How to Enjoy a Unique and Exclusive Excursion with Living Tenerife Tours

When people think of Tenerife, probably some of the first images that may spring to mind are sunshine, sandy beaches and the ocean. It’s also quite likely that they picture themselves sunbathing on the beach or having a refreshing swim in the beautiful blue water, then later enjoying some tapas and a drink (or two) at a nearby beach bar. This is the Tenerife that many know and love, thus leading over several decades to the island being one of the most popular year-round tourist destinations in the world.

If you think you know Tenerife based on a beach holiday or two, or maybe some photos you’ve seen online, then you might be quite surprised by the fact that it is also a destination filled with fascinating culture. Yes, you read that right! Tenerife is not only a place for sun worshippers and families looking for a cheap getaway, but has a rich cultural and historical heritage that is just waiting for you to discover.

Museo Militar Regional de Canarias. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

While the island will always be an amazing place for those seeking a year-round warm sunny climate, top-quality excursions and attractions for all ages, breathtaking beaches, excellent resorts and hotels and amazing places to eat and drink, it should also certainly be considered as somewhere for those who enjoy immersing themselves in culture.

This doesn’t have to be for the whole trip of course, but can certainly be combined with other aspects of your holiday. Perhaps one day you may want to enjoy a day at the beach and then the next experience the more cultural side of Tenerife.

You don’t just need to take our word for it though, as there are tours to be taken which will help you fully appreciate and take in some of the unique aspects of Tenerife’s rich history. One such tour that our team recently enjoyed was with the highly knowledgeable, engaging and entertaining Jorge F. Ballesteros and his brand new company Living Tenerife Tours.

Jorge F. Ballesteros . Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

Jorge is a native of Tenerife and was born and raised on the island, and now lives in the north which if you decide to take one of his tours, focused on the upper half of the island, you will be able to fully appreciate is very different to the southern half.

During his school years, Jorge was sent several times during his summer holidays to different locations within the UK including to the lovely Hampstead in London, to study and improve his level of English. During this time he also developed a keen interest in British culture and history.

So while Jorge was born and raised in Tenerife, he speaks English to an excellent level including with what could be considered a fairly “posh” accent. This certainly suits the exclusive and unique style of his tours, and the information that he offers to his guests, perfect for English speakers looking for something quite different from typical, cliched trips that can be booked here. His tours will be of particular interest to British tourists as they explore the longstanding links between Britain and Tenerife, many of which have been amicable, some of which less so, as you will discover!

The particular tour taken by our team, some local British writer friends based here on the island, and another Canarian guest who works within the travel industry, was a fascinating cultural and culinary trip around the stunning capital city of Santa Cruz, located in the north of Tenerife.

While there is certainly some interesting history and culture across almost all parts of the island, if you want a true taste of the real Tenerife, then you need a trip to Santa Cruz and this excursion offers the perfect opportunity to discover some real hidden gems, even if you have already visited before.

Saint George Church. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

What you will certainly notice about Santa Cruz is that it seems a world away from the modern tourist resorts of the south such as Playa de Las Americas and Costa Adeje. It might seem ironic to head to Santa Cruz to learn about the British connection with Tenerife.

You will see though, that despite what some may believe, British people didn’t simply start arriving in Tenerife (and the Canary Islands) with the advent of cheap flights and package tours, but instead have been heading here for hundreds of years, albeit for different reasons.

Our tour began in the morning after we met with Jorge outside of the Real Casino de Tenerife, an exclusive private members club with a fantastic location within Santa Cruz. The large and impressive building is to be found very close to the Plaza de Espana, one of the many iconic features of this beautiful city.

Jorge, Real Casino de Tenerife. Photo Credit; John Beckley

From here we met with our driver for the tour who lead us to the nearby mini-bus that we would be transported around on. Jorge had promised an exclusive and luxurious experience and this was immediately apparent from the quality of the vehicle. This wasn’t just a typical tour bus but a stunning brand new luxury Mercedes Benz vehicle.

The outside was gleaming in the sunlight which had started to heat up the day quite considerably. Not to worry though, as inside was fully air conditioned providing a perfect temperature for our tour. The bus was spacious and extremely comfortable, with high quality leather seating. This felt more like sitting on a private plane than a tour bus! 

Our friendly driver and Jorge sat in the front of the vehicle and then there was seating available for an additional 12 passengers. There were only 6 of us on the tour so we had a huge amount of room. With Living Tenerife Tours, the aim is to always keep the size of the tour groups smaller and more intimate, rather than large, noisy groups, thus definitely another contrast to some of the other tours on the island!

There were drinks on board and during future tours there will relaxing music. This really was a brilliant way to start our journey around the city. It also provided an interesting contrast between this modern, luxurious minibus and the historical and cultural views and information.

During our tour around Santa Cruz, Jorge imparted a significant amount of cultural and historical knowledge over to us that he had built up over many years of studying the history of the city and island, and his strong interest in the many unique areas of the city that likely even many locals don’t know about.

Across Santa Cruz. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

He explained to us how this vibrant and fascinating port city and capital of Tenerife was founded in 1494 by the Kingdom of Castille, and  although initially it began as a small fishing village, over time due to its excellent location it became transformed into the most important and fortified port in the Canaries, becoming the main sea route between Spain and the West Indies.

You will see if you choose to take this tour that Santa Cruz has a grandeur and splendour not found in much of the rest of the island, especially in the southern modern tourist hot spots. This is owing to it being the capital city of Tenerife since 1723 (previously the capital was neighbouring city La Laguna) and co-capital of the Canary Islands, a title it shares with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (although it was the sole capital of the islands from 1833 until 1927).

Santa Cruz. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

Due to its historical and modern importance the city has a significantly impressive level of architecture and now surprisingly has the sixth highest building level height of all Spanish cities. On top of this, in a 2012 article written for The Guardian newspaper, Santa Cruz was ranked as one of “The five best places to live in the world, and why”!

As the article points out, rather humorously, and as mentioned earlier in this post, this is certainly not the Tenerife you think you know. As opposed to many areas beloved by Brits and other nationalities in the south, Santa Cruz actually feels like you’re in Spain.

As pointed out on our tour though, this city of around 200,000 inhabitants within its administrative limits (538,000 within the total urban zone), is more than just a wonderful place to live, or for enjoying a sightseeing wander to view the impressive buildings, park and other features, it is also a destination with a rich history and culture to discover. This includes the links between Britain and Tenerife that stretch back centuries, way before the modern influx of British holidaymakers.

During our tour we learned about the peaceful and fruitful connections that grew between Britain and Tenerife in terms of trade produce such as tomatoes and bananas, and the much more aggressive history that preceded that in which British naval captains attacked Santa Cruz, including 2 attempts to conquer the island. The inhabitants remain proud of their city which was able to remain undefeated despite these various invasion attempts from Britain. several centuries ago.

