Sunday, November 29, 2009

Have pen will tick

With the resentment that is becoming second nature to me I continued my marking of the 3ESO’s examination papers. With the help of numerous cups of tea and boiling indignation at completing the week with school work on EVERY day I eventually came to a natural halt. I had not completed the examination papers, but I had reached a point of some complexity.

If you speak to grammatical experts (though why you would do that baffles me) they start becoming a little shifty eyed when you start talking about the future tense in English. We tend to press other tenses into operation to cover up this woeful lack of linguistic latitude and have numerous cunning little plans to give an idea of something which is going to happen in the times ahead.

The last question in the 3ESO examination was devoted to the elusive future tense and was asked in an original form which the kids had not experienced before. The question took the form of a table which was drawn up in three sections the middle section gave a description of what the tense covered; the kids had to write in the name of the tense on one side of this description and then write out a sentence to illustrate the tense on the other. Perhaps an example will make things clearer.

The description given for one of the uses of one type of future tense was, "An activity in progress for a period up to a specific time in the future." The students had to identify the verb form and then write a sentence to illustrate the form. Go on, have a go, see if you can do what any normal (!) 13 year old in Catalonia can do! Good luck!

If you are able to provide a convincing answer then please forward me your name and address and I can send you my outstanding students' questions which need to be corrected!

I have given up marking this exercise because it is fairly obvious that some of the kids know far more (and far more convincingly) than I do about how this bloody tense was, is and can be formed. I have marked two questions and have had doubts about both. I think I will leave it for the moment and go onto safer ground in the other paper I have to mark – that of 1ESO.

Tomorrow I will gain a mock exam from the sixth form and the paper from the kids in 2ESO. A week to look forward to!

Just back from our visit to a local café with a reserved table for two to watch on a large screen TV the victory of Barça against their perennial enemies Real Madrid! The game was exciting, especially the last five minutes which for me were literally nail bitingly tense.

Toni, who is not the most unbiased football commentator in the world, has just informed me as he peruses the internet and looks at the Madrid supporting press (i.e. everywhere else except for saintly Catalonia) that they have obviously been watching a different match to the one that we saw!

As we walked back to the bus stop we heard explosions as rockets and bangers were set off to celebrate the victory and we were passed by hooting cars in another traditional response to a Barça success.

¡Força Barça!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ths Day Will Live in Infamy

Arising from a night of troubled sleep, I found that I had, during the night been transformed into a creature filled with cold fury.

I heard the rubbish truck arrive at its customary time of 6.15 am and turned over determined to try and adopt some of sleep related stance until an hour later which was my predetermined time to rise to GO TO SCHOOL ON A SATURDAY.

This meeting about the sixth form in my school was of two and a half hours duration during which I spoke for about three minutes! In English!

I truly fail to see why this meeting was held on a Saturday. I am perfectly sure that the part time members of staff could have made this meeting on a work day. In fact I am sure that the only reason that this meeting was held on a Saturday was because it could be; and if the management of the school ever decided not to have the meeting on a Saturday they would NEVER be able to get it back.

Already this school has the longest daily timetable that I have every worked with: a day that can stretch from 8.15 am to 4.45 pm! Given this expanse of time it should not really be difficult to timetable a meeting!

I think my expression spoke more eloquently for freedom from Saturday school than any words that I could have spoken. Though such an obvious attitude of opposition can work against my continued presence in the school. Management has almost limitless opportunities to sack – as long as they pay the right money.

To take away the memory of a regression to god knows what level of management oppression at a salary that I would have to go back a decade and a half to match we went out for lunch as the little bar we patronize on the ‘Rambla’ of Castelldefels.

Toni is still suffering the end effects of a gastric illness so he had a very uninspiring meal but I had the menu del dia. This comprised an excellently presented paella, followed by merluza in the Basque style. The sweet was a sort of chocolate sponge box filled with fruit compote and chocolate and topped by a medallion of vanilla. All was delicious and at a reasonable price too.

My best intentions of doing some marking today have been lost in an orgy of not doing the marking.

Tomorrow we return to the bar in which we had lunch for The Match. The Barça – Real Madrid match is an event and it is far better to see it surrounded by the fanatical supporters of the team than merely to watch it in the comfort of your own home.

Of course watching it in your own home is impossible unless you have purchased the game as it is not free-to-view and we haven’t done that so our choices were limited to going to a cinema (all sold out) and a bar. Since the people in the bar suggested our going there it seemed like too good an offer to refuse.

There is still time to do my single script to ensure that I do some work tomorrow before we go out to watch The Game, but I can feel myself weakening even as I type.

The flesh is weak and the spirit ain’t willing!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The torture begins!

My first Spanish lesson for a long time was conducted on a one-to-one basis in the director’s room in a local school of languages in Castelldefels.

I suppose it was quite an intensive experience but I must admit that I did not know that I was capable of carrying on a (fairly stilted) conversation in Spanish for an hour. As one might have expected I did not let the poor woman teaching me get much of a look-in and I rabbited on quite happily from her fairly basic stimulus questions.

The adrenaline flow from the experience also allowed me to dredge out more words of Spanish than I would normally have been able to use in normal circumstances and I even managed to surprise myself my some of my more daring linguistic excavations. I also had a few happy guesses at Spanish words that I assumed must have a Latin base in the English word that I knew and so used them with a suitable accent and ending!

In my initial conversation (in Spanish) with a teacher in the centre I was noted down as a False Beginner to Low Intermediate. The ‘False Beginner’ makes me sound like a member of an early Christian sect with heretical ideas about the book of Genesis, while ‘Low Intermediate’ put me in mind of some modest section of Cromwell’s New Model Army.

I am sure that this designation comes down to my marked reluctance to use Spanish verbs. They are notoriously difficult to master so I treat them as I would an enraged bull in Pamplona and stay on the higher levels in the surrounding houses speaking through the medium of nouns and watching other more valiant linguists than I battle with rarefied grammar.

My homework, however, while concentrating on the acquisition of vocabulary also leads me gently into the murky paths of gender assignation via definite and indefinite articles arriving at the incomprehensibility of the Spanish approach to the verb to be. Much like New York, the Spanish liked the verb so much they named it twice. There are two verb forms to express which is perfectly well contained by our single verb ‘to be.’

It gives hours of honest delight to the Spanish as they watch foreigners struggle with the concept and hours of unrelieved miser to the foreigners as they attempt to use the verbs without copious weeping.

I think that my brain is in a better place to accept the hard graft involved in learning another language and my school, more than anything, shows the necessity of being in command of a second language.

I was reading the newspaper that the school takes (well, mostly looking at the pictures) when I attempted to read an account of the Madrid game that was on the box last night.

Madrid were playing a team from Zurich whose game was woefully low but Madrid, with their multimillion pound players seemed incapable of wrapping the game up with the finality that should have been on display. It is very much to the credit of Catalonia that they do not have newspapers of the ‘Sun’, ‘Star’ and ‘Daily Mail’ type, but it makes it damn sight more difficult for me when I have to read a very literate account of a football match in the prose equivalent of the Daily Telegraph. Words like flagstone, snowed under, anguished and labyrinth all occur in the first dozen lines of the report; so it takes me a little time to work out that the writing is saying that Madrid were crap!

I am going to have to take a much more measured and systematic approach to my acquisition of language and make lists (remembering to add the sentences in which the words occur) to help speed the process whereby I can read a match report with some degree of fluency!

Although I was told that today was going to be the day when the season finally managed to impose itself on the absurdly good weather we are having at the moment, I have to report that I had my cup of tea on the wide expanse of the balcony outside the staff room in Building 4 and sat lazily in the sunshine and gazed at the sun with shut eyes (if that is possible) hoping that the melanin in my skin would get working and transform me from the pasty individual that I have become now to the bronzed individual that needs to impress the people back home with the wealth of sunshine that we regularly enjoy.

Even I am getting a little jumpy with the continued refulgence of the sun and continue to wait for the pay-back time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's all too much!

As if to compound the dread associated with the lurking horror of having to go into school on a Saturday (which I may have mentioned before) I now find that I have lost a free period.

