Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hard slog works

Poems in Holy Week

With the third poem written, I think that I can claim that there is a sequence growing along this particular theme.  I like the discipline of having to produce a poem a day I further like the self-imposed necessity of trying to develop a sense of questioning that I think the Week itself demands.
            The latest poem called Life (there’s a title as a hostage to fortune!) can be found at and I welcome comments on the poem itself and on the developing theme – if there is one!
            Thanks to Ceri for his comments via email: I found them challenging, encouraging and stimulating.  Who can ask for more?  Me.
            I both dread and welcome tomorrow, as I am duty bound to write another poem.  At this moment I have no idea about what I might write – which is exactly the state of worried anticipation that I like!


I was able to lie out in the sun for a few short minutes.  It was probably longer than that, but the greed with which I view the sun also means that I worry about each ‘wasted’ minute that I am not out in it.  I am always trying to gain minutes to hold in reserve against those ‘brightly dull’ days that I find so antagonizing.
            It cannot be gainsaid that we are moving towards summer.  This is an article of faith for me and I echo the fatal words at the end of Ibsen’s Ghosts, ‘Mother, give me the sun!’ though I hasten to add that I say them in an altogether happier state of mind than the unfortunate young man in Scandinavia!
            I am, at present, a sickly pale colour (for me) and I look forward with glee to increasing my supply of vitamin D!


This is a week of holiday.  I know that not everyone, or even the majority of the population is able to down tools and enjoy, but it is an official holiday period.  People, as it were, go on holiday.  They visit cities, world famous cities, like, for example Barcelona.
            Then, why is it that the rate for a room just off the Ramblas in the centre of the city of Barcelona costs less than it has done for the last six months?  Where, pray, is the logic in that price?
            When, as far as I could tell, little or nothing was going on to bring people to the city, the price of the room that I usually have for the opera suddenly shot up to over sixty euros!  Now, it is twenty-five – including breakfast!
            In a similar way, when I cycled back from my swim (see Poems in Holy Week above) I had to thread my way through a system of cones which blocked roads to the beach because today, during a week of holidays when people might thing about coming to the beach, the powers that be decided to refresh the paint on the road markings.  Today?  Why today and not last week, when there were no, for example, holidays to complicate traffic flow?
            And finally and most crushingly, why do people vote for PP in Spain when it has been shown that they are demonstrably corrupt and criminal and inept?
            Perhaps the answers to these conundrums are to be found in the fact that mere logic is not enough and that we need poets to explain the world to the world!

Food, reasonably priced food!

At long last we have tried the menu del dia in my local swimming pool restaurant.  I am not sure that Toni has added it to his blog yet, but it will be there in the next few days.  Visit as Toni is constantly updating his blog and making it more and more exhaustive.  We still have a long, long was to go before we eat our way through the restaurants of Castelldefels, but we are enjoying doing the fieldwork.
            We are also looking forward to the ruta de tapa, when 40 or more restaurants compete to produce the best tapa in the city.  For a cost of about €3 you get the tapa and a drink of your choice.  We will have to plan this eatathon with military precision if we are to visit all the establishments.


Tomorrow another horrible bus ride to the city to make the meeting with my fellow members of the Barcelona Poetry Group all the more pleasant.  I must remember to take my computer with me if I am to keep up my poem-a-day approach to this week.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Joy and determination


There is always a tug-of-war in my mind between economic sense and personal indulgence.  On the one hand it is cheap and, I am told, relatively efficient to use public transport to get to anywhere in Barcelona: there is the train and the metro system, a pay as you ride bike thingie, buses and cleanish streets.  On the other hand there is the car.
            As I did my metric mile in the pool this morning I considered my options.  The logical way to get to my appointment cheaply was bus to the centre, metro and then a short walk.  On the other hand there is the car.
            And frankly by about 850m of swimming, the other hand had won.
            I have a naïf and charming faith in my satnav and I have learned, after some frustrating detours, to use the screen, street signs, and more importantly common sense to get to a destination.  I was confident, as the appointment was in one of the most famous streets in Barcelona that not only could I get there but there would also be parking ‘close at hand.’
            Apart from a slight odd feeling of driving past the turn off to the School on the Hill (not quite as good as if there had been teachers and pupils slaving away inside rather than being on holiday) and one risky choice when nothing in front of me was clearly the right way, I made it to the right place, directly and, mark you, found a parking place opposite.
            The appointment was time specific and efficient and I ended up paying only €3.50 for the short time that I used the space – a price astonishing in its smallness in this part of the world.
            And then drove directly home to a late, very late lunch of excellent tapas in a tried and tested and expensive restaurant near where I used to live.
            Altogether a good day with encouraging results from my appointment.

The poetic test

It is only day two and already I am faltering.  In fact as I look at my watch I see that it is actually day three, and I am now, officially, two poems behind.
            I do have notes and ideas for the one that I should have written yesterday, even though I still consider it early enough for it to be classed as today.
            And so I ought to get on with it and stop this displacement activity writing.  At once.

So I will.

Small pleasures

Family wisdom

For reasons best known to my unconscious, I have, this morning, been thinking of the advice which has been handed down to me by family members.

