Monday, July 31, 2017

Who pays for nice?


You can tell that holidays in earnest have started in this part of the world because there were delightfully fewer people in the swimming pool today. 

Most of the population is either planning for or actually taking their annual holidays.  Amazingly, this also applies to restaurateurs in this holiday seaside resort!  You would have thought that the one time that people in Castelldefels connected to the tourist trade would not take their holidays was in August, or high season as we call it.  You would be wrong!  I am astonished at the number of locales that take their holidays in August.  I suppose if they have kids then they do not have over many options, but August would seem to me to be the one time when they would not, under any circumstances turn away trade.  But then, I am a teacher and not a small shopkeeper, so what do I know about the real illogicality of commerce?

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My local swimming pool has a contract with a local garden centre to beautify the outdoor area with a profusion of plants.  The children’s playground and café area perimeter have been marked out with a collection of greenery that certainly adds to the quality of the place, but other areas are demarcated with large planters.  These have been planted with plants that thrive (or at least are supposed to thrive) in the semi-arid conditions that are the norm of these parts.  The plants chosen are the succulent (?) fat leafed varieties related to the cactus (I think) the sort of plants that thrive on neglect and can grow and develop with a lack of water as well as the occasional downpour.  I am sure that was the theory, but in practice the plants have yet (generally) to climb above the confines of their boxes.  As I have observed form my seat in the sun, they also have to contend with the occasional flicked fag end and the finger poking obtrusive attention of passing kids.

Today an employee of the garden centre has been turfing out and digging in, replacing the old abused and neglected with the burgeoning pot cosseted new.  As I watch the changing greenery I wonder about the economics of it all.  Does the pool have a monthly contract?  Did they pay a one-off fee?  Is it on an ‘if and when’ basis?  How much are they paying for what is, basically, ignored decoration?  Though, I hasten to add, not ignored by me!

I think that anything that makes my aesthetic experience more enjoyable has my vote.  I like the fact that many roundabouts hereabouts have ‘art’ in some shape or form in their centres.  Not always to my taste, but something which takes away from the monotony of a regular traffic moderator.  The (usually) metallic sculptural forms hark back to a period when austerity was not the only guiding economic power, though one does wonder about the detail of the commissioning of these municipal excrescences.  Given that corruption is the spice that heightens the appreciation of life in these parts, I do wonder how a thorough audit might change the point of view of a casual observer.  After all, most people glance at the ‘sculptures’ and either ignore them or wonder what on earth they ‘mean’ as they drive towards the beach.  Their perceptions might be appreciably different if they knew exactly how much they cost and how they came to be made.

Two cases of ‘public’ art come to mind.  Castelldefels was gifted an imposing circular metal sculpture of grasped hands by Lorenzo Quinn, but there was an almighty row about how much it actually cost to install it in its present location next to the beach.    

The other piece of art that intrigues me is the mural decoration in our local central church.  Who paid for it?  And who, while we are at it, paid for the hideous stage-scenery artificial looking façade on the church to replace the structure rightfully destroyed during the Spanish Civil War?  I have to admit were I Catalan I would never forgive the Roman Church for its hysterically enthusiastic support of the fascists and its bloodcurdling condemnation of the democratic government. 

I suspect that the rebuilding of the burnt church and the painting of the series of murals on the windowless east and west walls (the church faces north) was paid for by the government.  At the moment, I do not know the truth, but I have discovered that there is some sort of publication about the murals available from the Parochial Church House and I am more than prepared to spend 20 euros to find out a little more.  The only history of Castelldefels that I have is in Catalan, so that makes each paragraph painful linguistic deciphering - but this is an on going project, and now that there is a sort-of museum of Castelldefels opened in the centre, there may well be other sources of information now available.

Public art is always problematical.  Complex medical machinery is always pushed next to any street art object in the popular press with the implied suggestion that the money could have been better and more profitably spent.  How, goes the argument, could a twisted free-standing ribbon of metal possibly compare with a kidney dialysis machine?  How could a kidney dialysis machine possibly compare with the helicopter rescue of people on a sinking ship?  How could a helicopter rescue of people on a sinking ship possibly compare with emergency food aid to a population of starving people in sub-Saharan Africa?  And so on ad absurdum.

Someone once pointed out that there was no logical limit to the amount of money that you could pay into the NHS: whatever you give, the NHS could use more.  But there are not unlimited funds and so decisions have to be made, and decisions go on being made up and down the line of finance which mean that absolute judgements about ‘worth’ in spending are virtually impossible to make - but are made every moment of every day.

