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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Survival






I am not sure how you judge a wine tasting, but the inability to talk the next day must be some indication of quality!

During an excellent evening in which my voice got hoarser and quieter we consumed numerous bottles of wine of varying quality. The last wine we tasted was twice the price of anything else we drank and it was head and shoulders above the rest. It says much for the quality of the wine that even after a meal, various Catalan cheeses, ferocious pimentos de padron and numerous sips of other wines it was clearly the tipple of choice for us all.
We had ten wines to taste: two whites and eights whites. We chose wines from many of the Catalan D.O. regions
BLANCOS
1 ALELLA Marfil 2008 €6.90 This wine had an assertive nose but not lasting; slightly earthy with a harsh taste at the back of the mouth; acerbic and dry.
2 CATALUNYA Macizo 2008 €15.60 Nose of apple and horse-chestnut; crisp with an aftertaste of cheap sweets.
GARANTXO
3 MONTSANT Bruberry 2008 €9.90 Slightly medicinal nose with fruit overtones; deep and smooth taste which filled the mouth; smoky and astringent. This wine was a disappointment as I have had it before and really like the taste!
4 EMPORDA IO Masia Serra 2004 €15.20 A bizarre looking bottle with the wording on the label struck out! The nose was frankly awful smelling of paint thinner. The taste was sickly and insipid with a faint metallic taste. This one grew on me and I liked the aftertaste.
5 TERRA ALTA Llàgrimes de Tardor 2006 €7.75 Rich and complex nose; taste slightly sugary; high tannin content leaving a sherbety dryness in the mouth; slight after taste of toffee.
6 PRIORAT Camins del Priorat 2007 €13.50 Assertive and slightly acidic; high tannin; smooth finish.
CABERNET
7 PLA DE BAGES Abadal 2008 €6.85 Unobtrusive and drinkable.
8 PENEDÉS Pas Curtei 2007 €6.85 Nose of wheat and agriculture; slightly Sharp and papery with a well channelled taste.
9 COSTERS DEL SEGRE Vilosell 2007 €10.80 Sharp taste with a memory of Champagne-like pettilance; excellent after taste.
10 PRIORAT Somni 2007 €35.50 By far the best bottle of wine of the evening; smooth, sophisticated and delicious.

It has been suggested (possibly in self defence) that for our next meeting we have fewer wines to try but of higher quality and of the sort of wines that we would not normally buy. We shall see.

I have been contacted by Christopher with the suggestion of a web site that might help me in the disposal of books which I keep promising to start. Throwing out a book is anathema to me so I have been considering the possibility of getting some of the labels from
http://www.bookcrossing-spain.com/ which would encourage me to leave books in public places so that they can be picked up by strangers and start a journey of being read and abandoned.

Christopher’s suggestion is that I look at
http://bookmooch.com/ which is a site at which you can list the books you want to get rid of and then send them to people who express an interest and in return you get points to ‘spend’ on books which you want from others. I rather like this idea, but there will be a fair amount of postage involved, but at least the books will be going where they are wanted. I think that this deserves more study. It would also fit Toni’s injunction that any new book must be matched by an old one being ‘disposed of’.

Now for some cough medicine. Perhaps I should write tasting notes on that as well!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What money can buy!


The old truism, “Be careful what you ask for because you might get it” came to mind last night when I went to get the cheese for the Wine Tasting.

I visited the Deli in the centre of Castelldefels. It is a gastronomically beautiful place, but perhaps I should have been alerted by the fact that the shop name was emblazoned in a terminally elegant script. I had previously visited this establishment for an eye-wateringly expensive piece of cheddar and had been impressed by the knowledge of the person serving me and the fact that he knew about Wales.

This visit was for the selection of Catalan cheeses which are to be an accompaniment to the array (selection seems far too mild a word) of wines that have been purchased for the occasion.

Feeling fairly confident about what to ask for I informed the shop assistant that I wanted a “surtido de quesos” which means a selection of cheeses. I should perhaps have remembered the way that this innocent sounding request is interpreted in restaurants.

I watched in something approaching horror as the selection of cheeses were pared of their rinds and then carefully cut into bite sized segments and arranged artfully on a golden plate. At my request small cards were written to inform gourmands of the name of the cheese that they were sampling. This hand carving of already expensive cheese took so long that I could barely walk when I finally staggered away from the shop clutching a bag which contained a cardboard construction which in turn contained a bad which contained the cheese.

I paid by card because I do not think that I could have stayed the tears if I had had to hand over sheaves of money!

As getting the cheese was one of the three tasks that I had set myself for today I am now reduced to two: constructing the booklet for the tasting and getting some sort of metal construction to which to attach me bike to discourage the thieves who regard our part of the world as one large free shop!

Our new next door neighbours continue to disappoint. One of their bloody dogs has obviously been partially de-barked and its emasculated efforts sound like two rocks being ground together in a distant room. The other animal, however, is of the full throated variety and barks at anything that moves, anywhere in the vicinity and when tired of that emits a mournful howl. I hate it.

The ironic aspect of this cacophonous menagerie is that when the mendacious owner first arrived and engaged in conversation one of his first questions was whether this neighbourhood was noisy! I said that apart from the occasional aeroplane the noisiest aspect of living here were the dogs. In my innocence I had thought that he valued silence, not that he was going to shatter it!

And as if that were not enough, we now have only two months left before the arrival of The Scumbags who infest the house on the other side of us for the summer months. The Scumbags also have a crippled dog which has to be decorously arranged on the grass by his doting owners so that he can take the sun. His bark sounds as though someone (and the idea has certainly passed through my mind) is sticking a long, sharp pin into him in one of the areas where the thing still has feeling!

The periods of silence between the monomaniac yelps of the demented dog are almost as hard to bear as the noise the thing makes as you are waiting for the next bark.

It is now almost lunchtime and I have merely assembled the determination to do something rather than having achieved much! The information I have to present this evening is all on the coffee table in front of me; the ideas for the cover are stirring yeastily in my mind all it needs is action for things to happen.

A later entry will inform you whether I have done things in good time or waited for the adrenalin to kick in to get things done when there isn’t really the time left!

I am trying to get used to skimmed milk again. Not even real skimmed milk but rather the long-life variety. It says much for the way that I drink tea that my first cups of skimmed milk adulterated milk were not the shock I remember from the experience of Tesco red pack aged milk which, as far as I can remember, was vaguely white liquid and about as far removed from the dairy product that I relish as Alpha Centuri is from The Horse Head Nebula. I don’t actually know how far that is, but it must be more than a 15 minute drive!

Now to taste or ‘taste’ wine!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Last Weekend!


Things have got to change!

Ah me! The wistful memories that such an injunction brings to mind! I wonder if I can still list all the times that I have stated (with a passion almost the equivalent of truth) that the status quo was not acceptable!

This time, however, the phrase has to be a lot more than a windy susurration.

I have been to see the nurse as part of my medical review and, although my charm managed to bring a smile to her face and a simper to her lips, she was quite firm in her conclusions. Conclusions which I fear are going to be reiterated with some degree of eyebrow raising intensity by the doctor when I see him this evening.

Those things which should not be high are, well, high and there is only so much that drugs can do before human willpower is called into play.

The bike is going to have to be brought out of its winter hibernation from the cupboard underneath the stairs and some form of bike stand drilled into the patio so that the thing can be kept outside. This is essential because the palaver of taking the bike out of the shed makes its use less than attractive as two other bikes have to extricated first. And when I say extricated I mean the solving of an intricate three dimensional jigsaw where the pedals are just a tiny bit irritating because they manage to link themselves together in the manner of one of those twisted metal puzzles that grandparents give to their grandchildren so they can see what a child with Attention Deficit Syndrome looks like.

By the time my bike is finally out of the shed and my murderous thoughts have calmed down a little, it is time to put the other two bikes back – knowing that when my bike ride is over I will have to take them out to put my bike back first and then fit the other two in again.

It isn’t worth the effort. And the bike staying in the shed unmolested for the colder months shows that. So a way of keeping the bike outside and ‘ready to go’ (apart from the numerous bike locks) is the only solution.


