Monday, January 31, 2011

A horror passed!

You can judge a meeting by its most exciting moment.

In the meeting that lasted over two hours that started when school finished the most exciting moment was when I sneezed twice.

The true low point occurred when, after hours of speaking, someone rose to explain a new and exciting initiative involving our pupils in some way.  It was a new and exciting way to use the computer system in the school.  Which then, of course, failed to work.  The program did not load; the password did not fit; three people got up and attempted to help; the password failed again; and again; and again; and they tried to reload again; and again; and again.  And I kept thinking that I had started today by getting up at 6.30 am and that the time was now 7.30 pm and people were behaving as if I actually cared if their bloody system worked or not.  My only thought was to get out and go home.

Which I eventually did in the pouring rain: the pathetic fallacy at its most irritating worst.

The only thing guaranteed to get me back to some semblance of normality was superior junk food.  So we went to Rober’s for our double buns.  The first spicy beef burger with accompaniments went well; it was when I went to get the second that the problems started. 

I was negotiating a swing door when the plastic glass of red wine which was perched precariously on my tray started to slip, closely followed by the can of Coke for Toni.  I saved the Coke but the wine fell and splashed on quite a respectable swathe of floor at the feet of a table of startled Iberians.

I apologised at once and then, to make light of the situation, said that such wine throwing was a tradition in my country.  They looked deadly serious and obviously took me at my word.  They left almost immediately.

The evening is almost over and I think that an early night is called for to compensate for the horror of the meeting. 

Perhaps oblivion will soothe the memory!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

All things will be well

The sun came out today and my headphones are working again.  I am going to assume for the sake of my peace of mind and the price I paid for The Machine that last night was an inexplicable glitch and it will not happen again!

For the first time in a week I have been able to use The Machine without a nagging suspicion that I should be continuing with the chore of putting the music into its memory.  I can listen with out the underlying feeling that I should be doing something else.  At the moment I am listening to a fairly arbitrary piece of The Marriage of Figaro which was decided by the music program, as it certainly isn’t the opening of the opera even though it is the first disk in the list.  Ah well, as long as they haven’t reordered the tracks I can cope with it.

The Family arrived in the early afternoon with the advance force of mother and daughter to prepare the way for the main invasion of the crack forces with the juvenile equivalent of the SAS in the form of two small children under 6.

Kids always lull you into a false sense of security with their ability to dissimulate their sense of satisfaction.  You think that you have them under control and they seem acquiescent and, bloated with confidence, you allow them to play with the Wi games with only one hand unit between them.  One wants to play the FIFA World Cup, the other is much more interested in Bob the Sponge.  Within minutes both are in tears and are on the brink of homicidal tantrums.

Chocolate cake placates the young but, like the fragments of the True Cross, if you add up the crumb consequences which litter the floor I am convinced that put together they form more than the original cakes from which they came.  Kids also have the innate ability to cause rubbish fall-out from places where they have not been!

Now is the calm after the storm with both us flaked out and hoping that dinner will make itself in some way!

Much though I have tried, I cannot get out of my mind the fact that tomorrow is going to be a very long day with nothing to look forward to but an enervating meeting at the end of it.

At least I have my newly repaired glasses back so, if necessary I can take them off and let the horror of the situation appear as a comforting blur and I will not be able to see the mouths move and perhaps the conversation will take on the form of a piece of musique concrete and I can regard it as art!

Who said suffering is ennobling?

Talking of suffering I have bought a book on Office for Mac 2011 so that after years of ignorant frustration I can finally try and understand the workings of the suite of programs.

Cooking up culture

I have now reached the recognizable operas in the Complete Mozart Edition and the number of disks to be fed into The Machine has now dwindled to almost manageable proportions.  The last part of “Idomeneo” is now being lodged firmly in the innards and we are on the home stretch with only another 16 disks to be loaded.

I think that what I now need is a good, but relatively simple but comprehensive guide to Mozart’s music so that I can meander my way through melody after melody with little tit bits of information about the notes to keep me going.  There are some aspects of Mozart’s prolific output where some sort of route through, for example, the violin sonatas would be greatly appreciated.

I have been listening to a whole parade of German Marches that Mozart wrote.  They are very jolly and to me they sound, to put it mildly, fairly slight.  It was after I had listened to about twenty of them that I turned to Beethoven for something a little more substantial and less insanely tuneful!

Tonight is the night of The Perfect Bolognase – or it would have been if I could have found the recipe that Stewart sent me.

I had, of course copied it into The Machine, but I couldn’t remember what I had called the file.  I had written the ingredients on a memo on my phone so I knew what I had to buy, but I had not included the method.

Remembering that the recipe was Guardian Newspaper orientated I googled that and found a couple of recipes the gist of which I followed.

