Friday, October 31, 2008

Wasted day?

My enforced domestic sojourn today has been as a result of cough, cold and sore throat courtesy of you-know-who who has only just emerged from his own days of illness. An illness I suspect has its origins in his taking up baby sitting services with his new nephew!

The petty malady of a cold merely encourages a pleasant self satisfaction born of the complacency which comes with mild self pity. The realization that the negative health aspects of the condition are only temporary means that you have to get your sympathetic responses in quickly otherwise they will be lost in the process of recovery.

My extended morning in bed did not, I fear, lead to any philosophical insights as I used the opportunity to go to sleep with a Strepsil dissolving efficaciously in my mouth. Mucus can become the guiding feature of my existence and I look forward eagerly to a future period of aridity!

In a poignant exemplification of the Pathetic Fallacy the weather has exhibited a clear tendency to share my unsettled condition and, whipped up by strong winds, our little domestic waves are now crashing down onto our depleted sands.

In spite of the weather and my less than 100% fitness I have ventured onto the balcony to view the progress of the promenade which is being constructed on the beach in front of the flats. This project has been ongoing for a considerable length of time and it is only in the last week that we have viewed real progress as a pathway of sorts stretches along the beach.

Its eventual size and sophistication can, at the moment, only be guessed at. By way of a joke, Dave suggested that the powers that be might be thinking of building on the sea side of the structure and obstructing our view. I did not find it funny. Here, anything is possible – negative laws do not necessarily restrict development.

I have to say that any extraneous structures in our direct line to the sea will necessitate instant decamping!

The ability for people to parade along just the other side of the wall which separates the beach and the pool will change the dynamic of our lives. At the moment, because of two large globular lights which illuminate the end of the pool and shed their light indiscriminatingly over part of the beach as well, it has created a small haven of gloom for the younger elements of Castelldefels society to gather and partake of various intoxicating liquors which encourage raucous enjoyment. If the new promenade is illuminated then there will a whole stretch of beach which will, by spill over, become available for nocturnal frolicking!

The motto of Castelldefels is ‘More than a beach.’ That might well be true in the minds of the town fathers, but without a beach Castelldefels is nothing; its raison d’etre would disappear. Because numerous blocks of flats have been built on the first line of the sea there is not the same opportunity for a promenade as there is in other coast resorts in the area. Castelldefels are rather late in trying to improve the ‘people friendly’ approach to the beach and the sea. It will be interesting to see what they do with the obstacle of the Boat Club which is a little further down the beach from our place which will be a real obstacle for the continuation of the promenade.

It’s always a pleasure watching others work!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Normal Service Resumed

The sun (if not the required temperature) has returned.

The workmen are busily driving large vehicles up and down the beach in an important sort of way. Drivers are parking on roundabouts and zebra crossings. In short, all is approximately well with the world.

The last day of the Pauls’ visit was lazy with only a generally abortive visit to the large Carrefor to count as a jaunt. We were hunting for a digital box to increase the range of programmes available. Spanish television is of an awfulness that those who have not visited the country can only guess.

The number and length of advertising breaks in Spanish television is not so much a breaking of the law which limits the total advertising time in an hour to twelve minutes as a complete ignoring of it. During one advertising break I had a shower, then made dinner and a pot of tea and the break had still not finished.

Films shown on Spanish television last for hours as advertising break follows break with the last break using placed just a few minutes before the end of the film! Usually bed is a more attractive prospect than prolonging the agony by watching a film slowly unwind in an advertisement extended period of teeth grinding frustration in front of the television screen.

Anyone who questions the value of the television licence fee should spend some time watching the rubbish which foreign stations offer! The ultimate horror in televisual tedium is of course found in the United States of America where ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ was regarded as high class educational programming on the public service channel!

The ideal would be to have BBC Gold

which is the mainstay of most of the Brits that I know, but we have a problem in our block of flats as the street has not had cable laid so we have been reduced to the appalling fare that comes with a simple aerial pulling down the terrestrial rubbish that is broadcast as Spain’s contribution to the televisual arts.

Something must be done!

The Matthews Family has come and gone. They have had a very wet couple of days in which to wander through the city. At least Castelldefels did its bit and produce the first sun that they had seen during their holiday in Catalonia!

Their gift of Welsh Cakes was surprising and most welcome. I had produced a recipe from the internet for the Welsh Week in The School That Sacked Me, but I had not gone to the extreme reality of actually making any! It will be a delight to indluge in eating them as a form of remembering the Old Country!

Having now been passed the illness of my partner I look forward to a relaxing couple of days lounging in bed and being waited on hand and foot.

I was ever an optimist!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wot no sun!

Two days of rain!

That horrible familiar oppressive grey which characterises autumn in my memory has come back to haunt me in Catalonia!

The rain has that personal touch of vindictiveness which is usually absent from the clement weather of the peninsular. Luckily the Pauls have adopted their usual ‘holiday mode’ which means that half the day is lost in the arms of Morpheus which allows me time to get the hard domestic slog of loading the dishwasher out of the way! The detritus of the previous evening lying like the dressing of a film set for the morning afterwards waiting for a tender conscience to clear it all away!

What finally drove me to bed last night was fleeing from the interminable programme which is devoted to the Spanish version of Gran Hermano (Big Brother) which seems to last for hours.

This is not merely a case of my healthy loathing making any broadcast length of this pernicious programme seem unbearable but it also has the uncanny quality which distorts your perception of time. Watching it reminds me of my experience of that ponderous and gelatinous dimension in which Henry James thrived to produce his more geologically dense novels

The bloody thing extends through the evening in a never ending parade of trivial, inconsequential horror – and in a foreign language. That did not stop the Pauls watching it with unfeigned interest, their enthusiasm being kept up to speed with snippets of translation from our native Spanish speaker. This was the Halloween Special with the contestants having to traverse a corridor of fake webs, skeletons and grasping hands that would have been shamed by the most casual efforts of a poor primary class without their teachers. It reminded me of what I have heard of one of those Saturday morning TV programmes in which ‘gunking’ was an essential element. Ugh! One does not need the level of pretension that I possess to despise the whole affair and abominate the whole concept. I have and I do! Let’s face it; ‘Big Brother’ is no ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ – now that is classic television!

For the second time in two visits to one of the homes of the Bubbles of Happiness; it rained.

Obviously, one of the reasons for living in Catalonia is that it is the home of Cava, the champagne you can drink without ruining your bank balance. After being an enthusiastic devotee of the drink and of the correct pronunciation of the name in Rumney it seemed only fitting that I should go on my own Caminio de Sant Sadurní d’Anoia and pay homage in the home town of that sparkling beverage.

The first damp experience was en famille and was exhilerating, not only for the excitement of being in physical proximity to some one hundred million botttles of the right stuff,
but also because the basic winery buildings comprised another materpiece of Josep Puig i Cadafalch – the architect whose works are studded throughout Barcelona and the region. He should be as famous as Gaudí, and certainly within Catalonia he is highly regarded, but his world fame lags behind the builder of the Sagrada Famillia.

