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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Smart Shopping and Saving inSpain

Overall, it’s much cheaper to live in Spain than in the UK. However, not everything is cheaper, and there are tips and tricks to help you get the most from your Euros, whatever is happening elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world. I come from the Midlands, and we know how to make the most of our cash there, so I’ll be passing on stuff that will help you to make your money go further here in Spain.

The Secret of the Statement Dress!

In my Statement Dress at the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. Although I say it myself as shouldn’t, I don’t scrub up too badly, do I?

As Sandra In Spain, some pretty exciting events have come my way. However, the prize for the Best Thing So Far has to go to the invitation I received to the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. That’s the independent spy thriller filmed entirely on location in Torrevieja, if you don’t know. Lots of my friends were involved in the making of it, but that’s not why I’m promoting it – it’s a quality product that all the family can enjoy, and it really showcases the area where we live and the talent we can draw on.

Of course, now I had a major event to go to, I needed a new dress. Although I have about 247 dresses already – according to Tony, anyway – there was nothing that jumped out of the wardrobe and said ‘Wear me to the premiere.’ Nothing had that ‘Wow’ factor. As there was a distinct lack of sympathy from Tony, I turned to Billie Anthony Gaddess, the screenwriter, executive producer and male lead in the film. After all, the premiere was on his home turf, at the Darlington Arts Festival, so he’d be sure to help. Or maybe not. This is a mere man, talking about dresses. I wasn’t enthused or encouraged by his response, which went something like this: ‘Howay man, bonny lass, divvin’ git up a height.  You’ll lyeuk canny in owt, an’ it isn’t a posh dee.’

For the benefit of those who haven’t been binge watching Auf Weidersehne Pet and Byker Grove in order to get fluent in the Geordie lingo, what Billie actually said was ‘It’s okay, lovely lady, don’t upset yourself. You’ll look nice in anything, and it isn’t a posh do.’

Well, posh do or not, this was the best excuse for a new frock I’ve had since my grandson’s christening last year, so it wasn’t going to waste. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Red – of course – and something not too dressy or casual, but different enough to make a statement of success, since I was with the team that had put together a really good film, despite the fact that many of them had never been behind or in front of a camera before. It was dress to impress time.

I had around two months to settle on the right dress, and I was looking forward to a few girly shopping trips with my friend Joan. And if we happened to pick up a few more frocks in the search for my statement dress, so be it. However, either Fate took a hand, or Tony bribed someone Upstairs as he imagined weekly shopping trips and hundreds of Euros being sacrificed in the attempt to find ‘The One,’ because less than a week into the search, I found exactly what I was looking for. It was red, it was smart but not too dressy, and it had the ‘Wow’ factor, and then some. The only slight problem was it seemed a  bit clingy around the tummy area, but I reckoned a week on the Cabbage Soup Diet and a nice pair of ‘pull you in pants’ would sort that out, along with a few extra walks for Paddy.

Joan and I didn’t dip out on our shopping trips though, because I had to accessorise it. I got the sandals sorted pretty easily, and the bag, but we needed an expedition to find a suitable jacket. We struck gold in

The Statement Dress when I first bought it – work needed in the tummy area, but I knew it would look alright on the night – and it did!

Torrevieja, and also snagged ourselves a couple of tops and cardigans for good measure.

I was pretty confident as I got ready to unleash myself on the glitterati of Darlington. The combination of Cabbage Soup Diet, extra walkies around the orange groves and lycra laden pants had worked their miracle,

and I didn’t look half bad. I got admiring looks and compliments from men and women, and I felt like a million dollars. One friend was particularly impressed, and asked where I’d got the frock from. I told her it was a Roman Oroginals dress, which I’d bought in Spain. ‘Ooh – that must have set you back a couple of hundred Euros,’ she said. ‘I bet Tony doesn’t know how much you piad for it.’

She’s wrong, actually. Tony knows exactly how much I paid for it. And for once, he didn’t need resuscitating when I told him. He thinks you can still buy a decent frock with five bob and a handful of clothing coupons, so anything costing more than €10 is likely to ramp up his atrial fibrillation more than a little bit.

