Saturday, September 30, 2006

What will be, will be.

Five past twelve I got up: a lie in. I don’t do lie ins, it just isn’t me. Up with the lark, things to do; places to go etc. etc. But, 12.5 – the afternoon! I now figure proudly in the decline of Western Civilization; roll on the last days of Rome, Caligula Rees is ready to take his place in the apocalypse. Over reaction? Well, with two sets of people arriving to view the house, the first scheduled to push the door bell at 3.30 pm, the time allowable for cleaning was perilously small.

The house, was, however, after some differences of opinion, pristine (well, clean) by the time the first battalion arrived. The viewing team of husband, wife and daughter seemed frighteningly professional: as soon as they arrived and I casually mentioned that there was a side entrance to the back garden, the whole troop of them were off at a gallop to see if it were true. The experience of the house was, therefore, a bit back to front, not really what I had planned and certainly not was Toni thought was the right way to do it. When they had left I was asked, very pointedly by himself, if I realized my ‘big mistake.’ Yes, you’ve guessed it: the mentioning of the side entrance: the unfinished side entrance; the non-the-best-aspect-of-the-house side entrance.

I felt when they had gone ( having spent all of five minutes looking around the house,) that they would not be proceeding any further with a purchase. I understand from Halifax that the guy is looking for an investment opportunity and has the money, virtually, to hand! That would be a delight. But I didn’t feel that there was the click of ownership about them.

We barely had time to draw breath (well, twenty five minutes actually) before the next onslaught: this time, a divorced woman and her mother. They were altogether a more relaxed contingent to deal with. They went where I wanted them to go, made cooing sounds in all the right places and also had the same colour blue (found in our downstairs cloakroom) in their house too.

Ironically, their departing comments concerned the cleanliness of the house and further comments on the inability that they had to keep their homes clear of clutter! If they only knew!

We now have to wait. It’s worse than waiting for exam results because with exam results you only think that they are life changing because the educational establishment keeps telling you they are so; whereas with real money from the sale of you house – this is life changing, and in my circumstances more than doubly so!

We are now sitting on our respective sofas with our respective laptops like hi-tec characters in a rewrite of a play by Jean Paul Sartre waiting to go to Mike and Angela for a much anticipated meal.

This will be the first time that I will have gone to Mike and Angela's new house and it has been far too long a time since I had a Gray meal. My anticipation is tinged with apprehension: what has she cooked, and will Toni be able to eat it? I will take a few bottles of wine so that the sharp dig of concern will be alcoholically blunted!

I know that the two Pauls and Mod and Tony will be there: any others? Later I’ll add any further participants and allow you to drool over the menu.

I was wrong about the participants in the meal: Mod and Tony were not there, in their place were Babs (one of the Witches) and Con; we were also joined by Olivia. Olivia had been going to be with her father, but she had not been feeling well and that, together with a desire to see her favourite teacher (Babs) meant that she was there when we arrived.

Angela did not disappoint: a meal with an Indian flavour. Rice, chicken with spinach (the spinach flavoured in a way which I have not had before); lamb in a spicy sauce; parokas (?); chicken kebabs, and prawns to die for. They were like small lobsters and had a chilly kick in them which made them irresistible. I had seconds! Well, no news there then. Other people did as well, so you can't point all the greed fingers at me. The postre was pineapple with ice cream. All in all a delicious meal which has left me more than replete.

The revelation of the evening was Olivia's voice: she has a voice of authority and considerable flexibility, if she could read music she would have an immediate career as a session musician singer. She has been accepted in some sort of singing school for next year, so she has a real incentive to learn to read music: this could be the key to the rest of her career.

The snippets of news from my last school (ah, that word 'last' has so many interpretations!) were interesting, but it is also fascinating to find out how little the import of quite important revelations have on me. It seems as if my late career is old news, something seen through a glass darkly. As it should be!

It's very late, but I must admit that I have enjoyed the discipline of having to complete this section of my blog.

Tomorrow I must listen again to the intriguing telephone recording from Jonathan in Grand Canaria. He has now sold Toby's Bar in the Yumbo Centre and has given me his mobile phone number. He has not been in touch for some time, and this sudden contact is interesting. Also, tomorrow, I wonder if there will be any news about the house?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Culture Vulture Strikes!

Halifax has come up trumps and we now have two (count them) two viewings on Saturday. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the downstairs loo broke this morning. However, with the domestic acumen which has become so much a part of my general behaviour these days, I repaired it. Only £4 for parts and a chunk of my immortal soul (because of the swearing) and the job was done.

One of the many reasons for being retired in Cardiff is that I can go to afternoon concerts given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at St David’s Hall. This afternoon was the first: ‘Arcade’ by Tristan Keuris; ‘In time of daffodils’ by John Metcalf (Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams) and Nielsen’s Second symphony ‘The Four Temperaments’; the whole lot conducted by Jac van Steen.

Keuris (of whom I have never heard) is probably a Dutch import from the Dutch conductor and, if this is the quality of the stuff which he is going to introduce to a Welsh audience, I say good luck to him and excellent luck for us! The music was instantly engaging and utilized the virtuosic exuberance of the Orchestra to great effect. The piece, ‘Arcade’ was divided into six small sections which were given generally architectural titles and which presented themselves as forceful vignettes. It is perhaps a strength of the music that I would have like these pieces to have been developed at much greater length: a brilliant start to the concert.

The Metcalf was instantly forgettable. The soloist looked very ill at ease and his nervous, flickering tongue did not inspire confidence in the audience. His voice was pleasant enough but it lacked depth and either he or the music (or both) lacked a sense of progression. It is always a danger when setting such famous verse as Metcalf chose for the six songs, that they unbalance by their very fame any musical setting. This was the case here where Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ was fighting against the lacklustre setting provided by Metcalf.

None of the songs stood out. The music seemed to me to be very English, harking back to Vaughan Williams and Holst, but without their skill. This was modern music which didn’t sound modern; it asked little of the audience and was generally vapid.

The orchestra played with enthusiasm, sometimes leaving the soloist struggling to project beyond, but its termination was a relief.

After the interval my expectations from the Nielsen were high. Nielsen is a famous composer who suffers from benign neglect; perhaps other orchestra assume that his music is being taken care of by others, but it is a rare treat to get a whole symphony from one of our foremost bands.

The first movement was taken at a cracking pace, too fast for my taste, more reminiscent of the late, lamented (by me, if not the orchestra) Mark Wigglesworth. The speed gave excitement but the music lacked precise detail, too often we were presented with slabs of sound in which the music structure was lost. The effect was obvious, though, by the end of the movement the audience was visibly stunned.

The opening of the second movement was languorous, sensual and wonderfully indulgent, and by the middle of this movement van Steen had won me over. The crescendos that were drawn out of the orchestra by a visibly sweating conductor were electrifying. The brass excelled themselves and responded with gusto to the encouragement of van Steen.

van Steen’s reading of this symphony was individualistic, but valid; his authority and collaboration with the orchestra built up to a breathtaking climax, indeed in some parts of this wonderful symphony I actually found myself having to remember to breathe.

