Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Post festivity languor!

Christmas Day is over and done with! 

The meal this year was better than last because it was all home made and the size of the prawns that we had for a starter were certainly much larger than anything you would normally get in a restaurant!

The M&S mini cakes were duly eaten and expressions of amazement were duly uttered at the sheer density of the sort of cake that we Brits eat on this festive day.  I managed to get a mini slice from the traditional Christmas Cake cake topped with icing sugar and marzipan, while the other two with toppings of crystalized fruit and nuts were devoured by the others.  A taste of home in foreign parts!

The weather, in spite of the weather forecast, is bright but cold and is making me think that going to Gran Canaria for this time of year is a very sensible idea!

Today is my saint’s day and I am currently switched into a present-receiving mode before Toni and I make our escape dragging all the accumulated loot behind us to Castelldefels.

My “reflective” piece for the second part of the TMA for the OU was finally written on Christmas Day and sent off courtesy of the Wi-Fi in Toni’s Mum’s flat.  I have spent the morning today catching up on the text book based work that I should have done to get myself back on course according to the Sacred Timetable found in the august setting of the Student Home for my module.

We are allowed a Christmas Holiday in the OU and I am using it to ensure that I build up a cushion of work completed before the inevitable “events, dear boy, events” conspire to knock me off course.  Part of that enterprise is settling what my next module is going to be, and for that I am going to have to take some advice about how my future in the OU is supposed to work out.  I am quite tempted by the MA in Art History that the OU offers, but I may need to complete a few higher-level courses before I attempt that.  The only real problem is that the present MA is going to be discontinued at the end of next year and I am not sure what is going to take its place – if anything.  I see my career with the OU stretching over the next decade, so anything is possible!

When I get back to Castelldefels I can put Book 1 of the course back on the bookshelf and get Book 2 and start going on the next stage of the work.  The next TMA is in early February so there is not a great deal of time before I need to get back to the mind-set of barely controlled panic to get the work done!

The second opera in the present season is tomorrow and I have not yet booked a hotel room to make the experience more enjoyable.  I am assuming that I have left it far too late and for the interval food and drink too.  I am not sure that I like rushing a quick interval snack at an inflated price, but then what are “ordinary” prices in a world famous opera house!

This performance is of Rusalka, which I have never seen in an Opera House, though god knows I have heard “that aria” often enough, not least in Cardiff Singer of the World competitions where it is something of a favourite with sopranos – and with audiences too, hardened competition competitors are not fools when it comes to important choices to sway judges!

Meanwhile The Family we have just left, may well be visiting the seaside tomorrow!

The Holiday Season continues.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

First Weekend of Real Freedom! Again

This morning was characterised by the usual obstructionism that flowers around the delivery agents employed by Amazon in this area.  I am tempted to name and shame but I fear that their service will be even worse if I try and express my feelings about this triple initialled organization.

In the past we have discovered “We called but you were out,” notes left in the letterbox before the time written down which says when the delivery was attempted!  One box containing a camera was simply thrown over the wall, and the number of times that the delivery has apparently been attempted while we were unheeding and uncaring in the house while this delivery silently went on is almost beyond belief – which I think is exactly true.

Today was a variation on a theme as I was responding to an email from Amazon telling me that the usual deliver had been attempted but not reply was forthcoming.  This benighted organization now doesn’t even bother to leave a note (which is one step worse than the truly awful Spanish Postal Service which at least leaves a note when they have no intention whatsoever of delivering a parcel) so you have to guess that the parcel may have arrived and take appropriate measure to attempt to get your goods.

Even armed with a copy of the reference number I was unable to get my stuff this morning.  A charming gentleman eventually found something with my name on it in the computer and informed me sadly that the message I had got merely meant that my stuff was in a central storage area somewhere and alas, not in Castelldefels.

Returning to my house I took the precaution of printing out the whole of the email to take back to the gentleman who then (how astonishing!) found a substantial packet containing all my discs with my full name and address written on the packet twice.

Sometime, you simply want to cry.

However that is not the therapy that I utilize and so I went to Gava and bought some CD cases so that the new acquisitions could be safely, and more importantly from Toni’s point of view, tidily put away.  The Third Floor has become a sort of counter-intuitive Piranesi-like three dimensional jigsaw puzzle as I buy new stuff (a propensity for which I should be given at least an OBE for services to rampant consumerism) and then have to find new and ingenious ways of making it all fit so that Toni doesn’t notice that there is more of what he hates around the place.

I am benefiting from record companies revisiting their ancient (i.e. from the 1970s and related decades) recordings and issuing them in incredible value box sets.  I have already had cause to mention the appallingly named “Brilliant” records which produce box sets of complete recordings of major composers for “must buy” prices.  My stocks of Beethoven, Mozart and various other tune masters has benefited immeasurably from their efforts!

I now have a separate album of Shostakovich and have enough music new discs to keep me happy for some time as I drive along the roads of Catalonia trailing music of extraordinary quality behind me.  One advantage of the unloading at bargain price of old-ish recordings is that you get legendary recordings that at one time were the stars of the catalogue now consigned to in-car listening.  Many of these recordings I have in other versions but the names of the artists make them well worth listening to again.  And again.  I suppose there will come an end to this largesse, but while the box sets are being issued I am going to be a sucker for them.

