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Thursday, July 30, 2009

And another thing . . .


Today is the last day on which we can make a list of faults that we have found with the house. Given the odd dictates of our contract, after 30 days any faults that we find are our own concern and not those of the owner – whoever he she or it is. We have accepted that there are many aspects of ‘decoration’ in the house that we are going to have to rectify (including re-puttying windows) but some really do seem to be the responsibility of the owner and his agents. We will have to see how the agents respond. Our experience of these creatures is not good, but you never know, we might have found the only reasonable firm among the lot of them. And yes, that was an example of irony.

Our guests have settled in, though they didn’t find the fan in their room until this morning and so had a hot and sticky night.

I have, at last, actually got around to starting reading a book from the multitudes now exposed on my shelves. My choice lit on one which I have been meaning to read for some time: ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Toole published a decade after the author’s death by suicide. It is disturbingly funny and quirkily compulsive. I am enjoying it immensely – and I have a lot of reading to do if I am to complete my normal quota for this holiday!

With Dianne and Gwen we have discovered a new restaurant which provided a selection of tapas which were of outstanding quality – a place to which we will return.

Tomorrow, Barcelona: shopping for the girls and guilty wandering in bookshops for me!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

That's the way the wind blows


The weather map shown on television last night was one of those time lapse things which show weather fronts on the move.

Every nasty thing that lurks in the Atlantic seems to make a bee-line for Britain. The edges of the nasty weather fronts hit the north-west corner of Spain and dissipate over the Pyrenees leaving Barcelona with artistic cloud fragments and sun.

That, at least, is the general picture and one which I hold to with passionate intensity.

For the next few days it has to hold good as I am about to pick up the girls from the airport. They have already made enquiries about the availability of parasols on the beach so their intentions are clear, as indeed I hope the skies will be for the duration of their stay. Luckily their predilection for shopping does offer an alternative strategy should the unthinkable happen and rain fall!

The last shelves are now being fitted to the last empty Billy bookcase and that will starkly show the real limitations that are going to have to be faced when I try and fit in the contents of some thirty Pickford boxes in the space for eight. Ho hum! One of life’s little problems. At least this visit will give a pause to my book spreading propensities and perhaps leave a moment for thought and some way of squaring the circle may present itself.

But there are books not yet unpacked that I cannot do without. Really. Where is the rest of my Complete Short Stories of Somerset Maugham? Where is my Firbank biography? Great Expectations? The rest of the Eighteenth Century: Pope, Swift, Smollett, Fielding? I have said that the books will fit and I have also agreed that any new book will mean the jettisoning of an old to compensate for the new, but . . . Well, the story of how I manage to make ends meet in the Battle of the Books (and where is my copy of that?) will be the subject of a future blog.

Our first British visitors have arrived and are settled in. Gwen and Dianne are just about to test the reputed comfort of the new beds. Their faces tomorrow as they prepare for a hard day of sunbathing will tell the true story of their night.

I can also report the safe delivery of a ‘moving in’ present which came with them. It is now in the garden nestling at the base of some truncated oleander trees and winking roguishly as a rather beautifully realized butterfly gently alights on a neighbouring toadstool.

I feel that the more perceptive among you will have worked out what the present was. I feel it adds a touch of class and looks thoroughly at home!


Thank you Ceri.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Count to ten!


The legend surrounding the Gordian Knot is one of those powerful stories whose power lies in the fact that the story embodies an essential key to the human psyche.

This thought occurred to me when I went onto the beach today . This was a momentous event as, since I have been in the house, I haven’t ventured onto the sands at all. I think that it was a sort of temporary aversion put in place by my unconscious to ensure that I did some work on the house before the start of term.

Anyway I set foot on the sand, plunged into the sea and instantly wondered why I hadn’t been lying in the sun for the past three weeks. The damage has now been done and my visitors better be prepared to be supine sun worshipers because the beach is where my temple is going to be.

I noticed a boy on the beach, standing by himself and working at some intricate activity involving string. At first I took him for a fisherman mending his nets (which shows what a romantic view I have of the seaside resort in which I live) until I realised that he was trying to disentangle what I assume was a kite string for his younger brother.

He was patience personified. He was holding what looked like a dripping stalactite of pale spaghetti which was the chaos of string that he was attempting to unravel. He studied the mass, he turned it this way and that and gently drew threads, sometimes tracing them carefully through the mass. You mustn’t think that I was staring (which I was) but the whole time that I was on the beach, whenever I looked up, he was there unmoved (physically and mentally) working in isolation at the three dimensional problem with which he was presented.

When I was younger, my patience for such unravelling was almost zero. My technique was to look at the twisted mass, select an ‘end’ and tug vigorously in the hope that, rather like a conjuring trick, the knots would magically disappear. This was a technique not without merit because it sometimes worked (especially with shoelaces) but more often than not (yes, the pun was intended) the force of the pull rendered all the knots sleekly impossible to undo.

With age (and the accretion of electronic leads and earphones) I have dredged up reserves of patience and now work the problems through with a minimum of teeth grinding. There are limits to this patience and the Alexander solution with the Gordian knot is never far from the surface of my attempts.

I remember when trying to sort out my mother’s jewellery after her death that one of my friends offered to untangle all those tiny linked gold chains that ladies seem to accumulate. This really does test the patience and I am sure that some firm somewhere (probably Microsoft) uses a box full of tangled thin chains as part of their selection procedure.

The Knot does separate people. There are those who make no attempt to undo; some who make only a cursory effort; those who try and try and then give up; those who try and try and then throw the thing away as if it were a snake; and those who go on and on and even ‘put it by’ to have further goes later.

I am sure that there have been studies on the relative persistence in untying knots in different groups of the population – and I am sure that it was money well spent.

I am still virtually prostrate after getting Carles’ ball back from the next door garden. As the gentleman who lives next door is of the French persuasion I assayed a conversation in that language. I am still trying to interpret the look of blank amazement that he gave me as one of joyful recognition of a fellow speaker rather than wondering who this evangelical speaking in tongues was.

One of his friends was so impressed with my French that he immediately started speaking English. Result! I should think.

The book situation is now becoming acute as shelf space is rapidly running out and the number of full boxes still in Bluespace does not seem to be diminishing. However, I am trying not to think about reality and am instead thoroughly enjoying the ‘discoveries’ which come with every opened box.

The nineteenth century is now filling the shelves and some of my more excessive reference books are now proudly flaunting their spines inviting my itching fingers. Unfortunately with so many boxes yet to be ‘released’ I have no time to read. But sometimes it is impossible to meet an old friend who has been in the lock up for three years without doing him the courtesy of showing some interest – but it does slow me down.

Three more boxes before I can call it a day. A librophile’s work is never done! (And yes, I do know the more orthodox word.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shopping is Hell!


Our visitors will be delighted to know that we now have bedding for them.

This was purchased in a supermarket in Sant Boi which I prefer to Carrefour. This positive preference was not matched by my experience there. Alcampo, the supermarket that I was in, is the only place which demands that you use a 50c coin in their trollies. All the others offer a selection of coins to release the vehicles, but not Alcampo. I did not have a 50c coin, needless to say. The change machine was out of order. I was in the wrong part of the store to go to the information kiosk.

I had started my shopping by assuming that a plastic wheeled basket would be sufficient. It wasn’t. Not only wasn’t it commodious enough, but I took a corner in an aisle too quickly and everything that I had in it tipped out.

Abandoning my basket in a convenient corner of the store I went in search of a trolley. I bought a lottery ticket for 1.50€ using a 2€ coin: never let it be said that my ‘O’ level in Maths did not come to my aid in times of commercial crisis!

I always thought that there was a sort of money grubbing logic to the way in which supermarkets are set out – but the logic which informed this layout of this one defeated me. To be precise: where the bread was.

Bread is a key commodity in a supermarket. Everyone buys it so where you locate it and what you place it next to is a key component in the commercial structure of the shop. I asked four employees all of whom (except for the one who said that he had no idea and I should ask Information) gave radically different instructions about how to find it. The fifth one was able to indicate with a wave of the hand and I saw the familiar cellophane encased sticks rising above a counter.

Then paying. My photocopied credit card sized version of my passport which has served me well in many transactions in spite of its illegality was refused. I therefore brought out the creased and venerable NIE (my identification document issued by the Spanish Government) that too was refused and dismissed as a photocopy. I am proud to say that I had a stand up row in Spanish and fluent splutter.

The sales assistant did give in and stomped out of the store feeling aggrieved but linguistically victorious!

Tomorrow a meeting in Barcelona with the two employees of ESCAAN to decide on future plans to get The Owner.

A meeting I think that I will enjoy.