The second trip, this time with the Pauls (a different sort of family!) was again accompanied by downpours of completely superfluous amounts of rain water. This deluge did not appreciably add to the general lightness of spirit that accompanied our continued failure to find the winery when we had found Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Our proximity merely encourage feelings of despair as its location continued to evade us. On the horns of such a dilemma and taking the bull between the teeth so to speak, I asked two workmen for directions and we eventually found ourselves in more encouraging surroundings as we drove through serried lines of damp grapes.

Our arrival (without booking) was sternly rebuked and we were told to return for the next English language trip an hour or so later.

Our hunger drove us to a nearby establishment rejoicing in the name of Café Rosa and packed with locals eating and drinking and smoking. The propriatoress assumed control of our bedraggled selves and we were soon seated at a long table jigsawing ourselves into the locals’ places!

Our request for water to accompany the meal was brushed aside by the propriatoress with brusque contempt and we were thus able to sample the local red vinegar! The meal was excellent, both in taste and value and gave us the necessary strength for the ensuing visit to Codorníu.

Because of the rain the view of the Josep Puig i Cadafalch architecture was lost as we took the lift directly to the cellars without passing through the garden with the views of the Modernista buildings.

The well remembered smell of slightly sweet dry rot assailed the nose as we plunged deeper and deeper into the astonishing caves of the Codorníu family. Dust dulled bottle bottoms stretched implausibly far into seemingly endless corridors of liquid wealth as our little electric train bumped us through dimly lit low arched vaults. Each vault was named in ceramic tiles and we were duly rewarded by seeing ‘Londres’ on one. Given the amount of the drink that I helped consume in my city it would be only fitting is any new extension to the 30km of tunnels is called ‘Cardiff!’

The journey home was in the gathering gloom and torrential rain. Given the wayward attitude to the continuation of life that is the keynote to Catalan driving I was grateful that the bulk of the journey home was via motorway. The Spanish drivers regard adverse weather conditions in the same way as a junkie regards a fix – something to calm you down so you can perform better! For a non drug taking Brit this makes driving in a biblical deluge on a Catalan road a thing of true horror!

Our evening meal, a signature hamburger from the restaurant on the corner, was washed down with an exquisite Cava, recently purchased by myself and a case of which had been carried to the car by Paul with me hobbling in front to open the boot so that he wouldn’t be drowned before entering the comfortable dryness of the car.

This Cava is a development of the previous delight that I bought on my last visit and managed to retain for special occasions.

The present impressive vintage is called Gran Plus Ultra, a Brut Nature which is not yet available for export. Each bottle of this delightful liquor comes complete in its own impressive box and tastes utterly delicious. I feel it is the sort of drink that Dianne (“I can only drink the best Champagne all the others make me ill”) might be able to sample without ill effects. We will see in the early part of next year when they come for their visit!

It is now well into the afternoon and only half the visitors and half the residents are up and doing.

I blame the rain!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Food for thought

Memories of my mother came back with burnt paella.

My mother was an excellent cook, but she did like things ‘well done.’ For years, certainly well into my adolescence, I thought that uncooked mushrooms were poisonous and that onions had to be cooked almost to a crisp blackness before they were suitable for the discriminating palette!

In the same childhood I was presented with cauliflower cooked to that degree of marshmallow softness that a fork gently rested on the vegetable would sink with its own weight. And sprouts, cooked to that fuzzy point of fluffiness where they looked like emeralds seen with myopia – the bright green colour ensured by the addition of bicarbonate of soda, which also ensured the complete absence of vitamins! Ah! Happy days!

Appropriate vegetables were eventually served al dente but mushrooms and onions were always well cooked. My mother always maintained that it was the ‘burnt bits’ that gave the real flavour to the gravy – and my mother’s gravy was legendary.

The truth of her assertion exploded in the mouth with the fork full of paella with the crisp bottom. Our chef had bewailed the inefficiency of the electric hob (with entire justice) which meant that the spread of heat in the paella pan was uneven and she constantly had to move the pan to try and achieve the sort of consistency of which she is justly proud. Her failure to achieve this gave the sort of success which competent cooks always manage to present on plates: even mistakes are delicious!

Sunday was a generally lazy day and prepared us for the excursion to the jagged mountains.

Although I now seem to be visiting Montserrat on an almost weekly basis I never tire of experiencing (the word ‘seeing’ gives no indication of the visual excitement the rocks evince) the panorama of extraordinary shapes that the weathering of the landscape has produced.

The buildings of the Abbey complex are mundane at best and unsightly at worst and bring to mind Charles Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’s misplaced comments on the extension to the National Gallery about the construction looking like a “monstrous carbuncle.” The buildings do, indeed, have all the sympathy with their surroundings of Russell Brand on the Samaritans phone help line.

However, the buildings are not the reason to be in Montserrat and for the first time we were in time to catch the famous boys’ choir singing the Montserrat hymn. Our arrival in the basilica was a close run thing with me hobbling along aided by my inexpert use of my recently acquired walking stick.

The basilica was crammed with people – I hesitate to say worshippers because of the amazingly poor behaviour of the individuals who pushed and shoved their way past those already at the back of the church.

One ‘lady’ writhed her sinuous way through the crowds to gain a better vantage point. The fact that she was built like a bulky and ungainly Sherman tank meant that her progress was marked by bodies lurching out of her way as various prominences of her deadly body made contact and brushed aside the human obstacles.

At one point I raised my stick in what can only be called a threatening manner and for one delirious moment I actually considered using it, giving Paul the opportunity to say that I reminded him of the worst excesses of Margaret Rutherford!

Alan and Hadyn will be delighted to hear that the Pauls behaved with due decorum (with allowances) and filed past the idol and reverently placed their hand on the exposed orb.
I, however, as a hardened idol visitor placed a kiss on the upper part of the curved surface using the full advantage of my height. The two ancient ladies who preceded us only managed to kiss the knuckles of the idol leaving the upper expanse clear for me!

Our lunch in the restaurant was, from my point of view, excellent – though the boys looked askance at my choice of rabbit with snails!

By the time we got to the sweet course many of the items on the fixed menu had gone so we were given a free choice. My confection, the creation of a named chef whose name I have now forgotten, was the sort of small and unprepossessing looking dessert which packed a punch beyond its appearance. Its concentrated sweetness reminded me of a parallel experience with a meal which was so fatty that it drew in the sides of my mouth with its excess.

The coffee with ice to end the meal was not so much a drink as an act of self defence!

Our choice of film for the evening was ‘The Chumscrubber’ (2005) Director: Arie Posin.

An amazingly high profile cast, headed by Jamie Bell present a self indulgent parable directed against the soft target of comfortable middle class middle America.

