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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sun Wine Fine


The third floor came into its own this afternoon when three of us repaired to the eyrie and partook of a little chilled white wine in the sunshine. In March. Watching the Arsenal-Barça match, I couldn’t help notice that it was pouring with rain and the poor Catalan commentators made a point of saying that the temperature was near to zero. I shouldn’t complain!

Our afternoon chat was after an excellent lunch in the Maritime Club. We were served by one of those intimidating dyed-blond disturbing women who are unsmiling but have a twinkle in the eye. You know; the ones you wouldn’t want to meet alone on a dark night! And she was inefficient, having to be reminded to bring bread and forgetting to put the extra whisky on the tarta whisky! Some things are unforgivable!

Having listened to the steady diatribe against Ibramovic by a “friend” who brings up how much he cost and the fact that “we” gave away Eto’o free, gratis and for nothing as well; I now have an opinion on this player myself. In spite of the fact that he has just scored a goal his positioning on the field is inept and his kicking shocking. I would prefer ‘Bebe’ Bojam to play instead. Even as I typed that Ibramovic scored his second! This just shows what the hell I know about football!

Suzanne’s visit meant that the ‘library’ was cleared out so that extraneous impedimenta obscuring the books was removed and even the Third Floor was made a little clearer.

The barbecue waits for early tomorrow to be cleaned however!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What else is there to do?


After a more than blustery night the day dawned better than one could have expected with scattered cloud and the all important sun.

The sun has been present throughout the day but not always as assertively as I would have liked it to have been. This has not stopped me, however, from resorting to the sun bed on the third floor and taking what rays were thrown in my general direction!

The tidying of the Third Floor continues at a snail’s pace with extraordinary displacement activity including sorting out a chest of drawers – which has, perversely thrown up more material which has to find a place on the same Third Floor which is over laden with material at the moment!

Another Herculean task waiting for me is the cleaning of the barbecue in preparation for the calçots. Rather, I have been told, the barbecue is for the meat and the calçots (which have to have ‘fire’ to get them to the state in which they can be eaten) are going to be cooked on some sort of grill which, at the moment, we do not have.

As the barbecue has been languishing in isolated glory in an unconsidered corner of the Third Floor balcony for the greater part of the year, you can imagine how ingrained the accretion of mess produced by pigeons, pine trees and perverse weather has been. All of this has to be cleaned away so that fresh meat can be laid on the bars without imminent danger of death from microbes that have been mutating for months on undisturbed metal.

I am a great believer in the miraculous effects of the substance contained in a little green circular tub that I purchased some time ago. This contains an undistinguished lump of slightly gritty material of a hardened mud-like consistency which really does get rid of those hard-to-get-rid-of stains on stoves, taps and especially, the bottoms of saucepans and frying pans. I am prepared to go for anything short of elbow grease to get results!

My reading has ground to a halt, though, even as I type there are various books literally within reach which are calling to me: “A Farewell to Arms” is asking to be re-read; “Culture” by Raymond Williams – which I bought for title and author and should probably now read; Eliot, Fitzgerald (F. Scott and Penny), Fowles (for self indulgency) and Frisch (for astringency) are all there, out of place and an-alphabetic but reaching out! Perhaps a play: doesn’t take long to read and gives one a sense of completion. Job done: Frisch it is. Given where I am, perhaps “Andorra” might be appropriate!

Barça are going to play Arsenal – divided loyalties, though there are Catalan players in both teams!

Tomorrow will be decision time!


Monday, March 29, 2010

You're never alone with a dog!


Yesterday was the official start of the biting season as I now have a swelling on the underside of the lower wrist of my left hand.

With an almost superhuman strength of will I have not scratched and have even treated it to a small quantity of my jealously guarded supply of Savlon purchased on my last trip to Britain.

The swelling is, however, more akin to a horsefly bite than a mosquito and I have vivid memories of my last such bite remaining a nuisance for a considerable period of time.

We have seen mosquitoes throughout the winter and have been appalled that these flying fiends have managed to survive even the coldest (and it has been cold this winter) periods when they should all have died off. It bodes very ill for the coming summer. I can only hope that I have not becomes too acclimatized to the country and that the mozzies still go for Catalan rather than Celtic blood!

The Neighbours from Hell recently re-installed next door have been suspiciously quiet: no flaming rows; no smashing of crockery; no television outside; no concourse of spotty youths shouting and smoking. All quiet. Too quiet.

I realize that I am tempting fate by articulating this good news and that the neighbours may now unleash the full extent of their inconsideration – but two days residence and no complaints is a startling record!

Which is more than can be said for the dogs. Our other neighbours have realized that their animals are pests and they seem to have done something about it. The real dog who barked in a stentorian way has been suppressed somehow and we are left with the wheezy exhalation of the rat-dog who trundles about with his hind legs in a wheeled chariot. I am prepared to forgive him his noise as he looks quite as grotesque as anything painted by Bosch or Breughel. That surely is punishment enough!

Forgiving is, however, something that I am not prepared to do for the dog the street adjacent to us. This animal was left outside the house while his unthinking owners were elsewhere and, to show his desolation, the animal howled and barked incessantly. From my vantage point on the third floor I could see a procession of irate neighbours marching up to the front gate of the offending house and ringing the bell. They obviously got no answer and sometimes while they stared at the gate in frustration they would be joined by another neighbour on a similar mission. They would then have a conversation in which, even at a distance, one could tell that incredulous outrage was the key tone that they were adopting. I feel sure that the owners are going to get an earful sometime today!

The tidying of the third floor is stalled but, as a guest might arrive tomorrow I am sure that there will be a sudden boost in energy and things will be thrown into the cupboard, or even, if I am feeling strong be put away properly.

Lunch was in a restaurant which divides opinion: right from wrong; mine from Toni’s. In spite of an extensive menu Toni decided there was nothing he liked and so plumped for tallerinas and patatas bravas. He liked neither. I, on the other hand had macaronis putenesca (!) and the second plate was cheek of pork with potato and onions. It was delicious. Ah well! I don’t think we will be going back together, but, yet again I have had an excellent meal there!

Taking a short walk along the beach revealed houses for sale which met all my criteria: modern, on the beach with own swimming pool. So, if anyone out there has the €1.7 million that I need to buy it.

Anyone?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

O Ye of little faith!


I’m back to being British: running to the window each morning I get up to see if there is evidence of sunshine. The bedroom window faces north and is surrounded by pine tree branches so there is a moment as I look towards the distant sky and hope.

Hope has indeed been answered and the sky is a flawless blue and the sun is shining in what I can only describe as a right and proper way!

I am still shuddering with horror at the maelstrom of humanity that filled the supermarket I went to yesterday. I needed to get some A4 paper and I knew that the shop opening on a Sunday is erratic to say the least. Unlike Britain you cannot assume that major hyper-markets will be open, indeed it is easier to assume the opposite.

Our smallish local Carrefour is open only on Sunday morning while the larger hyper-store is closed. I don’t really understand the logic, but from the hyper-market workers’ point of view it is surely better.

The place was packed and, I’m not sure if it is my highly developed sensitivity to underdeveloped humans but the number of squalling, screaming, crying and shouting children seemed inordinate. And they do get in the way with that round-eyed, unseeing inconsideration that one knows so well from school!

Another justification for the trip was to find acrylic artists’ paint and brushes for Toni so that he can complete the latest oeuvre which is a sylvan scene of back lit trees and a verdant sward cut by sharp shadows. At the moment the lack of white paint is a limiting factor in the process and I think he might have to go into Barcelona for everything that he needs – but the work has promise.

Today the ‘task choice’ is from more particular weeding and one of two types of tidying. I cannot say that I am drawn to any of them. The tidying is being done in spaces where there is no real space to tidy, if you see what I mean.

The tidying that I do usually consists of picking up something to be tidied, wandering about with it for a number of seconds and then putting it down in a different (rather than appropriate) place. I am like a young child attempting to do a jig-saw: I pick up a piece and then place it at random hoping that it will fit the new resting place – and giving it a bit of a bash if it doesn’t!

