Thursday, December 30, 2010

Phone facility

Samsung Galaxy S Overview
It is surely a sign of the times that, having owned my new mobile phone for some time and used it every day to take photos, play solitaire, check the weather, read the news, use the internet, it was only today that I worked out how to answer a simple phone call on the damn thing!

I mean to say, the clue to the function of the machine is found in the nomenclature of 50% of the “phone”: it is, after all, essentially a telephone. I have been making do with pressing the tactile screen in vain attempts to connect to people who phone and then, after failing to make that connection phoning them myself. It took me a while to discover that touch is not enough; touch and slide is the trick.

Lunch today was in Sitges and not in our usual restaurant whose name we do not know but at least we know which small street to turn down to find it. This time we went to a restaurant we had not used before and, to Toni's horror, it turned out to owned by Chinese. I took the opportunity to order chicken Taiwan Style and hoped that the overtly Spanish choices of Toni would be acceptable. In the end we decided that it was acceptable if not spectacular and, taking service in to account we might well have been better off at our usual haunt. Still, it's fun to find new places, even if its only to cross them off.

On the way to the restaurant in a small but exclusive looking shop stuffed with chocolate goodies and other desirable comestibles I almost succumbed to the temptation offered by the purchase of a bottle of Cava with particles of gold leaf in suspension! Such things do put one in mind of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the cost was really prohibitive but it might have been worth while just for the shock of offering it to The Family on New Year's Eve.

In the event I put off such an indulgent purchase (!) on the grounds that I would be carting it around with me; much better to buy it on my return to the car.

It was just as well that I declined the purchase as we went on what I regarded as an epic walk to the end of the bay on which Sitges is built. By the time we got back neither of us even considered calling into the shop we were too concerned merely to get back to the house and non-walking tranquility!

The Week - 11 December 2010
My copy of The Week (dated the 11th of December) was waiting for me on our return and, as usual, I devoured it in a single sitting especially relishing the feature on “The dodgy world of football” giving me yet more vitriol to etch my hatred of FIFA and all its works just a little deeper. One wonders just how many members of the executive committee would be liable to little visits from the boys in blue if they weren't exempt from Switzerland's anti-corruption legislation.

Tomorrow I have to make the fajitas to take up to Terrassa as my part of the communal effort to feed The Family on this festive occasion – without the golden Cava.

I will have to make do with the plebeian stuff!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Culture Undone!

A quick visit to the Design Hub to see a version of an Italian exhibition about a design for living was but poor compensation for not getting to see the exhibition that we were supposed to see.

First things first of course and we had an excellent lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant which did an more than satisfactory menu del dia in spite of the bawling baby on the table next to us!

Our original destination was the Picasso Museum but when we got there the queue to get in stretched along virtually the whole of the street. Even with our special “teacher” cards which give us free access to most museums we couldn't get to the front without queuing. So we cut our losses and had a cup of coffee in the Textile Museum and pondered our next move.

Which was to the Apple shop via walking. I am not a great fan of walking when there is perfectly good and heavily subsidized public transport system but Suzanne was insistent and by the time we got to the shop I had virtually forgotten why I was there in the general feeling of exhaustion which had over taken me.

I was not so far gone however, that I failed to find a machine specific, ludicrously priced scrap of zipped neoprene to go with my new computer. So that was alright. In a way.

There was also the disastrous calling into the book shop near the cathedral to show Suzanne the history of art book that I bought there on the last day of term when we had taken the kids down to the Christmas fair. And of course I bought a couple of others – but one of them was a book on Miró who is woefully under-represented in my growing collection of books on Catalan painters. Which, as the more preceptive will have realized, is simply a way in which I can buy more books with something approaching an easy conscience!

I can always explain the “Arte del Siglo XX” as something necessary for school as it does cover the period that I am supposed to be teaching: it is comprehensive and it has precious little text and a more than generous selection of paintings.

There is always space for another book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sun and Sloth

budd1627.jpgHow difficult it is to enjoy the season of goodwill towards all men when there are French in the world.

One does try to regard that fine quartet in “Billy Budd” about hating the French (“Can't stand the French; don't like their manners; dammned mounseers”) as an amusing reference to the distant past when our two countries were indulging in their age old pastimes of fighting each other but then you have the International Olympic Committee.

This august body of corrupt, self seeking, self important, and overwhelmingly foreign non-entities has decreed that the prime language in the 2012 Olympics in London taking precedence over all others should be French! So, yet again the language of eighteenth century diplomacy dusts off its cobwebbed, archaic phrases and pushes its obtrusive and unwanted self into the limelight where its unregarded words will merely be the signal for general impatience before the language of the world does its job of informing people about what they want to know!

Not only is our language forced into second place but also our national flag is forced into an even lower place after the Olympic banner (fair) then the UNO flag (questionable) and presumably the Swiss flag as the flaunted symbol of where members of the committee have their private bank accounts!

I wonder how the Blatter (who not only managed to frustrate our attempts to hold the world cup but also sits on the IOC as well) person expects to be referred to: I suppose he hopes for a little more than the British designation of “Your Ignorant Corrupt Bastardship” though I don't really see why he should. His election was, at least, questionable and his style of leadership (if that is the right word) is autocratic in a way that even Brezhnev could only dream about.

If you really want to make your blood boil look through the membership of the IOC and count the number of titles. It makes depressing reading.

But today is a continuing holiday and my bile is merely mechanical and not soul-felt: who can be miserable on a sunny (though cold) day without the pressure of work to dampen enthusiasm.

