep.

I’ve been in the audience many times, but this was the first time I’d been working with the crew, as it were, and it gives you a totally different perspective on things, because you can’t sit swilling wine because you’re working and driving, and there’s a lot of waiting around, so you’ve got plenty of time to people watch.  Rai, Clive and I found a quiet spot to chat about The Cucaracha Club once they’d worked out what they were going to film and when and where it was going to happen. Something we all noticed was that every time someone walked past, they looked hard at all of us. We worked out that because I was sitting with a notebook on my knee and asking questions, the passers by were trying to work out who I was interviewing, and where they’d seen them before. They wouldn’t have got very far, because the guys are much happier behind the cameras than in front of them.

Something else that was rather funny was the way people behaved around the cameras – even when they weren’t working. Some people really played to the gallery, while others were almost apologetic. I dubbed one couple ‘Mr and Mrs Sorry,’ because every time they came within 10 yards of the camera, they did a sort of limbo to duck under the lens, then said ‘Sorry’ in a very sheepish tone of voice. The thing was, they saw the green lights on the camera, and equated it to traffic lights, whereas you don’t walk in front of it when the red light is working. Not unless you want a good spanking. Well, that’s what Rai and Clive threatened me with, and I wasn’t going to test the theory in front of all those people!

As the afternoon and evening progressed, and Stevie gave regular updates, the crowd became even more generous. At around 7.00 pm, when the total was €1,455 – just €45 short of Stevie’s target, a lovely lady called Winnie came forward with a €50 note to take the pot over €1,500.

As well as being a great singer and a very funny comedian, Stevie also does a drag act, and although he was in civvies to compere the show, lots of people wanted to see him flouncing around in a frock. He said that if enough money went in the bucket, he’d do it, and the magnificent response was another €215. The money just kept pouring in.

Before the official presentation, as well as getting lots of great photos I managed to get dragged onto the dance floor several times, encased in headphones and photographed with Elvis before he left the building. All in all, a great day out which seemed way too enjoyable to count as work. The final total on the ‘cheque’ was €2,020, but another €200 came in after that when Declan of Jameson’s bar asked for Louise ‘Tiny Lou’ Morgan to sing. I missed that – and Stevie in his frock – because I had an early start on Saturday to report on a Psychic Development Workshop run by the lovely Alison Wynne-Ryder. That’s what I love about my job – no two days are ever the same.

As it happens, the clip wasn’t shown on BBC, even though Rai and Clive dashed back to the studio to edit it and send it to London. Still, a great time was had by all  – as you can see from the photos. Lots of money was raised for a great cause, and Stevie Spit, Siesta Productions and all the artists who gave their time for free did a fantastic job. And DJ Snoopy manned the sound systems and made sure Villa Martin Plaza was a feedback free zone. Thank you all – looking forward to the next time!

Marian’s Meet and Greet with Sir Cliff Richard 23 August 2016

14192708_10155017075842788_1728111566547076173_nYou may remember that a while back, I posted about my meeting with Marian Donovan, who has to be Sir Cliff Richard’s Number One Fan on the Costa Blanca. If you haven’t seen the post, it’s here. Well, back in August, Marian once again headed to Cliff’s Adega do Cantor winery in Guia, Albufeira Portugal. Although all these trips are special, this one was even more so, since Cliff had recently been exonerated of the allegations against him. Marian kindly wrote a blog post about her visit, and on the day of Cliff’s brilliant appearance on the Loose Women Special, it seems a good day to publish this as a guest post. Marian would love to set up a Costa Blanca Fan Group for Sir Cliff, so if you’re interested, contact her on her Facebook profile. Over to you, Marian.

The Big Day at the winery was advertised as a Meet and Greet with Sir Cliff, and for just €20, fans would be presented with a signed box containing 3 bottles of Cliff’s Vida Nova wine, a signed photo of Cliff, and a photograph with the Man Himself, as well as a chat. He’s so caring of his fans, and also gives freely of his time, but this year he was very touchy feely, with hugs and kisses for all the fans.

I got a big hug and kissed him on the cheek, then I gave him a photo of myself, and said:

Since I have loads of photos of you, it’s about time you had one of me!

Cliff laughed a lot at that, and I had some truly amazing photos of us laughing together. As it happened, I’d seen him the day before in a fluke, when we called at the winery, so that was another photo opportunity.

The Meet and Greet at the winery was scheduled from 10.00 am – 12.00 pm, but as more than 1,000 people turned up, it went on until way past 2.30, and everyone who 14100528_10155017076277788_8423361317268111968_nwas there got a signature and a chat. Cliff also had an interview with a TV station and the local Mayor, so how tired must he have been after all that! Cliff showed his love for his fans, as we showed our love for him.

