Saturday, April 18, 2009

A long short week!

Why is it that three day weeks seem more stressful to a full week?

Or is that just a load of rubbish?

I am tempted by how tired I feel to think that there must be something about the spiritual preparation for starting to teach in the middle of the week which saps the quotidian strength that you need to survive an abnormal week.

Whenever you return to work it ought to be a Monday. You start at the beginning of the week; anything else is abnormal and contrary to normal practice – and probably unprofessional (I will have to look at the small print in the description of our jobs in the Welsh Teaching Council’s Secret Analects.)

Didn’t John Wyndham write in ‘The Day of the Triffids’ that, “When a day you know is Wednesday starts off feeling like a Monday, you know that something is very wrong.” Actually, he didn’t. But the feeling of unease that my misquoted opening sentence from that novel is supposed to convey exactly conveys what starting a week on a day other than the Monday feels like.

The anticipation of the start of the week on a later day and the consequent worrying about what one should have prepared for a fragment of the week tends to diminish the anticipated stress free bonus of not teaching for a proportion of the normal timetable.

There is a built in resentment of teachers and pupils about the petty vindictiveness which offers the promise of another week and then cruelly denies its fulfillment by demanding the attendance of teachers and pupils for a limited run performance of normality.

On the other hand Friday did come round a little more quickly than usual.

And my early departure on Friday to which I was fully entitled because of the two days a week on which I have early starts (both of which were retained in the curtailed week I might add) meant that I was able to meet visitors from Cardiff for tea and cakes in a little café in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona.

As is always the way with these things, the only time that I needed money on my mobile was the only time that the money was low. To recharge my mobile necessitated my visiting the hated headquarters of The Worst Bank in the World that was still Solvent. I long for the day that I have enough money to spurn BBVA and all its works and move to La Caixa which has my undying support because of their excellent galleries at the foot of Monjuïc. However, at present I still have to use the bank and wonder about what they are doing with my Aval Bancario. This is my money (six months’ rent) which was demanded by the owner of the flat as a sort of deposit before he would sign the contract for the lease. The bank holds the money. They charge a hand and a fist for looking after my money. I had to get everything signed sealed and delivered by that specious, grasping band of legal nonentities called Notarios who demanded a vast sum of money for telling me that what I had to sign was a contract!

Eventually recharging my mobile I was able to contact the visitors and meet them in Zara. It says something about me or about the people who have visited me in Barcelona that I knew where Zara was.

It was a delight meeting people from Cardiff, even though the rain tried to make the city appear in its worst light.

Even depressing rain cannot hope to be victorious when opposed to a cup of chocolate in its most viscous form and a particularly venomously delicious chocolate cake!

Ever since reading ‘The Shocking History of Advertising’ published by Penguin in a most beguiling cover showing a bedraggled Victorian poster paster putting up the latest advert, and reading Vance Packard’s ‘Hidden Persuaders’ I have been fascinated by Marketing in all its insane forms.

Insanity seems to be the motivating force behind the large scale and obviously very expensive campaign to encourage the people of Catalonia to buy a Nespresso machine and chain themselves to the buying of packaged coffee products at high prices.

I am usually amazed and delighted at the ways in which manufacturers are adept at charging more for less. There are numerous examples of this. I don’t suppose that anyone has actually taken a box of extravagantly packaged washing powder tablets and crumbled them down to their original powder to see just how little actually stuff is really there; or taken the tea out of tea bags to see how little actual tea you have; putting glasses’ wipes in individual packets; selling individual sachets of anything – all of these ask the consumer to pay for packaging as much as for the contents.

A brilliant recent example has been the selling of chewing gum. One gum which is low in sugar, low in calories and high in price is now sold in tablet-like blister packs making the gum look more medicinal and therefore justifying a higher price. The latest packaging of a measly five sticks of gum is elegantly presented in a stylish metallic looking flip pack at an equally fashionable price!

As far as I can work out the Nespresso machine is merely a kettle which forces water through a number of holes in a small capsule filled with ground coffee and directs the resultant liquid into a suitable receptacle. It looks elegant enough but it is gloriously unsophisticated. The clever bit comes from selling small portions of coffee in small metallic capsules at an inflated price. The machine has a very specific purpose and you can only use the specially produced capsules with it.

And that is where the strange thing comes into operation. The capsules themselves are only available from limited outlets. I think that the general idea of the machine is that the consumer should become a member of a special club and order the capsules from the internet. Certainly in this part of the world there are very few places in which they can be bought. Our nearest shop is in Barcelona and none of the supermarkets sell the capsules. I have been told that this is to give a certain cachet to the use of the machine, to attach a certain spurious exclusivity to it.

This is fine and dandy, but the advertising is extensive and, while the price of the machine is obviously grossly inflated for what it does, but is not beyond the reach of many pockets. It stands to reason that, therefore, the capsules should be instantly available to gratify the artificially stimulated coffee needs of an every gullible public. The ‘thinking’ behind this particular approach leaves me stumped!

But I still admire the commercial mind which plays on public perception to deprive us of money!

Needless to say we do have a machine – though in my defence I have to say that it was given to us as a gift. Its use is likely to be the length it takes us to work our way through the strange selection of capsules that were bought (not by me) in the first enthusiastic frenzy of ownership.

YouTube (or however it’s spelled) has numerous short films indicating how the capsules might be re-used. The amount of effort necessary to complete this penny pinching piece of conservation looks disproportionate to the possible end result. This is the sort of thing on which I will keep a watchful eye to see how popular rejection of high priced exclusivity is manifested.

Today I wore shorts. I have made an executive decision that summer has started. As I have mentioned I am strengthened in my position by the fact that the framework for our chiringuito has now been assembled and I confidently expect the place to be finished tomorrow. The sun loungers have moved to the edge of the sea. All is in place for the summer. Hence the shorts.

I hope the weather takes the hint!
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