Great-grandfather: “Never refuse a good offer!”
            This piece of double-edged advice (it has been used against me by people with whom I have shared it!) has been handed down like a precious heirloom.  Of all the words of wisdom this has been the most used, as it often does provide a short cut to a clear decision and, when this is reached, it is so much more satisfying when you can append a saying to justify what often appears to be pure selfishness!

Grandfather: “Fair play’s bonny play.”
            This is a flexible saying which can be used to justify past action, to allow an element of wriggle-room in a difficult situation and to claim space to exercise your rights.

Father: “Anything is better than nothing.”
            Rather like the famous inscription in the ring demanded by the emperor who said he wanted to see something which, if he was sad would make him happy and if he were happy would make him thoughtful – this saying is something which can push you forward when everything seems against you and can make you think a little when things are going well.  It is also plain wrong some of the time.  Oh, “This too will pass” was the inscription that made it to the circle of gold.

Mother: “You can never have too many tea-towels”
            This is also true for teaspoons.  And is true.  And I have expanded this saying to include watches and cameras.  And books.  And gadgets.  And more books.

Possibly I have not been very fair to my relatives here, there was a lot else that they told me that has sunk into my bones, but, goodness knows I have fallen back on these sayings more times than I can conveniently remember.
            As I have been writing I have been remembering other things that they said, but some wisdom is best kept close and not shared too widely especially that sort of knowledge that shows up too much of your character!

Kids and other humans

The curse of the retired classes has returned: holidays.  Children openly stalk the streets and Barcelona has decamped to Castelldefels.
In spite of knowing the date of Easter for once, I was still surprised by the arrival of Palm Sunday and newly shocked (again) by the ostentatious showiness of the ‘palms’ that kids were waving around for seconds before they were discarded and dropped into the ever-accommodating hands of their parents. 
Surprised I might have been, but with notebook to the forefront, I was able to jot down some observations and they were able to prompt a poem, POEMS IN HOLY WEEK  i. A girl skips by, which can now be seen at 
I have, rather grandly, set myself the task of writing a poem a day for the rest of this week.
            Apart from Good Friday and Easter Sunday there is no obvious daily focus, so finding a connecting subject matter (without resorting to the book of daily prayer and the gospel readings) is going to be testing.
            What I produce may be a sequence or there may be individual poems worth salvaging.  Or it might not happen, of course.  But I think that it will be a good discipline for me, and I am hoping that there will be a knock on effect of studiousness prompting me to get a move on with the next essay for the OU course.


Toni’s blog on restaurants in Castelldefels is rapidly gaining a steady readership and the pageviews are, even more rapidly gaining parity with the sophisticates that patronize  
I am relying on my Holy Week Poetic Effort to redress some of the balance – though why I should think that I am competing for the same viewers is difficult to understand!
We are told that if you have something to sell then capturing an almost infinitesimal percentage of the Chinese market will make your fortune several times over.  The digital on-line ‘market’ is much, much larger so, I tell myself, there is an audience for my poetry out there, it is simply a matter of reaching it!

United Nations Day 2015

EasyJet flights are now open for this momentous day and beyond and so travel arrangements for the occasion are able to be finalised.
            I am looking forward to The Day itself and also to the publication of Flesh Can Be Bright with which it coincides!
            I have been fairly strict with myself and have not started the final editing as I do have one or two other academic preoccupations to fill up my time before I can turn my attention to the fiddly bits before publication.
            I am still waiting on the efforts of others and I am hoping that they are working away to keep to the deadlines.  I think it might be politic to send gentle emails to find out exactly what is or is not going on.
            I am running out of letters of the alphabet to cope with the various ‘plans’ I have had to accommodate the final shape of the book, but this is one time where my ability to speculate endlessly comes in useful!
            Whatever happens there will be, there is at the moment, a final version of what I originally planned.  If any of the collaborations come off then the book will be able to gain from whatever I get.  My grandiose vision may not be able to be realised, but I am sure that shreds of it will make it between the covers.

Barcelona bound

That sub-heading is more appropriate than I meant, but this afternoon will see me battling the kamikaze scooters to get to the centre of Barcelona for a medical test.
            Interestingly, this test has been outsourced by my medical centre to a private organization in the city.  Our local hospital is a few kilometres away, but no, I have to go into the centre and, horror or horrors, find a parking space.
            I think this approach is one which our present criminal government (I use the adjective fairly I think as most of the government and the ruling party has been accused of multiple abuses of power) seems keen to privatize the health service, diverting vast sums of public money into the private hands of their backers.  Sound familiar?  Plus ça change!  Doesn’t matter what country you are in, the Conservatives always try the same tactics!

Canine Chorus

Other people wake up to the sound of birds singing – not us.  We have dogs in the same way that medieval Britain had rats – they are everywhere.  At least the rats were quieter.
            I speak as a dog person (at least as long as they are yellow Labrador bitches) but I can’t help feeling if I was given a flame thrower and allowed free rein at dawn then there would be a smell of burning dog flesh in our neighbourhood!

