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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Canary Islands by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​Too Fat to Die

Too Fat to Die

At last! We have finally reached the end of the celebratory season and we can get back to something that approaches normal! By normal, I mean eating the things that we should eat and not what we want to eat. The empty box of chocolates and crisp packets are finally confined to the bin, and it is time to be eating healthy meals once again; or is it?

Despite New Year Resolutions to do better, many of us find that our obsessive natures force us into eating more of what we should avoid, to drink more when we should abstain, and that our expensive financial commitment to the gym often results in a visit to the adjacent bar. At risk of depressing readers even more, how about being faced with the idea that if we are too obese, it may not be possible to be cremated when the time comes?

Authorities in Spain’s Valencia region are considering a ban on the cremation of bodies that are too fat, simply because the burning process generates too many toxic emissions. Well, I guess it is a fair point, but was not something that I had previously considered. Many of us will be aware of trying to reduce carbon emissions; for example, in the amount of flying that we may do when going on holiday or when using our cars, but have we seriously considered being too fat when we die?

According to experts in the cremation process, people who are too fat, or maybe I should be more politically correct and refer to the ‘morbidly obese’, generate a number of serious technical issues, which includes an excessive amount of toxic emissions. Forget fancy diets and Weight Watchers; surely that fact alone is a very persuasive reason to start losing weight?

The regional health authority in Valencia has suggested the new measures as part of new rules that are aimed at reducing air pollution from cremation, and particularly the cremation of large bodies. Other measures include a ban on cremating the bodies of people who had received treatment for cancer that used radioactive needles in the process.

In addition, a ban on cremating coffins that contain resins, plastics or other elements that could create highly toxic substances is being considered. So, if your preference is for a coffin that contains lead or zinc, or if you would like to be cremated with your best jewellery or indeed your mobile phone, just forget it. I find this rule quite depressing, since I do not intend leaving my new phone behind for any reason.

Readers will be relieved to know that the draft regulations insist that new crematoria have to be built at least 200 metres from homes, health centres, schools, parks and sports facilities. This is a very sensible idea, since the pungent aroma of a permanent barbecue would almost certainly reduce house prices.

Well, that is my contribution to healthy living for the New Year, which I am sure will help us all to follow sensible dietary guidance for the year ahead. If we really do feel unable to ‘fight the flab’ I guess the alternative is always burial at sea, but that has its own issues and is a story for another time.

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© Barrie Mahoney

​Just One Shade of Grey

Just One Shade of Grey

At the time of writing, the UK is in a period of collective limbo regarding Brexit. As a result, HM Government, through its network of British Ambassadors and Consulates, is busily issuing advice to expats living in Europe, which is meant to be helpful. In addition, writers, observers and bloggers, such as myself, are also offering their opinion and advice. In reality, of course, no one really knows what will happen, and most of the advice given could turn out to be irrelevant or even unhelpful. It is in this spirit that I offer the following information.

The UK Government has suggested that in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, mutual recognition of driving licences between the UK and Europe will cease. UK citizens wishing to drive in Europe after 29 March 2019 would need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). Whilst I vaguely remember being aware of this document, I had never actually seen one. I thought it was only intended to be used in remote, non-European destinations and was a kind of relic from post-Empire Britain. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The IDP is basically an official translation of the UK licence in various languages, which allows the holder to drive in another country when accompanied by a valid licence from their home country. In theory, the document helps drivers to motor around the world without a language barrier. It is valid in all countries that have signed the 1949 and 1968 Conventions on Road Traffic, and is particularly useful in some countries where car rental companies require one before a car may be hired from them.

I remembered that they used to be available from either the AA or the RAC motoring organisations in the UK, and so decided to apply for one from the AA. The total cost of the licence, together with overseas postage costs, was fifteen pounds. The application form was easily downloaded on line, but it required a postal application and a cheque for payment; certainly, no credit cards or Apple Pay welcome here! The entire process reminded me of a bureaucratic procedure from the 1980s. Two weeks later, the document arrived.

