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Monday, June 29, 2009


As if to drive in the knife of viciousness a little deeper into the depths of my unreal tiredness the road to work today was one continuous traffic jam enlivened only by the death defying (unfortunately) antics of supercilious motorcycle drivers.

I had intended to get my ‘job’ for the morning out of the way before anyone arrived, but the traffic ensured that my arrival was only just inside the normal starting time.

The ‘job’ was photocopying ‘Holiday Homework’ for those miscreants who had failed their examinations. The work had already been decided and all I had to do was re-type the front page and use the originals to produce X numbers of copies.

I have always been amazed at the sheer ineptitude of people using the photocopier. The basic principles of use involved are surely easy to grasp, but it is a never failing source of self satisfied gloating to observe the antics of colleagues as they try and obtain the elusive copy that they want. Notice I said the ‘copy that they want’ which is very often not the copy that they get. They look askance at the results of their attempts and sometimes even shake the paper a little as if their failure were a mere wrinkle in the system that, with a little flick they can sort out.

Some people find the mere process of obtaining a single copy challenging but when you get to horizontal format double sided copying then whole forests are sacrificed in futile attempts to get a reasonable outcome.

The ‘originals’ that I was given were of the ‘forests wasted’ variety with pages printed upside down. In spite of my tiredness I made an executive decision to ‘make things good’. This was a mistake. The photocopier ran out of paper almost immediately and my re-arranging and re-photocopying of selected faulty pages soon developed into an epic race against time to get them done.

But done they eventually were, with the expenditure of reams of paper and all of my remaining nervous energy. I used to be able to tell how much I had drunk by the exact level of disintegration of my level of squash playing. Now that my knees seem to be packed with gravel I have another indicator: the number of typing errors that I make.

Even the untiring efforts of the irritating Microsoft typing corrector are insufficient to cope with the level of random letter insertion that my insensate fingers are producing.

I have asked if I can slope off early and help Toni in the final (please god!) efforts of the packing and the commencement (dear god!) of the Cleaning of the Flat in Preparation for the Arrival of the Owner and the Returning of the Money.

Toni and I are still talking. Just. There was a period during some late night (or perhaps it just seemed late) transferring of ‘stuff’ from flat to house when we went through a quietly spoken, extra polite phase which was mutually terrifying. One sense that, should the veneer of civilization peel away for a moment then it would be carving knives at dawn! But we survived. Just.

This afternoon has to see the final move completed and the Great Clean Up begin. House cleaning is not my forte. I would prefer to adopt the ‘leaving the money in the envelope for the cleaning lady’ approach, but I have not been allowed to pursue this course in Catalonia.

I am a little perturbed that we will be moving to a place with three (count them) flights of tile stairs and an extra room. I feel that something must be done.

But not by me.

I was allowed out early so was able to catch Toni cleaning my bathroom. Because mine does not have an outside window it is prone to damp and mould and we have taken extraordinary measures to ensure that the place looks even better than when it was given to us. We are trying to eliminate all the potential reasons for the Owner to quibble about how much of our money he pays us back. We are looking for 100% which, in Spain, is a truly ambitious expectation!

We have now made a further three visits to the house taking an inordinate amount of further ‘stuff’ which has apparently been breeding overnight!

We have still not moved everything, but, by later this evening we should have transported the overwhelming bulk of what we have to move.

Further cleaning today and tomorrow and then the fateful Visit of Inspection!

Tomorrow our phones and all other forms of communication will be cut, supposedly to be restored to our new accommodation in a couple of days time. I am not sanguine about the assertions of our internet provider and therfore this will probably be the last of my entries in the blog for some time!

Perhaps I am being unduly negative.

Or realistic.

Who knows!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Time has stopped


Two and a half days of moving and it is still not over. We haven’t even begun to clean the flat to ensure that the Owner has not justification for keeping the money that he controls as our evilly enormous deposit of many, many Euros.

So I am not really in the mood to reject as mere fairy story the latest conspiracy theory that I am developing. Toni’s fanaticism has meant that I have been a grudging spectator to the latest series of football matches devoted to some sort of cup.

This one is FIFA inspired and therefore tinged (to say the least) with the corruption which is the life blood of that thoroughly discredited institution. This one is allegedly inter-continental so we should be seeing the best national teams on the planet.

It is my lifelong belief that the whole purpose of FIFA has come down to trying to get The United States of America interested in real football and to that end they have worked assiduously to try and get the Americans a trophy of some sort. The final in this ludicrous competition is between the USA (shock, horror!) and Brazil. For three quarters of the game the USA has been in the lead but now Old Football has reasserted itself and Brazil have equalized. Quarter of an hour to go and I fancy the Brazilians to make it safe. But there again, what the hell do I know about football? Or indeed care!

But I still think that things are fixed.

We have discovered that there is much more to transport after our M&V move than we had ever feared in our worst nightmares. We have been back and fore for what seems like most of our lives and there is still a mass of ‘stuff’ which seems glued to the flat and, no matter how much we move, more ‘stuff’ appears asking politely for an IKEA cardboard box and smirking at our naïve belief that we are ‘making real progress.’

My tiredness has now reached epic proportions and I have no idea how I am going to readjust to ‘school mode’ tomorrow. At least we can go home after lunch so I can help Toni in the ‘Final Cleaning’ of our (hopefully) empty flat.

Such interesting days ahead!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Would that this would end!


Anyone who says mid way through a move that, “the worst is over” is not only tempting fate but also showing a shocking lack of experience in the soul searing process of rearranging accommodation.
Uneasy dreams of multifarious disasters (all surprisingly connected with various aspects of moving) were finally interrupted by the sound of my mobile alarm at whose notes I am programmed to lurch into some similitude of wakefulness.

My first worried duty was to check that the unbroken line of cars outside our flat had dissipated enough to allow a van to park by the flat’s main gate. There was a space so I immediately got the car from the underground garage and plonked it in the middle of a two car space thus ensuring that no other car could take it.

Our moving team when it finally arrived (it was only a few minutes late but to a mind sick with worry about what might happen it seemed like hours) they leapt into action after a few horrified glances at the number of boxes there were to carry. Toni, crucified with embarrassment at the sheer scale of the ‘stuff’ to be moved actually volunteered to ‘help’ the men with the move. I felt that this was ‘bad form’ and made little attempt to follow his lead.

Their muscular help ensured that the major part of the move was completed in two trips by the troop of South Americans leaving our new house looking completely chaotic.

Toni’s sister came to help and was followed by the rest of the family. Our meal at the corner restaurant was excellent and helped compensate for the horror of the morning. Even my ‘hands off arm’s length’ approach was exhausting.

We at least stand a chance of getting all the ‘stuff’ to the new place by midday tomorrow.

And then the cleaning starts.

I am almost looking forward to going back to school on Monday.

Almost.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sign!


Ah the happy hunting of the elusive ISBN number! The stalking of texts through the rough undergrowth of badly organized web sites! Another rite for the end of term!

Helping the head of English complete the book order for next September was a revisiting of old duties, but on a much smaller scale.

Another marathon meeting with an agenda which was more of an indication of what might be talked about rather than an actual sequential list of items to be discussed.

At one point I realized that they were talking about the innovation of ‘House Points’ and various people were giving their views on the ethos behind the scheme. House Points are like bicycle sheds in the famous Parkinson’s Law book which explains that there are some things that nobody knows about and other things about which everyone has an opinion. Those are the things that people speak about. And by god did they speak.

Other more important questions that we had to face were dismissed, but everybody had something to say about House Points. It came to the point where I said to one colleague who was sitting on my left that I was within five minutes of walking out. They shut up about House Points with two minutes to spare!

And so back home to the contract signing for the renting of the new house. It is a salutary experience to hand over €4,020 in cash (because the idiot estate agents don’t have the facility for cards!) and realize that the money only contains one month’s rent among the various forms of deposit that estate agents seem adept in finding essential.
So we now have the keys of the new place and have taken some items there and been truly exhausted.

I shall hardly have the energy to type tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A day without pupils is like . . . .




Arrived an hour early for school which does not start until 9.00 am. The (very civilized) time table for the rest of the term has now appeared and we can go home after lunch.

I assume that most of the school in Catalonia are now closed for students as driving to work this morning was a delight – allowing, of course for manic motorcyclists. I now look back at my hatred of cyclists in the UK with something amounting to fondness when I compare it with my detestation of the kamikaze motorcyclists of Catalonia!

I have been driven to type because I am surrounded by people who are working. I assume that they are form teachers and they are preparing for the meetings which are going to take place today to consider those miscreants who have failed their examinations and have further failed their ‘recuperation’ exams. As far as I can work out a great deal of detailed work is being done which can, for pure expediency, be discarded in a moment. The concepts of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ are fairly flexible in this school and are dependent on a number of factors which do not seem to have any relationship with what might be termed ‘education’ – even in its widest definition!

