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Spanish Eyes, English Words

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

The Cucaracha Club: Peter Taylor puts the music in the film
18 February 2017

As regular readers will know, Torrevieja-made film The Cucaracha Club was filmed on a tight budget of just €23,000. So I was astounded to discover that local musician and songwriter Peter Taylor from Los Montesinos had written not just one but three original songs for the film. If you want to find another low budget film with mostly unknown actors that also had original music, you need to go back to MASH in 1970 I think, although I'm sure if I'm wrong someone will correct me!

Recently I caught up with Peter and Chloe Leigh, who sings the theme tune for the film. I'm not easily impressed, but I have to say I was blown away by the sheer enthusiasm for their music that these two share, and it underlined for me just how much talent we have locally, and how genereous people have been with their time to ensure that the first feature film ever made in Torrevieja was successfully completed.

I chatted with Chloe first, after her salsa class at Casa Ventura, and she explained how she came to be involved with the film. Screenwriter Billie Anthony Gaddess found her on Facebook, and thought she'd make a good actress for the film, as she was dressed in a burlesque-style costume in one of her photos. Assuming she was a model, he contacted her. As he didn't actually know her at this point, he assured her  her he was on the level and not some kind of pervert! Billie arranged to meet up at one of her local gigs. When he heard Chloe sing, he turned to his friend Peter - who had gone along for the ride - and said 'You have got to write a song for this girl.'

The Cucaracha Club theme song  is, as Peter says:

A song of hope. Before I wrote a note, I read the script, and saw The Cucaracha Club as a place to share your troubles. This comes through in the lyrics and the music video. I didn't want dark lyrics, because there is always hope.

This came across to me, both in the lyrics and the film. Although the title of the film refers to a group of indestructables in the intelligence service, the people in the film, while ostensibly living the expat dream, actually have nightmarish lives, and this paradox is captured beautifully in Peter's song.  That's what Chloe took from the lyrics too. It's so appropriate, I assumed he must be used to writing theme tunes, but no, this is his first film theme, although the title song for The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil is already written.

Chloe is looking forward to giving It's So Evil her own special treatment. It's a rock song, which is more in her line, although being such a versatile singer, she makes everything sound fabulous. Peter also wrote two more songs for The Cucaracha Club - Give it Wingssung by Verity Jo Spencer Hall, and Don't Block Out the Light, stunningly rendered by Stevie Spit. As yet there is no music video for this song, but watch this space!

Give it Wings plays as leading lady Elana Neumann drives her Pontiac Trans Am Firebird along the N332. It's one of the most memorable moments of the film, watching the Firebird speed through the beautiful countryside, as Elana's emotions fleet across her face. There is no speech, other than the lyrics overlaying the journey - lyrics about feeling all alone in the world, feeling there's no love for you, but being assured real love is there, and the best way to find love is to give it. That's when you realise that Elana's problems are far more deep rooted and much less recent than the kidnapping of her children. Just like the not-so-special agents who belong to the Cucaracha Club, Elana's beauty, wealth, stunning home and fast car are not enough to fill the void in her life. The song allows the viewer to learn so much more about Elana than anything she or anyone close to her can say. And like everything Peter writes, there's hope in there.

Peter has written over 100 songs in his lifelong involvement with music, but he hadn't written anything for around 12 years, until actor and fellow musician Zac Lloyd Rush introduced him to Billie and got him involved in The Cucaracha Club. In Peter's own words, he'd 'wandered away' from making music as opposed to simply playing it, but to borrow a musical analogy, he's back in the groove again. Since writing the original songs for the film, Peter has written over 20 new songs in the last three years, so you could say his involvement with the film has given Peter's creativity wings again! It's certainly got the creative juices flowing, because he's also written a play with music, so we're set to hear a lot more from Peter Taylor.

I asked Peter if he could pick out a defining memory or moment from his time working on The Cucaracha Club, and he had no hesitation. Peter was tuning up to play for a wrap party for an AdHoc Players production, which was also a fund raiser for The Cucaracha Club.  Along with fellow members of The Fantastic Replays Zac and Simon Giddens, they did a run through of the theme tune of the film to check everything was okay. Billie stood there watching, and the emotion filled his face and trickled down his cheeks. It was all Peter could do to keep it together, at the time, and now, around two years on from that moment, it still resonates with both of them.

For Billie, it was the first time he'd actually stood and listened to the song all the way through, without being involved on set or in the studio. He had time to actually listen to the words of the song, and let the music flow through him. It was when he finally realised the magnitude of what he and all the talented people he'd brought together to work on the project had accomplished. The dream had come true, and despite the doubters and the setbacks along the way, The Cucaracha Club was finally real.

Music can do many things, and Peter Taylor can certainly make it sing and speak. If you are lucky enough to see The Cucaracha Club sometime soon, pay special attention to the music. It adds so many extra layers to the story line, and helps you to know what makes the characters tick. The Cucaracha Club is remarkable on so many levels.

Thanks to Billie Anthony Gaddess and Chloe Leigh for granting permission to use these photos.

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

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Orangegate: How Sandra in Spain deals with plagiarists
10 February 2017

Have you noticed every 20 years or so there's a major scandal? In the 1970s it was Watergate and Richard Nixon, in the 1990s it was Squidgygate and the Princess of Wales, and now, barely into 2017 I give you - Orangegate and Sandra in Spain. Okay, the implications are not so wide ranging, and the players are not so well known, but it's a scandal, and everyone in the writing world has been affected by it at some time or other.

Since the arrival of the Internet, it's much easier to get published, but it's also much easier for unscrupulous websites to trawl around blogs and magazines and publish stuff without paying the original authors. Around two years ago, I agreed to write a regular Around Algorfa column for All Abroad magazine, without payment, as a favour to a friend and to help publicise events in my home village. Now a new company - Gran Net, based in Gran Alacant  - owns the magazine, and they have chosen to publish my article, without my permission, without my name on it, and without a back link to my website.

