God introduced me in the year of my fiftieth birthday, (1996) to ‘Las Islas Afortunadas’- "The Fortunate Islands", as the Spanish conquistadors named the archipelago consisting of seven volcanic origin islands which straddle the north west tip of the huge continent of Africa.,. At the time I had come here for a brief winter holiday, after an absence of 25 years, and I was working day and night back in Ireland, with no thoughts of changing my lifestyle.
Four traumatic years later,after numerous adventures-with the Revenue comissioners in particular- I was retired, and out of the Celtic Tiger Rat Race just as it was peaking. Overpriced property and lousy infrastructure; economic refugees from darkest Africa filling the streets and towns; factories thriving on exploited immigrant workers from eastern Europe, con men from Nigeria and Rumania preying on the banks and the public; unprecedented drug related criminality; armed robberies kidnappings; an increasingly violent society;corrupt politicians; a discredited police force:I was happy to leave it all behind and settle into a beautiful little one bedroom apartment overlooking the bay and marina in the tourist resort of ‘Puerto Rico’.
I am lying on the local beach now, as I begin this tale.It is January in the most southerly, civilized outreach of Western Europe.The sun is shining from a clear blue cloudless sky.Clear skies are the norm here, from January through to December.The temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius, a median for most of the year.
It is hot enough to burn the paler skinned sunworshippers, who flock here on both winter and summer package holidays. A few children are digging in the sand nearby,but many of of January, February and March´s influx of holidaymakers are grey haired, senior citizens of the "tercera edad" their faces lined with the latitude creasings of time and wear.
.January is ‘Scandia-month’here..
The old,and not so old;the retired,and the semi retired, ‘pensionistas, -and even young students, from all over Scandanavia - Norway in particular- make their annual pilgrimage to the south of Gran Canaria, to warm their bones,brighten their existance, and worship a very ancient God,-the Sun itself..
The Norwegians have many community facilities set up in this region including a popular college where young people study, their normal home school courses, underthe tutorship of norwegian teachers. Here they are untroubled by sub zero temperatures,and escape from the long ,dreary,dark winter of northern Europe.They come for a month..two months..three..months,depending on their families financial means or disposition. The previously small canarian fishing village of Arguinigan, on the south coast of Gran Canaria, is now their headquarters and has become a busy, ever expanding center of commercial activity due to their "colonization" of the locality. New houses,apartments blocks,and Luxury hotels are being build here at an unprecedented rate.
Norwegian, schools, long stay health clinics, Norwegian social clubs,bars and restaurants abound. So much so that some wags jokingly refer to the locality as ‘Little Norway’. The standing banter is that one must display a Norwegian passport to be admitted to the town, which has only one access road, from the main north-south Autopista. here the Guardia Civil are frequently found on checkpoint duty, waiting to fulfil their quota of fines for various traffic infringements,and snare uninsured canarian drivers etc. Many Canarians are tempted to leave the cooler, wetter,and cloudier climes of the capital city Las Palmas, at weekends and visit the sunny south of the Island , to swim play, drink and barbecue on the local beaches.
Although the island is only some 70 kilometres in lenght the climatic differences are amazing.As the prevailing trade winds blow north to south,the weather in Las Palmas the capital city on the north coast is not infrequently as cool and wet as the average irish day.
Because of the sheltering influence of the central massif however, the inclement rainbearing winds neve reach the sunny south coast, which remains an oasis of sunshine and tranquility.
The Canary Islands are to Europe- what Florida is to America;"God’s waiting room",as the Americans mockingly describe their sunshine State where pensioners retire to play golf,bowls, or just sunbathe on the beach, while patiently awaiting their turn for an audience with The Almighty .
Here, in Puerto Rico, are Temperatures,which never fall below 18 degrees Celsius; Athlantic waters warm enough for all year round swimming; (18-20C even in January); the almost total absence of Mosquitoes; no venemous creatures whatsoever,and a sun parched southern coastline, stretching from Maspalomas to Mogan. Check out the aerial view of the Island with Google Earth. You can get the picture..
These factors are among the many enticements to retire here, on this land of jagged mountains and solidified lava of clearly volcanic origin, which God thrust up from the ocean bed in a vast primeval upheaval, some millions of years before the dawn of human history.
