Thursday, May 30, 2013


That vague sense of dissatisfaction (as opposed to the normal sense of acute distaste) is something all teachers know well.  A disgruntled feeling that one could be doing something more productive elsewhere – like sleeping – makes every little action an effort.  It will wear off of course, but while it niggles away at the back of your mind it makes each moment sitting in the staff room like some form of indistinct torture.

Today is a full day by election as there is a departmental meeting which I am duty bound to attend “for shame’s sake” so that the rest of the department do not rise up in choler and smite me (hip and thigh) [possibly with the jaw bone of an ass] to express their irritation with my cavalier attitude towards education!         

Allegedly there is a (now traditional) meeting about pay in the offing which, no doubt, will be a little nearer the end of term so that the information about how much is going to be taken from the wages of hard working teachers to keep bloodsucking bloody bankers in this country afloat!

Meanwhile, I am still working on how to pay for the camera that I have decided will make a suitable retirement (again) present (again) for me (again) as the money has to be sent by bankers’ order and therefore I have to go to a bank physically and in person!  As the places do not accord with anyone’s working hours and availability there is a necessity to take time off school to get to the bank.  I am still working on it.  Working on it!  Roll on the month after next when such considerations will be irrelevant!

I am now sitting in front of yet another class, but this time they are studying for the examinations rather than sitting them – the end result is the same: I take out my computer and preserve my sanity by typing something.  Anything.  Next lesson is going to be similar when my ostensible free has been taken by invigilation, so more computer time, but this time I will use the on-line OU resources to further my studies.

On the plus side I have been given permission to skip a departmental meeting so I will be back home for a late lunch rather than having to stay over our lunchtime and go home late in the afternoon.  This is a definite result.  But I must remember to phone home and let the information be taken on board as I am expected some time after four and not two hours earlier.

It is getting nearer and nearer to the magic date when I can start doing a daily countdown to the end of my time in the School on the Hill.  There are times when I feel a sense of regret that I am going to be finishing here, but all I have to do is remind myself about the number of meetings that I have not gone to (and indeed the length of those meetings) to thank my lucky stars that I am soon to be out of the continuous frustration that is modern teaching!

As a result of fairly confused messages emanating from our OU tutor the Workshop scheduled for Saturday has been cancelled for Sunday – you see what I mean when I say confused!  This is probably a good thing because I have arranged to meet Suzanne on Saturday and coming straight from a discussion of Greek vases is not the idea frame of mind to enjoy yourself!

This Sunday will have to be the day when I break the back of the information that I need to start on my first assignment for this course.  As usual everyone on the Forums is getting worked up about the necessity or otherwise of in-text referencing and the way the bibliography should be set out.  I am more concerned about what to call the little decorate details on what we have to describe rather than the arid referencing which seems to be the most important aspect of some people’s lives.  Which probably explains why my last tutor made gentle suggestions about tightening up my academic housekeeping!

I don’t know whether it is a good or bad thing that our present tutor is not only an art history expert, but also she is also the chair of the MA in Art History in the OU.  I think.  I feel this is a person who would appreciate the use of the word “conceit” in a way in which my last tutor did not!  And that has its own built in tensions when submitting a piece of written work!

Roll on the weekend.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Work and War!

Different tutors, different approaches.  The OU tutorial the day before yesterday evening was markedly different from the ones that we had for the previous course.  This one was much more explanatory with a limited amount of student participation – even so yours truly had a disproportionate time expressing his opinions!

It was a good experience and, together with the exhaustive documentation that had been provided by our “real” tutor (we were guests in the tutorial yesterday) we have a considerable amount of information to take in for the first assignment.  There was part of a description to give us an idea of what was required and I must admit that I am more than somewhat daunted by what we have to produce.  I think that they are expecting virtually curatorial professionalism from we neophyte Greek vase connoisseurs!

The time of the first assignment coincides with a period of examinations (!) in our school – as when does anything not – so I will be marking and writing, learning and praying for that swift death beloved of all teachers caught in the soulless tedium of putting marks on the puerile ravings of our hapless charges!

And then there is the “workshop” with our RT (real tutor) on Saturday on the First of the Month of Leaving for which we have had copious information to prepare ourselves for the intellectual onslaught.  And then, still reeling from the unaccustomed early morning academic endeavour, I will propel myself into Barcelona for lunch with Suzanne!

God I hate cats!  Nasty creatures with those tiny, ugly, vicious looking teeth!  Disgusting!  And the slob-like cat from the menagerie next door has dragged its carcass over the intervening roof element and scratched open the cloth on the sun bed which I inadvertently left out.

This little piece of destruction is probably a direct reprisal for my actions a few days ago when I caught the thing in our garden and threw a plastic container of water over its revolting length.  It tried, and failed frantically to claw its way up the wall, but avoirdupois and gravity combined to drag it crashing to the ground.  As I rushed back to the outside tap to refill the container the cat rushed past me and attempted to climb the back garden wall – and failed there too. 

