Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Sandra Not In Spain

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

The real cost of living in the UK

Catching up with girlfriends in Plymouth. And wondering how people can afford to live a good life with the cost of living here.

Catching up with girlfriends in Plymouth. And wondering how people can afford to live a good life with the cost of living here.

I’m in the UK, doing the Santa Run, catching up with my lovely kids and grandchildren, and being led astray by my girlfriends. Wine o’clock has been getting earlier every day, my liver is waving the white flag already, and there are still five days to go. Fear not though – I shall just grin and bear it, for the sake of my reputation.

I am proud to be English, British or whatever we’re supposed to call it these days, and I love coming back to see everyone and hit British Home Stores, Edinburgh Woolen Mill and Poundland. I’ve been very restrained so far this trip – just two boleros, a dressing gown and a jumper so far. Still, I haven’t been to Telford yet.

As I said, I love to visit, but Spain is now my home, and one particular conversation this week has left me wondering how people who aren’t earning at least £50,000 a year manage to exist – particularly if they’re renting a property. A friend from my days as a mature student has now returned to Plymouth, after sojourns in Dorset and Norwich. She’s renting a very nice 2 bedroom maisonette,  but it’s not in a very salubrious area of Plymouth, and it’s costing her £635 a month.

The landlord wanted £650, and she managed to knock him down, but that £15 extra isn’t going to go very far. It won’t even buy her a bottle of wine in a restaurant here, but for just €15 – less than £11 at today’s exchange rate – we can have a 3 course meal with a bottle of wine at our favourite Chinese restaurant. And €18 – that’s around £13 – will buy a four course lunch with wine at Alquibla, the best Spanish restaurant in Algorfa, or possibly in Spain!

My friend doesn’t manage many meals out, mainly due to the costs. She headed out to a so-so Italian chain restaurant with two friends a few weeks ago, and a two course meal with two bottles of wine set them back over £100. That’s about the same amount that 9 of us paid for an evening meal at Alquibla just before we came over here. And more than two bottles of wine were consumed!

Contrast that situation with another friend who has just moved over to Spain from England – mainly because she couldn’t see how she could stretch her pension to cover a reasonable standard of living in England. she’s not a ‘Champagne lifestyle on lemonade money’ kind of girl – she just wants to enjoy her retirement rather than just existing through it. Her garden apartment is roughly the same size as the maisonette, and it’s in a gated community on a prestigious golf urbanisation.

She’s paying around €300 a month – £217 – for the privilege. For the mathematically challenged, that’s around one third of my university friend’s rent. And her heating and utility bills are nowhere near the scale of bills in England. Although electricity is one of the few things that’s more expensive in Spain, with temperatures of between 25 and 40 degrees for at least 9 months of the year, we use a lot less of it.

Council Tax is another thing. My friend in Plymouth is paying £100 a month, while the equivalent in Spain – IBI – is around €230 a year. I’ll do the sums again to save you having to bother, shall I? Or rather, I’ll let the currency converter do it for me. That’s £166, or around two months’ Council Tax in England, bearing in mind that the bill is divided into 10 instalments, not 12. And in Spain, IBI is usually paid by the landlord, not the tenant.

So, a tale of two ladies of similar ages and similar circumstances, living in similar properties. And now my friend in Plymouth knows what it really costs to live in the UK, compared to the cost of living in Spain, she can’t wait to get over here to join us. It’s the only sensible thing to do, really.

One day in my life – 21 November

My Dad, in the summer of 1968, a few months before he died

My Dad, in the summer of 1968, a few months before he died

Today – 21 November – resonates with me for two reasons. First of all, it’s the anniversary of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974. If you don’t remember them, there’s a powerful run down of the day’s events here. Tragic as that was – 21 people lost their lives and another 182 were injured – 21 November 1968 was even worse for me. It was the day my father died, suddenly and cruelly at the age of just 49.

If you love your parents and then you lose them, it’s devastating, but for me, aged 16, it was doubly devastating. My father had led a charmed life in some ways. When war broke out in 1939, he volunteered for service, but he was so short sighted he was turned down, at the age of just 20. Less than two years later, however, he was pulled in, and promptly captured on Crete in 1941. For him, the war was over – but it wasn’t really.

Although Dad was treated much better than the Japanese prisoners of war, he came back with health problems, and in 1955, it almost cost him his life. He had to have two-thirds of his stomach removed, because it was so badly ulcerated, and he reacted badly to the surgery. He wasn’t expected to last the night, so I was taken to the Manor Hospital in Walsall, and held up to the window to see Dad for what was supposed to be the last time. In those days, children weren’t allowed on hospital wards, even when their parents were dying.