Erecting crash barriers along a road to restrain crowds wanting to see their successful football team parade the cup that they have won costs money.  That money is from a finite pot, and while the expense might well be necessary and useful it will, of course mean that money for something else will be limited.

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I have a season ticket for the opera in the Liceu.  I pay a lot of money for my (frankly) very good seat, but I am aware that each performance I go to, my payment for the ticket is not the real price of the production.  I know that, as opera is such an expensive art form, my seat has been subsidised by a government grant.

I might, and do say that opera is a vital art form, it is a living sign of the cultural health of a city and country; I might say that life would be infinitely poorer without this art form, that a thriving opera scene in Barcelona is good not only for opera, music and the Liceu, but also for a host of people whose work is directly involved in the production, staging and managing of opera.  I might say that the tourist destination of Barcelona is made richer (literally and figuratively) by the fact that its opera house is one of the most important in Europe; I might say that although the majority of people in Barcelona do not get to see the productions, the economic, social and cultural effects of the shows directly support many more.

A few times a year, here in Castelldefels, we have public firework displays.  I love them and have spend many fruitless years trying to get a decent photo of them.  Now I just watch, open mouthed, and enjoy.  How can they be justified as a public expense?

I could go through a number of possible justifications from supporting local industry (we have a firework factory just up the road) to a necessary tourist attraction in a resort that relies on tourists - but, really I truly believe that fireworks add to the jollity of nations and that is justification enough!
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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Swimming and thinking

Sometimes I think too much.

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Take my first view in the original production of Omen II.  A decent enough film I thought, and the superior sneer of Damien at the end of the film was masterly.  But not really frightening enough for me.  Until I went to bed.  There, in the false comfort and snide warmth of a snuggly duvet I began to think about what I had seen.

In my half awake, half asleep state I imagined a much more graphic film than the one I had seen and my mind decided that there was no way that Damien could possibly be stopped.  None.  No way at all.  Evil was unstoppable.  The end.

Luckily I woke up and life seemed altogether brighter and much less evil-orientated.  My rock solid atheism could re-assert itself and the demons could retreat back into fantasy literature.  But I still remember that night of reimagining the film and I can still retexture the sense of lost helplessness that I managed to create for myself.  And the sense of dissatisfaction at the ‘real’ end of Damien in Omen III or IV or whatever.  Not convincing!
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Brexit and 45 are not things from which I can wake up.  The demons associated with both those grotesqueries seem more and more real as time goes on. 
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45 and The Mooch seem like overdrawn characters from some Grand Guignol pulp-fiction pot-boiler, but they live and have being in the real world, even when that world is composed of salted, filtered water in a swimming pool.

I used to say that I swam in college because the pool was the one place where I did not think.  That wasn’t really true, or perhaps accurate enough.  What I think I meant was that the pool was the one place where my brain could be truly unfocused and whatever was playing on my mind could be, and usually was, lost in a welter of stream-of-consciousness kaleidoscopic disassociation - so to speak.  In other words my mind was released from early Gothic Novels, or Don Juan, or The Magic Mountain or the horrors of William Faulkner, or whatever it was that I was supposed to be studying and it could bounce along in whatever funny little ways scraps of remembered experience took it.  Then, once out of the water, showered and changed, the real world (or at least what passed for it in Swansea University) was able to reassert itself.

It is rather like my ability to sleep. 

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I can be set about by the circling creatures of Goya’s sleep of reason awake, but head on pillow all of them slip into the velvet darkness of oblivion.  True, I sometime awoke in the morning with the immediate and startling realisation of what was there when I went to sleep, but the period of rest was release.

So my swim this morning was much more centred (yes, I am aware of the pun with swimming up and down along a line in a lane) as my mind refused to bounce in its usually happy manner and my thoughts stayed resolutely with the UK leaving the EU, and the POTUS behaving like a kitschy lout.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have written about these two disasters yesterday, adding the joke that is Spanish politics and Justice to leaven the mixture: but my concerns are present in my mind and my mind juggles these awful realities trying to find a modus vivendi.

I am reminded, as I often am, of a millionaire with whom I was once on a committee who once gave me wise advice about money.  “The Great Trick,” he said, “is to keep money moving, keep it moving, juggle it.  Borrow, spend, buy, keep it moving!”  I nodded as sagely as someone who didn’t really know what he was talking about could do, when he added, “And the Second Great Trick, is to know when to start running!”  Which I did understand.

