Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The sweet taste of taste!

You learn through pain.

When we first arrived in Castelldefels there was a brief period of true while the mosquitoes lulled me into a false sense of security, encouraging me to sleep with the windows and doors open to allow the cool fresh breeze to lull me to sleep. Truce over the malignant insects attacked with military precision and without mercy (until they discovered that Toni was meat more tender and delectable.) The unsightly and deliriously itchy welts had to be treated and so I searched for a pharmacy. During my peregrinations I passed a Hotel which looked to have an interesting menu Del dia.

Today I tried the food and the pain of the bites was forgotten (if unforgiven) by the excellence of the very reasonably priced meal. I know I had promised to stop gloating about the cost and the quality of food available in Castelldefels, but I thought that the Hotel Neptuno deserved a mention – and a fish and vegetable tempura is not something you see on the average Catalan menu. Yum!

I have at last made the connection between the number of young men hobbling around on crutches or supporting fractured limbs: the bloody motorcyclists! Considering they are on two wheels and rely on centrifugal force or whatever for their stability (a stability which just a touch by a car can destroy with catastrophic results) they dart about the road with the impunity of Challenger tank drivers. At one point today I seriously thought that one motorcyclist was going to attempt a sort of wall-of-death overtaking manoeuvre on the concrete dividing wall in the central reservation, but he contented himself with a double inside lane overtake with a little jink to avoid certain death by the thundering oncoming traffic. And they only wear shorts and t-shirts so when they have an accident their final appearance when momentum has finally slowed them down must leave them looking like medieval saints who have just been flayed by an opposing sect venting their justified anger on an apostate.

The statistics for injury and death for Spanish cyclists must be horrific – but Spain must also be a Mecca for plastic surgeons who want to practise their skin replacement techniques before setting up in private practice. [Have I got those who words the right way around?]

I continue to be astonished by the inconsiderate driving I encounter every day. Let me put my keys on the table and state I do not enjoy driving and I do not rate my driving skills as being anything other than adequate, but I do recognise that there are other road users in the cars around me.

This seems to be anathema in the Spanish driving theology which places the driver in his car at the centre of the universe, and around him all other drivers revolve. This would, of course, be entirely unobjectionable if it was in any way true, but, as the increasingly strident road safety advertisements on television would seem to indicate. Putting on an indicator does not create an impenetrable barrier around you; glancing at an oncoming car doesn’t stop its progress; blocking a narrow road actually does impede other road users; overtaking on the inside is demonstrably dangerous and ignoring things does not make them go away.

Ceri, Dianne and Gwen have set themselves a punishing schedule for their visit to Barcelona and Catalonia. Gwen is an unrelenting shopper and takes a wholly professional approach to this essential function of humankind. Our local shopping centre came up trumps for her when a jacket seen in the Barcelona Zara but not in the right size was hanging vulnerably on a hanger ripe for plucking in Anec Blau. One up for Castelldefels!

Tomorrow Sitges and shops anew!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Holidays don't have to be fun you know!

Holidays are not for the weak.

Dianne, Gwen and Ceri found that out today. Having got up at three in the morning to catch the early flight to Barcelona from Bristol they were ill prepared for the ‘eventful’ and lengthy drive, relying on the somewhat generalised information provided by my direction finder extending their day into the realms of the hallucinogenic.

We managed to find the approximate position of their flat; but finding the exact location and being able to drive there (accommodating the various ‘no right’ and ‘no left’ turns) was something else.

A casual turn down an available road resulted in a long diversion, any left turn being inhibited by a sacrosanct tram way over which one could not pass: we were half way to a Gaudi masterpiece before an extensive roundabout gave us an opportunity to return to an approximation of our previous position.

Driving in strange cities is such fun! The way back to Castelldefels was equal enjoyment. And yes, I am being ironic.

