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Spanish Eyes, English Words

A blended blog - Spanish life and culture meets English author, editor and freelancer who often gets mistaken for Spanish senora. It's the eyes that do it! Anything can and probably will happen here.

The Soul Cave is About to Hit the Bookshelves!
Friday, April 21, 2023

The Soul CaveI haven't been writing on here for quite some time, although I see my articles are still getting hits and comments. So, what have I been doing? Too many things to mention, really, but here goes!

I run a couple of my own websites, and I'm about to have my first book published at the ripe old age of 71!

In between that, I've dealt with a number of challenges, many of which I talk about in the book. I also detail my spiritual journey so far, explaining how, in my mid 60s, I became an Accidental Psychic and also an Accidental Healer! 

The point of all this isn't to gain sympathy or brag about my newly discovered skills. I'm not that kind of person. I've written my story so I can show that:

1) We are never given more to deal with than we can handle, and there are lessons to learn in everything that happens, good or  bad. When we stop saying 'Why is this happening to me?' and ask 'What can I learn from this, moving forward?' we switch from victim mode to growth mode and everything is possible.

2) As the subtitle of the book states, It's Never Too Late to Find Your Power. If I can tap into my psychic gifts and make a new career for myself in my 60s, forgive the seemingly unforgivable, be grateful for everything in my life, good and bad, and be happier now than I have ever been in my life, despite facing deep traumas, so can you. And in this book, I show you how! 

Maybe you don't want to develop your psychic powers and work with Spirit and the Angels, but perhaps you have another dream, but you feel it's too late to reach for it? If you want something bad enough, it's never too late, and that's the main message running through The Soul Cave

I'm a late starter - I didn't turn to writing as a career until I moved to Spain in my mid-50s, but coming to this wonderful country helped me manage my chronic autoimmune condition and create a new life for myself. Spain is my home and I would never want to live anywhere else, as I explain in the book. I am now well known as an Angel Guide and psychic in my corner of the Costa Blanca, and in just a few more days, I'll be a published author.

I know I couldn't have achieved this back in the UK for many reasons, but mainly because I wouldn't be well enough to put in the hard work needed to bring a book from the laptop to the bookshop, or to use my energy to help and heal others. I am already working on my second book, and again I'll be using my own experiences to help my readers find happiness whatever is going on in their lives. 

If you want to keep up with developments regarding the book's publication, or just catch up on what's been happening to me since we last spoke, Follow me on Facebook, or check out my websites. I'll be launching The Soul Cave in Spain in June, so watch this space. And whatever you want to do in your life, remember it's never too late. I am living proof of that!

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Therese Gantley, Algorfa's very own Rock Star!
Friday, September 21, 2018

It's great to be back in Spain, even for a short while, so I'm catching up with as many people as I can. Close to the top of the 'Must Visit' list are Therese and Mike at the Centro Rural de Algorfa. I arrived at just the right time, because the lunchtime rush had eased, and Therese had time to sit and chat for a while. As is often the case, when we get together, the talk often moves to crystals. Therese is an enthusiastic crystal user, and like many Irish ladies, she has a touch of the psychic about her.

I was showing her my latest purchases from Antisha Angels in Playa Flamenca, and also the beautiful healing wand Glenys bought for me. If you've never been there, you should. What Tony and Pat don't know about crystals isn't worth knowing, and he's got stuff for cutting crystals and repairing them too.

This was when Therese mentioned that she had a large clear quartz crystal from a quarry local to Algorfa. 

Soon after the Centro opened in 2015, a Spanish workman - Paco - brought it in, and Therese fell in love with it and displayed it in one of her glass cabinets, where it could catch the late afternoon sun.

Therese wondered if Tony could make her and myself a quartz point from the stone, which was actually a mix of clear and smoky quartz. She also thought it would be good to take some more points for a couple of friends who are also into crystals, so I agreed I'd take it when I go back to Antisha Angels on Friday. I've already given away a couple of the things I bought to people who needed them more, and basically, that is the heart of crystal work. A crystal that has been gifted and blessed with love and healing for the recipient will always be more powerful than anything you buy for yourself.

So, we took some photos of both of us with this magnificent crystal. and then we started to look more closely at the strata in the rock, and wondering just how many years - or hundreds or even thousands of years - each layer represented. When Therese had first shown me the crystal, I'd said I thought there was a natural division that was happening, roughly in the middle, and she agreed. I'd tried to wiggle the stone a little, but nothing happened, so I thought the division would happen when Tony went to work on it. We both hoped this beautiful, natural crystal wouldn't shatter, but obviously, we know that crystals will do what they need to do, with or without our intervention.

Therese took the crystal from me, and as she did, it separated into two almost identical pieces. We both saw this as a 

sign that the crystal didn't want to be taken away from Algorfa, and that it wanted to stay with us. Therese put the brightest half back in the cabinet, to carry on attracting sunlight and entrancing the customers. I handled the other half, feeling so privileged that the crystal had clearly demonstrated what should happen to it.

Being a natural, unprocessed crystal, there was a lot of dust and sediment all over the separated half, and it was depositing itself all over my hands, and the table where we sat. From an environmental health point of view, it's not good, so I took it into the loo to give it a wash and brush up.

Now, if you've ever been to the Centro, you'll know the decor is a little on the green side, to reflect Therese's Irish origins. And this theme is continued into the toilet, with a bright green litter bin. When I started running water over the crystal and it gave off a green glow, I thought it was a reflection from the bin, so stood between it and the sink. It didn't make a difference - in fact the crystal glowed even greener, and the whole room had a green glow. For a moment, I wondered if I was turning into the Incredible Hulk, then I realised that Archangel Raphael was infusing the crystal with his healing green ray.

