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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Time for what?

Well, my self-imposed time limit for positive news about my contract has passed so the soul destroying tedium of re-presenting my much touted CV to the various educational establishments of Barcelona and surrounding districts commences.

This lack of certainty is running alongside the conversation I had with the head of English this morning about books I might to look at in another store room to use for future English classes. She was also very concerned that I had the right key to get into the place. As a matter of fact I have enough metal work in the multitude of keys that I have been given for the school to kit out a very respectable representation of Marley’s Ghost. There can be few places in any of the buildings that comprise our school campus that I am unable access if I cared to spend the time and effort and find out which of the many, many keys that I possess would fit the many, many locks.

In spite of the very impressive accoutrements of security with which my case is laden it doesn’t stop things going missing. The latest even which has thrown the school into a hissy fit of fatuous verbiage is that some money has been stolen.

We must get things into proportion. These are rich kids with richer parents. And they steal. I remember years ago when I was on an exchange trip to France that one boy revealed that he had stolen a pair of flip-flops from a shoe shop we had just been in. Leaving aside for the moment the truly sad nature of our little group that found visiting a French shoe shop interesting – the one fact that eventually found a little squeak of horror in my mind was that the ‘sophisticated’ (i.e. he smoked) rich French boy had more than enough money to have bought the things. Then, I didn’t understand the appeal of the element of bravado and risk that attracts those vitiated by the comfort zone of money. To be fair I still don’t. But I am sure that something of that motivated the thief in our midst.

And lunch time was revealing too. The kids are well fed with good quality food served in spacious surroundings with some fairly spectacular views of Barcelona. Today we teachers had a variety of desserts to choose from including ice cream in various forms.

The children were given a snack sized Magnum chocolate covered ice cream on a stick. These were distributed by the lunch ladies when they had considered that the kids had eaten enough of their other two courses. What was interesting was not that Magnums were distributed but rather the reaction of the ‘customers.’ An unbiased observer would have assumed that the children eating were underprivileged kids who had never tasted ice cream before. They begged borrowed and stole ice cream from each other and then besieged the ladies for extra. As I was on lunch time duty I was the person trying to stem the flood of kids trying to wheedle an extra Magnum out of the kitchen staff. Some of the kids (obviously not knowing my flinty inner core of child contempt) attempted to soften my stern ordering of them out of the dining room with what they fondly supposed were ingratiatingly plaintive doe-eyed moist eyes as they beseeched me to have pity on their poor wretched condition and allow them a little taste of the flavour of Elysium vouchsafed to other more fortunate kids.

As you may be able to tell from the tone of that writing I was unmoved – though I myself, in the privacy of the staff dining room had partaken of two ice creams myself. Some hypocrisy is just too delicious to pass by!

To fortify myself for the all-too-short holiday ahead I have brought home seven of the books which I got from the bookseller (at the school’s expense) on Sant Jordi and will indulge myself in an orgy of reading, lubricated by the odd glass of Rioja.

If the sun shines with any degree of intensity then I have almost vowed to throw myself into the foaming briny for the first time this year.

I will be looking at the thermometer as there is a minimum blow which it is a criminal offence to immerse oneself in Spain!

Toni is going off to his nephew’s Name Day which will be celebrated by barbecue in the company of countless young humans aged four and below.

The simple statement of some approaching events is loquacious beyond the power of adjectival hyperbole to convey the horror!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The question is . . .


Exam writing has now reached its peak in our school with emails flying from person to person and pen drives being plugged it right left and centre to ensure that the pupils are presented with yet another paper on which they can practice their considerable skills in cheating.

I must admit that I completed my part of the construction of one of the latest papers with something rather less than enthusiasm. God knows if I’d rather watch a mediocre game of football where Chelsea send in the wreckers to limit the flowing football of Barça than compose a shining set of clever and scintillating sentences to stimulate the exam jaded appetites of young scholars in our place then something must be very wrong about the sort of work that I am supposed to be doing.

Or perhaps it was just a day on which I felt jaded and frustrated after having to deal with the natural arrogance of the rich spawn we have to teach all day!

Also the delay in saying anything about my contract is also playing on my mind. The head of English was talking about books for next year and including me in the conversation which does seem suggestive, but nothing has been said and unless there is a contract then nothing is clear. Tomorrow is the last day before our four day holiday which is seen as some sort of watershed in our place. If nothing is said then I will use the holiday to rewrite my CV (which I haven’t done because I still assume that they will present me with a contract in due course!) and, with a suitable letter start addressing the envelopes to all the schools which could possibly use my services.

I keep writing that I should not trust any private school to do the decent thing, but in my heart of hearts I still expect them to do so. If nothing else my time in The School That Sacked Me should have taught me that logical expectations cannot be relied upon in a private system which bears little relationship to the way in which I have been used to experience education!

It is a simple fact that the public system of education, with all its faults and its built in idiocy is more professionally based that any private school of my experience. But the food is much better in private education!

As an unexpected bonus I was able to luxuriate on the balcony in the evening sun today – and yes, I did have a glass of red wine to soothe away the stresses of the day!

In spite of asking the bank to send my new card to the house the bank (the awesomely hateful BBVA) has of course done nothing of the sort. It is now residing in the local branch which (in spite of the obscenely large amounts of money earned by that shameless organization) has now adopted a so-called “summer timetable” which means that the bloody place is only open between the hours of eight and half past two. Thus ensuring that I will not be able to get my card until the summer!

Although I have tried in the past, I feel that the gentle finger taps I make on the keys of my computer are totally inadequate in managing to convey the atavistic, visceral and overwhelming hatred that I feel towards that smug, arrogant and consumer oblivious organization. The only (believe you me it really is the only) reason I stay with them is that they have managed to acquire a substantial number of my euros held as a sort of ‘guarantee’ for the contract that we had to take out on the flat. This piece of financial skullduggery was perpetrated using the excuse of my somewhat ambiguous financial status. I feel like echoing the biblical sentiment, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” I am a little more cynical than I was when I first arrived and there are certain aspects of what was explained was essential that I would now treat with the contempt that they deserve. But there again it is very easy to be wise after the event!

I am already planning the books that I am going to read over the ‘holiday’ – but only if the sun don’t shine!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Expectations through work

A full day in school and a union meeting after numbed me sufficiently that the writing of my blog yesterday was lost in a mist of tiredness.

The whole of our being as an institution has been taken over by the immanence of a four day holiday incorporating May Day. May Day is taken seriously here and signs have already gone up on electronic gantries informing lorries that they must stay off the motorways on May Day. One colleague informed me that her furniture was supposed to be delivered on the May Day holiday. The lorry was stopped by the police and he had to pull over and park up for the day. Her furniture was not delivered in spite of the fact that it was tantalizingly near!

All I ask is that there be sunshine. (And that construction confused the hell out of a student in class today. Word doesn’t like it either, but what the hell does a mere machine program know about language!)

Perhaps what also sapped the writing strength out of me was emerging yesterday afternoon and finding that someone had smashed into the back of my parked car. Well, not exactly the back but the driver’s side rear bumper under the light. A cursory glance revealed that the small amount of damage was actually connected to a massive chunk of the car. And my insurance is not comprehensive – in spite of the fact that I thought it was. It’s always when there is an accident that you suddenly find out just how much you are covered.

The sad thing is that the probability is that the damage was caused by the car of a parent and as they are not short of a bob or two then I probably had the equivalent of a domestic tank hit the car. It says something about the essential duplicity of the parents of our school that no note was left so I am going to have a substantial bill to pay. God rot them to the everlasting pits of a particularly fiery hell. Please!

I cannot rely on my writing to be the enjoyable displacement activity which is so often the balm of a full day as I have to write examination questions for consideration in a meeting tomorrow. This piece of work has crept up on me, but the horror is mitigated by the fact that the sort of questions I have to produce are types that I quite enjoy writing is a ‘sad-sod’ sort of way!

And dinner to cook, so that kitchen activity will have to fill the place of the writing.

Never a dull unfilled moment.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cut and thrust in memory


Shaving is a powerful process; especially if you are short sighted.

The precision which a mirror encourages is largely wasted on the myopic so a shower is as good a place as any to facilitate the smoothing process. Shampoo lathered on the remaining stubble on my head bubbles its way southward to coat the stubble on my face and, electric battery shaver in hand, the morning chore begins.