Of course, we were all concerned about how he was coping with all the recent bad publicity. However, Cliff and all his fans and friends were confident that nothing would come from the allegations, so we’ve all stood by him, and he knew this all along.

This is Sir Cliff Richard – he’s never even thrown anything out of a hotel window, he is a committed Christian, and he’s the nicest man I’ve ever met. He’s always kind and courteous, whether he’s meeting fans or fellow celebrities – everyone is treated the same.

Cliff and his fans have come through this, gained strength from each other, and kept each other sane. It’s been a hard time for all of us – particularly Cliff – but now the world knows what we knew all along. He’s innocent, and he can get on with his life and career, knowing he’s exonerated. Our lives and his are no longer on hold, but there are exciting times ahead. He’s back to his rocking good ways with a new single and album – Just … Fabulous Rock n’ Roll,  which deserves to go to Number One.

The past two years have been very upsetting for Cliff and his fans, but we’ve all stayed strong, and now he can get back to what he does best. He’s a very special person, and I’m proud to be a lifelong fan. Thanks for the good times Cliff – and here’s to many, many more. We love you!

Friendly reminder: This is a guest blog post, from a lifelong fan of Sir Cliff Richard. As a Cliff fan myself, I am proud to publish this for Marian. The views expressed here are her own, and although you may not share them, please respect those views in the comments.

I’ve got a Jim Barry original painting for Christmas!

When Tony asked me what I wanted for Christmas, unlike most years, there was no doubt in my mind. Cast your mind back to late May, when I interviewed Jim Barry and his wife Jan Cave Barry for my No Ordinary Expats series for Insiders Abroad. Jim and Jan are artists who are building a great reputation for themselves, and I was so impressed with their art, I came home with a limited edition print of one of Jim’s ‘Gaslight’ series of paintings depicting Victorian London. If you missed the article, it’s here.

When Jim contacted me recently to invite Tony and I to an open weekend at Casa Barry, I graciously informed Tony that he could buy me another print – or maybe two – from the series to go with  my ‘Omnibus’ painting. As Jim says, ‘Paintings like company – they fade on their own.’ So, off we went, and we received a great Irish welcome – and a glass of wine. Jim is so laid back you wonder if he’ll fall over, and before he let us loose on the paintings, we had a nice chat – and more wine – on their lovely sunny terrace. That’s when ‘Las Palmeras de la Mata’ first caught my eye, and I began to swivel in my choice of painting.

Jim explained that they had this sort of exhibition, with a limited number of invited people, so that they could clear out some paintings and make room for new art. I wondered if it was a symbolic clearing out of the old at the end of the year, but Jim being Jim, it’s more practical than that. ‘It’s coming up to Christmas, and it’s a chance for people to sort out presents for friends and family, and maybe take something back to England or wherever they hail from. All the paintings are reduced, so they can grab a bargain as well’

I asked Jim about the history of the La Mata painting, and he told me it came from a photo he took on an early morning walk on La Mata beach, back in 2010. It  had taken around three weeks to paint, and by now, I was in love with it, and determined to take it home to Piddock Place. I’m no art critic, but I know a lovely piece of art when I see it, and the fact that Jim had only been painting in earnest for six years when he produced it makes it even more remarkable for me.

Having decided on my Christmas present, I thought I might as well get a blog post out of it, so asked Jim what he’d been working on recently. The guy is nothing if not versatile – you won’t get 10 different studies of the same flower from Jim – so I wasn’t really surprised that his newest work is ‘The Boys are Back.’ It’s a vibrant painting of Thin Lizzy on stage, but like most of Jim’s work, there’s more to the story than what you see on canvas.

Before he came to Spain, Jim was a member of The Memories, an Irish rock band who had a Number One hit with The Game, the 1990 World Cup anthem. He was playing the circuit at the same time as Thin Lizzy, and their stage positions in the painting are how he remembers them playing in the 1970s. The amplifiers in the background are 1970s models too, as are the guitars, in which the detail has to be seen to be believed.  The painting took around five weeks to complete, and Jim is justifiably proud of it.

Jim and Jan weren’t quite finished with us though – they invited us to eat out with them. I thought that was pretty special, as I had just mentioned to Jan that I ought to put a contract out on Jim so my painting would shoot up in value. However, she had an even better idea: ‘Buy a few more originals, and then arrange the hit!’ We spent a very entertaining and educational evening with them. For example, all these years, Tony has been referring to a certain Irish whisky as it’s spelled. However, Jim pointed out the error of his ways. Apparently, it’s pronounced ‘Jemesons,’ as in ‘gem.’ You live and learn, don’t you?

