Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Small room: small thoughts

Reading about the Age of Austerity of 1945 to 1954 in Great Britain for those who lived through part of it inevitably forces one’s memory back if not to all of that period (after all I wasn’t alive for some of it) at least as far back as early memories will go.  Specifically to the bathroom.

Which in our case we did not have. 

The kitchen doubled as the bathroom and the bath (in the kitchen) had a hinged cover which made it into a sort of breakfast and casual meal table. 

I can even remember having a bath in the sink!  And my especial delight at the end of the cleaning process was to have a measuring jug full of cold water poured over me!

These specific memories have been prompted not only by my reading but also by my attempting to rationalize the number of bottles and jars that I have on shelves in the bathroom.
What did I have when I was a small (!) kid in the bathroom?  Soap (Cussons?  Imperial Leather?  Lifebuoy?) a flannel; a nailbrush; a toothbrush and toothpaste (Gibbs SR?) – and that was it.  Shampoo?  Not always.  Toilet paper?  Not always and certainly not soft.

Yet now there is a positive array of soaps, unguents, oils and various other things littering the shelves.  And this is not counting four drawers of assorted stuff elsewhere in the bathroom.  On the principle of lightening the load of a 747 by emptying the ashtrays I pounced on something which seemed to be clearly sensible.

Concentrated mouthwash!

Ten drops and a splash of water and there is your oral hygiene.  Done.  One small 100 ml bottle sufficient for 50 odd mouthwashes.

The clever thing about this product is that when water is added the resulting mixture goes milky thereby indicating that something is happening.  And its taste is revolting – so it is clearly doing you good.

I remember my grandfather’s toothpaste was Euthymol a revolting pink sludge with a taste of how hospitals smelled.  My concentrated mouthwash is very much reminiscent of that: vile and it stings.  For a boy brought up on TCP, who could ask for more?

I have been loaned the admirably quirky titled book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  The original story was by Shaffer but, before publication she was too ill to make the changed suggested by her publisher and she entrusted the task to her niece Barrows to see it through.

The novel uses the old-fashioned and unfashionable technique of the epistolary style but, as is usual with those fictional correspondents who are not averse to writing lengthy letters, there is little disadvantage to be found.

The USP of the novel is its setting in immediate post war Guernsey and much of the action of the novel is concerned with the description of war time experiences.  There is a real experience of finding out something about a part of Britain which is much nearer France than England.

The love element reminded me of Bridget Jones and the whole tone of the story seems like an odd mixture of “Cold Comfort Farm” with “Goodbye to all that” and the literary references sometimes seem a little meretricious and self congratulatory, but the book itself is a charming and undemanding read spiced with interesting information.  A good beach read for the summer.

And the rain is falling steadily and has been since just before the end of school.  Not happy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time and time again!

Another glorious morning and I am stuck in school.  In many ways I feel this situation to be illegal and its essential wrongness never fails to taint my academic days – especially Mondays; and especially Mondays when I lose part of the first available free period!

Still, every day is a day nearer to freedom and there are precious few days left in this month and we have kidded ourselves that June is such a fiddly month with trips and classes cancelled and things going on that the 30 days will pass by like a mere nothing.  By such self-deluding means do we struggle towards the end of term.

Although I do my best not to admit this as a fact (so that it comes as a delightful surprise) I do know that the very end of term will be without the kids.  As far as I can work out the kids will be no more from the end of the 22nd of June which is one of those strange “fun” days which make you wish for easeful death.  Then, a few kid-free and role-play filled days and we depart to sun loungers long and drinks equally so, for our two months well-deserved rest!

I seem to be the only person worrying on a personal level about what next year might hold. 

I seem to have been the only person to enquire about wages for next year; I am the only one thinking about timetables for next year – not the detail but at least the classes and the number of lessons to be taught; I am the only one asking about holidays – as I do not intend to waste two weeks of vacation at Christmas again this year!  And so on.  All the things which seem so far in the distance at present but which have the capability of making or marring the terms ahead.

The final examination system starts with the start of the new month and teaching takes second place to the demands of finding out how much or how little has actually sunk into the little heads of our charges.  This is the final misery before we are finally allowed to slink off into the distance – but it is an extended misery with one or two of the notorious “meetings” which are the nearest that we come to the great Spanish tradition of the auto-da-fe where the torture becomes one of mental force rather than physical – though god knows its becomes physically demanding as well as I restrain myself from emulating Munch’s famous vision of alienation in the middle of the interminable chatter!

The arrangements are largely in place for our Chocolate Week where, from the 6th of June each member of the English Department will take it in turn to produce a chocolate confection to delight the Department and set the rest of our colleagues gnashing their collective teeth in a frenzy of chocolateless jealousy!

As soon as I buy some greaseproof paper I am good to go on the production of my recipe from The Week – British Brownies.

The Unthinkable has happened and Swansea have beaten Reading and are therefore in the Premiership next season.  And Cardiff are not.  One can only sympathise with Mista Kurtz and echo his cry of "The horror!  The horror!"