The soapy foam ensures that eyes must be kept tightly shut and this has two advantages: it prolongs the illusion of sleep and it encourages the mind to wander. Fingers search questingly along the contours of the face to position the shaver so that it might make the rough places plain. While this semi automatic process is taking placed the mind wanders.

Or rather follows a free association of ideas just a fraction more ordered than that found in the surrealistically logical universe of the dream.

As the three headed rotary shaver wended its way across my face my mind went back to a whole series of conversations and observations about shaving that I had with my father covering the different techniques necessary for optimum results with the blade shavers and then the seemingly counter intuitive approach to utilize the capabilities of the electric shaver. The fact that electric shavers can now be used with foam in the shower confuses and conflates necessary techniques for an adequate (who has ever had a ‘perfect’) shave.

As my mind was quite happily surfing the seas of memory I had one of those deeply poignant moments where the reality of the realisation of the loss of my parents settled on the whole area of my brain.

I am not given to morbid introspection and my acceptance of the fact of death in those close to me has been seen by others as ‘unnatural’ and ‘callous.’

Even that sense of ‘loss’ in the shower was not one consumed in sorrow; rather it emphasised the firm presence in memory of two of the most important characters in my life. A life which continues with their living memory as a daily focus for my interpretation of experience. I do not see them as ghostly presences, but their remembered characters with their likes, dislikes, prejudices and linguistic responses colour and enrich my day to day appreciation.

A moment’s melancholy soon lost in a jumble of positive recollection!

And all this before I was fully awake!

The grey day has now developed into a sullen day with rain darkening a totally deserted beach.

There is, therefore no excuse whatsoever for my not starting the more mundane tasks that I have set myself to complete today.


And who knows at the end of this sentence I might actually start them!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading in the gloom!


With all the tasks that I had to do today what a shock it was that the one that I completed was reading the book!

The book in question was ‘The Golem’s Eye’ by Jonathan Stroud, the second volume in ‘The Bartimaeus Trilogy.’

On the back of Harry Potter in that it postulates a Britain in which magic is an everyday occurrence the twist here is that the magicians are in control in a Britain whose history includes Gladstone as an Empire founding master magician who leads an army in a battle royal against the Czech Empire.

The ostensible hero of this volume (and presumably the first volume too) is a young magician called Nathaniel who is accompanied on his adventures by his reluctant djin Bartimaeus. The non-magical heroine is Kitty and the interplay between Nathaniel and Kitty is a continuation of the tension which had been established in volume 1.

The Imperial Britain postulated in ‘The Golem’s Eye’ is one in which society is fairly rigidly stratified with the magicians being the ruling class and the non magical section of society (the commoners) being relegated to the more menial jobs within society and generally living the life of an under-class. The magicians are shown as arrogant with all the corruption of power.

The action of the novel is taken up with the activities of the Resistance and the intrusion into the orderly society of the magician dominated society of Britain of disruptive magical features. The upper echelons of the magicians are riven with an unseemly display of infighting as the minsters in government jockey for position.

This is a long novel which is packed with action and a sometimes bewildering collection of magical creatures of whom the most interesting by far is the djin Bartimaeus whose enforced subservience to his magician master Nathaniel is characterised by a wittily resentful dialogue where his own cowardice is engagingly presented!

All the major characters with whom we are encouraged to identify are flawed and the social tensions in this magical society are presented with some complexity. ‘Real’ history is tantalizingly spun to provide a convincing backdrop to social comment.

The cyclical nature of society and the inevitable decline of over-reaching empires add piquancy to the conflict between all sections of society. It’s also a damn good adventure story in which the many elements are handled with confidence and produce a gripping and engaging narrative.

I look forward to the other volumes in the series, but I do not see the style as something which will be useful for the pupils in my charge.

Another grey day. It seems particularly cruel that the week should be fine and only the weekend dull.

Perhaps it is an incentive for me to complete my tasks!

Friday, April 24, 2009

I know what I like


“Why,” asked one of my pupils today, “are you so brown?”

The answer is of course is because I am British.

The Catalans are still in their spring mood and are looking forward to the coming of summer. As far as they are concerned, whatever the weather is actually like, this is not the month which they can regard as being officially summer: they can afford to wait.

But I am British and do not have the Iberian faith that summer will come and summer will be fine and sunny. I therefore take every opportunity to allow myself to be drawn to the balcony and luxuriate in the sunshine which we never take for granted!



One of the tasks that I have to complete this weekend is produce a little booklet of poems by Paul Cookson. He is going to visit our school and it is only fitting that the kids who are going to meet him have some knowledge of the poems that he has written. Having read through a selection of his stuff I have to say I am not sure how the kids are going to respond to it.

Our timetable is so examination driven that any deviation from the Way of the Book has a knock on effect on what we can test. Literature doesn’t really have as much status as the fabricated ‘grammar’ with which experts try and define English and which we have to teach!

I have seen the most extraordinary diagrams of the grammatical analysis of sentences in Catalan which look like a cross between the organic structure of a complex hydrocarbon and a geometrical construction. They look much more difficult that the involved box analysis with which I wasted many hours in the two years of my ‘O’ level course.

Box analysis of sentences and clause analysis were the banes of my life – though there was always a scientist from whom one could copy! The logical minds of my more scientific friends came into their own when dealing with analysis of existing sentences rather than having to make them up themselves.

I am reading ‘The Golem’s Eye’ by Jonathan Stroud which is apparently a multi-million seller in the children’s book world. Modern London run by magicians sounds like a rip off of the Harry Potter franchise, but I will reserve judgement until after I have read it.

Given the weather forecast, I won`t be going outside so a good book it going to take my mind away from the lack of sunshine.

I hope.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Needing to know the unknown



The Spanish obviously find difficulty with the meaning of some adjectives.

Today, Sant Jordi – the National Day of Catalonia – was the occasion when the staff of my school participated in the ‘invisible friend’ approach to the tradition of book giving on Sant Jordi. We drew names and had to buy a book and have it delivered anonymously to the recipient today.

The Brits in the school entered into the spirit of the event and ensured that their books were placed with or near their intended recipients with minimal fuss. All that is except for one hapless colleague who decided to integrate the other aspect of the present giving on this day – the rose.

In a spirited romantic gesture he cut the remaining rose from his garden to add to his book. Unfortunately his wife saw him enter the house clutching a cut rose and immediately assumed that it was for her. Explanation, as we all know, is invidious.

I advised him to buy one of the extortionately priced single red roses that are on sale at every street corner today by suspiciously foreign looking gentlemen who jump at passing cars in order to foist their floral offerings on guilty male drivers who have not already placated their partners with the appropriate bloody plant!

The British section of the staff saw their books and idly wondered who had bought them. The foreign section saw each book as an intriguing clue and with a cry of “The game’s afoot Watson” (or the Iberian equivalent) they started an inquisition of everyone they saw with an intensity worthy of Torquemada. Obviously the suggestion of a ‘friend’ being ‘invisible’ was a concept one philosophical idea too far!

Some of my colleagues signed their anonymous gifts; others gave them directly to the recipients; other watched with such a propriatorial air that it would have been almost impossible not to guess the donor.

The person to whom I caused my book to be delivered by another hand actually came to see me to thank me – God knows who told her because the only person in whom I confided and who translated my dedication into Spanish didn’t tell her.

After the traumas of attribution there were further delights in store.

There was a full assembly of the school in the playground where selected senior pupils put on some sort of drama connected with St George and later in the day an assembly of the secondary section of the school for the presentation of the prizes for essay writing and photography.

The actual presentations were made by the teachers in charge of subjects but the presentational chat and announcements were all made by pupils.

The behaviour of the audience was appalling. The older secondary students chatted throughout and I could feel myself getting even hotter under the collar (it was a very fine day) and then I remembered that I was on a temporary contract and my wages are pathetic and there were other people there who were form tutors and they could sort it out. This attempt at Zen-like serenity was only partially effective.

Although there were various hushing sounds emitted by various teachers at various times throughout the ceremony it had virtually no effect on the level of chat that went on throughout. I was sitting at the back and I stayed sitting. After the first panic of my doing nothing to stop the grotesque rudeness of the audience I sort of relaxed into a semi detached observation of the futile actions of (very few) of my colleagues who attempted to do something about what should have been seen as glaringly unacceptable behaviour. I shall ponder on the responses of my professional colleagues and add my thoughts to my developing picture of how the school works!

