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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Damp Doubts



Perhaps because it was raining I looked at my pay information with a jaundiced eye. I am getting almost exactly twice what an unskilled production line worker would get. I can’t help feeling that there is something radically wrong with the financial priorities of the country in which I am living.

If I work it out in detail, my monthly salary just about pays the rent with the extras connected with running a dwelling. So I am in the strange position of having a job which just about covers the expense of living next to the sea. But, for the greater part of the day, I am not in a flat but in a classroom. The view, which from some classrooms is fairly spectacular, is not one which I can enjoy as I have demanding customers clamouring for my attention. It is one of those ‘nice’ problems (in the nice sense of the word) where the work takes you away from the thing you are working to enjoy! Ah the taxing paradoxes of life!

Enough of this maudlin self-pity over a couple of days of rain! What if the skies are as dull as a Spanish television advert break; what if the rain hammers down causing the route from building to building to become even more hazardous; what if the pay is derisory; what if I carry on depressing myself and forget that the summer is almost upon us!

Ah, the promise of lazy days of sunshine! And a holiday which lasts two whole blissful months!

Which is the case in point. What happens for the two months of the summer and the month before pay? There is little likelihood of the school paying for the summer even if they employ me to start teaching again in September. Contracts are contracts and mine only stretches until the end of June. The School That Sacked Me recommends to its hapless workers that are effectively sacked at the end of the school year that they apply to the employment office and ask for unemployment money to tide them over the lean months and then they will possibly be re-employed by The Owner at the start of the next school year!

Anything is possible. Even, I like to dream, being paid over the summer. Fond, I’m afraid, hope!

Three more days to go to the holidays and staff and students are more than ready to succumb to vacation inertia now. Unfortunately it is all systems very much go in our place with new initiatives about to be sprung on us.

The class of the youngest pupils I teach has now changed to another group; my second class has been relocated; my oldest pupils have been joined by others; one of my other classes is about to be enlarged and who knows what other delights await me. Although all this sounds unkind and directed it is not: classes have been rearranged to cope with the demands of examination classes and change of pupils is to facilitate knowledge of pupils’ names. I am no longer consigned to a windowless classroom in the depths of the building and all is well with the world.

Talking of wellness on our entry to the staff room this morning we were greeted by a plastic tray of sugar glazed donuts next to the tea and coffee making facilities. Next to the donuts was a pile of chocolate covered waffle-type confections which were not to be resisted. Maybe not resisted, but certainly unfinished as their sucrose packed nature was explored by the tea sodden tongue. I managed half before I gave up!

I have been searching for the last couple of days for the alleged marking from my oldest pupils who maintain that they have given me the work that I am berated them for forgetting. A salient detail divulged by one of the workless pupils convinced me that I had seen these elusive papers and therefore instigated a thorough search. Alas! All my best efforts seemed to be doomed to failure until I looked in a multi pocket file labelled with the names of the classes that I teach. And there they were, all the missing work, in the section marked ‘marking’ together with the name of the class. With my sense of organization it was the very last place that I would have expected me to file them!

I have now subscribed to the very excellent magazine ‘The Week’ for the next three years. This invaluable magazine is my window on the world and its sometimes idiosyncratic view of what was important during the last seven days is always invigorating. Although there are no articles in any real depth, the gobbet-like approach appeals to my thoroughly dilettante soul and, as a confirmed snapper up of unconsidered trifles it is purpose made for me.

My previous weekly read some years ago was The Guardian Weekly which incorporates a digest from Le Monde and The Washington Post – but it was altogether too grown up for me and it often remained unread at the end of the week. The Week is never unread as anyone could tell by the smudges of the slippery type which disfigure its well thumbed pages.

The approaching holiday will give me an opportunity to catch up on my reading which has sadly reduced itself to normal term time levels – where the last book I read would truly be flattered if I called it pulp fiction. It was an anti German rant concerning attempted Hun beastliness from the pen of the creator of Tarzan. Something of historical interest only – though I have to say that I read it avidly!
Early start tomorrow and a long day; but I intend to take my two early ends of the day that I am owed.

A fine descent into the expanse of the holiday.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Life is long!


Blake, so he wrote, found infinity in a grain of sand. He was obviously a follower of Mies van de Rohe and discovered that “less is more” long before Mies wrote his famous dictum.

My glimpse of infinity came via a tortuous meeting in school which started at five and finished at eight – with the second part of it delayed until tomorrow!

The ‘meeting’ was something which I assume is required by the Generalitat as no sane person would countenance such a fiasco without the inspired intervention of government.

The meeting was held in the library which was converted into some sort of court room for the occasion. Tables were set out in the centre of the room and all the teachers taking classes in the lower school were ranged around them. A few chairs were left vacant for the elected representatives of each form to occupy.

The form the meeting was to take was that the representatives would seat themselves then the form teacher would give an overview of the form while the pupils took notes to report back to the pupils at a later date. Then all (yes all) the teachers who taught the form would have an opportunity to say a few words. Finally the representatives themselves could say, basically whatever they liked.

Everyone wanted their 15 minutes of fame and some got quite carried away and spoke interminably. At the best of times and in ideal circumstances this sort of meeting would be excruciatingly boring. When the only languages used (with one shining exception) are Spanish and Catalan the boredom enters another dimension of awfulness.

There is just so much enjoyment that can be extracted from taking tiny, desperate sips of water from a school plastic cup while people talk in incomprehensible jargon about pupils you don’t know in a language which, to understand, you would need subtitles at least!

The tedium was enlivened by one Bolshy little bugger of a pupil who seemed hyped up on having an audience of all the teachers who taught him and another who actually said nice things about me.

My contributions to the meeting (in impeccable English) were greeted, according to one of my English colleagues being told by a Spanish colleague, “Doesn’t he speak English well!” Almost like a native one is tempted to reply!

I have now had a meeting with the Directora who asked me about my intentions and, although she mentioned interviews she seemed fairly positive about my chances of remaining at the school. Things will become a little clearer after the Easter holidays. With any luck! I must admit talking about who I would speak to in the school to confirm details about a permanent contract gave the meeting with her a little spice and perhaps pointed towards a certain direction as far as a job was concerned!

However, I should bear in mind that private schools are a law unto themselves and nothing can be certain, or even likely most of the time!

Meanwhile there is the fact that day one of five days to the holiday has now irrevocably gone.

And that, dear reader is a good thing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Art and Protest


However valid the reason for doing it may be, I always feel a little self conscious when traipsing along a busy street holding a union banner.

So, after an interminable bus journey (never take the 95 to Barcelona, always take the 94) I finally made it, half an hour late, but, as it happens at exactly the right time to take place in the march.

Our ‘march’ was a damp stroll around the block leaving a small tree outside the employers association as a sign and symbol of our protest. Our group (a couple of hundred strong) was protesting about the lack of progress there has been about the negotiations for the private (unregulated) section of education. The annual debate about the increase in wages looks very far from settled and the employers are trying to negotiate by trying to trade worse conditions for a small amount of money. Some things never change no matter what country you are in!

Because of the damp conditions there was no food provided as had been promised and the Catalan contingent of the protest were outraged; the British section just shrugged. Never let it be said that national stereotypes were obvious!

Duty done and whistle blown I went by metro to España to begin the long walk to MNAC. To my horror the whole of the front of the building was shrouded in dark netting as some sort of rebuilding is in progress. My horror was not that the building might be closed, but rather that the view from the first floor restaurant would be obscured while I had my well deserved lunch.

In the event I needed have worried as my attempts to have a meal were met with an expressionless “Impossible!” by an impassive maitre d’hotel who I could tell relished the refusal.

Foiled by my gourmet inclinations I was determined to be satisfied by my cultural aspirations and so, having got my free ticket by the magical production of my Amics de MNAC card I visited the present temporary exhibition “Sorolla. Visión de España,” from the Colección de la Hispanic Society of America.

