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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Long days do end!


I am incandescently tired and have reached that point of exhaustion that one begins to suspect that there is another universe tucked away behind real life and which is only revealed when oblivion is almost claiming you.

Today is my lightest day but it has been filled by examination paper marking and putting results into the computer. We are also, allegedly, supposed to put comments into another computer to ensure that tutors have documentation for the endlessly tedious meetings that are a feature of our normal life.

I managed to get the marking that I have to do, done. There is yet another set of papers waiting for me – but I have the ineffable luxury of only having to get those done by Monday; that’s right, on the day of the meeting.

One of my colleagues was heard to sigh, “Almost at the end!” The ambiguity of the statement amused me.

The day ended with a prize giving which started twelve hours after I set out for school this morning. The ceremony was for the International Literary Prize that the school gives for stories in three languages. The ceremony ended with a group of ex-students performing in a pop group. After that there was a reception with cocktails and food, but I had had more than enough and all that I wanted was to go home.

As if to punish myself further I then listened to the last of the Prime Ministerial Debates. I do enjoy listening to politicians but I am not sure that I was in the right frame of mind to appreciate fully the writhing of the men who would be our leaders!

I don’t think that there was a clear “winner” but I thought that Brown impressed because he wasn’t as bad as I feared that he was going to be! Ah well, with the prospect of that odious creep Cameron being in any position of authority in Britain I feel glad that I am in Spain.

The particular part of Spain that I inhabit was in mourning this morning after the departure of Barça from the Champions League. One girl student admitted to me that she had cried at the end of the game! It is difficult to give an accurate impression of the passions that Barça arouses in this part of the world and I sometimes have to remind myself of the risks that I take when I make lightly dismissive comments about the “mere” game of football.

I shall go to bed and ponder on these things.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Timing is the key!


I have now checked through yet another examination and it is ready to be printed. The answers have been written out for the examiners and I am waiting for the next batch of scripts to come my way.

Of course, in the perverse way in which these things happen I have a non-contact period and no scripts to mark. When my non-contact period has expired then two more examinations will take place but I will have no more “free” time in our absurdly long day and there is the Barça game this evening. As usual everything is going to be packed into too little time.

Our campaign against The School That Sacked Me seems to have faltered yet again and the collection of evidence from various sources which was going to be the basis of a newspaper article has now faded away. I await more information to see why something which seems such an obvious next step has been abandoned. It is at times like these that one can understand why an institution so unfit for purpose that it is almost comical has managed to survive for so long. Initiatives seem to sink into the sand and disappear with monotonous regularity. One has to remember Steve’s injunction to keep going on because one day, no matter how repetitive the actions taken against the school may be, one day, for no apparent reason, suddenly effective and The Thing That Brings Her Down. By such self-deluding, but persuasive arguments do we keep our collective sanity! Or not!

A colleague shared with us the fact that her husband tossed and turned throughout the night and when he finally woke from his troubled sleep he told her that he had had two nightmares and in both Barça had lost! She, being English, had comforted him by saying, “That is because you are Catalan, my love!” She explained that Catalans are only truly happy when they are wallowing in poignant misery flavoured with a distinct dash of injustice!

I have now taken the unprecedented step of purchasing a weekly ticket for the ONCE as a realistic step in my well argued financial planning strategy. This “cupon” gives me daily chances to win the lottery with the same number for each day. On the ordinary tickets there are special numbers at the start or end (or sometimes both) of your full number where, if you get the number, you get your money back. I am not quite sure how this works with mine and I may have to do some heavy duty reading of the small print on the back before I find out exactly how to play. This is going to be a one-off experiment unless I get my money back at least!

Tomorrow my school day is going to start at eight-fifteen in the morning and end at something like nine-thirty at night. This is going to be a day of considerable horror as, from 4.45pm to 7.00pm there is going to have to be some fairly frantic marking done if the fantasy deadlines self-imposed by our masochistic school are to be realized!

I have to say that the weekend has never looked so inviting!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Realistic goals?


The only reason I can approach my keyboard with anything other than despair is that I am on schedule!

With an effortless approach to chaos our school has decided that the entire week of examinations ends on Friday when all the results have to be tabulated on various computers and a comment on each child has to be added to the database.

On Thursday we have our annual Literary Prize evening and also on Thursday we have examinations. Which have to be marked and commented on by Friday. The panic on the faces of my colleagues – a sight to which I am well used by now – is beginning to grow.

What, you may ask, is the mystical significance of this Friday? What is it about this day which makes it essential that all the papers have to be marked and results posted? The answer, of course, is it has no significance whatsoever, apart from the significance given to it by the school. It is yet another example of self imposed panic which keeps us all going!

I have learnt that the only way that I can survive is to mark the bloody papers almost as soon as they have been sat. I mark like a thing possessed in a desperate attempt to keep abreast of the ever moving goalposts.

I have marked the first set of papers during which I totally lost the will to live and also lost the ability to spell the word “height” – which even now looks wrong to me. On the first dozen papers that I marked the word was spelt differently and wrongly on each one and, rather like with the word “because” on a set of papers in Cardiff, for a short period of time I lost the ability to spell the word with confidence!

Not only have I marked the papers but I have also entered them on my computer. They are all now nestled on the hard disc in Excel. I have, at long last, mastered the gnomic combinations of letters and numbers that transform a raw score in a square on Excel into a mark out of ten. Everything in this part of the word is expressed as a mark out of ten and, as far as the kids are concerned if it doesn’t have a mark out of ten then it is not worth bothering with.

So, it may be late at night, but I have got one set out of the way to allow space for the two sets that will drift into my frenzied fingers tomorrow. One set at least and both sets at best will have to be marked tomorrow so there is not the panic which can be expected when the next set on Thursday appears which will have to be marked on the same day because the scores have to be entered by Friday.

I pray to god that these examinations do not mean that we will have to have yet another of the interminable and incomprehensible meetings which drag their weary length along the best part of an evening after school.

That horror can creep into a forgotten corner of my brain and lurk quietly there until the end of the weekend when it can worry me to sleep on Sunday evening!

I have not had a single opportunity even to open the book which I am reading at present. Given the proclivities of our kids there is absolutely no opportunity to read or mark during an examination – all eyes have to be permanently skinned to limit the cheating which is endemic to an acceptable level.

Even when the kids look like little angels I am sure that there is a higher form of dissimulation that they are practicing to ensure that they can say that (as the immortal Tom Lehrer puts it) “no one’s work evades your eyes” in their attempts to get nearer to that elusive and magic “10”!


Meanwhile the forthcoming Barça game seems to take up the majority of broadcast time on the television we watch in this household. Barça have an uphill task to claw back the two oals that they need merely to draw level. If they just draw level then they will be able to rely on the "away goal" rule to let them progress, but that does depend on their not letting Inter score at all in Barcelona.

Perhaps I should stop now before those who know me voice their disbelief at my taking any interest at all in football - though I have to say that I have my own views about who Pep should be playing on Wednesday! Who would ever have thought it!

It should be an interesting game, though that doesn't even come close to expressing what the atmosphere is going to be like on the day.

God help!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The teachers' burden!


Tomorrow the next examination spasm starts erupting and I have spent the first part of this evening writing part of an exam which is due to be taken by the hapless fodder in my school on Wednesday. I should be used to this endlessly turning gyre; but I am not - and it is infinitely depressing to see yet another sheaf of dun coloured papers be disgorged from the photocopier and fed to the kids.

Not to speak of the marking!

First thing in the morning I was confronted by a lady on a mission who didn’t ask so much as state that I was her “invisible friend” when I admitted that I was a look of complete satisfaction passed over her face. Although she did like the books that I had chosen, she was far more relieved that she had at last discovered who had given them. Apparently she had discovered me by eliminating the whole of the rest of the staff! As I had stayed out of her way on Friday (as I was teaching elsewhere in the school) when the book was secretly given I was unfortunately unable to appreciate her increasingly frantic efforts to discover her benefactor: overtones of “Great Expectations”!

Toni has had an interview to work in reception in a block of apartments. Were he to get the job it would entail other duties of an odd job nature. All of this is in the hands of the gods and we will have to see what happens. He awaits a phone call!