We have had a book shop open in the library and I looked and identified many volumes that I would have marked down for inspection were I head of department. When I actually attempted to buy a book the manager of our temporary shop informed me that the department was entitled to a whole slew of books as ‘payment’ for the percentage given to the school as our cut from the total amount spent on books. The manager urged me to speak to the head of department and see if the books I wanted could be taken as part of the department’s justified cut.

Being told by a book seller to wander about and take what I want was a bit like telling an alcoholic to spend a night in Bottoms Up! So there is now a whole box of books waiting for the inspection of the head of department to check through – it’s almost like old times!

Another colleague commented today that it must be hard for me as a past head of faculty to be a lowly teacher in this school. How little she really knows!

To celebrate Sant Jordi we had a bottle of Gran Plus Ultra – the exceptional Cava – so expensive it has a piece of embroidery on the box in which it comes! To be absolutely fair Toni did not even have one full glass, but that’s the way the bottle empties!

And tomorrow is my early end of day. Please god let the sun shine!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A book in the hand is worth two in the shop!


Blogging, I have often thought, can be like cleaning your teeth: something habitual and necessary, but not always a pleasure.

Unless of course when your mouth has become the palette for a whole series of contrasting flavours each of which is fighting for supremacy and emitting its own distinct scent, noisome to yourself and those around you. Then it is a positive delight to ‘delete all and insert’ (as we used to say in farcical General Body meetings in university) and greet the world with a sparkling new mouth which does not deal death with every breath.

A blog can be the equivalent of a good mouthwash where the frustrating bitterness of real and imagined slights can be retextured into what the perpetrator fondly believes is deathless prose.

By such small necessary deceptions do we live our little lives!

I have been forced to think about the medium as a friend has whimpered that the reason he does not indulge (I think that is the right word) in a blog is because he does not have enough time. He may not think he has enough time for a blog, but he certainly has time for a few jewelled observations presented in the form of an email. How is a blog different? I can see the essential fatuity of the exercise, but what a simple self-indulgent delight it is to complete.

I can now go back over two years in my blog and rediscover the emotions and events which have marked a fairly momentous change in my circumstances. A few weeks ago I read some of the last entries in my blog before I came to Catalonia and it was a strange experience. I was reading about someone I knew, but the distance and the altered perspective gave a different spin to my appreciation of what I thought was going on then.

Good, bad or indifferent, it is an engaging record of my times and I’m glad that I started writing it. Whether the readers can say the same is of course something else entirely.

I write this on the balcony in school during my lunch hour in a sun which has, at last, merited the adjective ‘hot.’ The usual manic interest in the weather evinced by all Iberians means that they have now convinced themselves that summer has finally arrived. No matter that there are clouds in the sky and the haze over the city is as threatening as ever, the season when even Spaniards might divest themselves of some of the layers of clothing seems appreciably nearer.

The day started well with my personalized edition of ‘Sredni Vashtar’ being churned out by the photocopier. I am rapidly amassing a collection of selected short stories to be used with various classes. At the moment I am using Chekhov and Salinger and Saki will soon be added to this heady mix.

The Somerset Maugham story that I want to add to my limited editions is proving to be stubbornly difficult to find on the internet, but I know that it there somewhere in the electronic cloud of the bibliosphere and I will find it and mercilessly bend it to my requirements for English learners!

Back inside at the end of the day and my Search for the Story will continue - wish me luck!
One of the school secretaries has just come into the staff room and said, "I bet you are happy that you will not be indulging in the Sant Jordi panic that the rest of us will be in!"
This refers to the 'Invisible Friend' event which the school is using to celebrate the 23rd of April Sant Jordi's Day (St George's Day) and the National Day of Catalonia. It is traditional for books to be exchanged - and that is where the 'Invisible Friend' comes in. I drew a spill of paper and had to buy a book for the person whose name was written thereon.
As I didn't know the person I had to take advice and it transpired that I was buying for one of the secretaries. I have bought and wrapped what I take to be suitible books (based on advice) and have even written an appropriate message (translated for me into Spanish) to be added. No one else it appears has done this so, along with the rest of the population of Catalonia, they will be taking part in the Book Buying Frenzy of Sant Jordi's Eve!
Smug indeed!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's the season I suppose


A glorious day which started with bright sunshine and yet another car crash and ended with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. I do wish the long expected consistent summer would get here and shine its months away!

People in school are now getting progressively more panicky as the examination season proper gets under way. Tomorrow I have a meeting with the head of English to discuss the oral examinations which all the students will have to take. These are external examinations and over the next month or so we have to complete a series of practice tests the form of which is going to be explained to me and then I will have to implement. Such larks!

I am finding much innocent pleasure in deciding what short stories to give to the pupils and then designing covers for the little booklets that I am producing. I know that such activity is merely displacement activity to push the necessary marking into the background where it belongs, but I cannot resist it.

Most of the stories that I am drawn to are all out of copyright and are available somewhere or other on the web. Project Gutenberg is a very useful source of texts and there are other sites whose legality I have been seriously questioning – though, it has to be said, using.

Having committed the ultimate literary blasphemy of ‘lightly editing’ (May I be forgiven!) a Chekhov story, I decided to do the same to a short story by Saki, ‘Sredni Vashta.’ Don’t worry, every change that I made seemed like cutting a chunk of living flesh and watching vital blood drain, so I gave up by paragraph two! I have limited myself to creating new paragraphs as Saki’s vocabulary is taxing for English learners and they need the slight respite of smaller sections to have to cope with.

They may miss (but then most do) some of the more subtle passing humour of Saki’s style, but the story is strong enough to stand in its own right and most will be able to appreciate the true nastiness of the vengeful writing that Saki uses in that bitter story. I hope!

And the school has bought me a long armed stapler for my little booklets.

Who, reasonably could ask for more!

Monday, April 20, 2009

How long to the hols? Dear God!


A sticky day today: definitely time for me to assume the mantle of the short sleeved shirt for my professional duties.

The pupils are (dismayingly) wayward as if the date were a damn sight nearer to the end of June than it is in depressingly real life. Or perhaps this is just a reaction to taking a Year 9ish class last thing in a long, long day!

The lunch we get still more than makes up for any student obstreperousness. I have now developed a meticulous approach to these meals and I refuse to have wine unless I am not teaching in the afternoon: such professionalism!

Still nothing about my continued contract, but on the other hand I have been encouraged to find an immersion course in Spanish to take in the summer –that surely is something of a good sign!

In the evening to the Liceu for what I think was a world premiere of ‘La Cabeza del Bautista’ by Enric Palmoar. The libretto was adapted by Carlos Wagner from a text included in the series of plays collected in the ‘Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte’ by Ramón Ma del Valle-Incián. The title, by its reference to the head of John the Baptist suggests that the melodramatic story of the opera (a stepson returning unexpectedly to blackmail his stepfather about his mother’s murder while flirting with his stepfather’s woman. It all ends in death of course with some fairly serious necrophiliac kissing!) should be seen through a fairly close reference to Wilde’s play ‘Salome.’

The action of the play is only tangentially ‘realistic’ though it deals with real enough human motivations which lead to tragedy.

The setting when first revealed reminded me of gaunt trees more suited to a Beckett play and the later appearance of a blind man and boy is an echo of Pozzo and Lucky in ‘Waiting for Godot’. The stage was almost covered by a whole series of snooker tables to represent the billiard hall that Don Igi (well sung by José Manuel Zapata) owns and which Alberto Saco (Alejandro Marco-Buhmester; good too) enters with ideas of extortion. As far as singing is concerned La Pepona (Angeles Blancas) carried off the main plaudits. She is asked to some fairly radical things with her voice, and she has to produce some fairly authentic screams while slutting her way across the stage!



A character who propelled himself around the stage in a small wheeled trolley added a rather nice touch of Bosch to the mis en scene but there was not enough of real interest to compell attention.

Musically I remained unconvinced. Josep Caballé Domenech and the Orquestra Simfònica I Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu were excellent but I found the sound they produced unsatisfying. There were conventional harmonic sounds and what passed for arias, but I could get little purchase on the musical life of the piece.