I quickly dried it off, so I could show it to Therese, and a couple of other crystal-loving friends who'd arrived for lunch. However, by the time I got to the table, the crystal was back to normal, although significantly cleaner, allowing the smoky tones to shine through.

I placed it on the table, and we all tried to hold it. There was so much energy, all we could do was just hover our hands over it for a few seconds. It was a truly remarkable, mystical and mysterious experience, but it didn't end there - oh no!

When I got back to Piddock Place, I did the mandatory Wednesday listen to Rai Woods' Country Rodeo on Big FM Radio, then took myself off to the bedroom to write this post. Well, that was the idea. I've had a bit of a creativity block recently, with things that have been happening physically and emotionally, but I was full of ideas, and wanted to get it written while everything was still fresh in my mind.

My new crystal had other ideas, though. Because I couldn't bear to let it out of my sight, I took it into the bedroom with me, and placed it on my bedside table. I wrote the first paragraph or two of the post, then started with a brain fog. I couldn't think straight, so I decided I must be tired from all the excitement of the crystal and the heat. Trouble was, I couldn't sleep either. I felt sick and dizzy, and totally out of sorts.

Eventually, it clicked - the crystal's energy was just too powerful for the room, and for me, at such close quarters. So I returned it to the lounge, in line with the front door, went back to bed, and slept for around 9 hours. I woke this morning feeling more energised than I have for the whole of this year. and seeing I was taken to hospital with pleurisy less than a month ago, that's a pretty positive result. And I can feel the crystal's energy following me around the house. Isn't the Universe truly wonderful?

Like what you see? There's lots more about all sorts of topics at Sandra In Come over and say hello!

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No Ordinary Expat: Captain Rai Woods
Friday, August 17, 2018

When people move out to Spain, they very often end up reinventing themselves and doing something completely different to anything they've ever done before. It's easier for some than for others. For example, until I medically retired due to the effects of Lupus, I always worked in catering at one level or another. When I could no longer work for a living, I studied for a couple of degrees to pass the time, and when we bought our place in Spain I started writing, first for pleasure, and then for a second career. It was a natural progression. Rai Woods is a different proposition altogether though, because before he moved to Spain, he'd pretty much seen it all, done it all, and got the various t-shirts.

Originally, he was destined for a career in medicine, but decided he couldn't go along with the prevailing philosophy of keeping people alive for the sake of it, and prescribing drugs before looking at the causes of the symptoms. He calls it 'Sticking a plaster over it and hope it gets better, rather than looking for the real problem.'

Medicine's loss was broadcasting's gain, because Rai ended up working on cameras and sound desks in England and Northern Ireland. Always behind the scenes, but a vital part of productions small and large, he's worked with the best in his time - notably with John Schlessinger on  Far From the Madding Crowd in 1967, and with Clive Donner on Here We go Round the Mulberry Bush in 1968. Rai also worked on The Avengers when Patrick Macnee was in full Bowler and Brolly mode. You won't find him in the credits, because as he self-deprecatingly puts it:

I was third assistant director, with particular responsibility for making tea and coffee, and crowd control.

Rai's tea and coffee must have been pretty special, because over the years, he's worked for ITN and Ulster Television, among many others, and seen many wannabes become household names. He calmed young Rosemary Brown's nerves before she sang her song for Ireland's entry into the Eurovision Song Contest live on television.

Being a pretty laid back person himself, he was well qualified to do that. There's laid back, and there's so laid back as to be close to falling over, and Rai definitely falls into the second catergory, as he's pretty much unflappable. In fact, if he so much as drummed his fingers on a chair arm during a production meeting, his colleagues would say, 'Watch it, Rai's about to have a meltdown!'

He did a pretty good job on Rosemary, because she went on to win with All Kinds of Everything. The nervous schoolgirl with the fabulous voice was better known as Dana, and even then, her potential was clear.

You'd think this was enough to keep anyone occupied, but Rai also found time to qualify as a pilot and learn to sail. Again, he became  so good at it, he is entitled to use the handle Captain as an official rank on both counts. He's pretty much the exception to the rule when it comes to the old saying, 'Jack of all trades, master of none.'

In 1969, he purchased the former lifeboat Dornovaria. Like her new owner, Dornovaria had experienced quite a few adventures, having served twice as a lifeboat, and also featured in the Dunkirk evacuation as one of the Little Ships. Built in 1905, she's older than the Titanic, and still seaworthy. Rai lived on her for a number at years at Teddington, before moving to Northern Ireland. Then in 1999, Dornovaria sailed from Donaghadee to join the flotilla of 55 former lifeboats commemorating the 175th anniversary of the RNLI at Poole, Dorset.

A few years later, Rai sailed his floating twin flame single-handedly to start a new life in Torrevieja, on Spain's Costa Blanca. Once there, he put his broadcasting knowledge to good use by setting up several English speaking radio stations in the area, and even owning a couple! I'll save Rai's blushes by not going into details here, as he doesn't like to blow his own trumpet. However, speak to anyone who is anybody in local radio on the Costa Blanca, and they will tell you about his valuable contribution to broadcasting on the Costa Blanca. In fact, his nickname is 'The father of local radio on the Costa Blanca.' You'll have a job to find any local broadcaster worth his salt who has not worked - or is still working - with Rai.

These days, he's still in radio - both driving the desk and hitting things with a hammer to get them working again - or something like that! His popular Country Rodeo show, which airs on Big FM Radio each Wednesday evening at 8.00 pm Spanish time, has regular listeners all over the world. Many of them have gone on to become friends, going out of their way to visit Rai if they land in Spain for a holiday. And Rai has standing invitations to countries as far afield as Norway, America and Vietnam, if he wants to travel outside Spain. Over the years, he's built up a loyal family of listeners, and the regulars get a mention each week. For Rai, the show is all about the music and the audience, although he'll often come out with a cheeky quip to keep his fans smiling as they enjoy the show.

