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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where is my sun!


There is no stasis like “waiting for the van.”

My injured camera - it does so much to call it merely “damaged” seems an insult to its capacity – is awaiting a van driver to collect it and take it who knows where for who knows whom to do who knows what to it.

I feel as if I am in a Beckett play with time suspended and nothing able to happen as I am Waiting for the Van. It does not come. Time passes.

When you are told that the package will be picked up between 10 am and 1 pm the cynic voice at the back of your mind tells you that it will actually take place more towards 2.30 pm than 10 am. Unless, of course, you go out when the van will then immediately appear, ring and disappear, never to appear again.

As it is now 12.05 pm the cynical voice has become a chorus of mocking figures sneering at my inactivity and urging me to have the courage of my cynicism and go and do the shopping that needs to be done and then reappear just before 2.30 tapping one foot elegantly indicative of the justified irritation that one can feel for a wasted morning. A wasted sunny morning!

Time is ticking away. The van has ten minutes to get here to make it in the three hour slot that I was given! This sort of existential time keeping is one thing which is common to all advanced societies in which the White Van Culture has been allowed to develop!

The White Van (Surprise! Surprise!) is late – and to think that I hurriedly packed the camera just after my early morning swim so that it would be ready to be collected if the van were to arrive exactly at 10 am. It is that sort of misplaced faith that keeps society going!

It just goes to show how one can delude oneself that I actually believed that the delay would only be an hour or so! It is now 4.35 pm and there is a likelihood that the bloody camera will not be picked up until 6.30 pm. That would only be five and a half hours late! Home from home!

The van (yes, it was white) finally arrived at twenty to seven. The poor man who took the brunt of my fury had only been told about the pick-up a half an hour or so before he arrived! The organization which is supposed to be an efficient communications concern is woefully inept and I wonder where my camera is going. At least I have a receipt so I know at least when it went!

I cannot pretend that time-slots were anything more than a hazy indication of possible intent rather than a contractual assurance of prompt timekeeping in Britain so this is not something particular to Spain or Catalonia. But it is irritating. Infuriating. And lots of other words ending in –ing!

A frustrating day, but not a time to sulk as tomorrow sees preparations for the Journey South!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I have my rights



The major irritants in any normal swimming pool are the humans; other humans. If those other humans are children so much the worse.

I am a confirmed “up and down” user of swimming pools and if there are lanes marked then I feel (know) that I have a Divine Right to swim up and down and to hell with those lesser life forms who think that side to side or diagonally is in any way acceptable.

Sometimes, even when swimming lanes are clearly separated from the rest of the lesser breed by floats and ropes idiots (or children as they are commonly known) attach themselves to the ropes and swing their puny little legs into the swimmers’ way. I have always found that the breast stroke with a particularly vigorous frog-like kick in passing usually sorted them out. For the rest who get in the direct way I rely on nails standing a little proud of the skin cutting through flesh.

Unfortunately in our pool there are no lines, it therefore qualifies as a ‘bathing’ rather than ‘swimming’ pool. This does not stop me swimming in my straight lines and I am usually able to intimidate all (save children) from getting in my way – and even kids eventually get the message after a few ‘gentle’ nudges.

The use of our pool is limited by most users to a few high usage periods of the day and not usually when I immerse myself and so I usually swim in solitary splendour.

So my niggles are not with people in the pool but another aspect of nature. After the kiss of the Medusa in the sea I have become somewhat sensitive to the sting of anything. Our pool is partially surrounded by pine trees and their detritus finds its way into the pool – at least I hope that some of the bits and pieces that I have scooped out of the pool are arboreal in nature. One of the great advantages of myopia is that it blunts the clarity of some things that are better left blurred.

There are many types of pine tree and our trees shed pine needles in the general shape of beginners chopsticks (joined at one end) they have a thinned elegance which might make them unusable for Chinese food but in the pool they become perilous.

They are so light that the slightest current from a swim stroke will drag them underwater and there they lurk waiting for an unsuspecting limb which, if in the right position, will have a double prick from the sharp ends of the pine needles.

Your mind, of course, does not immediately think of pine needles but of some stubborn malicious life form which has been able to adapt itself to the chlorine rich waters, and if it can live in chlorine what the hell is it doing to my leg! Etc. You calm down however. Eventually.

Stewart is linked to both books I read today. Yesterday I read “Andorra” by Max Frisch and today he wrote that he had taken part in the Afterpiece to “The Fire Raisers”. As I hadn’t read “The Fire Raisers” either (bought second hand, previously owned by Michael Horton ’74) it is irresistible to read a play in which a friend has performed. In the original British performance in the Royal Court Theatre in 1961 Stewart’s character was played by John Thaw who was the Doctor of Philosophy.

In the Afterpiece the Doctor of Philosophy has been transformed into a long tailed monkey in hell complaining about the quality of person entering the infernal regions. I wonder how Stewart said, “Once again nothing but middle-class people! The Devil will be furious. Once again nothing but teenagers! I scarcely dare tell the Devil. Again not a single public figure! Not a single cabinet minister, not a single field-marshal.”

My limited forays into student drama included playing Professor Corona Radiator; a bastard; The Prologue; a Roman soldier; an American; King Claudius (no, not in “Hamlet) and a Padre. Before University I played King Solomon, after University I played King Herod: that’s what education does for you!

The second book I read, next to “The Fire Raisers” on the shelf, was “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn. This, guided by Andrew and Stewart, was the choice that I made for a Year 11 Drama Trip to London. These were not the educational cream and even the location of the theatre next to The Savoy was replete with horrific possibilities as the kids watched with amused hostility the succession of sleek expensive motors deposit the sleek expensive clients at the door of the hotel.

The play (of which I knew nothing) opened with a set that was clichéd farce fodder and the opening lines were banal and uninspiring. When someone from the audience got up and started arguing with the actress on stage I was on the point of hysteria as I was surrounded by kids who had no idea what was going on.

It was only when I recognized the man in the audience as Paul Eddington that I began to get the idea of what was happening. “Noises Off” is actually the story of the fortunes of a play called “Nothing On” which in Act I is being rehearsed; in Act II is on tour and we see backstage as the play is being performed and Act III is the play being performed at the end of its tour. Apart from the fact that I had to keep up a running commentary about what was happening to the kids nearest to me so that they could convey the information to the rest of the rows I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Act II is one of the cleverest pieces of farce I think that I have ever seen and Act III is chaos where everything is going wrong and which I laughed out loud simply reading in the sunshine!

Carry On Holidaying!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Never a day without dolour


Tragedy!

I have dropped my new camera and reduced it from a compact, cutting edge miracle of miniaturization to something akin to a Kodak box camera from the 1950 able to take pictures and little more. Gone is the telephoto; the menu of possibilities; most of the features. It is now a point and click. A very expensive point and click!

I have arranged to have it collected in a couple of days as it is still well under warranty, but I am sure that dropping the things negates everything – I live in hope! If it can be repaired then I am more than willing to pay as the camera, a Canon Power Shot SX 210IS is one of the most remarkable cameras I have ever owned. Every day and in every way I get poorer and poorer!

My new bathing costume has arrived and appears to be little more than a holey wisp of material which, I am assured, will allow (because of its revolutionary material) most of the sunshine to flow through and therefore get rid of the ‘white bits’ – this remains to be seen.

As irony is my middle name, I confidently expect the sun to disappear for the summer which would suggest that a bathing costume nearer to the woollen (sic) construction that I was photographed in when I was a toddler on the beach at Barry Island would be more in keeping than the suggestion of decency that I have just bought.

“Homo Faber” has at last resurfaced, but not soon enough to stop me reading “Andorra” by the same author. Although acclaimed as one of the most significant German plays to be produced since the, well, you fill in the event that satisfies, I found the play, which is not about Andorra to be an unsatisfying amalgam of half digested Brecht, a little bit of Arden and a dollop of Brenton. The morality and ethos was easy and unthreatening.

The only aspect that I really liked was the opening and ending of the play where one of the central characters was whitewashing: in the beginning in honour of St George and at the end – you’ve probably guessed the difference, but I think that dramatically it could be very effective.