So, there’s a clue to the Secret of the Statement Dress. It was less than €10. A lot less, actually. I didn’t lie about it being a Roman Originals and buying it in Spain. I bought it in a charity shop in Javea, while we were on a motor home rally. It was priced at €5, but on the day in question, everything was reduced to clear to just €2 per item. I bought a bath mat to use in the shower block on our campsite at the same time, and that cost three times as much as the dress!

Yes, you read that right – my ‘Wow’ factor dress cost just €2 – around one-hundredth of my friend’s pretty accurate estimate.  You can dress to impress for less – but don’t let on to anyone, will you? I’m only telling you because I know you’ll keep the Secret of the Statement Dress for me.


Hiperber: Shopping just got cheaper than ever!

The new Hiperber store in Torrevieja

The new Hiperber store in Torrevieja

One of the many good things about living in Spain is that food shopping is so much cheaper if you know where to go. I thought I had it sussed, with Lidl being my first port of call, then top up shopping from Consum and Mercadona, all of which are within 7 or 8 kilometers of my home in Algorfa. However, a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised when, on the way home from a meeting in Torrevieja, I ventured into Hiperber.

If there’s a Hiperber near you, you’ll know, because their livery isn’t exactly subtle. The stores are painted bright yellow with green writing, and they’re hypermarkets, so they’re pretty big. While the stores themselves might be considered a blot on the landscape, the prices and selection available make up for it, and the staff are really friendly.

Hiperber’s strapline is ‘Todo mas barato,’ – ‘Everything cheaper,’ and that’s pretty much what I found. Of all the items I looked at, the only thing that was more expensive was the chopped ham and pork roll I buy for Paddy’s weekend treat, and that was just 10 cents more than in Lidl.

As well as special offers and generally low prices, Hiperber also have a number of multiple buy savings. It’s not quite like BOGOF Britain, but on a number of items, you snagged a better price by buying two or three products together. The star of the multiple buys on this occasion was Amstel sin alcohol beer – Tony’s favourite non-alcoholic beer. The regular price is 45 cents a can, which is lower than most places, who charge around 50 cents at full price, but if you bought 3 cans, you got them for an incredible 30 cents each. I got 24 cans, and saved a massive €3.60 on that single item. San Miguel O.O was also regularly priced at 39 cents – 12 cents less than usual, so there was another €1.40 saved.

Soft drinks were much cheaper too, with 9 cans of Fanta coming in at €2.97. It’s normally 43 cents a can, so on 9 cans of naranja and 9 limon, that’s another €1.80 saved. By buying two bottles of Pepsi, I got them at 89 cents each instead of just over €1.00, and the two litre limon I buy to go in my vodka – because it works out too darned expensive using Fanta – was just 39 cents, compared to 69 cents for own brand limon in Consum and Lidl.

Tony might be on the wagon at the moment, but I’m certainly not, so I was delighted to find my favourite cava – Dubois semi-seco – on sale for 30 cents less than in Consum, at just €1.69 a bottle. So I can get 7 bottles in Hiperber for the price of 6 in Consum. There’s a good selection of wines too, all at very reasonable prices, but I’m still ploughing through the stuff we brought back from Portugal, so I averted my eyes as I headed for the dog food section. There I managed to buy Paddy’s favourite mixer biscuits for almost €2 less than elsewhere.

That particular shop was mainly for drinks, because in this heat, we’re going through an awful lot of water and soft drinks, and not eating much food. However, I saved around 70 cents a pack on some of those lovely huge seedless raising, and got 3 bottles of sunflower oil for the price of 2, saving almost €1.40. That’s even cheaper than buying a 5 litre bottle to fill the deep fat fryer. The frozen chips for Tony’s once a week treat were also around 25 cents cheaper than elsewhere.

All in all, my bill came to just shy of €47, and the trolley was absolutely laden. I also got a free Euro 2016 beach umbrella because I’d bought 12 cans of San Miguel. Even better, when I added up the total savings when I got home, I’d saved at least €12.75 on the prices in Consum, Mercadona and even Lidl. And that was just on the restricted list of  items I was purchasing. Yes, it’s a few extra kilometers to drive, but even assuming the return journey uses a litre of diesel, that’s an extra €1 spent to save almost €13.