Rai loves all kinds of music, but he's in his element with country music, as is clear when you hear him in action. He also takes his music out in the local area, playing at various events, either as one of the Big FM presenters or flying solo. When he gets together with Los Pistoleros re-enactment group, you can really feel the atmosphere of the old Wild West, and he's a great promoter of local talent such as Charles Cole and Bobby Valentine.

Since he moved to  Torrevieja, Rai has also found time to direct his first full length feature film. The Cucaracha Club is the first film made entirely in and around Torrevieja, and the production team, Siesta Productions, managed to pull off a coup that even the big guns at Eon Productions - home of the James Bond franchise - couldn't manage. They obtained permission to film for the first time ever in Torrevieja marina. You can read more about Rai's part in the making of the film here, and there are more exclusive behind the scenes stories and interviews with the cast and crew in the Cucaracha Club category on the website.

So, what does the future hold for Captain Rai? Well, the Country Rodeo is set to continue for the foreseeable future, and there are two more Cucaracha Club films waiting to go into production, as well as a possible television series collaboration with a Spanish TV company. And Rai's also helping to promote the film that's already in the can, using his broadcasting and media contacts to get the film out to as wide an audience as possible before it goes to DVD.

Another of Rai's interests is acting. He's appeared in several productions with theatre group The Adhoc Players, and there is a new production coming soon. He'll be treading the boards and bringing his engineering and production experience into play behind the scenes.

Although the Dornovaria has been moored in Torrevieja Marina since Rai moved to Spain, he spends a lot of his spare (???!!!) time keeping her seaworthy, and is hoping to take her on at least one more trip 'before he gets too old to be able to.'

Although Rai is now seventy-something, it's difficult to imagine him ever being too old for anything. As the saying goes, 'You don't stop having fun when you get old, you get old when you stop having fun.' By that criterion, we'll be seeing a lot more of Captain Rai before his final 'Cheers and Away' farewell from the Costa Blanca media scene. Former doctor, pilot, sea captain, engineer turned broadcaster, radio presenter and film director, Rai Woods is certainly No Ordinary Expat.

Read more about life in Spain and all sorts of other stuff at Sandra In

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Messages from Spirit just seem to pop into my head!
Friday, April 20, 2018

In the early days of my psychic development, something that I at first found disconcerting, but now find absolutely magical, is the way messages from Spirit, whether for myself or others, just pop into my head from nowhere. It happens mostly when I'm not even trying to make a connection or ask a question, and according to Alison - pictured with me - and other experienced mediums, that's a sure sign the message is comming from outside, and not from your own internal thought processes.

It's only when you recognise how Spirit works that you realise that you've probably been receiving messages all your life, and just thought they were 'lightbulb moments.' In a way they were - it's just that the light came from another dimension! Actually, the idea for this article just 'popped into my head' last night, and I started writing, then got stuck, because I don't want this category to be just about my experiences and what I've learned, I want to be able to help others recognise how Spirit and the Angels are working with them, and use that information to develop their own abilities. So I did the sensible thing and left it alone, and as soon as I went back to the post this morning, I just knew how to explain it.

If you think this sounds far-fetched, or that it's some hogwash I've come up with to make the post sound more exciting, well, that's your privilege, but any psychic or medium worth their space will tell you that guidance comes in all forms and at all times. My teacher Alison Wynne-Ryder, who is also a well-known writer on all things spiritual, often says she's been guided to write something, or to change the content of a lesson, and it becomes clear very soon why this needed to happen. As well as writing course content, articles and books, Alison writes her own guided meditations and poems, and  more often than not, the basic idea changes.

It's easy to fight that and stick with your original idea, especially if you're good at what you do, as indeed we both are. We are good writers, and we know our trade, but if you trust the messages you're given, the end result can be so much more rewarding for you and for those who will benefit from the changes. This article is a vivid verification of that. My original idea was to tell you about several of my 'popped into my head' moments, and although they make for interesting reading, that's about all you'll get from them. However, I've now been guided to give more explanation of how it all works, so you can recognise and profit from your own similar moments.

The trouble is, some people have entirely the wrong idea about how messages come through from Spirit. You don't need to be sat in a circle in a darkened room holding hands, or go into a trance, or call on your guides and the Angels to get the information you need. If you are open and receptive, you will receive what you need, when you need it, whether that's inspiration for a creative project, an answer to a difficult question, or a solution to a worrying situation. Just trust in the Universe, and believe in yourself.

Now, briefly, I'll tell you about two of my recent 'lightbulb moments,' and how they have affected me. The first came when I was chatting online to a Facebook friend who was having difficulty accepting the breakdown of his relationship, and was in despair and lonely. I don't know this guy well - I've only 'spoken' to him online - but I found myself telling him that he would soon go out with someone he already knew, and that there would be questions involved. He pressed me for details, but that was all I had, and he said it was most unlikely, as none of the people he knew had ever figured on his romantic radar.

A week later, he contacted me with the news that he was going out with his neighbour, whom he'd known for 3 years, but never thought of romantically. They'd met in the corridor as he was on his way to his regular quiz night. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend, and said she needed to take her mind off things, so asked if she could go with him to the quiz night! I was a bit concerned that maybe he had made things happen, but the approach came from her. As he was telling me this, I got the message that this would not be a long term relationship, but that they would part on good terms and remain friends, and that is exactly what has happened. They realised they didn't have a future together, but it gave them both the confidence to get out and meet other people.

