It is gradually dawning on me that we are already in the month of July. Which means that there is only one full month between today and the start of September. So much, so obvious. The reason why this is a disconcerting fact is that in September I start a new course in Spanish III.
Although I have lived in Spain for almost a decade, I am shamefully, and woefully inadequate when it comes to expressing myself in Spanish. I mean, I get by. No matter what the situation, be it garage, government, restaurant, optician, library, art gallery, theatre, opera house, museum, bus, train, bike shop, etc etc etc - I get by. But I am always conscious that when I compare what I am able to say in English with how I express myself in Spanish, the different is, to put it mildly, glaring. I have Taken Steps to rectify my inarticulacy and this year I have taken an OU course in Spanish Beginners and a course in Castelldefels in Spanish 2. This sort of overkill approach has had mixed results.
On the positive side I have passed my Spanish 2 course and am now officially certified as having a proficiency of A2 - I have documentary proof of this, and that is something which I look at from time to time as I am not entirely convinced that my ability matches the printed description. Still, I have done the exams and got the paper.
The OU course has been interesting, but my approach to it has been less than wholeheartedly enthusiastic. My marks for the OU course have been among the highest that I have managed to get, with my lowest mark being 94%! But perhaps those marks have more to do with the fact that I now know how the OU works and I am able to push them exactly what they want. And this is not false modesty on my part, I know what I do not know, and I do know that the marks do not reflect my proficiency and ability. Bumbling by in a confident ungrammatical style is not competence.
So, the start of Spanish III in September is a truly daunting prospect. There is no way that I can get through this year by relying on quick wits and a smattering of half remembered vocabulary. Spanish III is serious - that’s why I have written the number in Roman numerals rather than the more prosaic Arabic alternative. [And just as a casual thought, how might I have translated that last sentence? Pause. Although I have no intention of showing you my version, I did put my Spanish attempt in Google translate and something vaguely similar came out the other end in English!] I will have to take a more serious and studious approach if I am not to be humiliated by the experience.
I have determined an approach that might help, but it does need constant effort and a seriousness that I have not shown heretofore. With the OU course I left out great chunks of the material, decided that other bits were stuff I knew, and concentrated on the tutor marked assignments and the computer marked multiple-choice questions. I worked to the final result and the final result will therefore reflect my ability to understand the mechanism of the institution rather than show exactly how much I have learned and I know.
But I know that if my approach had been slightly different and I had been more methodical towards all the course and not just to those bits that had a final mark attached to them, I would have benefitted immeasurably. The material is well thought out and leads you gently (generally) to proficiency. It is a sign of the realism of the Open University that access to the studenthome website for the course is available to students for three years after the course has finished. I think that I will need that to go over just what it is that I am supposed to have learned.
And then there is the course that I have just completed in Castelldefels. We have a course book for this, complete with CD. The lessons are generally more conversational than overly didactic so much of the hard graft learning is left to the students. I cannot, in conscience say that I kept up my end of the bargain and too often the next time that I opened the books after the previous lesson was in the next lesson. This does not work. And it will not work in Spanish III. So things will have to change. I live in hope.
As part of our “Summer is the Time to Explore” approach to life, we have been to a new/old restaurant in Castelldefels. OK, it’s not exactly sailing up the Zambezi in a canoe made of matchsticks, but it is adventurous according to our lights.
We chose to go to an old haunt further down the beach road, where previously we had got a fairly basic menu del dia for about €10. The food was not spectacular but it was good value for money.
It must be over a year or so since we last went there. At this point you have to understand that time in a seaside resort is not the same as in the rest of the world. A single year in resort is equivalent to at least five in the normal time frame. In our world shops come and go; restaurants rise and fall; banks close; hotels rise up like Lego constructions; car parks become flats - nothing stays the same for long. So, you could say that we were somewhat naive in expecting to get the same experience from something so far back in resort time.
