Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Summer coming to an end...

(Bit of a timelapse from starting to finishing this post - with a change of focus part way through too. )

A couple of hours weeks ago, I rather tearfully waved my lot off to Valladolid. The tears were a bit of a surprise. I usually look forward to a little bit of 'just me' time as I get precious little of it and there are always so many things that I want to do....if only I had some 'me time'!

Anyway, they've gone and the plan was that FR would return in a couple of days, leaving the children with their grandparents for a week or so. We've been planning this all summer, but the weather throughout Spain has been so incredibly hot since the end of June that they were better here where at least we have a pool and a relatively cool house (though even the house has soaked up so much sun and heat that we don't feel that lovely sense of chill when we walk in now.) It has been the most draining summer we've had so far - the early heat waves of June and July have passed, but now we're in the heat of August. Today is the first day the temperatures haven't been in the high 30s (C) and I think we're in for a little respite during the next few days.

I paused a while after the last sentence - dog to walk, chickens to check, feed and water, pool to clean and so on - and got the call to say everyone had safely arrived but that Yayo (Grandfather) has been taken into hospital and not likely to be out for several days. Bladder and kidney problems that sound quite severe....not what we hoped to hear. So, the interim plan changed, and FR would stay a day or so longer to see how things go and then probably return with Ruy and Romy. Mateo will probably stay a bit to help, see his cousin and have a bit of freedom, returning on the bus to Granada, which is a bit of an adventure in itself! Fingers crossed for a good recovery.

And in the meantime, I was rather withdrawn, declining invites to flamenco and fireworks parties...just feeling the need to have a bit of time alone. I am usually outgoing and sociable but I do quite like my own company, sometimes in preference to bigger groups. I've been pottering, walking, sewing and drawing.

I had five days of this rather welcome solitude and made several lovely cushions for my sofas in the lounge, did lots of painting and drawing and tidied the house from top to bottom. Glad to see them back of course - and a strange week we had without Mateo too! How the dynamics of a family change when one of us is missing. Ruy and Romy seemed to squabble and laugh and play and had their moments pretty much as usual but Ruy missed having Mateo around and the house was definitely quieter and lacked its often manic edge. I now know exactly where that comes from!

Mateo had a good week with his cousin, Marco and grandmother, Amelia, and managed to arrived back safely on the bus on Tuesday evening. The rest of us had had a beautiful afternoon on the beach at our new favourite spot near Calahonda in Granada and stopped at the bus station on our way home to meet Mateo. He seemed somehow to have grown and relaxed after a week on his own but said he had only really missed Pippin....

But the news has not been good from the hospital. Yayo, my father-in-law and my godfather, continued to have lots of tests and we now know that he has a cancer. And it's an aggressive one in his oesophagus. His kidneys are not functioning properly still but he has been sent home. FR has just returned to his parents' home on the bus and tomorrow, he will go with them and his brother to speak to the doctors to find out what, if any treatment, is recommended and what decision FR's father will take.

It's a lot to take in and brings the summer holidays to an end in a very sad way. I leave this post with a beautiful photo that Romy took as the sun went down at the beach earlier this week.
Because I don't really know what else to say.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Yes, the song sung by Nat King Cole that I remember so vividly from my childhood. His voice, so easy, so hypnotic and smooth was one that my father, in particular, loved to listen to. My dad was not musical but I have two clear memories that relate him to the music he obviously loved and that we often heard at home when I was young - up to me being about 8, after which the fish and chip shop they bought and worked in wore my parents out to a frazzle and left them little time for listening.

The first of these memories is the singing of Nat King Cole. We had only a couple of his records but they were played a lot and I knew them all. At the time, I wasn't a fan of any of them, apart from the title of this post - which I thought was great fun and I loved those three rhyming words - lazy, hazy and crazy. The second memory is his love of Mario Lanza and his permanent regret that he missed going to a concert by him as he had an ear infection. I've done a bit of research and I think this must have been the concert in Sheffield in 1957. It would have been amazing and most memorable, I am sure. However, I never really grew very attached to this voice, although his power is undeniable.

Nat King Cole, however, has, in the intervening years, become utterly irresistible for me and I love just about everything he sings.

All this is totally irrelevant preamble - because this is my blog - to sharing a few photos and thoughts from our home and lives during these incredibly hot weeks we've been having. I know it hasn't been the same everywhere - some of you have been feeling damp or chilly at times - but it's been so very hot here for so long that I cannot remember what it's like to get up and not see bright blue sky and know that the temperature is going to be well into the 30s.

So - what do we do all day? Well, I have had a couple of weeks where I've been up early and off to work before the sun really starts to hit. It's been fantastic to arrive home and have a dip in the pool - even the little plastic one that we are still using. But the afternoons are when we have to have all the windows closed to keep the sun out, stay as cool as possible indoors and basically wait until around 7 or 8pm before we can start to do anything useful.... Afternoons here in Andalucia are for eating a very late lunch, watching silly films, having a siesta and probably doing some drawing.

