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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Animals Need Our Help Too

It has been a distressing week in Gran Canaria. A major fire broke out in the heavily forested centre of the island, which is in an area that we often visit. It is a region that few tourists can be bothered to visit, for which residents are grateful, since not only is it an area of spectacular natural beauty, but an area of peace and tranquillity. It is well away from the pressures of the modern world, the sun beds, fast food restaurants and bars in the busy tourist area in the south of the island.

Not only the Gran Canaria fire, but many other news stories have been particularly distressing over the last few weeks. Tragedies, such as the Grenfell Tower fire, flooding in Bangladesh, horrendous hurricanes in the Caribbean, volcanic eruptions in Italy and the horrors of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar, have made an impact upon all but the most cold and detached personalities. As we watch these horrors unfold in faraway places in the comfort of our own living rooms, it is often difficult to identify with the pain and suffering that ordinary people experience when faced with such disasters.

Although, I understand that the suffering and welfare of people come first, I know that I am not the only one to be distressed about animals caught up in such disasters. There is rarely any mention of animals caught up in flooding, fire and other tragedies that appear on our television screens, and little is ever reported. It seems that animals suddenly become invisible during times of crisis, yet as all animal lovers will know, they have become part of our lives and highly important. Dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, birds and reptiles, as well as farm animals often perish in horrendous circumstances during these periods of exceptional tragedy, and it seems that they are forgotten and left behind during the pressure of rescue efforts.

This point was brought home to me this week whilst reporting on the forest fire, which quickly got out of control on the island where I live. The fire spread quickly and destroyed many hectares of land, involving five municipalities. A number of villages and many people were evacuated. Thanks to the brave and selfless efforts of the emergency services, it appears that only one life was lost. The woman who died was an expat, originally from Sweden, who had made her life on our beautiful island. She refused to leave her home, preferring to stay and look after her animals. Her charred body was later discovered outside her home. One can only imagine her terror, as she was consumed by the flames.

It is often difficult to identify with the hundreds and thousands of people in distress that appear on our television screens, but it is the distress of small groups and individuals that help us to understand their pain and suffering. For me, it was the dying moments of this terrified woman that has stayed in my mind. I did not know her, but the fact that she bothered to stay behind to care for her animals tells me a lot about her compassion and humanity, and I suspect that she is someone who I would have liked.

Spain and the Canary Islands are often rightly criticised for attitudes to animals, which can often appear casual, uncaring and exploitative. Over the years that I have lived in Spain and the Canary Islands, there have been many times when I have wished that we had the equivalent of the UK’s RSPCA, PDSA and many other dedicated animal charities helping to protect animals in Spain. Sadly, this is not the case, and much is left to hard-stretched police, as well as dedicated individuals, to help to relieve the plight of animals suffering in this country.

There is some good news to help to soothe the rawness of this latest tragedy on the island for animals that need veterinary help. The Veterinary Department of the University of Las Palmas is currently helping animals that have suffered, but escaped from the fire at a centre in the town of San Mateo. Volunteers from the College of Vets at the University of Las Palmas are offering a 24-hour service to help these animals. Dogs and cats can be taken directly to a central animal point for care and attention.

It is often said that a society can be judged by its attitude towards animals. I have always believed this to be true, and in these polarised and often selfish times, it is heart-warming that the needs of animals are also being considered following a tragedy that has affected all precious life.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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Fuyu for You

One of the many delights of living in the Canary Islands and Spain is that we often come across different fruit and vegetables from those normally seen in most British supermarkets. Unless you happen to pop into that wonderful emporium of fruit and vegetables, Harrods, with plenty of spare cash, there are some varieties of amazing fruit and vegetables that are not usually seen in most British supermarkets.

I discovered the “Fruit of the Gods” the other day. More accurately known as persimmon or Sharon Fruit, this delectable fruit has been tempting me for a while, but somehow I didn't have the courage to try one. As feeble as this may sound, I have been caught by strange fruit and vegetables before, and the prickly pear being a particular unfortunate experience, which is a story for another time. One thing that I have learned from that particular experience is always to check with someone knowledgeable about how to prepare, cook and eat any strange new fruit and vegetables that we may come across, and to be clear about what is to be done with anything prickly.