I am discovering a whole series of little pamphlet-like books that never fit convincingly onto shelves and live their lost lives hidden between larger and more convincing volumes. These have come to light as books have been unpacked and moved about. The original slim volumes of verse; a Reader’s Digest book about English craftsmen; another little oddity about health foods and so on. The only trouble is that I find these things endlessly fascinating and immediately stop what I should be doing to read them!

Occupational hazard.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be less than ideal so there is a chance that at least one of the outstanding tasks might get done!

Or not.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Free at last for a bit!


There is a different quality to the light and to the oxygen one breathes when one is on holiday. Life takes on an altogether rosier look, even when the skittish sun hides behind the clouds. The tasks that one has half set oneself during moments of calm in the working week seem not altogether impossible to complete.

I am trying, desperately, to keep out of my mind that this spring break is half the length of the holiday in Britain. By careful self-delusional computing you can eke out the holiday to eleven days and that seems like a real gap.

And the summer term is never as bad as the first two. Is it? And we do have a really good summer holiday to look forward to. Really. And the second year sixth leave in May and I’m sure that there are other things that I have forgotten all of which combine to make the summery months more bearable than the dark months of winter.

To celebrate the first day of the holiday (even if it is a Saturday) I have done some weeding. Most of it is the delightful stuff where one gives a gentle tug on the weed and it gracefully comes away from the loose earth with a clump of roots. Other, ill-bred weeds do not.

There are three (four if you count our gloriously artificial ‘lawn’) types of grass which strive for life where they shouldn’t. Two of these green survivors are fairly easily uprooted; the third, however, is not. Like a lizard with its tail it gleefully allows me to rip away the stalks safe in the knowledge that the powerhouse of obtrusion is still safely packed away in the firm earth ready to spring forth (the grass that is, not the lizard’s tail) when the next shower comes.

We also have a string-like plant which creeps along the ground sinking anchor points at seemingly random positions which give it a better than evens chance of survival when confronted by a frankly dilettante weeder like myself.

However, I have just surveyed the grün blitzkrieg (can that be right? Doo adjectives go after the noun and do they mutate?) and I have made a distinct difference. If the sun continues to shine then I may consider making a further sortie later in the week to mop up the stragglers.

There are still weeds in profusion around some spiky and prickly plants which thrive on the left had side of the garden and I have made an executive decision that they add a colourful background to the plants that should be there and, even with garden gloves I am not going to venture into those picturesque regions.

I am determined to go out for lunch today to celebrate this untoward freedom. We could go on our bikes to one of the many restaurants by the sea which has been built along the paseo. Yesterday, for the first time, I actually used my bike to go and meet Caroline for one of our monthly semi-hysterical chats over a bottle of wine. I feel that if one goes anywhere by bike then one has earned the right to a bottle of wine at least.

By the time I left Caroline it was getting dark and I still have not managed to set up the dynamo on my bike so that it produces light for more than a few seconds. I needn’t have worried no bike that passed me had lights and I’m not sure that the paseo actually counts officially as a road.

I have been reading a slim volume of essays on Jonathan Swift edited by Denis Donoghue called ‘Swift Revisited’ this is the publication of a linked series of Thomas Davis Lectures given in 1967. I have had this book for years and never read it. It is only 90 pages long and there are five lectures.

I have to admit that I read most of it lazing in an unaccustomed bath and very enjoyable it was too – the book as well!

Swift was a deeply odd character and his relationship with ‘Stella’ and Vanessa are fascinating. One of the lectures emphasized the political aspect to Swift’s life and literature. As the bath water god colder I told myself that in just a few pages I would get out, but I didn’t. I think that I might try and get hold of a copy of the biography written by the ex-MP for Ebbw Vale. That could be ideal summer reading! Click on Amazon!

The Family have descended and left us with a selection of leaves and branches which are going to be used as part of the barbecue later in the week for our long delayed feast of calçots.

For the first time in I don’t know how many months I have thrown caution to the winds and dressed in shorts and t-shirt I have disported myself upon the third floor. For the first time this year it was actually possible to lie out on a sun bed without suffering from exposure! Long may such days continue!

Especially as a colleague has gone to France for a week and it is expected to rain the whole time!

I will have to remember to wear yellow when I see her next!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A few drops of blood



The extent to which I have become acclimatized to the challenges which this country can present you with, could possibly be illustrated by my experiences going to have a blood test this morning.

The doors to the medical centre open at 8.00 am sharp and the crowds flood in, jockeying for a position to have their veins slit. This is pointless because once inside, one of the medical staff reads out a list of names and the people are expected to stand in the order in which they are called.

Today was slightly different as a desk had been set up in the concourse and a seated lady called out the names. Mine was called forth fourth (sorry couldn’t resist that) and I walked over to the extraction cubicles. I duly went when called and had my blood taken in the normal way.

And that was the problem. At the end of the second little tube being filled with red the medical assistant smiled brightly and bid me adieu! When I said that I was ready for my drink, she looked at me blankly and gave me one of those worried smiles which I know so well from attempting to communicate in a language not mine own!

I was there for a glucose drink and two blood tests to see how my system dealt with things. No, I was assured, that sort of test was only done on a Monday, never on a Friday.

Pushing my linguistic boundaries to the limit I tried to explain in spluttering Spanish that I had taken time off work and so on. There was (it would have been muttered in Britain, but was quite audible here) a conversation while a collection of people decided what to do.

Eventually it was decided that I would have my drink and my second blood sample taken and then I would have the privilege of taking the second sample to St Boi. How kind!

The glucose was presented to me in a small bottle taken from the fridge and looked like a mature vintage Sauterne but tasted like an alcohol free, flat, slightly over-sweet white wine. Better, I have to admit, than some wines I have drunk! Thinking about it, I ought to revise that to “many” wines I have drunk!

I can’t say that the concentrated glucose had much effect on me, though I was listening to my i-pod and with a languor that I find is quite common to listeners of a certain age, I allowed the tracks to continue from whatever electronic choice had previously been made.

So I sat there for two hours listening to the Best Ever Tracks From The Eighties while waiting for my body to do whatever it is supposed to do with a pretty comprehensive shot of concentrated glucose.

While I could feel no physical effects my sudden realization that the lyrics of “I’m a Barbie Girl” were both profound and also extremely incisive might possibly indicate that there was some sort of mental effect!

At the end of two hours I eventually found the lady who had taken the first sample and, with many exclamations of what I took to be apology and fluster, she stuck the needle in for a second time and produced a bloody test tube which she indicated was my property. She then disappeared and reappeared with my blood sample inside a suitable envelope to ensure the safe delivery of same to Sant Boi. Some time later, with envelope in hand I was ready to visit the dark interior of Sant Boi rather than the fringes (or IKEA) that I had previously known.

There are no parking spaces in the centre of Sant Boi.

None.

At the point when I was about to lose my temper and give up, a parking sign suddenly appeared and I disappeared into the subterranean cavern which took cars.

The clinic was a gargantuan building with seven floors and on the floor for me a disgruntled lady who looked at my blood sample with undisguised contempt. Luckily I had Toni on hand to translate the fact that nothing was my fault – apart, possibly for the undisputable fact that it was my blood supply and circulation that was in question.

After taking the sample with barely concealed irritation there was nothing more to do except for me to have some fluid and something to eat. A slovenly served cafe con leche and an uninteresting cake was not quite what I had in mind - but it served!

My leisurely morning disappeared in the fiasco of my enforced visit to Sant Boi and I had to return to school much later than I intended. Not so late, however that I couldn’t do my lunch duty and, after relating my epic story of blood testing, help get the last class of kids down to see a film.

Their behaviour was so appalling that we had to stop the film and while I sat with three even more appallingly behaved miscreants; my younger colleagues threatened and cajoled the rest of the year group to adopt a more civilized form of behaviour. Which they didn’t.

I know that every generation looks askance at the youngsters coming up to take their place, but I think that we in school have every right to feel disturbed by the callous, arrogant lack of respect and cynical rejection of authority that our future senior pupils display.

Were I in the position to pay the swingeing fees that we charge, as a parent I would be disturbed to have my children in the same class as those who so signally fail to live up to the ethos of the school. Or at least the expression of the ethos that I have always felt to be essential to reinforce any ‘ethical’ teaching taking place inside the institution.

