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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fight the good fight


The RACC has now taken over the management of my speeding charge. On the advice of Toni’s sister I phoned my motoring organization (the last C is for Catalonia, in the rest of Spain it has a final E for España) and they said that they would check all the documentation and see if there was any way out.

For once an official organization did not ask for a photocopy of my passport (which is now distinctly faded because of its constant exposure to bright light) but instead asked for my NIE. This is my official paper which shows that I exist and have a numerical existence in Spain. The number is preceded by an ‘X’ which indicates that I am ‘extranjero’ – foreign! As I keep explaining to the indigenous inhabitants of the Peninsular I am never foreign, I am always British. For some reason this always produces a sort of semi incoherent fury and then a torrent of language of abuse. Strange are the ways of Johnny Foreigner! But you can’t help liking their quaint ways!

So the RACC is going to pursue the cads who dared give me a ticket and try and discover anomalies in their documentation. God knows, given the sheer weight of documentation that the simplest activity generates in this country there is enough scope for some sort of error to get me off.

It had seemed to me that the offence having been committed on the 3rd of March and the letter of accusation not having reached me until late July that some sort of statue of limitations ought to operate making the ticket null and void.

This voice of reason has been ignored. I suspect that, in a nation so given to the comfort of producing sheet after sheet of printing to accompany day to day life there must be extra time allowed to the authorities to amass all the necessary documentation sufficient for bureaucratic satisfaction.

I live in hope of faulty typing! We shall see.

Today I have booked the tickets to ensure that I will be in the UK for Aunt Bet’s birthday in November. It will be interesting to see if my body has adapted to a more gentle climate than that of Britain – I wonder if I will feel the cold! Come to think of it I’m not sure that I actually have a warm jacket anymore!

As I am only taking hand luggage I have to be careful about what I buy when I am back in Britain: EasyJet is notorious for the punitive burden they place on hapless travellers who indulge in shopping too much and have brought back things a few kilos over their limit. Another reason to stick with hand luggage is that the whole of Terrassa will ask me to return with the bulk of the merchandise on sale in Matalan if I even suggest that I have a case with a sliver of room in it!

Toni is looking into the possibility of going to Andorra for a couple of nights. It all seems suspiciously cheap, even if the high season for this mountainous country is the winter for the skiing. I particularly like the possibility of indulging myself (that will be a first!) in the much vaunted spa which has a very inviting web site.

But, before then lunch with Irene, another survivor of The Owner. No doubt the talk will hinge on our never ceasing quest to find an interesting job with excellent emoluments. Far chance in this area!

After splurging out on a whole raft of expensive opera seats I had a comforting talk with Phil about the health of my finances. To my horror he said that he was thinking of retiring next year. Next year only takes us into 2009 and not to the magic year of 2010 and October of that year when all things will be well and my pension and lump sum will be paid.

Phil’s shocked reaction to my money plans before I came to Catalonia will remain in my memory. He had been adopting a meticulously Platonic Dialogue approach to finance, seemingly allowing me to make the decisions while his quiet questioning led me further down the paths of financial rectitude.

His reaction to my gleeful anticipation of Breaking Into Capital and Spending It had to be seen to be believed. I think that it was only with a great effort of will that he stopped himself from reacting like Ananias after Paul had likened him to a whitened wall and smiting me on the mouth! Such monetary blasphemy!

I will instead have to go delving into my British bank account and untimely rip some money to Catalonia. This is not as easy as it seems because I have to do this via the internet and that means remembering my password. I foresee hours of innocent and frustrating fun while I try and relive my thought processes when I decided on the form of the word.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who knows?



A day without a denunciation is a day lost.

Well, my communication from my Union today gave me details of what I will have to do in the future to ensure the destruction of The Owner – or at least cause her minor discomfort.

At present, it being the last day of July, our efforts are being frustrated by the looming month of stasis. August is not a good month to try and do anything in Britain; it Spain it is futile as trying to get a donation to Amnesty International from Radovan Karadzic.


The next date for official action is later in this dead month when allegedly an advisor will be available to make suggestions for my next step. Steve, my exceptional CCOO Union representative has given me suggestions for future action and the names and addresses that I need to make things happen. If things go according to plan The Owner is going to have a start of term that she will not forget!

Culturally, I have now finished my official gloat over the little pile of Liceu tickets for the next season and I have taken a more extensive look into the two (expensive) Catalan art books purchased yesterday. When I say “look” that is exactly what I mean. One is in Spanish, the other in Catalan and while I can make general sense (generally) of what is being said, some important details and sentences pass me by. Looking at the many illustrations is less linguistically taxing!

At the moment I am trying to discover more about an intriguing sculptural piece called ‘Degenerates’ which depicts two roughly shaped figures with distorted limbs and heads slumped in dejection. I have read a little about this piece which only whets my appetite to know more.

This may sound a little precious, but there is a wealth of Catalan talent in terms of art which, as far as I know, is little known outside Catalonia and Spain. From my ‘reading’ and visiting a few galleries this seems to be a sad ignoring of major artists who, for all I know, may lie ignored in the vaults of The Tate and other British galleries. It may also be that I have wilfully ignored the paintings of Casas,

Rusiñol, Fortuny, Guinovart, Amat, Meifrèn, Urgell, Mir, Anglada-Camarasa, Gimeno, Nonell and Vayreda in non Spanish art galleries – but I don’t think so.

I have now read ‘History of Catalonia’ by Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó and I feel that the translator, Neil Charlton, deserves a mention for the sheer ineptitude of his work.

There are various infelicities of expression as well as words like ‘habilitated’ used in “Franco habilitated numerous prisons to accommodate a large prison population” – what does that mean?

One of my favourite sentences in ‘History of Catalonia’ is: “Despite CiU being a markedly nationalist coalition, its policy of integrating into the new project of the country the board human sectors from Spanish immigration consolidated the idea that Catalonia, respecting diversity, is a single people advancing as such, within its ideological plurality, towards a modern society and fully integrated into Europe.” Really makes you want to read on, doesn’t it?

Professor Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó has an impressive CV and I suspect that his style in Catalan and Spanish is a little more lucid than this brief history suggests.

The narrative of Catalonia’s history is completed in just over 130 pages of big writing and it only conveys a flavour of the fascinating sequence of events which led to the country in which I live today. A short history obviously gives rise to more questions that it answers, but this one does stimulate the intention to find out more. And that surely is valuable.

From this highly partisan view of Catalan history you come away with the impression that Catalonia has been badly treated since the Catalans chose the wrong side in the War of the Spanish Succession in the eighteenth century!

I think that Wales can claim a much longer period of bad treatment! But the sun has been shining today and I am not one to hold grudges with a glass of Rioja in my hand!
Cheers!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The finger points!



‘Denunciation’ is so much more evocative than ‘accusation’ don’t you think?

Whatever. The official process has now taken a step forward and I (with the Union’s invaluable help) have written out our case against The Owner and her nefarious practices and submitted it to the government for their consideration in organizing an inspection of the school. With any reasonable luck the officers should arrive just at the time when the remaining senior staff arrive for the start of term in August!

And there are other agencies which can trigger their own inspections. They will be informed!

The letter writing has also only just started. What after all is a poor teacher recently sacked from his job supposed to do if not to spread the good news around to those who might have a passing interest in education?

Today also saw another considerable achievement: I finally managed to purchase my tickets for the Liceu for the next season. This has not been a simple as one might have thought. OK, I am prepared to admit that the prime problem lies squarely at my door. The complexity of the subscription book that I was sent together with the fact that no package as far as I could see offered all the operas I wanted to see, did defeat me. I had to purchase my tickets singly.

Then there is a rule that one could purchase no more than six individual tickets via a telephone line with a credit card (?) True I’m afraid, a rule of the Liceu. And the tickets are not sent to you – they have to be collected by you in person and . . . the box office opened at odd hours. Then not at all. And never on a Sunday. All these things conspired to frustrate my increasingly desperate attempts to spend money. And to spend money a year or more in advance for performances stretching well into next year.

The box office was open today, but not until the afternoon. Even though the Liceu was open for business.

What this did do was to afford me the luxury of wandering around the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona and go into book shops. My perennial quest for a general book on modern Catalan art was, as usual, a failure. This time, however, the girl in the bookshop on the Ramblas described a larger more specialized art bookshop in another street off the Ramblas. I dutifully trotted off in the direction indicated and promptly got lost. A rather nice History, Philosophy and Design bookshop later I had been redirected to the correct location and a very fine shop it was too.