Today has been one of the hottest days of the year and I have spent it indoors! Monday is my heaviest day with six periods needing my august presence and I had to write an exam paper in my so-called free period. It is at times like this that I remind myself that in the last British school in which I taught there were five periods in a day and not seven! Times change!

I am going to enjoy a brief read of the next book in line to be polished off and then the rest of the week will be taken up in the frenzied ennui of marking.

Oh joy!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Don't touch tradition!


When I last met her on the island of Majorca two years ago she was elegant, poised, articulate, flattering and not a little unsettling. I met her today in Marc’s name day celebrations and she is now raucous, loud, rumbustuous and inconsiderate – and she is almost five! How time changes us all!

Three children with combined ages which barely make double figures: and they didn’t stop. When the youngest fell asleep clutching a book it merely seemed to provoke the other two into excesses of pure noisy energy. When the three of them were at full strength it was almost unbearable.

I have to admit that my “Labrador Technique” for dealing with the very young, i.e. whipping them up into a frenzy is not necessarily the most effective in producing the most restrained atmosphere in which to exist. But at least you can hand them back to their parents and leave!

We had an excellent lunch which also provoked discussion about the most Catalan way to cook habas - broad beans. I cook mine with black pudding, bacon, garlic, fennel seeds and an oxo cube. I would add mint but I have resistance from my resident food critic so I don’t use it. At the lunch table today I was informed that it is more Catalan to use butifarra negra. I also noticed, though that might have been wishful thinking, that there were a few cockles or something similar mixed in with the vegetables. It tasted interesting, but I have been given strict instructions to stick to my well tried recipe and not try any gastronomic experiments. We’ll see!

One of my bookshop books from the shop held in school I completed today “The Agency: A Spy in the House” by Y S Lee. The basic premise for the trilogy of books of which this is the first is of a women’s detective agency set in the 1850s. The style is aimed at older teenagers and has some content which asks for a slightly more sophisticated understanding than some of the other books that I have been reading recently for school.

“A Spy in the House” is well constructed with vivid writing and some telling social comments which should resonate in a youngster’s mind. The tensions and relationships are well thought out and the pages turn very easily.

Still a few more volumes to go and the forthcoming examinations will interfere with my reading.

If I let them!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Old Guard Win Again!



Friday was a day of a double whammy. In the first place there was the Invisible Friend. The books (note the plural) that I bought for my I.F. were things that I would have wanted myself, apart possibly for the fact that one of them was written in Catalan, and were wrapped not only by the store in which I bought them but also by my good self with high quality wrapping paper.

It was therefore with something approaching dismay that I went into the staff room and saw on the table where I usually sit an unwrapped Wordsworth Classic edition of Le Morte D’Arthur by the discredited knight Sir Thomas Malory with a strip of paper with my name on it sticking out of it. Who, in the name of the living god, reads Sir Thomas Malory? And who, in the name of some other deity, gives an 850 page paperback of turgid prose as a present, even if it has modernized spelling? I put the book in my cupboard at once and tried to forget about it.

For all the nations other than the British the concept of an “invisible” or unknown present giver is unthinkable so I had a great deal of pleasure in watching everybody else (of the foreign persuasion) trying to find their unknown giver! I am rather flattered to report that I was accused of giving some very apposite books to happy recipients. I have no idea where I managed to gain such a reputation for consideration and perception but I am happy to count it as mine own!

My recipient has not said anything; but for a greater part of the day I was not in the vicinity to find out how it had been received. I hope to hear more on Monday.

The second ‘hit’ was in the photographic competition. The announcement was made during an assembly which had been set up with all the chaos for which our gatherings are famous!

Once the literary competitions were out of the way and we had heard readings in English, Catalan, Spanish and what passed for French when we came to the photography.

The tension built (at least for two of us) as the announcement for the staff winner grew nearer. I and my colleague became progressively more hysterical until the result was actually announced and . . . dramatic pause . . . the person who we said would win it actually won! He even gave a little gesture of astonished self-depreciating surprise as his name was announced! My colleague managed to gasp out, “I don’t believe it!” and then we dissolved into giggles of outraged innocence defiled!

The culmination of Saint George’s Day was an excellent performance by a three person drama group in the little theatre in Castelldefels in support of the work of Inter Libros.

This worthy organization, which was celebrating its fifth anniversary, exists to collect books in Spanish and send them to deprived areas of South America. As a friend is part of the organizing committee I know rather more about this group than the ordinary person in the street!

The performance took the form of a series of improvisations which were based on a member of the audience choosing a book from a pile on a table on stage, opening the book and reading a short extract. The group then had a few seconds before they start an improvisation based on the extract. One of the books chosen was a recipe book and another one chosen was a technical book! I suppose that I understood about 20% of what was being said, but the vivid mime filled in most of the gaps; or at least my imagination filled in the gaps in a way satisfactory to me!

Our attempts to go out for a meal after the performance were unsuccessful. Admittedly we only went to one place and then gave up when the people there looked distressed at our appearance! They had their coats on and were just about to leave. The face of our usual waitress spoke volumes and we didn’t press the issue.

Saturday has been a little more relaxed and I have managed to finish the book which Toni gave me for Sant Jordi. This was “The Last Dickens” by Matthew Pearl a very easy read which centred on “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and the fact that it was left unfinished at the death of Dickens. Into the interest of the non completion was woven a mystery and murder story with a well meaning American publisher being the central character.

I liked the literary details and the historical context that the author used and, although the writing was unremarkable, the narrative bounced along in a most satisfactory manner. It is a perfect ‘beach’ book and summer is, I am told, almost upon us. It’s one of those books that read themselves and it is also one of those books that you will probably not re-read.

Tomorrow the name day of a two year old.

God help us all!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's the waiting!




The fever of expectation about Sant Jordí shows itself in a growing dread about the organization of the event in school. Already horror stories are beginning to be circulated about the chaos which attends any event which needs the entire school to assemble in one place at roughly one time.

The day is an important one and prizes will be distributed. There has been a frenzied book buying by all the language departments as they are rewarding the successful candidates in the ‘literary’ competition which marks this day. The winners have to read out a section of their winning prose so I will listen to a variety of kids look terrified and whisper foreign nothings into the microphone.

It is also the day on which the results of the photography competition will be announced. This is all very interesting but not gripping. Our efforts to complicate the end result of the competition for the teaching staff may or may not have succeeded. We have not had even a sniff of the possible name of the winner and we have convinced ourselves that our photos are much, much better than the established teachers who have been here since St Paul himself came unto this very place and planted the staff of learning that we all might partake of the fruit thereof and thus refreshed impart education to all and sundry. We have discussed ways in which we might make our protests at the grave injustice when the ‘wrong’ name is announced! My colleague and fellow participant’s suggestions while certainly colourful were frankly pornographic so I feel that my more restrained suggestion of calling out “Shame!” as a member of the Old Guard is announced as the winner is much more dignified!

Whatever happens I feel that the two of us will be near to hysteria by the time the announcement is made as we have been keeping up a “conspiracy theory” approach to the competition ever since it started. This will be the culmination of weeks of hilarity the cause of which has only been known to the two of us!

The ‘event’ goes on for almost two hours and will extend into a non-contact period for me! I know what I would rather be doing.

I have started my next book which is “The Telling Pool” by David Clement-Davies. Not only was I drawn to the faux-Medieval woodcut which graces the cover together with the distressed golden lettering of the title, but also to the content. The name of the author and the name of the hero of the novel, Rhodri seemed to point to a Welsh flavour and as the action of the novel is set in the time of Richard called the Lion Heart I was already hooked.

Opening the volume I was confronted by an extract from The Second Coming by Yeats and an Old English Plaint: and this was before the opening chapter! The heading of the opening chapter “The Teller and the Smith” was immediately followed by the opening lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover”: some pretention you simply have to go with, any other attitude would be churlish! He seems like my sort of guy!

