As is the custom in the ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ series, this book includes letters written over a one-year period from the Canary Islands. These letters are inspired by life in the Canary Islands and Spain and are intended for all those who love these beautiful islands and the country that it is part of. The winter months have now set in, and much of Europe is currently facing chilly temperatures, rain, heavy cloud and even snow. As I write this on a sunny, warm morning in December, I am reminded of those words uttered by Christopher Columbus when he referred to these island as “The Fortunate Isles”; they certainly are.
Despite living in what I have come to appreciate as one of the best places on Earth to live and work, these islands are not always the paradise that many claim them to be. In my weekly letters, I try to give a balanced and honest view of living on these islands, which is why I sometimes write about poverty and food banks, high unemployment, lack of affordable housing, the migrant crisis, physical and mental abuse, animal cruelty, robbery, murder, and drug and alcohol abuse to name just a few of the human conditions that impact upon this ‘paradise’. These disturbing reports often surprise readers and I occasionally receive indignant emails from island lovers who wish to express their displeasure about my more ‘negative letters’. “You should focus on the best things about these lovely islands”, I am told. “We don’t want to read about island misery; we get enough of that at home”, I was told recently by a visiting tourist.
I do not work for the tourist industry, nor the islands’ government. My aim, as always, is to try and give an unbiased and informed view of real life on these islands and Spain, and not to reflect the often dishonest, yet idyllic pictures in all those holiday brochures. Sorry to shatter illusions of near paradise, but life here is just not like that. Whilst most of those ‘all inclusive’ glass palaces are owned and managed by overseas business interests, it is local people who have to work long, unsocial hours, often with low pay and poor working conditions to ensure that our overseas visitors have an enjoyable and memorable time.
For those who live and work in the Canary Islands and Spain, as well as other European countries, the looming spectre of Brexit has, for many, created a troublesome year. The future of Brits living in European Union countries remains uncertain, although all hope that common sense and pragmatism will eventually prevail for the benefit of everyone. The dream that myself and many others were able to fulfil of living and working in any European country and not to be restrained by location due an accident of birth, looks as if it will be denied to others in the future. Work and residency permits, driven by the need to restrict migration, which most had thought had long gone, have once again raised their ugly heads. The freedoms that we have been able to enjoy in the last forty years or so, look as if they are about to change. Only time will tell whether Brexit was a wise and successful strategy or not.
On a more positive note, this book aims to celebrate what I and many others enjoy about living in these wonderful islands, as well as Spain. It has been a joy this year to find that the islands’ government has found ways of significantly reducing the costs for residents to travel across all the islands, as well as to the Spanish Peninsular. This strategy is helping residents across all the islands to discover the many unique features of each island, as well as the opportunity to travel to Peninsular Spain, which has previously been denied to them, because of high travel costs. In addition, most of the islands are now offering heavily discounted tickets for internal travel, which is helping the unemployed to seek jobs further afield, students to access higher education, as well helping older people to explore and socialise.
On a more personal note, these islands are for me a paradise, and I could not imagine living anywhere else. When I first visited the Canary Islands on a package holiday so many years ago, I knew that one day, somehow, I would live here. I have been fortunate, the UK being a member of the European Union has certainly helped, as did my career change from teacher to reporter. Life is short, and I hope that in some small way, this book, as well as other books in the ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ series will help to inspire and motivate others to ‘seek and live their dream’.
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© Barrie Mahoney
Now here’s an essential question to start the day. Are you sufficiently worthy to have an airport named after you, and presumably after you die? Alternatively, if you don’t consider that you meet these high specifications, do you know someone who does?
I have never been too sure about the wisdom of naming airports after people. If, for example, I wish to fly to Paris, I wish to fly to Paris and not into the arms of someone called Charles de Gaul. Why do airports in the United States have to be named after past Presidents? Washington National Airport used to be called just that until it was renamed the Ronald Reagan Airport; surely it was already named after a President called Washington, so I fail to see the point. In any case, just think of all those costs associated with new signs.
Despite some reservations, I was very pleased to hear that the island of Lanzarote will shortly be changing the name of its airport to Cesar Manrique. This name change has been requested by many residents for some time and was recently agreed by both the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, and the President of the Canary Islands, Fernando Clavijo. As an admirer of the work of Cesar Manrique, I believe this to be an excellent choice in honouring someone who made a considerable and positive impact upon the island of Lanzarote, as well as the other islands in terms of architecture and the environment. Despite this endorsement, I am also well aware that there will be others who will see the change of airport name as controversial.
