Friday, April 24, 2020

A Very British Kind of Place on the Canary Island of Tenerife

          They were very different times. The number of inhabitants in Puerto de la Cruz on the island of Tenerife may not have been much more than five thousand. A fair number of those were British and Irish. Early forms of tourism were just beginning and town houses were being converted into pensions and boarding houses to cater for the growing number of travellers, scientists and artists. So quaint, if we compare it to the five star luxury hotels in today's modern resorts, the beautiful old Martianez Hotel offered improved sanitary arrangements installed by an English plumber. One could stay at the Marquesa for seven pesetas a day. There were no roads but dusty tracks and caminos reales, stone highways connecting the old port with the towns of La Orotava, Los Realejos and beyond. A carriage from the port to La Orotava cost as much as ten pesetas. Visitors could hire a landau for 600 pesetas a month or a donkey for two and a half pesetas for a morning. There was the beginnings of an electricity supply, generated by water flowing from a water gallery at a point near Aguamansa and supplied to only a few wealthy properties. There was no television. There was no rush.

The Martianez Hotel in Puerto de la Cruz

          The small and distinguished community from the British Isles and the growing number of winter visitors were regarded with respect and affection and went about their business with gentility. Nevertheless, although they were a very cultured lot and therefore needed little in the way of entertainment, because they made their own, they lacked a very important ingredient. There was nowhere, outside the privacy of their own home or boarding house, at which to enjoy a decent game of one kind or another.

          So one should not surprised to hear that in 1896 a small group of those intrepid pioneers hired rooms above a chemist owned by a gentleman by the name of Ramón Gómez, in Calle Santo Domingo, a street just above the fishing harbour. It was there that they founded a games club called The Guanche English Club. They had a billiards table and a cardroom, and drinks were served. To them it might have seemed like the beginnings of their very own version of the Travellers or Caledonian clubs in London, to which gentlemen could slip away to escape a female plot. But that wasn't the case at all. Ladies, as in so many British colonies, were very much a part of the act and the club was a regular host to the Orotava English Musical and Dramatic Society, an early equivalent to today's English Speaking Theatrical Association in Tenerife, better known as E.S.T.A.

Puerto de la Cruz with ships at anchor

          What they really yearned for was some outdoor activity, a bit of sport, old bean! Therefore, in October 1902, at about the same time Kitchener was putting an end to the Boer War, the beginnings of an outdoor games club began to blossom in the Orotava Valley, although there had already been attempts to get a golf links going outside the valley, at La Quinta in Santa Úrsula. 

          Captain Hamilton Boyle, Reverend Humphreys, Doctor Lisham and Messrs Woolley and Osbert Ward, author of The Vale of Orotava, a guide-book published in 1903, decided it was time. They met for an afternoon of outdoor activities at San Antonio, where Walter Long Boreham, one of the main benefactors of All Saints church had lived, because there was what they called a cement lawn-tennis court as well as a small croquet lawn. 

          The same group agreed to meet again, this time with Vice-Consul Tom Reid and Mr Gregory at El Robado, Colonel Owen Peel Wethered’s magnificent mansion at the heart of what today we know as San Fernando. El Robado's gardens, which were described as spacious and where croquet and the ancient game of bowls could be carried on in a most scientific manner during picnics and tea parties, would be an ideal venue.

A tea party at El Robado

          Four years later the popularity of these games parties at private houses, and the growing number of visitors to Puerto de la Cruz persuaded these fun-loving British residents to rent the grounds adjacent to San Antonio from doña Celia Zamora in order to establish a permanent club. A huge sum of seven hundred and fifty pesetas a year was the agreed rent. 
          The new club, the Orotava Bowling and Recreation Club was declared open on 15th November, 1906. Subscriptions were set at thirty pesetas a year, twelve and a half for three months and five pesetas for just one week. Steamers, like the Avocet or the Ardeola which belonged to the Yeoward Brother’s Line and could be seen at anchor off Puerto de la Cruz while they loaded bananas, were bringing a constant flow of winter visitors to the club. It was becoming a tremendous success and in 1908 the club was registered for the first time under Spanish law as an association. 