My attempts to find a 'bike safe' such as Clarrie and Mary have resulted in such looks of concentrated susupiciong and disbelief on Catalan faces that I fear that the time for such exotic things simply has not arrived in this part of the world!


Tomorrow is the Wine Tasting and I have done nothing, apart from not finding the bottle of wine that I wanted to put on the cover, about getting the booklet together. I am sure it will make Saturday just that little bit more interesting!

I have also said that I will provide a selection of Catalan cheese and I am relying on a recently found shop in Castelldefels to provide all the examples that I can hope to find. Cheese is disproportionately expensive here so I might find that I have drawn the short straw in compensating for the fact that the house is not really suitable for a gathering of a dozen in civilized surroundings.

Our Tasting is not going to be in Sitges but in St Pere de Ribes, though I will be staying in Sitges at the end of the evening. The fact that there is not a late train from Sitges to Castelldefels is something of a drawback to extended festivities but I have a friend in Sitges who extends the facilities of her ‘hotel’ for the night!

Before then I have to purchase a representative selection of Catalan cheeses to complement the selection of Catalan wines that we are going to taste. I know nothing of Catalan cheese and the ones that I have seen all look the same to me and have something of the same taste. I am sure that the (reassuringly) expensive deli in the centre of Castelldefels will guide my wallet to emptiness in the cause of gastronomic delight and exquisite flavour!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Escape! Some hope!



The Great and the Good (or at least the governing council of our school) has been visiting today.

I am still no further forward in finding out just how our institution runs than I was when I first arrived. At one level it seems democratic and above board, but when you try and find out specific information then the waters become just a little muddier! But that doesn’t really distinguish it from most of the other schools in which I have worked. Sometimes information clearly laid out can be obfuscation personified. I’m not sure that the previous sentence makes any sense but what I am getting at is that presentation of information can be a variant on the ‘hide something in full view’ technique.

We seem to be a Foundation and a Grant Aided school at the same time and in addition we charge large fees for the students in our care, but we do not seem to be dripping with wealth; at least the teachers don’t! What, one is tempted to ask, happens to the money! The perennial cry of teachers through the ages!

Toni has started to produce abstract paintings. I found the first when I came downstairs to begin the tea ceremony which is an essential propellant in making the transition from inside to outside to get me to school.

There, leaning gently against the large canvas on which Toni has been working for some time and which has more layers of paint than the Sistine Chapel was a vibrant scarlet canvas with a vaguely fish like form in streaks of colour. In the centre was a round white blob surrounded by yellow and orange. All in all remarkably effective and I even (gasp!) took down MY photograph of the frozen rose to put up Toni’s latest efforts. And it looks good.

He has already started a second canvas which is a black base with smears of silver metallic paint and that is well on its way towards being a successful emanation of Toni’s artistic spirit! I think that these canvases are much more lively and interesting than his more representational paintings and have a flair and panache that the others lack.

I only hope that this artistic outpouring can be converted into a reasonable cash flow.

Bring on the internet!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Anything but school!


The doors opened and we loungers outside shuffled in and on our names being called out we stood roughly in line and waited. I thought we resembled nothing so much as a line of unfortunates queuing outside a soup kitchen during the Great Depression. We included the halt, the lame and the coughing and had all assembled to make our sanguinary deposits to give added information to our medical advisors.

As the blood-letting session was at 8.00 am I had to tell the school that I was going to be late. As it turned out the roads (until the end of the journey) were astonishingly clear and it was only the equally astonishing lack of consideration of wealthy parents ejecting their fortunate offspring from various large multi-terrain vehicles at various pricy establishments on our road that slowed me down.

My final parking site was a space where I was aided by a remarkable gap in the traffic which allowed me to navigate the car into the tight spot without the impatient writhings of Catalans seething behind their wheels watching me.

As it turned out I only missed a quarter of an hour of my class, but even this limited opportunity allowed my head of department who was taking the lesson to fill the blackboard with numerous gnomic hieroglyphics related to grammar to explain and correct the homework which I had set yesterday. Needless to say her elegant and confident grammatical explanations would never have occurred to me in my wildest analytical language moments. Luckily I think I was able to stop her in time before the class got used to such detailed and irrefutable explanations. I fear that she little resorts to the “because we do” form of grammatical explanation much loved by my good self!

As you can probably tell from my up-beat tone of typing, the sun is shining and that, added to my late arrival has given the day a different spin.

Perhaps now is the ideal time for me to look again at the rabid letter of complaint which I penned yesterday to The Worst Bank in the World. I should keep telling myself that I do want the money back and that BBVA has the resources to elongate this dispute into a life-long pilgrimage of grace for me at very little cost to themselves – but where is the fun in being the reasonable one when dealing with the large bank that simply doesn’t care about what its customers think? I think that ‘spleen’ or possibly ‘splenetic’ is the operative word when dealing with an organization this useless!

The sun has now gone, as if the mere thought of BBVA is sufficient to draw clouds and muzzle the life enhancing qualities of our nearest star.

Time to drip a little more poison into the letter and the hell with restraint!
Restraint is what one needs when faced with a known absence of three days by a colleague and no effort made to get a substitute to fill her place. No, classes will be collapsed again and, as a major concession, colleagues will be asked to substitute! And we permanent teachers are complicit in this! Not even a whisper of getting a supply teacher. Why? Why are we underpaid teachers saving money for a highly expensive institution mostly packed with the scions of the rich?

I think these are real questions and not rhetorical, but no one seems to articulate them. Certainly there are teachers with kids in school at cut price and half the staff seems to have relations in the student body of the school. But I don’t. But I am a lone voice crying in a Union wilderness in an environment which will sack at the sound of a union membership application being unfolded!

Tomorrow the excitement of an electro-cardiogram: there is truly no end to the delights with which my life is surrounded!

Ceri and Dianne have given me ideas for the design of the booklet (how did they know that I was going to produce one?) for the Catalan Wine Tasting on Saturday. I need to get started on the cover. My confident choice of image was dependent on Lidl having the bottle of wine I needed: which they do not now stock! That is one of the delights of the shop; it encourages you to think of it as a normal store, the next time you go there it doesn’t have what you want.

But I will think of something else. The one thing that I do not have is a book of Catalan quotations: that is going to be a challenge!

Keeps my mind off school work!

Monday, February 22, 2010



A more than usually unpleasant day in school. I think that my patience for young humans is rapidly evaporating.

I think that my expectations for the general standard for behaviour in class are unrealistic but, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop my expecting it! This is not a recipe for happy teaching. The time, as the Bard says, is out of joint for me and that should be taken into account when I come to decide what to do at the end of this academic year.

As July is a positive life time away, I will have to find other things to fill my mind or the remaining months will be torture.

In a reworking of Eliot one of my colleagues said that February, in teaching, is the cruellest month – and I think he might have a point.

In March the weather starts to improve and the examinations for which the pupils are not working take on a greater reality and help focus their minds.

The news that GB had won gold in the Winter Olympics came as something of a shock as the Games do not appear to feature at all on Spanish television. Going to the ever dependable BBC Website I did at least find some information, whereas on Spanish television there is nothing and they appear to be judging truly appalling songs for the Spanish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The medal tables in the Winter Olympics don’t make comfortable reading for the British – although our single gold (our single medal) ensures that we are 16th, but below countries like Holland! In the all-time medal ratings Holland still manages to trounce us with 28 golds to our 8!

I may be mistaken here, but the last time I visited Holland I was not struck by the mass of snow covered mountains sticking out of the polders, yet Holland is the country next in the list after the obvious candidates to gain medals like Austria, Switzerland, the USA and Italy. I don’t understand; but I am not actually interested enough to try and find out an explanation for the inexplicable. It might just turn out to be too prosaic to be tolerable.

The tea bags brought over by Ceri and Dianne (PS Tips and caffeine-free) have made one of my colleagues very happy. Though he is British to his finger tips, they are not actually for him but rather for his Catalan wife! Were such an exotic beverage to be found in this part of the world it would also be vastly expensive, so I have told my colleague to tell his wife to make sure that this supply lasts until I go to GB in September for more supplies!


