Saturday, July 30, 2011

As part of the RT of L the man who was supposed to be coming to repair the wayward toilet arrived in his little white van and immediately departed without doing anything - without even knocking!  I meanwhile went to the bank to get some money to pay him and found that my bankbook didn’t work.

In Spain you have a bankbook for your current account in the same way that you sometimes were issued with a book for a deposit in a building society in the UK.  This book you feed into the Hole in the Wall and eventually you get your money with the transaction printed in your book.
As it didn’t work I had to go into the branch and wait in line.  The people in front of me invariably seem to be settling the monetary affairs of a small country and take up an inordinate time – of course any time spent in an activity as mundane as getting money is intolerable.  However I bided my time in simmering resentment and then found out that the incompetent cretin who had issued my new book had failed to input the account information onto the magnetic strip.

That done, I could go outside and wait in another queue for the Hole in the Wall to become available.  To those who ask why I didn’t get the money from the clerk behind the desk I would reply it is better to wait and see that the thing works than assume (as I did previously) that everything would be fine.

As was inevitable the person in front of me looked not only as though he had never used one of these machines before, but also that he had only recently learned how to read.  He did what I hate in particular: he took his book out of the machine and then re-inserted it.  Having done that he adopted a meditative pose whenever the screen changed as if philosophically considering each of the excitingly different opportunities offered before making his choice.

When he finally emerged (to a look of frozen hatred from me) he sensibly avoided eye contact and the next person in line scuttled in.

As this person laboriously got down to business, the young manager who let me in after hours to purchase bonds in the bank, looked as though he wanted to push in with a lady client.  There was not a single hope in hell of that happening but I engaged in the usual talk about the weather that passes for conversation in these parts.  As it is overcast today there was much talk of the lack of sun and I was treated to an extended monthly analysis of climatic conditions in Catalonia.  Luckily the last person vacated the Hole in the Wall booth and I managed to escape and complete my business in a matter of seconds and make my escape.

The “ten minutes” that the plumber gave as his ETA is now 70 minutes awry and counting!  Ah, the delights of living in Spain.  Though, to be fair, I seem to remember much the same happening in the UK.  There should be a reprint of the  I-spy book of Waiting for Workmen (price 6d) to give us something to do in those periods of quiescence when nothing is happening – and aggressively so!

The plumber now seems unable to come at all after spinning an unconvincing story about why he did not call in or let us know that he would be late.  I really and truly do not know what the estate agents do for their money because they certainly do nothing for their clients!

Our disgust with our agents took us to the parade of shops where we used to live and a lively and competent young man assured us that we would have a plumber on Monday.  He had honest looking eyes (surely rare amongst plumbers!) and we were prepared to believe him on the rebound as it were from the inefficiency of the agent.

As we were in the area and as it was almost lunchtime (when isn’t it) Toni wanted to sample one of the tapas from the Ruta de las tapas in Castelldefels that I tried last night.  It was as good the second time around and the glass of Cava which accompanied it for me was surely a sign of sophistication and maturity.

Lunch today, however was in the restaurant in which Irene and I ended up last night.  I liked the food and the ambience and wanted to see what a full meal was like.

My selection of risotto with mushrooms topped by a pungent cheese, followed by cod with garlic mousse and potatoes and ending up with a cheesecake was an excellent meal.  The wine was also surprisingly good but the price at €14 was a little steep.

As we were eating I noticed that one of the restaurants on the other side of the road had changed owners and had a name that was vaguely familiar.  Consulting my Ruta de las tapas map I saw that this was another venue yet to be ticked off so when we had finished the meal we went over to investigate.

As we approached the menu we were greeted by the owner who was someone we knew from a Basque restaurant in town which had closed down.  We were delighted to see that he was still in business and he invited us to have a cup of coffee and look at the menu properly.  This is a place to patronize in the future, as the menu is reasonably priced and reasonably extensive.

On a much more melancholy note I have started the winnowing of the books.  I have reasoned that all the Cole notes and York notes and assorted critical texts will not be needed and can be the first casualties in the Grand Reckoning.

I can say no more.  The pathetic piles of rejected books are monolithic monuments of reproach.

I have not actually got rid of them yet.


The Pathetic Fallacy has swung into operation today, Saturday, as if in sympathy with the criminal attitude to books that the lonesome piles indicate the rain is falling.  The heavens themselves are crying over the desecration of reading matter that is being planned.

Who am I to fight against the clear indication of sorrow at the intended action of book destruction!

The weather is performing flip-flops: after an afternoon of brilliant sunshine we have now had thunder and lightning and torrential rain.  And The Visitors are immanent!
I am steadily adding tapas to my total in the Ruta de las Tapas, with one which is now second from bottom of my list of likes and another which is near the top – and I still haven’t reached double figures.  It is rapidly becoming addictive!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Roll on the weekend

Coloring page Castanet

Before the performance of Carmen last night we three (one colleague, a friend from Sitges and me) went for a snack in a Basque pinchos bar near Santa Maria del Pi.  As this place is just off the Ramblas and near the Liceu it is a tourist haunt and therefore the “trust” that usually obtains in such places has been modified. 

The usual form is for punters to wend their way along a counter filled with plates of different pinchos, choose what they want and then, at the end of the meal have the waiter count up the number of sticks used to keep the good stuff on the bread and compute the bill.  As this was a bar only some of the pinchos were available for customer selection the other were kept behind glass and were available on request.