Another glorious day, though with more clouds than I usually tolerate but more than satisfactory. A chunk of the day was taken up with trying to find the way to send the camera back to see if it can be repaired. I still have not lost the sense of panic that comes with the shunning of the sun while other important actions have to be taken. This is a specifically British thing which relates to holidays abroad when every bright moment had to be focused on turning the skin a shade that would normally be impossible in our damper climate! I still, and don’t think I will ever stop, look fearfully out of the bathroom window every morning to see if the distant trees are topped with sunlight.

I must learn that the sunny spaciousness of a summer holiday in Spain does allow you to do those things which are impossible during the crammed time of term and there will be sunshine enough to spare when they are all complete.

Happy days!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And the reading goes on!



I still can’t find “Homo Faber” and so finished off the bitterly ironic “Penguin Island” – which, also ironically cost two shillings in 1948 and cost me 10p or two old shillings when I bought it second hand – and picked up another book by Claude Cockburn called “Bestseller” subtitled, The books Everyone Read 1900-1939”

To my shame (or is it really?) I had only read two of the books that he discussed “The Blue Lagoon” by H de Vere Stacpoole and “The Riddle of the Sands” by the ‘traitor’ Erskine Childers. I also have to admit that I own a copy of “The Green Hat” by Michael Arlen but have only dipped into it and I truly cannot remember if I have read “Beau Geste” by P C Wren. I am drawn to read “When It Was Dark” by Guy Thorne because it was the book which that odious little man Montgomery read and declared it was a turning point in his life!

This book is relatively short and does not pretend to be exhaustive and further is highly selective, but it is an enjoyable read as Cockburn attempts to find reasons for the popularity of various books from “The Garden of Allah” by Robert Hitchens to “Precious Bane” by Mary Webb.

I think that the introduction is probably the best part, thought the details and extracts of the books are interesting it’s probably better to read the best bits and not have to read the entire novels themselves!

We suspect that the placing of the posts is part of a larger plan of our local council to get visitors to use parking which has to be paid for.

The Spanish will not pay for a parking space unless it is very much the last option.

If the council implements its plan to charge for the parking spaces along the sea front we will have people putting their cars on top of each other in streets a block away from the sea!

Back to summer normality tomorrow when only the ordinary tourists are in town rather than the influx we get at the weekends.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tricky transport


Two exceptional meals: last night with Irene in a restaurant called ‘Kafka’ (at which point I know I should make some sort of knowing joke about insects, or great walls or giant moles or something but I’m too stuffed) and the second in the Basque restaurant in the centre of town.

The first was the poncier of the two with a tapa of watermelon gazpacho, followed by fish pate with curried mayonnaise with Roquefort topped succulent hamburger (!) With lattice crisps and salad a main course. The sweet was homemade truffles with a marmalade sauce. It was all delicious.

The second was more homely with a surtido of salads as a starter after a couple of proper Basque tapas followed by shank of lamb. We were given two Basque sweets one was a sort of cheese cake while the other was a curd confection topped by honey.

Half way through “Homo Faber” I have mislaid the novel and have picked up “Penguin Island” by Anatole France. This is a thinly veiled ironic history of France from the earliest times. In its references and its faux seriousness it reminds me of the work of Borges, but this volume was originally published in 1908 (although the Penguin edition that I am reading at present was published in 1948, and yes it is the old orange cover and it cost two shillings) and it is a game to think about what scandals and political events are actually being mocked. The section on the imprisonment of Pyrot (Drefus) is particularly biting in its sardonic description of the specious reasoning that all sides in the dispute take to justify their actions or inactions!

In spite of its age the style of the novel means that the central concerns have just as much relevance today as they did in 1908 or 1948. What is giving me pause for thought is why Penguin should think it worth publishing three years after the Second World War in the height of The Age of Austerity. Perhaps such a period was exactly one to appreciate such a fully worked example of historical irony.

The Trip to the South took on another dimension today when, after having booked the train tickets on the internet, I was informed that the destination that we had been informed was the nearest to our friend was, in fact, wrong.

This morning was spent trying to work out how to change or cancel the train tickets. Eventually we have decided to go to Alicante by plane and then find a bus to get to the small town which is our ultimate destination.

Nothing is ever simple.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The ironic eye


If we are to believe the logic of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (and what thinking person does not) then what has happened today either clearly shows the existence of a sardonic god, or else proves that he doesn’t exist.

I have ordered a swimming garment from a company called “Nomasculsblanco” (which I will not translate) and god knows what is says about my own personal psychosis that I have bought, or at least ordered, this garment. Its material has a series of micro holes that allow most of the sun’s rays to colour that skin which is usually hidden from public view.

And that is where the irony comes in. The arrival of a slip from the Post Office announcing that a hard working member of staff had attempted to deliver a packet but that no one was at home was the usual indication that something was waiting for me in the depot. I have been understandably sceptical about such communications since I once picked up a note informing me of an unsuccessful attempt to deliver a package long before the time written on the note informing me that the attempt had been made!

The trip to the post office to get the garment was accompanied by the only fully overcast gray skies that we have had for weeks. The one thing that isn’t getting through to the Third Floor is the sun. Which makes the whole ethos behind the purchase fairly nugatory. But we are still in the days of July and there is the whole of the month of August ahead to try out the efficacy of the new trunks.

The further irony was that what was waiting for me was not my trunks, but Sitges sending me a parking ticket for so-called illegal parking in a street which no longer exists: an historical throwback! I ripped it up and threw it away! Such a rebel!

In a yet further touch of irony to add to the information re. the existence of god, the weather cleared up and by lunchtime we had a hot, sunny and blustery day. One just can’t win sometimes!

The long process of working out how to get to Jennifer has taken another step forward with Toni bearding the RENFE information service. He said the woman on the other end of the line sounded dead to the world, but we did manage to get some sort of timetable sorted for the trains that are going to take us south: it looks like a fairly epic journey which for me is going to be three trains and a car!

I am now waiting for Irene so that we can talk about The School (as always); The Revenge (as always) and The Journey (to come) – during a meal of course!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sublime and Odd




The sky is difficult to read this morning: layers of cloud, smears of grey enlivened by occasional wedges of a bluer grey; where the sun should be there is a whiter shade of glowing pale; there is a brisk breeze, but it is still warm enough for me to be typing this in my swimming trunks on the terrace of the Third Floor.

My early morning swim was perhaps a degree more bracing that usual but it took little fortitude to immerse myself and do my statutory lengths. There is no better feeling of complacency than that which comes with swimming in the open air when all around you is the silence of indolence!

One becomes habituated to the gentle push (remember the arthritis) from the side every few seconds in a pool as small as ours, and I know that were I to attempt to swim lengths in a proper 25 or 50 metre pool I would be exhausted in spite of the fact that I can swim for half an hour in our communal pool and feel positively refreshed when I get out!

Today is the second lesson of the week for My Pupil and I intend to go in early to Barcelona and make the pilgrimage up the escalators to MNAC and finally (after over a year) change the address they have so that the information sent to Friends of MNAC can actually get to me directly rather than my having to cull it from the post box of my previous flat. I will also call into La Caixa and get the proper catalogue for the Barceló exhibition for which I only have the free handout at present.

I am now reading “Homo Faber” by Max Frisch, useful because of the unusual wait for the train this morning going to Barcelona: still better than going by bus!

The long pilgrimage from the metro to the portals of MNAC with some of the elevators stopped because of what appears to be preparations for some sort of show around the magic fountain took even longer than usual. I managed to speak to the lady-of-a-certain-age who was behind the Friends of MNAC desk to change the address to which advance information about forthcoming events is sent.

The lady painstakingly took down the information in what can only be described as a hesitant manner and then she asked me if I was going to visit the gallery. When I replied in the enthusiastic affirmative she raised a hand and made her stately way towards a desk opposite where the admission tickets were being bought and got a special ticket for me. Nothing like feeding my flagging self esteem to make me appreciate works of art more!

Although something of a hurried visit I did manage to see the companion piece of the famous wall painting of Casas and a friend on the tandem that has almost become a sort of artistic symbol of Barcelona to match the Gaudí church! I was also enabled to check again the MNAC’s holdings of Joaquim Sunyer who is the subject of the latest art book I bought from a cheapo book stall in the concourse of Sants railway station. My Spanish/Catalan collection of painters that few Brits of heard of grows apace!

