Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Weighed in the balance

Today a glass of water in the face!

Maybe that was a metaphor, but the effect was the same.

For the first time for a long, long time I was officially ‘observed’ in one of my lessons!

I suppose there are some who might say that for a stranger teaching in the school since January, late April is rather a long time to wait to find out if the recent acquisition is actually doing what he was employed to do!

With consummate professionalism, Margaret observed, participated when encouraged to do so and made copious notes.

Professionalism: that is a word not often used in most dealings with the mechanics of administration and officialdom in my school, but in this instance the experience reminded me of being in a real school!

Now for the water. And cold water too.

My colleague who observed me had the bare faced temerity to give me a 2! A 2! Me! And I thought she was a friend! The fact that she could point to evidence to support her award of a ‘good two, border line one’ did not sweeten the bitter pill.

When I complained to the incapacitated headteacher when I later visited her in hospital she told me that I shouldn’t worry, that 1s were only rarely awarded and then only to exceptional teachers. “But I am exceptional!” I asserted and the intensity of the laughter of the headteacher in response was only matched when I asserted in another conversation that in spite of my name, “I am no martyr!”

I have to say that, as always, it is an incentive and a stimulant to have a colleague in your class and her feedback was revealing. Is it really policy or normal to have your lesson objectives written on the whiteboard for each lesson? Extraordinary!

The checklist of elements in a lesson which have to be met are, I think, impossible to achieve in one lesson, though possible in a series of lessons. Well, that, in Conrad’s phrase was the “saving lie” with which I consoled myself for my abject inability to gain the highest grade.

Ah well, gives me something to think about and upon which to improve for the next time! If of course there is a next time.

My interview with the Powers Who Decide These Things takes place a fortnight into May.

I can hardly wait to hear what they have to say!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Faint praise?

‘Cathedral of the Sea’ by Ildefonso Falcones is now read.

I must admit that after the first few hundred pages I warmed to the narrative, but that was responding to your average tale of medieval rape, pillage, duplicity, deception, viciousness and noble brutality!

The plot is somewhat plodding and sometimes predictable but enjoyable none the less. The characters are never more than two dimensional, but at least you know where you are with them.

As soon as you realise that awful things are going to happen throughout the novel but that eventually good is going to be rewarded you can relax into a good, extended rollicking tale.

It has more in common with Harry Potter than an historical novel with literary pretensions.

Its great claim to fame is its setting in Barcelona and the adulation it gives to one of the great churches of Catalonia, the Cathedral of the Sea of the title, Santa Maria del Mar. This church was singled out by Hadyn as being the building in which, as soon as he entered, he uttered a short sharp yelp and then pronounced the acoustic excellent!

I think that I can recommend this book (such magnanimity for a book which has sold over two million copies worldwide in umpteen languages) but you should not look for profundity in its pages. An excellent beach read.

I can now start on the first volume of Ken Follett’s cathedral novel sequence. I still rate him more highly than the Catalan.

I seem to be using up my summer reads before the actually season starts.

I’ll just have to buy other volumes to compensate!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sweetness and light!

I think that it must be a Catalan rule of life that no self respecting inhabitant will park more than spitting distance from their destination.

I say this after parking a considerable distance from the doors of the hospital I visited this morning. Even if I had the assistance of the moon’s gravity to help with the trajectory of my expectoration I fear that the sputum would have fallen well short.

And what parking I passed as I eventually found my own space on open, dusty, uneven and (most importantly) unshaded ground! Any kerb is an open invitation to wheels: no matter how dangerous and obstructive the final parked car may be - if a wheel can touch a kerb it has the equivalent of ecclesiastical sanctuary.

It sometimes looks as if all the parked cars are engaged in a childish game where they have indemnity while at least one wheel is touching the kerb, but, at any moment when the policeman hides his eyes, they may all scatter and find other even more bizarre parking spaces!

I have told myself to be tolerant about the sort of parking which is an everyday horror in the part of Castelldefels in which I live because, after all, it is beside the sea in a seaside resort and too many people are chasing too few parking spaces so one must expect inconsiderate parking. But far too much of the parking goes beyond the inconsiderate and ventures into the territory of the downright dangerous.

The clearest and most glaring examples from the point of view of a British person concern zebra crossings. I suppose that I should point out that the British semi sacred nature of a zebra crossing is not shared by the Spanish. The absolute right of a person to cross is not guaranteed on the Spanish version.

Some zebra crossings here are controlled by traffic lights and you have to wait for the green light to cross. Some are semi controlled in the sense that, if the road traffic light is flashing amber you have to give priority to a pedestrian. Or not, as some drivers believe. The qualified nature of the zebra crossing in this country is an open invitation to disaster for the British visitor. British certainties should not encourage you to venture onto a zebra crossing with the same assurance that you might have in the home country. You might be right, but you could easily be left for dead by a naughty retreating motorist!

Parking near to, next to, or even on zebra crossings is also a problem. As most visitors to Castelldefels have to cross a main road to get to the beach the municipality has helpfully provided a rash of zebra crossing to help the sun seekers to their destination. This is a good thing but to our municipality the construction of a zebra crossing is no more than painting black and white strips on the road. There are no markings either side of the crossing to prohibit cars from parking.

You therefore have the situation that the first part of a crossing may effectively be blocked from the oncoming motorist’s view. This impediment does not seem to effect the pedestrians however, who walk out on the crossing as if the sides were protected with barriers of reinforced concrete.

I have often noted that the experience of the motorist rarely seems to inform the actions of the pedestrian and vice versa. It is almost as if there are two races, the motorist and the pedestrian, separated into distinct and mutually exclusive factions with mutual incomprehension. These two exclusive factions are bitterly antagonistic and are only united by their mutual (and very understandable) loathing of the cyclist!

The cyclist is the true pariah of the streets, roads and pavements. Those three areas are linked because they are all fair game for the cyclist who regards all space as his exclusive property; all road signs as merely street art and all traffic lights as mere flashing decorations.

The cyclist weaves intricate patterns of propulsion among cars and motorcycles which vary from the suicidal to the homicidal but are always informed with the key motivation of the dedicated cyclist – arrogant selfishness.

And don’t get me started on the ridiculous clothes they parade – it would be a vicious misnomer to say that a cyclist ‘wears’ his lurid garb. And I’m sure that there are specialist web sites where they could show off the intimate details of their bodies without the mobile fetishist exhibitionism that cycling is today.

The walk from my parking space to the hospital doors was not as long as the various digressions that I have written but long enough to tut! tut! my way pleasantly to steel myself for the difficulties in finding out where the patient I had come to see was located.

Apart from totally predictable confusion about the room number and discovering that the lifts were not for people I found the room relatively quickly (considering I was searching for a room which did not exist) and I was delighted to see that our Fallen Headteacher looked remarkably healthy for a woman with three screws in her thigh. The fact that she was not in plaster and was only going to be in hospital for a few days more was healthily encouraging. The flowers went down well as did the Sunday newspaper. The Observer.

What else do you expect me to give from a wishy-washy liberal with a small ‘l’ like me?

And I had paella for lunch.

Who can ask for more?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cultural hopes

I think that the definition of optimism is expecting to get a reasonably priced flight to somewhere interesting over a Bank Holiday.

