This morning;s blog post got quite a reception already, including a request for a version in Spanish to be included on a village website. So, having laboured over the task, for those of you wishing to improve or test your Spanish, her is the translation. Hay más de una persona en Frigiliana que se llama Kevin, pero si dices simplemente 'Kevin' en seguida sabe todo el mundo a quien refieres. Porque este Kevin es alguien muy especial. Seis pies y cuatro pulgadas (1,93m también podría decir) de corazón sin límite. Hace ocho años cuando nos mudábamos a vivir permanentemente en el pueblo, teníamos cualquier problema - no recuerdo cuál y no importa - para lo que hemos buscado ayuda y el consejo era, "Consulta a Kevin." Y de Kevin descubríamos que documentos eran necesarios, de donde podríamos adquirirlos, a donde llevarlos y cuanto teníamos que pagar, más o menos. Hicimos todo como nos había instruido y en solamente tres visitas se cumplió todo. A divagar, es bien conocido que algún encuentro con la burocracia española necesita un mínimo de tres visitas para cumplir la tarea. Pues, ¡un encuentro exitoso! En el año 2008 Kevin trabajó en la casa consistorial un par de días por semana, pero durante el curso de los años siguientes su contribución se incrementaba mucho hasta el punto de que estaba cuatro mañanas a su mesa y el quinto día visitando a cualquiera persona que no pueda acudir la oficina. Sería tentador decir que Kevin trabajaba por el ayuntamiento, pero de hecho no era así Kevin recibiría su sueldo del ayuntamiento, pero trabaja siempre por y para los extranjeros del pueblo, en concreto por y para los que no hablen español. Pero, ¿Por qué escribo con tensos pasados? Venga, Kevin era empleado adscrito por el partido de gobierno del pueblo, el Partido Andalucista, por carga de confianza, una categoría de empleo que dura solamente hasta el punto de empezar la próxima campaña electoral Se lo puede reintegrar cuando tenga control el partido que sea ganador - si quiere. Un problema posible surgió por primera vez con las repercusiones de las elecciones del año 2011, cuando el Partido Andalucista perdió control absoluto del ayuntamiento. Le faltaban dos concejales. Era necesario pactarse con algún otro partido y el candidato obvio era el Partido Polpulare que había ganado dos. Cuatro de PA mas dos de PP representaba. una mayoría absoluta. Pero ocurrió un embarazo PP se oponía al reintegro de Kevin e intentaba bloquearlo. Bueno al fin y al cabo otorgaba PP y los dos partidos pactaban para asumir control del ayuntamiento y Kevin volvió a su trabajo. Sin embargo en las elecciones de 2015 la balanza entre los dos partidos cambió. PA perdió un concejal, mientras que PP ganó dos. El resultado daba cuatro concejales al PP pero solamente tres al PA. Esa vez el acuerdo iba a favor del PP con PA el consorte menor. PP rechazó absolutamente contemplar el reintegro de Kevin. Por su parte, PA declaró que sin el reintegro de Kevin no sería posible pactarse con PP. Continuaban los negociaciones hasta la hora undécima, como dicen los ingleses, y literalmente. La fecha tope para hacer el nombramiento del líder del PP como alcalde era un tal d;ia a las once de la mañana. Por fin los del PP se acordaron y el acto tomó lugar. y inmediatamente empezó PP a retirarse del acuerdo, y prácticamente un año más tarde llegar a ser claro que bajo PP nunca estará un servicio al extranjero en el ayuntamiento. Lo guiris, especialmente los británicos se sienten ultrajado, y son de la opinión que han sido abandonado , y que a pesar de formar una tercera porción de la población de Frigiliana, el alcalde y sus socios no les considere de interés o de importancia. Hace un par de meses había una ola de emoción cuando circulaba por el pueblo la noticia de que Kevin había vuelto a la casa consistorial. Se trató de ser el amanecer falso sí Kevin está, pero no por resumir sus esfuerzos por parte do los extranjeros, sino para actualizar el padrón. Su empleo en esta capacidad terminará al fin de mayo. Por supuesto, Kevin siendo Kevin, cuando alguien venga a su mesa con un problema, lo intenta solucionar, como lo hacía para mí ayer. Pues, continua el desagrado de los extranjeros, no simplemente que no hay nadie en el ayuntamiento para ayudarnos y apoyarnos. Además no es simplemente que valoramos a Kevin por todo lo que ha hecho para nosotros, sino que le queremos por su compromiso con esta causa, y somos asustados a ver la manera de su trato por los de PP.
There is more than one person in the village called Kevin, but if you simply refer to "Kevin", everyone immediately knows which Kevin you mean. Because this Kevin is special; 6ft 4inches (or 1.93m if you prefer) of pure heart.
