Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time has run out!

The water in the pool this morning was cool. You might call it refreshing or, as I staggered out still sleepy eyed and threw myself in the water, you could call it shocking.

By the time I had done my customary few lengths of breast stroke to acclimatize myself to the water, I found that my goggles were gently leaking. Given that I have not adjusted them throughout the summer this was no major affair and it merely meant that I would have to tighten the straps.

It was at that point that I found out why these Lidl goggles were so reasonable priced.

They have been very serviceable and have been comfortable to wear. They look elegant and have a complex arrangement of plastic parts to ensure that the strap stays in place. A complex arrangement which, I discovered when I attempt to tighten the strap was all dependant on one tiny nub of plastic; which promptly broke, leaving the elegance of the structure something to admire as it was thrown away.

I am not, of course, the sort of person to have only one set of goggles so a replacement was not a problem.

The goggles that I chose had luridly coloured straps (with a very simple fixture to the goggle part) and lenses of a sickly dirty orangey-yellowish sort of colour. The effect was to give my glimpses of the cloud strewn sky the look of the heavens after the Seventh Seal had been opened. Head down and it merely appeared that one was swimming in urine; head up and it looked as though it only needed the Four Horsemen to be heading for me to make the end of the summer complete!

And they are not as comfortable as the last goggles and they make you look like an agency walk-on extra from the set of “Waterworld”: shame if ever there was!

The goggles giving up the ghost on the last day of the holidays seemed like yet another omen or a nice bit of irony!

Lunch in a restaurant we had not previously tried was excellent but the “infusion” I was given which purported to be a “cup of tea” made in the British way with a touch of cold milk was nothing even close to the real thing. It keeps up the sad record of never (not once) having had a decent cup of tea in any bar or restaurant in Spain. The coffee is usually very good, but, if you are British then there are times when only a cup of tea will do. And a proper cup of tea at that. I will not give up, but I have no lively expectation of success.

There is an inevitable difference between the idea and the practical application of that idea.

Garden fences are tricky things in all sorts of ways. One could have the Robert Frost poem in one’s mind about “good fences make good neighbours” and see the building of a new fence or the augmentation of an old one as an artistic affirmation of the power of poetry – or it could just be a desire for a little more privacy.

We are counting the days when our obnoxious neighbours on one side (who think it fun to have an outdoors radio and television on for the greater part of the day and then argue their way into the night) will finally decamp for the city and leave us in relative peace.

The peace is relative because the neighbour on the other side has made me wish for a very localized outbreak of hardpad, rabies and distemper to destroy her barking zoo of misshaped mongrels. I am assuming that the bawling brats in the houses in front of us will be taken back to school in the next week or so.

All of this makes me sound very grumpy, but I have to admit that I have had a great and invigorating time off school and have actually managed to complete some of the tasks (which I am certainly not going to list) which I set myself at the start of the period of freedom that I have enjoyed.

Our attempt to make the fence a little higher was doomed from the start. After an abortive effort to secure the post which was going to carry the wire which was going to support the bamboo which was going to be the new fence we sort of gave up to regroup and find another solution.

The last day of freedom.

I am getting my case together and assembling the books which I will need to photocopy to ensure a smooth start to the term with the pupils next week.

This year should, in a professional sense, be more interesting than last. I will be teaching the history of art; current affairs; English Arts (don’t ask) and my various language classes.

What is going to be interesting is to see how far plans outlined at the end of the last academic year have changed.

What will also be “interesting” is the likely way that the possible future staffing problems that pregnancies are going to cause will be sorted out. I have a horrible feeling that I may be involved in the solution and that believe me, is not good news. Being a class teacher in our school is an involved and language heavy task and not one that I care to undertake. But I get ahead of myself and I should calm down and wait for developments.

Sing ho! for the life of a bear.

Monday, August 30, 2010

But two months, nay, not so much, not two

As if to share my growing grief the pine needles seemed to have given up hope and have dropped silently onto the surface of the pool last night. The sun hid itself behind the clouds as I ploughed my lonely furrow – and this time, given the amount of vegetation in the pool the metaphor did not seem too out of place!

I have started my traditional preparations: getting a new battery for another watch so that the summer watch can be placed in a drawer with one or two others that I have accumulated over the years. As is now usual when I get a battery changed, it was anything but ordinary.

I had thought to wear a red Ronson watch, of which I am particularly fond, but it is many years since that one has ticked and even the surge of power from a new battery was unable to get it started. So many years ago was it bought that I can find no mention of Ronson watches on the internet except in those catch-all sites which give you a false sense that they actually have real information but it is all a blind.

My choice of watch for the autumn term (I could probably make it a weekly choice if I wanted) reverted to the one near perfect watch that I own.

I have a simple list of requirements for a watch:

1 It must be waterproof

2 It must have luminous hands

3 It must display the day and date

4 It must have a sweep second hand

5 The hours must be numbers

You check out any page of watches in a catalogue or on the internet and you will see just how few fulfil all the conditions that I consider necessary. Even when you realize that I am prepared to be flexible about the colour of the watch face and the strap my conditions eliminate well over 95.4% (a figure I have just made up) of all watches currently on sale.

My Swatch “Irony” is one of the very few watches I own which have all five requirements. Bless it.

I left the watch to have its battery inserted while I went shopping for groceries and on my return a distrait young lady weakly held out the watch and said that she had been unable to open the battery compartment. She had been trying to dislodge it with a 10c coin which didn’t really fit the groove, whereas I had a 1c coin which I had picked up from the floor of some bar in a gesture which obviously showed that at least some of my antecedents were from a place is Wales a little further west than Cardiff!

With my reading of Chandler firmly fixed in my mind I twisted the coin and the back opened. It was at this point that I should have made some throwaway remark or originality and hard bitten wit, instead of which I did a mock growl to demonstrate my he-man potential. This was greeted with what could only be described as an embarrassed simper.

Well, at least the watch works and I now have a band of gleaming metal on my wrist which is a contrast from the chunky black plastic that I have been sporting for the summer.