Having refilled the container I merrily slopped more water on the unwelcome piece of filth and, in total desperation the creature managed to squeeze its way through a hole far too small for it to get through – in the way that these unnatural beasts have, showing their direct association with the Black Arts and all things inimical to normality!

I sincerely hope that the thing is totally traumatized and will not attempt any appearance when I am around, though its wonton destruction of my sun bed shows its sneaky vindictiveness!  I will be further revenged on it!  By god I will!

To a certain extent I am getting money under false pretences as very little of my mind is on schoolwork.  I feel as if I have already left and I resent the time that I am not spending on the OU assignment.  Although, to be fair, virtually everybody else on the course is having to cope with working full time and doing their academic work at the same time.  I remember my last brush with the OU all those years ago when, admittedly I was doing a higher-level course, but the time constraints and the information I had to take in were almost impossible given the job that I was doing.  This time round it is more feasible, but the approach is more demanding and the academic standard is higher.  There is more tension because you do not feel as isolated as you did when there were only those early morning BBC2 broadcasts and the course material!  Now with the Forums and the greater use of the Internet there is more pressure on you to respond to the course as an all-consuming part of your life rather than a mere part of it!

The next few weeks are going to be tight with what I have to do in work and what I need to do for a decent mark in the course.  I am no longer in my comfort zone and there is a great amount of simple learning to do and a whole new vocabulary to learn and more importantly, use!

The stimulus (and fright) that the tutor has given us demands a far more polished form of writing than I had realized was necessary and it is something towards which to strive!

So why am I writing this and not getting down to the learning that I need to do?  Good point!

Another day, another examination.  With me sitting at the front looking sternly at pupils who only need the slightest encouragement (or rather distraction) on the part of the teacher to indulge in the Spanish national habit of cheating.  It is only because I can touch type that I can do anything at all in front of a full class of putative deceptionistas!

In a startling break with what I have come to accept as tradition, the powers that be have actually had the temerity to put me down for a substitution for a colleague who is in Madrid attending a conference!  This is a very disturbing deviation from what I thought I had established as my sacrosanct free time approach!

As the examination season reaches its examinational frenzy at the end of the year, I fear that even more of my supposed free time will be claimed by unscrupulous management!  I will have to strive to ensure that this is not so.

Meanwhile: cameras!

A colleague has had the misfortune to experience the mind-of-its-own telephoto lens syndrome and has been truly daunted by the amount that the camera company has said that it would charge merely to think about doing something to repair the camera, let alone actually taking some form of physical action to make it better!  And she has the incentive of a husband who has offered to buy her a new one as a present.

As is usual with all things cameroid, I am the first port of call for a chat, as my acquisitive proclivities in the lensial area are widely remarked.  As I feared, she has done her research and has come up with a number of alternatives one of which she rejected out of hand, and which consequently attracted me with all the force of an expletive in the Convent of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!

The USP of this particular camera is its x50 optical zoom.  Once seen, once smitten.  The “falling” was the easy part; the real difficulty only arises when you try and pay for the damn thing.

To justify the expense, I made a real effort to find the best price – checking web sites here and in the UK.  At one point I actually phoned what I think may have been Hong Kong, only to find out that the firm did not deliver to Spain – only the UK and Australasia!  After much hunting and converting pounds to euros and vice versa (and getting thoroughly confused in the process) I finally found a firm that seems to be based in Spain and which gave a price (a very reasonable price) in euros.

They wanted to be paid by invoice and the money by Pay Pal.  Everything seemed to be going swimmingly when an abortive attempt to get a Pay Pal account in 2010 rose from the archives to stymie me.  Whatever I tried (in two languages) came back to my finding the exact details of a small transaction three years ago.  And nothing I did worked!

Phoning the company again led to a further suggestion that I buy the camera on the web site.  But there was no stock left when I attempted that.  Back to the company (using the school phone) and in a complicated arrangement involving cancelling one transaction and transferring the camera from one account to another I can pay by Bank Order.

I have a hazy memory of attempting to do this some time in the past and the crucial element in my frustration was actually getting myself to an open bank when I was available to be there.  I am hoping that with my more flexible approach to attendance in school that this may not be as difficult as it was in the past.  Time and intention will tell!

Why am I typing?  Why, because I am sitting in front of a class who are busily typing away with various degrees of competence at their machines.  The one good thing about the computers being used next year is that they are all iPads and the students will not be able to lift up the lid of their machine and hide the “work” they are doing from the teacher.

