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.

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

The Red Knickers Report 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love being Sandra in Spain!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New drop in centre for Samaritans in Spain

I love what I do, because it means I meet some really nice people, and get to go to some great events, and all in the name of ‘work!’ Last week I was privileged to be at the opening of the new drop in centre for Samaritans in Spain at Punta Marina Commercial Centre, Torrevieja. My main purpose was to cover the event as part of Dave Bull’s media team for the Kayak Challenge on 28th November, but I had a lot of fun, and found out some more about what a great job the Samaritans in Spain do.

General Manager Stephen Baker showed me around the new drop in centre and explained why it was needed. The Samaritans charity shop in Punta Marina has been open for three years, and while it raises much needed operational funds, it’s also clear that many people who come into the shop are not just looking for a bargain. They want someone to talk to, and somewhere to talk in private, and coming into the shop is their first tentative step towards getting the support they need. This happens so frequently that the volunteers who staff the shop are trained to deal with these  approaches, so they can put people at ease and encourage them to ask for help. While there was a room at the back of the shop, it was not really up to the challenge that the Samaritans face on a daily basis.

A couple of months ago, the Samaritans launched their freephone telephone line. They felt that this was an important thing to do, as a lot of their calls come from mobile phones, These calls tend to be fairly long, and so can work out expensive for the caller. Even worse, the client may run out of credit before they receive the support they need. The freephone line makes it easier for everyone, and now the call centre volunteers have a purpose built, comfortable room to work from, where there will be no distractions or interruptions.

In 2014, the volunteers dealt with over 600 callers and visitors.  That figure is scheduled to hit 1,000 by the end of 2015. The new drop in centre has a reception room, a separate room for the listeners manning the 24 hour phone line, and another room where clients can speak to a listener in total privacy. The facility will be open for 6 mornings and one evening every week.

When it’s not in use, the drop in centre can be used as a meeting room for local charities, who will pay a nominal rent to cover costs. Al-Anon and Gam-Anon are already making use of the facility, which means even more people are being helped to overcome their problems. It’s a great start for what is already proving to be a valuable new facility for expats needing support for whatever reason.

The drop in centre was officially opened by Dave Bull, who is a local writer and radio station owner and presenter. He was recently invited to be the local patron of the Samaritans, and he was honoured to be asked to perform such a special ceremony. The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley travelled from Madrid to attend the opening, and to present the British Empire Medal to Chris Sumter for services to British citizens abroad. He praised the Samaritans for the support they offered to all English speaking expats, and said they made the Embassy’s work much easier. He also remarked that helping people seemed to be ingrained in the British DNA!

Chris Sumter is the former President of the Samaritans in Spain, and she chose to return to Spain to receive the award, as she’d spent 7 years working here before returning to England. The fact that she chose the Samaritans’ headquarters rather than Buckingham Palace shows her continuing deep commitment to the charity.

Local personal trainer Jason Scawthorn of Fit 4 All Gym Punta Prima will be competing in the Spartan Challenge in Valencia to raise funds for the Samaritans, also on 28th November. He held a fitness class ahead of the opening, and then gave Dave and his son Mitch some fitness tips in preparation for the Kayak Challenge, before putting them through their paces. He’s an inspiring bloke – he even managed to talk me into lifting a 90 kilo tractor tyre a few inches off the ground! I haven’t been the same since, but hey, I got carried along with the mood of the day. Meeting lots of different people of all ages, from all walks of life, celebrating something good – how marvellous is that? I love my job! If you  would like to sponsor Jason, contact him through the link above, or drop in at the centre at Punta Prima. Who know, you may pick up a bargain at the same time!

If you have some spare time and would like to help the Samaritans in Spain in their work, just speak to one of the friendly team in the shop or the drop in centre. The more volunteers they have to call on, the more people they can support.

Samaritans freephone number: 900 535 100

In the beginning …

Drinking to my new career as a Writer in Spain

Drinking to my new career as a Writer in Spain

When people ask me how I got into writing, I always say I really got into writing when I moved to Spain. That was because I got so fed up of getting conflicting advice from the Bar Stool Experts, I decided to track down stuff for myself and then spread the word to others. It would surprise you how many other writers about Spain started out that way – they may have been teachers, sales people, chefs, business people or whatever in their pre-Expat incarnation, but a lot of them got started on writing about Spain because they were frustrated by the lack of reliable information about life here.

