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Letters Blog Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

The World Cradle of Rum

Visitors to the Canary Islands may remember that at the end of a good meal in a local restaurant, and before the bill arrives, they are presented with a ‘shot’ - a small glass of liqueur to round off a good meal. This ‘shot’ is presented as a ‘on the house’ gesture of gratitude from the restaurant for visiting, with the hope that you will visit again, as well as remembering to leave a tip before you leave.

This ‘shot’ is often a local Canarian Honey Rum, known as Ron Miel, which is made from a centuries old tradition of blending aged rum and honey. It is a sweet drink, but not as sweet as you might at first think, and certainly not as sickly to the taste as some liqueurs. It also includes a remarkable ‘kick’ if you drink too many, and it may also be wise not to accept your ‘shot’ if you are the driver!

It is often forgotten that when you speak about rum, you are talking about the Canary Islands; the two are intertwined. Many rum connoisseurs describe the Canary Islands as the ‘World Cradle of Rum’, where this beautiful spirit is made by combining a centuries old tradition with the superb quality of locally produced raw materials. White rum, banana rum, toffee rum, chocolate cream, coco-pineapple and coffee rum are just some of the many varieties available although, personally, I am rather fond of the banana variety!

So how is Honey Rum made? Seven-year-old rum is blended with natural honey from the Canary Islands, which create a natural combination of flavour. It may be enjoyed on its own, or you can ruin it by mixing it into a range of mixed drinks and cocktails. Although mixing may not be for the rum connoisseur, it is fair to say that Honey Rum does an excellent job as a natural substitute for man-made sugars and liqueurs.

One company that produces honey rum is Distillery Arehucus, which has recently proudly announced that it is shipping and selling its traditional ‘Ron Miel de Canarias’ to the USA. Distillery Arehucas is a fourth-generation family-owned business, which produces a range of world class rums and is the official supplier to the Spanish Royal family, so it can’t be bad!Traditional methods of production and quality are still used at the distillery, a local family business, which began rum production 125 years ago, and currently produces around 1.5 million litres each year. It is a fair bet that if you have already tried honey rum, or one of its sister flavours, it may well have been one produced by Distillery Arehucas, since they have around 50 per cent of the market share in honey rum on the islands and Europe.

The new export to the USA, as well as designed to tickle the American palette, also has an interesting history, with established links to the sugar cane industry, rum production, and the USA. All four voyages of Christopher Columbus, or Cristobal Colon as they like to call him over here, departed from the Canary Islands to the New World, and the first sugar canes planted in America left from the Canary Islands bound for the West Indies in the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, in 1493. Very appropriately, the current stock of sugar cane currently growing in the West Indies is originally from the Canary Islands.

Personally, I am not a great lover of cocktails, and to use Ron Miel as a mixer in any drink would be, in my view, dangerously close to sacrilege. My personal favourite is the banana variety, and I am sure that you will have great enjoyment trying out the range of Ron Miel! Besides, it may also be regarded as almost medicinal, as it is great for soothing sore throats, so do keep a bottle in your medicine cabinet, just in case!

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

Getting to Know a Lizard

She rested silently on the dry, stone wall watching me with her black eyes, studying my every move with careful precision. Her slender body soaking up every ray of the brilliant, warming sun. The long tongue flicked out of her mouth as she savoured every tasty morsel that came her way. In many ways, Clemmy reminds me so much of a girl that I once knew as a student many years ago.

For a lizard, Clemmy is of diminutive size, and I am convinced that she has hardly grown over the three years that I have known her. She only appears on hot, sunny days, when the sun’s rays hit the same spot on the wall of our garden. She usually appears when I am pruning the roses, setting new plants or watering the garden. I talk to her and she appears to listen carefully to my every word; goodness knows what the neighbours think of our conversations. Sometimes, I give Clemmy a small piece of fruit, which she enjoys, and there is always a little water dripping from a tap that needs a new washer, so I know that she does not lack liquid refreshment.

I am not an expert on lizards, so I am unsure as to what species Clemmy is, but these islands are home to some of the most impressive lizards on the planet. It is interesting to know that most of the Canary Islands have their own indigenous species and may best be regarded as a lizard paradise. The islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro are home to some of the largest true lizards on the planet that can grow to around 80 centimetres long, so Clemmy has a very long way to go.