Here are some of my Mandala/Zendalas - apologies if you've already seen these posted on Facebook but on here for posterity, or as long as there's a web and because I scanned some of them so the colours are truer to real life. A mandala is a circular drawing, often done in sand or rice, the process of creating it is partly spiritual and partly meditative. A Zendala is a combination of the circular format and the use of specific Zentangle patterns. I am absolutely hooked on creating these at the moment and can confirm that they really do focus the mind and help relaxation and concentration.

I had to laugh recently as I have another blog, Annie's Tangles, where I usually post all my drawings, Zentangles and challenge entries. I had a comment left on one of my posts from a blogging friend from this blog, who'd popped over for a look. I laughed because she said she thought I was speaking a strange language and was there a glossary? And looking at my other blog from a non-tangling point of view, I absolutely understand how she might have wondered what on earth we were all on about! Annie, for your information, it definitely takes a while to get to know all the right words, descriptions and technical terms...but hope you liked what you saw!

This was the first one I did and it took me ages because my usual pens didn't like drawing on top of the acrylic paint. I also wasn't sure what to do about the bit of canvas that the zendala didn't 'fit' - it being round and the canvas being rectangle. I decided to leave it as it was.

Then I found a canvas that I'd had for a while that was square. It is actually quite white in real life but as the canvas is 50 by 50cms it was too big to go in the scanner, so this is a photograph, done without any real photographic help - ie. taken on my phone in the kitchen! I also tried using a permanent marker, rather than my special Zentangle pens, plus white and gold gel pens . It is very finely detailed and quite pretty, I think.

Then I went and bought a couple of smaller canvases - 20 by 20cms - and prepainted them and I got on quite a roll....

I ran it through a Photo Editing programme to put the frame round it - but the scanner reproduced the colours really well - this is pretty much how it looks. What has impressed me is that I started with just three concentric circles in yellow, green and blue. The patterning makes it look more complicated than it really is. 

In this one, I painted and blended related colours - yellow/orange, yellow/green, green/blue, blue/red and red/orange on the canvas to begin with. Then I added a Zentangle 'frame' which you can see around the edge before doing a Zendala starting from the middle and moving outwards. 
And then, utterly inspired by colour, I decided to add some to a tangle I did quite a while ago, just for practice. Here it is in a photo edited frame. I have decided to go and get them framed in town and then I shall put them somewhere in my bedroom and enjoy looking at them.

OK - enough about drawing, painting and Zentangle....or is it????

There are three of mine just about visible in the sea...

Last week, we went to the beach for the day - all together - and decided to go left at the coast, rather than the usual right. We ended up in a lovely place called Calahonda - or rather a little area just before Calahonda called, very appropriately, La Perla de Andalucia - where the beach was clean and long and quiet and the sea was divine.

We wanted a pebbly beach as we had a plan....and the pebbles were spectacular - smooth, round, lots of white ones, lots of sparkly ones. Perfect pebbles.

I had a couple of pens with me, of course, and so now, someone sometime will probably find a smooth, round Zentangled pebble!

During the course of the day, we gathered three big bags of pebbles to put in the garden. However, when we got home and unloaded them, we only filled a quarter of the space - so we have to go back at least another three times!

And after a day on the beach, what did our children do when they got home? Went in the pool! I swear they'll grow fins and flippers before long.....

And our garden? We're definitely learning to live with the ugly floor. We have to, so we are doing. I bought some little mosaic solar lights and love them so much that each evening, at about 9.45, I go outside to count them all as they light up.

A close up of the colours and patterns - bought from Amazon, of course - and Amazon UK at that. How can it be that they are cheaper and the postage is less from there than buying them from Amazon Spain?? And not a bit less but a lot less!

I have them lined up along the terrace and also all around the curved part opposite and they do look lovely, although difficult to photograph with my phone. I may try and get some better shots with my proper camera - if I can remember how to use that... I'm very out of practice.

A few people around, 
but a quiet Paseo de los Alamos.

Did I say 'lazy'? Well, a bit of that, but quite a lot of 'crazy' too. We've had visits and sleepovers and Etnosur in the past couple of weeks. Etnosur, a big music festival held every year in Alcala la Real, seemed more subdued this year. Many local residents leave the town during this weekend but many others have opened their doors in the morning to find someone asleep  or cooking their breakfast on the doorstep...and perhaps have got a bit fed up of finding evidence of a lack of toilet facilities outside the houses. For the first time this year, a lot of wire fencing went up to protect park areas and streets from the visitors who come in camper vans or on the bus and doss down anywhere. They have been directed to designated parts of the town instead - but on the morning and evening when I went into town, the places that are usually packed with people, were very empty.

