Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gad! The heat!

The pet topic of conversation is the weather. 

Our sultry times continue with old hands gazing at the sun and muttering that it is not normal at this time of the year for it to be so hot. 

The Protest Work Ethic part of me is now confidently expecting retributory weather to compensate.  Though disconcertingly I understand that the Old Country is also having something of a heat wave too!  That hardly seems fair or right!

Tomorrow early leaving and taking wine with Suzanne on the Third Floor.

If I have time during the day I might well print out some of the information about Chaucer that I have been getting together.  Thank god (yet again) for the Internet!

I am going to bed tired and waking up tired – but this is probably par for the course at this stage in the year.  My colleagues in Britain are already looking forward with growing desperation to half term, whereas we in Catalonia do not have that saving luxury – and late December does seem an awfully long way away!

Day by day.  Day by day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Onward into the fourteenth century!

One colleague admitted to me this morning that my suggestion that we introduce Chaucer to the hapless pupils in the equivalent of our second form has left her with nightmares.

As far as I could make out from the welter of Spanish descending into Catalan that was the meeting that I went to at the end of school last night, the area of concern for the project that the kids are going to have to complete covers a period of some 400 years from the 11th Century to the 14th or 15th!

Chaucer was the obvious writer of distinction – who is also interesting to read.  Having given the assembled company my rendition of the opening lines of The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in my own version of Middle English they stared at me with expressions ranging from incredulity to outright horror!

The most outraged was a fellow member of the English Department who had sudden visions of having to pretend knowledge of a writer who she had not dipped into!  I will have to provide a “Chaucer for Dummies” handbook.  Though I have to admit that my knowledge does not extend to the story that I have not and will not read “The Tale of Sir Topaz”, that long drawn-out ironic joke at Chaucer’s expense.  That is the sort of literature for which life simply is not long enough.  And after all, even his character in the Tales was interrupted and told to shut up.

I was thinking more along the lines of the play version of The Pardoner’s Tale.  This is a fairly simple moralistic story and the background to the character of the Pardoner will afford the kids hours of innocent fun.  Or something.

Nothing has been finalized, but as everyone knows that Suzanne is my “friend” and as she is the “Big Cheese” in Project Based Learning there is a fair chance that Chaucer will make it to the final cut!

Unfortunately this means that I will have my own work cut out to produce something that can act as an introduction to the work and the sort of language that he used.  Though I do envisage the use of Middle English being kept to an absolute minimum!

I think that other members of staff were equally shocked by the range of ideas that seemed to be flowing – all of which de-skilled colleagues and hinted at the range and extent of work that would have to be done if the project was to succeed.

It is a real and painful truth that that meeting, like ever other meeting in the world of education that I have ever attended, did not make my life easier.  Always by the end of the assembly there is more work to do and no consequent lessening of the work that you already have.  Still after more than thirty years why should I expect any difference just because the country is different!

Hope springs eternal!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doesn't everybody have one?

Even a cursory reading of the lives of the Roman emperors will show that there are depths of decadence into which modern man barely shines a battered Pifco torch with its batteries on their last legs.  I however have gone that extra step down the slippery slope of naff indulgence and mixed metaphors.

Not content (who would be!) with a shower head which sparkles with multi-coloured LEDs when the water is turned on I have turned my attention to less salubrious areas for gentrification.
It all comes down to the fact that the bathroom suite in the en suite is a truly hideous, dark, pseudo-avocado colour that no one in their right mind would have had installed this side of the 1960s.  I have tried to lighten the oppressive gloom by a rather more pastel shower curtain and the judicious placement of white decorative towels, but the overall effect is one of a decade that considerate decoration forgot.

It was therefore with something approaching mild apathy that I noticed that the toilet seat was disintegrating and would have to be replaced.

Our house is actually owned by the agency that let it, but they preserve the fiction that “the owner” will do nothing to make the place better.  The central heating is leaking, ah, we are told “the owner” will have nothing to do with it.  This Dickensian transference of blame to a tight-fisted “other” when the actual owner is on the phone to us means that if we want anything replaced we have to do it ourselves.

