Friday, 29 June 2007

Word Imperfect

You may have noticed in my 'my own blogs of note' section a link to Word Imperfect. This little site has had me hooked since it it appeared as a blog of note a few weeks ago and I went for a visit, little knowing I would return almost every day thereafter.

It was great to win yesterday, (with this definition:'A moxa (n.) is an afficionado of air-boxing - the pugilistic version of the air-guitarrist. This person never actually steps into the ring but just shuffles around grunting and jabbing.' For those who want to know the real definition is anything used as a counter-irritant for gout.) but the fun is all in the playing. Matt now often finds me wandering abut the house muttering strange words to myself as I attempt to think of a fun new meaning for them. Anyone who enjoys word games should pay a visit.

My almost-summer-holiday plans

The sun appeared this morning as if it were generally known that today is the first day of my summer holidays and this joyous fact should be celebrated with a bit of sunshine. The first thing I did was to put the washing machine on. Matt, optimistic as ever, predicted it to cloud over by lunchtime, though I still have a second pile of washing waiting for the machine, just in case.

And what, you may ask, do I have planned for this first wonderful day of my holidays? The answer: cleaning. The house is a tip, we have more visitors coming tomorrow (Simon and Sue - with more books from Amazon for me, hurray!), and we haven't had a thorough clean since before I started running around madly at work during exam time.

After that I intend to enjoy myself. I still have a bit of work this summer - we've had some new students appear demanding lessons in July and we still have some that have resists/university entrance exams in September, so Cris, my boss and I are alternating weeks. Luckily, I had cunningly planned a visit from said friends this first week of July, so poor Cris has to carry on for an extra week before she gets a rest. I, on the other hand, get to frolic round Asturias with Sue, Simon and Matt, and I'm looking forward to it greatly!

Birthday cards

It always take a while for post to reach us here, but I think I've just about received all my birthday cards, and here they are:

Does anyone notice an emerging theme? In fact, almost all of them contained either cats, cake, flowers/the countryside or tennis. I think my friends know me very well.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The 'summer' garden

I say 'summer' because, even though we're almost in July, it hasn't properly started yet, bar the odd day of blue skies and no rain. I know we're in Asturias, I know it rains here - otherwise it wouldn't be so lush and green and I wouldn't love the place so much - but please!

We wake up almost every day to grey cloudy skies and I have to say I'm fed up with it. We had so much rain in May and the start of June that half of our onions have given up and fallen over (their roots have rotted) and even the potato plants have started to die back, in June! The peppers, tomatoes and aubergines have been hanging on in there but are growing slowly, very slowly. I suspect we'll end up with tomatoes on Xmas day again, like last year (we were given cherry tomato plants last year but weren't told they were a bush variety, so we spent the first half of the summer getting rid of side shoots and then were puzzled as to why we had so few tomatoes. As soon as we left the plants alone they produced copious quantities of fruit and didn't die until January. I've never picked fresh tomoatoes on 25th December before, and from an outside plant at that).

Not wishing to end on a grumpy note, we have had our first harvest of currants, gooseberries and raspberries (one of my favourites) this year. The plants are still young so we only managed enough for a crumble, which Matt made for dinner last night. I have to say that Matt is a Crumble King. It was wondeerful to come home last night and have dinner almost ready and a scrumptious, mostly blackcurrant, crumble for dessert. He also makes a good one with mango and grated ginger and the latest experiment was a kiwi crumble, which turned out surprisingly well.

Crumble ingredients

Also, all the new trees and shrubs that we planted this spring are enjoying the weather, which means less watering work for us.

And, and this is exciting - for me anyway- we have our first mandarins forming on our one citrus tree, hopefully they won't fall off before they ripen (which is what happened to the cherries).

All in all, I suppose I shouldn't really complain but I want my summer!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Birthday weekend

I had a full, but happy birthday weekend. I managed to escape from work at 6.30 on Friday to meet my Mum, Keith, her partner, and Matt and we went straight to the house my mum has in a hamlet near here for the weekend.

