Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wuthering Heights

Do you remember what you were doing forty years ago? Well, I don’t know about you, but I was in 5C, preparing to take my O levels the following summer while doing my best to wind up poor Mr. Mitchell, our long-suffering English teacher...

“Cathy and Heathcliff dominate the whole of Wuthering Heights” – Discuss

“Cathy dies halfway through the book so it is difficult to see how she and Heathcliff could possibly dominate Wuthering Heights. The relationship between Cathy the Younger and Linton is far more interesting (although still very boring)...”

– Explain why! Why are you so pleased at not being able to enjoy literature?

“In fact, memories of the elder Cathy were virtually non-existent...”

– You’d better read the book again!

Under the circumstances, I think I can consider myself lucky to have scraped a borderline pass, don’t you?

– 11/20. Quite good, but lacking in specific detail.

The sad thing here of course is that Wuthering Heights is probably one of the most beautiful books ever written. It never fails to move me now that I’ve reached that age – I nearly said maturity – at which I am able to appreciate great literature. It certainly gives The Da Vinci Code a good run for its money, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Back in 1977-78, however, my classmates and I were far more interested in a different kind of Wuthering Heights altogether:

Yes, the lovely Kate Bush who, by a wonderful coincidence, shares her birthday with Emily Brontë (30 July). As Kate soared to the top of the UK charts, the whole nation debated, Should we leave the Common Market? Do you prefer Kate Bush or Debbie Harry? Actually, I preferred Jeff Lynne, but that’s another story.

I’m pleased to report that, despite my best efforts, this particular story has a happy ending: I passed my English O levels, got my A levels, did French at uni, then ended up becoming an English teacher. Funny old world, isn’t it?


They were on the home run now. And all the signs suggested it was going to be a stormy ride. Colin breezed into the room, greeted Miss Tedley and seized a red marker. As the rest of his Rappers traipsed in, Colin set about transcribing his notes onto the whiteboard:

But the hour came, at last, that ended Mr. Earnshaw’s troubles on earth. He died quietly in his chair one October evening, seated by the fire-side. A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney: it sounded wild and stormy, yet it was not cold, and we were all together – I, a little removed from the hearth, busy at my knitting, and Joseph reading his Bible near the table.

‘Hi, everyone. Any idea who wrote that?’

‘You did, dear. It’s beautiful,’ said Miss Tearley, shedding a ted.

‘I couldn’t agree more, Miss Tedley, but it’s not my work, I’m afraid.’

‘Yes, it is, dear. I saw you come in just now and—’

‘So does anyone here want to take a guess?’ Colin had no time today – or any day – for Miss Tedley’s tedious twaddle. This was Raphead’s Rappers’ last chance to get their act together.

‘Is it from Harry Potter?’

‘No, Jack.’

‘Which one?’

‘It doesn’t matter which one, Nicola. It’s not Harry Potter.’

‘I was thinking of Harry Potter and the Bloody Prince.’

‘You mean, Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Prince, Jack.’

‘Oh yeah, right. What did you make of the film?’

‘I thought they—’

‘Listen, it’s not Harry Potter. Got that?’

‘Who wrote Harry Potter, anyway?’ asked Jack.

‘I can never remember her name,’ said Nicola. ‘J. R. Tolking or something like that?’

‘No, that’s the bloke who did Lord Of The Flies.’

‘Wasn’t that Michael Flatley?’

‘That guy’s amazing. Do you know he can do more than thirty taps in a second?’

‘That’s a lot faster than our plumber. So is it The Da Vinci Code, Colin?’

‘No, Nicola, it isn’t. Look, I’ll give you a clue: Emily.’

‘Dum-da-da Dum-da?’

‘Did you say, “Emily Dumder”, Violet?’

‘Emily Brontë.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’ Hurrah! They were making progress of sorts. Talk about pushing an elephant up a hill.

dayrealing, Chapter 28, “Wuthering Heights”

Saturday, July 29, 2017


One of my numerous daily chores includes buying the bread. A home without bread in the Basque Country is like a home without an internet connection in Britain. Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? So, anyway, every morning, at about 7.07, I drive to the baker’s – no time for a leisurely morning stroll –, race home, dump the bread in the kitchen, grab my briefcase, wish my wife a wonderful day, then head off to work. On a good day, I might even have time for a second espresso before leaving home, but those days are few and far between. In any case, the most important thing is to make sure I get to the classroom and have everything ready before my students start rolling in at 7.57, 8.03, 8.08, and so on, at regular five-minute intervals. One of the beautiful things about teaching “on the continent" is that everybody lives in personalised time zones, so “eight o’clock”, for example, means different things to different people; to me, it means 8.00, but I’m British, remember.