Our estate agents have been galvanized (a heavily ironic word there) into some sort of action which is, obviously, encouraging as we propose to move in a couple of days! Although one side is expecting us to leave and is asking for keys the other side does not seem to show the same enthusiasm for ensuring that we actually get into the house that we assume is going to be our home from the first of July.


I am now in a permanent state of tension and am beginning to understand why moving house is in the top five stressful activities in which the human being can indulge. This state of tension is not helped by a totally incomprehensible email message I have just been sent by Toni. I think I’ll buy a mini fridge on the way home to calm my nerves! Retail Therapy is the one type of ameliorative activity which actually works!


The meeting about the failed pupils was as mind-bendingly boring as I feared – and then some! It reminded me of the worst excesses of a combination of LHS Curriculum Meetings and Regional Meetings of the NUT. Everyone gave their five penn’orth of irrelevant, repetitive noise prolonging the meeting way beyond its worth and interest. When most of the meeting is in Catalan (not even Spanish) then there is an added level of insane tedium that stretches even my wide ranging acceptance of educational moonshine!

It eventually ended and then we were fed.

By the time I got home (after buying the small fridge) I was exhausted and in no fit condition to go to the opera.

But, with the cost of the ticket slapping me around the face, go I did.

I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the production of ‘Salome’ that I saw.

Musically it was a triumph. The Orquestra Simfonica del Gran Teatre del Liceu was on great form and was ably conducted by Michael Boder, but the production directed by Guy Joosten (this is a co-production with La Monnaie-De Munt in Brussells) was a shocking mess.

The whole thing was updated and performed in modern dress. Jochanaan was well sung by Mark Delavan and was dressed like a rather seedy university lecturer of the old school. His nemesis was brilliantly sung by Nina Stemme as Salome – and at that point I become a little harsh about the general level of singing of the rest of the cast. Strauss may not always be the most sympathetic of accompanists for the tentative singer, but many of the singers lost the battle with the orchestra.

It is difficult to know where to start on my destruction of the production, there are so many infelicities in the mish-mash of ideas which bump around, each striving to provide a key to the ‘Concept’ motivating the production.

I have nothing against the up-dating of the production and the dressing of the soldiers as armed security personnel was a good one, but their posturing with guns soon became irritating rather than effective. The accidental shooting of Narraboth by Salome (sic) was worked into the production well and gave a new slant to the narrative.

The character of Jochanaan was, in my opinion, cheapened from his first appearance when instead of emerging from his cistern via the ladder he ‘magically’ walked downstage to general amazement. Jochanaan was unable to be confined in his prison and sang from various parts of the stage whenever he felt like it. He was presented as a sort of Superman who transcended the normal boundaries of human capability.

This was confirmed in what the director must have thought would be a coup de theatre when, after Salome has kissed the Prophet’s dead, bloody lips and she had been condemned to death by Herodes, Jochanaan suddenly appeared, frightened off Herodes and walked significantly towards a revived Salome. I actually emitted a little groan of horror at this point!

Talking of Herodes his presentation was as a comic character taking the centre of a table tediously reminiscent of the last supper. Herodias was a substantial lady (Jane Henschel) in a red sequined dress who was drunk and had scenes crawling on the floor. The banquet scene was more slapstick than anything else and the Dance of the Seven Veils was a sort of home video projected onto a sheet to the general embarrassment of Herodes and to the fury of his wife.

The Jews were religious gun carrying zealots and there was a bishop and . . . I really can’t be bothered to carry on.

I hated this production (which was greeted at its conclusion with screams of approbation from a dangerously Strauss-fixated audience) and I felt that it diminished the whole opera.

Having said all that, I do concede that the story, no matter its biblical basis, is an absurd one and there is certainly scope for bizarre humour. Oscar Wilde’s involvement does give a certain louche quality to the whole enterprise! This production however, is not the ‘funny’ one I am looking for.

Tomorrow we sign for the house and start moving things in. Like the little fridge.

I fear that sleep will be beyond me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The day after the night before


After a combination of red wine, cava and sangria, together with high velocity rockets and sundry explosions I took to my bed at a relatively early hour of this morning.

Apart from desultory bangs the district has lapsed into a funereal silence and only the rubbish strewn beach with assorted bodies lying or staggering about tells the Holmesian eye that business has been afoot.

The firecrackers, whooshes and explosions went on throughout the night accompanied by the drunken (sic.) sounds of Catalans having a bit of a time. It’s only one day in the year and it was not as cataclysmic as last year.

I think that the construction of the paseo which obliterated the low dunes in front of our flats has given a sort of air of propriety to the whole beach and made the sands more open and less ‘secluded’ as people no longer have to trudge through sand to make their progress along the playa.

The flat is a depressing place in which to live at the moment as, according to Toni’s Master Plan, all the packed boxes are lowering in the living room. This forces us to live in a space which looks as though it is the set for a scene from a 50’s play by an Angry Young Man.

As everywhere and everything will be closed today (with the obvious exception of our restaurants) I fear that today will be a somewhat lackadaisical one. It might give me time to adjust to the fact that I am going to have to go to school tomorrow and it’s a Thursday. But it’s going to feel like a Monday.

Having seen its enticing cover through the glass of one of the gigantic cupboards in the staff room, I extracted ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. In spite of the fact that it had the depressing words ‘The International Bestseller’ along the bottom I started reading it.

The cupboard is the exclusive preserve of our science teacher and I guessed that she had bought the book for some trifling amount of money from one of the stalls in our Fiesta.

By the time she caught me guiltily reading the purloined volume I was well into it and with a little persuasion and an assurance that I would finish it before the end of term (!) I was allowed to take it and devour it.

It is a relatively short book with big writing and wide margins. Its faux folk/fairy tale style is supposed to encapsulate heart-warming ‘philosophy’ about listening to the self same calorific organ and tuning into the ‘Language of the World’ and omens and other rubbish of that sort.

It reminded me of nothing more profound than Jonathan Livingstone Seagull or the adventures of Grasshopper in the Kung Fu television series which were always accompanied by Chinese cracker philosophy.

This edition of the books comes with a Preface which I first assumed was an elegant joke after the manner of Borges, but I now realize is actually pompously serious. It is filled with ludicrous assertions and writing of the “hand of God is firm, but infinitively generous” type accompanied by descriptions of “My Teacher” (his capitals) and a cosy little anecdote about the Baby Jesus.


The book itself is described as “symbolic” as if this is something the unwary reader might miss, whereas its symbolism is so obvious that it makes the Monty Python ‘Fish Dance’ look like a restrained model of subtle choreography.

His story of “Andalusian shepherd goes on journey to find treasure near the Pyramids but actually it is back home where he started” is derivative nonsense and luxuriates in its Significant Story style and makes Grand Statements as if this justifies a basically weak narrative.

The critic of The Express said, “Coelho’s writing is beautifully poetic, but his message is what counts . . . He gives me hope and puts a smile on my face.” ‘Nuff said!

I actually think that this sort of book is pernicious, but I am going to lie about it as it came highly recommended by a colleague in the English Department and the science teacher is going to find it profound. What price intellectual honesty when weighed against professional harmony! And please forgive the arrogance that reeks from that last sentence!

The Little Men have still not arrived t5o clean up the beach which looks revolting. People are still sunbathing amid the rubble from last night, but last year the clean-up had already started – perhaps it is a function El Crisis that the usual cleaning process is so delayed.

The lethargy which was overpowering at the start of the day has now become habitual now that we are at the middle of the day. I have not packed a single solitary extra item today. We have run out of boxes and, as it is San Juan there is no likelihood of any box selling outlet being open. Stalemate. Until tomorrow when I will suddenly realize that I am going to sign the new contract the next day and I will be galvanized into frantic action.

The day after tomorrow after 5.30 pm we will have signed the contract and can start moving the items we are most concerned about. And perhaps as soon as the reality takes over I can find something else to obsess about!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A day nearer!


Plastic flags of all nations on a string are not the same as their cloth equivalents. There is something silted about the ‘flap’ of a plastic flag which is deeply unsatisfying.

The school is bedecked with bunting for our ‘fiesta’ where all sorts of unexplained things are going to happen. Apparently. I, of course, have been told very little so that the surprise of the event is fresh and exciting for me.

I am part of a little group of teachers which has been put in charge (or ‘charge’ I think that ought to be) of a variety of events or stall which include, according to my Spanish, hairdressing!

Parents (the collective anti-Christ of any school) are likely to be milling around looking to see how their money is being spent and our duty, as teachers and professionals, is to ensure that we have as little contact with them as possible.

The head of English was trying to explain to me yesterday the degree of parental involvement in the educational and cultural life of the school. I discovered that it could be summed up in one word: none. They pays their money and they expects their chances to be worked out for them by their paid servants – the teachers. The willing giving of time and effort to the educational institution which is developing their children is something which is very foreign to the parents.

