Thursday, August 29, 2013

It was the best of times, it was . . .

Breaking a cardinal rule of Creative Writing, I shall start with the weather.

It has not been good.  It has rained.  Rained!  And August is still with us.  Just.  There is an end of summer feel and there is a distinct chill in the air.  Well, chill is perhaps putting things a little too strongly, but it did merit a thin sheet on the bed last night.  All of these things are not significant, but what I saw at the poolside yesterday surely is.

Along the side of the pool under a cloud filled sky and perched malevolently on flimsy loungers, the hags of the area ignored the less than equitable temperatures and sat there busily smoking as their version of the unlovely ladies who surrounded the guillotine knitting.

As I made my way up and down the pool, my ears carefully stoppered and the music pumping through the bones of my cheeks with my head underwater for a lot of the time, I was at least spared the penetrating cackle of those carcinogenic cows.  They did however, even in the open air, manage to channel their opprobrious exhalations so that each in-breath I took was polluted with their noxious nicotine!

Even my relentless up-and-down approach to swimming failed to move them as the doggedly ignored the obvious inclement weather and stayed there as if defying the end of summer.  It comes, my dears!  You can no more hold it back with your reeking breath than you can get me back into a classroom!

September looms in the very near distance and with it the culling of the juvenile population of the area.  We retired people cannot wait for the shops and streets be returned to the people who have bloody well paid for them.  The penetrating voices of the little emperors will be consigned to the classes where my ex-colleagues will have to do what they can with kids who have been solidly and relentlessly indulged for the last two months.  God help them and god bless them.  The teachers I mean!

The last OU essay of this course drags on and it is now about half way through the drafting stage.  I have decided to change the title to suit myself and write as if there is no word limit as I know what I want to say and I also know that I am very good at editing – when I have to.

I am ashamed to admit (which, of course, I am anything but) that I have bought another watch.  It is a long time since I have been struck by a timepiece – and that, surely is justification alone for buying it.

This one is by the well-known watch designer Kenneth Cole of New York.  Yes, and neither had I until this afternoon.  Anyway, it is brown metallic with a face which looks as though the watch is set in a disk of glass with only the central circle of the watch face of solid colour and with the numeral indicators radiating like spokes encased in glass bound by the metal rim.  And it is luminous and waterproof.  Elegant and original – though a little more expensive than an impulse buy should be.  So sue me!

Like a plague carrier Paul B. breathed the words “Candy Crush” into my shell-like before he left and, like a fool, I explored a little and have now become addicted to a game which plays on one’s desire to cheat and actually offers “help” but at a price in real money to allow the inexpert player to bend the rules and have a little extra to get to the next level.  The game is of generally mindless imbecility, the graphics are of Captain Pugwash sophistication and there is no reward.  What more can you ask!  I have even neglected my beloved patience.

One of the fiendish elements in “Candy Crush” is that you are only allowed a certain number of lives before the game stops you while offering the opportunity to buy (with real money) a full set of lives or to go on line and ask friends for lives.  I am not quite sure about that because it asks for you to do so on Facebook – a social media I spurn as I would a rabid dog.  After a certain number of minutes the lives are restored, but they are restored one by one and over hours.  I can well imagine a person thinking that eighty-nine pence a small price to ask for the ability to continue to indulge an addiction!  I, however, am made of sterner stuff.

Tomorrow a tutorial with the dreaded Elluminate (if it works) and a draft to finish so that I have time to tart it up with accurate references and construct a bibliography to impress.

Then revision starts leading up to the examination on the 10th of October.  This time I am not going to be able to rely on well-established personal knowledge and I am going to have to do a certain amount of hard learning.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Driving Art

Sometimes, when reading a book a sentence leaps off the page at you.  There is a moment’s pause for reflection and then you murmur something like, “I wish I had written that!”  Occasionally the sentence will be a pithy aphorism, or a piece of illuminating insight; but there are other times when the writer will have inadvertently touched some part of your psyche (or what you think is your psyche) and all your pretentions are suddenly laid bare.  But only, of course, to yourself because, if you are wise you keep such revealing spotlights private.

I once told one of my better A Level students that one of my favourite collections of short stories was “Stalky and Co” by Rudyard Kipling.  She instantly procured a copy and read it immediately and in the next lesson (by which time she had read the book – she was that sort of student) she looked at me in the withering way that she had and in her most condescending voice she told me that she wasn’t at all surprised by my choice and that it told her a lot about me.  Which it did and does.  And perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.  But that is not a realistic possibility for me!

So, having read one of those revealing sentences this very morning while waiting in the post office to send off an artistic hint to my painter friend while protecting my sanity by reading my mobile phone, I can no more keep it to myself than I would be capable of saying, “I have no opinion on that subject!”

I am frolicking my way through a digital collection of three “Classic” books by Christopher Hitchens called “Long Live Hitch” and am at present reading through his authoritative book reviews and have reached his writing about The Case of Comrade Tulayev and Memoirs of a Revolutionary, by Victor Serge.  The second paragraph of this review starts,

After Dostoyevsky and slightly before Arthur Koestler, but contemporary with Orwell and Kafka and somewhat anticipating Solzhenitsyn, there was Victor Serge.

