Sunday, August 31, 2008

That is no beach for young men!

As god does his usual pathetic fallacy thing at the end of the holiday season by providing lowering clouds and that colour-draining light which makes a beach look desolate, the crowds have forsaken their redundant sun beds and decided to lie in this Sunday morning and shun the drab delights of the littoral.

Their absence gives the beach back into the hands of its autumn and winter denizens: the old. Sprightly septuagenarians skip towards the uninviting waves or stand gazing out to sea, legs akimbo, with a propriatorial air. Old ladies in geriatric pairs ‘run’ where the arms and legs mimic the actions of a racer, yet, like the animated mannequins in sports shops they do appear to be going anywhere.

The silence is only broken by the roar of the sand sifters as they go about essential cleansing work on a tideless beach.

In this light the sea looks like a steel blue wall unravelling at the base where the waves break. The beach has the appearance of khaki snow its virgin, sifted smoothness only spoilt by the first sea gazers marching resolutely to the water’s edge. A solitary yacht sailing on the top of the wall of the sea has a glowingly white sail indicating that the sun is trying to force its way towards us.

Now, on my third cup of tea of the morning, families have begun to supplant the old and the darker clouds begin their drift towards the mountains changing the colour of everything and giving back to the sea its accustomed wrinkled flatness.

I am conscious that I am beginning to sound like a poor man’s Dylan Thomas. Whatever else it might be, Castelldefels is no Llaregeb – or perhaps I just don’t know it well enough yet!

Tomorrow the School That Sacked Me opens its doors for the unsuspecting new batch of teachers to discover jest what they have let themselves in for.

The proposed rearrangement of classes for this year makes nonsense of ALL the work done by the previous year’s teachers and the present unit head of primary had been trying to square the circle by devising a syllabus for the new term. She should be informed that, to my knowledge, the circle cannot be squared (as proved in 1882 by the Lindermann-Weierstrass theorem which proves that pi (π) is a transcendental rather than algebraic irrational number; that is, it is not the root of any polymominal with rational coefficients. The consequences of that will be obvious even to those of the most limited intelligence) so the year will start with self contradiction and develop from there in the usual downward spiral into chaos.

At the moment, some of those of us who are enthusiastic about the founding a new school are, because of professional conflicts of interest, unable to speak openly: this limits the effectiveness of capitalizing on the anguish that parents are going to feel at the start of yet another year with what amounts to a new staff.

The next few weeks are of crucial importance in the establishment of our credentials as plausible alternative educators for the children of wavering parents in the School That Sacked Me.

We are living in the Chinese cliché of interesting times.

Long may they continue!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Stand not upon the order of your going - but go at once!

There is a palpable sense of ‘ending’ when you live in a seaside resort at the end of August. The resentful clang of shutting grilles and the vicious bringing down of shutters punctuate the course of the days as our short term neighbours leave the littoral.

We look forward to the peace and quiet that characterises our block during the ‘stringent’ autumn and winter months; we will reclaim the swimming pool which during the month of August had had as many as six or seven people in it; we will be able to sit on the balcony without the raucous accompaniment of conversation which is not our own; the children will go – believe me there is nothing like living in a block of flats to bring out the misanthrope in an otherwise gentle and civilized character!

Talking of civilization and tuning in to radio 4 this morning (surely that is an example of tautology!) I heard, for the first time, about the proposed ‘sale’ by the Duke of Sutherland to the Nation of two Titians; the first of which is going to cost £50m.

During Thatcher’s War I remember being told by one of our more reputable newspapers (surely that is an example of oxymoron!) that each Exocet missile cost £¼m.

Just as the broadsheets tend to measure the costs of controversial aspects of culture in terms of kidney machines and hospitals, I have always measure such things in terms of Exocets. 200 death dealing missiles or an outstanding example of one of the masters of Western art: seems like a no-brainer to me. I am talking of course as a person who helped save the Leonardo cartoon for the Nation: one fibre of that artistic production is mine!

The debate about buying of ‘Great Works of Art’ for the Nation has much in common with that on abortion: facts are ignored; prejudice comes to the fore, and no one really listens to the other side. Fifty million quid is a lot of money and no amount of mealy mouthed talk about how much of a ‘bargain’ the painting is will disguise that fact.

Sewell used a version of the ‘Exocet’ defence by pointing out that the money which could be used to buy the painting is squandered again and again, day by day in the costly wars in which the country is involved.

This argument is going to run and run! But I do hope the paintings win, they are far too good to lose to what might be the Getty Museum in Malibu – they are always looking for real paintings to bolster up their collection. After all, for a relatively new museum looking for world importance it is actually very difficult to get a representative collection of Great Art because most of the output of some of the greatest artists is now ‘safely’ in national collections and not available for private sale: where does an institution with however many millions get a Leonardo, or Michelangelo sculpture, or Vermeer or . . . and so the list goes on.

I have always felt that many institutions should buy the work of relatively unknown artists and find more and more interesting ways to get people to see the work: galleries in department stores, shopping malls, schools, factories, government buildings, libraries, firms, stations – anywhere, in fact, where people can see paintings, drawings, videos, installations and sculptures. I know there are problems of security and insurance, but all of the above have hosted works of art on an ad hoc basis, I think it should be artistic policy to do these things. National collections should have masterpieces, but I for one would rather have a first class example of a relatively unknown artist rather than a third rate example of a Dalí.

There will always be disasters when people are blinded by the possibility of owning the work of a Great Name – like the costly disaster of the Rubens ‘are they/aren’t they’ Cartoons in the National Museum of Wales,

whereas the provenance of lesser works can be more secure and their display give almost as much pleasure as the artistic output of the first division artists.

Galleries can also follow the example of the BBC and the Natural History Unit located in Bristol: that film making unit has achieved world wide recognition and success not only by employing great talent, but also by specialising. I am sure there is a lesson for some of the struggling galleries trying to vie with galleries who can cope with the vast prices that works of art now command.

On the other hand I don’t want to look at rubbish, the little better than amateur daubs created by a local artist – the geographical location being the raison d’etre for inclusion.

Reading through the preceding paragraphs I am reminded of the comment on one of my History of Art essays in university where the tutor remarked that he was not convinced that my conclusion actually followed from what went before.

Story of my life!

As I type this on the balcony looking out to sea the sky is now divided into three sections. Just above the cold, gleaming grey-green of the sea there is a band of light purple cloud tinged with pink which leads into a band of light orange fading to pale blue which has wispy fish-like clouds trailing diaphanous fins across the sky. The last band which stretches overhead is of darker purple veined with bright dusty orange.

I shall end on a pompous note (and why not!) and observe that the real art gallery is all around us if we care to see it.

The amount we are paying for the flat, a decent light show at the end of the day is the least that we should expect!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A holiday within a holiday!

The Costa Brava

Wednesday 27th of August 2008

As I am now in the wilds of the Costa Brava and in a masia
I will have no access to a network and so will, consequently, write a day by day thought and paste them all together when I get back to Castelldefels.