How did this benefit me? Well, I was having a bit of a crisis of confidence, because although I was doing quite well with psychometry, mediitation, visualisation and other things, and had sensed loved ones around me, I didn't believe I'd ever be able to do readings for other people. This proved that I could, and in fact two days after this confirmation, Alison asked us each to do a mini reading for a friend of hers we knew nothing about. I managed to identify 6 things - two past, two present and two future - which the lady was able to take. The ability is there, I just had to trust in it, and myself.

The second incident seemed trivial, but turned out not to be. My friend Glenys and I had booked an appointment with my hairdresser, and we were talking about it to some other friends, who encouraged us to make a pamper session out of it and have manicures and pedicures. Then someone asked me what I was doing with my hair, and I replied, 'Just the usual trim to get rid of the split ends.' Suddenly, there was a loud voice in my head saying, 'Cut it short, Sandra.' It was so clear, I assumed someone in the room had spoken, but the voice wasn't familiar, and I couldn't say for sure if it was male or female.

I've had long hair for at least the last 20 years, and I've never considered going short, so I tried to push the idea outof my mind, but I got the message again during the night, and again a couple of days later. I discussed it with Alison, and a couple of trusted friends, and they said as I'd been given the message three times, I should trust it and act on it. Alison even visualised the style I would end up with, and I am absolutely delighted with it.

The transformation in my hairstyle has also brought a transformation in my attitude. Everyone says I look younger, and I am more feisty, and they are right. I've been dealing with an ongoing situation which has sapped my energy and brought me very low at times, but if you look good, you feel good, and I find I have a lot more strength than I thought I had. It's the reverse of the Samson-Delilah dynamic - cutting my hair has increased my emotional strength, whereas Samson's makeover robbed him of his physical strength.

It just goes to show that messages from Spirit come in many forms, and if you go with what you're given, the rewards can be amazing. Love and blessings.

Read more about my life in Spain at Sandra In

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Paddy fought a car, and the car won!
Friday, February 9, 2018

It's not often I allow guest posts on my blog, but sometimes other people can tell it better than I can. It's been a pretty traumatic time at Piddock Place, because Paddy dashed in front of a car recently, and we all thought he'd had it. After a sickening thud on impact, he flew through the air, and landed on his side. It seemed his luck had run out, but after a few seconds, he jumped up and ran into the woods. We all thought it was a last gasp, adrenaline-fuelled effort to get to a place of safety to die, so we were absolutely delighted when, after about 20 minutes, he came running back out of the woods.

Being an intelligent dog, and perhaps realising how lucky he is, Paddy wanted to tell the story in his own words, so here's his take on the day when he did an impression of James Bond's Martini, and was shaken, rather than stirred. The photos in the post were taken just 24 hours after the incident, amazingly. However, it's over to Paddy for now, and please ignore the bit about the vodka!

"When Mummy said how many people had been worried about me when I fought a car and lost, I thought I needed to set the record straight. I love my Mummy, but she exaggerates sometimes, and gets in a bit of a state. I've been told people get like that when they're old, but don't tell her I said that, or I might be wishing that car had sent me to the Rainbow Bridge. Mummy can get stroppy when she's angry, especially when she's been at the vodka, and she's given the Russian Standard a right hammering just lately.

The true story - from the horse's mouth - or rather from my mouth, is that it was all Mummy's fault. Instead of taking Gizmo and I to the orange groves for our daily run, she said it would be too wet and muddy after the rain, and as she'd just been for a meal with Uncle Jim and Aunty Joan, she didn't want to get her best boots mucky. So she and Aunty Glenys decided to take us up to the Ermita in Algorfa. That was also muddy, but not as bad as the orange groves, and Gizmo and I were perfectly happy with that. As long as we get a good run off the lead, we're not too fussy where we go.

Anyway, this rather tasty looking lady dog was making puppy eyes at me from across the road, so I went over to say hello. Mummy shouted 'Paddy, come here,' but she's always spoiling my fun, so I just ignored her. That was a bit of a bad move on my part, because she wasn't trying to keep me away from the lovely lady dog - she'd seen what I hadn't, because love is blind. A silver Peugeot was making its way to Algorfa, and it must have been dead set on preserving my virginity, because it swept me off my feet - literally!

My first thought was that I was a goner, and I was waiting for Saint Peter to open the Pearly Gates for me, because despite what Mummy and Daddy say, I'm a very good boy - well most of the time. When I realised I was still breathing, my next thought was Mummy is going to finish what the car started, because I'd been a naughty boy and defied her, so I cleared off into the woods to give her time to realise just how precious I was to her.

I think I overcooked it a bit though, because when I came back, Mummy was all upset, and convinced I'd gone off to die. Honestly, that's quite an insult to a big strong boy like me. It takes more than a car to take me out, and she should know that. However, I was quite gratified that there was a search party looking for me, so I trotted up to Aunty Glenys and let her put my lead on - just in case Mummy's relief turned to revenge. You can never tell with humans, can you?

We got safely home, and instead of taking me straight in and making a fuss of me, Mummy just had to go and tell half the neighbourhood what had happened, leaving me in the car like a spare part. To add insult to injury, one of the local cats was parading up and down the street. I bet the nasty piece of work thought I couldn't chase her after the accident, but as soon as Mummy opened the car door, I proved her wrong.

Unfortunately, Mummy got in the way, and ended up on the tarmac. Honestly, you'd have thought she'd be grateful that I had made such a miraculous recovery, but no, I was in the dog house, yet again. I'll never work out how humans tick, if I live to be a hundred.

