Saturday, February 28, 2015

Green transport is ecological quid pro quo

The cutting down of trees in the car park of the swimming pool means that I have had to resurrect my bike.  Or at least take it out from its partial hibernation.
            Destroying twenty trees was obviously not enough for the heartless people in the leisure centre.  No, they want to efface the evidence of their destruction and have closed the car park for the next month.  The leisure centre is in a residential area with lots of on-road parking.  Unfortunately next to the leisure centre is a school.  And that changes everything.
            Children go to schools.  A very good thing too, it keeps them off the streets when we retired people can wander about without the screams and general awfulness of the youngest generations spoiling our well deserved time away from work.  But probably the worst thing about children and schools?  Parents.
            In the general run of things I have nothing against parents, after all my entire existence is thanks to them, but my parents allowed me to catch a bus to school.  They did not see the need to take me to the school gates, drop me off and then wait around imagining me making my way through the yard towards my form room.  While being themselves double or triple parked, on a pavement or on the zebra crossing, across an entrance, at an angle, on a corner or any damn where they pleased with little or no consideration for any other non-parent-of-their-child whatsoever.
            So, now, added to the insanity of parents dropping off their kids, residents parking their cars, visitors needing a parking space we will have people going to the leisure centre, finding the car park closed and then trying to park within a maximum of ten paces away from the door.
            It is going to be chaos.  And nasty chaos as well!
            Having given this some thought, I imagine that one of the more unbearable aspects of this month-long torture is going to be car drivers stopping in the middle of the road trying to spot a non-existent parking space and effectively blocking the road for all other road users. 
Luckily, in this country, we are blessed with some of the most tolerant road users in Europe who never mind waiting and who show no impatience at any road user impeding their progress!  So that’s all right then.
As if!
This morning I had to park three streets away from the centre and half way down the street as well.  Things can only get worse, and I do not intend to emulate the Flying Dutchman endlessly roaming the area searching for a parking space!  The bike is the answer.  Possibly.
It is well over a year since I’ve ridden the thing and I have had to hack the dust off it.  Toni has oiled the bits that need oiling and I have attempted to make the dynamo work.  Not that I have any intention of riding the thing in the dark, you understand, but I do like to think that I could if I wanted to.
It will be interesting to see how I adapt to this new regime.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Commercial & Cultural

You are never safe in a capitalist society!

anti-capitalist protest

Just when you think that you have got the safely-living-in-a-consumer-society thing sorted, Pebble asks for money. 
To those benighted Luddites that have no response to the word Pebble with a capital letter, other than thinking of important stones on the sea shore, I must inform you that the company of Pebble was originally a Kick-starter company which an early developer the workable concept of a reasonably priced smart watch.  I bought one.  No surprise there I suppose, but I did resist until the watch worked with Mac products and it was waterproof enough to go swimming in.  Oh, yes and it was made in metal because I didn’t like the early plastic versions that they had.
            The watch was worth the money I paid.  Not because it is the best watch that I have ever owned or the most elegant – or indeed is it the watch that I am wearing at the moment.  And that final comment is one of the major drawbacks of the whole enterprise.
The battery life of the Pebble Metal (which I think is the name of the model that I have) is about five days.  The watch I am wearing at the moment is powered by the sun and by the actual action of wearing it.  The watch I am wearing gives time, date, etc. it has digital and analogue and checks itself every day with some sort of atomic clock which sends out a radio wave.  In other words, it’s magic.
But.  And it’s a big ‘but’ – my smart watch has a large and informative watch face and it also informs me when I am called on my phone.  I virtually never turn the sound of my phone on so, as far as Toni is concerned, for this aspect alone, the watch is worth what I paid for it.  In my particular set of circumstances, given the way I use my phone, a smart watch works.
And there the expense could have rested.  I have my watch.  Other non-Pebble companies have produced their versions and I have carefully checked them out and they usually fail on battery life or compatibility with Mac or, more usually than not, on being waterproof.  It seemed that I was safe.

Pebble Time - Awesome Smartwatch, No Compromises by Pebble Technology — Kickstarter 2015-02-24 08-58-47
And then Pebble started a new Kick-starter appeal with a new watch that does something or other and is waterproof.  And, out of a misplaced concept of commercial loyalty I have joined the countless thousands of people who have probably been Mac-trained and therefore have developed an instinctive gadget loyalty hardwired into their wallets – and bought a new watch.  Which hasn’t been made yet and for which I will have to wait months.
But it might be engraved on the back saying that I helped ‘Kick-start’ – so that’s all right then, isn’t it?  Oh and its plastic – and that means that I will have to buy the metal version when it is produced.  And.  And I don’t care.

Poems against arboreal outrage!

