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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lazy weekend?



A two hour lie-in this morning meant that I got up at half past eight. That is something to think about!

I am glad to say that I frittered away the time that I gained and finished off reading ‘Rules of the Road’ by Joan Bauer. This is a book that a purloined from a colleagues cupboard in school as she has amassed a class library of enticing titles to encourage her special English class to take an interest in literature and read a book by themselves. I have read a few of the volumes and I was picking about among the remnants to find something that I could take with me to the ‘sailing’ that our school does and where I am the ‘other’ teacher on alternate Thursday afternoons.


The cover, with its pink Cadillac and strap line of “A girl. A Car. A trip. A revelation . . .” was not particularly encouraging, but the pastel picture gave little indication of the muscularity of the writing.

Yes, this was a feel good book with a number of stock characters: girl from broken home with alcoholic dad and demanding younger sister, grandmother with Alzheimer’s and mother working as a Casualty nurse – just for starters! Add to that an unnatural (but fascinating) interest in selling shoes and big business chicanery with ancient founder of a shoe empire being sidelined by unworthy son and you really do have the ingredients for an interesting novel.

The girl heroine was satisfyingly sassy and there was just enough self conscious irony to make the whole thing believable. Well, probably not, come to think of it but who cares. A good read.

I have also read “Unseen Academicals” by Terry Pratchett. I simply couldn’t resist. I have spent the day drifting to the novel and back again in the spaciousness that comes with Toni being safely in Terrassa watching the dramatic cavorting of his nephews as they celebrate Al Souls Night (or afternoon in their case) and my refusal to go to a party this evening.

The only occasion on which I have left the house was to get some pollo a last from the restaurant on the motorway. I look on this weekend as a period of recovery from the week in school which has been made more difficult by the number of absences from kids and staff as the autumn period of illness strikes. We have collapsed classes and lost free periods and things have been unacceptably stressful as our place never considers hiring a supply teacher to take some of the strain.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the teacher illness rate rises. I think that there is a limit to what I am prepared to do for an institution which acts so nicely but pays so disgracefully!

Talking of disgrace, I had a strange conversation with a colleague about unions. He tells me that there are more union members than I would think in the place but that nothing much has been done to provide a focus for activity. He had been asked to consider becoming union rep. but he didn’t have the time to give as he was part time in the school. There are things that need to be addressed: facilities for members of staff: curriculum: timetable: supply – but there is not forum for discussion in the place. Meetings yes, but real discussion about things that matter no.

As term stretches on and seems to peter out in the far reaches of December, I am less and less likely to want to continue working in the place after United Nations Day in 2010. Perhaps this is just the end of October speaking, but I suspect not!

The Terry Pratchett book was a Terry Pratchett book. I found myself even becoming slightly annoyed by the smug predictability of the arch humour that characterizes his writing. His surrealistic approach to plot and his bizarre collection of freaks that people his narrative were annoying rather than amusing.

And then I settled into the comfortable rhythm of Pratchett’s style and I was captivated once again. Unbelievably “Unseen Academicals” is his 37th novel in the Discworld® Series (thus it is written in the inside covers of the book) and perhaps that ® show just how valuable the franchise has become.

This novel is about the Unseen University having to found a foot-the-ball team and play a match in order to retain money from a bequest which ensures the pointy hats (wizards) of Ankh-Morpork will continue to get their “one hundred and seven types of cheese, and more than seventy different varieties of pickles, chutneys and other tacklements” as the normal end to one of their traditional meals!

The story is quite up to his usual standard and the use of football as the motivating force gives some added humour. But this is one for people who already know Discworld® and are comfortable in its many insanities rather than for an unsuspecting reader coming to this strange world for the first time.

I have done none of those little jobs which look so good as you tick them off on a little list.

The one thing that I must manage is to get my phone working. My new phone with the touch screen which a child in school catching a glimpse of immediately said, “Oh, Juan in 3ESO has the next model up from that one.” Sometimes the thought of the Black Death singling out selected pupils is simply not enough! It does work and I have even discovered (by accident) the qwerty keyboard for making text messages just that little bit easier to send – and also allowing me, effortlessly, to add capital letters and apostrophes! I can’t get my computer to recognize it and thereby download pictures and music. It (and my computer) is supposed to have Bluetooth and I always assumed that they would find each other out merely by being on, but such simplistic views do not encourage electronic communication.

I’ll have to ask the kids!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's all a game!




Today I weakened and took ‘The Final Empire’ into school with me and read it before the start of lessons, at lunchtime and in the free period that I lost.

That makes two free periods that I have lost this week. This in a week in which the English Department (against my better judgement) decided to collapse classes to cover the absence of the head of English rather than find that rarer-than-a-hen’s-tooth character in private schools in Spain: a supply teacher.

Assurances that we would not be used for cover have, of course, naturally been ignored. Sincere expressions of regret by management cut no bloody ice with me when my free time is being encroached on. What does it take to motivate this pleasant group of professionals to behave in a professional way? That was indeed a rhetorical question as I know from past experience the simple, human answer to this question. Everything takes time. And part of that time is going to be taken up with my contacting my union representative to discuss some of the ludicrous working practices that my school adopts to save money at professional expense.

When does my probationary period run out I wonder!

The book (all 650 pages of it) has been read and thoroughly enjoyed. The structure is complex without being demanding and the elements of the story are familiar, yet pleasingly arranged.

Brandon Sanderson, the author has been described as “the natural successor to Robert Jordan.” Who he? There is obviously a fantasy world of which we dabblers in the other fringes of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’ know little. The book is the first part of a trilogy and I shall look out for the other volumes.

I think I shall now move on to the first of the Larsson trilogy and save up the Terry Pratchett for a thoroughly self-indulgent wallow later.

Real Madrid were defeated 4-0 in a Copa del Rey match against a second division team last night. You can imagine the whoops of delight that emanated from the sofa as a rabid Barça fan squinted at the poor computer picture which was his only access to the game. This continued in school today where the Australian Humanities teacher who supports Madrid came in for a quantity of good humoured ribbing. Except there is no such thing as ‘good humoured ribbing’ when it comes to football in Spain! Support for your chosen football team is something deep and atavistic and my dilettante amusement about how seriously everyone takes it is condemned on all sides. Delicious!

So, it’s a choice between soul destroying marking and the first volume in the Larsson trilogy.

Choices! Choices!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Books are back!




I walked out of the meeting at the stated end time.

This was yet another revolutionary action taken by me in this strange school. My other anarchic actions include taking a chair out into the playground when I was on duty so that I could sit down and watch the kids rather than standing for an hour and taking time off in lieu. This marks me out as a dangerous radical seeking to destroy the foundations of educational society!

For some reason, not entirely clear to me, I have the keys for the entire school; a bunch of jangling metal that Joseph Marley would not have rejected to add to his burden of chains. I feel more than slightly Dickensian when I withdraw the gleaming mass of what looks like copulating keys from my briefcase.

I still have not calmed down from losing a free period yesterday after we spent last week planning (why oh why) how we could cover the head of English as she went off on her jolly to Canada. A few plaintive bleats for consideration as far as free periods were concerned were made in the meeting and we were assured that representations would be made, but that all planning might go out of the window is anyone was absent. And someone was absent. And all planning went out of the window.

It is situations like this that make all the union bones in my body ache. This school runs (as indeed do all schools) on the goodwill of the staff. This school more than most. There is no attempt, none whatsoever, to find supply teachers. My appearance last year must have been like a bolt from the blue when I came in to replace a teacher, but by the time I arrived the staff situation was rapidly reaching critical mass and Something Had To Be Done. It is not sufficient for a school to react when there is a slowly cooking disaster in course it should react when there is a perfectly ordinary situation which requires a supply teacher to take over the day to day teaching that needs to be done.