The shops and stalls around the edge of the park were also fewer than usual and without much custom.

The fountain is always a fun place to go
 and these are not locals, but there aren't many there.
The music was apparently quite good. Mateo went on Saturday night and was out all night. He said there was a real mixture of styles, including rock and African and he enjoyed it. However, we got there at about 2am, with Romy, Ruy, Jasmine and Isabel and there was some really awful music that we didn't like at all. This year, as usual, on the Friday night, we'd heard the distant sound of music in Villalobos. But the organisers had changed to position of the stage to face away from the town, instead of towards it and I was amazed as we walked down from the Paseo de los Alamos, at the top end of town, to the stage area as we simply couldn't hear anything at all! It must be such a relief for the local residents - it's one thing to have a free concert in town, but to not get away from it is quite stressful. I couldn't believe the difference it made. Wonder why it has taken 18 years for someone to think of this solution?

And so the summer continues and the 'hazy' comes from the rolling of one day into the next and then one week into the next. The children have already had one month of holiday - another six weeks to go. There are plans, not quite in place but in mind, to send the children up to their grandparents in Valladolid at the beginning of August, but first, there's the Medieval Festival at La Mota, here in Alcala this weekend and this year, our neighbour, Sergio, has succeeded in convincing the local council that an Archery competition is just what is needed to add authenticity to the event. So he and Ruy will be donning their costumes and taking on all comers...although actually, I have no idea what is planned. Maybe it will be a proper competition and maybe it will be the chance for visitors to fire a few arrows themselves. I will report back! Should be fun either way. Do come along if you're in the area, won't you? There is always some good fun activities for the children - last year organised by a friend of ours - and the food is excellent. And there could hardly be a better setting than the wonderful fortress castle in our historic town.  If you go in costume, it's free entry too!

A photo taken from a previous event that I found on the internet.

So - lazy, hazy or crazy - we definitely feel like it's summer at the moment.
What's the weather like where you are?

Friday, 17 July 2015

'Es una chapuza' or The Psychology of Disappointment

I had been planning a very different post. This time last week, we were watching the workmen in our garden, laying metres and metres of concrete in searing heat and feeling very sorry for them and grateful to them. But since then, I have felt differently.  I have felt disappointed.


My text won't go any bigger. 
As you may guess, there has been a bit of a cock up with our garden path. There is a wonderful word for it in Spanish....una chapuza. I will share a few photos of veritable 'chapuzas' that I have found on the internet. You'll get the idea immediately!

OK, these are chapuzas that lead to inconvenience and disbelief. But it sort of sums up the sense that a chapuza, at best, is a botched job; careless work, a 'made-do' thing. 
Or maybe something done without sufficient prior thought or knowledge. You get the idea.

The expectation of seeing the final work came to a height on Saturday morning. We heard Miguel arrive at around 7am and knew that he had to powerwash all the residual powder off the concrete and then seal it with resin, so we stayed in bed a little longer than usual so that we could emerge to see the finished result. I admit, I was very excited. And took a peek from the bathroom window to the area outside the door. 

And squealed with pleasure - it looked fantastic!

Just the lovely, soft neutral, natural colours that I had wanted. 

The rest, which was a slightly more sandy-colour with darker tints on top, could only be more impressive as there was so much more of it!

NO, NO, NO. Disaster. Terrible. Awful. Unimaginable. Horrible....I won't continue but I really couldn't believe my eyes. Instead of a gently weathered brick effect, my garden looked like a garage forecourt or a place where oily motorbikes had been whizzing around. Blotchy, obvious patches where the tint had been spread and hadn't gently dissolved into the concrete. Some of the patches were so dark and round that it really looked as though we'd be walking oil into house if we inadvertently stepped in them. Awful......and the disappointment that hit both FR and I was palpable. We could hardly speak.

Miguel, if he could, would have run away without speaking to us that morning, but we dragged him back. I just kept saying to him that surely there was something wrong; that this wasn't the effect he had expected to leave us with; that he must acknowledge there was a problem. He said very little but did that unique Mediterranean high-shouldered shrug, elbows bent and palms held upwards..and turned his mouth downwards almost further than a mouth can go. And then he left, muttering something about leaving it to dry a bit longer and that he'd return on Monday.

I have since been pondering on the psychology of disappointment. 
The strength of the disappointment is, not surprisingly, directly related to the expectation of outcome beforehand.  If the outcome exceeds expectation, then the reaction is very often elation or excitement. I had truly expected to be elated! There is a further stage too. Initially, I was left thinking that there would be a solution. That we could right this wrong and all would be well. The intervening time has proved otherwise. 