Or delusion.

Definitely delusion. We have trawled the internet looking for the elusive bargain and have discovered that the expectation of such a find is on a par with believing that you can find a bank with ethical principles.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am actually living in a place that I would previously have moved heaven and earth and vast quantities of money to get to for a holiday. To echo the words of Shylock, I am content!

The series of Grans Genis de l’art a Catalunya has reached volume 14 and the painter Josep Amat. This is a painter of whom I have not previously heard and, from a cursory look at his oeuvre, a painter who is not going to be a major force in my appreciation of the painting of the region!

And talking of my appreciation of the art in Catalonia, it turns out that Carmen Cervera, baronesaThyssen-Bornemisza ( has announced that she will move her collection of 19th and 20th century Catalan art from Catalonia’s Museu Nacional d’Art (MNAC) to Sant Feliu de Guixols Monastery in 2011. She is the high profile protector of the insanely, mind bogglingly incredible art collection that she inherited from her insanely, mind bogglingly etc wealthy husband, the Barón Thyssen-Bornemisza. The collection is split between a number of locations.

The gallery in Madrid is an astonishing place and the modern collection of paintings is very accessible with a wonderful collection of art which is not so exhaustive and intimidating for the casual visitor. For a person not that interested in the ‘hard stuff’ of art and not wanting to traipse around a musty gallery full of incompressible canvasses dulled with ancient varnish the Thyssen-Bornemisza gallery is a breath of fresh air. The masterpieces are there aplenty, but not to the same extent as some of the major art galleries of the world where the pictures seem to press in on the observer and weigh him down with their international significance.

I have described the selection of paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza as looking as though someone had decided to give a talk on modern art and, instead of showing slides had decided to pay the representative paintings instead!

I can still remember my astonishment when there was an exhibition of ‘Masterpieces’ from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in the National Gallery. I could not understand how it was possible for a private individual to actually own so much of the cultural heritage of the world!

The Spanish government had the artistic bargain of the century when they were offered the collection by the Baronesa (a past Miss Catalonia) for a knock down price of something like £50 quid!

The baronesa is well known for having very definite ideas about how the art given to the Spanish should be treated and she is very touchy about the details of its presentation.

I am not sure what will go to the monastery if she decides to stick to her stated aim to remove her collection from MNAC but any reduction in their excellent collection would be a disaster.

Many of the paintings illustrated in the series of books that I now have on Catalan art have been taken from private collections, but there also a number of galleries mentioned in other parts of Catalonia that I am looking forward to visiting. At the moment I do not know the relative importance of the collections held in these other places but I do know that it is impossible to omit a visit to the gallery in the Monastery of Montserrat. I think that I know a little more about the exhaustive selection of painters that is held in the collection now than I did on my previous visit.

I look forward to another pilgrimage!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Put not your trust in manufacturers' promises!

When the chronicles of this year come to be written there will surely be a chapter devoted to the time of trial that we have undergone. The heartache, the misery, the struggle: the dogged heroism in the face of adversity. All of this should receive its accolade. And now, at last, there is an end in sight, a glimmer of hope in the darkness of these times.

The dishwasher should be repaired this evening.

For someone with a pathological hatred of washing dishes, or rather of drying them, the extended period of dishwasherless existence has been, one might say, a trial. The astonishing inefficiency of Taurus, the company who made the benighted machine, has not made the situation any easier.

The only good thing to come out of this depressingly familiar situation is that I will have to leave school on time in order to get back to let the workpeople in. The idea of missing this appointment is too dire to consider: given the difficulty of making this appointment the fear of losing this opportunity will ensure that my car skips its way through the tunnels to get back in time.

It is now this evening. Nothing. No workman to bring some semblance of normality to the washing procedures in this household; no phone call to explain why no workman has turned up for the agreed time; no act of God to destroy the evil organization masquerading as a white goods company. Never, ever buy any goods with the Taurus trade mark. Never! Be warned and learn from my example.

We now sit planning violence, or at least some sort of revenge for the frustration that this company has forced us to experience. At this stage in Britain I would have “opened a file” and commenced my classic approach for dealing with recalcitrant traders, i.e. writing articulate letters dripping with the implied threat suggested by middle class articulacy and promising a wealth of informed trouble in store for whatever unfortunate institution had incurred my wrath.

Frustratingly I have to do this at second hand via Toni. It is not the same thing at all. There is little satisfaction to be gained by hearing second hand reports of conflicts with nameless voices at the end of a telephone line, unless you are one of the protagonists. And there is always the nagging doubt that if you had been on the phone you would have been that little bit more incisive and cutting and managed to gain a clear assurance and effusive apology with a monetary compensation. We will see what they say and what they offer by way of contrition!

The FA Cup Final comes on apace and I have made the promise that, if I get a ticket I will make every effort to go to the UK to see this once-in-a-lifetime match for Cardiff. I shouldn’t build my hopes up but it might be worthwhile looking at cheap flights to Cardiff and London!

If all else fails I can look at the weather and find compensation there!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Books and things

Yesterday was a holiday.

At every street corner rather dubious looking characters were selling roses. It is the tradition within Catalonia that on the day which is dedicated to Sant Jordi (Saint George) there is an exchange of gifts. The traditional process involves the man receiving a book while the female partner gets a rose.

When I wearily slouched towards the kettle yesterday morning I was astonished to see that Toni had fought his revulsion to printed matter and there was a gaudily wrapped brick shape waiting for me!

His choice of a Ken Follett novel had been earlier mirrored by his sister who had given me the same volume a few months previously! My disappointment was mitigated by the delighted hope that Toni’s attitude towards the incursion of the tome into all available spaces in the flat would now change. Some hope!

He did however point out that the local newsagent had offered another volume about a cathedral and I was urged to return the book and either exchange it or get the money and go to Barcelona to the festival of books which was being held in the Ramblas.

The alternative novel was one which I had noticed in supermarkets in Spanish and Catalan in the best seller lists in this area. ‘Cathedral of the Sea’ by Ildefonso Falcones is set in Barcelona in the fourteenth century. The back of the novel proclaims “A new Ken Follett is born!” and from my reading of the first hundred pages in this monumental novel I can see what the critic means. The subject matter is clearly within the territory of Ken Follett, but the standard of writing is not at Ken Follett’s level. There is a certain clunking quality to the scene setting and rather obvious devices in introducing characters and background information. The historical setting is paraded uneasily and exposition is generally unsophisticated. These are, however, early days and I have barely dented the bulk of this read!

For the first time the Habitat lounger was taken out of its plastic wrapping and dragged off to the beach. Even more importantly, for the first time I threw myself into the foaming brine.

That last sentence is not strictly accurate. My entrance into the icy waters was not quite as muscular as is suggested by ‘threw myself.’

There is something sad and humiliating watching a grown man whimper. There is something even more sad and humiliating when that whimpering man is you!

My tentative entry into the Mediterranean was accompanied by little mewling sounds as progressively more of my body was subjected to icy cauterization. It was the sort of cold that you knew would not become ‘swimmable’ if you thrashed about a bit.

Honour having been satisfied by immersion I staggered my way back to shore and the warm calm of the lounger.

Picking up Toni from work I passed all the indefatigable rose sellers who were doggedly sitting tight and waiting for guilt to kick in for home going workers.