Armed with the “new” watch we defiantly went to the beach where I at least threw myself into the foaming shallows and was slapped and buffeted by waves which for the Mediterranean were large and aggressive. In a thoroughly domestic and matronly sort of way the currents and waves all tend to bring you to shore in double quick time. Indeed the interval from being out of your depth and suddenly being able to stand up is so swift that the illusion of security that comes with touching the sand with your feet is immediately thumped out of you by waves which come laughingly over your head and tumble you the few remaining feet to shore.

The sun was not immediately the most impressive thing about being on the beach, I think the sandpapering from the brisk breeze propelling sand grains at delicate skin was the more obvious, though by concentrating on the texture, colour and movement of the waves noting particularly the effects of whatever fugitive light from the skittish sun was about it was possible to forget about the abrasion. Now say that a cultured mind is worth nothing!

I have now reached the stage where interspersed with the more normal fare there are some strange un-Chandler-like stories emerging from the electronic innards of my e-book reader. One of them concerned a magic bronze door and the next story is entitled “Professor Bingo’s Snuff” – I can’t help feeling that I am delving into those reaches of Chandler’s literary past where, like Asimov in his mind-bendingly awful “Lucky Starr” novels (all of which I have read, I might add) you find stuff stories which were simply written for money. At least Asimov adopted a pseudonym!

I am painfully aware that, as evening draws on, there is only one clear day left of the holiday. I have therefore decided to turn my mind to an altogether more congenial date in what really is the very near future.

There are now 55 days to the time when I will start to “earn” by doing nothing more than staying alive.

I am sure that a numerologist would make something of 55 but to me it merely signifies a time period of less than two calendar months.

And I’m counting!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sundays are always bad days for teachers, unless of course they occur in holidays. There is a sort of flatness about a Sunday, even after the stranglehold of the church has been relaxed a little allowing us to whistle on a Sunday if we choose, there is a deadness to the day which does not encourage happy thoughts.

Of course in these more enlightened times, the whole concept of the “weekend” invented by the British has been hijacked by modern entrepreneurs and turned into working opportunities. Contracts, especially in the retail sector, now routinely contain a section taking away the sacred weekend for many workers and turning it into an ordinary working part of the week.

The weekend for teachers is the one factor which keeps (most) teachers on an even keel, or at least makes our stumbling progress to the Nirvana of the summer holidays possible.

I am still having counselling for the meeting which was scheduled for a Saturday last year. I think that the supine acceptance of this abomination infuriated me more than the obscenity of its being called in the first place.

Next month sees what is supposed to be a General Strike. Given the laughable organization and power of the unions in this country (especially in the teaching sector) it will be interesting to see exactly how this momentous event plans out.

Many government workers, including teachers, have been given a pay cut of 5% and a pay freeze. VAT has been increased and inflation, as far as I can see in the little oasis of prosperity in which I live, is on the up and up. In other words the scene is set for a major confrontation with the ludicrously inept government which purports to govern Spain at the moment. But . . .

The employment law in this country, which makes Byzantine complexity look like an IKEA construction leaflet – I`m not sure that image is quite what I thought it was going to be, but I am far too intellectually lazy to change it now! The end result is that the “power” of the unions seems at best compromised by the structure in which they have to operate.

It will be very interesting to see how my school reacts to the General Strike (you can tell I am a trade unionist by the way that I put those words in capital letters and feel just a shade of historical guilt about the event) and what measures they put in place.

The school has behaved quite decently about the foolish meanderings of the government so far and they have protected teachers’ wages as far as they say they are able, but if the strike goes ahead then there will be transport chaos in Barcelona.

I have no intention of sitting in a traffic jam for a couple of hours getting to school and then doing the same trying to get home: I don’t mind sitting in a jam in school time, but I am damned if I am going to do it in my own!

The obvious solution would be to close the school for the day – but we have parents who pay a lot of money for us to act as childminders and they would not be best pleased if they have to look after their progeny again so soon after the summer holiday!

There is also the response to the half term break in February next year the details of which still have still not been finalized. Some colleagues will be with kids on trips and the children I teach will simply not be in school. There have been a whole variety of solutions to the staffing problems but I wait for further variations at stages intervals up to the time of the holiday itself!

Basketball is, I concede an a lively sort of sport when it is being played at full tilt but that only happens between what seem like interminable stoppages and that gives one time to note all the irritations which make it so difficult to watch.

The players are clearly freaks whose early deaths are clearly signalled by their ridiculous height. For some of these players scoring a basket only necessitates their launching themselves a couple of inches from the ground – and that is just as well as they look as though any further height and the stadium would be destroyed with the force of their landing. One critic once asked what was the point of actually playing the games when all you had to do was measure the teams and then give the result to the one with the greatest number of units of measurement.

But the real absurdity is the wholesale adoption of the nauseating American attitudes to the game that the players demonstrate from group hugs, high fives, the whole touchy-feely thing, and the breathtakingly arrogant way some players score and most importantly don’t always score because of the theatricals they demonstrate.

Then there are the ‘time-outs’ when coaches use etch-a-sketch boards to demonstrate to players that it is important to get the ball through the hoop, glittering girls come on and cavort while Spanish television manages to broadcast even more adverts than the already illegal limits to which they normally work.

Some sort of basketball world cup is taking place somewhere and, as the Spanish team is usually quite good at this sort of thing, we are being saturated with hour after hour of tall men bouncing balls. It is positively purgatorial and I am sure that I will be far more vituperative by the end of next week if this torture continues that long.

Meanwhile Chandler leads me along the dangerous roads of Los Angeles and the winding ones up to imposing mansions in Beverly Hills whose immaculate lawns and clipped hedges give little indication of the corruption behind those facades they lead to. I am almost, but not quite persuaded to join his characters in a drink of bourbon, rye or whiskey (which for all I know might be the same thing) no one seems to drink wine and I know that any reference to “beer” is not bitter.

But how can a reader not forgive Chandler for his sheer inability to treat his reader with anything less than respect. And still hundreds of pages (large print) to go!

But only two more days of holiday!


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Big Read

It is proving more and more difficult to emerge from a world in which all ladies seem to have small pearl handled guns in their reticules and where the drinking of whiskey is obligatory to take away the pain of being smacked across the face by some ignorant policeman. In short the world of Raymond Chandler.