The other day, I was running a little late and didn’t make it to the baker’s until about 7.22, so you can imagine how stressed I was feeling as I ran in. To my horror, I found myself behind a dear old lady who, as tends to be the way with senior citizens, was in no hurry whatsoever to  pay for her small loaf. I pretended not to overhear her detailed account of what her grandchildren were studying, where her daughter was planning to spend the summer, which poor soul had died yesterday, and so on.

I smiled politely at the customers joining the queue behind me – smiling politely is an essential life skill, I have discovered over the past thirty years or so –, consoling myself with the thought that I wasn’t the only person in the world whose day had just been ruined and whose company might well collapse if their hardest-working employee didn’t show up for work today. Resigning myself to my fate, I didn’t even bat an eyelid when my executioner emptied the contents of her purse on the counter, and invited the shop assistant to help herself.

Eventually of course, I got my bloody beloved loaf and, surprise surprise, I arrived on time for my class, albeit terribly late by my standards. It was about 7.55, and I was in a foul mood because my morning routine had been disrupted, but I soon calmed down when I finally managed to put myself in that lady’s shoes: buying the bread, chatting to the baker, boring her butcher to tears, greeting the bus driver, speculating with her fellow passengers whether she might have dropped her bus pass in the baker’s or the butcher’s... Who knows? I might be that old lady one day – despite no plans for a sex change at the time of writing – and a little patience never hurt any of us, did it?

I make an exception, however, for all these ‘critical’ PC updates. ‘Critical’, my a***! When they claim, “We are working to enhance your experience”, what they really mean is, “We are now going to install a load of useless stuff and there’s nothing you can do about it, sunshine”.


Yet for all his glaring incompetence, Colin absolutely loved teaching: whatever, wherever, whenever. “Know nothing, teach anything” was his motto. What he lacked in knowledge and know-how – two greatly overrated concepts, in Colin’s convenient opinion –, he more than made up for in patience, perspiration, persistence and perseverance; all those p- qualities, basically. Whether you wanted to study Physics or Physiques, Deserts or Desserts, Arabic or Aerobics … Colin was your man. He would get you there. Eventually. Even if it killed him. It usually did.

dayrealing, Chapter 5, “Heart Of Gold”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Down By The River


Oh dear! This is getting too embarrassing for words. Yet another month has flown by and, as always, I have done absolutely nothing worth mentioning. So, in the absence of anything remotely interesting to write about, here’s a photo of a bridge:

I took that photo myself on my Samsung A3. Yes, I thought you’d be impressed. And here’s one my wife took the same day on her Huawei P8 before proceeding to share it with all her WhatsApp contacts:

As you can see, I was miles away when that photo was taken – my wife would say I am always miles away –, immersed as I was in Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final instalment of Douglas Adams’s magnificent Hitchhiker’s ‘trilogy’. Whilst struggling to follow the plot – nothing new there –, I wished nonetheless that I were capable of producing such gems as, “The quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead.”

Talking of books, I was thrilled to receive a WhatsApp from one of my students earlier this week to say that she had started reading Angela’s Ashes, and that she would gladly strangle any Irishman who dared to cross her path that day. Frank McCourt is another of my favourite writers, and I always recommend him to my students. Amazingly, however, and doubtless for the first and last time, somebody actually took me seriously and followed me up on my recommendation.

Sadly, Douglas and Frank are no longer with us. Fortunately, however, their works, and their words, remain. Whenever I feel down, if there is one thought that keeps me going, it is Frank’s observation that, “You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”

To be honest, I think my mind is more like a garden shed than a palace, but it's still a reassuring thought. To my mind at least.

Thanks for reading; and never stop dreaming.


dayrealing noun [Uncount.] thinking about something useful and real while engaged in a useless unreal task
I quite enjoy wasting my time on stupid reports and pointless meetings, so I’m not really into dayrealing.

