Monday, March 31, 2008

What do you fear most?

Terminal 5 has touched a deep fear in all true Brits.

We fear that Terminal 5 is an accurate symbol of everything that we have become. Grand Projects in our etiolated hands end in chaos: Wembley Stadium, The Millennium Dome, The Millennium Bridge, The Millennium Stadium, and The Scottish Parliament Building. Over budget, over time, not fit for purpose – you name it and we muck it up.

My first reaction (no, that’s wrong, my second reaction) after the Olympic Games were ‘awarded’ to London was, “Oh God what an embarrassment the opening ceremony is going to be in the unfinished stadium!” My first reaction was of course, “Ha, that’s one in the eye for the French!” Though not necessarily in those exact words.

But we do seem incapable of staging a big event without disaster running in parallel. In Terminal (how appropriate is that word!) 5 the chaos has been extended over days and now I understand that there are 25,000 cases lurking in the bright new corners of this immense warehouse of a building.

I was talking with a senior colleague in the school playground this morning (in short sleeved shirt and bright sunshine, I might add for my British readers!) and she was bewailing the degenerated state of British society. A British society which she has left. A British society of which she is no longer an integral part.

I am sure that British people living abroad have a complex relationship with their home country: part sentimental; part dismissive; part nostalgic, part resentful; part condescending; part rueful. I should stop there, I am aware that I am generalising from a very small example base.

When Toni wants to irritate me, he calls me an ex-pat. When I want to irritate him I explain, patiently, that I can never be an ex-pat or foreigner because, where ever I am I am British and therefore everyone who is not British is, ipso facto foreign, not I!

While I do not miss being in Britain every time the sun comes out in Catalonia and warms my bones, I do care passionately about what happens there in my absence. I also need to hear English spoken and life without Radio 4 would be immeasurably poorer for me. I realise that this sounds contradictory, but it is a simple fact that you cannot live for half a century in a country without it imprinting itself on you deepest consciousness. I can be, I am, happy in Catalonia but Britain will never, can never, leave me.

This is my usual long winded way of saying that I am always conscious about and very sensitive about criticism of my country from people who have left it.

I use the example of a school.

You can work in a school for years and within a term of your leaving the personalities working there will have changed. Within a year the normal turnover of staff will mean that, should you return the number of strange faces will be bewildering? In any case, given the size of the school I left, hundreds of pupils enter and leave each year. In the school that I am in at the moment years 3, 4, 5, and 6 comprise about 100 pupils! The Primary School staff comprises 9 souls with some ancillary help. A single member of staff leaving therefore means more than 10% change. A few months can change an institution like a school out of all recognition.

As with a school so with a country. One can listen to Radio 4 all through the day but that only gives you a highly selective view of the concerns of ABC 1s in their fifties (I understand that is the demographic of the Radio 4 audience!) it is not the same as living there. All the seemingly insignificant trivia of actually living in the country is passing me by: I have only the big picture rather than the actuality of life there now.

Meanwhile the weather forecast is for sunshine for the next four days.

How shallow I can be!

I love it!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tme for change?

Tomorrow we look at another flat.

We are fed up with the attitude of The Owner Squared. The Prime Owner is the Dominatrix of our school, but the owner of our flat runs her a close second in the dislikability stakes.

We miss a garden and our own parking space - one which does not require a practical knowledge of n-dimensional Boolean algebra to negotiate. I also want space for the rest of my books.

The places that we can afford which we are likely to get offered with extra space are back from the beach. This is a real dilemma. We enjoy looking at the sea and being so close to the beach, we also have a 20 m swimming pool. It’s unheated, but it’s there! We may find it difficult to give up some of the facilities we have with the flat in exchange for a house with a garden.

Everything will be further away and the beach will be a car ride away, rather than a short stroll.

It may well end up with our seeing how well off we are where we are and remaining put.

It will at least be interesting to see what else is on offer and it may stimulate us to look further a-field for something different.

I have now finished re-reading ‘Against Nature’ by Huysmans. I certainly did not enjoy it as much as I remember the first time. Yes, there are descriptions which are just as astonishing now as they were the first time that I read them: drink and perfume – what wonderful conceptions Des Esseintes had to enjoy them. They still read well. As a picture of self indulgence it is surely unsurpassed. Except of course that is not the right word for him.

It is emphasised in the Prologue that Des Esseintes comes of ‘an impoverished stock’ and his almost inevitable decline into exclusive personal sensuality is a function of his family and his families’ money.

It is not just the concepts that he is able to make reality for himself that fascinate the reader; it is also the detail in which Huysmans is able to imagine them for his reader. As with some of the work of Borges, I don’t question the reality of the more obscure authors that Des Esseintes dismisses: his reality becomes my reality and I accept a sort of truth which informs the whole of this extraordinary work.

To call it a novel seems to be out of place, yet it is surely a work of fiction created by Huysmans the junior clerk in the Ministry of the Interior, not an autobiography of Huysmans the moneyed aesthete.

Perhaps the work is now of interest chiefly for its seminal portrayal of man alone against the universe and for the occasional bon mot. Take, for example a passage which describes his reaction to reading Sidonius Apollinaris (who?) “ . . . he had to admit a weakness for the conceits and innuendoes in these poem, turned out by an ingenious mechanic who takes good care of his machine, keeps its component parts well oiled, and if need be can invent new parts which are both intricate and useless.”

“Intricate and useless” would seem to describe the life that Des Esseintes had and is living. But such a phrase also gives a clue to the reason that ‘Against Nature’ also has a commendation by Lord HenryWotton in
'The Portrait of Dorian Gray’!

However repulsive Des Esseintes appears in the work, it would be hard not to sympathise with his howl of anguish at the end of ‘Against Nature’ when he cries, “Like a tide-race, the waves of human mediocrity are rising to the heavens and will engulf this refugee, for I am opening the flood-gates myself, against my will.” Any casual reading of any edition of ¡Hola! magazine might encourage one to subscribe fully to Des Esseintes depression!

But this is Sunday. Holiday under the meaning of the act.

Loosen up!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

In the name of Science!

The horror! The horror!

I slept in till after twelve in the afternoon.

I put this down to the stress of the four days of this first week (Dear God! we have the whole of the uninterrupted summer term ahead of us!) and, in some sort of way that I haven’t fully worked out, to Toni’s fault as well!

Having got that accusation off my chest and thereby proved that the extended slumber was not my own indolent fault we may proceed.

A watery sun barely warming the bricks of the balcony is not inviting. The desultory flapping of the awning in an irritating breeze and the pile of ironing waiting to be completed combine to make this more of a Sunday of Resentment rather than a Saturday of contentment.

What we need is Toni’s family to threaten to turn up: we are then galvanized with a manic energy and all the chores that should have been done during the week are completed in a frenzy of domestic cleanliness!

Today will mark our first visit to a Garden Centre. The visit is provoked, not by a lust to recreate the little piece of camp Paradise that was the garden in Wales, but rather to purchase a few green plants for the science lessons next week.

Buying something for school without the requisite correctly coloured and filled in order form is on the same level of difficulty as charming quarks or whatever it is atomic physicists do for kicks, but I seem to have short circuited the system and been given permission to ‘go and buy.’

I am not so naïve that I haven’t worked out that being told that I can buy and being pay for what I have bought are two different things. It is almost worth the cost of three or four cheap green plants to observe the convolutions that the school system will have to go through to refund my money.

There are so many possible ways for them to say no:
Not from one of our approved suppliers
Things should not be bought on a Saturday
The receipt is not correctly set out
Approval was not asked for in the right tone of voice
The receipt is not detailed enough
The receipt is on the wrong coloured paper
The receipt was given to the cashier on the wrong day
Only plants of a certain sort can be bought
The plants did not have a certificate from the Spanish Horticultural Society
Do the plants have a safety clearance for schools?