Tony must have been feeling generous – or else he’d had one too many Jemesons – because he said I could also have another Gaslight print. I wasn’t able to bring it home, as it needs to be mounted, but ‘Las Palmeras de la Mata’ is safely installed in its new home, and it looks stunning. If you’re searching for that special Christmas gift, or if you just want to brighten up your home and treat yourself to something wonderful, check out Jim’s catalogue here, then message him to arrange a viewing. Jan’s style is totally different, but equally easy on the eye. She’s a former dancer, and her ballet studies are stunning. She’s also pictured sitting with two of her own originals in the slideshow. Between Jim’s and Jan’s work, you’re sure to find something really special, whatever your taste in art. Say hello from me while you’re there!

 

An epitome of beauty and a paradigm of elegance? Yep, that’s me!

I scrub up well when I need to, but isn't it going a bit far to call me an 'epitome of beauty' and a 'paradigm of elegance?'

I scrub up well when I need to, but isn’t it going a bit far to call me an ‘epitome of beauty’ and a ‘paradigm of elegance?’

One of the many things I love about being Sandra in Spain is when people say to me how much they enjoy reading my writing, whether they contact me through social media or, as happened last week in Algorfa, stop me in the street to say hello, even if I’ve never seen them before in my life. I’ve met some lovely people who have gone on to become firm friends, whether on Facebook or in ‘Real Life’ – people I would never have met but for the writing.

However, it has its downside too. There are people who dispute your facts, argue with your opinions and take what you write personally. I don’t mind that too much –  if I provoke an extreme reaction with my writing, it’s hitting a nerve, and at least it’s better than no reaction at all. When I received a Facebook friend request from a finance manager in New York earlier this week, who said he ‘Loved my writing,’ I thought at least this isn’t a pedant, a nutter or a know-all from Norwich who knows more about life in Spain than I do, even though they’ve only ever spent a week in Majorca (pronounced Madge-orca) in August.

Now before we go any further, I must point out that Norwich has no more know-alls than anywhere else, and I have had no detrimental communications from anyone who lives there, ever. I chose Norwich purely for alliteration purposes. It could just as easily have been Northampton, Nuneaton, North Shields, Nanpean, Nelson, Nantwich or Nether Wallop. Actually, I like the sound of a know-all from Nether Wallop, so let’s forget Norwich and go with the know-all from Nether Wallop. Previous disclaimers still apply – Nether Wallop has no more know-alls, etc…. Now, where was I? Oh yes, I remember.

So, this finance manager messaged me to say ‘Hello dear, thanks for accepting the friend request.’ I did think that if he was calling me ‘dear,’ he must be a bit older than the profile pic of a fairly fit forty-something. See what I mean about alliteration? It works well. The next communication changed the game though. It’s worth quoting word for word, so here goes:

Hello Sandra, Such a beautiful smile you have. You are an epitome of beauty, and a paradigm of elegance. your beauty is a blessing and a testament of the craftsmanship and skill of our creator. You can mend hearts and conjure up love with that smile.

To be honest, I think I’d rather have had moaners, pedants, nutters or know-alls. It’s all a bit over the top isn’t it? I mean, I’m 64, carrying a few extra pounds and a few wrinkles, and although I do scrub up okay. beauty and elegance are not words I’d apply to myself, especially when combined with epitome and paradigm, although lots of people say I have a nice smile.

The inappropriate combinations of words did lead me to think maybe my admirer wasn’t everything he said he was, but I thought I’d ask the audience – or rather my Facebook friends – what they thought. Not before I sent him a reply though, which I thought was rather restrained, given the circumstances.

Steady on there – I am married, and I’m not on Facebook to conjure up love and mend hearts, just to keep in touch with family and friends and promote and share my writing. And although I added you as a friend because you said you loved my writing, you haven’t even mentioned it. Don’t contact me again.

So, on to Facebook I go, and what do I get? One ‘friend’ says it’s probably a Nigerian with a fake profile who is after my money. He’s dipped out there then, because I’m a starving writer living in a garret. Well, I’m not starving, and it’s a garden flat, but you get the picture. Another ‘friend’ says seeing as he not only knows big words but can actually spell them, maybe we can recruit him to work for the site we both edit for, so we don’t get so much crap coming our way. Yet another ‘friend’ says ‘Never mind Sandra, you do have a lovely smile. At least he told the truth about that.’ Brings a lump to your throat, doesn’t it?

Ah well, it’s a lesson learned. Next time someone tells me they want to be my friend because they ‘love my writing,’ I’ll direct them to my author page, unless I know them, or we already have mutual friends. However, like buses, the scammers come three at a time. The next one – who also ‘loved my writing’ – was an American general from Alaska with the peace keeping force in Syria. Hello? What peace keeping force would that be? According to the United Nations website, there are 16, none of which are in Syria. Next!

The perfect end to a perfect day was the third American who ‘loved my writing.’ He was also in the military, although he didn’t specify his location. After bombarding me with messages while I was trying to watch Midsomer Murders and Lewis last night, he said:

My dearest beautiful love, why are you not talking to me tonight?