It is always true in schools that the more you give the more they take. My kind acquiescence in accompanying the physical education teacher to the sailing classes in the Olympic Port in Barcelona with the loss of two free periods and a much later finish are now past history and are in no way taken into consideration when colleagues are absent and have to be covered. I think that they suppose that the ‘time off in lieu’ that I take every other Thursday when I have can actually take my free periods is compensation enough to load extra cover on me.

At the wage that I am given I resent every single second that I give to this school to nurture the privileged children of the very rich.

It is by the way that free periods are treated by an institution that you can tell its professional worth.

Our school makes little or no attempt to find supply teachers. I now see that my first employment by the school was a sign of total desperation to cope with a situation of chaotic proportions and not a perfectly normal response to a long term absence. It perhaps explains why my presence was regarded with shock when they found out that I was taking the place of an absent colleague!

Colleagues collude in the penny-pinching attitude of the school. We in the English department have collapsed classes and gone through a form of internal cover to compensate for a week’s absence known in advance. And then we were asked to cover for other colleagues as well during the time that we were trying to cope with a person missing in the department.

Don’t get me wrong: I was hardly surprised by this response on the part of the management of the school, but I was shocked by my colleagues’ attitude of helplessness to perceived injustice.

Change in this place does not come about because it should. There is a long period of time when ‘discussions’ with people who have been here some time take place in some undefined way. It puts me in mind of the old way in which the leader of the Conservative Party was elected when grandees made soundings and a leader ‘emerged’ by some sort of mystical process.

The lack of an effective union, not only in schools, but, as far as I can see in the whole of Spain means that workers’ opinions can be readily ignored. The fact that we are in a financial crisis which Spain’s membership of the EU and the Euro has managed to mask from the general public to a large extent also means that the element of fear is always present in the way that people deal with management.

As someone who has been in a union all his working life and regards union participation as a normal part of the working environment, working in Catalonia has been a largely frustrating experience. The ‘lone voice’ syndrome is a commonplace: if you as an individual say anything then there is every chance that it will get back to management and there is no real support (apart from pious resolutions from your colleagues) in a professional sense to strengthen your position.

The fundamental flaw, as I see it, in the way that unions are organized in this country is that they are determined on a workplace by workplace basis and representation is of all the workers in a site regardless of their professional status. A raft of representatives will be elected by the whole of the staff and for teachers that will include the office staff, the caretaking staff and the kitchen workers. My own union membership is with a Catalan union which has a section for teachers; I am not a member of a professional body which had negotiating rights for my job as a teacher specifically.

It is a deeply flawed system and one which limits the free communication within an institution.

I am lucky that I have made contact with an excellent official in the union and he has been invaluable in offering advice and support.

On top of losing the last free period of the day I also have a Spanish lesson later this evening. The two things are not really linked, but in my mind they have a similar value in that I end up doing something which is not my first choice of activity in my life.

I dread the sheer learning involved in getting to the standard that I need to achieve to allow me to carry on a worry-free conversation with any member of staff. Finally coming to terms with the two verbs for ‘to be’ in Spanish; actually using verbs rather than the Tarzan-like manner of communication I presently adopt using well chosen nouns; actually being able to read a newspaper without the feeling that a dictionary is an essential component of my reading experience.

Truly my cup runneth over!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I am sure that the kids think that there is nothing they would like to do more than sit out the front of the class and type while everyone in front of them is doing an exam.

Little do they know just how boring it all is, watching people puzzle over concepts and language. The hour of pleasure is followed by long hours of tedium spent marking, especially when going through the work of people whose first language is not English.

We have the added incentive to finish all our marking because our results are necessary for the Grand Meeting on SATURDAY. I am not going to continue to vent my spleen for a couple of days so that when the Sad Saturday is nearer I can explode with righteous anger.

Our next door neighbour, The Frenchman, seems to be preparing to leave. As we are sincere believers in any conspiracy theory going we have linked his imminent departure to the night some weeks ago when we were knocked up by the police to swear to his identity. A lot of unanswered questions there! But very fertile ground for speculation!

The examination season has now well and truly started and all our kids are wandering around with sheaves of paper; dog eared text books, and looks of woeful desperation!

The trip to the UK in the New Year is now booked and I shall have to make a list of all the people and places that I want to visit.

In the last 30 or so months I have spent fewer than twenty days in Britain. It is an extraordinary feeling to have left the country of my birth and home to me for the last umpteen years. I still feel a pull to Britain and it will be strange to slot back into a social set up that I know so well. I am much looking forward to the experience.

Our weather continues un-seasonally mild. A colleague went to Milan for the weekend and said that it was like arriving in Real Autumn when he got there and he was bitterly sorry that he had not taken a winter coat. Then he returned to Barcelona and he was back in early September! As I keep saying it can’t last and we will pay for our wallowing in such mildness.

A visit to Wales in January will sort that out!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Put not thy trust in computers!

The examination I have written (or cobbled together) has been a bit of a nightmare. A copy went into the dark electronic beyond and my remade copy had to be rescued by the safety net program built in to Word. I therefore took the opportunity to send a copy to the head of English `just in case’.

That ‘just in case’ has proved to be good policy as the electronic copy of the paper is on my other laptop at home and not on the portable that I take to school. In a remembered moment of panic, I recalled that I could access my sent emails which would have a copy of the exam that I sent to the head of English. At least that was something that I could do on the ever-hated Hotmail program and I made the dangerous assumption that I would be able to do something similar on the school system.

As luck would have it, it worked so I now have the paper to edit rather than re-type!

It is probably a bad thing to do so early in the week but I am dreading Friday. Why? Because this week does not end on that sacred day; it stretches into the even more holy Saturday. In an access of horror it is also my week to go sailing so Thursday so that will be a long day as well. And there will be the marking which will have to be completed before the Saturday Imposition. O Joy! O Happiness!

A member of the office staff has just asked the people in the staff room if they would continue working if they won the lottery. I asked if it was a rhetorical question.

I think that this week will be a good one to get over. And a phrase (suitably modified) of Basil Fawlty comes to mind: “Don’t talk about the salary!”

I intend to adopt the same strategy that I did with the imposition of Baker Days in schools in Britain and wear jeans and casual clothes to indicate in a strident and yet supine way my opposition to a school that even considers that it has the right to take away a Saturday morning.

I shall leave to one side for the moment the fact that for all of my secondary schooling I went to school on Saturday morning! A state school with ideas above its station from a bygone age does not form a suitable model for a grant aided pseudo private school in Barcelona. And certainly not at the wages that they are paying!

I have no doubt that I shall build to a positive fury by Friday afternoon. Impotent the fury may well be, but the intensity of my aggression will warm my indignation and keep me simmering gently throughout the meeting. I think that I should start planning where we are going to have our Saturday lunch now so that it is something to keep me sane when the conversation in the meeting lapses into Catalan and I am left floundering contemplating the more lurid aspects of my imaginative inner resources!

As I have heard in O-so-many assemblies, “This too will pass!” It is good to get something out of all that time where I was often the only person listening to what was going on!

The decision to go to Britain is now all but made and it has come down to looking at dates and more importantly prices. It looks as though I shall be travelling on New Year’s Day, but that poses no problem as The Family celebrate the New Year with a meal and moderate (British readers should substitute the word ‘laughable’ for ‘moderate’ in the previous sentence) drinking. I will probably be the most sober person on the plane! With the exception of the captain of course. Of course.

As our school holiday extends to the 10th of January I should be able to take advantage of lower prices to complete my trip as British teachers and workers will have been back days before I need to risk life and limb on the chaotic motorways of Catalonia.

It will be interesting to see how far Cardiff has changed given the fact that when I left the centre of the city was looking as though it had been bombed. I am informed that the new-look central shopping area is now open and thriving (though I am not sure that all the shop units have been taken yet – there is a Crisis with a capital ‘C’ after all) and I would dearly like to visit the new library which has at last found a permanent home in a section of a hotel’s car park!

I will also see friends and acquaintances and perhaps have time for a trip up to Gloucester, assuming that my aunt is in situ and not away with her daughter. We will see.

And to hell with the weather!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome the new

The luxury of a lie in was not fully appreciated because it was not accompanied by a feeling that I was recharging the batteries. I felt somewhat jaded when I rose Dracula-like from my bed to stagger towards my first cup of tea of the day.