Priceless artefacts are being smashed by religious fanatics; corruption stalks the land; the situation in Ukraine worsens; nuclear proliferation threatens world peace and the Israeli Prime Minister is sinisterly terrifying – yet I get worked up about cut trees.
            The car park continues to be closed as the final remains of the twenty trees await their final destination.  Workmen are walking around, sometimes with bits of paper and looking at where the trees used to be with intense concentration.
            A lone workman is doing something with a pneumatic hammer and is possibly tracing out the course of a future drain.  Things have changed.
            And I sit inside the café (all the chairs outside have been taken away for some reason) forcing the hopelessly addicted smokers to stand around looking even more shifty than usual, while I sip and note, sip and note.
            I now have pages (admittedly small pages) of comments and notes about what I see, delightedly, as an outrage against the trees.
There is something determinedly small-minded about cutting down a single tree - cutting down twenty smacks of inhumanity.  Except of course, it’s not.  There are many more important crimes in the world, but this ‘crime’ is here and now and is a substantial part of my world.
Like one of the cultural and moral vultures that I denigrate, I am now using my feelings about the ‘slaughtered’ trees to provoke a poem.  I have written one (see yesterday’s post) and I fully intend to write at least one more.  In a reworking of a famous French phrase: ‘What I have I use!’  It can always be edited into oblivion, or at least a sort of oblivion, at a later date.
I am aware that anything that I post has a sort of illusory permanence.  Though my blog is a ‘hosted’ one which means that Google can stop or destroy it at any time they choose for any reason they choose.  Which is a sobering thought.  But I am not sure that I am prepared to pay a monthly fee to own my site. 
I need to take advice on this.  Not sure from whom though.  In the same way that I expect someone to come to the house, knock on the door and hand me a winning Lottery tickets that have been bought on my behalf, I also hope that advice about what to do in Blog terms will simply happen.  I should take note that, in spite of my patience in waiting, no one has actually offered me a ticket and therefore I need to be a little pro-active.  Writing about being pro-active is stage one.

You call that art?

Conceptual art does not usually bring out the best in people.  Especially when you try and defend it.
            The Open University course is creeping closer to the end of the twentieth century and trying to chart a way through all the excesses of Post Modernism – a difficult task when there is not really a settled definition of what the term means!
            Still, flicking through the final volume in our course material I can see that there is a fairly extensive concentration of Louise Bourgeois, an artist I like and admire.  I think that we will be concentrating on her more challenging pieces so that they can link with concepts of race, gender, identity and everything else that the OU finds important.
            As far as I can see, there is a lot of work in a limited amount of time.  I have therefore decided to be a little more anal in the way that I approach this assignment and study to the essay.  I think it is the only way.  Then my ‘release’ will be the work that I do on the mini-thesis that ends the course.

Getting my money’s worth

British Library
Walking in to the new British Library as a full ‘reader’ is something that I am looking forward to.
            According to a telephone call with the British Library, now in Kings Cross and not the Reading Room of the British Library, I will be able to renew my much lapsed Reader’s Card and pre-order books to be looked at when I am staying, coincidentally in Kings Cross, when I go to London for the Study Day. 
            In the British Library I always find that I am drawn to the fact that they have a copy of everything ever printed in Britain and a great deal more besides.  I therefore I have to resist the temptation to order things that have nothing to do with what I am supposed to be studying!
            My worst literary digression in the old Reading Room was ordering, on the most spurious of grounds, a first edition of ‘Noddy Goes to Toytown’.  I have rarely read a more sexist and racist book and I couldn’t remember it being quite so bad when I first read it.  Mind you there was a considerable number of years between my readings - and on my first reading I was the proud and passionate owner of a grandmother-made golliwog! 
Is one allowed to use such vocabulary these days, even in a memory!

Stay wet!

The swimming pool, Camden Civic Centre, Five Pancras SquareIf the important research that I have done is correct then I should be within walking distance of a swimming pool when I am staying in the hotel in London.  I wonder if you have to wear flip-flops and a swimming hat in London pools?
            Perhaps I am thinking in the same way as British visitors to Spain think when they worry about forgetting the toothpaste, as if such things are not available here!
            It is second nature for me to think to myself that I could always buy what I do not have. 
When in doubt shop!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trees, food and poetry - in any order!