Actually one boy, a notoriously naughty boy and therefore placed directly in front of the teacher, rather engagingly tried to hide his lack of effort on his appointed task by placing his book on end and crouching away behind it.  The inevitable happened, of course, and the book fell over revealing his crimes for a totally uninterested teacher to see.  It was punishment enough to observe the comical horror etched on his podgy face and all it needed was gentle admonishment to get him back in line!

This lesson is a supervision taken from a bone fide free period.  Never mind that I slope off on every available occasion – how dare they stoop to take a free period from me, especially as my “gained” free from not teaching the 1BXT was taken up by supervision of a previously mentioned examination class.  And I have yet a further class after this one!  Just one damn thing after another!

Still, Wednesday is my last “full” day (actually it is the only “full” day in the sense that I am in school when the final bell goes) and I will not have to put up with the double-parking inconsideration of parents.

My attempts to get to a bank when it is actually open continue with tomorrow being ruled out because all my teaching time is taken up and what isn’t teaching time is invigilation time!  And all that time added together ensures that I cannot get out of the school before the two o’clock deadline for banks being open.  It is now summer time and the banks feel even less inclination to show any thanks towards the poor bloody taxpayers who bailed them out after their insane bout of gambling with other people’s money and the general dragging down of the economy of the entire world than at any other time.

God rot them all!

Monday, May 27, 2013

To a point!

I think I will claim pressure of living to excuse my dilatory approach to this writing.  Late night operas can hardly excuse a three or four day lapse in my efforts to keep the small world of my writing up to date!

The weekend which has now passed was notable for Toni taking his double exam on Saturday.  His first was at eight in the morning and the second at six in the evening.  A whole day given over to the misery of nerves and sick expectation.  Some of it transferred to me and I felt thoroughly unsettled as well.  Given the number of examinations that I have taken it only takes the slightest stimulus to reawaken all the old horror of a printed sheet of paper next to a blank one!

My next exam is in September, I think, though my first assignment is due in the middle of next month and the next I the hitherto sacrosanct month of August! 

I reminded myself that the previous crime committed in the name of examinations was the Chaucer And His Contemporaries paper in my finals which was on a Saturday afternoon!  I feared it might clash with my watching of Doctor Who and I feel that tension appreciably lowered my mark.  Together with the fact that many of the early Middle English texts were far too boring to read.  I still shudder with inexpressible disgust whenever I think of anything other than page one of Sir Gawaine and the Green Pig or whatever it was called!

To celebrate the end of Toni’s exams we went to La Fusta and sat at our usual table and had our usual tapas.  The pinchos were rather dry and a disappointment but the rest (patatas bravas and tomato bread and Sangria) were excellent.

It was while I was there that the interesting behaviour of people waiting to sit down at their table was observed.

Generally speaking a table of four or five or six settles seating almost immediately, it is when there is a group consisting of seven or more that the “Pre-Seating Cluster Behaviour” can be observed.

A long table of twenty people causes all sorts of problems in seating and so people who arrive first daren’t take the first step of sitting (if you see what I mean) in an undesignated place.  Usually there is one person who is tutelary in charge and who Has A List.  This list will be referred to in a haphazard way to ensure that everyone is actually there.  At no point will the Person in Charge actually look the part, but the piece of paper is a comfort!

Seating: the Cluster will mill around until the VIP arrives.  This is sometimes a very old person who is the great-grand-mother or something of that sort and will usually arrived escorted by a great-grand-daughter, thus resulting in a clash of generations and a difficulty in the seating pattern as the two do not usually sit together.

The VIP being seated the rest fall into their places with difficulty.  As sitting next to the VIP may actually mean doing more than chatting (one thinks of cutting up food and taking to the toilet) there is a ripple effect of people trying to create a cordon sanitaire around themselves so that they are not in the immediate chore range of the VIP.  Parents meanwhile are trying to distance themselves from their children (especially if very young) by palming them off (i.e. sitting them next to) grandparents or doting aunts.

People will be sitting down by this point with the VIP looking confused and people near him/her looking resentful, while the rest of the seating pattern can be upset in a moment by the pre-emptory demands of some spoilt three year old demanding to sit next to someone else.  This is Spain; such small people wield immense power!

Then comes the meal.  This is the signal for yet more chaos as The List Person has already asked each person what they want to eat from the menu and has it All Written Down.  The food starts arriving and each dish is announced and remains unclaimed.  The List Person looks, with increasing dementia, at the list and is unable to find anyone who ordered the Catalan Salad.  The dish is placed on an adjacent table and will later be claimed by someone demanding to know where the Catalan Salad that he ordered is.

The drinks are, of course, a free-for-all and the real danger is not in the water or the wine (both of which are present in abundance, even if not drunk with English enthusiasm) it is the fizzy drinks that are the problem.  Quite apart from the Coke/Pepsi divide there is now the decisional crisis that can arise from the various forms of specious “liteness” that the drinks claim.

