Monday, June 30, 2008

A win to savour

I never thought that I would ever sit in a restaurant in Catalonia and hear the chant of “Es – pañ – ya!” echo around me!

But I have sat in that restaurant. The victory of Spain in the European Cup was accompanied but much nationalistic shouting; though I have to say that I thought I noticed some Catalans sitting as quieter tables with a bemused smile on their faces while their more demonstrative countrymen were being very vocal. To my utter horror I actually heard the assembled delirious Spaniards even attempt a version of ‘Eviva España’ and was correspondingly delighted to find out that they knew even fewer of the words than their English counterparts! I have to admit that it sounded a little grotesque to hear an ill sung anthem of British boozers abroad ill sung by the people who were expressing their staunch patriotism.

Both the British and Spanish media have made much of the fact (as they see it) that support for the Spanish team has crossed all the cultural and political boundaries in the country and has fostered a real sense of national pride. You have to live in Catalonia before you can understand what an odd sight it is to see Spanish flags publicly waved in solidarity rather than as a political insult. Long may such a feeling of togetherness remain, but, personally, I don’t think it will see out the week!

The match was excellent and I saw how involved I was in the outcome when I realised that I had been shredding paper napkins in my anxiety. I think that this must have been some sort of unconscious tribute to those Dickensian figures that shred delicate cambric handkerchiefs at times of stress!

The only spectre at the feast for a victory that was richly deserved by the Spanish team, who had numerous chances which could have been converted into goals, was found in the opening ceremony for the game.

It is one of the facts of international stereotyping that Austrians never ignore a chance to parade eighteenth century foppishness as what they imagine to be a glorious symbol of the one time greatness.

To an Austrian any occasion would not be complete without effete figures clad in tight fitting silk breeches, silk stockings, satin shoes, brocade waistcoat and ornate white wigs lurking about. Sure enough, give or take a few sartorial details, the opening ceremony had such figures inexplicably waltzing around moving conical colanders which were covered in multi coloured buboes representing the national colours of the participating nations. The erratic paths of the colanders seemed to be contained by what looked from an aerial shot of the stadium to be a pattern derived from an uninteresting crop circle.

The camera shorts attempted to give vitality and coherence to this display but did not succeed. As I watched this vacuous posturing the cold hand of fear clutched my imagination and I thought about what we might have planned for the opening of the Olympics!

Talking of premonitions, my cactus, to my prejudiced eye seems to be getting healthier. The three parts of my prickly plant seem to be stouter – but this may be self delusion. Although I vowed not to look at it for a few days to give it time to find itself and start a new life, I find myself studying it like some ancient Greek looking for auguries in the entrails of some unfortunate beast.

Since the cactus is intimately connected to my ex-school I do not know what would be the most appropriate direction for the plant to go: flourish or fail, both extremes can be incorporated into a more than satisfactory prognostication for future progress.

As indeed can any state in between.

Wonderful thing literary analysis!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Simple Night Out

The good thing was we weren’t actually stranded on a desolate motorway miles from anywhere relying on my shaky grasp of Spanish to contact the RACC.

As I believe it says somewhere in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Technocrats (Chapter 7, Verse 18 et passim) “Verily I say unto you; even as that man puts his trust in gadgets so also will he be disappointed. For of an hundred men that believe the smooth talking of the navigator by satellite, ninety and nine shall be brought to the narrow roads unlit and strewn with rocks of all sorts and potholes of unplumbed depth leading nowhere.”

And so it came to pass as we ricocheted from roundabout to roundabout like some hapless metallic ball in a giant pinball machine!

We eventually found the place to which we were supposed to be going by a combination of trying roads almost at random in the hope that the ‘recalculating’ voice from the box would have more understandable directions and also by Nia’s sharp eye which noticed a large sign stuck on a wall with our destination painted on it!

If we had been (if I had been) a little less flustered I would have noticed that Banyeres del Penedés was composed of picturesque arched entrances and quaint narrow roads and all sort of other details which were lost when we were unsure that we were ever going to reach our destination.

Seeing Reeven was a delightful bonus because basically he was the reason that we had made the epic journey. His enthusiastic and shocked welcome made up for some of the frustration of finding him.

We discovered that we had missed his first set, but that he and his singer were going to play a second when they had something to eat.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the location for our musical feast but it was anything but the lowish sort of dive that my mind associates with Jazz!

The hotel restaurant of L’hort del l’avia turned out to be a stylish location with wide floor to ceiling arches
and wooden beams; starched linen napery and heavy cutlery; a ponderous waiter and uncomfortable chairs – all the prerequisites for an expensive meal.

The waiter was a remarkable gentleman; he moved with the ponderous slow dignity of the very fat and had an almost feminine grace in his majestic peregrinations from table to table.

As it turned out, at €20 for a three course meal, it seemed a bit of bargain. In an ironic twist, it would have been cheaper for me to have had wine with the meal (which was included in the price) than the water which I chose (which was extra.) Water was essential for a clear mind to deal with the petrol – but of that more anon.

The only hot thing I had in my meal was the coffee at the end of it. This is not a condemnation of the restaurant, but rather a comment on my choices: Vichyssoise followed by carpaccio and completed by turrón ice cream. Delicious!

Reeven and a singer Nicole were an excellent accompaniment to the meal. Her voice reminded me of Cleo Lane; it had a throaty sexiness and a melodic smoothness that was great to listen to. Reeven’s guitar playing was both an accomplished and sympathetic foil to the voice and also virtuosic when he performed some solo developments of the musical line.

It was an excellent meal, though I have to admit that the girls found their cod a little too salty for their taste (Welcome to Spain!) but they seemed to enjoy the evening. As Nia said, “It took a long time to get here, but I think it was worth it!”

At the end of the meal, after the bill had been paid certain facts which I had forcibly suppressed for the duration of the dinner began to reassert themselves. We were, it had to be admitted in the back of beyond. We were, to all intents and purposes, lost. It was very late. And last, but by no means least, we had very little petrol left.

The whole of the restaurant were involved in working out if there was a petrol station open at one o’clock in the morning within the distance that my empty tank would reach.

The directions that we were given were so simple, straightforward and fundamentally inaccurate that I was back at the hotel being plaintive within minutes. Plaintive tinged with hysteria as my schoolmarmish on board computer had pinged at me and lit up an ominous little light informing me that the car was running on faith rather than diesel.

To the everlasting credit of the restaurant, one of the workers volunteered to guide me in his car to the petrol station. Following the car through a hugely complex series of turnings which bore no relation to the simple instructions we were given we pressed on and – found the petrol station closed.

It says something for the mendacious (thank god!) qualities of petrol gauges that the next open petrol station was a considerable (and when I say considerable I mean all of us sitting in the car tight lipped, tight knuckled and forgetting to breathe sort of considerable) distance away – and we made it! When we finally coasted in to the side of a pump I am convinced that we were running on vapour and not liquid!

It is almost worth fearing running out of petrol for the sheer delight in the quality of relief when you find some to refill the tank. Almost, but not quite!

The girls took to their beds at once when they got into the flat and I do not expect to see them for any part of the morning! Though wait! I think I heard some vague sounds as of sluggish movement and it’s only half past ten. More plausibly it could be the neighbours who have turned up en masse as this is obviously the official start of summer and the preciously empty flats of the we-are-so-rich-we-do-not-need-to-rent-them are now filled by their few weeks a year owners.

Never let it be said that I was envious!

Or bitter!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

To read is to live!

It is difficult to tell if the dead cactus I planted to commemorate the cessation of my scholastic striving in Sitges has changed its status.

It was planted in a fit of confused metaphorical angst, but now I feel a certain proprietary concern about its future. One of the girls pointed out, “It does look a little bit grey!” but I persist in a stubborn belief that its wasted sides and spikes have become a little plumper since I have lavished care on it. I think I will try and ignore it for a few days and then be surprised by a cheeky green bud or a potential poniard shyly pointing skywards!

