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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unconsidered trifles!




There must (surely) be a reason why I have a pair of (clean) underpants (mine!) in my briefcase. I half remember something from the end of last term but the details are fairly hazy. Not, I might add because of the depths of alcoholic stupor I was in at the auspicious termination of educational activities. No, I was cleaning the flat prior to its handover on the last day of term. And I still wake up sweating when I think of the work that Toni and I did in July!

It also shows how dedicated a teacher I am in my new environment by the fact that I did not discover this intriguing garment until well into this term when I was frantically trying to find something else.

It is a sad teacher who doesn’t clear out his school bag thoroughly at the end of the summer term in preparation for the ‘new’ start which usually links a clean, fresh briefcase with a renewed optimism to face the new term.

Finding these underpants which are still, inexplicably in my case makes me wonder about what else might be lurking in the depths. Perhaps this weekend, if I am feeling strong I will completely empty my case and the hell with the consequences!

I really going to have to address my complete inability to come to terms with the names (I am assured they do posses them) of the pupils I teach.

I have gone throughout the whole of my career with only the sketchiest notion of the personal nomenclature of the individuals who have sat before me while I have digressed in front of them.

One or two of the more resilient pupils have demanded me to tell them my names each time I pass them: I applaud their intelligence in appraising the problem and finding a possible solution to it. Would that others followed their lead!

The school has a system: teachers who take the first year take each of the three classes only for a term and then pass on to the next. This, the school in its touching naivety assumes, is enough time to learn all the new pupils’ names and then keep them in the memory for the whole of the time that these kids are in the school!

For the other teachers this does seem to work (god knows how) and they discuss pupils with an ease and with a name which leaves me breathless.


I am sure that my inability to retain the names of other people is a sign of a deep seated neurosis – a sort of super-id arrogance which does me no credit and which I should fight. But as I don’t know the names of my professional colleagues why the hell should I be expected to know the names of the mere amateur clients?

If anyone has any reasonable suggestions to aid my memory (short of putting labels on the foreheads of all the kids) and suggestions which are commensurate with the pitifully low salary that the school pays then I will be happy to adopt them.

It goes without saying that if anyone (staff or child) doesn’t know my name I am contemptuously disgusted with them.

I think this attitude goes back to my arrival in school when I was greeted as something little sort of a knight in shining white armour walking on water while changing stones into fresh, crisp loaves. The teacher I replaced must have had a nightmare of an experience in the school and she was eventually sacked to make room for me! With an introduction like that the school can be grateful that I didn’t immediately go to one of the overpriced curio shops in the centre of Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter and buy a Cardinal’s ring to give the people I passed among the appropriate object to which they could pay their respects!

Reality did, of course, kick in and leave me stranded on the arid wastes of grammar clutching scraps of literature about my person to salvage something of my self-respect as my colleagues waltzed through the tangled woods of linguistic sterility with practiced ease. They don’t make mixed metaphors like that nowadays!

Meanwhile I have to survive for the next year and twenty four days before the generosity of my increasing age begins at last to pay dividends.

What of my classes? My first year sixth is now already beyond redemption as we whip each other up into a state bordering on linguistic hysteria where ludicrous digression meanders into irrelevance which then mutates into anecdote and subsides into unsubstantiated opinion. We do have a stimulating time, but I don’t think that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing!

My youngest classes listen to me in fascinated horror as I cement each aspect of grammar and vocabulary that they have to learn with snippets of information that leave them gibbering with knowledge overload.

My second year sixth was today subjected to a listening test. They had printed answer sheets with the questions on them. I armed with a cassette tape and a player set up the machine before the class and, having distributed the answer sheets then, with a flourish turned on the tape recorder.

It didn’t work of course.

I had plugged it into the wrong sort of electrical socket. My second choice of socket brought much needed power to the machine.

It was the wrong tape of course.

A few desultory attempts to find the right part of the right side of the bloody tape and the lesson was heading steadily for chaos.

So I told them about the concept of the ‘Monkey Mark’ and they all then completed the test by random choices of the appropriate letters for their answers which should only have been put in the spaces after they had listened (twice) to the taped extracts.

One boy got 10/18 for his score!

I have thus successfully taught a whole class that they don’t need to do anything more in their examinations than put down whatever letter appeals to them when the choice presents itself!

Need I go on? In a school whose motto is ‘Test Them Till They Drop’ I am forming a one many Counter-Revolutionary Committee for the destruction of the Culture which has built up the reputation of the school over the 40 years that it has been in existence!

Ah well, one should always have a hobby!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Every day has an ending


One of the many pleasures in this country is going to a nondescript bar/restaurant in the centre of town on the Ramblas (well, our version in Castelldefels) and having a set meal where each one of the three courses was well cooked, delicious and well presented. An important factor in my enjoyment was the quality of the cutlery: chunky, modern, sinuous and clean. And a drink was included in the €9 cost. Excellent!

Traffic continues to be horrific on the way to work, in spite of the fact that I am leaving for school almost literally at the crack of dawn. The traffic was nothing like so intense in the last academic year and it adds a level of stress to the beginning of the day which I can do without. As I can the continuous noise of the aircraft which now seem to use the lights in the garden as an essential guide on their flight paths.

If this is what it is going to be like with the new terminal taking extra flights then the tranquillity of the area is going to be rudely shattered! Ah well, I’m buggered if I am going to move again for a few years at least!

I still have not found my pace in the new academic year and I (in common with my colleagues) am tired at the end of the day. Two colleagues today told me that they go home and plonk themselves in front of the telly and have a drink. And who can blame them? And us. And me!

My classes with older pupils are learning how to encourage me to regale them with the ‘unconsidered trifles’ from my rag bag mind. I do try and link everything I say to some salient grammatical or linguistic point though I have to admit that my connections are sometimes tenuous to say the least.

I find myself remembering a past deputy head who used to use the most amazing and wildly unsuitable topics in his morning assemblies (quite safely, I was always the only person in the hall actually listening to him!) and then suddenly lurch towards the inevitable moral at the end of his incomprehensible diatribe by saying something like, “And so don’t drop litter!” Sometimes I was literally open mouthed in amazement at the glorious non sequiters which he threw at an unheeding audience!

I truly fear that his example is coming back to haunt me and I sometimes frighten myself by how far I have deviated from teaching the tedious grammatical archaisms in which our text books seem to delight.

If any of our pupils actually went to Britain and started using in normal speech some of the convoluted constructions they are encouraged to form then people will back away from them in horror!

I do try to keep myself in check and stick to what I am supposed to be teaching, but with such uninteresting source material I do find that I have a Homer-like attention span when it comes to the text books.

Unfortunately, these are the Holy Texts on which a whole series of examinations are going to be based so I will have to knuckle down and get on with promulgating the silly lessons contained therein to give my pupils a chance of passing.

I think that the kids will remember my ties more clearly than the exciting aspects of grammar packaged so tediously in the books. I am open to the suggestion that it would therefore be my professional duty to find a more attractive way of presenting the information so that they could respond to it more easily.

To which of course the simple answer is that they do not pay me enough for that! And I have no confidence that they ever will.

Our Culture Club has now expanded its membership to three. I can’t help thinking that giving up a free Friday afternoon to culture is something of a stumbling block to most pupils.

We are still determined to try and get our programme for the Club offered to the kids in another way, but it will take some rethinking and a little more commitment from a generally unenthusiastic student body before our ideas for a thriving centre for cultural dissemination and discussion becomes a reality within the school.

Still, we do not despair and the preparations for our visit to La Caixa Forum to visit the major exhibition of the paintings of Vlaminck continue. We spent a period in the morning deciding on the most striking poster that we could to try and whip up a little support for this cultural jaunt – we will have to see if the wild beast aspect of this particular Fauve can still stimulate the jaded appetites of our pupils.

One more full teaching day and then off to see the kids mess about in boats. Oh for the pen of a Jerome K Jerome to describe their antics.

But I don’t know what to expect from this little weekly jaunt and I don’t particularly want to ask for details in case it is too prosaic.

As always I live in hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Whoops! There goes another one!


I now have some idea of what the Berlin Airlift must have sounded like.

I understand from an aeronautically inclined friend that Castelldefels is only supposed to be over-flown (as I believe the technical term is) when there is a strong wind in the wrong direction. I arrived home and scurried up to the eyrie to snatch the last rays of the declining sun while Toni groaned on his bed of pain with a contrary tummy.