But who cares. It’s the end of term, and i don’t have to think about such things.

But Easter is not a fortnight here in this benighted country: it is a week and two miserable days. And that is one day more than the public sector of education! We go back on Wednesday and the pupils in state schools on the Tuesday. Thank god for small mercies.

Today has shown signs of promise with temperatures in the low twenties. My only hope is that they increase as we make our way through March.

Please.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The End Is Nigh!






Sometimes the ‘F’ word has the sweetest ring to it.

It expresses in one simple syllable pleasure, satisfaction and stimulation. It is exactly what one wants to hear. Especially at this time of the year.

I refer, of course, to Film. The word that means that one doesn’t have to plough through some abstruse piece of archaic grammar that only people learning our language have to grasp. No, it means being in a darkened room with professional audio delivery which can effectively silence (or mask) even the most intractable chatter of a group of young Spaniards in close proximity.

Film! The magic ticket to mindlessness. Film! The wilful abnegation of any sense of responsibility to the darkness. Film! Somebody else’s work. Film! Even with the worst audience still easier than taking the kids themselves! Film!

The head of department has booked the auditorium for the last day of term and all is set for the flickering images to take our children away on the wings of fantasy! Or something. Or anything.

And that is only for those lessons which I have to take after a swathe of my teaching will be lost in the sanguinary exploration which is going to take place tomorrow morning. What a way to end a term: with a lunchtime duty and semi-hysterical students last period in a darkened room!

‘The Chichester Psalms’ by Bernstein are beginning to make an impression on my memory. I have been studiously listening to the new recording that I have had as the latest disk from the BBC Music Magazine. As I drive to school each morning I dutifully listen to the sequence yet again and today, for the first time, I have been humming sections from the piece and therefore realize that it is beginning to take its place in the memory banks.

The performance on the CD from the BBC Music Magazine is by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with the National Youth Choirs of Scotland and Great Britain and the Rodolfus Choir.

My reactions to the piece are frankly mixed and the discovery that the score comprises salvaged music from deleted material that was originally in ‘West Side Story’ and a theme from an uncompleted Bernstein musical ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’ perhaps explains part of my sense of discontinuity in the flow of the music.

Some parts sound disconcertingly like some modern ‘happy-clappy’ passages of liturgical music with the slurred chromatic meanderings that make some modern peoples’ music so difficult to sing.

The overall effect is impressive with the poignant figure of David singing the twenty-third psalm in the second movement particularly satisfying.

The orchestral prelude for the third movement sounds to me as though it is from an altogether different piece with lush strings and swooping melody strangely at odds with what we have been listening to.

It took me a while to get to know it and it might take a longer while for me to get to like it. Perhaps, as it was intended to be, I should try and get to a performance in an institution with the atmospheric resonance of a great Cathedral.

Meanwhile in Barcelona I have yet to hear any concert in the Santa Maria del Mar which to me appears to be an ideal concert space, but which someone else has told me is an acoustic nightmare.

I would like to find out for myself.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's the waiting!


If I had to describe the feeling inside the staff room today I would say that it is like a ‘phoney’ end of term. There is a sense of termination, but not actual completion. There is an undercurrent of baying for films rather that instruction from our clients, but there is still work to be done and work to be set for those days when we are not here.

But term still limps on to its culmination where my greatest fear is that I am called on (again) to be a referee in one of the many games of football which seem to be something of a feature of the last day of term. My last stint of arbitration was mercifully cut short by the unseasonable rain which rapidly developed into a very physical constant in the season that followed.

Today is yet another brightly dull day where the sun is hidden behind shining clouds of misty obstruction. I have been told that the weekend is going to be sunnier but, oddly, colder than it is today. This does not bode well for the holiday which I wanted to spend prone on the third floor soaking up my vitamin D.

Another day is done! A day nearer the fabled holidays for which none of us can wait! Tomorrow is my free afternoon and then on Friday I have a blood test – the things I will do to get a few hours off school!

The advent of the holidays may also tempt our appalling neighbours to come and stay in their holiday home next door. There have been suspicious sounds emanating from the house which would appear to indicate that they are intending to make a holiday appearance. This is bad news. Their attitude towards everyone else is one of contempt and inconsideration, so their advent is greeted with general dread.

At least the weather is not good enough to encourage these dreadful people to conduct their sordid lives outside and, with any luck, their epic rows will be confined to the interior and at least the walls and windows will muffle some of the sounds of their daily conflicts!

Usually by this time of the year we can say with some confidence that the summer is near, but this year the adverse weather conditions forbid any easy assumption of that sort.

I sincerely hope that the sun returns in force to sooth my reasonable anxiety about what the summer is going to be like this year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What to do with the car


Well, at least it isn’t raining!

There was an aesthetic element inside my morning head which was even able to appreciate the mist that shrouded the motorway on my way to school – and my logical mind told me that there had to ‘warm’ air somewhere for this phenomenon to form. And that it good news as the weather we have had recently has been abysmal. I have been assured, by the science teacher no less, that Saturday is going to be good.

This would buck the trend of recent weekends and be even more unlikely when you consider that Saturday is the first day of the Easter holiday. I still have not had the courage to find out exactly how much time we have as holiday. As a person used to the fortnight holiday at this time in Britain, anything less is going to be a considerable shock to the system. And I know that it is going to be less!

Another shock to the system is the state of staff presence; which of course means that the crucial item in the calculation is staff absence. As absolutely nothing is done to bring in supply teachers to help, it means that all classes have to be covered by those present in school. As I have lost two free periods and had a timetable revision in the last week I am disinclined to be amenable to fawning ‘requests’ for help. Not, of course, that I have any choice in the matter. So far there are three absences and counting. Roll on chaos!

The end of “Slumdog Millionaire” was an orgy of ‘feel-good’ with only the death of a brother and a gangster to leaven the rising gorge of syrupy happiness. And if that is not a masterpiece of mixed metaphor - I will try another one later; if I can find the energy and the inspiration!

My trip into the centre of Barcelona (after an abortive attempt to park the car near a station close to the school) was a nightmare of missed turnings and ventures into new and irrelevant places in the city.

My meeting turned out to be one of those that do have an influence on future actions and all for the price of two coffees which I didn’t pay for!

My journey back was marked by only one wrong turning which did, however, result in a wide detour before I was back on familiar ground. And I arrived home just in time to go out for dinner for food and a report back on the meeting with the Consul General with the wonderfully evocative name of Gwatkin. This is a Welsh name which I have never come across before, but and prepared to believe in because it is in my interest to do so. I will wait patiently to see what comes of this contact.

The meal was, I have to say, a more pleasant alternative to the marking which is waiting for me!

Tomorrow a lesson less: one of my classes has been swapped for an extra one on Monday: for this relief much thanks!

I am continuing to read the Asimov short stories with a sort of compulsive fascination. I have discovered that although the titles may have faded from my memory the basic plots are surprisingly vivid – mainly because Asimov is amazingly adept at isolating a concept or fugitive idea which is sometimes more powerful than the narrative structure that contains it!

I have ensured that the e-book reader is charged in preparation for my ‘holiday’ on Friday morning.

Meanwhile I continue to eat carbohydrate.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How to end the day


It is amazing how a fairly decent menú del dia of fish soup, cod in creamy spinach sauce and turron ice-cream washed down with a cheap and cheerful red wine can mitigate the debilitating effects of spending almost twelve hours in school.

The after school meeting (after losing a non-contact period; doing a duty and photocopying as if the photocopier was going to self-destruct at any moment) was easily worse than any imagining could have made it and I didn’t manage to get home until after 8.00 pm.

I have spoken of these interminable meetings before and I can only say the membrane which separates the dull-eyed listener to teacher-speak from raving maniac is becoming thinner each time I subject myself to the ordeal of being, much like Jeremy Bentham in London University meetings, “present but non-voting.”

I am quite sure that even if I could understand fully what was going on I would be no more enthusiastic about my presence in these mystic gatherings where runes are studied as sheaves of papers are shuffled mysteriously around the table.

