Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Losing weight by eating more

Well nothing has worked so far. As we draw close to the end of February, I have been singularly unsuccessful at becoming an alcoholic. You may remember, from my 2006 health plan, that I was supposed to be entirely dependent on alcohol by this point in the year. Alcohol was to replace the food, after my January of gluttony. And the food was replacing the nicotine. Oh, yes, I believe in nursery rhymes… I swallowed the spider to eat the fly. But now I can’t stop eating spiders (well not REAL spiders, obviously. That would be icky. I mean METAPHORICAL spiders – the ones that taste like bacon sandwiches and seconds of jam roly poly).

I just can’t stop eating at all. My attempts to replace food with alcohol have failed dismally, largely because of my limited opportunities for inebriation. They tend to frown at dribbling behind desks in an alcoholic stupor at my workplace. Very uncivilised. I knew I should have become a lawyer.

To cap it all, a couple of days ago I was offered my dream job: Restaurant Critic! Ok, it’s part time (1 restaurant a week), and the pay is in … er food. But who cares? I get to eat at the best restaurants regularly, and for the cost of only 500 words a meal. After describing the décor and ambience, that’s only 100 words a course! As you would expect, I accepted in a dignified manner (fell to my knees and wept with pleasure). I can hardly wait for my first mission… hopefully no one tells them about the Valentine’s dinner debacle.

My wife was unimpressed when I bounded (wobbled) home with the news. I was too elated to listen much, but I recognised the odd word like ‘cholesterol’ and ‘not coming to your funeral’. Anyway, the eventual upshot is that I have promised to go on a diet, or else I am only allowed to review salads.

So I have been pondering deeply about this diet. It’s obvious that conventional diets are not going to work with me. I get hungry too often, and I’m damned if I’m going to eat cottage cheese and celery. I have taken a brief peep at the Atkins diet, but spotting which bits on the plate are carbohydrates is going to be too complicated for me. And looking at the list of banned foods… nah.

And then I hit upon it! All these diets are aimed at reducing energy input. And everyone recommends doing exercise in order to burn up the energy. Well, what is needed is obviously a way of eating that uses up more energy than I consume! For instance, chewing gum: lot’s of chewing, not a lot of calorie intake. It’s like exercising while eating. And what else makes you sweat when you eat? Chilli! Eat some hot chillies and all that sweating must burn off bucket loads of energy. And the more chilli you eat… the more weight you must lose! So that’s the basis of my new dietary plan. I will add chilli to absolutely everything (except when I’m doing restaurant reviews: those chefs can be sensitive types). And then I will eat as much as possible. The pounds will drip off me.

Now the hottest chillies in the world are scotch bonnets. (Wikipedia: these peppers are known to cause dizziness, numbness of hands and cheeks, and severe heartburn). They don’t grow in Tenerife (or at least there’s no one mad enough to grow them). You are advised to wear gloves before handling them. But these little babies are gorgeous, and surely worth at least 1kg of weight loss each. And I have a bag of them in my freezer… Tally ho!

Post Script:
Shit! Only 2 scotch bonnets left in freezer! No one stocks any real killer chillies here. I have looked everywhere. I have asked everyone I know. Normally I have scotch bonnets smuggled in for me, but my supplier’s not coming out for a while. So this is a quick shout out to any trans-atlantic smugglers trafficking to Tenerife: forget the cocaine… that’s for wimps. Go for GLORY: smuggle scotch bonnets. Will swap for surplus of calabaza jam. Oh and, er… wear gloves.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shopping in Tenerife

I just wrote an article on shopping in the Canaries for a magazine (yes, I do sensible writing, too, and people even pay me!). The Canaries is a special tax zone, so stuff here can be a lot cheaper than the rest of Europe. In the article I was looking at the retail experience on the Canary Islands, and I started to look at the different types of shops here. The international chains, the multitude of electronics shops, the Moroccan bazaars… and then there were the shops owned, managed and run by islanders, that come from a different retail tradition. I had to edit the whole chunk out because it just wasn’t suitable… but in the spirit of recycling etc, I’ll paste it in here…

Don’t expect these indigenous businesses to have the entrepreneurial initiative that you might be used to, by opening at times when you are likely to want to go shopping, or even displaying their stock so you know what they have. Oh, no. Canarian shopkeepers don’t enjoy over contamination of customers. More customers means more sales, more ordering stock, more cleaning up, more serving … it all hardly bears thinking about. These shops close religiously for the ‘mediodia’, at 1.30 or 2pm, and re-open after a relaxed lunch and siesta at 4.30 or 5pm when they stay open for another three hours or so.

