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Letters Blog Barrie Mahoney's Blog

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Britain’s Wartime Plan to Invade the Canary Islands


During the current worrying developments in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia, many forget that some years ago there was a large and vociferous movement demonstrating for independence for the Canary Islands. Although there are some on the islands that still share this long-term view, much of the debate is currently centred towards peaceful coexistence as a fully functioning autonomous community within Spain. Some may see Spain’s constitution and its wisdom in promoting and allowing autonomous communities to develop and flourish in a manner that reflects the individual and unique culture of its many diverse regions and complicated history as a success.

Spain has come a long way in the years since the repression during the time of the dictator Franco. Despite its problems, Spain has developed rapidly into a modern, welcoming and thriving democracy, currently in the lead with a gross domestic product that beats most other European countries, albeit with a high proportion of its prosperity generated within Catalonia. For many Spaniards, there is puzzlement over the Catalonia issue; after all, recent studies show that as far as autonomy and self-determination go, Catalonia’s rights and freedoms within Spain are far in excess of those allowed in Canada’s Quebec and in Scotland as a constituent part of the United Kingdom.

Fighting, the ‘grab for land’ and the desire for self-determination has always been part of the human psyche. Over the years, history shows us how this destructive aspect of human nature can manifest itself in violence, repression and war. Let us hope that common sense prevails in the current dispute and that talking, negotiation and compromise can reunite during these troubled times.

The British have always loved the Canary Islands, but sometimes for the wrong reasons. A brief wander around Las Palmas will reveal British businessmen honoured in the names of some of its streets, a thriving fruit and vegetable export business originally started by the British, and even a traditional British church for the early businessmen to worship in. Did you know that the British planned to occupy the Canary Islands, and Gran Canaria in particular, during the Second World War? A current exhibition organised by the Government of Gran Canaria reflects upon the crucial role of the Canary Islands during this period. It is a little known fact that heads of British military operations were convinced that the Canary Islands were a key factor in the strategic development of the war.

British military planners saw Gran Canaria as a serious alternative should Gibraltar be lost, given the islands’ strategic position in the Atlantic. ‘Operation Pilgrim’ was a military initiative in which the British considered bombing the main infrastructures within the island’s capital, Las Palmas, in circumstances when the enemy took Gibraltar, which thankfully never happened.

Moving on to present times, many feel uncomfortable with the name that refers to a popular beach in the south of Gran Canaria, which is currently called ‘Playa del Ingles’ (The English Beach). For many, it smacks far too much of the British Empire and is a reminder of the negativity and excesses that the Empire stood for. So, how about the locals and the government of the island coming up with a name that truly reflects this beautiful Canarian beach?

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/

The Domino Effect


Have you played dominoes recently? I certainly haven't and, thinking about it, the last time that I played must have been when I was aged nine or ten, recovering from chickenpox and playing the game with my mother during the boring days when I was confined to bed.

During the years that we have lived in the Canary Islands and the Costa Blanca, I often see groups of elderly men sitting together on the pavement, outside a cafe bar, playing dominoes. In most cases, this is not a genteel game played in silence, but quite an energetic activity that involves a lot of shouting and waving of arms. There is one particular group of players that I often see when I pass a cafe bar in our nearest town; it is usually the same group of elderly, and not so elderly men. The game seems to go on for hours.

Yesterday, I noticed that two other tables had joined the usual single table and there was an intense level of interest. I am not sure whether the group were holding some form of competition or playing for reward, but it certainly generated complaints, cheers and loud shouts of disapproval. The noise level was made even higher because of the noise of the dominoes rattling and being banged on the metal tables, which I assume is all part of the fun. Spain is often regarded as one of the noisiest places on the planet, and the playing of dominoes and dice games outside cafes has been banned in Seville, because the intensity of noise disturbs local residents and tourists. I began to see why.

