Monday, January 30, 2012

What happens next?

For one horrible moment I thought that next week which I have been looking forward to was going to be ruined because of the noxious presence of extraneous kids.  My idea of paradise, a school drained of the unruly horror of actual students was going to be blasted by economic disaster.

Spanair has gone bust and we were flying some of our kids off to who-cares-where and now they (whoever they are) have to find alternative transport.  I was transfixed with despair at the thought of a surgically clean school being polluted with disgruntled students who were unable to participate in our Trip Week, mainly because of the realization that someone left back at base would have to look after them in their lessons.

Buses, train, AVE, horseback, hovercraft, pogo stick were all suggested by me in an excess of fear that my pseudo-holiday was about to be ruined.  I even suggested making the trip into a pilgrimage so that we could justify the kids walking if necessary.

But crisis management is something this school does well.  It is unfortunate that it also precipitates the crises that necessitate the crisis management, but we have to be grateful for small mercies.  An announcement was made in morning break which suggested that various alternatives were already being explored and that the kids should be safely (if possible) away at the appropriate time.

A week today will be the last normal teaching day for my 2BXT, and I think that the rest of the school will be safely away by that time.  Nothing, absolutely nothing has been said about what we Ones Who Are Left are supposed to be doing.

I have plenty to do during this unnatural week and it would be great if I were able to get into the writing for my Art Book – though those capital letters are a little pretentious for what I am seeking to achieve.  But it would give me a couple of days to break the back of the project and anyway it would give me time to get together a series of pictures that will be necessary to make the thing work.

I will also have marking to do and I have vowed that I am never going to do any marking at home again.  We have an enforced eight-hour day and that is long enough for anything to get done – and if it isn’t long enough then it simply is not going to get done.  I have adopted this policy for the last few months and, while it does make for some fun-filled and frantic days, it generally works out.

Of course there are some things that I will do in my spare time at home connected with school that do not count: reading is an obvious example.  Especially reading about (art or Art) and reading literature.

I cannot bring myself to tolerate the mealy mouthed pretentious indulgence which usually constitutes writing about education.  Suzanne is different and she rejoices in the stuff that makes my blood run cold and, even worse, actually puts educational ideas into practical operation in her classes.

I tell myself that as an Art Teacher she has her own room, own equipment, a practical bias and enough time to develop concepts whereas I am an itinerant teacher with no base and no storage in my teaching spaces.

I have realized that the last sentence is not strictly true as, in one class I have the upturned lid of a paper box to keep my text books while in another I have attempted to utilize the space around the television, CD player and computer in a video storage cupboard for the stuff for Media Studies, Current Affairs and Making Sense of Modern Art.  To say I am squeezed is something of an understatement!

Tomorrow is the next in my opera series in the Liceu and this is either going to be a revelation or an explanation of why this piece has never been played in the Liceu since in was written in the last quarter of the eighteenth century by Vicent Martín i Soler – a name, I am sure you will agree, to conjure with.  OK, his librettist was Da Ponte and Mozart wrote an aria for inclusion in the opera and it doesn’t matter how much you say that in his day he rivalled Mozart and Salieri, there must be a reason why this Catalan composer has not had his opera presented once in Catalonia in the Liceu in the couple of centuries that have elapsed since the first performance.  I wait to be convinced.

So far into the season, with the exception of Carmen, I have not been to anything that I have known well.  And tomorrow I am presented with a composer whose name I heard for the first time when I read the prospectus for the forthcoming season. 

Educators need to be educated too!  At least I am with Suzanne on that one!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

There is always buying1

A cold but sunny morning and the drizzle and rain of yesterday just a damp memory.

I went shopping for the ingredients for Toni’s paella and on the way back stopped at a stall to get chocolate and churros.  Churros are fingers of extruded batter which are deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar.  The chocolate drink which comes with this indulgent calorie-filled excess should be of the consistency of slow moving lava.  Ours was not; it was more like a sweet drink of comforting late night coco-lite and was greeted with nationalistic dismay by Toni.  And these so-called foodstuffs weren’t cheap either.  Another eating place to cross off the list!

Toni’s paella was a good first attempt – there is nothing so satisfying as damming with faint praise.  He chose to make a vegetable paella which is more difficult to bring off because there is not the obvious taste centre of meat in the dish – but the rice was done to perfection and that, after all is the main ingredient!  Damming with faint praise Part II!

My journeys to school devour CD at an astonishing rate and I am therefore always in the market for cheapish (though intellectually respectable) CDs to be used and discarded much like hitchhikers Quentin Crisp described being picked up by truck drivers “used for their pleasure and then discarded like used Hershey Bar wrappers.”

