“Phew, it’s hot up my barranco today, darling,” gasped Miranda as she staggered down the street carrying two large and heavy bags of clattering bottles from the local supermarket. Before you get too carried away by imagining a doctor about to don a pair of surgical gloves for some emergency female probing, I should explain that Miranda is one of the village’s more colourful characters. She is a school assistant in one of the less classy private schools by day and a tattooist by night. I once asked if there was any conflict of interest between her two jobs. She screeched loudly in my ear, before resting her mug of gin on top of my car.
“No, not at all, darling. It’s a great way to help the kids with their reading.”
I must have looked puzzled, as I thought I knew a thing or two about teaching children to read, and she seemed to read my thoughts.
“You see, I have all the letters of the alphabet tattooed all over my body somewhere, so I use those to help children to read. If it’s Tina the Tiresome Transvestite we are reading, I just point out this letter “T” on my arm and then we find the picture of the Tina on my back. Easy, the kids love it.”
“So you have all the letters and associated pictures somewhere on your body?”
“Oh, yes, darling, but I should say that some are more difficult to find than others. We tend to keep off the “Y” and “Z” words otherwise I would get the sack, darling. If you know what I mean!” She guffawed loudly, as she nudged me in the ribs and winked knowingly.
I think you are probably getting the idea of what Miranda is like. A lovely lady, but back in the UK I would be surprised if she had a job. However, over here, I am much more open-minded.
As Miranda dropped her bags by my front gate and she propped herself on my parked car, she watched what I was doing with some amusement. I stopped washing the hedge (actually it is one of those plastic ones, but I do like to freshen it up a bit from time to time) and it is always a good opportunity to remove the crisp packets and condoms from its branches.
“You are home early today. Is everything alright?”
“Darling, it’s the heat. It is just so hot. I tell you, darling, it was 41ºC up my barranco at lunchtime. It was just too much darling. We sent the little dears home early, because they were just fading away.”
I tried to imagine Miranda’s boisterous pupils fading away and thought it highly unlikely. We have a number of calimas, although some people call them siroccos, on the islands each year, and the islanders are generally conditioned to withstand them, and it is the expats who suffer. They can be a little unpleasant for a few days, bringing with them very high temperatures from Africa and the Sahara. In my own village, when the wind disappears, it is a case of staying inside as much as possible with air-conditioning on and plenty of cool drinks. These heat waves can occur at any time during the year, but they are less common during the cooler months.
Miranda’s school is situated in a barranco, a Spanish word for ravine. Some would say that was a foolish place to build it, because of potential sudden rainstorms, but I guess the land was cheap. Anyway, I suspect it was built to withstand the heat and would have air conditioning installed as essential.
“I was pleased to get home early, darling. I needed to get ready for the bonfire this evening.”
“Bonfire? In this heat!” I exclaimed.
“Darling, tomorrow is the Festival of St John the Baptist. A most important religious festival! You mustn’t miss that. We are having a bonfire party tonight to celebrate. Not here you understand, but outside Telde. It’s traditional you know, darling. You really must come. You don’t have to be a Catholic, just bring a bottle!”
So there we have it. We are in the middle of a calima where daytime temperatures are around 40ºC, in the shade, and the good people of Telde are planning a bonfire party to celebrate St John the Baptist. The activities on this island never cease to surprise me.
© Barrie Mahoney
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living in Spain and the Canary Islands : ISBN 978-0995602724