If he is lucky!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Home from Home


The first gentle drops of rain started to fall as soon as I went out of the front door on our way to pick up Ceri and Dianne. By the time we got to the airport (via a new and dark route that I had never tried before – much to the horror of Toni when I told him it was the first time I had tried it) the downpour had reached biblical proportions with walkways transformed into substantial rivers and the whole horror accompanied by OTT peals of thunder and exciting sheets of blinding lightning.

After their first attempt to get to Barcelona with their plane cancelled because of poor weather their final arrival to the rolling waves of a watery Armageddon was greeted by Dianne with barely suppressed hysteria!

By the time we had got home and were ready to go out for a meal the waters had abated somewhat and, although it was late, we managed to find a restaurant on the paseo which served a very passable meal though it was to the accompaniment of the raucous enjoyment of about twenty football fans sitting next to us who, in the Spanish way, all talked at once at the tops of their voices.

Their eventual departures after many loud toasts transformed the ambience in the restaurant from the stands to the sepulchre!

The meal and arrival aside it was time to get down to the most important part of Ceri and Dianne’s visit: the revealing of the tie.

This year I am going to be teaching during Saint David’s Day and I particularly wanted an appropriate tie. I had looked in the souvenir shop opposite the Castle for something appropriate when I was last in Cardiff, but couldn’t find anything truly suitable. I had thought that a daffodil might have been the most stylish (a new use of the word!) image to emblazon on the narrow confines of a tie but what they produced was far in excess (and I mean that word most sincerely) of my most jingoistic fantasies.

To hell with taste and decorum, I am now the proud owner of a fearsome piece of material on which large dragons in the very brightest red rampage diagonally across the tie which is slashed with the national colours of white and green. It is, one might say, noticeable. It impresses itself, as it were, searingly across the retina.

It might be a little more difficult than usual to convince the denizens of my school that this new monster is ‘one of the seven’ ties which I admit to owning! It will be a sensation!

Saturday saw us, eventually, in Barcelona and after a sophisticated lunch in a second choice restaurant we had the usual wander before terminal tiredness forced us back on the bus to return to Castelldefels for another meal!

Sunday has not dawned with the same sunshine that greeted us yesterday morning, but it is not raining so that is surely a plus!

I can now hear the unmistakable sounds of human movement and I feel that I will shortly be joined by sleepy eyed guests who might feel up to staggering to the bakery to get something for breakfast.

The dry weather did not last long and after lunch the atmospheric lighting of the waves under dark blue skies showed itself merely to be an artistic prelude to yet more dampness. So Ceri and Dianne left to the accompaniment of the gentle kiss of rain drops on windshield. I had to keep assuring them that the weather has been exceptionally bad for this time of the year and last year was much better and I am sure that it will all improve for the summer sort of fond hope!

An inept backward sweep of the razor in the shower has elicited a sanguinary response from my much abused chin.

I had the indignity of wandering about in a living pastiche of Homer Simpson with a small piece of bloody tissue adhering to my face and causing gasps of astonished sympathy from my newly awakened guests until judicious use of warm water managed to remove the blood stiffened paper from my face and reveal an almost imperceptible nick.

Always take your sympathy where you can find it is wise advice and I drank it up until it was resentfully reclaimed by harsh observers who expected more than microscopic rents in the facial skin.

With the departure of Ceri and Dianne I realise that we have no future visits planned until the possible arrival of The Pauls in August. In the summer. If we have one!

Until then the whole of the rest of the weary school term has to unwind itself towards the distant halcyon days of July. At the moment, at this stage of February, the end of June seems impossibly far away.

Easter holidays come first.

Please!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sod's Law.


As if on cue the sun is shining: I only hope that it lasts into the afternoon so that my guests are greeted with a sight of my favourite star! And that, apart from the nights, it blazes out for the whole of their stay!

Also, as if on cue, I feel awful with a racking cough and a sore throat. One has to admire god’s sense of irony and timing!

I will have to regard Ceri and Dianne’s visit as if they were a lesson I have to teach.

This is not to say that it is a chore, but rather that I will draw the necessary adrenaline from it to boost my performance.

I have always found that, no matter how bad I felt, I could use the chemistry of a lesson to give me temporary relief from my ailments and then collapse decorously out of sight of the customers!

If it works for a class, how much more likely is it to work with old friends! Well, that’s my strategy and I only hope it works!

A message from Toni half way through the morning, which I thought was a joke, informed me that Ceri and Dianne’s flight had been cancelled.

It wasn’t a joke.

Bad weather or low cloud caused the flights from Bristol to be cancelled. Although their flight has been transferred the only flight tomorrow is in the evening so they have in effect, lost an entire day of the weekend. At least they were insured so that they will be able to claim for the day that they have lost.

At least I will be able to pick them up from the airport tomorrow. Out of every disaster there are crumbs of comfort!


It takes a lesson where I am able to talk about “Of Mice and Men” to show me that there is still pleasure to be found in teaching!

Obviously this novel is one which is almost absurdly perfectly designed for GCSE teaching, but even in a school where the majority of the pupils’ first language is not English it is still very successful. Talking about the structure of the novel and character and incident was an almost indecent delight!

It shows up, with remarkable sharpness the basic aridity of the instruction which I usually patter out on a day to day basis to my classes. My almost pathological ability to respond to any stimulus (no matter how slight) which allows me to indulge my true passion for digression is limited in this school by the fact that we are all chained to text books and that any ‘falling behind’ is instantly picked up by my class from the progress of the two other classes which are usually being instructed in tandem with my own.

Because of the examination and test culture which runs the school, any omission (real or imagined) in the teaching is instantly pounced on by the pupils who expect to be spoon fed with information at every opportunity. They are a ‘needy’ lot who always (and I mean always) have an excuse ready to justify their outraged amour-propre when they are seen to fail. Talking to a history teacher, he said that after every test he gives he is surrounded by pupils who demand to know why they only have a 2 or 3 out of 10 for their results. He tries to explain that they have put faulty information in their answers; dates are incorrect and locations which are way out. Their response to this is, “But I studied!” As if effort should be its own reward irrespective of any accuracy in their responses! That tells you a lot about the way our school operates!

Time ticks on and I have managed to get some time off school tomorrow so that I can greet my guests at a rather earlier time that my customary half past five in the evening. I am typing this in a lesson which I am taking (well, baby-sitting) for the science teacher who has now been absent for three days. All future absence should therefore be covered by a supply teacher. Yeah! Right! As one of my colleagues keeps telling me so that I say this side of sanity, “Remember Stephen, this isn’t Britain.” Indeed it isn’t.

There does appear to be some fragmentary sunshine to lighten up the desultory weather that we have been suffering, but it is neither strong nor consistent enough to justify any strong belief that there is going to be fine weather for the visit of Ceri and Dianne. I hope that climatic events will prove me wrong, but if the weather is anything like the past week then they will go away with a very jaundiced opinion about one of the major reasons for my moving to this part of the world in the first place. But, I live, as always, in hope. And sometimes expectation!

Spain has ‘enjoyed’ a marathon session of Big Brother which has eventually come to a grisly close. Imagine my chagrin to find that some diseased imagination decided that the empty house could be used for a further session with has-beens from previous series! The theme music for this abject apology for entertainment when it rings out on television is enough to make me scurry away like a startled teetotal American evangelist caught in the act of savouring the bouquet of a 40 year Oban single malt from the belly button of a buxom whore with his trousers round about his ankles!

A member of the maths department has rounded on me and gibbered something about my photographs. These are my entry for the Teachers’ Section of the Maths Photography Competition in the School. You know the sort of thing; a photo of something vaguely related to maths - circles of road signs, squares of tiles etc. Last year a senior figure in the school seemed to have it all his own way – it is my function to complicate things this year. I have encouraged a proven competition winner and fellow member of the English department to enter as well. Another colleague has just bought a new camera and I hope she enters too. This year there will be a real competition.

Bring on the Brits!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And so it goes on


My (perfectly justifiable) misery about school yesterday was augmented today by a traffic jam which met me almost as soon as I got onto the motorway on my way to the place. With gritted teeth and thumping my elbow onto the ledge just above the internal door handle (I find it helps) I made my way forward at a halting pace.

