Thursday, May 29, 2008

A cynical moment?

Displacement activity is as mother’s milk to me.

Especially when there is marking to be done.

As far as I can tell the actual, physical placing of a mark on the sad sheets of paper on which my pupils have scribbled by way of completing their exams is but the first part of a mystical process in obtaining some sort of indication of their worth.

Far be it from simple addition as being the end result of their efforts. No, a mere mark is but the starting point in a process which makes the interpretation of the tarot as simple as reading a Janet and John book.

Vast charts which look like spreadsheets for a company the size of BP are necessary to find out the ‘level’ of a child who thinks that 146 is more than 160. I have no doubt that a final statement of a pupil’s academic standing will entail the counting of the number of teeth each pupil has and dividing the result by the square root of the number of pencils they have in their cases then adding their results and subtracting their date of birth times the number of degrees their capital ‘L’s deviate from the perpendicular.

There again, I might just be tired after completing the most specious pieces of ‘planning’ I have ever fabricated.

I should stop while I am still behind, as it were, and wait for the light of a new day to illuminate my writing.

Some hope.

At least it’s Friday tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Time for reflection?

My English class show how examinations used to be.

All around me they are working quietly with only the soft slide of pencil on paper and the occasional exhaled breath of gentle exasperation as the words (sometimes in the third of the pupils’ store of languages) do not come exactly as they want.

It’s a strange universe that is created by the examination room.

All dimensions are different. Time becomes elastic – depending on whether you are an invigilator or an examinee. The other dimensions of length, breadth and height also lose their defined nature as you feel yourself lost in the vast emptiness of a desolate examination hall or claustrophobically oppressed by the tension filled individuals surrounding you.

The dynamic within an examination room also has its own rhythm. I can well remember the ripple of naked fear that rolled through the hall when I was sitting my European history A level. As the papers were distributed and opened candidates in front of me realised that previously distinct historical events which had, heretofore their own distinct questions had now, in a grotesque parody of what we had understood as adequate scholarship had been yoked by force together. A question linking The Italian Wars and the Wars in the Netherlands? Unfair! Unreasonable! Impossible! What saddo had revised both, when in previous years only one was necessary to pass?

The history teacher who read the paper with something akin to our own despair told the invigilators not to let us out until we had been in the hall for at least a respectable length of time.

One candidate within my sight cut up his blotting paper into a series of little squares and made them into a pack of cards with which he contentedly played patience for the rest of the exam. One can’t help wondering if some innocuous missive from the WJEC outlining the new format of questions within the examination had been ignored courtesy of the traditional inertia which characterised the attitude of my old school to anything in the way of innovation!

The science examination has come and gone. Very different from the English exam. I had to read all the questions and try and forestall all those questions which would be perfectly natural were British school children asked about the growth of plants in Spanish, for example. This steady flight away from normal examination etiquette is but preparation for the true horror that will be my maths set tomorrow.

I have tried to get rid of two of my most ‘challenging’ pupils one of whom is very definitely ‘special needs’ in a multiplicity of ways and directions while the other thinks that plastic is a rock. In a science examination this is what we educationalists call a ‘bad thing.’ They will have their own dedicated teacher who has a bloody sight more patience that I will ever possess, though even she has been known to lose it from time to time and berate her trying charges with exhilaratingly direct invective.

I will be left with the hard core of maths strivers who have spent the last two weeks trying to tell the time.

I have noticed in all the tests that I have invigilated that some of the pupils almost instinctively cross themselves and then kiss their hands before writing anything!

My maths class will need more than empty mystic gestures invoking the non existent power of an absent god to get them through. They will need a complete reversal of Newtonian physics; Einstein’s physics and the refutation of String Theory, Black Holes, Stephen Hawking and all his works before their take on currently accepted academic norms becomes anything less than, simply, wrong. Bless!

The countdown to June gathers pace and all hell threatens to break out with interesting deadlines due to bring an extra element of dislocation into a dysfunctional institution.

One shudders with barely concealed impatience for the worst to happen!

Things, as a long lost version of a political organization known as the Labour Party used to think, can only get better!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tempus fugit!

Our bus stop has gone!

Toni went to catch the bus this morning and – nothing! The whole bus stop had gone: shelter, post, sign, people – everything.

And of course no notice, indication or clue about where you might be able to catch a bus, if you were so strangely inclined. He wondered if he should wander up or down the road in search of the peregrinating stop. He eventually opted to go in the direction of Sitges. And there it was. Newly erected: having sprung fully formed like thingamabob from the thigh of Zeus or the mythic Catalan equivalent.

The transport system in Catalonia (at least in our bit) is both wonderful and also god awful.

The total fiasco of the tunnel collapse for the high speed train (a national government project) which was being constructed in the vicinity of Hospitalet – a Barcelona suburb near Castelldefels resulted in the entire area grinding to a halt.

For months trains were unable to get nearer to Barcelona than Gava (the next stop on the line from Castelldefels into Barcelona) and the resultant traffic jams had to be seen to be believed! The political fall out was enormous and the howls of outrage from Catalonia could be heard all over Spain. It was, said all of Catalonia, yet another example of Madrid screwing the Catalans. A national disgrace.

National and local politicians vied with each other as to how much of the television schedules they could monopolise. The resentment rumbles on and the traffic system has not markedly improved.

Crap it might be; but cheap too! Transport into Barcelona (when it was finally re-established by train was free for months for those travelling to the previously affected areas!) And even when you have to pay the trip to Barcelona it costs one tenth of seven euros fifty. That is the cost of a T10 ticket which is valid for ten trips! British cities could learn a thing or two from this!

I am tempted to make a metaphor of the disappearing bus stop and say that it represents, in some ways, attitudes in Spain, or at least in Catalonia. Consumer satisfaction does not rate highly on the agendas of many of the businesses with which I have come into contact. A service or product is provided: buy it if you want to. If you don’t want to: no problem. And we are not that concerned if you don’t come again.

Perhaps it’s something to do with living in a tourist area with a large transient population of gullible pleasure seekers waiting to be fleeced.

That sounds more bitter than I meant it to. I like the people in this area; for the most part they seem reasonable and innocuous – just what a city boy like me wants. Small town chumminess is not what I am used to and I would find it cloying.

Meanwhile back in the asylum the last couple of days have been enlivened for me by a small task that I had been given by the head of the primary section of the school. One of our number is going to get married a week Thursday so I was asked to collect for him.

If I had a pound for each time that I have collected for people in the schools in which I have worked I would be able to retire in comfort at once. I have collected for colleagues in the English Department, colleagues in other departments, office staff, and ancillary workers. In one notable case I was asked by a sadistic chair of the staff room (a post which truck terror into my soul) to collect for the chief dinner lady.

You have to understand that her meals made the feast that Titus Andronicus made for Tamora (look it up) seem positively alluring.
Not only was her food uniformly disgusting she was also a fairly repulsive character: raucous, unhelpful and vindictive. The task of collecting having been given to me however, I collected assiduously though prefacing my requests for money with a fairly unflattering picture of the hag. I was amazed that people who had loathed her draconian culinary regime of inedible horror still gave me money! They all, bless them, dredged about in their memories and retrieved a small act of gastronomic palatability: an odd sandwich, a reasonable salad or glass of orange juice which might justify a small act of charity now that she was going!