Sunday was a bit of a rough night, because I couldn't get comfy, but Mummy was so good, she even put her pillow at the bottom of the bed, because I couldn't manage to get to where she was, and she could tell I really needed cuddles, as I was quite frightened. Don't let on to anybody though, or it will ruin my street cred. I market myself as a big, strong, indestructible Super Pup, so let's keep it that way, shall we?

Anyway, all the best stories have a happy ending, and Aunty Glenys thought a nice run on La Mata Beach and a swim in the sea would help heal the grazes and prevent any infections. I have to admit I went a bit over the top, because I really am glad to be alive. I managed to knock Gizmo over a couple of times, and as usual, he laid it on with a trowel and acted like it was him who had almost died. He's such a diva, but he's okay really, and he lets me play with his toys, so I'll put up with him for now.

There is a downside to all this though. Mummy is blaming herself - although Aunty Glenys is saying it's my fault. That's rather unjust, because if Mummy hadn't been so worried about her boots, and that lady dog hadn't been giving me the come-on, I wouldn't have had the flying lesson from the car.

So now, Mummy says I have to do exactly what she says, and not pull, or run off, or get excited, or any of the things that make life worth living. As soon as I try to get in front of her, she makes me sit until she says I can go. That's torture when you can see the sea, but she said if I didn't behave, I'd go straight back to the car. And she's shouting like I'm on another planet, although she does say 'Good boy' and give me a lovely cuddle when I do what she wants me to.

So, big thanks to everyone for being so nice, and looking after Mummy when she was so worried about me. But please - tell her to go easy on me now. The thing is, she says she couldn't imagine life without me, and I feel exactly the same. I won't admit it to her - and please don't tell her I said so - but I was really sad at the thought that I'd have to leave her. I know I was a silly boy, and I will try even harder to be good. The trouble is, life is so exciting, and then I forget all my training.

Read more about Paddy's life in Spain - and mine - at Sandra in

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Sandra in Spain: The Red Knicker Report 2017
Friday, February 2, 2018

Apologies to those regular readers who have been looking out for my year-end roundup for the last three weeks, but things have been rather hectic at Piddock Place of late. We ended 2017 with an occupancy rate of four adults and two dogs, instead of the usual two adults and Paddy. My friend Glenys is over for the winter, with her dog Gizmo, and another friend - Karen - has been staying with us until she could organise her return to England. I've not been too well lately, so it's all got a bit on top of me, and I've lost my creativity a little. However, I've now given myself a boot up the bum, and I'm back writing.

New readers who might wonder at the title may want to check out my previous Red Knicker Reports for 2014, 2015 and 2016 before reading on, to see how they came into existence, but if you can't be bothered, it's a review of my year - the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, how did it go? Read on, dear reader, and prepare to laugh a bit and maybe feel a twinge or two of sympathy along the way.

The year started well in the company of Glenys, Gizmo, Larry and June, who had come over from the UK for the winter. Together, we all explored the area, and did a few trips in our motor homes with MCC in Spain. We also managed to arrange a surprise birthday party for Glenys - no mean feat when she was only staying 200 yards up the road from us! We rustled up about 18 of our friends, and managed to smuggle them in without her knowledge. I've also managed to pull a surprise 75th birthday party for her this month, but as she's now staying with us, we held it at the Camping Florantilles Show Bar.

I first met Martin and the fantastic team at Camping Florantilles when Glenys and I went to a charity poolside jam session there in June. Glenys was driving, so I overdosed a little on the vodka, to the extent that when we got home, instead of doing the promised barbecue, I crashed out on the sofa for several hours. I don't remember much about that visit, but I was allowed back again, so I can't have been too naughty. When we returned from our summer trip to England, I started going to their Wednesday afternoon poolside jams, and notched up another first for me. I'm a bit of a Karaoke Diva, as most of my friends know, but I've never sung with a live band. At the grand old age of 65, I finally did it.

Talking about being 65, when Tony asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I couldn't think of anything. Well, I could, but apparently a ticket for the Widow's Cruise around the Mediterranean wasn't the answer he anticipated! So I had a rethink and decided that I'd rather celebrate my special day with all my favourite people, and organised a party at the Centro Rural de Algorfa for around 40 friends. It was a very special night, with music from Peter Taylor, one of Mike's special chillis, and a beautiful bouquet from Tony, who by then had forgiven the Widow's Cruise comment.

Another first was going to the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. If you paid attention to the blog posts, you'll know that I'm involved with publicising the film, and helping to raise awareness of the wonderful job a group of local expats have done in making a feature film that showcased the area on a tight budget. In a whistlestop visit to Darlington, I had a wonderful experience, and an encounter with a mad Irishman. You can read all about it here.

Back from Darlington, and back to reality, we had a worrying couple of months when Tony was quite poorly. It culminated in collapse on a motor home rally in the Sierra Maria mountains in June, and as Tony refused point blank to see a doctor in Spain - despite the fantastic level of health care here - I brought forward our summer trip to the UK.

Tony was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver a week after we put down the deposit on our home in Spain, and he was warned he had less than a year to live unless he stopped drinking. 10 years on, he's still going strong, but initial investigations pointed towards bone marrow cancer, or myeloma to give it its posh name. Thankfully, it wasn't that, but there was a significant deterioration in liver function, and again, we're on the One Year Warning. At 84, Tony feels he's lived his life, and wants to enjoy what's left of it, which means he's not keen on following medical advice.

Obviously it's his body and his choice, but that bombshell, combined with a cold, wet UK summer which rendered me housebound - or more accurately caravan-bound - for several weeks, and a Poorly Paddy as a result of a severe ear infection, all took their toll. I racked up another first, but one I'd rather have missed out on. I came so close to a mental breakdown, that for the first time in my life, I find myself taking antidepressants, as well as the shedload of medication I already take to control the Lupus and my blood pressure. I have to sit very still for a while after taking my tablets, otherwise I rattle when I walk and get some very funny looks. I'm getting back to me again though, although I'll be popping the happy pills for a while yet.