Paseo de las Escuelas Pias. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

The first place we stopped off at during our tour of the city was at a beautiful building constructed in the 19th Century by a man named Henry Wolfson with a fascinating story. He was originally born in Russia, but emigrated to Britain at a young age, and became a British citizen to escape persecution of the Jews there in the late 18th Century.

Subsequently he decided to move to South Africa but on route he stopped off in Tenerife by chance and decided to stay after seeing the significant business potential there, and his immediate fondness for the island. While in Tenerife he enjoyed many entrepreneurial successes during his life in Tenerife, including becoming one of the first businessmen to export tomatoes from Tenerife to the UK. This proved to be a lucrative business which made him quite wealthy.

Among other enterprises, he later bought the biggest plot of land in Adeje to cultivate the production of bananas and tomatoes there for export, plus also created the first gas company on the island, the Tenerife Gas & Coke Co. Due to all of these endeavours he became a highly respected businessman on the island.

Escuelas Pias. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

The building we visited is now one of the most esteemed educational centres in Santa Cruz, the Escuelas Pías which is where Jorge studied various subjects including English, where he developed his keen interest in the language.

Originally though, this building was constructed by Wolfson as a palace to live with his wife, Jane Mariner, but sadly she passed away before they were able to live together there. Following her death, he decided to change the house into a hotel which he named Hotel Quisisana, an Italian name which was popular at the time for hotels related to health and rest.

Escuelas Pías. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

During the successive world wars and Spanish civil war the building became severely damaged and was closed as a hotel and sold to the local authority. It later became what it is today, an educational centre. Quite the transformation from palace, to hotel to school. As you can see the building still looks splendid and enjoys some of the most impressive views in the city.

Following this stop we set off on our journey in the luxurious minibus around the city, as Jorge continued to impart fascinating stories such as the fact that in Santa Cruz General Francisco Franco organised the national uprising that led to the Spanish civil war in 1936. He also pointed out information about various buildings along the way such as the British Hotel which is one of the most attractive buildings in the city.

It was once known as the Battenberg hotel as a tribute to the King of Spain, Alfonso XVIII’s wife Ena Battenberg, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, but it’s name was changed to Mountbatten due to George V’s decision during World War I to change all German names of all the members of the British royal family.

We also had a quick stop off at the attractive Saint George Church which was constructed to serve as a place of worship for the significant community of British people who were living in Santa Cruz by the middle of the 19th Century. Once again this goes against what many people know of British inhabitants in Tenerife, because as opposed to now where most British expats reside in the south of the island due to the sunnier and warmer climate, two centuries ago most of the British in Tenerife were living in Santa Cruz and Port of La Orotava (now Puerto de la Cruz), for economic and trade purposes.

Saint George Church. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

The church remained an Anglican church from when the first stone was laid in 1897 right through to 1990 when it was sold to the Catholics, on condition that Anglicans could still use the church for worship. As you can this is certainly an attractive church to go to for worship, or simply to take some photos!

. Exploring the hidden secrets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is so much fun! 😄 Have you ever visited this lovely church in the center of the city? 💕 . Thanks to @livingtenerifetours for the amazing tour 💃 . . . ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡ #theitalianchica #tenerife #santacruz #tenerifemagazine #canaryislands #canarias #islascanarias #latituddevida #ok_spain #ig_canaryislands #loves_canarias #ok_canarias #ig_spain #canon6d #canon_official #canonphotography #femaletravelbloggers #girlslovetravel #gltLOVE #travellingthroughtheworld #exceptional_pictures #earth_shotz #spain_vacations #wearetravelgirls #beautifuldestinations #wonderfuldestinations #travelblogger #epicphotographers #europe_vacations

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We then continued onwards to the Regional Military Museum of the Canary Islands (Museo Militar Regional de Canarias) to find out about the other side of the British connection with Tenerife. As Jorge had mentioned earlier on the tour, on three separate occasions Santa Cruz had been attacked by British ships.

On 20th April 1657 23 British ships sailed into the port of Santa Cruz led by Admiral Robert Blake on board of the flagship HMS George. He had received orders to steal a large cargo load of silver and gold from Spanish ships that had been forced to shelter in Tenerife, due to the British blockade of the Port of Cádiz.

While Blake had been able to sail into the port and destroy 12 Spanish ships and capture five more which he subsequently ordered the destruction off due to heavy gun fire, he was unable to steal the treasure as it had been taken well ashore two weeks before. Despite his overall failure, Blake was hailed as a hero by Cromwell; while in reality it had been a success for Santa Cruz and Tenerife against the British.

On 6th November 1706 a small Royal navy fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Sir John Jennings on board of his flagship HMS Saint George sailed into the port of Santa Cruz, with the intention of actually conquering the island. Again though, this was a failed attempt with Jennings and his fleet being forced to withdraw and retreat.

The most serious of the three British attacks came from the most famous of  all British Naval heroes, Admiral Horatio Nelson in 1797. During our visit to the Military Museum which started its life in 1854 as a military fort to protect the shoreline from attacks, we learned about the attempted invasion by Admiral Nelson.

Inside the museum there is a rather fascinating historical display of Santa Cruz with models of all of the British and Spanish ships, with a detailed commentary of the battles that ensued and lights to help you pinpoint exactly where these happened. The level of detail that has gone into this model is excellent and it really helps you to understand what happened.

Nelson’s Attack display. Photo Credit; Kate Michelle Conti

This display and the memorabilia of this time including guns, uniforms and the flags from the ships, really help to illustrate how much times have changed. It seems incredible to think that back in those days Britain was attempting to conquer and overthrow Tenerife and just shows how far British and Spanish relations have changed over the centuries. The Canary Islands have experienced a kind of British invasion in recent years, but thankfully only of the touristic side which has strongly boosted the economy of these islands.

We saw many interesting things on display such as the flag from Nelson’s ship which as Jorge pointed out is different from the modern day Union Jack because it only represented the flag of England (St George’s Cross) and the flag of Scotland (St Andrew’s Cross) combined. It wasn’t until 1801 following the union of Great Britain and Ireland that the Union Jack flag came into use, after the attack of 1797 by Nelson’s ships.