At her leaving presentation, when she uncharacteristically simpered her way into the staff room to receive the results of my hard work, she gave a heart stopping little speech. In an unnaturally formal version of the ungrammatical patois she spoke, she thanked us all for our kindness and told us not to worry as she had spoken to the new head chef and “learned her everything I knows!” I hope she took our horrified silence for deep appreciation!

No such reservations about the present colectee and people have been (with a little gentle prompting) most generous. It is strange how comfortable the role of Collector has felt after an unnatural length of time since I have last Taken Round the Envelope.

For a small staff we have raised a respectable amount of money and Margaret has created a truly splendid card which everyone (to the best of my ability) has signed. Margaret could have a lucrative career as designer of extravagant hand made special occasion cards. Thinking about it, the one she has created is more spectacular than merely splendid! It will have to be photographed before it is given lightly to a mere groom!

Meanwhile revolution is lurking around the corner. Threats spoken and unspoken are hanging in the air depending on what The Owner decides to do as we run down (!) to the end of term. Our relative powerlessness in the face of autocratic monetary power is pathetic.

Perhaps we will change.

I hope so.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In the slightly eerie gloom of my blind shrouded room I am sitting at my desk, surrounded by empty desks as my class is taught music. I am gathering my strength for the intellectual onslaught which is my maths class.

The numerical universe populated by my hapless pupils is a different one from that one which is creatively and imperfectly understood by those able to read these lines with a modicum of fluency.

To be brutal, for my class a sum such as “three plus nine” is as powerful in its intellectual challenge as trying to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem and never having heard of Sir Andrew Wiles.

Getting the class to make an effort at telling the time has been as searing a teaching experience as I have ever endured. I have used every technique that I could think of and which the internet could offer; I have used animations and worksheets; I have been reasonable and demented; exuberant and suicidal.

We have gone through times when (at its best) understanding was almost in sight and I, like a frankly more healthily sceptical Moses, glimpsed what might have been the promised land of time telling on every corner. I have also endured times (at their worst) when what we teachers know as an ‘answering frenzy’ takes place.
To those less than au fait with the minutiae of high level education an ‘answering frenzy’ is when a pupils gives an absurdly wrong answer and the rest of the class is drawn into what amounts to a bidding competition which involves throwing ever more tangential numbers at the teacher in the belief that some mathematic god will prompt them to speak in tongues which will involve the correct answer.

This is the teaching equivalent of my shocking ascent of a staircase in new The National Theatre when, having unwittingly stored a vast reserve of static electricity by walking across a vast expanse of nylon carpet in the foyer, I foolishly touched the metal handrail while stepping on the first part of the staircase.

The electric spark my hand produced propelled me to the other side of the staircase where I instinctively grasped the opposite handrail which sparked at once and the pain propelled me to the other side when, having learned little in the previous millisecond I reached out and . . . . Well, you get the idea. I fell up stairs in a series of galvanic twitches which would have brought tears of joy to the eighteenth century experimenters with frogs’ legs.

Falling upwards into oblivion with my maths class, rather than the rather nice, but pricey restaurant that was my destination in the National.

My class has already had one practice test on mental maths where the idea is that a problem is read out and the pupils have five seconds to respond by writing down an answer. This created the equivalent of mental melt down with each question being greeted with squeaks of outraged amazement that anything so demanding could be asked of mere children.

Today we have a practice of the real maths test and I foresee innumerable problems with, well, everything. With some of my class the simple effort needed to obtain a sharp pencil takes up the whole of their intellectual reserves. To ask them to do computations as well is frankly ludicrous in their eyes.

Wish me luck! They are almost back and raring to go. God help!

The reality was much worse than my most dismal imaginings. The idea of sustaining a church-like calm in the classroom was almost as difficult as obtaining such quietude in a Roman Catholic place of worship. The Anglican attitude to things ecclesiastical is polite but disengaged respect and keeping the children quiet. This is not echoed by their Iberian counterparts where noisy participation and unchecked children shock the Anglican atheists!

So my maths class will have to be policed with a light touch as I do everything but tell them the answers on Thursday!

The latest threat lurking on the near horizon of our misery is the Summer Concert. This lurking horror is to take place during the lastish week of term. Or the last week in which children are in school. Or might be considered to be in school in a way. As you will know if you have been following the inexplicable mystery surrounding the precise date of the end of the term there are at least four or five separate ‘endings’ depending on your ‘contract’ and whether Saturn was in the ascendant with Venus on the cusp in the House of the Rising Sun at the hour of your birth.

We wait with something approaching hysterical nervous collapse the Presentation of the Final List. This is the (by all accounts) voluminous (and still growing) list of tasks which departing teachers are expected to complete before they leave our august establishment and (more importantly) before they qualify for their holiday pay.

Holiday pay is of course a vulgar misapprehension of how teachers are paid. Our salary (even the risible pittance paid in our place) is paid in 12 equal monthly payments. Holiday or teaching it’s all the same, it doesn’t matter; it’s the way our pay is divided up.

We are getting closer to crunch time with our employer. People seem inclined to wait until their May pay is in and then, if necessary start taking some sort of concerted action during June to ensure that we are at least treated with something approaching professionalism. A bit late, but there is more joy in the TUC over one complacent, quiescent worker who turns to the truth faith of Trade Unionism (even in its debased Catalan form) than in ninety and nine who continue to make a meal of employers’ less savoury bodily areas.

From past experience I will believe professional radicalism when I see it!

Ever the cynic.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

We Wuz Robbed! Again! Again!

This year I was determined not to lose my temper while watching the voting for the Eurovision Song Contest.

I failed.

And the day had started so well. Having been told that a post office note of an undelivered parcel was waiting for me in Terrassa, curiosity and hope drew me like a Conservative voter to an Old Etonian.

Talking of which (in spite of The Spectator’s protestations of his worth) what the hell are voters, especially Labour party voters doing! As the little funny one on The News Quiz commented in the last programme, “I can understand Labour voters deciding to protest by voting for the Lib Dems or the Greens, but voting Conservative? It’s like going into your hairdresser and saying ‘This week I think I will have something different; I’ll set my head on fire!’”

My parcel turned out to be from Aunt Bet and contained two books, two copies of The New Statesman and an encouraging card! I walked back to Toni’s Mum’s flat with a broad smile on my face and hours of reading material in my hands!

Returning to Castelldefels with Toni’s mum and sister we planned a trip into the centre of the town to show our support for our current most famous citizen.

The Spanish entry in the Eurovision Songs Contest was being ‘sung’ by a local boy (albeit born in Argentina.) The chosen song was selected after a strange process where singers submitted their entries primarily through the website MySpace! A televised national selection was held where the top songs chosen from MySpace were performed. This competition was won by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre with his song ‘Baila El Chiki Chiki.’ Rodolfo is not a singer; he is a comedian who does not plan to continue with his singing career after this one special occasion.

Since then the television stations have been flooded with videos of the high coifed glittering waistcoat wearing performer, eyes roguishly glinting behind his large glasses and agile fingers playing (or not) his toy guitar. A mere description could not possibly convey the calculated insult to the whole concept of the Eurovision Song Contest as it is presently constituted that this ‘song’ represents. Judge for yourselves at

When the Irish entry (‘sung’ by a turkey puppet with lyrics mocking all aspects of the competition) was eliminated Rodolfo was asked if he was relieved that his greatest non-human competitive threat had been removed. His statesman-like reply was that he did not gloat over the misfortunes of his colleagues! A real touch of ironic professionalism – though not bitter enough to get me through the evening without heart ache.