Sunday is Marc’s Name Day and so I have been seen to go into the library and purchase a book called “My first words and pictures: Animals” It is a splendid book (which I have read) with photographs of many animals, but not alas either of my favourites: the penguin or the duck-billed platypus. The cover picture of this book features a giraffe – a creature in which I have decided not to believe. In spite of the fact that I have actually touched one! I think it was when I saw footage of the giraffes running or galloping or whatever it is that they do to get from one place to another quickly that my belief finally failed!

By comparison belief in the crocodile, zebra, rhinoceros or indeed the duck-billed platypus is relatively easy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Books as displacement activity


For the second day running we have woken up (I have woken up) to a mysterious street filled with wispy mist with totally artificial looking shafts of sunlight delineated in the mist.

Now, although the whole of Barcelona (that is the view from the balcony outside the staff room) has had its contours softened by the haze, we are in bright sunshine. This will last until the end of the day and I am only hoping that as this is my early finish that I will trick fate and actually have time to go to the third floor of the house and disport myself in the unaccustomed light!

The books shop is in full swing in the library and I have been told not to blithely order a box full of books which I did last year. This year I have been restricted to three volumes so my choice will have to be a little more selective! Ah me, it was good while it lasted!

Sant Jordí gets closer and I shudder more and more to think about what my ‘invisible friend’ has bought – I only hope that they include the receipt so I can change it!

I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas today – it is one of the books which we have just bought for one of the classes. It is a very moving read and, as I read it, I wished that I hadn’t seen the film first.

The film is impressive and the acting of the two young main characters is remarkable but the book and the way in which this searing story is presented is much more subtle and even more disturbing.

The action of the novel is seen from the point of view of the young German boy though there is a third person narrator to present his perception. The narration is not obviously intrusive and with mispronunciations and repetitions it follows the prejudices and concerns of Bruno. Hitler is referred to as the Fury and Auschwitz becomes “Out-With”. This may appear twee at first sight but in the context of the novel it is piquant and sometimes unbearable.

The film is, but its very nature, more directly explanatory and direct; the novel, taking every advantage of Bruno’s limited understanding is much more oblique in its presentation.

The real ‘action’ of the novel is compressed into a few pages at the end of the book where the reader’s horror is intensified by the understated presentation.

The author reserves his Swiftian disgust for the last sentence in the book where the bitter irony comes home at last!

Read the book – and then wonder if you need to see the film!

The book shop opened today and before I could get in to select a few books for ‘research’ I was told that this year I was not to blithely fill a box of books but should limit myself to a few volumes. I have been severely parsimonious but my weekend reading is secure – especially as I do not trust my invisible friend to get something I want to read and I have no faith that anyone else is going to throw a book my way on Friday.

With books waiting to be read, it doesn’t matter if the weather follows a pattern which is rapidly being established in the cruel month of April where the weekdays are fine and the weekend rubbish!

I shall escape into another world of paper and print!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Word and boot



In spite of the spirited searching by the elegant gentleman in El Corte Inglés he wasn’t able to make very much of my almost impossibly vague indication of the book that I wanted to give as my gift for Sant Jordí. I eventually gave up and looked for something else.

I ended up with two books and a small card. The comment inside the card is almost impossibly obsequious and translated by a friend of mine (!) into Catalan.

Most of the fun in this invisible friend thing is watching Johnny Foreigner trying to find out who gave the book. I am determined that mine is going to be anonymous and I am going to say nothing. I am not sure if the colleague who came round with the names knows who I have to buy for, but I will observe the response of my recipient and enjoy!

The Divine Joke continues with the weather being glorious while I am in school and this evening even extending to the drive home. By the time I had parked, however, the clouds had returned and gloom reigned!

Unsurprisingly we are now preparing examination papers for the new round in our favourite pastime. I am now regarded as the resident expert on the writing of sentences into which a missing word must be placed. I sometimes have to reign in my enthusiasm and remember that the poor (!) kids only know English as a foreign language and my wilder flights of fancy are not strictly appropriate! I do however try and slip through a few of my favourite prejudices with each tranche of sentences that I write!

As I type Barça are playing again, this time against the ‘divers’ of Milan. Although Barça scored first, Milan have just equalized in a scrappy game in which Barça are not playing well. They do, however, have an away goal. Messi is not playing up to his almost god-like capabilities and Toni has worked himself up into a state of electric tension where I am expecting the matches in a drawer in the kitchen to burst into flame!

The game has gone from bad to worse and Barça are now 3-1 down. This is not good.

It is at times like these that I remember that I have an extra free period tomorrow!




Barça have lost! This is a disaster! I have been listening to Toni so that I can sound knowledgeable tomorrow when I give my view of the unmitigated horror that was the match!

Tomorrow also sees our annual Sant Jordí bookshop open in the library. Last year this bookshop was a very useful source of new youth literature for me to sample. I hope that I am given an allowance to indulge my appetite for the printed word.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another week to get through!


With the petty spitefulness for which he has become famous, god has ordained that today in Barcelona should be a day of glorious sunshine.

He had previous ordained that the weekend would comprise days of monotonous gloom and that eager sun-seekers lurking indoors in places like Castelldefels would be thwarted in their attempts to throw caution and clothes to the winds to get those extra moments of rays which had, after all, travelled some ninety-three million miles to get here!

The real trouble with this country is that sunshine is so natural a condition that one sunny day can wipe out the reality of a whole week of overcast resentment and one has to keep reminding oneself that this has been one of the worst winter/spring periods that people can remember. Summer’s coming.

Last night I went to the L’Auditori in Barcelona to hear Bach’s Mass in “si menor”. This was performed by the Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations conducted by Jordi Savall.

The building is modern and imposing with much light wood and glass in its construction but it also has an unfinished feel to it as, for example the foyer has squat columns supporting the wing-like roof and there are areas of unfinished concrete which put one in mind of the long discredited ‘Brutalist’ school which inspired the design of place s like the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery and the National Film Theatre on the South Bank. But those buildings have, almost literally, lost their edge and are surely now seen as old, comfortable friends in architectural terms.

The Barcelona building has not attained this level of cosiness yet and the inside is hardly more welcoming. The surfaces are finished in light wood, but its starkness reminds me of Nuremberg rather than the more humane appearance of St David’s Hall in Cardiff for example, where the wood embraces rather than repulses.

I assumed that the acoustic would be hard, but it was crisp and clean and not at all abrasive. Some sound was lost upwards, but the ensemble was powerful and defined.

I thought that it took a while for the ensemble to settle but chorus, orchestra and soloists seemed part of an organic performance which grew in strength through the evening.

Savall’s conducting was unobtrusive but authoritative and the performance that he coaxed out of the players was rounded and committed.

I was particularly impressed by the counter-tenor, Damien Guillan who gave a sweet and fluid performance. All the soloists, some of whom moved from the chorus to the front to sing some elements of this mass and then returned to the group, acquitted themselves with distinction with perhaps the tenor, Makoto Sakurada, producing the most pleasing sound.

The Cava in the interval was cold, delicious and very expensive!

The real downside to the experience was the cost of parking the car. I paid almost €14 for the evening which, on top of the ticket price of €25 makes for an expensive evening – though not, of course in comparison with the cost of a decent opera ticket – even including the cost of the Cava!

There is also the problem of starting times in this part of the world. The concert started at 9.30 pm, so I wasn’t until after midnight – and a school day today! Hopefully the sun will still be shining when I get home this evening so I can catch up on my lost rest on the Third Floor!

Before that I have to call in to a book shop! I need little prompting to do this, even in a country where I can read few of the books. For me the proximity of the printed word is intoxication enough. Almost! The book searching and buying is not (alas!) for me but rather for my invisible friend who will receive the book on St George’s Day which is also the National Day of Catalonia. I too should receive a book from my invisible friend.

The adjective is a fairly pointless one as the recipients make frenzied attempts to find out who their ‘invisible’ friend was so they can say thank you. To me this negates the whole point of the exercise. I have no desire whatsoever to find out who chose the book especially as I am more than likely to be disappointed! No, I don’t mean that; it is after all the thought that counts. And other lies.

The bookshop of choice is part of El Corte Ingles so there is always the possibility of mooching around other departments and window shopping to my heart’s content!