My mood was not improved by the realization that I would be taking a 4ESO class for an absent colleague the work for which I had in my bag. The only advantage to all of this was that the class started twenty minutes later than the class that I should have been taking, so my latish arrival after an hour on the road would make no difference.

I arrived in school to find the usual chaos in progress. I should never have been given the class for the absent colleague; the class did not start twenty minutes later; my normal class was waiting etc etc etc. Nothing changes!

And, to cap it all off, the 2ESO class that I should have taken after my normal class have all been packed off to a technological museum in Terrassa! And I haven’t been taken for a substitution – which is what this school calls a ‘cover’ lesson or what Llanedeyrn High School called more interestingly ‘drag.’ I value such unexpected pleasures and it makes me think that the world is not entirely bad.

Talking of badness; there is talk of adjusting holidays. In my experience any ‘adjustment’ by the management is always to the detriment of the workers (cf. Baker Days). The present plan, which seems to have been worked out with the government and a few friendly, cowed unions, is that a new holiday be instituted in late February or early March and the week given to teachers be added on to the end of the present summer term. This will mean taking up precious days off July!

The only time that the meeting (about which I still do not want to talk) came alive is when right at the end the directora started talking about the movement of the holidays. Everyone (except for me) had something to say about that, while I was trying to work out exactly what had been said. I needn’t have worried, asking others the next day I found that fluent Spanish and Catalan speakers didn’t seem to know the details either! No doubt we shall hear rumblings of plans and ideas and then suddenly be presented with a fait accompli! It is the way of things.

As we are part of the private education system (although partially funded by the Generalitat) we do not have to do what the public system does. I think the plan is that we somehow make up the time by a combination of not taking the holiday and working more in the days that we have next September (assuming that I am still here) when we prepare for the next influx of students.

The hell with it all! Let my mind dwell on more congenial aspects of my life.

I have made a desultory start on the arrangement of my books into some sort of coherent order. This is not easy as there is insufficient shelf space still and I have not grasped the nettle of book destruction to ensure useful space for books that I actually want to keep.

The key to my future plans of book coherence lies in Shakespeare.

My collection of The Bard’s books is exhaustive and I have multiple copies of the plays in old and new editions. I have notes from every publisher under the sun and academic tomes of intimidating learning. What I have to ask myself is if I will ever use them again.

Obviously I need copies of the texts, but the notes? And how many copies do I actually need. In the past I kept a further text of a Shakespeare play if its introduction looked half way decent. But today with limited shelving resources I have to be firm.

That last sentence looks as if I actually have a definite intention, though the number of times that I have said the same sort of thing in writing shows just how facile it is to say something and how difficult it is to make it a reality! But I do think that I am getting the necessary psychological strength to do something – even if it is only to put the Books In Question into a box and put the box Elsewhere!

The way that I am approaching the gargantuan task of getting my books in order is to approach the almost overwhelming prospect book case by bookcase. I sort the books into category and then literature by century. Eventually I will have the bookcases with their elements in some sort of order and then I will be able to begin the tit-for-tat approach off moving the books. I have realized that, once the books are in bookcase order I will have to measure the length of shelf space each section takes up so that I can eventually decide where things can fit.

My aim is that by the end of the summer I should have my books in order. And then perhaps I can find the copy of Froth on the Daydream” by Boris Vian that I have promised to loan to one of my colleagues. Then, at last, I will know another human being who has read the novel! But where the novel actually is in the morass of my collection is not immediately apparent. I hope it will eventually emerge, as it were!
Meanwhile Ceri and Dianne will be here tomorrow and although for the next two days I will only be able to see them in the evening at least we will have the weekend together.

Roll on a decent meal in opulent surroundings with congenial company.

I have just been told that I have lost another free period because of absence. There is an instant equilibrium in this bloody place anything you gain is actively seen as something which must be taken away from you at the earliest possible moment. It is at times like this that my plans for the end of the summer term seem more fixed and more final!

God rot them all!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's to look forward to? Please!






The after effects of the truly grisly and horrendous meeting last night (I don’t want to talk about it) were seen in the grey faces of the survivors who walked blankly to lessons this morning.

I am building up my resentment for ANOTHER Saturday morning meeting of the staff to witter on about the older students. When I think about The Worst Bank in the World not giving me back the money they have taken under false pretences and a meeting outside the normal teaching week and the rain – I could despair.

However, there is a visit impending when Ceri and Dianne will descend upon our part of Castelldefels and I am collecting names of decent restaurants in Barcelona so that we can have a gastronomically satisfactory time!

There is also the question of viewpoint. Ceri, it would appear, is looking forward to seeing Barcelona from a bird’s eye view to see how interesting a vista of rooftops might be. I hope that he is going to produce drawings and paintings: this will be something of a departure from his recent work, but I look forward to such developments.

This has meant that I have put fairly strange requests to my colleagues about where to stand in Barcelona to give the perspective that Ceri requires. We have come down to the stalwart Gaudi building whose roof is one of the architectural glories of this part of the world.

Another suggestion was the Columbus statue which, I now understand has a life in it and what must be panoramic views. Our school also has commanding views of Barcelona, while from a neighbouring hill there is more Gaudi and even more spectacular views. But we will have to wait to see exactly what Ceri is after. I hope it produces something saleable!

The weather continues to be absolutely despicable. There is a quality in the present slew of bad days which has something in common with the weather of my native land – though there are glimpses of fugitive Spanish sunshine to keep some sort of shreds of faith in the belief that the summer will, eventually, come.

It is of little comfort to me that Toni describes this summer as the worst that he has ever known: I want sunshine (and lots of it) now!

As I am getting no sun I am feeling the lure of an Irrelevant Electronic Gadget Purchase – I suppose that this qualifies as a little retail therapy for me. The real problem is that I am positively replete with electronics with the result that every trailing multi -socket looks as though it is being consumed by multiple writhing serpents all of whom have sunk their fangs into the electricity supply.

Not many of these serpentine monsters have devices attached to their length. Indeed for some of them I have little idea which device is supposed to be fitted to them. The logic would therefore be that I at least either find out whether the devices I have begging for power will fit or else at least take them off and save power.

But there is a higher logic which says that if you even think about “putting pieces of electronic equipment away” then at least half of the things that need power will immediately fail and you will never find the correct power source again ever! True!

We went out to the Worst Bank in the World to see if by any chance they had repaid the money they had taken unjustly and dishonestly. No change there: they preserve their putrid record with ease!

What was more pleasant (and a clear example of good customer relations) was in our local bar/restaurant and I had a free meal. On the back of the business card of the establishment there is a grid for the waiter to sign each time you have a meal. After eight signatures you are entitled to a free meal! So near to BBVA (just around the corner) but so far from them in terms of making their customers loyal, rather than mutinously homicidal!

Talking of mutiny we have a spate of absences in school at the moment and the head of making people do more work than they are paid for is frantically looking for free periods in our ridiculously long day to fill any vacant spaces.

It never enters their tiny heads that it might be a good thing to employ a supply teacher. One science teacher is absent, probably with the flu and is likely to be absent for the better part of the week, but no move has been made to find somebody to take her place.

Oh no, unthinkable while there are teachers who can take her lessons and classes that can be collapsed then nothing will be done to lessen the load on colleagues. Although the senior staff involved are nice enough their way of thinking is not about their colleagues. They cringe in apology when you lose a non contact period but they do nothing (nothing!) to stop it happening.

Although most (amazingly not all) staff moan and groan about the way that cover is organized, no one does anything about it.

There are truly glaring faults in the way in which our school is organized and run, but without an effective trade union base for discussion it is easy to marginalize people and, with a resigned shrug and a nervous little chuckle consign valid questioning of how things are done to oblivion.

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the laissez faire attitude which is the predominant one in school. Wear resignation is not my usual response to obvious injustice. I simply wonder if I have the energy or emotional resilience to encourage effective representation.

Having said that my union contact has contacted me and asked if I would be prepared to have a chat with a union representative with a view to boost our membership in school.

Employment law in Spain is such that as far as I can understand the employer has the right to sack you for any reason or none. As long as the correct money is paid (so many days for every year worked) then no one in legal terms is even faintly interested. So a lone teacher pressing for union recognition or increased union membership is basically on a hiding to nothing and is looking to be sacked at the earliest possible opportunity.