We had a tasty dinner of home grown broad beans and new potatoes, with a herb omelette made with fresh, free-range eggs from our neighbour, washed down with some very quaffable red wine that they'd brought from France.

Saturday morning we went up the Peña Mayor, and it was cloudy, again. I keep saying that the next time I do it, it'll be with clear skies but I haven't made it yet. We only did part of the walk as the meadows were covered with 'viscious' horned cows - my mum has a slight bovine-taurine phobia since she was chased by a bull years ago - so we turned back once the cows became too numerous, mum looking over her shoulder just to make sure we weren't being followed by the beasts. To be fair, there were so many cow bells ringing it did sound as though we were carefully being stalked and surrounded. The effect was heightened by the birds circling low, overhead - I think they were of the same type we saw last time, eagles or possibly vultures we think; we've been speaking to people in the know and you get griffon and Egyptian vultures in the area, as well as golden, short-toed and booted eagles.

Horse and foal on the Peña Mayor - the meadows were full of horses and their young.

A nosy calf - this my mother could handle - no horns yet!

One cow too many - this was when we had to turn back.

Anyway, we eventually made our escape down the mountain, unharmed, you'll be pleased to know, and completed our Saturday with a piggy lunch at the local bar near the house, where Keith was invited to join in with the locals chess game - he politely declined saying to us he'd never known a game of chess to be so loud - and we went back to the house for a relaxing afternoon on the terrace.

The hamlet taken on our way back from lunch.

We awoke on the Sunday to bright sun - perfect for the Peña Mayor if only we hadn't already been up there the day before. So we decided to go to the beach and spent the afternoon at Vega. I had been looking forward to a doze in the sun but we spent it jumping waves, walking along the beach and finding unusual stones - the geology of the area is quite interesting, even for someone like me who normally takes little interest in that sort of thing - and there are all types of rocks and stones on the beach in as many colours as you can imagine with lots of blue-green coppery shades mixed with deep red sandstone and seams of white marble in jet-black rock.

When we finally made it back home after dropping mum and Keith off at her house for their last night we were too tired to do much celebrating. We poshed up a simple pasta dinner with a bottle of something sparkling, then watched James and the Giant Peach on DVD before going to bed.

A birthday tipple.

I'd left the boxes of books in the kitchen to be dealt with on Monday morning and I've just about got them all squeezed into the office now. Unpacking them was great, I kept discovering books I'd forgotten about and would squeal or "ooh" and "ahh" with glee whenever I came across one. I now also have a good stock of new books from Amazon that should keep me going for a fair while too.

Elbi investigating my books - she had to be removed when the nibbling started.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Early birthday treats

I´m terribly excited at the moment. My mum is coming tomorrow for a weekend visit. Now the visit in itself is excitement enough, but this one is special. She´s coming from Wales via her house in France with all my books that we couldn´t bring over here when we first moved and that have been stored there (France) for the past two years, plus a couple of packages from Amazon that I had sent to her in Wales (for free, instead of paying horendous prices to have them sent here). So not only do I get to be reunited with some old friends (mostly Spanish history books) but I get to drool over lots of new, virgin paperbacks. What´s even better is that two and a half years ago, when packing to come here, I stuffed a few odds and ends in with the books in the small gaps that you get when you pack unevenly sized books into boxes. As it was so long ago, I can´t quite remember what I put in there so there´ll be a few pleasant surprises when I open them up - just in time for my birthday on Sunday.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A pot of gold

It's been a mixed bag of weather today: hot sun and lashings of rain - this is what I've just seen from the terrace. It's a shame it was so close as it was a full one but the camera couldn't catch it, bah.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Things I don't like about living in Spain, Part III

These last couple of weeks at work have been exhausting. And there is one thing in particular I blame for us having to run around madly at the Academia, preparing work at the last minute for desperate students, and that is the Spanish Education System.

Now, I'm well aware that if it weren't so bad, I possibly wouldn't have a job, but when a student (B) comes to you and says he has to take a resit in five days time because the teacher has lost his final exam papers you do begin to despair.