At least I have the safety of a foreign perspective!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Success and Reality


Funny old thing philosophy.  “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you” is obviously wrong – as witness all those unsuspecting motorists who receive one of those official looking envelopes containing a computer generated fine from a computer generated photo from a computer operated speed camera.

But in a development of the inconsequential thought about an unobserved tree falling over in a forest without sound; can one be really happy if one ignores those elements which could make you happy – even if you don’t know of those elements’ existence.

These thoughts have been prompted by travel broadening the mind.  In the hotel room in Gran Canaria the en suite shower had an illuminated shower head.  Who until then knew such things existed.  And once known: desired.

I suppose in the scale of things having an illuminated shower head does not rate that high, but my present shower head is too large for the fixture which keeps it at the right angle and it keeps falling down when the water pressure is turned off.  So I was forced to buy a new one and that one just happened to be an illuminated one.  I was therefore able to link necessity and increase my perceived happiness quotient.

So the price is irrelevant.  Isn’t it?  Yes. 
Though I have to admit that the change in colour in the new shower head is a little abrupt and not as subtle as the one in the hotel where one colour merged with the next, and I think the light was brighter.  You see – you find a source of new happiness and immediately the required level of satisfaction becomes higher as the detail of the new happiness is searched for areas of dissatisfaction.  There are the makings of a sermon somewhere in that lot!
The food was excellent; the game good and the result right.  

Barça now have two pieces of silverware with the possibility of more as they are now qualified to go for the Supercups in football.  For a football non-enthusiast like myself this means that the season is extended even further than it would be normally, creeping ever nearer to the start date of the next season.

The triumph of Barça was accompanied in our neighbourhood by exploding rockets, firecrackers, car horns, sirens and people shouting: an affirmation not only of football’s importance here, but also of the significance of Catalonia as a distinct part of Spain.  Football in this part of the world is, to rephrase Barça’s motto, “More than a sport!”
What a contrast with the way the sport is organized.  People can no longer have any confidence in the way that FIFA, for example, administers the game when 50% of the executive committee governing the game are accused of corruption and when, more particularly the two candidates for the presidency of FIFA have both been called before an “ethics” (now that is as startling an oxymoron as you are likely to find in the world of sport) committee.

FIFA, which is based in Switzerland because of the insanely flaccid corruption laws there, has been dogged by charges of corruption for years, but their arrogance bolstered by their seeming immunity from prosecution has seen them through most of the accusations.  The unreal world in which they live allowed them to announce the startling “winners” of the locations of the next two world cup competitions with the innocent expectation that the rest of the world would simply accept their fiat.
The first country that this contemptible organisation "chose" has a corruption rating of 2.1 out of a possible 10 putting it as the same level as some of the more unsavoury countries in Africa and Asia (UK – 7.6) which is presumably a case of like calling unto like.  

Their second "choice" of country was one where there is no real tradition of football but one which is awash with money, again a situation which is not unlike that of FIFA itself.  When was the last time that the smug movers and shakers of football actually kicked a ball themselves; but they are certainly near vast sums of money!

The truly astonishing thing about FIFA is that it actually believed that it could get away with such a self-seeking announcement.  They sincerely think that they are the Lords of their own particular Universe.
Well, one of those Lords, the architect of the successful “bid” (O how loaded seems that term now!) to bring the World Cup to Qatar has been forced – not to resign – but merely to withdraw his candidature for the presidency of FIFA.  This leaves the current President unopposed, as long as the ethics committee (to which he has been summoned) allows him to stand!

Even the most hard-nosed politician would by now have been “considering his position” when the organization of which he is head is, and has been, riddled with accusations (proven and pending) of such criminal gravity.

Sport is no longer a harmless pastime where bumbling amateurs can rub along together in an old boys’ network to ensure that things work out.  It is a multi-billion pound, multi-national employer with political, social and above all economic implications.

We have ministers for sport: it is time that they united and demanded more transparency and a root and branch change in the administration of the “nice little earner” by the shady characters who run it at the moment.

And the first trophy should be the head of Blatter.  Followed by the rest of his cronies.  For FIFA and the rest it is well past the “Salt Lake City Moment” when even the Olympic Games cleaned up its image a little.

I live in hope!

But – there is a far more important consideration in Sport which is much more immediate than that confined to the rarefied upper levels of sports administration.
Cardiff City lost against Reading and that means that Reading go on to the Play-Off Finals to decide which team goes up to the Premiership.  Cardiff losing is bad, but Reading’s opponents in the final make it not bad but potentially catastrophic. 

Their opponents will be Swansea City!

As someone who went to University in Swansea I have many pleasant memories of the place, but my home was in The Capital City of Wales - Cardiff.  To have Swansea as the sole Welsh team in the Premiership with Cardiff languishing in the lower divisions is something which cannot be countenanced with anything approaching equanimity.