Clearly, Dad made it, and for the next few years, everything was fine. I was his little princess, even after my brother was born in 1956, and I revelled in it. Come 1967, their business was doing so well, Dad decided to treat himself to a brand new Ford Corsair. The business was doing well, but not so well that he could flash the cash. He needed to buy on hire purchase, as it was called then, and the government had recently brought in a law that if you wanted to borrow more than a certain amount, you had to have a medical. That law saved his life, because it turned out he had tuberculosis, and he would have died within months. He also had scarring on his lungs, which suggested he’d recovered from tuberculosis about 25 years before. Like I said, for him, the war was never over.

He spent six months in a sanatorium, and then another year convalescent. That time was precious to me, because Dad had time to spend with me. He always did, but when he was working in the business, that time was limited. While he was convalescent – even though I left school and took his place in the business – we spent a lot of time together.

Too much, as far as Mum was concerned. On Christmas Day 1967, Mum was doing dinner for Dad’s three brothers and his sister, and their families. As usual, all the men went to the pub, while the women cooked the dinner and the cousins played with their new toys. The men were under instructions to be home by 1.30 pm, and when there was no sign of them by 2.00 pm, Mum sent me to get them. I knew Dad had had enough – the fact that he was up on a table singing The Lonely Goatherd from his favourite musical, The Sound Of Music and yodelling like a good ‘un gave me the clue. When he shouted ‘Get my lovely daughter a Babycham,’ it was case proven. I was only 15, and too young to be drinking in licensed premises. Three Babychams later, my aunt came and dragged us all back for lunch. At the time, I didn’t know that would be our last family Christmas.

A couple of months later, I came down with a kidney infection, and it was Dad who looked after me while Mum kept the business going. He wasn’t really domesticated, but he could warm up a tin of tomato soup, make a cup of tea and mix up a glass of Robinson’s Barley Water, and that’s all I needed at the time, so he was my hero.

A few months later, he defended me when my Gran said my mini skirt was indecent. He thought so too, but he wasn’t going to let his mother call his darling daughter indecent, so he said I looked lovely in it. I must have, too, because I snagged myself a rather nice boyfriend that night, and lined up a reserve.

On 20 November 1968, he went for a check up with his specialist. He got a thorough going over and was pronounced

Me and my brother with Dad, Blackpool 1957

Me and my brother with Dad, Blackpool 1957

almost fit to return to the family business. So that night, he felt justified in going out with our friends and neighbours to celebrate. When he woke up with a blinding headache next day, we put it down to a hangover. Mum went to get him tea and aspirins, but it was already too late. Dad was in the grip of a brain haemhorrage, and before the kettle had boiled, he was dead. He was 49 years and 9 months old, and he’d been given a clean bill of health less than 24 hours ago. That only served to double the shock effect.

I don’t do regrets, but I am sorry my Dad never saw me get married and give birth to his grandchildren. I’m not sorry he wasn’t there when my marriage collapsed, or when my health took a nose dive when I was in my early forties, but I’d have loved it if he’d have been there to see me graduate with a First in English and History at the age of 49 – the same age he was when he died – and then make a new career as a writer after moving to Spain in 2008. I feel cheated of my time with him, and while I’m not religious, I do hope that wherever he is now, he knows that his little girl turned out okay. Here’s to you Dad – you’re still loved, and still missed.

Why the Facebook shaming over the Paris attacks is so wrong

The Eiffel Tower - lit up in the national colours to show defiance to terrorists. But if you don't go red, white and blue, it doesn't mean you don't care!

The Eiffel Tower – lit up in the national colours to show defiance to terrorists. But if you don’t go red, white and blue on social media, it doesn’t mean you don’t care!

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, something insidious is happening on social media. Quite rightly, people are trying to make sense of the senseless by sharing their thoughts and emotions, and showing solidarity with and sympathy for the French people. Whether you live in Spain or the UK, France is a near neighbour, and many of us have visited there, possibly numerous times, for holidays of which we have very happy memories. Most of us were also forced to learn French at school, so we have strong ties with the people and the country. People are articulating all this on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s good – that’s one of the things that social media is great for.

What isn’t so great is that other people are shaming those who are still in shock about the Paris attacks because they are not showing the same level of empathy for victims of atrocities in other parts of the world. If you changed your profile to show the French flag, it’s seen by some people as an insult to other countries such as Lebanon who have also been attacked recently. Apart from the sheer logistic nightmare of showing solidarity for all with a flag change – how can you get all those flags on one profile avatar, for heaven’s sake? – it’s a sweeping judgment on the characters of strangers. Just because someone does or does not fly the French flag virtually – because people have also been attacked for not changing their profile pic – it doesn’t mean they don’t care.

Then they turn their wrath on the media, and say they don’t give other atrocities such blanket coverage. Really, some people just need to get out more, don’t they? Because the media does report on everything, but the reason they appear to neglect some events and not others is down to us as consumers of news, not the media.