Many investors from all parts of Europe have bought second ‘winter homes’ here. Property prices have risen in recent years,but the purchase of a small one bedroom apartment near the sea is still possible for 100,000Euros, much less if you are prepared to move further from the beach,and into the nearby non-resort towns although the Canarians make noisy neighbours. Those who bought here 15 to twenty years ago paid about 12000 Euros for a nice one bedroom apartmen (250,000 in Dublin now).The only downside to owning property here is the annual "Communidad" charge.This is your share of the total expense of maintaining the apartment complex where you live.
Irish people are now just discovering this onerous charge ,due to the proliferation of flats and apartments in Ireland. Where there was once, almost exclusively, three bedroomed semi-detached houses, high rise apartment blocks abound . If you visit Las Palmas you will see the dreary picture that Ireland will replicate in a few short years. Picture 50 more Ballymun style high rise flat complexes..That is the islands capital, Las Palmas, today.
The story of how I ended up in this wee Paradise-before having one foot in the grave is I hope worthy of taking up a little of your time.
I retired at 54 years of age.It was a completely unplanned decision.I rarely tend to act on impulse.My nature is one of caution,to excess.But sometimes I listen to instinct, and act more hastily, as in the making of this profound change in my life. Approaching 60 now, I have not regretted one moment of the last 6 years. They have been the best time in my life, and the next five can hardly be different, if God continues to favour me,with the priceless gift of good health.
If the poor could die for the rich, if money could buy either, time or health; all the worlds poor would make a wonderful employment from the rich.
It is already happening of course.We see the proof of that in the current trade in human organs of executed criminals in China-many of which end up in the hearts and livers and lungs of wealthy octogenarians to give them a few extra years of earthly existance
.So follow me now to Gran Canaria, and Puerto Rico,- the best kept secret in Europe,-where the micro-climate is unsurpassed anywhere. You will not regret it. The quality of life is far superior to that which you have now.The cost of living is lower.The Sun is your constant and cheerful companion to distraction.
Buy a little property while you are young. I did.Forget the slick insurance salesmen selling pension schemes and ignoring the so-called tax benefit enticements of giving them your money.Only the super rich are profiting by government incentive schemes.If you are in a happy position to invest a little money yourself, -buy some property,and buy it now.
The vast pensions fund industry is a parasite feeding off the population.You know that if your "investment broker" does not steal your money directly, somebody in Corporate America, Wall Street, Silicon Valley,or Shanghai,-surely will. At best you will only receive de-valued inflation corroded coinage in return , for your hard earned cash,contributed over a long lifetime.
I remember the weekly visits to my grandmothers house many years ago by insurance agents,collecting hard earned sixpennies and shillings for companies such as "Royal Liver".They were called "penny policies" .A penny still bought something in those days.After 15 years the policies were encashed and what were they worth-still pennies,but valueless ones by then.!
The agent alone probaly got ten or twenty percent of the" take" on his weekly round ,and after 15 years,when the money was so devalued by the 10 percent annual inflation of the times-the final encashment reward was less than a weeks wages.
Today stocks and shares are the gamble of the common man. The population still gets skint however with gambles on flawed government privatization ventures, such as Mary O’Rourke’s ‘Great Telecom Eireann Share Meltdown’.Fianna Fail,s first "family silver" sell-off, adventure.
Suddenly we found ourselves owning useless Vodaphone shares,while the wide boys made a fortune from the best parts of the former semi-state company.How did they pull that stroke anyhow? We were sold a pup. Once bitten twice shy..Beware of Greeks(or F.F.) bearing gifts.Who did politicians ever do a favour for- except themselves..or maybe a few lucky voters in a marginal constituency,coming up to election time.
Even if you don’t buy into Aer Lingus,etc. your local pension fund manager always has an insatiable appetite for wasting your money on them,and you cannot prevent his spending it, and deducting a fat commission fee for his trouble.
Fortunately I always instinctively shied away from the pinstripe suited ‘ financial advisors’and pension fund salesmen,who often came a calling at my door over the years.
I ended up running a taxicab operation- as a working owner. Driving a taxicab is hard work,and money hard earned behind the wheel is hard earned and highly valued. Long and irregular hours do not make for a good quality of family life.
At the end of my working career government deregulation made valueless overnight, some of our assets (my wife and I both had taxi medallions) which cost us dearly. We had just finished paying off the bank loan with which we purchased the second taxi medallion.No complaints.You win some .You lose some. Most of the spare money we diligently saved over the years was invested in just a few little ‘diamonds’…but they proved to be stones of great price in the end.
This is a simple story of a simple life.Some good luck…some bad luck, and just one investments nugget-which had a golden sunshine lining.