Today there were three (or possibly four) members of staff absent and the difficulties of covering classes when there is very little slack in the system was made obvious. “Luckily” as I had already lost a free period there was little scope to take another period (after the two taken last week) so I was relatively lucky and managed to make some time to accommodate preparation for some lessons.

One lesson disappeared in a film show. The equivalent of my second year sixth was suddenly joined with another class and shown the first half of “Slumdog Millionaire”. This is not a film I have previously seen and I settled down to enjoy an unexpected treat – or at least as much of a treat as a group of stir-crazy students who are already on holiday in their minds if not in their bodies!

Frankly, I couldn’t care less, as long as I get to see the second part of the film tomorrow.

My initial response is positive, but not as enthusiastic as I expected it to be from the reviews. The structure of the film is composed largely of flashbacks, stretching into the childhood of the eponymous “Slumdog” as the reasons why he was able to answer the series of questions on ‘Who Want To Be A Millionaire’ are illustrated with incidents from his youth.

The conceit of the film is gently amusing and constantly stimulating and the portrayal of a particular sort of life in modern India is presented with shocking realism – it is easy to see why the Indian authorities were deeply critical of the portrayal of the country in this film. I look forward to the continuation tomorrow.

I think that I and my colleagues are entering the ‘bone tired’ stage of term in which the remaining four days in school are going to be something of a trial.

On the other hand the new battery in my mini-laptop is showing remarkable resilience and actually living up to its promise of six hours of power.

Like not much else in life, this is one time when something actually ‘does what it says on the box!’

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wine at lunchtime!


We have been told that the ideal length of time for an efficient siesta is something like 20 minutes. Not the five hours that I took.

I tell myself that if I slept for five hours then I needed five hours. Teaching takes it out of you, especially if you are teaching in a school which makes a god of examinations and all the misery associated with them. Marks have been obtained and distributed and noted. Meetings have started and will continue until we enter the period of blissful calm known as the holidays. For which thank god!

As an indication to the entity that controls the weather I have bought a replacement cushion for the sun bed (the clue is found in ‘sun’) so that the weather can catch up with my purchase. Today is another brightly dull day, the sort of day indeed which has been a feature of this disappointing winter.

I know I shouldn’t complain as the temperature in the car registered 16C even though it felt very much colder – but I want the sun, always the sun!

The slumbering siesta meant that the tasks which I had set myself to be completed this weekend have not yet been started. Some of them have been waiting for over two weeks to be completed and even I am shamed by the lack of progress. Today, as I keep telling myself, is the day.

And today it was!

The rotting carcass of the death trap of a desk has now been consigned to the street corner where it will magically disappear when the early morning pixies of disposal will do their enchantments and leave the corner grubbily empty.

In a manner whose operation has become common to me as I constantly try and fit a small town library and extensive junk shop into a very limited space, the removal of the two base units of the rejected desk has resulted in a relaxation of the other essential detritus of civilized living which has expanded to fill the area which should now be empty.

As usual also I am micro-tidying during which I find all sorts of interesting, nay, fascinating incunabula which demands my immediate and extended attention.

One practical result of this ‘tidying’ is that I have discovered a case for my camera. Not, of course, that I don’t already have a case (indeed cases) for my camera, including one specifically for the Canon camera I have which is made in leather and was purchased at an expense which I have almost managed to divert to the hidden reaches of my subconscious when I was last in Cardiff. But it’s too bulky to fit comfortably in my coat pocket.

The previous satisfactory case got lost during the photographing of the tinsel clad garden plant which was the centrepiece of my Christmas card e-mail last year. Extensive searching of our not very extensive garden has revealed no sign of the case and I have assumed, as I tend to in my darker moments, that it was purloined by a marauding feline who had come to use our garden as a toilet. Again.

So the discovery of a thinish, smallish binocular case (the binoculars having been comprehensively destroyed by small visiting relatives) which is an almost perfect fit for the camera (and does fit in my coat pocket) was an obvious bonus from the Household God of Tidying as an encouragement to Keep At It.

As you might surmise from my typing I have not Kept At It and, on the pretext of trying out the newfound case, I have come downstairs for a cup of tea. The cup of tea that makes all things well and allows, sip by sip the world to take its accustomed place in a manageable part of the universe in a system that makes sense. Or something!

I have resurrected another camera of mine which allows you to add “artistic effects” to pictures. It is great fun to use and though it gobbles up battery life the images you can get from it ‘in camera’ are encouraging. I have decided to get more of my images printed out and, if I could find a beginners course in English for Photoshop Elements I would take it. Pious resolutions one might say. And one would be most probably right. But I have always said that pious resolutions make imagination less painful, so I will comfort myself with fond anticipation right up until (at an unspecified time in the future) it doesn’t happen – and by that time I will be being pious about something else!

Meanwhile the here and the almost now is the last week of school before the holiday. This term seems to have been dragging its way along for most of my working life and, I think I express a sentiment which can be echoed by all of my colleagues, I can’t wait for it to end!

The summer term, which in absolute terms is almost as long as this interminable Alexandrine, seems in reality to be more like a jaunty iambic pentameter. Towards the end of the academic year classes become like Boojums and “softly and suddenly vanish away” and there are heavenly spaces where there used to be diabolical . . . well, you get the idea.

Five more days and then I can get book sorting and bring yet more order to what at the moment is very pleasurable chaos!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Return of the Dongle!


For that happy band of pilgrims who put their faith in Sir Clive Sinclair and bought a QL computer and waited anxiously for their much anticipated machine to arrive – there was one question that vexed the faithful. Would the machine have a dongle?

To a generation which has access to the i-phone which has a memory capacity (even in its lowest manifestation) which exceeds that of the total memory of all the computers in the world when I was a lad, and which can be slipped into a pocket, the idea of the QL must be as quaint as the Kodak box camera is to me.

‘Micro drives’: only fellow sufferers who believed that those tiny drives, no bigger than a book of matches, and often no more reliable for storing information than a book of matches, would work properly can truly sympathize with the true misery that came with the casual destruction of hours of work as the miniscule tapes inside those micro drives refused to save your work. You could read that last sentence 50 times and the micro drive would still be whirring along attempting to save a single page of A4 typing.

But this experience was still in the future when we neophytes pledged our allegiance to the imagination of Sir Clive and sent him our money.

That the machine had been marketed and sold before it was truly read we knew. But we were used to Alpha-release programs which were sold to us with a plaintive message embedded in them to let the manufacturer know about the glitches and bugs that the user found. The assumption was that things would go wrong; it was part of the computing experience.

So, as I eagerly awaited my QL (Quantum Leap, in case you were wondering) I followed the news avidly as new versions of the programs which ran the machine were lauded and installed on the later versions sent to customers.

Then it was discovered that the operating system was inadequate and the modifications needed wouldn’t fit into the existing machine! So an add-on was produced and the machines were sent out complete with dongle sticking out.

The next development was a dongle-less machine but whether the customer would get the latest version was not at all guaranteed.

It was with some relief therefore that my machine, after a quick check, was without appendage.

That relief was short lived as using the thing introduced the innocent operator to a via dolorosa of computing misery! On one occasion the machine actually reduced me to tears of impotent frustration as hours of work (which had to be completed by the next morning) were simply swallowed up in the machine, trapped in its electronic innards by a frozen keyboard. The reset wiped the work, which was a WJEC Mode III examination with a vast amount of fussy indents, italics, different type faces etc, and meant that I finally went to bed at 6.30 am the following day.

But at least the dongle wasn’t there so I had a more sophisticated machine. Who knows what dark world of soul destroying opposition I might have found if the dongle had been there!

The dongle shows how far we have progressed. There wasn’t the physical space in Sir Clive’s machine for the extra programming. Today, with mobile phones and watches the amount of computing power that can be packed into an impossibly small physical space is astonishing.

And then you get to the batteries.

On the principle that the camel train travels at the rate of the slowest camel you can see that in computing systems, the quality is dictated by the rating of the weakest part. And in modern computing that surely is the battery.

The mini laptop on which this is being typed is about as small as is convenient for me, with my fairly spatulate fingers, to use. It is a remarkable machine with relatively vast memory; good quality screen; adequate loudspeakers; built in camera, and so on. But the battery . . .

