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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

A Recession Busting Breakfast


In our Canarian village we are blessed with three small grocery stores. They are not very large and it can be a bit of a squash if there are more than a handful of customers in the shop at a time. Despite being surrounded by spacious, modern supermarkets in nearby large towns as well as in Las Palmas city, we have discovered, as have many villagers, that the prices in our local shops are very competitive with the larger supermarkets and usually we prefer to shop locally. There are also other benefits; for example, one shop happily delivers anything to our home, which is a boon for such items as large bottles of water and anything that is particularly heavy. They are also very reliable - items purchased are always delivered to our home later the same day and nothing seems to be too much trouble. I guess our village shops are reminiscent of village shops and post offices in the UK that have since given way to the out-of-town hypermarkets.

On one weekly shopping expedition in the village store, I patiently waited at the cheese and processed meats counter for my turn. There was an elderly Canarian woman in front of me and she seemed to be having some trouble in deciding which cheese should should buy. Eventually she stabbed her finger on the glass counter and pointed to one of large slabs, asking if she could try it. As in all the best UK delicatessens, the shop assistant nodded and cut off a generous slice and passed it over the counter on a cardboard plate for the old woman to try. Ancient, well worn fingers slowly crumbled the cheese into small pieces and I watched as she savoured each tiny piece of the creamy white cheese. The shop assistant, anxious to return to the girl on the till to continue the morning gossip, watched in silent anticipation.

Eventually, the old woman put the cardboard plate back on the counter with some satisfaction, looked inside the glass cabinet for a second time and pointed to another large slab of cheese of a different variety. Again, she asked for a sample. The shop assistant nodded and cut off another slice, this time not quite as large as the first, and handed it to the elderly woman. Again, she broke it into tiny pieces, savouring each delicious mouthful with relish before nodding and placing her plate on the counter. To my increasing disbelief, once again the old woman repeated the process of pointing to yet another slab of different cheese and, without a word, the shop assistant cut of a small piece and handed it over for the old woman to sample.

By now, there was a small queue of people patiently awaiting their turn. Most Canarians are very tolerant by nature (this tends to distinguish them from their Peninsular Spanish counterparts) and we all stood watching with some amusement as the old woman then pointed to some slices of ham. Again, a sample of ham was handed to the old woman to try. This same process was then repeated for two different varieties of olives - each time the old woman savouring each delicious mouthful with considerable enjoyment.

Eventually the old woman appeared to be satisfied. At last she smiled and pointed once again through the glass display cabinet to the first slab of cheese that she had sampled. We all heaved a sigh of considerable relief as a small chunk was cut off, weighed, and carefully wrapped in both plastic as well as tin foil and was finally handed to the old woman, who popped it into the jacket of her cardigan and wandered over to the till to pay for her purchase.

Walking home from the shop I wondered if the old woman repeated this process regularly in all three of our village shops? Certainly, the shop assistant seemed to know the routine well and I admired her uncomplaining attempts to satisfy her customer. I wonder just how accommodating the Saturday girl would be to this old woman in a Tesco's delicatessen in the UK? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” they say, but maybe there is such a thing as a free breakfast in the Canary Islands?

© Barrie Mahoney

From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney

Living the Dream: ISBN 978-0992767198

Click here to find out more

Water from Wind


Turning water into wine is a great idea, but how about turning wind into water? I have always loved windmills. Their graceful form and natural motion have always fascinated me. However, I know that many people also hate the sight of them as yet another of man’s intrusion upon a beautiful landscape. However, now that a new era of limited fuel supplies is upon us, harnessing the wind to provide a cheap and sustainable source of fuel to feed our unending desire for electricity seems much more attractive.

A drive to a Canarian village near my home, Pozo Izquierdo, near Vecindario, will provide a physics lesson that is not easily forgotten. Not only is it a great place for a good walk with the dog and some fresh air, but you will be in the centre of a wind farm that not only produces electricity from the wind, but also any excess electricity produced is used to desalinate water from the seawater that surrounds this island paradise.

Saving water, one of the island’s scarcest resources due to the lack of rain, has led to extensive research in the desalination of seawater and using wind power to operate small desalination plants. The islands are not short of wind power – the Trade Winds, with their moderate speed and direction, are constant throughout the year. This technology and ideas have since been exported to many other parts of the world.

One of the main objections to wind farms has always been that they produce a varying amount of electricity. This variability of supply in the electricity grid means that there must be other power generators, such as gas fired units, that can come ‘on line’ at short notice – in order to avoid wide fluctuations of power and your television or washing machine blowing up. Keeping these generators ‘at the ready’ is an expensive use of resources and is often the quoted reason for not using wind powered generators.

Now this is the clever part. The desalination of water is an expensive process and requires a lot of electricity. However, scientists found that the wind generation of electricity and the process of desalination of water can work together successfully for the simple reason that electricity cannot be cheaply stored, but water can. Using surplus electricity from wind farms such as the one in Pozo Izquierdo to desalinate seawater is the ideal solution. When there is a falling amount of surplus electricity, the number of desalination units operating is reduced. The water produced when the wind farms are in full production can then be stored relatively cheaply until required. Clever stuff, eh?

© Barrie Mahoney

From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney

Living the Dream: ISBN 978-0992767198

Click here to find out more

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