I wonder if Tim Burton has purchased the rights to film The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. If he hasn’t he should have: it would be a perfect vehicle for the portrayal of his sombre visual humour. No obvious part for Johnny Depp though; but there again, perhaps he could do the voice over for the character of Death!

The book was a present from Cardiff and I devoured it. Terry Pratchett is something like a banned substance for me. I remember reading my first Discworld novel and mentally registering that this could be trouble. If you are not immediately repulsed by the grubbily twee ideas featured in Pratchett’s novels then you will probably be hooked by the end of your first. Some people, of course, recognize this proclivity and immediately set up fire walls to protect themselves.

I have had some practice at this having had to defend myself from the novels and short stories of Robert Heinlein,

Isaac Asimov, Evelyn Waugh, Tom Sharpe, P G Wodehouse, Agatha Christie (especially the Miss Marple series) and Penguin Modern Classics when they had all those wonderful modern paintings on the covers. Some of these writers have an addictive quality that makes heroin look like sherbet.

I remember with the writings of Robert Heinlein that I had to set a number of strict rules to prevent my total overdose on his eminently readable books. I vowed that I would only buy his works second hand, in one second hand book shop and for a small sum of money. A sum, indeed so small that I hesitate to bring it to mind as it merely demonstrates with stark clarity the inroads that inflation has made in the ensuing years!

With Terry Pratchett I have had to rely on even stricter fire walls and only read volumes that I am given or find lying around. For example, if there had been a Pratchett novel among the books on the borrowing shelf in my last school then it would have been taken and read as one of my first coherent actions in the place. But there weren’t so it wasn’t.

Read it your own peril. A thorough delight!

The other book which I finished this morning while waiting for the girls to arise and go forth to fry was ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini.

This was given to me by our absconding assistant unit manager (obviously before she absconded. Isn’t that a wonderful sounding word? Absconded. I think its something to do with the daring juxtaposition of a plosive and sibilant) with the smiling injunction that I was to cry as I read it. I didn’t.

It is set in Afghanistan and uses religion, sectional infighting and the effect of world politics to provide some of the impetus for the drive of the narrative. The basic story is “in the end it is love that triumphs over death and destruction.” I know this because it says so on the back of the book. I found sections of it gripping and I found it hard not to sympathise with the final act of violence – but overall I was not enthusiastic. I would however recommend it as a painless way of reading about the misogynistic hypocrisy of the regime of the Taliban. One feels like making some trite comment about the inequities of religion and the inevitable genocidal extinction that comes with the logical extension of a faulty hypothesis which is based on revealed knowledge which is true by faith. That oxymoron, ‘revealed knowledge’ has brought so much misery into the world one doesn’t know how to find the words to give an adequately venomous response to the lazy beliefs founded by the sons of pregnant virgins, angels talking to business men, oddly disappearing golden tablets, stone engraved tablets and the rest of the magic rubbish.

I’m only guessing, but I think that the previous paragraph has its genesis in a bout of extended cleaning of the flat. There is nothing like brushing, sweeping and polishing to get me in a thoroughly unphilosophical state of mind.

Perhaps when the scent of the various aerosols I have used has dissipated I can get back to the state of placid cynicism which is my default setting!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Untune the sky!

Be wary of asking for CDs of Vaughan Williams in Barcelona.

I was in ‘the other part’ of El Corte Ingles and browsing through the classical music section looking in a determinedly desultory way for bargain box sets of the music of Vaughan Williams on the occasion of his significant commemoration (you can tell that I am a bit wary about just when he was born or died.) I have read about such things in the very wonderful BBC Music Magazine and am eager to spend a sizeable amount of money for a frankly astonishing number of CDs.

One of the basic problems with Vaughan Williams in his bid for musical immortality is that he chose the wrong bit of the alphabet for his surname/s. This name/s is/are too near the end of the alphabet. His stuff is likely to be mixed into the ‘Various’ section of the display shelves and his serious symphonic works are likely to be mixed in with bargain basement boxed sets and crossover trash by however is being touted as the new Caruso. This is no way for a serious musician to be treated.

Having searched through the Various and sneered my way through Vivaldi I eventually discovered that our Ralph (or Rafe as we pseudos like to call him) was firmly placed in the Mr Williams category. And there was nothing new or remotely interesting or bargain basement about anything.

Throwing linguistic caution to the winds I intimated to the friendly looking woman of a certain age behind the counter that I would like to have a box of Vaughn Williams.

The blankness of the stare which greeted this request forcibly reminded me of Toni’s mum as she struggles to make sense of my enthusiastic yet essentially flawed Spanish. I further explained in fluent foreign (far be is from me to claim that my excited gibber was anything approaching Spanish) that Vaughan Williams was a very important English composer. Her blankness, if anything, became even more vacant.

I then had one of those ideas which, almost invariably, have landed me in almost terminal social complexity. “His name is Bough-ch-an Why-ii-anz.” An immediate look of recognition closely followed by infectiously chuckling laughter and a gurgled compliment on my pronunciation!

Still no boxed sets though, so that it will have to be The Boys or Amazon.

After the thunder and lightening of the early morning and a sluggish sort of sulking weather up to lunch time, we were treated to a reasonable day of sunshine. We used the opportunity to go to Barcelona to ‘do’ the shops from El Corte Ingles to Mare Magnum. And back again.

After an extended period of energy building (or staying in bed till late) the girls were more than eager to expend their reserves on serious shopping. I told them, only half jokingly that a lack of purchases would mean the lack of seat in the car going back to Castelldefels.

I am glad to report that I had two exhausted passengers on the return trip.

I think that we would have to tick the Culture box because the girls visited the Market just off the Ramblas and had their photographs taken with a variety of ‘living statues probably the most notable one being the white painted gentleman on the toilet. Payment of money for the photograph eventually produced a most realistic fart, which I only half suspect was electronic in its delivery rather than gustatory! (Not the right word possibly but it’s in the same ball park.)

Our meal this evening was Japanese and for the first time we were given seats on the periphery of the integrated steel cooking area. Sushi was obviously not going to extend his dexterous use of cooking utensils, so I was somewhat relieved that we all ordered at least one hot thing.

Our cook provided the sort of interesting floor show of redundant flourishing of clanking metal knives and scrapers and those things that look like overlarge icing sugar smoothers that left us thinking that he could have done it better. But it certainly gave our food a certain vibrant urgency. Most enjoyable.

Tomorrow the girls fry during the day, while at night we have been urged to attend Reeven’s band performing some way down the coast. The girls seemed genuinely enthusiastic when this little excursion was mooted and we will have to see how the reality matches expectation.

It will, if nothing else, give me an opportunity to compare notes with the headteacher and for us to indulge in some cathartic skulduggery on the side of right!

A day to savour to come!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Building block invectve!

Just when you thought it was impossible to lavish any more hatred and loathing on an institution that ranks lower than the dirt under the fingernails of Robert Mugabe, you are surprised by what Gogol called the ‘lower depths’ of unsuspected idiocy that some institutions can plumb.

Not, for once, my inestimable previous school, but my worthless bank!

BBVA has done it again! Unthinking, complacent, inefficient, grasping, customer loathing, money machine!

Going to Sitges every day you are faced with a choice: do you risk the coast road with its wonderful views, vertiginous drops, convoluted roads and suicidal drivers wanting to overtake on blind S-bends, or do you take the boring but safe alternative of the tunnels? One is free and dangerous and the other is safer and expensive.

For most of the time I took the tunnels.

As you pass through the toll booths you notice that two lanes have bright blue roads and the toll barriers rise automatically at the approach of cars. I eventually learned that my way of payment for the tolls was the second most expensive. I used my bank card and I was informed that every so many of my trips would be free. This was good, but I was also told that there was the Blue Road Way. This was the cheapest way of all and required the possession of a small machine which sent out some sort of signal and set you apart not only from the hoi polloi who used actual money to pay, but also from the parvenus who used mere bank cards.

I asked my bank and filled in the numerous forms to get a machine to take me into the ranks of the chosen. I was informed that it would take days.

