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Only Joe King

A light-hearted look at life in Andalucía and Spain in general. Its good points and its bad. This blog doesn't pull any punches.

Working for free? Why? Er… why not?
Tuesday, May 31, 2022

In these difficult economic times, money is short, so why not work for free? writes Joe King. It could be an answer for people struggling to make ends meet.  Joe has been working for free on and off for more than fifteen years and loves it.  Is he nuts? Read on and see what you think…



Ever thought of working for free?  Lots of people do. They give their services voluntarily, for example as counsellors for the Samaritans, as advisers for the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, helping out at hospitals, charity shops, and in a range of other organisations.

Such volunteers provide a valuable service and are fortunate that they have sufficient private means, such as a pension, to enable them to do so.

Payment in kind

But, what about those of us who cannot afford to give of our services for nothing?  Do we really need to be paid money for our work?

After all, if we are paid, we must give some of it to the government in the form of income tax and other stoppages. So, why not work for payment in kind?  This can end up being quite valuable and also great fun.

Since I retired in 2005, I have pretty much only worked ‘for nothing’.

First of all, I renovated a house in Ronda for an English lady in return for free board and lodging and other treats. In actual fact, she was my girlfriend at the time.

I repeated the exercise in summer 2008 for a friend from my student days who lives in LuxembourgAn entire summer decorating a large house from top to bottom was rewarded by board and lodging, slap-up meals out, trips to the opera, concerts, and a summer romance! 

I regularly did odd jobs for an American lady who lived in Ronda.  In return she kept an eye on my apartment, when I was away, checked my post and welcomed my paying guests on my behalf.

Once I taught two classes of Spanish (the regular teacher was sick) to expatriates in Ronda in exchange for ….. whoops!  I only got a free cup of coffee?!  Oh, well, I enjoyed it (the teaching AND the coffee), so no pasa nada.

From time to time I’ve helped friends out with a bit of interpreting, eg phone calls, or tricky meetings. That often brings a free breakfast.

Lately I’ve translated two different restaurant menus for free. In one place I’ve not paid for a beer since! The other restaurateur is not so generous. However, I’m hoping he will give me the job of translating his website into English. ¡Ojalá!


In many fields of work, it is expected that, as a young person fresh from university, you work for free. In some careers it’s the only way to get on. Never mind a good degree, a Masters and a PhD, you need to be able to show significant work experience on your CV.

On graduation my daughter, Amy, did two internships, one in Brussels at the European Parliament and one at Westminster as a senior researcher for a British MP.

That managed to put her off a career in politics, although she was a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets for eight years. Instead, for her career, she opted for the charity sector, where she worked for MIND, Young Women's Trust, The Children’s Society and Unicef UK. She is currently Chief Executive at Birthrights – a charity championing human rights in pregnancy and childbirth.

Probably the most famous intern of all time was Monica Lewinsky, who “worked” at the White House in Washington DC in the mid-1990s and, although she wasn’t paid, evidently enjoyed fringe benefits from President Bill Clinton.


The best example of the barter system working to the advantage of everybody concerned occurred earlier this year.

A German family of six, mum (Lily), dad (Oliver) and four children, lived free of charge in my reforma house in exchange for their labour, or specifically Oliver’s. He’s a joiner and so he fitted the banisters to my stairs, created a delightful shelving unit from a reclaimed door and window shutters, re-hung doors and completed other odd jobs. He also did some kitchen modifications in our two other houses. What a great deal for both them and us!

Other unpaid but well-rewarded work has included translating restaurant menus, one in exchange for a patio table and four chairs (I needed the furniture; he didn’t!).  The other menus were done in exchange for slap-up meals for two.  

I have also written articles for a newspaper, The Olive Press, and for a local website, , in exchange for free advertising space.

Before I emigrated to Spain I spent a half-day doing odd jobs for a lady paid for by a nice meal out and did some remedial work in a kitchen for another lady in exchange for a rather fine coffee table.

The “Workaway” scheme

Workaway is a platform that allows members to arrange homestays and cultural exchanges. Volunteers, or "Workawayers", are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging and food, which is provided by their host.

Hosts register at and are expected to provide information about themselves, the type of help they require to be performed, the accommodation they offer and the sort of person they are expecting.