Dinner later was in a local restaurant because the Barça/Manchester United game in the Champions League was not broadcast on normal television. From where I was sitting I could see the zebra crossing at the end of the street which was garlanded by four rose sellers, still there and selling after at least sixteen hours of commercial activity. The roses, by the way, were in all the conventional colours and then, for the more extreme pleasure seekers there were totally artificial colours, bi-coloured roses and multi-coloured blooms! I bought a mini rose plant in a flower pot from my local florist and shunned the disreputable looking strangers who clamoured for my money!

Culture Week continues (after the hiatus of a day off) with a trip to . . . well, I think that I cannot trust my fingers to type with any degree of complacency about a magnificent residence with surrounding vineyards, swimming pool and . . . sorry, this will have to wait for another occasion when I am feeling stronger and less consumed by the sin of envy.

Our return to school was marked by the information that the headteacher has broken her femur by tripping over the cat. She is presently in hospital where she will stay for the next two weeks. She will not be able to walk on her injured leg for twelve weeks. Not only is this not good news for her – alone and incapacitated in a foreign country – but it is also potentially disastrous news for our school. We will be without a headteacher for the rest of the term. In a memo whose import scales the heights of horror we have been informed that matters that we would have taken to the headteacher must now be taken to The Owner.

The sleep of reason produces monsters.

We have started to paint our dragons and the ‘tapestry’ of versions of the Welsh flag continues to grow.

The final part of my master plan for the artistic Welshing of the school continues tomorrow with the production of multi-coloured daffodils. My perversions truly know no end!

I ought to take photographs of these momentous artistic events. But there again being etched indelibly on the brains of innocent Catalans is memorial enough!

Time will tell.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who has time?

No blog yesterday.

When you are finally let out of the opera house at half past midnight there is little time left for the lazy pursuit of literature!

Not that the day hadn’t been full either. Culture Week reached out its tentacles to another class who after completing their quota of idiosyncratic Welsh flags turned their artistic little fingers to the production of Welsh love spoons in clay. This was as nothing compare to my frenzied attempts to get another class to produce something approaching a simulacrum of a Welsh hat.

It was the tapering nature of the hat which was the problem. My notorious predilection for folding paper came into its own when the conventional folds were augmented by a rather daring diagonal fold which elicited gasps of astonished disbelief from the pupils. Well merited disbelief as their inept attempts to follow my professional display amply demonstrated. I came as near as I ever have to full mental collapse as the demands on my full and immediate attention were demanded by what seemed an entire world peopled solely by small persons speaking English in a variety of foreign accents!

The journey to Barcelona directly from school ensured that I did arrive in time for the start of the performance, though the raucous drunken hordes of Manchester United supporters in town for the Champions League game cavorting along the Ramblas accompanied by a phalanx of police caused me to miss the entrance to the underground car park. I then had visions of being condemned to drive aimlessly along vomit spattered streets in search of a space.

Luckily I was able to park underneath the central square and manage to get a mediocre menu del dia as well. Though not in the same place.

Tannhäuser was a triumph!

The overture showed the direction the production was going to take by portraying the central character as a painter. The orgy scene presented Venus as Woman (with a capital ‘W’) model, mistress, lover, muse and probably other aspects which passed me by. Tannhäuser painted on a large canvas with the pack of the canvas to the audience. His large gestures were rather obviously in time with the music and suggested a very literalist approach which, I am relieved to report, was not continued through the production.

Although Tannhäuser was in the arms of the goddess of love and his sensual side fulfilled his inspiration was frustrated and his artistic production was disappointing. His contentment was unbalanced and he needed to suffer to complete his artistic and personal vision.

The theme of redemption through suffering and sacrifice was all worked out in terms of art. Effective images were produced by stacked canvasses all with their backs to the audience, presenting us with a series of cross supports which became effective crosses when carried by the pilgrims.

Act II, which for me was the highlight of the piece, was particularly effective with the hall for the song contest being transformed into a high walled gallery with a series of easels looking like particularly elegant Charles Rennie Mackintosh chairs awaiting the artistic productions of the contestants.

Eventually, of course, paintings had to be seen when, after the sacrifice of Elizabeth Tannhäuser was able to produce a work of art which demonstrated his redemption.

The bizarre programme listed a whole series of paintings with spaces where the illustrations should go but only the canvas size was printed. A couple of paintings were reproduced in colour, but they were hidden in uncut pages: a Courbet and a Manet. Try and guess which paintings they were. Not difficult I think!

The final chorus was electrifying as Tannhäuser finally moved to put his painting among the art in the gallery and just as he was about to reveal it the opera ended. A cop out perhaps, but what could he have shown? The Courbet perhaps?

A stimulating and thought provoking production and, to my mind, more satisfying than the singing. The orchestral playing was excellent and I particularly liked the voice of Herman, Günter Groissböck: a voice of depth and sophistication. Venus, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, produced a most unpleasant sound while here alter ego Elizabeth produced a sound which was deeply satisfying. The other singers were adequate to undistinguished and the voice of Tannhäuser himself, Peter Seiffert was determined rather than musical.

The highlight of the evening was in the second interval when I decided to sustain myself by partaking of the delights offered by the Liceu. I had a delicate croissant with cheese a glass of Cava and a plate of four exquisite chocolates one of which had a few salt crystal on top and another which was bronze!

Such delight!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let Kulture Kommence!

The Red Dragon has certainly been leading the way in my classroom today. My hapless pupils have started a week of helpless subjugation to my Culture Week Whims.

Their first taste of my chosen country was a sight of one of the two posters kindly sent by the Welsh Tourist Board at the instigation of Dianne. Bedecked with tricolour garlands the second poster on the door meant that the kids were already impressed when they were lining up to come into the classroom. Inside they were visibly shaken by the display of photos (mainly untimely ripped from a publicity magazine sent by the Tourist Board) and the piece de resistance of the giant flag sent by Dianne pinned behind my desk on the sun blind! Wales has certainly arrived in one small corner of Sitges!

The kids’ first cultural experience after the shock of the changed appearance of the classroom was to be launched unceremoniously into the maws of a dragon, even if it was only to be made of clay. I had determined on the production of clay dragons because ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’ My enthusiastic instructions about how to produce such a creature were far more confident sounding than my complete lack of experience in things clay would (or indeed should) suggest. Based on the naïve assumption that a clay dragon was little more than a central blob with four leg blobs, a stumpy neck blob supporting a blob of a head with two ear shapes stuck on the body blob I proceeded with carefree abandon.

Let no one tell you that modelling in clay is easy: they lie! It was however good fun and, apart from the near hysteria that characterised rampant creativity in a (normal) timetable free week, we managed to create a number of stumpy creatures of varying convincingness. My own efforts look like a good effort from a reasonably intelligent seven year old, so I am more than pleased!

The traditional colouring in of the national flag was given an added twist by a previous colleagues work with younger kids who encouraged them to produce some hallucinogenic colour combinations for erstwhile boring fruit. I have followed his lead and allowed the kids full use of a recently discovered box of felt colours to make their versions of the Welsh flag as bright and unexpected as possible. I propose by the end of the week to have some 60 or 70 versions of the flag all sellotaped together in a sort of tapestry. Already we have had to deal with kids who find it virtually impossible to follow the simplest of rules and when asked to cut around the black line which outlines the flat to be coloured they find this too complex to follow and cut at random and are amazed when I question their understanding! In spite of this the ‘tapestry’ continues to develop. I think, at a distance, it will look quite impressive. At a distance!