Are you even just a bit a history geek, like me? Sometimes I get shivers just seeing something which brings history alive, even more so if I can touch it. Well, I couldn't touch this exhibit in Santa Cruz's military museum, but it did give me a wee shiver. This is the British flag which Horatio Nelson would have had flown over the Castillo de San Cristóbal had he triumphed at the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797. This is the one museum I'd never visited, and I was totally intrigued. I was delighted that this was on the itinerary with @livingtenerifetours last week. We concentrated on that battle, because the tours aim to highlight the shared history between this island & the UK, but there was much more. Hope to go back soon to explore the museum fully. But if you are a history geek visiting the island this tour will grab you 😁 #islandlife #islandliving #Tenerife #CanaryIslands #IslasCanarias #SantaCruzdeTenerife #militarymuseum #flag #unionjack #battleofsantacruz #bandera #historicbuilding #islandhistory #history #livingwithhistory #nelson #horationelson #admiralnelson

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We also saw the coat of arms of Santa Cruz which displays three black lion’s heads to represent the three British attacks on Santa Cruz. Ultimately just like the two previous attacks, Nelson suffered defeat and it was also during this attempt to conquer the islands that he was shot in the arm, leading to it needing to be amputated.

Inside the museum you will see many different types of uniforms, weapons, pictures, flags and information about various battles. Outside there are some huge cannons which were used to defend the city from invasion attempts plus more modern weaponry such as helicopters and tanks.

Military Museum. Photo Credit; John Beckley

Following our tour of the museum it was time for the culinary part of the tour, but not before a quick stop at one of the most iconic buildings in Santa Cruz and Tenerife, the Auditorio de Tenerife – Tenerife Opera House which has a certain resemblance to the Sydney Opera House with its incredible design! 

Auditorio de Tenerife. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

We we were then driven back to the Plaza de Espana and said goodbye to our driver. We wandered from here back to the Real Casino de Tenerife. Inside the building Jorge first gave us a brief tour around to fully appreciate how impressive it is and also to be able to take in the incredible views out over parts of the city, including the Plaza de Espana. As this is a private and exclusive members only club, these are views that ordinary members of the public do not usually get to enjoy, unless of course you decide to take one of the Living Tenerife Tours excursions.

Plaza de España. Photo Credit: Simon Turkas

After a brief speech from Jorge in a large and impressive sitting room he thanked us all for attending his tour which we had all very much enjoyed.

Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

It was then time for the final icing on the cake in the beautiful dining room of the Casino; what can only be described as one of the most delicious meals I’ve experienced in not only the Canary Islands, but also anywhere in my life. There was a strong consensus on this from all of our group!

Meal in Real Casino de Tenerife. Photo Credit; John Beckley

Views across Santa Cruz. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle ContiThis was true fine dining of a Michelin Star standard. What was also so great about the meal was it consisted of a selection of several courses showcasing some of the best local Canarian foods that the islands have to offer. This included a starter of award winning goats cheese from Fuerteventura with jam, the famous papas arugadas with mojo sauce, sweet gofio and fig, a fish dish for the second course, a main course of the popular Cochinillo Negro (a type of pork from locally reared pigs) and a delicious local desert.

During the meal we were also served local wines from Tenerife of which the quality was excellent. Wines from the Canary Islands have been produced for many centuries and were even written about in some of Shakespeare’s plays. They are now beginning to once again gain the international recognition that they rightly deserve as they really are of top quality.

This was a superb end to what had been a truly excellent exclusive tour, that really showcases some fascinating insights and sights in the stunning and city of Santa Cruz. This is Tenerife, but almost certainly not what you think you already know about the island. In fact you will see a totally different side to the island, and discover a British connection to Tenerife that you probably never realised existed!

All of us here at Tenerife Magazine would like to thank Jorge and Living Tenerife Tours for taking us on this excellent cultural and culninary trip around the city. If you are interested in booking an excursion with Living Tenerife Tours then make sure to head over to their website: www.livingtenerifetours.com

You can also follow the company via their social media channels for all their latest announcements:

Living Tenerife Tours. Photo Credit: Kate Michelle Conti

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State Visit will celebrate close royal and historic ties between the United Kingdom and Spain, says British Ambassador Simon Manley

The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, has welcomed the announcement of a State Visit to the United Kingdom from the 8th to the 10th of March 2016.

“The British government is delighted that Their Majesties King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain have accepted the invitation from Her Majesty The Queen,” said Mr Manley.

“This State Visit will celebrate not only the long and deep royal and historic ties between our two countries, but also our strong relationship as partners in the European Union, NATO and United Nations.  We enjoy close connections in terms of culture, trade, investment, security and defence. This is an opportunity to celebrate and deepen those links.”

This is the first State Visit by King Felipe and Queen Letizia to the UK. They will stay at Windsor Castle. The programme will be announced in due course.

The last State Visit was when King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited in 1986.  HM Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh returned with a State Visit to Spain in 1988.

Since then the Spanish and British royal families have paid a number of formal visits to each other’s countries. In 2002, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia attended the annual Order of the Garter Ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, including a dinner at Windsor Castle given by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

In 2011, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall paid a three-day official visit to Spain that was hosted by Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. A few weeks later Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia attended the wedding in London of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.

The British and Spanish Royal Families are directly related through the marriage of Alfonso XIII of Spain to Princess Victoria Eugenia, known as Ena, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in 1906.  Victoria Eugenia is the great-grandmother of King Felipe.

Today, the United Kingdom and Spain are close partners in the EU, NATO and United Nations, among numerous international organisations; and cooperate together through the UN Security Council, of which Spain is a current member.

The two countries are also major partners in trade, worth a total of 40bn GBP in 2014, including British goods and services worth 14.6 bn GBP exported to Spain, and imports from Spain to the UK worth 26.1bn GBP.

Spanish companies have invested heavily in the UK’s open economy, including Santander, which employs more than 20,000 people in the UK; Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power; and Ferrovial, which operates Heathrow and three other airports.

Nearly 300,000 Britons are registered as residents in Spain and 15 million visitors came from the UK last year, whilst an estimated 131,000 Spaniards are resident in the UK and two million visited in 2014.

The UK and Spain will also enjoy a major cultural connection next year, which will mark the 400th anniversary of the deaths of two of the countries’ most famous writers, William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, who both died in April 1616.

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The Beatles on Tenerife

Beatles on Tenerife

It was not until 15th October 1963 that the Daily Mirror introduced us to the word Beatlemania.

Accordingly there was no Beatlemania in evidence when three of the boys, Paul, George and Ringo, holidayed in Puerto de la Cruz between 28th April and 9th May of that same year.

In fact there was no reaction whatsoever.

 

That was then – but now is now and Tenerife historian Nicolas G. Lemus with a little help from his friends organised a 12 day Beatle bash to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this inconspicuous visit from three members of the group which was to become probably the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed act in the history of popular music.

The guest of honour at the opening ceremony was Klaus Voormann (below, right), one of a batch of people who can claim the title of the 5th Beatle. He had met the group during their stay in Hamburg. More importantly for this article, his father was having a villa built in La Montañeta on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz. After recording their first LP, Please Please Me, the boys needed a break and as Klaus was in Tenerife for the purpose of furnishing the villa the three Beatles thought it would be a good idea to join him.