Toilet seats are not expensive if you want a plain white affair.  And that is exactly what I wanted to add lightness to the cell like atmosphere in the bathroom.

And that was fine as far as it went, but if you buy cheap then you must accept the consequences.  Which were that, among other things, the paint started chipping off almost immediately.

And then there was Lidl.

Lidl seem to have an almost pathological desire that people buy hardware for cutting, curling, shaving, bending and shaping that I find vaguely exciting but essentially untempting.  There is however usually something odd and quirky which tickles my sense of acquisitiveness but I have learned by hard experience to avoid soothing that sense with hard cash.

Except.  Toilet seats were advertised.  Not just any old toilet seat but things of glory!

I am now the proud possessor of a toilet seat of transparent plastic embedded in which are shells and small stones with representations of starfish – very stylish.  But that is not all, oh no, indeed.

There are not only pieces of the seashore in the plastic but also a series of red LEDs which burst into subdued light when the seat is raised!

At night with the lights off it gives the impression of a volcanic circle of fire which, as you can appreciate gives a whole new dimension to defecation!
All I have to do now is to replace the sink tap with something a little more lively and the bathroom will rock!  Or I could stop now while there is some sanity left.

Yesterday was not a restful day – far too much teaching for that!  So the frivolous purchase was more than justified I feel.

Yesterday was the commencement of the “Early Start” approach to all my teaching days irrespective of an actual early start.  This way I avoid the frustration of the inevitable traffic build up that comes with setting off nearer to my actual starting time and I arrive in school (in theory) fresher and, more importantly, nicer than if I had snarled my way through the usual batch of bastards who only take to the road when I am on it!

It does make the day a tinge long – and when I say “tinge” you will appreciate that it is more than an understatement to use that word, but I will give it a week or so and then evaluate the approach.

The weather continues balmy and I for one will hear nothing against it.  To hell with lawns we, after all, have artificial grass!

Today I teach six lessons with the department coping (quite unnecessarily) with the absence (known in advance) of the head of department who has gone to Canada to fetch our exchange pupils and, just to make things more interesting another colleague has called in sick.  As there is no “coping” mechanism for absence this will create its own chaos.  Any attempt to get our department to help will be met with a stern and ever-so-slightly-hysterical refusal!

I have decided to keep a list of all the little “extras” that this school demands of its overworked teachers and I think that it will make very interesting reading at the end of the year – if I get that far.  I am now in a “collapsed” class, the first of the “adjustments” that we have had to make to compensate for the absence (known in advance) of the head of English.

This evening, after a six period teaching day I have a meeting which will last an hour; that too will go down on the list – a list which is going to be quite substantial by the end of the week!

This is the way to build up resentment - until something, anything, has to happen. 

Just what is lost in the future but (by definition) it is getting nearer all the time!

Toni now has a date for his first period of physio and we will have to see what effect it has on his wonky knee.  He is getting stir crazy and watching Real Madrid with hatred and loathing is no real substitute for free locomotion!

Hopefully Suzanne will visit this weekend and the drinking of Libalis will soften reality.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sun and sounds


Try as I might I find that I cannot resist kicking countries when they are down.

This morning, after having been woken by the moronic barking of the worthless cur sustained by the ministrations of the lunatic next door at the sensitive time of 6.00 am I decided to make the best of a bad job and get up.

As I usually gain consciousness at 6.30 any disturbance at that time is the difference between dozing for a few extra minutes or being rudely woken fully.  I was fully woken by the piercingly monotonous yelp of the mindless beast so I was ready to face the day without the three hour lie in that I had yesterday – getting up at the luxuriously late hour of 9.30 am!

The view from the bathroom window is of trees surrounding what we fondly think of as the House of the Mafia.  A glimpse of the trees is important because the direction in which they are lying means that they are striped with sunshine if the sun has indeed risen.  The stripes were there, so it was a fine day.