My grumbling acceptance of the watery sunshine that was supposed to colour my limbs to a shade of rich teak was made all the more difficult by the accompaniment of what seemed like one of Bomber Harris’s 1,000 plane missions which had somehow popped out of the Second World War and decided to disturb my well earned peace.

From the balcony of the eyrie you can see the planes lining up in the distance to make their approach virtually over my sun bed on to the runway in Barcelona Airport. They are now so low that I can test my autism quotient by glancing at the plane as it passes and then estimating the number of rivets in the fuselage!

The only thing that gives me some pleasure is that there is a dedicated band of Castelldefels inhabitants who monitor the plane that come over and then phone up the airport and raucously (rather like the planes themselves) complain to the authorities.

This evening has been ridiculous with what I can only assume is Europe’s entire air fleet making a visit to our city.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you get used to the sound of planes passing overhead. Such people are those who have bought (not rented) their accommodation and are looking to sell!

Today was the first day back after our little four day break.

The entire staff was exhausted by first break!

In spite of the fact that I still rather enjoy teaching once the class is captive in front of me I do not find the days easy. The teaching is not laborious – though what I have to teach is almost terminally boring and the text books with their lavish colour and their attempts at trendy modernity make it all somehow worse.

I am allowed, nay encouraged to teach literature; but it is seen very much as a luxury and something which does not have a strict relevance to the all powerful examinations which the students have to take. These examinations are grammar based and the writing is functional. I have effectively been de-skilled in the teaching I am asked to do and each day reveals more and more of the absurd world of English grammar to me. How many of you English Teachers out there know what a stative verb is? How many of you would contemplate with anything other than horror having to teach the conditional in all its numbered forms up to and including mixed? How familiar are you with the passive and what is a phrasal verb? I’m not even going to touch on the forms and descriptions of verb forms that we are expected to know and teach.

And the kids lap it all up. It is only when you ask them to read or write that they become restive! It is a mad world my masters!

But it is money in the bank and the rent paid so I will Follow The Book and keep my more heretical literary leanings to myself!

My books are still in fragmented chaos and yesterday I tried to find an edition of the poems of John Clare that I know I have. I was re-reading ‘I Am’ in Q’s Oxford Collection of English Verse and was confused by the first line in his chosen version of the poem.

The line with which I am familiar is:
“I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows”
Q’s choice is of the version which starts:
“I am! Yet what I am who cares, or knows?”
I think that the first version of the poem was produced when Clare’s poems were published by the Superintendant of the Asylum in which the poet spent so much of his life. I know that trying to find some sort of consensus on the punctuation is difficult, but most versions are variations on the first and more well known than the second which is a dramatic departure from the accepted line.

So I looked for my copy of Clare’s poems. And try as I might I couldn’t find it!

I know in the scheme of things quibbles about the authenticity of versions of a line of a nineteenth century poet’s best known work is not great. But I wanted to know and check my book and the frustration of knowing that somewhere in the serried ranks of very roughly ordered volumes the book lurks was great.

Once again I make resolutions to spend a little time each day moving ten or twenty books so that at least there is some progress and each day the sheer scale of the task daunts me.

I should remember my oft quoted motto, “Anything is Better Than Nothing” and get on with it.

As a sign of this new determination I have moved The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations next to The Times Book of Quotations next to my desk.

Not much: but it’s a start!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Poop poop!" said Toad


The worst thing about Spanish roads is their sheer inconsistency.

Yesterday I went to a friend’s house for lunch. She lives in ‘the hills’ and so I was directly dependent on my GPS to get me there. The first part of the journey was on one of the roads that I knew and it was only after I took the ‘other’ branch of the motorway from the one that I usually take to go to Terrassa that I was in uncharted territory.

That ‘uncharted’ bit was only metaphorical as the calm voice of the GPS was obviously quite confident about where we were going and, as the roads on which I was travelling were a minimum of three lanes wide I was jocose.

It was when I hit a B road that I felt less secure. My first mistake was when The Voice told me that I was approaching a roundabout which did not readily show itself. As The Voice told me to take the first exit from a roundabout which did not exist I noticed, unobtrusively tucked away from the road on which I was travelling, what could have been a casual roundabout.

My eventual return along the road after The Voice had uttered the dreaded word, “Recalculating!” did reveal the timid little roundabout and I was back on course.

From there on the road transmogrified itself in a playful and capricious way which left my faith in The Voice severely tested. One moment the road would be a normal two lane entity with road marking and everything and then, suddenly, for no apparent reason it would look like some unused country lane. Sometime the road surface would be up to normal road standards and sometimes it would suddenly change into something which looked as though the residents had just thrown something together to cover a few potholes.

It didn’t help that these changes in road surface were accompanied by a gradient of what seemed at times like 1 in 1. I kept thinking that the roads were too steep and too badly kept to be anything other than a private farm road and then on roads far too narrow I would see a bus stop! I think that I would have had to have had a fairly strong sedative to take a ticket on a bus travelling those precipitate roads, but at least it encouraged me to believe that I was still on the right track.

The actual road on which my friend lived was not on the maps but I had a hand drawn indication of what I had to do when the GPS gave up. Her road was, if anything, even steeper than the other roads that I had used and reversing into a space on a slope so steep that the seat belt automatically locked put pressure on the capabilities of the car and left a funny mechanical smell in the air when the manoeuvre had been completed.

She has an incredible parcel of land around her property with trees galore and enough space for the dogs, cats and a hen that she looks after.

I had left Toni at home feeling sick, lying in front of the television looking at Big Brother – a picture of misery that would be hard to duplicate from any work of literature!

I left before the sun set as I had absolutely no desire to try the precipitous, circuitous roads in anything other than bright daylight. I timed things well and darkness only approached when I was safely back on Big Roads that I knew well.

As all three people having lunch were linked by searing experienced in The School That Sacked Me you can imagine the course that at least some of the conversation took. It was not however all negative and plans were made for action which could result in a positive education outcome – something which has eluded The School That Sacked Me for some time.

We have come away from our meeting inspired to take further action and to keep ourselves informed of anything that we discover.

Today is the last day of the ‘holiday’ and I think that I have spent the time well combining everything from tree felling to sunbathing. School is going to be an anti-climax after the ferocious activity and masterly inaction which have characterized this break!

I do have to do some school work as well – though god knows with the sun shining and the beach beckoning I am, shall we say, disinclined to do any.

I only hope the perennial guilt which accompanies a typical Sunday afternoon in the life of a normal teacher will kick in and prompt me to action!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

As your fancy takes you!


Sitting on the balcony of the eyrie in the morning sun drinking tea from my grandmother’s Royal Albert and reading ‘Lycidas’ by Milton may not be everyone’s idea of the best way to start a day, but it certainly has my vote.

With only the mechanical rumble of the water purification system for the pool and the roar of a passing 747 for company I can appreciate the fascinating complexity of Milton’s paean for his dead friend. Although I have read this poem a number of times before (I ‘did’ it in school and university) I was still jolted to find that phrases like, ‘dead ere his prime’; ‘To sport with Amaryllis in the shade’; ‘Fame is the spur’; ‘Look homeward Angel’; ‘Tomorrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new’ – all come from this work!

I wonder how many people can read this poem today and be comfortable with all the Classical references? Certainly not me. Milton’s word order is also a difficulty or a delight depending on your education and age. And his resolute Christianity, “Weep no more, woful Shepherds weep no more,/ For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead.” May also be a problem in this more than secular age.

In an age which finds the dreadful doggerel of the obituary verses printed in newspapers to be the lyrical face of public woe, a highly worked English version of a Classical original seems by its very effort and complexity to be out of sympathy with real grief. How can real feeling find its way through a forest of Classical allusion and the straitjacket of irregularly rhymed verse. These constraints to modern eyes were of course liberation to a person versed in the Classical forms. For Milton the elements of the Pastoral Elegy were already in place; the artifice of the form gave him a framework to express his authentic grief and his absolute faith in the ‘blest Kingdom’ which would, for Lycidas, ‘wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.’ This faith allows the Poet to contemplate living a full life after the death of his friend and with confidence progress to ‘fresh Woods, and pastures new.’

I cannot remember this poem making much of an impact on me when I studied it in school, and my reading of it was cursory when I had to ‘do’ it in university, but this reading I found deeply moving.