Enough is enough. No more Mrs Nice Writer. I told him to Foxtrot Oscar. Only those weren’t the exact words I used, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Since each of the three ‘Americans’ used the same reason for wanting to friend me, I’m wondering if they are all the same person. Maybe -maybe not. However, just in case, all my sister epitomes of beauty and paradigms of elegance should check out their friend requests before accepting them. Be careful out there!

I think I found my duende!

Sandra is back in Spain - and loving it!

Sandra is back in Spain – and loving it!

Did you miss me while I was away? I’ve been in England for 10 weeks, and on this trip, I think I finally got what people mean when they speak of ‘ el duende.’ Loosely, duende is something undefined that comes from inside. It’s an emotional response, often to music such as flamenco, art, or expressive writing. It’s also something that’s identified with Spain, since it refers to a mythological earth spirit, something like an elf or goblin.

If you’re searching for a concrete meaning for duende, good luck with that. Linguists believe it is the most difficult word to translate literally, although it’s usually translated as ‘elf’ or ‘magic’ in dictionary listings.

In a famous 1933 lecture, Spanish poet and theatre director Federico Garcia Lorca probably came closer than anyone before or since to defining the indefinable. He described duende as:

“A power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought… It is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”

Why do I think I’ve found my duende after 8 years in Spain? Regular readers will know that for some years now I’ve believed I am a Secret Senora, born in the wrong country. Almost as soon as we moved into our casa, I felt like I was home, despite having enjoyed the first 56 years of my life in England. Home is not just a place, it’s a feeling of belonging, and not wanting to be anywhere else, despite the imperfections and irritations, and Spain is now my home. I miss my grandchildren, and those friends who haven’t made it to Spain for one reason or another, but I would still be here rather than in England.

Friends and family ask what I’d do if I was left alone here, which all things being equal, is likely to happen at some point, since Tony is 18 years older than me. According to him, his demise is imminent, but then it has been for the last two years. He reckoned he was going back to England to die this time, and I said well give me at least 5 days notice, as Brittany Ferries charge for amendments to the tickets less than 5 days before sailing, and I need all the cash for the funeral. Seriously though, I still wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, whether on my own or as part of a couple.

However, something was different this time. Whether it was because we spent longer than normal in England – other than the enforced 4 month stay in 2013 when Elizabeth had her stroke – or because we couldn’t get on our chosen ferry as there was no kennel provision for Paddy I don’t know, but this time I felt trapped in England, and my creativity suffered as a result. It was always going to be an 8 week trip, as we had my youngest grandson’s christening and the renewal of my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding vows to look forward to on their 10th wedding anniversary in mid September. I was ready for that, and looking forward to a lovely family occasion as the finale to our visit, but we had to stay almost 3 weeks past that date, and my writing suffered as a result. I did the ‘bread and butter’ stuff – editing and assessing articles for a website owner I work with, and turning out the blog posts and magazine articles I’m retained for, but my blog has stood neglected for almost 3 months, because although I’ve collected photos, situations and comments to use as material, I’ve hardly written anything, nor had the desire to do so.

How did this happen? In previous years, I’ve still been creative – even in the dark days of May 2013 when it looked like the unthinkable would happen and I would be attending my daughter’s funeral instead of the other way around. In fact, I’d come back from the hospital and immerse myself in my writing, exhausted and anxious as I was, just to get back some semblance of normality, and think about something else for an hour or two. This time though, I had no inclination to be creative, and I really feel it was because I couldn’t come home when I wanted to.

Like many of my writer friends here in Spain, I only got seriously into writing when we made the move to Spain, although I always wanted to be a writer. However, Mum and my teachers said I had to get a ‘proper job,’ so I ended up in catering. My late-flowering freelance career  came about because of all the conflicting advice and information about life in Spain, and I put in the research, found out what was what, and wrote about it. People seemed to like what I wrote and the rest, as they say, is history. Now I have to turn away writing work – something I never thought would happen to me.

I touched down on European soil again on Friday, 30th September, spent three days driving through France and Spain,  another three days unpacking, shopping and emptying and cleaning the van, and another three days catching up with friends. And guess what? Through all those 9 days, all I wanted to do was write – I have ideas teeming in my head, and I can’t get them down quickly enough. Spain is my inspiration – for my writing and my life, and these last few weeks have proved it. Finally, I’ve found my duende – and it’s a great feeling.

Sandra is back in Spain!

On Tuesday 5 April, Sandra was finally back in Spain, and loving it. We were only going to spend two nights just over the border in Isla Cristina before moving on to the mountains, but we loved the place so much, we booked an extra night.We did a day in the Old Town, taking in the fisherman’s quarter and buying fresh clams straight off the boat for supper. The fact that nobody had a clue how to prepare and cook them was neither here nor there, and yes, they were delicious. Then we hit the dog friendly beach via the pine forest and the dunes.

