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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Sandra Not In Spain

Okay, Spain is now my home, but I still have ties in the UK, and I love to travel in our motor home, so I spend a fair bit of time out of Spain. What you’ll see here is my observations and experiences as I potter around Europe. Basically, anything could happen here – or on the rest of the site, for that matter!

Play Review – Benidorm Live

I’m a big fan of the ITV sitcom Benidorm, which has been running since 2007 – the year we bought our own Place in the Sun. I spend a lot of time in my apartment in Spain, which is about 90 minutes’ drive from Benidorm, and although some of the comic situations are exaggerated for effect, there’s a lot of truth in it.You’ll see more mobility scooters in Benidorm than in the rest of the Costa Blanca put together, and the resort is the karaoke capital of Spain. Benidorm is a place people either love or loathe, and personally, I love it. I go to the old town several times  a year on a day trip, and in the days BP (Before Paddy), we often enjoyed an all inclusive mini break in Benidorm with friends.

When the Benidorm Live stage show staged its official world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth recently, I decided to head along with a friend to see if the Solana Hotel staff were as funny in real life as they are on TV. And since many of the principal cast members started their careers in live theatre, and are therefore used to working with audiences, the atmosphere was electric right from the start.

I wondered how the company would manage to come up with a stage set that would successfully encompass the Solana Hotel reception area, the poolside, the Blow & Go Salon and Neptune’s Bar. However, set and costume designer Mark Walters went one better and came up with an effective revolving set that covered all those areas and also Solana Manager Joyce Temple-Savage’s office. The basic set is modelled on the opening credits of the TV show, and with each change of scene, the set spins around, and the cast and stage hands bring on any necessary props.

Several of the main characters from the TV series are in the stage show – Mateo (played by Jake Canuso), Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson), Jacqueline (Janine Duvitski), Liam (Aiden Gillen), hairdresser Kenneth (Tony Maudsley), and entertainment organiser Sam (Shelley Longworth).  The story line centres around a couple who are staying at the Solana because they were double booked in a more up market hotel in Altea, and a visiting undercover hotel inspector. Fair play to writer Derren Litten for managing to fool the cast – and the audience – right to the end, with a couple of red herrings, and a lot of hilarity on the way.

In fact, there were so many brilliant one liners and running gags, it’s difficult to remember them all, and the ones I can remember aren’t really suitable for a family friendly blog! Mateo is his usual supercillious self, mocking the English holidaymakers while trying to get the females of the species into bed. Jake Canuso is even hotter in the flesh than he is on screen, and he can dance too. He started his career as a dancer before moving into acting, and he’s also a good singer.

There are a number of song and dance routines, ably led by Asa Elliott, a singer on the Benidorm cabaret circuit who has appeared regularly in the TV series. All of the company acquit themselves well in song and dance, and to be honest, the musical numbers are a welcome relief for the chuckle muscles. Never mind laugh a minute, it’s practically laugh a second!

All the cast were excellent, but for me, Adam Gillen’s Liam stands out. His comic karaoke number is so bad, you need to be a really good singer to carry it off, and his performance brings laughs, sadness and pathos in equal measure. Benidorm Live is a real ensemble performance, and all the cast interact with each other well for maximum comedic effect. For once, predatory gay hairdresser Kenneth is the pursued rather than the pursuer, when Jacquiline’s friend Gay Derek takes a shine to him.  A wardrobe malfunction with Derek’s trousers led to some extra, unscripted hilarity.

If you like Benidorm, you’ll love Benidorm Live. It’s well-written, well acted, fast paced and really, really funny. I saw the show on Thursday, and my sides were still aching by Saturday. The show is touring the UK until April 2019, so check out the dates here to see if Benidorm Live is coming to your area. Tickets are selling fast, so don’t hang about. And give Matteo a hug from me while you’re there!

Note: The images displayed in the slideshow are my own, taken at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth on 25 October 2018. They are not intended to spoil enjoyment or give away the plot, merely to give a flavour of the show.

When does lost property become stolen property? Never, apparently!

Is this the real case, or is it just fantasy? The case I brought back with me

On this website, there’s a category called ‘Only in Spain.’ It’s a tongue-in cheek, affectionate look at the extensive bureaucracy and the attitudes in Spain that are so different to the UK. Well, life seems to be imitating art, because it seems bureaucracy is becoming a problem in England too. Or at least in Plymouth, at least for me.

Regular readers will know that I need to be in the UK for longer than I expected, for reasons I won’t bore you with. So in early July, I flew back to Spain to sort a few things out and check on Piddock Place. I didn’t have a suitcase with me, so Glenys loaned me one of hers – a rather nice purple and grey number she’d bought at Al Campo in Zenia Boulevard a while ago. The case stayed with me all the way over to Spain, apart from when it went in the hold of the Falcon shuttle from Plymouth to Bristol Airport. It then stayed with me all the way back to Bristol, until I handed it into the safe keeping of the Falcon bus driver at midnight.

Arriving at Plymouth at 2.45 am, I spotted a purple and grey suitcase on the pavement. Looking in the hold, there were no other suitcases of that description, so off I trundled with it. After all, there can’t be that many purple and grey suitcases travelling from Alicante to Plymouth, can there? Apparently there can, because when I opened the case next morning to give Paddy his present for being a good boy for Aunty Glenys while I was away, what did I find? To my – and Paddy’s – disgust, there was no sign of his doggy chews, or my satnav, clothes, new nighties and bras, hair stylers, and all the other stuff that I’d carefully packed the night before.

What was revealed to our incredulous eyes was a television set, a freeview box, 4 packs of Spanish chocolate croissants, and a pack of 100 evil-smelling Spanish cigarettes. Miss Marple I ain’t, but as there had been Spanish students on the Falcon shuttle, and the missing case had been bought in Spain, I assumed somebody would be rather disappointed when they found my size 16 clothes which were built for comfort rather than fashion, and industrial quantities of doggy treats, as well as crystals, floral nighties and substantial underwear. Although there were no contact details in the case I had, there certainly were in the one I’d borrowed from Glenys, so I assumed it would be a matter of hours before I was reunited with my stuff, and Paddy saw how much I’d missed him when he found out how many treats I’d brought back.