The fact that the drowning of Edward King in 1637 was transformed by Milton, using the Classical name of Lycidas for his friend, allowed Milton to express a range and depth to his grief which would have seemed immoderate and questionable if he had preserved the real name of his friend. Yes, the end of the poem is uplifting and determinedly optimistic, but the memorable part of the poem is the elegy and the lyrical expression of loss. Rather like the sonnet ‘On his blindness’ we tend to remember the poignant expression of frustration rather than the fairly pompous ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ in the conclusion. So in ‘Lycidas’ what is memorable is the grief and horrible sense of loss rather than the conventional ‘and they all died happily ever after’ of Christian optimism of the ending.

And to those of you who think that writing about a seventeenth century poem written on the death of a friend is an odd way to spend a Saturday morning – cut me some slack, at least I don’t smoke! That’s got to give me some latitude!

Viewed from the first floor living room window our destruction of the tree stumps looks wilful and rather indiscriminate. There will have to be a good deal more tidying up before the point zero of our slashing activities looks like a reasonable part of the garden, but we have made a start. There is now a substantial new part of the garden which will have to be thought about and made into a more productive area. I will leave that to Toni!

I now have to go to the estate agents to redirect their demands for money to the correct bank. I confidently expect trouble from this change over because it has seemed so smooth so far. BBVA, if they are anything like they have been in the past, will find a way to screw me. I would like to think that it was personal animosity on their part, but it isn’t, it is merely the institutional incompetence which has characterized every element in the ‘service’ that they have extended to me. I must write The Letter while my anger is still an active memory but while my feelings of revenge have cooled to allow the most effective form of expression of which I am capable.

The changing of bank accounts for the estate agents was simplicity itself (assuming they actually get the details right) but another problem has presented itself.

In the summer the parking in Castelldefels is the motorists’ equivalent of the Somme. The crazy places in which day trippers place their cars is enough to make the indigenous inhabitants weep. Especially if the unthinking outsiders actually park across your driveway, thus trapping the car inside the house.

Although parking is illegal on our side of the road as motorists have to put their vehicles on the pavement to allow others to pass, it does not stop them. This is why you have something called a ‘bardo’ to stop motorists parking. The bardo is a metal sign issued by the local authority which informs putative parkers that their vehicles will be towed away if they have the impertinence to place their cars there.

Of course you have to pay for the sign; its placement and an annual charge for the bardo to be in force. But for the peace of mind that this sign gives (motorists do generally obey it) we thought that it would be a good investment. We therefore instructed the estate agents to start the process. This process has been going on since July and nothing has happened.

Today when I went to see the estate agents about changing my bank for the payment of the rent I was informed by the person who deals with us that she had information but that it would be better if Toni phoned up and she spoke to him. Toni duly phoned and was told that a meeting face-to-face would be necessary to discuss this sign. Rather mysteriously ‘building work’ was mentioned. We have no idea what they are talking about. This afternoon will therefore see us traipsing down to the centre of Castelldefels for a ‘meeting’ with our agents to tell us things they could not over the phone! Most mysterious!

I have now (in this task orientated holiday) taken my bike back to the shop because the dynamo was impossible to work; the stand was loose and a back wheel guard was missing. In another example of my touching faith in people I will await the phone call from the shop which I was told that I would get today or tomorrow, which will tell me what is being done and when I can get my bike back.

My attempts to find a ‘bike safe’ (a construction like a big box which you can leave outside with your bike safely inside) have signally failed with people looking at me as if I am talking a strange and incomprehensible language – which, to be fair, I often am when I attempt my version of Spanish. I will not despair and I have not yet resorted to the internet and a shop in Britain. Not yet. But it’s close.

Another task completed was to buy a case for my little computer. I have been making do with the ‘skin’ that they supplied with the machine, but that is clearly inadequate and the poor little thing is getting progressively bashed. I made the mistake of taking Toni with me when I went to look at the cases on offer. Toni is very much a member of the that-will-do school of shopping – a school I might add that I regard as the antithesis of real shopping. I have ended up with something a little more bulky that I would have liked, but something which affords much more protection that the machine has had before. And I also got a free ‘mini-mouse’ which allegedly lights up in kaleidoscopic colours. It really does, I’ve tested it. When I can ever use with without ridicule I don’t know, but I think it’s rather cool!

The explanation for the meeting with the agents about the Bardo (see above) ended in our being given a photocopy of a completely incomprehensible letter from the local authority telling us that we need one and a half thousand euros of building work on the pavement if we are to be given a bardo. As the house three doors down has a bardo and has a pavement exactly the same as ours the letter does not make any sense.

This could run and run!

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm a lumberjack and I'm . . .



There is something shockingly vandalistic about destroying a tree.

Even a tree that has been reduced to a series of truncated stalks with an unprepossessing collection of green shoots springing haphazardly from the defiant trunks.

Their final crime against humanity (in the eyes of Toni and by god they are sharp) was that the unsightly clumps of greenery attracted mosquitoes. Their fate was sealed.

At this point Irene and her chain saw come into view. Although Irene has possessed this formidable machine of wooden destruction for some time, the strictures of her daughter have prevented her from actually using it. Our mosquito friendly vegetation seemed a prime example of something begging for oblivion.

My past experience with ‘Real Machines’ has almost always ended in tears – either real or metaphorical. I still have the psychological scars from my time in the steel works when I was asked to use a pneumatic drill on a piece of recalcitrant concrete. I was not eager to wield something which had the capability of divorcing my legs from my body with insulting ease.

So I adjusted the helmet and visor to fit Toni, who then, with fastidious care cut swathes through trunks that would have taken us weeks without the mechanical help of a chainsaw.

I was pressed into service to do my share of cutting, but was speedily replaced by the unanimous plea of both people present to allow Toni to continue. I think my approach to slicing the trunks had an apocalyptic flourish which disturbed them both!

The greenery has now been consigned to the refuse area in our street and the garden looks considerably bigger. The flashing lights (don’t ask) are now laid out in a line which outlines the border of the ‘grass’ and limits the verdant green from the volcanic rubble which forms the boundary with the fence next door.

We are not satisfied with the reduction of the trunks we are looking for their complete destruction. To this end we have consulted the internet and are now going to buy copper nails and sprinkle sea salt liberally and fill drilled holes in the stumps with salt as well. If I had any Classical education at all I would proved a witty paraphrase of Cato the Elder and say Arbolo delenda est – though I have no confidence that I have the right Latin word for ‘tree’ and I am far too lazy to look it up, even on the internet! Carthage will look as though it had a light storm hit it when compare with the horrors that we are preparing to visit on the surviving stubborn stumps.

Having ‘smitten them hip and thigh’ we feel that we have accomplished a major work and can now afford to relax and take things easy. Looking back on our lunch it now seems like a partial recompense for our efforts which we were to make later on.

There is a developing story about my watch. I am a sucker for watches and have an engaging optimism that I will find a bargain in the watch department when I am shown a selection on the sea front. I have one particular seller whose watches I am always seduced by and invariably disappointed with. This has culminated in my returning two watches to him on his assurance that he would find me one ‘super’ watch to justify my faith in him.

His English doesn’t exist and his Spanish is suspect to say the least, however he gave assurances that this masterpiece of the watchmaker’s art would be in the safekeeping of a friendly restaurant owner within a week. That was some weeks ago and nothing! Today at lunch he hove into view again and once again with many protestations of sincere intent he assured both of us that the special watch would be waiting for me within a week. This story can run and run! But, unreasonable as my attitude is given all the contrary evidence, I still believe.

Above all today an important step has been taken. I have now been to my new and wonderful bank La Caixa (Catalan to the core) and made an official request for them to transfer all my money from the Worst Bank in the World BBVA (Basque to the core). This means that I really will have to Write The Letter condemning BBVA and all its works.

I will still have money in their benighted coffers because I have a device which allows me to sweep through pay stations on the motorways. The electronic device which records and sends the information sends it to the bank which issued the device: in my case BBVA. The way they got and didn’t issue the device is another element in my condemnation of the bank, but to change would entail me in the purchase of another device. So I will stay. For the time being. But all my real banking will be with La Caixa.

More tasks for tomorrow as the holiday continues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A day of vistas



A few fugitive moments before I am dragged away from the comfortable seclusion of the staff room in building 4 and have to face my sixth form.