While being sacked has its attractions, February is a little too soon in my plans for this to occur!

I think.

Monday, February 15, 2010

If only we could trust each other!


The most difficult decision that any working person has to make is whether or not to link personal keys with work keys.

Let’s face it, it is after all a decision of crucial importance. On the one hand putting the two sets of keys together makes it less difficult to find yourself with the wrong set and vainly trying to open the car with a classroom key and cursing the fact that you have put the other set in your case.

On the other hand separation means double the opportunity for mislaying the damn things.

I freely admit that I am not the most tidy of people and the fact that I do not have a teaching room base means that in my frantic peregrinations around the school and my equally chaotic progress from one teaching space to another there are numerous opportunities for the keys to go missing. And they do.

At the moment my losses have been compensated for by the reality behind the homely wisdom of my head of department who sagely says in a calming sort of way when I am frantically turning over books and searching cupboards, “They always turn up.” Not, please note, “usually” but the infinitely comforting “always!” So far that has been the case and my keys have always been found in the places where I have left, ignored, discarded, dropped or otherwise dispensed with them.

As doors have to be locked after use and opened to let the pupils in, it would appear to be possible to trace where the keys were last used. Appearance is not reality. Sometimes one takes over directly from another teacher and sometimes the room is not locked. Such combinations lead to panic on my part when the clanking comfort of the chatelaine-like bundle is missing.

I have found my keys lying ignored on otherwise clear desks; placed carefully in my pigeon hole; dumped unceremoniously in the centre of the staff room table to join the jumble of stationery and other impedimenta; handed back to me; hidden deep in one of the pockets of my briefcase and only found following Mad Lewce’s dictum that things have to be cleared out entirely three times before they can be classified as lost; hidden under other people’s books – and once, horrifically, on the floor. But they have always made it back to me. So far!

I thought long and hard about the separation of the sets of keys, but it was becoming something of a joke to take out a combined set which looked as though I was the jailer of some maximum security installation!

I have now tried to adopt a policy where I put my house keys in the same spot every time I come home. And, amazingly, so far it’s almost working. Which I think I have to classify as success. For me.

During the winter months I utilize my overcoat as part of my key filing system. The car keys go into my coat pocket and then the coat is locked in the cupboard which we use for coats. The school keys then go into my trouser pocket. The only thing I have to remember is to replace my school keys in my pocket every time I lock or unlock a door. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it is more difficult that you think.

Classes are not empty rooms and, almost as soon as you are through the door (and often when you are not) the kids regard you as a resource to be tapped at once and it is all too easy to drop the keys in an absent minded gesture as you cope with the thousand questions that our needy kids always have to ask!

It is now 11.00 am and, given the bloody meeting which we have to endure this afternoon and evening, we still have eight hours of school business ahead of us.

I used to think that Curriculum Meetings in LHS were the absolute nadir of human experience, but these meetings in Catalonia are not only as boring, but also have the added ingredient that most of the talking is in Catalan.

I used to think that not knowing the language in which self important non entities were mouthing off platitudes would be an advantage – giving you obvious scope for infinitely more interesting day dreaming. Not so. We all sit around a square island of tables and there are too many people watching you for you to be able to drift away to the Isles of Oblivion and ride the gentle waves of tedium until real life drags you back to reality and the delicious possibility of escape.

An hour has passed and there are now seven hours for purgatorial time life in school until the delights of the ring road claim me and show me the way to oblivion and an early bed!

And just in case you are wondering about the spacious time I have to type in school then I might point you to our ridiculously long day where spaces for teaching are available from 8.15 to 16.45.
At least it makes timetabling somewhat simple and it usually offers at least one “free” period a day – hardly surprising when you consider that the number of slots in a normal week (though god alone knows what is normal in this place) is around 35, compared with a normal British school which would have 25 slots. And in a British school at least some of those periods would be non contact periods. I have 23 teaching periods in my present school and a weekly scheduled departmental meeting, taking my total to 24 allocated periods leaving as many as nine “free” periods in the artificially long week. In the British system I would be suffering from only 1 free period in a 25 period week.

So, not only am I teaching more in the Spanish system but I also have to consider my personal time as so-called free periods. And I am paid less. But it is money. Though not much. And so on ad infinitum.

It is at times like this that United Nations Day seems both very far away and very close!

And there is always the National Lottery and Euro Millions and the ONCE and a random act of munificence . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010

There is always reading!



The intriguingly titled “The Marriage Bureau for Rich People” by Farahad Zama was a Christmas present (somewhat delayed) from Aunt Betty. I read it as an antidote to the vulgarities of “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer – and I ended up enjoying it.

Its style reminded me of “The No 1 Women’s Detective Agency” novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Zama’s book set in Vizag in south India concerns the retired Mr Ali’s success in setting up the eponymous agency.

The first part of the novel is episodic and different with the same mix of banality and exoticism that characterizes McCall Smith’s books set in Botswana. There is a picaresque quality to Zama’s book which is reminiscent of the sort of writing which you find in a magazine columnist with a settled weekly audience fascinated with his take on a foreign oddity cantered on an unfashionable cultural institution like the concept of the arranged marriage.

As soon as the central love story takes off then there is a completely different dynamic to the story line and it becomes, inevitably perhaps, more conventional. Though not necessarily less enjoyable for that.

Mr Ali becomes a figure of considerable authority and insight and someone who seems to embody the common sense of experience to an extraordinary degree. Perhaps one should treat the book as a fairy tale! I recommend it as a fairly easy and spasmodically funny read.

St Valentine’s Day came and went. It was enlivened this year by television showing a group of Muslims burning the rubbish associated with the commercialization of the day. It was bizarre watching some bushy bearded elder rather maladroitly attempting to burn a big pink heart - obviously constructed by the zealots specially to be burnt!

I must admit that it rather an endearing thought to imagine some embittered imam buying pink cardboard and cutting out a heart. It was rather depressing watching fluffy toys singeing in the flames as well, watched by heavily veiled girls whose sparkling eyes watched the carnage!

I do, of course agree with the rejection of the more garish aspects of commercialization, but I also object to demonstrations by religious fanatics devaluing my position by throwing blind faith and mindless prejudice at my carefully thought out political position!

Tomorrow one of the interminable meetings after school that our institution likes so much.

And I don’t.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

First blood?




The Vampire book failed to keep me interested on a tired Friday evening, so I had to finish it this morning. How is it, one asks in parenthesis, that other people can dispose of books half way through.

Many a time I have finished a book thinking that it was absolute rubbish; a judgment I had formed a great number of pages earlier – but the idea of not finishing it had not entered my mind!

“Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer (The International Number One Best Seller) was just such a book: absolute rubbish but I kept on doggedly reading it.

It started well with a very brief Preface and with some effective scene setting. Indeed the novel worked fairly well right up until the entry of the Vampires. Meyer is obviously trying for a new take on a very old theme and attempting to update the old mythic quality in a literary response to these monsters from the pens of Polidori and Stoker and make them appear more ‘reasonable’ in their modern life.

The novel is set mostly in the north west of the USA in a damp and cloudy part of the country where the vampires (who have adjusted to a diet of animal rather than human blood) are able to live and walk around in generally sunless skies in the company of their normal ‘food.’

Meyer tries too hard to re-work the legends and she seems curiously reluctant to come to terms with the major selling point in the novel, that vampires exist and are an unobtrusive part of society!

The main character is a seventeen year old girl, Bella and her (eventual) vampire boyfriend is too often described as god-like and looking like a model and a Greek statue for him to be taken too seriously. The actual action of the novel is fairly slow until danger in a real form (from other more bloodthirsty vampires) eventually transforms an adolescent coming of age novel into something nearer to an adventure story.

I have the sequel and the sequel to the sequel in my locker in school but I do not think that I shall be rushing to read them. I understand there is also a film. I not going to rush to see that either!


I have also been reading The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of the free e-books which I downloaded more for the promise of the title than anything else – and a vague memory of having seen faded volumes of that title in virtually every second-hand shop with a large unsold stock. It turns out mainly to be screed against the German militaristic ambitions of the years leading up to the First World War with much moralistic discussion and a lack of compelling story line.


