Monday, February 28, 2011

A spacious day

First period in the morning and it’s a “study” period.

I don’t know what the word “study” conjures up for you but it probably doesn’t cover the chatty lack of concern that the class in front of me is showing.  Still, even with the level of noise it is better than actually teaching them and I have learned to accept a much higher level of talk than I would find tolerable in a British class!
This is the week before Fiasco Week and I have to admit that it shows.  The kids and staff are tired and waiting for a gap to recharge depleted batteries.  For some of my colleagues their recharging period will be on a foreign holiday complete with our pupils.  Personally, I would not find that refreshing or relaxing and I resent the fact that I have to spend three days of the Fiasco Week in school.

It looks as though the long weekends are going to be just than rather than mini-holidays, but as long as the weather is acceptable then I will be satisfied – and the weather is steadily improving.  Even though today was supposed to be the first day of rotten weather it looks reasonable with clouds but sunshine as well.

Taking farming superstition into account then I would have to say that “Red sky in the morning, etc.” would come into play and we should see rain later in the day – but I am the eternal optimist where the weather in Spain is concerned.

I have managed to resist the temptation to start on the rest of the Mapp & Lucia novels after finishing “Trouble for Lucia” – given the wealth of electronic reading which is available it would be unacceptable to indulge myself by re-reading such an addictive series of books. 

There is a progression to my reading and I would probably start on “The Lord of the Rings” immediately afterwards; which is the normal slide downwards into the literary drug induced euphoria that is always just a book away from my normal life. 

I would inevitably go on to the hard stuff and start re-reading “The Gormenghast Trilogy” with yet another re-assessment of my view of “Titus Alone”.

It is then but a short step to Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”, Azimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” (ignoring, of course the other additions to the basic three) and “Stalky and Co”. 

The true end game would be a re-reading of “Old Saint Pauls” leading, finally, to “Winnie the Pooh”!
Just writing that has induced me to download the Gormenghast Trilogy: this is a clear danger sign.  What will follow?

I have managed to print out my Media Studies booklet by judicious use of Publisher for the simple cover; the photocopier to reduce the logo for the course and then cutting with scissors and sticking with Pritt.  The great sensation occurs when I produce my jealously guarded long-arm stapler to give that final semi-professional touch.

Long-armed staplers are the stuff of dreams.  Only the most professional and acquisitive of teachers manage to bag one for their very own.  It is a well-known fact that, if a long-armed stapler is made generally available to a normal staff of teachers then its half-life is akin to that of a terminally sick member of the drosophila family!

I gained two glorious free periods today and used them to finish off my second little booklet for the Media Studies course.  This one was for the writing that I am expecting the kids to do.  The exercises seem to take on a greater authority when they are collected together in a stapled (!) booklet.  I certainly hope so anyway and it will make my job much easier.

Work continues on the Making Sense of Modern Art booklet that is going to be a wondrous work of art when it is finally completed - if it is ever completed.  I now, after yet another meeting about the thing, have to write a short account of Futurism and then edit the combination of other pieces of writing that have been joined by force together!

The contrast between my booklets and the art booklet is going to be marked: but my booklets are already done and stapled!  Experience will tell!

An early departure from school thanks to one of my gained frees bucked me up enough to venture into town to find out what Amazon had deigned to send me.

As I have had occasion to point out before, home delivery of parcels seems to be a thing of the past: the only thing delivered is the piece of paper telling you that you were not there when they called.  Where “there” is exactly to a parcel delivery person is not entirely clear as the recipient actually being in the house to which the parcel is supposed to be delivered is not sufficient to persuade a delivery person to hand over the package rather than leave the form!
A jaunt into the centre revealed that the undelivered package contained my boxed sets of Simon Rattle – the Russian, British and Stravinsky.  I am eagerly loading them into The Machine for later listening pleasure: hours and hours of it!  There are 22 discs and, although I know most of the stuff on them and have versions already in my collection, the British selection is more interesting containing music by Grainger, Arnold, Knussen, Ades, Maw, Matthews and Turnage.  And, anyway it’s along time since I listened to things like The Planets and Belshazzar’s Feast: it will be an indulgence!

In an act that I consider to be both defiant and intelligent I have bought one of those little-old-lady shopping bags on wheels!  It has a collapsible handle and so fits easily into the boot of the car.  It is red (or pink in some lights) and has a striking and colourful linear design and I think it is sensible and yes, I have wheeled it through town.  But that was in the dark and whether I would do so in the cruel light of the day is another matter. 

We, as they say, shall see!

Meanwhile there is another disc to feed into The Machine and some serious listen to be done!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Roll on the summer!

No day on which I have been able to sit outside on the terrace of the Third Floor and feel the sun on my face can be described as all bad!