How wrong can you be? The day passed, and my phone remained silent. The next morning, I called the Stagecoach Depot and explained my predicament. As nobody had been bothering them trying to track down their case, they said they couldn’t help, but would keep my details in case the other person returned my case and wanted theirs back. So I called the Police, to ask if I could report my case stolen, but apparently, it wasn’t stolen, it was lost, and I had to take it up with the carrying company.

I did this with gusto, going to Stagecoach Head Office, and asking what they were going to do about it. They did say they’d try and track down the passengers on the bus, but due to data protection laws, they couldn’t just email everyone who’d prebooked.

Not being one to sit and wait for stuff to happen, I put on my Miss Marple hat and started thinking logically. Yes, I can do that when I chose to, despite what people may say. I plastered photos of the case and its contents all over Facebook, and asked people to share. I also contacted all the university summer schools in the area, and asked if they could circulate their students and find out if anyone had the wrong case. Again I got the ‘data protection’ stuff, but as I explained, maybe the student concerned didn’t know what to do about getting their stuff back.

I also contacted Radio Devon, and had a nice chat to the lovely Pippa Quelch, who promised to air my problem on her show. So I felt I’d done everything I could to track down my case, and return the other one to its rightful owner.

Fast forward two months, and despite everything I’ve done, and Stagecoach has supposedly done, there’s no sign of my case, and I still have the other one gathering dust. I’m making another short visit to Spain this week, when I’ll need to put in an insurance claim for my lost case and its contents, so I headed to the nearest Police Station to get a Crime Number. After all, two months down the line, the case must be stolen, not lost, right?

Wrong, apparently. It’s only stolen if I have bank cards and/or statements, a phone, tablet, laptop or anything personal that could be used for criminal gain from my personal information in the case. Thankfully, although I always put my laptop in my suitcase – I had done exactly that on the trip out to Spain – for some reason, on the return journey, I put the laptop in my tote bag, which stayed with me on the bus rather than going into the hold. I have almost 5 years of photographs, articles and notes for books I intent to write on the laptop, so that would have been a really traumatic loss. Yes, I know – I should back it all up on a hard drive, and I have done, before anybody chips in. Now, where was I?

To me, if someone has your stuff, and has the means of returning it to you but chooses not to, they’ve actually stolen it. But to the Powers That Be, because the person who has my case didn’t actually rip it from my hands, it’s lost, not

Me in Spain, wearing one of my favourite dresses, which was in the lost/stolen case. This may be the last photo of me in it

stolen. So I asked the Police if I could keep the case I have, and its contents. Apparently I can’t, because it’s not mine. Even though the other person has my stuff, which is worth considerably more than his – or hers. All I can do is register my loss on a website, and they’ll give me a reference number for the insurance claim.

I asked the Policewoman I spoke to what I should do with the case I had. All credit to her, she didn’t give the answer I would have done, which would have involved doing something physically and logistically impossible with said case. She suggested I take it to the bus company and leave it in their lost property department, making sure I got a receipt for it.

That’s exactly what I did, so now I don’t have the case that isn’t mine, or the case that is mine. And I still think my case is stolen, not lost, but bureaucracy rules OK, even in England’s green and pleasant land. One thing’s for sure, when I board the Falcon shuttle later this week, my – new – suitcase will be welded to my side, and heaven help anyone who tries to part me from it!

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Rogers Wholesale Plymouth – Best before has never been better!

My bargains from Rogers – I spent £12 and got around £68 worth of shopping.

As everyone who knows me is aware, I’m always up for a bargain or two. Especially while I’m here in England, where most everyday things seem to be more expensive than in Spain. I’ve haunted the aisles of Morrison’s, the Co-Op and Tesco on the lookout for those pretty yellow stickers, and I’ve snagged some nice bargains, like a shoulder of pork that fed three of us – and the dogs – for two days, and cost only £1.65. Then there was the shin of beef I bought to make a stifado for a little over £1, and the spaghetti bolognese ready meals for just 50p each.

All of these were very enjoyable, and all the more so because they were so cheap, but it’s all fresh stuff, and the space in the fridge and the freezer is finite. If only I could get similar bargains in non-perishable goods, that I could maybe take back to Spain in the motor home.

Unlike some people, I don’t stress too much over ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates. I go on what stuff looks like, smells like and tastes like, not by the calendar. So when a video for Rogers Wholesale, Plymouth popped up on my Facebook news feed, I knew I had to go and take a look.

Basically, Rogers is a discount warehouse where you can buy stuff that’s either short dated or past it’s ‘best before’ date. Some stock may not have labels, or there may be items for export where the language on the labels isn’t English. Some of the brand names may be unfamiliar, and some of the packaging may be damaged or discontinued, but basically, everything is top quality.

Rogers calls itself ‘The UK’s Biggest Gone Past Best Before Warehouse,’ and it’s only been open since January, but when I went a few weeks ago, it was very busy indeed. The owners make videos for their Facebook Page each time a new delivery comes in, but if something catches your eye, get down there as quick as you can, because they can’t guarantee more stocks, and popular items sell out very quickly.

Rogers is a ‘no frills’ retail outlet – goods are stacked on pallets, and are sold by the case, not singly. If you live alone or in a small family, it’s worth getting together with someone else to share a case of whatever takes your fancy. Prices are unbelievable – some cases are just £1 for 5 0r 6 items, and Rogers even work out the price per unit for you. There are also lots of samples of snacks and chocolates to tempt you as you shop, and the friendly staff are always available to answer your questions, or load heavy cases into your trolley and your car.

