Do you review? Products, books, holidays, services – if you don’t, do you read #reviews? Millions do.

Some people review as a matter of course. The Starbucks coffee shop, you had a good blether with your mates, yay, 5 stars! The new coffee shop struggling to get established, the coffee was better, the cakes excellent, but you were miffed because the person you were supposed to meet said it was too far away and stood you up. You crossly gave 1 star on location.

Was that entirely fair? You just hurt, perhaps broke, a potentially great little coffee shop, especially if yours was one of the first reviews.

the cynic

The book you just read was okay, and does have over a hundred 5* reviews supplied by the publisher, so what the hell, give it 4*. The indie one you just read was actually unexpectedly good, you really enjoyed it, but eek you don’t want to be the only person reviewing it!  No review.  Which is, by the way, why there are several hundred reviews within minutes of any traditionally published book being released, publishers know that readers love to be seen as being part of the crowd around a success.  Of course you may have hated it, and crossly gave a 1* review and said why, and oh yes reviews are vital!

I review a LOT, all products, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve given 5 stars. I’m a tough crowd and whatever the product, it has to be above expectations to get the 5th. However I can also count on one hand the number of times I’ve given a blistering 1 star. The service had to be abysmal, the product description totally misleading, and the quality shocking.

Reviews only work if you are fair. If you were thrilled, 5 stars, yay.  If you got what you expected, 4 stars = valued feedback. If you were underwhelmed, 3 stars and say why. Keep the 2 and 1 stars for real disappointment, for incorrect advertising and false promises.

Puff reviews are paid, much of the time, and written up to the daily limit allowed. This is the best coffee, restaurant, book, hotel, product, I have EVER encountered while using this fake email address!! Some aren’t paid but look as if they are, even when they are well-meant – ‘(my friend / relative) has the best coffee, restaurant, book, hotel, product, I have ever found!’  but troll reviews are also scattered far and wide, with even more fake email addresses.

On behalf of those of us who live or die by your review – use your fifth star sparingly, really think twice before slashing with one star, and bless you for your explanatory comments whatever the final star tally – reviews that show thought are the nuggets of gold in a sea of dross.

I’ve always reviewed, long before it became personal.  When I became a supplier, I was meticulous about how I worded what I offer. Obviously, per the side margin, I’m a writer (whodunits, mainly, armchair detective style).  I’m now also, for nearly a year, a host offering holiday accommodation. The rooms are cheap, clean, cheap, comfortable, cheap, with multiple normal lens photographs, cheap, and the gumph about what you get is oh so carefully worded. I describe myself as that useful relative you don’t have in Spain. Come stay at Auntie Biff’s in your separate private suite in her funny old house in a funny little town near the Costa Tropical. It’s not, don’t know if I mentioned, very expensive, either, for those strapped for cash who love to explore

To be fair, most of my book reviews have been lovely, and the holiday reviews ditto, telling future readers and guests what to expect. Exactly what reviews should be. But oh my sometimes guests are odd cattle. 1* for location, for not being near Malaga. Um? Malaga is one of the most popular airports in Spain and I am also in Spain, but Spain is huge.  The Costa Tropical may be next along from the Costa del Sol, but those coasts stretch for miles . . . it is about 85 kilometres from A to B. Always check map distances, when planning your holiday trip in Spain – or ask your host. Like one sensible potential guest who asked if I was walking distance from the centre of Granada. Thank heavens she did. Granada city is in Granada province, as am I, and there’s a coach service from here to the centre of that lovely city, but she’d have to be a very keen walker.  The coach really belts it along the motorway, but allow half an hour . . .

Cyclists love me to bits, they can bring their bikes inside, the house is cool after the heat of the ride, their shower has tons of hot water under good pressure, and the beds are good.  Some holiday guests, though, forget they paid not very much to stay with faux-relative Auntie Biff, especially those who paid months earlier. Street parking for their car? Where’s the swimming pool? I have to drive to the beach? I expected a hotel? One said there’s not a lot of nightclubs (in a small town? Ya think?) and one said there’s not a lot to do, you have to expect to go out a lot (which is why it is described as an ideal base for exploring) and to those I can only say thank you for the comments, you have helped future travellers. Perhaps with us both saying the same thing, the point will carry . . . biggest thanks of all to those who remember to say it is fantastic value for money. Love you long time!