I think it is so ingrained now for me to rise at 6.20 am that to stay in bed until what is usually recognized as a fairly civilized time to get up seems like inordinate self-indulgence and gives time for even my sluggish Puritanism to get into gear and start producing those vague guilt feelings that take all pleasure out of little acts of unassuming frivolity that make life worth living.

I’m glad to report that a glimpse of fugitive sunshine and I was right back to normal: sipping my tea and looking for an un-improving book to read!

I now have an impressive couple of rows of IKEA cardboard A4 box files next to my desk giving the impression that I am fearsomely organized. This impression lasts right up until the titles on some of the files are read: ‘Magazines to Keep’; ‘Odds and Sods for Sorting’; ‘Paper: Decorative’ and one blank one contains all (and I mean all) my past passports and a spiral pad containing some Spanish homework.

To be fair some of the other have fearfully significant titles and look very business like. The wonderful thing about box files is that as long as you have the blank ends facing towards the viewer, no one can tell the chaos of papers that they contain!

The office is gradually looking more and more like a workspace, though the kettle and small inlaid wooden table give the place a slightly more domestic air!

Today we had lunch in Terrassa in Toni’s sister’s new flat, and a fine meal it was too, but our surroundings made me question the exact moment that a house becomes a home.

Toni’s sister has taken a measured approach to the furnishing of her flat and has continued to live with her mum as she builds up the furniture and equipment that she needs to make her new (but empty) flat habitable.

She was determined about the overall colour scheme and has bought one painting for the entrance hall. The sofa is now in place and tables and shelves have appeared since I was last there.

She has not yet got lampshades and proper lights for all of the rooms – she needs to visit BHS and Matalan! She has a few ornaments but the walls are largely bare and many of the shelves empty.

The sofa has a strong colour and vine motif but she has gone for modern furniture in an almost minimalist style: black, straight lines, stark and bare. This is the sort of style that I like in theory. In theory but not really in practice as I accumulate clutter like a television screen’s static attracts dust. My ‘Garden of a Single Plant’ ended up like an attempt at an English Country Garden – but without the more expensive plants!

I also feel that as someone right said, or should have said, “A room without a book is a space without a soul.” I have taken this (real? invented?) aphorism to heart and even if a book is not immediately visible there will be one somewhere in every room over which I have control.

Toni’s sister’s books and more personal items have yet to be set out in the still fairly empty canvas of her flat. As we get nearer and nearer to the Christmas holidays and the time of the official Move Out and Move In, I will see much more personality develop as the empty flat begins to fill with real personality.

A room in your parent’s flat to a flat of your own is a big step in terms of allowing your character to influence the layout, arrangement, selection, choice that makes a flat recognizably one’s own. It will be fascinating to see how she does it!

The menu for the Christmas Meal was distributed and we will be going to the same restaurant as we went to last year. The cost of the meal will be €50 which will include tapas starters, a fish course, a meat course, sweet and of course red and white wine, Cava, liquors and coffee. When I first came to Catalonia the cost of the meal would have worked out as £35 with the present debased exchange rate for the pound this is now £45 – but still good value for money. Especially as we are talking about a Christmas Meal in a restaurant on Christmas Day!

I have almost decided to visit the UK after Christmas: the length of the Christmas Holiday in Catalonia is simply too good to waste in moping around fretting about how much has been spent on past festivities!

Roll on the rain!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tell it not in Garth!

I have now been given a quiet Word of advice after my tentative voicing of my objections to come to school on a Saturday.

In the nicest possible way a colleague has taken me to one side and explained that refusals to do things (in whatever way that they are phrased) are contrary to the way that things are done in this country which is not Britain. This is a perfect example of “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore!” Well, all I can say is that if they carry on like this I shall simply click my heels and depart!

There is a serious point, of course to be drawn from the exchanges that I have had. The responses of the staff are determined by the ‘niceness’ of most other members of staff and the fear of the consequences of not having a job during a period of financial crisis. The pay is astonishingly low; but that fact seems to have been forgotten in the normal crisis conditions of the everyday life of a school. So everyone acts as if they are properly paid professionals in a caring situation in ‘real’ education!

There is also the fact that, in spite of the fact that I have been teaching in this place continuously since February, I am only formally recognized as having two and a bit months permanent experience in the school. It is, it seems, hardly my place as a Johnny-come-lately to make comments about the way that the school is organized – no matter how absurd the conditions that teachers have tolerated up till now.

My colleague was kind to point out that things are done differently in this place. He didn’t seek to get me to change my stance; he merely wanted to point out how my actions or comments would be interpreted by the school. He urged me to do as I wanted; but he wanted to be sure that I realized how I would be seen by the Powers That Be. A nice position to be in!

To speak honestly I don’t have that much to lose, though a job through to next United Nations Day would be welcome.

As far as I see it, I have little option (if I am to stay in this place) but to accept that the two occasions on which we are ‘required’ to come in on a Saturday will entail my presence there as well. My presence, though not necessarily my contribution, as I am sure that the proceedings will slip into Catalan at the first opportunity and almost complete incomprehensibility will ensue, ensuring that I sit there is glacial impotence wasting a valuable part of my weekend!

I think that the attitude of the school is shown in its chairs.

In the staff room in building 4 there are two elongated oval tables which are for the use of staff. Around these tables are chairs. There are three computers for staff use each of which has a chair in front of it. There is (allegedly) a portable computer for which there is no chair. The number of free chairs around the tables is rarely sufficient to allow those colleagues who want to sit to do so.

I asked a head of department if he could exert his power and get some extra chairs for us. He immediately went to the relevant head of school and put the case for extra seating. No sooner said than done; the order was put in. Allegedly. No chairs have arrived. There is still insufficient seating. But no one seems upset about it and the lack of seating is treated as a mildly inconvenient act of god. Good humouredly people stand around during their breaks waiting for an available seat, failing to be stung into action at the sight of an empty space where a chair should be.

What does one do in these circumstances? We are one of the best schools in the city. We surely have the money to buy what we like. But . . .

I have revisited IKEA to get some more Storage Solutions. Toni declined to accompany me. It was by far the most intelligent decision that he has made for some time.

The journey to the shop was uneventful until the unwary visitor approached the immediate vicinity of this magnet for Catalans!

The only way that you can get to the car park is to turn away from it when you are next to it. A simple left turn into the underground car park is impossible. You have to turn right and travel down a main road, go round a roundabout and then drive back to where you were ten minutes before!

Parking was something of a nightmare and it was accompanied by the screeching which is a function of the surface that Catalans tend to put on the floor of their car parks.

The shop itself was packed with couples vying with each other to see how inconveniently they could push a bulky buggy in the most obstructive way possible in crowded walkways and an important part of the competition is not to look back at the walking wounded they leave behind!

Visiting IKEA is much, much worse when you know where you want to go. When you have a destination in mind the other customers seem to play the part of extras in an IKEA version of The Truman Show and deliberately get in your way to prevent you ever reaching the items you have in mind!

When I finally fought my way to the plastic boxes I had intended to get and manhandled the versions of Billy bookcase I wanted there was a further horror waiting for me.

IKEA have instituted a rapid checkout where you can scan your items yourself. The payment still needs an assistant but the process is much quicker. Not in my case.

The people in front of me did not seem to have got to grips with electricity let alone the whole system of electronic scanning. When they finally made the breakthrough in understanding which allowed them to pay for the and go the assistant immediately called a colleague and both of them had a long talk with another couple who seemed to have bought most of the shop in spite of there being a 20 article limit where the queue was.

They guy immediately in front of me just stood there the whole do-it-yourself thing having been a concept too far. So, with the hysterical prompting of the people behind me I started checking out my items.

Of course my card seemed not to work, but, after disappearing for a few minutes the assistant returned and with a few deft clicks of some electronic keys I was able to escape with my purchases.

My egress was a little less horrific than my arrival with only a few bumps behind the knees from an impatient old man who couldn’t control his loaded trolley.

As what I bought were not the full size Billy horrors they were relatively easy to carry and assemble. The real problems began when I started to change around the study to accommodate what I had got.

The third floor has an excellent balcony and an interestingly shaped room to go with it. As this room is the equivalent of the attic the slop of the roof gives dynamism to the space but also means that I hit my head on a regular basis when I stand up!