I tend to be rather free and easy with quantities, and I am not sure that my brain can cope with instructions which call for a “pinch” of anything.  I have used all the meat; all the chicken livers; half a bottle of wine; generous amounts of milk; pepper in the way that I like it; a slew of salt; more wine; all the contents of the tin of tomatoes – but no garlic!

It is bubbling away merrily and looks rich and edible.  It will be eaten at the end of the game of Barça and Hercules and the sauce will be soaked up by mini penne rather than spaghetti.  I for one will be having cheese with my meal, though this will be Lidl’s defrosted and crumbled Cheddar rather than the more traditional Italian.

Well, I think that the meal was excellent.  The meat was tender and rich and the sauce subtle without being innocuous.  It wasn’t runny and the Cheddar added a more than usually tasty overtone.  If you sense that I am making a case for myself then you would be right.  Toni was unimpressed finding it too dry and lacking the right amount of tomato.  I think I will salvage what is left of the enormous amount I made and re-treat it in a more Catalan way!

It looks as though the festivities planned for tomorrow are not going to take place and I am going to be cheated of my chance to eat the dirty onions that is the basis of the whole concept of colçets.  And it may rain.

On the bright side I have now loaded the complete works of Mozart on the machine and it is at this very point that the earphone socket has taken to not working.

Sometimes irony is very irritating.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Always something new

The last time I taught in the UK there were five periods in the day which started at 8.45 am and finished at 3.25pm.  Today I had six periods of teaching in a school day that started at 8.15 am and I finished early (a whole period early!) at 3.50 pm.  Something, somewhere is dreadfully wrong!  And I get paid a crap salary, but it does at least pay the bills.

Perhaps this downbeat, resentfulness is due in part to the lousy weather which is grey overcast skies with desultory rain sulking its way down just to irritate me.

On the other hand it is the weekend and however grey the skies there is the bright prospect of two days of freedom!

Qualified freedom as I am still chained to The Machine feeding in a seemingly unending sires of Mozart CDs.  I am now on disk 80 and approaching the end of the string quartets and just about to start on the piano sonatas and still not half way through yet!

Ever vigilant as I wend my way along the tedious bit of motorway that connects me with the school and looking without interest at the back of the car in front of me I actually saw something unique.
It is the custom of Catalans to show their national pride by putting a symbol of their identity on their cars.  The Spanish symbol of a silhouette of a black bull is taken from the Osborne company and was used to advertise its Brandy de Jerez starting in 1956.  It has become a symbol of Spanish speaking Spain, or “core” Spain inside the country and a national symbol outside it.  In Catalonia the symbol is sometimes seen as a studied insult and the Catalans have adopted the silhouette of a black donkey or burro as a response to the bull.
For the first time ever I saw both symbols on the same car: the bull on the right and the burro on the left – if that is significant in any way.

Far from being even handed by showing both symbols I think that the person sporting the two images would be equally hated by both sides for failing to nail his national colours to the mast more exclusively!

I can’t help feeling that the car I saw today is going to be unique.  I see no real sign of a rapprochement between what is very obviously a real division of tradition, interest and political aspiration when it comes to Catalunya and the rest of Spain.

The weather has now become openly vicious and the rain is pouring down to an accompaniment of OTT thunder.  This does not bode well for the weekend.

I am now over half way in the putting of the Mozart on to The Machine and I am in territory where I have never knowingly gone before.  The latest disk is “Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots” Part 1.  To which I can only adopt, in self-defence, a posture of musing incomprehension.  It will be listened to in time, though god alone knows when that time might be as I now have the equivalent of three weeks worth of solid musical listening waiting for my ever-receptive ears to appreciate.

Monday sees one of our school Meetings.  These are a gruesome and grisly feature of the school year and are truly dreaded by all the non-Spanish members of staff who regard these interminable marathons of pointlessness as something akin to a natural disaster or a malicious act of god.

I need to use the weekend to store up energy to combat the fatal enervation that is an inevitable by-product of the meetings that litter the annual timetable like monumental slabs of granite-like unrelieved tedium.  And they go on for hours and hours and people simply don’t shut up.  And I used to think that Curriculum Meetings in LHS were the low point of existence. 

How wrong I was.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A bad day to do the right thing eventually

A bleak day with Barcelona lost under a thick blanket of smog based cloud.  Aesthetically it is quite attractive with buildings looming out of the mist with their foundations lost in greyness but I like the sun and I miss it every minute it is supposed to be shining.

There is a parallel greyness about my colleagues who are looking somewhat drawn and haggard, as the awful prospect of unbroken teaching days becomes an un-escapable continuing misery; where the nirvana (if I may be allowed a cross-religious allusion) of the Easter holidays seems distant indeed.

I am at present being bullied by one of my colleagues.  This is not as negative as it sounds as the bullying is at my instigation as her task is to remind me of my stated intention of going to have a swim each day.  She vaunts her prowess on her Wi-Fi fitness board while pointedly reminding me of my non-swimming status.  She tells me that my lack of brownie points is matching the state of the National Debt and that there will soon be no way back. 

