Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time to ponder

Moral, social and personal dilemmas are diverting when they are the stuff of narrative in novels, but they are very different when they leap from the pages of a story and intrude in the reality of ordinary life - if reality it is!

It is always difficult to find the right degree of separation from problems to allow one the luxury of cool perspective; though perhaps such distance is a disadvantage rather than an aid to action.

Distance, also, lends anything but enchantment to the view, but distance also is a physical reality.

Enough!  Moping is no substitute for action and a firm belief (although often wrong) in “Anything Is Better Than Nothing” allows for a satisfyingly limited approach!

The sun, as usual emerged as soon as I got to school and seeing the shadows playing on the screen of the computer as my fingers dance on the keys is not conducive to tranquillity while waiting for a lesson to start: the call of the sand and the sea and a good book is hard to resist!

I have ordered a reading lamp from Amazon.  This is a direct result of the “one-click” evil that Amazon encourages.  This cuts down the so-called hard work of Internet buying to a single click on the mouse.

A single little click and money is magically drained from my account and, who knows, something nice may or may not turn up in a week or so!  Probably not actually turning up, because, as far as I can tell the delivery companies only deliver slips of paper to the addresses telling people that they were unable to make contact and therefore etc.  As I have seen one of these pieces of paper with a time and date after the time I found it!  No wonder I am cynical!

After putting the clocks forward the extra hour of light that we have in the evening really makes a difference.  I am sure that I went back to the UK to live I would probably develop SAD immediately!  Though I have noticed that the Daylight Lamps are now very much cheaper than they used to be!  Which is more than can be said for the lamp that I have just bought.  Why is it that everything I touch turns to gratifyingly large expense!

I have now officially given up trying to find a reasonably priced copy of any of the Dave Brandstetter novels of Joseph Hansen as recommended by Stewart.  I thought in my touchingly naive way that I would download an electronic version: as if!  I attempted to get Amazon to send me a very reasonably priced second hand copy but they refused point blank to send such cheap things to “my location” and I have resorted to buying one on-line at full price - which should arrive just in time to accompany me on my trip to Gran Canaria - which I might add will start in a little over two weeks and a few days.
It is a little disconcerting to discover that I have ordered the omnibus edition of all twelve novels that are apparently in miniscule print and spread over 1,200 pages.  Should keep me quiet for a while!  Even if incipient blindness (for all sorts of reasons) may well follow!

As part of my continuing flight from socialism I am now “looking in to private health insurance”: never a day goes by but I seem to drift that little bit further away from my political inheritance!  I haven’t even kept up my right to vote in British elections or claimed my right to vote in local elections in this country.  Such political indolence!  Though looking at the political situation in my home country I think that I would have a hard time justifying my long-standing political allegiance and voting for the only other party likely to form a majority government is something which I cannot countenance.
And talking of blind prejudice, when is That Woman going to do the decent thing and strong-arm her way into the Great Grocery Shop in the Sky?  The newspaper that hides her wax image from sight is beginning to yellow with age and I have a reoccurring fear that it will spontaneously ignite and deny me the personal pleasure of starting the conflagration to consume her.

Another pet hate concerns the so-called royal house of Windsor and the rapidly advancing wedding.  Even in Spain we are regaled with information and pictures of this couple: as if they matter in any sense more than a youngish couple getting hitched.  The sooner we ditch the whole of this imported family and become a republic the better.  It says something for the extent of my loathing of what this family represents (with the possible exceptions of the odious Duke (!) of Edinburgh and the self seeking Duke (!) of York the family does not possess enough personality for them to be cordially hated for the debased quality of their individual personalities) that I would cheerfully have seen That Woman be regaled by despots around the world as President of my country rather than the set of Germanic dwarfs who currently hold positions of prominence by virtue (!) of a dallying uncle and being born in the right bed!

One doesn’t want to keep harping on about injustice but today I teach five periods; have a substitution for one more; have a departmental meeting in a further one.  Making a Grand Total of seven (7) periods directed time in one day.  This is patently absurd, though I appear to be the only person saying it!  At least in the UK there were only five periods in a day and so what I am doing here would have been impossible there!  And our wages have been frozen this year as well!  It just goes on getting better!

But the sun is shining and, although slightly hazy, there are sharp shadows on the tiled floor of the staff room balcony – to which I will now repair and take a little of what our local star has to offer!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring is sprung!

The clocks are now firmly forward and I am getting up in the dark again.  There is something truly depressing about starting one’s day in darkness.  I know that this is the start of a short period of adjustment and that soon daylight will lighten my way to school so that I can illuminate the minds of my unfortunate charges!

And the evenings are lighter longer; so yesterday after having a snack “dinner” in town we were able to stroll back to the car after 8 pm in gently darkening sunshine.

