Two votes, two countries, one month

One of the more endearing aspects of the recent municipal elections was the battered red coches (cars) belonging to the PSOE, PP and Ganemos (the Podemos group) gathered together in the main square as their casually dressed campaigners (including at least one prospective Mayor) struggled up ladders to place banners and party-coloured balloons on the top of lampposts.

Every square metre of some of the town’s walls, bridges and bus stops were plastered with posters from which local candidates and their party leaders beamed. Not for Órgiva the discreet posters in domestic windows and the suited and booted political hacks knocking politely on doors. The first foreign election that we were able to take part in meant we’d had the benefit of two votes, in two countries, in one month. But it felt very different to the many we’ve been active in, in London.

While the austerity policies and corruption scandals engulfing the main parties nationally have had a significant impact on the vote in many of Spain’s cities and large towns – most dramatically in Barcelona where the Podemos-type party Barcelona en Comú won control of the city hall and in Madrid where an Ahora Madrid and PSOE coalition could yet end 24-years of PP control – pavement politics dominated the political debate here.

Literally. Weeks before the election the street and pavement cleaners were out in force, even on Sundays. I saw one woman in an Ayuntamiento Órgiva (Órgiva council) florescent vest chasing a single leaf up the road with her rubbish picking tool. Signs went up in shop windows warning dog owners of fines for not clearing up their caca de perro, road markings were whitened and a pedestrian walkway appeared across the narrow bridge in the centre of town.

Because we had a vote, we talked to people. We talked to English residents and we were introduced to both PSOE and PP politicians. We listened to the views of the Spanish community, and we looked closely at what Ganemos was offering.

And our conclusion, and even that of friends who would have voted Tory if they had been in the UK, was that PSOE has done a good job in Órgiva. A lot of money has been spent, and spent well. Its achievements include the polideportivo (sports centre) that many UK towns of a similar size would envy. There’s been social housing construction in recent years, including for the traveller population, and a language skills project for young African migrant workers.

And while the way money goes around here can sometimes have an air of mystery about it, corruption doesn’t appear to be an allegation any opposition party has made. It’s a socialist town, history dictates that. But that’s not to say that there should not be room for smaller, anti-corruption and anti-austerity parties in this political system.

In the UK, David Cameron’s government was elected by 37 per cent of voters, just 24 per cent of those eligible to vote. There’s a serious debate to be had there about reform of the electoral system and the introduction of a system of proportional representation similar to the one used in many European countries, and which in Spain allowed our local Ganemos to win two seats on the council. We didn’t vote Ganemos, but it’s important that they are there too – not least to keep the caca off the streets.

Zeds (or lack of them) and the art of pool maintenance

After weeks of trying to de-green our small swimming pool and to stop it being a holiday haven for the neighbours’ noisy Iberian water frogs by adding municipal swimming pool levels of chlorine, defeat was admitted, the water was emptied onto a grateful garden and the pool surface cleaned and painted.

But now for the challenging bit – refilling it. Agua (water) is a more precious natural resource than gold in Las Alpujarras and the mysteries of acquiring the acequia water which flows past our cortijo at this time of year, as the mountain snow melts, without upsetting our vecinos (neighbours), are only just becoming clear.

The community-operated, Moorish system of irrigation follows strict rules. There is a rota which dictates when residents of our (and every) road can open the sluice gates and divert the water on to their land, and for how long. While it is possible to take agua at other times, it is necessary to understand the somewhat complicated circumstances in which this can be done.

We’ve always known that our turn comes at some ungodly hour of a Friday morning, which is why we’ve never attempted to find out exactly when. But after being gently chastised by our friendly water-man, he who has responsibility for managing the acequia in our road, when we thought we were safe to sneak a quick hour, we resigned ourselves to respecting, not playing the system.

And so it was that at midnight mi esposo (husband) set off in search of our water. On discovering that el vacino across the road was watering his land it was clear that a conversation was necessary. Armed with home-made cinnamon whirls, a smile and far too few appropriate Spanish verbs for the task, esposo made his approach.

Sharing sweet pastries in an orange and olive grove in the early hours of the morning with a Spanish smallholder is perhaps one of the more eccentric acts it has been necessary to perform to extract information about how things work here. But it was effective. Our friendly neighbour explained that our turn for the water was after his, at 2am, for three hours. He rattled our gates to let us know when he’d finished and even insisted on helping with the water diversion.

By 5am our garden was watered, our pool was full, we’d introduced a new type of baked product to the area, and it was time for bed.

The acequia flow is already diminished as the benefits of the heavy rains of early spring in our valley, accompanied by significant snowfall to a relatively low level on the slopes above us, begin to dry up. It won’t be long before watering the garden and filling the pool requires payment. While taking water in the small hours is part of the way of life for those who have always worked the land here, we are inclined to think that buying an hour of water to use at a civilised time of day fits better with ours.