By the time the fizzy nexus has been resolved Conversation with a capital “C” has begun and will not cease until the people have left the table – a process which demands a monograph in itself!

Conversation in Spain is not the to-and-fro of comment and response that one expects in, for example, the UK.  In the UK you have the off chance of someone actually listening to what you say and then responding appropriately to your initial comment.  In Spain there is no chance of that happening.  Conversation in Spain is simply talking.  Talking, all at the same time.  At high volume.  That’s it.  Even if you try and make a speech, there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone is either listening to you or not talking!

Sunday was a time for relaxation, especially for Toni who was exhausted after his strenuous efforts on Saturday – but he decided to install the security cameras that he had for his birthday.  Don’t ask. 

We now have the ability to watch our house using mobile phones and computers.  Don’t ask me how as I have been given only the sketchiest version of access, but we were able to watch the departure of the Scumbags via the computer and their going was greeted with heartfelt cheers.  We have to be gleeful while we can as they are soon going to descend for the duration of the summer and stay into the month of September.

And so to Monday and a late-ish start for me on a morning where it is trying its best to rain and is therefore yet another of the brightly-dull days which are characteristic of Catalonia.  But it is not actually raining, and for that I give thanks.

This evening there is an Elluminate session with my extended tutor group for the OU with a tutor who is not our own.  Never mind, I have done the preparatory work; the only fly in the ointment is the difficulty that I have had with actually joining the session.  I hope that things have been sorted our by the time that I come to the keyboard, but I will have the portable ready in case there are problems with the iMac as there were the last time.

How many days are there left?  Perhaps I should only do a daily count when we have reached the Month of Leaving which is, praise be, on Saturday – when there is a Workshop with out tutor in the OU.

It’s all go!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Counting the days again, again.

Once again I am in front of a class and they are trying to complete a crossword which has been devised to aid them in their revision for yet another examination – the last (surely!) this year.  Today is a solemn day, there is one calendar month left for me in this school.  On the 23rd of next month I will be eating the seafood lunch and waving a tearful goodbye to my erstwhile colleagues!

At some point today I will have a ceremonial “Counting Of The Days” and then I will know exactly just how many 6.30 am starts I will have left before the wide and spacious days of my final retirement wash over me in a luxurious, yet impecunious wave!

This morning a colleague who has been on a structured gradual retirement i.e. working three days a week, came into the staffroom distributing largesse as she has only three days left and expressed shock at seeing me!  It shows how effective my sloping off when my teaching obligations have been completed has been that she has not seen me during her own limited time at the school!  One to me I think!

And because of various people going we had Cava with our lunch.  That is what I call civilization!  And we had arroz a la cubana – O joy!

I have been calm and collected today, not in a professional sense of course, but merely in terms of perspiration.  There is nothing worse than going out in the evening feeling grubby and meeting up with the bourgeoisie who are suited and booted and dressed up to the nines and feeling like something from below stairs!

At the moment, who cares, as I am, as you know in an exalted altitude – no Ceri, not on the Upper Levels - but on the higher seats of the Lower Levels.

There is an easy indicator of your social status in the Liceu – just look at the lights.  If the light display has nine individual bulbs in it you are socially acceptable, if they have fewer you are indeed in the Upper Levels and condemned to emit raucous cries of admiration at the end of a performance which you have only seen in the far distance!  Roll on next year when I am in the stalls.  Please God do not put me behind someone as tall as I am!

The performance I saw yesterday evening was underwhelming.  This performance of “Il turco in Italia” was, in my opinion generally undersung with the exception of Selim (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) and Prosdocimo (Pietro Spagnoli).  The female lead singers were that sort of coloratura singer where technique is more important than musical smoothness.  Neither Fiorilla (Nino Machaldze) nor Zaida (Marisa Martins) were to my taste, though in the second act I did warm to the singers more as their voices warmed up.

The staging (Cristof Loy) was that sort of jokey hokum that only goes down well with opera audiences who will laugh at anything in sheer relief!  The curtain was up before the start of the performance with a lone caravan on stage.  As the opening after the overture was a chorus of gypsies I had a dreadful feeling that the whole of the chorus was going to emerge (to general operatic hilarity) from one small caravan.  Which they did – and a general gloom settled on my mind!

To be fair there were some nice moment among the naff – of which the arrival of the Turk via flying carpet was not one of them.

The orchestra under Victor Pablo Pèrez was, as usual, excellent and the chorus under José Luis Basso was stirring and eventful.

This was a production which failed to enthuse me about the musical quality of the opera and left me looking forward to The Elixir of Love which is my final show of this season.

On the way home at midnight I counted the traffic lights and this time they were 8-28 green in my favour.  That means that there are 36 sets of traffic lights before I hit the motorway for home.  Grotesque!  Though imagine if they had all been against me.  I wouldn’t have made it and would have had to turn around and go straight to school before I had managed to make home.