We were also told what to do which, as experienced pinchos eaters, we found a little de trop - with the other two speaking in complicated Spanish to reinforce the point!

There were delicious and washed down with Basque wine more than acceptable.

When we came out of the performance after 11 pm the Ramblas was heaving with people the vast majority of who were foreigners.  This mass of people must be a pickpocket’s delight and I walk down the Ramblas like some sort of soi-disant sheriff with both thumbs hooked securely into my pockets thereby ensuring the safety of wallet and other valuables – though leaving my mobile phone in my shirt pocket woefully vulnerable!

Yesterday it did rain for part of the day but today is gloriously sunny which is, of course good, but does encourage the children in the area to indulge in play which necessitates communication which isn’t allowed to fall below the level of scream!

Yesterday was also the taking back of the faulty but expensive luggage.  Having parked in the underground car park of El Corte Ingles in Cornella I took out the offending piece of luggage with a flourish and the handle (the offending item) worked immaculately.  Having used modified brute force on the handle in the UK and more selective violence in Spain I was, at least touched by the irony of the situation.

Not one to waste a parking space we walked into El Corte Ingles as I wanted opera glasses and a wallet.  The former want was only satisfied in Barcelona itself and the latter has been a problem for some time.

I have to carry not only by driving licence with me but also my NIE which is my official identity card in Spain.  This is not actually anything as sensible as a plastic credit card sized document but is rather a full sized A4 page with my official residential identification number on it.  This can be asked for at any time and it is always advisable to carry it.

The two documents together are bulky as my driving license was issued in 1967 and (although repaired) looks like some sort of ancient piece of vellum and even folded up takes up space.

My last purchase of a wallet was from a key cutter in Anec Blau (that sounds like the opening of a fairy story) and although it appeared superficially to be idea was far below what was necessary.

Basically, with what I carry around, I need not a man’s wallet but something more like the commodious article carried by women.  After a few unsatisfactory offerings the ladies of El Corte Ingles came up with exactly (almost) what I wanted.  It is, of course substantially more expensive than the last one, but at least I have been able to recycle that one as it has replaced Toni’s dilapidated one.

This evening: the meal with Irene because it is not Tuesday.  Sometimes my sense of time passing is a little flexible and it gives certain elasticity to my keeping of appointments!

Our evening out was a resounding success.  At my instigation Irene volunteered to join the route of the tapas and start her own list of stamped restaurants.
The first we visited was one in which we apparently saw Zadane - which has changed hands at least twice since we last ate there.  The tapa was one of meat pinchos and a large succulent prawn.  I had my customary glass of Cava to wash it down and we moved on to the next location.  Which happened to be on the other side of the road.

This establishment was the first restaurant that I visited when I first arrived to scout out Castelldefels – it also happened to be the most expensive!  The tapa here was a solid chunk of smoked salmon with a mustard sauce with salad.  Delicious and looking more like a starter than a tapa.

We then made the fatal move to a restaurant which seemed to be unusually crowded and full of youngish people.  A noisy live band was playing and the tapa was a mini hamburger and was also disgusting.

Our final port of call was the most interesting.  This was a restaurant which had changed hands at least twice since I last ate there and provided us with the most interesting tapa: frozen gazpacho with anchovy in a filo pastry nest with a salsa.

It was so good we decided to stay for a little more and we were given the menus in Spanish and atrocious English.  The English was so bad that Irene volunteered to translate the menu to avoid further violence to the sensibilities of English speakers!

One of the most interesting items on the English menu was “Roach in oil” not to mention the “dry sausage” that was offered in another part.  We were given another English translation to look at and we convulsed in laughter at the unreal use of English it contained.  Irene produced a pen and we commenced to provide a more convincing translation that the one which was printed.  It was just like the last days in school all over again with the struggle to produce something readable in English for the web page of the school!

All in all and excellent evening and I still have only completed 6 of the 30 tapas in the competition.  20% done 80% to do.

I welcome the challenge.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The summer is filling up nicely with visitors and I expect the weather to respond by being uniformly brilliant with glorious sunshine – or I shall withdraw my money from the Generalitat which, as is generally acknowledged, is entirely dependant on my largesse to keep going!

I have no wish to be alarmist but I am not going for my early morning swim because of the downpour that is hindering normal life.  It is not a convincing downpour as the sky is quite bright and the rain has petered out already – and has restarted.  It is going to be one of those days where the weather plays cat and mouse with the poor pedestrian!

Today is my first opera visit of the year to Carmen, easily one of the top five operas in terms of performance and popularity and of course (not forgetting the hapless contemporary critic who dismissed the opera for its lack of tunes) sheer hummability!

As the director of this performance in the Liceu is Calixto Bieito we can expect a controversial or at least challenging production.  From the stills that I have seen this production has his trademark electric car (in which terrible things were done in his booed version of Don Giovanni I saw in ENO) and of course it is in modern dress.  I am looking forward to it – but given the quality of our seats I will have to find my opera glasses first!

Considering that the house is fairly small it is amazing how many places something like opera glasses can be which are not where you would think they should be.  Never mind, one of the great advantages of looking for something like that is finding all the other things that you assumed were lost that you find in the search.  Hopefully.