Whilst the application process was surprisingly efficient, the contents were nothing short of disappointing. The actual document is a dirty grey colour, which reminds me of a wartime ration book, rather than a modern driving licence designed to meet the challenges of swinging, post-Brexit Britain. Disappointingly, both the AA and RAC will no longer be permitted to issue IDPs from the end of February 2019. In future, IDPs will only be available from around 2500 Post Offices in the UK who will, I am told, offer a much simpler application process for just £5.50. The permit is valid for twelve months and it will no longer be possible to order one by post, since it now requires a personal visit to a UK Post Office. My guess is that the IDP will never be needed, and certainly not in its present form, but cautious readers may wish to apply for one just in case.

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© Barrie Mahoney

Stoned!

Stoned

Leaving messages in public places seems a strange thing to do, but I guess it has been going on for generations. You have only to look closely at ancient trees, park benches and public monuments to see those immortal words “John loves Jane”, or similar words, announcing to the world undying affection of a first love, latest love or indeed any other pertinent message. I guess it is rather like the Stone Age equivalent of Facebook and Twitter, when personal (and often irrelevant) messages are declared to the world, when maybe they would be better kept to one’s self.

Speaking of messages, the good people on the island of Fuerteventura are getting a little annoyed with tourists who are following the latest craze of leaving messages with stones on beaches, and building small towers with stones. The current problem is that tourists are no longer content to wander along the beautiful white, sandy beaches of Fuerteventura, but wish to leave their mark to those who follow. I guess you could call it the human equivalent of a dog ‘peeing on a lamppost’. These tourists who visit Fuerteventura carry out message or imaginative construction activities using stones to ensure that their presence does not go unnoticed, but which local experts describe as causing a destructive impact upon the ecosystem of these beautiful beaches.

One such area, Playa de Esquinzo in Fuerteventura, is just one example that was recently highlighted where the Tourist Board wants to raise awareness that their messaging and construction activities on beaches and coastal areas are destroying and damaging the landscape. Tourists on other Canary Islands are also adopting these stone message activities without considering how their actions affect delicately balanced ecosystems.

It seems that this modern-day equivalent of ‘peeing on a lamppost’ is not a new phenomenon. A Jewish friend recently told me that within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on a grave. A stone is placed by a visitor on the grave, but using only the left hand (don’t ask me why). The act of placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave, and enables visitors to commemorate the burial and life of the deceased. In this way, stones are used as an act of remembrance and a lasting reminder of the deceased’s life. Other historical accounts suggest that the tradition goes back to Biblical times when graves were simply marked with small stone mounds, because gravestones had not been invented. The mounds of stones helped to mark the location of the grave so that it could be found again in the future.

In addition to finding stone messages or small towers, beach walkers in the UK and US may come across a smooth pebble painted with a colourful picture of an animal or cartoon character, or simply a meaningful message. Pebble painting is yet another craze that appears to have originated in the United States and is beginning to find its way into Europe. Amateur artists take part in painting pebbles and leaving them in public places for others to find. Brightly painted pebbles with messages and colourful patterns may be found nestling in sand dunes, on top of walls and gate posts. Some parents regard it as a welcome pastime for their children, and encourage them to take a break from their smartphones and tablets, and collect stones and decorate them. Stone painting has become quite popular in some of the UK’s coastal resorts, and especially on beaches with plenty of smooth stones.

Sadly, council chiefs in the UK are not too happy with this idea, and often with good reason, as theysay they pose a danger to elderly people who risk tripping over them and they are used by vandals to throw at ducks and scrawl the paint onto local war memorials. Parents are urged to be responsible and to show their children common sense when hiding these rocks, so that they don't become problems for other people and the environment.

Meanwhile, back in the Canary Islands, tourism chiefs are hoping that tourists will continue to use and enjoy its beautiful beaches, but not to feel the urge to ‘dog mark’ by building stone towers or painting smooth stones for others to find. Indeed, this whole issue has left tourism chiefs in Fuerteventura with stony faces, so be warned.

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