 

Kiss Kiss, and I’m legal. #LivingInSpain  – burocracia with kisses

kisses

If I had been jumping through UK bureaucratic hoops today I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been kissed so often.  Kiss kiss when I met my translator Chris, he who helped make the car legal a few months ago. I’ve given up waiting to see which way the Brexit farce will twist next, time to become legal.

xx

Kiss kiss Alessandro who was going to register me as self employed (autonoma), kiss kiss Paco who was called in to sort out the knotty issue of how I should be classified. (Not to be confused with the Paco who knocked giant holes through my walls, it is a very common name, although I shy nervously every time I meet one). Kisses all round again of course when we parted.

xx xx

xx xx xx

For anyone more interested in the process than counting kisses, you need your passport, NIE, and Spanish bank details. Oh, and fluent Spanish, as some of the questions are extremely complex, hence Chris’s presence.  By the time I got home the email confirming my registration was in my mailbox.

  • The authorities allow us self-employed types two years grace to get established which means for the next two years I will be paying 60 euros a month Social Security, with full health benefits and even unemployment benefits if awful things happen.
  • The full whack, because I am getting older, will be eye-wateringly high but after the 2 years grace I will get a 60% discount for 6 months, followed by a 30% discount for 6 months, and by then have to hope the house is fully booked on a frequent basis as it seems the entire house income (which goes into my Spanish bank account) will be needed to cover income taxes and my Social Security.
  • The tax-free window is small, 5500 euros a year, and full income tax is due on the whole amount once that is exceeded.

Next step will be talking to the tax authorities, since my complicated income is made up of teaching English as a second language (teaching  is VAT, or IVA, exempt) letting holiday rooms, (IVA applies but since Airbnb, for example, has me registered with their Irish office I won’t need to pay if I give them an IVA número) and my royalties, which are unlikely to pour much into the Spanish tax coffers but who knows, maybe one day. The next book could be the charm . . . that’s the one teaching basic essential Spanish as a second language, and I was fairly chuffed this morning to find I could not only make myself understood before Chris and Alessandro arrived, but could follow , hmm, nearly a quarter of the rapid-fire Spanish of the meeting!

Then there is the residency to be sorted, but I’m assured that because I am autonoma, it will be virtually automático, as simple as uno dos tres. My driving licence has to be switched no later than October. So there is lots more bureaucracy to come, I look forward to the kisses. And by the by, x in Spanish is equis, pronounced eh·kiss.

Ever researching on your behalf

 

Elegsabiff

xx

Wallpapering over tile (stair risers at the Casa Excéntrica)

It seemed like a fun idea when I first thought about it. I keep popping out to frown at the result.

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Anyway, I looked at a few videos before I started  and no-one was papering over tiles, so this is partly advice for anyone trying it and partly so I can remember how to do it next time. I’ve so far found only one paint which even adheres to tiles, a local almost rubbery waterproof one which can be bought in terracotta or white, and I go through litres of the stuff because until I can decide on non-slip tiles I like / can afford I paint the terrace and laundry floors in the stuff and it needs redoing about twice a year to look its best.

From very early on I have wanted to wallpaper the risers. The estate agent said giddily that the tiles throughout were handpainted and unique (not and not) but they are certainly timeworn and have faded to different colours in different places. I was inspired by the idea of turning the stairs into faux bookshelves because in theory the house is a writer’s escape. (So far I am getting as many cyclists as writing types but I am not putting in cycling wallpaper)

I found a few bookshelf effects on Amazon, mainly from Muriva, while I was still in the UK and yes, it has taken 18 months to actually pluck up the courage to get on with it. If and when I get used to the effect, I will do the stairs up to the landing as well.

