Thursday, September 30, 2010

Always something new - if you look for it!

I have been in Spain and Catalonia for a couple of years and it has taken me all this time to discover that there is another classical music programme on the radio.

I have been struggling to understand the comments that the announcers make when they gabble on in Catalan on the station that I have been listening to up to now. I desperately use what musical knowledge I have to try and fit together what I can understand with what they are saying. I can follow the basic descriptions but any further analysis leaves me floundering. During the General Strike my usual Catalan classical music station was playing pop music which drove me to press the buttons and search for something more congenial.

It was thus that now I have discovered a classical music station which uses Spanish and now a whole world of comment is now within reach. Almost! Spanish speakers do tend to get carried away and start speaking with scant regard to the slow understanding of those whose first language is not theirs!

The day in school has seemed interminable, starting has it has at 8.15 am and with a meeting in the evening it promised to stretch to infinity.

Finding the art shop for Toni in a street near the Diagonal was something of a nightmare and even when found the idea of parking anywhere near was a mere fantasy. It was therefore fortuitous that the GPS having got us within a stone’s throw of the shop a van stopped, blocking the road, to tow away a wrongly parked mini.

This allowed Suzanne the opportunity to jump out of the car and rush to the shop while I waited with unaccustomed patience for the van to drive off with the Mini attached.

When the way was cleared I was even able to lurk in an entrance to a parking place and pick up Suzanne with the art stuff that Toni wanted.

Our visit to El Corte Ingles to change a book was necessarily hurried at the time for the meeting was approaching and we needed to have something to eat before the start.

We eventually decided on an up-market looking café where a miniscule cheese bun was a resounding €3!

Throwing caution and money to the wind we decided to have tortilla with a soft drink. When we had finished our food a plate of exquisite biscuits appeared. When those finished we were presented with a new plate of more biscuits and chocolate cake. This munificence was as welcome as it was inexplicable. And it made us late for the meeting.

Which was conducted exclusively in Spanish.

We were given a guided tour of the computer benches which illustrate the aims, objectives and interests of the gallery – and of course, the obligatory visit to the showroom of toilets, baths and sinks which is the stock in trade of Roca.

The drive back through Barcelona was horrific with solid traffic and the usual suicidal and terminally irritating motor cyclists weaving their way with complete disregard for the fatal possibilities of car contact. One of the little buggers had the temerity to beep me for getting in his way! My hatred of the whole race of helmeted psychopaths on two wheels has almost reached meltdown!

The meeting meant that I could not go for my swim, so I will have to make up for this backsliding by an extra effort tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

These are my principles, and if you don't like 'em . . .

You can’t tell me that swimming for 50% longer than usual is not a form of expiation.

Today was the day of the General Strike and, to my everlasting shame, I went into school.

It turned out that there was only one worker in the whole school who was prepared to go on strike. None of the cleaning staff nor the catering staff nor the maintenance staff nor the office staff nor the nursery staff nor the primary staff nor the administrative staff: just one member of the secondary staff. Me.

For once I have declined to place my neck on the chopping block so that it can be served up on a plate thus allowing me to live my first name. Again.

Driving to school this morning was akin to driving on a Sunday; I allowed an hour (as I always do) to get to school and I actually got there in fifteen minutes. I passed nothing which gave any indication that there was a General Strike, apart from a distant plume of smoke which, to my lurid imagination suggested vast unrest and the image of the proletariat rising against their unjust masters who, having failed to deal in any adequate way with the rapacious and uncaring bankers have turned their administrative attention on the hapless workers.

Once in school I sulked. I was ashamed of myself for not taking pointless action in my group of one; and I was ashamed of my colleagues for doing nothing except congratulate themselves on the ease in which they came to work.

I don’t do a very good “Achilles in his tent” act and I was soon jollied out of my depression, though the extended swim at the end of the day shows that the pangs of guilt gave added strength to my arm!

We went out into town to see what affect the General Strike was having and, to our immense astonishment, we discovered that the effect amounted to round about nothing. Everything was open and people were sitting around as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. For a town so near to Barcelona we often seem to be leagues and leagues away from what is going on there!

Just like town, school was virtually unaffected. Most of the kids were in their classes and I was only asked about the strike and my (non) participation in it in one class – and that was more to distract me from the work in hand than to discuss politics!

This has been a truly unsatisfactory day with the only positive aspect being that I was able (vide. one early morning start) to leave half an hour before the end of school. And have as uneventful a journey home as I had hours earlier when I drove my route of shame to school.

As if sharing my mood, Barça failed to do more than draw in the latest stage of the Champions’ League.

On the domestic front we are now trying to work out how best to deal with intentional vandalism and sabotage by our neighbours (allegedly). The town council has at last decided to do something about the chaotic way that visitors (and inhabitants) park on the streets – especially the streets near the sea front.

On our road (at least our bit of it) metal posts have been driven into the pavement to stop cars parking half-on and half-off. To protect our driveways further metal posts have been set between our houses drives to prevent easy parking across the entrances.

This is obviously a good thing, but some of our neighbours who park (illegally) on the pavement entrance to their houses have not been happy with these metallic reminders of proper manners and have been edging into the posts.

Toni recently witnessed our neighbour’s progeny drive his car and topple the post. The hole has been filled in and the remains of the post have disappeared. As indeed did his car until it reappeared recently with the back bumper looking suspiciously pristine.

The post at the other end of the shared driveway of our neighbour’s house has also disappeared.

This is, of course, criminal damage and theft – though I have to say that I am loath to get further involved in the legal system of this country as my previous experience with The School That Sacked Me does not encourage active participation – and I would like Something To Be Done.

I think that my first port of call will be the town hall and I shall endeavour in my halting Spanish to explain the situation. I am not inclined to make accusations and I am sure that my attempting to “drop” hints in the way that I use Spanish would be as subtle as Jack the Ripper giving household hints to Mrs Beeton on better ways to carve the Sunday roast, but I am determined not to let the matter rest. And our neighbour owns barking dogs so she deserves everything that she may get!