The reception was luke-warm to put it mildly and around my section of the theatre at least four people walked out midway through the piece. The curtain calls were barely sustained by the applause.

It is a sad reflection of the production that the sound that will remain with me is not an element of the score but the clicking sound of the stage dagger as the point disappeared into the pommel as Igi stabbed and stabbed again a well killed Saco. And it is the only time that I have seen a grave dug on stage in which real earth was thrown out of the hole! But not enough to justify an opera I think!


Bring on the next!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beware the Ides of Friday Night!


Foolish boy that I am, I have ignored the age old traditions of teaching and I did not complete at least one piece of marking on Friday night.

Now, instead of beavering away (a phrasal verb that the kids have to know for their English examinations, which shows the archaic level of language knowledge that they require) at the marking which has to be done, I am sitting here watching Valencia and Sevilla play football while typing out my increasing unease and guilt.

Even as I know that I should be working: I work not. The curse of The Unmarked Friday Script has struck again! I never fail to be struck by the fact that I can articulate what I should do (and must do before tomorrow) while using that same articulation as a form of prevarication! What a complex animal the Sunday Evening Teacher is!

Saturday was a day of rest, up to a point. Sunday morning, when I should have been marking, I was actually designing and producing some extra address cards – which seemed absolutely essential when compared with marking.

Lunchtime and early evening was taken care of by the fact that we went up to Terrassa for lunch to sample the delights brought back from Aragon by Toni’s mum. Some of the confection that she bought included the most overblown boiled sweets that I’ve ever stuffed into my mouth and huge block of chocolate which divided into the largest chunks I’ve ever seen. The actual lunch was delicious and was preceded by cheese and cooked meats from Aragon and Galicia and, as I was driving, alas, a single glass of excellent red wine!

The two youngsters were there, Toni’s two nephews: ten months and four. Yet again I do not understand how parents survive. The youngest child always seemed to me to be on the point of having a serious accident and once or twice I found myself exhausted by sheer fright as he narrowly escape decapitation (so it seemed to me) by inches and chance! As far as the older child was concerned the sheer volume of attention seeking noise provoked by sibling jealousy had to be heard to be believed. I do not know how they do it. Whatever ‘it’ is or indeed whoever ‘they’ are!

And I still have done no marking!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A long short week!



Why is it that three day weeks seem more stressful to a full week?

Or is that just a load of rubbish?

I am tempted by how tired I feel to think that there must be something about the spiritual preparation for starting to teach in the middle of the week which saps the quotidian strength that you need to survive an abnormal week.

Whenever you return to work it ought to be a Monday. You start at the beginning of the week; anything else is abnormal and contrary to normal practice – and probably unprofessional (I will have to look at the small print in the description of our jobs in the Welsh Teaching Council’s Secret Analects.)

Didn’t John Wyndham write in ‘The Day of the Triffids’ that, “When a day you know is Wednesday starts off feeling like a Monday, you know that something is very wrong.” Actually, he didn’t. But the feeling of unease that my misquoted opening sentence from that novel is supposed to convey exactly conveys what starting a week on a day other than the Monday feels like.

The anticipation of the start of the week on a later day and the consequent worrying about what one should have prepared for a fragment of the week tends to diminish the anticipated stress free bonus of not teaching for a proportion of the normal timetable.

There is a built in resentment of teachers and pupils about the petty vindictiveness which offers the promise of another week and then cruelly denies its fulfillment by demanding the attendance of teachers and pupils for a limited run performance of normality.

On the other hand Friday did come round a little more quickly than usual.

And my early departure on Friday to which I was fully entitled because of the two days a week on which I have early starts (both of which were retained in the curtailed week I might add) meant that I was able to meet visitors from Cardiff for tea and cakes in a little café in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona.

As is always the way with these things, the only time that I needed money on my mobile was the only time that the money was low. To recharge my mobile necessitated my visiting the hated headquarters of The Worst Bank in the World that was still Solvent. I long for the day that I have enough money to spurn BBVA and all its works and move to La Caixa which has my undying support because of their excellent galleries at the foot of Monjuïc. However, at present I still have to use the bank and wonder about what they are doing with my Aval Bancario. This is my money (six months’ rent) which was demanded by the owner of the flat as a sort of deposit before he would sign the contract for the lease. The bank holds the money. They charge a hand and a fist for looking after my money. I had to get everything signed sealed and delivered by that specious, grasping band of legal nonentities called Notarios who demanded a vast sum of money for telling me that what I had to sign was a contract!

Eventually recharging my mobile I was able to contact the visitors and meet them in Zara. It says something about me or about the people who have visited me in Barcelona that I knew where Zara was.

It was a delight meeting people from Cardiff, even though the rain tried to make the city appear in its worst light.

Even depressing rain cannot hope to be victorious when opposed to a cup of chocolate in its most viscous form and a particularly venomously delicious chocolate cake!


Ever since reading ‘The Shocking History of Advertising’ published by Penguin in a most beguiling cover showing a bedraggled Victorian poster paster putting up the latest advert, and reading Vance Packard’s ‘Hidden Persuaders’ I have been fascinated by Marketing in all its insane forms.


Insanity seems to be the motivating force behind the large scale and obviously very expensive campaign to encourage the people of Catalonia to buy a Nespresso machine and chain themselves to the buying of packaged coffee products at high prices.

I am usually amazed and delighted at the ways in which manufacturers are adept at charging more for less. There are numerous examples of this. I don’t suppose that anyone has actually taken a box of extravagantly packaged washing powder tablets and crumbled them down to their original powder to see just how little actually stuff is really there; or taken the tea out of tea bags to see how little actual tea you have; putting glasses’ wipes in individual packets; selling individual sachets of anything – all of these ask the consumer to pay for packaging as much as for the contents.

A brilliant recent example has been the selling of chewing gum. One gum which is low in sugar, low in calories and high in price is now sold in tablet-like blister packs making the gum look more medicinal and therefore justifying a higher price. The latest packaging of a measly five sticks of gum is elegantly presented in a stylish metallic looking flip pack at an equally fashionable price!

As far as I can work out the Nespresso machine is merely a kettle which forces water through a number of holes in a small capsule filled with ground coffee and directs the resultant liquid into a suitable receptacle. It looks elegant enough but it is gloriously unsophisticated. The clever bit comes from selling small portions of coffee in small metallic capsules at an inflated price. The machine has a very specific purpose and you can only use the specially produced capsules with it.

And that is where the strange thing comes into operation. The capsules themselves are only available from limited outlets. I think that the general idea of the machine is that the consumer should become a member of a special club and order the capsules from the internet. Certainly in this part of the world there are very few places in which they can be bought. Our nearest shop is in Barcelona and none of the supermarkets sell the capsules. I have been told that this is to give a certain cachet to the use of the machine, to attach a certain spurious exclusivity to it.

This is fine and dandy, but the advertising is extensive and, while the price of the machine is obviously grossly inflated for what it does, but is not beyond the reach of many pockets. It stands to reason that, therefore, the capsules should be instantly available to gratify the artificially stimulated coffee needs of an every gullible public. The ‘thinking’ behind this particular approach leaves me stumped!

But I still admire the commercial mind which plays on public perception to deprive us of money!

Needless to say we do have a machine – though in my defence I have to say that it was given to us as a gift. Its use is likely to be the length it takes us to work our way through the strange selection of capsules that were bought (not by me) in the first enthusiastic frenzy of ownership.

YouTube (or however it’s spelled) has numerous short films indicating how the capsules might be re-used. The amount of effort necessary to complete this penny pinching piece of conservation looks disproportionate to the possible end result. This is the sort of thing on which I will keep a watchful eye to see how popular rejection of high priced exclusivity is manifested.

Today I wore shorts. I have made an executive decision that summer has started. As I have mentioned I am strengthened in my position by the fact that the framework for our chiringuito has now been assembled and I confidently expect the place to be finished tomorrow. The sun loungers have moved to the edge of the sea. All is in place for the summer. Hence the shorts.

I hope the weather takes the hint!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On show!


The first opportunity to see my school in its public guise.

This was the prize giving for the international literary competition that the school holds every year. The event started at 7.30 pm so I had the delight of braving the evening traffic on the northern circular road of Barcelona to get back to the place for the commencement of the festivities.

