“The British Connection To Lanzarote And The Canaries”

Natura Palace Hotel, Playa Blanca February 2019

Winston Churchill, Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and The Beatles might not seem to have anything in common other than their fame. However, a new book, called The British Connection To Lanzarote And The Canaries, suggests these names are linked in ways we might not have imagined.

I have attended many book launches in my time as a journalist, and even on occasions have done so as the author of the book being launched, but I have rarely heard a writer so obviously in love with his subject as is Larry Yaskiel, the author of “The British Connection to Lanzarote and the Canaries / La conexión británica con Lanzarote y Canarias.” Text in English and Spanish have been published simultaneously, between the same covers, and Larry’s talk indicated why it is so important that it be made available to readers of either language. His remarks emphasised how inextricably linked The Canary Islands and The British Isles have been over the last six hundred years, and how those links have been especially important to Lanzarote’s rapid growth in the tourist industry over the last three quarters of a century. ´

This was our first visit to a hotel that stands just round the corner from our home. It always looks attractive with its tree shaded entrance approach, and its plate-glass fronted reception area offers a glimpse of a hotel that looks warm and welcoming, especially at Christmas when it is festooned with thousands of lights. As we entered and made enquiries as to how to reach the location of tonight’s talk we were directed, by a charming and gentlemanly receptionist, across the ground floor lounge area, where there were several people dotted around on soft sofas, listening to gently haunting piano pieces being played live.

This was an area that we could imagine looking wonderful when full on summer nights in full season. We felt sure that, even then, this area would surely remain as restful and refined as it seemed tonight. However, we had no time to stand and stare for we were headed downstairs into what the desk clerk had described to us as the theatre, and it immediately appeared perfectly suited for entertainment or talks.

After following these directions through Natura Palace Hotel in Playa Blanca, near Montaña Roja, we stepped into a large hall where Larry was seated in the centre of a raised stage with comfortable armchairs arranged in wide semi circles in front for the audience. He was flanked by The Mayor of Yaiza, Oscar Noda, who played a positive role in the creation of the book, and by Mario Ferrer, the head of the book’s publishing company. Mario, in fact, would also translate Larry’s talk from English into Spanish, although we have previously heard Larry give similar talks in Spanish.

There were more than fifty people gathered in the room by the time the talk began, promptly at seven o’clock. Such a good number of people attending, (not this many people bought my book, let alone came to hear me talk about it!) was surely due to Larry’s popularity gained here on Lanzarote during decades of his living here in later life, much of which has been spent as Editor and writer, with his wife, Liz, at Lancelot, the quarterly, glossy tourist information magazine. He has become such a well informed and enthusiastic advocate of the Lanzarote life style that he is now regularly consulted about any major decisions on how best to maintain and protect that unique cultural lifestyle of the island.

We also learned though, how Yaiza Tourism Councillor, Olga Caraballo and her staff at the local Tourist Information Office near the roundabout at the town beach in Playa Blanca had spent the last two or three weeks promoting this talk here tonight.

In our first year of living on the island we were always in there making enquiries about concerts and shows etc and it was lovely to meet up again with a staff member we well remembered as being always caring and helpful to us. She was here in the audience, clutching a now almost-read copy of the book in her hand, and we enjoyed a catch up chat for a couple of minutes. Our nattering was only brought to a close by the announcement of tonight’s event. The Mayor offered some opening remarks in Spanish and then Larry’s publisher explained how the event was to be conducted, before inviting Larry to begin his talk.

Mr. Yaskiel began by explaining why he felt it important to write a book that speaks about the economic, social, cultural and political relationship between The British Isles and The Canary Islands. His work creates a chain of more than fifty such links, unearthed by Larry during more than forty years of research since his ´retirement´ from the music industry in the nineteen eighties. Over the past three decades and more Larry has trawled museums and libraries and has found links that show both Britain and The Canary Islands fell to a Norman Conquest. England, of course, fell in 1066 and three centuries later, in 1402, Lanzarote and Fuertaventura fell to invaders of British / Norman descent from the Crown of Castilla. Even in these modern times I, as a Norman by name, left Britain three years ago to come and live here on Lanzarote, though I cannot claim in any way to have conquered either country !

Larry Yaskiel book

The author signs his book, for….the author.

Larry’s book explores the centuries that have followed the real Norman invasions and how they have been marked by a fierce rivalry between Britain and Spain, as each has fought to control important trade routes and rights with America. Indeed, during this period, The Canary Islands were subjected to several raids by navigators and explorers from Great Britain.