The persimmons that were on display were a joy to look at, and were just asking for a photo shoot. They looked rather like huge, highly polished, orange tomatoes with an overgrown stalk. I was also taken aback by the price, which brought the fruit into the apple and pear price bracket. Remembering the prickly pear experience, I decided to investigate further and asked one of the sales assistants how I should prepare and eat it. The sales assistant nodded and grabbed one of the largest and most luscious fruit on display, beckoned me over to the sink where she carefully washed the fruit. She then took a knife and cut the fruit into slices, passing one to me, as well as to two other passing customers. She took the last piece for herself and started to eat it. Her facial expression was enough to convince me that this was truly the “Fruit of the Gods” as I tucked into the large piece that she had passed to me.

We all commented upon the deliciousness and sweetness of the fruit, which I thought was a cross between a pear in texture and a peach in flavour. However, please don't take my word for it, as other people have given me very different descriptions of the taste; I guess it just depends upon your personal taste buds. I was smitten by this new fruit and bought several to take home.

To complicate matters further, there are several different varieties for sale, but the one usually grown in Spain and the Canary Islands is the tomato-shaped fuyu, or Sharon fruit, with its distinctive orange skin. You can eat a firm fuyu rather like an apple, or wait a week or two until it turns a deep orangey red when you can tuck into its luscious, creamy flesh with a spoon. There is another variety, the hachiya, which has a pointed shape; I am told to avoid eating this like an apple, since its flesh can make your mouth horribly dry due to the tannins in its flesh, and you will spend the next few hours with a mouth feeling like a cheese grater.

The persimmon is the national fruit of Japan, although it has been tampered with in recent years to produce varieties that offer vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon and even pumpkin flavours. For the health conscious, persimmons are fat-free and a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of fibre. Personally, I think they are a great find and richly deserve to be called the “Fruit of the Gods”.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

Celebrating the NHS

We remember and celebrate the foundation of the National Health Service by the Labour Government on 5 July 1948. The NHS, despite its current difficulties with funding, staffing levels and retention of staff, is one of the very few areas that unites most of the country. It is often described as the country’s national religion and supported by most people. Despite current difficulties in accessing treatment, long waiting lists and lack of follow up care, surveys indicate that the founding principles of the NHS, which was to be universal, equitable, comprehensive, high quality, free at the point of delivery and centrally funded, are still supported by most people.

Currently, we are in a period of what many commentators describe as ‘managed decline’ by the current Conservative Government. There are many factors at play here, such as serious reduction in funding levels following the financial crisis, austerity, loss of staff from Europe following Brexit, additional pressures and demands following Covid, as well as deep suspicion by many that some right-wing politicians welcome ‘managed decline’ since they want to see the NHS fail and for it to be replaced by a privatised health service, similar to an insurance based system as deployed in the USA.

This period of remembering and celebration reminds me of the small part that both my father and mother played in the establishment of a cottage hospital within the NHS in 1948. I was born in this hospital, just three years after the NHS was established. Holbeach was a small, largely forgotten village in the Lincolnshire fenlands. The nearest large town is Spalding, which in those days was famous for its bulb industry and the annual Tulip Parade. For seventeen years, I grew up in the house next to Holbeach Hospital where my father, Ronald John Mahoney, was Hospital Secretary or Hospital Administrator, as the job title was renamed. My mother, Phyllis Mahoney was the hospital matron during its early years, but a post that she left in the 1940s to bring up my two elder brothers and myself.

Before its incorporation into the NHS, Holbeach Hospital had an interesting history, and much may be attributed to my father. He opened the building as ‘casual wards’ when he was first appointed in 1937. It was then transformed into an Emergency Hospital during the Second World War, before becoming a fully-fledged NHS hospital when the NHS came into being in 1948. Holbeach Hospital offered both care and surgical procedures by local doctors, as well as for visiting specialist surgeons during the time that I was growing up. I remember it as always being very busy and spoken of highly by the local community.