The evening over the most telling element of the experience was observing the astonishing rudeness of a substantial section of the audience who seemed to think that it was more than fair to come in more than half an hour late causing maximum noise! If this is the typical behaviour of the parents in the school then the powers that be might at least oil the doors so that they make less noise in their continuous opening and closing while the guest speaker is delivering his talk.

Yes, the talk, well . . .

This was delivered in Spanish and so called for a degree of concentration on my part which was particularly exhausting, especially when what the man was saying seemed to be an ill thought out extemporary ramble voicing a multitude of platitudes about the importance of reading and writing. His (slightly slurred I thought) delivery made little concession to his juvenile audience and bounced from pretentious peak of empty rhetoric to vacuous summit of glaring obviousness.

I might, of course, be absolutely wrong. After all it is hardly fair to be so dismissive of a discourse in which the odd word (to put it at its most optimistic) was lost in the desperate scurry of frantic translation. But, hey, I can’t change the habits of a lifetime just because someone has the temerity to use a language which places me at a linguistic disadvantage!

I thought that the directora looked at the speaker rather warily from time to time as he rambled on, so I don’t think that I was absolutely alone in my less than enthusiastic appreciation of his words of wisdom.

The awards were eventually awarded with two of the winners making a video contribution as they were from South America!

The evening ended with a contribution from the school pop group. They were enthusiastic and had a wonderful reception from an audience which related to them quite literally!
The band’s encore completed the audience disintegrated rather than dispersed in the general direction of a buffet which had been laid out in the open air in a wilful defiance of the odd day which we had which had provided us with sunshine, cloud, thunder and lightning, sunshine, torrential rain, sunshine and cloud. And sunshine.

I left with a colleague who hissed at me as we left the hall that my function was to protect her from marauding parents. We passed the buffet which was in the process of being submerged by roving pupils. She managed to bag a mini baguette, I gave it a miss. And so escape.

A thoroughly successful event I thought – and it was all over by nine; so civilized as well!

And tomorrow’s Friday.

Who can ask for more!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sun enough to brown!


It says a great deal about my determination over the past week or so that my arrival in the staff room this morning was greeted by colleagues asking where I had been on holiday.

This was not the simple politeness that you would expect after any holiday but rather a comment on my brown face.

My colleagues reasoned, perfectly fairly, that such a bronzed god-like look (I have to admit those were my words) could not have been obtained anywhere in the Barcelona region given the less than clement weather we have been having.

This is, of course, to ignore my sun orientated monomania where each time that timid star managed to insinuate a stray ray through the almost unrelenting cloud cover over Castelldefels – I was there! If a few bright electrons beamed down to earth then a prone body (mine) was spread-eagled to receive them. Whatever was there met my skin so that I am on my way towards that level of dusty obscurity which I used to boast after an out of season trip to Gran Canaria.

The truly terrible thing is that as we progress more and more surely towards days of unlimited sunshine, I will have to stand the frustration of seeing them wasted with my being indoors rather than outside soaking up the main reason that I am in Catalonia in the first place. School can be a cruel denier of pleasure!

The shock of having to start teaching by 8.15 am after the more spacious days of the holiday was a shock to the system; to say nothing of seeing all my pupils sitting in front of me expecting me to do something.

This term promises to be one replete with new experiences and will encompass my first brush with the external examinations that the pupils will have to sit. Some of their exams are held in centres outside the school and will necessitate logistical solutions which seem daunting.

No doubt I will look back on all the problems with a light heart and a ready jest by the time of the end of term. I only hope that the end of this term is a prelude to my starting a new year in the school in September.

Nothing has been said yet of my continued employment so I will have to try and contain the cold horror which sweeps over me when I realise what I should be teaching the pupils. This morning it was the conditional in all its guises, including something called the ‘Zero Conditional’ of which I had never heard.

The ‘First Conditional’ and ‘Second Conditional’ had, as mere designations entered my sphere of cognition, but the idea of teaching and explaining them to grammar savvy questioning kids had never entered the wildest nightmares of my imagination. It would have taken Goya at his blackest to have given an adequate pictorial representation to my almost overmastering panic when I was asked to explain on the board ‘The Second Conditional and Its Relationship to Unreal Possibility, Present and Future.’

It’s not something that the teaching of English Language to A Level prepares one for! Especially when bright eleven year olds are asking technical questions that most Heads of English in British Schools would be flummoxed by!

And on a technical note I have ended the last two questions with prepositions; standards are indeed falling fast! As indeed is my ability to take on board very much more grammar!

Tomorrow is the presentation of the prizes for our International Literary Competition. This is something which has a high profile in our school and is taken very seriously with the winning entries being published in a book. The competition has sections for English, Spanish and Catalan and the whole prize giving is graced with the thoughts of a writer of note. This is something to which I want to go as I have expressed interest in the competition and I have to carry through my interest and listen with intelligent appreciation to the speech of a Catalan writer. Ho hum, I’m getting quite good at that!

My “Si! Si!” approach to conversational Spanish will have to see me through another linguistic ordeal!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The extra day



The holiday ends in bright sunshine with fluffy white clouds on the horizon and very few people on the beach. But the people who are on the beach are prone and taking the rays. The swimming pool is almost looking inviting, but I know that the water is unheated and my heart doesn’t need the shock that sudden immersion will give it!

This is an ‘extra day’ which seems to be limited to my school. In spite of the blank incomprehension of my colleges in the state sector about not going back to school today I have had the strength to enjoy it and not subside into a driveling wreck worrying about whether it is actual or just a simple mishearing on my part. If it was, no one in school has phoned up to tell me about it, so I think I’m fairly safe.

I suppose that I am benefitting from a nasty anti-Benthamite god who has reasoned that most of the teachers and pupils will be returning today, so it’s OK to turn on a wonderful day of sunshine so that they can see what they are missing. And if a few of the privileged get a little extra Vitamin D then so be it. For once I can be a recipient of the beneficial effect of the principle of the Greatest Misery for the Greatest Number!

As I typed that last exclamation mark, the fluffy innocuous white clouds on the horizon have spread across the rest of the sky and the sun is now well filtered and the glittering pool is now a rather dull looking stretch of water. So much for arch comments on dead philosophies!

My brief case has been entirely emptied and I only found two unexpected items. As the traditional emptying of the case is usually akin to a breathtaking conjuring trick with a rapid succession of things produced which illustrate a whole chunk of my personal history, I am rather proud that I seem to be using the case for what it was intended rather than a Black Hole for difficult to deal with areas of my personal and educational life!

In an excess of organizational frenzy I even rationalized my two pencil cases: one of which now actually contains pencils! The other, larger one now contains all those things which no teacher should be without: stapler, sellotape, rubbers, paperclips, gluesticks, tippex and highlighting pen etc. This being a particularly me-type ‘other’ pencil case it also contains a Swiss Army Hunting Knife and a USB mini hub and lead.

By the way have you heard the statistic that says only two out of every ten paper clips made are actually used to clip papers?

That statistic came from a survey conducted by a bank.

It does not take a super subtle mind to realize that as a major buyer of paperclips and therefore presumably major culprits of their non use for purpose, the banks have transferred their attitude towards paper clips to money which they have also spectacularly misused.

We poor fools with little financial acumen use money to buy things that we need, not realizing that what we should have been acquiring was ‘toxic debts.’

One would have thought that the clue was there in the description. Perhaps all those illiterate bonus takers needed was an English teacher on their boards.

I’m still available.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Better late than never


Sitting on the balcony being caressed or buffeted by the late afternoon on-shore breeze – a designation dependant on your level of cynicism after such a damp holiday as we have had – I am able to contemplate an excellent paella which we had for lunch and be at least partially jocose about the fact that today has been bright and sunny if occasionally hazy.

My optimism (never far from the surface) also takes note of the Signs of Summer.

We dwellers on the littoral become adept in reading those tell-tale signs, so obvious to us, yet hidden from the generality of people who disturb our peace with their incessant stepping on our incomplete paseo.

The first and most obvious harbinger of the warmer months to come is that the sun beds have returned after their winter migration and are congregating on the beach.
They have formed themselves into what naturalists have described as “their typical vertical interlocking rest displays” or what ordinary folk refer to as stacks. As they are a protected species, and are still recovering after their long journey no one has disturbed them. The delicate membrane which covers their framework, still fragile from the effects of their epic voyage to the shores of the Mediterranean, needs to harden before they prepare to adopt their “horizontal territorial spread” for the hotter months of the year.

