Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is it sunny?

This morning dawned a bloody sight more enthusiastically than it did for the last two days when we were in Gran Canaria.  But let it pass, let it pass.

The Family duly descended and we had a barbeque in more than pleasant sunshine.  What was even more surprising is that we had the meal in sunshine as well.  This is not to say that the weather was good, but more of an indication that a Spanish, Catalan family actually ate in the sun rather than rushing towards the shade.  I have to say that I was shocked.  The idea of eating in full sunlight is usually confined to the foreigners in this country not extended towards the indigenous inhabitants.  It was obviously not far enough into summer for eating in sunlight to be considered a crime!

Toni and his sister have now bought their mother a Mothers’ Day gift which has been very well received.  We can now all relax with a feeling of duty duly done!

I have done my summer shopping for clothes and so I can now relax and ignore all other incitements to spend money on mere cloth.  It can be expended on books and other worthwhile commodities instead.

The story of football in this country continues with some part of The Family taking a ghoulish interest in the progress of their favourite team to hate loosing against their league opponents.  This means that Barça will have to win their next game and Real Madrid loose and  . . . the Championship will be . . . who cares?  But however uninvolved I feel, things are reaching some sort of climax which will be marked with the setting off of lots of fireworks.  From the sound of it (I am typing in the garden with only the mosquitoes attracted to my lower legs for company) some sort of conclusion has been or is about to be reached.  I think that the Barça/Madrid story has still got a few weeks to run its macabre course!

On a much higher level of interest, I have discovered that if you put the contents of the Actimel or cholesterol reducing liquid yogurt into the bottom of a glass and fill it up with Casera (the oddly un-sugared fizzy drink found in this area) it produces a most satisfyingly milky cocktail-like drink.  As one is low in sugar and the other high in thingies that aid one’s digestion then I can only consider that I have created a tasty yet health-giving drink. 

I shall call it Yogurfizzisalud in its full form, which will usually be shortened to Yogafizz in popular parlance: my gift to the world!

By the sound of it the Madrid game has ended and Madrid have duly lost, thus proving everything that Barça have said in denigration of this once great club to be true!  It is positive and invigorating to be living in the middle of such sectarian hatred!

A day has almost gone by without my having read a single page of one of the remaining Brandstetter novels – a crime which will have to be compensated for in the very near future!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Only three days!

Getting up at 6.30 am and getting held up in a traffic jam on the motorway really means that things are back to what is laughingly called normality.

The long stretch of time from now to the end of the presentation evening some time in the evening or, unhappy thought, night - when it will finally end, is something which does not bear too much careful scrutiny.  That way lies madness.  And there is still a day to go to the weekend.

The one things that is crystal clear is that it is inconceivable that we have only been back in school for a single day, but one look at the date and I can see, in spite of what I feel, that it is true.  Gran Canaria seems like a holiday that I had years ago rather than ending a couple of days ago!  Still, I should be used to the Telescoping Teacher Holiday Syndrome by now – I have, after all a certain amount of experience.

The fall-out from the match last night continues today, partly at my instigation by using the topic as the one for my Current Affairs class where the clash between Barça/Real Madrid is also seen as the clash between Catalonia/Spain.  We talked more about football than politics, but both were covered and at least some quiet people spoke as they felt that football was safer ground than other more technical topics I have chosen!  I shall pass over the idea of my talking with confidence about football with the quiet discretion that it deserves and say no more!

The cases have finally been cleared away and things are now in places where I will never find them again – that, surely is what unpacking is all about.

Yet again I am trying to find a way to bring some sort of order to the mass of transformers and leads which clutter the rear of my reading chair like a mass of writhing multi-coloured spaghetti.  I think a Way Ahead is to Put Things Away when they have been used.  But as a realistic approach to the problem it seems just too farfetched to be practical.

The Family is going to descend this weekend and we shall have to think about doing something with Toni’s Mum, as Sunday is Mother’s Day in Spain.

But back to the present and the fact that school is out and I am still here, waiting for later this evening when the Event starts.  At the moment a past student is in the staff room selling a book that I assume he has written and he is now engaged in writing what are presumably fulsome dedications in each volume he sells.  It passes the time!

Up at 6.30 am, a quick sneer at the "lead" story on the Today programme and off to school with the weather threatening rain.

Rain which belted down on the way back home yesterday after the Literary Prize giving was finally over.  For the survivors of the ceremony there was a buffet with a legendary lethal cocktail – but a bite of food and a drink are not enough to bribe me to stay in school for an moment longer than the thirteen (13) hours I had already been there!

Today, as another test of professional fortitude there was a school celebration of Jocs Florals to replace the St Jordi celebrations which were in the holiday.  So, taking up the two (2) “free” periods I had today I had to sit in the hall with the equivalent of Year 9 for a two hour extravaganza of boredom as further prizes were given out and we were treated to various “performances” from the pupils.  I now have solid teaching until the end of the day.

We may only have been back for three days but already we have done a longer working week than you would get Monday to Friday in teaching in the UK.  But I am not one to complain!

The only bright spot in this grey day is that this is, at least, my “early” finish – 25 minutes later than the end of a normal day in the UK!  But, as I say, never a bitter word crosses my placid lips!