Colin was an incorrigible dayrealer; he spent far more time dayrealing than daydreaming. He would sit through many a useless meeting, thinking, "I could be marking those essays … I could be making a Spanish omelette … I could be doing the shopping … I could be reading Kurt Vonnegut … I could be watching Hill Street Blues …"

dayrealing, Chapter 25, "Dream Catch Me"

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Without Rings

I couldn’t find Michelin Man Don’t Live Here No More on YouTube, so Without Rings will have to do. Back in January, my colleagues and I were asked to pose for a photo, together with our New Year’s Resolutions. Initially, I thought about putting, “Take up smoking” or “Be even nicer to my students”. Then I remembered, however, that I had just hit a 90-kilo high on our bathroom scales, so getting rid of that spare tyre seemed to be an even worthier goal.

I scribbled a simple 4-month “10-kilo plan” on my mobile:

  • ·         Jan 25th, 90k -4
  • ·         Feb 25th, 86k -3
  • ·         Mar 25th, 83k -2
  • ·         Apr 25th, 81k -1
  • ·         May 25th, 80k

And, much to my own amazement, I actually made it!

They don't make feet like that anymore, do they! But I digress... Back home, my achievement has not gone unnoticed: “Are you sure those scales are working properly?”, “You don’t look like you’ve lost ten kilos”, “What you need to do is drink less and get more exercise” ... and similar words of encouragement.

I’ll have to leave you now, I’m afraid. My dear mother-in-law has organised another family reunion because her 47-year-old little boy is going to Germany next week, and we may never see him again; at least for a month or two. When he does come back – in three weeks’ time at a guess – we will obviously have to celebrate his safe return with another banquet.

I think I'll give those scales a miss for the next week or two!

‘Bread, butter, cheese ...’
It was a depressing list.
‘Buns, biscuits, cakes ...’
Then again, all of Mick’s lists were depressing these days.
‘Beer, brandy, chocolate ...’
Why did all the good things in life begin with B or C? And, more to the point, why were all the “good things in life” bad for the body, a burden to burn off and crammed with cholesterol-enhancing calories?
‘Burgers, bacon, chorizo ...’
Summer was approaching fast, and the daily beach inspections were just around the corner. It was time to bring out his trusted “no BBC for me” diet.
‘Brownies, bagels, cream teas ...’
Mick was struggling now. He’d never had a bagel in his life and, let’s face it, “cream teas” was a bit of a cop-out, wasn’t it? He’d be resorting to brand names next.
‘Baileys, Ballantine’s, Cointreau ...’
Thankfully for both Mick and the Spanish wine industry, Rioja began with an R.
‘Bacardi, Beefeater, coffee ...’
Coffee?! No way! Besides, all the klever dicks spelt koffee with a K, didn’t they?
If you kan’t beat them, join them! kontemplated Mick, sipping his ice-kold koffee.

fifty Shades of Spain, Chapter 48, “Food For Thought”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ol' '55


So this is Easter, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun...

Having just turned 55, I couldn’t resist stealing Tom Waits’ delightful tale about a clapped-out wreck for this month’s blog title. Can it really be 33 years since I abandoned my beloved England for beautiful Basqueland at the tender age of 22? And, for a bonus point, do any of you know what Tom was doing over in California when he was 22? That’s right, he was writing Ol’ ’55 among countless other gems.

When Tom turned 33, he released Swordfishtrombones, to universal acclaim; when I turned 33, I discovered Oasis and bought (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory...

At 44, Tom contributed to Johnny Cash’s Grammy-winning American Recordings; at the same age, I attended an international teachers’ congress in Harrogate...

At 55, Tom starred in Oscar-winning Roberto Benigni’s The Tiger and The Snow; in similar vein, I recently swam in The Whale and The Water, setting a personal best for the season: twenty lengths without drowning once.

So much for similarities. What about the differences? Well, for starters, I’m pretty sure I got better birthday presents than Tom did on his 55th:

Not bad, eh? If you look very closely, you’ll notice that Nikka, the Japanese whisky, didn’t quite survive the photo call, but I’m pleased to report that the other bottles remain untouched. At the same time, it is somewhat worrying that friends and family have such a boozy image of yours truly – the very image that I had always had of dear old Tom until I discovered that he has been teetotal since the age of 43!

A few days after that photo was taken, one of my friends had a last-minute inspiration. At  a guess, a little bird must have told her that, when not teaching, drinking or checking weather forecasts, I also enjoy unwinding with the occasional read. So, imagine my delight last week to discover this waiting for me on my desk:

Richard who?! I hear you asking. No, I had never heard of him, either, but he writes beautiful short stories, believe me. His website also offers some excellent advice to would-be writers:

“Say to yourself, I accept failure as the condition of this life, this work. I freely accept it as my destiny. Then go on and do the work. You never ask yourself anything beyond Did I work today?”

