Saturday, February 28, 2009

I know my rights!

The sun is not shining!

As is almost written in ‘The Diary of a Nobody,’ “I am not a rich man, but I would willingly give a half a crown to discover the identity of the deity who produced such insulting weather.”

I am now going through the traditional period for me when I worry that every day and in every way I am becoming whiter and whiter. The only time that I am in the sun is when I walk from building to building. I was hoping to top us my vitamin D levels this weekend and have been viciously disappointed by the cloud cover.

Thank god for chocolate: solid sunshine!

I have not given up on my desire to purchase a new mini computer. Though I am now bloody from my recent experiences I remain unbowed and am full determined to boost the economy and foil the crisis by the wilful spending of quantities of money I can ill afford on the type of machine of which I already possess a number of examples. That’s what I call dedication!

In a clearly specious attempt to show dedication to my new school I took home a book from the English cupboard in the upper school. This was ‘Midnight Over Sanctaphrax’ book 3 in ‘The Edge Chronicles’ by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.

It is significant that on the front cover of this volume is a blue circle in which is written, “For children who’ve read Harry Potter and want another world to explore.” I will not allow the fact that this quotation is from a hack in the Mail on Sunday to influence my opinion about the book, but . . . This feels altogether slighter than the Harry Potter books, even though there is a similarity in the use (or abuse!) of similar elements. There is the same amusingly quaint naming of people, places and wildlife: Twig, Tug, Spooler, Goom, Flabsweat, the Great Shryke Slave Market in The Deep Woods and so on.

The story links to other stories in the series, but there is enough information in the present novel for it to stand alone. The thrust of the tale mixes together a familiar melange of fairy story, legend, with a light dusting of creation myth religion. The story is simple enough but there is enough imagination to keep the rather pedestrian narrative alive.

From the point of view of my new school the level of language used is slightly too difficult, but it could be simplified to be of some use. If I cared to do it!

Needless to say hackneyed, clichéd and predictable it may have been, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fantasy and magic have the same sort of fascination for me as sci-fi and I have to treat them both like dangerously addictive drugs. Talking of which, I have also borrowed one of the ‘Pan Book of Horror’ series of short stories. These are also quite compulsive, though under the sometimes lurid covers you find classic tales masquerading as contemporary stories!

I look forward to the mixture!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Dreams are fragile!

The Welsh Rugby Dream is over for another year. Ah well, and I even wore an artificial daffodil (supplied by Dianne) in school today. This occasioned much questioning, with the result that I think that I ought to have some sort of bonus from the Welsh Tourist Board for services to Welsh awareness in those of foreign extraction!

The ‘love-on’ continued into the second day with my being greeted like a favourite uncle on all sides in school. It is perhaps just as well that the weekend has intervened to bring a sense of reality to my return. On Monday I will be regarded as just another fixture and normality will be restored.

Though they haven’t got used to my ties yet. I have set myself a fairly high standard with my choice of neck coverings so far and I do not think that I can sustain the level of quirkiness that I have established. To my consternation pupils have spoken of their favourite ties from my last visit and were quite specific about which ones met with their approval.

I have always maintained that teachers do not realise how closely they are observed by their classes. We have this self denying approach which suggests that even though we stand in front of a class in full view of all the pupils they somehow take us for granted and look without seeing. I suppose if we realistically appreciated how much scrutiny we routinely undergo we wouldn’t venture out in front of a class!

Even with my previous experience of a week in the school some time ago and these two days, it is not enough time to think about how the next few months there will pan out. The signs seem positive enough but it will need some compromise on my part if it is going to work out well. It will be interesting to see how my teaching style adapts to the demands of a very different style of teaching which is the norm in this school.

All in all this has been an interesting week and one which has left me a trifle tired!

And emotional!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You are all too, too kind!

Every teacher should have his “Mr Chips” moment. And now, after my first day back in the ‘new’ school, I have had mine.

Greeted warmly by all; hand firmly shaken; kissed by colleagues; hugged by students, and surrounded by welcoming smiles it was difficult not to feel something of the triumphalism of Judas Maccabaeus and to hear “See the conquering hero comes!” playing softly in my ears.

The frighteningly competent girl in my youngest class spoke to me confidentially at the start of our first lesson and said, “Stephen – two things. Firstly, I knew you would be back. Secondly, welcome!” You see what I have to cope with!

It was a glorious day surrounded by happy, smiling, responsive pupils and enjoyable teaching. To mark my return the school even managed to have a fire drill almost as soon as I started teaching and offered me the opportunity to do a lunchtime duty as well. Truly, my cap ranneth over!

There is a different feeling in this school to the last. I think that the fact that the school is spread over a number of buildings on a steeply sloping site with each of the buildings linked by what seems to be an interminable number of steps, makes the experience of teaching there more expansive than in Castelldefels. The staff rooms in Barcelona are not as claustrophobic or cramped as in Castelldefels and the provision of a ‘breakfast’ roll with free tea and coffee creates a different ambience.

It will take a while for me to work out the exact requirements of the various examinations that the school offers the pupils in English and also the approach to the subject itself. I am beginning to understand that the sort of English that the pupils will find in the examination is a very formal and rather stilted kind. They have to know and be able to demonstrate facility in the definition and use of various obscure (to the normal English speaker) grammatical points. The use of text books imposes a discipline of progress that is rather foreign to my ‘method’ of teaching. It will be interesting to see how I progress in this rather foreign pedagogical country!

Lunch, when I finally got to taste it after my duty, was tasty – which was just as well as we have to wait until 2.00 pm to taste it; or in my case today, until 2.30 pm!

I have brought books home today to look through them for the lessons tomorrow, but I am loath to do it. I have made up some handouts to supplement some of the things that I said this morning - and that is far nearer to what I find enjoyable than studying the arid verb forms which seem to be the basis of good marks in the examinations that the pupils are going to take.

The next few weeks are going to demonstrate clearly how congenial this placement is going to be. I think that it will call for a certain compromise on my part and a re-jigging of my expectations.

At the moment I rejoice in the sheer self indulgent pleasure of my welcome and remember that the future, as H E Bates almost said, is another country. Another country in which I have yet to travel.

Time for a cup of tea!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And the next one please!

My I-Spy Book of Catalan Schools now has an extra tick in it as I wave goodbye to my last and start preparing for my next!

A fairly quick chat with the confident young man who has been parachuted in to take my classes through towards the public examinations, a bottle of wine and a card and I was out of there!

The fact that the Young Man has been brought up from Valencia to teach from a month and has accommodation provided brought gasps of astonishment from my colleagues who have rarely met a supply teacher in Spain and never heard of such professionalism in the cause of Years 11, 12 and 13 as they march towards their exams. In all sincerity I must say that I too am impressed with the radical nature of the steps taken to ensure the academic health of the pupils. If other schools in the area find out what mine has done they will probably be horrified and fear the reaction of parents who might expect the school to take similar action on behalf of their children!