Miguel returned, not on Monday, but on Tuesday. FR had been doing his research and discovered that problems with this type of concrete and the colouring process can occur when the weather is too cold, too wet OR TOO BLOODY HOT! I guess the latter would apply to us. 

But how come the door section is so lovely?

Well, it was the first part that he did - earliest and coolest part of the day. Explains a lot. But Miguel, man of few words, either didn't think about it, didn't know about it, or didn't really care about it. Whichever, he's left us with a grubby and ugly expanse of concrete in our garden.

When he returned, he offered to put another layer of concrete over the top and recolour it, but FR was ahead of him - this is apparently the solution that is often offered but the result is usually worse than the original, so we declined. He then suggested digging it all up and relaying it - but finished off by say 'that would cost you a lot of money'. I didn't actually see FR's blood boil, but I think I heard it bubbling....

So, the psychology of disappointment. It comes with the final realisation that you don't have or can't get the thing you really wanted. And this in turn leads to facing reality. And we can do this in a variety of ways: anger, sadness or depression being three common options or routes. 

We did a bit of all three between us, me and FR. I even felt ashamed - I have been thinking of putting up a sign...'Please forgive our awful driveway, it isn't our fault.'

We've done lots of other things as well. I've been out and scrubbed some of the patches with a bit of wire wool. The patch came out - hurray! - but so did the top layer of concrete and the resin finish....
FR set upon a slightly hidden patch with an electric sander and had pretty much the same result, only with more concrete removed....we've spoken to a solicitor and the insurance company and sent photos to the product company. 

There isn't really much we can do....

SO - do you want to see it??? This is the hardest part for me. But this is where the psychology of disappointment and one's own personal psychological type comes into play. I have today been into work and for the first time, opened up about what happened. I told two different people about it - and showed them some photos. And it helped me SO, SO much. 

How can that be? Well, possibly because I am an extrovert and an optimist and hate 'bottling up' my feelings. I feel better for letting out my frustration and disappointment. I'm not really angry. I have felt sad. But as I drove home, I realised that I felt better. 

OK. Here are some of the worst bits!!

FR is not an extrovert and often gets very angry over what I consider to be unimportant things but on this great big thing, he's been so cool and rational and positive that I am assessing him all over again....again. And when I got home, feeling better and more optimistic that between us, we could find a way to put this right...he had come to exactly the same conclusion. I don't want to put any details here - too public. But watch this space...

And taking the long view. Well, the overall effect is that things look and feel much better than they did - if you don't look too closely, of course.

The 'gap' in the middle is to be filled with white stones and provides a
drainage section - assuming that one day, it will rain, of course!

View from the gate - which needs to be rehung.
The steps down need finishing too.
And in the distance on the right, you can see we've now got the little old pool up - an absolute necessity in this weather - and at least it's a pleasure to walk out to it now.

And now, I don't actually feel disappointed as such. I feel rather proud of how we've managed our disappointment. Hey, aren't we lucky - another learning opportunity!!

However, I absolutely BEG of you not to sympathise with me over this. By all means, leave me a comment as to how you think we could disguise the mess, add features that distract the eye, etc. The way I can get over it is to move on. It's not the end of the world and my sense of humour is still intact. And we have found great comfort in the fact that we didn't pay for ALL of it upfront.....

(Of course, if all else fails, I will simply Zentangle over the whole lot of it!!)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Melting point

There's a heat wave or three hitting Europe at the moment - if you didn't already know.

Captured by a friend of ours 

We've been on yellow and red alert in this area for the past two weeks and now there are several serious forest fires in Jaen and neighbouring provinces.

...not far from where he was holidaying

About 116 degrees F...

Record highs have been hit this month and on the date/weather displays in cities like Cordoba and Sevilla, there have been figures that seem impossible.  Suffocating.

Here in Villalobos, it's been around 38 degrees C (or 100 degrees F) most afternoons and the nights have remained quite hot until the very early hours of the morning. Sleep is easiest in the afternoons in our cool, thick-walled house. With the fan on. Fortunately, we haven't had to use air-conditioning but the pisos in the town will definitely have needed theirs on almost non-stop to keep the heat at bay.

It hasn't hindered the amazing Miguel and his little team from battling on at our house. FR had eventually arrived at a point in the garden where we could arrange to have a proper floor put down. Masses and masses of work he's put in over the past year - and at times, I have been guilty of wondering what the heck he was doing, (yes, I admit it) but now, the method in his ways are clearly visible. We're going to have a fantastic garden...

As yet, it's not quite finished. In this searing heat, Miguel has been arranging the pouring of concrete across the prepared areas, colouring it with powders and then stamping patterns on it. I will share a couple of the photos as things are - the 'final' photos will follow next week. ('Final' because as you will see, there is still plenty for us to do to finish off what we've started here....)

Trapped indoors as I took this photo....the first section going down.
FR keeping his beady eye on things!

