Life in Culebrón

Saturday 28 October 2017 - A brief history of time

I was sitting in front of the computer trying to think of something to blog about. It didn't help that I was playing the MixCloud version of my old pal Harry's community radio programme. I'm more a cotton wool in the ears than Led Zeppelin at full blast if I have maths homework to do sort of person. As inspiration faltered I decided to go and see the dance group cum choir in town. The title of the event was in Valenciano but, from what I could make out, this was the fourth edition of a series of concerts called "Do you remember.....?".

This one was called Do you remember .... The Giants. The giants in this case being a couple of three to four metre high wood and cloth figures named after people who were well known in Pinoso at some time in the past and who gave their names to the dancing giants when they were first commissioned twenty years ago. The real people were Constancio Valenzuela y Adela Chinchilla who were known as Uncle Guerra and Aunty Pera or el Tío Guerra and la Tía Pera. And that's what the two giant figures are called.

The dance group and choir were due to leave the Pensioners club at 7pm, wander around the streets a bit and then go to the Parish Church for a mass before starting to perform at around 8pm. I left home a bit after 7pm and as I drove into town I saw our Mayor hurrying in the direction of the church. If he was heading that way I could be pretty sure that's where el Tío Guerra and la Tía Pera would be.

There wasn't much happening outside the church. The giant figures were in the street and there was a knot of people there too but no singers or dancers. I hung around for a while. I talked to a British woman who is part of the dance group.

I thought of something to blog about. The elasticity of Spanish time. We British have a reputation for punctuality. We are punctual, I suppose, though I suspect that mobile phones have made us less so. I'm just trying to find a parking space or I've just got off the bus so I'll be a few minutes are admissions of tardiness without admitting anything. But, on most occasions if we say 8pm then 8pm it is. And if it's  an 8.30 performance at the theatre we will do our best to be in our seats for 8.25. The Nine o'clock news on the telly definitely starts at nine o' clock which is not the case with Spanish TV where programmes are often late, or early, which still amazes me.

Spaniards have a reputation for being unpunctual. People are going to argue with me about this but I don't think Spaniards are that bad as timekeepers. There is a difference though - the time to keep is not, necessarily, the time on the poster, ticket or WhatsApp message. You simply need to know when you should appear. Most of my students turn up for their classes on time for instance. The dentist is waiting for me at the appointed hour. Films start on time at the cinema. Doctors aren't punctual of course but that's because the appointment system is just as rubbish in Spain as it is in the UK and because, in both places, a doctor's time is so much more valuable than a patient's.

Spanish theatre performances, concerts and similar events nearly always start late. In fact they generally start about fifteen to twenty minutes late so all you have to do is turn up ten minutes after the advertised time and you'll have plenty of time to get your coat stuffed underneath your chair and read the programme notes before kick off.

Talks, exhibition inaugurations, book launches and the like are less predictable. They often depend on a speaker - maybe the author, the artist or a local politician - to open the proceedings. Normally then the projector and laptop are in place, the microphones are tapped and everything is ready for the set time. The "personality" though is nowhere to be seen. When he or she arrives they are usually accompanied by an entourage. The entourage has to be introduced to the microphone tappers and screen unfurlers. Last minute supplies of bottled water have to be placed on the table then there is a bit of compulsory hanging around for no apparent reason until, all of a sudden, everyone lurches forward. At least there is something for the waiting audience to watch. The usual delay is around thirty to forty minutes.

There are other events which are less predictable. Maybe the event for the cancer charity or the film screening with a feminist angle. This is advertised as starting at, say, 9pm. At 9pm there are just four of us and the microphone tapper. The microphone tapper knows that the chair, secretary, treasurer etc of the association are not there. They also expect a better turnout than just four members of the public so somebody makes the decision to wait and wait. Sometimes there is an announcement, the sort that starts with the microphone turned off until the microphone tapper helps the hapless announcer to find the on switch. "We're going to extend the courtesy time for another few minutes but we'll be starting very soon," says the person with the microphone. I always wonder about this Spanish concept of courtesy time. How courteous is it that the four of us who arrived on time have to wait for the majority who couldn't be bothered?

Most unpredictable of all though are the social events. We have meals in the village. The only time that is mentioned in the invitation is the time for the chair unstackers, the table setters and the napkin folders to turn up. Maybe the time given for that is half past one. If you decide to help with the preparations then turning up before two is a waste of time because nobody else will be there. In turn this means that the tables won't be ready till around three. If you're going to skip being helpful and just intend to eat then you probably need to turn up at around three to three fifteen but there is always the vaguest possibility that the preparations really did start at 1.30 in which case the food will be on the table an hour later and if you turn up at 3.15 they'll be well into the main course when you show up. There is a variation on this for the works Christmas meal, the organised birthday meal (or similar). The appointed time is 10pm for the meal. Nobody will show up till 10.15 but that's understood. Most people will be there by 10.30. The waiters will want to start collecting orders and serving around then but everyone knows that there are still some stragglers to come. The diners don't want to start without them and the waiters are trying to get finished before 2am so there is some negotiating to be done. All the early arrivers can do is have another beer or wine and wait.

So I'm outside the church and it's running to time. The giants and the choir are in the church. The mass has started. It will take about half an hour so people will be only a few minutes behind the predicted timetable for the dancing and singing. A Spanish pal talks to me. My Spanish is incomprehensible nonsense which really annoys me. I'm fed up now; enough of this hanging around I think. I walk back to the motor, come home and stare again at the empty computer screen.

More of the same and similar by Googling Life in Culebrón.

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Day to day life in the Spanish village of Culebrón in inland Alicante


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