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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Good Grief

“I don’t like funerals” alongside “I don’t like hospitals” are two comments that I often hear. These comments always make me cringe, and I always feel like responding with “Does anyone?”, but I usually manage to bite my lip and smile. It is a truism that none of us like to dwell on illness and death, but both are a fact of life that we mostly conveniently ignore until it hits us when we are least prepared.

George, our next-door neighbour, passed into the Light a few days ago. He was a wonderful, kind, gentle and generous man – a delight to have as a neighbour and a friend. He loved his garden and would spend many happy hours tending plants, cutting the grass, or sitting on his garden seat, sometimes with Maureen, his wife. Over the last few years, he had been suffering terribly with dementia, which reached the final stages about six months ago when he was admitted into hospital. His last few days were tormented, filled with moments of anger and violence towards family, friends, and medical staff alike.

The last time that I saw George was in his garden. He looked very disturbed, not at all like the George that I knew so well and spoke to me over the garden fence. “Please take me home; I need to go home.” It took a few moments for me to realise that George was asking to be taken to his parent’s old home’, a home that no longer existed, but only in his poor, tormented mind.

Sometimes, George would be seen wandering the streets. Occasionally, he would be collected by the police and brought home. It reached a point when he did not know his wife and son. He quickly entered a world of confusion, torment and darkness that worsened over time.

A few days ago, George’s wife, Maureen, leant over the garden fence. “George died yesterday,” she said bluntly, holding back the tears. Even though we had expected this months ago, it is also a shock when Death calls. I nodded, and held Maureen’s arm, she was gently shivering as she spoke, giving a detailed account of George’s final hours. I let her speak without interruption; there is little than can be said during these moments of acute misery and shock. Yes, it was a blessing that he avoided more distress, but that doesn’t take away the feeling of loss and sadness.

After a few minutes, I asked “When is the funeral likely to be? We would like to be there.”

“Oh no, there won’t be a funeral. George isn’t having one, and I’m not having one either. There is no point. George is gone, he won’t be there. Why should we spend all that money?”

I nodded. After a lengthy pause, I asked, “Will you be there at the cremation?”

“No, the undertaker will see him off. I’ll put his ashes in the garden. I thought maybe over there,” said Maureen briskly, pointing to a bare patch of earth in the garden.

Funerals are not for the departed, but for those left behind. Many believe that the souls of the departed are present, but no one knows for certain. The funeral serves the important purpose of helping those left behind to begin the grieving process and to say their final goodbyes. There is comfort in letting shared tears flow at fond memories, as well as smiling and laughing together when remembering amusing incidents and particular sayings of the departed. Perhaps a favourite piece of music will be played, a favourite hymn sung, a favourite poem or prayer read. Sometimes, funerals are the only times that families meet after many years estranged from one another. Funerals are often occasions where bitterness, arguments, regrets and misunderstandings are finally put aside. It is time to forgive and move on when we are reminded that none of us can escape death, and that we are all walking towards it.

No, I don’t like funerals either, but I have learned to realise how important they are in our circle of life. Yes, they are expensive and in these times of financial hardship, the options must be carefully considered. In the last century, burials were the usual way of dealing with the earthly remains of the departed, and cremation was often seen as the less respectful and unpleasant option. Indeed, it was only in the 1960s that the Catholic Church, for example, finally agreed to cremations as an alternative to burial.

Currently, we have a problem when dealing with death. We are fast running out of land for burials to be freely and economically available to all who want them. Cremations are now being seen as environmentally damaging by releasing toxic gases and pollution. Alternative services, such as terramation (human composting) and aquamation of bodies (alkaline hydrolysis) of the departed are now available and being promoted as suitable environmentally preferred options to cremation.

I will miss George; our home and neighbourhood won’t be same without him. It would have been comforting to share grief, as well as our memories of him. I don’t need a funeral to say the things that I want to say. I can say all that I want to say in the stillness of Meeting or in the peaceful silence of an evening looking onto the garden that George loved so much.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

A Social Laundry

The cost of living and energy crisis are having a devastating impact upon many families in the UK. My mind turns to refugee families, currently living in hotels and elsewhere whilst their claims for asylum are being processed and I wonder how they cope with many often-unrecognised issues that they must be facing. I wonder how they manage to keep clean, to wash and dry their clothes? Presumably many attempt to deal with their laundry in the bath or sink of a hotel room? What about drying and airing clothes? It must be a nightmare for families with babies and young children to care for.

My mind turns back to the Canarian village where we used to live. Commercial laundries are big business in the village, and there are several that operate seven days a week with their main business being from the hotels in the south of the island, which provide important work for villagers. After all, who do you think washes and irons those blistering white sheets on the beds of all those hotels? It is unlikely to be the hotel staff, and convoys of large vans trundle from the hotels in the south of the island to our village every day of the year. Walking past the entrances to these laundries, I was always greeted with the heady heat and smell of freshly laundered sheets. I used to keep well away from the areas where used sheets and other bedding arrived for processing, as that stench was often very unpleasant.

Do you remember the days when laundrettes were a feature of most UK high streets, or at least within easy access of the town centre? Most seem to have disappeared in recent years, or turned into dry clean only businesses. I have not seen a launderette for many years. For students and those who could not afford an expensive washing machine of their own, laundrettes were a life safer. In the days before a plethora of coffee and betting shops took over the high street, launderettes provided a valuable social experience, as well as somewhere to warm up on a cold day and to meet and chat with other people.

