Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


The One Where I Get a Bit Nostalgic

When I decided to expand the theme of this blog (coming soon! keep on reading, folks!) I wondered about fitting  in ramblings about the country of my birth, England, but, of course it’s a part of  Great Britain or…..the British Isles – voilá it fits….happily since my trip to UK this time took in some old haunts en route to WTM.

It had been some years since I’d visited my home town, and this was pretty much a flying visit, with plans constantly being forced to change. After sitting for two hours on the sultry tarmac at South Tenerife airport due to non-functioning air conditioing,  I, actually, didn’t think I could ever feel cold again! Not so!

I left a wave of heat which hadn’t eased up much since it began in late Spring, and I woke my first morning in my friend Maggie’s house to a crisp morning of crystal-clear sky and a light frost on the lawn. I pulled on clothes and grabbed the camera. Maggie and Mike live in the swathe of flat, green countryside between Blackpool and Preston, and I could see  a hazy sun emerging across the fields. Mike came out to see what I was doing, bemused, I think, by my attempts to photograph the slight frosting on the grass – a sight uncommon to me, but not to him!

Suddenly, he pointed upwards and  I heard a mournful cacophony which used to be very familiar. Following his pointing finger I saw the skein of geese in that unmistakable,  shifting V-shape as it strung out across the blue. Years ago I’d lived in an area like this, and the excited gabbling of  migrating geese was something which confirmed the onset of the “dark side” – those winter months I’d rather not remember!

It was from the geese I learned the word sehnsucht – their cries echoed that yearning inside of me to be in warmer, far-flung places as winter engulfed northern England.

A couple of days later and back on GMT, my cold fingers fumbled to capture an Irish Sea sunset from the beach at Cleveleys, north of Blackpool at what seemed a ridiculously early hour. The Promenade here has been remodeled since I was there, years ago, and its stark but graceful lines and colors now reflect those of the coastline. It was a little chill, but utterly in keeping with the place. The tide here goes out so far that you can’t even see the sea, as a small child I used to think that it disappeared over the edge of the world.

Moody skies over the Lake District hills from Cleveleys Promenade

Here there was that slightly desolate feeling I used to get at this time of year. The bleak sea breeze permeated my inadequate clothing (I long ago used up all my cold-weather clothing!), and whilst I admit to pangs of nostalgia, the short walk was enough to confirm my decision to have emigrated…….it would cost me far too much in clothing to live here now, but do you see all those dots on the pictures? They are all folk out taking a bracing stroll – hardy, these Northerners!

What made me more nostalgic was a visit earlier in the day, with my friend, Pat, to Stanley Park in Blackpool, a place I’d been taken to as a child and in turn took my own kids. It was also close to my senior school and the place we would sneak out to on occasion to read on the grassy knolls around the lake. Here I found the Autumn I always seek at this time of year.

The golden leaves, the sunlight through the trees and all that jazz. And, speaking of jazz, we had a very nice lunch in the café by the Rose Garden, which is, apparently, seared on my memory, because I remembered it quite clearly, the Art Deco-ish decor which must have been very popular in the Blackpool of my childhood I think. Even the brass boxes on the loo doors remained, although these days you don’t have to pay – tell me how could I get nostalgic about a box on a toilet door?…..jazz because on weekends they have jazz there, which I have marked down to go see on my next summer visit! Lovely venue right by the rose garden.

Stanley Park Rose Garden, Blackpool with the café to the left.

My few, short days on the Fylde Coast were warmed by wonderful friendships which have weathered the years and all life’s changes; by scrumptious full-on breakfasts and home-cooked dinners; by babies – my goddaughter’s, the next generation, and by happy memories, but much as I am glad to have grown up there (I think it made me tougher, physically and perhaps mentally) I’m more than happy to return to the sunshine and the sub-tropics!