It’s strange welcoming close friends of years’ standing to a foreign country which is now your home. There is the ease of long familiarity based on shared experience and knowledge but there should also be a comfortable sense of future continuity: the assurance that this conversation is part of a quotidian series – but it isn’t. It is an essential part of a limited series of face-to-face encounters that will have to suffice to give flesh to the more impersonal distance of a telephone call that will be the future of the immediate contact. Knowing that someone is only ten minutes away allows distance and infrequency; being a thousand miles away is a gulf which underlines all electronic contact.

I love having them in Barcelona, but nearness also emphasises distance. Emotional paradoxes are only interesting when they don’t touch you personally; when they do they are more frustrating than stimulating.

However, there is much to enjoy before they depart next weekend.

I only hope the weather is good enough to carry their resentment of my continued ‘holiday in the sun’ back to a damp Wales.

They are my ambassadors of despair – in the nicest possible way of course!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Poor old me!

“I’ve been defrauded!”

How Count Prus’ words ring in my ears after having a meal in La Gran Cantonada. Admittedly the Count was taking about Elena Macropolus not giving him a sort of sensual pleasure that was outside the remit of the chef in the Castelldefels’ restaurant – but still, the price of almost 30€ for the meal that I had was not quite what I have come to expect from this town.

2.40€ for unsolicited bread; 19€ for a perfectly acceptable but unremarkable rape a la plancha; an an astonishing 10€ for what ‘Champers’ in Cardiff called ‘sea food salad.’ Yes, there was a little more ‘sea food’ than you’d expect to get in Champers, but some of that ‘sea food’ was in the form of crab sticks – the euphemistic name given to the chunks of luridly coloured and totally manufactured fish surrogate that masquerades as natural produce of the ocean!

Talking of misery; the ‘putting away’ of my books draws ever nearer. Today to El Prat and Bluespace which is a very impressive depository with locked spaces and closed circuit camera and code numbers and high prices.

I have hired a ‘box’ and on Monday I will have a phone call to let me know the cost of getting some muscle to cart all the stuff off. I have decided, as a point of self defensive principal that I am not going to do the donkey work. Simply moving the stuff a few feet when trying to find the computer resulted in almost complete prostration, and I do not intend to traipse up and down flights of stairs for the sake of a few (or even many) euros.

There is still time for me to make a few last minute changes to the selection of books which I have to hand; but the sheer physical effort of entering the small bedroom and trying to manipulate the Rubik’s Cube environment that comprises boxes of books in a small cramped space is more than I can contemplate with equanimity. But I might try: finding my books of short stories would make it all worth while.

I think. I’ll sleep on it!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Films don't always help.

What sort of dentist actually starts a conversation about The Marathon Man while you, the patient, are in the dentist’s chair?

I suppose it argues a great deal about the dentist’s confidence in his own ‘chair-side’ manner that he assumes that the patient will not leap for freedom screaming for help as he remembers the terrifying deliberation of Lord Olivier as he sets about his grisly work with the drill!

But this guy had rowed at Henley – there was a picture on the surgery wall. Surely no one as pukka as a Henley chap could possibly do anything as nasty as a Nazi with a predilection for diamonds. To be frank, you wouldn’t have thought, given the prices that dentists charge that they would have any difficulty at all in getting as many bloody diamonds as they pleased when they pleased.

This was a private dental clinic. I was seen on time; every stage of the procedure was explained to me and, as far as I can tell he did a good job. His English (he was Dutch) was good enough to encourage you to be expansive, and then to realise that it wasn’t quite as fluent as that. It is astonishing how colloquial normal English speech is, especially when you are sensitised to its nuances considering the partner in your conversation is talking with pointed instruments in his hand!

His most interesting comment came after my non committal response to his question about the level of pain he was inflicting. “Well,” he said, “seeing the dentist is not often a pleasurable experience.” Short of his doing my teeth and then handing me a winning lottery ticket, I don’t really see how it can ever, ever, ever be a pleasurable experience. However charming and explanatory a dentist might be.