Other airport naming controversies include renaming the island of Madeira’s airport to Cristiano Ronaldo International; I’m not too sure what the Spanish taxman thought of that particular honour. Anyone remember the footballer, George Best? In memory of both his on- and off-pitch antics, Belfast City Airport has become George Best Belfast City Airport; what a mouthful! Whether he is considered a footballing hero or not, many will be pleased to know that it has a rather good duty free shop, which might be thought appropriate.
Over in Jamaica, I gather that the locals were not impressed when their airport was renamed after a part-time resident and author of novels about a British spy called James Bond. Many protested that the airport should have been named after a true islander, such as Usain Bolt, and not Ian Fleming.
John Lennon, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Marco Polo and even Robin Hood are all preserved for posterity in the names of some of the world’s airports. Interestingly, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has banned the official naming of British airports after famous people in the future, which I think is an excellent decision. Personally, I would much rather the airport be named after the place that I am travelling to rather than someone I have never heard of, or have no interest in. I am also very grateful that I am spared from flying to Margaret Thatcher International, but I guess whether or not you will agree will depend upon your own political point of view.
© Barrie Mahoney
As we prepare for the Christmas festivities, maybe an article about poverty is not what many will expect, but maybe it is the most important time to discuss a subject that we are all aware of, but feel helpless to do anything about. At least in the Canary Islands, we can offer a little good news that should have a positive impact upon many people in need.
I sometimes write about both homelessness and food aid in the Canary Islands, which surprises some and annoys those who believe that I should somehow focus my time upon extolling the virtues and beauty of these wonderful islands, and act as an unofficial holiday promoter. Since I do not work for the tourism industry or am responsible to the island government, I feel that my time is better spent opening the eyes of those who have been seduced by the island dream to what is really going on behind those glossy brochures and slick television advertisements. Yes, these are wonderful islands to visit, live, work and play, but the unemployment situation is horrendous, particularly for young people, and the lack of affordable housing is at crisis levels, so that we have many residents who are either homeless or relying on food banks to survive. Despite those glossy brochures and ‘all you can eat and drink’ hotel deals in this ‘alternative island universe’, this is not the reality that many people face each day of their lives.
The Canary Islands are not alone in this shame. Poorly publicised statistics show that between 2013 and 2017, around 230 homeless people died on the streets of Britain. Between 2017 and 2018, 440 people have died, which is almost twice as many in a quarter of the time. How any society can allow this to happen, and how any government can rest easy with these appalling statistics, I do not know.
The good news is that in Gran Canaria, the city of Las Palmas has recently created the first day centre for homeless people with an investment of around 700,000 euros from the Canary Islands Development Fund.This building will be accessible for all as it will have an elevator, stairs and bathrooms especially adapted for people with reduced mobility. This refurbishment project began in 2017 with the first phase of demolition of the interior.
It is hoped that this new facility will open in February 2019, and will be the first day centre for homeless people in the Canary Islands. The day centre will provide a reception area, medical and administrative offices, training rooms, a hairdressing salon, toilets, and bathrooms adapted for people with reduced mobility, as well as an outdoor area that will be used as a rest area. The first floor will provide a kitchen, a dining room with capacity for 60 people, luggage storage, restrooms and showers for residents, a locker room for staff, offices, a warehouse and a cleaning room. The third floor, which is currently under construction, will see the creation of 34 residential spaces, so that homeless people can spend the night in the new centre.
In another welcome move, the Government of the Canary Islands has received 1,787,000 euros from the European Aid Fund for the Most Disadvantaged, which is the second of three payments to the Spanish Red Cross and the Spanish Federation of Food Banks in the Canary Islands. The European Aid Fund is jointly funded by the European Union and the Spanish Government and is intended to promote social cohesion, to reinforce inclusion and to contribute to the goal of eradicating poverty.
Food aid is given to various institutions to distribute to the population according to different categories, such as those with low incomes, mothers with new babies, unemployed people, as well as those identified as being within the poverty index. In the Canary Islands, the money allocated to the purchase of food amounts to almost 5,300,000 euros divided into three periods throughout the year. The ‘food basket’ contains about fourteen products, such as white rice, cooked beans, UHT milk, olive oil, canned tuna, pasta, tinned tomatoes, biscuits, canned green beans, canned fruit in light syrup, powdered chocolate, infant bottles of fruit and chicken, infant cereals and milk powder.
During the early days of the recession, politicians in both Spain and the UK were fond of using placatory phrases, such as “We are all in it together”. Clearly, we are not and never will be. These islands have the potential to be of enormous benefit to all its citizens, and not just the mega hotels and businesses that are often based in other countries and have very little positive impact upon the local economy. It is with this in mind that I read with interest a recent report from the Government of the Canary Islands that the new tourism strategy for the islands between now and 2025 will contain a commitment to the whole of society, and with the aim of increasing the quality of life for all. Let us hope that this really will be the case, and not just empty words.
© Barrie Mahoney