The exhibition was in two parts. One part was of preparatory sketches and drawings for the commission and the second part was of the massive paintings themselves.

With the pretention which has become an essential part of my character, I did, of course prefer the sketches to the finished work. The finished panels were to grace the Manhattan headquarters of the Hispanic Society of America and were to show characteristic scenes representing the different regions of Spain.

The sketches that I liked showed fishermen wading through water; a couple of oxen and the sinister hooded figures from Easter time. The painting was fluid and gestural (a meaningless word used on the introductory blurb) but the impasto gave an almost sculptural effect. The ink drawing of the two oxen was obviously a quick sketch on a piece of paper which came to hand. It looks almost like some sort of hieroglyphic and, while the representational meaning of the piece emerges from the lines, it is a very satisfyingly abstract looking work.

For me the subject matter of the Easter penitents (as with depictions of bull fighting) is uncomfortable in a way in which more obviously distressing subject matter (e.g. human suffering) is not. The semi abstract sketch-like quality of the portrayal of the Easter procession in the work that I like makes the subject more of a design idea than a faithful representation.

The large scale works have a brio and vitality which is attractive and some of the brush work has all the exuberance of a Sargent. Throughout the time that I was looking at the paintings, which seemed to me to be accomplished but entirely unoriginal in their execution, I was reminded of a painter who I couldn’t place when I was in the exhibition.

It was only when I was leaving that I suddenly remembered who it was I was thinking of – Frank Brangwyn. Given the size of the finished paintings I really should have made the connection with the paintings I had looked at each time I went to the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea for one of the many concerts I heard there. Those massive paintings intended for the House of Lords have much in common with the panels produced by Sorolla (though I think that Brangwyn’s are the more accomplished) the same range of characters and the depiction of flora and fauna in generous colour and a clear representational style.

The exhibition was interesting without being fully satisfying. The range and extent of the material on sale associated with the exhibition seemed to indicate that my lack of enthusiasm was not shared either by the exhibition organizers or by the general public. So be it.

As a bonus I decided to finish my trip to Barcelona was going to what is probably my favourite exhibition space – Caixa Forum.

I revisited the Joaquim Mir show and am more firmly convinced than ever that the paintings he produced during his short stay in Mallorca are by far the most impressive he produced.

I was also struck by how badly they had all been framed. Many have come from private collections and it is easy to see that proud families have produced what can only be called ‘Heritage Frames’ to show how important the individual painting is. Given what the paintings depict the subject is often ludicrously at odds with the opulence of the frames. Still, an exhibition not to be missed – and free to boot!

Another exhibition in the same collections of Modernista buildings (and free too) is a retrospective of the paintings of Mersad Berber, a Bosnia artist of whom I have never heard. Although his name is not household, the quality of his drawing is so clearly related to that of the Great Masters that his images have a disturbing familiarity.

His debt to the history of art is made quite explicit in his various ‘homages’ to artists like Velazquez, Ingres and Gericault. Indeed his version of ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ almost covers a wall and is quite as disturbing as the original.

He has a delicacy of touch in line and assertive confidence in his brushwork. His use of collage gives a busy look to his canvases and suggests a narrative which is sometimes ambiguous and provocative.

As I ‘did’ his work last, I think that the pictures deserve another look when I am less tired.

Now for some mindless reading from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs!

Me Stephen! You reader!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Solidarity!


For what seems like the umpteenth time in succession the weekend dawns dull. Not only dull, but it actually has had the temerity to rain!

This is a problem.

A problem which touches the very (in both senses) socialist soul which I am fairly sure that I used to have at some point in the past – I think. Today has been set aside by my Union (the CCOO) for a demonstration in the centre of Barcelona for which I have received more than one email from my mate in the Union and who I feel I would be letting down if I did not attend.

But it’s raining!

As you see I hardly fit easily into the role of a Tolpuddle Martyr. But I do see my way to creating a strategy which will encourage my sun loving self to do the right thing.

I am prepared to bet that in the crowd watching Wales play Scotland at Murrayfield when I last attended the match, there was only one person in that multitude who, while cheering on Wales (in a match which we won incidentally) was clutching the catalogue raisonné of the National Gallery of Scotland under his arm! I think that a similar inclusivity can be adopted in this case combining Power to the People with Paintings for the Patricians. It is a long time since I have wound my way up the steps and escalators of Monjuïc to have a more than decent meal in the first floor restaurant and incidentally look at the paintings that I am getting to know pretty well. I am sure that my sense of working responsibility and cultural thirst can both be satisfied in a judiciously spaced visit to the capital.

This demonstration is not in My Barcelona. This is designation of those bits which I know. God knows My London is small enough stretching as it does from the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, to the electronic and book stores in the Tottenham Court Road and stretching down to the South Bank and reaching east to the Barbican, that morass of modern buildings and lost culture vultures!

My Barcelona is even smaller and is basically restricted to Las Ramblas with islands of familiarity in Monjuïc for MNAC; the high location of my school and on a parallel slope the wonderful Parc Guell; the restaurants of Port Olympic and one or two other places of particular significance.

The only problem I have is that the location of the demonstration is not in either My Barcelona or in an associated colony. I will have to branch out into new areas. A bit of map check is called for before I set off to catch the bus. I am going to rely on the much vaunted transport system of this area to get me there and back and to the gallery which is my bonus for going in the first place.

Fair’s fair!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Keep clicking!


The computer has been the baleful presence in the staffrooms today.

Our ecstasy of examinations has reached its apogee and all the results have to be placed in the computer. Not, of course in their raw form, but augmented, multiplied, divided and massaged. This is in preparation to the Great Printing which will distribute the final marks out of ten for all subjects.

Exciting though this is I fear that it is but a prelude to the highlight of the present season: the meeting.

After school on Monday we will be living the reality of a grotesque version of the painting by W F Yeames ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ when the entire staff of the secondary section will be subjected to a ‘feedback’ by representatives of each form. In our version the child will be in charge instead of standing cowed before a relaxed collection of Roundheads - right but repulsive.

It is, apparently a marathon which takes boredom to new heights. The kids are not checked in what they say and so public denunciation could be a possibility! The pupils that I teach are beginning to realise that I am not the Mr Nice Guy that I appeared to be when teaching there for one short week.

It is easy to appear to be God’s Gift when your immediate predecessor has not been generally accepted by the kids. It is much more difficult to sustain pupil satisfaction over an extended period of time when you are trying to establish your own working method which demands that the pupils fit in with your own methodology rather than the relaxed educational environment that the students would like to exist. It will be interesting to hear if I make a guest appearance in the students’ speeches!

Next week is the last week before the Easter holiday and it can’t come too soon. I only hope it is graced with decent weather.

The tan is a priority!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Power of the Paper Clip


With only an early morning’s reading of Stewart’s erudite email to strengthen and stimulate me I drove a very sleepy way to school to day.

With the examination frenzy now over and the marking frenzy now reaching its crescendo my day in school was a continuous flow of teaching, marking and duty. That sounds like a motto of one of the more gung-ho American military organizations!

My colleagues are more than helpful and have provided me with examination papers and marking schemes and I have struggled with Excel to try and put the results in some sort of electronic form. The typing is obviously no problem is it when I try adding the mathematical functions to the lists that the problems start. The simple stuff worked (up to a point) but the more complex calculations gave results that were simply fantastic. And indeed wrong.

One of the advantages of working in a school like mine is that there is expert advice on difficult programs available at a moment’s notice.

Once the mystical significance of the $ sign in the program had been explained to me the whole problem that had been facing me vanished. Quite why the $ sign is used in the way that it is in Excel was not explained but, in very much the same way that I learned and applied the formula for solving quadratic equations, I accepted it as one of those bits of magic that when you use it you get results that are pleasing.

