Monday, May 31, 2010

Death by trendy!

There is a price to be paid for using examples in English grammar which are drawn from current events. While illustrating some previously abstruse point in grammar (which now, of course, is as mother’s milk to me in my reborn I-know-what-a-second-conditional-is manifestation in my present school) I made the mistake of referring to the Eurovision Song Contest.

The equivalent of my first year sixth were aghast that the Mighty Intellectual Titan who had previously been teaching them had so blatantly revealed his common feet of clay by even alluding to such a common and vulgar little programme. It was in vain that I pleaded that I only watched the thing in a Gnostic spirit of Post-Modernist angst tinged with Surrealistic irony.

One of my students, at the end of the lesson came up to me with downcast eyes and disconsolately shaking hands said, “I am sorry Stephen, but I do not think I can respect you anymore!” One is tempted to think that such histrionics would place my students firmly in the midst of the audience in the hall of the actual event!

The devil was stalking the dining hall of the teachers this afternoon as one of my colleagues was carrying one of the Forbidden Objects. This was pointed out to me by a number of my “concerned” colleagues who, knowing my weakness, wanted to see my reaction when confronted by the actuality of an i-pad within my reach. It really does seem as if circumstances are propelling me towards a purchase – but I remain firm at the moment. But visibly weakening. Visibly.

Today is the last day of the month and from tomorrow it is acceptable to start the countdown in days to the end of term.

Before that delectable event there is the small question of examinations. We have the confluence of two streams of testing the external and the internal. The external examinations are for the various levels of English that we teach and the internal ones are for the normal rash of periodic tests on which we thrive.

This spate of examination should be the last before the kids finally depart. Thank God!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A fine bad day!

Well, if nothing else the Eurovision Song Contest shows that the God of the Bible is alive and well and living in Mainland Europe. He is, as any cursory reading of that appalling but compelling book will show, petty, vindictive, arbitrary, partial and above all mysterious. And what other adjectives could one apply to a contest that saw Germany walk it with a barely sung effort to which I awarded the mark of 3 out of 30.

Yes. Awarding marks. I did actually download the BBC score sheet and filled it in as the contest progressed. It now lies in a crumpled ball at my feet thrown there in a fit of pique as the voting developed.

As it is the day after the contest I shall now go into my (well rehearsed by now) tirade against the competition and against Johnny Foreigner in particular!

I can see no justification for the continued support of the BBC in funding this twisted farrago of blatant political bias. OK, one of the “big four” did win bucking the trend of nascent nationalistic nonentities voting for their friends and neighbours – but I am sure that some shaky economies were thinking that a vote for Germany might ensure their continued survive when it came to a bailout! Or not. I always read too much into these tawdry extravaganzas.

I shall, however, vary my moaning this year by suggesting that the UK does not continue to buy its way into the competition finals by funding a ritual humiliation every year, but rather take its chances with the heats and at least get a cut price shaming!

Thank god that rant is over for another year!

A courtesy call to Clarrie resulted in grave discourtesy. It turns out that not only has she purchased an i-pad, but also she got it on the first day of sale from The Apple Store in Regent’s Street.

My weekend is ashes and despair.

How can I teach for even a single more week knowing that Clarrie’s fingers are gliding over the sleek screen of a reasonable sized object of desire?


Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's hard to resist!

By 10.05 am this morning I had read a whole slate of reviews of a gadget that I do not want. The words said one thing but the pictures of the svelte, alluring, suavely curvaceous beauty of the artefact said quite another. “It is a solution without a problem!” I repeated with growing desperation. I think that the trick is never, ever actually hold one – or possibly even see one in the flesh, so to speak. Ever.

The day started in a selfishly morose fashion with a sulky sun hiding spitefully behind odious looking clouds. In Britain the climate for the day would have been set and I still preserve the particularly British pessimism that anything short of bright, direct sunlight feeds on! This, however, is Spain and the clouds lifted and soon we were bathed in sunlight.

Lunch was in the centre of Castelldefels in the restaurant that we sometimes use: Fideúa, duck and cheese cake washed down with house red and the fizzy water that one takes in summer. All eaten and drunk outside in what passes for a Ramblas in our little town with life passing fascinatingly by as one eats.

The photography that was supposed to be a keynote of today has taken a second place and I am finding in the desultory shots that I have taken that the omission of a viewfinder in the camera is a larger loss than I would have expected. I do not find the same immediacy with the image as I did with the other camera. This is very odd as I have been using digital cameras for some time, but as this one is something of a replacement for my larger canon, I am expecting it to do as much if not more than the other. When there seem to be differences they are magnified. But this is still the time of finding out rather than giving final assessments.

This evening is the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. I don’t think that I can keep on pretending that I only watch it in a mood of post-modern irony considering that I don’t think that I have missed a performance in the past umpteen years!

Obviously the voting is one of the highlights as is my inevitable vow never to watch it ever again if the travesty of democracy is allowed to continue. And so on. Until the next year when prurient curiosity always gets the better of me.

Spain, this year, has a reasonable chance with a personable (if inordinately curly) young man singing a catchy tune with odd, if likable choreography from marionette type dancers. As Spain is not an odd part of the ludicrous Balkans or a tattered part of what used to be one of the superpowers it has little chance of gaining enough votes to put it in the running for the Eurovision crown. However, I am going to download some score sheets for the contest sot that I can have a totally unbiased and authoritative view of what should have happened!

The pool has started to be used on an almost daily basis by someone – who is sometimes me – and the water is getting to the temperature where cardiac arrest is not a probable element of submersion. I really must get back to taking my swimming seriously as even after a relatively gentle twenty minutes I feel as if I have done serious exercise!

Now to find the score sheets. The drinks, snacks and enthusiasm are all ready to be depleted!

Friday, May 28, 2010


The festivities in school last night to celebrate the graduation of certain students went on until 11.00 pm: I shudder to think of the state that Toni would have been in if I had stayed and found him slumped in his plastic chair in the garden in the darkness! It was obviously fated for me to come home and rescue him!

The day has dragged, especially as my “gained” “free” period was taken up by the showing of a French film set in the early years of the twentieth century, about a young girl who rescues a wolf cub after his family had been slaughtered – and I think anyone knowing the story of Androcoles will be able to work out the rough lines of the narrative. The film ended after the girl had crashed in a light aircraft in an isolated snowy part of France and was “saved” by the wolves and a simple-minded peasant and . . . the bell went and I had to stop the film.

It was a perfectly acceptable historical portrayal but at no point did I get a sense that anything original was being said. This is one film shown in school that I will not rush to see in its complete form!

Lunch today (now that I have rejected the meat and fish that are served in school) was surprisingly good. I had a salad with many interesting ingredients and there were ripe strawberries for postre afterwards.

Today the i-pad is unleashed on Europe and I repeat the mantra “This is a solution without a problem” to ensure that I resist the almost overwhelming urge to spend money I do not possess on an over-hyped and totally desirable Apple product!

Even I have been unable to entirely ignore the fact that some sort of football competition is soon to be invading our television air time. Spanish programming is not something which necessarily looses anything by having its uninspiring schedules inundated with endless sequences of overpaid young men kicking an inflated spheroid on grass in another hemisphere, but I am dreading the overkill that comes with such competitions.

Given my present location I go into this competition with two teams to support: England and Spain and I have that sort of despairing fear about which one is going to go further! Spain, however is trying to buck its usual bad luck which dogs its attempts to gain the World Cup. Even I was shocked by the truly shameful and seemingly deliberate way in which Spain was forced out of the competition when it was staged (a very apt word I think!) in South Korea.

As the Cup is being staged in South Africa I do have a very lively hope that everything goes well. Years of not eating South African apples or drinking South African wine do leave their impression. South Africa is not a country to which I can feel neutral. In spite of the very real problems social, political and moral that the country faces I do hope that such a focus of international attention reveals a country with potential rather than one replete with negative aspects.

I refuse to regard the non-completion of stadia as anything more than the usual horror stories which are paraded in the press before every major sporting competition in the world wherever they are held!

Tomorrow photos and an evaluation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another bloody day!

Conrad came to mind as I went from the relatively clear, clean air of Castelldefels to the dingy pall over the dark heart of Barcelona. The distant hills were shrouded in misty but murky filters of light orange, ochre and khaki: it made the landscape look artistic and strangely beautiful, but one was not at all convinced that one should be breathing the air surrounding it!