Recalling Boozy Summers

There is a very old and worn joke, which visiting British comedians drag out, about Tenerife being 20,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock – they are talking about ex-pats, by the way, not the locals,  and they make the same joke about Ibiza,  Gibraltar and other appropriately geographic places.  So what I am going to say next might come off sounding like a lush, but the other day I was thinking about how certain drinks remind me of certain years.

I was brought up in an almost teetotal household.  That might have had more to do with lack of money than an abhorrence of alcohol, but my grandmother was a regular worshipper at the local Salvation Army Citadel, and I do remember an incident in my late teens when she allowed me a small glass of sherry one Christmas.  I was kind of chuffed that she considered me old enough to handle it, and I waited in anticipation as she poured her annual glass of advocate for herself, so we could clink glasses and toast the Season.  I had the glass halfway to my lips when the doorbell rang, and I found the glass disappearing from my fingers quicker than you could say “Hallelujah” (who knew Nana could move so quickly?!).  By the time I blinked, she was hiding our glasses  behind the Westminster Chimes clock on the sideboard, to be restored to me as soon as she discovered that the visitor was not a Salvation Army friend, but a neighbour come with Christmas greetings.

So you can see, I might have had a confusing view of alcohol, not aided by taking the pledge at the Salvation Army Sunday School at the age of 10, so that feelings of guilt accompanied every sip for years and years.  Eventually, I think it was curiosity that put me on the slippery road, plus reading the entire works of Ernest Hemingway one summer… need to tell you about him……

Is it my imagination that things always happened in the Summertime?  Looking back, there were several Summers I remember by what I was drinking.

In the early 70s I discovered cuba libres one warm Summer of houseboats and wending our lazy way  down canals, with nothing more in mind than chilling out and watching the sunlight play between the branches of the willows as we drifted underneath.   That came to an abrupt end in November of the year, when a party of us visited Mallorca, and I got very, very, very drunk one night. In fact, I think it might have been the first time I’d ever been drunk – so drunk I couldn’t bear the smell of Bacardi for more than thirty years afterwards!

Bacardi takes me to another summer though , those thirty years on, when I broke the non-white-rum habit, that was the year Bacardi Breezers were introduced.  By then, of course, I was living here, and I have pleasant memories of watching sunsets, friendly banter and trying to figure out which flavor I liked best… turned out to be watermelon.  There used to be a fabulous series of concerts and events in Los Cristianos called Son Latinos, a week of music and music-related events.  It was held the last weekend of August, so it seemed to mark the end of Summer.  Over the years Jose Feliciano, Manu Chao, Chayanne, members of the Buena Vista Social Club, the Vargas Blues Band, headlined, and the Summer I am thinking of – Maná.  A huge stage was erected on Las Vistas beach, and we sat crossed legged to watch the smaller concerts.  Came the big night, we picnicked on the warm sand  as we watched the concert, and tried to conduct our own survey on which flavour was best. Strangely, I’ve never drunk them since that year.  Winter is red wine for me, so as the season changed so did my habits, and the next summer there was something else.

It might have been the margarita summer, the next one.  That summer I was living where I am living again now, in El Médano, and right on the corner two steps from the beach there was a Mexican restaurant which made the best margaritas you can imagine….. and can you imagine just how delicious and refreshing an ice-cold lemon margarita is when you have been messing about on a hot beach all afternoon?  The next year I moved away, and although I have the odd margarita when I go to a Mexican restaurant, the drink/driving thing kind of curtails the enjoyment, and they seem so messy to make at home.  Anyway, I like to keep the memories of lazing on the beach, cooling down with those frosty drinks and then shuffling, slowly, home.

I passed  two summers in total abstinence, 2006 and 2007, when I was working with the Cruz Roja humanitarian aid emergency response team, and call outs would come at all and any hour of the night or day, as the boats arrived from Africa, and we had to be ready to up and go on two minutes’ notice.  That I found it so easy to refuse a drink,  kind of reassures me that, despite this post, I am not an addict!