As is usual with things that are lost “I have an idea” of where they might be.  This I think is the defining element which distinguishes the optimist from the pessimist (or realist, depending on your level of cynicism) by the way that the individual sets off on the search.  When the optimist fails to find the object in the most obvious place he does not despair but is slightly buoyed by the realization that he has eliminated one place so it must be in one of the fewer remaining places; for the pessimist if its not there it’s nowhere.

As long as one considers searches to be voyages of discovery for the purpose of revisiting old friends long thought to be irrecoverably lost then they can be rewarding.  It is only when you factor in the element of time that they become a little wearing and life denying.

On another positive note: the opera season proper does not start until the autumn, so a search for the glasses now could be looked on as a very timely action for the future!

The search has been up to this precise moment - futile.  The opera glasses are still securely located in an appropriate space that I have still not found.

So it gave me an opportunity to buy new ones in the old fashioned shop opposite Fnac in Barcelona which sells all sorts of optics. 

A lazily bored but efficient young bearded man served me and proffered two sets of opera glasses one in white with fixed focus and another, more than double the price in a more masculine colour with variable focus.  Need I go on?

Carmen!  What an opera!  Melodramatic it may well be but there is steel underneath all the posturing that the director Calixto Bieito did his best to bring out.  This is a story of sexual betrayal and the prostitution of body and soul.  There are no nice people in this story, even Micaela, a somewhat thankless role beautifully sung by Maria Bayo was portrayed a calculating woman who played the sentimental emotional blackmail card with some precision and who was not above giving Carmen a dismissively vulgar gesture of triumph when she finally managed to get Don José (indifferently sung by Fabio Armiliato) from the clutches of Béatrice Uria-Monzon’s underpowered Carmen.

When the major singers are not fully in control of their roles then the evening is not going to be a complete success.  Of the major characters only Kyle Ketelsen’s Escamillo came anywhere close to matching the power of the music with the strength of his singing and acting.

Musically the direction of Marc Pioliet of the orchestra and José Luis Basso of the chorus were excellent and they provided the true highlights of the evening.

But a Bieito production would not be acceptable without certain controversial element or elements.  Nudity we had with a young man stripping off and making a few matador gestures; cars we had – ten full sized cars on stage at one time; sex we had with various sexual activities being graphically presented on stage and so on.

Some of it was purely gratuitous but other aspects worked rather well.  I liked the presentation of the traditionally tedious brigands cave as a gathering of gypsy cars to make a contraband marketplace; the use of the chorus was always inventive and exciting, especially at it was augmented by a number of muscular young men stripped to the half to provide eye candy while the rather more prosaic looking guys did the singing!
One particularly effective piece of scenery was a gigantic representation of the Osborne bull which is a symbol of Spanish Spain.  When the lights went up on it there was a growl from the Catalan audience.  When in a later scene the bull was toppled the man sitting next to me clapped!

This was a lively production let down by the singing of the two major characters.  Although they grew into their roles they never, in my view filled them.  A lost opportunity.
Roll on next season.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

There I was listening to one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances on my postage stamp sized umpteenth generation iPod when a voice, quite a vulgar voice I thought, suddenly broke in and said something. 

For a moment I thought that someone in the recording studio had had a joke at my expense and I was truly shocked. I didn’t know that the machine had an independent voice function so I took more notice of the intrusive stranger than the information he (for it was a he) was giving me.  I eventually worked out that I had been told me that the battery was low.

This precipitated the frantic search for the appropriate power lead.  These were gathered together for the voyage to Britain and have not yet slithered their serpentine way to their appropriate lairs in Castelldefels again.  What is especially depressing is that I know that I have at least seven or eight of the appropriate leads lurking somewhere – but not, as it were, to hand.

To the Basque restaurant last night for a little something as my reckoning of days was a little askew and so I did not go out to dinner with Irene, where I was charged €3 for a bottle of fizzy water, or £2.64 in the debased coinage of my savings!  When I first came to Spain that overpriced bottle of water would have cost a measly £2.10 at the rate of exchange I could have got then.  But no riots from people in this area as El Crisis ravages the rest of the land!

We are working our way towards the Dead Month of August when Spain officially goes on holiday and everything closes down – well, not everything, but the attitude of those who are left to soldier on display such resentment that they are still in work while everybody else in the world is on holiday that they may as well not bother.  So, there are 5 days left for people to get everything they need doing done, because the next date for action will be September!

Obviously in a seaside town things are up and working, but I am still astonished at the number of businesses and restaurants that take a break in what one would have thought was the most profitable month of the year.  Ours is not to understand foreign logic!

My “swarm over Death” approach to the weeds in the garden seems to have been a signal failure.  If anything they seem to have become more vigorous and their hardiness pours scorn on my determined chemical herbicidal attack.  Perhaps I should have watered the plants to get them to take the poison to the roots, but the description of the gunk said that it was “systemic” so a touch of death on any part of the plant should have caused the bloody things to wither on the vine, so to speak.

I suppose I could read the instructions more fully or I could purchase something that I have always wanted to possess: a flame-thrower.  Not, unfortunately, the real thing, but the horticultural equivalent which is a Gandalf-like staff spouting fire at one end.  I suppose that I could get a sugar caramelizer and link the garden with the kitchen and justify the expense by versatility!  Or I could merely squirt the damn things again and hope for the best.