The Most Expensive Tea and Coffee Shop in the World is an almost irresistible draw for me.  I am fascinated by the impedimenta of tea and coffee making where the shop seems to have cornered the market in excruciatingly expensive tea pots, cups, mugs and tea making equipment - which it sets out in alluring displays with small, carefully hidden price tags.
I presume that they make their money by potential customers handling the goods, finding the price tag and then immediately dropping the article in shocked disbelief – and then having to pay for the broken pieces.  I have grown wise to this and now only look at the price tag when the article is firmly and safely located on the display shelf so the only damage that I do is to other customers when I shy away from the pot or jug with a startled whiney of pain and collide with another potential dupe!

The tea, however, is delicious and well worth buying as long as you never look at the receipt and simply put the change you are given directly into you pocket without checking how much things cost.  To do otherwise is to court madness and despair!

Talking of M & D there are now two weeks and four days left to Grand Canaria.  Not, of course that I am counting.

I am not sitting in my accustomed place in the staff room of building 1 and am now located at the foot of the table around which colleagues work.  I am also facing the wall on which notices are placed and one in particular has caught my attention.  This is the one which lists those unfortunates who will have to do a substitution for a colleague.  I know that I gain a period tomorrow as the 3ESO are all out on a trip, but I also know, as sure as night follows day that I will gain precisely nothing.  Even from a distance of twenty feet I can see the rising curve of the “S” and the descender of the “p” which shows my name is among the damned condemned to another class.  Though thinking about it, it could just be normal paranoia there are, after all, other names with the same sort of outline as my own. 

Indeed that last statement is true!  It is not my name – but I still do not hold out any real belief that I will keep the period free: the school is too small and we never seem to have supply teachers so all the burden of any disruption in the staffing is carried by the staff.  The true pessimism of an experienced professional!

The New Device continues to cause problems, especially with the loading of electronic books.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind the skittish attitude that The New Device has towards acceptance or rejection.  The same format books loaded in exactly the same way do not have exactly the same response from The Device.  “The Girl of the Limberlost” – of book of which I have heard but do not necessarily want to read – has loaded without a problem, but “Queen Lucia” which I do want to read when I want to read it, refuses to form an essential part of my electronic library.

Music, however, which is usually a more difficult element because everything I have is tainted with the exclusivity of iTunes adheres to the electronic innards of The New Device with the enthusiasm of the blue rinsed ladies of a certain age for any public school educated leader of the party that opposed the foundation of the national health system!

I shall persevere as The New Device’s small size makes it ideal for the future holiday in the sun – which I might have mentioned is two weeks and four days away!

Dinner this evening was decided on an instant whim and comprised a delicious selection of the pinchos from the Basque restaurant in the centre of the playa of Castelldefels.

And now, time to subside!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where is elsewhere when you want it?

Today is one of those dark days when you truly and sincerely know that you do not want to be in work.  Any work.  Anywhere.  But which an attitude does nothing positive, except to make one feel more depressed and helpless.  So, more thinking about Gran Canaria is called for to counteract such negative thoughts.

It doesn’t help that today have developed into a gloriously sunny day and I am trapped inside.  But let it pass, let it pass.

This particular time on a Monday morning and stretching towards the early afternoon is a free time for me in which I am supposed to get everything else for the week prepared.  It is sometimes very difficult to do as I sit here with the sun beating down on my back and the sunlight pointing the way towards the door and escape!

My little corner of the living room is rapidly becoming overloaded with books and the detritus of modern electronic living.  With a flamboyant disregard for any reasonable standard of useful purchase I have bought a 7” mini electronic book – to go with the others that litter my living space.

I have some justification for its purchase: it does have a colour screen and it is far nearer the size of a thin paperback and so can be tucked away in more (and smaller) pockets.  It is also a MP3 and MP4 player and so (in theory) it can play films and music.  The music I have mastered as it seems to accept the music in my iTunes library without any problems.  The loading of films and their display is a much more tricky problem because I am not a 10 year old geek!

As is usual in basic gadgets there are the usual problems which should not exist.  The loading of books only works occasionally and then the titles of the works mysteriously disappear.  I am now getting used to a gentle message which informs me that there may have been “minor” problems that will affect the display and therefore I get nothing.

Another problem is that after loading it seems impossible to switch the damn thing off in anything like the accepted way.  If I try and close it down via the e-book itself then The Machine informs me that an illegal operation has taken place but, as it is me, it will “attempt” to minimize the problems when I next load up the device.  If I close the device down via The Machine then the device stays at the level of the uploading screen and nothing I have yet done removes it until I press the reset button.

I am well used to the “reset approach” to recalcitrant machines and I am pleased to note that, in this case, it operates just like an ordinary button.

I know that I should use the manual (which is in-built and in Spanish) but I am trying to reclaim lost youth by relying on my innate connection with machines to take me through the difficult bits.  I may yet weaken or indeed age!