Addiction is, in my perception, far more common than statistics prove.  Most people don’t consider themselves addicted.  I once saw an interview with Betty Ford, where she gave her own guideline as being that you are addicted if you need just one drink a day i.e. you don’t need to be stumbling around blind drunk all the time, which is how many of us perceive alcoholics to be.  Truth is alcoholics can quietly pack them away and build up a kind of tolerance, or a way of being which hides their problem.  Anyway, few of us would be giving out many signals of addiction on one drink a day.

When you are young it’s hard to resist peer pressure when so much social life revolves around the pub, in England at least, which is where I was when I was young.  I wasted one entire summer trying to fit in with “the group” by drinking Boddingtons Beer on the lawns of Lake District pubs or the streetside tables of our local.  I never, ever developed a liking for it, and the next summer I’d moved on to gin and tonics – when friends complained about my expensive taste I simply cut down, and tried to stick to ordering it only when it was our round.

There was my kind of “Great Gatsby summer” back in those years too, when we discovered the delights, as well as the snob value, of Pimms.  I learned to make them properly, what’s more, none of the readymade stuff, if you don’t mind.  It seemed like a summer when everyone was elegant and the days were hazy and mellow, we went to York Races on Ladies’ Day, and point to points and country race meets, and played at being toffs……at least that’s the way I saw it.  I am sure that no-one else did.  Probably no-one else in that group had read “The Great Gatsby”.

There came the summer here I discovered bourbon and cola.  There was to be a firework display in town and we gathered with some friends on the beach in eager anticipation.  These days, being more safety conscious, they rope off the beach, but then you could go drag a couple of sunbeds together to watch, and someone plied back and forth to the nearest bar on the promenade to keep the supply of drinks going.  It’s not unusual for firework displays to be late in starting, but for some reason that summer it was exceptionally late……which meant that we drank more than our fair share whilst waiting.  It was the year I’d begun to drink this made-in-heaven combination, and that night I discovered that it didn’t seem to make me drunk.  Of course it did, it couldn’t not have done, but it left me feeling happy and not in the least hungover the next day, and so after much searching I found “my” drink.

Maybe alcohol does feature too much in our daily lives these days.  One of my sons doesn’t drink at all, and the other rarely.  They both prefer the rush they get from fitness to the one they get from booze.  It’s probably wrong that I classify my memories by what I was drinking that year, and my generation, we baby boomers, being the first to be exposed to just so much choice, probably were the beginning of today’s youngsters’ binge drinking.  My social life changed, my status changed, and drink driving laws got tougher (quite rightly, of course), so drink is no longer as “normal”  a part of my daily life.  That’s good for me, but I kind of feel sorry for kids today.  While they are getting blotto every weekend, they are losing their memories too, all that remains from being that sloshed is the hangover, so I’m kind of glad I have the cool memories I do.


Summer Now and Then

It might be cloudy and more humid than usual, but there is no doubt that summer is upon us.  The schools have only days of term time left, but already the complex pool here is chocka in the afternoons, childish hoots and hollers echo and parental bodies tan themselves alongside.  It would take an actual rain storm to shift them now that summer’s here.  Despite warm weather since I moved here in February, the pool was hardly used until a few weeks ago.

It might seem odd to anyone who hasn’t lived in, what is described as, ‘a year-round, good climate’, that we do note a difference between summer and winter.  In fact, winter temperatures can soar too, but with shorter days the heat soon disperses, even before the sun sinks into the ocean.  In summer on the night-time coast or early morning, it’s cool outdoors, but buildings retain the heat, and sleep can be elusive.  It will be a few weeks before we get to that stage, but summer is beginning to stake its claim.

The past couple of weekends it’s been difficult to park outside my building, thank goodness for my garage parking, not only for this reason, but to keep the car cool too.  In addition to vacationers with hire cars, there are Canarian- registered cars.  For years now well-off people from the north of the island have been investing in property in the south.  Some are, simply, investments, but others have bought as second homes, so that the comparative quiet of weekdays is now punctuated by weekend noise.  This isn’t brilliant construction, and I have a background of running water, a hum from television and conversation and the throb of the elevator rising and descending at all hours.