I have taken the first step and put the swimming bag into the boot of the car, but I have not checked to see if all the necessary impedimenta are in place for the swim to take place.

In the Municipal Pool it is essential to wear a very unbecoming swim hat; to wear sandals to the pool; goggles to protect the eyes and earplugs.  The clothes have to be placed in lockers that only lock if you buy a lock to secure it, so lock and key have to be in one of the pockets.  A glasses case is essential too because there are simply too may health and safety issues connected with lodging them in a shoe for the duration of the swim.  Then there is a towel and soap.  And of course the card to get in.  What used to be a fairly casual visit has now become a major journey!
This is merely an excuse and not a convincing one for my lack of effort.  I know that, just like banana yogurt, I will like it when I try it.  I do enjoy swimming and all I have to do is allow the car to continue on to the next turning on the motorway and I’ll be there.  Perhaps this afternoon is when the correct approach to exercise re-asserts itself.  Meanwhile there are still two teaching lessons and a departmental meeting to get through before the freedom of the open motorway and home.  Or a swim, as I should say!

Which I actually had!

Slipping into the comfortable waters of the pool had a delicious sense of re-entering a natural element.  I could tell that I had not had a real swim for some time by the growing ache in my shoulders, but this will not last and as long as I keep it up I should be back to normality in a few days.

The only downside to the experience was forgetting to put in my earplugs.  I only remembered when I was at the pool side and I simply couldn’t be bothered to go back in to the changing rooms; unlock the locker; dig out my swim bag from the pile of clothes under which it was buried; go through the pockets to find the plugs and then traipse all the way back to the pool.
I made an executive decision to suffer the consequences of water in the ear.  This was fine until I shook my head at the end of the swim and only managed to unblock one ear.  The other remained stubbornly waterlogged and I had fears of having to live with it like that for a couple of days – which has happened in the past.  Gingerly prodding it with a perfectly shaped index finger finally broke the dam and hearing was restored.

Restored in time to go to Sitges to reclaim my glasses which had a wisp of metal masquerading as an arm of my specs fixed to the lens: so much paid for so little!
For our evening meal Toni (for it was he) had a yearning to go to Burger King with which I complied.  He now has a vivid recollection of what the food was like and I do not think that we will be repeating this eating experience any time in the near (or indeed distant) future!

To compensate for the awful meal we called into a pastry shop and bought a custard-filled pastry confection topped with a glorious selection of fresh fruit.  It may have cost more than the meal for two in Burger King but it was a bloody sight more tasty!  

And there is some left for tomorrow to lighten the dark start of an early class!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Higher things

The welter of paper tedium that is at the heart of examination marking is slowing down so that the steady flow of class marking can now surge forward and be considered.

What is left is the group of people who missed the examination and will have to be accommodated at some time in the future.  This means that odd papers will suddenly appear from nowhere that you will be expected to mark.  I have kept all the mark schemes but, as is always the case in these situations when you do not have a room of your own, it is the putting your hand on them that is the important point.

In terms of time expended, the maverick examination papers take a disproportionate effort when you consider just how much (or rather little) time was spent on the bulk of the marking!

This too, as they say, will pass.
I am at present in an empty library doing a “library duty” listening (because I can and there is no one to disturb) to Mozart.  If push came to shove then I could probably justify playing Mozart in a school as his seems to be the only music that actually aids pupils’ concentration – or at least that is what we are told by various spurious “scientific” studies which I can’t name.

I don’t know whether I should be surprised, but I am enjoying listening more to Mozart than to the other composers that I have downloaded.  It may be that I am using his music as it was supposed to be used – as background noise for other activities.  Divertimenti and Serenades are perfection in subtly adjusting the ambience upwards on the pleasure scale.

I haven’t got to the church music or the operas yet when a little more concentration may be called for!

Another cold day with flawless blue skies; I hope that this weather continues to the weekend so that we can accommodate the numbers of people who will be eating long onions cooked on the barbecue.

I will have to go into Castelldefels to spend more money.  Although I need little incentive to do this, there is an actual reason behind this little jaunt.  Last night I knocked the Bodum tea thingie into the sink and it broke.  That is the glass body of the thing shattered; the plastic holder and the plunger are fine.  All I need is a replacement body.

And I know that I am going to have problems.  Firstly the chichi little shop that I got it from is only going to stock the whole thing and the torn jean wearing and spiky haired affected person who usually serves me is going to look at me in bewilderment when I ask him for another.

Then, even if I do manage to get a replacement, there is the major problem of fitting the glass into the holder.  To say that the glass fits snugly is an understatement and I am convinced that in fitting it myself I will not only break the thing but also take a chunk out of my hand in doing so.  And even if I do not break it by forcing it into the holder, I will find when I have completed the insertion that the spout is not correctly aligned with the handle and I will have to start all over again and break the glass in the adjustment.