At the start of our Portuguese adventure, I posted about my first impressions of the country. It’s here if you missed it. Reading through it again, it was rather lukewarm in places, but there had been 10 days of changeable, rather cold weather, and although everyone says the weather shouldn’t make much difference, it clearly does. We visited Sagres on a cold, windy day, and vowed we’d never return as it wasn’t worth the ride.Some other people on the rally loved it so much they’ve returned more than once, but then their first visit was on a sunny day.

Visiting a country for the first time is both exciting and daunting, because everything is strange – the people, the food, the language, the culture, even the time. Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK. Spain used to be, until Hitler suggested General Franco brought Spanish time in line with Germany during World War II. Although Spain remained neutral, Franco was a big fan of Hitler and was happy to oblige. Now many Spaniards are lobbying for a switch, saying it doesn’t make sense for the peninsula to have two time zones. It certainly seemed disorienting at first, since the Portuguese don’t seem to keep the late eating hours of their Spanish neighbours.

However, once we settled in a bit more, and familiarised ourselves with our surroundings and the cultural differences, Portugal began to really grow on us. They take a two hour lunch break from 1.00 to 3.00 pm, which means if you’re on a day trip and make a late start, you haven’t got to kick your heels for three hours in a bar until the shops, tourist attractions and museums open their doors again.

You see sights you don’t see anywhere else, such as storks nesting in the trees right next to the N125 at Odiaxere, or on the church spire in Isla Cristina. And they fly overhead too – they are majestic birds, and Dad helps with the kids, which is great. And the sand sculptures at Sand City near Pera, and the grotto caves off the coast of Lagos rendered us all speechless with their beauty. Between the four of us, we’ve clocked up 300 years, and visited too many countries to remember, so it takes a lot to do that, I can tell you!

So, from saying I’d never go back to Portugal, I’m now wanting to go back there, and sooner rather than later. BUT …

  • I’d go later in the year. The Algarve is notoriously windy all year round, and March is still on the edge of winter, so you can’t rely on the weather.
  • I wouldn’t spend so long in one place. A full month at Camping Turiscampo just outside Lagos was too much. The site and the staff were lovely, but there isn’t enough to do in the area – particularly if you don’t have transport. Though it was much better when we hired a car.
  • I’d base ourselves more centrally, so we didn’t have to drive so far to get to new places. Lagos is a lovely town, but it’s a long way from most of the attractions of the Algarve, and the rest of Portugal.
  • I’d move around more. When we left Turiscampo, we spent 2 nights in Alvor before heading across the border. On our next visit, I’d pick up a few more campsites in Portugal and explore more.
  • I’d eat out more. I don’t feel I really experienced Portuguese food in all its variety. We enjoyed several meals at Turiscampo, but they were tailored to international tastes, and didn’t truly reflect the local cuisine.

Looking back, it was a great holiday, with great people, and we didn’t let the weather stop us getting out and about. Next time we head for Portugal, we’ll have more idea of where we want to go and what we want to see, so it’s likely to be an even better experience. Better get saving then!

Bargain-Loving Brits in the Sun – Is it the real Spain, or is it just fantasy??

Benidorm - where Brits come looking for bargains

Benidorm – where Brits come looking for bargains

As someone who writes about life in Spain, I’ve made several media appearances, both on television and on radio. After my last appearance on BBC1’s The One Show, I vowed I would never agree to be interviewed again. I spent two hours with the film crew, and while I obviously didn’t expect to spend a lot of time on screen – after all, this wasn’t The Sandra in Spain Show – I did expect more than the 30 seconds or so that finished up in the programme. This was at the time when it was reported that almost 25% of the Brits living in the Alicante province had returned to the UK. I was chosen to appear because I always give a positive view of life as an expat in Spain, ‘for balance,’ they said. They lied, because the resulting programme was very anti-Spain.

So, when I saw that a new programme was airing this week – Bargain-Loving Brits in the Sun – I was prepared for more spin doctoring to show Spain and the expats who make their lives there in a far from complimentary light. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised, although the programme did nothing to enhance the reputation of Benidorm – mainly because it was concerned with the areas where the Brits congregate, such as caravan parks and the Brit bars. Hopefully we’ll see more of this lovely town in future episodes. And Benidorm is a lovely town.

My first visit to Benidorm was back in 1968, soon after the mayor had famously returned from his motorbike ride to Madrid to gain permission from Franco for holiday makers to wear bikinis on the beach without running the risk of being arrested. I loved it then, and vowed I’d return one day. It took exactly 40 years to keep that promise – and by the time we moved to Spain in 2008, with Benidorm just over an hour away, I’d gone off the idea, having read and seen what goes on there.

