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Letters Blog Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Termite Terror in Tenerife

First of all, my apologies for the alliteration and the crass ‘Daily Mail’ style headline; I just couldn’t resist it. Sadly, on this occasion, this is not “fake news”.

These invaders from the USA (Reticulitermes Flavipipes) were first reported in Tenerife in 2010. Commonly described as “an efficient and economic wood destroying insect” in the United States. These pests feed on all kinds of cellulose material, such as the wood used in buildings, paper, books and cotton. There can be as many as 20,000 to 5 million workers in a colony, with the queen laying 5,000 to 10,000 eggs each day.

Similar to ants and cockroaches, termites are a social species and share many of the tasks that are necessary for community survival. Their division of work is based on a caste system of workers, soldiers and breeders, which is remarkably efficient. These pests are a great problem in many countries, since termites can go undetected for a lengthy period of time. Their presence in structures can go unnoticed, since the timber will look structurally sound from the outside, but the inside of the structure will have been reduced to something resembling a honeycomb. Structural timbers and floorboards are most at risk from termite damage and termites are considered to be a serious economic pest.

In Tenerife, pest control services were alerted and they successfully eradicated these pests from a residential property, or so it was thought. The problem was once again reported in 2017, but the news was not widely reported, because residents were concerned that it would affect the value of their properties. Controlling and destroying termite colonies is not easy, and is expensive. Popular methods range from chemical treatments, heat, freezing, electrocution and microwave irradiation.

A recent report has since shown that this infestation in Tenerife is a serious one and now covers an area of around 60 kilometres, with suggestions that they could now have spread to anywhere on the island. In parts of Tenerife, such as La Laguna, there are many buildings of considerable cultural value that are mainly built from timber; there are also plant nurseries in the area. This, together with high temperatures and high levels of humidity, creates ideal conditions for termites to thrive throughout the year.

Tenerife is not the only place to suffer from the termite invasion. Cities, such as Paris and Florence have been tackling the problem for many years. Other Canary Islands are not immune either, since one of the reasons for the ten-year delay in reopening the lighthouse in the south of Gran Canaria is said to be damage caused by termites.

It is not all bad news, since termites are said to play a critical role in the decomposition of organic material on forest floors, for instance, without which forests would be in trouble. Sadly, this will not be of much comfort to communities in Tenerife and other places who are having to deal with the damage. Hopefully, local municipalities, as well as the island government, will step in to help eradicate this serious problem and to assist those who have been so badly affected by this hidden invader.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

To find out more about Barrie and his books, please click here

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

Whistle While We Work

I am often asked which of the eight inhabited Canary Islands I like best of all. I can never answer the question, because each island is different and beautiful in its own unique way. I make a point of visiting each of the islands over the year. I love them all; each have their own unique character, culture and traditions. Let me give just one example.

One of the smallest Canary Islands is La Gomera, which is currently much favoured by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. No doubt, she, like so many others, relish the peace and tranquillity of this island paradise. One of the elements of La Gomera is that it retains its own unique language, a whistled language called ‘Silbo Gomero’ (The Gomera Whistle).

‘Silbo Gomero’ is not a pointless academic exercise that the teaching of Latin is often accused of, but a true form of communication that is often used today. I recall hearing it in practical use during one of my many visits to the island. My hotel was next to a construction site, and builders were using this whistled form of communication to request additional materials, help and to give directions during the construction of a property. Its piercing shrill was unlike anything that I had heard before and I was impressed with the ease and fluency with which it was used.

La Gomera’s ancient whistling language was used by farmers and shepherds to communicate across La Gomera’s many large ravines. It is a language that consists of just two vowels and four consonants, yet the whistler is able to articulate words and phrases in Spanish or any other language.

Many believe that the language was first used by the Guanche inhabitants well before the conquest of the islands by Spain in the Fifteenth Century. Linguists regard the language with considerable interest, and some experts claim that it should be taught in general linguistics courses, because it demonstrates practically how a natural language is formed and organised.

Although ‘Silbo Gomero’ now has the status of being a UNESCO recognised form of communication, it was seriously in danger of dying out completely in the 1990s simply because children at school were told not to use the language, because “it made them sound like peasants.” In 1999, it began to be taught in schools once again in an effort to revitalise the language. This approach has been very successful and the regional Government is now considering offering courses on the language that will be taught by qualified teachers across all the islands.

Since its introduction into the education system twenty years ago, the status of the language has greatly improved. In La Gomera, it is currently taught for 30 minutes each week in primary schools, as well as the first two years of middle schools. The possibility of courses in the language being extended across all the Canary Islands is currently being considered. Whatever the decision, it is important to maintain and extend the use and understanding of ‘Silbo Gomero’ for cultural, as well as linguistic reasons. As with any language, the approach should be to learn to love the language and not to impose it.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

To find out more about Barrie and his books, please click here

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

It began with a dream

“It began with a dream…” was the opening sentence in the first chapter of my first book, which told the story of how my partner, David, and I found ourselves living and working in the Costa Blanca and the Canary Islands after careers as teachers in the UK. Like so many before us, we needed a change of pace and lifestyle and some sunshine; Spain was beckoning and had been for several years.

