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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Let them eat turnips

I winced when I heard the BBC’s business correspondent being asked about the current shortages of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. “Is it anything to do with Brexit?” asked the news presenter.

“It’s all to do with the weather, nothing to do with Brexit”, came the earnest reply. I knew then that we were hearing the BBC/Tory Government’s official line, which has nothing to do with facts or accuracy of information. I knew it was time to change channels, which is becoming increasingly frequent nowadays. After all, no one can accuse the BBC of not being government biased, can they?

Listening to more accurate reporting from those who know and have bothered to check the facts, included an interview with Sainsbury’s chairman who made it quite clear that Brexit is mainly to blame for the current situation. Indeed, my amateurish fact checking with friends living in Spain and elsewhere in Europe confirm that their fruit and vegetable shelves are full; there is no shortage in their supermarkets.

Despite what is currently being reported in the right-wing tabloids and the BBC, the reason for the current shortage of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, is more to do with Brexit than weather conditions, whatever our government would like the British public to believe. At this point, the government’s environment minister, Therese Coffey, was wheeled out to address the issue. In a somewhat patronising response, she told MPs that British consumers should “cherish” home grown produce and that the problem is that people now want tomatoes and lettuces all the year round when they should be eating turnips.

Ms Coffey’s remarks were quickly parodied by opposition MPs as “Let them eat turnips”, which was a reference to the 18th century French Queen, Marie Antoinette, who responded to the bread shortage with the comment “Let them eat cake”.

Therese does have a point of course, and her clumsy remarks hid the obvious fact that we import far more food than we grow ourselves, often from countries far away, which have troubling environmental implications. We no longer eat to a seasonal timetable, but whatever we fancy, whenever we fancy it. In my own case, I eat a bowl of mixed fruit every morning for breakfast. I enjoy it and it is usually a mixture of fresh raspberries, blueberries, banana, pineapple and grapes depending upon whatever Tesco or Asda have in stock at the time. I cheerfully eat mange tout imported from Kenya at lunchtime, as well as vegetable produce imported from countries far away, which I rarely bother to acknowledge. I, like so many, just take it all for granted if we can afford it.

If I put the clock back to my childhood, we ate whatever was grown in the garden or available at that time of the year. If we had apples during the winter months, it was because they had been wrapped in newspaper after picking and carefully stored. Oranges were a seasonal delight, but the quality of which deteriorated as the months passed by. If we were fortunate, maybe a pineapple or bananas would appear at Christmas. I am sure that I am not unusual in admitting that my Christmas stocking always contained an apple, an orange, some nuts and maybe a few chocolates, which I was grateful for. Imagine giving that stocking filler to children nowadays!

We were fortunate in having access to a very large garden, an orchard and a greenhouse. At the appropriate time of year there was an abundance of raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, black, red and white currents, as well as all manner of vegetables. Raspberries were always my favourite, and I would help my mother to pick them. For several weeks, desserts were always raspberry-based, and the making of jam was endless. Many bowls and bags of fruit and vegetables were given away to anyone who would take them and who did not grow their own, which was unusual in our community. I loved plums, especially the juicy Victoria variety, which I rarely see available nowadays. None of these delicacies were available during the winter months when tinned or bottled fruit and vegetables came into their own on special occasions.

Despite the abundance of fruit and vegetables that we had at home, my father was always very insistent that mother only prepared and served meat, potatoes and only two vegetables at dinner time. He was always annoyed and grumpy whenever mother would decide to break party rules and serve three vegetables. I could never understand this as we were inundated with the stuff. I used to question, and later tease him whenever this issue came up, but I never got a straight answer. My mother would always make a reference to wartime rationing and “children starving in Africa” but even the younger me thought that sending a bag of cabbages and the dreaded sprouts to starving children in Africa was taking it all a bit too far.