Teachers are now beginning to arrive and various workmen are doing whatever is necessary around the school and I am no clearer about what is going on than I was when I arrived. Presumably this will all become clear as the day progresses towards the climax of our celebration of San Juan which is of course the slap up meal which we will have when all the kids are gone!

My intended supervision was lost when the drama teacher asked for my help with the plays that our first year secondary kids had put on. These are little plays that I have helped with before and these performances were to be for the parents.

School plays go as school plays go and the only point of interest was my trying to combat the appalling grasp of being on time that our parents have. The plays started at their stated times and I had the strength of my grip tested as tardy parents thought that they could waltz in at whatever time they pleased.

The plays took place in the Audiotori, a purpose built cinema/drama space that has been constructed in one of the basement levels of Building 3 in our school. This space has about 100 cinema type tip up seats; a stage and projection facilities. The door, however, is near the front of the stage and so it is impossible for people to slip in unobtrusively. This worries the Spanish not at all: but I’m not Spanish and it worried me!

The meal was spectacular – though I would rather have a decent salary than gestures; however tasty they turn out to be!

The journey home, which I had been told would be horrific with the entire population of Barcelona making for the coasts, turned out to be little more horrific than the usual return. Though I have to say that if I had been travelling in the opposite direction I would probably still have been in a traffic jam now!

The beach has been slow to fill up but now it is dotted with lights and fires as Catalans celebrate San Juan. There is a constant barrage of noisy fireworks and I am sure that we will see a selection of pissed bodies lying on the sands in the morning.

As I have a day off tomorrow it gives us an opportunity to try and finalize all the things that we can do before the major move is completed on Saturday.

Fond hope!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Illusions shattered






The new watch is not waterproof.

Yet again my innocent credulity has been cruelly abused and this disappointment makes it round about exactly 100% of the watches that I have bought from suspect gentlemen who prowl around moneyed (!) denizens of seaside which have not lived up to expectations.

Some might say that there is a lesson to be learned from such consistent experience, but I fear that its message may well pass me by. Entirely.

On another level of disappointment the cheeseparing attitude of the school in not giving me a permanent contract before the start of the next academic year has affected the status of my credit agreement with my store of choice, El Corte Ingles. They have now phoned up and told me that because of the time that I have spent with the school which is less than six months and because I do not have that fabled contract they cannot extend to me the credit that I have signed for. So now it is 50% down and the rest on 12 months interest free credit.

I can’t help thinking of Paul’s sister who would be horrified at any thought of ‘credit’ and would not sleep nights with worry about ‘money owed.’ Perhaps it is her Puritan spirit which has wafted its way across the miles and weak though it is has managed to give me this sign of 50% down in the hope that I will read the message correctly and pay the rest immediately. I don’t know whether to be more irritated with El Corte Ingles or with the school. On balance I think that the school is the major culprit and I can explain away the actions of El Corte Ingles as financial prudence. Probably.

This morning was the f** run (even my liberal sensibilities do not allow me to put those two words together in full) during which I was a Control. This meant that I was deposited half way up a very expensive hillside clinging to which were obscenely expensive schools, colleges and homes. I was positioned at a junction and my function was to point running or walking children down the hill and into the heavy traffic that was supposed to be stopped by the police.

The irritation of the well heeled inhabitants of the upper regions in which our kids were running had obviously not been informed that their movements were going to be restricted. The animosity which was directed my way was fairly futile as I had the resource of two armed policemen to help me on my crossing duty so anger was usually confined to hard looks rather than anything else.

The race finished early and there is some sort of a timetable for the rest of the day, but it is very unconvincing and I await the rolling chaos which will inevitably result from well-meaning out ill thought out plans.

Hey ho!

I have just discovered that we have an extra day holiday during or because of the festivities for San Juan. This is the summer holiday when the population of Spain goes mildly mad.

Last year the beach outside our flats was colonized by what seemed like thousands of people who stayed well into the night and lit illegal bonfires. To those of us standing on the balcony and looking out into the dark before the sea it looked as though some sort of medieval army was encamped around us. All that could be seen were innumerable small camp fires and shadowy figures moving from light to penumbra. Just in case you have some sort of picture which is a combination of Georges de la Tour and Joseph Wright of Derby I might add that the noise was intolerable.

The ‘penny banger’ is not illegal in Spain and the festival of San Juan is the time to let them off, together with things which cost a damn sight more than a few cents and make a bang which is equivalent to a sizable quantity of TNT – indeed, for all I know, it might actually be TNT. And the singing!

The Spanish are not known for their drunkenness and their sobriety is a constant source of annoyance to me as I take a second glass of wine (gasp!) However, on the night of San Juan or possibly San Juan Eve their behaviour would shame a Union Flag T Shirt wearing Brit!

Last year the morning after the night before was astonishing. Bodies everywhere on the beach, still drinking! I was appalled by it all and almost had a drink to calm me down!

The rubbish was strewn around in a disgusting manner and all of it had gone by the afternoon. A little group of ‘workies’ efficiently cleared everything up and by the early evening it was as if nothing had taken place the previous night. It was quite amazing to watch, as watch I did, and proved the truth of Jerome K Jerome´s dictum that “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

Alas! Another episode for that continuing series ‘Fallen Idol.’

After a little consideration I judged that it would be logical to accede to the financial demands of El Corte Ingles and pay the €500 deposit that they suggested and have the rest on interest free credit.

I duly left school after a very odd talk with the head of English about the final assembly with the first and second forms about House Points. I will not go into details but the presentation was not done in the way that I would have thought most appropriate and I was content to sit on the sidelines and watch the way that form teachers did not deal with the truly awful behaviour of their classes. Thank all the gods that I am not going to be a form teacher next year!

I called into El Corte Ingles and made my way along the well worn path to the Customer Information point to pay my deposit. The girl on the desk knew nothing about my particular case (not unreasonable!) and she had to phone the finance office and then told me that I had to pay €720 immediately and I could have the rest on credit.

This sort of behaviour is not what I would expect from El Corte Ingles and I cancelled the whole order. Time to open a file! I am regally pissed off with such behaviour. I spoke to an English speaking person on the phone from El Corte Ingles and I repeated the amount that I was supposed to pay and she confirmed that it was €500. It is unreasonable to have a sudden 50% hike in the deposit. I am not a happy bunny.

The summer sales will soon be upon us and it might just work out in my favour if I delay purchases until then. I suppose it all hinges on how long we can manage without a fridge. It is perhaps slightly ironic that the only white good that we take with us (in the height of the summer!) is a tumble dryer!

Meanwhile I make my daily pilgrimage to the bank’s hole in the wall to extract the daily maximum to get up to the full amount of the deposit for Friday. Bloody absurd that the estate agent doesn’t have a card facility and my evil bank does not trust me with cheques!

What it is to be in a foreign country.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

End in sight?



A minor lie in and then to work.

Apart from a spectacularly fine lunch at a local restaurant today has been one to put down to the horrors of moving.

The room with the obvious mould has now been ‘painted.’ I put the word in inverted commas because quarter of the way through Toni retired to the sofa ill. My paintings skills are not well developed and when the painting in questions is white on white then my precision goes down a few notches. The hard light of a new day will reveal the unpainted gaps and a, no doubt, revivified Toni will pleasantly point out the lapses in my professional paint application!

The count-down to the move has now truly begun with Friday being the contract signing day and the delivery of shed loads of money in cash to the estate agents. This should give us the opportunity to make final decisions about how to manage the move the next day.

For me the only important questions concern the books. Where will the library be and when can we start making more bookcases so that the Bluspace Thousands can be liberated and brought together in clear view for the first time in three years!

Toni’s priorities are a little different, and are concerned with practical rather than literary issues. Just as well really!

One real fear of mine concerns Margaret Thatcher. I am worried about her health. I do hope that she does not have the bad grace to die before I get to the new house and have an opportunity to unpack. Her representation in the form of a candle that I have vowed to burn to mark her long delayed passing is somewhere in the middle of the island of boxes that are rapidly taking over the living room. I have marked the box ‘Thatcher’ to aid discovery, but it will mean tunneling into the centre of the island to find it.

This is the only time in my life that I find myself wishing Thatcher ‘good’ health, until Saturday afternoon and then Eternal Justice can take its course.

What is it with me and watches? My powers of resistance when the sellers of these little objects of desire come along are minimal. In spite of the fact that I am constantly disappointed by the performance of my various timepieces, all of which fall far short of the utter dependability of Swatch, I still fall victim to the glint of a fetching watch face. As today was the first day of summer and the day glorious I celebrated by buying a ‘Breitling’ at a special price because I was an ‘amigo’ of the seller. I am still waiting to give back the last watch I bought from him as its waterproof capabilities were not up to the application of water! I never learn.

