Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Slicking a fwitch

I have a test tomorrow. It´s a Spanish test. I first started learning Spanish about twenty years ago. I was newly graduate in recession Britain (yes, we´ve been there before!!) with not many opportunities for a good job. I had a Drama degree, which kind of qualified me for not very much really and I was wandering in a haze of “Why didn´t I do a proper degree” mist when a friend suggested I apply for Thompsons Holidays. She had worked two summer seasons for the company years before and had enjoyed the opportunity to travel and earn money. So I applied, thinking nothing of it really except that my irresponsible and flighty young 20 something self might enjoy some paid sunshine.
I started learning some Spanish as my friend had told me it would help with the application. I went to night school and enjoyed the process. Then I got the job with Thomson and was fortunate enough to work two summer seasons in Mallorca´s North coast resorts…beautiful places like Puerto Pollensa which weren´t suffering too much from the Brits abroad drunken mentality. I also suffered a Winter season in Benidrom and the less said about that the better….
I did my fair share of sunbathing, drinking, trying to help guests (not always easy when you have 24 people in your overbooked hotel who have paid for a sea views and been placed in a cupboard pending room availability somewhere else).
I also tried out my Spanish and was taught some great phrases by friendly waiters and bus drivers. My favourite phrase from that time was “Sueno con los angelitos” which means sweet dreams but literally translated means sleep or dream with angels…beautiful. I also learnt at the time that vegetarianism wasn´t really wholeheartedly embraced as part of the Spanish cultural landscape and many Spanish people actually found it incomprehensible that I was vegetarian..they couldn´t believe that I didn´t eat meat….. not even chicken!! Often bus drivers (on the awful airport run to pick up guests who seemed to always land at 4am) would have to rush to tell their friends on arrival at the airport that I was a VEGETARIAN and DID NOT EAT meat!! Their incredulity was very amusing but it was also challenging in restaurants!
Anyway, I was a bit of a lazy girl with my Spanish and although I did improve a bit I didn´t really get beyond my night class ability.Many of the Spanish people I met were in the hotel trade and so it was far easier to communicate in English.
So, roll on to the present day and I am now living in Spain and trying to remember it all once again. I´ve also been put in the position of being a student, being outraged at the amount of homework my teacher gives me and mortified by the red markings on my pages to show my mistakes (which are many and terrible…)
The society I work in is still predominantly English speaking but I am also frequently in contact with people who do not understand English, my friendly neighbor being one! I have also met some parents from my childrens´classes who have been very friendly and so I am determined, this time around, that I will become a better Spanish speaker.
Learning a new language is a magic that I am also familiar with from my childhood, having been sent to a Welsh speaking nursery and school at the age of 3. I can´t really remember learning Welsh as I was so young, but the language learning was part of my brain processing from an early age. I did my O levels in Welsh and some of my A Levels too (Henrik Ibsen and Brecht translated from the original to English then to Welsh anyone!) I am very rusty in Welsh now, having not spoken the language regularly for over twenty years, but the stuff is still stored in my brain somewhere.
Spanish is also stored in my brain although sometimes it feels very difficult to access, sometimes talking to Spanish colleagues or reading a Spanish text can feel simple and effortless, like flicking a switch to turn the light on. There, done, brain is now comprehending and functioning in another language…hurrah, when it happens it´s language magic and feels fantabulous!
Then sometimes the change from English to Spanish gets tripped up along the way and flicking the switch becomes slicking the fwitch and the switch gets stuck in the middle and the room is still in darkness while you strive to find the words in the big black jumbled filing cabinet that your brain has become.
So, I need to stop writing now and start revising. I have a Spanish test tomorrow and I need my switches to work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good vibrations

Having lived most of my adult life in a country other than my home country, the internet, e mail and more recently facebook and my blog have become significant means of communication. I do love a good old fashioned letter and a good old fashioned letter with a hand wrapped parcel cannot be beaten, but we all know that the internet has many benefits and advantages; the speed of communication, the ability to shop quickly from a warm and comfortable place, my favourite benefit is that you rarely receive bills via the internet.

Nearly all of my internet communication is, therefore, positive. I recently had a great on line party with a load of friends from my teenage years, we were all reminiscing happily about teenage parties, various episodes of vomiting (yes, I held the umbrella stand) and exploding kegs of home made beer. It was fab and it made me laugh.

I´ve been trying to communicate my joys at moving to Spain via my blog. Of course there are negatives and some of the pitfalls have also been documented, but for me, communication and blogging and e mail are mainly for communicating with others, now that may be about sharing good times, happy times, joys and laughter. It can also be about sharing sadness, we´ve all had our share of tragedy and sometimes tragedy shared can be a way of linking our fears and joys and a way of recognizing that life is for living.