Here in Gran Canaria I drive a luxurious car which I would never dream of buying in Ireland, having too much respect for what modest funds I possess. My fuel,insurance,road tax,etc is 50% lower.than Irish prices. Wine,food,dining out etc.is a fraction of the cost of Ireland .I suppose I almost live the life style of a Dennis O"Brien ,a Jefferson Smurfit,or a Dermot Desmond (without a private jet of course!)
I am mindful of the chinese proverb:
"He who owns a thousand acres of land can still only eat one bowl of rice every day "
I must warn prospective residents here,that the ability to cope with 360 days of sunshine is a pre-requisite..Golf ,Tennis,Reading and Swimming are, however ,useful therapies. One bedroom apartments now start at 80,000Euros in a tourist area.(2004 prices)
I will be happy to advise any other economic emigrants,or elderly refugee seekers,seeking asylum, from the brutal dictatorship of King Bertie and his oppressive regime ,should the upcoming elections not result in his overthrowal. Who knows,I may even buy a pin stripe suit,and set up a consultancy service.But read on ,and if some chapters bore you, just skip over them.
I hope there is something here for everyone.But first ,bear with my story and be patient as I must begin-as in all tales- where it all started.At the beginning.
My Mother Ann ,and her only brother James were born in Dublin in the Rotunda Hospital ,in 1921 and 1919 respectively, to parents, Paddy and Elizabeth Mc Loughlin.
My grandfather Paddy, I know little about except that he was a postman –turned soldier and served in ‘ The Great War’.His pre-army job would have provided a steady,if meager income, in those hard times when any regular income was survival. .Postmen had a reputation in the early part of the twentieth century-,and for many years afterwards,- of being the pawnbrokers best clients, due to their low wages.But then the pawnbrokers had many customers in Dublin in the early part of the last century.
My grandmother’s name was was, Elizabeth (Nee McGuire.)She was a seamstress and came from Kildare to Dublin in search of work.Her family were ‘railway people’with a tradition of employ in the service of the railway company of the day.After she and Paddy McLoughlin married ,she was able to supplemented his wage with whatever private commissions she could obtain stitching and sewing,cushions,settee covers,and so forth. She also worked part time as a charlady/cleaner in the G.P.O. in O’Connell Street.
I have some vague memories ,as a young boy , of travelling with her on one occasion,as she attended to some of her clients to measure,make, and fit,protective, fabric sofa covers . This was a ‘quality’ lady who lived in a big house in Merrion Square.I remember also a visit to two spinster sisters who lived together in a bungalow,about a mile outside the pleasant little village of Ashford in County Wicklow.
This was a live-in contract for Gran and she stayed here for a week or so, as a guest, until all her work was done.I visited her by bus from Dublin one day.
I had a little hike in the woods and a private picnic and was also introduced to her customers who made a big fuss of me. I returned home on the evening bus the same day,with billy-can and haversack.
When the ‘ Great War’ as it was then known,commenced in 1914,and the brutal savagery of trench warfare was in full swing in Europe, Ireland was of course embroiled in its own internal turmoil.
The seeds of a conflict yet to come;- freedom from the colonial shackles of the British Empire, had already been sown in the writings, plays and poetry of intellectuals,and dreamers such as W.B Yeats, Padraig Pearse ,and James Connolly ,a socialist revolutionary. These disparate individuals were also, more pragmatically,drilling and organizing various militia forces-of which ‘The Citizens Army’ was one,to prepare for the coming struggle.
Throughout Europe the ideas of Karl Marx had found fertile ground in the minds of many who lived miserable lives of dreary poverty in cities such as London,Paris, Dublin and Moscow.
Socialism was the new philosophy of intellectuals and writers such as George Bernard Shaw.There was widespread hardship which knew no borders,and traversed the globe.Within greater Europe, political ferment was abroad ,revolution was in the air, and it had reached the vast expanse of the Russian continent.The ‘Great European War’ was to dissipate much of this revolutionary energy in an orgy of bloodshed and horror the likes of which the world had never previously experienced.Many millions of young men were to perish in the full bloom of youth before it would end.
‘Dark is the night,and deep,and all around
Hang stars,like seeds of light.In Vain
For never since they were born
Was bred anything more bright.
And many multitudes ride
All about;nor enter in.
Of those multitudes that dwell inside-
Never yet was one seen.
The forest foxglove is purple
The Marguerite outside is blue and white
Nor can those that pluck of either blossom
Greet the others,day or night.’