However, the implications are much wider than mere plagiarism here. The article mentions my dog Paddy by name, and walking in the orange groves. Now not only has Paddy got to cope with Mummy's name change - according to the All Abroad website, the author is now Webmaster, not Sandra in Spain - he's also a displaced person, moved to Gran Alacant, where as far as I know, there are no orange groves. Not only is Paddy robbed of his bunny chasing activities and the wide choice of trees to decorate, it's a long walk from Gran Alacant back to Algorfa, so at a stroke his young life has been turned upside down.

On a more serious note, it takes a while to craft an article worthy of publication - which this obviously is, since it's featured on the All Abroad front page. Then there's the matter of images and copyright, which rests with the author unless otherwise agreed. The new website is pretty flashy, but I get the idea that all the chairs aren't safely under the table at All Abroad HQ, since a lot of people - including myself - have commented that the author should be credited for the article, yet the silence from them is deafening, and there has been no response to me emails to the head honcho.

To paraphrase Ali G, I have to wonder 'Is it because I's a woman?' because a fellow - male - writer only had to rattle his sabre a little bit. Immediately his article - also used without permission and back link, although at least his name was on it - was removed and an apology of sorts was made. Personally I think they're not sorry that they ripped off quality content without paying for it - they're just sorry they were caught doing it.

Ah well, that's got that out of my system. I shall be keeping an eye on the website to make sure no other material of mine appears. I'm a respected, professional writer, and I'm not used to dealing with the kind of amateurs who would do such a thing and imagine they can get away with it. If Orangegate acts as some sort of lesson to the people involved at All Abroad, at least some good has come out of it, but I'm not holding my breath.

Update: My article was taken down 48 hours after I originally contacted the website. However, there has been no attempt at apology, privately or publicly. Like I said - amateurs, and dishonest amateurs who refuse to take responsibility for their actions at that.

Read more at Sandra in

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Unbelievable! Paddy is 3 years old!
23 January 2017

Paddy has been a constant source of love and laughter, tears and frustration ever since he erupted into our lives on March 17, 2014.  Because he was abandoned as a puppy by the canal at La Marina - for which read probably thrown in - we don't really know when he was born. However, for the purposes of the Pet Passport, our lovely vet Madeleine fixed his birthday as 15 January.

I have to say Paddy is the happiest dog I've ever come across. He's also the  bounciest and the most boisterous dog I've ever come across, and he has a real sense of occasion. Obviously, he doesn't know what a birthday is, but he does know when something is different. When we let him into our bedroom for his usual morning cuddle yesterday, we sang 'Happy Birthday' to him, and his tail did a very good impression of a helicoptor rotor. It was so good, I thought he was about to take off, so I held him down firmly but gently. Once he'd calmed down, I asked if he wanted his birthday presents - cue bouncing off the walls again. Bit of an over reaction for a string ball and a squeaky bulldog, but hey, the boy has good manners, and he knows how to show appreciation.

The highlight of the day was a carefully guarded secret. My friend Ian has been saying for a while that I should bring Paddy to the new doggy play park in Guardamar. Life has got in the way, but we decided his birthday was an ideal opportunity to introduce Paddy to the delights of the doggy park - and Ricca, Ian's 15 month old German Shepherd cross. As Gizmo is still here bossing Paddy around, he came along too, with Glenys.  If you're not sure where it is, it's along Avenida Cevantes, near the China Town restaurant. Look for the distinctive green and white mosaic tiled walls with holes in them, and walk along until you see the fenced off area.

Paddy had great fun climbing in and out of the holes in the wall on the way, even though they are not part of the doggy park. He's like a big kid really - has to walk on walls, climb steps, look over gates and fences and investigate holes. By the time we got to the entrance to the dog park, he was very excited and very vocal, and one or two nervous owners gathered up their precious bundles of fur. However, all Paddy wanted to do was play, and thankfully most of those exercising their dogs realised that. He bounded up to Ricca and they introduced themselves, while Gizmo followed at a much more sedate pace, as befits a senior dog of three and a half years of age.

Clearly, it was love at first sight - at least for Ricca, who kept stealing kisses from Paddy. However, she insisted on 'Ladies First' when it came to chasing the balls and sticks that Ian kept throwing. If Paddy got a head start, she just refused to play! For over an hour, they had a great time, although they were rather dubious about the tunnel, venturing part way in and then backing out again. Gizmo was less than impressed with the see-saw. He ambled up it quite happily, but jumped off the moment it started sawing instead of seeing! Maybe next time they'll appreciate the toys and activities the Ayuntamiento of Guardamar has so thoughtfully provided for their enjoyment.

In case your dog is nervous or aggressive, and you've decided the dog park isn't for you, you'll be pleased to hear that there is a section where timid and aggressive dogs can exercise on their own, without entering the main arena. There's water on tap, and there's even a pee post so dogs don't sully the sand. Unfortunately, as even the most intelligent dogs can't read, it's not used as much as it could be!

The day's treats were not over though - when we got home, Aunty June brought down a lamb steak for Paddy's birthday tea. After such a terrible start to his life, it's just one big party now for Paddy Piddock!

Read more of Paddy's adventures at Sandra in

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Hot off the press: The Red Knickers Report 2016
10 January 2017

Hola everyone, and welcome to 2017. It's time for the annual Red Knickers Report, which is my way of reviewing the year. It's a well established custom now, in fact Dave Allen of Algorfa calls it 'notorious.' Notorious is good but not always suitable for those of a nervous disposition, so if you haven't already sampled the Red Knickers Reports, you may want to catch up on 2015 and 2014 to see what you're letting yourself in for.

Looking back on 2015's report, I haven't done everything I wanted to, but I have achieved stuff I hadn't even thought about this time last year. The Around Algorfa website is still just a domain name, and the book isn't finished yet, but I don't see that as failures on my part - it's just not the right time for them or for me. It's been another very busy year on the professional front, and I've had to prioritise. My main priorities always have been and always will be to entertain, inform and help and support the people who need it with my writing - what I earn from it is a pleasant bonus, but not the motivation behind what I do.