We have numerous cases at the moment of students who have to take resists next week. In some cases it's because they've been lazy all year, failed previous exams, and really, they deserve it and hopefully will learn a lesson (although you do have to wonder why they've been lazy; it seems it's often because the teacher has failed to make any effort to make the lesson interesting, so the students just don't want to learn).

Another example, take N. He'd failed a couple a of exams throughout the year which is normal for the average student, they have to sit so many (and this is another point about the system here - there's an exam for every unit in the course book, about nine, plus end of term exams. I thought the idea behind education was to instill a love of learning, here all they instill is a hatred and a fear of never-ending exams), and needed to pass the final exam to be able to move up a year in September. He turned up at the Academia two week before the last exam. We ran about finding work for him to do, explained the grammar, and he knuckled down to it. He passed the final exam, but because of the previous fails has now been informed he still has to do the resit. No wonder some students ask why they should bother.

And this isn't just at the schools. My boss, when she was at university, took three years to pass one module simply because her lecturer took a personal dislike to her. (This wasn't uncommon apparently - she'd often tell people not to come in for the next lecture, wearing, for example, 'that horrible cardigan'. Who do these people think they are?) She went to see the dean, who told her he couldn't do anything about the problem and it was only in the third year after she'd been failed again by the miserable lecturer that he arbitrarily decided to pass her anyway.

We have an adult student, J, a music teacher who  had been taking an two-year English course at Oviedo University which would have given him a qualification to teach English to infants. He put so much effort into this, wrote wonderful stories in English and taught with them, and was told recently in a letter that was sent to all the students on the course that everyone had passed. A week later, he got another letter to say that he and another student had in fact, not passed, but failed. When he asked for an explanation he was told simply that his work had been insufficient. They took two years to tell him this and he's shattered. The worst thing is that his tutor, who failed him, is head of department and he has no other recourse.

There are no rules to this, it all works on the individual teacher's whim, which is what most gets my goat. We've had students this week who haven't known if they've passed or not and have been waiting in limbo to see if they have to take the resit - which is only a few days away. I find it highly unjust that a child's educational welfare rests as much on how they get on with the teacher as their academic ability. In the case of B (who struggles with English but who's been making more effort this year), he's had trouble with his teacher all year and I find it highly suspicious that his exam papers have mysteriously gone missing. Even if it's true, what does this tell us about the teacher?

In the case of those sitting their baccalaureate this year, we've had our work cut out for us since almost the start. Because most of the class (at the high school) was misbehaving, the teacher refused to teach. He just sat in class and handed out work, with no explanation other than 'look in your course books'. He took the biscuit towards the end of the year when we were doing his teaching for him on the last unit in the book: he suddenly announced that he wasn't going to set an exam for that unit after all but that the final exam would be on the Monday of the following week. Needless to say we spent many extra hours finding work and giving classes to those students - although we did work a minor miracle and all but one passed.

I could go on endlessly, these are just the worst examples that spring to mind at the moment. The problem is that teachers are not held accountable. There are no exam boards and every exam is set and marked by the individual teacher. There are good teachers, and great ones, although they currently seem to be in the minority. I finish work in two weeks - in theory. However, our summer is now getting booked up by students who have to take the last-chance resit in September - it looks like my days on the beach and in the mountains this summer will be limited.

I therefore place The Spanish Education System onto my bad things about Spain list, where it shall deservedly stay until somebody instigates a major upheaval in the way children are taught, I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.

When the sun comes out

Yesterday morning, while it was raining, our cats were cavorting around outside. In the afternoon the sun came out, and this is where I found all three of them.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Say 'cheese!'

I made a most exciting discovery today. I visited a new supermarket, which, as anyone who knows me will tell you is excitement enough in itself. However, the highlight of the trip was the cheese section, where I found, wonder of wonders, some mature Irish Cheddar cheese.

We've found Cheddar here before, but normally of the mild and plasticky variety that's no good for anything, really, why do they bother making it? This is the real thing. Sheer bliss. I would have put a photo on here of the exalted item, but we ripped off the wrapper and grated it onto our lunchtime pasta faster than you can say 'queso de cheddar'. Now all we need is some Stilton. I think that one's going to be slightly trickier.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Pavlov's cat?