This was a glorious experience for the select crowd that was in St David’s Hall and has charged my batteries for the emotional draining which will be the performance of ‘La Boheme’ this evening.

Let’s see how good I am. Will I continue this post with my review of the performance tonight? Wait and see!

The Brazz in the Millennium centre is vastly overpriced: £25 for a two course meal. Mine: mozzarella and Welsh crab with leaves and reduced balsamic vinegar; followed by shank of lamb on mash with chopped veg. Nice, but not nice enough to justify the price.

The opera was good, but it just didn't 'do it' for me. The singers, with the signal exception of Rebecca Evans, seemed underpowered and failed to fill the hall in the way that I was anticipating. The only real excitement for me in the first act was when the pair of lovers sang together just before they left the stage at the end of the act.

The staging was a re-staging of the original production by Goran Jarvefelt by Caroline Chaney. It seemed to me to be a very clear and precise production with clearly delineated sets and intelligent lighting. there didn't seem to be much invention, it was conventional, but satisfying.

The ending produced the desired results: the use of spoken dialogue just before the surge of the orchestra after Rodolfo has discovered that Mimi is dead is something which guarantees tears. If you don't cry in Puccini, you're not fully human in any sense that I understand!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blood will have blood they say

Forgive me if my typing is a little erratic, but I’ve just been stabbed by a rogue fork in the dishwasher. Talk about Life’s Rich Tapestry!

I’m reading a book by Melvyn Bragg called “12 books that changed the world”; it’s a long time since I’ve read a ‘popular’ book which has been so badly proof read. I bought it in Oxfam in the centre of Dublin not far from the Liffy. I reckon that it was a reviewer’s copy given to Oxfam to sell off. The price was eight euros, but I had only a 50 euro note and a 5. The guy sitting reading by the till said that it was unlikely it would have change and he was more than happy to take the 5 note and a few coins. You feel such a heel when you make a profit out of a charity organization, so I put a few more coins in the Oxfam jug in the kitchen: conscience placated.

The book itself, as Paul 1 remarked, “is perfect for you”. I like to think that he meant that it was full of intellectual stimulation to match my questing brain, but I think that he was implying that the ragbag of disparate knowledge appealed to my dilettante mind. Whatever!

Bragg takes twelve ‘books’ from Britain and devotes a chapter to each. So far they have ranged from Magna Carta to the first Rule Book for Association Football. It’s such a good idea and, with the authority of Lord Bragg, you have a series for television as well as the book tie-in. That’s the sort of mind I need for the non career in media!

I’m still reading it; I take a break from it from time to time so that I can be attacked by lurking white goods. I’ve just finished the Abolition section dealing with the speech of William Wilberforce and am now deep into Mary Shelley’s mum and the ‘Vindication.’ The increase in the popularity of this book reminds me of my time in University when the only volume by Dickens that any respectable politically correct student could admit to reading was ‘Hard Times’ revelling in the political background to the work and worrying about your ambivalent response to dear dead old Stephen Blackpool. And ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Conrad. These were the two key texts for timid neophytes in political reading to get their teeth into, with a novel (any novel) by D H Lawrence to make up the literary trinity. And not listening to the music of Tchaikovsky. I remember that as being important. How could you be radical if you were emoting to the symphonies (the early symphonies in my case) of Piotr.

I would look forward to reading the rest of it tomorrow, but I have other things to do. There are people turning up on Saturday to view the house! Hallelujah! So, super cleaning starts again. Tomorrow morning is the only time that I will have as Toni has to be picked up at 1.30 pm, then at 2.00 pm there is a concert in St. David’s Hall with a performance of Nielsen’s Second Symphony and, in the evening a performance of ‘La Boheme’ which I have not seen for a considerable time.

I am going to the opera with Alison who has just had her birthday (she is weeks older than I am!) and I have bought her two badges with messages: ‘I don’t discriminate. I hate everyone’ and ‘You say I’m a bitch like it’s a bad thing!’ I think it says something about me that I like both of them, but thinking about it, they are not quite the things to give someone for their birthday. But, hey, let’s see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To push or not to push

Far be it from me to pontificate about family life: my experience is limited in scope, if not in depth. However, (weren’t you just expecting that word?) after my recent extensive involvement in hoovering, cleaning, washing and dusting I have been looking more closely at others as they go about their quotidian existence.

Shopping is the great sexual divide, and the one aspect of life which does give itself to generalisations. The majority of men really do hate it; why, I have never understood. My early training by my mother in the more professional aspects of shopping has never left me, and I regard my liking for shopping as an elegant memorial to the woman who, placed blindfolded in the centre of the warren of linked shops that is Howells in Cardiff, could orientate herself within a nano second and march towards any given destination with a determination that made the Darleks look dithering. Also the importance of Wedgwood was imprinted on my young consciousness by being the area of the store that was always our meeting point when I was allowed a brief foray into other parts of the shop. No wonder glass plays such a large part in my snobbishness!

Anyway, some men obviously reject the domestic and have to find ways to assert their perceived masculinity while still conforming to the dictates of necessary shopping. This is seen at its most poignant when utilizing the supermarket shopping trolley.

I suppose considered dispassionately the shopping trolley is an iconic artefact of the twentieth century; not only for its ostensible utility, stark stripped down beauty and purpose but also as a symbol of urban desolation as exemplified by its appearance, upended and forlorn wallowing in canals, rivers, puddles and standing erect and proud, alone on a promontory in the middle of some waste ground. It is used (and stolen) by tramps and millionaires, by intellectuals and idiots; it is a true example of egalitarianism.

Its use is what distinguishes the users. Let’s face it; there is no real skill in navigating a supermarket trolley: you just push it. The wheels are specially designed to be free and easy, in spite of the stories most supermarket trolleys just glide, effortlessly. I know that this is important so that unsuspecting customers will not be able to tell just how much they have bought by his difficulty of pushing a vast weight around the store; they only realise the extent of their purchases when they have to carry them from the car to the house. But it is this very lack of effort needed to push the trolley which causes problems for men. If anyone (including kids) can push the things, how can a real man show that he is The Man?

The Wonky Wheel syndrome in early models at least allowed Him to show his technical virtuosity by viciously kicking the offending wheel when the machine did not do The Wife’s bidding. But now, now they just glide! The trolley as a symbol of emasculation: imagine.

If the simple effort of pushing is not the key, then it has to be the way that it is pushed, and there is the real invention.

Some men use the trolley as they use the car: an extension, metaphorically, of bodily parts. Pushing the thing as if they are the only customers in the aisles, and everyone has to keep out of their way. There is also the little freewheel push, so that they can claim, not only the space taken up by the trolley, but also a chunk of the space in front. The Road Is Mine Syndrome. That syndrome also accounts for the Transverse Blocking Manoeuvre which means that whenever you are stopped you place the trolley at ninety degrees to the facing shelf, thus effectively stopping any overtaking.