Needless to say it didn’t and weeks passed with no card. Telephone calls did not produce the card and I was reduced to shredding small cambric handkerchiefs in my frustration.

No longer needing the card I went into the bank with the documentation that I had signed and asked plaintively what had happened.

The machine, in an envelope with my name and address on the front has been in the bank in Castelldefels since the middle of March.

God rot BBVA. Alas! My Spanish is insufficient to do full justice to the fury that I felt but, with limited vocabulary and few verbs I did the best that I could. I pointed out with robust vigour that I had been paying €10 a day for months while they had the padded envelope waiting under the counter. I did note one bleating response from the frankly startled BBVA serf who attempted to placate me: “We are not a post office!” This is the same sort of contemptible remark that the medical centre made when stating that they couldn’t make a photocopy of my passport (which they had asked for) because “We are not a photocopying shop!” God rot the pair of them.

My visit to the employment centre in Gavá was no less frustrating. I am a month short of the necessary employment days to qualify for any sort of support from the Spanish state. I can’t say that I was expecting any, though it did pass my mind that if The Owner had paid me until the end of the academic year I would easily have qualified. Another crime to lay at her door!

Talking of justice: I have drafted my letter to the powers that be about the abuses that have gone on in my ex-school. Any situation that encourages me to use such expressions as ‘autocratic rule by edict,’ ‘attitudinal malaise’ and ‘Catch-22’ in a letter has got to be worth reading about!

Meanwhile the Spanish football team have made it through to the final of the European Cup. The girls and I watched this while having our evening meal in a restaurant at the end of the road. The volume of the televisions precluded any meaningful conversation and we had the added dislocation of discovering that though the match was being relayed live, some televisions were more live than others.

Our restaurant had what I think is a terrestrial station broadcasting the match, while the restaurant next door had a satellite link. This meant that the television next door was a few seconds ahead of us so we were easily able to tell if a promising move by Spanish players amounted to anything!

The girls were subdued. Their intensive sun bathing has exhausted them and they want a respite tomorrow and are prepared to reject the sunny sand and go instead to the restrained Ramblas in Barcelona for a gentle walk and shop.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Undone things

I should now be in school.

I have been sitting on the balcony with a pot of strong tea and watching the cleaners on the beach finally returning the sand to the standard of cleanliness that I have come to expect after the explosion of rubbish deposited during the night of festivity.

This is all very pleasant but it is not what I am supposed to be doing. It is not all negative of course. The dismissive machinations of The Owner do allow me to have the time to visit Gavá to claim my unemployment pay and to visit my Union to put on record the shameful process by which The Owner has terminated by contract.

And the girls will be here soon! A week of worry, when, before they have even arrived I feel an almost overwhelming desire to acquire a shotgun and start practising a macho scowl to keep at bay any predatory Catalan boys who may even glance in the direction of my Welsh wards!

I am sure that this is merely overreaction and I will find opportunities to relax, even if it is only through exhaustion!

I am looking forward to testing the stated enthusiasm that the girls have for eating. We should be able to test that at once by having a menu del dia when they arrive: start as you mean to go on, say I.

There are surely few people who would unwrap gaudily presented gifts and, finding that the largesse comprises a plastic ceramic hob scraper, a bottle of ceramic hob cleaner and a box of OHP slides, would chortle with glee. I am one of those few.

Not only will these items help me through a difficult period of taxing cleaning but they will act as an incentive to get another teaching job to employ the slides to their full potential.

Within seconds of handling the scraper
I was effortlessly removing cooked on grime which had resisted the most frenzied attacks with fingernails. The application of the Australian hob cream seemed to work wonders. Can it be that the fabled task of the uncleanable electric hob was to be relegated to the ‘done that got the t shirt’ realm of quotidian experience? Time, as they say, will tell.

There was also a Terry Pratchett book and a copy of Private Eye and The Week but these things do not lend themselves to arch comment!

What a splendid variety of delights the girls brought with them; I do think that I will eschew the allure of The Guardian Weekly and take out a subscription to The Week instead. Never let it be said that I was impulsive.

Our meal out was frustrated by the fact that the Basque restaurant was closed for refurbishment. I must admit that I do not quite understand the timing element in this equation when we are now at last in the throws of the main part of the summer season (now that the nights are drawing in, I hear pessimists say!)

Instead we went to a more conventional restaurant and had a variety of tapas. The meal was excellent and who would have guessed that two sixteen year old girls could be such excellent and stimulating company.

Our walk back along the beach was only marred by the immediate attention of all sentient men we passed who did not disguise their unashamed interest in my two companions. I had to make a formal apology for my sex!

Tomorrow sun bathing for the girls and a probable trip to Gavá for me. Indolent manufacture of vitamin D for the girls and adrenaline making frustration for me as the slowly grinding administration of Catalonia demands the maximum paperwork with the minimum of results. Or money as it is sometimes known!

The headteacher in exile, still nursing her rapidly mending bone, has expressed an interest in finding finance to found a school in the area. The situation becomes rapidly more interesting by the day. I have contacted my union and the wheels within the administration of my organization are slowly beginning to turn.

This is that wonderful time in any campaign when all seems possible: armed with Right and Wholesomeness it seems to be truly, in education in Catalonia terms, another Children’s Crusade. This is a comforting idea until you remember what happened to that particular Crusade.
The Children’s Crusade makes the Fourth Crusade seem positively wholesome by comparison!

But my self deluding optimism will not be denied. To a man who can, at last, clean an electric hob – nothing is impossible!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Body Beach

Last night what I can only call a Saturnalia took place on the beach outside our flat.

Throughout the day the sporadic Beirut-like explosions kept the realization that it was a festival to the forefront of the mind. As the day wore on so the crack like reports of sizeable ‘petados’ grew less sporadic and more like a concentrated bombardment.

Which went on throughout the night.

Standing on the balcony and looking out I felt like some medieval baron standing on the battlements of his besieged castle and looking out at the motley crew ranged against him. The numbers of people in the darkness were indicated by the dancing flames of various camp fires and the unsettling deep murmur of what seemed like thousands of voices. From time to time the flash of an explosion showed serried ranks of people lurking about in the darkness.

Although tempted in theory to go along the beach and see what was happening, in practice I was tired and just wanted to go to bed. I was, however, revivified by a telephone from the Head Teacher of the school in which I used to work (ahem!) who told me that the way that The Owner is behaving is simply unacceptable and that she does not deserve to have a school.

So, from accepting that there would be little that I could do except to cause some mild exasperation in the life of the spoilt brat grown to womanhood, I am now encouraged to believe that We Can Do Something Real. At this point I lapse into King Lear and admit that I am not sure what it is that we will be able to do, but I fervently hope that we will do such things,-- What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be The terrors of the earth!

The restored enthusiasm for My Campaign against The Owner and All Her Works drained the last elements of wakefulness from me and I departed for my bed.

I was awoken from uneasy dreams by the same rumble of voices punctuated by explosions which had soothed me to sleep.

I scrabbled around for my glasses and shuffled me way towards the balcony. I was feeling unnaturally tired and I assumed that my sleeping brain had spent the night constructing ever more elaborate dreams to account for the strange noises that thumped their way through my flat.

The sight that met my bleary eyes was astonishing.

The beach was fully littered; not only with the sort of spread of rubbish which is usually only found in careful set dressing of high budget films, but also with bodies in various states of comotosity. And the ones who were conscious were still drinking! Boys lifting the mini metal casks of beer to their mouths and squirting the frothy rubbish directly down their throats. Men examining the contents of bottles stuck at various angles in the sand the ten raising them to their parched lips at half past six in the morning. People of all possible sexes staggering unsteadily towards the newly installed portaloo. What greeted them inside can only be guessed at after a night of unsure personal hygiene conducted in the dark!

By seven o’clock in the morning men in fluorescent tabards had started the Augean task of bringing back the beach to some degree of normality. It is a labour which has taken them all day with the assistance of the giant sand siever, a succession of rubbish vans and management in cars. The beach is now beginning to look more like the manicured stretch of sand that we have become used to.