I've been giving Mahou her daily tablet, as always, crushed in the mortar and mixed with some tinned food. I always thought that she scoffed the lot because she was used to the dried stuff and the tinned food was so tasty. Ha, more fool me. She gave me her second surprise of the week. (The first one is here.)

I put the tablet in the mortar this morning, went to look for a tin of food and returned to find Mahou crunching on her medicine. I gave her some canned food aferwards, just in case. I still want her to associate tablets with getting a treat, although I may try offering the tablet on its own tomorrow - it solves the problem of what to do with Elbi and
Beeps when Mahou is eating. I had to shut Elbi in the lounge the other day to stop her from getting at the bowl and she screamed blue murder, the greedy little scamp. Now everyone'll be happy.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Puds, bugs and flowers

Some photos I've taken this week:

We went for a walk up by the lakes behind the house one morning. Everything seemed to be flowering.

There are many different types of orchid in Asturias - these seem to be the most common.

Wonderful, large dog daisies.

We get lots of foxgloves around here too. Something I very rarely saw in the British countryside.

The lakes were covered with a mist that was blowing down the valley. If you watched for long enough, it seemed that it was the mountain moving, not the mist.

The mist cleared later and the horses appeared for a drink, as if they'd been waiting for that exact moment.

On the way back we stopped to give some dandelion leaves to the neighbours young hens.

Back home, our roses are flowering.

Beetles are common round here too - big ones - this is about medium-sized by our standards.

And finally, two very good friends dozing on the terrace.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Storm Approaching

This picture was taken from our terrace about half an hour ago. I'd been hearing the rumble of thunder all afternoon (it'd been been hot and muggy and all day) and stepped out to take a look. The weather here, so close to the mountains, is sometimes unpredictable, which can be extremely annoying. This time, however, the light peeking out from above the mountains and below the storm clouds was quite beautiful. It almost made up for what happened next. I stood on the terrace enjoying the view as the wind picked up, I could hear a wall of rain steadily approaching. At least that's what I thought. It turned out to be not just torrential rain, but hail. Marble-sized hail. In June. I dashed inside and shut the windows, and just in time too. Look what happened shortly afterwards.

The strange thing is I can now see nothing but blue sky out of the office window. Matt has just gone to check the damage in the garden, fingers crossed.

The Invalid Released

Mahou was let out of her bedroom about ten days ago after a six-week convalescence/prison sentence. We'd decided not to do the whole two months because a) she was going potty in there and b) she was getting very porky (she's currently at five kilos - and that's after losing some, quite hefty for a two-year-old female). Last weekend I noticed she was still limping every now and again, so we had to go back to the vet's, which is almost like visiting a friend, we seem to go that often. After a quick look and watching Mahou walking - perfectly, no trace of a limp, she could've been the creature that inspired the naming of the catwalk; I swear she flirts when she's with the vet, the coy little madame - he pronounced that she's allowed out but still has to have a sulfate tablet a day.

I was worrying about her until I glanced out of the bedroom window this morning and saw this.

Now, I can see the path she took to get up there, but really, her leg can't be that bad if she managed such a feat. Please note Elbi looking on with envy; with her gammy leg there's no way she'd make it up there.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

More Woody

I've recently discovered that Woody Allen is due in Asturias, again, to give a private showing of his latest film (also filmed and set in London I note - I knew he was trying to gain favour with the British!). This time, however, he's going to Aviles (a city we like very much) and not Oviedo. I wonder if this has anything to do with the glasses still being missing on his statue in the regional capital (see that post here). I have delightful images in my head of officials in Oviedo running around madly trying to get them fixed in time, just in case he decides to add Oviedo to his schedule. Hee hee.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Does this remind you of anyone?

We were sent this banner at the academia, along with several others to dot around our classrooms, by the nice people at Macmillan at the start of the academic year.

Somebody there really doesn't like George Bush, which is fine by me.