Now that is what I call a sentence! It doesn’t take much analysis to see what I responded to there, but I almost squeaked out loud as I read it sitting on an unrelenting window ledge in a hot, stuffy and overcrowded waiting area in the Post Office. 

A large part of the delight is in the fact that I have read books by all the authors mentioned except for Victor Serge, the focus of the review!

That is surely almost a perfect “hit” for a reviewer: to lasso and flatter the reader with a list of common reads and then tacitly assume that you, the reader, are acquainted with the author under discussion.

You can guarantee that I will find something by Victor Serge because I would not like to disappoint the reviewer by not being the reader he thought I was!

Yesterday was taken up with a trip to Figueras, in the province of Girona to pay a visit to the Teatro-Museo Dalí.

This is an artistic centre that I have long wanted to visit – though with a certain degree of the Masochistic about such a desire because I am very much with André Breton who dismissed Dalí by reworking the letters of his name into the accusation of “Avida dollars” arguably the most famous insulting anagram in modern art!  With the exception of a few exceptional canvasses I have always regarded Dalí as a fraud.  So I did not anticipate that the geodesic dome topped, reclaimed ruin of a theatre with a bread-studded façade would necessarily change my mind.

Having to queue in scorching sunshine for far too long and then push your way through heaving masses of tourists who were there because they had been told to go was not my way of enjoying myself.  However, the experience (because experience it certainly was) was at least interesting.

The quality of art on display ranges from the compelling to the embarrassing – though I am sure that true Surrealists would say that was as much as they could hope for!

I bought a guide in the bookshop on the way out and I will read that in a more leisurely way than the visit itself.  Perhaps I will be tempted to return at a more out of season time to reassess!

Lunch was a triumph of the Internet, as Toni scoured that source to the full to find a place off the tourist beat and where for €10 we got a thoroughly satisfactory meal.  I would give you the name of this establishment but the information I took as I left later became a featureless piece of cooked pulp as the heat and humidity of the day turned my pocket into a steam oven!

I used the GUC to take a few decent pictures and I think that I am getting closer to knowing what I am doing when I press the button.

There was a lot of driving in the day and I did not so much fall asleep when I went to bed as fall into a coma.

Today was supposed to me the day on which I started to draft my last OU essay of this course. 

This has not happened, but the day isn’t over yet. 

And anyway there is Sunday.

And furthermore, what the hell, I have until the 5th of September to get it done.  I think.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eating, Views and Art

Triumphing over the vertical approach to Irene’s house I was met, as usual, by the baying of hounds.  Included in the intimidating pack was one fearsome looking dog who, to add to the discomfort of the putative visitor, was thoroughly muzzled.

It is only if you are regular visitor that you know that the bark is the whole of the “attack”.  Any advance of a visitor results in an equally swift retreat by said dog.  The muzzle is there to protect other dogs not humans!

Among the many animals (apart from the two ladies) who live in Irene’s home, the most interesting is the blind dog.  This extraordinary animal shows alternating bouts of uncanny prescience about obstacles in his path and then bumps his head on a chair leg.  He is, however, happy in his inexplicably perilous world and his guiding light (so to speak) is any movement of his beloved mistress.  Watching him go down stairs is heart-stoppingly tense, but every move for his aged limbs is a triumph.

He is friendly to a fault and, as a card-carrying dog person; I duly rewarded his nearness with unrelenting scratching.  My activities were closely observed by the misnomerly named cat, Blossom.  Tiring of my complete indifference she meandered towards me uttering was I understand cat people call “plaintive” cries.  Which I ignored.  She then crawled over the sofa on which I was sitting.  Which I ignored.  She then retreated and regarded me with a glare as malevolent as any I have seen a feline display – and I have seen many!

By the time we had to leave the dog was weak with ecstasy and when I sent to the loo he followed me and waited like a lost soul outside the door for my return to scratching.

The driving to Montserrat was straightforward motorway until the last windy bit, so we made good time.

Our first duty was to book a table (with view) for one of the celebrated lunches that you can get in the restaurant.  Not the self-service one, though we did give a pitying look at the huddled masses queuing for their meal when we later came to claim our table!

Off to kiss the Idol with the taking of many pictures on the Grown Up Camera along the way.  The queue to Kiss the Idol was stretching way out of the church so we knocked that on the head and decided to look at the Idol from the vantage point of the nave.

The church was packed and I quickly realized that this was nothing to do with piety but rather the fact that the famed choir of the church was about to sing.  And sing they did to a chorus of clicks and whirrs and a blaze of light from the audience (“congregation” would be going a level of sanctity too far!) as cameras, iPhones, iPad, tablets and video cameras snapped into record mode.

The singing was pretty and instantly forgettable and then it was time for lunch.

Which was excellent.  Our buffet salad starter was one of the most delicious I have ever had.  The lamb in the main course fell off the bone and the lemon sorbet was superb.

Duly stuffed we wound our way back to the Church of the Idol and went down (by lift – I said we were stuffed) to the art gallery.