Therese does have a point and there is a case for growing much more of our own food, but the question of space, time and seasonal issues raise their ugly heads. Eating turnips all year round is not a popular option, I suspect. During my childhood, allotments were plentiful in most areas, but nowadays these are a challenge to find, let alone acquire one. We need to be able to access food at a fair price that rewards growers and are not subject to huge variations in price. We need easy access to all manner of crops coming from growing conditions that are very different to our own. I have an idea that I think will work. How about joining a free market with our friends and neighbours across the Channel?

Not Good, Not Bad, Just Different

I was enjoying time spent in a UK supermarket once again. In Waitrose, particularly, I was tempted with all manner of fresh produce and, best of all, prepared ready meals. Initially living on my own in the new property before David could join me, I was so busy throughout those very long days cleaning, painting and repairing that I had little time to prepare meals.

In any case, all I had available was a kettle, electric toaster and a microwave oven; even the gas cooker that I had retained from the house clearance had died. I would escape the daily chaos by walking the short distance to Waitrose where I could browse for a ready meal and then enjoy a coffee and cake in the café before returning ‘home’ to the chaos that was waiting for me.

For several weeks, it was a welcome escape that I valued. There was even a free supply of coffee for those that purchased one of their special mugs!

I also liked my local Waitrose store, since they seemed to have a very good policy that supported the local community. One example of this was the large collection of recycling skips located in their car park. This was very useful for me, since at the beginning of my relocation to the town, I did not have the necessary range of coloured boxes and bins that indicated that one was accepted as a ‘true resident’.

There were black bins, green bins, blue containers for food waste, blue bags for newspapers and magazines, green boxes and black boxes. I really did not understand what these were for, how to use them and when they were emptied. I decided to have a chat with a friendly neighbour, who was very helpful, sat me down with a coffee, and explained which box was used for what, and when they were due to be emptied; it was all very confusing.

In Gran Canaria, we did not have local refuse collections. There was a large hopper close to the seafront where we would take our rubbish each day, and there were others scattered around the village, each close to a local community of properties.

Each hopper was also an electric crusher which, in theory, would be activated once or twice a day that would allow more rubbish to be comfortably stored until it was emptied by a large collection vehicle. The system generally worked very well until the usual collection of saints’ days, holidays and staff illness punctuated the usual routine. Then the huge hopper would then sit, not activated, for several days, giving off disgusting smells and providing a breeding ground for flies, locusts and welcome treats for rats, as well as stray dogs and cats.

One afternoon, when I called in the store to buy my evening meal, I stopped at the café and found one of the usually cheerful members of staff in tears. I had spoken to Sarah several times before; she was a local woman and had been very helpful in giving me advice about where I could buy this or that, and asked her what the matter was.

She told me that they had just heard that Waitrose was closing the store. I was shocked to hear this and sympathised with Sarah. I knew that the John Lewis Partnership usually had an impressive record of looking after their staff, or ‘partners’ as they are called, and asked Sarah if she had been offered a job at one of their other stores, which were not too far away.

“That’s the problem,” she sobbed, “they are closing the other local stores as well; there’s nothing left in this area for us.”

Indeed, they did close the supermarket, as well as most of the other branches in the area. It happened very quickly and was a distressing time for the staff who had given loyalty and service and, in some cases, for many years.

I missed my short walk to buy my meal and the friendly chat and helpful advice from the staff. I also missed the large recycling hoppers that suddenly disappeared with no mention of where they would be resituated. I hadn’t quite realised at the time, but this was going to be an issue for me.

During my first weeks in our new home, I had no means of transport and therefore ordered all the necessary items online from Amazon and other online companies. As most readers will be aware, products ordered in this way are accompanied by huge amounts of packaging. I had ordered furniture, paint, step ladders, shelves, timber amongst many other large items that came, usually well wrapped, in large boxes.

Very soon, our large garage was nearly full of folded cartons that had to be disposed of. One day I called the local council for assistance and was put through to a less than helpful member of staff. I asked if someone could visit to collect the cardboard boxes, as well as the faulty gas cooker.

“No, we don’t do that. You will have to take the boxes to your local recycling point.”

I asked where such a point was and was told that it was in the Waitrose car park. I mentioned that they had been taken away following the closure of the store.