It’s not that bad, and it’s what you get for living in a resort like El Médano, even though it isn’t a “tourist” resort in the same sense as its flashier neighbours.  It seems natural to me, having been brought up in an English seaside town, to think in terms of things being seasonal.

In Blackpool we used to avoid the town on a Saturday if we could, because that was “changeover” day and the streets bustled with laden cars struggling to get out of town, whilst newcomers circled, with glazed expressions, looking for parking spaces, and laundry services and other deliveries parked ad lib, wherever they could. The season there was short – from the schools breaking up early July to the reopening of their doors the first week of September, basically, with odd flurries in between, at Easter and Whitsuntide (as was).  Blackpool had the original extended holiday time for the Illuminations, but that’s another story entirely, and was a weekend thing.

There was a local saying, “Blackpool sleeps while Oldham Wakes”, “while” in this context meaning “until”.  For decades, starting in the early 19th Century, Blackpool was the Torremolinos of its day to the hundreds of workers from the cotton mills of industrial Lancashire, and wool mills of Yorkshire, and later from industrial Scottish cities, like Glasgow.

The Wakes Weeks were probably originally religious holidays, but changed to become workers’ holidays as the country industrialized and life changed.  Each town had its allotted weeks, and Oldham, near Manchester kicked the season off in mid June.  I remember between Easter and Oldham Wakes there would be false starts, if there was good weather.  A quick heatwave in May would have traders and landladies rubbing their hands in glee, but it would fall off again as the weather cooled, which always set off a round of moans and whinges – la plus ça change!

From the time I became aware of the Wakes Weeks in the 1950s I also became aware that that was the time to avoid going into town.  In those days, as they had done for a century or so, people came by train, and humped their luggage from the impressive, main Central Station to the boarding houses nearby.  Local lads would earn their pocket money with homemade carts, pulling the newcomers’ luggage from the station to their destination.

I lived on the very edge of the town, more or less in the country, my granddad had a market garden, around two or three acres from memory, so summers were spent outdoors, with only occasional trips to the seaside.  I suppose I saw far less of the famous golden sands than the average kid from Blackburn or Burnley in fact.  There was long grass to hide in; a tree to climb; dried-up ditches which followed the line of the hedgerows in which to make dens, and smell the sweet elder and hawthorn flowers; there were the most pungent, fresh tomatoes to pick from the vine, and in the Fall gooseberries and blackberries.  Our neighbour grew peas, and sometimes we were allowed to go pick some.  There is nothing like the taste of freshly popped peas, and on the odd occasions in recent years I’ve tasted them I’ve been instantly transported back to happy times.

It seems to me now that it never rained in summer back then.  I don’t know if it did or not.  The one thing I do know is that we had a lot of freedom.  We could disappear “down the field” (our family way of saying somewhere on the land, away from the house) after breakfast and not return until our stomachs began to growl at lunchtime, and nothing was said, and no-one worried.  It seems to me too that we had overactive imaginations by the standards of today’s kids.  We invented games, we were inspired by tv once it arrived in 1953, not enslaved to it, or we would act out scenes from books.  We didn’t have an awful lot in the way of toys, I don’t think, it was post WW2, and the menfolk were all getting back into the swing of normal work, making up for lost time and eking out their wages, but we had boxes and wood, grass and flowers which transformed by our imaginations became swords or dens, stages or cars.  I don’t have a doubt, looking back, that we were the richer for it.

This was the kind of childhood I dreamed of for my kids, and moving to Tenerife gave them this in part.  It was much safer back then, and although we did have a pool, they spent hours and hours across the road on the “desert” hiking, exploring and fighting their wars, and when we went to the beach, we mostly avoided the main ones and sought out little bays with rock pools and scope for the imagination.

I have much more nostalgia for my childhood than I expected I would have, but I know that life evolves and changes, I just hope that when my children look back they will have the same feeling.