At long last what Stewart described as “your garden shed suitcase” has been totally emptied and then filled with other suitcases in the approved matryoshka fashion with one nesting inside the other.  This is fine and dandy until you want to use one of them and have to go through all the palaver of extracting the one you need – which is always in the centre.

My vastly expensive cabin luggage has failed after one trip with the extendible handle not.  I am furious and not only with the failure of the most expensive single piece of luggage that I have ever bought but also with the prospect of a search for the bloody receipt.  However, as I bought the damn thing in El Corte Ingles I expect service which will go beyond the mere production of a scrap of paper.  I hope!

Lunch today produced the unexpected result that Toni noticed the Ruta de Tapas was still operational.  This is a selection of bars and restaurants offering a tapa and drink for €3 as part of a competition to find the best tapa in Castelldefels. 

You are provided with a map and list of bars and tapas with a space to have the bar’s stamp in the requisite place to show that you have sampled their tapa.  There are 30 establishments taking part this year and so far I have sampled precisely one tapa washed down with a glass of Cava.

There is a section on the map/menu for you to nominate your favourite tapa – and thereby hangs a philosophical question.  Who should be allowed to nominate?  Do you have to try all to select one; or can you choose your favourite out of the ones you have tried?  If the result is dependent on popular choice then it is fairly meaningless of friends of one bar can sample the tapa and declare it superior.  Are all votes equal or does the opinion of someone who has sampled over half count for more than someone who has merely sampled a handful?  At the end of the day one could say that for god’s sake this is a tapas competition in a small Catalan seaside town, who cares?  I do.  I think about such things and worry.  Slightly.

This competition stretches over the whole of the rest of the summer so that is less than one tapa a day to get through the whole 30.  The impetus to complete the whole series is entry to a prize draw which entitles you to a special civic meal.

I think that this is an excellent way to get folk to try bars which they don’t know – though I find it difficult to imagine that there will be many people who try all the tapas – though I am going to make an effort!  An effort I might add that guests might be involved in during their stay.  Be warned!

The Football Season which allegedly ends officially for a few hours some time in the summer now seems to be restarted with a vengeance and be well under way as teams play for ever more esoteric cups.  Shouldn’t they be spending more time with their families or spend time starting them rather than playing interminable games of kick ball and filling up time on the TV?

Still no change with the book situation – but I have bought three more at the instigation of Toni no less!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The sequence of days

Bucking the normal weather trend this morning is fine and that doesn’t bode well for the afternoon as we have been experiencing good weather/poor weather syndrome for the past few days.

As I am at home and this is Monday it is officially classed as a workday and an opportunity for me to get some of those tasks completed that are impossible given the length of our school day.

The two essentials today are a visit to my bank and to a hotel in Hospitalet to check out the availability of a deal for a gastronomic meal for our first visitors of the summer. 

Disturbingly I have tried to get information from the web site of the hotel and I have phoned twice to try and get details and – nothing!  I was transferred from person to person all of whom seemed confused by a concept clearly outlined on their web site.  At some point in the pass-the-parcel approach to enquiries I was asked by one of the people on the other end of the line which hotel I was talking about, so god alone knows where in the world I was at that point.  And we thought it was only British Rail that out-sourced customer enquiries to Mumbai!

It shows what a vitiated life I lead that today, to what depths of depravity I have reached, that today, the 25th of July is the first day that I have thrown myself into the foaming brine!

As a British swimmer I always (always) expect the shock of incipient numbness to accompany all immersions in seawater.  The Med is a little more welcoming and at this stage of the summer the temperature of the water is hardly horrible and is positively not cold.  Notice that I do not use the word “warm”; having swum off the coast of Mexico I know that some sea water is actually like a tepid bath – the waters here are not!

This evening I am meeting my friend Irene for a therapeutic gossip.  An odd sort of gossip really as we tend not to talk about people but situations – especially The School That Never Was.  This was the dream that a few of us had to found a school in the area and drain money away from The School That Sacked Me (and him and her and us!)  As this didn’t happen, we talk about what might have been and the difficulties of life when one has to be making money at the same time!

At least that would have been true if today had been Tuesday. But it hasn't been Tuesday all day and I would still have been in Tuesday denial if Irene had not phoned up and changed our dinner date from tomorrow to Thursday.  All things work together for good!  In this best of all possible worlds!

The basic problem, which I understand is remarkably common, is that our preferred life styles are not quite in kilter with our present ones.  We feel, with some justice I think that the vast amount of money recently directed towards two Britons went to the wrong ones.  I am not greedy and would have quite willingly settled for a measly 10% of the total sum.  Alas, we reasonable ones are never rewarded for our modest aspirations.

The great disappointment of today is the fact that a British architect didn’t really allow for the heat of a Spanish summer in Barcelona.

It was our intention to go Hesperia Towers and more particularly the flying saucer restaurant which tops this extraordinary building to sample the taster menu from the Michelin starred eatery which is contained inside the sci-fi part of the structure.

We were told that during the summer the heat in the saucer dome is so extreme that they take the restaurant down from the top of the building to a lower floor.  That was fine with us as long as the food was the same.  Then we were told that the whole restaurant (wherever it was) closed for the month of August.  Tragedy!

At least Ceri has expressed an interest in visiting the Argentinian restaurant for a steak and so we have one gastronomic experience to look forward to!

