Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Make the most of it!

All my classes have informed me, with growing seriousness that, “Today is Friday!”

They are not as demented as they might seem as we have May Day off, but we do not have a Bank Holiday Monday to look forward to.  And going on the logic of the kids it will mean that Thursday is actually Sunday – and I have no desire to go to school then.  On the other hand, again following the childish thinking, it would mean that Friday is Monday and . . . it’s probably better to take reality at face value and remember that I am going to the UK on Real Friday and am having Real Monday off.  If you see what I mean.  Anyway we are about due for our Second Easter (don’t ask) and we get another day off then.

The interminable rain has stopped at last and I scurried out onto the Third Floor and did what I do best until wispy cloud spilt my little browning session.

I have resurrected my impossibly expensive (even with a swingeing Tesco reduction) wireless headphones and have discovered that they (eventually) work well with the iMac and the range comfortably includes the terrace of the Third Floor which meant that I was listening to an excellent version of “Orfeo” as the temperature cooled.

I have to remind myself that I have to write an exam paper and finish the marking of my sixth form papers and pack my case tomorrow.  It’s not all holiday.

I also have to finish off reading my St Jordi book, “The Penguin Book of British Short Stories” which has been absolutely excellent.  I thought when I first looked at it that it was a flashier edition of a book I already possessed, but I have realised that my version is of a much earlier selection and this one, edited by the late Malcolm Bradbury is a much more exciting read.  Many of the stories are to do with the creative impulse and form a fascinating commentary on a post Modernist approach to writing too.  It is the sort of anthology that makes you slightly sad the more you read because the delight is steadily running out as you use up each well-chosen story!

I am also conscious that I will be away from base at the start of my new course, so I will have to take my computer with me so that I can participate from day one with what we have to do.  I will have to remember to take my first piece of written work (which I have completed) with me so that I can post it from Britain – a day is important in the modern Open University!

I have also managed to book an optical appointment in a Tesco branch in a desperate attempt to get replacements (not the plural) at a price this side of despair.  I might even try and get some other view of my contact lenses while I am there.

This practical element is to compensate for what might not be quite what I expected this visit to Britain to be.  But that is something which is a negative view and, at the moment, there is no reason to believe that things are not going to work out in the way that I first expected.  We shall, as they say, see.

Meanwhile I am in full weekend mode and an much looking forward to the free day tomorrow – in spite of Thursday and Friday still retaining their old significance!

And Real Madrid have not managed to score in the first half of their crucial game against the Germans.  They have to pull back three goals and they have left it all for the second half.  They have it all to do!

And Barça tomorrow, with an even more difficult deficit to overturn.

One can only hope.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Write On!

Once upon a time there was a teacher who took his writing seriously and wrote conscientiously and studiedly each day.  But it has now been raining for three entire days and there is just so much that the academic can interpose between the elements and a sensitive soul visibly dissolving in the continuous downpours.

Just as a variant on the watery weariness at lunchtime today we had a taste of the Apocalypse with the sky turning an ochre yellow and Barcelona disappearing beneath a smog-like blanket of dirty water.  The thoughts of my kids in a Drama class immediately turned to eschatology but that was more a reflection of the unconscious queenliness that affects the little prima donnas I attempt to teach than a realistic assessment of what the atmosphere might or might not be doing.  I downgraded the eerie and entirely disconcerting phenomenon with an airily dismissive explanation involving reflected light on dust in the atmosphere. 

What I actually wanted to do was tear tiny cambric handkerchiefs to pieces in frantic displacement activity, or take ostentatious photographs with my underused iPhone 5.  But the class was difficult enough to keep on task at the best of times without having the End Days luridly play themselves out behind the sedate classroom windows, so I chose to downplay and redirect rather than give myself to the beckoning Dark Side!

