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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

A Nice Cup of Tea

During those seemingly endless gloomy, cold, winter days of a few weeks ago, and during those times when the world appears to be going quietly mad, there is one thing certain to cheer us up - ‘a nice cup of tea’.

Those of a certain age will know just how important tea is to the psyche and general well-being of most Brits. Most of us were weaned on the stuff and it runs through our veins in copious amounts. It is what makes Britain great; it is the stuff of Empire, Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Hugh Grant and cream teas. Indeed, it is a well-known truism that you are not a real Brit unless you drink at least ten cups of the stuff each day. Any less than this and you are regarded as a fraud and imposter, or maybe even a European, no argument.

During those damp, cold days in the UK, many of us would feel warmed and comforted by ‘a nice cup of tea’. During a crisis, or during those times when it is difficult to know what to say to someone who is ill or in distress, the usual British response is to “put the kettle on”. I suspect that it is one of the few things that unite the people of Britain; forget the Union flag, just bring out the Tetley’s!

There is, of course, the added advantage that as the temperature drops, you might find yourself reaching for ‘a nice cup of tea’, because of the obvious benefits of warming your hands around the cup and temporarily banishing the cold. Recent studies reveal that there is a basic psychological factor when drinking ‘a nice cup of tea’. It makes us feel warm and friendly towards others.

In one experiment, people were asked to rate strangers on how welcoming and trustworthy they thought they were. Holding ‘a nice cup of tea’ made them rate the strangers higher on these attributes, whilst holding a cold drink had the opposite effect. Brits living in Spain should note from this experiment that holding a chilled glass of sangria when meeting strangers is not always such a good idea unless they have carefully thought about the possible dire consequences that may follow such an encounter.

In the study, it was found that those holding hot drinks, such as a ‘nice cup of tea’, were more likely to be generous, and less likely to display behaviour considered to be selfish. Apparently, this is due to strong linguistic and metaphorical links created in the brain by repeatedly using the words ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe personalities.

Several years ago, I was involved in a survey for an expat newspaper that focussed on what items Brits miss most when living in another country. Top of the list was ‘a nice cup of tea’, closely followed by a range of other items, such as pork pies and baked beans. Although I was initially taken aback about the vehemence with which 'foreign tea' was criticised, I was not surprised, because I shared the general opinion expressed.

The consensus seems to be that it is almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in continental Europe. I know of many expats who make a special point of bringing back teabags from the UK whenever they visit or ask friends and relatives to bring some out for them. The fact that most of the popular brands of tea are readily available from supermarkets in Europe goes unnoticed, with the fanatical claims that "Yorkshire Tea is the best in the world”, when to others it tastes exactly like all other brands available in continental Europe, which I am sorry to say is to me very similar to lukewarm dishwater.

Of course, real tea drinkers complain about the quality of the water in Europe; they will insist upon using only bottled water and certainly never water from the tap. Others complain about the temperature that the water is heated to, forgetting that a kettle is a kettle whether it is bought in Blackpool or Benidorm. Tea aficionados will complain about ‘a nice cup of tea’ being served in a glass cup rather than one of the bone china variety, an unforgivable error in Europe, but forgetting the dubious quality of the chipped mugs that are in common use in cafes across the UK. Others will complain about the flavour of milk (if added), the quality of the sugar (if used) and indeed whether higher temperatures have destroyed the flavour of the tea in the packet before it is even purchased.

Personally, I have come to the view that it is nothing to do with the quality of tea, water, cups or the temperature of the water, but simply because it is European, and this is the real reason behind the Brexit referendum. If the UK Government had appointed a Minister for Tea Drinking long ago, much of the Brexit discussions could have been avoided. In any case, the availability and quality of ‘a nice cup of tea’ in Europe will continue be considered and discussed long after the Brexit negotiations are completed; after all, it is simply a question of priorities in life.

As for me, I gave up being a tea drinker almost immediately upon arrival in Spain, as I could not bear to ruin my tea drinking palate, which I now reserve for special and rare occasions, such as a National Trust cream tea during occasional visits to the UK. At a time of crisis, I resort to a nice cup of green tea, but nowadays I am a confirmed coffee drinker. Maybe I have now formally ceased to be British.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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The Robinson Crusoe Experience

Islands have always fascinated me, and I also love a good story, which is probably why one in particular sticks in my mind. That book is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which was first published in 1719. It is the story of a castaway who spends thirty years on a remote tropical island. It is hardly a carefree holiday for the poor man, since Crusoe has to contend with mutineers, captives and cannibals before he is finally rescued.