One distinctive feature in this shop (La Central situated in Elisabets, 6) was that near one of the information desks was a glass square set into the floor allowing you to see a disquietingly vertiginous view of the floor beneath!

The assistant found the books I required in a few seconds. Two volumes of Catalan Art from the 1890’s to almost the present day. Fantastic! I told myself that I would willingly pay €20 for a meal so I should be prepared to pay at least that amount for a durable volume whose content was exactly what I was looking for.

The cost of the two volumes was €180!

I did not buy them. But I still wanted them.

The ever helpful sequence of assistants continued with the young lady from the expensive bookshop telling me about a second hand book shop in Carrer Canuda where I might expect to find an excellent selection of art books.


And I did and bought one of the volumes I was looking for (though in Catalan and not Castilliano) and another book (in Castilliano) which I wasn’t. The prices were quite steep for second hand books, but cheap when compared to the actual prices. I keep telling myself. I hope.

All in all a good day!

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's all wrong!






One thing about having to go into Barcelona for an opera which starts at 5.00 pm on a Sunday is that you don’t have to cope with what I thought were inevitable traffic jams getting to the Ramblas.

I left less time than I usually allow getting to the Liceu and still had enough time to get my tickets for the next season.

In theory.

In practice of course BBVA (surely the undisputed holder of the title ‘Worst Bank in the Universe’) ensured that things were not simple. I have a new bank book. This useful (hollow laugh!) item allows you to get a hardcopy update of any movements in your account by inserting it into a slot in the hole in the wall machines: it automatically updates. Except, of course, naturally, it doesn’t. Not mine. Nothing.

So I couldn’t check what tickets had been paid for by the woefully inadequate agency which I used to try and build up my visits to the Liceu. But, as luck would have it, the Liceu added their own little piece of unhelpfulness and wouldn’t allow me to buy any tickets for the next season anyway. Well, it was a Sunday so it would have been unreasonable to expect to buy any ticket except for the performance on that day.

A thoroughly unsatisfactory start to what turned out to be a thoroughly satisfactory performance.

This production of ‘Don Giovanni’ was one I saw on its first night some time ago London when it was roundly booed on its conclusion!

This experience was rather different.

The opening sequences demonstrate just how dark an opera ‘Don Giovanni’ is. The presentation of the morality of the piece in this production delights in ambiguity. Trying to work out the location of the moral centre of the opera is difficult. The set, a series of angled posts with a cluster of lights at the top and the thrusting in of a long bar suggested a modern setting and the dissolute action of the characters suggested the drunken culture of the pleasure seekers Mediterranean resort!

The Don (Simon Keenlyside) and Leporello (Kyle Ketelsen) gave very physical performances with Ketelsen being a typical English yob complete with trackkies, shaven head and holdall full of cans. The English connection was emphasised by the Union Flag being used by Leporello in one scene to mask his amorous activities! The performances of the pair were excellent to the extent that I was sometimes surprised that they could sing as well! Both singers were strong but not outstanding; the fact that they could actually sing anything after the amount of leaping around they had to do was amazing.

The Don is at the centre of a vortex of gleeful amorality where, in his philosophy, anything goes and responsibility is a series of evasions or redefinitions. The tawdry showiness of much of the action and the props emphasise the empty moral values of not only the Don but also everyone else in the opera. As the action progressed I began to wonder if this opera was the musical equivalent of ‘Madame Bovery’ where the entire cast had lost any sympathy from the observer.

The sudden appearance of a pair of headlights towards the end of the overture and the slow appearance of the rest of the car was a coup de theatre and the boot of the vehicle was a suitable place to put the body of the Commendatore (well sung by Günther Groissböck) but also a point of controversy when his ‘corpse’ emerges from the same boot before being unceremoniously being re-deposited there leaving a pair of legs hanging over the side! This body was a detail that had not been thought out in sufficient detail for it to be a convincing part of the narrative. The speaking statue of the Commendatore being a bottle of whisky I could take, but his rising from the dead was one step too far.

The ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ ending of the opera where everyone took a stab (quite literally) at the Don as he was strapped and gagged in a chair down stage was more effective this time because the joint murder summed up the corrupted morality which informed the action of the whole of the opera from the viewpoint of the director Calixto Bieito.

The floor of the stage was a cluttered mess at the end of the production and the curtain call was conducted with a certain fastidiousness as soloists had to ensure that they did not go flying in the mixture of balloons, streamers, orange juice, cereal and other bits and pieces which were strewn around.

The reception of the piece was enthusiastic and it was a production which thoroughly deserved it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Only connect!




Our telephone is suffering from Weekend Failure Syndrome.

For two weeks running the advent of Friday evening produced only fuzzy interference from the phone; that mist of sound that used to accompany the inadvertent switching on of a TV set back in the Bad Old Days when broadcasts were only made in the hours that Aunty Beeb decided were suitable for well regulated families. Bring back ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ say I!

This time however we decided to take action. Toni’s preferred form of attack is via the Internet.

This is an institution in which Toni has much faith. I think it is on the basis that any organization which can create a mystique of infinite sagacity linked to ubiquity yet retain aspects of inscrutability and callous indifference is as near as damn it to a religion.

The Internet also has the playful ‘wanton boys’ approach of a callous god to its adherents. Sometimes a prayer (or information request) will be answered with exactly what the initiate is looking for, yet at other times the ‘answers’ offered rival the Delphic Oracle in their incoherent impenetrability.

There are also different sects on the Internet where the disciple’s simple plea for information will be answered in a number of pleasing formats where all look convincing and yet their answers are widely different in detail and fact.

Beware! For your adversary the teenage computer nerd prowls around creating convincing looking websites seeking whom he may devour!

Good and Evil constantly battle on the Internet. The Archangels McAfee and Norton are in an eternal battle with Demon Hackers and we all know that the wages of Internet sin, gazing upon lurid pornography, is retribution in the form of computer death by virus.

In spite of this Toni perseveres in his belief in the Internet, though he often echoes the cry of Saint Augustine, “O God I believe; help thou my unbelief!” His initial attempts to inform our telephone supplier that their supply wasn’t were via the Internet. The information needed was detailed and fiddly and eventually ineffectual. We had to phone the land line supplier using a mobile phone. This is nicely ironic but also vastly expensive as you go through the, “Please choose from one of the following twenty five options” etc before you actually get to a human being.

When Toni finally got to a human (”He was a South American,” he said darkly) he was told to “Wait a moment.” And was promptly cut off. The second human threatened vast fees if any technician had to do anything and gave vague assurances that something might be done. The simple checking of the line via a computer seemed to be far beyond the technical ability of the person (wherever he physically was) to do. I seem to remember in my Trimphone™ phoning the operator and she was able to check the line in a few seconds.

Such is the march of progress!

Today I have to compile the List of Shame: an enumeration of the sins of omission and commission committed by The School That Sacked Me. Toni also has a part to play in this denunciation as it has to be translated into Catalan. It will be sent to the Union for comment and then on Tuesday I will go into Barcelona and meet my union representative and have the list discussed and edited. Then it will be transferred to the official form and sent to the Inspectorate as an inducement for them to inspect the school. This is one of the ways that the various unprofessional ways in which the school conducts its business may be made more public.

The letter I have had from COBIS is an odd one informing me that no inspection is planned for the school until 2011! This is not what we were told: what has happened to the October inspection of 2008 not 2011? I think that I will check to see if there is some sort of code of conduct for those schools linked to the COBIS marque. If there is, whatever it is, the school must have offended against it!

I also think that it is time for a follow up letter to The British Council who should, by this time, have at least acknowledged the receipt of my missive.


The wheels turn – but slowly.


All of my ‘action’ is turning into an exercise in patience!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Revelation!






Cerepol.

Never let it be said that all blogs were merely self indulgent opportunities for self opinionated persons to air their prejudices. (Though I for one don’t really see why they shouldn’t be.)

However, in the spirit of selfless devotion to the good of others I am determined to use this opportunity to fulfil one of the vain wishes of my father that I would justify my education and ‘do something useful.’ You have to understand that both my parents were teachers and so they naturally thought that entering that noble profession on my part was something of a dereliction of duty on theirs!