All my results are now nicely tabulated and calculated and I have finally ended up with the result which all examinations and tests in Spain end up – a mark out of ten.

Such is my new found proficiency in Excel that I have even discovered (with a little help) how to make the program work out the finished result to only one decimal place. My previous best efforts merely resulted in final numbers which sometimes had a bewildering and frankly vulgar number of digits after the decimal point!

Tomorrow will see the arcane process whereby the numbers that I have produced will be added to other numbers in due proportion; averages will be taken and forced; other numbers will be introduced into the mix; judicious manipulation will be employed; calculators will begin to glow with overuse; computers will be hogged; tempers will be frayed and, eventually, the final Number Out of Ten will be ceremoniously entered on the computer as the summation of a term’s work.

This intricate mathematical chicanery is merely the fussy preliminary to an extraordinary general meeting which will be held on Monday after The Publication of the Mark Out of Ten.

This meeting is a gathering of the entire staff and representatives from all the classes. The form it takes is that the chosen pupils will take centre stage and then say what they like about their educational experience over the past term or year or whatever. They have, apparently, carte blanche to say what they like; nothing is off limits – up to and including commenting on individual teachers!

It should be quite an experience, though I will be partially restricted from the full effect by my faltering Spanish and my non-existent Catalan! I have no doubt that colleagues will be only too eager to translate the more juicy bits!

Interesting though this promises to be, I have also been assured by Those Who Know that it is a soul destroyingly boring experience. I, however, will maintain an eager anticipation so that the anti-climax will be all the more poignant when it happens.

Tomorrow promises to be a fraught day as I attempt to access the main computer listings and type in my paltry marks. At least I have my own computer and I will not be at the mercy of one of my colleagues slipping out for a visit to the toilet to free up one of the four computers that are set aside for the use of the secondary staff.

And there is teaching too!

Truly my cup runneth over.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mark well, my lord!


There was only one topic of conversation at the lunch table today and that was examination marking.

I was frankly astonished as I had thought that examinations were the life blood of this institution. Such regular testing takes place that one would have expected such frequent occasions to slip by without a second word, but not so, quite wrong.

I now realize that simply because examinations are so intrinsic to the whole ethos of the place it is essential that their existence is celebrated by a series of woeful faces bemoaning the piles of marking which threaten the placidish life of our school. I further realize that the protestations of overwork in the marking department are actually a form of celebration. Bemoaning the burden is part of the exaltation of the process.

These examinations are not wordy affairs. There are usually far more words in the questions than there ever are in the answers. They are a ‘fill in the gap’ type questions with some ‘fit the word in a sentence’ type puzzlers to take the place of the essays!

You would think that such papers are easy to mark with many of the responses limited to a single permissible word. Alas! You woefully underestimate the insane genius which motivates most children when it comes to answering examination papers. They eschew the simple, direct answer and plump instead for some obsolete and Heath-Robinson like circumlocution or choose a verb formation so Byzantine and obscure that it makes Miltonic prose look like Enid Blyton. Whatever answers we think they might provide, the first few answer papers show areas of delirium that we have not even considered.

And giving the papers back is a horrendous operation as eleven year olds snap into Rottweiler divorce lawyer mode and question every mark you have deducted while using state of the art calculators to check your addition all the while questioning your qualifications to mark anything they have written wrong!

The most bizarre conversation I had was with a child who stoutly maintained that a squiggle he had drawn was actually the letter ‘h’. As what he produced resembled one of those open v’s that kids draw when they show flying birds I felt that he was pushing his luck. The fact that his ‘bird’ had a broken wing was universally accepted as making the squiggle unequivocally an aitch! Such are the customers that I have to satisfy on a daily basis! Pity me!

Or not. Lunch, in spite of the examinational conversation, was delicious with a salad of couscous and savory rice followed by merluza with pasta. Sweet was flan with chocolate cake which was all façade and no real content.

I understand that my classes are going to change as in the lower school we change our groups each term so that all teachers get to know all children. Eventually.

With my legendary inability to differentiate children by name after years of knowing them I fear that the present educational institution is a little optimistic if it expects me to achieve this in a couple of weeks!

Still nothing has been said about my continued employment in the place though my colleagues are blithely talking about what I will be doing next year there. I hope something is clarified before the Easter holiday otherwise I will have to start the via dolorosa of the Barcelona private schools hawking my CV about and hoping for the best.

My next opera is a work of which I have never heard so I will have to do some homework before I start pontificating about it!

And there is yet more marking to do!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let no one's work evade your eyes!







There is a sort of corollary to an education system which is driven by examinations – and that is cheating.

Yesterday in a geography and civics examination there was a patently orchestrated attempt by three girls to copy each other’s work. I gave them ‘significant’ looks which in past schools have conveyed a whole system of ethics, but here with the pampered darlings of the very rich, it was as if I was looking a foreign language at them! They continued with impunity!

I decided that I would not create a situation inside an examination room where most of the candidates had finished the examination and, in the best traditions of adolescents throughout the known universe, were bubbling with incipient mutiny. I merely decided to put their papers in a separate pile and give a covering note to the teacher.

The separation was noted and gave rise to semi hysterical enquiry. As Stoppard so perceptively points out, “there’s an art to the building of suspense” or something like that. It at least gave the girls something to think about last night: if they even considered that they might have done anything wrong which cannot be cleared up by money.

Today, the resourceful head of English removed a mobile phone which appeared and then disappeared from the desk of a pupil taking an exam. Even more resourcefully she gave the offending item to the IT teacher and asked him to ‘explore’ its depths.

Lo and behold! Within its electronic entrails was discovered a cornucopia of questionable material. This included photocopies of pages of Latin (yes, we teach this) information that was necessary for the previous day’s paper.

From my anecdotal observations I think that cheating is endemic to the culture of the school. Seeing people write tiny notes and then roll them into even tinier volumes does give one pause for thought! It will be interesting to see the fallout from these examination days!

As the term progresses towards the Easter holiday, it is easy to tell that the staff and pupils are ready for the vacation. As indeed am I!

The holiday will give me an opportunity to consider my options for the next academic year and what I should do. There is never a dull moment.

And that leads me neatly on to my epic operatic experience last night.

I have to say that the whole evening, night and early morning which was the sort of time scale that Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg demands from the audience/congregation/Wagnerites or whatever the people who listen to these self indulgent, slightly distasteful ideologically questionable musical voyages call themselves.

The publicity for the opera has the image of the graphic of the gentleman from the sign for a male toilet with the head composed of a child’s drawing of a house composed of the word Nürnberg in black letter. This image is repeated throughout the 256 page combined libretto and programme.

After the glorious overture the curtains part to reveal oversized tables with a giant kitchen chair.

There are images from nursery rhymes and fairy stories throughout the evening/night/morning. The world turned topsy turvey – at one point the tables we see at the beginning seem to have gravitated to the ceiling. There are nods in the direction of Hansel and Gretel and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other bits and pieces along the way. The production by Claus Guth produces some interesting pictures but whether it adds anything substantial to the opera I don’t know.

The more I listened to the music and read the English version of the libretto on the led screens in front of each chair, the more problems I found in sympathizing with the central theme of the opera.

If the central character in the opera is Hans Sachs (ably sung by Albert Dohmen) then I have considerable difficulty in responding to an interfering, arrogant, elitist masquerading as a liberal. The end of the opera with Sachs’ paean to ‘sacred German art’ and his insistence that it ‘will endure’ together with the uneasy knowledge that this was one of Hitler’s favourites needs more than a little fantasy wrapping in the production to lessen the discomfort of the message.

The music, however, in parts is majestic and wonderful.

The production lasted six hours and I cannot pretend that it held my interest during all that time. There were longueurs but by the time we had reached the third act and its two hour stretch without interval I was on the side of the music and enjoyed the sound even if the pictures on stage were a little less satisfying!

