Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All plans fail!

I am in a foreign country!

It is the smaller things that tell me so.

Yesterday I attempted to buy marzipan.  Ah yes, you who are older and wiser may smile at my simple minded optimism that such an exotic commodity could be found in what is, after all, an exotic country.  I went to three supermarkets of increasing magnitude asking for marzipan and was met with barely concealed astonishment that I could find it in myself to ask for such an obscure item!

This means of course that my Plan B for my triple chocolate cake is now almost officially dead and I will have to think of Plan C and probably Plan D – or Plan E, which is to avoid all the other plans and do without what I was thinking of in the first place.  That one looks increasingly likely!

My first impulse on being frustrated in something that I want is to spend money.  Which is what I did yesterday; not only then and there but potentially as well.  Ah well, I am not one to deny the therapeutic value of commercial activity!  And at least with this particular purchase I can say that I am actually saving money in the long run.  The very long run!

Though, I am reminded of a comment by my accountant (ah, happy memories when such a thing was even a partial necessity!) who told me in no uncertain terms that, “You should not spend money to save money!”  Sound advice, which I have systematically ignored throughout my life, using the tissue-thin excuse of saving money to justify all sorts of expenses.  It works for me!

We are, amazingly, gearing ourselves up for another round of examinations.  Why we are doing this, even given the warped logic of this school, I know not.  A picture of a typical student from our place would be a child clutching a sheaf of notes being ardently scanned (the notes not the child) and wandering aimlessly among other similarly desolate young humans!

I have given up trying to find marzipan.  I have visited my last supermarket in the search and am fed up with being met by frank disbelief that I should be trying to buy some at this time of the year.  At least in this place they made an attempt to look for it, even though they had told me it didn’t exist!

So I bought a half price garlic crusher instead.  And a spare single cup coffee plunger thingie.  And a half price special tea thingie which a special button which drops the tea into the container.  I know that isn’t well explained, but take my word for it that it qualifies as a sort of gadget and that makes me happy!

Tomorrow the cake and now the final touch with the umpteenth plan just about to be put into effect.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sweet and sour

The second day of Chocolate Week started with a scare: the non appearance of the colleague from the UK bearing M&S goodies.  The fact that another colleague had seen fit to enter into the spirit of the occasion by placing a bar of Lindt chocolate in each staff room was a bonus, but did not compensate for the apparent loss of deliciousness from that fabled store.

We needn’t have worried, just as we were consoling ourselves with a morsel of first rate chocolate the two small barrels of delight arrived and the week picked up a gear!

The weather is so fine that I have discarded my jumper and rolled the sleeves of my shirt up.  This is a statement.  Probably more to do with my longing for the summer holidays than anything else, but I really am longing for those lazy days lounging in the sun on the Third Floor.

The Third Floor!  It hardly exists in our house at the moment except as a place of doom and destruction where, in the absolute chaos of things, just one thing that you want but cannot find might, just might be lying around to the common gaze.  Of course it isn’t, and that is why the Third Floor is a place of painful reflection and uneasy existence at the moment. 

But come something more nearly approaching the summer and much of the lumber which takes up substantial space (like cushions for loungers) will be in their proper place on the terrace and there will be space to look around.  There is also the arrival of guests who enjoy the terrace and we would like them to have serene thoughts as they have a drink outside rather than gulp it down as an antidote to the trauma after making their way through a grotesque Curiosity Shop of possessions!

As is usual I make my annual profession that this year I truly will rationalize my books; put my books in a rational order; clear certain impossible cupboards in the kitchen; visit the small church on the top of the hill in Sant Boi and get rid of some of the clothing which I have not worn for a couple of years.  I do so swear!  We will see.

The opera last night was difficult.  Not the production, but simply getting there.  And of course I was not incommoded by something as mundane as a traffic jam.

My bank card is missing.  This happens periodically and I have learned (or I thought that I had learned) to cope with it.  I have been extraordinarily lucky and for each loss (which is usually the card being mislaid) I have suffered no diminution in my funds.  So, it was the same this time.  A wild panic when I discovered the loss and then a nervous trip to the bank to push my bankbook into the slot to find out if the card had been used since my last remembered transaction.

The next problem is to get to the bank to have my card as the replacement is sent to the local branch and I never get time to go there; their opening times being restricted to part of the working day for other people.  I can still get money by using my bank book as a card and so everything is almost normal.