The kids have also drawn pictures of Castell Coch from a series of photographs that I gave them.

I have always assumed that a group of teachers was the worst possible manifestation of The Questioning Syndrome. Anything, absolutely anything which is put to a group of teachers will immediately elicit a barrage of questions. It makes no difference if the group of teachers actually knows anything of the subject being discussed, the questions keep coming. Teachers, of course, never listen when they are being told something. Spending their lives telling others things they sometimes (always?) find it difficult to listen. Who was it said that the definition of an actor is a person who, if you are not talking about him, he is not listening. It doesn’t quite fit teachers, but some version of it would be apposite.

This simple drawing task ensured that every member of the class came up to me and asked about something. I have never made so many instant artistic judgments and made compelling suggestions which ensured that the pupils continue working on their mini masterpieces until the end of their allotted time!

Probably the most satisfying part of the day was given over to ‘Traditional Games.’ Whose traditions we were following was never made clear but when presented with a variety of low cost (remember what sort of school I am in) games, I instantly pounced on apple bobbing as the one which I would like to supervise.

The apples could be provided by the school and this, in itself was a clear inducement to drain at least some money from the grasping hands of The Owner.

The enthusiasm of the kids was wonderful to see as they realised that gentle nuzzling of the apples would produce no result whatsoever and they would have to commit themselves to a proper dunking to get the fruit.

Apart from a few intelligent spoilsports the rest of the kids entered into the spirit of the thing with gusto and were soon soaking wet. If the bobbing (which took place outside) had been in Wales then all the kids would probably have been decimated by pneumonia in short time, but here in the gentler climate of Catalonia a few minutes of frenetic skipping around soon restored acceptable dryness.

No day would be normal in our school without the necessary bitter chaos which is the normal currency of our daily life.

The Owner was furious to discover that normal timetable had been suspended for the ‘cultural’ activities of her imposed ‘cultural’ week. In spite of the fact that this had been discussed, minuted and passed to the ‘higher authorities’ (i.e. The Owner) the actuality was, of course, a shock and was roundly condemned, in spite of the fact that she (her) The Owner had already said that it was a good idea. Yet again normal logic falls before the magic realism of our school!

The weekly meeting after school also produced the usual spiteful unhelpfulness that characterises any attempt by the teaching staff to do their jobs. So nothing new there then!

The attitude of the teaching staff was semi humorously summed up by one of my colleagues who after the meeting responded to a question from me by saying, “I’m sorry but my brain has been disengaged for the meeting, I’m only just back on line: Good evening!”

Yet again, as it does so often at present, Goya’s wonderful engraving, ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters’ comes to mind.

Tomorrow, love spoons.

And normality of course!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another bloody Sunday!

Today will be a test of the resilience of Catalan weather.

When a day starts off being gloomy in my previous country you can guarantee that the morose climatic conditions will persist throughout the day. The contrast with Catalonia is striking. Here a depressing morning can often result in a glorious afternoon and superlative evening. Not always, but often enough to give a desperate sun seeker some reason to hope.

And hope is something in short supply at the moment as Toni seems to have seamlessly passed on his tummy bug to me so that I am already worrying about the epic journey of some twenty minutes that I have to make to work each morning and afternoon. This is a long time to be distant from essential services!

Tomorrow sees the start of Culture Week.

What powerful words those are! Immediately after writing them I took to my bed and had an extended period of writhing in agony with only multiple glasses of water as my medicine. Toni’s bugs are more powerful than I had expected.

Now that I have risen from my recumbent position I find that there is a gale blowing. The sea has taken on a muted colour as it can only be seen through a filter of airborne sand. There is a febrile brightness about the day as the sun attempts to shine in spite of everything.

Meanwhile: Culture Week.

The one thing that you can predict is that the carefully worked out timetable painstakingly constructed by the two girls will not work out. Something Will Happen. And everything will be different in the twinkling of an eye.

Obviously in these circumstances you need to have Something In Reserve so, for the first time in my life I have constructed a Word Search. I suppose that it is impossible for any young teacher not to approach his or her first job without his or her laptop being loaded with a program to construct word searches. And pupils are apparently programmed to respond to word searches with alacrity. We shall, if I manage to get them printed out, see if the well attested magic works every time!

I am worried that I do not have enough ‘stuff’ to see me through the week and, as the teachers are country specific, I will not be able to beg, borrow or steal any material to dish out to the kids when they suddenly appear in front of me in defiance of the timetable.

It will, as the soothing professionals always say, be a learning experience!

Bring it on!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Relentless reading!

Today has started with an oxymoron.

It is brightly dull or dully bright. It is not a convincing morning, neither one thing nor another. And it’s still windy. The new padded lounger is optimistically facing outwards to where the blazing sun should be and is looking emptily forlorn as its raison d’etre is sitting indoors morosely typing rather than lounging in the warmth.

It is the sort of day when I would, in the past, have girded my loins and made an expedition into town to scour the bookshops for a suitable consumer durable to ameliorate climatic angst. Although Cardiff is described as having an equitable climate (and to be fair it does) this charitable description does not preclude generous amounts of rain. I find rain depressing and the only way of coping is to treat myself with the printed word. That is one of the reasons that Bluspace has a substantial number of cardboard boxes filled with the compensatory volumes which were emotional counterweights to the debilitating depression that is the inevitable consequence of dull, damp days in Wales. Of course, when the weather was fine then it was time for me to buy a book to celebrate. I alwys try and live a win/win sort of life!

Luckily my weekend goodies are waiting in the newsagent. Each Saturday La Vangardia has special offers so I get two books and a CD. The most important volume is the next one in the Great Catalan Painters series.

I have steadily been increasing my knowledge of a series of painters whose names were previously totally unknown to me. The series includes such luminaries as Picasso (claimed by Catalonia, though born in Malaga) Miró, Dalí and Gaudí who are very well known, through artists who at least I had heard of like Rusiñol and Casas through to artists who are very important in Catalonia and were unknown to me like Fortuny, Urgell, Meifrèn, Anglada-Camarasa and Guinovart. It is a fascinating study and repays any effort. The drawings and paintings of Casas are a revelation; he has the fluency of line and perception of a Daumier and other 'unknown' Catalan artists can take their place easily with some of the best in Europe for their time.

It has now become doggedly fine, so I’ll shower and venture out to get my presents and settle down for a trying read as I attempt to work out what the Catalan might mean when applied to the painting on the opposite page!

Wish me luck!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Are things looking up?

Begone negativity!

God knows there is enough to be negative about in my professional life, but in ‘sort of’ other terms, today has been good.

All praise to The Welsh Tourist Board who have come up trumps and sent me a lavishly illustrated booklet and two posters. Dianne (all praise also!) has been true to her promise which has been equally matched by the efficiency of not only the British post office but also that of the Spanish and Catalan service which has ensured that Dianne’s flag, CD and postcards have all arrived in time for the Culture Week in our school!