View from Ruy's bedroom window of the area that was next in line for a cemented layer.
(Why is it in black and white, I wonder?)

With the colours mixed but not finished yet.....

Still impossible to imagine the finished look, though I guess it will be a sort of random mix of these two colours.....
There was a bit of an issue about the colours....this colour here is 'Crema' - although I swear to all and sundry that we finally chose a colour called 'Corcho', which is 'cork', I wanted it a bit darker and more neutral than I thought the Crema colour would be, so when I came home and saw this, I had a mini-apoplectic fit! However, it was already done and as it's going to end up different from its 'naked' state here, I am sure it will be fine - and if not, then SO much better than the way it was before! It won't be either grey OR sand-coloured when it is finished.

The colour in front of the door is a bit warmer but we didn't want the whole garden a warm colour - rather one that wouldn't emphasis the heat!

But my, how the men have worked. From 7am until around 12, with the temperature rising above 30C before 9am. It's going to make such a difference to our house and I can hardly wait to see it when they have put the resin coat down and then power-washed off all the excess coloured powders. But I have to wait until Monday!!

Then, the plan is to put out the small pool that we had last year and the year before, in its usual place. In the autumn, in good time this year, FR will finalise the arrangements for a bigger pool for the coming year. Now we have decided on its situation and the land around it is prepared and flat. It will be further away from the house, but takes advantage of the huge amount of land that we have and as yet don't really make use of. Slowly, slowly...we will get there.

And, at risk of making this a much longer post than I intended, I just want to mention that last week, my darling husband reached the ripe old age of 50. We celebrated in the most muted style imaginable with just a good dinner, a bottle of cider and a bit of Zentangle.

A joint effort on a wine box with some of his favourites inside. 

And we had cake....

Romy may be looking more grown up these days, but I'm delighted to see that she is still just a big kid inside.

And as happens every year.....

One week later and it's Mateo's birthday!! This year, he has reached the dizzying heights of 17.
So proud of him....

He really wanted a motorbike, I know, but I made him a summer pudding instead.
I'm working on the motorbike idea....but not just yet.

And the heat is set to continue. With all the work reaching a point where we could stop and have a rest, I think the beach is calling....

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shpeekin' Inglis. (B2 or not B2.)

It's several weeks since I wrote a post and in that time, I haven't really read anyone else's blog or even thought about blogging. Blame Facebook! So many of my friends from blogworld are now Facebook friends too and when life is a bit hectic,then a quick scan of status posts makes me feel like I'm still in touch.

But here's a brief round up....

  • Romy's performance, which wrote about in my last post. 
  • Hot on the heels of this incredible production, we had end of term exams; 
  • Ruy had archery competitions - where he walked off with one 3rd and two 1st prizes. 
  • And my students at work had their English B2 exams.

And here's some detail, as much for me to remember it all by as for a blog post in its own right...

The exam preparation was quite time consuming for me as we did the Trinity syllabus, which is very interactive and requires a lot of extra input from the teacher! (At least, this teacher seemed to put in a lot of extra hours....there is always a lot to learn.)

B2 indicates the level of English that a foreign student has to reach in order to study at an English University. And I have been preparing a class of 10 people from the offices and research department in the factory where I am working. It's been very interesting, to say the least, teaching a group of adults who have different backgrounds, different experiences of learning English but who have close and friendly working relationships with each other. Our classes - held over the lunch break twice a week - have occasionally been utterly rowdy!

I know from teaching teenagers and younger children that I've always had a sneaky soft spot for the noisy, energetic individuals who liven up proceedings - or sometimes disrupt them - and who keep you on your toes. I could name several that I will never forget and I was delighted the other day to bump into one of them, who will be about 16 now, I think. When he saw me, instead of the usual polite greeting that I occasionally get from ex-students, he opened his arms wide and gave me a big hug and said how happy he was to see me! Made my day.

Teaching adults is different. But my B2 class has been very different! There's a great phrase that sums up how it's felt teaching this lively and disparate group of people - it's been like herding cats! We have had since mid-February to start the work, which is in two main parts - written and spoken, with the emphasis on communication. The written part took place at the end of May and a few people had problems with the timing...nothing we can do about that now! The spoken part consisted of preparing a portfolio of three writing tasks done in different styles - letter, report and creative - and which can be corrected as many times as needed before submission. The teacher can't directly correct but can indicate where mistakes have been made. The final results were, in my opinion, really well done and I was pleased with everyone's efforts. At the actual interview, students go in individually and converse with the examiner for about 12 minutes. They have around 4 minutes to talk about a subject or topic of their choice. My group had an incredibly wide range of topics - from a disastrous honeymoon to producing specialist plastic film products; from a childhood in France to a childhood in Transylvania; and from the guitar to business planning! In addition, they had to talk about their portfolio, including asking the examiner some questions and leading an interactive session to find out details of a strange or unusual situation that the examiner introduces.