Perhaps I should work in the finance department in the school I obviously have a flair for the production of reasons for refusal. I would be perfect!

The plants have now been bought. A rather startled looking assistant in the Garden Centre listened with the rather pained expression that I have come to expect when I speak extended Spanish. I must admit that I was quite impressed that, with my limited vocabulary, I was able to explain that I needed six cheap leafy plants for a science experiment in my school to show the effect of sun and water on one plant as normal and the other with leaves cut off!

After one of my extended Spanish monologues I reach a point of intellectual exhaustion that Shakespeare himself could start reciting the Sonnets and I would barely look up!

I have now bought a web cam. I am not entirely sure why, but Toni bought one and it is a gadget so I went with the flow.

Needless to say, Toni’s purchase worked like a charm while mine took ages to load various drivers and other bits and pieces and then sulkily informed me that it would not work.

So I took it back.

Instead of immediately giving me my money back a little man appeared and proceeded to set up the camera with an in store computer. This took some time before he too reached the point at which the computer started to sulk. Instead of immediately giving up he started clicking with a vengeance.

Now, to be fair I had used the full repertoire of my computer knowledge to facilitate the installation of the web cam. I had sworn at the machine, roundly insulted the camera and eventually restarted the computer. I do not see what, in reason, I could have done more.

The assistant’s frantic clicking did, however, produce a picture from the camera. To my horrified disbelief, I could see that he was expecting me to go home and do the same with my computer. In fluent adrenaline stimulated Spanish I whimpered that I had no idea what he had done and therefore would not be expected to emulate his magical fingers on the keys.

His response came in machine gun Spanish and I had to hold up a hand to stem the flow. Admitting that I had not followed what he said, he asked, “English?” And I relaxed and prepared to be enlightened. In a response that would have done credit to the most obtuse Englishman abroad, he then repeated what he had said, in Spanish! Bless!

It took a little time for this new ‘language’ to register but, amazingly, we did eventually understand one another. And I returned with the camera and duly installed it.

Quite enough linguistic and electronic excitement for one day, I think!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Moderation? Never!

However much I despise Spanish television. And I despise it a lot. The interminable advertising breaks: truly a misnomer. Advertising is the main business of Spanish television – the programmes are the ‘breaks’. If you don’t believe me, try watching a film on Spanish television! At 1.00 am during yet another advert marathon, you loose all interest in the film and decide that bed is the more interesting alternative!

Although Spanish television clearly indicates the worth of the British television licence fee, it does have a few redeeming graces. Spanish television takes delight in employing lip reading experts to decipher the sotto voce exchanges between the good and the great so that they can be broadcast to the nation. Barça players often are to be seen putting their hands in front of their mouths when speaking to their fellow players during a televised game. They know that a juicy aside to a team mate could make the national news. They have become a little more circumspect, though their political leaders seem to forget very easily that they are constantly being watched.

Months ago the exchanges between Sr Juan Bourbon of Spain and the President of Venezuela not only made national news but became the lyrics of various pop songs.

It was therefore with something approaching fury that I came home from a rather good evening meal in a new restaurant, to find the television playing an extract which had the octogenarian parasitic German dwarf having scoffed yet another meal at the British taxpayers expense having the temerity to criticize the British Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, a man elected by a democratic vote; a man who got into the position to be elected to high office by virtue of his ability, unlike the stunted head of a dysfunctional family noted for its grasping insensitivity who attained her position by being born in the right bed and having an irresponsibly selfish uncle too stupid to realise that his only hope to be anything other than the fully justified high profile vacuum that he eventually inhabited was to accept his destiny and grab hold of the money tree that was the British throne with both hands.

His niece has never underestimated the gullibility of the British public in actively supporting an outmoded, anti democratic, totally indefensible institution like the monarchy. She has been surrounded by sycophantic adulation for most of her life and she has now actually come to believe that she deserves it.

Her longevity in post has given her the illusion that she is some sort of Elder Statesman, wise in the ways of the world. I truly think that she actually lives her delusion that she has been governing the UK for the last umpteen years. She hasn’t governed for a single solitary moment. She has no remit from the British people to do anything other than look ornamental, read the speeches that she is told to read and occasionally snip ribbons and look interested when local politicians on the make engage her in small talk.

Ah, that’s better!

There is nothing like venting spleen on our so-called ‘royal family’ to clear one’s air waves.

I finally did some ‘lesson planning’ in accordance with the definition of the school under the amused supervision of a senior colleague. Something was sent to senior colleagues and they said thank you. That apparently means something; enough anyway to keep everyone quiet and reasonably happy!

So it goes!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Not a single cough last night!

I feel as though someone has run over me with a steamroller and squeezed out every last ounce of vitality but at least I didn’t cough – can something approaching reasonable health be far behind? [Rhetorical.]

Our absent colleague surfaced yesterday at 4.30 pm after a day in bed; she would be well advised to stay off until Monday, by which time (please God!) she will be well enough to resume her duties! A class and a half of small demanding monsters is more than any sinful mortal should have to have to endure. I know not what sins I am atoning for but they must be heinous ones. (And just a little foot note to any readers, no, I do not want you to suggest any sins that might come to mind!)

The one bright gleam on the murky horizon is that tomorrow is Friday and that means a weekend. The truly sad thing is that this week as been a short one as the Monday was a bank holiday; god alone knows what depths of mournful sadness I would have reached with an extra day!

There is an uneasy sense of anticipation in school as we all fear impending events. What those events will be we know not, but we fear them nonetheless!

I am too tired to think, let alone write.

I look to the weekend for inspiration!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All that teaching!

A full day of teaching. No frees. Just small noisy kids for hour after hour.

And a colleague was absent, so we two remaining Year 3&4 teachers had to split her class and take an extra contingent into our own classes.

At one point I ran out of chairs and, as the day progresses I swore that the little buggers were actually reproducing themselves. They certainly seemed to expand in numbers as the hours ticked by.

The only thing which keeps my sanity is that we are teaching sixteenth century Spanish history and have centred out attention on The Spanish Armada. I am very much taking the ‘plucky little Protestant Britain takes on the overwhelming might of the arrogantly Roman Catholic repressive autocratic Empire ruled by the megalomaniac Philip II’ sort of unbiased approach to the teaching of this sensitive subject. As I have a class comprising Spanish, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, British, Turkish and Argentinean children with relatives which take in a variety of other nationalities, it ensures that it is impossible not to offend someone in however a professionally non partisan way you attempt to teach the subject!

Added to this is the incessant refrain of my name as twenty or more little voices vie for my undivided attention and then the almost unbearable tension as I listen to fractured English attempts to add some completely irrelevant contribution to whatever ‘discussion’ we happen to be having.

My wrong headed encouragement of my English class to use dictionaries more means that as I introduce some subject or other little hands will go up. And believe me primary school children have hands up staying power. You can ignore the waving appendages for what seems like hours and, undaunted they will maintain their dogged stance seemingly knowing that they will outlast your callous indifference to their arms’ suffering. And, of course they are right. You do always give in.

And when you give in and ask them for their contribution they inform you with glee that they have found the dictionary definition of a word that you used fifteen minutes earlier! In spite of your incredulous dismissal of this pointless interjection, it encourages everyone else to start looking for their own words and soon a rash of hands is waving about like a nightmare crop of human limbs. It is at this point that an overwhelming desire for a large scythe comes unbidden to the mind of the caring teacher.

On the lunacy front, The Owner has instituted a locked door policy. Ostensibly this is to ‘protect the children’ from outsiders gaining access to the main school. Its actual raison d’etre is to separate teaching staff from the administration.

At the end of school today, one of my kids was complaining that her sprained ankle was hurting her and she wanted to call her mother and go home rather than stay on and participate in our of the ‘clubs’ that members of staff are forced to run after the kids have finished school. The normal way for primary school kids to leave the premises from my room is along a corridor, down a double flight of stairs, across a playground, up a steep slope and out to the exit gate. Alternatively they can walk along the same corridor then walk through a doorway and out into the entrance foyer. For a child with an injured foot, the second way is obviously the better.