It was sad to see Emma go on Tuesday from Reus, but at least we now know the way to another airport in the Barcelona area. If AJ manages to find a flight to Girona we will have a Catalan set! Though I fear that there are other airports that we will discover in time through experience and panic!

The journey from Castelldefels to Santa Cristina was largely uneventful because most of it was on motorway. The only problems arrived when we arrived. It is an increasingly common feature that the electronic direction finders in cars are wonderful at getting you almost to your destination, but that disarming voice does have a tendency to assure you that you car is now next to where you want to be when it quite clearly is not so!

To be fair to my machine, I have to say that its failure was due to a new road system which was not built into its maps. And, on that subject, it appears to be cheaper to buy a new machine to get the latest maps than to download an update to your present configuration.

The destination finder thus enters a select (but growing) group of products where to buy new is a cheaper alternative than to repair or update; mobile phones being offered for repair only merit a sneering smirk from the thumb savvy sales assistants; digital cameras are so quickly superseded that offering a machine more than a year old for repair incurs the same costs as painstaking historical reconstruction; computer printers are now so cheap it is more economical to buy a new machine than to buy a new print cartridge, and white goods, well, white goods have always been something of a game of Russian roulette – you buy them and hope that yours is not the Friday afternoon one.

The masia is an impressive old place with a stone lintel with 1686
on it and impressive wooden beams throughout but, like the dustman’s brush, one suspects that all of the constituent parts of the building have been replaced at one time or another. The stairs are steep, the lights are on the outside walls of rooms and there is only one bathroom but it is well sited with a location next to a truly ancient looking basilica type church in what appears to be a very select neighbourhood.

Since we arrived at lunch time it was duly served.

What is the recipe for success in a barbecue?

I think my answer would be ‘the nearness of alternative cooking facilities.'

Carlos made Herculean efforts with a small domestic barbecue and produced grilled sardines and prawns. They were delicious with a true smoky flavour from the coals and a hint of the flavour of the firelighters intermingled to bring a synthesis of the natural and the industrial in one mouthful!

Our trip to the sea side was to Tossa de Mar: the first place that I visited in Spain fifty years ago!

Our epic journey to get there all those years ago seemed to take for ever as it was train from Cardiff to London; boat train from London to Dover; boat from Dover to Calais; train from Calais to Paris; coach tour of Paris; train from Paris to the Spanish border; change train to Barcelona; coach tour of Barcelona; coach from Barcelona to Tossa. And no sleeping compartments.

It was one of the best holidays that I ever had and is a large part of the reason that I am now living in Spain and especially in Catalonia – though, God knows there are other reasons too!

It was interesting to be back in that resort which was the first taste of Spain for so many package tourists in the late 1950s and emotional for me as I thought of the quintet of my parents, Uncle Eric, Aunty Ray and me enjoying what was then the experience of very few – a foreign holiday. In my class of 40 in my primary school, I was the only person to have gone abroad. How times have changed!

My bed is a severe single with a metal spring base and an absurdly spongy mattress.

I confidently expect curvature of the spine when I wake up!

Thursday 28th of August 2008

After a fairly sluggish start we eventually made it to a local beach. This was fine and dandy but in the night something had stolen away my swimming trunks!

As I was wearing then when we came back from the beach they have to be in the masia somewhere; but they have eluded careful search and have softly and suddenly vanished away. (And you get a bonus mark if you recognize the quotation there, and if you did then you should have spoken the line which comes immediately after that one.)

The place we went to struck me as sunnier version of Barry Island with a similar difficulty about parking.

After finding spaces a short walk took me to some shops where I was able to purchase a vastly more expensive version of the Matalan swimming trunks that have disappeared. Almost as soon as the trunks had been baptized it was time to return to the masia for lunch.

The fridge here seems to be altogether more efficient than the sorry apology for cold that we have in the flat and the result is that bottles put into the freezer for a quick cool get cold and then frozen.

The alcoholic slush puppies we had were most refreshing and were an admirable way of draining the potent parts of the drink from the mere water!

Our second visit to the beach was to a completely ersatz place where nothing seemed real. The beach seemed to have been constructed solely for the benefit of the hideous flats which fringed it. It was mechanistic and ruthlessly modern – but it did have parking spaces which is more than could probably be said for the rather more attractive old town that we could see further down the coast from where we were.

My previously unscarred body is now the feeding place for swarms of biting insects. Toni remarked that the mosquitoes of this region have been waiting a long time for a return feast and my blood flavour must have lived on in mosquito folk memory because they all seem to want a bit of me now!

I look towards one of the many proprietary insect repellents that glows fitfully in the one and only electricity socket in the room and wonder at the cupidity of man in believing in these things. What a mosquito wants a mosquito gets.

Mt blood group is Group A Rh positive in case I look pale and interesting in the morning!

Friday 29th of August 2008

The beds in this masia are designed for dwarfs and I have had to change my sleeping choice from a bed with large wooden end pieces to a bed which at least allowed my feet to project over the ends.

I am not sure if my unsupported ankles are the reason but my legs have been aching since I’ve been in the Costa Brava – though I think the candyfloss mattress might have something to do with it as well!

The beach we went today had a rather British feel as the edge of the beach was fringed with multicoloured beach huts
and equally colourful showers with signs warning ordinary folks with no access to one of the huts to stay away as the water gushing out of the shower heads was private.

It was fairly obvious that there was an attempt to make the beach select and exclusive. I however had other information from one who knows who stated that no Spanish beach was private so we flaunted our presence there with what can only be described as impunity.

And so back to Castelldefels and some sort of reality.

The beginning of term is also a time for me to consider what I should be doing in terms of work. It is not enough to enrol for Spanish classes; I need to be thinking about what I am going to do for the next few years.

There is so much potential in the next few months for so much to happen that I am somewhat intimidated by expectation.

Bring it on!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Unaccounted days!

The fountains of Barcelona may be dry because of the incipient drought but we were provided by an impromptu aqueous display to compensate for this lack of sparkling plumes in the civic arena.

As we travelled by bus through Hospitalet we stopped at a set of traffic lights and to our astonishment observed a young man with wild eyes and waving hands liberally attempting, in a very personal way, to restore the water flow in public areas. As far as we bemused observers could tell the gushing appendage was a part of some obscure protest and, considering his complete lack of attention to his flow he was certainly adept at ensuring the water hit the pavement and road rather than his trousers.

Given that Emma had already observed an ancient lady looking sultry in a balcony overlooking the Ramblas clad only in a wizened smile, this latest piece of exhibitionism seemed an interesting part of the Catalan way of life.

It was only when the watery young man lurched towards the bus that the passengers flinched suddenly realising that what was an intriguing spectacle could actually impinge on actual lives. Luckily we were saved from the social and, indeed, hygienic consequences of proximity by the lights changing and the bus pulling away leaving our erstwhile companion gesturing in his very own puddle!

Perhaps not the most congenial way of preparing ourselves for the cultural feast which is MNAC and contains some of the most interesting and stimulating examples of Catalan art. In the event we needn’t have worried, as the culmination of our climb from the Plaça d’España to the gallery was reward by our finding out that the place was closed! Just on Mondays of course.