The Orchestra Simfónica i Cor del Gran Theatre del Liceu were excellent and sustained their quality throughout the evening.

David (Norbert Ernst) looked disturbingly like Robin Williams in short trousers, while the long trousered Robert Dean Smith playing Walther von Stolzing sung well, but lacked the power and a certain degree of lyricism that the role demanded.

The whole of my attitude to the opera has been coloured by the disgraceful behaviour of the parking garage that I used.

Deciding to try another one rather the my usual spot near the statue of Soller, I found myself in a confusing garage where, instead of parking in the open, one had to drive into a sort of cage and then one’s car disappeared into some sort of metallic honeycomb of spaces. The price of my car being returned was €27 – at the present rate of exchange a crucifyingly large sum to pay for even an extended Wagner opera’s length of stay.

Perhaps time will soften the blow of the price of parking.

But I think not!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Please sir, I want some more!


The first stage in securing some sort of job for next year has been reached. Like some sort of old fashioned suitor I have made my intentions plain and intimated that I would like to remain in the school to start the new year in September.

It came as a considerable bump to my self confidence that the school itself has been sifting through the CVs that they have been sent on spec. to see if there is anyone to take the position which I regard as mine! Now is the time, I have been told, when the powers that be decide to contact the agencies and see what there is on offer.

Like the Infant Samuel I feel like crying plaintively, “Here am I, Lord!” Why look further afield? It takes me back to my first and only attempt to blackmail a head teacher into giving me an extra point where, at the crucial moment I played my ace and said, “In that case head teacher, I will have to apply for other jobs.” The head teacher’s response is engraved, like Calais for Queen Mary, on my heart: “Do quote me as a referee Mr Rees!”

The injustice of it all still strikes a sympathetic chord in my trembling soul. After all the clubs and societies that I had founded, the drama that I had done, the extra time given to the life of the place, all the head could do was smile blithely and sweetly and say he would list my achievements for the next school.

When I spoke to my father he laughed the deep laugh of hard experience and stated, “You are not, in spite of what you may believe, irreplaceable. Your replacement may be worse than you, the same as you or better than you, but they will always find someone.”

Wise words which I have always tried to apply when I feel that I have right on my side and am working for good. To a large extent no one cares as long as the system is seen to footle along without too many hiccoughs. Such experiences are a salutary but necessary part of professional development and tell you more and more usefully about what it is to be a teacher than any advisor led course!

So, words have been said; now we will see how the institution responds. The BSB always holds interviews – even if there is a person in place who has been doing the job. If the present school is looking around then it is likely that they will hold interviews too! It is at times like this that I am profoundly grateful that I started keeping a blog. If nothing else it does allow you to write out frustration, anger, satisfaction and delight. All experience is grist to the wheel of the blog. Even though the first person is used for my narratives it is always a comforting distance from the person himself and allows some reflection!

With the whip hand of the prospect of an interview threatening my equanimity for the rest of my temporary contract I suppose that I should get on with the marking I didn’t do yesterday.

These things tend to catch up with you!

And this evening the opera, so no early bedtime for me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Party time!


The meal, we were told, was for nine-thirty. Running a little late we arrived at nine-twenty. No one was there.

We eventually gained admittance through the good services of the organizers and found ourselves in a deserted room filled with low sofa-like chairs and even lower tables. Spoilt for choice we established ourselves in what we considered a strategic position and awaited developments.

People started arriving after we had been told that to the Spanish nine-thirty meant ten and food was actually served after eleven. Though the tapas were tasty, I do not consider what we had could be covered under the term of ‘dinner.’ At first we thought that the gathering we were attending was a networking opportunity for English businesses, but there were a fair number of Spanish and Catalan people too. It was a difficult gathering to work out and I think we left still wondering at the mix of people who were there. It was noisy and bustling; and if everyone paid the same entrance money that we did – extremely profitable!

We never did get to hear the alleged band, but I did revert to old ways and sequester a bottle of red wine for my exclusive use! It was an interesting if essentially empty evening mitigated by our conversation.

The weather today is irresolute: weak sunshine and a languid intermittent breeze. It’s the sort of weather that tempts you towards the beach so that you can wander up and down thinking of summer and morosely deciding to keep walking because at least that keeps the blood circulating. This is the second weekend in a row that we have had glorious weeks and indifferent Saturdays and Sundays. Perhaps it’s god‘s way of telling me to get on with my marking.

The displacement activity I indulged in last night rather than mark involved me in creating a little booklet of a short story by Chekhov. This story, ‘Champagne’ was one which I did not recognize but it had all the usual Chekhovian doom and gloom and misery to make it representative and interesting.

I duly designed a cover for the story and with breathtaking audacity I ‘lightly’ edited the story itself. There is something wickedly exciting (even with a translation) of altering the words of a Master and I am sure that many people would say that if you have to alter the words of a classic story perhaps you should choose another.

In response I suppose I could maintain that ‘Champagne’ is not necessarily a ‘Classic’ classic with a capital ‘C’; that a translation has already compromised the integrity of the story; that my editing was light but necessary for the intended audience – and that it was good fun doing something which is the equivalent of literary sacrilege!

I have left the word ‘scrofulous’ intact in the story mainly because I wasn’t 100% sure that I could define it clearly and was too lazy to look it up in the dictionary but mainly because it looks so Dickensian and quaint. I have a hazy recollection that scrofula is ‘The King’s Evil’, the disease that reigning monarchs were supposed to be able to cure merely by touch, but I need to look that up. Not, of course, that uncertainty about facts has ever hindered my ability to pontificate with rather more authority than the jumped-up Bishop of Rome!

The sun has gained a little more confidence since I have been typing and is almost at a level that tempts me onto the balcony with a cup of tea.

The view from the balcony takes in the new paseo and the people using it. The Spanish seem to have an almost pathological need to parade and walk in public view. This ensures that the final cup of coffee at the end of a meal can be extended almost indefinitely as the constantly changing parade of humanity encourages viewing. The Spanish (unlike the British) are not averse to staring at their fellow countrymen and it is an essential component of any meal in a restaurant with seating outside that the passing pedestrians are subject to lingering scrutiny.

The paseo has certainly increased the flow of people past our block of flats. Previously there were low dunes sparsely covered with rough grass. Now these have been levelled and the arabesques of fencing which acted as sort of wind groynes to keep the dunes in place have been taken down. There is now a fairly level beach to the sea and a long paved paseo for the indefatigable Spanish to do their parades.

Now for marking.
Or not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who he?



I don’t really do parties.

However, I seem to have agreed to go to one in Sitges. This is all part of the aftermath of the meeting that I went to in the middle of the week. The occasion purports to be dinner and a concert: which I think means tapas and the first drink free with a group of whom I have not heard.

That negativity will be mitigated by the fact that there will be a few friendly faces there and writing about it will obviously be a nice counterpoint to the opera and concert reviews that litter these electronic pages. I have to say that the ticket for my festivities this evening is a damn sight cheaper than the ticket for my next opera – and this one includes food as well!

The sun is making a valiant effort to shine its way through a stubborn layer of cloud and I stoically drunk my mug of tea on the balcony while watching the inexplicably ostentatious faffing about of the bulldozers moving piles of sand which they had laboriously built up a few days ago at the side of our slowly developing paseo on the beach.

The fact that they are working (!) on a Saturday shows a certain degree of panic. Last weekend was one where the beach was covered by people, some of whom divested themselves of many of their garments. You have to understand that the Spanish (and indeed the Catalans) are not ones to discard body coverings lightly merely because the sun shyly shows itself. There has to be heat which is clearly equivalent to summer levels before they show the sun any Spanish skin! The beach 'season' had clearly started.