But not with a locked door. Phoning from the head teacher’s room on the other side of he locked door was futile as one phone in administration was constantly engaged and the other only led to the voice mail! The situation was eventually solved: not by the door being opened but by a member of staff carrying her the first way on her back! I felt a momentary pang of macho guilt at a foreign colleague usurping my duty of care, but my thoughts were still operating on the British level where the piggybacking of a child up and down stairs would be health and safety professional suicide!

While we were waiting on one side of the locked door we joined a tots’ teacher with her little brood. They were stranded on the wrong side too and were unable to get to the buses that were supposed to take them home!

Situation normal – again!

On a more positive note I have drunk all the cough mixture, towards the end of the bottle upending it and draining it with gusto. And I haven’t coughed as much! I trust that this bout of illness is at last fading away to mere inconvenience.

And the weekend is only two days away.

Roll on

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

And the sun shines!

A day of glorious sunshine, unsullied by obtrusive clouds and warmth draining winds. And of course, at the same time, the first day of the summer term.

God never seems to tire of setting up these little jokes. A period of indifferent weather for the holidays and then wonderful weather for the start of term! I suppose that this divine spitefulness could also be taken as a sure and certain manifestation of his care and regard for us: an omnipotent deity still taking time out of a punishing schedule to inflict his creations with dissatisfaction with their lots – but at least recognizing that they exist to be taken advantage of.

Talking of Jesuitical reasoning, our school seems plunged in an unending game of ‘Guess who you can trust.’ A wary sense of impending disaster characterizes the atmosphere in the school. We are all expecting some sort of unreasonable pronouncement about some aspect of school life from The Owner. Our best guess is that she is going to extend the length of the school term and probably make some other outrageous demand.

There is much at stake. Not only is there the question of the payment for the summer holiday but also the payment of the so-called ‘loyalty bonus’ of €1,500 paid in twelve monthly instalments and all monies are reclaimed if the teacher does not work for a full year. As I started work in January I seem doomed to repay some of the beggarly salary that The Owner gives to her subjects. I also stand not to be paid for the summer holidays as I will not have worked for the full academic year.

Today was also the first day of the new system of lunch time for the staff. Eating in the staff room has been unceremoniously stopped and colleagues now have to eat in the maelstrom which is the kids’ canteen! Needles to say I have forsaken the canteen forever. Bloody awful free food is woefully insufficient inducement to eat in a cacophony of juvenile excitement.

I went and sat in the car on the road outside the school rather than have anything whatsoever to do with the new ‘arrangements.’

Tomorrow is a free lunchtime! So I will betake me to the sports centre for a menu del dia and bugger the lot of them.

The continuing story of the planning is reaching a climax as I struggle to understand what the bloody hell I am doing. I can’t really pretend that things are becoming any clearer but I am gathering about me vast drifts of paper containing all sorts of pious educational platitudes and various incomprehensible strategies for (apparently) teaching the young.

I’m sure that it is only a matter of time before the gnomic hieroglyphics of education speak become intelligible to me and I am able to weave some form of acceptable burble that will satisfy the powers that be that I have cracked the planning code!

I hope.

And talking of hope our Inspections draw nearer.

I have to say that expecting a positive outcome from an inspection of our place is like asking a planning development officer to come and look at the caldera of Vesuvius and pass it as suitable for housing!

But if you walk around our school you will see teaching and learning proceeding as if the school was normal.

Just goes to show how appearances can be deceptive!

Roll on the next crisis!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Prison shades!

Last day of freedom!

The wind has dropped. The sun is shining. And the case with the papers for the attempt at planning is now at my feet, within easy reach. It may have taken a week, but the bag has now finally made it to my sphere of activity.

I had a tentative look at the Primary scheme for Maths yesterday on the internet and soon clacked my way to some other, safer part of the web!

I think that this coming term is going to be challenging in all sorts of ways. First and foremost the planning is going to be a hurdle at which I must o’er leap or else fall down, for in my way it lies. And don’t worry; I can’t be bothered to find other Macbeth quotations to cover all my worries about that place. There are two inspections immanent; reports will have to be written; we are indulging ourselves in SATs participation; there is the Moveable Feast which is the end of term; the school trip on which I am not going; payment for the summer holidays, and last but not least, supplies for my OHP. Oh, and at some point I have to do another assembly. And there is Culture Week.

When I first heard of this feature of the school year I had misgivings. Given the way the school operates, you should work on the assumption that any easy assumptions are probably wrong; including that one.

For me Culture Week suggests an orgy of literature, music, poetry and art. And science, I suppose. A celebration of the quirky and traditional, an opportunity to delve into the meaning of what being Catalan is all about.

But, given my experience of the school, based on my traumatic first term Culture Week could be something very different from my expectations!

I could well imagine that, with the emphasis on ‘culture’, we could all be issued with Petrie dishes and have to participate in a class competition to find out which group could cultivate the greatest quantity of saleable penicillin within the five day limit!

Or perhaps Culture Week might be more draconian with intensive Catalanization classes so that at the end we all come out dancing the sardana, eating fuet and supporting Barça!

The reality was, as usual, rather more prosaic and chaotic. The planning meeting did not go well with one of the Catalan teachers explaining the raison d’etre of the week in a fairly ambiguous way. The one central feature was the importance of a certain Señor Bolli (Mr Pen) who would come and judge the writing competitions! The rest of the week was an open invitation for suggestions for activities. In our half joking way the rest of the primary staff made suggestions for various artists in residence and practical activities, but the Catalan teacher only heard the jokes and not the suggestions and she abruptly left the meeting in tears.

When she was persuaded back by the head a few of us stayed on after the main meeting was over and discussed more concrete plans with her so that a rough outline of the week was soon filled with workable suggestions.

The one which most clearly affects me is that I think that we have all agreed to choose a country and present our classrooms as the distillation of that culture. My choice will obviously be Wales so I can see myself calling on the good offices of my friends back home to send various items to make the week a success.

I have already given the week some thought and have started to compile a list. Be warned!

We are about to go out and test just how complete a shut down of Catalonia Bank Holiday Monday actually is. In the UK it is sometimes hard to see the difference between a Bank Holiday and an ordinary day of trading, I wonder if it will be different here. Toni assures me that it will; I however have more faith in the mercantile and opportunistic nature of the Catalans and expect to find places open and ready to take my money.

Well, at least we found a restaurant. Deserting our usual place in Gavá we happened upon another restaurant to try.

We should have been warned by the walkway flanked with outsize candle flame shaped glass lights, the private gardens by the sea and the roving security officer, but I pressed on regardless and we were ushered to a table crisp with freshly ironed napery and fragrant with miniature roses.

Pepe Tejero Restaurant Les Marines seemed like the place that you go for celebrations rather than a casual meal, but we pressed on regardless and opened the menus. The prices were steep, but for the number of waiters wafting about and the view of the gardens from our seats we decided to stay.

We were brought a complimentary (Sic.) appetizer of a tiny glass full of asparagus soup and a small wedge of pâté. This is exactly the sort of thing that I like and when the house wine turned out to be an aromatic Rioja I was content to sit back, enjoy the food and worry about the expense at some other time.

My starter was mussels, but mussels served with grilled garlic mayonnaise and a tomato sauce with a sprig of parsley. Rich and delicious!

Our main course was fideos rubios: with the red colour from the prawns. This was also delicious. I much prefer the thinner pasta used here because I feel that it intensifies the flavour. Toni doesn’t agree, but he is wrong. So there.

The selection of postres was excellent, though I plumped for the Tarte de Santiago and asked for a glass of muscatel to accompany it.

The coffee was served with little cakes and provided an excellent end to a superb meal.