During the opening ceremony both Klaus and Nicolas touched on the episode where the boys offered their services free of charge to perform a gig at the San Telmo Lido Night Club on the sea front. The British owner, David Gilbert, apparently refused, saying that he didn’t want a group of long haired youngsters at his exclusive venue. I spoke to David’s daughter, Melissa. She laughed. Refuse them he did – but not because of their appearance – he had no choice. This was Franco’s Spain and it would have been impossible to get the necessary permission in time, if at all. To take the risk would have been stupid. Police informers and the dreaded “work inspectors” were here, there and everywhere. The club could have been closed down.

 

Adrian McGrath and Klaus Voorman

 

We also had a guest speaker from Liverpool who is a guide on the famous Magical Mystery Tour Bus which shuttles visitors around the city pausing at birthplaces and venues, finally finishing at the Cavern Club. His name is Adrian McGrath (above, left), a lecturer with a difference – he’s fluent in Spanish, English and Scouse. The theme of his lecture was The Beatles – from Liverpool to Hamburg. But this was no ordinary lecture. Adrian added a little seasoning to his fayre which was the question – “What if”. There are many coincidences which occur during the early lives of the boys. Adrian pointed them out. Here’s an example: – What if George’s family hadn’t moved to Speke, where Paul was living, in 1950. What if George hadn’t won a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys, which Paul was already attending, in 1954 causing them to travel on the same bus every day? They might never have met. The talk was littered with examples of synchronicity. A line from “All you need is love” – Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.

In Puerto we had our own “What if” to add. What if Paul had drowned off our notorious Martianez beach? This is a terrifying experience for anyone who’s been there and brings Stevie Smith’s poem, I’m not waving, I’m drowning, to mind. (No it wasn’t Sylvia Plath who, incidentally, had committed suicide in the previous February).

This is how Paul described the incident – I got washed out further and further away. I yelled for help but those blighters on the beach just didn’t seem to hear anything at all. Sure, it seems quite funny now, especially when I tell you that I nearly came to blows with George and Ringo when I did finally get myself back on shore. Truth is, though, I really did feel I’d had my lot out there. It’s pretty scary when you think you’re in serious danger of drowning.

One of the final acts in the celebrations occurred on a beautiful Sunday lunchtime at the Dinamico Bar, Plaza de Charco when an appreciative gathering, including some day trippers, was entertained by the Puerto de la Cruz Municipal Band playing Beatle’s hits. The band was superb. At our table there were a few moist eyes when favourites were played. Nostalgia ruled for a while but we pulled ourselves together for Hey Jude and performed our na-na’s in various keys.

Was the Beatle’s Celebration a success? Personally I thought that it could have been supported better by the ex-pat community, but the festival had not been pitched in that direction. It was a Spanish occasion and the organizers are to be congratulated for their enthusiasm. Nicolas G. Lemus, supported by the vice president of the Association of Hotels for the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Enrique Talg, has proposed to the island Government that Paul McCartney be declared an Illustrious Visitor to Tenerife.

My friend, local artist, José Desamers made the pencil on paper drawing (top) to celebrate the visit, with the Beatles leaning over the sea wall with the famous old church in the background. He acknowledges that he has included John Lennon but insists that it’s his tribute and he can do what he likes. José presented the original to Klaus Voorman.

And therein lies the rub. The Beatles didn’t visit Puerto de la Cruz, 50 years ago. They were one short.

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Mrs Thatcher on Tenerife

Mrs Thatcher on Tenerife

On this historic day, our correspondent Ken Fisher gives an account of The Iron Lady’s visit to Tenerife shores. – Ed

On 28th December 2002, Baroness Thatcher and her husband Denis paid a visit to the English Library in Puerto de la Cruz. The Thatchers were staying in Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque in the South and were in the hands of the Guardia Civil for any journey they made, although they had a Scotland Yard protection officer accompanying them. Due to my festive season arrangements, I was unable to attend. However, in the wake of her recent passing and in the light of the subject matter of my articles, I have pieced together details of the visit from a couple of members who were present that day.

Mrs T leads them down the garden path (I can’t resist it! – Ken)

Where better to start than with the man who was the British Consul here at the time, Mr David Ward. He had been detailed to escort the famous duo whilst in Puerto and so I contacted him by email. Here is his reply:-

In December 2002, only a few months after my arrival in Tenerife as British Consul, I was to have the privilege of arranging a day for Mrs Thatcher in Puerto de la Cruz. Now in the House of Lords, Lady Thatcher had asked to meet the British community whilst she was here on holiday. The English Library and the British Games Club responded enthusiastically to this proposal and laid on receptions for the benefit of their members.

The first engagement was the Library where the scheduled time for the visit ran over by an hour or so. Lady Thatcher (in constituency mode) and her husband Denis enthusiastically worked the rooms learning about the history of the Library and its ongoing important role in the life of the community. It was only with great reluctance that a transfer was effected to the nearby Games Club premises where an equally excited and warm welcome was extended to the couple. Denis insisted on finishing his G and T and his conversation with Michael Hindley-Maggs on aerospace matters before following in Lady Thatcher’s wake! However it was the ever thoughtful Denis who later caringly recognised the signs when it was time for them to leave. His death the following year was to be a great blow to Lady Thatcher and her family.

A framed photograph commemorating the visit and a signed book can still be seen in the Library to provide fond memories to members of the Thatcher’s only visit to Tenerife.

The lady seen presenting the bouquet to Mrs Thatcher, Mrs Jane Stewart certainly has fond memories of the visit. She tells me that there were about 150 members and friends present. A buffet was laid on for all but the Thatchers gracefully refused to partake. It was rumoured that they had stopped for lunch en route, maybe at the Hotel Botanico. If this is so, her bodyguards were not invited as they tucked in merrily while their charges fraternized with the members. As she left the Library to walk to the nearby British Club, Mrs Thatcher spotted a group of members on the lawn and strolled across to acknowledge them. They gave her an appreciative cheer. Jane agrees with Mr Ward – Mrs T knew how to work a room.

This may have been Mrs Thatcher’s first visit to Tenerife but she had been to the Canary Islands before. In 1967 she was part of a Parliamentary delegation consisting of 4 M.P.s who were having a short stay in Las Palmas before travelling on to The Gambia to present the Speaker’s Chair to their newly formed Parliament. This was a common practice to show friendship from the British Government to all members of the colonies on reaching independence.