All was not lost. The reconstruction of the Barcelona Pavilion from the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition was awaiting our inspection.
The only ‘function’ the building had to accommodate was the signing by the King and Queen of Spain of the equivalent of the visitors’ book. The building was the exhibit – and it still is an exquisite example of modernism at its best.
Sitting in a 'Barcelona Chair' seemed the most appropriate form of behaviour when one was in such an architectual signature piece as the pavilion and we duly sat. Until, of course, we were shooed off our chairs as we sitting on the originals and therefore arts objects!
This leads me to confess that I have now sat on three illegal chairs. All art objects. The catalogue of criminal activity starts with my sitting on one example of the Rietveld Chair, followed by a quick settle on a spectacular Mackintosh ladder back chair and finally the Barcelona Chair. I have to say that the last was the least comfortable - though it did look as though a fair number of rear ends had plonked themselves on that white leather before further indignity was stopped by curators guarding its artistic status!

Our cultural exhaustion at the end of this visit, especially as I attempted to take an artistic photograph by getting a submerged leaf in the water filled shallow ‘lake’ into the most appropriate position on the reflected anatomy of a nude statue, was such that we fled to Barcelonetta for lunch!

With Emma we have eaten to satiety and beyond. Not her fault, but it seemed like a good idea at the time!

We have visited books shops; world famous buildings from Modernism to Modernista; beaches in sunshine and testing breezes; cafés, restaurants and bars – with and without the cigarette smoke which is not yet banned in public places; art shops, shoe shops, stalls and shopping malls – with and without sufficient money to satisfy our whims; we have walked and talked and travelled: and had a good time!

It has been oddly unsettling to have such a close past colleague talk about a place in which I spent an inordinate percentage of my working life and for me to realise that the personnel of the institution is now changed beyond belief. Many of the remaining ‘Old guard’ have been ‘encouraged’ to retire early so the established faces have now gone.

But life, as they say, goes on. The new term in Britain approaches and here in Catalonia, the school that sacked me has now greeted (should that be ‘greeted’?) its new intake of teachers ahead of the start of the new year. I would imagine that the problems have already shown themselves and, in a purely personal, smug, self satisfied and pandering to my own self interest sort of way, I wish the school the very worst of luck – as long as it doesn’t affect the kids. The sooner the place closes or The Owner is forced to sell or turn her hand to something less humanly damaging the better.

There is always (well, might be) something better to replace it on the horizon!

“Expectation,” as I once announced to a bemused audience while dressed as an officer in the First World War, “tickling skittish spirits,” makes me feel a ghoulish sort of pleasurable expectation for the approaching term.

I only hope it’s productive!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Calm before!

A generally lazy day today so I can catch up with my writing. Although it takes an effort to find the time to do it.

Another visit to Montserrat and yet again I was struck with the basic unreality of the mountains. They really do look as though they have been dumped there by a geological accident of some sort.

For me it is impossible to visit the monastery and the surrounding area without experiencing something akin to the spiritual uplift that those who come for moral reasons obviously find there. I suppose at some level the two emotions could be considered to be indistinguishable and certainly the grubby commercialism of the place seems to be as compelling a reason for the people being there as a recognition of the central position of the monastery and its imposing iconic statuette in the ethical life of Catalonia.

To be fair the shops are not as vapid as one could suspect from an institution cashing in on an important religious artefact – even if I did eventually find the Madonna in a snowstorm that I was looking for!

After visiting La Moreneta I managed to inveigle our little party to visit the gallery. This under-visited place contains an astonishing collection of world class paintings as well as a more than representative collection of Catalan Art including some truly iconic paintings.

We also visited the restaurant which is located temptingly opposite the self service outlet. The real restaurant offers spectacular views into the valley and also provided a very decent meal at a more than reasonable price. Especially so as Emma took care of the bill!

While in the shop I bought an illustrated book as an inducement to Ceri to come with camera and sketch book and take an artistic interest in the scenery around the mountain. I think that the colour, shape and texture of the area are perfect subject matter for his brush. This is a long term strategy which may take some time to come to artistic fruition, but I am confident of success!

Emma has extended her holiday here so that today was able to be a ‘take your breath’ day so that we can find energy for more cultural activities tomorrow.

Gaudí calls!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ah! The Old Country!

As soon as Emma had been initiated into the mysteries of Rioja and gaseosa it was through the little door behind the pool, onto the beach and into the sea.

I know it is childish and beneath me, and I have been talked to very seriously by Dianne, but I can still take a keen pleasure in finding out that it is, to quote Emma’s mum, “tipping down” back in the UK.

As we sipped our cocktails in the Brazilian bar after tapas in the Basque restaurant, sitting serenely in the balmy open air it wasn’t only the alcohol that I eagerly drank up. Horror stories of the typical awfulness of the August weather in Britain were a piquant an accompaniment to the drinks as the dish of dry roasted nuts.

However, enough of this gloating or I will suffer the consequences of the Wrath of Dianne. So!

We talked through the night until an irascible, curmudgeonly and plain rude old duffer from the adjacent flat intimated in bleating tones of astonished outrage that it was late and he was an invalid and so on. He is the sort of person who goes out of his way to find something to complain about and his shouted conversations on his mobile phone encourage one to think in ironic terms about his intolerance of normal speech!

Emma has not yet emerged into the (overcast) light of day, but hark, even as I type, a vision of loveliness hoves into sight and asks (with an edge) how I am feeling. The day has started.

For me of course, the day starts with my now customary visit to the BBC website and the Channel 4 medal table to see how much gloating is in order. 16 gold, 10 silver and 10 bronze is an awesome haul and our third position is astonishing but, being British I also note that there are some days to go before the end of the Olympics and I think that the shiny metallic days that we have rapidly become used to are at an end. I would love to be proved wrong, but I think the flow of precious metal is at an end. We will see.

Today to Barcelona and a grey day it is too. There are patches of blue and the more determined beach dwellers have set up their patches but no one is venturing into the sea and the number of people on the beach is sparse. A perfect day, in short, for visiting a city!

If we go to MNAC it will give me the opportunity to buy the English version of the guide that I have at present. Although I can stagger my way through most of the descriptions it is hard work and I need to get to know the artists and their influences and keep bobbing back and fore to increase my knowledge. At the moment the fluency of my navigation of the book is severely limited by my stumbling efforts at translation!

It will be interesting for me to have someone else who is interested in art looking at the Catalan artists that I think are unjustly undervalued by the Western (American) Art Establishment. I think that many of the Catalan artists I have looked at deserve a might higher profile in the history of modern art than they have at present.

Fortified by culture we will then be strong enough to journey south to attend a meeting which could be part of the solution to my future professional life in Catalonia.

Well, we didn’t get to any museum, but we did have a very fine meal and I managed to buy book in the Museos del Mundo series. This one was of MNAC – the very gallery we didn’t actually get to see. I got the book by the simple, yet effective procedure of urging our merry little group to go to a restaurant which had a second hand bookshop on the way!