It was only when I tried to pay for spices that I had bought in the market in the centre of Barcelona that I realized that I did not have enough cash to pay for the car to get out of the car park at the end of the opera.  As I had driven in directly from school, and as I realized fairly early in my time in Barcelona that I was without my card there was, theoretically, time for me to go home, get my bank book, get cash, drive back into Barcelona and, eventually, go to the opera.

I got back home without incident, endured the withering scorn of Toni and set off again armed with my bank book.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a man is in urgent need of swift cash from a hole in the wall, the person on the machine in front of you will be attempting to finance a take over of a major multi-national from that particular cash machine.  The man in front used more cards, produced more sheets of printed paper from the machine and paused, checked, computed, consulted and computed again before he finally left the booth.

I took as usual a few seconds and I was off.

I had an hour and a quarter to travel a distance which at any other time of the day than 6.45 pm would take less than twenty minutes.  The snarling knotted snake of a road that is the Ronda littoral was my bête noire.  I have been stuck in this elongated car park weeping with frustration and banging the wheel a number of times and, on one occasion, I was ushered into a small viewing theatre in the Liceu because I was too late to be admitted to the performance.  I therefore had no lively hope that I would get there for the start of the production.

The first part of the journey was deceptively easy with traffic flowing with relative smoothness.  I was not beguiled by this and knew that it was only when I joined the coast hugging motorway that my real problems would begin.

As a way of dealing with the inevitable stress that this road induces I have worked out a system whereby I can find out if I am “doing well” before the traffic stops moving.

The first point of stress release is when the car makes it to a point parallel to the first piece of rising ground that forms the lowest slope of Montjuic; the second point is a particular sign for something I do not understand and the third is being opposite the burial vaults on the hillside.  I made it to the third of these at cruising speed and then stopped.  At that point, going on past experience, however bad the traffic was, it was likely that I was going to make it.

And make it I did with time to spare.  So much time in fact that I decided to have a meal.  A cheap meal of tapas, pizza and ice cream was overshadowed by a half (½) bottle of wine that was 150% the price of the meal!  It was on The Ramblas and I was expecting a tourist rip-off but even I was taken in by the English speaking suavity of the waiter.

I was so shocked at the price of the wine that I lost a little of my sense of time and I had to rush towards the Liceu to get there before the performance started.  I only just made it, I had barely taken off my coat when the curtain went up.

The opening moments of the production perhaps sum it up.  The curtain rose on a traditional evocation of the garret of the Bohemians, but the music only started when one of the characters wound up an old fashioned record player and put the needle on the record.  A gimmick and rather pointless.

The first notes from Rodolfo (Ramón Vargas) were disappointing; a fairly rounded voice, straining in the upper register but woefully inadequate in terms of fullness.  Although I admired his voice it was not the voice of Rodolfo and it never became that voice either – most tellingly at the very end of the opera when the emotional kick was far less than I was hoping for.

The set was impressive.  And it is telling that this is the element of the opera I am choosing to comment on after the two principals.  The garret was impressive and atmospheric and at the end of the scene, instead of the duet of voices being heard “downstairs” the two singers moved front downstage and were in a spotlight while darkness descended.  During the darkness the whole of the garret was trucked out of the wings stage left and the Café Momus came downstage.  Lights up and the whole of the chorus with kids were frozen for an old fashioned box camera with phosphorus flash.

The scene itself was “busy” beyond belief: a tightrope walker; two jugglers; two stilts walkers; the whole chorus; a children’s chorus – and an impressive set in which the singing principals were lost.  There was another coup de theatre when the edge of the Café Momus was trucked from stage right to fill the stage.  Impressive, but empty.

The gate of Paris scene was atmospheric with barrels of real fire and Christopher Maltman as Marcello – a magisterial performance, and nice to see him again after his fantastic performances in Cardiff Singer of the World, which is when I saw him last.

I warmed up to the performance of Fiorenza Cedolins as Mimi, but she was not my idea of the character and the final scene lacked the magic that I wanted to experience.

For me there was always a feeling that the production did not trust in the power of the music, music which was played superbly by the orchestra under Victor Pablo Pérez.

A production with ideas but in spite of the gaudy dressing lacking the power that this piece deserves.

Another production to store in the memory banks.

And a quick trip back home with no traffic jams.

Roll on the next one!

Monday, February 27, 2012

What a way to start a week!