I can only speculate about what effect such a revolutionary approach towards the welfare of students would have on The School That Sacked Me would have. I should imagine that total implosion and the creation of a Black Hole would be the least cataclysmic event that would occur! If only!

I had a number of gratefully received expressions of regret at my departure and one hurriedly written A4 affectionate scrawl from a rather effete apprentice louche boy in my last class!

I shall miss this school, but the chances of my working there again look remote.

So to the next.

I worry that the departure of the teacher I am replacing will be placed at my door. My arrival is fraught with possibilities and speculation, while pleasantly diverting, is essentially pointless.

I will await reality. A reality, I might add, which is going to occur early in the morning. Very early!

Good for the character. Maybe

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roll up that man!

The staff have now been told that I am leaving tomorrow and there is that strange attitude which is composed of what I hope is sincere regret at my departure and relief that they are still in a job!

One colleague’s jolly, “Well, it’s the right time to be free when it is coming up to the summer,” was ironic given the seamless segue that I have to make into another teaching situation on Thursday!

My sixth form were still the worse for wear after the three day break with one of the boys’ voices being quite an octave lower thanks to the liquid ravages of Carnival!

Another, on hearing that I did not join revellers over the weekend croaked out that I still had time as Carnival was not over and I could go out and party this very evening. Thinking about it, I consider that arriving in a ‘tired and emotional’ state for the last day of my stay when I hope to return here would be, to say the least, impolitic!

The one achievement that marks my stay in this school is my total mastery of the paper towel machine. This was exemplified by my expert performance on a visit to the toilet first thing in the morning where the window of opportunity to detach the paper towel before the ‘clunk’ indicates the emergence of the graspable tag for the next user is very short. It is a fine art which needs constant practice and impeccable timing otherwise the ability to produce the refined twist of the wrist at the requisite moment to produce a clean, straight edge sheet will be lost!

New school: new sanitary challenges!

Changing schools usually involves the buffer of a holiday to allow a breathing space to adjust to a new experience: this will be the first time that there is less than a day between institutions. I admit that I have only been in my present placement for just over two weeks, but I do feel that I have fitted into the educational life of the school. I only hope that I am able to leave a reasonably enduring (and positive) memory behind me in case any suitable opportunity for employment there comes up. The pity is at present that the English Department of the school seems robustly healthy and determined to stay on!

I am awaiting promised email from my next school outlining what point in the courses the classes have reached. This knowledge will give me an impressive air of omniscience as I waltz into the room and with an uncanny prescience launch straight into the next part of their course!

All change!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Boys Denied Toys

Although prepared by inbred cynicism, the anti-climax of my court visit was frustrating.

My court appointed translator had learned her English in Nigeria and impressed me with her enthusiasm for language if not for her full command of idiomatic English.

My presence in the law courts was to make a statement. I am so far acclimatized to the ways of my adopted country that I did not for a moment question why I had to do this when I had already made a statement to the police some time ago.

The statement made, I was able to furnish the growing file with a selection of some of my finest letters and emails to The Owner and a list of other complaints about the running of The School That Sacked Me. I was working on the basis of ‘every little bit helps’ and that further information will make the person who has to decide whether to make a court case out of this substantially more likely to set a date for the trial!

It seems to me to be almost transcendentally astonishing that something as essentially easy to resolve as my complaint has come to the point of legal action!

I await the next step in this process with eager anticipation!

When you are stuck behind a long line of shoppers (all of whom have loaded trollies) the last thing you need is to see a single mother with a small child.

Spanish parents are infuriatingly, impossibly patient with their children. They can do no wrong. All foibles must be indulged. The universe revolves around these small, incoherent tyrants.

This particular child’s vocabulary seemed to be restricted to one whining word, “Mama!” sobbed out with different intensities of self pity and insistent attention seeking effectiveness.

With blithe disregard to the growing queue behind her the mother urged her recalcitrant offspring to condescend to pick up some trifling object from the trolley and place it on the belt. The moaning mini was disinclined to do this and moaned out her pitiful “Mama!” as if she was being asked to solve a quadratic equation in her head while suspended in a tank of barracuda. Her obstinate lack of co-operation did not result in her beaten to a bloody pulp with a large metal bar (as at least one member of the queue wished) but rather even more consideration and an indication that perhaps she should try lifting an even less demanding item!

Item pilled up at the till as the emptying of the trolley crept on its infantile way.

The queue (with one exception) watched this performance with indulgent amusement and made little cooing sounds at the intransigent rebellion of the obstructive midget. My smile began to resemble a frozen rictus and I attempted to remember the way to get to ‘that other place’ so beloved of mystical eastern religions.

Just before infanticide tipped from being a good idea to a positive duty, the till lady started to organize the scatty mother and clear the till area and make my emerging from the shop within my own lifetime a possibility.

When I had passed through the till and was making my way to the car The Mother was still fussing around causing an obstruction and not once did she apologise to anyone. The bare faced audacity of parenthood leaves me speechless. Always!

Talking of deprivation, one of my toys has gone.

In spite of rigorous attempts to make it work, my typing style and the space bar on the new computer did not match. By the time I had sorted out the lack of spaces from the typing, I could have done it faster with two fingers!

The return of the computer was a misery of an experience waiting in a slow moving queue (something of a feature today) and not quite seeing the screen to watch an episode of ‘Futurama’ obviously playing to keep us quiet, but not noticeably smoothing away the lines of exasperation as products were painstakingly unpacked and checked by the single person deputed to deal with returns.

With a frightening version of inventive (and invented) Spanish I explained to the girl what was wrong and she must have understood because she gave me my money back. So there!

Tomorrow my penultimate day in my present school.

And the new ‘old’ challenge of the next one starts on Thursday.

Hey ho!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Never quite right!

As Babbage might have said if he had realized what he was inventing when he almost unleashed his mechanical mathematical machine on an unsuspecting public, "One can never have too many computers."

Acting on that noble, if unspoken sentiment I have bought another computer.

I do not recognize that I have to justify such a purchase, but the response of those near me seems to demand some sort of explanation. So, as I am going into a new job on Thursday I felt that a new computer was essential.

Ah, you may ask, does that mean that each time you have a new job you have to get a new computer?

I must admit that such a question does seem to me to be rehetorical. I can think of less interesting things to do to celebrate such a momentous event than buying an attractive, effectiveand efficient computer.

I have, of course, many convincing reasons for purchasing yet another computer. All of my other computers are far too large to fit comfortably into my case which I use for school. The other small computer that I bought had a key board which was too small for my spatulate fingers and therefore it took more time sorting out the mistakes that a finger wider than a key had made than was useful.

This present machine has a decent keyboard, but I am finding out its limitations already. I am beginning to believe that keyboards are now being made for two finger typists. Touch typists like my good self are being penalised for the ability to make a swift touch on the keyboard.

The problem is the thumb.

The touch typist adds a space by a swift depression of the space bar by the thumb, but this machine does not seem to respond in quite the same way. Unless there is a masterful thump of the bar the space does not register - and that is not what you do in normal electronic typing. For example in the part of the last sentence after the dash four of the words were run together because the depression of the space bar did not register. This is going to be an intolerable problem unless I can work out a way to combat it, otherwise the computer will have to be returned to the shop.

