Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Monday, 29 October 2012

Lengthening shadows

Evening walk with Darwin
We've had a few days of proper autumnal weather here in Alcala la Real -  a mixture of drizzle, heavy downpour and misty overcast, low-cloudy days. The place is not at its best when the weather is like this. I have sighed a little over fellow bloggers photos of glorious rich autumn colours; the oranges, reds, russets; the pumpkins and squashes; the dew-heavy spider's not like that here. I have found it uninspiring and although I have sought to find the beauty through the dampness, I simply haven't seen it.

However, yesterday, the sun shone forth and we were back to business. I went in search of autumn. And I found the Andalucian version right on my doorstep.

Leaves fall straight from the tree whilst still quite green

The olive trees - at least here - are quite heavy with fruit. This tree
is very old judging by the size of its trunk.

To dispel any myth that black and green olives are from different trees.
Green olives go black - here they are, just turning.

And here we have my beautiful Sierra Nevada, once again with snowy peaks!

In some areas, there are very few olives this year. Strong winds in April
blew many flowers away so there are many trees without fruit at all.
In this little grove, the fruit looks good

Not a bad view and one I love particularly at this time of year

Signs that it has been damp recently

Autumn here means the gearing up for the beginning of the olive harvest - la  campaña de la aceituna - time to check the tractor over, keep an eye on the olives and check the weather forecast. Olives destined for the table have been picked already. They are a different type from the olives destined for oil - slightly longer, with a pointed end - and are picked whilst they are green. Many farmers now have machinery to vibrate the trees, making the olives fall into prepared nets (also known as bragas, or knickers, honest) but some smaller-scale olive farmers have to go out with sticks and hit the trees to collect the fruit. It's very hard work but folk can gather enough to produce the oil they use in a year - with maybe a bit left over to sell. There is at least one co-operative in each of the bigger villages -  pueblos o aldeas - near Alcala to which farmers bring their crop to be weighed, cleaned, pressed and turned into oil. Within a few weeks, tractors and trailers will be chugging along the roads to unload their haul.

Last Wednesday, at my Spanish Conversation Class, we had a very interesting session where we discussed the various stages of olive farming. Some of the class live on farms and are actively involved in the process and very knowledgeable. And we were joined by the Spanish friend of one of the class, who was able to give us even more detail. It was an excellent class and I'd like to thank everyone for sharing their stories and information. This is only my second autumn here and I'm still learning lots. One thing I definitely know, though, is that however tempting an olive might look on the tree - DON'T TRY IT! Yeeeukk!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Waving or Drowning?

Waving, waving!

All is well in my world, I'm glad to report. I haven't been posting as much as usual but as we often find out, sometimes real life interferes with blogging.

I've had a busy, rather unsettling week which, I'm glad to say, has ended satisfactorily. Nothing bad has happened but things have been occupying my waking and sleeping moments to the extent that blogging has been difficult.

As well as trying to be a good mum to my lovely three, I am also trying to be a good teacher to my various classes of English and my one Spanish conversation group. This takes preparation - lots of it - which I am glad to do because it certainly helps to have an idea of what should be happening! Ironically, I find that the more detailed the preparation, the more I struggle to stick to it - ever the broad brusher! Whilst I like to do lots of preparation, but what works for me is to have plenty flexible ideas that I can adapt to how the students seem that day - going with the flow - as well as delivering some specifics.

At the end of last week's teaching, the proprietor of the academy, Maria - a lovely woman who set up the academy about 20 years ago - came to me, full of concern. The parents of some of the first level class had been in to see her. They were worried because their child had no homework from their new teacher and didn't seem to be doing much in their activity books. In fact, they said they didn't do any work, they mainly played games or sang songs. It didn't seem right in their eyes. The teacher last year - who I am now replacing - gave homework and tests and worked through text books with the children and they could always point to what they had done that day when they went home. Maria began to say could I give the children some homework each week...please?!