I was imagining drunks falling over in the street and fish and chips and full English everywhere, with not a tapa or paella in sight. Strangely enough, what convinced me I needed to return was the comedy series Benidorm. Like all good comedies, it takes a grain of truth and exaggerates it for comic effect. Surely the streets couldn’t be gridlocked with Madge Mobiles – or mobility scooters as they were known in the DBB (Days before Benidorm)? As it happens, I’ve never seen so many in one place, or so many people who obviously didn’t need them riding them around town.

My first visit convinced me that Benidorm is a place I still love, and we’ve been back a number of times since. The Old Town and the beach are stunning, and the prices at the bars and restaurants are brilliant if you find the little places tucked away in the back streets rather than go for the seafront tourists traps. I get annoyed when people run Benidorm down, because most of the people who do so have never even been there – like me, they formed their opinions based on what they’d seen on tv and read in the press and online.

What I really liked about Bargain-Loving Brits in the Sun was that the researchers had actually picked normal people who wanted to make a life for themselves in the sun and pay their way, rather than staying in Britain and picking up benefits. There was Eddie, a singer from Liverpool who had arrived with just enough money to keep himself for a month, and Avon lady Val  from Coventry, who is servicing two mortgages thanks to being the third highest earning rep in Spain. Dean came over from Essex with £400 in his pocket, and is now making a success of running Camping Benidorm. His Sunday roasts, at €5.95 including a drink, are sold out every week..

But the star of the show was definitely Wayne, who came to Spain 23 years ago and worked as an entertainer for the equivalent of £8 a session. Now he owns and runs Levi’s Showboat Cabaret Bar, with a turnover of around €60,000 a week. However, the 16 hour working days are getting too much, so he’s sold it to Mick and Karen. He’ll be helping with the transition, and still performing his famous drag act at the venue.

There’s not much sign of integration in the first episode, but they all seem to be keen to make Benidorm their permanent home. Val has been here for 13 years, while new arrival Eddie has bought a caravan for €500, but will have to pay €225 a month rent. That spurred him on to tramp the streets of Benidorm looking for gigs. Yes, maybe it was irresponsible turning up with just enough money for a month, but at least the lad has something about him, and his persistence was paying off by the end of the first episode.

Dean was doing pretty well at Benidorm Camping too. There are 10 camp sites in the area, so there’s a fair bit of competition, but Dean is prepared to put the work in to build up the business. All the expats worked hard, and didn’t whinge about their lives, or complain about Spain or the Spanish. All in all, it was a good start, with a positive image of Spain and the featured expats. I’m looking forward to future episodes, and I really hope they continue as they started.

Photo credit: Maggs224.com

Costa Blanca South Chat – Facebook friends meet up at Stan & Ollie’s, El Raso

I have a lot of online friends, and even though some people may say they are not real friends, I have to disagree. I think you quickly build up a rapport with online friends, because you’re drawn to what they write, and you get a feel of the person behind the post. You can spot the fakes, and you get an instinct for the people who would make great ‘real world’ friends. Then you want to meet them and enjoy their company.

That’s exactly how I felt when I learned that the Costa Blanca South Chat (CBSC) Facebook group were holding their first ‘real time’ get together at Stan & Ollie’s Restaurant, El Raso, near Guardamar de Segura. Although I did not know many group members personally, I knew from the tone of the chats that these were people I wanted to spend time with – kind, funny, intelligent, generous people, my kind of people! It was pretty clear a few of them liked a drink too, so I had no qualms about heading off to the meet up on my own.

As soon as I registered my interest, Allison from Algorfa offered me a lift. I wasn’t a bit surprised by this, because over the previous days, a group member had mentioned how helpful and encouraging they had been as he began to reorganise his life as a newly single man. Another lady was glad to find a group where she felt comfortable as someone who was married but not getting the company she needed at home. In some groups, the admission that you’re looking for company is seen as a green light for others to inbox you and offer significantly more than companionship, but this group is a safe haven, and a great place to be.

Mother Hen in Chief and Admin of the group is Deb, who set up the group  in August when some members of a local buy and sell group objected to her offering advice and encouragement to others, rather than simply buying or selling. She set up CBSC as a place where people could chat, offer and ask for advice, and generally enjoy themselves. There is no advertising or self promotion allowed in the group, other than offering appropriate helpful recommendations for tradesmen, solicitors and others – its purely a chat group.

The group now has 999 members, all with homes or holiday homes in the region, and following a number of successful informal meet ups, the members started asking about an organised get together. Deb decided to set up a meal during the period between Christmas and New Year, and 50 people descended on Stan & Ollie’s, all bent on having a good time and making new friends.

The first thing that struck me was the welcoming atmosphere. Deb greeted everyone as they arrived, and although I only knew 3 people in the room, I soon felt as if I was among friends. Circulating before dinner was served, I learned a few of the back stories behind the members. Karen has been in Spain for just 8 weeks, her husband is still commuting between Spain and England, and she was wondering if she’d made the right decision – until she joined CBSC and began to feel that she really belonged in Spain.