The sky is white at the horizon shading into an unconvincing blue in the sky from which a bright but tired looking sun is doing its best to convince us all that summer is truly here. The atmosphere is sticky and energy draining – but that might just be a side effect of getting up early for my 8.15 am start with the equivalent of Year 9!

Staff have started chanting the litany of salvation for this time in the term consisting of the encouraging words, “Well, we’re getting to the end!” This would be truly encouraging if it were true; but the real truth is that we do not finish school until the end of June. OK, the kids will have gone some time before, but we will still be in school and still longing for that fateful day when we will be free for two glorious months!

As you can tell there is an element of stir-craziness in the way that we are going about our business, but the short, sharp shock of the impending examinations will bring us all back to our oars in the slave galley and we will dutifully bend our back under the lash of the whip from our overseers as we keep the drudgery going.

The camera is the one bright spot. It is a truly remarkable machine whose potential I have barely scratched. There is a vast discrepancy between its look – which is a truly unremarkable and ordinary looking black digital camera when it is switched off and the fearsome beast it becomes when the lens erupts from it unfeasibly slim body!

I am going to have to explore sub-menus otherwise I will have paid top dollar for a machine which is not being pushed as hard as it should be. A continuing story.

I couldn’t face the so-called “graduation” of students in my school and I fled at the end of the day just before the actual end of school so that I avoided the maniacal exodus of kids in their parental tanks as they fled towards their homes.

I made good time and arrived home to find Toni sitting outside on a garden chair staring at me morosely. He had come outside at 1.30 pm and inadvertently locked himself out; locking keys and mobile phones and phone numbers safely inside. He had been sitting there patiently (redesigning the house in his mind to fill his time) for over two hours. As he had been preparing his lunch when he locked himself out he was more than prepared to visit Rober’s in the centre of Castelldefels for a superior burger and refrescante.

Rober’s was, of course, the scene of my arrogant attempt to evade payment when simply walked away after the last burger that we had there, the vulgar necessity of paying having slipped my mind. While buying bread in the shop opposite Rober’s one of the waitresses in the establishment crossed the road and intimated that it would be preferable if I abandoned my attempt at the behaviour of royalty and succumbed to my essential plebeian status and actually paid for what I had consumed!

Toni was, of course, convulsed with shame at such behaviour while I merely found it amusing. Today, I reminded the waitress that El Ladron (The Thief) had come back to patronise the establishment – but this time I paid for what I ordered at once!

Next Tuesday is the first of June and one will be able to say with some justice that the end of school is truly in sight!

The weekend is an opportunity for me to take some pictures and I have downloaded the 180 page manual for the camera and am now a few steps further forward to knowing how it works.

Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Time to unlock

The camera is beginning to reveal some of its secrets and I still have not had recourse to the CD Rom guides. I would still feel so much more secure if I could work my way through a manual.

Given the size of the camera the selection wheel for different shooting styles is necessarily more restricted and some functions are hidden in sub menus which were more readily available on my other camera. Still, it is early days yet and I have not taken a decent picture with the machine; I have been far more concerned with the simple mechanics of the camera and photos of my legs (though obviously alluring in many ways) as the subjects nearest to me when trying different styles, are not necessarily the photos which I choose to keep!

Today is one of those bright but hazy days which negate the panoramic possibilities of photographing from the terrace of the school, but I might try anyway and see what quality I can get.

Interesting results, but I will have to do some more extensive testing this weekend. Hopefully I will have some decent shots to make real comparisons with my other camera.

No more than desultory teaching today with all the staff looking as though the holidays are going to happen some time in the next century!

With the realization that I have not read anything recently I started reading yet another book of short stories which might be suitable for pupils. This collection of stories has lost its cover and is scrawled on by past generations of students, but it is the only thing in the staff room that I can find that I haven’t read!

It did give me the chance to re-read “The Rocking-Horse Winner”. It is narrative heavy story but the whole of the action is deeply based on a conception of class and the tensions in a society which equates success with wealth. The ending is harsh and is a savage indictment of misplaced objectives which ignore the human element. What a good story it is! Not sure how the kids will react to it though.

Tomorrow is the day when I am supposed to have a double free in the afternoon to produce the material necessary for my teaching. Unfortunately it is also the day when the kids in the upper secondary section have their “graduation” so I may have to stay on to witness whatever excess they have planned for the evening. Last year one of the parents ordered a vast cake which had icing sugar photographs of all the teachers. God alone knows how much it cost. I think that I was told, but my conscious mind has pushed this knowledge far into my deep subconscious!

We shall see.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When is the weekend?

A relatively free drive to school with only two traffic jams: one thinks not about the airy and sunshine filled journey of May butt rather of what the journey is going to be like in the darker mornings of autumn and winter when dark lines of traffic will snake their way slowly up the hill towards the radio beacon which is the landmark which indicates where the school is situated. Dark thoughts for a light day.

As usual the reappearance of pupils in school was accompanied by the customary panic as a school trip necessitated a whole reorganization of the time table to take account of missing members of staff. Our English groups composed of the first English classes of the day were collapsed – the traditional response to missing teachers. A free gained by my second class going out was immediately by my being taken by another class for maths. At least work was set; though as I sit here typing, it is hard to gauge how much of the lesson is going to be productively filled by the sparse looking sheets which I have been given to keep the kids occupied.

What I really want to do is go out and about and try out the capabilities of my new camera. I have brought it to school but I am too reticent (given recent economic conditions) to flaunt it. I think that this camera has a multi-shot option which I never found on my other Canon and that is something which one of my colleagues needs to use if she is to capture real movement shots of the big game and exotic creatures she is likely to see on her Safari in South Africa. This is one function which I never found on my previous camera and with my built in aversion to using the fiddly manuals on CD-rom. I must emulate the technique of the very young and assume that the workings of any piece of hi-tec gadgetry will be (or should be) intuitive. There seems to be more on-screen help than with the other camera so I am gently optimistic.

The decent weather, which is continuing today, is scheduled not to continue through to next weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The long weekend end

The pall of misery that usually accompanies the last day of a long weekend was somewhat mitigated by the eventual arrival of my new camera.

I saw ‘eventual’ as the delivery company resorted to the low tactics that we were used to in the previous habitation where the delivery men put the note which says they tried to contact the householder without actually using the bell. In the flat I actually had one ‘failed contact’ note with a time that was later than the actual time that it was “delivered”. So, there were two people in the house at the time stated and, amazingly, neither heard the doorbell which didn’t ring!

Our complaints to the central office were greeted with a shrug of the shoulders. At least given the one way system in our street, the driver will not have had to get out of the van to post the note!

At the moment the camera is everything I hoped it would be and less! The last word refers to its size which is really and truly shirt pocket fitting. The controls are traditional Canon which I know fairly well but the proof etc etc will be the photos. The USP for me was the 14x optical zoom which segues into a 56x digital which should make framing a decent picture a little easier.

The major drawback, as usual, is that the manual is on disc and printing it out takes up half a forest!

Time, as they say, will tell.

Meanwhile the fag end of term is beginning to shuffle its incontinent way into our consciousnesses as the last convulsions of examinations dribble their intrusive slime into the quiet tenor of what our lives could be!

My last gasp of freedom was a meal out with Irene as we go over ground that we know so well about what the future can hold for us both and what it probably will hold!

I am going to try and find out what happened in the courts about what happened to the money that was supposed to go to Charity in a Readathon I helped organize in The School That Sacked Me. In spite of numerous requests about the amount and destination of the money raised nothing was ever told to staff, students or parents! It is time to dust off the statements and other information and go back to the courts and find out exactly what has been done.

Roll on the weekend in what is left of this four day week!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I did feel something of traitor as I bought a bottle of Champagne for Jane yesterday afternoon as a partial recompense for her continuing generosity in extending me the courtesy of “my room” in her house in Sitges thus enabling me to enjoy our wine tastings without having to rush away on the last train back to Castelldefels at the ungodly hour of 9.30 pm!

To placate my troubled conscience I also bought a bottle of Gran Reserva Cava which we could drink at once and then the Champagne could with some degree of rectitude be kept for Jane’s private delectation!