The simple process of turning my desk around necessitated wholesale changes to the arrangement of the room and yet again the strange paradox of space management reared its contradictory head.

Why is it that the acquisition of extra storage space always ends up with your having less space in which to store things? I have had to push things into the cupboard built into the eves in order to make it look as though some sort of order has been imposed on the chaos.

The writhing mass of electric cables had to be seen to be believed when the desk was moved: it looked like a very much more complicated real life version of those cartoon puzzles of which fisherman has the fish on his line!

I have now left the reorganized chaos of the ‘new look’ room to have a cup of tea and regroup my emotional resources!

Tomorrow, lunch with The Family in Toni’s sister’s new flat in Terrassa. The social whirl never ends!

Friday, November 20, 2009

All things stay the same!

Our English departmental meeting was the usual relaxed affair in which small points of departmental business were discussed.

The whole tenor of the meeting changed when under the ‘anything else that anyone wants to bring up’ section of the meeting I mentioned that I would be ‘disinclined’ to attend any further meetings that the school wanted to arrange on a Saturday, following the shocking news that we would have to attend a Saturday morning meeting to discuss the sixth form!

It was a glowing example of the ‘elephant in the room syndrome’ where, having mentioned the unpleasant fact we had to make some sort of comment about it. The head of English was her usual competent self and pointed out that this had been discussed earlier in the year with no clear decision about what to do so the status quo was maintained and the meetings were accepted by default.

But the horror does not stop there: not only is there a Saturday later in November for one of the interminable and generally pointless meetings but there is also another (another!) Saturday meeting in March of next year!

The discussion in our little group was instructive with comments ranging from the ‘those who teach the higher aged groups get more free time in the summer and this is payment’ type of comment to ‘if it was pointed out at the time that you had your contract then there is nothing you can do’ – neither of these do I accept, of course, but I smiled inwardly with a weary resignation as I have heard similar comments, dressed up in various ways for various circumstances so many times before.

I shall bide my time and make my views clear. I rather think that I will be ‘unavailable’ for all my Saturdays for the rest of my time in the school. After all if these start again next year in November then I will have to point out that the date is after United Nations Day 2010 and therefore . . .

I will have to decide what I am going to do about the SECOND Saturday that the school feels free to take away from hard working teachers in March! I am certainly ‘disinclined’ to give up any time at all for this place. In the evenings for ceremonies and presentation and performances, yes: but for all other claims on my free time during my weekends, well, they can take a flying leap!

I am obviously approaching the right sort of mood for the rest of my stay in the school! (Just about eleven months to go – and counting!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is nothing safe!

It’s the bare faced audacity that gets me.

After being warned off by the police yesterday the Long Stick Pine Cone Thieving Gang returned today!

Toni heard the distinctive sound of rustling branches and plummeting cones and sure enough the Gang was back lurking in the upper branches of surrounding trees and laying about themselves with a will with their sticks.

Toni called the police again and was incandescent with the response that he had. These trespassers, according to the policewoman who picked up the phone, had a permit from the Generalitat to collect cones. When Toni pointed out that they had gained access to locked private property the confidence of the lady disappeared and a car was eventually dispatched.

Yesterday’s warning not to do it again to the gang was ignored by the present representatives of the law and, reasonably the police suggested to the gang that they should ring the bells of the houses that they intend to enter and wait for permission – but, unbelievably, in this instance they could pop back over the fence and collect the cones that they had knocked out of someone else’s trees! Illegal entry condoned by the Catalan police! One begins to despair!

My journey to one of the local language schools was not an entire success. It appears that most of the teachers have already filled their timetables with people other than my good self and therefore it is difficult to find a teacher just for me.

I went to a school on the recommendation of Irene and John, by contact there, seemed a decent sort of person. He has promised to try and find a teacher or teachers so that I can have two lessons a week to ‘boost’ my level of Spanish.

I was given a little test to gauge my level of Spanish. In an infants’ classroom I was asked a few questions by the Spanish teacher and had to speak to her in Spanish. My Spanish is nothing if not enthusiastic and I jabbered on quite happily, though judging by the somewhat drawn expression on the face of the teacher, not altogether accurately!

I will have to wait and see what John can arrange for me.

At a much more important level I have discovered that our lunatic school has arranged a meeting to discuss the sixth form on a Saturday! I had heard about this extraordinary event, but dismissed it as an obvious joke. It isn’t; my colleagues were being serious.

Today, in stunned disbelief I asked why in the name of the living god we had agreed to come in on a weekend. It was, I was told, because everyone who taught the sixth form had to be present at the meeting and, as we had a number of part time teachers who had other responsibilities a Saturday was the only time we could all meet.

My response is that while the Saturday option is a solution it is not THE solution. It is clearly absurd that full time teachers have to give up part of the weekend for the sake of part time colleagues who have ‘other commitments’. Weekends are sacrosanct, untouchable and the rather shame faced response of my colleagues to my shocked enquiries shows that they are uncomfortable with the loss of part of a weekend!

It is too late to do anything about it now really, but I am going to make it absolutely clear that I will not be going to any other meeting on a weekend again: it is ridiculous and unprofessional.

I am not a happy bunny!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tree thieves!

Who would have thought that there is an illicit market in pine cones?

Yesterday Toni phoned the police about a suspicious gang of disreputable characters looking with some unsettling significance into our neighbours’ houses. Toni stationed himself at the kitchen window which gives an excellent view of the road and stared pointedly at the miscreants – and they stared back.

Toni noted that one of them was holding a large stick which he was thrusting through the fence into our immediate neighbour’s garden.

In cases such as these you then have to take the next step and pick up a phone and speak into it as if you are phoning the relevant authorities. Even this tried and tested method of stopping those lesser breeds without the law failed to have any effect. The gentlemen with the obsession for empty houses continued to show an unhealthy interest and even started jumping over the fence so Toni actually and in reality phoned the police.

They arrived within five minutes, by which time one of the men who had jumped over the fence was shinning up the nearest tree to knock the pine cones to the ground.

Toni overheard the whole of the conversation between the man and the police and it turned out that he was collecting cones for selling on to a dealer. The police dealt very leniently with the man and merely cautioned him not to climb into houses when he didn’t have authority.

Of course this incident has given Toni free reign to set up an observation camera trained on the front gate. When I came home he was sitting watching TV and casting glances at a small monitor which had a fuzzy picture of the entrance to the house. By the weekend I fully expect a whole series of monitors to be blinking into life giving a 360 degree view of the surrounding neighbourhood and giving us the illusion of safety! While Toni himself will be looking like the man in the headquarters of ‘The Man from UNCLE’!

The weather continues absurdly fine with everyone wondering just what reparation we are going to have to make when the powers that be decide that we have had enough sunlight to last us for the rest of the year!

It is almost unbearably frustrating for me to see fine weather through the windows of the classroom and have to be on the wrong side of the glass!

I have realized that I am getting up in the dark and, if I call in for food before I get home, I am returning to the house in the twilight or positive darkness as well. This is not good and it makes me tetchy.

I have started reading my new book on the Civil War (the one in Britain not in Spain) and am amazed at how interesting the writer has made the details of the subject. I must admit that I rather relish pondering the deep theological problems that the Calvinist idea of predestination poses for any reasonably thoughtful Christian.

The idea of the ‘Elect’ as a specific group of people saved from the moment that they were born from the horrors of Hell by a God who presumably made an arbitrary decision at some indeterminate time in the past on their status, is strangely bizarre – even for theologians. The fact that these people do not know who they are and nothing that they can do can possibly influence their eventual destination is unsettling.

It is, of course a reduction to absurdity to consider just ‘when’ god decided to make or allow evil to exist and the theological twisting and turning which encompasses the minutiae of theological speculation is almost (please note the word) endlessly fascinating.

It has to be remembered of course that theology is not merely a spiritual exercise but is also the reason for deaths unnumbered for holding the ‘wrong’ view on say the divinity of Christ at the ‘wrong’ moment. Theology was life and death at the time of the Civil War and continues to be an important way of exterminating our fellow creatures.

The book, whose title and author I continue to forget is going to be gruelling and exhausting read, but I think one that will be rewarding. I only wish the print was a little larger. I am almost tempted to find out how much the hardback copy would be and assume that the type is larger there. I could always give the paperback version to an eager colleague who has promised me a history book from his library to read.