That was over twenty years and fourteen books ago. It was a time when many British people were seriously considering utilising the equity built up in a relatively modest property, or a pension payoff, to look at buying a good value property in Spain, France, or other European destinations. The pound-euro exchange rate was very strong in those days, which made even a meagre UK state pension go a long way. Living and working in the European Union meant that visas and work permits were no longer needed. It had all become so very simple to start a new life in a country of choice, and gave many the opportunity to ‘Live their dream’.

Time has moved on; Brexit has now become a large part of the concerns that present-day British immigrants living in Europe are continuing to deal with. Due to my previous work as a columnist and reporter in Spain and the Canary Islands, I still hear from many British immigrants who continue to share their concerns about their lives in Spain, as well as expressing fears for the future. Issues relating to health cover, finance, employment rights, pensions, motoring, and property are just some of the issues that continue to give many British immigrants sleepless nights. I know of some for whom the continual stress has been too much, and they have become ill and returned to the UK. For others, a return to the UK is no longer possible, because they are either too sick and reliant upon the Spanish health service, or no longer have the funds to be able to return to the UK.

Spain has always had a generous policy towards British immigrants during this challenging time, but much depends upon reciprocity with the British Government. Much depends upon the government of the day; nothing is guaranteed or certain now that the UK has left the EU; that protection is no more. These are issues that are likely to continue for many years and far beyond the remaining lives of many immigrants currently living in Europe.

It is some of these issues that have prompted many British immigrants to return to the UK. For some, recognition that their Spanish dream has come to an end has been a painful and daunting process as they try to begin a new chapter in their lives. The dream of living in continental Europe is, of course, still possible for those with sufficient funds and determination, but is nowhere as easy or secure as it was in a post-Brexit Europe.

Despite current challenges, there will always be those who will seek the freedom to live and work in a country of their choosing and not of their birth. People will continue to have dreams and seek to turn them into reality. Life is short and so it is up to all of us to ‘Live Our Dream’ in the best possible way.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

To find out more about Barrie and his books, please click here

Have Your Checked Your DNA?

Have you purchased one of those DNA test kits that have become so popular recently? Several stories in the tabloids tell of clients who have been “shocked” at discovering that their parents were not who they thought they were. I guess if you open yourself up to this kind of intimate investigation, one just has to accept the risks and take whatever is discovered.

I bought a DNA test kit shortly after the results of the 2016 EU referendum, as I was anxious to confirm my Irish heritage with a view to claiming my right to an Irish passport. All it took was a sample of saliva and a lengthy wait. The results were fascinating, and it led to discovering cousins and other relatives that I didn’t know existed. I have since met several previously unknown relatives and, for me, it was money very well spent. It has also inspired me with an ongoing interest in my own ancestry, which I heartily recommend to others.

This new DNA technology has enabled anthropologists to further investigate the origins of the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands. This archipelago, which is made up of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa, is located off the north western coast of Africa, midway between Morocco and Western Sahara. The study of its early indigenous people has always been subject to guesswork and argument, with little real evidence to back up various conclusions; that is until DNA testing arrived.

Early studies of the indigenous people of these islands have been made difficult because of the cruel colonisation of the islands during the Spanish conquest of the 15th Century. Over the years, there has been a healthy debate as to whether the first people to settle in the Canary Islands were Mediterranean sailors or travellers from afar. These studies have suggested that the indigenous people of the Canary Islands were a mixture of Mediterranean and African people, but there is little reliable information about how these people actually arrived on the islands.

Recent DNA research by experts at Stanford University and the University of La Laguna in Tenerife suggest that the first people to settle on these islands were the Berbers from North Africa who arrived in the First Century. There are indications that other lineages from Central North Africa also settled on these islands.

This research suggests that DNA from 50 remains across 25 sites, between 150 AD and 1400 AD, can be traced from the Middle East to Africa, which indicates that the Berbers had already mixed with Mediterranean people before they colonised the islands. They had settled on all eight islands by 1000 AD. The overall conclusion is that the Berbers sailed to the Canary Islands as explorers, ready to settle and colonise these islands. Migration to these islands was significant, since these people already had the resources to survive long before the slave trade and the development of sugar plantations.

Purchasing a DNA kit can lead to fascinating and sometimes unwelcome discoveries, but one that can lead to a fascinating journey into the past. Just one word of warning; do be prepared for a few surprises.

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