The second sign is that two person-high, nondescript piles of planking have appeared in the middle of the beach in a direct line down from the walkway onto the sands. To balcony dwelling fauna such as myself they betoken the immanent Building of the Chiringuito.

The chiringuito has been a source of considerable controversy and debate this year. The chiringuito, as you probably know, is the temporary (sometimes) beach bar which sells food and which is actually located directly on the beach. The government has decided, in a stalwart and vigorous way, totally in keeping with the sort of decisive action that we look for in times of crisis, that one of the most important issues facing the people of Spain today is regulation of beach snack bars. To howls of outrage they propose to limit what the chiringuitos can sell in the name of health and safety. ‘Fiddling,’ ‘Rome,’ ‘Nero,’ and ‘burning’ all come to mind!

Summer is almost officially here!

As I have used this holiday to read voraciously I have not yet emptied my brief case to discover exactly what school work I should have done last week. “Tomorrow,” as I have been saying each day of the holiday so far, “I will do the work.” As tomorrow is the last day I do not have very much option; I only hope that what I discover is not too impossible!

I also have to contact our Little Band of Pilgrims in the continuing struggle against The School That Sacked Me. We are coming up to the second meeting of our little group and, as yet, no one has contacted me. So, time to give everyone (including myself) a little push.

So much to do!

I think I will close my eyes and soak up what is left of the afternoon sun!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Summer?


Thunder, lightning and torrential rain yesterday evening prepared us for the miserable sodding weather today. So much for Easter!

Continuing to watch the god-awful television we are fed in Spain makes me wonder why I ever felt even remotely uncomfortable about trying to explain Morris Dancers to those not of our national persuasion. Times of festivity bring out the inexplicable en mass.

I have watched dances by groups in Spain whose music and dress sense makes Morris Dancers look like elegantly dressed competitors from Come Dancing moving to the most conventional of waltzes! Local festivals usually involve the most unrestricted use of fireworks; parades of giant figures dressed in the clothes of the 1920s; food – very often thrown, and if not thrown, then cooked in giant pots and pans. And don’t get me started on the religious excesses – most of which are greeted by Catalans with a scowl and mutterings about foreigners (or the Spanish as we sometimes know them!)

With Toni enjoying his Easter present from his mother – a stinking cold – today has been a little lacking in dynamism. I haven’t even felt like reading.

This is probably because I have overdosed on a marathon reading of all of the ‘Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Universe’ series courtesy of a worryingly inclusive web of free eBooks. It allows you to download 4 or 5 books on the understanding that they will be deleted when you have read them. You are therefore, in some sort of electronic way, ‘borrowing’ them from a legitimate library of the web host. There is a complete subsection of the site devoted to questions about the law where it dismisses any legal questions from the USA, the EU and the United Kingdom because it is situated outside the jurisdiction of those areas.

I have read the books and duly deleted the file. I read through the legal part of the site with what might be described as a ‘light eye’ because it could be a wonderful library for me while the larger part of mine is still locked away in Bluspace, and I don’t want to ‘know’ that it is all illegal. Perhaps I should read the information again with a slightly ‘heavier’ eye this time!

This afternoon a proposed visit to a teacher from The School that Sacked Me with the possibility of yet another school being founded. Catalonia seems to be full of people who hope to found schools but their reality is a little more sparse. Sill, my insane optimism will encourage me to believe that here too may be something positive which we can add to the information contained by our little group which may eventually lead to something.


More ‘mays’ then ‘cans’ there, but as Mehitabel would say ‘wotthehell!’

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A gleam of hope!


Nothing brings out the difference between the land of my birth and my adopted country than a bank holiday.

Not, you understand in the manner of the respective people. Catalonia is as capable of “taking its pleasures sadly” as Britain and I have seen Spanish people ‘enjoying’ themselves at various festive occasions with that dogged, slightly hysterical forced gusto that is so characteristic of Britons when they know that things are really not going that well. As usual.

A Bank Holiday in Britain is the one time when you know that the hose will not be necessary. Your plants will have their thirst quenched by the liberal amounts of water which will, as surely as Big Brother will plumb new depths of moral, psychological and scatological horror with each new series, fall liberally from the skies and give that particular gleam to the traffic jams of cars lined up trying to get (in spite of past experience) to the seaside for ‘a little bit of sunshine.’

In Catalonia for the past week or so the weather has been (with one or two bright exceptions) bloody. But now, at the first morning of the Bank Holiday weekend opens, we are greeted with bright sunshine. I would, by way of celebration, skip skittishly onto the balcony to take my cup of tea within the envious stares of the Lesser Breeds Without the Law who parade for my endless enjoyment on our perennially unfinished paseo – but we have run out of milk.

It is these little hiccoughs in the smooth line of quotidian delight which remind me of my national predilection to shake my head sorrowfully and say, “I’m not surprised,” in a voice reminiscent of Ada Doom recollecting ‘something nasty in the woodshed.’

For the British ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ is a symbol for the imperfection of experience which seems to be our lot; it is the fatalistic dread that we all have about the cringe-making horror that the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games is going to be; the sullen resignation we display as the pound goes into free fall against every currency including cowrie shells; rain on Bank Holidays.

But, as L P Hartley didn’t say, “Catalonia is another country; they do things differently there.”

So, I’ll just pop out to the shops for the milk to revel in the Balcony Experience and enjoy the sunshine while it happens.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hanging about?


The responses of your average Spanish-type person are always interesting and instructive.

What, for example would enter your head to be doing on Good Friday. One must bear in mind that Spain (even Catalonia) is ostensibly a country steeped in the more outlandish manifestations of the Roman Catholic Cult. What, thinks your average Spanish bloke, shall I do today.

Never let it be said that a tasteful response to the apparent death of your god was beyond your traditional Iberian imagination. What to do? What to do?

What about taking your shirt off, wrapping thick cord around your waist up to your armpits then have your outstretched arms laid along a wooden cross beam again with cord wrapped around your arms. Then drape a lace table cloth over your head and place a crown of thorns on your head. Add two more lengths of cloth over your cord wrapped, wooden beam stretched arms. And you are good to go! People of a sensitive disposition, perhaps unsurprisingly, kneel at your approach.

The news on Good Friday is a succession of unlikely forms of religion related masochism. Broadcast, I might add before the nine o’clock watershed!

Nothing brings out the Anglican atheist in me more than gratuitous exhibitions of superstitious, idol bearing subjection! Still, if it keeps them happy!

The weather, as you have probably guessed from the preceding bitterness, has been less than satisfactory with rain adding to the general air of holiday deprivation.

On the fight against educational nastiness, it also (in the sense of another bad thing like the weather) appears that the accounts of The School That Sacked Me are – apart from missing years – roughly what you would expect. There are no glaring instances where instant phoning of the authorities would be the only appropriate action.

Perhaps I was wrong to hope for a ‘quick fix’ solution to the problem and, as we have been told, the only way to success (however we define that) is in the long run and by exercising persistence.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Shine On!



I sometimes feel like a living embodiment (tautology?) of Ruskin’s Pathetic Fallacy.

The sun is shining this morning: all is well with the world. Yesterday in the grey-bright misery of indifferent weather (which is as close as Castelldefels comes to a grotesque mimicry of the Principality Pall that drove me from my native shores) I felt that life was void and without form – and now antithesis.

Having wasted valuable living time trying to make some sort of sense of the welter of computer generated statistical gibberish connected to the finances of The School That Sacked Me, I have decided that the combination of lots of figures with helpful subheadings in a foreign language is not conducive to my peace of mind.

It is therefore sensible to submit the whole farrago of nonsense to somebody who can read the financial runes and sense whether there is black or white magic enwrought (thank you Yeats – though in the translation into Spanish Daniel Aguirre has chosen the word ‘bordado’ which means embroidered; a word (in English) that Yeats uses in the first line of the poem, so Yeats is able to gain the rich distinction between ‘embroidered’ and ‘enwrought’ and add an element of the archaic, whereas the beggared Spanish translation looses . . . I better stop there) in the incomprehensible rows of figures that confound and blast my sight.

