A Homage to
Catalonia

The 'Minairons'

Toil and trouble



The minairons (literally, "little miners")are tiny beings with supernatural powers of work, who are to be found living in their thousands in needle cases, snuff boxes, cracks in the handle of farm tools, and other such unlikely places. They grow out of seeds dropped from a fern that flowers at midnight on Midsummer's Eve. Some say they're insects, others that they look like maggots, yet others describe them as gnome-like or fairy-like beings. If you're lucky enough to own a bunch of these creatures or come across one by chance you'd do well to keep them very carefully shut away, as the moment the case is opened, you will immediately be surrounded by a cloud of the little rascals anxious to start work. This is bob-a-job week with a vengeance. 'What'll we say? What'll we do?', they chirp, and if you don't quickly set them a task to keep them busy then they turn on you like a swarm of savage bees. The Pyrenees abound in blood-curdling accounts of the misfortunes that have befallen those unfortunate souls who were too slow ordering the minairons to work, people who lost their minds or were driven to suicide by their incessant clamour or who were carried off to hell by their tormentors.

The speed at which the minairons manage to get work done, though, is astounding, and only partly explained by the sheer numbers of them. With more than one minairĂ³ for each blade of grass, they can mow an entire meadow in the time it takes its owner to mop his brow. But it's also said they can move an entire mountain if ordered to do so. Once they finish though, they resume their chant: 'What'll we say? What'll we do?', and you must either find them something else to do or quickly order them back into the needle case. All over the Pyrenees there are intriguing piles of rocks that serve no apparent purpose, which were built by gangs of minairons whose masters could think of nothing better for them to do than to pile stones on top of one another.

According to the writer Pep Coll, the minairons symbolise the enslaved masses all over the world, who stone by stone down the years of history have raised great monuments to the glory of the tyrants who oppress them. The minairons built the pyramids, Franco's Valley of the Fallen and the Costa Brava. They are the invisible hordes whose labour has made the capitalists' fortunes. Their power to bring riches or death reflects the ambiguous position of the workers in industrial society, who need an employer in order to survive and at the same time feel the urge to rise up in a swarm and put him to death.