This school needs a union and it needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck and told that teachers are people too and should be considered professionals. The real trouble is that the school would probably say that they look after their teachers well, because people are nice and polite and colleagues always look after each other. But the pay is, to put it mildly, crap. The time table is a joke with a school day extending from 8.15 am to 4.45 pm. It is hardly surprising that in such a long day every teacher has at least one free period a day. Different groups of kids have different weeks with half days appearing in a bewildering sequence for different years. But the teachers’ day is the same. Not all teach more than one 8.15 start but a long day gives the timetabling staff a lot of spaces to play with.

I have now calmed down a little because the day has at last ended and home life has begun!

We went out to Castelldefels town to buy ONCE tickets and have a drink. This was soon augmented by snacks which in my case were tapa of patatas bravas and an extraordinary risotto with ceps and covered with a thick dusting of cheese. It was truly delicious and altogether an unexpected pleasure to find something so fine in an ordinary little bar in the centre of town!

I am at present reading one of the books which I was given to celebrate United Nations Day, ‘The Final Empire’ by Brandon Sanderson. I am just under half way through and it has been a positive delight to count up the clichés which abound in the book.

There is the Map at the front of the book with such places as the Canton of Orthodoxy Headquarters and Lake Luthadel with characters like Reen and Kelsier.

We have been introduced to the innocuous girl who has exceptional powers who is being helped by the man who survived the worst tortures of the Dark Lord. There are religions galore and Steel Inquisitors – and I love it all!

There is something very comforting in feeling yourself in a safe pair of writing hands and it is a good game when you can start counting up the literary influences as each new ‘twist’ to the plot is revealed! Again I want to emphasise how much I am enjoying the book; I actually left it at home today because I knew that I would be tempted to read it at inappropriate times if I took it to school.

Not only my enjoyment but also the realization that I have a Terry Pratchett (‘Unseen Academicals’) waiting for me is encouraging me to read with a certain amount of dispatch! Then there are the Larsson books and the volumes that the school purchased to coincide with the visit of the writer all waiting for me too.

Roll on the weekend.

The Dreadful Day!


In the true scheme of things, I should now be luxuriating in the knowledge that today was the first day of a week long holiday. Ah! Cruel fate that I should find myself a job in the vaccationless wastes of October, November and most of December that is the school term in Catalonia.

As my British friends fly back to a well earned holiday (or in Paul’s case drooling over the ways in which he is going to spend the king’s ransom that he will be paid in January) I have found myself back in school.

Not only back in school, but also losing the first free period that I had in the week and facing the prospect of the collapsed classes and re-jigged timetables that was the English Department’s response to the head of department having an absence of more than three days known in advance.

Years of union activism seem to have been lost in the fluffy, candyfloss way of thinking that my colleagues have about how to deal with professional situations in the working environment.

My bitterness is exacerbated by the knowledge that we are going to be subjected (are subjecting ourselves?) to the excruciatingly boring pointlessness of a Giant Meeting conducted in a mixture of Catalan and Castilliano which, even if I could understand the languages with ease and fluency would still be soul-destroyingly vapid. A system has been instigated to expedite the process of discussion of individual pupils, but I know, with the same certainty that comes when you check your lottery ticket, that nothing will change and there will be nothing to lighten the load.

The meeting (O God, I can barely contemplate it with anything other than infinite horror!) is scheduled to end or die or implode into an educational black hole at 7.30 pm. I am debating whether or not to walk out at this time pleading an Old War Wound or claiming the Fifth Amendment or citing the UN charter on torture.

Whatever happens this is going to be a long, long day and I am ready to lie down NOW! And it isn’t even lunch time yet.

There is no god.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now it starts!


First things first: the dearth of cards has been addressed by witty effusions from Ceri and Dianne, the Pauls, Louise and Hadyn. So that’s all right.

Presents have showered themselves into my unresisting hands and I have delighted in the books, ties and perfumes that have come my way. Not to mention the grant aid to purchase a new (and much less shaming) mobile phone from Toni.

All of this happened after the journey to Reus and the belated return to Castelldefels and the eventual meal to celebrate United Nations Day.

A Terry Pratchett novel; a fantasy novel; ties too numerous to enumerate; clothing and the latest Nordic novel sequence together with a reversible belt added themselves to the accumulated loot of this more than satisfactory day.

The planning now starts for the momentous birthday which will take place on United Nations Day 2010. Be warned I look forward to a representative selection of acquaintances from the last six decades to join me in Castelldefels for the celebrations which are one would consider appropriate on the occasion on my putative collection of my bus pass!

365 days to think of excuses!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

UNKITED NATIONS DAY!



The count-down has begun! My bus pass is but 365 days away!

We have recovered from the disaster of the missed plane and we are assuming that our three intrepid travellers are already in Bristol Airport leaving a comfortable five hours before their flight leaves!

So, the major event to celebrate United Nations Day will be a drive down and back again from Reus Airport. O Joy!

At least the weather has gone back to normal after the few days of torrential rain that we suffered and the morning sun is being diffused through gauzy clouds. Quite right too!

We have now made an executive decision that the Club Marítimo is going to be the venue for the United Nations Day meal and we will worry about getting Louise up and down the curved flight of stairs when we have to deal with the situation. I hope that at least some of us manage to retain a degree of sobriety so that Louise’s descent from the repast is not of a bouncingly vertical manner.

The peace of my unaccustomed lie-in this morning was rudely broken by the raucous ringing of the phone and then a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ that would have had Stockhausen curling his little toes with excited pleasure! You’ve guessed: it was Clarrie singing from far away Reading.

I might add that for the first time in just less than sixty years I have not had a single solitary United Nations Day card. The only one was a computer generated e-mail from TEFL.net which is an employment agency which constantly sends me details of poorly paid TEFL jobs in the more obscure parts of the Spanish peninsular.

Toni, shamed in action, is, even as I type, trying to send me an electronic card – and failing to do so.

I have not yet gone down to the post box, but the very wonderful British Post Office has ensured that, even were people to send, their missives would be sure to be piled up somewhere in an obscure sorting office beyond the ken of man.

I must say that I regard Post Office Workers in much the same way that I think of Fire Fighters – people who have great public sympathy as the valiant people who struggle to give a true public service. If I was a child, that is what I would still be thinking. But I am no longer a child and I have put away such childish thoughts. I know full well that both ‘professions’ are stuffed with what are collectively referred to as ‘Spanish Practices’ – in other words they have retained and developed the approach to work that was seen at its most disgusting in the Surrealistic attitude to negotiation that characterized the attitude of The Print Workers Union.

I want no one to think as I start out on my sixth decade that I have become an honorary member of the Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells Brigade and lost sight of my ‘if he is not a socialist before he is twenty he has no heart’ and am now comfortably in the ‘if he is a socialist after twenty he has not head’ attitude.

My mother (the most intelligent of the three of us as she took every opportunity to inform us) was a follower of Owens’s celebrated remarks on the dissolution of a partnership, “All the world art queer save thee and me; and even thou art a little queer.” She had a wary mistrust of most people and a distinct mistrust of husband and son!
My father was more a follower of Beckett in his dismissal of the human race as “bloody ignorant apes” and he particularly blamed the working class for constantly “fouling their nest” as he put it.

It is hardly surprising therefore that my favourite concept is ‘irony’ – and I am aware that that in itself could be an example of the very concept I like!

I should, I suppose be the acme of cynicism – but Saint Oscar’s wit shames me from espousing so negative a philosophy.

But I couldn’t be so woolly a liberal as to watch, for example, the destruction of the coal industry during the Miners’ Strike (led by that odious rat Scargill) with misty eyed romanticism and a deluded middle class belief that the noble working class (especially the iconic Miners) could not possibly be wrong. I found the violence on both sides repulsive; the politics nauseating and the human cost harrowing.

I did contribute to the Miners’ Fund – who wouldn’t, there was human suffering and misery whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute; but I resented the fact that it had happened and that Thatcher (why, o why is that woman still alive when I have her candle representation ready and waiting to be burnt on the occasion of her long and eagerly awaited death) was handed a ‘victory’ on a plate by her victims. The phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ never seemed to apposite.