Today’s temperatures will ensure that the only epidermis the sun’s rays will reach is on the face and hands – and on the head in my case. This seems cruelly unfair when the rest of the week has been glorious. I have been able to appreciate the good weather in my trudging up and down vertiginous steps as I make my way from building to building in school. The journey may be arduous, but you are rewarded by constantly changing vistas of the city of Barcelona laid out beneath the school. From some classrooms the view is spectacular.

But I want unlimited sun here and now. If I am to protect my Germanic status (I don’t look British to any Catalan) I have to be tall (no problem) and tanned – which is where the sun comes in. I have a deep psychological psychosis which centres on my belief that I am becoming paler and paler and that my expensively acquired tan, garnered in the past from high season days in Gran Canaria, is fading to pasty whiteness. I have also convinced myself that I have obviously lost reserves of vitamin D which needs to be replenished by healthy sunshine. I can hardly wait for the penurious days of July (no job / no contract) when I will be able to wallow in the sea and sun with equal impunity!

I’m now off to buy a grandfather’s shirt in my size in preparation for the party as I have decided to wear my Neru suit and to hell with the consequences!

It is a sign of the speed of the times that Neru is now underlined by ‘Word’ as an unknown word. So the founder of modern India and the first Indian prime minister is no longer recognized as a proper noun by the most powerful word processing program in the world. Sic transit gloria mundi! And I might add that ‘Word’ solely recognizes ‘gloria’ as a girl’s name and is only too eager to give it its capital letter! And I think this is all getting too self-referential; so I’ll stop.

Time to shop!

Alas! The only collarless shirt that I found was priced at an extortionate €109 which was 'reduced' to only €85. It did look quite nice, but not €85 nice! It is therefore ordinary shirt and glaring tie.

The sun is now a blurred smudge on the sky and, while there appear to be blue skies near the horizon the only ones above Castelldefels are cloud filled.

I suppose there is always marking!

As if!

Friday, March 20, 2009

In translation



Never let it be said that I wasted an opportunity to spend Money.

Disturbingly Word just capitalized ‘money’ without my asking. Perhaps it shows the true mercenary soul of Microsoft as its grammatical program turns any mention of ‘money’ into a proper noun!

Or perhaps I am merely reading in too much significance to the wayward impulse of a few rogue electrons altering a key-press.

I think not!

Today has been a story of mixed fortunes: I gained an unexpected free period, but lost a quarter of an hour waiting for the next teacher to complete the preparations for the examination he was setting and I also had to say on to finish an examination of my own, with their extra time eating into my ‘early finish’ day.

The termly examination was for my second year class (roughly equivalent to Year 8 as far as I can estimate) and they were touchingly nervous about the whole thing. As I have said, our school’s soul is fed by the misery of examinations and our photocopier runs white hot churning them out. These are important examinations as they will form an essential part of the final ‘mark out of ten’ which will determine the standing of the pupils.

My second year class are still slightly traumatized by the teacher that they had last. I think that their resentments are ill founded and that they themselves were an important part of the problem but, nevertheless, they feel that they have had a rough deal and that ‘other classes’ are ‘ahead of them’ and ‘know more.’

There has to come a time when they accept that the responsibility for their learning is theirs and they have to do more to catch up. I think that this point will be reached next term when I will be able to take full responsibility for the learning that they have had for the next test.

Whatever the truth of the situation, the kids (and one in particular) saw this test as a threat to their intellectual standing. I teach them either in a room which is referred to as ‘the dungeon’ or a strange room with a wall of stained glass.

The examination was to take place in the stained glass room and I had to do my best to make it look like a proper test centre within the cramped limits of its four walls – or rather three walls and a panelled sheet of stained glass.

They trooped in with their usual chirpy greetings and then the regimented atmosphere of unnaturally separated desks began to affect them. Friendship groupings were broken and three of them had to sit facing the whiteboard to give some space for the others.

As soon as the test started, literally within a few seconds the first hand went up and, throughout the test, a regular procession of tense faced youngsters trooped up to my desk with more and more particular questions.

It was one of those tests in which the class teacher had to be there to calm and explain. As I was dealing with the umpteenth question it did cross my mind that with anyone else there the whole thing would have been a very strained disaster! I claim no credit for the smooth running of the test, it was merely the fact that a familiar face was sitting amongst them wearily answering all their inquiries.

You’ve probably forgotten, but I did talk at the beginning about spending money.

The money in question was to find my way to a meeting. Let me explain.

Vilanova is a reasonably sized town down the coast from Sitges. It is a sort of administrative centre for the region and it houses various offices and headquarters. It was to one of those that I was going for my meeting.

Parking in Vilanova is impossible. Absolutely impossible. As I have been there a number of times before I thought that I had found a ‘little spot’ which I could cwtch in whenever I needed to find a space in the centre. This was a false belief and the space is never there when I really need it.

My limited explorations of the place have revealed a subterranean car park within walking distance of where I want to go. Unfortunately I have never exited from it in the same place and am instantly confused by the array of small streets which wend away into the distance when I finally make it into the daylight.

I got hopelessly lost, but on retracing my steps I noticed that a previously closed bookshop was now open. Never one to refuse the opportunity to look at books, whatever the language they happen to be in, I entered.

I couldn’t find any English books. And I was lost. So I asked the bookseller if he had a copy of poems by Yeats. This request unleashed a wholesale search which produced, after a rather painful computer consultation, a volume of our Bill’s poems with a picture by his bro on the cover.

I bought it at once and also managed to elicit advice on how to get to my half remembered destination with only fragments of the street name to guide them. They also managed to produce a free map to help me further. And to be fair it did get me there, and the meeting went really well.

Anyway, back to the book. Not only was there an introduction by Seamus Heaney but also the poems were selected by him as well. The clincher in my purchase was that it had a translation of ‘He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven’ which is not in the other selection of Yeats poems in Spanish that I have.

The last two lines of the poem in Spanish are:
y tan solo mis sueños he puesto yo a tus pies;
Pisa con tiento entonces, porque pisas mis sueños


I have been reading my favourite poems of his in Spanish and seeing if I could have recognized them from my translation of the Spanish into English. It obviously helps that I am reading the Spanish translations of poems I know well, so I am flattering myself that my knowledge of Spanish is improving all the time! I have to say that even with my limited understanding; I can see that the translation has lost an immense amount of the subtlety that exists in the original language.

If nothing else it is an interesting approach to reading the originals in detail again!

A good buy I think.

But there again, what book isn’t?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ruminations


I am trying to think if there was ever a class in my last school where I could do what I am doing now: typing in class in relative silence.

I have just completed the work for the class of the oldest students that I take (and signally failed to make the last question gravitate to the previous page in spite of all the deletions that I made) and I am now typing in silence with only the subdued clack of small keys hitting the membrane breaking the quiet. O tempera O mores! Indeed.

I have been reflecting on the meeting that we had last night to continue our actions against The School That Sacked Me and my confidence grows as I consider what we can do. I think that the Union representative was correct when he said that single actions might well fail but that continued pressure from a variety of sources might be the way to get something done. It is depressing to think that, in spite of the fact that the ‘Not Fit For Purpose’ status of the school is obvious, it may take years for some sort of real action to bring things to a head when Something Has To Be Done might be recognized by the authorities that had the real power to change things to close the place. But I live here and I am here for the long run and there are other people in the group who also see this campaign as one of indeterminate length.

Everyone, after all, should have a hobby!

I am still coming to terms with the qualities of the pupils that I purport to teach. Sometimes their privileged background shows with their assured, confident stance in the classroom which borders on the arrogant and sometimes is well into the land of the dismissively conceited. Still, it is just as well to remind myself that the vast majority of the students comprise friendly, polite and enthusiastic students with an almost pathological desire to do well in the frequent examinations which are a feature of the curriculum in this school.

The educational thirst for knowledge is however limited. As you live by examinations, so also by them will you perish! Everything that one does which deviates by one iota from what is in the text books is questioned and the inevitable question is posed, “Is it in the examination?”