Our great achievement for today was putting up Ceri’s big charcoal. As this picture has to be screwed into the wall because of its weight I fear that its ‘straightness’ is going to be a bone of contention for some time to come.

Those discussions, however, are going to be nothing compared to the differences of opinion about how to get it on to the wall in the first place!

Still, such efforts were good preparation for building yet more Billy bookcases. I am convinced that purgatory is full of people making IKEA furniture while hell is full of people making IKEA furniture with missing bits and faulty diagrams.


Supervised by Margaret Thatcher.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Present day horror


Was it not W C Fields who said (and if he didn’t who cares) that anyone who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad?

Live where I live and you will see and hear living evidence that the Great Man was expressing a universal truth rather than a bitter personal opinion.

I have written before of my disgust for the predilection of Spaniards for various forms of supine rat-dogs which they (mistakenly) think fit well in a flat. These repulsive genetic scrapings of in-breeding; these caricatures of an noble animal descended from a wolf; these rickety pieces of fluff on spindly legs belie their size when their ‘territory’ is invaded by more respectable mammals and they give voice to their incessant and penetrating yipe – the perverted version of the wolf’s howl.

We are surrounded by a whole kindergarten of canine children substitutes and when one starts its inane parody of a bark then the whole grotesque zoo of shadow dogs add their high pitched irritation to the general cacophony.

There are two spaniel-like creatures at the end of our street who manage to produce a sort of twisted bark which is a mixture of squeal and scream. I have seen these two aged, bleary, sleep filled eyed plodders and the only reason they make any sound at all is that they are secure behind the firm bars of their garden gate.

One longs to hear a full throated bark which indicates that it is being produced by a real dog like, for example, a Labrador – but such animals seem too large and macho for a nation which prides itself on its masculinity. To hell with all of the precious rat-dog owners: they are pathetic and inconsiderate and should be fined for each high pitched yelp their pampered rats emit.

And then the children.

There are other quotations by W C Fields about children which are amusing but are something which a teacher can only take a guilty pleasure when laughing at them. To be a teacher is to care for kids. But to care for them in their place: in a professional situation in a school.

I see enough of kids in my professional life to want to see more of them in my home environment.

In my experience Spanish children are spoiled to a ridiculous extent. Virtually anything they do is excused – not only excused but admired and applauded. Their behaviour in public places is appalling, as indeed is that of their parents as they ignore or encourage a level of behaviour which would have had me publically executed by my weeping parents if I had even remotely approached the standards of depravity that Spanish children inhabit.

Not only are we surrounded by children of various ages but I suspect that, in a terrible twist of fate, I have rented a house oppose a nursery school!

As children find it impossible to communicate in anything less than a scream you can imagine my chagrin during a normal day in the holidays! The adolescent next door: a charming young lady with a string of repulsive pseudo-macho hangers on spends most of her day laughing that piercingly false laugh which is bread and butter to the soul of the budding male.

As they spend most of their time around the pool smoking cigarettes I think bloody thoughts and present a positively Buddha-like calm from the upholstered luxury of my new chair.

I will need that mystic calm for tomorrow when I go (again, oh god, again) to IKEA to buy yet more Billy Bookcases. These will be the apocalyptic bookcases as they represent the final number of shelves for whatever books remain in Bluespace. These are indeed the Final Days when the Books Will Be Counted.

Give me strength!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Keep the books comming.


A day that can almost be classified as normal!

Apart that is from taking back a tower fan to Gavá – and it providing another instance of how it is possible to say almost anything with a very limited vocabulary in Spanish.

There should be a compendium of my witty, apposite and concise sayings in foreign tongues when forced into a tight linguistic corner. I have never looked back since I engaged in a conversation in French about the novels of Marcel Proust. What was the sum total of my insights into the French Master’s prose works given that I had studied his novels (well, the first two) in university? “Each word is well chosen.” Given that the man abjured normal society and locked himself in a cork lined room to write, not such a bad thing to say I would have thought!

My attempts in Spanish have sometimes surpassed even that inspired concision. Given that I have denounced banks, asked for technical documentation, changed, exchanged and complained – all in my limited Spanish - you can imagine what depths (or shallows) of language abuse I have plumbed or paddled!

I now have an established default position in the house. I sit in my new chair, my legs slightly elevated with my back to the television looking out of the window at the loungers by the pool while at the same time fighting off the dreaded tiger mosquito. I would usually have my Sony e-book reader in my hands but am devastated to relate that there is something wrong with the screen of my device.

I am fairly sure that somewhere along the way in the move I have dropped or knocked the thing so that the top right hand corner of the screen is faulty and does not display print. This is not a catastrophic difficulty, though I do feel a little presumptuous guessing the words of great authors to fill in the blanks.

I could regard this as a signal from the god of consumerism to upgrade my present machine and go for one which can link automatically to the internet and download books without having to link to a computer. The temptation is almost overwhelming but I fear that I will find that the one I have already got is as good as you get.

As a person waging a one person war against the Crisis by pledging himself to consumerism, I sometimes feel that Capitalist Society does not always play along with my life-long addiction to shopping! I am after all a devoted follower of ‘planned obsolescence’ as long as I am given a new glitzy and blue light studded version of what I already own on which to waste my money.

Meanwhile the library.

There is the equivalent of eight shelves left for books and a damn sight more than five times that number of Pickford’s packing cases left in Bluespace.

The obvious solution is to create an ‘island’ of four bookshelves in the middle of the library. I must say here that the ‘library’ is not a big room and the two walls which are not window and built in wardrobe are lined to the ceiling with bookcases, so space is limited. On the other hand the space is Bluespace is expensive so something will have to be done and done quickly or I will be paying yet another month’s rent for the space that I shouldn’t need.

Both Toni and I am suffering from ‘Constructional Fatigue’ and are almost at the stage where we will pay twice the price as long as whatever it is we are buying is fully constructed and ready-to-go at the point of purchase!

We had lunch in a Galician restaurant which comprised a series of tapas. Toni’s favourite is pulpo a feira galega which is a special dish of pulpo sliced and sprinkled with paprika and served on a roundel of wood. It is an acquired taste and the offering that we had today had an odd flavour. I have to admit that the best that I have tasted was produced by Toni’s mum and every other attempt at this dish has had to live up to her standard.

Our first British visitors arrive on Wednesday which is concentrating our minds somewhat.

The television is showing the usual spate of fires which light up the night sky of Spain at this time of year. There are fires in Tarragona and closer to us in the Garraf parts of which form a national park which surrounds Castelldefels.

But, as usual in this part of the world, things like that just pass us by: crisis, what crisis and fires, what fires tend to be the philosophies that guide us here!

Spain, as they say, is another country.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Invasion!


What does a visit from very small children and the Nazi party have in common?

I realize that most parents with historical flair will be able to give a whole thesis devoted to this comparison (and probably the grandparents will be able to supply footnotes, appendixes and a bibliography) but I am thinking in more restricted terms.

Lebensraum is just an historical concept until you have seen what happens when two youngsters arrive. Suddenly you are invaded by what seems to be a whole army of kids who arrive shouting and screaming. They are followed by the baggage animals (parents and immediate relatives) who look haggard and are weighed down by the supplies that one child of one and another of four need to survive a visit all of 30km away from their home base.

Within minutes the portable DVD player is put on charge for the journey home. Base camp is established on the plastic outdoor table which is immediately covered with immediate supplies like nappies and wet wipes. Clear plastic sacks of various essential toys are deposited within easy reach. There is one load of toys for the beach and another for the home and another all purpose sack for any other conceivable situation.

A small house is established in seconds using the technology of those throw-them-in-the-air tents which are fully constructed by the time they hit the ground. A plastic basketball net is built. Three balls appear covered with cartoon characters. And inflatable beach ball starts rolling in the breeze and a forlorn balloon bumps along the gravel.

Then there are the clothes. Each young child now appears to travel with a wardrobe that even Paris Hilton would consider excessive. Shoes sprout up everywhere – and where there are shoes there are tiny t-shirts and other more horrific parts of a child’s wear.

Food does not follow the plate, implement, mouth path for young children just as the sit-in-one-place to eat your food does not seem popular with the under fives. In a way which would do credit to certain brands of butter, food is spread liberally in places where it is unlikely to be digested by a human over the age of four.

And the noise! Children communicate in screams that would not be out of place is some opera houses – and it is a continuing wonder to me that windows in our area stay intact when they are bombarded with high decibel high frequencies.

But then they go. Their parents reluctantly fit them into the car and you realize why some headaches are necessary just to show you how delightful it is when they aren’t there.

