Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good year so far (i.e. no time to blog, and it's nearly August!)


January: got promoted. Responsible for maintaining & developing our service in a state school. Love it: supporting other teachers as well as teaching. Spanish still terrible but improving because I see parents on a daily basis on the primary/junior site, and have to manage somehow. Parents generally very tolerant and supportive as I chew up and spit out their language, probably because they can see my heart's in the right place, even if none of my prepositions are. (Also, since most of the parents have little or no English, it makes for a more equal relationship as we sort out issues about their children, because they get to practise their English, and help me with my Spanish.)

February: went to a wonderful wedding, with Dubai friends centre-stage in their new home in Barcelona, and other Dubai friends flying over for the wedding, and then coming to stay with us in Madrid; and seeing a former student who has returned to live in Barcelona (Given how long it's taking me to get a working knowledge of Spanish, I now appreciate his achievement in doing the IB programme in his second language. Good grief!) We've been to Barcelona before, but in the older part, and we didn't know anyone. A short distance along the coast, and it's a different city, so open and airy. And exploring the older part with knowledgeable friends is an entirely different experience. Ooh! And this time, we went into La Sagrada Familia. Wow. Go see!

March: went to a memorial service, which turned out to be balm to raw spirits. Friends and family went up to a clearing on a wooded hill outside Madrid, to remember a colleague who had died. Almost everyone had a comment to make, a story to tell, or something to read aloud, and it was funny, fascinating and moving. Members of his choir sang in Italian and English - at which point, everyone cried - and then we all strolled back down again,to swap more stories over lunch, and look at photos, and finally get our heads round the fact that, before he died, by God, that atheist had lived, and it was ok to say so, and laugh again. He'd have loved it.

April: Spring projects and the launch of a library scheme at 'my' school. The library scheme took an enormous amount of work, with almost 20 classes involved, letters to parents, reading records for kids, enough books at each level for everyone to have a proper choice once a fortnight, templates and vocabulary prompts for writing reviews and designing new covers for what they'd read (These children range from 6 to 14, elementary to intermediate - CEF A-C if we're getting technical) but it worked! And parents have been asking where they can buy graded readers for their children: now this, I like! And from the four-year-olds upward, there were so many fab Easter bunnies and eggs, springtime landscapes, paragraphs and poems, that we had to rotate them on the display board and table. Great fun.

May: We moved. At last. I will not dwell on the powerless misery and tension of the six weeks of bureaucratic idleness, incompetence and disingenuousness which preceded the move (or the four months' limbo before that) with no guarantee that Our Flat (and I mean, OUR FLAT, the one we could picture ourselves in every time we closed our eyes) would in fact be .... our flat. Nope. Shan't dwell on that. Because. WE MOVED! To a flat with two bedrooms (with doors, not stylish archways...) and a real kitchen (not one end of the living/dining space) and a living room with doors (not stylish archways) and a terrace! Rooftops, sky, agreeable neighbours, and peace broken only by housemartins streaking across the sky, morning sparrows and magpies, the occasional pigeon,a happy canary somewhere nearby - and that blue transit van with the dodgy engine/driver that parks and revs for twenty minutes at a time at least once a day. And another balcony/terrace that has been glazed in at some point, which makes it a long utility space, greenhouse, and viewing gallery for when the sun sets behind the Sierra de Guadarrama (i.e. the mountains) each evening. Thank you, this will do us.

June: We unpacked.... Boxes, boxes, boxes.
(And then stopped, because it was just too bloody hot - 35º!)
Ooh! And bought the biggest bed IKEA had to offer, which cost more than a month's rent, but is soooooo comfortable. Handsome, too. And in no way affected by the half dozen matching screws that were left over when we'd finished assembling it and collapsed onto it for a very good night's kip. I'm keeping them, just in case.
And turned our little pueblo blanco in the sky (That's the terrace, ok.) into a delicious personal paradise. Keef sanded and stained four teak chairs we found by a skip, and painted the outer walls with a water-based cobalt blue that looks spectacular now, and will also fade agreeably as time passes. (We can wait. This is Our Flat).
I've been shopping, potting, repotting and watering. (We are the local shop's best customers for 20L bags of compost.) The lemon tree is very happy to be out of doors again, but the delay cost us the milder weather, so no lemons this year. The avocado that had grown a metre and a half from a stone kept producing huge leaves on its spindly trunk, but was utterly dejected on an exposed terrace where it got sunburnt one day, and windbashed the next, so I binned it...... Keef's got peas and coriander on the go, despite a late sowing on June 23rd (We check them every evening - very exciting!),
but the basil wouldn't play, so we've bought a basil plant, as well as curly (grumpy) and flat-leafed (happy) parsley, rosemary, mint and lavender - mint for lamb and mojitos, basil for tomato salad, and parsley on the beansprouts from the 'greenhouse'. We've strung a web of washing line overhead, hereafter to be referred to as The Pergola on account of the two ivy plants we're encouraging up it (staked to IKEA metal curtain poles we've got no use for here) and never mind that it currently looks more like a web of washing line... And because I don't hold grudges, I've put in a pot of crimson lontana, in hope of attracting gorgeous butterflies like in Bolton Butterfly House, rather than voracious mealy bugs like on our balcony in Dubai (sob!). Did I mention that we've got a terrace? Once the weather cools (currently mid-30s again, and rising) we'll really sort out indoors, but until then, it's a matter of what can be done before 10, at the weekend, which is not much, cos you have to have a lie-in on a Saturday, don't you, and on Sunday there's the market, and the plant stalls...

July: English language summer camp. We piloted this last year, and boy, did we re-invent the wheel. Sheesh. We had a different theme and project every week, and really banged on about English. The first two weeks felt like EFL Fun Bootcamp. I was up until the small hours, adapting a children's novel into a play which integrated the products of graffiti and hiphop workshops; meanwhile my colleague spent his nights editing and soundtracking stop-motion videos. And then we would roll in for 9-to-5, Monday to Friday, with our 7-17 year-olds. Happy days.
Then we asked the kids for feedback, ran that against our own observation and feelings, and revamped.
The next three weeks were lots of fun, with lots of English, a comic play based on a fairytale, puppetry, a cartoon strip, more video-making, English karaoke and song-writing. It was absolutely lovely.
This year we're doing 4 weeks rather than 5, (with 6-13 year-olds) and working to fortnight frames, rather than weeks, with two over-arching themes: Circus, building on a circus skills workshop and a magician who teaches juggling; and Odyssey, exploiting input on the sea and astronomy. We're also, taking our cues from last year, working much more from the kids themselves - their ages, English levels, interests and friendships - and using English and developing specific projects that arise from these. So much more enjoyable all round than over-planning for over-achievement in what is, when all's said and done, their holiday camp!
Having said that, while the first fortnight was a dream this year, tomorrow is the last day, it's way too hot, the kids are incredibly lively, and we are incredibly knackered. I'm looking forward to doing our show (Our Odyssey is neither by sea nor through space, but through time, in a desperate attempt to save the world from robots which will otherwise exterminate the last of the human race in the year 3000. Love it when 12 year-olds write plays!). And then I am looking forward to August, and A MONTH OFF. Believe me.

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