There are those that drag, presumably so that they are not thought to be regressing to the time that they had to take their turns pushing the kids in their prams or ‘buggies’ as they are called today. Pah!

The best technique I’ve seen was demonstrated today by an ageing, athletic, tight jean wearing, bandy little man who obviously resented being in the store and was following the written list of requisites with the stoic resignation of a Holy Week pilgrim on the Via Dolorosa. He was one of those men on whom you look, instinctively, for the medallion; he was, you might say, out of his metier.

He, therefore, had a problem: too many things to carry without help, but using the trolley was an admission of collaboration with the whole concept of shopping. He solved this dilemma by keeping the trolley at his side, his left hand on the right hand side of the trolley, almost as if the trolley was following him like an obedient dog. But it was a naughty mutt, because it kept bumping into his feet and doing its own thing. Bu did he adopt the simple push approach, did he buggery. I met him at various points throughout the store and, with a scowl playing about his features and growing bruises on his feet and legs, he manfully (and that surely is the point) kept to his rugged approach. Bless him.

I feel this is a subject which deserves more study and, there is a nagging thought at the back of my mind, that, were I to put ‘The Supermarket Trolley: a sociological approach’ into Google I would be greeted with a substantial number of hits. So I won’t do it.

Today was the first real autumn day, the end of the day dark and depressing. It does not bode well for the selling of the house and I begin to think that I will be here for the Christmas period. Come on Cardiff, buy my house!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What are we supposed to be remembering?

Have we lost the ability to produce monuments? I ask this having seen the incomprehensible monument to what the taxi driver returning us to the airport described as a ‘junkie’s vision of heaven’; in other words the gigantic metal spike (or as the taxi driver would have it, “the biggest fucking needle in the world”) in Dublin’s O’Connell Street outside the shot riddled historic General Post Office.

Everyone in Dublin must surely make the pilgrimage to the building, the symbol of The Rising, to have the opportunity to stand outside it, look for and at the bullet holes, and muse on what might have been. I’ve been told that when the rebels were led through the streets of Dublin, members of the general public spat at them. It was only when the crass Brits decided to create martyrs and shoot them that the real trouble started. Whatever the hypothetical speculation might be, the reality is that this building, the street and the environs are important in the history of the Irish Free State. So why is there a big spike in the middle of the road?

The taxi driver (fountain of all knowledge) said that the raising of the spike was, as usual, beset with problems and a crane lurked in the main street for months waiting for the right weather conditions. Although a Millennium project, it did not manage to get built on time, but at least it had a better fate than the submerged countdown clock in the Liffy which was supposed to build up interest to the raising of the spike. “They might at least have made sure it was fucking watertight,” commented the taxi driver who also rejoiced in the memory of the slime which obliterated the clock face under the waters, adding that, the fucking thing was out of the water more than in!” And you should have heard him on Irish politicians, especially on one Irish woman minister; his description of her wiped out the whole history of the feminist movement in their attempts to moderate the language of sexist men.

Cardiff’s attempt at a big shiny metal sculpture signifying God knows what is outside the Millennium Centre: not as tall as Dublin’s, but with the added ingredient of being covered with falling water which coats the sides of the monument. This is an excellent addition and makes the object genuinely exciting. When the water is actually switched on. Which is more often than not, not. Having seen the thing with a shimmering film of moving water, when it is not running, the thing looks inert and dead.

In my view, at least the Cardiff structure is mostly there, because I consider the only monuments worthy of the name to be fountains. Cardiff had an unhappy experience when deciding to place a fountain in front of the City Hall. The City Hall is a fairly exuberant building with statues, a dome, a portico, large windows and dressed Portland stone. Although built in the early twentieth century, its spirit is Baroque and any attempt at a fountain should have had more to do with the Bernini than Bang & Olufsen. But Cardiff, in its wisdom, decided on a thin wall of water behind which a delicate representation of the three feathers in three spumes. The reality was pathetic: the wall of water was never level or convincing; the three feathers were spindly and, to put it mildly, squirts rather than mighty spurts. The only time the feature came into its own was when naughty students filled the thing with soap suds! It looked as though someone had been to the local garden centre and cobbled something together with cut price, second hand, cast off fountain bits. Eventually the ‘wall’ went and beefier fountains were installed and civic pride was restored.

We simply don’t do these things well. I wonder if any other city has done better.

Another thing which has improved is the Job Centre. My last visit (first year of university) was a searing experience: official distain matched with militant unhelpfulness. This time round, polite security men motioning me to comfy chairs and interviewers who took great pains to explain everything and ‘make me part of the process.’ I’m not sure that I actually gained anything, apart from a number of pieces of paper, but I did feel ‘valued’. Or something. I wait to see what will come of the form filling and discussion that I have completed.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Trust the Dublin Taxi Drivers

One of my great discoveries in the past was that you could freeze milk in the waxed cartons (that you could never open, and when you did, the milk sprayed out everywhere and you never quite managed to find all the drips until they began to smell and you have to do a major clean) and use it when you needed it. Fantastic! I don’t know it seemed in ‘those days’ that I was constantly running out of milk and in ‘those days’ shops were not so customer friendly that they actually opened when you needed them to. Of course, you could always look at that another way and say that shops were closed at reasonable times so that shop workers could have a reasonable life and not be forced to work shifts at all hours of the day and night because of the grasping nature of the large supermarket chains who want to rule the world – but let it pass, let it pass.

Anyway. I have a new discovery. You can book in for your flight on the internet and print out your own boarding pass AND go to the head of the queue with all those mothers (with suspiciously old ‘children’) and demand preferential treatment! Getting to the front seats and the seats by the emergency exits so that you can have leg room without the canaille pushing past you to spend ten minutes putting their putrescent bags in a varied selection of over head storage compartments before they finally get their rotting carcases out of the way and allow real human beings to pass. I always think that air travel brings out the best in me.

The look on the faces of those cretins who start queuing at the gate as soon as they arrive in departures as we few, we precious few sailed past them waving our printed boarding passes like bejewelled peacock fans to waft away the miasma from the great unwashed was worth double the price of the seats. Talking of the price of the seats: coffee at Bristol airport. We had four coffees and a small piece of Belgian brownie. The total cost was more than a return ticket to Dublin. Something, surely, is wrong.

What’s really wrong is that my parents and grandparents did not have foresight. My grandparents could have met up with the dealer Vollard and bought Picassos and Cezannes at cost price and bequeathed them to me; my parents could have invested in Habitat and sold out at the right time; and I could have bought that painting that I like the look of in a newspaper some time ago and I would now be the possessor of ‘A Bigger Splash’ by David Hockney. I could have done it. I really could have bought it. I don’t want to talk about how much it is worth now.

So, the start of the journey to Dublin was most satisfactory, and the journey itself (with spacious leg room) meant that I did not have to fracture my legs to get them moving at the end of the flight.