Although I do not condone petty squabbles between football teams, I would merely say that the population of Cardiff (with the exception of foreigners from West Wales who have sneaked into the city) wishes Reading well in their forthcoming final!

Just to end.  

Have you heard . . .

Cardiff City are releasing a new drink called "Play Offs"... Not sure about the taste but they've been bottling it for years.

Apparently they had play off final cakes made to give out at full time but they crumbled...

How does a Cardiff fan celebrate a Play Off win? He turns off his xbox and goes to bed.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend musings

Well, if you look for it you can find some blue in the overcast sky, but it is not what I would call the predominant colour and everything looks a little weary: it’s amazing how lifeless colours can be in early morning gloom!

However, there is a Toni’s Mum’s fideua to look forward to for lunch; some time to read during the afternoon; what might be a momentous (at least in Barça football terms) match, and gambas a la plancha for dinner.  With any luck a fine day tomorrow to laze on the Third Floor.  What weekends should be.

I am already, as is my wont, worrying about what next year might hold.  I have been assured by the bursar that our wages will not be cut – which in the present circumstances is something to be thankful for as other teachers have had a government imposed 5% cut in their wages linked to a two or three year pay freeze.  Our wages for the academic year 2011-2012 will be the same as for 2009 so we will have a year-on-year pay cut of the cost of inflation plus the annual wage increase.  One could see the refusal of our school to pass on the government cut as merely the transfer of the annual wage increase: the school, in effect, loses nothing while we . . .

I have been trying to work out what sort of timetable I will have next year.  At present I teach 24 (!) periods a week:
1ESO         5
3ESO         5
Media Studies   2
Current Affairs 2
Language Arts  4
2BXT         4
Modern Art       2

I am likely to have 1ESO; 3ESO; Media Studies; Language Arts; Current Affairs; Modern Art again next year – this leaves a possible 4 or 5 periods to be added.  A member of staff who has been away for a year on maternity leave will reappear next year and I will be interested to see what she takes up again.  She taught Drama (which I have no interest in doing if it means putting on productions for the public) and Media Studies for which she designed a course; she could take those and I would be left with god knows what.

I am preparing myself to reject what I would consider an unreasonable workload.  During times of crisis there is pressure on members of staff to accept anything because “at least you have a job” – that is not a dictum that is going to carry any weight at all with me.  But, as usual, I should wait and see what the reality is before painting luridly horrific pictures of what might be.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof: though it may not be until the first day of the new academic year that I actually find out what exactly I am expected to teach.

Meanwhile the pound has improved slightly, but only because of the chaos which is facing the Eurozone with the economy and governmental administration of Greece not even achieving the status of “laughable” and the rest of the PIGS’ economies being in almost equally parlous states and therefore threatening the continuation of the Euro as a viable currency for all the member states in the EU who joined the Eurozone.

In our little town (Crisis?  What Crisis?) there has been a lurch to the right on the basis, presumably, that a party like PP (riddled with corruption) will try its best to preserve the wealth of those who already have it and want to keep it.

The Socialist (!) alternative is equally questionable and has shown itself to be shockingly inept in the way it has governed.  The political future in this country is anything but bright!

I do feel a bit of a fraud as I sit here typing this, while the gentle breeze makes the palm tree I can see from my window sway causing its shadow to dance on the surface of our swimming pool: it’s a hard old life!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another week done!

A gloomy start to the day but, on the other hand, the depressing weather seemed to have a calming effect on the drivers so that there was only one near accident on the motorway to school today.

The first outing for the Swiss Army Briefcase which, so far, has excited no comment whatever.  But, there again, what sort of saddo actually takes notice of a colleague’s school case?  The answer to that is perhaps best left unsaid!

Or it might be a colleague sitting next to you and one on an opposite table.  On being asked if I got it from El Corte Ingles I replied in the affirmative and to the question of whether I had paid a lot, I put on an enigmatic smile.  €50 might sound a lot for a school case, but it hardly matches the extravagant amount of money lavished on The Machine, so I am prepared for my colleagues to think their most spendthrift thoughts about my Maecenean capabilities.  Or possibly I am thinking of another classical rich guy like Lepidus.  Or not.

I have now lost another free period so that means that I have lost all (all) the “free” periods that I was set to gain from the disappearance of the upper sixth form.  So it goes.

After school preparations for The Game have to be started as tomorrow we are going to have a barbecue before The Game kicks off.  I will have to drug myself to be able to take the general level of hysteria that will be augmented by the screams of young boys as the game progresses.

I have not yet worked out a game plan for what to do or offer by way of compensation in the unthinkable event of a defeat of Barça. 

My panacea is Cava and I pour scorn on those who are not invigorated by the inhalation of those exploding bubbles and the ingestion of that vital grape juice!  Well, if nothing else, it will give me the opportunity to drink with impunity!

I have now read “In Flight Science” or rather I should say that it read itself.  It is a masterpiece of clarity and is science writing without pretention and aimed primarily at an easily distracted general readership: big writing, well spaced with pictures and anecdotal illustrations.  In some ways reading this was like a Chinese meal: enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying in the sense that you want more – which is surely the aim of books like this.  A success!