The profusion of electronic books in my possession emphasises a growing concern: the build up of books.

In the recent past I made a statement to myself that each new book that I read and kept would have an equal and opposite reaction by the disposal of an old one.  This (almost) admirable determination has not been anything close to a guiding light and the darkening piles are beginning to grow.

I have still not bought a single electronic book; my electronic library consisting entirely of out of copyright ageing books which I have not read and those classics that are a delight to re-read.  At some point of other I must make the fateful decision to enter the electronic commercial world.

Thinking about it: there is more likelihood of my opening up a whole new area of electronic expenditure in the purchase of e-books than there is in my throwing a single volume away.

But, on the other hand the situation is now critical and shelves are, in some cases, more than triple stacked and it is only the fact that the shelves have doors to keep the astonished stares of people away from the cultural mess that make the present situation acceptable.

Once again I make the rash assertion that this summer (!) I really will do something to bring order to the charming disarray that produces juxtapositions of volumes that stops me in my tracks and encourages me to read.

Why should I destroy such serendipity?

It is not the irregularity of medieval streets that make them attractive to the modern eye?  Why then should stultifying conformity to a librarian’s rigidity be the guide for ordering the arrangement of books.  Or is that merely a licence for indolence?  Perhaps.

Cloud has now modified the day and made it slightly less attractive to the incarcerated.  The real problem is that this is a school of extensive views and there is always a vista to tempt the unwary from an unshielded window!

Although there is little sun at the school in the distance I can see a gleam of golden light admittedly on the roofs of the buildings in the industrial zone next to the harbour rather than the rippling sea itself, but tempting none the less.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reading Time!

In spite of putting my watch an hour ahead in good time, so to speak, it appeared to have reverted to the old dispensation when I woke up.  At least, in the modern world, most of the other time related gadgets that I possess seem to adjust themselves automatically. 

In the olden days when laptops were in their infancy I can remember the true horror of the clocks changing.  There was always some machine that one forgot to adjust - until things went wrong.  And then you could never find the instruction to find out how to change the damn clock!

Everything important and time sensitive seems to have changed itself and, as I have to get up at half past six tomorrow morning for an early start to school, it is in my interests to wake up on time.  On the other hand . . .

“The Ghost” by Robert Harris is an undemanding read which you can enjoy in the secure knowledge that you are in a safe pair of writer’s hands.  There are fleetingly interesting details about literary life which are engaging, but this is very much the sort of book to read on a sunny beach – and none the worse for that.

The progress of the novel is interesting especially as you know that the ex-prime minister at the centre is Blair for whom Harris obviously has a certain quality of loathing!

I was disappointed by the denouement and the clunking way that the final message was spelt out was frankly juvenile and more clichéd than interesting – but still a good read.

Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest” was a much more satisfying read.  This is much more my sort of book: sweeping historical generalizations interspersed with real history and fascinating anecdotal fragments.  This is a book for the interested general reader and its central thesis that the West had a series of six “killer aps” which help explain its ascendency for the last half millennium, but do not guarantee its continued pre-eminence in the new world older in which China and other countries not considered to be part of the conventional West are surging their way to the top!

It is an engaging read and the style is closer to a novel than to an academic tome.  It also has pictures and graphs and maps: who could ask for more!

I even managed to finish the Ferguson sitting outside this afternoon in the unexpected sunshine.  Given the lashing rain in the night and the dull start to the day, the sunshine in the afternoon was a definite bonus.

Three weeks today: Gran Canaria!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Barking dogs even taint sunlight.

That sounds like a cryptic clue from one of our more abstruse broadsheet newspapers and there should be a pair of brackets containing the number of letters.  But it is actually a simple statement of fact.

The dull start to the day gave way to encouragingly bright weather; sunlight but with a fairly cool breeze.  It was after all the weekend, what could be wrong with the world?

The dogs.  The monomaniac barking of the hapless (and obviously brain damaged) canine incarcerated next door!

We tend to regard slavery as a generally disreputable aspect of the human condition.  Britain can take some pride (but not much, given what we did before abolition) in its earlyish rejection of slavery: enslavement is wrong.

Why, therefore it is acceptable for people to buy pets and then lock them up like the stupid bitch next door.  And I am not referring to a female dog.

Her pestilential life forms are kept in a fenced-in and malodorous cage under the house: captives.  She feeds them of course, but to my mind they are like the bloated degenerates who inhabited the harems of luxurious sultans: indolent and castrated!  Truly the keeping of “pet” dogs is a demeaning impulse.

The only time we got away from the barking was when we went out to lunch in the hotel that we have tried once before.  An excellent meal of cauliflower cheese, salmon and strawberries – on separate plates!  Excellent.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Roll on the weekend!