Living next to a popular beach you understand just how much hard work is necessary to keep sand looking, well, unremarkable. With no tide the effortless flat and featureless appearance of British beaches is something which takes a lot of money to achieve in the Mediterranean.

The amount we are paying for the flat and its position, the least we have a right to expect is a natural looking beach which has taken vast sums of money to look like that!

Monday, June 23, 2008

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble teacher, but . . .

The past few days have been like living in a tired war zone where desultory and lethargically sporadic explosions in a seemingly random pattern punctuate the normal noise of an ordinary day.

We are building up to a National Holiday for which small shops and stalls have sprung up offering petados or ‘bangers’. I understand that people are even able to buy these incendiary things on the internet! The logistical ramifications of that one leave me speechless!

The 24th or possibly the 23rd is the Catalan equivalent of Bonfire Night and the masked denizens of hell in hessian will be walking the streets with their flaming pitchforks.

Fireworks or fuegos artificales have a more nearly central place in the Spanish way of life than in Britain. In Britain the dead hand of Blame Culture has demonized fireworks to such an extent that it seems positively anti social as a private individual to admit to possessing any of them. They are more safely left in the capable hands (allegedly) of local councils than in the palsied grip of mere ordinary people.

The Spanish seem to rejoice in fireworks and deliberately put themselves in the way of showers of sparks, squeaking delightedly as parts of body and clothing start to smoulder! I suppose this is all of a piece with their letting bulls lose in the streets, constructing human castles of improbable height and encouraging a selection of other wild animals to frisk about in the vicinity of vulnerable human flesh.

This is the sort of thing that would be impossible to regulate in Britain and something that no vapid British insurance company would touch. Given the grossly inflated premiums that companies ask for even the most trivial and distant risks you would have thought that they would be licking their slavering corporate lips at the thought of the truly mind constricting amounts of money they might be tempted to charge for what passes for normality in Spain. But no! Even though their business is risk they seem to want to offload that troublesome concept on the customer!

Spain has a long way to go in the accountability stakes. Most Spanish pavements are fiendishly complex obstacle courses with many unpleasant surprises in store for the unwary. Parking is simply a joke. Conditions that would bankrupt a large metropolitan borough in Britain are accepted with a nonchalance bordering on the criminally vindictive here. ¡Viva la diferencia!

Today is the start of my efforts to Ostracize The Owner. I’m not sure that is exactly what I am trying to do, but I am far too indolent to think of a more appropriate alliterative verb.

To be realistic I am not sure what I can do to frustrate her knavish tricks, but on the basis that ‘anything is better than nothing’ I will put into sluggish action the strategy that I have been considering for some time. I am well aware that I am confronting moneyed ignorance and that my efforts may well be derided as a ‘Brave Little Belgium’ approach but I am determined not, to quote a fellow countryman, to ‘go gentle into that good night’ and, god knows, The Owner does give one something to ‘rage against.’

The Campaign begins!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Església Parroquial de Sant Pere de Ribes is only a hundred or so years old, but looks much older because of the style in which it is built. It seems oddly large for what would have been a very small village a century ago, but it turns out that the building was a gift to god for the recovery of a wife. Local boy makes good in South America and offers god a bribe to save his wife; a bribe that god obviously accepts – though why god wants a mini cathedral in a village outside Sitges must be put down to the resolute inscrutability of the deity!

The church itself is imposing with a lofty interior with bayed vaulting. The church famously has two towers and there is a lantern in the body of the nave. The stone used in the construction is a rather featureless grey which makes the columns look as though they have been made out of superior breeze blocks and the capitals from which the ribs of the vaulting spread are over large and ornate, looking as though they have been salvaged from another church.

The open bays are disfigured by ornate golden filigree altars in the usual Rags of Popery style, as is the high altar with a towering construction reaching almost to the roof and containing a particularly unedifying statue of Saint Peter clutching his keys and sporting a very spiky halo.

Architectural analysis was not why I was there. As Margaret had offered a second (after I had to pass up on the first) invitation to stay with the additional inducement of culture and food, I was there with alacrity!

So, for the first time in my life I have heard Benjamin Britten sung in Catalan: Sant Nicolau, op. 42 Cantata. Even my Catalan stretches to understanding that this is the cantata Saint Nicholas.
A disturbingly precocious saint who gained the power of speech at an exceptionally early age and whose first words, “God be glorified!” were uttered while he was still in the womb! What his mother’s words were on discovering that she had a loquacious foetus are not recorded.

This version of the Cantata had Crozier’s words translated into Catalan by Slavador Oliva and they were performed by the combined forces of the Cor Jove de L’Escola Municipal de Música Mestre Montserrat, the Jove Cor FlumineÑ the Cor de Cambra Isquione, the Coral Bitxac and the Orquestra de Cambra del Garraf.

This imposing list of organizations was expertly and enthusiastically held together by the lively direction of Salvador Brotons who was able to meld the exciting orchestral part with expertly tutored choral forces directed by Isabel Pla.


The church’s acoustic defeated all their efforts. There was at least a four or five second reverberation which reduced the detail of Britten’s orchestration to a muddy sort of aural rumble. It was like listening to a series of radios tuned to different music stations with your ears filled with marshmallow! You had to know the piece to try and extricate the instrumental lines from the mass of undifferentiated sound which filled the church.

The soloist, David Hernández, may well have been very good, but sitting at the back of the church I had no way of knowing as his voice was often lost in the wave of sound which crashed and flooded over me.

However. Part II.

I did enjoy the music, especially the second half when the more dramatic elements in this music drama were brought more to the fore. The three young sopranos walking down the nave of the church was one of those simple coup de theatre which Britten does so well in his church music and gave an indication of how marvellous this piece can be in a more sympathetic acoustic.

Another Britten trademark was the involvement of the audience/congregation in the singing of two hymns. The first of which is an old favourite and one which I must have sung hundreds of times, though not with the opening words of, “Avui la gent de tot el món ta feliç al Déu vivent el gran amor ques tots etc.” I have to say that Catalan is not pronounced as it is written, so it’s just as well that my contribution to the congregational singing was minimal!

Thanks to the kindness of Margaret and Ian I was able to stay in Sant Pere for the night and have a leisurely and delicious lunch. Five of us sat down to lunch and we had a conversation that was as wide ranging as it was divisive – though it the best possible taste!

Then off to Terrassa to see the new born.

A full life!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Time to stand and stare

My first day of sackedness. And a time for reflection.

To commemorate this momentous readjustment in my employment status I have planted a dead cactus on the balcony. The cactus was brought in by one of my students and, as is the way with things in the relentless curriculum for primary children, was promptly forgotten. With cacti this is not necessarily fatal, but even they demand cursory attention. Which we did not lavish on it. It is a dead cactus – and all the rest of the Monty Python script.

I felt that planting a dead cactus from school was a deeply symbolic act with dark, mysterious, ritualistic overtones. The metaphorical implications are almost overwhelming, and I’m not sure that I can be bothered to work them out.

If some part of the latent DNA of the cactus is reactivated by moist soil then the metaphor becomes even more complex and even less open to interpretation!

After my onerous task was completed I settled down on the balcony to a pot (glass; Zara Home) of tea

(Rington’s ‘Two Cup’ industrial strength; Victoria) and gazed at the empty beach and the gently rippling sea. The horizon is a line of dirty blue and just above it the sky is a smudge of the spectrum comprising what Robert Graves described in ‘Welsh Incident’ as ‘mostly nameless’ colours. The rest of the sky is of that perfect sky blue that the sky rarely is. The flawless quality of the heavens is mildly flawed by a few impertinent scraps of cloud making their lazy way to the hills behind Castelldefels. Moments like this are part of the reason that I am here. Sigh!

I have decided that The Owner did not sack me - sorry, refuse to renew my contract – because of my radical tendencies. I fear that the real reason was gross moral turpitude.

I should explain. The room where I used to teach (please note the past tense!) had glass on two sides and therefore, with the weakest ray of sunshine, heated up to the level of an oven on gas mark 5.