The ways of the bibliophile are many and devious!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Show you care!

Where is the missing gold?

I may sound like a character from The Ring but while returning to the BBC Olympic website, which has been my default action during any spare moment since the games began, I am sure I saw that we had reached the number of 13 golds. A short while later it had changed to 12. Where has our missing gold gone?

There does appear to be a real possibility of building on the Golden Twelve and even stretching our golden haul to match or even exceed that of some fabulously distant period in our history when we managed to gain 14 golds in one Olympics!

I’m not really sure why I care.

Who and what can we blame for the Olympics? Some arrogant French nobleman with a misplaced belief in the moral worth of the English public school system!

What are they today? In Beijing they are a blatant political statement by a ruthless, totalitarian and repressive regime which has misused scarce funds to produce one of the most expensive and misleading advertisements in the history of uncaring governmental excess.

But I still care.

I am firmly behind our cyclists as they participate in some oddly named and totally incomprehensible version of bike riding. I have become passionately interested in versions of boats I did not know existed before the start of last week. I have not sniggered at people dressed as if they were going to a formal dinner party, sitting rigidly with a fixed expression as if trying to ignore the fact that they are on a horse prancing sideways in some sort of camp equestrian skipping motion. I have held up my crucifix and flicked holy water at the TV screen when the gymnasts have defied all natural laws with their impossible cavortings. I have been mystified at the inverse relationship there seems to be in rowing between the increasingly chunky physique of the rowers and the decreasingly small pieces of material they choose to row in!

And I do care. I care passionately that we ‘do well.’ If that means that we get medals in minority sports where virtually no one knows what’s going on that merely shows how clever we have been in concentrating resources where we can get the best returns.

The bronze in the pommel horse shows a disturbingly expensive area of future squandering of cash in an arena in which we have had little success in the past. My god! If we can win a medal in gymnastics then we might start winning in track and field and get amongst what one commentator described as the ‘Formula 1’ medals!

Meanwhile only another week to get through and this torture will be over leaving only four whole years to worry about what sort of attempt we make of this Pyrrhic honour!

I wonder who will be Prime Minister in 2012. Whoever is Prime Minister I am absolutely sure that one small ageing relic will still be smiling her tight little smile as, in non estuarine English, she declares the games open.

Who knows, I might actually have had the opportunity to burn the candle (which even now has its face to the wall in my living room) of the other ageing woman.

What a nasty and yet strangely comforting thought!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Floreat Beeb!

Thank god for the BBC!

Here in Spain it would be perfectly easy to assume that Great Britain was taking no part in the present Olympic Games. Indeed it was only when a yacht with a large sail composed of the Union Flag loomed out of the driving rain and mist to form the picturesque background to a Spanish boat that I had physical proof that my country was actually there.

Spain has won five golds so far with Nadal taking the most well deserved one in an exciting tennis final. This match was doubly exciting for me because I had assumed that this was a three set contest and so worked myself up into a frenzy on the second set tie break as I thought it was for the gold. I then had to reset my hysteria and worry through another set!

Looking at the third position for GB in the Olympic Medal Table is a rather intoxicating experience. Leaving aside the US of A, such a high position usually means that your ‘government’ is a callous, publicity seeking, and totalitarian one hell bent on squandering on sport money which should have been spent on social services and the poor. Just for the sake of a few gilded trinkets!

That could hardly be true of the lumbering administration of Mr Gordon Brown as he carefully conserves our limited resources to provide a true ‘value for money’ no frills Olympics in 2012. Budgets will be strictly adhered to and I am sure that there is every eventuality that the Games will eventually come in under budget and provide a profit. That is what democracy can do!

Meanwhile, talking of Democracy, it is interesting to see where our medals are being won.

On the BBC Olympic website there is a ‘Live Action’ rolling news and comment section. One contributor, James Jones, started a mini discussion by texting, “Can't help noticing the success to date has come from the posh sports.” Rowing, Sailing and Equestrian events do seem to be the backbone of our golden achievement, but cycling can hardly be said to be ‘posh’ it is almost the symbol of egalitarianism. Admittedly Jones does dismiss the sport as ‘minority’ in his provocative email but, as Gertrude Stein would obviously have commented, “A gold is a gold is a gold!”

It all puts me in mind of ‘Jeux sans frontieres’ which became ‘It’s a Knockout’ in Britain with commentary by Eddie ‘up and under’ Waring. Such mindless fun, I, of course, despised. Yet in the same way that boxing could mesmerise me if I watched it for any period, I found that ‘It’s a Knockout’ could force my anguished emotional participation. I watched entranced as Nantwich or Norwich fielded a team dressed as sandwiches which failed to carry sufficient buckets of jelly on stepping stones of live human mushrooms to flush the giant toilet on their opponents or whatever other vapid metaphor was being enacted.

I can remember the key to success (apart from the complete lack of shame that was a sine qua non of participation) was the playing of the Joker. This outsize card, if played properly could double your top score and make your lead unassailable by the other kitchen utensils or however the other team was dressed.

The ‘trick’ with the Olympics seems to be a version of playing your Joker. Find a sport which naturally limits world wide participation (like rough water kayaking blindfold while eating eels – never popular in sub Saharan Africa) and make it your national sport. On second thoughts that might have been yet another ‘amusing’ game from ‘It’s a Knockout!’ in which Cumbernauld played its Joker in a masterly fashion and laid low the pretensions of Barrow in Furness.

I suppose that there is a natural limitation with yachting with the costs involved and the need at some point to be able to get to the sea. Similarly with horses, I seem to remember some of the eastern communist nations used to manage the expense by having their equestrian competitors all being in the army!

East Germany and the old USSR must look back to those halcyon days when drug taking and child abuse were not quite the hot topics that they are today, with some sort of nostalgia. Their athletes might have changed sex during training and child gymnasts looked like old women by the time they got to their mid twenties – but the golds kept pouring in!

Meanwhile we have eleven golds with the realistic expectation of more!

I say play the Joker now!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reading is life!

I am a greedy reader.

There are those that read and then re-read as they go along savouring intriguing passages and relishing felicitous turns of phrase. They are the ones who painstakingly highlight passages for further study and methodically make notes for later consideration. These are the people who are able to put aside the volume that they are perusing and over a leisurely cup of tea ponder the narrative thrust and analyse the writer’s style.

I, alas, am not one of those readers: once a book is started it has to be finished and in as quick a time as possible. Time is indeed at its most relative when I am immersed in the pages of a book! On a number of occasions I have been shocked and momentarily confused as I have been summoned from my seductive literary world by an impertinent telephone call or an intrusive comment. I lurch from the page to the present momentarily wrong footed by the demands of a different universe!

So it was with ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’: after a false start which only got the first 100 pages read, yesterday saw a few hundred other pages follow those and the drug of another literary world was working in my system.

This coming of age novel is set in Brooklyn at the start of the twentieth century and follows the fortunes of Francie as her life is charted in a poor if interesting family.