So far the ‘one in/one out’ approach to my library is working as I have been able to loan two books from the Davies United Nations Day Bequest to colleagues in school, thus making space for at least two extra books. The book loaned by Clarrie has also gone out to a pupil in school so that means that I can accept three more volumes into my collection. One new book is my copy of the commonplace book which I happened to see brought in by an ex-teacher. My excited gabbling has produced my own copy for which an appreciative email has been sent to the author.

The Worst Bank in the World has managed to bugger up my payments to BlueSpace which is still attached to my old bank account and therefore there is not sufficient money to pay for the storage charges. That is something that I will have to sort out NOW. And I have done so, even if Spanish people on the phone seem to talk at double the speed which they do normally.

I now realize that the payment for the road tolls is also linked to a moneyless account in BBVA (spit!) so yet more work will need to be done! I think it is probably better that everything is in one bank account or I am constantly going to have nasty surprises when I least want them.

Unfortunately this means that I am going to have to have a new radio device for getting through the tolls and I will have to return the one that I have to the bank which issued it. Talking of the Worst Bank in the World I have yet to write the Doomsday Letter explaining all the negative actions that the bank has taken in misusing my account.

Tonight I will have to write the examination paper that has taken second place to a couple of books, television, food, sleeping and anything else that wasn’t actually writing the damn thing.

Two of my classes of older children have been taken up with ‘study’ which is just about as quiet as you can get any class of Spanish students. The only time you have absolute silence in when you make them sit a test then they snap into the default mode for this school and get down to it.

It is almost comical how they accept the examination ethos of the place and assume the right devotional stance when they are confronted by a paper with questions on it and space in which they have to write.

However talkative they are in ‘real life’ when a sheet of examination paper is placed in front of them they become the most monastic group of Trappists that any beleaguered teacher could hope for!

Yesterday after a hectic lesson of finishing off odds and sods of exercises that were necessary for the approaching exams, the kids were allowed a period of study. They were hyper and, as it was the last lesson of a very full day, a little less inclined to knuckle down to the hard work that (even if I don’t do it myself) I do expect my kids to do.

One of my constant pleas to the older kids in the equivalent of my sixth form is that, “You really must listen!” This is something of a fond hope in a Spanish classroom, but it doesn’t stop me trying. One kid actually repeated my little mantra as if it was the substance of a rap song and that got me thinking.

After settling the kids down and getting them to do some self-motivated work I then got down to the real effort involved in writing a song (with chorus) based on the theme of “You Really Must Listen” One line of the chorus was composed entirely of the word, “Hush!” This word the kids find endlessly fascinating.

I completed the song by the end of the lesson and was writing out a fair copy when the bell went. One lad waited until I had finished and then took away the finished lyric with excited little squawks of pleasure. It was pounced upon by other members of the class and they then tried to set it to music.

I am become a legend in my own lesson time!

I was greeted in class today by a couple of the kids actually singing the song to the tune of, “I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes.” Sometimes I think that I allow things to get out of hand.

I still can’t wait to leave the school. It does have its plusses but they aren’t positive enough and the whole experience is certainly not accompanied by sufficient cash to make it worth the effort.

On the other hand . . .

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Memories of Times Past

It was my own fault. I should have changed the contact lens when I felt a slight discomfort. But I merely adopted the hardened contact lens wearers’ motto of ‘Blink and Bear It’ and went downstairs. And it was late. And what are tears for if not to wash out pesky dust specs from contact lenses?

Driving to work got a little more painful and so the tried and tested procedure of squeezing the lid of the offending eye, raising the contact lens from the surface of the eye and thus allowing any mote to slip away courtesy of the tear ducts doing their job was applied.

And the contact lens slipped to the side.

This is not a tragedy – even when driving half blind in early morning traffic on a busy Barcelona motorway. It is, however a serious inconvenience. I was effectively half blind with dawn still a way away and cars weaving around as if they were taking part in some sort of transport version of a festive maypole dance!

There was no real opportunity to stop so I tried a past technique from my hard contact lens days and looked in the direction of where I thought the lens was. This sometimes has the effect of easing the lens back onto the centre of the eye. Not in this case!

My squinting attempts to regain sight resulted in the lens getting more scrunched up so I had to remove it. Every contact lens wearer has been told not to do what every contact lens wearer does in these circumstances: we pop the lens into the mouth.

For the rest of the journey I had to concentrate on not swallowing the lens as I had active hopes that I would be able to reinsert it when I was finally able to stop.

Reinsertion was not a success and I thanked whatever gods there were that I had remembered to put a spare pair of glasses in the car in case of just such an emergency.

So, for one day only, I hope, I am back to glasses and the response of the kids is as if I have come to school wearing a revolving, flashing bow tie. Presumably their reactions will be just as marked when I come in tomorrow wearing contact lenses again!

I am sitting by an open window in the ‘library’ as I have to do a break time duty supervising kids who want to work and the heat of the sun is (almost) forcing me to move away. Even for Spain the temperatures we have been getting in what ought to be the autumn are not normal. Insects are still flying and biting and grass is still growing. Colleagues are complaining that they are having to mow the lawn again when it should be quiescent for the autumn sleep! Apart from the fact that I am in school and not lying on the balcony of the third floor in my house, I, of course, am loving it.

I see from the news that there is a respectable amount of water falling in the places where you would expect it to be deposited: the north west of Spain and the Pyrenees so I feel perfectly justified in wallowing in the heat and the steady stream of sunshine that graces this land!

The idea of visiting the UK this Christmas is growing on me and I think that the price will not be too expensive. I am able to travel outside normal tourist times, especially in January when my holiday is somewhat longer than the British equivalent. I must do my sums!

I am attempting to get Spanish lessons. Irene has suggested someone and they are attempting to get in touch with me. In the usual way living as we are in a period when personal communication has never been easier, we are not coinciding and a series of missed calls indicates effort if not success!

One of my colleagues is sitting opposite me as I type and attempting to do her English homework translating a passage about cast off clothes of the famous. From time to time she is asking me to translate into Spanish various words which I am having to render in my usual circumlocution as phrases and dumb show! This if nothing else indicates how much I need to take further Spanish lessons! With any luck I will have made contact with the teacher today and my twice weekly lessons can commence.

There is no justification for my having put off the lessons since I came to work in this school as the school itself will pay something towards the cost. I have to admit that it is sheer laziness and the real fear of all the hard work that is involved in trying to get new words to stick in my brain – and then the even harder work to retrieve them when needed!

My attending Spanish lessons is made all the harder by people who actually speak Spanish telling me that my Spanish is quite good. The evidence for this judgement and assessment is, to say the least, flimsy. My Spanish is ignorance fuelled by hysteria and conversations result in exhaustion of all parties involved. I will know that I have achieved some degree of fluency when I have a conversation in Spanish and there is nothing remarkable about it whatsoever and both parties walk away from the dialogue as refreshed as when they started it!

Fond hope!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Meals and distant thoughts

Yet another restaurant to cross off the list of acceptable places to eat in Castelldefels! Considering our humble location is basically a tourist resort, it is astonishing how many places do not cater for the tourists on whom they depend.

Take for instance our experience Sunday lunch time. We went into a restaurant we hadn’t tried before. It was fairly full and our appearance created panic. We were looked at with what can only be described as unease and someone took two chairs from the entrance and disappeared upstairs. A serious looking girl then poured two glasses of beer, picked up two cans of Coke and grasping cutlery and paper place mats and absent mindedly ushered us up stairs.

We were given menus and then ignored.

Eventually our order was taken and then we were ignored. Our drinks eventually arrived. And then we were ignored.

Our choices were not complex: a simple anchovy salad followed by spaghetti with tomato sauce. Hardly haute cuisine! We waited so long for the salad that I suggested that we ask for the bill and merely pay for the drinks.

As soon as we intimated that we were leaving as if by magic our salad then appeared and was eaten. And then we were ignored.

And so on. For almost the first time since we have been here we left the exact cost of the meal and not a single cent more.

The name of the restaurant was Quebracho on the Paseo Maritim 184. We will not be going back!