Talking of films we have just watched “Regreso al infierno” which is the Spanish version of (I imagine) “Return to Hell” [I was wrong the English title is ‘Home of the Brave’ - director Irwin Winkler, USA, 2006 - which, after seeing the film I am not convinced is an intentionally ironic take on the American National Anthem] a meretricious story of four service people returning from a stint in the Iraq war.
This mundane story of harrowing personal experience after the life changing trauma of participation in a war adds nothing in terms of perception to what is already on film. It uses the contemporary frame work of a continuing war to cover the lack of development in the narrative which describes the reactions of the different characters. Its answers are simplistic and fundamentally unsatisfying, with loose ends being waved in front of our faces before being neatly tied into a big yellow ribbon bow (quite literally towards the end of the film.) The actual end of the film has a quotation from Machiavelli which, while appropriate for a description of war, is wildly out of the class of this slight film.
A thoroughly turgid experience and Samuel L. Jackson should be ashamed of himself for not rejecting this script on a first reading. A waste of an interesting actor.
Yesterday evening developed into a clear, bright night with a gibbous moon (not often you get the chance to use an adjective like that) casting a light so bright on the sea that it made it look like a poorly painted amateur oil painting. We are both getting quite lyrical about the changing appearance of the sea which, truly, presents a different arrangements of colour and texture each day.
Some days, especially in the afternoons, with the right combination of the angle of the sun and the corrugations of the waves the whole sea looks like a vast swathe of material from one of Miss Bassey's more glittering frocks. One day, early in the morning, there was an overcast sky and a slight sea mist which melded sand, sea and sky into one ethereal wall of colour-drained grey and ochre and out of which it would have been entirely appropriate for some tawdry pirate ship to venture onto the beach.
Most of the time it is picture book blue, which is fine with me!
Blue = sun.
That's all I ask.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Primal Terror!

Literature is littered with authors’ attempts to find the authentic voice of their childhoods.

I have discovered that finding that voice is a relatively simple process if your life follows the following path:

1 Retire
2 Move to a foreign country
3 Relax and enjoy the sun
4 Break a tooth

Suddenly the idea of a stranger (a foreign stranger) poking about in your mouth with pointed instruments of pain returns you instantly to quivering infancy. Even foreign doctors do not inspire such fear because they are not so, you might say, instantly intrusive – and most of the time you self medicate: you are the one to take the pills or drink the potions. But the dentist is there and at you in a trice. The only thing needed to make a dentist’s chair a perfect instrument of torture would be restraining straps for the wrists and feet!

But let not my mind dwell on such things (even though the appointment is but four hours away) and turn instead to the Problem of the Books.

The five new bookcases are looking very sleek and stylish: tall with white glass covered doors and six shelves inside. That makes thirty shelves of about 80 cm and there is an extra shelf on top of four of them. You can do the maths yourself but it means that I have fifty boxes of books which cannot be accommodated. Caroline has given me the number of a storage facility in Hospitalet which is on the same basis as the Big Yellow Storage facility in the UK, so I might be able to find something to act as a safe home for the rest of my essential books.

While trying to make decisions about what to keep and what to store I was reminded of the Tolstoy (?) story about ‘How Much Land does a Man Need?’ I read this in Standard Two in Gladstone Junior School in Cathays in Cardiff and I remember the story particularly because the book that I was given was new and I therefore was the first reader. I have never lost the delight in being the forcer of a book’s virginity – there is something altogether delightful in the feel and smell and sound of a new book; which is obvious to bibliophiles but those who regard books as dust attracting, ugly, dead blocks of irrelevance are oblivious to such rare pleasures.

Anyway, there was this precocious eight year old reading Tolstoy and the happy little narrative concerned a Russian pioneer who went to buy land and, for his money, he could have all the land that he was able to traverse in a day.

