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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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​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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Chocolate Medicine

Chocolate Medicine

So, how are you getting on after indulging in all those Christmas, New Year and Kings’ Day festivities? Personally, I am missing chocolate, which I do not usually eat, but made an exception during the festivities. Forget non-prescription drugs and alcohol, for me chocolate is just as addictive and the sooner that I kick the habit the better; or is it?

I felt a sudden rush of excitement when I read a recent report that chocolate may be one of the best remedies for dealing with a nasty cough. Forget all those revolting cough syrups, but simply suck chocolate. Now this is the cure that I do approve of, but does it work?

I know that I am not the only one living in the Canary Islands and Spain who has been welcoming visitors from the UK and Europe with some very nasty illnesses over the Christmas and New Year period. I usually try to avoid the airport as best I can, because I am convinced that all those flights from goodness knows where are simply riddled with bugs determined to ruin holidays and infest the local population with evil nastiness. I used to think that wearing a face-mask at the airport was simply over the top, but now I am not so sure. Back to chocolate.

A recent study has discovered that when we have one of those horrible, sleep preventing, hacking coughs, a dose of cough syrup will not do the trick. At best, it will probably upset your stomach or at worst give you a dose of diarrhoea, but it will not cure your cough. Instead, the most recent advice is to reach out for a bar of chocolate, which is far better for respiratory and cough symptoms than those evil concoctions from the chemist.

According to some very clever people at the University of Hull, supporting evidence in favour of eating chocolate is as solid as “a bar of Fruit and Nut”, and proves that cocoa is more effective than a bottle of standard cough medicine. If you simply compare the price of a bottle of cough medicine to a bar of chocolate, what’s not to like?

The survey found that patients taking chocolate-based medicine made a significant improvement in just two days. Experts suggest that it is the alkaloid contained within cocoa, theobromine, that is more effective at suppressing coughs than codeine, which is used in most cough medicines, and has all kinds of side effects including drowsiness.

A more detailed analysis suggests that it is the stickiness within chocolate that forms a coating on the nerves contained within the throat that basically prevents the urge to cough. It is similar to the effect of that favourite remedy of honey and lemon, but chocolate seems to be even more effective, and much more fun.

So, if your visitors have given you a post-Christmas gift of a nasty cold and cough, it seems that the best advice is to suck chocolate. I have no argument with this, and will be stocking up with a few bars of Dairy Milk especially for our next batch of visitors. Health warning: Please be aware, that I have absolutely no medical expertise and I do not work for the chocolate industry, so please don’t blame me if your cough gets better, but you put on weight instead.

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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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