Extreme teleworking: A Reg hack reports from the internet's frontier
SPB carves new cyberspace out of frosty mountain notspot
I was quaffing a beer in a local bar and was approached by a young woman who asked if I was the Englishman who wanted a broadband connection at the "end of the world". This is what we call Los Narros, in honour of its distance from civilisation both literally and figuratively, and I was delighted to note the phrase had caught on.
SPB chief, in traditional local headdress, patiently awaits the arrival of WiMAX
Said young woman was a rep from Iberbanda** - a WiMAX outfit keen to spread its tentacles into our small corner of the world. For around €50 a month, she explained, I could have one meg net and phone services. Not cheap, but a quick beermat calculation showed that I'd save more than that in petrol every month, so the deal was done.
In years to come, people will still talk about the day the internet came to the villages, in the same way today's old timers tearfully recount the memorable moment they got connected to the water and sewage systems, before which they were crapping in buckets and slogging 20km for fresh water while being attacked by wolves, Communist bandits and indeed Communist bandits disguised as wolves, if they're to be believed.
Just two weeks after inking the Iberbanda contract, two Spanish subbies in a white van rolled up bearing a ladder, pliers, wire strippers and the magic WiMAX receiver, which they swiftly bolted to the TV aerial post.
Draw a chair up to the fire, young man, and I'll tell you about the day the internet came...
Half an hour or so later, the extreme teleworking network was live. My commute was instantly reduced from 8km to five metres, or perhaps 15 metres if using the laptop outdoors in the "Battle of the Somme re-enactment park"***, as my son unkindly describes the building site where one day my garden and garage complex will triumphantly rise, etc, etc.
The Battle of the Somme re-enactment park, as seen in October 2012.
So I really am a lucky bastard - for some of the year at least. Yup, it's all blazing sun, barbecues, beer and burro rides during the summer, as the village fills with emigrant families returning to their roots, keen to hear granddad's fabulous tales of Communist bandits disguised as wolves.
Grandma, your taxi's here
Evenings are filled with the happy sound of children playing, punctuated by shouty yoof hanging around my door and bemoaning the fact that my Wi-Fi network is password protected. Mobile phone coverage is equally elusive here, so some of these wretched creatures have been known to suffer two whole days without Facebook and Twitter. To see packs of brutally disconnected teens aimlessly wandering the streets in search of entertainment is a wretched sight indeed.
If they're lucky, they won't inadvertently run into gramps, who'll be quick to tell 'em they don't know they're born, and that when he was lad he was up at five in the morning to feed the cows - if he could find them under the 3 metre overnight snowfall - and then it was off to chop firewood so the shivering family could have some boiled gruel for breakfast.
In this case, the old timers have a point. I very much doubt urban youngsters would survive a winter here, and for at least three months of the year I'm glued to the wood burner, eyeing the skies in case an emergency run for supplies is in order.
Rural life can be tough, especially when it's -12°C outside and there's a vicious wind blasting snow into your face as you battle your way to the van in order to drive to town for vital bread, milk and, essentially, lots and lots of beer.
'I am just going outside and may be some time'
For those of us who remain at the end of the world - and every year the grim reaper comes calling to further depopulate the local villages - the internet is a lifeline which enables us to remain both connected and sane.
Obviously, my job depends entirely on that connection, and without it there'd be one less person on the rapidly-diminishing electoral roll.
What the future holds for the area is uncertain, but with agriculture pretty well dead in the water, a radical change of tack is required. I hope that gradually I'll be joined by others who realise if you earn your crust in cyberspace, you can live and work pretty well anywhere. ®
Los Narros, July 2011. L-R: Pilar, Agustina, Arturo, Me, Eve, Juan, Pepe and Venancio. Sitting at front, Luis.
* I looked into satellite, but it cost an absolute packet.
** Since swallowed whole by Telefónica. God preserve us all.
*** Scene of the Portuguese builder in a hole outrage.