“You’ll just have to take them to another recycling point then, won’t you?” came the curt reply.

I pointed out that I had no transport.

“Fold them up, stand on them if you have to, and put them in the recycling box.” She sighed.

With my patience wearing thin, I repeated that I had a garage full of boxes, and they would not fit into one small recycling box, however much I stamped on them.

“Spread it over a few weeks then. By the way, we can take your gas cooker.”

Good news at last. I asked when it could be collected?

“You must give us at least four weeks’ notice, and it will cost forty pounds. Just leave it outside your door, but you’ll have to buy a permit first.”

With that, I politely declined the offer, looked in the local paper and discovered a very helpful man called Vince. Vince arrived the following day with George, and both men cheerfully emptied the garage, cleared away unwanted rocks, bricks and all manner of rubbish from the garden, together with the gas cooker, all for forty pounds.

I had been warned by a neighbour to make sure that I asked to see a recycling licence from anyone collecting rubbish from our property, since fly tipping was a problem in the area. With the unhelpful attitude of the local council that I had experienced, I could now fully understand why fly tipping was a serious and growing problem.

In Gran Canaria, recycling was never an issue. As well as the main rubbish hoppers, there were also recycling bins for clothing, shoes, cardboard, plastic etc, which worked well. In addition, charity shops were always willing to accept items offered to them, and most would cheerfully collect larger items.

The town council would often surprisingly quickly collect large, unwanted, broken items such cookers, fridges and beds. Some of these items would be repaired for use, even on a temporary basis, by homeless people and the many asylum seekers that were now arriving in Spain from the Western Sahara.

Looking back, their policy was both responsible and sensible; fly tipping was never an issue as it is in Devon. The lady clerk in the Devon council office could learn a great deal from her colleagues working on a small island in the Atlantic.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

This article is part of the book 'Travelling Hopefully' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

Maybe it’s time to put your affairs in order?

“Maybe it’s time to put your affairs in order?” is a form of words that many patients with a terminal diagnosis are familiar with. It is intended as a form of words that gives the broadest possible indication to the patient that he or she has limited time left. In reality, it so often far too late for many patients to put their affairs in order. Those of us that are more fortunate are grateful for the warning and that we have some time to sort things out for those who are left behind. It is something that I have witnessed being said to patients a number of times, but often wished that I hadn’t intruded upon this most personal of life changing conversations.

It was chemotherapy time for me again, the fifth of the third round of six two weekly infusions. They are potentially very tedious affairs with an hour or so of preparation, followed by a four-hour infusion and finally another hour or so of disconnection and fitting a pump to take home, if required. Initially, it can all seem rather alarming and intimidating, but I have witnessed nothing but kindness, warmth and excellent care from the wonderful team that work at my cancer unit. There is often gentle teasing, jokes and raucous laughter from nursing staff and patients alike. Despite the serious issues of many conditions being treated, it is always a centre that promotes love, hope and care.

All the preparations having been completed, I was ushered into the far end of the ward, which has all the comfortable reclining chairs, in one of which I will spend the next four hours. I was pleased to be allocated to my usual chair in a prime position by the window. There was one middle aged lady to the right of my chair, whilst a very frail elderly lady was seated in the chair opposite.

“This lady is Lucy,” announced my nurse pointing to the lady on the right.

“I haven’t been called that for a very long time,” laughed Lucy struggling to swallow part of her sandwich. She smiled and said “Hello” to me.

“And this lady is Ellen,” continued the nurse referring to the elderly lady opposite. The frail woman, put down her book and nodded towards me. I could see that she was not at all well, and had been crying.

I sat in my allocated chair; the drip was placed beside me with four or five coloured bags of fluid hanging above me. The nurse fiddled with the connections, and finally connected one tube from the drip to the connection on my chest.

“We’re all ready to go. Are you ok? Do you need a blanket or another pillow, Barrie?

“I’m all good, thanks. Is that lot all for me? I guess I’ll be spending most of the day going to the toilet then?”

“It certainly is, my love. Now, you’re all connected and we are ready to start. You like hot chocolate, don’t you? Do you want biscuits as well?”