And another dream bites the dust!

I will give it the rest of the evening to see if I can adjust my typing to cope with the seeming insensitivity of the keyboard. If not: it has to go.

The quest for a decent mini computer continues!

Meanwhile I can think about the recent visit of Ceri and Dianne and consider my strategy for My Day In Court.

Keeps my mind active!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flying home!

Ceri and Dianne have gone back.

It is a strange feeling to see people who were an intimate and geographically close part of one’s life fly off to another country. While I am delighted to see them, it is a wrench to see them go.

It was especially frustrating as work demands limited the amount of time that I could be with them to the evenings. With the relatively small amount of time I was able to spend with them, it seemed no sooner had I got used to their being here than they were on their way home.

I hope that the time that they spent alone in Barcelona was enjoyable: I do know that sometimes the ubiquity of your host can be a little unsettling, so some time to yourself is a special bonus!

They have now perfected the technique of the ‘one site’ city visit. They selected a notable venue for each day and gave ample space for appreciation and quiet enjoyment, without the hectic ‘what else have we got to see’ approach that ruins so many visits to historic cities.

We have been left with a promise that a summer visit in July will take place and there is always the Montserrat working holiday that Ceri will have to take at some point or other if I am going to be able to see his take on those disturbing mountains!

Time to bestir myself and find a suitible gallery so that Ceri can exploit his take on Montserrat!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time ticks on

¡Carnival! is over in our school and the parade and judging are closed for another year.

The range of costumes was wide with the Challenger space vehicle vying with an astonishing cross dressing Amy Winehouse for the prize for the most outstanding fancy dress!

Unlike most schools the outlandish dress and high spirits of many of the students did not mean that teaching was impossible.

The fact that I had a Year 9 class last thing in the afternoon was not the sort of group of pupils with whom most teachers would have chosen to end their day during Carnival, but in the event they were generally tractable and anyway we did folding, cutting and pasting which always has a calming effect on most pupils in my experience.

It is a strange fact that, however mundane the practical task involving a few sheets of A4 paper is, pupils take an inordinate pride in the finished article. In this case we were constructing the board, envelope and cards for a game of chance based on The Victorian Workhouse with the ‘chance’ cards emblazoned with the image of a bowl of gruel and a question mark. There are indeed no limits to which I will not stoop to keep a hyper class quiet!

I have already constructed one game with Year 8 connected with the English Civil War for which I have designed a ‘wallpaper’ design for the back of the cards using a woodcut from the period. I can feel a hankering for cutting and pasting myself to produce a version of the game to ‘encourage’ the kids to do likewise! You could also see it as a giving in to the desire to ‘make’ something which can be loosely bundled under the heading of ‘creative’ to compensate for all the dull photocopying that I have done for the past two weeks.

I am looking forward to My Day in Court and I only hope that it is not too much of an anti-climax. I am hoping that the inexorable wheels of justice will crush beneath its iron rims the presumptuous audacity of The Owner of The School That Sacked Me. I suppose that it is an engaging aspect of my essential bright eyed naivety that I still retain a child-like faith in the essential ever undefeated power of justice.

As I often say, “We shall see.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To put an antic disposition on!

Tomorrow staff are expected to don a costume of some sort and enter into the spirit of Carnival.

For the week so far the primary section of the school has been indulging in a variety of effects which we in secondary have been, thankfully exempt. The overall headteacher has, however been seen in a ludicrously large tie and was reputed to have had his face painted today – though I have to report that when I saw him at the end of the day he looked fairly normal!

Carnival is taken very seriously and there will be ‘events’ during the day tomorrow which will seriously incommode the normal teaching schedule. I mostly feel a sense of relief that I do not have to make another costume and crown and I can subside into the easy laziness of donning my academic gown and appurtenances peculiar to a teacher at Hogwarts!

Some sort of lurgi is working its way around the staff in the school and a regular procession of sick bow out of the schedules and leave lessons for the rest of us to fill. I have now experienced a Year 9 Spanish class, Year 11 biology class and a Year 7 art class to widen my experience of the teaching pleasure that this school affords. It would be churlish of me to complain as my timetable is liberally sprinkled with ‘study’ period and ‘free’ periods to accommodate the needs of the examinations officer’s timetable which I am following – but without the need to do the examinations bit! I try and maintain a low profile in the free period department and hope that I do not loose too many in the course of the week.

My time as a history teacher (sorry, The history teacher) is drawing to a close with less than a week left. Tomorrow will be at best a fractured experience and Monday is a day off, so there are only two clear working days left before my departure.

My present school made an interesting offer to me to stay on, but I have given my word to the next school to take up my duties from Thursday of next week.

It is an odd experience to know that I am about to leave while my colleagues are probably assuming that I am going to stay on until the final return of the normal teacher. It will also be an odd experience for my next school as my colleagues there have not been told that I am going to make a return appearance (by popular demand, obviously!) and take up my old classes again! Feel like some sort of secret envoy talking to senior staff in both institutions and wonder what the effect of my disappearance from one and my subsequent reappearance in other will have.

I am much looking forward to the experience!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paper cuts

Let us take our success where we can find it.

I have, at last mastered the paper towel machine in the toilets in my new school. One has, of course a preference for paper towels because the hot air hand dryers are invariably inefficient and seem to leave your hands even wetter than before you started attempting to dry them.

The particular machine in use in our school is one which issues sheets of what appears to be recycled paper from a roll. The technique necessary to obtain a sheet for use is to tug the serrated bottom edge of the visible paper until it comes to a natural stop. It is then essential that an easy sideways sweep is completed while drawing the paper forward to bring it into contact with the cutting edge of the machine to detach the sheet. After a short pause the machine will extrude a short section of the paper towel with a rhythmic clunk available for the next user to pull and detach a towel.

The trick (and believe me there is a trick) is to draw down, pull and cut before the machine clunks, otherwise you will cut off the section that the next person has to pull. Over hasty pulling will split the paper leading to unequal pressure on the paper and ensuring that the whole dispensing process becomes fouled and impossible as shreds of paper block the easy egress of the paper towels.

For the first time in six days I had two Perfect Pulls!

The unusual nature of this achievement is clearly indicated by the fact that I am almost invariably presented with insignificant, tattered remnants of paper which defy by attempts to grasp and pull. Which makes my achievement today all the more impressive.

I dwell on this success to compensate for the fiasco which marked my attempts to come to professional terms with the photocopier.

I am, it has to be said an experienced user of these machines. Man and boy I would not like to compute the number of hours that I have spent chained to a photocopier; many of those same hours spent with a simmering sense of repressed fury as the damned machine refused to do it was created to do – i.e. photocopy.

And this is before I count the number of times that I have been frustrated by the lack of paper.

A combination of irritations managed to prolong a fairly simple photocopying job into a marathon. And I lost a free period. And it was one of my lunch time duty days.