The flag, especially, is splendid and I will attach it with safety pins to the sun blind behind my desk. At least one room in Sitges will be flamboyantly Welsh for the next week! Thanks to all.

The Welsh Tourist Board’s contribution has been cut up and laminated and now forms part of a display of ‘Images of Wales’ taking up space on my whiteboard. Llanfair pg has been written out (with English translation) and streamers of almost red, white and green adorn my walls.

The school timetable for next week has been abandoned and ‘cultural larks’ are to take place for the general edification and delight of the pupils.

The things I have planned for the forthcoming week are many and various and suggest a familiarity with a traditional Welsh upbringing that I do not possess, but, what the hell! It’s all good fun!

I feel that it is significant that the major lessons that I have planned all have elements which I have not tried and tested: there is nothing like living on adrenaline! If what I have planned works out then there will be a dramatic display to show at the end of the week in the cataclysmic assembly which will mark the end of this enforced cultural experiment!

Meanwhile, in the real world, I understand that I am at last being observed and my kids are being tested for their reading ages and maths ability. This is an initiative of the headteacher who thinks that the educational standards of the pupils are abysmally low. The reading test results seem to indicate that many of the pupils have reading ages way below their chronological ages. Something, as a failed king once said, must be done.

I have to admit that I am rather looking forward to next week as it promises to be an extended period when I can indulge my frustrated artistic impulses by forcing the pupils to exploit their innate creativity. Ho! Ho! Ho!

In this generally positive atmosphere I have to report that Toni also is partaking of this lack of negativity and is feeling better than he has done over the past few days.

Roll on the weekend!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kulture Kosts

Today is not likely to be marked with a white stone.

It took me one and a half hours to travel the 20 or so kilometres from Castelldefels to Barcelona this evening.

In the normal course of events this would have worked me up into an intolerable fury. This evening I had allowed one and half hours travel time to ensure that I arrived at a reasonable time to take my seat at the opera for the performances of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ and ‘The Diary of One Who Disappeared.’

The Liceu has a civilized technique for dealing with those unfortunates who believed that the road system of Barcelona was designed to facilitate the movement of cars. The opera had already started when I arrived and so I was ushered, with another harassed looking individual, into a small viewing theatre where a televised broadcast of the performance was being screened.

After a certain time an usher appeared and drove us all to the lifts where, on our appropriate floors we were met by other uniformed ushers who positioned us by the appropriate doors so that we could access our seats in the short interval of applause before the second opera started.

It was smoothly done, but I still feel that I have been cheated of an opera.

Comments on the Janácek would be based on a limited experience of the production but I have to say that it looked interesting with the soloist stripped to the half in a hole in the stage. At once point he was surrounded by writhing undulating bodies – and this was after his head had been grasped in the naked thighs of the soprano! Ah, the wonders of modern opera production.

‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ was a production with interesting moments but not, for me, satisfying overall.

There was extensive use of gauze screens which allowed a series of projections which facilitated the creation of extraordinary ‘rooms’ and, most effectively a three dimensional line grid to emphasise the nature of the relationship of the two singers.

The Bartók was better sung than the Janácek, but the orchestra was the real star with superlative playing throughout.

The lighting was adventurous and effective but not slick enough to be completely convincing.

The most impressive coups de theatre were in the Bartók when the barrier to the final room was a sheet of water and when uplighting from a stage floor grid provided a short of magic carpet for the singers when there was a projected overlay of a cityscape.

An enjoyable evening: if a shorter one than intended.

And after: the most expensive bocadillos ever.

I am reminded (forcefully) of a traumatic occasion when I had a cup of coffee in the next café down from the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées. I made the vast mistake of taking my coffee sitting down outside. I had no idea that there was a sliding scale of extortion, but when the bill arrived I went into cardiac arrest! It has remained a symbol of rapacity throughout my life. Its status as the most expensive causal drink in my life (allowing for inflation) was almost supplanted by the extortionate beer in the arcades of Milan.

Now the bocadillo shop on the Ramblas in Barcelona is vying to become the new Café of Shame. Itemising the individual overpriced delicacies is too painful, suffice to say what should have been a snack cost a couple of quid actually cost €27 – given the present dismal rate of exchange that’s about £21! Words fail me! And the parking was £5 too.

God knows I don’t find it at all difficult to get rid of money.

It’s a sort of gift.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The dragons are coming!

Culture Week approaches and I find I now know more about Welsh love spoons than is reasonable and proper.

Those kids don’t know what they are in for next week: dragons, flags The Welsh National anthem, Welsh hats and feathers, clay, paint and sweat!

And no money to make it happen of course. I only hope that Dianne’s largesse arrives in time to add a certain gaiety to the occasion. Then at least there will be music and a real flag to wave!

Still, in terms of our school, next week is whole mad incidents away and not to be thought of as immanent.

My planning for the week after next has to be in tomorrow. The fact that I can type that without dissolving into a quivering mass of neurosis shows how far I have developed or degenerated – depending on your point of view.

I have discovered a hitherto unrealised fascination for the Wirral. That splendid local authority there has devised a whole scheme of mathematics for primary school children. On the web. Available. Downloadable. Understandable. Wonderful!

Without the internet our school would grind to a halt. Well, I certainly would!

Of course, the really important element in planning is akin to the truism that voting is unimportant, it is who counts the votes that is the crucial question. Planning is all very well, especially when it is printed out in a detailed format – but who is teaching it?

Since I have been in the school no one has looked at a single lesson that I have taught. It follows, therefore, that I could have been teaching anything. I might even have been following the planning that I submitted. Who knows?

Who cares?

We are getting nearer to the date when I will know if I am to be teaching in the school next year. You might well ask, why, if all that I have written is even remotely correct, could I even consider continuing in the place. A fair question.

It is sometimes said that a teacher’s class is his or her own kingdom. If I can make that a reality for next year then continuing is a possibility. Assuming that I am allowed to continue. All is up in the air.

Each day the kids in front of me urge reality while the ‘going ons’ around me in the larger academic context suggest that a Surrealistic approach would be the best attitude to adopt for survival.

I think that my present responses are more a function of the rather unsettled weather that we are having (and are due to have) than a placid philosophical stance.

Perhaps I will be more reasonable after the visit to the opera tomorrow evening: a double bill of ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Diary of one who disappeared’. Leoš Janáček and Béla Bartók. You have to be impressed with a programme which includes composers with so many accents. Such sophistication!

Culture indeed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An easy life

The plot thickens.

My future in primary education in my present school seems, how shall I put it: not necessarily long term.

My worst fears were that, with my present illegal contract, I would be farewelled with no more than a wistful sigh and certainly with no ‘holiday’ money to make the cruel summer months more bearable. A tentative enquiry elicited the delightful fact that I would be getting a whole month for my vacation entitlement. Not as much as my present colleagues, but I begrudge them nothing as they were present in the school during the truly unbelievably horrific days (now the stuff of legends to frighten student teachers) of the beginning of the year in September.

As far as I can gather they were virtually reinventing education in a school that they could hardly believe had been open for some 13 years! As far as they were concerned the school was a clear slate. They had no data on any of the students and no syllabus or curriculum to follow. They had no idea what the previous years of students has been studying or what stage any of them had reached.