No progress on the books.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The day before action

The question of the books has now become part of a psychosis.  I had a strategy worked out: attack Shakespeare first.  Multiple copies of the plays with some of them only kept because their introductions might be useful if I was ever to teach etc etc.  Well, I think that my teaching of Shakespeare days are over and even I can contemplate getting rid of some of the nastier paperback versions without too may qualms.

The texts are so scattered throughout my library that their exclusion will not create the mass of space that I was hoping to use to Begin the Great Sort.

In my experience you need one empty bookcase for every five that you are trying to sort out.  Anything less and you will be heading for frustration, anger and murder.  But one has to work with what one has so I will have to go through the shelves painstakingly and rip chunks of my own flesh off the shelves and get rid of books.

I think that I can keep up the prevention of action by writing technique until the end of the month and then Something Will Have To Be Done.  Or not.

The weather seems to be settling down to a reasonably miserable morning and a glorious afternoon: I can live with that.

Today has been a Festival of Sound.  The morning started off with the moronic monotony of the cursed cur next door.  Its mournful threnody usually brings in the professional wailers of the decaying spaniels at the end of our row and then it is open season with the rest of the rat dogs incarcerated around us.

The day proper begins when the pine needle blowers start up and the kids crawl out of their restraints to start their daylong shout.

To add to the general cacophony there were three or more distinct parties happening around us.  The block of flats opposite seems to have a business of hosting children’s Parties and from what we have heard had complaints about the noise.  They have responded by swapping the party actual to the back of the flats but the kids still scream their way around the front.

Mr Shouty (the Argentinian who lives a few doors away) put up balloons and then yelled himself through the barbecue while unleashing his screaming horde of kids into the pool.

Someone in the flats adjacent to us had a birthday and music and raucous singing added to the general air of sonic chaos.

And all of this without factoring in the added dimension of the deep-throated roar of passing aircraft as they skim the rooftops.

In spite of all this I still managed a comfortable snooze on the Third Floor after lunch.

Determination is one of my qualities.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fill the day with duty done!

There is no smugness like that of the person who has had a swim as soon as he has risen from his bed.  It may be an outdoor pool but the heat retention of the water makes the initial submersion merit no more than a gentle shudder before the swimming brings the temperature to what I regard as normal.

It is with a queasy sense of unreality that I note that the date is the 23rd of July and a horrifically large portion of the holiday is behind me!  The fact that I am bemoaning the remembrance of days lost when there are five clear weeks of holiday left (six and a bit before we have to see the kids) speaks volumes for my attitude towards the teaching of the young!
Today I fulfil my Lucretzia Borgia fantasies as we go in search of potent poisons.  We have declared war on ants and weeds and are set to destroy both.  I am looking for a good systemic destroyer for the weeds whose roots seem to bear no geographical symmetry with their pollution the surface.  Our weeds are like a schematic representation of the Mafia with the root as the hidden Capo di Capos and the visible vegetation being the dependant criminals who keep the whole plant burgeoning.  I see myself as the Elliot Ness of the weed world.  The day of reckoning is at hand!

My nemesis of choice for the ant world is the disturbingly named “Nippon” ant killer.  I have vivid memories of my mother; a gentle and considerate soul as far as most animals were concerned, shed this cloak of concern for animals with six or more legs. 

My abiding memory is watching her put a drop of the viscous liquid near an ant run and then urge the insects who were fatally drawn to the liquor to “take it home” so that the entire nest could be wiped out.  Happy days!

The other, more positive purchase is a window box for a balcony railing (if you see what I mean) as it has been decreed that vegetation shall sprout for the delectation of our summer guests.  This will not be profusion of colour but rather of spikes as we are nurturing cacti - mainly because of the lack of nurturing that they demand. 

As the cacti we have at present are more neophyte thorn than anything else the display will be more intention rather than reality.  But, taking into account the second of the dictums by which I live of “Anything is Better Than Nothing” (the first being, “Never Refuse a Good Offer” rendered in Latin by our Classics Teacher as “No Repudies Bonam Pollicitationem”) it should add a certain something to an otherwise anodyne room.  Though that is probably an unfair designation of a room with a view of the pool and a questionable glimpse of a fragment of the sea!

The diminutive cactus garden is now in situ and the individual plants are not going to be much bigger by the time the first guests arrive, still one must garden for the future; and given the rate at which these things grow, for the distant future!

Oddly, one of the cacti is blue – I assume that this is produced by dye and that the mature plant will assume a more natural colour.  Or not, which would be good news for another plant which is orange – but I can’t help feeling that the colours were merely there to provoke the impulse buy for which I duly fell.

The weeds have now been drenched in what I hope is an indiscriminately vicious poison and I look forward to the rapidly yellowing vegetation which will be extracted from the ground as soon as it is absurdly easy to do so.  And I have left enough time to give them a second dose before the arrivals start.

I am beginning to make a list of things that I have to do (apart from killing the young child who is screaming her way around the pool at the moment) on Monday.  A full day.

I have just returned from getting our fast-food dinner from the excellent bar near where we used to live.  I took the car.  Mistake.  The driving was as bad as anything that I have endured since I have been in this country.  The parking was worse than appalling and the overtaking and undertaking was little short of suicidal.  The only thing that makes that adjective inaccurate was that I did not see any deaths to make it fully appropriate.  But the night is yet young!