For some of the older classes, I ask the children to practice new vocabulary, or I give them a crossword or word puzzle to do at home; I gave another class the task of finding the past tense of several verbs and this week, I've asked one more advanced group to bring in lots of phrasal verbs (a verb plus another word which changes the meaning of the original verb - e.g. look+after, take+care etc) so we can practice using them in conversation. But for the little ones, who have two and a half hours a week with me, I don't think homework is either necessary or appropriate.

At this age, 8-9, children need to expand their still limited vocabulary and, equally importantly, they need to know the correct pronunciation of these new words. Learning from a native English speaker is really helpful as I really make them get their tongues around the difficult things - differentiating between 'sh' and 's'; sounding consonants clearly and correctly and always challenging Spanish pronunciation of those words that are the same or similar in both languages - a Spanish speaker can't always do this, however good their pronunciation and grammar. I managed to convince Maria that I don't want the children to spend a lot of time writing just yet as that is a sure way for them to 'hear' the words they see as if the words were Spanish - the eye doesn't need to pronounce 'table' - it knows what it is - but the Spanish eye will 'hear' it as 'tab-ley'.  This really impedes understanding for an English listener - and surely, they want to learn so they can speak English to English speakers - most Spaniards understand each other well when they speak English as they all make similar mistakes!

I'm no expert, though I am fast developing my own view about how to teach English, but I think singing is not only jolly good fun but really good for teaching the rhythm and intonation of English - as well as increasing vocabulary. I still remember the words of songs that I learnt in my French lessons - who else could still pluck an Alouette to the bone!

And I'm sure my students will never forget the digit called 'thumb' after singing 'One Finger, One Thumb, Keep Moving' several times; or how to pronounce 'shoulders' (difficult!) after singing 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes''s also an excellent form of exercise for me too!
We 'Hokey Cokey' to practice left, right and parts of the body. We sing 'I know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly' to learn the names of animals and phrases of exclamation and to capture English intonation - 'I don't know why she swallowed a fly' (as well as a dollop of English black humour - I LOVE the last line.)

Yes, waving!
And games! Educational ones, I mean, for learning language. We play games most days and nothing will make me stop!

If I sound a bit defensive in this post, it's because I was torn between knowing parents were unhappy with their children's lessons and worrying that Maria thought I wasn't teaching properly, feeling I was somehow 'doing it' wrong - and yet, also feeling that it was absolutely inappropriate to have the children after a day at school, sitting down quietly and 'studying' English in my class.

So, I suggested to Maria that if any parents were concerned, then they could come and talk to me directly and I could show them my lesson plans, explain how the games and songs are part of a proper learning process and say why giving them homework could be counter-productive if they ended up with poor pronunciation. She has never had a native English teacher who could speak to the parents in their own language before and I was grateful that she thought it a good idea. We agreed they could come on Thursday at 6.30 when I finished teaching my last class.

My conversational Spanish is not bad but I spent some time (a lot!) during the days before Thursday practising various phrases out loud - on my walks with Darwin - hoping they sounded convincing and that my Spanish was up to it. I knew there would probably be at least one if not two parents who would come and see me.

Not waving....
As I showed my class out on Thursday, I caught my breath at the number of people in the entrance hall. Maria had sent a general note to all the parents of my first level class - and they'd ALL come! HELP!

At this point, the adrenalin kicked in and fortunately, my years of addressing teachers, head teachers and other groups stood me in good stead and I started speaking to them - determined that they should feel confident that I had a 'method'; to understand that it was different from a classroom teacher in Spain's method, but it was a suitable method for teaching a language to youngsters.

To be fair, most came without an issue - they just wanted to know that their child was doing OK - and many told me their children were very enthusiastic about their lessons. One came to me at the end and said she was a teacher herself and she really liked my approach and that I'd explained everything very well. I was SO relieved!

And I am glad to say that the two who did have concerns left feeling much happier, especially as I said that the homework I could sanction was revising new vocabulary - writing it down too - plus saying the alphabet out loud in English and using it to spell out words. I also told them their children should watch some TV in English by changing the audio channel to the original language. So much of what's on TV here is in English - lots of American English cartoons, but also plenty English documentaries. (Yes, I do listen in English when I can!)

