Thursday, February 28, 2013


Surely there is nothing more guaranteed to put a dampner on a day than to know that at 8.15 on a Wednesday morning you will be teaching the various forms of the conditional to pupils who don’t want to listen to you.  Why do they not want to listen?  Because they know (they really do) everything (and more) about the bloody conditional and the exercises that we give them they can do in their sleep.  So, a wonderful lesson is in prospect.  Just the way to start the day!

Wednesday morning was one of the coldest of the winter at only two degrees according to the thermometer in my car – but there is also a cloudless sky so no prospect of the white stuff to close the school!

I delayed teaching the conditional for as long as possible relying on vocabulary and phrasal verbs to fill up the time and then after the briefest of introductions an unexpected visitor took all the kids away for them to listen (again!) to a talk from the Charity Food Depository before things could get really tedious.

Another class has disappeared to be replaced by baby sitting for a 3ESO class who are now in regimented rows and most of whom are sitting in front of a computer and doing god knows what.  I certainly do not intend rising from my seat and finding out!

This class is actually a relief!  Not because our kids are capable of sitting quietly – something you would think impossible if you listen to them normally - but because I got the whole thing wrong.  I had assumed that I had lost another free period and that the afternoon was going to be one long slog, but it turns out that it is merely replacement so my teaching (!) load is still the same.

Looking at the class, it does strike me that laptops are the educational equivalent of a dummy for older kids and time has a way of being sucked into the machines as the kids stare empty-eyed at them.  It is also heartening to see some kids revising in the old fashioned way with pen and paper and hands over part of the paper and a soulful look to the heavens to bring the information back to the pupil.  Whatever, as long as they are quiet, I am happy.

I am now a Premium customer of Amazon.  This is not a spontaneous gesture on the part of the company for the vast wealth which flows in its direction from my bank account, oh no, nothing like that.  I have paid an extra amount of money so that I do not pay postage and I get my goods a few days earlier.

In earlier days when I actually had an accountant to do my tax returns I remembering him saying that I should not spend money to save money.  As you can see this lesson has fallen on stony ground and I only hope that my outlay is going to be matched by a increase in the speed of arrival.  I am relying on the fact that everything will be quicker and free, but I do not think that will necessarily be the case. 

I am testing the system by having ordered Hard Times in book form because I cannot study with the electronic version; jumping around a text is simply too cumbersome without the pages beneath my fingers!  The book should be in my hot academic little hands before the end of the week.  I remain to be convinced.

Examination tristesse is beginning to infect the school, not only with those unfortunates (staff as well as students) who have had pre-exam examinations but also those who are dreading the fell swoop of the marker’s pen in the next ten days or so.

I loathe examinations as a “setter” and “marker”; I find them so tediously reliable that there seems hardly to be a need for them.  We learn absolutely nothing about the pupils; all they do is reinforce our preconceived ideas.  They are more exercises in short-term memory use than anything else and their educational value is approaching zero.  But, by god they are important in this place and the mark out of ten assumes an almost mystical importance in the eyes of . . . whoever.

Whatever I feel about them, they will take place and will be marked and will be given back to the pupils so that some sort of fatuous mark can be attached to their names.  There will be meetings and printed sheets and everyone will be happy.  Well, almost everyone.

Today (Thursday) has been a most unsatisfactory day in school.  My teaching has been indifferent and on a couple of occasions I did little more than babysit.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be different – and at least tomorrow is a short day.  And it will be a day nearer to the arrival of my latest batch of goodies from Amazon.  And they will not be here any sooner than before I paid money to Amazon.  I think.  According to the emails that they have sent I should have the book on Monday.

And then the essay.

Lashing rain and high winds are not what I expect.  But both are wreaking havoc around the coast.  The waves are impressive, with wind whipped spray giving a professional look to the otherwise tame, domestic water movements which grace our shores.  But I would rather do without the rain.  Frankly.

This morning was supposed to be a full one but turned out to be much more civilized.  One lesson was of a collapsed class which, because of the calming influence of work on computers actually allowed me to get on with framing examination questions for the imminent series of the examinations which are going to be visited on our kids.

I managed to get the questions for the 1ESO completed in class and was able to send them off to my colleague who is collating the paper.  The next lesson was supposed to be 1BXT but the saintly head of studies took the examination invigilation for himself and left me with a free period when I got a range of other questions for 3ESO done and still had enough time to get to my next lesson in the other building without panting!

Lunch (it was a “short” day) was near the old flat and was cold langoustines to start, followed by mussels then a mixed paella, followed by apple tart washed down with red wine and Casera and iced coffee.  All for a tenner.  Sigh!  It almost took away the misery of looking at the weather.

I have now read everything on the OU course and the next two weeks will see the production of the essay and the start of the period of revision for the exam.  Time is moving on.  I have a month respite (for good behaviour) and then the second course starts!