The meal we had of poached salmon (cooked in the dishwasher in the absence of a fish kettle) with dill mayonnaise and pasta with pesto was excellent and complemented the wines admirably – when we finally got round to eating something rather than drinking in isolation!

All the wines in our tasting were from the Languedoc – Roussillon region .

1 Gamin Larredya 2006 Appéllation Jurançon See Controllé. Appearance crystal clear with a deep golden, almost tawny colour. Aroma vaguely medicinal and sickly with a slight suggestion of stain remover. The taste filled the mouth and it felt like a fortified wine. Excellent after taste, slight citrus. Developed well with excellent construction. More complex than I expected.

2 Domaine de la Garance 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Herault. Darkish colour not as clear as 1. A meaty aroma. Slight suggestion of hydrogen sulphide with overtones of liquorish. Sharp. Excellent body with a rounded memory of sweetness.

3 Domaine de la Rectorie 2008 Appéllation Collioure Controllée. Light, clear and clean. Taste of apple, raisin and cheap sweets. Sits well in the mouth. Delicious. Lacks the character of the first two wines, but it is eminently drinkable.

4 Domaine Gauby 2007 Vielles Vignes, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. Good colour. Aroma of cake mixture. Slight pettilance. Almost a metallic taste. Unstructured and confusing.

5 Domaine Seguela 2007 Blanc d’Alesix, Vin de Table. Whisky colour with a nose-clearing aroma. Slight overtones of caramel. Spicy taste. After eating the pasta the taste was clean, clear and gave a hit to the back of the throat!

The key is obviously to eat and drink!

Today has been spent mainly on the Third Floor enjoying the continuing weather and worrying about rogue clouds which threaten the rays.

This evening the sun began to set swathed in mists. I assume that they were sea mists, but it is still the first time that I have noticed them. The sun was still able to shine through so I was able to admire the delicacy of the softening of the outlines rather than resent the diminution of my vitamin D intake!

This evening is more relaxed than a normal Sunday as tomorrow is a fiesta.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Where is the justice?

There is nothing guaranteed to lessen the enjoyment of a day than to find out that one of your free periods has been taken away and that furthermore that free period is the one which is next to the last period of the day and that the kids which are being supervised are the same as the ones that you are taking for the last period. This is a recipe for absolute and complete misery.

It could be worse, of course, I could be teaching in a school where discipline is a good deal worse than that you find here: at the moment the class are working in silence and this is the sixth of a seven period day for the kids – and these kids are doing their own work because nothing has been set for them. But it could also be a great deal better – I could still have my free period intact.

Following the pattern of the last couple of days I find myself feeling fairly well in the actual lessons, but feeling drained as soon as they end. I suppose there are many who would say that it a normal reaction to any teaching job – except for the feeling of well-being in the lesson itself!

In a version of sods’ law today is also the duty day when I have to supervise the kids having their lunch. Every time I do it I feel a traitor to what we struggled for in Britain where it was finally recognized that the lunch period was the teachers’ own time and could not be timetabled by a school management. Here I have handed back that hard won right with not even a whimper; side remarks certainly, but I have done nothing to try and get the civilized standard of behaviour which obtains in my old school to be accepted here.

The result of all this is that I am feeling gradually worse as the day draws on and I will need a fluid time on the Third Floor to compensate. Come hell and high water I WILL be well enough to sample the fine wines that we are expected to evaluate on Saturday in Sitges.

There is, at last, a little more discussion about the proposed plans to take away a percentage of our pay as the government’s response to the catastrophic situation with public finance. I still sense very little authentic anger in the staff and there is more of a sort of flaccid apathy where any positive response from the management (however token that might be) would be greeted with pathetic joy and any reduction of pay (however vicious) met with a resigned shrug.

The one thing which is keeping me going is the realization that this is the Friday which is a prelude to a long weekend. Thank god for the festivities of Barcelona! This does mean, however, that Barcelona will be with us in Castelldefels as they pack themselves into cars and drive down to disport themselves on our commodious beach.

I assume that, as I drive down to Sitges on Saturday, I will be able to observe the flow of the citizens in Barcelona making their way back to the city.

I am determined to read something “significant” over the weekend. I am at present reading one of Hunter S. Thompson’s works “Better than Sex” and I wonder if that fits the description! In spite of the fractured ‘story telling’ illustrations and liberal use of swear words it has a rather quaint feel to it and there is a feeling that the main ‘character’ (the author) is an engaging sort of drug fuelled odd uncle rather than a character capable of destabilizing the structure of the United States. I suppose he is the youngish generation’s answer to the genteel iconoclasm of someone like the man whose name I cannot recall but the one who did the superb knife job on that dangerous idiot Dan Quale. His name is of course Joe Queenan because I remembered the title of one of his books “If you are talking to me your career must be in trouble!” and the internet did the rest.

The long weekend has now started and to celebrate I finished reading a Derek Jarman book about his responses to being diagnosed with AIDS and his reaction to living in a heterosexual society while being a homosexual. It is actually quite a polemical books interspersed with fairly explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. It is essentially an angry book filled with personal reminiscences and leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied because it is neither one thing nor another. But I do like the films!

Bed calls.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Unwelcome truth!

My humiliation is complete. Toni, playing in a foreign language and in what was obviously a British biased version beat me in the Wii game of Trivial Pursuit. I don’t quite know where I go from here to regain my tattered reputation. I know that the next time we play, the game will be in Spanish and my knowledge of Britain, British history and everything else will get me nowhere!

I couldn’t even rely on the opponent choice of the middle when my insistence on “Art and Literature” asked a question about neither of these and the correct response was “The Da Vinci Code”! I will retire and lick my wounds and come out fighting when I have finished sulking. And I got the colour of cranberries wrong! I don’t want to talk about it!

Nothing has been said yet about the possible reduction in our wages. I was absolutely astonished about the almost complete lack of discussion about this probably cut in our pay! I was reminded of the slogan which fired the workers during the General Strike: “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day!” Though thinking about it, given the failure of that workers’ enterprise perhaps it is not the most encouraging phrase to have going through my head!

When I (the only person apparently concerned about the diminution in the money) engaged my colleagues in conversation about the proposed cut I was told that the school might do something to equalize salaries which (for some reason which is beyond my comprehension) are paid jointly by the Generalitat and the school, but “they don’t have to”!

I seem to belong in a different universe. All the teachers that I have ever worked with would have been up in arms about the government’s intention and have begun to gear themselves up for union action – with us in Catalonia: nothing! It is absolutely incredible.

I know that there is a financial crisis and, given the employer-weighted employment laws, people can have a quite justified fear of dismissal, but in spite of all that there should at least be some demonstration of spirit to defend the measly wages that we are paid.

Perhaps I am doing my colleagues a disservice and their true spirit will be revealed when the full details of what the government intends to inflict on the workers becomes clearer. Don’t hold your breath!

My short sojourn on the sun dappled Third Floor yesterday evening was enlivened by the hellish cacophony of various canine barks, screams, howls, yowls, whines and yelps which is the usual soundtrack to venturing out of doors in this area.

I am convinced that buying a dog in this part of the world comes with free lessons to encourage and develop the inconsideration of the owner. And with fitted ear plugs so that the owners cannot hear the raucous ruckus that their sonically challenged mutts make at every opportunity! The truly demented chorus of hopefully damned dogs reached new levels of awfulness today in a discordant symphony worthy of a tuneless Stockhausen!

Meanwhile I await the arrival of my new camera with growing impatience. I have decided (by way of unnatural economy on my part) that I will forego the buying of a new summer watch and instead put the money towards the camera which, together with the “cashback” which Canon say that I can claim for the particular model that I have bought, make the amount that I have paid merely large rather than extortionate.

All things are relative!

Last night was not the best night that I have spent: cough, running nose and inability to breathe properly were not the best ingredients to produce a good night’s sleep. So I didn’t.

It was an effort to go to school, but, as usual I felt better while teaching and much worse at the end of each lesson. Luckily there were not many lessons today and I decided to go home at lunchtime and rest and, although I still have the remains of a sore throat and a cough I feel much better. I wonder if I am not suffering from some sort of allergic reaction to the clouds of pollen which have dusted everything. Who knows?

Tomorrow a long weekend starts with Monday being a fiesta in Barcelona.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Crime for our Times!