The most noticeable development of the past few days has been the lure of the famous.  Having been tempted by the chance of proximity to sporting greatness, I have booked flights to the UK for the weekend to participate in the festivities attendant on the promotion of Cardiff City to what used to be the old First Division.  Sunday will see the City of Cardiff give a triumphal hooray to the achievement of the team and I will be there to experience something which the city has been waiting for the last half century.

On a far more prosaic, but personally more important level, I have also arranged for an opticians appointment in Tesco for the Saturday of my short stay.  I have tried to find a reasonable price for a replacement for my rapidly aging glasses but the price is indeed beyond rubies in this country and Tesco seem to offer a much more reasonable alternative to the money grubbing bastards trying to suck my money away in the immediate vicinity of my abode.

I am half resigned to discover that with all the thinning, lightweight, photo chromatic, progressive shenanigans that I demand for my glasses nowadays that the price will steadily climb until it is indistinguishable from the extortion on this part of the continent.  I hope not.  I put my trust in the ruthless competitive edge that sharp and heartless capitalist scorched-earth economics gives pseudo-monopolistic juggernauts because, after all, you know it makes sense and every little helps.

Meanwhile another sacred cow is mooing its way amongst us.  Yet another spate of examinations is about to unleash its deadening misery.  I am having to write some of the bloody things and then there will be all the marking – but at least I will be spared the true triple-misery of having to go to meetings about the damn things as well.  I have, I know I have, to be thankful for what are not in any way small mercies.

Talking of mercilessness, the nine or ten hours of meeting stretching over Friday evening and Saturday morning have left a residue of remembered misery and present resentment that are hindering the implementation of whatever it is that is supposed to be happening next term.  The situation is rapidly heading towards chaos and the suggestion that people come in and work for an extra two weeks at the end of term has staggered people!

I am beyond shock, and I have experienced numerous knee-jerk twinges when the knee begins to bend to whatever deities there might be for bringing my career in the classroom to an end within what can comfortably be termed a matter of weeks rather than months.  Technically, of course, there are indeed months (in the plural) to go – but we are talking single figures of weeks and that is something which takes the tension out of the shoulders!

Tomorrow is a “light” day, though I do have to complete my sixth form marking and make sure that I have done my bit to ensure that the examination for 3ESO is done so that it can be sat while I am in the UK. 

It’s all go!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Disruptive Day!

Happy St Jordi’s Day. 

This mythical saint is patron of Catalonia as well as England – presumably we Welsh did not have yet another saint to spare as we had provided one for Ireland as well as for ourselves!

Be that as it undoubtedly is, today is the traditional day here in Catalonia when books are exchanged.  In school we were given “invisible friends” and my delegated recipient was someone for whom I had an idea for a book and then immediately went on Amazon and relied on my “Premium” membership of that tax-shirking organization to get the book to me on time for today’s handover.  Amazon let me down.  My recourse was to getting Toni to write something in Catalan on a suitably ethnic card and leave that for my victim.  I have ordered the books (plural!) and I wasn’t going to buy a substitute and then have the bloody things arrive and not find a good home!

By a judicious mixture of silence and lying I have managed to deflect immediate attention from this lack and have lived to lie another day.  I hope the books arrive soon so I can infiltrate them unobtrusively into the right pigeon hole and let the person start reading.

My own book was a more than acceptable book of Penguin Modern British Short Stories augmented by a second-hand book that I had talked about not having read with a colleague – my donor was therefore not difficult to identify and both books are excellent and will be read avidly.

There was the usual disruption to normal school life to accommodate the festivities appropriate to the day.  The equivalent of the first year sixth did their own version of the St George story with the shining knight arriving to rescue the maiden on a kid’s scooter.  This skit is played out in front of the entire school, all sitting on the playground – even and up to the sixth form.  It is amazing what you can do in this school; and what you can’t!

I couldn’t face the actual prize-giving and additional chaos and so fled home for an early lunch in our old haunt – and very nice it was too.