Already it is almost midday and we are all looking forward to a well deserved four day holiday after slogging our guts out by teaching for eight days with the kids. If only this could set a precedent for the succeeding weeks I might be able to face the future with some degree of equanimity. As it is hard reality will hit first thing on Monday morning of next week!

The things that I have planned to do in this holiday (the more I go on using the word the more it makes the four day gap seem longer) now have expanded to fill much more than the time allotted to their completion. One of the days is a Bank Holiday and trying to get anything done on a day like that which involves other people being in work is obviously a non-starter. As two of the days comprise a weekend you will note that the amount of time I have to get real things done is remarkably limited.

At long last I am going to try and transfer all of the important elements in my banking life from The Worst Bank in the World (aka BBVA) to the saintly La Caixa. I am terrified that I will forget some standing order or something and all hell will break loose. Trying to get something reestablished which has been willfully disconnected is not easy in this country so I need to take things in a regulated and careful way. I only hope that my new bank actually knows what it is doing – though having said that it would indeed be difficult for them to do worse than BBVA. And I sincerely hope that I am not tempting fate by saying that!

Disturbingly, after lunch and just before classes were due to restart I was approached by one of the Heads of School and asked to go with her to a meeting. As is usual with me I immediately assumed guilt and rapidly reviewed my teaching over the last week or so to discover where the fault was.

When I got to the meeting room the Head of English was there so it seemed like some sort of disciplinary court.

I was somewhat reassured by the Head of English saying, “I’m here to translate!” and the Head of School saying, “Stephen we want to ask of you a favour.” I still assumed that this was a polite lead up to some sort of condemnation so I remained tense.

In some ways it turned out to be worse than a denunciation. It turned out that our “pampered darlings” (Othello?) go sailing on a Thursday afternoon and they needed someone to accompany them to the Olympic Port for their shenanigans. It turns out that I have periods free on Thursday afternoon and “as you are not a form teacher” (said sotto voce by the Head of English) I was the obvious candidate to go with the kids and the Head of PE.

This removes free periods from my timetable and there is no offer of more money to compensate. This is, however a complex system of time-off in lieu. As I start one teaching day at the totally unreasonable time of 8.15 I can take half an hour at the end of the day to pay myself back – if I have a free period. The extra time for taking the kids is only considered if I am late back to school for the 4.45 finish. I am not sure of the mathematics, but if I am able to have a free afternoon every other week I think that will be acceptable. If not, then I have been taken for a fool and I will find a way out of it. If I can.

Thursday (the day on which I will be taking the kids and working a longer day) is the only day in which I have a free period last thing. There was an offer of my being able to come into school in the morning late, but this is a false idea as all the time I would gain in coming in late would be lost by having to start off for school by leaving even more time to cope with the increase in traffic.

And my timetable was changed again.

Given the way that my timetable in Llanishen changed on an almost daily basis at the start of one term when there were multiple absences I suppose I should count my blessings. And I can always walk away!

That last sentence is truly one of the sweetest that a teacher can utter – as long as it is not self defeating!

In a foolish move Toni has revealed that Messi’s annual salary could employ (at my rate of pay) 410 teachers. There is something mind-bendingly obscene about a statistic like that and, even though I think that Messi is an outstandingly competent and professional player how can he possibly be worth the salary of over four hundred teachers? It is at times like this that I remember one of my favourite quotations from Picasso when asked about the then astronomical price for one of his paintings. “Is the painting worth the money?” a reporter asked. To which the Great Man replied, “You are asking the wrong question. It is not whether the painting is worth the money, but whether the money is worth the money!” In other words society puts a value on things and judges their worth by putting a monetary price tag on them. Who is to say if a missile is worth the same as a middle rating Modern Master? All of which I think shows that I am not being paid enough!

Or something

The holiday has begun.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Friday tomorrow?

There is a definite feeling of end of term about the staff room this week – just because we have a three day week! Don’t knock it, the feeling is authentic and I am making the most of it because this will be our last real break before Christmas as far as I can tell!

I am sure that this is wrong because Spain and Catalonia have a way of suddenly presenting you with an occasional day of freedom because of some obscure festivity. All days off are gratefully received!

The school is settling down into a routine and, as far as I can tell, we have a full complement of staff. This is obviously not the case in all other schools as I have had another phone call from a school offering me work. As the call was in Spanish I have only the haziest notion of what was being offered but it was definitely work of some kind.

If anyone has teaching qualifications and they are looking for work in this area then I would suggest that they send their CVs around all the schools listed on the internet because I am sure that some of them are now in the final stages of panic as they try and secure enough warm bodies to take their classes.

The School That Sacked Me continues to lurch into the new academic year and already some of the teachers that started in the school in September have now left. The unreality that is the professional life of that place continues to amaze year after year and nothing official seems to be done about it.

A meeting of some of the Disgruntled Ones who once taught there has been tentatively arranged for some time during the impromptu holiday this extended weekend and new battle plans can be sketched out for action in the forthcoming months. At some point I must make the journey to the courts and find out what has happened to the case about the disappearing charity money. Every little helps.

In spite of (I’ve been teaching that phrase in class today) the generally positive and supportive nature of the school in which I am presently teaching I have found this start of term exhausting. As this is after only seven teaching days I have to say that the official date of my retirement seems a very long way off and any idea of extending the period of time that I continue working seems ridiculous.

As all the other members of staff seem to share my tiredness I perhaps should not read too much into the normal dread that attends teachers who see the academic year stretch away into what seems to be the sort of infinity which characterizes the disappearing writing at the beginning of Star Wars pictures.

It will be interesting to see what I am saying in January when 25% of the academic time that I have left before retirement will have gone when this first term is consigned to history. The money is useful and it does pay for the house. My investments (which are in British pounds) are 10% down and the Euro is currently trading at over 90p. Something of a disaster if I think about it, and something which my salary encourages me to forget. For the time being!

I have done my first marking and have checked and corrected the writing of a girl who wants to go and study in MIT. She was taught by me last year and came to me this term because, “Stephen is the expert on writing.” Where this accolade comes from I do not know, I have certainly done nothing obvious in the school to deserve such a commendation, but I am loath to bring reality into the picture!

I still feel an almost comical sense of unreality about my whole experience in the school. It is unlike any other in which I have worked. It is almost insanely examination orientated and as the head of English said without any irony, “We don’t do fun!” as far as the content of the teaching is concerned. Cheating is endemic and is regarded as one of the quaint traditions of the area, but the kids themselves are generally happy and polite.

They don’t listen of course, but that is something that everyone who teaches in this part of the world finds out with some speed!

I suppose that the fact that I can walk away at any moment is also something which adds to the general feel of otherworldliness about my time there. It is obviously too good an opportunity to squander, but the oddness of my situation keeps intruding into any unguarded moment in my teaching.

Meanwhile I look for images from the internet to bring some reality to the Somerset Maugham story that I am attempting to get the equivalent of the First Year Sixth to read. Believe you me, it is uphill work and I had never realized quite how much there is to explain in what seems like a perfectly innocuous story like ‘Before the Party.’

It is, as they say, an education to teach!

Friday tomorrow?

There is a definite feeling of end of term about the staff room this week – just because we have a three day week! Don’t knock it, the feeling is authentic and I am making the most of it because this will be our last real break before Christmas as far as I can tell!

I am sure that this is wrong because Spain and Catalonia have a way of suddenly presenting you with an occasional day of freedom because of some obscure festivity. All days off are gratefully received!

The school is settling down into a routine and, as far as I can tell, we have a full complement of staff. This is obviously not the case in all other schools as I have had another phone call from a school offering me work. As the call was in Spanish I have only the haziest notion of what was being offered but it was definitely work of some kind.

If anyone has teaching qualifications and they are looking for work in this area then I would suggest that they send their CVs around all the schools listed on the internet because I am sure that some of them are now in the final stages of panic as they try and secure enough warm bodies to take their classes.

The School That Sacked Me continues to lurch into the new academic year and already some of the teachers that started in the school in September have now left. The unreality that is the professional life of that place continues to amaze year after year and nothing official seems to be done about it.

A meeting of some of the Disgruntled Ones who once taught there has been tentatively arranged for some time during the impromptu holiday this extended weekend and new battle plans can be sketched out for action in the forthcoming months. At some point I must make the journey to the courts and find out what has happened to the case about the disappearing charity money. Every little helps.

