Thursday, April 26, 2012

Unexpected relief

In the bumbling way that I have with these things, I have just discovered that Monday and Tuesday of next week are days off.  I think at the back of my mind I realized that May Day was going to be a holiday but I don’t think I fully realized that there would be an extra day.  So, with the weekend this makes four clear days with no school.

I don’t know whether it is better to look forward to such a break or have it sneak up on one, but that is what has happened with the result that I am already beginning to resent the fact that I have to go into school tomorrow to do the day to get the “holiday” started!

I do have a vast amount of marking to cope with which may well have to be left to this holiday and then, almost as soon as we come back the next examination season starts with the consequent marking just before the next slew of meetings to talk about that marking.  All of this marking at least is leading towards the end of term.  We are going in the right direction!

There was little talk of the reduction in wages which speaks volumes for the attitude of colleagues in Spain at the moment.  I find it very depressing, but not really surprising.  The details are still shockingly unclear and there doesn’t seem to be the urgency to find out what exactly is going to happen!

I have started to read the little cache of books which I managed to acquire during our Sant Jordi celebrations from the bookseller.

The first volume that I read today was Kaimira: The Sky Village by Monk and Nigel Ashland.  This is a dystopian future in which there has been a disastrous war which has resulted in a constant battle between men, beasts and mecks (intelligent machines which had turned against their human masters) – so far so ordinary.  The USP of this book for teenagers is the construction of a Sky Village above China which comprises a collection of hot air balloons strung together linked by tightropes to form a moving living area.  The story is given a twist by some of the characters having biological and genetic alterations which give them a link with the beasts and machines.

The narrative is fast moving and uses the idea of science gone mad to inform some of the action.  It is basically an adventure story with augmented teenagers saving the day.  There is a forbidden interactive computer with a trapped evil spirit in the form of a computer which provides the link into the next volume in this series.  A good, but not great read.

David has also promised to loan me a book over the holidays.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A long day

I did consider wearing a black tie today to match the mood of depression I feel waiting to hear how much money will be taken out of my wages this June.  No one has any idea how much this is going to be and no one, apart from my good self, seems to have considered just what sum of money is going to be regarded by the rapacious government as the target from which the expropriation will be made. 

The devil, as they say is in the detail and few around me have even tiptoed towards wondering just what the “detail” might actually be.  They seem to be waiting for our paternalistic management to let us know what is going to happen as if we have no say in the matter. 

The fatalism that informs the lack of action in this place is truly depressing and there is a sort of decorum that precludes uncomfortable questioning.  It reminds me of the sort of mindless stiff-upper-lipism of the stereotypical stalwart English solider refusing to stoop behind cover to avoid flying bullets, the “Just not done, old chap!” approach that achieves nothing but picturesque, and messy, deaths. 

You can see the up-beat sort of mood that I am in approaching this meeting!  Which is, of course, after school so that we learn about how much we are not earning in our own time, or think of it as unpaid overtime to learn how much worse off your are.  I must stop this because this can only lead to mindless violence!

It now appears that somebody is absent.  Chaos!  As always.  And my day (which is “only” 4 periods long for the first time this week) is now under threat.  And we have to go up to Terrassa this evening for one of the nephew’s Name Day.  I only hope that we do not have to stay to watch Real Madrid as I will be totally exhausted by the time I get home bearing in mind that I will have an 8.15 am start to my teaching the following day.

The failure of Barça to reach the final of the Champions Cup has cast a further pall over the day and it even seems to have percolated into the consciousness of Real Madrid fans who are less than optimistic about their chances of success this evening.  All in all this will be a good week to look back on as having happened in the past rather than something to live through in the present.  As the old dependable assembly topic has it, “This too will pass!”

There is of course one thing guaranteed to make me feel more positive and that is the reading of books.  Unfortunately the books that I inveigled out of the bookseller who was here for Sant Jordi are in the other building.  But perhaps it is worth a journey just to do something reasonable and not connected with money and Barça!

The absent teacher did result in my being directed towards a class in my free period but the “other” teacher of the subject decided to take the two small groups together and thus let me preserve my free!  At last something positive in this most depressing of days.

Just off to bed after toasting Real Madrid’s lost fortune being beaten on penalties at the end of their semi-final battle in the Champions Cup.  I will not describe the scenes on jollity in one particular Catalan household as the final goal was slammed home and Madrid were out!  Sad.

Tomorrow I must write out the questions that I do not think were answered in the meeting about the reduction in our wages after school today.