I have tried throughout my working life to encourage people to do things which were, in Ruskin’s heart-in-the-right-place-but-really-meaningless words “availing to good.” This has usually consisted in reading the right books and following a few simple rules viz.
1. The only dog one should ever contemplate owning is a yellow Labrador bitch.
2. Never own a dog.
3. Abominate Margaret Thatcher and all Her Works.

Actually rule number three was a very difficult (and totally unprofessional) one to inculcate into the young.

Indeed, I once asked a class which party they thought I voted for. There was no clear majority for any party but there were sizable minorities for Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem.

As each group put up their hands to show their understanding of my political tendencies the rest of the class howled their disbelief that they could be so simplistic as to think that I could possibly support the party that they thought was my political home.

They began to discuss me as if I were not there and, as they were a good class of pupils they began to speculate about the wider seas of political affiliation. One of two of the more adventurous had me voting Communist and a few others for Plaid Cymru. One pupil said that I didn’t even vote at all!

At the time I took this confusion to be an indication that my ‘political’ comments were sufficiently well balanced that I did not give a clear party political bias to my teaching.

Now, I’m not so sure: should a teacher be satisfied with confusion?

Anyway. The useful part of this blog is the word right at the top. Cerepol.

Saucepans which are suitable for gas, electric and induction usually have fairly thick bases and seem to be coated with some sort of ceramic material which makes them look good when you buy them and that sight has to last because as soon as you use them the bases become progressively grubbier. And, as Brillo pads seem to be a thing of the past and their New Man namby-pamby scourer replacements couldn’t take the veneer of New Labour you are condemned to see your once gleaming pans reduced to shoddy second hand shame.



But no! Now things are different! Thanks to Ceri I am able to tick off two things that I thought I would never be able to do:
1. Clean electric hobs
2. Clean the bottom of heavy base frying pans.

Cerepol. It sounds like a proprietary medication for one of the less salubrious areas of human activity; or perhaps a new international police organization or even an organic cereal. But it is none of these things.

It is actually a cleaner that works. Made by Hallmark, it is Australian, and it works. Nothing has worked before and this does. It is a revelation. It does what it says on the plastic bottle.

The fact that I am so amazed that it does so surely indicates the woeful lack of veracity of the usual run of products that I buy.

It’s a metaphor for life!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The injustice of it all!


I have been done for speeding.

I was sent a peremptory demand today for vast sums of money for an infringement in March! I am sure that it cannot be legal to wait this long before making me traipse down to the post office to get a registered letter containing the extortion note.

If the transport authorities take over four months to let a poor driver know that he has broken one of the universally ignored limits (I know that is no justification) I can’t help running through my mind how many times I might have done the same thing in the same place at the same time. Perhaps I can expect a series of increasingly jubilant denunciations eventually catching up with the present day. I sincerely hope not!

The Owner’s lawyer remains difficult to contact and, in spite of assurances that there would be some contact, it has proved very difficult to get a clear message. It is fairly obvious that they are playing for time because we have almost reached the magic date of the 1st of August when, as far as I can tell, Spain closes and then it will be September before ‘anything can be done.’ I anticipate frustration and futile anger.

At the moment everything is ‘in progress’ but nothing of any substance is happening.

I suppose that one of the problems is that I live ‘in’ a holiday and so don’t have to go ‘on’ a holiday, and therefore have little sympathy for those who have to go to different places to establish their vacation credentials!

We have been threatened with African weather with temperatures into the 40s. Being this near the coast we do have a fairly constant breeze which disguises the flesh stripping capabilities of hot weather. On the beach today were two Pale Persons who sat huddled together smiling with delight at the weather and vainly trying to protect all Pale Places from the sunlight. Alas! The tell tale pinkness on their smiling faces and virgin shoulders told me that their shower that evening would be a painful experience!

Although we have Tetley tea bags in the localish supermarket and there must be a significant British contingent living in Castelldefels we spread ourselves fairly thinly so that an English accent is a fairly rare exception. The most common accent is Spanish. Just before you express ironic surprise I should point out that this is, after all, Castelldefels in Catalonia and therefore one would expect the lingua franca to be Catalan. But it isn’t. This area is one which has a great concentration of immigrants from other parts of Spain, especially the south, and therefore Toni gets a limited number of opportunities to use his first language.

Meanwhile I find every opportunity to use my first language as my Spanish often prompts a reply in English. I do not look Catalan and I am assumed to be German by the indigenous population hence their attempts at English.

I shall keep trying!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vaulting ambition again!


Tragedy!

Behold! See how the mighty are undone. Those that seek dominion over all shall be brought down. Yea! Even the most powerful shall be laid low!

Not, I’m afraid a paean of praise for the discomfiture of The Owner, but rather a lament on the untimely overthrow of the ambitions of one of my cacti.

The one made out of oval (or more ellipsoid probably) plates of spikes has overreached itself and was discovered this morning leaning at a truly humiliating angle and is now leaning against the wall like some unruly drunk propped up any-old-how to try and preserve some sort of vertical dignity.

Perhaps (because I am not wise in the way of cactus care) I should have nipped of the new buds to give strength to the base. Who knows, I think I will allow Nature and the wall to do as they will.

I remember with shame an episode of plant abuse perpetrated by me some years ago. I bought a tiny sensitive plant – the one where, when you touch the frond like leaves they all close up. To someone with my degree of horticultural impatience this seemed like a sensible plant. It was small though and I thought that I would give it a helping hand.

It was instantly transplanted into a vast pot and placed in a sunny position in the hallway so that sun could stream on it through the glass panel at the side of the door and it was watered carefully. So far, so Alan Tichmarsh.

Then, alas, the combined effect of having read ‘Against Nature’, ‘A Modern Prometheus’ and ‘Noddy Goes to Toytown’ took over I decided to give the plant a helping hand. This took the form of substance abuse.

There were then (and as far as I know there still are) innocuous looking lozenges known as ‘Plantoids’ which could be pressed into the earth around d a plant and would give it added vigour. I reasoned that if one ‘Plantoid’ would give vigour, then two (or more) would give the plant an Olympic spurt. Eventually the area around the base of the sensitive plant was composed more of decomposing ‘Plantoids’ than earth.

I should imagine that what I did was the equivalent of giving a genteel maiden aunt crystal meth. The plant shot up on a measurable daily basis, but eschewed the production of interesting leaves and instead reached for the heavens that its drug saturated roots indicated was within reach. It died as vigorously as it had lived: one day almost touching the ceiling, the next a withered stump in the pot. As I realize I am over fond of saying: there is a lesson there if we look for it!

My Aunt Bet often ends her letters with an invitation for me to let her know if there is anything that she can ‘send over’ for me. Two ex-colleagues (from real schools and not The One That Sacked Me) who are arriving in Catalonia soon also asked me if there was anything they could bring, “e.g. tea bags, newspapers, teaching syllabuses etc.”

The offer of tea bags would be irresistible were it not for the fact that our local supermarket stocks Tetley tea bags. On the price ticket next to the price is a little Union Flag to indicate that it is safe for Britons to eat. The other items which have a flag are Heinz baked beans. And that’s it. British tastes catered for!

It is true that Spanish/British tea bags are insipid to the point of insult, and the fact that they are Horniman’s tea bags (who drinks those in the UK, I don’t know anyone who does) puts me in mind of Watney’s Draft Red Barrel which had a zombie like existence on the Spanish Costas long after it had been (rightfully) killed in its country of birth!

It is depressing, in a way, that I miss so few of the commodities of everyday British life. I was no fan of Marmite in the UK and I am certainly not going to develop a taste for it in the land of paella and Cava! I have almost forgotten the taste of butter (I jest!) and I have managed to swap a decent pint of bitter for Rioja.

The lager-like confection that masquerades as ‘beer’ in this country is perhaps better suited to the climate than the heavier beverage from more dour northern climes, but I don’t think that it will ever win me round. And I take every opportunity to sneer at the literally pale imitation of a noble drink that arrives in tiny glasses with illegal amounts of foam to insult the discriminating palette.

Unsurprisingly it is people I miss: people and conversation. The Pauls not coming over this summer is a blow, but they will come in October with any luck. The internet allows links which are more immediate and ‘live’ and I keep telling myself that the UK is only a few hours away if I need to go back for anything or anyone. I do after all live only a few minutes away from one of Europe’s busiest airports! The world is my expensive oyster!