Tomorrow is an opera, ‘Salome’ form which I am probably not in the mood. It will be a test of the production to see if it can lift me from a morbid dwelling on the avariciousness of the Owner and take me to a more elevated place where I can contemplate one of the more interesting of the deadly sins! Given what the Owner is likely to do I will soon be committing one or two of the more antagonistic ones myself soon!

Meanwhile tranquility. Of sorts.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I am magnanimous enough to admit that I was in the wrong.

To finalize the administrative details of my arrangement with El Corte Ingles (so that they will provide three electrodomestical machines for the ease of our future life in the new house) it was necessary that I take into the shop a copy of my pay slip.

The branch of El Corte Ingles that I have visited for my white goods is in Cornella which is on the way to school. With Toni grudgingly in the passenger seat (it was after all a trip to a shop) we set off to take in the important piece of paper.

I am sure that every teacher will be able to sympathise with me when I say that as I made my way along my accustomed route I didn’t turn off at the exit for the shop but instead, automatically, continued towards school.

My mistake was pointed out to me and I left the motorway at the next exit.

And that is where the real problems started.

In the years since the despicable Franco’s death Spain has leapt forward into the modern world. Motorways snake their way all over the place; but all over the place is where you are likely to be if you try and follow the inexplicably dreadful signposting that Spain uses to confuse the normal driver.

Major turnings are indicated by absurdly modest signs which cannot be taken seriously. Turnings appear with no indication about where you might end up if you were foolish enough to take one. Signs disappear: you are following signs for one place and then they are no more. Even Toni admits that Spanish road signs leave a lot to the imagination – because they often don’t give you many facts!

So, having taken the wrong turning, but still virtually within sight of our objective we attempted to make our way to the shop. Unaided by any useful signs and hindered by the proliferation of one way, no right turn, no left turn, dead end and no entry signs.

In a silence that got steadily stonier as we meandered our way across most of Catalonia and very much out of the town in which the shop is situated, it was only when we had virtually returned to our starting point that we managed to join the appropriate motorway and make a second attempt to gain access.

After an uneventful and quiet drive we got there and I felt the traditional surge of potential consumerist frenzy that any very large, very decent and very expensive department store engenders in me.

This I-am-a-material-girl feeling was not shared by my passenger so our visit was brief and business like. It almost breaks my heart when alluring displays of glass and cutlery (which I have no intention of buying) remain uninspected by my good self because of association with a non-shopper.

The most irritating non sequitur in a commercial setting that a real shopper has to endure while inspecting some item on show is, “Are you going to buy it?” Anyone who asks a question like that wouldn’t understand the answer. There is no hope for such people.

Packing continues its Sisyphean path and the tide of boxes is now seriously encroaching on our living space. We need more boxes!

We have worked ourselves into a state of total paranoia about what machinations the Owner might indulge in to keep our deposits and so have taken the extraordinary precaution of repainting the ceiling of one of the bathrooms. This one has no external window and is therefore subject to mould; mould which is now hidden beneath thick layers of cheap white paint. The key here is cheap and that word is to be our key word in the things that we do to the flat to make it as pristine as superficial efforts can make it.

I have worked out exactly how much we have paid for the two years that we have been in the flat and I think that sum of money should keep even the filthy rich happy!

And that goes for the Merc driving, large flat owning Owner.

I think.

Friday, June 19, 2009

And week will have an end . . .



This week has been five days of Fridays.

Each time I came home it felt like the end of the week and my body and brain behaved accordingly and tried to shut down week day responses and relax into my weekend style. As packing has dominated this week, my weekend approach was to look forward to a couple of day’s intensive action to get thee bulk of the ‘stuff packed.’ I then had to adjust violently to the recognition that it wasn’t a Friday. I have done this throughout the week until today.

Today I left school early (legitimately) and bought a dishwasher, washing machine and refrigerator from El Corte Ingles. This sweeping purchase is on twelve months’ interest free credit and the total monthly payment is less than the amount that I have to pay to keep my books in prison in Bluespace!

A thoroughly unsatisfactory day in school today with too much baby sitting.

I also found myself as the only teacher on duty at lunchtime. It turned out that my two other colleagues were engaged in the taxing intellectual struggle with the evaluation of the dossiers of the so-called Credit of Synthesis by the pupils. The only problem, of course, was how to let everyone know that I was by myself.

Luckily an extrovert Australian colleague passed in the dinner queue at the apposite moment and being told he immediately went into information overdrive and spread the news. Bless!

Each time I return to Building 1 from lunch I have to pass a group of lads who are playing basketball. As I pass they beseech me pleadingly to attempt to shoot a basket - if that is the appropriate phrase to use. I think that they take malicious joy in my inept attempts to achieve something that they find remarkably easy. I have of course, given the law of averages, managed to achieve one of two baskets, but usually ignominy is my reward.

Today, after taking the boys (and girls) for two unsatisfactory lessons where I had to do little more than contain their itching boredom as they awaited their turn to perform for two assessors in another classroom, I was again invited to try my luck.

Two futile throws were more than enough for me so when offered the ball for a third time I merely threw it over my head backwards towards the ring. Needless to say it went in - and I had the bare faced arrogance to keep on walking away without a backward look to tumultuous applause as if such athletic successes were an everyday occurrence for me!

The next couple of days are going to be interesting as the pupils continue to be inadequately contained. The immediate future contains little of substance to deal with increasingly bored kids. Monday has a fun run (a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one) in which I am apparently involved, though no one has said anything to me yet.

I am beginning to understand the ways of this place.

I think.

As far as I can work out the kids have now all been dispatched to ‘other’ places and the only children still in the school are those taking the recuperation examinations. I am, of course, naturally, invigilating one of the examinations and my suspicions are beginning to harden about my use in various situations requiring a firm hand.

I am beginning to find a recurrence of the “Oh, Stephen!” syndrome which I thought that I had left behind me permanently in Llanishen High School. But no, here it is again surfacing in Barcelona as I seem to be a resource that can be used, very much in the same way that I used Morris Dancers in the Swansea Arts Festival of Swansea University – to fill gaps. And still I say nothing because I do not have a permanent contract!

Oh Joy!

I have just been given an intimation of my timetable for next year and there is no form tutorship involved. I have spent the whole of my career lying in interviews about how important the function of the form tutor was to me and how much I would be devastated if I were not able to shepherd a form through the troubled waters of the academic year!

I was praying that my less-than-perfect Spanish would protect me from the horror of being a form teacher in this school. Our kids are ‘needy’ in a way that I have not seen before – perhaps it’s something to do with their being able, nay encouraged, to call us by our first names. Whatever the reason, they are constantly moaning about their problems and the multitudinous injustices that they have to suffer on a daily basis. They are the sort of kids who will find every sort of explanation for their lack of progress apart from the obvious one of lack of work on their part!

The other face of this coin is that the pupils are very friendly and are generally able to be controlled. What are virtually uncontrollable are their inability to shut up and their chronic lack of listening skills. You can see why at the end of my first week as a Spanish form teacher my classroom would look like a gamekeeper’s larder with the corpses of various children hanging from hooks on the wall!

According to a few chance words from the head of English my timetable next year would be much the same as this year with the loss of a Year 10 and the gaining of a second sixth form class – sounds ok to me.

My campaign to point up the injustice of my not being paid over the summer continues apace with the odd words casually breathed in receptive ears. I doubt that it will all have any effect at all and it almost certainly won’t gain me any more money and, as I keep saying, without a permanent contract I am in a very vulnerable position.

Roll on September!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Festivity? At a time like this!


It is obviously a good thing to have a break from packing; you return refreshed and less suicidal. This is the theory.

Going to Marc’s First Birthday Party was not necessarily what I would call the most restful alternative that I could have found.

Carles (Marc’s big brother) was almost hysterical with jealousy at the attention being paid to the parvenu usurper to his Imperial Throne as sole grandson. To compensate for Marc being at the centre of the celebrations many of The Family actually bought him presents too! The Puritan in me rather frowned on this hostage to fortune approach to weaning Carles from resenting his little (!) brother.

I made the vast mistake of wearing a bright red shirt. I should have remembered my parents’ faulty choice in deciding on a plain red carpet for the hall and stairs – especially when we owned a yellow Labrador bitch. A hovered red carpet stays clean only as long as a yellow Labrador bitch chooses not to walk over it! Although I am not comparing the two children with dogs they did have very much the same effect.

My appearance was greeted with whoops by Carles who then proceeded to crawl all over me. Marc bided his time but he too added food augmented mucus to an already crumpled shirt. And doesn’t red show up food stains well!