As someone who was sort-of brought up in the Protestant Work Ethic with added Delayed Gratification, I could respond to, but not understand what my millionaire friend was talking about in terms of high finance - but when retribution was invoked which obviously indicated that the “juggling” was a euphemism for cheating, and the “knowing when to run” was away from the police, I knew.

It is like the films of my youth.  In films, in all films, the baddies never won.  Even if the baddies were the ‘heroes’ of the film, they had their comeuppance.  Thieves did not get to keep the cash, murder always came out, Justice had a capital ‘J’.

But that was films.  This is real life.  Where is the Justice with a capital J for 45?  What precisely does he have to do to suffer the punishment that he so richly deserves?  Given the size of his ego, nothing, absolutely nothing is going to dent his own inflated idea of his own self worth.  It doesn’t matter if he is impeached, imprisoned, bankrupted (again), derided, voted out of office, shunned, demonstrated against - nothing, will dent his own belief in himself.

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I can imagine 45 (and I like doing so) as a down and out tramp, loose folds of flesh hanging from his gaunt face (making WH Auden look like a picture boy for face cream); his tattered clothes clutched about his lank flanks; his thin weedy hair hanging in lank dead twists; his tiny hands weaving around in what he imagines to be imperial gestures still telling the other homeless waifs of how he once won a great election, of how he was the most powerful man in the world and that he re-made the world in his own image, of how women threw themselves at him in ecstatic adulation and of how he was betrayed by the men, women, judges, voters, Democrats, Republicans, Americans, Germans, Intellectuals, newspapers, television, The Swamp, non golf playing people, friends, family, everyone but himself.  But, of course, he still had it.  He was The Great Negotiator (how almost like a Dalí title that is!) and that he was still, and always would be great.

I then imagine the Great Germaphobe washing his tiny hands and tucking into a salvaged Mac meal.

Image result for make america great again jokeBut the reality is that 45 will be even richer by the time his disaster of a period of office comes to an end.  He was never realize how he was despised.  He will never appreciate the damage he has done to his country.  He will die happy, realizing that he had been the president and “knowing” how great he had been and how he had made America Great Again. 
Not even justice with a small ‘j’.

I realize that writing like this does not really make a difference.  I always hope that somewhere there is a reader who responds, who relates to what I write and spends a passing moment thinking about the issues.  But with Brexit and 45 - what can one do?  One feels that there must be something practical, something real that must be done but what?

I am linked to campaigns in Britain and in Spain about Brexit and holding the government to account - especially with regard to we Brits who live abroad.  I sign any and every petition that comes my way and is sympathetic to my point of view.  I read and respond to the idiocies that I see taking place in the places that I call home.  But I fear that it is not enough.  Brexit seems to be powering (!) its way along, helped and fostered by the selfish nasty party that caused it and a crazed popular press; 45 panders to his debased base and sinks ever lower in his discourse and actions and seems unstoppable.  What is a wishy-washy liberal (with a small ‘l’) like me to do?

Perhaps this recognition of helplessness is stage one.  Determination to move one to something practical might be stage two.  I live in hope and search for the reality that allows this to happen.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Rant!

The Trouble with present day Spain is that there is not enough politics.
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That statement may appear on the surface to be a little strange.  We are governed by one of the most corrupt political parties in Western Europe; the number of officials, associates, patrons and general moneyed riff-raff connected to PP that have been, are being or are going to be tried is astonishing.  The Prime Minister has just given evidence in a corruption scandal involving the finance of his party (in which all previous treasurers have been indicted); a previous PP associate and head of a bankrupt bank has just committed suicide; a previous head of the PP government of Valencia has died before she could be investigated thoroughly - well, you get the idea.  Each day brings new scandals and precisely nothing of moment is done about them.

The present government is a minority one.  We have over the past couple of years plodded our weary way through a few elections where the left has thrown away its advantage and allowed the corrupt PP with the help of the sluttish C’s and the abstention of the so-called socialist party PSOE to form a government which has done precisely nothing to remedy the corruption which is rife in the system - how can they when they are precisely the ones who would suffer if anything substantial could be done.

A clear example of the compromised system that we have is clearly illustrated by the Prime Minister giving his evidence.  He was dragged into the Gürtel Case
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(you can find out more about this astonishing case here ) much against the wishes of the governing party as you can imagine.  However, the Prime Minister did agree to give evidence, but we soon discovered that he was not going to give evidence in quite the same way as other witnesses.