I’ll be heading back to Hiperber regularly, and maybe you should too – especially right now, when the Euro to Sterling rate is so volatile in the wake of the Brexit referendum. As one British supermarket famously says – every little helps!

Hiperber Torrevieja Avenida de la Opera 100 -101 Torrevieja 03184

Phone: 966  108 080 for opening times, or visit the Hiperber website

Photo credit: Andrew C for Hiperber

Zenia Boulevard – So much more than just shopping!

We live about 20 minutes’ drive from the beautiful Zenia Boulevard shopping centre on Orihuela Costa, and when we need some serious retail therapy, we jump in the car and head off to Primark, C & A, Mango and the rest.

Tony often complains that there are not enough ‘Boys shops’ at Zenia boulevard. He’s not into fashion – his idea of dressing stylishly for a night out is a cheap shirt from the market and a pair of trousers that doesn’t have solder burns or paint splashes on them, even if those trousers are so old the price ticket was in pounds, shillings and pence. Which they usually are, because he has an uncanny knack of managing to ruin new trousers, while keeping his vintage clothing pristine. But I digress.

A few weeks back, Tony decided he needed to spend a week looking at every single plug, screw and power tool in Leroy Merlin. Or at least, that’s what it usually feels like. He complains about me spending hours in Primark, but at least I’m looking at stuff and trying it on, and filling the basket, rather than comparing two nails to see if the extra millimetre makes a difference. He seems to have been doing that since he read an article that said ‘Size Matters,’ but I’m going off topic again.

The last time we went to Zenia Boulevard, it was really crowded, so rather than wait until the end of the summer season for his Leroy Merlin fix, Tony wondered if it would be quieter on a Sunday – especially a gloriously sunny Sunday in September. Tony doesn’t like crowds, you see – that’s why he’s a Plymouth Argyle supporter. Last time Home Park was full was when they double booked the Jehovah’s Witness conference on a match day, and the JWs outnumbered the supporters by about 5 to 1. Or at least, that’s the local urban legend.

But enough of this rambling. As it turned out, for once, Tony made the right decision. Pity I didn’t write it down on the calendar –it doesn’t happen very often. About as often as Plymouth Argyl win an away match in fact. The shopping centre was minus the usual weekday crowds, but what really struck me was how the families were making a real day out of their shopping trip. The kids were riding around on animals, in cars, or on the miniature ‘tour bus’ that zipped around the malls. In fact, the parents seemed to be enjoying riding around on the bus as much as the kids. It was all so different from a cheerless shopping expedition on a grey English high street. And judging by the number of shopping bags around, the lovely weather and relaxed atmosphere of Zenia Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon was encouraging people to part with plenty of Euros.

When you write for a living, you tend to notice strange things that pass other people by, and I noticed something as we sat having a drink in London Square – which, like the name suggests, has representations of London, with Guardsmen at the top of the travelator to the underground car park, and iconic red telephone boxes.
Primark must have been doing a roaring trade, because there were at least 3 brown paper Primark carrier bags for every plastic bag from somewhere else. What was even more interesting was that, almost without exception, these bags were toted along the malls by men, not women.

I wonder what that tells us about humanity? Are women ashamed to shop in Primark, or are they just lucky enough to have husbands and partners who are chivalrous enough to carry their shopping for them? Who knows? Who even cares, really, but I did, right then and right there.

As we carried on with our perusal of the shopping centre, the presence of a Batman and Batgirl photo opportunity stand bought out the child in me. Or maybe it was the chance to have a huge cleavage, however fleetingly that did it. At any rate, I managed to get Tony – and a complete stranger – to pose with me, Haven’t done that since last October, when I went down to Benimar on a girls’ night out, and that one was fuelled by vodka.

One thing I like about Zenia Boulevard is that pets are welcome on the malls, and even in some stores. We were quite amused to see how one couple transported their pooch around Leroy Merlin. All in all, our Sunday shopping trip was a relaxing experience, and we rounded it off with lunch at Bar Yu, our favourite Chinese restaurant at Punta Marina Shopping Centre. One day we’ll try out the food court at Zenia Boulevard, but the siren call of Bar Yu is hard to resist. Try Zenia Boulevard on a Sunday – You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Why I can’t live healthily in England

Tony and I - healthier, happier and better off in Spain!