The Caravaggio of St Jerome Penitent is excellent and outshines everything else in the room in which it is displayed, though I have to say that the little El Greco they have is remarkable for the almost monochrome, quasi-abstract background.

The real treasures here are Catalan and the collection rivals that of MNAC in some of its aspects.  My favourite painting is by Casas and shows a young woman preparing for her bath.  This is a subtle study in pastel tones and has a misty delicacy which I find breath taking.  It is not a spectacular painting but it is one that impresses itself on the memory and always repays a visit because no reproduction does it justice.

An excellent day out which thoroughly justified the lazy day on the beach today to compensate for all the effort of eating and looking yesterday!

The ways of our University System are gnomic to say the least.  I have been trying to get out of doing a foundation course in my present OU degree because I have already done one.  Admittedly it was some 32 years ago in the early eighties, but I really didn’t want to do it again.

I was told when I started this OU degree that everything that I had done previously was “out of date” and I would have to start anew.  The phone call today raise and then realized the possibility that I could be reinstated on the course that I started all those years ago!

So, in one telephone call, the six years that I was going to have to study for my degree has been cut to three!  I will wait for the confirmation of what I have been told before I start making any plans because living in Spain makes one wise in the ways of bureaucracy and the little mind games that they can play. 

But, on the face of it, the OU has done the decent thing and I am very impressed by the fact that I had the phone call (in response to an earlier query) and a decision about my status was decided in hours and an email sent immediately. 

The OU is truly one institution where they place students first!  God bless them and Harold Wilson too! 

And that must be a sentiment which is not often typed nowadays!

In what was surely a barely veiled political comment the lady from the OU referred to “our dear government” cutting money to the OU and demanding that students pay higher fees more in keeping with students in conventional institutions.  Perhaps my reinstatement is a reflection that I have paid (much, much lower fees) for a variety of other courses and that has to be part of my time-extended course.  Who knows!  Who cares!  My studies have changed for the better and the cost of my degree has been lessened by almost eight thousand pounds! 

All things work together for good!  And who am I to disagree with Candide!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Musical Sport

Swimming a leisurely breaststroke in our pool to the sound of the theme music for “Two pints of larger and a packet or crisps” took me back to an inchoate time when I still thought that popular music was something I could look down on with utter contempt because I could hum the more famous parts of The Coronation of Poppea based on the luscious strings version of an early Glyndebourne production on disc!  

Ah, the ease with which one could make value judgements based on the flimsiest of cultural scaffolding!

I’ve never stopped doing that of course, though I pride myself that I now know that my cultural background is more widely shallow than it was.

The bone conduction “ear” phones are working reasonably well and seem to be a vast improvement on the last set that I had years ago.  That at least proved that the technology worked, but it has taken some time for the hardware to get to the level where something more subtle than a base heavy pop track could make its vibrations through to the inner ear.  

I fear that my super-pretentious intention of learning the late Beethoven Quartets while doing my lengths never was really a serious possibility – though now, with the Neptune Finis in all its expensive glory, it might, just be possible.

But before then I will have to rationalize my tracks.  Admittedly I do put the thing on random play so that “Two pints of larger and a packet of crisps” was followed by a jolly little Bach gigue.  It’s those sorts of juxtapositions that keep me swimming lengths!

I have started listening to my DG set of H von K, after gloating over the collection.  I do recognize some of the covers as discs that I couldn’t possibly afford to buy except in sales and so have them all at bargain price is something of a musical delight. 

Not that I am a committed fan of His Germanic Majesty; I bought (at sale price) one of his conductings of Sibelius and I immediately placed a sticker on the front saying “DO NOT LISTEN!”  I did not throw it away as it was very useful as a sort of bookend to protect other more worthy recordings from the end-of-shelf pressure. 

It will be interesting to compare my present understanding of performances of the symphonies with what they were forty or so (!) years ago – indeed, as I intend to purchase another box set of his earlier recordings (at an even better bargain price) I will be able to compare different recordings from different decades of Beethoven symphonies and those of Brahms and Sibelius.

I can remember a televised performance of Karajan’s conducting of the Brahms symphonies where he was the only person shown full face.  The orchestra were in shadow and only their arms and fingers playing the instruments were shown.  Karajan conducted with his eyes closed and he was backlit so that his hair gave a halo effect.  The music was wonderful, but I did end up listening with m back to the television!

These discs are CDs not DVDs, so I should be fine!

My beach reading of The Tudors by Ackroyd continues to delight.  I have especially enjoyed reading about her late majesty Queen Mary I.  Questions about the likeability or otherwise of that monarch followed me like an infection from the age of 13 to first year in University with exactly (and I mean exactly) the same question: “Why was Mary Tudor unpopular?”  I must have answered that question at least six times in my academic career. 

Perhaps I should do a history course I the OU in the hope of doing it again and producing the final and authoritative response and put this recurring topic to rest at last!  I hope that there would be a little more depth and complexity in my answer now rather than the simplistic one-two-three of: was a Roman Catholic; married a foreigner and burned people. 

Or perhaps not, I could re-use all the trite points and try and present them in a post modern, ironic sort of way!

Tomorrow to the Sacred Mountain, admittedly more for the lunch and the art than the spiritual quality!