Geoscience Australia, The AUSMAP Atlas of Australia, 1992.   Page 12 Longitude, Time and Communication

I think that I was misled by the word: webinar.  The excitement of coming into contact with a useful neologism got me up at the crack of dawn to participate in a web-based discussion called, you’ve guessed it, a ‘webinar’.
            As this was being hosted in America the time was in EST, which I duly translated into Madrid time.  And was twelve hours out in my calculations!  A mistake anyone can make, though the six hours difference should have been added rather than taken away from their starting time.  If I had thought about it for longer than a Nano second I might have worked out that the USA is to the west of us and that the sun rises in the east and . . . well, there is no excuse really.
            And when, twelve hours later, I finally joined the webinar (having decided that this mixture of web and seminar was not really so clever) I discovered that the whole enterprise was actually a selling opportunity for the couple of hosts who were taking the webinar.  I have to admit that they did give some good advice and I did have the muted thrill of hearing the title of my forthcoming book, ‘Flesh Can Be Bright’ read out by the female host, so a few hundred people have heard the title, which is the first stage, I suppose, towards buying the thing!

Grab muck away lorry
The shock of the day was finding out, when I attempted to park in the leisure centre, that all the trees had been cut down!  I never like seeing trees destroyed, but this seemed worse somehow as these trees have been my on-going inspiration for a whole series of poems and are the basis for a continuing series of poems.  I did, of course make copious notes as I sipped my tea and watched the workmen operating the grab and scooping up the remains of the shattered vegetation.  This is the poem I wrote:

Winter Trees

ii.   Gone

The blossom headed grab
picks up what’s left of
twenty trees.

When this year’s growth
was not cut back,
I should have known
that something was afoot.

And now these winter-winnowed
twigs protrude from that
closed metal sphere
like so much wayward hair.

Spaced equally, the twenty
shallow pits share emptiness
concave, not deep.

How easy to remove. 
And cut. 
Fresh, pungent stumps
that flaunt their age
in death.

Those trees were never huggable.
The rough, stained, ulcered bark
defied caress.  And yet.

Will asphalt fill the cavities
where roots once were?

And cars park easily
on obstacle free ground?

And memory forget
that there were ever trees?

This poem is the second that I have written about Winter trees and I hope, eventually, it will be a continuation of the series that I have already written on Autumn trees.  My latest poems can be found at:  I am thinking about this series as forming part of my next but one book of poems!  There is nothing like thinking ahead.  I would like this series to be accompanied by original drawings, just as I hope the ‘Autumn trees’ series will be in ‘Flesh Can Be Bright’ to be published this September.  That all sounds so professional, I can almost believe it!

Lunch today was spectacular, one of the best that we have had in Castelldefels.  I had a started of Carpaccio of beef that I last had in Paris.  This was substantially better, and a bloody sight cheaper!  My whole meal cost about ten quid, including a class of Cava and coffee with ice.  The homemade tiramisu was something that my friend Paul would have killed for.  You can see photos of most of the dishes in You will not see photos of the postres because we both started eating them before I thought of using the camera!  Again! 
Toni’s blog is growing nicely and the photos are a vivid reminder of the excellence of the eating experience that Castelldefels offers at such a reasonable cost.
Our eventual hope is that the blog will eventually be recognized as one of the formative eating guides and we will be fed for nothing where ’ere we go!  Fond hope.  But the blog is looking good and it is a clear guide about where to go for a good meal at more than reasonable cost.

And the next please!


