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Showing posts from May, 2010

Personal news

An old friend sent me a message the other day enquiring after a job that I'd mentioned in an email. Just so you know I have now signed a contract to start with the Wall Street Institute in Cartagena as a teacher of English from the beginning of September this year. The place is only about 10 minutes walk from home and, I'll be doing just 15 hours a week in the first place, generally from 7 till 10 in the evening. I won't get rich from the pay but it will be nice to be out and about again.

Rather an amazing thing for those of you who know me and my record at interviews. I'm not sure I've ever got a job before from an interview where there haven't been other factors working in my favour. An interview done totally in Spanish come to that.

Different solutions, same problems.

Consider turning across traffic - left turns here, right turns in Ripon. In Ripon the cars stop in the middle of the road and wait to turn. Continuing traffic dodges by on the passenger side of the road. There are plenty of junctions like that in Spain too but a different, and very common, solution is to move the car into a sort of lay by on the passenger side of the road. This effectively takes the car off the road where it waits for a suitable gap before making the dash across traffic. It's an elegant solution and it works really well on quiet but fast country roads. The difficulty is that the lay bys only usually have space for two or three cars. Use this solution in heavy traffic and the tail back from the lay by stretches into the road and causes traffic to have to move to the driver's side of the road, sometimes into the face of oncoming traffic!

Then there're the crossroads that use a variation on this system. Imagine a roundabout with one of the major carriageways …

A screen wider than your imagination

We go to the pictures quite often nowadays. There's a multiplex in an otherwise more or less deserted and desolate shopping centre about ten minutes walk from home. I have no idea how the designers and promoters of the Mandarache shopping centre got it so completely wrong but they did. A couple of mobile phone shops - the only Phonehouse in the World without a queue - a pint sized bowling alley, a Chinese buffet and a couple of fast food outlets. All the rest is silence. Empty units, bored security guards and expansive Christmas decorations. But there is a ten or twelve screen multiplex. At it's busiest it fills maybe a fifth of the acres of idiosyncratic traffic system car park.

Multiplexes are multiplexes. Digital dsplays for the film titles and times, overpriced popcorn, bored ticket collectors passing the time of day with the broom leaning cleaner, piped music in the toilets and those odd booster seats for the children to fidget in.

Fare is Hollywood. Almost nothing else …

Miguel Hernández and Orihuela

The poet and goatherder Miguel Hernández was born in 1910 in Orihuela and died in 1942 of tuberculosis in a gaol in Alicante. He died because he chose to support the losing side in the last Spanish Civil War and a series of dark and dank prison cells eventually did for him. There are a number of things going on in Alicante province to mark his centenary

Orihuela is only an hour or so from Cartagena so he's considered to be a local. Maggie's school have been doing some projects based on his works. His poetry is Internationally recognised but it's also simply constructed and he wrote some things specifically for children. Combine the centenary, the proximity and what he wrote and you have something that any decent school would be keen to latch onto. On Saturday, Maggie and I went to Orihuela as part of a trip organised by the school for teachers, their friends and family. The cultural visits were, naturally, combined with a meal. After all we are in Spain.

Actually the trip …

Designed in an Herreran style by the architect Tomás Rico Valarino between 1900 and 1907

I think it's a personal best. On saturday I did eight museums in a day.

Considering that phrase I've realised it contains at least two untruths or, as we Yorkshire folk call them, lies. In the first place they weren't all museums. A guided visit around the Cathedral in Orihuela or a tour around the Modernist Old Town Hall in Cartagena isn't exactly a museum visit. And the last visit, to the Underwater Archaelogy Museum in Cartagena started at around 1.30am on Sunday morning. In spirit though it's true enough.

I have been known to complain about Spanish Museums or rather the Spanish attitude to imparting imformation in displays of one sort and another. The guides, the guide books and the information boards seem to delight in using terminology that means nothing to the layperson whilst missing out the key facts or giving any life to what you're seeing. So we'd get "designed in 1962 and built of a titanium and aluminium shell by British Aircraft Corporat…

And another thing

I was dribbling on yesterday about low fat products. Today it's mugs.

Thanks to the kindness of friends I have been drinking tea out of pint pots. The correct size for a tea cup in my opinion. Given our two home lifestyle and the natural wastage of crockery I have one remaining mug in Culebrón but I smashed the Cartagena based one just a couple of days ago.

I made do with an undersized mug for a couple of days but went in search of something larger today. Cheap housewares are best bought from one of the hundreds of Chinese Bazaars that there are all over Spain.

The first shop had tens of mugs on display but they specialised in hideous designs in garish colours. Next I tried a Spanish owned version of the same sort of "pound shop." The supply was limited, some small mugs and one large, cappucino style one with a vomitous red and black design and a 7€ price tag. Spaniards don't use big cups much, hence the derisory selection and outrageous price. My last port of call …

One hundred percent lard

I'm obese. No, I exaggerate. I was last time I weighed myself but today I've crossed the threshold; I'm overweight.

This is because Maggie decided to join all of Spain in "operation bikini" - shedding those extra kilos ready for the summer. She signed up to an online diet club that provides her with menus and some sort of personal cheerleader to keep her spirits up when the lettuce and low fat dressing become too much. The website is an UK based one.

I do most of the shopping and most of the cooking when we're in Cartagena. Wandering the supermarket shelves in search of this or that product I've realised that the reduced calorie/low fat market is really underdeveloped here. It's not nonexistent but low fat spreads, cottage cheese and what not are not an easy buy. Perhaps Spaniards have never been taken in by the high fat foods that are marketed as reduced fat yet still contain far more calories than something more traditional. Better a big salad, dres…

Honking in the streets

I'm sure, being football fans, that they were but I probably meant hooting.