When I take the machine to school, I also have to take the power adaptor and leads. The main power cable is thick and unwieldy; the adaptor is bulky and there is a long connecting lead to the computer. A svelte machine, no bigger than a medium sized paperback is compromised by the vulgarity of the size of the power pack necessary to recharge the battery. A battery which needs to be frequently recharged.

A colleague who has now bought a mini laptop (needless to say, I was the first person to have one, though I am now not alone) and is something of an expert on computers (he bloody well should be as he has gone on three inset jaunts to London and Madrid and somewhere else and I have had to cover lessons) informed me that there were better batteries available for my machine.

He very kindly sent me details of a web site where I could find the battery that would fit my machine and I took the plunge.

This is where the dongle comes in.

My previous battery fitted snugly into the battery compartment leaving the appearance of the back of the machine smooth and sleek. No longer.

The price of extra hours is a full width dongle of such proportions that it comes complete with two foot pads as it makes the back two on the original machine redundant and they add a few extra millimetres to the height of the machine. I am not even convinced that the new augmented computer is going to fit inside the computer case that I bought for it. But on the other hand I used the machine last night, I left it on standby overnight and I have used it this morning and there are still over five hours left in the battery!

It’s worth it!

The sun is making a valiant effort to shine through the clouds and each day that we move closer to the holidays the pool is looking more and more inviting.

I am not so jejune that I am going to throw myself into its chilly waters any time soon, but I like the fact that the water is losing its sinister nature and is looking more like a medium in which one can disport oneself.

I live, as always, in hope!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Power to the people!


Another day when the ramifications of two colleagues going off on an inset day when everyone is finalizing results and trying to get them into a recalcitrant computer system is being felt at its worst.

By some more than others because only some of us (me included, but I am not resentful, oh no) have had our free time taken to substitute for the ones who are absent.

The one positive aspect to this more than negative situation is that I do not have to go to another interminable meeting being conducted in a language in which I stumble along from one misunderstanding to the next.

An executive decision was obviously made that, since I understand little in the meeting, I could be most usefully spared from the torture of teacher-talk.

I have to consider that sophistication (or decadence, I’m not sure which) is the ability to take delight in small things. The news that my new six cell (or is that six-cell? A much sexier spelling) battery for the small laptop has arrived in a frighteningly short period of time. It was ordered the day before yesterday but, because of a misunderstanding with the web site, I stated that I would pay for the thing with a banker’s draft.

The only time that I can remember having anything to do with such things was with payment for the deposit of the flat many moon ago. So long ago indeed, that I had no idea what I did to get one.

I went to my new bank, La Caixa, and presented the print out from the website and promptly had the cost of the battery deducted from my account. By the time I had got home and turned on the computer there were various emails telling me that my order had been dispatched and that I could track the item by clicking on something and I could do other things as well, but they were far too complicated to understand in Spanish. I was able to click to translate everything into English and that made things no clearer whatsoever.

The only thing I did see and understand was an estimate of when I should receive the item. That was today and today it has come! How unlike the home life of our own dear post office! Mainly, I think, because it wasn’t the post office, but UPS. There is a lesson there if I care to search for it. But I fear that the political baggage is not something which I care to explore!



The new battery is roughly a third of the price I paid for the computer when new, so it better bloody work and work bloody well too!

My marking is done, but the ramifications of the marking continue to dominate school life. I fear that it is going to dominate mine as I try and work out the mathematical horrors which will give a single mark which might be suitable for the meeting (which I will have to attend) on Monday to trawl through the results and see if we can say something new and interesting about the marks.

The weekend begins and new tasks have been thought out; though after an excellent menu del dia I am less inclined than ever to do anything which involves exertion.

Perhaps a little light reading!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When are the holidays? When?



When in doubt – go on an INSET day!

The normal state of panic was maintained in school as it was discovered that two of our colleagues were off on a day of in-service training. This meant that normal teaching was (again) disrupted, but this time it was disrupted during a period of high tension when the marking and writing in of marks was at fever pitch and any heightening of the normal state of suppressed hysteria was not a good thing.

The school is gradually being surrounded by a metal grid of portable crash barriers. This is not unexpected because, in a gesture towards good relationships with the people who elected them, the local government has put up notices stating that work is going to take place on the approach roads and that parking will be restricted. Very well done

Except.

The date on the notices is some five days in the future and the installation of crash barriers is taking place today.

This will mean total and absolute chaos.

Parking is restricted anyway and the mornings are maelstroms of parental selfishness. ‘A Parking Space’ at around 8.00 am is defined on the main street in front of the school as ‘any area in which a car can fit.’ This means that double and even triple parking are the norm, while parking around and on pedestrian crossings are more than acceptable. I once saw a car not merely parked on but along the crossing. Corners, because they have curbs and pavements are legitimate parking areas. Indication is a luxury not afforded to mere fellow travellers who are not parents, so you have to double guess in which school the parents might be depositing their offspring and then guess again which ‘space’ they may decide (suddenly) to occupy or (just as suddenly) not to occupy.

The main street is one-way but that does not limit the directional choice of parents and, on one notable occasion, I was angrily beeped by one motorist who was annoyed that I had not noticed that he was travelling the wrong way down the road; silly me!

And now there is a restriction on the space, just to make the school experience that little bit more exciting!

The sun is making a brave effort to work itself up for a major effulgence for the holiday period: at least that is what I am telling myself. I need sunshine as to my eyes my skin is becoming paler and paler and soon I will be able to audition for a bit part in one of the interminable episode of ‘Twilight’.

I am discovering (ah, how popular culture sometimes passes me by) that the book that I read about good looking North American vampires is incredibly well known and I am now at the cutting edge of knowing what young people are into. It still doesn’t really tempt me to start the next volume – though I might weaken.

I am looking forward to the holiday as an opportunity to read. My book consumption has been sorely restricted and I am getting definite withdrawal symptoms. Having all my books around me (albeit not in any recognized order) and not reading them is akin to a shipwreck survivor on a raft being surrounded by water ‘nor any drop to drink’. Admittedly it could also be said that time spent lounging about watching football could be more profitably spent turning the pages of the many books which I possess but have not yet read. ‘War and Peace’ is still waiting for me to do more than glance at the introduction!

I think that I should adopt the stance I used to take when I used to be reading two books at once: one which was intellectually respectable and the other sheer self indulgent enjoyment. Most typically this used to mean struggling through some incomprehensible novel published by Penguin in their Modern Classics Series and then relaxing with an Agatha Christie or P G Wodehouse.

I still have a liking for these authors in spite of their general reputation being questionable to put it mildly. I know that it is fashionable (and very easy) to dismiss Christie’s characters as cardboard cut-outs and her plots as risible. But I don’t guess them – even the one in which there is a game of bridge and you are told that one of the players is the murderer. I had a choice of three and I got it wrong! Perhaps I was too young and if I read it now it would be transparent in its obviousness. Though I somehow doubt it!

I once bought a book second hand called something like ‘Sixty Second Mysteries’ which consisted of short short-stories with very obvious clues and I thought it would be excellent for school to introduce kids to another genre of writing and perhaps to get them to write their own.

I started reading these things with a slightly insouciant air as befits someone who has read all of Shakespeare and all of the poems of Swift in English. I was stumped by the first one and when I found out the reasoning behind the actual clue I decided that it wasn’t the stuff for young minds. The clues were so obvious that no one could guess them! Another example of hide in the open!

The marking has been done but the calculation of the final marks is a delicate and complicated procedure. And it has to be complete by tomorrow.

Sigh!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

At last


Why is it that the last set of papers to be marked is always the one which drains energy and resolve? After a positive start the marking stretched on and on with ever new pages of virgin print revealing themselves to my rapidly drying pen.

But the message from one morning assembly that told the story of a king who demanded a ring with a special inscription stays with me. He wanted a ring with an inscription which he could read when he was happy and it would make him thoughtful and if he read it when he was sad would give him hope. This seeming contradiction and impossibility was resolved by the final inscription which read “This too must pass.” This is not only clever but actually useful, as I have often thought of it, and indeed said it, on many occasions.

