Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is Grammar?

It´s not what makes life interesting but it makes a lot of interesting things possible in life.

In most cases a more sophisticated structure makes life more comfortable: you can survive in a tent (and it´s always refreshing to go back to basics!) but it´s nice to have light, water, energy, heating, sanitation and communication.

Then you get to personalise yours, adding the colours, shapes and textures you like, bringing favourite objects and adding new embellishments.

The result being that everyone´s is slightly different.

Finally you get to live in it and throw a party now and again!

On the other hand, when you´re struggling to get in and you haven´t got a key, it can feel like hitting a brick wall...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bastard Pie

No sweet tooth have I, but going on a sugar-free diet is one sure way to stop you thinking twice about the virtues of creating something so absolutely off-limit.

So in the cupboard there was a see-through container which was half-filled with a variety of smashed up biscuits which bizarrely kept on winking at me. So as we had friends coming it was the perfect excuse to remove temptation by do something I never do - make a dessert!

Mmmm... smashed up biscuits... some fresh, but battered-looking bananas... what does that tell you? Here you can get "dulce de leche" which is ready made condensed milk toffee in a jar. But it was a bank holiday and there was none competing for space in the cupboard. However, there was some liquid Caramel (bought for those créme caramels/flans de huevo, never made, although talked about for the last six years) and that lonely and almost full tin of Golden Syrup and of course Honey. The forgotten tin of syrup landed first in my hands, uncovering that tin of Custard Powder (spot the nostalgia items). I hadn´t got any cream (lactose also being off the list) and the thought of combining my all time favourite of Bananas and Custard (which my Grandma always used to make me) into my own take on two classics got those sweet tasting buds quivering in anticipation!

Without little further ado, the rest of the biscuits were beaten into submission (they are the enemy, after all!), mixed with some marge and stamped down to cover the bottom of a tart dish. A generous drizzle of Golden Syrup, a layer of sliced bananas with a little lemon juice squeezed over, followed by lashings of custard (made with "bad" milk and the last scrapings from the disconsolate sugar bowl), finally dusted with Cinnamon and Chocolate powder... then left to chill out in the fridge.

So there you have it Bastard Pie, the bastard child of Bananas and Custard and Banoffee Pie!


Sorry, no photo - it disappeared like snow in the sun!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Late on the first day of school!

It´s always been my nightmare, but I never thought I could be late for on-line school!

There´s always some excuse - getting lost on campus, underestimating public transport times.... ...mine was that my email address was spelled wrong... I didn´t know where to find my virtual classroom!

Anyhow, better late than never!

I´m looking forward to getting to virtually meet my new classmates!

Diploma in TESOL

So I´ve taken the plunge to do the Master´s of my profession. This has already meant sacrifices - I´ve left Freud Quiere Bailar - but I know it´s the time to do it!

Week 1 Tasks

I like the fact that I can dip in and out of the activities online. I consider myself a slow learner and it´s been a long time since I´ve done any extended studying. I feel I need to read a bit then leave it to let it sink in of it´s own accord. Hopefully, I will soon get the academic knack back!

I´m really looking forward to connecting everything both mentally and in practice... the unknown is always daunting, but not without a healthy dose of excitement!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

173 Million!! Stand Against Poverty

So this year I didn´t do or go to a Stand Against Poverty event. I had been berating myself for my inaction, I had wondered about whether I could somehow bring it into our gig last Friday 16th October, which was actually a Švyturys (Lithuanian Beer) promotion night. But realised that it would probably be a gesture as hollow as the barrels at the end of the night. I can´t escape the fact, for me it´s got to have some meaning. With further thought I let myself off the guilt trip as last year I helped provoke two events: the Darwin´s Nightmare screening in the streets of the Raval and the Freud Quiere Bailar gig at Comafosca. (Thereby inadvertently playing with the Guinness Record Book statistics in the process...) Here´s the vid:

All this thinking (if not standing) did lead me to reflect on those little things I´ve done over the last year that I hope might have done something for the cause: volunteering as an interpreter for Medecins Sans Frontieres (really intense, really difficult!), making Kiva microcredits (great karma - your money comes back and you put back the same $25 into circulation, doubling the benefits!), upping my membership subscription to MSF, spreading the word about Kiva by setting up group lending teams for Kroonos (members have now lent $1,200!) and Avaaz... Small actions but big results!

Which should be rewarded success, failure or inaction?
I´m reading Weird Ideas That Work about fostering corporate creativity and innovation and one of the ideas is that inaction should be punished; success and failure rewarded - after all, the benefit of failure is you can learn from it, and hell! at least you tried, took a risk, stopped playing it safe.

Giving is rewarding, maybe that´s also considered a selfish motive, but so what! Altruism is not a common word in today´s thinking. I think it can be easy to turn our back on other distant people´s suffering, hearing about nasty things can make us feel really uncomfortable, saddened and hopeless - but ignoring them doesn´t make it go away either. (And don´t worry, I´m the first - I can´t watch the news, but I like to think that´s a slightly different story.) I think the MSF are really positive in how they present their campaigns, and although NGOs get a lot of stick nowadays, at least they´re doing something - the aim should be not to stop doing things, but to learn how to do things better! Films like Hotel Rwanda and The Constant Gardener do credit to the film-makers in the way they can deal with emotionally impossible subjects in a swallowable form, but there is still an important place for hard documentary like Darwin´s Nightmare or Channel Four´s Dispatches How to get ahead in Africa - we mustn´t completely lose touch with reality.