The lesson with My Pupil was even more bizarre than usual with the hot topic of conversation being the educational and community programmes of publically funded arts organizations. I explained things in English and then My Pupil said, “And now in Spanish?” As usual I found myself way out of my linguistic depth – not that this stopped my flow of conversation in any way!

It appears that My Pupil after a more than usually stressful few weeks has decided to take a holiday so that my trips to Barcelona will cease for a few weeks. This is just as well as the trip to The South has to be planned.

This is the few days which are going to be spent somewhere in the south in the house of the previous headteacher of the School That Sacked Me. We are planning to go by train, but this is proving to be a little more problematical than might have been supposed as we don’t really know exactly where we are going. One can hardly take “somewhere in the south” as a real destination!

We are working on it!

The trip back from Barcelona, although in air conditioned comfort, was a trip of particular horror.

In the rush for seats in Sants I sat, I later discovered facing two ladies. One was of unexampled innocuousness while the other wasn’t.

There are few things more disgusting than watching someone eat, when you are not. The lady opposite me was wearing one of those unflattering, slightly flounced, crimpelene looking creations in folksy brown incongruities. She had a skull like face with bulging eyes and she placed sunflower seed after sunflower seed into her wrinkled mouth, cracked it, sucked out the seed and then placed the husk in a small plastic bag.

I tried to read but if I wasn’t being revolted by cracking and sucking sounds, I was being revolted by the expectation of cracking and sucking sounds. She kept up a non-stop diet of the bloody things all the way to Castelldefels.

I stayed in my seat as an exercise in Zen calm.

It didn’t work.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Action and connections


A Noise Abatement Society flourishing in this part of Catalonia is as likely as thriving vegetarianism in Argentina.

Our Dawn Chorus today was not the usual heady mixture of doves, dogs and damn children but we were woken by the rough music of the pneumatic drill!

It would appear that our local council has decided to do something about the chaotic parking during the summer and has started to put metal posts on the edge of the pavements to stop cars parking there. I have a feeling this will merely concentrate the attempts to park on our driveways! We shall see.

“Howards End” was a revelation. I think that I must have read the other Forster novels at too early an age because I cannot remember reading “A Passage to India” or “Room with a view” with the same sort of amazed enthusiasm. Even the wonderful collection of short stories, “The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories” (in Penguin Modern Classics with a cover by David Gentleman) pales when placed beside the sheer pleasure that I got from reading “Howards End.”

I read it as I would a detective story – which I suppose it is to some extent – turning over the pages with gathering speed as the story gathered pace.

I could have said the story “such as it is” because, in spite of the fact that very serious things happen in it, the real delight is in the ordinary made extraordinary. Minor comments, minor accidents, minor observations all carry a charge which is out of all proportion to the seeming triviality of the occasion. One is reminded, again and again of Jane Austen, but a Jane Austen who takes more risks. Yes, we are presented with the comfortable middle class with a smattering of servants who play bit parts and one major character who strives after gentility and intellectuality but is hampered by his lack of money.

This is the novel from which the phrase “only connect” comes (and I thought it came from “Two Cheers for Democracy”) and the context makes it clear what store Forster set by the phrase.

The characters in the book are fascinating evoking memories of “To the Lighthouse” and of course Jane Austen in “Sense and Sensibility”. The novel was published in 1910 so the wars that are in the memory of the characters are presumably the Franco-Prussian wars. The belief in stocks and shares and the value of living on the interest from one’s “secure” investments is very much a pre-war world and there is an innocence about life where the real fear was the encroachment of London on a way of life rather than the shattering reality of an unthinkable conflict which was only four short years later.

The novel has twists and turns where the long arm of Dickensian coincidence is invited to twitch the narrative along from time to time; but I found myself wishing for the sort of Smollett-like coincidence where loose ends at the beginning are firmly tied knots by the end. This novel is not like that and, though you do have to stretch your imagination to believe in some motivations and the happenstance of some events, its pace drags you along as the characters play out their little lives in front of you.

The style of writing is anecdotal (who is the narrator of this story?) and epigrammatic, but without the arch showiness of something like “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” where the very cleverness is rather exhausting. Forster writes to explain and there is an urgency in his explanations that is belied in the gentleness in which they are garbed.

In days gone by I used to be much more meticulous in marking those passages that I thought significant in some way or other; these days there has to be something of real moment to make my search for a pen. I did mark two passages. I particularly like the description, “The air was white, and when they alighted it tasted like cold pennies.” There is an uncanny accuracy about this that means I can evoke an experience to match. I also was taken by one character’s description of a landscape which prompted her to say, “It isn’t size that counts so much as the way things are arranged.”

I realize reading through that last quotation again that it covers more than landscape!

I feel positively invigorated by reading “Howards End” and, at the risk of being sneered at by those who have read the novel long ago, I urge people to try it.

My “Summer watch” has been something of a disaster with it losing time. I took it back today and it was exchanged without demure. When I got it home and baptized it in the pool I noticed that one of the screws securing the front plate was missing. I am sure (this is not an expensive watch!) the screws are far more decorative than useful but the small, yet gaping water filled hole looked as though the watch was doomed.

Back I went to the shop and with Toni clearly intimating that the replacement watch that I had been given was a repaired one and not a new replacement. They have given me a third watch and that hopefully will get me through the summer.

I do have one or two (ahem!) other watches to replace any further faulty timepieces. But then what civilized gentleman does not have enough watches to be able to wear a different watch for each day of the week.

For some weeks.

Another festivity in Terrassa, so the car now has merely to be pointed in the right direction and it gets us there!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A trip to the city


OK I couldn’t find a parking space in the actual station car park but I did find a space outside a school within easy walking distance. The train arrived almost at once and I made the trip to Barcelona in air conditioned comfort. Much, much better than the horrors of the bus!

I stopped off in Sants and took the metro to España so that I could go to an exhibition in one of the galleries of Fundación “la Caixa”. To get to the gallery I had to walk up Av. Reina Maria Cristina which a long and wide approach road to the series of elevators which eventually take you up to MNAC. The road is flanked on both sides by a series of fountains which lead up to the famous dancing fountain which I have never, ever seen work. Indeed today they had two heavy duty cranes raising parts of it for maintenance.

As part of the celebrations for the winning of the World Cup this same avenue was a grand gathering place for thousands of people to congregate and give voice to their delight at the victory. At least most of them were there to celebrate. It was also seen as a prime opportunity for those who are in favour of an independent Catalonia to demonstrate their disgust with the whole concept of Spain. There were ugly scenes and the burning of two of the trees which line the route. That was a few days ago; today new trees are strapped to their supporting posts in newly watered pits. All evidence of burning has been removed. Quick work! Though I suppose you have to remember that this avenue houses the major pavilions for the international fairs that bring so much revenue to the city. Things have to look good for the present and future punters!

The gallery, when I got there, was infested with swarms of small persons being chaperoned by harassed looking adults after having seen some performance in the theatre. Cutting my way through the tiny throng I managed to get to the gallery and, as I had to ensure I left enough time to get to My Pupil, I restricted myself to one show.

“Miquel Barceló 1983-2009 La solitude organisative” He is a Spanish artist born in Majorca in 1957.

The works are in a variety of media ranging from water colour to sculpture and all are characterized by a delicacy of execution which might seem an odd word to use when looking at some of the almost grotesque depth of impasto in some of the paintings.

Some of his “paintings” defy the two dimensionality that is suggested by the word. To me they seemed forced, facile and generally unsatisfying – obvious and crass; though a few of his marks brought some sort of order into the undulating chaos!

For me, one of the most effective works was a very simple brush study of a few reeds, little more than a few lines and circles but beautifully arranged and effortlessly executed. A zebra with a similar economy of line was equally successful and equally monochrome.

Colour was used to great effect in the series of watercolours that he completed from his stays in Mali. The bleeding of one colour into another and the almost literal explosions of colour in some works recalled the work of Nolde, though Barceló was more likely to produce an isolated image and use the white of the paper to isolate and emphasise his images.

The series of watercolours that Barceló produced seemed at first glance to be both gauche and simplistic but as with other of his works they repaid greater attention and rewarded the viewer with the almost overlooked detail that they possessed.

His notebooks from which there were some pages on display and electronically available on a screen which realistically “turned a page” with the sweep of a finger, were genuinely exciting with their exhibition of fluid line and an assurance of simple outline which is not so obvious in the more “worked” paintings.

He painted a series of sand paintings which depict a generally flat area of land seen from a slightly raised perspective. At their most successful these paintings resemble Tanguy and the more representational they become the less effective they are. Much of Barceló’s work is representational with a strong inclination to abstraction and although I think his more abstract works are more satisfying it is the representational element which gives them the structure.

A work on gouged cardboard was very effective with the absence of media clearly suggesting presence.

His sculpture was instantly forgettable as far as I was concerned and added little to the exhibition.

I came away from the exhibition having not bought the €25 catalogue – which I will however do on a revisit that I think this exhibition deserves.

The return trip (after a very satisfying lunch with My Pupil which included a strawberry gazpacho) was in a train carriage with excellent air con which made the arrival back in Castelldefels (a name the pension people seem unable to transcribe with any accuracy) seem like the entry into a sauna.

And back to “Howards End.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why do more?





My day is defined by swimming and lazing. Isn’t that the definition of a holiday?

I can remember when my holiday days were filled with frantic culture, packing in as many museums, art galleries, concert halls and anything else that could count as Culture. I remember a string quartet in Santorini with billowing net curtains; a concert in the church next to the church of the Holy Wisdom in Byzantium; the Messiah sung apparently in English in a church outside St Tropez; a concert in a courtyard of a sculptor in Oslo which took three days to complete because it had to be postponed after each item because it was so cold the violinists couldn’t feel the strings – in August!; a harpsichord recital in Rotterdam where the seats were high backed aircraft type seats – an open invitation to repose; a balalaika orchestra in Moscow – I lasted until the interval and then fled; a performance by the Orchestra of the Mediterranean of the Organ Symphony with a portable organ!; a wonderful performance of the Kullervo Symphony by Sibelius in the Proms on my return from a visit to Scandinavia in which I didn’t hear a single piece of Scandinavian music; a free concert in Central Park in which the sound of the music was not good, but the antics of the listeners made up for it and in the cramped confines of a painter’s house/museum in Sitges a performance of a Lorca reciting Flamenco dancer who gave me a carnation.

And nowadays I lie in the sun. Now say that there hasn’t been a dumbing down in modern society!

My swimming is progressing nicely as I follow my watery groove up and down our tiny pool. I generally manage to intimidate people out of my way, but I am sharpening my nails so that anyone who does have the impertinence to obstruct my passage will have a reminder to encourage better behaviour in the future.

I have finished the Shulman book on television and I share his concerns about the belittling effects of the medium and I am almost convinced about some sort of connection between TV violence and behaviour in the real world. The book has encouraged me to find something more modern but just as polemical.

I solved the problem of what to read after a book on television by picking up my copy of “Howards End” and looking at the spine and wondering if I had ever read it.

The word is divided into spine breakers and smooth spiners: I am a breaker. I like flat pages and cannot imagine how people can abide reading sideways. I was loaned a book which had a perfect spine and looked as though it was unread. It was a perfect misery to read as I felt that I couldn’t do what I normally do and crack it in four places before I started reading. I was glad to give it back!

I was wrong about my lesson; it is tomorrow. I will take the car to the station and go in my train as I have no desire to repeat the horror of bus travel.

I really should try and visit MNAC or another gallery to catch up on the exhibitions that I am missing.

We’ll see.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Don't stop the sun!

A green sea and overcast skies give cause for alarm as the day descends into evening but I take hope from the vague patches of blue which, I think, bode well for the morrow.

The only intellectual thing that I have even attempted today is to start reading Milton Shulman’s “The Ravenous Eye – The Impact of the Fifth Factor” his critique of the uses and abuses of television first published in the early seventies and revised and updated for the 1975 edition that I have conspicuously failed to read for 35 years!

I am about half way through and although I do responded to Shulman’s reasoned approach for taking television seriously rather than dismissing the medium as an arm of the entertainment industry, the book now has to be read as an interesting historical document rather than a cutting edge contribution to the discussion.

For example, I have reached pages 148 and 149 and there are the references to “On the Braden Beat”; “This Week”, “Panorama”; “Man Alive”; the Ronan Point flats; “The Frost Programme”, Dr. Emil Savundra; Dr John Petro and “Midweek.” At least two of that list will be known by many, but how old do you have to be to know the lot!

As Shulman develops his argument you begin to realize just how far we have come with the development of the internet; downloading; time delay; mp3; facebook; e-mails; twitter; mobile phones; cable; satellite and the rest of the communications and entertainment developments which have changed the media world out of all recognition from the environment in which Shulman was writing. But his concerns are still valid and challenging.

But it is the historical bit that gets me. My family had been watching The Harry Worth Show when a special announcement came on the television, “The BBC regrets to announce the death of President Kennedy (gasp!) He was assassinated (double gasp!) . . .” Politicians are mentioned: Joe Haines; Quintin Hogg; Richard Crossman; Duncan Sandys; Alec Douglas-Home, and George Brown!

Shulman reminded me of one of George Brown’s worst television performances when he gave his maudlin assessment of JFK just after his assassination. I always assumed that he was drunk – it was easier than assuming that he was like that normally!

Memories, memories – and these are only the British personalities!

Tomorrow Barcelona and The Pupil.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spend? Spend? Spend?

It is half way through the first month of the holiday and time for me to make a humiliating admission.

In spite of buying a conversational GPS; a collection of hardback art books; a mobile air conditioning unit; a watch for the summer; a hi-fi unit for the i-pod and a selection of summer clothes, I have dismally failed to spend the “extra pay” that is given to workers in the summer.

I have no real excuses. God knows my mother spent years trying (with some success, I might add) to counteract my father’s “Go/Buy/Leave” attitude towards shopping. I have inherited her uncanny ability to select from an array of similar items the one which costs the most. I have a positively Pavlovian reaction to quality glassware, crockery and cutlery. I can shop till I drop and yet living within a 70c bus ride of one of the great cities of Europe I have failed to spend to the limit.

The true explanation is probably I have omitted some of the things that I have bought because, in another character trait that I have inherited and cultivated, I am very good, once the excitement of the purchase is over of consigning the mere monetary transaction to distant history – however recent the actual releasing of the filthy lucre might have been!

Now that I think about it, there is indeed something else: a special piece of clothing which has had to be ordered and has not yet arrived. But of that, more anon.

Wispy cloud is smudging the perfect blue of the sky and, much more importantly is getting in the way of the sun. The clouds are quite spectacular and look like a sort of monochrome aurora borealis. No matter how attractive, I sincerely hope that the growing power of the sun will burn away these clouds so the mid morning bake can begin!

Seeing the dance company in the National Theatre of Catalonia has made me itchy for more culture. Sitges has a summer programme of events which a couple of years ago I attended and thoroughly enjoyed because of their heterogeneity and the historic locations in which the performances took place.

Friday was the name day of all Carmens, so we went to the local restaurant and had a mariscado: a metal serving dish piled high with seafood. A feast! I had a surtido of trufas which consisted of five fruit chocolate truffles on a mountain of whipped cream. Well, it is the summer holidays after all!
The Rosé Wine Tasting wasn’t.

That is to say that there was rosé wine and we drank it but apart from some cursory efforts to make a comment about nose and flavour we simply drank it.

The ‘tasting’ was set in the courtyard of an old house in a village just outside Sitges around a table set with delicate flowers and herbs and lit by large fragrant candles. Just to limit the romanticism of the scene the flowers, herbs and candles were all there to dissuade mosquitoes from joining the party and having their own feast.

We started the evening by toasting ourselves with a glass of Tattinger which had the effect of making everything else we drank seem a little second class, but we struggled on!

The wine was from some French vineyard or other (you see how little the niceties of proper tasting were being observed) and it was notable for not having the candy pink colour that I at least expect from rosés. Both of the first two bottles were from the same French vineyard and had been sent to us (inexplicably) from Majorca. The first one was awful and even I (tell it not in Garth) threw it into the geraniums while the second was palatable but not, I think, worth the cost of transportation. There was some beautifully bottled lurid Spanish rosé which we drank so that the hostess could later use the bottle for herb flavoured olive oil!

Our meal was of mussels cooked in a delicious sauce with butter – the taste of which was a real treat as I have not bought butter since I made some Welsh Cakes on St David’s Day in the School That Sacked Me.

We also had a generous selection of oozing, liquefying pungent French cheeses which were washed down with other bottles of wine from here and there.

Although one of our number did his best to keep the conversation on things vinous his greatest achievement was in eliciting the arch comment from Jane that “I have never considered the drinking of Champagne to be seasonal!”

A thoroughly enjoyable evening which I did my best to compensate for by a slow if determined swim this morning after driving back.

The day has largely been taken up by my lying in a suitably prone position, the prostration being disguised as sun bathing with occasional periods of hydration.

The Pauls have found flights and will be over on the 4th of August so we will have some summer visitors after all!

Thursday, July 15, 2010




There is always one book that you possess that, for some reason, you never get round to reading. In spite of the book bobbing up periodically like some form of literary flotsam and in spite of reading a few pages it soon submerges and is forgotten.

The particular volume in my case is Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” which I bought, not because it won the Man Booker Prize but rather because I thought it was one of those well meaning books which seek to bring mathematics nearer to the ordinary person by making abstruse concepts understandable.

Martel’s book is not that sort of book. It is a tricky novel – in the sense that it plays with concepts of narrative and plays games with the reader. There are multiple narrators and enough casual information about zoos and zoo keeping to keep a dilettante like me happy but, at the end of the novel – yes I did get through it after the last surfacing because, after all, this is the summer and I have the time and the inclination – I was left wondering about its basic worth.

It has 100 chapters, all of which are relatively short and the central conceit is interesting enough: how do you survive in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger after the ship in which you have been travelling with your family and the remains of a sold off zoo mysteriously sinks.

I think that the extract from the Financial Times review is one which sums up my response to the novel: “Absurd, macabre, unreliable and sad, deeply sensual in its evoking of smells and sights, the whole trip and the narrator’s insanely curious voice suggest Joseph Conrad and Salman Rusahdie hallucinating together over the meaning of “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” I would only add that Golding’s “Pincher Martin” should be somewhere in that mix and you have a good guide to the novel.

Whether this novel is any more than a dazzling jeu d’esprit I am not convinced, but at least I am glad that I have got this particular irritation out of the way and the novel safely read!

On a more practical level Stewart has asked me to give him the recipe for Toni’s Mum’s Gazpacho Soup for 4 persons, so here it is:

Ingredients
2 peeled cucumbers
1 red pepper
½ green pepper
½ onion
2 cloves of garlic
4 ripe tomatoes
4 slices of bread
Salt (a little to taste)
Olive oil (a little to taste)
Vinegar (to taste)
A tumbler of water

Method
Chop all the ingredients and place in a liquidizer. Liquidize. The addition of salt, olive oil and vinegar should be sparing and keep checking by taste that the mixture is as you want it. Remember (as Toni told me to add) you can always add more salt etc you can’t take it away. He also added in a phrase which I now regret having introduced him to, “Less is more!” The soup should be served very cold with ice cubes floating in the serving dish.

I had this soup this lunchtime and it was utterly delicious and there is still some left for dinner!

After a cloudy start to the morning it developed into one of those energy draining days where the only thing you want to do is sip ice cold gazpacho!

Tomorrow my education in actually appreciating Rose wine begins with a meeting of the Sitges Wine Tasting Group. I am going to take decent bottles of red and white just in case!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vaulting ambition again!


My first visit to the Theatre Nacional de Catalynya was almost frustrated by generous numbers of road works; an accident involving a motorcycle and general misplaced confidence. The first is par for the course; the second an everyday occurrence to which you rapidly get hardened given the suicidal approach to motoring in the cycle community and the third was a belief that money would be equal to results.

It was all the fault of my new (expensive) GPS.

I assumed that finding the National Theatre would be possible in a number of ways for which I didn’t need an exact address. A recently found guide to Barcelona was also in the car and that, assuredly would give me the information I required should I require it; which I didn’t expect to require.

The guide to Barcelona gave me a small picture of the façade of the theatre and the information that it was near Plaça de les Glòries but not exactly in it. For a GPS exactitude is everything, but I merely told (ah!) the machine to go to the Plaça de les Glòries and I assumed that I would be able to use the machine to find the nearest theatre when I got a little closer and, hey presto! I would be there.

Such assumptions are dangerous.

I made worse assumptions. I asked (ah!) the machine to give me a list of theatres and I assumed that the name of one I was given was near enough to the one I wanted and I told (ah!) the machine to navigate me there. I was wrong. I therefore told (ah!) the machine to take me to my orginal destination and then while stopped at traffic lights within sight of the facade I told (ah!) the machine to find the nearest parking. Which it did and I arrived. Early.

The parking to which I was directed only cost five euros (and believe you me, only five euros in Barcelona is virtually a gift) and I could have stayed there all night! The fact that I was at the theatre an hour and more early so I could give My Pupil his lesson is the only explanation I can find for being able to park in so exemplary a space!

The building itself is in the form of a post-modernist classical temple with rather squat modified Doric columns and the walls made of glass. It is a building made to impress with marble and classical structures but it does not invite. Yet again architects have produced a shrine or Mauseuleam whose imposing structure repulses the very people who should be attracted. Still the miniscule cheese roll in wholemeal bread with herb olive oil I had there was delicious

Any dance production that starts with a deafening roll of thunder in the darkness, uses music from The Saint Matthew Passion and ends with whale song is either hitching a ride on easy significant association or is very confident of its purpose to cope with cliché. The production I saw last night in the Theatre Nacional de Catalunya of “La Venus de Willendorf” directed by Iago Pericot had elements of both.

The eight strong company of four male and four female dancers was augmented by a living naked embodiment of the Venus of Willendorf who had the generous curves of the original stone figure and was a stage presence throughout the performance acting as a silent comment on the action of the dancers and finally the audience itself.

The performance opened with the dancers in twisted foetal positions in the darkness downstage. The back of the stage opened and in the growing light the Venus character slowly advanced and, as she passed along the line of figures they began to find themselves within their bodies. They slowly evolved into sentient creatures who explored their limbs and actions and their interaction with others. Two large table-like structures with a mirrored surface allowed a playfulness to motivate the characters while the mirror give them further opportunities to realize their development as they saw themselves.

Personal movement in space became a series of impingements on the space of others. I found the opening of the production dominated by gesture rather than dance with an amusing variety of movements which combined flowing figures with the jaunty break dance-like staccato hand gestures and body movement. The dancers used percussive effects by striking their own bodies and each other’s and by using growls and shouts.

The narrative of the piece developed into a series of power plays echoing the themes embodied in the music; rejection, isolation, conflict. The isolation of one of the female dancers allowed a powerful piece of concentrated mockery by the other dancers who also formed themselves into melded creatures that recalled the fantastic creatures of Bosch or Breughal. I found the look of the piece to be very much influenced by paintings, especially Flemish religious art where Northern Renaissance depictions of scenes of The Passion found their reflections in the movement of the dancers.
One effective episode suggested a form of The Last Supper where the two mirrored tables were set up end to end up stage and a Christ-like dictatorial character flanked by the rest of the dancers forced a series of mimetic movements and which ended up with his elation finding expression in a phallus formed by one of the female dancers’ arms thrust between his legs. His exclamation of “Espana!” at that moment seemed both comic and crass!

The reflections of ideas in the music worked throughout the piece so that loyalty, belonging, rejection, society, authority were all part of the rich melange of concepts informing the movement. A tie could represent society, clan, group and the action indicated the momentum of acceptance and expulsion.

Throughout the work the Venus figure made her stately and powerful presence felt as with hands of pendulous breasts she walked through the squabbling dancers combining power and grace as she progressed.

The climax of the piece came when the dancers emerged dressed in conventional modern clothes after the tights and t-shirts of their previous performances and, after a fashion walk into position facing each other we saw couples attracting and responding to their partners: gay, lesbian and straight they seduced each other discarding clothing in the process so that by the time that they reached and touched each other they were naked.

The disconcerting element in this display is that no matter how lascivious the glances, gestures and couplings of the characters there is a clear indication in the case of males of the extent of their arousal. It was therefore clear that the men although ostensibly enamoured by their partners remained passionately untouched!

I am well aware that this is a professional company performing a choreographed text, but if you go to the extent of full nudity then the flaccidity has to be taken as an intended comment on the act itself. And to me it made no sense.

The “love making” ended by one of each couple killing the other and then retreating from the murdered body. This could, I suppose be seen as a comment on the whole concept of the crucifixion and the clear juxtaposition of love and death. The Venus character walked slowly in front of the audience (the house lights up) and by her hard stare involving all of us in the perversion of what she stood for. And at that point she slowly walked up stage through the dead and the murderers and disappeared back into the light.

This was a production full of ideas many of which worked, but to me it looked like a work in progress with the need for the director to excise some of the more self-indulgent aspects and make the experience more muscular and focussed.

I enjoyed the piece and I look forward to more from this clearly talented company.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What bacteria!

My efforts to spend the summer bonus before we are half way through the first month of the holiday continue apace.

Not content with buying a reclining chair and a GPS that talks to me urging me to “Speak your command!” I celebrated Spain’s deserved win in the World Cup by visiting a local bookshop and buying (on the slim and thinning pretext of possibly teaching the history of art next year) a positive collection of remaindered books and one full price.

I was particularly pleased with one volume which was on the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla whose lively impasto sketch like way of painting reminded me of John Singer Sargent. He is perhaps best known for the series of gigantic canvases that he painted for the Hispano American Society in New York which show the different regions in Spain through scenes that include national dress, dance, customs and work activities particular to each region. These were recently on view in the MNAC in an exhibition which I attended and very impressive they were too.

A book in the same series as the Sorolla was one on Surrealism which I bought because, whatever I think about the movement generally, once one gets beyond the commercial self-seeking vulgarity of Dalí, I find the serious play of the artists fascinating. To be fair to the book they actually chose to use a painting by Yves Tanguey on the cover. Tanguey’s paintings have always looked to me like Paul Klee’s doodles given a vivid and disturbing three dimensional reality; just like that episode of The Simpsons when Homer was sucked through a wormhole into a three dimensional world and cartoon became “reality”!

The other four books I bought (ah, brings back the old days of going into town and struggling home with half a library of irresistible books) were in the “Obras Maestras” series, books worth buying because of a few illustrations that I did not have in other works. But one volume was a purchase in spite of myself.

The subjects of the other three justified the “Masterworks” titles: Matisse, Cézanne and Gauguin, with the volume on Cezanne featuring a double page spread of the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

The fourth volume was on Warhol. Now I think that Warhol makes Jeff Koons look live Vermeer and I further think that one of the pathetic daubs by Dubuffet are worth the whole of Warhol’s oeuvre, but there is a sort of sick fascination for the man who out-Dalíed Dalí in his zest for personal fame and the acquisition of wealth! How can one not feel a sort of excited contempt for an artist who produce s a page of badly drawn shoes and entitles the picture “á La Recherche du Shoe Perdu” His portrait of the squeaky weed Truman Capote manages to make him look like a slightly crazed Woody Harrelson! This is the “clean” version of Warhol’s work with only a sideways look at sex rather than the full-on for which he was infamous. But still, there is something there, even if I think that I am making his work art more than he ever did! I was twelve when the Campbell’s Soup cans came out and fourteen when the Brillo boxes were loosed on the world. I can remember that I was disgusted, confused and slightly excited by the sheer audacity (yes, I was using words like that then) of a so-called artist getting away with murder.

I might add that all these books are in Spanish so I can look on their purchase as a form of homework for my slow language development her.

On a far more disturbing note I have been watching the pool boy attend to our stretch of water: a stretch of water in which I have just had my early morning swim.

He took some sort of litmus paper out of its protective wrapping and dipped it into the water and was checking it as he was walking towards the little room in which all the machinery and chemicals are found. He stopped abruptly then scurried into the room and returned with pots of chemical from which he threw handful after handful into the water. Islands of congealed white formed on the surface and he then added tablets in each of the access hoes at the sides of the pool. He has now taken the long-handled net and is breaking up the islands and trying to get whatever he has thrown into the pool to dissolve.

He is also taking away the night`s crop of insect life which has met a chlorinated watery death and is floating on the surface waiting to be ingested with an unwary gulp of air by those among us who actually swim in the pool rather than hang about like manatees in the warm water.

After such panicked action I wonder what sort of primordial soup I was swimming in this morning!

Meanwhile after a hazy start the day has developed into one of clear blue skies and baking sun and engaging silence apart of course from the unholy trinity of barking dogs; recalcitrant children and amorous feathered flying things.

I’ll cope!

Monday, July 12, 2010

None better!




Today`s (which, to be strictly accurate is now yesterday’s) highlights have undoubtedly been the gazpacho made by Toni and the paella mixta made by his mum. I laid the table. Nothing like working together to build up an appetite!

Today is basically a non-day.

It is merely the day before the World Cup Final in South Africa.

There is an air of tense anticipation which is steadily being whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy by the unbelievable television coverage. I don’t watch much television, but I have seen Puyol’s goal so many times that I feel that I am an active participant in the Association Football version of Groundhog Day!

I hope to god that Spain wins because I do not want to be anywhere near the recriminations and despair if they lose.

In Catalonia it is quite ironic that Spain are meeting Holland in the final as the relationship between Catalonia and Holland is quite a strong one based on Dutch players and coaches having done their time in Barça. Kruff who is seen as more than an honorary Catalan is in a particularly stressful position and he must be sick of being asked which side he supports; though he does now have an acceptable answer for the media off pat!

While shopping for the ingredients for the paella I met the Head of the Secondary Section of the last school in which I worked before my present one. In a quick chat she did stress that no member of the English Department had left – perhaps she was reading behind my eyes!

Her appearance did emphasise the tasks that I have left: the clearing up of the study. I will, after all, be teaching three new areas of study next year and I will not have the breathing space that I had last year. Last September we had a fortnight in school before the kids arrived; this year it is just a week. I know that sounds absurdly generous when British schools usually have two days max to get ready for the major teaching term of the year, but the writing of a three term course is no small thing, even if one only has to get the outline done.

What I should bear in mind is the mutability of firm plans in this country. I could well turn up on the 1st of September and find that my timetable bears no relationship to the one that I was given at the end of the last term. If anything happens to the History of Art bit then I will be seriously annoyed; and that is the part of the timetable which is most at risk. Although I was told that no, whatever happened, I would be teaching it the reality is more subject to ‘knock-on’ effects from other timetables than any other aspect of my allocations.

I will continue with the lesson plans that I am developing and hope for the best. And of course buy books and charge them to the school!

The medusa’s kiss is developing into quite a feature on my left leg. The casual contact of my limb with the tentacles of the floating blob has produced an ellipse of swellings which look like an encyclopaedia illustration of the phases of the Red Planet. I am liberally coating said area with a thick layer of the same transparent salve that didn’t work on Toni’s mosquito stings last year. But on the other hand I did ask for it in Spanish in Sitges in the central pharmacy which is the second most important feature of the quaint non-square shape square in the old town. The most important feature there is a restored Modernista clock which looks something straight out of The Brothers Grimm!

In a continuation of the Quick Spending of the Bonus of the Summer (we have 14 pay days with an extra one in June and in December – don’t ask) I have had to buy a new chair to replace the vaguely dentist-chair like contraption I had before. This has taken to slipping to one side and sitting on it involves a complex balancing act and is not really, in any sense, relaxing.

I have tried, in a general mood of ecology to find somewhere to repair the chair. Perhaps asking in furniture shops is not the right approach, but their looks of blank astonishment that anyone would want to try and get a chair repaired speaks volumes for the world in which we live.

I am well aware that I bought a new GPS because I ‘reasoned’ that the difference between a new device and the cost of up-dating the maps was small enough to be ignored. In the event of course I spent far more than I should have, but I do now have a GPS to which I can talk!

I do not talk to my new chair, but it is one which is solidly placed on four feet on the floor, rather than the single vulnerable post of the previous revolving masterpiece. The present one does of course recline and has a foot rest but it is not made of leather and it doesn’t go round. Even I am capable of making sacrifices!

I have resolved that some of the major tasks of the summer will have at least have to be contemplated with some degree of seriousness during the next week.

A seriousness which is seriously lacking in one of the flats on our left where ¡Fiesta! Has obviously been declared and all the rest of us have to join in!

Well the little raucous celebration in the flat will be as nothing compared to the national explosion of delight there will be if everything goes well in the southern hemisphere tomorrow.

We’ll see!

We saw!

Spain have won and all is well with the world. Though the same could not be said for the behaviour of the Dutch team (cheating bastards) and the English ref (incompetent fool) but, when all is said and done, and believe me Spanish television went on saying and doing well after everything that could be said and done was, well, said and done.

Every notable Spanish speaker in the South African crowd was, at some point, forced to give a completely inconsequential interview to some hyped up reporter.

The most touching interview was that given by the Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas (or “Bloody Casillas” as he is known to Barça supporters as he stops goal which should be scored against Real Madrid) to a female interviewer who also happened to be his girlfriend. Iker started well but, as he thanked his parents etc he became chocked up and finished the interview by giving the interviewer a full on kiss, to a round of applause and a muttered “¡Dios mio!” from the lady herself. It is a moment from the World Cup which is destined to be replayed many times! And believe you me, Spanish television has no qualms whatsoever about replaying quite mundane pieces of film ad nausium, so something of genuine interest becomes a sort of visual wallpaper on the screen!

But, away with jollifications: today is Monday and there are tasks to be done.

I have made a truly insignificant start to the clearing up of the Third Floor study by cutting some decorative plastic water bottles in half and filling them with pens, pencils, scissors, markers and highlighters. You can now see part of the surface of the desk. The only way is up!

But first a little light spending.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Today was tomorrow yesterday


Today`s highlights have undoubtedly been the gazpacho made by Toni and the paella mixta made by his mum. I laid the table. Nothing like working together to build up an appetite!

Today is basically a non-day.

It is merely the day before the World Cup Final in South Africa.

There is an air of tense anticipation which is steadily being whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy by the unbelievable television coverage. I don’t watch much television, but I have seen Puyol’s goal so many times that I feel that I am an active participant in the Association Football version of Groundhog Day!

I hope to god that Spain wins because I do not want to be anywhere near the recriminations and despair if they lose.

In Catalonia it is quite ironic that Spain are meeting Holland in the final as the relationship between Catalonia and Holland is quite a strong one based on Dutch players and coaches having done their time in Barça. Kruff who is seen as more than an honorary Catalan is in a particularly stressful position and he must be sick of being asked which side he supports; though he does now have an acceptable answer for the media off pat!

While shopping for the ingredients for the paella I met the Head of the Secondary Section of the last school in which I worked before my present one. In a quick chat she did stress that no member of the English Department had left – perhaps she was reading behind my eyes!

Her appearance did emphasise the tasks that I have left: the clearing up of the study. I will, after all, be teaching three new areas of study next year and I will not have the breathing space that I had last year. Last September we had a fortnight in school before the kids arrived; this year it is just a week. I know that sounds absurdly generous when British schools usually have two days max to get ready for the major teaching term of the year, but the writing of a three term course is no small thing, even if one only has to get the outline done.

What I should bear in mind is the mutability of firm plans in this country. I could well turn up on the 1st of September and find that my timetable bears no relationship to the one that I was given at the end of the last term. If anything happens to the History of Art bit then I will be seriously annoyed; and that is the part of the timetable which is most at risk. Although I was told that no, whatever happened, I would be teaching it the reality is more subject to ‘knock-on’ effects from other timetables than any other aspect of my allocations.

I will continue with the lesson plans that I am developing and hope for the best. And of course buy books and charge them to the school!

The medusa’s kiss is developing into quite a feature on my left leg. The casual contact of my limb with the tentacles of the floating blob has produced an ellipse of swellings which look like an encyclopaedia illustration of the phases of the Red Planet. I am liberally coating said area with a thick layer of the same transparent salve that didn’t work on Toni’s mosquito stings last year. But on the other hand I did ask for it in Spanish in Sitges in the central pharmacy which is the second most important feature of the quaint non-square shape square in the old town. The most important feature there is a restored Modernista clock which looks something straight out of The Brothers Grimm!

In a continuation of the Quick Spending of the Bonus of the Summer (we have 14 pay days with an extra one in June and in December – don’t ask) I have had to buy a new chair to replace the vaguely dentist-chair like contraption I had before. This has taken to slipping to one side and sitting on it involves a complex balancing act and is not really, in any sense, relaxing.

I have tried, in a general mood of ecology to find somewhere to repair the chair. Perhaps asking in furniture shops is not the right approach, but their looks of blank astonishment that anyone would want to try and get a chair repaired speaks volumes for the world in which we live.

I am well aware that I bought a new GPS because I ‘reasoned’ that the difference between a new device and the cost of up-dating the maps was small enough to be ignored. In the event of course I spent far more than I should have, but I do now have a GPS to which I can talk!

I do not talk to my new chair, but it is one which is solidly placed on four feet on the floor, rather than the single vulnerable post of the previous revolving masterpiece. The present one does of course recline and has a foot rest but it is not made of leather and it doesn’t go round. Even I am capable of making sacrifices!

I have resolved that some of the major tasks of the summer will have at least have to be contemplated with some degree of seriousness during the next week.

A seriousness which is seriously lacking in one of the flats on our left where ¡Fiesta! Has obviously been declared and all the rest of us have to join in!

Well the little raucous celebration in the flat will be as nothing compared to the national explosion of delight there will be if everything goes well in the southern hemisphere tomorrow.

We’ll see!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Book or no book



Barcelona was hot and unsatisfactory: the first I can deal with but the second, especially as it is connected to a book, is much harder to laugh off.

As I am teaching Art History (only a bit and only modern) next year I tried to get a copy of the book which my pupils are expected to know something of. The buying of this book and the even sweeter thrill of charging the cost to the school was the object of the trip to the city.

Armed with the title, the author, the ISBN number and the year at which the book was aimed I felt fairly secure in the successful achievement of my task. The reality was much more complex.

In the first few book shops I was more or less jocose about the failure of the people there to come up with the book but these people in turn spoke in hushed voices about a bookshop of whose book orders they were not worthy to type into the computer. The name of this Shangri-La of things academic was “Abacus” (in Spanish the emphasis is on the ‘b’) and I was fairly near it.

Eventually, after having asked five people, all of whom knew this shop (including I might add one council dustman) I found it. An unassuming doorway led into a subterranean labyrinth of things stationery which I severely avoided as such things negatively affect my spendthriftfulness. I asked for the books and went straight to the information section to give them the details so that they might give me the book.

The child who took my scrap of paper with all the information on it, glanced at it in a fairly negative way and after tapping half an encyclopaedia into the computer informed me severely that they did not have it with a clear indication that they would not stock it either. His look of autocratic distain was as if I had asked for a pornographically illustrated Book of Kells rather than a simple text book on the History of Art!

Thus defeated I was in no positive frame of mind to take on My Pupil who had however done some homework and who gave me three books of Chinese paintings to look through.

The bus drive back to Castelldefels, just like the drive to Barcelona was hellish. I shall not do this again. I hate travel by bus; in future I think that I shall park in the station here in Castelldefels and go up by train, much more civilized!

The evening was taken up with going to Terrassa for a birthday party but the real revelation was finding out just why my GPS was so expensive: you can talk to it!

With “voice commands” you can get a response from the GPS and you can order it to find a particular address when you are on the move or make a mid-course correction and instruct the device to take you somewhere else.

It does seem like something out of “1001 Nights” with more than a touch of ‘Open Sesame!’ about it, but it is vastly satisfying to have at least one of your passengers grinding his teeth in frustrated gadget owning passion!

I have yet to discover if the thing is actually worth the money, but as Picasso may have memorably said (at least I’ve spent years saying he said it) in another context, “It’s not that the paintings aren’t worth the money: it’s the money which isn’t worth the money.” I have also said for years (using a price that is now thirty odd years out of date or whenever the Falklands Conflict was) that if an Exocet missile cost £250,000 then paintings costing ‘only’ tens of millions seem a pretty good buy! After all many of the missiles actually missed, while a painting generally stays put and only the impoverished intellect of the observer can make it miss!