The title refers to a typically vicious computer game which utilizes the Sim environment to produce the sort of housing development satirised much more effectively in ‘Edward Scissorhands’ which is then destroyed by nuclear explosion leaving the living dead and a headless hero. The usual sort of thing! The action of the ‘real life’ story takes a dysfunctional group of kids trying to gain the drugs stash of another kid who has committed suicide. The film is funnier than it sounds and there moments of hard hitting cynical political and social comment.

The full effect of the film is greatly lessened by the ending. The first ending is when the mother of the suicide comes to a realization that she is as much to blame as the people she has pointedly (and unconvincingly) excused from any part in the death.

The film however adds a sort of epilogue which ties up all the loose ends, giving what is presented as a taut narrative satisfaction, but actually lessens the whole effect.

This was an enjoyable film – if only for the astonishingly good American accent of Jamie Bell. He promises much for the future.

And the immediate future promises Cava.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Days pass


I would like to say that my enthusiasm for the United Nations Organization is born of a burning desire to see nation speak peace unto nation and for all the peoples of the world to live in amity.

Those statements, positive in themselves and pious enough to be uttered through the gleaming lips of any vacuous beauty queen simpering up to a microphone, would be a credit to my social conscience.

Alas! My fellow feeling is explained by the mere coincidence of the day on which the United Nations celebrates its continued existence and the date which marks my entrance into this world.

UNO is older than I am (if you count the League of Nations, very much older) and . . . I was going to continue the comparison in a playfully metaphorical sort of way but, as soon as you start looking of the history of the United Nations and the skittish behaviour of countries, it gets a little depressing when you start to compare it with your life!

So I will draw on what optimism I possess and affirm my continuing belief in the essential worth of UNO (as long as they continue to celebrate on my birthday) and restrain my logical dismissal of an organization which can put the Saudi representative as the head of a committee on human rights! It is easy to see UNO as an expensive joke and it is as easy to list its failures. As with my union so with UNO: only as good as the members!

The day has been commemorated in a number of ways: telephone calls; e-mails; electronic e-mail cards; ordinary cards; spoken greetings and even via surface mail!

I have gained an excellent book, ‘Retrats de Ramon Casas’

which is exactly what I wanted – charcoal sketches by one of the finest Catalan artists of the last century.

So it goes!

A godly haul for United Nations Day with (astonishingly) three books bought by those presumptuous enough to assume they knew my tastes! By great good luck they were, as it happens, well within the target of the acceptable with the aforementioned book on Cassas, another on Klimt and a third on the Welsh contribution to the Spanish Civil War. Chocolate, a calendar, various teas, Clinique after shave and booze completed a heterogeneous collection of the usable! Thanks to all!

The latish arrival of the Pauls meant an even laterish meal in Tallerinas, a small restaurant at the end of our street.

The meal we had was, in its own refined way, more like something out of the Satyricon than something akin to your basic fish and chip shop.

The starters were large and various ranging from grilled prawns and the eponymous tallerinas

(small bivalve delicious shell fish) though squid and Catalan bread to whitebait – all washed down with white wine, red wine and gassy water.

My main course was lubina (a white fish) cooked in salt. This was shown to use in all its saline glory before being taken away and thoroughly filleted and presented as luscious meaty fish with accompanying vegetables.

The sweet course was well in accord with the idea of a Roman feast. The owner of the restaurant having suggested that a ‘surtido’ of cake would be acceptable returned with a stepped volcano-like construction with a frothy lava of whipped cream burgeoning up from the middle of the plate. Gasps of mixed admiration and horror greeted this appalling example of indulgence as eyes identified chocolate, lemon, almond, caramel, nut and various other types of pastry. A few of the fainter hearted (and, as it turned out, hugely hypocritical) diners gasped that they could not under any circumstances make any reasonable impression on the mountain of beckoning calories and it was, basically, all too much.

The end result you can guess and we left the restaurant bow legged with satiety.

Conversation bounced from topic to topic while we were in the restaurant but the focus of our attention was directed by the voluble high speed Spanish of the owner who in child-like enthusiasm gushed that sitting in that very restaurant was a Famous Person.

You have to understand that the ‘restaurant’ comprises a perfectly ordinary bar with stools for the drinkers with half of the remaining space taken up with bare wooden tables for basic eating and the other half the space filled with table cloth covered settings for those wishing to have the expansiveness of the extensive menu. The hierarchy of eating was levened by the omnipresent televisions blaring out over all.

I understood nothing of the torrent of language the owner used to convey his excitement about the honour he felt at the Famous Person’s presence.

My brushes with the famous have been almost entirely linked to one glorious evening in the Drury Lane Theatre in London when Clarrie organized a Stephen Sondheim AIDS Benefit Concert. This gave me the never to be forgotten opportunity to giggle over a drink with Dirk Bogade and deliver a message to the Queen of Slink - Eartha Kitt. The latter I found knitting in her dressing room wearing an old cardigan and large owl glasses! By the evening performance however, she had transformed into a glittering vision in lame and sequins!

That was in London: this was Catalonia. No singers here but a character who, even though he was out of my normal metier I should have been able to recognize.

We were told that we were dining in the presence of a legend of the football field.

My memory of this legend was not of a particular moment of sporting excellence but rather its antithesis. The moment when, watched by a world audience of umpteen million he head butted an opposition player.

God knows football players in the higher echelons of the sport are not noted for their restraint, taste or decorum but you might have thought that when your actions are being watched by witnesses whose numbers add up to the inhabitants of a major country their observation might have tempered your temper.

Not so, of course, with Zinédine Yazid Zidane.

This player whose part performances have gained him accolade after accolade and convincingly placed him in the pantheon of the greatest players of the game will be remembered by shallow followers of the Noble Sport like me as the idiot who nutted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup tie of France against Italy. In his very last professional game Zidane was given a red card and sent off.

The man sitting a few tables away from us looked nothing like the man that I had seen play for Real Madrid and his country. Nothing at all. We all agreed that he looked nothing like the player. Nothing like. But during the evening he was constantly pestered by diffident grown men who asked for his autograph and had mobile phone photos taken with him. He had, apparently, produced his identity card to prove his credentials to the restaurant owner.

If you looked closely you could see the ghost of the previous player, but his face was thinner and there was none of that intensity that he showed on the field.

To be truthful the most noticeable thing about him was not his relaxed courtesy (so different from his tough hard faced approach to the game) but his accoutrements.

Football players are the best exemplars of the ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it’ philosophy. They are not generally noted for their restraint and take every opportunity to disfigure their bodies by poking jewel topped things though various parts; exhibiting epicene growths of facial hair; restraining flowing locks with inappropriate head bands and writing inane drilled messages on their skin.

Were this not enough, when dressed in civilian clothing they accessorize with a vengeance.

Zidane (if it were he) was wearing a ring that the combined exuberance of Zandra Rhodes, Barbara Cartland and Joan Collins might have baulked at. A massive central stone bordered by a square of large diamonds created the sort of costume jewellery that could only be worn as a joke – but with his money, who knows?