Injustice may be a relative concept, but it clicks into sharp relief when you are the victim.

In school today I am going to do something that would have been impossible in my educational establishment in Wales: teach six (count them!) lessons in one day!  There we had a five period day from just before nine in the morning to half past three in the afternoon.  How different from the school life of our own dear Catalonia!

Theoretically it would be possible to teach eight periods a day of lessons ranging from fifty to fifty-five minutes!  School starts at 8.15 am and finishes at 4.45 pm, so teachers can be in school for over nine hours as we are not encouraged to leave the premises for lunch.  We are like a closed community!

Yesterday I received my latest issue of stamps on a first day cover.  I always feel slightly guilty as I take each cover out of its protective envelope and gaze at the stamps.  I know little about the community of stamp collectors but what little I do know would seem to indicate that my main reason for collecting (aesthetic appreciation) is the lowest form of motivation for the true aficionado.  Not, of course that I class myself as anything like an authentic stamp collector.  When have I ever evinced even a momentary interest in phosphor bands or perforations or colour shift or the like?  I just look at each stamp as a mini work of art and long for the days when we might get another set as satisfying as the Social Reformers of 1976 by David Gentleman.

I have to admit that the latest issue of British stamps featuring 10 of the world’s threatened species are remarkable showing full-face shots of the animals – the image of the golden lion tamarin is especially effective.

The Post Office appears to be continuing the gimmick approach to its stamps (highlighted by the moving stamps of Thunderbirds) by having two of them designated “intelligent” which means that if the elephant and tiger stamps are scanned by smartphones the owner will be able to watch “exclusive” video footage on the phone itself!

I have been looking through the totally inadequate web site of the Post Office and I note that even though I have a standing order for each new set and mini-sheet set of stamps to be sent to me I have not received all of them.  I will have to be more careful and ensure that I am getting what I am due.

I have now, using the computer in the IT room to which I was condemned to take the lesson of an absent colleague, found a list of all the commemorative stamps for QEII and I have painstakingly gone through my collection of FDCs to find out where the gaps are.  They exist and they are many!  Do I really want to fill those gaps up?  A rhetorical and real question.  The fact that I have found a web site with what looks to be quite reasonable prices for my missing covers is tempting.

On the other hand . . .

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Season change?

A suspiciously clear drive in to school this morning.  The sun was shining and even the motorcyclists were behaving with a less than suicidal attitude towards other motorists!

The mornings are getting pleasantly lighter and there is something soul enhancing about travelling to school in daylight rather than in pre-dawn darkness.

This weekend (?) sees the clocks going back or forward or whatever which means that we will be an hour nearer to darkness yet again.  On the other hand it also means that we are that much nearer to the summer!  I mustn’t allow myself to count the days to the two-month release!  That way lies madness!
Today is Budget Day in Britain and the speculation is, to put it mildly, tired.  It seems as though the tax threshold is going to be raised to something like eight thousand pounds a year which is certainly positive from my point of view – though from the point of view of the economy and its management by the present bunch of self-serving idiots who govern the country at the moment, I am not so sure.

At the moment I seem to have slipped below the radar of the tax authorities and I have not had significant communication with them for years.  Perhaps it is time for me to approach them and ask what is going on, or perhaps I should adopt the advice of those more learned in government and “leave well alone”.

I am not sure of my tax status as a British citizen domiciled abroad.  As far as the Catalan and Spanish governments are concerned I am a normal tax paying citizen, paying into a pension fund from which I am going to gain nothing – and there doesn’t seem to be an “opt-out” option which would enable me to boost my meagre payment from the school.

Last year, following the advice of colleagues, I made the effort to go in to the tax offices with all my documentation of my employment history and ended up paying the government more, whereas everyone else that I know was given some form of payback to soften the blow of having so much money ripped from their fragile salary.  C’est la vie!

I should have done some marking during the time that I have before the start of my first period, but the general climactic conditions and my predisposition to sulk about being indoors when the sun is shining all contributed to my sulky reluctance to put red pen to paper.  I am relying on my “library” period as a time when I can do those things that I have not done – and it delays the work for another couple of hours!

My individual welcome back has now included doing a cover for a colleague.  There is a sort of equilibrium in the giving and taking in a school situation that I expected that I would be chosen because of my “uncovered” period in the UK.  People had to cover my classes (why, you might ask as it was a period of absence known in advance) therefore I have to pay back.

Even allowing for “breaks” this interminable term winds its way on with inexorable slowness.  I think that the musing that I do on the trip to Gran Canaria makes it more intolerable.  The absurd lateness of Easter this year has unsettled all the usual internal clocks of teachers leaving a general dissatisfaction and an aching sense of longing for freedom!