Ian thought he wouldn’t make it when his lift fell through, but with the help of the local bus service and Deb, who picked him up from the bus station in Guardamar, he was able to be there and make new connections. Several other people who had no transport of their own were also there, thanks to the kindness of strangers who were fast becoming good friends. Then there was Wendy – the biker hairdresser. What an entertaining lady she is!

And who could forget Judy, of the flashing boobs? Fortunately, she was seated on our table. I would have hated to have missed that. Maybe I should point out here that it wasn’t actually Judy’s boobs that were flashing – just a strategically placed Christmas brooch. It was all good, clean fun – as was the whole evening. More events are in the pipeline, and I for one can’t wait.

So, if you want to make new friends, need advice, help or support or just want to hang out with a great crowd of people, why not check out CBSC? Tell them Sandra sent you, and say hello if you see me at the next CBSC function.

 

The Red Knickers Report 2015

Around this time last year, I posted my musings about following the Spanish custom of wearing red knickers for luck on New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja), after a pretty horrible year in 2013. It was so well received I decided to do a follow up for 2015, and look back over the year. I’m calling it the Red Knickers Report, because I rather like the sound of it. If you want to catch up on the original post before proceeding with this one, it’s here.

2015 didn’t have quite so many new things happening, but the projects started in 2014 continued to prosper. The blog is doing well, as is the website, and my writing earnings were my best ever. In fact, a couple of months ago I had to seriously curtail my writing, because I was working 14 – 16 hours a day, and while the extra cash is always handy, there was a real danger that I would get fed up of writing – something I could never have imagined back in 2014.

My first book hasn’t made much more progress, but I have been working on e-books for an American publisher, which have been well received. Luckily these are ghostwritten, because I wouldn’t want my friends and family knowing exactly how much I know about witchcraft, tantric sex and sex toys! Yes, that’s what the Americans lap up apparently – I must try and get over there during 2015. Wonder if I could call it a research trip? Anyway, the book with my name on it will be finished this year.

My online presence as a writer has consolidated in 2015, and I’ve had quite a few pieces published in newspapers and magazines too. I’m pleased about that, because lots of people still don’t really consider you as a writer until your byline is actually in print, and it’s great when somebody stops you in the market to tell you how much they enjoyed reading your column in the local expat magazine. Maybe 2016 will be the year I have to dodge the paparazzi!

I met lots of writer friends during the year, too, and every one of them was a pleasure to be with. I’ve even had two writers move close to me – Russ Pearce has relocated to Guardamar with his wife Trish after 10 years of working around the world, and the lovely Jane Walters has moved a couple of hundred yards up the road from me. She’s still settling in with her dog Buddy, but it will be Look Out Algorfa when we get out on the town. Check out their blogs by clicking on their names – these are two very different but seriously talented writers.

I also met the inimitable Dave Bull, and was interviewed on his Breakfast Show several times during the year. When he wasn’t taking the mickey out of me for being short – he’s 6′ 3″ and his son Mitch is 6’7″ – he was persuading me to write for his magazine and help with the publicity for his Kayak Challenge to raise funds for cancer research. We met some more really lovely people as a result of that.

Another charity project I was involved in through Writers On Spain was Tails of the Alpujarras, an anthology of animal stories to raise money for the Valle Verde Animal Rescue Centre. The story of how Paddy made it from the canal side at La Marina to our home at La Finca is featured in the book, together with some great stories from many of my friends. It makes for a moving, and often very funny read, so why not treat yourself and/or your favourite animal lover to a copy?

On the Algorfa front, I’ve met lots of new people – and written about most of them. And I attended my first Patronal Festival. I should have been in England at the time, as we usually are in July, but strained inter costal muscles resulting from a nasty fall meant I couldn’t make the drive until the end of July. Having been to one fiesta,I’ll be going again – a whole week of fun and friendliness, most of it free. What’s not to love? I’m now working on a new, Algorfa-based website, which will hopefully launch before we head to Portugal in March.

Ah Portugal – let’s hope we finally make it,after 4 tries in the past 3 years. We were Portugal bound when my daughter had her stroke in 2013, so we booked up again for 2014, then realised we’d have to do it with a very young Paddy. So it was put off again. When we realised how much he loved the motor home, we tried to re book but couldn’t get a cabin on the ferry. Then the Motorcaravanners’ Club announced it was running a holiday rally to Portugal in 2016, but when we tried to book, all the pitches had been sold. Luckily, the site realised it was on to a Good Thing, and released more pitches. However, after having the plans scuppered 4 times already, I’ll believe it when we’re finally parked up for the month!