Buying will have to wait for the pound to become a little stronger!

Sunday, April 18, 2010



I seem to recall, in the dim and certainly distant past, my mother having a washing machine which looked something like a cauldron with a top cover and in which the washing was done by her poking about a bit with a pair of long tongs. The water had to be emptied using a black rubber pipe.

The clothes were dried by being put through the mangle and then hung out to let the sun (which seemed to shine more in my childhood) do its work. Later on a Flatley (?) dryer was purchased which was essentially a metal box with removable slats at the top on which clothes could be fussily suspended while a heating element at the bottom of the box drove out the water.

In other words, washing clothes needed effort and usually fairly constant attendance until they were ‘done.’ This memory does not stop me from feeling both smug and long suffering as I put clothes into an automatic washing machine and then have to place them (by hand!) into the adjacent tumble dryer. Clothes do not (god rot them) fold themselves or put themselves away.

You will note that I have not mentioned the I-word. I have an altogether understandable aversion to even thinking of the i-word. Until it actually becomes as trendy in reality as the other i-words made more than acceptable by Apple, I will try and push it from my mind.

This does mean, however, that some shirts are too wrinkled to expect the ‘body heat’ technique to make them acceptable. I am fairly relaxed about just how crumpled I am prepared to look in school: I consider it a traditional sartorial accompaniment to the normal appearance of an experienced teacher! It does mean that my cupboard is filling with disgruntled looking shirts as I wait for the alternative technique of the ‘gravity effect’ (eventually) to come into operation and smooth out the cloth. Hope, as it were, springing eternal!

Yesterday, in the bright gloom of an almost sunny day, we have a foretaste of what the summer (when it finally arrives is going to be like. Our next door neighbours, who we are now convinced were the reason for the last people leaving and the relatively low rent of the house, have spawned a daughter of dubious niceness and who collects around herself a coterie of noisy adolescents. Their favourite meeting place where they sit, smoke and shout at each other is just the other side of our back garden fence which separates our little territory from the communal pool. Yesterday there they sat, smoked and shouted – even though the temperatures were not conducive to this anti-social behaviour.

I think that the neighbours who should not be here yet, and should be waiting instead until May before they inflict their pernicious presence on us are, I think, trying to break us in gently by appearing each weekend to allow acclimatization to their terminally irritating noisiness.

I have now given my permission for documents relating to The School That Sacked Me to be forwarded to the Consul General for consideration. A folio has been assembled detailing the experiences of past workers in that god-forsaken place and outlining just what appalling educational conditions we had to endure. As Tesco say, “Every little helps!”

The academically acceptable book that I finally chose was “Great Planning Disasters” by Peter Hall (no, not that one, somebody else) which gives details of such monumental awfulness as Concorde (with an ‘e’ – just how desperate were we to give in to the French to get into the European Union in those days!) and the Sydney Opera House. It also looks at London road planning (!) The British Library and other interesting, if unbelievable examples of human cupidity.

The book was first published in the early 1980’s and in 30 years some of those stories have had a few endings! I have used the new British Library and had a Champagne tea in the amazing roofed courtyard of the British Museum while gazing into the Reading Room. Concorde (with an e) flies no more and London roads are as horrific as ever. Terminal 5 (London’s mythical Third Airport was another chapter) opened to national humiliation . . . and so on.

Even in its dated form this book is a fascinating read and even after thirty years the spiralling figures of fantasy estimates became reality, the amount of public money expended with a cavalier disregard for just how much money costs, leaves one breathless! As an historical horror story this book cannot be matched!

Now to prepare for my night out with a dead composer!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dull weather days!




Perhaps it is just me, but a neighbour using high volume baby talk to her dog early in the early morning may justify being called by the noun because of her proximity, but she certainly doesn’t merit any application of the abstract noun. ‘Neighbourliness’ to me (as an ex-dog lover) now means slaughtering all your canine dependants to attain the level of peacefulness conducive to a tranquil existence.

The Howling Dogs of Hell who live next-door but three scream like emasculated wolves every time another dog passes their gateway – and in this neck of the woods passing dogs are legion, as having a dog is regarded in much the same way as having an identity card. Disturbingly, every time I pass these disintegratingly old doggy degenerates giving them a pointedly baleful look as I sweep by, they do not bark but one of them promptly mounts the other! I don’t know whether that is a brave statement of the sexual urge still alive and well in their decrepit bodies or some sort of elegant insult to counter my hostile stare!

Today and tomorrow I have vowed to read something which has some level of intellectual respectability to counter act the effect of Mrs Meyer’s popular though undemanding books! Alternatively I have to go shopping.

I pride myself on being more than averagely observant, so it came as something of a shock to me to see (for the first time) that the symbol for the National Lottery is also a face as well as crossed fingers!

A case of seeing without looking. This is the sort of experience which makes you panic for a moment and wonder just how much carefully crafted visual information is blithely ignored by what I can’t even pretend to myself was a casual glance. I mean, just how many thousands of times have I looked at the symbol and just seen the crossed fingers.

It reminds me of the staff entrance to James Howells Department Store in Cardiff on Saint Mary’s Street. I must have passed this entrance god knows how many times since I was a kid, but it was only when one of my students was doing work experience in the store and explaining how his day started that I walked down and actually noticed the entrance’s existence. Not that it was hidden or inconspicuous - it was just that it was irrelevant to my shopping experience and therefore, with no effort, it was ignored.

I remember easily going into the university library when I was in Swansea and idly looking through a shelf of new acquisitions and selecting “Mental Maps” by Gould and White for closer inspection. This amazing book gave visual representation to cognitive maps which showed vividly peoples’ preferences. One map which I still recall showed a map of the United States overlaid with contour lines of ‘desirability’ showing where people wanted to live. I remember too that one of the Dakotas was a ‘sink hole’ of desirability where even the inhabitants didn’t want to be there.

One of collections of ‘mental maps’ that was illustrated in the book was related to people from different social classes who were asked to draw a map of the same part of the city and their resulting drawings were revealingly different. It’s rather like someone giving directions via pubs or another via churches or yet another via shops. What people included and what they left out spoke volumes!

Even though this book was published over thirty years ago (sigh!) I recommend it without hesitation. I wonder why my copy is. Probably it will turn up in the Great Book Sorting which will take place this summer. Possibly.

I am now committed to going to see a festive dramatic entertainment on Sant Jordi in our newish theatre in Castelldefels. As this will take the form of improvisations on popular literature in Spanish I only hope that the actual acting will be interesting enough to keep me occupied for the duration.

Sant Jordi (Saint George) is the patron saint of Catalonia and his day is celebrated by the gifts of books and roses. Each street corner sprouts a little kiosk or bucket in which single roses are available for purchase: in Castelldefels, going on the horticultural saturation last year, there is no excuse for any young swain, ageing Lothario, faithful or faithless spouse to fail to produce the required rose!

In school we have an ‘Invisible Friend’ for whom we have to buy a book. This year I actually know my victim and I have a good idea of the book which I think would be appropriate. The only trouble is that I know the book in English and am not sure if it is available in Spanish or Catalan. Never mind; the buying of the book is of minor significance compared to the horror of thinking of a suitable comment to put inside it! Toni will have to be galvanized into translation mode to help me cope!

The Game is now on computer and I must try and find my Respectable Book to while away the time before dinner can be started!

Tomorrow Bach!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where is the sun?


Grim overcast days continue and I do not have lively expectations that the weekend is going to be any better. We had a tantalizing glimpse of sunshine at the end of the day, but not extended enough or strong enough to give much hope for the morrow.

For a small country at some distance from our northernmost extremity Iceland seems to have shafted us yet again. Not content with appropriating with considerable violence and scant regard to the natural order all our cod;, squandering billions of pounds of money placed in their banks by our naturally greedy and unrealistic investors and refusing to pay back their losses; they have now forced their thermal inconveniences into unusual activity so that all our planes have been grounded. And Bjork too!

One of my colleagues was expecting her father to visit this weekend, but these plans have been thrown into confusion by ash in the atmosphere. As one way wrote with seemingly guileless innocence on an internet site, “Was it the wrong type of ash?” People who have had dealings with British Rail, also have long memories and remember with startled vividness the company blaming various organic elements to excuse their own inefficiency.