Dominoes may best be described as a game of logic and, like all such games, is important in keeping the brain lively and active. This is particularly important for the elderly. In addition, the act of holding and moving dominoes helps to maintain dexterity and alertness. Although dominoes are a Chinese invention, and were sold by the Chinese equivalent of a friendly Betterware salesman, if you didn't have a set of dominoes in China you were no one. It was to be five hundred years later before they first appeared in Europe, and were brought to Italy in the Eighteenth Century. It is assumed that the game found its way from China to Europe by missionaries who loved playing this Eighteenth Century equivalent of a video game to while away the small hours. The pieces themselves were originally made from ivory, as well as granite, marble, brass or soapstone. Fortunately, most present day dominoes are made from plastic or Bakelite. Judging from the loud noise, I am assuming that Canarian dominoes are made from granite.

I watched the game for a few minutes before moving on. As well as enjoying the game, it was good to see that these elderly men and their friends can meet and enjoy each other’s company. We often read distressing stories of the elderly in the UK who are trapped inside their homes for days on end, because of the poor weather and the lack of visitors or any form of companionship, which is so important for all of us. This group of domino players certainly have other ideas.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/

The All-Inclusive Wristband


Recent news articles about asylum seekers in Cardiff being forced to wear brightly coloured wristbands in order to claim their meals each day rightly drew both amazement and disgust from many decent people in the UK. This news broke within a few days of the ‘Middlesbrough red door’ controversy, whereby the homes of asylum seekers were targeted because all their front doors were painted red. Again, many people complained that this policy was wrong. Both incidents revealed an appalling lack of sensitivity towards people who require help and support during a desperate time in their lives.

The issue surrounding brightly coloured wristbands in the Welsh capital drew particular disgust, since any refusal to wear the wristband would simply mean no food. Some likened it to the enforced Star of David symbol, which was used by Nazi Germany to easily identify the Jews. The forced identification of any part of human society in this manner is both degrading and inhuman, and I can understand the disgust and public outcry that both incidents caused.

On a lighter note, I have never understood why so many visitors staying in hotel complexes in the Canary Islands, as well as other tourist complexes in other parts of Spain, are content to wear wristbands, similar to those offered to the Cardiff asylum seekers, which identifies them as ‘Breakfast’, ‘Breakfast and Dinner’ or the ‘gold standard’ of ‘All-Inclusive’. Now, I know that Madge and her family in the television comedy ‘Benidorm’ are quite happy to feast upon all that is offered for 24 hours a day, but do real holidaymakers actually want everyone else to know about it? In any case, do they really want to go home with a white ‘lack of sun’ ring on their wrists to tell everyone that were ‘all-inclusive’ characters performing in ‘Benidorm’?

I am not a great lover of the ‘all-inclusive’ deal. Yes, I know it is a godsend for those on a very tight budget, and particularly when travelling with children. I also know of the damage that it causes to restaurants, bars and other small businesses trying to survive on the islands when faced with competition from the ‘all-inclusive’ hotels, which are financed and backed by large companies with profits funnelled well away from these islands.

I too have been tempted by ‘all-inclusive’ deals on a couple of occasions, and had a very good time knowing that I could eat and drink without spending another euro for the duration of my holiday, but in the long term, is it really worth it? In addition, the boredom of eating in the same place, at the same table, with more of less the same buffet offerings each day made me feel as if I was in prison rather than on holiday. As for the obligatory wristband, I refused to wear it and, as with the asylum seekers, was briskly informed that I either wore it or didn't eat. I decided to wear it, but later cut it off, and devised a system with the help a piece of gum that would allow me to wear it only at meal times and remove it afterwards; unlike the asylum seekers, I got away with it.

Allegedly, the asylum seekers were threatened with being reported to the Home Office if they did not wear their wristbands and their claims for asylum would be rejected. Others suffered verbal and physical abuse from motorists and passers-by who spotted the wristbands. Life for the asylum seeker is hard enough without some heartless ‘jobsworth’ threatening to take away their only means of survival. Thankfully, on this occasion, common sense seems to have prevailed and both red painted doors and wristbands are to be dispensed with.

Now back to the ‘all-inclusive’ deals; may I politely suggest that hotels do away with wristbands and maybe consider some other form of ready identification that is less crude? How about retinal identification or thumbprints, or a quick flash of an app on the mobile phone that goes everywhere?

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/

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