One advantage of having a family visit you is that nowadays it is inconceivable for a family of four to travel in anything less than what would have been considered a charabanc when I was young. What it does allow is that, when the family has been settled into their newly colonized space complete with housing and sporting facilities the ‘car’ can be used for useful things like collecting Ceri’s large charcoal and boxes of books.

It is fairly obvious that the remaining books in Bluespace are not going to fit into the Billy Bookcases newly built to receive them. This is a problem which will have to be faced in the very near future. I am not looking forward to Toni’s reactions!

Meanwhile preparations for our first British visitors continue apace.

We might even be ready for them when they arrive!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big is not always beautiful



What a glorious load of old Grand Guignol rubbish ‘Turandot’ is. A guilty pleasure if ever there was one! The production which I saw last night in the Liceu directed by Núria Espert (in spite of the interesting possibilities suggested by the photograph on the cover of the programme) did little to illuminate what is, after all, a fairy tale.

The first appearance of Turandot with the massive idol in the background breaking in two to reveal a backlit Turandot wreathed in CO2 looking like an alien was impressive if corny. The crowd scenes were large, populous and highly mannered. “So what?” I hear you ask. It is, after all, a piece not noted for its verisimilitude!

I’m not sure that any singing in live performance of ‘Turandot’ is going to match expectations, but I am left vaguely dissatisfied by the whole bunch of singers in this production. I thought that Liú (Norah Amsellem) had a disconcerting vibrato until I heard Turandot (Georgina Lukács) and for me, Amsellem eventually produced the most satisfying performance in the show.

Calaf’s first notes did not encourage confidence and he never rose above the competent. The production of The Aria was mystifying with poor old Calaf in shadow for most of the song. But at least he did whack (and with real enthusiasm) a real gong when signifying that he would attempt the three riddles.

Is ‘Turandot’ really as ‘empty’ as this production makes it? There is spectacle a plenty but no substance that I can see. The appearance of the Emperor was especially impressive emerging from behind the idol on a truck moving downstage flanked by two immense Chinese dragons and a suitably ghost like array of councillors. But apart from looking good, what did it really do?

The eponymous villain of the piece deserves some comment. Her first notes reminded me vividly of my response to hearing Rita Hunter in the WNO production of ‘Turandot’ many years ago: total horror. I simply cannot respond with any degree of pleasure to the level of vibrato fuelled scream which characterized most of Lukács’ performance.

The orchestra under Giuliano Carell did not seem to have their usual poise and there was a marked lack of coherence and fluidity in some of the ensemble pieces and many of the entrances were not as ‘clean’ as I would expect from an orchestra of this quality.

The feeling that I was left with was that this was a posturing and safe production that swapped depth for spectacle. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. The ending which seemed to have Turandot kill herself for love showed that there was thought but no follow through. A missed opportunity I thought.

Emerging from the Liceu after an opera performance onto a crowded portion of the night time Ramblas jostling with pimps, prostitutes, chancers and foreigners looking for a good time while holding my programme like a passport to middle class respectability is not a pleasant experience. It is something of an abrupt transition from high art to low life in a few steps, and I scurry my way through the crowds to my ludicrously expensive parking space and start the drive home.

There is nothing which encourages my contempt for my fellow man as driving along the two narrow roads that flank the Ramblas.

Night time pedestrians do not seem to have grasped the simple fact that they are made of vulnerable flesh and cars are made of metal and that contact between the two usually results in the pedestrian coming off worse. But no, gaily chatting on their mobile phones and looking neither to left nor right they march into the middle of the road with the propriatorial air of Macadam himself!

As this is Spain one must (how can one?) not forget the suicidal antics of cyclists and, especially, motor cyclists. It is now my passionately held belief that, in any accident involving motor cyclists their broken bodies should be swept to the side of the road and left there to rot – much in the manner of ancient punishments where criminals were kept in cages pendent from the battlements of castles as a warning to others.

Rather harsh?

Drive in Spain for more than a couple of days and you will share my feelings and be amazed at my moderation!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And the next please!


One case against The Owner of The School That Sacked Me done; the next has now begun.

With the delicacy of touch which characterizes The Owner’s attempts at personnel management she told one member of staff, on the day before her annual long summer holidays that her hours would be halved when she returned and that her job would be different!

My advice was to contact the Union at once (a union I might add that I encouraged my colleague to join) and take legal advice.

The result at first was one of those instances when you have to tell yourself that you are in Spain and not in the UK. The first response that she was given from the union was that nothing could be done because the school holidays had started and no one would be in place until September!

Our joint shocked reaction and a return phone call ensured prompt action on the part of the union and the instant provision of a lawyer. Needless to say, the information from the legal gentleman that what The Owner had done was illegal did not raise a collective eyebrow, so the process has begun to make damn sure that my colleague is sacked.

This may seem rather odd to British ears, but in Spanish terms it is much better to be sacked from a job than to leave it. When you are sacked in Spain an automatic process is started whereby you get very generous unemployment benefit for what seems like an inordinate amount of time.

As long as you are sacked.

Being sacked can be used by an employer as a considerable inducement to encourage a person to leave a place of employment with a smile on the face! It doesn’t make sense but it is what is done. So I am helping a friend to ensure that she gets sacked.

The worrying part of this process is that she will not be sacked but will be subject to what I would describe as a process of constructive dismissal – where her life in The School That Sacked Me will be made even more intolerable than it is at present. I keep telling my friend that all she has to do is be seen in public in Sitges having a cup of coffee with me and her dismissal would be instant! With compensation to leave immediately!

I am tempted to write another letter to The Owner commiserating with her on her recent financial loss in compensating her ex employees for the disgraceful treatment they have had at her hands and asking that she short circuit the legal process and tell me the monetary details about the Readathon for Burma that we held last year in the school that I have been asking about by letter, email, telephone call, police report and court order since the money was handed in – those details that no teacher, pupil or parent has been told about.

Or do you think that it would be a little too callously obvious? One wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings, in spite of the carefree way that she plays with other people’s lives.

On the domestic front another concerted effort has been made to bring order (or ‘yet more’ order from my point of view) to the kitchen. With an enthusiasm born of lack of knowledge of that particular room, Toni has dictated a ‘tidy’ policy which has resulted in some re-arrangement. Actual use of the kitchen will, of course, destroy this artificial overlay of order, but I didn’t have the heart to point this out to Toni as diktat’s kept flowing from his mouth about where to put stuff.

The only point on which I was adamant was that the nappies (don’t bloody ask!) were not going to be kept on top of the wine rack. One does, after all (and in spite of everything) have standards!

Talking of which, tonight I’m off to see Turandot. This is one time that I am hoping that some trendy director has taken a radical view and produced a version set in a Communist gulag or in Harvey Nicholls in Leeds or something other than costume drama China. I know nothing about this production so I am a tabla rasa waiting for an imprint.

One lives, as you can tell, in hope!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Partial Justice!


Result!

The Owner of The School That Sacked Me has been forced to pay almost 20,000€ to two teachers in the school who were sacked by that unfeeling, unprofessional and basically illegal person.

In an unreal reworking of one of those marvellous sketches by Daumier of huddles of lawyers gathered in small intimate groups outside the court rooms deciding the fate of their clients, The Owner pushed the final outcome of this case to the wire. The usher was actually calling the case as yet another consultation was held to see if something could be worked out.

The lawyer, colleagues and I met under the Arc de Triumph in Barcelona not only because it was a good metaphor for what we hoped to achieve but also because it was very near the courts.

The Owner, of course, did not turn up. Instead we saw her minion, haggard of face with a trio of lawyers. She gave a visible start when she recognized me but passed off the moment with a truly ghastly smile. This sidekick has made a Faustian bargain with The Owner and does all her dirty work. She did not look at all well and I felt not a scrap of sympathy for a woman who deliberately lied to me and who has only survived by suppressing any moral feelings that she might have about what she had to do on a daily basis.

After a deal had been done we all shook hands with lawyers on both sides and kissed The Owner’s creature. When she kissed me she said with a wry laugh, “Mr Rees. You can go!” It wasn’t said viciously and I have no real idea what she meant. Toni said that it was the equivalent of telling me to get lost; but he wasn’t there and I’m not sure that it was anything more than sheer exasperation. In which case I am more than satisfied. Also the news that I was there will get back to The Owner and cause her displeasure. Another bonus!

Once out of the court (into which we never actually got!) we had a celebratory cup of coffee and went our separate ways with the Dutch lawyer saying that we had to arrange a time to meet next week to consider who to continue my efforts to bring The Owner to book.

A most satisfactory morning.