On Saturday I have a lunch meeting with a friend and a business associate.  Oh god, I do hate investment opportunities.  But I will reserve judgement until greed takes over!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not all bad!

In spite of an absolutely rubbish Monday, Tuesday was surprisingly pleasant – at least as far as the developing illness was concerned.  Although I probably sound worse than I did yesterday, I feel considerably better and even spent part of the afternoon sitting outside on the Third Floor letting the sun touch my face and give me that injection of Vitamin D that I have missed throughout the winter months!

There has been a new injection on the OU course as well as two new Forums have opened up and I hope this will encourage the other members of the group to contribute more than they have been doing over the last few weeks.  I have been immersing myself in The Preston Lock Out, the songs against the Preston Cotton Lords and political ballads of all sorts to give some of the background to Hard Times.  YouTube has turned up trumps again in finding folk singers who have added the tune and an authentic performance to cold words on the page.

I have given up trying to use my electronic version of the text as a study aid and have sent for the paperback of the novel courtesy of Penguin Classics.  One cannot flick from part to part in the novel electronically in the way that is necessary to be able to write a decent essay.  I can imagine that finding the necessary quote is going to be easy because you can find something by reference to a few words, but I need the text in my hands!

I am still buying CDs as if the house is an ark against the Philistine hordes - if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors in a particularly unsuccessful way!  There are simply too many good bargains around for me to dismiss them!

The Tchaikovsky box set is a delight and I have particularly enjoyed listening to the three unfashionable symphonies 1 to 3 which I have always enjoyed since I bought a (bargain price) box set of all his symphonic works in university – for which I was roundly sneered at, as Tchaikovsky was not really fashionable; far too tuneful and Romantic!  Ouff to people who can’t lose themselves in such gushing lusciousness, is what I say.  It’s their bloody loss!

The next lot of discs that I have sent for are rather more astringent with earlier music of a sparser nature guaranteed to delight.  And then I really must stop as buying discs seems to have become something of an obsession with me at the moment.  But, as I always say, I don’t smoke so I am allowed to squander money on things like this and I am, after all, keeping culture alive on the Third Floor!

I think by the time that I have finished keeping the recorded music industry alive, I myself will have to say alive until well into the next half of this century to listen to it all!  Which, as I fully intend to stay alive until I get back every single penny that I have paid in for my pension (with interest) is just as well because both things should come to completion at round about the same time.  My Uncle Eric, as I never fail to remind myself in dark times, has been drawing his pension for longer than he was teaching!  A real icon for the teaching profession!  A patron saint in the making!

At the moment El Clasico is in full spate with Barça a goal down after what I thought was a clear penalty (Breathe it not in Garth!), though as we are watching it via a computer feed the picture is not of the highest quality and the whole things stops from time to time at crucial moments and is more frustrating than entertaining and I am typing to calm my tattered nerves.  I don’t know what is worse, watching ill-defined splodges of colour jerk their way across the screen or listen to hysterical commentary with a frozen picture.

Toni is frighteningly calm and quiet because he has a sore throat and a headache (and a cough) and has, perforce, to remain silent and fuming!

Tomorrow is a full day and one during which I will have to write a contribution to yet another examination paper so that the Days of Horror at the end of next week will make full use of our own felled forest to add just that little extra misery for the students who seem to have been doing a whole range of examinations this week as well – though the logic of having an examination the week before an examination is beyond me. 

Examinations in the School on the Hill have become an end in themselves and educational logic has long since departed from what is actually going on. 

Ah well, I’m counting the days – and from the Easter holidays I might well be counting the hours!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Who notices?

I have coughed and snuffled my way through the day in an extravagant display of illness so that everyone is aware that I am selflessly giving of myself again in the cause of education.  And how am I repaid for this generous act of self-sacrifice?  Why, in the only way that most schools know how, by taking away one of my free periods!

This is a disturbingly new element in my school life.  I had considered myself the Sir Gawain of the school – aloof, perfect and untouchable.  Just like the myth of the Round Table so my status plummets from the rarefied heights of untouchability to the common level of my earth-bound colleagues.  This attitude does not bode well for my proposed approach to all school meetings i.e. to ignore them as though they did not exist. 

I feel the eye of Mordor is turned towards me and the Cracks of Mount Doom are in the far distant lands of June when at last the Keys of the School on the Hill may be cast away to be utterly consumed!  Until then I fear that I am now merely a member of the school staff and not someone who merely touches the grubby classroom when he is actually teaching and at all other times is hidden away behind the sacred veil of the OU, communing with the mighty minds of distance learning students.  We shall, as I so often say, see.

This evil period snatch has ensured that I will not be able to escape until the plague of all the rabidly inconsiderate parents who think that triple parking is a god-given right have descended on the school.  As I couldn’t give a pampered child’s Blackberry for their concern, I look at the bad parking parents with undisguised loathing and cut as many as possible with the highly honed stare of active ignoring that I have been perfecting over the years.  Even now am I building up my store of resentment to match the indifference of these selfish egomaniacs.