And it has to be replaced as I have now got thoroughly used to brewing exotic and flavoursome cups of tea by a judicious mismatching of various teas to obtain something unique.  I rather like the fact that I am mixing one of the most expensive teas that I have ever bought (the Earl Grey Rioja) with a cheap black tea from Lidl’s: delicious.  And the Bodum thingie is easy to use and jolly and encourages me to experiment, so without it I am back to the PG Tips triangular teabags – it’s just not the same!  If necessary I will buy another one just so that I can (eventually) find the glass to replace and have a spare so that I will not have to suffer the horrors of real tea withdrawal symptoms again.

There is a real variety of teas on sale in the shop and I am thinking of branching out and trying another one – perhaps something a little more subtle.  I remember drinking a Formosan Oolong in University that I quite liked, but when the tin from Fortnum and Mason was finished I kept ordinary tea in it.  Perhaps I should revisit old taste paths.  I am certainly inclined to try some of their muslin tea bags packed in fetching individual sachets with the most outré flavours!

I was right.  My presentation of the plastic holder in the coffee shop was greeted by the boy with open incredulity.  He did not, of course have a replacement glass container but did offer to “ask” about getting a replacement and he also took my phone number.  We shall see.

In the meantime I asked for another cafeteria and lighted upon a shining metallic little number that was also a thermos flask.  The revelation of the price evoked a gasp of horror from me, whereupon the boy hastened to inform me that the price he had just told me was the “normal” price, but that it was on offer at a price a few euros less: so I bought it.  Never let it be said that I failed to fall for a transparent sales ploy.
By way of compensation the boy gave me a sample of coffee to try, a single sip of which has woken me from my usual evening torpor and will probably keep me awake for the rest of the night!

I have replenished my stocks of the exorbitantly priced but delicious Early Grey Rojo and also bought some Oolong Fancy – which in its raw state looks exotic indeed!

Stewart has sent me the “perfect” recipe for Bolognese sauce and I intend to try it out on Saturday: shopping in the morning for the ingredients and the rest of the day for the cooking.  The recipe actually says, “and cook for at least 3 hours (4 is even better) until the meat is very tender” and this is not something that I normally do – I am more of an “instant” cook and demand visible and edible results almost immediately.  It will be an exercise in restraint for me and I only hope the meal is worth it!

The nightly task of feeding CDs into The Machine is well underway, but I am still not even a third of the way through the Mozart collection and already there are 41.5 GB of music electronically tucked away in the innards of The Machine. 

I continue to trip merrily along unfrequented Mozartian melodic roads listening to the odd little kontretanz, gavotte or menuet.  The more I listen the more ludicrous the price of this amazing set of CDs becomes. I urge people to buy it: Mozart – Complete Edition - Brilliant Classics.

A number of years ago I read that of all the people in the world who have ever been capable of playing all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas the majority are alive and playing now.  In the same way how many people have been in the position of having all of Mozart’s music at the press of a key.

Before the advent of recordings the only way to get to know Mozart was via the score or going to a performance.  People who were able to read scores would probably have a piano score rather than the full score of many pieces.  And anyway what sort of person would have the scores of the whole of Mozart’s oeuvre?  My ownership of this set of records means that I will shortly have heard more performances of Mozart’s music than many experts on the composer in past times!  It becomes something of a privilege.  I suppose it should also be something of a responsibility: shouldn’t my appreciation of the Music become more profound with such exposure to the totality of the production of the composer.  Or perhaps I should just wallow in the luxury of ownership!

In terms of cost: if I think about the first LP records that I owned which cost just over a pound (bought by my parents I might add) allowing for inflation, if I had bought the set of Mozart then it would have cost the present day equivalent of about two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, whereas it actually cost me just under fifty quid! 

Admittedly this amount was after taking into account the 3 for 2 offer in El Corte Ingles – but still, remarkable.

Happy sigh!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


There is no substitute for having your own teaching room.

In our school (apart from gym, art and science) the teachers go to the children rather than vice versa.  This makes everything much more difficult.  We are supposed to be using technology in our teaching, but only the most naïf of teachers relies on equipment working when someone else has been using it just before you.  And it’s worse if they haven’t been using it because then it has to be set up and it is a golden rule of life in the classroom that problems multiply with an inverse relationship to the complexity of the technology employed.
God knows it was difficult enough in the days of the spirit duplicator.  Teachers wandering around with beatific smiles on their faces and trailing behind them the slightly antiseptic scent of the alcohol heavy liquid used to transfer the image to paper with this method of reproduction. 

What wonderful ideas the term “Spirit Duplication” raises in the mind: illicit experimentation in producing a clone of the soul; unlimited booze or perhaps the general spreading of zest for living.  How banal the reality: smudged images and print on unpleasant paper.