I’m sure that there is moral lesson to be drawn from all this, but the sun is shining, so who cares?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music and the masses

The question of whether Verdi’s Requiem is a sacred liturgical mass or an operatic work was settled emphatically in favour of the latter last night in the performance in the Liceu.

The Orquestra Simfónica I Cor del Gran Theatre del Liceu together with the Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana were conducted by Enrique Mazzola with real verve and passion. His athletic performance elicited a range of textures from the combined forces which was astonishing.

The soloists Hasmik Papian (soprano), Luciana d’Intino (mezzo-soprano), Josep Bros (tenor) and René Pape (bass) were not the group that I would have chosen and I disliked aspects in all their voices. Papian’s vibrato seemed to have a life of its own, while Bros voice was harsh and sometimes strangled. Pape’s bass voice was perhaps the most successful though his extended notes were not always secure.

Generally speaking the orchestra was superb though the entry of the cellos at their most exposed was disturbingly untuned and shattered an entire section of the Requiem.

However, the overall effect was deeply moving and the sheer excitement of the Dies Irae was electrifying.

The audience for this performance was almost entirely comprised of elegantly dressed elderly ladies with surprisingly ancient bald husbands. Closer inspection of the female half revealed careful facial ‘improvement’ which might have passed muster in the professional restoration rooms of major art galleries but which failed to remove entirely the well disguised evidence of age.
The imaginative use of jaunty jackets and abundant jewellery deflected attention from age ravaged skin whereas the staid suits of their male partners were of a piece with the gnarled inhabitants of such garments.

I am sure that the higher you got to the ceiling of the Liceu (and in the topmost tier you can touch it I believe) the younger the member of the audience, but the ancient glittering eyes by which I was surrounded were a reminder that the Liceu is Barcelona’s equivalent of Covent Garden. The price that I paid for my ticket for the Requiem was probably three or four times more expensive than for an equivalent seat in Saint David’s Hall in Cardiff. It was a little cheaper than for a full scale opera, but not that much.

I can be philosophical about the price because I bought all my tickets at once months ago and so I can look on the cost as something historical and not of immediate horror!

The move from the sublimity of the concert hall into the ever busy mundanity of the Ramblas was depressing. Considering that it was a Wednesday night I was shocked at how many people were milling around obviously in the throes of a continuing good time. It looked more like Caroline Street in Cardiff on a bad weekend rather than the central spine of one of the most sophisticated cities in Europe! Still, it’s only a short walk to the car park and the greater gentility of Castelldefels!

On the job front two schools have responded to my CV and the second one has asked me to come for a chat – not that they (or the first one) have any job for me but just to check me over.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Generosity and genocide

Sometimes people surprise you.

Having left my ‘reassuring expensive’ (as they used to call Stella Artois) glasses in Sitges to be repaired a second time after the ineffective footling of the amateurs in Castelldefels who had failed to effect a permanent join between frame and glass, I had been using my old (solidly expensive) glasses. They served their purpose and, as Judith and I were constantly on the go, they had to suffice until yesterday.

The journey to Sitges was justified by an extended period of lounging on the beach and sunbathing. This was possible because there was virtually no wind. The slightest breeze and the realities of the date were forcibly borne in on one! Tempting fate I also threw myself (perhaps not the truest expression I could have used) into the sea. Not once but on three occasions. If one used the standard of the waves’ welcome based on the temperature of the sea on the coast of Mexico then this was an ocean and a sea away; but make your standard of comparison the waters which lap the coasts of southern Wales and the Mediterranean was brisk but acceptable!

The glasses were in a small optician’s on one of the narrow streets leading to the square with the clock tower. There was a brief period of tension when they couldn’t find the things and then success. They fitted perfect and the join looks secure. And no charge! I bought an ONCE ticket on the basis that such an ungrasping approach must portend financial success elsewhere. And we are still waiting for the €2.3m to buy the house we fancy!

Today the weather is different: grey, colour drained and raining gently.

Out of this weather, however, I welcomed a young lady who looked like one of those hearty characters who welcome rain as adding to the delights of camping. She was muffled in a damp anorak and had the gleaming eyes of the fanatic.

She was, of course, the mosquito lady.

We have phoned up the local council about the number of flying terrorists who zoom about seeking who they might devour. I am glad to say that my flesh seems not to the taste of our winged fiends, but the number of nasty bites on other skins has prompted the call to the officials.

After a searching examination of our balcony and a penetrating scan of other terraces in sight, she was off in a storm of excited Spanish to search for larvae further afield.

Her slow inspection of pool, hedge, grass, shower and crannies revealed little suspicious to her eagle eye so she tramped off to the beach.

In front of the flats is a rain water overflow outlet which sometimes has standing water in it. From the dry seclusion of the balcony I saw her crouched at the margin of the pool and The Leech Gatherer of Wordsworth came into my mind.

The lines (suitably altered in deference to her gender)

At length, herself unsettling, she the Pond

Stirred with her Staff, and fixedly did look
Upon the muddy water, which she conned,
As if she had been reading in a book

seemed particularly appropriate.

As she stood to leave I waved to her from the balcony and she tramped her way through the sand and rain to shout from the other side of the wall that there were ‘Muchos! Muchos!’ while at the same time clenching and unclenching her raised hands to give me a visual picture of the number of larvae she had found.

This was probably in response to my excited ‘Spanish’ that I used with her, the sort I speak when confronted with situations when I know that I do not have the requisite vocabulary to cope!

This confirms all of our worst hopes and at least gives us some justification for calling the people in the first place.

We will now wait to see what happens. My money is on the fanatic seeing this thing through. I confidently expect to see council workers with flame throwers pursuing a scorched sand policy towards the ‘Tiger’ mosquitoes which are foreign invaders and must be repulsed with vigour.

As I am still waiting to hear from the police and the inspection team who have been directed towards The School That Sacked Me, my enthusiasm is tempered by reality.

So it goes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Always something new

If any one or any thing is to blame, then it would have to be the hotel trade exhibition.

It is never a good thing to be shown up in your lack of knowledge about the cultural life of a city of whose cultural life you thought you were the corner stone.

But I was.

Mondays are not good days for culture vultures in Barcelona. The majority of the cultural venues that are worth visiting are closed (much in the manner of the French) and the most you can do is look mournfully through the plate glass windows at the forbidden delights of our artistic heritage.

When one of those closed palaces is MNAC on Montjuic then the view itself is compensation enough. Compensation that has to take into account the somewhat laborious ascent to that pinnacle of Catalan excellence. There is first the long mall-like road whose entrance is marked by two towers in the style of the large bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. This mall is flanked by a series of pavilions and the odd fountain until you get to the beginning of the flights of stairs which will eventually (and I really mean ‘eventually’) get you to your destination.