I always knew that one day I would live and work on an island. No, I mean a proper island, not the British Isles kind of island, but something small and pocket sized. Maybe it would be the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly, or maybe one off the islands of Scotland’s east or north coast? I blame my Great Aunt Gertie who took me to Poole Harbour one day when I was quite young, and very impressionable, and pointed out Brownsea Island. I remember the stories that she told me about the island. She was a great storyteller and filled my mind with stories of red squirrels, giant ants, unusual creatures, betrayal and the old lady who lived as a hermit in the island’s castle. It was the kind of stuff that fired up my already vivid imagination. Yes, one day, I too would live on an island, but now back to Robinson Crusoe…

The exact location of Robinson's Crusoe's island has always been a bit of a mystery, with many saying that the story is based on an island off Chile, some refer to Fiji, whilst others believe that a tiny Canary Island was the setting. I have even read an account that claims it was based in Cornwall. Initially, readers thought that the book was an autobiography, but it was later discovered that the story was based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway, who lived for four years on the Pacific Island called ‘Más a Tierra', which is now part of Chile. To add to the confusion, the country's tourism chiefs cleverly changed the name to Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. No doubt Defoe intended the book to be just a good story and not an exact account of a real life incident, and so I guess the location is really one based within the reader's imagination.

Personally, I like to think it is the Island of La Graciosa, a small Canary Island, just a short ferry ride off the coast of the island of Lanzarote. Most of the island's current visitors are those from neighbouring Canary Islands and Spanish holidaymakers. La Graciosa, and 'Gracious' it certainly is, is a small, volcanic island, and one of the very few places where there are no tarmac roads, just white sandy tracks; to use the old cliché, it is just like stepping back in time. The island and nearby islets form part of the Chinijo Archipelago Marine Reserve, which is the largest marine reserve in Europe, as well as being an area of exceptional landscape value and beauty.

Motor vehicles are strictly prohibited on La Graciosa, other than a few special purpose vehicles. The island has a small community of around 700 people living there, supplemented by a steady stream of day-trippers. There are few shops, and even fewer restaurants. Indeed, in typical post World Financial Crash fashion, its only bank closed a few years ago. It is not an island to visit if your main interest is shopping and nightlife. However, if you like visiting beautiful, deserted beaches, walking, cycling and admiring breath-taking views, this little treasure could be just the thing to help blow away the stress accumulated from the outside world.

I doubt that many will find their ‘Man Friday’ on the island, since the nightlife is pretty poor, and the cannibals left long ago. However, if you do visit one day, I am certain that it will be a visit to remember. Now, do please keep all this information quiet, because the island really is a well-kept secret, and we don't want too many to know about it, do we? Meanwhile, do dig out that old copy of Robinson Crusoe.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

Banana Wars

It is Europe Day tomorrow, which I will of course toast with a glass of my favourite rioja, and it seems appropriate that I write about bananas. Why bananas, and what’s the link with Europe you may be asking. Well, I often write about bananas, because I like bananas, I like eating them and we also have a very large banana tree growing and fruiting in our garden, which provides endless entertainment and annoyance for our dog, Bella. Bella is an elderly lady now and is partially sighted; she is obsessed with the banana tree, convinced that a gentle breeze moving the large, luxurious leaves, is actually a dangerous enemy from which she must protect us. Bananas, and similar crops, have in the past been the lifeblood of the economy of the Canary Islands and the links that these islands have with the UK are symbolised by the creation of Canary Wharf, which was the original recipient of bananas from these islands.

I have always thought that bananas are the real reason behind Brexit. Forget the accusation that “The Brits have never really liked Europe”, it is really bananas that are to blame. Do you remember all the fuss about ‘bendy bananas’ and the myth that was so lovingly nurtured by Johnson and the right wing press that straight bananas were being insisted upon by the grandees of Europe? Of course, it was nonsense, and most of the population knew it was nonsense, or did they? Despite this, it was the banana debate and other examples that became the stuff of nonsense that finally manifested itself into a call for the referendum to take Britain out of the European Union that politicians could not avoid any longer.