I’m not sure if it is a compliment but throughout the novel I thought what a good text it would make for English Literature: an interesting background; different stylistic devices; clear characters and an easy to follow narrative style. The links with books like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’; ‘Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve’; ‘A Boy’s Own Story’; ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Cider with Rosie’ are instructive. It was interesting to discover that the book is a class favourite in the USA but not as well known on this side of the pond I think.

There is a film version from 1945, only a few years after the publication of the book. It starred Peggy Ann Garner as Francie Nolan and Joan Blondell as Sissy,
Francie’s scandalous aunt. It was one of Elia Kazan’s first films and has had generous reviews.

The film ends shortly after the death of Francie’s handsome and talented but drunken father and therefore leaves out the real development of the central character.

As a picture of a long lost time the book is a valuable evocation of an essential part of the American myth of hard work and determination linked to extraordinary character eventually providing the essential ingredients to ensure the social progression and financial escape from the dead hand of decadent European repression.

The central character of Francie is an interesting one, but to my mind there are too many times when the omniscient narrator informs us that Francie and her mother have accurately read each other’s thoughts, again!

That carping criticism aside the book is an engaging read and it is not hard to see why it was so instantly popular and why it has remained so.
Francie is a strong force in the novel and her experiences exemplify the outsider who, by virtue of her extraordinary strength gained from her background is able to arrive at a position where her future is assured, even if the novel does leave a certain ambiguity about the eventual outcome of her eventual settled state.

The weather has been unhelpful to those of a tanning inclination. My dip in the sea this afternoon was defiant rather than delightful and the forecast for tomorrow is worse with even a prediction for rain. The sky this evening was reassuringly roseate which should mean that tomorrow is fine and delightful.

We will see whether folk law holds firm.

Or not as the case may be.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Will the real staff please stand up!

At the start of each new academic year in September the headteacher would give a pep talk to the staff and take the opportunity to welcome new colleagues. We Old Lags would look around to try and spot the fresh meat and give world weary smiles as the new staff member stood up and shyly smiled with the embarrassment that all teachers traditionally show when they are placed in the position of their pupils.

In our large staff in Llanishen you would sometimes miss the new faces as they shrank from this unwanted attention.

Now consider the situation in The School That Sacked Me: I have been informed that, as well as the entire primary section of the school, staff in the secondary section are voting for freedom and decency and shaking off the dust from their shoes as they turn away from the educational fiasco that is the school.

Term starts: no on knows anyone else. The only people shrinking from the limelight are those with the shameful knowledge that they have been quiescent enough to have escaped being sacked and they have come back, almost as recidivists, to the school that regularly sheds almost its entire staff! If you have been there for a couple of years what do you tell your new colleagues? What do you say when a new teacher asks about who took the class last?

Of course in the primary section this will not apply as there will be no one there to ask. All faces will be new. Only the pupils asking, again, where have all the teachers gone.

It turns out that The Owner insists on payment of annual fees in May for the following academic year, so the pupils returning are financially locked in to the school for another expensive twelve months.

The way that the organization of the new academic year is shaping up in The School That Sacked Me is rapidly approaching meltdown and makes ad hoc look like a carefully considered tried and tested approach. I can only hope that real chaos brings into play the institutions that are supposed to protect the interests of the pupils and staff before there is too much damage to the education of the pupils and the careers of the teachers. If ever there was a time for intervention, then that time is now!

I am finally beginning to read ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ by Betty Smith (first published in 1943) this manages to create two distinct areas of guilt for me. The first is that I have had this book so long and have not made an effort to read it before today. The second is that it is Thora’s book and there is little hope of returning it unless Emma agrees to take it back. A third and subsidiary frisson of guilt is from the fact that Thora taught with and therefore knew my mother and I can sense a parental reprimand hovering on the edge of my consciousness!

I am only a hundred or so pages in so it is too soon to pontificate about its worth. This is unusually fair of me considering the seminar I went to on the Henry James novel ‘Wings of the Dove’.

My preparation for that event consisted in reading the first page of the book and the intelligent blurb that Penguin kindly provided on the back. It was one of those deadly seminars where no one spoke and the questions of the tutor became ever more simplistic. Eventually, to destroy one of those cringe making silences that seem to be some sort of physical threat I spoke.

My contribution was to offer the intellectual jewel that, in my opinion, the prose of Henry James was “quite difficult to read.”

My tutor’s reception of this amazing apercu was akin to the Israelites waking up and finding manna strewn about them. His face a picture of interested engagement he asked me the fatal question, “Can you give an example in the book to illustrate this difficulty?”

To my eternal shame I replied, “Well, take the opening page . . .” I have to tell you that the intellectual level of discussion went steadily downhill after that point!

The only positive point I can take from the experience is that I did at least feel shame. Walking back from the tutor’s house across Singleton Park I observed by the College Chaplain thumping myself on the thigh with the novel in question looking like a one person flagellant procession hoping to avoid the Black Death.

Happy Days!

The weather today has been capricious. It was blowing a gale in the morning (though without the rain) and overcast, but it soon settled down and the sun came out. The sky was streaked with stubborn vapour trails that you always fear will develop into sun denying clouds. What they actually did was texture the sea so that the appearance of the water was striated with alternating bands of dark grey and deep delicious blue.

To vary the monotony of sunshine we even had a mini whirlwind travel down the beach, this was especially good because we were able to observe it from the clam of the balcony while having lunch rather than having to eat the sand as it was forced into all those little cracks, crevices and orifices!

Back to Betty Smith I think.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Revealing detail

It all, essentially, comes down to the cutlery basket.

The dishwasher is an extraordinary litmus paper for the human character. To dismiss it derisively as a mere ‘white good’ sounds grammatically unwieldy and suspiciously racist. In the kitchen it is the machine which holds the most prestigious of places and invites (through the sheer simplicity of the principles involved) all to participate in its glorification.

After all, what could be simpler than putting dishes and implements in the racks and baskets specifically designed for them? With the modern dishwasher tablets there is no measuring to be done; there is no mystique; simply place the tablet in the compartment, close the door and switch on. Job done!

Then people wonder why the dishes they placed in a machine specifically designed to clean them appear to come out the said machine dirtier than when they went in.

As the people who ensured that Ghandi lived a simple life always said, “Have you any idea how complex that simplicity is to achieve?” The Rietveld chair, that masterpiece of simple De Stijl design with no complicated joints, takes master craftsmen to build.
The only thing that is simple is idiocy: but there again look what a complex novel Dostoyevsky created to describe it!

I am sure that there is somewhere in the world where the water supply is so conducive to the process of cleaning that no matter how slipshod your approach to the dishwasher, the dishes emerge bright and shining.

Our water has so much calcium carbonate in it that I am amazed that it is liquid enough to come out of the taps. Each morning I expect to find the sink looking like a mini version of the caves in Cheddar and it proclaimed to be a World Heritage Site!