And Maria was delighted with what I had said and how the parents seemed when they left. Yey! I left feeling fantastic...though the next day, whilst taking Darwin for a walk with FR, it hit me that now, I really have to deliver! Quite a responsibility.

I'm off now to practice my singing....and waving!

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Wandering Guiri

We have gone in a twinkle of the eye from summer t-shirts and open-toed sandals to umbrellas and boots here in Alcala la Real. I don't really know how it happened. I took Romy to school the other day and noticed I was the only one with visible toes. Everyone else had sensible, water-proof and flesh-covering footwear. I was showing more than toes - I was showing my 'guiri' status. 'Guiri' is what the Spanish call foreigners, specifically Anglo-Saxon foreigners. Where you are in Spain depends on the level of insult this indicates. Here, I never hear anyone say it out loud, but I can hear them thinking it and I always know when. It would usually be silently aimed at people who are not local; who wear the 'wrong' clothes; who definitely wear the wrong shoes and who walk the streets in a manner that is different from those who were born here. I can't explain it further but I too know a 'guiri' when I see one. Now I've lived here a while, I don't usually stand out too much - it's something to do with the pace of the walk, the sense of purpose and confidence and permanence, I think. Not being a wanderer in the wrong shoes.

Guiris - breaking the rules of fashion since time immemorial 

Anyhow, having been caught out, on returning home, I dug out my boots from last year. Yeah, I LOVE boots!! I was so happy to get back into them that I took Darwin for a long walk around the back streets of the town. We stuck to the streets as it had been raining for a couple of days and the ground in the olive groves or my usual walk through the pine forest, when wet, turns to a sucking, sticking, gooey, gloopy kind of mud. The kind that, if it were a little deeper, would suck those lovely boots right off your legs.

With an umbrella and boots and in a light drizzle (not looking at all like a 'guiri') we went up and down the narrow and cobbled streets. As we climbed the long steps up towards La Mota, we were rewarded by the most fantastic sight and I could have kicked myself for not bringing my camera. The sun, almost sinking behind the mountains to the west, turned parts of the town to a rich, orange, red glow - an absolutely stunning sight. And to cap it all, a rainbow stretched from east to west actually touching the road that leads out of the town towards Santa Ana on the east and arching over the houses before coming down on the area called 'El Cauchil' on the west. Even Darwin stopped and put his paws up on the wall in front of us so he could see it better. We stood just looking at this amazing sight until the sun eventually faded and left me blinking, the colours still fixed in my mind but the view returned to more sober hues. I wonder who else saw this and whether they too were utterly amazed...and did they manage to get a photograph? It was a glorious moment that I so wish I could have shared more widely.

I sort of ruined the joy of the walk by deciding to return home through the pine forest...I knew it might be a bit muddy but the top part seemed not too bad and it was the quickest route back and the sun had set and it was getting dark....OK, it was a bad idea and I should have known better but I'm not good at turning round - I prefer to follow the shortest route even if this ends up taking longer. I may never learn.

I got down three of the zigs (or zags) that the path takes but then the mud came into its own and I found my boots were getting heavier and heavier as I gathered the stuff on the soles and increasingly up the sides of them. I decided the only way down was to cut through the trees as many had laid down a safety blanket of pine needles and leaves which was preferable to the mud. It took me an age to inch my way down and, of course, Darwin had scampered ahead. And as I came out of the trees, I was only NEARLY at the bottom. About five metres stretched between me and the entrance. Darwin had gone out and was sniffing around a dog on a lead, whose owner was smiling in a bemused but sympathetic way at my plight but also expressing her concern that her dog was unwell and mustn't be agitated and Darwin wouldn't come when I called. Oh dear, was I going to slip on my backside after all? The mud was bad enough stuck to my boots, but it would be most unpleasant plastered to my bottom.

I did managed to get down, onto the road, grab Darwin and make my excuses and apologies without falling over. The woman gave me a look, not unfriendly, not unpleasant, but I heard her thinking just one word to herself, 'Guiri'. There could be no other explanation for a person walking through the pine forest after it had been raining.