He started off and then as he walked around the land that was to be his he found things that were just too good to be ignored: a small lake, a little wood, a stream and suchlike, and he walked just a little further to include these juicy features in his new purchase. Alas! (this is a Tolstoy story so there has to be an ‘Alas!’) his greed meant that, as the sun began to go down he was still a long way from his starting point and, if he didn’t return to his starting point by sunset he would loose all the money that he had paid and get no land. So he started to hurry and ended up running desperately to return to claim what was his. He made it in time but, alas! (again) the effort had proved too much for him and he died as he arrived!

How much land does a man need? Enough for a grave!

As you can imagine the relevance of this story to life in 1950s suburban Cardiff was not lost on me and I eyed the local cemetery (next to the public library – surely a Tolstoyan juxtapositioning?) with wary circumspection on my way home.

One tends to take irony fairly literally at that age!

So, to paraphrase Tolstoy, how many books does a man need? Well, a bloody sight more than I can fit into the flat and not have the place looking like a library. The difficulties of choice have been exacerbated by the difficulties of accessibility. The boxes in the small bedroom fill the place so all the boxes had to be taken out (incidentally finding the computer, monitor and printer in the process) and as they are all sealed then guessing what they might contain.

Pickfords (bless!) had labelled the boxes with room/unit/shelf – so all I had to do was remember what I have placed where. This did not always work, especially as Pickfords got querulous towards the end of the packing and just labelled boxes with the simple, but effective designation of ‘books.’ This was not helpful; so I now have my books on obscure mystics but not some excellent anthologies of poetry.

Having deliberated and discarded I now have a thoroughly unsatisfactory selection of books where each volume seems to speak of a companion volume which is not there. This will not be resolved until Once (the Spanish daily lottery) does its stuff and makes the purchase of a suitable house (with sea views) a reality!

One lives in hope.

Friday, August 17, 2007

There's a machine for that!

The dishwasher has arrived and all is well with the world.

Apart, that is, for a momentary glitch when I thought that the dinner plates would not fit in without being smashed by the rotating washing arm. I was already making plans to use the next size down and write a scathing blog about the Catalan prejudice against ‘real size’ dinner plates when Toni pointed out that four small bandy legs on the upper basket were actually ways of raising the said basket and allowing ‘real size’ dinner plates to be safely placed in the machine.

I excuse my lack of analysis of the interior of this machine because it is different to the one that I have used in Cardiff. The Welsh one was a half size affair (Why, by the way, are dishwashers of half the size significantly more expensive than their larger brothers?) and there were no adjustment facilities. You have no idea of the hardships I endured in my domestic life! And now I find that I am back with the nice looking but infuriatingly inefficient electric rings.

When I had my kitchen designed I too was seduced by the hygienic, sleek, modern lines of electric rings: they looked so good in the pictures and in the show kitchens. You don’t actually get to cook in show kitchens and so you remain blissfully unaware of the fiendish spiv-like attraction that should be avoided at all costs when confronting electric rings for the first time. Spurn them as if they were the very devil! They are actually more difficult to keep clean; they have a life of their own and they retain heat for days afterwards. This latter attribute you usually discover when absentmindedly placing something on a ring which was last used the previous night, but which retains its destructive heat and destroys whatever it was the you stupidly placed there ignoring the discrete little light which is supposed to indicate that the thing which didn’t do what you wanted it to do when you were using it for cooking is now continuing its own sweet way and ignoring your preferences. There’s nothing like detecting personal experience in writing like this is there? And if you really must know, it was actually a dishcloth, which I know I should have put away, and it only scorched anyway. And, now that I remember, my flesh. Bloody things!

Anyway, let us take happiness where we can find it – and if you cant find it in a working dishwasher then I would suggest that you are still living at home and you should give your mother a break.

Yesterday we all went to the home of Cordinu and for a couple of euros we had the guided tour. The buildings which you enter firs were designed by a famous Modernist (in the Catalan sense; we’d think of it as Art Nouveau; the French as le stile modern – where is the sense in that?) architect. The most memorable characteristics of the buildings were the use of the Gaudi arches (so named because I have forgotten the correct geometrical designation for them) and the use of broken bottles in the modified crenulations of another building.