You have to imagine the scene: the body of the courtroom in front of the judges is taken up with seats for the accused and a section for the press.  As there are so many accused they leave no room for virtually anyone else.  Each witness sits at a little desk with a microphone, directly in front of the judges.  Behind them are the motley faces of those thieves accused of stealing over a billion euros from the public purse, and of illegally financing PP and its various elections.  They make a gruesome backdrop of grafters, most of whom are personally known to the Prime Minister.  It does not however make a particularly Prime Ministerial setting (though one that I think is totally accurate for the debased reputation of our glorious leader) and there is also an aspect of guilt by association (!) in such a setting.

So, Rajoy did not come openly to court.  He arrived as part of a cavalcade in a car with tinted windows and entered the court via the judges’ entrance that gave him direct access without having to confront the protesters who had been waiting for this moment to hurl accusations against him.

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Inside the court, things were different for him.  There were no accused in the massed seats in court.  They were all empty.  He was not asked to take the place where all other witnesses gave their evidence.  Instead he was given a little desk in line with the seating of the three judges!  His background was empty of any bad associates with whom his party has done ‘business’ for years.  Talk about a set up.

But because of the lack of real politics in Spain, the ruling PP is able to get away with things like this.  It is essential to stress that although PP has the largest party in parliament, it does not have an overall majority.  It can be voted down.  It should, in my view, be voted down.  But, politics does not seem to extend any further for most political parties than their own party concerns.  The idea that they have been elected by actual people to serve the country in parliament seems more like a joke in poor taste than a crushing accusation.

Politics in the art of the possible, and I know that there always have to be unsavoury compromises to get things done.  But in Spain at the moment, there is a lot of frenetic activity and lots and lots of high words and angry exchanges but still, THINGS DO NOT GET DONE.  That is an accusation that lies squarely at the feet of the politicians who seem unable to do politics.

I know that the election of 45 as POTUS shows that no matter how appalling your behaviour and outrageous your statements and low your morals, you can be elected to high position.  Brexit has shown that completely unscrupulous scaremongering and out and out lies can get you cabinet positions and the love and care of the gutter press.  Truth, morality, honesty, and ethics - all seem to be olde-worlde relics of a yesteryear that didn’t exist.  I know that a world of ‘alternative facts’ makes for dizzying reassessment of what is possible, but still, politics is supposed to take account of ‘events, dear boy, events’ and those include ways of thinking and ways of behaving.

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Although it is glaringly clear to me that our government is irremediably corrupt and is totally unable and unwilling to reform itself and must therefore be removed, I am also aware that something like 30% of the voting population would be prepared to vote for PP if an election was called tomorrow!  It is difficult to imagine a worse few years of unrelentingly bad publicity for PP as the ones that I have watched.  Secret accounts, kick-backs, black money, illegal funding of buildings, campaigns, accounts in tax havens, lies, duplicity, sedition, collusion - you name it, and somewhere in PP you can find it!  And 30% will still vote for them!

The right wing C’s party (the political sluts of Spanish politics) generally supports PP, while making pathetic mewling noises about how independent they are and what they are achieving for the country!  They complicate things.  In my view a vote for the C’s is a vote for PP, and generally speaking they vote with them.  Their cowardly approach is to ask for commissions of investigation rather than vote against the government and bring it down.

PSOE (the so-called socialist party) has undergone its own self immolation with a widely divisive leadership election where the previous leader who lost a lot of seats in a previous election resigned, and then found a certain amount of backbone and suddenly appeared as a candidate for the new leadership which he, amazingly won.  However, they are far more concerned with abstention rather than voting against the government because they have a very real fear about what might happen in any general election that they force!

I think our present situation could have been avoided a couple of three elections ago by parties working together, but ineptitude, political ineptitude made that impossible and so we have had years of the same corrupt government that daily has to become even more corrupt to keep itself in power.

I also know that there is nothing to be gained by saying ‘if we had’ in politics because, that verb tense shows that the past is gone.  We have to deal in the present and, in my view, the political parties, especially on the left, are not doing enough to provide the country with a viable alternative to what we already have.

To say nothing of what is happening here in Catalonia.

In October we will have a referendum about independence.  Our government has said that if there is a majority for independence (no matter how many people vote) then the government of Catalonia will start the process of disengaging with Spain within 48 hours of the vote.

The Spanish government has declared the vote illegal.  A previous vote (overwhelmingly in favour of independence) saw the President of Catalonia charged and convicted in a court of law for holding a democratic election.  He has been barred from public office and has been fined.  PP has said that it will do everything that it can to stop the vote.  The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal and the Catalan government has responded by saying that they will disregard the rulings, which prohibit the vote.