The original bowling green at the club

          Those who preferred bowls were indignant in 1907 when upstarts asked if they might play tennis on their tender bowling green. The request concentrated minds on the fact that proper tennis courts would have to be on the agenda. Alas, they would have to wait because war got in the way. Indeed, suddenly, it all changed. The rumblings of the Great War began to affect the arrival of merchant and passenger shipping to the Canary Islands as German U-Boats took their toll. Few new visitors made the journey and younger club members volunteered to fight for King and country. Life and membership at the games club was badly affected. 

          It wasn't until 1924 that new tennis courts were laid just where they are today, albeit overgrown with weeds since the British Club was asked to leave the premises. Tennis almost became the main event and matches began to be organised against rival clubs such as the Hesperides Club of La Laguna and The British Club of Santa Cruz. Faces grew younger in between the wars and as the 1920s swung in so did the demand for a bit of harmless fun, and dances and other activities were organised in style.

The tennis courts at the British Club (note the long whites)

          The club also survived the Spanish Civil War and, immediately afterwards, WW2. It kept going thanks to that old, solid British spirit, keep calm and and carry on. It was also thanks to its Spanish members like the Marquesa de Villafuerte, the Llarenas and the Salazars that the club actually carried on playing games.

The Club rules were even translated into Spanish

          Indeed, the club bonded great and lasting friendships between families like the Machados and British residents. How they loved their croquet, especially when the game was played on the large green beside the clubhouse. Bowls always seemed just a bit too English for them, with all that bending down on one's knee and those memories of Sir Francis Drake and the Armada. 

Tom Reid (British Vice-Consul) and Noel Reid (First Junior Member, aged 16) pictured on the croquet lawn in 1908

How they loved their croquet!

          Especially after WW2, the club boasted some of the best young tennis players in Tenerife, like Alfonso and Antonio Cologan, of Irish ancestry, and their brother Leopoldo, Marqués de la Candia. They were good years when members like Felipe Machado, who purchased Risco de Oro from George Marriott, was Vice-President and Leopoldo Cólogan were on the committee under Noel Reid who had carried on with the work of his brother Rio.

          In between and after the wars the club had prospered. It became an open and friendly place, and consequently more and more cosmopolitan, with a number of very distinguished and able European members and quite a few American and Canadian representatives always willing to lend a hand. Nevertheless it retained a very British feel about it. Her Majesty´s birthday was celebrated as loyally as in old British dominions and colonies. Officers from visiting Royal Navy ships were graciously entertained by the club for many years and their ship's crests were proudly on display around the bar. A smoky, ruthless game of bridge could be fought in a quiet corner of what was the Dick Peto room, named after a member who donated a thousand pounds, a huge sum in those days, after WW2.

Some club members celebrating Armistice Day in 1929
Antonio, the gardener, is on the left
If anyone would like to know who the others were, I'd be happy to tell you.

          A splendid, strategic and sometimes uproarious bowls competition would entertain a critical audience, before and after a gin and tonic. A serious game of tennis could be had any day, provided one fetched one's own stray ball from the banana plantation. In the latter years of the 20th century bandits fought against angels in thrilling and hilarious Sunday tournaments. A gentle tea and biscuits, served by Rosa and duty lady members, were available to ease one out of an afternoon siesta. Charitable dinners, competitions and seasonal dances were arranged and held in grand and traditional style. The bar was a regular meeting place for many a resident who simply wanted to relax, chat and enjoy a drink at a very reasonable price and in very pleasant surroundings.

The original entrance to the British Games Club.

          It would need a book to fully account for the history and traditions of what is still today known as the British Games Club. Even though the club was forced to move, and did so in style and with that same keep calm and carry on attitude, to Club de Tenis Puerto de la Cruz, sometimes better know as Alvaro's Club, a careful study of many of its members, past and present, would certainly reveal a wealth of talent, culture and experience. The club, just as the other pillars of the British community, the English Library and All Saints Church, reflect a unique British volunteering spirit. Silently, behind the scenes, there will always be those prepared to work tirelessly in the interests of their British community.

Alvaro's Club

          When the current crisis is over, the COVID-19 storm, anyone joining the club will realise at once that present members maintain the old club’s high standards. Newcomers will soon feel glad to be a part of its delightful character, especially with all its lively activities. There have been changes, of course. Apparently, in 1955, when new, young and radical members suggested that cold drinks, including beer, might be served after games, many of the senior members got into a flap. Hip flasks would be permitted, of course, what, what!

By John Reid Young

(This is an adaptation of a previous article of mine, published fifteen years ago in island newspapers, and certain images may have been reproduced from internet with no personal financial gain intended.)