My efforts to pick up Spanish have been shamefully lax and I have occasionally been forced into a diffident reticence in company which those who knew me in the UK could only have imagined in their fondest dreams!

You must not think that my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language stops me entirely from putting in my occasional apercus in an ongoing conversation.

I am beginning to recognize again those expressions comprising thin lipped smiles, frightened eyes and small beads of perspiration which characterized the faces of various French people when I attempted to communicate with the natives in my forays into la belle France. Now, Spanish and Catalan faces take on the frozen expression of incomprehension as they vainly try and re-order my excited, enthusiastic and fundamentally faulty Spanish into some sort of coherent expression.

I pity them of course, but as I Am Making An Effort they have to suffer in the name of education and whatever the Spanish equivalent of the entente cordiale is.

Monday, July 21, 2008

3 under 3


We all know that cold, tight knot of terror which forms in the pit of the stomach when confronted by the fear of the 'other', the 'different', the 'inexplicable.'

I am writing this as displacement activity to try and escape from the parentally encouraged chaos which comes from untrammeled youth under the age of three armed with foam 'safety' swords and unlimited amounts of energy.


The sound of the resounding thwacks that children whose height does not put their heads above the waist of a normal human being can make with a 'safety' sword makes me more than grateful that I have found myself a little corner of security outside the normal ambit of creatures who, I am ashamed to admit, already have a more convincing grasp of Catalan and Spanish than I. At the mome4nt my spoken and written English is still more than they can manage! But the clock is ticking; we all know that the first two languages are the hardest after that it is easy to add more. I'm working on it!

I have now cast off the insurance company which I acquired courtesy of the company that (eventually - don't make me re-live the tortured paper work that got me the vehicle) sold me the car.

My entire no-claims bonus vanished when I came to Spain and had to start all over again. I have since heard that it is possible to choose a company which is British based which will allow some sort of transfer, but the car seller’s choice of company told me that this was impossible when I was trying to get everything organized.

Perhaps it might be worth while asking my present insurance company if anything can be done. As the company is the RACC (the extra C being for Catalonia) one feels that there ought to be some sort of a chance. I shudder to think where they have their call centre: I cannot reasonably expect them to have it in Catalonia, but there again if the language is important then they are going to be very fortunate to find a whole group of Indians who speak fluent Catalan!


Nothing from the Union today, but two unanswered phone calls with no message and no return numbers are interesting. I expect a least some news about the response (or more likely the non response) of The Owner's lawyers in the next day or so.

There have been no responses to my 'official' letters to the accreditation bodies, so I think that a follow up letter will be in order - if only to confirm that they have at least reached their proper destinations.

It seems more likely that I will have to formulate a list of 'abuses' to give substance to the official suggestion that there be an inspection of the school in the very near future.

I will have to curb my natural impatience and match my anger to Spanish time!

It will be good Zen training for me!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Expectation tickling skiting spirits


Next week opens with the return salvo of The Owner’s lawyer to my union official’s assault last week.

It could be that The Owner’s lawyer thinks that a payout now will forestall a lengthy dispute with final judgement going against her. But I don’t believe it. I think that she sees my dispute as a trial of strength which she cannot afford to lose. She can of course, but her mind set is a sort of prison which ignores open doors and instead looks for crevices to begin using the teaspoon to dig her way to victory. I suppose that forcing her to expend stupid amounts of energy would be a victory of sorts. But I would like to have the money as well!

If The Owner remains recalcitrant then, with the Union’s help, I will begin the process to urge an inspection of the school by the Catalan authorities.

I am quite sure that there are more than enough irregularities in the way that The Owner tires to run that institution to cause her considerable trouble if any impartial authority begins to dig into the way that she has demanded how things be done.

Having seen what the threat of an inspection does to conscientious, hard working educationalists in well run schools, I can only imagine (with malicious delight) what effect it will have in an institution which openly espouses fraudulent practices. My mouth waters with sheer pleasure as I wonder what surrealistic logic she will have to produce to justify the way that she thinks she runs that school.

Meanwhile there is the question of what I am going to be doing when the summer finally ends and the harsh reality of September enters my consciousness.

There is no limit to the amount of sardonic speculation about the future that one can manage when confronted only by serried rows of plastic keys on ones lap; but reality has a way of upsetting mere literary effusions.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A noisy beach



¡Fiesta!

Today is the culmination of a few days of celebration for the major festival of Castelldefels’ year.

We were woken by an inordinately loud amplified voice from the beach which has accompanied a massive beach volley ball competition which is taking place a couple of hundred yards along the beach from us.

Flags flutter from the top of elegant pavilions flanked by giant bottles of a chocolate drink which presumably is sponsoring the whole event. The twenty or so courts? rinks? spaces? Are alive with leaping bodies their glistening musculature slightly dulled by the airborne sand stinging its way inland.

The wind has, however, encouraged a whole flock of windsurfers who are reaching speeds close to suicidal. A local by law prohibits the wind surfer kite jumpers from performing their astonishing acrobatics until later in the evening.

The evening is going to be rowdy as Castelldefels is fuller today than it has been for any day in the summer and we have fuegos artificiales this evening. I have put both my cameras on charge to try and get a decent picture of these pyrotechnic explosions. So far, in the photographic line, all I have managed to achieve in respect of fireworks are vague trails of light which when treated in Microsoft Photoshop Version 10 have allowed me to present something deceptively flamboyant. I am looking towards this evening in presenting me with an opportunity to capture something which, even without Photoshop, will look convincing!

Now, in the latish evening peace reigns on the beach and the loudest sound is that of the waves breaking it is obviously time to try out my new teapot and tea cup bought in a sale in Zara Home. I can’t say that the pot and cup ‘go’ together in quite the harmonious way in which I would have liked (and of which my mother would have approved) but it makes a refreshing change from the rather camp glass teapot which I affect from time to time.

Never let it be said that civilization ever evaded me!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Glory be to God for spiked things!




I sing of the cactus!

There is a clear winner in the IKEA ‘three in a plastic tube, all different’ cactus purchase. Having spent most of their existence in the cramped pots in which they were bought, they have lived a stunted life forlornly retarded by little earth and unyielding plastic. Their liberation came in the form of two large circular pots which allowed transplantation and growth.

The seven cacti (where did the other one come from?) and the dead cactus from school now reside in spacious accommodation with fetching white stones on the surface to highlight their colour (green.)

In reverse order the cactus with the least vitality is a vaguely brain-like growth covered with a lattice-like display of spikes which cover the hummocky blobs like a spider’s web. There are a few unobtrusive and unexpected small white flowers to fail to catch the attention of a casual viewer.

Then there is a coral-like creature of apparently random excrescences which give it a sort of unsymmetrical Baroque feel. My specimen is only eight or nine centimetres high and I have seen examples metres high looking like organ pipes designed by a person living in more dimensions than four!


There then come two fleshy leaved, unspiked, bush like plants which look like shrubs, but provide valuable background for other more interesting examples.

The finger cactus with, gosh, five fingers is more typical of a child’s version of the plant: long rounded growths with close packed lines of spikes in neat rows, so fine that the tops of the plants appear to have a light green halo. These are also the most vicious. The spikes appear to be downy, but a brushed finder accumulates a host of tiny but very painful daggers which seem to work their way into the flesh and are very competent in evading extraction!


The aloe vera plant with its elegant extended triangular leaves with serrated edges spiralling out from the centre is a common choice in this area as it is unaffected by sand, salt and arid conditions. Mine is being harassed by one of the fleshy shrubs, but looking at the vicious spikes in which the triangular leaves of the aloe vera end, I know which one I am going to put money on!

And so to the clear winner. This is the cartoonists’ choice of cactus. One which looks as though it is constructed of thin plates of plant material one stuck on the edge of the other and building up into a random structure where you begin to wonder how the cantilevered plates sticking out at unlikely angles actually stay in place. The structural strength of the plant should be studied by architects and translated into buildings whose child-like sense of unexpected playfulness would be a refreshing change from the staid constructions which usually add to the visual boredom of our cities.

This cactus, as soon as it was transplanted (well, soon in plant terms) pushed out five substantial new plates. From where I am sitting I can see at least two more budding plates emerging from the new growth. This is a plant set on pot domination!