Although workhouses were intended for local people who were poverty stricken and had no other means of support, casual wards were for those with no fixed abode; they were often called vagrants seeking temporary public relief and stayed in casual wards for brief periods before moving on, and potentially seeking employment; this was the initial purpose of what later came to be known as Holbeach Hospital.

The story of Holbeach Hospital began in 1937 when a building and a house were constructed on a large plot of land just outside Holbeach. The two buildings were very much the only buildings set within a landscape of largely barren fields and very few trees. To the visitor in winter, it must have appeared to be a very alien environment, that is until the beginning of the growing season when fields of vegetables would appear. It was in this environment that my father was appointed as ‘Master’ of the new Holbeach Casual Wards, and my mother as Matron. In addition, my parents were responsible for the running of the local children’s home that was situated in another part of town. Many years ago, I saw plans of the two buildings and was surprised to see that there was nothing other than the two buildings. Roadway access from the lane, pathways, as well as other necessary buildings were all completed under the direction of my father after he was appointed. I guess it was a daunting task, but one that I could imagine my father relishing; he always enjoyed and rose to a challenge.

In the years following my father’s retirement, Holbeach Hospital came under threat of closure. In 1988, with support from the local community and GPs, the hospital was taken over by Holbeach and East Elloe Hospital Trust, which now runs it as a care home, as well as providing beds for use by local GPs. It is to the credit of the community that this valuable resource was recognised and supported in a way that continues to be of benefit to the local community. I am sure that my parents would have been pleased that the hospital continues to be used to support the community in this way.

The NHS currently faces some of the biggest challenges in its history, but my mind goes back to its biggest challenge of all, which was to establish something as complex and expensive as the NHS shortly after the disasters and horrors of wartime when both manpower and finances had been severely decimated. The fact that it ever came into being was an incredible achievement.

I often hear the trite comment trotted out by current politicians that “The NHS is the best in the world”. Clearly, it is not, and data shows that most Western European countries achieve far better results than the UK in the treatment and care of a range of serious of illnesses and disease, such as cancer and heart related issues. Where the UK does well is in providing the widest range of cover for all its people at the lowest cost; in other words, the NHS is largely funded by the goodwill of its staff. I personally benefitted for many years from the care of the Spanish Health Service when I lived in the country; high quality care is not unique to the UK.

I hope and believe that the NHS will continue to develop and thrive over the next 75 years, but only if politicians recognise and take action to ensure that the service is adequately staffed and funded. It is important that staff are valued and rewarded sufficiently to recognise their professionalism and contribution to society. To fail will mean open house to the horrors of a US style privatised service that only the wealthy can afford and will be a loss to everyone.

In researching and writing this article, which is part of a forthcoming book, I realise that there is a lack of information about Holbeach Hospital before it was taken over by the Trust in 1988. If readers have any prior connection with the hospital, or any information before 1988, do please let me know. You can email me at:

The Spiritual Tape Recorder

I am a Quaker, and I have been a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for many years. Quakers are used to sitting quietly and opening our minds to the Spirit, or whatever we call what it is that refreshes us, gives us purpose, and makes us whole. We find this during the stillness of Meeting, or a peaceful walk. Or maybe while we are doing the ironing. There is no set place to feel a connection.

For me, peace and meditation is often best achieved within the tranquillity of an old building: a church or chapel, or maybe a quiet National Trust property. When we enter a building for the first time, we often immediately sense if it is welcoming or not, and whether we would feel comfortable there. The reasons are unclear, and we may not know why we feel this way, but it is real. This feeling is often described as our ‘inner eye’, which in generations gone by would connect to the unseen world. It is a powerful sense, which has become more acute within me as I get older.

I often describe this feeling as a ‘spiritual tape recorder’, although younger generations might understand the term ‘spiritual streaming service’ rather better. I prefer my term, since it suggests an enormous reel-to-reel recorder, with endless recording tape. I have always felt that, somehow, there is a celestial tape recorder in churches and old buildings, recording positive feelings such as happiness, celebration, and joyous moments as they take place within its walls. In turn, these moments are replayed to those who care to listen and are open to the Spirit. Like many others, I find great comfort this way during times of worry and distress, and at times of personal crisis. (It is also true that I sometimes sense the opposite feeling in some buildings, but I will not dwell on this here.)