So jobs that seemed so romantic to a child do not (or should not) give those who do them the right to protect themselves by practises that, in the cold light of day are patently absurd and unjustifiable. I wonder if either of the ‘professions’ I have mentioned would like to see their ‘conditions of service’ fully explained to an incredulous public? I think not.

And what I have said goes for the management too, of course. The ‘bonus culture’ of the astonishingly arrogant financial community is only the tip of the iceberg of selfishness which flies in the face of reason but is all too easy to explain in terms of callous self interest.

Those previous paragraphs are the result of not going out last night to celebrate Paul’s elevation to the educational purple. There is obviously a high linguistic price to be paid for enforced sobriety.

Perhaps tonight will make up for it, and tomorrow I will be all sweetness and light!

Perhaps.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Best laid plans etc


Good news: Paul got the job and so the decline of education is official! He is a head teacher!

Bad news: a three hour drive from Cardiff to Bristol ensured that they missed the flight!

Our celebrations planned for tonight have therefore had to be ever so slightly cancelled. We only hope that the fall back plan hurriedly devised by Toni of their flying in to Reus might come to fruition. We will wait and see.

Now is the exact time that the little troop of three should have been arriving in the airport. We are waiting for a phone call from Cardiff letting us know what arrangements might have been made.

Meanwhile, to keep my mind off what might have been, perhaps I can digress to what actually happened today. This day was significant in so far as I went on a course. Not in itself of any major importance, but an indication of permanence in the institution in which I am teaching. Getting time off and arranging cover is such a fraught experience in our place that you have to be part of the fabric before they consider the enormous investment of time and effort in getting you off lessons.

This course was on ‘Reading’ as a part of one of the Cambridge exams that we use in the school. The venue of the course was the British Council building in one of the more opulent areas of Barcelona. There were only eight or nine of we participants and the course was led by an intense young man with a determined smile. The course was well planned with practical components and material to use in the classroom later.

A description of my fellow course members might make the membership of the class appear slightly freakish, but I suppose that English as a Foreign Language Teachers are an odd bunch, especially when they are observed out of their native environment. Though, thinking about that there were only three native English speakers of whom one was American and one Welsh and the other had one of those difficult to place accents with only the high volume and slightly nasal quality to let you guess where the melange was first mixed.

The time passed quickly enough with the frenetic nervousness of the course leader transmitting itself to our work rate. The last half hour of the course was in the computer room where we were expected to produce teaching ideas which would be collated and sent to us all via email.

To be fair to the course leader, this evening saw an email from him in my in-box with teaching material but, alas not the stuff which we produced: technological problems prevented his finding the work and sending it out. Some things never change!

Meanwhile tomorrow . . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where is the sun?


Thunder, lightning and lashing rain. Appalling driving conditions with standing water on the roads and the gutters flowing freely with newly spouted rivers.

Did any of this daunt the suicidal intent of motorcyclist?

Of course not.

If anything they were even more stupid than usual. The high point of insanity came when I was moving from the middle lane to the inside lane prior to taking the slip road off the motorway. I indicated (as I always do) and began the manoeuvre. It was actually as I was turning into a space that a motorcyclist accelerated and wove himself though the miniscule space as I slotted myself into my indicated lane and then shot off in front of a car in the next lane – all of this on a wet slippery road! It was breathtakingly audacious stupidity and left me feeling slightly breathless with fascinated fury!

And this was even before I’d arrived in school!

As I type this the storm has reached new levels of ferocity and I can hear the cascading water spilling out of guttering which is clearly inadequate. You might think that I would be at the point of despair at this all-too-familiar weather, but I have seen the forecast for the next few days and I have faith enough to believe that by Friday the clouds will have largely departed and we will be back to more unseasonal weather with sunshine and happiness. It is the least that Barcelona can do for my approaching guests.

Blue skies in the late afternoon; Catalonia always does you proud!

I have now assumed the stance of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the First and maintained my masterly position of deciding to do nothing about the forthcoming celebrations. Everything will have an aleatory element built into it. Having spoken with Paul Squared we agree that previous arrangements will add nothing to the sense of occasion that is necessary for true satisfaction!

The typing I am doing at the moment is but displacement activity for the marking which is lurking in my briefcase.

I now have yet more marking and it has to be complete before the end of school tomorrow. We have to mark any kids who have ‘failed’ the exams and their parents are officially informed.

The weather has been horrific today with lashing rain and gutters converted into cascading rivers. As is usual when we have any rain the entire drainage system of the area fails and standing water appears everywhere.

The gentle walk down the Ramblas to a select coffee shop in the Gothic Quarter with my two ex-colleagues had to be consigned to history as the heavens opened. We walked from Habitat to all the way to Cafe Zurich: a distance of about 50 feet! We made two cups of coffee last two hours as we chatted and gossiped and reminisced. It was a delight to see them both and I urged them to come back and see Barcelona in the sunshine.

In spite of the weather conditions they were both much taken with the city and were reeling from the discovery that the city wasn’t composed entirely of small winding streets! They went on two different tour routes and discovered the modern architectural delights of Barcelonetta and the Olympic Port and they were even more impressed with Monjuïc.

Enough I have to get back to my marking, while wishing Paul every success for his final interviews tomorrow for the headship he is seeking.

Tomorrow our three guests arrive for the celebrations of United Nations Day and, hopefully, a promotion.

I’ll have a Cava please!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Observation and assessment



“It must have been good; I didn’t fall asleep.” Thus the judgement of a sixth former I asked giving his opinion of a speaker who visited the school.

John Brindley is a writer for young adults who uses science as his starting point in many of his novels. He was not, he pointed out a science-fiction writer, but rather a writer who used science. Admittedly science taken to its extremes, but still recognizable science in a world which could be real. He uses ideas from such areas as natural selection and genetics to provide the basis for his narratives. His books look interesting and I am looking forward to reading them.

But his talk! In spite of our willingness to divide his time up into reasonable segments with various classes, he opted to take the whole of the first and second year sixth for a straight hour and a half each!

It is a tribute to the quality of our students that, given the rambling nature of the ‘talk’ that they were given they were as well behaved as they were. John Brindley did not appear to have a Plan B to cope with slightly restive students and he appeared to be making up his discourse as he went along.

For me this was harrowing and I shuddered at each meandering line of thought which petered out into silence. He didn’t seem to know what strengths he had in his fascinating development from early school leaver to published writer with a dozen books to his credit. I tried one or two questions to him to try and direct his discourse but did not manage to get him onto safer and more interesting territory where he could play to his specific knowledge.

Instead he gave a quirkily personal stroll through some areas of controversial science, but he didn’t link this convincingly to his books.

He is not a natural and easy speaker and he therefore should have prepared more and not relied on extemporary fugitive thoughts to keep himself going. But if the kids thought it was OK, who am I to carp? That is a rhetorical question to which there is a clear answer.

Another examination has been completed and is waiting to be marked. This will have to be done before Friday when, with any luck, a new head teacher will be arriving in Catalonia together with a bevy of friends for bibulous celebrations!

I have been loaned a book by Suzanne, the art teacher which also has a double CD tracing the music of Jerusalem through the ages. The book has been opulently produced and luckily is in English - as well as Hebrew and Arabic and a few other European languages, including Catalan as a gesture to inclusiveness.

Meanwhile, I must give in to terminal tiredness and retire to my bed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A visit to mark - so to speak


No nearer to finding a venue for the United Nations Day celebrations ad I have now decided not to worry as Toni is hors de combat with a streaming cold and looking very sorry for himself!

I did not have a good day myself, but I put this down to a hysterical reaction after visiting Toni’s nephews yesterday. I am so used to picking up some childhood disease from those two that I am half way to infirmity by the time they have reached out their tiny sticky hands towards me in greeting!

I sincerely hope that my downward dip was only a psychosomatic response because illness would be inappropriate this week: there is too much to do and too many people to see!