William Lucas (the father of John Lucas owner of Sitio Litre Orchid Garden) was the manager of Maritima Medway SA based in Las Palmas. He was informed of the visit and instructed to look after the party during their stay at the Hotel Reina Isabel on Sunday 24th and Monday 25th September. William, in turn, passed this on to his young daughter Rosalyn who, judging by the letters received, carried out her duties to perfection.

On her return to London, Mrs Thatcher wrote on House of Commons paper the following:-

Dear Mr Lucas and Roslyn.

Thank you for a wonderful time on the island. You have both gone to a great deal of trouble on our behalf and we have thoroughly appreciated it. I had no idea that the islands were so beautiful and we were lucky to have perfect weather.

We shall all look forward to seeing you in London and returning your hospitality.

A note addressed to the House of Commons, London SW1 will soon find us.I know that Johnny is writing to you sending the ashtrays. I just wanted to say a special thank you as I have seldom had a happier time.

Yours sincerely

Margaret H. Thatcher MP.

Note. – The ashtrays referred to were special House of Commons souvenirs, unavailable in shops.

William Lucas was an old hand when it came to entertaining ex- Prime Ministers. In 1959, when Winston Churchill visited the islands with Aristotle Onassis on the yacht Christina, Lucas was detailed to take care of arrangements. The letter he received later from Churchill’s Private Secretary was full of praise for his attention to detail. Eight years later, taking care of a future Prime Minister would have been a doddle.

Photos courtesy of The British Library

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Poirot Meets the Saint on Tenerife

This month Ken is “Watching the detectives” as he uncovers how two famous crime writers found themselves on Tenerife and neither, it seems, succumbed to the island’s charms… Ed

Hotel Taoro, Puerto de la Cruz

Agatha Christie (1890 -1976)
In 2007, Puerto de la Cruz celebrated the 80th anniversary of the visit to the town of the renowned mystery writer, Agatha Christie. There was a week long programme of events including a guest appearance by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard. Mr Prichard unveiled a bust in La Paz in honour of his grandmother. The La Paz area of town was chosen because she wrote a short story called ‘The Man from the Sea’ which featured the Cologan house. It was published in the collection entitled ‘The Mysterious Mr Quin”. We also now have a street, Calle Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie festival

1926 had proved to be an annus horribilis for Mrs. Christie. Following the death of her mother, her husband told her of his love for another woman which caused her to act in a strange way. In December, after abandoning her car, she disappeared for 11 days and, as a result, received a bad press. To escape from this stressful situation, in February 1927, Agatha, accompanied by her daughter Rosalind and secretary Charlotte Fisher arrived in Tenerife.

She stayed for a week in the Hotel Taoro but suddenly upped sticks and left

The explanation appeared in her autobiography written in 1973:

Orotava was lovely. The big mountain towered up; there were glorious flowers in the hotel grounds – but two things about it were wrong. After a lovely early morning, mists and fog came down from the mountain at noon, and the rest of the day was grey. Sometimes it even rained. And the bathing, to keen bathers, was terrible. You lay on a sloping volcanic beach, on your face, and you dug your fingers in and let waves come up and cover you. But you had to be careful they did not cover you too much. Masses of people have been drowned there. It was impossible to get into the sea and swim; that could only be done by one or two of the very strongest swimmers, and even one of those had been drowned the year before. So after a week we changed, and moved to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

Puerto still cannot control its weather but the César Manrique designed swimming pools and the Playa Jardin Beach have taken care of her second objection. It’s many years now since “masses of people” have drowned – if they ever did.

Agatha Christie, Mystery of Blue Train

Nevertheless, during her visit, the author finished her novel, ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train”. This was the turning point in her literary life. She made a decision – “I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well. I have always hated ‘the Blue Train”.”

Agatha, sorry you were down in the dumps when you were here, but we still love you and will continue to honour your visit to our wonderful island.

Leslie Charteris ( 1907 – 1993)
Leslie Charteris also had his problems. He was born in Singapore of a Chinese father and English mother. Educated in England he had written his first published novel by the time he was 21. He moved to the USA in 1932 but was disqualified from permanent residence due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of “50% or greater” Oriental blood. So, every six months he had to renew his visa which may account for him spending the winter of 1935/36 in Tenerife researching for one of his Simon Templar novels…

The Saint, Simon Templar

What a busy time he had. No time to moan and groan. He was staying at the Orotava Hotel, in Santa Cruz and one day he came across the memoirs of the recently retired bullfighter Juan Belmonte, who had just had his autobiography ghosted. It was called ‘Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas” (Juan Belmonte, killer of bulls: his life and deeds). According to Charteris, he bought the English language rights and translated it immediately. The Orotava Hotel had a flat roof which he rented as a private sun deck to complete his translation. The man had style. His book was published in 1937.
In addition to this he seemed to have some fun with a certain General Franco. Here’s what he has to say about this:

He (Franco) was in exile there, plotting with his buddies, and more than once I had drinks with them in one of the waterfront cafés, which was run by a large German with a swastika in his buttonhole, who when he got loaded would proclaim loudly how Germany was going to rule the world. There were a lot of Germans with swastikas working there at the time, and the head waiter at my hotel, also a German, told me that they gave him a hard time because he wasn’t a Nazi. Franco didn’t let me in on his plans, but I thought that he was not a very bright character, and I was really surprised when he started his civil war. This shows you how sharp I am at picking winners…

Well, we know that two parts of the statement are correct – he was staying there when Franco was first exiled to Tenerife and he spoke Spanish fluently.
As for the rest, it will be great fun searching for the German bar owner with his swastika buttonhole.

It does seem to be quite a tall story but then again after he left Tenerife, Charteris claimed to have flown on the maiden flight of the Hindenburg passenger airship to New York in May of the same year. A check on the passenger list confirms this. He was 28 years old and his wife, who accompanied him, 24. At this early age he had written 18 Simon Templar Books. The 19th featuring Tenerife he called Thieves Picnic which was changed to The Saint bids Diamonds.

We’ll leave the final word to the man himself.

“My personal impressions of Tenerife as it was at the time, not very flattering, are all in the book”

He must have had a touch of the Agathas.

Quotes are from ‘the Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film, and Television” by Burt Barer

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The British Match That Ignited The Spanish Civil War

As the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, continues to rake in revenue in US and UK box offices, Ken turns his Shifting Sands gaze to the real world of international espionage. Alerted to the story when reading John Reid Young’s ‘The Skipping Verger And Other Tales‘, Ken’s curiosity was piqued and he delved deeper to uncover an uneasy truth about how Franco managed to leave his base on Tenerife to lead the Spanish Civil War without alerting the authorities. ED

Did the British MI6 assist Franco to escape from Tenerife and lead the rebellion which led to the Spanish Civil War or was the General spirited away from the Canary Islands by right wing Catholic sympathisers? The research is hampered by many a smokescreen but here are the hard facts of British involvement as I see them.