This inevitably means that innovation is a little limited and recourse to photocopies with yet more exercises to reinforce the concept of some grammatical nuance is the chosen way forward.

My time there is still of a somewhat short duration and so I should be careful of making sweeping statements about the methodology, but a picture is beginning to emerge.

This is the time of the year that I have been informed is the key period for schools to think about their staffing for the next year. This means that I will have to approach my head of department and ‘have a chat’ about what might happen in September. I will have to be prepared for a lack of assurances (though people speak as though I am going to be there forever) and then I will have to have a form of action to take to ensure my continued employment. I still think that I would be interested in staying on, but we will have to see what happens.

If it happens!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First small step!


So, a group has been formed.

Not a monumental result perhaps, but as much as I could have hoped for in the circumstances. Parents, teachers and union officials united with a common aim of bring some sanity to The School That Sacked Me.

We now have a coherent plan and the beginnings of a little organization which has the capability of turning into something much more significant and effective.

A good day’s work. And one of course which promises much more work in the future! We now have our tasks and targets which we will work towards completing by a couple of weeks after Easter.

We have had a dose of reality and our expectations are perhaps now a little more attuned with what is possible rather than what we would like to see.

It will be instructive to see if the group grows and if it has the intended effect.

Tomorrow will see the start of the new approach. Wish us luck!

I have had a very long day today and I think that I will subside into a snoring heap and try and spring up tomorrow.

Refreshed.

Some hope!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A world too small for comfort


I had my hair cut today.

I left a pause there for the chortles of disbelief that might meet such a bald statement – pun intended!

I rejected one establishment with plant sin the window and a row of hairdryers as being far too opulent for the fairly basic job that was needed on my scant locks and settled for a rather grimy little corner shop that I had noticed on one of my peregrinations around the more obscure parts of central Castelldefels looking for book shops.

This, when I eventually found it looked much more reasonable. It had an old fashioned chair with real tip up metal footrests; a small plaster image of an old fashioned barber in the window; tufts of un-swept up hair lying around the chair and an awkwardly placed series of very hard chairs stuck in a poorly lit corner.

I had to wait while what I thought was an inordinately long period of time was given over to the hairy heads of two tiny children and then it was my turn.

With a fluent lack of Spanish I gave what I fervently hoped were sufficiently panicky instructions to the barber which would encourage him to trim rather than eliminate what hair I had left.

My mumbled Spanish encouraged him to guess my nationality. He was, of course wrong, but I have learned to accept that I have looked, look and will continue to look German to all Catalans I meet. On being told I was British he enthusiastically changed his mind and pinned my nationality down to English. My rapid correction of this misattribution was about to be accompanied by an explanation of where Wales was when, to my astonishment he smiled and asked me if I was from Newport, Cardiff or Swansea!

In the small world that we inhabit it turned out that his wife was from Newport! There followed a conversation in which he was encouraged enough to lurch in what I am sure he thought was some form of English.

He started talking about his ‘political’ family in Wales which sounded interesting enough until I realised that he did not mean that at all and was instead referring to some form of a branch of his wife’s family – so I smiled and said, ‘Si.’ Don’t knock it, that approach has got me out of more tight linguistic corners than I care to remember. I sometimes wonder what a list of all the things that I have said ‘Si!’ to would read like. I think that I might be very surprised!

When he had taken the shockingly large amount of money for the small quantity of hair that he had actually cut, he handed me his card while bemoaning the fact that his wife was not there to delight in the fact that he had coiffured the head of someone originally from only nine miles away from her ancestral home! To make the sort of coincidence even more surprising it turned out that his name was Stephen (but in Spanish of course) as well! There followed a further fractured conversation about the popularity of the name in our respective countries, and his bemoaning the fact that in Spain it was relatively rare.

As if that was not excitement enough, I have spent the evening printing out some of my more vitriolic letters and emails to The Owner for use in the forthcoming meeting.

I take a great deal of encouragement from the fact that we are going to have a fair representation of the injured parties from The School That Sacked Me and the discussion that will be generated from a selection of the suffers should be a good basis for an action plan for the future.

I have invested a lot of hope in this meeting and will be bitterly disappointed if it fizzles out into the usual inactivity which has allowed The Owner to continue her unprofessional, autocratic rule for too long.

Hope springs eternal!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hello reality!


The honeymoon is over.

I suppose that I should be grateful that my easy relationship with the pupils has lasted so long: two whole weeks and a couple of days!

The true arrogant, privileged nature of some of the students made itself felt today. My day of limited joy coincided with that of a colleague who admitted that even after a considerable number of years in the school she was still shocked by the level of arrogance she encounters on a daily basis. Another colleague told me with a knowing smile that I would be astonished if I realized the true wealth of some of the students’ families.

One of my classes has been doubled in size and I have inherited some difficult students. This reorganization is another facet of the consequences of the immediate past history of my predecessor in the post that I now have. I suppose that I should be grateful that I am part of the process of getting back to normal; on the other hand the dynamics of my class has altered radically and what was a rather nice, small, fairly intimate class has now become a fairly typical teen group of teens.

Other groups are also beginning to revert to the behavior that they obviously regard as normal and which I regard as totally unacceptable rudeness.

At this point I should point out that I am talking in the context of a delightful school filled with generally personable young people who has a fetish for examination study! This is no U curve of normal distribution; our behavior curve is slewed to the right – it’s just they are too full of themselves and show it!

However and whatever, this is a good school and I think I probably want to stay in it. The process by which this might happen is a little more complex than I had thought. I am working on it.

This week will be interesting in the continuing story of The School That Sacked Me and there should be some news mid week. I am naturally optimistic, but experience when relying on other people to behave in ways that I regard as normal, is not encouraging!

I suppose that I should rely on my unofficial motto of “Anything is better than nothing.”

Or perhaps, “Never despair!”

Perhaps not.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A touch of months to come!


Today is hot enough for sun cream, but the persistent breeze stops it being so like a summer's day that you can kid yourself that it has come early.

Today is even busier on the beach than yesterday. It is obvious that the season has started and that, of course, fills us with dread. This is not because we resent the numbers of people who come quite openly to OUR beach and flaunt themselves on the golden sand. Though, thinking about it, we of course do. No, it is because the start of the season means that our neighbours will come to take possession of their long empty flats.

As I have explained previously, there is a rigid caste system in our block of flats. There are the Brahmins who own their own property and there are the Untouchables who rent.

When the Nabobs deign to return to their flats for the few weeks of the summer that they use them and the odd weekends of festivals they have loud conversations with each other from balcony to balcony in which their sole topic of conversation is what they are going to do to their flats because they are in a condition to do so by virtue of the fact of possession by ownership.

As these moneyed ‘visitors’ only come here in the summer, they tend to act as if their flats are the equivalent of holiday hotel rooms and they feel that they can behave with rather less reserve than they would at home.

The Spanish are not like the British; they do not need the alcoholic fuel of beer to release volubility and generally make an aural spectacle [is that possible?] of themselves. They self cater with a vengeance and have high octane shouting matches (which is what passes for conversation in these parts) on their balconies, so that the whole population of our flats can feel a vicarious part of their meal.

Many of these summer visitors arrive complete with rat dogs and matching children (both equally noxious) and generally act as if they owned the place – which, of course, they do!

All the economic experts that I have consulted (or the business teacher in my school) are glowingly pessimistic about the probable course of the present Financial Crisis and they are especially suicidal whenever they try and formulate the future of Spain into words. The ‘building boom’ which has fuelled Spain’s economic recovery from the repressive years of the fascist dictatorship has also been something of a hostage to fortune. Yes, people have been employed in building and vast fortunes have been made, but now that sober reality is forcing a long hard cold look at what has actually been done, the Spanish government is discovering that the boom was actually a bubble and that there is a vast amount of housing stock which is now vastly surplus to requirements. Economic gloom and doom is the order of the day as recession seems inevitable.