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES" and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands". (For more information click on the images to the right of this page).

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours....

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A British Submariner took the helm in Tenerife

Ever since 1892, when the Reverend Thomas Gifford Nash took the first service at the newly built All Saints Church in Puerto de la Cruz, on the island of Tenerife, it has been a source of comfort and strength to thousands of residents and visitors. The beautiful church is one of the pillars of the British community in the Canary Islands and has been proudly served by a flock of faithful members of the congregation, always willing to give of themselves to maintain a strong sense of community.

All Saints Church, Tenerife (courtesy All Saints Church, Puerto de la Cruz)

But All Saints, to survive all these years in a foreign land, through crisis, two world wars, a civil war, and dwindling worshipers in modern times has also required the patient leadership of a good many dedicated chaplains, some of whom have stood the test better than others. Almost every one of them made a valuable contribution to the spiritual life of the British community. Nevertheless, as in the case of so many quiet-living British residents who have come and gone, some of them also had untold, brilliant and sometimes remarkable careers before arriving on the island.

Canon George Seaver, for example, who was chaplain at All Saints for a short time in the 1960s, was an Irish bachelor who had served for many years in the Colonial Office. During his posting to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, as District Commissioner he became interested in missionary work and began to investigate the life of Dr David Livingstone. In fact he wrote a remarkable biography of the Scottish missionary. Whilst serving at All Saints in Puerto de la Cruz he was amazed to come across descendants of Livingstone’s great friend and his family's benefactor, James Young of Durris, Scotland.

James Young (from "Parrafin Young and Friends", by Mary Muir Leitch)

As a personal anecdote, George Seaver came to see me in 1968 when I was a schoolboy in England and presented me with a book “The Adventures of Bam” which he had written for his niece, Rosemary. It is about a little African boy in what is now Zambia. In an envelope tucked inside the book was an accompanying letter in which he told me to let my mother read the book once I returned home to Tenerife. You see, he knew that my mother had grown up in Rhodesia and that she would probably appreciate it more than I.

The Adventures of Bam (from my private collection)

Another example was the Reverend Canon Rupert Philip Lonsdale. He was born in Dublin in 1905 and educated at St. Cyprian’s School, Eastbourne. He joined the Royal Navy straight from Royal Naval College, Osborne on the Isle of Wight in 1919. His career was meteoric, from entering the submarine branch of the RN in 1927 to being promoted Lt. Commander in 1936.  

Lt. Commander Rupert Philip Lonsdale (photograph courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)

After gaining valuable experience as a submarine captain in three different and ageing vessels, Lt. Commander Lonsdale was given command of a new mine-laying submarine, HMS Seal. It was a Porpoise Class submarine, built at the Chatham Dockyards and launched in 1938. The submarine was commissioned in January 1939 and in August Lonsdale received orders to sail to the China Sea. He was to join the 4th Submarine Flotilla which was based there. On the way, whilst taking on supplies at Aden, war against Germany was declared. Two days later, on 5th September, HMS Seal began her first series of wartime patrols off the southern entrance to the Red Sea. 

In Will Not We Fear, Warren and Benson refer to Seal’s company as “one of the biggest collection of scallywags that the Submarine Service could put together” and that Lonsdale was considered “too much of a gentleman to be a good submarine captain”. Nevertheless, it soon became very clear that, in his quiet and fair manner, he had turned the crew into a very gallant and professional team and that every man held their commanding officer in very high esteem.

HMS Seal (courtesy - Royal Navy Photos)

Lonsdale was ordered to take Seal back to Portsmouth at the end of September. Just four days after docking he received orders to begin the first of many successful patrols carried out during the following six months, in the North Sea and in the Atlantic escorting convoys. On 30th April, 1940 he set sail from Immingham in the Humber estuary where he had been equipped with a complete outfit of mines. It was to be Seal's 11th war mission and Lonsdale's new orders were to begin laying a mine barrier south of the Swedish island of Vinga in the Skagettak channel. The plan was to disrupt German iron ore ships on their transport route to Norway

In spite of HMS Seal being too large to operate in such waters, and continuously needing to dodge German anti-submarine trawlers and machine-gunning spotter-planes, Lonsdale persisted until the early hours of 4th May, 1940 when his submarine was attacked by a German HE 115 aircraft from Aalborg.