In spite of (I’ve been teaching that phrase in class today) the generally positive and supportive nature of the school in which I am presently teaching I have found this start of term exhausting. As this is after only seven teaching days I have to say that the official date of my retirement seems a very long way off and any idea of extending the period of time that I continue working seems ridiculous.

As all the other members of staff seem to share my tiredness I perhaps should not read too much into the normal dread that attends teachers who see the academic year stretch away into what seems to be the sort of infinity which characterizes the disappearing writing at the beginning of Star Wars pictures.

It will be interesting to see what I am saying in January when 25% of the academic time that I have left before retirement will have gone when this first term is consigned to history. The money is useful and it does pay for the house. My investments (which are in British pounds) are 10% down and the Euro is currently trading at over 90p. Something of a disaster if I think about it, and something which my salary encourages me to forget. For the time being!

I have done my first marking and have checked and corrected the writing of a girl who wants to go and study in MIT. She was taught by me last year and came to me this term because, “Stephen is the expert on writing.” Where this accolade comes from I do not know, I have certainly done nothing obvious in the school to deserve such a commendation, but I am loath to bring reality into the picture!

I still feel an almost comical sense of unreality about my whole experience in the school. It is unlike any other in which I have worked. It is almost insanely examination orientated and as the head of English said without any irony, “We don’t do fun!” as far as the content of the teaching is concerned. Cheating is endemic and is regarded as one of the quaint traditions of the area, but the kids themselves are generally happy and polite.

They don’t listen of course, but that is something that everyone who teaches in this part of the world finds out with some speed!

I suppose that the fact that I can walk away at any moment is also something which adds to the general feel of otherworldliness about my time there. It is obviously too good an opportunity to squander, but the oddness of my situation keeps intruding into any unguarded moment in my teaching.

Meanwhile I look for images from the internet to bring some reality to the Somerset Maugham story that I am attempting to get the equivalent of the First Year Sixth to read. Believe you me, it is uphill work and I had never realized quite how much there is to explain in what seems like a perfectly innocuous story like ‘Before the Party.’

It is, as they say, an education to teach!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Speeding days!

A third of my working week is already over (Oh Joy! Oh Happiness!) – two more days and then a four day holiday!

The not so good news is about our attempts to found a Culture Club in school. The fact that the devotees of our little Culture Club would have to give up a number of Friday afternoons as well as time over some weekends has somewhat limited the take up. To precisely none! I am told it is early days, but I have little optimism that we will get the number of eager, selfless students to make the club a reality. Pity. Seemed like (and indeed is) a good idea.

The older kids in our school finish early on a Friday. For our club they would have to stay for lunch and then spend an extra hour in a classroom discussing things cultural. Perhaps we were being unduly idealistic in our expectations. And I think that is something of an understatement! Back to the drawing board.

I have been studying the extravagantly unhelpful website of the Abbey of Montserrat to discover what facilities there are for disabled visitors bearing in mind that I am taking Louise there on my birthday. I think I will trust to fate and assume that there will be facilities for us when we get there. A dangerous assumption but one which I am going to rely on. Should be interesting.

The weather continues eventful, but at mid day today the sun was hot; it was just unfortunate that I was in school and couldn’t enjoy it!

Roll on the day after tomorrow

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Re-reading is a way of life!


In his latest missive from the Imperial Capital of Beijing Robert wrote that he was “re-reading Arthur Ransome. Listening to Just William on the radio. Returning to a blissful childhood? If only . . .”

There is something very comforting and at the same time disturbing when you re-read your childhood favourites through the eyes of an adult. I remember going to see Disney’s Pinocchio in University and was deeply disturbed that a film which such violent and vicious sections could be shown to children – though I fail to remember my trauma when I saw it as a child.

Robert may have been a fan of Swallows and Amazons but these books never appealed to me: I was never a bucolic child; I much preferred my action in towns and cities. I did however like ‘Just William’ and saw no real dislocation between his world and my own. I was growing up in a terraced house in a suburb of Cardiff in the 1950s while William was growing up in a detached house in leafy suburbia in a household with servants in pre-war England. Just the same then!

I also liked Finn Family Moomintrol – I think the gentle irony and the comforting morality combined with the engaging drawings created a world which is very attractive to children. Re-reading them as an adult shows that there is a strength in them which is reflected in story lines which do not duck some of the pressing social and moral problems with which children (and adults) are faced.

The book which I re-read most often from my childhood is ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. I know that some people (including myself) have seen the characters to be representative of various philosophical stances. Eyore is of course one of the great Existential characters in Literature and the rest of the books allows almost whatever philosophical reading you want to make. A wonderful book – and funny too.

As I got a little older I began to read quality books of modern literature published in the very wonderful Penguin Modern Classics Series. These books were distinguished by having fantastic modern paintings on the covers and many of them were very thin volumes. Which was just as well with some of them because I often had no idea what was going on!

To leaven the intellectual fare I was worrying my way through I used to include in my normal weekly reading a novel by PG Wodehouse and an Agatha Christie. I always made sure that the intellectual Penguin was always hiding the other two ‘easier’ books.

I realise now that the idea that a child would be reading at least three books a week and feeling ashamed of the ‘easy’ reads of Wodehouse and Christie is something which most parents these days would give their eye teeth to see their own kids achieving.

As classes were combined on Friday afternoon because one of the teachers had to go home and look after her sick child we distributed reading books for the kids to read. This was last period on a long day at the end of a long week. I had the equivalent of Year 8 and they didn’t really want to read; but generally speaking they did. I had bagged my own book, “The Hollow” by Agatha Christie. My own reversion to childhood!

What an extraordinary novel it was. Published in 1947 it shows its age. This is a ‘Country House Murder’ where the death of a doctor (Harley Street, of course and trying to find a cure for an incurable disease) in the home of Lady Angkatell. The eponymous Hollow of the title is the name of the country house and is accompanied by all the usual paraphernalia of scene setting to accommodate all the usual paper thin characters that Christie is so adept at creating. Not one of the characters was ordinary: even the solitary ‘worker’ was a member of a couturier house who could (and indeed eventually does) succumb to the lure of the easy landed life by marrying one of the other characters.

The inclusion of a dedicated sculptor allows some philosophical discussion and acts as an interesting foil to the seemingly empty lives of the vitiated members of the landed gentry who people this novel.

The story line is interesting and the puzzle enough to sustain your reading though I did weaken at one point and almost went to bed rather than finish the novel and find out who-dun-it. Needless to say that weakness was only momentary and I did not retire to my rest until the book was complete.

The whole novel is suffused with the atmosphere of a lost world and even M. Poirot seems a little influenced by the nature of the people with whom he is dealing.

Although the ending was not a surprise the detail (as always) kept me in my place. Some clues were obvious but the whole picture had to be left for the revelations at the end.

The discussion in the novel was by no means insubstantial. I am not trying to pretend that it was philosophically profound, but issues such as loyalty, artistic integrity, truth and fulfilment were an integral part of the structure of the narrative. I found the ‘padding’ much more satisfying this time round (if indeed I had read it before; I certainly had no recollection of the story line, but, alas, that means nothing!) and enjoyed the discussions that took place rather than finding them irritating and getting in the way of the narrative.

I enjoyed this book, but I will not be searching for other Christie novels in the near future. One is enough to last for some time!

The third floor of the house has come into its own today as I have managed to sunbathe. This sunbathing is not merely an indulgence but is essential in order that the new skin on my knee matches the rest of my leg. After casing me to fall in the Ebro Delta the least the powers that be can do is ensure that there is sufficient sunshine in the next couple of months to ensure colour consistency!

Next week is a three day week and list of things to do is the two non-weekend days is growing by the hour and is rapidly approaching the level of impossibility. Something will have to be ditched.

Like the visit to the dentist perhaps?

In our efforts to make our lives just that little bit more opulent we have invested in one of Lidl’s finest and bought a machine for creating bubbles in the bath. The loss of the Jacuzzi bath in Cardiff is keenly felt and while it is absurd to replace a bath in a rented house Lidl produce a more reasonably priced alternative. Although fussy to install at first, it is a simple system and produces a satisfyingly robust stream of bubbles, so another little touch of luxury can be added to our opulent pile!

I must now go and choose my ties for next week. These have now become a school institution so I cannot let my appreciative pupils down!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A lost day?


Where was Friday?
This can be explained by the simple equation “Home = Sleep” I came home and I echoed Bottom when he said, “I have an exposition of sleep come upon me” I had and I did.