The government has made an announcement that their cost cutting exercise which up to now has included Civil Servants is going to be extended into other areas. Some teachers in the Spanish system are classed as Civil Servants and are paid substantially more than we in the so-called private sector. They have been told that their salary is going to be cut, that they will be subject to a pay freeze next year as well as their pensions being affected.

The Government has now announced that all teachers, including those in the private sector which have any fraction of their salaries paid by the Generalitat will find their salaries cut. I must admit that I do not understand why the Generalitat pays any money at all to an institution like ours which has some of the wealthiest parents in Catalonia sending their children to us. The fees are substantial and still they are subsidized by the government.

The odd system means that for most of us in school at least part of our salaries are paid by the Generalitat. I do not think that the percentage is exactly the same for all of us so there will be a corresponding disparity in the final amounts. Our school is faced with a problem and it will be interesting to see how they cope with it. The obvious solution, at least to me, is that our wealthy institution takes up the debt and ensures that all members of staff are paid the same as they would have been before. Any other solution would be patently unfair. Still, I will reserve my wrath for any real situation which is presented to us rather than a hypothetical one.

I have just called in to see the financial head of our school and have been told that he is in a meeting with the directora about exactly this problem. I would expect some sort of announcement by the end of the day – or at least an e-mail to let us know that it is being discussed.

I am going to find it fascinating to see how the staff react to a cut in our already ungenerous pay! It is not a topic for excited conversation and no one has shown any concern. I feel rising panic and outrage: but I am the exception.

This is what comes of taking the final leap and ordering the new camera: I raise my game to take in a x14 optical zoom and financial chaos results!

There has been a little more talk about the introduction of laptop computers for the first and second year pupils in secondary next year, but nothing concrete seems to have been decided and we are now in May before the implementation in September. I await the details with interest. And that, of course, is the curse being made manifest – we are indeed living in interesting times!

This is my early finish which, for the first time for weeks, coincides with a glorious day.

The Third Floor I think!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

At least I'm not up to my neck!

Today I checked the other cars: a paucity of poo! It therefore follows that the pigeons are being deliberately spiteful. Perhaps it is something about the particular shade of blue in which my car is painted that attracts their deposits, or perhaps it is a race memory of some real or imagined wrong inflicted on the feathered tribe at some time in the past. I cannot be the only human to refer to pigeons as “flying rats!”

Once again I ply my way to school with the anal accretions of (surely) more than one bird. I have actually taken some steps towards coping with this daily assault and have filled a five litre water bottle with tap water ready to be taken to the car so that the most objectionable filth can be washed away before the trying journey on the motorways. The bottle however, remains firmly at the top of the stairs and seems glued to the floor and has not made the simple journey to the boot of my vehicle.

I cannot really be expected to remember such trivia when the possible purchase of a new camera is taking up virtually every waking moment! I have now reached the point of comparing prices in the UK and Spain which surely must mean that some sort of financial decision is at hand. I think that I will call into Alcampo and a sort of displacement activity pseudo shopping around sort of way to give the spurious justification that is all I need to spend money which I do not really possess! Then I can call in Gavá and go back to MediaMarkt and wallow in the sheer gadget heaven which is that wonderful institution!

Toni is, at present, deeply immersed in his own gadget as he researches the capabilities of the Wii that he has taken to like a duck to water. The programs and games for this machine seem to be of immense cost and I have yet to be truly impressed by the quality of the graphics of these games. I am sure that Toni will find something to impress and then I will be ritually humiliated as I demonstrate my seemingly endless capacity for ineptitude when it comes to “playing” with the computer.

I tend to think that this shows an innate Puritanism in my nature and I consider the computer to be a machine for working on (if I may paraphrase Le Corbusier’s dictum) and the playing of games on it seems unnecessarily frivolous. I still remember with something approaching panic the fiasco of the settlements that I created using early versions of Sims when comparing them with the mighty cities with extraordinary edifices that Paul Squared managed to build. I don’t think I ever managed to establish a working water supply to any of my places and traffic always had a marked reluctance to use any of the roads that I laid out!

The fact that I have been beaten in Wii basketball by a two year old is a hurt which will take a considerable time to heal! I know that sooner or later a version of FIFA Football will be inflicted on me. The complexity of that game means that poor old Wales in my inexpert hands is going to be devastated when the Spanish team beats them by a margin which will go down in the annals of football humiliation!

I have however noticed that there is a Wii version of Trivial Pursuit which might be a way to salvage something from the wreckage of my attempts to get to terms with the activities of the young and technological!

It is another fine day with the sun shining brightly in a slightly hazy sky. I am trying to think of a reason to sit outside and allow the sun to soak into my skin. I know from past experience that taking marking out into the heat of the middle of the day is mere window dressing as I turn my face in mute adoration towards my favourite star. The only action on the marking front is to allow the edges of the kids’ papers to curl slightly at the edges!

And, come to think of it, why do I need some spurious reason? It is enough that I want to. Which also goes for the camera!

Dangerous reasoning!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Life is wort living!

Another glorious day!

Some might say that because of the victory of Barça in the league last night, but for me, as always, it is connected with the weather. This winter has reawakened all my latent phobias about rain and cloudy days so I regard each dawning day which shows the sun peeking above the horizon much as Saint Augustine regarded his son Adeodatus!

The Family arrived yesterday and stayed to watch the game. Watch was not the easiest thing to do as the match was (shamefully) not broadcast on terrestrial television. Instead we had to make do with a poor computer feed from god knows where and another of the party listening to the match on a radio through headphones.

This meant that from time to time there was an unearthly scream from the radio listener which was soon followed by general delight from the computer watchers as they figured out what was happening from the execrable quality picture at which they were gazing. From time to time the computer feed broke so there was general hysteria until it was restored.

The eventual result in Camp Nou was, as it turned out, irrelevant, as Real Madrid only managed a draw against Malaga and they had to win to stand any chance at all of the Championship.

The result was most satisfactory and a ready chilled bottle of Cava was opened and drunk with, even more satisfactorily the majority of that sparkling liquid going down my throat as the Catalans did what they usually do after a few sips – stop drinking!

There were the usual explosions around us as rockets and fireworks were let off and then the party settled down to watch the festivities in the stadium as each member of the team delivered a few words including, this time, a sober Messi!

It says something for the quality of both of the top two teams that the final position in the league was only decided on the last game of the season. Obviously, from my selfish point of view, the right team won, but both have played superb football during the season. Though don’t tell any Barça fan that I said so!

The equivalent of our second year sixth has now gone and the extra frees that their departure give are wonderfully welcome. This is particularly shown during the examination season which (as I may have mentioned before) seems to extend seamlessly from the beginning of the year right through to the end of it. If the next examinations which are only a couple of weeks away (as they are always) follow the pattern of the last ones then we will have our exams, collect in the papers and then suddenly be informed that all the results for all of the examinations will have to be entered on the computer system by the next day. There will be the usual tense panic and then we will gear up for the next onslaught.

The weather is cruelly tempting with bright sunlight bouncing off surfaces and sending tendrils of heat into the staff room urging us to ignore all the academic work and frolic outside. It is only by a considerable effort of will that I remain at my post!

Yesterday I read a PD James novel “An unsuitable job for a woman.” This is an excellent read and concerns the first case of Cordelia Gray after the death of her partner in the business of private investigation. James’s most famous creation Dalgliesh only appears as a point of reference in the action of the novel, a fount of sayings that Cordelia’s partner Bernie came out with, and only appears in person at the end of the novel.

This was a more than professional story with interest and intrigue all along the way. The characters were rounded enough for one to care and the central detective was interestingly presented.

It says much for the speed of technology that although the novel was published in 1972 it reads almost as an historical period piece – so much of what we take for granted in the technological landscape has become common only in the eighties and beyond! Whatever, I thoroughly recommend the novel, especially as a beach read for the summer.

The old longing for a new camera is come upon me again. I thought that I had banished such longings but, alas, I feel the tug of gadget acquisition beginning to exert its mesmeric influence. The machine that I am hankering after is a Canon sureshot SX210SI – or something. I do not want to get too specific about its designation because that is a step nearer to its purchase! I am tempted by the x14 optical zoom and the 14.1 megapixels and the fact that the whole camera will fit in a pocket with ease. The only problem, of course, is the price!

As always!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's in the air!