Cordinu has the largest system of cellars in the world. I expect that last statement is on a par with the phrase that came crackling over the loudspeaker system telling me that I was about to land in ‘the largest airport in the world’ which I heard applied by four separate pilots to four separate airports in America when I visited the country, and by Heathrow on my return to the UK! It all depends on what you mean by largest. Anyway, we had a little train ride in this one and we able to glimpse dark corridors filled with bottles in various stages of verticality: it’s all to do with the sediment.

Deep underground we were taken to a sort of small dungeon with a centrepiece of a stylized tree with electric multi coloured polygon lights. It looked like a piece of tasteless vulgarity, but we were told hat it represented the family of the Cava makers. On one wall was the end of an enormous barrel and this was the sacred spot on which the first Cava was fermented. There is a metallic bass relief which still bears the four bullet holes of one side or other in the Civil War.

The trip terminated, of course, in the shop where you were encouraged to spend more money – though I have to say it was far from a hard sell. The real end of the visit was a sip of the stuff which makes the name Cordinu famous. The variety of Cava which we were served was Non Plus Ultra, a stylish brut which encouraged me to buy a case – well, a box of six. I have told myself that I will keep these bottles for visitors, but I can feel myself weakening and it’s only just over 24 hours since I bought them! Ceri and Dianne might get a sip, but Paul and Paul Squared and Clarrie and Mary (autumn guests might have to be satisfied with something less elaborate!)

The weather yesterday was a perfect example of how unlike the home weather of our own dear Queen Catalan weather really is. The day started dark, cloudy and threatening. It descended into rain and, as we serpentined our way up picturesque bending mountain roads, I even had to use the fast setting of the windscreen wipers. Rain was here to stay. Lunch was thoroughly unsatisfactory as the restaurant we chose had a roof of vines. This was very attractive and would have provided green shade if the sun was doing its thing; but as rain was doing its thing you realise that, however attractive a vine roof is, it isn’t waterproof – as soggy remains of previous diners indicated. Our visit to the Cavas was a disaster.

Except, of course, this is Catalonia and not Cardiff. By the time we got to the Cava we were going to visit, the rain had stopped. By the time we started on our guided tour and walked out in the very English looking gardens, the sun was shining. I am still waiting for a true ‘British’ (that is, from the time you get up to the time you go to bed) day of rain.


Almost time to pop a tablet in the door and get the dishwasher to do what it does best.

Life is hard for we house proud perfectionists.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The sands in time

The topography of the beach has changed.

I used to think that beaches just ‘were.’ They were there as a result of natural processes: the grinding down of stones and shells; the daily wash by the tides; the leavening scouring of the wind – all nature at its best, presenting the beach to us new every day.

This jejune appreciation was based solely on extended childhood experience of the beach at Barry Island where the effect of the Bristol Channel meant that the whole of the sand was washed by the immensely impressive tide twice a day. My arrival on the beach was the signal for immediate digging to commence as I erected ever more impressive (though ultimately futile) ramparts to hold back the advancing sea.

It was when I forgot my door key to my apartment in Gran Canaria and found myself condemned to a night without the comfort of four walls that my childish assumptions were finally shattered. For reasons which in retrospect seem little short of suicidal, I decided to walk through the dunes and sleep on the hamacas on the beach.

I should, at this point, mention that I might have had one or two glasses of something a little more potent than orange juice earlier in the evening, which may in some part explain why I decided to go waltzing (not literally, though, thinking about it . . . ) off into the darkness.