 

General Francisco Franco was not made the Military Governor of the Canary Islands in March 1936 without reason. He was a thorn in the flesh of the newly elected republican government in Madrid. So some bright spark thought of sending him out of harm’s way to the far flung Canary Islands. Franco chose Tenerife as his headquarters. He spent the next few months, if not dodging bullets, at least wary of assassination. In the meantime the anarchists and communists of the republican movement had turned against the Catholic Church and acts of vandalism against the churches were increasing throughout Spain.

Over lunch at Simpsons-in-the-Strand in Piccadilly, Douglas Jerrold, the Conservative Roman Catholic editor of the English Review met with a fellow journalist, Luis Bolín, London correspondent of the monarchist ABC newspaper of Madrid. They were hatching a daring plot. Speed was of the essence.
Jerrold knew of just the man to carry this out.

Major Hugh Pollard had retired from the army and was living a quiet life in the English countryside writing books and employed by the Country Life magazine as sports editor. He and Jerrold were old friends and both men belonged to well established Catholic families. Jerrold spoke of the plan.

He told Pollard that they were looking for someone to take charge of a small plane which was to land in the Canary Islands. The plane would then be used by General Franco to fly to Spanish Morocco. The mission would have to be top secret. The flight would be registered as a pleasure trip and to add some credence to this, Jerrold suggested that a couple of girls should join the party.

Jerrold and Bolin had already organised the plane, a DH-89 Dragon Rapide chartered to the British company Olley Air Service at Croydon Airport. The pilot was to be Captain Cecil Bebb.

Pollard had to move quickly. Surprisingly he engaged the services of his 19 year old daughter, Diana, and a friend Dorothy Watson to act as his fellow joy-riders.

The plane took off from Croydon airport, near London on July 11th 1936. Pleasure trip? It was less than 10 years since Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic.

 

In order to avoid Spanish air space they flew by way of Biarritz, Oporto, Lisbon and Casablanca. The last hop was from Cape Juby to Gran Canaria.

Pollard and the girls caught the ferry to Tenerife and booked into the Hotel Pino de Oro. Pollard had been given a password in order to convince Franco of their authenticity and was instructed to proceed to the Clinica Costa in Santa Cruz and ask for Dr. Gabarda. The password was Galicia saluda a Francia (Galicia greets France). Gabarda paid no attention, possibly because Pollard pronounced this badly. However, the password written down, according to Bolin, was Galicia saluda a Franco (Galicia greets Franco) which makes much more sense as Franco was born in Galicia. Pollard told a reporter three years later that, when he gave the password, Gabarda looked scared to death. No wonder – he’d been confronted with an incorrect password. Pollard was told to return to the hotel and wait until he was contacted.

This happened almost immediately and Pollard confirmed to Captain Bebb he was to take the new passengers on to Tetuan in Spanish Morocco

To maintain a semblance of normality, just before he left Tenerife, Franco played golf with Mrs Moore, the wife of the director of Fyffes.

Franco made his escape. He took over the Spanish Army of Africa which heralded the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Hugh Pollard was an experienced member of the British secret services being a firearms expert who had served in wars and revolutions in Ireland, Mexico and Morocco, sometimes posing as a journalist. He spoke Spanish fluently. His comical lack of the command of the language must have been part of the act.
Luis Bolin described Pollard in his memoir of the venture as a bluff officer type who spoke no Spanish.

Pollard’s friend Douglas Jerrold was also a leading figure in MI6. Had the plot failed especially in these tempestuous times, Pollard and company would probably have been shot. The Catholic connection would have been too brittle to escape death, but it served to deceive their co-plotters ““ the Spanish monarchists.
But why on earth did this man include his daughter in such a dangerous mission? My only guess is that she had joined the service.

I can find no record of how they returned to Britain.

Captain Cecil Bebb also came across as being a simple adventurer. He lived to be 97 and in a television interview in 1983 declared that he had been “approached by a gentleman from Spain, who asked me if I was prepared to go to the Canary Islands to get a Riff leader who was to start an insurrection in Spanish Morocco. I thought what a delightful idea, what a great adventure.” Who are you kidding, Captain Bebb?
Both Pollard and Bebb were awarded medals by Franco at the end of the Civil War.

 

If Ken’s account has now piqued your interest, you can read the full story of how the whole dastardly deed was orchestrated in Peter Day’s revelatory account, ‘Franco’s Friends‘. ED

Dragon Rapide image courtsey of Arpingstone; Dragon Rapide poster courtesy of TVE

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A Remarkable Family on Tenerife

This month Ken takes his Shifting Sands on a journey that relates how one remarkable family have woven themselves into the very fabric of Tenerife society, giving their time, energy and unrivalled knowledge of their adopted home to preserve its precious heritage. From the enduring enigma of Tenerife’s pyramids to the mysterious case of the camel bones, Ken introduces us to the Baillon family. Ed

Austin Baillon passed away on May 23rd 2012 at the age of 92. He is sadly missed by all who came into contact with him.

Casa Aduana, Custom House, Puerto de la Cruz

When Austin retired to the town of his birth in 1975, he set about collecting everything he could about the local history. He was a fount of knowledge for all the young historians and reporters who asked for his help. His door was also open to visitors from overseas in their various quests. Austin and Julia, his wife, rescued the old Customs House in Puerto de la Cruz from its dilapidated state and made it their home. His book Misters: britanicos en Tenerife is a pictorial masterpiece of life in the Orotava Valley at the beginning of the 20th century. However, Austin wasn’t the only member of the family to lend a helping hand to visitors and friends.

It all began when Alexander Baillon, Austin’s father, was the manager of Fyffes banana plantation in southern Tenerife at Hoya Grande. During the summer of 1915 he was visited by Dr. Earnest Hooton, an anthropologist, who had been sent by the Peabody Museum of Cambridge, USA to collect and bring back some Guanche remains. Hooton headed for the many unexplored caves in the south west of the island and, after being transported there by the Fyffe’s steamer, had the added good fortune of meeting Baillon

Alexander organized expeditions in the hills between Adeje and Guia de Isora in search of caves, most of which were difficult to reach. Employing the local men, who Baillon called “the chamois“, they soon collected all the samples which were necessary. These were boxed, labelled and prepared for shipment to the U.S.A.

Guanche

Then disaster struck when the Governor rescinded the permission to Hooton to export the samples. He was reacting to protests in the press. Hooton was disconsolate. Baillon promised to help him. A sergeant of the Civil Guard arrived at the Fyffe headquarters with orders to confiscate everything. However, the sergeant’s heart softened (I’ll leave the reader to guess why) and he suggested to them to package all the bones that were surplus to requirements. He would then deliver them back to headquarters. Unfortunately, this deal fell through when both Hooton and Baillon refused to sign a sworn declaration declaring that the boxes delivered amounted to the complete stock. Hooton returned to America bone-less to tell his superiors that he’d failed. Baillon was ordered to deliver the boxes to the Town Hall in Adeje which he did.

