About this blog

10 years ago when we moved to Spain I used to keep family and friends updated with the funny (and not so funny) things that happened to us. Somebody suggested I take all the emails I'd sent and make them into a book, 'Fiestas and Siestas Miles Apart' was born. It's been a while and a lot has happened, so this blog is intended to bring everyone up to date.
Don't worry if you don't know me personally, I'm sure my anitics will put a smile on your face.

Driving in Spain

Driving in SpainPosted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 21:04:04

I would guess that most people driving around East Leeds know the rules of the road. You expect to be punished if you go over the speed limit or go through a red light, so is it any different driving around Spain?

The first thing you have to be aware of is the British on holiday. If I ever have the need to travel near Malaga airport then I’m always extra alert for the small rental cars, usually identified by the sticker on the back advertising the rental company. The drivers are not used to the cars controls. (You can often see windscreen wipers come on at junctions). They are not used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and to confuse them even more the wife will be sat next to them holding a map upside down shouting “You’ve missed the turning again.”

So what about the rules? Your holiday can become very expensive if, even by mistake, you fall foul of the law. If your spouse does disagree with your driving, please don’t let it turn into an argument. That is considered as not paying attention, along with biting your finger nails, kissing your passenger or giving a ‘V’ sign. Each of which will cost you an 80 euro fine.

Refilling your car with the radio or mobile turned on…that’s another 90 euro.

Driving through a residential area or near a hospital/nursing home playing loud music on the car stereo…80-100 euro.

Elbow sticking out of the window…100 euro.

Driving without a shirt, heels, barefoot, or in flip-flops is considered as driving with diminished ability…200 euro.

Staying in the fast lane when the right hand lane is free…200 euro (though all the Spanish do this.)

Applying make-up or using the mobile whilst waiting at a red light…200 euro.

Regardless of all these rules, next time you are in Spain take a look at the rear view mirror of a Spaniard’s car. I think it’s a competition of how much rubbish they can hang from it, regardless of how much it restricts their visibility.

These are the laws in Spain along with the need to carry a spare set of glasses/contact lenses if you need them for driving. Along with a high visibility jacket and warning triangle. If for some reason you are stopped and don’t have your documents, it’s not like in the UK where you can take them to a police station later, your car will be impounded. If you receive a fine you have to pay it on the spot (unless you’re a resident). If you don’t have the money you will be accompanied to the bank.

When we first arrived in the village an argument started in the bar when we were all comparing drivers licenses. A friend asked how many points I had on mine. I proudly replied “none!” After a long heated discussion it turns out that the Spanish do it the other way. They are given 12 points and every time you commit an offence the points are deducted. It was a while before they gave back my car keys.

It's the Police!

It's the Police!Posted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 21:00:20

Whenever possible I tune into Calendar news for what I call my Yorkshire fix. It’s nice to see familiar landmarks and hear the accent of those being interviewed, everybody over here seems to be a southerner.

I sat up and took a little more interest when they unveiled the new weapon the police were being issued with to fight crime in Leeds. A body camera. Having worked in the police cells in Leeds for a short time I am only too familiar with how cameras are used against the police. As soon as the boys in blue start making arrests everyone becomes David Bailey, so I think it’s a good idea to see it from the other side.

This made me think about the difference between the UK and the Spanish police. I think the most obvious is the respect given to the Spanish police officer, or Guardia Civil, to give them their correct title. Then again, strap a gun to anybody’s hip and I think you tend to treat them with a little more reverence. Unfortunately it’s not just the gun, in July of this year a new law (called the gag law) was introduced.

As I write this article I have to be very careful not to fall foul of it myself, the punishments can be quite hefty. Basically the law prevents anybody showing any disrespect to an officer, the fine for which is €600 (£500). The law also includes fines of up to €30,000 for disseminating images of police officers that “would endanger their safety or that of protected areas or put the success of an operation at risk”.

The new law is being taken to the Human Rights Court by journalists who feel some of its recent uses have been… shall we say over velous. For example the man who posted a picture of two officers drinking in a bar (even though their faces were not on show.) He was heavily fined, and the Spanish woman who put on Facebook a picture of a police car parked in a reserved parking bay for the disabled. She was fined €800.