Even if the yellow film of what I took to airborne powdered sand turns out not to be what I thought but some form of pollen – it proves nothing. After all I noticed this powdery deposit days ago and there were not any of the effects that I had this lunchtime.

Swollen eyes and plentiful tears! A typical allergic reaction – though as I was sitting by the side of the sea, one does wonder quite what I could have been so instantly allergic to.

For reasons best left unsaid we went to town and after our initial intentions had been frustrated by bureaucracy we found ourselves outside a book shop. Needless to say I was the only one who went in and, to my delight, I found a cut price book on the Catalan painter Isidre Nonell (1873-1911) who is probably best known for his atmospheric and bold paintings of gypsies.

The book is interesting giving more background information that I have had previously and also provides reproductions of his drawings. I was particularly struck by a double page spread of a painting called La Chata (1906) which shows the head and shoulders of a gypsy woman lying on a piece of furniture. It is a dark and brooding picture with very free brushwork in such an expressionistic style that at normal arm’s length the pictured appears abstract. I was so impressed with this picture that I looked at the back to find out where it was. It was in a gallery where I must have seen it a few times before: the Gallery of the Abbey of Montserrat.

I have the Josep C. Laplana book of the collection in Montserrat and I looked up La Chata. In this book the picture is much, much lighter, the reproduction is smaller and the abstract quality seems to have evaporated into what appears to be a fairly ordinary painting!

Other reproductions in the book which I have just bought are all darker than the reproductions in the Montserrat volume. A deep, dark red dress in one book becomes an orange dress in the other. And I can’t remember which one is more accurate!

I suppose that those people who are interested in art are usually more familiar with reproductions than the actual work of art on the walls of galleries. Much of my, no, the vast majority of my knowledge of art is based on reproductions of doubtful accuracy. I remember once getting together all the reproductions that I had in various books of a painting by Turner of a ship in a storm. The variety of colours in these pictures that purported to be accurate reproductions of the same painting were astonishing in their variety. Even in so-called quality art books the variation is bewildering.

But why stop at colour? Reproductions may be of part of a much larger piece, as for example in winged altarpieces where a single panel may achieve a quite different value when seen in isolation rather than as part of an entire altar backdrop. Size is often indicated but, if I’m truthful, rarely read, so three or four paintings which are presented as the same size on the page can often be widely different. Part of a fresco may be presented as a single coherent painting; paintings on curved surfaces may be presented as flat. Perhaps, as always it is a case of “let the reader beware!”

No matter how flawed, I gain an immense amount of pleasure from looking at paintings not only in books but also in galleries when I find out that some of my firmly held beliefs about individual paintings are tested by the reality of looking at the canvases or panels when they are actually in front of me.

Vive la différence!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I'm wet enough already!

Friday 14th May 2010

Roll of thunder, hear my cry!

The day has dawned (if you can call it that) with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. I must bear in mind that I did have the opportunity when I arrived in Castelldefels after escaping the rain in Barcelona yesterday evening, to lie out on the Third Floor listening all the while to the latest manoeuvring of our coalition government.

The confusion surrounding the 5% extra majority that it will take of dissolution of parliament was wrongly reported as the margin needed for a successful vote of no confidence. Outraged armour proper was paraded by disgruntled politicians on the radio waves until a prosaic correspondent explained what the 5% actually meant. I can see that this is protection for the Lib-Dems to try and stop the Conservatives calling an election without any reference to their coalition partners. This may be convenient for them but it does not fit in with the workings of parliament. They seem to think that as a coalition they can dispense with the niceties of ordinary parliamentary procedure on the basis that two parties are working together! I think that this attitude is going to be a fruitful source of outrage!

The 5% (how that figure seems to haunt the present government) cut that ministers took in their wages as almost the first decision that they made, reflects what has been done in Spain. The government here has announced a 5% cut in the salary of civil servants and a pay freeze for next year. VAT has been increased by 2% and we can only hope that this is seen by the money markets as a real effort to make some dent in the truly horrific budget deficit that Spain has run up as a result of their delirious Spend! Spend! Spend! response when they found themselves suddenly possessing a very hard currency!

Saturday 15th May 2010

I finally got up today after some thirteen or fourteen hours of sleep: never let it be said that teaching doesn’t take it out of you.

No sooner had I risen than the telephone rang and I recognized the voice of my Turkish friend Kerem. We have known each other for over 23 years and we seem to meet irregularly so we have a lot to catch up on.

Find the hotel where he and his girlfriend we staying was not easy as my GPS seems to regard any road laid in the last decade as something unrecognizable and strange and She Who Must Be Obeyed starts rapping out “Recalculating!” with ever increasing rapidity and you, the driver, start to think that you might just resort to the old and tried method of finding strange places by simply asking a passer-by!

Even when after a number of exploratory twists and turns the Voice said “Arriving at destination on right!” there was no clear indication of an hotel. Retracing my steps and squinting I did make out a bright blue prefabricated building and there they were!

A walk, a lunch and a chat later and they were both off to explore Barcelona further and take a chance on finding a good restaurant for dinner. As Kerem is trying to find a job back in Turkey from his present position in Chicago there is a chance that our next meeting may not be so long delayed!

There is nothing which is quite so delightful as sitting outside a café next to the sea with a cold beer, convivial company and a progression of people passing before you at whom, this being a Mediterranean country, you can stare!

Tomorrow promises to be fine therefore, please direct all communications to the Third Floor!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's just one damned thing after another!

Wednesday 12th May 2010

There are few things more depressing than to get into your car just before the start of another day of toil and not to be able to see out of the passenger side window because of the gastric effusions of various forms of winged open sewers.

Not only was the window plastered, but also the side of the car. This was unpleasant enough but I don’t know what precisely it is, but something in the diet of these foul fowls ensures that their dense droppings combine the qualities of quick drying cement and instant glue.

The monstrous amount of effluent was not touched by the effete wet-wipe with which I tried to clear the daylight stopping mess from the window. I had to resort to a heavy duty abrasive wheel cleaning ‘glove’ to try and get rid of it. Even a ‘glove’ guaranteed to get rid of ingrained dirt and grease from filthy wheels was inadequate in coping with the chunky filth. I had to use neat window cleaner and even then it resisted.

This is no way to start a day – though as if to compensate the usual Monza ride along the freaked out motorways was a little more sedate today and it was only at the last underpass that the usual traffic jams claimed my patience!

Admittedly the confluence of traffic at the roundabout was even more extraordinary than usual but these are the minor horrors that we have as part of our normal existence in getting to this place.

Thursday 13th May 2010

The trip up to Terrassa for Toni’s mum’s birthday celebrations was on clear motorways. Their very clarity emphasized just how horrific they could have been with the slightest disruption. I think that when you are an experienced driver you become depressingly fatalistic and see every road as a possible route to heart failure brought on by galloping frustration. It is sometimes just as stressful to go along a clear road as it is to be caught in a traffic jam: the active mind creates scenarios as you go and you shudder with a sense of prescience as you imagine what could (and is) going to be!

As soon as I reached the flat it started raining which soon developed into healthily sized hail. And I had left my umbrella in the car.

The birthday was the “and this is my bus pass” sort of occasion and the said pass was duly looked at and commented on. The photograph showed a somewhat startled mother as the information that a photograph was necessary for the production of the pass was almost immediately followed by a flash for the said image!

Toni has now returned and brought with him his birthday present of a Wii console. My greatest score in the basketball game (in which two year olds score comfortably towards double figures) was 1. This was an infinite improvement on my first attempt! I was told that the flick of my wrist was not expressive enough! I foresee hours of misery ahead as I try to emulate the gaming achievement of people a fraction of my age!

Kerem, my Turkish friend from my first visit to Turkey a considerable number of years ago, is about to visit Barcelona and I am looking forward to seeing him again. The last time we met was when he brought his wife (now history) to see me in Cardiff! A long time ago indeed!

I have recently undergone a Saint Anthony type temptation. I don’t think that we are told the exact type or form of temptation that the Saint had to undergo but painters through the ages have taken it to be an excuse for the painting of scantily clad ladies frolicking in the near vicinity of the stoical Saint who in most paintings is studiously ignoring their lascivious looks. Being made of much sterner stuff than your average lion loving desert haunting saint, I might, in similar circumstances, be able to turn aside from glistening bodies of writhing flesh, but might be unable to resist glistening bodies cast in the guise of gadgets!