Especially when marking. Such thoughts are sometimes the only barrier against despair!

The countdown to the holidays continues and by god the days are dragging.

I seem to have seen more than my fair share of football over the past few weeks: not only is the league winding its way through the weeks but we are presented with the added ‘delight’ of seemingly endless games in the Champions’ League. As a ‘born again’ Barça fan, I do of course take a passing interest in what is going on in each game. I also have a residual patriotism for the British teams that are left in the competition – though the British composition of the teams is hardly the most striking aspect of their international line up! But there are so many games.

The most interesting aspect of football in Spain, and especially Catalonia, is the tribal aspect which is only softly developed by comparison in Britain.

I delight in talking to Real Madrid and Barça fans and am always fascinated to see how far they will go in deriding their opponents. They also leave the die-hard conspiracy theorists far behind in their explanations for how each game has been decided! Never have I heard such blatant prejudice masquerade under the guise of well argued evaluation!

Tomorrow the bike must be used again. I passed it this evening and it looked positively resentful as I marched past and put a cup of tea before the exhilaration of littoral exercise. But not for two days running!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monastic industry!



The staff room today has been reminiscent of the scriptorium of a monastery with all bothers (and sisters) industriously scratching away with their pens marking examinations – which in this school are definite obras de dios!

Two teaching lessons; two invigilation periods and then solid soul destroying marking to make up the rest of the day.

The worst part of the day, in a day full of worst parts, was the casual enquiry from a colleague about some examination papers that I vaguely remembered collecting last Friday. I knew where they ought to be and at the end of the day I went to get them. And got them I did. Admittedly in the second place I looked. But they are now safely in the pigeon hole where they should have been placed last Friday. Better late than never!

I have more than broken the back of the marking, but have been strangely (!) disinclined to complete it this evening. Instead we have gone out for a meal in our usual restaurant.

Before settling down for a meal I went into the Worst Bank in the World to see what had happened recently with my supposedly cancelled account.

When I last left the ‘bank’ I withdrew €50 from the surprising €57 that was still there. I had worked out how to ‘utilize’ the remaining money: use it to add to the credit on my mobile phone! Alas! When I put in my bank book to check on my dead account I found that bank charges – amazingly just enough to take all the remaining money – had brought my account to zero! True to the end, BBVA showed itself to be grasping, avaricious, unscrupulous, greedy, unprincipled, and a whole dictionary of unfavourable adjectives that I am too weary to type out!

‘Big Brother’ – which seems to be a permanent feature of Spanish television – has driven me to the third floor where I can contemplate what is still to be done to make the area fit for reasonable work.

I have been re-reading some of Isaac Azimov’s short stories and I am newly amazed at their easy facility and the incredibly dated feel that many of them have, given the advances in computer technology and personal communications. Say what you like about Azimov, he does write a competent story; not earth shattering perhaps, but always thought provoking. Reading the stories one after the other is a bit like eating rich chocolate creams: you get a little nauseous after a while! It was said of his writing that he had a book in every major section of the Dewy Decimal System. Sometimes his stories read like that as well!

Tomorrow the school system is back to normal and we have to start giving the examination papers back for the pupils.

In our school, where nothing is the fault of the pupils, their outraged demands for extra marks because of some perceived injustice in the teaching has to be heard to be believed. Never is the fact that they might not have done enough work ever adduced to explain their less than perfect performance!

Time for some soothing music: Mahler perhaps.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zen and the art of boredom


The sixth form is silent: they are doing an exam.

I always forget the technical name for unnecessary repetition which, just as regularly as I forget, it comes back to me just as I am looking it up. And, indeed it happened again: ‘tautology’ was the word for which I was looking and it came back to me when I saw the word ‘technology’ in a brief definition which suggested the word ‘redundancy’ as the one I needed.

Short of death, I think that examinations are the only times that the Spanish shut up! And even then candidates speak to ask questions of such fatuity that it takes the breath away!

So, another examination has been set and sat and is now waiting for my red pen to slash its way across the cramped print on plain paper which is the usual medium of choice in this place.

If our pupils write on anything with lines then it is the peculiar Continental squared paper which they seem to relish. It does nothing for their writing of course but it is something they are used to. We do have a dwindling supply of ‘proper’ lined paper, but the kids react to it like Vampires responding to Holy Water! Odd.

Following yesterday’s weather today’s continues the trend to bright but cold. As long as you are in the sun and out of any breeze it is very pleasant. But it is not summer. Not by a long chalk and I am looking forward to the arrival of the real season of sun and warmth with a definite hunger.

The bambooing of our establishment has been such a success that we are thinking of extending the process to the fence which separates the garden from the communal pool. I am not fully convinced by this idea, but anything which keeps the neighbours from impinging on our space seems like a good idea. We now have just over a month before the obnoxious family moves into its summer home and starts behaving if they live on a spacious detached estate. Ah well, the most we can hope is that the daughter of the household now considers herself too mature to stay with her parents and removes herself and her group of adolescent admirers from the area. That is, unfortunately, a fond hope.

Meanwhile there are exams and marking to fill up my time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We are now fully bambooed.

The sometime subfusc appearance that characterized the dull material that stretched between our ‘estates’ has now been invigorated by a profusion of split cane. In one of those efforts where very little is needed to make a considerable difference we have completely changed the outside area under the house.

Our initial hope was to increase our protection from the outside living of our summer neighbours but the bamboo screen doesn’t reach all the way up to the roof so there is a space for the sound from the dysfunctional family that arrives for the summer months to bounce into our bit.

And bounce it certainly does!

They bring the television outside and listen to it at full volume and then leave it, presumably on the ‘gone but not forgotten’ principle!

I am trying to muster the energy to go to the third floor and either do some marking or attempt my next effort to bring some sense of order to the room. Typing is getting neither of these two options nearer to reality so – enough!

In a complete reversal of normal expectations and in spite of not having completed at least one paper on the Friday evening which ensures that you do at least some marking during the rest of the weekend, I have completed the marking that I had to do!

It was a dispiriting experience as the results are dismal. My star pupils have done as well if not better than usual, but the middle range pupils have apparently been revising for a different examination.

I wouldn’t mind so much but I buy my own disposable red fountain pens and I seem to be getting through them as if they were provided by the school. Which they aren’t so that is a bad thing.

I have now completed the marking of 40% of my examinations and I waiting with baited breath for the next 60%. Which is not quite true. At all.

The next thing is to put all the results into the computer and compared with the marking that task is an absolute delight. Though the information which will result from such an effort will be depressing.

There are two weeks left to the term and I suspect that our ‘holiday’ is only a week long – and that will be it until the end of the summer term at the end of June. One really does miss the half term!

I intend to find out exactly what we are expected to do and more importantly when we are expected to have done it. These things tend to leap out at one with little warning, but with a deadline impossibly near to deal with.

My aim is to stay a jump ahead of what might happen. To be, in effect, pro-active. For once in my life!

Today The Family descended. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them and the youngest child has grown even more and can now say my name with some confidence.

Unfortunately my own confidence has been somewhat dented by my having to take part in a goal scorning competition with small children and my being only partially successful in comparison with their own efforts! I am sure that it is good for the soul to be put in one’s place by someone a third of your size!

The weather today has been much more like the weather that one would expect for March in this country: bright and warm, though as soon as the sun went down it was cold and we put the heating on!

Penultimate week. Thank God.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Four legs bad!



Domestic cats are loathsome things.

They are loathsome precisely for those attributes which endear them to their brainwashed owners.

They are arrogantly independent; they are territorial in that they regard everywhere as being their own; they use only other peoples gardens as toilets never their own; they have horrid teeth; they eat nastily with little nibbles; they slink; they target me when I am in an owner’s house and leap on my lap and smirk at me as I have to stroke them with a pretence of civility. Ugh!

I was, until recently, a dog person. Admittedly a very particular dog person: only yellow Labrador bitches were acceptable. All other dogs were a pale and ineffectual reflection of the One Breed. I now realize that statement sounds just a tinge fascist, but let it pass, let it pass.

I am a dog person no more.