As I am usually driving in sullen disbelief as I make my way (in darkness) to my place of work, I need the comfort of Classical Music to make my entry to school just that little bit more tolerable.  There are, you might remark, two perfectly good Classical Music Radio Stations on my radio but they both suffer from the same delusion and that delusion can make my sullen resentment boil up into incandescent anger in the twinkling of an eye.

I do not, have never and will never understand why Classical Music, even in its widest interpretation (i.e. allowing people like Karl Jenkins with their euphemistically “polystylistic” approach to share a concert stage with composers like Sibelius!) has to include the dreaded and justly despised so-called music designated by the appellation of “Jazz.”

I am well aware that I am dismissing, by using the term Jazz as an inclusive description, a whole diverse collection of widely different strands.  And I am further aware that when Jazz forms part of the inspiration for so-called conventional composers I am more than happy to listen to it.  And if it comes to that I am thirdly aware that some Jazz has set my feet tapping and I have been more than happy to devour quantities of strong liquid beverages while listening to it as a pleasant background music.  What I hate is the hard-core stuff, the modern self-indulgent meandering masquerading as music.  And they put it on Radio 3 and write about it in my Classical Music Magazine and foist it on unsuspecting listeners who tune into the radio in good faith expecting the Real Thing.

So I am more than prepared to provide my own series of discs so that my journey time is conducive to mellow contemplation – even when the music is hysterical.

I have therefore had a wonderfully self-indulgent (but not in the way of modern Jazz musicians) time seeking out the most Classic FM or These We Have Loved selections and listening with glee during the chunks of time when I am avoiding motorcyclists on the motorways.

In one of the supermarkets I chanced upon a series of triple-disc sets which were marketed as “The 50 best . . . “ etc.  In this series I have listened to the fifty best adagios, children’s classics, cello works, ballet extracts, marriage pieces, spiritual classics and so the list goes on.  Some, I have to say I will never listen to again – even with a cash inducement!  But supplies, like teabags, just run out when you least expect and I have been hunting for new supplies.

And, yet again, trusty Amazon shoulders its way to my attention.  I am a great devotee of “Brilliant Classics” – a terminally naff name but an excellent CD publisher with unbeatable prices on their offerings.  I have been um-ing and ah-ing over one of their latest offerings which is a box set of the works of Tchaikovsky.  But this includes all sorts of things which are not necessarily the best sort of thing to listen to when driving with loonies in the morning.  I am looking for something altogether more vulgar.

And Amazon, much in the manner of Uriah Heep when he was pushing the bottle of sherry towards Mr Wickfield in the hope of encouraging him into ways of dissipation, keeps popping up urging me to buy, buy, buy things that they know that I want.

So I have given in and ordered two box sets of innumerable discs for a couple of quid each which give me the best and brightest of Decca and Mercury.  I know that these are the dusty back-catalogues of hard pressed music companies trying to squeeze the last drops out of obsolete recordings, but they are perfect for what I need them for and will cover my travel time for the rest of the year.  And, after all it’s cheaper than petrol and it will last longer!

I also have another non-delivery to anticipate as the fluid organization that is Amazon is dammed (in both senses of the word) by the shoddy and lying inefficiency of the final firm in the chain which actually gets the parcels to me.

I now assume that Amazon is right when I read the email which says that the package has been handed over to the local delivery service and I now ignore the mendacious notes and denials of the service and merely go in to the local office, proffer my identification number and wait for my package. 

Which I later take without saying what I really think because I know that they can get a great deal worse. 

I am sure that companies like the one that is supposed to deliver to us rely on the fact that they know that there will be more hassle when returning packages than putting up with the sub-standard service that we can from them at the moment.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Culture at last!

Waiting for a 95 in meaninglessly spiteful drizzle I wondered about the complete lack of information we have about what is happening to the bus system.

Bus prices were hiked by a third as a gesture towards repairing the ravages of the Crisis and there has been a reorganization of bus stops so that one bus appears to have vanished.

The most direct bus into Barcelona is the 94 but that bus seems to have been banned from our part of the world, so I had to be satisfied with the 95 which stops everywhere before it gets to its destination.

But at least I got a seat, and eventually I was able to change it for one pointing in the right direction.  And eventually get to the exhibition for a visit which has been long delayed.

“Maestros Franceses deal Colección Clark” was an amazing collection of paintings from the Barbizon School to the Impressionists and slightly beyond.

Apart from the Clarks’ unhealthy preoccupation with Renoir – whose unhealthily saccharine works have never appealed to me – the collection is astonishing.  It is inclusive and revealing.  A Monet of a storm at sea dating from 1886 and other early examples of famous artists gives an alternative view of some of their work.  For example a Caillebotte painting from 1892 has elements which give it the appearance of a piece of Fauvist art, a far cry from his more urban meticulousness!