The Giant Gran Canaria Lizard (Gallotia stehleni) is a common sight all over the island if we are quiet and take care to look for them. Lizards are curious, nosey creatures that many visitors and locals simply do not see. Their disguise is superb and they can easily blend into their rocky surroundings. Fortunately, they are a protected species by law and it is illegal to catch or kill lizards. Sadly, giant lizards are either extinct or severely endangered on the other Canary Islands, since they have been heavily hunted over the years by cats and rats and other predators. Sadly, the release of captive snakes in recent years by thoughtless pet owners has led to a reduction in the lizard population, since snakes find lizards to be a tasty addition to their diet.

The Giant Gran Canaria lizard is not to be argued with, since they have a very determined bite if provoked. Although they never attack humans, they do chase and fight their own kind. It is also true that lizards grow new tails if their original one gets damaged or bitten off by a predator.

I am reminded that 14 August is World Lizard Day, and that I have the privilege to share an island with thousands of lizards that have made the islands their home long before man became the imposter in their lives. Lizards, like Clemmy, are the true Canarians and deserve to be free and to roam as they please.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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Living in a Hayloft or Pod

The severe social and economic consequences of failing to provide sufficient housing for increasing populations is at last beginning to dawn upon national and local politicians in many countries although, as usual, UK politicians are slow to respond to the crisis. For far too long, governments of all political shades have ignored the issue of providing sufficient numbers of high-quality, low-cost housing for sale, as well as for rent. It is disturbing, inhumane and unacceptable to see people living on the streets in some of the most prosperous countries in the world. The Canary Islands and Spain are not immune from this issue, since increasing demand for both permanent, as well as holiday accommodation is a growing problem. A few interesting, as well as challenging ideas, are beginning to emerge that may help.

A company in the city of Barcelona has recently announced a plan to build an apartment that will house 15 people in tiny capsules that will cover an area of just 100 square metres. The idea for the project comes from a Japanese company called Haibu, where clients sleep in a pod that contains little more than a bed and a TV attached to the ceiling. The word ‘haibu’ means beehive in Japanese, with the company commenting that people are social creatures who were meant to live in communities that help each other out, rather like bees in a hive. I’m not too sure about this one, but willing to keep an open mind.

These pods are intended for permanent residents of the city and not for tourists. Each pod is 120cm wide, 120cm high and 200cm long. There is a bed and a headboard that can also be used for storage, shelves, a folding table, a wall socket and a USB charger. There are also communal areas, such as a shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. With rapidly increasing rents in the city, the company believes that its charge of 200 euros per month for each ‘room’ is an attractive proposition. The company believes that its pods are a better option than a hostel or sleeping on the streets, and will allow clients some privacy until their financial situation improves.

City authorities are not happy with the idea, commenting that there is no room for such a project in Barcelona, and warn that any housing unit must have a surface area of at least 40 square metres, which means that this company will never obtain the necessary operating licenses. Some commentators have already made the point that there is already a range of similar accommodation available in Spain’s cemeteries, and these are called coffins.

There are other options to consider. For instance, the Municipality of La Orotava in Tenerife has recently developed an imaginative idea that will help to ease the shortage of homes for local residents. The plan involves the renovation of over 300 barns and haylofts across the municipality that are currently abandoned. It is thought that each hayloft could provide a home for a family of up to 10 people.

Haylofts were traditional buildings that were mostly built in the higher areas of the island. They could help to solve the problems of lack of housing, and local councillors assure residents that those who used them many years ago were kept warm in winter and cool in summer. Canary Islanders know a thing or two about unusual housing, since many residents have lived and continue to live in traditional housing, such as caves, across several of the islands.

Over many years of disuse and neglect, many of these haylofts will require careful rebuilding and renovation but will be a much a cheaper and faster alternative to building new, traditional homes. This imaginative idea of converting 300 barns will not only provide homes for local people, but will ensure that these attractive traditional buildings can be preserved for historical interest in the future. This idea seems to have a future.

The difficulties of earning a large enough salary to be able to purchase a property in Spain has led to another dimension within the Spanish housing market, and that is through the concept of ‘bare ownership’, which some say is macabre, yet is perfectly legal. Elderly property owners are selling their homes for half the market value to willing buyers on condition that they can live out their final days in their home. When the elderly person dies, the new owner is then free to move in or sell the property at market value. Despite conditions attached to such a deal there appears to be no shortage of buyers tempted by the longer-term benefits of the seller’s death.