Such a disappointment for a book that has held a fascination for so long. Perhaps the fact that the film gave a little known actor called Rudolph Valentino to be a Latin lover and dance the tango that ensured its popularity because I don’t think that the author, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, is necessarily a name to conjure with! Though, to be fair, I do think that I have heard of ‘Blood and Sand’ though I don’t know what it is about. Yet.

We appear to have new neighbours; not, unfortunately, the Scumbags (as they are affectionately known by one and all) but on the other side where the solitary Frenchman now has departed and what appears to be a young couple are moving in. Certainly work is being done in the house and garden. Toni has seen a god but I am praying that it belonged to a visitor and not the owners. We have a superfluity of canines in this area all of whom feel the need to defecate on the pavements. And their cretinous owners don’t clear up after them.

I have now taken the final photograph for my entry for the school’s maths photography competition. My final photo was of some cones which I am sure are organized on some mathematical system. When I was young I had the Big Hamlyn Book of Mathematics and so knew all about the Fibonacci Sequence from an indecently young age, and I have spoken about the numbers of plants and seed pods and twigs on trees and leaves with absolute authority by shaking my head sagely and mouthing something about that famous series - though I could rarely see how it applied!


Last year only one teacher entered the teachers' section of the competition, I am determined to make it more of a struggle for the only competitor this year and have encouraged another member of the English department to enter as well. The latter has recently won a competition for his photos and so the end result should be interesting.

Even if I don’t win!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bloody Carnival!


Carnival always takes place on the same day at the same time each year, but in my school it always seems to bring with its advent total surprise.

This theme for virtually everything linked to the outside world in our place is in some way associated with Biodiversity. In an astonishing display of lack of comprehension about what teachers would do a sheaf of photocopied pictures of various examples of wildlife were placed on the staffroom table with self adhesive stickers and the indication that it might be a good idea for members of staff to cut out the animals they liked and stick them to their clothing!

One member of staff brought in a Rasta wig to which she attached, at the end of each lock, one of the photocopied pictures! She looked, as it were, striking.

My concession to the gaiety of the day was to wear a tie which featured penguins in Bermuda shorts. More than appropriate, I considered.

My lower sixth also entered into the spirit of the day and turned up for school (boys and girls) sporting ties. When asked what they were dressed up as they replied, “Stephen!” It is always difficult to work out whether something that our kids do is either an elegant tribute or a self assertive piece of condescension, but for the sake of my own arrogance I will assume the former!

The secondary children generally did little, while the primary kids adopted a whole range of costumes so that when I went to an early lunch the bizarre scene of an army of midget mannequins was like, as a colleague pointed out, walking into a late sixties film by Fellini after taking a generous number of mind altering drugs!

The things that ‘had’ to be done for school were most emphatically not done as I not only lost a free period but also had to take candidates in my lunchtime for a practice for their upcoming oral examination in an exam next month.

Today was one of those totally unsatisfactory days in school when nothing really went well. A planned essay writing period which had been prepared for by an introductory lesson yesterday was completely disrupted by the whole class having to go for a medical check up. The school has a computer system to facilitate internal communication but . . .

The Carnival gymkhana was distractedly chaotic with teachers standing outside staffing various stations. I, unashamedly followed the sun and unconcernedly left the management of the station to two delinquent boys (one recently returned from an expulsion for putative drinking) who had been gifted to me to ‘help.’ This help was not disinterested as they were trying to boost their Citizenship mark by being responsible. Which they achieved. Up to a point.

Now home and relaxing into a book – not necessarily a good book as it is one which appeared mysteriously in my pigeon hole and presumably was something which I thought would be a good idea to read at the recommendation of the bookseller who sometimes visits the school. I assume.

What the hell, it’s a book and I’m half way through. And it’s about vampires. Read on.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The trials of life


The next shirt on the rail to be used for school was one with fold back cuffs. By the time that I had one appendage through the arm hole and realized that I couldn’t see my hand, it was too late to consider changing the offending article. At least I knew where my cufflinks were and so I am now supporting two miniature car gear levers at the cuff catching the light as I type from the sunlight flooding into the staffroom. It’s cold but bright, bright, bright.

My shirt is snowy white and therefore it showed up to advantage the tiny (but noticeable) grounds of coffee which flew from a teaspoon I was washing. Hurriedly dabbing at them with a paper towel soaked in water I discovered what an excellent type of blotting material my shirt was made from. Within a few seconds the cotton of the shirt had developed that skin-sticking translucency that makes wet T shirt competitions so popular. Praying that my animal heat would dry out my clothes before I started teaching I donned my coat and fled to the car.

While waiting for a gap in the continuous line of traffic to offer itself to my increasingly impatient car (I tend to divorce myself from the horrors of Spanish driving and pretend that I am actually commentating on a documentary of myself going to school) I pondered on the Tiny Things Which Make Life Difficult.

The coffee grounds weren’t even from my coffee. Such is the price for disinterested consideration.

I ran over in my mind the most pressing of the unimportant things which irritate.

There is the water in the soap dish which effectively dissolves your soap giving a bath life of about a week rather than the longevity which is associated with air dried blocks. And yes, it is too much to expect to tip the water away after each shower.

The slight sticking of the base of the electric kettle which half rises when the kettle is removed and clatters back into place with a sound which destroys the funereal hush of the morning cup of tea.

The impossibility of successfully pouring milk from a one and a half litre carton into a cup of tea without having one gout of milk slop (thanks to perverse air pressure) anywhere but into the bloody cup.

The fact that my little computer is small and portable but the power lead and transformer which go with it could be for a full sized computer.

All those things which irritate and which make life more difficult.

Let alone tomorrow which seems to be getting more complicated by the day. Today we were told that we have to make computer comments on all our students for a meeting on Monday. A meeting which will stretch well into the evening. And about which I do not want to talk. Also tomorrow is our contribution to Carnival which has us staffing ‘stations’ at which happy little students attempt to answer subject related questions.

And I have a doctor’s appointment at the end of school.

A full day to look forward to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Occupation by Books


The stage is rapidly being reached where all of my books will be out of boxes and available to view. You will notice that I have not been rash enough to assert that they will be in order or even on shelves – but a real stage in the liberation of my books has been reached.

Let the winnowing commence!

Even I can see that I am preserving books and monographs that are dead space: I’m never going to look at them again. Pass Notes can surely be consigned to the bin in which they richly (except of course for my effort with Dylan Thomas) deserve to languish before their destruction.

Yesterday I built (please god!) the last Billy bookcases for some time and all are now filled to overflowing. At least I can see what is there and start making decisions. Probably.

The school was hellish today with all the pupils having returned from the various visits that they had been on during the last week. The fact that some of the teachers brought in chocolates purchased during a school visit to Belgium were little compensation for the ignorant hordes storming through the erstwhile silent corridors.

And the weather has been bloody awful as well. Driving rain and a thoroughly northern feel to the weather – though the temperatures remain higher.

But enough of this! Setting out the books has meant the displacement of a whole load of stuff which will have to find a new home.

The struggle continues!

This morning I was lulled into a false sense of security as I negotiated the lead up to the motorway which takes me to school. The traffic was heavy and the variable speed signals indicated something was up but apart from reducing speed the traffic was moving. Something the traffic on the Ronda de dalt (the northern ring road of the city) certainly wasn’t.

I had to phone-a-friend in the middle of a traffic jam who phoned the school to let them know that I was on my way, but, rather like Zeno’s arrow was unlikely to make it to the destination and therefore as Tom Stoppard put it in ‘Jumpers,’ Saint Sebastian died of fright!

As far as I could tell the traffic chaos was fermented by a combination of poor weather (it’s been raining for what seems like months) and a stopped car just (as fate would have it) before my turn off to get to the school.

The car looked suspiciously undamaged and the police man parked by it suspiciously officious so that to some of us, whose senses had been heighted by the frustration of watching a slowly moving line of traffic occasionally stutter to a halt, it looked as though there had been some of macho car chase.