The dead cactus from school has definite life.

At this stage it is impossible to say whether the fuzziness at the tip of two of the stalks is actual cactus growth or developing mould from my assiduous and hopeful watering of the desiccated corpse.

As I have taken this dead cactus from the school that sacked me as an organic metaphor for my time there and my future career, I am prepared to give it more time to see what develops. This will also give me more scope to apply my skills in literary analysis to give intellectual substance to the casual death into life of this discarded and unremarkable plant.

It is also worth mentioning that the mini rose plant bought to celebrate Sant Jordi (Saint George – April 23rd) is still alive even though it is on the balcony where sand and salt air make the conditions less than idea for such a notoriously difficult plant. True there are no flowers, but the dusty leafs continue to grow and they have supported an etiolated sort of bud which looks to have achieved its full life cycle in this nascent form and appears far too vitiated actually to flower. But full marks for surviving say I!

There’s a lesson there were I to seek it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Every day's significant!


Yesterday was the Name Day for all Carmens.

The concept of a Name Day when everyone with the same name can expect a reasonable haul of presents from anyone who knows their first name is one which is foreign to we Brits. And indeed it would be difficult to establish such a day in the UK as so many of the first names of British people do not have their equivalent saint to link to a specific day.

Is there a Saint Tracy or a Blessed Jason or a Beatified Craig? Those were some of the ‘problematic’ names when I started teaching some time ago; the sort of name that we were told would be synonymous with trouble! It wasn’t that many years before all those stigmatized appellations had worked their way through the system and I had taught with colleagues with those names.

Today such names as Kyle, Tyler and Harrison for the boys, with Ellie, Mia and Kylie for the girls mean that quite a few years will have to go by until the potential saints from today’s crop can achieve their golden crowns.

There is also the question of those Britons who have become naturalized citizens and those whose names reflect a religion other than Christianity. Perhaps the inclusive reality of a Name Day for Brits is totally illusory and, like so many other good ideas, the whole concept would be divisive and would foster resentment!

Today my first interview for a language school in Castelldefels. I have no lively hopes of a job – or at least a job paying a reasonable amount of money as an hourly rate. But I shouldn’t prejudge, even though all previous experience has shown that anything in excess of about 12€ an hour is unlikely – and therefore unacceptable.

And it was. I was offered the possibility of 15€ an hour, but as I had set my minimum at 20€ it was easy to dismiss. Pat the Director of Studies at the language school was refreshingly honest and helpful about my ‘needs’ and suggested that I would probably do better by getting involved in Company Language Teaching and very usefully got a magazine and flicked through suggesting possible contacts that I might like to try.

As soon as the meeting was finished I was off to lunch in Cubelles via Margaret and Iain’s. Lunch was a long bout of drinking and talking and lasted something like five and half hours. As I was driving moderation kept my mouth within limits and I was stone cold sober to go to dinner with Toni when I returned to Castelldefels.

It’s a hard old life.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Making an effort!



The search for a new job has taken another step towards reality.

A reworked CV and covering notes to two likely prospects (actually in Castelldefels) winging their way electronically to their destinations. Going there is one thing, finding anyone there in this season of summer holidays is something else. I fear that my two little please for employment might not find a willing ear for a couple of months!

However, the very process of writing for jobs is, in itself a cathartic process, with the pleasing result that it washes you clean from the dirty necessity of actually doing anything further for a couple of weeks! Although I think that I should adopt the saturation approach and apply for anything which is even half way possible in the hope and expectation of meeting more youths in ill fitting suits who ask me questions like, “If you go into a noisy class; what would you do?”

Ah the happy days of going to agencies and tolerating their inane questions in the hope that they could find a suitable job. Or was it hoping that they would be entirely unable to find a suitable job?

It would appear that in modern Spain (though not yet Catalonia) the influx of my ageing fellow countrymen has encouraged a rather worrying response. In the south of Spain in response to the number of foreign pensioners needing medical assistance it has been decided that free medical service will no longer be offered. I’m not sure that this is actual policy but even if such a thing is discussed then it is something to be very concerned about. I have not factored buying expensive private medical insurance into my living expenses!


But such things are in the future and at present the sun shines and all is well with the world.

In a way.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Now the interesting bit!




The Rubicon has been crossed! Hostilities are now open. War is declared!

Well, if you want the rather more prosaic truth, I have sent a few carefully worded letters. And it now relies on people not having gone on their summer holidays for anything significant to happen in the immediate future.

This really is a case of waiting and seeing. I look forward to the replies – if I get any!

My hatred for BBVA grows and grows. My account has finally been transferred from Terrassa to Castelldefels and I am actively looking for alternatives to the money grubbing, unhelpful, Spanish speaking in Catalonia apology for a financial institution that BBVA is. At the moment ING is in the lead because an ‘English’ speaking assistant gave a spirited (if sometimes incomprehensible) presentation for taking out one of the bank’s alluring accounts.

The only reason that I hesitate for a moment to remove my vast monetary reserves from BBVA is that I can’t. Six months rent is locked into a ‘dead’ account which I cannot touch and BBVA pays me 1.7% (1.7%!). This account cost a vast sum of money to set up and takes a substantial amount of money to service throughout the year. Why, I hear you ask, did I voluntarily put my money into such a stupidly unattractive financial jail?

The key word in that question is ‘voluntarily.’ Of course it wasn’t voluntary. It was a necessary prerequisite for the obtaining of the flat.
To me it seemed like a criminal conspiracy between ‘sub-lawyers’ (can such a debased life form exist outside a sick nightmare?) called Notarios combined with banks and estate agents. Now that is what I really call an axis of evil! And we are stuck in this absurd arrangement until the end of the contract for the flat, which could be in five years time. Something must be done!

This relentless paean of misery must cease. At once!

The weather has been excellent and we were able to laze in indolent ease.

Talking of indolent ease, it would appear that Toni’s unemployment pay after being sacked from his job is almost as much as when he was working and could continue for the next 22 months!

Who says it’s all bad news!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Always something to do even if it's nothing!


The colour of the sea is like that found on an early seaside photograph which has been colour treated – not unpleasant, but not quite blue. There has been a steely quality to the tone of the water inspite of the fact that most of the day has been bathed in glorious sunshine.

We have had the sort of weather where sunburn could strip the flesh from your bones: very hot with a stiff breeze coming off the sea so you don’t notice the temperature. You could actually see people turning that light, slightly watery looking pink which is my favourite colour for very good, very fresh, barely cooked meat. Not something you are likely to find in Spain unless you ask for it; I appear to be in the midst of a country of ‘well done’ diners!

And 'well done' is the colour I am mimicking as the temptation to laze in the sunshine and make enough vitamin D to carry one through the winter becomes irresistible. Well, as I took every opportunity of reminding those I left behind in Wales when I first moved here, “it is on the beach after all!” Now that I think about it, it still sounds pretty good!

But next week will be no time for lazing about. Toni has to continue the paper trail that started as soon as he was sacked. With any luck this one will end up with a more substantial amount of money per week than he could every have expected to get in Britain – and it will give him time to look around for a job more suitable to his qualifications and interests that the one which quit him.

I too have much to do. The second part of my Campaign for Real Teaching in Schools That Have Sacked Me will continue with letters winging their way to various interesting destinations.

I will also have to contact my union again and work out the strategy for getting official bodies involved in making The Owner’s life just that little bit more difficult.

There is also the phoning of the school to discover if they have found the lone maverick lawyer who will say that black is white and agree with the administration of the school that the fraudulent contract that I was given was actually legal and tip top. It is a ‘nice’ legal point that the administration is making. I have to agree with them that the contract qua contract is indeed legal, but not for the job that I was doing inside the school.

Their argument is similar to their pointing to a prescription drug and saying this drug is effective and then using it for a disease for which it was not intended. I’m not sure that likening my teaching to a disease is the most appropriate of images to use, but it’s simply too hot to think of another!

Job hunting also calls with our local English glossy freebie magazine littered with low paid possibilities! Worth investigating, if only for exposing their shameless attempts to exploit indigent fellow countrymen and the opportunity to reject with contempt the derisory pittance offered as ‘salary!’

But now I must get the documentation together for the letters that have to be sent on Monday. My first public salvo against The Owner.