Bendy bananas or not, how many children and office workers include a banana as part of their lunchtime snack? The supermarket chain, Tesco, has upset many of its lunchtime customers by significantly increasing the price it charges for individual bananas. The reason for this outrage is that Tesco are now charging for single bananas instead of its usual practice of charging by weight. This has resulted in the cost of a single banana to have doubled at its Metro and Express stores.

In its defence, the supermarket giant claims that inflation, Brexit, as well as expensive leases on its stores have led to the price increase, which has led to many angry exchanges on social media, leaving Tesco quaking at its very foundations and driving all the customers to Lidl and Aldi, or so we are told.

At the time of writing, the Government appears to have lost the plot concerning Brexit, claiming that all is well, and we are now “World Beating” in every way. Labour, the main opposition party appears to be in no position to provide a workable alternative. Of course, the problem will eventually be resolved; they always are, in time, but probably not in any of our lifetimes. The problem remains of course in how much damage will be done in the interim.

How many banana skins will our leaders slip on before the deal is done? Well, there’s not much that I can do about it, so I’m just off into the garden to pick a nice fresh banana for my lunch. Bananas have a lot to answer for.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

Sunbeds R Us

I am often told that Brits on holiday like nothing better than to get out of bed long before their all-inclusive breakfast has even hit the frying pan, and to chase outside to the swimming pool in their boxer shorts or bras (or possibly both) to place a vivid Union flag towel on the sunbed of their choice. It is even more exciting if there is a mad competitive dash with the Germans, with Brits gaining immense satisfaction if they reach their prized position first.

Why, oh why is one of the tour companies determined to ruin such jingoistic pleasures with the introduction of a ‘book and pay before you arrive’ sunbed option when booking a holiday in Spain. Potential holidaymakers can view a virtual image of their choice of sunbed, together with its ideal position close to the swimming pool, bar or most importantly, the toilets, from their home before even stepping on the plane. Gone are those heady days of the mad dash before breakfast.

One thing to be thankful for, I guess, is that Ryanair will not oversee the seating allocations. Just imagine it, the entire family split up and lost in various dark corners of the pool area. Oh yes, I nearly forget to mention, the only reason for this change of sunbed policy is to raise additional cash for the tour operators. After all, their senior executives are anticipating a hefty pay increase on the back of it. Maybe now they can also employ someone to give the sunbeds a good scrub down from time to time?

Spoilsports or what? Personally, I have little time for sunbeds mainly because of the dubious sticky residue that is often lingering after the visit of the previous guest. I also get bored very easily, and lying on a sunbed for more than 30 minutes is not my idea of a good time. Would I select a sunbed close to a swimming pool anyway? Certainly not. As someone who has spent a good part of an earlier career looking after a primary school swimming pool, I know only too well what goes into them, and it has very little to do with pre-packaged chemicals. I shall never forget that heady perfume of a mixture of chlorine and urine and, as a result, I now do my utmost to avoid swimming pools of any kind.

I also have a problem because of Madge and her family. Remember that television series, Benidorm? Whenever I see a sunbed, I have a vision of that foul speaking creature, Madge, and her apology of a family, all desperately trying to achieve the impossible by gaining both the skin of an elephant and an untreatable form of skin cancer in just one week’s holiday in the sun. Just add a mobility scooter and we could create our own television series right here in the Canary Islands.

I guess that I should now mention Brexit, but only in very hushed tones, of course, since people can be very sensitive about such comments. I hear that the Germans have had this option of pre-booking a sunbed for many years. You really must hand it to them - first class organisers, as well as VWs and sausage. Now for the bad news, rumour has it that the new ‘book a sunbed before you fly’ option may soon disappear because the UK has left the EU. Reliable sources close to the centre of UK decision making also tell me that the Honourable Member of Parliament for the 18th Century, Joseph Septimus Smog, is determined that this newly acquired right of expat sunbed reservation will never be taken away, and certainly never given up to the Germans. Let’s wait and see.

So, to British holidaymakers everywhere, do make the most of the new sense of freedom that this new sunbed strategy will give you, even if only for a short time. That dash outside in the early hours of the morning, to casually throw a Union flag towel over your choice of sunbed with gay abandon could shortly be a thing of the past. Brits can now awake at a sensible time and enjoy their all-inclusive belly busting breakfast in peace.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

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