The central square of Castelldefels in front of the church was filled with people, many of whom were wearing Rodolfo masks. As we arrived, the link was made to the national television programme for the contest and the cheering, hand waving; mask wearing multitudes (us!) was relayed to Spain and to Rodolfo himself waiting in the Green Room before his performance.

After a deeply unsatisfying drink of sweet, cloying and fizzy pop masquerading as beer we returned to the flat to catch the rest of the show. Which we did.

And then the marking.

Now I am well aware that the Eurovision Song Contest is ‘only a bit of fun’ and to be annoyed at the xenophobic bigotry which is displayed each year is a grotesque overreaction.

So I am going to overreact.

The British song was a decent effort and was given a spirited performance and a good production. We came last.

The voting was as predictable as it was explicable in terms of economics, politics, history and society. But the fact that it can be explained does not justify public money from the BBC being squandered on this travesty of a competition which results in the ritual humiliation of Western Europe by countries like Israel and Russia – one of which is not in Europe and the other which is mostly outside Europe. However, geographical quibbles are not my theme.

Voting is not only the most contentious aspect of Eurovision but also, it has to be admitted, the most interesting and corrupt.

In years gone by there used to be a national jury composed of god knows who used to give the votes. Not fair or above board, but more satisfying than the present. In the strange system adopted today San Marino has the same voting power as Russia, no matter how many people actually vote in each country.

Eurovision has become a lucrative brand. Each vote by phone has a monetary value to the owners of the brand and there is a proliferating selection of merchandising to buy. Fairness comes a very poor also ran to commercial considerations and viewing figures.

My suggestion would be for a greater transparency to enter the competition that styles itself as one of the greatest (and most lucrative) such competitions in the world.

1 Who funds Eurovision?
2 Who funds the actual Song Contest?
3 Who sells the rights?
4 Who are the directors, the decision makers?
5 Who banks the telephone poll money?
6 Who has financial oversight?
7 Where are the polling figures published?

There are many more questions to ask about something which is much more than a few innocent hours of prime television time!

I have decided, in the best traditions of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, retd.’ to write to the Director General or somebody and complain at this waste (or something) of taxpayers’ money.

Or perhaps this writing will suffice and I will bluster for a few days and only achieve full outrage again in the lead up to the next contest.

That’s life and Eurovision!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What was that again?

I have read some of the western world’s greatest literature in English.

My reading from the Middle and Far East has been more restricted relying on philoreligious books like Lao Tsu’s jingly aphoristic brain teasers together with various books of fairy tales ranging from 1001 Nights to the Old Testament and The Koran.

The rest of the East, as long as you count Russia (Old Style) as part of Asia is solidly represented by the usual nineteenth century bricks masquerading as novels and so on.

Africa is rather woefully underrepresented in my library with a few volumes of Achebe and Soyinka, a couple of books of African Poetry and does Doris Lessing count as real African?

America, of course is much better represented with volumes from countries throughout the continent and Australasia is lumped in with the West.

From Conrad to Confucius; Dante to Defoe; Hegel to Heller and Belloc to Blyton I have read voraciously and indiscriminately. From delicious lows like the ‘Lucky Star’ novels that Isaac Asimov wrote shamelessly for easy money under a pseudonym to mind altering highs like ‘The Magic Mountain’ by Thomas Mann, I have gobbled up book after book.

So why can’t I remember them? I look at the covers of some books and I know that I have read them; sometimes I can remember the enjoyment I got from the reading. But I also know that if I had to give a one line summary of the book as the final question in ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ I would be leaving the studio without the six figure sum in my bank account. I am in a similar situation to Woody Allen when he said, “I took a speed-reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

Deathless prose that will live for ever as a shining example of human intellectual achievement and philosophical thought has obviously gone into my eyes and straight out through my ears. To give an example: ‘Dead Souls’ by Gogol – it’s about serfs. Thank you Woody Allen!

If ‘Dead Souls’ is, at it were, dead for me. Why is it that literature of a somewhat lower order should be bright and shining in the forefront of my memory?

All of this cogitation is as a result of one of my pupils brining in a book which he forced his parents to buy for him in the Book Fair that was a part of our notorious Culture Week (when things Welsh were forced upon the innocent consciousnesses of my hapless group of pupils.)

The boy bought with his eyes rather than his understanding of English so that, at present, he has managed to work his way through the first three line paragraph and is totally exhausted. He has therefore given me the book to read and has allowed me to keep it for the weekend. As a rather touching final comment he opined that, as I only had the novel for the weekend, he would not expect me to read much more than a few chapters! Bless!

The book itself has a striking cover by Bob Lea. It represents an old fashioned sailing ship with timbers made from what looks like charcoal sailing through a churning blood red sea. The filling sails look like lizard skin and the rigging is peopled by silhouettes of mariners. The only figure delineated with any clarity is standing clutching the bowsprit wearing a tricorn hat, holding a lantern which illuminates his billowing cape which looks like a veined butterfly wing. Crimson lightening streaks through a dark blue sky to add a final grotesque touch of horror.

The final clue to the subject matter of this book is indicated by the ornate skull and crossbones embossed on the top of the cover. But look more closely at the skull and you will discover that the canines are unnaturally extended, justifying the title of this vulgar little rip off, ‘Vampirates – Demons of the Ocean’ by Justin Somper.

Bringing together ideas morphed from inspirations like orphans of Lemony Snicket with a touch of Swallows and Amazons infused with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pirates of the Caribbean and set (apparently) in Waterworld, this book is a masterpiece of unscrupulous popular culture jigsawing!

The book is set is 2505, but there is nothing in the story so far to suggest the far future – presumably this will develop in the rest of the series, as this volume does little more in its 300 pages than set the scene. As the captain’s whisper (don’t ask!) puts it in the last two sentences of the novel, “So it ends. So it begins.” So please, parents, be prepared to fork out a whole series of £5.99s as the series plods its way towards a story.

The front cover of this novel has a quotation from Anthony Horowitz, “Totally original . . . I wish I’d had this idea!” One can’t help feeling that he would have made a better job of it.

No matter what I think of the book as a piece of writing, the idea, as Horowitz says is original and I’m sure it will stay with me, whereas other ideas more profound in the hands of writers more skilled have flitted away from my mind.

Two stories stay with me.

The first is a science fiction story about delusion. The story concerned apparently wealthy, happy people living contented lives surrounded by consumer comforts. In reality they were living lives of squalor in a laboratory like maze having been successfully duped to accept another version of reality to cover their misery. The detail I remember is reading the description of a sumptuous meal and then finding out that the reality was gruel like sludge emerging from a rough pipe into a trough. Title and author have faded into the soft memory where files are unable to be retrieved. Any help will be appreciated, and I am sure that I once caught a glimpse of a film which used this idea, with numbered cardboard boxes taking the place of cookers, fridges, televisions, paintings etc.

The other was a fantasy or science fiction short story about an American youth always surrounded by a cloud of insects - to his continuing annoyance. The crux of this story was that the unassuming adolescent was actually the Lord of the Flies himself! Perhaps it was god’s little joke for the Beelzebub to be reworked as a sneaker wearing non entity and to be unaware of his potential as a Prince of Darkness! Title and author here too have gone. But the idea remains, fresh and pristine.

Perhaps the price for retaining each pushy, flashy and empty literary idea is that a profound and well written one has to be pushed into the twilight world of forgetfulness.

Perhaps maturity is also the time to drag them back where they belong and reinstate them in the forefront of consciousness.

That means that my programme of rereading should start now and will probably take the rest of my life!