I'm also very keen to help other writers realise their potential,  so I've done a lot more work with and my good friend and fellow writer Spike Wyatt. It can be a bit frustrating when you see people use 50 words when 10 will say it so much better, and some people just can't take a telling, but when just one novice writer takes on board what you're trying to say, and goes on to grow and earn from their writing, it makes it all worthwhile. Thank you Spike, for trusting me enough to ramp up my editing role to take in assessment and advice to our writers. Here's to another great year working together.

I'm proud to have helped publicise lots of initatives in and around Algorfa, whether it's new businesses such as KD Designs or raising awareness of local charities and their work. I've met some truly inspirational people too, such as Karen of KD Designs. Soon after moving to Spain in October 2015, she lost her partner, and it looked like the dream of life in Spain was over, but within a few short months, she was back, running her own jewellery business from a retail base in Algorfa. As we go into 2017, she's moving into party plan and mail order, and she has a new home and a new partner. Seeing her pick herself up from tragedy and start all over again has been one of the highlights of 2016. She's also become a good friend, even if she does lead me astray now and again!

Talking of inspirational people, the production crew behind The Cucaracha Club have to be way up there. If you don't already know - and if you're a regular reader, you certainly do - that's the independently produced spy thriller, filmed entirely in and around Torrevieja. Billie Anthony Gaddess wrote it, and recruited Tom Watt to star in it. Then when the original film crew pulled out 5 weeks before filming was scheduled to start, Clive Gray set up a production company and Rai Woods agreed to direct it - even though it was a first for all of them. Against all the odds, and on a budget of just €23,000, the film saw its world premiere in March 2016 and now has the British Board of Film Classification Certificate that allows it to be shown on general release. The Cucaracha Club 2 is already written and scheduled to go into production in October 2017, and I'm proud to call Billie, Rai, Clive and many of the actors involved in the film good friends.

I didn't become involved in the film until the post production stages, after meeting Rai for the first time in February 2016, and I was in Portugal at the time of the premiere, but in the last few months I've been involved in promoting the film, and I'm looking forward to being in from the start on TCC2. I've even been told there may be a part in it for me. Having chatted to Tom Watt for publicity interviews, I'm secretly hoping I may  feature as his love interest, but hey, I'll take what I can get - a film star at the age of 65 looks pretty good from where I'm standing.

I've also become a Page 3 girl in 2016. No, not that sort of Page 3 girl - my birthday suit needs a good ironing, and I don't want to frighten the natives. However, I was very pleased to see one of my articles featured on Page 3 of the Coastrider newspaper in December, and it looks like I may be writing regularly for the paper in 2017, so that will be more exposure for my writing, and new friends and professional contacts to be made.

2016 has been a year of firsts for me too. I went to my first-ever pool party, and managed two during the summer. I also attended my first psychic development workshop, with Quirky Medium Alison Wynne-Ryder. It was interesting and empowering, so I'm looking to expand on that in 2017. And for the first time in my 64 years, I got to own an original painting. Rai Woods introduced me to local artist Jim Barry back in May. Jim and his wife Jan Cave Barry made fascinating interviewees for my 'No Ordinary Expats' series for Insiders Abroad, and they have since become good friends. So when Tony asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I knew straight away. Jim's fabulous painting of the palm trees at La Mata now has pride of place in Piddock Place, along with a couple of prints from Jim's 'Gaslight' series of paintings of Victorian London.

Another highlight of 2016 was finally meeting my website designer Elle Draper, who runs the successful Spain website with her partner Alan Gandy. We caught up with Alan and Elle in Albox on our way to Portugal, and again when they moved to Velez-Blanco. The subsequent blog post caught the attention of the town's Deputy Mayor, and he's invited me back for a guided tour, so that's something to look forward to in 2017. I love it when people appreciate what I write, and it means more wine sharing with Alan and Elle, and cuddles with their three gorgeous dogs.

On the personal front, we finally made it to Portugal with our friends June and Larry, and we had a fabulous time. Definitely a place to revisit in the future. We continued to make good use of the motor home, and discover new areas of Spain and make new friends. I've also become group secretary for the Motorcaravanners' Club Spanish group, so I'm involved in the organisation as well as the enjoyment. Looking forward to new adventures with them in 2017.

Health wise, it's been a pretty good year, even though I was floored for the first month of 2016 with a vicious chest infection. Spain continues to be my healthy, happy home. Thanks to Paddy's ever-increasing need for exercise, I'm starting 2017 at least one dress size smaller too.

My family has grown too, with the birth of Oliver in January, just 14 months after his brother Harrison. September saw Oliver's christening and Adam and Helen's renewal of their wedding vows after 10 happy years together. We all spent a weekend celebrating at the Harlyn Inn, Cornwall, catching up with family and friends, some of whom we hadn't seen for ages.

The first Red Knickers Report came about after my daughter Elizabeth suffered a horrific stroke which almost killed her in 2013, when we also lost a dear friend and Tony was diagnosed with additional health problems. Elizabeth is living life as best she can, but she still gets very fatigued, her moods are all over the place, and her appetite centre is shot to pieces. She never feels full, and never feels hungry. The all you can eat buffet places in Plymouth double up on the catering when they see her approaching, and on her birthday, her son Daniel insisted they left after her sixth plate of food! She asked her consultant how long these minor but irritating side effects were likely to last, and he said he didn't know, because he had never seen anybody make such a full recovery from a brain stem stroke, so it was uncharted territory for him. Yet another reminder, were it needed, of how lucky we are that Elizabeth is still with us, and in relatively good health, considering what she's been through.

So, all in all, 2016 hasn't been too bad, but there's always room for improvement. Let's hope my new red knickers work their magic in 2017. According to Spanish tradition, they have to be new to be lucky. Thanks for all your support in the past, and please stay with me for more of the same this year.