I’ve even done a piece of school work.  Though as this was writing a short screed on eight selected art movements that wasn’t exactly a burden.  Just for a change I used books to provide the basis for my writing keeping well clear, you understand, of Wikipedia which will be used by all (and I mean all) the students that we take.

It was quite like old times finding my desk becoming covered with different sized volumes and trying to keep control of where I wanted to be consulting three books almost simultaneously!

The only time that I regretted not having access to the Internet (it is temperamental, to put it mildly, on the Third Floor) was when I realized that I would have to add first names to some of the artists to avoid confusion in our pupils’ minds. 

Though it might be interesting to see a pupil confuse the Pop artist Peter Blake with the older and madder William Blake because if you put “Blake” into Google I am sure that it will bring up the older Blake rather than the newer. 

Though, again, thinking about it, I expect that I could make a case somehow or other for Bill being considered a precursor of the Pop Artists!  After all “Good and Evil Angels Struggling for the Possession of the Soul of a Child” could have come straight out of a Marvel Comic!
I am still recovering from all the edu-talk that Suzanne subjected me to.  It did all make sense, but it also brought back bad memories of the wording of some of the plethora of educational “initiatives” that plagued your life if you entered education at the time that I did!

And now in the last period before home time in my career, so to speak, initiatives rear their heads in my erstwhile little troubled academic life.  Suzanne is a born-again believer in Project Based Learning and she has started a crusade to get PBL accepted in our school.  Just before the Easter holidays she will be going to the US of A to visit a selection of schools specifically to learn more about PBL in action!  This is serious stuff! 
And our little course on Making Sense of Modern Art is an integral part of her approach.  We have planned and evaluated like true professionals – I didn’t know that I had it in me!

The descriptions of art movements will be part of the new booklet for which Suzanne is doing a mock-up.  I have designed the cover (all part of the Praetorious Design Service of old) and the finished article will be a marked contrast to the more ordinary booklet that I am preparing for the last course of Media Studies!  But it will take less time too!

Next week is the week before the Fiasco Week and just to get us into the mood Friday is Carnival.  Admittedly Carnival is our school is less of a celebration than a duty, but the kids seem to enjoy it with some mild dressing up and excitingly educational paper puzzles to do.  To, if I remember rightly, the sound of raucous music.

Then a long weekend and a three day week into which virtually everything that we have not had time to do before will suddenly be done.

Then another long weekend and the long slog to Easter!
Every day, I must keep telling myself, is a day nearer to the end of June!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Books for health

My Aunt Bet is not well.  My cousin has written to me saying that she has taken to her bed and is not reading or doing crosswords.  For a fanatical reader like my Aunt not to be reading is like taking away intellectual oxygen!

My thoughts go out to her and I wish her a rapid recovery so that the printed word can do its magic for her again, soon.

Although I am surrounded by thousands of volumes of the printed word, what I have been looking at increasingly over the past few years (has it been that long?) are electronic forms of writing rather than paper versions.  Apart from computers I have three electronic “books” two of which have fallen into disuse as my Kindle takes precedence not only in the ease with which I can load new books on to it, but also because it has the most efficient cover, incorporating as it does a built-in light!

Saturday saw me in Barcelona to meet Suzanne so that we could discuss the content and planning for the next term’s course in Art History.  As Suzanne is deeply into Project Based Learning and the theory thereof she forces me to take a more academic approach to the structure of this Credit than I would usually tolerate – and to use the fashionable buzzwords that go with it!  I am sure that it good for my soul to behave as a twenty-first century educationalist from time to time!

We are planning a small inter-active booklet to accompany the course and, whereas I would have made do with stick, paste and photocopy Suzanne is constructing (I think that is the right word) the whole thing in some exotic version of Publisher!  I have left her with the detailed fiddling with the pages that we have roughly designed and I will wait to see how much better it is than my hastily fabricated cover for the Current Affairs class!
We have brought the course content down to eight Movements in Art History: Fauvism; Cubism; Dada; Expressionism; Abstraction; Surrealism; Abstract Expressionism and Pop.  Futurism was one of the many ‘isms’ that didn’t make the final cut, but we have had a great deal of pleasure in deciding which of the many and currently proliferating groupings in art we could safely “ignore”!

I did manage to find time to call into El Corte Ingles but was very disappointed at the so-called “offers” that were displayed in the Classical Music Department.  There were discs with -50% emblazoned on them, but investigation revealed that they were extraordinarily expensive items to start so the reduction made them merely extortionate.

There is some marking that ought to be done, but I am thoroughly disinclined to do it and instead I am going to trawl my way through a selection of Art books to see if I can find a short and pithy summation of each of the art movements that we are going to study.  If they do not come to hand fairly quickly then I might have to write the damn things myself instead of resorting to The Teachers’ Friend – or plagiarism, as it is usually known!