When the water does flow it creates domestic chaos inside all machines with which it comes into contact. The inside of the electric kettle looks as though some alchemist has been trying to find the philosopher’s stone though a series of messy experiments and the artificially short life of kitchen machines is limited even further by coatings of mineral fur.

In the soft water of South Wales the use of dishwasher salt is a redundant luxury and a danger for those with high blood pressure! In Catalonia is it an absolute necessity. Rinse agent, which to me always sounded like the ethical alternative to those vicious defoliants used by the Americans in Viet Nam, is the only way to eliminate those vaguely grubby hazes on glasses that come with the simple approach to the dishwasher in this part of Spain.

And the loading! 50% of The Boys of Herne Hill have (or rather ‘has’ – I’m talking about you Stewart!) learned that there is a ‘correct and acceptable’ way to load the dishwasher and a way which brings about the Apocalypse. I remember being horrified at one acquaintance whose approach to putting things in the dishwasher verged on the nihilistically anarchic. He seemed to regard the ‘helpful’ guides of spokes and compartments as mere artistic details whose presence merely added interest to an otherwise bland metallic interior. He scattered dishes and cutlery and pans in a random manner and built up a Heath-Robinson three dimensional jigsaws of detritus encrusted nastiness, then simply closed the door of the machine and turned it on!

Once, while staying in London, I experienced Andrew’s hissed early morning malediction when he discovered that I had placed a dirty coffee cup in the ‘wrong position’ in the machine. I had, heretofore, tended to regard the ‘appropriate’ filling of the machine as a sort of propitiation for the privilege of ownership. The casual construction of heterogeneous heaps in the machine seemed to me to be little short of sacrilege.

It is also salutary to discover how vicious the makers of pots and pans can be. They seem to target those who are too lazy to wash their products by hand and instead use the machine. However you position some pots and pans there is always some commodious nook or cranny which will retain its moisture how ever long and torrid the drying sequence in your machine might be. The water, usually hidden in some cavernous expanse in the handle only makes its presence known as you remove the pot. The water then magically appears and falls all over the dried dishes in the compartment below: wetting them.

But, as I started by saying, the cutlery basket is the key.

The cutlery basket is usually filled with bright and shining metal, sparkling with what looks like pristine newness. But as far as some people are concerned, it may as well not be there. For them it is camouflaged to invisibility. It is simply not there. Who among us has the moral fibre to take out the cutlery basket first and carefully put away all those fiddly little things? There is usually more work in the emptying of one cutlery basket than in emptying the whole of the rest of the machine; especially when you have to place all the pieces the same way around.

How much simpler would it have been in the times of the Old Testament when trying to find the ‘right’ people if instead of asking them to pronounce the word ‘shibboleth’ or watching the way they drank from a river they had simply asked, “What do you take from the dishwasher first?” Just think of the sea-green incorruptibles they would have had if they only chose those who emptied the cutlery basket first.
What an army of puritanical fanatics they could have commanded! Nothing would have stopped them!

Watch and ponder the ways of those close to you as they load and empty the dishwasher: their characters will be as clear as the glasses they retrieve.

Look hard!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Time Travel

However much I protest that I live in Castelldefels, Aunt Bet is convinced that I live in Terrassa.

This is not unreasonable as I had to pretend that I lived in Terrassa so that I could get a flat in Castelldefels. Spanish law will not allow you to live in Spain until you can prove that you live in Spain, but you can’t prove that until you can prove that you can. So to speak.

But the fact remains that, for over a year now, I have been living in Castelldefels. So communications from Aunt Bet are delayed until a member of the family in Terrassa comes down to the sea side, clutching a letter addressed in very familiar hand.

This morning as I was driving Carmen to one of the local supermarkets to get the ingredients for a fideuá she produced a letter from her handbag and gave it to me.

As only one person (ahem!) writes to me in Terrassa (where I don’t live) I knew who it was from, as well as Carmen adding as she passed it over, “Tu tia!”

The letter obviously contained a ‘little extra’ and I opened it as we walked from the underground car park towards the escalator to take us to the supermarket. I only mention the surroundings to give a sense of place and context.

The little enclosure was a tiny edition of ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ which would be a charming gift in its own right, but this edition was given to my father in Rhodesia during the war and it was and remained one of his favourite poems throughout his life.

In an instant the underground car park in Catalonia was transformed in a subtle way with an overlay of sudden past knowledge and present emotion. There are quatrains in that poem that I know as well as my father because he repeated them so often that it was impossible not to pick them up. They came back to me as I walked towards the shopping centre, but as they replayed in my memory they were combined with another voice and another time.

It was a strange experience neither sad nor glad but rather comfortingly wistful. I suppose the little book worked in the way that an icon is supposed to operate; by concentrating attention towards the person rather than highlighting the object itself and giving a false value to a mere relic.

I think in some ways that the poem touched certain elements in the philosophy of my father. He had a sensitive appreciation of beauty, but his sensibility was nearer to the pantheism of Wordsworth than the self indulgence of an aesthete like Pater. Nature could move him like nothing else and the more Romantic the aspect the better. I remember discussing perfect houses with him once and his ideal was a cantilevered glass walled structure jutting our over rocks on which the sea constantly crashed!

The first quatrain of the Rubáiyát (in the First Edition, naturally) was often quoted:
Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
He particularly liked the image of a ‘Noose of Light’ and I remember his taking time to explain it to me. He delighted in the power of words – whatever combative charm I have, I have from him! – and cared about how they were used. His reading shaped his world and shaped the language he was able to use to describe and discover it. That, I think, is his greatest gift to me - apart of course from life!

His favourite quatrain, often spoken humorously, but I think with an edge of belief, was number XXIII:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!
My father’s view, which I have come to share, was nearer to existentialism than anything else. He saw nothing beyond this life and therefore not to make the most of the life that we had was, ipso facto, illogical.

Although widely read in English Literature he came to regard novels and imaginative writing as something of an indulgence and was much more interested in history and biography, in what he refered to as ‘the real.’ I know that there is a whole discussion about the degree of ‘reality’ in biography and history, but for my father I think that the non-fiction category fitted nicely into his sense of utility derived from the combination of Benthamism and critical humanism that dictated his approach to life. He was by no means a wishy-washy socialist and often sympathised with that quotation from ‘Waiting for Godot’ that “People are bloody ignorant apes.”

Added to all this Aunt Bet had added a small photograph which she attached to the inside front cover. This shows my father aged 5 in the garden of my great-grandparents in Merthyr Vale clutching a cat in front of some railings. He looks as though he is wearing some sort of knitted construction with a rounded collar with dark trim. He is smiling, but I am not sure that I would entirely trust that expression – it is certainly not one of childish innocence!

The photo from Merthyr Vale is from 1924 and the little book from Rhodesia is from 1944 and now I am writing this in 2008 in Catalonia. 84 years contained in a very powerful little book.

Thanks, Aunt Bet!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hooray for the future!

There is something truly exciting about founding a school.

The idea is taking a step closer to reality with our looking at suitable premises to start an ‘emergency’ school perhaps for September!