The examiner was in for quite an afternoon!

The date for the interview was 25th June - which just happened to be my birthday - and my students were due in both before and after the lunch break. There were three - and I picked the three that might be most nervous - before lunch and they arrived all together and definitely nervous. The other six were after lunch. (One person chose not to enter the exam, but had been in our classes - if you wonder where the 10th had gone!) But I'd met the examiner beforehand - a very sweet, gentle and rather eccentric (at least so she appeared to the Spanish folk) retired FE teacher, who spoke slowly and calmly and very clearly - and so I was sure that my students wouldn't have a problem. And the first one emerged smiling broadly. Then my only dubious candidate went in - she'd been very busy and rather stressed for a few weeks previously and I felt her speaking had actually deteriorated, rather than improved and I was a bit concerned. However, she too emerged with a big smile and a huge sense of relief. She said she surprised herself with how fluent she had been! And the final morning candidate left the room, more than 12 minutes later, and punched the air with delight!!

I went with the examiner and my friend from the Academy for lunch in the park - a glorious spot in full view of the castle. The examiner was enchanted with the place and sweetly anxious to know how the candidates seemed to be when they left the exam. I told her that they seemed to have enjoyed their conversation and felt that it had gone well. (Maybe it would help in the results, maybe not!!)

And then they arrived....a group of my B2 students came to the park BEFORE their exam...and I could hear them clearly speaking in English, ordering a beer or four! Eeek!!!

As the examiner went back to prepare for the afternoon session, I scurried over to my group just in time for George to see my face and change his order to a non-alcoholic beer. They'd already had two.
Elena was the first of the afternoon interviews and she definitely was going to be a nervous candidate especially for the interactive session, which for her was a potential nightmare. She pushes herself hard and has put in an incredible amount of work in preparation and likes to know she has her facts clear. She has given us some unintentional laughs over the period as she's tried to be 'spontaneous' in the interactive practice.... However, after two beers, she seemed remarkably relaxed. Jolly even. And on the verge of ordering another beer! I had to drag her away and we had an hilarious twenty minutes waiting for her exam, where she never stopped talking with Toni in English. I only hoped the examiner wouldn't notice - although to me, it was quite obvious that Elena's usual somewhat formal demeanour had disappeared. Fortunately, she came out smiling, though complaining that it had gone far too quickly and that she had lots more she wanted to talk about - her topic was Equality for Women.

The next two were utterly sober and quiet and sensible. One came out not too happy but as he's from the Pays Basco and much less extroverted than the rest of the group, it was in keeping. He speaks very well but he isn't the most interactive of types - and when the examiner asked whether he wanted to ask her any questions (a cue to do so), he said, no thank you!

Whilst the other candidate was in, the remaining three from the park emerged....full of beans. Lots of beans. There has been a long standing joke about using the word 'subtle' during the classes, on account of the very direct approach of one person. He's worked very hard in softening his style of writing, which bordered on brutal, but still has a tendency to pronounce the word 'shuttle'. It was the ambition of the group to use the word at least once during their interview, so the three remaining candidates were practising. In whispers, so we didn't disturb the exam in progress. It was not reassuring, though it was very comical.

Eventually, all three had been in, done their bit and come out. Then they left to return to work. As the last one closed the door, the examiner emerged from her room. I swear she looked exhausted! And she said, 'Well they were a lively bunch, weren't they? Are they yours?' - and I SO wished those last three had still been around, then I could have said - 'THAT'S subtlety!'

The next morning, the students from the Academy had their exams and then Toni, Becky (the native English teacher at the Academy, who took over from me when I left) and I waited for the examiner to finish off and give us the feedback - and the results - from the interviews.  We were all on tenterhooks and most concerned that our students had done their best. (I was also worried that the examiner might come out and tell me I shouldn't allow my candidates to enter for their interviews in a state of inebriation.) But eventually, we had our minds put at rest. All my students passed - and a few of them passed really well indeed. Alberto - with his honeymoon story and great sense of humour - had impressed enough to get 3 As, which is fantastic.

I went back to the factory to share the news and there was much whooping and hugging and a great sense of relief. We had still to wait until late July for the results of the written exams, but as the spoken part amounts to 70% of the exam, most people feel they've made the grade. And they are also keen to continue onto the next level. I may have work for a bit longer yet.

Thank you if you've made it to the end of this quite personal ramble. I don't know who will have done, but if you are or have been a teacher, you'll understand the anxiety and concerns that you have when it's exam time. And at least I've only had 9 students!! I know that they are all pleased to have passed - one or two definitely thinking they could have done better and one or two feeling hugely relieved - but I suspect my own delight and relief almost matches theirs.