A whiff of school managed to infiltrate its way into my consciousness by via a telephone call from Suzanne, but that was more to arrange a lunch and exhibition viewing rather than talk about the Institution on the Hill.

I will take with me the art history book that I have bought as it is an almost perfect accompaniment to the course that we are teaching. Its only drawback is that it is in Spanish and we are teaching the course as part of an English Credit so that all the work must be done in that language. Ironically the book itself was originally published in English, but I bought the Spanish version in a cut price bookshop and I shudder to think how much the non-discounted version will be via


We are going to visit the Picasso Museum. This is one of the most popular museums in Barcelona and it does have a reasonably interesting collection of Picasso's work, but not so many of the major works to make this museum one of the most important in Barcelona. It does however have an enterprising programme of exhibitions which sometimes make interesting sense of what they actually do possess. They also create exhibitions using guest works and the current exhibition is one which uses paintings by Degas to draw comparisons and show the development of Picasso's work. I look forward to it and hope that the catalogue is not too expensive.

A visit to Barcelona is also an opportunity for me to visit the Apple shop (where ever it is) and discover if there is a machine specific and heavily logoed case for my present computer. I think that it has to be a case (exactly!) of if you've got it you should flaunt it!

Lunch today was in a cafe we have used before but not for a menu del dia. The cost of the meal was €7 and is the cheapest in the town centre as far as I know. I had a house salad of mango, avocado, olives and green leaves followed by roast rabbit with fried pineapple and potatoes, finished off by chocolate mousse all of this accompanied by a childishly assertive red wine and fresh bread. Excellent value for about six quid!

Our return home was via a hardware store where Toni has bought the wherewithal to make some new lamp shades. As he purchased plastic cups, string, glue and assorted balloons I am a little apprehensive about what the end result is going to be!

Thank goodness one has the spaciousness of a holiday to take this on board!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday a day at a time

What a lazy day! What joy!

The days are long past when I would feel a convulsive jolt of guilt for every minute spent in bed beyond the normal hour for rising. I still, of course, wake up at the appropriate time to go to work but that is mere conditioning and by merely turning over I can override the moral imperative to get up and set new parameters for the luxury of snoozing.

I must admit by the time my snoozing dreams have taken hold and are beginning to develop themselves it is sometimes something of a relief to wake up fully and resolve the fantastic situations that my unconscious has created by harsh reality bringing me back to what passes for normality!

By the time I had a cup of tea it was time for lunch so we set off for town pausing only to check the mail box and discover the latest batch of Christmas cards, one of which was dated the 14th of December so I imagine that the snow has had its part to play in the tardy delivery times. I do feel guilty as I have sent not a single card as I was going to rely on the electronic version to suffice for this year. But, due to technical difficulties beyond my individual control my attempts to produce something on a par with that which I managed to send last year did not succeed.

I am working on sending an electronic Kings card which gives me a few more days to get things in order.

The Spanish are not great card senders, though Toni's mother managed to send a card which she bought the last time she was in Wales.

I must say that the selection of cards which we have had have been remarkable in the quality of images used with one exceptional penguin card and numerous extremely tasteful religious ones.

Ceri's card this year features an atmospheric almost abstract image entitled, “After the Snowfall” which I am sure would fit neatly on the blank wall which was produced by the re-arrangement of the living room and which has still not been filled!

My concern about travel in the New Year increases with every news bulletin as weather chaos seems to be engulfing most of the places in which news broadcasters have correspondents to relay graphic pictures of sliding cars, stationary trains, frozen planes and everywhere disgruntled travellers.

I am only concerned about getting there and seeing Ceri on his birthday and visiting Paul; my getting back I consign to the gods of the swirling weather fronts and the vagaries of furious traffic controllers throughout Europe. School, after all, can wait!

I am determined to Do Something about the arrangement of my books. It is always easier to write about such a thing than actually do it because moving books is such sheer hard work. People think that book arrangement is as undemanding as flower arrangement; but this is simply not so. Flowers go from the purchased bunch into a vase and the arrangement is simply (in a Japanese sense) the artful placing of a single bloom next to a twig: what you don't need you can throw away.

The last part of the previous sentence contains two phrases which underline the problems that I have with my collection of books. The concept of a book “you don't need” is not one which I can, even remotely understand. It therefore follows that the idea that “you can throw away” a book is something close (very close) to sacrilege.

When you have as many books as I have and as little spare shelf space the moving of one book necessitates numerous movements elsewhere in the collection. It is rather like that little plastic game of a picture made up of a number of moveable squares which you can move one square at a time into the single vacant space.

I think, for example, that it would be a good idea to get all my art books together so that they form a coherent part of the total collection. But there are numerous problems with such a reasonable thought.

Arts books come in all shapes and sizes from the mini paperbacks giving a few reproductions through the mid size paperbacks that I bought when I was younger to the hard back purchases of my more affluent years. Some of these books are outsize and fit none of my shelves. Then there are the art histories in various volumes: should I break these up into their particular periods and keep all the relevant volumes together or let them stay as matching collections and take out the volumes as and when required.

Now I could go on at some length enumerating the pressing problems (and there are many, many more) just relating to the art books, but I am reminded of a programme that I watched on television last night about the lives, and more particularly the houses of the super rich. One lady while planning a dinner party in her spectacularly modern and totally desirable house told the viewers that she liked her table to reflect the seasons. She therefore poured sand on her dining table and carefully formed it into neat bands down the surface of the table into which she set the plates, cutlery, glasses etc with, in the middle, an arrangement of candles, cones and leaves from her lawns (collected by servants) to finish the effect. And one found oneself saying, through gritted teeth, “For god's sake woman haven't you got any real work to do!”