And they hadn’t been told the date of the end of the school year! They were actually asked to sign a contact without knowing this passingly important date!

So things got steadily worse except for those times when they were getting rapidly worse!

One breathless colleague (always with an eye on the corridor in case she was overheard) told me with a wry smile that this year was much (much!) better than last year!

The days ahead to en end of June seem long indeed. We have a day’s holiday during ‘Culture Week’ and then a long weekend some time or other and then long full weeks to the end!

I am sure that my institution will find something exciting and illogical and illegal to fill my remaining time before the end of term.

One waits with interest.

At this point I should be turning to something light and positive: well, Toni is feeling better after a touch of gastro enteritis.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Oh, and another thing . . .

As is usual in our school, every meeting has the quality of a scorpion: there is always a sting in the tail.

This time the sting concerned the fate of those children whose parents were tardy in picking them up. The previous solution to these extraneous kids was to place them in the library after the school gate was closed fifteen minutes after the stated exit time of the children. The parents are charged an extra amount for this facility.

This was the practice time out of mind, and certainly since September of last year. Suddenly in April it turns out that this is not, was not and never has been the traditional way in our school. The new solution is for class teachers to stay with their charges. As some of our parents obviously regard the school as a child minding service with attitude this will mean some of us staying way past our official end time.

Although this sudden change in accepted behaviour is something which is second nature to the administration of the school, this particular innovation is absurd even for them.

I have used up all my exasperation and disbelief in trying to come to terms with the way that we are treated I felt that before we wasted too much time in futile anger we should “ask for clarification” to give the non teachers a little more time to consider the implications of their new ‘ideas.’ As usual I await developments with weary interest.

I have just finished reading ‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre. Like ‘44 Scotland Street’ it is supposed to be a funny novel. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments but the essential force of this work is comic and not really funny.

To call the ‘hero’ of this novel a modern Holden Caulfield is to link it with a challenging coming of age novel, but it can well sustain the comparison and shrug off the implied derivative nature of Pierre’s prose.

Like ‘Catcher in the rye’ ‘Vernon God Little’ manages to find a convincingly authentic ‘voice’ for a dispossessed generation. What I find interesting in this novel is the extent to which the plot takes a central position in the narrative.

The story is one which engages the reader and then when fully hooked by the narrative development the author overlays an ironically fantastic reading of society which forces the reader to adjust his perception of the action.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it without hesitation. Any novel which includes the phrase that “normal times went howling from town” in the first paragraph has got my vote. And I do assure you that the succeeding pages will more than justify the ‘howling’!

Meanwhile Culture Week approaches.

This unfunded extra in the curriculum now occupies an ambiguous place in the course of the school year. Today we had what purported to be a timetable for this event. Needless to say it was nothing of the sort and merely emphasises to us the fact that, yet again, the hapless teachers are left to make the whole bloody thing a success.

Par for the course.

And the weather was less than good today.

And I came home to find Toni ill in bed.

It just goes on getting better.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

And, relax!

What a fine city Barcelona is!

A walk along the sea front from Barcelonetta to Plaça de Catalunya shows the city at its best. From the intelligent modern development of the seaside Paseo to the centre of a confident city you can feel a vibrancy and intensity which is city living at its best.

Our lunch in Port Olympico was supposed to be paella but a casual glance at the menu and that was transformed into mixed tapas (mediocre) and a mixed sea food (exceptional) and for less than we could get it here in Castelldefels!

The only thing that kept me going in our extended promenade was the knowledge that, at journey’s end we would be visiting Habitat (old habits die hard!) to purchase sun loungers and a little folding chair which I could use as a small table on the balcony. As Toni’s mother pointed out (we met Toni’s sister and her in fnac) we are truly prepared for the summer.

On our return home I once again returned to my latest book taken from the select library in the staff room of my school. This book is ’42 Scotland Street’ by Alexander McCall Smith,
a new novel from the bestselling author of ‘The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’. That’s what it says on the cover.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ and I had great hopes from this novel.

The genesis of this piece of work is outlined in the entertaining Preface to the novel. A chance meeting with Armistead Maupin and a sympathetic editorial staff on The Scotsman and a new serialised novel was born.

The book shows its origins. I found it strangely unsettling until I got used to the episodic conventions that are necessary to sustain this type of writing in a modern newspaper.

When Dickens was writing his episodic novels he was granted much more space than Maupin and Smith can use. This means that the ‘placing’ of information for later development has to be much more obvious and rapid than can be allowed in a full length novel with the usual character development spread over a number of pages.

The situations and characters are much more obvious that one would tolerate in a normal novel and there is the expectation that any scrap of information given to the reader is going to be utilized at a later date.

There was also a sense that the characters had sprung ready formed onto the page and the suggested lacuna was fairly obviously going to be utilized in a later episode.

There were minor infelicities in character description: would the narcissist Bruce, really have referred to his hair as en brose rather than spiky? And all the other characters seem to like the phrase too as it applied to him with monotonous regularity. Pat is a jigsaw of a character with no real sense of an overall conception to unite all the disparate elements in her portrayal.

I suppose that I should remind myself that this is a self proclaimed comic novel and so there must be a certain latitude allowed in the way that characters are introduced and developed, though I still feel that many comic opportunities are lost.

Bruce’s stealing of Todd’s underpants and stuffing them in his sporran is a situation worthy of Tom Sharpe, but the end result is mildly amusing rather than hysterical.

There are loose ends: who is the recluse on the ground floor? Where is the car? What is going to happen to Bertie? Will Pat find true happiness? Is Matthew a real character at all? And so on.

My qualifications, however, should be viewed in the light of my wanting to find the sequel to this volume!

I have been frustrated in my desire for paella for the second day running. ‘We’ eventually decided to have chicken with the sort of trimmings that you can get from our local spit roast chicken place and ate on the balcony.

The sun had not reached us so the meal was eaten by three gently shuddering Catalans and me. I am now sitting (in the new comfortable chair) on the extreme edge of the balcony and having my right arms heated by the strip of sun that is slowly advancing across the surface if the tiles.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Do what you have to

Why are there so many times when saying what you think is right is impossible, or at least difficult and inappropriate?

A few little words can change so many things in ways which are difficult to predict.

I was delighted to hear that the craven submission of HM Government to the dictatorial demands of the illegal regime in Saudi Arabia has been highlighted by the courts. The investigation should be reopened and the truth (whatever that is) should be revealed. There might be ‘costs’ exacted by the Saudis, but perhaps they might be worth paying to gain some sort of self respect in the murky waters of International Relations.

Jesting Pilate’s question of ‘What is truth’ seems to be one which is a perennial accusation to anyone who thinks about their actions. What is ‘true’ in international relations on a supra national level it also true on a much more domestic level.

At the end of Asimov’s vastly entertaining ‘Foundation Trilogy’ there are a series of ‘endings’ until the final truth is revealed. As I remember one of the short chapters was entitled, ‘The truth that satisfied’ and I suppose that is the level at which most of us live.

Sometimes we are able, if we care to, to make a difference and force the ‘truth’ to a more ‘real’ level.

What I am saying in my usual roundabout way is that I had an opportunity which I did not take. I participated in a communal lie of omission which allowed the superficial to become the commonly held perception.