Always something to do!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Not good!

A cold depressing morning, but one which appears to be lightening – which is more than I can say for my mood!

The meeting tomorrow when we are going to be told how much poorer we are (the use of the present tense is appropriate even though the money is not going to be stolen until the end of June) should be the opportunity for absolute fury to be expressed. 

Money, after all was the one element in life which united all teacher unions in howls of anguish – even the scab ones.  This was something that was real and immediate and when people spoke about it there was real passion in what they said! 

But what about the people I teach with now?  I think that they will be well behaved and docile - and I will feel like weeping!  Perhaps I am doing them an injustice and they will rise up in justified indignation.  Perhaps!

Meanwhile in the south (or possibly west) the weather (or east now I come to think about it) looks reasonable whereas where we are it looks as though it is straining to rain. 

You have to understand that my unrelenting negativity is fuelled by the horrible fact that I have to teach six lessons today. 

I know that I bang on about this every week but every week it is as if it is happening for the first time and my flesh crawls with the stomach churning anticipation of a day spent scurrying from building to building and culminating with two solid hours at the end of the day with a class of 3ESO. 

I am getting paid less by the day as the government snatches more tax and inflation takes the rest!

Though planning my extensive opera visits for next year by going through the complex prospectus last night perhaps gives the lie to my absolute indigence!

The six periods are done and I am exhausted but there is no time to relax, as I have to get in gear to support Barça in their second round game against Chelsea.  

They start the game one goal down and I think that they have a lot to do and I have just seen the team and, almost for the first time in my life, I have an opinion about the players that Pep is using and the formation that he has decided on!  I am not at all convinced by his decisions and I think that it has sealed the fate of the team and they will not be going to the final.  I hope that I am wrong but I am shocked at the dispositions of the players.  But there again, what the hell do I know about anything connected with football!

The line-up I saw was obviously speculation and there was a much more sensible disposition for the start of the game.  The first half has been gripping with Barça scoring twice but, disastrously Chelsea scored just before half time and that means that the score line is level but Chelsea will win on away goals if this score stands.  Things are tense here in Castelldefels as we wait for the second half to start!

And here we go!  The second half!

Bloody disaster!  

Even Torres scored!  

Bloody disaster!  

Drogba has become my pet hatred; he is a repulsive player, unsporting and vile.  His ostentatious praying was also deeply offensive and indeed hypocritical given the way he plays.  Chelsea has my malediction as it goes into the final.

Messi was awful and the team with god knows how much possession did little or nothing.  Messi’s missed penalty spelt the death of Barça’s hopes.  Considering how little I really like football I am shocked at how depressed I feel.  It was awful and, together with the crap display of football that Barça served up for the Barça v. Real Madrid game it has been a bad time for fans – and even for me!

Never mind, I can think about tomorrow and the money which is going to be snatched from my salary. 

A truly comforting thought.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The dragon rises!

When you drive along uninteresting motorways every day on your way to school you understand that clouds were invented to give some sort of aesthetic pleasure to a motorist depressed about the journey and looking for anything to give meaning to the daily drudge.

This morning there was a whole cinemascope documentary of “What Clouds Can Do” from the refulgent splendour of orange, pink and burning gold to the dirty brown of shabby scraps of obvious pollution hanging over the city.  It had obviously rained during the night and the sulky sub-fusc colouring of some low cloud looked as though it was thinking of doing the same during the day.  This is particularly unfortunate as we will be outside during part of the day.

Celebrations of St Jordi (St. George) on his day take a time-honoured form in our school.  Firstly, in the morning there is a dramatic representation by members of the sixth form of the epic battle of dragon and maiden and then later in the day there is a ceremony when the literary successes of our pupils in all the languages that we teach are rewarded by the awarding of certificates, books and of course, roses.  In time-honoured fashion this will take place during our free periods.  And today is my duty day as well so one imposition flows seamlessly into another!

As members of staff come it they are putting books in the appropriate pigeon-holes.  I know that I am not an easy person for whom to buy a book, but I hope that whoever has that thankless task they more effort than the person who bought the book for me last year.  Unreadable and it wasn’t even wrapped!

Already the “invisible” part of the book giving is being thrown to the winds as people desperately (and I think that is a well chosen word) try and discover who has given them the book.  I actually like the anonymity of it all, but I am not Catalan and therefore do not share the traditional drives that make this country “tick.”  I think that I probably “tock” – and therein lies the dynamism of my relationship with the country!