And things had certainly changed. Rough and ready had now become canvas backed chic; tables and chairs had been redone, and there was air conditioning inside. And the price was now €16, a 60% increase. And that was without drink!
Service was poor and slow. The starters were OK, but the main course was far too salty. The piss-poor wine was €12 and the bottle of gaseosa was €2.50. We had to pay €2 for parking because the service was so slow. The final bill (after the beer that we didn’t have had been deducted!) was over €50. We could have had better for €20 elsewhere.
You could say that I should name and shame - and the fact that I didn’t leave a tip shows how dissatisfied I was - but, how many of my readers are going to turn up looking for a cheap lunch any time in the next decade? As a one off experience it was not good, but thinking about what I was prepared to accept when I first came to Spain, I would have been quite happy with the meal. In those days I would have been impressed by the ‘free’ olives and even more by the thimble full of cheap vermouth with a speared olive in it. But that was then and this is now and my standards are a little higher than they were.
This is a seaside town and summer is the traditional time to rip off those tourists who are so green that they look to have a meal with a sea view. I should have known better, so I will let the restaurant hide behind my gifted anonymity and let them rack up the Euros while the sun shines!
My eyes have never been the strongest part of my anatomy, and recently they have been more irritating than usual.
I can usually cope with the sheer frustration of short sightedness, and even the addition in later life of longsighted-ness to go with that: varifocal glasses are worth their weight in gold - just as soon as you have worked out how to walk down stairs in them! I have been wearing contact lenses since I was seventeen and I have attempted to get used to a multitude of different forms of plastic pressed against my eyeballs.
Only those who have had hard contact lenses and then got a spec of grit behind one can truly understand the meaning of the oxymoronic “exquisite pain”! The development of soft contact lenses and the further development of ‘daily’ soft contact lenses where, at last, you could throw them away at the end of the day, rather than pretending that you cleaned them properly and put them in fresh solution for the night rather than popping them in your mouth and sucking them to get them clean. I pause here for opticians to have their fit of the vapours - which emphatically occurred when I first admitted to my optician that was my usual treatment. From there I (like all other hard contact lens users) I lied.
Anyway. Even with soft, daily contact lenses there will come a time when your eyeballs have had enough of plastic already, and demand that you dig out your old specs and wear those for a while. My eyes have been getting ‘tired’ recently and my eyesight has become somewhat blurred, so I have gone back to glasses,
My glasses are lightweight, thinned, photochromatic, varifocal and laser and computer fabricated. They have lightweight frameless frames made of matt platinum (going by the price) and are altogether things of loveliness - if you like that sort of thing. I hate them, and only use them when my eyes scream for relief.
This time the respite that glasses is supposed to give to contact lens-abused eyes, has not worked out. I am still getting blurred vision, and it is as if a tiny piece of translucent gauze has been stuck on my left eyeball. And I am worried.
Worried in two ways. I have an optician appointment at 6 this evening (this is Spain and not Britain you understand) and my first worry is trying to translate a phrase like “tiny piece of translucent gauze” into Spanish. My second and more real worry is that what I am experiencing is related to diabetes. I have been borderline diabetes 2 for some time and, although my last blood test was triumphantly negative for diabetes, I fear that I may have backslid. So to speak.
Although it is the summer I have a lot of bookwork to do. Not only re-reading the Spanish course that I didn’t read the first time around, but also working on my latest book of poems. Although the poems are written, the introduction, the editing and the proof reading are all to come. I need my glasses or lens assisted sight for some fairly intense work over the next few months.
Although I try and make light of it, I am worried. There are too many nasty things that the “tiny piece of translucent gauze” might suggest.
However there is a whole hour before my appointment and I am not going to spend it in fruitless, frightened speculation. I will write a poem instead. Or at least draft one out.
My drafts of poems can be seen at http://smrnewpoems.blogspot.com.es/ that you are welcome to visit or ignore as your pleasure dictates.
58 more minutes to the appointment. Not that I am counting or anything, you understand. No indeed. Indeed not.