I fear my concerns about my book arrangement might be judged in the same sort of class as such table setting. This would be wrong of course, but I do see that there might be some irritation about how I choose to spend my time.

I might add that before writing this I had been “reading” a delightful book entitled “La Historia del Arte” which tells me such things as “Aunque Masaccio vivió 27 años, es en figura clave en la historia del arte europeo.” So, not only am I reading in Spanish (albeit at a fairly easy level) but I am also learning new things - as I seem to have ignored Masaccio's age in my previous reading about his life. So I do read the books I have as well as worry about where they are and whether I will ever find them a second time around!

Meanwhile the evils of the neighbours.

Much to our collective astonishment the bollards are still virtually upright and are definitely still in their holes in spite of our destructive neighbours having the whole of the holiday period with cars coming and going and parking and wrecking. We are still keeping a watching brief on them and photos have been taken and stored for future use should these inestimable protections against visitors using our driveways as parking sports be suddenly “vanished away.”

The more pressing problem is the baleful chorus of damned hounds that sing their monotonous song through the day and night. I do not, of course blame the dogs – though clearly I wish them dead as soon as possible. I blame the thoughtless and presumably profoundly deaf owners.

The Witch of Endor who lives next door is certifiably mad though friendly enough, at least to me. Perhaps one should never take the way that humans speak to their canine friends as an indication of their sanity, but her maudlin crooning of baby voiced idiocies go beyond the acceptable.

She also owns a selection of dogs all of which bark. One, a crippled mutt which should clearly be put out of his misery at once, barks a muted distant bark once a second every second while his owner is out of the house. The other dogs have their own “voices” and respond to different stimuli to get their vocal chords working. One responds to every movement we make in our house, while the other dislikes strangers moving past the house on foot or in vehicles or in its bloody imagination.

Further down the street there are a pair of decrepit dogs who scream in a demented duet whenever any other canine walks past their house. To encourage this horror their caring owners have cut away part of the covering of the gate so that the vermin can see out and scream with gusto. They have the same reaction when their owner comes home from work and when he goes to work so we are guaranteed a morning and evening banshee recital.

But the medal for sheer cavalier indifference to the lives of others has to go to a family living on a street adjacent to ours whose dog barks non-stop whenever they go out. He does vary his bark and, as he is given the run of the garden and the steps up to the house there is a variety in the intensity of the bark depending on where he is – but bark he does until they come back.

And when they are not barking they are shitting on the pavements and their owners regard their filth as authentic, organic and natural and therefore they do nothing about it. It makes walking along our pavements an odoriferous, slippery and messy experience.

But the sun shone today and it didn't rain and there is no snow in our part of Spain. 

Who can ask for more.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Present Day!

The Christmas Meal finally got underway after the eventual appearance of our more tardy diners and it proved to be an exceptionally delicious success. 

 Although raw cod followed by a selection of fish and shell fish is not everybody's chosen Christmas alternative to turkey and trimmings it certainly was mine and what wine there was (surrounded as I was by Catalans) flowed gently in my direction as they showed yet again their disgracefully negligent attitude towards the consumption of alcohol!

At the conclusion of the meal we started on a procession to visit various households: the refurbished flat of a cousin who has taken over his mother's old flat; the mother's new, smaller flat, and finally the nephew's abode for a film “Salt” (with English subtitles) and more food.

Salt” was the sort of agreeable action nonsense which is perfect for a weary Christmas evening when everybody (with the exception of the nephews of course) is too dog tired to engage imagination, intelligence or even basic human understanding to tolerate anything more than a shoot-'em-up fantasy with a touch of conspiracy and world threat.

The film opens with the heroine being roughly treated by the North Koreans while being asked, “You are here to destroy our nuclear installations, aren't you?” To which the most reasonable answer is “Who isn't!” But let it pass, let it pass. Hokum it undoubtedly was but enjoyable hokum.

I am now finishing off my cup of Earl Grey tea (Toni's mum has been well trained!) and waiting for the succession of presents which should fall into my lap it being, as all know, St Stephen's Day and therefore my Saint's Day, my Name Day and a Day second only in importance to my birthday for the receiving of gifts of all sorts as the necessary recognition of a Day of such auspicious importance.

No-one can be unaware of the Day as just after midnight last night everyone (nephews included) wished me “felicitationes” in the appropriate manner. Gifts, therefore, “must follow as the day the night, and thou canst not then be mean to any man” as Bill very nearly said.

The final meal of this Terrassa trip is lunch today where in years gone by the highlight for me (apart from the gifts of course) has been a sort of savoury cake made with bread, prawns and mayonnaise which has both the attributes of the “naughty but nice”: it is delicious and messy to eat!

After lunch back to Castelldefels and the long deliberation to think about what to take to the UK in January.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


The love of an aunt for her nephew can surely reach no higher point than she give him a drum set for Christmas. What that says for her relationship with her sister and brother-in-law is quite another question!

The traditional time for present giving in Catalonia is Christmas Eve when the log with a painted face, Catalan hat and two stick legs shits presents for the kids after being beaten with a stick. There are some things in foreign cultures about which it is better not to ask!

After floods of tears from his brother when it was pointed out that the drum kit was a present to one person and not both peace (after a fashion) was restored with the brothers taking it in turns to beat the living daylights out of a miniature drum kit. One of the drum sticks broke almost immediately and the foot pedal for the “big” drum never worked but neither of these setbacks had the slightest effect on the quantity of sheer noise that was produced.

Our presents to the kids were track suits with their favourite characters sewn and embroidered on to them, but these, of course got barely a glance in the frantic ripping and rending of wrapping paper to see what else was there.