In the best spirit of access for the arts a connected series of open air escalators has been installed to make the long walk as untiring as possible. Admittedly it took me the best part of a year to discover the last link in the chain which deposited my weary feet at the bottom of the last few steps to the actual entrance, but now I can guide guests almost effortlessly from one vista of shining metallic steps to the next.

But not when a massive international hotel exhibition spreads itself over the mall and the adjoining pavilions. Entrance forbidden except to the lost souls queuing to gain their credentials so they could start sampling the freebies.

We were forced to try a flanking manoeuvre to hit the hill at a more congenial point. Judith strode off purposefully with me limping wearily in the background as my hip seems to be trying to make up for its relative quiescence during the whole of my life and now seems to be asking for attention in a tiresome way like a fractious child.

We strode and hobbled past static traffic; ripped up road; indolent workmen and a burnt out flat and then found ourselves gazing at a remarkable building which bore the sign of one of the local banks.

I had previously only seen this building from the lofty prominence on which the grandiose building which houses MNAC sits. I had attempted in the past to take an ‘artistic’ photograph of the pseudo-crenulated brick roof, but I had regarded the building as nothing more than an extra pavilion in the Montjuic complex.

I was wrong.

The building itself is a restored brick built factory designed by the famous Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, you can get more information about the building in English at

What was worse than not realising that the building was an outstanding example of the work of an impossibly famous architect was finding out that the restored building is a positive treasure house of artistic events.

The current exhibition was of the work of Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939) it was exhaustive and brilliantly presented. It is always gratifying to leave an exhibition (which was free!) with extra information. Who would have thought that the artist who produced all those Art Noveau posters showing Sarah Bernhardt looking demented and clutching a dagger actually lived until 1939? And that the reason he died was that he was viciously interrogated by the Gestapo after which he developed pneumonia and died in a few days?

The next exhibition (also free!) opens in a few days time and consists of paintings from the Uffizi in Florence from Botticelli to Luca Giordano.

There are other exhibitions opening, together with music events and readings and debates and all those things that should have been clearly within my cognizance.

And if it hadn’t been for hordes of suited men and women making for the refreshment areas and blocking my usual route to MNAC this cornucopia of artistic delights would have been nothing more than an interesting brick roof!

I have put myself on the mailing list and eaten in the very reasonably priced restaurant.

I am thinking of writing a short monograph on ‘Eating in the Arts’ – I feel it would be revealing and interesting!

Judith has been an excellent companion during the days of her stay in Castelldefels and has made all the right noises about my favourite parts of the city and has exhibited the appropriate degree of envy when contemplating the view from the balcony.

We have eaten out every day; we have sneered at meretricious contemporary art; we have suffered the unrelenting seats of our local bus; we have disturbed the lesser breeds without the law in The School That Sacked Me; we have travelled; we have been (momentarily) placid – and we have talked.

Who could ask for more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time passes . . .

The Picasso Museum; Sitges; talk; Santiago Rusiñol’s house; dinner with the girls; planes; talk; Monserrat; living statues; rain; lunch with a view; Quat Gats; Santa Maria del Mar; the Ramblas; plotting; kissing idols; coffee; sun; talk; Basque tapas; too much drink; talk; photos; talk; travel; sights; sounds; drink; talk . . .

There is nothing like a visitor for prompting you to sample the delights of a location that you thought you knew. There is always something new to be gained from the perception of someone looking at old sights afresh and asking obvious questions that you haven’t thought about.

Roll on the next batch of visitors!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Conflicting choices

To learn or not to learn?

Do social and familial pressures outweigh the necessity to keep up instruction? Will abstinence make future negligence easier?

Now that Judith has joined us for a short stay, a series of inviting trips and visits stretch out over the next week. My Spanish lesson will take two hours from this visit and there is a school of thought which avers that a denial of such a short period of teaching time should be welcomed as the minimum grace afforded to an honoured guest.

We’ll see.

I decided to stay at home after carefully calling up my language school to inform it of my non appearance. The lessons are highly subsidised and failure to attend can result in your position being taken away. If you tell them you are not going to be there then all will be well.

It was just as well we went to Sitges because, by popular demand, I had to drive past The School That Sacked Me. By great good luck a member of the administration just happened to be walking outside the school and at the sight of my car and my person indicating the location of the school she stopped immediately and looked back at us with what can only be described as suspicion!

In a place which is driven by paranoia the sight of a person who is actively working against the present administration driving near with two persons in the car as well must at least be a cause for thought.

I would give money to hear the conversation between The Owner and her fawning crony about the lurking presence of ‘That Bloody Man’, as I have been called by the more suspect elements in management of that diseased institution.

The police should now be taking action to find out the location of the charity money and the Generalitat should be attempting to conduct an investigation instigated by me into the contracts from the last five years in the place. I do hope they have fun, fun fun!

The rest of the trip to Sitges was sightseeing and eating.

A visit to the house of Santiago Rusiñol is, for those going there for the first time, a delightful experience in eclecticism.
His accumulation of iron work, paintings, drawings, fonts, plates, glass, sculpture and furniture packed into fairly small rooms downstairs and a totally surprising sort of Great Hall up stairs comes as a shock.

As indeed do the two paintings by El Greco which adorn one wall of the Great Hall!

Downstairs there is the little Picasso which, during a power cut in a previous visit seemed to call, “Take me! Take me!” to my receptive ears. Alas! Years of false morality stayed my fingers from grasping my prize as a multitude of mobile phones suddenly turned on cast their all too revealing light on my dark plans!

Altogether a worthy visit before lunch.

My feather light glasses (which certainly reflect the Mies Van De Rohe doctrine of ‘Less is more’ in terms of price) have sprung apart and need attention. After one ineffectual repair in a Castelldefels optician they are now residing in Sitges where, I am assured, all will be well in due course and expenditure.

Dinner tomorrow night promises to be more eventful with the arrival of three more people than we expected.

Roll on!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cleanliness is next

Surely only a lunatic would put whitish tiles on the floor of the bathroom.

A bathroom, I might add, which has sink, bath and bidet all in a tasteful blue which is virtually impossible to keep looking clean. And there is no outside source of light.

And we have a visitor immanent.

Veiled references to the Augean Stables have prompted me to mount an all out searching campaign against the dust lurking in hidden corners in my bathroom. In the course of removing said dust I have discovered certain empty containers which, in spite of the floor being level, have rolled to said hidden corners and waited until now to reveal themselves.

I have of course (naturally) cleaned my bathroom on a regular basis. It is therefore an undeniable conclusion to draw that empty bathroom containers have an intelligent, independent, malicious existence as soon as they have been deposited in the bathroom bin.

I think my resentment about the whole process comes from taking down the shower curtains. The cheap IKEA curtains are matched by the cheap plastic rings attaching them to the rail.
Each time they are taken down at least two of the rings snap. The spare packet that I bought has been denuded and I am left with empty spaces which, to me, indicate an undergraduate style of living. I am past that, so a gratuitous trip to that haven of Scandinavian design to ensure my readmission to adult living might be called for.