Keep up with me - and my red knickers - at Sandra in

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The Cucaracha Club: The view from behind the cameras
23 December 2016

If you've been paying attention to the posts about The Cucaracha Club - Torrevieja's first full length feature film, using local locations, services and actors - you'll get some idea of just how remarkable the whole project is. However, when you delve deeper into the back stories, you come to realise that the production team have achieved the impossible and worked miracles, often in the face of adversity and sheer bloody mindedness. Or at least, that's what I came away with after chatting to director Rai Woods and Executive Producers Billie Anthony Gaddess and Clive Gray recently.

You'd think the hardest part would be getting the idea for the story line, then writing the script - especially if, like Billie, you've never written a screenplay before. He collaborated with Philip Routledge, after his first collaborator stole the script, took it to Madrid, and then tried to sell it back to Billie. Unfazed, he came up with a new plot line, and enlisted Philip's help to put the story together, rather than pay to get his own work back. So, now there's a script, all you have to do is hand it over to the production team to make it into a movie, right? Not exactly - this was what Billie tried to do in the first instance, and he even managed to persuade the team to work for free. However, just five weeks before shooting was due to start, the film crew pulled out with no real explanation, or, as Clive Gray so succinctly put it:

Our expertise just ebbed away.

For any sensible person, that would have been the end of that. Dream over. It's not meant to happen. There was no budget for the film, and nobody experienced to put behind the cameras other than Rai Woods, who had worked with the best directors in the business, including John Schlesinger and Clive Donner during more than 30 years of broadcasting in the UK, but had never directed a full length feature film before. Billie had never been on the business end of a movie camera either, and Clive had an interest in photography, but no intention of progressing into the movies. Until with five weeks to go, there was no other option but to shoot the film themselves. Fortunately for the sake of the film - and everyone who is likely to enjoy it in the future - Billie, Clive and Rai do not fit into the 'Sensible' category!

The guys may not be sensible, but they are practical, and Clive registered Siesta Productions as a UK company in readiness for the filming. Why a a UK company? Because it can be done within an hour, and then you have the paperwork that is necessary to open doors and get permission for filming in various locations. The Spanish love of bureaucracy means that setting up a company can take weeks, or even months, and the production team had just 5 weeks, and the clock was ticking.

It took another two weeks to find the  €23,ooo they needed to get the equipment they needed for filming and pay for various vital services for the production, so by the time everything was in place, Clive had just a week to 'play with the cameras' before filming started. Oh, and most of the budget came from Billie and Clive, so this was a giant leap into the unknown. However, as Clive said:

The only choice we really had was to stump up and learn as we went along. That's why all the shots were either simple or static.

That takes away from the fantastic achievement of getting their first film shot within six months. Clive's a bit of a statistician, and he reckons that it took 50 hours hours of screen footage to get 90 minutes in the can. As the average is 70 hours - even for an experienced production crew who aren't learning as they go along and aren't so restricted on budget - that's  pretty good going. Even something ostensibly simple like recording the title song can take a lot more work than the few minutes on screen would suggest. Chloe Leigh sung the song about 15 times, the shooting took around 10 hours, and it was a week later before the music video was edited and ready to roll.

But the biggest problem of all was keeping continuity flowing. The film was shot over 6 months, and in thattime, things change. Although the weather is pretty reliable here on the Costa Blanca, hedges grow and get cut, hair grows and/or gets cut, people buy new curtains or paint their doors, and swimming pools are filled and emptied. It's not something most people would think about, but you have to consider it all when you're making a movie.

Clive remembers going back to Breakaways bar in Villamartin to shoot a follow on scene, and noticing that the tables were all in different places, yet the scene was supposed to take place on the same day. Tables can be a bit naughty and rearrange themselves when nobody's looking, so Clive had to go back and look at the previous scene, then dress the set so it was identical. You can suspend belief and stretch credibility in the movies - but not to the extent that tables do a tango between scenes. Not only that, but the soup tureen and bottles and glasses had to be in the same place, and the posters in the windows had to be the same. In all, it took an hour to dress the set for just two minutes of movie time.

Rai emphasises just how demanding life on set could be for  Clive  - he was acting, he was also in charge of continuity, and he was working the cameras as well. Each of those is a pretty major job on its own, but Clive took it all in his stride - even though it often meant working from 7.00 am until 2.00 am, and then starting again. On a quiet day, he could get away with putting just 10 hours in, and he was still running three different businesses at the same time.

When Clive first agreed to work on The Cucaracha Club, he thought he'd be acting in 19 of the film's 60 scenes. He ended up being there for every one, every day for six months, either acting, working on camera, or doing both! Reviewing the film footage from the September day when the crew shot the scenes on the Delfin submarine with the temperature at 40 degrees outside and 50 inside, Clive spotted himself, squeezed into the Captain's bunk with his camera, filming Tom Watt and sweating not very prettily. As he said, it was all a case of learning as they went along. Time was tight too, because the filming was scheduled for the morning, and the Delfin was open to the public in the afternoon!

Billie faced different problems - mainly with the cast, and getting everyone in the right place at the right time for their scenes. The reason the cast was largely drawn from the Torrevieja area was because, as Clive emphasised:

The Cucaracha Club isn't just a film made in Torrevieja, it's a total Torrevieja production, using local people, places and services. It's the first film entirely produced in the area - others have followed, but Siesta Productions led the way.

For Billie, it was an ideal opportunity for local  actors to have their talent recognised and used in other productions in the area, such as the hit sitcom Benidorm. At the moment, the only way local actors get a shout is if they carry a tray or lounge by the pool, as the production company tends to bring in big names for the speaking parts.  In The Cucaracha Club, the  local talent certainly showed what they could do, but not everyone took the opportunity as seriously as they should have. Acting in a film is very different to appearing on stage, and some of the actors had to be discouraged from thigh-slapping and the sort of stuff that is okay in a pantomime but not appropriate in a spy thriller.