I shall await the replies with interest!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Not all dead meat is the same


I suppose it is because I don’t know my way around the corpses of rabbits (especially dismembered ones) as well as chickens that I made my mistake.

For someone as well brought up as myself, taught from his earliest age to be ‘tidy’ in the way that he ate his food, the ‘hands on’ approach of the Spanish people to their food is somewhat liberating.

During one family meal in my grandparents’ dining room when I was very young, I even attempted to eat crisps with my fork, ensnaring each individual crisp between the tines of the implement. This tortuous way of eating continued until my uncle remarked after a guffaw that he had previously only seen the very drunk attempting what I was doing!

So, both hands on my food is a very liberating experience. Toni’s sister Laura bucks the Catalan trend by being very fastidious with the eating of her food and using her knife and fork with the dexterity of a trained surgeon, but I don’t have the patience to emulate her.

Chicken is perhaps at the edge of genteel cutlery accompaniment: it is possible to strip the flesh from the bones with implements without leaving surplus. To attempt to do the same with the altogether smaller remains of cooked rabbit is much more problematical.

I started on my rabbit with garlic with knife and fork but soon realised that the civilized approach would be counter productive in terms of the amount of flesh in my mouth as opposed to the amount left on the bones. Both hands were a necessity. So both hands were used.

Teeth nibbled assiduously and effectively, though from time to time thumbs were used to prise off some succulent titbits. One such titbit having been devoured with gusto I then noticed its proximity to a tiny set of perfectly formed teeth and realised that I had just popped and eaten its eye! At least it was well cooked!

Today has been an odd selection of weather styles: from the morning when we both defiantly lay on the beach in spite of the overcast conditions and lowering darker clouds on the horizon to when we finally gave up and went out to lunch which of course produced clear blue skies and bright sunlight!

The late afternoon saw yet another change and produced a sky of that particular cloudy dark blue much regarded by Dutch landscape painters. It filled the sky down to the low horizon formed by the sea and looked very dramatic, but it was not conducive to successful sunbathing!

The evening was presaged by rumbling thunder, rather unimpressive lightning and very impressive torrential rainfall.

Unlike Britain we can assume that we will have reasonable weather tomorrow: Catalonia does not have the spiteful quality of inclement climatic conditions that we Brits have come to expect as part of the joy of living in our green land.

The proof of the pudding will lie in the lazing on the beach tomorrow.

I hope.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It begins!


The letter has been delivered!

In one of those irritations which are written into literary accounts but do not usually happen in real life, I remembered that I had forgotten the calculations page (as written by my union) having left it in Castelldefels in the study. So, in a journey worthy of Ann Stone (who once crossed the Severn Bridge three times when going from Cardiff to a course in Bristol – think about it!) I had to ping my way through the tolls four times in order to make my appearance in Sitges.

In an act of hypocrisy worthy of me, The Owner greeted me with cordiality and asked me how the summer was going!

When we finally got down to business The Owner was nowhere to be seen and I had to be content with the secretary.

I was still clutching the letter I had brought which had been stamped by reception to prove that it had arrived and I was about the launch into my diatribe about the criminal contract that I had been given when I thought I heard the word 'cheque' penetrate my consciousness. I immediately shut up and urged the secretary to speak first.

The incorrect payment for my months of work at the school had apparently been recognized and I was given a cheque for a few hundred euros and new paperwork. All of this I eagerly accepted and then started on my condemnation.

The secretary read the letter in silence until she came to the word, 'fraudulent' at which she bridled a little and asked for an explanation. She rejected the explanation offered and insisted that the contract that I had been given was perfectly legal. I agreed that it would have been legal if I had been engaged to do something which was not the normal work of the school e.g. if I had been contracted to repaint the exterior. As I had been contracted to do the normal work of the school, i.e. teach, then I should have had an entirely different contract.

The secretary's rejection of this point of view was almost comic in its intensity and I urged her, if she could find a lawyer in Catalonia who agreed with her to give me the address so that my lawyer could communicate with him or her and find out which dimension they were living in!

This conversation ended in stalemate with neither side conceding ground. With my new found knowledge of a couple of days ago I knew that I had right on my side. I also knew that the secretary knew that I knew that she knew that I knew it. Knowing is all, but it doesn't necessarily bring you the money.

I had the distinct impression that, had I gone first and outlined my belief that I was owed the equivalent of 45 days payment then the cheque (which is now safely banked) would have softly and silently vanished away!

My further requests for information about the Readathon were first of all countered by “Well, as you are no longer part of the school, I don't really think that . . . “My assertion that this was the only charity appeal with which I had been involved where the total sum raised was a secret was greeted with a wry grin.

She then elaborated on her position with the, “Well, we pay it all into the bank account and. . .” this, of course was what I was afraid of and surely a clear implication of asking for the name of the charity and the date it was paid in, suggests that I am not full convinced by the probity of it all! I await with interest the final details of the Readathon that is if it has never been.

God knows it would have been difficult enough for money to have made it to Burma if it had been paid in when it should have, but given the delay and prevarication inherent in any dealing of the school with money it is almost inevitable that the help that we thought we might be able to give has been all but dissipated.

Monday will see the union add force to my arguments and the other phases of my plans will have been set in motion.

Meanwhile a fine day and the rest of Toni's family enjoying a day by the beach.

This entry has been composed on my new Asus Eee PC. The real trick will be to get this on to the blog site.

An experiment!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lost opportunities


Another visit to the labour exchange, this time for Toni and a cheery wave to the lady at desk 2 as we are now old friends!

Then, with Carmen and Laura in tow we began to scour the toy shops to find Mickey’s House. Carles has now developed an obsession (as Toni knows to his cost having endured multiple playing of one particular video) for Mickey Mouse and all his works.

Toys R Us is a startling experience for those of us who do not have the nagging reminder in the form of a young child who constantly demonstrates the cruel lack of Mickey related material in his everyday life. Salvation (and an empty bank balance) waits in the astonishing aisles of this horrific shop.

Stuffed representations of the various characters seem positively repulsive in their unimaginative ordinariness and their (relatively) low price.

Your child can have a Disney digital camera, a Mickey Mouse television with the loudspeakers looking like a pair of the most famous ears on the planet or a Mickey Mouse café or Market – all at prices to bring water to the eyes of the most doting parent.

As you wander through this wonderland of overpriced tat watching children in various states of dismay hounding increasingly harassed looking parents only one thought rises to your mind: why didn’t I buy shares in this enterprise when it started. Toys R Us turns the most tawdry flimsy gimcrack rubbish into the purest gold!

Plans to thwart the evil schemes of The Owner continue slowly and tomorrow will see another stage of the campaign be realised. I am trying to keep a sense of proportion about my efforts and am utilizing the ‘Oxfam Control.’ This relates to a time when I had just started teaching and was an enthusiastic member of a local Oxfam group. Against my better judgement I was persuaded to participate in a carnival in which our group decorated and staffed a float. The number of planning meetings and design crises that we endured before the final design and completion were roughly similar to those needed for the architectural planning and resiting of the capital of Brazil to Brasilia.

The amount of money that we raised in the form of sometimes frighteningly well aimed coppers along the route of the parade was derisory for the mental and physical effort that we put into the bloody float.

I then and there made a resolution that my time was worth X pounds so, if we were organizing a fund raising enterprise it had to have the very real possibility of raising X+ pounds before I would take part in it. This ‘Oxfam Control’ can also be used for other aspects of life including relationships, the price of a cup of tea and God.

Had an early evening drink with an ex-colleague with our conversation running along predictable lines, but comforting nevertheless as we persuaded each other by total agreement with our statements that we had not lost the commonly accepted sense of reality which is away with the fairies in our school!

Thinking about it, I must finish my short story about wrestling. Don’t ask. But since you do, it is a promise that I made to my English class which I should fulfil, otherwise their touching faith in the veracity of teachers could be fatally shattered.

And far be it from me to give them too much reality too soon!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Which dungeon?






The upward turn of the lawyer’s eyes when he heard The Owner’s name spoke volumes for her rotten reputation, and his attitude of weary resignation to the catalogue of her machinations did not bode well for my case.

However, it is clear that the contract that I was given was fraudulent and therefore everything connected with it is similarly fraudulent so The Owner’s conceit that I had merely come to the end of my ‘contract’ can be treated with the rich contempt that it deserves.