By the time the full complement of the Family had arrived it was already late and by the time we finally got to leave I was almost crucified with fatigue. The drive back reminded me of those times in childhood when, in spite of a juvenile determination to ‘stay up late’ the idea of bed and a bath seemed like perfect heaven.

When we eventually arrived back in the flat I went straight to bed and didn’t so much go to sleep as lapse into coma!

The outline for the day in school is another exercise in ordered chaos. The pupils have been studying a variety of subjects in a project-like form and now have to present a dossier of their findings to a tribunal which will give each group a mark. This means that, for the greater part of the day I am going to have to sit with the hyper pupils as they wait their turn to go into another class to meet the tribunal.

I am beginning to sense a sort of pattern emerging in so far as I seem to be the teacher of choice for extra supervision. As I do not have my permanent contract yet (because of the two month disgrace in the summer when I am not paid) I have kept my mouth shut in that tellingly obvious way that people have when they think that they are being hard done by. I have the distinctly unalluring prospect of baby minding a Year 8 class for two consecutive hours. Oh bliss! The only thing which is keeping me going is the information that we have a slap-up meal on the 22nd or 23rd after the kids have gone. Roll on!

Since Toni’s triumph in finding a mover for €300 some of the more tsunami-like waves of panic about the move have diminished to mere rolling breakers but my mind is constantly thinking of the ways in which The Owner can screw us out of our rightful cash. The Owner in our imaginations is now a product of what might emerge when you mate the product of an unholy alliance between Shylock and Captain Hook (well, he was a sailor) and an even more unholy alliance of Mrs Rochester and Uriah Heep. He is, as you will no doubt deduce, a figure of desperate and tragic myth for us. It’s amazing how quickly you can demonize anyone who has control over your money!

I am almost out the other side and think that The Owner could actually behave with propriety and give us our money back then and there after the inspection. Then Toni tells me to grow up and I return to reality.

Reality was not buying Hammerite paint to renovate the windlass; buying a masking pen to renovate the grouting in the bathroom and buying new plugs from the Chinese shop to replace the worn out and broken plugs in bathroom and kitchen. Toni is determined to paint the ceiling of the bathroom and repair the broken door of the utility cupboard and I am determined to allow him to do it!

Such generosity!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Failure in the exams in our school comes with the delight of a ‘recuperation’ examination. The period from the time of failure to the taking of the recuperation examination is supposed to be filled with frantic revision.

Not so the children in our school. One boy failure has offered me (only half jokingly) money to pass him and the others all look for extenuating circumstances to explain their failure: lack of effort, of course, is not one of the elements which they take into account.

One boy has asked to see his examination papers and I have given them to him and also given him a print out of his marks in the elements of the examination so that he can see clearly where he has lost the majority of the marks that he should have gained. Unsurprisingly the highest mark deficit is in those sections in which he had to use a word or phrase in a sentence to show that he understood its meaning.

As this examination was ‘English as a Foreign Language’ the use of vocabulary is an essential component and to gain good marks there is a simple matter of hard learning to be completed before success can be achieved. This is not rocket science, but to this boy the concept of hard work is anathema. Instead what he looks for are mark anomalies and is prepared to argue the toss on each and every mark, sometimes even questioning my use of English! This takes the concept of blasphemy to a level not achieved since his Infernal Majesty had that insulting chat with the Galilean carpenter’s son in the wilderness!

It shows what a corrupt place I consider this school to be that I took the precaution of photocopying the boy’s examination paper before I gave it to him. There have been instances of subtle transmogrification of disastrous examination papers so that they rise from the intellectual ashes of idiocy into the balmier regions of mediocrity. It will be interesting to compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’ if he tries to increase his terrible marks! Or perhaps I am being simply too suspicious.

Today is Marc’s first birthday. He has made remarkable progress in all areas of his development and remains a disturbingly advanced small person. He still looks at me in an oddly unsettling way and so I have bought him a squeezable caterpillar with illuminated cheeks as a peace offering. I thought that its incongruity and surrealistic potential might hold him back for a few seconds.

As we have to go up to Terrassa for a Family Meal this is going to throw our whole schedule out of kilter in the packing department and I will be able to use this lacuna as a weapon against Toni when we reach the point of total hysteria and recrimination closer to the 26th June.

Another unsettled day in school where everything appears to be waiting for something else to happen. The days are clearly running out for the pupils and the atmosphere is almost unbearably fin de siècle and decadent – but without the sensual excess! Day staggers into day and the dissolution of the timetable conveys itself to the work ethic of the staff. The kids are 80% on holiday and the days remaining are an intolerable burden. We only have to make it to the 22nd of June and then the proximity of Sant Juan (a day noted for the Catalans to throw off their usual restraint and behave like the British) means that the summer has started in earnest and, to put it another way, I will shortly be out of work.

In spite of my best insinuations, suggestions and doe eyed inarticulate pleadings I will not be employed by the school for the two summer months and I will have a new contract in September. I do not think that I actually qualify for the governmental handouts which are common at this time of year as many (unscrupulous) firms and organizations take advantage of the social security system and sack their workers for July and August and then re-employ them in September!

I am not relying on the government for any help over the summer period but I am expecting my aval to be given back to me. This money is now the constant topic of conversation at home and our low expectations of The Owner have almost driven us into the arms of a Voodoo Witch Doctor to aid our cause!

Meanwhile I have to draw out another sum of money from the hole in the wall to attempt to get the cash amount for the deposit. Such things pass the time as school continues is slow imploding progress towards the end of the school term.

The Black Hole approaches.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I would have money!


Given the absurd opening hours of my appalling bank (BBVA) I can never actually get to it when it is open until the summer holidays. One problem of this customer-hostile attitude was solved when I had an unexpected holiday and was actually able to get to collect a replacement card at last, but other problems remain.

The most pressing one concerns how to get the deposit for the new flat to the estate agents. They do not have the facilities for the use of a card and everything has to be done with cash. God knows my opinion of estate agents is not high, but their insistence on cash brings all my deepest suspicions to the surface. I have also worked out that it is probably impossible for me to withdraw sufficient funds from the hole-in-the-wall because there is a weekly limit to the amount you can take out.

To those of you who think that the simple writing of a cheque would suffice I would merely point out that I am in Spain and not Britain.

In Spain cheques exist, but not in handy book form for mere customers to use. If you want a cheque you have to go to the bank (impossible given my working hours) and ask the manager to write a cheque which he will sign and then charge you for the experience! So far in Spain I have had one cheque written and the cost of it made me determine never to repeat it. This is a real problem and I think that it is something that the estate agent should work out and I think that I will say so!

We have had a very expensive quote from one group of movers, but I am hoping Toni’s telephoning today will bring the rougher end of the profession into play and the prices may well be more reasonable.

The living room of the flat is now looking like a storage facility and I am beginning to hate the aroma of mouldering cardboard. We are now down to our last boxes and Toni has assured me that he will pack the china today.

His plan is that we live for the next ten days using plastic plates and cutlery with all the decent stuff carefully packed in boxes. Plastic plates and cups I can take, but not plastic mugs for tea. There are limits. And I must have quality cutlery too. And this is rapidly sounding like the Betjeman poem about middle class pretention!

The expensive money from Britain should be in my Spanish bank account today so that means that El Corte Ingles. I know that you can get cheaper elsewhere but the reputation of the shop means that you also get peace of mind about quality and after sales service. Our experience with the ‘keen price’ Miró store does not encourage us to look only at the price tag before we buy!

The acres of time that we thought that we had are rapidly disappearing and I am getting more panicky with what needs to be done. Perhaps I am even enjoying the panic; perhaps I should try a little more reality!

We have now returned from Gava where we have bought the more obvious bits and pieces to tart up the flat in preparation for the handover.

A valuable suggestion from Ian was that we take photos of the flat before we hand it over and further that we get the Owner to sign that they represent the accurate appearance of the flat at the point of handover so that nothing can be done after we have left. Such precautions give you some idea of the lack of trust that we feel for the estate agents and the person who owns the flat!

The chamfering we have to do has to be done reasonably quickly because time is running out and terrifyingly major things have not been done.

This evening the packing of the ‘Office’ and the wearing of contact lenses so that the sweat doesn’t interfere with the work rate – always thinking of the most efficient way to get a horrible job done!

So I’ll get on with it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The school in limbo


Today external examinations and lists flying around as if there was no tomorrow.

Pupils had to remember to bring their identity cards for this examination and, of course, a reasonably number of them have done no such thing. There are fall back positions today, but for the examination tomorrow (their written exam) they must have their cards or passports or I don’t know what will happen. This sort of reliance on identity cards is presumably what our so-called Labour government is looking forward to for us. I abominate the whole concept of an identity card: I should not have to prove who I am on a daily basis. Presumably the carrying of the card will become a legal necessity: in the USA it is the responsibility of the individual to have some form of identification at all times. Why, yet again are we slavishly following the discredited policies of the US?