The evening was taken up with a visit to Terrassa for a family birthday. It went as these things usually go but will be remembered for a truly spectacular cream birthday cake with the flavour of Crema Catalana. The floor show was provided by the one year old (his older brother have succumbed to sleep) who stole blatant finger loads of cream and then put a tiny hand over his mouth in a gesture of shocked guilt.

It doesn’t sound like much; perhaps you had to be there to find it amusing. And his fingers not be in your portion of cake.

And the Cava was nice too.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Screw fixing!


I think that the future financial standing of certain shops in the Castelldefels/Gava/ Sant Boi area are directly dependent on our continuing efforts to make the house ready for our first guests in late July. There are certain hardware stores where we are greeted as old friends.

Toni has bought a new Bosch drill with which he rather ostentatiously parades around with a Bond-like demeanour and a startlingly sardonic smile. He is, even as I type, repairing the front gate. This metal and wattle construction is linked to the entry phone and has already been ‘repaired’ once by the jobbing trouble shooter employed by the estate agents. We were impressed with the alacrity with which our request for attention was received, but the final result is that we (or rather Toni) have to correct.

It turns out that the ‘wrongness’ of the professionals’ efforts means that it is difficult to produce a satisfactory result without grinding down two metal plates. So I am told. And I don’t mind being told as long as I don’t have to do!

Things are not quite as frenetic as they have been and we are now satisfied with completing a few domestic tasks rather than, say, producing a complete garden. We are, at last, at the refinements stage rather than establishing. It is, believe me, quite different with entirely different stresses. It is now possible to consider the logistics of having guests calmly without the Munch-like horror with which the prospect was previously greeted!

More pictures have been put up and now the house is something like a gallery and very comforting I find it too. There is the question of the Lost Paintings. I realize that not only is Toni’s favourite Ceri painting not where we thought it to be, but also one of my Young Artists in Habitat silk screen prints is missing. This is not exactly an inconspicuous piece being a large abstract mostly in browns. The artist’s father described his first ideas for his piece as looking like an ‘extended turd’ – needless to say the picture that I bought was a later version and a little more acceptable than that! These (and probably more) are part of the Lost Paintings cache which must exist somewhere.

Their reappearance will, however cause a certain amount of readjustment to the selection of paintings on display at present.

Our more immediate problem is a cat.

It is well known that these pests have a habit of using other people’s gardens as their loos. We have such a cat. It has walked on our outside table and has excreted in Toni’s immaculately laid volcanic rubble boarder. I suppose the cat must have assumed that it had arrived in kitty-litter heaven when it saw square metres of available toilet.

As a dog person I am all in favour of laying poison and mounting armed guard to nail the beast but I have been persuaded that this feline filth has some sort of legal right to life which precludes my very reasonable yet pleasantly Draconian solutions.

To those who aver that cats have souls I can only say that their mercenary souls are of such a quality of selfishness that make Satan himself look innocently generous – and I`ve owned a Labrador.

Anyway I have decided that a water-pistol will be my weapon of choice if I see any quadruped making its way with bathroom eyes onto my property. The blow to a cat’s pride of an expertly aimed jet of water from a child’s cheap toy may, with any luck, prove fatal – even without this happy outcome the deterrent effect should be worth the expenditure.

Meanwhile we have thrown away detritus from the previous occupant without a second thought and the play is becoming a clear (if disturbing) reflection of our joint personalities.

Tomorrow a possible visit to court to see the outcome of a hearing against The Owner and her medieval employment policies. It is too much to hope that she will turn up herself but even a quarter of a chance that she will be there is enough to guarantee my presence. For old time’s sake.

What a nice person I am!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Art for design's sake?


Some of the paintings are up on the walls!

Apart, of course, from books, there is nothing that contributes so much to making a house a home than paintings. And, of course, they are just as revealing as anything you might possess. Interpretation of possessions is always a tricky process because most homes are amalgams of accident and intent.

I still have the remnants of the furniture from my grandmother that furnished my first flat in the days when the rates of interest were in double figures! Some furniture is pure compromise when what you wanted was at some absurd price and what you could afford was nothing like what you wanted. I would hardly like to be judged on the number of IKEA Billy bookcases – and in some cases not by the volumes inside either!

My collection of paintings (some of which unaccountably do not seem to have survived the trip to Spain) are an eclectic bunch of works. Few are actual purchases from galleries while some that I value the most were bought directly from the artists. One took months to buy while the artist decided whether or not to sell it. The decision to buy another was taken during a drunken evening with the artist: the artist’s wife clarified the intention the next day when sobriety had returned. One was bought while an exhibition was being taken down. One was bought during a spending frenzy when SQB and I went berserk in town one Saturday. One was a birthday gift which wittily exploits my admiration of the penguin. They all have histories, but not everyone shares my pleasure in their appearance.

One of my favourite art objects is a bamboo pen Chinese ink drawing of an old stone archway in Merthyr by John Uzzell Edwards. I bought it while I was in University for a price which I am ashamed to admit. No one who has seen this drawing is neutral about it. Some share my liking, but most find it disturbing or sinister. This may be because of the severe linear depiction of the ground which some say has the appearance of a weeping woman. Who knows; but it remains a minority taste.

It will be interesting to see how the dynamics of the house are affected by the display of art.

It will also depend on what else turns up in the continuing excavations in Bluespace. As far as I can see the only art work remaining in storage is Ceri’s large charcoal drawing which I was unable to fit into the car today. We have decided where it has to go, though I do have some misgivings that it might be too large. Never mind we can always trim a few inches from the top or bottom to ensure that it fits.

Only joking, Ceri! We will rebuild the house to accommodate your work.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


The tiger mosquito is a vicious beast but it has usually concentrated its feeding power on Toni’s legs rather than drinking the exquisite vintage of my Group A+. Last night, however, or possibly early this morning, it forsook its usual haunts and feasted instead on me! Sacrilege!

The Spanish with their mosquitoes are like the Scots with their midges – they are a never ending source of conversation. The gradual spread of the Tiger Mosquito (yet another foreign import from China – or the PRC as I have seen on some products as a subtle attempt to make consumers think that their every need is not being met form the Far East) causes even more animated discussion. The domestic mosquito is now treated with something like affectionate acceptance in the face of the much more malicious activity of the foreign invader.

For a country that has suffered from this vicious insect for so long they have yet to discover an effective deterrent and mollifying unguent to soothe the inevitable bites. Not, you must understand that the supermarkets are not filled with various quack remedies. There is a whole range of ‘plug in’ slow release chemical methods to slow the flight of the poisonous beasts. There are papers and sprays. The sprays are effective, but they have a corresponding deleterious effect on the humans that they are supposed to be aiding.

The latest innovations to restrict the pain laden irritants are electronic. You purchase a plug which, it is claimed will turn the whole of your electrical circuitry into a pulsatingly repulsive mosquito net. These come in various price ranges, but we have plumped for a €5 version sold in one of the larger Homebase-like supermarkets.

My bites may indicate that its success is limited!

I have resorted to the advice of our local pharmacist (or at least the person who works in the pharmacy) and have purchased a tube of clear gel which I have applied liberally to the swellings. This gel does not have the masochistically satisfying string of something like TCP – which tells you that it is working – instead it is gradually absorbed by the skin and it seems to be working. I am not sure whether it is the medical effects of the gel or the fact that I have, with superhuman effort, resisted the almost overwhelming need to scratch and allowed the swelling to subside naturally that has caused the bite to (almost) disappear. I am now putting my faith in the gel and am hoping that I can bring the placebo effect into place to aid healing!

The basic outline of the garden should be finished today and it will only be necessary to set the explosive charges to attempt to create a hole in the rock hard earth for the solar lights for the horticultural ‘canvas’ to be prepared for the inclusion of plants. Toni’s ideas for the scrap of land that we have are proving to be remarkably effective and all my misgivings about the concepts have proved to be unfounded. It remains to be see how the final details are going to be worked into the ‘hard’ gardening which has been done – but there should be something to show the first of the visitors when they arrive in late July.

Our ‘lawn’ is laid and while it does not have the smooth perfection of an Oxford college quad its interesting profile does make it suitable for boules. What is lacks in flatness is more than compensated for by its virulent colour which may have something to do with its 100% artificiality! In a fresh water poor country it is the only eco option open to thinking people!

The area around our real plants has swallowed up vast sacks of white stone chippings while the borders of the ‘lawn’ look quite dapper with their in-fill of volcanic rubble. Toni’s nephew who rambled quite happily on the ‘old’ garden refuses to set foot in it. While lifted and deposited on the ‘lawn’ he makes a bee line for the shadowy safety of the space under the first floor. This is a cool breezy area much loved by the indigenous inhabitants as they refuse point blank to eat in the sun. You can be almost certain that anyone eating in full sunshine in Spain is foreign. Test the hypothesis on your next visit!