Today the appalling driving that I have to endure on my way to school was accompanied by the best bits of Cosi fan tutte – and there are plenty more discs where that came from. Great music should take me through to the Christmas holidays – at least as far as they journey to school is concerned. We have now used up all our holidays between now and December so the weeks stretch out ahead in unrelieved horror!

The examination season is convulsing the school and the only problem for me is that the marking does not appear at the best time for me. It will get done I suppose, even in a drunken stupor!

I have been loaned ‘The Uncommon Reader’ by Alan Bennett. This slim volume has recommendations from ‘Country Life’, ‘The Daily Mail’, and ‘The Mail on Sunday’ and ‘The Spectator’ - a truly off-putting selection of papers! If it wasn’t for the recommendation from ‘The Observer’ on the front cover, I think I might have had to reject it sight unseen. If I had done that I would have missed a masterly piece of self indulgence which reads itself. It takes as its subject matter the Queen happening upon a mobile library in the servants’ area of Buckingham Palace and becoming hooked on books!

The opening page sets the scene (and the tone) as the French President is being led into a state banquet in Windsor ‘”Now that I have you to myself,” said the Queen smiling to left and right as they glided through the glittering throng, “I’ve been longing to ask you about the writer Jean Genet.”’ If only! This is a gentle tale of what appears to be suspiciously like idolatry, but written in Bennett’s beguiling style, which can resist! I certainly didn’t – and I have to give it back tomorrow.

The screen on my electronic book has broken and I need a replacement. Well, that is not strictly true. The screen is faulty in the top right corner, but this doesn’t mean that the whole unit is useless.

I have been looking at new electronic books but the market in Spain is a little confusing to say the least. I realize now that living in Britain meant that we had the all-important gadgets before the rest of Europe. Here in Spain things are a little behind hand. I am still trying to find out if the Amazon Kindle electronic book reader is available in this country and if it is the best model available.

Any help out there to get me to decide on a new machine would be appreciated.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I defy augury


In spite of my not completing a symbolic piece of marking on Friday evening all the marking that I had to do has been done. It was a case of needs must when the devil drives as we had to go to Terrassa today for the name day of Toni’s sister. It’s actually tomorrow but today just seemed a more reasonable idea than going after school on Monday.

I was very reserved in my greetings of the family as I have few desires to go down with what the kids have had over the last couple of weeks! I still have a residual cough from my irritating days of illness and the last thing that I want is not to be firing on all cylinders for the celebrations for United Nations Day. If Paul gets what he deserves then it could be a double celebration with his having greatness pushed upon him! We shall see and wait and hope.

My visit to Terrassa saw me taking photographs of the pavement, tree stumps and empty watercourses. This was at the behest of the art teacher in school who is doing a project on nature intruding into the urban landscape. Never one to turn aside from a challenge like this I snapped away with the limited abandon which comes with pointing the camera while having to keep up with Toni as he made his way to his sister’s flat to gather up the family for the lunch! I will have to see what they look like on the larger screen of my other portable.

After I had finished my marking I had a frustrating short period of sunbathing before we had to start for the lunch in Terrassa – but the fact that I could actually stretch out in the sunshine at this time in October is an absolute delight. I trust that there will be many more days when a snatch of vitamin D can be taken on the third floor of the house!

I have given in to the constant harassment of Amazon and bought a few books with the notorious ‘one click’ system of purchase that the evil organization has devised. Whenever I turn on the ‘one click’ option it is as if I have travelled back to the bible and the Devil himself is showing me the riches of the world all of which can be mine if etc etc etc. It is only fair that I succumb from time to time.

I am also conscious of the assertion that I have made that if I buy a new book then I will consign one already in the house to oblivion – or the staff room or a friend. I will have to think carefully about what to discard. Not easy.

Next week is going to be a full one with examinations (which have to be marked) pushing themselves forward into my already full schedule.

The visit is working itself out, with meals seeming to play a major part in the timetable of activities!

Bring on the next course.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art For Ever!


What a delight not to get up at half past six. Thus rested I threw myself at culture in Barcelona.

My new bank, La Caixa, spends some of its money on a foundation which funds a gallery complex which is at present showing an exhibition of The Worlds of Islam with items from the Aga Khan’s collection of paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, Ceramics and Artefacts. The scope of the exhibition is big, trying to give some feeling for the different phases of expansion of the Islamic Empire.

The exhibition is worthy rather than spectacular. There is no central object which takes the breath away and astonishes – but there are a whole series of items which are almost attention grabbing and interesting. I went round the exhibition with the art teacher from school and it was her company and comments which made the experience enjoyable.

And the lunch of course!

Something which I felt we deserved after our extended chatty wander through the pots and pans, coins and Korans; tiles and textiles; miniatures and maps.

I am now a member of the library of the Caixa Forum which gives me access to books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. I hope to make some inroads into the mass of films which have been flagged up for me by ‘Have You Seen?’ by David Thomson – a partisan book on film which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Their collection is not extensive but a cursory look has revealed a number of older films that I would like to see. Something to check more thoroughly at a later date I think.

Throughout the visit to the gallery I wore a red pen prominently in my shirt pocket to remind me that I should really be marking. So far I have had the strength of character to ignore such petty reminders of educational responsibility and have now started to think of dinner and finishing off the rather fine bottle of Lidl Rioja I started yesterday.

My colleague went home after lunch to a siesta – I am made of sterner stuff (as my refusal to knuckle down to school work shows) and I took the Metro to my favourite shop where the opera CDs have been reduced by 50%.

I went berserk.

I have not taken the discs out of the two El Corte Ingles bags that it took to contain them because I am too frightened to see the extent of the music that I have bought!

With the ‘killing’ that I made last week in the branch of El Corte Ingles that is on my way home from school I have spent about €400 – but they were half price and therefore count as a bargains that would be criminal to pass by. So there.

God alone knows how long it is going to take me to listen to all the stuff that I have bought. But it is going to be fun doing it!

And furthermore, if any more was actually needed to be taken further, I have worked out that my expenditure of the vast number of discs is roughly equivalent to the price of three decent seats for an opera production in the Liceu. So looked at in that way I have had even more of a bargain than I thought!

The stuff I now have ranges from ‘Elektra’ and ‘Mr Brouchek’ via ‘Thais’ to ‘Billy Budd’. And those are only four of the vast array that I can remember – even if I can’t be bothered to check the spelling of them.

I suppose that the sole advantage to be gleaned from the extended time that I resentfully spend on the motorways getting to school is that my opera listening is going to be the bright spot to make the inevitable traffic jams more bearable.

Thinking about it, some of the subject matter of the discs that I have bought could be exactly the right catalyst to bring out into the dawn light the more homicidal tendencies that I generally manage to suppress by vigorous Alex Ferguson-like gum chewing.

I will have to choose my operas carefully!

Friday, October 16, 2009

To sleep perchance . . .


Today, disturbingly enough, even without dramatic lighting the hills of Sant Boi looked pleasingly dramatic as I zoomed past them on a generally clearish motorway.

I think I must be over working! My perceptions are being knocked out of kilter by the unnecessarily early hour at which I have to throw myself onto the mad motorways of the morning.

I shall try and take a more measured view of Sant Boi over the weekend and try and restore normality to my evaluative apparatus!

My progress around the school is punctuated by shrill cries of my name, presumably in a form of greeting from small people to whom I have not knowingly been introduced. I smile and mutter “Hello, there!” in what I take to be a dismissively disturbing way and scurry along my way. I know that these homunculi are from the primary (and even lower) school which is on the same campus as the secondary school but I want to be seen as a remote and slightly frightening character, disturbing enough to feature in their dreams as they make their way towards the educational heights of secondary. I would hate to think that I am turning, against every atom of my essential being, into some sort of avuncular character whose cheery face lightens the pupils’ downtrodden plight. Mr Chips, for me, is a character from the darkest reaches of educational psychological hell and on a par with The Joker and the gone but not forgiven Kenneth Baker – the politician not the other one.