Most people – myself included – are guilty of skimming over the headlines first. Let’s face it, who has time to read all the news in depth, every single day? Not so long ago, we relied on the newspapers and the television or radio news to keep us up to date on current affairs. Most people could only afford one newspaper, and they would read that cover to cover. These days, newspapers are relatively cheap, so you could buy half a dozen if you wanted to. Then there are online papers, dedicated news channels and websites, and opinion pieces by the million. It’s impossible to keep up with everything, so we get more selective with our news consumption.

If we don’t see a connection with a story – either geographical, cultural or emotional – we move on. Then we forget what we’ve read because we didn’t engage fully with the piece. For example, most people remember reading about the 250 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014 – they were children, so we read and remembered, because a lot of those reading are parents and grandparents. They can identify with other parents the world over. But reading about the same number of adults abducted or killed in a country we can’t even find on the map is not going to make the same lasting impression.

And let’s face it, there are so many atrocities these days, we get confused about the ones we’ve read about, unless we have a personal connection of some sort. It’s sad, but it’s the way it is. Actually, there have always been more atrocities than we could ever know about, but they are more likely to be reported in detail these days, because we have the technology and it’s cheaper to send correspondents to all the corners of the earth.

Then, because it’s human nature not to admit that you didn’t care about an atrocity enough to read all about it, some people come out fighting and accuse the media of ignoring it. Worse, they accuse other people of not caring about tragedies for all sorts of reasons – usually involving race and/or religion. What right does anybody have to judge strangers on whether or not they post their grief on Facebook or Twitter?

We can’t all feel the pain for all the evils of the world. All we can do is empathise with things that touch our hearts. It doesn’t mean we don’t care – it just means we are human.

Remembering Aberfan: 21 October, 1966

12009695_812237998896884_4830545989212923271_nTaking my customary morning stroll through Facebook today, I noticed that it’s the 49th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. If you don’t know what it was all about, you can get the details here. In the UK, everyone seems to remember what they were doing and where they were when the news of the disaster broke. It’s something that still raises deep emotions today, 49 years on, just as everyone remembers where they were when JFK was assassinated in Dallas.

Lots of people are sharing their memories of the day on Facebook and elsewhere, and it’s also vivid in my memory bank, because on the day of the disaster, I was travelling back from an outdoor pursuits trip to Capel Curig Youth Hostel, Bews-y-Coed, in North Wales. I was 14, and I’d had a great time with my friends from Wolverhampton Girls’ High School. Two highlights of the trip stick with me after all these years, and we were giggling about them as we made our way back to the school.

My mother was a fantastic knitter, and she’d made me a new sweater for the trip. It was in my favourite colour, red – which is still my favourite, by the way – and it had flecks of beige and black in it. Mum said to wear it in the evenings, not when we were off doing stuff in Snowdonia, because it always rained in Wales, and she didn’t want me to get my new sweater wet, as it would probably stretch. Being a teenager with a new sweater who knew better than my mother, I wore it on the first morning. Of course, it got soaking wet, and so did I. Welsh rain penetrates everything – even supposedly waterproof coats.

It was still raining when we got back, and there was no way the sweater was going to get dried outside, so a friend suggested I hang it on a coat hanger on the back of the door, and with luck, it would dry out before we went home. Of course, being 14 year olds, we knew it all. What we didn’t know was that if you want to dry a woollen garment naturally, first you wrap it in a towel to remove excess moisture, then you dry it flat to retain the original shape. Epic fail on both counts then. However, we learned the error of our ways in the middle of the night, when a piercing scream woke us from our slumbers. Naturally, we wanted to know what was the cause of it, and the owner of the scream soon let us know. ‘Sandra’s sweater’s haunted, and it’s coming to get us!’

Those 14 year olds who believed in ghosts – including Yours Truly – buried our heads under the blankets, but a couple of brave souls ventured out of their bunks to investigate. It did indeed appear that my sweater was haunted, because in the light of the moon, the sleeves were moving. However, no spirit was responsible. The good old Welsh rain, combined with the weight of the wool in the sweater, was stretching both the arms and the hem of said sweater before our very eyes. I did manage to get the sweater dry, and I went home in it. With a belt round the waist and the sleeves turned back, it made a fashionable mini dress. Sometimes being short has its advantages!

The second memory didn’t have such a happy ending. We’d camped out overnight, and cooked our own supper over the camp fire. It was corned beef hash, made with beans, Smash instant mashed potato and tinned corned beef. As this culinary delight cooked to perfection,  crane flies came from miles around to check on progress. Lots of them landed in it, and we were pulling them out as fast as we could, usually leaving a leg or two behind. Most of us went without supper, because we couldn’t bear the thought of eating Daddy Long Legs along with the corned beef hash.

Things could only get worse, and they did when we asked where the toilets were. Apparently, they were all around us! These days, when Nature calls I answer the call wherever and whenever, but my 14 year old bladder was much more robust than the 63 year old version, so I announced that I’d wait until I could go to a proper toilet, thank you very much. About half of the girls agreed with me,  and we  cast supercilious sneers in the direction of the squatters.