The television is full of The Game tomorrow with speculation, analysis and atmospheric pictures direct from a deserted outer London suburb! 

Although I am looking forward to The Game (and more especially the food which will be prepared to make the day go better) I will not be sad when the season is finally over.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buying therapy


The risible lunacy on the roads is becoming more marked as the weather warms up.  I will not elaborate on the numerous suicidal manoeuvres that enlivened by journey to work; suffice to say that my intake of breath was sharp on a number of occasions.  Driving along the motorway sometimes feels like you are a part of driving display team whose members have just met for the first time and are doing a little improvisation based loosely on a shared death wish!

Actually arriving at the school and having to cope with the merely breathtakingly inconsiderate stopping, parking and driving off of parents as they deposit their children in our care is a positive relief from the imminent slaughter on the main roads!

Our first lesson was broken up by the clothing police coming around to check on the suitability of the scanty wear of the female pupils.  Certain pupils were taken out of class to an accompaniment of barely concealed hysteria and delight at the interruption.  Bringing pupils back to normality after something as exciting as indecent exposure is difficult to the point of impossibility – especially as the class in question is one not noted for its maturity.  To put it mildly.  Just how to start the day!

I am getting more and more frustrated with the broken zip in my school bag.  I have hunted around at home and discovered that I have no other to take its place!  I find this difficult to believe, but I seem to remember giving one away.  Such shortsighted altruism!

I did “pop in” to El Corte Ingles and was duly horrified at the price that is being asked for some very ordinary looking cases.  I did, however see one which is made by the Swiss Army Knife people.  I rather like the idea of having a bag made by such unlikely manufacturers.

By an effort of will which continues to astonish me, I actually left the store without buying anything. 

In a further astonishing act of consumer denial I went to a common supermarket and looked in one of the adjacent shops at low priced alternatives. 

The supermarket only offered a large case on wheels, so I am tempted to go back to El Corte Ingles and have another look at the Swiss Army Briefcase and if I can’t bring myself to buy an overpriced piece of office luggage with a little Swiss logo, then I will go downmarket and buy something which will probably have a half life of a few months.  And then I will have to buy another which would indicate that buying cheap is false economy so I ought to buy Swiss now.  I do like logic linked to spending!

It took me just over an hour to decide which of the briefcases to buy.  In fact, to be exact, I didn’t really buy a briefcase; I bought a computer case.

I don’t really see how I can be held responsible for a purchase when the zips have a little white cross on a circle of red on them.
To be absolutely truthful the new case is not exactly what I wanted.  Just as with my ideal watches I do have a list of requirements for my ideal case: double zippers (if that is what you call two zip heads on one zipper); a small zippered section on the front for keys; a section for papers; a padded section for a computer; rugged construction; little pockets and thingies for things; an overall look of subdued opulence.

Well I got most of what I wanted.  It was very, very difficult rejecting more expensive cases than the one I eventually bought.  This is a disturbing tendency which I will assiduously attempt to reverse when I next assay a purchase!

As I suppose is natural, the contents of the old briefcase will not fit into the new one.  The major problem, as I have always found is what I used to call a “pencil case” but which is now apparently called an “accessory case” – but it looks just the same and it doesn’t fit in the same way that these “cases” never do when you have all your bits and pieces in place in the briefcase.

Dinner this evening was in a second choice restaurant with first class food.  We decided to have three tapas: patatas bravas; pinchos, and anchovies in light batter – looking like large white bait.  The wine was superb (the waiter virtually refused to give us gaseosa saying that the wine could not be diluted as it was too good) and, as usual, I had forgotten my phone to take a photograph of the label!

The waiter was someone we knew from the restaurant at the end of the road on the beach and he offered us a glass of Cava which was from the same house as the red wine: delicious.  The name was Castelo de Pedregosa and it is a label that I shall look out for, especially in Cava!
The excellent meal for two of us was €29 – a real bargain.

And tomorrow is Friday.  Life is sometimes, well, satisfactory!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Over and above!

Horror of horrors!  I came into school for an early start and then realized that it was a normal start, but an early finish!  It was Wednesday not Thursday.  I actually did some marking before 8.00 am before I realized that I didn’t need to be here!

It will take me the whole of the day to recover from such an excess of grovelling professionalism.  I have had to have a medicinal cup of tea to take away the sting of giving extra to an institution that doesn’t pay for what it gets anyway.

I am in the staff room of building 4 which seems to amplify the voices of naturally loud speaking Spaniards and I have resorted to I-tunes to escape from the incessant chatter.  Incessant chatter, I might add, about school and the pupils.  One can have too much of a “good thing” and wall-to-wall education is a little wearing.