Here the story takes a twist. The Secretary of the Town Hall was an ex-employee of Fyffes and very friendly with Baillon. The two hatched a plan. A few days later, in the dead of night, an identical number of boxes were delivered to the Town Hall, deposited there and the originals were returned immediately by the same means of transport. Baillon quickly shipped these to the Peabody Museum. There were no repercussions, ever. Alexander later explained that the replacement boxes contained bones of camels, donkeys and horses. In 1925, Hooton published, The Ancient Inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the book that established his glittering career in the field of physical anthropology.

Austin and Julia’s son, Andrew, continued the family tradition.
Gordon Kennedy is an organic farmer in California. He is also one of the foremost experts on the pre-Hispanic history of the Canary Islands and has collected a massive archive on all things written about the Guanches, the extinct indigenous race who were finally conquered by the Spanish in 1496.
Imagine his excitement when in March 1990 he read in a newspaper printed in Tenerife in English an article entitled “Pyramids in the South: The Mysterious Terraces of Chacona“. There were photos of stepped pyramid structures together with the declared opinion that these were of Guanche origin. Gordon needed to make contact and wrote 2 letters ““ one to the newspaper and one to the author through the newspaper. Neither received a response.

In a later issue Gordon was attracted to a headline – “Andrew Baillon makes sure the King of Rock is not forgotten“.
So Andrew was an Elvis fan too. Acting on impulse Gordon wrote a letter to Andrew saying that he needed photos of the pyramids situated in Guimar and in return promised to ship Andrew a parcel of Elvis memorabilia. The letter was addressed simply to Andrew Baillon, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife and sent more in hope than anticipation.
Gordon had no idea that the recipient was a member of one of the best known families in the north of Tenerife. Naturally, the letter was delivered.

 

 

In January 1991 Kennedy received a packet of photographs as requested. Gordon duly sent on the Elvis memorabilia to Andrew.
Gordon Kennedy when told of Austin’s death wrote, “They were a remarkable family”. They still are. Julia allowed me to read the unpublished memoirs of Alexander Baillon for this story.

Gordon has written a superb book on the Guanches called The White Indians of Nivaria

The above image of Andrew Baillon standing on top of the Chacona pyramid pre-dates Thor Heyerdahl’s connection with the Güímar pyramids and is one of the photographs in Gordon Kennedy’s collection .

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Tenerife’s Golden Age of Cabaret

I’m so excited that my moving finger keeps hitting the wrong keys. Following up my mention of Go Pontinental in the last article, I was pointed in the direction of Eastenders star Polly Perkins and sent an email to her via her filter system – her son Tim Arnold. I asked Polly if she remembered her cabaret days in TenBel and her reply, almost by return, was an explosion of joy. So much so that here it is in full.

Polly Perkins

Hi Ken I hope this finds you well. I did cabaret for Fred Pontin through his booking agent Bridie Reid in the70s and 80s. Christmas in Tenerife was great. There were really excellent musicians in all the Pontins resorts – a definite plus and I always took my two sons along who also loved their holidays at Pontins in Torremolinos, Estepona, Greece, Morocco and Sardinia. Everything ran smoothly offstage and on – the bluecoats were hardworking and fun for the kids. The entertainment managers really knew their job. Mel Williams on the Costa del Sol and of course Shane Ritchie both top class entertainers. It was always live shows, top class entertainers and musicians – no backing tracks or miming!!! Possibly the last bastion of variety before the hype of the X factor type show.
Good performers, big names or simply first class acts. I loved it. What could be better than singing to an audience of happy holidaymakers in the sun? The food and facilities were pretty good too. A stint doing a Pontinental gig set me up for the months ahead. I even turned down a TV show and a pantomime rather than cancel my Pontinental season!!!!! Kind Regards Polly x

 

Polly Perkins

The first impression we get is that Pontinental was a massive operation and fun to work for. We also have to remember that for thousands of visitors this was their first trip abroad thanks to the new cheap charter flights. Fred’s whole idea was Blackpool with sun for £50. The Bingo stays in.

The second is Polly’s devotion to her sons which continues to this day and is returned in spades ““ I know.

I wondered what Polly had done between Cabaret and Eastenders and discovered that she’d starred in the ill-fated BBC series Eldorado as – oh no ““ a washed up cabaret singer.

Stars and Garter, Tenerife

Whilst Polly was wowing the happy punters in the South, I had a hefty share in a night club called the Stars and Garter in the Edificio Belair, Puerto de la Cruz. It was a non-profit making concern due to reasons too painful to mention. However, during its short existence we had a lot of fun.

Lennie Peters, of Peters and Lee fame, appeared there in April 1982, and filled the club nightly. I had arranged this gig personally but we needed continuity and after a brief interlude hired a booking agent in the UK. Lord luv us! I don’t know where he found them. But the disasters were not one sided.

Ricky Valance (Tell Laura I Love Her) came to do a week’s stint. One night he was late for his spot and we sent a waiter to look for him. Ricky was found stuck in the lift of the Belair – a quivering wreck (both the lift and Ricky). But he was a trouper and, a couple of slugs of cognac later, Ricky appeared on stage asking us to pass the message on to Laura; and no one was any the wiser. There was a loud cheer from the staff as he completed his hit tune.

“But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck
With his dying breath they heard him say
Tell Laura I love her tell Laura I need her
Tell Laura not to cry my love for her will never die

His hair turned white round about this time. Fair play to him though ““ he’s still going.

Talking of troupers, Polly worked at Battersea Funfair when she was 14 and at 15 became the youngest nude to appear at the Windmill, Still in her teens she was the first presenter of the cult TV show Ready, Steady Go. I have it on record that she taught the aforesaid Ricky Valance a dance routine to use in his act. She drew the short straw there.

 

Polly and I talked on the phone recently about the early days at Battersea. “I miss the hungry years,” I said, quoting from the song of the same title; “I don’t!” she replied adamantly. We both laughed.

Catch up with her at Polly Perkins

Credits: Above image of Rose Cotton © BBC EastEnders 2011/2012. Grateful thanks to Polly and her family for the use of their wonderful photos. Thanks too to Trevor Jones for the Stars & Garter image.

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Shifting Sands, The London Boys

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

This month’s Celebrities Corner features two London boys who left their footprints on Tenerife.

