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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Mushy Peas

I read recently that due to the country’s financial situation, many people who are used to eating avocado on toast are now turning to eating mushy peas on toast, as a cheaper alternative. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, I say; I adore mushy peas!

Mushy peas are sometimes, very occasionally known as ‘Yorkshire Caviar’. I really don’t know why, and I prefer the term ‘mushy peas’ anyway. It is what it says. Mushy peas are the surviving remnants of medieval and earlier British diets. Peas are harvested in late summer, and dried peas can be stored all year. They were once our main source of home-grown protein.

It is strange how a particular smell can trigger memories from long ago. We opened a tin of mushy peas yesterday, and the first time that I have seen or eaten mushy peas for many years. In those days mushy peas would appear occasionally on our family menu. I remember the peas being small, hard, bullet-like things, to which my Mum added a magical tablet that I was told was to stop the peas discolouring. As I recall, I rather enjoyed them, but there were times when Mum overcooked them and they looked disgusting, but they always tasted good.

Mushy peas also brought back very fond memories of my Uncle Cyril and Auntie Annie. They owned and ran a fish and chip shop in a small Lincolnshire town. By all accounts it was very popular with the locals, and I can see why. My Uncle Cyril, who was my father’s brother, was a very jolly, friendly character. He was a thin man who smoked like a trooper, had an amazing sense of humour, and made a kind of repressed squelching sound whenever he laughed, which seemed to be most of the time. He wore very thick pebble glasses as his eyesight was so poor; a family trait that I have inherited. As a child, I loved his company, maybe because he looked a bit like a slimmer, much jollier version of my father. Auntie Annie was a very plump, ‘round’ busy lady, with a ready smile and a loud, booming voice. I can easily see why this couple were so popular with their customers, and why their ‘frying nights’ were, I suspect, very profitable.

We often used to visit Cyril and Annie on Saturday afternoons. I was never sure whether they were expecting us or not but, looking back, I now see that it was a little thoughtless of us to visit on a Saturday afternoon, just after their busy lunchtime and before an even busier evening. We used to enter the building by a side door, and if we turned left, we would enter the fish and chip shop. It was a strange, rather bleak room with a massive pale green and metal fryer at one end of the room and bare wooden floors, long trestle tables and benches filling the rest of the room. There was always the lingering smell of fish and chips floating out of the room and into the narrow corridor. If we turned right, we would enter the small living room, which was dominated by a large upright piano, which no one ever played to my knowledge. I can still see Auntie Annie perched on the edge of the piano stool in my mind’s eye.

In the small entrance there would always be a large metal container full of mushy peas that were cooking for the evening opening. I loved the smell, and always wished Aunt and Uncle would present me with a plate of chips and mushy peas, which sadly they never did. Indeed, I don’t recall ever eating fish and chips from their restaurant. They would politely entertain us in their small living room with a cup of tea, when my Dad and Uncle Cyril chatted and laughed together. Although Dad was very different in his attitude and behaviour to Uncle Cyril, they clearly enjoyed each other’s company. It was good to see Dad laughing heartily at Uncle Cyril’s jokes and teasing, although I often sensed that my Mum was more irritated than amused at their schoolboy humour. She would soon make her regular excuse “We’d better be going soon, as we have to let Sally out and feed her” or whatever the current excuse would be. Sally was our corgi, who would probably be just fine for several hours, but she always provided Mum with a good excuse to leave whenever she felt uncomfortable or wanted to escape a situation. It is a very useful strategy to remember and use when appropriate, but only if you have a dog. I am sure that as pleased as they were to see us, Annie and Cyril would have been relieved to see us leave, since they would have had a very busy Saturday evening’s frying ahead.

So, there we are, don’t worry if you cannot afford avocado on toast, try mushy peas on toast instead. I highly recommend it.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

In 1999, a Japanese designer, Shigetaka Kurita, came up with the idea for 176 emojis when working for NTT DOCOMO, a Japanese mobile phone company. They were intended to help facilitate electronic communication when used with mobile phones and pagers. Emoji is a blend of two Japanese words, picture and letters. I often wonder if it was mere coincidence that the word ‘emoji’ sounds similar to the English word ‘emotion’.