Such musings are obviously the frustrated results of intellectual displacement activity. What I should be doing now is packing the china, or working out exactly how many Billy bookcases will fit in the new house, or getting the parking sorted out, or arranging the money for the deposit, or getting legal advice about what the Owner can insist on, or arranging the delivery of the electro-domestic white goods, or buying more boxes, or cleaning the flat, or buying paint or any one of a few hundred other activities which will be more productive in facilitating the change over and calming the incipient feelings of panic that I have left undone those things that I ought to have done.

My pressing need at the moment is for M&V (Muscle and Van) to assist with the sordid physical demands of the actual move. It has been suggested that I might like to lurk outside IKEA when I next go and accost the likely lads who themselves lurk outside flaunting their M&V credentials seeking who they might devour. The only thing I have to do is get a telephone number and Toni will do the rest. It is worth a try, especially as I have to call in to IKEA this afternoon to get more boxes.
I am sure that there are other things going on in the world, but I do not recognize their significance when compared to my move to the house. All pales into triviality when compared with The Move. I now understand why an entire book of the bible was given over to the inexplicable wanderings of disgruntled Egyptian workers each one looking for an eastern des res!

I am gaining what information I can about what the Owner is legally allowed to do in terms of keeping my money. We have virtually given up seeing any of the two month’s rent that we put in as a deposit but we are going to fight like hell to ensure that we get the aval back. The infernal simile is well chosen as we are going to resort (if necessary) to union subsidized legal help. Desperate ills require desperate remedies and the money from the aval is already ear marked for filling the new house with those little essentials which make life worth living. Like beds for example!

This should be a period of unalloyed delight for me with constant trawling through shop after shop with the fully justified mission of ‘buying stuff for the house.’ This is not the case because the supply of money to make such an enticing prospect reality is being withheld by the almost comic-book, evil, tight-fistedness of the Owner!

I am still waiting for my expensive money to arrive from the UK. When that money was earned it was 70p for each € and now I am too depressed to ask the people in First Direct to give me the exact exchange rate because I automatically work out how much I am loosing with every transaction.

That way lies madness.

I am now starting to read the short stories of Henry Lawson the ‘master Australian story teller.’


Time will tell.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tome by tome

To say that all my books are packed would be to tempt fortune. A true bibliophile ensures that ‘fixes’ of his particular drug of choice are everywhere within his living space.

I have taken the books out of the loo; I have ensured that the books in the study are packed; I have remembered the large books in the hideous unit by the television; I have taken the books from the little drawer in the spare room (which I have only just remembered) and I await the other hordes that I inevitably will find.

Boxing the books has brought many volumes back to my attention which, through indolence, indifference and school work have languished in my tactile attention. Handling all of my books as I pack them has meant that, being merely human, I have had to settle down from time to time and take a furtive glance through the pages.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs never fails to refresh my Atheist Anglican inspired anti-Popery as I read again of the multitudinous crimes against innocent Protestants by bloodthirsty Roman Catholics. It truly is a wonderful book of Tales of Torture to Bolster Bigots. My old and precious edition is replete with particularly gruesome engravings of the more revolting ways in which people were ‘taken off.’

I was also taken by a book which contained a series of short stories written by my good self each one of which was ‘inspired’ by a random couple of lines taken from Meic Stephens’ book of Welsh quotations. There is no pretention like Rees pretention! You will notice that I have said nothing about their quality: a nice ambiguity.

Tom Baker’s ‘children’s’ book had a quick glance of amused recognition and it was impossible to pack the Book of Sports’ Quotations without a quick look. Generally I have been quite good and packed rather than peeked. I am relaxed enough to think that in a few short weeks time I will have ALL my books around me. Some of these I have not seen for three years so I am looking forward a grand reunion!

There is also the idle speculation as to what else might be packed with the books that are in Bluspace.

Towards the end of the packing by Pickfords things became a little tense. As with my previous move, extra personnel from headquarters had been drafted into help with a packing that was running dangerously behind schedule. As was also the case on the previous occasion the Manager appeared and reorganized the packing directives, rejecting with contempt the ‘packing by shelf’ approach that had been adopted up to that point and telling them to pack anything that fitted into the boxes. So I expect to find many forgotten items that have been lurking quietly in their Bluspace prison.

It looks as though we are going to be sleeping on camp beds and sitting on dining chairs for some time into the future. The purchase of a sofa is so replete with problems that it might be safer to lounge like oriental despots on cushions than plump (!) for one particular piece of furniture.

El Corte Ingles was shut today so I could not visit and consider the Triple Purchase (on 12 months interest free credit) of fridge, dish washer and washing machine. When you add it all up and divide by 12 the reasonable nature of the monthly payment almost makes you add a few more small (but essential) items to the list. But I haven’t.

Time to pen a list of everything that needs to be done. It’s a pity that school intrudes upon the more urgent necessities of window shopping and planning how quickly to set out my books!

But it does.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Long Fridays are bad for the health

Friday 12th June 2009

Somehow the magic of teaching does not reach into the late, late afternoon when the class that you are taking has spent the day in front of their expensive laptops doing the Lord only knows what.

I have made one exploratory journey into the far recesses of the classroom but I am obviously not fast enough to catch the miscreants looking at thoroughly unsuitable websites. I can comfort myself with the thought that, if there was anything which should have been restricted from view then the school should have bought an expensive enough program to ensure that it was stopped. I truly think that this is one of those not-my-job type situations.

The day started with me in a thoroughly relaxed mode. My marking was done and all my results were safely lurking in the electronic innards of my wonderful little computer. My feelings of quiet calm were soon rudely shattered.

The Catalonia wide computer intranet was slow to the point of stasis. Any attempt to gain access was frustrated by the sheer plodding nothingness of anything happening. It reminded me of the bad old days when I had my trusty (ironic) Sinclair QL. Those were the days in which a page of A4 could take up to 45 seconds to save to the infamous ‘micro drives’ – if indeed it saved at all!

The programs on the QL were wonderful but the hardware which drove them was well below the expectations of the program writers and processes could take an inordinate time to complete.

I well remember typing my way through some sequence or other on the QL and realising at some point that I had made a fatal mistake and then had the pleasure of watching screen after screen inexorably change following my earlier instructions.

It was one of those times when you speak to inanimate objects. “Please!” I pleaded to the ever changing screen, “Don’t do this!” But, like so many inanimate objects in my experience it seemed to have little fellow feeling when it came to human needs.

The intranet today was not attuned to professional requests so what should have been a fairly simple mechanical process turned into something akin to nightmare.

Needless to say, in the way that these things happen, everything was sorted out but with maximum wear and tear to my nerves!

And I lost a free period. And to make it worse, a free period at the time when I am usually allowed home early as ‘payment’ for my starting early two days a week. I soon discovered that this early departure was a privilege and not (emphatically not) a right.

Friday 12th June
continued

Talking of my permanent contract (what else would have kept me quiescent when faced with such clear injustice) I have, at last, picked up an important communication from the ministry of education in Madrid.

After working in no fewer than three schools in the Barcelona area in what can only be described as a professional capacity, I have now received the official certificate from the ministry which allows me to work as a teacher in schools in Spain! If you think that the tenses in the preceding paragraph do not make logical sense, then I can only say that you have not worked in Spain!

People have been amazed that the process of rubber stamping my full documentation of qualifications etc. has only taken four months. One person in the school has been waiting for two years for the official notification to be given: she had a letter after six months telling her that things were ‘not in order’ and she has heard nothing since.


Saturday 13th June 2009
Disaster!

IKEA has run out of the handy sized cardboard boxes and will not have a new stock for another two weeks.

This means that the neat wall of identical boxes which I have been assiduously building in the middle of the living room will now have its symmetry broken by strange shapes. I have been driven to go back to Bluspace (the prison of my books) and get some of their highly expensive boxes to pack the larger books. I am afraid that I will have to go further down market and go begging in our supermarkets – there is still all the china to pack!

It is likely that the new contract for the new ‘house’ will be signed on Friday the 26th of June and we will not have to be out of our present flat until the 30th so that gives us a reasonable time to transfer the ‘stuff.’ But there is so much of it that I am inclined to hire in muscle and a van. I only hope that the small ads or the Catalan equivalent will turn up trumps.

Today is Toni’s name day which has been celebrated in Terrassa at a rather good fish restaurant. Its USP is a rather fetching rubbish bin in the centre of the table. Actually it is stainless steel and countersunk, and is a totally sensible solution for what to do with all the shells and exo-skeletons from the various creatures that we consumed. They also have personal beer pumps – but not on our table!

The two youngest members of our group aged one and three respectively were frightening throughout, especially the one year old whose look of total knowledge thoroughly unsettles me. He also seems fixated on me and totters towards me with what I can only describe as a maniacal gleam in his eye. I am punctiliously polite to him at all times: my eye is towards the future – he is after all only going to get more knowing!