And now BREATHE! It's holiday time.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Beauty, the Beast and the Teapot

For those of you who are Facebook friends, you will know already that this week has been very important.

Two years ago, Romy's school did a performance of 'The Lion King' for the end of term and they did it in the local theatre. It is still talked about now with respect, admiration and awe. This year, the school decided they would do 'Beauty and the Beast' and as far as I remember, they held auditions for the various main parts either at the end of last year or early this year. And Romy auditioned for the part of Mrs. Potts and she got it. She was rather nervous about auditioning and she had to learn quite a few lines of dialogue and sing the well-known song from the show. But she did it.

Then all went quiet for a while before the parents were summoned to a meeting - in February, I think - to discuss costume-making. I was a bit worried as sewing is definitely not my forte! I was even more shocked to discover the hall was full to bursting with parents, mainly mums, and to find out that there would be 155 children in the play! The chaos of that meeting gave me a few negative feelings about the undertaking but was relatively relieved to discover that as Romy was a main character, I wouldn't have to make her costume.

Then towards the beginning of April, I was summoned to another meeting. This time with Puri, one of the Infant school teachers, who said I was to make the dress that Romy would wear under her teapot costume and she showed me a still from a performance of the play that had been put on in Madrid. It was a high necked, frilly white satin blouse and a long white satin skirt. Not a dress. Puri said I could buy the material and a lady who lived in the Calle Columbia would make it for me.

Now, my granny was a tailor - not a Taylor though - and my mum always made lovely dresses for my sister and me when we were little. My sister is an incredibly good seamstress and had a flair for design as well. My needlework teacher, who despaired at my dreadful attempts at school, couldn't believe Judy was my sister when she came to the school a few years after me. I never finished anything and nothing ever looked right either. I do own a sewing machine but it never worked properly and without instructions, I could never remember how to thread the thing. And I admit, it frightened me somewhat.

But I decided I would make Romy's costume myself. It was a learning opportunity and there was plenty of time to get it right.

Good job there was plenty of time!

Thinking a dress would be too difficult, I decided to make a skirt and a blouse and I began straight away by making a blouse in 'draft' (I don't even know what this would be called) using some old material and a pattern from a friend. It was too small. So I decided to make the skirt and at the market, I found some lovely, off-white satiny material that wasn't too heavy and I successfully made a skirt. It was very full and a bit bulky. I admit, but I'd made it. I went back to the market the following week to get some more material for the blouse....and they didn't have any more.

Undaunted, I bought some white satin, which is what I had been told to buy anyway, thinking to see which looked best. And I went home and made a blouse which wasn't too bad. It took me some time to make it and by the time I had finished, I could almost remember how to thread the machine without looking at the pictures in my instruction book! Almost.

But as you can see from the photo, it didn't look too good with the skirt. I wasn't happy. And there was too much material everywhere.

So I went to every shop in Alcala to try and find some more cream satin to match the skirt. Why I didn't think it would be easier just to buy some more white satin, I'm not sure....but I didn't. I couldn't find any anywhere that was just the same, so I returned to the market and bought some cream satin, that was thicker and not as nice as the original stuff but which at least was a similar colour, And quite expensive as I remember.

I decided to make a simpler style blouse and laid Romy on top of my material and drew round her.
Then I cut this out with a bit to spare and then, with great speed and confidence, I sewed it up and tried it on her. It wasn't an absolutely perfect fit, but it wasn't bad at all. Spurred on at this success, I decided to take the skirt in and have it more fitted. A doddle. I could now thread the machine and run a seam up in mili-seconds. And soon, I'd sewn the trimmings on and finished both the skirt and the top successfully - and look how beautiful my daughter looks in them!

I was quite happy when I took these in to school at the next meeting. And I was ready to offer my help if anyone needed it...but I was told that first, I should buy 4 metres of a slightly spongy material that had a satiny top layer - I'm sure it has a name but I don't know what in either Spanish or English- in the same creamy colour as Romy's costume. I was so glad I hadn't made it white! And then I had to bring it into school and they would show me the pattern and how to turn it into the teapot.
It slowly began to dawn on me that I was going to have to make the teapot part as well....

The next few weeks saw me backwards and forwards at school as we all groped our way blindly round the plan for making a teapot costume. Puri had her ideas but as I began to put them into practice, I could see they were flawed....there was a moment when I'd followed all her instructions but was left with something that was definitely never going to be a teapot! A bit of back-tracking and I discovered how to make the shape we were looking for. Oh gosh, and sewing the thing together, adding whalebone round the middle, trying to sew the wavy ribbon around the centre was SO difficult and of course, impossible to do with the machine and I couldn't get so much thick material to go through. I sewed until my fingers bled, then I had to tape them up and sew some more....

But in the end, I finished it and the beastly teapot began to look pretty good!

