Friday, 13 December 2013

Sense and sensibility

Some phone calls are just to send a quick message, some for a long needed chat, and then there are others that manage to reconfirm your faith in humanity. Just some times in this world, along comes someone that makes your day just seem a bit brighter for doing what would usually be considered common sense.

Unfortunately these days common sense is rather low on the ground, and it is quite usual for people to expect practical miracles on the understanding that technology has made us all twenty-four-hour people. The lack of humanity in this technological world has often been discussed on these pages, the way that we treat each other and the way we interact could be seen to be ever increasingly remote and superficial.

So in this landscape Spain once again came to the rescue by being particularly Spanish about things.

There's a song that we used to sing at school called 'magic penny'; the lyrics are 'love's just like a magic penny/hold it tight and you won't get any/ lend it, spend it and you'll have so many/ you'll roll all over the floor'. Anyone reading this that went to Solent First school in the eighties is probably now humming along as they read; remembering assembly and the dance that went with it. This simple song with a basic message has always been something held close, something to believe in and perhaps a pretty message that most would now find quite vacuous, something that couldn't possibly be true these days. Except here.

Years ago I had a student that was studying law and was trying to pass some public exams to work for the state. A very bright young lady, always cheerful and not afraid of working. The thing was that she, and I at the time, had quite an irregular timetable. I was already working a lot and didn't have much extra time to do very much at all, but I took her on as she had been sent to me through another friend and it wasn't going to be for long anyway.

I taught her for as long as we could both arrange our timetables, and then lost contact with her when we moved to Argés. The odd facebook message was about as far as anything went for a substantial time. Until a month ago.

She sent me a message saying that a friend of hers needed some translations doing, work for an NGO, being an appreciated student I offered to help out. The work has proven to be an awful lot of work, very rewarding, but still a lot of work, and we have had a deadline hanging over us, and the feeling of dread and having to let people down as it was all approaching was tangible. Until today.

I decided to bite the bullet and have a chat with the lady running it all, just to let her know that we were running behind schedule and that we wouldn't be able to get everything in on time. 

In a move to reaffirm faith in even the most embittered human being she said that the time limit wasn't the most important thing, rather the quality of the work we were doing. She said that as the work is quite sensitive, that it was more important for the good of those involved that the work was of the highest quality, not rushed, not done shoddily, but done properly.

The better you are to people, the more honest, the more decent, the more open, the better you are treated. The magic penny has been well and truly spent, and returned with interest. Thank you once again Spain for being you. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013


Unfortunately not the perfume, or anything any more exciting than obsession itself. Though having said that there have been plenty of examples in the press or in films and so on that certainly have been exciting. This, however, has more to do with the English language.

I feel lucky to have been born speaking and educated in English. It means that having learnt it once it doesn't need to be learnt again from scratch. At least not unless there have been more than the odd beer or two in between musings.

I am watching a country around me go crazy for English, I often feel that what we never managed through conflict, we are now doing linguistically; though perhaps that in itself is a battle, and one that is often given up on at that. People have a sort of cabin fever for this crazy language where everything seems to be written in code, pronunciation is orientative at best, and people try to do their best not to have to talk to you in it if they can possibly avoid it anyway.

It all came about when we received one of the usual handful of pamphlets that seem to come streaming through the door these days, a vile pink invention that seemed to be covered in Purple Ronnie drawings. It was offering English courses in the now usual 'fun and exciting way, where you can learn by osmosis in half an hour and whilst you're doing the cooking' method. Then Sonia (my wife) looked at the bottom and brought my attention to the age group they were aiming their advertising at; it certainly wasn't what I was expecting. Apparently there are now courses and a 'method' that some clever person has come up with to teach English to children aged from zero to three years old. Zero...To...Three...Years...Old.

I'm not entirely sure that this isn't some sort of joke, but there does seem to be a phone number and a business address where you can send your month old baby to sit and fill their nappy in the most exquisitely English manner. Tea will be sipped and polite conversation will flow lovingly over their head as their infant brain gets the effort free route into speaking in the third person singular about themselves, just like the Rock. The worry only really starts to creep in when you see the price that this farce is going to cost you, and the fact that parents have to follow a method as well.

I agree that children can learn from an early age and that it is a wonderful thing to be able to see your child growing up in a bilingual atmosphere. To see how they go from being totally unable to communicate to seeing them turn to one person and speak in one way, and then to another and speak differently. I really do understand it, as I have seen it with my own kids and with those of other close friends in the same situation. What seems totally immoral to me is to use the current Spanish fashion to want to learn languages and then take it to that degree.