Then there were the ones who 'Had to be away by 12,' or had some other reason that often meant re-shooting scenes with different actors. That's not going to be a problem in The Cucaracha Club 2 - anyone who wants to appear will have to commit to being on set when they are needed. It's just one of the many things the guys have learned along the way. Now the film is in the can and ready for release, Siesta Productions and Billie, Rai and Clive are earning respect and gaining credence as film makers.

To round off the interview, I asked what was the most remarkable thing that happened during production. In a story that's full of surprises and superlatives, the answer was another shocker. When Eon Productions - who make the James Bond films - asked for permission to film in Real Club Nautico Torrevieja's marina, they were refused. However, RCNT had no problem in granting pretty much unlimited access to all areas to Siesta Productions. Why was that? Nobody associated with the film is certain, so it's just speculation, but maybe they wanted to help the new kids on the block because they admired their determination, or maybe it was because the film proudly promotes Torrevieja. Whatever the reason, Cubby Broccoli is probably spinning in his grave to think that George Ramshaw (Billie's character) got to shoot his way out of Torrevieja Marina while James Bond was turned away!

The Cucaracha Club has now been granted a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. It's scheduled for showing in Torrevieja early in 2017, and negotiations are in progress to arrange the British Premiere before the film goes on general release.

Photo credits: Clive Gray's collection, on set filming The Cucaracha Club

There's lots more about The Cucaracha Club and life in Spain at Sandra in

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Villamartin Plaza does Children in Need!
25 November 2016

Children in Need might be a British institution, but it's also very close to the heart of many expats in Spain. And at Villamartin Plaza they love raising cash for various good causes - so much so that their total for 2016 has now hit €15,000. That's pretty impressive, and it proves what I've always said, the best way to get people to part with their cash is to put on some fun-raising. In other words, give them something to enjoy, and they'll open their hearts and their wallets.

For Friday's Children in Need show,  Costa Blanca's own Stevie Spit got together 15 class acts who agreed to perform for free while Stevie compered the show and talked the audience out of their spare Euros. It was quite a marathon, running from 1.00 pm until everyone got fed up and went home, with the official presentation at 9.00 pm. Clive Gray and Rai Woods of Siesta Productions were also there, filming for possible inclusion in the BBC telethon.

When Rai asked if I'd like to go along to do a piece about the function and chat to him and Clive about Siesta Productions and the making of The Cucaracha Club, I jumped at the chance. I love to have a good time and talk to interesting people, and it was pretty clear that was on the cards on Friday. And as anyone who's ever been even slightly involved with filming will know, there's lots of hanging about time, so I knew I'd have plenty of time to collect more material for the publicity campaign for The Cucaracha Club, which is awaiting classification by the BBFC so it can be shown in public and the production team can start to see a return on their investment and build up the budget for The Cucaracha Club 2. More about that in the next couple of blog posts.

Obviously the satnav didn't share my enthusiasm for the trip, because when I put in Villamartin, it told me it would take over 5 hours to get there. Now I'm directionally challenged at the best of times - which is why I have the ironic nickname Satnav Sandra - but even I knew it shouldn't take 5 hours to get to the other side of San Miguel from Algorfa. As the route emerged, it turned out I was going somewhere near Gibraltar. They may well have had a Children in Need function there, but I was pretty certain Rai, Clive and Stevie wouldn't be waiting for me, so much as I fancied a road trip to Gibraltar, the satnav went back in its case.

So what's a girl to do? When the satnav won't play, and you haven't got a clue where you're going, the best thing to do is phone a friend, because there's no audience to ask, and to stand a chance of a winning on a 50/50, you need something to discard. I phoned Rai, expecting him to give me clear, crisp directions and calm down my frazzled nerves. He might have done, if he'd heard the phone over the music and the appreciation of the crowds. I wracked my brain to think who else to ask and decided on Alex and Bev, who are always whizzing around the Costa Blanca in various amateur dramatics productions.They happened to be in a bar in Alicante with friends, and the raucous laughter that greeted my request for directions almost drowned out Alex's instructions. They were pretty good too, because just 15 minutes later I rocked up at the plaza.

There was a raffle and tombola on the go as well as the entertainment, and each trip around the plaza with the change bucket resulted in a satisfying chink of coins. Stevie was confident we'd hit €1,500, and you couldn't really argue - the Villamartin crowd are very generous, and they were enjoying themselves, so they were quite prepared to dig deep.

I've been in the audience many times, but this was the first time I'd been working with the crew, as it were, and it gives you a totally different perspective on things, because you can't sit swilling wine because you're working and driving, and there's a lot of waiting around, so you've got plenty of time to people watch.  Rai, Clive and I found a quiet spot to chat about The Cucaracha Club once they'd worked out what they were going to film and when and where it was going to happen. Something we all noticed was that every time someone walked past, they looked hard at all of us. We worked out that because I was sitting with a notebook on my knee and asking questions, the passers by were trying to work out who I was interviewing, and where they'd seen them before. They wouldn't have got very far, because the guys are much happier behind the cameras than in front of them.

Something else that was rather funny was the way people behaved around the cameras - even when they weren't working. Some people really played to the gallery, while others were almost apologetic. I dubbed one couple 'Mr and Mrs Sorry,' because every time they came within 10 yards of the camera, they did a sort of limbo to duck under the lens, then said 'Sorry' in a very sheepish tone of voice. The thing was, they saw the green lights on the camera, and equated it to traffic lights, whereas you don't walk in front of it when the red light is working. Not unless you want a good spanking. Well, that's what Rai and Clive threatened me with, and I wasn't going to test the theory in front of all those people!

As the afternoon and evening progressed, and Stevie gave regular updates, the crowd became even more generous. At around 7.00 pm, when the total was €1,455 - just €45 short of Stevie's target, a lovely lady called Winnie came forward with a €50 note to take the pot over €1,500.