17 hours later, Nature’s call had upgraded to an insistent shout, and we were still around two hours from base camp. When we came across an enormous rock – about 3 feet high and a couple of feet wide – it seemed like the ideal place to unload our excess baggage. There were 7 stalwarts who needed to ‘go,’ and although the hillside was deserted but for our happy band of hikers, we decided that the remaining 6 would look out for approaching people while everyone did what they had to do. Being of a democratic persuasion, we drew lots for the sitting order.

Not for the first time, Yours Truly was last in the queue. The other girls managed to download without incident, and I was just settling in nicely for what was going to be a protracted performance when I felt a cold draught around my nether regions. Looking around to see the source of the wind – because it certainly wasn’t me – I was horrified to see a helicopter coming in to land on the hillside. It was on the wrong side of the rock, so the two occupants had a grandstand view of me with my navy school knickers around my ankles in mid stream. 49 years on, that’s still my most embarrassing memory – and there has been plenty of competition, I can tell you!

So, as we made our way back to the Midlands, we knew nothing of the terrible disaster that had claimed 144 lives in Aberfan. My first inkling was when we got off the coach outside the school and my Mum – who was not the most demonstrative of people – threw her arms around me, hugged me fit to break my ribs and burst into tears. News reports were slow coming through, and all she – and the other parents – had heard was that there had been an accident in Wales in which a number of schoolchildren had lost their lives. So, we all got an extra special hug when we got home, because it reminded everyone – parents and children alike – of how precious life is, and how easily it can be snatched away.

There was a little bit of light relief when we got home. My Gran – who had been glued to the TV while Mum and Dad were collecting me – updated us with the latest news. ‘It’s terrible – there’s been a subsidy in Aberfan, and lots of children have been killed.’ Gran always had trouble with her words, and this 14 year old fledgling writer couldn’t resist pointing out that it was a landslip that had killed the children, not a government grant. I got a well deserved telling off for my trouble, but as it turned out, Gran’s statement  was unintentionally ironic, given that the people of Aberfan were forced to donate £150,000 from the relief fund towards making the remaining coal tips safe. It would be almost 30 years before that money was repaid.

Today, along with millions of other people, I am thinking back to that October day in 1966, when so many people lost their lives, and so many others felt for them and gave their own children an extra special hug.

Photo Credit: The History of Wales

The Seiner’s Arms, Perranporth, Cornwall – A great place for a celebration!

One of the main reasons for our UK trip at this particular time of year was to attend our grandson’s wedding at the Seiner’s Arms, Perranporth, North Cornwall. Although I know Perranporth well from holidays when the kids were small – I well remember one year when the lovely cool beach breeze fooled me into thinking the sun wasn’t too hot and I ended up looking like a lobster – I’d never heard of the Seiner’s Arms. Still, the family had checked it out thoroughly, and they’re a discerning lot, so we knew we were in for a great weekend.

All we needed was the weather – and we got it! Most of the family arrived on the Friday, so we could relax ahead of the big day, We were delighted to have rooms that looked individual, homely and welcoming, with ornaments and stuff, just like you’d have at home, rather than clones of the rest of the rooms.And for an extra £5, we had a sea view too.

Even better, there was a real key for the door, instead of a plastic card that has to be inserted with precision for exactly the right number of nanoseconds if you ever want to get to your bed or get ready to go out.It’s also that rare species – a pet friendly hotel. Dogs are welcome in the rooms and in the bars and on the terraces, and Perranporth Beach allows dogs all year round, so it’s a great place to take your pooch.

There were lovely touches that showed the staff had considered their guests – like plenty of teabags and coffee, along with a notice saying if you needed more, or if you wanted fresh milk, just ask a member of staff. In some hotels I’ve stayed in, you’re made to feel like Oliver Twist if you have the temerity to ask for an extra teabag, and fresh milk is restricted to the breakfast table. Also, in a nod to technology, there was an extension lead with several extra sockets for phones, Ipads, satnavs, curling tongs, straighteners – whatever you had, you could plug it in without swapping plugs over.

The free wifi was accessible in every room, without the hassle of getting a password, so you could update your Facebook – or in my case, finish off a couple of articles for deadlines – in the privacy of your room. If you needed anything extra – like an iron for instance – it appeared within five minutes of asking. The housekeeping staff were friendly, efficient and obliging – as they should be, but very often are not.

We didn’t take Paddy, purely because we were thinking of Saturday, when he wouldn’t have been allowed in the function  room, and would have had to spend several hours alone in the room. Still, Uncle Larry and Aunty June had come over to the caravan to look after him – and spoil him even more than I do – so he had a great weekend too.

Seiner’s – as it’s known locally – is literally right on the beach. One terrace runs alongside the sea wall, and the larger, higher terrace – which is closed off for exclusive use for functions – has steps down to the beach. This terrace was great for mingling, and for getting fantastic photos of sand, sea and sunsets. It really is a perfect place, in a perfect place.