I shall maintain that I was sacked and ask for the full compensation that the law allows. I have to say that the ‘full compensation’ is a little (well, a lot) less than magnificent, but, as the saying goes, it is better than being splashed in the face with rancid yak piss.

The campaign starts tomorrow with an innocuous telephone call informing The Owner of the amount of money which she owes me and why she owes me it. As telephonic communication has been a little strained between The Owner and my good self, I have also prepared a little letter
which I will personally deliver to the said person or her representative.

The complete lack of response to this letter will galvanize the Union into some sort of action and then I will deem the campaign really to have started!

Other ‘weapons’ are primed and ready to go off so my little printer will be working overtime!

I returned somewhat disconsolately to Castelldefels after the Union meeting because I was hoping that the lawyer would immediately phone the police and have The Owner arrested and carted in chains to some evil smelling and rat infested prison to rue her past life and ponder on the consequences of her evil acts. The rather more sedate way forward seemed wholly out of kilter with the damage that The Owner has done.

It was while I was wearily wending my way along the tedious motorway links home that I caught a glimpse of the distant mountains.

They were strung out in a misty overlapping line of blues looking like the most delicate brushstrokes of a master Chinese watercolorist. The sky behind was a casual smudge of orange with a muted gleam of light radiating from gold to ochre.
It was breathtaking and one of those casual displays of beauty that nature throws at one when one is least expecting it. And the music of Eduard Toldrà was playing on a recently purchased CD and the air conditioning was astringently cool.

Who could ask for more. And how easy it is to forget what had seemed overpoweringly important seconds before.

But then the view changed.

It always does!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Anybody there?


No answer was the stern reply

My suspicions that I am persona non grata with my previous school seem to have been given an added reality by the constant inability of the institution to get back to me in spite of an electronic storm of emails and a plethora of telephone calls.

Nothing.

The good people who still work in that benighted place respond with enthusiasm to my voice; but the shadowy powers that be that can actually answer my persistent questioning remain firmly in the dark and even more firmly silent.

Tomorrow the visit to the lawyer and finding out if there is any small thing that can be done to encourage fair education for students and teachers alike in a small school viciously mismanaged by an autocratic, unprofessional, untutored, interfering busybody who uses her financial clout to compensate for her lack of educational understanding.


My union has constantly emphasised that my expectations should be contained generally within the area generally described as ‘disappointment.’ I suppose that I would be happy with any indication to The Owner that her actions have not gone unnoticed and uncondemned. After so many years when she has been able to get away with the most disgraceful unprofessional behaviour (to put it at its mildest) it seems to be almost futile to think that anything real will be done. But I am an eternal optimist and a great believer in the tag of ‘Anything is better than nothing.’

As the meeting with the lawyer is in the evening I will be able to indulge myself with a whole day of expectation in order to store up enough positive vibes to see me through the inevitable depressing reality that legal possibility often turns out to be!

Toni has been to his meeting with his union representatives and they seem to be quite enthusiastic about taking his unfair dismissal further. He is naturally cynical about how much can be done, but there do seem to be clear grounds for further action.

The headquarters of the organization in which he used to work is located in the Zona Franca which is a hellish industrial complex set around a river and imaginatively set out around a series of roads named after the letters of the alphabet. Our journey to ‘B’ was given that twist of frustration by a solid traffic jam which was the result of extensive work on an elevated section of a new motorway.

The Zona Franca seems to be a spawning ground for ridiculously large lorries to the extent that as a mere car driver you feel like a vulnerable pygmy surrounded by hostile moving metallic cliffs which threaten to crush you at any moment.


Toni has a sense of direction like a homing pigeon and he sees structure where I merely see roads. His expectation of salvation by way of roundabout was duly rewarded and we slingshot our way out of claustrophobic metallic enclosure into the stench of industrial pollution. Toni orientated himself instantly and pointed imperiously towards a mercifully lorry free exit and within seconds even I knew where we were!

Depositing Toni outside the building, I made haste to get out of the stygian horror of (surely) regulation free development and made my way to MediaMarkt to see what progress had been made in respect of my handheld computer.

A torrent of Spanish greeted my arrival in the store, none of which to my 10% understanding seemed very positive. Eventually a boy was found who reluctantly spoke English after hopefully suggesting we communicate in German. I countered with French which, thankfully, he declined in favour of the King of Languages!

I reiterated the past history of the getting of an estimate and the difficulties of contacting the British insurance company. After a sotto voce conversation between the boy and the girl he announced that the repair had been stopped and I could have my deposit back.

How kind.

What this actually meant was that the machine had not left the store; it had not been sent to HP; nothing had been done since I last spoke to the store; they had lost the documentation and therefore the number on the packet with the machine in it; finding the documentation they had also found the machine which they had not sent anywhere.

They therefore presented me with my money as a kindness of their part, rather than returning my money because they had done nothing at all. It just goes to sow what a soft touch I am that I actually began to believe that the machine was on the point of being repaired when actually nothing, nothing at all had been done. Learn by experience. At least begin to do so. Soon!

A birthday party in Terrassa and tea and talk in Sant Pere completed my day: both stimulating in their different ways – how did I ever have time to teach in school all day!

Time to put my documentation in order for tomorrow!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!


Living in Spain for a year has not given me any greater understanding of what is going on in the celebration of the festival of Sant Fermin.

This includes the tradition of bull running in Pamplona. A disturbingly large number of people dress up with white shirts and red neckerchiefs and provoke bulls which are set loose in the streets.

In the normal course of events I have no objection to people who indulge in dangerous sports as long as they do not expect the public health services to patch them up again when they get what they richly deserve.


I dread to think what they do the bulls before they set them loose, but if the bulls have the temerity just to stand around then there are plenty of people there to spur them up into more aggressively macho activity to match the fearless alcohol fuelled idiocy of the participants.

The bulls are obviously frightened and confused and on that basis alone this Hemmingway supported piece of cruelty should be banned. And talking of Hemmingway, look what happened to him at the end.

Toni is quick to point out that bizarre things like bull running only occur in places outside Catalonia. Inside Catalonia they have things like castell building and fuet. Things which have a human dimension at least and don’t involve cruelty to animals, though the fuet was once an animal, though I hope it was killed humanely!


There is very much a feeling of end of term and beginning of holidays and that is a moment for me to take the making of lists of tasks more seriously. More seriously because there is actually time to get them done and tick them off – surely one of the more satisfying activities known to human kind. As my list of tasks is on my handheld computer it reminded me that my insurance company have finally decided that the amount to repair the old broken handheld is too much. I therefore needed to return to MediaMarkt to get a refund on the deposit that was demanded before they would give me an estimate for the repair.

The ‘repair’ of my handheld is a long ongoing story which has been complicated by the international nature of the claim and the difficulty of the language in ensuring that the activity or lack of it in Spain was understood by all parties.

For whatever electronic reasons the first attempt to get the electronic copy of the estimate to the insurance company did not work and the delay between the failure and my realization that it was a failure meant that the time limit on the estimate had expired. The refreshing of the estimate and the extra application to the insurance company meant that I had to redo all the paperwork in MediaMarkt.

My presentation of the documentation for the refund was greeted by the assistant with the disturbing information that the repair would be ready in a few days. When I explained that I had not, could not have, authorized the repair, there was immediate recourse to yet more documentation – which could not be found.

You have to understand that I have given no indication of the actual time that this little transaction took or the number of people of increasing seniority and importance that were necessary to arrive at absolutely no conclusion to what is a nice dilemma.

I did not authorize the repair. The broken machine is mine and must be returned to me. I want the refund of the €100 deposit. I await the judgement of Solomon which will be needed to sort out this little mess.

I have, of course, bought a new handheld some time ago. This action was based on an eerie prescience based entirely on past hard experience which told me that the repair would not be simple/cheap/possible/easy/satisfactory or any combination of those words. As indeed it turned out.

The next horror I expect is that the insurance company will send me a cheque based on some gnomic computation to assess the value of the machine which has been deemed beyond repair.

This money will be sent to me by international cheque which I will have to pay into my hated bank, BBVA. This institution’s greedy fingers, unhelpful meretricious obstruction, dismissive attitude and refusal to speak Catalan (that last one was supplied by Toni) suggests that a major percentage of the cheque is going to be taken up with spurious ‘bank charges’ and probably the worst rate of exchange in the western hemisphere.