I did it for the best of reasons, of course; of course, naturally. As we all did. But I can’t help feeling that we have all participated in a vast deception which does us all no real credit.

And life goes on.

Day by day we get nearer to the summer holidays and release.

Today Toni took an occasional day to wait for the repair of the dishwasher. Let me first encourage everyone to avoid the brand Taurus as neither the machines they make nor the service they offer after sale is or any real quality.

Life without a dishwasher has been hard. Even using a crap machine like a Taurus has been better than actually washing dishes in a sink.

I must admit that I had forgotten the various grubby techniques necessary to wash dishes by hand. Given my complete lack of faith in the efficiency of Taurus (more than well justified) I actually bought a white plastic dish drainer! Such a retrogressive purchase but one which has been essential in the relearning of the manual techniques of crockery cleaning.

It is not one in which I want to become too expert.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We're watching!

Today the intermittently cloudy sky allowed enough bright sunlight to illuminate the brittle smiles of The Chosen Ones.

We have among us, stalking the glass sided corridors of our fragile institution, An August Personage. He is conducting the first of our two inspections.

In the discussion prior to his arrival I willing volunteered to be observed and to take part in an Informal Discussion with the Personage. I have to say that my well intentioned offer was met with incredulous laughter. I find it rather an encouraging thing to be considered not the most secured armament on the planking!

As today is one of my lunch duty free days I take the opportunity to leave the school entirely and go to the adjoining sports centre and have a menu del dia. When I entered I found a group of our teachers being regaled with a story by the Personage. Was it my imagination or did I detect a tremor of disquiet ruffle the easy equanimity of that comfortable group?

I like to consider myself more of a Mrs Danvers person than Mrs DeWinter, or perhaps a more rational version of Mrs Rochester. Interesting that fire is a connecting feature; but that needs to be considered at a later date when my brain can get back into some form of literary criticism which is working on something more substantial than ‘The Ice Giants’ or ‘The Masked Cleaning Ladies’ courtesy of Treetops Guided Reading Scheme!

Tomorrow is the last day of the inspection and we will be free of August Personages until October of next year.

By that time who knows what will have happened with us.

Today a computer appeared in my classroom. This is positive. It does not work and is not yet connected to a network. This is negative. It does not have a printer. This is also negative. Two negatives with every positive.

That’s about par for the course!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Patmos revisted!

Wheels within wheels: the surface tells you nothing!

I have ever been fascinated by the relationship of the ostensible with the real. I have not always been able to recognise the difference and have sometimes mistaken the one for the other. But even my mistakes have been, um, instructive.

Today was the day when the first inspector arrived in school and began the process which is leading towards the actual practical inspection. Life continued much as usual with a certain heightened tension notable in the senior staff.

The atmosphere in school is negative with an advanced sense of unease permeating all the teaching areas. Perhaps the most dispiriting element in the equation is the general air of weary resignation. This is not the most productive atmosphere in which to work.

My aim is to set up my own ‘teaching republic’ within the school so that I will have a base from which I can venture forth into the lunacy of the institution secure in the idea of a refuge of semi sanity to which I can return.

This is not the ideal way to organise a teaching regimen but needs must when the devil drives!

So, what have we got to look forward to? Our school being our school, we do SATs. Of course we do. We have two inspections looming. Culture Week is an ominous cloud on the near horizon. Contracts for next year are non-appearing, but you never know. Who is leaving must be decided soon so that next year’s class allocation can begin. Reports will have to be written. Parental interviews have to happen at some time or other. Wish lists (sic) have to be written for next year. The list goes on. And every item I have presented is replete with the possibility of endless complication.

I need to sit down with a good drink and an empty mind and drift away for a little.

That last paragraph sounds quite unnecessarily depressing and disturbing, whereas I am really quite excited by the future.

I am in a situation where anything is possible. Nothing is static. Major decisions can be made with a casual disregard for the consequences which is astonishing.

The Old Chinese Curse of ‘May you live in interesting times’ has come to be my daily watchword.

Who can fail to be unmoved when each day in work could easily be your last; when everything can change in the twinkling of an eye; when change is the only absolute on which you can rely?

I feel drawn to paraphrase (with affection and respect) one of the greatest ‘last words’ from a very gallant lady, “I realise now that a blog is not enough: one must have a private diary too.”

Roll on revelation!

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Lying in the sun on my new padded lounger, sipping Rioja while listening to ‘Satyagraha’ on my ipod. A picture of self indulgent happiness. Well, for me anyway.

This indolent wallowing in sensory excess was a just reward for the horror of the morning.

The flat has reached that level of scruffy unkemptness which activated all of Toni’s tidying impulses – which I ignore at my peril.

Toni wealds a mop like an ancient weapon of war. Like a knight of old going to battle with his trusty lance, he harries the dirt from the floor with an expression of personal vindictiveness illuminating his face as his sacred Crusade continues.

I usually banish myself to the kitchen and make desultory cleaning gestures of varying levels of ineffectuality because I know that I will meet my Waterloo in one particular area of kitchen cleansing.

I let few things annoy me. Apart, that is, from people with tiny dogs; boys who wear baseball caps backwards; sunglasses frames on ordinary glasses; motorists who don’t indicate; people who eat crisps in public; rap music; the ‘royal’ family; stupid beards; Spanish television; The Bishop of Rome; clouds; Andy Warhol; drizzle; the novels of William Faulkner, and things like that.

But some things do annoy me. Computer programs that always let you down. Always. And the one thing in the kitchen which is impossible to clean.

I fail to understand why the Advertising Standards Agency or something allows the manufactures of electric hobs to claim that they are easy to clean.

Ever since I was hoodwinked years ago into buying a sleek looking electric hob I have been virulently against them. I eventually replaced the electronic disaster with gas. I have yet to find anyone who actually, seriously, prefers electricity to gas with which to cook.

The radiant rings look nice the first time you use them and then the failing battle to keep them pristine. Almost immediately they look shabby soon developing a misty ring of grubbiness which remains, spoiling the reflective gleam that sold the bloody thing to you in the first place.

I used every single proprietary liquid, foam, cream and spray on the market and nothing worked.

It was, therefore, with something approaching despair that I realized that the flat had a shining, new electric hob.

The cleaning equivalent of the Via Dolorosa started almost at once. Pristine to pissed off in one simple cooking experience.

Today was the day that, to match the manic cleansing of Toni, I decided to clean the hob.

I used a foam which advised leaving the activated liquid on the surface for ‘some seconds’, which I did and then used a scourer to make an impression on the cloudy accretions. It is a cruel fact that, when wet, the surface gives the impression of being clean. It is only when you wipe off the detergent and dry the hob that all your old filthy friends show themselves to be far more resilient to the cleansing liquid than your decomposing flesh!

Three bloody times I treated the surface, with increasing ferocity. An exploratory scratch with a nail resulted in the destruction of the nail and the triumphant success of the resilient residue.

I am ashamed to admit that I rather lost it after that and decided to chisel the rest off. Luckily I restrained myself in my fury and the only steel that was used to attack the hob was a small paring knife. After the grisly work of the knife, another application of the corrosive liquid.

And it’s as clean as it is ever going to get.

God rot electric hobs to a hotter hell than any that they have visited upon hapless users on earth.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What tape?