We ended up paying about £35 per person for the meal which I maintained (from a British standpoint was excellent value for money) while Toni maintained (from a Catalan standpoint) was the sort of price which would provoke a heart attack in his mother!

I will go back. Even if, as Toni says, I have to go alone!

I have now discovered, by actually open the case which contains the papers that I need to attempt my planning for tomorrow, that I have left them in school.

Perhaps it’s all for the best; I can now relax and enjoy the last hours of the holiday secure in the knowledge that I can do nothing more.

I will have to rely on the long held belief that things always appear worse than they turn out to be.

Roll on tomorrow!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This and that

My joking assessment that the end of the holidays would see me just ill enough not to be able to stay away from school in all conscience seems to have been quite prophetic!
I have now invested in a sirop mas fuerte to attempt to deal with my irritatingly persistent cough. I shall have to OD on it over the weekend to ensure a working and endurable snuffle for Tuesday.

My PDA (the old one) has now been given to MediaMarket together with a hefty payment of €100 as a deposit so that they can send it off to god knows where for god knows who to do god knows what with it. I only hope that the nicely spoken person in Coverplan who assured me that ‘everything would be fine’ if I got the thing repaired in Spain is true to her assurances and that money will flow in my direction when all of this is settled. I am not particularly confident about it all, but at least the first stage of getting the thing sorted out has started.

Paul Squared has just phoned to tell me that it has been snowing and later tonight it is going to again in Cardiff. Greater love hath no man than to phone a friend to reassure him that his move has been in the right direction southwards! I did manage to lie out on the balcony for a couple of hours this afternoon. Admittedly I was fully dressed and protected from the wind, but I was lying out in the sun. And there was no sign of snow!

I have now brought the case with the papers that I need, at least some of the papers that I need, to take a firmer hold on the planning necessary for school. As I type I know that they are in the case on the other side of the sofa. There is a whole seat and the arm of the sofa between me and the work. That’s a lot of no-man’s-land as far as I am concerned. I will have to send out a recce. to see if it is safe to cross such a dangerous space.

I am ashamed to admit that the recce. was not necessary. Work was safely interrupted by a film. Peter Pan would not necessarily have been my choice for a late night viewing but any old piece of celluloid if it keeps me from unpalatable effort in the cause of education. So, Peter Pan (2003) directed by P J Hogan it was.

It was a film that was easy to like from the inspired CGI to the equally inspired casting. Jason Isaacs in the traditional double role of Mr Darling and Captain Hook gave the sort of bravura performance as Hook which would have made the film worth watching for his time on screen alone. He was ably supported by Richard Briers’ Smee, but then everyone in this film pulls his weight even down to players in virtual cameo roles like Geoffrey Palmer as Sir Edward Quiller Couch.

For me this delightful film was disturbing because I am not a child. I am sure that my reservations about this excellent project arise from my age rather than my critical appreciation.

Jeremy Sumpter plays Peter Pan: an actual boy! Given the tradition of the Principal Boy in the theatre this use of a real boy is in itself a revelation. Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy Darling is a good foil for Sumpter but their tangible youth and vitality are exactly the elements that make this whole film problematical for me.

It all comes down to sex now.

Though it didn’t when I first read ‘Peter Pan.’ As a child I had no problems about the dubious quality of never growing up; of a grown man fighting a boy to the death; a girl child willingly accepting the role of a mother; that bloody dog as a nurse; Tinkerbell and the fairies; nightshirts and top hats and a crocodile with a clock still ticking inside his tummy.

Now, and perhaps especially with the boyishly attractive Sumpter as Pan his relationship with the Lost Boys, Wendy and even Hook seems overlaid with sexual tension. Wendy accepting her role of Mother is an uneasy concept to take lightly and makes one reassess her relationship with her own mother.

Peter Pan is a book which invites amateur sexual psychoanalysis and you can get lost in mixing and matching roles throughout the book in trying to make sense of what Barrie was attempting to achieve.

That way possibly lies madness; especially if you start dabbling in Barrie biography to support your thesis!

I suppose you have to keep telling yourself that this is a children’s story. I suppose. Keep adult thoughts out!

Missed the ending of Pan returning and taking away Wendy’s daughter, but I understand that this is available as one of the extras on the DVD.

Well worth watching, though if you can read this you are not going to find the experience of the film and entirely comfortable.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I didn't expect the . . .

I should have charged the camera before I went in search of the Hooded Christians. It always makes it less stressful if you have a fully charged battery.

I had left what I considered to be sufficient time to get to the church in the centre of Castelldefels, but I hadn’t reckoned on the same degree of parking overkill on Good Friday that you get on a normal day.

Luckily the informal chaos that characterises all carnivals ensured that this particular religious extravaganza was also late starting.

When I got to the exceedingly ugly modern church there was only a moderate crowd comprising casual passers by, women clutching poles with cones made of kitchen foil at the end enclosing candles, the odd person dressed in black with conical hat and mask, policemen and me.

The raucous sound of musical instruments emanated from the church which I entered and observed an enthusiastic crowd applauding the band which was accompanying a float of the crucified Christ which was being jogged about by unseen supporters hidden in the skirt of the idol.

When I left the church to join the swelling crowd I found that the procession was beginning to form

with a disturbingly androgynous banner bearer fronting candle bearing masked figures, including a child dressed in a mini version of his elders’ costumes.

And nothing happened. And then nothing happened again.

While nothing was happening officious gentlemen wielding silver topped staffs moved up and down the parade looking concerned.

It was rather touching to find that the hoodies had difficulty seeing out of their masks and they were constantly adjusting their hoods to try and find out where they were going. This practical difficulty made them seem a little less intimidating and more prosaic.

Eventually after much banging of drums the hoodies moved off and the first of the floats came into view. These were moved by a collection of lifters who were under the representation of the crucifixion and shuffled forwards with the float on their backs, or rather by straps on their shoulders attached to the inside of the bottom part of the structure. They moved in a rhythmical shuffle so that the structure swayed from side to side, indeed it almost came a cropper when the shufflers encountered a short steep slope leading down to the road.

But no disaster, the float leader was able to communicate with the unfortunates inside and avert an unseemly upset. On the front of the float there was a sort of door knocker which was used to indicated important instructions to the labourers.

The procession gradually formed with much to-ing and fro-ing and beating of drums.

As the battery in my camera ran out I eked out the electricity to allow me to take some pictures of each of the floats

in the growing darkness and the sinister gowned figures who accompanied them.

The floats looked substantial and must have been both heavy and also unwieldy to move. They must have been hard work because after about two hundred yards one float stopped and the skirt lifted and the carriers croaked for water

which was supplied by accompanying wives and mothers. At one point as the carriers attempted a gentle turn (a major undertaking when you are carrying Golgotha and the crucifixion on your backs) I could see the shuffling pairs of trainers poking out from the skirt of the float.

It reminded me of a wonderful series of films on British TV called ‘The Worst Films in the World’ which showed sci-fi films where The Alien Monster’s means of propulsion was indicated by the pairs of sneakers clearly visible beneath the latex.

Perhaps not the most pious thought to cross my mind as the labour of Christian devotion was being enacted in front of me, but probably in keeping with my sympathetically sceptical approach to Christianity.

The depictions on the floats were traditionally gory with the exception of the last image which was of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.

She was resplendent in sweeping gown and surrounded by a forest of candles and flowers, glittering with jewels and crowned with an impressive halo. What can one say about the veneration of Mary? I find it thoroughly distasteful and I could feel the itch of the iconoclast tingle in my fingers!

Altogether this was a bizarre manifestation of ‘other’ Christianity in Catalonia. The Catalans are really not into hooded processions, it seemed an import from another world.

This feeling was confirmed by the fact that, as I wandered about taking photos and watching the devotees I didn’t hear a single word of Catalan.