If you travel with Ryanair from Bristol to Dublin you are decanted into a rather makeshift looking terminal at the unfashionable end of the airport. Civilization is reached by trekking through the longest portacabin in the world. Your trek is not made any more encouraging by the look of desperate exhaustion on the faces of the people who are making their way to the unfashionable end of the airport. I never thought that the sight of a stretch of pseudo marble flooring with those vindictively uncomfortable airport chairs would be so welcome. It meant that we were almost at the taxis.

The taxi driver who took us into Dublin (as well as the hysterically funny driver who took us back) lived up to the Irish blarney hype: fluent, funny, welcoming and informative. Who could ask for more?

The courtyard of Trinity (thanks again Hadyn – what a sensible suggestion) was filled with people listening to a crossover concert and the accommodation office didn’t seem fixed up to actually deal with guests, but things were soon sorted out and we went to our cells, sorry, rooms which were at the far end of the campus.

All of Dublin took it in turns to pass our room and make a considerable amount of noise; it reminded me of a student hostel in Madrid which previously had been the most uncongenially noisy place in which I had stayed. Dublin, late on a Friday night makes Madrid appear provincial!

Out for a meal. Friday night: Temple Bar. The whole of the United Nations seemed to have the same idea as our good selves and the place was packed with a cacophony of linguistic vocalizations. Our choice of Gallagers was inspired: good atmosphere, exceptional service and delicious food. The memory of my Atlantic Seafood Chowder will remain with me for some time to come. Guinness is not, and never will be my favourite tipple, but when in Rome, and so . . .

During the night every rubbish cart in the western hemisphere decided to rev the engine, load and empty and process outside our room, thank God I am not used to the ‘dark stuff’ and was able to drift off into a Guinness induced slumber.

Breakfast was in the Buttery Restaurant at the other end of the campus from the halls of residence in which we were staying. One thing and another meant that we were not early for our meal so everything was gone and closed within a minute of the advertised closing time, and with a Proustian memory moment I suddenly remembered the closing of the refectory in Swansea University when I was a student living in Neuadd Lewis Jones where the harridan Nikky wielded a voice of toughened gravel against those benighted profaners of the deadline time of 8.30 am who crept snail like from their pits.

The smell of university refectories is universal: not pleasant. It’s partly the furniture: utilitarian (without Benthamite consideration); functional without comfort, and angular without compunction. But, during the Time of Conferences, the university food managerial mind muses that a single, strategically places jug of cheap flowers on a harsh plastic table will transform the place into a plush hotel to tempt Bono to buy. At the risk of sounding obvious, it doesn’t; indeed it merely emphasises the cheap without the cheer and makes it even more appropriate for a circle of catering hell. All that because I didn’t have the full breakfast (which I had paid for) in spite of being a full minute before curfew. Bastards!

As is usual with our happy little group, any attempt to take a Bus Tour inevitably brings the rains: this excursion was no exception. Cowering from the elements on an open top bus, we fled into the Guinness Experience which, as luck would have it, was the stop which coincided with the rains.

You have to admire the company for making almost something out of definite nothing. You do not do a tour of the Guinness factory; instead you ascend through a series of educational constructs before you get to the promised pint. To be fair, there is a tasting station about half way through where you can imbibe a mouthful to speed you on your way.

The highlight of this visit for me was not the final drink in the glass viewing tower, drinking while chatting to an American couple who had been happily divorced for eighteen years, but who were visiting Dublin together because “he pays,” no, it was the glass bottomed waterfall feature which was exactly the sort of thing that I wanted in the back garden - though I would have settled for something a little smaller. It did have some sort of meaning, the oats or the barley or the grain was being washed or roasted or boiled or something according to the educational panels, but who cares when you could walk beneath a glass roof of swirling water and then look through a curtain of water with various lighting effects. I took many photographs, be thankful you only have to look at one!

Then it was lunchtime and, hugging walls trying vainly to shelter from the stormy blasts we eventually took refuge in a sort of Italian restaurant which will not feature in our ‘Where to eat’ list. But it did, as they say, fill a gap.

Although exhaustion and terminal foot fatigue were taking their toll we did go to the National Gallery of Art (with the usual choir of moaning Philistines) and I did my usual hysterical tour. An extraordinary El Greco with a background which looked like hurried stage painting and an unexpected Chardin. With others. Then off to more delights.

Our second night’s meal was Spanish, in La Paloma. We excitedly chose various tapas until we noticed that they were not served on a Saturday evening. However, the main menu gave plenty of scope for interesting eating: deep fried, breaded Manchego with onion chutney followed by scallops with tomato and brandy. Delicious. And expensive, but not that expensive if you change the euros into pounds and then think about what you could get in Wales – in other words kid yourself.

The night was quieter. Well, it would have had to have been, the only way in which it could have been noisier was to have the bloody rubbish machines in the room with us.

The Book of Kells was the first stop after (a full, proper, and in time) breakfast. I know it’s an important codex but they have had to do a lot of work to make the viewing of two pages significant. Much more impressive was the long library, as I mentioned to Toni, that was the sort of place that I had in mind for Spain. Fond hope.

The visit to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was made just that little bit more difficult by our being there on a Sunday morning when a service was in progress. The idea of having a cup of coffee seemed good if impractical as there seemed to be a complete dearth of such establishments in the vicinity. The enthusiastic contribution of a passer by, telling us that all pubs closed at 12.30 spurred us into finding a strange little cafĂ© staffed by Orientals. Our order (simple and clear) was not fully understood and my asking for milk for my tea produced total bemusement. It appeared that they had adopted the interesting idea of placing little jugs of milk on each table so it would be readily available for customers – in the heat, hour after hour. It takes all sorts.
The search for fridge magnetics for Carme, Laura and ourselves was successful so that was Dublin done and dusted!

The trip back was tiring; it is, after all, quite difficult to manage when you have something like forty Lear Jets to get off the ground after the Ryder Cup. Everything was delayed and even the delight of having our boarding passes clutched in our hands (thank the Lord for internet cafes) didn’t lessen the tedium of waiting for the bloody plane to take off. Even the delay in getting out of the car park in Bristol seemed designed to drain liveliness from all of us. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that Paul would have to get up at five o’clock in the morning to get to a conference in Llandudno by 10 am on Monday!

So, eighteenth century Dublin is behind us: fine buildings mixed with rougher, inclement architecture; fine food and rotten weather. At least we won.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Journey Begins

I now know what an archaeologist feels like as they unearth artefacts and then, painstakingly, study, record, measure and evaluate each exciting find. I have had the same experience trying to find a bag which will comply with the gnomic restrictions placed on those free, adventurous souls, who would fly the expansive skies with nothing more than mere cabin luggage with them.

I have unearthed backpack after backpack (why have I got so many? It’s not as if my rugged, outdoor lifestyle uses them up like used Hershey bar wrappers. [Image courtesy of Quentin Crisp – used by him in quite another context!] No, the real explanation is, they form a sub set of pseudo gadgets that I like to acquire. Each time a new bag surfaced, it was subjected to an immediate recording, like some sort of exotic sea creature, just before it was photographed with the proud capturer. That simile somehow got away from me in the last sentence, ironically, rather like a slippery fish. Enough.