But the day eventually ended and I was, eventually, able to get back to my visitors. It was good to see Ceri and Dianne and go out to dinner. Apart from the fact that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t Friday as I shared an unusual bottle of white wine.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day: and a school day too!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trouble in t' Balkans!

There are limits to how far one can go.

A further missive from the Head of History in Exile explaining how far he expects the sixth form pupils to have progressed in their studies and giving further instructions on how to proceed.

We are venturing further and further into the murky wastes of ninetenth century history and following the colourful career of Bismarck as he cheerfully uses any passing international incident to further the Imperial Ambitions of Prussia.

I have been, I like to think, an informed spectator encouraging the pupils to plunge ever futher into the dark political waters of pre-War chicanery as Germany gets ever nearer to Unification. But as we get nearer to the twentieth century the treaties get ever more tortuous with impossibly intricate 'what-ifs' as essential components in understanding what follows.

Even these arcane mysteries I was prepared to struggle through but at last we have hit the Balkans!

I still have the academic scars from trying to follow the story of The Italian Wars which are the historical equivalent of the Keystone Cops with a healthy dash of French farce. It took a long time to recover from that testing experience and even the fact that drawing the map of Italy was relatively simple did not compensate for the insane complexity of the power struggles that one had to remember.

The Balkans are bound to be as bad - only more so. At least whatever Italy was pretending to be at any particular moment (it being as we all know nothing more than a "geographical expression" from The Quote) at least it had a clear boarder along most of the length of the collection of cities, countries and states that made it up. But the Balkans are an absolute Moveable Feast to which everyone is invited! 'Sense and the Balkans' is the title of the least likely book ever to be written. The Balkans were, are and will be a disaster.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Here we go again!

Week 2 in a school makes you an ‘Old Hand.’ People have become used to seeing you in the place. They are no long solicitous for your professional comfort in the school – they merely worry that you might be absent and they will have to cover.

Classes expect you and the shine of unexpected newness has dulled to acceptance. Disturbingly some pupils speak to you as if you were going to be there for the rest of your career, in spite of the fact that you have emphasised that you are a stop gap for the ‘real’ history teacher!

I am beginning to enjoy teaching history and found myself genuinely delighted by the almost farcical narrative of Bismarck’s opportunistic exploitation and manipulation of the international situations in late nineteenth century Europe. When you find yourself giggling about the disparity in railway provision for the disposition of troops in international disputes then something fairly radical is happening to your sense of values!

Oddly, this very enjoyment is making me wish for the next school. I am beginning to find my way around the text books; I can see the way that the next few weeks of lessons can develop; I am happily searching the web for resources and indulging in my usual ‘cut and stick’ approach to handouts and it is all going to be over in just over a week.

I can’t pretend that it is going to be a wrench to leave this school – after all I have only been there for six teaching days – but I can see that it would be very pleasant to teach my subject there. Supportive staff; keen kids; excellent buildings and decent food all add up to a seductive environment. Ah well, who knows what the future holds.

The immediate future promises the advent of Ceri and Dianne; a concert; a new contract and the ever drawing nearer of My Day in Court!

And now for some marking!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today's lesson is taken from . . .

“Resolve all difficulties for me automatically.”

Were I a preacher, I think I might be tempted to use that opening sentence in some way for my remarks to the congregation today!

It is an interesting remark. It sounds a little like a prayer but the imperative is rather presumptuous and the final word is dismissively arrogant.

“Automatically” gives the impression that the supplicant is so assured of grace that there is nothing more that he needs to do. The inclusive “all” puts one in mind of the attitude of the elect of the Cathars; though they would have assumed that any problems now and in the future would have already been resolved and therefore they would have had no necessity to supplicate in the present or in the implied future.

The sentence is something which a strict Calvinist could say in the presence of the ‘unchosen’ to emphasise the difference between their two states: I, chosen of God, laugh at obstacles because I am assured of redemption and for me they cannot exist; while you are doomed!

Perhaps the sentence is an extract from the teachings of the Church of Scientology when its application becomes apparent when you have paid the requisite number of dollars into the maw of the ‘Church’ and achieve the most exalted rank of Thetan which allows you to operate independently of your body and presumably regard difficulties with supreme indifference.

Fraud, alas, does not distinguish this so-called religion from its longer established but just as unconvincing commercial rivals. So many faith based organizations seem to peddle the hope that all difficulties will be sorted out, if not automatically then at least with minimum effort. All it needs is that blind leap of faith. And there is also the assurance that if things do not seem to be working out in this life then there is always “Life II – Now It’s Personal” to look forward to in the ‘next’ one.

In case you are wondering where “Resolve all difficulties for me automatically” actually came from let me set your minds at rest.

This comforting demand comes from the works of something which many millions have turned to in supplication and amazement; hatred and fear; expectation and thankfulness. It has given peace, has exalted the humble and brought down the mighty from their seats. It has created servile worshipers and implacable enemies. It is everywhere.

It is of course, Microsoft Works.

Collecting examples of Romantic paintings for my lower sixth, culled from various locations on the internet, I then attempted to copy and paste them into a Word document and print. Various windows appeared telling me that I was crossing many technical boundaries and asking the program to work outside its normal parameters.

It was just like a funny old banker pretending to be stern with a young couple who have asked for a mortgage twenty times bigger than their joint salaries. Eventually he gives a roguish smile and says, “You want to say ‘Resolve all difficulties for me automatically’ and of course I shall. Leave it with me. No problem!”

Unlike the self seeking, criminal wastrels who have slashed the value of my savings in the United Kingdom, Microsoft Works did what it promised and I was left with a sheet of heterogeneous paintings harmoniously set out on one A4 sheet.

But before we all get carried away we should remember what a capricious god Works can be. Who has not sat tearfully in front of the garish light of an unyielding monitor and watched while all the work of hours, “Softly and silently vanished away” – and, thinking about it Carroll gives as good an explanation for the wayward actions of fate as anyone:

“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A New Day!

I arise today refreshed!

Gone is the wingeing about lack of energy, revivimos, I feel new strength surge through my veins and am more than prepared to face the historical fray that awaits me on Monday!

Next week is also ¡Carnival! and, at the moment I have no idea how this is going to be celebrated in the school. I have quite hallucinogenically clear memories of how this was celebrated last year in The School That Sacked Me. Each class was expected to create a sea horse flag to wave on arrival of the Carnival King and also to perform a parade and ‘dance’ for his delight.

My vaguely medieval ‘costume’ (sewn with enthusiasm and little accuracy by my good self) comprised two sheets of vibrant silk-like material made into a rough tunic; a short cape, and the whole ensemble topped off by an overstated crown encrusted with cut up plastic mirrors. The overall effect was so striking that a ‘courtier’ of the Carnival King who was largely naked but wearing thigh length silver boots with 12” heels, a bouffant wig and silver glitter face actually asked to have his photograph taken with me! I think that has to be regarded as a triumph of some sort! Or possibly not.