Although I rarely drink hot chocolate at home, I always look forward to one after starting an infusion. Amazingly, the team of nurses or ancillary staff always seem to remember.

It was a busy morning in the chemotherapy ward. Even though I was seated in a small bay with four chairs, there were several other bays nearby. There were patients waiting for treatment in the corridor outside, as well as in the treatment rooms. It was going to be a busy morning for all the staff.

I was pleased to be in my usual seat and the two women patients looked friendly enough. I enjoy talking to people and I am curious about the lives of others, as those who know me will recognise; I will talk to anyone if given the opportunity to do so. However, I hope I am sensitive enough to chat to only those who want to chat. Some patients, given their condition, prefer to be left alone, whilst others will happily talk, usually in the hope that it will briefly help them to forget what is happening to them. I usually find that it is men who are the most difficult patients in the cancer ward. Some will happily talk, but many prefer to sit in sullen silence. Some men are deniers that there is anything wrong with them, and are part of the ‘Why me?’ brigade, whilst others are abrupt, unnecessarily sharp and sometimes unpleasant to those who are trying to help them. Most women, on the other hand, seem to be much more pragmatic and appreciative of the care that they are given. These are generalisations, of course, and there are always exceptions.

Ellen, the frail lady opposite to me sat reading her library book. I could see that she wasn’t really reading her book, since she rarely turned any pages. She was clearly very troubled and had red eyes from crying.

“Would you like a cup of tea, Ellen?” asked the nurse. “I think the doctor is coming to see you shortly.”

“No more tea at the moment, thank you,” replied Ellen. “How long do you think she will be?”

“Not too long, my dear,” replied the nurse. “I think she is just outside the children’s ward. She will be along in a few minutes, I guess.”

A few minutes later, the doctor appeared. I had seen this doctor before, and she smiled at me as she approached Ellen. She pulled the curtains around Ellen and began to speak quietly to her.

It is difficult not to hear a conversation when someone is physically so close even though shielded by a curtain. The doctor was explaining the results of Ellen’s latest scan and blood tests to her. Ellen was clearly hard of hearing, and the doctor had to repeat the results to her several times. It was then that I heard the words that we all dread hearing.

“Maybe it’s time to put your affairs in order, Ellen?”

Lucy glanced at me and shook her head sadly.

After a pause, I could hear Ellen sobbing gently, followed by kind, supportive and reassuring words from the doctor. Eventually the sobs ended and the doctor drew the curtains back, clearly looking upset herself as she left the ward.

Ellen sat looking bewildered and continued trying to hide her face with her book. I could see tears still pouring from her eyes, which she continually mopped with a tissue. How I wanted to say something, or at least to get out of my chair and attempt to comfort the poor lady, but sadly I was trapped in my chair with tubes.

Suddenly, Brenda, a nursing ancillary, appeared. I often used to chat with Brenda, a kind gentle woman with a wicked sense of humour. I remember her pouring a jug of water over me, by accident of course, during one of my first infusions. She and I never forgot the experience, and we often used to joke about it; I often used to pretend to hide whenever I saw her coming.

Brenda walked over to Ellen, pulled across a stool and sat beside her. Brenda held Ellen in her arms whilst she sobbed quietly. No words between the pair were spoken, and Brenda sat with Ellen until the sobbing and tears ceased. It seemed to be an age, but I guess it was about ten minutes or so. Later, Brenda left briefly and returned with a “nice cup of tea”, which Ellen accepted gratefully. Ellen sipped her tea and started reading her book. Ellen looked at me and smiled and both Lucy and I gave her the thumbs up.

I had just witnessed a wonderful example of love and care for those in distress. No words were spoken; they were not needed. It was simply the feeling that someone cared enough to take time out during a busy morning to show love, compassion and support. It was an experience that I will never forget.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

This article was published in the Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) magazine 'The Friend' on 19 January 2023

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

Charity Shops

My goodness, staff working in charity shops in Devon are a picky lot! They certainly know how to stick their noses into the air, and reject items offered to them. I wonder if this is the same throughout the country? I hope not, because many good quality items that could be of use to someone will end up in landfill.