Chocolate Week has arrived and was greeted with admiration and smacking of lips as my calorie-stuffed chocolate brownies had the colleague taste test.  I had to reiterate the absolute golden fact that what they were eating was so low in calories to be virtually calorie free.  Tell people what they want to hear and they will follow you to the end of the earth – or at least until the cakes have run out.

So a success.  I now have to build up to my piece de resistance (I can’t be bothered about the accents; if Word can’t correct far be it from me to interfere) and in the desperate search for yet another Internet web site to give me the simple recipe for fondant icing I chanced upon something which may well be a solution to my difficulties.  Marzipan!  Not only do I prefer it to icing but also it is easily rollable and can (if I understood the instructions from our resident Catalan cake and biscuit maker) take the necessary red food colouring to add the final note of horror to the finished triple chocolate monstrosity I have created.  I can hardly wait.

As I am going to the opera this evening to have a good cry, I could perhaps precede the waterworks with a productive visit to the market in which everything I can possibly want exists.  God alone knows what these things are called in Catalan or Spanish and I am far too indolent to look them up and have too much of a laissez faire attitude to actually remember the words even if I stumble across them.  I rely, as always on good luck and bad Spanish to get what I want.  I can’t wait to see what I pull out of the linguistic bag to try and mind mustard seeds for the Jamie Oliver lemon pickle that I am still waiting to make when I finally get all the necessary ingredients together.

The last period of the day is me stuck in front of my recalcitrant class of Year 9 kids with a resentful few of an absent colleague’s kids there as well.  Although I don’t blame them really as they have been being educated since 8.15 this morning they were restless and unsettled and difficult to get into their appointed seats and get down to the task of formal letter writing that they knew that they had to complete this afternoon.  Most of them already have notes that they made last Friday and so this should be a compilation exercise for them and a chore rather than something which needs their active imagination. 

How I used to hate things like that myself!  History questions like “Why did Britain lose the American War of Independence?” and “Why was Mary Tudor unpopular?” seemed to be set for us endlessly.  That was especially so with the latter question which followed me (in the exact wording) from “O” Level through “A” Level to First Year University.  What a paucity if imagination on the part of the examiners that showed!  Thank god!

This is the last tedious lesson of the day and, although I sympathise with them for the length of their ridiculous time in school I also have to think of myself and demand that their behaviour is unnaturally good.  I, after all, am a much more expensive resource that they and consequently must be protected with more care than a mere child.  So they work in silence – and it says something for the mark related work ethic of the school that they are doing just that at the moment.

This will last until they have completed the last word in their exercise when their pent up activity will express itself in a barely containable chattiness.  Although not as vicious as their British counterparts, they are natural chatterers and, as the day does not give them enough time for their natural conversation they always talk over each other when they have the opportunity to do so. 

To a British teacher they never seem to listen to each other, so intent are they on giving word to what ever fleeting thought brushes their brains: no sooner a neural impulse than the vocal chords are humming with activity in response.  It is a great pity that the ear drums of the pupils are not as sensitive! 

It is impossible with these kids to get an entire class to understand what they need to do by the simple “Triple Repetition” rule.  Repeating something only three times merely ensures that you have the better students able to understand what they have to do.  The underclass will merely look at you with touchingly innocent faces when you enquire why they are not doing what you told them to do!

Tomorrow the Second Day of Chocolate Week sees our absent colleague return from the UK bearing tasty gifts from M&S. 

That at least will take away some of the pain of an over crowded day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cakes and circuses!

There is no depth to which I will not stoop in pursuit of an array of gadgets, including the ecological.

I am fed up with my perfectly well performing car.  It is a few years old and I am fed up with it.  It is boring and my wan attempt at economy by buying a car which is driven by diesel has turned out to be a false economy in all senses of the word by being the more expensive fuel and the dirtier of them as well.

I have therefore resolved to be greener.  I use the lower case letter advisedly, as I do not want to be associated with The Greens.  I mean, I may as well go the whole hog and call myself a Liberal and have done with it!

My resolve was strengthened by my hearing that there were various screens and buttons, levers and switches that were inevitably associated with the dashboard array of a car which paid some sort of obeisance to a belief that electric was best.

Therefore, on a trip to get the ingredients for my next attempt to get the chocolate blondies as I want them, I called in to the Toyota showroom and asked to see and get a price for a hybrid motor car.  Admittedly this was not the main reason why I had gone out in the first place, but it seemed like a good opportunity to find out about a better car than the one I have at the moment.