I think the school dislocates me from my true responses because I find it very difficult to believe that I am actually there. It is difficult to explain the essential unreality of the experience, but the setting, the curriculum, my colleagues and the kids all combine to create a seething cauldron of wealth, privilege, oddness, underpayment, overwork and genuine psychosis that is difficult to match in my experience.

I flatter or delude myself that I can walk away from the job at any time and settle down to an easy existence of reading on the third floor and sipping Rioja. This ‘escape pod’ of power is enough to nourish my sense of the ridiculous and sustain me through the torrid, examination fuelled hysteria of a normal week in the place. I have to admit that my colleagues are a supportive and interesting bunch and they show real concern and it would, therefore, obviously be wrong to let them down by departing post haste.

All of this I’m-offism has been brought on by the fact that I have a set of papers to mark over the weekend: and this will be the first of many as class after class enters the maw of our evaluation system. Normally this would be a time to dread, but the disconcerting nature of the experience has been given a twist of horror by the fact that next weekend The Guests arrive and their holiday is my prime concern. (God that sentence sounds pompous and it merely masks my own dislike of the whole process of examination and the necessary expenditure of red ink on paper after paper!) Therefore the marking of the papers has to be started almost as soon as the kids have put pen to paper.

When I bleated last term that there wasn’t time to get things done, a colleague agreed with me and then said, “But they will get done, because they have to be done. So relax!” Twisted logic but, as it turned out, accurate!

Tomorrow I hope to go to Barcelona to visit the latest exhibition in La Caixa. More effort called for and I still haven’t marked the single Friday evening symbolic answer paper yet to ensure that I get the whole load of marking done by the end of the weekend.

Where’s my red pen?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A tick of the light


Sant Boi de Llobregat was looking particularly lovely as I drove home this evening.

Perhaps you have to live in this area to sense the true oxymoron inherent in those words. Sant Boi is a distinctly unlovely place mixing ugly urban sprawl defacing the slope of a mountain mixed with industrial unit after industrial unit shirting the motorway. Useful for large shops and extensive parking but not a place to excite cultural feelings.

Except. The sun was setting and completely artificial looking rays of dusty sunshine shone down like heavenly spotlights. One of them illuminated the side of a distant mountain which threw into contrasting relief a small hill in front of it. The effect was positively magical. Luckily there was heavy traffic so I was proceeding with infuriating slowness and could mollify my frustration by visual splendour!

Today was the day that I had to accompany the PE teacher taking the kids down to Porto Olimpico for their sailing lessons. I know, but it’s that sort of school! I actually watched them this time around. Some of the kids actually appear to be quite professional; but that is because they own boats in ‘real’ life. It is hard to avoid whichever number deadly sin envy occupies!

Envy indeed characterised the walk we took along the Marina passing impressive boat after astonishing boat. A few of these were flying the Red Ensign but they turned out to be based in BVI which I would guess have certain tax advantages – or perhaps envy is clouding my judgement!

A surprise email informed me that two past colleagues are paying a visit to Barcelona and in one of those serendipitous conjunctions of unlikely circumstances which obviously prove that there is no god. My accrued time off in lieu for things like taking the kids sailing and starting early means that I can have an afternoon off. On the 22nd of October I am going on a course which will take me into Barcelona on the morning of the 22nd. My way is clear to plan a meeting for the afternoon of the same day to meet my colleagues. All things work together for good.

At least until things start falling apart and everything changes!

Until then I have marking to think of. This is the start of one of our self-generated examination frenzies which will last for a couple of weeks while the kids are examined unt5il the educational pips squeak.
I cannot afford to let the marking mount up because of the imminent arrival of my guests for the celebration of United Nations Day (for which no arrangements have been made) and the general jollifications appertaining thereto.

Roll on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sleep?


There was a reluctance bordering on resentment about getting up today. Going to school just didn’t seem a persuasive way to spend the day when the sun was going to shine on the empty sun bed on the third floor balcony.

And the roads were as crowded as usual in the early (an adjective that I would emphasize!) morning with the usual battalion of kamikaze motorcyclists making the journey so much more enjoyable.

I have positioned the car for what passes for a quick getaway from this narrow street bound educational summit. This is in preparation for the jaunt to the garage to try (for the sixth day running) to get the small piece of plastic fixed which will allow the brake light to function with its proper degree of sensitivity. I have no active hope of success, and expect to be met by the Catalan version of the British expressions of amazement and contempt that usually greet the appearance of a car brought to a garage to be repaired.

But, just like the watch that I still haven’t got, I preserve my naïf faith that all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

We are building up to one of the series of examination periods that characterize this institution. It also happens roughly to coincide with the appearance of my guests for the celebrations of United Nations Day. If all goes according to plan then I should be in a more than usually hysterical frame of mind by the time the first celebrant gets off the plane with my having marked a multitude of examination papers to ensure that the weekend is free from such mundane educational irritations!

I have made no firm plans for where the celebrations are going to take place or indeed who might be asked.

Perhaps I ought to bestir myself.

Or not.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent position!


There was a reluctance bordering on resentment about getting up today. Going to school just didn’t seem a persuasive way to spend the day when the sun was going to shine on the empty sun bed on the third floor balcony.

And the roads were as crowded as usual in the early (an adjective that I would emphasize!) morning with the usual battalion of kamikaze motorcyclists making the journey so much more enjoyable.

I have positioned the car for what passes for a quick getaway from this narrow street bound educational summit. This is in preparation for the jaunt to the garage to try (for the sixth day running) to get the small piece of plastic fixed which will allow the brake light to function with its proper degree of sensitivity. I have no active hope of success, and expect to be met by the Catalan version of the British expressions of amazement and contempt that usually greet the appearance of a car brought to a garage to be repaired.

But, just like the watch that I still haven’t got, I preserve my naïf faith that all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

We are building up to one of the series of examination periods that characterize this institution. It also happens roughly to coincide with the appearance of my guests for the celebrations of United Nations Day. If all goes according to plan then I should be in a more than usually hysterical frame of mind by the time the first celebrant gets off the plane with my having marked a multitude of examination papers to ensure that the weekend is free from such mundane educational irritations!

I have made no firm plans for where the celebrations are going to take place or indeed who might be asked.


Perhaps I ought to bestir myself.


Or not.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Clouds and change



Do you consider it pretentious, when lying supine staring up into what was a flawless blue sky, to notice a couple of whips of cloud and instead of thinking of castles in the air to consider that what I was looking at was more like one of Bacon’s screaming popes re-imagined by Giacometti?

I certainly hope so or the scraps of knowledge that I have jealously garnered over the years will obviously have counted for nothing!

And believe me, once the comparison was in my mind the perfection of the clouds in presenting exactly what I have described was uncanny and not a little disturbing.

Our weather over the past few days has been glorious and I have stretched myself out on the newly acquired lounger – bought at the bargain price of €20 reduced from €36. It is, however, bright, bright green – but that is a small price to pay for the comfort of lying without bits digging into sensitive parts of the anatomy and restricting blood to various extremities!

The book reviews will have to wait until the literary critic in me rises to the surface.

This has been a holiday and I have celebrated by going out to lunch with friends. I will spend the rest of the week working on a faulty assumption about the day. The only good thing will be that Friday will come a day early!

Paul Squared has just phoned and told me that Patrick Hannan has died. Patrick was, among other things in his journalistic career, the presenter of ‘Something Else’ a programme which took a sometimes irreverent view of the week’s news and was characterized by three guests who helped Patrick through the hour that the programme lasted.

Thanks to Steve Groves, a producer in BBC Wales who once listened to a talk I gave to future sixth formers and their parents and decided that I would enjoy the experience of being on the show. I eventually became a regular guest and even presented the programme once myself.

Patrick was an amiable presenter who wore his knowledge and experience lightly and was expert in coaxing revealing comments out of contributors. His knowledge of British politics was extensive and his general knowledge was sufficient to make him a winner on Round Britain Quiz – a test of anyone’s learning! His writing was fluid and informative and his ‘diary’ of a year in Wales showed just how clued up his was in the political life of the principality.