I would much rather talk about the proposed Chocolate Week where each member of the English Department makes some sort of chocolate confection on an appointed day to be shared with all the other members of the Department than discuss the limited progress of some pampered madam in the 3ESO

Meanwhile extracts from Khovanshchina fill my ears.  This is music which I first discovered as a result of my mother going to Bristol for a day’s shopping and coming back with a present for me of a Music for Pleasure LP with a splendid cover of a detail of one of the more apocalyptic paintings of Hieronomous Bosch MFP+2049+-+640.jpg
and the record itself filled with famous and not so famous (as I thought then) music of Mussorgsky.  There was one piece where you could distinctly hear a music stand fall over and in subsequent performances of the same thing I missed (and still do) the satisfying clunk from the disc that introduced the music to me!

The other notable example of extraneous sounds on a disc that I used (ah, where are all my LPs now!) to own was the Heifetz String Quartet where there was the distant sound of flocks of birds and the explanation on the record cover which stated that they tried everything to get rid of the birds from the environs of the hall where they were recording and failed, but felt that the performances were worth listening to even with the birds – and they were right!

I also enjoyed a disc (mfp) of the Concierto de Aranjuez where as the music faded in one of the movements you could hear the soloist/conductor humming the melody.  In string quartets it is almost mandatory for the first violin to draw in a huge, audible, nasal, hoover-like breath before the start of one of the more taxing fiddle passages.

I have never owned discs of the grandfather of extraneous noise Glenn Gould – but I am sure that I could get to like his interposed grunts, groans and hums!

I suppose I ought to say that there is something sterile about the perfect recordings that we now get devoid of hiss, scratches and duff notes – but I love them.  One only has to listen to some of the re-mastered AAD discs to remember the bad old days of poor reproduction to turn to DDD with relief and delight.

I do miss some of my LPs, but rather in the way that I miss my old Grays wooden badminton racquet: they were fine at the time but technology moves on and the Kelvar racquets I played with eventually were immeasurably superior to the heavy old wooden clubs that I used to use!  So with CDs performances are much cleaner and easier to listen to than the performances on LPs.

Some of my favourite LPs did not make it to a CD release and those I do miss: especially one LP which was a compilation of music by Gluck and Grétry.  This selection of music was so insanely jolly that I used to play it continuously when I had to pack up in University before the vacations.  Packing was, is and ever will be anathema to me and I miss the music which helped me get through those dark afternoons of the soul that packing produced!

As I recall the front cover had a line drawing by some artist like Tiepolo or similar.  If anyone knows of it do contact me.  A drug more powerful that aspirin that can be taken aurally!
I underestimated the power of the Internet.  I found the cover!  The recording I am looking for is Gluck and Grétry – Ballet Suites, played by the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Robert Irving and first issued on Ace of Clubs.  Amazon does not come up trumps with information about a current recording.  But at least I have something to go on now! 

Someone somewhere will have transferred this recording into a digital form – all I have to do is now find that person.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Amazon Saves!


Preparations have been made for The Clash between the Blaugrana and the Reds.  A barbecue has been decreed and I am determined to get in (“augment” would be a more accurate word) stocks of Cava to celebrate what would be a most notable win in a season which has had its ups and downs.

It is very difficult for an outsider to take the bone deep hatred that exists between Barça and Real Madrid seriously.  Reasoned discussion is impossible when referring to the games between the two and any non-partisan approach is seen as traitorous by one side or the other.  I have learned to keep my disinterested thoughts about the progress of any game severely to myself!
Wembley has a certain nostalgic magic to it for Barça fans, as it was in that stadium that they won their first Champions Cup.  I myself have traipsed round the shuttered wreck of the old stadium building in the company of a Catalan as an act of homage to the sacred turf!  I did, admittedly, feel like a total fraud during this circumnavigation and was heard to mutter imprecations to the gods about the futility of the walk, but I was firmly ignored and eventually accepted my pilgrim state with good grace!  At least it wasn’t as demanding (and demeaning) as the Camino Santiago which seems to attract such jolly, sincere and dedicated walkers who positively welcome the privations that such a pilgrimage demands.

Talking of dedication I have finally posted the application for tickets for the opera for the next season.  A great chunk of money will be invested in some fairly obscure musical works in the next academic year.  I do have membership of the Caixa Forum in Barcelona which has (I hope) an extensive collection of CDs which are borrowable and which will I hope allow me to do my musical homework so that the odder operas do not strike my ears for the first time when I am sitting in my pricey seat!

In previous years I have used the new operas as an excuse to purchase CDs of the operas, but I am determined to be a little more sensible this year; after all how often would you sit down and listen to a Donizetti opera in cold blood?  Borrowing is a much more sensible solution.

There are some Catalan composers in the list as well and I am assuming that La Caixa will have made a real effort to include those in its collection.  As you can tell, I am building myself up to a pose of outraged disappointment, as I am frustrated in my financially conservative approach!

The hunt is on for a comparable gastronomic meal in Barcelona and area to compete with The Crown at Whitebrook.  The flying saucer in Hospitalet designed by Richard Rogers tops the Hesperia Tower and contains under its domed crystal roof a restaurant which has a taster menu which looks promising – I have always wanted to try sea urchin and sea cucumber, so this is my chance!  At least it is worth considering - and it is gratifyingly expensive!