My grandfather Patrick was born for this war.The time and location of one’s birth is an imponderable enigma,a very strange thing .Where it happens;When it happens;who your parents are;-even the genes they unknowingly pass on to you,-all determine the life of leisure or suffering that each individual soul enjoys or endure, in this world. It’s like a kind of lottery.It amazes us .It disturbs us.It frightens us.Its a kind of organized chaos.A teeming jungle, hostile to life, and within that forest, perpetual internecine conflict of the utmost savagery and cruelty. Greed,and corruption is part of every society-every political party.
It makes us question the unfathomable purpose of life,and ask too many questions to which we have no answers.
Patrick was,as we can judge by his actions in volunteering for service,( conscription was generally opposed in Ireland, and therefore never imposed) - clearly influenced by the John Redmond political faction, in the Irish political turmoil of the time. The ‘Redmondites’ generally supported the British Government,our colonial masters and encouraged Irishmen to volunteer for service. If we went to France and ‘Fought for the freedom of small nations’such as Belgium,we were promised good things ourselves in war’s aftermath- if we would stand by the the British Empire in her dark hour of need.
So with a stout heart,and many tears, and much poignancy,my grandmother Elizabeth waved goodbye to the troop carrier boat, berthed in the river liffey,as it sailed from Dublin bay with her new husband Patrick among the many courageous recruits destined for England, and eventually France, and the slaughter fields of Flanders and the Somme.
For a very special introduction to those times and that particular ‘ Hell on earth’,where he fought; I would recommend readers to the life story, memoirs, and poetry of one Siegfried Sassoon, a young british officer and conscientious objector during this war.He was committed to an Asylum in Scotland for a time during the conflict, because of his anti- war stance and activities. Like Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw,he was an acute embarrassment to the Establishment because of his ‘ family connections’ and his literary skills,the more so because he was a serving officer.
.He never refused his duties, and was in fact decorated for bravery ,after one particular skirmish with the ‘Bosch’, when he returned to France to prove that- despite his courageous stance,and great humanity, he was no coward or traitor to his country.He certainly deserves the title of ‘ Patron Saint’of anti-war protestors as any person who has read his autobiography must acknowledge.
His poetry is very easy to read,his satire is cruel,and the man’s wonderful humanity and passion for life, justice,and an end to the madness of international conflict is imbued in every line;-
‘Good morning good morning’the general said,
as we passed him last week on our way to the line,
Now the soldiers he spoke to are most of ‘em dead;
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine..
‘He’s a cheery old sod’said Billy to Jack
as they marched up to Arras with rifle and pack;-
But he did for them both, with his plan of attack.!
Many brave objectors have followed, in his guiding footsteps, during the years stretching from Vietnam to present day Iraq- some of whom will surely have taken inspiration from his courageous stance in a period when civil resistance or criticism of any kind was considered unpatriotic to the point of betrayal of one’s country.
My grandfather Patrick survived the Great War,serving as a ‘gunner’,one of the small team of three or four soldiers who manned a field artillery piece. It would however have been more merciful, if he had been killed on the battlefield.
As artillery units generally are kept somewhat out of harms way, at the rear of the trench lines where the brutal hand to hand combat takes place,it might have seemed a fortuitous posting. However it only saved his life,temporarily, from death at the point of a bayonet or the blast of an explosive shell - for a more cruel fate.
He was exposed to a new weapon, the forerunner of todays more quick acting nerve gases.It was called Phosgene or "mustard gas,because of it,s pungent odour.
When he returned home to Ireland, from France,he was a man under sentence of death..A slow and painful one. His lungs were scarred and irrevocably damaged.
We will never know which side caused his suffering It is highly possible that he was killed by his own colleagues. Poison gas was one of the then newest forms of warfare to see much experimentation in this war. ‘Mustard gas’ so called, was eventually discarded as a weapon,-not for humanitarian reasons- but because it proved to be an all too capricious weapon .The wind upon which it relied for efficacy was an unpredictable and capricious variable,as any sailor knows.Frequently, upon releasing the gas,the breeze changed course suddenly and the warring factions poisoned their own troops.! ‘Death by friendly gas’was never reported in dispatches or military records during the Great War.A sensitive subject… best left unsaid.
The Soviet Union modernized the poison gas industry in the latter half of the twentieth century . Their scientists invented unimaginably more deadly and more rapid poisons such as ‘Sarin’which acts instantaneously –and perhaps more mercifully-on the central nervous system. America was obliged to follow suit,and stockpile quantities of this hideous weapon.Many other regimes have worked to produce this relatively inexpensive weapon of mass destruction, in the latter part of the twentieth century.