My first experience of charity shop rejection came when I had a handful of DVDs that I no longer wanted. I thought I would drop these into the local Oxfam shop. I was joined by an elderly woman who I had spotted staggering along the pavement carrying a large box of what looked like books. We entered the shop together. As we both entered the shop, we were looked up and down by a plump middle-aged man who looked at the elderly woman and her box of books. He then glanced at me and my handful of DVDs, and then shook his head.

“Oh no. We are far too busy to sort them. We are inundated with the stuff. We cannot take them.”

The elderly woman signed. “Oh no, I’ve just walked all the way from the car park with them. I hadn’t realised how heavy they are. Some of these books are new. Are you sure you cannot take them?”

“Quite sure,” was the offhand response, as he turned away and walked into a side room.

“Look, let me take the box of books, and you carry my DVDs,” I offered. “Let’s try the ‘Cats’ Protection’ shop. They usually welcome most things.”

The elderly woman gratefully swapped her heavy box of books for my DVDs and we walked together to an adjoining road, and walked into the ‘Cats’ Protection’ shop. The greeting given was in complete contrast to that in the Oxfam shop, and the lady behind the counter gratefully accepted the box of books and my DVDs. She spotted one of them and put it to one side.

“I’ll be buying that one for myself. I was hoping that would turn up one day. It will complete my Hardy collection,” she smiled.

“Yes, I like Hardy too, I replied. “I already have one copy, but someone gave me that one as a gift some time ago, and I don’t need two. It’s a good film, I hope you enjoy it.”

“I’m sure I will. Thank you both for the books and DVDs. They always sell well. We keep the prices low, but it all adds up and helps the cats.”

I said goodbye to the friendly sales lady and to the elderly woman who was browsing the card section.

“Thank you for your help with the books. I’m going to buy my Christmas cards here. I have many more books at home, so I will bring them here instead of Oxfam in future.” I nodded in agreement, and I also decided not to visit the Oxfam shop again.

This experience was in complete contrast to our life in Gran Canaria. In our neighbouring town of Vecindario, there were two charity shops. Both shops focussed on raising funds for those recovering from both drug and alcohol abuse, of which there are many cases throughout the islands. These charities focussed on giving training and work opportunities to those in need, as a step towards helping them to regain their self-respect and sense of purpose. These charities did some excellent work, and on several occasions, we employed their workers to help remove trees and hedges that were no longer needed. We were never disappointed, and we were always pleased with their work. Both shops were also very grateful for anything offered to them. They would usually collect larger items the same day and I never knew them to reject anything offered to them.

We also bought several items of furniture ourselves from them, including a superb three door wardrobe. It was brand new and proved to be so useful that we brought it back with us to the UK for use in our garage. Local furniture and other companies often donated new and very good quality items that were at the end of the range or had minor damage.

Both shops became treasure troves for books, vinyl records, CDs and all things electrical. The stringent, and some would say excessive, health and safety rules that apply in the UK, didn’t seem to apply on the islands, and so it was always important to have any electrical item tested for safety after purchase. These shops were ideal for browsing and always a good place to pick up a surprising bargain. How we miss them.

We support the UK’s valuable hospice movement although, as with the RNLI, we believe that both organisations should be publicly funded and not have to rely upon charitable donations. It was with this in mind that I telephoned our local hospice to offer a nearly new bed and mattress, as well as a brand-new bed and mattress that were no longer required. The hospice told us that there would be a delay in collecting them as they were very busy, but they would let us know when they were passing. In the meantime, we stored the items in our garage.

I had bought both beds to see us through the anticipated several weeks delay when our container of possessions would be shipped from the islands to the UK. We were told that it could take up to two months before our belongings were delivered to our new home in Devon. Once our container arrived, we no longer had any need for the beds of which only one had been briefly used, since David was still in Gran Canaria dealing with that part of our relocation.