I can feel a comforting anger beginning to build and, as the cheque takes about 28 days to be processed, there is plenty of time for that anger to develop into an all encompassing fury.

My tasks are still growing with not a single job completed today.

But the sunbathing and a swim took my mind off such mundane concerns.

And I’m now convinced that the ‘dead’ cactus is showing subtle signs of life!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

On other people's shoulders!




Watching a very young child clamber up the backs of a human construction some fifty feet high to the accompaniment of a raucous orchesta of various reeded instruments is an odd experience.

I have to say that every time I see groups of castelleres making their castells I find it a rather moving experience.

These human towers are constructed using people standing on each others shoulders and these structures sometimes have up to ten levels!

The top two levels are where the children come in. One child known as an aixecador makes his, or in my experience her, way to the top of the tower and then awaits the second child known as the enxaneta. The enxaneta climbs on top of the aixecador and raises his or her right hand which is the sign that the castell has been contstructed. The completion of the castell does involve the successful dismantling of the structure as well without its collapsing.

For more information you can go to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castell but reading about the process does not give you an idea of what it is like acually being there.

On the face of it this activity is absolutely pointless and dangerous with the added suspicion that sending a small child to the top of a rickety column of people smacks of child abuse!

If you would like to stop and think about how many of your activities could be summed up by the two adjectives “pointless and dangerous” then you will rapidly discover that many of the more interesting diversions of the human animal can be dismissed with those two words. Sport, sex and sunbathing (to take but three starting with the letter ‘S’) could certainly be covered!

So, we will ignore the obvious idiocy of the activity and concentrate instead on the more positive aspects.

All Catalans I have met take a defensively nonchalant attitude towards the building of castells and treat the successful completion and dismantling of a high castell with the same respect and enthusiam as they would give to a well scored goal in football.

The musical accompaniment with the traditional instruments and the fact that the enxaneta is supposed to raise four fingers as a symbol for the four bars on the Catalan flag gives some idea of the nationalistic feeling that is present when the castells are built and perhaps gives some basis for the sight of the rising column of people being a representation of a national group rather than merely a quaint custom produced by odd folk.

For the column of people to rise there has to be support and, at the base of the structure, this support is a whole mass of people whose combined effort ensures the solidity of the whole. The people involved are not all trained athletes (through training and practise there certainly is) and the sheer ordinariness of the participants is strangely uplifting.

It may be, of course, that I am merely exhibiting my more romantic side. Or indeed just wrong. Time and understanding the country in which I now live will tell.

Meanwhile our joint life as the unemployed is about to start - though the idea of forming an EFL school is a real possibility and one which deserves some serious consideration during the summer.

My visit to the lawyer is still some days away so I have time to try and understand the tickets allocation system for the opera for next season. The Liceau offers various packages, none of which include all the operas, but do include other concerts that I do not necessarily want to attend. The total cost for a decent seat with a reasonable view is astonishingly large, but if you look on it as a year’s worth of entertainment then I suppose it becomes a little more reasonable. But it’s a lot of money to pay out all in one go!

And I’m unemployed!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

One thing after another!


As I opened the door to go to the opera there, standing on the threshold, early, far too early to be home from work was Toni!

Not one to allow me to revel in exciting life changing moments in isolation he has joined me in the experience of being sacked!

My first instinct was to suspect the long arm of The Owner being in some way involved, but then I considered that such a response would show that I had taken too much of the everyday paranoia of my ex school into my ordinary life!

Whereas my dismissal was always on the cards, Toni's fall from grace was far more unexpected. His misery is somewhat lessened by the fact that, due to the quaint unemployment laws in Spain, and the fact that he has got a reasonable number of years in work to look back on, he should get a reasonable amount of money to luxuriate in days of idle richness. Though I have to say that this is one of those things that I will believe when I see it!

With both of us out of work we are back to those halcyon days of exactly a year ago when we arrived in Castelldefels: funny how cyclical life can be!

Talking of cyclical I have to report that the devil is among us!

He is alive and well and setting out his satanic wares in PC City. The fruit may have become less 0rganic and more technological, but this Son of Adam still stretched out his hand and did eat.

In my defence I would aver that only the basest form of scoundrel could pass by the new Eee PC series of mini laptops on the other side of the road.
It's cute little 7” screen and its tiny keypad which is not really made for my spatulate fingers: it is, simply put, a Needful Thing so I now have one and I feel that I can call on the moral support of that great technophile from the past, King Lear in dismissing carping criticism with the stern injunction, 'Argue not the need!'

The kind people in PC City set up the machine for me and offered to put all the basic software on the machine in an hour. I therefore departed for dinner.

The fish menu in the Basque restaurant was excellent with fish soup, cod with beans (how Bostonian!) and the sort of chocolate cake that, after one spoonful you feel like dropping your face onto your plate as the only adequate compliment to the confection. As the table was outside the restaurant in a colonnade next to the market and there were numbers of people passing I managed to resist. But only just!

Collecting the diabolical delight now bursting with its newly installed software, I took it back to the car in the Ramblas car park. The Basque meal having, as it were, completed its gastric journey I entered the car park toilet. And left it almost immediately as it was insole deep in what I hope was overflow from the cistern.

I decided to repair to the altogether more salubrious surroundings of the Teatre del Liceu.

Meditating in the spotless and marble acccommodation afforded to bourgeois patrons of the opera I heard a gentleman of advanced years come in to avail himself of porcelain relief.

I can only hope that the opera gave him as much pleasure as the emptying of his bladder. If I had been a marker of porn films I would have signed him up on the spot! In the time it took him to complete his business he enacted aurally the sound effects of a complete and graphic 'little death!'

The opera was 'Luisa Miller' and a thoroughly nasty little tale it is. The censors did not allow Verdi and Cammarano to stick too closely to Schiller's original conception which was much more political than the tragic melodrama which finally resulted which means that this fatal love story seems grotesquely morbid and self obsessed.

The ending is a piece of morbid philosophizing which is thoroughly repulsive. The son of a murdering count has suppressed his memory of his father's guilt until his own philandering becomes exposed and he uses his knowledge to ensure his father's compliance in not imprisoning his peasant lover. As you can see it is not the most sophisticated of story lines.

A sorry tale of intrigue ends with the count's son poisoning himself and his lover (while not omitting to murder the rascally lascivious henchman before he dies) leaving the count to look on the pile of bodies and rue the destruction of all his dynastic plans.

The tenor lead of Rudolfo was sung inadequately by Aquiles Machado who lacked the necessary bravura to being off this impossibly melodramatic role.

His father, Count Walter was adequately performed by Giacomo Prestia looking as though he had stepped out of a John Singer Sargent portrait, while his dastardly lieutenant, Wurm, was sung by Samuel Ramey with a rocking vibrato which was either crass characterization or poor singing. The unrewarding role of the unfortunate duchess was given a nasal performance by Irina Mishura. The old soldier and father of Luisa, Miller was sensitively portrayed by Roberto Frontali.


The star of the evening and a singer whose stage presence and glorious voice stole the show, Nino Surguladze, almost made the evening comprehensible. She was controlled, dramatic and exact – a joy to listen to!

The production (Gilbert Deflo) was interesting. The stage was undulating and (memories of WNO's 'Cunning Little Vixen') was visually exciting though it did let dropped hats roll and the soldiers stood at a slant.


The visual 'idea' of the production was to have the proscenium converted by black curved flat so that the audience saw the action take place in a sort of semi circular bubble. It gave the effect of an old fashioned print and at the same time it made the action look as though it were taking place in one of those glass bubbles which you turn upside down to create a snow storm.

I am sure that there were ideas of artificiality and contained societies knocking about in the concept but I was happy with the fact that it looked good!

Musically I found the sound of the orchestra somewhat cramped. It reminded me (disastrously) of the acoustic of the New Theatre in Cardiff – a boxed sound that I thought I had left behind forever!

At times I found the balance unsettling and the orchestra sometimes swamped the singers, but that might have been a reflection on the singers and not the band!

As an opera I found 'Luisa Miller' a join the dots Verdi: there was more bluster here than raw power.

Perhaps it's unfair to look at 'Luisa Miller' and think of 'Otello' – but it's a free world and I did and I was left unsatisfied, but I enjoyed the production.


Who could ask for more!