Tomorrow a meeting in the Roca Gallery of Toilets behind El Corte Ingles on the Diagonal.

Never let it be said that living in a foreign country does not open one up to new and exciting experiences!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A short trip indeed!

It was only when I was swimming on Monday evening that I fully realized just how tired I really was.

It is true that you can tell (if you are a regular swimmer) that you have not been swimming for a few days; but when those days have been as full and exhausting as they were over the weekend then the resultant sluggish crawl up and down the pool is, to put it mildly, marked.

Not, you understand that I would have had the long weekend any less exhausting – exhaustion from satisfaction is something I can live with.

The only change I would make is that the performance of Fidelio that I saw would be better. It was undoubtedly the worse, most ineptly thought out performance that I have ever seen. It was made all the more disappointing by the stark and effective image of a tubular steel cage gleaming on stage that greeted the audience as they made their way into the auditorium.

From the frankly amateur playing of the horns in the overture to the embarrassingly trite spotlighted glare of the two main protagonists at the end the performance was a disaster. Not something that I expect from Welsh National Opera, but a performance that I will remember if only for its lack of quality.

The hymn to the sun was lacklustre and the singing of the principals lacking in the sort of intensity that I expect from this opera.

The direction tended to the melodramatic cartoon level and rarely rose above the trite. Even the lighting was poor and contradictory.

To be fair the musical level of the show rose a little in the second half but not enough to save this doomed production.

It’s a good thing that the rest of the weekend was much more enjoyable and satisfying: I even managed to go into the new Apple store in the centre of Cardiff and walk out again without buying anything! This either shows strength of will or a woeful lacking of sobriety.

The fancy dress party on the Friday night into which I was catapulted by the late arrival of the plane and the usual traffic hold up around Newport was a delights with Shrek and his misses, Empire Storm Troopers, Dracula, Arthur Dent, Austen Powers and various other characters jostled their way through a startled crowd of people in the lower bar before they attained the sanctuary of the upper floor where the party was held.

This being Britain the party had to end at eleven thirty but due to popular demand it continued in Alison and Bryn’s house with the result that I did not tumble into bed before three in the morning.

I (unlike my hosts) rose bright and early (a phrase rather than reality) and made my way to town to fulfil the request of a colleague to change a top for his wife. There was none in her size and so I took an executive decision to buy two others for roughly the same price in a sale: a decision doomed to failure.

A nostalgic visit to Tesco prompted me to buy cheese (which I have left in the UK) and cookies (which were eaten before I returned and so had to buy more) and regret that all the supermarkets in Spain are not as good!

Louise was the next port of call and the weather was good enough for us to eat out of doors before the next visit had to take place.

Ceri’s studio is large enough for him to have a variety of pictures on the go and is in marked contrast to his more cramped conditions at home in the converted garage!

Fidelio was almost a total disaster as even by the middle of the interval I still had not seen anyone I knew. I know that I have been out of the cultural loop in Cardiff for a few years but I do expect to see at least one member of my peer group in an opera!

Eventually I did see two friends and we were all able to decry our cultural experience over a pint of bitter.

Our late night meal was an Indian Take Away and vastly satisfying it was too.

Another late night made getting up the next day difficult but not impossible and I managed to finish my book in the continuing sunshine that was a feature of my stay in the UK.

There was just time to re-visit Tesco to replenish my supply of cookies for the folk in Catalonia before rushing over to Alison to wish her felicitations on her actual birthday.

Lunch was in a Carvery and had a sign which said “The Best of British Cooking” which Catalans might find accurate but only in an ironic way!

A late panic about my coat necessitated another visit to Louise where I was able to point out the location of Assyria on the map which accompanied the description of the antiquities of the Near East in the Guide to the British Museum which I had loaned her.

The drive to the airport was almost tediously uneventful with only a passing worry about the effects of the Ryder Cup in Newport causing any concern at all.

The plane was, of course late, but only an hour and I made a disastrous discovery.

Drawn, as I always am towards the W H Smith bookshop in the departure lounge I asked a fatal question: “Could you take a carrier bag from the shop on board the plane as an extra piece of hand luggage? The affirmative answer means that I spent far more than I intended buying the latest Bill Bryson book and a small statistical book published by the Economist.

And a Stephen Fry autobiography and an “interesting and unbelievable facts of science book” for the common reader.

And that is not counting my impulsive purchase of Blair’s autobiography at half price in Tesco.

The taxi ride saw me DOA at the house and I could barely hand over the cookies before decamping to my bed.

Monday, with a teaching start at 8.15 in the morning (having got up at 6.30 am) was a long, long day.

Tuesday is now a better day and I have to say that the lingering effects of alcohol are appreciably less. It is my intention to have an alcohol free week though meeting Irene on Friday (can I count that as the end of the week?) will test my resolve.

Thursday sees a return to the remarkable building (I’m told) of the bathroom supplier Roca which has a gallery at present hosting an exhibition of the devastation of the Aral Sea. This is for a Teachers’ Meeting with the gallery staff to discuss future developments and to make sure that our names are closely involved in the planning.

Wednesday is the day of the General Strike on which, to my everlasting shame, I am not giving my striking support. For once in my life I have declined to make a noble gesture which would have been unique in the school of withdrawing my labour. The school (qua private school in Spain) has been pretty decent in its approach to the government inspired 5% pay cut and an attack on the school would have been seen as ungrateful if not downright inexplicable.

I will not, of course cross a picket line, but the chance of any at the entrance to our school is slight to the point of invisibility.

School buses for the primary school have been cancelled; rain transport has been cut to “minimum services” whatever those are; the tram service will be cut and the roads will be total chaos.

We have had an indication of what happens when any part of the transport system is hindered when we had to cope with the cut in rail services because of the collapse of the tunnel on the main line – with services terminating in Gava. That was a disaster.

I am going to leave school at the same time as usual but as my first lesson is at ten in the morning I expect to make it in, even if I am not there for the normal start of school.

It promises to be an interesting period until the end of the week and I think that the stresses and strains might justify breaking my alcohol abstinence.