You see, to a great extent, shops here come from a tradition of considering themselves as performing a public service. Every time they flipped the sign on the door to ‘abierto’, they were doing a favour to the general public. They prefer to keep their stock behind a counter. That way, they know where everything is, and it keeps the customers in an orderly queue while they go and fetch things. Of course they have convinced themselves, over the years, that this is providing a better and more personal service to their customer. That’s great, but the whole system collapses when a shop gets two or (heaven forbid) even three customers. The shopkeeper is still offering his personalised service by discussing the weather with the first customer when the third has persuaded themselves that they don’t really need whatever it was they came for, and abandons the idea completely.

And the whole process comes to a complete stop if the customer is one of the many hundreds of thousands of foreigners on this island who don’t speak fluent Spanish. It is excruciating to watch an exasperated German become increasingly red as he tries to explain that he needs a waterproof washer at the ‘ferreteria’ (hardware store). His forefinger jabs in and out of a loop formed by the finger and thumb of his other hand, not dissimilar to a rude sign seen in playgrounds, made by giggling children. Well, maybe there are some comedic consolations to the system!

Generally speaking, the older the area, the more entrenched is this attitude. Such shops have become rare in the tourist dominated south, but are still common in the north. But even there, they are becoming a dying breed. Tenerife News’ reports on the hilarious misadventures of ‘FEDECO’, the association that binds these independent retailers in Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital. The city is a stop over for cruise liners, who spew out their passengers onto the streets of Santa Cruz, wallets stuffed with Euros. This is an affluent group, stir crazy from being cooped up on a ship with no mall in which to spend their wads of Euros: they’re desperate to part with their cash. And of course they arrive on Sundays, or Saturday afternoons, when the whole city has shut up shop and gone home. FEDECO refuse to open, despite their members going bankrupt left and right. Indeed, they look at the bankruptcies blame them on the newer, out of town shopping centres. They declare that it is unfair that these centres open during siesta times, and even on Sundays. It is just too convenient for shoppers. Meanwhile the cruise liners are not coming back, because their passengers are not content.

Yes, there are social issues to be taken into account. But the hard fact is: if it wasn’t for out of town centres, then a family like us, an hour’s drive away, would never buy anything up north. I work Monday to Friday and I wake up late on Saturdays. So if there were no out of town centres, then the north wouldn’t get any of my money at all. And if Santa Cruz bothered to open on Sundays, then we’d spend some there, too. And we’re not alone.

Just when you thought the blogosphere was safe!

My daughter and I communicate across the few metres that separate our computers, via msn.

She has just sent me a message to say that she has started her own blog. You’ll find it here, and if you enjoy a surreal and pythonesque sense of humour, then you’re well advised to take a peek.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentines dinner

Today I have spent the day off work, convalescing from our Valentines dinner. I took my wife to one of Tenerife’s better known restaurants. Mainly middle aged couples. And, of course, a few older gentlemen, who seemed to be sharing the evening with their buxom young, faketan, blonde nieces. (How nice of them).

I think it all went fine. Things are a bit vague. I remember the third bottle of wine. I remember the Mariachi singers. Yes… it’s starting to come back to me. They were around our table… big moustaches… toothy smiles… variously sized guitars…

Oh no… I’m starting to remember! They were singing that really cheesy song, you know…

Yay-ay ay-yay, ay-yay amore

And then I remember we spontaneously joined in. Both of us… in chorus. With our own, alternative version...

My sister Belinda
Just pissed out the window
All over my brand new sombrero
Yay-ay ay-yay, ay-yay…

My wife and I burst into uproarious laughter. Strangely, nobody else seemed to find it quite as amusing. Eyebrows hit the ceiling and jaws crashed to the floor at all the tables around us.

But at the time it didn’t seem to matter. The two of us were hugging each other, tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.

Surely this is what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

At last, something useful: Tourist tips!!