I have now got my book and it is indeed an improvement on last year.  It is a recipe book of cakes and pastries some of which look eminently makeable.  There is a lemon and brandy and nut cake that looks particularly enticing and I think that I will make it for the staff to try.  I have made no effort to try and find out who bought the book but I am sure that if I make the cake someone will shyly edge forward and claim to be the inspiration.  Catalans and Spanish are not built to deny responsibility in cases like this!

The person for whom I bought the invisible friend book has left school early pleading illness, leaving behind incipient chaos (as always) and muttering staff indicating that they would have stayed for just an extra few hours to see the day through.

We have had our St Jordi performance where the dragon plagued king phoned Dr Jones and James Bond to help with the eradication but they both wimped out (see above) and it was left to St Jordi himself to come to the rescue and kill the dragon which looked like a green coated terrorist in a small Venetian mask in our version of the story! 

Normal timetable was momentarily resumed until just after twelve when the kids were marshalled down into our assembly hall for the prize giving.  Hundreds of Spanish kids together does not make for a peaceful assembly and there was much hissing to keep them in some sort of semblance of silence.  Which failed.

The prize giving was brought to a tumultuous climax with our homegrown band which played “Sweet Alabama” and other soothing melodies at ear deafening volumes.

This lasted the better part of two periods and so took away one of my precious frees and meant that I had just time to go straight from the hall to the kitchen and dining room to begin my lunchtime duty.

As it is the afternoon I now go into my usual routine of wondering if I have the energy to go and have a swim after school.  As I invariably conclude that I do not in fact have the necessary get-up-and-go to enjoy a swim after a full day at school it is amazing that I ever get to the pool.  I find that there is a sort of inbuilt objective seeker which points me in the right, or at least the most appropriate, direction and by the time my conscious mind has worked out where I am going it is easier to continue on than turn around and go home.

For me swimming can be like banana yogurt; it doesn’t necessarily attract you but you are quite satisfied after you have experienced it!  And I know that swimming makes sense.  It really does.  And I do actually enjoy it, all things considered.

The programme for the new season of opera has arrived and the selection is not quite as demanding as last year – even if they cancelled one production because of the crisis.  This year we have La forza del destino; Rusalka; The Tales of Hoffman; Madame Butterfly; Rhinegold; Il Turco in Italia and L’elisir d’amore.  Two other operas are not in my special ticket – the first is Lucio Silla by Mozart (?) and Street Scene by Kurt Weill which I think I want to see so will have to buy some additional offer.  There are concert performances of Il Pirata by Bellini; Iolanta  by Tchaikovski and Rienzi.  I must admit that I am not tempted by any of these and further concert performances of Wagner are horrifically expensive. 

I must also admit that the idea of sitting through the torment of a concert version of Tristan is something I cannot contemplate with anything like equanimity.  I vividly remember Clarrie (bless her) who threw herself on a bottle of wine in the interval of Tristan in Cardiff and cut herself so badly that I (I fought off any other selfish Samaritans) had to take her to casualty. 

As I had been reduced to counting the number of people in the dress circle as something more interesting than watching the inaction on the stage, you can imagine that I found waiting in hospital a much more exciting and intellectually demanding occupation! 

I am not so ignorant that I am incapable of recognizing that there is great music in the opera but going to see the whole thing for a few moments of pleasure is a little too much to ask a reasonable person to undertake. 

Although, having said that, I knew a girl whose first opera was Tristan and Isolde and that switched her permanently onto the form and she was hooked.  No accounting for tastes.

My first opera was Nabucco and I found that so “difficult” that it put me off opera for years!  I was quite young when I saw it, so young indeed that I was unable to hum along to the Slaves’ Chorus whose tune I knew not.  How times have changed!

It seems that my ticket for a selection of operas is automatically renewed which takes away some of the heartache which is traditionally associated with buying a season of opera tickets from any of the opera houses in the world.  I just have to worry about buying the extra tickets that I need.  Give me strength.

Another day nearer to the meeting about our reduction in wages and I seem to be the only person speculating about what might happen!  If you don’t speculate then you will not be prepared to react to what is offered and, let’s face it I should imagine that the school could carry the whole of the cut by the Generalitat if they wanted to.