However, any venue is only as good as the service it delivers, and again, Seiner’s ticks all the boxes. The hospitality staff were efficient yet friendly and approachable. If anything did go wrong, nobody knew about it – the whole thing seemed to run like clockwork. We were shepherded where we needed to be, when we needed to be there, gently but efficiently. I’ve been to a few weddings where the staff seem to forget we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves and get a bit bossy when keeping it all on schedule, but that certainly didn’t happen at Seiner’s.

The food was excellent – piping hot, and plenty of it. Roast beef with all the trimmings, special meals for the kids and a vegetarian option. I liked that the children were served first, so they could get on with their dinner then get back to playing – kids aren’t really impressed by weddings, and the staff seemed to realise that.

The thing that impressed me most about the food though was the wedding cake -it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Forget 3-tier fruit cake, this was a scone cake, and it looked fabulous. Lighter than fruit cake too after a big meal. In the evening, there was a pig roast with salads – great food, with off-the-wall touches to make it all an individual experience. I’ve been to weddings where the food was more lavish, but never to one where it was so plentiful and well presented.

Talking of food, the breakfasts at Seiner’s are also excellent. Bring an empty stomach with you, because you’ll need it! Help yourself to fruit juice, tea, coffee, cereals, fruit and yogurt, as you wait for the waitress to take your order for cooked breakfasts ranging from beans on toast to full English. That’s another plus – the hot breakfasts are freshly cooked, rather than sitting around swimming in their own grease while you decide what to eat.

With all this attention to detail, great food and excellent service, to say nothing of its beach side situation, you’d think rooms at Seiner’s would be expensive, but you’d think wrong. A double or twin en suite room costs just £80 per night including breakfast – £85 with a sea view. And there’s a small discount on rooms for people attending functions. Other beach side hotels in Perranporth charge £100 or more per night, and they are not situated so favourably as Seiner’s.

If you’re hosting a wedding or other celebration, or if you just want a beach break that doesn’t break the bank, why not try the Seiner’s Arms? I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. See you there soon!


Finally got the passport – but it was problematical to the end!

Our 2208 Trigano Tribute 650 -will soon be taking us all to the UK now Tony has his passport.

Our 2008 Trigano Tribute 650 -will soon be taking us all to the UK now Tony has his passport.

There is much celebration at Piddock Place, because finally, Tony can travel Europe – and indeed the world, should he so choose – freely and without hindrance. After almost 4 months of trying, we finally have his passport. I collected it, in person, from Peterborough on Thursday.

Right to the end, it was a problem. Travelling from Daventry to Peterborough should have taken around 75 minutes, but it took over 2 hours due to roadworks. And when the satnav uttered those immortal words, ‘You have reached your destination on your right, ‘ there was no Passport Office anywhere in sight, just a Roayal Mail sorting office. I resisted the urge to give the satnav a flying lesson, and instead went inside and told the friendly guy behind the counter I thought my satnav was playing tricks on me.

Before I could say another word, he said ‘Are you looking for the Passport Office by any chance?’ I was about to tell him he was wasted there, and should be on the stage, earning money from his mind reading skills, and then he spoiled the effect by telling me it was always happening. Apparently the post code under the address of the Passport Office is a PO Box number – why I can only guess, but I presume it is some sort of security measure. Anyway, the guy behind the counter was able to furnish me with the right post code, and within minutes, I had Tony’s shiny new passport in my hot, sticky hand.

After more than 2 hours in the car, there was another pressing need, and that was when I find out just how difficult it is to spend a penny in the Passport Office. It involves a handbag search, swithching your mobile phone off, and being frisked. It took so long I feared the visit would be unnecessary, because another 10 seconds and there would have been a puddle on the floor. I wonder – would I have had my nose rubbed in it, like a naughty puppy? I mean, it wasn’t really my fault – I did ask to go in plenty of time!

Sandra not in Spain until Saturday!

You are speaking to a not very happy post-Easter bunny. I’ve rapidly come to the conclusion that the French are my least favourite people – or at least, the French air traffic controllers are. Fancy going on strike when I’m due back with Paddy – most inconsiderate.

I heard about the strike  yesterday morning, and was siezed by a sense of impending doom, but communication with Bristol Airport set my mind at rest. Yes, the flight was going, no, they did not expect to be cancelling, and yes please, turn up with your bags at the allotted time.  So, I went off happily for a last lunch with my daughter Elizabeth and her mad colleagues, and had a thoroughly good time, as well as an excellent jambalaya at the Seco Lounge in Royal William Yard, Plymouth. So far so good, and the lady at the check in desk assured me that we were definitely going to Alicante. She lied.