Damage was only slight and Lonsdale completed laying his last 50 mines in the required location. But the incident with the aircraft marked the beginning of the end for the submarine because the aircraft had alerted German surface ships and the hunt was on. Evasive action forced Rupert Lonsdale to take Seal into an uncharted minefield and that same afternoon the submarine’s hydroplanes caught on a German mine-mooring wire. The subsequent explosion sent the Seal to the seabed with damage to the stern and severe flooding. There was no option. They would have to lay low on the seabed and try to carry out urgent damage control until it was after dark before attempting to surface.

Unfortunately the submarine appeared to have also become entangled in nets and cables. Three attempts to release his ship failed and the situation became desperate. The lights began to dim as a result of failing batteries, electrical short-circuits were fouling the little air available and the carbon dioxide was slowing everyone down. Even so, Lonsdale continued ordering that various emergency measures be taken. Although these had no effect, the crew were highly impressed by their Captain’s quiet resolution and faith. In fact, it may have been his deep faith that saved his crew from certain death. 

Lt. Commander Lonsdale summoned as many members of the crew who could climb the steeply sloping submarine to prayers in the control room. In a firm and steady voice he recited the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer of his own whilst one last attempt was made to move the stranded submarine by blowing tanks and using the motors again. Whether it was Lonsdale’s prayers, the weight of most of the crew in the control room shifting the balance, the final technical attempts or a combination of all, HMS Seal suddenly became un-stuck and began to rise to the surface. 

Once on the surface it was clear the steering gear was damaged. Even so, Lonsdale attempted to take the submarine into Swedish waters by putting the engines in reverse. It was impossibly slow progress and an hour after surfacing HMS Seal was spotted by a German AR 196 seaplane. Oberleutnant Mehrens, the pilot, attacked HMS Seal with two bombs and machine gun fire. A few minutes later a second seaplane flown by Oberleutnant Schmidt joined in and several of Seal’s crew members were injured. The British submarine put up a good fight with its Lewis gun until this jammed. Lt. Commander Rupert Lonsdale made various attempts to scuttle his submarine and he assumed it would end up sinking, but she remained afloat, albeit listing heavily. In the end he placed the survival of his crew first, waved a white wardroom table cloth in capitulation and swam across to one of the seaplanes, surrendering HMS Seal to Oberleutnant Schmidt.  Indeed it was the two seaplane pilots that actually carried out the formalities of capturing the British submarine before German surface craft arrived on the scene and towed the submarine to the German base at Keel.

The stricken and surrendered HMS Seal being towed towards Keel 
(Note what may have been the wardroom tablecloth on the number one periscope)

HMS Seal was the only British ship to have surrendered during the war and Rupert Lonsdale is thought to have never forgiven himself although he and his crew had managed to destroy most of any sensitive documents. The Germans made a great deal of propaganda over the capture, of course. They repaired the submarine and used her for training exercises. They also used the Seal’s torpedo technology to improve their own design.

Lonsdale and his crew spent the rest of the war as prisoners of war, during which time he found increasing comfort in Christianity. Upon release in 1945 he was mentioned in dispatches for his services as a POW and promoted to Commander. But he also faced a court martial, the usual consequence for losing a ship. The Court, having heard all the evidence and how the crew supported their captain, acquitted Lonsdale with honour after just half an hour and he was greeted by cheering fellow officers and crew members outside.

Lonsdale commanded a minesweeper until he retired in 1947 to join the church. He became vicar of Morden and Almer in Dorset in 1951 but then decided to take on the chaplaincy of the Oasin Gishu district of Kenya from 1952 until 1958. After a short spell as rector of Bentworth and Shalden in the Winchester diocese he returned to Kenya and became Canon of Maseno in 1964. He was vicar of Thomham with Titchwell in Norfolk from 1965 until his retirement in 1970. It was then that he spent three very happy years as chaplain at All Saints in Puerto de la Cruz.

By John Reid Young

(Certain images have been reproduced from internet with no personal financial gain intended.)

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES" and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands". (For more information click on the images to the right of this page).

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours....

If you would like to receive news about my next publications please sign up for my newsletter here:

Friday, January 17, 2020

Olivia Stone meets her guide in Tenerife.

It was mid-day on the 9th September, 1883 when Olivia Stone and her husband John arrived at the Turnbull Hotel in the Orotava Valley. There was a heavy cloud hanging in the valley, as it so often does, and it was hot and sticky in the old town of Puerto de la Cruz. 