Apart from the first lesson, not much today has been what can be called normal.  Lessons have not really settled down after the complete disruption of the prize giving this morning.  In a way that is fine by me, as it has meant a far less stressful series of lessons than I would otherwise have.

Even the last lesson of the day which is with my 1ESO has been changed to a “private reading” lesson – which is, of course my idea of heaven.  Unfortunately I finished the school book which has just been sent to us in the spare time I had before the prize giving.
The novel was “Unique” by Alison Allen-Gray.  This novel is set in the near future takes as its central idea the concept and indeed the reality of cloning.  It rapidly becomes obvious that the central character in the novel is himself a clone and the action of the book is how, when and why he wants to find out the “truth” about his birth.

At first glance the book seemed to be aimed at an older readership than we would find useful but closer inspection showed that the general level of language was not too advanced and the general standard of knowledge necessary to follow fully what the novel was concerned with was also not too high.

With themes of parental abuse, drunkenness, self-worth, scientific irresponsibility, Cambridge, university life, ambition, self knowledge and all the rest of the themes which litter any self-respecting children’s book!

It is clearly written and there is a relatively straightforward narrative.  It uses present day concerns in a sensitive way and gives pause for thought.  I enjoyed reading it and found it fairly compulsive, though I was also conscious of “teaching opportunities” throughout while reading!         I suppose that is an occupational hazard – at least I have stopped noting extracts from books which might make decent comprehension passages!

I was going to let the “event” of the day in Britain go without remark: the most appropriate response to the disgusting display of obsequious adulation of a thoroughly discredited family by a grovelling population glorying in their humiliation by a Greco-Germanic junta – but then I listened to the BBC World Service.
What I heard was an interview with a so-called Prince of Serbia (!) commenting on “royal” marriage to commoners!  One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when nonentities with obsolete fripperies of titles make pronouncements about what they consider “common.”  To me it brings to the fore the basic dangers of a concept of royalty which strikes at the heart of democratic meritocracy.

Anyway, I have managed to avoid all but the most fragmentary glimpses of this unnecessary extravaganza.  I have been a “lone lorst soul” in my school where, in spite of previous cynicism on the part of my colleagues, I was what appeared to be the single representative of the republican sensibility in the place!

One ploughs a lonely furrow sometimes!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

END TIME & beginning

graffiti blind despair Butte au cailles Bièvres

There is little that matches the blind despair of the Last Breakfast in one’s holiday hotel.  Especially if the day of the Last Breakfast is the day before the start of work.  I know that I should be grateful that my school has gifted (!) its weary teachers (to hell with the pupils) an extra day on top of the Bank Holiday Monday, but starting a new term mid-week is not really my idea of fun.  At all.

At least Wednesday is the “tipping day” when, at lunch time one is over the hump of the week and it is all downhill to the relief of the weekend.  In theory.

So the holiday is all but over and time for assessment.  

In truth Gran Canaria has not lived up to its promise.  The weather has been frankly bad, with wind spoiling the few good days that we have had.  The beach – or lack of it – in Maspalomas is a scandalous disgrace and is now not a patch on the beach at home in Castelldefels.  The hotel has been satisfactory, but we are already wearying of the offerings for the main meal of the day.  But were I asked if I would like to extend my holiday, then the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!”


The comforting dead hand of routine!

The first lesson, chaos as it was, is over – the ice is broken and that means that “automatic” takes over and the next term is underway.  The full horror has come and gone and has left only the normal resentment of the recognition of one’s status as a wage slave!
The results of the Proficiency examination (the highest grade that our students take) have come in and it looks as though the number of successful candidates this year is down on last.  The examination is really designed for adults so any pupils managing to get a pass has done very well, but I could have hoped for another couple of successes from my small class.

My brownness (though not my watch) has been remarked upon, but that is not enough to compensate for my returning to a part of Spain where, although it is sunny today, it is unlikely to remain so for very much longer.

The first day is over – and was even an “early” finish for me, but not before Management attempted to get me to cover a lesson just before I was about to leave!  I walked (resentfully it has to be said) to the enforced cover and was delighted to find the teacher with the class!  I tripped, positively tripped back to the staff room and shortly left!

Tomorrow is a long, long day (Welcome Back!) with the prize giving for our International Literary Prize.  Although the proceedings start at 7.30 pm it is not worth my while coming home as traffic conditions make it a long, slow crawl back to the place.

I am still putting away the contents of the suitcase and cabin luggage.  It is a long task and I have to admit that there are certain things that I didn’t actually get round to using on the holiday – some things never change however radical in my packing I try to be!

The final results of our most prestigious examination are in and we have had only half a dozen successes out of over four times that number of entries.  It was a “free” entry so we shouldn’t be so surprised at the low rate.  For any pupil to pass this exam which is meant for adults is a triumph.  I suppose.

Barça are playing in the first round of the semi finals of the Champions League.  Against Real Madrid.  You can cut the atmosphere in our house with a very blunt knife!

I do not live in what might be described as a “neutral” atmosphere about these two teams, but to my untutored eye it seems to me that Barça are playing the more attacking game while Madrid are taking a more defensive stance in their own stadium!  I also think that Real Madrid have a whole raft of players who fall to the ground too easily and, frankly, cheat.