Now that I have a new Internet radio, which is very much more reliable than the old one, I am listening to Radio 4 with more regularity.  The advantage is that it keeps me up to date with what is going on in the world in a much more convincing way than the media in Spain do.  The disadvantage is that it keeps me up to date with what is going on in the world!  I now have much more to worry about in a completely futile way!

The only time in my life when I have savings, the whole of chaotic progress of the world seems bend on destroying them.  From world financial crisis to natural disaster everything tends to make my savings less.

I am still recovering from the horror of finding that the “unexciting but dependable fund” into which my savings were placed for “steady growth” on the advice of a “financial advisor” lost 40% of their value in one extended swoop.

I still amuse (if that is the term) myself with speculation about what I might have bought if I had done what I usually do when I have money – and that is spend it.  I eventually worked out that I could have had a world cruise (with outside cabin and balcony) for two; drunk nothing but Champagne and bought a Rolex watch – especially if I had converted the pounds sterling into euros as soon as I had the pounds in my hands.

What seemed like excellent value when the euro was 70p doesn’t seem quite as good when, on a good day, the euro is trading at 86p.  Ah! for the good old days when the peseta was devalued to keep pace with the loosing value of the pound!

It looks almost certain that in the next financial year the wages of teachers will not be increased.  As inflation is forging ahead with scant regard for the normal factors which should be in play with the sort of financial crisis which should be governing our lives, teachers are getting more and more poorly paid.

Presumably, there has to come a time when even our supine profession makes some sort of stand against what is going on in the so-called profession.

Our type of school has an outstanding court case against the government to try and claw back the 5% decrease in grant that was given to our school to pay part of the teachers’ salaries.  We do not know what will happen if the schools loose the case and have to carry the reduction for the foreseeable future.

I am not sure what my reaction to a reduction in my salary would be.  I mean, I know what my reaction would be, it’s just that I don’t know how negative my reaction would be and what action, if any, I would take.

If I am truthful I think my presence in the school is becoming more and more unreal as the routine becomes more and more natural.  It may be a paradox but I am living it!
It is now, officially, Spring and the weather is living up to its designation.  From where I am sitting I can see a may tree whose branches are loaded with blossom and walking out onto the balcony you meet the wafting cloud of that sickly-sweet, slightly miasmic perfume of the tree.  As we have brisk breezes as well the scent is swept away only to assault you afresh as soon as there is a lull.

The air is fresher and the vistas a little clearer these days and I am waiting for the solid lump of heat that usually strikes the shirt and tie in late April and early May!

Meanwhile one more day to the weekend.  And three weeks on Sunday: Gran Canaria!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It starts again

In the strange way in which the mind plays with logic, I now find myself missing my aunt more now that I have returned to work than when I was in Britain.  I am sure that this will pass and that the closure that I felt when I was there will become a living reality.

However, another reality is now demanding attention: the everyday life of a school.  My absence has been filled with work which needs to be marked and work which will need to be continued.

The chocolates that are a necessary sweetener to colleagues after a visit (for whatever reason) to a place other than the immediate vicinity of Barcelona have been generally well received: Tesco strikes again!  They will all be gone by first break!

No one has yet mentioned the holidays, but I feel that the magic date of the 15th of April is at the forefront of each and every thinking teacher’s mind.  It certainly is the case with me – and the sooner we get there the better.

As is always the case in this place, there will be yet another series of examinations before the term is allowed to die and the function of the holiday period is to give us a breathing space to prepare for the next series of tests which will fill the summer term.
Any day now I will start counting the days to the end of June when the “real” holidays will start.  Before these halcyon days there is the problem month of May that on my calendar is quite clean.  This means that there are no occasional days, or saints’ days or anything else to break up the relentless chore of teaching day after teaching day.

The Pauls have expressed themselves open to the idea of reinstating our weekend gallivanting which characterised our time in Cardiff.  Although we would be departing from different starting points we could certainly and easily join up for a continuation of the triumphal progress that we made through such cities as Berlin, Milan, Dublin, Bilbao and Venice.

The seat of the Painted Whore of the Seven Hills has been suggested for the next trip and as I have never been to the stronghold of Jimmy Red Socks I am rather taken by the idea.  We will have to check the flights and hotels and see if we can meet up.

Previously we used to set an upper limit of fifty quid for the flights: this is now unrealistic and we will have to rethink our parameters.  Although it is still possible to be pleasantly surprised by the low cost of some flights, one is caught by the necessity of coming back on a Sunday as work beckons on the Monday.  I think we my be able to get flights for just over €100 if we are lucky.  Still, it will be interesting to find out if a re-start of the weekend visit programme is possible at all.

The familiar tiredness set in as soon as I got home.  Even a quick trip to town and a most unsatisfactory tortilla bocadillo were insufficient to invigorate my jaded perceptions. 

I have been encouraged to believe that, given the absurd luck that characterised my unfortunate memory lapses during the visit to the UK I should invest in the chance to win the absurdly large sum of money which is now being offered to gullible punters in the Euro Millions!