The weather this morning was good enough for a little light sunbathing. It was the sort of ‘precarious’ sunbathing where the slightest breeze reminded you at once that it was November rather than the summer; but the sun was hot and it was quite something to be stretched out wearing only a pair of shorts in the middle of November!

Instead of doing the work that I should have done this weekend I read ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ and so I had that uncomfortable weight of guilt which is so often the teacher’s lot on a Sunday afternoon going on to evening. It is the sort of disabling guilt which does not allow you to do the work that you should have done in spite of the fact that there is enough time for you to be getting on with something which might just do its bit to assuage some of the negative feelings that inaction has given rise to!

After so many years in our noble profession a ‘comfortable’ Sunday evening seems almost like an oxymoron! And then there is the delight of a Monday morning when you discover that nothing that you thought that you needed to do was actually necessary to have been done. So to speak! And is that the appropriate verb formation? No doubt Stewart will let me know.

Gran Canaria looks impossibly expensive for part of the Christmas holidays so we are looking around for something a little more realistic.

At the moment we are thinking of flying to Alicante and spending some time in Benidorm – out of season a rather fine place to be. And it will give us a chance to see Brian and Hilary with any luck! No sooner thought than done! Benidorm for My Saint’s Day. Everyone take clear note!

If things work out then it will be possible to fit in a trip to the UK as well! Who knows! It is an almost criminal shame that I have not checked out the rebuilt city centre shopping area which now includes the only John Lewis Partnership in Wales!

To say nothing of visiting friends and relations!

And Matalan – a store whose reputation has risen to mythic proportions in Terrassa where it is talked of with longing sighs!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I have always found that a stern look can quell the incipient hysteria that usually greets my attempts to illustrate points I am making with apposite drawings executed with élan, panache and other French words I can’t remember, as I work my artistic magic on the whiteboard.

In our unutterably tedious text books (which are treated as infallible sacred books by the pupils) we had reached a Unit which listed the appendage nomenclature of various animals: horn, fin, flipper, wing, claw, paw etc.

In order to make these mere words come, as it were, alive (or sear them into the memory as the kids might say) I created with the aid of a mere board marker a series of dazzling sketches of various animals which, when I had completed them, looked as though they were the product of a mind raised on Breughel, Dalí and Bosch. I have to admit that my elephant looked a trifle alien and my rhinoceros looked like the emanation of a nightmare, but my lion looked positively playful and my tortoise - well, professional!

I could tell (being a professional and experienced teacher) that each new monster added to my growing zoo of horror was eagerly anticipated by my class and their appreciation seemed to necessitate some more permanent form of remembrance than just their fallible memories.

Modern pupils have added a further dimension of horror to their laughter as I found out when I turned around after adding a particularly fine bird to the menagerie. As I turned towards the class every (every!) pupil had taken out and aimed a mobile phone at the whiteboard! For all I know my drawings are now the talk of YouTube or the currency of laughter on Face Book!

One of my colleagues was most disgruntled to find out that the title of Worst Drawing by a Teacher might now be snatched away from her by an upstart Welshman!

The whole experience has given me pause for thought. The fact that all of my pupils had mobile phones capable of taking photos and that all of them used them as almost a reflex action was disconcerting. It is, it has to be said, a gross invasion of privacy and, even if I didn’t really mind on this occasion, it does suggest that there might be others when it would not be appropriate and does one then confiscate all mobile phones and delete all offending images? We work towards nightmare!

Mobile phones, with all their photographic and communication possibilities are seen as essential by pupils. They see them in the same light as their pens and pencils – life without them is unthinkable. They use them in the same way as they would chat: they are an absolutely normal form of talking. For me the mobile phone is ‘other’ and, were I to forget to take it to school for the day, it would not be something which unduly worried me. For the kids it would be like tearing out a tongue!

There is a whole area of privacy concerns which has not really been tackled about the use of mobile phones in places like schools. I can see personal freedom concerns on both sides of phone use: allowing them in schools and banning them. Most schools have some sort of fudged policy which says that kids can have phones but if they are seen then they will be confiscated until the end of the day. In our school this does not seem to be the common and consistent approach of colleagues.

The whole incident of my ‘individualistic’ drawings, though funny and conducted with good humour throughout has made me think. It is another of those areas of modern life where the thought of how to approach the use of the phone is nowhere near its accepted importance in young people’s lives.

Meanwhile my artistic endeavours live in an electronic world over which I have no control and in which god knows how far they have spread.

Perhaps I should have signed the whiteboard and then unscrewed it from the wall and stored it so that I could capitalize on the increased value of the work of art as its fame spreads!

Another lost opportunity!

My efforts to resist reading the second volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy “The Girl Who Played with Fire” came to nothing as I ploughed my way through the 600 odd pages of the paperback version that I have.

It is compulsive reading and its length allows a satisfying development of characters and events.

I have decided that it is basically a ‘super-hero’ or ‘super-heroine’ book as we relax with the character of Lisbeth Salander as she sets the world to rights or sets it topsy-turvy with her individualistic approach to what is right and wrong. By the end of volume one in this trilogy she has ceased to be a human character and has become something like a force of nature: nothing can stop her when she has decided that something needs to be done.

Her ‘super skill’ is computer hacking; she has trained with a professional boxer; she has a photographic memory; her hobby is high level mathematics; she is immensely rich; she has psychological problems which are strengths and weaknesses for her; she is bi-sexual and so on. Hardly your run of the mill heroine.

Larsson’s writing is functional: he tells you what you need to know so that the action can proceed. His writing is unobtrusive – this novel is one of action and the writing is the means by which he tells you what is happening so that you can follow the relentless narrative thrust of the book. There are few longueurs in this book and it is inevitable that you get caught up in the sometimes frenetic action.

I shall wait for the third volume to come to me rather than buy it. I am not sure if that says anything about my response to the books, but I can certainly wait for the next episode in Lisbeth Salander’s eventful life!

I can feel the sun shining on the back of my nick so it might be time to go to the third floor and see if it is in any way possible to sit out and listen with sympathetic resignation to the weather forecast on Radio 4!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Eating and Reading

Another tapa surprise when we went out into Castelldefels town: an exquisite concoction of scallops and prawns on a savoury slice of potato. And a pint of lager. There always has to be an element of vulgarity! The little bar that we frequent is nothing to write home about – it even allows smoking by setting out ashtrays on every table and we cwtch ourselves away in a corner praying that we will be unmolested by noxious fumes. The menu is limited and basic but it has little jewels of gastronomic delight which makes a visit worthwhile.

What To Do At Christmas has now become a pressing problem for me because I feel that to waste the expanse of time that we have would be criminal irresponsibility. Unfortunately Christmas is hardly low season for travel so you don’t really get true value for money. On the other hand lazing on a beach and swimming in the sea has its attractions!

The weather was not perfect while taking the kids sailing so I decided to remain staunchly indoors and read in the little office for those connected with administration of the School of Sailing. It was a delight to see that the lady working opposite me was looking with passionate intensity at a book called ‘That’s English!’ which made me think of the end of Loony Tunes with the stuttering ‘Th-th-th-that’s All Folks!’ and the book probably has about as much relationship to the way that people actually speak English in the English Speaking World as some of the books that we use.

My ‘Kids’ Choice’ Book taken from the cupboard was ‘Moves Make the Man’ by Bruce Brooks. This was a more than competent book which traced the relationship between a black kid (yes the colour is significant in the novel) and a strange white boy who obviously has real and profound problems.

The connecting narrative element is the use of basketball and it was comfortingly complex with few concessions to those who knew little or nothing about the game. I felt the same way as I did when reading Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain or Moby Dick – there was a point in the use of technical language. Although Brooks is not at the level of the other two writers he produces a satisfyingly mature analysis of a young boy’s attempts to understand a different view of life.

The voice of the narrator is that of the black basket playing boy and it was gratifying to see that few concessions were made to his ability: he was straight A's in most of his subjects.

While problems of race are touched on, it is not the main driving force of the novel. It gives piquancy to the prose and a slant which h makes it all the more interesting to read.

The central concern is of how young people come to form their world views – especially if there are difficult circumstances to deal with at formative stages in a person’s development. There is humour and there is insight: it is well worth a read.

Though, I have to say that when I was reading I wondered how many kids would actually want to read this where the action is perhaps more psychological than actual – though there are plenty of memorable incidents to keep people happy. It is a mature book which I think will be better appreciated by those who are more mature. Let alone thinking about kids reading these books in a foreign language.