First step – paint the risers in terracotta. Horrible. (which in Spanish is pronounced orry-blay). No option now but to do the wallpapering.

Second step – cut the wallpaper to size. The steps, like the house, are old and were built by eye rather than rule, so that was challenging. The wallpaper is only about 18 inches wide, so there had to be some careful matching up, but on the bright side cutting along shelves was super-easy.

Third step – mix up wallpaper paste. The Spanish don’t really do wallpapering, but I found a Motril paint shop carrying a paste which describes itself modestly as the best product ever invented, on all types of paint, having a permanence remarkable.  Sounded about right.  (Leizol metil-celulosa, aplicación industrial)

I started with a cautious tablespoon of powder and while I can’t yet vouch for its long-term sticking power, I can say that very small amount mixed up to about double as much gloop as I needed. A little goes a very long way.

Fourth step – was pure fun, as it turned out. Stick it all together, and the advantage of working on tiled steps was I could use each step in turn as my pasting table, then wipe it down afterwards.

Fifth step will be varnishing over it: the stairs have a comprehensive overhang but the atrium is partly open to the elements, and sixth step, to tidy up the erratic edges, could be narrow strips of Washi-style tape. I do have about 60 metres of a brass-effect option on its way, which will be attempting to neaten up the edges between old plaster and old doorframes since all the careful painting in the world can’t create perfect matches between the two. Brass trim on the stairs might be a bit much even for me, another trim will perhaps be used but for now, an early unveil, and a link to a mini-album here

There are definite advantages to having a house which already defines itself as eccentric.

dancing

 

Costa Tropical in winter – guests from barely-20 to 70-something #CasaExcentrico

I haven’t done a blog about guests for a while since all was quiet from mid-November to January. Well, not quiet.  Some fairly hectic winter-proofing in the guest rooms was required. Thing was, when I first listed the rooms on Airbnb and HomeAway in May last year my first (and for a while only) response was from a Belgian couple who wanted the front room for 3 months starting February. That was, frankly, terrifying. The guest rooms, like most older Spanish houses, had shuttered windows, but no sissy namby-pamby modernities like glass,  what for you need glass,  is a bedroom, you only need shutters? The newly created guest living room boasted a kettle and open toaster and not a lot else.

My wanting-to-self-cater Belgians lit a bit of a rocket: having not thought about winter bookings at all, I had to refocus towards the can’t-afford-to-turn-down 3 month booking. Turned out, purest luck. Radiators were snapped up all summer whenever I saw a bargain, a sink was plumbed into the living room during a gap between bookings, a two-plate electric hob, pots and pans, were added to the tiny guest oven in the pantry cupboard. My local wand-waving DIY friend Nick, who performs miracles as standard, worked out a way of adding glass to the original shutters in the front room just in time for me to accept a January booking from a young American lass on her way to a 5 month teaching post on the coast. She chose to stay here for a week while looking for an apartment near the school because I spoke English, and she could therefore ask endless questions, some of which I could answer, and vent hilariously about the frustrations of Spain vs America. Like the day she was to report at her new school – she caught the Velez coach into Motril, then hopped on the coast bus to her destination. The driver either forgot, or hadn’t understood, where she wanted to get off. She was swept past and to the next stop, 8 km further. He shrugged, and told her to catch the next bus back. There aren’t many buses on the coastal road . . . the next was due in an hour and a half. The taxi company she phoned refused to travel so far. Almost in tears she tried to flag down drivers heading that way but (oh how times have changed) has never hitched in her life, so instead of sticking out her thumb she waved. Drivers waved back, and kept going.