A primary class is like a cup of tea: Brownian Motion observable through the busy, erratic movement of young bodies going about their versions of teacher inspired tasks!

It is impossible to stay static in this confusing melee and you, as a teacher, have to act as conductor, instructor and traffic light. This is activity. Activity within an oven. Bending, twisting and reaching it is inevitable that one’s shirt becomes less than securely trapped (as it should be) behind the stern constriction of one’s belt.

Re establishing sartorial equilibrium necessitates a sharp indrawn breath and a swirl of hands to return the wayward shirt tails to their proper position.

A few days ago, while harassed and hectored beyond comprehension by a more than usually complex pupil task which used card, paper, sticks, pencils, glue, scissors and virtually every other piece of material in the class, my shirt again skittishly emerged from its constraints. Multi tasking (as a mere man) is an onerous task and so while talking, walking, encouraging and mediating, I took a more than usually enthusiastic breath in to facilitate the return of the shirt tails. And my trousers fell down!

It is, and was the stuff of second rate British comedies; and here it was taking place in Catalonia!

It was but the movement of a second to return the trousers to their proper station and re-establish a modicum of decorum. But there are a couple of impressionable girls who glimpsed this comic slip with amazed delight and I am sure will retain the memory for some considerable time!

It is a tribute to the relentless voracity for incident of the young that this (admittedly) extraordinary incident, after a momentary flurry of excitement, was forgotten. How different from the home life of our own dear secondary school where such an occurrence would have provided the basis for anecdote, abuse and contempt for generations!

Today I have to go to Terrassa to see the new born pretender to the throne of adulation presently occupied by Toni’s older nephew. He has got a shock coming to him. I don’t think that he has fully realised that he has a brother, let alone someone else is going to be living with him and taking part of the attention which was one wholly his!

I also have to call into Bluespace and store some of the stuff that I have been using in school. I feel like paraphrasing William Pitt the Younger and saying, “Roll up those materials they will not be wanted these ten years!”

If only.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The day of an open ended holiday!

“To have been sacked once Stephen might be regarded as unfortunate. To have been sacked twice smacks of the worst excesses of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; and we all know what the actions of those unfortunate men led to.”

So, The Owner strengthened by the sinews of her own insecurity, managed to find the bare faced audacity to reject the offer of my future services!

My rank insubordination in questioning the imposition of dinner duties with teachers serving the kids’ food; my arrogance in expecting the provision of supply cover; my wastrel lack of control in asking for fans to mitigate the greenhouse effects of glass walled unventilated classrooms; my refusal to accept responsibility for a pupil/teacher ratio of 33 to 1 on a school trip; my support of colleagues and having a cup of tea – all this was offered up, in whole or part to explain how my continued presence in the school was an impossibility.

In a short meeting in an air conditioned part of reception (a luxury which is not found elsewhere in the teaching areas of the school) I was informed that virtually all aspects of my attitude and behaviour were unacceptable and my future was not to be in the institution which The Owner with single minded self destructive selfishness is obliterating.

My first foray with The Owner about lunchtime supervisions has never been forgiven or forgotten. My surly rejection of mealy-mouthed platitudinous gibberish from the ill tutored mouth of an unlettered, unprofessional and unspeakable non entity who had the offrontery to take a meeting and deny accountability and knowledge of anything being talked about was the final straw. Attacking this mouthpiece of The Owner was obviously lese majesty and the one unforgivable transgression. So I am gone.

My last act in the school was to take a Parents’ Afternoon. Virtually all the parents, with varying degrees of vituperation were most eloquent in the invective they used as they inveigled against the tyrannical power of The Owner. All of them bewailed their seeming powerlessness. “What,” they asked, “can I do?” The spoilt little rich girl, who was The Owner, has grown into a bullying dictator who uses her financial clout to do as she pleases.

Her paranoia (now fully justified as she is universally detested) linked to what must be an unshakable insecurity means that any slight disagreement on the part of anyone else can only be interpreted as stark rebellion.

In The Owner’s world everyone is seeking to do her down, so she must suspect everyone and fear every glance, flick of the eyelid and toss of the head. Subversion is always rife in The Owner’s world and duplicity and mendacity the only way forward.

Now is the time to test out my Union membership.

I am prepared to be under whelmed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Petard of Pixels

Stymied by technology!

My credentials as someone who is computer savvy have now taken a punishing bump from my incompetence with the reports.

In our school everything possible is done electronically. This has nothing to do with being cutting edge and everything to do with paranoia.

People communicate via email when they could take a few steps and talk to each other! This extraordinary behaviour stems (need you ask) from The Owner who feels that mere speech is liable to be twisted by evil educational practitioners, whereas the written word is immutable. The fact that the system has more faults than California and is more liable to inexplicable vagaries than share prices in mortgage companies does not alter the fact that the email and pen drive are the weapons of choice in the conveying of information.

As someone who much prefers to top and tail reports in pen the use of the computer is limiting. As we had no style sheet to work from I felt free to make executive decisions about certain details of presentation. Alas! My revolutionary zeal was quickly curbed and the thin end of the wedge towards Armageddon (i.e. writing the pupils names in block capitals) was sternly rebuked.

And the altering of reports which exist on my pen drive and on the hard drive of my laptop is where the problems accumulated. Resentfully I changed my aphoristic (and frequently gnomic) comments to something more in keeping with the potential audience for my bon mots whose linguistic abilities were being extended by their offspring rather by themselves. This meant delving into report after report; messing around with them, forgetting to save the changes; opening another report; remembering to save the changes; forgetting to change the report opened before the other one was saved; reopening the wrong report; missing out a report on the list; changing the name and . . . well, you get the general idea.

What would be simple in moving sheets of paper becomes a frustratingly oblique shuffle when you are forced to do things electronically.

My only comfort blanket was a red file with scraps of paper of various sizes which contained information which allowed the formation of the reports in the first place. When in doubt I returned to the red file and rummaged about for a while, relishing the real physical feel of paper on finger tips and knowing that if everything was lost in one electrical surge the edifice could be rebuilt by my little red file.

Having twenty open files on a computer is a life shortening experience in laborious navigation, while the equivalent in report books is human and containable.

I am no Luddite and the thought of life without my trusty laptop is something which I can only contemplate in the context of a particularly disturbing Hammer Horror film – but the complexities of using the computer in the way in which my school demands adds a dimension of human misery which should only live in the pages of an existential novel by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Teaching has, to all intents and purposes fizzled out. Sometimes the fizzle comes after a particularly hairy educational explosion.

Today was a case in point. After hours of vicious rehearsals with vindictive haranguing accompaniment by my good self, adding a hard edge to the more than reasonable approach of the music teacher, our summer concert was performed for the adoring parents.

This extended piece of exquisite aural torture has been filmed professionally so that the tone deaf parents can relive the chromatic harmonies that make Stockhausen sound like the song writer for Sesame Street.

Apart from the performance of Mama Mia where the kids resolutely stuck to their version of the song while the backing track was not on their rhythmic wavelength – things went quite well. Obviously the relationship between the kids’ singing and their target songs was roughly the same as a car crash to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but hey, they were only primary school kids having a good time while exponentially increasing the misery of their long suffering teachers. What’s wrong with that!

My little Drama Group did well, with the laconic clown having the desired effect. They were all good (in its high relativistic sense) and even when The Cat lost her words, she was so vulnerable and cute that they all cooed and applauded. No one actually said it, but this was the one time that one of them should have sobbed, “You’ve been a wonderful audience, thank you!”

A burden of responsibility has been magically lifted from our shoulders now that the dreaded concert has been consigned to DVD and we can concentrate on the fabled list of tasks that we have to fulfil before the end of term.

I take it that The Owner once read a simplified version of 1,001 Nights and has never managed to shake off the concept of The Trial Before Eventual Reward!

As far as I can understand it, everything has to be cleared out of our rooms. Everything. Where it is all going I know not. And there are some things which I will want to save for next year. If I am allowed a next year in the institution.