With teeth firmly ground together I finally made it to the approaches of the school. The traffic chaos here was augmented by the fact that too many cars, buses and the odd pedestrian were all behaving atrociously on a one in one slope.

By the time I got within a couple of hundred yards of the school I was imbued with the collective spirits of Genghis Khan, Dame Shirley Porter, Attila the Hun and That Woman – a pretty noxious mix – and I was waiting for some ‘caring’ parent to get in front of me and execute one of their typically unselfish manoeuvres the successful completion of which requires every other road user to be a mind reader. That would have been the signal for me to unleash the frustrated fury of a deliriously delayed driver.

Luckily for all concerned the antics of our parents were just within the bounds of normal inconsideration and I was able to park in the single remaining space and stump my way to my class.

The head of English (we look after our own) was taking my class and even offered to complete the lesson but I was far too frightened to allow that to happen. That was all I needed, hopelessly late and someone teaching my kids grammar who actually knew what they were taking about! I was terrified that they might go on expecting comprehension from their teacher even when she had left!

The afternoon staff room was abuzz with the news that Action Had BeenTaken against the naughty pupils who had attempted to drink gallons of alcohol while on a school trip. Sixteen pupils have been expelled for two days. Presumably the servants will be directed to look after the wastrels while they languish at home!

There are many aspects of this condign punishment (some of my colleagues think that it is unreasonably hard!) and the way in which it has been administered that confuse me. As this infraction took place last week, why wasn’t the punishment administered at once on their return? Why weren’t the kids told that they were going to be given detentions for the rest of the year or something at the time that they were on the trip? But mostly why do my benighted colleagues think that this tap on the wrist is harsh!

I am happy to admit that, basically, I couldn’t care less. The school can do or not do what it likes as long as it doesn’t interfere with my life in the place. Staff have been wandering around looking as though they had just heard Mr Chamberlin say that he had not heard from Herr Hitler and that consequently etc etc. Roll on the time when I can wave this amazingly self obsessed place goodbye!

We are building up to Carnival. I am not dressing up. That humiliation is reserved for Class Teachers. I am prepared to play a more decorous part and merely present teams of pupils with the questions I prepared for the English department section of the ‘treasure trail’ set up for the pupils to follow as part of the giddy celebrations. For reasons best known to itself our institution has labelled this ‘trail’ a Gymkhana.

My Greek is a little rusty (or non-existent as some would have it) but doesn’t the word gymnos or something like it mean naked?

I shudder at the mere glimmer of the distant thought!

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Curse is Come Again!



The imminent arrival of visitors is a great incentive to tidiness. Even tidiness that they are unlikely to see.

The third floor is like some unreal set for ‘unpacking chaos’ artfully created by an art teacher for a class still life examination. Dismantled Christmas trees jostle for space with the final unopened boxes of Pickford’s packed books; Christmas decorations spill from plastic cases to land incongruously on chairs which are orphans from the living room; miscellaneous electronic equipment sits on sheaves of papers which encompass almost the whole of my professional life. Chaos personified.

The solution (leaving aside Toni’s repeated encouragement to feed all extraneous material to the flames) is of course more bookcases. To fit into spaces which do not really exist.

And it is that word ‘really’ that gives one hope. ‘Really’ does not mean that there is absolutely not a single space into which a bookcase could fit.

So I went (alone) to IKEA and bought more. Bought more after measuring carefully (admittedly using a tie rather than a tape measure) to ensure that they would fit in their magicked ‘spaces.’

It was at that point that magic deserted me. I constructed the first of the Tardis cases and gently placed it into position. Where it didn’t fit. So I pressed gently to ensure its easy slide along the tiled floor into position. And gouged out a chunk of the ceiling. I then attacked the top of the book case with a knife, a fret saw and a file. It only, I assured myself, needed the slightest of adjustments and it would fit perfectly. The loss of another chunk of the ceiling assured me that it was not the case. I attacked anew and the case eventually fitted. Though it’s going to take another lump of mortar to release it from its snug fit!

Hurriedly fitting the shelves and even more hurriedly filling them with books allowed me to jettison four Pickford’s boxes from the terrace and clear space in the maelstrom of sheer things cluttering up the floor.

The next bookcase was a half size version and much easier to assemble apart from the flimsy back of the unit which was supposed to fit into the pre-formed grooves to accommodate it. It didn’t and it took someone with the professional patience of Toni’s sister to show me that with gentle persuasion and a belief that it would fit, that everything was possible.

Two shelves up. Books laid out. Still boxes to go. So the final bookcase on the third floor was constructed. This is a full height but a half width thing. It was supposed to fit beside its ‘snugly’ wedged full sized partner, but I felt that pushing another unit into that space would result in structural damage.

It now stands in front of one of the French doors onto the terrace – and all books from the boxes at this level are now out; or out and about to be more accurate. There are clearly books which h I am unlikely to use now; books which are only useful if you are teaching a literature based examination course at GCSE and AS or A2 level. And the chances of that are, to put it mildly, remote.

So the books have to be, or could be, or must be disposed of.

I can foresee an almost endless trundling of a collection of books whose use (even in Britain) is limited, all around institutions in Barcelona.

Perhaps I should simply bite the bullet or break the conditioning of a lifetime and (tell it not in Garth!) simply throw the books I don’t want away.

Almost any other solution is going to mean that I end up with all the books that I have earmarked for destruction or selling or whatever other euphemism I can think of, staying in heaps somewhere in the house.

But to throw away a book!

I seek steely determination. A dark night. A heavy gauge black sack. A near dump.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

When the silence stopped!






An odd week of echoing classrooms and silent corridors is over and next Monday is going to be a moment of considerable horror when unaccustomed faces of pupils pop up all over the place in erstwhile areas of tranquillity and peace.

Back to normal and preparation for the next exam! Already some of my colleagues are starting to write the questions which the hapless pupils are going to have to answer in a couple of weeks – or less! The sound of the relentless rumble of approaching grammar exercises will wipe off the semblance of calm that has settled on the faces of my colleagues as we cheerfully ignored the school bell (actually a particularly repellent siren) as it called us fruitlessly from the staff room to tend to empty classes.

In spite of the fact that I have been able to get my marking done and even complete some satisfying (!) English work and in spite of the fact that I only had contact in the latter part of the week with less than a dozen unfortunates who didn’t go on holiday and choose to stay in school – I was still exhausted by the time I came to leave on Friday afternoon.

However tired I was, it took only a quick wash, a change of clothes and a squirt of aftershave to revive me enough to meet a friend who I had not seen for some time.

It might have worked out that we, who live in Castelldefels, could have met in Cardiff, as both of us were visiting Wales over the New Year. But alas it was not to be and we were forced to accept the mundane and meet outside one of the most expensive supermarkets I have ever known in the area of Castelldefels in which I used to live.

Our chat had a tinge of hysteria to it as we had so much to say to each other and we have made yet another pledge that we will not leave it as long before our next meeting. This is one pledge we intend to keep!

The short, but intense, meeting over, I got food for the evening and film. The food was the more digestible.

Knowing Toni’s penchant for the gruesome I chose a ‘horror’ film from the woefully inadequate video shop in the centre of Castelldefels playa. Chosen on the title alone I came home with ‘Antichrist.’

Within a minute I had stopped watching it and taken up my book. In a couple of minutes more Toni had also stopped viewing and was openly saying that he thought it was even worse than the last ‘Mosaic’ film we had seen.

That last sentence perhaps needs a little clarification. The video shop in Rumney in Cardiff had a fairly large selection of films including latest releases. We sometimes were a little adventurous and ranged outside the normal landscape of recognizable stars and directors and went home with something which often turned out to be remarkable viewable.

Sometimes, but not always. We began to note that the real rubbish was often produced under the ‘Mosaic’ trademark. We spurned such fare and our contempt was shared by the manager of the store who actually refunded us our money after I returned one film with a scathing denunciation of all of its production values. He wholeheartedly agreed and said that there was some sort of agreement that they had to hold a certain number of these duff films, but I thought that repayment was a more than adequate apology. After all, how many times have you heard of a refund given because the film was rubbish?