Tony and I – healthier, happier and better off in Spain!

It beats me how people can say they’re going back to the UK because prices have gone up in Spain and they can’t afford to live here any more. What planet are these people on? We’ve just come home after two months in England, and we’re short on cash and a bit short on temper, because life has been very different to what we’re used to.

For a start, we’ve hardly been out for a meal in two months. Not that we eat out all that often in Spain – maybe once every week or 10 days, and the odd snack – but it’s just way too expensive in England. Tony’s favourite snack lunch, Cornish Pasty, is up over £3 now in England, and there’s so much pastry it’s repeating on you all day. Yesterday, my friend and I had  chicken and prawn sandwiches with salad, and paid just over €3 each for the privilege of enjoying a healthy, filling lunch to keep us going.

Most of the tapas on offer come out at around €2 each, and for that you can get magra – lean pork in a delicious sauce – Russian Salad, seafood, chicken wings, and all manner of delicious, nutritious food. Two tapas with bread comes out at the same price as a Cornish Pasty, but without the indigestion!

As for eating out, last week we went to our favourite Chinese restaurant, and enjoyed three courses each and a bottle of wine for just €15. The wine with the meal costs more than that in England, and you’d have a job to get one 3 course meal, let alone two, for €15 (around £11).

People say groceries are cheaper in the UK, and they are, if you want to eat stuff like pies and ready meals, but if you’re looking for healthy ingredients for a home cooked meal, you’ll be digging a lot deeper into your pocket. Free range eggs are about half the price in Spain that they are in the UK. I pay €1.35 for a dozen large eggs, and you can’t even get 6 medium for the equivalent price in the UK.

Another one of the ‘cheap things’ in the UK is sausages, and unless you pay the equivalent price of a small joint of meat, you’re not going to get decent sausages – they’ll be full of cheap fillers such as suet and breadcrumbs, and it will come through in the taste. Plus you’ll have a pool of grease left in the bottom of the pan, or the barbecue will be up in flames from all the dripping fat. When I cook fresh Spanish sausages, I need a little oil to stop them from sticking to the pan or the barbecue griddle. That tells me there’s more meat than fillers in my sausages, and the taste confirms it.

Okay, you can get cheap fruit and vegetables from the supermarkets in the UK these days, particularly Aldi and Lidl, but the problem with most of them is that they’re harvested before they’re fully ripe and shipped around the world in cold storage. Here in Spain, produce is picked and sold when it’s ready to eat, so you’re getting the full hit of vitamins, nutrients and flavour. I can honestly say the only vegetable I really enjoyed back in England was Savoy Cabbage – everything else was disappointing. Except for the strawberries and raspberries that is. Nowhere does those quite like England!

I’m not a big fan of lettuce, but I do enjoy a Cogolla – it’s okay, it’s not a new kink I’ve developed, it’s what Little Gems are called here! And at 4 for €1 on the market, they’re a real bargain, but the poor specimens I managed to get in England had obviously had a flavour bypass – they tasted of nothing at all.

Like many people of our generation, Tony and I moved out to Spain to have a healthier lifestyle, and to make our money go further. The area around the salt lakes of Torrevieja is the healthiest in the world for people with joint problems and breathing issues, and we tick both those boxes between us. When we were in the UK, I was popping painkillers for pastime, and Tony spent so much time at the doctor’s he was worried they’d charge him rent! In almost 8 years in Spain, he’s never needed to test out the Spanish health service, and that’s pretty impressive for an 81 year old.

The truth is, the climate here is healthier, and it’s cheaper to eat well, whether you eat out or cook at home. And because of the warmer weather, you don’t tend to eat so much, and you go for lighter foods like salads, rather than loading up on bread and potatoes. Most importantly, we both enjoy much better health here. It’s not just about Pounds versus Euros, it’s about quality of life, and for us the quality of life is so much better here. Cheaper and better in the UK? You cannot be serious!


Now is the best ever time to buy property in Spain – really!

Property in Spain has never been better value - the strong Pound makes your Euros go even further.

Property in Spain has never been better value – the strong Pound makes your Euros go even further.