At least.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


A dull, sullen day which is almost made bearable by the fact that this is a honorary Friday by virtue of its being the last day of the week because tomorrow is a Fiesta and we in Barcelona have the day off.

This means that I am able to go to the UK tomorrow with an easy conscience – or at least what passes for an easy conscience in my case!

I am frightening well prepared for this little jaunt except in the major case of money. Not that I don’t have any, no, my British bank account is far healthier than it was when I was actually living in the country. The problem is how to get at it.

My card, although fine for any internet purchases seems to be disinclined to let me get at any cash. I may even be forced to cash a cheque: a touching reminder of past banking days when each month I used to get all my cheques sent back to me for me to check against my records! It is more than frustrating to have a couple of month’s salary safely tucked up in a British bank account, with that very security precluding my touching the stuff!

As it is now years since I have entered my British bank, I fear that my card will be rejected right left and centre by all known machines. Time will tell.

The cost of my daily swim has now shrunk to a much more reasonable €37 as I have now swum for four days this week! As today is the start of a mini holiday and I will be absent for three days I had an extra long swim.

In spite of the fact that I would class myself as an experienced swimmer I found that there was a “hump” for me after about twenty minutes when the urge to call it a day almost brings me out of the pool. Today I persevered and I must have swum well over a metric mile.

When I finally dragged myself out of the water I slumped in the steam room and dissolved quietly until I felt that the invigorating cut of a cold shower would bring me back to reality.

I have to say that the cafe in the pool make a satisfyingly strong cup of coffee which is my reward for the number of lengths that I do.

My bag is almost packed. Almost.

I couldn’t actually bring myself to pack it completely – that would have been far too much of a departure from my usual dilatory way of going abroad.

It seems strange to refer to one’s home country as “abroad” but I no longer live there so I suppose the designation is partially correct.

And now, perhaps, a reasonably early night to give me time tomorrow to do all the things which I have omitted to do before I go!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How deceitful are bathing costumes!

I chose what I thought was a rather fetching and newish costume for my second foray into the municipal pool. I packed it carefully into a more commodious back pack and waited impatiently for the day to end so that I could go and have a swim which would be priced at only €75 (the original €150 now being divided by two).

Wednesday is one of my early finishes and so I was able to join the motorway without the interminable crawl that fumes its way slowly along when the parents add their massive cars to our miniscule roads.

I have now learned how to get changed without balancing on one leg and seeing all my clothes fall onto the unspeakable wet and dirty floor of the changing room and in double quick time I was striding purposefully towards where I now knew the pool lurked.

Swim hat on head, flip flops on feet and loins girded with bathing costume and clutching my goggles I approached the lanes with a little more confidence and plunged in.

As a concession to the concept of “warming up” I started a length of breast stroke but my bathing costume seemed reluctant to follow me!

Like the Wife of Bath I am “nat undergrowe” and I assumed that the generous curves of the lower part of my body would dissuade the material from declaring UDI. However, my stroke and frog like splaying of the legs was more directed to modesty than speed and I made my ungainly and careful way back down the length to the relative security of the swimming ledge at the edge of the pool.

The solution, fairly obviously, was to tighten the draw string of the bathing costume. But thereby lay a problem: it was already tied in knot which tended to the Gordian.

I realized after a few minutes that standing in the water with hands submerged groping at my groin was not, to say the least, decorous.

I tried a length or two with buttocks tensed and a sort of undulating jerk of the body to keep the recalcitrant bathers in place, but eventually had to admit defeat and retire to the showers to give the knot the attention it deserved.

With the help of broken nails and teeth (and a few odd stares) I eventually got the knot untied and put the costume back on.

At which point one end of the drawstring disappeared through the hole which is supposed to be too small to allow that sort of thing to happen.

Off came the costume again and what should have been a fairly easy “push along and grab” operation turned into a major effort and which almost had me tearing the material apart in naked (and I mean that very literally) frustration.

Brute force eventually got the end out again and, after tying large knots at the end of each end of the drawstring I replaced the garment yet again and tightened the waist.

Unfortunately my grappling with the thing had upset the equilibrium of the material so that the costume now had all the leaden grace which would have accompanied it had it been knitted with wool. I know of what I speak as photographs exist of a far younger and more innocent me looking hapless in a one-piece garment which appeared as though it had been created by a character from “The Vicar of Dibley”.

By this time I was in that mood of excited, trembling, suppressed frustration where if only the drawstring had survived my ministrations I would have walked fearlessly and defiantly into the pool.

My modesty was, however churlishly, covered and with the vague feeling that my bathing costume was acting as though it belonged to somebody else, I completed my swim, with extra minutes thrown in to cover the hiatus of structural stress.

By the time I got out into the café I felt that I fully deserved by coffee and croissant.

I have decided not to join the General Strike which has been called for the 29th of September. Was the only teacher in the entire school to have voiced support for the venture and I am not prepared to put my head on the chopping block in a costly gesture which I fear will achieve nothing. On the day of the strike my first lesson is at 10 am, so even if I am delayed by heavy traffic on the roads I will still probably get there in time.

It will be interesting to see if our parents, who tend to own rather than work for, make it to school with their offspring. If I had framed that last sentence as a question, it would have been entirely rhetorical as I am sure that the parents would move heaven and earth to make sure that their kids are out of the house and in the care of others!

I am not sure if I am doing the right (how many sense that word can be taken in) thing, but I am past the point where I feel like drawing my glittering sword of truth and exclaiming “Excelsior!” on a deserted mountain top of probity with only the echoes of my own convictions to keep me company!

I must cultivate my garden or at least keep on swimming!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All change!

There is nothing quite so satisfying as people watching.

Especially when those people are swimming.

I have now paid my first visit to our local municipal pool and therefore my twenty minute swim cost something like €150. The final straw was having to buy a padlock to secure the door of the lockers that signally did not lock; on sale at €5 a pop from the slot machine in the café. Over priced maybe, but at least you get an armband on which to keep your key included in the price!