This, of course, should be good news for me as the price of housing should be tumbling down to such low levels that even I can consider buying something. Alas! As all my savings are in Britain and in sterling, I have had an effective devaluation of some 25% as well as seeing a horrific loss on money invested in ‘low risk’ accumulation funds – how ironic is that! The end result is that house deeds would have to be given away in packets of crisps before I could consider purchase!

There is of course the nearest that we come to economic planning: drawing the winning ticket on the lottery.

Some things never change
.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's to be done!


You find me sitting on the balcony, sipping a strong cup of tea watching our discrete domestic waves roll reasonably quietly towards the shore.

This serene contemplative mode has been made necessary by the amount of red wine which gaily clinked its way into my stomach last night. My dorada a la sal was a delight, but the same could not be said for the rest of the meal. For the first time our local restaurant on the corner with the odd opening hours has let us down. The prawns were distinctly odd – which is not a good thing – though I have to say that my slight instability today is not as a result of any questionability with regard to the shell fish.

Nevertheless we had a reasonably raucous time and went to bed exhausted. Who can ask for more from a Friday night!

I did manage to do some partial marking of one script yesterday which, according to the strange (but tried and tested) rituals which govern my life, should ensure that the rest of marking is completed before Monday morning.

I am now on my second cup of tea which is being drunk for purely medicinal purposes and I am now at least at the stage which I can follow people walking on our newly constructed paseo. When I say ‘constructed’ I am using the word in the Spanish sense where the tense, although seemingly placed in the past and therefore suggesting completion, is more properly translated into a vague hopefulness of completion in the indeterminate future.

The slabs have been laid on the sand so it looks as though a patchy stone carpet has been rolled out. There is no edging to the pathway and the intersections with the continuations of the paths that lead to the beach from the road that runs parallel with it are still at the level of ‘building site’. As we progress relentlessly towards the summer season there is no sense of busy endeavour to get the thing complete for the influx of tourists on which Castelldefels relies for its major source of income. It is well for me to remind myself that I am in Spain. And relax!

And so to my third cup of tea. And the world is becoming a much more manageable place. And worth living in! Don’t get me wrong; I have been, as the phrase is, ‘up and doing’ for some time. I even got the croissants and bread! Though I would have to admit that my walking was of a studied and determined kind as I strove to shake off the lingering effects of the impulsive little house red that we had with dinner last night!

The beach is filling up: people are water skiing and sunbathing. But no one is in the water swimming. There is hazy sunshine and when the sun is behind the cloud it is, in Spanish terms, a mite chilly. It looks like the first weekend of the season and people are, in what looks like a particularly British sort of way, determinedly having fun!

My marking has now been tidily packaged in a multi-leaved folder and is waiting for the touch of my red pen. In a stroke of good fortune The Family (complete with younger elements) is going to descend on us thus giving me the perfect excuse to play the host and delay the wearisome deciphering of ‘interesting’ approaches to English orthography and grammar.

The testing time for me will be when The Family decides to go for a walk. This is the opportunity for me to show some degree of resolve and start the marking. If I can break the back of it today then I know that I will complete it tomorrow. Perhaps if I stopped writing about it and actually did some of it I would be in a better position!

I feel a certain disinclination to start anything yet. The anticipation of the arrival of The Family precludes coherent marking intentions!

And there is lunch to look forward to!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A justified weekend


If nothing else I am getting somewhat fitter as I wend my way between buildings to complete my timetable. At some point I must count the number of steps that there are between the staffroom in building 4 and the staffroom in building 1.

I suspect that there are fewer than 40 all told, but there seem to be many more when one is trudging from one place to another will a full briefcase! The steps range from modern concrete and contemporary stone to garden rustic and cramped servants’ marble.

One building is what looks like an old masia (Catalan farmhouse) with a simple terracotta tile laid roof with rafters stretching out underneath the eaves. The windows have rustic stone surround and are arched. At first floor level there is an extensive balcony with access from the staff room. The view from the balcony is one of the most expensive in Barcelona as (smog allowing) you are presented with a tree interrupted view of the whole city.

We look down on Barcelona’s football ground and have a clear view of Montjuic and most of the iconic buildings which poke above the general roof line. We can see the sea and we can kid ourselves that, given our height, we are above the general smog line!

I must admit that I have not had over many opportunities to take in the view today as my day has been pretty much filled up since my start at 8.15 am! Our normal end time is 4.45 pm so a day can seem interminable and lunch for the secondary section of the school starts at 2.00 pm. This is not the school day to which I am used!

As I come in early two days a week I am entitled to one early end and I have chosen a Friday, so as soon as I have finished with my second year class (which I take in a strange room at the top of an ornamental flight of stone stairs and which has one wall made out of pupil produced stained glass) than I am off down the steps, tripping across the elegantly manicured artificial grass lawn and out into the expensive roads of Pedrables.

If you leave early you miss all the giant coaches and expensive cars used to collect and distribute the pupils back to the arms of their loving parents!

Once on the motorway you can sail past the growing queues on the other side of the road and put the car into the developing grooves that mark the journey home.

As usual the journey is marked by jaw dropping poor driving as cars swish their way into any available space which seems to offer any sort of marginal advantage in the desperate race of death which is the journey home.

Motorcyclists have replaced pedestrians as my number one ‘hate’ group. This may have something to do with the fact that my route to school gives little opportunity for pedestrians to show their renowned disregard for any other road user and to demonstrate their legendary fearlessness in the face of a large, quickly moving metal house bearing down on them.

Motorcyclists are truly the motorized scum of the roads. I was once travelling at 80 km per hour (the legal limit near to Barcelona) in the middle lane of a three lane motorway and been passed ON BOTH SIDES by motorcyclists threading their way along the road by negotiating the limited spaces BETWEEN three lanes filled by moving cars! Their complete disregard for anything approaching consideration in their driving is breathtakingly suicidal and I am becoming more and more inclined to execute (how appropriate that word seems) a little zigzag maneuver to clip the passing motor cyclists and send them to the oblivion they are so obviously seeking.

I have to admit that, given the number of young people on crutches that one sees in Catalonia I fear there must be a growing number of motorists who have succumbed to the temptation!

One3 chore which has been completed was to call in to the shopping mall in Gavá and put some of my suits in for dry cleaning. The cost, at just under thirty pounds (given the present exchange rates) was a little shocking so that they will have to be used in judicious rotation to ensure that they last me through to the end of term.

I am looking forward to going out to dinner this evening for a drink and a chat.

But I still have to do my one piece of marking, which is the magic which is needed to ensure that I get the rest of it done this weekend. The idea of going back to school with the load of marking hanging over me while the next load of work is nearing completion is too depressing to contemplate.

I have approximately 37 minutes to get something done before the weekend starts and Rioja makes any coherent evaluation impossible!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Getting out!


Although the school is in exactly the same area as consulates the roads that connect our highly desirable piece of real estate on which the school is located with the motorway system of the city is almost comically inadequate. Massive school busses negotiate (or rather fail to negotiate) tight narrow turns on the sheer slopes which give our school its commanding view of the city.

To help things along two policepersons appear at the end of school to direct the traffic. Needless to say their efforts slow everything down and today they actually refused to let me turn down towards the motorway and I had to describe a vast circle in the car to get back to the only turning that can be used to get access to the motorway.

I thought serene thoughts as I edged up to the policeman for the second time and he obviously sensed my pulsating serenity as I drove nearer to my turning. And he stopped the traffic as soon as I was the next to go. I find it character building to look at a policeman and try and keep the loathing out of one’s expression!

The loathing of an officious, unhelpful policeman is but a passing whim; the hatred I feel towards The Owner of The School That Sacked Me knows few bounds.