Then the Roneo machine; that voracious eater of paper.  I once left a Roneo machine unattended as I had a vast number of copies to produce.  While I was absent a piece of paper concertinaed and each succeeding sheet concertinaed in turn, with the result when I opened the door to the room on my return I was met by a paper flow of biblical proportions!  Luckily I was able to find plastic sacks and dispose of the evidence before anyone found out.

Luckily in that instance the Roneo “skin” was not damaged and I was able to print out the full run that I needed without too much further fuss!

My great discovery was to find out that there were special books, which could store the skins for re-use.  After careful cleaning off the ink from the skin it could be placed in the “book” on a numbered page and then catalogued.  I eventually had quite a collection of these books representing a monumental quantity of work.

Then came the photocopier.  The first one I came into contact with lived in a portacabin of its own and was tended by a deputy head who understood the mysteries of its use.  The primitive system that it adopted was akin to photography with positive and negative sheets of paper that had to be peeled apart leaving a grey image on shiny paper that sent shivers of disgust down your spine every time you touched it.  Even thinking about it is creating the old reaction and I am shuddering with what can only be partially explained by the cold!

Xerox was a revelation.  A massive machine that produced single copies in black and white.  If you were lucky.  These machines had “key holders” who were able to get inside and sort out the inevitable paper jams.  Mere “users” could only load the paper – always remembering to “fan” the ream before insertion for gnomic reasons never divulged.  I always assumed it was simply a propitiatory ritual to the paper gods who always had to be appeased.

And Xerox was the harbinger of the modern age of school technology.  The BBC-B computer; Sinclair and the QL; my first Apple; my Fall from Grace and turning to the Dark Side of PC ownership and the torment of Windows in its most tortuous form, through a multitude of increasingly powerful computers - which I continued to use as if they were typewriters with attitude – to the present day and The Machine.
Then there were the OHPs. for many teachers the last piece of “hi-tec” equipment that they knew how to work and knew how it worked.

I must have been one of the few teachers who used an OHP in his student teacher days and went on using one throughout his career.  For dependability, easy of use and effectiveness for money I still think that OHPs cannot be beaten.  I am not so Luddite that I do not recognize the amazing capabilities of computers; but in the classroom they so often go wrong that they are a positive liability.  Whereas the old OHP just goes on and on – and I had one which had a built in spare blub which came into play at the movement of a simple lever!

But the idea of carting one around (even the so called portable version) from classroom to classroom is guaranteed misery.  You have to have a base.  Preparation of material and its presentation is so much easier if you don’t have to take everything with you at the end of each lesson.  Space is at a premium; my cupboard in the staffroom is full and claiming a space on the two tables for personal work is sometimes difficult.  There is no space for silent work and piercing, female Catalan voices can cut through the keenest concentration!

Meanwhile the loading of Mozart into The Machine continues apace with the only problem being the finding of the music when it is locked in the electronic innards.  However much I scoff, I think that the only solution to find some of my favourite pieces is going to be learning the K numbers!  Soon I will be able to listen to Radio 3 without feeling like an imposter!

I am, at present listening to K 525, the Serenade No 13 in G, which is not the title by which I knew it when I listened to it on my EP.  I was always losing it because it was a different size to the LPs and was engulfed by them.  The version I am listening to now is by the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim conducted by Florian Heyerick (neither of which I have heard of) but a very sprightly version it is; perhaps a little too sprightly for me, but energetic certainly.

I am thoroughly enjoying my forays into the more obscure (are there any?) corners of Mozart’s music and have listened with condescending amazement to the early symphonies and various odd pieces that I have never heard before and, to be truthful, probably will never hear again!

I am almost 25% of the way through loading the discs into The Machine and I am now listening to K 250, which I feel I should know, but I don’t.  I think that I am going to find that a lot in my future listening – and not only to Mozart!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Work frustrated


Not only have I forgotten my reading glasses but also I have left my school keys in one of my coats.  This is because my shirt does not have a breast pocket.

Small changes in one’s normal routine have grave consequences in the way life is lived.  The breast pocket in normal times houses my blue and red disposable fountain pens and my mobile phone.  Wearing contact lenses means that there is not room for the mobile phone, as my half-moon reading glasses in their tube have to be lodged there.  The mobile phone is consigned to my pocket.  The pocketless shirt therefore, by it very absence, does not remind me that I should be carrying extra things for my day.

My pocket is then overstuffed with wallet; phone, handkerchiefs, miscellaneous coins, chewing gum and the keys that should be noticeable are then lost in the general bulges.  Until they are needed when their loss is acute.  We lock everything in our school and to be without keys is a pain, to put it mildly!  And not seeing the locks properly without my glasses is also a pain – though not one I care about much.

I have now redistributed the personal luggage that a normal day requires: car and house keys in the front section of the outside of the brief case; wallet inside the briefcase; pens ditto; phone in a pocket of its own; gum in briefcase; paper handkerchiefs relegated to the bin.