Talking of our books the words that the unfortunate kids were expected to know from this morning’s lesson included “anew” and “unbeknownst” - I kid you not!

Cloud has covered the skies over Barcelona and, although the weekend forecast is not too depressing I am beginning to doubt that it will be sunbathing weather on the third floor balcony in the house in Castelldefels!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What does the future hold?

I am now wearing a jacket; but still in short sleeved shirts. I refuse to give in to the growing realization that comes with colder nights that autumn is well and truly here. It is still possible to ignore the actual month during some days when the sun shines and the pollution over Barcelona blends blues and purples in a most artistic way and the memory of the summer seems not so distant. But reality must be faced: this is the period when we have to have some rain otherwise there will be problems during the summer.

My arrangement with god is that I have no objection to bucketfuls of rain drenching the Pyrenees on a regular basis as long as Castelldefels stays dry. In this way all the necessary reservoirs can be filled to overflowing while preserving an area of arid delight for me!

The question of holidays at Christmas time is becoming more pressing with clear wants meeting emotional ties: it is something that will take a deal more thought – even if each day’s delay will add more to the final cost.

The excitement of my flu injection was raised to a new level of delight by the nurse (a chit of a boy who has given me stern lectures over the past year or so) taking my blood pressure and pronouncing it acceptable. Given the White Coat Syndrome that regularly affects my readings this was especially gratifying news. It does however knock into a cocked hat my fondly held belief that stress brought on by my continuing in my present school was causing my readings to go off the scale. I am obviously made of sterner stuff than I originally thought!

By way of a present Pablo (the nurse) gave me an extra anti tetanus injection as a little gift. I told him that I had my last injection for tetanus twenty years ago, but in fact, as Toni reminded me, I had a booster injection for our trip to Mexico. Ah well, I’m sure it won’t do any harm. Probably.

Talk of founding schools is still very much in the air and a phone call from Jennifer has raised the stakes again with her belief that there might be money from the Middle East available to invest in an institution in Spain. I now have a default position which I adopt when I hear of such things and that includes my actually seeing some money rather than listening to pious platitudes about possible intentions.

As far as I can see the only way that I am going to get money out of education in Catalonia is by staying in the job that I have at present. I will keep listening to others as their ideas come and go; but I will draw a regular wage from my position in post!

I would seriously consider a job with the BSB but that looks increasingly unlikely to present itself for my acceptance. It would be worth it alone for the lack of a testing journey to work each morning!

This afternoon is my time to accompany the PE teacher and 3ESO kids as they go sailing.

Never a dull moment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's magic!

There are some things that you do that, having done them, you wonder how you managed before you had done them. Sometimes they are fairly small things, tasks that take little effort but give amazing results.

Like cleaning the car windscreen.

Living as we do in the midst of pine trees we are grateful for the shade that they give in summer, but they also distribute another aspect of their growth as well: resin. At first I assumed that someone with a lot of time on their hands and a wilful nastiness on their brains had been dripping gum on the car. It took a while for the resinous deposits and the proximity of the car to the trees to link up in my mind, but when it did I felt relief that I could blame nature rather than a vicious neighbour but did not immediately start cleaning the windscreen.

It is truly amazing how many minor obstacles to a clear view one can cope with. I suppose it is second nature to deal with such things if you are an experienced glasses wearer. Sometimes I clean my glasses as displacement activity and I am constantly amazed at the accretion of detritus that clear glass can attract and am equally amazed at how little it obstructs vision.

Today, however, setting off in the morning I was amazed at the detail of my surroundings that I could see through the newly cleaned windscreen. Admittedly it took a specially impregnated glass wipe and industrial strength insect remover to get rid of some of the more ingrained deposits, but shining and, more importantly, transparent what a view is afforded through the glass! A new world!

Today my long delayed flu jab will be delivered. It has fallen out that I will have to leave during my last period which is free, so I will have an early (for this school) end of the day – this will in part compensate for the extended day that I will have tomorrow when I accompany the PE teacher taking the kids sailing.

I am, with difficulty, restraining myself from starting the second volume in the Millennium trilogy. As with the first book this second volume is also hefty and I know that as soon as I start reading it everything else will take a poor second place and with examinations lurking around the corner I do have to make some effort to get a paper together.

The time to start this enterprise is now as I have a free period, though I have to say that making another cup of tea is far more alluring!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slowly! Slowly!

My little poisoned seeds of discontent are beginning to sprout. The shoots are tentative; shyly seeking the light – but they are there.

Our school day has seven lessons in it. Some teachers start at 8.15 in the morning and the day ends at 4.45 in the afternoon. It therefore follows that there are seven periods in the day with a possible total of 35 periods in the week as opposed to the normal 25 in real schools. This means that timetabling is an absolute breeze and people are grateful (!) that they have at least one free period in their artificially extended day!

Having been in a school that taught in a 40 period week - which was converted in 20 double periods of subjects like English, Maths and Science. A proposal was to convert our timetable to a 25 period week with, it was stressed, ‘exactly the same teaching time’. In spite of my protestations that this conversion was actually a 25% increase in teaching opportunities, such qualifications fell on deaf ears and everyone thought that I was making a fuss over nothing until they had their new timetables and saw that they were actually seeing more pupils . . . Ah, well, they learned their lesson – a little too late but they are a little wiser now.

Except of course they are not. All things that were major outrages pale into tradition or normality in the course of time. And in the case of teachers a very short time indeed. It has always astonished me how quickly things are accepted. For example, I was very quickly the only person in school who persisted in writing in BAKER DAY when we had INSET in memory of the bastard who took days off our holidays in order to push forward his agenda and force teachers to come in and enjoy in-house entertainment in the name of education.

There is a weary acceptance on the part of my colleagues that things are not right, but they do not seem to have any idea about how things might be made better. My conversations about unionism have received mixed responses, but again the overwhelming impression is one of dogged acceptance that things cannot be better than they are.

We shall see. My teaching materials are so intensely boring and the type of English that I am teaching barely touches my imagination that I must have another ‘interest’ to keep my mind alive!

We are building up to another completely arbitrary period of testing in our school. The rote learning has started and all ‘knowledge’ stuffed into brains for the examination period will be jettisoned immediately after the papers have been sat.

It is my responsibility to write a test paper for one group of older kids and the head of English has kindly sent me some past papers to get me started! But the second volume in the Millennium series is waiting for me to crack its spine and that is a much more tempting proposition than printing out fairly pointless English grammar and vocabulary questions. Still, needs must when the devil drives.

I have recently discovered that the mythical ‘two extra pays’ are going to stay in the realms of myth for me until another year has passed. The logic behind these ‘bonus’ (!) payments is based on the length of time that you have been in the school. So, by December I will have worked in the school (according to my new contract) for four months. My bonus will be four times my monthly salary divided by 12. By June my summer bonus will be ten times my monthly salary divided by 10. By a year next Christmas my bonus will be an extra month’s pay. Such is the simple ‘system’ by which we work!

This does however mean that the extra sum of money that I was expecting for the Christmas season will not be there, or at least not quite in the quantity I was hoping for! But in the immortal words of Mehitabel brought to us by Don Marquis

wotthehell wotthehell

cage me and i d go frantic

my life is so romantic

capricious and corybantic

and i m toujours gai toujours gai

Always worth having a little jolt of reality from a regal cat!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The burdens of education

As usual the weekend was at least one day too short and I start a new week feeling jaded and resentful.

I am seriously looking at my finances to see if it is possible to ‘live of my own’ (as Tudor kings were constantly encouraged to do by their financially conservative subjects) and stagger my way to the next celebration of United Nations Day without having to struggle my way through suicidal congealed traffic and then teach the pampered scions of families who do not have to consider as many financial questions as we educational serfs who work for them.

My salary for this month did not cover the cost of living in the house with the attendant electricity, gas, water and tax charges. Last month I worked out exactly how much I was paid for each directed period of work and I shouldn’t have done it as my resentment reached new stratospheric levels. Admittedly it was my take home pay after taxes etc but it does make you think – and the thoughts are not at all positive.

The supine way in which we as a staff accept totally unreasonable working conditions and appalling pay is enough to make any reasonable union person weep, and I am getting to the end of my patience.