I might as well have had my sandals on - and joined the ranks of the wanderers in the wrong shoes! 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What's in a name?

My sister and I exchanged emails this morning. We try to speak regularly on SKYPE and whilst we could probably speak more often, once we get going, we can easily while away an hour or so without drawing breath. It's good to talk. I miss my sister.

In her email this morning, as well as telling me she was suffering with the cold that hit my mother - I knew it wasn't a Spanish bug - she told me she's off to London for a couple of days tomorrow with some friends. This in itself was no great shock - my sister has a wide circle of friends and is always off somewhere or other with them. What did make my eyebrows shoot up was the fact that she said she hasn't been to London since she came to visit me when I worked at Waterstone's - at a time when Tim W. was still very much in charge, (he interviewed me and gave me the job, making me responsible for the music department in the Charing Cross Road store and for which I will be forever grateful) - and when it still had its apostrophe! The dropping of the apostrophe caused quite a stir at the beginning of the year - though the name remains and Tim has long gone.

As I often do, I'd like you to bear with me on a short detour from the main theme of this post. I'd like to concur with the line in Wikipedia that states that Tim set up a new kind of bookshop, that 'employed a highly literate staff'...the people I worked with at this period were absolutely fascinating and some have gone on to develop further the areas they were interested in during their time at the shop. Jonathan Rich ran the fiction department and went on to write himself, including episodes of 'The Bill' and 'Casualty' and also a drama-documentary for the BBC on Egypt. I have just discovered he is also a voice over artist which doesn't surprise me at all as I remember his wonderful melodic voice very well indeed and having just listened to some of his recordings, I'm blasted back to the past when we worked briefly together on the same floor of the store. Jonathan was a joy to work with, funny, clever, a big softie (hugs on the hour, every hour) with a wicked wit and a real love of music - it's been such a treat to listen to his voice again, even if it's to hear him advertising software solutions and estate agents! I also remember being very fond of a serious chap called Ray Monk, whom I once accompanied to a rendezvous at St. Paul's Cathedral for him to buy a saxophone. Ray ran the philosophy department and is now a Professor of Philosophy at Southampton University with a string of prizes and books to his name - mainly on his abiding interest, Wittgenstein. Elizabeth, who ran the Travel department left to go to Zimbabwe,  Colin, who ran the Health department had been a psychiatric nurse, the 'Saturday' boy was the son of the author Hunter was an interesting place to work. (I ran a pretty good music section too.)

Back on track now. At the time, I lived in a place which has also changed its name.  In 1985, Staines-upon-Thames was simply Staines and it was sometime during this year that my sister came to visit. I remember very little about what we did but it must have involved walking into the town centre along Gresham Road several times. I know this because on the last day of her visit, my sister slowed down as we passed one of the buildings on this road and then started to laugh. She laughed so much, she had to sit down on the pavement. She laughed so infectiously that I started to laugh too without having the slightest idea why. When we laugh, we laugh til we cry. So there we were - sitting on the kerb - tears rolling down our faces, unable to speak. Behind us was a building and my sister kept turning round and pointing to the sign, trying to explain why she was laughing but every time she looked at it, she'd start laughing again.

The sign?


Why the hysteria? My sister is only mildly dyslexic (undiagnosed) but all week, as we walked past the building, she had been struggling to decipher the words. On our last trip, she worked it out....

If ever an institute needed to change its name - this has to be it!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

And there she was...gone!

On Sunday last, I packed up some sandwiches and the children and set off to the beach in Malaga. We made excellent time but as we approached the coast, a heavy fog descended and we sat under clouds in a state of disbelief as we ate our lunch. We'd come to collect my mum - Grannie to the children - from the airport which is just minutes from the beach, but we'd expected sunshine and blue skies. This was not what we'd ordered at all for her few days holiday from the heavy routine of looking after my invalid father.