Now that is what I call contentment!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Changing Times

When you live by the sea you become wise in the ways of knowing the seasons.

We pick up those small details which ‘inlanders’ (as we call those who live away from the elemental forces of nature) would miss. Each day I gaze at the sea and sand with practiced eye and make my prognostications.

Today things were different. Inlanders would notice little different. They would see the long shadows of the morning moving slowly across the beach; they would hear the susurration of the breaking waves; they would hear the staccato chirp of the early birds; they would note the tapestry of texture and colour that forms the surface of the sea – but would they be able to tell that summer is truly here?

Things change slowly at the margin of sea and sand, but we dwellers by the watery wastes read the words of the book of nature rather than gazing at the cover like those who live away.

Summer is here. Look closely and you too will see. Look again, what do you see? Look there! Now you see? Welcome to my way of seeing!

Yes, the sun loungers are back in their neat undulating piles waiting for the pasty bodies to fulfil their destiny.

They are lurking at the end of the boardwalk, where, to my astonishment during one day in early autumn, the substantial beach kiosk was totally deconstructed and carted away. When they start rolling refrigerators down the boardwalk to a newly reconstructed kiosk we will know that the real commercial summer has started!

For me the most testing time in my career in teaching in Catalonia is going to begin. Each fine day I will be leaving the beach to go to a beach resort to go indoors out of the sun. If I move the shades on my windows I can see the sea. When I go outside I can see the sea. And I won’t be there, sunning myself on the beach. My reason for coming to the country will be wilfully denied me while I attempt to teach progressively more dehydrated students in the ochre gloom (the sun blinds again) of my room. With windows on two sides and no air conditioning the height of summer is a season of some dread.

The male teachers are expected to wear long sleeved shirts and formal trousers. I also affect a tie, but that is more a function of the fact that I have liberated my extensive collection from the dungeon of Bluespace rather than a desire for sartorial elegance. I wear short sleeved shirts and loosely tied ties and I haven’t worn a jacket since I have been there.

I fear that by the middle of June I will be a Gollum-like figure squelching my way down corridors and leaving wet foot prints behind me!

What news of our august institution? SATs chaos! Ah, how redolent with piquant memories is such a phrase! I think it is safe to say that my experience of SATs was a continuing horror story. Thank god that they have been condemned to the educational dustbin. But not, of course, in our school.

Not only do we have the ‘real’ SATs for the end of KS3 in Year 9but we also have the optional tests in Years 7 and 8 – all bought in (together with their marking) from the UK. Imagine the horror when the papers for Year 7 were discovered to be those of last year. The same year this had been used for the practice paper in our school. O joy! O happiness!

Margaret (as usual) supplied the answer to the problems by drawing on her experience and explaining the mechanics of the examinations. Her knowledge is what the school lacks as the continuing lack of continuity limits the combined knowledge base of the staff involved. Added to this is what seems to be the active encouragement of staff not to talk to each other and you have a situation in which the faults and ignorance of he past is doomed to see itself repeated ad nauseum.

Not only the SATs occur (or not) next week, but also tests for the rest of the school. In preparation for these momentous events we have had to cover all the displays in our classrooms. Everything. Including art displays. Apart from ‘completeness’ I can see little point in it, but then . . . do I really need to finish that sentence. After all, where I work . . . and I don’t need to finish that one either.

Never mind – Eurovision tomorrow!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The singing comes later

Had I any shreds of self respect left they would have been stripped away yesterday in Barcelona.

Arriving fairly early as I left for the opera straight from school I decided to buy the programme at once so that I could peruse it at my leisure as I partook of an unrushed meal before the marathon started.

I was ten days too early!

The teaching of my maths group has obviously had a knock on effect with my number recognition making 21 and 31 virtually indistinguishable!

Instead of the Wagnerian ordeal that I was expecting the only thing the Liceu could offer was a German ballet company presenting their version of ‘Death in Venice’.

During a more than acceptable meal in a Basque restaurant (though the bill doubled in the course of the meal) I debated with myself. Would seeing a modern dance ballet make up or compensate for a ‘wasted’ journey? As the meal dragged on, it began to look as though the start of the performance would see me still sitting on my hard chair watching the unending parade of peculiar people who traipse up and down the Ramblas. I made my decision: if the meal ended before the performance started then I would go in and watch the ballet.

The only ticket I was offered with a decent view was €93! All the other seats, at give-away prices like €53 (!) had appalling sightlines.

I went to PC City (PC World in Catalonia) instead. Luckily there were few gadgets there that I had not seen before and even fewer to tempt me. However, one attentive and fluent English speaking assistant engaged me in conversation and revealed that this Monday the store would be taking delivery of 7” micro computers. These are the Asus dirt cheap laptops with no moving parts –except the opening lid and the keys. The memory is derisory and they won’t run Vista but they are tempting. Very tempting! Though my previous description of ‘dirt cheap’ is not strictly true: when, after all, has any sane person paid a few hundred euros for a small rectangle of earth?

Nevertheless the poisoned thought of possession has been lodged in my brain and its creeping venom is making its way though my body and corrupting my mind. I hope to god that the keys are too small for my elegant but spatulate fingers to cope with. There again, should one really enthuse about 7”? I’ll leave that thought hanging, as it were!

In school we have little more than a month (allegedly) before the end of term. The kids will leave on the 20th of June (allegedly) and then there will be a series of dates on which the various types of teacher are allowed to escape back into the real world. This could range (after all we don’t really know the official end of the term, why should we?) from the 30th of June, through the 4th of July to the 8th July, with a possible extension to the somethingteenth of July for some, or all, or none. Confusing isn’t it? You try working in it!

The examination season is soon upon us. Today was the first stern test, augmented by horror stories by my good self, about what happens to those persons who do not play the examination game. They have little knowledge of how to behave during an important test. The idea of remaining silent for any length of time is foreign to their nature and they are even worse that a group of teachers when it comes to asking truly mindless questions about the extreme minutiae of any given situation.

I look forward to next week with mixed feelings as test follows test for the poor little buggers!

But one must remember that every week brings one closer to the end of term!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sisyphus had it easy!

The story of the dishwasher now officially qualifies as an Epic.

The fault, which I now understand is a common one after talking extensively to all of one colleagues, was stasis. The machine would start up find a comfortable position for itself in the wash cycle and stay there. The machine would mindlessly wash the dishes all night leaving the dishes looking a little, well, washed out. The poor old bowls started developing what I can only call washing wrinkles which would not rub out no matter how assiduously I applied the non-stick safe scourer.

Just getting the mechanic (you will see later how misapplied that job designation is) to appear and look at the machine took weeks. After multiple visits to the shop that sold the machine and telephone calls to the people who were supposed to repair it we were eventually exasperated enough to consider finding out the telephone number of one of the consumer protection programmes. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be the same number of programmes on the truly dreadful succession of adverts that masquerade as television stations in Spain. I wondered if programmes like ‘The ferret’ or ‘X-Ray’ from Wales would consider doing a foreign report: they would at least be next to the beach if they did.

Meanwhile the ‘mechanics’ were playing the old ’phone and forget’ game. This is an old game played by the unscrupulous where, having been told that the householder is not in during the day and can only let the ‘mechanics’ in during the evening, they phone during the day and bemoan the fact that you are not there. Then, having done their duty they wait and hope that their bloody mindedness will cause you to give up the ghost and turn the washing programme cycle knob round by hand.