My own travel today has been relatively painless with the actual motorways being reasonably fast flowing; though with the narrow streets around our school it took me twenty minutes to get a couple of hundred yards away from the place at the end of the day.

The work to the pavements and gutters looks as though it is set to be a feature of our lives for the rest of the term with the consequent chaotic under provision of parking spaces for the staff. Keeps us moaning – and what would a real school be without moaning teachers!

The School That Sacked Me has raised its twisted self from the depths of the educational abyss as a selection of shocked reminiscences from past survivors of that awful place are being collated and given to Those Who Should Know.

There is a sort of weary resignation about what we are doing as so little appears to have made any real impression on the laughable functioning of the school in the past. The only encouragement we had was from one official who said that what we were trying to do was right and, even if the efforts in the past had not yielded results that was not reason to stop trying as, one day, surely, right would prevail and Something Would Be Done.

The danger of course is to take this action too seriously: that way lies insanity. I regard it as a part-time hobby with an amusing possibility of achieving something, as Ruskin would say, “Availing to good.”

I did not manage to resist the lure of a new unread book and have now completed my reading of yet another book by Stephenie Meyer, “new moon”. It read itself; it is one of those ‘page turners’ where your brain does not really need to be activated to get to the end!

This volume follows the pattern of the other two that I have read and adds little new to the heady mix of vampire and werewolf and teenage love except for a jaunt to Italy and a visit from the more orthodox, old-style gothic horror with a visit to the lair of the three thousand year old ‘elders’ of the vampires.

I think that I am a few decades too old fully to enjoy this sort of undemanding junk.

Perhaps something more academic tomorrow and a Bach concert on Sunday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to spoil a day


Yesterday I watched with grumpy despair as the Head of the ESO section of the school, or at least the Head of Doing the Substitutions List seemed to be hard at work writing out an entire page of substitutions to be filled.

My grumpiness stemmed from the fact that due to the unnaturally long day we have to work; I have ended up with no periods to teach on a Thursday afternoon. I was therefore a prime target for cover – bearing in mind the fact that penultimate period yesterday I had to take a larger class as a colleague was doing in service training. This ‘collapse-a-class’ technique is the default situation that we adopt when a colleague is unable to do his normal work. And in my view qualifies as a period taken as least as much as a substitution.

Although the drive to school was less harrowing than usual as I had set out extra early to be in time for my 8.15 am class, I was still not best pleased as I had to park outside another building and then walk to my class, where I expected to see which (or how many) periods I had lost.

My inconvenient parking was as a result of building work which finished four days ago.
Oh wait, silly me, I forgot: all signs in Spain are lies. The notices put up to advise the unwary that ‘construction work’ of some sort was going to take place also included the dates on them. The specific ‘start’ date lulled us into a false state of security and we were therefore unready for the actual date of commencement which was three days and a weekend before the date stated.

This work caused considerable inconvenience as many parking spaces were lost and the placement of the car meant that I would have at least 20 minutes more to wait to get out of the immediate purlieus of the school at the end of the day as our more than considerate parents scrambled to take their scions home.

The end date, we were confidently informed by the oh-so informative poster was the 11th. This was after a holiday, so the inexperienced among us assumed that much work would be done when there was no danger of being squashed by one of the passing juggernauts that take our kids home. How, some were heard to aver, intelligent and considerate.

The 11th came and went and there was no appreciable diminution in the activity of the few men working on the pavements which were being replaced.

A couple of days after the 11th deadline we noticed that the stickers which had given details of the days had all been ripped off every notice. A thing whose touching decency was a homage to truth.

The secretary and I laughed with the hard, bitter mirth of those who have experienced Spanish assertions at their worst when other colleague came whimpering forward and whining that the notices said one thing and behold! Another was being done! I may not have the experience of some of the others in this school but I for one had no confidence whatsoever that a printed completion date meant anything more than precisely delineated smudges on an otherwise pristine notice!

At the rate that the workmen are progressing I think it will not be too long before we have to make an effort of memory to remember a time when there were not bright yellow crash barriers stopping people using the pavements and stopping people parking!

So, not only was I unhappy that my accustomed parking space was still unavailable, but also I was disconsolate at the expected loss of a hard won non-contact period.

The fact that there was no list of victims pinned up on the staff room wall did not delude me for a moment that I had escaped. I knew from past experience that the list had a capricious way of finding its way onto the wall and that anyway, someone would sidle up to you when you were at your most vulnerable and with a look worthy of Uriah Heep inform you that your accustomed leisure is about to be interrupted.

I therefore went to my first class knowing that my return would be depressing as the sheet would be there. And there it was waiting for me. But, blessing of blessings though the list was long stretching through an entire page of A4 my name wasn’t on it and to celebrate I shall ignore a previous determination and read the missing volume of the Vampires and Werewolves that I said I wouldn’t bother with!

I know how to live!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Time for contemplation!


One of the many advantages of living some distance away from your place of work is that it gives one the spaciousness each morning to study one’s fellow man and woman as they make their happy way to their place of gainful employment. How I have enjoyed seeing the faces of my fellow commuters as they enthusiastically bring themselves ever nearer to their place of professional fulfilment.

Not today. Not in a traffic jam which extended for the whole of my journey along the Ronda de Dalt. I was glad to see that most of the people I passed (and pass them I did, you have to choose the right lane along that road to get ahead, and I know which one to choose) were as little satisfied with the situation as I. The fantastic expressions ranged from resentful resignation (if such a thing is possible – of course it is I am a teacher and that is our standard default response to things which make the job impossible) to outraged disbelief as we staggered forward in little spurs of a metre or so.

I am not sure if this is a sensible thing to do, but I do it anyway. If I can see that the Ronda de Dalt is congested as I sweep towards it along the curving link road from the motorway which joins Castelldefels with the airport then as soon as I merge with the static traffic (having chosen my ‘lucky’ lane) I then use a car or van in the other lane as my ‘marker’ and judge the intelligence of my choice by how many car lengths I gain or lose. Just in case you are interested, being level with a car counts as 0.5.

I am proud to relate that in a traffic jam that ensured that I took a whole hour to get to school and was only just in time to get to my class which was waiting plaintively on the patio to be brought in, I ‘made’ so many points that I stopped counting.

Another way to counteract the boredom is to ensure, when driving, that no other driver cuts in front of you. I am not unreasonable about this; if a car is indicating and seems to have a real need to enter my lane I am more than prepared to allow its entry. The thing I object to drivers who try and make sneaky gains by sticking to a lane dedicated to a turn off and then suddenly joining your lane. I admit that this does cause some commotion as I edge ever nearer to the exhaust pipe of the car in front, but it does keep me sharp.

Motorcycles are obviously exempt from these games as they have rules of their own which seem to mean that motorcyclists can ignore with impunity all other road users (including fellow cyclists) and drive as if the roads were empty. Yet again, on one of the few occasions when the three lane motorway was free enough to allow me to attain a reasonable speed, travelling in the middle lane with cars and either side of me, I was passed by two cyclists simultaneously on left and right as they zoomed by in the spaces between the cars.

As motorway driving (at least on this motorway) encourages the swerving in and out of cars from lane to lane as though they were involved in one of the more elegant and complicated dances of the eighteenth century, motorcyclists need to be of diva-like competence to be able to survive as they dance their own counterpoint to the major themes of the moving cars.

And, of course, many of the cyclists are only pretend-divas and their pretention lacks the foundation of real skill and ability and so they are ruthlessly mown down.

Now I have no objection to suicide per se which is what the expectation of buying a motorcycle seems to entail in this part of the world, but I do object to the delays that the mangled machines and bodies force on the motorists. And on motorways as busy as those around Barcelona the accident doesn’t even need to be on the side of the road on which you are travelling. Thanks to ‘rubber-necking’ a slowing down to see what is going on is all that is necessary for chaos to spread up and down from an accident.

