Thursday, September 03, 2009

Reality hits!

There is something about a timetable which puts freedom into perspective.

Sheets of paper giving us the schedule of our weekly misery were dropped unobtrusively into pigeon holes today.

For reasons that I like to think are connected to the way that the British Empire was coloured in all the Mercator Projection maps of my childhood, English lessons on our timetable are in a tasteful pink! My sheet of paper seemed to have been emblazoned with an inordinate amount of this colour and that it before the duties are added.

For a staunch Union member I have been most cravenly quiet about the number of lunchtime duties that we are expected to complete. Years of struggle in the UK to ensure that colleagues did not have to work in their lunchtimes and could, indeed leave the premises if they so desired, are but a thing of faint memory as I resentfully complete a lunch hall supervision and a patio (as they call the playground) supervision together with at least one break supervision! And for much less money!

The Brave New World of the year 2009-2010 was to have seen the genesis of The Culture Club in the school. The time which the art teacher and I had timetabled for this and which we had been assured would be ours was (of course) filled by teaching according to our new timetables so, reluctantly, the art teacher said that our efforts would have to be ‘after school.’

Apart from the Cultural Visits and Events themselves I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of giving up my free time for a bunch of spoiled, over privileged, rich kids – not on my derisory salary anyway. I intimated (in shocked disbelief) to the art teacher that our little venture appeared to be still-born and she scuttled off to talk to One of the Powers to see if timetables could be re-jigged.

While having lunch I was accosted by the head of secondary who, in fluent Spanish (which was not matched by my fluent understanding) I think suggested that some sort of compromise could be reached.

There is a certain fluidity about this week that I find invigorating. There are few books for the pupils as the British publishers seem to have taken off August in much the same way as the Catalans, but no one seems unduly perturbed. Classes are fluid. I have had three changes in two days and I am sure that more will follow. We are not even entirely certain who exactly is going to turn up on the 14th of September when the school gates open to the pupils!

At least in the English Department all the teachers who were supposed to turn up are sullenly questioning their timetables and resentfully tidying their cupboards.

The only communal act of solidarity, accompanied by smiling faces and genial conversation is when at 2.00 pm sharp we all converge on the dining hall and has our lunch.

Our computer course today took the form of an explanation of the new intranet system with new and improved calendar. In theory everything works together: departmental information; school information; our timetables – everything is a connected whole. From a cursory view of my colleagues as they, with various degrees of success wrestled with the new technology, I can’t help feeling that the ‘connected whole’ is going to lose that ‘w’ somewhere along the line!

Toni has not been well today and has only just risen from his bed – though he does seem strong enough to watch one of the gossip programmes which litter Spanish television. This takes the form of various non-entities shouting at the same time about some other non-entity. The sleep of reason produces monsters.

I have now finished the third part of The Bartimaeus Trilogy ‘Ptolemy’s Gate’ by Jonathan Stroud.

This novel had to square the circle and make the young magician whose fortunes we have followed in the first two volumes (‘The Amulet of Samarkand’ and ´The Golem’s Eye’) a more likeable person than he had become by the end of the second volume.

The imaginative conceit of the trilogy is that the dominant force in the world is a British Empire which has been built on the shoulders of magicians whose use of demons has ensured their almost unassailable position as the dominant force in the world. The London described in the novels is recognizable with all the major landmarks and streets in place, but the history is very different.

The greatest magician in the history of the country and the founder of the Empire is Gladstone whose magical power was the decisive factor in ensuring the pre-eminence of Britain.

The ruling class of magicians has become arrogant and has found itself bogged down in a colonial war in America. There is growing discontent from the masses of the ‘commoners’ who are treated with barely concealed contempt by the magicians and Nathaniel, our ‘hero’ has joined the government and become the Minister for Information and produces lurid chauvinistic lies for the commoners to swallow.

So far so ordinary. Take a dystopian concept, add a dash of ‘what might’, and stir in some magical fantasy and voila! A novel. The element which makes it rise above the ordinary is the character of the demon that Nathaniel summons to help with his career.

Bartimaeus is a two thousand year old djinn who has a sardonic way of talking and is a most engaging narrator. His explanations, often by way of ironic footnotes, show him to be a cowardly, self-seeking and arrogant demon. His relationship with his ‘master’ is one of mutual irritation, contempt and eventual respect.

To be fair the third volume of this trilogy is more of the same from the first two volumes but throughout one can feel the narrative working to a resolution of the seemingly insoluble problems facing the hero.

There is more human feeling in this volume and the climax is well structured and delivered.

I enjoyed reading this, but I would understand some people treating the whole concept with contempt. This is a book designed for children and it takes interesting themes and treats them in a clever and enjoyable way.

I feel that the demands of my teaching are going to try and limit my reading for pleasure. Well, they can try!
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