Eventually, through a combination of my broken Spanish and Toni’s fluent Catalan we managed to get an appointment. The word ‘appointment’ does little justice to the vague swathe of time that the increasingly bellicose voice at the end of the telephone indicated we should regard as important. Needless to say they did not turn up. Did not telephone.

This contemptuous attitude was repeated ad nauseum until Toni actually took a day off to let the buggers in.

I am sure that no one who has waited for workmen will be surprised that even giving them an entire day to turn up was too restricted a time scale and they . . . well, you can guess.

I left work early on another occasion and – nothing.

Eventually we discovered a little card stuck in the bell push at the street door. They had come and gone. They had received no response to their entreaties to be allowed into our flat to repair the machine. The bell was working. We were both there. The land line and Toni’s mobile were working. But nothing.

Another attempt and the ‘mechanic’ did turn up. He heard that the cycle stuck so he replaced the entire switching mechanism and departed.

His ‘repair’ made not difference whatsoever. Exactly the same fault remained to frustrate dish washing.

On another day off they eventually returned. Late of course. Toni had been told that they would be there in the morning. At half past one in the afternoon Toni phoned the company and within a minute of putting the phone down, lo and behold! he received a phone call from the ‘mechanic’ who just happened to waiting outside the door. Gosh! What a coincidence!

Because Toni has become (justifiably) progressively angrier with the gross incompetence and incivility shown by this bunch of charlatans they responded in the only way they knew how.

They had already demonstrated that their technical ability in electronic diagnosis was confined to the ‘find the bit you think is wrong, take it out, put in a new one and hope for the best’ technique’ – which didn’t work. This time they took the back of the machine off and decided to replace two other bits.

Which they didn’t have.

Of course they didn’t. How foolish of us to think that, after months of non use we would have our machine returned to effective dish washing capabilities.

As punishment for our surly attitude we will have to wait. Again. This time, as a further punishment, they are going to take the entire machine away. For god knows how long.

If I was looking for a literary analogy for what we have experience with these people, I think that my thoughts would be drawn to the Court of Circumlocution in ‘Bleak House’ – the place where, once a case was sucked into the vortex of inactivity it would be lost in procedural inanity and nothing real would be done.

Nice to see Dickensian sarcasm having a living embodiment in modern Catalonia.

If I were you I think I would keep out of mist shrouded graveyards until the repair is completed, Pip old chap!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The meeting of minds

Situations never stay the same!

A planned meeting changed time, personnel and participants. The group going to The Owner for ‘clarification’ did not remain the same and eventually came down to just one person. But at least I insisted that if things got a little heavy she would come and get a ‘friend’ to sit with her for the rest of the interview.

In the event things did not turn out in as apocalyptic a fashion as we had feared and (we think) we got what was fair. The insistence that we return to the school to sign for the money has been removed and who knows what other signs of natural justice may make an appearance in this benighted region. One lives in rejuvenated hope!

On the wings of this New Age of reasonableness I have written a letter as stage one in my attempt to get paid during the summer. In a writing style which stretched reasonableness to the limits I intimated that teaching a few new subjects next year with no scheme of work and no hope of guidance from the school (though I didn’t actually say that in the letter, though the implications were clear!) would necessitate a little preparation. Preparation which would have to be done after the end of the school third term and before the start of the new year. Or, as we know it in educational circles, the summer holiday!

I await with interest the response to my letter. I have great hopes. It has been my experience that every (and I mean every) memo that I have written to a headteacher has gone unanswered. Directly. I have sometimes had replies from other sources, but never a direct response from a headteacher. That’s why I chose a letter format.

As soon has I had the letter checked by at least one other person, I popped it into an envelope and went towards the office. As if by a strange coincidence who should I see as I walked down the corridor but the intended recipient of my missive. After hailing her with the hypocritical bonhomie for which I am famous, I gave her the letter. She took it with what I can only describe as an old fashioned wary way. I wonder what she expected or hoped it might contain!

My present feeling of hope is, of course, riding for a fall. One step ahead; two steps back – that is the usual ‘progress’ that is the accepted modus vivendi in my present employment.

I could work out how many days we have left in school (which must be between thirty and forty) and that is how many opportunities for further changes, modifications and complete re-workings there could be in school policy for the rest of the term!

The trick, I suppose, is to get things in writing. And that is something which we have not managed.


Monday, May 19, 2008

A little light reading

Horror in Burma; disaster in China; financial crash looming and rain in Catalonia.

What was my response on a Sunday morning when it was dry enough and warm enough (just) to sit out on the balcony and drink tea?

Why, there is only one thing to do when the rest of the world is depressing: find something even more depressing to read. I do not have Larkin’s collected letters so I turned to Ibsen instead!

I chose one of the more obscure plays by Ibsen – though it has to be said that ‘obscure’ when applied to Ibsen becomes something of a relative term, perhaps ‘The Vikings at Heligoland’ might qualify. Anyway, the one I chose to read was ‘Rosmersholm.’

I last read it over a quarter of a century ago.

That’s the sort of statement that you never think about writing until it slips into your typing and it causes you to pause a while and think!

When I first read Ibsen he seemed to me to combine the readability of Priestly with the profundity and social comment of ‘The Wednesday Play.’ And I suppose that you have to be my age to follow the reasoning behind that statement. I loved Ibsen. You could read him and understand what was going on and feel that you were reading something of importance of (more of a seventies word) relevance.

This time round it was different. I remembered the small town tensions, the opposition of radical and progressive (whatever that meant in a small Norwegian town in 1886) the interesting if confusing morality and the ending.

This time round I found the read just as easy, the situation quintessentially Ibsonian but this time I found more complexity than previously. The layers of complexity in the moral situations were beautifully suggested and easy assumptions were impossible.

The ending is superficially heroic with a double suicide after a spiritual wedding, but the way that it is written it becomes more of a metaphysical existential statement: which is impossible. Therefore the ending is nothing of the sort, and the last words of the play mouthed by a credulous housekeeper. Death is very permanent. And no way to end a play.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And I wrote the first draft of the links for the drama group for the summer concert.

What a varied life I do lead.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's only a game!

What are the chances of someone from Cardiff and someone from Portsmouth being in the same place on the morning of the final of the FA Cup in Sitges?

Whatever the chances were it happened and we were both very civilized and wished each other good luck and said that we would think of each other at the end of the game. And I did, with a great deal of resentment as Cardiff lost one nil. Well, the next chance to see Cardiff (going on the last gap) will be at the end of the century. So, unless there are some fairly spectacular medical advances in prolonging longevity I fear I will not get a second chance to see my team bring home the trophy. There are worse disappointments I can think of! Without trying!

Leaving Toni smirking in his sleep as a Sacred Saturday was desecrated by my going to work, I decided to use the coast road rather than dignify my route to school by paying the toll to go through the tunnels.

By the time I arrived Adam and some of his merry crew were already setting up the playground for the series of games which were going to constitute the core of the Mini Olympics. This constituted part of the opportunity for competitive physical exertion which would determine which set of pupils and parents would lift one of the impressive selection of gleaming cups prominently glinting in the subdued sunlight from an unconvincingly cloudy sky.

The promised breakfast was indeed provided by the ever helpful caretaker (still looking disturbingly like a past sixth former of mine) and comprised mini rolls, croissants, cakes and drinks (coffee, water and orange juice – it was half past nine in the morning after all!)

The pupils eventually drifted in with a selection of family and friends and settled down to clear the tables of one of the few freebies that they get in this place!