There is also, the extraordinary thought that they could, like everyone else in this country, simply raise the fees that parents pay to cover the cut.  It will be very interesting.  What, for example, is the sum of money from which the Generalitat is going to take 3%?  This is not a simple question.  Is it gross or net?  The government has already taken tax from us from September to the present; do they intend to take 3% of the sum they have already taxed or the sum that is left after the normal tax?  Are they going to tax additions to basic pay or just the basic pay?  This could run and run as the first attempt the Generalitat made to take more from our pay over Christmas was an embarrassing catastrophe for the idiots in government so that, having once taken the money they paid it all back again.  There is room for endless variations.  I think that I will ask for a written explanation of what is going on.  I can hardly wait.  It is almost possible to consider the problems from a dispassionate point of view, almost if they were happening to someone else.

But money is very real and surely the supine teachers must react in some sort of positive way.  Surely!

Well, I won’t have time to think about it tomorrow as it is my six period day and teaching will take up the space.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A sleepy weekend

Three days and my fingers have not strayed to the keys to capture my thoughts.  No loss you might think but it does help to clarify my thoughts.

My sacked colleague’s case becomes murkier with each passing day.  It turns out that a teacher’s helper who was directed to assist three years of primary classes, include that of my sacked colleague, is now the teaching his class full time.  She was not in school for a few days at the end of term (when my colleague was actually being sacked) but magically appeared at the start of the next term as the new teacher.  Toni, ever faithful to his lowest common denominator approach to the Human Condition, immediately asked if the replacement teacher had friends among the management of the school.  Something to think about; something to find out about!

I feel that this case is going to end in tears.  I’m just not sure which “side” will be weeping!

It is a case that continues to upset me and I fear that what I will hear on Wednesday will combine with my existing fears about the school and boost them to another level.  However, this really is a case of “wait and see” – though that never precludes speculation!

Friday saw me taking Toni up to Terrassa to watch the ill-fated match of Barça and Real Madrid.  My return to Castelldefels was an occasion for me to gently sink into the comatose thinking of the morrow.

Saturday was a trip to Barcelona to meet Irene and share worries, fears and hopes.  We also managed to visit (for Irene) revisit (for me) the spectacular Goya and Delacroix exhibitions.  It was also an occasion for me to reconsider my rejection of both catalogues because of their expense.

Some years ago I had made a resolution to steel myself to buy the catalogue for each exhibition that I visited.  They were usually reasonably priced, often subsidized and they gave me a concrete reminder of what I had seen.  I staunchly held to this resolve until things changed.

I don’t know when it was that curators of exhibitions decided that their individual exhibitions had to be justified not only with a physical reminder of what the exhibition was about but also with an academic treatise on the subject.  The catalogue becomes more like a work of reference and authority than a simple reminded.  And the price rose!  My how it rose!

My resolve was modified to include buying the catalogue of every “significant” exhibition that I went to see.  It was only a matter of time before “significant” was modified to apply to artists that I liked or respected.  The catalogue worthy of purchase then had to have colour illustrations of each of the paintings and full information about each.  The introductory essays in these catalogues, some of which are easily of book length, were deemed generally irrelevant as they were obviously curators producing a precious “publication” to ensure that they kept their jobs and gave them an academic tickets to a better position.  Or perhaps I am being too cynical.  Anyway, the general price of these publications has continued to rise and so I was faced with a dilemma with the two exhibitions I visited on Saturday.

Goya and Delacroix are both artists I like, admire and respect.  In my view Goya is the best artist that Spain has produced.  But the catalogue for the exhibition was €45.  Delacroix, the great Romantic painter I have liked since I was in school but the catalogue for his exhibition was €58.  So both catalogues would come to over €100!

We had coffee then visited the Goya exhibition.  We tried to have lunch after the Goya but everything was booked up so we put our names down for a table and went on to the Delacroix and then ate.

Our exit was via the gift shop where the catalogues were on sale and so I looked at both of them again.

Eventually I settled on buying the Goya and hoping that the Delacroix would be in some gallery sale in a few years time.  I can wait.

The book by which I had decided to fulfil my obligations as an invisible friend for a colleague in school I was able to buy in the bullring which has been converted into shops – this is Catalonia after all and we are not barbaric.  A further purchase in the Barça shop and I was more than prepared for St Jordi on Monday.

In FNAC (the best bookshop) I was also able to pick up a hardback book on Goya for under €15 which is profusely illustrated with explanations (in Spanish) but seems absurdly cheap for what it is.  I even had a further reduction on the reduction because there is a special offer to encourage people to buy their St Jordi books (book giving is a tradition on St George’s Day in Catalonia) in their shop.  So, all in all I have done quite well.

