Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tradition has a reason!

I can relax: I marked one question in one examination paper before I went to bed last night (Friday.) In the strange job-related psychology which operates in my mind this means that I will get a substantial part of the marking done. Said marking is now strewn along the sofa with the top of the red pen pointing ominously in my direction.

Many, many times have I fripped away a Friday evening in an orgy of self indulgence (drinking cups of tea and reading) and failed to complete the statutory single piece of marking that tradition demands and have therefore condemned myself to the ecstasy of a work-free weekend, but with the consequent penalty of the ‘Sunday Afternoon Agony.’

This is the period in the weekend when a frivolous teacher realizes that he has not completed work which has to be done by Monday morning. The realization that the work has to be done does not necessarily mean that the frivolous teacher will sigh a deep sigh and get on with it. Oh no! What it means is that the frivolous teacher will wallow in misery as he contemplates the omission and sinks ever deeper into depression as he does nothing about it and finally goes to bed with things undone which ought to be done.

At this point psychology stops and physiology takes over. At least in my case it does. When I go to bed, I go to sleep. I can have the weight of the world on my shoulders but when my head hits the pillow it becomes the sole possession of my mate Morpheus. I can wake up and the weight resumes its crushing position in an instant, but while asleep that is exactly what I do.

The Friday night token marking has become as much a ritual feature of my professional life as Nadal adjusting his underpants between shots just before he bounces his balls. And what a cheap comparison that was!

The marking of these ‘end of year’ scripts is but the first stage in the Byzantine process of obtaining a final mark and I foresee much discussion before the grade is placed in the computer. As the kids will have obtained these marks by cheating and mindless rote learning I fail to see the point in giving the marks extra credibility by discussing them as if they were anything more than crude indications of the pupils’ ‘educational’ worth.

Some of my colleagues have impassioned discussions about the awarding of a quarter of a mark. I usually sit and adopt an unnaturally quiescent attitude in these debates because, after long and deathly experience I know that this is a topic about which everyone has a point of view. A point of view, moreover, that they are eager to share. Because I consider the whole process of the way we test these kids to be fatally flawed I truly don’t care what the decision is. All I want is a decision (any decision) and I’ll mark to it. Such cynicism comes cheap: just look at my wages slip!

The sea is unusually rough today (for the Mediterranean that is) and I am typing this to the accompaniment of crashing waves.

It is one of my continuing photographic projects to get a decent photograph of our waves – or at least using Photoshop to fabricate one. With the rather domestic rollers that we get it is not easy, but if the waves continue to the end of my second mug of tea I might trudge down to the water’s edge and try again. Sometimes enlarging a tiny detail of our ‘mighty’ two foot waves makes it look as though I have been on holiday in Hawaii.

I live in hope!

Sunday 7th June 2009

The first boxes have been packed. The first steps on this particular Via Dolorosa have been taken!

I cannot recall any move I have made with pleasure: the process that is. The end result I have often enjoyed. With the possible exception of one particular move from Neuadd Lewis Jones back home to Hatherleigh Road.

Even though I had a single small room in my university hall of residence I managed to pack so much into it that the bottom lockable drawer of the in-built wardrobe which we allowed as vacation storage for some of the stuff was wholly inadequate and we had to move most of our belongings for each holiday.

I, unlike my friends (with the possible exception of Robert) prevaricated endlessly until the very last moment to pack. Packing always depressed me and it was only an adrenaline fuelled deadline and to the accompaniment of the insanely jolly music of Gluck and Grétry that my packing was ever finished.

On the eve of one departure we had all celebrated with more than usual enthusiasm and I had probably OD’d on my tipple of choice at the time – small sweet sherries – and in the morning I was very much the worse for wear and thoroughly disinclined to find solace in the mundane putting of one thing on top of another in a compact space. I was much more inclined (or rather reclined) to lie on my bed and contemplate the true wretchedness of the cruel world.