The measurements 45x35x16 were the limits for egress to the cabin. None of my bags seemed to be comfortable within those limits, until it was pointed out to me that, given that we are only going to Dublin for about 60 hours, the bag would hardly be full to bursting and therefore . . . And so it’s sort of proved. It would be a callous security person indeed who would refuse such an unassertive bag as the one which I have finally chosen to wend its unobtrusive way to overhead storage. Though, come to think about it, security persons seem to attract adjectives of which, ‘callous’ would seem to be one of the more flattering epithets. We will see, as Mr Baldwin almost said.

It will be fascinating to see how they deal with the prohibition on soap, shaving foam, deodorant, after shave, toothpaste etc. Will there be over priced ‘lucky bags’ which can be purchased from money hoovering ‘duty free’ (surely they could be had by the trades descriptions lot for that designation?) shops? Anyone with imagination could make a fortune with the right consumer durables.

Just a phone call to tell me that the last person in our little quartet has arrived home. Quick bath and then off to Bristol.

Probably no blog until I return on Sunday night.

Bon voyage to us!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

10/10 vision isn't everything

If you are short sighted then, without glasses, the world is a very different place from the world that the sharp sighted see. You learn to recognise people by their fuzzy shapes and small, characteristic movements you also find out that you have, to use a good, old fashioned term “cut” lots of people too. Not intentionally, but if you can’t see them you can’t be expected to acknowledge them. You have to learn to live with your reputation for arrogance however ill deserved it is.

You also have to learn to live with a certain feeling of inferiority, especially if you swim. Let me explain. Before I had contact lenses, and long before optically corrected swimming goggles were within the price range of ordinary middle class people, I had to swim myopically. This is not really much of a problem if you are an up-and-down swimmer, after all, what’s to see in the millisecond when your face is turned for a gasp of air? But when you stop and start to get out and look around you that is when your lack of definition begins to tell.

For years I never saw with any clarity when I was inside a swimming pool. Everyone was a blur, and, in my mind everyone looked good. I assumed that the indistinct figures wandering, with confidence, around the pool were elegant, handsome and beautiful; that’s why I kept my head down and kept on swimming! My first use of contact lenses (with goggles) was a revelation: a whole crowd of ugly, unfit, overweight people seemed to have body snatched the previous beautiful inhabitants of the pool!

The one thing that myopic swimming does allow you to achieve is a sense of isolation, it’s a time to think, a time to consider things. My telephone conversation with the art historian Peter Lord today, gave me pause for thought and filled the watery metres of my swimming this evening. If you’ve been reading the previous posts, then you know that I had the idea of a radio programme about the Welsh painter Archie Rhys Griffiths. Time for a re-evaluation I thought, this will make good radio I thought. Well, for the last ten or so years Peter Lord has been collecting art by Griffiths has letters, documents and has made a film to be broadcast on S4C in November. He is also writing a book to be published next year and there will be exhibitions: a fairly comprehensive ‘I got there first’ scenario! I only hope that there may be legs in a radio programme which can link in to the rising interest in this neglected artist. If my telephone conversation is anything to go by then Peter Lord has much more material than can be compressed into a 30 minute broadcast. His enthusiasm was infectious and the snippets of the life which he gave me were enough to make me want to hear more. I will keep my fingers crossed that something will come of this.

Meanwhile, the government has decreed that the regulations for what you can take into a cabin on an aircraft will change from tomorrow. We still can’t take toothpaste, shampoo, soap, aftershave, water etc, but we will have more room in which not to take things. Such luxury! I only hope that there is a lake night Boots to stock up with essentials when we get to Dublin. We will see, and so will you, though I think that there will be a three day gap until I can get back to my computer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In Praise of Swimming

Swimming, I am told, is the best form of exercise there is. It gives complete, well, exercise to more areas of the body than any other and the water offers support so there is no unnatural strain as is found in, say, running. It is The Way. But, in spite of all this, I still enjoy it.

You have to understand what I mean by swimming. Children do not swim. They splash, and shout, and dive, and jump - and not in straight lines. You see, I have become one of those people who, when I was a child, I used to hate: the Straight Line Swimmers. The quick up-and-downers who, ostentatiously, did not care who came in their way, because they just swam though them. I am one of their damned number. And I rejoice in it!

Length swimming is an odd pastime; there is, as with all swimming, that sense of being in another dimension because of the support of the water and yet being in something essential and familiar: there is an odd sense of being at home, it being the Natural Element [note to self: there is too much capitalization in this writing, take care.]

Swimming isn't tranquil, even leaving aside the noisy younger elements; you can always hear your own breathing: the gasp of inhalation and the bubbling exuberance of the exhalation; the splash of arms and the push of water against the head. You can't relax: you'd drown - that is something of an incentive to do it properly.

Where you swim is important. Having thought about what I was going to write next, I have realised that, however I phrased it, it was bound to sound snobbish and elitist. So I won't say it. What I will say is, a pool, for me is more or less desirable depending on whether there are periods given over to the Straight Line Swimmers i.e. sacrosanct roped off swimming lanes or something more 'democratic' and filled with writhing creatures "Yea, slimy things with legs did crawl" etc.

When in doubt go outside. I use the same principle as my experience with parking. People will not park further away from their destination than they can spit. In a similar spirit people will not swim (willingly) in a pool which does not match their blood temperature and, if the weather is inclement then people do not believe in outside heating, then is the time to go outside and swim in glorious isolation. There is much to be said for outside swimming. The shock of cold air entering your lungs is like wine and you really appreciate the quality of breathing when you go back inside and breathe the sickly, oppressive miasma which passes for an atmosphere.

An interest in natural history is also catered for as long as you are wearing goggles. You can glide through and over vegetation and various forms of insect life. A large, hairy, moving, dead spider bumping along on the bottom of the pool, lurking in the eddies of a strong swimming action, is a great disincentive to many to venture into an outside pool and, as you know, the fewer the better. The ideal pool is an empty pool, except for me!

And the water: not all water is the same when you come to swimming pools. The indoor pool is always redolent with the memory of ill fitting pampers blended with the irresistible aroma of the dissolved detritus of adolescent pores, over which hangs the mature perfume of lingering eau de toilet undilutable by mere water. And under the water, if you can’t see more than a few feet ahead of you, surely it’s time to get out.

Swimming is, of course, displacement activity for me, because the house is not selling and I don’t want to have too much time to think about the time that I am not spending in Catalonia. Hey ho! Who knows what the morrow will bring?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Talk about coincidences . . .

What, I ask you, are the chances of two people thinking, "Let's take a relatively obscure Welsh painter who has been dead for a quarter of a century and make a programme about him!"? Don't bet on it. It happened today.

I've spent a most enjoyable day doing light research: that is, sitting at my computer and meandering my way through the Internet, interspersed with light telephoning to curators, librarians, film makers and one amazingly interested and helpful PA. The end of all this electronic gossiping is that I've discovered that MY painter who I was going to use for MY programme (not that it's been commissioned yet) has been purloined by a film company in North Wales.