However, I always wanted to be a writer – lots of people say that too. And people of a certain age, those children of the 1950s and 1960s, were told by teachers and parents to forget about it and get a ‘proper job with qualifications,’ so most of us did. Then in the early 1990s, I was diagnosed with a combination or Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus – or, as my consultant termed it, Rupus! Within a frighteningly short time, it was clear I was never going to be able to do a ‘proper job’ again.

I had a dark period when I had an acute attack of  ‘Why Me?itis.’ I was depressed, angry and frustrated that, at the age of just 42, I was never likely to be productive again, and actually work for a living. My consultant, bless him, spotted the danger signals and sent me along to an Arthritis Self Management Course. I have to say I was very sceptical – I don’t do opening up to strangers and looking on the bright side in public and that sort of stuff, and I figured that’s what the course would be all about. Fit thirty-somethings who’d had nothing worse than a broken nail telling those of us for whom getting out of bed each day was a major and painful operation that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was.

How wrong can you be? Thankfully, I was very wrong. Our group leader, Janet, had been living with arthritis since her teenage years, and she was now in her late 50s. She gave me the most relevant and important piece of advice I think I’ve ever had in my life. It was this:

Don’t focus on what you can’t do when you have arthritis. Think about what you can do, that you couldn’t do before, for one reason or another.

Not rocket science or earth-shattering, but pretty sensible advice from someone who’s gone through the same stuff. So, when she got around to me, and asked what I’d always wanted to do but couldn’t, the old chestnut surfaced again – I wanted to write for a living. Janet – and the rest of the group – said there was no reason I couldn’t do that. And dear reader, I married him! Oh sorry – got carried away there – wrong story. But you get the picture. Well, Janet wasn’t contented with talking the talk, we had to walk the walk, and in my case, walking the walk meant writing something, since no writer ever made a living without putting pen to paper, or fingers to keypad.

So, I wrote this poem – it was the first thing I’d written since I’d left school, and it was so well received, I made it my mission to earn my living as a writer, seeing I couldn’t do it any other way. So, if you want to blame anyone for what you’re reading here, blame Janet, not me. She started it!

A Visit to the Consultant

‘And how is your arthritis?’ My consultant asked today.
‘Well, now you come to mention it – it’s getting worse every day.
Can I play the piano with these swollen fingers?’
‘Yes dear, you can – I’m sure.’
‘Oh thank you, Doctor, that will be nice – ‘Cos I couldn’t play before.
Whenever I take my dog for a walk, you should hear my poor knees crack.
If I gave my body to medical science, I reckon they’d give it right back.
And I have an alcohol problem, Doctor -‘
‘Really, what’s the trouble?’
‘My wrists are so weak, I can’t lift the glass if I pour out more than a double.
Last night I spilled my brandy – my hands were ever so sore,
But it’s okay, I managed to lick it all up, before it spilled on the floor.
Last time when you said take more exercise, were you serious, or did you jest?
By the time I’ve struggled into my tracksuit, I need to lie down for a rest.
And I can’t get on with those big pink tablets –
Couldn’t you make them more sweet?’
‘Not really – you’re supposed to dissolve them in water,
And use them to soak your feet!’
‘Oh, is that the time – I must be off – you must have more patients to see,
And as long as I can laugh at my problems, I’ll get along famously.’

Lady in Red (knickers!)

Lady in Red - my favourite colour.

Lady in Red – my favourite colour.

I love the Spanish New Year customs, such as eating the 12 grapes before midnight chimes, but one that I hadn’t got around to was the custom of wearing red underwear on Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve). I don’t know why it took so long, because red is my favourite colour, and I do like brightly coloured underwear, but until 2013, the custom passed me by.

2013 started off well with the wedding of my niece, but just three days after the wedding, my daughter suffered a brain stem stroke at the age of just 40. It’s the most deadly type of stroke there is, killing over 80% of victims and usually leaving survivors severely disabled. For two weeks, her life hung in the balance, and just as she was recovering, we lost a very dear friend to lung cancer. My husband Tony was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, which is a worry when you’re 80, so all in all 2013 was the worst year I can remember for a long time.