As well as being a great singer and a very funny comedian, Stevie also does a drag act, and although he was in civvies to compere the show, lots of people wanted to see him flouncing around in a frock. He said that if enough money went in the bucket, he'd do it, and the magnificent response was another €215. The money just kept pouring in.

Before the official presentation, as well as getting lots of great photos I managed to get dragged onto the dance floor several times, encased in headphones and photographed with Elvis before he left the building. All in all, a great day out which seemed way too enjoyable to count as work. The final total on the 'cheque' was €2,020, but another €200 came in after that when Declan of Jameson's bar asked for Louise 'Tiny Lou' Morgan to sing. I missed that - and Stevie in his frock - because I had an early start on Saturday to report on a Psychic Development Workshop run by the lovely Alison Wynne-Ryder. That's what I love about my job - no two days are ever the same.

As it happens, the clip wasn't shown on BBC, even though Rai and Clive dashed back to the studio to edit it and send it to London. Still, a great time was had by all  - as you can see from the photos. Lots of money was raised for a great cause, and Stevie Spit, Siesta Productions and all the artists who gave their time for free did a fantastic job. And DJ Snoopy manned the sound systems and made sure Villa Martin Plaza was a feedback free zone. Thank you all - looking forward to the next time!

There's lots more to read about life in Spain at Sandra in

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My unusual early Christmas present - a Jim Barry original!
18 November 2016

When Tony asked me what I wanted for Christmas, unlike most years, there was no doubt in my mind. Cast your mind back to late May, when I interviewed Jim Barry and his wife Jan Cave Barry for my No Ordinary Expats series for Insiders Abroad. Jim and Jan are artists who are building a great reputation for themselves, and I was so impressed with their art, I came home with a limited edition print of one of Jim's 'Gaslight' series of paintings depicting Victorian London. If you missed the article, it's here.

When Jim contacted me recently to invite Tony and I to an open weekend at Casa Barry, I graciously informed Tony that he could buy me another print - or maybe two - from the series to go with  my 'Omnibus' painting. As Jim says, 'Paintings like company - they fade on their own.' So, off we went, and we received a great Irish welcome - and a glass of wine. Jim is so laid back you wonder if he'll fall over, and before he let us loose on the paintings, we had a nice chat - and more wine - on their lovely sunny terrace. That's when 'Las Palmeras de la Mata' first caught my eye, and I began to swivel in my choice of painting.

Jim explained that they had this sort of exhibition, with a limited number of invited people, so that they could clear out some paintings and make room for new art. I wondered if it was a symbolic clearing out of the old at the end of the year, but Jim being Jim, it's more practical than that. 'It's coming up to Christmas, and it's a chance for people to sort out presents for friends and family, and maybe take something back to England or wherever they hail from. All the paintings are reduced, so they can grab a bargain as well'

I asked Jim about the history of the La Mata painting, and he told me it came from a photo he took on an early morning walk on La Mata beach, back in 2010. It  had taken around three weeks to paint, and by now, I was in love with it, and determined to take it home to Piddock Place. I'm no art critic, but I know a lovely piece of art when I see it, and the fact that Jim had only been painting in earnest for six years when he produced it makes it even more remarkable for me.

Having decided on my Christmas present, I thought I might as well get a blog post out of it, so asked Jim what he'd been working on recently. The guy is nothing if not versatile - you won't get 10 different studies of the same flower from Jim - so I wasn't really surprised that his newest work is 'The Boys are Back.' It's a vibrant painting of Thin Lizzy on stage, but like most of Jim's work, there's more to the story than what you see on canvas.

Before he came to Spain, Jim was a member of The Memories, an Irish rock band who had a Number One hit with The Game, the 1990 World Cup anthem. He was playing the circuit at the same time as Thin Lizzy, and their stage positions in the painting are how he remembers them playing in the 1970s. The amplifiers in the background are 1970s models too, as are the guitars, in which the detail has to be seen to be believed.  The painting took around five weeks to complete, and Jim is justifiably proud of it.

Jim and Jan weren't quite finished with us though - they invited us to eat out with them. I thought that was pretty special, as I had just mentioned to Jan that I ought to put a contract out on Jim so my painting would shoot up in value. However, she had an even better idea: 'Buy a few more originals, and then arrange the hit!' We spent a very entertaining and educational evening with them. For example, all these years, Tony has been referring to a certain Irish whisky as it's spelled. However, Jim pointed out the error of his ways. Apparently, it's pronounced 'Jemesons,' as in 'gem.' You live and learn, don't you?

Tony must have been feeling generous - or else he'd had one too many Jemesons - because he said I could also have another Gaslight print. I wasn't able to bring it home, as it needs to be mounted, but 'Las Palmeras de la Mata' is safely installed in its new home, and it looks stunning. If you're searching for that special Christmas gift, or if you just want to brighten up your home and treat yourself to something wonderful, check out Jim's catalogue here, then message him to arrange a viewing. Jan's style is totally different, but equally easy on the eye. She's a former dancer, and her ballet studies are stunning. Between Jim's and Jan's work, you're sure to find something really special, whatever your taste in art. Say hello from me while you're there!

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The cars are the stars in 'The Cucaracha Club!'
11 November 2016

The first thing that strikes you about The Cucaracha Club is the stunning locations, beautiful houses and flash cars. Given that a submarine and jet skis feature in the film too, along with well dressed, beautiful women, you'd think this was a high budget spy thriller, because the cinematography is so good, they must have lined up a top class production team.

Well, you'd be wrong in that assumption. Director Rai Woods and producers Billie Anthony Gaddess and Clive Gray had never produced a feature film before, and most of the film's €23,000 budget went on camera equipment. Yes, you read that right - a classy spy thriller with great locations and all the rest of it is in the can for just €23,000. Everyone gave their services free for the love of making Torrevieja's first full length feature film, and the high end props which every self-respecting spy thriller needs were generously loaned by their owners, again with no reward other than seeing their prized possessions on the big screen.