I spent £12 in Rogers, and for that I got a pack of 6 bottles of Worcestershire Sauce, 12 330 ml cartons of Vita Coco coconut water, 6 jars of chunky vegetable pasta sauce with no labels, 6 packs of Go Ahead banana bakes, and 6 boxes of Ancient Harvest gluten free lentil and quinoa pasta. The day I went, each customer also got a free pack of 12 bottles of French’s honey mustard sauce.

Okay, the Worcestershire Sauce wasn’t a brand I’ve heard of, but it was just 33p a bottle, and own supermarket brands are around 85p. The coconut water worked out at 25p a carton, and the cheapest I’ve seen it is 69p, but usually it’s around £1. The pasta sauce also worked out at around 33p per large jar, as opposed to £1. The banana bakes were 50p a pack, for the same packs that sell for £1.99 normally. Okay, they’re 2 months past their ‘best before’ date, but I just had one with a mug of tea, and it was lovely and crunchy, and very tasty for just 124 calories. The Ancient Harvest pasta is normally around £3 per 227g pack, but I got 6 packs for £2, and that’s still in date until December!

Finally, the honey mustard sauce we received for free is normally around £1.50 a bottle. Even if we’d paid for it, it would have cost us only £1 for 12 bottles. I did wonder what on Earth I was going to do with 12 bottles of the stuff, but then I found these recipes on the manufacturer’s website, so that’s a few main meals and dressings sorted out to be going on with.

Maths has never been my best subject, but I do like to know how much I’m saving, so I quickly added up the normal retail prices of these items, and it comes to around £68, so I’ve saved a fantastic amount – around £56 to be exact.

My free gift – 12 bottles of honey mustard which normally retail at around £1.50 a bottle

So, what can you buy from Rogers, apart from the items I clued up with? Pretty much anything, really. Biscuits, cereals, cakes, desserts, hot and cold drinks, condiments, sauces, preserves, crisps and snacks, chocolates, sugar, flour, pasta, rice – the list goes on. However, Rogers can’t guarantee what’s coming in, or how long stocks of particular items will last, so if you see it, buy it, because tomorrow just may be too late!

Rogers Wholesale Plymouth is located at Unit 2, Burrington Business Park, Burrington Way PL5 3LX. Opening hours are 9 am – 6 pm Monday to Friday, 9 – 5 Saturdays, and 10 – 4 Sundays. Check out their Facebook page for the latest offers, or just go along with an empty vehicle and say Sandra sent you. Who knows, I may even see you there sometime. Happy shopping!

 

 

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Rice and peas – a touch of the Caribbean for dinner

Rice and peas – a great accompaniment to any meal

I’ve always been pretty adventurous with food, and a few years back, a Jamaican friend cooked us jerk chicken with rice and peas. We’ve lost touch since we moved to Spain, and I’d forgotten about rice and peas until the weekend. We’d cooked a smoked gammon joint from Lidl – fabulous value and taste, by the way – and were wondering what to serve with it. Basically, we fancied a change from the usual new potatoes and parsley sauce, egg and chips or salad.

Then  I remembered about rice and peas. I looked up Levi Root’s recipe and adapted it to suit our taste. As we weren’t having it with curry, I thought it may be rather bland as it was, so I added some chilli flakes and sweet chilli sauce to give it a bit of pep. It paired very well with the coconut, and we ended up with a very nice accompaniment to the gammon.

Only problem was, Levi’s recipe was supposed to serve 4, but I think he meant 4 households! There was way too much for three of us, so we’re having the rest with a Kerala coconut chicken curry tonight. If I make it again, I’d halve the quantity of rice and water and cook it on a slightly lower heat to ensure the rice was cooked through, since there would be a smaller amount of liquid. However, the quantities below are as per the recipe – I’ll leave you to adjust it as you wish.

Ingredients

  • I can of coconut milk
  • I can of red kidney beans
  • I onion, chopped finely
  • I large or 2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups or basmati rice, well rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • knob of butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Chilli flakes and sweet chilli sauce as required. (Optional)

Empty the contents of the cans of coconut milk and red kidney beans into a large saucepan. Don’t rinse the beans first, as the canning

White rum and coconut water – a lovely accompaniment to rice and peas

liquid adds to the flavour  of the finished dish. Then add the onion, garlic, water, salt, chilli flakes and butter.

Bring to the boil, then add the rice. Lower the heat, and stir well. Cook for around 30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice

is nice and fluffy, with a slight sheen to it. Stir in sweet chilli sauce, if using.

Serve with curry, jerk chicken, or any other meat or vegetable dish. Rice and peas can also be enjoyed on its own as a light lunch or

supper. You could add chopped peppers, sliced mushrooms and sweetcorn for more colour and texture. It’s a really versatile dish, and is ideal for vegetarians and vegans.

I wondered what to serve to drink with the meal, and then I had a lightbulb moment. I’d bought some coconut water flavoured with lime and pineapple, so I added this to white rum for a long, tropical drink. Along with the rice and peas, it was Almost Jamaica, as the song goes!


 

 

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Restaurant review: Lanterns Greek Restaurant, Cornwall Street, Plymouth

Although there are all sorts of cuisines available at a great price and quality near my home in Algorfa, I’ve yet to unearth a good Greek restaurant within driving or staggering distance. I mentioned this to my friend Glenys a few years back on a visit to Plymouth, and she took me to Lanterns, advising me to ‘Prepare to be amazed.’

The first time we road tested Lanterns together, it was coming up for Christmas, and the place was heaving with office parties, etc. So we were delighted when they cheerfully squeezed us in between two groups. They warned us that we would have to wait a while for our food, but brought out some home made Greek bread and a bottle of very nice house rose to keep us going.

Although Lanterns is a very busy restaurant in the middle of Plymouth city centre, the staff never seem pressured – in fact, they seem to enjoy themselves just as much as the diners – many of whom eat there at least once a week.

We really enjoyed our food, but because I spend a lot of time in Spain, we didn’t return for some time. Almost a year, in fact. As we walked in, the two lovely waitresses greeted us like old friends, and remarked that it had been a while since they’d seen us. With Glenys and I, it’s ‘Once seen, never forgotten,’ and they started reminiscing about the great evening we’d all had on our last visit.