A subsidiary present for one of the boys was a small Zorro figure with an “alternative” body into which he could transform. Usually these figures are so securely encased in impenetrable clear plastic that the hysterical urgings of the recipient for you to release the figure from its crystal tomb are more than matched by the despairingly futile attempts of the adult to get at them.

This time it was different. The outer casing was removed with deceptive ease only to reveal that the figures were securely attached to the back of the packaging with numerous pieces of twisted wire. I assume that these fiendish trappings were put in place by machine or even more fiendish orientals determined to make life a real misery.

With wire ties it is usually possible to use the extended ends and by using thumb and index finger gently unwind them. Not with these. These attachments were carefully twisted to a point so that it was only possible to find the ends by wiggling a finger on the point and allowing the metallic points to disengage themselves from each other by becoming embedded in the fleshy part of the finger tip. The end result is that I now look as though in a previous life I have been a Victorian seamstress with puncture marks betraying my profession.

Needless to say this selfless work of mortification of the flesh was completely ignored by the impatient recipient who snatched the figures from my bloody grip and immediately started ripping off the limbs with sadistic abandon.

The meal, however, made up for any minor inconveniences that are consequent on any festivities which take in kids: pasta fish soup to start, followed by salad with strawberry sauce and then the main course of fish and shellfish. The meal was finished off with a selection of biscuits and turron all washed down with wine and Cava. Delightful. Even if my glass of Cava was knocked over by one of the kids!

I was first up this Christmas Morning (just as I was the first to bed yesterday) and we barely have time to regroup and have the stipulated number of cups of tea before we have to gird our loins and shuffle our way to the restaurant for the Christmas Lunch.

As is traditional either Toni's sister or I suffer from some incapacitating illness during the festive season. Over the last five years Carmen and I have only had a celebratory drink together on one occasion at Christmastime. This year it was Carmen's turn to suffer and abstain from alcohol. No doubt next year it will be mine!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The holiday begins!

The great advantage of my new green and lilac watch is that it is no luminous.

This is not because of some outdated fear I might have about the radio-active nature of the luminous paint (though as a child scraping the paint from a broken clock face I should have been) because these days it is not made of the same dangerous stuff of yore, but rather because I cannot see the time in the dark.

After four months (dear god!) of getting up early this term for the damnéd grind of school and knowing before hand that a mere glance at the glowing watch face will determine whether there is time to add another chapter to the involved semi-coherent semi-dream that is proving to be such a delicious alternative to rising from the warm, comfortable depths of bed – it is a delight to have no way of knowing what time it is and furthermore of not caring because it doesn't matter.

The end result is that I didn't get up until almost midday today! Such guilty pleasures! And now, after muesli and my second cup of tea it is almost lunch time. This is what a holiday is really all about. That and thinking of one's timetable and gloating over the classes that one is not taking!

I have finally worked out why my downloaded suite of programs have disappeared each day: the moving of the download into the “Applications” folder ensure that it has a life of more than 24 hours!

Similarly with the “Dashboard” (whose useful elements also disappeared into the thin electronic air) I have now worked out how to use it so that, at the touch of a button, I now have an array (ranging from snippets of the BBC News, via “Word of the Day” to Wikipedia) of useful tools flash up onto the screen and at the click of a touch sensitive multi-use mouse pad can be consigned to their place on the shelf at the bottom of the screen. I am learning the ways of my new and as yet untamed computer.

I had, after a more than satisfactory lunch in our local Basque restaurant, slumped down in the chair and was beginning to feel the real need to vegetate when the call to arms for the buying of Christmas presents was sounded and I had to gird the proverbials and sortie out again into the maelstrom which is the consumer strip which flanks the motorway.

We have now bought everything which we need to buy for the immediate future which takes us up to St Stephen's Day aka My Saint's Day at which time I would like it to be known that I am ready to receive small or large gifts to celebrate this auspicious moment in the year!

Tomorrow off to Terrassa to start the celebrations for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end and the start

There are easier ways to end a term than taking fifty kids into the centre of the city in the rain.

To be fair it wasn't raining when we set off on the long trek downwards towards the ferrocarril which was to take us into the city. Then there was the walk from the stop to the Cathedral square where the fair was situated.

There was a time, a couple of years ago, when I was prepared to be delighted and impressed by this fair – but those days have gone! The fair consists of a number of stalls which sell the raw material for the Belens or nativity scenes that many Catalans (et moi!) put together for the Christmas season.

The basic elements necessary are a model stable containing the three major characters with a selection of animals and the odd angel. Outside the stable the next level of normal characters include shepherds and the three kings. After those, you are only limited by your imagination and budget.

This time of the year gives television companies the opportunity to show those slightly odd folk to take things to the extreme and give over whole rooms in their houses to nativity scenes which take in villages, hundreds of characters, running rivers and water wheels, bakeries, trees, grass and whatever else comes to mind.

My own Belen has various workers bringing geese, eggs, wine, wood and sheep to the young child but the feature which seems to be odd to the point of blasphemy is the inclusion of the caganer or shitting man. This is a squatting figure, trousers down and with a pile of poo under his bottom.

These figures are a Catalan institution and you know that you have arrived in the public imagination when you find that a pottery figure of you as a caganer has been put on sale. The Barça team, politicians, sportspeople and any figures of note are available for inclusion in your particular scene. Many of the stalls were selling quite expensive figures of this type. Hardly the sort of thing that children should be looking at!

Our supervision of the children took the form of sitting in a cafe and drinking coffee (or in my case a glass of red wine) and eating a baguette. It's a hard old life in the modern education system!

