I have mostly let Rubí donkey look after the blog in recent months, with her Rubí Tuesday posts. Her asinine sanity makes more pleasant reading than anything I have to offer. It seems that the Eeyorish ‘gloomy place’ that Rubí inhabits is far less mentally destructive than the anger and pessimism of miserable humans these days.
It was back in February that I once again managed to get a good internet and phone connection here in El Parral. Thanks to a reasonably-priced Vodafone contract with a reliable signal, I was connected again. I no longer had to cycle to the library in Orxeta village to use the internet and use email. The wonders of the 21st century! Once again I could listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 while eating my breakfast!
February 2022 was arguably the worst time ever to get re-connected to the world outside. Like other people I have heard comment on the matter, I have now chosen to radically ‘de-couple’ from the news, or at least filter out the sustained diet of all-engulfing pessimism that it inflicts upon us. The news has been turned into a drama of despair. Yes, I need the local weather forecast and updates on the continuing regional Covid situation in order to keep safe; but I can justify my shutting off to the wider news diet about war, political chaos, economic collapse, and the ever-present threat of global climate catastrophe, because there is literally nothing I can do about any of it. So why not switch off to the madness? I now adopt the asinine sanity of my donkey family. What do they care for news from nowhere?
Well, if it were only that simple. Unfortunately, the human madness cannot be entirely avoided by switching off the news. There are clear signs that the wider mental infection is filtering down. I have experienced examples of this trickle-down lunacy in three separate incidents, each one in a different local village.
Life is usually quite sane here and outbreaks of irrational behaviour are normally confined only to the mad minority whose lives are centred around guns and hunting dogs. So these three incidents involving dull normal people have taken me by surprise.
In my local village Orxeta, some people who have organic orchards have collected my donkey manure for the past four years. They sometimes brought me a few buckets of windfall oranges for the donkeys, but otherwise had a regular free supply of manure for their trees. In June they failed to return my dozen empty manure buckets for nearly three weeks. Meanwhile, I built up a pile of manure here for which a passing farmer offered me 25 euros, and I obviously accepted that as a great result! I drove to Orxeta to get my empty buckets back from the regular people who still had them. When I said I’d sold the current pile of manure that I had accumulated they went into an extraordinary hissy-fit – as if I had no right to give it to anyone else – and have not been to collect manure since! When they drive past here now, they do not even say hello. Luckily, I have now found alternative farmers to take it away every week. Those people who once took it all for free have no other source, and their irrational anger that I gave away the manure to someone else is a mystery to me.
In Finestrat, I had to collect a registered letter from the post office, so I cycled there for opening time – ten o’clock – to avoid the usual late-morning queue. Then I waited for the Bar Cantonet to open, to get a coffee before cycling home. Rafa was opening the shutters. He opens the bar later and later. He closes the bar earlier and earlier, sometimes at seven o’clock in the evening when all the other bars are getting busy. He seems to have lost interest in doing business. As I waited, I opened my letter and read it. Then I opened the green rubbish bin outside the bar to throw away the envelope. Rafa darted towards me, wielding the pole for lifting the shutters.
“That’s my bin!” he snapped at me. “Not a public bin. Go and put your rubbish in a public bin!”
I thought maybe he hadn’t recognized me and thought he was rebuking some passing tourist. Standing by the bin astride my racing bike, I raised my sunglasses and said, “Look, it’s me Rafa. I was waiting for you to open the bar so I can get a coffee.”
“I don’t care who you are! This is not a public bin! Do you expect me to reach inside it and take your litter out to put in a public bin?”
“Have a good day, Rafa,” I replied, and I freewheeled across the downhill crossroads to get a coffee at the Bar La Font opposite, which was already open, and I discarded the envelope in the bin inside the door.
That rubbish bin incident in Finestrat was only a few days after the irrational manure incident in Orxeta, and I began to wonder if the only remaining sane village in the local triangle was Sella. I go there to fill my empty drinking water bottles at the spring.
Yes, you guessed it, things also went pear-shaped in Sella. This one was very similar to the Finestrat incident because it also involved a bar where I knew the proprietor. The woman in her seventies has been running the family business for decades. I regularly had lunch there in the days before Covid, when I felt sufficiently flush to eat out. There are three bars grouped very close together on the main road that goes through Sella, and as I parted the fly curtain to walk through the door, I paused to greet the owner of the bar opposite, who was just opening up and putting out the chairs. It is the bar where cyclists usually stop after coming down from the Tudons mountain pass. After greeting him I continued through the door into the bar opposite.
“Buenos dias. Una caña por favor,” I said to the woman at the bar. I’ll have a beer please.
“No!” she replied. “You go across to the Bar Ferreria, if that’s where you’d rather be!”
“What?” I was just as taken aback as when Rafa in Finestrat made his mad scene about the rubbish bin.
She stood there behind the bar grimacing at me with her arms folded.
“Wait for him to open and have a beer there, if you find his bar better than mine!”
At this precise moment, stopped in my tracks in the doorway, standing there with a few strands of the fly curtain still draped across my shoulder, I saw that the world has not just gone mad on the news bulletins. The world has also gone mad in all three villages nearby. What did this? Covid? The cost-of-living crisis?Worries about melting glaciers in Greenland? Quiet, polite and reliable people, who have not previously displayed any such symptoms, are now frayed at the edges and exhibiting behaviour that I only associate with the alienation of the urban jungle.
I always recall the peak metropolitan madness I witnessed during the morning commute one winter’s day in 1973 when a lunatic walked into the tube train at Clapham Common and ripped the newspaper out of the hands of a seated city gent in a pinstripe suit. He tore it to shreds and threw it on the train floor before getting off at the next station. Nobody said a word. Passengers avoided eye-contact. It was the kind of unexpected behaviour that you just shrugged off and didn’t even bother mentioning when you finally arrived at the office, having survived the journey to work once again.
It is Saturday. Sometimes I do not go out of El Parral from one Saturday to another. I have all the shopping I need, so I don’t need to go down that road again for another week. That road leads to the madness. Here in this place we have asinine sanity.
The new collector of the donkey manure came this morning. He talked about the rising prices and speculated “Once the war is over, they won’t be lowering prices again as quickly as they put them up!”
“Is there still a war?” I asked. “If people return to being sane again, that will be good enough for me.”
Good luck, dear reader. And take care of your ass.
Postscript 29 August:
It is no longer necessary to go out from here to experience the madness: they do home deliveries now!
At dusk last night I was doing my last check on the donkeys. A car drew up with a man and three children in it. “Will you sell me a donkey?” he shouted at me, in a very rough Murciano accent. When I said no, my donkeys are not for sale, he swore at me and drove off round the blind corner at speed. Scary! This is the first time I have felt unsafe in my home here and I kept the security lights and the stable light on all night.
The incident serves to underline everything I wrote above. It’s getting very mad out there. I have cancelled my plan to go to see the Vuelta bike race time-trial in Alicante tomorrow – the only excursion I had planned for this summer – as it is more important to stay and keep the donkeys secure.