She also had expected Spain to be hot hot hot all the time so her only warm piece of clothing was her jacket and the radiators and heaters I’d bought were pressed into urgent service. It is sunny nearly all the time but temperatures drop sharply overnight in mid-winter and can hover just above zero.  However her general attitude was incredibly positive, she was a fun guest to have, and we bundled up well and traipsed off to the tiny local evening parade of the Kings on January 6th. (The third king was caught up in a photoshoot off to the side in this snap)

Sara and 2 of 3 kings

There was enough of a gap after her stay to get the back room’s windows glazed, in time for my first actual English guest (I’ve had guests who live in England, but they were Polish) who was scoping out the Granada area for his 50th birthday celebrations next year. He and his friends are into golf and ski-ing so he was out and about every day testing golf-courses in one direction or shooting up into the Sierra Nevada in the other so I only ever saw him as a fleeting shadow past the study window on his way out or back upstairs to recover from the day’s exertions.

The day after he left it was, finally, time for my game-changing Belgians to arrive. Over the months since their original booking the 3 months had changed to 6 weeks, then shrunk finally down to 10 days, and I had begun to wonder if the booking would ever happen at all. I had extra blankets, a heater in each room and two in the living room, and of course everything they could need to self-cater. Guess what, they never cooked a single meal at home, they too were out and about every day.

laugh

They’ve bought off plan along the coast and said they’d had a wonderful time and would be back so they can monitor progress on their apartment. He came down the first night to ask how much I charged for anything they took from the fridge or pantry (no no, on the house) and then a little later to say the lights had blown, he had now unplugged two of the four heaters they had taken into the bedroom and could I show him the fusebox? He was wearing only a string vest (in February) so it obviously wasn’t exactly freezing. However they said in their review (according to Google translate) that the “electrics weren’t clean”, (without mentioning they had overloaded them, grrr), and had a general whinge. Wish they had done that the other way round. People are odd. And what on earth do I (politely) say if they meant it about wanting to come back??

Georges et Colette 2 March 2019

Some guests want to chat, some are completely self-sufficient. The original plan was to attract writers but apart from my first guest, working on his thesis, the majority have been, oddly enough, teachers (including the Belgians) and all have been out and about most of the time, none more so than the Dublin cyclist who appeared next. He was extraordinary, not only cycling merrily up to villages like Trevélez (1476m above sea-level up a road so steep I had been hyperventilating in a car) but bringing back fistfuls of beach-stones for the atrium when he did coastal rides. He’d also bring one of the local wines down to the atrium of an evening to chat about the day. In a week he learned way more about every village, vineyard and smokery in a 40 kilometre radius than I have learned in 15 months, which is a little embarrassing.

Will March 8 2019

This area is big with cyclists, one is forever dodging them on the hills or having heart attacks rounding sharp bends to find groups of them taking up most of the road. My next booking, after the refurbishment break, is a couple of German cyclists, at this rate I may need to plan in a neat cycle rack for the hallway.

I booked myself off teaching for 2 days, planning a lazy weekend which turned instead into a rush for a last minute booking from a Madrid couple for the weekend, but they aren’t exactly intrusive – up at 11 am and off to explore Velez, and I know they plan to explore the Lecrin valley and Alpujarras while they’re here. He speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, she has no English at all, so we limp along in bilingual confusion – they did appall me en route by asking via whatsapp, in Spanish, for directions, Google Translate don’t let me down now! My spellcheck was a curse, trying firmly to change every word as I hastily typed but they made it and sent a polite whatsapp from outside  – “estamos en la puerta”, we are at the door. The  equivalent of chapping at a door in Spain is usually to lean on the doorbell while simultaneously hammering on the door itself so I’m guessing they didn’t want to rouse the house so late at night in case it was the wrong place. Note to self – get a sign for the front door.