My arriving home was to discover a wealth of goodies: two copies of The Week (my newspaper drug of choice) together with the copy of The Collected Poems of John Betjeman ordered through Amazon second hand in an edition from 1968 and unopened.  In 1968 it cost 7s 6d, seven and six, 7/6 – what a trip down memory lane writing those sums of money out was!  I have just opened the book at random and found a passage where Betjeman rhymes “Wembley” with “trembly” and that somehow sums up his work: twee but engaging.
The major book waiting for me was “Austerity Britain 1945-1951” by David Kynaston.  I have only read a couple of pages and I have found that the use of voices from the past very evocative.  The opening of the second chapter deserves to be quoted at length, so I will:

         Britain in 1945.  No supermarkets, no motorways no teabags, no sliced break, no frozen food, no flavoured crisps, no lager, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no Formica, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobiles, no duvets, no Pill, no trainers, no hoodies, no Starbucks.  Four Indian restaurants.  Shops on every corner, pubs on every corner, cinemas in ever High street, red telephone boxes, Lyons Corner Houses, trams, trolley-buses, steam trains.  Woodbines, Craven ‘A’, Senior Service, smoke, smog, Vapex inhalant.  No laundrettes, no automatic washing machines, wash day every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board, rinsed in the sink, put through a mangle, hung out to dry.  Central heating rare, coke boilers, water geysers the coal fire, the hearth, the home, chilblains common.  Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal.  White faces everywhere.  Back-to-backs, narrow cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, no high-rises.  Arterial roads, suburban semis the march of the pylon.  Austin Sevens Ford Eights, no seat belts, Triumph motorcycles with sidecars.  A Bakelite wireless in the home, Housewives’ Choice or Workers’ Playtime or ITMA on the air, televisions almost unknown, no programmes to watch, the family eating together.  Milk of Magnesia, Vic Vapour Rub, Friar’s Balsam, Fynnon Salts, Eno’s, Germolene.  Suits and hats, dresses and hats, cloth caps and mufflers, no leisurewear, no ‘teenagers’.  Heavy coins, heavy shoes, heavy suitcases, heavy tweed coats, heavy leather footballs, no unbearable lightness of being. Meat rationed, butter rationed, lard rationed, margarine rationed, sugar rationed, tea rationed, cheese rationed, jam rationed, eggs rationed, sweets rationed, soap rationed, clothes rationed.  Make do and mend.

This is something approaching a prose poem to a lost time that could have been written by Dylan Thomas: he discovered the magic of listing the mundane to create powerful effects.  I think that the passage I have quoted is superb.  The only thing I question is Vapex inhalant, my family only used Vic.  And I still do.  And he should have mentioned TCP and Savlon – or am I giving these products an age they do not deserve?

Not only all these delights, but also the latest issue of the BBC Music Magazine with the disc containing The Firebird and Tarmara played by the Scottish and Welsh BBC orchestras.

I still remember the first time I heard The Firebird in a free lunchtime concert in the City Hall Assembly Rooms played by whatever the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was calling itself in those distant days before I went to university.  They were nothing like as accomplished as they are today and I remember a performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony when I would quite cheerfully have terminated the horn players with extreme prejudice.  But what they lacked in subtlety they more than made up for in volume.  So the triple fortissimo chord in The Firebird was played with gusto and the entire audience jerked backwards as if physically smitten!

I went out and bought the mfp record at once – and was duly disappointed by the lack of oomph! at the chord moment.  And have been in every subsequent performance I have heard.  But I live in hope!

Reading and listening for the weekend is sorted out as long as I can restrain myself until then!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plus ça change

We wake up this morning to a very different political situation in Spain with the “Socialist” party having suffered a swingeing defeat at the hands of an electorate which desired to inflict punishment on the ruling party for the financial crisis and the catastrophically high rate of unemployment.  They have voted, however, for PP – a party even more mired in corruption than most of the others.  This PP is a right wing party and its leader is a modern day Pontius Pilate washing his hands as each question about corruption by droves of his Hench people in power up and down Spain.

God knows the “Socialist” party is hardly clean, but I look towards Rajoy as leader of this country with undisguised horror – though one has to admit that his eyebrows are less startling than those of the present incumbent!


The (illegal) demonstrations continue in the major squares of Madrid and Barcelona and, while I appreciate the genuine feeling of those people who are faced with a future without work, there is little sense of a coherent policy to ameliorate the situation.  Opposition is healthy, but what do protesters actually want – apart from the wholly understandable desire to have the dignity of employment and at least a partially assured future in difficult times.

The municipal election results are a clear indication that next year in the general election there will be a change of government.  PP is not friend of the working person but that never stops turkeys voting for Christmas - and providing the trimmings too!

If Toni stays in Terrassa today then I have plans for the house.  There is something about tidying which is intensely satisfying – if only periodically in my case.