I decided to cannibalize the remnants of the shower curtain left in the flat before we arrived. We try and use as little as possible of the poor quality rubbish left as bits and pieces to justify the term ‘furnished’ when we rented the flat!

Talking of flats, a family replete with a mass of two children, one of whom cannot write in complete sentences has now moved in diagonally opposite us.

Time to start looking in thieving agents’ windows!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More books!

The absolute rubbish that I am reading at the moment is an absolute delight.

The Sony e-book reader (to which all praise) encourages the mean and mendicant to search web sites for free e-books to fill what used to be regarded as industrial quantities of memory with books that one doesn’t really want to read.

I now have a vast selection of classic texts that I have quoted from but not read waiting in the electronic darkness of the machine for those quiet hours when I decide that I should fill the classical gaps in my reading experience.

At the moment however I have read one science fiction book which I would never have the bare faced anti intellectual audacity to flaunt in ‘real’ book life. I’ve also read a fantasy book which was better written but as each chapter slipped by I could sense time passing which I could not easily justify. I suppose that some of this high academic pose was undermined by the avidity with which I devoured these tomes.

I have used this reading device so much that I have actually managed to exhaust the battery. Now the e-book reader is sold with the advertising information that you could read War and Peace three times before the battery becomes exhausted. I started to add up the pages and realised that I had indeed read my way through a veritable electronic forest of pages.

As is always the way with electronic devices, the real problems appear when you cut corners with the technical ways of treating the device. This one decided to have a hissy fit when it was being recharged. Basically all you have to do to recharge the device is plug it into the computer. It then uses the USB port to charge. You must, however, take care with how and when you take the device from the machine.

Those of us who have had things like ipods refuse point blank to work after they have been untimely ripped from the parent device are usually reasonably careful about clicking on the little ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ icon to ensure a safe unlinking.

Sometimes, in spite of painstaking attention to detail and being punctilious in the clicking on the correct device designation the notice that it is OK to remove hardware is an out and out lie.

So it was with the device after it had been left on overnight to ensure a full recharge.

Horror piled on horror as the bloody thing refused to work. Then refused to turn off. Then to shut down. Then to reset. This then exhausted the full repertoire of my approaches to recalcitrant electronic devices.

After a frustrating number of long moments I discovered that there are advantages to knowing an electrician with an instinctive understanding of the ways of things with screens and buttons.

It is now back in working order and is quietly taking its charge like a good little device.

I must hunt for more bad books to fill my days with the forbidden delights of stylistically inept, badly structured, self indulgent verbiage.

Sound familiar?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Give me the sun

After an uneasy night’s sleep I can still feel the effects of the liquid meal on Saturday. It is certainly a sign of the times when I can’t shrug off the effects of overindulgence. Or is it called growing up?

It’s something of a grey day today and I trust that it is not a sign that the weather is going to change just at the point that my cousin Judith comes to visit. Castelldefels it at its best when it is experienced out of doors. Like any other sea side resort it is somewhat disappointing if you have to start looking for sheltered amusements.

It is perhaps significant that the local newsagent has a carousel of postcards, most of which have sights from Barcelona on them. Apart from the beach I do not think that there is very much of architectural interest in Castelldefels. Anything with a touch of history has been ruthlessly pulled down to make way for more flats and holiday homes. In the making of money from the Mediterranean Sea coast the Catalans have been anything other than sentimental in their preservation of the natural environment.

This works both ways of course. Left to its own devices the long beach which stretches in front of our flat would not look as it does. Its flawless expanse is carefully nurtured by massive machinery which sifts and moves and cleans the sand in its nocturnal wanderings along the shore. Squads of fluorescent yellow jacketed workers scour the sand to remove the more glaring debris of tourists and various vehicles of doubtful efficacy patrol the strand. This is what is necessary when you lack the sort of cleansing tide which sweeps the beaches in Britain. On the other hand we have sun!

At present we are fighting a losing battle with mosquitoes. We are living in a state of siege with doors carefully closed and spray liberally used to discourage our winged visitors from drinking their fill, but still the cry is they come in battalions armed (if I may mix my quotations) smirking at our chemical dissuasions and supping where they please. I am convinced that a substantial proportion of my blood must be composed of whatever these pesky insects inject to make their chosen liquor flow more easily!

We are taking further steps. I don’t know what it’s doing to the insects, but it’s making our lives virtually unbreathable!

And I’ve got another Spanish lesson tomorrow.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A long day's journey into sobriety

The calm before the storm.

‘Hope springs eternal’ might be naïf motto but it keeps me on course. Monday should be the day when my flock of CVs alight in their various roosting places on the educational perches of Barcelona international schools. It is also the day when the denunciation of The School That Sacked Me should begin to take effect with the arrival of the police to drag off The Owner to her well deserved incarceration.

Realistically I suppose that I will have to be satisfied by a single inconsequential phone call to The Owner by the boys in blue and a long silence from the schools.

However waiting is good exercise in delayed gratification and to those with imagination it’s full of possibilities; possibilities that reality limits in its tiresomely quotidian way!

I have taken today in a more than leisurely way as I am recovering from the meal I had yesterday. The food was exceptional and served on a succession of extraordinary plates and very attractively arranged. The devil, as is so often the case, was in the drinking: red wine and an excellent bottle of Cava.

Time for reflection.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Close music

The inevitability of traffic jams on the Littoral into Barcelona ensures that on an Opera day I am in the city well in advance of the performance.

This also, of course, allows me to meander my feckless way through shops and then pride myself in not buying the latest gadget with flashing lights. Sometimes.

Rain was an unwelcome feature of this visit to the opera; but it was a sort of half-hearted type of precipitation and one which hardly justified my parading about the Ramblas with my umbrella embellished with weather orientated quotations from Shakespeare.
I did so, however, in a spirit of education, allowing the passers-by to appreciate the superiority of our national playwright in comparison with the Spanish equivalent - Lope de Vega!

I was early enough at the Liceu to have a coffee and cake in the café and was gifted a fragrant vision in gold.

A lady, too ancient to be flattered with the appellation of “a certain age”, sat at the next table in a cloud of expensive perfume and glittering with precious metal at cuff, throat and ear. Her jacket of shimmering yellow satin with irrepressible ruffs led the eye to her wide sided glasses where the expanse of white served to show up the gold detailing which even extended to the age defying golden highlight in her age defying hair.

Her mobile was frankly disappointing but the wrist that supported it was encircled with a watch that was swamped with sparkling diamonds and the bag which received the phone after her piercing voice had subsided was a burning fantasy of sequined gold.

Such a character was always going to outshine the characters on the stage for the opera but before I could make any comparisons I was early enough to join the serious opera goers for a pre-performance talk. Which was in Catalan.