In the Church the notices were all in Castellano. I should imagine that the only Catalan speakers I saw during this procession were the policemen on duty and some lads playing basketball in an adjoining playground. It was perhaps significant that when the band acompanying one of the floats entered the church the tune they chose to play was the Spanish National Anthem!

Castelldefels and Catalonia generally has a large immigrant population: people attracted from other areas of Spain by the wealth and industrialization of the region. When they arrive here they are at an immediate disadvantage because of their inability to speak Catalan. If their children go to a state school they will be taught through the medium of Catalan – as far as I know there are no state schools which offer a full education through Castellano in Catalonia.

It should be stressed that all Catalans can speak or understand Spanish; they may choose to speak Catalan rather than Spanish, but they are all bilingual.

In my school’s parents’ evening, I was a little shocked at the attitude towards all things Catalan by foreign parents. There was a real resentment at the perceived arrogance of the Catalans and an almost racist distaste for the people they were living among.

The congregation in the Good Friday procession was a whole section of Castelldefels which was not Catalan. It put me in mind of a country within a country: people whose language and customs and expectations were different from those of the indigenous population. I know that I may be over reacting here, after all I had made a point of attending this procession precisely because I knew it would offend my sensibilities, so what I saw could well have been what I expected to see, thus fulfilling my expectations. But I did sense the ‘otherness’ of the experience and its public manifestation did have a touch of defiance.

Doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future easy relationship between Catalans and the other Spain.

Planning still hasn’t been done and time is running out!

Friday, March 21, 2008

You've got to laugh!

On Catalan television (TV3) there is a show called ‘Polònia’, it is a satirical show which uses actors made up to look like national and local politicians to make its points. It also ranges further afield – its portrayal of the Hitler Youth Pope is maniacal, pop eyed and thoroughly convincing. And very funny.

Its graphic keynote is Russian agit. prop. with Cyrillic typefaces and earnest young revolutionaries with a touch of early twentieth century futurist prints: very stylish.

I am now at the stage of integration that I can recognize some of the characters being portrayed: Zapatero the re-elected President of Spain and his defeated opponent from PP Rajoy; the President of the Generalitat (Government) of Catalonia the inexpert Catalan speaker José Montilla and a few of the other politcal leaders are all meticulously lampooned. They also have a very good vesion of Franco who is usually in monochrome!

The show is obviously hard hitting and sardonic but the language is Catalan and therefore out of my linguistic sphere. As my lingusitic sphere is one language I am reduced to watching the visual humour and gleaning the few words which are part of my foreign vocabularly. I still find it funny in spite of the fact that much of the humour is, of necessity linguistic.

A few of the impersonations are so good that one is inclined to switch reality and regard the ‘real’ characters as frauds. Which I suppose is part of the point of a satirical series. The link for the programme is though I’m not sure what a non Catalan foreigner living abroad might get from it! I heartily recommend it!

This is more than I can say for the rest of Catalan/Spanish television. If anyone in Britain resents paying a TV licence fee then I suggest that they come to sunny Spain for a while and watch what you get without one. A few twenty (20) minute advert breaks will soon show the licence to be cheap for what you get!

One thing that the Generalitat is paying for is a series of adverts about the number of deaths on the road, with over 2,700 in Spain in 2007 with statistics still being compiled. The Generalitat is concentrating on the Easter holiday period in the way in which Britain used to do years ago. I understand that Britain discontinued the holiday statistics because it was felt that the concentration was unreal and gave people a false sense of the gravity of the situation.

In Catalonia I think there was something like 330 deaths on the roads and I am amazed, after driving in the region, that there are so few. The imposition of an 80 kph limit on roads leading to Barcelona has (in my anecdotal experience) limited the speed of the majority of traffic, but the insanely reckless driving of all but a handful of motorcyclists and scooter drivers is still astonishing.

As far as I can tell, motorcyclists regard roads as having no markings which relate to them. Lane indications are solely for cars while motorcyclists can weave intricate patterns at high speed as if the roads were empty canvases for their circus-like artistic expertise. Their disregard for their human frailty is terrifying and they are allowed to continue their death embracing stupidity because of, as far as I can see, the almost complete absence of traffic police.

This evening I am determined to go to a church in Castelldefels which is supposed to have a procession which will ignite in me all my atheist protestant horror of the Spanish Inquisition. You don’t have to go to Seville to find Klan members wandering about with candles!

I shall take my camera.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

And so it goes on!

Fewer coughs but not more happy.

My self pity is still at seasonally high levels and is exacerbated by any clouds blocking the shining vitamin D giver in the sky. And there were clouds in the sky this morning, though, to be fair after a very indifferent menu del dia the sun did indeed shine, and I immediately felt marginally better.

Didn’t last: the attempts at organization and getting the Catalan workers to jump to our flat to sort a variety of things out has collapsed in a mixture of faulty communication and ineptitude. Far be it from me to apportion blame, but when I start having Spanish lessons seriously – linguistically watch out!

We creep towards Easter and, amazingly the church in the central square in Castelldefels was open! I went inside to refresh my memory of the remarkable modern wall paintings executed with panache and startling perspective. My contemplation of these images was disturbed by the noisy ministrations being lavished on one of the gorier tableau in one of the side chapels. The polychrome crucified Christ was lying recumbent on newly laundered brocade and to my sharpened protestant eyes I suspected that Jesus was being prepared to go walkabout in celebration of the season.

Catalonia is not noted for the fervency of its ecclesiastical devotions – presumably a folk memory of the criminal complicity of some of the clergy with the Nationalist cause in the Civil War supported by some unbelievably vitriolic polemic from Bishops frothing at the mouth lingers on. You have to go much further south to find those sinister processions where ‘holy’ images are paraded by what looks like Klan members.

It was therefore with some surprise that I saw a photograph inside the church porch door which seemed to suggest that some similar fraternity was active in Castelldefels. Now that is something I wouldn’t mind seeing.

I always make a point of going to a church of some sort on Good Friday so I shall take my camera with me to record any suspicious manifestations of hooded holiness.

I have, at last, found what appears to be the perfect electronic pocket bilingual dictionary. I do of course (or course, naturally) have a few electronic dictionaries already. They are, after all, gadgets within the meaning of the act and therefore Objects of Desire. But the ones I have suffer from various defects: they are too bulky; too exhaustive; too complex; too fiddly and too old.

This one is small and has features not found on the others that I have. It’s a Franklin machine and automatically senses the language you are using. It gives a choice of part of speech for your word and offers easy access declensions for verbs. With only a two line display it does not offer meanings, but with its speed and comprehensive word bank it is an excellent easily portable quick reference.

I only hope that now that I have it I use it! And I do hope that that exclamation mark is not as ironic as it looks! Or that one.

As I type Barça are doing their best to go out of La Copa del Rey. So far it has been a depressing performance which has lacked determination and passion. Ronaldhinio is not playing of course; he probably has a pimple on his forehead or some other debilitating injury. His apparent lack of professionalism seems to be affecting the team. Having just typed that Barça has scored again! Eto’o, who seemed to have forgotten how to do it! One more goal and Barça are through to the semi finals.

One can only hope!

Don't hold your breath: they're out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Work Ethic Enlivens!

In spite of feeling bloody awful this morning and an uneasy return to bed after taking Toni to work, where I spent my time not concentrating on getting better but worrying about the things I wasn’t doing, I managed to get some ticks on my task list!

By way of doing the worst first I paid a visit to my loathed bank. There were a few reasons for doing this unpleasant duty quite apart from an inbuilt perverted Puritan desire to fell the pain for the greater good. I needed to get my bank book printed. This is supposedly done automatically when you insert your book into the cash machine. Needless to say it did not work for me. I have to give it to one of the serfs who work in that disgraceful institution and they feed it into one of their tame machines which actually do work.

This time my visit to the bank was notable for the fact that I couldn’t even get into the bloody place!