The darkness was not complete: the clear skies gave a vivid view of the stars, and that very clarity should have prepared me for the sheer bone chilling coldness of lying by the sea in the early hours of the morning. My shivering rest was soon interrupted by a dystopian nightmare. Massive machines with blazing headlights came lumbering out of the darkness towards my craven figure. Hordes of dark shapes disgorged from the vehicles and started ‘doing things’ with noise and efficiency. I soon realised that they were tidying the beach; though I also realised that my concept of tidying and the local authority of Maspalomas’ idea of tidying were vastly different. These were not nocturnal spike wielders picking up the odd crisp packet, but tenders of machines that sieved through tons of sand every minute. These people were not tidying the beach so much as re-forming it. These people were using bulldozers to move the sand so that it looked natural in the morning!

Another illusion shattered.

The Mediterranean does not have the tides that I am used to, but at least you can always be sure that the beach will be waiting for you – if you timed it wrongly in Barry all you were left with was a fringe of sand next to the retaining wall and people retreating to those suspect restaurants for a cup of odd tasting tea.

From the balcony in Castelldefels you can see the wooden shack that serves snacks and drinks and the line of awnings next to the sea with the neat stacks of hamacas waiting to be set out in the morning. There are two wooden walkways and one of those intriguing geometrical rope pyramids for kids to climb. But for the last few days another aspect of the life of the beach has drawn attention. There is a storm drain opening out onto the beach and, since we arrived, this has been unobtrusive and the sand in front of the opening flat and featureless. A recent storm has changed all of that. We now have a deep river valley making its way to the sea.

On the first day of its formation a small white van stopped by the edge of the gorge and four men got out and spent some time chatting along the edge. They then, in the best traditions of council workers, drove off and nothing has been done. The machines that appear at night and sift the sand and collect the rubbish have had to make a detour but no intervention on the scale of Gran Canaria has taken place. Much, I might add, to my chagrin as I would have had a comfortable view with a glass of wine to watch as the landscape shapers did their work. All of this I am denied, but I live in hope that the authorities will act and I will see human nature at work if not the real thing.

Nature, as someone once said, is what you make it.
And in a tourist resort it needs a lot of making!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lengthy completion - so to speak.

Although it is not the middle of January, I am contemplating broken resolutions.

I realise that middle of January is a little optimistic for me, but we literary folk can take a few justifiable spins with the truth. I determined, before I went on holiday to Mallorca that I would use Meic Stephens’ ‘A Most Peculiar People’ a book of quotations by and about the Welsh and Wales as the inspiration for a series of short stories. I would open the book at random, point the finger and use the quotation indicated as the starting point for my literary creations. I would be in Mallorca for eight days; therefore I could produce at least six stories.

It has been two weeks since our thirty minute flight home (how strange it is still to say things like that) and I have finally finished the sixth story on the beach today. Frailty, thy name is writing resolutions!

One of the many problems about being a teacher (or indeed having been a teacher) is that tenses make very little difference to your professional status: once a teacher; always a teacher. Some things might fade and change, but there is always the possibility of an instant reversion to type when considering a piece of work. You can see this most clearly when a doting parent (who is also a friend) presses an example of their offspring’s artistic, literary or scientific achievement upon someone who is not a blood relative and waits for confirmation that their scion is indeed “very advanced.” I have learned that “very advanced” is in the same category of meaningless utterances such as “we are striving to make everyone above average” – something I have always blamed That Woman for saying; even if she didn’t, it expresses an aspect of her cracked dogma and she probably thought it anyway.)

With some of my colleagues who have been placed in this invidious position I have watched with wry amusement as their normal professional mode assesses the work placed in front of them and produces a result which is accurate but not acceptable to any self respecting parent of an exceptional child, so a form of words is used which is nicely ambiguous enough to satisfy both parties.

So when it comes to your own productions of creative writing, when you are an English teacher, it is very difficult to step outside of ‘coursework mode’ and not assess the work as a possible inclusion in a GCSE folder. With that in mind, I find it difficult to place my efforts at anything beyond, “Clear A*; some excellent expression; a few wayward spellings, but should not detract from some fairly professional writing; will make an excellent AS student.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but I suppose that I am looking for something more than that. And I suppose that something more can come if I regard my efforts as a first draft and I take some time to revise and redraft and . . . but then, you see, I’m living on the beach by the sea and the sun is shining and . . . It’s not difficult to fill in the gaps!