It’s been a lively start to the year already with spring on its way, I’ve shed the fleece for dog-walking already and will shortly be packing away the radiators and hauling out the standing fans instead … two years ago I had just seen the house for the first time and was in a wistful wouldn’t-it-be-nice-don’t-be-silly reverie. Life stores up some very odd surprises.

cool

 

Officially amazing, haha – and legal #livinginSpain

I was thrilled to be featured in January as an Amazing Over Fifty on the LovingTheFiftySomething website – all too often when I’ve idly searched online for ‘over fifty‘ the links that come up show groups of impressively-preserved people demurely sipping tea and talking about how nice it is to be in the still waters following the white-water rapids of life. The women have abundant silvery hair in perfect chignons and the men are smiling to show their remarkable teeth and you’d be proud, honestly, to have them as grandparents but they didn’t seem people who would like or welcome scatty disorganized erratic types like me.  LovingTheFiftySomething features – well, not necessarily erratic types! – but those still riding the rapids and refusing to be relegated to the sidelines. YES.

yay

Anyway, in my scatty disorganized erratic way I’ve been taking lots and lots of advice on this whole living-in-Spain thing. It really doesn’t help that the 3 professionals I’ve spoken to had strong opinions on my only sensible route, but were touting 3 separate routes. Chris, who had sorted the car out, said firmly my best option was to become autonoma – self employed.  I would file an annual tax return, I would go instantly onto the Social so be covered by the Health service, and residency would be guaranteed trouble-free, and rubber-stamped by the local policia without a murmur.  However, he was away when it came time to do my end-of-year tax payment as a home-owner, and sent me to Ana, in a town about 40 miles away, who specializes in all things tax and legal generally. Ana was absolutely wonderful, drew up my tax document promptly and patiently answered lots of questions, but she felt autonoma was an expensive option for me. The problem was that I would have to pay all my taxes in Spain, on my international income, and while in the UK tax only applies after the first 12K, or thereabouts, in Spain the tax-free window is not only 6K, but once you cross that, you pay tax on the entire amount. Plus the Social, although for new registrations is only 50 euros a month, goes up steadily over 2 years until you are paying the whole 275 euros a month, and that’s a lot of money for someone like me who will never reap the long-term benefits of a Spanish pension –  you have to have been paying in for 15 years. Better, she said, to go for Residency. I would need to prove a stable monthly income sufficient to support me, and take out a comprehensive medical aid, and then – Bob’s your uncle.

Comprehensive medical aids are surprisingly expensive once you are no longer in the first flush of youth. At a party I asked some friends what they did, and who they used, and they recommended Nina, right here in Motril. Since I knew I had to pay tax on my rental income from the house by the end of January, I went to Nina instead of trekking the 40 miles back to Ana.  She said firmly that until we know exactly what is happening with Brexit (anyone else sick of that word?) I should remain a non-resident home-owner, pay my taxes (19%) on my rental income 4 times a year, and if Brexit brings in visa requirements which mean I have to leave the country 2 or 4 times a year, well, then we look at other options.  So I have paid my taxes and have bought a little time to think through my options.

A surprising number of ex-pats are still unregistered, some scrambling a bit nervously now to become official residents, others waiting to see what will happen.

cool

My Spanish vocabulario grows by the day – I am busy on a book with the working title Pidgin Spanish (based on a family called Pidgin who moved to Spain) which includes all the TEFL tricks of learning a second language, mini situational stories with handy dialogue, numbers for counting / telephones / the date / making appointments:  the Spanish alphabet for spelling out your name and address: the rudimentary basics for linguistically-challenged types (ie me) to get by.  I’m truly rubbish at languages – I spent 12 years in school in South Africa without ever mastering Afrikaans, which back then was the country’s second official language – but little by little the Spanish I need is being nailed into place. I can read documents, make myself understood with less wild mime, and every encounter navigated successfully is a joyful little oooh. It may never be published – how many others are there who simply can’t conjugate verbs efficiently, after all? – but it’s helping me no end.  Roll on 2019, I’m braced for impact.

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The Ambition Tradition

Maybe, just maybe, growing up is knowing when you’ve reached your comfort zone?  I come from a family of strivers, raised with the stern mantra that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. There are black sheep in every herd but generally it was try try try again, be the best you can be, put in the hours, burn the midnight oil, get out there and succeed!

hole

Oh well. Done my time in the business rat race – rush rush RUSH impossible deadlines which got met, crazy high targets which were somehow achieved and of course the prize for winning is tighter deadlines and higher targets – annnnnnnnnnnnd . . . dropped out

Breathe

Again. Deeeeeeeeeeeep breath. Nice, huh?