At 19.00 hours, the departures board said ‘boarding information available shortly.’ At 19.30. it still said the same, and at 19.55 – take off time – the announcement came over the tannoy ‘Will all passengers on cancelled flight EZY 6075 please report to Gate 6 for further information.’ So I did, along with the cancelled passengers from the Faro and Malaga flights. And collected my baggage again. And queued for 2 hours to get the flight re-booked and a hotel sorted. And waited for another 2 hours while the rest of the passengers who couldn’t get home because their home was in Spain or Portugal were also sorted.

It wasn’t all bad though. There was the amusing interlude when the Police were called to a group of girls who had demolished the vodka they’d bought in the Duty Free shop and were now getting very vocal and aggressive, and wanting to go where they had no chance of going. After one of them took a swing at the officer, another form of transport was arranged. Luckily there are no air traffic problems between the airport and Bristol Nick, although the girls were so wired they could probably have flown to Malaga without the help of the plane.

While we were waiting for the transport, there was another classic ‘Blitz Spirit’ moment, when one of the stranded passengers got philosphical.

‘Oh well, it could be worse,’ he said. ‘At least we haven’t got a suicidal pilot.’ Okay, it was in bad taste after the recent air disaster, but we all needed something to laugh at, and it did put the whole thing in perspective. Yes, it was an inconvenience, but at least we would be getting home at some stage.

The problem is, when you have well over 100 passengers needing transport and accommodation, it takes a while to get it organised, and at midnight, when we had hotels but nobody to take us to them, the ground staff suggested we get taxis and keep the receipt for a refund when we finally get away on Saturday morning. The other alternative was to get on the airport shuttle bus, which stops close to my own particular hotel, the Mercure Holland House. By now, I was past caring about the dangers of being alone in a strange city in the middle of the night, so I took the bus option. The bus driver spoiled my chances of being ravished by stopping right outside the hotel, though. Ah well – better luck next time.

When I got to reception, I perked up at the sight of the very decorative Spanish night porter. Things were looking up, and they looked up even more when I saw the room. It was a Privilege Room, which is normally around £100 a night, and I swear it’s as big as Algorfa. I could get lost in it without trying too hard. Mind you, I needed a running jump at the bed. Good job I’m not scared of heights. The only thing I haven’t managed to find yet is the hot and cold running sex slaves – maybe they’re hiding in the wardrobe. Better check before I complain to reception.

After a pretty good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, I’m ready to rumble, so once I finish this post, I’ll go and show Bristol what it’s been missing all these years. Only drawback is, I can’t do any retail therapy, as I had to sit on the cases to get them closed. I could always buy another bag though, I suppose!

So, hopefully I’ll be back in Spain on Saturday morning, when the French have stopped doing what they do best and buggering up everybody’s holidays. Still, it’s been a great trip, and a little bit of pampering before I go home won’t come amiss. I’ve got fluffy bath robes and everything. Better change into one while I’m waiting for the sex slaves …

Birmingham a Muslim city? What the Fox is that about?

Birmingham is famous for its canals - and Fox News Channel's claim that it's 'A Muslim city!'

Birmingham is famous for its canals – and Fox News Channel’s claim that it’s ‘A Muslim city!’

Like most of the population of the developed world, I’m chortling about the Fox News gaffe by so-called terrorism expert Steve Emerson. He claimed that there are no-go areas in England where you just don’t go unless you’re a Muslim – and apparently Birmingham, England’s second city – is now a Muslim caliphate. Must have happened while everyone was watching Middle Eastenders the other night.

Okay, it’s funny, but it’s very scary too. Where do people get these ideas from? And why don’t the researchers check out these so-called ‘facts?’ Following the atrocities in Paris, there is a lot of totally unjustified anti-Muslim feeling. Most reasonable people realise that the extremists who perpetrate these outrages are no more typical of ordinary Muslims than Dame Edna Everage is of the flower of Australian womanhood. However, there’s a small section of society – the haters, the Britain First voters – who will latch onto this and use it as justification for calling for sanctions against all immigrants and ethnic minorities.

Some of the Tweets under the hashtag #foxnewsfacts are hysterically funny – I love the one about ‘Radical Muslim cleric Jasper Q’arat brandishes lethal golden explosive.’ It’s accompanied by a still from the game show Golden Balls. Then there’s the one about that other famous radical cleric, ‘The Mullah Kintyre demands everyone should bow down and pray to Macca 5 times a day.’ Speaking of which, there are loads of pictures of Mecca bingo halls in Birmingham.

Then there’s the claim that the city has been renamed Birming, as ‘ham’ is not allowed under Shariah law. And the weather forecast in Birmingham – as you might expect, it’s going to be either ‘Sunni or Shiite.’ I haven’t been there for a few years, but actually, that’s how I remember Birmingham weather – and it mostly wasn’t Sunni!