August is beginning to look like a most social month with Gwen, Dianne, Emma, Paul and Paul Squared all making an appearance.

There are still vacancies left towards the end of the month –but you must hurry to be sure of a firm booking!

A swift glance at my watch informs me that it is the 18th so the first two weeks of the ‘holiday’ have slipped by in a sweaty, unbroken tranche of work laden days.

Ts afternoon for the first time for weeks, I lay out in the sun. And now I’m stinging! It just shows how long I have been away from my favourite star!

This must change!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lawyers, stones and expectations.


A meeting with the Dutch lawyer representing two teachers from The School That Sacked Me called in for ‘a chat’ today.

In the remaining chaos which is the studio we had our ‘chat’ in which I enlightened him about the more outlandishly unprofessional aspects of that deeply dysfunctional institution. Another year has ended and the same numbers of teachers feel used and undervalued by The Owner and her pathetic minions.

I was delighted to be able to pour my portion of poison into the lawyer’s ear and his astonishment show that his clients hadn’t really given him the real low down on that place.

The hearing for the case is next Tuesday and I offered to go if the psychological effect of my smiling face in court would add any degree of discomfort to The Owner. She, of course will not be in court but I am sure that the information about my presence would filter its way back to her and add to the general enjoyment of her day. I am proud of the fact that she and her cronies refer to me as, “That Bloody Man!” – and I would like to live up to my name.

I actually got through a morning without spending any money today. Something of a record! Lunch was, however in our local restaurant and the austerity went downhill after that.

Toni has made a start on the garden in a way which would have met with the full approval of my father. He was a great believer in the ‘instant’ gardening approach. Not for him the painstaking selection of seeds, carefully nurtured over time before being planted out to develop into their full display character. Oh no, indeed. I once came home from school to find a completely different garden in front of the house – in full bloom!

This is the sort of gardening I understand and have indeed practised myself and Toni has produced in a day what in normal circumstances would have taken many years to produce.

Admittedly we are talking about artificial grass (Carrefour 3 for 2) and stones of minute whiteness and volcanic vulgarity: but the garden is certainly different and astonishingly so in such a short time.

As is traditional in all garden purchases we woefully underestimated the number of bags of stones and things that we needed. What we hoped to complete today will now have to be completed tomorrow with the further expenditure of what can only be called money.

A friend called in today with news of yet further news of yet further atrocities in the School That Sacked Me. It has truly reached levels beyond which we cannot go. I might laugh, but The Owner destroys people’s lives with a callous disregard that would do credit to Margaret Thatcher.

I feel that I should use That Woman’s name more and more in my blog in the hope that my interest precipitates her journey into the next world and which would, of course, enable me to set fire to the wick of her candle to light her way to whatever reward she deserves.

On a much more satisfying topic we (Toni, Toni’s Mum and I) have just returned from our local restaurant where we had a mariscada which I have to say I thought was exceptional value. We had the mariscada for two which was clearly sufficient for three, which, together with sangria de cava and an ice cream was an excellent way to celebrate Carmen’s Name Day – although a couple of days late.

Who, I ask, is going to know how much work we have put into this place when they arrive to partake of sun, sand and satisfactory sustenance?

Well, we are!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Transparent?


One likes to think that one’s persona is something that has been carefully cultivated over the years and is, if one may use an image, approaching the status of a long matured single malt: rich, sonorous with hidden depths. One imagines oneself as projecting a friendly yet wry character; one tinged with irony yet open to absurdities of life. A complex, enigmatic, subtle and informed person whose epigrammatic utterances delight and mystify.

I say this because I have bought a bike. It is what I call an ‘Old Man’s’ bike: it has an elegant curved frame to allow easy mounting and dismounting and a basket in front with a metal contraption on the rear wheel to take some sort of bag. There are guards on the back wheels and a guard to stop your socks from getting dirty on the chain. It looks old-fashioned in a distinctly modern sort of way. And is nothing like the mountain bike that Toni bought.

The seat on Toni’s bike looks like the skull of a wasted stork while mine looks like a puffin’s skull with enlarged frontal lobes. Not for nothing is the trade mark of my seat called ‘Plush’ (sic)!

Toni’s comment on my purchase (well, one of them) was, “You’ve only bought that bike because of those French films.” This is disturbingly near the truth. I did have visions of getting provisions on a sunny morning, meandering my way through some sleepy foreign village on a sit-up-and-beg-bike. I have to admit that some of my inclination towards such a bike was fostered by images of the redoubtable Margaret Rutherford playing Miss Marple and coping with murder most foul while perambulating in the bike of my dreams.

My real question is how the hell Toni knew all this. It is hardly the thing that comes up in general conversation. And it can’t be that I am so easy to read. Can it? No, of course not. There must be some other explanation. Like mind reading.

Our bikes (made necessary by our relative isolation in the new house – very relative, I have to say) were collected with the assistance of Toni’s sister in her family car. Needless to say Toni’s mountain bike was at a bargain price with an extra amount taken off by the use of a card with accessories at cut price. Mine was three times the price with a free gift of a security chain which Toni informs me is useless. Story of my life!

My first trip on the new bike was to buy bread - so one of my fantasies came true as I peddled along with three baguettes sticking out of the front pannier of the bike! The negative aspect of this trip was that it was to get bread for the rest of the Family who had converged on our house for the celebration of the name day of all Carmens. We have two, one of whom has two small children. One of them didn’t stop shouting and the other didn’t stop moving. I swear that, were they in my sole charge for a whole day I do not think that they would survive. Either that or I wouldn’t survive!

Well, it may be 11.30 pm but we are going for a swim in the pool. That is what living in Catalonia is all about!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Who needs money?


Forget about holidays, rest and tranquillity: all I ask from life is a single day when I do not end up spending a horrifying large sum of money.

Today was not that day. My purchases today included a Bosch electric cutter (?); a long plastic rod; some artificial grass and a remote controlled fan. My life gets ever more surreal.

Talking of unlikely juxtapositions, I think that my good self and electric DIY is a good equivalent of the fish on the bicycle and the sewing machine on the operating table. Nevertheless the Book Room with its six largely empty bookcases now boasts an extendable light at the top of each of the shelves fixed there with my own fair hands. Not only do they stay where they are supposed to be, but also they work. Not only do they work, but they also spring into luminescence at the touch of a button on a remote. Putting books on such a technological marvel seems something of an anti climax but today has been momentous.

Today the process of taking the books out of storage in Bluespace has begun. Although the books were supposed to have been packed in shelf order the first box offer a grotesquely heterogeneous selection of volumes. If the rest of the books are as confused in their packing as these first tomes then I am going to spend the months up to Christmas sorting them all out into some sort of order. As my books are now on two floors there is going to be a considerable amount of walking or, alternatively a great deal of intellectual compromise as I invent cogent and convincing reasons why some books should inhabit the same shelves rather than being with the immediate and more convincing neighbours on another floor!

The house is becoming more and more a home. It remains to get all the paintings from Bluespace and start making some executive decisions about which pictures make it to the Spiral Gallery and public display.

My preference tends towards the effect that you can see in Zoffany’s painting of the interior of the Uffizi – every available space filled by a painting; while Toni’s taste is towards the more selective and sparse. Compromise seems difficult, but we will find some sort of common ground. Somewhere. Possibly.

Meanwhile preparations have to be made for the Carmen Name Day which is tomorrow. At least the Family is coming to us so we may make it to the beach.

It is a sad fact that we have been living in the House for over two weeks. The beach is at the end of the road. We have not set a single foot on the sand or been anywhere near the sea except to view it from our local restaurant.

Roll on normality!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everyday nearer


It is very comforting to have received messages from friends telling me that they have boxes waiting to be unpacked years after the actual move that they made. I think that it is because we are settling in during the summer holidays that we want everything done at once.

In the normal course of event with working taking over the greater part of the day what we have done in a couple of weeks would have taken months of grudging time put in over many evenings.

We can be very pleased with what we have achieved and to be even thinking about what to do with our scrap of garden is truly remarkable.

Today was the search of my chair. Toni has colonized the sofa and regards me with active e hostility every time I presume to sit on it. My ideal is a swivel chair which will allow me to turn away from the baleful glare of the television and look out towards the swimming pool.

Although we have more room in the house than we had in the flat it is not always in the places that we most need it. Our living room is smaller than the one in the flat, and it is not made any bigger by the presence of a large number of bookcases which line one wall! Toni’s sofa takes up a chunk of space and that leaves only a small window of opportunity for my chair. The window bit is quite literal as it will be next to the tall windows which open onto a ledge rather than a balcony.