So – the modified ambition tradition. These promises I made to myself, and this promise to my restless ancestors – I will be the best I can be, at the various things I do, but I will not beat myself up because I’m not publicly winning at doing the various things I do.

I’ll stop every now and then, too, to smell the roses bougainvillea

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And tomorrow, after some unavoidable delays,  I start the fairly complicated road to formal residency.  Fingers crossed

cool

Don’t believe a WORD – not on the 28th of December #livingInSpain

I’ve kicked around the world a fair bit, one way and another, thought I knew what Christmas was about but it’s so different here in Spain. Take today – 28th – that’s the Day Of The Innocents, aka prank day. April Fool in December, if you like:  a few years ago one of the national newspapers set the bar high with a headline that the King of Spain had married Madonna . . . on the whole the foreigners are left in peace, since we can’t be expected to know, but generally take every unexpected or unlikely comment with a pinch of salt, eh?

The Spanish take Christmas at a steady pace and they need to – it lasts nearly a month. Cava flows like water throughout and it all kicks off with celebrating the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which is a feast day and when street lights and commercial decorations in shops generally switch on.  I must have picked up some kind of subconscious trigger because I never decorate before the 16th (that being a public holiday in the country where I grew up, very handy) but was hauling out the dusty box of decorations in good time and finding new places for old favourites – fun!

Street decorations can be oddly avante garde, and not traditionally Christmas at all. The town sees to the main streets – side streets can do their own.  This one was decorated by a local school, very effectively.

Nerja street

(BTW, No pooing man or poo stick traditions for Andalucia, that is Catalan.)

Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is a family dinner, taken very seriously, with much solid food and luxurious side dishes. The devout go on to midnight Mass, the sociable take to the bars to meet friends while they digest the enormous meal.

Sometime overnight there will be a silent visitor: not usually Santa Claus. Depending where you are in the country he is known as Papa Noel, or Olentzero, or Tió de Nadal. He’s not lavish – the main gifts come with the Kings in January, so it is usually one gift apiece. This does of course mean no Boxing Day sales! Festive shopping continues briskly up to the day of the Kings.

On the 28th, today, it is the prank-filled el Día de los Santos Inocentes and when I got a nice booking for January I did wonder if it was a tease but nope, it has been paid. Yay!

On the 31st there’s another enormous traditional dinner (if life was fair, all Spanish would be waddling, food is taken very seriously here) and a handful of grapes for midnight – bring luck for the coming year by eating 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year, which is slightly harder than it sounds and requires some giggling gobbling. Some prefer a more sedate grape for every stroke of midnight.  It is considered lucky on this night to wear red underwear, so Papa Noel often brings that as a gift …

All this is merely the prelude, the build-up, for 12th night and the overnight arrival of the Tres Reyes Magos on what I always called Epiphany, the 6th of January. Ladders are propped against balconies and effigies of the kings are often added, scrambling up to deliver their gifts.

Every city and large town has a parade with at least one float on the 5th of January to welcome the Kings, who arrive by land, sea or air, throw sweets into the crowds, and are greeted with almost hysterical delight. I’ve linked in an internet pic from last year on my Facebook page –

Children have been writing to them explaining how very well behaved they have been all year, and what they would like as a reward. At bedtime, shoes are polished and set ready, one pair for everyone in the home so the Kings can see how many people there are needing gifts. On the 6th January, there’s an excited scramble to the shoes to check the booty – this is THE lavish gift day.

There is, almost inevitably, traditionally a last gigantic feast for lunch, followed by the roscon de la reyes,  and then the decorations come down and school starts the next day.

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

I’ll probably do a patch-on blog with pics of the parade, I didn’t even know about it last year and missed it completely, so I am as fidgety as a child for this one!

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff