Sunday, July 23, 2017


A colleague from a school in Spain once told me that he had never built a pool in the grounds of his house because, “it would have encouraged my wife’s family to come too often and stay too long”!

Such shamefully un-familial sentiments.  And ones that I fully share, though not, obviously, in relation to my wife’s family!  As one of the houses built around a shared pool I pay a considerable sum in rent and in maintenance.  As part of the return for the vast outlay of precious euros we have access to what is described as a “private” pool, for the use of residents only.  And friends and family when they come to visit. 

The problem with our pool is that only a limited number of the sixteen or so houses that pay for it, have direct access via their back gates.  The other houses have access via a locked gate that fronts the road.  The description of the gate as “locked” is also problematic.  It has a lock and it should be locked after users have entered, but it often is not, and that gives access to non-residents and also raises a question of general security.

If I find the gate unlocked when I pass, for example on my way to have a swim, I lock it.  My reasoning is that if the pool is public, why the hell am I paying through the nose for what was described as a private facility?  We, the people paying for the pool’s upkeep, should be jealously guarding an expensive element for our enjoyment.

But, like so much else in life, the smooth working of ways of behaving depends on reasonableness.  Which is usually in very short supply.

In the summer months, our pool has (unsurprisingly) its heaviest use.  People swim, lounge around, chat and enjoy the body of water that for far too much of the year is a glimmering object rather than something to use.  Sometimes the pool is crowded with residents, their families and visitors and, as we overlook the pool we have the full stereophonic noise of people finding and celebrating their splashing identities!

I have no problem with this.  What I object to are those people who think that they have some sort of right to use our pool based on a complete lack of shame.

Three generations of an ex-resident’s family now use the pool on a regular basis, on an almost daily basis: they are noisy and obtrusive and completely shameless.  If they were occasional visitors I would have no objection, but they are more regular users than most residents!  And they are not exactly on the breadline; you only have to look at their transport to see that!  They take more than they give, which, as they give nothing is not difficult to achieve!

I surprise myself by how much resentment I feel, yet, because I am British, I say nothing.  I confine myself to locking the gate, which in our little community says a lot and fuming as I look out of my window!

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So far this month we have had (for us) unsettled weather.  Perhaps I ought to explain what that means in a Catalan context.  It does not mean that we have had days of rain, no indeed, but we have not had days of unbroken sunshine.  And it is those days of unbroken sunshine that are the daily currency of my life in this country.  We have had sun-showers and overcast days.  I have returned to the typewriter (well, computer) to escape one such ‘sun-shower’ that lasted approximately twelve seconds and had about thirty drops of rain.  The sun is now back out again.  But the fact that we have had sun-showers at all is something that is not part of my expectations at this time in the year.

I have just been speaking to my cousin in South Wales and she told me that while it wasn’t cold, it was wet - and I don’t think that she was referring to thirty drops of rain!  So, I shouldn’t complain.  But I do.  And will.

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Tomorrow the final opera of the season: Il Trovatore - something to hum along to and for which I do not need to do any listening homework!  Next season promises to be more taxing, though I like the idea of adding new operas to my Liceu experience.  This production is one that uses Goya and inspiration from his etchings of The Horrors of War in some ways, so seeing how this interesting take is integrated with the music and action will be something to look out for.  After all, as with so many operas, the actual story line is not entirely, or even slightly convincing!  The final twist of the that-corpse-was-your-long-lost-brother is something only Dickens could get away with.  But I speak as a reader who cried real tears while reading the pathetic death of the little road sweeper in Bleak House, even as I realized how emotionally manipulated by the author I was being!  In Il Trovatore, the music makes even the crassest piece of action resonate!

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And the day after this high point of culture, a delayed visit to the dentist.   

Never let it be said that I was afraid of a sensational life!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Good intentions, indeed!

The Stain Fades
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It seems to promise more: The Stain Fades.  Perhaps the vindication of a long accepted injustice; the regeneration of an intellectual effort denigrated in the past; the justification of a personal attitude castigated by society; the discovery of a really good detergent - anything, other than the whitening reality of the sanguine remains of a cheap bottle of red wine fallen from an inadequately fastened back pack.

Today, The Stain is only readily appreciated in its concentrated, foreshortened form when glimpsed from the top of the road bridge over the motorway.  As I swoop down on my bike, the proximity of my artwork is also its virtual disappearance: the more you look the more it isn’t there.  Which certainly adds another dimension to the already dimension-rich meanings that I have tried to drag from my store of pretentious artistic justifications for causal accidents.

We have had a few sun showers and this has added to the spectral appearance of a once assertive stain.  Now, as we pass in the car, I can only point to where the stain was rather than its actual reality.

The last time that I passed over it on my bike, it was more of a suggestion of what it used to be.  I don’t know if even the last tiny shards of broken bottle are still somewhere on its putative expanse, or have they been wind swept into the gutter - or found their way into the tread of passing cycle tyres or the soles of passing shoes?  I was, however, gratified to find that my stain had acquired a sort of decayed wreath - which was still there today!  I have not investigated this new accretion, as I do not wish to make it more prosaic by accepting mere reality to define my description.

The Stain is not the only ‘land work’ to which I lay claim.  Every time I return from the swimming pool I have to cross the main road to the cycle path.  To do this I have to mount the pavement and then use the zebra crossing to gain my way home.  At the point where the pavement has been smoothed down to allow access by wheelchairs a small blob of concrete has hardened on the curved surface. 

Every time I pass it I think of a description of time in relation to god.  I think it is an Islamic writer who tries to give a sense of the timelessness of god by explaining how little our concept of time means to him/her/it/them. 

The picture of the top of a rocky mountain being swept by the wing of a passing bird once every thousand years is created.  When that mountain has been worn away, the age that will have to have passed for that to happen will be but less than a moment to god.  Since I have been cycling past the concrete knob has not diminished appreciably, in spite of human activity, weather conditions and my kicking it once to see how firmly fixed it was!

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My attention has made it my own, I maintain.  I did attempt to write a poem about it, but the more I wrote the more it seemed to suggest the worst excesses of a certain Vogon space captain, and so I have given the writing a rest, but my attention never fails to look for degradation.  And to try and make something of the fact that it seems impermeable!

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As you may well be able to tell, this writing is little more than the usual displacement activity which stops me doing a few more of the 100 ejercicios para repasar ortografía y gramática that should be helping me improve my Spanish, but the exercises are getting more difficult and are asking me to use verbs - and not in the present tense!

And the sun is shining and the terrace is waiting to accept my prone body on a sun bed.

Life always gets in the way of good intentions!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Only connect, if you can be bothered.

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There is something unacceptably cruel about an unexpectedly delayed dental appointment.

I turned up at midday, on my bike, to be met by blank incomprehension about my check-up that had been arranged almost a year ago.  Eventually my name rang a bell in the receptionist’s mind and she wittered on about not having my telephone number to let me know that circumstances had changed and that my new appointment was for Tuesday of next week.  They do have my telephone number, indeed they have both of them and my address, and my full name and probably my NIA as well - so they could have used the telephone directory or looked me up online.

But people don’t do that nowadays.  If your mobile number or email (which they also have, come to think of it) is not immediately to hand then contact is impossible.  I call it The Full Dishwasher Syndrome.

The FDS is when you cannot fit anything else into the dishwasher and you find that you have one cup left over?  What does one do?  From experience you know that the higgledy-piggaldy approach to randomly piling things together will result in imperfectly washed items that will also have retained water because they have not been placed in their correct, drain-ready position.  Better to leave the extra item to one side so that it can be added to the next load.

Or you could (as you used to) wash and dry it by hand.  A squirt of washing liquid (or a mere drop of the more expensive stuff), some reasonably hot water, a quick brush over, rinse and a fresh tea towel to dry.  But that doesn’t enter one’s mind.  FDS obliterates the idea that washing dishes can be done by hand: the lone, dirty cup becomes A Problem.  “My dishes,” so runs the mantra, “are more hygienically dealt with by the dishwasher.”  The machine is more thorough, it works at higher temperatures than your hands can stand, it produces cleaner results - even as it washes off some decoration and leaves streaks on glasses and fails to remove some stubborn stains.  No matter - dishes are washed in the dishwasher.  It’s a fact.

Just like clothes are washed in the washing machine and dust and loose dirt is picked up by the Hoover and getting to places is by car and . . .

It is only when you consider how your life is lived that you realise that it is very different from the way that your parents lived.

In no way do I consider myself to have had anything other than a comfortable and privileged upbringing, but we did not have an electric record player until I was 10; we didn’t have a fridge until I was 12, which was around the same time as we got our first television; we had an outside loo; our first automatic washing machine was when I started secondary school; dishes were washed by hand; our first telephone had a ‘shared line’; our first motorised transport was a Bonmini three-wheeler. 

But this was all in the 1950s where I was the only person in my year in school to have gone on a foreign holiday.  I could safely roller skate down the road because most people did not have any motorised transport of any sort and photographs of the time (B&W) show me in an empty road, with few cars parked.  So-called white goods were only starting to become affordable.  It was the time when you had to apply for a telephone and you had Hobson’s Choice about what you got.  There were just two channels on the television, BBC and ITV. My grandparents’ television had a tiny screen and took an age to ‘warm up’ and faded to a single bright spot when you turned it off - and of course it was black & white, not colour.  I still remember my first viewing of a mobile phone: a large wooden box with a normal handset and rest used by a telephone engineer.

Things have obviously changed and we have many more ‘things’ than we ever used to have.  But our ways of doing things have also changed: our expectations and our approaches.

Which brings me back to my dental appointment.  One way of contacting me failed and, instead of trying another (in this over connected world) they gave up.  Because we do things this way and not in other ways.  After all, they could have written - but when was the last time that you had that sort of communication for a previously arranged appointment.  If you can’t Message it, it is not going to happen.   

O brave new world that has such full stops in it!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


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This morning’s information on the OU site that the Assessment Section was down because it was ‘very busy’ indicated that the results of the module that I had taken were going to be released a day earlier than the target date.  And so they were.  So now I have another ‘qualification’ to add to the Castelldefel certificate that gave me a pass at A2 level for last year’s work.

Alas, paper qualifications in a language do not always tell the linguistic truth.  I now have two scraps of paper which seem to indicate that I have a proficiency in the language and, indeed I have been able to ‘speak’ my way through circumstances which have been testing: ranging from local government applications to getting the car sorted out in a local garage; from complaining about obscure prohibitions in an art gallery to finding and getting selections of books photocopied for a long essay in a Barcelona library.  In short, I have coped - though always at the expense of poor natives hearing their language mangled or, as I like to put it, “re-imagined” by my good self.

This situation cannot continue.  I have now been living in Catalonia for years and I should be near to fluent, and the real truth is that I am nowhere near that standard.

Next September will see me starting Spanish 3, an advanced course in Spanish in our local adult education centre and there will be, I’m afraid, no hiding place for inability.  My confident use of limited grammatical structures will be glaringly obvious and I will not be able to bluff my way through the series of tests and examinations that will beset me from early October onwards.

I am therefore attacking my reluctance to settle down to the hard work necessary for linguistic advancement on a few fronts.  I am going back over the work that I should have done as part of my OU course (which I have passed with flying colours, which goes to show what you can do when you are wise in the ways of the OU!) to try and reinforce what basic knowledge is lurking in my brain; I am also going over the work in the text book that we used in Castelldefels last academic year to point up what I am expected to know for the next academic year, and finally, I am working my way through “100 ejercicios” in writing and grammar designed for Year 6 Spanish Primary School pupils!  I am hoping that this three-pronged approach will lessen the humiliation in the first classes in the new year!

Some isolated things do stick.  For example I now know that the word “visón” (which in Spanish is pronounced like “bison” but with the emphasis on the second syllable) means mink.  So I can now translate the title of the Leonardo painting I always recommend to people visiting the Louvre, that in my view is much superior to the selfie-crowded Mona Lisa, and that hangs almost unnoticed just outside the crowded room in which The Picture is virtually un-viewable.  And, in case you were wondering, the Spanish word for “bison” is “bison” - but the emphasis is more on the first syllable.

I have also learned the words for a swift and a seagull, but they have not lodged in my brain as of yet.  For some reason the word for swift (the bird not the adjective) was not in my Spanish Diccionario Primaria Lengua española.  This is an excellent beginners’ dictionary which is entirely in Spanish and which I found in a rubbish bin in the centre of town and rescued.  I can only imagine that some disgruntled scholar was passing from Primaria to Secondaria and threw away the books.  It is in such good condition that I doubt that it was ever used, just dead weight in the bulky backpacks that adhere to kids’ backs.  Well, it is being used now - though I had to find the Spanish word “vencejo” in one of my many other dictionaries.

I knew that “vencejo” had to be the word for swift because I had found it in my “sopa de letras” as part of one of the exercises (number 1 of 100!) in my homework book and I was able to link it to the simple drawing.  In my Collins Dictionary and Grammar I was able to find the Spanish for swift from the English, but the Spanish word was not in the other section.  Odd, but I suppose decisions have to be made about words to be included, and I further suppose that it is much more likely that the adjective (rápido or veloz) will be used rather than the noun.

This is my life at the moment: trying to force into my easy-access memory words that I am unlikely ever to use, but which every schoolchild knows.  God help!

The Stain

Is fading!   

After only ten days it has lost its startling otherness and now looks like some passing shadow.  It is still there and I am confident (barring torrential downpours) that it will last at least another week or so, maybe more.  My determination to documents its degeneration has taken a knock with the reluctance of this program to accept my mobile phone photographs, but I shall persevere.  I have not studied the work of Ana Mendieta in my past art courses not to recognize and value the importance and significance of the transitory and gestural when I see it!