Seventeen hundred large print pages have been eagerly consumed by me and I merely worry that there will too little time to finish this book before the dreaded start of term.

The weather also seems to be taking a turn for the ironic with our “suffering” the two hottest days of the summer at this late stage in the dying days of August as a cruel reminder that the summer does not necessarily end when the teachers go back to school!

I only hope that the pool retains its heat to allow a swim in the evening when I come back from school. This year, as I am never slow to repeat, the leisurely fortnight of half days before the advent of the kids has been telescoped into a week of full time grind with an extra week with the students to make up for the lost time! A bum deal, as I am sure Chandler might have said if his legendary black humour could not supply a cutting remark sufficient suitably to attack a management who consider this a good idea.

The garden is something which has suddenly got a raised profile as Toni has “Ideas”. This usually means that I have to try and destroy the tree stumps again.

These stumps are the remains of trees which were decreed doomed and where chain sawed by myself as part of the destruction process. I have also strewn rock salt in the ground around the stumps and filled bore holes with salt as well. The result is that they sprout shoots of luxuriant growth all the time.

I have cut off the shoots for the last time. I will refresh the salt and add bleach for good measure and, if they grow again then I will regard it as an off-shoot of the tree of life and I will try to destroy it no longer, and probably install a suitably world weary snake to live among its everlasting branches!

I have bought some new solar lights as my contribution to the new look garden. They look much more modern and give little light – who could ask for more; decorative and practically useless. I`m sure there is a moral there somewhere.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A swimming pool with children in it is like being locked in a bathroom with an obtrusive fly: irritating.

Let us get a few ground rules clear.

Children in swimming pools should always be supervised by parents whose primary duty should be confined to telling the children to stay in the children’s pool, especially if they are toddling around with arms at 90% to their bodies because of the inflated bands of plastic which keep them afloat. Their secondary duty is to keep repeating the mantra, “Don’t get in the way of that nice man who is swimming lengths in the pool because he will cut you with his sharpened nails or hurt you with enthusiastic leg kicks and it will be you own fault if you start crying because you have been warned so don’t come crawling to me!”

But they never do.

No; instead they watch their little darlings gravitated towards the only part of the pool where someone is actually swimming with all the suicidal intent of feckless iron filings attracted to a powerful magnet.

No matter where you start swimming, within moments some little cartoon character will patter its way towards your line of strokes and hurl itself into your way.

The positive side of this is that it does give you an incentive to be wary when making your way up and down the pool in a straight line a small children are still capable of breaking your back as they giggle their way almost into your path.

And the parents of course, of course, naturally, say nothing.

You will notice that political liberality does not extend itself to the watery element in my case. Etiquette is etiquette; just as steam must give way to sail so flounderers and players and people larking about must keep out of my way as I make my stately and sometimes seriously expressive way up and down the pool.

The holiday has now dwindled to the weekend and a few days and my diatribes against pool abuse will dwindle just as quickly as the temperature of the water settles down into it autumnal range which will preclude my immersing myself in the chilly liquid!

My reading of Chandler continues to fascinate; especially his blatant use of earlier short stories as the basis for later novels.

The early short story “The Curtain” for example has the opening sentence: “The first time I ever saw Larry Batzek he was drunk outside Sardi’s in a secondhand Rolls-Royce.” In “The Long Good-Bye” is has become: “The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.” The second is the more powerful as ironic detachment has become more pronounced. The first is direct but unbalanced by the odd name, whereas in the second the archaism of “laid eyes on” the more ordinary name, the specific model of the Rolls-Royce and the use of a less famous place than Sardi’s seem to indicate the direction that Ian Flemming was to make his own.

Reading books electronically means that you can make notes easily and tag those lines and sentiments which appeal. You can read about dark places and shady haunts where “the people are dissipated without grace, sinful without iron” in gatherings where “furtive-eyed men slid words delicately along their cigarettes, without moving their lips” talking to women who are “handsome, but this side of beautiful.” It is all finely written and as I consume story after story I realize that I am just as addicted as virtually all the characters in the tales who seem to exist on drugs of one sort of another as they take slug after slug from the square shaped bottles when they finally remove their cigarettes from their mouths!

At least the weather is something that we have in common as the sun shines in Spain as it shines on the Spanish place names of Los Angeles and the surrounding countryside!

I have read about half of the electronic pages so far in my Chandler Omnibus but I have plenty of hardback additions to keep me happy until the start of term!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Seek and ye shall find - sometimes!

Tidying up does have its advantages.

I am not interested in the obvious ones like keeping the Black Death and other interesting diseases at bay, but rather the much more interesting ones like finding the right power lead for the right power recipient.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can power up gadgets just as well via the MSB socket as from a power lead connected to the mains; even if your MSB socket is actually lined to the mains. My e-book readers remain as stubbornly unfulfilled with the pap power from the MSB as if I had merely waved the gadget around in the vicinity of a socket in the wall.

Tidying, however, revealed the True Power Lead and suddenly I am able to read my way through about 3,000 pages of the collected works of Raymond Chandler. Admittedly this is the large print version of the books and short stories where the size of the print does at least mean that you can read it easily whatever the light no matter how bright or how dim.

Restraining my desire to re-read “The Big Sleep” (the only English novel I took with me on a trip to France in the hope that by constant re-reading I would at last understand who was killed and why) with considerable difficulty I have read the introduction to this immense compendium and started reading a selection of the short stories, some of which do not reflect the final choice of the name Marlowe as the only and authentic appellation for such a famous detective. It is strangely unsettling to find someone speaking in Marlowe’s voice and acting in the way that one has come to expect from reading the great novels and yet not having his name!

Reading for me is a powerful drug and I should be careful about the way in which I indulge my passion as I tend to retreat into my own (or rather the author’s) world and being recalled to an inevitably mundane reality is often something of a shock!

The books from the WJEC have finally arrived and I have spent some time in reading the latest approaches to the teaching of media studies which will be one of my areas of pedagogy in the coming year. The book produced directly for the WJEC by teachers in Wales has been of less use than I expected and the Heinemann text book looks like something much more directly linked to what actually has to be taught. I expect that a judicious use of both books will eventually form the basis for m approach. I hope!