There are three stunning cars in the film - a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and two Ford Mustangs which are slightly newer than the Trans Am, being registered in 2005 and 2006. All three cars are owned by the Haughtons of Venture Fleet garage, Los Montesinos. David and Yvonne - who stars in The Cucaracha Club as Elana Neumann - own the Trans Am and the black 2005 Mustang, while David's father, David Senior is the proud owner of the red Mustang.

The value of the three cars is around €75,000. For the mathematically challenged, that's more than three times the entire production budget of The Cucaracha Club! So, why did the two Davids and Yvonne entrust their valuable 'children' to the makers of the movie? Well, it's a family thing really. The Haughtons know Rai, Billie and Clive through the Adhoc Players and Siesta Productions, and Yvonne - a consummate actress with great comedy timing - has starred in several productions. The connection goes back some years to when Yvonne was working in a bank and Billie - one of the bank's customers - told her she'd be perfect to play Helga in Adhoc's production of 'Allo, 'Allo.

David and Yvonne have owned the Trans Am for around 4 years now. It was a dream car for David, who has been in love with the car since seeing Smokey and the Bandit 2 back when he was a boy in the 80s. That was a black Trans Am, and theirs is a white one. Once they acquired it, David said 'Just call me Burt Reynolds from now on,' but his joy was short lived. Within an hour of acquiring his dream car, the nightmare began when the cylinder head cracked! Burt Reynolds never had that trouble, but then that wasn't real life. The Trans Am had to be pretty much rebuilt from scratch before it was roadworthy and ready for its film debut.

David worked around the clock to get the car ready for filming, often working on it until well gone midnight after a busy day at Venture Fleet.  It was actually complete just hours before it was due outside the villa for its first scene. When he first saw the car on screen, in the iconic scene where Elana drives towards Guardamar de Segura against a stunning backdrop, with Verity Jo Spencer Hall's Give it Wings playing in the background, he burst into tears. It was such a highly charged experience, after sinking his soul into restoring the car. The fact that the song was especially written for the scene by Peter Taylor of Los Montesinos only added to the emotion of the moment. Not many cars can claim to having a song written for them, but David and Yvonne's Trans Am can!

Because David is such a big fan of the Smokey and the Bandit films, he decided to call the car Bandit, after his hero Burt Reynolds. Recently someone who'd been at the March 2016 world premiere of The Cucaracha Club recognised the Trans Am at a classic car show, so this particular car really is a star! The Burt Reynolds connection doesn't end there though, because David and Yvonne's Rottweiler is also called Bandit, after the car and the films.

Like many husbands, David jokes about Yvonne's driving. When I asked how many miles per gallon the Trans Am managed on its V8 engine, he replied, 'The way Yvonne drives, around 5 mpg!' However, unlike many husbands, Yvonne has the perfect comeback. 'Well, if your kids had been kidnapped like Elana's you'd give it full throttle too!'

So, although it was troublesome when they first acquired it, the Trans Am behaved perfectly on camera. The same cannot be said for the black Mustang, however. Like most valuable cars, it's fitted with an immobiliser. However, this one isn't as straightforward as most. When Yvonne tried to drive it to the location for a shoot, she couldn't get it going, because there's a knack to it, which only David seems to know.

It's almost a ritual, sort of hop 3 times, jump to the left, salute the sun and away you go. It would never make a getaway car!

The Haughtons have invested a lot of themselves in The Cucaracha Club. Yvonne is the leading lady, and David supplied and looked after the cars. Would they do it again? Oh yes! The Cucaracha Club 2 is already in pre production planning, with shooting scheduled to start in October 2017.  And Yvonne - and the star cars - will again take leading roles.

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Velez-Blanco: The jewel in the crown of the Sierra Maria
04 November 2016

One of the many good things about owning a medium sized motor home as opposed to the equivalent of a small country is that it can take you to all sorts of lovely places. And if you can't find a camp site as a base to explore the area, you can just park up somewhere where you won't disturb anyone and sample the local delights, which is what we did when we visited Velez-Blanco recently.

We were catching up with our friends Alan and Elle, who recently moved to Velez-Blanco, and as soon as we drove into this beautiful Andalucian 'white village,' we knew what they meant when they said it was a place they wanted to live. If we weren't so happy in our own lovely pueblo in Algorfa,  I'd probably be in the middle of packing up, rather than writing this. It's not only beautiful, it's welcoming too. Everyone speaks to you, and on the Sunday afternoon when we arrived, all the tables on the terrace of the Bar Sociedad (social centre) were filled with locals and visitors enjoying the late October sunshine.

Velez-Blanco has a number of fuentes - or fountains - which carry the clear spring waters of the Segura from the Sierra Maria Los-Velez, and as we drove in, we saw one of the locals struggling up the hill with 4 8 litre containers of spring water. I had to try this for myself, and I did - from the most famous and beautiful of the fuentes the 18th century Fuente de la Novia (Fountain of the Girlfriend). There's water, and then there's Velez-Blanco water, and that's something really special. If I'd have had some empty containers with me, I'd have brought some home. Must remember for next time.

There are more water spouts in the plaza, at the less beautiful but still functional Canos de la Plaza. If you want to sit and watch the water flow - which I can't because it makes me want to go and get my own water flowing - there are some unusual benches next to the spouts. Elle told us that the shapes at the ends of the benches represented figures found in the cave paintings in the Cueva de los Letreros (Cave of the Inscriptions) in nearby Velez Rubio. There's Indalo Man, who has been hijacked as the symbol of Mojacar, and is now also used as a symbol of Almeria. He's a hunter-gatherer, and is meant to bring good luck, and there are numerous representations in the souvenir shops in the area, often painted in rainbow colours. El Brujo, or El Brujito, as he's sometimes called, is a more menacing figure, looking rather like a goat or a devil, with horns. He carries two sickles and holds a heart aloft. El Brujo is the shaman or sorcerer, and he's supposed to protect from evil spirits. It's strange but somehow fitting to see these two prehistoric creatures represented on something as mundane as a bench in a Spanish square. Then again, Velez-Blanco is  quirky as well as beautiful.