The sports or games were much as you would expect when many of the participants were very young. The one thing which was different from Britain was the inclusion of such Health and Safety nightmares as wheelbarrow races, three legged races and a sack race. As all three of these were on the hard surface of the playground the expectation of blood and shredded skin lubricating the surface. In the event my sanguinary fears were not realised and everyone who was entitled to a medal or cup (which was everyone) was able to skip up to the podium to get their reward.

As usual the most interesting aspect in a school sports’ day which invites the participation of parents was the intensely competitive hysteria which informed their individual efforts. In one race three generations in one family were running over low hurdles and weaving around obstacles and the one thing they had in common was a demented determination to succeed. One father ran around the course with his young daughter in his arms! The shoes that some of the mothers had on were not the most sportily effective pieces of footwear they could have chosen; but I certainly admired their ability to run in pieces of leather that seemed to have been specifically designed to cripple.

A successful morning, though my arthritic progress in the teachers’ egg and spoon race did not even rate pity: scorn and contempt would barely cover the appropriate response!

Lunch in our corner restaurant was consumed while watching the rain drip disconsolately from the awning. We still need more rain, though why this water should fall so near the coast where it runs uselessly into the sea, rather than in the Pyrenees where it would do more good and fill the reservoirs, I cannot understand.

So much for a guiding intelligence!

I think I will go to bed early so that I can be fully refreshed for the morrow. I know that I will have to put up with the sort of, “Hands up those people who have to go to work tomorrow!” imperatives usually favoured by me at the start of a school holiday. The tables have now been turned as Toni uses up all his holiday allocation before it disappears in a blue flash of officialdom!

We sometimes have heavy burdens to bear!

Friday, May 16, 2008

‘Plug in and play.’

A simple enough phrase usually marking the start of a whole traumatic episode of self loathing and total frustration as you begin to realise that the phrase has no relationship with truth.

It was with trepidation that I attempted to use a computer projector with my maths class. The bulb on my OHP has blown and there is no replacement. At all. Probably ever.

So no OHP then. Unless I buy a bulb myself and attempt the squaring of the circle by trying to get my school to reimburse me for the cost. This is not how Things Are Done. If you take the initiative by short circuiting the Byzantine processes that have to be completed before anything can be bought. There is also the problem of who will pay, even if I considered getting spare bulbs through the Normal Channels.

In our school there are co-ordinators who have monthly budgets. These have to be spent during the month. I seem to remember viering or vireing (or however it was spelled) money, which meant that you were able to save money from one month and put it together with money from another month to buy something which would have been impossible to buy in one month. This is not allowed here. Budgets are jealously guarded. My OHP exists outside the normal subject allowances. It is a financial orphan with no parent prepared to pay the maintenance. I will, yet again need to find a sneaky way through the logical gates on impenetrable financial obduracy. Or cheat. Is that the same thing?

In desperation I turned to the computer projector. In the best traditions of professional teaching I waited until the class were sitting in front of me before I attempted to make the machine work.

And it did!

I linked it to my laptop and it worked. It was a delight even if the area around my desk looked as though a patient was undergoing major surgery with power cables going everywhere.

In my shocked experience young school kids have a primary urge to ‘touch base’ or get up to check that the person they can see from their seats is actually the same person in reality as their teacher. This can only be achieved by the sceptical pupils getting up from their seats and making a pilgrimage to the front of the class and demanding a close contact response to a question directed to the teacher irrespective of what he might be doing or saying at the time.

With such a flow of pupils (nailing them to their seats being regarded as dated educational thinking) the multiplicity of power lines will lead, inevitably, to expensive disaster.

On the other hand it isn’t my money.

So many things to weigh up!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gainful employment

“What are we going to do with you?”

Not the most encouraging opening by The Owner when starting an interview about your future in the school. The further admission that there was a difference of opinion about my worth between The Owner and the Headteacher added to my general sense of unease.

My, uh, uneasy approach to the school and the rules when I first arrived was highlighted and placed on the table for discussion. Altogether a fairly clear indication of negativity.

However the interview did, eventually, become more productive with a suggestion that I might like to take a so-called ‘bridge class’ of year seven pupils for English, Geography, History Drama, PSHE and a selection of KS3 classes. This seems like a good idea and more than I expected.

Problems, of course remain. What sort of contract would I have; when would it start; what rate of pay would I be on; what duties would there be; who would be my line manager and other questions too mundane to enumerate but essential to a comfortable existence in the school.

A positive start, but who knows what might happen by September?

What was far more interesting than the information which the interview revealed was the response of the rest of the staff to it. I was the first in Primary to go in for my ordeal and there was an unhealthy amount of speculation about what might happen. The old conversations about the payment of summer money are again surfacing and the astonishing lack of trust in the administration taking a paranoid hold on the staff. The suggestion that it might be safer to expect the unexpected is now almost second nature to the hardened denizens of the lower depths of our school!

Mine is just the opening scene in an extended drama which will stretch into next week with the hysterical growing with each new revelation of the inner workings of the controlling mind manipulating the educational pawns at her control!

Meanwhile the Summer Concert looms. My drama group (egocentric queens to the last) is eager to act as the eccentric links between the class acts - and the ironic pun is intentional! Six classes in primary are going to ‘perform’ a selection of songs ranging from ‘Mama Mia’ at the high art end of the repertoire to some extracts from the inexplicably popular ‘High School Musical’ at the mindless crowd pleasing end of the harmonic scale!

At some point I have to write a script for my motley crew of would be thespians to present. They have elected to dress up for the occasion in a variety of costumes, so if anyone can suggest a linking theme for a ballet dancer, spy, victim, hippie, detective, cat and policeman – do please let me know.

Meanwhile two more days. Yes, two. Saturday is our Sports’ Day. Such high expectations.

And breakfast is supplied!

Such larks!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Velcro and naked men!

Today I shaved my shoes. A new experience!

The trouble with Velcro is that the receiving anchor point of the fastening does tend to get a little woolly and therefore get a little loose: hence the shaving. What better preparation for school than clipping shoe fluff?

After settling down, yesterday afternoon, book in hand and pot of tea on a small table by the side of my chair on the balcony, I did think it advisable to check that I was actually going to the opera on the following day.

By the time I realised that I was already running late (allowing for the horrendous traffic on the Ronda Litoral into Barcelona) I was already flustered. I need not have worried, after a cursory wash and an extended squirt of aftershave and an even more extended period of frustration in an almost stationary car I still have time for a truly awful menu del dia in one of the low dives on the Ramblas.

In Spain there is no excuse for the almost inedible bread I was served. On the other hand it did match, in its down market tastelessness the other delights I was offered: watered down wine; microwave reheated paella and woefully overcooked salmon. With the Casera I had to eke out the small carafe of wine this travesty of Catalan cuisine came to €14 a total rip off.

As I made my unsatisfied way towards the Liceu I only hoped that the opera was going to be a better experience than the meal. Considering my seat was almost €100, it really had to be!

In the event I wasn’t disappointed. This was the Liceu’s first production of Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’ and some of the stage pictures that they managed to create were as good as any production of Britten that I had seen.

The interpretation of the libretto was conceptual rather than literal which was emphasised at the outset when the opening scene set ostensibly in a graveyard was a raised desk/walkway extending from down stage centre to up stage centre. Aschenbach (Hans Schöpflin) started singing with his back to the audience sitting facing the desk/walkway which was covered with scattered papers the visible sign of his stymied inspiration.

