Friday, December 30, 2011

Tick tock!

The old year is drawing to its close and for some this is a time for reassessment and the making of resolutions for the New Year.  Bugger that!  For me to start making resolutions now when I have been signally reticent from doing so for all the other years of my life would smack of desperation.

No, I shall merely do what I have done ever since I started working in the field of education (and how apt that metaphor really is, especially with regard to the preparation of the ground) and that is to look upon the arrival of the New Year as the countdown to the start of a new term and finding our “clients” insufferably refreshed from the holiday, while we, however . . .

My reading of “Varney the Vampyre” (originally published as a Victorian “penny dreadful” and which, but for electronic publishing would have been justly forgotten) continues apace.  It is indeed awful and gives new meaning to the word “hack”, but I find it strangely compelling.  Not only because of the dreadfully bathetic title, but also because the writing is of so low a character that one can confidently read it as though it was written by oneself on an off day!  Delight!

Lunch was in a vast restaurant in Gava which was advertising places for the New Year’s Eve bash at a mere €65 per person.  Our meal was a more civilized €11·50 with drink and coffee; more than acceptable.

The visit to the doctor was most encouraging as he has pronounced my lungs “perfect” and I can stop taking the inhalers at once – which might also have some effect on my voice as they might have been making my vocal chords raspy.

As a purely psychological reaction I have begun to cough more and later this evening I will probably do a reasonable vocal impersonation of Louis Armstrong – but I expect to be better by tomorrow.  I have had enough and more than enough of not feeling fully well.  I want to enjoy the rest of my short holiday.

Tomorrow we will be going to Terrassa for lunch and then the evening celebrations the high point of which is eating twelve grapes each one to the sound of the bell tolling the hours at midnight. 

Traditionally the clock that is shown on television is one in the centre of Madrid but I expect that we will be tuning in to the Catalan television version and so will see a clock tower is some god-forsaken part of deepest darkest Catalonia where a small village will have its Warhol fifteen minutes of fame - or rather just over twelve seconds of fame before it lapses back into obscurity, the lighted clock tower sinking back into the pre-television lights darkness.

The charging tray has been a great success and all I need now is one of those fine nib permanent markers to write which gadgets will work with which leads on the thoughtfully provided labels.  At the moment it would seem that a strange wave of logicality has swept through the electronics industry and the lead with the little boat like configuration is able to power a whole range of things.  I must admit that I have a healthy scepticism about any “logic” that the makers of sleek metallic containers of flashing lights might use on their products and I suspect that I am doing irreparable harm to the delicate electronic insides of my favourite things.

So far, and using only four of the myriad available leads I have been able to charge camera, phone, Kindle (two types), Nano and iPod.  I might actually have bought something which is more than a mere gadget and is actually worth the money.  I shall savour this unusual experience!

I have to admit that some of the connectors on the leads that I am not using look positively medical in their complexity and I shudder to think what is actually powered by them.  Presumably they relate to some of the vast array of chargers that narrow-minded mobile phone makers made sure could only power their own products until some sense was beaten into them.  It never ceases to shock me that, despite the historical fact of the VHS/Betamax debacle manufacturers have been allowed to get away with spurious attempts at commercial exclusivity.

Now it is only Apple who spurns industry standards and demand their own.  It cannot be too long before the iPad falls to the ubiquity of the USB and the mighty citadel of Apple purity falls!  After all there are USB ports on my MacBook Air so the logic would suggest that the iPad should not be exempt.

I note that Channel 4 is going to give Stephen Fry some indulgence space to nurture his verbosity on his 100 favourite gadgets.  I think that we (Toni) will have to set the Machine to record this, as we will be in Terrassa at the time of the broadcast.

Something to look forward to.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Time goes on

One has entered that delicious phase which is common just after Christmas Day during which one is not really sure of what day it is.  