There are, as you can imagine, various problems connected with the establishment of a teaching institution with under twenty days to go before the start of term but anything to relieve these tedious days of lazing in the sun and listening to the ipod. One feels that one has to do something so why not help found a school?

Reality is obviously going to come and smash us in the face in the very near future, but until the assault actually happens we can go on making our plans.

Contacting parents is proving be to be the most difficult aspect of conveying information to the people who need to know it most. I do now kick myself for not taking telephone numbers when I had the opportunity. It will be much more difficult to establish good communications. I have thought of wandering around Sitges in a hopeful looking sort of way, but then I considered that I would probably be arrested for loitering with intent rather than being successful in finding our elusive parents!

At the moment all is mere speculation but the next few days should produce something of more moment.

AJ now seems determined to come to Castelldefels and should arrive the week after next all being well. And next week Emma should be installed. It will be excellent seeing them both again after a long absence.

I like any opportunity to go to Barcelona and expound on the glories and curiosities of the city.

And the meals of course!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The days pass . . .

I suppose there are many reasons why a school should be cut off from the telephone and the internet at this time of the year: no staff available; the place empty; nothing happening.

In a private school however there are people there, ever ready to sweep up the chunks of parental income necessary to keep the little ones in the educational style to which they have become accustomed. So cessation of communication takes on an altogether more interesting aspect.

Far be it from me to chortle with ill suppressed satisfaction at possible financial embarrassment for The School That Sacked Me but it obviously shows that Voodoo doesn’t only respond if you make the customary wax model and start sticking in the pins. All I did was tear up a piece of headed notepaper of the place! At least it shows a way forward for all my colleagues dreading the first of September. Just get tearing!

My next meeting with members of the Generalitat is on August the 20th, but gathering the solid factual evidence necessary to make this meeting a success has been difficult. I am sure that the people I need to reach are all on their various holidays, but I thought that Young People were never far from electronic communication and that checking their emails was as sacred a duty as the Islamic injunction to pray five times a day.

I suppose that I should keep on trying to amass the necessary financial details of irregularities to be able to present some sort of dossier for future action. The auguries are good: the almost dead cactus from The School That Sacked Me is now thriving and I no longer have to examine the growth with a magnifying glass to convince myself that there has been a remarkable resurrection. The shrivelled, desiccated apology for organic growth is now a thriving plant, spikes catching the sunlight and its bifurcated form giving a gratifyingly two fingered signal to the world!

The world wore a slightly morose look this morning as the skies were overcast and there was a stiff breeze.

For the Mediterranean the waves were large and forbidding and only a few hardy fools were daring to spurn the injunctions of the yellow flag and venture into the foaming brine. In Castelldefels the sea is very domestic and keeps to its defined limits even in the darker days of winter so even on the least inviting of occasions it is at worst pleasant. Even as I speak the skies are lightening and the patches of blue are growing, I confidently expect the weather to be tempting enough for me to laze next to the sea by the middle of the afternoon – and who knows, we might have another gold to contemplate by then!

I must also return to the short story that I promised to write for my English class. They may never get to see it, but it seems like a promise that I should fulfil. I have the structure of the thing in my mind, but the sheer effort of writing it all out is exhausting even to contemplate let alone execute. I think that I will make it my cultural task of the week to complete the story then I can get down to the things I like. By that I mean deciding on the typeface, getting the illustrations and designing the cover. Some things never change!

Our sojourn on the beach was defiant rather than enjoyable as the wind has picked up again and the clouds irritatingly and uselessly got in the way of the sunshine. I have told god on a number of occasions that I have no problems with the Pyrenees being regularly deluged by torrential down pouring of rain of biblical proportions allowing all reservoirs to be filled, but that moisture in Castelldefels should be restricted to the water pipes. I suppose that my basic mistake is being reasonable with a being which has allowed a perfectly appropriately designated ‘Marathon’ bar to be renamed ‘Snickers’ – a type of smutty chuckle! He sometimes seems to go out of his way to collect opprobrium.

Having stopped wearing contact lenses some time ago I wear glasses on the beach, but in a wind with breaking waves the surface of the lens soon gets covered in a mixture of sand carried in the air and droplets of salt water. This extra filter gives everything a rather sepia-like appearance. Wiping the lenses would grind the sand into the glass so I have to store them for tender washing later.

I therefore see the beach through eyes unassisted by glasses or lenses. It is sometimes a more interesting experience than the hard edged reality. Those surrealistic multi outlined ghosts shimmering along the amalgam of beach and sea; the arrangement of the crashing waves and coloured wrinkles of the ripples in the sea look to my unassisted eyes more than ever like a Nolde watercolour. Pretentious artistic twaddle aside, I’d rather have perfect eyesight!

The Nadal match has just finished and he made hard weather of it by losing a set and seeming to struggle with the conditions in which the match was being played. Both players looked comfortable and there were certainly more unforced errors on Nadal’s part than I am used to seeing.

The television production was the worst that I have ever seen for a world class tennis match. The use of replay seemed to be beyond the technical capabilities of the television director and was the cause of much frustration as some of the shots demanded to be seen again.

The stadium too looked less than ideal. The design for it appeared to have been taken from a folded piece of paper with a diamond shape cut out of it.

The paper was then unfolded and the resulting template taken as an architectural plan by the builder! Watch and see!

Meanwhile, where are our other golds?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Welsh to the rescue!

Honour is restored.

And, as luck would have it, by a sportswoman from Wales! Britain’s first gold in the Olympics and now one can relax. Spain still has two medals to our one, but as long as we’ve continued our unique record as being the only country to have won at least one gold medal in every modern summer Olympics.

I suppose that the Olympics are positioned in this particular period of August because of the unreal quality which obtains during this time of the year. In Castelldefels, as it is a seaside resort everything is open and everyone everywhere is trying his best to extract whatever money may be lurking in purses and wallets of visitors.

But elsewhere in the real world things have come to an unconvincing stop.

It puts me in mind of Paris in August: the place works and there are plenty of people in restaurants and hotels and shops, but they all act as though they are there as a sort of punishment and the type of ‘service’ that they offer to the visitor is roughly on the level of amiability they grudgingly offer to a prison guard.

So the best place to be at this time of year is on the beach, taking an occasional dip in the sea and lying back listening to your ipod.

Which I did.

Perhaps a less indolent day tomorrow.

Who cares?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

All that glisters . . .

It’s all very well talking about ‘adopted country’ and all that, but there is no disguising the tragedy.

Spain has a gold medal and we have none. Nothing. Of any sort or colour. Nothing.

Far be it from me to be ungracious, but it is difficult to live with what I can only describe as triumphalism as our lack of metal ware becomes ever more glaring as other obscure countries begin to rack up their haul and I am constantly asked how many medals our team has managed to win.

The only swimming events that I watched Britain came in fourth and that was in a qualifying event. It all seemed sadly familiar. But perhaps I am merely indulging what is a national malaise which is the expectation of failure. I am beginning to think that the newspaper report that I read outlining the expectation of our greatest medal gains must have been a product of my over heated imagination.