We shall see.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rays are all I ask!


When you can work out how much you are paying for a day of your holiday and are impressed by the amount of money is it costing - then a day without sun in a resort and on an island whose only selling point is that they have a plentiful supply of that commodity is something which merits the word “crap”.

Pushing my faith in the micro climate of Maspalomas to its limit, we trampled through sandy wastes illuminated only by a heavily masked sun, unable to penetrate the deep, purple tinged clouds to our sun (on-how-ironic) beds to “enjoy” our last full day in warm sun-kissed bliss.  Not to be.

Instead I lay unclothed and open to the elements gazing at cloud cover and hoping that the brighter bit was moving steadily to the tantalizing area of clear blue which might mean that some heat might fall on my cold-winkled flesh.

To be fair (in a cruel world) there were mere moments (and I am stressing the “mere” here) when the full force of the African sun did beat down.  This, of course, only served to make its general lack of beating down all the more reprehensible.  And on a Bank Holiday Monday too!

We eventually (even I!) admitted defeat and strode off along the vanished beach, stubbing our toes on the ugly pebbles, to a resentful lunch.

I had decided to have a frugal lunch of tomato soup and pimentos del pardon though the eventual sight of the pile of salt crystal bedecked peppers was a little daunting, even for someone who loves them.  Needless to say I managed to get through them with Toni eating a token number.  He is always afraid of “the one hot one” which, with telling irony, he found with his first taste the last time I ordered them!  These were all mild and delicious.

The flight back to Barcelona tomorrow is at half past four and is it only the presence of Toni which means that my case is packed already.

Hitherto I have always relied on the “push all the stuff in the case and hope that Customs don’t ask you to open it and display to the ogling world all your dirty washing” and I have seen no reason not to adopt this tried and tested method.  But such hasty ways of doing things are apparently “not acceptable” and I will have to live with the burden of the extra time that I will have at a period when I am usually in a state of fine panic!

Toni has already filled out the hotel’s questionnaire and “put the finger” on a particularly obnoxious waitress who roundly insulted us both by a single gesture.

Our table for dinner has been the same one for the whole time that we have stayed in the hotel and so, if you purchase a bottle of wine and do not consume it all you can “keep” it by having it tagged with your room number and it will magically reappear for your next meal.

We had bought a bottle of the over-priced hotel wine and had made it last for two nights!  This is mainly due to Toni’s Catalan capacity for being satisfied with a single glass.  By the end of the second night there was about 20% of the bottle left.  When Toni indicated that it should be reserved for the next meal the waitress picked it up, tilted it sideways and gave it what can only be described as an old-fashioned look indicative of astonishment and disgust.  I was amused but Toni was outraged: and rightly so – the customer, however stingy, is always right!

The hotel is good, but not that good.  The accommodation is fine and more than satisfactory, though the plastic sheet under the cotton sheet makes one wonder what usually goes on!

The food is adequate.  Breakfast is fine: they have scrambled egg, cereal and tea so I am happy.  Dinner is another matter.  They, like so many hotels, use the buffet method of serving food and while the selection is good, it does tend to get a little repetitive.  The salads are tasty, especially the one with smoked salmon, but the hot meals remind one of institutional food and, although the names indicate an exotic choice, the reality is not necessarily so.  I think that if we had been staying here for any longer then we would have started going out to restaurants for dinner rather than staying in.

However, I think that it has been reasonable value for money.

I have asked for an extension to the time that we have to leave the room and that has been graciously granted – I only hope that I do not find some sort of extra charge when we leave.

There was a time when I did not want to leave Gran Canaria because I was going back to the harsher reality of the climate of Cardiff.  Now I am going back to Catalonia where, even allowing for the fact that the weather there has not been as good as it has been here, is altogether in another category of warmness than Cardiff.  And we are a damn sight nearer the sea than we are here!

It is, as ever, work that holds few delights for me.  I have been longer at the school at which I presently work than I ever intended to.  There are attractions there, but I think that there are more in real retirement!

I will have to do the sums.


And, just to give an edge to my thoughts, I may well meet up with my financial advisor from Wales when I get back to Barcelona.  I still remember his description of “unspectacular, but steady growth” when applied to the place where I put my savings.  This was the same place where 40% of those savings were wiped out in the Crisis and where there has been a slow via dolorosa back to parity.  Parity – not “steady growth” through the years that my savings have been in place.

Oh well, it’s only money!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some things work together for good

I’m not quite sure what it says about a holiday when the finding of a parking space within limping distance of the beach is something which makes the day!  However, today was such a day finding a space in a well-known area of “impossibility.”

My manoeuvring was made the more interesting by a French couple of Spanish speakers who thought that they could put their car into the space behind me.  This space was small and there was a yellow line at the end of it: meaning that the people in the house outside which we were parking could call in a crane and have the car towed away.

With a logic which still has me thinking, the female part of the couple urged me to go closer to the car in front of me to give them extra room.  This I willingly did, but left myself some room so that I would be able to leave.  The female urged me to move closer to the car in front to give them more room because the car in front of the car in front of me had extra space!  How she thought that the space the other side of a car was going to help me, god alone knows!  We gently, but persuasively, refused to move any closer and they eventually had to give up!