That last sentence is an obvious example of what happens when you start reading Milton for fun! A couple of days ago I was re-reading the first couple of books of Paradise Lost and marvelling again at the modernity of the Weasel Wisdom that Satan (or Stan as I typed it: it gives an altogether more homely and Northern feel to the Evil One!) uses as he raises his fall’n legions. “What tho’ the field be lost: all is not lost.” How many times do you hear that logic on the Today programme voiced in a myriad ways but the central theme being, “Black is white: believe me.”

As I never tired of telling my A level classes, you don’t need to read Machiavelli (though he is good fun and unfairly maligned) when you can read the speeches of Satan (or Stan) in Paradise Lost and follow the machinations of Iago in ‘Othello.’ As far as I can understand it, Political Science is a close study of those two texts and their application in the Real World. Job done!

I sometimes feel like Captain Cat sitting on the balcony and watching the world (or Castelldefels) {or my tiny section of the beach of Castelldefels} come to life. As I drink my early morning cup of tea I only see the Dutiful Dog Walkers and the Manic Old as they strut purposefully along our newly almost constructed paseo. Gradually Other Ages (suitably be-coated) pass along. The Hardy Boys (adjective not proper noun) start to play volleyball and the squeak of buggy wheels begins as grandparents wheel about their firmly strapped-in grandchildren. There is only one Lounging Figure looking in the distance like those Mexican carved sculptures you see in Chichen Itza. Gradually the beach will fill with people telling themselves that this is their holiday and they should be enjoying themselves!

A lot of work to be done today and not much of it enjoyable.

It remains to be seen if I can resist the ever present lure of the eBook as totally justifiable displacement activity!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Synonym: Holiday/Rain



The flat now has a veneer of cleanliness to it, it having been chamfered up in preparation for the arrival of the family.

The family, containing as it does one three year old and an unsteady toddler will ensure that any chamfering will be a distant memory within seconds of their arrival!

The weather continues bloody. It rained fairly solidly throughout yesterday and the general appearance of the weather today could be encompassed in the word ‘glowering.’ Although not raining at the moment it certainly looks as though it wants to rain. This is a situation which I remember well and thought was going to be confined to memory rather than experience!

Yesterday saw a friend and I delivering CVs to any building which looked substantial enough to need reasonably literate employees; and a few others which didn’t. I have said that a response rate of one in twenty could be regarded as reasonable. Indeed in El Crisis it might be miraculous, but one must have faith.

We will continue to spread the news of availability this afternoon and will enliven our little jaunt by delving electronically into the murky finances of The School That Sacked Me.

We have had, as they say, certain information (which I am assured is in the public domain) given to us and we now have to work out if there are, shall we say, any discrepancies between what The Owner says is going on in her dysfunctional institution and what is really going on. We can foresee problems with the tabulation of accurate information to double check her figures as record keeping is not one of her strong points. We will have to work backwards from what we know and try and find something which does not fit easily with our knowledge and hope that it is enough to crush her. A fond hope, I know, but nevertheless a hope!

My team-by-adoption has won: one has to take success where one can find it, I suppose.

Barça humiliated Munich in the latest leg of the French version of the European Cup and we watched the massacre courtesy of the large television courtesy of the local corner restaurant in the charged atmosphere which you always get when you are watching Barça play in Catalonia.

This, I suppose is the popular part of my cultural experience as opposed to reading the short stories of Katherine Mansfield. I am reading these stories (‘Bliss and other stories’) on the tail of Kate Chopin’s collection of her novel ‘The Awakening’ with a few other stories. They make interesting companion reads with Mansfield being the more engaging. The Awakening is a compelling story of a woman finding herself with fatal consequences. Although American it is a story which seems particularly European with touches of the frustrating ennui that is so characteristic of the more sombre Russian tales of depression and death! This one is however imbued with an almost savage affirmation of love and life; the tragedy (if it is a tragedy) comes from the impossibility of reconciling individual truth and honesty with the familial and social ties which define so much of life.

Mansfield brings to high significance the alarming reality of the significant detail. Her writing is sure and fluent and she invites the confidence of the reader in her narrative style. To me she seems like the readable version of Virginia Woolf.

Today has been yet another depressingly damp day with the actual precipitation waiting until we set off on part two of the distribution of the CVs. I have a depressing feeling that we will be doing this on my behalf some time after the Easter Holiday.

After many frustrating attempts to print the information about The School That Sacked Me in some usable form, we finally succeeded when the combined technological knowledge of three minds was applied to the problem and one of them suggested a possible solution.

Needless to say that mind was not mine, but, on the other hand, I was the one pressing all the keys!

Gradually the case against the School That Sacked Me grows; but not, unfortunately my confidence that anything will really be done about a glaring instance of educational unfitness for use that the school represents.

I will have to re-inflate my flabby optimism.

Again.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why not pad?


There is much to be said for tile floors in a hot country.

At the moment this country is not hot. The weather is damp and the beach has that deep ochre look which doesn’t go well with a washed out hazy blue-grey sky. I realised that the weather was beginning to get to me as I was taking the rubbish out to the bins and barely scowled at the cheery ‘bon dia’ of the person coming in the opposite direction.

Part of the reason I have to admit has nothing to do with the damp weather, and much more to do with tiles.

The person passing me and leading a dog was obviously our upstairs neighbour. The key is the dog.

Personally, I think that there is no place for a pet in a flat. The beach is, out of bounds for dogs, it is illegal to take a dog on to the beach. I have to say that particular law is not honoured in either the breach or the observance and foul curs foul at will.

This particular dog we know well, very well. Thanks to the tile floor on which it walks, we are fully conversant with its staccato progress as it minces about sounding as if it was walking on a collection of screwdrivers. As it skitters about it has never, obviously, entered the degraded heads of its owners that its nails might need cutting.

Such vicious thoughts would never enter my giddy holiday head in the normal process of indulging my ingestion of vitamin D via sunlight. It its absence vitriol is sprayed in a fairly general arc seeking whom it may destroy. (I will allow Stewart to check the grammar of that statement incorporating as it does a half remembered phrase from the Book of Common Prayer!)

Meanwhile the reading of a book of short stories by Kate Chopin – one of the many authors dredged up to complete the almost total feminisation of literature studies in our schools – is part of my displacement strategy to hinder my application of effort to the work that I should be doing for school.

I am still reading ‘The Awakening’ the first of the stories which I think I last read in a fit of absent mindedness when I was looking for pre-twentieth century non-British short literature to cover a number of bases in the coursework requirements for GCSE English. It was obviously too long for use and the subject matter was too subtle to hold many pupils’ interest.

Its setting links it to the short stories of Somerset Maugham but it lacks the more obvious narrative point of that author.

I have to say that I remember absolutely no point of the story so far, so completely did my mind wipe it out as having no utility for school use! I hope that I will be able to gain more enjoyment this time round as the requirements for short stories for my present crop of students is even more particular than for a group of 16 year old native English speakers!

I am now waiting for a friend to call so that we can join forces to make the distribution of CVs a little easier. This is not for my benefit but to give moral support to another. With any reasonable luck reciprocation will not be necessary, but preparing an updated version of my CV and drafting a general covering letter is part of the workload that I have to complete this holiday. Although my present school has given me every indication of positive support, I do not yet have the contract in my hands. This being the case, and with my experience of private education fresh in my mind, preparation for all eventualities seems to be called for!

The sun has now made a half hearted effort to show that it is still there behind the clouds by popping out for a moment to show what this holiday period could be like if really wanted to be a friend.

It’s now gone again.

Gnash!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Another View




I wonder how much Don Marquis is read today.

I was introduced to him (I suspect by Aunt Bet) as the creator of the wickedly engaging characters of Archy and Mehitabel. The fact that we are talking about a cockroach and an alley cat who often had poetic conversations about the meaning of life gives a certain je ne sait quoi to the literary creations.

The ‘poems’ of Archy were supposedly written by the cockroach by means of his head butting the keys of Don Marquis’s typewriter during the night! Archy often brings in the philosophical contributions of his friend, the alley cat Mehitabel who also happens to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Archy types Mehitabel’s song which includes her favourite refrain of “tourjours gai toujours gai.” Archy doesn’t do upper case and punctuation and we should be grateful that he manages the carriage return – just imagine how difficult that is for a cockroach! The following is a sample of the verse that he produces, though this extract is his relaying the voice of Mehitabel:

my youth i shall never forget

but there s nothing i really regret

wotthehell wotthehell

there s a dance in the old dame yet

toujours gai toujours gai

I thoroughly enjoy these poems and you rapidly discover that there is a sort of secret society of people who know and like them – all part of the Masonry of Poetry!