Hybrid cars seem to be much more expensive than ordinary petrol or diesel ones, but salespersons seem to have a knack of cutting thousands off the price to make them seem more attractive.  I was offered a car for some seven thousand euros less than the list price (with the government paying two thousand euros) as long as I chose a car without metallic paint.
I am going to have a test drive on Tuesday and see if I can still remember how to drive an automatic car!

The chocolate blondies were augmented by single malt Scotch soaked dehydrated cherries and flaked almonds with commercially produced white chocolate pieces thrown in for good luck.  The cooking time took longer than for the first experimental lot, but I think that they should be fairly tasty.

I am still not convinced by my choice of a recipe for a triple chocolate cake, though I think that I know where I am going with a combination of two recipes that I have found.

Irene’s arrival was the start of intensive use of the Internet to try and find a flight to France to go to one of Irene’s friend’s birthdays – and have a few days’ holiday break as well.  Flying to an airport near the place we want to go is financially ruinous so we have decided to fly to Paris and then hire a car and put our total faith in a GPS!

The real problem of course is the language.  I am a proud possessor of an honourable O level in French, but that was awarded a truly horrific number of years ago and I cannot say that I have added substantively to my vocabulary since I was sixteen.  And no one speaks any English where I am going.  Apart from Irene.

In such circumstances I asked the only question that I thought was pertinent: was the wine plentiful!  As the answer was in an enthusiastic affirmative I immediately felt relaxed.  The Babel Fish was an interesting literary invention but in my experience there was no need for such ingenuity when alcohol is available.  I have had full and mutually interesting conversations with monoglot native speakers in Greece and Turkey with only the appropriate version of their aniseed liqueur to assist communication!

Alcohol is the nearest that we get to Huxley’s mythical drug “soma” in “Brave new World” which had the contradictory effects of stimulation and anaesthetizing when necessary.  Isn’t that the very personal appreciation of the alcohol experience?  A few glasses of wine to stimulate “witty” and “engaging” conversation and then unconsciousness!

Come what may, we are flying to Paris when school ends this summer and hiring a car to take us to the north-west and the birthday party.  I am looking forward to it – if only to see just how much French I can dredge up!

Travel arrangements having been satisfactorily made, Suzanne and I repaired to El Elefante to see if we could get a table for something more spicy than the usual fare that we are used to in this part of the country.

A shared Indonesian and Indian meal later we both felt more at peace with the world.  It was just as well that Irene restricted herself to fizzy water in the restaurant as she was stopped by the police, who are particularly busy in Castelldefels during the weekends, and had to undergo a document check and a breathalyser test.  Irene said that she was not surprised by this as she has been expecting something like it for a while.  She is more than ever determined to trust her instincts!

The real effort that I have made today is to get the triple chocolate cake made.  After the taste success, but presentational disaster of my first attempt I have made a few changes in the structure of this one.  The base has been changed from heavy digestive biscuits to a lighter Marie biscuit and digestive mix.  The cream I have used has been heavier and I have whipped it more.  I have added gelatine to the chocolate layers in an attempt to keep them in place.

My attempts at fondant icing sugar have been unmitigated horrors, mainly because I do not have some significant ingredients and have (disastrously) improvised.  I might have a look in the centre tomorrow when I go to one of the operas which haven’t been cancelled by the management as their response to the crisis.  The cake doesn’t need to be finished off until Tuesday evening for presentation on Wednesday.

This will be my second contribution to Chocolate Week, my first being the Chocolate Blondies which are already in their Tupperware box waiting to be distributed tomorrow morning as the opening culinary delight in a week of wonders.

The disappointing result today was the failure of Cardiff to take home the Carling Cup.  It was an exciting game but, while I recognize the delight of the melodrama of a penalty shoot-out it does seem a vulgar and unsatisfactory way of deciding an important competition.  Especially when we lose. 

Still there is the Triple Crown to celebrate this weekend – and there are a number of English colleagues to crow over!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Preparations continue

Instead of being a collection of hum-along famous bits from Puccini’s more popular works, my most recent disc is full of unfamiliar arias which I assume must come from The Girl of the Golden West or some such effort as I am at a loss to place the music I am hearing.  I hope that when I dig out the information about the disc (it only has the composer and a number for identification on the disc itself) I do not find out that they are things which I should have known immediately.  I put the rigors of driving down as the reason that I am sometimes distracted from full appreciation of what is coming through the speakers.  (It did indeed turn out to be the music I expected it to be.)