With out depleted numbers (three primary teachers missing) every day has the possibility of disaster.

It’s one reason to go in!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Keep a grip!

“The weather,” I was told with authority, “is going to change on Wednesday.”

Given the generally unsympathetic offerings the celestial spheres have produced any assurance, no matter how spurious, is greeted with fervent faith. I have used up my supply of faith (usually only thrown around on election night) in willing the weather to behave more as if it’s in Catalonia. Which, of course, it is.

We have not had sullen days of grey depression and, apart from a series of reservoir filling storms, we’ve had little enough rain – but that’s not the point. The point is that every day should be an oven in which I should be basting. And it isn’t. Not even remotely.

So Toni’s blithe assurances that climactic conditions will match the advertising are pathetically welcome.

I have been told that one advantage of subdued weather conditions has been that the greenhouse potential of our glass sided school has not generated the heat which would, given the length of our school day, allow a moderate sized joint to be cooked to perfection by being placed on the middle landing!

And with the departure of the kids on Friday we (the men) may be allowed to throw caution and couture to the wind and wear shorts. This radical departure from the required standard of male attire has, of course, yet to be confirmed!

This week promises to be one filled with incident.

The true horror of our Summer Concert is to be unleashed on the punch drunk parents. This parade of ill sung ditties is something which only direct DNA links to the perpetrators could make tolerable. Though I have to say that the ‘character links’ I have written for members of my drama group to introduce each number have the potential to be at least mildly interesting.

One of the ‘actors’ is a small, long haired girl whose general placidity comes close to torpor. I have cast her as a clown and her naturally deadpan delivery is unintentionally mesmeric! The ‘star’ of our little troupe is a girl from my class who plays a ‘rich woman’ and has a natural sense of timing which gives her performance a professional sheen. The other characters, in case you are wondering, include a witch, an alien, a hippy, a cat, a ballet dancer and a singer. All of them with a little monologue by me! Those of you who know me can only shudder at the thought of what I have these poor children saying! Such fun!

But the little irritations of education pale into insignificance beside the reality of the immanent birth of a second nephew to Toni. As the present nephew is the cynosure of all family eyes I cannot imagine what a pretender to the centrality of the present three year old is going to produce. Even though he (and we know that it is a he) is brother to the present nephew, I fear that we may have a situation which will be comparable with that of the scandal of the Babylonian Captivity at Avignon when there were two rival popes. I am sure that the present wearer of the triple crown of family devotion is not going to take kindly to a mewling pretender to his throne. I only hope that I can be like some unassuming scribe member of one of the less important ecclesiastic houses of poor brothers seeking only to scratch the parchment to chronicle events rather than seeking to influence them!

As Toni’s sister has now gone into hospital, it looks as though The Birth is near. Toni has holiday owning to him and is prepared to rush to his home city to imprint his scent on the newborn to ensure family solidarity!

This would suggest that I am likely to have to welcome The Girls by myself.

How to keep two sixteen year old Welsh girls happy has been a constant nagging fear ever since their arrival was tied down to a specific flight. Their distant threat is now a proximate reality and they will be here next week!

There arrival coincides with a national holiday when I am assured there will be fireworks in Sitges. And possibly bonfires. All to the good. That’s one evening taken care of, only the rest of the time to worry about!

There’s always shopping!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Don't look down!

Name Days are serious things in Catalonia.

Toni’s Name Day (I should have been able to work it out, there are clues in the title of the celebration!) meant that we had to go to Terrassa so that he could scoop up the loot from family and friends.

Which he duly did, but not before we had a meal of astounding value: seven people with a three course meal, wine, water, casera and bread for €42!

It was while we were walking back to the flat that Toni’s mother finally noticed that Toni’s sandals, though joined by a generic title, were not linked by colour or style. Once mentioned, of course, it was perfectly obvious that they were not a pair.

Much good natured laughter – with an edge!

We were supposed to go to an electrical shop to find a mobile phone with a radio which was going to be my Name Day gift for Toni, but he was reluctant to go anywhere while wearing mismatched sandals.

I thought that his mother was unusually insistent when we got into the flat that he should open his presents at once and before an audience.

And this is the thing that you can only relate as part of real life and is not something that you would dare put in a story.

Toni’s major present was a pair of (perfectly matched!) sandals!

Thus armed (or rather, footed) we sallied forth to find the right mobile - only stopping to buy lottery tickets on the very reasonable basis that one unlikely coincidence might as well stretch to another. We wait to see. We have certainly spent all the money a few times over in our minds.

Next week threatens to be a very interesting one. The pupils only stay for half days until the end of their term on Friday. The teachers, however, stay for a full day completing the list of ‘tasks’ that The Owner has thought out to fill out the time we have remaining in the school.

We have a short meeting at 9.00 am tomorrow and we will know part of the worst then. Some of us still have a suspicion that this last week will be the proverbial straw which will provoke a mass walk out so that the summer pay will be withheld.

And the school concert is almost upon us.

Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Friday, June 13, 2008

What do I do now?

There is something very wrong with the feeling that you are being outwitted by a half wit.

As far as I can tell I have now entered the endgame of my link with the school. I am no longer able to tell whether I am in control of the situation or whether I am merely a toy bobbing about on the turbid waters of an emptying bath.

Having spoken to The Owner I am no more certain of my future in the bizarre school in which I am teaching than I was a week ago. The Owner and I have a ‘stand-offish’ approach to each other which does nothing to elucidate our relationship.

Strangely I have a more positive vision of my time in the school than I did a day ago. You have to understand that in my place a day is a very, very, very long time in educational terms.

Our day was taken up by an edict which stated that we would be in a sports centre for the morning.

I will not dwell on the legal problems which indicated that two members of staff would surely not be sufficient to take a hundred pupils anywhere. The fact that I have to type that statement to reassure myself that it is not a fragment of my delusional imagination is surely something which is a condemnation of the situation in which I am working at this moment in time. And, yes, I do know that the previous sentence is not one of my finest.

So the morning passed with the kids generally enjoying themselves and discovering the pleasures of the Jacuzzi.

All was sweetness and light until we had to go back to school. We had had enough difficulty in persuading administration that the proportion of 1 to 10 for primary was a prerequisite for safe transportation to the sports centre. It was even more difficult in persuading them that the same proportions were necessary for the journey back to the school.

For non teachers everything that I am saying is unimportant, but for educationalists it is essential. “This is a legal necessity” can be a salutary reminder that there are higher rules than an encouraging reassurance from the administration of a school that does not subscribe to the basic necessities of legal requirements.

Today, I should say, has been trying. Trying in all the wrong ways.

I am a teacher. If you ask me to do something in the right way that I am far more likely to say “yes” than refuse. After all, we are constantly presented with the welfare of the kids that we teach as a major reason for our existence, either by ourselves or the administration which directs our educational efforts. That ‘welfare’ is a major bargaining chip in the lottery that is the education of the young. We teachers are suckers for the ‘welfare’ play. We always give in.

In state education you can kid yourself that your efforts are for the general good. In private education it is much more difficult to find a justification in the same way.

I truly do not know what I am doing in this school. I truly do not know what I could do in this school. I truly do not know what I could be allowed to do in this school.

Perhaps I should be out of it.

It is on ongoing question.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just when you weren't expecting it!

Just when you thought that the school had run out of surrealistically stupid things to shock an ordinary teacher they send you, nay, bring you, a memo.

This informs you that the following day you will be taking over 100 pupils to a nearby sports centre. You will be accompanied by one other colleague.

No consultation. No discussion. No questions. No legality. No professionalism. No doubt it’s that school in Sitges!

I actually laughed when I received the memo. Another unique situation; never before in my entire career have I been (in effect) ordered to take an illegal number of pupils on a trip which had been organized at the last moment.

The reason for the fiesta fiasco is that little attempt has been made by the school to compensate for the absence of teachers. Out of the nine primary teachers who should be in school tomorrow four will be absent: hence the invitation to all the classes at KS2 to frolic.