Showing off is not and will never be the aim of anything I ever write, but I went through school normally, was exceedingly lucky to have a native French teacher, but then didn't see any other native speaker of a foreign language outside of their own country until I was sixteen years old. It hasn't had any great effect on my life using languages, I can make myself more than understood in a couple, bimble along in another two, and read a few more due to romance languages all having common roots. I will admit that I'm a one trick horse and that it is what puts bread on my table, but I really don't think that I was in any way underprivileged to have been deprived of spending my infancy with a native teacher whispering into my ear and then later playing games with me.

One of the greatest joys of having kids is to spend time with them, though admittedly some of that time is spent trying not to throw them out of the window and buy a cat. If they want or need to learn languages then they will, more than the odd family friend did precisely that due to circumstance and they have done very well for themselves. Having a native teacher has its advantages, but it isn't the be all and end all of your education. Not everyone is taught by a world renowned poet in their language and literacy classes, but there are still people who go on to write books or publish poetry, or go on to text analysis and so on. There seems to be total lunacy here for English.

I suppose it comes from the Spanish feeling that they must be doing something wrong. No Spaniard can ever spend more than a minute talking about their country (particularly these days) without then going on to criticise it, and now that English has become an international language there has arrived a sort of furore for learning that has exceeded all of our expectations. I think that some people here need to wake up to the fact that their kids are brilliant because they are theirs, that they will grow and do well just as their parents did before them, and to trust in Spanish ingenuity to move forwards as they always seem to do - chaotically, intensively, working themselves silly but enjoying the ride.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Lie to me

The dust has settled and relative peace has returned to the household again, though I feel that there are a few questions that have been left unresolved by the whole affair in itself. When something negative happens and feelings are put on show, it can be supposed that afterwards a certain amount of reflection is warranted, though I don't think that 'navel gazing' is precisely a positive thing; though we are the internet generation, which is more or less a few billion people doing precisely that. Forgive me then, a little examination of some leftover feelings from last week.

The quote attributed to either Plato, or Plato on behalf of Socrates about the failure of the younger generations is an oft used motto to defend how each generation sees the next. Though, the quote would appear to be from Kenneth John Freeman, the sentiment remains the same. Each generation goes forth with the echoes of their parents' uproar as to how little they seem to think about their futures, or even those of the people dear to them. Society, and indeed the planet, snowballs on towards whatever end we are going to have.

A part of growing up is realising that the same horror that was bestowed upon your own generation's mis-behavings is quickly becoming your own at all that you can see happening around you. It is surprising in the world that we live in, where the speed in which information is passed can be measured in nanoseconds and the ominous presence of that monster named progress seem to have made us even more averse to any change at all in our little bubble worlds. It could be argued that, as everything becomes so global, we are resorting to labels, flags and little slivers of island in order to protect what little identity we feel that we have left. Humans love boxes, labels and order.

People can't cope with anyone leaving a pre-destined box and jumping to another. Our heroes have to be pure, our leaders have to be clean, anyone brave enough to step on a pedestal has to be both morally and ethically perfect; which sadly is rarely the case. Humanity is far less than perfect, and most of the people in the public eye also. We should never forget that human beings are made up of a thousand different choices and experiences and not prefabricated Ikea flat packs, but people do.

 My box doesn't fit me, although I have spoken about it at more length here, it does still seem to be pertinent. To be frank, Halloween, the Easter bunny, Santa Claus etc. are all a part of my culture, though as I get older they are becoming something to live through my children. It is difficult to believe in this modern society that we live in, that anyone could associate these things with a threat to national identity; but people do. I suppose that with time they have just become long forgotten traditions that no one really thinks about, their original meanings lost in centuries of people doing the same things over and over.

The children expect to have a Halloween party with their English teacher because that's what they do when it's Halloween. I accept that it isn't a Spanish tradition, but it doesn't really feel like an English one either. I have lived in various places throughout the UK and in France as well, and I don't think anyone really identified with any of the festivities in any of them. Christmas stopped having anything to do with religion a long time ago, as the whole thing has become a consumerist excuse to buy presents for each other, the same goes for Halloween and Easter. That isn't to say that they are bad because of it or that people shouldn't do them, just that they have nothing to do with any of their original significance. It's difficult to think these days that anyone actually believes that the dead come back to life to take you back to their land. Even the most devout Zombie aficionado would have problems with thinking that it might actually happen. None of us think carefully about poor Saint Nicholas trying to make life better for the small ones around him, we just fixate on buying presents out of tradition more than any sense of humanistic well being for others. The Easter bunny merits an entire entry for himself as the poor thing has been misunderstood for many years; I think that the point has been more than made clear enough.

This feeling of loss of culture is fascinating. The better our world becomes, the more advantages we have, the better we live, the longer we live, the more we spend all our energy missing the time when we were all little spaces with kingdoms, castles and battles. Any invasion on what is considered our little corner seems to go straight to the heart.