Unfortunately, there are also some very angry and rude people out there who can't seem to find positive ways of expressing their feelings and that is incredibly sad. I can´t help but think that the angry young people are having a bad time but they enjoy the anger to sustain them…I´ve had my share of anger but I think that eventually, we have to move on or it can become a bitterness that clouds our world. We have to try and focus our anger in postive ways, peaceful protests, united movements with shared goals, a desire for positive change instead of destruction and hatred.

I suppose that sometimes I can´t escape from my job, as a teacher it´s important to focus on the positives, use language in an affirmative way, praise, praise, praise and praise…because of course we have to point out to young people that they are making mistakes…sometimes downright silly ones…but that they are also learning and life is about thinking..if we can show young people to focus on their learning in a positive way then they can always try and rectify their mistakes and learn lessons, life lessons as well as Maths and English and History lessons.

At a teaching seminar recently, my husband heard the phrase “there´s no room for sarcasm in the classroom”. This horrified me because of course there´s space for sarcasm in the classroom when it´s used in the right way, it´s a very funny way of communicating information and a great life lesson for students. There´s also space in the classroom for joy, hilarity, laughter, sadness and passion, for craziness and good natured constructive commentary, occasional mockery is also allowed, as are gifts on birthdays, singing, acting and more laughter. Debate is encouraged as is questioning the teacher, thinking most definitely encouraged and having a different opinion to everyone else is also applauded. Flirting is acceptable although, as with swimming pools around the world, heavy petting is discouraged.

Perhaps my life has also been shaped by losses because the deaths of loved ones has made me realize that life is too short for all the bad stuff to interfere with enjoying your life and the people around you and generally sharing the love. A friend recently blogged about a young mother dying suddenly and this reminded me of my own losses but also reminded me that life is short. That makes me feel a positive obligation to eat, drink and be merry! Find and make as much pleasure as I can in the small space I have for the small amount of time that I have without causing pain to others! Try to spread pleasure as much as I can, through people and writing and laughing...maybe I'm influenced by my job but my choice of job was also influenced by the type of person I am and would like to be.

So what do I have space for in the classroom and in my internet world? Well I would prefer my world to be full of joy and positive emotions but that´s not life is it? So I guess I have to accept the sadness and grief too, small doses of anger are ok too because if we´re not angry about stuff then we won´t change things for the better, moral outrage is also ok in my world.

What would I prefer not to include in my world. Well I would prefer to exclude uncontrolled rage, bitterness, rude and disrespectful comments, misogyny, racism and cruelty and deliberate spite. I´m sure there´s more I can´t think of but I´d like the positives to outweigh the negatives! So let's cheer for a funny and supportive and loving world and let's try and make one.

A command to all readers today, go and hug a loved one, give someone a kiss, help a person if you can, smile at a stranger. If you're angry, direct your anger in positive ways and spread the love. Love, love love and more love and more love and more....

Friday, March 18, 2011

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Today, as I was driving home from dropping the children at school, the sun was streaming through the car windows. It was warm and smelling of Spring and I was playing the music very loud in the car. As I passed the local small airport, I could see a herd of goats grazing in some wasteland and was struck by the anachronism of the modern airport building in counterpoint with the herd of goats that seemed to speak of a bygone age.
When I’m in my garden, I sometimes hear the goat bells as they trundle their way around the local area and for some reason, the sound has a very romantic association for me, especially as I rarely see the elusive goats but just hear their bells and sometimes pattering feet.
For me, the bells evoke Christmas and wise men visiting with presents, a time for new hope and joyous family celebration, peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Or otherwise a visiting circus, the magical kind with men in leotards performing high wire feats beyond the imagination and flying women lifting elephants into the sky.
Or the bells could be a chariot, drawn by unicorns and carrying elves bringing the most delicious food one could ever hope for and chocolate and cakes and not an evil white witch in sight.
So, it was a glorious romantic moment for me to actually see the goats, albeit in a patch of wasteland by the airport. It didn’t really matter that I couldn’t hear the bells because my music was too loud, just seeing them was enough, on a lovely sunny day, to bring all the romance into the car with me.
In the moment that they caught my eye, I also saw a goatherd, complete with stick, just to complete the picture of modern pastoral life…but then I saw what looked like a man with a big camera and the cynic popped up in my head with the idea that the goatherd and the goats were all an elaborate photoshoot for a magazine… very bizarre.
I stifled the cynic because the goat bells just bring out the music in my soul every time and I feel that they are a piece of poetry in my life, a moment of aural pleasure to be cherished and wondered at.
This brings me to the title of this week’s blog, because this week it was announced that those words have been chosen to adorn the Olympic village for the London 2012 Olympics and that they will remain as part of the area regenerated afterwards.
I love the idea of poetry around the Olympics, stimulating cultural energy as well as all the positive physical energy that will abound in London in the planning and preparation and the actual Olympic Games.
And what is poetry? Well for me, poetry is that moment, that sound and image that conjures up a million ideas and joys and losses and memories. Poetry is words making pictures and sounds in your head; it’s the sharing of ideas between people and across hundreds of years to create a moment of shared humanity. It’s the man crossing the line with his arms in the air after flying that seemingly tiny distance between gun and line. It’s the woman throwing that javelin with a triumphant yell and a smile of satisfaction as it hits the turf. It’s the person in the wheelchair reaching for the stars with the bow and arrow. It’s the crowd and the overexcited commentator and the teams and the triumphs and the glory and the tears.
And today? Today it was the goatherd and his flock outside a rural airport in sunny Spain waiting to get their photo taken while the woman in the car driving by smiles happily to herself.