Patrick has been a feature of Welsh television and radio for so long that his departure will be a real loss.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Out the other end!


Rose, washed, ate my muesli – all without a cough: the illness is officially over! The tempest has been downgraded into snuffles. Snuffles are manageable.

Yesterday was supposed to be the final act in my rehabilitation with my ‘free’ afternoon accommodating the end of my coughs and sneezes. A leisurely lunch with Toni and lazing in the unseasonal sunshine went according to plan but the car was the complicating factor.

What I took to be angry shouts following us as we drove to the restaurant were actually helpful comments telling us that the brake lights were not working. As I had previously worked out that one of the fuses had conked out I expected (foolishly) that the brake lights would be similar and simple.

My garage of first resort turned out to be open (in the afternoon!) but did nothing with the electrics of the car. The Peugeot garage was, of course closed. When I got to the Peugeot garage eventually when they had deigned to be open I was met with a positive torrent of Spanish from the workshop manager of which I understood virtually nothing, but the import of which I understood to be that repairing the car would be an extraordinary feat of engineering and not the simple fuse change as I hoped.

They wanted me to leave the car there, but this was not a practical solution and I arranged (with much sorrowful head shaking by the workshop manager) to bring the car in when I finish work today.

In what can only be regarded as a flash of inspiration when I returned home disconsolate with the prospect of driving to work in the dark with no brake lights and plenty of Spanish drivers, I phoned the RACC and asked for their help. This Catalan version of the RAC responded in English (eventually) and arranged to have a person call. Which he did and within a few minutes he had diagnosed the problem which he told me (in Spanish) was a small piece of plastic which would take five minutes to change.

He then went into a rant about expensive cars which were immobilized by trifling pieces of plastic etc etc. I was rather proud that I was able to follow all of this – or perhaps I should be impressed by my ability to retexture random Spanish words into some form of convincing narrative!

It will be interesting to see what the garage makes of the little slip of paper on which the RACC man has written what is wrong. And how much they charge!

This of course depends on how quickly I can get away and drive the car to the garage. I have a negative feeling about the helpfulness of the garage and have no confidence whatsoever that they will solve the problem. I am already feeling a rising sense of injustice at what they will try and get away with. I feel a letter to RACC asking to sort things out and prosecute them for attempted robbery rising unbidden to my typing finger tips!

My wearing of contact lenses has been something of a success. I have managed to read everything I have had to read and the kids are fascinated by my change in appearance. From their responses I assume that they thought that my glasses were surgically welded to my head!

We shall see how this experiment continues; especially as at the end of the month I should have my new pair of lightweight glasses remade by the opticians in Cardiff and brought over by my ever helpful friends who will be in Catalonia to celebrate United Nations Day in true style.

Meanwhile I am looking for a new book to read. I have been promised one by a colleague in the English Department who is able to feed my craving for fantasy or science fiction. In those genres I am able to read virtually anything; and read it with relish. I will have to beg one for the long weekend of freedom that we have ahead of ourselves.

And another lacuna interposes itself and suddenly it is Sunday.

I did get the books; three of them – and they are all now read. I’ll perhaps wait until Monday (another day off!) before I get around to writing about them.

I underestimated the lack of concern of the Peugeot garage. I rushed home from school on Friday to get me car to the garage before half past five and was met by the loquacious manager with vague apologies but there was no way that they could spend five minutes correcting a fault in the car that they sold to me at vast expense two years ago. I have no wish to make threats that only hurt me, but if it is at all possible I will go to any other garage than that one again. Their lack of concern is astonishing.

It did however force me into what I like doing least in the Spanish language: telephoning. I had been given a card for a garage in Gavá and I decided to take the plunge and try and arrange something. I should perhaps have prepared a little more for the conversation as phrases like “rear brake lights” do not come tripping off the tongue in my Spanish, however, as usual I was understood. Or more accurately they understood something; whether it was the same as what I was trying to communicate remains to be seen. Next Tuesday I will rush after school to a previously unknown part of Gavá and hope that they can do their stuff.

In a pitiful gesture to the great work of Samuel Smiles I have purchased a little box full of brightly coloured fuses of the sort that cars have. These are flat squares of coloured plastic with two flat prongs jutting out. I assume that the colours are indicative of the voltage – and that is just about as far as my knowledge reaches. I am still mystified as to which one of the masses of fuses my car needs might be the one linked to the cigarette lighter.

It is surely a sign of the times that my car did not come with a cigarette lighter presumably because most people use the socket for their GPS or iPod or some other gadget. I need to find the fuse because the GPS is the only thing that is going to get me to the garage on Tuesday! If all else fails (and it will) I can merely charge up the unit at home and use it on battery. Such journeys are always a delight in Spain as the road system seems to change on a daily basis so The Voice is always urging you to take a road which isn’t there or a turning which has obviously been blocked off or, on one humiliating occasion, to turn into a largely pedestrianized area where I was glared at my vulnerable pedestrians as I crawled my self-abasing way along until I turned into the first ‘real’ looking street I could find and escaped!

I trust my experience later in the week will be a little less traumatic than that!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

All this as well!



Never let it me said that I am now obsessed with my health, but I do think (from my lack of symphonic coughing this morning) that I have turned the corner and will have left the ‘pitying self concern’ stage of my illness and moved on to the inconvenient where-have-I-put-the-tissues’ level of wellness.

I have thoroughly disliked this illness and it has impudently stretched its malign influence beyond the three days that my body allocates to serious health reverses.

My Opera CD splurge is now paying dividends as I look with seraphic indifference on the stationary cars which block my way to work while the magnificent strains of self indulgent High Romanticism well up from the speakers in the doors. All the discs that I am playing at the moment are repackaged DGG recordings with little booklets for children. I have not read through the child’s version of La Traviata, but it will be interesting to see how they gloss the fact that the sublime music is from a dying whore!

I am more than half inclined to go back and get all the other discs that I left behind – if nothing else they will be useful extra versions of great music and they will also be relatively inexpensive ways of directing my almost insatiable desire to buy things!

One of the recording that I would never have bought at full price is Stravinsky’s ‘Rakes Progress’ made famous for me by the set design of Hockney. This is an opera that I have never consciously heard so it will be something to get my teeth into. My last attempt to learn an opera was ‘The Witches of Venice’ by Philip Glass which sounded like a pastiche of his work by another hand. Ah well! You live, and in my case as far as Philip Glass is concerned, you don’t learn!

This is my half-day day and I am looking forward to it with a child-like glee. As the illness has officially been downgraded to an inconvenience I hope that I will be able to enjoy the extra time with the sort of guilty pleasure that we teachers feel when we have time off.

To celebrate this freedom Toni and I are going to have lunch out. I will then have to spend the rest of the week trying to remember that it is not the weekend!

It would be good to go to the restaurant where we used to live because I should now be able to pick up my new watch which will have been deposited there by my friendly (if tardy) beach salesperson who has been promising me a ‘superior’ watch to compensate for the two good looking but dud watches he sold me previously. As I have written previously, I still hope, nay expect that he will have done the decent thing. Touching isn’t it?

Faith I might add which was totally unjustified as no watch was waiting for me in spite of the attempts of the restaurant owner to get the dealer to do the decent thing. Ah well.

My resting this afternoon was in emulation of little Hans Carstop in The Magic Mountain. I took to the third floor and stretched out in the glorious sunshine like a patient in a sanatorium and the lounger promptly collapsed! The fact that I was able to shrug of this catastrophe rather than greet it with a glissando of coughing indicates that I really am over the worst of the lingering illness!

At the moment I am reading a book of extracts called ‘Adventure’. It has a cover illustration of one of those lunatic climbers hanging from a rock by his fingertips with an eagle lurking in the background. Not content with a photograph this has been rendered as a painting which looks completely wrong with the legs of the hapless mountaineers executing a sort of balletic jeté as his muscles bulge in all the wrong places and seem to assure him of a swift death as his scrabbling hands fail to drag himself to safety.