Our lunch was supposed to be in the value-for-money place that we have discovered in St. Boi but that was not how it worked out.  Toni, for nefarious reasons, wanted to call in to the supermarket and there he met his family doing some last minute shopping for the festive season.

With our augmented numbers we sallied forth to our restaurant of choice in the area and to our combined horror we found it closed.  The commercial sense behind it being closed during one of the busiest weekends of the year was lost on us all, but we decamped in a very bad mood to the restaurant at the end of the block which we had never tried and found a place which almost instantly took our affections by storm.

The value for money of the new place is almost comical with a three course meal with salad bar starter, wine, casera and coffee coming in at around €10!  The tapas alternative at €8.90 consisted of a few plates of offerings which almost defeated staunch members of the family!  A place to be remembered and patronized.  “Las Salinas” will become something of a feature of our visits to the benighted smear which is St Boi as long as the quality and quantity are kept up!

Tomorrow is the start of the Festive Season Proper when the first of the Trial by Ordeal Meals will take place.  The first will be Toni’s Mum and then on succeeding days The Meal will move to other habitations (in much the same way as her late majesty Queen Elizabeth I journeyed from subject to subject reducing them to penury as she went) as other members of the family take turns in stuffing the maximum amount of food possible into the human body!

I will return to Castelldefels for a “time-out” period on Sunday evening, only returning to the gastronomic fray on Monday evening.  This is to allow me to collect a part of Toni’s sister’s present which is a book which has been ordered on Amazon and which, after pestering in more than one language has been promised on Christmas Eve.  I am still a little sceptical, but I have the wrapping paper ready and, as presents are traditionally given the day before Christmas in Catalonia, I could be prepared by the time I am subjected to the next meal!

The Pauls (sober) called this afternoon after they called (drunk) last night.  Last night (drunk) they agreed to come to Catalonia some time after Christmas for a seasonal visit, while today (sober) they are a little more circumspect!  However, I am hoping that extravagant councils will prevail, overdrafts will be ignored and we will be able to celebrate the New Year in Style!

The OU is nagging at the edges of my conscience.  I have to keep telling myself that now the group Wiki is complete the second and more important part of the tutor marked assignment is still waiting for me to put finger to key.  This is the reflective part of the task and one which carries more marks than the group effort.

This is an interesting task as there is both too much to say and of that, much of it should probably not be said.  This is certainly one of those times when, as Waugh has one of his characters say about the methodology of schoolteachers I think it is, “discretion must be tempered with deceit!”  I must look again more closely at the exact wording of the task in the assignment booklet because strict adherence to guidelines is one of the way to get yourself through the gentle mine field that is studying with the OU!

Although I have to tell my new iMac to think in English every time I use it, I am more than pleased with the general functioning of everything.  The wireless keyboard is a delight after the rough opposition of the last one I bought and the elegant gleaming touchpad is an aesthetic dream.

The basic problem with owning an iMac is everything else.  Such a piece of design perfection makes all other possessions in the vicinity look at best tawdry and at worst like a tramp’s vest.  I remember one of those screamingly funny cartoons from ancient editions of Punch when an Aesthetic Couple are admiring a teapot and wondering if they can (or was it “dare”?) live up to it!  iMacs make you think in something like the same way!

The Pauls have just phoned and said that the bargain price of three hundred quid that it would have cost them to come over is now just a fond memory and that the one way ticket to Barcelona is now just under two hundred pounds each – without taking into consideration the fact that they have to get back again!  Ah well, they will just have to look further afield and consider Reus and Girona.  We will wait and see.

One result of the patience which is a key virtue in shopping in Lidl is that my watch collection is now on public display in the caskets that I have been waiting for in that shop.  In Lidl more than anywhere else the “buy it as soon as you see it” dictum is an essential one.  I now have just enough display space for the Grand Collection but no room for the Lesser Collections.  I only bought three, six section display cases and today there were none left, so it is back to the old waiting game to get the extra cases that I need.  And yes, I am well aware that it is not strictly normal to have that number of wristwatches.

Toni still hasn’t noticed that I am wearing a new watch – the Citizen eco perpetual.  The thinking behind this purchase is that, by the very nature of the watch, I will have to keep it on my wrist for quite some time to find out whether the odd months do change in the way that they are suppose to without my having to spend untold ages trying to get the day/date/time back to something approaching equality with Big Ben.  I also think that it is an elegant and understated watch with just enough fussiness in the dial to stop it being mundane.  And I like the strap too: assertive without being vulgar.  So the outlay on this watch (bearing in mind that it was some seventy pounds cheaper on the Internet than in W H Samuel) is really to make me curb my spending on watches in general.  Makes sense to me – but there again, I also believe in the concept of the Transferability of Random Benefits, which means that a part of a gain in one area can be transferred to another completely unrelated area to make that area into a bargain too.  So, buying a classical disk at half price means that, by using TRB, a high price opera seat can be financially modified by the gain from the disc to become only breathtakingly expensive rather than poleaxingly expensive.  It’s not much by way of a contribution to International Economics, but it makes life just that little bit more bearable!