I leave this essay with the feeling that nothing has been resolved and no questions have been answered, though perhaps some of the readers could have a clearer idea of what is happening and what has happened, in which case do feel free to add your tuppence ha'penny's worth. Until the next pre-programmed expectation once again crawls back to the fore, I shall leave you with these thoughts.

Ben xx

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Wishing Well

Having written the title, the song by 'Free' is now running around my head adding background music to yet another missive from deepest, darkest Castilla.

The wishing well in this case is a sort of play on words for small town Spain. People automatically wish you well whenever they pass you by. Even the most dour of residents here will happily wish a 'good morning' when passing; though this is something that is being reserved more and more for the older generation.

The case behind this blog entry is precisely one of those occasions of having been wished the best by a neighbour and then their semi-innocent enquiry as to why I was buying flowers at the local supermarket. The tone was fairly neutral, and despite the fact that it is common around this area to leave flowers on the graves of the dearly departed on the first of November, there were a few too many hints as to the nose for gossip to make it a comfortable conversation; that was the beginning.

The second verse to the song was to do with Halloween and its increasing popularity around here - though there is certainly a large portion of the Castillian population who don't trust it and associate anything to do with it as Devil worship. Upon arriving at one of the local schools dressed ready for a Halloween party with the kids, more than the odd question was raised about my religion, reason for having dressed as I had, insinuations as to my being a practitioner of the dark arts etc.

All of which led me to start having a serious think about my attitude towards the things that I share or have shared with the general public, or even local friends. Recent years have seen the business that I run going from strength to strength, an amalgamation with a close friend, to the point where we now have a large base of students throughout the locality. Certain things that exist on the net involve me, some voluntarily, some not quite so, and I now find myself under a local microscope. So far I have been quite reclusive and only 'exotic' when it has been required of me. Though I have had more than the odd experience where I have been badly burned by local opinion. After the two incidents in the supermarket and in the school, I started to think seriously about many of the things can, or could be found out about me on line. This has meant the deletion of Facebook and all pertaining to it. Tuenti is going to be the next to go, and even Myspace may be close behind it. Google plus I have left open as there I have a lot more control over what is or isn't shown of me, and I would like to have some form of contact with those of you who are further away that two roads along.

Thus if I have gone missing, it really isn't anything personal, it isn't anything that I'm holding against any of you, it's just survival kicking in and trying very hard to be allowed to continue without public scrutiny over every action or comment made on line.

Take care all of you, and kisses to all

B xx

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A long way home

Over the past posts I have often spoken about life here, about its differences, and about the way that people react. I have tried, as I try generally in life outside of this overly electronical world, to concentrate on the positive.

Today, please allow me to bring the tone down. I don't sit happily with being negative about anything, generally I don't see the point, as there is nothing gained from it other than creating greater negativity. Today has been one of those long, drawn out days and a few matter have been brought to the fore once again; I feel the need to share to an unknown and silent audience.

 It seems that we all wak around with little flags over our heads that say little intricate details about us varying in sizes from the huge to the obselete. All that is on show is in bold capitals and all that isn't is hidden under a mire of text and typewriter correction marks (though perhaps the younger generations may have some sort of Whatsapp text over theirs). It would seem that this flag follows you around continually, throughout your life and is constantly open for examination and excessive scrutiny by others. I have mentioned this point in previous posts, the fact that in the UK many people make assumptions about what I am and what I think due to the way I speak, or the way I express myself when with my friends.

What struck me today was that this is taken with you wherever you go, and though you may think that you have fooled those around you, it only serves to make all the little things that are different about you stand out even more. I have always tried to be as non-controversial as possible - perhaps this blog itself is a very good demonstration of the fact - there are four readers and whomsoever drops in by accident through google search. Not exactly groundbreaking, world changing material. This aside, when asked today where it is I am from, I found myself once again embroiled in the same conversation as happens every time I meet a new person.

-Yes I speak Spanish
- Gallego too
- And French
- Yes I know it isn't common for English people to be able to speak other lagnuages
- My wife is Spanish
- Yes we understand each other
- My kids are bilingual; no I'm not ruining their education by trying to achieve this
- Yes English people are reserved
- No, I know I'm not reserved, but in general my countrymen are
- The people that come to Spain to get brainlessly drunk are not my fault.
- Yes I know it rains in the UK I'm quite used to it, no I don't miss it terribly and yes there are people that are capable of living there happily
- Many people have indeed tried Jamon Serrano, some like it, some don't, perhaps a tortilla is the greatest invention since sliced bread, yes our food is generally considered disgusting (by everyone that has *never* tried anything actually from the UK or anywhere near) but we like it and actually you're hurting my feelings.
- Yes it *is* difficult having my family a bloody long way away from me and *yes* I miss them, and if I'm not crrently in the foetal position crying it's because I have more self control than that.
- Yes I can realise my faults and my coutry's faults without getting angry or shouting, it's called manners.
- People who shout and get angry about things are generally considered to have an enormous lack of culture where I'm from, so if I'm quiet it doesn't mean I agree with everything you say.