Meanwhile there is more time to ponder on the sheer mechanics of getting from one flat to another dwelling. We are still thinking that the 13th of the month is nowhere near the 26th of the month and so we have plenty of time to get everything organized. I know that this is false and in real terms we have only one more clear weekend before things have to start happening.


I think that I will set aside a small part of tomorrow to a planning session to try and work out a realistic timetable towards the move.

It’s better than packing anyway!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ends and ends


Horror of horrors! I appear to have left my power lead for my small computer in school. In my defence I have to say that the day has been filled with hectic marking to fit into the timetable of deadlines which have to be met.

When I mentioned that the hysteria seems to have been fairly artificially manufactured by arbitrary dates for examinations placed unnaturally near to deadlines my head of department said, “Welcome to Spanish marking!” And that seemed to end the discussion!

In the way of these things, all of my finished marks are on the small computer which now has less than 13% of its power supply left in the battery. My attempts to use a selection of leads that I have acquired over the years to act as a substitute have been in vain. This may be unsurprising in a normal household, but in mine with a jealously horded selection of leads stretching back into the early history of the popular computer, it would be reasonable to assume that at least one of the bloody things would fit.

Reasonable, but wrong.

Not only do I have all the leads salvaged from myriads of electrical items which have succumbed to planned obsolescence and gone to the great silent pits of the city landfill, but I also have a selection of multi-headed gadgets which I bought believing the advertising claims that they would eliminate the need for individual power units.

These claims were of course lies so that I now have these mouldering among the serpentine mass of leads which look too useful to throw away.

Essentially, I will have to pray that I have left the lead on a staff room table and I will be able to pick it up first thing tomorrow morning and get my electrical supplies directed to my hungry gadget.

Meanwhile I have returned to my laptop and the luxury of an almost normal keyboard and the expansiveness of full sized keys.

I stayed in school until six o’clock this evening because I had all my final marking spread about me and I knew that if I moved from where I was sitting the impulse to finish would disappear with every step towards the car.

My sense of martyrdom was increased by the high powered discussion in Catalan which was conducted within painful earshot of my solitary marking purdah. I think that the suppressed desire to scream “Shut up and go you harridans!” actually gave an adrenaline boost to my marking which became ever more hysterical as the discussion pushed the volume ever higher.

The sheer bliss of their departure made the continuation of the marking almost appear to be a pleasure. The pitying glances of the cleaning ladies added to my sense of heroic martyrdom and allowed the final pages to be marked with an almost saintly detachment!

Tomorrow the final arrangements which mark the termination of the examination season will be enacted and next week we should have a rather more sane five days.

The pupils go around the 23rd of June and, if the marking had allowed me to have any other coherent thoughts, I might have speculated about what is going to fill up the time until the kids leave.

Some time ago I drafted out a series of ideas based on a school decided theme which was supposed to fill up some of the dead time at the end of the exams. This has been used today and was (as far as I was aware) supposed to fill in the academic action for the next week. I think that tomorrow I might well discover that the ‘ideas’ are exhausted and the ‘little pitchers’ of the pupils will be gaping waiting to be filled up!

As I type, boxes are waiting to be filled. One and a half bookcases have been emptied: three and a half others are waiting to have their contents packed.

There is always something!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Days pass.




Not only have I packed 17 boxes full of my books but also I have done all the marking to which I have access. Virtue can go no further!

The intensity of the marking fury that has taken over the school is now almost comical as teachers frantically evaluate against an inexorable timetable which demands that papers are marked over a very short period of time.

I have now marked the papers of four out of my five classes and the last set is waiting for me in the staff room of building one.

As time has gone on I have become much more Draconian in my demands for Real English and my exuberant red crosses march across many sanguine sheets of attempts to maul the majesty of the English Language.

If anyone is going to commit a linguistic crime against the language of Shakespeare, Milton and A A Milne then it is most definitely going to be me rather than some foreign neophyte. At least my infelicities are committed with malice of forethought and not because phrasal verbs are incomprehensible obstacles to communication!

On the packing front, more perfectly sized IKEA boxes have been purchased (at vast expense) and the filled ones are now forming a familiar island of lightish brown in the centre of the room. Even with my cruelly depleted selection of books in the flat, it is probably going to take some sixty boxes to contain the fragments of a proper library that I have had to sulk over during the past two years.

I suppose that my bubbling enthusiasm to see my books again sounds precious and affected but only to those who are not touched by the bibliophilic addiction that has gripped me for as long as I can remember.

The physical proximity of my books is important as are the different characters that the individual volumes possess. The feel of a book; the way it sits in your hand; the texture of the paper; the sounds, the susurration of the pages; the smell of mustiness, of newness – a books is a sensual object, a physical presence, something which is graspable yet intangible at the same time.

I have never managed to get over the sheer value of most of my books. What they offer is often ludicrously out of proportion to the paltry sums that I have paid for them. I remember a series of Wordsworth Classics which offered Classic texts in paperback for one pound. ‘Wuthering Heights’ or ‘Emma’ or ‘Great Expectations’ or ‘Lord Jim’ or ‘The Just So Stories’ or ‘The Warden’ for a quid! You couldn’t get a packet of crisps on a Ryanair flight for that!

When Ruskin said that “If a book is worth reading it is worth buying” he meant that every book that is worthy of being read should become a familiar possession. A book which is not merely a text, but is a familiar companion; something you know your way around and which (as it is yours) you can be free to annotate and use as a ‘partner’ in debate. I rarely annotate as I still maintain a stuffy reverence for the printed word which sees my scrawl on a pristine page as little less than sacrilege rather than a continuing dialogue with the author!

I am even looking forward to the torture of constructing a whole phalanx of ‘Billy’ bookcases to house the freed captives from the prison of Bluspace.

The time is rapidly approaching when the Bluspace Thousands will at last come home!

Roll on!

Monday, June 08, 2009

To do the impossible . . .


Utilizing all available windows of opportunity afforded by the chaotic timetable of the examination ravaged institution in which I work, a reasonable amount of marking was completed today.

It is all mounting up and I do not see how it is all going to be completed by the school imposed deadline when all the results have to be fed into the computer. In the deathless words of one colleague, “No matter how unreal it all looks, it will be done because it has to be done and there is no alternative to it not being done.” I bow to the inevitability of such cogently expressed logic and feel strangely calm.

To those of you who aver that I could be marking now rather than typing, I merely adduce the experience of teaching and state that to do something unpalatable you have to prepare by doing something you want to do. Or you could merely look on this as some form of displacement activity – which I would maintain is what I was saying in the first place!

At its best all that can be heard in the staff rooms is the swish of stapled pages being turned over and the scratch of pens on margins. I said “at its best” because that is not what usually happens.

There are distinct differences between the staff room in Building 1 and that in Building 4. Building 1 is the original starting point of the school: the elegant town house on the hill built in the traditional form of a masia. Along the first floor side of the building with the spectacular view of Barcelona are located the Directora’s room; the ‘library’ and the staff room. The ‘library’ was, presumably, at one time the dining room with the two other rooms created by folding glass doors. These doors are still there, but are now regarded as permanent fixtures rather than temporary.

Building 1’s staff room has elegant wood panelling and some remarkable floor-to-ceiling glass fronted cupboards. The usual debris of teaching drags the room down to the mundane but if you look you can still see the faded glory that was once the basis for the house.

The atmosphere here is restrained and with the access to the balcony, civilized.

By contrast the harsh modernity of the staff room in Building 4 seems to encourage a more aggressive tension where the only wood is found in the commodious chipboard lockers that are provided for staff. Here the phone never ceases to ring and pupils to knock on the door. The photocopier is in another room and the provision of computers is laughably inadequate. But it’s the talking that is most difficult to cope with.

When I am confronted with marking then my attention span makes Homer Simpson look like Simon Stylites. I have never been noted for my inability to participate in a conversation but it is the Spanish version of conversation that defeats and depresses me.

Although it is a shameful generalization bordering on the racist I have to say that Spanish people do not listen. As they do not listen it therefore follows that they do not need to pause when someone else is talking. You therefore get all participants in a Spanish conversation talking at the same time. When you are in an enclosed modern space, bounded by glass metal and reflective surfaces, such a cacophony is almost unbearable. Add to this the need that Spanish people find to yell down telephones and a sort of audio hell is created in the very place where you need some silence to foster concentration.

One wouldn’t mind if the simultaneous conversations cut the talking time in half, but this, surprisingly does not occur! It is only the fact that my precious permanent contract is tantalizingly out of reach in the distant month of September that stays my mouth and hands from suggesting that interchange rather than overlay is the most expeditious way to facilitate communication!

I am sure that every day is going to provide some ‘New House Related Thought For The Day.’