Although today appeared to be setting itself up as a wonderfully sunny spring-like day, its early promise evaporated and grey skies gave warning of the quality of the weather that we have been promised for the forthcoming week.  I will take rain on Monday as long as it is sunny on Sunday!

A chance comment by Stewart about what he was reading on his Kindle sent me to a well frequented shelf in my library and choosing a volume at random I starting reading “Trouble for Lucia” by E F Benson in my rather nice 1994 Folio Society edition printed on Hamilton Wove paper using Goudy typeface and with suitably fey line drawing illustrations by Natacha Ledwidge.
I read all the novels on a beach in Sitges in 2005 (in the Folio Edition of course) and any catalogue description would have to take into account some slight sun tan oil staining to the boards!

That is the sort of thing that a Kindle lacks: physical reminders of when a book was last read and, as in this volume a photograph and a receipt to give you the date.

But the wonder of the Kindle does not diminish: the Bible; Shakespeare; Paradise Lost and a host of other works all unobtrusively contained in a slim, elegant package.  A true wonder!

All I need now is time to read the bloody thing!  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The phoney war!

It begins!

The First Day of the examination season is upon us!

We have two people with the same first name on the invigilation timetable and there is no differentiation made so the day starts with the chaos that we know so well.  But, ironically, as chaos (of a sort) is our middle name it is taken in our stride and we confidently wait for the next crisis.

The sun has come out to indicate that it is still there and to give us hope throughout the next few days as, according to the strict rules of the pathetic fallacy and the local weather forecast it will be thoroughly sad and depressing for the period of the examinations with overcast skies and even precipitation.

The day for me has started well with an unexpected free for almost a whole period and then finishing off one exam and allowing the class “study time.”

This so-called “study time” is, as you might imagine, the bane of our lives.  The pupils, in a school that is constantly setting examinations, constantly ask for study time.  Their idea of study is to “revise” for less than an hour just before the examination.  Their short-term memory capabilities have been honed to a fine edge by constant practice and they can easily take in a vast amount of knowledge that they can just as easily discard as soon as they have regurgitated what they have been asked to “learn”.

As talking is second nature to our pupils the idea of studying in silence is an almost impossible ideal for them to aim at and therefore an enforced period of quiet is a fairly noisy battle of wills.  Still, it’s better than teaching.  And on day one they do at least have a plethora of tests for which to prepare!

I am trying to read more.  This is because the demands of school drain the natural inclination towards the printed (in whatever form) word to fill the free-ish evenings that I might have.  God knows there is enough for me to get stuck into in spite of the fact that the two authors that I decided to download electronically do not seem to exist in digital form.  I will persevere and should have the texts safely in my Kindle for the holidays – however long or short they may be.

I have ordered a book from Amazon that purports to be a complete guide to the musical works of Mozart.  I have been merrily listening to the more famous parts of his oeuvre but am looking askance at the more esoteric offerings (especially in the operas) of which I have never heard.  I always find that some sort of background gives me the incentive to listen with a little more concentration. 

I have been caught before about what people regard as a “musical guide” and the one that I bought on Carl Nielsen is almost impenetrable in its use of technical musical jargon and immensely unhelpful illustrations from the score. 

A famous line in “Look Back in Anger” was, “Do the Sunday papers make you feel ignorant?”  Well, this guide to Carl’s music certainly made me feel so!  I only hope that the present guide that I have bought after looking (electronically) at a few sample pages is a little more human and inviting.

I have also bought a guide to Office for Mac and only hope that it too is user friendly: I am a “user” and not a “geek” so I need things explained in a rational and not an intuitive way.

To leaven out the arts I have also purchased a series of Simon Rattle’s discs that seemed to be good value covering a range of music: British, Russian and Stravinsky – the latter of which I had not realized was a nationality!

I like the fact that the overwhelming quantity of music on The Machine is new, though some old favourites will have to be added by hand, as it were.  The Rattle versions are of music that I have on other discs, but it will be good to experience them on something new. 

I suppose that what I am saying is that the purchase of The Machine is an excuse to buy more and experiment with other radical interpretations than the ones I already have.  Of course, this all falls down when it comes to paying for them and I am much more inclined to go for what I perceive to be bargains than pay full price for something supposedly more “interesting”!

Today has been interesting given the fact that I have four lessons and a meeting and I appear to have taught only one of them – and that was more of a question and answer session rather than a formal lesson. 

My second lesson was supervision; my third simply disappeared and my students flocked to the “library” to engage in ceaseless conversation until the head of the sixth form stormed in and demanded their silence; my fourth has disintegrated into a “study” lesson where most of the pupils appear to be actually engaged in work of some sort.  I confidently expect that the meeting will be curtailed in the interests of marking.  So, all in all a fairly lazy day and the sun has shone throughout.