The traveller appeared upstage from behind a large suitcase, there was no attempt at naturalism and when Aschenbach sang his disturbance The Traveller removed his coat to shelter Aschenbach revealing that he was stripped to the half. This established the overtly sexual atmosphere in which the rest of the opera was sung.

As the parts of The Traveller, the old fop, the gondolier, the manager of the hotel, the hotel barber, the leader of the musicians and the voice of Dionysius are all sung by the same singer (Scott Hendricks) it is easy to see these characters as aspects or alter egos of Aschenbach himself.

The sailors and old fop on the boat to Venice were greeting one of their own when Aschenbach was there and the abusive kiss from the fop was recognition of Aschenbach’s sexuality and an indication of the doomed attempt to find anything more than sacrifice in what Aschenbach himself describes as ‘ambiguous Venice.’

The gondola ride to Venice is stunning. The desk/walkway becomes the boat and moves in a sinister and elegant way around the stage with a projected background of rippling water.

The other sets were elegant and effective, but it was the action on stage which gripped the imagination. The setting in an art gallery in which there was only one painting – a giant version of the Bacchus by Caravaggio from the Jarman film of the artist’s life, showing the god as a very streetwise piece of rough trade, merely emphasised the sexual attraction between Aschenbach and Tadzio (Uli Kirsch) with Tadzio showing himself to be (even if experimentally) interested in the attraction of the older man.

The games ended in Tadzio being stripped naked by his playfellows and then executing a particularly violent form of waltz with the Traveller while Aschenbach slept. It was very effective and deeply disturbing. But Aschenbach’s discovery sung at the end of the first act, ‘I love you,’ has been made so obvious that the assertion carries little dramatic force.

The second act has many good things: the barber and his ghoulish group of characters looking as though they are auditioning for the cast for a dance of death; the puppet show; the grotesque group of singers and, of course, the obligatory group of full frontal male nudes!

For me, the end of the opera was an anticlimax. The novella poses almost insuperable problems for any visual presentation. The final gesture of Tadzio to Aschenbach – a ‘clear beckon’ according to the libretto – loses all its ambiguity when viewed. It is surely all about sex and nothing more, but the novella suggests deeper levels of meaning both sexual and philosophical. This production solves the problem of presentation by removing Tadzio from the equation. The final moments have Aschenbach deposited in a deckchair and when he slumps (in death?) The Traveller gets up from a deckchair up stage and walks off leaving the corpse of Aschenbach behind. A weak moment in an otherwise strong production.

The singing was, to be fair, variable. I warmed to Hans Schöpflin initially but gradually I became less impressed. To me he sometimes seemed forced and harsh. Aschenbach was supposed to be Germanic so his accent was no real barrier. The real star was Hendricks who really seemed to relish his multiplicity of roles and was a commanding presence on stage.

‘Death in Venice’ is the Britten opera I know least and I think that it suffers in comparison with ‘Billy Budd’ and ‘Peter Grimes’ and in its more intimate moments it lacks the immediacy of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the masterly tension of ‘Turn of the Screw’ and the musical charm of ‘Albert Herring.’ To me the music seemed almost vulgar, as if a competent composer was attempting an affectionate pastiche of Britten. The use of percussion was ludicrously overblown and seemed a substitution for full orchestration!

However it was an excellent evening with orchestral playing of a high order (Sebastian Weigle); chorus work which was professional and dramatically effective (José Luis Basso) and enough pretentious direction (Willy Decker) to keep one happily amused and intrigued throughout the evening. Well worth supporting and enjoying.

And the next time I go to an opera I will find a better place to eat!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Riddle me ree!

Question: When is a bathroom paper towel not a paper towel?
Answer: When it is a toilet roll.

It’s funny that the most trivial things point up the nature of an institution.

The staff toilets (or rather toilet) have run out of paper towel. The school has run out of paper towel. The school has (allegedly) ordered paper towels. They have not arrived. For some time.

This morning I decided, during a free period, to bring things to some sort of crisis.

I went to the front desk of Administration/Reception (in itself virtually a capital offence in our school) and indicated that as there were no towels in the loo and as the school had none, I was prepared to go to a local shop and get some.

The panicked chaos which resulted from this innocuous offer was almost comical in its intensity as bewilderment, frustration and impotence characterised the responses of the ladies behind the counter.

A brief exchange with The Owner merely instituted a Catch-22 sequence of futility which, as the abstract noun suggests, achieved nothing.

So the lack of towel was compensated by a giant roll of toilet paper. A paper which disintegrates instantly when attempting to deal with residual water on the hands.

My offer ignored with embarrassed rapidity. My suggestion obviously something which threatened the whole ethos (and I use that word with qualification) of the school.

So no towels. And no prospect of towels.

I raised the point in a staff meeting and, while my concerns were recognised as valid, the mindless obstruction of the school was seen as an insuperable obstacle to a satisfactory solution.

If they are like this over something which is unthreatening and easily rectified what, the logic demands, will they be like with something of major importance.

The answer is obvious.

The course of action, less so.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Because it's there!

At some ungodly hour of the morning when the frailty of the human frame drove me to ambulatory consciousness I couldn’t help noticing that there was a smidgen of sunshine to brighten the day. I had assumed that the bloody awful weather (which of course we need given the water situation) had sent in for the foreseeable future and I had steeled myself for the depressing sequence of dull, wet days that are a feature of life in the United Kingdom.

How considerate of Catalonia to provide a brief interlude of sunshine to show that the weather is only being inflicted on me for the replenishment of reservoirs rather than displaying personal vindictiveness that is a characteristic of British weather!

I am well into another Eoin Colfer novel
in preparation for my teaching on Monday. I am more than ever convinced that it is not ideal for my pupils, but they are supposed to be the top set in English so it will give them something to work on – at least they will have to use their dictionaries for something other than the dictionary look up sequence at the beginning of the lesson.

Meanwhile to the Internet to find out snippets of information about this author in order to give the kids something to use to try and produce a booklet about the writer and his works.

I only hope that my photocopies are ready for me tomorrow other wise the lesson is going to be something of a compromise!

As ever!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

For the rain it falleth all the time!

We in Catalonia have received 20% of our annual rainfall in three days.

In a country which is experiencing a drought, the rainfall is necessary though for a sun devotee like me not strictly welcome!

I can only hope that the reservoirs in the country are responding in much the same way as our swimming pool which is filled to the brim with the extra rainfall. The rain outflow to the beach is now the mouth of a considerable river with significant sand ‘cliffs’ on either side of the flow.

I have decided to be magnanimous and not greet the downpour with a tirade of vituperative invective pointing out that the weather in Great Britain has been glorious and sunny and quite Spanish in its solaristic tendencies. I shall resist. Almost. I shall remember that summer is almost with us and I think that I will have sufficient opportunities to think revengeful thoughts as I compare our respective climates.

My mobile phone (my new one) has a cracked screen. This is a total disaster as it usually cost as much to replace the screen as it does to buy a new phone. I think it is god’s way of telling me to reconsider my decision to eschew the iphone as a work of the devil. Talking of the devil, you have to sell your soul in a punitive contract to get one of the things.

This weekend is a time for me to read a couple of Artemis Fowl novels with a view to obtaining extracts for next week’s teaching. The easy option was teaching Roald Dahl but I was too slow off the mark to bag all the novels in the library. I am therefore left with a ‘make do’ option. I fear that the story line, vocabulary and concepts will be too advanced for my class, but we shall see. Anyway I rather like the novels: they are good fun and easy to read.