Today’s thought concerns access to the house. The house has a large front gate covered with that sort of rough twig-like carpet which is used to restrict the hoi-polloi from gazing into the houses of those who dwell near the sea. The gate opens to reveal a driveway large enough to park a couple of cars.

Herein lies the problem. In Spain the mere fact that you have a gate and a driveway large enough to park a couple of cars does not mean that your average Spanish seaside visitor will not park across the entry to your property denying you access. This is quite legal if totally selfish. If you live within spitting distance of the beach then every (and I mean every) reasonable (and unreasonable) inch of pavement, road and gateway will be used.

The only way to ensure that you have access is to apply to the local government and have an official sigh erected on your gateway which ensures that no one will park there. This is not a service provided for nothing; it is something that will cost you. As a mere renter of the property I cannot get this sign, it has to be done by the proprietor. Another hurdle to be surmounted. I have at least found out what it should cost. One goes on from here.

I can no longer delay the categorical imperative: I have to mark.

Pray for me!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tradition has a reason!



I can relax: I marked one question in one examination paper before I went to bed last night (Friday.) In the strange job-related psychology which operates in my mind this means that I will get a substantial part of the marking done. Said marking is now strewn along the sofa with the top of the red pen pointing ominously in my direction.

Many, many times have I fripped away a Friday evening in an orgy of self indulgence (drinking cups of tea and reading) and failed to complete the statutory single piece of marking that tradition demands and have therefore condemned myself to the ecstasy of a work-free weekend, but with the consequent penalty of the ‘Sunday Afternoon Agony.’

This is the period in the weekend when a frivolous teacher realizes that he has not completed work which has to be done by Monday morning. The realization that the work has to be done does not necessarily mean that the frivolous teacher will sigh a deep sigh and get on with it. Oh no! What it means is that the frivolous teacher will wallow in misery as he contemplates the omission and sinks ever deeper into depression as he does nothing about it and finally goes to bed with things undone which ought to be done.

At this point psychology stops and physiology takes over. At least in my case it does. When I go to bed, I go to sleep. I can have the weight of the world on my shoulders but when my head hits the pillow it becomes the sole possession of my mate Morpheus. I can wake up and the weight resumes its crushing position in an instant, but while asleep that is exactly what I do.

The Friday night token marking has become as much a ritual feature of my professional life as Nadal adjusting his underpants between shots just before he bounces his balls. And what a cheap comparison that was!

The marking of these ‘end of year’ scripts is but the first stage in the Byzantine process of obtaining a final mark and I foresee much discussion before the grade is placed in the computer. As the kids will have obtained these marks by cheating and mindless rote learning I fail to see the point in giving the marks extra credibility by discussing them as if they were anything more than crude indications of the pupils’ ‘educational’ worth.

Some of my colleagues have impassioned discussions about the awarding of a quarter of a mark. I usually sit and adopt an unnaturally quiescent attitude in these debates because, after long and deathly experience I know that this is a topic about which everyone has a point of view. A point of view, moreover, that they are eager to share. Because I consider the whole process of the way we test these kids to be fatally flawed I truly don’t care what the decision is. All I want is a decision (any decision) and I’ll mark to it. Such cynicism comes cheap: just look at my wages slip!

The sea is unusually rough today (for the Mediterranean that is) and I am typing this to the accompaniment of crashing waves.

It is one of my continuing photographic projects to get a decent photograph of our waves – or at least using Photoshop to fabricate one. With the rather domestic rollers that we get it is not easy, but if the waves continue to the end of my second mug of tea I might trudge down to the water’s edge and try again. Sometimes enlarging a tiny detail of our ‘mighty’ two foot waves makes it look as though I have been on holiday in Hawaii.


I live in hope!








Sunday 7th June 2009

The first boxes have been packed. The first steps on this particular Via Dolorosa have been taken!

I cannot recall any move I have made with pleasure: the process that is. The end result I have often enjoyed. With the possible exception of one particular move from Neuadd Lewis Jones back home to Hatherleigh Road.

Even though I had a single small room in my university hall of residence I managed to pack so much into it that the bottom lockable drawer of the in-built wardrobe which we allowed as vacation storage for some of the stuff was wholly inadequate and we had to move most of our belongings for each holiday.

I, unlike my friends (with the possible exception of Robert) prevaricated endlessly until the very last moment to pack. Packing always depressed me and it was only an adrenaline fuelled deadline and to the accompaniment of the insanely jolly music of Gluck and Grétry that my packing was ever finished.

On the eve of one departure we had all celebrated with more than usual enthusiasm and I had probably OD’d on my tipple of choice at the time – small sweet sherries – and in the morning I was very much the worse for wear and thoroughly disinclined to find solace in the mundane putting of one thing on top of another in a compact space. I was much more inclined (or rather reclined) to lie on my bed and contemplate the true wretchedness of the cruel world.

In this supine position I was visited, like a latter day Job, by a series of Stephen’s comforters, friends who bewailed my condition and prophesied calamity. Thinking about it, I was probably more like Samson, eyeless in Swansea on my bed with pains, being visited by waves of people designed to test my faith. Needless to say I failed all these tests, but nevertheless maintained what I thought was a sort of simple dignity in adversity by lying motionless with my eyes closed and only emitting small groans.

Eventually I was visited by Colin who tut-tutted about my condition, informed me in ringing tones that my father would soon be arriving to take me home and then, wonder of wonder, started to pack for me!

Through almost closed eyes I watched this paragon of friendship go about my packing with the methodical rigor that characterised his approach to life.

About half way through this heaven sent aid I realised that I was feeling much better, but I kept most mousey quiet in case Colin disappeared back into the world of fantasy!

I did not open my eyes fully and Colin completed my packing and, with a last harrumph of contempt at my sherry ravaged form vanished.

Unfortunately no matter how many small sweet sherries (ugh!) I might drink and no matter how still I might lie no Colin is going to fly in from New Zealand to help. One could see his moving to the antipodes as a direct response to the fear of a repetition of that experience!

Just how we are actually going to move all our stuff is something which we have only tentatively approached with vague gestures of casual thought probing possibilities – and wonder just whose cars we can press into use!

The boxes we used for our first pack were collected by me from IKEA. IKEA on a Saturday in Catalonia is not the place to which a reluctant shopper should be taken. So Toni stayed resolutely at home. Left to my own devices I looked at beds, tables and my beloved ‘Billy’ bookcases which are going to form a substantial part of a purchase in the near future to house my books which are soon to be released from their prison in Bluspace and at long last be on display again.

Although IKEA has many positive aspects you only have to ask any passing shopper and they will be eager to share their own horror stories about the store.

It rapidly becomes clear that they are many ‘worst points’ to the IKEA shopping experience. I know, from thankfully second hand experience, the true horror that attends the opening of an IKEA store. This is when hordes of design starved, money strapped people pour into the area and cause utter chaos in all aspects of the human and communication worlds.

Inside the store (given the serpentine progress that the true devotee is supposed to make in their pilgrimage through the shop) you are constantly impeded by gay couples blocking the aisles discussing the shape of a tea spoon or married couples with various degrees of child impedimenta avidly examining inexplicable pieces of plastic which obviously have their place in the domestic environment.

For me the worst, worst bit of the IKEA experience is knowing what you want and knowing where you need to go to get what you want. As soon as your progress becomes anything more than a sort of quiescent shuffle with eyes wide with wonder at the reasonably priced goodies on offer then the ‘Truman Show Effect’ comes into operation.

As you step purposefully forward towards your objective, at once and from all sides people and pushchairs appear and block your path. Any attempt to bypass the human obstacles will be countered by couples examining huge photographic pictures or long and complicated pieces of flatpack impeding any attempt to gain your destination.

You need the calm of a Buddhist sage on the verge of Nirvana to survive the frustration of the feeling that you are the only one on a specific mission in the Swedish stasis that affects the vast majority of shoppers in the store.

My more prosaic purchase this time was 20 cardboard boxes, beautifully designed which, from a flat template were quickly constructed into handy sized containers with an integral lid. I know that I should be getting boxes from local shops and supermarkets, but the IKEA offerings are so exquisitely designed that it would seem to be penny pinching vulgarity to allow them to languish in the store!

Tomorrow will see me purchasing 40 more IKEA boxes so that the great packing of the books in the flat can commence.

The news, being flashed to me via my internet radio, is grim. For the first time in the last 100 years or so, it is being predicted that the Conservatives are likely to take the popular vote in Wales. That is the sort of information that turns my stomach and makes me feel furious about the bone deep cowardice of MPs who are the sole culprits for the danger that they have brought to the whole system of parliamentary government of my country. If they had reformed the totally corrupt system of expenses (which they created, sustained, defended) and given themselves the salary that they needed to fulfil their jobs then this disgusting situation might not have occurred.

God rot them!