Quite how I have the impudence to claim exhaustion when I work in a very civilized school with supportive colleagues and more than ordinary lunches – with wine, I do not know. I am not alone in my tiredness; I am joined by all my colleagues who expressed real relief that the weekend had “at last” arrived! I kept thinking about what they would have been like if they had been teaching for a week in my old school in Cardiff. Then they would have had justification for a bone deep exhaustion!

In theory my Friday should have been reasonable leisurely but, in the way of schools, it was not. I seemed to spend all my time walking up and down the interminable flights of stairs from one building to another. It was also my lunchtime duty day and the free period in which I was supposed to get an early lunch was taken up with the distribution of publicity for our nascent Culture Club.

This ‘good idea’ club has taken more time and discussion than it should. It is hardly a revolutionary idea and our parents are easily rich enough to afford the varied delights that we have on offer.

We will see what response there is. We need twenty pupils to get the club started and then we hope that it will have a natural momentum to keep it going in perpetuity. Or at least as long as I am in the school!

Today has been notable for my failed attempt to get my dynamo to work. I thought at first it was just me, but Toni couldn’t make it work either. Back to the shop on my long weekend next week – another task to fill up the two extra days off!

As we were mainly riding on the paseo the lack of a light didn’t really matter and it was a refreshing experience as well as a relatively solitary one as our cooler weather has kept most of the summer walkers indoors.

The real effort of the day has been to clean the bathroom. As there is little storage space in the en suite bathroom I have plundered the resources of IKEA to produce a whole container city of stacked boxes. Toni has declared this solution “disgusting” so I have had to look around for other ways of containing all the items that visitors usually poke their noses into to see what we are really like!

A visit to a local Homebase clone in search of a bath plug (our house came with none in any of the sinks or baths of course) also displayed a four drawer thingie that would do very well in the bathroom. The fact that each drawer was decorated with a little frieze of coloured vertical pencils would, I thought, add a little touch of surrealism to an otherwise bland room.

Half way through the tidying and cleaning and putting away I lost the will to live and took to my bed (conveniently near) for a well deserved rest.

Refreshed, I returned to the fray and threw away things like free samples of out of date perfume and little bits and pieces of assumed (though unclear) usefulness. The end result is that everything now fits in the four pencil drawers and the glass shelves now have an eerily empty and elegant look.

It won’t last of course, but to continue the illusion for a little longer I used bleach to leave that comforting scent of cleanliness as the final touch in a job well done.

Now Barça is comfortably beating Athletico Madrid so all is well with the world.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hi Tech Frustration


Another brightly dull day with rain and the threat of rain. As is always the way in these sorts of climatic conditions there is always the Pathetic Fallacy to take into account.

This time the misery was concentrated on the computer. (How many times have I said that before?) The software is allegedly being put on the computers in the classrooms so that we can actually work the whiteboard hardware which we were taught about in the two weeks leading up to the arrival of the pupils.

I have had the software put onto my portable machine so that I can be at least semi-independent and not have to rely on the two computers which are supposed to satisfy the technological needs of half the staff.

I have, dutifully, searched through the internet so that I can pepper my dull discourses with new and exciting images which can be amazingly manipulated utilizing the magic interactivity of our computer assisted whiteboard projectors. Images, we were told, could be hidden and progressively revealed; written upon; highlighted and enhanced and god knows what – but getting the images on the screen has been just a little difficult.

As is usual when dealing with new computer programs I have spent hours trying to do a simple adjustment and failed. I have involved three of the technicians who are responsible for implementing the staff use of the new technology: and they have failed to resolve a simple (surely!) problem. This at least makes me think that my understanding is at least on a par which those who are paid to know more!

I left the school a fullish period early as compensation for the early start to the day and was able to breeze my way along roads which, an hour later, would have been heaving with frustrated parents fed up with collecting their kids.

Arriving home I was informed that I had been phoned by a teacher from another school. It turned out they were looking for a teacher to take older kids for Cambridge examinations for a limited number of hours a week. Having had fairly recent experience of having a full time job and doing a few extra hours I had no intention of taking his kind offer! Interesting that he said that he was looking at my CV which I had sent into the school over a year ago!

Nice to be wanted!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It was still dark!





Today did not start well. I leaped out of bed at some ungodly time of the night to prepare myself for the early start of school. When I was fully awake I realized that it was tomorrow that asked for the unnatural break in my usual sleeping patterns and not today.

It did mean a fairly leisurely breakfast and cup of tea and a reasonably free flowing drive to school, but I begrudge my lost hours!

As I sipped my tea and debated with myself about whether I could profitably use my gained time to put some more of my books in order (a though that was soon dismissed) I pondered one of the great truths about battery operated toothbrushes.

As battery operated toothbrushes are, by the very nature of their power requirements, classed as gadgets and as they are relatively inexpensive, I am a bit of an expert of their variety and use.

My latest model is from Carrefour and is by far the noisiest of all the examples that I have come across. It has a removable head and seems to brush in every conceivable direction giving plaque and bacteria little or no chance. The extra noise also galvanizes one into wakefulness as it does feel as though one has inserted a serious power tool into your mouth!

But my question and observation concerns the battery life. Why is it in battery operated toothbrushes the battery suddenly fails? It doesn’t die a slow death: one moment it is working and the next it isn’t. And how unsatisfying it is to have to remember the old skills of actually having to move the brush in the ‘up and down’ style advocated by your parents and all those healthy eating films.

And why have I delayed putting a new battery into the damn thing? What is stopping me from completing a simple battery exchange? And why don’t I use an ordinary one while I am waiting? These are searching questions and it seems entirely odd that I can type about what I need to do and not actually do it!

The school day may have started badly, but it ended reasonably enough because I had a free period and decided to slip off early.

This may appear to be unprofessional, but you only have to try and get away from the school at its official end time to see how essential escape before the kids are out can be.

The school is situated on a broad avenue – though not so broad that it can accommodate triple parked cars on one side and double parked cars on the other. Parents believe that they have a Divine Right to park exactly where they want to and some double park and then leave their vehicles unattended. They stop and block; they manoeuvre without indication; they ignore other road users – car drivers and pedestrians and lastly and most annoyingly they show no guilt about their appalling behaviour.

The top road along buildings 1, 2 and 3 may be broad but all the other roads which surround the site are narrow and winding. Our school is situation on one of the hills of Barcelona and has panoramic views of the city.

This extraordinary location does mean that there are road approaches which mountain goats find difficult. And if there were any mountain goats making their sure footed nimble way to our school they would all be slaughtered by the hordes of Merc, Audi and BMW driving parents as they make their furious single minded way to school to deposit their kids in our tender care.

This morning, for example two parents stopped their cars on the corner of a 1 in 1 hill on a busy junction, thereby bring the whole traffic system to a halt and causing people to complete hill starts which is always a little hairy if you are behind the car attempting to pull away as it rolls backwards perilously close to your bonnet before the driver finds the gear to propel the car forwards.

I waited with the patience which is a characteristic of our noble nation (I’m not kidding, compared with the Spanish drivers we still preserve the old fashioned virtues!) while a woman parent in a sporty new Merc beeped her horn. Probably because she had to do a hill start!

When the children had been allowed out of their respective cars we drivers in the traffic jam were allowed to continue. I will the woman parent in the Merc on my tail. At the top of another 1 in 1 hill I stopped to allow a mother with her child to cross on the zebra crossing and was beeped by the ludicrous Merc driver!

When I had parked in an available space I walked towards the main school door and lo and behold the Merc driver was parked in a space which was not a designated parking space and she was obstructing others! Don’t you just love it when life throws irony at you! I tried to get a glimpse of her pupil passenger so that I could persecute her if she was in one of my classes. Unfortunately the reflection of light on the windscreen made it impossible to discover the face of the progeny and stopping there and waiting for a better view might have opened me up to comment!

Drivers like that mother make the traffic situation at the end of school one long nightmare. The roads to the motorway become impossibly blocked and travelling a few yards can take an absurdly long time.

My sneaking off a few minutes early was especially fortunate as the traffic lights at the junction leading to the slip road of the motorway were out of commission.

I don’t think that I need to labour the point about the chaos that was already building up and that was before the torrent of cars that mark the end of school. As it was I was home in little more than twenty minutes with a slow smile playing around my mouth as I thought about the homicidal situation I was leaving far behind!