Workawayers create an online profile including personal details and any specific skills they might have, after which they can contact hosts through the website and discuss a possible exchange.

Workaway is aimed at budget travellers and language learners looking to become more immersed in the country and culture they are journeying through, while allowing local hosts to meet like-minded people who can provide the help they require. It has been described as a useful way to improve foreign language skills, as well as an opportunity to develop new talents and learn about local traditions.

The opportunities on offer are varied and based in a wide range of countries around the world. Some types of volunteering available include gardening, animal-care, cooking and farming, as well as more specialist and niche help requests.

Workaway charges the “Workawayer” a yearly membership fee to connect to hosts but does not charge the host a fee to list. The duration of an exchange can range from as little as a few days to over a year.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of Workawayers over the last few years. They have hailed from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, UK, Uruguay, USA.

They have almost invariably been very nice people, mostly young, 18 or 19 on a gap year before university, or older, in their 30s.

One Dutchwoman “did it” constantly, moving from “job” to “job”.

Most of the ones I have met were doing bar/hotel work (says a lot about how I spend my time!), but I’ve also met a good few who were working on the land or in construction. Almost all were positive about their experience.

Whilst there is no requirement for the host to pay the Workaway anything at all, some do. The Hotel Ronda Valley, near where I live, pays their Workaways 600€ per week, on top of free board and lodging. Not bad, I reckon.

If I had my time over again, I would certainly have taken part in the scheme at least once.


Working for free?  It makes a lot of sense, especially in a recession or post-COVID-19 lockdown. However, if people want to pay me instead, that’s OK too!


This is an updated version of an article that first appeared in Olive Country Life Magazine (Jaén) in 2009 and subsequently on in 2020.

Like 2        Published at 3:06 PM   Comments (0)

"Doppelgänger" in Andalucía: Robert de Niro, Rick Wakeman, Cheryl Cole, Dennis Taylor and reincarnated Sir Lawrence Olivier, Leonid Brezhnev and Arthur Askey
Friday, May 20, 2022

You’ve probably all heard the rather wacky theory that John F Kennedy, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Princess Diana et al aren’t dead at all and are living on a remote island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Well, Joe King thinks that Andalucía is also a hiding place for the rich and famous…

WE’VE all heard these theories about JFK, Elvis, Princess Diana and the rest and we probably dismiss them as rather crazy. However, I can vouch for the fact that a number of doppelgänger and lookalikes are alive and well and living here in the Serranía de Ronda, including some reincarnated dead people.

I first noticed back in 2001 that Leonid Brezhnev, the late Russian president, was living in the small village of Montejaque (Málaga). He still does, and remarkably, has learned to speak fluent Spanish.

A couple of years later I noticed that Robert De Niro spends a lot of time in the Barrio San Francisco in Ronda. His Spanish is pretty good too!

Around that time a dead-ringer for World Champion snooker player Dennis Taylor was sitting across from us on our easyJet flight from Liverpool to Málaga. Nope! He turned out to be the real thing!

In 2005 I went to a modern flamenco concert in the Palacio Mondragón in Ronda to find that Lech Walesa, erstwhile president of Poland (1990 -1995), was on flute, Garth Crooks, former Spurs footballer and now BBC football reporter, was playing bass guitar, and the drummer was Ray French, the rugby league commentator and former player. I knew Ray, for he was an English teacher in St Helens, Merseyside, where I used to work. Funny thing, however, when I approached Ray in the interval he didn’t recognise me and had lost the ability to speak English!

Lech was definitely the star, though, as he also demonstrated his abilities on guitar and saxophone, as well as playing the flute.

Who was that in the queue behind me at Málaga airport in 2008? A Rick Wakeman lookalike. Whoops! No, it actually was him. Rick was the keyboard player in the progrock group Yes! back in the 1970s.

In 2009 we came across a guy cooking a massive paella in the village of Benaoján (Málaga). Funny – he looked just like Jamie Oliver – well, that’s cos he was!

Cheryl Cole had been living and working in Ronda for years, though she called herself Claire Conway for some reason. Now married with a young daughter she spends her time between Montejaque and the Balearics.

It’s a while since I’ve seen anyone else famous, dead or alive, down here in Andalucía, although I see Leonid and Robert from time to time to pass the time of day. It must be the recession keeping others away – or COVID-19.