Although the couple were tired and glad to step down from the carriage that had brought them from La Laguna for twenty five pesetas plus another ten for their luggage, Olivia Stone, never one to wait until tomorrow, was eager to make arrangements.

She was determined to explore every corner of the island in order to begin writing her second travel book as soon as possible. Her first, Norway in June, had been a resounding success, with The Spectator having refered to her writing as "fresh, and charming, comprehensive and instructive"

Olivia Stone, an elegant, cultured and organised lady

Olivia was a cultured and organised lady. Before departing from England she had made certain of bringing letters of reference to present to important members of the community, like the Marquesa de Sauzal. The Stones also had letters of introduction for useful European residents like Peter Spence Reid, the Honorary Vice Consul, Charles Smith of Sitio Litre, Louis Renshaw and Germán Wildpret, amongst others.

As soon as John and Olivia Stone had refreshed themselves after their dusty carriage ride they were served lunch. After a brief siesta, as Olivia Stone later described, she explained to the the hotel proprietors, John and ElizabethTurnbull and to Mr Reid, who had kindly come round to welcome them, that they wished to begin exploring the island, and especially to climb Mount Teide, without delay.

“In that case we must send for Lorenzo!” exclaimed Mr Reid.

Lorenzo was an institution in the valley. He became a well-known guide in the late 19th century for any of those adventurous Britons and other Europeans who had the very misunderstood urge to climb Teide and was therefore the person to consult about when and how to climb, depending on the weather conditions. As it happened he lived close by and arrived in a matter of minutes. Besides, it was none other than Mr Reid who had sent for him, and the port was still a small town of not more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Peter S Reid in his latter years at his home "El Nido"

Olivia Stone took note that “don Pedro el inglés”, as he was affectionately known by the locals, was a young looking 53 year old. Peter Reid had been born in Melrose, Scotland, in 1830 and had arrived on the island of Gran Canaria to work with his cousins at Casa Miller, (Swanston, Miller and Co.). Given the interest the Orotava Valley in Tenerife had earned amongst Victorian travellers the firm sent young Peter Reid there to establish a subsidiary in Puerto de la Cruz in 1863. Peter Reid decided very soon afterwards to cut his ties with his cousin and formed his own company in 1865. It became one of the most flourishing firms in the Orotava Valley. At first he imported wood from the Baltic and soon brought in porcelain and foodstuffs from England and even goods from as far away as China. He is still hailed as having been the pioneer in the export of Canary bananas to the United Kingdom but was probably best known for his export of Canary onion seed to the USA. Peter Reid also imported excellent fabrics from Ireland destined for a calado linen work industry he helped to establish and which still flourishes today.

A simple advertisement in Osbert Ward's guide book, The Vale of Orotava, (1903)

It was clear Olivia Stone was very taken by this very kind hearted and able man with the gentle Scottish accent. But she also observed, “Mr Reid, our Vice Consul here, holds religious services on Sundays in his house. Being a Scot and a Presbyterian, he sometimes gives a rather long sermon based upon Scottish religious works”.

Some Spanish historians have been quite blunt about Olivia Stone. They considered her to be rather too Victorian for their liking. In other words, she gave the impression of believing herself terribly superior, possibly because she pointed out failings as well as virtues. She was very observant but evidently might not have realised how much some of her honest opinions could upset proud feelings, especially in Gran Canaria, the other principal Canary Island. Just the title of her travel book, Tenerife and its six satellites could have caused a civil war. In Gran Canaria the administrative classes considered their island to be the equal if not superior to Tenerife. Of course, Olivia had evidently taken into account the larger physical size and height of Tenerife for her title and nothing else.

Olivia Stone's illustrated guide to the Canary Islands

Olivia also made it clear that she became very fond of Tenerife. She was happiest when sitting outside her tent, somewhere in the vineyards or pine forests of the upper-valleys, sipping a cup of wine and basking in the unique scenery. This is reflected in one of her poems.......