My gleeful euphoria (is that tautology?) at the final completion of the latest essay for my Open University course was linked to the fact that the remaining part of the course was to be devoted to the mini thesis that I have planned for the end of module assessment, linking the paintings of Alvaro Guevara and David Hockney.
As the essay winged its electronic way to the North of England and my tutor I was able, with an easy conscience and a light heart, to suggest to Toni that we try another restaurant so that he could add another of our favourites to his blog on and we could have a celebratory meal.
We did and we had a selection of tapas of the highest quality in a pica-pica menu; all of which have been photographed and which will, in the next couple of days be posted.  We sat outside for this meal because the inside tables were all taken.  It was not too bad, but I didn’t take my outside jacket off and when the sun moved away from our table it was time for us to move away too!
On our return, after a little light mocking of Toni as he settled down to try and understand what he has to do with his next assignment on the computer technology course that he is taking, I went upstairs to get on with all those little tasks that simply cannot get done when you are retired - because of lack of time.
Now, now, don’t get nasty!  What you have heard is true – every retired person I know regularly, especially when non-retired people are present, sighs and says a variant of, “I have absolutely no idea how I ever managed to fit a job into my life!”  This is usually said with a wry smile and an upward movement of the head and a raising of the eyebrows.  And it always works!  People’s expressions are priceless and worth every minute of the decades that you were actually in work.  That last sentence might not be absolutely true.  At all.
Anyway, I settled down to get my tasks completed and thought, as part of my general life housekeeping that I would check up on the pro-forma that we have to use to submit an outline proposal for the end of course module.  It was while I was worrying my way through the administration that is necessary to get this done that I noticed that there was one more essay serial number than there should have been.
The horrible realization dawned on me that I had not factored-in an essay related to the content of the last volume of the course that we are taking.  There is another essay to be done.  And this one is on Body Art.  And if you think that just means tattooing then you don’t know much about modern art as it is understood by the Open University!
So, from a feeling of tranquillity I now realise that the workload is actually heavier than I ever dreamed possible.  That is an overstatement of course, but one has to get over the feeling of being cheated by one’s own inability to study the assessment procedures with the clarity that I have always accused other OU students of lacking!  Touché!
However, I am not going to let this essay creep up on me in the same way as the last one (and the one before that) I will be prepared and get it done in good time.  Even though this essay is on a single title and not divided into two parts like the others, I think that it is more straightforward.  Those may be foolish words that I will look back on with an ironic laugh, but I am relying on them to be true because we have the end of module assessment to think about as well.
I think that there will be useful approaches in this last volume which may well feed into the EMA, especially in relation to sexual politics and sexual identity as Alvaro Guevara was bi-sexual and Hockney, well, Hockney is Hockney!  I only hope that I can trawl through our mighty bible-length book of artistic theory and find some pretentious piece of near gibberish twaddle that links my two artists.
I have discovered, yet again, that philosophy is not my strong suit.  I do enjoy reading about it, just as I enjoy some art theory, but it is hard to retain.  
I have recently read two books by Nigel Warburton.  The first is ‘Philosophy – the basics’ a short and approachable introduction to philosophy which is simple without being insulting. 
The second is a brilliant book, ‘A Little History of Philosophy’.  It is the sort of book which an intelligent and interested young person could read, and is exactly the sort of book that an adult thanks god exists because he can understand it as well.  I recommend this book without reservation.  Warburton makes a narrative out of the history of Philosophy by linking his chosen series of philosophers in a sort of Hegelian dialectic (which he also explains) and probably doesn’t fit what I have just said, but who, after all is going to contradict me! 
These are book worth buying and they form a growing part of my library as a sort of first aid in philosophical understanding.  These books really do speak to the reader is an unthreatening way, in just the way that the ironically titled ‘Wittgenstein made easy’ in the notorious ‘made easy’ series by Fontana did not!  Perhaps, after reading the two Warburton books, I should go back to the ‘easy’ explanation of Wittgenstein and see if anything Warburton wrote has lubricated the rusty philosophical synapses in my brain.

I wonder what justification the president of the Spanish congress is thinking up to explain away the fact that she was playing Candy Crush while her party leader and president was delivering a State of the Nation speech to introduce a crucial debate.  Admittedly Bromo (my ‘pet’ name for the walking joke that calls itself president) is contemptible, a liar and terminally corrupt, but he is her contemptible, lying, corrupt joke.  The least she could have done is preserve at least a paper thin veneer of regard (especially with television cameras around) for the pathetic farce that is the leader of this discredited government of bribe taking blatant criminals, as he was giving a key note speech and attempting to defend that which is impossible to defend if you have any regard for the fundamentals of morality and logic.
            Perhaps we should rejoice that the has demonstrated in the most public of ways the contempt that she feels for her party and her leader.  There is, after all, more joy in heaven over one right-wing scumbag PP member who recognizes the worthlessness of her party than over ninety and nine who unthinkingly toe the party line and don’t play with their IPads.
            It turns out that she wasn’t actually playing Candy Crush but some sort of ice game called Cold Fall or something like that.  Careful viewing of the blurred television pictures clearly show the opening sequence of the game.
            She should of course resign.  Of course she won’t.  This is Spain and PP has an absolute majority and they can do and do do exactly what they like.  The iPad, game-playing president of the congress did have the good grace to ignore all questions about her playing and she carefully took a different way out of the chamber to avoid the press, almost as if she was concerned at the gross lack of respect that she had displayed.  That was a nice gesture, but she doesn’t really need to worry, all she has to do is follow the behaviour of the man she doesn’t listen to and ignore the press: they can’t sack her and she is hardly likely to be sacked by a group which has more ignored denunciations against it than a certain dictator-led Spanish government of some fifty years ago.
            I think that we are near to a breakdown in civil society, with a government which is becoming more and more authoritarian by the day. 
There is a very real chance that this bunch of chancers will be thrown out in the next general election and I am convinced that we have seen nothing yet of what they are prepared to do to retain power.  I truly believe that this government has no moral depth whatsoever and they are capable of anything.  God help us all!
            With concerns like this a daily terror in Spain, it is little wonder that I turn to the more grotesque extremes of cutting edge modern art to take my mind of the even more grotesque artistic disaster that the government of Spain is becoming.

Another form of escape is actually a sort of double negative because my concentration on my poems is really a intensification of thought which is at its best an exclusion of anything else.  At least for a moment! 

My recent poems can be seen at