Now here’s a man on my wavelength! Expect the worst from everything you do, but do it anyway. Yes, that sums up my life to date perfectly, I’d say. Richard goes on to say:

Don’t compare yourself to anyone.”

Oh dear! I read this 55 years too late, I fear. That said, it is excellent advice, I’m sure you’ll agree; especially for those of us who stand to lose every time we make our silly comparisons.

By a happy coincidence, today – 18th April – is Richard Bausch’s birthday, so Happy 72nd, Professor! And by an even happier coincidence, today is also The Other Mike Church’s birthday, so I’ve decided to celebrate by updating my “Best Bits” collection:

I’m not sure whether we’ll still be here in seven years’ time, but let’s cross our fingers and thumbs. Thanks as ever for making it this far.


Upon a time once there was a man poor who had thoughts ordering his problems. More often than not, matter this didn’t. “Eggs, bacon and sausages, please”, “Bacon, sausages and eggs, please”, “Sausages, eggs and bacon, please”, “Please! Where are sodding my bacon, eggs and sausages?” . . . – what make did it difference? The result end was always the same: galore cholesterol.

Numbers, however, were the life of his bane. According to his portpass, for example, he was 95 old years already, having born been in 1592. And his wife amused very wasn’t when he came from the supermarket back with 21 eggs and 42 loo rolls.

Day one, his wife an ultimatum issued him with:

‘Of this Brian I’ve had enough! Get help or else.’
What or else, darling?’ he asked, but she meant what he knew.

So an appointment Brian made with his PG, for he loved the world more than anything else in his wife. Unfortunately, he up turned at 20:10 instead of 10:20.

That last Thursday was. Another appointment naturally they gave him: this Tuesday at 11:11 dot the on. Or was it next Thursday for? Eh well, learn and live, oh?


fifty Shades of Spain, Chapter 23, “Are We In Trouble Now”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Logical Song


English is mathematics.’ Well, that’s what I always tell my students, many of whom are top-notch engineers who have no problems calculating in their heads that an object starting from rest with a constant angular acceleration of 2.0 rad/s2 will reach an angular velocity of 1.59 rev/s after 5.0 seconds. These very same eggheads, however, will come unstuck when challenged to explain the difference between “a journey” and “a trip”. Or between their “fingers” and their “toes”, for that matter. ‘How many fingers have you got?’ is a great Plan B to have up your sleeve for a rainy day, with answers invariably ranging from eight to twenty, via ten and eighteen, depending on whether your calculations include thumbs (dedos gordos = “fat fingers”) and/or toes (dedos de pie = “foot fingers”). And you can only imagine the looks on my poor students’ faces when I follow this discussion up with, ‘So how many fish fingers do you have in your freezer, Fernando?’. But I digress...

Fortunately, writing a simple mathematical equation on the whiteboard is all it takes to get everybody back on track:

As my students open their notebooks enthusiastically and jot the equation down even more enthusiastically, everything miraculously falls into place. Now everyone can see that the “journey” is the boring yet necessary part of the trip:

By the same token, it follows that the “visit” is the only reason we took that bleeding plane in the first place:

Now that we are all on the same wavelength, the rest of the class is a breeze, and the hour flies by. Along the way, I’ll throw in a few “percentage discussions” because these always help to clarify concepts with my fellow maths lovers:

‘So, if I say to you, “It may rain this afternoon”, is it going to rain, Luis?’
‘Exactly! So, what are the chances of it actually raining, María? Mathematically speaking, I mean.’
‘Sixty-four percent?’
‘Is that what Meteoblue says?
‘Mateo who?’
‘Never mind. And what if I say, “It may well rain this afternoon”? Am I increasing or decreasing the probabilities, Unai?’
‘Yes what?’
‘Yes please?’...

Well, I won’t bore you with the entire transcript but, suffice to say, we get there eventually:

Yet another victory for common sense, I’m sure you’ll agree. That said, the last thing I want is for my students to relax too much, so the other day, I decided it was time to ruffle a few feathers:

‘Can anybody complete this saying?’ I asked. Unsurprisingly, everybody fell into my little mousetrap by agreeing that, “When the cat’s away, the mice will dance” –  because that’s what all Spanish mice do, apparently. Cuando el gato no está, los ratones bailan. Little did it matter that “dance” rhymes terribly with “away”; for most speakers of English, at least. Nor did my underlining “away” and repeating, ‘When the cat’s aWAY... When the cat’s aWAY...’ make a scrap of difference to the jury’s verdict.