The extracts range from Mark Twain to Doris Lessing taking in The Prisoner of Zenda and White Fang along the way – quality, but no real appeal to modern students, and most of the extracts out of copyright too I would expect!

Although the books is almost entirely useless from a practical teaching point of view I am enjoying revisiting books which I have more than half forgotten. Who now reads Paul Berna? Good, if educationally pointless fun!

Who can ask for more?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Enough already!






Home + honey and lemon with hot water + bed = relief. That was the simple equation for yesterday evening.

I was tempted out of bed by the promise of prawns and spinach. This also gave me the opportunity to adjust one horrific statement that I had made in my blog yesterday to wit, that nothing in The Elixir of Love was familiar to me. This was said before the strains of the absurdly famous aria wafted out of the speakers in my car and, in spite of my debilitating inherited illness I was able to croak my way enthusiastically and defiantly along!

The process of my waking is now assisted by the helpful crashing of the rubbish men as they noisily empty the bins at the bottom of our road at ten past six in the morning. This cacophony integrates itself into the bemusingly complicated dreams that I have at that time of the morning until the strident call of the alarm on the mobile phone brings me back to some sort of reality.

I fall into the bathroom and as an experienced myopic it matters little whether the light is on or not as everything can be done on automatic apart from the insertion of the lenses which I have now reverted to wearing. With the old style hard lenses one could virtually flip them into the eye and they would stick, but with one-day soft lenses you have to be a degree more accurate in their positioning. Experienced contact lens wearers have no difficulty (whatever their actual health) of snapping into ‘Lens Mode’ to ensure an appropriately professional insertion. Their professionalism may only extend to the few seconds necessary to establish sight with a complete reversion to imbecility or insensibility immediately afterwards, but it is astonishing how the power of the lens can break through almost any debilitating condition for a few magic moments!

The kids, of course are fascinated by the change in my appearance and are all questions. My response, “I got fed up with glasses” doesn’t go anyway near enough to satisfy their curiosity and one or two of them have looked at me with wonder as if I had decided that my eyes no longer needed glasses and I had discarded them at a whim!

Our Culture Club is crumbling around our ears. The kids are not going to give up their free Friday afternoon (not surprisingly!) so we will have to think again. Our lead event, the exhibition of the paintings of the Fauve artist Vlaminck, might perhaps have been a tad esoteric (Surely not! I hear you informed intellectuals cry) so it has been dumped. Our proposed guided tour by one of the architectural team which designed the new terminal in Barcelona airport has now taken centre stage in our planning. We will probably offer it as a ‘one off’ event and then build on the response to that. It’s hard work bringing advantaged children to Culture, but it surely will be worth it in the long run. Isn’t it?

As I had a free period at the end of the day I took myself off home and took to my bed in double quick time as soon as I arrived.

I am now officially disgruntled at the length of time that this illness is taking to work its way through my system.

Each lesson provides its own energy to get me through it but I feel somewhat drained at the end. It is perhaps a good thing that tomorrow is my ‘owed’ half day after an early start and taking the kids sailing last week.

My bed has never seemed so inviting.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's the paper not the content!


Spanish organizations love paper. If they don’t have what they consider enough then they will photocopy until the ‘file’ becomes respectable. No matter how ineffectual an institution may be, no organization will fall down on the national standards of paper production. Even The School That Sacked Me produced voluminous wads of paperwork to cover (or illustrate) their complete lack of caring.

My school is not so callous but what they did today constitutes mental cruelty in its most blatant form.

My contract has changed: I was on a temporary contract now my contract is permanent. Even though my employment from one academic year to another was seamless, the school did, in effect sack me at the end of June and reemployment at the beginning of September.

Today I had the paperwork for that dismissal with all the accompanying figures which, for a moment made me believe that four thousand Euros had been paid into my account. This would have been a good thing.

Alas! This is just a case of the paperwork from three months ago finally catching up with me. The money has already been paid in the form of my normal salary for June and the various sums of money which have to be paid when someone leaves service. No one who I know has the slightest idea of how these sums of money are arrived at, but the result of these sums saw me through July as well.

August and September were the cruel months when no pay appeared in my dwindling bank account and the sum now seems even more derisory when I have had a false dawn of financial viability with the envelope handed to me this morning with the ancient paperwork promising thousands! Reality is a cruel friend!

I felt so rotten at the end of yesterday that I called in to El Corte Ingles on the strength of a half understood advert on the classical radio station I listen to on the way to and from school. The shop appeared to be singularly free of special offers but, lo and behold, there in a miniscule section of the music department was the promised view of Opera goodies all at 50% reduction.

I freely admit that I went a bit mad and ended up buying things which, with calmer reflection I might possibly have passed by. The majority of discs that I have bought seem to be highlights from the opera rather than full works – and I suspect that they are reworked analogue versions, but at half price they will do to while away the time that I am stuck in traffic jams on the way to work and the time that I am in a world of my own on the way back!

I have bought another version of ‘Orfeo’ which is a direct fault of Jim, a fellow student in Swansea University, who asked to play records on my record player that he had been given to listen to by his tutor. The first playing of the ‘overture’ to ‘Orfeo’ captivated me and I refused to let him take the records out of my room. I now agree with Robert that this opera is nothing like as good as The Coronation of Poppea – but Orfeo retains a special place in my affections. And at €18 for an Archiv version of the opera is was not something which I was going to pass by!

I am no absolutely sure what, exactly I have bought, except it was a lot and will take me weeks to listen to.

My first choice of disc was completely at random as I took the first one my hand closed on out of the bag and put it on the car system. I can remember hearing ‘The Elixir of Love’ a few times in a WNO performance with Arthur Davis (I think) as the juve lead. The quack doctor was played (or rather overplayed) by a series of character singers and I have a dim recollection of the basic plot. The rather depressing fact about my listening to the music which belted out of the speakers was that I had no real recollection of the music at all. The quality of tunefulness in the opera is such that everything sounds vaguely familiar but nothing that I could whistle with confidence until towards the end of the CD and the aria 'Una furtiva lagrima' when familiarity bounced back into my musical memory!


I do whistle along with the music. I’m alone in the car so I can do things like that without exciting my passengers to open rebellion. You should hear me yell along to Nielsen symphonies accompanied by OTT conducting movements to the confusion and distraction of passing drivers!

Even if the music is not familiar (though I know that I have heard it) the cast is spectacular and the recording crisp and expressive. There is what appears (on first sight) to be something like a cartoon version of the storyline and a listening guide too. If nothing else they will be good for my Spanish!

I am half planning to call in today (I feel just as bad) and buy the rest of the discs by way of compensation for my struggles today.

But I probably won’t.

Especially as the extra money I thought that I had was but a chimera born of a delayed paper chase!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Why bother?



The legacy of disease ridden colleagues and students crawling with germs has finally been realized in me and I felt rotten during the weekend and I feel a bloody sight worse now that I am in school.

Because of the complete (and I mean complete) lack of supply teachers in our school and in most other private schools there is very real emotional blackmail for you to struggle into work no matter how bad you are feeling. I used to do that in Britain as a matter of course, but I feel mounting resentment in doing the same in a moneyed system that does not seem able to use its cash for the amelioration of the colleagues it exploits!

I am relying on the old adrenaline rush of actually being in front of a class to cope not only with the cough and cold but also with the wearing of contact lenses and the blurred edges they give to perception at the margins!

And Toni has something to answer to as well. As he is now in Terrassa for a family wedding I was the sole object of a mosquito’s attention during his absence. With a calculated nastiness the mosquito bit my down the side of my right hand in a concentrated attack that I have never experienced before. If a mosquito has a choice between foreign and home grown blood then, in my experience it chooses the domestic product. With no Catalan blood to drink she turned to the headier draughts of British Blood (Group A+) and gorged herself on it.