I haven’t laughed so much in ages – not since Plymouth Argyle said they were aiming for promotion this season. And it does demonstrate to the full the British ability to laugh at anything – even a mighty slur on its second city by an American who has clearly never been there.One Tweet suggests any white residents of Birmingham should take refuge in Wolverhampton, because it’s got ‘a well stocked Asda.’ Yet another expresses the hope that Americans never find out about the Black Country.

In the inevitable apology, Emerson called Birmingham a ‘beautiful city,’ and promised to make a donation to a Birmingham charity. The guy just can’t stop digging, can he? I love Birmingham – I was born just 10 miles away – but even I wouldn’t call it beautiful, and neither would most of the residents. It is however, a warm, welcoming city with warm, welcoming people with a great sense of humour. And now it’s going to be in the news for a few days, so look out for more laughs from England’s second city.

Image credit: Travel Guide England

Paying Winter Fuel Payments to British expat pensioners in Spain is NOT offensive – it’s their legal entitlement!

A roaring log fire - and the reality of life on the Costas in winter!

A roaring log fire – and the reality of life on the Costas in winter!

In June 2013, when the idea of introducing temperature tests for Winter Fuel Payments to British expats was first introduced, I was invited to appear on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 as a result of writing this blog post. In the post, I argued that British expats – including my husband – should keep the WFP because they’ve paid into the UK tax system all their working lives, so it was an entitlement, not a benefit. Furthermore, as many expats will confirm, Spain in the winter can be a very cold place indeed.

Dr Ros Altmann, who advises Government bodies on pensions policies and is therefore much more informed on these matters than I am, also appeared on the show and called the Temperature test ‘Eccentric, and the kind of thing you expected to read about on April 1.’ She also pointed out what the incumbent covernment conveniently forget – when the WFP – then called the Winter Fuel Allowance – was introduced by the shiny New Labour Government in 1997/98, it was called an allowance so that it could be awarded tax free. In reality, it was a top up for the woefully inadequate State Pension, and although it was only £20 a year then – or £50 in certain circumstances – within a couple of years it was increased to £100 (£200 if you were over 80) and trumpeted as New Labour’s way of tackling fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is defined as a situation where a household is spending more than 10% of their income on fuel.

If the WFP, WFA or whatever you want to call it had simply been added to the pension, it would have been taxable in some cases. Making it an allowance, and increasing it exponentially guaranteed headlines. So the WFP has always been something that successive governments have used to get media coverage, and it continues to cause controversy.

Iain Duncan Smith has gone on record as saying it is ‘offensive’ that people living in warm countries should get the WFP while British pensioners are freezing. Emotive words indeed. Personally, I find it offensive that these politicians who are banging the drum about expats in the sun clearly know nothing about the real weather conditions in Spain, and the other countries where expats face losing the WFP. I also find it offensive that they are completely missing the point here.

The UK’s pensioners have worked all their lives, paying National Insurance and Income Tax on everything they earned. Now they are retired, if they have been prudent and provided themselves with an occupational or private pension, they are still paying Income Tax. So after paying taxes all their working lives, they are still paying taxes in retirement. And these are people who HAVE worked and paid into the system, not left school and gone straight onto benefits.

The amount the government would claw back by stopping WFP for expats who fail the temperature test is not enormous anyway, but because expats have been portrayed by the Daily Mail and its ilk as living it up on the Costas while British pensioners freeze to death, it’s become a popular bandwagon for an increasingly unpopular government.

Most of the British expats I know moved here because they could no longer afford to live in the UK, or for health reasons. In our case, Tony and I find our health is so much better here, near the salt lakes of Torrevieja. It’s the healthiest place in the world for people with joint problems and breathing difficulties, and as we have Asbestosis and Lupus respectively, we tick both those boxes.

Yes, we get our £300 WFP because Tony is over 80, but the flip side of the coin is that we are no longer costing the NHS a fortune. Back in the UK, we were in the doctor’s surgery so often he was thinking of charging us rent, and we got through industrial quantities of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. These days, we just need certain disease modifiers and preventative drugs. It’s not such a black and white scenario as Iain Duncan Smith would have you believe.

The bottom line is, as I said in the introduction, British expats are entitled to WFP because they have paid into the system, and for that reason it would be offensive – and probably against European law – to withdraw it. I have a better idea. Why not scrap all these so-called allowances and benefits, increase the State Pension and allow pensioners to enjoy their income tax free? Okay, I know it’s never likely to happen, but the fact is, British pensioners are under provided for, and have been for a long, long time. According to this report, only Mexico has a lower state pension than the UK. Now that IS offensive!

My Food World Tour of restaurants in England!

As I write this, I’m back at home in Spain. I’ve had a great two weeks in England – catching up with friends and family is always good, and I haven’t cooked a meal or done anything much except relax, enjoy myself and drink plenty of cava and vdka. Some things stay the same wherever you are.