Tomorrow a meeting with the powers that be about our Culture Club. The programme for the year is roughed out and the school will now have to decide on the practical aspects of the running of the club - like how much to charge the parents. Such things have not previously been a concern of mine, so it will be interesting to see how the meeting proceeds

Always something new!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hard Reality


What an effete lot we are!

Two weeks (9 days really) of half days without the kids, then we start work with the kiddies and now, by Wednesday we are whimpering with fatigue.

I have to say that it appears that the fates are on our side because next week (for no obvious reason that I can see, but compelling none the less) we have two days off! God alone knows what state we will have worked ourselves into by that point before the traditional resignation of teachers takes over and the year proceeds with an acceptable level of grumbling rather apocalyptic talk of the impossibility of making it to June!

I have now seen all my classes, but it is still too soon to make any rash predictions about how they are going to work out over a year. One lives in hope!

But enough about my professional life; let me instead parade my grumpiness about my pet hate of the moment.

I do not have a great deal of choice about the proliferation of football games which appear on our television screen. If you are serious about the game there appears to be no moment in the day in which you have to suffer the indignity of being without the sight of twenty two men prancing about on the field.

Now I can (with a little severe prompting) ‘enjoy’ a game of football with the best and by judicious listening to Toni’s analysis of the game and parroting his views as my own I can pass muster as a bit of an aficionado – as long as the conversation is not too long and detailed.

So it is not the game which merits my rich contempt but the people who play it. It is not merely that they are grotesquely overpaid, mincing, strutting, wannabe models with absurdly overdeveloped foot eye co-ordination, and the real irritation for me is the way that they make their entrances.

I am well aware that football is the most popular game in the world and its very popularity means that its most expensive players have a duty to their sport. This is a game that can, and is played anywhere and everywhere. If there is a sport which can truly be said to be worldwide then football is it. It transcends race, creed, colour and politics.

Except of course it doesn’t. Spanish and Catalan players come on to the pitch and touch the grass and then make the sign of the cross; Muslim players hold their cupped hands in front of them while they pray. Goals merit a triple crossing or hands held high to god. Such ridiculous posturing brings sectarianism into the sport. I would forbid any overtly religious expression of faith in the ground of a football match.

This redundant religiosity has about as much convincingness as the ostentatious kissing of the Club badge when some prancing millionaire has scored a goal. That dedication to the Club (which has been bought at vast expense) can be changed in an instant by a higher offer.

I don’t often agree with the French (on historical grounds of national prejudice!) but I must say that I have a sneaking agreement with the French President when he attempts to ban the trappings of religious dress in secular schools. If I had my way I would not ban religious (should that word be in inverted commas?) schools but I would make damn sure that the government did not pay the teachers. The major expense in schools is the total salary of the teachers. If religious groups want a religious school let them pay the full costs with no government subsidy.

Football is a game of dexterity and skill, the best players are exceptional athletes who train and carry out the plans of their managers – god has nothing to do with it.

And while I’m on a roll; what about those embarrassing ‘Celebrations’ on the scoring of a goal?

One sad bugger, on scoring his goal, produced, as if by magic a kid’s dummy which he had presumably secreted in his jock-strap before the game so that he could suck it (ugh!) and thereby dedicate his goal to his child! Was I his manager I think that I might have something to say about the bringing onto the pitch unauthorized equipment and especially storing it in a place which must (surely) have impeded his full range of movement during the game!

Tomorrow is my early start at 8.15 am in school. I think that I am entitled to go early and Thursday is my free afternoon.

Worth a try I think.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Here we go again!


I don’t think that I have ever seen swing ball used with such vicious intent to maim as illustrated by the sweet young innocent pupils who entered our school on their first day today.

The ‘safety’ plastic ball on its swinging line was hurled around nearly decapitating the appreciative semi circle of participants who were just out of reach of the deathly radius of the wildly circulating ball. It is surely only a matter of time before one or all of the smiling faces just outside the sweep of the ball will collapse into tears as the dreadful ball does its work.

I had time to observe these activities because I had a gentle introduction to the teaching after a breath-stoppingly horrific drive to school. The entire parental population of Catalonia was out on the roads that I use and taking their gentle, vulnerable sons and daughters to school. The fact that they had a precious cargo did nothing to moderate the awfulness of the driving and it was only because of the sheer pressure of the number of cars travelling in my direction that their suicidal weavings were kept to a merely shocking minimum.

I always have to remind myself that indication by a driver in Catalonia is statement of intent: “my light is flashing I will move in that direction.” It matters nothing that there is another car in the lane into which the driver has indicated his intention to join: he moves. After a while (or two years in my case) I no longer scream imprecations at the completely nonchalant and oblivious driver I simply make space and accept that this is the way things are done here. The only trouble is that I still retain my attitudes from Britain and I do not assume that other drivers will make space. I realise that this confuses some drivers because I have indicated (even though they have shown no inclination to allow me to join the lane) they expect me to move and if I had the courage of my flickering light they would respect my inconsideration. I think it will take a few more years before I full accept the bad manners that are essential to drive competently in Catalonia. When I have full assimilated this new driving style; god help me if and when I next drive in Britain!

As classes were with their form teachers and, at last, I am not a form teacher (Hallelujah!) I had time to get some teaching material together. This is an old habit and not one which is encourage in this school. We have The Text Book and any innovation (like using your own teaching materials) is greeted with and attitude little short of panic by the pupils who see it as a deviance from The True Way and an obvious ploy on the part of the heretic teacher to lessen their chances in the examinations.

I had photocopied the Thurber fable of ‘The Moth and the Star’ and also photocopied some cartoons to use as stimulus material. The kids were interested but bemused and I am now prepared to use the book as soon as possible so that they can settle down into the strict regime of test papers and questions and page after page from the text books. At least we will all know where we are going and they will not have to deal with originality and other distressing concepts which interfere with the passing of exams.

The day was long and I found myself constantly moving from Building 1 to Building 4. They are not absurd distances apart but it is an exhausting climb as the school is built into a fairly steep hill. The way from one building to another is long and arduous and I shudder to think how many steps I have to trudge my way up and down to get from class to class. The school, to be fair, does try and group lessons together in the respective buildings and when you have to change location they try and ensure that there is a break to make the journey possible.

In my timetable this year there are two occasions when I move from one building to another with no allowance made for the changeover. For various reasons the amount of time lost in one of those changeovers is going to be substantial and classes are going to be left unattended. It will be interesting to see how they square the circle with this one because on both occasions there are two members of the department moving at the same time.

Tomorrow I will see the two classes which I did not see today and then I can make an assessment of what the year is going to be like.

I am constantly aware that, if need be, I have just over one calendar year to my official retirement. That fact does give one what might be described as ‘a little boost’ – we will have to see how it works out.

The School That Sacked Me seems to be sinking even deeper in chaos with teachers leaving or threatening to leave. At some time I will have to arrange a Council of War to decide on the next steps against The Owner and All Her Works.

The Culture Club progresses, through confirming a year’s programme in September is not altogether easy.

And it’s raining. Although the storm section of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was playing on the radio as I drove home it did not cheer me very much. The idea that I would throw myself into the swimming pool each evening on my return suddenly did not seem such a good idea as the sky was rent with positively Biblical bolts of lightning. To be fair to my adopted country after a downpour there was a grudging period of weak sunshine but as I type there is a syncopated accompaniment of falling raindrops and drips from various overhanging eaves resentfully shedding the unaccustomed rivulets of constant rain.

The weather forecast is dull and depressing for the rest of the week, so expect me to be suicidal by Friday!

And I have a period last thing on Friday with the British equivalent of Year 8.

O Joy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Time ticks on



My knee now looks as though it is trying to produce a version of the Mallan Streak with a flash of repaired white skin showing up clearly against the brown. In spite of my lying in a most uncomfortable position in the garden with my knee thrust up towards the sun the new skin refuses to take on the tint of its surroundings. I hope that we have an extended sunny period well into October to ensure the matching of the epidermis with that level of russet brown which is my natural sun enhanced colour.

I suppose that one good thing is that during my working day I will be wearing long trousers so the mark of a colder climate will not be seen!

The water in the pool gets colder by the day and the shower is not working. Toni has suggested that this is part of the ‘end of season’ entropy. We will watch what happens in our area as I suspect that the restaurants on the paseo will all close soon and we will soon be left with the Maritime Club restaurant – not a bad last resort!