We arrived back at the house to find, as seems to be de rigeur for me that a delivery service had arrived while we were out and failed to deliver a package.  I now know where all the depots are for a whole variety of non-delivering carriers.  This one was new and was in the next but one town from us (nearer than it sounds) and eventually produced a whole range of CDs including an amazingly priced set of Britten.  My listening pleasure travelling to and from Barcelona is guaranteed until the end of term!

One OU course may have finished, but the next is about to start and the school – the school is having more examinations.  Therefore more marking and less time to do what I want to do.  But I am sure that I will find the time – though essential periods on the Third Floor also have to be taken into consideration!

I have actually done the first of the exercises for the new course where I had to make comments on three short pieces of film in which three members of the course team illustrated and described three objects that are significant for them and have a wider significance.  A pilgrims symbol, a Greek vase and a mummified philosopher were their choices and we have now been encouraged to identify and describe an object of our own.  The writer of the course unit described his bit of the Berlin Wall as something of little intrinsic value but have significance beyond its appearance. 

I too have an Ingrid-donated fragment of the Wall – but I can hardly copy!  I have had a few ideas ranging from the little bunny that held a bottle of Coty L’aimant perfume which was the last present that I gave my mother, to a replica of the ceremonial anointing spoon bought to celebrate the coronation of QEII.  This was something promised to me from a very young age and actually given to me so long ago I cannot remember exactly when. 

But I think that I have decided what I am going to choose.  Something which has been mine for over sixty years and has a personal, political, historical and social significance.  That should cover most of the bases!

And now the task of getting the new music onto some of my machines.  Keeps me off the streets.

And Barça have lost 4-0 in Germany and that spells the end of their European dream for this year.  Oh dear.  To you this is just another football score; I have to live with the consequences!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tea is not enough!

Although I am now sitting in a highly privileged position, on a lofty hill overlooking the whole of Barcelona there is something about the colour of the mist (I am being generous here) over the city which is not exactly comfortable.  I only hope that the pall does not extend this far up!

I am accompanied by that dull drone of distant traffic enlivened by individual exhausts and the rattle of passing motorcycles.  Although this is a southern country there is not as much use of the horn as you might expect from watching films which use the stereotype of the hot blooded Mediterranean type using the horn in much the same way as northern folk use the clutch!

I am outside on a bench with my back against the wall of the staffroom watching the school wake up.  The sun is hidden behind a mass of pines and so I am in the shade, but in a couple of hours it will be baking on the terrace.

Gradually the number of children flung into school an hour or so before their classes actually start by parents who apparently can’t wait to get rid of them are polluting the drone filled silence of the morning and behind me I can her the first resentful croaks of my colleagues staggering towards their first coffees.

On Thursdays and Fridays my lessons are all packed together in a most unsatisfactorily compact way which sees me rushing from one building to another in breathless confusion.

Smaller children have now added their piercing voices to the background soundtrack of the school and the first thump of a kicked ball is a descant to the high voices.

The smudge-brown blanket of pollution has prettified itself into a sort of pastel yellow and the first planes of the morning are sailing serenely (at least at this distance) across the city.

And now it’s time for my first cup of tea as I face a day of five lessons on the trot, a departmental meeting and an evening event of the school’s Literary Competition.  A thoroughly depressing prospect!

I am now not sitting on a sun-drenched bench but rather in a stuffy classroom with only visual rumour of the panoramic view that I could be looking at.  I have lost one lesson only to have it replaced by sitting in front of a first year class watching them filling out a Spanish language exam.  And I am still debating whether or not I will be justified in staying away from the meeting tonight.

This is the annual jamboree connected with the awarding of our International Literary Prizes (all capitals).  I do feel a bit of a heel even in thinking of not going because the administration is connected to a member of the department and she does look for support for her colleagues.  I think that probably the best I can do is to leave school as early as I possibly can and then make my way back in later this evening.  The problem there is that driving on the northern part of the orbital motorway is not exactly a delight at that time in the evening, and the only time that I attempted it I was almost late.  Though there again, I do not have a function in the event and it is merely a question of showing my face.