Cartagena Football Club who go by the name Efesé (FS) for some reason unknown to me or la Albinegra for their Black and White, Newcastle like shirts beat Numancia yesterday. Just six more games to go this season.

Cartagena are third in Division 2A on sixty one points, five points clear of their nearest rival and only three points behind the league leaders. If they manage to hang on they will get promoted to the First Division and join teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The local media have mounted campaigns of support, the club shop has sold out of football shirts, black and white flags and scarves are hanging from balconies and car aerials. Yesterday, in the shopping streets, dapper gentlemen and well dressed ladies wore subtle combinations of black and white.

We could hear the roar of the crowd in our flat. Numancia were in the lead for a long time, then a late equaliser with the  winning goal just…

Festival of the May Crosses

Down in Andalucia they celebrate the Festival of the May Crosses, Cruces de Mayo, and, for some reason, the tradition seems to have transferred here to Cartagena.

Crosses of flowers are built by the various religious brotherhoods in their home districts and then everyone gets down to celebrating around them in a traditional Andalucian style. So it's all flouncy frocks, high trousers, guitars, sherry and bulls. Nobody we've asked seems to know why Cartagena borrowed a festival from the region next door and there is no mention of why, just what, in the literature that I've seen about the festival.

Anyway, we went to have a look and we'll be back this evening to see if we can't get a beer or two

No buts

Apparently the locals, Cartageneros, have a local word for the apple. In all of Spain it's manzana but round here it's pero. Pero just happens to be the Spanish word for "but" as well.

So let's say you've built yourself a nice May Cross. The neighbours come out to have a look. "Yes, very nice, but...." So now, on the display around each cross there is a pair of scissors stuck into an apple, into a pero. That'll cut out any buts!

"Yes, very nice"

Underlining the differences

I tend towards the curmudgeonly. I never dance in public. I never sing along to anything in the range from Happy Birthday to the 23rd Psalm. When other people have are having a good time I'm often to be found leaning against the bar smoking too many cigars. Chatting's OK but turn up the volume a tad and I give in and get back to smoking and leaning or just pursing my lips and staring into the distance.

I mentioned the 40th Anniversary goings on at Maggie's school. Last night we went to an evening meal to celebrate. The place was a rather strange converted disco but if you have a couple of hundred people than you need a biggish place.

Tables had a theme, old teachers, class of '71 or, in our case Infant teachers. It was a table of about 15 people and they were extremely friendly and welcoming. Every time I attempted to speak though I stumbled over familiar words, forgot things - it's called Speaking in Indian here. Chatting gone. I clammed up.

The tables were nicely…

Mobile phones

Lots of things in Spain are different from the UK and lots of things are exactly the same. For instance, I don't really use my mobile phone much at all but every time it explodes into life I'll be in the pictures or driving or zipping up in the gents.

I was in the supermarket queue today, packing stuff into carriers when it started ringing. It was a chap from the Wall Street Institute, a langauge school that has my CV. They wanted to offer me an interview. So there I am fighting the noise, the lettuce and the chicken and trying to have a sober conversation with a possible employer in a language that causes me immense difficulty under the best of circumstances. I have the interview though.

Minute by Minute

If you live in the UK I hope you had a good election night. Staying up and shouting at the television every five years or so was something I used to enjoy. I was there, in spirit at least, as my proxy went along to the Commemoration Hall to make sure that I exercised my franchise.

The Spanish media covers foreign elections quite extensively. The old Colonial links with South and Central America mean that the polls in Colombia or Argentina get a lot of media attention and, being good Europeans, elections in Germany, France, Poland etc. are also big stories.

I've never seen anything as extensive though as the coverage of the UK elections. For weeks there has been in depth reporting of what Brown, Cameron and Clegg have been up to. Nick's wife being Spanish added to the fun of it all.

I generally read a newspaper called El Pais, a bit left of centre and with well written and non sensationalist articles. A bit Guardian like. Two or three pages of articles has not been unusual ove…

Going underground

Taking a car into the centre of a Spanish town or city is not yet a capital crime. The result is that finding an on street parking space is only slightly less arduous than the search for the Holy Grail.

Normally, when there's the least difficulty I head for one of the multi storey car parks. The difference being, from their UK counterparts, that they tend to go down rather than up. Hectares of car parking buried under city streets.

The protocol is headlights on. My only complaint is that whoever designs these places must laugh wickedly to themselves as they ensure that the entrance ways are as narrow and as curvy as possible with lots of hazardous protrusions. The paint scrapes along the walls testify to the fact that other people find them tricky too.

Forty Years On

I think it's Old Harrovians that use the song Forty Years On as the school anthem but I wouldn't have been too surprised if Maggie had started humming it as she pottered around the flat yesterday evening.

Maggie works at José María de Lapuerta School here in Cartagena teaching five year olds English as part of the British Council Bilingual English Project.

Last night she went to an evening do as the start of the celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the school. She came back with all sorts of stories - about how the petroleum company Repsol first founded the school in 1969 and built the local housing as part of a "model village" type project for it's employees. She told me how well the school has been doing in the local chess league and how the school has also won a prize for the quality of it's excellence in sports teaching.

She reminded me that the school had also won the "Silver Blackboard" (there isn't a gold one, silver is as good a…