During a recent health crisis, I found myself visiting the cloisters of Torre Abbey in Devon, and was overwhelmed by a feeling of peace, tranquillity, and closeness to the Spirit as I walked around its ruined cloisters. Close by were the remains of monks and other abbey workers who practised a daily life and routine of faith, worship and service. Sitting within the peaceful confines of this space had a powerful healing effect upon me; I have revisited several times, and I always leave feeling at peace and spiritually refreshed.

Similarly, when we lived in Spain, and later in the Canary Islands, I would often wander into a Catholic church and sit quietly for a few minutes – and sometimes much longer. Again, I would feel a great sense of peace, spiritual warmth, and connection. Of course, it is much easier to wander into a church in Spain, since church doors are usually left unlocked, particularly during the day. In the UK, church doors are usually firmly fastened. I appreciate the reasons why, but it does deny some their spiritual refreshment, or a moment of respite from a busy and troubling world.

The spiritual tape recorder is there to help and support us whenever we wish to draw closer to the Spirit, to share our thoughts and feelings and to draw comfort and succour when it is most needed. You don’t even need to press ‘play’.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

The Air Show

Phew! Thank goodness that is over for another year! Yes, I’ve said it, and I know that it may upset many people. That’s the way I feel about it and I’ve avoided mentioning it in the past, but it is now time to speak out.

From a purely selfish point of view, the noise has been awful, and the dog and cat terrified. It is impossible to drive into town as all the roads are closed to cars for three days, car parks have been turned into “emergency helicopter landing pads” and roadside parking of any kind, if you manage to get into town, is banned for three days. In addition, disabled parking at the railway station is no more and disabled access restricted. I am told that this is all a “safety precaution” should there by an “incident with an aircraft crashing into the crowd”. Given this horrendous scenario and knowledge of other air show disasters in the past lead me to wonder whether providing such a performance in a small seaside town is such a good idea after all? Surely if we must have such displays, would they not be better held in a large area that is less constrained by buildings and other infrastructure?

Looking at the broader issues. Is it right for aircraft to be joyriding the skies in a show of machismo during the climate crisis? Given the huge costs of energy and fuel poverty in the country, is it right to be casually flouting an endless supply of aircraft fuel for joy riding? What about pollution of both the atmosphere and noise? Yes, the pilots are well trained, gifted, and clever individuals, but hopefully the public are aware that such displays are basically another recruitment tool, along with Armed Services Day, for military service? Air shows are generously promoted and encouraged by the military in the hope that more young people will be encouraged to sign up to protect our country or, in other words, to be used as possible cannon fodder in a war that the Government chooses to participate in.

It concerns me to hear the jingoistic and imperialist slogans and comments, such as the “Britain does it best” mentality much favoured by Brexiteers and others who have an excessive nationalistic agenda. Do we really need renderings of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and the ‘Dam Busters’ theme? Yes, the Red Arrows are an impressive display team, but are they really “the best in the world”? They are not. Closed minds lead to such distorted comments from people who think they know, but they don’t. The Spanish military aerobatic team, ‘the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol) are most impressive, as are their French and German counterparts. Don’t let us also forget that the USA, Canada, Sweden, Pakistan and even Ireland all do a fair job of showing off their display teams.

I watched the huge numbers of people heading to the beach, clad in the skimpiest of summer clothing and sun hats. Many were carrying bags of food, crates of beer and suntan oil to sustain them through what will be a very long day. Thankfully the sun was shining, which may or may not be of benefit during those long hours peering into the sky to see the next display. The beach and promenade were already packed, and finding a space will be difficult for those arriving late. The only way to get into the town was by walking, or by getting a train or bus. Hordes of bodies were being disgorged from coaches and buses in the centre of the town. It would be a most enjoyable day and create memories for many. As well as supporting the military agenda, the event also brought a lot of money from tourists into the town, which many small businesses desperately need in our post Covid lockdown world. There would be sunburn, food poisoning and hangovers to deal with, but nevertheless it had been a most enjoyable day.

Some of us are just very pleased it is all over for another year.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

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

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