This part of my visit to the pool was conducted with my glasses on so at least I could see what was and wasn’t there. When I finally got to a locker and began to divest myself of the accoutrements of civilized society I also had to pack sight into the locker as well.

For the myopically inclined (wearing only a bathing costume and clutching goggles and swim cap) the real adventure of trying out a new pool now starts. How to get there.

Designers of swimming pools seem to go out of their way to construct an obstacle course of increasing difficulty when trying to get from changing room to pool. Toilets don’t link to showers and you actually have to go out into a corridor before you get anywhere near to the water. There is also an off chance that, if you don’t know the Catalan word for women, you could turn into their changing room. Which I almost did in spite of knowing the Catalan word for women!

I eventually made it to what looked like the pool. This was entirely laned off. Previous experience suggested that these would be divided into “fast” “medium” and “slow” and I looked for some indication of level.

I have been caught out before by my assumption that my years of swimming would entitle me to at least survive in the “medium” section of any multi lane pool. I vividly remember my almost immediate state of physical collapse when I tried to keep up with the steam driven maniacs who occupied this “middle” designation.

I therefore crept to the only lane which appeared to be unoccupied which also had various machines for helping the disabled into the water. These machines were not being used but their bulk had the advantage of restricting the lane to a single swimmer: me!

I spent most of the time worrying that I was swimming in a reserved lane, or worse in a lane for the very fastest swimmers. But, as I only swim for twenty minutes before I get terminally bored I banked on the fact that by the time anyone got round to telling me that I was doing something wrong, it would be time for me to get out.

I made an executive decision to have a coffee and croissant in the café and look at the pool with eyes in sharper focus.

There still appeared to be no indication of what level of swimmer swam where, but it was a great opportunity to observe my fellow swimmers.

Swimming styles are as distinctive as fingerprints: no two swimmers are entirely identical. They may be elegant – one swimmer’s hands entering the water were as elegant and precise as if he was threading a needle; while the person next to him looked as though she was crawling along the surface of the water.

Some people looked as though they were going through a protracted process of drowning while others glided along with the minimum visible effort. Hand flailed, splashed, jerked, swept, fell and scooped. Faces were set in grimaces and in utter serenity. Whatever techniques they were using they all got their lengths completed.

I did wonder what I looked like. I have spent the summer swimming in our pool where one decent push-off from the side could get you to the other end. A 50m pool needs a different approach and in spite of my daily exercise a larger pool is instant exhausting.

I look forward to finishing each day with a visit to the pool so that the initial cost is gradually reduced to a bargain price for each swim.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Everything changes - again!

A sullen start to the day.

One could tell even though one was up and doing before dawn. This is obviously pay-back time for the glorious day yesterday!

With the way that the timetable has worked out I have my first lesson at 8.15 in the morning and then have nothing until 1.05 pm.

One could say that this is an ideal time to catch up on marking or producing teaching material for the ensuing week: or you could say it is pretty poorly organized in a day which is absurdly over-long.

Amazingly I did manage to get some packing done yesterday evening including the wash-bag which is the one thing which always lacks something essential when you reach your destination. For example I now realize that while I have filled all those little bottles that one has to use if you are only travelling with hand luggage and even remembered the dental floss, I have omitted to pack a razor. As I have now remembered that, I am starting to muse about what obvious other thing I have forgotten.

The UK wallet has been found and packed. This contains all the out of date “gift” cards that UK shops have given me in lieu of money. Reading the small print I noticed on one that after 24 months the company would make a charge of £1 a month for each extra month until the money is gone! You have to admire such greed. I think the answer is to spend things like that immediately even if it’s only buying batteries – they always come in useful.

More importantly I am not sure that my debit card is working for the holes in the wall machines. As I will be there for a weekend when the banks are most emphatically closed I am relying on the card to get me money and the last time I attempted to use the card the machines refused point blank to recognize my plight and steadfastly kept my money safely away from my admittedly grasping hands.

The other point of panic is the hired car. I am only hiring some insultingly basic vehicle and there is always a moment of horror when the people in charge start rejecting all the cards that I have and demand that I show them a true credit card.

As is well known, I am far too young and immature to be trusted with a credit card (even one linked with Amnesty International which was my last excuse for getting one) and I well remember the moment when I cut up the bloody thing with shaking hands and sharp scissors.

It usually ends up with the car hire people taking my Spanish card rather than my British one, but I keep telling myself that it will not be used and is only a precaution so I can rest secure. As long as I remember to take my Catalan wallet too!

I think that the highlight of the weekend will be the taxi ride from Church Road to the party with a car filled with a Roman Emperor, Dracula and Austin Powers – as well as a taxi driver. I will not have any pockets on my costume and I am already worrying about where to put the camera and other necessities.

The last time we had a fancy dress party in Cardiff we also went out and about in the streets and I at least was warm and snug in my Cardinal’s rigout. I fear that the flimsy gold lamé of my admittedly full-length costume will be insufficient to keep out the rigor of a late September night in South Wales.

Meanwhile there is the matter of four days of teaching to get through. Ah well.

I have informed the school that I intend to join the ranks of the workers and participate in the General Strike on the 29th of September. I fear that I will be a lone worker in our school to make this decision which is more a function of the emasculated power of the unions in the way in which they have to operate and their consequent distance from the workers that they are supposed to represent than any cowardice on the part of the teachers in school. I think. I am always prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the powerless rather than the powerful: though in this case I am not sure which is which!

I have just had a short meeting with the IT teacher to try and find out why my computer refuses to work with the white boards whose use is now mandatory in our school. Even on the first day (the first day mind you!) I attempted to add the computer and white screen to my first class. As is usual with technological equipment in the classroom it was an abject failure; a failure, however that was kept away from the pupils by my furtive attempt to make it work before the class started.

What do I find out now? The pressing of two buttons was all I had to do to make the system mine own. The function button and F5 brought up an icon to change screens; a further press of the F5 brought up the screen which was recognized by the system. And that was it!