The same conversation in the UK
- Yes my wife is Spanish
- Yes I speak Spanish
- Yes we understand each other
- And the kids too, in fact we *all understand each other*
- My kids are bilingual; no I'm not ruining their education by trying to achieve this
- Showing me your *immense* ninja skillz in French / Spanish / Italian / Russian or asking where the nearest whorehouse is in Swahili does *not* interest me *or* my wife.
- It *isn't* actually hot where my wife is from
- Toledo is nowhere near a beach. Most of Spian is not made of beaches, and in the north *it rains*
- Other foodstuffs apart from Paella exist in Spain
- I have yet to see *anyone* riding a donkey *anywhere*.
- Spanish people are *not* lazy. Try working in 40º heat, see where that will get you
- Actually 99% of Spanish people work their arse off
- When you can explain the Inland Revenue's tax system to me, you have the right to explain your opinion on Spain's tax system and its faults.
- Mexico and Spain are *not* and *have never been* the same place.
- If Spanish peolpe are taking your jobs it is because they do them better.
- No, neither my wife nor my children dance Flamenco.

 This conversation with myself (although hugely cathartic) probably won't do me, or inded anyone else any good, though it might be something to bear in mind the next time you speak with someone not from the same place as you.

 B xxxx


Another stream of consciousness, this one is probably going up without editing, so please excuse the 'rough' nature of what is said after this; as and whe I have time I will make amends both with the blog and with myself. When you make some decisions, they come with consequences, many of which you don't take into account, though they are just as important as the main factors themselves; human frailty isn't the easiest of bedfellows. About ten years ago I took the decision that my life was going to be in Spain, having had a long and involved chat with my parents, and particularly with my father, I took the plunge and came here to see what I could do with my skills and with the limited resources I had at the time. I remember the converstaion with my dad in a nearby pub just before I left to come here: "You are really lucky you know that? That's something all parents say I suppose, look just listen. When you have to choose a job, choose something you love to do, something that makes you happy, something that really excites and interests you. Think about it, you're going to be doing it for the rest of your life. Just imagine having to get up every morning and hating what ou do. You'd feel trapped, unhappy and upset about having to go into work. All I know is that I dreaded the thought of going into work, and there is nothing worse that that feeling every day of your life, every day of your working existence. You know that your mother and I are going to support you in whatever decision you take, no matter how hard it is, and no matter how difficult we find it at the time, there are decisions that you have to make, and they should be the ones that you know are importatnt to you. Don't rush into anything, really think about it and don't just say yes to the first thing you are offered." These words have often come to me, as many other words I have had with my Dad over the years, words that have come to bear more meaning now than they ever would have in the past. He was right. I love my job, I really am happy to be getting uo every day to do waht I do, to talk with my students, to talk with my clients, to make people understand each other and to bering a text alive in another language. I know that I'm going to be geeking out about the differnece between two verbs, trying to get students to see the difference between two sentences that earlier in the morning neither I nor they had ever really considered and getting two people from two different countries and backgrounds to understand each other. The job certainly has stresses. There are students that have great difficulty in grasping even the most basic of concepts. There are students who have had so many years of uninspiring drivel thrwon their way that they can't see the beauty of suddenly being able to invent and construct in another language. The advantages that it brings, and the deeper understanding that it creates among others. There are days when you really do wonder at the mentalitly of those that have taken your fifteen hours straight work on ten pages of text and don't understand why you are charging them 25€ per hour for the text you have been sweating on, trying to make clear for them, trying to make sound as alive as the person that wrote it wanted it to. There are people that see the ease with which you speak and want you to charge a lot les as 'for you it isn't really that difficult'. All of this is undoubtedly true. However, the moment when you see two people that never would have understood each other in any other way suddenly forge a relationship, when you see that someone gets as excited or emotional over a text that you have been working on, when you watch that child that was getting a one and a hlaf grade average in English suddenly leap up four marks because of the input you have had in their life, it all ecomes extremely satisfying. Today sat over a cold Gin and Tonic discussing the sifference between 'emphsis' and 'stress' it all became quite clear where the love for everything comes from. If even in your free time you are happy to do something, then it's obviosuly something you love, those beers often come back to me now, the special times sat chatting about nothing and everything. The advice there was genuine and well given, thus I share it with you all over this less that intimate medium, perhaps it might get through to you as well... B xx