The work for the history of art course continues with my delighted enthusiasm, although I am amassing a vast number of books in which illustrations and photocopies could be used and I have to weigh up the difference between my photocopying them at home and taking the weighty tomes into school, finding somewhere to keep them during the day and cart them all back again. I know that the real solution is to put everything on a pen drive and then print out. I am working on it!

The other elements of the courses that I am teaching will just have to wait until I get back into harness. This, I realize with horror, is now next week! Dear god!

We have a week 9-5 of time without the students. This looks generous until you compare it with last year when we had a fortnight of 9-1 without the students. This means, in theory, that we have exactly the same amount of “time” for us to attend to those administrative and educational tasks that we managed last year, but anyone will tell you that a fortnight of breaking for lunch is nothing like the same as a week full time.

It also means that there is an extra week with students in a term which is crucifying long as it is. In Spain there is no half term so it is a solid unimaginable wilderness of weeks before the Christmas Break. There are one or two “Bridge” days which link into weekends to give some respite but they are few and far between so teachers look thoroughly shell shocked by the time the commercial horrors of the Nativity are upon us!

Constant checking of the progress of my teachers’ pension on-line does not make the “60% complete” gain a single percentage point more. I do understand that the normal retirement day for teachers will be the first of September or a week later, whenever the autumn term starts and mine is towards the end of October. I have to expect that the bulk of administration will be taken up with the people retiring before me, but it would be gratifying to find a little more progress so that I can be confident that everything will be ready for the Great Day.

Meanwhile I shall enjoy the last few days of the holiday and keep thinking positive thoughts.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Drink takes away the pain

There is a dying fall to each arm stroke as I wend my way up and down the pool. How many more lengths until the fateful entry of September puts paid to my feats of swimming?

One has to make the most of what one has and try not to think of the morrow, or at least the week after tomorrow which takes up to the fateful day when the horror begins again.

Talking of horror our unutterable neighbours have, despite our worst thoughts, been better than they were last year. The “popular” daughter of the household has made an “unfortunate” choice in terms of her male friends and her parti-coloured haired consort has been forbidden the run of the house. This has the added advantage of keeping the rest of the unsavoury brood from haunting the purlieus of our pool. This has meant that the usual foul mouthed imprecations emanating from the other side of the fence have been somewhat limited.

Only somewhat. The television situated outside the front door has been played at full blast whether or not there were any of the selfish scum there to listen. We have had the father screaming at the daughter and the daughter telling her mother to go away in the most brutal terms. We have had the whole family brood shouting their way through the day. But, we must keep telling ourselves, it is much better than it was last year!

Today has been taken up with the visiting of other garden centres and a constant marvelling at the prices that they feel they can charge for the most insubstantial pieces of hard gardening. Our thoughts of using old sleepers to delineate parts of the garden have been dismissed in a shocked appreciation of how much it would cost – especially for actual old beams or sleepers!

Lunch and the afternoon have been taken up with a visit from Suzanne. The fact that we can still talk coherently about education after a few bottles of wine is a tribute to our sheer professionalism and the fact that there was no one else there to listen to the drivel we were speaking!

A vague desire to go to a performance of “Carmen” in the Liceu was translated into direct action and the buying of tickets. At the price we were prepared to pay the first performance for which we were able to get suitable seats was for July of next year. Ah well, it’s just as well to have one’s calendar planned out well in advance!

We also almost booked a flight and hotel in Madrid to go to the Turner exhibition before wiser judgement got in the way of alcohol fuelled possibilities!

I look forward to a quieter water fuelled evening!

Monday, August 23, 2010

A new approach!

The first day of the last full week of freedom is over. Shades of the prison house are indeed closing in and now is the time for a real productive scholastic effort so that the beginning of term may be enjoyed without the hysteria that is usually its natural accompaniment.

So we designed and constructed small cactus gardens.

The rot set in during a casual visit to a new garden centre of remarkable opulence and reassuringly vast prices. The only things that were less than one euro (and situated at the entrance to give one a woefully unrealistic view of the cost of the contents of the shop) were miniscule cactus plants. Finding a reasonably priced round plastic deep sided tray sealed our future activity.

By the time we had bought small ornamental white stones and compost the cost was beginning to rise and, as we bought larger plants to go with the cheap mini plants the cost rose further. What started as a gesture became a statement: not for the first time!

I have to admit that when we had finished our attempts at arid design I had to explain that mine would be at its best when it had grown a little. Self delusion always helps in times of aesthetic trouble!

I think that we had been encouraged to adopt an artistic mode by the excellent lunch we had in our favourite Basque restaurant: food has much to answer for.

Encouraged by an effort which made Capability Brown look like the Grim Reaper I felt empowered to try and bring some sort of order to the office on the Third Floor.

Order (of a sort) has been imposed on the chaos but only at the cost of pushing those things that I do not need at this moment (those last three words are significant) into the long cupboard under the eaves. I have put off the Great Sorting to another day; even so what is left on open view is hardly the impeccable office as seen in the frightening film I saw last week on how to clear your office. It looks better than it did and that is all I am saying!

Although Arthur Conon Doyle had had enough of his Great Detective and took great delight in killing him off in the Reichenbach falls struggling with his arch enemy, the pair of them falling to their respective deaths.

Conon Doyle was not allowed to let his creation wallow in his watery grave but was forced by public demand to resurrect him. Ever since that enforced new life his continuation in literature, film and drama he has been assured.

I read “The Last Sherlock Holmes Story” by Michael Dibdin. This is an elegant pastiche and celebration of the oeuvre with a story line which brings in Jack the Ripper and the dreaded Reichenbach Falls. The narrative purports to be papers that Doctor Watson placed in a bank vault not to be opened for fifty years.

The actual story is, I think, fairly banal though horrific in places. The real point of interest is in the playful way that Dibdin complicates the fact and fiction interplay which always surrounds the life and times of Mr Sherlock Holmes.