Archie Rhys Griffiths (1902 - 1971) was born in Aberdare but brought up in Gorseinon on the outskirts of Swansea. He worked in the Mountain Colliery and the tinplate works at Gorseinon

before attending Swansea School of Art (1919 - 1924) and the Royal College of Art (1924 - 1927). Griffiths produced a mural at the Workingmen's College in Camden Town (1932). And I've got an engraving of Old Loughor Bridge of his, given to my grandfather on his retirement. His work is in the Vivian Art Gallery in the Permanent Collection and, I think, in the National Museum in Cardiff. He was described by the artist Ceri Richards as “a grave figure of some dignity … the artist of dreams” but he ended as “depressed, crumpled, monosyllabic” and an alcoholic. I think. That is one of the things about his life; it's not easy to find out about him - hence the light research. I will have to wait until Geraint (the man who had already done his heavy research) gets back to me, so I can find out what, if anything is left for me. I will keep you informed.

Meanwhile my 'unwaged' status is now official and the powers that be are interested and I have had official phone calls (as well as me making some of my own.) It's a long time (first year university vacation) since I have been into Job Centres for myself. It will be an interesting experience. It will be especially interesting to see if they have done anything to make the experience a little more human than it was at the end of the sixties! Dear God, that's 36 years ago.

The hysterical demands of air carriers have now come home to me. It was bad enough returning from Barcelona in the summer with the tail end of a luggage handlers strike combined with the restrictions linked to the prevention of terrorism, but now we are planning to go to Dublin for the weekend and have had a list of demands sent through to the house via the computer. We can take razors as cabin luggage but not the shaving foam to use with them; we can take a nail file, but not hand cream; we can take electronic equipment with bluetooth capability but not a bar of soap. Is this one of those times when you just have to believe that the authorities know what they are doing? Or . . . I know which side my thoughts lie on.

This will be the first time that I have been to Dublin and am much looking forward to it. I will not be following in Bloom's footsteps as I will have three Barbarians with me who will, I trust, keep my propensity for pretension under some sort of Guinness control.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Things to do when not teaching.

When your partner has overtime and has to be in work by half past seven, so you have been up by half past six then the day takes on a different perspective. As long as you don't actually have to do directed work yourself.

I had set myself a list of complicated financial, administrative and occupational tasks to complete. And had completed them by ten o'clock. Why, you may ask. And how? Well, when you are in school you are limited, hemmed in, confined by the constraints of the timetable. Anything you want to do has to be done in the few moments of freedom at breaks when still trying to have some coffee (or tea) or during the lunch time, when M&S is tempting you to spend hard earned cash on food you actually want to eat. In other words, you have no time to wait during the lengthy period that most organizations take to respond to any reasoable telephone request.

Consider. You phone (any) organization and what happens? After a breathtakingly exciting period when old fashioned technology exerts its benign influence and you hear an ordinary ringing tone the real voyage of discovery begins. The ringing tone ceases, a tantalizing moment of silence and then The Voice. Depends on the firm: sometimes The Voice is obviously someone who has drawn the short straw and resents having to do the chore of leaving a message for any member of the public; at other times it is a relative of the original woman who voiced the Marina's of yesteryear. What all of them have in common is that they threaten. That little reminder that all calls are recorded "for training purposes" is of course there to indicated that, if you finally lose your patience and say direct and truthful things to the operator, they have your voice on tape and they will prosecute.

Then the torture by numbers. "If your call is . . . then press . . . " and the exquisite torture of being too thoughtful and thinking that your actual enquiry is not really any of the numbers but is quite near to number 1, though it could also be considered near to number 3, and you know that if you lack decision and go for the "all other enquiries" number, no one is going to pick up.

Even on a good day it's going to be outside the time limits of a normal teacher's break and the residue of despair and hatred that a failed call brings will effect the next lesson to the detriment of learning! To say nothing of the human effect on the teacher. Firms never understand the time limitations of teachers during the working day. However many times you explain to 'outsiders' that their window of contact opportunity for a teacher will be exactly 10 minutes at a stated time, they never understand and will phone twenty minutes later and be shocked that they cannot contact the person.

But, if you are at home, with a telephone with a loudspeaker attachment then the switches, delays, swappings, music, recorded voices, indeed anything that an inhuman firm can throw at you are as nothing. You sit back with your cup of tea and with something else to do and stroll your way through the telephone call and, and this is the real delight of it all, you get a result. You follow through (for as long as it takes) and actually get somewhere. I recommend it.

Meanwhile, the house. The house is not selling, and I still have not made up my mind about what to do. I think that any reduction in price will be a short term measure. I do not think that the person who wants an open plan house will buy a traditional semi instead. I think that the sort of people who buy open plan will want something a little less traditional and will be prepared to pay for it. Or, of course, I'm wrong.

I am told by the BBC that this is the time for the consideration of ideas for programmes, so, in the near future, I should find out if any of my ideas make it through to a commission.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

When I consider . . .

Where, you might ask, is human nature shown at its most basic? Warfare? Disaster? Triumph? The Christmas Sales? No. After considerable research I have come to the conclusion that, if you are a cynical observer of the human condition, the place which will confirm all of your Swiftian disgust of the Yahoo is . . . the Supermarket Car Park.

I have never (NEVER) been in a supermarket car park which has been entirely full. It follows, therefore, that there has always been, in my experience, a parking space for a customer in a supermarket car park. So, why, oh why do customers have to part in inappropriate places?

Let me give you some examples.

The Disabled Parking spaces are always filled by those who do not have disabled cards which allow them to park. I am very much in favour of what was on the signs for disabled parking in a supermarket in France, "Share my space: share my disability." To my mind this gives a vision of a Gallic parking attendant with a sledgehammer lurking behind a car waiting for able bodied miscreants and then smashing them in the knees so that they would be entitled to park in their chosen place.

Double yellow lines. They have the same meaning in supermarket car parks as they do in real life. Do not park at any time. The lines are usually near the entrance. They are usually linked to a series of bollards to ensure that people do not park, thus allowing easy access and egress for all customers. But, if you want cigarettes or money from the hole-in-the-wall then you must, of course, park as near as possible, ignoring other spaces, no matter how near, and all road markings.

And the supermarket trolley. Why do people leave them next to their cars rather than in the little huts for that purpose? I've actually heard people say that, "There are blokes who are paid to put these away. Not my job!" Now, given the profits of the major supermarkets, I am disinclined to donate them anything (including my time), but to me it just seems to be bloodymindedness not to put away a trolley.

I could go on, but I donate the idea to any sociologist as the basis for a study in depth for a thesis. I wonder if there are major differences in the way that people use car parks in different countries? I understand that the Germans are the worst for queueing in Europe, i.e. the tendency to push in and ignore patient waiters and due order. Is that true? given the way that Turks and Greeks drive, I would have thought that they would have been worse. Any suggestions?