Because of the justified hatred of the users of BBVA the workers are protected by a sophisticated entrance where reinforced sliding glass doors open to allow a single person into a cubicle with another pair of sliding doors which only open when the first set close. When I entered this cordon sanitaire I was told by a pre-recorded voice that I was carrying metal and therefore could not pass. I was told to place any forbidden articles into the half dozen lockers provided on the human side of the barrier. They were all in use of course, so no entry.

Eventually someone came out and vacated a locker which I used. I could then proceed to the end of the large, unmoving queue.

I was not best pleased. And my patience soon wore out.

Placed at strategic intervals along the queue were desks with were sparsely staffed. One minute of waiting and I decided to play the helpless foreigner card.

To be fair (and it is a Herculean effort to do so) the service I then had was excellent and I managed to complete two intended tasks and one which I hadn’t thought of! Which, of course, just shows how bad a bank it really is if it is capable of such good service in this instance and has been signally unable to match that in all the other times that I have had to avail myself of their services. Nothing like a little Jesuitical reasoning to bolster a prejudice!

My telephoning today (usually a high point of enjoyable stress during a holiday when everything has to be done NOW!) has been just as stressful if less productive.

The Spanish calls went nowhere: pious resolutions but no concrete action. I also had to make some UK calls and felt much more at home as I felt that old frustration build as a recorded voice gave me a series of choices, ever more refined, before I got to a human. At least I feel that I have made some progress there, though as this is connected with the repair or replacement of a machine whose immediate replacement I have already bought, there is a sense that I am spending time claiming something I don’t really need. Always useful to have a spare I suppose! Work in progress.

The important work that I need to complete before the beginning of term is the planning - which is the life blood of the school in which I work. ‘Life blood’ is perhaps a misleading description except as a metaphor. Blood is essential for humans, but planning in the detail which is demanded by The Owner is more like makeup – looks good but is only of superficial utility!

Another visit to Bluespace to rescue my ties.

My affectation in school is always to wear a tie, but not to do it up. A memory of my time in UK - but with a twist. Pathetic really, but that’s me.

I even managed to enquire about Spanish lessons.

Truly a day well spent. And now Toni has a short holiday too taking us through to Easter Monday.

All we want is decent weather!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What a way to spend your holiday!

What better way to start Day 2 of your holiday by visiting the doctor?

That may be a rhetorical question, but I can think of plenty of answers which do not include a tete a tete with a medical man. He reassured me that I was in fact ill and offered little in the form of medicament except for the reassuring information that I would probably be feeling a little better in three or four days – or, to put in another way, by the effective end of my holiday I could be feeling not quite ready to go back to work!

In what I could describe as an ironic twist of fate on the day that I decided to call it day with my old PDA and buy a new one I found a faded piece of paper which had the extended guarantee for the old one!

PC World is PC City in Spain, but they are the same company, so I assumed that there would be no problem in getting my old PDA repaired or replaced.


For reasons which I still don’t fully understand I had a sort of business account with PC World in the UK. I even had my own company, whose name I have forgotten. This fact has proved to be inconvenient to say the least and at one time involved six people in the PC City store on the Ramblas in Barcelona in high level discussions about my case. Eventually they decided that Higher Authorities in Madrid would have to be consulted and I would be phoned before 2.00 pm that day.

Needless to say this has not happened. I now believe that for a Catalan to say that s/he will phone you back is merely a polite form of saying that, probably, your concern will not be ignored in perpetuity. Probably.

I am now waiting for two phone calls which in my case I have not had. To be fair our answering machine is problematic and merely emits high pitched tones rather than coherent speech. There was a message left, but I assume that the female English instructions reduced our callers to impotent inarticulacy.

Having indulged myself in an orgy of self pity bewailing my inopportune illness today, I resolve to be more active tomorrow.

My list of tasks has (as usual) been deleted in my usual fumbling efforts to get my new PDA up and running. I am still trying to find Microsoft Reader which is supposedly bundled with the machine. Such games of hide and seek the program are old friends to someone who has owned Hp PDAs for as long as I have: it will be there somewhere. It’s just a tedious matter of searching. And trusting.

Talking of trust: put not your trust in machinery with the trademark ‘Taurus.’ I have only seen it in Spain and it appears to be the cheap big store brand and one that should be avoided like the plague.

Our dishwasher is Taurus and has duly failed to function. I have had to wash dishes by hand! Humiliating! Irritating and Debased! I do not invest in machinery to do the tasks myself. God knows there is enough heartache in loading and unloading the bloody machine without its not working! I am beginning to understand Andrew’s insistence that there is a ‘correct’ way of loading items into the dishwasher and any irregularities should be treated as if they are revolutionary acts directly related to the destruction of civilization as we know it!

Tomorrow, illness or no illness, things to do.

I will make another list!

Monday, March 17, 2008

R&R - if only!


There is surely no harm in starting a holiday with a recitation of good intentions.

I am about to write a list of tasks on Day 1 which will be completed by Day 8.

Some of the things I have to do would have been a delight in the UK: complaints and taking things back. How many times have I drawn a blank sheet of A4 towards my eager pen so that the details of yet another battle between consumer and heartless supplier could be commenced?

Ah! The memory reaches back to the heady days of the sagas of such things as the installation of the window blinds; the battle over the lost cheque and bankers’ lies; the threats by the powers that be connected to the television licence; the replacement of the wave drenched PDA; the shrinking number of pages in a history magazine and the exploitation inherent in a chemistry set. All great battles in their different ways and all of them produced some memorable letters!

But in Catalonia I am at a grave disadvantage; like cholesterol blocking a vein my rudimentary grasp of Spanish restricts the flow of articulate bourgeois indignation and instead I am reduced to the level of mere canaille – the illiterate and incoherent are claiming me for their own as, like some caricature Colonel Blimp I bluster and fluster in front of impassive shop assistants!

The dishwasher is malfunctioning (in Catalan); my piano is still not working (in German) and my PDA has to be returned (in Spanish). Those three items of linguistic confrontation are daunting in themselves without considering the rest of what I hope to achieve within a little week.

The planning which my school demands is little short of insanity but the entire staff (with one shining exception) seems to be able to manage it without nervous breakdowns. My one attempt was farcical with my being unable to put the words into their digital boxes let alone think of convincing words in the first place. One day of this respite from insanity will have to be spent trying to work the programs with which I am supposed to be entirely at ease!

Bluespace also has to be revisited in order to rescue more of my ties. It is perhaps, fitting that this visit should take place during Holy Week as I find my journey to this cold, heartless depository a true via dolorosa as I gaze with unfeigned pity at all my exiled books!

As the shops don’t open until ten or half past it means that I have time for another cup of tea and a continued read of ‘Against Nature’ before I have to start by round of duties.

Yesterday was not good because of having to Take To My Bed, the cold/cough/sore throat draining me of energy. The meant however that I got up at four thirty this morning being driven out of bed by its sheer lack of comfort. I don’t know what it is about the bed, but if you stay in it for too long then a kaleidoscope of pain blossoms on your spine and makes any further attempt at sleep or rest impossible.

So it’s nine a.m. and I feel as though I have lived through most of a day!

Never let it be said that I didn’t manage to get value for money in terms of time in my holidays!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Gland Slam and other things of less importance!

I herewith eat my own words.

My defeatist cynicism on the success of Wales’ opening game in the Six Nations Championship was completely unnecessary as the splendid result in the Millennium Stadium this evening magnificently demonstrates.

Who would have thought that The Grand Slam would come to a team whose performance in the World Cup was so woeful! Well done Wales!

Meanwhile, euphoria in Wales does not help misery in Catalonia!

The traditional way to start a teacher’s holiday: streaming cold, cough and generally unwell.

Some things never change – though I think that contact with a whole range of new exotic childhood illnesses may perhaps be some explanation for my incapacity.