Amazon, which keeps sending me e-mails in the manner of a modern day tempter spreading the riches of the world at my feet, has caught on to the fact that I have “a bit of a thing” with watches and cameras (not to mention computers) and it regularly deluges me with blandishments which include suggestive photographs of various type of machines all presented in alluring colour and with “one click ordering” only one convulsive movement away from being mine!

The latest sinful offering was a Canon camera with a large optical zoom and a more domestic price. I cannot, under any circumstances that I can reasonably bring to mind, justify buying another camera. I already have one or two (and possibly more) which quite adequately almost fill my needs. A bigger zoom would be indulgence of the purest form.

In a desperate attempt to limit my pointless expenditure I searched on the internet for information about the camera. The more information I acquired the more delightfully necessary it seemed to have it in my possession.

Then, suddenly, I noted a small discrepancy. I had been looking at the Canon SX200 but the reviews I was looking at were of the SX200SI. Further exploration showed that what Amazon was offering was an older model and that it had been superseded by the SX2010 which offered a greater zoom and more pixels. There was also the fact of a cashback offer from Canon of £30 which would bring it to within . . .

And the crisis passed.

Why is it that a desirable object with “must have” written all over it suddenly becomes tawdry and offensive when another and better product at only a little more suddenly hoves into view? And why do you not buy the better product? Because, suddenly, I want neither. Calm and financial sanity has been restored.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed not buying a new camera – probably got more pleasure (in the short term) than I would have managed to obtain from owning the actual object. Possibly.

The hail of yesterday in Terrassa has progressed today into sunny intervals with light rain and occasional cloud. The showers appear to be localized and if we have rain, it is warm rain at least!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Give me the sun!

Another day when it is a crying shame to be teaching indoors and not lazing about on the Third Floor.

But that is what teaching is, a constant series of opportunities lost while mouthing platitudes to the unresponsive. Away with it all!

In a major effort in which brain cells died right, left and centre I managed to get almost up to date with my marking. “Almost” is the nearest you ever get in this place where there is always something waiting to be marked, as odd papers from odder pupils appear and then disappear made heavier by the weight of red pen laid down on the language which has only a tangential relationship with English as she is spoke.

For some reason which doesn’t immediately suggest itself to me the driving as I was coming to work this morning was more than usually aggressive. By the time you actually arrive at the turn off on the motorway for the road which eventually gets you to the school you are sullenly shell-shocked and then almost immediately you find yourself in the approach road out of the tunnel leading to the roundabout. Up to five lanes of traffic attempt to get into two lanes while one or two other lanes are there for yet other streams of traffic to go straight on.

It is, as you can imagine absolute, unutterable chaos. People do not indicate as they try to change lanes they insinuate their way into your lane. If you driving a four-by-four then insinuation is not really their nature. People look straight forward and drive as if there was nothing in their way. I, of course, keep to the rules of the road and am constantly appalled by the sheer bloody-mindedness of my fellow road users.

There are “two” lanes around the roundabout: the inside one to go towards the centre of Barcelona and the other to go up the hill to my school. The norm is for the car on my left to carve me up and to add insult to injury by then turning right rather than going straight on. Over the months I have come to expect this discourtesy and I no longer scream with rage. This morning I barely tutted as cars around me attempted to create four lanes out of the two that actually existed. Added to all this you have to factor in the buses which ferry our privileged students to their places of learning, winding their way up steep gradients in streets which are almost comically too narrow for them.

It is hardly surprising that my morning cup of tea which I have as soon as I get into the staff room is sometimes accompanied by shaking hands and deep breathing!

One more lesson to go and even as I type clouds are fingering their way across the sky to ensure that by the time that I make my escape from this place the Third Floor will be in overcast dullness.

Shine on!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Everything has a price

In spite of the fact that I actually gained a free period I felt exhausted at the end of the day. The “gained” free was spent marking and the “gained” free was also busily generating more marking for me as it was (surprise, surprise) an examination. As we have just finished one set of examinations we are now building up to the next set. It’s what we do. We have to keep in mind that term ends for the pupils on the twenty-somethingth of June so we must be careful to ensure that we have to time to fit in yet another forest of wasted paper on which the kids can scribble.

Perhaps my world weary cynicism may be explained by the fact that the weather today has been glorious: I have been able to observe it through windows as I stayed indoors with the clients. The Third Floor was calling but I was constrained to stay indoors and teach unwilling children in Barcelona instead of soaking up the rays in Castelldefels.

Tiredness seems to be informing the attitudes of many of my colleagues and I think we are all ready to call it a day and settle down to the hard work of enjoying a couple of months holiday. It is just unfortunate that this attitude has come a month early! This term and this year seem to have dragged their way along and we all want to be shot of them.

However, this is not to be for some considerable time: there are some six weeks to go before we can rid ourselves of the kids and start preparing for the next year.

My mood is not lighted to find that The School That Sacked Me has appointed a woefully inadequate person as the headteacher. I was informed of this development in a socked mobile message from One Who Knows. It has galvanized us to take the next steps to getting something done about this travesty of an educational institution. We have to believe that doing the same thing again and again will eventually have some effect on the people whose job it is to have some control on these places!

The mosquitoes seem to be taking their first tentative sips of my fine vintage Group A rh positive, and given the amount of rain that we have had there are plenty of little pools of water in which their larvae can breed and flourish. Being ever hopeful I have bought a plug in high pitch sound maker which is supposed to be intolerable to the flying pests and inaudible to me. I think that one has to have faith and impenetrable skin for this to work properly.

I listen (via my very wonderful internet radio) to the Comic Opera posturing that is taking the place of authentic political activity in the UK. With Brown’s “statesman-like” statement of his intention to resign and the democratic impetus of the Lib-Dems forcing the hapless Clegg to open negotiations with Labour I can no longer take what is happening with any degree of seriousness.

Surely no one in their right minds would want to be in power to preside over the most Draconian austerity measures that will have to be implemented when the full extent of the economic crisis finally is accepted by the blinkered majority of the British population? Perhaps the lust for power blinds the politicians to the practical responsibilities that will come when they actually take power.

Let the Whitehall Farce continue, though I think that there should be a stage erected in Trafalgar Square and the politicians should be forced to make their entrances and exits on a stage which Brian Rix made famous. Then they could all come on through one door and hide in cupboards and exit stage right pursued by a bear!

I was reading in The Week that in Belgium (a country invented by the British to annoy the French) it took them nine months after the last election to agree a coalition. That should give us something to think about! We would soon be looking back on the interminable General Election Campaign as a sort of Golden Age!

Enough! I hope my temper will be better tomorrow!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Important Things In Life

Tea stocks are perilously low and I am debating the exact logistics to help me decide whether or not to suffer our local supermarket on a Sunday morning.

The entire population of Castelldefels seems to pack itself into the nearest Carrefour and shop as if a super volcano had exploded and food for the next few years of global winter had to be collected. People pack their trolleys as if everything was free and meander round the store with evil intent as if they were all revived Boudicas with imaginary knives on the trolley wheels!

Then there is the waiting in the queue. I am now resigned to the fact that there will be people in front of me who should obviously have been strangled at birth. I know that when I go to the supermarket checkout there will be at least one if not more of the following idiots in the queue in front of me:

1 Slow un-packers
2 Slow packers
3 Parents who allow children to pack
4 Conversation makers
5 Clothes buyers (always a problem)
6 Price checkers
7 Goods exchangers
8 Out of date voucher givers
9 Credit card searchers
10 Exact money givers
11 General idiots.

I have often thought that a flame-thrower should be essential equipment for the discerning shopper!

Final preparations for the journey to Terrassa are now being made. Marking has been comprehensively ignored (I will, as tradition demands, worry about it later tonight) and put away. Now begins the Royal Hunt of the Power Lead for the camera.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Something for Nothing!

A small stage set up in a ludicrously picturesque courtyard with a backdrop composed of the rusticated stone of the Palau del Lloctinent was the setting for a free concert of ancient music this morning. This was one of a series set in three locations over two days. All free. This is part of the XXXIII Festival de Música Antiga de Barcelona.
We managed to do two concerts before lunch. The first was the Ensemble Estampes a trio which played music by Teleman, Marais and Rameau. The location was also a pedestrian thoroughfare so this incidental music was put to its right purpose as people wandered about and chatted as they went. It was still a delight, though there was a sense of unreality at the historical beauty of it all.