The highlight of that first evening was when the group to the left of us were getting a bit too full of Christmas spirit – and wine, and beer – and started effing and blinding. It didn’t bother us, but one of the party told them in a stage whisper to ‘Pipe down, or you’ll offend the lovely ladies sitting next to us.’ I couldn’t resist it – I stood up, leaned over the dividing screen between us, and said, ‘Hey, no f***ing swearing if you don’t mind – you’re putting us off our dinner!’  That set the seal on the tone, and all of a sudden, we were extra guests at everyone’s party.

We’ve tried a couple of other Greek restaurants in Plymouth over the years, but nothing matches Lanterns for atmosphere, food quality, portion size and value for money. The first couple of times, we ordered starters, then realised there was way too much food for us, so now we tend to go for a main course and a dessert – if we have room, that is.

A couple of nights ago, we had a rather unpleasant experience at the Notter Bridge Inn near Landrake. Long story short, after waiting for almost an hour for our food, we were thrown out as ‘liars and troublemakers,’ because we had the temerity to ask why people who had come in after us were being served first. If you want to read the whole sorry story, you can find it here.

We decided to go to Lanterns, and as usual, we were welcomed with open arms – such a contrast to our treatment at the Notter Bridge Inn. Once again, we were given lovely fresh home made bread to take the edge of our hunger while we waited for our meals. I went for my favourite Lamb souvla with a tasty Greek salad, rice and tzatziki, while Glenys chose belly pork with rice and vegetables.

Previously, we’ve tried the moussaka, beef stifado, mushroom stroganoff, grilled chicken, kleftiko and the range of kebabs. Everything we’ve ever had has been cooked and presented to perfection, and we’ve invariably needed to ask to have some of the meal packed to take home. This is an old menu, but it will give you an idea of the range of food on offer.

Lanterns offer a 3 course lunch menu, as well as an early bird evening menu between 5 and 7, as well as their extensive a la carte collection.All their desserts are home made too. I couldn’t resist the Banoffee Pie, even though I’d only managed half of my lamb souvla. I asked for a ‘small’ portion, but as you can see from the pictures, it wasn’t that small! It was, however, the best Banoffee pie I have ever tasted – and I’ve tasted a lot over the years.

Do yourself a favour if you find yourself in Plymouth, and check out Lanterns. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t need to take out a second mortgage to eat there, even if you go a la carte. We normally pay around £40 for two main courses and a bottle of wine – slightly more if we have a dessert, but usually we share one between us. Maybe we’ll see you there soon!

You can find Lanterns at 88 Cornwall Street, Plymouth PL1 1LR. Metred parking is available outside, and there are two nearby off road car parks. Phone 01752 665516 to reserve your table, or enquire about availability for special celebrations. Tell them Sandra in Spain sent you!

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Basil Fawlty is still living and working in Notter Bridge, Cornwall!

Sun shining through the trees by the River Lynher – the only bright spot of our visit to the Notter Bridge Inn!

It’s been a pretty traumatic week – even on top of the other six traumatic weeks since we left Spain. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say Glenys decided I needed to cheer myself up last night, and she thought a drive out in the country and a meal in a nice friendly pub would do the trick. She also promised me photo opportunities aplenty, so off we went to the Notter Bridge Inn near Landrake, Cornwall.

It seemed to tick all the boxes. Drive in the country? Check, with the added bonus of being only 6 miles from our base. Photo opportunities? Check – the pub nestles on the River Lynher, and I got a couple of beautiful shots of the sunlight through the trees. Friendly pub? Well, in the words of the well-known song, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. Except it was – very bad!

When we went into the pub, it seemed friendly enough. A few people said hello, and we asked the landlady if there were any spare tables. She said yes, take our pick,  so I sent Glenys to find a table while I ordered the food and drinks. I asked if I could run a tab, and left my credit card behind the bar. The landlady said the kitchen was busy, so there would be a ‘bit of a wait,’ and I said that was okay, we could enjoy our drinks and I could take some photos outside. When we went through the bar to the conservatory, there was only one other table occupied, and the people eating outside were being served as I got the drinks, so we were confident it wouldn’t be too much of a wait, and the food looked and smelled lovely.

How wrong can you be? After we’d waited for half an hour, the conservatory had filled up, and then starters came out to the tables who had ordered after us. We wondered about that, but thought maybe they were going to bring all the main courses out together. However, when the starters were followed by main courses, while our table was still depressingly bare, I called over the waitress and we asked how long our food would be, since we had ordered before most of the other diners had arrived.

The friendly waitress went to find out, and the lady on the next table asked how long we’d been waiting. By now, it was over 45 minutes, and she said that sometimes they forgot to put the order through to the kitchen! However, she also said the food was worth waiting for, and when the waitress returned and said it would be just another 10 minutes,  and did we want a refund, I said it was fine, we were hungry, and I was happy to wait. I asked why the food had been delayed, and she said she didn’t know, but would ask the landlady.

The landlady marched across to our table and snapped ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Clearly, when she’d done the hospitality training, she’d missed the bit about keeping the customer satisfied. She also said that as we’d just walked in off the street and hadn’t bothered to book, we should expect to wait until the regulars were looked after. She went to the kitchen, then informed us that, ‘The chef says just go, we don’t want your sort in here.’

We were incredulous. We hadn’t been rude to the staff, just politely asked where our food was, and we were still prepared to wait, even though others had been served ahead of us. Graciously, the landlady said we could have our drinks on the house, as she almost threw my debit card across the bar. As we headed for the door, stomachs a-rumble and backs well and truly up, Basil Fawlty* himself blocked our exit.