I’ve done quite a bit of eating out too, and what I’ve noticed is that we’ve done a sort of ‘Food World Tour’ of restaurants in England – or at least in Plymouth, Telford and Wolverhampton. It started off with Glenys’ recommendation of Leandra in Frankfort Gate, Plymouth. It’s a Greek restaurant, and as I’d never been in a Greek restaurant before, I was keen to try the best they had to offer. I saw one of my favourites – stifado – on the menu, but as I often cook this at home, I asked the waiter for a recommendation. He suggested the tuna, red onion and sweetcorn salad dressed with balsamic vinegar, followed by lamb souvla. For the uninitiated, that’s lamb marinated in herbs, then cooked over charcoal and served with rice and a salad. They must have thought I looked as if I needed feeding up, because I swear there was half a sheep on my plate. And yes, it was amazing, and so tender.

A few days later, we met up with fellow motor caravan enthusiasts Larry and June for a meal at the Hunting Lodge, at Cadleigh, near Ivybridge. That was more traditional English food, but I opted for cauliflower cheese and bacon for a new twist on an old favourite. To remind myself of the Mediterranean, I had it with garlic bread.

Next, it was out for a meal with my daughter Elizabeth, and she recommended we try Thai in the Park, an authentic Thai restaurant down by the new cinema on Commercial Road, Plymouth.  Again, I’m a virgin – at least when it comes to Thai restaurants – so once again, I asked the waitress for a recommend. I love fish, so she recommended the green fish curry, and once again, it hit the spot. I don’t know how they did it,  but that fish was the best I’ve tasted in years, and the flavour of the fish came through the curry spices too. I also discovered I prefer Thai prawn crackers to Chinese – more flavour and texture, with just a hint of spiciness.

And we rounded the evening off with a drink in The Thistle downstairs. One of the few things I miss about England is the authentic pubs, and there are still quite a few of them in Plymouth, so good news for me, and we got chatting to some very nice people too.

A couple of days later, and the travelling granny moved up to Telford, where my son and his wife took me to the Tin Tin Cantonese restaurant in Donnington. It’s an all you can eat buffet with a difference – you order as many starters and main courses as you want, and it’s all freshly cooked and brought to the table. There’s no limit on what you can order, but if your eyes are bigger than your belly and you leave a load of food on the plates, you will get hit with a surcharge, which is fair enough.

On my daughter-in-law’s recommendation, I tried the crab and sweetcorn soup – excellent, thanks Debbie – then got all adventurous and ordered pork yuk sung. That’s seasoned minced pork, carrots and and onions, wrapped in an iceberg lettuce leaf. After that lot, I didn’t think I could face much else, so I had Cantonese king prawns, and mussels cooked with ginger and spring onions, with just a little bit of fried rice to help it down. A gut-busting meal at a very reasonable price – what’s not to love?

Fasty forward a few days and the next stop on the Food World Tour is Cafe Champagne, an Indian restaurant in Monmore Green, Wolverhampton. My friends Helen and Len have been using Cafe Champagne for centuries, so they always get the regal treatment, and so does anybody who is fortunate enough to get taken along. Abandoning my usual default setting of biryani, I was coaxed into trying the Cafe Champagne special mixed curry. Needless to say, it was fabulous, and on certain nights of the week, you get a free starter and dessert with any main course, so it’s not too heavy on the pocket either. Not sure of the exact nights, but it was certainly operational when we went there on a Monday night.

Back in Plymouth, it’s another of my daughter Elizabeth’s recommendations. Fortune Court is in Tin Lane on the Barbican, and again, it’s a Chinese all you can eat, with the food served to the table. I’d say it was a notch above Tin Tin in terms of presentation and ambience, but again, it was excellent food, in large servings. More king prawns for me, this time in a multi-flavoured sauce. And crab claws, beautifully cooked, plus crispy shredded beef.

Another wonderful meal, and we rounded it off with drinks in the Swallow. And dancing – or at least, Elizabeth and I were dancing with one of her ambulance driver colleagues. That was another first for me – and for Glenys – because the Swallow is a gay pub, and neither of us have ever been in one before. After the great welcome we had though, we’ll be heading there again next time I’m in Plymouth.

On the last day of the trip, we met up with Larry and June again for lunch in The View Pan Asia restaurant on Royal Parade in Plymouth. It’s buffet service, and they serve a selection of Chinese, Thai and Indian food. After two Chinese meals in a week, I opted for the Indian beef curry after a king prawn and deep fried vegetables starter. I also managed to find room for dessert, but wished I hadn’t for the rest of the day.

So, there’s my Food World Tour. Pity I didn’t have time to fit in an Italian restaurant but hey, you can’t have everything. All the meals were exellent, and the staff were very friendly, and while it wasn’t as cheap as eating out in Spain, it wasn’t what you’d call expensive either. And the best news of all from my point of view is that, despite all those huge meals, I only gained one pound in weight as a result of my Food World  Tour. Can’t complain at that!