The one thing that my body will have to understand is that it does not have the freedom to snuffle its way through to wellness utilizing the expansive holidays that characterise the educational system of Wales. My Easter holiday is a miserly week plus a day rather than the expanse of the fortnight to which I have become accustomed!

The other horror which concentrates the mind is that the summer term has no half term. And with this Owner, no settled end to the summer term either! When the present inmates of the institution were invited to sign their contacts in September of last year, the more astute among them discovered that there was no date for the end of the year!

When this ‘interesting’ anomaly was discovered and questioned a rather grudging date of early July was given. This has been extended to a possible 13th of July, but we are going into the last term of the year with no real idea of when the end date will be.

I think that the Owner has been hearing about sessions of the British parliament where some sittings have been recorded as taking place on a single day, but in reality the unbroken gathering of MPs has extended over a greater period of time. Perhaps her idea is to have the 4th of July (another end date bandied about by the unfortunates who work in the school) extended by a week. It makes movies like ‘The Lost Weekend’ look like momentary lapses compare with the spatial rearrangement that she is proposing!

It says something for my indiscriminate Renaissance Man attributes and most of my books being in durance vile in Bluespace that my present reading is centred on two books: Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf’s ‘The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (ISBN 0-679-74944-6) and Huysmans’ ‘Against Nature’ (too old for an ISBN number, but published by Penguin for 6/- in 1968 and therefore read by me first when I was 17!) Perhaps that was the right age for Huysmans, we will see!

‘Politically Correct’ (which, as this fascinating little book points out has “become co-opted by the enemies of language reform as a label with which to belittle the multicultural movement, is alas itself no longer ‘politically correct’”) is one of those reads which you think will be idea loo material. It is, but it is the sort of loo reading that a wishy-washy liberal like me feels is slightly condescending and right wing. It is, therefore a guilty pleasure. Or at least it should be, but this book transcends the easy, snide remark (usually, though not always) and as you flick through with an attitude which is alternately amused, shocked, angered and bewildered you find that you are beginning to see reason behind apparent madness.

“Methinks he doth protest too much” has been the way forward for many worthwhile causes which have had to suffer ridicule until their value has been appreciated. From slavery to the overloading of ships; from votes for women to maternity leave; from sick leave to homosexual rights – all these ‘causes’ have been dismissed as ludicrous concerns until society (or at least enlightened thinkers) have recognised that there is a case to be answered. In the course of their various campaigns overstatement has been one of the ways in which the voice of the oppressed has been heard. The human animal is not necessarily convinced by reason, but can always be swayed by emotion – the play on the sleep of reason!

One of the interesting linguistic developments I have witnessed in my time in education has been the addressing of the leader of the meeting. When I was a pupil in Cardiff High School for Boys we were taught that when we were referring to both sexes then the singular pronoun used should be masculine, so, for example, ‘Everyone should send his friend a card at Christmas? Would have been unexceptional in my school – or correct!

In spite of, or because of the inherently sexist teaching I received and also because I believed that Barbara Castle could be Prime Minister, my feminist credentials were good. Good, that is for the times in which I was living in a provincial city in the sixties!

In school we were taught to refer to the chair of a meeting as The Chairman irrespective of sex. In a more enlightened moment we were taught to say ‘Madam Chairman? Then we were given ‘Madam Chair’ and then, finally ‘Chair.’ Not a difficult progression, but one that took some twenty years to be generally accepted.

On the M4 toll on the Severn Crossing bridge the payment kiosks are referred to a ‘Manned’ it is surely a small change, but a significant one to change that to ‘Staffed.’ A change worth making.

I will not spoil the delights of reading the higher reaches of insanity loving catalogued in ‘Politically Correct’ except to say that you begin to doubt your own sanity when you read of some of the inanity perpetrated by academics in search of publication!

Read it and find out for yourselves!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Check your food!

Come with me as I take you back to the moral squalor of Renaissance Italy and the paranoia of life under the Borgias! Experience the terror as you realise that every friendly face could mask the reality of a sneering villain! Shun shadows that could hide the glint of the stiletto waiting to sheath itself in your spine! Let your imagination rip and you could be there!

Or just pop along to our school where paranoia is as ordinary as deadly nightshade!

Toni’s seemingly cynical advice to “trust no-one” seems to be no more than a blindingly obvious precaution as we teachers slip numbed towards the end of term.

Wheels within wheels turn slowly as plots fester and suspicion hardens. Mixed metaphors rear upwards with the diabolical ease of succulent chocolates as we all look around and echo That Woman’s cry of “Is he one of us!” (Please excuse the sexist pronoun but you know how few women made it into the target area of significance in her regime.)

Spies (real and imagined) abound and any conversation is viewed as suspicious.

It all puts me in mind of G K Chesterton’s delightful book, ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ where a man is infiltrated into a dangerous spy ring only (eventually) to discover that everyone else is an infiltrator too!

Which is not to say that something is not going on. Our school is superficially fine: teachers teach and children learn – it does what it says on the tin. But all the structures and the methods used to ensure that those structures work are rotten to the core. The central malaise means that to step outside your classroom is to enter a world where the structured normality of your teaching space is suddenly a distant planet in another star system in a parallel universe.

Which can be a little wearing. Something will eventually have to give and I only hope that it isn’t me!

Why should it be? I have survived a whole term of teaching, or at least what I think is covered by that term, in a school where the ordinary has been skewed some distance away from the generally accepted norms.

What have I achieved in my sojourn in the institution since January? I could leave that as a rhetorical question or I could attempt to find some sort of answer. After all this is the first time in my life that I have taught pupils so young! I really should be able to itemize a whole range of educational insights and professional achievements from such an extended period of time.

If we go on what is new for me; what is challenging; what is extraordinary then I would have to single out yesterday.

I held my first parental consultation in Spanish!

God alone knows what I said to the woman about her daughter but the proof of my competence in my adopted language was that she left smiling.

Although thinking about that, the smile could have been the quiet delight of a parent listening to the semi literate ravings of a teacher trying to communicate insights abut the communication difficulties of her daughter in Tarzan-like attempts at language!

I will have to look for the arched eyebrow of superiority when I next meet her!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's the tragedy today, Jim?

Failed planning paled into insignificance after a hastily called meeting of the primary school staff this morning.

What, you might ask was the meeting about.

Was it perchance some complex decision about the ramifications of the implementation of some tricky part of the curriculum? Perhaps it was concerned with an aspect of pupil safety? Parental involvement in the forthcoming Parents’ Evening might have been the crucial aspect demanding our immediate attention.

Get real.

Teachers, parents, kids? Who cares? Certainly not the powers that be in our place. No, this meeting was concerned with something far more important than any professional irritations.

Our head dinner lady had threatened to resign!

Now that is something to get the administration into overdrive!

What had prompted this ultimatum? The selfishness of teachers.

Let me explain. The canteen is on the ground floor together with the foetal section of the school. Primary is on the first floor and secondary on the second. The staff room is located on the first floor as seen from the playground (The Patio) but at road level from the main entrance (confusingly.)

Teachers are served their meals in large, ugly, grey, plastic, compartmentalised troughs with a lid. These have to be carried upstairs by individual members of staff where the cold meal (after all our duties it is inevitable that the food is frigid) can be eaten in the staff room.

Our every caring dinner lady decided that these were boxes too far. She would no longer put meals in them. Obviously, as a dinner lady far outranks any mere teacher in our place Something Had To Be Done.

The Primary meeting was told (no discussion) that from now on teaching staff would eat with the kids. A separate table possibly, but with the kids none the less. So, having taught all morning, you have a meal with the kids then you go out to the playground to supervise them.

We were told that in the Never Never Land of something called ‘Next Year’ there would be a utopian existence for teachers where all the lunchtime supervision would be done by Others. Though obviously such pampered namby-pamby sybaritic teachers, lounging in their staff room kid free for a brief break would have correspondingly lower salaries.