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Again, I ask, where are the politics?  Where was the renegotiation of the relationship between the Spanish central government and the region of Catalonia?  Where were the mollifying words about rethinking the relationship of the two entities?  Where was the suggestion that a referendum could be held some time in the future after a process of rethinking the present positions?  Nowhere is the answer.  PP went straight for denial and rejection.  Everything the Madrid PP government does makes new independentists each day.

In my heart I would like to see a Spain united and strong, with an association of regions with a dynamic relationship with central government.  But PP has in the past and seems bent in the future of being absolutist and obstructionist.  They seem to be actively seeking confrontation - to do what?  Send in the tanks?  Disenfranchise the whole of the Catalan government?  Impose direct rule?

Spain, and more particularly Catalonia, is my home.  I am concerned about how this country within a country sees its future.  My status is already under real threat from the idiocy that is Brexit, my position could become even more problematical after the October vote - or before, depending on how far and how stupidly a myopic central government feels that it can act.

So where, to come back to my starting point, are Politics?  And why aren’t they being used for what they should be used for: to provide a government of the people, for the people, by the people.

Are the politicians listening?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

To tan is to be!

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The weather continues to confuse.  One moment it is sunny, then cloudy, then hazy, a sudden downpour, humid, cool. 

No, I’m lying. 

We have had some changeable weather that Toni has described as ‘awful’, but all I have to do is translate it into British terms of weather and I find that I am more than satisfied with what we are getting.  Yes, to be fair, it is not entirely cloudless skies and unmitigated sunshine, but I have to realize that I have been driven indoors because I am glistening with sweat and it is perhaps a little too hot.  The third floor study is relatively cooler and, even if the fan doesn’t create cool air, it at least moves it around a little.

Art passes

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The ‘unsettled’ weather has also destroyed The Stain.  I had great hopes that the slash of fading red from the broken bottle of cheap wine would be something that could have lasted through the rest of the summer, but two sharp torrential downpours seem to have consigned my gestural piece of land art to evaporation and the gutter. 

The next time I pass on my newly charged electric bike, I must pause and see if there is anything left.  I do feel somewhat self conscious taking photographs of nondescript parts of a pavement, but it would be somehow ‘satisfying’ to find some tinted remnant lurking.  Given the amount of time that I have spent being confounded by various manifestos of the artistically self obsessed, it is the least I can do to drag out the last pieces of aesthetic significance from a chance event deemed art-worthy!  And I have to say that it was more interesting than some of the stuff that I have been studying over the last couple of years via the course in the Open University.  Though, there again, I defend maligned Modern Art with a vengeance when provoked by those who cannot find an upturned and signed urinal to be provocatively original!  Though with Duchamp I sometimes wonder, as with Warhol, how much of his ‘art’ was clever and how much taking the piss - and if the difference between the two is real, or indeed matters!

Anyway, I am sad that The Stain has gone, but also recognize that one particular part of the pavement in Castelldefels will be forever different (at least to me) because of what it once contained.  And with Modern Art, who can ask for more?

The ghost of past hurt

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I follow my father in the way that I take the sun.  My mother was fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed - and so was I when I was a pre-toddler.  But after a few years my father’s genes asserted themselves and my eyes went hazel and my hair (O tempora! O mores!) a very dark, almost black-brown, and in the summer I went a more than acceptable shade of not white.  When the summers were kind enough to have a reasonable quantity of sun.  Of course in my childish memories, all summers were sunny, as were all visits (and there were many) to Barry Island.  In Barry my excavations were frenzied and extensive, all my efforts devoted to building a castle mound surrounded by a wall that would resist the sea, so that eventually I would be sitting surrounded by the incoming tide.

The real joy of course, was the even more frenzied activity to repair breaches in the wall to obtain the “island” objective.  Sand was plundered from the castle mound to rebuild sea-washed defences and eventual, and usually quick and complete failure was guaranteed.  But once, and once only, did I achieve sufficient repulsion of the sea to be surrounded.  It was only momentary, but it remains an achievement that I treasure!

Here in Castelldefels we have no tides.  Technically, I am told, we do, but they are not aquatic events that you would recognize sitting by the side of the sea.  Certainly, if you are more used to the tidal range of the Bristol Chanel then Med. tides can be ignored!

So, castle building does not have the same allure - and it is some sixty years too late to hold the same attraction.  Admittedly, there was a spate of civil engineering in the sand when I was in university in Swansea when streams on the beach (ask not of what the water was composed!) lured me back to the sort of hand digging where you paid the price through the sand impacted under the fingernails.  Extensive systems of canals and dams were built with Robert perfecting his technique of dripped sand buildings with fantastic towers that rivalled the architecture of Gaudi.