I can remember as a child knowing that Conon Doyle wrote the stories, but I also knew that there was a Baker Street and I was assured that 221B actually existed. It was an existential problem that hardened up young children of my generation for the more difficult appearance and reality conundrums that litter everyone’s life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flawless blue skies.

But to someone with my level of paranoia I sense a certain coolness in the breeze which accompanied the hours of sunshine. Autumn is lurking reading to strike and send me scuttling indoors to my prieu dieu begging for more vitamin D.

One of the many things that we overlooked when we first came to the house was the state of the en suite bathroom (a phrase about bathrooms I understand which is not used in France, a bit like our use of Art Nouveau which is not the term the French use) and especially the strip of wall under the shower head.

Something had been done in the past which required the removal of tiles and wall and it had been hastily plastered over and painted. The paint was peeling and some of the plaster rotting. There is an understandable reluctance on our part to do anything of a positive and permanent nature to the structure of the house. A few coats of paint are fine but anything more substantial than that is giving money to the people who take quite enough away from us as it is.

However, something had to be done and we eventually decided to check out how much a splashback would cost. Having discovered glass mosaic tiles set out on a cloth background at about €10 for a pack of ten we decided that it would be an expense we could stand.

Well, it only took us a couple of hours and some intemperate language to put up six tiles with fiddly bits to go round the taps. Six tiles are cemented to the wall and they haven’t fallen down yet. Tomorrow will see the grouting and the putting of the silicone around any and all areas that need it – then I may get my bathroom back!

As we get towards the end of August I foresee an influx of desperate people from Barcelona taking advantage of the last days of the holiday and making for our beaches and parking spaces!

Given the crisis I am not surprised that there appear to have been more tourists in our little town this year than last. I imagine that his is likely to continue for the next few years at least – or even longer if Spain actually recognizes just how serious the crisis really is and starts taking it with some degree of reality rather than the collective denial which appears to be the political response so far.

Meanwhile, while the sun continues to shine I shall also put my head in the national sand and tell myself that September is a long, long way away.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What is important in life?

Spending money (which I do not really possess) can only compensate for poor weather up to a point – and believe you me that point is quickly reached. There is only so much pleasure that can be gained from a new air conditioning machine and it does not cover the misery of listening to rain. It makes no difference to me that the rain was at night when even I do not expect the sun to shine in our particular hemisphere, but I resent it none the less.

This morning dawned clear and I swam until the sun rose above the trees surrounding the pool and the light forced me to do breaststroke on the return length.

The temperature of the water in the pool is almost at the level of “bracing” which is level next to” intolerable” where no matter how energetically you swim you do not get anything like warm or even comfortable.

I have told myself that I must investigate the alleged indoor pool which exists in Castelldefels, otherwise my regular swimming will cease abruptly until next summer!

Today has been by anyone’s standards a good sunny day and the sun had a sort of heat which seemed to be almost compensatory for the rain yesterday. The sun summoned me to the Third Floor and I tried out my new headphones which are supposed to be noise reducing. I am not really sure what this is supposed to mean but it does not (emphatically) drown out the sound of a passing plane!

With the usual juxtaposition of music which the i-pod encourages I listened to hits of the seventies and then to a selection of Russian classics terminating with the utterly wonderful “Russian Easter Overture” Opus 36 by Rimski-Korsakov. This is a masterpiece of orchestration as well as being a ravishing aural delight. It s one of those pieces of music which never fails to give me a shiver of delight every time I hear it. I don’t know whether such a piece of music gains anything by being heard after Meatloaf but it never lets me down whatever the context!

I really think that I have reached my ALB (acceptable level of brownness) as; no matter how long I lie in the sun I do not seem to gain a deeper shade. My paranoid belief that the chlorine in the pool is bleaching my skin is, I know, ridiculous; but it’s possible isn’t it!

“The Bear Nobody Wanted” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a truly delightful book. It is basically a variant on the “Journey of a sixpence” which I was taken to see in the ill-fated Sophia Gardens Pavilion in Cardiff when I was in Junior School. It was so long ago that I was a member of an audience of very young children who actually listened to the performance on stage! Those were the days. I loved the production and felt the touch of magic that is always there in a competent dramatic performance.

The Ahlbergs’ book is the story of an “arrogant” teddy bear whose eye position and stitching of the mouth gave him a look of superiority and, as all thinking people know, that determines the character.

The novel charts the succession of owners and misfortunes that occur in the life of the bear and it lovingly charts the growing development of a feeling sensibility which illuminates the world of the bear.

The novel is set in the forties in the lead up to the outbreak of the Second World War. To all intents and purposes this is a coming of age novel for a kapok filled toy. It is both fascinating and moving and I have read novels with human characters which have been far less convincing that this tour de force. This is a story that is genuinely moving and profoundly enjoyable. Read it!

A duty visit to the town part of Castelldefels resulted in our gravitating towards a bar for a drink. The one we chose seemed to have difficulty in sending a waiter to our table and, the one thing you do not have to tolerate in a sea side town is poor service so we moved away to another.

The one we chose had blush seats and seemed to offer real beer. This turned out to be Irish beer; a bitter form of which under the title of Murphy’s Irish Red or some such designation. I have to admit it was one of the best pints that I have had in Spain. Mainly because it was one of the only real pints of bitter that I have had in this country.

A round of a pit of bitter and a pint of cider came to €11! I had a second pint and it cost €4.50 or about £3.60: nice for a change but not something which I would want to make into a habit – especially as the head was far from legal!

As we were already in town we decided to have dinner and went to a new restaurant which proved to be an excellent choice. The tortilla with cod was superb and the rest of the meal was well up to standard and finished with a wonderfully calorie filled white chocolate cheesecake. This was a restaurant which did not have a problem with providing a bottle of drinkable wine with the meal!

My only hope is that tomorrow is as sunshine filled as today.

Oh yes, and I have to do some work for school.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Drip! Drip! Drip!

The tempests which swept through southern Spain yesterday have reached us as irritating rain storms. We did have some sunshine before the rains started in the late afternoon and now I am typing this to the steady drip of rain from the roof onto the terrace on the Third Floor. More and more the weather seems to presage the coming of autumn; even in the sunshine there is a shiver of coolness to remind one just how bad the summer has been.