As soon as they left I reversed a little more to ensure than no car could get into the space left no matter how small it might be.

Too small for a car, but not too small for a rubbish bin on wheels, which magically had appeared to fill the remaining space by the time we got back to the car!

The weather has been a mixture of cloud, wind, sun and gloom – completely out of keeping with what the weather ought to be like on a Sunday and an Easter Sunday at that.

Because of the pitifully small holiday allowance at Easter people have been leaving the hotel since Good Friday since they only have the Bank Holiday Monday to look forward to.  For most of the population of Spain normal working recommences on Tuesday.  Luckily my school has an occasional day which it has used for Tuesday allowing us to start on the gloriously late day of Wednesday!

I truly have no idea how, in conscience, I can start another term.  The last term was ridiculously long; the holiday disgracefully short; the weather less than perfect – how can I be expected to work!

On the plus side I have a new watch which has been admired by the man who hires out the sunbeds on the beach and I am a little browner than when I left.  The main work effort of the next term will be to sustain the colour I have gone and augment it by judicious prone sessions during the weekends so that the finishing touches can be added in the summer.

The weather in Catalonia since we have left has been awful and it looks depressing for the future as well.  I can see that I am going to have to transfer my faith in the clement weather of Maspalomas to the beach of Castelldefels!

Tonight is the night that Toni is going to have more than two drinks (!) to celebrate the fact that his course of antibiotics for bronchitis is over and he can take alcohol.  It should be a wild night!

Another Brandstetter novel is finished leaving five to go.  As we only have a day and a half to go I fear that there will be some left over to deflect me from schoolwork when we get home!

As is traditional at this stage of a holiday to Gran Canaria for me, I do not wish to go home.  There are one or two lottery tickets which we haven’t checked so there is always a chance!

Fingers and other bits and pieces are firmly crossed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

No sun - no fun!

There is, as far as I know, no Gran Canaria National Gallery so when clouds cover the one and only things that we are here for, there is little else to do other than mope.

Or have faith.  I have always believed, whatever the weather conditions that Maspalomas has a microclimate.  Even if it is cloudy within yards of the place where we rest our prone bodies and expose them to the healing rays I still march forward chanting the mantra that “It will be sunny on the beach.”

Today, this morning, was frankly unpropitious with sullen cloud shading into outright hostility.  There were worrying mutterings about how it might be a good plan to go to Las Palmas – a place, saving the grace of El Corte Ingles, of almost no real interest – or even one of the other resorts along the coast where the proportion of unsuitable Brits tips into the unforgiveable.  I was staunch in the protestation of the central tenet of my Canarian faith that, as has been explained, “It will be sunny on the beach.”

Our trudge through the gloomy dunes was not enlivened by Unexpected Gentlemen looming suddenly from sandy knolls in attitudes their mothers would not have approved of but we were most definitely accompanied by a constant rustling of other lizard life forms scuttling underneath the wholly artificial looking thorn bushes which about along the sandy trail.

After conflicting views regarding the blue-topped pole route through the sands as opposed to the red-topped one, we eventually and acrimoniously broke away from both and eventually emerged within sight of our eventual destination tired, sweaty and cross.

Our mood was not improved by the impertinence of clouds which seemed intent on testing my oft-stated faith in the quality of sunlight on that patch of sand.  But, with gritted teeth and a determination to ignore the wind which reminded one that this was only April, the true believer was rewarded with the full glare of our nearest star.

I did go into the sea on a couple of occasions but that was an ungainly proceeding.

The lack of a smooth shelf of sand under the waves and its replacement by pebbles, larger stones and occluded strata of igneous rock makes walking into the sea a truly perilous task.  Strapping, muscular and healthy men are reduced to bow backed arthritic hags as they stumble and lurch their unsteady way into the water looking very much as if someone had just kicked their walking sticks away.

The topography has wiped out the more irritating macho entrances into the sea.  Anyone trying to run down the beach would be in danger of broken limbs, and throwing oneself into the water would result in almost certain evisceration.  Displays of manliness were confined to peacock strutting along the few stretches of pebble free sand rather than aquatic acrobatics.

Lunch was in a seaside restaurant whose maître d remembered us from the last time we were on the island.  We remembered him too, but the years since we had seen him had changed his face into a Dickensian caricature with ravaged face and teeth which looked as though they had come out of a ham actor’s make up box!  We had an excellent fideua.  This pasta based fish dish is a great favourite and this version was individualistic.  It was much more liquid than the ones that we have in Catalonia and there was much more evidence of herbs, especially oregano – but every region is entitle to its version.

One of the selling points of the hotel in which we are staying is its “Adults Only” policy, rigidly excluding under 18 year olds.  One only has to g into the adjacent shopping centre to see families at full exasperation to appreciate the absence of children from our locale.

It was therefore with something approaching horror that, on our return to the hotel to lounge by the pool I discerned not one, but two of the under-aged creatures disporting themselves in the waters.  I glared at them with the full professional force that I have developed over the years and at the adult who appeared to be encouraging them.  The children were emitting sounds of forced noisy enthusiasm that grates on every teacher’s ears and sounds to the uninformed and quiescent (i.e. non-teacher) like “charming” play.