By the time had arrived to go on to our next port of call I had visited a book shop and bought another book to add to my growing collection of volumes on Catalan painters. The new purchase is on Sorolla; a painter of naturalistic scenes executed in an expressively painterly style which reminds me of John Singer Sargent. The more sketch like Sorolla is the better I like him. He is a painter worth getting to know better.

The long walk back to school, only partially augmented by public transport, was timed to perfection so that we could go to lunch.

Our school version of a Christmas meal comprised a pasta and meatball soup followed by turkey with cooked pear. Sweet was a selection of turrons washed down by Cava. It is a long way from the school meals that I was used to for a number of years!

The film in the afternoon for the equivalent of Year 9 was a disaster as the projector closed itself down; luckily I remembered that Wednesday was my early leaving afternoon and I left.

Traffic was heavy on the way back home, but my heart wasn't as the glorious realization that I do not have to go back to school until the 10th of January next year began to sink in.

To celebrate, as we went out to buy Christmas presents, I bought a watch. This, of course, is almost a reflex action with me and the house has caches of timepieces in a number of drawers. This one, however has a green strap and lilac face: a striking little number. A good holiday choice. And one has to celebrate the holiday season!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day three and counting down!

I am beginning to succumb to the traditional curse of Mondays.

I wake up early and turn back to doze for that delicious hour or so when reality shades into Surrealistic wish-fulfllment, when all manner of things appear to be possible.
The intrusive and terminally irritating wake-up jingle of electronic musak that serves as an alarm bell on my mobile phone drags me back to the quotidian necessities such as leaving the bed and getting ready for school.

As Mondays start at 6.30 am all of the resented tasks are completed in darkness with the harsh bolt of electric light (and the official start of the day) being delayed as long as possible.
The joining of the never ending stream of traffic on the coast road is always a calculated risk. The glare of oncoming headlights seem one long light show and one has to rely on the fact that Spanish drivers are well used to people pulling out in front of them in a way which would get them beeped in the UK but here passes without rancour.

The dark crew with me as part of the sombre parade make their way towards the city. I branch off by the airport and join up with another motorway and a succession of traffic jams and dawn begins to break over the snarled up and snarling drivers.

Arriving early usually means that there is a prime parking space available (as the only possible advantage to this unnatural starting out) which means that I will be well placed to get into the stream of traffic going home in the maelstrom of cars driven by parents from our school who look straight ahead and will not give an inch.

It is sometimes comical to see the steely determination not to let me out become compromised by the youngster in the back of the car informing their parents that the flashing light indicates a teacher rather than a mere member of the public!

But the sheer horror of having to turn up on a Monday is becoming more and more of a bind: though that could well be that there are only a few days left before the end of term and each day is almost unbearable in its grinding tedium. Neither kids nor staff actually want to be there – and it shows.

Tomorrow is a normal day and then there are differences for the last day. I am accompanying the 1ESO to a visit to the Winter Fair which takes place in the square in front of the cathedral in Barcelona. Please pray that it doesn't rain because that would mean teaching for the periods that would have been spent drinking coffee, sorry, supervising the kids!
These last two days are going to be hard going as it is patently obvious that everybody's mind is, to put it mildly, elsewhere.

Nevertheless life goes on and I am beginning to use my new, unjustifiable computer. It is a thing of great loveliness and it does a bit of computing as well. It is so much quicker than my last machine that I feel that its purchase is justified by that factor alone. Well, not quite if I am truthful, but I don't care.

Part of The Family came down to Castelldefels with Toni and I was able to distribute part of one of my purchases from last year: candles composed of gold, frankincense and myrrh! They were a purchase from M&S so they must be good: I am sure that they improve and mature with time.

I am trying to put off the horror which is the realization that I have bought nothing for Christmas apart from a superfluous computer. Which, think about it, is not bad going!
Now spiritual preparation for a day's teaching that I don't want to do.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

A day for musing

Another milestone passed: I phoned up the telephone company to complain about the lack of intent access. The telephone call was troubled with mutual incomprehension on both sides but the proof of the conversation is clearly indicated by the fact that there is now, irrefutably, internet cover.

It was depressing to see that the highly paid professionals of the telephone company could recommend little more than taking the plug out and putting it back in again. It worked so I shouldn’t even breathe a word against the struggling (if only in a linguistic sense) gentleman who made all things well.

If I had thought about it I would have done the same thing before I phoned him up, but I had dark thoughts about what might have gone wrong and I had no desire to exacerbate the situation.

Yesterday I went in to Barcelona ostensibly to look at the Christmas lights and take a few photographs and perhaps mosey round the shops and sneer at the lack of bargain opportunities which will, in retrospect be even more glaring when I waltz around the January sales in the few hours of spare time that I am going to get when I visit the UK just before the re-start of school.

I shocked myself by the lack of spending that I did and was congratulating myself on my positively unnatural sense of restraint when I just happened to go up six escalators to the electronic department of El Corte Inglés. There, after some intensively desultory searching I happened upon the Apple store.

There is a product made by Mac which is sleek and silver and elegant and ridiculously expensive. It was while I was drooling over the MacBook Air 11 that I was accosted by a young girl who, after admitting that she spoke a little English, spoke none at all and witch like with foreign blandishments urged me to buy the said machine.

And I said “yes” and she said “we don’t have one at the moment” and I took that as the word from god that I should not even think about one. No, not even when she said that she would take my name and phone number and let me know at once when she was able to get one. I resisted. I stood firm. I went down the six escalators feeling undeniably cheated and yet, at the same time, a more moral person.