Excitement is growing at the advent of Chocolate Week.  That sad sentence, in itself is a clear indication of the state of exhaustion and tiredness that is gripping (if that is not too active a verb for our bone-deep lassitude) the staff.

The lack of a half term is making itself felt now as we press on inexorably towards the Easter holidays – which are still a vague smudge of light in an otherwise inky universe!

I feel that my instigation of a Chocolate Week is one small way to increase the fund of human happiness in a bankruptcy of misery!

It is perhaps significant that the only people to state that they are contributing to the deliciousness of the said Chocolate Week are those citizens of Britain, the Commonwealth and Ex-Colonies: the Brits the Aussie and the Yank.  The rest of the staff will devour what we produce but contribute little or but shamefacedly.  We shall see, perhaps I am being too harsh and they will shower us with chocolate-based foison beyond our wildest dreams.  Or not.

This week has been one of those cruel temporal paradoxes where each succeeding day has seemed as if it was (or should be) a Friday.  There is nothing more painful to respond mentally in an end-of-the-week sort of way to a day, only to discover that your euphoria is wildly misplaced and there are days left before the emotion (now dead and rotting) that you have been experiencing will be justified.

I am now lurking in the staffroom of the old building just before I attempt to slip away (most mousey quiet) to avoid the traffic jams which accompany the end of school as parents peremptorily park wherever they please to collect their kids.

And escape.

Tomorrow or Saturday is reserved for buying the ingredients for my two culinary wonders for next week.  I will need the weekend to relax so my creative impulses can be set loose.  Something to look forward to!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cakes approach!

I suppose that hitting myself on the head with a reluctantly opening car boot and not merely dropping my triple chocolate cake but rather slamming it down with a thumb in the middle of the base showed exactly what way the day was sorting itself out to be.

The drive to school started well with a quick entry on to the motorway, but that positive was soon transformed into something far more negative by the quality of the driving around me.  There is no logic in the timing of the spates of awfulness that make my drive to school so much more interesting that I would like it to be.

Indeed, it was exactly for times like this morning that my recent mass purchases of excellent value discs were made.  I drive along in my little musical cocoon of Decca produced excellence.  I have stopped listening to the Mercury discs that I bought because of their transferred background hiss from the original records and the sheer vulgarity of some of the programmes on the discs.  So, this evening I came home to the somewhat disturbing sounds of a Beethoven late quartet – much more satisfying. 

And tomorrow I go on to the next disc which is a selection of Puccini and see the real thing on Monday when one of the operas which have survived the cuts made by the economies forced on the Liceu by the crisis will be putting on a performance of La Boheme.  Culture to the rescue!

The battered cake, after it had been extracted from with close fitting foil (which took away a fair proportion of the white chocolate topping when it was peeled off) looked less than tasty.  Undaunted by this I used a fork to make a wavy lined pattern on the surface to make the chaos look intentional.

To be frank I don’t think that I actually needed to have bothered.  The gannets with whom I work devoured it with a frightening rapidity.

I was in the staffroom when a flustered looking colleague came in and, glaring at me, advanced toward the cake muttering that I was deeply at fault not to have brought the cake to her first and then speculating about what she would have done to me if the cake had gone!

The look of the cake seemed to make no difference whatsoever as the richness of the taste seemed to compensate for its appearance and my colleagues have said that they expect a repetition in the actual Chocolate Week, starting Monday.

The list has been put up in the staffroom and colleagues are signing up to produce a chocolate delight on a specified day.

One colleague is going back to the UK over the weekend and has guaranteed to come back with chocolate delights from M&S, while others have promised to produce their signature cakes.  I am looking forward to it.  Even though I do not eat as much chocolate as the others!

Opera, chocolate and Decca music – a week to look forward to!  (And yes, I do know that the sentence ended with a preposition.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesdays are days of misery because I teach six periods.  I must admit that I have found ways of coping with this overload but it is still stressful.  It was therefore with something approaching delight that I realized that my second class of the day would not be in school; they would be appreciating parliamentary democracy (or what passes for it here) first hand by visiting the seat of government in Barcelona.

My delight was, of course short-lived because my gained free was instantly taken to cover a class of one of my colleagues on the trip.  So, after rushing from one building to another I am now sitting in front of a class which is struggling to write something original about the historical topic that they have been left to cope with.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less what they do as long as they do it quietly.  And, generally speaking they are getting on with what they have been told to do.