T5he single chairs in IKEA are singularly uncomfortable and actively discourage a good reading posture. It was therefore with a heavy heart that we started our search in Castelldefels.

The first shop we went into had a ‘Maskrey’s-like’ feel to it and a distinctly Maskrey’s-like series of prices! There was an old-fashioned thing covered in a most lurid fabric and the usual selection of chairs with outlandish price tags.

And then there was a cream leather chair looking rather like a pared down version of a dentist’s chair – with the same ability to extend into a semi prone formation which was very relaxing. And it swivelled. So I bought it. What are the chances of finding something in the first shop into which you venture! What with the return of the aval, the deposit and the building of the bookcases the fortunate finding of a chair seemed all of a piece with the good things which come with the new house.

I have made, of course, the customary trip to IKEA today to pick up the final extension for the last bookcase and to see if Toni’s bedside cabinet was back in stock.

And then there were the lights: little extendable things which fix to the top of the bookcases and look impressive. And give light. I couldn’t resist and, what is more, I have fitted them myself. And what is a great deal more, they work. My plan now is to install three more lights on the remaining bookcases and then connect them to the newly discovered remote plugs so that with one click I will be able to bathe my newly rescued books in light.

Toni is convinced that the six new bookcases will easily contain what is at present in Bluspace. I haven’t the heart to disillusion him, especially as I am working out where I can put the others without Toni noticing!

Tomorrow after the lights are fixed I will make the first of many, many trips to the depository and bring back the first of the captives and put them back on the shelves.

Spanish television is awful, but at present there is one programme which has real merit. This has been made by ‘3’ which is a Catalan station and it is an attempt to find out which part of Catalonia is the ‘favourite’ of the audience. It has been a spectacular series of breathtaking photography and it has demonstrated just how amazingly photogenic Catalonia is. Mountains, deltas, cities and towns have all been lovingly shot and introduced by Catalan personalities of whom I have never heard.

To my utter astonishment my personal favourite, the rocky mountain of Montserrat did not make it to the final four. The Costa Brava, Tarragona, Sant Maurici and the Ebro Delta did. I have been to three of these and probably flown over Sant Maurici which is in the Pyrenees. Of the ones I know the contest would come down to the coast line of the Costa Brava and the incredible Roman richness of Tarragona.

In the end, if only for personal, emotional reasons, the Costa Brava would have to win. This was my first taste of Spain and it remains one of the happiest holiday memories that I have.

This is a series which screams for a book to show off the richness of the region and I am amazed that one is not being touted in the show. The BBC would have ensured that the rights had already been sold around the world and that it was a choice of Book of the Week in Book Clubs in the UK and abroad. If the produces see sense and publish one I will certainly buy it and use it as a guide to what I have yet to see in this remarkable region.

And with that advert for my adopted country I think I will go to bed!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Is the world a nice place again?


Out of all the scenarios that we had considered the one which was obviously something to ignore was that our past estate agents would behave with honesty and give us our deposits back.

With a few deductions for gas, electricity, water and the ironic leaking tap (which totaled about 120€) we were given back our deposits in full.

Our money (€2,600) was still sealed in the envelope in which it was placed two years ago when we first signed the contract for the flat. So the money has been doing nothing for two years: what a waste! We are however relieved to have got the money back and are determined to go out and celebrate by having a mixed sea food extravaganza in a local restaurant!

Toni is going to celebrate by buying a replacement bicycle. His original bicycle was been ‘looked after’ by his uncle while he was in Wales and it has since been ‘stolen’ from the garage in which it was being kept. This has led to much family debate in which I carefully take no part.

I will join Toni in his celebrations and buy an ‘Old Man’s Bike’; this is a proper looking bike with a guard over the chain and basket in the front and a comfortable looking seat. A bike is essential because we are not within walking distance of a shop. We could go back to where we used to live where there are plenty of shops – but no parking spaces. When I last went back to get some food from one of the takeaways that we used to use I spent fifteen minutes or more trying to find a parking space!

I have taken the first steps in moving from the Worst Bank in the World (BBVA) to another which cannot be worse. My choice is a bank called La Caixa which is a Catalan bank and it has my vote because it finances something called La Caixa Forum which is a cultural organization. The part I use is found at the foot of Monjuïc where in a converted Modernista factory there are a series of galleries one of which hosts major art exhibitions.

This is in marked contrast to The Worst Bank in the World which finances La Liga one of whose teams has paid the exceptionally disgusting sum of over €90,000,000 for the services of a talented, but arrogant kickball player!

My account is up and running and has some of the money from the returned deposit in it to start it off. The service was friendly and the person dealing with me attempted to speak English while I attempted to speak Spanish. Luckily Toni was there to ensure that our linguistic gymnastics did not get too physical!

We even got a little gift (at my prompting) to mark the opening of the account! The problem now is to get a full transfer of my account without BBVA grasping their usual cripplingly high ‘bank charges’ for every bloody thing that they do.

I have (we have) built all the white Billy bookcases which now grace the walls of ‘The Library’ – or perhaps I should call it The Book Room which sounds slightly less pretentious. Why I should be worrying about pretention at this stage in my life, god alone knows, it has never concerned me in the past!

Tomorrow the search for a swivel chair for the living room for me begins!

Never a dull moment!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You know it makes sense, really . . .


I know that they have been around for some time, but I have always assumed that they were a good idea which would always be let down by the hardware.

When you have been the proud possessor of a Sinclair QL then you know the hard reality of the difference between stated potential and reality. Those QL programs (Quill word processor, Abacus spreadsheet, Archive database, Easel business graphics – ah memories, memories) promised much but were constantly let down by glitches and the notorious micro-drives.

So when for a mere €20 I saw three plug-in programmable remote switches for things like lights I bought them while trying to suppress QL-type memories from telling me that I was wasting money.

Wasting money I might probably have been doing, but work they undoubtedly do. Thanks to Clarrie outbidding Martin Shaw at the termination of a West End run of a play, I am now (and have been for some years) the owner of two elegant up-lighters that graced the set of the production in which Mr Shaw starred. They have followed me from home to home from Cardiff to Spain and have looked good even if they were rarely called on to give forth light.

The shameful reason for this was that the switches for them were at floor level on a little switch on the cable which was often hidden behind furniture and in spite of the memory of Malvolio’s words “if it be worth stooping for, there it lies in your eye” I rarely stooped and so the lights remained elegant but dim.

Now everything is changed (including their British 3 pin plugs to the unconvincing continental 2 pin variety) and they are connected to plugs which respond to a remote, so that with one click of a button both up-lighters up their light. With another click of the remote the fan comes one and with a third click two occasional lamps become bright.

I have bought another set of devices for the studio and, as another of Our Bill’s creations once said,
I will plug such things -- What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be Subject to the remotes in Catalonia.

Such things please me.

Sections of the Family arrived today and Toni’s sister promptly started being practical by fitting shelves; cutting door coverings and building bookcases – while looking after two small children. I sat near and tried to take an intelligent interest in what was going on. I even looked after the smallest of the children (he was sleeping after all, but he still drained all of my nervous energy!) and made ineffectual attempts to help with the bookcases.

Three of the six new ones are now partially built and the empty spaces are crying out for released books from Bluspace. I am determined not to bring a single book from the prison where they are languishing until I have fully fitted out the room which is supposed to take them. I think that I will be able to fit another two bookcases in the centre of the room making a total of eight new storage spaces of double extended bookcases. It still is not going to be enough but I will worry about that lack when I still have boxes left in storage.

When do the holidays start?

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I am prepared to be serenaded by my new musical washing machine and blinded by the light inside the new fridge, but I refuse to be intimidated by the new dishwasher.

This stark Germanic machine with disconcertingly few buttons and knobs repulses my attempts to get it to work and I have, at length, resorted to the instruction booklet. This admission of defeat was forced upon me by my complete inability to get the detergent compartment to close. I was so cowed by the utilitarian severity of the machine that I assumed that the compartment only closed when the machine was closed – on much the same principle that one believes that the light in the fridge goes out when you close the door.

This belief concerning the washing tablet was disproved by the simple expedient of attempting to close the door and watching the tablet slip out of the compartment. The defeat became abject when I asked Toni to translate the instructions for me in case there was some subtlety that I was missing in my rough and ready interpretation. Toni merely confirmed that what I was doing was what the instructions asked for.

He came with me to the machine and as I said “You see, it doesn’t close!” it closed. The machine then proceeded to wash the dishes. You have to remember that for the last couple of years I have been using a machine made by Taurus (a brand to avoid liked the plague) so my present machine seems like a visitor for another cleaning universe! And it went through the whole cycle without having to be prompted to the next section of the wash cycle. Truly, one can find essential happiness in small things!