I know that hotels have a fairly free attitude to the use of their pools and there is a sort of loose inter-communality (if such a word exists) of such facilities between hotels which I find wholly repugnant.  I was busily building up my resentment and also forming the more biting of the phrases that I was going to use in my letter of complaint when the damn kids disappeared.

I shall bear the choicer phrases in mind in case these neophyte life forms dare make an appearance at dinner.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Where do the days go!

The days as you will be able to tell are a little out of joint.  This is due to/owing to (who knows which is right) the fact that we have had other things to do, and when we haven't had other things to do, the things to be done did not include publishing a blog at the right time.  So, you will have to make what you can of the following as it stretches into the past.  But the next bit is today, as it were.  Today being Good Friday.

Good Friday 22nd April

Never let it be said that an Anglican upbringing failed to “take” when you realize that whatever moral imperatives that I have developed are in some way related to the experiences that have been foisted on me by allegiance to some selected tenets of The Church in Wales.

I have an uneasy relationship with Good Friday.  As someone who, on more than one occasion, has gone to the whole of the three hours of the Good Friday service and actually listened to the sermons therein I cannot be easy in my mind if I do not mark the day with some sort of observance.

This used to be quite easily discharged by the mere visiting of a church, but even this easy burden was sometimes difficult – especially when the demands of tanning had taken me beyond the normal range of an Anglican church and indeed Christianity!

A slight change of plan meant that my “conscience” would be satisfied by listening to a performance of The Saint Matthew Passion.  At the beginning of this new dispensation the performance had to be live but problems presented themselves almost at once.  On one occasion I was going to be in northern France on Good Friday and, true to my beliefs I demanded that my host find me a performance of The Passion so that my devotions could be observed.  I was disconcerted to hear, just before I set off of our southern neighbour that the best my host had been able to do towards finding a performance of the masterwork by Bach was a ticket for Snow White on Ice or some such confection!

In a development (or degradation) of the original theology the need for a live performance was replaced by the listening to a recorded performance.  At this rate, and following the way that theology normally develops, all that will soon be necessary will be the reciting of the name of the work and all will be well!

Today, however, burning gently on what is left of the beach of Maspalomas, I dutifully listened to the whole of the great Protestant reworking of the Passion of Christ – and went for a swim at the conclusion of each of the parts.  It was not too difficult to know where I was in the Passion story (even though I listened to parts II and III before part I) from my fugitive scraps of German and my memory of numerous performances of the piece itself.  It was then not too difficult to relate the story (in its widest sense) to the little dramas that were taking place around me on the sun beds.  All human life was there!

The top of my head is now burned to a crisp and is shedding skin at the same rate as a Labrador scatters hairs – which in my case, to quote The Naming of Parts, “I do not have” upon my head to keep the skin in place.

My fear is that this Great Shedding will extend itself neck-down and leave me a pure white making it seem as though I have been on Retreat in a monastic cell rather than enjoying the fleshpots of Gran Canaria.  I have abandoned Eroski own-make “after sun” and gone for Nivea aloe vera infused lotion as a last ditch measure to keep my skin stuck on.

An easier approach would, of course be to limit my exposure to the sun; use more shade and be reasonable in my approach – but when you take the trouble to come to islands off the coast of Africa it seems churlish not to tend to excess!

Toni has had the last of his antibiotic injections and is looking forward (!) to having an alcoholic drink!  Tomorrow night, Holy Saturday, he intends to have as many as three (count them) drinks in one night!  For Toni this is the equivalent of binge drinking!

We are just about to go into dinner when I will have a drink of wine with my meal and Toni will have to be content to look at me drinking it.  Roll on tomorrow!

Wednesday or Thursday the 20th or the 21st April.

By way of enlivening the holiday Toni’s cough became so pronounced that we had to go to the local all-night doctor.  Bronchitis having been diagnosed we then had to rush off to the last open pharmacist.

The directions to this fabled purveyor of medicaments was a little vague and it was left to me (sic.) to run up and down the street minutes before the closing hour trying to find this allegedly open shop.

It was, of course closed and we therefore had to go to a completely different and distant neighbourhood in some god-forsaken dark hole to find that they were open but the didn’t have the drugs!

An eventual return to the original doctor produced a single dose of the antibiotics that were promptly injected into an, as yet un-tanned part of Toni’s anatomy.

Getting the other doses this morning was easy in our local dispensary, but the cost of €25 for a simple injection from the all-night doctors, coupled with the rather arbitrary €50 for the nights consultation with an extra €35 for drugs makes the illness rather expensive.

Toni’s use of the internet produced a doctor who could inject the antibiotics for a more reasonable €4 – a saving of €21 per shot.  Given that Toni is due to have five shots the savings mount up!

We visited (as is traditional for one day when visiting Maspalomas) Las Palmas and wandered our way through El Corte Ingles (also traditional) and then had a menu del dia to complete the tradition.

Our way back to the sunshine of the hotel was drenched by a tropical downpour.  We returned to heat of our resort with incongruous globules of water marking out our car as one which could only have come from a car wash!

We did manage to get in a swim before the call of an early dinner and the spiritual preparation for the final of the King’s Cup.  Which has now gone into extra time!


