Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Take me home, country roads

Every now and then I get an email from Abraza la tierra, Embrace the Land. It's usually a business opportunity or a job in some rural part of Spain. They are normally good offers - businesses subsidised by town halls, free accommodation, maybe with tantalising offers for families who have young, school saving, children. It's a while since I've looked at their website but I presume that they are a platform for rural development initiatives. You know the sort of thing - access to infrastructure in the countryside, innovative solutions to the everyday challenges of rural life.

I listened to some programme on the radio about rural development in Spain. One of the interviewees said that he wished Spain were as go ahead as the Scottish Highlands and Islands. I smiled at that because I remembered being in Inchnadamph, in the 1970s, and how impressed I was with the lateral thinking that had replaced the post office van with a minibus that transported both post and people. Well that and the horizontal rainfall. I'm sure there are similar initiatives here but I've never noticed them.

Much of Spain is empty. There are lots of stories of someone, or some organisation, buying up a deserted village in Huesca or Guadalajara to turn it into a religious retreat or an English teaching village. A novel about the last inhabitant of a village in the high Pyrenees became a Spanish best seller and there is, generally, a bit of an industry built around rural nostalgia and family roots in the land. Apparently, of the 8,000 municipalities that make up Spain, over 1200 have fewer than 100 inhabitants on the municipal roll. I bumped into a blog where a chap goes around "bagging" empty, abandoned, villages. His list included one in Alicante and four in Murcia. Of course most Spaniards, something like 80%, live in the big metropolitan areas and along the coast.

We live in the countryside but it's not an isolated countryside. For one thing Alicante apparently has a strange population distribution in relation to most of Spain. The normal model is towns and villages with countryside in between. In Alicante there are the usual towns and the villages but there are also houses dotted all around the countryside. Maggie commented on the number of lights twinkling out as we drove back from Petrer the other night. I was once told that this pattern is to do with the Moors having introduced irrigation into the countryside around here which allowed homesteads to be more scattered. I don't see how that would make any real difference but I thought I'd mention it in case my informant was correct.

In our own case, in Pinoso or Culebrón, the nearest decent sized town is about 25km away. It's actually two towns that are next to each other, next to each other in the sense that there must be streets that are one town on one side and the other on the other. Elda is the 137th largest town, population wise, in Spain and Petrel (Petrer in Valenciano) the 212th most populous. If they were as administratively combined as they are geographically they would have a total population of a bit over 87,000 people and be the 74th largest town in Spain. Similarly sized places in the UK are Burnley and Stevenage which, by comparison, come in as around the 275th largest towns.

The other day one of my Facebook friends posted a video. I suspect he may have just bought a new dash-cam for his motor because the video was of an empty motorway. The near deserted inter urban roads are definitely one of the joys of life in inland Alicante and Murcia. I once managed to come the 35km from Jumilla to Pinoso without passing a single car outside of the town limits.

Just this week we finally got around to buying an Amazon Fire Stick and a Netflix subscription. I'm still not quite sure why. I have more than enough TV available with the traditional broadcasters but, I suppose, some of it is proving that we are still able to adapt to change. It also shows that despite our rural location we're definitely on the digital superhighway!

The morning after we'd installed the Fire Stick I got an email from Abraza la tierra with information about taking over a bar-restaurant and teleclub in Guadalaviar in Teruel. Population 245. Weak as my Spanish is I could translate that. Tele in Spanish is telly in English and club in Spanish is club in English (though beware of the clubs with bright lights outside towns unless you're looking for expensive sparkling wine and female company).

Teleclubs flourished in rural Spain in the 1960s when people were still not rich enough to buy their own set - the teleclubs were often social centres as well and the Francoist State liked them because it was somewhere else where the propagandist NoDo newsreels could be shown. But surely there can't still be people without telly even in darkest, deepest Spain? It turns out of course that they are just a name, a nostalgic name for some, for a communal meeting space. I found mentions of them in Palencia, Lanzarote, Salamanca and, obviously enough, Teruel, without doing more than type the search clue into Google. I remember our pal Pepa told us about the tiendas multiservicios - the multiservice shops around her in Teruel province. The key element there was that a shop offered the basics along with a range of other community things, a bar, maybe a restaurant, post office services, internet access etc., etc.

I wasn't tempted to run the teleclub in Guadalaviar but if you are you have till February 1st to get your offer in.

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