From the Google search queries that lead the innocent to this site, I see that some people drop by in search of useful holidaymaker type information about Tenerife. Oh dear. So far this has been crap for tourists.

In an effort to redress the situation, I have resolved to try to write at least one useful post for tourists to Tenerife per month. So here goes…


Packing tips
  • Bring an umbrella. Preferably a big one, so a few soggy locals can hitch a lift under it.
  • Bring a bucket. (not for sandcastles… your room is bound to have a leak).
  • Bring suntan lotion. We are near the equator, if you are from up north, you will go pink in 2 hours. We think it's hilarious. You might not.
  • Cut price airlines make money on excess baggage. The weight allowance is 3 G-strings. Bring heavy stuff on board with you.
  • If you are coming at the end of the month, or beginning of March then pack fancy dress stuff. It’s CARNIVAL time!
  • If you are a bloke... PLEEEASE leave your speedos / thong at home. I admit, this tip is more for our general wellbeing than yours, but have a heart.

Shopping tips
  • If you buy a Rolex for 20 euros, do not be disappointed if it loses 10 minutes every hour.

Going out tips
  • The best food is not to be had in a beachside restaurant: Get off your arse and explore. Mail me if you tried somewhere really good.
  • Don’t go to Mcdonalds.
  • Don’t expect a disco to have people in it before 3am

Doing stuff tips
  • If you go up mount Teide, it’s bloody cold. No matter how hard you are, shorts and T shirt won’t do. Unless you’re from Newcastle, of course.
  • The sun may be shining (normally), but the ocean is still the Atlantic. It’s cold. Go swim in a pool.

General tips
  • Whatever it is, don’t expect it to happen too quickly.
  • All timeshare scratch cards are winners. It’s not that surprising.

Big Tips
  • Yes please. And tip everyone on the island, it puts them in a good mood.

Any additional words of wisdom you think should be imparted, let me know and I'll include it in my next batch of highly useful info for tourists.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Sun came back!!

What? You expect me to sit inside blogging?

yay sun back

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Would you believe I moved here for the weather?

It's pissing down again!

And according to Pamela at Secret Tenerife , the media are broadcasting advice to us weatherbeaten folk, including, "Stay away from the seafront and beach - 4 metre waves expected."

Obviously the warnings slipped past these tourists, happily snapping pics of each other outside my office this afternoon.
Los Cristianos 8th Feb 06

Update: 2 hours later
Bloody hell!
more bloody rain!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ex Smoking Blues

It’s been 888 hours since my last cigarette! That’s 37 days, or 16,473 pangs of desire for the delicious weed (make that 16,474). And I have to say that I do feel a bit conned by the ‘Stop Smoking’ lobby. Firstly I was supposed to stop craving the little lovelies (16,475) after a month. Clearly this has not happened. Secondly I am supposed to feel more energetic and fit. No way. Definitely not. You may remember from my quit smoking strategy, that my plan was to replace the nicotine with food. Well I have been assiduous in so doing. So much so that (as predicted in that post), I am indeed the weight of a small hippopotamus. Well, I was a 20 a day smoker… what do you expect? That’s a lot of meals! My trousers are all straining to contain me (I think this is why hippos are rarely seen in trousers), and I still puff at the top of the stairs. Admittedly this is not so much due to reduced lung capacity, but from the sheer effort of moving this new found bulk.

But there are other benefits that I am supposed to have received. For instance food is supposed to taste nicer. Well, I can certainly vouch for it tasting more frequently, but nicer? Not really. Oh yes, and then there’s the improved sense of smell. I admit that my sense of smell has become more sensitive, but improved? Not on your nelly. I can smell every single foul and pongy thing within 100m. Yeuch. Give me back my numbed olfactory system, this super-sense is driving me nuts.

There’s also supposed to be a financial advantage. But again, I’m certain there’s not. Cigarettes in Tenerife are cheap. They cost next to nothing. They certainly cost less than my several daily meals and snack attacks that I have replaced them with. Non smoking is costing me money!