Okay, you’ve been hearing this for the last 5 years or so, as property prices in Spain went into freefall and the parachute persistently refused to open and ensure a safe landing. However, now that Sterling is strong against the Euro, this really is the best time to buy in Spain, because not only can you snag a bargain property which probably won’t need any refurbishment at all, it will cost you less to maintain it, as your Euros will go much further.

I’m not a ‘What If?’ kind of girl. I take opportunities as they arise, and never look back in anger or regret, because it’s a pointless exercise. We bought our property in early 2008, just before the economic slump, and at a time when property prices were unsustainably high. We paid €157,000 for our 2 bedroom garden apartment on La Finca, which, at the prevailing exchange rate of around €1.34 to the Pound Sterling worked out to around £116,700. We fell in love with the property at first sight, it was within our budget – just – and we had enough from the sale of our house in the UK to buy without a mortgage and leave us comfortably off, so that’s exactly what we did.

Today, almost 7 years to the day since we signed on the dotted line, the exchange rate is pretty much identical at €1.345 to the Pound. The difference is, we could now buy the same property for around €100,000, or £74,300. That’s over £40,000 less than we paid, but this isn’t a whinge about how much we’ve ‘lost’ on our property – it’s a clear illustration of the economic sense of buying in Spain at the moment.

Our 7 years of happiness in Spain are way beyond price, and that’s why I’ve done the sums here to encourage others. What goes down also goes up, and vice versa, and while nothing is certain, it’s likely you’ll be much better off in the long run if you buy in Spain while property prices are still low and the Pound is strong against the Euro. And even if your home in Spain doesn’t perform as expected and increase in value, you still have somewhere to go where you can enjoy your investment. You couldn’t do that if your money was sitting safely in the building society.

Don’t take my word for it though. Steve Hall of This Is Spain is highly experienced in this sort of stuff, and his latest article clearly illustrates that there are real bargains to be had.  In Algorfa, which is a lovely village 10 miles inland from Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca, €30,000 – €50,000 (£22,300 – £37,200) will give you a wide choice of two bedroomed apartments, most with the use of a community pool. So, what are you waiting for? Now really is the best time to buy property in Spain!

Hitting the sales at C & A!

The C & A logo - once present on almost every UK high street, but now only in Europe.

The C & A logo – once present on almost every UK high street, but now only in Europe.

We have visitors from England staying for two weeks, and wouldn’t you know it, the first rain for almost two months put in an appearance yesterday and today. Still, seeing as Bristol Airport was closed because of snow just an hour or so after they took off on Saturday, they’re not complaining. We were chatting about clothes, and wondering what to do today, when my friend June happened to mention she really missed C & A, which ceased trading in the UK in 2001.

I happened to mention there was a C & A 10 miles away in Torrevieja, so that was the day sorted. We headed for the Habaneras Centre, and sent Tony and Larry to play with the tools in Aki while June and I hit the rebajas in C & A. June has been looking for a black jacket style cardigan for several weeks, and couldn’t find what she wanted, but within 10 minutes of attacking the rails in C & A, she found the very thing. It wasn’t in the sale, but at just €19.90 (less than £16 at today’s exchange rate) she was more than happy to pay full price. She’d seen a similar model in Plymouth, but wasn’t prepared to pay the asking price, which was more than double C & A’s price.

Since I lost 10 kilos, shopping for clothes is a pleasure rather than a chore these days, and I found a lovely burgundy lace dress with a fitted bodice and flared skirt. They only had it in Medium, so I was dubious about the fit, but it was perfect, and June said it made me look even slimmer than ever. She’s a lovely friend! Best of all, there was 70% – that’s right, 70% – off the asking price of 29.90. So, for less than €9, I have (yet another) new dress. And I bagged a floral skirt reduced from €10 to €5.

I did look at lots of other things, but there’s only so much I can smuggle into the house and hide in the wardrobe to bring out at a later date. You know the routine ladies – the husband says ‘Not another new dress, surely?’ and you reply, ‘I’ve had this ages – just goes to show you never notice what I’m wearing.’ I have the righteous indignation down to a fine art now, but as I said, there’s only so much you can sneak in in one go.