I have become a grand master in looking vaguely intelligent when listening to fast speaking Spaniards and Catalans. I must admit that I did not do my homework for the opera for which I had paid a surprisingly large amount for a seat. ‘Tiefland’ by Eugen d’Albert based on a stage play ‘Terra Baixa’ by Àngel Guimerà was all unknown territory to me, a territory which was unlikely to be illuminated much by a discourse in Catalan.

By dint of concentration and guesswork I managed to gain that the play was about mountains and lowlands; shepherds and Romanticism; that it was a modern version set in an office; a love triangle; something about a wolf; Glasgow and Barcelona were mentioned. I wasn’t a great deal more informed and I rushed to get a programme and read the short synopsis given in English and French.

‘Terra Baixa’ turned out to be something of a staple in past years of traditional Spanish and especially Catalan theatre: the story of true love developing and winning out against the machinations of a wicked character set in the ‘good’ mountains and the ‘bad’ lowlands. The mentioning of a wolf I learned was a reference to the last lines of the opera when the baddie had been despatched by the hero and hero and his girl were able to leave for the mountains and goodness.

I was prepared for the opening scene which revealed four glass cases which contained four human characters.

Stage left was a bank of scientific equipment complete with flashing lights, while stage right was a sort of dentist’s chair which was linked to the characters in the cases with a scientist wearing an interactive glove to make contact with the human specimens in the cases.

We were therefore presented with a concept of virtual reality in which people were being conditioned to behave in certain ways. This idea was fine and an interesting slant on a very traditional story, but it was not sustained throughout the action of the opera and was only reintroduced in the final moments to give a short of enforced coherence to the directorial view.

The majority of the action was confined to the art deco ‘office’ of a bread mill. We could see the sliced product slowly going by on a short conveyer belt throughout the action of the opera. Presumably we were supposed to make the link from the processed bread to the processed people.

Frankly all I saw was a fairly vapid melodrama indifferently acted and unimpressively sung. Musically I found the piece undistinguished even if d’Albert was born in Glasgow and is reputed to have written the overture to one of Sullivan’s operas!

The hero, Tommaso, was sung by Alfred Reiter. The role calls for a Helden tenor and I felt that he lacked the consistent power and definition that was necessary. His heroine, Marta, sung by Petra Maria Schnitzer was the undoubted star of the evening and gave a powerful performance with a voice that was compelling. The other roles were sung adequately but the insistence by the director, Matthias Hartmann, that the piece is not a ‘realistic’ one does not excuse the two dimensional acting which accompanied the music.

As my seat was in the fourth row of the stalls (did I mention how much it cost?) my new black and gold opera glasses were a little redundant! It did allow me to experience the orchestra at close quarters and I think that they, and their conductor, Michael Boder were more than creditable.

Is it truly shallow of me to admit that I enjoyed the Indian meal afterwards without reservation?

Who cares!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shades of the prison house . . .

The deed is done!

The police have taken down my denunciation of The Owner regarding her refusal to divulge any details of the Readathon.

This time it was the right policemen and after a hesitation about what could be done we were ushered into a small room where details were taken down.

I know it is a truism that as you grow older the police look younger and younger

but the selection we saw didn’t even look as though they had made it to the sixth form. If it had turned out that Y11 were having a work experience stint in the place I would not have been surprised.

At one point we were joined by our interviewing policeman’s boss wearing plain clothes who looked, if anything, even younger than his subordinate. At this point my translator (one of the lady parents from The School That Sacked Me) hissed sotto voce, “Another pin up!” Whatever their apparent or real ages and their physical attributes they were very helpful and even threw in one or two words of English to keep me happy. The basic denunciation was written and augmented with a cutting detail from the boss, typed, printed, photocopied and stamped.

Now the waiting to see if efficient administration ever translates itself into satisfying action. If necessary I am prepared to supply a Black Maria to take her away!

If nothing else I now have two typed pages of official Catalan to add to the file.

In The Magnificent Ambersons the narrator says, “Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance.”

These words came to mind as I visited the local tobacco shop to post a series of letters. Given the way with ‘Johnny Foreigner’ the need to go to a tobacconist for stamps is not regarded as strange and I have come to accept these quaint customs. The letters winging their way to the four corners of Barcelona all contain my CV and are addressed to the various headteachers of educational establishments which might be able to use my pedagogical accomplishments.

I feel it churlish to laze with indolent ease gazing out from the balcony, glass and e-book reader in hand and ignore the effects of the financial crisis which seems purpose made to wipe out all my savings; thus giving the lie to the pernicious doctrine of delayed gratification so beloved of the middle classes.

Why scrimp and save when criminally inept bankers play fast and loose with money which they don’t have and leave the bourgeoisie gnashing their teeth with impotent rage as they see that Bernard Shaw’s ‘undeserving poor’ have had the right idea all along. When you’ve got it spend it at once otherwise you’ll gain nothing and lose everything.

Now there may be some who say that I have followed the spend it all when you have it assiduously throughout my life and that the only time I saved was when the money was ripped from my salary at source so it was taken away to safety before I could get my sticky fingers on it.

I refuse such base reflections on my preparedness for unemployment with scorn but little ready cash!

I have, therefore resorted to the touting of my CV and am steeled to find that far from urging me to join their establishments I may well be greeted with stony silence and a complete lack of response.

I am, however, shallow enough to take the attempt for the reality and retire to my balcony in the warmth of the October sunshine and feel that I have done my best and wash away any feelings of guilt with a glass of Rioja!

On the new school front our ‘founding fathers’ impulses have been stymied by the lack of a suitable site. Our trawling through the illustrated parades of lies which constitute the web sites of estate agents in this area (any area?) is a soul destroying exercise, but sooner or later we are bound to find something which will be a reasonable base for our little enterprise.

We continue to live in hope!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Why do we do it?

Wrong police and the wrong time.

Sometimes I do love the sheer bureaucratic idiocy of the country in which I live!

Today was the day when the visit to the police could be delayed no further and the denunciation was to be made official.

The School That Sacked Me has refused through letter, email, telephone call and direct enquiry to respond with any information about what has happened to the money raised for the Burma disaster fund last June.

Any reasonable person (let alone me!) would assume that the militant silence was covering something not to the credit of the school. I have decided to assume the worst and let the police sort it out.

Armed with copies of my eloquently insulting emails and a summary of the details of the ‘case’ and accompanied by my ‘translator’ I went into the local police station. Alas ‘police’ doesn’t mean ‘police’ because I had gone to the police but I needed the ‘police.’ Luckily armed with a translator and a map we were able to drive a short distance and find the correct building which housed the correct type of police.

Our enquiries produced a child dressed in a police uniform who informed us that we had found the right type of ‘police’ but we had not found the right type of ‘time’ to see the right type of ‘police.’

It would be better, we were told, if we could come back in an hour of so, or tomorrow even.

It would appear that crime of a certain sort cannot take place officially between the hours of one and three in this part of Spain – even with the right sort of ‘police.’