Our new primary head has had her first full day in post today and has busied herself in visiting all primary classes, looking at books and speaking to pupils and staff. She has also found herself at the sharp point of controversy as she tries to field questions to which she cannot possibly know the answers. God help her! I wonder if anyone has told her that she is the 7th person in that post in the last two years.

The responses to our professional questions about the hurriedly organized trip were rudely brushed aside by the unqualified henchperson of The Owner. She is the sort of person to put her oar in but be rapid in her rejection of any acceptance of personal responsibility.

Things are getting nasty with members of staff positively baying for the final format of the reports. The format has been as much debated and discussed as if we had been trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. Ignorance is pitted against professional judgement and wins because the ignorance is aided and abetted by financial clout wielded by a bully.

I cannot tell you how tempted I am to develop a virus for tomorrow. But I won’t of course. It is far more interesting to go to such a dysfunctional institution than stay at home.

Sick fascination has its attractions!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Death reigns supreme!

As I made my way from the garage, up the stairs to the flat, I found my way impeded by a miasmic wall of odour. It was as if someone had been using Pledge with Attitude.

The answer, of course, was ants. Toni has discovered that we have a ‘plague’ of ants. This infestation passed me by: put it down to wearing glasses. Anyway this unwanted visitation encouraged the purchase of two plastic ‘mini tents’ which were filled with poison and supposedly irresistible to ants.

Toni’s genocidal attitude towards our six legged visitors doesn’t surprise me at all, as I have seen in all before. He shares his detestation with that of my mother who was like a thing possessed whenever an ant with a death wish managed to penetrate the rigid insect security around my family home.

My mother’s poison of choice was the unfortunately named Nippon™.
I have yet to work out the socio-political wrong thinking that went into that inspired trade name. She would place drops of this lethal liquor near known haunts of ants and then lurk above them urging them to drink and take the poison home to destroy the nest. An unedifying sight and not one that I had thought to see repeated. How badly I underestimated Toni!

He even lacked my mother’s deadly patience and, having seen no visible deaths in the arrogant strutting of ants in the house, decided upon dramatic measures which stretch the boundaries of the Geneva Convention. The entire house has been sprayed to within an inch of its liveable limit.

Everything is dead. No ants walk. The cloud of death has done its work. But I also feel that the noxious residue of the wave of death is limiting our lives too! But we are alone again.

This destruction came at the end of a generally uneventful day save for the appearance of the new head of the primary section of the school. My first meeting with her was limited to a smile and a firm handshake, but we were assured that we would be able to meet her informally during a little ‘get together’ at the end of school.

At the end of school we began to assemble in the staff room where there was precisely nothing to suggest that there was a little informal meeting about to take place. We were mystified. Where were the bottles of Cava? The little nibbles? The air of easy informality? Nowhere.

I went into the unit managers’ office and there was our new headteacher sitting by herself gazing (with hope!) at a computer screen. In answer to my laconic questioning she revealed that she too had expected some sort of reception but that The Owner had disappeared and she knew nothing. The shape of things to come!

Returning to the staff room I decided to Do Something. Using the small plastic coffee cups salvaged from the Sports Day and filled them with the orange juice from a colleague’s marriage do and a paper plate of the remaining biscuits from my tin. It looked, I have to say, pathetic.

When the unit manager of the foetal section of the school came into the room she laughed out loud. But I fear that my ironic tribute to adequate refreshments for newly appointed headteachers arriving on their first day and meeting the staff went largely unappreciated as they drank all the orange juice and scoffed all the biscuits!

The new head was duly toasted in orange juice and gave a heartfelt speech which demonstrated to Those Who Know that she has a number of crucial misconceptions about what she can possibly hope to do in this employment that will destroy her if she takes them seriously. And she looks the sort to take them seriously. God help her!

The end of term comes on apace with my attempts to use up all the resources still available in the school becoming more and more inventive and ever more extravagant!

The non appearance of the final format for the reports is driving one of my colleagues frantic with frustration as she is stymied in her attempts to finish everything which is, or may be, or could be required of her. She takes organization to a higher level than I could have believed (or would ever have wanted to have believed) possible.

I wonder how long it will be before I can translate a sentence like that last one into convincing Spanish.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sing ho! for the life of a teacher!

It says much for our school that the news that the report format devised by a senior teacher for reporting the end of session progress of Year 6 was to be checked and assessed by a reception secretary barely raised an eyebrow!

This follows the extended meeting with The Owner by my colleagues in Years 3 & 4 to limit her absurd demands for reporting in miniscule detail things she does not understand. Luckily they were able to temper her excesses and we (few, we happy few) are able to contemplate filling in reports without the production of a novel sized communication with parents being the end result!

Bear in mind, if you can, the fact that the present teachers had no (nada, nothing, zilch) information handed onto them last September from the Lost Legion of primary teachers who left (or rather decamped) in the summer of 2007.

The Owner attempts to make it appear to be absolutely normal that this passing on of information from one year to another is nothing more than the ordinary process of education which has been the norm for the last umpteen years.

This is, of course, not even a glancing tangent at the truth.

As far as I can work out each generation of primary teachers has adopted the ‘scorched earth’ policy much beloved of the dispossessed and desperate and left the school taking with them all the relevant information and leaving the computers wiped as clean as a pampered baby’s bottom!

Preparations for the school summer concert continue with a rather startling tunelessness marking the various classes’ contributions. My script for the characters linking all the pieces seems progressively more bizarre as the kids get to know their words. Their costumes will add that final touch of horror to the event.

Those parents so unfortunate as to have allowed their procreative impulses to give them a spread of progeny through all three sections of our school will find that their experience of the three consecutive concerts will be roughly on a par with the length of the Ring Cycle but without the tunes. And acting. And costumes. And direction. And coherence. God help them!

We await with some trepidation the final list of ‘tasks’ that we will be asked to complete before our contribution to the academic life of the school is deemed to be sufficient and we can slope off for the rest of the (damp!) summer.

We confidently expect one of the ‘tasks’ to be to construct a new cantilevered section of the school, while another might be to rewrite the text books which might be used next year. In our school anything, literally anything, is possible.

As if to confound expectations the saga of the repair of the dishwasher (now in its umpteenth month of frustration) took a new turn when the people who were supposed to turn up at 4.00 pm and take the bloody thing away to repair it their workshops actually turned up before 3.55 pm and were waiting for Toni when he made it back early from his work!

They have taken away the jerry built rubbish (never buy a Taurus) while leaving – rather poignantly – the dish rack type innards looking forlorn and skeletal. I wonder how long they will languish before their enclosing body returns. The men said that it would take about a week but, apart from today’s shocking promptness, there is nothing in the way that they have interpreted the word ‘service’ to expect anything but disappointment.

Talking of disappointment there are ten more calendar days before the kids finally go. Those ten days will encompass the arrival of a new head of primary; a summer concert; a parents’ evening in the afternoon; meetings about my contract; completion of my theatre project (don’t ask); a kids’ end of year party; recriminations, ruminations and revaluations.

The one thing about our school is that anything is possible.

It really is.

Even normality!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Soft words often . . .

Caution got the better part of cauterization in my approach to the powers that be at school today.

It may be that my much vaunted perceptive understanding of the nuances of powerplay in the rough and supine of school politics is woefully inadequate; or it may be that I still have much to learn about the way things happen in this more-foreign-than-you-think country.

Either way I am holding fire on my first blast of the trumpet (an interestingly mixed metaphor) against the iniquities I see all around me and awaiting yet another deadline when all will be explained.

Perhaps my reading of the situation merely demonstrates my pathetic belief that, essentially, everyone strives, in their own way, to do good. I know that I sound like an even more naïf version of Candide; but who can resist the destructive innocence of the man as he accepts tribulation after tribulation and manages to preserve his fondly held philosophy that all is for the best as we live in the best of all possible worlds?

I must cultivate my garden – or at least tend to the cacti!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

It is finished!

Marking done!

I should just let that stand. It has a sort of elegant, succinct beauty that any teacher will be able to appreciate.