Due to a combination of bad luck, a disallowed goal, blatant cheating and terrorist tactics by a once great club now degenerated into a bunch of unscrupulous cowboys, Barça failed to win last night.

As is traditional in Spain with El Clasico the result is celebrated by the setting off of fireworks, each explosion causing Toni a little shudder of disgust as he was made to realize that the “baddies” had won!

We have now got into the routine of going to a district of questionable propriety so that Toni can have his cheap injections of antibiotics to try and cope with the bronchitis.  We do not count the cost where health is concerned.

The beach, or what is left of it, was packed today and I actually managed to stagger towards the sea, trying to avoid the cruelly shaped stones which seemed to be attracted to the tenderest parts of my instep.

The clear stretches of sand leading into the sea are deceptive as there are stone shelves and large lumps of rock to discomfort the most intrepid of swimmers.  I did manage an unconvincing and ungainly entry into the sea and was promptly knocked over by stone laden waves.  My exit from the foaming brine was no less unglamorous than my entry – but at least I have swum in the Atlantic.  Job done.

Tuesday 18th April

I am the first to admit when I am wrong.  That is not strictly true, but it can stand as an opening of questionable validity.

I thought that hiring a car to take us to the beach and carry up from the airport to hotel etc. would be something that paid for itself over the length of the holiday.  The general principle still holds good, but, as in so much of life, it all depends on the parking.

Of which there is none in the general vicinity of the beach.  The beach which is not there.  [See previous blog for the Scandal! of the missing beach.]

Today, using a route to the beach which I knew when I first took a holiday on this island, we should have been able to park within hobbling distance of the beach.  We could not.  Roads were closed, narrowed, blocked and otherwise not available for use.  We ended up parking by the golf driving range and that is a bloody long walk to the place where we wanted to be.

We walked for an inordinate length of time beside the empty waterway whose depth and extensiveness of structure just shows what happens when it does actually rain in this area!  We then walked more to the lighthouse and then even more to our hamaca.

Today could not have been more different from yesterday.  A blazing sun, very little wind and the depressing sight of massive earth movers rebuilding the defences of the kiosks which were all but washed away yesterday.

After liberally dosing myself with what appeared to be scented cooking oil I lay back and fried.  My forehead now has that tingling, prickly tautness that suggests I should have put my cap on at an earlier stage of my somnolent taking of the rays.

The trek back through the dunes (an ostensible short-cut) resulted in bad tempered exhaustion and when we finally reached what is laughingly called civilization in these areas, we still had a lengthy walk back to the car.

A warm soapy shower restores faith in mankind and we were able to go to lunch in something approaching civility.

The meal was in a Norwegian restaurant and the waiter was, naturally enough, Catalan.  Toni was delighted to be able to speak his natal language and to make general comments about the widespread nature of British, Catalan and Italians in every part of the world making them sound like a sort of human plague – which is not an unfair metaphor I would think.

We may have to swallow our economic pride and admit defeat with the cheaper-to-go-by-car philosophy and take with enthusiasm to the concept of the hotel bus as the way of getting to the beach.  Or not depending on our state of monetary perversity.

The Holiday Watch has been adjusted for a second time.  This is only to do with the strap and my non-standard wrists and not with the mechanism of the watch itself which , as far as I am aware, is working perfectly well.  As I am only really confident about the big hand and the little hand, I cannot say whether the other dials and numbers are as they should be.  They do however look pretty and business-like so I am quite happy.

I think that the watch strap may need to be adjusted a third time, but this is only at the buckle and I think (fond hope) that I may be competent to do that alone.  The trouble is that this involves a spring-loaded bar which (from past experience) has a disconcerting habit of, well, springing away from one and disappearing in a nook (or cranny) from which it may never again emerge.  I am, however, prepared to take the risk rather than have to endure the look of weary resignation on the face of the charming assistant who has been slaving over the strap for the last two days.

The risk was duly taken and the result was that I really need a half-stop to make the adjustment exact.  I will have to compromise and put up with a slightly tighter than usual strap, because the watch is chunky and very solid and has a disconcerting habit of trying to escape from my observation.

I have not yet had the courage to press either of the two buttons on the right side of the case and I have not intention of using the central one until I have to.  In the meantime I will merely observe the charmingly light blue (sorry Stewart) triangles as they pursue their differently paced circular tracks around their own little dials.

Our marathon walk this morning and afternoon took it out of us and we slumped on our respective beds for a well-earned siesta.  The only movement that we have made before the time for dinner has been for Toni to find an ONCE ticket as a well considered part of his financial plan for economic security.

My contribution to the financial discussion was to suggest drinking one of the Mini Nevadas of sec Cava by Freixenet to make the money worries go away!  It works for me!

The sky at the moment looks like one of those jobbing Dutch landscapes with artfully scattered clouds under-lit with professional facility and emphasising the contrast between the lower, darker cloud and the bright cumulo-nimbus.  This is all very well and artistic, but I don’t want any bloody clouds in the sky: I want uniform, boring blue with a big blob of yellow.

The weather, like the beach, is not quite living up to expectations.  It might seems a little greedy, as we have been able to sunbathe every day that we have been here and, apart from a dusting of rain (if such an uneasy metaphor can be allowed) on the first evening it has been blowy, but fine.  However, any impediment to uninterrupted sunshine, up to and including the night, is a source of bitter resentment from my good self and I have returned to my bad British habit of checking the weather each morning with nervous fingers twitching away the nets to find out if the sun has deigned to shine.