Two weeks later, I received a call from the hospice to say that they were passing the following morning. The van pulled into our driveway and two men walked over to the beds that were waiting for them. The older man shook his head and lit a cigarette. The irony that he worked for the hospice was not lost on me.

“We don’t take mattresses. It’s against the law.”

I had heard something about UK charities not accepting mattresses, but I had assumed that since one was nearly new and the other still had plastic wrapping there would be some flexibility.

“You sure about that? That one has only been used for a couple of months and the other is brand new.”

“Don’t make any difference. Can’t take ‘em.”

“Oh, what about the beds? Surely you can take those?”

“We could, if they were perfect. Look, both have got a scratch on the headboards. That counts as damage, we can’t take ‘em either.”

I nearly exploded with anger, “That’s how Amazon delivered them. The beds are in perfect condition. If the scratch on the headboard is such a problem, it could be covered or changed for a different one.”

“No, that’s as may be, but we still can’t take ‘em’ that counts as damaged goods,” said the older man, as both walked back to their van and drove off.

Sadly, the council housing department were not at all interested either, despite the number of homeless people seeking accommodation in the area, as well as others who were desperate for household goods. Surely someone wanted two good beds? Apparently not, in the end I had to pay a private contractor to take the beds to the dump, or recycling centre as it is now called. There is no wonder that fly tipping is such a problem in Devon.

Not all charities operate in the same way, and I am sure that there are others who would welcome good quality items to sell and raise money for their specific cause, although they are difficult to find. Recent examples included a small, wooden display cabinet and a watch display case. Both were rejected by the Horse and Foal Charity who said they were far too busy, and could I call back in the afternoon? The PDSA shop reluctantly accepted both items, but the man on the desk couldn’t be bothered to speak let alone glance at me, as he was far too busy sorting jigsaw pieces. He merely grunted and pointed to another door at the rear of the shop, where a colleague accepted the items. Not even a “thank you” or a “goodbye”.

Later that day I filled in an online collection request form for the British Heart Foundation as I wished to donate electric clothes drier recently purchased from John Lewis. It was far bigger that we wanted, and I could not get it in the car to take it to the shop myself. I received a rejection email, followed by a very unpleasant conversation from someone who was responsible for planning collections. Excuses ranged from “We don’t have a van available”’ “No one would buy it anyway”, “We are not allowed to accept electrical heating products after Grenfell”. The excuses came thick and fast, but the most annoying thing was that the woman kept talking over me! I was not even sure that she knew what a modern electric clothes drier is! In the end, I sold it online for £60 and gave the money to another charity, but not to the British Heart Foundation; I have learned my lesson.

Some charity shops are clearly doing far too well and simply don’t need the donations. Despite this, we are continually reading about poverty, homelessness, and food banks in the UK. Poverty is current and very real in the UK. I fear that such thoughtless rejections of well-meaning donations and gifts will simply lead to people not bothering to give, which is surely completely destructive to the role of the charity sector? I urge charities to spend a little of their income on training both their paid and volunteer staff in simple techniques, such as good manners, a welcoming approach, as well as current updates of the law and safety issues, together with what they can and cannot accept. Recent experiences have reminded me of the difference between Spain, where there is real poverty and genuine need, and the level of need in the UK.

There are many people in the UK that are in desperate need too, but I do wonder how well they are supported by some of the better-known charities, as well as local authorities who have such a negative attitude towards items offered to them, which could be of help. The term ‘throwaway society” has never been clearer to me than my experiences of charity giving in the UK.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

This article is part of the book 'Travelling Hopefully' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

Travelling Hopefully - Preface

When we returned to the UK to live in 2019, I thought that my tenth book about living and working abroad ‘Letters from the Canary Islands and Spain’ would be the last ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ that I would publish. After all, what would be the point of writing about living on a sunny island in the Atlantic, when we had moved to cloudy, damp Devon? I had another novel to write, which would keep me busy, and I would finally say goodbye to writing about living and working in another country.