On the professional front, I've stepped back a bit from the writing for several reasons. Tony's been out of sorts for most of the year, and my almost breakdown made me realise I have to take more time for myself, so I've kept my hand in, but basically given more time to me. However, I did rack up another first - my first-ever writers' conference at Velez Blanco, hosted by my good friends Elle and Alan, who are fellow members of Writers and Bloggers About Spain, a supportive and creative Facebook group. We got a dog sitter, and Tony came along for the ride, but finished up participating in the whole programme and getting an idea of what I do and why.

Talking of 'Me Time,' I've expanded on my tentative forays into the world of psychic development. I've been working with the lovely Alison Wynne-Ryder through the year, and have learned a lot about myself and my psychic abilities. To coin a well-known movie tag line, 'I see dead people,' but I've also discovered I have a natural ability for clairvoyance, clairaudience and spiritual healing. Alison has opened up a whole new world for me, and I look forward to seeing where this takes me in 2018. Meditation is at the core of all things spiritual, and this has helped me to deal with what 2017 has thrown at me. I'm calmer, happier, and more emotionally resilient as a result.

One thing I have realised is that I need to get rid of the negative influences around me, and I made the difficult decision to sever some long-standing connections, because I realised they were emotionally draining, and I didn't need the associated drama. I'm happier as a result, and although 2017 has been a difficult year, with no real progress in the achievement of my long standing goals, I'm optimistic about what 2018 has in store for me. Let's hope the new red knickers (bought in Sainsburys with 25% off the normal price) can work their magic. Find out next year!

Read more of my ramblings at Sandra in

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16 July: Dia del Virgen del Carmen
Friday, July 14, 2017

Many Spanish towns and villages host a fiesta in mid July, and it’s not just because they like fireworks and processions, although they do figure prominently in the proceedings. The Virgen del Carmen is another incarnation of the Virgin Mary, based on a religious reading from the Old Testament, and her special day is celebrated on 16 July each year.

The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of more than 100 towns and villages in Spain, including my own home village of Algorfa, which is about 10 miles inland from Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca. She’s also the patron saint of sailors and the Spanish navy, so she’s often known as ‘Stella Maris,’ or ‘Star of the Seas.’

Most towns and villages spend a week or more celebrating the fiesta. The Saturday before the 16 July sees the opening of the festivities, with a parade of some description. In Algorfa, there is a Sunday morning Romeria, or pilgrimage, when the statue of the Virgen del Carmen is carried from the parish church to the Ermita chapel, just outside the village. Several hundred ‘pilgrims’ follow, and there is a service of thanksgiving, followed by a breakfast of sardines, bread, and beer or water. As with many fiestas, the men do the cooking, and it’s fascinating to see them flip huge trays of sardines so they’re evenly cooked. In the afternoon, there is a paella making competition, after which the Virgen is carried back to the parish church.

Various events take place during the week, culminating in another procession and a big firework display on the Dia del Virgen del Carmen. Everyone is welcome to join in – locals, expats and holidaymakers, and there is plenty of free food, drink and entertainment for all.

If you’ve never been to a Virgen del Carmen fiesta, make this the year that you do. It’s moving, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, but above all it’s traditional Spain, and it’s a chance to integrate with your Spanish neighbours and celebrate one of Spain’s most important saints. Nobody does fiestas like the Spanish, and no fiesta is quite like Virgen del Carmen. Once you’ve been, you’ll never want to miss it again.

Read more about life in Spain at Sandra In

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The story behind the Statement Dress
Friday, May 26, 2017

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 inTorrevieja, 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 paid 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.

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.

More about life in Spain and other stuff on my website Sandra In

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Sandra Not in Spain: All the fun of the Premiere!
Friday, May 19, 2017

If you've been on my website for more than five seconds, you'll know that I'm heavily and happily involved in promoting The Cucaracha Club - the first feature film to be made entirely on location in and around Torrevieja, and when I was invited to the UK premiere of the film in Darlington, there was only one possible response. Flight and hotel were booked before screenwriter, executive producer and male lead Billie Anthony Gaddess had chance to think it through and realise that Sandra Not In Spain might be even more of a liability than she was on her home turf and withdraw the invitation.

If you think I sound a bit excited, you'd be right, because in my almost 65 years of existence, I've never attended a film premiere of any description. To be invited to this one, which features a lot of my friends either in front of or behind the cameras was pretty special, so I took a few lessons in Geordie so I wouldn't need to take a translator, researched the finer points of stottie cake, and packed the trademark red dress. Just to make sure I was right into the groove, I binge watched Auf Weidersehen Pet and Crocodile Shoes, so I thought I was pretty well prepared when I jetted out of Alicante airport on a two day turnaround. How wrong can you be?

When I was interviewing cast members for articles and I asked for their abiding memory of their time on set, they were pretty unanimous that the best thing was Billie's home made cheesecake. As a devotee of cheesecake, I can totally identify with that, and I told Billie that unless there was a cheesecake waiting for me, I was cancelling the flight. I also said I was working on the beach body, so a low fat cheesecake would be most acceptable. Well, the chocolate and banana version we got didn't quite fit into the low fat category, but it went down well, and it was a great welcome to Darlington.

Of course, this wasn't just a jolly, there was serious stuff at stake here. This was the first public showing of The Cucaracha Club, since the world premiere in Torrevieja was by invitation and the audience was mostly made up of people who had been involved in the film in some way, so they were already a little bit biased. However, the UK premiere at the Darlington Arts Festival was open to the general public as well as invited guests, so it was important to get it right. As the official - if unpaid - publicist for the film,  I was keen to find out how I could play my part.