In the morning, with contact lenses firmly attached and the light on, I scoured (metaphorically) the walls to search for the mean mozzie and, as our walls are uniform white, even with my mismatched lenses I was able to descry her. I am using the female pronoun because I have been told that only the females bite. My attempts to kill her with my glasses case were futile as I feel that the finality of my swing was mitigated by the fear that I would leave a large blood stain on the erstwhile pristine walls. The bloody (and I mean that literally) thing escaped and is obviously lurking waiting for the hours of darkness to attack my left hand.

I will intensify my defences against this marauder with sprays, patches, high pitched electrical insect repellents – and I will also close the window. The last probably being the most effective of my actions. I do all this with a certain amount of resentment as these damn insects should now be dead. There is always a price to be paid for the continuing good weather in this country! It chimes in well with my assumed puritan sense of not getting anything for nothing!

In spite of my incapacity for coherent academic thought I have managed to read (if that is the right word) two extraordinary books. These were both written and illustrated by Nick Bantock and were ‘Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence’ ISBN 0-8118-0180-2 and ‘Sabine’s Notebook’ ISBN 0-87701-788-3.

These ‘books’ are actually collections of imaginary cards and letters sent from and to a graphic artists by a mysterious correspondent who claims to be able to ‘see’ what Griffin is drawing and painting as he is painting it. The letters are actually in decorated envelopes and have to be extracted to be read.

The conceit of the whole series is that we never really know whether Sabine is actual or a manifestation of the artist. In a post modern sense it plays with the whole concept of the writer and persona; the creator and the created. Rather pretentiously the work has running quotations from Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’ which adds a level of seriousness (or playfulness) depending on your point of view.

In the publishing information the book is encapsulated as 1. Imaginary Letters and 2. Toy and movable book – specimens. I do remember buying a book of ‘real’ letters as an experiment for a class library and it went down very well (and lasted longer than I would have expected) but this takes the practical idea and makes something more visually exciting and with a more satisfying narrative.

Essentially I think that it is little more than a beautifully produced piece of self indulgence – but it is a delight to look at and stimulating to read. God alone knows how much they cost to produce!

The day is dragging and I am thinking wistfully of my bed.

And that last sentence was merely an ending rather than a rather pathetic plea for sympathy. Though if there is any going . . .

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A change of sight!






I loathe and detest glasses. Not I hasten to add those crystal goblets purchased lovingly by me over the years following the strict lead of my shopaholic mother, but rather those over priced pieces of ground glass which perch on my nose and are supposed to give me perfect vision.

They have never given me perfect vision and I find the points of contact that a pair of glasses makes on my face to be areas of real irritation.

Contact lenses (in spite of their multifarious negative points) did seem to be The Answer. The hard pieces of unyielding substance that formed my first pair of contact lenses reduced me to the position of a lachrymose nun: I cried all the time and I could not raise my eyes from the ground. Every time I attempted to look at something normally it felt as though someone had knifed my eyes. The famous scene in Le Chien Andelou where an eye is slit open could have been the everyday story of any contact lens beginner at the time when I was fitted for them.

The namby-pamby (that is the first time that I have ever written that) plastics which form modern contact lenses mean that there is no ‘getting used to them period of pain’ for wearers. They simply pop them in their eyes and carry on living. So unfair!

Apart from getting specs of dust under the lenses – and believe me you do not know what real pain is until that happens – there is also the matter of keeping them clean.

I could go through the different solutions that I have had to use: the various design of container that I have tried and lost; the inventive ways of cleaning lenses when you have no solution; the inventive way of storing lenses when you have lost the container and the numerous hunts for a small transparent object when it has popped out of your eye – but I won’t. Suffice to say that I did not look after my lenses and cleaning them (Any opticians reading this should turn away at this point) meant sucking them.

The advent of disposable lenses seemed perfect for me. And when the disposable bit of the life of the lens was a single day then I thought that the New Order had arrived!

One day lenses were more comfortable and you didn’t have to look after them. All problems solved.

Apart from my eyes. My progressive myopia was soon joined by its opposite and I became long sighted as well.

Not worry there are such things, believe it or not, as double sighted lenses and graded lenses and vari focal and dual focal and every other type of focal lens so that the patient should be able to read and at the same time see distances.

I have tried every variant lens known to ophthalmic science (there’s a contradiction if ever there was one) and not one of them works with my eyes. I have ended up with lenses for each eye which do different jobs; the lens in one eye is supposed to be for reading and the other is for distances. “Your brain,” my optician blithely said, “will work out how to use them.”

My brain will have none of it. The lenses are a compromise and my brain knows it. I can sort of see close up for some text and I can see well enough to drive, but neither is perfect.

I also have yet another pair of glasses (there was a time when I kept the opticians going singlehandedly with my eyes, so to speak) made for some inexplicable reason by the car maker Jaguar which are supposed to be used with my contact lenses when I read! I know, I know, it seems stupid to me too, but I bought into this ‘solution’ and I have, at last decided to put it to the test.

The conditions in my present school are, shall we say, less demanding than in my last and so I have decided to see if this compromise will work.

I will, of course forget my glasses, or forget to put my contact lenses in or a combination of both but I do have one factor working to ensure that I remember. I am beginning to develop those little indentations on either side of my nose where the kidney bean shaped piece of plastic holds the frame – and that is simply unacceptable.

So vanity is the driving force behind my experiment – and there have been worse motivations, so don’t sneer.

I await the panic which will accompany my now unaccustomed insertion of contact lenses in the dark.

It is a situation ripe for chaos – just the way to start a school day!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The days merge


The journey to school yesterday was only marginally intolerable. I am starting off in the dark and grinding my teeth with frustration as the traffic solidifies around me while the view of my destination remains infuriatingly distant.

I am now starting for school about three quarters of an hour earlier than I used to last year. As I keep reiterating, I really am not paid enough for the extra hassle.

I think that these lengthening times that I spend on the road before I arrive to spend time in school account for the vague feeling of dislocation that I am feeling today. Arriving early and having desultory conversations with people waiting to go to early classes is not the best way to start the day.

The press and television are all full of Madrid’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. They have been told that their bid was not good in terms of presentation so for the final attempt to get the votes of the IOC they have dragooned the King and the President to go to Copenhagen to make the pitch.

There is little firm information to go on to make an informed guess about who will have the privilege of spending vast sums of money on a fortnight’s entertainment, but it does seem that Madrid is something of an outsider. Tokyo too does not seem to be at the forefront, so that leaves Chicago and Rio.

Putting the games in Rio seems like a risk in all possible ways, so my money is on Chicago. This evening will see the result and whether my analysis was correct. With the IOC anything is possible and I understand that the chair of the committee that made the assessment of the candidate cities was Moroccan – that adds another factor given the general attitude of the population in this country to the African country out of which they have carved a couple of cities and termed them part of Spain!

I typed all that yesterday. I stayed awake for long enough to see that Rio won (so much for my analysis) and then went for a little lie down. And then it was tomorrow.

And I think that I have the start of a cold or worse. I blame Toni of course. He was ill last week and in some way he must have infected me. One always has to have someone to blame!

Today has not been good, though feeling ‘not well’ did not stop our going out to lunch at our ‘local’ and a fine experience it was too. We are unbelievably lucky to have one of our nearest restaurants situated on the beach and with panoramic views along the beach to the mountains and out to sea. And good value too!

The story of my watch continues. Being susceptible to the blandishments of itinerant watch sellers, I inevitably fall to their completely implausible claims for decent looking watches. One seller (who can obviously tell a potential sucker at a glance) has managed to sell me two watches – neither of which worked. The watches look good but never keep out the water. Never.

I have given him back two watches and have been told that I will be given one ‘special’ watch to make up for the trouble. That was weeks ago. We have seen him twice since and he has assured us that the watch will appear.

Today, by chance, we met him again and, after the administration of a sharp slap he laughingly assured me that ‘tomorrow’ would see its appearance. And I still believe!

I am touching at times.

Or touched.