It matters little that one has the day indicated on one’s watch face as one has begun to disbelieve such transitory and circumstantial evidence and the only way you can work out the day with any degree of assurance is to work forwards from the day when one didn’t have to go to school.  As that day was a Thursday and Christmas Day was on a Sunday it is all very difficult.

However I do know that tomorrow I go back to the doctor for a further check up.  The cough is still there but nothing like so severe as it has been over the last few weeks and what is more disturbing now is the rough quality of my voice which is not getting better. 
I have taken the ultimate step on the road to recovery and bought two new jars of honey which, together with freshly squeezed lemons and boiling water is my sure-fire recipe for my usual smooth velvet tones to return!

Today was the day of buying the bits and pieces for the pica-pica that we are supposed to take as our contribution to the New Year’s Eve meal in Terrassa. 

I sometimes think that I should be given some form of medal to going shopping with a devout and dedicated non-shopper. 

Years of parental training (maternal not paternal) thrown away when the person you are shopping with can only say, “Right, let’s go!” as soon as the most basic purchases have been made. 

Where is the appreciation of the more stately aspects of the noble art of consumerism when every pause and deviation is questioned by someone whose idea of shopping is to get what is needed and then get out.  I pity such a beggared vision of what shopping is really like.

I have done nothing about getting my teeth seen to.  A perfectly natural aversion to having my teeth seen to by anyone other than Mr Hamilton, the dentist of my childhood.  Every dentist since has been a pale reflection of the memory of the man in whom I put total faith.  I don’t think that I have ever fully forgiven him for dying and forcing me to go to someone other than himself.  It was only then that I understood the fear and loathing that other people usual displayed towards their dentists.

And now I have to go to someone who doesn’t even speak my language.  Though come to think about it Mr Hamilton’s Irish accent was usually impenetrable to me, so not much change there!

It will have to be done.  And soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mobile money

My bank account is considerably lighter, but I do have a car that goes.  Which is a good thing I suppose.

I did not allow my features to crack into anything approaching a smile when I paid over the money.  All that money.  Money gone.  All of it.

But it’s only money after all.  Money that could have been spent on things made of metal with flashing lights.  But spent instead on something as mundane as a bloody clutch.

Then it was off to one of the worst medical facilities that it has been our misfortune to patronise with our ailments, or at least with Toni’s ailments.  They way that his knee has been seen to, or rather not seen to.  For physiotherapy the most helpful person who saw to him was a lab technician rather than a trained physio.

The information given to him has been sketchy and, in spite of their inability to diagnose what was happening from an x-ray they delayed giving him a magnetic resonance scan until god knows what other damage had been done.

Today was the getting of the copy of the scan on a CD.  Needless to say there was neither a parking space nor a CD when we got there.  When Toni asked for his disk he was given some unreasonable excuse why it wasn’t ready and was asked to give them an extra 15 minutes to make the disk.  Meanwhile I prowled around the parking area circulating in my newly repaired car like a motorized stalker.

When we finally got a parking space with Toni standing sentinel over the gap and then went for a rather frosty coffee – the atmosphere, not the drink.  Fifteen minutes up Toni stomped back and, sure enough, the woman he was supposed to see was not only not there but also had left the telephone off the hook.

Frost became glacial.

The woman reappeared and ignored Toni’s greeting and proceeded to shout into the off-hooked phone until she hung up with a wry smile.

Amazingly she got Toni’s CD and handed it to him without a word and we left hurriedly before anything else could go wrong.

A certain triumphal thaw continued through lunch which we had in a celebratory sort of way in our favourite (and cheap) restaurant in the centre of the town.

With the newly mobile car we called into Lidl after lunch and stocked up with the heavier good which immobility had denied us: milk and water.  And a few other bits and pieces – including a sonic cleaner, a watch display case and a multi-charger tray, and some food.  And yes, I did remember the milk and water.

I have made a halfhearted attempt to try (yet again) to bring some sense of order into the welter of serpentine horror that comprises my expanding collection of gadget power leads.  I am hoping that the new “tray” which is not one of those new-fangled things that recharges the device merely by resting on a special surface but rather a fairly basic container with DC outlets for five or six leads to be permanently connected but hidden out of sight until needed.  There is even a label you can use to identify each one.  Nothing really new about the device, but the combination of things will be useful I think.