That's when I found out why I'd really been invited. Billie tasked me with looking after Robbie Gallagher, who was flying in from Ireland. For 'Looking after' read 'Make sure that mad Irish man behaves himself.' Robbie might have a non-speaking role in the film as the assassin, but basically, you never know what's coming next, as you'll already know if you caught my recent interview with him. When Robbie wanted a quick drink before the premiere - and let's face it, he deserved one after travelling all that way - I found a nice local pub that did a good pint of Guinness. However, an Irish 'quick drink' involves more than one drink, and it's not quick in the accepted sense, so by the time we were on our second one - well, as his minder, I had to keep him company - we had Billie on the phone panicking and wondering where we were. Even though it was still 15 minutes short of the agreed meeting time. Billie has a tendency to get excited, but on premiere night he was on elastic.

It was a 5 minute walk to the venue, but Robbie decided we'd take a taxi so he had time to finish his Guinness and have a cigarette, and the lovely lady behind the bar assured us the taxi would be with us immediately. Obviously Darlington is in a different time zone to the rest of the UK, because 'immediately' was around 15 minutes later, and when the taxi finally dropped us off at the entrance, our phones were playing a symphony as Billie tried to find out what had happened to his friendly neighbourhood assassin. They have one of those push button things on the door to let you in, but nobody was answering, so Robbie decided we'd find another way in. The first open door he found went through the kitchen, and the legendary Irish charm failed to work on the lady in charge, who barred our way and sent us back to the other door.

This time we were admitted immediately, and if I'd had a real job, I'd have got the sack there and then judging by the look on Billie's face. However, he realised the need for keeping Robbie reined in, and nobody else was brave enough or daft enough to try, so I got away with it. We got through the film okay, and it was very well received, with people laughing in the right places, gasping at the shocking bits and generally getting into the film. It wasn't just polite applause at the end either - most of the audience were on their feet showing their appreciation.

I'd just started to relax and enjoy myself when the question and answer session started, and I was thinking I could get used to this. One by one the cast members were called out, and spoke about their experiences on set, and the audience were taking it all in. One of the unique things about The Cucaracha Club is that many of the actors are not professionals, they have day jobs like running garages, bars  and computer companies and driving trains,  It was all looking good - and then they called Robbie up.

He managed about four words before unleashing the first of several expletives that loosely rhyme with And that was when the real fun started. Billie came close to a heart attack and tried to look invisible - which isn't easy for him - but the rest of the cast, and the audience, were in fits of laughter.  They'd already taken the film to their hearts, and thanks to Robbie, everyone relaxed and it was more like a big happy family party than a film premiere. Not that I've got anything to compare it with, but I bet nobody ever enjoyed themselves more than we did as we left the auditorium and formed a disorderly queue at the bar.

One of the perks of being an extrovert Irish actor is that people fall over themselves to buy you drinks and hear your jokes. And one of the perks of being a minder to an extrovert Irish actor is that I got included in the round as well. However, I don't think my liver was as grateful as I was for the industrial quantities of wine that came my way. Clearly some of the cast don't get the concept of the paparazzi photo call, judging by some of the expressions on Clive Gray's face. But then again, he was having a family reunion, as his son and brother had surprised him by showing up for the premiere.

All too soon it was time to leave, which didn't go down too well with Robbie. There was a bit of a cultural clash as he assured us that in Ireland, nobody gets going until after midnight, and if they go back home before 7.30 am, it's been a quiet night.  As the smiles started to slide from the faces of the weary bar staff, Billie took charge and ushered the big man out to one of the waiting cars, with the help of a few of the the film's heavies. Thankfully my duties were now over, and I could retire to the sanctity and relative sanity of my hotel room and relive a truly magical night. Billie, Clive, Yvonne Graham, Denis - you were brilliant, in the film and on the night. And Robbie I'll happily reprise my role as minder at the premiere of The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil. That's if I still have a job, of course. I hope so, because I could get used to this premiere lark.

Read more about The Cucaracha Club and life in Spain at Sandra In

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Film review: The Cucaracha Club
Friday, May 5, 2017

The Cucaracha Club - a spy thriller filmed in and around Torrevieja on Spain's Costa Blanca - is finally hitting the cinemas after being awarded a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The UK premiere is in Darlington on 15 May 2017, and the first cinema showing is in Torrevieja three days later on May 18. Distributors in America, England and Ireland are also showing interest based on the trailer alone, so this low budget, independent film is set to make a big impact.

The plot line is pretty standard - a gang of international crooks are kidnapping the children of ambassadors across Europe and demanding big ransoms for their return. However, when twins Georgina and Jordi are kidnapped and their nanny is murdered, there are the makings of an international incident - and not just because their father is an ambassador. Events of almost 20 years ago mean the CIA, MI6 and various other organisations and individuals are interested in how it all pans out. The Cucaracha Club is the first in a trilogy of films, and while there is a stand alone plot line for each one, the audience will learn more about the events that led to the leading male and female characters - George Ramshaw and Elana Neumann - being in Torrevieja in the here and now. That means there are a few question marks for the audience, but it doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the film.

The action opens with a flash back to Havana, Cuba 19 years before, and a tragedy that affects everyone involved very deeply. Fast forward to the present day, and it's immediately obvious that George (Billie Anthony Gaddess) and Smoggy (Clive R. Gray) still carry the scars. Now retired from the special services and doing their best to drink Torrevieja dry without a supporting cast, these not-so-special agents are recalled to active service, along with the new generation of spies and Careen (Julie Kay) who has swapped state secrets for the secrets of the bedroom in her new life as owner of a pole dancing club and brothel. 

