These men are resurfacing the main road through Cútar. They will edge and shape beds with traditional “ladrillo” bricks, then fill the beds with pebbles which they will grout and seal to create a smooth, dead level road all lined up with the manhole covers that top the brand new waste system their colleagues have put in. They are bright, optimistic, “can do” men with the energy and skill to bring in a project on time and at the required standard. They had better be on time, the annual Féria is only a week away. It is the summer fair and will attract a lot of “strangers” so the village had better be spruced up with that prosperous, polished feel to it. Ask any old lady. The Mayor always starts building projects in July – the month of dust, usually two projects, breaking the road up at either end of the village so no one can get out. Then everyone and especially the workers have a good incentive to work hard, get the job done and clean up before the big party
The guys learned their craft from their uncles and fathers. As youngsters they had been keen to learn because even six or seven years ago earning money from the building trade was their way to get out of the village, and everyone here knows that leaving the village is a clear sign of success. The Mayor for example, born in the village, now lives in Torre Del Mar and that’s partly why they vote for him. You can have confidence in a man who has got out.
A little way back in their teens, they might have dreamed of a life in Velez-Málaga, the nearest town, in a modern easy to clean flat, with a car paid for on credit. They too could aspire to the world of commercial trash proposed as normal every day life by dubbed American television. But five years ago it all went pear shaped, the banks became unaccountably ethical and the credit dried up. With unemployment at 40% the lads had to go back to the villages and live with their parents.
Social security in Spain lasts 18 months and then stops. If you want any more you have to get a job. David Cameron ought to be proud of Spain, though he hasn’t yet said so yet. Five years ago pundits were predicting a crime wave as the jobless were faced with the prospect of stealing or starving. It hasn’t happened here and that’s just as well because we haven’t got any police. No, the ravening wolves in this village are kept at bay as they have always been kept at bay by some slight of hand from the town hall. Everyone gets a little bit of work in turn. Just enough to get them back on the social. Men make roads and renovate drains, women sweep the streets and do the painting. And the jobs are getting slightly less gender specific. This winter a team of women cleared, repaired and re rendered the main sluice drain that takes storm water through the village without smashing up the houses.
None of this is new. It’s always been like this. There hasn’t been work or money in Cútar for as long as anyone’s grandparents can remember. So when people in Cútar say “Crisis? What crisis?” they are not playing stupid. They are echoing people of the north of England when they say “Recession? What recession? Oh aye. That’ll be more nowt”.