I certainly don’t want you to get the wrong impression of policing in Spain. In fact I have several friends in the Guardia Civil, and better people you couldn’t wish to meet. In fact a few years ago, Heather and I were invited to the annual celebration of the Guardia Civil. We were the only English there and it soon became apparent that the officers we drink with in the bar were not your run of the mill traffic cops. As it turned out these were some of the most senior officers in Granada. When we first saw them in their uniforms my jaw dropped. They were displaying more gold and medals than a South American general.

Though you’re not supposed to take pictures I couldn’t resist just one, stood between them. It never hurts to have friends in high places.


BrexitPosted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 20:58:28

If you think about it East Leeds is very much like the Costa Del Sol, though you may not agree when looking out of your window on a rainy day. What I mean is the diversity of the people that live there. East Leeds has people from all four corners of the world and from all walks of life. Most of which get on with each other, contribute to society and just want the best for their families. It’s not that different over here. Many of my friends are from different countries and we all share those same values.

One thing we all have in common is the uncertainty that hangs over us as a result of the ‘Brexit’ vote. There are so many rumours going around the expat communities, both here and there, that no one knows what to believe. We are reassured that international law prevents the forced return to native countries, but when it comes to things like healthcare, then all bets are off.

Spain has long been the choice of pensioners to see out their retirement, the warmer weather having obvious health benefits. If the free medical cover was to be removed by the Spanish, something they have already warned, then there would be no alternative for many but to return to the UK.

I was prepared for a little backlash from my Spanish friends over the decision to leave the European Union, but to be honest most of them have asked with concern “What will happen to you now?” I simply reply by bringing my shoulders up to my ears, show the palms of my hands and turn down the corners of my lips…. the traditional Spanish reply when you don’t have an answer to a question, or you are accused of a foul on the football pitch.

When asked this question by my close, Spanish friend, Van Cleef (named due to his similarity to the actor) I jokingly replied “Want to buy a cheap house?” His answer of “Allllaan. I don’t have to buy it. When we have sent you back to England, I will just take it. I will send you pictures of me laying by the pool.” I think he was joking.

On a serious note, the initial impact of the ‘leave’ vote was on the Euro currency exchange. On the evening of the referendum you could get about 1.34 euro to the pound. A couple of days after the result it went down to 1.16 euro to the pound. Of course this not only affects the people living in Europe, but also everybody who holidays there too. From now on your cheap Spanish beer may not be all that cheap in the future……We’ll wait and see.

Buying a home in Spain

Buying a home in SpainPosted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 20:38:27

Okay, so you have decided where in Spain you want to live. The only thing you have to do now is find a house. Of course living in East Leeds we all know how the system works in our area. You either look on the internet or take a walk down to the high street and checkout the local estate agents. If we are selling a house we can expect to be charged a couple of thousand pounds, if we are buying we pay nothing. Is it the same in Spain….definitely not!!!!

For a start if you look on the internet you may find the same details on 100s of different sites, all offering the same property at a different price. This is because most are linked by a system that allows them to share the details, and the commission. Speaking of commission, if selling you will be charged anything up to 8 percent of the advertised value. That means if your house is £200,00 then the agents want about £16,000. Don’t worry over here in Spain you just add that to the price and the buyer pays it. Oh, yes. You will need another 10 percent to cover taxes etc.

What do they do for this commission….very little as I can see. The internet companies just show the details on their web sites. The local estate agents do likewise (that’s if they have a website). In Leeds when we sold our house the estate agent came around taking professional pictures, moving furniture and personal belongings to get the most out of the property.

When we started looking in the windows of the estate agents in Spain we couldn’t get over the quality of the pictures. Many were faded and details very vague. When we looked closer we were astonished to see that pictures of kitchens showed sinks pilled with pots and half eaten food on the sides. One picture showed a living room. In the centre was a man laid on a sofa reading a newspaper, with one hand down his trousers!!!

We contacted an estate agent who advertised a couple of properties that looked interesting, and arranged to meet somebody called ‘Mike’. We waited at the agreed service station, and right on time the four wheel drive Toyota pulled in. Stepping out ‘Mike’ looked like he had stepped straight off the cover of Vogue magazine. “Stacey and Ashlie (our daughters) would like him.” said Heather, my wife, as she stared and looked him up and down a little too long. Until this point I hadn’t realised you could dislike someone just because they’re better looking than you.

It turned out Mike was not just an ex-marine, he was a very good estate agent. He spent the next couple of weeks showing us every kind of accommodation. Eventually we found the house of our dreams in a small village in the Andalucian mountains. It just goes to prove, not all estate agents deserve the bad reputations thrust upon them.