I was told that the delays this morning were from an accident (who knows if a cyclist was involved) were from an accident early in the morning which had long been cleared up by the time I was setting out on my way; but the delay consequences of the event were still causing havoc hours afterwards!

I was unable to have my customary cup of tea when I arrived in school and had to jump straight into teaching. Only now, after a cup of the brew that makes life worth living and a small square of chocolate donated by a concerned colleague am I approaching the liberal humanitarianism for which I am famed. I am also in the staffroom of Building 1 which is much more conducive to quiet and contemplation and it also has power sockets attached to the underside of the communal table. Who could ask for more?

This lunchtime will be the occasion when I discover if my tummy is no longer the shy, retiring maiden aunt type receptacle throwing up its hands (or fili) in horror at the vulgar comestibles thrown at it or if it has reverted to its usual manifestation as a monstrous all-accepting maw.

At any event its alcoholic tolerances will be tested by the consumption of a bottle of Liberlis which is our (Suzanne and mine) preferred White of the summer. Or indeed of any month.

We are not meeting merely to drink a bottle of wine, obviously, but will be engaged on serious academic educational investigation. Which I am afraid is sad but true! I must be slipping.

So far there is no more news about the infamous holiday in spring of next year. I think that may be because I was just on time and therefore had no time to hear the latest developments: I will be very disappointed if I do not hear major changes in the way we are going to approach this problem which I am sure will, by next September, make the solving of Fermat’s Last Theorem look like doing a big piece kids’ jigsaw!

Two more lessons to go (interspersed with non-contacts) and an early finish, to allow enough time to take the wine from the fridge and put it in the freezer so that it is at the requisite temperature just above freezing for the arrival of Suzanne.

And yes, I do know that such a proceeding is vulgar. And no, I don’t care!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Situation - fluid!


I pride myself that my digestion is cast iron, copper bottomed and other metallic metaphors redolent of strength and vigour; it was therefore with something approaching positive depression that various ominous gurgling indicated that all was not well.

My unsettled (to put it mildly) evening – a result of unrelieved tension from the meeting called to consider the proposals for the February holiday – was followed by a morning of tentative gastric speculation as to whether my delicate digestive state was sufficiently sturdy to support a journey to Barcelona without an enforced stop. I was particularly conscious that the motorways afforded little convenience (and I do mean that quite literally) if I failed to be content to survey the passing scenery inside the car.

In the event I made it and resolved to take the day lesson by lesson and not make any hasty (or indeed do anything hastily) decision.

As usual the restorative effects of actually teaching came to my aid, and it was only when I was going from one lesson to another that the reality of my parlous situation came forcibly before my attention and I dipped a little. The next lesson, however, saw me revivimus: and so it has gone on for the whole of the day.

This is a single free before my last lesson which has given me time to meditate on my lunch of boiled rice and bland yogurt. I have fortified myself during the day with a couple of cups of manzana tea – disgusting! I sincerely trust that this malady will not last into tomorrow! Especially as I am taking a little wine in the evening!

The story of the new holiday for next year is of continuing interest. As I suspected it might be. The meeting which we had yesterday (yesterday) after school is now obsolete as, seemingly by the hour, new instructions and information are released to a bemused teaching staff.

Nothing as yet has been put in writing to the staff but the situation is fluid and I think that this particular aspect of the calendar for next year will run and run. I confidently expect that we will have a series of revelations about what is going to happen and then we will have a definitive outline of the dates and effects which, I just as confidently expect will have changed when we return in September and will change again by the time of the alleged holiday in late February or early March! “Remember Stephen,” as David keeps reminding me, “this is not Britain!”

Useful advice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Everything changes!







I fail to see how such a poor day as today follows from such a glorious day as yesterday. There is almost a Puritan sense of equilibrium about the weather nowadays: fine has to be compensated with cloudy, otherwise we sun worshippers will get above ourselves!

At least it isn’t raining and that is a big plus!

Today has seen the culmination of my literary vandalism as I taught the eviscerated text of “Sredni Vashtar” to my pupils. My ‘edited’ version of Saki’s story removes just about everything that makes the story ironic and interesting, but it does leave the essential narrative. I have been far too frightened to do a close comparison between the two texts as I fear it would reduce me to tears, but I am strengthened in my resolve by the reaction to even this pale reflection of what Saki’s style is really like.

In our working day we have seven teaching slots and today I am teaching in six of them. It must make a considerable difference when timetabling that you have teachers with a weekly total of 35 slots rather than the more customary 25 of British teachers: that is a 40% advantage over the ordinary British system. I teach in 23 slots and have an English Department Meeting in an extra one making a total of 24. In Britain there are usually 25 periods in a week so in British terms my timetable is 96% full! Of course, given that we have seven periods rather than five in the normal day (note that I say normal!) there is a free period (at least) on each day – but I would much rather go home than stay until 4.45 pm which is the offrical end of the day.

It means of course that a meeting this evening for the whole staff will start at 5.00 pm and probably not finish until at least 5.30 pm (with luck) and that means that I will be home by about 6.15 pm having started the school day at 8.45 am and having got up at 7.00 am. There must be an easier way to make money! Or to put it another way: Quit moaning, it pays the rent!

All wrong! It’s been raining and the meeting went on until after 6! The explanation of what was going to happen next year was conducted in frantic Spanish with incomprehensible slides to illustrate what nobody understood.

As far as I followed what was being said, the upshot is that I will have to be teaching four year olds for a few days in February or March during a week when every other school in the public sector is on holiday. The gain is that nothing of our holiday will be taken away in July. I think. I will have to wait for tomorrow to get an overview of what people think they understood!

I have finished reading “Mad Dogs and an English Girl – A stranger in Franco’s Spain” by Caroline Waterman. This is an account of a year spent in Spain in the 1950s when she was in Burgos teaching English to the natives.

This is an oddly unpretentious book where the concern is to tell a convincing narrative and leave out some interesting points which would clarify some of the action! Nevertheless it is a beguiling book with a view of a repressed soci8ety held by the grip of a fascist dictatorship with the suffocating assistance of the Roman Church.

Our Caroline is, in comparison with the Spanish girls, outward going and assertive, but her story is one of essential guilelessness and, for me, it lacked real bite. It’s style is descriptive without being over perceptive. Too tame for me!
By way of a change I impulsively selected a slim volume from the bookshelf nearest to my desk and reread “The Flower Beneath the Foot” by the endlessly fascinating Ronald Firbank. I am tempted to say that the introduction by John Mortimer in the Penguin Modern Classics edition was better than the writing it introduced, but that would be to deny the dark fascination with an imagination run riot and yet seemingly at home in the world of slapstick as well.

This novel reminds me of the poems of W B Yeats – not in terms of content or style but because Firbank and Yeats both make me wonder if they are not perhaps perpetrating gigantic jokes on a gullible literary public. And if they are, are they necessarily the worse for that!

The television channels are still full of Barça’s victory over the Old Enemy and I am amazed at how much mileage can be made from one very ordinary football match.

Even if the result was quite satisfactory.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Summer space!


I count today as the first day of the summer.

Not because of the weather which was glorious, with a sky so blue that you begin to imagine wisps of cloud just to bring the azure infinity closer to something human and appreciable. The weather was summery but that was not the reason that I count this the first day of the new season.

It was the parking!

I should by now be used to the fact that Castelldefels is a seaside town and from time to time, especially at weekends, it is filled with visitors. These guests share a driving need that is not particular to Spain: the necessity of parking within a maximum of ten metres from their destination and the hell with safety or consideration or legality.

I had to give up my parking space to go and get lunch from the pollo a last and the drive to the place was a succession of obstacles formed by appallingly abandoned (to call them parked would be a gross distortion) cars. Outside the restaurant on a narrow road junction cars were parked half on the pavement and half off. Cars were parked diagonally across corners of pavements on road junctions and . . . this is what summer is like if you live in a seaside resort!

However unreasonable you might have thought the way that people park in any Tesco car park you might have been in; I have to say that you have seen nothing until you have seen the way that Visitors park. I do not think that it is merely a coincidence that this part of the world is planning to screen a remake of “V” about alien visitors invading the planet!