By the time that I had reached my car which was two floors underground the moral superiority was totally gone and the feeling that I had been “untimely ripped” away from what was rightfully mine had taken over.

It was then that MediaMarkt (think Temptation in the Desert and you get some kind of idea of what kind of role this unprincipled store plays in my life) came whispering into my mind, telling me that they sold the machine and, what is more, they were giving away a disk drive free, gratis and for nothing. As long as you paid a king's ransom for the machine itself.

It was night (seeing the lights remember) when I set off for home and I decided to give god another chance to make his message clear. I would cut off the usual road that I took home from the city and go onto the parallel motorway. From this road it was but a matter a moments to go into the shopping mall in Gava and find out if the store was open and . . .

So I took the road and then, just as I was about to join the motorway I took the wrong turning (something very easy to do given the darkness and the appalling road signing) and found myself going back the way I had come. I therefore took another turning to right myself and found that I had got on to a one way road going in the wrong direction with a low wall down the centre to ensure that mistakes could not be corrected.

With the magnanimity for which I am famous I decided to give god a “best out of five” opportunity to stop me getting to the shop.

Eventually I found myself on a bit of motorway that I knew and, inwardly cringing at the distance that I had manoeuvred myself out of my normal course, I made doggedly for the shop which I knew must, by this time be closed.

It wasn't.

My last chance of salvation was that they did not have the model that I wanted. At first it looked, as two assistants looked, that the specific machine I had insisted on what not there. However, four cupboards later there it was packed in a box as elegant as the contents. Clutching my free disk drive (a sop to a guilty conscience if ever there was one) I staggered my way to the check out.

Where my credit card did not work. This was because the cost of the machine was so astronomical that my card was not authorized to the full amount.

The girl behind the till was not fazed for a moment. She knew what had happened and she knew (dammit!) how to deal with the situation, so that within a few thumping heartbeats she had done what was necessary and I, with faltering feet and slow, was making my way to the poetically just subterranean car park for my journey home.

Where I am sitting at the moment, on the sofa in the living room, I can see two other laptops that I own which, if you think about it, makes this purchase all the more inexplicable.

Except, the others do not have an Apple logo that light up on the lid when the machine is in use; they do not have the metallic gleam that this one has; they do not have a power supply lead where the tiny head that fits into the power socket of the machine is magnetic and they are so, so heavy. So there.

I don’t even have the courage to take it into school. I will wait for next year when I will have a proper case for it. At the moment I am using something which was given away free with the magazine “Muy Interesante” and is bright red and lacks the refined sophisticated aura of expense that this seductive sliver exudes.

Well, it is bought now so the least that I can do is learn to use the thing as it should be used.

Perhaps as expiation I should put the Christmas tree up. Good old fashioned misery as recompense for the gratuitous indulgence in conspicuous expenditure!

Paul continues to be bored in hospital as he waits for a bed to become available for his operation to take place. It seems strange to be sitting here and not visiting him: the practical problems aside it is impossible not to feel a little guilt at not being there. It seems likely that he will be in hospital over Christmas which is not something that you would wish on anyone: but better that than not being taken care of. At least I will see him in January.

Now the tree and the misery of decoration only partially lessened by the thought that there are only three days left in school.

Onwards to the tinsel!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Things to come

On the radio an announcer said that the coming cold snap in Britain could be long lasting and be as severe as that experienced in the early 1960s. If that is true then the UK is in for a considerable amount of disruption.

My sympathy goes out to my fellow countrymen, but that sympathy is tempered by the fear that disruption could extend itself into the New Year and especially when I am supposed to be travelling to the country to meet friends and to have a damn good evening meal and a robust breakfast the next day.

I am only concerned about getting there on the 6th of January; I think that I can cope with being stranded in my native land surrounded by blankets of snow – as long as my friends can accommodate me!

To be fair the weather here is cold too and even the sunshine seems a little more muted today; the skies a little greyer and the weekend looking as though it might (yet again) be something of an anti-climax after the blue autumnal days that we have had during the working week!

I have decided to put up the Christmas tree as I will be in Castelldefels for most of the holiday and so I will get value for the effort that it always takes to set the thing up.

I am disappointed with the range and variety of Christmas tree decorations that are on sale. Usually at this point in the year I will have identified grotesquely expensive decorations in a few shops which might be worth looking out for in the wonderful sales which are not (repeat not) a feature of Spanish and Catalan life after the Day itself.

I am pleased with the three metallic filigree angels that I bought in Zara for more money than I have paid for Christmas decorations for a long time, but they seem very much the exception rather than rule and the cheap shops have decorations whose tacky vulgarity I cannot even pass off as Post Modernist irony were I to buy some. Perhaps I have not been dedicated enough in the way that I have approached the purchase of new decorations.

My usual way of proceeding is to plunder the sales then put away the new decorations so that their rediscovery in late December comes as something of a surprise. Sometimes they come as a total shock as one year I put the things in another place and didn’t discover them again for a few years and I really had forgotten them by the time they saw the light of day again!

But last year (and the year before that) I found nothing at a bargain price to encourage me to part with my money, so I suppose I do have some justification in buying something new.

With the newly rearranged living room where the space is now more open and not so compartmentalized there is still a problem of where to put the tree as a revolving bookcase is where the logical(ish) site should be. A slight to negligible problem in the scale of things. But a problem nonetheless.

The Indian meal this evening in the regular place in Port Ginesta was, at the start of our meal divided into two. In the major part there was scaffolding and Indians painting the superstructure of the interior of the restaurant so that the heavenly scent of the food was mixed with the pungency of paint.