Today does however mark a significant moment in the management of my finances.

It has taken me a while to recover from the horror of discovering that the only time that I had savings was the only time when it didn’t really pay to have them.

The bloated plutocratic thieves who run the bond market played fast and loose with my savings and managed to rip 40% of the value of my funds away.

Needless to say, I remembered the small print that always stated that “investments can go down as well as up” and I confidently awaited an upturn in the market.

What I hadn’t banked (ironic) on was the fall in the value of the pound.  What, when I first arrived in Spain was a Euro worth?  70p.  What is a Euro worth now?  85p.  An effective devaluation of some 20%.  So for my savings (ironic) to worth simply the same as they were when I put them into the “slow but steady growth” bonds they would have to increase in value by  while if I consider what interest rate I could have got in an ordinary bank or building society then I would need to earn another .  If I then consider the charges that have been made while these wealthy fools have gambled away my money, while being paid with my money as well then I would need to add a further  and all of that is merely to stand still.  I could weep.

However apart from a few bad tempered (on my part the people at the other end were serene) telephone calls I don’t know exactly what the situation is.

I have been encouraged by the economics and business studies teacher to leave things well alone and only worry nearer the date of the maturity of the investments, but planning for something as important as the rest of my life should occupy some of my time in the years leading up to the date on which the funds become available without penalty.

I have therefore written to the managers of the fund and asked them to come clean and let me know exactly where I stand.  It says something for their sense of decency that they have not seen fit to send me a single printed account of what the hell they have been doing since I put the money into the funds.

I have, of course kept some track of what is going on, but my discoveries were inevitably discouraging and depressing while I comforted myself with the feeling that time was, hopefully, on my side.

Now I will find out if the length of time that I have left for the funds to settle has been sufficient for me to regard what seemed like a safe investment to justify my grudging confidence.

Meanwhile life, as they say goes on.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who knows what's true

Today is one of those days whose fabric is permeated with a sense of unreality.  It’s sunny but unreal.  There is a patina of fantasy that is colouring our actions and nothing seems quite as it should be.

This might be a hang-over from the cheese I ate late last night or a mild case of dyspepsia or even the tail end of my illness but it is there nevertheless: a sense of other-worldliness.

I sometimes think that this attitude is a teacher’s response to the enormity of the task which we have to face every day: five new performances with a hypercritical audience and one’s standing only as good as the last show!

Tomorrow exams start and the self-induced chaos and stress that come with this season starts.  It has an almost biblical ring to it and it puts one in mind of the words of the New Testament that “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be examined” and each child will have to go to his or her own classroom and, well, you get the general idea – though I do not think that our burst of activity, though of stellar proportions, will presage the birth of another messiah. 
It is more likely that as the last examination is taken that the Four Educational Horsemen of the Apocalypse will descend: Photocopying, Cheating, Marking and Meetings. 

“And Meetings shall ride upon an oval table borne high by soulless managers and he shall be surrounded by chairs piled high with the empty shells of people who have imploded from despair.  And he shall look around and see that all things are good and he shall say, “Shall we open diaries and schedule a quickie to talk about this?” and great will be the groan and lamentation thereof and he will look upon the desolation that he has wrought and he will be satisfied.”

The exams do not work out very well for me and much of my marking will be right at the end of the period which links into the long weekends.  Still, it should not be too much trouble and I am sure that I will be ahead of the game by the time we are able to take our couple of days off.

What is more interesting is what is going to happen during the Fiasco Week when we few (we precious few) are left back at base while our more enterprising colleagues are taking school trips right, left and centre.

Over the past couple of months I have heard the refrain, “We can discuss that during the Fiasco Week” for a whole variety of problems and possibilities.
One of the more interesting ideas concerns our participation in a student UNO meeting in Lisbon next academic year.  I am more than prepared to get involved in discussions about who to take and how to prepare the students for this enterprise, but I am not prepared to accompany them anywhere on a trip that involves overnight accommodation. 

I have tried to make my travel restrictions clear to anyone who will listen and I do hope that they will not be foolhardy enough to encourage me to break a rigid rule which I have never broken in all my years of teaching.  A subsidized trip to Lisbon is not likely even to reach the outer borders of vague temptation!

But I jump the gun and I am hoping that there will be others eager to go off on a jaunt that they may see bolstering their employment prospects and be a further step to advancement.  Good luck to them!

Just the thought of escape from school has made me turn my mind to the “tasks” which are a natural element in any free days.

There are some tasks connected to finance which are just too important to be interesting and there are boring letters that I must write which by their essential nature continually get consigned to the back of the queue for completion.