I have availed myself of Mad Lewce’s wisdom that, “Nothing is lost until you have looked for it three times” and that “No bag is checked until everything has been taken out”.  The practical result of these proven aphorisms is that my school keys have emerged Venus-like from the depths of the outside pocket of the briefcase and are now lodged securely in the internal pocket in my trouser pocket. 

This valuable addition to the mundane garment means that the metal does not jangle when you walk and the keys are safely segregated from anything else that might be snagged by the bittings.

The discovery of the keys goes some way to mitigate the resentment I feel on having the first free period of the week taken away to supervise two candidates who failed to sit their exam last week.

Later in the day I will get the final (I hope) instalment of the Mock Examination marking which seems to have lingered over our lives casting its dark shadow for some time now.  If things go according to plan I should be able to start the first tranche of marking in part of one of my free periods and then complete the rest in the lunch hour.  I refuse point blank to take the damn things home with me so the rest of my day is going to be rather full with some frantic periods of activity.  And even some teaching!

This little period is a calm before the storm where everything is potential rather than actual and I am stymied by the lack of material on which for me to put my red mark.
Next weekend there is a Grand Gathering of the Clans and we are going to have a colçotada but this time without the mountain of meat that has accompanied the delectable onions in the past.  This time just the veg and a few sausages – all in the best of Catalan taste.

This school is a transcendent example of the examinations tail wagging the educational body of the dog.  We examine!  We test!  We fell vast forests of trees to feed our voracious appetite for photocopied sheets with little gaps for the pupils to fill in.  Our pupils are either waiting to take a test; are recovering from taking a test, or are preparing for a test.  That is the life of the school!

School was hell, with my cunning plan to get the marking done frustrated at every turn.  I am ashamed to admit that I responded to my time being taken away by giving one of my classes a “reading opportunity” and marked like fury, then filled in the results after school and thereby missed most of the chaos that marks the departure of the students in the fleets of cars that they need to transport them back home!

At home the irritation of a defunct microwave – but there again, the opportunity to do a little light shopping.  I have very definite ideas about what qualities a microwave should have: reasonable size; grill; convection oven and one or two microwaves as well.  These requirements cut down the number of machines that one has a choice of, but I found one in the second shop we went to and money was duly spent.

The instruction book is in Spanish and Portuguese so it may take me a little longer than usual to familiarize myself with the details of how to work the thing.  All the various buttons, however, are marked encouragingly in English!

I have started the Herculean task of feeding the Mozart disks into The Machine.  I have been doing this all evening and I am not yet 10% of the way through.

The first piece of the collection that I listened to was The Jupiter (K.551 – as if I know Mozart by Köchel numbers!)  This was a mistake as I was trying to listen to the earliest symphony in the collection and I selected the wrong one from the list.  But, what the hell, that will come later!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Curs and culture

The moronically selfish cow who lives next door has so endeared herself to her canine captives that they mourn her absence, no matter how short it might be, with a series of precisely timed yaps.  What Sunday morning would be complete without this accompaniment of barks delivered in what Dickens described as a tone of melancholy madness!

I have to keep telling myself that dogs bark, it’s what they do.  They cannot be held accountable for what is instinctive and natural.  No, the person (not dog) who is to blame is the idiot owner who thinks that imprisoning descendants of the wolf in a human habitation is anything less than barbaric.

She is not alone the humans in this area obviously find companionship of their own kind insufficient and resort to the friendship of the various kinds of muck spreading rats on leads that infest this district.
The prevalence of poo on the pavements has led the local council to blather on about exemplary fines for those owners (and they are legion) who allow their coprophagic companions to litter and smear the streets with their stools without clearing up after them.  The council has even encouraged Outraged Citizenry to use their camera phones, capture the shit shirkers and denounce them to the authorities.  As if!

The problem (apart from the monumental inconsideration of “pet” owners) is that there is no realistic enforcement of the non-fouling legislation, just as there is no enforcement of the “no dogs on the beach” rule, or “no dogs on the grass” rule and “dogs should be on leads” rule and every other dog rule that dog owners think do not apply to dogs.  And don’t get me started on bloody cats!

The witch next door has now returned and her familiars have settled down into blissful silence where the only sound is the whirring of the disk drive as the next bit of the complete works of Beethoven finds its way into The Machine: only another 35 discs to go!

Beethoven is fully loaded,  No matter how trivial all his music is available at the click of a couple of keys!  From some laboured musical jokes lasting under a minute, through the kitch horror of the so-called Battle Symphony to the sublimity of the 7th Symphony: it’s all there.

I’ve now started downloading Brahms as that is far less daunting than the infinity of disks that make up the Mozart collection!