We are now waiting for the rest of the family so that we can go out to lunch or get chicken from the restaurant around the corner (and on a bit) which caters for passing trade and the large camp site on the opposite side of the road.

The bridge that connects the two sides of the motorway has steps and also a slope so it is possible (in theory) to ride a bike across. I have done this. In a way. At each turn in the slope I had to put a foot on the ‘ground.’ This was especially galling when I passed the bridge on our way to get the chicken for lunch and had to watch a gentleman manage to keep on cycling up the whole twisting slope. Something I will have to work on or remember my father’s dictum about cycling, “If it’s easier to walk with the bike then walk with the bike.” Good advice as long as you can get over the shame factor that walking your bike rather than riding it entails!

Our visitors now have left and the nightmare is over. I truly and sincerely cannot imagine what having a four year old and a one year old as your own children and having to look after both of them day after day can possibly be like. Toni and I are totally exhausted, drained and our tension levels are tuned to that pitch which only dogs can hear. And these are two relatively pleasant children!

Roll on the professional relationship with kids tomorrow where, after an hour they are gone!

Tomorrow will be the first real start of year that I have had for a few years. The tension in the staff room last Thursday (Friday was a Bank Holiday) was palpable and, although I would like to adopt a slightly patronising attitude given the number of times that I have started a year in teaching, this time it is different.

I cannot pretend that the sort of teaching that I am being asked to do is in the centre of my comfort zone. In many ways ending up teaching what is, to all intents and purposes, English Grammar seems like a much delayed revenge for all the copying I did in the fourth and fifth forms when the scientists suddenly got top marks in all the clause analysis questions! Luckily I do not have to teach Grammar (it deserved the capital letter when we were taught it) in anything like the same anal detail thank god. I’m not sure how many English teachers not only here but also in the United Kingdom would be able to teach it!

I have lost one year and gained another. Year 4 (last year’s Year 3) was a good class and I am sad that I will not be taking them again. I have gained another ‘Sixth Form’ class which, I am told is more my metier. We’ll see.

I suppose that I ought to prepare some material for tomorrow on the ‘Plan B’ system just in case the books which we have placed in rooms suddenly evaporate and leave us with nothing for the kids! The really cunning thing is to produce something which, according to the way that you teach it, can be used with any class and at any age. I have an idea for something with my choice of cartoons vide. Thurber and Giles which can be linked to a short fable by one of a number of writers. I know what I want to do, but it does depend on my finding the requisite books which, at the moment, I have not managed.

Time to Make an Effort and justify the derisory salary that I am paid.

Happy hunting!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Seen AND heard!


The tyranny of the young is a concept that all parents must know. When you have a representative individual of the young human persuasion actually staying with you the full import of the word ‘tyranny’ leaps into focus!

The sacrosanct territory of the third floor ‘attic’ has been violated. A four year old child sleeping in my study! It is unthinkable. I’m not sure that his aunt sleeping in my study too doesn’t make it even worse. That was bad enough but worse was to follow.

We had to replenish our stocks of cooked meat so went into our local shopping centre and decided to have some lunch. As in many centres there is a sort of area where the cafés (I will not dignify them with the appellation of ‘restaurants’) are concentrated. There are some which serve half decent food and there are others which are Mcdonalds.

As is quite obvious to even the meanest intelligence, I would as soon eat in Mcdonalds as I would have a rat-dog as a pet so we went to a branch of Tot Tapas. The four year old did not agree with this gastronomic decision and contrived to kick his aunt until she relented and took him to the double arches!

I tried to think of circumstances from my youth in Cardiff when I would have been able to get away with something similar to that small human. I decided that I would have had to have been suffering from some terminal wasting disease and been at my last gasp before my parents would have given in to my whims.

Having said that, my mother always maintained that I could always wrap my Aunt Raye around my little finger: if only I have known at the time, just imagine what I could have got away with!

Perhaps I am looking at my past life through cyan and green tinted lenses (well, that the opposite of rose on the colour wheel) and I actually was indulged as much as our Young Visiter - and that’s not a spelling mistake but a reference to a great book. But I don’t think so.

Last night, just before the arrival of the guest, I went to Bluespace to look at what books are actually left there. I could, I thought, sort through those books which could stay there before I sold them off or whatever.

I want all of the books that are left there. Some twenty boxes full. Each box is at least a shelf and a half, so allow thirty shelves or four extra Billy Bookcases – which in my case I have not got. I had thought that the book choices that I had to make were going to be difficult, not impossible!

I also tried, when I got back to bring some sort of order to the top ‘open’ shelves in the living room. It so long that I eventually decided to accept a rough ordering of the volumes and worry about a global order (doesn’t that sound utopian or fascist!) when I have brought some semblance of a system to individual bookcases.

Although a bookcase by bookcase sorting seems short term and time heavy it is the only way that sorting can be done when all bookcases are full and space is limited. And some sort of ordering is essential as I found out this morning when I decided that I wanted to make up some worksheets on James Thurber. I found a book of his cartoons without much difficulty but I am still looking for the book with his stories and fables.

A library is only as good as the system which allows it to be used. Friends have said that I should leave the books as they are and just enjoy the unlikely sequences. This is tempting but it is not as Jane Eyre might have said, ‘useful.’ A double process of ‘utility’ will have to movitivate my retension and selection. It is all too much for a simple bibliophile such as I.



Though it should be fun!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I have a cunning plan . . .


As Oscar said, “To have cramp in one leg might be regarded as unfortunate; to have cramp in both smacks of mystical muscular messaging.”

Hobbling my way around the house, the last thing that my screaming muscles need is struggling with boxes of books from place to place as I vainly try and find spaces for EVs (Essential Volumes).

I took a deeply symbolic step when I decided (after much heart ache) that the Funk and Wagnells dictionary bought second hand by my father for ten bob umpteen years ago with me in attendance will have to go.

It is an enormous book with thumb tabs for each letter carved into the fore edge of book itself. This was the first time that I had seen such a thing and I was deeply impressed. But have I actually used the book over, say, the last thirty years? The answer is that I have not.

I have no intention of counting the number of English dictionaries that I own as no-one (including myself I fear) would understand why. I still have the Oxford Pocket Dictionary that I had when I entered secondary school. It is venerable and battered and I do have a newer version, but I couldn’t think of getting rid of it. My justification is that I use it as a visual aid in my teaching. “Look!” I say to a deeply unimpressed class, “I am your English teacher and I have carried a dictionary around with me since I was eleven. If I need one, how much greater is your need!” There is a distinct echo of The Book of Common Prayer and The Authorized Version of the Bible in that injunction; echoes that are lost, alas, in the electronic breeze from pupil iPods innumerable.

The latest idea grew to a defiant determination as I vainly tried to massage normality back to places where I had little suspected that such vigorous muscles were lurking. This plan is to accept that I am going to retain my little space in the storage facility for the rest of the moth at least so I may as well use it to try and find a solution to the ‘quart into the pint bottle’ problem with the books.

I will fill boxes with the books that I can see disappear without taking too much of my soul with them. This will (must) leave spaces on the shelves which can be filled with books from those in storage. The books in storage will be sorted in Bluespace itself so that the only books that I actually bring to the house will be those without which I cannot do. If all else fails that I will have to double stack certain volumes and stick something on the side of such overcrowded shelves reminding me what is hidden behind the front row of spines.

Obviously I have to take the boxes containing the ‘Books for Expulsion’ to the car so that the guest bedroom can again accommodate two beds. It might be politic to get the empty boxes (presently gracing the lawn) to the rubbish and start thinking about making yet another pilgrimage to Bluespace.

This time, however, there is, after all, A Plan – and, as Churchill (that great librarian) so memorably said, “This may not be the end of our shelving problems. It may not be the beginning of the end of building Billy bookcases, but it is at least the end of the beginning.” One can only hope so.

It will be interesting to see what I achieve in a day which will bring visitors and in particular one four year old boy! Added to that is a half promise to try and visit Margaret and Ian who have been unvisited for far too long.

Ah well, let the day progress: I feel that I have started well by formulating the details of a plan of action before my second cup of tea.

I will rely on Toni’s sister’s flexible approach to concepts like “we’ll be there in the morning” and make the first of my new purposeful visits to Bluespace. I have to tell myself to keep remembering the amount of money I pay each month to keep the little cell in order to spur myself into concrete action.

Tally ho!