Just after lockdown was eased and people were allowed to fly into Spain again, Brian Moore, the former England Rugby Union prop and now commentator, turned up at the hotel next to our house, speaking in a Huddersfield accent and, blimey ol’ Riley, Arthur Askey was spotted in a village near here. Strange, I thought he was dead!

And you’ll never guess who really runs the Secret Serranía website down here – none other than Phil Spencer from Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location!

¡El mundo es un pañuelo! Small world.

Like 1        Published at 8:30 AM   Comments (0)

Rebel With a Cause
Saturday, May 7, 2022

Joe King has always been a conformist, until recently. He was raised by his parents to be so and throughout school, university and his two careers he remained largely unrebellious. For the first 15 years of his retirement also. But now, since the massive turning point that was Covid-19, that’s all changed. Joe explains.

I was born in 1950 when the austerity of the post-war years was still making life difficult. I even had a ration card!

I was the elder of two sons born into a working class family in Devon. My brother and I were the grandsons of a Welsh coal miner. My Dad luckily avoided being sent down the pit, moved to England and had a number of fairly menial jobs before settling in North Devon where he met my mother, a young widow.

Her circumstances were hardly any better. Her father died when she was an infant and her widowed mother was pregnant. With a total of three young children my Gran couldn’t go out to work, so I don’t really know how they survived.

Mum passed the 11-plus to go to grammar school, but they couldn’t afford the uniform, so she went to the local secondary mod and left school at 14. She was a clerk for most of her life.

Despite their humble beginnings my parents had aspirations for us and also for themselves. They brought us up to be good citizens, to do what we were told and to study hard. We did just that.

Dad also bettered himself. He was a navvy with the GPO digging ditches and climbing telegraph poles to install telephone lines. But he went to night school, gained extra qualifications and ended up with a more comfortable office job.

Mum ended up as a shop-owner selling children’s clothes. 

My parents became homeowners, and for the next couple of decades I suppose they were what we now call property developers, albeit part-time and on an amateur basis. We lived in five different houses in 15 years.

So back to my conformist life. I was head boy of my primary school, did well at grammar school and went to my first-choice university to study languages.

I rebelled a bit as a student, grew a beard, let my hair grow long and lost my virginity. I developed a taste for beer, rather too much, I suspect, and cut lectures. I came to my senses in time, studied hard in my final year and left with a good degree.

I became a teacher. As such, I had to be a role model for my pupils and students. Dress smartly and behave myself. I did that for 15 years.

Then I was a school adviser and OfSTED inspector for 15 years. Again I had to be a role model, this time for teachers. What was worse, I had to conform and to implement Tory government education policy, much of which I disagreed with. Remember Kenneth Baker?

We did rebel a little bit, in the late 70s/early 80s, when my then wife and I, at the time childless, discovered the joys of naturism in Greece.

A long way from pupils and colleagues ….. or so we thought! Imagine my surprise, many years later in Portugal I came out of the sea after a skinny-dip to find a deputy head from one of my schools in St Helens sitting on the beach – not naked! Oh, well ….. at least he was a bloke!

I also rebelled a bit in that I had a series of sports cars in my fifties, eg a Toyota Celica, Mazda RX7, Mazda RX8, Toyota MR2, but that was about it as far as being a rebel was concerned.

When I was made redundant and had the chance to retire early, I still remained fairly conventional. Law-abiding, didn’t cause a fuss ….

After a nervous breakdown, the redundancy and divorce I could have gone off the rails, but my upbringing didn’t allow that to happen.

Then, in January 2020, Covid-19 entered our lives and changed my attitude to life completely. I nearly lost my wife to the bicho Coronavirus and from that point on I decided that any of us could snuff it at any time, so we should make the most of our twilight years.

Since that time I’ve become a bit of a rebel. I bought an old house to do up which blew most of my savings, and I started "SKI-ing" (spending the kids·inheritance). I dress inappropriately; scruffy in the day cos I’ve been renovating that house and doing lots of gardening; at other times I dress far too young for my age and my figure.

I write a lot for websites and on social media. I shoot from the hip and sometimes get online abuse. Do I care? Not a jot!

I’m growing a ponytail and a month ago had my ears pierced.

I’m a rebel with a cause …..


PS I don’t know what that cause is, but I’m enjoying myself nevertheless!

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