Time has moved on, and washing machines are no longer the major, expensive purchase that they once were, and prices for a good, basic model seem to fall each year, and especially during the winter sales. Even so, there are still many people who have neither the cash, nor indeed a home in which to install one. Even for those that live in towns that are fortunate enough to have their own local launderette, this does not answer the problem for those who cannot afford to use them. It is with this problem in mind that one city council in Gran Canaria came up with the imaginative idea of a social laundry, which was said to be the first of its kind in Spain.

Social laundries already operate in a number of countries. They are created out of necessity and reflect an awareness that society must do whatever it can to help those in need. The homeless, migrants, the disabled and those in great financial need, as well as older people who have nobody to wash their linen and clothes, all benefit from such a service.

In the Gran Canaria social laundry, twenty vulnerable families in the city can now use the facility to wash and dry their clothes twice a week in large industrial washing machines and driers, completely free of charge. It is hoped this scheme will be extended across the entire city. It is imaginative schemes, such as this in the Canary Islands, that helps to provide a welcome and necessary respite for those desperately in need of care and support. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to see similar schemes set up across the UK too? Sadly, given the current blinkered approach to the specific needs and welfare of migrants arriving in the UK and others in desperate need of help, I don’t think this will happen.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

Changing Times

Will you remember to put the clocks forward one hour? Sadly, I completely forgot to attend to this bi-annual nonsense last time, but thanks to my smartphone and watch it was done automatically, and so there was no need to be concerned. My laptop computer and other devices all managed to adjust to the new time too. It was only a few years ago when the first part of the day would be spent adjusting the time on clocks and watches. Do you remember those annoying car clocks? I never did bother to change mine and worked on the basis that they would be correct for at least six months of the year, so why bother?

Visitors often used to ask whether the time in the Canary Islands is the same as in the UK. It is, but it is not the same as in Peninsula Spain, which is always one hour ahead. This was initially due to an agreement between Spain’s General Franco and Adolf Hitler during the Second World War, when Spain agreed to follow the same time as Berlin.

Fortunately, in Europe, the tedious nonsense of changing time forwards or backwards twice a year, known as Daylight Summer Time (DST), has come to an end, because the European Parliament approved a measure by a massive majority in favour to abolish the twice-yearly time change. The change took place in 2021and individual member states could decide whether they wish to live permanently either on summer time or winter time. Once the decision has been made, it would be permanent.

Many of us in the UK will recall all the usual arguments about the need to switch time twice a year because of ‘Scottish farmers’ or ‘children walking to school in the dark, as well as many other arguments, but I remain unconvinced. To me, the arguments put forward always seem to be both spurious and unconvincing. I am more convinced by a growing body of evidence, which shows that time changes are harmful to public health, as well as to the economy. The time change confuses the brain and leads to a reduction in productivity. There are also increased levels of health concerns, including more accidents at work reported during the immediate period following a time change.

One of the more plausible and historical reasons given for sticking with DST is thought to be a saving on energy costs. Even this argument has been shown to be nonsense since current data suggests that the policy results in even greater energy consumption. Given the current energy crisis it would be sensible for this decision to be reconsidered.

Sadly, I do now have to mention the dreaded ‘B’ word, since the EU’s decision will not have an impact upon the UK. The UK will be free to continue with DST as usual and to ignore the EU’s decision to abandon it. I suspect there will be a strong move from Brexiteers to ignore any suggestions from the EU and to rigidly stick with DST, and no doubt on the grounds of “national sovereignty”. Such foolishness is now of course to be expected, whether or not it makes any sense, but when did common sense recently enter the debate in the already steaming, putrid cauldron commonly known as Brexit?

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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

Chocolate Medicine

So, how are you getting on after indulging in all those Christmas, New Year and Kings’ Day festivities? Never mind, Easter will soon be here to compensate. Personally, I am missing chocolate, which I do not usually eat, but made an exception during the festivities. Forget non-prescription drugs and alcohol, for me chocolate is just as addictive and the sooner that I kick the habit the better; or is it?

I felt a sudden rush of excitement when I read a recent report that chocolate may be one of the best remedies for dealing with a nasty cough. Forget all those revolting cough syrups, but simply suck chocolate. Now this is the cure that I do approve of, but does it work?

A recent study has discovered that when we have one of those horrible, sleep preventing, hacking coughs, a dose of cough syrup will not do the trick. At best, it will probably upset your stomach or at worst give you a dose of diarrhoea, but it will not cure your cough. Instead, the most recent advice is to reach out for a bar of chocolate, which is far better for respiratory and cough symptoms than those evil concoctions from the chemist.

According to some very clever people at the University of Hull, supporting evidence in favour of eating chocolate is as solid as “a bar of Fruit and Nut”, and proves that cocoa is more effective than a bottle of standard cough medicine. If you simply compare the price of a bottle of cough medicine to a bar of chocolate, what’s not to like?

The survey found that patients taking chocolate-based medicine made a significant improvement in just two days. Experts suggest that it is the alkaloid contained within cocoa, theobromine, that is more effective at suppressing coughs than codeine, which is used in most cough medicines, and has all kinds of side effects including drowsiness.

A more detailed analysis suggests that it is the stickiness within chocolate that forms a coating on the nerves contained within the throat that basically prevents the urge to cough. It is similar to the effect of that favourite remedy of honey and lemon, but chocolate seems to be even more effective, and much more fun.

So, if your visitors have given you a post-Christmas gift of a nasty cold and cough, it seems that the best advice is to suck chocolate. I have no argument with this and will be stocking up with a few bars of Dairy Milk and Easter Eggs especially for our next batch of visitors. Health warning: Please be aware, that I have absolutely no medical expertise and I do not work for the chocolate industry, so please don’t blame me if your cough gets better, but you put on weight instead. I also have a very good remedy for losing weight...!

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

You can find out more about Barrie and his books by clicking here

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