There are web links below if you’d like more information about poetry and the Olympics. The lines are taken from Ulysses by Tennyson.

Friday, March 11, 2011

When is English not English? (When it´s Maths)

Part of my current role at work is supporting a Chinese boy who moved from China to Spain in July this year and started school in September. When I first met him, the most important task was to assess his ability to communicate in English to give us a baseline to work from. We quickly realized that his communication skills in English were very limited although he had some basic vocabulary.
After a month or so, he had made good progress and I started to realize that he actually had a good conceptual understanding of grammar but a limited vocabulary and his confidence was low. One thing that had been discovered about him though, which he was already aware of and which his entrance test had indicated, was that he is a Maths genius.
Now, I am not a Maths specialist, in fact I have a deep rooted fear of numbers, I can’t pinpoint how or where this happened but I know that I’m a bit scared of Maths and that I have a deep instinctive blank space in my brain when it comes to numbers. I find it difficult to remember my children’s dates of birth and it took me four or maybe 5 goes before I managed to pass my O Level Maths (Thanks mum for forcing me to carry on and thanks to my patient Maths tutor, Mr. Tiplady, who eventually got me through).
It’s completely irrational and I am a functional member of society, I know how much change to expect when I pay for something and if I focus I can pretty much add up my shopping bill as I go along. I even look after the finances in the family but I still don’t particularly like Maths.
So! He has a wicked sense of humour and his English is now at a stage where he can communicate quite effectively in English although he still struggles with vocabulary at times, especially as he is a great thinker and therefore, conceptually, what he wants to say is often beyond the limited vocabulary that he has available to him. And he is still a Maths genius. I have told him that I am inept at Maths and he finds it funny, although in his world, most of the rest of the school are probably inept at Maths in comparison with what he can do!!
We have got beyond the stage of basic grammar, vocabulary and speaking and listening and as he is probably not going to study English in future (as in A level and beyond!) I thought it would be a good idea to help him specifically with his Maths vocabulary…as this is his area of expertise it seemed logical for me to support him with that as well as improving his general English skills.
So, I was ok explaining an angle, horizontal, vertical, shapes an average, addition, subtraction and division….then we got on to the following:
• Inverse proportion
• Median
• In a range of
• Bounds

And that’s when I realized that I am going to have to learn Maths again in order to help him with his English……aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh!
Thankfully we have very helpful Maths teachers at school who can try and explain stuff to me (they’re very kind and not patronizing at all!) and they can also write down the equations for me so I don’t actually have to learn what inverse proportion is but I can just show him the equation and he gets it!

It was very gratifying this week to help him out with a past paper that he had attempted back in October and attained 76%. When we went back to the paper, there were descriptive questions that he now understood and when he asked me what “Diagram not drawn to size” meant, we both laughed as he had thought it meant he was not allowed to draw on the diagrams, so he had been sketching them on another piece of paper to put the angles and notations in!

After descriptions and explanations from me (and some support to me from the Maths teacher), he was able to answer all of the questions and we got the mark scheme to check his answers, he did pretty well! I’ve given him lots of vocabulary homework to check Maths words with my description and the Chinese definition! I’m also making sure he learns what enthusiastic and energetic and beautiful and creative mean because he has the capacity to use language as beautifully as he understands Maths!