The food was well up to the required standard and the conversation with Caroline just as expansive and before we knew it, it was quarter passed eleven. Caroline returned home with a small doggie bag of boiled rice and curry for her husband: a small gesture of thanks for babysitting!

Tomorrow the Christmas tree!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The long slog of the last days

I really, truly and sincerely did not want to get up this morning. I was warm and comfortable and I had a sneaking suspicion that if I got out of bed then I would find that it was dark and cold.

And it was.

I drove to work in the dark with that simmering resentment that all teachers know so well.

Even the fact that there were only five more days to the holidays did not raise my gloomy thoughts.

Starting work at 8.15 am is no joke and I was still harbouring resentment about the fact that I lost a free period for a head of school to have a meeting yesterday. It would appear that four and a half hours of meetings outside school hours is insufficient for this organization!

The sun, however, did emerge from the gloom and although not hot there was warmth as long as you were in direct contact with the rays.

And, as I was taking over a patio (playground) duty from a colleague I was. I refuse to wander about disturbing the smokers and the pupils up to other nefarious wrong doings but rather take out a chair and sit magisterially and survey the kids from the vantage point of the terrace.

In normal schools a teacher on duty is left severely alone. Not in this one. My chair was soon surrounded by a variety of pupils from a range of years engaging me in conversation. I had been hoping to continue reading a trashy American murder mystery on my phone (I still get a kick from saying that!) but that was impossible with the demands of the kids.

During one conversation a girl reminded me that I had told her two years ago that a gentle tapping on a part of the body would result in bruising if continued for long enough. God alone knows what prompted that little nugget of information to be produced in a lesson; though given her recent marks it would appear that not everything that I tell her actually remains in her brain!

At the end of the interminable day I finally managed to slip out of school a few minutes early during the remains of a period devoted to a departmental meeting (don’t ask) to try and avoid the unholy congestion that snarls up the narrow street around the school.

Making good time I decided to call into our local shopping centre and get some more disposable fountain pens. That was all that I was going to buy: clear, simple and cheap.

When I finally emerged from the centre I had bought a rather fine wide china cup with a yellow interior to go with the green individual cup tea maker; three delicate metallic angel Christmas decorations; a pair of noise reducing earphones; a tray with a mosaic design of using small rectangular black and white retro views of aspects of Barcelona; a selection of food and a boxed set of toiletries.

The after shave purchase was an interesting one as I was accosted by a fearsomely cosmetically challenged lady who offered to help as I picked up a box of stuff. I asked if I could try the after shave and I was promptly taken in hand.

I was given a sample of the fragrance that I had selected on one of those strips of card which, being wafted under my nose gave me the impression of slightly suppressed flowers. I grudgingly allowed her to squirt some on the back of my hand and I was gratified to find that my skin was working with its customary magic.

On me the after shave smelled nothing like the impression from the strip of card. The rather effete flowers had given way to something altogether more musky and not unpleasant.

I was given another squirt of something from a bottle which looked like an exploded and fragmented square which was reduced to sheer vulgarity on contact with my skin.

Her last attempt was something which smelled inoffensive on the card but transmuted to toilet freshener on contact with my epidermis. The lady who had been sniffing my hand as the experimentation proceeded looked frankly shocked by this emanation and mildly panicked until she reverted to the original choice which by then had settled down into quite a good scent. So I bought it. After all her work it was the least I could do!

Having loaded all my booty into the car I finally made it back to the house where I expected to see a gap where the bollard used to be.

I was gratified to find that my worst expectations were not realized and that the metal post was still standing where it should have been!

My innate sense of suspicion immediately told me that the Guilty Party was merely biding her time for me to drop my vigilance to spirit the thing away during a dull hour on the back end of Sunday.

Perhaps I am wrong and, at the third attempt of the local council to establish these metallic defenders of our space she is prepared to concede defeat and abide by the rules.

I have just had a phone call from Paul 1 who told me that Paul Squared has been taken in to hospital where they have ascertained that he has had a “cardiac incident” which could turn out to be a heart attack. This could be a life changing moment if Paul responds to the message that such an “incident” can be.

Such things put grumbling about the stresses of school life into a different sort of perspective.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crime continues!

Our local council have (bless them!) replaced the bollards which they erected along the pavements during one furious day of frantic construction a couple of months ago. Not all of the bollards, you understand, just the one that our neighbour keeps knocking gently enough to dislodge, so that one of her grown up children can wrench it out of its hole and place it in the rubbish!

This wonton criminal damage is done so that she can park her car on the pavement herself and she is so inept at parking that she needs to take a gentle sweep across our drive to get to her front gate.

I like the bollards as they dissuade visitors from parking on the pavements themselves and thus blocking us in. It is a typical piece of selfishness on her part which is on a par with the collection of mutts that she keeps and which she allows to bark at all hours of the day and night. Allegedly.

I suppose that I have to put in that last world to save myself from the fear of a totally unjustified prosecution. I have, however taken a photograph of the car parked within inches of the post and also a photograph of the gap around the base of the post where it has already been loosened prior to its removal I suspect. Before I go to bed I shall check that the post is still there as we have daily refuse collections and the item will be whisked away in short order.

The pevious post I rescued from the rubbish myself, having worked out how the criminal mind would work in this part of the world. I informed the local council that I had the post and would willingly surrender it to be replaced.

I realize as I type that I am sounding more and more like a retired military man in Cheltenham (or perhaps Hove would be a better example given our proximity to the water) fulminating against the petty irritations of “damned scoundrels” who simply do not “play the game” – but you only have to see the amazing disregard for all civilized standards of reasonable parking in the summer in this area to realize that the bollards are a local government godsend.