It has taken the demented barking of the next door neighbour’s melancholic mutt to change my mind.

They have built a sort of pen for their pets in the space created by the shape of our houses. The living room is at first floor level and the space underneath is an open area linking the front and back gardens. In this prison lie two dogs: one is a weasel-like rat-dog with a half-hearted bark which makes it sound as though he is inside the house. The other is a larger creature who shows his despair at being left outside by barking morosely every second on the second.

Sometimes his limited litany sparks off other animals in the neighbourhood (it is de rigueur to incarcerate a canine in this part of the world) and there is a demented choir of discordant life forms yelping out their desolation to the uncaring heavens and one deeply affected neighbour!

I have not plucked up enough courage to go next door and tell the inconsiderate (or perhaps deaf) members of the household that there is not a system of sound baffles around their baying beast and it is quite easy to hear it over and above any other sounds that a normal house makes.

The reason for my reticence is that I will have to do the complaining in Spanish and what I am likely to say is going to be direct and abrupt and lack the ironic sophistication which would usually accompany any expression of displeasure were I to speak in my native tongue. You might well aver that directness could be the most effective approach, but these people have bought, not rented their house, and so they are likely to be here as our neighbours for as long as we rent the place. One has to consider the possibility of animosity over an extended period weighed against a (fully justified) complaint about the noise of the dogs. Noise which may well continue without the slightest abatement after the complaint has been made.

Why can’t people simply behave properly?

Ah, the question which has dogged social reformers throughout time! And now dogs me. Doggone it!

Today is the construction of the Great Bamboo Wall to try and lessen the potential noise of the neighbours on the other side.

I do realize that this writing is making me appear to be a paranoid sound hater; but you really do have to live here to discover just how bloody-mindedly inconsiderate people can be. Though if you merely observe how people park in any normal supermarket car park then you realize just how selfish people can be!

Today is also Part IX of the clearing out of the Third Floor. To be fair, you can move about a bit there now, but it is not yet the slinkily, smoothly efficient modern office working space that I envisaged when I first saw the room. Again, like the books, I am working towards the summer for completion of this project. You will note that I did not state the year.

So, once more off to Gavá to visit the hardware store confusingly called Bauhaus – though the sheer vulgarity of most of the stuff they sell there and the place in which they sell it would have been rejected with horrified contempt by the original founders of that stripped back statement of sheer steel and glass that characterized one of the most important temples to Modernism.

I’m not sure that that statement of easy pretention sits well with a person who is going to construct a bamboo wall to baffle the neighbours – though perhaps Paul Klee might have approved!



Friday, March 12, 2010

Scraps of paper!


As Doctor Johnson did not say, but I am too lazy to look up who actually said it, “Be assured sir, if a man is to be hanged on the morrow it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

These strangely uncomforting words came to mind this morning as we lurched into the second glorious day of the examination season. We kept to our smaller groups in the vain hope that we could at least contain the cheating which is endemic to the whole of the school and the whole of the intellectual array of talent we have here. No matter how clever you are; or indeed how academically challenged you might be, nothing adds more zest to the pursuit of knowledge in this place than a little judicious cheating.

The ways that the pupils do this vary and, fairly obviously, the more refined and sophisticated ways of cheating have passed me by and presumably worked for them – though their marks would appear to tell a different story!

The first lot of marking was collected by me yesterday and after a soul destroying start I lapsed into a sulking indifference and stopped marking. Today we had another exam so I have a second set of marking. This too I have started, but that was because I couldn’t find the set from yesterday.

And this is where the “concentrates the mind wonderfully” comes in. Given the prevalence of cheating in this school I am not convinced about the essential value of any examination: but you lose a set of examination papers and they suddenly assume the importance of The Dead Sea Scrolls. This is the only time in my life when the marking of a new set of examination papers can be officially classified as “displacement activity” to keep my mind off the terrible reality of missing papers.

I worked out where the papers ought to be and then found myself stranded in another building and unable to find out whether I was right or not.

Friday is my ‘duty day’ for lunchtime. It comes as something of a total failure that after years of struggle in Great Britain to ensure that teachers were not bound to be in school for their lunch hours I supinely give in and accept duties that I would have rejected with outraged contempt at home. Ah well, different countries different attitudes!

A second ride on the bike! I rejected with incredulous laughter the idea that my bike riding should be extended to any area which wasn’t flat. When, I asked with withering scorn if anyone had ever seen a cyclist going up a slope with a smile on his face? Case proven I think!

Instead a decorous ride to Gavá and back and then by way of reward a meal in our local restaurant!

That’s the way to do it.

And my missing examinations papers were where I thought they might be. Eventually.

Now the weekend is set for a couple of days of intense joy and marking! And yes, that is an oxymoron.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Turning Thoughts






There is something very tempting in pushing in the dagger just a few inches more!

Character assassination is such a morish activity once you get started and I am grateful that I finished my lunch before we could really get going. It is always pleasant to flirt with an activity that is generally despicable and to leave before ones hands get too soiled. It is too easy for a general discussion about a common irritation to turn into a shark-like feeding frenzy!

I only half understood what was going on because the conversation was in a mixture of English and Spanish but you can’t mistake attitude!

The examination season has now officially opened (again!) and the flood of marking is beginning to mount up. As fast as we are invigilating examinations so are we writing them. Today I used my free afternoon to write questions for the equivalent of the sixth form. Part of the paper that I wrote was made up of sentences into which appropriate words and phrases have to be put. This is one thing that I have always enjoyed doing. Although my sentences were never short, they always managed to get good marks. Indeed the high point of my academic career was being accused of cheating and being told that I was supposed to have made the sentences up myself and not copied them from a book! It’s just a pity that I peaked in form 3!

God knows if the kids are going to understand some of the sentences I’ve written, but they should understand enough to put in the right word if they have studied in the right way.

I have yet to understand what constitutes studying in our school. The kids, through constant practice, have developed a technique to deal with the way that examinations are set in our place. They allow, as far as I can tell, one evening to ‘study’ a subject. They retain a fair amount of information, all of which seems to be jettisoned as soon as the examination paper is completed! It’s learning Jim; but not as we know it!

I have one paper to mark at the moment which will soon be joined by four others. At the moment there is no talk of when the marks need to be collated; but any day now the management will suddenly say that everything must be done by “tomorrow” and there will be wild panic, with me laughing (hollowly) in the background, trying to keep the hysteria out of my chuckle!

I tried to get at least some of my marking done after I had completed the sentences etc for the exam but I rapidly found myself loosing the will to live as I looked at increasingly bizarre formulations of what elements my pupils think comprise a typical English sentence!

It is a fascinating fact that whatever level of incompetence pupils reach, displaying as they sometimes do a woefully inadequate level of English expression and gaining abysmally low marks, if you dare include in an examination a word which you have not previously explained there is a torrent of objection. They may not be able to define or use the words which they agree that you have explained, but their radar is so highly attuned that they can spot a ‘ringer’ word instantly. What confuses me is that this recognition, if tweaked just a fraction, could surely be the way that they improve their marks immeasurably. I used that last word as that is the sort of word that their examinations love.

In my small survey of the examinations that have crossed my path since I have been in the school I have come to the conclusion that the Cambridge Examination system has an unhealthy predilection for the word “shabby” and, true to form, it was included in the first examination of the “season!”

The bike has been used. After a strenuous session using plastic ties to secure the cladding on the front gate to obstruct the view of lewd fellows of a baser sort from getting avaricious ideas about the opulent riches stored in the house, I sallied forth to start the new regime of bike exercise.

Riding into the setting sun along the paseo on the beach was, as it should be, stimulating and inspiring – and very, very cold. I need a little woolly hat and a pair of gloves if the future rides are to be anything but sensual torture!

I did feel very virtuous as I rode along, though I have to admit that all the other cyclists that I passed seemed to be working at a very much higher level than I was and they all looked miserable.

I was very impressed by how quiet my bike is. It is a stealth bike and I was able to ride up to walkers and have them jump a little when they realized that I was lurking behind them on my silent wheels. After a while it became a little unnerving as previously I have been used to that comforting clicking sound which I always used to think was an essential part of the riding experience.