All this from calling into Tesco on my way home from the BBC in Llandaff after participating in "Something Else". A lively programme today with the usual eclectic range of items discussed from the length of fingers being an indication of essential character to the death of the lawn. Never let it be said that we ignore the essential questions of our time! I thoroughly enjoy these broadcasts, I wonder if the listening audience does as well.

Is it just me, or is it possible to 'enjoy' football on TV on an almost continuous basis? Why is there not the same coverage for classical music? (That is a rhetorical question.)

Tomorrow, I have to make some sort of decision about the house. Is it overpriced? Should I cut the price, or is the open plan nature of my home something that is exactly right for the right person and it is irrelevant to compare my home with a traditional three bedroom semi. If you want traditional then you won't want mine etc etc. I'll sleep on it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

When all else fails, turn to Music!

OK, OK, I am fully aware that this is not music that I normally listen to, but these staves are here as an illustration rather than anything else!

The terrible truth is starting to drift into my mind. The people who came to view my house yesterday have not been fighting to get their money into my bank account. It was only some lights left on (bizarrely because the estate agent tried to turn off some lights that I had left on deliberately) that told me that anyone had been viewing the house. I felt vaguely violated, as though a tidy burglar had been in my home and decided against taking anything!

That reminds of the time that I actually was burgled. We came back from a night out in Cardiff and discovered that the door was locked from the inside. When we went round to the back of the house to try and gain entry we found the door open. Inside there was careful chaos, with some drawers turned out and property scattered around the floor. My partner was much more upset that I was. Perhaps because the only thing taken was a coat - which wasn't mine. Understandable anger!

The one thing about that incident that still irritates me to this day is not that the burglars were never caught, in spite of the imprint of a trainer left clearly on the wall of the downstairs loo (near a tiny window, they must have used kids for entry, just like Bill Sykes!), not, as I say that the miscreants were not caught, no, the real irritation was that they didn't take my dad's camera.

My dad's camera was an expensive SLR which had been camera of the year a years previously. The thieves had taken in out of the drawer, had looked at it, and then not stolen it. How dare they! What the hell do I have to have for them to consider it worthy of theft? Thieves have no class!

Anyway. No sale by the look of it. Not that I am becoming manically depressed or anything. Oh no. Not me. Nor I.

As a way of lifting this non existent depression. I decided to go to a concert at Saint David's Hall in Cardiff.

Ravel - Bolero; Canteloube - Songs of the Auvergne; Poulenc - Concerto for Two Pianos and Saint-Saens - Symphony No 3 (Organ). The Orchestra was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the conductor Grant Llewellyn. The soprano in the Canteloube was Patricia Rozario and the two pianists were Frank Braley and Anne Queffelec.

The Bolero was played very much like a concerto for orchestra with the individual instrumentalists showing their abilities, one expert following another until the spell was broken by the messy playing of the trombonist. God knows the piece is vulgar enough without the conducting of Grant Llewellyn, but his capricious approach to the tempi added to the garish obviousness of the whole occasion. The separation of the players meant that there was little sense of ensemble in the playing which was harsh and abrupt, harmony was sacrificed to clarity.

I can only consider the Canteloube from the point of view of the orchestration. My seat, behind the orchestra, gave me a great view of the soprano's back, but the only sound I heard he make was the reflected echo from the front rows of the seats.

This section of songs from the Songs of the Auvergne meant that the concerto for orchestra theme continued. The pieces gave the orchestra another occasion to showcase their skills. I must admit that sitting where I was, liberated from the tyranny of the voice in a series of songs the orchestra effect was lively, engrossing and whimsical.

The Poulenc was an extraordinary piece of music. I kept expecting to see an French black and white film flickering away above the orchestra, becuase the music would have been an excellen accompanyment to the images. Can we be expected to take this confection of a concerto seriously? I think not. It was yet another showcase of musical ability, but I don't think that it amounted to any more than a series of scintillating musical fireworks, episodic and perhaps no more than that.

Sitting within feet of the organ, you cannot fail to become part of the music in a symphony like the third by Saint-Saens. The second entry of the organ in those cheap chords which penetrate you directly was magical. The full power of the orchestra agmented by the mighty organ was unleased on a wallowing audience and we duly were swept away by the power of the music. Grant Llewellyn's interpretation certainly had power and command but it lacked sophistication.

An evening full of interest, but one which left me feeling slightly cheated. I was looking for more personality in the music. Unlike Rodin's statue of Balzac, that mighty figure wrapped in his heroic cloak, I didn't feel that there was a structure underneath the bombastic show of Llewellyn's presentation: a fantastic outside, but a hollow interior.

Today (Saturday) ANOTHER viewing. Different people. Different hopes. I will continue this later after coffee with a colleague (past colleague, remember retirement) who is struggling with the effects of working in a secondary school under 'special measures'.

Now I don't want you to think that I am being morbid, but I've had a response from the visits of people to my home. I am too depressed to find out exactly what they thought of ("your beautiful home, don't get me wrong" [estate agent]) my home, but the fact is that they have not offered me vast sums of cash.

Now I am faced with a decision: panic or not to panic. the first course of action is to listen to the advice of an estate agent (sic.) and lower the price by some £10k; listen to friends and lower it by £5k; listen to my nearest and dearest and think that this is early days and have the courage to stick out for what I think my home is worth or, lastly, go to bed and weep. I have to say that the last alternative sounds good to me.

I have made a resolution to do something each day which will give me the basis for a more interesting post than worrying about mere money. Sob! And that is what I will do.

Tomorrow (Sunday): broadcast to the nation. Midday will see me (well hear me) with others taking part in the BBC Wales Radio programme, "Something Else" , surely this will give me a more interesting basis to write. Tomorrow will tell. Keep reading!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Viewing Approaches!

So, the kitchen is the most significant room in the potential selling experience. I think.

Talking of kitchens, well, of eating, the photo shows the very first restaurant that I went to when I first stayed in Castelldefels. It was opposite the excellent (and expensive) hotel that I stayed in for a couple of days. The meal that I had was the gastronomic offer, which was supposed to be for two people but they made an exception in my case and allowed me to eat it by myself. It consisted of many little courses, like a series of tapas until the main course. I had a bottle of wine and yes, it was expensive. Very expensive. But not as expensive as it would have cost if I had eaten it in UK.

Anyway, I bloody well hope that the kitchen is the most important part of selling a house after spending the better part of today clearing and cleaning my kitchen. Considering that the majority of my 'stuff' is in storage, I still appear to have a vast amount of surplus 'stuff' which still does not fit in the available drawers and cupboards. I think that it must be a version of the Parkinson Law which states that 'Stuff expands to fit all available spaces.' At least it does in my house. And that is how the Law works too.

My home is becoming more and more of a house. The wide open echoing spaces and the empty spaces on surfaces is unnerving to someone who publically espouses the idea of Minimalism, but lives in the comfort of clutter!

I do hope that one of the potential buyers actually makes an offer so that I can then worry at a different level and about more interesting things. The move will then become more real and I can then start talking about more exotic elements in my life than whether Fairy Power Spray is more effective than the generic alternative. I do have an answer for that, by the way.