And the winter wasn’t very good either.

Altogether a poor showing from the north eastern part of the peninsular to the compact that I thought existed between what powers there are and my poor sun starved self.

There is, of course, an element of protesting too much about all this as I can count the days of rain that I have had to endure on the finger of a relatively ordinary spider and I am likely to dismiss a day as poor and unacceptable which I might have welcomed with something approaching relief in the UK.

My friends, however, inform me that the weather has been “really quite good” in Britain and, apart from not really knowing what that phrase means, it makes me feel glad for my fellow countrymen but a bit resentful when I consider that I have travelled far to ensure a bronzed and god-like appearance – well, brown in bits!

I have been assured that fine weather will follow this unnatural wetness and I will be able to resume the supine governance of my Kingdom of the Third Floor.

In an excess of self-survival (and in direct defiance of the prevailing weather conditions) I have invested in a second air conditioning machine. I was prompted to this by an apparent bargain at the end of season sale in one of our local commercial sheds which sells things for the house. The reduction (whose amount I have already forgotten, for it is the principle involved in the idea of a reduction that influences me) seemed substantial, and I know that the chill comfort of more reasonable temperatures is still some way off, so it was wise in my view to strike when the prices were cooling!

It is only the excitement of a major purchase which can explain our choice for lunch.

As Toni took his first bite of his “Whopper” he said, “This reminds me of Cardiff!” I feel somehow depressed that the fine city of my upbringing should be a la Proust associated with a Burger King “Whopper”!

I must admit that after so much fine food, it is tempting to “rough it” with a burger from a fast food outlet – and anyway I did not pass beneath the double arches of you-know-where; I do have some pride.

Fast food, as usual was a gross misnomer. We had to wait to give our order and then wait again while it was cooked, or whatever they do to the food in those places.

While we were waiting for our tray to fill up some Argentinean chap standing next to us assumed that the tray was his and he pinched a chip! The waitress/cashier informed him sharply that they were not his chips and although he expressed some grunts of dismay it did not occur to him to say sorry. The waitress (sic) behaved with exemplary firmness and swept away the contaminated packet of chips and threw the thing away and gave us a fresh portion.

One of the good things about patronizing a fast food joint like this is when it comes to the beverages. I abhor Coke in all its manifestations and the Fanta they serve is so full of sugar that you have to be very careful when you drink it as the slightest tap and the whole thing solidifies. But this is not the UK and I was able to have a super sized or whatever plastic glass of beer. Admittedly it was beer as Johnny Foreigner knows it and therefore can be dismissed as lager, but it was still a damn sight better than the other offerings.

We ate our food well outside the interior of the “restaurant” and as far away as possible from the pretty plastic cage that contained the younger patrons of the establishment. Unfortunately the lack of triple glazing meant that the piercing shrieks and screams (not of pain unfortunately) of the children were particularly clear and encouraged us to finish our meal and pretend that we hadn’t been there.

As Toni said, “It reminds you how bad it is.” Fair point, but that doesn’t stop the urge to eat “dirty” from time to time!

With the rains comes the taking in of the cushions on the sun loungers, so that the Office on the Third Floor looks even more chaotic than usual. My desperate purchase of a number of plastic boxes as a defeatist gesture to tidying will probably backfire and the boxes will merely add their own particular dash of disorder to the already apocalyptic mess in which I work.

Talking of work, the books from the WJEC have not yet arrived and I really do need to see them before I start teaching! They are going to be the basis for a whole course so they better arrive soon so that I have at least a few days to photocopy and draft to make it look as though I have been working assiduously throughout the holiday period.

Meanwhile, as something of a contrast to the novels of E M Forster, I have been given “The bear nobody wanted” ISBN: 9780140348095 a novel by Allan Ahlberg with black and white drawings by Janet Ahlberg. I have only read poems by the Ahlbergs before with “Please, Mrs Butler” being the one that has saved many a lesson in schools up and down the country! I shall read this with interest.

Meanwhile the rain continues to fall with its melancholy sound only partially masked by the whirr of my new air conditioner!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This is more like it!

Yesterday was a time of cultural overload.

With Suzanne as my indomitable guide to the cultural byways of Barcelona we embarked on an Odyssey which lasted all day.

Starting in La Caixa Madrid with a beautifully photographed exhibition of pollution. The photographs chart a sickening variety of the ways in which the planet has been polluted and the ways that people have to live off that pollution. The photos are impressive and almost because of their professional attractiveness unbearably sad. Children are shown sorting rubbish; whole populations literally living on rubbish, smoke pouring into the atmosphere from various polluting industries.

Some of the most touching photographs show the devastation which came with the disaster in Chernobyl. An ariel photo shows the ghost towns which have been abandoned because of the contamination.

There were also success stories: the cleanup of inner London and the improvement in the water quality of the Thames and the remarkable improvement in some Indian cities after only a decade of more sensitive environmental improvements.

One or two photos stood out because of the housing in the background – instantly recognizable as British; a little tug of emotional recognition dashed as the subject of the photos turned out to be the proximity of housing to toxic nuclear installations in Britain.

Altogether a thoughtful and provocative exhibition.

It was something of a relief to get out into the sunshine of Catalunya, the centre (albeit more polluted that the centre of London) of Barcelona.

One of the good things about going “culturing” with a diabetic is that the option to plough on regardless, ignoring the human demands of sustenance, is not an option.

I was therefore delighted to stop in a coffee and cake shop in the Ramblas which I had often passed and never patronized. Its quaintness appealed but the truly appalling service more than repelled.

Ignoring past experience I recklessly ordered tea.

The pot, when it eventually arrived was armed with a tea bag like a small bolster and, in spite of my urgent agitation of said object, I was unable to produce anything more than a truly insipid liquid which was instantly turned to ecru by the most modest addition of milk.

The cake, which took even longer to arrive and needed the attention of three waitresses, was duly consumed and thus fortified we progressed further down the Ramblas.

The ostensible reason for coming to Barcelona was to see the pictures that had been produced for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Pat Andrea.