Just how fine a day was revealed when I went up to the Third Floor and was able to lay out in the morning sunshine and pretend (with no effort at all) that it wasn’t September but a much more congenial day in the “free” months before the start of school!  God bless Catalonia.  Yesterday dull; today glorious!

Monday should mean the start of Toni’s physio and he seems to be getting steadily more mobile.  Perhaps a couple of weeks will see him walking normally.  With any luck.

Tomorrow also sees the departure of the Head of English in our school to Canada to bring back the group of our pupils who have been living with Canadian families for the first month of the term.

In spite of this being more than a three-day absence known about in advance there has been no attempt whatsoever to find a supply teacher to take the place of our colleague.  This means that classes will be collapsed and lessons taken by colleagues in school.  This course of action has been readily accepted by colleagues who actually take pride in the fact that we are “covering her absence internally” and asking for only one or two periods to be covered by colleagues outside the department. 

I, of course take no pride in this form of action at all.  I am disgusted at the supine way in which such unprofessionalism is embraced and point out on every occasion that what we are actually doing is denying a colleague work at a time of crisis when people are crying out for employment.  As we are also being paid at 2009 rates the eagerness to please an indifferent management is pathetically astonishing.

I can’t help thinking that some sort of crisis point is going to be reached when we have our first Saturday (!) morning meeting.  We are in school for eight hours a day; they think nothing of having two-hour meandering meetings after school – and in spite of that they schedule meetings at the weekend!  For sheer impudence it takes the breath away.

The opera season opens for me next month.  If there are any clashes between opera and brain-sucking meetings, I know which event will take precedence in my life!

My favourite paintings in Ceri’s exhibition have not been sold: the waterfall – a dark painting but dramatic and delicate at the same time with the rush of water giving a dynamism which is in strong contrast to the delicacy of the few slim trees at the head of the falls.  The other painting is one of convoluted tree roots which have an anthropomorphic feel.  The left hand part of the composition reminds me of a three-toed sloth the “wrong” way up with the snout of the creature pushing towards the very edge of the picture frame.  The left “leg” of the roots is a sensuous and sinuous vaguely female member seemingly menaced by an exposed creeping root emanating from the hunched and twisted muscle of root on the right.

The paintings are at present in the Albany Gallery as part of Ceri's private show and may be viewed at

The right hand section is like the gnarled skin of some sort of prehistoric monster with the addition of part of a wire fence giving a Surrealistic touch of the mundane – though the mundane here given a disturbing force.  In the background is a bosky mountainside whose steepness forces the creature more into the foreground as it seems to make a slow ungainly progress out of the frame.

I think that this painting is a tour de force and its large size 42 ins by 43 ins must make a considerable impact on the viewers.

I do not think that it is an easy picture as the subject matter is unsettling and I am not sure that it would be a natural part of most living rooms, but it is a picture which demands attention.  I think that its size and treatment of nature would make it a perfect item to join a national collection either in the National Library of Wales or (where there are considerably more people to see it) in the Gallery of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.  Where the National Library isn’t.  I think that the roots make a natural and appropriate gallery picture and the National Museum should snap it up!

Darkness has descended and I should do some marking, though the stuff that I have brought home is not the work that needs to be given back to students tomorrow.

I have decided to get up each day as if I had an early start and get into school early.  Traffic builds up very quickly and the later one leaves travelling into the city the more problematic the journey becomes.  Early morning traffic is lighter, parking is easier and it does give me time to get the day organized.  As I am teaching right to the end of the day on three days of the week it does mean that the days are very long – and on days with meetings it simply does not bear thinking about.

Tuesday is such a day when a little group of enthusiastic teachers meet to discuss the format of a project based learning element in the year’s calendar.  As this involves Suzanne I will give it my best shot – but it better not last longer than the scheduled hour!  Which means that I will have been in school for just under ten hours when I finally get away. 