And now the long day’s fast begins as my test has demanded that eating ends six hours before.  At least I am allowed water.  Cheers!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Outside & Inside

I am what I am

Try as I might by laying in the sun for inordinate periods of time, I have to admit to myself that I will never look Spanish.  I might get a little browner than the people I have left at home, but I will never blend in with the local population.
            People speak English to me because they assume that I am German!  Which tells you a lot about national perception.
            Toni also does not look Spanish, so when we go to a restaurant which is not one of our usual haunts we are regarded as guire (foreigners).  Usually this makes very little difference, but when it comes to being ripped off, we are obviously fair game.
            Now it could be that it was a genuine oversight on his part, but today’s waiter brought us only the a la carte menu and omitted the cheaper and better value menu del dia.  When questioned he brought the other menus immediately, but it left a bad taste in the mouth.  Not a good thing when you are looking forward to your meal.
            To be fair, I would have to say that this exploitation is rare in Castelldefels which, when you think about it, makes all sorts of sense.  Castelldefels is a seaside town and relies for a chunk of its revenue on the tourist trade.  We act for Barcelona in very much the same way that Barry Island did and does for Cardiff; a seaside resort within easy reach of a big city.  We expect people not only to come, enjoy themselves and spend, but also to do so on a continuing basis.  Not giving the right menus to customers (whoever they are and wherever they come from) is short sighted and mean spirited.
            We will not go back, even though the other waiters were quick, friendly and efficient.  We have, as Toni’s blog points out, plenty of options for a decent meal and we do not have to give second chances.

Giving blood

This title was both literal and metaphorical today.
            My annual blood test happened at 8.00 am this morning and I am glad to report that I cycled to the surgery to give my two ampoules.  I managed to time it so that I arrived with four minutes to spare before they opened the doors.
            Perhaps I ought to explain.  Blood testing takes place on a Thursday and happens as soon as the door opens.  This means that when you get there a motley crew of the unwell are waiting like something out of a Bosch painting.  There are people there who Want To Be First In, and lurk with intent ready to press their way to the front of the queue.
            This attitude is fun to watch because as soon as the assembled multitude is inside an authoritarian figure in a white coat points to the wall outside the office which gives you the little sticky labels to put on the ampoules and starts reading out the names.  As soon as she (it was a she this time) calls out a name the owner of the name is expected to scurry towards the wall and get in line.  This is also fun as some of the patients have long ago lost the ability to scurry, and indeed to hear properly – so there is a certain amount of good natured (ironic) confusion (chaos) before the action starts.
            Some folk revert to school attitudes and bleat their recognition of their names while being severely ignored by the relentless white coat.
            I was ‘done’ relatively quickly and painlessly and the pleasure of passing so many people waiting for their extraction lasted right up until I got to my bike and realised that I had left my bathing costume at home.  As my plan was to go straight from the doctor’s to the swimming pool and then return home, I felt slightly miffed.
            I made the best of a bad job and went a different way home, collected my bathers without waking Toni and cycled back the way I had come for my swim.
            I have now made an executive decision, now that I have a watch that can do that sort of thing, to swim a measured metric mile each day.  That almost worked today, but the watch decided to stop counting the lengths after just 50m.  I still have not worked out why it works sometimes and not at others.  I will just have to check after a few lengths and see that it is counting.
            I have resigned myself to the understanding that cutting edge technology always needs a helping hand.  Just think of printers.  No, thinking about it, don’t think about printers, it’s not good for your stress levels!

Poetry please

The meeting of the Poetry Group in Barcelona last night was excellent with a slight change to the way that the evening is usually planned.
            I read out my latest poem, Lessons? and was pleased by the response to the last lines, but found myself explaining the references.  I think that I need to insert a few lines before the present start of the poem to make it clear.  The references are solely British and perhaps I need to open the poem out a little and make the conflict which produced those holes more explicit.
            You can decide by reading the poem as it is at present at your feedback will be greatly appreciated!
            I’m not sure if the freewrite that we did during the evening or the ‘exercise’ we completed will find their way into poems, but I throw nothing away.  I am constantly amazed at how the most inconsequential jottings can sometimes suggest productive avenues to explore.

Email amnesia

The contrast between emails and letters have been discussed at length over the years, but I want to concentrate on one aspect that seems to effect me.
            I check my email most days and I try and do my ‘housekeeping’ fairly regularly; in other words I read, delete and save religiously.  But I have noticed that I have a large conceptual blind spot.
            When I read an email from a friend or colleague that needs a reply I have two ways of approaching this task.  The first is fairly straightforward, I type an immediate reply.  The second is more complex and altogether more worrying.  In this approach I ‘assume’ a reply but don’t actually type it out.  Perhaps there is something pressing that I have to do and I tell myself that it will be done ‘soon.’  Too often that soon goes into another day.  I have read the email and so it no longer registers as a number waiting to be read and it no longer appears in the list in bold asking for my attention.
            By day three I assume that I have actually sent it.
            Embarrassingly this has happened with Irene.  I even told Toni that she was going to be visiting on Saturday.  Unfortunately I didn’t convey this information to Irene as an actual response to her.
            Please, someone out there, tell me that I am not alone in this approach!  I am hoping that recognition of this syndrome is a major part of the way towards its cure!