We are rescheduled for tomorrow so that I keep my word of getting the denunciation in this week. I can only guess at the way that the ‘police’ will go about getting the information and my translator said that they probably wouldn’t let me know what they did or didn’t do – and there I no likelihood of The School That Sacked Me ever (and I mean EVER) contacting me again. I will have to live in hope that my spies in the camp will be able to enlighten me if any police activity is seen.

I am told that the atmosphere in The School That Sacked Me can be cut with a knife and that it has reached new levels of negativity.

You have to have worked in the place to realise just how horrific that idea is and how essentially improbable any further descent into a deeper hell of professional managerial chaos that already exists can possibly be achieved.

I can’t help feeling that some idiot savant mathematician would have had a field day with the way we sat in the pharmacy waiting area the day before yesterday.

For we people with repeat prescriptions the trek to the pharmacy is monthly where, on presentation of one’s health card (see previous blogs for the epic story of getting the bloody thing) the recipient taps away on a computer and produces the necessary prescriptions for a month’s worth of drugs.

For the summer one is given prescriptions for two months to allow for holiday absence to cover the time when you might need to get more away from the source. Although there are now indications that the two monthly supply will become normal. Who knows, no one tells us anything!

Anyway: seating. Once or twice I have just gone to the door of the pharmacy and walked in. I understand now that was extraordinary luck. The normal procedure is to sit and wait in the open corridor of fixed chairs which stretch the entire length of the corridor.

Where people sit on the thirty or forty chairs is obviously governed by the Higher Mathematics and not logic. I have learned over time that the correct approach to finding a seat starts with approaching the immediate vicinity of the pharmacist’s room and then asking, ¿Último? in a generally vague interrogatory way and then waiting for someone to raise their hand to indicate that they are the last.

That is the signal to sit down. Logically, if there is a spare place next to the person who has put up their hand then that is where you should sit. But nobody does this. Nobody. Why?

The arrangement of chairs means that at least half of the people cannot see the other half and since the entrance to the pharmacy is at the end of the corridor people have to keep turning round to check that they take up their turn.

Logically again, all you have to do is ensure that you can see the person who was last when you came in when you are sitting down. But people don’t do that either. Why not?

It gives the whole area an air of suppressed panic as each person becomes paranoid about missing their turn. I do not jest: I was there once when someone tried to get in early – there was very nearly a riot and one woman commented loudly and at length on the evil nature of mankind and the ‘pusher-in’ in particular for the whole duration of her continued wait. To my horror I was drawn into the general conversation by a man on my right to whose question I responded with a rueful smile and a sardonic “¡Hombre!” which seemed to satisfy him and the rest.

Some people merely give up when they see the number of people waiting and slope off in the hope of a more limited queue on their return. Some sit a long way off as if there should be a sort of cordon sanitaire between them and the ordinary waiters. Some sit and look as though they are waiting for a doctor behind another of the doors in the corridor. And most of us must do some sort of evaluative computation and sit where we will.

For the record I sat three rows in front of the ‘last’ person with my back to her. Other spaces were available. I wonder what went through my mind.

While I was waiting my mind was taken up with the latest Saki book on my e-book reader.

Never let it be said that I failed to utilise any spare moments with cultural improvement!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Class Act

Thank god for the French.

This heartfelt commendation is based on the fact that the two French ladies in my English class are much worse than I am: one of them does little more than speak French with a hopeful look as though, both Spanish and French being Romance languages, no one will notice that she is speaking one rather than the other.

As is usual in these classes I launched myself on a sentence of amazingly ambitious complexity with no real vista of a successful conclusion tempting me to a coherent full stop.

This is where being an English speaker is a distinct advantage because a muttered repetition of the word that you need in English usually prompts a few people to rush in to supply the Spanish version.

If you were say, Serbo-Croat or whatever the benighted Balkans is calling itself this week, it wouldn’t matter how many times you barked your glotally stopped language (if such a thing is possible) you would be none the wiser. Everyone in Spain wants to improve their English and I don’t even have to open my mouth before people start speaking to me in English!

My first words in Spanish merely confirm my listener’s suspicions and then I have a battle royal to keep the conversation in my target language. But at least I make the effort, and god knows it is an effort, to speak in Spanish. I only hope that the lessons I am taking now will stimulate me to do the hard learning which is the necessary evil to make merely sitting in a class something real in my linguistic development.

I have homework to do before the next lesson on Thursday: I have asked Irene to phone and nag me to ensure that I am doing the work necessary to gain some sort of fluency. I have been told that, with real application, there is no reason why I should not be ineffectually fluent with simple conversations in six months. That gives me until February to achieve this goal.

God help. And that is sincere!

Although in strictly factual terms I am now living where I would have gone on holiday if I had been in Wales, we feel that we deserve a vacation somewhere else. I would look forward to restarting our short excursions to cities that are served by cheap airways.

I realise that this is not carbon friendly, but I look on travel as culturally essential and therefore carbon neutral. There is also the Angel of Immanent Depression whose extending wings seem to cast a shadow over the future of cheap flights so we need to take advantage of them until el crisis and the tyrannical force of political correctness denies such country hopping to us members of the hoi poli leaving it the preserve only of the rich and concerned politicians.

Were I to say that the temperature of the sea was warmer than that of our swimming pool; I fear that I would not have the instinctive sympathy of many of my readers.

Yet I have to report that after lounging on the beach with my ever present e-book reader the exigencies of the human frame dictated that I would have to return to the flat or venture in to the sea. The weather was fine with a scattering of cloud and a persistent sea breeze, but not withal unpleasant.

I am aware that there are those of my acquaintance who would not fling themselves into the foaming brine unless the temperatures were able to fuse sand into shimmering sheets of glass; others who venture not into the salty shallows unless they can see steam rising from the waves; others who have listened once to my assessment of the welcoming nature of the waters and never trusted my word again, but I aver that the sea today was surprisingly humane and I was able to bob about evincing little gurgles of pleasure. The gurgles came from the fact that the waves were anything but considerate and, although our Mediterranean crests break but a couple of meters from the sea bed it is remarkable how much casual power they pack. It is also amazing how much sand in suspension they manage to transfer from their watery structure and onto (or rather into) one’s skin and crevices.

I had a shower before I went into the swimming pool, had a swim and then had a further shower in the flat when I had finished – and I still I have a faintly opalescent gleam from the residual grains!

I am rapidly getting to the stage where I am feeling like a character in one of H M Bateman’s cartoons in ‘The Man Who . . .’ series. I am ‘The Man Who Wore Shorts in October.’ It doesn’t matter how many times I point out that the weather is fine and it’s warm; there seems to be a timetable which is rigidly adhered to and, according to this calendar summer is over and long trousers are essential.

Although I will bow to public opinion and decorum for my visit to the Liceu tomorrow for the opera I think that I still have a month of showing the leg in Castelldefels.

Unless the authorities get to me first!