When we arrived in Frigiliana eight years ago to take up permanent residence we had a particular problem to deal with. I don't remember what it was, and that isn't important. When we sought advice we were told "Speak to Kevin". So we did and he told us which documents we would need, where to get them, where to take them and roughly how much it would cost us. We did as he said and sure enough by the end of our third visit to whatever office everything was sorted. To digress, it is an accepted fact of Spanish bureaucracy that nothing is ever resolved in fewer than three attempts, so that counted as a success.
Back in 2008 Kevin worked a couple of days a week in the town hall, but over the succeeding years that rapidly expanded to what was effectively a full time job; four mornings a week's he was at his desk, and on a Friday he visited people who had problems but could not get to the town hall. It would be tempting to say that Kevin worked for the town hall, but that would not quite be accurate. Certainly he was paid by the town hall, but actually he worked for the expatriate residents of Frigiliana, especially those with little Spanish.
But why am I using the past tense? Well, Kevin was appointed to do this work by the party then in control of the council, the Partido Andalucista. He was employed on the basis of what is known as a cargo de confianza, a term for which there is no English equivalent. Basically, he was paid using funds provided by central government to help local authorities provide the necessary services. However, because this is an appointment by the ruling party, it expires as soon as a local election campaign begins. Then the post can be renewed once the new administration takes office - if the new administration wishes.
A potential problem first arose after the elections of 2011 when Partido Andalucista lost overall control and had to look for a coalition partner, the obvious candidate being the Partido Popular which had won two seats which would give the two parties six seats against the third party's five. A sticking point emerged; PP were opposed to the reappointment of Kevin and tried to block it. Eventually though, they conceded, a PA/PP coalition took up office and Kevin returned to work. But last year's election changed the dynamic; PP finished up with 4 seats against PA's three, and so they had the upper hand. They refused point blank to contemplate employing Kevin. PA were equally adamant that there would be no pact which did not include Kevin returning to his job. Negotiations went right down to the wire but in the end PP agreed to the demand - until their man had been safely sworn in as mayor, at which point they began introducing one condition after another, conditions which they knew PA would not accept, and so virtually twelve months later it is clear that they will not man a Foreigners' Desk at the town hall.
The expatriate community, especially the British, are outraged and feel that they have been very badly let down, and that despite accounting for a third or more of the population of the village, they are of no concern or interest to the ruling party. There was a flurry of excitement a couple of months ago when news went around the village, "Kevin's back in the town hall!" Alas, it proved to be a false dawn; he has a three month contract to update the electoral register, that's all. Of, course being Kevin, if anyone comes in with a problem, as I did yesterday, he sets about solving it.
So expatriate discontent continues, not just that there is no one in the town hall to fill the gap left by Kevin's departure, but also because we don't just value him for what he was able to do for us. We love him for the commitment he has shown over the past eight years to the foreign residents of Frigiliana and we are appalled at the shabby way he has been treated.
The literal translation of miel de caña is 'honey of sugar cane', but we know it in English as molasses or black treacle. The production of miel de caña was, at one time, the principal industry of this region, and indeed as you drive around today you will still see small stands on untended ground where the cane is growing but neglected. In Torre del Mar, about twenty minutes drive to the west of here, a former mill has been restored and converted to use as (I think) a museum. Between Nerja town and the Nerja Caves, stands a large, derelict and ruined building which was a sugar mill. Here in Frigiliana, however, we have a mill which is still operational, producing the miel de caña which is widely on sale throughout Spain. El Ingenio, as it is called, is the last surviving cane mill in operation in the whole of Europe, and so understandably we are very proud of it and like to show it off to visitors. Unfortunately most of the year that isn't possible; you can't have people wandering around a working food factory for both hygiene and safety reasons. Three years ago we introduced a new fiesta to the village, Êl Día de la Miel de Caña, when the factory is opened for guided tours explaining the old machinery and the traditional production process. There are stalls selling products which have the molasses as an ingredient, and some of the restaurants put on a special menu incorporating the molasses into the dishes, savoury as well as sweet. Yesterday we had this year's Day, beautiful, warm and sunny with a clear blue sky. Historically the cane was harvested and loaded into panniers on the backs of mules to be brought to the mill. There it was chopped into suitable lengths and fed into presses which crushed the cane and released the sweet sap. The sap was then boiled to drive off excess moisture until it assumed its dark, viscous quality. The raw material, sugar cane, was an easy crop to establish even on poor ground. Essentially it is a grass and so once it has rooted you're home and dry. You let it grow to the stage you need, then you cut it. Like grass it continues growing, and so you can come back and back cutting it and using it. The twenty first century approach, however, is rather different. Mules and panniers have been replaced by LGVs and forklift trucks. Instead of cane there are pallet loads of granulated, white sugar to be boiled down into molasses, and so there is no longer any call for locally grown sugar cane, which is progress, but also a shame in a way.