Well, that’s the history part. Do I find emojis useful? No, actually I find emojis intensely annoying and meaningless to put it bluntly. OK, I agree that it is quite useful to put the ‘pile of shit’ emoji or the ‘vomit’ emoji as a response to the more outrageous utterings of Donald Trump or Liz Truss, or some other head banging politician who is speaking out of his posterior on issues, such as the Israeli/Gaza conflict, the Russia/Ukraine war, global warming or other desperately serious matters of the day, but do emojis really help to move the debate forward? I don’t think so.

Has the ‘love’ emoji got anything to do with true love? Is love now just a word to be trotted out on meaningless occasions? It seems that gone are the days when lovesick teenagers scribbled notes to their boyfriends or girlfriends declaring love forever. Instead, lovers must make do with the ‘heart’ emoji, albeit repeated many times, together with lots of kisses. Surely this is not as romantic as opening a crumpled envelope with ‘BURMA’, (Be Undressed and Ready My Angel) or ‘SWALK’ (Sealed With a Love and Kiss) scrawled determinedly across the back of the envelope? Such declarations of passionate love appear to be long gone. I rather like Shakespeare’s words about the meaning of love “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind”. Hmm, I wonder if that would include the ‘heart’ emoji? I doubt that he would have used it.

Looking at my own recent social media posts, I see that they are covered in both ‘likes’ and ‘loves’. Are my contacts and readers really in such desperate love with me, or are they merely expressing appreciation for an article that they have read and presumably enjoyed? Maybe a simple ‘like’ would be sufficient to express their appreciation, but I do find streams of ‘love hearts’ just a tad embarrassing, particularly at my age.

Age, now that’s another thing. Is this emoji nonsense simply an age thing? I mentioned my dislike of emojis to a group of teenagers and those in their early twenties the other day. Initially, I was embarrassed to express my true feelings, as I was quite sure I would be shouted down as “an oldie who has lost the plot”. Surprisingly, this was not the case. There were several nods of agreement, and I was surprised by the comments of one lad who said that he would prefer to write a rap to his girlfriend to express his love, whilst another said he liked writing poetry to his girlfriend. One young lady said that she found ‘love hearts’ to be “too much”. There was only one dissenter who admitted that his written English wasn’t very good and emojis helped him to communicate his thoughts. Honest lad.

Looking up the definition of an emoji, I discovered that “they infuse flat text with personality”, which I guess is one of the reasons that they have firmly embedded themselves within popular culture. I guess this isn’t too different from ancient Egyptians using hieroglyphics to record their stories, although I have yet to see examples of these being used to express love, although I guess there are examples to be found.

If you really are a fan of the emoji, do remember that you can celebrate it on July 17, which is World Emoji Day. Fans can buy and wear a range of exciting emoji apparel and swamp Facebook and X (previously known as Twitter) with messages of emoji love – hearts and all. Apparently, on this day you can also vote on “the most anticipated emoji”; I can hardly wait.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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

What an Angel!

“Oh, she’s an angel”, or “Thank you, you’re an angel” are some of the comments that I sometimes hear, often following an act of kindness or generosity. Maybe such comments are more common in the older generation nowadays, but I am used to hearing them. It is always a comment that startles me for a moment, and I wonder.

Yes, I do believe in angels, but not the winged being, bathed in celestial light and sporting a rather fabulous halo type; these may exist, but I haven’t seen one. Admittedly my understanding of them has grown and developed over the years with the experiences of life. To put it simply, I believe that angels are the physical embodiment of the Spirit that guides, supports, encourages, and challenges us in our daily lives. The Spirit may manifest itself through people, or indeed animals that we are close to, such as our dog or cat.

My mother believed in angels too. Her faith was no nonsense, black and white, as was her career in nursing. She was no pushover and could spot an untruth before I even opened my mouth. As I was growing up, she often referred to angels that surround us in our everyday lives, yet only rarely referred to the ‘incident’ that she had experienced many years earlier. I remember that my equally no-nonsense father discouraged her from speaking about it, since he thought it made my mother sound foolish. Later in her life, I questioned her several times about what she had seen, and the answer was always the same with a crystal-clear memory. “They are all around us”, she would say, “Just keep an open mind and you will see”.