Today has not been as frantic as previous days and after an extended lie in the only ‘house orientated’ activity until late afternoon was visiting a garden centre and marvelling at the high prices.

Due to popular demand we have decided to change the beds that guests have had to endure. What finally decided us was our having to sleep in them ourselves when we first arrived in the house! Toni’s mum who, now that we have working television is prepared to contemplate a visit, will be the first person to try out the new beds. I hope that they are comfortable because they are here to stay. They do look more substantial and they appear to be beds which will afford some support to Paul Squared when he arrives in his Miami neck brace after his operation!

Tomorrow the Grand Construction of the Billy Bookcases in preparation for the release of the Bluspace Thousands. At least the books that I have not seen for three years will again grace accessible shelf space! My fear is that the shelf space that this house is going to afford is not going to be sufficient to cope with all my books.

As I say so often; we shall see!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Time to think


Happiness is being asked for something in the kitchen and not only knowing where it is, but also being able to find it without moving boxes.

This means of course that we are getting there. Wherever there is: some fabled country where people live in their homes without having to construct something at every moment; where they can move from room to room without having to thread their way through a potentially lethal box walled pathway; without fearing that every foot tread is going to destroy something which cost a substantial sum of money to place in your way. At the moment it is still a dream – but it is a dream which is partially fulfilled on the first floor of the house.

The living room and the kitchen are now reasonably presentable. They lack finishing touches and the chaos carefully hidden behind doors is work for the future – but here and now they are places which will excite interest rather than repulsion.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the house with the third floor being a place of horror – but with a view of the sea!

Toni is now a great deal more tranquil as (unfortunately from my point of view) he has managed to make the bloody television work. This also means that his mother will now contemplate being our first guest. She departed with the rest of the family earlier in the week vowing she would stay nowhere where she was unable to watch her favourite programme, which is about Barça and consists of people shouting at each other. You can see why these last days have been such bliss for me. Hard work indeed, but at least without the soul destroying awfulness which is Spanish television at its best. At its worst there is no simile of sufficient strength to give an accurate flavour of its deep worthlessness.

On the decorative side it has been an interesting experience to regress to one’s student days with the purchase of the expanding paper IKEA light shades to cover the bare bulbs. Some things, I tell myself, are design classics and never go out of fashion. And they are cheap, easy to construct and simplicity to fit. How many people have put them up as a stop-gap measure and then watched them (if they noticed them at all) become that fetching shade of cream which is a sign of maturity and a measure of how far they have become a part of the house and it would be a pointless extravagance to change them.

We are beginning to think of what paintings to put up and my idea of using the stairs as a sort of gallery is one way in which we can show rather more of our collection than we were able to do in the flat.

I love the use of the word ‘collection’ it gives gravitas to the unplanned accretion of art that I have accumulated over the years. I am proud to announce to the world that I have the largest collection of paintings, charcoals and drawings by Ceri Auckland Davies on the European mainland, and being a person cognizant of his responsibilities I am prepared to consider requests for loans to exhibitions so that I can read, “Private collection, Barcelona” in the catalogue!

I have been buying art works for over thirty years: from a wonderful ink drawing while in University through pottery ‘landscape pots’ while I was in Kettering to Ceri’s tempera paintings. I wish I had bought more. There are exhibitions that I have been to where for example the delicate painting of a bird’s wing; the portrait of a little girl: the original of a national newspaper cartoon serial; an eerie representation of a crowd; a delicate geometrical abstract and a large ‘metallic’ pottery plate – all tempted me and I didn’t have the cash or I hesitated too long. Those few missed opportunities came to mind very easily and if I gave it a little more though I am sure that others would rise up in my visual memory to taunt me with making the wrong choice in allowing them to go to different homes!

I always have before me the Missed Hockney. I saw a reproduction of A Bigger Splash in a newspaper and liked it immediately. It cost a lot, but I could have got the money together somehow if I had been really serious about the piece. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. The amount that the picture would be worth today keeps me awake nights! The further realization that I am missing equal ‘bargains’ (just as my grandparents didn’t buy Van Goghs) also causes me some unease!

The crisis in world banking (I blame BBVA) has shown just how fatuous the concept of saving is when almost half of what you have ‘put away’ is wiped out by the criminal ineptitude of avaricious, callous bastards. No, the ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (we will leave out the ‘et in Arcadia ego’ sentiment in the concluding phrase of the aphorism) is the only way to live.

So buy more art and be happy.

Sounds good to me!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

White and gleaming!


I have cleaned and mopped the floor of the kitchen.

That statement in itself would be notable, but the fact that there is visible floor to be cleaned is even more remarkable.

The days have begun to merge one into another and yet the perspicacious might discern a barely perceptible format. The normal day starts with one or other of us (i.e. me) going to a bank or estate agent to demand the return of money. Money being refused the acceptable form of tension release is to go to IKEA. Something will then be constructed with consequent nervous tension and subsequent complete prostration.

Today the attempt was made to get back the deposits, which amount to two months’ rent. The estate agent, as I fully expected did not furnish me with crisp Euro notes of pleasingly high denominations but instead informed me that the issuing of money was dependent on the finalization of a bill for the ironic tap. You may remember said sardonic piece of plumbing decided to malfunction within minutes of the arrival of the Owner for the final visit of inspection before we left the flat. At most this is going to amount to €100 (though with our ex-Owner and the bunch of thieves with an estate agents sign over their door who knows what they might be able to fabricate) so they are withholding €2,600 for some paltry sum of money!

I have studied the headed notepaper of the ‘estate agents’ with some attention as I would like to write a revealing letter to their professional body; astonishingly they do not seem to belong to one! Who would have imagined!

The pitiful state of the kitchen, which has necessitated our eating out most nights as it is impossible to prepare food in the three-dimensional jig-saw of a food preparation area that is masquerading as a junk room.

Because of the lack of shelves in the kitchen units (!) {About which I have been told by Toni not to make a fuss} our storage capacity is severely limited and there is also a woeful lack of drawer space. These two negative aspects precipitated our decision to get another unit for the kitchen.

My first choice of what looked like fairly basic but elegant metal shelving turned out to be horrifically expensive so I plumped for a cabinet sized version of the system which includes our wine rack augmented by a variety of handy IKEA plastic storage solutions. I also bought a selection of the wire accessories which ‘go with’ the shelving. I am not sure that I actually need them but they are fun and they were easy to install. After what seems like eons of screwdriving and painstaking interpretation of minute details in broadly drawn diagrams ease of construction is something to value!

And things are put away. Or, to put it more truthfully, are not on view. There are clear surfaces. Behind the doors of cupboards there are Heath-Robinson constructions of tins and packets and gadgets and cartons; but unless you look you wouldn’t know that there were there. All you see is a clean and featureless white door.

Toni is taking a siesta and, when the snoring subsides and he descends to see my hard work he will, with logic and innate efficiency explain to me why the places in which I have put things are the wrong places in which things have been put.

But at least there will be an initial gasp at the glory of white tiles revealed in all their bleached glory.

One lives for such moments!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Endings?


The Aval is mine!

Not without a fight. After assurances that the money would be paid into my account on Tuesday I was a little surprised to find that it had not been placed there. The woman who I have dealt with before whose banking statements are either fatuous or deliberately misleading or both was waiting to listen to my catalogue of complaints and plaintive (yet searching) questions.

Eventually after I had railed at her in an unusually fluent adrenalin fuelled tirade of Spanish I stormed out of the bank leaving her with a parting sally telling her that the services BBVA offered its customers were a joke.

Unfortunately because of my idiosyncratic Spanish it may have been understood as a complaint about the toilets! Gives them something to think about and there was no way that they could have misinterpreted my mood!

By way of calming myself down I went to IKEA. Again. IKEA stores are constructed on the Roman military principle that wherever you are in the world they are all the same so you know exactly where to go in the serpentine labyrinth that they construct to force you to look at everything they sell before you can get out. Our ‘local’ store is being refitted and, rather than close they are doing the store bit by bit. This means that if you go to the store on a daily basis (as I assure you I have) there are subtle differences as one section closes another opens. It is rather like being in the furnishing equivalent of the film ‘The Cube’ as interconnected elements in the installation constantly change and move.

At least in IKEA you are not squirted with acid or cut with fine wires or incinerated as in the film though I would maintain that there are certainly lethal elements lurking among the more metallic and disconcerting constructions on sale!

Calmed by the spending of money I returned to Castelldefels, deposited my purchased with Toni and, armed with my photocopied aval I returned to the bank.