Obviously, it wasn’t Basil Fawlty – he’s a fictional character, but the guy – whom we assumed to be the landlord – achieved the impossible by making the Torquay hotel owner look like the world’s best Front of House Manager. He said we’d been told it would be at least 40 minutes’ wait when we ordered, and Glenys replied that if we’d been told that, we wouldn’t have ordered food at all, and we’d just been told there was a ‘bit of a wait.’ He told us we were liars, and astutely observed that we’d complained about the food, but not about the free drinks we’d had.

I don’t think he appreciated being told that we couldn’t complain about the food, because we hadn’t had any, and the drinks were not free, they were compensation for poor service. And he wasn’t thrilled when I told him I was a writer, and although I never write negative reviews, I was happy to make an exception in their case.

Rather foolishly, he told me to ‘Write what I like.’ So I just did. Moral of the story:

‘Basil Fawlty’s’ Latest business venture – The Notter Bridge Inn.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Glenys wasn’t quite sure whether to be scandalised or proud of being thrown out of a pub for the first time in her life. It was a first for me too, but we reckoned that, with a combined age of 141 years between us, being thrown out for being ‘liars and troublemakers’ would do our street cred no damage at all.

Did we get fed? Oh yes! We went to our favourite restaurant, Lanterns in Cornwall Street, Plymouth. The food, service and atmosphere was amazing. Okay, we didn’t get the fabulous photo opportunities, or the scenic drive, but we finally ticked the box for great food and service with a smile. And the bill came in cheaper too. Basil Fawlty, you can learn a lot from Lanterns.

* I’d love to claim the ‘Basil Fawlty’ monicker as my own, but the Mail Online beat me to it. Seems like we’re not the only disatisfied customers at the Notter Bridge Inn after all!

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1966 and all that – Can football come home again?

World Cup Willie – The first mascot in 1966. Image credit http://www.prmuseum.org/blog/2015/7/31/1966-the-first-fifa-world-cup-mascot

Like most English people here on the Costa Blanca – and quite a lot of Spanish ones – I’m waiting impatiently for the England-Sweden kick off this afternoon in World Cup 2018. I’ll be going to Jilly’s Bar in Algorfa to watch the match for three good reasons. They have the biggest screen in the area, a lot of my good friends will also be there, and it’s no fun watching England’s biggest match in almost 30 years when you’re home alone, as I am at the moment.

So much has been in the press about the similarities between this World Cup and 1966, when England, against all the odds, lifted the trophy for the first and only time. So far. Well, the hacks have to write something don’t they? The England squad have been playing well on the pitch and conducting themselves well off it, so the tabloids can’t run kiss-and-tells and character assassinations, which is the usual media sport when England are in an international tournament. I suppose they could bleat about how much the squad are being paid for kicking a ball around, but since the majority of England fans believe the team are worth every penny at the moment, that’s hardly likely to happen.

Admittedly, there are some uncanny coincidences. Dapper Gareth Southgate has several parallels with England’s most successful manager – so far – Sir Alf Ramsey. Tactical geniuses who were not thought to be the best choices for the job at times when English football was slightly lower than Donald Trump’s level of diplomacy skills, they brought with them qualities of dignity, integrity, independent thinking and straight talking. They were both in their mid forties when they stepped into the spotlight of the world’s biggest football competition, and they have a similar choice in clothes, as well as an erudite way of conducting interview, without the need for sound bites or jargon.

The similarities don’t end there, either. World Cup Willie, the 1966 mascot, was dressed in red, white and blue, as is the current mascot, Zabivaka. If you don’t remember the song, there’s a reminder under this paragraph – there’s still time to get word perfect before kick off. As a bonus, the highlights of the 66 campaign accompany Lonnie Donnegan’s very catchy anthem. World Cup Willie was the first ever World Cup mascot. Zabivaka means ‘The one who scores’ in Russian, so maybe Harry Kane should consider changing his name, as he’s in the running for the Golden Boot as highest scorer of the tournament. Zabivaka Kane may not roll easily off the tongue, but it has a certain quirky ring to it, doesn’t it? And we could call him Zab for short.

Talking of hat trick heroes, Harry Kane has emulated Geoff Hurst in scoring a hat trick at the world cup. The only other English player to achieve this was Gary Lineker, against Poland in Mexico, 1986. And just as Sir Alf went for youth over experience in appointing twenty-two year old Bobby Moore as captain over older, more famous players, Gareth has opted for Harry Kane, 24, bypassing international veterans such as Ashley Young and Gary Cahill. Only 8 players in the 23-strong squad are younger than Kane, yet he plays with an authority and leadership far beyond his years.

Southgate isn’t afraid to make controversial decisions either, preferring to risk defeat by Belgium, having already qualified, and keep his  key players rested and safe from injury. Alf Ramsey was vilified for keeping Geoff Hurst in the side once Jimmy Greaves, a big star at the time, recovered from injury. Hurst had played his first international just a few months earlier, in a friendly against West Germany, but Ramsey trusted his instincts and the rest, as they say is history. In a third example of synchronicity, both Hurst and Kane were pretty competent cricketers, before they became football legends.

There’s been so much written about the parallels with 1966, but you’re about to read a world exclusive – how my 1966 experience is pretty much identical to my personal World Cup 2018. So far.

Back in 1966, I was 14, and package holidays were just becoming affordable for everyone. Mum and Dad worked hard in their fish and

I was flying to Spain when England played Colombia, but I’ll be joining the regulars at Jilly’s Bar for the Sweden matxh.

chip shop, and always closed the shop for their main holiday when the surrounding factories in Bilston in the West Midlands closed down for Factory Fortnight. So when I learned that we’d be flying out abroad for the first time on 23rd July – my parent’s 17th wedding anniversary, and the day of the England-Portugal semi-final – I was Not Impressed.

Like pretty much everybody else, Dad thought the home team would be out of the tournament by the time we left anyway. He wasn’t such a big follower of English football as I was – and still am, for that matter. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about wall-to-wall sunshine either – which is why we always spent our holidays in my Gran’s caravan in Blackpool. However, when he found out that Senior Service and Johnny Walker – his favourite brands of cigarettes and whisky – were so much cheaper in Spain, he couldn’t wait to start singing Viva Espana. Well, he had to, as it wasn’t even written and first performed until around 1971, but you get the gist.