Have I not turned to thee and thine,
Oh Sun-land of the palm and pine;
And sung thy scenes, surpassing skies
Till Europe lifted up her face
And marvelled at thy matchless grace
With eager and inquiring eyes?
To pitch my tent, some tree and vine
Where I may sit above the sea,
And drink the sun as drinking wine,
And dream, or sing some songs of thee…

Lorenzo García López, the Mount Teide Guide

She liked Lorenzo, the guide. He seemed to be quite cultured. In fact his fame was even advertised a few years later in George W. Strettell’s guidebook, Tenerife, personal experiences of the Island as a Health Resort, in which Lorenzo was described as an authorised guide to Mount Teide, with 22 years experience and good references. There is no doubt that Olivia Stone played her part in creating his well-deserved fame after describing Lorenzo as a thin, energetic looking man with black hair, dark eyes, a black moustache, well tanned skin and very handsome. Having at first assumed that the man was in his mid twenties Mrs Stone later wrote that she discovered he was in fact 35.

Lorenzo agreed to supply the English couple with three horses for a ride around the island, beginning the very next morning. The horses cost five shillings a day plus food for them and the men. 

I think that is a fair price”, wrote Olivia Stone, “especially as the normal daily price is six shillings.”

Hiking up Mount Teide was not as common or easy as it is today

Lorenzo charged them an extra four shillings for climbing the great volcano. Curiously enough it has generally been superior visitors like Olivia Stone who have done most to paint Tenerife at its best and to express their admiration and gratitude for the hard work of those early day guides like Lorenzo.

As a matter of interest local people knew the guide as Lorenzo el Morisco (Lorenzo the Moor), possibly, as some historians suggest, because one of his ancestors had bought a house in Puerto de la Cruz which had belonged to a Moroccan family.

In her accounts Olivia Stone seemed to describe what she saw on a particular day, and not perhaps as things were in reality. Nevertheless, despite what may evidently have been a misinterpreted superior nature, she did manage to express the gentle manner of the islanders with unique honesty, especially when referring to local custom. For example, when walking down an apparently deserted street in the midday heat, tiny postigos would suddenly open in beautifully carved, wooden shutters and a curious, often very beautiful face would look out just to see what was going on in the world.

Permited courting through a postigo as illustrated in Frances Latimer's The English in Canary Isles.

Olivia Stone also referred to young mothers carrying carafes of wine or pots upon their heads with their hands carrying even heavier loads whilst children hung on to their mother's dresses and aprons. Unlike most of her comtemporaries from the British Isles, she also showed a healthy admiration for Canary Island cuisine.  If she were to explore the more rural communities, away from the grand tourist resorts of today, she would find to her delight that the customary dish has changed as little as the islanders' generous and welcoming nature.

By John Reid Young

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES" and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands".

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours....

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fiesta in Tenerife - from a Story in "The Skipping Verger and Other Tales"

           It was the early 1970s when a middle-aged English couple wandered across from the new San Antonio Hotel to savour a touch of old colonialism at the British Games Club in Puerto de la Cruz. They ordered gin and tonics, to which they were not especially accustomed, and walked up the steps to the tennis courts from where they heard very enthusiastic applause. Acknowledging whispered greetings, the visitors sat down on immaculately painted, green benches to watch an entertaining game of mixed doubles alongside a number of club members.