My reading matter is now well behind schedule: it has now been the best part of three days and I haven’t read a single one of the eight remaining novels in the Brandstetter series by Joseph Hansen.  I need to get down to the serious business of reading the novels if I can get away from the equally serious business of eating, drinking and sunning myself!

I can but try!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Scandal in Gran Canaria!

To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” came to mind as we finally made it to the “beach” at Maspalomas.

The beach wasn’t there!

I definitely remember, indeed I regaled wretched members of staff who were staying in Barcelona with details of, the golden swathe of hot, hot sand that composed the beach curving all the way around the southernmost point of the island.  I have photographic evidence!  I have walked those sands myself on numerous occasions.  Now – all gone!

Maspalomas beach is now a miserable pebble strewn scrag-end of sand, narrow and third-rate.  The sea is virtually lapping the dunes and the kiosks are now sea-girt bastions of light refreshments defying the crashing waves on a redoubt composed of the very pebbles coughed up by the ocean.

Our wind lashed hammocks were soon deluged by encroaching waves and we had to admit defeat and hobble our way back to a restaurant for lunch; which, by way of compensation, was excellent.

But where has the beach gone?  Questioning of the hamaca-man revealed that the island has been swept by high winds from the south for two years and a combination of governmental ineptitude (so he said) coupled with a fear of destroying the habitat of what is a national park as well as a sea shore resort has resulted in the appalling excuse for a beach that we sneered our way along.

All the picture postcards of the glorious stretch of sand for which Maspalomas was justly famed are out-and-out lies and remind one of the worst excesses of holiday brochures for Spanish resorts in the 1960s were pictorial representation (often “artists impressions”) bore little kinship with what, even to the most liberal mind, might pass for reality!

Add to this bitter disappointment the fact that the hired car did not start this morning and you have the recipe for on-going disaster.  Not to mention Toni’s cough!

I freely admit that I do not count cars as gadgets and I am therefore not wholly simpatico with the whole concept.  All I really ask of a car is that it goes and gets me there.  This one did not.  Did not even start.  Did not even, even allow me to open the bloody door.

At this point the more technically minded will be saying sagely “Battery, I suspect!” in a sort of know-all-been-there-done-that sort of way.  And you would of course be right.  I, however, assumed the worse – encouraged in this depressing view by Toni the Cough – and looked at the holiday as one already ruined.

The fault (certainly not mine) lies in the new-fangled approach that cars have to their lights.

I am the sort of chap that likes a “lights on; lights off” type of switch, but modern cars (probably influenced by a pernicious Nordic approach to so-called safety) have switches that do not do what it says on the tin.  Small drawings representing sidelights and headlights are as self-explanatory as a “0” meaning nothing or off.  Yet when you turn the switch to “0” the lights stay on.  For a while, I found out.  In spite of light, it seems that you must believe “0” is off and then your belief will make it true.

For good measure I also left the indicators on, so I do grudgingly accept some blame.

A Little Man from Hertz came within 15 mins. of being called and, as a Barça fan on an island of Real Madrid supporters was fairly sympathetic to the predicament and, more importantly got the car going in a couple of minutes.

Parking was, of course, impossible – and we were forced to use the municipal car park, the cost of which rather took away from the nicely judge economics of hiring a car in the first place.  Though we have had free parking in the hotel for two days now - and that must be some sort of plus!

Our return to the hotel to allow us to try and get the sandblasted patina that we had acquired removed also allowed us to make the pleasant discovery of a small bowl of fresh flowers; a larger bowl of fresh fruit and a bottle of red wine provided by the management.

I would like to think of this as one of a series of on-going sweeteners to make our say in the Neptuno one of constant delight.  But the more sensible side of me suggests that our room was cleaned but inadequately prepared when the staff rushed to make it ready after our early arrival and the goodies that we had today we should have had decking our room on our arrival!  Nevertheless, I shall say “thank you” to reception – and see if I get any more on further days of our stay!

Today was scheduled to be a day of lashing rain – indeed there was a “yellow alert” for the rain – and we have seen none of it.  I am firmly convinced that Maspalomas has its own micro-climate.  Indeed, on one occasion when I had resolutely marched off to the beach in what could only be described a less than ideal weather conditions, my arrival in my preferred roasting position at the very tip of the island was bathed in a theatrical spotlight of sunshine whose artificiality was startling but I merely bowed my head in homage to the god of sunlight and spread-eagled myself so the maximum skin area was offered as propitiation!

The problem of the holiday watch has been solved by the purchase of a Festina watch which fulfills day/date/luminous/waterproof/sweep second hand requirements, only falling down on the numbers for the hours.  Instead of numbers there are rather fetching light blue wedges giving the watch a rather surprising appearance.

The watch also has the “trio of other dials” which seems obligatory in modern watches in spite of the fact that no one seems to know what they are for.  The metal strap is rather impressive with faceted lines and a contrast of matt and gloss metallic effects.  The three knobs are rather aggressive and business-like, but I do not expect to be using those apart from the hourly change of the seasons. All in all I am quite pleased and with a little extra alteration of the strap to accommodate my elegantly narrow wrists it should be set to impress.