I am missing the BBC, and of course, the British slant that national coverage gives. Here is Spain there is little coverage of British efforts in the Olympics apart from the small Union Flags that indicate that a competitor in one of the swimming lanes is British! There are also the adverts.

Spanish television ignores the international judgement against their constantly flouting the twelve minute limit for adverts in any one hour period. Some advert breaks are twenty minutes long! It cuts down on comment and indiscriminately cuts out important slices of live television action.

I suppose I shouldn’t give the wrong idea: unlike Aunt Bet I am not going to be glued to the television for the next fortnight indiscriminately devouring whatever sport the BBC deigns to present.
If the sun is shining I have to admit that the beach presents a more attractive option to watching the Newtonian Physics denying activities of gymnasts and athletes who are obviously practitioners of the dark arts, in league with the devil and not fully human in any way that I understand given the way that they can use their bodies.
We have just watched an American gymnast on the pommel horse doing things which should have broken his wrists, legs and knees. I remember my father watching the gymnastics on television and saying that the competitors would have been burned at the stake in his day as little better than witches!

At least Spanish television has driven me to the internet and searching out The Guardian. There I read a comment from Marina Hyde in Beijing who wrote, "These two appalling sets of old waxworks utterly deserve each other. China's state bullies and the International Olympic Committee have a lot in common. The Narcissus complex, for a start." That's the sort of stuff to keep me going! It's the necessary irony and contempt to bring me back to a right frame of mind to contemplate the Olympics with truly British tranquillity or contempt. Irony and abuse abound on The Guardian site and it makes me feel at home once more! I only hope that their sardonic point of view can sustain me through a fortnight without the comforting clink of the sound of gold falling into British hands!

The true obscenity of the opening ceremony is becoming clearer. The cost of the extravaganza was something like twenty five million pounds and took some seven years to plan. I assume that the astronomical cost does not include the cost of the planning and the costs which I am sure were lost in the administration of the abomination which is the government of China. I wonder how much the participants in the opening were paid or were they ‘volunteers’? Who suggested Sarah Brightman? And why?

But all this carping is just an expression of the very real fear that I have about the ‘eight minute segment’ of the closing ceremony which will see the Olympic flag handed over to the Blond Buffoon. This will be an indication of the design ideas that London has for their own opening ceremony. I understand a London Bus is involved. I have visions of this vehicle turning up, the BB getting off dressed as a London clippie, taking the flag, waving to the crowd and getting back on the bus and driving off.

I know that I will be proved wrong and the design flair and quirkiness which characterizes Britain will delight and astonish me.

Just like our medal total.


Friday, August 08, 2008

A Whole Fortnight?

It is a piquant part of the opening celebrations of the Olympic Games that one of the people who had a hand in the designing of ‘The Bird’s Nest Stadium’ one of the signature buildings of the Games has chosen not to attend.

If I have missed one thing during the build up to the Games it is the presence (at a reasonable price) of The Guardian. This is not because I need the reassurance of the ‘Opinion is free but facts are sacred’ motto of Randolph Scott, the lanky, laconic cowboy and one time owner of the paper, but because I have missed the doom laden opinion of the whole concept of the Olympic Games for which The Guardian is famous.

I think that the Tokyo Olympics was the final Games that I watched on the level of Baron Courbetin’s English-public-school-cricket-loving-it’s-the-taking-part ethos; every Games since I have enjoyed for the naked political cockpit of ruthless ambition that they clearly are. And the BBC music for the Tokyo Olympics was the best tune until Barcelona in 1992.

From the political corruption for the ‘election’ of the city for the Games; through the bitter recriminations about where to site them; the more mercenary corruption of the escalating costs; unfinished buildings with the usual strikes and panic; unfair distribution of tickets; hypodermics glinting in the sunlight as ‘athletes’ pump themselves full of substances; to few hotel rooms and at too high prices; a catastrophic transport system and so on.

Those are the aspects of the Games that I like most: the action of the Olympics is often a rather ordinary series of running, jumping and kicking. Oh yes, and the Brave British Boys (and Girls but they didn’t alliterate) as they fail to live up to the absurd hype. Thanks to our participation in the early Olympics of the Modern Era when plucky Englishmen joined in a race when they were on holiday and they happened to find out that the Olympics were taking part, took their top hats off and bally well ran for the old country, and got a gold by gad! Our position in the medal tables still reflects our medal tally from long ago when only a few countries actually took part. Now, of course, when we regularly find ourselves behind a country like The Galapagos Islands, the Games have become a time of national humiliation rather than celebration and they are greeted with dread rather than excited anticipation.

One newspaper prediction stated that we are in the best position to amass a reasonable haul of medals which could see us in the top ten. I can only assume that this particular journo was on the same drugs that fuel the endeavours of the athletes when it was written. God knows we are a pessimistic people, but past experience has shows that it is a good default position to take when it comes to British sporting prowess.

The example to justify all of this depression is of course the Lawn Tennis Association. The genteel corruption of the LTA makes the Mafia look like a charitable institution. The LTA founded the sport, they have led the world in setting the rules of the sport, they have had umpteen millions pass through their hands and we have not had a male Wimbledon Champion since Fred Perry in the last millennium. We are the fourth largest economy in the world and Sweden has more indoor tennis courts than we do.

Talking of corruption I do hope that all event winners and all medal winners will be drug tested – and not by scientists connected to the autocratic, corrupt, totalitarian, censorship loving regime of, yes, you’ve guessed it, the International Olympic Committee. The pious platitudes which drop from the mouth of Blatter (or whoever that corrupt organization has established as a mouthpiece) as he urges the brutish, repressive, secretive, oligarchic apology for a government of the Chinese to be more open and liberal is too sad even to be ironic.

So, the opening ceremony is now over.

The best thing was the size of the Olympic flame. I do like a flaming flame, something which represents the passion of the event, not the sedate, tasteful lapping flames that we have had in past Olympics.

The Spanish upped the ante by having the flame lit by an archer firing a lit arrow into the bowl of the Olympic flame. I have to admit that the Chinese produced something more astonishing with the torch bearer hoisted on high to mime running around the top of the stadium and lighting the flame. Majestic!

There were moments in this overlong ceremony which were, if I may quote myself from my shameful broadcast on The Cunning Little Vixen, “visually stunning.” The giant speckled light Olympic rings; the globe rising from the stage with runners impossibly running at different latitudes; the light suits; the Olympic flame.


I thought that the final raising of the Olympic flag by a squad of goose stepping soldiers was grotesquely out of kilter with what the Olympic ethos should be. Just as the opening sequence and other throughout reminded me of those repellent Spartakiáda, or mass gymnastic displays beloved of Communist countries I find them fascinating if disgusting. For me the subordination of the individual to the whole, the degredation of the single human to a mere piece of a jigsaw puzzle to make a moving pattern is the antithesis of what I believe is an acceptable image for a nation. And certainly for the Olympic Games.

Oh yes, and if you can still think back that far, I do know the difference between Randolph and CP Scott – but both ‘availing to good’ I think!