There is something immensely satisfying about a meeting which takes virtually no time whatsoever and makes your teaching easier. This meeting ranks as one of the most “time as a function of utility” positive meetings I have ever had. I will use it as a measure of the usefulness of all the other meetings to which I have to go in the rest of the year.

Or perhaps not as that way madness lies!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

The third Floor is open for vitamin D donations!

As if in shamefaced compensation for the abject weather we have had for the last couple of days, Saturday dawned bright and sunny and so far the day has been flawless with perfectly blue skies and more than acceptable amounts of sunshine.

As a partially hysterical reaction to the weather I agreed to go for a walk, something I usually spurn as if it were a rabid dog.

Today however the sun drew me out and putting on a new pair of slip-on sports shoes (wonderfully under priced in Carrefour’s) I put the best foot forward and strode out into the further reaches of Castelldefels and on to Gava.

I regretted my impulse almost immediately but trudged on if only to see what the Socialists were doing.

Every year at this time the ruling party PSOE, which calls itself socialist for no doctrinal reasons that I can discern in their policies, has a Grand Gathering of the Political Clans in a tree shaded stretch of road next to the motorway a few streets away from us.

There is a stage and long undulating lines of tables around which the faithful sit and make merry and listen with humility (suspending their disbelief) to the speeches of their political masters.

Phalanxes of Catalan police with their lop-sided caps were in abundant evidence, their numbers greater than the total of police we normally see in our part of the town over two or three years – or indeed more.

All the Catalan and Spanish television and radio stations were represented in the lines of OB vans along the road making me wonder if the national president as well as the Catalan president was going to be there.

Bus loads of party members were being unloaded when we, only momentarily amused by a small but vocal anti-nuclear demonstration, made our way to the beach paseo.

The paseo and beach road which runs parallel to it for a part of its length are undergoing changes. Part of the road has been made into a two way cycle way with a number of what look like dead striped armadillos keeping cars from meandering into the cycle path. This cycle way is gradually getting longer stretching from the central part of Castelldefels Playa until it stops abruptly (with no warning) nearer to our house.

The paseo has been growing over the years until the Castelldefels part linked to the Gava section. This latter section was interrupted by a sort of river and cyclists had to go up the length of the river to the road and there chance their survival with cars which gave no mercy until cyclists could escape back to the side of the beach and dedicated cycle lanes.

No longer! Spurning financial crisis our local authority has constructed a bridge so that cyclists and pedestrians can now walk in relative safety over the stagnant interestingly coloured waters on a newly constructed bridge. This has increased the numbers of walkers and cyclists and is a true boost to the facilities in the area. One is loath to admit it, but it does seem like public money well spent!

Lunch from our local chicken “pollo a last” was worse in every respect to the quality that we get from the establishment we used to patronize when we were in the flat. This should have been an ideal opportunity to use my bike to get the food from a better place but, as usual, indolence triumphed over future gratification.

The “little light tidying” has now almost been done as it certainly wasn’t done last night. The thought of packing my case so that there will be no last minute panic as “Something Important” cannot be found.

I am looking forward to my visit to the UK on Friday and trust that I will have dried out sufficiently to take coherent lessons by Monday!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A day of rest

Spurning the fugitive drops of rain from the tail end of the tempest from last night which was stubbornly refusing to disappear in sunshine, I (eventually) threw myself into the pool and vowing not to tell anyone that the temperature was actually not as traumatic as people suppose, swam my lengths.

There are few advantages to myopia, but one of them is not actually noticing how unprepossessing some things are when you are able to soften the edges of reality by not wearing glasses!

The particular reality that I missed this morning was the fact that not only had the storm filled the pool virtually to overflowing, but that also that the surface of the slowly undulating waters were covered with pine needles, pollen, catkins and other assorted floating vegetation.

It was only when I stopped swimming I noticed that I was surrounded by the Sargasso Sea. I could have started planting seeds if I had any – though the chlorine might have limited growth!

As I am fully determined to utilize my swimming card for the municipal pool we made a trip to the outlet store in Gava Mar to get a swim cap – I have been informed that these are de rigeur for indoor pools here. I also took the opportunity to buy new swim goggles and ear plugs.

The ear plugs (which I am assured work well) look like pieces of moist blue chewing-gum. I am, to put it mildly, not convinced by them, but I am open to new experiences and, who knows, they might turn out to be ideal.

Going on my experiences from pools in France and Spain the wearing of flip-flops may also be necessary. I will take advice on this so that my first visit will be a moment to relish!

Lunch in Sitges was less than satisfactory. Our usual restaurant seemed tired and uninspiring and, as I was driving, I was unable to take part in the wine and food tasting that was located on the paseo next to the beach! A cruel sight indeed!

Sitges’ picturesque quality did allow me to take a few more photographs to test the repaired performance of my camera, though the sullen skies did nothing for the colour values!

Amazingly, some of the tasks from the summer holidays have still not been completed (the learning of Spanish to name but five) and I do not intend to exert myself during my two days off, but I am prepared to do a little light tidying. Possibly. One has to conserve one’s energy.

I have now finished reading “Mummy’s Legs” by Kate Bingham. This is one of the extra books that we have in Language Arts, and one of the few that I haven’t read.

If this is supposed to be for the “young” reader then it doesn’t say much for my reading ability as I was progressively more confused by the changing personalities and the tricky time structure that the book had. Essentially it is a book which is a study of the effects of abuse in a “modern” family with a special emphasis on the development of a daughter trying to make sense of a morally ambiguous background.

There were parts which were perceptive and enlightening, emotionally revealing and sometimes quite funny – but that was only after I had worked out which part of the family was speaking in what time frame.

It did eventually come together but what with attempted suicide, child abuse, bad language and fluid sexual relationships I am not convinced that it a good choice for our kids. It wasn’t for me anyway!

Well, still time for a little tidying, but only after dinner.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Almost another week down!

Almost another week down!
Another pre-dawn journey to school and another tomorrow. At least I get a parking space easily and I can position myself at the most advantageous place for a quick getaway. Or what passes for a quick getaway given the hordes of selfish parents who try and get away from the school and don’t let me out into the main stream of traffic until their progeny in the back tell them who I am!