When it came to Nochevieja, I decided to put the red underwear thing to the test. I don’t wear a bra – haven’t done for years, because despite being 62, my boobs are pretty much self-supporting. That’s one of the benefits of not being at the front of the queue when they were handed out! So, I headed for Zoco Market and selected a pretty pair of red lace-trimmed knickers, New Year’s Eve for the use of.

So, did it do any good? Looking back on the year, I have to say yes. After years of refusing my requests for a dog, Tony finally saw sense and we adopted Paddy on March 17 – St Patrick’s Day. Now, you may say that had nothing to do with the knickers, but on New Year’s Eve 2013, when four of our friends tried to persuade him to see the error of his ways, Tony categorically refused and said he never wanted to hear mention of a dog again. Then, less than 3 months later – right out of the blue – he told me to choose a rescue puppy from the Coastrider. I reckon the knickers heard him and worked their magic, don’t you?

Professionally it’s been a very good year too. My blogs on Eye On Spain went from strength to strength, pulling in over 10,000 views a month, my writing earnings increased, and I set up the Facebook group Writers On Spain with my friend Jane Walters. We were chatting, and we said it would be great to have a group where we could all promote our own writing and that of our friends. From that Sunday morning chat in May, Writers On Spain was formed. We just thought it would be a community for a few writer friends to network and swap ideas and advice, but it’s grown into a thriving community of over 200 members, including a number of published authors.

In October, this website went live, and within a couple of months, it had won the Blog of the Month award from respected expat site Spain

My 'lucky' red knickers. Come on, you didn't expect a pic of me wearing them, did you?

My ‘lucky’ red knickers. Come on, you didn’t expect a pic of me wearing them, did you?

Buddy. And in the last days of 2014, I started to write my first book. Again, you could say it’s nothing to do with the knickers, more a case of hard work and successful networking, but I like to think they had a hand in it somewhere. I’m a creative, and we get funny ideas sometimes.

My daughter continues to make good progress after her stroke – the only permanent legacy seems to be deafness in the right ear. She’s also subject to mood swings and fatigue, but that seems to be settling down gradually. At least she’s still with us, and living a pretty much normal life again.

We also welcomed a new great granddaughter and a new grandson. Madison was born on 4 January, so nothing to do with the red knickers, but Harrison didn’t make his debut until 18 November. Again, probably nothing whatsoever to do with the knickers, but more good things in 2014.

All in all, 2014 was a very good year – here’s hoping 2015 will follow suit, personally and professionally. Happy New Year, everyone!

Do I look like a Roundabout Girl?

I ask you - Do I look like a Roundabout Girl?

I ask you – Do I look like a Roundabout Girl?

Talking to a friend the other day, the subject of the Roundabout Girls came up, and I was reminded of the time when I was President of our community, and I needed to meet an electrician who was coming to sort out the community lights after one of those really heavy downpours we get here. Miguel had never been to La Finca, so I arranged to meet him at the Commercial Centre roundabout. As soon as I put the phone down, Tony said:

‘You do realise that you’ve just arranged to meet a man at the roundabout, don’t you?’ (For anyone who may not know, roundabouts in Spain are often places where ladies belonging to the oldest profession in the world ply their trade).

I hadn’t even given it a thought, to be honest, but what could be the problem? For a start, the tiny roundabout at the entrance of the urbanisation is hardly likely to yield enough passing trade to make it worthwhile setting out a stall. And I was 59, and carrying a few extra pounds, so who was going to pay for me to pleasure them? More likely they’d want me to do the paying!

Although I was pretty confident that Tony was worrying over nothing – as usual – it did sow a seed of disquiet, so I decided to leave it until the last minute to walk up to the roundabout. Good plan, doomed to failure, because just as I arrived at the rendezvous, Miguel called to say he’d been delayed and he would be another 10 minutes. Oh dear! I didn’t have time to go back home, so I sat on the wall at the entrance to the roundabout, and tried to look as if I had every right to be there.