As I progress through life, I have experienced support that I cannot always explain. I have met people who briefly enter my life with words of wisdom, suggestions, encouragement, and support, and often using words that don’t appear to be their own. Sometimes, it is someone that I know that is offering support, but often it is a stranger who enters my life briefly and I never see again.

We have recently lost our much-loved dog, Oscar, a corgi. He came into our lives as an unwanted stray and from the moment that we met, he and I bonded closely. Oscar always seemed to sense when the bad news came, when I was ill, when the chemotherapy was getting too much. Later, as I lost my peripheral vision, he began to carefully guide me up and down the steps that lead to our outside patio. Before we had handrails fitted, Oscar would wait at each step for me before guiding me to the next and wait by my side before repeating the process going down the steps. His long white tail would stick in the air as a guide, and he watched me closely as I negotiated each step. He behaved like a guide dog, but he never had training. Loss is painful, but I do know that I had an angel by my side when it was most needed; the angel was called Oscar.

Although angels are often popular in films, books and songs, they are rarely taken seriously in ‘real life’. I sometimes watch popular films that includes an angel, who is usually someone that you would least expect to represent ‘the heavenly host’. I often find it hard to dismiss these as fiction, since I suspect there is some truth behind the representation. I believe that angels are with us, supporting and helping us every day of our lives. The question is whether “You are an angel” comment refers to someone who is particularly kind or has done a good deed, or is really an angel? My guess is, it doesn’t really matter.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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

All Helmets and Sweaty Lycra

Over the years, cyclists from all over Europe have headed to the Canary Islands to take advantage of some decent weather with which to indulge in their favourite pastime. All of the inhabited islands have become increasingly popular, but with the favourite destinations being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura that are selected as ideal destinations for all-year-round cycling. The tourist boards and hotels are grateful, since income from cyclists and their entourages makes a healthy contribution to tourist income.

As well as heat, the islands offer mountains, breath-taking scenery and a refreshing sea breeze. Rainfall is rare during most of the year, which makes the islands ideal for winter training. The main disadvantage are the dust storms, which although occasional, are like riding through a blanket of hot, dry fog. These ‘calimas’ are caused by very fine sand being blown from the Sahara. Locals are wise enough to know that they should remain indoors in such conditions, but it is not unusual to see dozens of cyclists attempting to complete their training schedule in conditions that must be injurious to their general health, and with some being admitted to hospital for treatment. Those suffering from asthma, as well as other breathing conditions, would do well to avoid cycling on the islands during the presence of a calima.

Whilst following behind two ‘team cyclists’ the other day, who incidentally were holding hands, it occurred to me that I rarely see a happy cyclist nowadays. They all seem to be so deadly serious, gritting their teeth and with huge quantities of sweat leaking from their designer Lycra. It looks to be anything but pleasurable and seems to be more of a test of endurance; maybe that is the point. I rarely see cyclists actually enjoying their cycling in the beautiful scenery that these islands have to offer. Their eyes seem to be glued to the road just ahead of them, or glued to the sensuous bottom of the team cyclist in front.

It all seems such hard work nowadays; whatever happened to cycling for fun? Am I the only one who remembers actually enjoying cycling to work or going for a leisurely cycle in the countryside with friends, and stopping for a pub lunch before cycling home? Cyclists visiting these islands have spent a considerable amount of money on flights and accommodation, as well as transporting their cycles from their home countries, so why waste it peddling aimlessly up and down the same stretch of road near my home?

As I cautiously follow the two cyclists holding hands, musing on my cycling memories from the past, other motorists were getting impatient behind me. Road conditions meant that I could not overtake, so I was content to wait. However, others were not, which encouraged one very angry motorist to hoot the cyclists loudly, as he overtook me whilst approaching a bend. The cycling ‘lovebirds’ merely dropped their physical connection briefly and offered the angry motorist a one-finger salute, which is not the best way to gain friends or to promote one’s sport.