Born in London in 1936, Larry Yaskiel became a senior manager at various well known pop music record labels during the nineteen sixties. Indeed, last year we went to hear him give a talk at Cic El Almacen in Arrecife about this period of his life.

He proved an engaging interviewee, answering questions from his interlocutor as a power-point behind him showed images of him with acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Supertramp, The Searchers, The Who, Deep Purple and The Bee Gees. We learned at that event how a 1979 holiday on Lanzarote made such an impression on Larry that he subsequently settled here and started to operate as a writer for, and editor of, Lancelot, the first such English language magazine in Spain, and he remains its honorary editor.

We reviewed that evening on these pages and I was delighted when Larry later got in touch to say how pleased he was with the piece.

The launch of The British Connection to Lanzarote and the Canaries seems a natural progression of his varied career and follows on perfectly from that talk about his work in the music industry. This event revealed the strong links between the UK and Lanzarote and Larry seemed at obvious ease as he ran through a six century history lecture in about an hour, laced with wit and affection for the place that is now his home. We learned from him about the founding fathers of San Antonio, the British hunger for the banana and about The Canary Islands being employed as coal depots for vessels making their way to and from Africa into Europe.

I got in a couple if questions from the floor, one asking how he found the appropriate writer’s voice for a book that is factual and full of geographical and historical details. I paraphrase his response slightly but he spoke about finding a balance between being informative whilst also remaining inquisitive and about never making claims that couldn’t be substantiated.

He shared further information with his audience, answering as many supplementary questions as he could, but to talk about all that in this article would require an abundance of spoiler alerts.  I recommend instead that you look for copies of the title in all the good book shops of Lanzarote. Your search will certainly be rewarded.

I and a few others had the chance to meet again with Larry and Liz, the following day. The large pile of copies of the book that the publisher had brought with him to the previous night’s talk had run out with maybe a dozen of us still wanting to purchase. There was huge merriment and some good-natured teasing as the young man uttered heartfelt and somewhat embarrassed apologies. It was Liz Yaskiel who offered the saving grace here, by arranging for those of us disappointed not to have a book to take away, to turn up in town the following day where she would ensure Larry would be at The Tourist Information to sign them

This gave me the opportunity of a brief discussion with Larry about the progress made since the book had emerged in print. He is very proud of the fact that the government of The Canary Islands have purchased 250 copies to distribute around the schools and libraries of the islands. He thinks that will help a new generation of schoolchildren to take ownership of this six hundred years of history whilst at the same time accepting it as a shared text. We spoke briefly of the importance of projects, like the writing of this book, creating a ´legacy,´ of an afterlife of this moment of time if you will.

I mentioned to Larry that I had seen a press release announcing that the Cabildo is seeking to consult with representatives of its municipalities about how to fittingly celebrate the centenary of the birth of the island’s favourite artist, the late Cesar Manrique. I recalled that, when working as freelance poet and writer in the UK, I worked with The Lowry Theatre to tour local schools and facilitate the writing of poetry about the late painter of ´matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs´ after whom that theatre is named. The works produced by school pupils in a similar project over here could be recited in performance, or set to music, or collated and given to a commissioned artist to interpret in an artwork in a memory of Manrique, as envisaged by the children, I suggested, and subsequently exhibiting it in pride of place in a public arena.

Larry, I think, was delighted to feel able to respond very positively to my comments.

´There will indeed be a childrens’ contribution to the centenary celebration of Manrique tribute,´ he informed me. ¨Individual schools have their own projects, with the results from one such exercise in a Teguise school being already on public display. The Cabildo Culture department is coordinating with every town hall for the organisation of events which include kids. The education department of the Foundation Cesar Manrique is doing likewise.´

Having seen evidence over in the UK of how such concerted thinking can help sustain civic pride and awareness I found his words extremely encouraging, and I really hope to visit some of these events and report back to you.

Larry himself is always keen to pay his respects to those who have made a difference and a name he mentioned several times this evening was that of Olivia Stone who was the first writer, male or female, to suggest in print that Lanzarote would one day enjoy being a tourist destination. I should stop here, though, before I start talking of The Beatles and Agatha Christie and Racquel Welch and their links to The Canary Islands. To do so might reduce your enjoyment of what is a fascinating read, of aged history and forgotten facts.

“The British Connection to Lanzarote and the Canaries / La conexión británica con Lanzarote y Canarias” is written by Larry Yaskiel and published by Ediciones Remotas, with the support of Yaiza´s Town Hall.

This may be an unwieldy title but in the English-language words of the famous Ronseal advert on British tv, ´it does exactly what it says on the tin !´