The school secretary had made Romy a teapot lid hat, which was fantastic and Puri made the spout 'arm' - and although this picture is rather out of focus, I think you have to agree, we did a sterling job between us. (I tried to persuade Romy to take her pink socks off for the photo but she was having none of it - she had some lovely cream and gold shoes for the performances, which matched beautifully.)

All that was left was to go and see the show.

And oh what a show!!!

For three nights, the children of Jose Garnica Salazar put on a spectacle that deserved to be seen by everyone. Hearts and souls were poured into the acting, the dancing, the acrobatics, the singing and just being part of a wonderful, wonderful show. It was very cleverly staged and the children acted brilliantly with the songs being performed to a playback tape from the film version. They had such confidence and energy and there was something for all ages to take part in. The town has a very successful acrosports group and there are several champions of Spain at different age groups. Many of the girls are at the school and they performed some very impressive routines during the show. The townsfolk scenes were lively and colourful and the Gaston character was impressively swaggery and confident for a young boy of possibly 12 years old.
There were plates, forks, spoons, can-can dancers, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers as well as a candlestick, a clock, a feather duster, a chipped cup, some amazing wolves in the forest, and touchingly, children in wheelchairs taking their part too. There were tiny children in spectacular costumes doing dance routines - and of course a teapot, an animated and charming Belle and the Beast  - and his alter ego, the Prince.

I managed to sneak in on the first night after I'd finished work and arrived before Romy had done her main part. All the songs were mimed by the children - all except Romy who was singing live. She has a nice voice, without doubt, but I wasn't prepared for how lovely and unafraid she was when she sang. And when we went to see it all together on the last night, she had gained in confidence and sang her little heart out to the most amazing applause at the end. She very nearly brought the house down.

Here are some photos from the play - I do apologise for the quality, it was so difficult to get some good shots but you can get a feel for the amazing work everyone has done.

With the wolves in the forest - aren't they fantastic!

Some of the characters in the castle - including Mrs Potts!

Lumiere, out of focus, but a lovely wardrobe and a brilliant Beast, bottom centre. Don't miss Chip, the cup on the trolley!

Another out of focus one, but with Belle on the chair.

Action shot as the acrosport girls arrive

...and the spoons, forks, plates and can-can girls join them

Lumiere, Belle, Mrs. Potts and Chip - now in human form. Just look at the costumes!

This is when the townsfolk come to storm the castle...
I took some video as well but you must forgive the awful quality. My recording is really poor as I was up in the balcony but I have to share these clips. The first one is a great little scene when the townsfolk come, with Gaston, in the red boots, to try and storm the castle and get Belle back. But they weren't prepared for the resistance!

And here is the jolly good fun scene, with lots of action on stage.

And here is Romy singing at the end of the show on the first night. It's not the very best she sang but it's the best recording I was able to make. You can't see my tears!

 And I am so happy because my mother in law was able to come down to see the show. It's a long journey from Valladolid, but she was utterly swept away by it all. Everyone in Alcala was, I think. And at the end, it was really rather special to hug the teachers and staff from the school and feel so very much a part of it all. Sadly, my mum wasn't able to come - she would have loved it too.

But the very best part of all was the pure pleasure that Romy and her school friends got from doing the shows - all the hard work paid off and they really did enjoy every minute.
Such a great experience for them.

SO - we've had a roller-coaster of a week. How has yours been?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Living up to their names...

Despite my garden looking like a bombsite - now and for the foreseeable future - the roses are blooming and it's wonderful to have little touches of colour around.

Casa Rosales.

The pink ones outside the computer room window.
The Clematis and Rosemary also rather abundant this year - ie. unkempt!

One of the red ones - camera colours might be playing up a tad!

I did prune this one quite harshly but it's gone crazy!

This one came from Sam when she left - the colours are so pretty,

This is the yellow, sweet-smelling bush that is in the middle of the garden.
The lovely colour doesn't show well here, so I took a close up....

Yellow from a distance and when fully open, but tinged pink as they are in bud and opening.

Not out yet, but dozens of buds on this white bush.

And this one I bought for 6 euros in a little pot last has really flourished and flowered almost through to December.

FR decided - on a whim - to change the intended location of the swimming pool. We had a couple of tense days when he ignored my pleas to rethink or at least concentrate on finishing one job before starting the next. I lost the battle. Which is quite a surprise to me. I don't usually. But I lost this one.
I think in his panic to push home his plan, he allowed Juan the Digger to dig too deep a hole and leave it not wide enough....

I am not best pleased with things as they stand. FR has a lot of work to do before I am
convinced his action has been right....

It was our village fiesta this weekend and I am at least relieved to have heard FR speaking to Juan, asking him to return and adjust the dimensions. Talk about digging your own....

Photos of the fiesta to follow. Needless to say, a good time was had by all and the food was excellent this year.