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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.

16 July: Dia del Virgen del Carmen
14 July 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
26 May 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!
19 May 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
05 May 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.

See more about life in Spain at Sandra In

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Football is for all ages in Algorfa!
21 April 2017

For a small town with a population of around 4,000, the boys in Algorfa are pretty obsessed with their football. The town boasts a modern, state-of-the-art stadium that would be the envy of a few English league teams, and there’s a game going on most days, whether it’s the up and coming boys, Algorfa F.C, or the Lo Crispin Mens Walking Football Team.

If you’re wondering what walking football is, it’s football for the over 55s, and there’s no contact or running involved. It’s still a serious workout though, and not for the faint hearted. The Lo Crispin team has been around for two years now, and is a major part of the sporting community in Algorfa. They play on Mondays from 4.00 pm until 5.30 pm and on Thursdays from 10.30 am until 12.00 pm. Then they retire to the Tavern Bar Lo Crispin for refreshments and post match analysis.

The team are proud to display the town crest of Algorfa on their shirts, and grateful to the Ayuntamiento for allowing them to use the pitch free of charge. After being welcomed into the bosom of the sporting community, the boys felt they wanted to give something back, and they got the chance to do this recently when there was a boys’ football tournament over the Easter break.

Lo Crispin Mens Walking Football Team financed the trophies, and Committee member John Pratt presented the trophies on the night. Mike Cooper – aka Cooperman – who writes the match reports and tries to keep some semblance of order on the pitch said the team felt privileged to have the opportunity to help encourage youngsters to achieve in the sport. ‘We welcome the chance to give something back to the community after they’ve been so supportive of the first-ever walking football team in Algorfa. Who knows, in 50 years time, some of these boys may be playing for us!’

Read more about Algorfa and life in Spain at Sandra In

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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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