I find that I am not drawn to constructions and I also find that my ability to lie in the sun has also lessened.  Time was when a Christmas holiday trip to Gran Canaria would seem me outstretched for hours.  On one particular day lying on my hamaca in Maspalmoas it started to rain!  I and the other northern Europeans who had paid and arm and a leg to stay on the island in high season simply ignored the adverse weather conditions and waited for the weather to get better.  And it did.  Or at least it got good enough to lie there with out shuddering and we could continue to rely on the penetration of the UV rays through the cloud cover to do what we had expensively paid for.  And anyway, it was always worth it, greeting colleagues in cold Cardiff in January, and watching their eyes take in my bronzed skin!

Nowadays, I use factor 20 cream - rather than the perfumed cooking oil that I used to buy to get that “deep down tan”.  It never worked and I always dreaded the day when I would finally start to peel and then I would worry about the fact that I could be going home even whiter than when I arrived!

Nowadays I do not have to rely on two sunny weeks in foreign parts to get my tan done.  I live in foreign parts and they do have a disproportionate number of sunny days - even in December and January - when our nearest star can be enjoyed.

But I also notice now that, as I brown, elements of my history show up on my skin.  For example, just above the second knuckle of my middle finger of my right hand, there is now a faint outline of a small, three-sided rectangle.  It must related to what must have been a fairly serious cut or graze, where a flap of skin was ripped out of my flesh.  It must have hurt, there must have been quantities of blood and, given where it is positioned, the flexing of my hand and finger must have pulled and broken the scab.  On the right hand, as well, it must have constantly been rubbed and knocked.  It must have been an extended and thorough nuisance.  And what with the natural propensity to pick and worry at healing scars it must have been a feature of my life for ages.

And I have absolutely no memory of the injury at all.  The ghostly outline is almost like a accusation form my body.  Look, it seems to be saying, this happened, it was an event and you care so little that you have consigned it to forgetfulness!

Other scars have a back-story that I remember well.  The ball of the right-hand thumb and the slicing of an open salmon tin; my right elbow and the tip over the tennis net during my victory leap; my inner thigh where the rotten tree stump entered and broke off; my chin and the collapse of friends on top of me in junior school; my lip and something on the building site that bit back; my foot and a piece of rubble on the Asia side of Istanbul - and all those scabs of childhood on knees and legs and arms that would have to be layered in three-dimensional ghostliness to show the succession of minor cuts and abrasions that is part of growing up.

I have always found the expression “like the back of my hand” as a picture of familiarity to be woefully inappropriate - I challenge you to describe yours without looking at it!  And, in my opinion, apart from our faces (and let’s face it, we mostly recognize ourselves from reflections in mirrors and that is absolutely NOT how we appear to other people!) what parts of our bodies do we actually know?

It is usually only when something is going wrong that we start to explore the substances of which we are made.  Which is why I am grateful for my ghosts of past hurts.  They make me think and they encourage me to remember and with the absolute pleasure that comes with confused recollection, although specifics might be inaccurate the experience can be retextured to my own individual attitudes and prejudices.  I can remember about the cut on my finger, even if the unique circumstances are lost.  I know how I am and what I’m like, so I can place the cut and call it mine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Refuse refuse - it's all in the way you say it!

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A short, sharp, apocalyptic, thunder and lightening storm yesterday afternoon has left the path strewn with pine needles.  Yet again.  From trees that are not ours.  This means that we have the imminent appearance of the noisy leaf gatherers to look forward to.

The invention of the leaf-blower has to one of the major banes of the modern urban leafy suburb - if our little zone could be called one.  As our area is named after the pine trees which are a characteristic of our streets, it is not surprising that we are well used to the howl of the leaf-blowers - both private and municipal.

It is not out of any aesthetic civic pride that the pine needles are gathered up; it is rather because of our inadequate road drainage system.  Fallen pine needles gather into impressive clumps and block the drains, so any delay in collecting the organic excess, when linked to a sudden downpour, will result in extensive flooding, or at least large areas of standing water on the roads.  The collection is therefore necessity rather than cosmetic.  Our economy relies on the tourist, usually the day tourists from Barcelona, so any discomfort and inconvenience has a direct relationship with the wealth of our municipality.  Our resort, through undoubtedly popular, does have rivals, and it doesn’t take much to persuade fleeting visitors to fleet elsewhere.