We could hear the aircraft taking off and passing overhead but couldn't see them! We sat a bit longer; I read my book, Ruy and Mateo had a game of bashing each other with huge bamboo poles that had been dumped on the beach by the recent heavy rains. I waited for the yells of pain, but none came. Romy sat with me and we planned what we'd do during the week with Grannie.

Then suddenly, the clouds parted and the sun shone forth - our karma was good after all. And we'd waited long enough on the beach, got sand between our toes, resisted the urge to get wet, eaten up what we'd brought - apart from Grannie's share, of course - so we piled back into the car and drove to the airport.

And after what seemed like an endless wait (but which was all of half an hour), there she came, safe and well, through into the arrivals area. I'd forgotten the camera, of course, and not for the first time in the week that followed!

It was great to have my mum with us again though it made the year since the last time she came seem to have suddenly flown by. We had a very easy journey home and arrived back to one of FR's famous tortilla de patata  though FR himself was out at a meeting of the Tooting Popular Front (I'll explain another time!)

In the days that followed, we stopped chatting only at bedtime or when I had to work. We took leisurely strolls either with Darwin in the olive groves or around town on our own; we stopped here and there for coffee and tostada (toast, which we had with tomatoes and olive oil) in the mornings before the children came home from school. We went to Priego de Cordoba, to Almedinilla and to Montefrio; we had pizza to take away and lunch out and little pasteles. We ate and chatted and walked and played and it was lovely. It went far too quickly. And I kept forgetting my camera.

I remembered it when we went up to the barranco, the 'edge of the world' at the top of Alcala la Real - and we remembered to take the camera there!

But you can see, we didn't have blue skies or sunshine...

But big smiles and glad to be together for a little while.

And then suddenly, it was Friday and going home day. We had almost the whole day, though, so we made the most of it and took the scenic route back to Malaga, via a beautiful reservoir, called Lake Bermejales.

There, on finding there was a dolmen - a single chamber tomb dating back to neolithic times, so 5 or 6 thousand years old - Ruy and Romy immediately launched themselves into a Neanderthal role-playing game and we didn't see them (though we could hear them) for ages and ages.

And as, by this time, my poor mum had developed a dreadful cold - she asked me not to photograph I took this one of Romy instead, looking rather grown up for her eight years, I think.

And suddenly, it was time for us to get her to the airport; drop off her suitcase and wave a brave goodbye. I know she left feeling really rather ill with a streaming cold but she was very brave. We have enjoyed having her with us. It's such a shame my dad isn't well enough to come too and such a shame that he is in need of so much of my mum's time, care and attention when she gets home again. It's a hard life being a carer and sometimes, I really don't know how she manages it. I just hope that she's had a good rest and that not having to do anything and only think about herself for a while will have recharged her batteries.

We look forward to seeing them both when we visit the UK at Christmas.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Anticipation ..and frustration

...sometimes lead to an interesting combination!!

I am very excited because my mum is coming to stay this week. We've been looking forward to the event for a good month or so. I even got carried away and prepared to go and meet her a day early...silly me.

I thought I'd write a little post about anticipation and wanted to use a piece of music that sums up that wonderful, increasingly exciting feeling that is anticipation. For me, Handel's Zadok the Priest does it for me every time - it just gets that 'P' Spot.

So off I poddled to YouTube to find the best version - of the ones available, I liked the one by the Academy of Ancient Music, with Kings College Choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury*. But I couldn't embed it. Nor the one by Yehudi Menuhin ....or for that matter anyone else at all no matter what I did. I was met by frustration after frustration as the message came up that the content belonged to EMI and could only be seen on YouTube.

So I searched more widely and was rewarded by this lovely Flashmob version that Classic FM arranged to celebrate its 20th birthday - in a supermarket. Whilst it really doesn't convey the sense of 'anticipation' that I had intended to deliver, it is quite charming and well done under the circumstances.

Hope you will bear with me on this one and see that I too have done my best under difficult circumstances! 

And now I'm away to enjoy quality time with my mum - when I've worked out exactly when I need to meet her at the airport! 

*You can hear this version on YouTube here