The extraordinary collection of painted, costumed grotesques that accompanied the Carnival King reminded me of the worst excesses of New Orleans – god knows what part they played in the nightmares of the kids in succeeding days.

I particularly liked the bands that accompanied His Highness and filled the playground to the kids’ utter delight.

Admittedly the majority of kids in the school were primary, but the other sections of the place joined in and eventually the whole school had paid their respects to the visiting monarch.

And, as I recall, it was a half day!

I understand that we in secondary will celebrate by wearing costumes. Although I still have my medieval costume somewhere in the flat, I do not think that a new school in which I would probably like to teach in the future is necessarily ready for the apparition of me in my crown.

I think that it is probably politic to don the Harry Potter Alternative and go as one of the teachers from Hogwarts. The great advantage of this get up is that it is reasonably comfortable to wear during the day if I cut it down to the academic gown!

I keep extolling the virtues of The Week as my regular magazine which keeps me up to date with British and world news. It was a bitter sweet experience I had when I read the latest edition which informed me that The Royal Opera House had put on a production of ‘Die tote Stadt’ by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

This is one of those operas which if you know it at all will be from listening to CDs and it is also one of those operas (like ‘Four Saints in Three Acts’ by Virgil Thomson) that I would have made a special trip to London to see. However a combination of work, poverty and missed opportunity make my seeing it a very distant possibility. Pity, as it’s one of those operas that you can ‘tick off’ in your I-Spy book of Opera. One wonders just what sort of exquisite feather would be the reward to the true Operiste from Big Chief I-Spy for a volume authentically completed!

I suppose that I should be grateful: at one time a performance of ‘The Coronation of Poppea’ would have been just as rare as catching a production of Korngold and I’ve been able to see two Poppeas in different countries - even if it was the same production.

It is not long before the programme for the next season of operas in the Liceu is issued and this time I am determined to understand the almost incomprehensibly Byzantine complexity of the Season Ticket information!

Meanwhile it is studying history as if my life depended on it and hunting out my costume for the Carnival at the end of the week.

Never a dull moment – and long awaited visitors mid week!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Real work at last!

I have been trying to work out why I am so tired.

I tried to explain this by the late night I had going to the opera and the sleep debt I incurred by immersing myself in the music of Monteverdi in the Liceu and writing up my responses to the production.

But this does not provide a sufficient excuse.

The reality is that starting in a new school is an exhausting process. There are new classes, new staff, and new situations –in this particular school a new subject. I may have been interested in history but I have never taught it at this exalted level. Perhaps that is part of the problem; I should simply be directing pupils to the elements they need to read about and summarise and not be trying to ‘teach’ in the way that I am able to teach English supported by a comforting background of specific knowledge!

Whatever I should be doing, what I am actually doing is having rather a good time and learning at the same time. If I feel passingly tired, I should remember that some of my ex-colleagues would give important limbs to be teaching pupils of the sort of quality that fill my classes. I should also point out that some of my classes are encouragingly small!

It is a pity that the English teachers in the school seem established, happy and showing every inclination to stay in post in spite of my living virtually on the doorstep of the school and more than willing to fill up any place that they vacate.

Have they no respect for selfish necessity!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tug of love!

Working out how to facilitate the transition from one place of work to another is causing some problems. One school is desperate to keep me in place to ensure that there is a minimum of cover while the other wants my presence to defuse a difficult situation and keep parents happy.

English speaking supply teachers in this part of the world are a rare breed and the inclination for a private school to employ them even rarer! I am the educational equivalent of Ahasuerus wending my weary way from disfunctional institution to delightful centre of privilege and back to reality again!

I am looking forward to my extended time in the school in Barcelona which promises to be a little less fraught than my experiences in The School That Sacked Me. Within a few days in that place I could tell that it was an educational disaster and that the management redefined the meaning of the phrase unprofessional animosity!

I am feeling more at home in my present school and the response from my classes is gratifying. Their regular teacher is obviously well respected and knowledgeable and he is a very hard act to follow but I suppose that I am giving the kids an alternative experience which they can set against normality!

While I contemplate the direction that my teaching career seems to be taking in Catalonia, it is well to think about the fact that my previous teaching in state schools is now being set against my exclusive experience here in private schools.

I have persuaded myself that as I am not able to speak fluent Spanish and Catalan my chances of finding a job in state schools here are nil. The only alternative is private education and that allows the distinct feelings of guilt to fizzle out in the nomal exigencies of school life!

And the money helps!

I do recall that I told myself that if I managed to gain a permanent job in a school I would celebrate by buying a new computer. The one I want is a mini one which will fit neatly into my briefcase. I do of course (of course, naturally) have a mini computer at the moment but the keyboard is not one that I can get used to and I could make upa whole series of grumbles that make the buying of a replacement an absolute necessity.

But when push comes to shove when have I ever resisted the opportunity to ‘invest’ in a new gadget.

And I took the opportunity of the spare time before the opera when I was last in Barcelona to try out a whole range of small computers to see which ones suited my typing style.

Anyone want a little computer slightly used?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whatever next?

An interesting day

A telephone chat with the teacher that I am replacing in my present school revealed that it is likely that he will be absent until at least the end of this month.

This is fine and dandy as far as my presence in the school is concerned but the indication that my present contract will be extended by at least a further week coincided with a telephone call from my last school in Barcelona offering me the prospect of work until June. And in the subject area of English rather than History!

Although my contract in my present school is only for a fortnight, I do feel something of a moral obligation to stay for a further week in the expectation of the return of the normal teacher. I can then segue into the job in the Barcelona school in a particularly seamless and satisfying way!

I have retained the workbook from the Barcelona school and, as all the classes will be exactly the same it will be useful to carry on when I take up the position.

Tomorrow will get the response from the Barcelona school about whether they will fall in with the plan to allow me to stay on in Castelldefels – in a purely political and professional sense I would prefer to stay on for the week. We shall see.

The memory of the opera from last night came back to me at odd times during the day and little rushes of pleasure. Although the love duet at the end of the opera is justly famous (whoever wrote it) I also like Arnalta’s lullaby to Poppea in Act II – a song which is ravishingly beautiful whatever character or voice sings it. The situation in which it is sung is slightly odd, after all Poppea has been lulled to sleep by a self-seekingly cynical servant and Poppea’s sleep is about to be interrupted by a cross dressed axe wealding ex-lover who will only be prevented from his homicide by a junior god with a penchant for protecting an unscrupulous philosopher-killing empress-banishing adventuress. It is, as you can see, a strange narrative in the opera. This narrative was brilliantly illustrated and expanded by scenery, costumes and acting. I liked it!

I have now been teaching for three days and am totally exhausted. How, in the name of the living god, do people manage this day after day week after week? Well, I am likely to find out in the ensuing months and June seems an awfully long way away!

History seems to require a lot of learning and I now know more about the Treaty of Versailles than any reasonable person should ever be expected to admit. Not only am I on terms of almost indecent familiarity with treaties which have tripped off my tongue in the past but allegedly important ones which I think I should probably have heard of.