If you think C & A stands for Crap & Awful, think again. The quality has improved a lot, but the prices are still keen, and the sales reductions are amazing. Lots of stuff has 30%, 50% or even 70% off already cheap items. And if there’s not a store near you, you can shop online. June wants to go back for another look, so I said we’d hit the La Zenia Boulevard branch next week. Well, you have to keep the visitors happy, don’t you?

So, are you making good use of the fish counter in your local supermarket?

Fresh salmon steaks - so reasonably priced from the supermarket fish counter

Fresh salmon steaks – so reasonably priced from the supermarket fish counter

Every now and again, Tony and I think the same thing at the same time. It happened today in Consum. As we passed the fresh bread, I thought, ‘If I got a nice barra, we could get some mussels and I could make moules mariniere for supper.’ As the thought flitted through my mind, Tony said ‘Why don’t we get some nice mussels for supper, after all the meat we’ve eaten over Christmas?’

Great minds think alike, or small ones seldom differ? I prefer to think of it as a meeting of minds after 25 years together. Either way, we headed for the fish counter, and waited while the guy served the couple in front of us, advised them how to cook the salmon they were buying, and threw in a huge bunch of flat leaf parsley. The salmon looked lovely, and when I investigated, it was on offer at €5.95 a kilo for whole salmon, so we decided to get some too.

We like salmon steaks rather than fillets, and we chose a piece that weighed just shy of 1.5 kilo. The guy cut it into 8 thick steaks, scraped the scales off, and removed the head. All that for less than €8.50. And when he weighed our mussels – Galician mussels which are grown for 18 months until they’re huge and plump – he picked every one over, discarding damaged ones and pulling off the beards.

So, we ended up with a kilo of the best mussels in Spain for €2.95, and 8 salmon steaks. All prepared and ready to cook, and absolutely no waste. And of course, it’s all healthy eating for a ridiculously cheap price. How on earth can people say it’s expensive to eat well in Spain?

If you haven’t bought from the fish counter in your local supermarket, check it out next time you’re there. Don’t be put off by the heads, tails, bones and stuff – the people behind the counter will prepare it for cooking, and also advise on how to cook it if you’re a novice.

I like to poach salmon in a little white wine, parsley, lemon juice and black pepper. Or if you prefer your salmon pan fried, marinate for around 20 minutes in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper, then fry in a heavy bottomed pan using a little olive oil. Salmon is easy to cook, because you can actually watch it changing colour as it cooks. So, why not be a bit adventurous, and cook some fantastic Spanish fish tonight?

Photo credit: Pixabay.com


Saving on heating in winter in Spain

Bottled gas heaters - a portable and pay as you go heating solution

Bottled gas heaters – a portable and pay as you go heating solution

Depending on where you live, Spain in the winter is generally warmer than England, although obviously you’re not going to experience summer temperatures. The days are generally sunny, although the early mornings and  evenings can be cold. If you have a north or east facing home, you’ll probably need some form of heating between November and March.

South facing properties are cosy in the winter, but can be unbearably hot in the summer, even with air conditioning. As it’s easier to warm a house than cool it, I prefer to heat the place in the winter and enjoy the coolness for the rest of the year.

If your property comes with air conditioning, this can also be used as a heater. However, it’s not all that efficient in a large room, and it can be expensive to run. And if you have breathing problems or suffer from asthma, air conditioning can exacerbate your difficulties. For us, that’s a no-no, as Tony has Asbestosis, and I have Lupus, which affects my lungs and therefore my breathing.

You can buy slim, panel radiators which are fairly economical to run, but they are mainly for background heat. Oil filled radiators are more efficient, and again are economical to run, but they are rather bulky and unattractive.

Although electricity in Spain is cheaper than in England, if you have a large property, you could find yourself with a hefty bill when March comes around. It might make more sense – particularly if you are on a fixed income – to look at ‘pay as you heat’ options.

One solution is bottled gas heaters. These are on castors, so they can be moved from room to room. There are some attractive models available,  ranging from around €70, although you’ll have to pay more if you want a heater with variable temperature controls. At the time of writing (December 2014) Aki in the Haberneras Centre in Torrevieja are offering a basic bottled gas heater for just €49.

