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
In the United States, a South Carolina ticket holder recently claimed the biggest lottery win in the history of the country, and with the lottery company confirming that there is one winner of the US$1.6 billion prize, which is about 1.2 billion pounds, all for just a two-dollar stake. Admittedly, the odds of winning were not great at one in more than 300 million, but maybe it was worth taking the risk of loss in this particular case.
In Spain and the Canary Islands, we are approaching that time of the year when tickets for the annual Christmas Lottery are on sale. This particular lottery, which is more commonly known as ‘El Gordo’ (The Big/Fat One) is very important in Spain, and towns and villages grind to a halt during the morning of the 22ndDecember when children ‘sing’ the lottery numbers in the usual tuneless monotone, which is traditional of the event. The roll call of numbers seems to go on for hours, and the doleful dirge stays with listeners for much of the day. It is one of those sounds, rather like an annoying advertising jingle, that is hard to forget. In Spain, the Christmas Lottery is an essential part of Christmas and is, for many, when Christmas celebrations truly begin.
There was also another special lottery this year, which was to celebrate Spain’s National Day on 12 October (‘Especial Día de la Hispanidad de la Loterería Nacional). This lottery, offered 84 million euros in prizes, which meant even more to Canary Islanders this year, and particularly those living in, as well as those who have a particular connection to, the island of Lanzarote. The Plaza de Los Leones de Teguise in Lanzarote was the scene for this year’s prize draw. This special issue consisted of 100,000 tickets, divided into tickets of 120 euros. Each ticket was sub divided into tickets costing 12 euros each.
Teguise was the previous capital of Lanzarote for 450 years until 1852, when it was supplanted by the ‘modern upstart’ Arrecife. Teguise remains an important cultural and tourist centre with its streets brimming with convents, squares and palaces. The town was named after the last Princess of the native, pre-Spanish inhabitants, called Guanches, and is the oldest Spanish settlement in the entire Canary Islands, dating back to 1402. This beautiful town witnessed many attacks by pirates, as well as the Moors and Christians, which reached its climax in 1618, with an invasion of 5000 Algerian buccaneers who overran the town, which led to a violent massacre.
In the 1980s, great efforts were made to restore Teguise to its former glory and to recognise its status as one of the oldest towns in the Canary Islands. As such, the town was declared to be an important architectural and historic site, since it is where much of Lanzarote’s vibrant history has been written.
Today, many locals and tourists visit the town, particularly during the morning hours, but the best time to see this architectural treasure is when they have gone home for lunch. Once the hustle and bustle of bargain hunters have disappeared, deserted streets create a unique flavour of Teguise’s prosperous, yet more troublesome past. Thankfully, few organised coach tours show much interest in the town, and the lack of hotels helps to ensure that Teguise remains frozen in time.
The decision to highlight Lanzarote in this way was an enlightened one designed to mark and celebrate the 600thanniversary of a very special town. Hopefully, there were many happy lottery prize winners in Lanzarote this year; if not, there is always another lottery just around the corner.© Barrie Mahoney ￼
We paid our electricity bill this week, or rather it was debited from our bank account without any warning. It has always irritated me that the electricity companies in Spain and the Canary Islands feel that they can take whatever they wish from our bank account without letting us know in advance; it is the same with the water company too. In the Canary Islands, electricity and water bills usually arrive two or three weeks after the payment has been taken from bank accounts, which makes careful budgeting, particularly for those on a low income, very difficult.
I am sure that most people find that monthly electricity bills increase and rarely is there any movement downwards. In our home, over the last few years, we have gradually changed to energy efficient lighting and appliances, but the increase in cost whilst consumption remains steady is often staggering.
It is of course, the poorest in society that are most affected by high electricity bills. Terms such as ‘Fuel Poverty’ or ‘Energy Poverty’ are some of the current meaningless phrases designed to make this serious issue somehow socially more acceptable. For many people, this can mean an impossible choice between keeping warm or eating. In the Canary Islands, those regarded as ‘vulnerable’, as well as large families can apply for a ‘social bonus’, which is designed to ease the cost of such bills by providing a discount. Unfortunately, as is the case with many such schemes in Spain, the system is unnecessarily complicated and bureaucratic, which many families simply do not understand and such schemes often end up causing more harm than good.
The best way of avoiding energy poverty is to reduce the cost of electricity through the promotion and investment in renewable energy. This will come in time, assuming that the oil companies and politicians allow it, but in the meantime, efforts are being made to encourage municipalities to provide emergency fuel aid for those families that cannot pay their electricity bills and the supply is cut off.Local politicians are rightly making the point that that residents of the Canary Islands have a right to receive electricity at a price that is equivalent to residents living in Peninsular Spain, even though the costs of producing electricity on the islands are three times as high.
In the Canary Islands, we have an abundance of sunshine, wind and wave power, but the dilatory manner in which these renewable sources are being utilised is staggering. There are examples to the contrary, of course, with the island of El Hierro leading the way with massive investment in renewable sources, which is already making a huge difference to the lives of islanders, as well as a massive reduction in carbon emissions and is often quoted as a positive example by researchers in other countries.
The Canary Islands are located just a short distance from Africa, and it was interesting to hear researchers recently claim that the installation of huge numbers of solar panels and wind turbines in the Sahara Desert would have a major impact on rainfall, vegetation and temperatures. The action of wind turbines and solar panels would double the amount of rain that currently falls on the Sahara, which would have a huge and positive impact upon the region, allowing vegetation to flourish.
In addition, according to the researchers’ calculations, a massive installation of solar panels and wind farms in the desert would generate more than four times the amount of energy that the world currently uses each year. If such plans were ever to come to fruition, it could potentially end the issue of fuel poverty once and for all. However, one can only imagine the blocking mechanisms of the oil industry and investors in the energy market.© Barrie Mahoney ￼