I confidently expect the bollard to be gone by the time that I come home from school tomorrow evening. If it has then I will go to the town hall at once and start making pretty unveiled accusations vaguely hidden behind my appalling Spanish!

School is still resolutely not feeling festive in spite of the fact that there are now only five working days left before the holidays. And yes, I am counting.

I have had a few Christmas cards and I realize that I have sent none, so this weekend will have to see me try and discover where I have hidden the lists that I made some time ago with names and addresses on them.

My attempts to recreate the festive email which I sent last year have so far resulted in no picture being attached to the electronic Christmas card. That is something else that I can work on during the weekend.

I am assuming that Toni will make the requisite purchases to keep the Family at bay and then I can relax with a good book and treat the holiday in the way in which they should be treated.

Not forgetting my resolution to do something about my post modernist library. A little more of the Classical and a little less of the Abstract Expressionist will work wonders for the ordering of the books into some sort of arrangement where I stand an odds on chance of finding a book I know I possess.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Time is dragging

Four and a half hours of after school meetings in two days!

Even the thought that they would never be able to get away with this abomination in the UK is of little comfort when you are actually sitting in the middle of one of the interminable tortures as they (I say nothing unless directly asked a question) pick their way through the tortured lives of our poor little rich kids who are not making the grade.

It is living torture and the participants seem to relish the whole bloody experience, while I gnash my teeth in impotent fury and think of book that I haven’t read because I consider them hard going and think that even they would be preferable to listening to colleague as they vacillate between Spanish and Catalan.

I would rather be reading “The Fairy Queen” – surely I can say no more for the level of desperate boredom that I reach within five minutes of the start of the meeting.

I look back on so-called “Curriculum Meetings” in my last real school with something approaching fondness – and those were meetings where colleagues sometimes watched me rather than listened to what was going on as they hoped that this would be the occasion when I actually burst into tears of hopeless despair rather than merely looking as if I was on the point of so doing.

Never mind, I keep telling myself, there are now only six teaching days to the holidays; and these holidays seem (at this point in the long drawn out term) to be of almost heavenly length and stretch from the evening of the 22nd of December to the morning of the 10th of January! O bliss!

I am still firm in my resolve that this holiday will see some sort of real attempt to bring order to my library: I wonder if this resolution will survive to the 23rd of December!

Although the dining room in school has sprouted a stunted Christmas tree and a few hanging decorations which are at my head level there is almost no sense of it being near the (or in the) festive season.

A few houses in the vicinity have at last put up a few lights and one or two flats have a Christmas tree ostentatiously in the window but it doesn’t even come close to the over-kill on British television and in British shops. Visiting Britain in early December was something of a culture shock: not only the remnants of snow but also shop windows filled with Christmas trash and aisles in supermarkets groaning with Christmas food and gifts (at all prices!)

Catalonia is not like that. Admittedly I am in a small seaside town rather than wandering about in the wonderland that is the centre of Barcelona, but one would still expect shopkeepers to be doing their level best to get the euros out of pockets. Even the weather is unseasonably warm: it was cold coming home (after another bloody meeting, sorry, but they do rankle) but the temperature was 11ºC – which was a considerable number of degrees warmer than the day’s high temperature in my home city! I should count my blessings!

In school our groups have changed. In the first year the class changes at some point in the term so that at the end of the year each first year English teacher will have taught the entire first year intake.

This is so that at the end of the year we will know the names of the whole of the year and we will be able to refer to children for the rest of their time in school by their first names.

Yes. Right. Good idea. But for me. I freely acknowledge that I have a sort of psychological problem with learning names which I have no desire to deal with at this stage of my career. I always feel that as long as I can usually get the names of my immediate colleagues right more often than wrong then I am doing as much as I can reasonably be expected to do. Any greater expectations will I am afraid be not met. The name neutral greeting of “Hello there!” has stood me in good stead for umpteen years and will see out my time in this school. I think.

Only one class has demanded that I know their names and that effort last year is still clear in my memory as a time of almost impossible intellectual effort!

So today I had another tranche of kids for my Media Studies class (last two periods of the day) and some of them I have taught before and some of them I am actually teaching now in their English class. So, some kids I will actually see for three periods a day for one day a week. Which is something to think about!

What changing classes at this stage of the term with only a handful of days to go before a longish holiday is that you start the introduction to your course and then the kids forget everything by the time they come back and you have to start again.

I have designed the course this time to be intentionally fragmented so that each of the “bits” can be taught individually so that there will still be some sort of continuity as we make our way through what I want to teach when you look back at the bits.

The other course I co-teach with Suzanne has also started. This is an introduction to modern art. This course too has been modified as last term a small group of students was taken out of the whole group and given the task of translating a children’s book about the disaster in Haiti from Spanish into English. This is (hopefully) gong to be published and sold in aid of the people of Haiti. So a whole group of kids did not join the main group until well into the course.

We started the course this time will the whole group together and them completing an exercise where they were give small colour reproductions of a whole range of paintings from our period. They had to make a selection of from seven to nine of the paintings for an exhibition, choosing one as a “masterpiece”. They were also allowed to choose five of the paintings and put them in a Salon de refusés on the back wall of their cardboard gallery.

Ceri will be gratified to learn that most of the groups chose one of his paintings to adorn the walls of the galleries, while Warhol, Pollack, Rothko, Cezanne etc all featured in the rejects!

It is very difficult to work up any real enthusiasm at this stage of term where all my colleagues (and the kids) are all jaded and exhausted. God help us all when we start the long slog in January to the promised land of the Easter holidays! With no half term!

Still, this is no time to think about that: six more working days. Ah!