The second venue where the Trio Arethé played was, if anything, even more unreal set in the courtyard of the Pati Reial Académia de les Bones Lletres which looked like a Zefferelli set for Romeo and Juliet! The star of this trio was Juan Rodriguez who played the flauta de bec (superior recorder) as if he was possessed. Spurning a score he played round about a zillion notes in impossible sequences that were truly breathtaking. The music was of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and, not only did I thoroughly enjoy this programme but also I got just a tad browner as, unlike the natives, we sat in the sun!

Lunch was in a quick Wok type restaurant where your freshly made meal was served in one of those cardboard containers that one sees on American television series when the actors have a Chinese meal. Fresh, delicious and spicy – who could ask for more!

The Anatole France book of “Selected Stories” has now been read and I suspect that I have read this before; certainly I have read some of these before – the story “The Procurator of Judaea” is familiar and well anthologized. It is a pedestrian story only made memorable by the last line with its bitter irony. The rest of the stories were attempting an almost classic status as though they wanted to be instant parables, but I found them instantly forgettable. Perhaps in another fifteen years I will open the book again and wonder at the vague familiarity!

The weather, which today has been glorious, is set to return to its evil ways tomorrow and rain (a familiar phenomenon in this part of the world) we are told will fall. This means that the Celebration of the Three Birthdays will take place in Terrassa – to which I will have to take three chickens from our take-away as it is better than the one in Terrassa!

I have, of course, been listening to Radio 4 to find out what Machinations have been going on in the UK. I do not envy the Lib-Dems as they start their flirtation with the Conservatives in the expectation of voting reform and the future promise of real power. It is going to be impossible to wrap up their lust for government in high-sounding “what is good for the country” rhetoric and their alliance with the Conservative will result in their destruction. And rightly so.

Alternatively, any approach to Labour with Gordon Brown still in charge is equally fraught with danger for them. Soon the Labour Party will start its ritual disembowelment of everyone in sight as the traditional post-election-failure syndrome kicks in and in the flurry of indiscriminately wielded knives I am sure that party activists will not make any distinction between new-friend and foe as the blood begins to flow.

The talk of a Progressive Alliance of Labour, Lib-Dem, Plaid and the Scottish Nationalists, oh sorry, and the Green forming an almost-majority and trying to govern is straight out of a comic book – an adult horror slasher XXX rated comic book. Though I suppose it could be amusing to watch such a collection try and govern, as long as you don’t think about the realities of wages, incomes, pensions and investments and all the real things that keep people alive!

Talking of investments, I have been advised not to check on mine for a year or so if I want to keep the smile on my face. I have a feeling that the gains that I have made (taking my savings back to where they were three years ago) might well have been wiped out by the lack of confidence in just about everything that used to be regarded as a “safe and secure” way of looking after your money.

It is at times like this that I am told that I am lucky to have a job – though the only thing about my job that occupies my mind at the moment is the exact date for the start of the summer holidays!

And where is the summer?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Grab summer?

Learn, O my friends, from my experience. Let no-one tell you that a few random gleams of sunshine make a summer. Let no-one (lest of all yourself) encourage you to leap into an inviting outside pool thinking that the aforementioned shafts of light from our distant star will have warmed the water to any sort of acceptable level.

Suffice to say my entry into the icy depths of our pool was immediately followed by the expulsion of all oxygen from my lungs. It was like being punched all over the body by a you-sized and you-shaped pair of boxing gloves.

Did I immediately quit the gelid waters? Of course not! I am an experience swimmer in outdoor pools. Admittedly the one that I knew best was heated so that on a cold morning I would see wisps of steam rising encouragingly from the surface of the pool indicating to me (even with my limited grasp of science) that the water was warmer than the surrounding atmosphere.

Eventually the pain subsided and the stinging feeling of intense cold became merely uncomfortable and I even managed to swim and breathe at the same time. Eventually I became so accustomed to the cold (enough nerve endings had been destroyed) that I was even able to drape myself decorously over the submerged division between the main pool and the children’s pool as if it were the height of summer. It wasn’t and the, what shall I call it, “invigorating” effect of my brief submersion lasted for a considerable way into the evening.

By the time it came to going to bed the generally inclement weather had made it clear that the decision to jettison the duvet was premature!

Our poor weather is now becoming a national scandal and summer seems no nearer than it did weeks ago. By rights we should be enjoying the lowlands of the high temperatures that we can expect during summer, but this year has been a year of exceptions and we are getting restless!

Today is Election Day and I find myself being unable to come to a definite conclusion about what I want to happen in this election. Some things are, of course quite clear: the usual Conservative mutterings about the BBC and how its power and programming must be redirected are par for the course. Brown’s comments on immigration were depressing and the way that Clegg parades his wholesomeness reminds me of Coriolanus in the public square!

As we are an hour ahead of the UK, it means that the election results are going to be announced far too late for me to listen to them as the happen. I will have to go to bed and wake up to a different world!

At least Radio 4 is back on line after considerable technical manipulation to get it working. It is not just the turning on and off of equipment, it is the knowing when and how to do it that makes all the difference!

I have now finished reading “The Medusa Project - The Set Up” by Sophie McKenzie. This is a badly written pot boiler with a clunking plot and a ruthlessly rip-off central idea – that a scientist has created a gene which encourages the development of paranormal abilities in youngsters when they reach puberty.

At no point was I convinced by this book and the thought that there would be another four books each one narrated by one of the four teenagers with the Medusa gene in them was frankly depressing.

I read this book immediately after reading the Anthony Horowitz novel “Snakehead” and it merely emphasizes what a competent author Horowitz is.

Now for Anatole France’s stories. I know how to live!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Still dissolving!

Tuesday 4th May 2010
The delay in posting is because I actually left my computer in school plugged into the power! What an honest lot we all are! Still here!

The rain continues to pour down in completely unacceptable quantities and my mood sinks as well!

Driving on the motorways I am continually passed by people who obviously have not noticed that there is standing water and the danger of aquaplaning is high – and the motorcyclists behave as usual! It makes driving a breath-taking experience; though it does nothing for the general state of one’s nerves!

It has now been raining uninterruptedly for two days. I willed myself to see an almost imperceptible brightness over the hills that surround Barcelona while I was driving to school. I took this to be a positive sign that better weather was approaching, and I still believe this in spite of the newspaper promising me yet another day of rain. The only thing that we can look forward to is a day which is described as having heavy rain “showers” which does at least give one the hope that there might be some sort of intermission between the extended periods of dampness!

I have decided to throw a life time of shopping experience to the winds (or the rains) and buy all the birthday presents in El Corte Ingles and hope that they will not rip me off. The service in the store is so nice (that really is the only word that one can use) that it makes the high prices almost acceptable. Also, I have fooled myself enough to believe this, given the economic crisis that we are in it is more than likely that the prices in this prestigious store are keenly competitive and I will do no better elsewhere, even with extensive searching. I do honestly believe! Almost!

My teaching day is more than half way through though, given the reckless rain, it doesn’t feel like it – and I have run out of my tea bags in this building. It just keeps on getting worse.

Last night was a meal and a meeting to discuss The Dream and to discuss further attempts to alert the authorities to the full horror that is The School That Sacked Me. We are compiling a dossier to present to the authorities – and a sorry story of unprofessional viciousness it is. It seems totally astonishing to me that an institution so markedly unfit for purpose on oh-so-many levels should still be functioning after the regular annual catastrophe of the end of the school year when the staff that do not leave in disgust are winnowed out by the completely unthinking, uncaring management. But, year after year it goes on! Perhaps, as we say to our deluded selves, this year will make the difference.

Wednesday 5th May 2010
The first shreds of blue in the sky and an actual diminution in the precipitation from same. Although I would not describe the weather as good, it is certainly better than it has been for the last few days.

I feel very smug as all presents have been bought and all are packed. A general distribution will take place during the weekend which, given the number of people who could be involved, might take place in Castelldefels – though I have a sneaking suspicion that it won’t.