It worked for two or three minutes, and then the Police patrol car parked directly opposite. .What’s a girl to do? This girl decided to do anything rather than make eye contact with the cops, but it was obviously the wrong thing to do, because the next thing I know, one of the officers is striding purposefully in my direction.

I panicked, and almost every single word of Spanish I knew left the building. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the word for an electrician – which is el electricista if you want to know – so I did my best with what I could remember. I remembered to wait was ‘esperar,’ and since I couldn’t recall the word for electrician, I said the next best thing: ‘Espero a un hombre.’

Turned out it was the worst thing I could have said, because the policeman started to look serious, and motioned me in the direction of the patrol car. I’d just told him I was waiting for a man – on a roundabout in Spain!

I could just picture the headlines in The Coastrider – ‘Community President arrested for soliciting in Algorfa,’ and I was wondering how I could talk my way out of it, when my Spanish had exited my brain and both policemen seemed to be short on English.Of course, prostitution isn’t actually illegal in Spain, but that fact had departed my brain along with my Spanish vocabulary. It was a bad moment, getting worse by the minute.

Luckily, Miguel showed up before they could cuff me and cart me off to the slammer. The cops told him why they’d stopped me, he asked me what I’d said, then told them the true – entirely innocent – version. Cue hilarity from two cops and an electrician. I bet they’re still telling the tale even now. As indeed am I, because it is funny really. It just didn’t seem so at the time!

Ladies Who Write soaking up the ambience in Torrevieja Casino!

I love being a writer. It takes me to beautiful  places to meet interesting people. Yesterday, it took me to the Casino in Torrevieja to meet Inka Piegsa-quischhotte, a travel blogger from Germany who has lived in Turkey, Miami, London, Beirut and Malaga, and is now based in Torrevieja. I’ll be profiling Inka in my Writers On Spain series, but I thought you’d like to know a bit more about the Casino, and see some of the fabulous photos we took yesterday.

I’d never been inside the casino before, although I have sat with a glass of wine on a table at the rear of the building, and people watched the customers using the nearby indoor market. I was totally unprepared for the assault on my senses when I walked up the steps and entered the main salon, with its big, comfortable, elegant chairs.

We’re talking Victorian opulence here, although strictly speaking, since we’re in Spain, it’s not actually Victorian, but you get the picture. Think fin de siecle instead. Lavish, elegant drapes, oil paintings the size of Algorfa, crystal chandeliers, giant mirrors and an ornately coffered Andalusian ceiling dating back to 1901 make for for a wonderful setting in which to conduct an interview.

The bar is pure Moorish, with its beautiful tiles and intricate arches. Imagine the Alhambra converted to a tapas bar and you get the idea. And the rear vestibule, with its stained glass skylight, sweeping staircase, gallery and tiled walls is Art Deco meets Moorish Magnificence. You wouldn’t think two such different styles could exist in harmony, but they do, and beautifully.

The Casino is the headquarters of the Torrevieja Cultural Society, which was founded in 1867. The building was completed in 1896, and was used as an army barracks during the Spanish Civil War. Today, it hosts a number of exhibitions and cultural programmes, and you can enjoy a drink, tapas or an excellent meal in these wonderful surroundings.

As the Casino is situated on the Paseo Maritimo, you can also sit on the terrace and look out over the Marina, and in the summer, you can enjoy the sea views from the Casino’s balcony. In England, you have to pay for your surroundings, so you expect to pay a premium on food and drinks, but it’s different here in Spain. My agua con gas was a very reasonable €1.30, and if we’d have been eating, we  could have enjoyed a delicious paella for just €9.95. Inka tells me that, unusually, you can order a single racion of paella at the Casino. Usually, unless the paella features on the Menu del Dia, it has to be a minimum of two people, so that’s another plus to chalk up to the Casino.

Why not check out the Casino next time you are in Torrevieja? Remember to take your camera along though! You can find out more about the Casino’s events and browse the photo gallery at the Cultural Society website. And my friend Jane Cronin has also written about the Casino and its activities.

Photo credit: All slideshow photos are my own, except for the first photo, which comes from the Cultural Society website.

 

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