There is a key zebra crossing (out of the scores that make driving along the sea road such a joy) which has the ability to create extravagant traffic jams.  Holidaymakers cross it at a speed which disabled snails would scorn to match and gaze at the queues of infuriated drivers with mild surprise and clear distaste.

Parking was of course impossible and I had to use my full knowledge of where a semi-legal space could be found if I wasn’t to walk half the length of Castelldefels to get to the place.  My eventual choice of parking place was uneasy rather than illegal – and I had no ticket so it was the right choice.

News has come through that one of the sites that we looked at a year or so ago as a possible location for a school has been snapped up by the mother of one of the pupils I had in The Worst School in the World in which I had the pleasure to teach when I first arrived in Catalonia. 

The mother is a trained and dedicated teacher with a clear preference for the more creative aspects of education and is hoping to expand her tiny school to something like 50 pupils eventually.  I wish her and her school all the best, especially as it might take away pupils from the school governed by the unsympathetic (a carefully chosen word) tyranny of the ignorant owner (not so carefully chosen) of the school in which I taught.

Revenge (in whatever form it takes) is a dish best eaten to the sound of trumpet fanfares whenever it offers itself no matter hot or cold.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Back home!

Yesterday morning started in the way whose idea keeps me going throughout the school year: sitting in the sun on the Third Floor taking a leisurely breakfast where only the sound of passing 747s breaks the idyllic silence!

Pine trees may be evergreens but they drop needles in much the same way that Labradors moult.  When I returned from my foreign excursions our street looked like a film set with drifts of needles making the place look as though it had been deserted for years.

We have no pine trees in our front garden but the neighbours more than make up for that loss so that walking up the path is now a pleasantly crunchy experience.  We will have to have a barbecue so that the collected needles can flavour the food while at the same time being disposed of!

No professional gardeners in this area use a brush to clear up the detritus from the trees.  Instead they use petrol powered hand held blowers to gather the needles together.  These are efficient but the noise they make is capable of drowning out passing planes and they are always used first thing in the morning – presumably on the basis that if the sweepers are up so should we.  While I am all for solidarity with the working class I am sure that there are quieter ways of gaining my support.

Yesterday was a Terrassan birthday so the evening was spent there in a quality fast food restaurant with four generations of the birthday boy’s family.

To my totally unconcealed chagrin he was given a tablet computer by his wife and I thought that he paraded his ownership of the same in an undignified, vulgar and totally heartless way.  God knows I have tried to justify buying an i-Pad but with my current ownership of The Machine even I, the acknowledged Gadget King of Castelldefels find it difficult to justify the purchase.  Not, of course that such concerns have ever stopped me in the past.

This is particularly true in the watch department. 

As is my staunch tradition I marked the holiday by buying another timepiece. 

As is well known and universally acknowledged by aficionados of chronology any decent watch must have numbers not markers; day and date; sweep second hand; luminous hands and hour markers and must be waterproof enough to allow swimming.

The present watch is a Seiko and I have returned to a machine with a mechanism that powered a very expensive watch from years ago.  This is a “kinetic” model and its USP was that it was half price in a shop in St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff.  I am not one to ignore such a (still expensive) bargain – especially when the only feature that it was missing from the key list was numbered hours.

The model I now have is elegant and minimalistic and it is a bloody sight lighter than the one that I bought in Gran Canaria.  As I have no further holidays, trips or excursions planned this one might well see me into the new school year!

One interesting side purchase made while getting the historical novels for the birthday boy was that of a Terry Pratchett novel for the astonishingly low price of €1.95.  This was “El Color de la Magia” and, as I have already read it in English it might make it a little easier to read in Spanish.  I snatched it up because Stewart had left a copy of “Money” by the same author on the coffee table in the living room of the house and I am not one able to resist Mr Pratchett’s novels when I see them placed provocatively in front of me.

I find Pratchett’s style very congenial to my sense of humour and the blend of irony, fantasy and imagination is something that I find enticingly addictive. 

I have therefore adopted the protective technique which “saved” me from overdosing on science fiction books: only buy one author at a time, second-hand and under 50p.  I went through the entire oeuvres of Robert Heinlein and Asimov in this way.  And when I say the “entire” oeuvres I mean up to and including things like the “Lucky Starr” stories by Asimov written purely for money under a pseudonym for which a light lobotomy is necessary to enjoy their clichéd emptiness.

Were I to give in to my liking for Pratchett I would keep Amazon going for the next year or so purely by my purchasing efforts!

And I will probably be reading without my glasses and contact lenses.  At present I am less than impressed with my new prescription: distance is little problem but normal reading is blurred and my brain refuses to favour the eye with the lens for print.  I think that they might be OK for school with an effort, but I am not convinced.  I will soldier on, but the battle looks like matching the arid attrition of the trenches rather than the glorious successes of my longbow-wielding ancestors.

Lunch was in a restaurant on the Ramblas leading up to the church in Castelldefels and one could weep for what one is able to get for the €10.50 that I paid for a tasty, well-served meal sitting outside.  The weather just about justifies sitting outside, though the sun is noticeable for its absence except for spasmodic beams which let you know that it is still there.

Obviously I am in shirt and shorts because, though the weather is far from what one has a right to expect in July, it is far from cold.

This is the perfect weather to start looking at my books with a view to their complete re-organization.