I have been wondering about fireworks.

This is the time of the Festa Major of Castelldefels and the one thing that you can guarantee about any festival in Spain is that there will be fireworks. My camera has a special setting for taking pictures of fireworks and, although I have seen many firework displays I have taken only a few photographs. This is not because I have forgotten the camera as the more cynical among you might have thought, but rather because, when a firework display starts that you can pick me out because I am one of the few adults staring at the sky in open mouthed childish amazement like, in fact, a kid.

In the way that I do, I have tried to work out just why fireworks are so appealing. You will note that I have taken my fascination to be the normal response. Any one who is not fascinated is abnormal and therefore outside the scope of this analysis.

So the umpteen reasons for liking fireworks are:

1. They are attractive and, as we know, black is the perfect colour for showing off the bright and the glittering. The aesthetic is never accepted as a compelling reason for anything; take for example my collecting British First Day Covers (There’s an admission for you!) I was once asked by a philatelist why I collected them and my response of; “I think they are very attractive!” didn’t seem to impress him much.
2. They are an exhilarating total waste of public money; unjustifiable and criminal with so many other worthy things needing limited cash.
3. They are unique: no two fireworks can possibly be exactly the same.
4. They are brief. I don’t just mean the individual fireworks but the show as well. An hour’s worth of decent fireworks is the equivalent of the GNP of a medium sized African country.
5. They create a sense of wonder in a world that is rapidly losing the ability to be awed by anything apart from the salaries of kickball players – equivalent to the GNP of the African Continent.
6. They make you look up and out: which is a good perspective.
7. They remind the spectators of the brevity of human existence.
8. They are the ultimate existential experience: they explode in a showy display and fade to nothingness. They exist for the moment and nothing more.
9. They are a visual confutation of the Expanding Universe Theory.
10. They demonstrate, “the rest is silence.”

I could go on but you might think that I was over buttering the cake, or whatever the accurate culinary metaphor actually is.

Talking of the kitchen I thoroughly recommend a dish I had as part of a menu Del dia recently. It was basically spinach but served with pine nuts, chopped onion, sultanas, a touch of chilli and chickpeas – delicious; it can be served as a vegetable or as a dish by itself.

Never let it be said that I don’t eat and learn.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Reality is being surrounded by what you own

You are allowed a few days off to recover when your stuff arrives from the UK.

Moving house is supposed to be one of the truly traumatic occasions in an ordinary life; when your life is defined by the physical presence of books around you, then the word ‘traumatic’ hardly comes close to describing the cataclysmic emotional maelstrom that is occasioned by moving your personal library.

Although Toni doesn’t believe a volume of it, the number of books which were carted off to Oxfam in St Mary Street before the move was enough to make a hardened bibliophile weep. Whole sections of my library were placed in plastic boxes which then disappeared into the maw of the repository of literary charity. My seriously depleted library (together with other odds and ends like a table and chairs; a dinner service; cutlery and clothing) was packed into a commodious van and the contents unloaded in Castelldefels.

By a strange process of ‘close proximity tome bonding’ the boxes containing my books seem to have increased so that now one room of the flat is entirely filled with the basic essential books that any self respecting occasional reader would want to have with him; including of course that necessary work for living in a thoroughly Roman Catholic country – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

I might add that the boxes of books also partially fill another bedroom, and the negative (that has to be one of the most understated words in context) approach to the seemingly never ending procession of sweating workmen bringing yet another box into the flat has meant that I have not had the courage to unpack any of them. The fact that they have all been packed according to room/unit/shelf means that they should be unpacked in order so that total chaos is avoided – but, I need a book, almost any book – and I do not think it politic to buy new in the present book box filled environment!

