Friday, 1 October 2010

Some beautiful things

1. The flat has felt oppressive lately. One of the reasons being that the couple have a friend staying, and rather than take him out to see some of Barcelona, they seem to favour staying at home, watching TV and playing computer games. Their guest is a policeman from Segovia who has a sugar addiction and spends much of the time wearing a tight vest. I feel like I'm living in student accommodation again, between the piled up pizza boxes and endless hours of television. Today I realised it was getting to me so grabbed my bag and left earlier than I needed to. The light and space of the street was such a relief. I walked down towards the metro station and felt myself relax. 2. Paying a compliment to a friend, who instead of her normal black/grey/brown was wearing a pretty blue top. She brushed it off, but I could tell she was pleased. 3. Lunch in a Japanese restaurant - four deceptively delicate-looking courses served in quick succession leave us not only full, but aesthetically satisfied. Each dish was tidy and colourful.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

In focus

A scene from the "Patum" festival, Berga.

School playgroud

Fruit&veg stall in the Boqueria market

These photos were taken on an ordinary digital camera and manipulated online using the "tilt shift" method. Try it!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

My 3BT 26th June 2010

1. A scorching afternoon and a teenage girl leads her stooped grandmother to the bus stop. While the old lady sits in the shade, her granddaughter paces, plays with her hair and generally looks a bit sulky. They wonder when the bus is coming. The old lady stands up slowly and strains to look for signs of the bus coming up the hill. Maybe the girl is struck suddenly by how frail her grandmother is, because she softens and bends towards her, wrapping her arms around her. The grandmother pats the girl's back gently and makes soothing noises, so sweet that my eyes fill with tears.

2. A ripe mango, eaten over the sink because it is so juicy. Talking of grandmothers, mangos remind me of my own abuela, who was not brought up in the UK. I remember her telling me that as small children, her and her siblings used to eat mangos sitting in the bath because of the juice issue.

3. Sitting on a friend's roof terrace until 2 in the morning, under a full moon so bright it casts blue-ish shadows around us.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Swallows are suddenly everywhere. I started to notice them a couple of weeks ago, when the weather began to settle.

Part of the reason why I like them so much is because they seem to appear during that beautiful part of the early evening when the sun is no longer overhead, but dropping, just reflected in windows. The heat of the day has gone and there is more bustle in the streets. The skies reflect the bustle, suddenly filling with lots of these dark, darting little shapes.

Never saw myself as a twitcher, and I'm not, really. I don't know the first thing about the habits of swallows, what they eat, when they breed or their migration patterns. I'm just pleased they're here. I feel a lift when I hear them, the sound bouncing off buildings and echoing through little squares. There's something mediterrenean about it which seems to fit this setting.

I even like the word for them in Spanish - "golondrina". Four juicy syllables which simultaneously make me think of sweets (another word in Spanish which sounds similar is 'golosina', meaning a chewy sweet) and gondolier.

By 9.30 it's almost dark - I go out onto the balcony and look up but they've all gone.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Valencia I

We meet at Sants station and as soon as we've had our tickets checked we are ushered into an incredibly tranquil waiting area. I can't help comparing it to a London train station at 7pm on a Friday evening. "Not exactly like Kings Cross, is it?" says B, echoing my thoughts.

The train rolls out of the station and after a few minutes we're free of the city and following the coast towards the south. "Right, fancy a G&T?" Music to my ears after a long week.

Despite my blocked nose and the paper-thin walls of the hostel I sleep well and we get going early. After wandering about in the city, speaking to several policemen and bus drivers, we find the bus stop we're looking for and head out to a freshwater lagoon, and the promise of a boatride and a good paella.

In the evening it rains, but only for an hour. We emerge just as the light is disappearing and the streets are beginning to fill up. Two little dogs wait for their owner on the step of bar, and a few streets away we chat to a whole crowd of dancers in traditional costume, who don't need any persuading to pose for a photo.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Sant Jordi

On almost every street corner there were stands selling roses today. Legend tells that after he killed the dragon, Sant Jordi gave his damsel a rose, which had turned a deep red colour because of the ground soaking up the dragon's blood.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Smart cookies

Telling my group of twelve year old students that I was "not in the mood" for silliness backfired. The students had come bursting into the classroom, noisy and fractious and chomping on chocolate biscuits. "Well," said one of them, "I'm not in the mood for English!" The rest of the group caught on and before I knew it all five of them had their arms crossed and eyebrows raised - mirroring me. I had to laugh. So did they, after that.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Pictures II

The monkey in London

Friday, 26 March 2010

Pictures I

Last night the metro was still busy at 11pm. Among the passengers was a guy about my age, who unlike the rest of us, looked bright and awake. He had a big camera slung round his neck and seemed to be taking close ups of things around the carriage. I noticed him pointing the lens towards my feet and heard the click of the shutter. I glanced up at him with a questioning sort of smile and he smiled back and leant straight across to show me the result - my battered trainers and the wheel of someone's pushbike.