The real pressing problem and therefore the most urgent task is one which I am sure is taxing the resources of people all over the world.  This is, of course, where to find a decent transparent toilet bag to take the little bottles of not more than 100 ml each that is the stated essential holder if you only take hand luggage with you.
I have bought ready-filled packs with miniature toothpaste etc. in them and they self-destruct after a single trip.  The worst part of these transparent holders is the plastic zip type fastening which breaks before the holiday has really got started: even if it is only a weekend!

I have found something that looks more substantial and could well last for more than a single trip, but this container is filled with expensive liquids already, one of which is a large professional looking bottle of hair conditioner – something which, for reasons I prefer not to go into, is not an essential purchase in my world!

As I do not need it until April I have a substantial amount of time to mosey my way, with purpose, through the supermarkets in our area!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Delayed delight

First things first: a good night’s sleep!  That is something which my technicolour cough has been working against, so I look forward to rapid improvement.

Secondly: the sun is out in a hazy sky but still the glare on the ceramic tiles of the balcony in the old building is proof of its strength.  Long may it continue.

And just as things are going well there is always forgetfulness to make it better!

I ran downstairs from my 2BXT class to go to my 3ESO, calling in to the staff room to pick up the necessary books and I was on my way out when a colleague laconically asked me if I was mad!  It had completely slipped my mind that the class (our equivalent of Year 9) had gone out on a trip and I had a free period.  A free period all the more enjoyable when “unexpected”!

And what did I do to celebrate this forgotten freedom?  Wrote part of an examination paper for the pupils who were on the trip.  There is a sort of irony that works in schools that never lets you down!

Part of the mysterious way in which my school works pertains to the length of the “terms” for certain classes we take.  Simple logic would dictate that, as there are three terms in a year and three groups to teach, each group would be taught for a term.  But simple logic doesn’t obtain here.  The present term might have ended today, or maybe next week.  Who knows?  Probably the kids do.  They always know about these things in spite of the fact that their teachers may well be in the dark!  This teacher certainly is!

The exact date of the next classes is important as in two of them there are special booklets that will have to be produced.  In a welcome return to the good old days of booklet covers designed by c. Praetorious 2011 the tried and tested techniques of photocopy-rip-collage are at large again.  The cover for Current Affairs is done and dusted; the cover for Making Sense of Modern Art is done and awaiting discussions about content before it is put into production.  The cover for Media Studies is only a thought in the mind of god at the moment, but it may be the first entirely computer designed cover that the c. Praetorious 2011 workshop has turned out.

The amount of time and trouble to produce these things is totally out of proportion to their use – but they are one thing that gives me pleasure and a sense of creativity. I find it very difficult to be creative about Mixed Conditionals, especially when I hardly know what they are myself when I have to describe them in precise grammatical terms!

English Grammar is truly a deadly discipline.  Some parts that we teach truly do defy logic.  If you are used to a fairly ordered Latinate language the lackadaisical attitude to grammar in English must be either frustrating or exhilarating! 

I know which adjective best fits my attitude!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another week

To get up at 6.30 am might be regarded as unfortunate; to get up at 6.30 am to teach the unresponsive members of 3ESO is little short of disaster!

In the increasingly light mornings that see me slogging up the northern orbital motorway I can feel my mood lighten at the same time.  It still does not entirely compensate for the pupils who are waiting for me, but it helps.

The sun, god bless it, is out again and we have had to lower the shutters to ensure that the conditions in which we work are acceptable.  Once again the depressing quality of the weather forecast for my home country has given me a little boost as I realized that the morning starting temperature in Catalonia was higher than it was going to get during the whole day in the UK!
I have now booked flights for Grand Canaria in April during the Easter break and I am looking for places to go for the two long weekends.  There is little point in earning the money if you don’t spend it; especially in a time when the feckless idiocy of mendacious bankers devalues your savings while you watch!

It does seem particularly poignantly ironic that the only time in my life that I have savings is the only time that it doesn’t pay you to have savings!

I was only ten when what should have been a more formative experience occurred.  Viv Nicholson, one of the most famous pools winners, uttered her infamous dictum in response to a newspaper’s enquiry about what she was going to do with her winnings: “Spend! Spend! Spend!”

If left to nature I would follow such obvious wisdom with the all instinctive devotion of a rabid stag in full bellowing rut; but since my early youth I have been surrounded by people who have fed me the pernicious doctrine of so-called “saving.”  My indoctrination started with a Post Office Saving Book whose rate of interest only becomes less than risible when compared with the rates at this time of absolute crisis.

I should have been warned off such evils by the fact that my local branch of the Post Office in Tewkesbury Street in Cardiff was closed after a robbery – presumably committed by someone looking for a decent return on his money!

In the following years my fecklessness with money was constantly berated as one of my most pressing and deleterious faults.  No sooner was money in my pocket than the spirit of Keynes came upon me and urged me to spread it around and keep western capitalism going!  Far from being condemned I should have been encouraged to think that such an approach was the first step towards an OBE at the very least!