My cordial dislike of Corot continues centred I think on his smeary approach to the portrayal of trees, though I also have to admit that an Italian oil for c. 1840 had all the sketch-like vitality of a watercolour by Cotman!
It is difficult to retexture the revolutionary nature of many of the paintings – especially when all these canvases are framed with such portentously ornate gilding!  We do not now see the odd industrial chimney as an astonishingly outré aspect of a “pretty” landscape; we fail to find the odd shapes of Degas paintings and he cut-off figures as bizarre; Pointillist and other colour experiments are seen as decorative rather than dangerous!

The painting I would most like to have stolen was by Lautrec” La espera” from 1888, a deceptively simple work of a back view of a young woman sitting at a circular table with a glass in front of her.  Her head is turned slightly to the right and she has a certain world-weariness which is always engaging in Lautrec’s work.  The composition of the piece is exceptional with a contrapuntal movement of geometric forces giving a dynamism to the painting where the point of eye contact of the young woman with the viewer seem immanent.

There is a Daumier, a Fantin-Latour, a couple of Tissots and a scattering of Major Names to keep any art watcher happy.

This is an exhibition well worth visiting.  And, at the moment, the exhibitions in La Caixa are still free.  Long may it continue!

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak is now read.  A book narrated by Death about a young girl fostered in war time Germany and lined to the position of Jews in that disastrous time should have been more disturbing than I found this book.

At times the technique overtook the story telling and I found myself admiring the style rather than the content.  It is always a problem when dealing with the horrors of World War II and the Final Solution that the subject matter is more powerful than the author is capable of making the slant that he is adopting for his story line.

There were (I discovered) two pages of adulatory comments from magazines from around the world at the start of the book, but I cannot be as enthusiastic about it.  There were moving and stimulating parts to the novel but it left me essentially dissatisfied.

Tomorrow Toni is going to cook his first paella.

Friday, January 27, 2012

At last!

A colleague of mine is returning to the UK today to visit his parents and, as the common courtesy of these trips demands, he asked me if there was anything from the UK that I wanted him to bring me back.  And there was nothing.

It makes you think that an entire culture that has nurtured me for a vast number of years has nothing to offer!  I spurn Marmite as I would a rabid dog; tea bags of the correct British quality are readily available in many supermarkets here; I have The Guardian sent to my iPad; I cannot eat a whole Cadbury’s cream egg, and rain I can do without.  So what is there left?

The weekend is to be given over to the reading of “The Book Thief” which I have been told in no uncertain terms is both very good and will make me cry.  I have read the first twenty or so pages and I am less than impressed.  The novel seems affected and meaninglessly tricksy – but it is early days and a few hundred pages to go.  I will reserve judgement.  In so far as I have ever done that!

An early night to be up bright and early for Culture tomorrow.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Exams - now it's personal

A day of frantic marking: every moment an opportunity to bring out the red pen and make marks resulting in wholesale failure for my pupils!  Half the class have failed to reach the magic five out of ten which indicates a pass.  Ah well.

The days are slowly slipping away and bringing us nearer to the week when the greater part of the school will disappear on the trips leaving we stay-at-homes to the quiet majesty of an empty school.  Well, empty as far as the secondary section of the school is concerned.  The other sections of the school may or may not be functional and we may or may not be required to do “something” in other parts of the school to compensate for the fact that we are still in situ!

This has been a hard week as (and I’m not alone here among my colleagues) we are all looking the worse for wear and are all, without exception, tired.  I at least can look forward to a less stressful week, though our school has a Puritanically vindictive system which wants no one to escape for any misery going: what’s discomfort for one must be discomfort for all!

At least I have an art gallery to visit this weekend and a new book to read as well.

A day to go and an early finish.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Only Wednesday!

At last, something vaguely cultural and expressive to do rather than the arid intellectual wasteland of marking.

After the well paced and high tension meeting with Suzanne last night I ended up with something practical to do and, with my later than usual start this morning I was able to get a draft of “my bit” done by 9.55.

I had to produce a short piece of writing from the point of view of the shark in “Jaws” as we are asking the kids as part of a week of project work to “Give the Baddies a Chance!” and consider what extenuating circumstances there might be for some of the villains that the kids know and love.

My suggestion that we use the character of Satan from “Paradise Lost” and assume ourselves to be, to misquote Blake’s famous statement about Milton being “of the devil’s party with knowing it” – it’s the knowing part of our kids’ journey which is the important part.  Anyway, the first draft of what I had to produce is now done and dusted and I await suggestions from my colleagues to make it more kid-friendly.

Today has been a tiring day and I fully intend to have an early night tonight.

Tentative arrangements have been made for a visit to the Impressionist Exhibition in Barcelona on Saturday and then it is only a few days to the next opera in the Liceu.  Back on cultural track.

