Friday, August 31, 2012

Back again!

I plead the vicissitudes of keeping visitors happy as the transcendent reason for delaying all those key strikes that might have made my writing a little more exhaustive.

The intervening days between discourse and actual production can only be explained by the reliance on alcohol in one of its many forms and the necessity to make the most of conversation in my native tongue.  I feel the two aspects of delay mentioned there mayhap be linked in some way!

The Pauls now seem but a hazy memory with Emma being the second course.  We have eaten to satiety and sampled a couple of the “gourmet” meals that are advertised as Castelldefels makes its claim to be the Catalan version of Ludlow or Abergavenny.  [And it says much for the colonialist twist of the spellchecker on this machine that it recognized the first English jumped-up border town with no problem but baulked at a true Welsh place name.]

We have not done the touristy thing with our visitors this time round and haven’t been into Barcelona once!

Sunday sees the arrival of Ceri and Dianne and our expedition to Girona for our long-booked extraordinary meal in one of the great restaurants of this part of the world.

As a lead up to this gastronomic treat the meal that Emma and I had in the Don Jaime last night was more than acceptable.

Set on a hill overlooking the town and sea we sat in an outside terrace and had a meal for which the final payment seemed something of an insult.  The waiters were attentive without being intrusive and the Cava was well chilled.

My meal comprised an exquisite “cep” risotto, followed by steak with truffle and sherry sauce.  The steak was extraordinarily tender, but I must not let this exception encourage me to rely on the buying policy of most eating places where the meat may truly described as “sole food” – something which is more akin to the bottom of the shoe than the bottom of the stomach!

My sweet was a series of little cakes which were pure indulgence.  Forty quid for a meal for two like that in a setting like that seems like charity.  Almost.

It does encourage me to try out some of the other €25 offers in the Gastronomic Passport and, unlike the Ruta de Tapa which seems to have finished, this set of meals is available until the start of December.

Yesterday was the worst day of the holiday as far as weather was concerned but the adverse conditions were of little moment as I spent my time ferrying people to doctors and chemists for most of the day.  Nothing was too serious (I hope) but there is a different concept of time when waiting for medical personnel to do their stuff – especially as we were tricked into complacency by the first visit of the day when we were seen almost at once.  We did of course make up for that later in the day when the bloody-minded unhelpfulness of a particular member of the reception staff in our local medical centre ensure the waste of at least an hour of pointless inactivity.  Toni was incandescent with fury, and I was reminded of the line in Julius Caesar “Thus with a prick I damn him” as another traitor has a depression in the wax next to his name signifying his death.  I would not like to be that particular gentleman when someone like Toni is gunning for you!

The Paralympics has (have?) started and we have had the “relaxation gold” which means that I can stop worrying – but the target of 103 medals from umpteen different sports does seem a little ambitious as a target.  I fear that we can no longer rely on our having invented these games to ensure a flow of gold.  It is very disturbing to note that, at present, we lie in third play behind Australia and of course China.

It is frustrating that we can get none of the extras from British broadcasting stations on the net and I am getting tired of reading “Not available in your country” whenever I try to access some of the goodies on display on the web pages.

I do however have the official web page which lists the medal totals and that, after all is the important bit.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

All is wanting

Amazon is so quintessentially middle class because it offers something modern and old fashioned at the same time.  It offers you the immediate satisfaction of purchasing something (which is close to the Now Generation which demands instant gratification) and then you have to wait for the item to appear which means that it ticks the Delayed Gratification which is part of the sterner approach which characterizes the more “Puritan” aspects of the ways in which my generation was brought up.

I do not wish to give the impression that I was subject to a childhood of callous deprivation, no indeed.  I have to admit that, as long as what I wanted was reasonable, I generally got what I wanted – but not necessarily when I wanted it.  Only my birthday and Christmas, the tenth and twelfth months of the year were those capable of producing money and goodies.  Easter meant an Easter egg while the occasional visits to Grandparents might produce half a crown.  Things had to be planned.

But then I was of the generation when a six part series on the television (which we eventually got when I was ten) could last a month and a half – and not be over in a week as seems to be the case nowadays.  We were used to waiting.  The kids today with their mobile phones would not believe how long my parents had to wait for a phone line to be put into our home and then it was a party line!

My tennis shoes were Dunlop Red Flash; my bike was a Raleigh Star Rider.  As far as I remember the Dunlops were the only choice because no one could be expected to play tennis in daps.  They were the wrong colour for a start.  Choice was limited.  The other choice for the bike was a Raleigh Palm Beach – but that didn’t have a three-speed and, after all, I did pass the 11+!

For one birthday (well before I had reached double digits) I actually asked for a stapler.  I still have it.  But what child today would have such a reasonable request.  Though thinking about it, I am not sure that many kids of my age would have asked for such a thing then.  Though the Head of Maths in my last British school would have understood as she had a stationery fetish even more pronounced that I.