Meanwhile the trip to the dentist beckons.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Terrible transport

Cars are hateful bloody things.  They are a thorough nuisance when you are without one, especially if you are used to one and therefore have conditioned yourself to be particularly helpless when motorised transport is denied you.  They are also vile when they are working as they constantly ask to be fed with increasingly expensive liquid and finding somewhere suitable to leave them is becoming virtually impossible.

It was therefore with ill concealed fury that, having woken up at an ungodly hour to get my car to the garage for 8.30 am I had to wait while people arrived at the garage before I could walk home.

That anger was as nothing when I heard that the trouble was the clutch which had to be replaced at a vast and fabulous cost!  So much for the season of goodwill.  The clutch costs as much as a mobile phone that one would not be ashamed to use in technologically literate company!  What a waste of money, when it could be spent too much more advantage on flashily showy gadgets.

There is something depressingly quotidian about mere transport which, in spite of its necessity, leaves me quite cold.

So the so-called “extra” pay (which because of the crisis I have not actually been paid, and even when it is it is no all of it) will be lavished on a bloody clutch!

The long walk back from the garage was cold and depressing and convinced me that, however much the clutch cost, it was worth it!

Car-less, we ate locally and tried out a new locale by walking over the blue pedestrian bridge to a motorway café which I have long longed to try.

The menu came in three sorts and we chose the cheapest of the menus at some off price of just under €7·50 which, with tax and coffee came to just under €9. 

For this princely sum I had a starter of spaghetti “mar y montaña” (the Catalan version of “surf and turf” which they claim to have originated) which comprised spaghetti, small bivalve shells, salty mushrooms and some unidentified bits of meat-like substances, all in a vaguely tomatoesque sauce.  It could have done with some grated cheese which I was too shocked to ask for, but it was reasonably good.

The second course was fatty meat (delicious, a guilty pleasure, but delicious) with woodchip like chips.  The sweet was Crema Catalana which was the best of the three courses and home made.  The wine was a very, very young and untamed Rioja made palatable by Casera.  I am sure that this was the sort of meal that, when I first came to this country I would have been bowled over by.

Although relatively cheap and relatively tasty, I am no longer so easily impressed and I think that I would have preferred to have paid a few euros more and had a much better meal.  It was just as well that I heard about the cost of repairing the car after lunch because my jaundiced mood would have made my reception of the meal even less positive!

I have just read one of Rider Haggard’s books after a very long period since I read the last one.  “King Solomon’s Mines” was something of a favourite with me when I was younger and the character of Gagool has remained with me.  I also seem to recall some expressive line drawings in the Puffin edition.

I loved “King Solomon’s Mines” but my reading of the most recent book makes me think that Haggard is something of a pernicious writer.

I know it is very easy from this historically distant standpoint to read someone writing about Africa in 1908 and take a snooty attitude towards the condescension and racism that, even if it is not plainly evident, must be there. 

Haggard goes out of his way to show the nobility of the natives and makes a number of snide remarks about the morality of the colonial whites.  The main character’s father is depicted as a bigoted and dangerously selfish clergyman devoted to the idea of martyrdom at the expense of his family.  The villain of the piece (one of many) is a renegade white “gentleman” who is demonstrated to be a coward who also hits women and has native “wives”.  Need more be said!

The plot is one of the sort which uses elements common to many of the novels of his I have read.  There is a more than generous ladling of magic and fantasy; there is a noble and self-sacrificing native; the main character is a fey, yet goddess-like white woman who rules over the imagination of the natives; there is war and struggle; death and redemption all leading to the affirmation of the power of love.

I read it compulsively as I am sure his readers did in the first decade of the twentieth century!

Now to bed to try and gain the right frame of mind to pay out the vast sums of money this are necessary to get my car back into service tomorrow.