My retirement is now complete.  I have knocked out the sand from my sandals in the School on the Hill and I have taken a valedictionary meal of tapas and Cava with the local British School.  However, I feel that my final bow is going to be somewhat delayed, as the Head of Secondary intimated that January need not necessarily be a teaching-free month for me!  I am not sure whether to be sadden or elated by the suggestion!

At the moment, however, with only the unfinished TMA to worry me, I can look forward to relatively stress-free Christmas.

And what, when you come to think about it, a hostage to fate that last sentence is!

Another ending?

 Laptop or iPad skin for Not Another Happy Ending by Karolin Schnoor

Today sees another step in my attempts to become FM or Fully Mac.  I sloped-off school as soon as was reasonable and made my way through lunch-time traffic to the Apple Store.

Having decided to take the plunge and spurge all the money that I have earned during my last (and I really mean that folks!) stint in school, on a computer I was in a determined mood.  On a Mac computer.  I have, in a very real sense, come home to the make of the first real computer that I owned.

The Apple Store was crowded (so much for the so-called Crisis) and there was even a queue for the “express” sale point for iPhones!  I eventually found a little man who admitted that he spoke English, so I felt much more confident about speaking in Spanish to him!  It’s just the way the communication thing works with me in this country!

After much discussion and my having to phone my bank as the sum of money that the Apple Store wanted to take from my account was too large for a single payment on my card and I did not have enough cash to make up the full amount, I was eventually brought my machine by a girl who called me by name when she handed it over to my handler: they do these things well in Apple Stores when they know that they are fleecing the customer.

I was then handed over to an utterly charming lady who showed me the rudiments of setting up and who helped me install the programs that I needed to make this expensive piece of equipment work.

I could not buy a new phone as my bank did not authorise such a large purchase and, perhaps that was for the best!

I am now a happy little bunny except for the fact that the machine insists on underlining all the English words which it regards as just plain wrong, in spite of the fact that I have changed the operating language to English.

The day has changed and already it is tomorrow.

So, this is the day that I RETIRE – again.

It is difficult to remember just how many times I have retired, only to creep back into the educational fold.  But this time . . .

To be frank I do not think that my last day in the School on the Hill was professionally wonderful.  I “taught” a lesson by sitting in front of a class and showing them a film.  All the rest of my classes that day were nugatory because they were all off on trips and so I felt fully justified in leaving school at an absurdly early time and found myself back in Castelldefels before the stroke of midday!

This meant that I was able to take up an invitation from the head of secondary in my local British school and join the staff for a small celebration for the end of term with Cava and tapas.

It was extremely pleasant to go into a school and meet erstwhile colleagues whose lives had been made easier because I had been the supply teacher who kept their free periods free!  I felt that my greeting from the staff was one of unmixed enthusiasm – the same enthusiasm that I would have felt for anyone who had allowed me to keep my free periods sacrosant!

It was noticeable that the training of many years came out in the way in which for most of the time in the “fiesta” I wandered about with a bottle of Cava attached to my hand.  If I had a pound for each time I have been in a party and found myself with a bottle of Cava (or equivalent) in my personal possession, I would be able to afford one of the more prepossessing houses with which we are surrounded!

I left quite early, but not before providing the headteacher, the head of secondary and the head of pastoral with a glass of personally poured Cava – sometimes my calculating generosity knows no bounds!

I think if I had to use a single experience to crystalize my feelings about a reception which was a total delight, then I would have to plump for a casual comment I made to one of the management in the school.  I told her that one of my most positive feelings about the place was that it felt like “a real school”.  I obviously meant it as a compliment, but I was shocked by the response that I got: one of unmixed delight!  I suppose that some people feel that they are so close to the institution for which they work that a dispassionate assessment of their working environment is impossible.  It therefore follows that an assessment from a seeimingly neutral observer is something to be valued and that, in turn values what people working in the institution have done.

To my utter delight the headteacher recited a poem rather than giving a boring speech.  And, on an unrelated, but significant point, I have now reached the limit of my tolerance of this bloody Word programme refusing to accept that I am typing in English.  I am therefore going to get the program downloaded for me by the technician in school today in an attempt to get this bloody thing to behave in a totally British sort of way.

The process is now underway and I have no lively hope of success: for things like this which are suppose to be totally straightforward, you really need an expert close at hand.  Well, I have tried my best but the machine refuses to accept that I might be typing in perfectly acceptable English – and to prove my point the program changed a Word in the previous sentence to the Spanish spelling without my wanting it to.

This is my opportunity to find out if the back-up support for which I have paid a surprisingly large sum of money comes anywhere near to justifying the outlay.

Today has been an excellent day with things working out just as I wanted them too.  It has been filled with pleasant experiences and has left me feeling warmly towards the onslaught of the festive season.

To cap it all an (admittedly drunk) phone call from the Pauls suggests that they might, after all, be able to come over for part of the holiday.

As is my wont, I am now waiting for the inevitable negation of these positive elements.

But that is for tomorrow: and tomorrow is . . .