Leaving such things to one side I am quivering with excitement because a whole series of returns and purchases should trickle through over the next week or so.

My new camera has lasted less than 60 days with the zoom refusing to function so it has been sent back to Amazon who assure me that a replacement is on its way.  My FDC albums should be arriving soon as well as the Olympic FDCs to fit inside them.  My push for ecology in the tea department should have its energy saving device in place before the month is out and a lone book should be with us soon.  All to come.

I now have taken to using the Kindle store and have started purchasing books to add to my collection of volumes “in the Cloud” and therefore safe and sound.  I know how it all works but it still amazes me that I can, for example, read about an Argentinian book recently translated into English in my Kindle version of The Guardian, click into the Amazon store and have the volume downloaded and paid for within twenty seconds.  It is probably just as well that such a thing was not available for me when I was younger!

So, not only does our next visitor arrive tomorrow, but also the delight of her presence will be enhanced by various deliveries throughout her stay.  And the sun is shining and the holiday mood continues.

Happy Days!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Variety is the clue!

The amount of clear swimming that I have been able to do is now reaching disturbing proportions so that I am beginning to suspect that I am part of a Truman style show where some omniscient director orders less fortunate swimmers out of my lane so that I can swim my twenty minutes in an uncluttered fashion.

Perhaps I am going to be subject to the irony of free lanes during the height of the summer and hordes of people emerging during the autumn.  I sincerely hope not as my resolve to swim on a daily basis is tested in inverse proportion to the quantity of sun, warmth and people that are available to sustain my determination!

Talking of determination I have (at last) opened the handbook to the car and attempted to change the date so that the calendar on the dashboard does not read 2032.  This took me some twenty minutes to rectify because the instructions were almost precise enough to achieve something straight away, but only almost – which is why a certain amount of trial and error was necessary.

In “Look Back in Anger” one of the characters asks, “Do the Sunday newspapers make you feel ignorant?”  With the general dumbing down that there has been over the last fifty years (let’s give it some sort of perspective) it is not newspapers that have a humbling effect but instruction books.  They are written so clearly and with such unambiguous line drawings that not to be instantly successful is to have Failed in Life.

This does not, obviously, refer to IKEA instructions where one often has to build the item that one has purchased before one can understand the directions to construct the thing in the first place.  Any couple who can build an IKEA cupboard together and still be a couple at the end of the endeavour has what I call a strong relationship!

One of the many, many dictionaries that I bought had, rather ostentatiously a series of blank pages at the end of the volume which were for words or phrases that one heard during the time after the book had been bought.  The idea was that the purchaser would listen more assiduously to the radio, television and the people who one moved among and write down any possible neologisms.

I got as far as “ambient food” before I lapsed in my newfound enthusiasm for actually writing down discoveries rather than hearing them, rejoicing in the vitality of the language and then forgetting them.  

Oh yes, "ambient food" is food that is sold which does not have to be heated or chilled - like crisps or peanuts for example.

I was reminded of this shameful lack of application when I heard someone use the phrase “a life intermediary” on the radio and felt that I should write it down.  Where did I hear this?  Radio 4, obviously, on one of my Internet radios.  

My confusion was shared by the interviewer who asked the interviewee who was talking about coffee shops what he meant.  He explained that a life intermediary was anything which made life more enjoyable and fulfilling.  Therefore the provision of over priced “artisanal” coffee in high street shops where one could get a good latte was a "life intermediary."

I must admit I liked both the phrase and the obvious embarrassment of the interviewee when he had to put his words into something we could understand.

I began to think that the mere phrase by itself was a little lonely and I wanted to experiment with the addition of significant adjectives like, indeed, “significant”: “a significant life intermediary” sounds like a close friend given to marriage guidance.

Try adding your own adjectives - as well as considering additions like “essential”, “serendipitous”, “arbitraged”, “real” and “red.”  Hours of innocent fun!  When I should really be getting down to my Summer Tasks.

Some tasks have formed themselves during the summer months and have resolved themselves with a minimum of intellectual and emotional effort.

I have, for example changed the ink cartridges in the new printer.  I have fearlessly ordered various essentials from FDC Albums to a One Cup Water Boiler.  And let me tell you buying things is not as easy as it looks.

Take for instance the replacement freezer drawer.

Firstly to get the damn thing replaced I had to find the instructions for the fridge-freezer which gave me the all important random numbers and letters that made up the model designation. 

We then had to phone the distributor to find out how to get a replacement.  That number gave us another number that in turn directed us to another. 

We then had to find out the serial number that was not on any visible part of the machine. 

Going back to the supplier we were told that the nearest distributor to us was closed for holidays.  If we wanted to purchase the item we had to send all the information via e-mail to the supplier which was still open and they would tell us price and availability. 