So, after eight years can I say that I have left everything about England behind? Well, no. Don't misunderstand me; I love Spain and I love living here. But everything comes at a cost.
The biggest cost is being detached from family life by being so far away. Both our daughters live very busy lives and have only a certain amount of annual leave so they are seldom able to get over to Frigiliana. As it happens, both are coming soon, one with her children in May, the other with a couple of friends at the beginning of June. Only, we won't be here. That's when we are travelling across Europe in smart trains as our 'big event' celebration of our golden wedding.
We'd also like to see more of the wider family, and of friends we left behind. We have a full and satisfying social life here, so it's not that we feel lonely, just that we miss those relationships.
Spain's wines have improved enormously over the past ten or twenty years, and there's a huge choice, way beyond what you will see in the Spain section of a British supermarket. But you rarely find wines from outside Spain, and that's something else I miss - a good NZ Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, or a Chilean Merlot. Or wines from France, Argentina, South Africa.
On the subject of the inner man, I miss the wide range of traditional British cheeses; I grew up to appreciate lovingly matured Lancashire cheese, creamy, heady and - the best aged - capable of blasting the top of your head off if not treated respectfully. Or Wensleydale, Caerphilly and Cheddar. Oh, we can get cheddar cheese here, but the result of factory scale production, at best a very bland, moist concoction described as 'extra mature'; so strong that you could safely serve it to a baby. We were in England last month and I bought some cheddar from a local farm shop, along with some Shropshire Blue and Cornish Yarg. What a cheddar! It almost brought tears to my eyes - tears of joy.
I'll often bring back proper Bury black pudding too, bought from Chadwick's stall on Bury market.
And on a completely different topic, there's a church in Guildford that I've discovered where I can submerge myself in a Sunday Mass celebrated in my own language. I'm happy enough in the normal way of things with the mass in Spanish at the little chapel by the side of the cemetery, but it's good to worship in English now and then.
There are lots of things I don't miss, but that's for another day; maybe.
I have a brother who still lives in England but we chat for around an hour every couple of weeks or so. In fact we probably chat more often now that we live in separate countries than ever we did when I still lived in England. He is a few years younger than I am, but still old enough for my granddaughters to think of him as old. We were catching up on Sunday evening. We are rarely online at the same time, so we each use Skype-out to call the other’s landline at local call rates. All this was brought to mind by the turn that our conversation took. Our childhoods are now part of history so far as school kids of today are concerned and we do have an increasing tendency to look back. My brother commented that our parents would have been largely unable to comprehend the world that their sons now inhabit. As a young man, I used to think of the changes which my own grandparents had lived through. Born in the final quarter of the nineteenth century they were witness to and part of the mass migration from the country to the fast growing industrial cities of Manchester and Salford. Canals with their horse-drawn barges were giving way to the rapid growth of railways. Later, horse-drawn trams gave way to motorised buses, especially in the urban sprawls. Gaslight superseded candles and oil lamps, and was then displaced in its turn by electric light. I could reel off a whole host of other ways in which their lives had changed by the time of their death. Now, though, I look back at my own life and the changes that they experienced seem to pale into insignificance compared to what my brother and I have adapted to. We sit at our laptops typing away whereas my mother handwrote everything; for calculating as part of her office work she used a comptometer, a state of the art calculating machine whose operators enjoyed an elevated status in office work, whilst my father used a slide rule. Back in the 1950s one of my older cousins was a member of the team which built the first proper computer (the Atlas) at Manchester University. It was constructed within a specially adapted building, designed to have a dust free atmosphere and constant temperature and humidity. It was valve driven, and when switched on for the first time ran for a whole twenty seconds before it crashed. Those precious seconds, however, had established that what they had designed in theory could be made to work in practice. Today we are surrounded by computers in all forms and sizes and don’t even think of them. as such. I remember, as many people do, the birth of the internet and its rapid expansion into what we have today. My father had a wind-up gramophone and a cherished collection of 78s (if you know what those were); I have a subscription to Apple Music which allows me to stream whatever music I want to listen to from the cloud to my laptop, my iPad, my iPod or my iPhone, depending on which is more convenient at a particular time. If I have a problem with any of these devices, I call in my twelve year old granddaughter and she solves it in minutes. Our parents lived through two world wars which devastated Europe, whereas I only know war from my small child years, and my brother not at all. Seventy years without any wars in Western Europe. From Salford, Southport or Blackpool were a day trip away. My wife and I pop back and forth to England without giving it a second thought, and our daughters think nothing of coming to stay for three or four days whenever they can get away. So - which perhaps is the point of this rambling post - as I sit here settled into a life which has its annual cycle of seasons and festivals and fiestas and regular goings on in the village, wondering what on earth to write about that I didn’t comment on last year, or the year before, or the year before that, it’s chastening to think how much change actually happens that I don’t really pay attention to.