Oh, and by the way, we were told, anyone who had said that they were ‘undecided’ about whether they wanted to continue their productive career in the school next year would be considered as dangerously subversive recidivists and treated with horror and contempt. Actually that last bit was my gloss on what was actually said as their interpretation of ‘undecided’ was not coming back.

So, for the second great year the secondary section of our Great School looks as though it is going to resign en mass!

I might also point out that such high handed carelessness in the management of already disgruntled staff does not bode well for the forthcoming double inspection to discover if our school is ready for accreditation. If it wasn’t actually going to happen you would just laugh all of this off as a bad joke.

As wild horses would not induce me to eat with the kids (in my last school I didn’t even go into the dining hall to get food from the canteen to eat in the staff room) I decided to stop taking the food from the school at once.

As soon as my interminable thirty minutes of supervision of kids whose manipulation of knife and fork looked as though they were auditioning for an extra’s role in some rustic medieval banquet, I flounced out of the school and went into the sports’ centre which is next to our place.

As a gesture of revolutionary solidarity and a solid blow against the power of the autocrat of our administration I decided to have the menu del dia.

When I am making a gesture I don’t count the cost. This actually turned out to be about €11 including a bottle of beer and a cortado.

Much refreshed I walked back to the school and, if I had not stopped to chat with a colleague in the foetus section of the school I would have timed my reappearance to collect my class with an almost military precision.

No sooner inside the school than I discovered that the ‘hard pressed’ dinner lady had actually shouted at one of my colleagues in front of teachers, other staff and pupils. Fully to understand the basis of this disagreement you would have to be a member of staff of the school. Suffice to say that a loud mouthed boor acted with characteristic discourtesy towards a colleague marked for her professionalism, poise and politeness.

What, in a real school, would have resulted in a written warning and a demand for a full written apology will instead result in nothing - because the dinner lady is a close associate of The Owner and therefore the dinner lady’s word, however inaccurate, will be taken above that of any bunch of teachers.

And there are still two days left before the holiday!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It just gets worse!

A day that starts with a vomit, takes in a Parents’ Open Morning, a truly repulsive lunch, loss of a free period and ends with a meeting is not good.

It turns out that it was much, much worse than ‘not good.’

Everything hinges on planning.

Our school runs on a level of detailed planning which makes any space flight look like an impromptu jaunt. The evidence of planning has to be completed on computer and emailed to the powers that be. On a weekly basis and a termly basis.

It is the stuff of fantasy and I have been protected heretofore by the kind ministrations of my two colleagues who have been in post since last September. They are frighteningly efficient and effortlessly glide from idea to computer to plan. They have included me in their documentation and I have lived a life of easy and delight. As far as that is possible in our other worldly institution.

All this has changed and now I am immersed in the gnomic struggles not only with an unfriendly program on the computer, but also with an unyielding web site and a simple lack of experience in what I should be doing. And I am failing to produce the simplest aspect of the gargantuan task which is eventually something which falls apart because no week is exactly as we expect it to be.

I will have to swallow my pride and creep to my colleagues and be giving pitying instruction so that I can stagger along in their eloquent electronic footsteps!

Something has to be sent to management by Friday. No pressure then!

I will throw myself on their mercy and giggle nervously – that sometimes works.

This has not been the sort of day to mark with a white stone. Only the thought of the holiday makes it all somehow worthwhile!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Time is an illusion!

When is the end of term not the end of term?

Answer? When you work in a private school in Sitges.

I have already been informed that the term ‘summer holidays’ which I saw on a school calendar in the staff room only means summer holidays for the kids. Our end of term is a week later. Perhaps.

Today, in just one incident in the array of unbelievability which characterises any day working in this extraordinary institution, we were told that the fabled ‘Summer Gold’ (or payment for the summer holidays as it is sometimes known) would only be paid to those who had worked a full year in the institution. The key is ‘a full year.’ When the term ended has varied from the 30th of June, to the 4th of July to (The horror! The horror!) the 13th of July today. It is fantastic (in the true sense of the word) that we are still discussing the date of the end of the summer term two terms into the year!

The way that The Owner seems to be working is that she will extend the summer term and bring forward the opening date of the Autumn term so that we will end up having a long weekend as our summer holiday!

My serious belief is that The Owner is starting a series of Machiavellian ploys to avoid paying any holiday pay to anyone at all. Wait, the use of the adjective ‘Machiavellian’ suggests an element of subtlety that is certainly not present in any dealings that I have had with Her Infernal Highness!

On a more personal basis, consider the following.

We teachers in Years 3 and 4 decided to have a Book Exchange as part of a practical implementation of our ideas on recycling which in turn has been part of a unit of work on pollution and sustainability. The idea of the Book Exchange, which was suggested by my colleague in our year, was that students would bring in books of which they had tired and be given a voucher which they could then use to claim a new book. I designed a voucher to by used by the kids and put the page of voucher blanks in the tray to be photocopied.

This innocent looking page was spotted by The Owner and taken into her office because she did not know anything about this revolutionary, earth changing idea. Did she have the basic courtesy to inform me that she had, unilaterally decided to put an embargo on part of my teaching material? Did she have the simple common sense to ask me to give her further details about this more imaginative working of the curriculum? Did she bother to say ‘Well done for thinking of another way of involving the kids in an active aspect of their curriculum? Did she buggery!

When I found out what she had done, filled with righteous anger and with the frenzy of fury about me – I wrote an internal memo.

Now I am sure that there are some among you who will say that the writing of an internal memo (on the correct note paper) is a rather tame response. You have to understand that in the Never-Never World that is our normal working environment, the writing of a memo on the correct notepaper is the equivalent of a direct assault!

But not as satisfying!

Tomorrow is an ‘Open Morning’ when parents will be allowed, nay encouraged, to wander around and be with their kids in the classroom while I attempt to teach them something.

The fact that this ‘Open Morning’ takes place during the time when the kids should be having their Spanish and Catalan lessons means that we have to do something extra and a something extra which can be interrupted at any time by parents asking something or other. At least it is only for an hour.

Then the parents’ evening is the day after tomorrow.

My life is just one long sequence of delights!

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Today is the general election which will decide who is going to be president of Spain.

A suitably dull day for what to my monoglot ears has been something of a lacklustre campaign.

As my Spanish is rudimentary, to say the least, you might think that I would be in no position to say anything about a campaign which is, by necessity waged more in words than in anything else. That would, of course, be to underestimate my overweening pride in being able to navigate my way though an entire language by judicious use of the single word ‘si!

So, from the point of view of someone who rarely understands what is going on, let me pontificate.

Zapatero easily seems to claim the role of the ‘experienced filled with gravitas’ style of political leadership while his opponent Rajoy with his rather irritating lisping sententiousness (how the hell can I tell?) has the more harrying approach of the man out of power attacking what his opponent has actually done or not done.

In Catalonia Rajoy and his party (PP) have played the language card and emphasised the difficulties facing Spanish speaking people who come to live and work in Catalonia. For the children there is little Spanish education: their education in state schools is through the medium of Catalan. The language question is deeply political (as it is in Wales, for example) but in Catalonia it is fair to say that the language of the region is Catalan in a way in which it is not in Wales. Catalan is the language of the majority and it the language of choice in all aspects of Catalan life. Monoglot Spanish speakers are made to feel that they are not speaking the language of the country. PP has traded on residual resentment and seems to have ignited a national discussion about the position of Catalonia and the other autonomous regions.

There seems to be a natural resentment about Catalonia because of its perceived difference and status in Spain. Catalans do not necessarily help their full integration into Spanish society by their aloofness and distain for other parts of the country. Catalans also regard other regions as sucking necessary finance from their own concerns.

All of this means that there is political capital to be made from criticising aspects of Catalan ways of doing things – and is being made! We will just have to see if has been enough for Rajoy to snatch the presidency. There are more voters outside Catalonia than inside it, so the decision will be made in spite of Catalan voters.

Time will tell.