Where I live in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Arenales, is not far from the colonial part of the city. As in the Ciudad Jardín. Despite the name, the colonists here were British rather than Spanish.
And so you have a British Club which was visited by both Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill, whose some-time president's David Bramwell, a former bouncer at Liverpool's Cavern Club, and one which boasts a social calendar which includes cocktail parties in honour of the Queen of England's birthday. Along with the Anglican Holy Trinity Church, whose fêtes, of course, feature cucumber sandwiches. There are also houses and their gardens, rare in a city where most of the population reside in flats.
The British influence's just as evident over in neighbouring Tenerife. Particularly in the hometown of John Reid Young, author of The Skipping Verger. For his Puerto de la Cruz, originally known as Port of the Cross, was the first resort of Tenerife.
Port of the Cross attracted wealthy Europeans searching for a better climate for health reasons rather than wanting to top up their tan. Because of the favourable weather conditions, many chose to stay in this part of the island all year round. And it is these very pioneers, along with their descendants and native Canarians of then and now, who Reid Young bases the characters of his short stories on.
Some of these characters do actually belong to Reid Young's real family. Like Reids James and Tom from The Mail Boat. Although the author is at pains to point out that "these short stories are fictional."
The biography at the back of the book makes for interesting reading, in that it reveals that "John Reid Young was born in London's Welbeck Street in 1957. Are we to assume it was a (Marylebone) home birth? Just like the entrance into this world of the titular character of The Boy with the Moon on his Head?
Imagine a pre-watershed episode of Tales of the Unexpected. That's the televisual equivalent of Reid Young's short stories, with the narrator offering a twist that's playful rather than violent. The exception which proves the rule being The Other Passenger, a tale set during the Spanish Civil War. Although the Passenger's fate is implied rather than graphically described.
Many of this collection are love stories. Invariably, they have a happy ending. However, there's one where the relationship is put on hold and is more romantic tragedy than comedy. Don't worry, I won't spoil the surprise by telling you which one it is.
The Skipping Verger and quite a few of the tales which follow involve foreigners stumbling into a strange situation in Tenerife. There's very much a culture clash. Inevitably, Johnny (and Jane) Foreigner come to the conclusion that perhaps there might be some truth in that old (Canarian) wives' tale etc after all.
What does come across is that the author has a non-grudging respect for what has become his home island. Despite his London birth, he has spent most of his life on Tenerife. Especially since a childhood spent studying in English and Scottish private schools.
The illustrations by Annie Chapman capture a moment in time. Such as a knife-wielding Catalina offering a bizarre hangover cure to one James Young who had overdone it on the local vino front the night before. But it is the author himself who masters his own domain, with a gentle prose big on geographical setting.
None more so than in New Year on Piazzi's Mountain which introduces the reader to Tenerife's stunningly beautiful interior. A world away from the neon lights of Playa de las Américas. The island, like neighbouring Gran Canaria, is more than the sum of its resorts.
One of my favourite stories is A Mysterious Uncle. Perhaps because it's set on my favourite of the Canary Islands, La Gomera. And I recognize the vivid description of Valle Gran Rey, the island's main "resort" despite the story being set in the early 1970s, a time considerably closer to my date of birth than my visit to the island.
So, if you want to discover why the verger skips, the secret lies in the pages within. Along with an introduction to a Tenerife wedded to its past. Where you're led into a hitherto undiscovered world of banana plantations and lucha canaria, Canarian wrestling. Yet reading this book's a nostalgic pleasure for those familiar with the Canary Islands such as myself, as the characters experience adventures not dissimilar to ones we've gone through ourselves.
In order to write this review for The Huffington Post, I received a free copy of The Skipping Verger and Other Tales.