Sadaam Hussein is reputed to have ‘re-discovered’this tool of warfare and used it to good effect ,first against his unruly Kurdish Tribes in the northern Iraq.and secondly, during the horrendous carnage of the ‘ human wave assault’ style war between Iran and Iraq ,in the Middle East.
He had not the expertise to manufacture and safely deliver the more complex nerve gases with missiles or artillery,fortunately for the population of Israel, as the manufacture of such "delivery" missiles requires a considerable degree of sophistication and engineering complexity.
It is ironic that,as we now know, the american government and german businessmen both built the facilities in Iraq and supplied the ingredients for the poison gas.That was during the period when Saddam was everybodys best friend and he was helping the west to contain the threat of Islamic Iran. Saddam is gone but Islamic Iran need a nuclear arsenal to ensure they are never attacked by any nation ever again. Who can blame them?
The older more manageable ‘mustard gas’was utilized with some success in the Iran Iraq war-as in the First World War.Perhaps the winds are more predictable in the desert.During the short Kuwait War between America and Iraq, the Americans in their inimitable way made it quietly known through diplomatic channels to Saddam that if he used the poison gas (which they themselves had provided!) on american troops they in turn would use their ‘ Nuclear Option.’ He did not, and whether the american threat would have been carried out, we will fortunately never know.
The Iran -Iraq war was not much mentioned by the western media,in America or Europe.It seemed a long way from Europe.Whether this was because only Arabs were killing Arabs,-or the case that most of the worlds´ armaments manufacturers including Britian, France, America,China, and Russian profited greatly from discreet weapons sales to both sides-is difficult to say. International news correspondents had difficulty gaining access to the battlefields and accurate news of events was therefore hard to come by.In some ways also the war was beneficial for the West,-better by far to have one’s enemies killing one another, than joining together to attack you.
Obligatory reading: "The Great War For Civilization-The Conquest Of The Middle East (by Robert Fisk)
Millions of young men,of Muslim creeds, perished,in this recent conflict,in the Middle East ,during the 1990’s, as in ‘The Great War’ of 1914-1918.
An official embargo existed on the sale of weaponry to both protagonists..It was easily circumvented. Fortunes were made by shady ‘middlemen’arms dealers who enabled the weapon makers themselves to distance themselves from the affair.
The British press got hold of some information about Margareth Thatcher’s conservative government’s less than noble involvement in turning a blind eye to those companies who profited from arms sales.Her own family were involved.The quintessential "English Halliburton".
Few governments have clean hands in this lucrative international trade..A cash buyer is a customer. Shake his hand and take his money.If you don’t someone else will.
Suppliers,such as China,France,and Russia, rarely look for references as to the character,or moral reputation of their clients.
The war itself was a repeat performance of the kind of barbarity which western Europe had long dispensed with- Trench warfare and massed infantry assaults, reminiscent of first world war France were the order of the day.
The soldiers were perhaps a little younger on average, than their first world war predecessors . Their headlong rush to death and paradise from the Iraqi trenches was probably helped by the prod of a bayonet or the threat of summary execution. The young Iranians were perhaps more relaxed about their fate, being ‘ inspired by God’ and promised a martyrs welcome in Paradise by their Mullahs.
.Young people unfortunate enough to grow up in a closed state,a country controlled by a regime which subjects them to indoctrination and censorship from the beginning of their lives and which elevates religious fervour to a form of intense‘brain-washing’-develop an unmatchable zeal for their cause; a distorted idealism; a misguided passion for justice ; and most terrible of all-an enthusiasm for martyrdom.
Sometimes under the tutorship of Christian clergymen,-or more likely nowadays- Muslim Mullahs and Ayatullahs ;they are easy prey. Even George Bush, and Ariel Sharon, have these control skills in abundance. Their ‘Crusade’ always has a righteous mission ;-To secure oilfields; to annex territory; to free the world from terrorism/tyranny; to recover their Biblical lands; and so forth. They must therefore influence and control the minds of their citizens, and the rest of the world, as best they can.Sometimes this is a difficult task where a free press operates unhindered. As in the case of Israel many of its citizens need little prodding .Zealotry was born in the Holy Land.
Blending religion and patriotism is a necessary recipe to distract thinking citizens of every nation, from the coffins and bodybags that await the young victims of each battlefield crusade.
and continue to: