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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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​The Last Bottle Standing

The Last Bottle Standing

One of the many delights of living in the Canary Islands and Spain is the enjoyment of a huge range of wines that are readily and cheaply available. Although wine snobs will disagree, bottles of good quality, drinkable wines are always readily available for less than five euros. As well as a growing selection of excellent Canarian wines that I always enjoy, my reliable standby, particularly when visiting the UK, is always a Spanish Rioja.

The Spanish region of La Rioja is the largest wine growing region, in terms of volume shipped to the UK, in the entire European Union. According to the Spanish Wine Market Observatory, Spanish wineries sold 32 million litres of Rioja to the UK in the first nine months of 2018, which is one third of their entire global export. It is clear that British drinkers love their glass of Rioja.

In order to ensure that British wine drinkers continue to receive their fair share, Spanish vineyards have been working hard to ship as much Rioja as possible, just in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Forecast sales for the first six months of 2019 have already been shipped, so there will be no immediate crisis for lovers of Rioja in the UK. Potential problems, such as the depreciation of sterling, the UK becoming a ‘third country outside the EU’, the possibility of no customs agreement and higher duties have led the Spanish wine industry to look to other markets to sell their product, including Russia, Canada and Brazil where there are already appreciative and interested markets waiting.

There are a few other problems too for Rioja lovers, including the decision of the outspoken owner of a major group of UK pubs to no longer stock any European wines and many European beers. It appears that lovers of Spanish, French, Italian and German wines will have to find a new outlet that will serve their favourite tipples once the UK leaves the EU. Favourite beers, such as Jägermeister from Germany, the Czech Republic’s Staropramen and Denmark’s Tuborg are also being axed. Apparently, the Belgian lager Stella Artois, is currently irreplaceable and will remain on tap, at least for the time being. Encouraging and supporting British breweries and vineyards, as well as extending customer choice is no doubt a good thing, but the restriction of consumer choice based upon political and divisive dogma may be less than helpful in a market where consumers can readily vote with their feet.

Wines from the US, Australia, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand are currently being imported by the pub chain to fill the void, whilst sparkling wines from England are intended to replace both Italian Prosecco and French Moet champagne. No more Prosecco? Well, good luck with that one!

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© Barrie Mahoney

​Shining the Light

Shining the Light

The Canary Islands are often rich in public announcements and presentations to the press, but whether well-meaning projects will actually happen is quite another matter. Over the years, I have attended many lengthy press conferences, and often with impressive audio-visual presentations from earnest members of island governments, city mayors and experts about exciting and imaginative plans for the development of these islands. Sadly, there are now numerous abandoned projects that litter my ‘Intending Projects’ folder, which include an island railway, a futuristic spaceport and a Chinese Village, to name just three on my list. Sadly, these are merely dreams that have disappeared into the ether, which I doubt will never actually come to fruition.

The impact of the recession and a changing political landscape are usually the main excuses deployed when the authorities are questioned about their failure to deliver. Still, they always provide an interesting story and a photo opportunity. Does it actually matter that they will never happen? Probably not; after all, in time, these projects will be forgotten.

Cynicism aside, I was delighted that the much discussed and planned renovation of the Maspalomas lighthouse finally happened this week. Known to the locals as ‘El Faro de Maspalomas’, this building finally reopened to the public after a ten-year delay, which this time was blamed upon the activity of termites; well, that’s a new one.

Looking at old maps and photographs of these islands always fascinates me to see that the south of Gran Canaria, as we currently know it, did not exist. There were only small clusters of fishermen’s dwellings on the coast. It was the lighthouse that stood proudly over barren land as the most significant building in the south of the island. Later, thanks mostly to European Union funding, the current network of roads and tunnels were built that allowed remote parts of the island to be connected, followed by the rapid development of the sun-drenched tourist resorts that we see today.

This lighthouse appears in nearly all brochures and publicity material relating to holidays in Gran Canaria. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the Canary Islands, as well as the tallest masonry lighthouse. This lighthouse is still in operation, and now regarded as a Site of Cultural Interest.

It was originally built by the Las Palmas Port Authority, and designed by the famous local engineer, Juan León y Castillo. Building started in 1861 and took 28 years to complete, since all the building materials had to be brought by ship. The lighthouse shone its first light in 1890 to help ships on routes between Europe, Africa and America. The tower is 58 metres high, and was first illuminated in 1890 to guide ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean with its light that could be seen for 19 nautical miles.

The building now houses an impressive exhibition of five hundred years of island history, showcasing island products, culture, as well as the island’s rich and varied landscapes. The lighthouse now includes a tourist office, handicraft shop and an ethnographic centre that tells the island’s story from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century, the aboriginal era, as well as writings from travellers who passed through the Canary Islands.

The duties of the lighthouse have now shifted away from guiding ships crossing the Atlantic to boasting a new shining light that enhances lighting of the walkway in the evenings along the Meloneras seafront. It is a route taken by thousands of people each day who wish to enjoy magnificent ocean views, shopping, restaurants as well as magnificent sunsets. The light of this impressive building continues to shine brightly, as well as now sharing its story.