Simply typing that sentence has reduced me to prostration and militant exhaustion.  I know that I am going to have to steel myself to throw books out and it is something which I find almost impossible to do.  Far better to prevaricate in print rather than take irrevocable Nazi-like actions and throw books into metaphorical flames!

We shall see if actions match intentions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A collection of days gone!

The damp, sullen skies of southern England met my bleary eyes this morning.  Long trousers for today I think.

My room in Andrew and Stuart’s house is a cruel one: books everywhere – and I thought I was the only one with bizarre juxtapositioning of random volumes.  The range is astonishing with the faded backs of proven classics rubbing shoulders with the most modern paperbacks.  The “who-is-this-person-let’s-look-at-his-books” approach reveals some clear and other more subtle indications of personality and taste!  It is a room in which I could be most comfortably locked up in for a considerable period – and the bed is comfortable too!

Today is the first day to try out the latest prescription for my contact lenses and as the saintly Andrew is driving I need have no fears about worrying about their suitability for the motorist.  I do hope that these new lenses will finally be accepted by my brain and be the solution to the distance/reading conundrum that successions of opticians have been trying to sort out.  One can but hope.  And I do have six months supply (all paid for) which it would be something of a pity to waste!

It is now raining.  It started in that soft, lazy gossamer drizzle which soaks you to the skin within seconds and has now developed into a more straightforward downpour: assertive and depressing.  There is (what is often a deceptive) brightness in the complete cloud cover which, for those British born weather optimists, might betoken more inspiring weather later.

As a key component in the planning of Mary’s party involved The Garden it looks as though it may be more for contemplation and admiration rather than practical use.

I am at present drinking a cup brewed with a Yorkshire Tea teabag that I am informed by Andrew is designed specifically for use in hard water areas.  As the rugged aggressiveness of the water in Castelldefels makes everyone else’s water look like pure liquid sissy, it might be an idea to ask for a few bags and try them out at home.  Admittedly I have partially got round the problem of the water (safe but undrinkable from the tap) by making my cuppa with bottled stuff but a teabag which wages a taste war with calcium might be a cheaper eventual solution.

It has now stopped raining, but still looks as though it is: a particularly British form of climatic irritation.

That illusion soon gave way to the harsh reality of sheeting layers of water belting down on the car as it crawled through the traffic misery that is driving in London.

My dogged, and no doubt irritating assertion that was “brighter in the west” was belied by the soul-sapping drenching that we were getting as we made our delayed way to Reading.

However my irrational optimism was justified by the rains almost ceasing as we got stuck in our final traffic jam inside Reading itself.

The party was a great success.  Mary was overwhelmed by the gifts that she had and most importantly she loved the Ceri print of Venice that I chose for her from the selection that I was shown.  I also checked from Clarrie (who loved it instantly, made a decision about the frame and where it should be hung within two seconds of seeing it) that Mary was being sincere and not merely polite, so everything was most satisfactory.
Our own gifts to Mary included a pendant and perfume (both hostages to fortune when deciding for another person) went down well so I was then able to get on with the socializing that such an occasion offers.

Apart from Andrew, Stuart, Mary and Clarrie the gusts were those whom I had never met before or people who I hadn’t seen for years; some for many years!

Conversation was compulsive and, as often happens in parties in which I want to speak to everyone; I had to remind myself to eat.  Especially as I had no trouble in reminding my self to drink the Champagne!

The food was exactly what one would have expected from Clarrie in its variety and presentation.  The beef en croute was spectacular and I never did get to try the chicken terrine, but the prawns (thank you Clarrie) and the salmon were eventually tasted and approved of.

The cake (with an inscription in Irish) was bought it, but the other sweets were made by Andrew: a bitter chocolate tart for adults and a truly wonderful Summer Pudding with luscious fruit and a mesmerizing taste.  I suggested that we steal the remains of this noble dessert but such boorish behaviour was dismissed by the boys.

By the time the Champagne had run out, the Cava had been drunk and we were reduced to drinking Jacob’s Creek fizzy it was obviously time to go.

Slumped in the back seat in a somnolent haze the first part of the return journey past swiftly and I only came back to my senses fully when we hit the Hammersmith flyover.

On our return Stuart took to his bed for a nap and Andrew continued the Russel Meyer Summer School for Stephen which started the day before yesterday with an enforced viewing of “Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill”: a film of which I was aware but had not heretofore seen.
The film’s awfulness has to be seen to be believed and, while I can well believe that it has a fanatical cult following its blend of low budget ineptitude, wooden acting, pitiful script, big boobs and crass moralizing meant that I watched much of it with open mouthed amazement.

To be fair there are moments of camp humour, some of the cinematography is stagey but interesting and the female star looks like the creation from the combined brains of Bram Stoker, Edvard Munch and Hugh Hefner.  She uses car, cleavage and karate to create chaos – but never fear all-American(ish) values triumph in the end.

As an extra I was made to watch an interview with the women in the film who now look, amazingly, even more sluttish than they did when “Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill” was made.

Yesterday’s lesson too the form of a viewing of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” – a film whose virulent critical response I can still remember even though I am thinking of notices from forty years ago!  Although I had no intention of going to a cinema to watch such gratuitous trash, I think that I indulged in a News-of-the-World type of censorious prurience in reading about the filth that I was never going to see!