It’s only money.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Catch Up

Today, Boxing Day – or more importantly my Saint’s Day – was notable for lots of things, but, to my mind the most engaging thing was when I looked into the heavens just before I got to Toni’s sister’s flat and only saw the suggestion of clouds out of the corner of my eye.  A sky that flawless this late in December deserves some respect!

Christmas Eve had its own special flavour with the hitting of the log to shit presents with my own excreted gifts including a USB heated drink coaster; a X frame for tablet computers and a very large bottle of aftershave.

My name day saw our having a meal of fideua followed by an experimental chocolate fountain.  My Saint’s Day’s gifts included a book of world architecture; a couple of bottles of Cava and some spa body wash.  All in all a good haul.

What hasn’t been good has been my total inability to get an email plus specially taken photograph to act as a Christmas message to those I should be in contact with.  Each one of the select number of Christmas cards that I have received has been a vicious prod in the area where my guilt complex should reside.  To those who did send a card, I should inform then that they form a neat row under the television and on the printer – and very nice they look too. 

Next year.  Without fail.  Cards of some sort will be sent.  Honestly.

Or not, of course.

Now back in Castelldefels, tomorrow the car has to be taken to the garage, as acceleration seems to be a thing of the past.  My teeth need attention and my cough is still with me.

Roll on the rest of the holiday!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jesting Pilate

“Are you,” asked a very small child with wide eyes, “the real Santa Claus?”

An impressively complex questions, as I am sure that you admit. 

One which, in many ways, one could say that the whole of my education and experience had been leading up to.  Here was something to tax what I laughingly refer to as my intellect.  Something to push my grasp of ethics.   Something to stretch my concept of morality.

That trusting face, filled with expectation and enquiry, open and innocent waiting for the truth.

The Truth.

I lied, of course.  Instantly and totally with the sincerity which I have laboured to make natural for the whole of my life.

But there again.  With legend, when whatever was once real is lost in the mists of time, interpretation when your representation is a real as it gets.  Perhaps I was telling the truth.

What I thought was going to be a quick appearance, a few waves and a few chortles did not quite turn out like that.

Enthroned on an old-fashioned high-winged bow-legged armchair in boots which had taken me minutes to get on and with a beard and moustache that refused to stay anywhere near my mouth I was trapped for two and a half hours as waves of small people came and received books from my white gloved hands.

Admittedly I only came into contact with the more foetal members of our school, but there did seem to be hordes of them.

They arrived class by class wide-eyed with wonder.  They clustered around me for a group photograph which was only possible because of their teachers’ ability to arrange the kids like a three-dimensional jigsaw in a matter of seconds ensuring that each face can be seen in the final photograph.  Watching them work was a Master Class on how to move small lumps of humanity into a convincing array of humanity.

Each child had an individual photo taken with “Santa” and no present was released into small grasping hands until each child had said, or at least mumbled a convincing version of “Thank you!”

“Santa” was regaled with various songs from the groups.  He was presented with letters.  One child gave him a piece of cake.  Yet another gave him a Christmas card, another a small plastic Santa and one enterprising child (who will obviously go far) gave him a toilet tube covered with crepe paper inside which was a scribbled picture, a small sweet, a plastic silhouette of a bear and a 50c coin.

From time to time Santa’s vigil was enlivened by colleagues arriving and, after emitting little squeaks of admiration or surprise at the transformation, having their photographs taken as well.

The best response however, was when Santa had just got changed and was waiting in the staff room.  One female primary school teacher came in and did not notice the Gentleman in Red until she turned round and then screamed and fell back on a table and then laughed to cover her rather extreme reaction.

Although the reaction of the children was gratifying, two and a half hours of bonhomie towards very small people with a limited command of English was a little wearing.

At the end of Santa’s stint he was supposed to transform himself into a normal teacher and help the Invisible Friends distribution of presents in the equivalent of a Year 8 class.