The opening games seemed to bear out his words, but I had the Faith of The Fan – or the Foolish, if you like – and just knew they would beat Argentina. Half of me wanted them to lose, so I wouldn’t miss something, but when the final whistle went, I tried my hardest to get Dad to reschedule the holiday. When he quite reasonably refused, I determined to find somewhere – anywhere – to watch the final, should England get past Portugal.

Today, people are arranging their flights so they can see their team of choice play the important matches, but 52 years ago, the flights were neither so frequent nor so fast. In fact our plane looked so old, I asked the stewardess if it was one with an outside toilet. Yes, I’ve always been like that! That earned me a telling off from Mum, but Dad shared my sense of humour and gave me an extra pound to add to my holiday spending money. He must have really liked my crack, because that £1 note – which of course we don’t have now – would be worth £18. My 10-year-old brother wanted everything I had, so he wanted a £1 as well, but Dad, remembering his birthday just a month ago when he flushed the £1 Auntie Jess gave him down the toilet because he wanted ‘real money, not bits of paper’ – sensibly refused.

When we eventually arrived at our hotel in Lloret de Mar, on the Costa Brava, I was delighted to find it not only had a TV at each end of the residents’ lounge,  but the guests were more or less equally divided between English and Germans. Our Spanish haven would turn out to be a mini Wembley with sun. Or maybe for me, it wouldn’t.

Once Mum and Dad recovered from the severe shock of waking up to sunshine every morning, they wanted to make the most of it, and were scandalised at the idea of wasting all that sun. Goodness knows why, because Dad was the prototype of the 1960s Brit Abroad on the Beach – long trousers, socks and sandals, and a long sleeved shirt. It was so hot, he did give in and take off his shirt, but the string vest stayed put, and he was blessed with a chest and back that looked like laticed fruit pies until the tan finally faded. Mum was tall with a fabulous figure, but she wore a voluminous cotton skirt over her swimming costume, as she wasn’t going to show the ‘foreigners’ her lovely long, lily white legs. Just as well really – one enamoured old Spaniard who looked about 150 offered Dad two donkeys in exchange for her. If it hadn’t been for having to pay for excess baggage, I could well have returned from my first trip abroad Sin Mi Madre. And no, I’m not translating – look it up!

Rescue came in the unlikely form of Harry and Madge, two lovely pensioners from Matlock in Derbyshire. They were experiencing similar problems – Madge wanted to hit the beach, while Harry wanted to swear at the TV screen, as all football fans do – well, the ones I mix with, anyway. So after lunch, Madge left with Mum, Dad and my Brother for the beach, while I headed for the lounge bar with Harry and the rest. With Mum’s admonitions to ‘Not let Sandra drink anything alcoholic’ ringing in his ears, Harry came back with a large beer for him, and a small one for me. Luckily for me, Matlock men didn’t like taking orders from women – other than their wives – so thank goodness Mum hadn’t said  I could have a couple of sangrias, because that was the next step.

The Spanish barman was so impressed with my smattering of Spanish and my burgeouning vocabulary of football fouls – that’s foul language not foul play, if you hadn’t already guessed – he promised me a glass of sangria for every goal England scored. That was when I fell in love for the first time – with both the barman and sangria. He must have thought he was okay when Germany scored after just 10 minutes, but he would regret that decision mightily. I was, and still am – a positive person, and I predicted that England would go on and win the game, they just needed something to get them back on track.

Right up to the 89th minute, it looked like I was right, then Weber sneaked a last minute goal, and it was extra time in stifling heat. It was pretty hot in the hotel too, especially when I made my voice heard over the nay-sayers who were predicting Engand’s chance had gone. I still don’t know whether it was bravado, sheer stupidity or a message from the Other World that prompted me to shout, ‘England will win 4 – 2, and Geoff Hurst will score a hat trick.’ Then I wished I hadn’t. There was silence, followed by roars of laughter. When my ‘Minder’ Harry stopped his shoulders from shaking, he said if both those things happened, he’d give me £1 to top up my pocket money. Good natured chaps from both sides chipped in – it was a very convivial mini Wembley – and I spent the break in proceedings trying to decide how to spend the fortune I was certain would come my way.

As we all know, I was right and they were wrong. I can’t remember exactly how many pounds I collected now, but at the time I made sure each and every one stumped up. Then it got messy. Harry said we should have a ‘proper’ drink to celebrate. He’d developed a liking for Bacardi and as my back teeth were awash after my four free sangrias, I decided to have a change and join  him. Not My Best Idea.

Jilly and Ian – our friendly hosts for the afternoon

As I lifted the glass to my lips, I spotted Mum, Dad and Madge coming into the lounge. They were not looking in the least happy, so with a hiss to Harry not to let them see or smell my glass, I went over to tell them the wonderful news, as they clearly hadn’t heard it. As it turned out, they did know the result, and that was the cause of their distress.

A bit of background here. In the Midlands, people will often add ‘then’ on the end of a question. For example, ‘What’s for breakfast, then?’ In other areas of England, this addition is seen as an aggressive challenge or an insult, as for example, ‘Who won the World Cup, then?’ which was the question my Dad asked in all innocence of the Man Mountain walking along the deserted beach towards them. Said Man Mountain was a distressed German who wasn’t going to cry in front of his mates, so he’d come to the beach to drown his sorrows, and maybe even drown himself, as tears were streaming down his face.

These quickly turned to tears of rage, because although Man Mountain’s understanding and use of English was pretty good, he’d obviously missed the class about idiocyncracies and regional dialects. Now my Dad was big of heart but small of stature, with glasses, but in his despair, Man Mountain  wasn’t considering the moral dilemma of taking an unfair fight to the enemy. After all, Dad started it – or so he thought, until Mum managed to explain. Unfortunately, she didn’t do it quickly enough to prevent MM from grabbing Dad’s 7 and a half stone, 105 lbs, or  48 kilos by the shoulders and shaking him like a rat. He even stretched his string vest, and it was new from Marks and Spencers, specially for the holiday.

