El Parralel universe

El Parral is in a pine wooded valley under the Aitana ridge in the Costa Blanca

It was on Saturday 18 June 2016 – starting at 6 a.m. – that we walked the donkeys from the old field I had rented for six years in the valley below Finestrat to their new home here in El Parral which had been purchased a fortnight earlier.

Friends Cait and Carl from Finestrat helped walk the donkeys and Fernando escorted us on the main road, driving behind us in his van at donkey walking speed with his hazard lights flashing.

Five days later the UK referendum on membership of the European Union took place. We woke up on Friday 24 June to the dizzying news that the English – for it is a predominantly English problem! – had voted for Brexit. I felt as if the world we inhabited was suddenly confused and uncertain.

I had thought the purchase of the house and estate at El Parral would provide a new certainty and stability: a permanent home for the donkeys and a place for me to eventually retire when I finished teaching. Then the Brexit vote happened. Simultaneously, at Elians school La Nucia where I worked, a new management regime was suddenly imposed on us. The owners sent in a hatchet man to begin dismantling all that was sensible and imposing a regime of fear and poor decision-making. Instant dismissals and clumsy disregard for a once well-motivated staff ruined the entire atmosphere at the end of the school year. Many staff left and those of us who went on our summer holidays that year did not know what kind of work place we would be returning to in September.

Three years later in summer 2019, so much has changed. I was sacked from my teaching job, then took Elians school to court and gained some compensation for unfair dismissal, and I am now retired. The United Kingdom has been plunged into the biggest political and economic crisis in modern times. Many of us continue fighting against Brexit and to remain in the European Union. And meanwhile, I am taking my citizenship exams ready to apply for Spanish nationality next year; a move which I had never remotely considered before 2016.

So, three years since the Brexit vote, life here in El Parral is pretty much the same every day. The place is mostly silent – apart from a distant bark or bray – and the daily routine is always focused on the donkeys. They are mostly calm animals but will always surprise you with moments of complete madness or rebellion.

It seems now, looking back, that when we walked the donkeys here in June 2016 we were walking out of one world into a different one. Those few kilometres walking to El Parral took us into a parallel universe, into a place of quiet and calm in a lovely pine wooded valley. At the same time, the background – the outside world we had known – suddenly changed overnight. There is no return. From far away comes news which is crazier every day and the world we walked out of does not exist any more. Just a few kilometres walk and here we were in an El Parralel universe.