The one good thing about refuse collection here is that it is daily via the system of collective bins that are found along all the roads.  In addition, each Friday (in our zone) any pine needles or tree clippings or general plant waste will be collected separately.  On a Thursday evening, therefore, I brush together all our neighbours’ pine needles that have fallen in our back garden and sweep them into a neat heap outside our front gate.  And by Friday afternoon they are gone.

Although I know that the logistics of refuse collection are prosaic enough, I have always found the reality of rubbish collection almost magical: now you see it - now you don’t!  I also know that the reality of landfill and the general problems of disposal are rapidly assuming crisis proportions and we are probably living in the last age of the free-and-easy, throw-it-all-in-the-bin approach to refuse.  I know that Britain is gradually developing a fairly Draconian approach to when, when and how you throw things away, and I read with interest of local councils fining people for putting the wrong things in the wrong bins, or putting things out at the wrong times.  Here in Castelldefels while we do have bins for plastics, cardboard, glass and general refuse - there is nothing to stop you from putting veering in the same black bag and throwing it in the ubiquitous green bins.  I feel that this anarchic time is quickly coming to an end, and it is only a matter of (short) time before we too are dragooned (rightly) into a more caring attitude.

The Greek Way

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On a related economic model, I have now reverted to something that I used to do years ago - make my own yogurt!

I used to own a rather nifty device which comprised a heated stand on which stood six yellow screw topped containers complete with overall plastic cover and which provided me with (though I say it myself) a rather fine yogurt.  I seem to remember heating milk with ‘starter’ yogurt in a saucepan while keeping an eye on the thermometer to ensure the reaction ‘took’.  That is obviously old school.  My new device comprises a cylinder inside what looks like a pressure cooker: you add the milk, add the yogurt, stir it a bit, turn the machine on and leave it for 10 hours or so.  Voilà!  It’s done!

The resultant yogurt was a trifle runny.  But the little book of instructions had advice (in Spanish) about making Greek yogurt - that, in theory should be more solid.  The complex instructions for adding this sort of value were merely to let the runny yogurt stand for 24 hours in the fridge then put it into a mesh strainer (provided) in the white receptacle (provided) and let that drain for a couple of hours in the fridge and the job is done.  And it worked!  And is delicious!

The next time I am in a supermarket I am going to look at the price of Greek yogurt.  My newfound machine makes 1ltr from UHT milk with the use of the machine (obviously) and 10 hours of very low-level electricity and the fridge.  I will have to start making ‘fruit’ versions and see how they go!

At the moment there is something very satisfying in having made a food that I eat every day, it is the equivalent to growing your own wheat for your daily loaf!  I am very smug about it all!

Slotting into place

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When I was living in Cardiff, I could walk around town and sooner or later I would bump into someone who would say, “Hello!” with that element of genuine recognition that would suggest that we knew each other.  And to be fair, I am generally a good rememberer of faces to the same extent as I am an appalling rememberer of names.  My inability to recall names bordered, and continues to border on. the psychotic, but my ability to feel affinity with faces means that I am subject to an almost endless mental jigsaw as I attempt to fit the face into a pattern that never seems, at first glance to have the correct space to place it.

The last time this happened was in the changing room of my swimming pool.  I was about to walk to the pool for my swim when a naked young man came from the shower, saw me, smiled and said, “¡Hola!”  I replied with a smile and walked on to the pool, thinking as I did so, about where the hell I knew him from.

In Cardiff, as a teacher, you have a bewilderingly wide range of ways of knowing people they could, after all, be present pupils, past pupils, colleagues, past colleagues, Union Members, friends, family, shopkeepers, audiences (I had cultural season tickets) sports partners, parents (of pupils I mean - even my inability with names is not that bad!) and so on.  Here in Spain there are not quite so many possibilities, though I have taught here and the parents, pupils, colleagues thing can be brought into play here in Catalonia as well.

But this guy was in the sports centre.  He was slim and fit and so I tired to ‘dress’ him in the uniform of the centre, perhaps he was one of the summer guys brought in to cope with the summer schools being run.  But that didn’t really fit.  Past pupil didn’t seem right.  Customer?  Wrong time of the day for someone so young.  And so I went on, slightly resentful that he was naked as clothing would have been a clue!

Shops, supermarkets, opera houses, restaurants all went through my mind.  Not, you must understand because it was important to know where I knew him from, but because I was irritated by not knowing.  Wherever I placed his smiling and variously dressed face and body, he didn’t fit.  I made notes about him in my little notebook hoping 1) his habitat would come to me through the simple power of writing, and 2) if all else failed I could make a virtue of necessity and write a poem about it.  Neither occurred. 