Who can ask for more?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Exculsive produce

The cachet of getting cheese sent over from a specific farm in New Zealand and even from a specific cow was somewhat lessened by the chore of extracting it from the Spanish Post Office.

The post office in Castelldefels is the original of the location of the land that time forgot. Time, which as we all know is relative, seems to achieve a stasis of unimaginable proportions in that building.

When you arrive you are, or at least if you have been before and know that it is there, confronted by a machine which gives you a ticket. The ticket is your indication of when you are likely to be seen by a counter assistant.

These machines are not uncommon. The factor which makes them much more problematic to the noviciate British user is that you are offered a choice of buttons to press to get your numbered ticket.

I have solved this conundrum by pressing all available buttons and taking all the tickets which are disgorged by the machine and going to the counter which is indicated by the first number to be illuminated on the counter board. I then rely on my mumbling incompetence in the Spanish language to ensure that I am seen by a forgiving counter assistant.

An encouragingly low number on the wrong ticket (I think) and a disappointingly high number on the right ticket (I think) might have forced some sort of moral choice if the unequal completion rate of customers had not meant that I actually made the appropriate choice at the end after only an hour of waiting!

Cheese has to be very good to justify all that waiting, sitting next to a strange man who gibbered away to himself about the number of telephone bills that were his fascinating reading while I waited for my number to flash up on the board.

The truckle that I was sent had a dark rind and was surprisingly soft in texture and interestingly mild in taste. Well done that cow!

The weather has been unseasonably wet and the kids had restricted time outside and a disproportionately long time inside during the day. Although the last half hour of lunchtime was outside it was getting more and more problematic as more and more obvious rain began to fall.

The end of the day coincided with a torrential downpour and the dispersal of the pupils resembled the evacuation of a sinking ship as they were herded to the front door and taken to safety to their umbrella wielding parents. It was an extended moment of delicious chaos.

Toni is still not feeling 100% and so we didn’t go out to dinner on his birthday and his birthday present is looking interestingly professional as it languishes impotently in the corner of the living room. I can guarantee that the purchase of a reflector telescope will ensure cloudy skies for the foreseeable future.

Sods’ law is the only unalterable constant in an uncaring universe. I’ve found!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How much?

A bad day of teaching.

My own faults, exacerbated by the unhelpful procedures which operate in the school as far as preparation of teaching materials are concerned. Even in English I find that my expectations are far beyond the capabilities of most of the pupils and they need far easier worksheets with which to approach the language problems with which we are dealing.

I suppose that I should be stimulated by the necessity to dig deeper into whatever teaching experience I can draw on to facilitate pupil learning. It does take time away from reading though!

Next week should be a week of examinations, but the SATs papers have not yet arrived so that we may find ourselves delaying all the testing until the week after next.

Meanwhile a more pressing problem is what to get for Toni for his birthday on Friday. We have (sort of) agreed on a telescope. This relates back to his schooldays when a visitor had such an instrument to show the pupils and everyone got to look through it, but Toni was prevented by the school bell from having his turn.

This has festered in his mind for years and this birthday will see an ancient wrong righted!

But which telescope? Toni has expressed an interest in the reflecting mirror sort. There is an example of one in an electronic supermarket near Castelldefels but it looks robustly professional and to leave it set up will certainly make some sort of statement. Quite what sort of statement I do not know. But it will not be something which can be ignored.

Ah well, we will see. I suppose it will give me an opportunity to buy books on the surface of the moon!

It’s a pity you can’t get the I-Spy Stella Objects or the Observer Book of Planets or something. Might be worth looking for. There are supposed to be English language second hand book shops in Barcelona.

At least it will be an excuse to explore.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Cleanliness is next!

Today marks the day when I have achieved a Black Belt level of acceptance in Castelldefels.

The café at the bottom of the street laid out my takeaway meal on real plates. Not only that, but they also offered me two glasses of beer and a tapa of spicy anchovies. For nothing.

The recourse to takeaway was because of paper overload.

I was acutely aware that, this afternoon, one of my colleagues came into my class and saw me gibbering quietly behind an avalanche of miscellaneous paper – official, educational, pupil and rubbish. I decided that Something Had To Be Done.

School ended and, an hour and a half later the various strata of papers had been excavated and various interesting discoveries had been made. The most useful was a cache of photocopyable OHP slides together with finding other ‘Lost’ documents.

In deference to Toni’s shocked discovery (via an unhelpful TV programme) that your average keyboard was actually dirtier than your average toilet! (can that be true?) I cleaned the surface of my desk. The surface being visible for the first time in some months!

The exhaustion produced by this Augean effort necessitated the assistance of sustenance from your friendly corner café. And a substantial glass of Rioja in a rather splendid glass completed my near regeneration.

And tomorrow the kids will come back into the classroom and bugger everything up again!

As a member of the Registry staff in Swansea University once remarked to me during one vacation, “You know Stephen, this place works so well when the students aren’t here!” How often do those in education feel fully confident when their customers are elsewhere!

Tomorrow is a full teaching day with no free periods and a bewilderingly large and varied series of lessons with a clientele ranging from the uninformed, the unable, the unworthy and the unlettered to the not any of the previously named!

I wonder how uncluttered my desk will be by the end of the day.

Or not.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Meeting misery!

As is the way with my place of work, no opportunity is lost in a meeting to make your life just that little bit sadder.

We have now ‘lost’ a year or possibly two years to the foetus factory on the lower ground floor. Primary will now start in Year 2. Further, just to make things a little different, the absurd educational negative of the so-called Family Group will continue.

The Family Group is a class in which two years are mixed, so I am teaching a mixed Year 3 & Year 4 class which revert to their year specific groupings when they have PE, Spanish and Catalan. The economic advantages for such an arrangement are clear, but . . .

The proposal for next year is that the Family Groupings will comprise Years 2 & 3; Years 4 & 5, and . . . this is the point when things get a little hazy, but there are confused ideas of taking Year 6 up to Secondary and . . .

You can see that there seem to be too many ellipses for comfort. It may make for uneasy reading, but just imagine trying to teach it! Teaching two Key Stages in one class? Easy! Rewriting the entire planning scheme? Simple! Knowing what we might be doing? Impossible!

I can only hope that some sort of educational reality informs some of the more manic deliberations that are forming themselves into a disastrous gallop into a second great year of chaos.

Never a dull moment.

Meanwhile Toni has been affected by what Doctor Johnson called The Great Wen and is at present lounging in what I take to be a close approximation of a dissipated Byzantine emperor complaining that he can do nothing, while I am reduced to a subsidiary role twittering about what is past, or passing, or to come.

Talking of The Great Wen I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the rise to some sort of power of the Blond Buffoon as elected mayor of London.

I find myself torn between the loathing of his previous incarnation as insensitive hooray henry and the alarming character he has assumed after rising from his self excavated grave of arrogant self interest to become a caring sharing champion of the common man. He is one vile antithesis with only his bombastic elitist arrogance illuminating his hectic ambition. He even makes that creepy newt lover seem positively wholesome by comparison!

I leave the country for a few months and they degenerate like mindless Yahoos. God help us all!

And today was cloudy. But not cloudy in the spiteful way of British weather where one cloud presages a multitude of fluffy sun obstructers and the rest of the day condemned to a colour drained greyness – which kills the spirit! Here in Catalonia one cloud is singular and, having cast its shadow moves on!

The kiosk on the beach has still not been rebuilt: until that happens we cannot state that summer is fully with us.

I keep a constant watch!