Today and tomorrow are the calm before the storm of examinations that will soon take over the rest of the week.  This is a time of considerable tedium, stress and unending marking: cui bono indeed!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Through the drugs darkly

The trip to the UK in early July is now arranged and with the car hire is quite a chunk of money but what the hell!

Clarrie phoned yesterday from Waterstone’s telling me she saw the title of a book and immediately thought of me. 

The title was something that should appeal immediately to anyone who has an iota of historical knowledge and an ounce of national esteem. 

I shall delay giving away this excellent book’s name until it is safely in my hot little hands.  Clarrie has promised to wrap and post it and I am eager to rip away the packaging and feast my eyes on such a valuable addition to the jolly xenophobia that is such a gratifying aspect of our national character!
I have made an executive decision to drug myself even further to the eyeballs to get rid of the niggling lack of health that has dogged me this week.  Spain is not a country given to drugs of a few milligrams set in tablets of petite proportions, so I have taken a few torpedoes of medication and am washing them down with industrial strength concoctions of lemon and honey where the proportions are such that it takes two hands to stir the spoon!
I have completed my exercise for the day: removing the washing instructions label on the Polarvide (?) 130x170 blanket from IKEA with which I sometimes sit, like a hi-tec hag in the living room, with the Polarvide draped around my shoulders typing on The Machine.

As I have had occasion to mention before, our house is designed for the summer with open staircases that funnel warm air to the top of the house and away from where we might be spending the bulk of our time indoors so, in spite of heating, it is sometimes necessary to provide adjuncts to the inadequate heat sources that mock warmth when it comes to the winter.

But the sun has come out; it isn’t exactly warm but it is bright.  There is hazy cloud cover but the sun is indisputably in control of the heavens.

Lunch was taken (defiantly) in a part of a restaurant that had previously been off limits because it was devoted to smokers.  Now all public areas are available to those who loathe cigarettes.  The meal itself was light and expensive.  It consisted of a series of tapas ranging from jamon to carpaccio of prawns washed down with a pricy bottle of Italian sparkling wine (I can’t bring myself actually to name it!) and tiramisu and coffee to complete it.  Pleasant, but essentially unsatisfying.

And it’s started raining again.
I cannot say that this weekend has seen me at my bouncing with health best, with the only vigorous element in my makeup being my cough!  Toni, however has been laid even lower than myself and will probably go to the doctor on Monday.  I might well follow his example if the cough is not a part of the past by then.

The forthcoming week is one of edge-to-edge examinations with every aspect of school that is not tied down being subject to kids writing reasonably meaningless snatches of half literate gibberish about it.  I am convinced that global warming can be directly linked to our consumption of photocopied sheets of paper for the various examinations without which our school would falter and fold!

Of course all of this processed wood chip has to be looked at and a steady stream of stains added to it so that the kids can have their magic mark out of ten.

Our papers seem to be fairly late in the examination period and their marking will leach its way into the fiasco week which is soon to be upon us.

I would like to use the long weekends that we are going to have to get away to some of the other great and historic cities in Spain which I shamefully have not yet visited: ideally a Friday evening to Monday evening trip – but I am not sure how far this is a realistic possibility.  Certainly worth looking in to.

Anticipation is the way through a week of work!

Friday, February 18, 2011

This too will pass!

There comes a time in every teacher’s life when you have to think of entirely and absolutely of yourself.  Bugger professional responsibility and dedication to education.  Yourself.

All this week I have not been well and although I rallied after Monday (which was just as well as I couldn’t have continued) I have not been entirely well for any one of the days.  The evenings are the worst as the usual teacher approach of holding off incapacity for home time comes into play and you can be miserable in your own time rather than that of your employer!

The evening cough has been sometimes spectacular and entirely debilitating, but never severe enough to allow me to decide that going to school was out of the question.

But: there is teaching and teaching.  “Bend it like Beckham” has been a positive godsend and I have been able to sink, metaphorically, into the darkness and indulge in perfectly harmless self-pity while the kids have been absorbed in the filmic action.  One lesson down.  This lesson is for the other part of the class that has been shown “Bend it like Beckham” already but as is always the case in this school there are examinations looming and out of the magnanimity of debilitated exhaustion I have graciously granted them time to study.

In our school this means time to memorize.  All knowledge is discrete and committed to memory.  It is duly disgorged during the examination and thus is it disposed of.  Our kids make numerous sheets of information of various sizes ranging from the large pages which are for clutching in the playground so that it looks as though you are studying to those miniscule sheets of tiny print words, phrases and fact that I will charitably assume are meant to be carried inconspicuously and easily placed in a pocket.  To aid learning of course, having nothing to do with giving yourself the unfair advantage of being able to refresh your memory by judicious use of sidelong glances.
Our kids are masters of memorizing and would (if they could act) be at home in provincial rep. with three different plays in performance every week; rehearsing one new one and learning another.  They have been doing the equivalent of this throughout their school careers.  And bear in mind that in this school their careers start at the age of three.