In spite of my firm belief that lotteries are taxes on the stupid, I have indeed invested some of my hard earned money in a few lines: hope springs eternal!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Back again!

Back in Castelldefels.

More importantly, with The Machine securely in my grasp, rather than having it wing its way around Europe before finally coming back to me.

Toni was quite insistent that I not use The Machine and he even (for the second time in history) urged me to buy two books (!) so that I would read rather than type during the flight.
Needless to say I took his urging seriously and using the “buy one and get the second half price” offer of W H Smith’s I am now the proud possessor of “Civilization: The West and the Rest” by Niall Ferguson and Sebastian Faulks “Faulks on Fiction”.
I started reading the latter first as it looked the less taxing read and of the 28 books mentioned I had read 21 of them – which was 2 fewer than Faulks himself as he said that 23 of the books were re-reads for him! 

I look forward to skating over great fiction in the hands (what an uncomfortable mixed metaphor!) of a more than competent writer!

The Niall Ferguson purchase was an almost instinctive one given my response to “Empire” and “The Ascent of Money” I am his devoted slave and he comes close to toppling Jared Diamond and his “Guns, germs and steel” from my favourite non-fiction “it-makes-you-feel-intelligent” read!  But not quite.

The journey from Cardiff to Bristol Airport was smooth, misty and uneventful; traffic jams only remarkable by the complete absence.  The flight was called in good time and took off promptly, landing a few minutes early.  The taxi was immediate and, as we approached Castelldefels the sun, obediently came out and blazed.

The house has been restocked and I am trying not to think too closely about the return to teaching tomorrow.

As no attempt was made to find a supply teacher for my “three day absence known in advance” I have bought two boxes of Tesco Chocolate Collection as sweet gesture to my colleagues who have had to cover for me.

What keeps me going is the thought that the holiday in Gran Canaria starts four weeks yesterday: roll on the 17th of April.  As a mark of respect to the sacred nature of the period during which I shall be away, I shall insure that my iPod has The St Matthew Passion which I shall (as I have done before) listen to laying prone on the beach in the seasonal sunshine!
Give me another two weeks and I shall start counting the days!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Count your blessings

The dull drive up to Gloucester yesterday seemed to presage a touch of the pathetic fallacy for the funeral.  The lack of close parking spaces and the loss of diamond cuff link also added to the general air of depression.

But then the sun came out and the cuff link was found and the family started arriving and the general chitchat that is a function of these occasions started to happen with that air of brittle humour that often characterises ostensibly melancholy events.

As these things go, it went.  I read the Robert Frost poem and, as the specific significance of the lines to the life of my Aunt made themselves felt, it was more and more difficult to continue.  However, I got to the end and, in the reception after I managed to make my little speech and then it was done.

For the first time in my experience I found that the service (albeit humanist) fulfilled one of its functions and gave me a sort of closure.

I think that it was a fitting celebration of the life of an exceptional woman and I am grateful to my cousins for organizing something so appropriate.

After all our goodbyes were said I faced a longer than usual drive back to Cardiff.

We went back to Bristol.  Bristol airport.

Why you might ask.

I listened to my painstakingly uploaded music during the flight over and, when the time came for us to land, I carefully put The Machine into the pocket of the seat in front.

And left it there when we left the plane!

It was only when I was in Cardiff and boasting about my possession of such a sleek machine and then offering to show it to my hosts that I realized that I had left it my EasyJet flight.

Frantic calls to Bristol airport only made its loss more certain, as no lost property had been handed in.

I knew from the announcement before we got off the plane that the turnaround time before our flight was off somewhere else was very short.  And I also knew that the next destination was Edinburgh.

Edinburgh was duly phoned and the more I phoned the more I discovered that The Machine was not in any of the places where it might have been.

Eventually I had to desist and leave my further searches for the next day.

Adopting a resolute jollity which I did not feel. We then went out for a meal in the Italian restaurant that Toni thinks is the best in Cardiff, Skellinis.

Our meal was excellent with a richness that you do not usually get in Castelldefels.  I paid the price by developing tummy trouble almost immediately.

The next day was the day of the funeral and, before starting out I phoned the length of Great Britain to find out if there was an honest man in the country who might have handed in The Machine.

Edinburgh was depressing, but I was told that the plane had another quick turnaround and went back to Bristol so I phoned Bristol again.

This time I was lucky.  Yes a machine had been handed in which the voice at the other end of the line identified as a Mac Book and then altered that to (and I quote) “Oh, it’s an Airbook; one of those computers which are so think you can put them in an envelope.  They are nice, very, very nice!”

At that point I felt that such enthusiasm was dangerous and I intimated that I would like to collect it as soon as possible.  Hence the journey down to the airport after the funeral.