With the enthusiasm of the recently converted I rode right to the end of the paseo and then realized with some excitement that I might have to use my dynamo.

My bike did not come with a Users’ Manual, probably based on the idea that what you did was sit on the thing and pedal away: what more is there to know? Well, one of the things is how to turn on the dynamo.

I could see quite clearly that there was a little plastic thingie with a knurled bit to go against the wheel and rotate, thus producing electricity to cause the light to blaze into action. All previous attempts with the first bike to get the thing to work failed utterly and I had to go back to the dealer and ask how to set it up. The dealer didn’t know at first and it was only after extensive consultation that he explained the trick.

That explanation I had forgotten. And no amount of prodding, pushing and twisting would get the knurled wheel anywhere near the tyre.

It was only after a frustrating period of silent teeth gnashing that I pushed something instead of pulling and the whole dynamo unit lurched towards the rubber.

Elated I leapt onto the saddle and pedalled away furiously and was gratified to see light blaze forth from the front lamp for all of fifteen seconds and then the sounds changed from an electricity producing whine to a darkness inducing clunking sound. I think that more adjustment is called for. But tomorrow and over the weekend and not now!

Tomorrow is Friday, though god knows what day it actually feels like given the confused nature of the week so far.

At least this weekend I do not have to go into school for some fatuous meeting on a Saturday morning!

Shame! Shame!

Bright but Cold


Today is the sort of autumn day that you do not want in March when summer is supposed to be just around the corner.

I am taking on the Spanish national obsession with the weather that I now realize was only partially developed by what I had previously taken to be our over-concern with the climactic conditions in Great Britain.

I think that the fact that the present Spanish weather is beginning to exhibit the idiosyncratic schizophrenia which has characterized our climate over generations has prompted the present monomania on the subject.

We are subject to a constant bombardment of vivid descriptions of climatic extremes on TV from flooding to landslides, taking in tornados and snow. This is not what I expected, having been brought up on a diet of sunny expectation fostered assiduously by the Spanish Tourist Board. The reality, I am rapidly discovering, is somewhat different.

The sun-trap on the third floor is now a breeding ground for mould and I think that the cushions for the sun bed have mutated into a new life form and I am hesitant to go out onto the terrace and battle with something which looks as though it is trying to emulate the hairiness of a pelt of penicillin without the benefits of being a wonder drug. I wonder what does grow best on a well used sun-bed. On the other hand speculation on this subject might well bring to mind my favourite quotation from the etchings of Goya!

Real Madrid are out of the Champions’ League and it is a function of the extraordinary passions that football raise in this part of the world that when the match had ended and the defeat was secure fireworks were set off around us in Castelldefels! To celebrate the defeat of a Spanish team by the French!

I have found that our traditional hatred of the French is more akin to passionate attachment and genuine affection compared to the real hatred by the Spanish and Catalans of our traditional enemy.

I even feel a sense of violation and demand that the French decide who best fits the role of Traditional Enemy. Finding out that the French have been flirting with the Spanish as an enemy seems to me to be something bordering on faithlessness and they should remember that all their best phrases of cultural hatred are directed against us. I bet that the French have never referred to the Spanish as Perfidious Iberians, Perfidious Albion trips off the tongue so much more convincingly!

This is the calm before the storm in our school as the full force of the examinations is waiting to be unleashed. This lesson (one of the many which have collapsed classes to compensate for the absence of a colleague) is supposed to be given over to study. Unfortunately that conflicts with the Prime Directive of the Spanish and Catalans which is to talk at every opportunity! However the growing sheets of paper clutched and waved about by the pupils are a visible sign that the examination period is nigh.

I think that our school must be one of the major users of highlighter in the world as anything and everything is highlighted in a variety of colours. When the pages of the text books have been super-saturated the kids then turn to their copious notes and highlight anything which looks vaguely significant. They may not be useful but they are colourful!

The real horror of this period starts when the marking has to be done. If these exams follow the course of the last ones (and the ones before that and the ones before the ones before etc) then we will suddenly be faced with a totally impractical completion date for all the results to be written in some sort of data base which will be part of a computer site which will not accept input when you need to make it.

Chaos, which is the normal element in the working of the school, will then reign supreme and the teachers will, paradoxically, breathe a sigh of relief as the SNAFU status of the period will have been established.

At least we have a real cut off date as the end of term is on the 26th of the month.

Not that I am counting the days!

Especially as I suspect that one of the ‘teaching opportunities’ may well be on a Saturday morning and I am still not well enough to give such an obscenity the full professional contempt which it richly deserves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crumbs of cold






Is there anything sadder than grubby remnants of slowly melting snow with roads and pavements glimmering with the off-white detritus of discarded salt, looking like a layer of dandruff?

I suppose that there is, but you feel a little jaundiced when returning to school after a glorious day off and so you notice the little depressions of everyday life.

School is girding itself up for a jolt of its favourite drug: examinations. Junkie-like we feed the testing habit and have started the ritual thinning of forests as the photocopiers begin to churn out the reams of paper which are necessary to satisfy the raging need which racks the addicted institution.

For the next week or so pupils will be wandering round with odd sheets of papers which they will earnestly consult turning the school into a living representation of a Daumier cartoon of self important lawyers brandishing sheaves of paper as though its mere bulk will somehow impress itself upon the brain.

The chaos of Monday afternoon when The Insanity of Snow (surely a book title waiting for a narrative!) meant that little teaching was done in the prevailing hysteria brought on by the floating to earth of specks of frozen water. The loss of the day following meant that the school was running a deficit of teaching time – and we teach up to the wire as far as the exams are concerned! With a colleague not in school and the best part of two teaching days lost the timetable for the exams has had a few serious jolts!

Rather like some of the trees in the area which, finding it impossible to support the weight of snow have been jolted out of their accustomed places and are now littering the roads with hordes of men swarming over them and reducing the giant trunks to manageable chunks for disposal.

As in the storm of a few months ago, I am shocked at how shallow some of the roots reach of what appeared to be substantial trees. Great gaps have opened up and new vistas have been revealed as part of the cost of the snow.

I should imagine that even the slush-balls that mischievous children have been throwing all day as they scoop up the grimy remains of iced water that has survived the increasing heat by lurking in gullies and secluded and shady nooks will have disappeared tomorrow and the astonishing transformation from Alpine to some other witty choice of word beginning with ‘A’ will be complete.

The construction of a screen (of tasteful bamboo) to hide the bike from the lustful gaze of passing sequestrators is now complete and looks effective and efficient.

The bike itself has acquired a lock with a built in light to allow the combination to be entered even in adverse lighting conditions. A second lock attaches the machine to the bolted rack and a cover is draped inelegantly over the bike. All it needs is for me to use it – which I haven’t done since I went to get lunch from the pollo a last and half killed myself by pedalling furiously over the motorway bridge. By the time I got to the downward slope I was almost coughing blood! I am sure that it did me good, but I do feel that one can have too much of a good thing.

At the moment my swimming is zero and my biking once in a blue moon so there is room for improvement. I didn’t even have the excuse of adverse weather conditions because there was no snow on our bit of the coast. I shall rely on good intentions to justify the continuing efforts to make the bike available for immediate use. I only hope that these good intentions are translated into some form of action in the near future.

A double delight was waiting for me at home: The Week magazine, which is indeed a weekly delight as I hoover up the information contained in it and wish that I could afford to take The Guardian on a daily basis and The BBC Music Magazine with its CD.

I cannot pretend that the magazine is cheap because I pay a supplement on the hefty £4.60 cover price, but it does mean that I acquire at least 12 new CDs a year and am forced to listen to music that would otherwise pass me by.

This month is devoted to Great American Classics (ever a moveable feast in linguistic terms) including Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”; Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra”; Duke Ellington’s “Harlem” and Ferde Grofé’s “Mississippi Suite.” The only thing by Grofé I know is “The Grand Canyon Suite” and there isn’t anything in it which I could whistle! Perhaps things will be different after a week or so of travelling from Castelldefels to Barcelona and listening to new music!

Meanwhile this broken-backed week will limp on to its conclusion and bring us nearer to the holidays.

Deo gracias!