My anti or popular cultural appetite is going to be fed by the same student who loaned me the Tom Clancy book.  He excitedly informed me today that his father had all the known novels of this writer and was more than prepared to share such riches with me.  I told him to ask his dad to think about a novel whose subject matter and style was as different as possible from the one I have read.  That should give him some pause for thought.  My pupil is still astonished that an 800 page novel should only take me a couple of days to read – but to be fair to him, he is reading the novel in a foreign language.  And he is only twelve!

After the tension of the Cardiff City game last night going to penalties, we now have Barça playing Real Madrid for a place in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey – the Spanish equivalent of the FA Cup.
The first minutes of the game had Real Madrid dominating with a missed chance for a goal within 11 seconds!  Chances came and went for Real Madrid with one spectacular shot from Ozil bouncing off two sides of the goal, but not going in.  It was Barça who scored.  Twice.  The aggregate score is now 4-1 – but there is still half an hour to go.  The last two evenings have been undeniably tense with some heart stopping football being played.  And the score is now 4-2 with Real Madrid creeping back into the game with twenty minutes to go!  Now 4-3!  Toni has gone quiet and there is far too much time left if Real Madrid are going to make realities of all the chances that they are likely to get!

The quality of the television transmission that we are getting has suddenly deteriorated and so the tension is made much worse because we are not getting continuous picture and the pictures we do eventually get are more impressionistic than precise and our frustration is mounting!  The picture has now become more Fauvist than Impressionist – more visually dramatic but we would rather see a more prosaically coloured game!

I now have another set of papers to mark (this is an example of frustration displacement thinking!) but I hope to get those out of the way tomorrow as long as I keep out of the way of knee-jerk management coping with staff absence.  And I know that at least one member of staff is not going to be there.  Cave!

We are now in extra time, the score still 4-3 and Barça have failed to capitalize on a real opportunity.  The seconds are passing very slowly and the game is degenerating into vicious playacting.  The sooner this is over the better!

And it is.  And we’ve won.  Thank god!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Job well done!

I am at present suffused with the warm glow of self-satisfaction brought on by a spate of marking completed before the official start of my day.

There is something to be said for traffic congestion, as I have to leave my house at an ungodly time and get in to school ridiculously early because if I leave any later I will get caught up in the transportation meltdown which is rush hour in Barcelona.

This means that as well as having a reasonably leisurely cup of tea I can also prepare for the day ahead.  And I have even marked a class set which doesn’t need to be done today!  Preparation indeed!

Added to the six periods that I teach today is a meeting immediately after school.  O Joy!  Though in defence of the chair of our meeting, Suzanne is one of the few people I have ever known who keeps to the official time limits set down and keeps the pace of the meeting going.  There is always more to do at the end of these meetings, but this is one which I do not resent with the bone deep hatred that usually accompanies my other attendances and meetings whose fatuity can only be appreciated by other cynical professionals!

Four of my six lessons today have now been taught and only the last two, set firmly in the afternoon remain.  These two lessons are a hard slog for teacher and pupil alike and so I have devised the saving strategy of splitting the long, long class into a classroom section and then the latter part in the computer room with the kids doing research which eventually results in a single page of black and white print and pictures.  Which I then mark.  Clean and efficient.  In theory.

Theories continue to proliferate about what exactly is going to happen to our pay in the next few months.  All the fervid speculation is laced with despair as the futility of action is considered.  One feels slightly miffed that Spain does not have the same tradition of futile (but glorious) or glorious (but futile) opposition that seems to run like a twisted thread through the history of labour relations in the UK.

It seems almost inevitable that our wages are going to be cut; by how much and when is the point of discussion – but not what we should do or be doing as a response to this action.  The fatalism is almost tangible and blunts the edge of my dissatisfaction.  The Unions are weak and in my place of work “unobtrusive.”  People are too concerned with their jobs to voice an opinion about Unions let alone claim to be a member of one.  With the shining exception of myself.  Though even I keep a fairly low profile.

The establishment of a working Union group within the school with official negotiating rights is such a complex and soulless process that it is unlikely ever to be instigated by the workers here!

I should imagine that there are many potentially active union members ploughing a lonely furrow and wonder just what sort of crisis will have to have before it ferments some radicalism.  I fear that question is going to remain rhetorical for some time to come!

As if to emphasise the lowly position of teachers here have, I return home after a meeting after school lasting over an hour.  I arrive at night and today I return at night.

As is usual I leave the meeting with more work to do, a feeling of mild resentment and a strong desire to get a cup of tea at home as compensation.

Tomorrow is Wednesday and the official tipping day of the week when, in the afternoon, we can consider ourselves on the home straight to the weekend.

There is an exhibition in Barcelona of Impressionist painting that I am ashamed to say I have not yet seen.  I shall rectify this omission this weekend – and have a quick look at any sales that might still be going.

Needs must!