It is now safely in my possession, but it is hard to determine just how long that might be.

For example.  We went out to lunch today, Sunday, to one of the restaurants in Cardiff Bay.

Toni spent much of the time before lunch taking a series of photographs to show his family as they have been to Cardiff in the past and he was very keen to show them just how much the centre has changed.

Toni’s meal was traditional (fish and chips) while mine was a little more outré: a trio of pies with mash and gravy.  There were excellent and merited a photo in their own right.

The shirt that I was wearing was one without a breast pocket and so, true to form, I put the camera on the dining table in the restaurant and duly left it there when we left.

Only discovering its loss when we called into a dockside café, I hared back to the restaurant and, my luck still holding, the camera was still there.  I am now, officially, in the “pressing your luck” zone!
The weather here in Britain is shockingly fine – not at all what we expected, thank god!

Now, assuming that I can get together all of the equipment that I brought with me, I can begin my packing and get back to Castelldefels with more (not less) than I came with!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Settled thoughts

Tomorrow UK.  Friday Aunt Bet’s funeral.  

I have felt the loss grow a little each day, but I am looking to the funeral to provide a sort of closure of one stage of mourning.  I want to remember my Aunt as she was at her best: lively, interesting, interested, articulate, intelligent and, above all, talkative!

Some people become so much a part of your personal landscape that their loss is like some essential landmark being bulldozed into oblivion.  But, unless you are living a stagnant sort of life, the perspective must be always changing.  Admittedly, not always for the better - but there is in life a natural state of flux and the way that one adapts to the changes makes a statement about your essential personality.

Although the natural metaphor may be getting a little strained, I think it can be pushed further.  Some lives are like hard gardening: the structures which define spaces; whereas others are like the planting areas where flowers bloom and fade and may even be replaced.  Bet is the “hard gardening” a influence and a framework which will always be there – just like my parents' legacy – whose presence still and will shape my attitudes and responses.  And I am grateful for that.  And to them.

Today has been long.  Not with thinking about the visit to Britain, but literally long as our school indulged in one of their notorious meetings.

Examinations are a thing of the past - for little less than a month until the next series starts to unsettle us all!  This meeting was to discuss the results of the first three years of the secondary section of the school.

The meeting started at 5.00 pm and ground its way juggernaut-like to its grisly termination at 7.30 pm!  This after a full day of teaching and missing out on my "early leave".

As my examination results for the kids are on The Machine I have a legitimate reason to flaunt the discrete illuminated apple set in the sleek metallic sheen of brushed aluminium.  It also gives me the opportunity subtly to click a few buttons and segue my way from the tedium of names and numbers on Excel to the altogether more interesting screen which shows the latest news on the BBC website.

The school might have my physical presence but in these meetings they do not command my intellectual attention!  The few times that I dragged my attention away from the beguiling information on the screen of The Machine and actually listened to the wittering of my colleagues I could sense my teeth wanting to grind together in febrile disgust at the sheer pointlessness of two and a half hours of mind-numbing futility.

When I eventually escaped I picked up Toni and we went into town to have a meal.  We ended up having an excellent if expensive meal of tapas and beer.  It was after the second mouthful of the first tasty tapa that school faded into a comfortingly distant memory!

Now bed, so that I have sufficient energy to finish my packing early tomorrow!  As usual.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sight costs!

As something of a public service announcement I would like to state that should you be desirous of tasting the driest Spanish omelette baguette or what is undoubtedly the vilest “bacon” baguette served in the Iberian Peninsular then I can direct your footsteps towards La Cantina del Pintxo in Passeig de la Ribera, 41 in Sitges.

This morning while cleaning my glasses they broke neatly in half at the nosepiece.  This now means that every piece of metal work on these fabulously expensive glasses has now snapped.  There is a definite price to be paid for having rimless lenses held in place by virtually undetectable sprung mental arms.  If they weren’t so comfortable I might have junked them long ago.  That, and the fact that the specially thinned, photo chromatic, variable focus lenses were the most expensive that I have ever bought and will have to be used until I have no sight left!

I put contact lenses in but needed to find my half glasses to be able to read properly.  I am now using old contact lenses from the time when my optician way trying to find the happy median to compensate for my short and long sightedness.  All the experiments were only qualified successes and I am left with a variety of different strength lenses that I can use in various combinations to continue the experiments.

So, in order to get something near my normal prescription for lenses, and get my broken glasses repaired I had to go to Sitges as I have discovered an optician who is able to repair the particular make of glasses that I use.

Having paid out yet another vast sum of money for the daily disposable lenses that I use (when I feel like it) we went in search of something to eat and found, to our cost the aforementioned La Cantina del Pintxo.  Avoid it like the plague.  And the bread of the baguette wasn’t very nice either!