Although it is only April, there is a definite ‘end of term’ and ‘end of year’ feeling in school. For the veterans who have been in the school since September and survived the total chaos of the first few months, there is a sense of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and simple ‘escape!’ And I think that I have used enough quotation marks for one simple paragraph!

I have been trying to assess how many of the present staff will be staying in the primary sector of the school to be in place for the next academic year. As far as I can tell, out of a staff of eleven, at least six will go with another two likely to leave as well. Of the remaining three, one would prefer to teach PE rather than be a classroom teacher, the next is an NQT and the last is me. I will have had precisely two terms experience of primary teaching.

Gives you confidence for the next term!

One of the main reasons that this school has been able to survive (in spite of the mass exodus of staff at the end of each year) is its location. Sitges has an immediate appeal. Not only is it an internationally famous resort, but also it is within easy reach of one of the most high profile cities in Europe – Barcelona. The chance to teach in such a desirable place is very tempting. A decent salary from teaching and the facilities to enjoy extensive beaches and a lively night life must be very tempting to a young teacher looking out at the grey skies in Britain.

It’s a pity the imagined blandishments of teaching in Sitges are, indeed, imaginary!

I have been told that all (ALL) of our jobs have been advertised in the TES and that the applications are pouring in! Not only does this give me no confidence about my continued career in the school, but it also suggests that the cynical view of there always being someone to take the place of any recalcitrant teacher in post is true.

As people appear and are interviewed what do we, the battle scarred survivors, say to the fresh faced innocence that will only see the sun and the sand and not the reality of teaching in a private school?

We have interesting times ahead of us.

Toni’s nephew having destroyed the pair of binoculars which live on the balcony – there are only so many times you can drop an optical instrument on tiles and expect it to survive! This wanton destruction did at least afford me the opportunity to purchase a new pair.

MediaMarkt is a beguiling electronics store in many locations in Catalonia. Unfortunately there is a branch in Gavá, which is only a short car ride from the flat. I remember once having to go to PC World to return a faulty gadget and was horrified to discover that the computers in PC World had a complete list of everything that I had purchased. Not only there, but also in Curry’s. The inventory was extensive and as I gazed in increasing disbelief at the unending catalogue of ‘essential’ spending on things that I had bought in the stores I began to wonder why I didn’t simply redirect my salary directly into their coffers rather than continue the pointless irritating glitch of having the money alight fleetingly in my bank account before it went to its rightful home!

Well, PC World does not exist in Catalonia (its close cousin PC City does however) but MediaMarkt is rapidly talking over the grasping role of the British store and taking the pittance which is left after the payment of the rent from my salary!

Still my gadget ration keeps improving.

Some time back I had a solar powered gadget charger. It was elegant and reasonably priced and it worked. For a couple of short weeks. Then died.

Never one to deny a worthwhile gadget idea a second chance I have now had a chance to evaluate my ‘power monkey’ (the new 'funkily' named replacement) and solar charger. This was much more expensive than the one I had previously, but the ‘power monkey’ seems to be much better made and tells you via a little screen whether the item is charging. This is more encouraging than just hoping for the best as was my first experience with these things!

So far so good, and I am busily seeing how many of the multitude of chargers I can pack away if I rely on this odd little larvae like power unit with its interchangeable end bits.

Time will tell, but I always live in hope!

Friday, April 04, 2008

What a way to end.

Before children are released back into the community from our tender care at the end of the day, they are not allowed to pass through the gate and out into the real world until they can point to a parent waiting for them.

One girl in my class excitedly pointed through the fence at a shadowy figure and gibbered out that it was her mother. I asked her how she was so sure, “Ask you mother a question to prove that she is your mum!” I said.

The girl thought for a moment and then innocently asked, “Is it true that you have 42 years?” Collapse of all concerned to the bemusement of the girl herself!

It is not often that you get a smile at the end of a hard week. I took it as a good sign for the rest of the weekend.

I have borrowed another book from the shelf of books in English in school: ‘Vittorio the Vampire’ by Anne Rice.
It is truly awful little potboiler. Within the first few pages her central character writes, “I have been in bed with the dead since 1450’ – well, he is a vampire after all! But, lest we should think that we are going to be treated with a faux piece of historical writing we are assured that we should not “look here, please, for antique language. You will not find a rigid fabricated English meant to conjure castle walls by stilted diction and constricted vocabulary.”

And she’s right.

What you find instead is sloppy language which uses lazy anachronisms in expression as a short hand way to vague period authenticity.

Considering our central character has “devoured over four centuries of English, from the plays of Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson to the abrupt and harshly evocative words of a Sylvester Stallone movie,” his language is signally lacking in verve and interest.

I suppose it is disingenuous to feel that my choice of a novel with a title like ‘Vittorio the Vampire’ lacks profundity, but it does. I suppose that the story of how a privileged noble Renaissance Italian boy becomes seduced into becoming a vampire after his heroic vendetta against the un-dead who slaughtered his family is something more for the beach than the study!

I should have waited for more sun and sand!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The hardy first!

This afternoon was notable for the first sighting of a man in the sea.

There have been the usual loonies cavorting in the water who find fulfilment in wearing tightly fitting rubber and balancing precariously on thin pieces of expensive fibreglass while travelling at unfeasibly high speeds on choppy water. Not forgetting, of course, their even loonier associates who, not content at zipping across the waves add a further dimension of horror by wilfully adding a jerking height to their progress by attaching themselves to kites.

But bone fide swimmers have not been in evidence until today. The fact that the hardy swimmer was a gentleman advanced in age adds a dimension of guilt to those of us who live by the sea and have the waves tantalizingly close at hand, yet scorn to experience the heart stopping shock of the icy waters of early April.

Perhaps a weekend of fine weather can tempt the less hardy.

Or not.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Today has simply not been right.

A day when everything has been vaguely unsatisfactory, or at least seemed so.

There hasn’t been quite enough time to get things done; there weren’t quite enough photocopies to do round; the A4 plain paper ran out

Those were the meandering maundering thoughts of your hard pressed writer yesterday; and indeed as far as he got in writing something. He arrived home and, after an ineffectual attempt at intellectual conversation welcomed semi consciousness and retired to his bed.

Today comma however comma he is revivified and able to let his fingers stutter their way across his invitingly plastic keys to gibber out his message of the day.

Today has been no better. There is a definite negative atmosphere in the school. I have not yet been able to define this negativity with any degree of precision, but it is there!

I tried today to pin down my dissatisfaction. One of my colleagues suggested it was the difference between my approach to the school and the attitude of those who were looking at this term as the last that they were spending in the institution. Might be true! Shocking as it may seem, I am looking to continue my Primary experience into a further term. I have convinced myself that there are intellectual, professional and financial reasons to do this.

I may, of course, be deluding myself!

Meanwhile I have been trying to protect myself in my putative future employment, but I shall say no more than I have to at the present moment.

Today was brightened by the fact that I have a free lunchtime. This, of course, in my present employment is a luxury of which I take full advantage by leaving the school at the start of the lunchtime and eating in the sports centre next to the school. A rather decent menu del dia. Thank god.

This is a fragmented entry. I really don’t feel inclined to make it more fluent.

Something is wrong!