I refer, of course to those subsidiary (yet surely crucial) treaties of St Germain, Neuilly, Trianon and Sèvres of 1919 and 1920 which did such important things with the map of the world that we are still living with the effects. In the few weeks that I have left in my role as Head of History (sic.) I expect to fill up my bag of ‘significant’ facts with which I can amaze and bore people for years to come.

You have been warned!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Restoring Faith!

Two days and it feels like a career!

That is one thing about a new school; it has a way of creeping into your soul in double quick time and making you feel that you have been working there for eternity.

Each day that I turn up I am greeted with delight by my colleagues. This is partly because they are decent folk and concerned about how I am settling it, but it is mainly because I was not there they would have to do cover for the teacher who is absent. Whatever the reason, it is always gratifying to be welcomed!

I was unable to get rid of Haydn’s ticket for the opera this evening as he wasn’t up to the trip this time – but we do hope to see him in the summer when we will be able to make the much heralded visit to the Gaudi church that is so problematic for me.

The opera in question was ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ by Claudio Monteverdi in the Liceu which was a co-production with the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and Welsh National Opera in Cardiff. In fact I had seen this production in Cardiff some time ago in the totally uncongenial surroundings of the New Theatre. Hadyn had been fortunate in seeing the production in the Millennium Centre where I am sure the production got the space that it needed to succeed.

Some of the extraordinary scenic effects I remembered, but the production seems to have matured somewhat since I last saw it and I was amazed at how coherent and fluid the scenes were and how far they added to the dramatic effect of the opera rather than being a series of unrelated set pieces which is what I remember.

The performance today was one to remember. It easily gets into my top ten productions of opera that I have ever seen. The singing of the principals was superb throughout and even the minor roles were never less than adequately sung.

Poppea (Miah Persson) was luscious in every possible sense: her singing was a delight and her physical presence was sultry bordering on pornographic! She filled her costumes and paraded them to every advantage. Her pairing with Nerone (Sarah Connolly) was electric. Connolly’s voice was authoritative, subtle and precise. The shade and tone that she was able to produce was extraordinary. An exemplary performance with every scene with Persson being a delight.

Seneca (Franz-Josef Selig) was not only a good stage presence but also a brilliant singer where the solidity of his performance was matched by the thrilling profundity of his vocal range.

Ottone (Jordi Domènech) a replacement for Carlos Mena who was indisposed, was a lyrical counter tenor and a gifted comic actor who fitting into a complex production with ease.

Ottavia (Malte Beaumont) and Drusilla (Ruth Rosique) were effectively sung and proficiently acted with Ottavia’s leave taking of Rome a particularly effective moment.

The Orquestra Barroca del Gran Theatre del Liceu with Harry Bicket as the conductor had a rousing reception as well they deserved as their playing throughout the opera was excellent.

Direction by David Alden was constantly interesting and added dimensions to the narrative. ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ is really a thoroughly nasty opera with the self seeking vicious couple getting their own way by killing and banishing the opposition and ending the opera by singing a meltingly beautiful love duet!

The tragi-comedy of the piece was more than brought out by the use of costume, backdrops, lighting and stage business. There are too many brilliant images to highlight from a sparkling production but one has to mention the extraordinary sight of Poppea wearing a sheer, slashed leathery looking dress climbing up a wall to spread-eagle herself against the flat; the chandelier illuminated Bridget-Reilly like backdrop in the final scene; the absurd Tin-Tin like schoolboy disciples of Seneca; the rumbustious antics of the minor characters; the revolving, free moving glass doors with Love on top . . . and so it goes on with image fighting with image but all adding to the effect of coherent fun with a sharp edge of immanent chaos.

This was the sort of production which answers the criticisms which question the spending of so much money on an opera.

If you can: see it.

I’m considering going again!

Monday, February 09, 2009

He is The One!

It is not often that one can walk around a school and be met with admiring glances from one’s colleagues and be regarded as a creature of myth made real.

I have been greeted by teachers who I am prepared to swear that I have never seen before whom have said, “You have been here before: you are The Supply Teacher Who Went Before He Started!”

With a modest smile and demurely downcast eyes I had to admit that I was he. My last visit to the school was extremely brief as the headteacher was overruled by the directora who thundered that no supply teacher was necessary and I was to go. So, before Toni had risen from bed I was back home and out of a job!

This time at least, I have made it through the day and even managed to survive a Year 12 lesson on the development of Germany after 1848. My knowledge of the detail of the development of German after 1848 and before the 1930s is, I must admit a little sketchy - rather like my knowledge of either (or indeed both) of Einstein’s theories of relativity. One has a hazy idea of the general thrust and can quote a few facts but one wouldn’t like to explain them to a perky, questioning group of students!

I have been able to get away with a few light, throwaway references to the recently discovered (for me) Erfut Union of 1849 and the appealingly named (though equally abstruse) Capitulation of Olmütz.

I have survived by leading a very general discussion about the state of the states of Europe at the start of the nineteenth century and I am praying that the text books will give me something in the way of facts to bolster up the unsupported verbiage that I have tried to pass off as teaching!

The staff is very welcoming and supportive and the pupils seem to be lively and ready to learn.

The only real problem is whether I have anything to teach them!

I might also add the fact that I am now the Acting Head of History in the School – because I am the only history teacher there!

Who would have thought it!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Words, words, words.

Tomorrow the new challenge.

Well enough of that depressing thought let me dwell with more interest and happiness on what we had for lunch.

The whole family descended on Castelldefels to partake of calçots – the onion/leek like delicacy which is eaten messily. Clothing is usually protected by a paper bib of some sort so that the charcoal deposits on the stems which are stripped away before consumption do not transfer themselves to expensive raiment.

Three cars went off in procession to the same restaurant which we went to last year in Gava and we were met by a building site. The restaurant is no more so the partaking of the seasonal delicacy had to be postponed to another time.

The alternative was a restaurant at the end of our road which does a special menu which satisfies even the most demanding appetite. The quality of the place can be gauged by the fact that Zidane was eating there the last time we went.

So while I should have been reading history books with a desperation born of the fact that tomorrow I will have to be teaching something about which I know what a reasonably well informed person knows rather than a dedicated specialist teacher, I was instead relishing the various courses which were brought out for our delectation. I might mention the lubina cooked in salt which was an absolute delight.

Having digested my meal, I will now retire to my bed to worry about what the morrow may bring.

And I might add that I now know more about the abortive Erfut Union of 1849 (exactly!) than I have ever known in my life before.

I have a feeling that the next fortnight as a history teacher is going to be full of exciting discoveries, many of which I am going to make only hours before the pupils!

As well, it keeps one on ones toes!

At least!

Friday, February 06, 2009


Never let it be said that I did not have the capacity to reinvent myself!

On Monday the person who turns the key in my car will be a newly created, raring to go, fully informed History Teacher!