My money was still not in my account and I asked The Woman to do something about it. She did, in whispered conversations in rapid Spanish which she hoped I would not understand. Some of it was technical, but I did understand that she was urging the people to whom she was speaking not to try and get me to return to Terrassa to get my money. This was a wise move on her part, because any suggestion that I would have had to do anything more than sit in front of her to get my money would have been met with a physically demonstrative expression of my disinclination to do anything more.

Eventually the money was in my account and I then asked for a full listed statement of the account. I lost my temper with the woman as she tried to convince me that the massive bank charges that had been ripped from my current account to finance the ‘risk’ element in my aval were reasonable. Reasonable! I give MY money to the bank who charge me 300€ to set up an account of MY money and then charge be a quarterly charge of 117€ for doing nothing with MY money and pay me a miserly 1.5% which they find other ways not to pay me.

It really does seem to me that the aval is a form of legalized theft and is nothing more than a cynical money making scheme in which is there is absolutely not risk whatsoever for the bank who, if the worst came to the worst, would only have to pay someone else’s money out of the gaping maw of their evilly amassed riches. God rot them.

I have opened a file and intend to ask my union for advice on how I can get my money back from the grasping fingers of the avaricious incompetents who have brought western society to its knees by their intemperate and self aggrandizingly selfish approach to their so-called profession.

But enough of the forays to come in the world of Spanish banking. What of today?

Today has seen the arrival of fridge, washing machine and dishwasher. At last we have re-entered the realm of what I regard as something approaching civilization.

The fridge is enormous and has an internal light whose power drove me backwards when I first opened the machine with the power on! It is also the right way round; so no more stooping for the milk in the vulgar little fridge that The Owner provided.

The washing machine, disconcertingly, plays little tunes at various stages in its washing sequence which at the moment charm with their novelty but I am sure will infuriate in the near future.

The dishwasher is stolid and Germanic and is gradually filling up.

The Family also arrived to celebrate Carme’s birthday. I realize with some trepidation that of all the members of The Family we now are the ones with the most available space for events! I foresee that our popularity is set to rise at the same rate as a seat for the next Real Madrid v. Barcelona match!

We also had the workers of our estate agent arrive. They came to repair the shower, toilet and gate. So, while The Family were eating the delicious cream birthday cake we were treated to an impromptu fireworks display as men ground the metal gate in showers of sparks and then added to the pyrotechnical display with a touch of spot welding. The youngest member of The Family stood wobbilly transfixed by the unaccustomed display.

No sooner had the workmen left than a colleague arrived and in the cool breeze underneath the house we sat and chatted about the evils of Mankind as they are evinced in the educational life of Catalonia. Most enjoyable.

Tomorrow another battle royal.

We have been told by our worthless previous estate agents that we should have our substantial deposits returned this week. As tomorrow will be Thursday and as the week is running out we are visiting our debtors and demanding the cash. Toni is working himself up into frenzy where only the full amount proffered on a cushion of crushed velvet is going to satisfy him.

I look forward to verbal fireworks. Especially if they try and retain any part of the two months’ deposit by trying to argue the toss about the condition of the flat.

Watch this space!

Monday, July 06, 2009

It does strike twice


There is a play by Gogol called ‘The Lower Depths’ which I know I have read some time back in my even more pretentious youth, probably set in a Silesian Salt Mine – the play I mean, not my youth. The title somehow dredged itself out of my memory (or should that be evaporated from the saline of my recollection) when I was confronted with something today.

Moving, as I am sure my more experienced reader will know, haemorrhages money at a degree which makes a slashed aorta look like a minor scratched knee. It was while I was paying by card for another tranche of money in excess of a thousand Euros payable to IKEA that I was informed that the amount had been refused by my bank.

As you know my bank is BBVA – the worst bank in the world – and I have taken every opportunity to rail against its stupidity, cupidity, mendacity, rapacity and other adjectives too vitriolic to commit to type. I has sent me, like some latter day dweller in biblical times to return to the place of the issuing of the aval to get my money back; it has charged me hugely for services which defy ironic condemnation; it has changed opening hours to ensure that I can never get to it; it has security doors which limit egress to one person at a time through a secure corridor – in short it is the sort of financial institution which was dreamed up by one of the ice locked traitors in the frozen lake in the lower circles of hell as envisaged by Dante.

Today was The Buying of the Electrical Domestics. These three essentials come to what my parents would have described as ‘a tidy sum’ and so; being prudent I decided to confirm that my use of my bank card would ensure a worry free purchase.

After the usual inordinate wait while the single cashier (do you know the profits that BBVA made last year!) slowly made her way through the increasingly frustrated line of BBVA clients (or ‘worthless scum’ as they are know my customer services in that worthy bank) until it came to my turn.

Of course, I was in the ‘wrong’ queue and had another hatred inducing wait for the single customer representative to be free.

When she was free she was all smiles and reassurance. This was partly because she vividly remembered by response when she told me that I would have to return to Terrassa to get my aval sorted out – even though it was in a branch of BBVA and the money was to be paid to me, a customer of BBVA etc etc. There was, I was told, no limit to the amount which I could use on my card as long as there were funds to cover the amount I wanted to spend.

I think that there more intelligent of you will have worked out where this little tale is heading.

It didn’t bloody work.

After waiting (again) for the insane amount of paperwork to be completed in the shop for the purchase of the three kitchen machines and after having shown an amount of paperwork which would have got Hitler into Heaven my card was refused as the bank (BBVA in case the name of the evil bastards’ organization had slipped from your memory) denied my request.

It just so happened that I had withdrawn 600€ in hard cash for little things like curtain rods when I left the bank so I was able to put in cash and then pay the rest by card. As ‘the rest’ was just under a thousand Euros it didn’t take a mathematic genius to work out that my limit (which doesn’t exist) was 1000€.

I have to return to that institution (which is to banking what David Beckam is to particle physics) to get the full account of my aval and to ask, ever so gently, why I was lied to today.

I relish the future conflict.

I am going to write to whatever consumer organizations exist in Spain to denounce this travesty of financial rectitude and have already ‘opened a file’ so that the list of misdemeanours can be correctly itemized and flung in their corporate face.

During a day in which, in spite of everything, we have done quite a lot there has been little time for contemplation. Dinner this evening was, however one of those times.

We went back to our favourite restaurant and had a meal of sea-food tapas and for the first time in the day we were able to relax a little. The television was building up to event of the week: The Presentation to the People. This is a time honoured subject in biblical painting which involves Jesus and usually has the Latin title of ‘Ecce Homo’ – Behold the Man! The gory representations of Jesus were given a more modern and positive turn in the television presentation as this was the occasion when Cristiano Ronaldo was paraded before the baying hordes of Real Madrid fans.

Amid the suited dignitaries and disinterred past players the slim figure of Ronaldo dressed in the white strip of Madrid looked strangely incongruous and somewhat vulnerable. There was no visible panty line, but was rather homely to see the end of the shirt showing through the sheer white of his shorts, I was reminded of the Roman custom of having someone behind a successful general as the Great Man acknowledged the plaudits of the crowd on his Victory Parade repeating in the general’s ear, ‘Remember man that thou art mortal!’ I hope that there is someone for Cristiano because the idolization he is currently being given would turn the head of most people let alone an arrogant show off like him!

But such things did not concern me. Let it pass! What did occupy my thoughts was an observation that I realize that I have been making unconsciously for a long time.

People rarely look happy as they come from the beach.

It’s true. They trudge away looking as though they have completed an onerous task, as though some duty has been ticked off.

It is not hard to see why. The beach is an almost absurdly inconvenient place. The one that I am talking about is full of people who have shrieking children and/or noisy dogs. If they have neither of these requisites then they can compensate by playing radios tuned to hideous ‘music’ stations at levels which separate sand grains and see their music systems turned into a sort of sonic drill.

Drink rapidly becomes luke-warm and food attracts sand so that eating becomes a grinding experience. The sea, needless to say is too cold, too full of jelly fish, too crossed by currents, too dirty to be enjoyed. The wind picks up and sandpapers those tender areas when hands have failed to put lotion.

Waves of beach vendors sweep across the sands like the barbaric hordes from history and quiet is constantly shattered by announcements in Spanish, Catalan, execrable English and funny French.

The shrine of Saint James in Compostella is notable for the number of pilgrims who deliberately take the most arduous way to the Cathedral. Some complete the last stages of the Camino on their knees leaving a trail of blood behind them. Perhaps the Spanish share with the British the quiet satisfaction of turning pleasure into hard work when it comes to the enjoyment of the coastline!

We have been working so hard that we have forgotten what the beach looks like.

Just as a spur to our efforts, Toni’s sister and all members of the family have decided to hold said sister’s birthday in our extensive demesne.

So two days to get it all together.

God help!