Calor gas in England is expensive at around £29 for a 12 or 13kg bottle, but here in Spain it’s only around €17. A bottle should last between 10 days and 3 weeks, so it’s an economical option. The main advantage though, is that you’re paying for your heat as you go, so there will be no nasty surprises when the bills come in. Buy your first bottle from your local ferreteria. You’ll have to pay around €40 deposit on your first bottle, and you’ll also need to show your passport or some other form of identity. (No, I don’t know why, so don’t ask!)

Many Spanish homes – even new builds – have open fireplaces, so you might fancy having a log fire. Wood burning stoves in Spain are very reasonable, starting from around €600, but I would recommend trying a log basket and open fire first, as a wood burner may make your room too hot. Depending on your taste, you can pay anything from €30 for something basic to €300 or more for a custom made cast iron log basket.

Ask your neighbours where you can buy logs; maybe several of you can club together to share a bulk delivery and save some money. We buy our logs at Ballaster’s, off the CV951 between San Miguel de Salinas and Torremendo. It’s self service, so you can pick the logs you want. And a nice bonus is that we can also pick up some orange blossom honey. The system is simple – just drive onto their weighbridge before and after loading your logs, then pay around 1 Euro per 10 kilos for the difference. If we take out the parcel shelf, our Ford Fiesta holds around €15 – €20 of logs, which lasts up to two weeks, depending on if we light the fire every day, and what time we light it.

Better still, collect your logs from a forest near you and dry them out ready for burning. And in many areas, people tend to dump wooden pallets and other waste wood on waste ground and near rubbish skips, so there’s another source of free firewood.

Just remember the buzz words ‘pay as you heat’ and you should be able to keep your home warm and cosy in winter. And you won’t be facing electricity bills in spring that will make you hot under the collar.

Photo credit: © Deniskelly | Dreamstime.comWinter Fuel On Sale Photo

‘How much does the wine weigh, Erik?’

My favourite anytime wine - at €10 for 5 litres, it's a real bargain too

My favourite anytime wine – at €10 for 5 litres, it’s a real bargain too

On Thursday, I fly to England for two weeks, to do the Santa Run and hopefully meet my new grandson, who has still to make his appearance at the time of writing. Normally, we’d be thinking about heading back home after 6 weeks or so in the UK, but this year, two things are different. First of all, there’s the new arrival. His sisters were both two weeks late, and if he follows suit, it will be late November or early December before he makes an appearance. And then there’s our own new arrival, Paddy. Travelling back via Eurotunnel means probably crossing the Pyrenees in snow, and I don’t fancy that. Nor do I fancy putting Paddy in the kennels on the Santander – Plymouth ferry for 24 hours. He has enough problems with separation anxiety as it is. So, Tony is staying here to look after Paddy, and I’m footloose and fancy free for 16 days. England won’t know what’s hit it!

One thing we always do when we travel back and forth is what I call Two Way Shopping. In other words, we take over what is cheaper and/or better in Spain, and repeat the process on the way back. When we do this – especially in the motor home, where we have a lot more space available – we can save a lot of money, which of course we can offset against the cost of the trip.

Obviously, the main saving is on alcohol. You’ve got a job to get a decent bottle of wine in the UK for less than £5 these days – although you might be lucky and pick up a 3 for £10 deal. One of my favourite ‘just drinking and chilling’ wines comes from Bodegas Pedro Luis Martinez in Murcia. It’s a 12.5% ABV white table wine, and it comes in a 5 litre wine box for just €10. I always take several of those back to the UK for our own use and for presents for the family and friends.

This trip, space and weight is limited because I’m flying, but I had a cunning plan to ensure that I didn’t shell out too much on booze for myself and my friend Glenys, who I’ll be staying with. I can always come up with a cunning plan when it’s related to alcohol! I buy most of my wine from Balt-Scandic at La Finca. It’s a bodega and export business run By Erik from Denmark and his Lithuanian partner Roma, and they buy local wines from small producers and export it to Scandinavia, as well as selling it to the locals who are lucky enough to be able to drop in regularly.

Every time a  customer comes in, the first thing they are asked is ‘Would you like to try some wine while you browse?’ And it’s not a thimblefull in a plastic shot glass either – this is a real serving of wine in a real glass. I always make sure I walk up there – it would be rude to refuse such warm-hearted hospitality. Anyway, I had a very important question for Erik:

‘How much does a a box of Pedro Luis Martinez weigh, Erik?’