I suppose that, professionally (that’s a laugh in this place) I should work until the end of this term and, to be absolutely fair I should already have given in my notice if I go on the half term notice that is usual in the UK. As we don’t actually have a half term I do not feel that much responsibility. The school has no fall back plan to find teacher replacements and no system of supply teachers: perhaps they deserve to be plunged into chaos!

The couple of books that I read over the weekend showed me what I used to do in the heady days of my first arrival in Catalonia when the Euro was only 70p. Heady days indeed! And days to which I am eager to return!

I have done more sums and it turns out that my normal payment for my month’s work would indicate that I am getting a little more than the single digit insult for my time which, taken with other factors like the food and those mythical two ‘extra’ months’ salary in the year does make it worthwhile continuing my educational marathon in this place.

The view from where I am sitting is spectacular – even with the odd palm tree in the way. The sea is a band of gold and the breeze is whipping up the sand producing, at this distance, an orange haze along the coast. The air is clear (a rare occurrence over Barcelona) and the buildings have that sharp intensity which gives an almost surrealistic look. Out of the breeze the sun is hot and the wispy clouds which are curling their way across my view merely accentuate by contrast the delightful azure of the sky.

It is truly astonishing how a little period of sunshine can change my mood! It is as if I am pre-programmed to soothe as soon as our star shows its true refulgence.

Toni’s little foray into town to re-register his sim card (for reasons I do not fully understand) have knocked him back a bit. He is still coughing, but at least he doesn’t look as haggard as he did a few days ago.

I am turning my thoughts towards Christmas and wondering how expensive it would be to ‘go somewhere’ as this year we have a more than respectable period for the holiday. My default position is of course to go to that too-long-avoided island off the coast of Africa. I will never forget my first Christmas in Gran Canaria where I went from near freezing temperatures in Cardiff to swimming in the sea in Maspalomas in less than twelve hours from the point of unfreezing the lock of my car to go to the airport!

Christmas is fairly high season for Gran Canaria but it might be worth it just to top up my tan and to experience the Atlantic again!

A quick check shows that prices follow our holidays and what would have been a €49 flight one day before is translated into something three or four times as much as soon as the kids are let out to enjoy Christmas. This is problem that Toni relishes, trawling through the internet to find the bargains – though his desire to be with his family might restrict the true scope that our ‘extensive’ holidays might afford. It is a long time since we have been on holiday and, even though I keep telling myself that I now live in a place which I would have regarded as a perfectly acceptable holiday destination a couple of years ago, I do begin to long to get away somewhere and lie on a beach again.

If one is a confirmed sunbather then memory is short and vitamin D constantly needs to be replenished!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

And another little sip won't do us any harm!

It is perhaps fortunate, in oh so many ways, that my notes from the Champagne Tasting that I went to in Sitges last night seem to have been unfortunately misplaced. The paean to pretentiousness that comprised my increasingly sozzled thoughts alas are lost to posterity.

We had eights fizzy wines to taste including some well known names, two ‘growers’ Champagnes and one highly recommended Cava.

The group of tasters were mainly Brits with one American and everyone appeared to have a greater familiarity with Champagne than I! Not that you would have been able to tell that by my assertive comments thrown into the general discussion!

The evening started late and by the time of the last train back to Castelldefels was approaching we were barely half way through our bottles. And when I say ‘through’ our bottles that is exactly what I mean – there was little of the roll it round your mouth and spit it out rubbish at our table.

A few of our number had just driven down from France and they arrived bearing gifts of delicious French cheeses – though by this time we had gone on to the red wine and the Champagne was but a distant memory.

It is surely a caring hostess who not only takes your staying unexpected with aplomb but also provides contact lens fluid and a lens case to allow ones one day lenses to be used for a second day!

A most enjoyable experience! There were plans for a red wine tasting to which I hope that I am asked.

I have read the first volume in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is a massive book and is an enjoyable page turner.

This book comes so highly recommended that it almost has to be a disappointment when one reads it.

It is basically a detective story which takes as its main character an investigative financial journalist who has just lost a libel case against an obviously crooked financier. We expect a straightforward revenge story but the narrative is complicated by the involvement of a major Swedish Industrial Dynasty and a further mystery which needs to be sorted out there as well.

Our intrepid detective also gets his sidekick in the shape of the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo who turns out to be a most unlikely security researcher and computer genius.

The story has massive scope while never losing sight of the narrative focus on making us guess how the various mysteries could be resolved.

The style of writing in this translation is unobtrusive with the emphasis on events and descriptions which press forward the story line. And this is a good story with some deeply shocking events and memorable incidents. At one point one of the characters says “Where do I get such metaphors from!” and I thought as I read it that this writing was clear rather than stylish. Nevertheless a damn good read.

I have been lax in the writing of my blog in the last few days, but I have been catching up on a rolling sleep debt. I actually stayed in bed until mid day on Saturday!

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Such larks!

Terrassa was, as usual a festering bed of contagion. I refer of course to The Nephews who seem to harbour disease as naturally as Portsmouth does boats. This time the youngest was reported to have bronchitis and from the woeful appearance of Toni it was obvious that The Nephews has struck again.

Poor old Toni has not slept for three days and has now decided to go the doctor. The journey back from the party which, to be fair, was not quite the presentfest that I expected it to be, was punctuated by Toni’s world weary wracking coughs.

I of course was a point of terminal exhaustion as I had Gone a New Way to Terrassa cutting across various road systems from the school to join up, eventually and thankfully with a stretch of motorway that I recognized. It was however a nerve tightening experience as I passed new buildings and saw new vistas as I drove with that quiet manic determination of the very lost.

There were no comforting signs with Terrassa on them and, as is the usual way with Spanish motorways, many large blue signs which offered me destinations which were in contrary directions and also a way back to my starting point. You have to have a steely determination to press onwards in the fond hope that you are getting nearer to where you want to go.

I was encouraged by a view of the bizarre outline of Montserrat and, as I seemed to be heading for it I knew that the general direction I was taking was OK. While that might have been comforting for some, my experience has told me that you can get tantalizingly close to where you want to be with signs encouraging you to think that you are in the vicinity only to find that you have been directed onto a road whose characteristics are narrowness, windiness and whose tarmac is a haunt of inexplicable lumbering lorries.

Although there were several beguiling looking turn-offs I resisted the impulse to follow a likely looking sign and waited for the motorway to develop into something useful – which it did, so I was right.

Our arrival back in Castelldefels was anti-climactic as I was exhausted and Toni exhausted and ill.

I had made us both a delicious honey and lemon drink when there was a yalwp from our intercom system. This is not what we expect late at night and the mildly threatening nature of the interruption galvanized the shuddering bulk of Toni filled with self pity on the sofa to a dynamic what-the-hell-is-going-on sort of person. He did not deign to answer the importunate call of the intercom but instead looked out of the kitchen window which has an excellent view of the front gate.

What he saw was a scene comprising a police car and three standing policemen with an extra person. They wanted to ask us a few questions!

My normal middle class response to the police calling is of course horror and dread suffused with fundamental feelings of total guilt. Considering where I was these perfectly normal reactions were laced with a level of terror that these policemen were foreign and they had guns.

Toni was in his dressing gown and I still had my school clothes on as we marched out and unlocked the gate to reveal our next door neighbour looking small and vulnerable surrounded by no-nonsense looking policemen illuminated by the flashing blue light of the car.

It appeared that our neighbour (who is French he added irrelevantly) had been stopped by the police and was found not to be carrying any papers. This is the equivalent of spitting on the flag so he was escorted back to where he claimed to live. It turns out that he does not own the house; it belongs to a ‘friend’ and therefore he couldn’t prove that he lived there! The poor man looked wretched as we had to vouch for his actually living next door to us. He was writing his hands and apologising in a manner worth of a Dickensian character!

If I had been feeling less tired and Toni less ill I think that we would have spent the rest of the night in increasingly lurid speculation about the true circumstances of our hapless neighbour’s plight. As it was, I went to bed.

But I’m not quite as tired now and my mind is seething with various scenarios which I would not dare write about here!

I only hope that Toni’s visit to the doctor leaves him capable of coherent story fabrication when I get home for my half day today.