It is just as well that I have made the most of the last two days lurking on the third floor and taking what I can from the beautiful weather we have had over the weekend because the new week appears to be depressingly bad.

Tomorrow there is a full staff meeting. The topic of this unheard of coming together of the academic workers? Curriculum? Examinations? New equipment? Courses? No! Holidays.

There are plans for there to be a week’s holiday next February which, for state schools, is going to be clawed back and added on to the summer term. For us, if I understand correctly, this week is going to be a holiday for the pupils but not for the teachers and the term will end at the same time. This was the first plan; if we need a meeting then there must have been some changes.

Holidays are the sort of topic about which everyone has a point of view; I sincerely hope that this is merely an information giving meeting rather than an opportunity for some of my colleagues to speak. I have been in ‘evaluation’ meetings where I have prayed for death or at least for a direct act of god to smite the speaker to release me from unjustifiable torture.

I fear that tomorrow evening might see me reciting my orisons of retribution yet again!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Match



Sitting on the balcony outside the staff room before my last lesson in school yesterday and lazing in the afternoon sun I was aware of two things about the scene which were oddly disturbing.

The first was seeing a palm tree framed by wayward branches of a May tree in full bloom. It seemed an odd juxtaposition remembering as I did the May tree which we had in the back garden of our house in Cathays where no palm trees grew!

The second unsettling element in this otherwise expensively panoramically startling scene was the scent of the May blossom. It certainly wasn’t as I remembered it. The same sickly sweet smell was there but there was an overlay of something more disturbingly human about the aroma which reminded me of a bodily function! Unsettling!

The three day week that we have had has been just as exhausting as a full week – at least that is how it seems. The end of the week saw a lot of hollow eyed teachers staggering home for the weekend wondering how they were going to cope with the prospect of a full five teaching days before the next weekend!

I went to bed at a reasonable hour to take full advantage of the promised day of sunshine that Saturday was supposed to be. I woke up at my customary time before dawn, realized that it was Saturday and thought that I could have an extra five minutes and suddenly it was 11.00 am!

With a British sense of bodily betrayal I belatedly fled to the third floor clutching a pot of tea and a book.

I have discovered that my high back swivel office chair is excellent for sunbathing! I can push a lever and have the back recline and laze in more than Oriental splendour. And with a cup of PG Tips in one of my grandmother’s cups – perfect!

The book I was reading, in spite of misgivings from my reading of the first in the series, was another Stephenie Meyer vampire and werewolf book entitled “eclipse.” The lack of capital letter is the author’s choice.

I have obviously missed one part of this series as there were references to what I can only describe as ‘more of the same’ as I ploughed through the reworking of much of the narrative ‘invention’ I had read in the first volume!

The only aspect that I liked was the concept of the Volturi, vampires from Italy who had a sort of watching brief on the ‘brand’ and wiped out those vampires whose drinking habits threatened to reveal to the general public the existence of a disturbing minority in their midst!

This novel is basically a romance with monsters and a heroine whose love of a vampire is slowly bringing her to the point where she is willingly going to go though the change so that she can stay with her vampire love for ever.

I suppose it is the sort of novel which you will like if you like the genre of vampire romance that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has made so popular. Not really my cup of tea and I feel that I have done much more than my duty by reading two of the volumes that school has bought to encourage kids to read. On the basis that any reading is better than no reading, I think that I can recommend them without reservation!

Meanwhile normality (as it is sometimes known) sees Toni dressed like a football terrorist in shirt and hat with a scarf wrapped round his face!

I find it difficult to believe that I have succumbed to the hysteria surrounding a Real Madrid-Barça game to the extent of putting on a Barça shirt under my normal shirt!

After a very scrappy first half (in which however Messi scored a goal) I am not looking forward to a further 45 minutes in which I will not be delighted by the quality of the football and be stressed by the antics of the Barça players – who do not seem to be settled at all. I look on it as one of the prices that you pay for living in Catalonia!

Lunch today was in our usual restaurant in town but was not necessarily at the standard that we expect. Admittedly there were more people there than usual, but still it was not quite as good as we have come to expect. They have also taken to giving us a carafe of wine recently rather than the bottle that we regard as our right. All things change!

Barça have now scored a second goal, which was greeted by someone in our area setting off a rocket. The last time that happened was when Real Madrid was knocked out of the European Cup! That gives you some idea of the force of feeling about this football match when these two teams meet.

And we’ve just won!

Thank god for that and now there are lots of fireworks going off around us!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

How the week is dragging!



Up before dawn to get to school for my ‘early’ lesson and still there were traffic jams – though, thank god not of the soul screaming variety. I do find that looking like a Kathe Kollwitz drawing on your way to school as you battle suicidal motorcyclists and cutting cars is not conducive to looking as placid as a Zubarán when you finally get in front of a class.

The similes are obviously a function of my wandering fingers in the art section of my scattered library. These art books are volumes that I find particularly difficult to get into any kind of order as the temptation to turn the pages and look at the pictures (why they were bought after all) is overmastering.

The most disastrous piece of information associated with the paintings is the caption which tells you where the particular canvas or piece of wood is actually situated: the tug of foreign galleries is almost irresistible!

It has always been one of my ambitions (quite modest in the scale of things) to go and visit the Alte Pinakothec in Munich which houses the wonderful canvas by Gerard Terborch of “A boy picking fleas from a dog.” I first saw this painting in a volume of the Hamlyn history of art series of very small books which had large colour plates and small amounts of text and I have been fascinated with the paintings every since.

I once got out an atlas of Europe and looked at what I could cover by flying to Munich and then spreading out a way to see what galleries were within reach of the city. Needless to say in a few minutes I was a thousand miles away from Munich in my imagination drawing a cultural route on the map which made the eighteenth century Grand Tours look like Thomas Cook Day Trips!

There is something about a map which encourages a flight of fancy because you trace your fingers over representations of reality as you skim mountain ranges, lakes and oceans in a god-like overview of geographical space. I suppose travelling by map is the nearest we get to the Starship Enterprise concept of being beamed up to a location! Or perhaps it’s only me.

I would like to go to that gallery; but as soon as I say that, I immediately consider other places which also demand my presence. For someone who is much more at home in the pictorial representations produced by the hard edged Northern Renaissance than the soft sumptuous Renaissance of the south I have visited precious few galleries of north and what one of the gold-diggers in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ referred to as “the central of Europe"! Time enough in the future and the Prado does have a wonderful collection of the mystically disturbing and disturbed paintings of Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken or Hieronymous Bosch as he is better known – certainly better known to me – but it is wonderful what information one can palm off as one’s own with judicious use of Wikipedia!

Up to Terrassa after school to visit the recovering in hospital. Although he was in a fairly nice room sharing with only one other person when we got there the other patient in the room had at least three generations of his family chatting and running around soon to be joined by three generations of the family of the patient we were visiting. By the time we left it was difficult to remember that we were in a hospital and not in a grand family reunion!

Back home I realized just how tired I was. Still, Friday tomorrow and the hope of a decent weekend.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The tie says it all!




The roadworks around the school which were scheduled to be finished before our return are not finished. Again, my complete lack of surprise is a function of my new expectations modified by my stay in Spain.

The parking, given that spaces on the whole of one side of the school were taken up with roadworks, was horrendous.

Parents bring their precious cargos to school by car and then, having deposited them in the school they linger in their cars presumably bewailing their bereft state with a free child-free day in front of them – what a lack of imagination that displays!

One assertive member of staff now pulls up and signals to the lingering parent that they should leave and smiles encouragingly to get them on their way. And they leave! I think it helps that she is female. I am not sure that it would work so well with a male smiling in a way which I am sure would be taken to intimidatory rather than gently encouraging!

First day back was bloody. It always is. People seemed to be mildly resentful that I had managed to change my ‘pasty’ (for me) paleness to something more bronzedly acceptable. I think that they were incredulous that anyone would sunbathe in a month so far removed from what can be taken to be summer as March. It is vain that I protest that one should go on the temperature and the ability to shelter from blustery winds rather than a slavish adherence to a conventional acceptance of when summer is actually here. We British learn to take our sunshine when and where we find it – and if that is March then so be it. And if Johnny Foreigner is so hidebound that he cannot respond to tanning potential in an uncongenial month then ouff to him!