Needless to say, one wore whites to play tennis at the British Games Club

          After a few minutes they began to hear what sounded like heavy gunfire in the distance. It was their first time in Tenerife and the couple looked at each other in a rather startled manner whilst the other spectators continued to enjoy the tennis and to applaud as if the thunder of exploding shells were quite normal. At the end of a game and whilst the players were changing ends, the visiting gentleman couldn’t bear it anymore and decided to enquire.
          “Excuse me, what are all those explosions about?” he asked the man wearing whites and a matching Panama hat who was sitting beside him on the bench.
          “Oh, nothing to worry about old chap…..just the natives attacking again!” replied the club member casually, in his best colonial accent, before promptly standing up and wandering off down the steps to the bar, leaving the visitor and his wife open mouthed and confused. 
          The colonial, who apparently always liked to watch some tennis after his game of bowls, returned a few minutes later. He wore a broad smile and the twinkle in his eye betrayed a mischievous sense of humour. He was followed by Manuel, the barman, carrying a tray with two more gin and tonics for the innocent English couple. He thought it had been long enough for them to digest the thought of the attacking natives and whether or not they should speak to their Thompson’s representative about shortening the holiday.
          He explained that it was not gunfire at all but fireworks high on the ridge at La Guancha. The low cloud hanging in the valley did indeed make them thud like distant, exploding shells. He had been in the war, don’t you know.
          “ the middle of the day?” asked the tourist in disbelief.
        “It’s a fiesta, old chap. They set off fireworks at all hours here, especially during a fiesta. They do it to make noise. They love noise. I’m afraid they can’t live without making noise. My wife loves a good fiesta. Personally, I hate them.”
          Sitting on the next bench, and unable to ignore the conversation, was the wife of another old resident and she began to chuckle. She remembered her first experience of a local fiesta twenty years earlier when they arrived in Tenerife after one of the coldest Dartmoor winters on record. One of the first things they decided to do was to go to the San Isidro fiesta in La Orotava on a very hot June day. They packed themselves, their daughter, the obedient black Labrador and provisions into the car before driving up into the old town centre.
          Just outside the upper part of the town anxious shepherds, goatherds and cowmen had begun to gather their oxen, goats, mules and donkeys on a country lane. The animals wore beautifully coloured rugs on their backs and whole families stood about dressed gaily in traditional Canary garments, mingling with all the livestock. Panniers full of fruit were being strapped to the donkeys whilst bullocks, thrashing their tails against stinging flies, were being harnessed to magnificently adorned carts. They were being made ready for the romería, a colourful procession through the streets representing agricultural and other scenes from island life.
          The family from Devon, who had made certain of learning an adequate amount of Spanish before settling on the island and Jan, their patient and understanding dog, found a good position from which to view the procession. In fact a very kind and proud lady let them share the raised position of her front door steps. They had already been invited by welcoming townsfolk to share wine, chick peas, cheese and balls of gofio when the proceedings began.

The Romería of San Isidro Labrador in La Orotava

          The swaying procession flowed down the cobbled streets like an undulating sea of colour and sound. Most of the men wore black fedora hats, white shirts, woollen breeches and scarlet cummerbunds. The girls also bloomed in rich scarlet waistcoats over their gypsy blouses, and their striped woven dresses covered exquisite petticoats.

The girls, in their  traditional "Maga" dress, were so pretty

          They were so pretty and they knew it and flaunted their beauty with a natural pride that is so much a part of the Canary Islander’s nature.

Massive bullocks lead the way

          There was much singing and even more laughter. Ripples of admiration greeted the beautifully adorned carts and strong men led their massive bullocks, leaning against their necks whenever they needed to stop or to slow them down. The lovely girls offered even more wine, fruit and delicious morsels of grilled meat prepared at the rear of carts which made their jerky way down the cobbles.
          The English family were feeling so much at ease, loving every second and totally absorbed by the charms of a real Spanish fiesta.

Canary Island charms at every corner

          As the wine flowed and morsels of food were shared out and exchanged for smiles, so the generosity of these people blossomed to even greater heights amongst themselves and towards total strangers.
          Even Jan, the Labrador, seemed to be enjoying the occasion. The scent of the huge, grilled chops filling the air and the pieces of meat being handed here and there on wooden spikes was just too exciting. There had never been anything so perfectly tempting. It was such tremendous fun.

The first giant firework exploded   
          But suddenly it happened. The first giant firework shot skywards and offered a deafening explosion immediately above their heads. They should have known better. Although he was well accustomed to the sound of shotguns during pheasant shoots on the moors, Jan objected, bolted across the merry procession and disappeared.
          “Jan, Jan, Jan” called the English lady cutting through the same colourful procession in hot pursuit after the dog. She was followed in the same direction, but much more discretely, by her husband and daughter.
           “I’ll bet he’s waiting for us at the car”, she shouted back, trying to be reassuring while shoving her way through the masses in what, to any onlooker, appeared to be a state of panic. People shrugged their shoulders and remarked, “Son ingléses” to explain the strange behaviour.
          The foreign lady was almost right. Like any well trained hunting dog, the black Labrador had gone straight to where they had parked the car. Unfortunately it was someone else’s car it had got into. It was a big, black saloon and all its doors were locked.
          How on earth did Jan get into it? Somebody said the car belonged to a man called Paco and that he was bound to be at the bar on the square. The Englishman and his daughter strode off in that direction, leaving the wife to talk nicely at her dog through a rear window.
          A short time later two smiling local gentlemen ambled up. They stared at the car for a moment with slightly bloodshot eyes and then gazed endlessly at the lady who was talking to the dog that was inside the car. She could feel how desperately they were trying to concentrate. After all it was an unusual situation for two drunks to deal with, but she was foolish enough to try to explain her predicament without being asked to. 
          “Never mind, señora, we will help you. You wait here. We will come back”, one of them offered just before another huge firework exploded.
          The English lady was just congratulating herself for their departure when they returned, one of them carrying a ghastly little brown dog with protruding teeth in his arms.
          “Here you are, we have found your dog”, he said, holding it out towards her.
          “I have not lost my dog. That is my dog in the car. I have lost the owner of the car and the car is locked with my dog inside it. Adios. Please, adios!” she begged, and looked around at the gathering crowd of amused spectators. A firework went off.
          “Why don’t you want this dog? We found it for you!” one of the two amigos said accusingly. They stood there swaying, for a minute or two thinking, and then one of them repeated, “You wait here. We will return. We know where to find you another dog!” They looked around them at the spectators with widening grins on their faces.
          “I don’t want a dog. My husband is finding the man who owns this car. Adios”, the English señora insisted very loudly. Bang went another firework and the two men wandered off to the bar again.