I the vague hope that the local delivery service that Amazon employs to deliver to the inhabitants of Castelldefels will actually work for once, I have left my identity documents at home so that Toni can collect them from the man should he, uniquely, turn up to deliver something to the house.

This parcel, which I hope has been combined by Amazon, should contain the stencil of the Welsh Dragon, a collection of Scandinavian symphonies and a Jamie Oliver cookbook.  A heterogeneous collection of goodies to which I am looking forward.  Even if I have to collect them myself.  Again.

The chocolate boxes in both staffrooms have been replenished.  They have now become the sort of institutions that are valued and cause hilarity and delight – and will cease to exist as soon as I leave the school!  I have no delusions about the longevity of universally appreciated traditions that do not have the personal impetus of the committed!

I am constantly astonished at how little one needs to spend to make people happy.  A few chocolate sweets and peoples’ attitudes are so much more positive.  It is always the same with teachers.  Apart from their salaries they are not used to receiving any real consideration so any act of kindness gets a disproportionate response.  I often wonder why management doesn’t learn from this and make peoples’ lives easier with the minimum of expense.  But perhaps that is why they are management in the first place!

I suppose that everyone thinks that I am addicted to chocolate, but I actually eat very little of the stuff.  I get my appetite satisfied vicariously by seeing others devour it.  

One of my colleagues actually is (as near as dammit) addicted to chocolate and has yet to forgive me for accepting a bag of Cadbury Chocolate Mini Eggs (a gift from one of the people who went to England during our Trip Week) without telling her that I had them.  She found them in the Chocolate Box in my cupboard and was shocked beyond measure by the discovery that they had been there unbeknownst to her for any time at all.  They have now all gone and I have eaten precisely one.  Such is the way that the box is regarded as public property.

To be fair to my colleagues three of them have added their own offerings at times in the past and one of them, Suzanne, on more than one occasion.  And some of the others have squeaked that they must, one day, put back what they have taken.  But I have noted the names of these chocolate Pharisees and will not forgive the negative equity they have in my esteem while their chocolate premiums are withheld!

It is another beautiful day with the sun streaming down and most of the sky a flawless blue with a few; unimportant low-level clouds looking picturesque on the horizon.  More than ever I am feeling unfairly trapped in the uncongenial confines of a school when there is a life out there just waiting for me to take part in it.  And take part without the bone deep tiredness that comes with pandering to the children of the very rich.

I did not go and have a swim yesterday which, given the emotional state that I was in was probably just as well as I would have hovered over the water – my feeling of revulsion precluding my immersion in another element other than the pure hatred of justified resentment!  But swim I must, as it is the only form of exercise (now that I don’t play squash or badminton) that I positively enjoy.

Toni is servicing the bikes in preparation for the warmer weather as for him March is the tipping point of the winter when the summer becomes more than a vague rumour and starts to have a positive calorific value.  Though I shudder to think what temperature the pool retains from its long accumulation of coldness from the less comfortable months of the Catalan year!

But the days are getting longer.  By the time I leave the house on my trip to Barcelona there is a definite lightness in the sky – even though I am still getting up in the dark.  Each day brings the summer nearer.  That’s something.

It is now lunchtime on Tuesday and so far I have been in school for 19¾ hours over the last two days and I have a further two periods of teaching left!  Something is very, very wrong – and it’s not my perception that is at fault!

Monday, February 20, 2012

How bad can it get?

In spite of my best and most professional intentions to remain stony faced when I entered the school this morning, so as to express best my feelings of desolation about the forthcoming meeting this evening, I was tricked into a positively friendly reply to a more than cheery “Good morning!” uttered by one of the office staff – and she had her tiny child with her as well.  Who am I to preserve a harsh demeanour when she is able to sound happy encumbered with a small person as she was!

I think that I was lulled into a false state of complacency with the world by the fact that one of the cars on the manically car filled motorway which I have to join, deliberately moved over to let me onto the carriageway from my lowly side road point of entry!  Such things unsettle you for the whole day.  Especially in Spain!

I have only lost my temper once over the proposed meeting so far today and am trying to limit my ire so that I have some energy left to look suitably morose by the time of the meeting itself!

I have discovered that there are going to be attempts to get the “work” (pause for hollow laughter) for tomorrow’s meeting done tonight, so that there will be one less day of unutterable misery.  The day can hardly be considered good as I will be teaching six periods tomorrow as it is, so a two and a half hour meeting can only make the day unbearable.  Though of course we do bear such things and even seem to thrive upon them; which is our weakness – and our strength.