The Barça game in the evening was a disaster with Barça playing badly and losing 1-2 at home to their hated rivals Real Madrid!

This means that Real Madrid are virtually assured of the League title and Barça will have to put their hopes in the King’s Cup and the European Cup.  If they play as they did yester there is no chance of either.

There were very long faces when I went to pick up Toni from Terrassa and his mother was wearing a Barça shirt which commemorated their European Cup win in Wembley which she said she was wearing in a spirit of Masochism!

The weather is suitably dull and a grey sort of depression has descended on the country!

Next week we shall find out how the school is going to play the reduction in our wages.  I think that I have thought of every variation possible about how to do this, but I am sure that I will be surprised at what they have actually decided to do.

I can hardly wait.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wait and see!

Going from purely literary sources, I feel that school at present is experiencing a sort of “Phoney War” there is a sense of anticipation, though of what we are not entirely sure.  We are waiting for things to clarify themselves though what things and what sort of clarity we are looking for we are not certain of.

I think that things will become more concrete after the meeting next week about our salaries.  This should of course provoke an outcry because 3% of your salary being ripped away is something to be slightly upset about.  But I have my doubts about what my colleague will think of doing.  Which is to say that I don’t really doubt at all and what they will do is precisely nothing.

In much the same way that I feel impotent to help my sacked colleague I think there will be a mass groan of realization and then stolid acceptance!  Such is life.  Or, if the management act as I think that they might, then there could even be an expression of thanks about our not having to pay as much as other schools.  I wait to see what happens, - but not in pleasurable anticipation!

I should now be doing work for my class of Making Sense of Modern Art – but I am not in the mood – but I do have just over an hour to get into the necessary mood somehow and produce something intellectually stimulating and provocative for my lesson.

Well, the mood did change and 150 years of artistic development in four pictures from a still life by some obscure German in 1850 to a pseudo-abstract from the year 2000 by some Spanish sounding guy were duly printed out and a sheet of instructions fabricated to go with them.  I always work best under stress, but I’m not sure about the cost to my blood pressure readings!

Although they are a highly selected chosen quartet of paintings to represent the century and a half I do like the idea behind them (however false a picture of artistic development they might give) and it is really designed to give a sense of progression and allow kids to make connections and contrasts over an historical period.  We didn’t of course get as much done as I would have liked, but we are well set for the next lesson.  I hope.  And that should reduce the tension of my normal teaching by at least one notch!

I am now stuck in school for three hours before the start of the Literary Prize Evening.  It is not worth my while going home as I have to start off at such an early hour to get through rush hour traffic that I gain more by staying in school than trying to get home and then return.  But it does make for a day in this place which will turn out to be some thirteen hours long.  Too long by any sane teacher’s standards!

I am now sitting in the staffroom with Mozart’s 41st Symphony for company debating whether to go to the kitchen and see if the cooks have put out scraps for we “peons” who are left to while away the hours before we swell the numbers for the audience for the festivities.  We have been told that we can go to the kitchen and have something before the cocktail party begins which is the start of the official VIP reception for the evening.  And it’s started raining after a glorious afternoon which I had the merest touch as I left one classroom to go to another.  ‘Twas always thus!

I have now been interrupted on a number of occasions and each time I have got involved in conversations way beyond my linguistic ability (in Spanish I hasten to add!) to play the part that I should.  I have to say that all my colleagues are equally patient as I mangle their language to try and make myself understood!  From teachers to kitchen staff and cleaners they all smile at me with that patient resignation that I have come to recognize so well as they disentangle my shattered Spanish syntax and make some sense of what I might have been trying to say!

The Literary Prize evening was not as painful as expected with an unexpected bonus in that the guest speaking was a world famous author, Paulo Coelho whose most famous book is probably The Alchemist which has, to date been published in over 70 languages!  This multi-million-book seller was something of a coup for our school and, as I left the Russian mother of one of our pupils was holding out a copy of The Alchemist in Russian for the man to sign.  His speech was short and to the point.

The end of the evening was a truncated concert with out kids singing a couple of songs.

My attempt to escape was delayed by a couple of parents who wanted to meet me and say thank you!  A rare enough occurrence to be a pleasure!

As Toni and I had agreed to go out for a meal of some sort after the presentations we went to an old haunt of ours near the flat we used to live in.  We had tapas but up-market ones and, although the meal was expensive I think that it was worth it – and anyway I deserved it after the long day I had had!

And tomorrow is Friday.  After all.