However, I am still not convinced that I have spent my money wisely.


I shall now pause for a moment to allow the hollow laughter from those that know me to subside.

As it was too late to post this writing yesterday, I am now writing on the Third Floor in the calm of the morning where broken cloud has not encouraged children to break the serenity of the day; the planes are taking off on a distant runway and arching their way out to sea, and even the clamorous pigeons are curbing the amorous one liners.

In this part of the world the pigeons are like really unimaginative morons who go into night clubs and assured by their own delusions of adequacy assume that the chat up line of “All right then!” with the emphasis on right will be sufficient to have the fluttering hearts of their targets laid instantly at their feet, or claws, as the case might be. Even a second cup of tea is sometimes insufficient to make this monotonous chorus emanating from branch and television ariel a little hard to take.

Sometimes sitting on the Third Floor I am irresistibly reminded of ‘Targets’ the disturbing excellent Peter Bogdanovich film, in which a young man for no convincingly explained reason embarks on a shooting spree. The only difference in my version is that I am a little older than the shooter in the film and my targets would be quite clearly chosen for their levels of irritation: starting with pigeons, working my way through assorted dogs in the neighbourhood and culminating in a general massacre of . . . Another cup of tea I think!

That’s better! Tea is the nearest thing to the mythical drug ‘soma’ in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ which has the contradictory qualities of stimulation and anaesthesia. Tea calms and refreshes; stimulates and soothes; makes the world a better place and is generally an ever present friend in times of stress.

And talking of stress, the pattering footsteps and pipingly piercing voice of the first child of the day breaks into the tranquillity of my eyrie and drags me back to reality.



But wait a false alarm!


The brightly dull day (a feature of Castelldefels) has not prompted the Little One to shriek about on the surface of the pool like a demented water-boatman on steroids and it has retreated to its €1m home leaving the world to silence (always a relative concept in this part of the world) and to me and the pool person cleaning the swimming pool beyond the tennis court busily sweeping up the night’s layer of pine needles

The morning insects must be out in force as I have just been treated to the sort of ariel show by a trio of swifts or swallows which make all other birds look positively lumpen as they labour their way through the air!

I am now down to the last drops of stewed tea in my Zara glass teapot which only hardened Brits would drink and which leave Catalans gasping with sheer wonder at the masochist lengths that inhabitants of the United Kingdom will go to in the name of their cuisine.

They don’t know what they are missing!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dark delights


Swimming at night in our pool I realized just how selfish sport actually is.

Of the three pools which are virtually adjacent to each other in our area, ours is the only one which is not illuminated during the night. I see this as a disadvantage while Toni sees it in a positive light as everything in the summer time is taken and evaluated in how far it encourages mosquitoes.

To be fair his paranoia has some foundation as the winged avengers seem to make (if I might be permitted to use an insectual metaphor) a bee-line for his blood stream. No Catalan mosquito worth its name is going to sample my foreign blood while succulent home grown corpuscles are flowing in the vicinity. This means that Toni’s legs look as though they have been used for target practice by swarms of beasts with sharpened proboscises whereas mine look as though they have been laved in daily baths of asses’ milk. Result!

Meanwhile: myopic swimming in the dark. Which isn’t really dark because of the light spill from the surrounding buildings; just light enough to highlight the blurred, dark, slow moving ripples and give you the impression that you are actually swimming through something like the BP oil slick – but “BP light” all the visual appeal but with none of the cloying viscosity and acrid smell of the real thing.

I am not an imaginative swimmer: I go up and down and up and down only varying the stroke from front crawl to breast stroke.

I wear ear plugs because my ears tend to retain water extending the muffled world of the pool into real life. Indeed I have a nodule in my right ear which is there as a result of swimming. It also allowed me to do my duty to the National Health Service as I was called in to the Heath Hospital to be a sample patient for budding consultants to see whether they could recognize my little nodule and its possible causes. It is, I am told, quite harmless and would cause more problems to have it operated on than to leave it, so I keep it as a precious souvenir of years of daily swimming.

Gently pushing off (remembering the arthritis)from the side of a dark pool at night you can only see (thanks to my excellent new goggles from Herr Lidl which make my short sighted view of the pool a sharp short sighted view of the pool) grey arms pointing forwards into a shapeless murk which is the rest of the pool. The only sound is your exhaled breath magnified by the ear plugs: a little world of mystery.

Luckily the spilled light meant that the end of the pool was distinguished from the rest of the murky world that I inhabit without my glasses, so I was able to turn without injury.

Even when the pool is crowded with the raucous cronies of the “popular” girl next door and her own pitiful squeaks resound across the water, an easy crawl and exhalation under water and the world of the pool erases all other human activity.

Of course there are people in the pool to contend with but, as long as you are doing lengths on the side which does not have the steps to exit then you are generally left alone. There is also a way of swimming which tells everyone that you are not going to stop and that they are going to be hurt more than you if there is a collision: I make sure of that. Fairly long nails are also a good idea as water merely acts as a lubricant for judicious slashing!

At least I am honest about the anti-social appeal of swimming unlike so-called team players where you only have to watch a striker rip congratulatory hands from himself so that he can appear alone in front of the corner camera after scoring a goal to realize that it is all self, self, self!

Perhaps squash, which I also enjoyed, is the most selfish of the racket sports because as soon as the serve is played the players sets about talking over the whole of the playing space. Even in boxing there is a corner which is yours. I am sure that there is a thesis to be written (or probably has been written) on “Seven Types of Selfishness: a study of self in sport.”

The first child has now jumped into the pool and the serenity which has characterised by tea drinking on the third floor is now shattered. The first child has now been joined by a second and where there are two children “communicating” even the civilizing effects of tea are no match for the volume of sound.

To the sound of car horns and explosions Spain have made it through to the final of the world cup. This is an historic achievement as they have always been dogged by bad luck and dreadful refereeing in previous competitions. Perhaps this is Spain’s year. We shall see.

Tomorrow Barcelona and book buying and a little light teaching.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Spending Therapy


My Pupil cancelled this morning as I was getting ready to go to Barcelona for the lesson. This is Not Good and my patience is running a little low as this is the second time that he has done it.

By way of compensation I went to El Corte Ingles and bought the ludicrously expensive update for my GPS. I could, of course, have bought the internet download of new maps for my device but that really is not my style. The one that I have bought is elegantly slim and you can talk to it and order it to do things. What things these are I know not of; but I am working on it!

This is one of those gadgets for which you really will have to download the manual to find out exactly what it can do. It might also be one of those gadgets that does enough to make you wish that it did more!

The one true disaster is The Voice.

I cannot contemplate with anything less than panic a voice ordering me to do things which wasn’t the lady to whom I have become accustomed on the previous version of the GPS. The idea of having a bloke tell you to take the third turning just doesn’t seem possible to tolerate and my real fear was having an American accent. Impossible.

Eventually the helpful gentleman in El Corte Ingles managed to find the right part of the system when he was “demonstrating” the device and there was Emily speaking British English. Good enough for me.

I actually managed to get the device out of its box and talking on the way home from the shop. It was a little disconcerting to have The Voice talking in miles but that was soon rectified. The device is now registered and that means that I am entitled to at least one map update. Given the way the Spanish change their road flow system this will be essential before the first year is out!

For the first time this year I have swum in a rather grubby looking sea lurking at the bottom of our road. I, as is my want, immediately swam out towards the Holy Land until I felt a familiar series of pin pricks on my leg. We have been inflicted with a plague of medusas (jellyfish) and these are not merely decorative but very painful. I had one sting last year and the rash stayed with me for longer than was aesthetically necessary!

One touch, or possibly two and my front crawl improved dramatically and I was half way up the beach before I stopped swimming. The pool will be enough for me I think.

Updating the GPS is another task completed and I managed to send off a letter to the General Teaching Council of Wales updating my information. I`m not absolutely clear why I am still paying the money to that august body, but as I seem to have paid for another year that should take me past the magic date in October!

Talking of which I will have to check up on the progress of my claim!