Having got the price we then had to go to a bank and pay in the amount via a bank draft to the account of the firm and then fax that we had done it so that they could order the part.  [That bit I still don’t believe]  And now, only four emails later I have been told that I have the opportunity to drive 40 minutes outside Castelldefels and pick it up.  Simple?  Not!

The amazing end to this saga, which necessitated a trip to parts of Sabadell that I have previously not visited, was that the freezer drawer replacement was actually the right one and it fitted!  I just love happy endings.

There is only one problem.

The drawer itself was presented to us in a large cardboard box to keep the fragile (obviously) plastic item safe and sound.  What actually kept it safe and sound was a wide range of bubble wrap – both large and also small.  The problem, of course is what to do with it.

The temptation is to keep it on the “you never know when it comes in handy” basis, but this summer is supposed to see me make an effort in downsizing and bubble wrap by its very nature is not (at least not in the quantities in which I now have salvaged it) unobtrusive as it were.  It does take up space.

So, the cardboard box complete with shattered front and useless body of the broken drawer, covered in woefully tempting bubble wrap is now waiting at the top of the stairs for me to decide what to do with it: the bin in keeping with the new minimalist regime or cwtching it away to be used at some unspecified time in the cluttered future.

Always hard decisions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Be reasonable!

Misanthropic is a much-abused word. 

It is used so often as an adjective which expresses negativity and when applied to a person is usually taken as an unreasonable response to the world.

How absurd.

How can such a life affirming approach to what surrounds us each day ever be seen as anything other than a warmly realistic appreciation of human existence?

People, as Beckett perceptively noted, are “bloody ignorant apes”, they are the Yahoos who Swift deals with in such devastating fashion in the Fifth Voyage of Lemuel Gulliver and which so rarely finds its way in to the children’s version of the story.

We might ask ourselves why the most impressive and realistic part of Gulliver’s experiences are denied to the young and the answer is surely found in Eliot when he averred that “humankind cannot bear too much reality” – it is the rose-tinted glasses of reasonableness that allows the human species redeeming features through the willing suspension of disbelief at how truly awful one’s experience of homo sapiens is day after bloody day.

It therefore follows that an expression of appalled disgust at the actions of our fellow creatures is an intellectual act of liberation and an affirmation of truth.

And truth is in the anecdotal. 

The Iron Duke indicated that statistics were the most abominable form of deception and I agree that personal experience is much more of a guide than the crypto-technical mystifications of higher mathematicians.

Statistics as revelation are more akin to seeing through a glass darkly when compared to the blinding illumination that, say the way drivers park in a supermarket car park gives about the human condition.

Fallen Man is shown nowhere more clearly than in the inconsiderate, bloody-minded, illegal ways in which cars are left while shoppers go about their business.

The pathetic desperation of people to be within spitting distance of the door of the supermarket and therefore ignoring the restrictions of double yellow lines, disabled parking spaces, pedestrian crossings and clearly printed “Do not park” areas is enough to make angels weep.

If Planet Earth were ever to be had up in front of an Inter-Galactic Court of Justice and supermarket car parking were to be proffered for consideration by the prosecution the planet would be vaporised in a heartbeat – or whatever quotidian bodily time measure alien beings use as an equivalent.

Then, when these same parkers get out of the car parks they presumably return to their homes and become part of their local social organizations or communities.  They become neighbours.


Humankind we are told is a social animal.  Community is a natural part of the species’ makeup.  Pity they do it so badly.

Forget for a moment the number of wars and serious conflicts that afflict the world and bring things down to the individual level of “ordinary” living together.

How do dogs and children fit into a “reasonable” world?  Why do grown-ups allow them?

There are too many twiglet limbed and Feldman-eyed miniaturized grotesqueries that emasculated men are forced to take on thread thin leads to yap and squeak their way through their miserable lives producing nothing but aural and physical pollution and making life just that little bit less attractive. 

The saintly owners who discipline their noisy captive animals and who clear up their filth are as mythical as that notable self-harmer and reputed animal lover Saint Francis.  The only place such a person truly exists is in Giotto’s frescos and not in the neighbourhood of Castelldefels!

And kids - the tyrannical despots of the domestic living space whose antics put the more colourful Roman examples to shame.  After all in Classical times even Caligula was a charming child beloved of the army – the modern versions who are demanding, self-obsessed, materialistic, noisy and anti-social do not even have the brief charm of childhood, they get right into social repulsiveness as soon as their opposable thumbs can work a PlayStation!

And the noise! 

No Spanish child is able to communicate in anything other than a shout.  And when they are not shouting they are screaming.  And when they are not shouting or screaming they are crying.  Or what is worse talking in that irritatingly whiney way that they have when they perceive that they are being treated badly and oppressively i.e. they haven’t been given what they want immediately.

And the parents are just as bad.  You only have to look at a sports programme on the television where all contributors shout at each other simultaneously to realize where the kids get their noisy non-listening from.

Kids and dogs and neighbours surround us.  And you begin to realize why flamethrowers were invented.

Misanthropy indeed!