The Poetentials (as I will call the possible purchasers) are from Bridgewater and they are visiting Cardiff to look at three potential homes - at least from my estate agent. One wonders if their whole day is an horrific sequence of going to house after house from estage agent after estate agent in an intense day which will leave them not knowing which universe they are in let alone the name of the city. I can remember the extended saga of finding this house myself, which ended with my demanding the house from a startled friend with all the money that I could afford. You really have to know the details to understand what I've just said. Another time!

If everything goes according to plan, then at east I will get a more interesting life and, hopefully, a more interesting style of writing!

We can all live in hope


You may think that the picture of paella, looking sumptuous and delicious is a fond memory from Catalonia. Wrong. It is, in fact, a fond memory from south London - Brixton, to be precise. Made by my good friend Clarrie (now moved to Reading) eaten outside in the miniscule yard garden space. Well able to hold its own with the Hispanic reality!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blogging Works!

Each day I remember images of the place that I am determined to go to. The photo is of sunset last December over the sea in Castelldefels in Catalonia. The sea was cold but the walk was bracing and the light fantastic. This is what I am selling my house to get - closer to the photo!

I'm not one to be persuaded by coincidence. Yesterday I was decrying the pressures of unnatural cleaning as the burden of trying to sell my home seemed to devolve on my ability to keep the place spic and span. Today? Well, read on.

Modern electrical equipment is only as useful as the person who uses it. Leaving aside the fact that I am of the generation that reads the instructions that come with each new gadget and, therefore, by modern definition I am not worthy to own any innovation of any complexity, leaving, as I say, that aside: I don't notice little lights. My telephone answering device informs me that a message has been left by an unobtrusive and non-invasive little red light. I don't notice it, so messages can be days old before I feel the urge to check to see if any life form has tried to contact me.

They had, of course. The 'they' in question, being the estate agents. There is a viewing! Praise be! I tell myself not to build too much into a mere looking at what is for sale, but it is impossible for me not to think about what the selling of the house will give me: freedom (of a sort) and a life in Catalonia. Please let the viewers fall in love at once. Think of me as Saturday approaches. By the time the weekend arrives I will 90% bleach and polish and, of course, I musn't forget the fresh flowers and the aroma of fresh coffee.

Talking of gadgets, though some may consider this particular one more of an essential piece of equipment rather than a luxury, brings me to my mobile phone.

I like mobile phones. I am old enough to remember GPO technicians turing up to install a phone (after a wait of months) with a small wooden suitcase with a black bakerlite (?) handset on top. This was a mobile phone - and a piece of serious equipment. A sign and symbol that we had truly entered the world of exciting scientific progress! And now . . . Well, suffice to say, I loved mobile phones and took every opportunity to get one (or more) as they became more available and cheaper. What I didn't do was keep it charged and keep it with me. I liked them as objects of desire, but not as practical items which were actually useful.

I have changed. Partially. I now keep it charged. And on me. Sometimes. Yesterday was not one of those days. It was charging so I missed the information that the estate agent was trying to get to me about the possibility of humans with money deciding to indulge in A View to a Sell. All I saw on my mobile when I eventually took it off charge, was an ominous 'missed call' message. When I eventually noted the call, I did not recognize the number. I managed to 'extract' the number (another first) I phoned it and got through to the estate agent. Again. I covered by confusion by asking if the Saturday viewing was the only one on the horizon. Amazingly the lady on the phone responded by saying that another couple had taken details and there might be ANOTHER viewing by ANOTHER couple. Praise be indeed!

Strangely, I feel quite disorientated by the suggestiong that all my plans might, actually, be getting to some point of actuality. I had, I suppose, assumed that I was going to be here until the spring and now there is an outside chance that I could be in Catalonia by Christmas. This is, of course, tempting fate and everything might well collapse like a house of cards. Still, there is nothing wrong with hope and optimism.

The days tick by and the cleaning intensifies. Keep reading for the next clean episode!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New Day Unique Experience!

So, this is it! My first words as a blogger. Let it flow!

As someone once said, "You should try everything once, except for incest and Morris Dancing." Sage advice. And today was one of those times when I was able to add another new and wonderful moment to my life
(Photo not of me, but a statue in Terrassa park)


Let me explain.

I am waiting to sell my house. Waiting and waiting. Quite apart from the frustration of not getting my paws onto the money that my house has to make to allow me to live some sort of reasonable life in Castelldefels (just outside Barcelona Airport) there is also the horror of having to keep the house presentable for the possible future buyers.

The future buyers are not showing up, but the house has to be kept up to standard (the standard which is far above the usual levels which ordinary life asks for) I have been hoovering, cleaning, polishing and tidying - for no one! It's like some sort of strange religious observance, tidying the shrine of domesticity for the gods who never turn up. But, you can't relax because if you do, that will be the time when the real potential buyer will arrive and notice the specs of dust, the misaligned newspapers and the sale will be off.

So, what I have done which is above and beyond the normal round of house care?

I have ironed the carpet.

Now, before you stop reading, assuming that you are perusing the outpourings of a demented, sad and other worldly being, I should explain.

Before the decision to move to Catalonia was decided upon, my house was a true shrine. Not to false gods, but to my overriding interest: reading. Every available space was filled with bookcases and overflowing volumes. Although (with my possessions in storage) I now live in a conventional three bedroom semi, I used to live in a one bedroom semi with a study and library. As you may have guessed, the semis in both cases are the same, it's just the books and the bookcases that have gone.

Gone, maybe - but the evidence of their previous existence is still to be seen. The outlines of all the bookcases are clear in the grooves in the carpet, which is now clear to see because of the lack of furniture in my house. Clear for the future purchasers as well. So, what to do?

Advice was forthcoming: using a steam iron and a cloth, iron the creases in the carpet, hoover and hey presto! the evidence of bookcases will be gone. Well, not quite, but its getting there. I think.

The one thing which haunts me is that this could be just the start. As my eagle eye roves around my house, trying to see familiar places with a stranger's eye, what else might I decided to 'improve'. Wasn't there a film with Tom Hanks (how in the name of God did he get two {count them, two!} Oscars for acting?) called "The Money Pit" about the renovating of a house? I am not trying to renovate, but even in 'presenting' a house and 'dressing' it for others there is no logical limit to what you can do. The threat is obvious. Someone needs to buy the house soon to save me from myself.

I might add that the Ewbank (name names, confound the guilty) carpet shampooer is one of the most ineptly designed household helps that I have used in many years. Damn it to the pits of hell. And the bottles of shampoo had slightly opened and leaked. And the handle of the machine kept unloosening. And it leaked. And . . . Need I go on.

I really think that my ideas for BBC Radio 4 ideas need to be taken up by the Corporation so that working on them will keep me from obsessing about housework. Please. What will the next days throw in my way? Something more intellectual please!

This is what the outside looks like. The garden is easier to tend than the carpets!