Last night I read something different from Don Marquis: a novel.

Called ‘The Cruise of the Jasper B.’ it was a bewildering piece of work. Half children’s fairy story and half detective adventure story the third half is surrealistic fantasy!

It concerns a copy writer suddenly coming into a fortune left by a teetotal uncle and deciding to spend his money refurbishing a decrepit boat lodged firmly on the bank. His purchase creates havoc with surrounding hoodlums while the sudden appearance of an English Lady with the body of a noble stalker complicates matters.

The style is difficult to characterize but if you imagine Dashiell Hammett meeting Daisy Ashford, hitting it off and deciding to write a story together then you will still be only part of the way to appreciating the light touch of lunacy which informs the narrative style of this extraordinary novel.

To be truthful I am not sure if I would recommend it. As I was reading it I constantly reminded myself that I was reading something from the pen of the creator of Archy and Mehitabel.

I also thought that it could make quite a good film. It reminded me a little of the books of Lemony Snicket. The 2004 film of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ with Jim Carey is exactly the sort of production which ‘The Cruise of the Jasper B.’ deserves. Carey could have a part too, though this time he could play the hero Cleggett, rather than the villainous Count Olaf. I have since discovered that there is a film of the book but it is very much 'from' the novel by Marquis rather than 'of' the novel.

The weather has been substantially better today which is just as well as I have resorted to unusual forms of locomotion.

The holiday is an opportunity to get done all those things which you can put off with a clear conscience during term time because there ‘simply isn’t time’ to do them. One of the most pressing was for the car to have its first major service. As this was the first time that I have ever owned a car which has needed its first major service this was an occasion of some moment for me.

Saturday saw the appointment made and at 8.30 am this morning I was at the Peugeot dealers leaving the car. I decided, rather rashly as it turned out, to walk back to the flat.

Within twenty steps an urgent necessity made itself felt with every extra step! As I was in the centre of an industrial area the number of public conveniences was strictly limited – or nonexistent! Luckily I realized that there was an hotel within a reasonable distance. Gingerly making my way towards it I eventually catapulted my way into the place after missing the cunningly placed step just the other side of the sliding doors.

The toilets there were like something out of Blade Runner all dusty lighting and gloom with bright red square basins and slate walls – but for me it was like the Promised Land!

The walk back was much longer than I had estimated, but I felt thoroughly virtuous. But then I remembered my folding bike and felt thoroughly foolish that I hadn’t brought it with me to make the return journey!

Collecting the car saw me donning my crash helmet and, throwing caution to the winds, actually taking the bike out on to real roads, rather than the paseo on the beach. I remembered my dad’s dictum that if it was easier to walk with the bike rather than ride it, then you should walk it. For most of the way there is a cycle lane – but it was very narrow and when I met another cyclist coming in the other direction I had a moment of unstable panic!

Arriving at my destination the most disturbing aspect of picking up the car was not the paying of vast sums of money for very little, but rather folding up the bike to put it in the back of the car. I always seem to do it in a slightly different way each time I disassemble the bloody thing so that various parts of the machine are flapping around and failing to fit into the compact footprint (or whatever you call it) that makes it easy to fit into the boot.

Returning home, eventually, I felt fully justified in lounging on the balcony in the glorious sunshine which should always accompany a holiday.

Roll on the next week of fine weather!

I hope.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

One lump or two?


Gravy is always the problem.

As I had a window of opportunity today to have a meal which only I had to eat I decided to ‘do a British.’ I went to Carrefour and bought a joint of meat rather than the thin slices that we usually cook.

I went to the Most Expensive Supermarket in the World (conveniently situated with a couple of hundred yards of the flat) to buy selected vegetables (if you have seen the prices you will realise why you select the vegetables individually and carefully) and I was set to go.

Given the lack of an oven in the flat (!) I bought a multipurpose microwave with a conventional oven and grill setting. Each time I use it I forget which buttons to press to get the thing to work as there are a bewilderingly large number of possible combinations of microwave, convection oven, grill - and then, many decisions later you have to add the complication of the variation in heat settings.

Each time I use it I end up looking like some sort of mystic devotee of The Cult of the Oven as I sit cross legged on the kitchen floor gazing at the control panel and pressing buttons pretty much at random. Perhaps I should explain why I sit on the floor.

When the kitchen was ‘designed’ (I use that word as a concept as no process of anything I understand as design was applied to the place) a space was left under the electric hob (ugh!) which clearly is intended to house an oven. The space is allegedly (according to the cheapskate owner) too small for a real oven so he thoughtfully provided the very cheapest sort of microwave. A useless piece of tatty junk!

My attempts to get him to provide a combination microwave were met with blank incomprehension, though eventually ‘a man’ appeared who measured the space and informed us it was too small for an oven. So, rather than spend rather less than 10% of the monthly rental that we pay for this ‘furnished’ flat, the owner gave up and very kindly provided us with nothing.

It took me one visit to our localish electrical store to find what I wanted and, fed up with the attitude of the owner, I bought it. And have used it inexpertly ever since.

The meat was placed inside and some programme was initiated which provided cooked (and well cooked I have to say) sliceable meat at the end of the rather arbitrary time that I (or rather the machine) had decided was necessary.

The veg. were placed in the pressure cooker and I assayed the Task of Hercules of making the gravy.

I like both the idea of gravy and also its taste. I don’t usually have gravy.
I know that these two statements look contradictory, and indeed are, but that is how I am. I have nothing against gravy, it’s just I don’t eat it. This time, however, I had decided to make an exception. I reasoned that if one is going to have a ‘British’ then one should go the whole hog.

I used fat from the meat and a (foreign) stock cube. I added the water from the vegetables and produced a dark, tasty but indubitably thin liquid. A little flour was called for and was duly added. That is to say, that is what I thought I added. In my serene professional haste what I actually added were micro breadcrumbs.

I would not, on mature reflection, suggest that my inadvertency has produced a new and exciting recipe which should be followed by all. No. What I ended up with was a thin, dark liquid with suspicious fluffy bits looking like minute dumplings in it. Tasted OK. In a way.

I had the meal defiantly outside. Although sunny, it is obviously not Spanish sunny as the people walking along the paseo were dressed as for autumn. I was wearing thin shorts and T shirt, the walkers on the beach had overcoats and jackets. Summer is still (though not for me) a couple of months away!

I have finished the crime short stores: an interesting school collection with contributions from Conan Doyle to Ruth Rendell. They have a selection of worthy educational ‘activities’ at the end of the book which are depressingly like the sort of stuff which I could have produced and which no one would ever have used. Including myself!

Moving to my eBook reader I read ‘Agatha Webb’ by Anna Katherine Green. Green is an author of whom I have heard because I did an on line search for out of copyright detective authors and hers was one of the names that came up. Further searches revealed that she had an impressive reputation and is looked on as one of the earliest of the American detective novel writers.
She is talked about with respect on websites which deal with the history of the detective novel and she is usually described as an author who produced stories with plots which were well presented and interesting. She also made every effort to ensure that the technical details of the law were accurate.
Although she was a pioneer and a woman in a world dominated by men she was not a supporter of feminism and was opposed to Votes for Women! She was born in 1846 and died in 1935: so she was born two years before the Year of Revolutions and died in the year that the Nazi government revoked the German citizenship of Jews. Quite a time span!
The novel ‘Agatha Webb’ is concerned with redemption and truth and seems nearer to Hawthorne than Chandler! The plot is complex and has an almost Dickensian reliance on coincidence. It has two detectives, a roué, a Bad Young Woman, deaths galore, money, shipwreck, sons, fathers, daggers, flowers, starvation, secrets and, as you might have guessed by that list, a fairly happy ending.

Detective stories do date very quickly. Many of the seemingly insuperable problems faced by detectives in the past leave them stumped, but leave the modern reading public shouting “Look for fingerprints!” or “Check the DNA!” Social attitudes also date stories and sometimes essential elements of the plot are dependent on some trait of behaviour which would pass without comment in the modern world.

Another choice of book tonight: but I might try and move a little up market this time!