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The Social Laundry

The Social Laundry

Commercial laundries are big business in the Canarian village where I live. There are several that operate seven days a week with their main business being from the hotels in the south of the island, which provide important work for local residents. After all, who do you think washes and irons those blistering white sheets on the beds of all those hotels? It is unlikely to be the hotel staff, and convoys of large vans trundle from the hotels in the south of the island to our village every day of the year. Walking past the entrances to these laundries, I am greeted with the heady heat and smell of freshly laundered sheets. I keep well away from the areas where used sheets and other bedding arrive for processing!

Do you remember the days when laundrettes were a feature of most high streets, or at least within easy access of the town centre? Most seem to have disappeared in recent years, or turned into dry clean only businesses. I have not seen a launderette for many years. For students and those who could not afford an expensive washing machine of their own, laundrettes were a life safer. In the days before a plethora of coffee and betting shops took over the high street, launderettes provided a valuable social experience, as well as somewhere to warm up on a cold day and to meet and chat with other people.

Times have moved on, and washing machines are no longer the major, expensive purchase that they once were, and prices for a good, basic model seem to fall each year, and especially during the winter sales. Even so, there are still many people who have neither the cash, or indeed a home in which to install one.

Even for those that live in towns that are fortunate enough to have their own local launderette, this does not answer the problem for those who cannot afford to use them. It is with this problem in mind that the City Council in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria came up with the imaginative idea of a social laundry, which is said to be the first of its kind in Spain.

Social laundries already operate in a number of countries. They are created out of necessity and reflect an awareness that society must do whatever it can to help those in need. The homeless, the disabled and those in great financial need, as well as older people who have nobody to wash their linen and clothes, all benefit from such a service.

In Las Palmas, twenty vulnerable families in the city can now use the laundry service to wash and dry their clothes twice a week in large industrial washing machines and driers, completely free of charge.

Whilst the scheme is currently a pilot project, the City Council hopes to extend the scheme across the entire city. It is imaginative schemes, such as the one in Las Palmas, that helps to provide a welcome and necessary respite for those in need. I hope that this initiative spreads rapidly and that we see far more social laundries for those that need support.

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​Brexit Boxes

Brexit Boxes

Brexit is a subject that I usually try to avoid writing about. The debate is currently so heated on both sides of the argument that I am bound to upset someone by even mentioning the word. There is quite enough negativity around without adding to it. Even so, I was very surprised when an American visitor gave me a copy of a popular US newspaper when she visited the island last week, so I am going to risk it.

“Anxious Brits Buy Hundreds of Food-Prepper Brexit Boxes” screamed the headlines of this supposedly prestigious newspaper. Now, I am not too sure what “Food Prepper” is exactly, but my American friend assured me that they are very popular in the US during times of hurricanes, fire, flood and other disasters. Apparently, it is a form of food stockpiling, which was the province of determined survivalist groups, but, according to this US newspaper, is now common practice for the UK population during a time when the UK is attempting to leave the European Union. The article reports concerns that leaving the EU without a deal could lead to a shortage of some goods.

I was very surprised to read the article, as I have yet to meet or hear of anyone who is taking the idea of food shortages that seriously, and certainly not involved in stockpiling or buying ‘Brexit Boxes’. I do know of one elderly gentleman who is stocking up on his heart pills and haemorrhoid cream, just in case, but that is about it. Maybe they are doing it very quietly when no-one is looking and not talking about it. One company that produces ‘Brexit Boxes’ for such emergencies claims a substantial rise in sales across the country. This attempt at “stockpiling made easy” includes 60 “essential items” such as freeze dried meals, a water filter and something to start a fire, which we used to call matches.

‘Brexit Boxes’ are supposed to make people feel more secure in the knowledge that they can enjoy a meal of chicken tikka, macaroni cheese and filtered water, whilst society is generally collapsing around them. “Sod the neighbours”, I hear Charles and Marina cry in Essex, “let’s just get on with our tasty meal”.

Apparently, the food items have a 25-year shelf life, saturated in tasty preservatives that are a chemist’s dream, and are really delicious, which is good to know. The boxes are a kind of insurance policy, which may be compared to buying a car or house insurance policy and hopefully is never needed, particularly for those items with a 25-year shelf life.

Even supermarkets, such as Tesco and organisations, such as Mumsnet, have joined in the fun about what to stockpile in case of Brexit chaos that could disrupt food and medical supplies. The American newspaper also warns that additional police have been put on standby and that London’s Metropolitan Police are advising retailers to provide additional security, since a shortage of goods, including ‘Brexit Boxes’, could lead to problems with customer behaviour.

Needless to say, the UK Government has dismissed the reports of stockpiling as “unnecessary”, but will be issuing guidance to householders on how to plan for such events. Personally, I suspect that the best thing to do is to start digging an underground shelter - just in case.

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