The rain in Spain...

The rain in Spain...Posted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 20:33:50

When we think about Spain as a destination, either for a holiday or a place to set up a new life I’m sure we all have the same image. The travel magazines tell us that clear sunny days can be expected for more than 300 days a year. So does it matter what part of Spain you head to? The answer is a definite, yes, if the weather is one of your priorities.

Basically you can split the country into three, the north, the middle (or inland) and the south. The north tends to be cooler and sees more rain therefore it is a lot greener. The south enjoys hot summers, about 30 degrees, and pleasant winters with temperatures around 18 degrees.

What may surprise a lot of people is the variation once you travel inland. When we arrived in Granada it was the middle of January and we were dressed in shorts and T shirts, ready to go house hunting. During the day the sun was shining which made it quite warm. As dusk arrived the temperature began to drop…rapidly. We returned to the house where we were renting a room and changed into something warmer. The temperature continued to go down.

When it reached minus 5 the lack of heating and gaps in the window frame forced us to take refuge in our bed. My teeth chattered as I asked Heather “We are in Sssspppainnn, Aren’t we?” We put this down to freak weather. A month later whilst looking out of the window at the 8 inches of snow covering our new patio furniture we conceded that this must be the norm for winter. I took a photograph and sent it to Jon Mitchell at Calendar News. He used it that night as a backdrop whilst giving his weather forecast. I’m sure I saw a smirk on his face.

Eventually winter rolled into spring and spring into summer. The temperature went higher…and higher….and higher.. It was now 45 degrees, dropping to just 30 degrees on a night. When you opened the outside door it was like walking into an oven. How we longed for those cold winter nights. Apparently this is why ‘Siestas’ were invented, can you imagine working in that heat. I still smile each August when watching the UK news and health warnings are given out because the weather is expected to reach 25 degrees. Since moving to Spain I seem to spend all my time drinking. No, not alcohol! Hot drinks in the winter to keep warm and cold ones in the summer to keep hydrated.

Please don’t let me put anybody off visiting inland Spain in the winter time. For all you skiers out there I can strongly recommend the Sierra Nevada Ski Resort, just outside the city of Granada. Great snow, good all level runs, and no queues. Where else in the world can you ski in the morning, then drive an hour down the road and spend the afternoon sunbathing on the beach?

Moving abroad

Moving abroad?Posted by Alan Cuthbertson Tue, September 13, 2016 20:25:59

Moving abroad?

How many of us have sat on the beach or next to the pool, sipping a cold beer and counting down the days to the end of the holiday. Our minds drift back to what awaits us in the UK. Those cold winter nights, the endless rain and the queues of traffic on Scott Hall Road as we drive to work. We lower our sunglasses, look around and take in the blue sky, golden, sandy beaches and wonder what it would be like to actually live in a place like this.

According to the BBC over 700,000 Brits have moved from the UK and now live in Spain, and there is nothing stopping you joining them. Though that might change after the referendum, but we’ll go into that at a later date.

The team at East Leeds Magazine have asked me to contribute a regular article that looks at what such a move would involve. The first snippet of wisdom I would like to pass on is “Don’t do what I did!” When looking for a new house anywhere the advice everybody gives is, location, location, location. Moving abroad is a little different. My advice would be research, research, research. After watching an episode of ‘A Place in The Sun’. I announced to my family that we were going to sell everything we owned, ship the kids off travelling for a year (that’s not as bad as it sounds, they were 20 years old) and buy a one-way ferry ticket to the continent. We had no idea where we were heading.

There is a lot more to think about than you would imagine. Which area, work, schools, tax, travel, living costs, the list is endless. A lot of the information will be useful not only to those considering ‘The big move’ but also for those who just intend visiting Spain for a holiday. For example, did you know that there is a fantastic ski resort in southern Spain? That it is illegal to drive in flip-flops? I promise I won’t be bombarding you with facts and figures, you could get them off the internet. No, what I will be doing is giving you advice from someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt. Including all the things we did wrong. I will also add some of the amusing anecdotes. Like when one of the locals took us to see some piglets and we ended up being chased by an irate, wild boar. Or the time we ventured up the Sierra Nevada for a family ski day. Could anything go more wrong???

If anybody has any questions or topics they would like me to cover then please email me at I would love to hear from you.