I can’t wait to get home to have an unrestricted cough in the salubrious surroundings of an ozone-fuelled environment.  Which reminds me, I must get some lemons so that I can sip my drink of choice and feel the warming comfort of traditional remedies lull me to health.  Although my breathing is not markedly restricted, I still think that I will rub a little Vick on my chest and gargle with TCP to feel the full effect of homely remedies.  The only thing missing from this medical scheme is Savlon and I am sure that I can find something to anoint with that magical cream.  And then, that is the full panoply of Mum approved medical that will have been arrayed for my amelioration.  If that don’t help then god knows I sure am in trouble!

I didn’t read much of Hard Times over the weekend and I really think that I need to get down to the hard slog of culling apposite quotations from the novel to flesh out the answer that I haven’t written.  I do have an idea for the heading quotation for the essay and the task asks for the student to pay “close attention” to a specific chapter in the novel – and Lord knows I am good at minute literary analysis, so it is playing to my strength.  All I have to do is write it.

I was right about the continuous assessment part of the course; I have already passed that section and, theoretically, I do not need the mark from the last assignment – but I am not doing this merely to gain a qualification that in fact I already have, but rather for the sheer delight in study, so it would be stupid and pointless to ignore any part of the course and I fully purpose to take advantage of everything that the OU has to offer!

My arrival home was met with reciprocating coughs, but at least my new box set of Tchaikovsky had arrived so I was able to have a mini gloat before we set out to our natural lodestone of MediaMarkt to get bits and pieces.  Well for me at least as I needed a new memory stick and some more cases for the increasing numbers of discs that I am buying!  Toni failed to buy some sort of static bangle that is useful when dealing with computers.  I had never heard of it but apparently he had worn one when he was working in GB.  I think that he will have to resort to the Internet to find one.

The rest of the evening has been spent working at Book 3 of my OU course and, through the reading about C19th industrial England and approaches to Hard Times trying to discover the essential key themes that the OU regards as important for the final assignment.  I am getting there bit by highlighted bit towards an understanding of the key terms for my future study.  The examination is now just under two months away, and then a month off before the next course begins. 

School is nothing more than an irritation which gets in the way of my studying!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What weekend?

This weekend will not go down in my memory as one to Mark With a White Stone.  It has been almost unrelievedly morose, well I have been anyway.

Friday evening began with a suggestion of illness which had developed into proper fleur de mal by the time I woke up.  There was, however, no time to feel self-pitying as Toni had to be taken to Terrassa to visit his aunt.  My return to Casteldefells saw a gradual declension from a cold can of beans for lunch, through the displacement activity of First Day Cover Reorganization and finally to early bed and unconsciousness.

Sunday dawned, allegedly, through the snuffling hump under the blankets took not a blind bit of notice of it.  Toni’s coughing return in the early morning after depositing his mother at the airport to go on her planned trip to Granada did not encourage me to leap out of bed and it was half past ten when I eventually crawled out to have my bowl of muesli and it was not long before I crawled back again not to re-emerge until gone seven in the evening.  This does not bode well for tomorrow, but next week is the week before the examinations (when is it not!) and my presence is important – so I have a week of coughs and snuffles to look forward do augmented by the ever increasing hysteria of pupils as they build themselves up to another paper exercise in fatuousness.

There is still a pile of marking waiting for me, though I fully intend to splatter my way through a few scripts that I have to make the effort tomorrow a little less intimidating.

The one thing I do have to look forward to is the immanent arrival of a massive box set of Tchaikovsky from Brilliant Records who have carved out a niche for themselves in the we-give-you-everything market.  In fact this is not as complete as the makers of the discs would have you believe, but the price is so good and the discs so numerous that one would be churlish to do anything other than gloat about ownership!

There is more than enough space on my hard drive to accommodate all the discs though I think that I may delay putting all the operas (or at least what operas they have seen fit to include) as I am getting progressively irritated by having vague bits of spoken recitative interpolated in automatically produced play lists.  I am trying to include some pop discs as well as there is nothing so invigorating as lurching from a piece of high art to low music in a heartbeat when the machine has decided what “song” to play next!

As is usual for me, I do not look ill at all.  I go throughout life bereft of the sympathy which should go with illness because I do not have the good grace to act the part.  I will have to cough decorously and dab my lips with my paper handkerchief if I am to get any with the same word of condolence from my colleagues.  Their sympathy will be heartfelt, if only because any absence is covered internally – the Supply Teacher being a figure of mythic proportions in The School on the Hill.  Even simple substitution is never guaranteed as classes are collapsed with the same regularity as Italian governments!

Still, every day is a day nearer to the holidays and indeed to The Retirement.  And at least for me there is an end in sight which is in a matter of months and not, as for the majority of my hapless colleagues, in a number of years or decades!  Let us be truly thankful for that! 

Late June is release, and who knows, it might even be before.