Once the German realised he’d made a second mistake – the first being supporting the losing side – he was all concern and politeness, and thankfully a bit less suicidal. However, the experience had put both Mum and Dad off football for life, so they retired to a darkened room

This photo was taken at Blackpool, 9 years before Dad’s less than happy experience on the beach at Lloret de Mar in 1966.

to recover, only emerging to eat before heading back to their newfound sanctuary. I took the unexpected opportunity to party with my new friends and become better acquainted with Bacardi. It took Harry, Madge, and a couple of Germans to get me safely to my room at well past Cinderella time. My brother was asleep, so he couldn’t grass on me, and I congratulated myself on getting away with not only watching the match, but augmenting my holiday funds and being DWP. That’s nothing to do with government departments, it’s Drunk Without Permission – a very rare occurence in my family at the time.

What could go wrong? Well, Mum dragging me out of bed at 7.00 am to go for ‘A nice long walk on the beach before breakfast. After all, you had an early night like us, didn’t you, and you need some fresh air after being cooped up watching the football.’ I didn’t disagree, because that would have meant admitting to my transgressions, and Mum getting Harry to spill the beans about any I might leave out, not to say the barman and the rest of the spectators. So I staggered out of bed, showered and put my sunglasses on to hide my bleary, bloodshot eyes. Mums know it all, don’t they? Instead of telling me off, she let me learn my own lesson. I’ve never drunk such a mixture since that day 52 years ago, although my goal average has gone up considerably, as I can tolerate al lot more alcohol these days.

The similarities mount up for me, as they do for the team. In 20i8, I am in Spain for some of the tournament, but not all, just as I was in 1966. I’ll see the quarter final today, but again I’ll be travelling if England make it through to Wednesday’s semi final. Mum and Dad are long gone, but I’m the only one of my close family and friends who believe sincerely that England can win the World Cup again. I’ll be watching them – just as I was all those years ago, but in England rather than here in Spain. Right – time to get my red, white and blue dress and sandals on and head for Jilly’s Come on England!

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Oh to be in England, now that June is here!

Okay, I know the line in the poem says ‘April,’ but I wasn’t here then, so it has to be June. Normally, we head for the UK for our summer visit in late July, but a combination of circumstances means that this year, we’re a couple of months early. And after the lovely experiences of the last couple of weeks, I think it may be a permanent change of plan from now on.

We choose July and August as our UK months mainly to escape the heat of high summer in Spain, but the weather is usually better in England in June, and the holiday crowds haven’t yet arrived. It’s lovely to be based in Devon, near enough to the River Tamar to explore Cornwall as well, but it can all get a bit lively during the school holidays.

One of the things I miss most about England is the rolling green fields, and the seemingly infinite variety of greens on display. However, I don’t miss the wet stuff that makes the green of the grass and the leaves on the trees so vivid. Another thing I miss is being able to sit outside for hours without having to worry about getting sunburned and dehydrated. And of course, Paddy finds it difficult to cope with the heat, even though he’s a Spanish dog. He loves to run free, but after about 15 minutes in the sun, he’s had enough. Although the weather here in Plymouth is lovely and warm, it’s still about 8 – 10 degrees cooler than it is in Spain right now, so Glenys suggested we take the dogs over to Mount Edgecumbe to let them have a good run on the grass and on the beach, while we soaked up the rays and watched the world go by.

The estate dates back to Tudor times, when Piers Edgecumbe married Joan Durnford and together they built Edgecumbe House. In more recent times, Mount Edgecumbe’s Barn Pool Beach was used as an embarkation point for American troops taking part in the D-Day Landings of 1944. They left for Omaha Beach, after being stationed on the estate while preparations were made for Operation Overlord.

The grounds are open to the public all year round, at no charge. You can stroll through the formal gardens and parkland, or head along the coast path, enjoy the scenery, and watch boats of different sizes navigating their way around Drake’s Island, or heading out to Plymouth Breakwater. On a clear day, you can see Smeaton’s Tower on the Hoe, and there are endless photo opportunities, both on land and on the water.

Another advantage of England over Spain is that dogs are allowed on some beaches all year round, and Paddy made lots of new four-legged friends on the small rocky cove  that was our base for the afternoon. There were also plenty of trees to sniff at and raise a leg against, so he was in Doggy Heaven, and so was Gizmo, although he’s nowhere near as adventurous as Paddy.

Rather than drive there, we decided to take the Cremyll Ferry from Durnford Street. That was a new experience for Paddy, whose only previous experience of sailing is on the Brittany Ferries Santander or Roscoff-Plymouth route. Gizmo refused to walk up the 3 metal steps to board the boat, but Paddy made up for it by leaping over him, dragging me along. The crew man came to my rescue, taking Paddy from me and helping me up the steps before I took an early bath.

We then had a lively game of ‘Jump on the seat, jump off the seat,’ which ended suddenly when another dog got on the ferry. We thought we’d been clever, hanging back until the other dogs were safely seated at the rear of the boat, while we sat at the front with Paddy and Gizmo. However, we hadn’t accounted for latecomers, and it took Glenys and I all our strength to hold onto Paddy, who was convinced it was his boat, and he and Gizmo should be the only dogs allowed on board. They were both very vocal about it too, but thankfully, once we got moving they settled down and enjoyed the journey with us.

Spain may be my home now, but when the weather is good, England is unbeatable for colour, scenery and history. I consider myself very privileged to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. Life is there to be enjoyed, wherever you happen to be.

 

Mackerel my way!

One of the many things I’ve missed about Spain in our two months over here is the availability of fresh fish at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage. We’ve picked up the occasional ‘yellow sticker’ bargain, but nothing beats the taste of really fresh fish, so when our neighbour Rob went off in his boat and came back with so many mackerel he did a tour of our caravan park with them, I was absolutely delighted. He’d even done the mucky bit for me, so he’s my new super hero.