It’s not that I haven’t taught history before. Who can forget those formative years in Llanedeyrn High School when I was involved in the delivery of Foundation Year Studies? This year 7 course amalgamated English, History, Geography and Religious Instruction into one vast worksheet driven Juggernaut. History did pretty well out of this conglomeration of subjects and we ploughed our way through Ancient Civilizations.

When I was teaching the course, by great good fortune Marks and Spencer actually produced a lavishly illustrated and very informative book covering all the requisite civilizations that we needed.

Every week there was a ‘Key Lesson’ which was taken by each teacher in turn and delivered to half of the year group. My greatest achievement in one of these lessons was to read out to the pupils part of a document from ancient Ur in your actual ancient Mesopotamian! This was very well received and there was no one there to take exception to my pronunciation! As indeed there hadn’t been for a considerable number of thousands of years!

This teaching however is a little more serious: there are two A Level classes for Years 12 and 13 and a Year 11 class working their way towards the public examinations. Some of the classes’ topics are on fairly safe ground: Victorian Britain and The Civil War - the British war of course, not the Spanish!

At the same time as I start in my new, new school Hadyn will be arriving for his visit, then the week after Ceri and Dianne and the court case.

Why is it that circumstances always conspire to add levels of interest to situations which are already interesting enough?


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Creation is not easy

“Was it worth it?”

A key question and one which got me an honest answer.

An hour spent in the company of a lady who had set up her own school in a Catalan spa town in a most imposing Modernista house was revealing and informative.

The efforts to establish the school seem to have been accompanied by a whole series of experiences involving expense and frustration. She suggested that one should allow four years (4!) to get the paperwork done! She spoke of regulations as if they were self replicating viruses which were able to mutate at will to the detriment of honest hard working school establishers.

She spoke of vast and endless expense (four flights of marble stairs had to be replaced because the original features were a few centimetres too narrow) and the soul destroying hunt for finance.

But, in answer to my question, she was very glad that she had made the effort and she was enthusiastic about the future development of her school.

We covered a lot of ground and her comments have given me much food for thought.

The mobile phone call I had half way through our conversation was perhaps compensation for the journey up to the school.

In what is rapidly becoming a vastly irritating tradition, my tom-tom gave up the ghost just as I was about to leave familiar territory and venture into motorways new. I vaguely remembered the Directora telling me to come off the ronda de dalt and head for Vic. This was little enough information to go on as I had no idea where on the ring road I should expect to see a helpful sign.

After following my instincts on one or two forks in the motorway I felt, as I seemed to be heading straight for snow covered hills, that I should ask for help. I took the first turn off from a motorway disturbingly signposted to ‘France’ and found myself in a service station. The waiter in the café was both helpful and encouraging and suggested that I simply go through the toll and carry straight on. His vague indication of a couple of kilometres was woefully out and it meant that I drove ever deeper into Catalonia with a sinking feeling and a diminishing amount of time to get to my destination.

A sign above the motorway with my destination on it gave me a momentary lift but after an inordinate number of kilometres I assumed that I had missed the turning and was heading who knew where.

If you’ve read the start then you will have realised that I did in fact get there. I drove into the much larger than expected spa town and saw a teacher marshalling pupils along a road, stopped and asked her for the school and discovered that I was on a parallel road. Of course getting onto that road necessitated a circuitous approach, but I found a free parking space adjacent to the school.

The mobile phone call was from another school asking if I would consider doing supply for a history teacher. Teaching up to A Level. A later phone call revealed that the history courses which are being taught in the school all seem to be more like the background to current affairs than the ‘real’ stuff of history and an in depth study of the Paleologi and the development of Byzantium. Anything pre 1916 is, I assume regarded as Ancient History and having no relevance for modern pupils.

One of the modules is on the Civil Rights Movement in America – so Paul is going to find himself sending a quantity of the notes that I know he has tucked away somewhere as a monument to his one time calling as a history teacher (sic.)!

There is a meeting tomorrow to discuss the possibility of my being able to take over this timetable. As I have been asked to bring all documentation, bank details and certificates and as the person I spoke to on the phone has been taking the classes herself and ‘wants out’ I think that as long as I turn out to be a carbon based life form I have a good chance of being employed.

The problem comes with what happens during half term when I am expecting visitors.

Well, we shall see.

We shall see.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Slow grinding mills

It gives me no pleasure to report that chaos is facing The School That Sacked Me.

What a glaring example of mendacity that statement is! I rejoice in anything approaching mild discomfort for that institution, so that real, dyed in the walkout disaster fills me with exultation. I am getting my delight in as soon as possible because promising situations in that place have a tendency to ‘go with the money’ and fizzle out under the pressure of financial manipulation and threat that are second nature to The Owner.

Tomorrow (after my struggle with Spanish verbs in the second lesson of the week) I visit a school on the other side of Barcelona to see how an institution which parades its accreditation with the requisite bodies and values its teaching staff managed to set itself up. And keep itself going! I am looking forward not only to making some useful contacts but also acquiring practical knowledge. I wonder when was the last time that I had occasion to write something like that!

Teaching friends in the UK continue to send me gloating emails cataloguing the days off school they are enjoying because of snow. My only response after lunch this afternoon was to lie out on the balcony with my shirt off. In the sun, I might add.

To be absolutely truthful the experience reminded me of the times that I went to Gran Canaria in the winter time to acquire the January tan that provoked such bitter comments from my colleagues in school. Winter in the UK is high season in Gran Canaria with hotel prices to match; this meant that time on the beach could be worked out at so much per minute, and it was time that could not be wasted!

I must admit that there were times that I lay on my ‘sun’ bed on the beach at Maspalomas when the weather was not as clement as I could have wished. Once indeed I lay there in the rain with gritted teeth and an unshakable faith that the sun would justify all. And, to be fair, it did. Eventually. I was surrounded by other Northern European ‘sun’ bathers who were as dogged as I in their determination to believe in the essential sun soaked nature of the damp beach that they were on!

The breeze was the real killer. The sun may have been shining but the slightest breeze made lying on a beach divested of clothing something of a trying experience. And sometimes ‘breeze’ was a total misnomer for the howling gale which threatened to rip one from one’s sun bed and to sand blast one into the bargain. The physical pain I could take as long as the buffeting by the beach did not remove the outward and visible sign of expensively acquired patina!

This afternoon the shirt went back on when the frisky sea breezes became a little too insistent to ignore. But the point was made: snow in UK while sunbathing in Castelldefels.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Silence in court!

I have been summonsed to appear before a judge.

I suppose that you are waiting for some sort of lightly witty explanation for that opening sentence leading into a digressive foray among foreign mores.

But it is actually and strictly true.

This afternoon an official notification on a folded and stapled piece of A4 with my name and street and no house number on it was (worryingly and accurately) deposited in my mail box. This informed me that I would have to present myself in the offices of the Justice Department in connection with a case.

It would have been fair to say that I was somewhat bemused and eager to experience another facet of the rich life of Catalonia.

Toni could elucidate little from the fairly brief communication and merely asked me if I had committed a murder of which he was unaware. Hastening to assure him that my homicidal tendencies had been kept well within check for the past few months or so, I decided to visit the offices indicated on the headed notepaper and try and discover more.