The aftermath of Pickfords has been a little trying: boxes everywhere (usually filled with clothes that neither of us can get into now) and generally too little space for too many things. What I have thrown out is heartbreaking not only in terms of the emotional value and dear memories associated with each individual item, but also because I have paid vast amounts to store and transport things only to have them grace the green refuse boxes at the end of the road in Castelldefels. I suppose this has been one of those ‘life lessons’ that I keep reading about. They are the sort of things which drive the narrative forward in well paced novels, but one doesn’t really want them happening in one’s own life.

To add to the precious irony of it all, the weather has not been at its best either – we’ve even had a day of rain. What next? Snow?

On a more positive note, the cheque from UK which I paid into my Spanish bank has cleared in just less than a month! When you think of all those ancient bank couriers creeping steadfastly somewhere or other, clutching the cleft stick with my cheque firmly wedged therein, just behind the man carrying the red flag - one can only wonder at the dispatch of it all! And you thought that most of the banking transactions carried on today were electronic! How foolish! That’s why it costs so much; and you thought they were merely thieves. Shame on you!

We have now paid our second month’s rent and our first electricity payment – all the little (!) expenses that convince you that living in Castelldefels is a reality.

Tomorrow a dishwasher – too much reality is obviously a bad thing!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Poison pen again

Mea Culpa!

Been back in Castelldefels for days and not a finger to the keys! Well, I’ve had a cough; nuff said!

The flight back from Mallorca was not as smooth as it might have been with the inevitable delay which always seems more intolerable when it’s late at night. As the plane was not full a kindly stewardess took pity on my cramped state and ushered me to the limb friendly expanses of the seats by the emergency exits. It was only a pity that the flight was so short – though as a person who likes arriving rather than the process of getting there, no flight can be too short!

We tried to do some preparation for the arrival of Pickfords, scheduled for the third of August by packing plates and cutlery and other odds and ends which would be replaced with far better from the wooden vastness of Pickfords’ stores. You have to have been brought up by my mother to realise fully the unbearable burden of having to eat and drink using substandard dishes, knives and forks and glasses. You may laugh but it is something about which I feel my mother’s shade looking on sorrowfully as I seem to deny all her patient teaching about the important things in life!

The Problem of the Books becomes ever more pressing and its final horror has only been delayed by the fact that Pickfords are not coming until a week after I was led to expect them. IKEA has been searched and there appears to be a possible compromise buying a bookcase with nondescript doors so the books are not visible (don’t ask!) The problem is buying them; transporting them; constructing them and positioning them – before Friday. No pressure then.

We have had our first visitors from Wales: Nicky, Nigel and the girls: we sat on the balcony and enjoyed the view – I shall now assay my first invited guest meal next Tuesday.

We watched Babel after I had mustered my Spanish enough to join the local Video Club. This is a card operated shop where you make your choice on a touch sensitive screen and the selected disc is ejected from the innards of the machine and, when you have viewed the disc you feed the thing back into it.

My first choice of Babel (Director: Alejandro González Iñárrituwith a cast including Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Mohamed Akhzam) was not an inspiring one.

This self indulgent, overlong and self congratulatory story of the consequences of a random bullet and the interlocking stories that lead up to and away from the shot fail to convince or grip.

For me the film is summed up by the opening shot of a walking Moroccan; nice enough in its own way but too long and essentially empty.

I started to think about the meaning behind the title but soon discovered that I was being more intellectually rigorous and analytical than the film had any right to expect.

I understand that the film was shot on four different continents (Oooh! Babel, yeah, I see!) and that some of the actors did not meet until the premiere. It shows.

If you want a film of consequences then watch Cage in Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War (2005) for a much more stylish and accomplished piece of work.

I was glad to put Babel back into its sleek plastic case and send it back into the machine.

Tomorrow Carles’ birthday and yet another party in Terrassa – the family party capital of the world!

And I haven’t got him a present!