In order to get me through the day (and especially the evening) Toni has promised to make a chicken dish of his own devising so that I can concentrate my mind on that rather than the meaningless chatter with which I shall be surrounded.

I might also re-start my daily swimming, admittedly late in the evening, as a way of metaphorically and literally washing the school off me.

I have just discovered that the delivery that I was expecting from Amazon has not arrived – which is par for the course for the non-delivering delivers who do not service my area.  It is back to their office armed with a magic reference number for the umpteenth time to get myself what they should have brought to me.

Just to add that soupçon of icy anger to an already hotly furious attitude I have just found out that sending a description of my group by internal electronic email has not actually worked and teachers have been asking where my venomously honeyed words have gone.  I have had to find the file on my portable computer, transfer it via my pen drive to a school machine (don’t ask) and then have it print out two copies for my colleagues.  Neither of who speaks presentable English. (If that last non sentence is actually presentable English!) And of course my little piece makes few concessions to a less than fluent grasp of our slippery language.  I pride myself upon getting the words “Svengali-like” into one description.  And that was one of the easier ones.  What fun they will have!  Linguistic revenge is sweet!

My final lesson of the day is about to start and the end of that usually brings to an end an exhausting day.  Not today.  But I am not talking about that.  I cannot trust myself to do that.

I am now sitting in the room waiting for the horror to start and start it does only five minutes late which is astonishingly early for us!

I am sure it is a false start.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Things and cakes

I think that it is generally accepted that if someone incorporates an image of a collapsible colander into the everyday surrealism of waking dreams then there is possibly a certain something lacking in their lives.  Or it may be that (and this is the version that I prefer) that your general level of appreciation of the odder things in life is more highly attuned than other ordinary folk.

Castelldefels has a shop which is a combination of Habitat and Pound Stretcher: a poor man’s version of a version of elegant living.  Things are priced at a reasonable level and the general layout is not as crowded as the Chinese emporia which clog up the shopping streets of the town.  Don’t get me wrong; Chinese shops are exactly the places you need to go when you need something like a washer or an artificial flower. 

From cheap and potentially lethal children’s toys to dubious concoctions supposed able to clean a bathroom the settlement of most human shopping needs is there.  They are like the old-fashioned hardware stores which, in their crowded aisles and towering shelves stuffed with little cardboard boxes and items whose use could only be guessed at, were the treasure troves of my youthful imagination.

The plasticized rubber (or possibly the rubberized plastic) construction of the (in this case blue) colander means that its bulbous semi-circular shape can be pushed in so that it can be stored flat.  It can be restored to its proper shape by being pushed out again.  I did try and effect this change by a flick of the wrist but, alas, even after many years of playing squash the necessary force was not there and it remained resolutely flat and it needed the four finger push to get it ready for work.

But I just love the idea.  It fits in so well with the Tefal saucepans and frying pans which are stored one inside the other, needing only the snap-on removable handles to make them fully functional.

We have limited storage space and Toni is well embarked on a cleaning up (or “throwing away” in my parlance) spree which has seen him tackle the horrors of the space under the sink, which is now so anally tidy that I am fearful to use anything there fearing that I might destroy the fearful symmetry of the space.

He has also ravaged the spice box which is now half empty, as he has binned those spices that he has designated “beyond their use-by date”.  I was not, and remain not, aware that spices and dried herbs had or have a “use-by” date – though it does perhaps explain how I was able to use what called itself spicy paprika pepper powder as a colorant rather than a seasoning – and have considered all such dates to be part of a conspiracy to make we poor consumers buy more.

In some ways, however, sell-by dates were made for people like me, people who take any old opportunity to go and buy things, especially if they have bright new containers, or if the container has a new, ergonomically designed top for example.  I have done this!

On the other hand Toni is sometimes like a reincarnation of Savonarola and Torquemada with a dash of New England Witch Finder General when it comes to things like heretical yogurt.  The expiry date is, for him like Holy Writ and anyone attempting to eat a pot a day beyond is a blaspheming infidel iconoclast and will suffer the torments of salmonella (which, come to think of it sounds very like a Renaissance Dominican zealot) and be inevitably cast into the outer darkness.  It is in vain that I maintain the weeks of leeway that yogurt expiry dates have – it is cast scornfully into the bin, the flameless bonfire of the comestibles.

And don’t even begin to speculate about his ideas on eggs!