God help!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I type this to the mellifluous sound of falling rain, which makes a startling contrast with the melodramatic storm that woke us up in the early morning.  The tempest stayed above us for some time with scores of lightning strikes and an almost constant growl of thunder punctuated by overstated crashes which shook the house!  The lashing rain which accompanied this disturbance has now settled down into a gentle plashing which perhaps heralds the official arrival of autumn.

I should imagine, given the rock hard quality of the sun-baked earth in this area, that there is considerable flooding in the area.  The drainage in the roads can cope with anything other than rain.  Anything damper than dust tends to overload the system leading to vast, picturesque lakes in the roads which make driving akin to being in an aquatic ride in a poorly maintained pleasure park.

This is the first real test for the cacti in their fairly recently planted containers.  They have had a fairly constant diet of sunshine and this will be their baptism as an introduction to the wetter weather of the autumn, winter and spring months.  It is at this point that I seem to recall not putting drainage holes in the containers so I hope that they can adjust to pond life!

Toni visited the doctor again yesterday and has been referred to a physio centre to which he should start going early next week.  His next scheduled doctor visit is in the middle of the week so we should know the prognosis by then.

Yesterday evening was a “catching up” time when I firstly met Caroline at a chiringuito near where I used to live.  This establishment’s days are surely numbered as it is getting near to the date when all of these bars by the sea are dismantled for the summer and put into storage to re-emerge in sunnier times to fleece the tourists.

Having taken Toni to the doctor and returned home I changed the car for the bike and pedalled my way down to the rendezvous.  What is a car trip of a few minutes becomes a somewhat more arduous bike journey – but one does feel that one has earned a drink by the time one has made it to a bar under, as it were, one’s own steam.  Which was visibly emanating from my personage by the time I got there!

Our chat was of the usual frenetic kind as we both dumped our news on each other.  We have made a pact that we will both start the ruta de tapa from the word go next year and meet in the food fair to delight in the comestibles that I missed out on this year.

When Caroline left I phoned Irene who had, just as I phoned, pulled into the street in which I used to live.  It therefore took me a couple of minutes to go from one meeting to the next and we were soon settled in the restaurant of the Basque and looking forward to the usual tasty food that we have always had there.

Another lengthy chat and I was ready for home – but I had forgotten that I had brought my bike and so had to make an effort to get home.  In the dark as the workings of my dynamo are still as a closed book to me.

It has now stopped raining but it is still overcast.  I am prepared to tolerate this untoward weather for a day, but I do expect better tomorrow.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The horrible reality

We have had two weeks in school - and it feels like an eternity.  The timetable that I have to work this year is much more demanding that last and it makes any rational consideration of the endless year ahead difficult to the point of impossibility.

I suppose it is normal at this time of year for teachers to look ahead with dread and wonder how the hell they are going to survive until Christmas, let alone the almost out of sight pale light which marks the end of June!

For the first time in my life my birthday is looking like a disaster area.  Not only are examinations (and therefore extra marking) planned for that auspicious day, but also we have one of our eat-your-own-arm-rather-than-listen meetings which will stretch endlessly after school into the precious time of my natal day.

In the more refined surroundings of a British school my birthday (as befits the foresight of two parental teachers) was always in half term.  Here in the barbaric surroundings of semi-private education even this most sacred of significant days can be treated with cavalier contempt.  Things have reached a pretty pass if even a part of he celebrations have to be held in the totally uncongenial surroundings of an educational establishment!

The Scumbags' car has now been discovered not in their driveway, but rather in the space under the house.  This is a good thing.  It is a good thing because the car being here (wherever it is parked) suggests that they really have gone until next summer  This means that, in the immediate future, I can stop looking around for somewhere else to live.  Living next door to such noxious neighbours is not to be tolerated for any period more than a couple of months!

I am getting better at leaving school during the last period on Friday when it is my right to leave.  My getting the students to leave my lesson is becoming weekly more strident and I urge them to get out so that I can get away.  I arrive in school early so that I am able to park the car directly in front of the door through which I will be rushing at the end of my day.