Now Erik is a very laid back Dane, and it’s not often anything disturbs his easy going mood, but he obviously thought I’d already been on something, and he asked if I was okay. After all, it’s not very often he gets asked that question. However, as a wine exporter, he needs to be up on weights and stuff. and within 5 seconds I had my answer:

‘5 kilos for the wine, and maybe 200 grams for the packaging.’

Thank you, God! That means I can easily get a wine box into my hold luggage. I have to say I was very tempted to take 3, and forget about the clothes and presents for the grandchildren. After all, Easyjet give you 20 kilos hold allowance, and i could always shove a frock, some jumpers and some knickers in the carry on bag with the laptop.

Two things prevented me – my friend Glenys doesn’t live in Spain, so she hasn’t developed hollow legs. I’d end up drinking most of it myself, and my liver wouldn’t like it. And I can’t turn up without presents for my gorgeous grandchildren, can I? So, when the 5 litres has gone, I’ll just have to man up and pay silly prices, or go teetotal for a fortnight. Nope – can’t do that! Hopefully the box will last for at least a few days. Maybe Glenys won’t like it. And maybe the temperatures in Devon will be in the high 30s for the next two weeks.

Buying canned tuna? Go Grande and save money

Monster can of Nixe tuna, ready to go

Monster can of Nixe tuna, ready to go

Tastes sometimes vary in Piddock Place. Take tuna, for instance. I love it, Paddy loves it, and Tony doesn’t mind it once in a while. So I always used to buy those handy small tins with just enough for one round of sandwiches, or a filling for a jacket potato. Then one time we were having visitors, and I was making a tuna pasta bake for 8 people, so I needed a large can. Looking in Lidl – my first port of call for shopping in Spain and England, I came across their monster size Nixe tuna. 900 grams – 650 grams drained – of lovely chunky tuna for just €4.29.

I daresay lots of people are put off by the size of the can, because I hardly ever see anyone else with one in the trolley, but I’ve kept it in the fridge, in the tin it came in with the plastic lid, for up to 5 days with no problems. And there are lots of other things you can do with it, apart from the obvious jacket spuds, sandwiches and salads. I make appetisers for buffets or tapas meals using leaves of cogolla (Little Gem) lettuce, or halved pequillo peppers. I fill them with various things – tuna, mayonnaise and sweetcorn, crab salad and cucumber, coronation chicken, prawns in Marie Rose sauce. The chunky tuna you get in the giant tins is also good in a tomato based pasta sauce over penne or spirals. And it made a fantastic tuna pasta bake too.

I alvays drain off as much of the sunflower oil as possible, first by lifting the ring pull just enough to be able to drain off the oil without losing any tuna. Then I have a crafty trick for getting rid of as much oil as possible. I place a coffee filter in a large plastic funnel – these are very cheap from the Chinese bazaars if you don’t already have one. Then the tube on the funnel goes into an empty milk or oil bottle, and the tuna goes into the filter in the funnel. You’ll be surprised how much more oil this extracts, but you need to be patient.

Which reminds me. When I was at school, during the Religious Education lesson, the teacher asked us to write a prayer asking for patience. I thought mine was very good, but the teacher wasn’t impressed. It went like this:

‘Please God, grant me the gift of patience, and can I have it right now, please?’ But I digress.

When the can is empty, Tony collars it to melt down all the end bits of the citronella candles we burn on the terrace during the summer. He puts a wick in the middle, and hey presto! – we have a long burning anti-mosquito candle for free. At the risk of Stating The Bleeding Obvious, I should say that it’s a good idea to give the can a good wash first, otherwise your candle will burn with a distinctly fishy smell. And no, we didn’t do that, but someone who shall remain anonymous to preserve what’s left of their dignity did. It ended badly, with the candle being consigned to the bin.

One word of warning – all monster tuna cans are not created equal. I recommend the Nixe one because it has huge chunks of tuna which hardly soak up any oil. But the own brand one they sell in Mercadona is more flaky than chunky, and no matter how well you drain it, you’ll get an oil slick the size of a small island on your plate. If you have any other recommendations, please pass them on in the comments.

So, have I tempted you to Go Grande when it comes to canned tuna?