The Third Floor is a case in point.  The Terrace is clear apart from the essentials of loungers, table, chairs and small fridge.  The room into which one departs from the delights of the worshipping of the Aten resembles an almost comically chaotic jumble of hi-tec and low rubbish.  Not actual rubbish you understand, but the flotsam which bobs its way upward in a house until it reaches the top floor.  In British houses this would be the attic, but in our Torre this means the open space on the Third Floor.  There is a cupboard under the eaves, but that is so full that merely opening the doors precipitates an avalanche of biblical proportions!

My excitement this evening after school is to deviate from my homeward course and go, with perfect justification, into a shop.

My shopping soul yearns, of course, for shops in which little blue lights twinkle seductively and brushed metal jostles for place with shiny carapaces of multi-coloured plastic: in other words an electrical shop of useful gadgets.

Such is not, unfortunately, my prime destination.  No, in a manner which is wholly foreign to my innate electronic yearnings I am set to buy a mop.

Having destroyed my hi-tec automatic bleach dispenser type cleaning stick and broken the squeezy part of the bucket and emptied the contents all over the floor – and all of that was within five minutes of starting to clean the bathroom – I now boldly venture forth to purchase the most complex mob and bucket I can find.  I fear that I am destined to an arid search, but the hypermarket I intent to patronize has other and far more interesting sections than mere surface sanitizers.

I do not intend that the purchase of some fluffy ended stick is going to change the attitude I have towards cleaning – which is always one of self-defence.  But I am inclined to contemplate a new regime of tidiness.  This does not mean that all magazines from henceforth will be squared off to the edge of any table that they might be on.  No.  What I do contemplate is a step towards the long delayed sorting out of my library.  There is, at the moment, an unsettling insufficiency of shelf space for the double-stacked nature of some of my bookcases to revert to normality.  It therefore follows that some of the space given over to other things will have to be liberated in the name of culture.

This is where the shredder comes in.  Boxes full of papers look very official and business-like, but they take up valuable shelf space.  When the papers inside are seen to be relating to a past life which no longer needs official documentation then their destruction negate their container and each document box is the equivalent of three of four substantial paperbacks.  The true instigation of the fabled “paperless office” would ensure that all my books would be on open display.  The theory is sound.  What more can I say.

I did buy a mop.  I really did.  And it was on special offer.  Domestic duties can go no further.  Well, I suppose there is the using of the damn thing – but I consider that a domestic affectation too far.

Needless to say the mop was not the first, second, third or even fourth thing that I bought, no indeed.  A small but elegant portable CD player; numerous batteries; metallic looking plastic cutlery; small plastic olive dishes; plastic cocktail forks (no, I don’t know what they are for either, but they were simply too cute not to buy); a plastic shower curtain which matches the splash-back – just the normal things you would expect to buy before purchasing a mop in fact.

Examination overload is threatening to overwhelm with external and internal examinations crashing together in a cataclysm of frantic posturing.  We also have the endless meetings to anticipate with boredom so crushing that it is positively palpable. 

But the end, please god, is almost in sight.  At least of this month.  And that is something.  Not much.  But something.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Some things you should never start

How difficult is it to clean a bathroom?  I mean it is small and make up of tiles.  All you need is a good mop and a healthy dash of bleach and you are away.

This is the theory, but my cleaning also incorporated an element of re-arrangement.    And that was disaster.

Suffice to say that the flood which ensued was not really my fault and anyway it was contained in the bathroom and did not spread to the bedroom.  And the floor is unusually clean now. 

My reading of early Forster continues and, with the listening to John Betjeman’s engaging poetry with a musical background by Jim Parker I feel as if I have been transported to another rather distant age where people say the word “off” with more vowels than I would have thought possible to articulate!  Does the word “tripthong” exist I wonder?  If it does then certain words of Sir John certainly give graphic examples for consideration.

With Toni away in Terrassa celebrating, if that is the right word, the First Communion of some poor child sucked into the unscrupulous theological abuse for which the Roman Church is famous.  And that last sentence gives you some idea of why I am in Castelldefels and not joining in the familial jollifications!
I think that I might have reached my FLOB or final level of brownness, beyond which no amount of sun worship will deepen the hue.  The next stage in my adherence to unthinking discipleship of the sun will probably result in the flesh curling away from the bones!

I am frankly unhappy with my shade as I have clear memories of what three weeks in Greece did for me.  There is a photograph, somewhere, of my lounging on the stage set of “Tristan and Isolde” in The New Theatre (for reasons which now escape me) which would have allowed me to say, “Mislike me not for my complexion” with some degree of aptness.    Those days of chocolate darkness seem to have become a thing of the past, though my present colour is much more profound than that of my Catalan colleagues!

And yes, I do know about skin cancer.

Early start tomorrow, but the days are drifting inexorably away towards June and the laxity of endings.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


There is nothing more delightful when hearing about grey skies and the threat of miserable drizzle than lying out on the Third floor under a flawless blue sun-filled sky in a different city!