Vilaflor

Tom Keating (1917 ““ 1984)

Whilst we lotus eaters in the north were living the dream, Lewisham born Tom Keating was slaving away at the easel in his villa in the southern village of Vilaflor (above) happily churning out Samuel Palmer pastiches. These were being delivered to London galleries and auction houses by his girl friend at an alarming rate. She provided the provenances simply by re-inventing her family history.

Palmer (1805 -1881) painted 80 landscapes of Shoreham, Kent. Keating painted 80 more. In 1972 there were 14 Palmers circulating in London. This raised eyebrows and questions. Fraud was suggested.

By the time Keating had been uncovered as the perpetrator in 1976, he and his girl friend had already split up and Keating was back in England.

Tom Keating was not sent to jail. His girl friend, Jane Kelly, died tragically young and you can follow the full story by reading Matthew Sweet’s article for the Independent, The Faker’s Moll.

Keating wrote a best selling autobiography called “The Fake’s Progress” According to his friends he didn’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Many years ago I made a half-hearted attempt to trace Keating. The idea was to uncover one of his “Sexton Blakes” as he called his forgeries, hanging in a bar in Vilaflor, the highest village in Spain. Late in the day I found that he drank in El Médano on the coast. By then I was tired and fed up. Maybe I’ll try again soon.

Fred Pontin (1906 -2000)

Fred Pontin in Tenerife

Fred Pontin was proud of being a cockney. He told me so.

In the 1960s Pontin decided to expand his holiday business to sunny Europe to meet the challenge of the package holidays. The enterprise advised holidaymakers to “Go Pontinental”.

By the 1970s he was keen to expand Pontinental, so in 1972 Pontins acquired 6 new sites through the purchase of a Belgian holiday club. One of these was Tenbel at Costa del Silencio in the south. Get it? Ten”“Bel, Tenerife-Belgium. You could now ‘Go Pontinental’ to Tenerife.

By all reports this was not a great success but it’s difficult to find folks who stayed there. However, Fred was a great gambler in business and, as he had won the Grand National with his horse Specify the previous year, he must have felt his luck was in.

His other venture into Tenerife was in Puerto de la Cruz in 1977 when he introduced solar heating panels. The party took place on the lawn of Ray Baillon’s house in the Taoro Park. The installation was called Pontin’s Sunsoaker. I think the sun sank on that one.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and John Lucas asked me to greet Sir Fred and Lady Pontin in the Orchid Garden as he had been delayed in La Palma. Sir Fred was wheelchair bound but he and his wife, Joyce, were full of fun and enjoying themselves.

We immediately got on so well that I plucked up the courage to ask him if there’s any truth that during a Pontin’s reunion when a medical research charity were presented with a sizeable cheque, the recipient on behalf of the charity said in front of a couple of thousand Pontin’s campers ““ “I’d like to thank Mr Butlin”¦”¦”¦”
“Right”, said Fred (good name for a song).
Sir Fred also wrote an autobiography entitled “Thumbs Up” which was his gimmick on the Pontin’s TV advertisements and repeated in our photo (above). He died later in the year and was a lovely man.

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Shifting Sands, Celebrities

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

Celebrities on Tenerife

Celebrities lived in the Orotava Valley ““ Jack Jackson the daddy of the DJs had a recording studio in his house in La Montañeta and sent a cassette recording of his programme home by air every week to the BBC. Jack had a cat, Tibbles, in the studio, but it was a “virtual” cat; he was the first radio DJ with studio gimmicks.

I often met him in the Red Barrel bar when he and his wife, Eve, came down from the hills for a lunchtime bevy. We almost had a deal put together where I would ghost his biography but in 1973 he discovered that the Tenerife climate was worse for his lung complaint than the UK and left the island for good. He died in 1978.

When checking him out on the internet, I find that there are two versions of his place of birth ““ the first in Belvedere, Kent and the second in Horsley, Derbyshire. I would love to claim him as a fellow Derbyshire man.

JEAN BATTEN

Jean Batten, Garbo of the Skies

She was one of the Daily Express’s top 5 women of the year in 1936.

In 1972, she owned a small apartment in the Avenida Aparthotel yet very few people, including me, knew who she was. The lady was Jean Batten, the Garbo of the Skies, the title of a brilliantly researched book by Ian Mackersey. Why was she honoured by the Daily Express? In 1936 she had made the first solo flight from England to New Zealand. She was extremely photogenic. Hers is a fascinating story. The poor woman is buried in a pauper’s grave in Majorca. Her mother, who died in her arms in San Marcos, is buried in the British Cemetery in Puerto de la Cruz. It’s all in the book. She once nodded graciously in my direction and I nodded back

Find out more from the documentary of Jean Batten’s life, including an interview with Annette Reid

KENNETH WILLIAMS
During the 70s Kenneth Williams and his mother paid several visits to Tenerife. Puerto de la Cruz was his preference. I met him one lunch time in the Harp Bar. He asked me my name. I told him ““ Ken ““ and no he didn’t say “stop messin’ about“. He was in a sombre mood as he’d just discovered that there was to be a strike of hotel employees in a few days time. So it must have been 1978.

Louie, his mother, was taking things in her stride and was good company. “Kenny says we’re jinxed, “˜cos last year we were sitting in a little bus at the airport waiting for the luggage to be loaded when that terrible Jumbo crash happened. The bus shot off like a bat out of hell and forgot all about the cases” As we talked a few customers came in and one or two made a bee-line for him. One poor chap got a bit tongue tied and said, “I’d like to shake the hand that’s given so much pleasure to so many people“. One of the two Kens said, “I beg your pardon” ““ modesty prevents me from saying which one. However, when the penny dropped, Ken W. roared with laughter and I left while I was ahead. I never met them again.

Many years later, after his death, I discovered that he hated being approached by the public and, at times, was quite rude. This particular day, nothing could be further from the truth, he was humble and charming

LADY MOLLIE ABERCROMBY

Lady Mollie Abercromby

However we were not short of our own local celebrities. Lady Mollie Abercromby (above – where she always preferred to be, in the company of men) was a legend in her own life time. She was a member of the Smith family who had owned Sitio Litre since the 1850s. Her favourite bar was the Red Barrel which she visited regularly at lunchtime.

A happy, generous lady she made friends easily with the tourists and would often invite some of them to her stately home for lunch later on in the week. On arrival at the allotted time she would often greet them with ““ “What are you doing here?” Or if she didn’t recognize them, “What do you want?” An embarrassed shuffling of feet occurred before one of the party reminded her of her invitation. But she never failed to get Pancho and Maria to rustle something up and the wine flowed.

Mollie was the first person on the island to fail the breathalyser test when after a lazy lunch in Santa Cruz with her friend Desmond she was stopped whilst driving down the motorway at 20km an hour.

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