In this supine position I was visited, like a latter day Job, by a series of Stephen’s comforters, friends who bewailed my condition and prophesied calamity. Thinking about it, I was probably more like Samson, eyeless in Swansea on my bed with pains, being visited by waves of people designed to test my faith. Needless to say I failed all these tests, but nevertheless maintained what I thought was a sort of simple dignity in adversity by lying motionless with my eyes closed and only emitting small groans.

Eventually I was visited by Colin who tut-tutted about my condition, informed me in ringing tones that my father would soon be arriving to take me home and then, wonder of wonder, started to pack for me!

Through almost closed eyes I watched this paragon of friendship go about my packing with the methodical rigor that characterised his approach to life.

About half way through this heaven sent aid I realised that I was feeling much better, but I kept most mousey quiet in case Colin disappeared back into the world of fantasy!

I did not open my eyes fully and Colin completed my packing and, with a last harrumph of contempt at my sherry ravaged form vanished.

Unfortunately no matter how many small sweet sherries (ugh!) I might drink and no matter how still I might lie no Colin is going to fly in from New Zealand to help. One could see his moving to the antipodes as a direct response to the fear of a repetition of that experience!

Just how we are actually going to move all our stuff is something which we have only tentatively approached with vague gestures of casual thought probing possibilities – and wonder just whose cars we can press into use!

The boxes we used for our first pack were collected by me from IKEA. IKEA on a Saturday in Catalonia is not the place to which a reluctant shopper should be taken. So Toni stayed resolutely at home. Left to my own devices I looked at beds, tables and my beloved ‘Billy’ bookcases which are going to form a substantial part of a purchase in the near future to house my books which are soon to be released from their prison in Bluspace and at long last be on display again.

Although IKEA has many positive aspects you only have to ask any passing shopper and they will be eager to share their own horror stories about the store.

It rapidly becomes clear that they are many ‘worst points’ to the IKEA shopping experience. I know, from thankfully second hand experience, the true horror that attends the opening of an IKEA store. This is when hordes of design starved, money strapped people pour into the area and cause utter chaos in all aspects of the human and communication worlds.

Inside the store (given the serpentine progress that the true devotee is supposed to make in their pilgrimage through the shop) you are constantly impeded by gay couples blocking the aisles discussing the shape of a tea spoon or married couples with various degrees of child impedimenta avidly examining inexplicable pieces of plastic which obviously have their place in the domestic environment.

For me the worst, worst bit of the IKEA experience is knowing what you want and knowing where you need to go to get what you want. As soon as your progress becomes anything more than a sort of quiescent shuffle with eyes wide with wonder at the reasonably priced goodies on offer then the ‘Truman Show Effect’ comes into operation.

As you step purposefully forward towards your objective, at once and from all sides people and pushchairs appear and block your path. Any attempt to bypass the human obstacles will be countered by couples examining huge photographic pictures or long and complicated pieces of flatpack impeding any attempt to gain your destination.

You need the calm of a Buddhist sage on the verge of Nirvana to survive the frustration of the feeling that you are the only one on a specific mission in the Swedish stasis that affects the vast majority of shoppers in the store.

My more prosaic purchase this time was 20 cardboard boxes, beautifully designed which, from a flat template were quickly constructed into handy sized containers with an integral lid. I know that I should be getting boxes from local shops and supermarkets, but the IKEA offerings are so exquisitely designed that it would seem to be penny pinching vulgarity to allow them to languish in the store!

Tomorrow will see me purchasing 40 more IKEA boxes so that the great packing of the books in the flat can commence.

The news, being flashed to me via my internet radio, is grim. For the first time in the last 100 years or so, it is being predicted that the Conservatives are likely to take the popular vote in Wales. That is the sort of information that turns my stomach and makes me feel furious about the bone deep cowardice of MPs who are the sole culprits for the danger that they have brought to the whole system of parliamentary government of my country. If they had reformed the totally corrupt system of expenses (which they created, sustained, defended) and given themselves the salary that they needed to fulfil their jobs then this disgusting situation might not have occurred.

God rot them!
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