The latest outrage appears to be the sacking of a teacher who was absent and who had a doctor’s note to cover the period of sickness. There is certain symmetry to this as The Owner had sacked this colleague’s husband a couple of weeks previously.

There is a growing chorus of discontent as the cavalier approach to management continues unabated. The one positive outcome from what appears to be thoroughly disgraceful behavior on the part of The Owner is that it is encouraging all sections of the school community to unite against her.

Next week should mark a crucial stage in our campaign to return reasonable educational methods to The School That Sacked Me.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh, that computer!


My latest gadget is in danger of actually being something which can be justified in terms of its usefulness!

A strict following of the principles which underpin my electronic purchases would clearly indicate that mere ‘utility’ is one of the least convincing reasons for my acquisition of a battery driven little object of desire.

My mini computer’s use in full view of an envious staff was more than I could have hoped for.

My gloating was only limited by my stuttering attempts to be superior in Spanish which is something of a self limiting sort of affair.

Today has been an exhausting day, but one which I feel has been distinguished by a reasonable amount of real teaching. I have taken in some examples of pupils’ writing which I shall evaluate over the weekend. I must remember my old tried technique of forcing myself to mark over a weekend.

Traditionally Sunday afternoon is a time of misery for active teachers. In spite of the best intentions everything is left until the afternoon of Sunday, or even worse, Sunday evening.

From painful experience I found that if I managed to mark a single script on Friday evening before the weekend had properly started then I managed to get all my work done before Sunday evening. This meant that I could relax on Sunday evening with an easy conscience rather that relaxing anyway but with an element of guilt over unfinished business tainting the pleasure.

Given the fact that Friday afternoon is the time when I can legitimately leave school 45 minutes early there is the opportunity for me to look at one piece of work thus ensuring that all of it will inevitably be done.

Call it sympathetic magic or call it stupid tradition – it works for me!

The Grand Coalition of the Forces of Good against The School That Sacked Me continues to grow and I look forward to a physical manifestation of support for the campaign in the very near future. I know that it is stupid to expect justice after so many years of inaction on the part of the authorities, but blind optimism can make even the very, very unlikely seem as though it could happen in the next month.

Leave me with my delusions!

And my new computer!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mine, all mine!


Was it not you-know-who who said that he could resist everything except temptation? And who am I even to think for a moment that I could possibly work against his aphorism.

As no doubt the more astute among you have already realized I am now the proud possessor of a very nifty, very small computer. A computer moreover which responds to the flick of my thumb and puts a space where it should be. My typed words are adequately spaced and my enthusiastic typing does not over ride the little electronic impulse which provides a space where a space should be.

This could be a technological relationship which lasts!

The usual chicanery of the electronic powers that be has ensured that this machine comes to its owner bereft of programs. It does give you a free trial of a suite of programs and then asks for some vast sum of money to ensure that they stay on the list of programs.

The machine is so small that there is no room for a DVD drive so it is difficult to get programs onto the computer. My wish is to attempt to link up my old laptop with this machine and get my copy of Works downloaded by using the laptop as a hard drive. This is an obvious solution which will probably be impossible because of some devious bit of machine code found in the depths of the program that I am trying to download and copy.

I have little expectation of success.

However, until failure makes itself felt, I will rejoice in the sheer quality of what I can only call ‘gadgetness’ and wonder at its sheer portability. This is a love affair that is going to last. I will see tomorrow just how much space and how heavy it is lurking in my case. Only it won’t lurk there long. I have not lashed out on yet another gadget to keep it hidden away in my case!

Plans to cope with The School That Sacked Me continue to mature.

For lunch today we had rabbit. It was served as a sort of pastie of minced rabbit meat covered with pastry. It was not, I have to admit a success. Not only was the meat rather salty but there were small pieces of bone in the mélange: hardly the most appropriate savory to give to children! Having said that, I didn’t see any children actually selecting it, so perhaps it was just served as a little treat for the teachers!

After a phony war period of a lack of marking, the burden has built up through examinations and set pieces into a paper chase of scripts which an unlooked for extra free today has done little to diminish.

The English of the kids is odd. They write with fluency and confidence in English but they make mistakes which are incomprehensible until you realize that they are sometimes directly translating from Spanish or Catalan for their words and phrases.

This week should see some interesting pieces of creative work from a whole selection of pupils. Their efforts will be very revealing.

Meanwhile any suggestions about how to link up my new computer to my older laptop to download the suite of Works programs which I bought some time ago.

I refuse to buy get another version of programs that should be free after the amount I have spent over the years!

But try asking for justice from Microsoft!

Monday, March 09, 2009

I want . . .




Gadget lust has descended on me like a red mist.

After my abortive attempt to buy a new mini computer which resulted in my having to take the thing back, I had hoped that my processor linked desires had sunk back into the realm of the manageable. Not so. While attempting to buy some bananas I was lured into an Orange shop and almost entered into some sort of contract to acquire a mobile phone with a touch screen. I was saved by the fact that the shop required very specific bank information which luckily I did not have to hand. There should be some sort of law against the allowing of mobile phone outlets to be located by the cashiers for an ordinary supermarket.

Bananas safely purchased I was then forced to go into MediaMarkt. Because it was there.

And behold! It was revealed unto me that there was within a small computer; and lo! it had a keyboard that even fitted unto the spatulate nature of my fingers. And I did look upon it. And it was good in my sight. But, alas! It was bereft of programs. And verily I have been caught like that before.

But I can feel myself falling. I put it down to the touch of Old Adam within all of us – but especially near the surface with me when gadgets and computers are near me!

It will be interesting to see how long I last. I am safe at the moment because the shop is closed. I am teaching all day tomorrow. But the shop stays open until 10 pm. Oh god!

Meanwhile things have speeded up in bringing together the injured from The School That Sacked Me. Things proceed satisfactorily.

The ‘Chosen One’ effect is wearing off and pupils are beginning to accept me as part of the furniture and they are also discovering that I can be quite as demanding as them. They are starting to realise, like Hamlet that my smiling face is nearer to the living Claudius than to the dead Yorick. I’m not quite sure what I mean there, but if I manage to convey a sense of underlying threat then I am satisfied!

In the next couple of days I am having work in from some of my more enthusiastic classes: I can truly say that I am looking forward to reading their attempts – and they are prettily illustrated as well. Bless!

Life is pleasantly busy at the moment.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Like minds!

Today a meeting with two more of the walking wounded of The School That Sacked Me.

Over a couple of hours I heard again the familiar story that I am sure could have been told in much the same way over the last decade. I listened to a story of managerial ineptness; professional incompetence; personal animosity and self-defeating rejection. And all centred on one person: The Owner.

Recitation of wrongs is therapeutic but we are planning a little more than that. Gradually ideas for action are coming together and with my traditional optimism I can see a clear progress to retribution and restitution. Now is the time to bring together a whole series of strands that can combine to create a coherent . . . and that sentence was gathering itself into a fairly vicious metaphor, so perhaps its best to let it rest and enjoy the prospect of action with the appearance of possibility.

It was only when I returned to Castelldefels that I realised that I had left our little gathering, with my colleagues about to have lunch without paying for the couple of coffees that I had drunk! I realised, far more importantly, that the helpful, reasonable persona that I had been projecting during our discussion was now seriously under cut. Here was I revealed as a person prepared to ‘do a runner’ for the price of a couple of two coffees. Luckily my immediate and grovelling mobile phone call seemed to restore my tattered reputation and I can now look forward to further meetings with an easy conscience!

By the end of the week I should have the basis for a dossier to present to the Generalitat which should clearly call into question the suitability of The Owner to be allowed anywhere near a school. We progress!

And after lunch it was warm enough to sun bathe on the balcony. If you were made of stern stuff it was possible to ignore the occasional gusts of wind which brought back the reality of it being early March!

Roll on the summer.