As there is usually a static traffic jam in the narrow streets that surround the school, drivers have a long opportunity to decide whether or not to let a parked car into the traffic. Some are so paranoid about keeping people out that they risk death rather than let a sliver of light show between their car and the next in line.

I have so far adopted the mores of the Spanish approach to driving that I now confidently drive into spaces which (to British eyes) are not in fact there – and yet no crashes!

At least tomorrow I will leave early to traverse empty roads and get a head start on all the Barcelona locals leaving the city for the weekend. I intend going precisely nowhere and doing nothing but read.

Today I have re-read “Flowers for Algernon” as we are always looking for new readers for the pupils. Books that I have read previously I have only considered for kids who have been native English speakers; thinking of English learners is a whole different ball game as far as suitability is concerned. I like “Flowers for Algernon”; the story is good and it has something to say; the central character is strong; the style is interesting and it is thought provoking. I don’t think that the American setting will prove difficult, but the language and concepts are challenging. Probably worth trying with an older class. Possibly.

My Language Arts (don’t ask I don’t know either) class have been given their choices from the reading books available for them. The selection has been devised by a colleague and over the past months I have read the majority of the books in the selection and enjoyed the vast majority.

This evening I have read “The Arizona Kid” by Ron Koertge. This is a coming of age novel about a boy from a small town in the east finding live and love on a racetrack in the Wild West. Billy, the short young hero of this summer romance, arrives in Tucson, Arizona to stay with his meticulous Indian arts selling gay uncle and work at a racetrack with a view to becoming a vet when he finally gets a full time job.

His burgeoning sexual frustration is eventually satisfied (quite tastefully) and the story eventually uses various narrative clichés to come to an ambiguously realistic ending. The generously spaced pages are easy to read, but it was one of the novels that I like least. The gay element seemed a little gratuitous and the raising of AIDS added little to the story. The concerns merely seemed to be ticking boxes of issues rather than producing an integrated story. Well, a pupil will be reading it tomorrow as a colleague needs the volume for a pupils who she left out of the original calculations.

Now for bed and an early rise.

Rain wasn´t in the contract!

As far as I can tell there was something like a temporal slip this morning.

The alarm was set for its usual indecently early time when darkness covers the earth and the sun is not out to cheer the reluctant teacher along his chosen path of pain.

I made my usual stately progress in the dark with my mind set to automatic as I collected clothes after my shower and made my way downstairs to put the kettle on and set out my muesli.

Today, of course was slightly different as, switching on Radio 4 I listened in fascinated horror to the progress of the Bishop of Rome as he made his way around Britain.

I feel total revulsion at the respect given to this odious, homophobic, misogynist little man, the representative of a discredited and decadent religion. For once in my life I felt sorry for the queen having to be polite to this repulsive social wrecker.  Though, thinking about it, they are both German after all! 

The queen however has considerable experience in dealing with the less savoury heads of state; she did, after all, hob-nob with Nicolae Ceauşescu which gives her at least some guide lines about how to cope with people from whom one would not buy a second hand doctrine, let alone something which may prove to be useful. I wonder how many of the gaudy jewels that the Roman Church has could be legitimately described as blood diamonds. No wonder the so-called Bishop of Rome wears red shoes.

And he is going to meet the world’s most badgered Welshman, the Reverend Doctor Rowan Williams. I wonder what feelings will surge through the Bishop of Rome’s mind as he walks through Westminster Abbey and considers that the ancient pile was once one of his churches!

It is very difficult not to feel contempt for the monotheistic religions as their representatives make themselves more and more ridiculous as their outmoded and self serving doctrines spread fear and ignorance over the world. Seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Rome together wearing their absurd costumes and pontificating about the moral state of the world in Britain given the less than moral state of their all too vulnerable churches would be laughable if it wasn’t so truly sad.

And it’s raining.

The heavens truly opened this morning and the sound of my shower was almost drowned by lashing rain cleaning the pigeon shit of my car.

Driving to work was a nightmare and of course there was a broken down car plonked in the middle lane just to make sure things didn’t get boring.

I had to defy the law and from my (stationary) car use my mobile phone to let them know in work that the early start was going to be a tad later for me.

I must say that the shortened first lesson (thank you Frank for sitting in for ten minutes) seemed to be about the ideal time for all lessons. If only!

The rain has been stubbornly present throughout the day and its tempo has now been officially rated at “lashing” with melodramatic peals of thunder accompanied by OTT lightning adding the necessary son-et-lumière components to make the whole sorry day memorable.

The bracing temperature of the outdoor pool has finally prompted me to action and I have joined our local municipal sports centre so that I can use a heated indoor pool in the complex. For an outlay of something like €140 you get a year’s admission to the pool, gym and sauna.

It is my intention (weak flesh permitting) to call in for a swim immediately after school. This means going back to my old ways of having a “swim bag” in the boot of the car. I am now the proud possessor of a stout piece of plastic emblazoned with my photo which gives me access to all areas.

All I have to do now is use it!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Herd 'em up!

School Trips exist clearly to demonstrate to teachers that they really shouldn’t bother.

Admittedly I do not think that a school trip which starts with a long walk to an underground station (with the realization that there will be a long walk back to school from the station) is a good idea. “No bus: no me” sounds like a mantra that I should repeat if I weaken and think that another trip is a good idea.

The speed with which our students made their way to the station in the morning sunshine reminded me of that bit in “As You Like It” that compares schoolchildren to slugs – I do know it was snails really, but they were speedy compared to the funereal pace that our kids set!

The exhibition of photos of contamination and pollution that we were going to see was excellent, but not immediately attractive to cynical thirteen year olds. The images were ravishingly horrific and Suzanne suggested Yeats’ phrase “terrible beauty” as we looked at incredible pictures of squalor and smog and felt torn between what they represented and how they were represented. I think that there is a fair chance that a few of the images will stay in the memory of a number of pupils.