George and Smoggy are members of The Cucaracha Club, a group of troubleshooting spies sent in to sort out tricky situations, and so-called because they are seemingly indestructable. Nobody knows about their existence, so if the operation goes pear-shaped, MI6 and the CIA can exercise 'plausible deniability.' The subtext is that they're also expendable, and it soon becomes clear that MI6 big cheese Cameron Carrington (Tom Watt) would be quite happy to see George and Co. erased in the line of duty.

There is no glass ceiling in The Cucaracha Club - the lasses get as much of the action as the lads. You can't imagine James Bond letting the girls take the lead, but it's clear George sets great store by the abilities and judgement of Paddy (Caoimhe O'Shea) and Charly (Charlotte Howarth).  For reasons that become clear during the action, he's not so sure about Elana, despite their previous personal and professional partnership.

The initial kidnap operation is slick, professional  and cinematically satisfying, thanks to director Rai Woods's great eye for visuals, and one has to wonder how on earth George and Smoggy and their team can get the better of them. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that these disparate spies really are a club, and it's teamwork and trust - and a little help from their friends - that wins through.

This spy thriller is different from most, because there are no special effects or gimmicky gadgets, and no bedroom olympics and bloodbaths. It's an old fashioned film in the nicest way, because it tells the story through the cameras and the dialogue. You don't feel like you're watching the action through the window of a speeding train, you can hear what the actors are saying, and you can see what they are doing. There are hints of Hitchcock in the clean, crisp cinematography and the attention to detail in the framing of shots. The production crew make the most of the spectacular scenery around Torrevieja, particularly in the beach scenes, Elana's ride in the Trans Am Firebird and the climax of the action at Torrevieja's stunning marina and waterfront. That's something you're not likely to see in a James Bond film either. Eon Productions were refused permission to film some of Bond's exploits in the marina, but Siesta Productions had no problems securing the location, with a Spanish Navy submarine thrown in for good measure.

That said, any film is only as good as the storyline and the cast, and here again The Cucaracha Club ticks the right boxes, which is surprising since only Billie, Tom Watt, Robbie Gallagher (Assassin Harry Palmer Kilkoyne) and Dennis Baer (CIA Director Pard) are professional actors. Caoimhe O'Shea runs a bar - The Bog Road, which is featured in the film - Yvonne Haughton (Elana) owns a garage and Clive Gray is more at home behind a computer desk than in front of the cameras. You'd never know from their performances on screen though.

Caoimhe is a natural as Paddy, with just the right combination of toughness and Irish humour to make her a credible yet decorative spy. Yvonne delivers a strong performance as Elana, and you almost - but not quite - feel sorry for the villain when she finally catches up with him. Yvonne actually came up with the final line of the film, and it doesn't give anything away to repeat it here. Hoever, it's better still when seen on screen. She holds a mirror out to check for breath, before using the same mirror to tidy her hair after the scuffle and deliver the immortal line:

That's how I like my men. Just like my drinks - stiff and cold.

Some of the cast have appeared in amateur dramatic productions before, so they're not complete novices, but it's very different performing to camera, since the actors are supposed to be in natural situations rather than performing for an audience. Thigh slappers not required on set!

One section that really highlights the calibre of acting comes early on, when George and Smoggy are drowning their sorrows ahead of being recalled to active service. It's not easy being a convincing drunk when you're drinking ginger ale rather than whisky at 10.00 am, so the scene can be in the can before the bar opens for real. However, watch Billie's facial movements, and observe how Clive has to strive to enunciate the simple words 'active service,' and you're witnessing film acting at its best. No shouting, posturing or twisted facial expressions, just crisp dialogue delivered in the best way to suit the mood of the scene. Most of the performances are good or even very good, verging on excellent. Even Robbie Gallagher's non-speaking role as the assassin has a crisp, professional look about it, so it was good to learn when I interviewed him recently that he has a meatier role in The Cucaracha Club: The Route of All Evil.

There are occasions when the acting goes a little over the top, but that can happen in any film. Mark Lord's ambassador relies rather too much on facial expressions, and occasionally Carrington's PA - played by Karen Love - relies more on body language rather than dialogue to deliver her lines, losing the natural effect in the process, but these are minor criticisms really. The whole cast pull together to create a very watchable film, and for many of them it's a first appearance in front of the cameras.Another surprising thing about The Cucaracha Club is that it has original music, written by musician Peter Taylor, who lives in Los Montesinos, just a few minutes' drive from Torrevieja. He wrote three songs, including the theme tune, after reading the screenplay, and it's clear from his lyrics that he doesn't see espionage - or expat life - as necessarily glamorous. In fact, he feels the main characters are sad and lost, and just as much in need of help as the kidnapped twins, who, by the way, are feisty and fearless, just like their mother. This is the abiding impression I got, and it's what Billie, Clive and Rai intended to come across. That, more than anything, is what lifts this film out of the 'run of the mill spy caper' category. You can identify with the main characters, and you want them to succeed, and have a better, happier life once the cameras stop rolling.

The Cucaracha Club is not likely to win any major awards, but that's not what the production crew set out to achieve. This is no cinematographic ego trip - the film was born out of a genuine desire to create a quality product that will touch a wide, international audience and showcase the talent and the quality of life that is available in and around Torrevieja for all to appreciate. Beautifully filmed, consumately acted, and exciting, moving and entertaining in equal measure, The Cucaracha Club is one of those films you'll be glad you've seen, and will want to watch again, just in case you missed anything good the first time. I can't wait for the next episode in the saga. And I've changed my mind. Not-so-special agents? The Cucaracha Club spies are very special indeed!

Photo credits: All images reproduced with the kind permission of Siesta Productions Ltd.

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