It was an email from an editor of one of the magazines that I write for that changed my mind, and is responsible for this book. He asked why I had not recently sent him any submissions for his magazine? When I reminded him that I had moved back to the UK and could see little point in further articles, he responded by saying, “Why not? Many Brits are returning, or attempting to return, to the UK because of Brexit. Share your experiences of the issues that you are facing. I’m convinced that your experiences will be a help to many people, as well as entertaining for the rest of us.”

It is with these words that the idea of ‘Travelling Hopefully’ was born. In many ways, this book is a sequel to my first book ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ which tells of our early life in Spain and the Canary Islands.

This book reflects upon the experiences that David and I encountered on our return to the UK, during a time of Brexit uncertainties, rapidly followed by lengthy Covid lockdowns, amidst a rapidly changing political and social landscape with a potential war in Europe on the horizon.

I compare incidents and our life in the Canary Islands to our new life in Devon, which may be annoying to some, since it is also a commentary on the political and social changes that I see around me; it is a subjective view, of course. Over the sixteen years or so that we have been out of the UK, there have been many changes, with very few for the better, it seems.

Life in Gran Canaria was not as perfect as many may imagine, but looking back, life in the UK now seems more complicated, divided, jingoistic, harsher, and with indifferent concern for other people.

It is also a country in political and social crisis, which those who live here seem unable or unwilling to recognise. There is a paucity of political leadership from any political party, and populism has taken an unhealthy grip on the nation, no doubt following in the steps of the US.

I am shocked at the increase in levels of poverty, the growing number of foodbanks, the rise in racism, knife and gang violence, as well as a growing and deliberately fostered hostility towards Europe, fanned by a powerful group of right-wing politicians and wealthy fanatics, be they known as oligarchs or simply as ‘Tory Grandees’.

I was once asked, “So, why didn’t you stay where you were, if you like Europe so much?” The truth is that often I wish that we had. However, we were already well aware of souring relationships between the EU and the UK, issues with both healthcare and getting older, as well as missing family and friends.

More will be discussed about this later in the book. Has it worked out as well as we had hoped? In some ways, no. Our plans to meet up with family and friends have, so far, been put on hold due to Covid. We miss the island, the healthy climate, the outdoor lifestyle, and the non-judgemental attitudes of those who live and work there.

In many ways, I feel that I have aged twenty years in the short time that we have been back in the UK, and I gather that this is not an unusual comment from those returning from a life in the sun. Above all, we miss our Spanish and European friends. On the plus side, when Covid issues settle, we will once again be able to visit family and friends again.

We will be able to revisit some of our favourite places, and enjoy the beautiful Devon countryside. We will be able to visit garden centres and enjoy cream teas, as well as speaking our native language, which I have missed.

Since I began writing this book, I have been diagnosed with bowel and liver cancer. So far, the diagnosis, tests and surgery have been excellent, and I am grateful to have returned to the UK in time to deal with this life changing chapter of my life.

I know that treatment in Spain would have been at least as good as the care that I am currently receiving, but it is reassuring to have returned to the UK where I can rely upon close family and friends for support, and not have to worry about the language when dealing with complicated medical and treatment issues.

The tragic passing of a dear friend in Gran Canaria has made me realise that I am fortunate to be back in the UK, given my current circumstances, since the lack of end-of-life care and hospice support are sadly lacking in the Canary Islands and much of Spain.

In a tongue in cheek comment, I made the point that this book should not be read by Brexiteers or those who are fans of Boris Johnson, since it is most likely to offend, or at least annoy. I don’t regret this remark, since I believe that both are two of the main factors that are responsible for the current attitudes in the UK. The UK is currently in a state of flux, but the reasons for its malaise stem much deeper than Johnson and Brexit.

Anti-European, and indeed anti-foreigner attitudes, have been developed and cultivated in the UK for the last forty years or so, and have culminated in a whole range of divisive issues that cross over the usual political divides. Brexit, Johnson and Truss, as well as the supporting cabal of Europe haters, are merely the unpleasant discharge from a lingering poisonous boil that will eventually be lanced, treated and forgotten. Maybe, over time, Brexiteers will be proved right, but I doubt it.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

This article is part of the book 'Escape to the Sun' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

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