The pupils were even slower on the return trip and I ended up herding them forward and stepping on the backs of their shoes to get them moving! I prefer to enjoy trips rather than turn into a cattle drover.

I ended up teaching only one lesson today and that was literature “Of Mice and Men” – a novel specifically written for GCSE English in the same way that “An Inspector Calls” is the play specifically written for the same course!

I had a free period at the end of the day and, as I had started teaching early on Monday I was allowed (!) to leave early. I left at the start of my free period (rather than half way through) to visit an exhibition I had been told about that morning about the disappearance of The Aral Sea. As this could link in with pollution and contamination I decided to see what it was like.

The gallery is funded by the bathroom suppliers Roca and is in an imposing building behind El Corte Ingles on the Diagonal. My conversational GPS got me there and I emerged from the underground car park in an outside café within sight of my objective.

The gallery was hard to miss as there was a big sign with the title of the exhibition and an oddly shaped printed balloon with aspects of the arid desolation of what used to be a fecund sea.

Once you enter the gallery you are confronted with a dim space with a series of low tables (which turn out to be interactive computer screens) while on the walls there is a sort of frieze of television screens showing images of water. On the far wall is a looped film showing various people at a series of washbasins. They are life sized figures and I first thought that they were part of some performance art exhibit!

The bathroom element (it is a Roca building after all) is found on the upper floor which has an exhibition of their more futuristic sinks, baths and loos. Beautifully lighted, this selection of bathroom items is more elegantly sculptural than you might expect.

The most interesting piece was a combined bathroom sink and toilet! A brilliant idea and a severely elegant design – though I do feel a little strange enthusing about a loo!

The actual exhibition about the Aral Sea was frankly disappointing: the space may have height (and another balloon) but it is not large enough to show very much. What was there was effective, but not sufficiently interesting to justify bringing a group I think.

The best aspect of the visit was the quite extraordinary helpfulness of Françoise, the lady in reception. Speaking French, Spanish, English and Afrikaans – and probably Catalan and Italian - she has recently been appointed to her position and was eager to share her enthusiasm for the space and for the building. This is a cultural area to watch.

Dinner was in the Basque restaurant and was frankly dull. The garlic soup was tasteless with the shreds of the main ingredient merely confusing. The fish course was uninspiring and the ice cream (a separate course) quotidian. The coffee was OK and the wine drinkable. Something salvaged!

The last two days see me rising for an early start but at least Friday is an early finish at only four in the afternoon.

Oh good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And time rolls on

I readily admit that the last two periods on a Tuesday is not the idea time that I would have chosen for my two hours with my Media Studies class – but that is how it is: two solid hours without a break.

I have a third of the 3ESO a term so that I will have taught all of them by the end of the summer. It should be an opportunity for me to experiment as I can do pretty much what I like as long as there is some way of getting a mark out of ten at the end of it for the kids.

I suppose that the only thing that limits the teaching is how much I want to spend devising something which interests me and interests them.

As the kids have no idea whatsoever about what Media Studies actually means I have a fairly wide area of communication to choose from.

I have started with Logos and will move on to adverts. I love deconstructing slick adverts; I only hope that the kids share my enthusiasms – and I have chosen some risqué, revealing and salacious perfume adverts to give a populist sheen to academic endeavour!

With such a short course I don’t think that I will aim for intellectual rigour and balance I shall just go for the gimcrack and gaudy. Again.

My timetable this year is much more draining with a few (!) instances of three lessons on the trot with no break. I am thinking of appealing to the International Court of Justice as I am sure that such timetabling is contrary to the United Nations definition of slavery or something.

At the moment I am rejoicing in a revision to my timetable which means that I am actually one period under the number that I had last year. This will not last, but I am going to enjoy it while the weeks tick by.

Tomorrow the trip to the photography exhibition (which takes up two of my free periods) which I am supposed to look at through the eyes of an experienced Media Studies teacher. Roll on the history of art lessons!

Before I succumbed to the coma that the end of the day encourages I decided to make a visit to the multi storey second-hand car emporium on the way to Sant Boi.

The building houses a collection of different car dealers and you have to wend your way down aisles lined with shining vehicles to make your choice.

Almost as soon as I was through the doorway I was confronted by a Peugeot convertible in gleaming black. Although the door was locked it was, unsurprisingly easy to reach into the car and open it from the inside.

The seat was too high for me, but when it was lowered (mechanically!) the driving position was comfortable. The demonstration of the roof closing mechanism was deeply satisfying and I took it as an omen that the information display on the dashboard was actually in English. “Prepared, just for you!” the salesman smilingly said.

The car was coming up to three years old and was reassuringly expensive.

I wandered through the other floors and saw earlier and smaller versions of the Peugeot convertible as well as some exotic versions in other makes. There was a virulent yellow Opel convertible which looked exactly the sort of car that Medallion Man would want to be seen in.

When I had looked at every bloody car in the place I came back to the first one that I looked at and found, horror of horrors, Medallion Man sitting inside having the roof mechanism shown to him.

He was one of those wrinkled men too old to be covered by the phrase “of a certain age” wearing a heavily embroidered Polo Club shirt with the collar turned up. I had seen him sniffing around the car earlier and so I knew that he was wearing the wildly inappropriate three-quarter shorts and canvas shoes. I was rather disconcerted to think that I might be looking at cars which attracted that sort of person. But it is not likely to dissuade me from an act of astonishingly extravagant self indulgence. Too late to stop now!

As I have no money it was not difficult to walk away from the gleaming carriages, but I can feel the infection spreading and rendering useless all those rational faculties that should be reminding me that I am not that interested in cars!

In spite of terminal exhaustion at theend of the day augmented by the visit to look at cars and with only a large amount of encouragement from Toni I dragged myself like the wounded Grendel and slipped into what I expected to be the icy waters of our recently cleaned pool.

The sudden shock of instant refrigeration was not as severe as I expected and I actually able to pretend with very little effort that my swim was almost delightful.