While going through my briefcase I found the packet of postcards (all with stamps on) that I put together so I could send one to Aunt Bet every couple of days during her illness.  I only managed to send her one.  A sad moment looking at them.

I am hoping that Friday will give me an opportunity to celebrate a life and accept that memory will be something to cherish and will be enough.

Meanwhile there is a vast amount of work to be done before we leave on Thursday.  School demands attention and Wednesday evening will be spent in one of the interminable meetings that our school does so well.

And yes, that is irony.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The rain it raineth . . .

It is not only raining, but also pouring.  This is not what I expect from Catalonia!  Especially not at a weekend!  And the weather for the rest of the week looks equally gloomy.

Perhaps my trip to the UK on Thursday will be to a better climate, even if the reason for my visit is not a happy one.  Still, it will be an opportunity to trade memories with the rest of the family to make sure that Aunt Bet has a gathering that she could be proud of.  She made chatting into an art form!

Amazon’s evil level must be fairly high.  Not content with ordering yet another radio by their individually directed blandishments I was further tempted by the side adverts that adorn the site to purchase a box set of re-mastered recordings of Sir John Barbarolli conducting Sibelius.
As one of the first generation Sibelius conductors he has something of an iconic status and I don’t have a single one of his recordings in my collection.  I do have many versions of the symphonies, but it is always interesting to listen to another interpretation.

I keep forgetting that my musical taste was formed with injudicious, indeed indiscriminate buying of budget priced LPs when they came onto the market: Heliodor, Marble Arch, Allegro, Music for Pleasure which became the snappier and more expensive “mfp” and a host of others that I have forgotten.  I remember Marble Arch records as quite chunky and vulnerable; they gathered scratches if you so much as breathed on the surface!  But they were 9/11 and affordable.

I can still remember the progression of inflation on budget LPs: 9/11 soon became 10/- then 10/6 then 12/6 then, oddly 13/4 and I rather lost track of the increases after that and I was looking to record shop sales (especially Boots the Chemist in those far off days) to increase my respectable music coverage.

And now all of those LPs are gone: given to the Pauls and then sold on by them after they found that the ceiling was beginning to bow after they stored them in the attic!  More than 40 years of collecting.  I can still remember the artwork on LP covers from so many of the ones I had.

But I also remember the scratches, hiss and other extraneous sounds as well as the fag of having to turn the bloody things over to get the final movements of symphonies.  And the various cloths and liquids that were guaranteed to get rid of the dust held like microscopic limpets by the power of static electricity to the surface of the LPs.  And they never did.  Fully.  Silence was never quite silence on a record!

And now I am told that CDs are only possible because of the compression of the audio signal which supresses the higher frequencies, which I can’t hear now anyway, so no real loss there.

The only loss is that not all of my favourite LPs have been transferred to CD and, as the records are now gone, I do not have the opportunity to use a special desk to get the analogue into digital form.  Ah well, more opportunity to buy – like the Barbarolli set of Sibelius mentioned above!

The rain has continued unrelentingly with the moisture pouring down from a sludge-grey sky.  It is the sort of day that drains initiative and produces a slump-like attitude that defeats even the desultory reading of the latest book to be attempted on the Kindle.

In desperation, after lunch with the rain still falling I resorted to traditional way of dealing with can’t-be-bothered wet Saturday afternoons: I watched television!

And saw, in bemused astonishment a 1953 film by Roy Rowlands (Stanley Kramer producer) called “5000 fingers of Dr T.”

This is ostensibly a children’s musical film (!) about a nine year-old kid with a tyrannical piano music teacher, a widowed mother and a spare plumber.  What it actually presents is a surrealistic, self-indulgent extravaganza of amazing sets, extraordinary props, Dr Seuss lyrics, unbelievable dialogue and delicious over-acting!
I looked up the review of it in the Time Out Film Guide and was particularly taken with the closing lines, “[there are] a couple of musical routines that come close to defining camp, [and] this awesome entertainment really does have something for everyone.”
The choreography of the imprisoned musicians in the lower dungeons has to be seen to be believed!

I am not sure that I would recommend this film, but as an oddity from the 1950’s it is worth a glance.

I might add that my particular god of the cinema, David Thomson, in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (4th Edition) says of Kramer (the film’s actual director, Roy Rowlands doesn’t even merit an entry) “Kramer is a hollow, pretentious man, too dull for art, too cautious for politics.”  His films are “middlebrow and overemphatic; at worst, they are among the most tedious and dispiriting production the America cinema has to offer.”  Of the films that Kramer made with Columbia (of which “5000 fingers of Dr T” is one) Thomson says, “There is not a good film in the lot.”  Never one to mince his words is our David!

Today, apart from the rain, has been wonderful as I have constantly forgotten that today is Saturday and not Sunday – surely one of the delights of having Friday off.

But Monday looms!