In the future, we will see many new initiatives designed to ease the shortage of housing across Europe. Some ideas will make better use of existing space through good planning and thoughtful design. Other schemes will no doubt focus mainly upon the profit motive, with little thought and compassion for those who will spend their lives there. Having a home is a basic human right and failing to provide sufficient homes demonstrates a breakdown in the traditional, embedded values of society.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

In Defence of Red Wine

I confess to having a weakness for red wine. At UK prices the temptation was never quite as strong, but for me this has been one of the real benefits of moving to Spain in general and Gran Canaria in particular. A plentiful supply of good wine - almost on tap - most of which are remarkably drinkable and exceptionally good value just warms the cockles of my heart!

I well recall two pieces of very useful advice that one of our neighbours gave us upon our arrival in the Costa Blanca. The first was, “Never to believe what anyone tells you – find out for yourself.” That was a good piece of advice, as how often have you been given conflicting advice about what to do in your new country? Listen to advice, ask lots of questions and find out more for yourself.

The second piece of advice was the most useful, “Never pay more than one euro for a bottle of wine!” I didn’t believe it, but yes, it is quite possible to buy a perfectly drinkable bottle of plonk for around that figure, and quite a decent bottle for under three euros. It was only after spotting three bottles of wine in our bin after only one day in our new home in The Costa Blanca that I realised that a brake would have to be put on our alcohol consumption! “All things in moderation,” I hear my mother’s reprimanding voice! Well, we all tend to over indulge from time to time, don’t we?

Most people appreciate wine for its delicious and complex taste. There are countless different types of wine, each pairing mouth wateringly well with certain combinations of food. Personally, I like most of the Spanish Riojas, but tend to prefer Navarra and La Mancha wines that are less popular and cheaper. This immense variety means, if you had enough money, you could live a lifetime without drinking the same wine twice. All very well, but how does this affect your health?

Wine, like any other item of food and drink, should be taken in moderation. Just like eating 8 pounds of chocolate a day is unhealthy, and 15 bags of crisps a day is not a good idea, so would drinking 8 bottles of wine a day. Wine, like anything else overdone, can harm your body in large quantities. The key is moderation.

Assuming a glass of wine is drunk with dinner every day, what benefits will this wine bring to your body? I recall reading heart-warming research showing that wine helps to reduce coronary heart disease. This is known as “The French Paradox” because doctors couldn’t work out why the fat-loving and heavy cigarette-smoking French weren’t dying from heart attacks. Wine, it turns out, is the answer.

What is wine doing? The wine is altering the blood lipid levels. It lowers the total cholesterol count, and raises the high density lipoprotein levels – it keeps the blood vessels clean. Research as far back as 2001 showed how polyphenols in red wine keeps the arteries clear. More recent studies show that wine helps to fight cancer. Wine contains a chemical called resveratrol that helps to suppress cancer. The red grapes that go into red wine also have bioflavonoids, which are antioxidants and help prevent cancer to begin with. As a stress fighter, wine is also shown to help cancer patients by relaxing them and helping them to fight their disease. Let’s see about that one... 

Studies also show that wine helps to prevent strokes. Scientists conclude that the alcohol breaks up blood clots and increases “good” cholesterol in the bloodstream. This keeps the arteries clean. This helps with the common stroke, but not the rarer stroke, which is sudden bleeding in the brain.

Wine is a calming influence, something which may seem incidental but should not be forgotten. The fact that dinner on the terrace in the evening is accompanied by a drink that helps the body relax and unwind can help the mental transition between work and play. Also, people fighting other illnesses can combat them better when calm and focussed. Alcohol, like any other food item, can be used properly, or can be used to excess. Indeed, I have recently seen research in that most hateful of daily UK tabloids that seems to contradict the benefits of such a perfect beverage, but as we all have a choice in life, I choose to completely ignore that one!

Finally, I should add that at all costs do avoid those ghastly cartons of wine – retailing in local supermarkets for around 60 cents. They may look like a bargain, but really most are fit for use only as a substitute for lavatory cleanser and certainly not intended for your stomach! Cheers!

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

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