2015 was the year we made a conscious effort to use the motor home, rather than leaving it sat on the road twiddling its thumbs in the sun. Or at least, it would have been, if it had thumbs to twiddle! So, we went to the Western Motor Home Show at Malvern while we were in the UK, then attended our first rally with the Spanish branch of the Motorcaravanners’ Club in Pilar de la Horradada. They were a great bunch of people, and we had a lovely time, so there’s going to be a lot more of that in 2016.

Paddy continues to be a joy, and the hooligan in him is finally being tamed to manageable proportions. He’s an intelligent boy, and he soon gets the hang of what you want him to do – although when he gets excited all his training leaves the building, and he bounds around as if he were on elastic. He had his first ferry trip this year, and although I agonised over him being in a kennel for almost 24 hours, he took it all in his stride. He’s a confident boy these days, because he knows he is loved, and that he has a forever home with us.

So, that’s the Red Knickers Report for 2015 – all in all a pretty good year I think. Here’s to an even better 2016, and I hope your New Year is everything you want it to be. Thanks for your support through 2015 – without it, I’d be talking to myself!

I love being Sandra in Spain!

Well, it’s been quite a week! Last week ended with Dave Bull down to his boxers in my front room, so you’d think you couldn’t top that, but somehow, I managed it.

As part of the media team on the Kayak Challenge, I had to get a piece to the Leader newspaper within 12 hours of Dave and Mitch coming out of the water. It wasn’t quite a case of ‘hold the front page,’ but apparently they were holding a space for up to 325 words, plus a photo. So, I got the stuff off, and when Jane and I went shopping on Monday, the first stop was to pick up the Leader. Jane was driving, and I started looking on Page 7, which is where the local news usually starts. And I went all through the paper – through the local news, national news, TV guide, classifieds (including Angela from Brazil who will come to your home or hotel. Thank goodness Tony wasn’t looking over my shoulder!), past the house sales, car sales and sports pages. And there was nothing. Zilch. Nada.

‘Why did I bother?’ I asked myself – and I didn’t have an answer. When the car stopped, Jane took the paper from me, and found my piece – on Page 3! So, at the age of 63, I managed to be a Page 3 Girl, without having to take my clothes off. That’s excellent news for the residents of the Costa Blanca, because although I ain’t too bad for an old bird, the birthday suit could do with a bit of ironing. Best of all though, the piece went in just as I wrote it. It’s here, if you want a look.

Come Friday, Jane and I rocked up at Jilly’s Bar in Algorfa, for their first Christmas Fair. Jill and her daughter Sam are doing great stuff at the Tropicana and Jilly’s Bar, and it was great to see so many locals turn out to support them. We all got a few bargains, and sorted some presents out, which was enough reward. But several people said ‘Aren’t you Sandra in Spain? Love your stuff.’ And okay, it’s naff, but I still love it when people come up and say that. What put the lid on the day though was when somebody came up to me and asked if I’d worked as a journalist in England, because I wrote like a professional. I’ve had no training of any sort – I’m not even house trained, for heaven’s sake – and I only started writing when I moved to Spain in 2008, so that was the best compliment anyone could have paid me.

Come Sunday, and Jane and I are off down to the Centro Rural de Algorfa, for the Big Draw. No – not me in my Page 3 pose, this was much more interesting. We were about to draw the winners for the 200 Raffle to support the Kayak Challenge. We raised just under €160, and we had three wonderful prizes from Brigitta at the Vestry Restaurant, Beth at La Taberna de Algorfa and Vicky at Studio Six Salon.Thank you ladies – you are all stars!

We don’t just talk the talk when we do charity stuff, we walk the walk too – or in this case, buy the tickets. So, while we were folding them up and mixing them up, somebody said, ‘You do realise that if one of your tickets comes out, somebody will say it’s a fix?’ To which Jane and I replied that we’d put our money in the same as everyone else, and we weren’t pulling out the winners, so if we clued up with a meal or a cut and blow job – bloody predictive text, that should be blow dry! – we’re having it.

So, after the drum roll – which we didn’t have, because no bugger had thought to bring a drum – Mine Host Mike at the Centro pulled out the first winning ticket. And it wasn’t mine, thank goodness. But it was Jane’s! I asked Mike how much she’d paid him to pull her ticket out first, but being the perfect host, he said nothing, and just gave an enigmatic smile. However, if he thought he’d be going to the Vestry with her for the meal, I fear he will be sadly disappointed. And in any case, Therese wouldn’t give him the night off. So I really hope she slipped him a few Euros, or he could become very bitter and twisted.

So, all in all, a great week, mixing with old friends, and making new ones. Tomorrow I head for England to do the Santa Run, and although I’m looking forward to seeing my kids and grandchildren, and catching up with friends – to say nothing of hitting Poundland – I’ll be counting the days until I’m back to being Sandra in Spain. Because I absolutely love it!

 

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