One of my colleagues, in a totally positive gesture that is repeated by each at some point during the year, has deposited a box of chocolate biscuits on the table in the staff room to commemorate the fact that it is her birthday.  To celebrate her anniversary I pointedly did not kiss her like all the rest of my colleagues so that I could keep the germs with which I am crawling unselfishly to myself!

The pathetic weather which has characterized much of this week, and especially the last couple of days has given way to glorious sunshine.  Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 just before I set off for work that usually gives me the temperature in Cardiff constantly encourages me.  Usually this is one of the highest temperatures in the country and it was again today with a high (high!) of 9°!  Jaded and exhausted at the end of a long day (but not as long as it should be as this is my early departure!) it is a delight to look at the car temperature gauge and realize immediately part of the reason why I am here!

In the self-delusional way that teachers have, we are adept at finding positive elements in the mundane to keep us sane.  Wednesday, for example has been renamed “The Tipping Day” when the balance of the week has been done and we are on the homeward path to the weekend.  In a similar way I am willing myself to notice the slight difference in the early morning darkness which would indicate that the days are (as I know that they are) lengthening and that I will soon be going to work in daylight!  Such things are important and keep one on the path of sanity.

We are building up to Carnival: a day of dressing up and desultory jollifications.  We in the English Department add to the general mirth of the school by devising various word games to delight the youth, as they break free of their classes and parade around the school.
No sooner is Carnival over than Fiasco Week will be upon us.  This was the week invented on the spur of the moment by a lunatic minister of education who decreed that all schools should have a week when the pupils could go skiing.  As this was not given more than a gnat’s whisker of consideration before it was announced the practical problems of its implementation were ignored.

Not by the schools which had to make the week work.

Our school decided not to take the holiday and to work through so that the school year would still end at the end of the month of June, giving two clear months of holiday in the summer.

What was exactly was going to happen during this week was not made immediately clear and there have been various plans put forward; the most disturbing one suggesting that I would find myself helping in the foetal section of the school!  I didn’t even lose my temper, as I knew that the plans would inevitably change – which they have.  More than once.

In Britain it is half term week and you only have to work in the educational system of a country where they do not have half terms to see how essential they are for the well being of staff and pupils alike!  The Fiasco Week is still a couple of weeks away and the two long weekends that we gain are like a Nirvana of hope in the far distance.

Before we get to these havens we have not only an obsessive/ compulsive examination week but also marking and our interminable staff meetings to get through.  The staff meetings will be a treat to greet us on our return to what passes for normality.

These ridiculous meetings are going to be held on Friday evenings!  This may seem like an absurdity until you realize that they were originally scheduled for Saturday mornings!  No comment of mine can possibly do justice to the sheer pointlessness and emptiness of these experiences. 

I have, I am ashamed to admit, been to a Saturday morning meeting.  I spent the whole time stony faced and in a mood of barely supressed fury and looked with disgust at those colleagues who made light hearted comments or even produced fawning smiles from time to time. 
The second the meeting was declared closed I hared to my car, jumped in, slammed the door and drove home in thin lipped horror at what I had done.

It was not the combination of school and a Saturday, you understand.  I have been to other events on the weekend connected with school – but a bloody meeting!  The perverse managerial thinking behind that leaves me (almost) speechless!

Still, the weekend is at last here and, after a little nap I feel ready to face the world.

Please let the sun shine tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bad health and black books

I felt bloody awful in the morning yesterday.  I felt bloody awful when I got to school.  I felt bloody awful about the mistake I made when I decided to teach my first lesson.

No matter what I feel like, especially if I am feeling less than 100%; I invariably feel better after I have done some teaching.

At the end of my first period I felt, if not better, then at least passable in the health stakes.  I made the fatal mistake of saying that I would soldier on, when, and only when no less than everybody on the staff knew that I was being foolishly selfless.

It in the afternoon and I even had the energy to force some food between my staunchly gritted teeth for lunch.  It was pig’s cheek for the meat course of the meal and, while it may sound unappetizing, it is actually tender and delicious and not something which I would reject unless upon the point of death.

So having fought the good fight in the first part of the day I was left with the distinctly daunting prospect of a double period with the equivalent of Year 9.  For Media Studies.

They are the sort of lessons where, were I to succumb to the discomfiture which I have been struggling with throughout the day, my colleagues would undoubtedly kill me rather than take my class!

I have a great and almost mystical belief in the restorative power of a good night’s sleep – even if it is uneasy!