Each day makes the immersion a little more hesitant as I expect a repetition of the never to be forgotten day in Maesteg in the open air pool when the superintendent asked me to dive into the pool and retrieve some clothing that had been discarded by somebody trying his life-saving certificate.

As I dived in so the vicious and vindictive coldness of the water smashed out all the oxygen out of my body. Somehow I did struggle don to the bottom to get the clothing and reappeared on the surface and handed them to the superintendent while trying to gulp some air into my tortured lungs! I have no desire to repeat this experience. I was a resilient six year old then; today I am not.

And it is still only Tuesday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Equilibrium of freedom

A grotesquely early start was rewarded by the unexpected beneficence of two (count them!) extra free periods. One from the lack of need for two teachers for the Current Affairs class and another from our present unhealthy preoccupation with robotics which took away another of my classes for some sort of pep talk to get the students up to the level of enthusiasm of their teachers!

My gained time was spent reading a new reading book for the first class in secondary and preparing a handout for the trip that I am going on to see a collection of photographs of pollution around the world.

All of the previous typing is of course displacement activity to take my mind away from the terrible fact that the day was gloriously sunny and I was staunchly in school and not lazing out on the terrace of the Third Floor. Every time I flit my way between buildings I experience the warm seductive blandishments of fine weather tempting me to chuck it all in and turn to the lotus and start eating.

Simple practicalities dissuade me from doing anything rash – at the moment, but if this weather keeps up then my resolve will become somewhat fluid! However, should fluid fall from the heavens then I will be back on the straight and narrow path to academic resentment!

I am continuing to swim each time I arrive back home though the water is become daily more eventful with the increased precipitation of various bits and pieces as the trees in the area try and replicate themselves, so I emerge from the pool with what is left of my hair filled with damp pollen and various pods and pine needles. The pool persons are notable by their absence and the pollen is now forming interesting patterns on the bottom of the pool. When the growth tries to drag me under I will desist from my efforts to ignore the chilly water into which I plunge daily.

I must find the real indoor swimming pool before it gets too cold.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Serious Thoughts?

Perhaps I ought to start by extending to the Catalan people on their National Day the heartfelt apologies of the British People for leaving them in the lurch when supporting the wrong side in the War of the Spanish Succession when we assured them that we would never desert them. I’m not sure that our support for the Hapsburgs was any great shakes anyhow and our policy of never interfering in Europe (unless we had to) was one which should not have been ignored. Only ourselves to blame really. Though the effects of loosing on Catalonia were slightly catastrophic. Still, all a long time ago now; have another glass of Cava!

My contributions to the celebrations of Catalonia’s National Day were restricted to lying in the sun; glancing at the wispy cloud and starting to read “This Thing of Darkness” by Harry Thompson.

The book follows the career of Robert FitzRoy – the inventor of the shipping and weather forecast; pioneer of the use of lightning rods on ship;: introducer of the word “port” for “larboard” to eliminate confusion; constructor of meticulous navigation charts for Patagonia, Chile, the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego; introduced a system of masters’ certificates for ships’ officers; pioneered the use of the Beaufort Scale and introduced the word “dinghy” for what used to be called the “jolly-boat.”

But what he will actually be remembered for is that he commanded the “Beagle” and took Charles Darwin on the voyage which eventually resulted in the production of “The Origin of the Species.”

This is a fascinating read. Its 700 pages read like a novel (and the author has taken some liberties in the actual historical facts) but it packed with convincing detail and the author gives an assurance that he has done his research to make the casual descriptions as realistic as possible.

This is a novel of contrasts – not only in the dramatic action of the narrative, but also in the conflicts of personality, politics, religion and society that make us this monumental read.

Although flawed by his adherence to a view of religion Fitzroy shows himself to be an amazing character with firm adherence to a rigid set of moral, religious and social attitudes. His sense of duty is astonishing and his achievements remarkable. And he is a worthy “hero” in this novel/biography. Although the reader is, unsurprisingly, drawn to the iconic figure of Darwin, he is presented in such a way that his essential egoism and moral cowardice lessens him as a figure when placed beside the relatively unknown commander of the boat whose professionalism and honour shine out from the page.

The title of the book is a quotation from The Tempest a reference to Caliban by Prospero: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” “This thing of Darkness” is a remarkably apt title for something which charts the journey (literal and spiritual) of two friends who come to markedly different conclusions about the way that life developed. For FitzRoy the “darkness” could be a reference to the illness that he had, diagnosed as manic depression by doctors long after his death, but it could also be a reference to the fact that he facilitated Darwin’s journey and through that encouraged Darwin’s developing thought which veered away from the religious principles that FitzRoy kept to throughout his life.

This is also the story of a clash of cultures in a more widely spaced geographical sense as the British brig comes into contact with “savages” whom FitzRoy believes can be brought to Christianity and Civilization, though his aspirations are doomed to failure.

This is a gripping read where insight and adventure appear in almost embarrassing confusion and whose length is fully justified by the content.

I have also read “The Deathwood Letters” Three Tales with a Twist by Hazel Townson. These are empty stories whose selling point is that they give a modern twist to the epistolary novel. They are slight and unconvincing and not what I thought they were going to be like when I ordered an inspection copy. Ah well, a decent reader for the first couple of years of English learners will have to wait for another and better written book.

Tomorrow sees the final day of classes that make up my week. Unbelievably we have only had four days with the students and this Monday will finally mean that I will have seen all my classes. In fact I am still waiting to see one class which I take for two periods on a Tuesday afternoon as my first meeting with them was hijacked by the science department as an introduction to robotics!

Wednesday sees a trip into Barcelona to visit the photographic exhibition which I visited with Suzanne before the start of term. My accompanying the students on this trip has to be justified with a handout from media studies; which is now my subject for two periods a week!

In theory I have some free time tomorrow to get lessons up and going but my possible loss of two teaching periods because the paucity of students in those classes will be driving the management up the wall with anxiety to find something punishing to take their place. The only thing you get for nothing in our school is indeed nothing. I dread to think what they will find.

But find out I will in short measure!