English is music!’ I berated my students. ‘When the cat’s aWAY, the mice will PLAY! Not dance, for heaven’s sake! Since when did “dance” rhyme with “away”?’ On and on I went. But nobody was listening to me.

‘English is music? But didn’t you say English is mathematics?’
‘Yes, that’s right, Elena. English is many things,’ I went on, fully aware that I had just made a dangerous addition to our cosy equation:

‘OK, what about this one?’ I said, ploughing on as if my revelation that mathematics and music are one and the same thing were no big deal:

Opinion was divided on this one. After all, grass can be fresh, long and green, can’t it? Indeed, everybody agreed that all three options were perfectly valid, so I tried underlining “grass” and repeating, ‘The GRass is always... The GRass is always...’ But to no avail.

English is poetry too!’ I declared, throwing all caution to the winds. ‘The GRass is always GReener on the other side. Perhaps it’s fresher and longer too, but who cares?’

The uproar that ensued had to be seen to be believed, so you’ll have to take my word for it, I’m afraid.

‘But English is poetry, or English is music?’
‘Both, Joaquin.’
‘And mathematics also?’
‘And mathematics as well, Laura.’

One of the advantages of speaking English better than anybody else in the room is that I win all the arguments. And this one was no exception.

‘You see, English can be anything you want it to be,’ I explain.

‘It’s maths, it’s music, it’s poetry.

It’s the first, the last, my everything!’

And talking of Barry White, I really can’t think of a better note on which to finish, so let’s leave it here, shall we? Thanks for reading, and see you next month, I hope.


It was one of those breaks. Too short to do anything or go anywhere, yet too long to do nothing or go nowhere without feeling that you had wasted a golden opportunity to do something or go somewhere.

Colin’s day was full of mini breaks like these, ranging from 10 minutes to 20 minutes in theory, which meant 2 minutes to 12 minutes in practice, as he always lost eight valuable minutes – nearly 500 seconds! – cleaning his whiteboard, gathering his things and thoughts, and seeing off the last lingering students. Haven’t you got a home to go to? he used to think to himself, until it eventually dawned on him that this was precisely their problem and, for all his woes, it was reassuring to know that maybe he wasn’t so badly-off after all. Well, that was the theory. In practice, of course, he was far far worse-off than anybody else in the whole bloody looniverse, even if he was the only person who actually realised this.

So what could he do with his 12 minutes? Find a boss and have a quick “one-minute chat”? Did he really look that desperate for somebody to talk to? Or listen to, rather. How about boiling three eggs, one after the other, just for the hell of it? Why was everybody so obsessed with boiling eggs, anyway? The last person Colin had ever actually seen boil an egg was Granny, and that was about 30 years ago. What ever came of that egg? he wondered. In any case, by the time he’d tracked down three eggs, a saucepan, some water and a cooker, his 12 minutes would be up.

dayrealing, Chapter 20, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Don't Give Up


Got __ ____ ___ __ here
I ___’_ ____ ___ more

Dear Miss Slapper

I am writing to let you know that I have decided to …

To what? 

People deal with depression in different ways …

Some people start eating; some people stop eating; other people go on eating.
Some take to drink; some take to drugs; others take to d- words.
Some people start gambling; some people start ambling; other people start rambling.
Some send texts; some shop in Next; others surf the Net.
Some people can’t forsake their bed; some people can’t face their bed; other people can’t find their bed.
Some accept there’s a problem; some deny there’s a problem; others don’t know there’s a problem.
Some people behave as if nothing were wrong; some people behave as if everything were wrong; other people try to tie a knot in their dick.
Some go crazy; some go cranky; others go quiet.
Some people fight; some people bite; other people write.
Some write wonderfully; some write woodenly; others write whateverly.

Colin was in the last group. He was always in the last group. Writing was Colin’s catharsis. Whatever “catharsis” meant. And whatever “whateverly” meant, for that matter. 

Well, whatever, writing whateverly, wheneverly, whereverly was a wonderful way to wish one’s woes away with words without wasting one’s whatnots by whacking walls or wailing to the wind.

dayrealing, chapter 10, "Don't Give Up"