I have time to think about this because I have to stay for lunch and a departmental meeting in the afternoon, so there will be time for even more reflection and cogitation before I eventually decide on some typically selfish form of action!

Thinking about it, that last statement is unfair – after all, how many bloody years have I been in the teaching profession; I am surely entitled to some cut slack or whatever the phrase is!  Though, that doesn’t work in the case of teaching.  The customers keep changing and the ones at the end of a career are as deserving of a professional service as those at the beginning when enthusiasm makes up for lack of experience.

I suppose that a possible test might be to consider whether I would like to be a colleague of me or to be taught by me!  A daunting thought and one that requires a certain amount of mental gymnastics!  And one that I would be ill advised to go into as it might reveal (candid or guarded) far too much of my well-hidden essential personality!

After all my thinking I actually went to the Literary Prize Giving and listened to an astonishingly inappropriate talk on the brutal book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote for a group of young writers.  Capote had visited the Costa Brava at some time and this, together with pictures of the graves of the slain characters in the “novel” confused rather than elucidated the central point of the talk.  Still, I recognized the guy from the television and he did at least speak in Spanish rather than Catalan, so I bumbled my way along understanding imperfectly while maintaining a mien of intellectual appreciation!

I fled as soon as was decently possible and we later went out for dinner in one of the restaurants along the paseo.  My pizza was excellent rivalling the efforts of the Maritime in time gone by, the Maritime I might add which was closed at a worryingly early hour.  To be fair I was bone weary, so it’s a little unreasonable to expect catering staff to be any more enthusiastic at working at that hour than I was.  But that’s life.

A worrying development in my life, which shows that I have my priorities in the right order and only worry about important things in life, is that my watch appears to have lost time. 

My new watch appears to have lost time. 

Admittedly the power source of this timepiece is light falling on some part of the machine that turns mere light into electric power, but the one thing that was clear was that The Time and the time on my watch were different.  And one couldn’t really say that Catalonia has been deficient in the provision of light in the last month!  I now recall with concern comments on the Amazon website which stated that the recharging ability of the watch was variable and even when left out in strong sunlight there was no guarantee that it was fully charged.  I have been lulled by faultless operation into accepting that its time is absolute and my faith is now completely shattered.  Again.  That’s life too!

Days have slipped by and no fingers on keys!

This weekend has seen the last of my revision.  Monday the exam.  As part of my preparations on Saturday I drove the route that I will have to take on the Exam Day by driving from School to the British Council.  Twice.  The first time I made a mistake by following the instructions to the letter and later realized that there was a degree of flexibility that I should have observed.  Which I did the second time around!

There appears to be parking near the British Council, but I should have enough time to panic and find somewhere else if the two places that I have noted as possibilities fail to live up to promise.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day.  Up at six-thirty and then teaching until five past one.  A drive to the British Council and the Exam.  A drive to the centre of Barcelona and an opera (Rheingold – just the sort of light relief that I will need!) and falling out of the Liceu at gone midnight to drive back to Castelldefels to go to bed to get up the next morning at six-thirty.  And this is supposed to be fun!

At least the weather has been decent – even if there have been more obtrusive wispy clouds than have been strictly necessary – and I have generally been able to take some advantage of the Third Floor and positions myself in the requisite position aligning myself with my favourite star.

The days pass and we are now over half way through April; May is looming and then it is June and escape!

More nearly and importantly in the short run, the website for my next course will open in two or three days time and after tomorrow I will be able to start work and build up a time buffer before the official start of the course on the 4th of May.

My experience with my present course has Shown Me the Way to get back into the swing of the OU and its ways.  I think that I will get more out of this course than I did the last because I am a little more canny about what is important in the OU World!  At least I hope so.  This course will take me over the next 20 weeks and up to the examination in September.  October is the start of my third course and I am still debating about what to take.  My preference is for a second level creative writing course which will take me up to my first second level art course in 2014.

But first the bloody exam!