Does anyone look at watches nowadays?  Apart from me that is.  I think a watch is more of an indication of personal worth than the traditional well-brushed shoes and well-cleaned nails – or indeed vice-versa.  And I do not mean that class can be acquired by the mere wearing of a Rolex or Tag or some other overblown and overpriced Name.  An adequate but perfectly judged Swatch can out-perform a name any day!

So, here am I at the end of the day, sitting on the balcony in my underpants, but wearing an elegant watch, drinking the Management wine that Toni the Cough refuses to drink as he is drugged up to the eyeballs with anti-cough medicine and contemplating dinner.

It’s a great life as long as you don’t weaken!

Who would have thought it!

The Curious Case of the Unexpected Breakfast.

Let’s get the totally expected over and done with first.  Flying with Ryanair was, as Churchill almost said about the Russians, “a misery wrapped in depression inside humiliation.”

The seats were made of that sort of shiny plastic that you know only exists so that all known human stains can be wiped off in the eleven and a half minutes that Ryanair allows for the turnaround of the aircraft.

The spaces between the rows were so cramped that Tinkerbell would have had a bad back had she been forced to sit there.

To make matters incandescently worse a party of vivacious youngsters occupied about 25% of the space and 87% of the volume inside the aircraft.

There is nothing a teacher likes better at the start of his holiday than to find himself a calm (yet seething) centre of fixed immobility among the Brownian Motion of young people “seat-belted” on a low-cost airline.

As a result of the impossibly early start of the flight adolescent freneticism soon reached its drooping point and within an hour of take off the neophyte humans had assumed a variety of “crash positions” (made famous by the classic film “Airplane”) and had actually fallen asleep with limbs akimbo and heads at impossible angles.

The plane was totally full and our usual plan of dividing our forces and sitting at window and aisle, leaving the middle seat “free” but with an armed neutrality around it, totally failed and a “person” dared to sit there.  In the scheme of things we could have done worse, as the “person” was a reasonably petite woman – the sort of person who does not fight for the armrest.  Result.

But not much of one.  My aisle position, where I can at least stretch one leg in the hope that circulation there may stimulate circulation in the cramped other, was frustrated by the positive parade of clump footed passengers and Boudicca trolley wielding stewardesses who all attacked my extremities with reckless abandon.

Owing to particularly vindictive geography it appears that Barcelona (two and a half hours away from Bristol) is actually further away from Gran Canaria than Bristol is.  This is obviously Not Fair and I demand that pilots take the two rather than three dimensional route to my destinations.

By the time we Thank God touched down in Las Palmas I felt that a certain degree of adverse torque (not that I know what that is but it does describe my feelings exactly) had been applied to each and every bone and muscle in my body.

Then came the car hire.

It is a known fact, at least as far as I am concerned, that everyone else in the world is a twat.  I know this because every bloody queue that I join has one in front of me.  I was somewhat surprised to discover that this theory holds good for everyone else in the world as well.  I can’t help thinking that this must effect/affect my theory to some extent, ut it is still workable so I won’t worry too much.

Suffice to say that the pair of cretins in front of me asked a range of questions and had to have so many things explained in “Janet and John” language (in Spainish) that I wouldn’t have entrusted a Dinky toy to them let alone a car which works on the roads!

When they left I found out the full meaning of the phrase “additional charges may be applied at the point of hire” when £750 was actually taken out of my account because Visa Electron is a debit card and therefore the waiver cannot be held by Hertz car hire!  What a load of rubbish!

A Korean paterfamilias who pushed in to return his keys in the nicest and most polite way possible clearly did not believe anything that the Hertz man was saying about the “re-ferned” (sic) of his deposit– and who can blame him!

Starting a journey from the subterranean depths of a multi-storey car park is not the best way to get your GPS to cooperate and get you to your destination.  Mine sulked until we were well on our (unaided) way to the south of the island until she grudgingly told us to continue on the way we had already chosen.

When we finally arrived at our hotel there was not a free parking space to be seen.  We recklessly parked in a blue area and hoped for the best when we lurched into the hotel.

I had speculated that our room would not be ready as we were scheduled to turn up well before the magic time of mid-day.  I was duly proved right and we were told that our room would be ready at 1.30 pm approximately.

We were prepared for this and merely asked that our cases be guarded and we would walk, drink and eat until the time was right.

At this point the person who was checking us in was told by a female on the phone to ask us if we required breakfast as we still had time to catch the meal!

Not only did we eagerly agree that we did indeed want breakfast but we also were given a magic card to access the free parking of the hotel.

Breakfast was excellent and clearly stood in for lunch.  The blackout which occurred almost as soon as we sat down only delayed my cup of tea due to the professional approach of a waiter who also lavishly provided Cava when I said that would do instead!

When we had finished breakfast/lunch our room was magically ready and the sheer sensual luxury of a shower was a much more satisfying end to the meal than any cup of coffee!

We eventually walked through the extraordinary shopping-and-other-things centre that is next to our hotel and had a relaxing glass of beer in hot sunshine.

It is now gently raining.

Truly all human life is here!