Today has been an orgy of listening acting as a sort of indulgent period so that I can get my strength up to load the 170 discs of the Mozart.  It has to be done and there is plenty of room on the hard disk so the sooner the better!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


A bright start to the day and up with the lethargic lark rather than his earlier brother.  By the time that we were up and doing it was time for lunch.

My spag-bol was undoubtedly the worst meal that I have had in our “local” restaurant on the sea front.  It was tasteless and the meat (if that it what it was) was pallid and innocuous at best.  The beer was OK - hoppy brew from Galicia.  And the view.  The view makes up for it all.  The sea was sparkling and the waves were big enough and the light bright enough to make them deliciously translucent.  On the beach a lone photographer with an absurdly long lens taking pictures of two valiant water-ski idiots as the only people in the water.

Barcelona was cold, very cold – and it was an urgent necessity to get into shops to avoid the inclement weather.  Two bookshops later I was able to face looking for the Picasso Museum for the exhibition that we failed to see the last time I was in Barcelona.

There was no queue this time: there was no exhibition either.  I had obviously misjudged the length of time that the Picasso/Degas show was going to be open and I had to make do with the permanent collection.

There are some excellent paintings in the museum, but the Blue and Rose periods are not really represented and there are only one or two masterpieces.  There are ceramics to throw after the dogs and paintings from his later periods, but the quality stuff from his youth is a little sparse.

They do have very early stuff and they had mounted a special exhibition around his large early painting of a sick room entitled "Science and Charity."  Painted for a competition and on the advice of his father who thought that such a subject would be just the thing for the judges to pick.

And in the exhibition a real treat: the Luke Fildes painting (that I have often seen in reproduction but never in the frame, so to speak) of The Doctor.  This was completely unexpected and an absolute delight.
The painting looks very different when seen as a 2cm by 3cm reproduction than when being looked at in a gallery as a large, impressive painting.

It is a very engaging painting with much freer brush strokes than are apparent in small reproductions.  The handling of the light is masterly and there is even a small section of flowers and flimsy curtain material that gives at least a part of the painting an almost Whistler-like appearance.  Yes, it is Romantic and the hard-edge Social Realism that shocked and delighted viewers when it was first exhibited in 1887 now seems mannered and contrived, but the vitality of the composition and the modelling of the doctor’s face and the almost Symbolist other-worldly face of the sick child give a compulsive interest which the Picasso signally does not have.

I visited a second museum in the aftermath of the elation I felt after seeing an unexpected painting.  This was the “Mammoth” museum that is apt and a lie: there is a mammoth there but the museum is tiny.  I had to pay a child’s rate to get in (thanks to my teachers’ card) and now that I’ve seen the place I have no lively expectation that I will repeat the experience.

By way of compensation I returned to El Corte Ingles and the classical music department.  My recent copy of the BBC Music Magazine (which I cannot recommend too highly, etc.) has a review of one of the box sets that I seem set on buying nowadays.  Brilliant Classics (awful name!) produce box sets of CDs of spectacular value and I have already purchased Grieg and Dvorak.  The review in the BBC Music Magazine was for the Mozart set of a vast number of CDs for around a hundred quid.  
That may seem like a high price but not for 170 CDs!  As El Corte Ingles has the 3 for 2 offer I was tempted (and duly fell) and bought Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms (the Brahms being the cheapest and therefore “free”) making the cost of each of the CDs I have bought about .5 of a euro or about 42p!  And just before the sceptics among you start assuming that at such a low price the musicians and orchestras must be of contemptible obscurity, I have to tell you that I do not consider the Guarneri Quartet, or The Borodin Trio or The Academy of St Martin in the field or a selection of other soloists and orchestras of similar quality.
I may have to spend the rest of my life listening to them!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who are we?


The recognition of national characteristics is perilously close to racism, but even the most liberal and right thinking of people can rarely resist the temptation to make sweeping generalizations and think that they are eternal verities.

Such thoughts struck me as I tried to make a substantial dent in the marking that is gradually becoming less of a mountain and more of a gentle foothill.

Due to the paucity of spare rooms the only realistic place to get schoolwork done is in the staff room.  Normally this is a compromise as your colleagues, being teachers are naturally gregarious and that conflicts with the necessity for silence which produces the best work.

If a staff room is a difficult place to work in Britain, it is virtually impossible when the room is in Spain.  Spanish people talk.  They talk a lot.  And they talk at the same time.  Sometimes (rarely) they listen.  Mostly, and loudly, they talk.  And talk.  Loudly.

I marked with my grip on the pen getting ever tighter and my strokes of the nib getting ever more firm.

It was a positive relief to have to go to the other end of the school to do a duty.  The back of the marking is well and truly broken and it only remains for me to enter the marks into the computer.  It means that Monday will be a day in which the next load of marking (two loads actually) will not be an unbearable accretion but rather an irritation which should be dealt with relative ease.  Though “relative” as its name suggest is always, um, relative.