All of the aforementioned meant that I had to go into town and buy the ingredients that I needed for my trial run of cakes for the Second Annual Chocolate Week (incorporating cakes) that is due to kick off on the 27th of February.

Holding myself to my promise to a colleague last year who only eats white chocolate, I found myself a recipe for “Chocolate Goldies” which, as any fule kno, are Chocolate Brownies made with white chocolate.

Vanilla essence is difficult to find here and I had to make do with a small, dark coloured bottle looking as though it contained a venomous poison but which was filled with dark vanilla stuff linked to sugar, but not like the openly labelled vanilla sugar that I have in a transparent bottle.

I also failed to find white chocolate bits and so substituted interesting looking sweets which turned out to be candy coated peanuts.

The end result was interesting and very, very sweet.  Toni gave it a 4/10 partly in revenge for my giving him a 5/10 for his first attempt at a vegetable paella.  Although the mark is harsh, I shall not make them in the same way again.  I shall substitute chopped almonds for the peanuts and fragmented white chocolate for the little cake pieces with the further addition of glacé cherries because I like them.

The second cake was a triple chocolate cake found by Toni on the Internet and re-found in a different form by me when he forgot the web address of his first sighting.

This is the sort of cake where the only cooking is in the melting of the chocolate in the milk and cream and the addition of a sachet of some sort of white powder which presumably assists in the setting of each of the layers.

The layers of dark, milk and white chocolate stand on a cheesecake base of crushed digestive biscuit and butter and the monstrously heavy creation has been languishing in the fridge for a day to provide a sweet for our lunch.

As I will be presenting this cake to an unsuspecting public on March 1st I have decided to add a fondant icing (which I have never made) version of the Welsh flag to the top.  Just in case you think that this final addition of calories will take the cake into some sort of calorific nuclear meltdown, I must point out that there is no use made of additional sugar in the recipe.

This cake turned out to be a presentational disaster.  As I suspected, the centre could not hold and mere anarchy was loosed upon the lower levels by the uppermost layer of white chocolate spreading outwards and downwards.  Within five minutes the entre cake was attempting to leave the plate in a delicious ooze!

I have returned to the Internet and attempted to find another recipe to make for St David’s Day.

The one that I am tempted to try is an American version which has a cooked more cake-like base but made without flour and then mousse for the other two layers.  I may make it later in the week before I try it the week after.  So much fuss for so few for so many calories!

Talking of calories, we have just tried a new Sunday chicken grill place.  We have our traditional favourite but a new one near where we used to live has opened and I wanted to give it a try.

They still haven’t managed to settle in convincingly and their premises, which used to be a surfers’ shop, still have an unsettled and temporary look to it.  They had a very limited range of food on display and for sale but I bought the usual half chicken a couple of baguettes and two types of potato.  I made some sauce for the patatas bravas, but the meal was a disaster.  Even the bread I bought was disgusting!  Perhaps it was starting pains, but the end result of this new place does not bode well and we will go back to our usual haunts.

Meanwhile, although I am not going to talk about it, the horror of what is waiting for me after school tomorrow (and the day after) has ruined a restful weekend, but, as I said, I’m not going to talk about it.  At all.

Thank god for the distraction of Chocolate Week.  Incorporating cakes.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weekend at last!

Today, at least in junior schools, it was the start of Carnival!  This does not compute in my understanding of the world, as it is not Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday and thus the start of Lent.  But who am I to understand the ways of sects outside the warm and wonderful family of the fratricidal organization of the Anglican Church!

Going out for tapas this evening and gazing out of the window of the bar in which we were sitting, I watched a procession of small children dressed in a variety of bizarre costumes including one small boy dressed as a devil with a Zorro cape and hat.  At least the tapas were conventional and delicious.

There must be something going on with my response to Spanish beer as I had a few small caña (a small tumbler), certainly much less than a pint in total and I felt distinctly woozy!  How times are changing!

And now it is the start of the weekend and I can spend most of it trying not to think of the . . . but, I said that I wasn’t going to mention the lurking horror, and I won’t.

I did eventually find the book that I had promised a colleague: Yeats’ poems with a parallel translation into Spanish.  It took me well over half an hour and then I didn’t find the book that I actually wanted but another parallel volume.  As usual I found a whole selection of books that have been submerged for the past year or so!  Again as usual I found “uneasy bedfellows” with the most strange runs of books on the same shelf.

This has made me even more determined to sort my library out.  But not so determined that I am not prepared to leave this until the summer holidays!