I woke relatively early and took my breakfast on the Third Floor and contemplated a swim.  Which in short order, allowing a reasonable amount of time for the muesli to settle, I did.  There is nothing more guaranteed to give a feeling of smug self-satisfaction than a swim taken early.  It allows one the luxury of extending haughty condescension to the sluggish majority of population still abed.  And muesli does taste better when eaten in the open air!

A few swims later it was time for lunch.  Which was taken in a pretentious little restaurant on the main road.  I was the only person in the place, but the warning never to frequent empty restaurants was not applicable to this one.  The meal was excellent: a small taster of gazpacho, then a first course of green beans and potatoes – simple but excellent.  The main course was carpaccio of bonito with a small leaf salad – light but tasty.  The sweet was fruit soup with chunks of watermelon.  A delight of a meal.

I have started reading “Abinger Harvest” by E M Forster.  This is the sort of book bought as a good idea which can lurk unnoticed on well-stocked shelves for years – as indeed this one has done – until, for reasons not clear, even to me, it comes to hand and stays there.

The book is a series of reviews, essays and fugitive poems that read very much as if they come from another age.  I think that it is the liberal fastidious tone of the writing which ages it, as much as the innocently naïf grudging acceptance of communism as a doctrine with a possible theory for a positive future.

The writing is facile in the best sense and it wears its learning lightly but there is always a sense in which Forster is speaking to his intellectual and social class, he is not inclusive – to put it mildly.  They are almost indecently moreish and I put the book down (to have a swim) reluctantly, but the sun was disappearing from the pool and there is a limit to human endurance!

The sun is setting and I still have not attempted the Opera request for the next season.  There is still time.  Just.

So much lying around all day has left me exhausted and longing for bed.

To which I think that I will go.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Almost there!

The only blemish on a delightful day is, of course, the teaching which intrudes yet again on time which should be spent in the pool or on the Third Floor with a good book to hand.

As a second best my teaching load, for various reasons, is not unbearable today and, to cap it all, the last lesson I teach is consumed by a film in our very own auditorium and then it is my early finish.  All in all not a day to resent too much, though the weather looks unstable and I will spend my time on the hill looking fretfully towards the sea and hoping that the reasonable weather continues so that I can throw myself in the pool without too much of a calorific shock to my system.

My Amazon compulsion has not yet managed to get me my next book, but this may be a good thing, as it will not distract me from the gargantuan task of filling in the form for the opera.  There are a few other administration related tasks which I have been putting off which can also benefit from my undivided attention this weekend.
This Sunday is one of those family events with which I have little sympathy: a first communion for a young girl in the Roman rite.  Luckily I can’t go to this ceremony or the related jolifications and, speaking as an Anglican Atheist I can feel all my Low Church upbringing revolting from the enslavement of a young soul to the tawdry blandishment of the so-called church of the Whore of the Seven Hills.  But enough of balanced commentary!

An unprejudiced view of my shower curtain would seem to suggest that far from being a mere scrap of IKEA’s best, it is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest – indeed there are some SSSIs which have far less flora and fauna than the folds of my curtain.

As a “kill-or-cure” approach to the item I have bought a “trust in pink” container of cleaning granules to try and get rid of those stubborn stains which mere boiling doesn’t touch.

I was going to use the tried and test form of long soaking as my approach to the problem when I discovered that we have no bucket.
This is astonishing.  What is life without a bucket!  How can normal life go on in all its complexity without a bucket?

This situation will be rectified today!  Never let it be said that such anomalies can be tolerated in a civilized society.

I have at last started to listen to Sir John on The Machine after downloading the CDs into the memory but tragedy; the voice track seems strangely muted and totally unsatisfactory.  I am obviously doing something wrong somewhere along the line, but I’m buggered if I know where.  Surely it can’t be something added to the CD to make sure that they are not properly loaded up on a computer in iTunes.  Surely not!  That would be too cruel.  This is something about which I will have to take advice from Those Who Understand These Things – or “kids” as they are sometimes known.

For reasons which have been largely unexplained one of the buildings of the school has been without electricity all day.  Did we close the school?  Did we buggery! 

The only concession to the fact that nothing was working properly was that we had a procession of waifs from one building trudging to the oldest building in the school (which still had electricity) to get their fixes of coffee – poor addicts. 

How different are these wretches from we tea drinkers.  They are slaves to their beverage whereas we imbibe, sip and appreciate the bouquet of the most delicate of brews.  And we can give up whenever we want to, but we choose not to stop drinking he most sophisticated drink in the world.  So there.

My sole occupancy of the pool has now been shattered by the appearance of a strident group of women (one of whom in my myopic state I took to be a man in a bikini) with a small naked child. 

At least they had the good grace to confine themselves to the shallow end pool for the proto-humans allowing me to complete my leisurely circuits of the pool until they started smoking at which point I huffed myself away from them all.

Now, as the traditional start to the weekend, out to dinner.