I was all set to purchase my very first book electronically, “The Fall of the House of Wentworth” which I came across somewhere and seemed to be the sort of book in which I might be interested.  I powered up my Kindle and tried to make my purchase and discovered that the book was “not found”.  My grandiose plans to start downloading the whole panoply of modern literature has foundered at the first obstacle!

Back to Amazon!

Today I feel if not completely well, then at least better than ill.  And, while my cough is flamboyant, it is not causing me enough discomfort to bleat for sympathy – though I will take all the sympathy that I can get, because, as is always true in teaching you get bugger all thanks for what you do.

It has rained spasmodically for the past few days and today dawned glumly but has now improved so that we can look down in glorious sunshine on the festering pollution that shrouds Barcelona.
I have a naive belief in the health giving possibilities of living by the side of the sea fostered, I think by memories of that insanely bouncy, if somewhat camp fisherman leaping along the sands with the legend “Skegness is so bracing!” on the poster advertising the resort.
In spite of the obvious damp that characterises littoral living kids of my generation and before have been stamped with the idea that that seaside ozone is invigorating rather than poisonous.  We now know that ozone in the lower atmosphere is a pollutant (though how anything with three oxygen molecules could be anything other than good is beyond me) and it appears that only in the upper atmosphere is it beneficial.  So, like butter, cheese, eggs, full-fat milk and nuts, it joins the list of “things that we were told as children were good for us and now we find are harmful”.

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However, like Ben Gunn I cannot envisage life without cheese.  My favourite quotation from Treasure Island is “Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese - toasted, mostly.”  Personally, I wouldn’t add the last part about “toasted” but life without cheese would be unthinkable.  And the idea of living only with the lower fat varieties such as the rubbery and largely tasteless Edam is not worth considering.  Though I did once taste a mature Edam with a black rather than red rind and it was surprisingly flavoursome.

Though I can talk about cheese, at this present moment in time I wouldn’t particularly like to eat any.  I am at that stage of “unwellness” where eating does not seem to be a priority and I could well imagine a world in which eating was not necessary.  This feeling will last until lunch time when the fanatical approach to eating together in this school will determine my dietary approach.
Meanwhile I am re-reading “Catch-22” and am finding it much les enjoyable than my last re-reading of a novel that I recommend to anyone who listens.

This time I am finding Heller’s style ornate, self-congratulatory and irritating.  I still laugh out loud, because I happen to think that you would have to be dead not to respond to some of the humour.  Which stand up comedian has not at some point or other in their act adopted some of the techniques of insane dialogue that is Heller’s stock in trade?  Who has not used his insane logic for ludicrous effect?  Where would Douglas Adams have been without “Catch-22” to show him the way?

And yet.  Some of his chapters seem formulaic after a time and some of his descriptions are elaborately overworked.  His characters have all the mechanics of Dickensian grotesques without their depth.  And yes, I am being ironic.

It is simply not getting at me in the same way as it did.  Admittedly I know what is going to happen, but I always found delight in re-reading the text and being shocked anew at the freshness and quality of daring that made it worth reading in the first place.

This reading is more of a compulsion: I’ve started and so I’ll finish.  It has lost its edge somewhat: perhaps hardly surprising for something over fifty years old.  Perhaps it’s going through that “difficult” phase while it becomes an historic classic rather than a contemporary classic.  I will not stop reading it, but the next reading may be a long way in the future!

I’ve now finished reading the book and perhaps the most unsatisfying thing about this reading is the “happy” ending. 

The penultimate chapter entitled “Snowden” finally gives the details of the young man’s death and Yossarian finally discovers that “Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret.”  The “glum irony” which informs so much of the book gives way at the end, in spite of the unending corruption of the corruptible, to an affirmation of faith and a renewal of belief.  It may be unrealistic and fanciful but it is upbeat and “Yossarian jumped” and escapes death yet again as “he took off.” 

And who knows, he might actually have joined Orr in Sweden.  But it is the mere act of defiance and determination that gives the lie to Snowden’s “secret” where, in spite of the carnal nature of Man he is capable of something more, as Yossarian says, “I’m not running away from my responsibilities.  I’m running to them.” We even have the soppily romantic statement of Yossarian when he talks of Nately’s whore’s younger sister, “There’s a young kid in Rome whose life I’d like to save if I can find her,” which sounds like a line from a B movie Western voiced by a rough diamond played by John Wayne!

One cannot pretend that there is a guaranteed future for Yossarian, but in a novel of such ground breakingly black humour then even such a muted assertion “But at least I’ll be trying” has to be seen as something of an affirmation of human possibility.

I know that I will read the book again.  But next time in a decent hard backed edition with white pages!

Barça has just lost 2-1 to the Arsenal.  All is not lost, that away goal may yet prove to be of vital importance in the next leg.

Who knows?  Who cares?  I have to get up at 6.30 am tomorrow!