‘Antichrist’ was not a ‘Mosaic’ film but in some ways it was worse than that because its production values were higher. It had money and no excuse!

I took to my bed in high dudgeon as I felt that I had been cheated and especially as I realized that I had read scathing reviews of this film and I should have put title and vague feelings of disquiet together more appositely.

Ceri and Dianne are almost about to visit and the third floor is an absolute tip with Pickford’s boxes lying around in disorder and the ‘library’ looking as though it has been shelved by a maniac. Something must be done.

And done it undoubtedly has been. Almost. I have been back to IKEA. Book cases have been bought and I sort of know where they are going to be put.

The window in the ‘library’ is never used so one is going to be placed in front of it and I will have to slim a bit if I am going to be able to circumnavigate the full extent of my book room. What is already a snug room is going to be that much more restricted.

The third floor if going to have a re-think and the useless desk which came with the house is going to be thrown. Or at least parts of it are going to be relocated.

This could mean that there will be space for one large full sized Billy (for it is he!) bookcase; one full height skinny Billy bookcase and one full width, half height Billy bookcase. And this will not be enough.

When these bookcases have been built and filled, I have to admit that we will have reached saturation point. Any further bookcases and Billy will start having to pay part of the rent!

It will then, however, be more than clear that the hard decisions which I have been putting off for over two years will have to be faced: book will either have to be placed back into some sort of storage or they will have to be disposed of in other ways. And my heart goes cold just typing those joyless words.

However, for the moment I can relax in the Phoney War self-delusion of not having to do anything because nothing has happened. When the last nail has been driven (yes, there are nails even in an IKEA Billy bookcase) and the last shelf slotted into position. Then we will see what we see.

And there will always be an examination to set, mark or fear to keep my mind away from Fahrenheit 451!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Right again!



The A-list audience resplendent in staggeringly cut gowns and elegantly modish dinner jackets are hushed. The world famous film star has picked up the golden envelope and is about to speak. There is an expectant hush. The moment for which all have been waiting has arrived. After a contest in which so many have seemed to be within reach of the ultimate prize, we are at last to know which one has reached further and dared more than any other.

A slight clearing of the throat and that warm, plumy voice, known throughout the planet (if only from his commercials where they never dub but always use subtitles so that his spoken, incomprehensible words can caress the tympanic membrane of hundreds of millions who have no knowledge of his language) starts the magic litany the result of which millions have been anticipating.

“Tonight, in a night of prizes, the main and most closely contested of the awards for “The Absolutely and Unutterably and without a Scintilla of Doubt Award for the Worst Bank in the World” goes to . . .” That little dramatic pause; the heightened tension; the indrawn breath, “BBVA for the Umpteenth Year in Succession!”

To a chorus of snarls and twisted looks of derision and contempt the Managing Director of BBVA minces his way coyly into the spot light to accept his award – a beautifully hand crafted cut glass globe entirely filled with customers’ tears.

Wiping a dry eye with a €500 note and letting it flutter gently to the ground, he looks around at the sea of joyously hostile faces and starts his speech.

“I knew that we were in with a chance when our contribution to the complete destabilization of the global monetary market was appreciated; but I feel it is our complete lack of customer care linked to our cavalier disregard for petty distinctions between clients’ money and our own that I think swung it for us. I also like to think that our unsocial opening hours; our inability to communicate adequately within the organization; our arbitrary imposition of charges and our thoroughly unpleasant call centre staff all played their part.

I would also like to thank our customers – but why break the habits of a lifetime! No, seriously, we really appreciate this award and I can tell you that we are going to work damned hard to retain it.”

And if you think that was heavy-handed then all I can say is that I needed some sort of release after my morning visit to BBVA in Castelldefels.

What would you call the taking of money for something you are not providing (leaving aside religion and Ronaldino) I think we know what word is most appropriate!

It turns out that the peremptory demands for money from the shrill voiced Harpies from Madrid is because they had misappropriated my money in the first place. The have been charging for the servicing of an ‘aval’ which I have not had since June, but money draining away from my account in an almost unnoticed way because the charges are only levied quarterly! Deceitful, devilish, dubious, disgusting, distasteful, detestable, displeasing, despicable, dreadful and damnably wrong! (Please rearrange those words in ascending order of anger!)

Wrong indeed! Though no word of apology. I am told that Spanish banks do not apologise. Do any of them!

With Toni at my side lulling the bank people into confederacy by speaking Catalan, I managed to keep my temper and we eventually left the bank after filling out a ‘reclamation’ form to try and get my money back.

So far there has been no hint of legal action on my part, though the wisdom of my colleagues is that it will be shocking if any money by way of recompense actually makes it into my still open account.

One of the advantages of being a member of a union is the legal assistance which is extended towards its paid up associates: of which I am one. I would prefer to go straight to the police shouting “Stop thief!” and point them in the direction of the Castelldefels branch of BBVA, but I fear that such histrionic gestures will not achieve much. But the lawyer in the union can exert influence even on a not-fit-for-purpose, ramshackle collection of incompetents that comprise BBVA.

For the present I am prepared to wait and see what the bank will do. I now have a new bank book so that I can keep tabs on the Jesuitical Gerrymandering that I am sure will be the bank’s preferred form of defence.

Seconds away! Round 2!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Here we go again!


How well schools work when they are depleted of students!

I once had this remark made to me in a slightly different form when I was in University and taking to a member of the Registry staff during one of the vacations. And he said it in complete seriousness.

But these last couple of days do illustrate vividly what he means. We have been reduced to seven students from the lower secondary forms and one single solitary student from the upper secondary school!

And the amount that we have been able to do! My marking is complete. I typed out some work for the English department’s contribution to an aspect of Carnival. We have had an English Department Meeting (all capital letters for that) and I have got together some more information about Salinger for my sixth form class. I have chatted to my colleagues: those few that are left in school. I have had a delightful lunch (with wine) and many cups of tea!

It is the sort of educational life to which I could get used very quickly indeed. But reality is only two working days away and we will immediately get swept up in the preparations for the next examination.


My relaxed day however came to an abrupt end when I went to pay in some money to my dying account with BBVA (The Worst Bank in the World.) Foolishly (as it turns out) I did not finally close the account when I moved to another bank. I have a ‘device’ which shoots out electronic signals so that I can sail through the pay stations on the motorway, while other, lesser mortals have to dig into their purses or scrabble about in their wallets for money or cards.

My ‘device’ had to be bought and then serviced by a bank. I decided to leave enough money in the account to pay for the occasional debits that would come from normal motoring. This has not worked out perfectly. Partly because I think there are still some organizations who still think I bank with BBVA but mainly because it looks as though BBVA has been taking money by false pretences.

Incomprehensible phone calls in both Spanish and impenetrable English from BBVA seemed to indicate the need for me to pay money into the account. This I did, only to find that BBVA had increased the amount I owed them threefold. And the amount I paid in was not visible credited! It further looks as though they are still charging me for the notorious Aval Bancario. This is an amount of money held in trust by the bank to show a potential landlord that you can pay the extortionate rent charged for properties near the sea.

You pay the money to the bank and then the bank proceeds to charge you something like €300 to set up this iniquitous method of legal theft and then €117 a quarter to service this money and to compensate the bank for the risk (?) involved in holding your money.

In Spain the web is full of people like me who ask plaintively why this evil form of bank rip-off is allowed. Answer, of course, came there none. Hardly surprising from a bunch of ill principled gangsters who between them brought the entire economy of the world to its collective knees.

However, far be it from me to pre-judge the amoral institution which I will be visiting tomorrow replete with documentation and with a trusty fluent Catalan and Spanish speaker at my side.

I am even taking time off school (which I think should be chargeable) to go to my branch. You must understand that in keeping with the abyssal (‘abysmal’ is simply too weak a word, I am thinking Marianas Trench here) level or depth of service offered by this so-called bank that it restricts its opening hours to mornings. On Thursday evenings every other branch of every other bank in Castelldefels stays open until fairly late in the evening. Not, of course, BBVA: it closes as 2.00 pm.

It will be very interesting to see what they say when they are presented with the evidence tomorrow.


Perhaps I will have to eat Humble Pie.


But I doubt it.


Battle lines have now been drawn!