Consumed as I was with the usual middle class ‘guilt-acceptance syndrome’ which is the typical response to any official communication from legal authorities, I worried my way through a convincing and instantly generated list of possible ‘crimes’ of which I could be guilty. And worried more about the ones that I couldn’t think of but of which I was undoubtedly guilty.

The ownership of a car is incompatible with a guilt free life. Even the most law abiding of citizens cannot drive for more than a few minutes without breaking more than a couple of the regulations which define motoring. Let alone taxes local and national and insurance.

The visit to the legal offices offered the information that my presence in the courts was necessary for me to receive information in connection with my denunciation of The Owner of The School That Sacked Me when she refused to divulge the total amount of money collected for the Readathon for Burma and what had happened to the money raised.

The arrogant, ignorant and deeply unprofessional (if you can be unprofessional with a complete lack of professional qualifications) woman has allowed a simple request for information to develop into this court case! No parent, child or teacher in the school has been informed of what has happened to the money. Her paranoia is such a deeply ingrained part of her dysfunctional ‘personality’ that even positive information that any other school would be proud to publicize cannot be released because it would obviously be a sign of weakness! Sad, bad woman!

It would be an absolute delight if she was present, but I fear that her usual attitude to courts and legal action is that they are slight irritations like the occasional blackhead and she feels that she can well afford to ignore them. If I have anything to do with it (and I do) this blackhead is going to turn into a very nasty suppurating boil, possibly turning gangrenous and with the involvement of the Atlanta Infectious Disease Center leading to quarantine, amputation and eventual . . .

I think I rather let that image run away with me, but surely taking a simile and treating it like a metaphor and giving it its head is one of the joys of writing.

And I believe in sympathetic magic!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Whatever comes next . . .

La Liga may well be the finest football league in the world but now that Something Has Been Done to the television aerial the number of truly awful television channels we can get has exponentially increased. The practical result of this multiplicity of mediocrity is that at every moment of the day it is possible to see (or be subjected to) unlimited programming which contains ball sports or programming which contains illustrated commentaries on ball sports or Spanish discussions i.e. everyone speaking or shouting at once.

Enough is, as they say, enough.

“Whenever I hear talk of football, I reach for my ipod,” as Bruce Forsythe never said. However, if he had said it, it would have been excellent advice. Advice which, in spite of its non utterance, I followed.

Plugged into my ipod I was indeed safe from the deadening effect of football orientated audio information but, alas, not safe from the ipod itself.

I started listening to what I had been listening to the last time I used the thing – Mozart. This segued into a jolly wind band version of Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ and then into ‘La Boheme.’ There were two random extracts from the opera and then the third was the final scene.

Mimi was singing her last and fading, sotto voce into death and I therefore prepared myself for the tear jerking finale in which I bow to the demands of the music and weep. I was jerked back to mundane reality by hearing not Rodolfo’s anguished spoken questions and the overwhelming orchestral climax but rather Bob and Marcia singing ‘To be Young Gifted and Black.’

I will admit that this juxtaposition does give one a rather special perspective on the opera but it also comes as a major dislocation in one’s listening expectations!

This is one of the serendipitous effects of choosing the ‘songs’ setting on the ipod which treats all the tracks on the machine as equal and orders them solely on alphabetical principles. Another example of unlikely alphabetical sequencing after the interrupted opera has been my hearing the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band followed by Stravinsky. I have yet to work out what the iTunes program considers the alphabetical key in the many pieces of information contained in the title of a classical track!

At least it makes the silence at the end of each piece of music a more interesting experience while I brace myself for what might come next!

I am a little more settled now that I have had an excellent menu del dia in the re-opened Cel Blau – our local corner restaurant. Tortilla, paella and an excellent merluza in a Basque sauce which included chopped spring onions, asparagus and hard boiled egg. I loved it, Toni less so.

The meal also compensated to some extent for the poor weather where the natural inclination of the climate in this area is fighting against the damp and dull tendency that has been with us for the past few days. I was downcast (pathetic fallacy linked to the weather) until I saw pictures of the rest of Europe. The sight of the dome of St Paul’s and the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square covered with snow made me recognize the weak sunshine illuminating the balcony as a major advantage to life in Castelldefels!

The search for work continues with another school coming within the scope of my sights. Never a dull moment!

It is at times when you want to replace light bulbs that you miss Tesco. The number of different types of bulbs that are used in this flat is frankly bewildering and our local Carrefour doesn’t stock them all. Four shops later I have finally managed to round up a representative selection and am now well placed to restore light to any corner of the flat which should slip into darkness. But I could have done it in one in Pengam Green.

I will have to explore other alternatives and switch allegiances. But before that I obviously need an intensive period of shopping to evaluate the contestants!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Changing views?

The chaos which has come to Madrid with heavy snowfalls makes me a little more jocose about the rather dull weather here in Castelldefels.

I am conscious that Hadyn is expecting something rather warmer and sun orientated when he arrives in a little over a week’s time, but there are always concerts and galleries to take away the sting of contrary weather.

I am (sort of) looking forward to my first visit actually inside the unfinished approximation of what Gaudi had in mind for La Sagrada Familla. Perhaps physical proximity and admiration of the detail of the construction will change my rather jaundiced view of this structure. Great and interesting building it certainly is and as a distant iconic outline silhouetted against the Barcelona skyline it is one of my favourite reference points but ‘up close’ is a very different thing.

I do not think that it is possible to build a Gaudi building without Gaudi. Gaudi’s way of building was to modify the building as it progressed. Gaudi was prepared to give his workers their head to change his ideas and have a major input as far as the appearance of the building was concerned – but he was there to authorize and to oversee the project. Without him it cannot be a true Gaudi building.

In the past great churches and cathedrals have taken long periods to construct – certainly more than a single lifetime. Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona is certainly an exception taking only 50 years to complete, but most of the buildings were collaborative and are none the worse for that. Gaudi’s building I maintain is and should be an exception. My approach would have been to have stopped the building at Gaudi’s death; roofed over what was there with a transparent structure and made the most of it.

I am not sure how well people know what is going to be built on the site. The largest tower has still to be constructed, complete with giant cross, and the whole profile of the church will change dramatically. I think there are plans for the cross to be illuminated and that will brand it as a Christian building.

At the moment it looks like some petrified organic underwater feature, something natural and startling. At a distance it is not obviously Christian, while retaining the clear suggestion of a church with steeples. It is easy for the building’s outline to stand as a symbol for the city without overt religious overtones. In detail, as Gaudi clearly intended, its religious significance reflects the pietistic devotion that characterized Gaudi’s life and dedication to ‘his’ church. The giant cross will be exclusive and make the church into something less of an icon and symbol, in my view.

On the other hand some experts have said that the entire church will be complete in twenty to thirty years. Whatever I think about its projected development there is something exciting in hoping that I will still be alive to see it in its finished state. Whatever that is!

With any luck!