I am afraid to say that I pulled rank and declined to do anything more and after saying farewell to colleagues he went home.

And collapsed onto a reclining chair and waited for normal service to be resumed.

Within an hour or so Toni returned from Terrassa together with sister, mother and two nephews.

When they left we went out for dinner and had an excellent meal in a new restaurant in which we were the only diners.

An early night was called for.  And was had.

Saturday was taken up with a chaotic visit to the doctor for Toni in a medical centre where the electricity failed as soon as he entered the consulting room.  Chaos continued as he attempted to get a copy of his recent scan.  That is a continuing story.

My own visit was more conventional and my next appointment is scheduled for the 30th.

And the car needs to be repaired as the acceleration has become faulty and the engine is racing.

Always there is something!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The little patch of blue!

It is always a bracing educational challenge when you find yourself confronted with the loss of your free period on the penultimate day of school.  I find it brings out the best in me, especially when one has a meeting to look forward to after school which will spell out in detail just how much and when we are going to be paid less!

So while I ponder on my possible response to having money ripped from my paltry pay packet I can thank my lucky stars that I only have four periods today rather than the six of yesterday so the free period lost today only brought up my teaching time to a full working day in the UK.   Comparisons are odious and I must keep remembering the sage advice that so often drifts into my bemused mind as I observe the way that Catalonia works: “Remember Stephen, you are not in Britain.”

At lunchtime we had a speculative discussion about what the meeting this evening might hold.  I feel that an across the board reduction in wages when not everybody is directly affected in the same way is patently unfair.  The Byzantine way in which our wages are computed means that some teachers are paid entirely by the Foundation of our school, others entirely by the state and yet others (myself included) are paid by both.  The government is the institution reducing payment so some people should be entirely unaffected by what our political masters say and some only tangentially.  The situation is a mess, but I do not think that penalising those who are entitled to a full payment in the cause of a specious fairness is the right thing to do.

I am actually looking forward to this meeting – in spite of the fact that I do not expect to hear any good news from it.  What I am anticipating is the delight with which I will watch the way in which the school attempts to square the circle. 

Good luck to them! 

Except it is a little difficult to maintain a lofty and smilingly ironic detachment from the discussion when it is your own pay that is being talked about!

Toni has gone to Terrassa for a dramatic entertainment spread over two days in which his nephews are going to have starring parts, or at least they are going to be on stage and in the public view.  Alas!  I am teaching and have to be in school so I am unable to share the delight of seeing a five and a three year-old display their undoubted but nascent thespian skills.

I plan a therapeutic reading session after the meeting this evening.  God alone knows how long it will go on for, but I do know that everyone has something to say when it concerns the magic subject of income.  I trust that I will be able to slip out when the information has been given, and before the discussion about impossible things we might do starts!

The meeting was a damp squib!  True we were told that we would only be paid 80% of our “extra” payment this December, but we were given the partial expectation that we might get the other 20% in January.  This is 20% of a month’s salary as we are paid in fourteen instalments during the year with two instalments in December and June.  If we are to be paid back in January (we hope) then this is a very short term expedient to very little purpose by the government.  Much more serious is the threat of a further cut to salary in February of next year – but our meeting said nothing about that.  All is still speculation.

Meanwhile my cough remains, though I think it is gradually fading – or that may merely be wishful thinking!

I shall have an early night, because it is an early start for me tomorrow and at mid-day I will become magically transformed into the personification of the season.

As I went to lunch today I was hailed by Primary colleagues who asked me if I had seen my seat.  I had not.  And was a little disturbed to see an ornate armchair set up in a rather more public vestibule area than I would have liked.  It all seems to be very serious and getting slightly out of hand!

I am more than a little concerned at the escalation of what I thought was going to be a fleeting visit, a few ho  ho hos and away.

My Christmas ties (yes, I have more than one) have gone down a treat and it is sobering to consider that my person and my teaching may be soon forgotten but my ties will live on in legend!

Where is my puffer?  Live a little, say I!