Although cold the day is bright; the sort of wintry day which is bracing rather than depressing.  This is also one of the days in which I seem to spend my time travelling from one of the school to the other so I have an extra intake of the clearer air that comes with the height of the exclusive neighbourhood in which our school is situated.  Hear we breathe a purer air than those dwellers in the rest of the city whose polluted atmosphere we can clearly see from our elevated position.

The clarity of the air gives an almost surrealistic appearance to the city.  Its outlines are usually softened by the gentle smog that blankets the city, but today the buildings are crisp and clear and Montjuic, which can be seen from the staff dining room, seems nearer than usual.  The sea is the sort of clear blue that looks inviting, until you realise that the temperature is somewhat bracing!

The unfortunate effect of this bright view is to emphasise the fact that one would rather be outside looking in than inside looking out.  It makes one count the hours!

In a clear act of spite my head of department marked her 3ESO papers in the time she had spare waiting in school for a meeting yesterday evening.  No one marks papers before I do; it is a sort of unwritten rule in our school.  I only mark them with dispatch because I know that if I don’t do them at once then they will linger and become a looming burden until the actual date when they have to be completed and then they will be marked in a lather of frenzied, hysterical concentration.  I only ever mark in self-defence: never because it is my professional duty!

My only consolation is that my head of department has yet to start marking her share of the mock examinations whereas I have finished my share – almost.

The horror of marking of course is but a prelude to the unimaginable horror of school meetings.  Unfortunately the horror is all too easy to imagine because I have vividly painful memories of previous periods of torture when people with nothing to say didn’t shut up!

But, when all is said and done another week has been worked and that means that there is one less to suffer before the distant Easter holidays.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I live to mark!

In a day, which is a close parallel to the one where I left the Sacred Machine at home and duly suffered deprivation symptoms, today I have had The Machine with me, but I have had not a single opportunity to use the thing.

The school has given itself over to the Ecstasy of Examinations and the futile thrill of photocopying page after page of fill-in-the-gap questions on (at least) recycled paper to make our kids’ lives just that little bit fuller.  One of my colleagues remarked that the pupils seemed a little bit subdued, while I thought that shell-shocked would have been a better description. 

Within days of returning from the Christmas Holiday the kids were hit with the start of the extended testing period which, in English, comprises not only a mock examination for their external exams, but also a regular test which goes towards the final mark of the term.

The marking of this lot means that members of staff are looking a little weary, the weariness tinged with desperation, as there is a timetable for the completion of these things, which, though self-imposed is seen as an absolute cut-off date when everything must be done and be seen to be done.

In spite of my moaning and groaning I am totally confident that I will get everything done in plenty of time; the great trick is not to let anyone find out that you have finished.

So every available moment today has been taken up with marking with the end result that I am actually ahead of myself.  Such confidence is obviously a prelude to some form of educational disaster, which will ensure that the final finishing of the marking is done in a lather of frantic pen wielding.
Our school looks as though it might want to participate in a UNO sponsored Iberian version of the General Assembly: a conference which would take about a dozen of our kids and, suitably prepared, set them in a multi-school context for a series of debates on important issues.

That the organization takes itself very seriously can be seen from the details of the dress code that has to be adhered to by the participants.  This includes the maximum distance that skirts should be allowed to rise above the knee – and that’s only for the boys!

Although passingly interested in this as a concept I am also worried by it.  I fear that there may be a role for me somewhere in this project and I am not altogether sure that would be good news for me.  Still, I shall do a bit of investigation and bide my time.

When tomorrow is done, we will have completed 20% of the term – which sounds a damn sight better than knowing that 80% is still to be done.

I am more than ever determined to get more boxed sets (3 for the price of two) and feed the discs into The Machine.  I have listened to more enjoyably obscure music by Grieg and Dvorak since I bought the last two boxes than in the last umpteen years of conventional listening.  I shall look on it as an educational experience and I shall also buy more of the lavishly produced and gloriously arcane medieval music championed by the Catalan Jordi Savall.
The first three records bought for me in 1959 or 1960 were on Pye Golden Guinea records which cost £1 1s 0d – hence the name of course.  The one that I had asked for was The March from the Nutcracker that I had grown to like as it was played on our BBC Music Programme broadcasts in school.  The short suite from the Nutcracker was complimented by the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor and The Ritual Fire Dance Music on the other side.  The other two were Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites and the last was “Immortal Melodies” which included Ave Maria and a Humoresque by Dvorak.
 Knightsbridge String: Immortal Melodies
I played these discs until they were almost transparent – and that was something because these records were solid and when placed on the automatic changer of my portable record player fell to the turntable with a very satisfying thump!

But let us talk realities.  If that pound in 1960 were thought of in terms of its purchasing power then it would be worth something like fifteen pounds today!  Which means that I could easily justify paying full-price for Jordi’s esoteric music – without the added inducement of one out of every three being free!

Roll on Saturday!