With a charcoal drawing of Alice with an elongated and twisted neck stretching from the ground floor flowing up the staircase wall to the exhibition on the first floor the visitor is given a taste of what is to come.

The pictures themselves are variously startling and languorously beautiful. He uses mixed media in his large canvasses with watercolour, pastel, charcoal and gold jostling on the surface with various stuck on additions of paper and card.

The portrayal of Alice is of a very knowing yet innocent girl whose overt sexuality reminds one of Balthas – with all the uncomfortable underage sexuality that the comparison implies!

This is a reinterpretation of the iconic Tenniel images, though perhaps not as radical in their differences as I might have expected.

The images are disturbing, funny, provocative and unsettling. The most painstakingly rendered and finished portrayal of flowers might be juxtaposed with a rough sketch like outline of a person. The vitality of the productions jumps from every canvass.

This was an exhibition which encouraged possessiveness and there were a few pictures that I would have liked to have taken away with me – especially one of Alice in a puddle of hair!

Then it was time for lunch.

As ever in Suzanne’s hands when it comes to places in Barcelona I was encouraged to try a meal in the restaurant of the Maritime museum at the very bottom of the Ramblas.

The setting is frankly startling as the Restaurant is situated in one of the vast glass and brick domed shipbuilding structures that make up the museum.

The meal was at the right level of pretentiousness that I enjoy: cold sandia and prawn curry soup, followed by pescaditos and ice-cream (though those last two served separately) with a glass of cold white wine to wash it all down.

Then, through the winding, stickily hot and terminally confusing streets of the gothic quarter, to the textile museum for another glass of white wine. Well deserved after our negotiating the labyrinth of odd passageways.

Liberlis is our wine of choice. It is very sweet, but served ice cold is an absolute delight. We discovered this wine in the winter and we have been faithful to it ever since!

Our teachers’ passes got us into the wallpaper exhibition where the most interesting wall covering also came with a hair dryer so that you could make the outer apparel of the muscular gentlemen posing on the wall disappear revealing muscular legs and fetching underpants. I think that we must have come towards the end of this particular exhibition as the clothes of the men were rather ghostly having been mostly warmed away!

I was not impressed with this display though I always pay lip service to the applied arts and am prepared to do my duty!

The other exhibition in the same building was of computer produced three dimensional objects. Film showed people “painting” with light pens and their “objects” then being made by computer. There were also objects produced by “printing” by computers. This was an exhibition where the possibilities of the technology were breathtaking though the objects produced so far less so.

Even going to Suzanne’s flat for “a little something” (and red wine this time) the culture did not stop. We watched with the true thrill of horror a terrifying short film entitled something like, “How to clean your office.”

It was, you will be unsurprised to learn, an American film with a very confident young man browbeating a shell-shocked lady head teacher as he encouraged her to denude her office of everything which made it an office.

His approach to her secretary’s office was just as Draconian and produced convulsive gulps of horror from the pair of us as we recognized all the signs in our own situations which were clear indicators of the lack of “impeccability” that was the aim of the Confident Young Man.

Watching a “TED” video about population growth (vividly illustrated with a series of IKEA plastic boxes) was positive light relief!

Home and a quick shower and it was time to ferry a couple of generations of The Family to the airport and then to go out for dinner with Irene.

A full day!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cloud Landscape

We had lunch looking out over a positively autumnal sea which rippled through an unprepossessing series of colour changes from slate to a drained green. The beach was deserted and there was a windswept look to everything.

A couple of hours later and the sun has fought its way from behind banks of cloud to give a few brief reminders of what August should actually look and feel like. But it is without confidence and lacks all commitment.

On the plus side the printer is up and working and I have established a series of envelopes to try and keep some sort of track of the information, instructions and discs which seem to litter my workspace. As usual by form of organization is merely a form of self defence forced on me by the sheer force of circumstance.

I have now almost completed the details of my first lesson (out of 60) for the History of Art classes that I am supposed to be taking. Two hours a week for ten weeks is supposed to cover the history of art from the Cubists to the present day. I can see that I am going to have to return to the high pressured days of university revision when I “did” Jane Austen in the morning and Dickens in the afternoon! At least what I have done so far looks pretty!

Two other branches of the Family descended this morning so I had my work cut out trying to make sense of the conversation. Luckily three members of the group were happier in Spanish rather than Catalan so I had a fighting chance of keeping up with some of the themes in the chat. It is positively unnerving that, whenever you clear your throat, silence descends at once and everyone looks at you in respectful martyred expectation waiting for your knife wielding verbal attack on their language. They are very kind and ignore my lack of conjugated verbs, slide over my individualistic approach to gender, shudder at my attempts at adjectival embellishment and sigh with collective relief when I fade into silence. I have along way to go!

As this has been a day when my skin has been deprived of its supply of Vitamin D I am in a gently grumpy mood which I hope will be alleviated by lunch and culture tomorrow in Barcelona.
 It will probably rain.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Every search finds something - even if it is not what you are looking for!

Printer drivers are the curse of the untidy classes.

In the excitement of unpacking the printer and marvelling yet again at the way that the prices of this particular piece of equipment have spiralled downwards while their capabilities have spiralled upwards, the humble, undistinguished printer driver disc often gets overlooked at soon as it has made one of the computers produce something on the new machine.

Our present printer is supposed to be wireless and it is new. That means that the printer drivers are not established on all the machines and the disc is essential to their integration into the network.

And before you start, I am perfectly well aware that there are sites which give printer driver downloads so (in theory) it doesn’t matter if you have the disc that was packed with the machine or not. I do not live “in theory” and in the hard electronic world there always comes a point in the installation process when the dreaded “Now insert the disc” appears.

Where you might ask is the disc? I have a vague recollection of “putting it away somewhere safe” but I also have an even vaguer feeling that where I chose was not the most immediately obvious place to put it – but, nevertheless it was protected and safe. And lost. For the moment.