The weather is still not wonderful (certainly not for June) but it didn’t stop a multitude of people from plonking themselves on ‘our’ beach. That was about as far as they went: immersion seemed to be that one step too far.

And to fair to our tentative visitors they are perfectly within their rights to refrain from flinging themselves into the briny deeps. The hut on the beach is not open.

I had thought that the simple start of summer was signalled by the rebuilding of the wooden hut on the beach, but I was misled by my simplistic view of its mere construction having a final meaning.

The approach to summer as exemplified by the building of the kiosk is much more sophisticated than I first thought. There is a definite sequence.

First the hamacas appear in their tidy piles at the bottom of the wooden walkway into the beach and all joined together by a chain. This is the first stage and the delay before they are used should be propitiation to the weather gods to ensure fine sunbathing delight.

The second stage is when the sun beds are moved closer to the sea. Then there follows a whole sequence of events: the leaving of piles of prefabricated segments of the hut proper; the building of the shell; elaboration of the hut into its almost finished form; setting out the sun beds for hire; building the canopy for the kiosk – all of these have happened.

But the hut is not open. It therefore follows that summer is not yet with us. Like some patient pilgrim I watch and wait!

But one thing is sure.

My marking is done!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Careful child!

When someone attempts sarcasm in response to my reasonably worded memo then, metaphorically, I start sharpening my fingers for a pointed reply.

When the sarcasm is ungrammatical, incoherent and demonstrates a woeful ignorance of word meaning then the impulse to respond with lofty, yet coyly naïf irony is irresistible. So I haven’t bothered to resist.

As far as I am concerned battle has been joined. The date on the termination notice of my contract was the same day that I handed in a few innocuous memos. I have been singled out for special treatment and it deserves a spirited response!

In this battle I am, alas, a mere David; though I did see a re-thinking of that story which pointed out some verities from biblical times. Apparently a skilled man with a slingshot against an armed man at a distance was the equivalent of a man with a crossbow against a knight in armour – as long as distance is maintained then the seeming underdog is the stronger. I shall take strength from this!

Monday is going to be a softly, softly sort of start to the week. I shall leaven the mildness with a few well chosen memo replies and await developments.

Meanwhile after a delicious dinner last night in one of the smaller restaurants near us which is now opening more regularly, the weather continues to disappoint.

I am not one to hold god to account but I have actually moved country to escape the rain and it does appear to have followed me. I am well aware that when I speak to my fellow countrymen on the phone they are often quite graphic in their descriptions of inundations which are taking place as the conversations continues. I am then conscious that I have been sulking because there were a few more clouds in the sky than I wanted.

I must learn proportion.

As if!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Not funny

Two journeys to the Correos, one abortive, just to find out that what was waiting for me there was an official notification that my contract with my present employer will be terminated on the 20th of this Month.

My efforts to find out what sort of contract is available for me for next year have been unavailing, but I have been told (by memo) that I can have a meeting with the Administration on my last day after the completion of the school course and before the end of my working day. Not exactly confidence inspiring!

No one else has mentioned having a personalized reminder of the end of their contract, so I think that I can take this piece of official communication as a clear indicator of a problematic future.

I suppose their only mistake is giving me 14 days to think about it. Just how spiteful can I possibly be?

School is fraying at the edges and people are getting a little hyper; a little apprehensive; a little frustrated and more than a little cynical.

On the other hand the weather has been a little more clement and I hold out hopes for the rest of the weekend.

This is a better prospect than the marking which I will have to complete before Monday.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

There are simpler ways . . .

“Did I see your photograph in the newspaper?” asked the gardener as I put my case in the back of the vehicle in the underground car park. I had to suppress an instant feeling of guilt and shame as though I had received the famous advice, “Flee! All is discovered!” I am not sure which of my imagined indiscretions frightened me most, but I covered my confusion in a bluster of half attempted Spanish.

This unsettled me enough before I got to school and the incipient chaos that is a keynote of our everyday existence in school.

Today’s absurdity concerned a trip to the beach. We are, after all, situated in Sitges. The beach is not a problem. We can see the sea! However . . . there is always a ‘however’ in our place.

Not all pupils in our seat of learning share the academic impulse which is our life blood. Some are even naughty. Naughtiness is punished by forbidding the perpetrators participation in the delights of escape from the classroom. Five pupils were deemed to be of sufficient disruptive potential that they were to be precluded from participation. But the head of primary who agreed this just exclusion is absent and the administration which remains considered that there was insufficient parental notification time to stop the pupils from accompanying the other students on the trip.

This did not meet with unqualified approval from the teachers who actually know the miscreants involved. Their professional opinion was disregarded and administrators decreed that the pupils should go. Margaret had worried about this trip throughout the night and had produced a statement which identified the administrator and made it clear that this was all against the teachers’ advice.

The administrator, of course, refused to sign and there was a general hiatus as someone was found who could give an unequivocal order. This was, of course, another administrator with no teaching qualifications. Of course.

Margaret was thoroughly professional about the responsibility involved in this trip and agonized over what needed to be done. She was pressurized into going after refusing to countenance transferring the responsibility onto another colleague.

The pep talk that she gave to the five individuals involved who should have been left behind, aided and abetted by me, was a masterpiece of fully justified moral intimidation: a classic of its kind!

I have started writing memos of beguiling softness asking for information of the most sensitive nature. Our numbers are substantially depleted and the thorny question of supply is raising its head. I have asked for clarification.

I have not, of course, received my promised letter explaining the details of my future contract. As I am always in the vicinity of questions and problems in our school, I do feel that my future employment is becoming more and more of a marginal possibility.

More and more of my colleagues are adopting S Q Ball’s patented technique of ‘closing my head’ to remain oblivious to the lunacy around - and survive!

As you know, working out the actual date for the end of our term makes working out the date of Easter look like making a cup of tea. With a teabag.

Time with the kids is running out – they are off on the 20th of this month and I can’t help feeling that The Owner is playing a completely unscrupulous endgame.

But, there again, perhaps her paranoia has finally affected me!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Heel clicking time?

The picture of me resplendent in academic gown, bushy white beard and witches hat waving a paint brush as a wand will have to live in your imagination because I made damn sure that no photographic evidence will exist!

My entrance onto the patio as someone from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or something ready to take in my class was little short of sensational. Unfortunately I rapidly found that the full costume was impossibly hot to wear so beard and hat were soon jettisoned. By the end of the day I was glad to get rid of the gown as well!

The day started with a meeting to try and articulate our fears and simple incomprehension linked to the infamous End of Term List devised by The Owner for the intimidation of her faithful workers. We have been promised a written reply to our written questions because she knows how tricky people can be when things are only spoken. She (in the sacred name of irony!) should know!

Since today was a full teaching day for me there was little time for sly deception, skulduggery, subterfuge, gunpowder, treason and plot. Or indeed the truth.

My promised letter in reply to the two missives I have sent did not, of course, appear. I will ask tomorrow with no lively hope of success.

There is a definite feeling of ‘endgame’ about the school with a clear sense of eschatology lurking in every dark corner of the place!

Tomorrow there will be two teachers absent and a trip to the beach taking out a further proportion of our number so god alone knows how we keep going. My invariable advice in situations of extreme academic stress is “Close the school!” This simple, direct and effective advice is just as invariably ignored as those in authority seek to discover a remedy which is complex and usually involves people (usually not them) giving up non contact time or collapsing classes (not theirs) and generally looking to the PBI to get them out of trouble.

You never know, perhaps tomorrow will be the exception which proves the rule. But I’m not holding my breath.

Toni left for work this morning and soon afterwards returned. The police (on their way to the bar) actually stopped off and told the disgruntled people waiting for a bus that there was not likely to be one arriving as they were on strike. Nice of them to tell the customers! Perhaps The Owner has a stake in the transport system of this part of the world as well as a stranglehold on education in English in Sitges as well.

Ah, I seem to be getting more bitter as the weather gets warmer. Something of an oxymoron, but then isn’t life one as well?

Time to stop!