A Stick With An ‘Orses ‘Ead ‘Andle

On every one of the twenty odd holidays we spent on Lanzarote, we planned to eventually retire to this island. We were serious about doing so, and every holiday made us more determined. I loved the Wild West scenery of Timanfaya and El Risco at Famara, with their reminders of much loved TV westerns of my youth, such as Wagon Train and Boots And Saddles. I also loved the fact that I could hear, in the Spanish and Canarian folk-lore music, the ancestry of the Texan-Mexican genre of music, now categorised as Americana, that I had come to love through those tv westerns.

Perhaps the defining moment in our migration to live permanently on the island came one evening when I was driving my wife in our hire car on a romantic sunset ride down the sidetracks and detours we had discovered over the years, in the hope of even finding some new diversions too. We were watching the sun kiss the sea as we drove west over La Geria, the island’s vineyard regions. On previous occasions of taking this same direction we had become aware of a particularly pretty development of houses set in the crook of the valley between Yaiza and the La Geria road.

On this evening, as darkness fell, we were startled by the beauty of the village with its streets lit and we pulled into a layby to gaze at the view of the community nestled a hundred yards or so below us. We were struck by the number of coloured lights of reds, greens and blues and realised that a travelling fair must be in town. Through our car-windows, open on this night of a thousand stars, we could hear strains of music, some of it typical fairground sounds of rock and roll and rockabilly but also some beautiful Spanish music, all swirling together.

We drove down into this village of Uga, which we had never done before, and found parking was at a premium. Nevertheless, we actually found a space within easy walking distance of the fairground. There was no fencing, no gates, no admission fee, just access all areas, behave yourself and enjoy what you like. We liked the churros, the crepes, the cold white wine and bottles of cerveza sin alcohol.

We loved watching the macho teenage local boys riding on and falling off the mechanical bucking bulls to a recording of Cotton Eyed Joe, and we loved looking up at the space capsules that soared and swooped and hung in the air whilst we craned our necks to look up at the twenty passengers / astronauts, upside down in their seats, looking down at us, for a Ground Control to Major Tom moment. We loved the dodgems, being enjoyed for family fun rather than tearaway terror.

Most of all, though, we loved the half hour in which the rides were stilled, and the music turned off, so that thousands of people could listen to the live band on stage,…..and that band was an ensemble playing perfect Matriarch Mexican music putting me in mind of two of my favourite female singers, Tish Jinajosa and Linda Rondstat. I was transfixed.

We drove back north to our hotel in Matagorda and spoke of how surprised we were to see what we had thought was a sleepy little market town, being so busy. We both agreed, though, that the whole night had seemed to encapsulate Lanzarote customs and attitudes, of family: respect between genders, between generations.

A couple of years later, November 2015, we came here to retire,…. except that I am now a freelance journalist writing for these pages at Lanzarote Information and publishing my own daily blog of Sidetracks & Detours and a Sunday Supplement, PASS IT ON, all of which are arts related postings. I am also a reluctant last-man-standing President of my community, Shangrila Park in Playa Blanca. So much for retirement.
So, we have lived here for nine years now, and although we work hard there is, nevertheless, a constant atmosphere of retirement that seems to permeate through all those of us who live on the island. My wife, or First Lady, as I call her, studies Spanish three times a week, goes to yoga classes twice a week and goes on occasional hikes into the hills with her yoga pals. She somehow finds the time to undertake my proof-reading (so blame her not I !) and also runs the White House and its presidential partners and staff, and in doing so reminds me of Jackie Kennedy !?
We have learned quite a bit about Uga over those years and it has become our favourite place for lively entertainment.

As part of Yaiza, a municipality in the south of Lanzarote, Uga is recorded as one of the oldest communities on the island, but its population is only just over a thousand.

Uga dates back to the fifteen-hundreds and legend says that it owes its name to a woman, although there is no evidence of this and its meaning is not known either. Such legends are alive all over Lanzarote and with the island being so small these legends collide and change appearance and small details of their biographies and so new legends are born.

After that first sighting we had of Uga down in the dip we learned that the village is known for its traditional low white houses and for being the largest camel settlement in the Canary Islands. The reminders of that last fact can be seen as you drive by the long camel trains taking their always slightly uneasy looking passengers up into the mountains. If the wind is in the wrong direction your nostrils might be reminded, too, that there are definitely camels about. It was, of course, the volcanic eruption in the 18th century that years later, saw the town re-built again on its own ashes.