Dominating the village is the 16th century Castle of the Marques de Los Velez, which is built on the rocks on the site of the Arab Alcazar. It's a source of wonder to many first time visitors, and Alan told us about an American friend who, like us, was really taken with the village. Every time he saw something new, he exclaimed over it, and always added the rider '...And it's got a castle!'

We didn't get to see the inside of the Castle, as it closes on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the views over the surrounding campo are stunning, so there are some great photo opportunities. The castle looks out across La Muela, a plateau in the Sierra Maria mountains which can be seen from Velez-Blanco. La Muela means 'the molar,' and when you see the shape of the plateau, it does look something like an adult molar tooth.

And there's another American connection - the marble interior of the palace, known as  the 'Patio del Honor' - is now in the Metropolitan Museum New York, having been sold to its President George Blumenthal by Parisian art dealer J Goldberg, who moved the marble from Velez-Blanco to France in 1904. Blumenthal installed the Patio in his town house on Park Avenue, and when it was demolished after his death, the Patio and other art works were exhibited in the museum, where they can still be seen today. Plans are in hand to reproduce the Patio in marble from the same local quarry that supplied the materials for the original Patio.

Velez-Blanco is well supplied with shops, banks, bars and restaurants, so it's an ideal place to spend a holiday or put down more permanent roots. And although it's out in the campo, it's just a few minutes' drive from the A92N motorway, and thence the rest of Spain, so it's an ideal touring base. Unfortunately, the town's only camp site in the hills between Velez-Blanco and Velez Rubio is now deserted, but there are several accommodation options available at reasonable prices. If you're down Almeria way, why not pop into Velez-Blanco and let this lovely white village wrap you in it's welcoming arms? Say hello from me while you're there!

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I finally found my duende!
14 October 2016

Did you miss me while I was away? I've been in England for 10 weeks, and on this trip, I think I finally got what people mean when they speak of ' el duende.' Loosely, duende is something undefined that comes from inside. It's an emotional response, often to music such as flamenco, art, or expressive writing. It's also something that's identified with Spain, since it refers to a mythological earth spirit, something like an elf or goblin.

If you're searching for a concrete meaning for duende, good luck with that. Linguists believe it is the most difficult word to translate literally, although it's usually translated as 'elf' or 'magic' in dictionary listings.

In a famous 1933 lecture, Spanish poet and theatre director Federico Garcia Lorca probably came closer than anyone before or since to defining the indefinable. He described duende as:

"A power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought... It is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation."

Why do I think I've found my duende after 8 years in Spain? Regular readers will know that for some years now I've believed I am a Secret Senora, born in the wrong country. Almost as soon as we moved into our casa, I felt like I was home, despite having enjoyed the first 56 years of my life in England. Home is not just a place, it's a feeling of belonging, and not wanting to be anywhere else, despite the imperfections and irritations, and Spain is now my home. I miss my grandchildren, and those friends who haven't made it to Spain for one reason or another, but I would still be here rather than in England.

Friends and family ask what I'd do if I was left alone here, which all things being equal, is likely to happen at some point, since Tony is 18 years older than me. According to him, his demise is imminent, but then it has been for the last two years. He reckoned he was going back to England to die this time, and I said well give me at least 5 days notice, as Brittany Ferries charge for amendments to the tickets less than 5 days before sailing, and I need all the cash for the funeral. Seriously though, I still wouldn't want to be anywhere else, whether on my own or as part of a couple.

However, something was different this time. Whether it was because we spent longer than normal in England - other than the enforced 4 month stay in 2013 when Elizabeth had her stroke - or because we couldn't get on our chosen ferry as there was no kennel provision for Paddy I don't know, but this time I felt trapped in England, and my creativity suffered as a result. It was always going to be an 8 week trip, as we had my youngest grandson's christening and the renewal of my son and daughter-in-law's wedding vows to look forward to on their 10th wedding anniversary in mid September. I was ready for that, and looking forward to a lovely family occasion as the finale to our visit, but we had to stay almost 3 weeks past that date, and my writing suffered as a result. I did the 'bread and butter' stuff - editing and assessing articles for a website owner I work with, and turning out the blog posts and magazine articles I'm retained for, but my blog has stood neglected for almost 3 months, because although I've collected photos, situations and comments to use as material, I've hardly written anything, nor had the desire to do so.

How did this happen? In previous years, I've still been creative - even in the dark days of May 2013 when it looked like the unthinkable would happen and I would be attending my daughter's funeral instead of the other way around. In fact, I'd come back from the hospital and immerse myself in my writing, exhausted and anxious as I was, just to get back some semblance of normality, and think about something else for an hour or two. This time though, I had no inclination to be creative, and I really feel it was because I couldn't come home when I wanted to.

Like many of my writer friends here in Spain, I only got seriously into writing when we made the move to Spain, although I always wanted to be a writer. However, Mum and my teachers said I had to get a 'proper job,' so I ended up in catering. My late-flowering freelance career  came about because of all the conflicting advice and information about life in Spain, and I put in the research, found out what was what, and wrote about it. People seemed to like what I wrote and the rest, as they say, is history. Now I have to turn away writing work - something I never thought would happen to me.

I touched down on European soil again on Friday, 30th September, spent three days driving through France and Spain,  another three days unpacking, shopping and emptying and cleaning the van, and another three days catching up with friends. And guess what? Through all those 9 days, all I wanted to do was write - I have ideas teeming in my head, and I can't get them down quickly enough. Spain is my inspiration - for my writing and my life, and these last few weeks have proved it. Finally, I've found my duende - and it's a great feeling.

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