Barcelona was sunny today, the light was clear and the air was warm. I felt like taking pictures too, but had to rush from one class to another and once I'd finished it was dusk.

I did take one important picture this week though - of a hand puppet known as Mr Monkey. He makes appearances in my class of six year olds sometimes, and this Easter he's going to travel to England with me. I took a snap of him on his first leg of the journey and showed it too the children, who found it very funny.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Chau, febrero

3 beautiful things:

Turning a corner (emotionally, mentally) after a difficult few days.

A run in the park just as the sun is dipping behind the moutains that circle Barcelona. As I approach a summit I notice a man standing quietly, facing the last of the light. His eyes are closed and he's taken off his shoes. He looks so peaceful that I am distracted from my lead-legs and bursting lungs.

Six year olds helping each other to complete an exercise in their books. Sure, there is an incentive (gold star for your folder, anyone?) but it is a lovely thing to see.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sunday sun

I was too hot in my coat a couple of days ago, sitting next to a pool full of goldfish.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A stretch of city beach on Saturday. Children clamber about on a climbing frame which looks Spiderman-ish to me, and rather fun. A friend told me about a year ago that she had a go on one during a school trip with her pupils, and confirmed it was indeed a lot of fun. At the time I didn't know her very well, and this, coming from someone who is normally quite dry and sensible, was totally unexpected in the best sort of way.

My Sunday lunch - barbecued calçots (sweet oniony vegetables), a delicious sauce to dip them in, bread, some local wine and an orange.

The drive home on a golden afternoon. It's a novelty being in a car after only really using public transport in Barcelona. We're full of calçots and in a good mood, flicking between radio stations (mostly religious broadcasts, 80s hits or adverts) and laughing.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Nice Things

Beautiful things this week:

Steaming dumplings in a Tibetan restaurant. There's a calm music playing and no smoking is allowed; bliss in a country which has yet to impose a ban.

A shop called 'Nice Things' which I find pleasing. It is full of lovely, if quite expensive stuff. I buy a badge with a knock-kneed bambi creature on it.

Playing pool under a bright overhead light, and I feel a bit like I'm in the scene of a film. Especially when I pot several balls in a row.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Monday, 18 January 2010


I'm not talking about my own (hormones, that is) but those belonging to my class of twelve and thirteen year olds. Today they were hard work. At the moment there is a big gender split, which is making life in the language classroom difficult because certain girls won't work with certain boys to do pairwork. For the whole class there were insults flying from one side of the room to the other, sulking, sighing and generally some bad "filin" (bad feeling/vibe) in the air. Afterwards I left the classroom trying to work out when this group stopped being my favourite, but didn't reach any conclusions.

Later on, and I'm with another pupil who has one-to-one classes with me every week. She is at least 2 generations older than my teen students, and provided the perfect antidote after a rough class with them. She hasn't been learning English for long, but began telling me about what happened to her family during the Civil War, only pausing when she got stuck on verbs in the past tense. I was impressed by her progress, and moved by the story.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


The first warm-ish day this year yesterday, warm enough to be comfortable in a long-sleeved t-shirt. Quite a novelty after a month of having to wear several layers in order to go out (or be in a flat with inconsistent heating)

I join 2 friends to go climbing in some hills about 30 minutes' drive out of the city, and learn technical words for things that prevented us falling off the rock face, including the special shoes you have to wear that help you to grip. In Spanish they're called Pies de Gato, or 'Cat feet', which I liked.

We go to a restaurant famed to serve the best pizza in the world. According to who I'm not sure, but this pizza was definitely the most beautiful I have ever seen. The flowers were edible. I tried a petal, which had the texture of tender baby spinach and was slightly sweet on the tongue.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Monday, 11 January 2010


It was cold yesterday but not so cold I didn't contemplate walking down hill into the centre of the city. Note the word contemplate. After 2 hours of tea, toast, and John Irving in bed I felt ready. It took just over an hour and felt good.

Finding a place that serves Sunday brunch. We sat on stools at the bar and I had Eggs Benedict.

Getting lost on the way to the cinema and finding ourselves in the Parc de la Ciutadella, at the end I've never explored before. Clipped hedges, ponds, beautiful grand official-looking buildings.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Short week

Beautiful things today:

Teenage students moving noisily around the huge brand new wing of their school. The heating doesn't work yet and several things (lift, handrails, board rubbers) need to be finished and got hold of, but lots of the kids have new classrooms and this is adding to the first day back excitment.

Happy New Year, teacherrr!, a couple of students chorus when they see me.

Thinking about how it was actually quite nice to be stranded for an extra day in the UK because of the snow. I fell on my feet staying in a family-run B&B, where there were log fires and friendly dogs (and owners, who took me into town for a drink and made me feel very at home)

I could get used to weeks like this one. Today, my first day back at work, is my only day at work. Friday night never arrived so easily.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Winter Morning

In Herefordshire the last days of December 2009 mostly looked like this.