A policeman joined in the fun

          At that point a Guardia Civil policeman approached and enquired “Que pasa?
          She told him.
          “Ahhhhh!” he exclaimed.
          “That is Don Angel’s car. He has just been to the plaza with his wife, but how did your dog get into his car if it was locked?” he asked with a definite hint of suspicion in his eye.
          The English lady thought their troubles were over at last simply because a policeman had taken an interest, but she waited and waited.
          Half an hour later her husband and daughter returned. They both looked tired and very irritable, particularly the husband. They had been to the house of Paco but he was out. In any case Paco’s car was green. This one was black. She explained that the policeman had said it belonged to Don Angel, so her husband grunted and went off to look for Don Angel. Unfortunately Don Angel was also out and his servants said he might be anywhere. He was that kind of angel.
          A man in the crowd offered to smash the car window. Another said he would get a wire. Someone said he knew a man who was good with hinges. Another firework shook the proceedings just when the two amigos ambled up to the car again.
          “Does it wear a collar, señora?” the braver of the two asked kindly.
          “I have not lost my dog!” she retaliated, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “I have found my dog. I am waiting for my husband!” A very loud firework ended her sentence.
          “I told you,” said the other drunk, “La pobre mujer has lost her husband, not her dog. You wait señora!”
          They wandered off, determinedly this time, and were back before long. On this occasion they were accompanied by an extremely tall, blond man with a very red face.
          Señora. He is here. We have found your husband for you!”
          Bonjour, madame”, said the foreign stranger very courteously indeed. “These two men told me you are looking for me”. In fact the poor man, a Swiss resident, had merely been having a beer or two at a corner bar when the two local gentlemen stepped in. They had assumed by his foreign appearance that he must without a doubt have been the missing husband, and dragged him along.
          Another loud firework exploded as the English husband came around the corner. He took surprisingly little interest in the two drunks and in the foreigner his wife was talking to in a very animated manner and suggested he take his family home and return later to look for Don Angel.
          However, at that moment another man parked his car alongside the black saloon. Hearing about the predicament he invited the lady to sit in it, where the dog could see her, while her husband resumed the search for Don Angel. This gesture, which was accepted gratefully, and the sincere assistance offered by the two drunks, was typical of the kindness of Canary Islanders. Meanwhile, as the English husband continued looking for Don Angel and everyone waited for the tale to end happily, all sorts of rumours were being whispered about what the almost certainly innocent Don Angel was doing, where and with whom.
          The drunks became drunker and brought more dogs and one or two husbands for the English lady to inspect. The policeman came by again and shrugged his shoulders, and a number of fireworks made people jump every now and then.

Jan, the labrador, had given up hope

          Jan the Labrador had given up hope and curled himself up on the rear seat of Don Angel’s car.
          It was late evening when the English husband returned. His wife was about to accept the sensible alternative, which was to be driven home whilst he waited by the car. But a tall, thin looking man with a delightful face strolled up and surprised them in perfect English.
          “You are looking for me. My name is Angel López. I understand you think I have a dog for sale!”
          Before the English couple could reply, a volley of fireworks thundered in the sky marking a triumphant end to the fiesta.

By John Reid Young

This publication happens to coincide with this year's very special fiesta and 100th anniversary of the famous Corpus Christi "Sand Carpets" in La Orotava.

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES"  and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of his short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands.


John Reid is also owner of Tenerife Private Tours