What makes things even more galling is that I do have a loose leaf file which is specifically for program discs so that they will not be lost. That file, however, is full. It is full of programs for long defunct machines; programs which have been superseded many times over in the increasing pace of technological development and yet which have not been thrown away. Perhaps it is a sign of technofear: one day all the good gadgets that we have will suddenly fail to function and we will have to go back to the days of Windows 3.1 (shudder!) or even before. My little Psion will have to be resurrected and I will be regretting all the floppy discs that are no more. Then, all those carefully preserved programs will be worth their weight in gold!

Or it may just be inertia.

I was about to say, go to the home of anyone over the age of 40 and you will find a positive treasure trove of unused and unusable electronic gadgets which, because they cost so much when they were first purchased they are impossible to throw away. But ever mind a 40 year old, you could probably do the same thing with a 15 year old’s bedroom. How many mobile phones will a mere child have had by the time it leaves school?

Built-in obsolescence used to be counted in years when referring to washing machines and fridges and other white goods, but when it comes to children’s toys the period of time before they are discarded seems to be measured in hours. If you’re lucky.

Anyone of a mature outlook and a reasoned attitude towards life and, most importantly without children can have their repose shattered for ever by wandering around a “toy” shop and looking at the prices of the cheaply produced tat that kids expect (not hope for) even distant relatives to buy for them.

These toys all have batteries (not included) and they are welded into the packaging in a way that necessitates a blow torch and the shedding of blood to get them out.

When they are finally presented to the kid, it plays with it for seconds before something breaks and it is then summarily discarded. Parts of the toy may be seen later in the trail of debris that every small child seems to leave in its wake.

Talking of debris, I had a brainwave and thought to look at the bottom of the small military chest of drawers that sits on my desk. I did not find the disc but I did find a note of my mother’s for what looks like a Christmas list of small presents and a reminder to get some Aqua Libra – a drink I have not thought about for a number of years, though the sparkling taste of which took me back in memory just like the recluse in the cork lined room! There was also an old weekly shop receipt from Tesco for the fourth of February 1989. There are 73 items on the list and the total was £49.94! There is nothing like the price of food over twenty years ago to make you feel old!

Oh yes, and as I took each drawer out, the fifth one contained the disc. You see: safe and, as it happens within arm’s reach! Eventually. It is strange as I carefully checked all the drawers as part of my controlled panic search. It bears out the dictum of Mad Lewce that you have to look everywhere at least three times and take everything out before you can pronounce anything lost!

Today has been mixed as far as the weather was concerned: a sullen, begrudging start to the day which developed into a glorious afternoon which I spent on the third Floor rather than the winnowing sands of the beach.

The “nice” work for school (as opposed to the “necessary” work) continues apace with my choosing three pictures each for a variety of modern artists. I have to admit that sometimes my choice has been fairly heavily directed by availability rather than by my considered weighing up of the claims of various canvasses. I have found that if Google search for images doesn’t come up with what I want on the first few pages then I have set the wrong parameters, shrug and make do!

Now to install the driver. Wish me luck – I’ll need it based on the fuss that installing the driver caused in the last machine. What makes it worse is that the instructions are almost humiliatingly simple; it’s just that real life isn’t.

Let the struggle begin!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lie on the beach and vegetate?

In future ages people will look back at the beginning of the twenty first century and laugh with incredulous contempt at the number, range and sinewy complexity of power leads with which we entwined ourselves to keep all our precious gadgets alive and kicking. Perhaps it will not be an age but a couple of years when technology, which at present allows suitably adjusted devices simply to rest on a power source to recharge their batteries, will have advanced so that the devices suck power out of the air.

I for one cannot wait for such a dawning.

I sit here in my little office on the third floor with my feet in a writhing mass of leads. Some are connected, some are not. Some I know and others I dare not pull out because I have been unable to trace their length to a source, or rather to a “spring”, the source after all is the plug and I can see that easily enough. I have a morbid fear that if I simply go about pulling things out then one broken connection will cause universal chaos and darkness will cover the face of the earth: or at least that part of it that I inhabit. And we all know that if you close down some gadgets without the necessary rituals and mystic pressing of knobs, keys and screens they may very well deign never to start again. We all know the value of backing things up, but I doubt that this knowledge has actually led to productive action.

Except of course in the case of photographs which, now existing in digital form seem to make their presence felt in every entity (the personification is intentional) that uses electricity. There must be a card reader slot on the hoover somewhere, but I don’t use it enough to have found out where it is precisely.

My concern with the leads is because I have started to do some work for the next year in school. The work I am doing of course is not the most pressing but is the most interesting – and that approach works for me!

I made the resolve to Start Work while being flayed alive by the on-shore, off-shore and long-shore drift winds which seemed to blow simultaneously from all possible directions on the compass. This did at least mean that there was an even build up of stand along all exposed parts of the body – and September being in sight it meant that I was afflicted with the particularly British syndrome of “end of holiday different colour desire”. It is almost as if the desperation which is natural state for any thinking teacher to be in when the start of school is less than a month away (which if you think about it means only a few days at the end of July and the beginning of August) will encourage the suns rays to act faster and more profoundly.

At least being sandpapered by the velocity of particles shot at the body allows the Puritan Conscience to take satisfaction in the fact that indolent lying on the beach is having its compensation in pain!

To be fair I was improving the shining hour by listening to Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony in G minor (The year 1905) on my i-pod. I think that the first movement is one of the most lyrically beautiful of any symphony I’ve heard – and if you can still think that while being sand blasted while people around you play football and shriek at their families while the waves crash on the shore then I think the music has got some quality!

The symphony develops into something which verges on (!) the bombastic and you can certainly tell, when listening to it that Shostakovich was an accomplished composer of film scores.

When the symphony finished I selected “Absolute Gold” as a suitable follow on and listened with great satisfaction to “Heaven for Everyone” by Queen, followed by “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion then “Missing” by Everything But the Girl and we decided to go when I had reached “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.

It is at times like this that I wonder whether my liberality of musical taste is not merely uncritical sensationalism.  I hope.

I have just looked up the lyrics to the song "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to see what I had missed and there is a “discussion” from which my favourite comment was, “i think this song is a Classic song as it has some sort of meaning in our lives in one way or another.”

It is difficult to fault that sort of analysis!