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.

Richie Sparks and Big Radio Spain – One big, happy radio family

Update: On 20 February 2020, Dean Alexanda, who is mentioned several times in the article, passed away suddenly and too soon, leaving family, friends and fans across the Costa Blanca shocked and saddened. I’ve updated the article so the information in it is current. It’s dedicated to Dean’s memory, with my love. It was a pleasure to know you, Deano. I bet the party has already started where you are now. Rest in peace, honey.

Since I came to live on the Costa Blanca 12 years ago, I’ve seen some English radio stations come and go, and others prosper and grow. Many of the most successful ones have been set up by or with the help of Rai Woods, to such an extent that he’s known across the Costa Blanca media community as ‘Radio Rai.’

For several years, Rai was the owner of CBFM radio station and one of the station’s most popular presenters with his regular Country Rodeo show. When he was let down at short notice by some of the presenters in June 2016, he decided to collaborate with Richie Sparks, owner and founder of Big Radio Spain, and as much of a techie geek as Rai is himself.  

Richie set up the station as Big FM seven years ago, from a small studio in a concrete shed in his garden in Catral, broadcasting to around 20 people. Just over four years ago, it moved to larger, purpose-built premises in the campo, and with new transmitters in Gran Alacant, La Marina and Catral, it’s doubled its coverage. Big FM entertains listeners from Benidorm in the North of the Costa Blanca down to La Manga on the border with Murcia, and all over the world online.

In 2018, Big Radio Spain  moved to new premises in the heart of Cuidad Quesada, and since then, it’s increased its involvement with local communities. When the gota fria hit the Vega Baja area in September 2019, causing damage all over the region,  the station was at the forefront of the push to get immediate aid to families who had lost everything in the extreme weather conditions. They are always willing to broadcast live from charity and community events, thereby attracting the crowds by publicising the event on air, before and during activities as diverse as local fundraisers and high profile exhibitions.

Despite its impressive reach, Richie describes Big FM as a community radio station, rather than a commercial venture. This is clear from the way the station operates. Big FM has no reps selling advertising – in fact 90% of the station’s advertisers approach Richie for air time, once they realise the reach of the station and the calibre of its presenters.

All the broadcasters are volunteers, who recruit their own sponsors to pay their wages. They earn their living by entertaining around the area, since most of the presenters are talented singers and DJs in their own right. They’re all approachable and friendly – there’s no room for divas at Big Radio Spain!

Richie gives them air time and guidance, because he believes that for local radio to have a future, it needs new talent coming through all the time. Big FM does not buy in syndicated shows, and its team of presenters is the largest on the Costa Blanca. In fact the only person on the station who knows everyone who works there is Richie himself!

He tries to get as many people together as possible at the station’s summer barbecue and Christmas party. Richie aims for a family feel at Big Radio Spain, and this came through loud and clear on my visit. However, Rai offered some words of wisdom. ‘If you’re invited to the barbecue, and someone asks if you have your mobile with you, say yes, or you’re likely to end up in the pool!’

The presenters are indeed merciless with their mickey taking, and Richie looks on like a proud, indulgent father, joining in occasionally, but mostly observing and enjoying. When Dean Alexanda totalled the station’s car while he was waiting for his own vehicle to be repaired, you’d have thought Richie’s smile would have slipped, but no, he came up with a nickname. Dean is now known as ‘Crash Alexanda’ to everyone at the station – and anyone who has heard the story since. 

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

The broadcast system at Big FM is designed with the presenters in mind.  Richie does his best not to interfere with how the DJs want to run their shows, although he’s always on hand with help, advice and endless cups of tea. That said, he’s no nursemaid. Once the Big Radio Spain volunteers have shown they have an aptitude for broadcasting, they’re in at the deep end.

Zac had never worked on a radio show in his life, and he was relieved when Richie said he’d train him before he went live. He did – for an hour or so on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Zac was on air live, without a safety net. There’s a good reason for this though, as Richie explained.

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

Richie is not one to rest on his laurels – he’s always looking for gaps in the system and ways to increase the station’s involvement with the local community. He has an open door policy – anyone can come to the station for help, whether for individuals or the community as a whole. 

The station introduced live, on air chats and interviews with the presenters, and they were working on the system when I was there gathering material for this article. Richie is always prepared for all eventualities, and even has back up systems for his back up systems. However, he’s also notoriously impatient to get things done. He did try to pray for patience once, but said he wanted it immediately!

Rather than wait for the shiny new telephone hybrid amplifier to arrive, Rai and Richie decided to try to repair one they already had while I was chatting to  the presenters in the studio. The discussion went something like this:

Rai: Is it working at all?

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

Rai: How old is this anyway?

Richie: About 6 years old.

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

On that note, I made my excuses and left, as they say, but I left with an abiding impression – and a stitch in my side from all the laughs. Big Radio Spain is one big happy radio family, with Richie Sparks at its head as the proud parent. And it’s getting bigger all the time.

Why not get in touch and see if Richie and the team can help with your business or community project? Or just listen in, the old-fashioned way or live on the website, and bring a smile to your day or sparkling company to your evening. You can also chat to your favourite presenter, or enter one of the many competitions.

There are two stations to choose from. Big Radio One has all the latest ‘choons’ – Dean Alexanda’s unique term for modern music. Big Radio Two is where you’ll find the golden oldies. That’s the music, not the presenters! 

That said, Big Radio 2 regulars Lee Howard and Rai Woods have a few years on the clock between them. Lee played in his own  band and as a session musician way back in the 1960s, while Rai spent the Swinging Sixties working in film and television, on projects such as The Avengers TV series and the film Far From the Madding Crowd, with Julie Christie and Terence Stamp.

Get to know Big Radio Spain soon, and let the station family boost your hiliday experience, or bring more entertainment into your life on the Costa Blanca. As I said at the start, stations come and go, but Big Radio Spain just keeps on getting bigger and better.

Smile Charity Group Review: Mind Me Ghoulies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Knickers Report 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 La Mata artist Jim Barry contacted me to invite Tony and myself to an open weekend at Casa Barry, I knew at once that this year, my Christmas present would not be a problem. Usually, it’s the biggest cause of conflict in Piddock Place in the Season to be Jolly. Tony’s not a shopper, and he doesn’t do surprises, so I end up with Euros in a card to spend in the sales, rather than the perfect present under the tree.

As we left Algorfa, I graciously informed my husband that he could buy me another print – or maybe two – from  Jim’s Gaslight series of Victorian paintings to go with  my ‘Omnibus’ print, inspired by the Whitechapel killing spree of Jack the Ripper. I’d fallen in love with it when I interviewed Jim and his wife Jan, back in March, and it has pride of place on the wall of our apartment. Jim has a saying: ‘Paintings like company – they fade on their own.’

We received a great Irish welcome – and a rather large 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 occasionally held 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’s reasoning was much more practical.

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. It derived from a photo he took on an early morning walk on La Mata beach, back in 2010. It  took around three weeks to paint, and by now, I was in love with it. I was also determined to rehome it in 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 created it makes it even more special for me.

Having chosen my Christmas present, I thought I might as well get a blog post out of it, so I asked Jim what he’d been working on lately. The guy is nothing if not versatile – you won’t get 10 different studies of the same flower from the Barry Brushes. Therefore I wasn’t all that surprised to learn 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 the canvas.

Before he came to Spain, Jim was lead singer with 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 the way it’s spelled on the label on the bottle. 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 series 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 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 artistic 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

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