There are many ways of cooking mackerel, but most of them leave me with indigestion, which is why I never order it in restaurants. I’m not a fan of smoked fish either, so I’m rather difficult to please when it comes to mackerel.  However, I have a tried and tested method which I first came across 35 years ago, while on holiday in a hotel in Perranporth, Cornwall. The owners organised a fishing trip for interested guests, and since mackerel are so keen on being caught they practically throw themselves at you, there was enough for everyone to have an impromptu late supper in the bar, to soak up some of the cider we’d been drinking all night.  I explained to the hotel owner that I couldn’t eat it as it gave me indigestion, and she said she’d been cooking it her way for about 20 years, and never had one complaint of digestive discomfort, so I said I’d give it a go.

‘Her way’ was indeed the best way for me to eat mackerel – and I’ve enjoyed it cooked like this many times since then. A few of our friends here on the caravan park have never heard of cooking mackerel this way, so I thought maybe I should share the recipe with my readers. As an oily fish, mackerel is a great source of Omega-3, so it’s good for your heart and your general health. And it’s cheap, whether you buy it here in England, or in Spain, where it’s called ‘caballa.’ If you like fishing like our friend Rob, it’s absolutely free. Here’s how to cook mackerel my way:

  • Gut and clean the fish, and remove the heads and tails, then slit them open, and place in a large oven proof dish. Allow 1 – 2 fish per person, according to size and appetite.  There’s no need to remove the backbone, as it will lift out easily, along with the smaller bones, when the fish is cooked.
  • Season the fish with freshly ground black pepper, add a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, and enough milk to just cover the fish. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat milk, as it will be discarded when the fish is served. The cooking liquid serves to draw out the excess oil from the fish, leaving it moist and full of flavour.
  • Cover the dish with foil, and cook in a hot oven for around 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish and the efficiency of the oven. One advantage of cooking it this way is that it’s almost impossible to overcook it.
  • If you don’t have an oven, you can do this in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan on the hob or a camping stove, if you’re on the move. Remember to cover with a lid or foil to prevent the cooking liquid from being absorbed by the fish.
  • To serve, lift the fish carefully from the cooking liquid and garnish with fresh parsley. You really don’t need a sauce with it, as it is lovely and moist. We served ours with buttered new potatoes and fresh garden peas, but it’s good with a salad as well.

Mackerel my way makes a quick, healthy lunch or supper which is low in fat and easy to digest. And if you hate waste, you can use the cooking liquid as the base for a fish soup or the sauce for a fish pie. Try it, and let me know how you get on. Buen provecho!

First impressions of Portugal

Well, we finally made it – after 3 years and 5 attempts to get here, we’re now in Portugal until 3rd April. So, was it worth the wait? Definitely, if only for the sheer friendliness of the Portuguese people. I’ve always thought nobody could be more hospitable and laid back than the Spanish, but not for the first time, I’m being proved wrong. Whether you’re in a restaurant, a shop or hiring a car, absolutely nothing is too much trouble. It’s as if they see it as their mission in life to make your day better.

Another thing we love is the apparent lack of bureaucracy. When we went to pick up a hire car so we could explore some more without moving the motor homes, it took around 5 minutes to sort the paperwork – and another 30 to tell us the best places to visit, the best local restaurants, and to ask about our life in Spain. There seems to be a rivalry between Spain and Portugal that’s similar to that between Devon and Cornwall. The guy at Luzcar.com informed us that, while Spain had Portugal beat on tapas, Portuguese food was much better, and the Portuguese spoke better English because they wanted to make tourists more welcome.

We came out of the car hire office smiling – and not just because we’d got a Ford Fiesta for two weeks for €240 including all the insurance so we wouldn’t have to pay any excess. Car hire companies in England give you a good price to start with, but by the time all the insurances are applied, you’re paying twice what you thought you were, and the paperwork seems to take forever. As our lovely guy said to us, ‘We trust you to look after our cars like your own.’ It’s a great attitude.

Prices in general seem to be higher than in Spain, although meat is very reasonable. I got a kilo of stewing pork for the slow cooker for €2. However, cava is about twice the price it is in Spain, so I’ve switched to Portuguese espumante, which is slightly sweeter, but very quaffable. In the bars, prices vary wildly. Two rounds of drinks in our nearest village of Espiche cost less than one round in Lagos, while food and drinks on our camp site – where they have a captive audience – are very reasonable.

Another thing we’ve noticed about the Algarve is that it’s very green, and looks a lot like England. That, of course, is down to the rain. They get a lot of it in the winter and early spring. A few days ago, we noticed that our motor home seemed to be leaning to one side. Lots of vinho branco (white wine) had been partaken of, so we did wonder if it was just an illusion, but next morning, the state of play was the same. On investigation, the wheels on the right hand side of the moho were indeed sinking into the chalky soil, where pipe work had recently been completed. There had been so much rain, everything was sinking – including our beloved Trigano Tribute, with us in it! Luckily there was a spare pitch on the other side of June and Larry, so everything is fine again now.

The Algarve is very windy too, and that doesn’t sit well with Tony. I swear he must have been a shipwrecked sailor in a previous existence, because he gets very twitchy when the wind is blowing and it doesn’t originate from my chick pea and potato stew. The first week or so was very changeable – and cold at times – but it’s settled down over the weekend.

So far we’ve visited Lagos a couple of times, Silves, which at one time was the capital of the Algarve, and Praia de Luz. Each place has its own brand of beauty, and I love how the Portuguese decorate their houses with tiles or brightly coloured paint. They seem to take more pride in their properties than the Spanish do. We’ll be exploring a lot more over the next couple of weeks.

After 10 days here, we’re enjoying the food, the company and the surroundings. However, I don’t think I’d want to live here – I love Algorfa, and it’s home now. It’s great to be exploring new ground in the company of friends though, and I’m picking up a bit of the lingo as I go. Life is good!

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