So if you started reading this post, expecting the self satisfied, smug ramblings of an ex-smoker, I am sorry. This may be the first new year’s resolution that I have ever managed to keep for longer than a few hours, but there’s no feeling of achievement. Just the nagging feeling that I’ve been sold something that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, but I can’t take it back to the shop because I’d feel too stupid, or embarrassed returning it…

I have talked to smokers who have given up before, sometimes for long periods, and then been drawn back by the seductive charms of the little white sticks (16,475). When I ask them why, they shuffle their feet a lot and look down at the ground. They are torn between their taste for tobacco and the social pressure that made them stop. And because the general view is that starting again must be symptomatic of a weak mind, they are shamed into this position of shoe shuffling. Therefore it seems to me that it takes great bravery and strength of mind to surmount these social pressures and start smoking again! By God, these are modern day heroes!

My wife says I’m full of crap.

16,476… 7… 8… bloody hell.

So I can’t start smoking again. And now I am going to have to do something about the eating, or else buy a complete new wardrobe. And I hate shopping, especially for clothes.

There’s nothing else for it. I am going to have to go on a girly diet. I have never been on a diet before, but I am sure that it is definitely a girly thing to do, because I have only heard females admitting to it or talking about it. Wait… I need to consult my wife (she is female, thus an expert).


No… surely not?


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Embarrassing my wife

Throughout my many years of marriage, there have always been particular articles of clothing that have become points of contention. For instance, there was the maroon cardigan (actually maroon doesn’t do it justice, it was more the colour of a Dunhill cigarette packet). I loved that cardigan. And OK, it had a bit of a hole on the elbow, but nothing a good patch wouldn’t have fixed. It was my favourite article of clothing. And my wife hated it. She said that only really old grandads, with pipes and tufts of white hair coming out of their ears, could wear cardigans like that. I was 25, and apparently didn’t qualify. With a devil-may-care attitude to fashion, I wore it as often as I could. The elbow hole grew bigger, and was matched by one on the other side. Strangely, this embarrassed my wife, and she often complained and even hid it several times, but to no avail. I thought that that cardigan was totally cool. I still would be wearing it, if only I could find it, but of course it went mysteriously missing many years ago. My wife claimed she knew nothing of the disappearance, but naturally I suspect otherwise.

Since then, we have had other fashion disagreements. There’s my really cool batik shirt from Indonesia, for instance. Bright reds, yellows and all sorts of other colours, it’s brill! My wife will not be seen dead with me wearing that one in public.

And another example from yesterday. “Oh pleeease not that orange shirt,” said my wife, as I tried to make an escape out of the door, before she saw me. “You’ll just look like a great big, bright blob!”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “No meetings today… and all I’m doing is setting up an exhibition, so no one’s going to see me.”
“And there aren’t any more shirts ironed, and I’m late!” I forestalled further protest with a kiss and a big grin and bolted out of the door.

Off to work I went, set up the exhibition stand and returned home. And that was that. Or so I thought.

Today, after attending the exhibition, I returned home to my wife’s raised eyebrow. “So no one saw you in the silly looking shirt yesterday, huh?”
“Hardly a soul,” I replied.
She handed me a copy of today’s Diario de Avisos, a local Tenerife newspaper, finger stabbing at an article about the exhibition.
“And who’s this blurry blob in the photo then?”

Photo courtesy Diario de Avisos

Friday, February 03, 2006

sitting and watching the world go by...

Canarians on all of the islands certainly have one thing in common. They love to sit on their balconies, or at their windows, and watch the world go by. And Tenerife is no exception. I snapped this little chap in Puerto de la Cruz yesterday.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

(Not) Smoking in Tenerife

Since the introduction of the new anti-smoking laws in January, going out for a drink or a meal has taken on a whole new meaning. The outside of some bars can be far more crowded than the inside, simply because you can smoke out there. So going ‘out’ for a drink must now be much more literally interpreted. It mainly involves standing outside bars and sitting outside restaurants.

If you’re familiar with this blog, then you’ll know that I don't smoke (1 month now, crikey!), but my wife does, as do friends and colleagues. Now I tend to go to a bar in order to be sociable. I don’t tend to stand and drink by myself, nor do I sit and eat alone. So if I want to talk to anyone, I find myself outside too. And at night, it can get pretty bloody chilly, even here in Tenerife. I can’t help thinking that I am freezing my nether regions off, without getting any recompense. This law may well drive me back to smoking, because it seems to me, if I have to stand out there, I may as well be getting the benefit of enjoying a smoke.