Last night I read an Anthony Horowitz book called “Snakehead” which is one of the Alex Ryder books. This teenage spy has now had six adventures and, although the technology and science are twenty-first century they are basically a Boys’ Own Paper old-fashioned adventure story. The print is big and the pages turn easily and you can see the film which could be made from it. Its level of believability is zero, but I suppose that is not the point of a book like this. Undemanding and enjoyable.

I have now Been Into The Pool twice – probably just as well that I went in over the weekend as there has been no opportunity since to have anything like a civilized swim in the lashing, torrential rain to which we have been subjected. If the weather is only half way decent I promise myself another immersion when I get home – this is, after all, my early finish.

I called into the supermarket on my way home last night and, as I was unpacking the goods, I saw my next door neighbour making her bizarre way towards her house.

She wasn’t really bizarre but the sight of her leading her crippled dog in its little chariot is a little more than strange. The creature has his back legs strapped to a wheeled platform and his back paws protected with tape as they drag somewhat on the ground as he trundles along. So, there is a woman leading a creation from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch with me trying studiously to ignore her as her menagerie of mutts infuriates me by its incessant production of howls, yelps, yaps, barks and other extraneous noises.

She however made her way resolutely towards me and introduced herself as my neighbour saying that she had seen me many times and was delighted to meet me face to face. She also said that if there was anything she could do, I would only have to ask. My first thought was “destroy your dogs!” but I wasn’t sure what form of “obliterate” I would have to use in Spanish to make my meaning clear. In fact I was disarmed by her approach and put out of my mind that I had rung her door phone the previous night to try and get her to shut up the mournful and demented yelp of one of her dogs. There was a light on in the upstairs bedroom but no one came to answer the door.

Now, after this personal contact, I feel that my justified ire about her baying hounds has, in some way been compromised. Damn human politeness to hell! Which is also where I would like to see the dogs consigned!

I am now running out of the books which I acquired as a result of the Sant Jordi book shop and shall soon have recourse to the more intellectually demanding contents of the classics in my library which I have not read.

I did start a volume of short stories by Anatole France which appear to me to be beautifully written (as far as I can tell from the translation) but strangely irrelevant. I shall reserve further judgement until I am further into the volume.

Meanwhile I have the duty of making birthday cards ahead of me. The giving of cards is not the highly developed waste of money that it is in the UK, so I have had recourse to some blank cards and the collection of bits and pieces that I have acquired to produce “handmade” masterpieces. I think, at present, that I am partially stymied by the fact that I use Pritt to try and bring everything together and for some of the things that I try and stick Pritt does not have the ruthless adhesion that I require! Where is the solvent packed Bostic when you need it!

But first a swim!

Monday, May 03, 2010

And the rain it raineth every day!

As the rains lash down I contemplate a day which is going to stretch into the dim distance which is misty with the miasma of total boredom.

We are having one of our periodic meetings of interminable discussions about the progress (or lack of it) of the students in our charge. These meetings are supposed to be conducted in Spanish but it doesn’t take long before one member of staff uses Catalan and then everyone seems at home in it. Except me of course.

I suppose that over my career, if I cared to count up the number of hours that I have spent in meetings I would find that I have spent as much as (if not more than) a year in these simulacrums of hell. This is believable if you take the “teaching” week to be 25 hours long and the teaching year to consist of around 40 weeks. That is, after all “only” a thousand hours of meetings – and believe you me it seems a damned sight longer than that. And probably was!

The real question, of course, is what this millennium of meeting actually achieved. And the in the answer to that lies, I suspect, madness!

So, today, my worst working day; the rain descending viciously; the threatening prospect of a deadly dull meeting, and having to get three birthday presents – I am not a happy bunny.

As usual I shall take my relief escape route via a book. I started a rather ropey adventure story last night at home, but the quality of “young person” writing was not sufficient to keep me from my bed. I intend to find something more challenging from the books that I am supposed to read for school and plunge into one of those in an attempt to keep my sanity.

The next few weeks should see the start of the process which heralds the end of term. Gradually one loses classes and our absurd timetable becomes a little more humane.

This “breathing space” is not going to come quickly enough for me to use the time to contemplate what to buy for the crowd of people who, most inconsiderately, have their birthdays bunched at this time of the year.

I have a rough idea of what I want to get but I am also well aware that such foresight can be blasted into nothingness by the availability of what I want not being to hand when I am looking.

I am only confident about one present and the rest will have to rely on momentary inspiration. In Spain I am handicapped by the fact that my knowledge of the shops is not as encyclopaedic as it was at home and the easy reworking of plans is rather more problematical here than there. Still, there is always El Corte Ingles which is my every present help in time of trouble. And I do hope you noticed the pun in there!

It is now the evening. The rains are still lashing down and the drainage system of this country is naturally incapable of coping. One drives through the streets accompanied by picturesque sheets of water. The one advantage of this deluge is that it compensates for the fact that I usually park under pine trees. The same pine trees that are the haunt of gastrically liberated pigeons. Their droppings come with a generous measure of super glue which ensures that the mess adheres to the car with limpet-like strength. Luckily our rain in this part of the world is liberally polluted and so is able to counteract the effects of other parts of the so-called natural world!

The meeting is, at long last, over. It was mind-bendingly tedious and, much as I was in Cardiff, I have become the focus of those wandering eyes in meetings which try and find a visual representation for how they feel. My meeting face is anything but poker-like and, as I was sitting opposite the two heads of secondary section of the school they ought to have found it unnerving to see someone so nakedly and sullenly uninterested in what was going on – as usual in Catalan, so my attempts to follow what was happening were frustrated yet again and added a further level of frustration and despair.

Tomorrow the buying of birthday presents and a play in El Corte Ingles: at least that is something to look forward to! Possibly!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The marking has ground to a halt because too many students are getting things wrong! The specific detail in which we have to teach reported speech is horrific. At least for me it is. I am now revisiting something which I last studied in detail when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister!

I have been following the election in Britain with growing despair. Good Old Gordon is having the sort of rotten luck that usually spells failure and, with utter dread, I watch the country be led towards voting for a situation in which Cameron will have some sort of power to decide the future. Dear God! And because the lib-dem leader does well on television he is now some sort of National Figure who is talking as if he is a serious candidate for office with his extensive experience of not having any meaningful national office apart from being the head of a wrecking party!

Since marking has taken prime position in my life over the last week, I have gorged myself on reading when I have had the opportunity!

I read “H.I.V.E” by Mark Walden which was one of the books that I acquired from the bookshop in the library to celebrate Sant Jordi.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was written in a way that you could see the film version of the text in your head. This is an action adventure story of a group of super criminals and specifically the school for budding criminals that the organization has founded. The pupils in this school are gifted in various criminal ways, but they are made attractive by there being a really nasty criminal who seems to make them acceptable by comparison.

This is a gadget filled, James Bond style narrative with clear set pieces which scream for computer generated graphics to make them work in the cinema. In one of those meaningless phrases, this “is what it is” but at that level it is a stimulating and vivid read.

The other books which I read over the weekend (after my marking I might add) are both books which I discovered in a cupboard when I was looking for a new set of books to give to my kids. I did find the sets of books that I needed by I also found a whole shelf of new untouched single copy books.

I am not made of the sort of stuff which means that I can ignore two books by Terry Pratchett. I have managed to stop myself buying them, but when I am gifted them in a locked cupboard then I take!

The first one I read was also the better of the two, “The Wee Free Men” which charts the development and adventures of a young girl who discovers that her grandmother was something more than a dedicated shepherd. The something extra is that she is a “Hag” or witch.

This is the sort of book into which you relax. You are, after the first couple of pages, in the hands of a master story teller with a wry comic talent to amuse.

Almost anything I say with take away from the delight with which the story is told and the humour which imbues the whole. This is not to say that there are not moments of pathos and perceptive comment on the human condition, but this is a modern fairy story with strength of narrative which should make this into a classic.

Which is not something that I would say for “The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents” which is as tricky as its convoluted title! This reads as if Pratchett was given the concept (rats eating from a wizards’ rubbish dump and becoming sentient and philosophical – as does a cat who eats one of the changed rats) and challenged to see if he could make a novel out of it.

I think that Pratchett is unable to write a bad book, but this one is less satisfying than others I have read.

The weather has not been perfect but I have been up to the third floor and been able to get a little frantic sunbathing in before the foul weather of next week hits.

Roll on the summer, whenever it feels like making an appearance!