As is usual in cases such as these it was while I was thinking about something else entirely that I got:  a) new waiter, in b) old favourite restaurant.  Of course!

And what have I got from expending a frustrating amount of time and mental effort in trying to remember something that is entirely unimportant? 

Here is where you, dear reader, can help me.  What have I gained? 

A quiet satisfaction in allaying the fear that my mind is losing its ability to organize information and bring past events to the surface when they are needed?  A triumphant reassertion of my capabilities of being able to deconstruct new combinations and find the essential truth behind them?  A complete lack of understanding of priorities?  A gleeful acceptance of mind-games displacement activity?  The lack of something better to do?

Who knows and, more importantly, who cares!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


A colleague from a school in Spain once told me that he had never built a pool in the grounds of his house because, “it would have encouraged my wife’s family to come too often and stay too long”!

Such shamefully un-familial sentiments.  And ones that I fully share, though not, obviously, in relation to my wife’s family!  As one of the houses built around a shared pool I pay a considerable sum in rent and in maintenance.  As part of the return for the vast outlay of precious euros we have access to what is described as a “private” pool, for the use of residents only.  And friends and family when they come to visit. 

The problem with our pool is that only a limited number of the sixteen or so houses that pay for it, have direct access via their back gates.  The other houses have access via a locked gate that fronts the road.  The description of the gate as “locked” is also problematic.  It has a lock and it should be locked after users have entered, but it often is not, and that gives access to non-residents and also raises a question of general security.

If I find the gate unlocked when I pass, for example on my way to have a swim, I lock it.  My reasoning is that if the pool is public, why the hell am I paying through the nose for what was described as a private facility?  We, the people paying for the pool’s upkeep, should be jealously guarding an expensive element for our enjoyment.

But, like so much else in life, the smooth working of ways of behaving depends on reasonableness.  Which is usually in very short supply.

In the summer months, our pool has (unsurprisingly) its heaviest use.  People swim, lounge around, chat and enjoy the body of water that for far too much of the year is a glimmering object rather than something to use.  Sometimes the pool is crowded with residents, their families and visitors and, as we overlook the pool we have the full stereophonic noise of people finding and celebrating their splashing identities!

I have no problem with this.  What I object to are those people who think that they have some sort of right to use our pool based on a complete lack of shame.

Three generations of an ex-resident’s family now use the pool on a regular basis, on an almost daily basis: they are noisy and obtrusive and completely shameless.  If they were occasional visitors I would have no objection, but they are more regular users than most residents!  And they are not exactly on the breadline; you only have to look at their transport to see that!  They take more than they give, which, as they give nothing is not difficult to achieve!

I surprise myself by how much resentment I feel, yet, because I am British, I say nothing.  I confine myself to locking the gate, which in our little community says a lot and fuming as I look out of my window!

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So far this month we have had (for us) unsettled weather.  Perhaps I ought to explain what that means in a Catalan context.  It does not mean that we have had days of rain, no indeed, but we have not had days of unbroken sunshine.  And it is those days of unbroken sunshine that are the daily currency of my life in this country.  We have had sun-showers and overcast days.  I have returned to the typewriter (well, computer) to escape one such ‘sun-shower’ that lasted approximately twelve seconds and had about thirty drops of rain.  The sun is now back out again.  But the fact that we have had sun-showers at all is something that is not part of my expectations at this time in the year.

I have just been speaking to my cousin in South Wales and she told me that while it wasn’t cold, it was wet - and I don’t think that she was referring to thirty drops of rain!  So, I shouldn’t complain.  But I do.  And will.

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Tomorrow the final opera of the season: Il Trovatore - something to hum along to and for which I do not need to do any listening homework!  Next season promises to be more taxing, though I like the idea of adding new operas to my Liceu experience.  This production is one that uses Goya and inspiration from his etchings of The Horrors of War in some ways, so seeing how this interesting take is integrated with the music and action will be something to look out for.  After all, as with so many operas, the actual story line is not entirely, or even slightly convincing!  The final twist of the that-corpse-was-your-long-lost-brother is something only Dickens could get away with.  But I speak as a reader who cried real tears while reading the pathetic death of the little road sweeper in Bleak House, even as I realized how emotionally manipulated by the author I was being!  In Il Trovatore, the music makes even the crassest piece of action resonate!

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And the day after this high point of culture, a delayed visit to the dentist.   

Never let it be said that I was afraid of a sensational life!