Anger is never appropriate in these circumstances, but it did remind me of a number of emails that I have received in recent months, complaining that “cyclists are a nuisance” (with much stronger language being used). It is also clear that negative comments on the islands’ social media are rapidly increasing, with angry comments declaring that team cyclists are becoming a curse on the islands’ roads. Rarely does a week pass without at least one cyclist being seriously injured during a road traffic accident, or even worse, alongside their crushed cycle. There are regular reports of children, the elderly, the infirm and those simply not paying attention, being hit by a speeding cyclist. It seems that the days of welcoming team cyclists to these islands is fast disappearing.

The old adage of ‘each to their own’ comes to mind, but maybe enjoyment from cycling can be achieved without inconveniencing, annoying or maiming pedestrians and other road users. An appropriate message to team cyclists might be to enjoy these beautiful islands, appreciate the ever-changing scenery, adjust appropriately to road conditions, and to be thoughtful towards others. Maybe looking less desperate and smiling a little, might help too? Speed and sweat is not what life is about.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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

What Are the British Well Known For?

The British used to be well known across the world for Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket. We like to be known for our infamous ‘stiff upper lips’, sense of fair play, tolerance and justice. Many, mostly older people, still like to revel in the days of Empire and the ‘enlightenment’ that it brought to the world, whilst conveniently forgetting the evils of slavery, repression and imposition of alien values upon people across the world. No doubt, we all have an image of what Britain and its people stand for, although younger members of society are developing rapidly different views, which is very welcome in a fast moving, modern world.

After many years living as an immigrant in Spain and the Canary Islands, I have come to a view, which many will regard as unreasonable and non-liberal, that British citizens should first pass an intelligence test and secondly a test in basic good manners before they are granted a British passport. Many immigrants like myself, and the majority of British holidaymakers, are appalled by the attitudes and behaviour of a small minority of British holidaymakers.

Over the years, we have become familiar with the chancers who claim to have had valuable items ‘stolen’ on holiday and attempt to claim the proceeds from their insurance company. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a family heading for one of the cheapest holidays in Benidorm is unlikely to own a top-quality Rolex watch, the latest iPhone, diamond bracelet and expensive camera for each member of the family. Fortunately, the Spanish police are now much more rigorous in investigating such claims, and offenders are likely to be arrested and prosecuted for fraud. In addition, insurance companies are now much wiser to such scams, sharing databases of claims and identifying potential fraud. Despite this, we still regularly hear of such claims, although most are refused and the perpetrators prosecuted for fraud.

As many will have read in recent weeks, one British scam, and I stress that so far it is only the British who are involved, is false claims for food poisoning against hotels in Spain and the Canary Islands, even though the holidaymakers have not been genuinely ill. There are ‘legal companies’ in the UK, who are now presumably at a loose end following the completion of banking PPI compensation claims, and are now encouraging holidaymakers to claim for food poisoning. Many claimants have received large sums of compensation from innocent Spanish hotels, because the hotels cannot afford the high costs of challenging such claims in the British courts, and have simply paid up without a challenge.

These ‘legal companies’ have been offering ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements to hundreds of British holidaymakers, costing Spanish hotels around 60 million euros, which is a situation that clearly cannot continue. Spanish hoteliers and the Spanish Government are now fighting back and all future claims will have to be heard in Spanish courts. Some hotels are now refusing to accept British guests, and those that are accepted are being carefully monitored, with the introduction of signed disclaimers, and in ‘all inclusive’ hotels, the quantity of food and drinks consumed during the supposed period of illness is being recorded. In addition, ringleaders will be identified and prosecuted.

It was good to read this week that two British people were arrested by the Guardia Civil in Mallorca for trying to persuade tourists to make fraudulent claims whilst staying in the resort of Alcudia. The couple were acting for a so-called legal company in the UK that is sending representatives to Spanish resorts to drum up more business, as they are clearly making massive profits. The main regions affected by these fraudulent claims are the Canary Islands, Costa Blanca, Benidorm, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol.

Probably, my suggestion for a test of intelligence and basic good manners before being granted a British passport should be regarded as ‘tongue in cheek’, but it is worrying that a small minority of our fellow citizens are behaving in a manner that eventually has a negative impact upon all. I suspect that if the question is currently asked about what the British are known for, it will no longer be Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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

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