He’s hoping for an A* in Maths GCSE in the summer and he will be a candidate for higher Maths next year and possibly an engineering degree or medicine in future. I was always satisfied with my eventual C at Maths O level, but it makes me very happy to help someone else to achieve the A*.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carnival (smells like teen spirit)

A few weeks ago at work, people started talking about Carnival and making plans for costumes and going out. When asked what carnival is, they found it difficult to explain. Perhaps the best explanation came from a colleague who said:
“It’s a bit like being a teenager again really, everyone dresses up in fancy dress and wanders the streets and stands around drinking and having a good time.”
That’s a pretty good explanation I think, having experienced carnival for the first time last night in the streets of Alicante. Perhaps the reason people can’t really explain carnival is because there has been a fair amount of speculation on the origins of the fiesta but no one really seems to know how or where it started!
The most popular belief is explained on a Spanish fiestas website (yes there are pages devoted solely to Spanish holidays and fiestas, they like to party, the Spanish!),
“The term Carnival derives from the words "farewell to the flesh," a reference to the excesses that led up to the sombre Lent. Some suspect Carnival is derived from the Roman solstice festival, the Saturnalia, where participants indulged in much drinking and dancing. Saturnalia is believed to have had the first parade floats, called the 'carrus navalis'. With these pagan roots, it’s easy to see why the dictator General Franco banned them for forty years!”
So last night was my first carnival. As ever in Spain, festivities began at a fairly late hour, in my Northern European terms, and continued through the night. We arrived in Alicante at 8p.m to find the streets fairly busy with costumed crowds. We saw the usual witches and zombies of Halloween but also some very imaginative groups with collective costumes, including Snow White, a wicked witch and some dwarves (we lost count but there didn’t seem to be 7 of them).
We went to a restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday (as a British group of 10 people, we were the first ones in at 8pm but it soon filled up) and watched as a group of toreadors sat beside us, about ten of them, all women, all beautiful. Groups of children dressed as animals and cartoon characters came in with family and friends, the waiter was dressed as a lion. It was all very entertaining and peaceful and funny.
We left the restaurant at 10.30 and entered the true world of carnival along the main street of Alicante (the Rambla) where there were food and drink stalls and thronging crowds and music playing and bright lights festooning the street. Children were dancing; people were eating popcorn and generally having fun.
It did feel like being a teenager again (even though we weren’t dressed up!) in the best sense of being a teenager. The wild abandon of losing your identity to a mask and costume but also that great feeling of being part of a community, either your own small community of other teenage friends, who have decided that they will join in with your convict or fairy theme and wear a similar ridiculous outfit as yours. Or that larger community of everyone, old and young, men and women, all joining together to wear silly outfits, stand around drinking and chatting and having a good time.
The sight of two Sponge Bob Square pants smoking did not diminish the enjoyment of the evening and as we walked home I was delighted to see a vast horde of Roman centurions, complete with chariot and Cleopatra. They were in close competition with a group (a hive?) of all male bees who gathered together and buzzed for someone who wanted a photo. I’m really sorry I did not have a camera but next year we will dress up, I will take my children into Alicante for the fun and we will take photographs of us all acting like teenagers for the blog.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Getting in touch with my inner witch

Our estate agent’s wife has just had a baby. It’s a convoluted story and connection, I know, but basically the estate agent was mega helpful when we moved. Not only did he arrange for our kitchen to be installed and fans put in various rooms (we were moving across in August!!). He also made sure our water and electricity were connected and got our phone line sorted within a month of us moving in (my neighbours are still astounded by the efficiency of the phone line, having waited 6 months for their own connection!)
He also arranged for shower surrounds to be installed and made numerous visits to help us arrange electricians, plumbers and pool cleaners. Some things didn’t work; the pool cleaners left the pool with a chalky residue that we are still trying to flush out and the pool cleaning man had a villainous look about him that I didn’t really like, so he won’t be coming back again!
Lots of things worked though and our life was made generally easier by our friendly estate agent. And now his wife has had a baby. This is the perfect excuse for me to let out my inner witch!
Many years ago I trained as an aromatherapist. It’s basically a study of beautiful smells and massage and lotions and therapeutic properties. What is there not to love? I studied about 12 years ago when shops were just beginning to see the potential of using natural fragrances in products and now the market is huge.
Despite the fact that you can now buy really very good quality aromatherapy products everywhere, I still like to make my own and so this morning, I got out my lotions and potions, the oils and smells, the mixing spoons, the funnel and intuition and made a lovely massage oil for the new baby and a gorgeous nourishing lotion for the new mum.
As I had all the stuff out, I also made a birthday lotion for my friend Karen. A lovely morning, one of my favourite ways of passing a few hours!
I sincerely believe that making something for someone else and the process of blending natural things together, whether through cooking or making potions or concocting elderflower cordial or even making strawberries and cream, really helps us to get in touch with nature, to stop and think about our lives and to cherish the many beautiful things we have around us. It’s the best side of witchery, the magical uses of nature in everyday life to celebrate! In particular today; celebrating the birth of a new baby girl, helping the mum cope with the joyous but exhausting business of baby rearing and celebrating a good friend’s birthday.
Let out your inner witch today!

My kitchen counter this morning!

What happens if you let the inner witch out!!