Uga is located southwest of Lanzarote, about 5 kilometres east of Yaiza, the town to which it belongs, and next to La Geria.  It is seven or eight kilometres from where we live in Playa Blanca. It is close to the entrance to Timanfaya National Park, sometimes called Fire Mountain, the lava field that changed our landscape, attracted film-makers and still draws millions of tourists every year. In a quiet environment that many foreigners have valued when settling on the island.

If you visit Uga market, you will find it attractive and easy to stroll through. You cannot miss the Church of San Isidro Labrador, the highest tower in the town.

The church also gives its name to the town’s biggest festival of the year held in May. For several days the town is decorated and filled with life with traditional dances and its famous pilgrimage.

If you visit Uga on weekends, to purchase artisan products from Uga farmers and ranchers, take a look at products such as soap, smoked salmon and local cheeses. Of course, you can also walk, or drive, just up the road to the nearby wineries. Uga is the first town on the wine route that passes through the La Geria vineyards.

Along with the rest of the island, Uga recently celebrated Canaries day with a theatre production of Loca Historia Maha which took place 29th May, on the evening before the special day. The play was performed in a tent covering, and drew an audience of around 400 people and we have attended several such events here over the years.

The audience seemed, as usual, to be comprised of large family groups of grandparents, mums and dads, teenage girlfriends and boyfriends and younger brothers and sisters, That is wonderful, of course, but any play needs to be gripping or unique to keep the attention of such a diverse audience.

Several members of the nine strong cast played multiple roles, there was no scenery and only highly imaginative, but quite basic props.
Loca Historia Maha was seeking an answer to the question as to who was the first couple to live on Lanzarote. As soon as you remind yourself that Lanzarote is an island in the Atlantic Ocean the question becomes more pertinent and provokes a host of follow up questions such as Who were they? What did they want? When did they come here? Where did they come from and why did they come?

The play told the story of the inhabitants of the island before the volcanic eruptions of the volcanoes almost three hundred years ago.
This gave the play the opportunity to depict invasion after invasion down the centuries, with the island’s history and the names of its first two inhabitants being buried deeper and deeper by each new set of immigrants or invaders. Laws changed, the language changed, and the rivalry of church and state led to social change, and changes of mind, changes of attitude.

The cast delivered some great lines that the Spanish speaking audience chuckled at throughout, and the props such as they were, and costume such as it was, drew gales of laughter and rounds of applause when the ingenuity behind them was revealed. We noticed that some the shirts of the males were simply the previous shirt turned inside out, for instance and the weapons were basically sticks, that were the ´guns´ and swords we all played with as children.

What we were watching was a Monty Python Life of Brian style history, making many salient points within its humour. We were shown how one after another after another ruling hegemony denuded Lanzarote of its assets and profitability and sustainability.

Of course, the big bang brought an end to all that as this play showed to great effect. The last sound heard from the stage was a loud explosion (read eruption), and a huge cloud of smoke rolled across the stage.

The volcanoes had blown and now that the island was left as a barren home for rock and sand no new invaders ever came again,….until the nineteen sixties, whenever they came not in their hundreds of thousand by wooden boats but in the millions, as tourists, by metal aeroplane.
The play and its players had given us much to ponder, with the cast being microphoned, somehow adding gravitas to their utterances.
This was a play that worked well at an adult level but would surely have worked well as an educational aide in school history and geography classes, for instances.

To give yourself an idea of the props I am talking about, think of The Woodentops on Watch With Mother (in the 1960s) and see our photographs.

There was a horse that seemed to be a cardboard cut-out but that suddenly reared on its hind hooves and raised his front legs at yet another invader, quite the scariest moment in the entire performance.

Another soldier was riding, as Stanley Holloway might have said, ´a stick with an ´orses ´ead ´andle´ which reminded me that I used to take Edgar Marriatt’s tale of The Lion And Albert out into Primary Schools. My one performance, with three enlisted students, used the same sort of basic props, some rough and tumble action scenes and a post-performance discussion about citizenship, personal responsibilities, and animal and environmental rights.

What you mean who was Albert?

ALBERT ! the lad with a stick with an órses ´ead ´andle!