The film has high production values and is in vivid Eastman colour but it comes as no surprise to discover that the script was made up day by day so the revelation that the Svengali-like male homosexual is actually a woman “seemed like a good idea” to the scriptwriter and was duly shot with no back story to give such a twist any credibility.

It is difficult to know where to start in a critical response to the turgid morass of half-baked acting and ideas that “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” comprises.  John Waters has called this “the best film ever made and will ever be made” and it features in the best 100 films of all time in The Village Voice, but for me it remains what I suspected it would be, a woeful piece of sexploitation.

There is clearly some attempt at parody and the use of music is part of this self awareness of the medium but I don’t think that the film is good enough to be ironic; its humour seems to be sloppiness rather than observation.

An interview of Meyer by Ross brought out the auteur’s interest in women from the waist upwards but said little more about what he brings to the cinema.

I remain a rather sceptical student in this Summer School and will take much more convincing before I become a devotee of the film of Mr Meyer!

Sunday was notable for the gentle introduction to the day that the boys insist on and a later visit (in the rain) to the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

This unprepossessing building houses not only a rather surprising above ground crypt in the middle of the gallery but also a very impressive collection of art.

The special exhibition was of the art of Poussin and the recently deceased Cy Twombly.  Anyone who knows anything about these two artists might suspect that they have little real in common and that would be a point of view which the exhibition does little to alter.
Twombly’s work is a series of daubed scrawlings and Poussin is an acknowledged master of Classical order.  The fact that Twombly went and lived in Italy – just like Poussin - does not make for a convincing comparison of shared artistic achievements!

Monday did see me make a halfhearted effort to indulge in some culture.  The weather was miserable and I was conscious that I only had thin shirts and no coat – it being July and all!

I eventually set off on the train to Victoria and then the underground to Embankment which I (wrongly) thought would be within a light step of Tate Modern.  Many, many steps later and in light drizzle I finally made it to see The Money Hanging on the Wall – or Picasso’s “The Dream” as it is called which is at present the most expensive painting in the world to be sold at auction.
Of course to see this painting you have to pass a lot of other art most of which is excellent and some of which is the sort of gratuitous rubbish that gives modern art a bad name.  To my horror I saw a selection of empty gestural scrawls of my current bête noir Twombly “gracing” the walls of one gallery.  I won’t even waste my time by describing the vacuous ineptitude masquerading as art that he perpetrated in the canvases that were but a hiatus in seeing something better!

And better there certainly was.  The whole of my Making Sense of Modern Art course for next year was hanging on the walls!

I made an executive decision to go to the National Gallery as well to check up on my two paintings – the Terborch and the Van Eyck.

It is impossible to see these paintings in a limited time without ignoring some of the finest art in the world which, with siren calls, tries to deflect me from my purposes.  And indeed succeeded to some extent.  You have to made of stronger stuff than I to ignore Holbein’s Ambassadors, for example.  Anyway, I just managed to get to the Van Eyck before the stern guardians of the galleries started herding us to the exits.

Dinner was in a local restaurant in Herne Hill and (tempting fate) tapas!  They were delicious, though I think that we might be able to duplicate some of them here in a slightly different form for slightly less!

Packing was the usual nightmare although the expansion of the suitcase did provide a lot of extra space but it was virtually impossible to move when it was filled.

The journey to the airport was circuitous as my GPS decided to avoid “heavy traffic ahead” and so I saw much of the suburbs of south London before I finally ended up in an interminable traffic jam as the powers that be decided to replace a gas main on the approach road to the M23.

I had, however left enough time to compensate for delays and hot and bothered as I was there was plenty of time to check in and wait for the call.

As usual the best value in the airport was the meal deal in Boots at £3.79 and I thoroughly enjoyed my British sandwiches before settling down to the tedium of travel.

The numerical ordering of the gates is designed to confuse those who have never been to the airport before flying with EasyJet.  Suffice to say that I walked confidently in the wrong direction because I understood Gate 57 to be included in Gate numbers 50 odd to 60 odd.  Wrong.  Elusive Gate 57 was alone with a plethora of alphabetical adjuncts, the important one (mine) I could not find.  But I went with the flow and found myself at the end of a very long queue.

It seemed as though my chances of finding a seat with adequate legroom were stymied by my lack of Gatwick experience, but I always have hope when I travel alone as a spare seat is sometimes available as a couple bag two of the three seats.

I stepped inside the plane and imagine my delight when I saw the evidence of lost hope: two men sitting either side of the seats at the entrance with a book, newspaper and pen resting on the seat in the middle.  I almost laughed as I asked innocently if the seat was taken.  Their combined looks of pure hatred could have felled lumbering rhinos, but I merely took the seat and fitted my Nano to fill the ferocious silence from the gentlemen on either side!

The flight was only 90 minutes long and that was almost the time it took the baggage handlers in Barcelona to get our luggage onto the carousel.  When it eventually emerged it was greeted by an ironically ragged cheer.

We went out for tapas almost as soon as I was in the house and an early shower and bed was my welcome home.

Today, after the light tidying of the rubbish I have brought home we went out to our local restaurant for a menu del dia in the bright sunshine.

An excellent two-centre holiday with exemplary hospitality and much buying of clothes for the next year.

Now the reception of guests for the summer is about to begin!

Please let there be sun for my friends!