Pamela Heywood, in Secret Tenerife, suggests that the smallest bars may now be doing an about face and allowing smoking. But, as I understand it, any larger than 100 customer capacity, and the bar/restaurant needs to have a separate, air tight, vacuum packed area for smokers. Which is, of course, rare! So any bar of any size is non smoking.

The most amusing repercussion of this law that I can share is from the partyland of Las Americas. Lambert & Butler, the ciggie brand, sponsor a regular evening at one bar where they hand out free fags, T shirts and merchandising. However, the bar they do this in is now non smoking. So the promo girls hand out their free sample packs of cigs to the eager punters. And then they’re are closely followed by bouncers waving threatening fingers at the recipients of the freebies “If you’re gonna smoke that mate, you’re gonna do it outside!”

Perhaps they should forget putting the logo on T shirts and instead choose some warmer articles of clothing for their clientele. I’m sure, nowadays, that Lambert & Butler scarves, gloves and anoraks would go down much better.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Canarian Culture

Having lived in a few of the Canary Islands for the last few years, I can confirm that not only do the islands look different, the people from each island are all also distinct, and vehemently consider themselves so.

For a start, they are not Spanish. Oh no, don’t make that mistake! In fact my favourite bit of graffiti is written on a wall in the port of Arrecife, in Lanzarote. It says…


I love it because it makes me stop and wonder who the bloody hell is it written for? If it is directed at the mainland Spanish ‘occupiers’… why is it written in English? Why is it spelt wrong? The mind boggles.

And to underline this, in common with other regions, the Canarians are lobbying for greater autonomy from central government. But let’s not get bogged down in such politics, because in my experience, there’s not really much of an actual ‘Canarian’ identity anyway (except when arguing with the Spanish). Why? Well the islands themselves are split into two administrative areas… governed by Santa Cruz (Tenerife, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Palma), and Las Palmas (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote). And oh boy, can these two squabble. From the basic “My one’s bigger than yours”, the annual carnival argument, to the disbursement of funds… basically anything they can argue about, they will. Local politics is quite a laugh.

But if you think that a grasp of this dualistic Canarian identity will stand you in good stead to understand local culture, think again! Each of those seven islands I mentioned is populated by people with their own identities. A bit of history now (my oh my, this is an educational post, I hope you’re taking notes). Before the Spanish colonised the islands, each island had their own indigenous tribes. The Guanches were originally the inhabitants of Tenerife. The inhabitants of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were referred to as Maxos, Gran Canaria was inhabited by the Canarii… and the islanders still have their own names: Tinerfeños (Tenerife), Majoreros (Fuerteventura), Conejeros (Lanzarote… which is a bit of an odd one, because it means ‘rabbit breeder’), Grancanarios, Gomeros, Palmeros and Herreños.


And since the early 15th Century, with the Spanish ruling, you would have thought these identities would have become diluted. But no, on the contrary, in recent years they have become even more prevalent. The most obvious reason for this is probably the newer waves of immigration from the mainland, islanders want to remain distinct from the newcomers. But along with the influx of mainlanders has come mass settlement of other foreigners from Africa, South America and Europe. As a group, we foreigners are called ‘Guiris’ – yet another tribe! And as the islands become increasingly cosmopolitan, those who claim an indigenous lineage become increasingly concerned to maintain their identity. And so they should. The same threat of homogeny is a global epidemic. These islanders are not alone in this struggle.

But working against this is the economic impetus to develop markets, trade and develop one of the most successful tourist industries in the world, with over 10 million tourists a year visiting the islands. The ability to compete globally requires the very homogeny that erodes the culture. Steering this convoy of small islands is no easy task and will always be one of compromise between islands, cultures and economic growth. And so far, they have done exceedingly well at plotting their way through the minefield.

As an expatriate resident, it is easy to forget or ignore the grand design, the big issues. But occasionally it’s worth a reminder. And having done so, I can now go back to sitting in the sun drinking my beer (Dorada in Tenerife, but Tropical in Gran Canaria… and don’t even think of asking which one’s better!), gazing out at the blue ocean and thanking god I’m not freezing my balls off in England.