For almost the first time since I have been in the school the first day of term was not taken up with frantic conversation about examinations! I shall enjoy this temporary respite for as long as it lasts. Which I anticipate will not survive Monday of next week!

I also gained a free ‘free’ period. I take an extra lesson on a Monday and am compensated by losing one on Wednesday. This Monday was a holiday, but I still had my period off today. I take my gifts where I can find them!

On the other hand there is no May Day holiday. May Day falls on a Saturday and there is no alternative day given to us in the week. Disaster! There is only one long weekend between today and the end of June. I need to find strategies.

And quickly!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The finger of power!



Thank god for the off switch.

No matter how sophisticated the machine: when in doubt turn it off.

Probably my internet radio (made by Roberts, of course) is more sophisticated than the computers that took Man to the Moon, but that fact did not stop it going through a ‘difficult’ period in which the message “Network Failure” was displayed. Now this message would have been understandable if the network was not actually working, but for every other machine the internet was fine.

Far be it from me to question the working of a Roberts radio: like Rolls Royce and ERNIE they work in their own inscrutable way and, like those two, one’s radio becomes an institutionalized part of the home. The one fact about Roberts radios, which is why one is prepared to pay the premium for their purchase, is that they go on working whatever. They may get old and tatty and bits might, eventually, fall off – but they go on working.

The second day of “Network Failure” after turning off and on again had not produced the requisite results I became somewhat desperate. I was missing my daily fix of Radio 4 and it’s just not the same if you are listening to it on your computer through headphones. Desperation called for desperate measures so I pressed the “Menu” button on the radio.

Although computers and call centres have made us more than familiar with “Menus” (capital letter and inverted commas) they have also made us more than familiar with despair. “Menus” always have sub-menus and sub-menus have sub-sub-menus so that by using these “Menus” we are allowed a glimpse of the infinite. But the infinite we are allowed to see and experience is a cold, hard place where human wishes and desires are subordinate to the categorical imperative of the unfolding “Menu” which is to lead but not arrive.

It was therefore with nothing approaching faith that I touched the fatal button and was presented with a list of options. “Network Failure” suggested that the option “Network” might be appropriate. Further pressing led to a list of networks among which I recognized the name of our Wi-Fi monster, so I gleefully selected and pressed it.

Instead of seeing the happy word “Connected” my despair increased when I saw a flashing cursor and the fatal message “Enter network password.” Alas! I remembered enough to know that this was not a password but a string of numbers and letters that we had most carefully written down “somewhere.”

I turned the radio off.

And when I turned it on much later the “Network Error” was still there. Cursing the implacable gods of intractable machines, I considered my options. There were, I reckoned, three: the first would be to continue turning the radio on and off in the vain hope of something happening; the second would be to find the missing password (!); while the third would be, I suddenly thought in a flash of pure inspiration, to take the power lead out of the radio and turn it off properly.

Which I did. Yesterday. And today the radio is working perfectly and gave me the news of the election. I am glad to see that my technical know-how is still able to deal with the most sophisticated productions of advanced technology!

Lunch with Irene at the Maritime with the usual chat ranging from personality to pursuing dreams. Enjoyable none the less.

Tomorrow back to work. But there are compensations. Wednesday is my early finish. Wednesday is the hump of the week: it is all downhill after that. The weekend is encouragingly near.

Ever the optimist!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Young and funny?


When is the age at which those things which would be repulsive in an older child are not longer tolerated in a very young one?

I am not inclined to be indulgent about young life forms but Toni’s young nephew is engaging. He mispronounces my name in a way which would be irritating in anyone older; he peremptorily demands food and drink and we smile indulgently; he can’t talk and hold a cup of drink at the same time and tips the contents on the floor and we laugh delightedly; when he finally has a public wee we cheer; he eats macaroni with his fingers we are fascinated. In short he has us all in thrall. Even I, a fully paid up cynic, am captivated. But there again I don’t live with him day after day!

The penultimate day of the holiday saw us going up to Terrassa and having an excellent lunch with visits to two other parts of The Family. A phone was recycled and installed and various points of fashion advice were given to someone still decorating her first flat.

I even managed to do some more reading of a book which I bought some time ago about the experiences of a young British girl who came to work in Franco’s Spain.

Tomorrow will be the usual time for me to panic that I am not prepared for the new term, though the only thing that I have to ensure I do is to make sure that I wear my ‘traditional’ tie for the start of a new term: a version of Munch’s ‘Scream’ – which I always think is more than fitting for such a sad time!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Is the sun risen indeed!



I was woken by rain last night, which gives you some idea of my paranoia about the weather. I am one of those irritating people who lapses into unconsciousness almost as soon as my head hits the pillow and I usually remain in a most satisfyingly comatose condition until I resentfully accept that it is time to get up and go to work.

The gentle dripping of rain is not something which makes an impression on my sleeping brain, though it could add a background detail to a dream! But the sound woke me. I have to admit that once I had ascertained that water was falling from the sky I went back to sleep again.

The winter of 2009/2010 will live on in the folk memory of the Catalans for a long time to come. I found that my British sensibility to unexpectedly adverse weather was matched by those around me. Admittedly they did not feel cheated in quite the same way that I did - after all they had not moved country to get a bit more sun – but they too talked about the horrors of the winter as if the coastal plain of Barcelona had been transformed into the Steppes of Russia and that we constantly having to step over the frozen corpses of kulaks!

I may still be (for me) a pasty white colour, but at least I have been able to stretch out for a few hours and soak up what rays there were. I confidently predict blazing sunshine as soon as term restarts!

Which the sun signally is not doing at the moment. The only thing that you can confidently predict is that the bloody dog next door will, to greet the dawning day, bark his lonely triplets of noise to ensure that we are all awake!

There are two more days of the holiday left.

Just seeing those harsh words forces an icy hand to grip my beating heart. Although I have just thought too that there is the rest of today which counts, hooray!

It had to happen at some time or other. And it just happened today.

For the first time I read a Margaret Pym novel all the way through!

By page 7 of “A Glass of Blessings” I had come across “I was sure that Father Bode was equally worthy of eating smoked salmon and grouse or whatever luncheon the hostesses might care to provide. Then it occurred to me that he might well be the kind of person who would prefer tinned salmon, though I was ashamed of the unworthy thought for I knew him to be a good man.” Delight!

The novel is firmly in Pym territory with a comfortable middle class narrator with time on her hands writing about life which seems to revolve around the clergy of an Anglo-Catholic church. And it’s very funny, though rarely in a laugh out loud sort of way. It is one of those novels which reach their apotheosis in “Madame Bovary” where, when all is said and done, you don’t care much for any of the characters in the book including the narrator!

The action of the novel usually (but not always) stays this side of farcical caricature with a series of cartoon characters acting out sad but resourceful lives to the back ground of money and religion – or vice versa – if there actually is any difference!

There are irresistible moments in the book such as when the narrator, the wife of a fairly highly placed civil servant, speculates about the food appropriate to a religious retreat tea (the ‘tea’ is a particularly Pymmian touch) “with everything in dark colours; but the darkest greyest food I could think of was caviar, which seemed unsuitable, so I got no further.”

I particularly sympathized with a thought that Wilmnet had when debating whether to join a group to talk to the teacher, Piers, after a class in Portuguese: “I wondered if I should join the group but decided to remain aloof, for I could hear questions being asked about the use of the subjunctive and I did not feel equal to that kind of conversation.” It is the use of the word “aloof” that makes passages like this work. And it is often the mot (un)juste that makes an unremarkable piece of description or dialogue rise to the level of ironic, almost sardonic humour.

Only Pym (you see, I am writing of her as if I have been actually reading her rather than simply referring to her for the last x-number of years) would end a novel with the sentence, “It seemed a happy and suitable ending to a good day.” And use a full stop rather than an exclamation mark.

A thoroughly recommendable book to those who might like her. Which is a modified form of recommendation, but nevertheless heartfelt.

I will have to hunt through my books and see if I have another one!