Anyhow, the good news is 173 million people stood up against poverty last weekend, breaking last year´s record of 116m! But what´s most interesting should be the follow up - what happens between now and this time next year, how do we keep the pressure on for the Millennium Goals and what little things can we do to make a difference?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Waste not Want not: Blog Action Day 2009

Climate change - are we being force-fed the new terrorism?

I´m not a scientist, but that doesn´t stop me being titillated by the prospect of debate.

Every now and again I check out George Monbiot´s blog to see what he´s got to say. My friend Coco suggested I watch The Great Global Warming Swindle, I thought why not - you´ve got to know both sides of the story...

I thought it was interesting, and quite convincing... the scientists are quibbling over whether current climate change is caused by us, more specifically our CO2 emissions, or whether it´s a result of solar activity. For all I know it could be both... We don´t live in a vacuum - climate will inevitably change, so what do I care? Well, arguing about the causes for me is largely beside the point.

The point for me is that we need energy, well that´s why we eat, isn´t it? On the very simplest level, life is energy and we require energy to live. This makes it ubiquitous but at the same time highly valuable, you know, just like water (another often taken for granted requisite for life). So the bone I´ve got to pick is not about what´s causing climate change - but how we waste and misuse the energy that is available to us and in the process cause damage to ourselves and other species and possibly prevent a more equitable distribution of energetic currency. CO2 is a killer - as can be seen from one suicidal practice and if you´ve become asthmatic like me you can most probably attest to the discomfort of running to catch a train or bus in the city...

In the (over) developed world we´re living, like some hormone-injected cow, on the edge of the "golden age" of consumerism - the sickness of plenty. The more you have, the more you waste. Recycling is not new. When you have less you value little things more. There are no end to the old sayings that reflect this: one man´s rubbish is another man´s treasure. We wallow in our own depressing solipsism: if it has no value for me, it has no value for anyone. Me, me, Me, me, ME! We´re the prey of modernism: new = better. What happened to "If it ain´t broke don´t fix it" - do we have a choice? No! Nothing´s designed to last too long, companies would lose future markets, and anyway they can produce it, export it and sell it for cheaper than anyone can fix it. What a waste!

Oh yeah and time, don´t forget how we can waste time by "saving" time. So we spend our life buzzing around like blue-arsed flies - it´s always quicker by car (haha) - and then we find we´re stressed and don´t know how to wind down. So we drive to the gym to do some exercise or to the yoga centre to do some meditation. Maybe biking to work would give you that adrenaline rush and walking to school would give you time to think about things. We should do ourselves a favour, giving ourselves more time to do things that take longer, sacrifice a bit of comfort to taste the air, see what´s happening in the world.

Climate change could just be a tag being put on the tip of that environmental iceberg which contains all the harmful consequences of our interference with our environment - there are countless pollutants we´ve used over the last 100 years or so, countless projects tweaking nature to serve us better but having unconsidered consequences for someone or something else further down the cycle. It´s quite easy to see carbon deposits as a resource which is now depleting - we extract until there´s nothing left, big deal, the bowl´s empty. However the water cycle is highly complex - it involves everything from rocks to trees, from people to seas. What happens to the ground when water is over-exploited from the catchment area? What happens to the soil when the trees are burnt or chopped down. What about the water capacity of woods and forests? What happens to the delta when the river´s dammed up stream, what happens to the plants waiting for the river´s food to flood over them? Why is a natural disaster always said to be "natural"? Greed, carelessness and lack of consideration are human disasters.

I wouldn´t be a vegetarian if I didn´t think that small gestures can affect the world, habits can be changed if you think it matters - imagine, I used to love meat!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flores Para Frida

Most of the most interesting opportunities spring straight out of the blue... and this was definitely one of them! A friend from the parashuts collective asked if I´d be interested in doing a photoshoot for a Mexican Fashion and Design company, Flores Para Frida.

After a number of false starts during an unusually showery spring in Barcelona, we decided to go for it, despite the threatening clouds, armed with a suitcase full of elegant dresses and exotic accessories from the Flores Para Frida Collection.

We headed for The Park of the Labyrinth, nestling in the folds of the hills around Barcelona. The gardens are full of hidden arbours, fountains, pools and statues - ideal, and because of the weather there were very few visitors.

Seeing the photos up on the screen I couldn´t resist going for an ultra-saturated look (see Flickr)... now I can see that it´s laying it on a bit, but I loved playing around with the vibrancy of the colours and recomposing the image with some heavy-duty cropping... there´s plenty of fun to be had from experimenting!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ser Autónomo: Modelo 37 & TA.0521/1

The low-down on how I became a self-employed TEFL Teacher in Spain. A Gestor (look for gestoría or asesoría in the phonebook) will charge a good 70€ for doing the paper-and-leg-work to register you as autónomo - you can do it yourself.

This is what I found out... they are only guidelines, don´t take it as bible as things change and you should always ask along the way to make sure it fits you and your circumstances!:

Modelo 037

Firstly, you can download the necessary form (modelo) from the Agencia Tributaria (or you´ll have to pay for them on the spot!). You will need to complete the Mod 037 to register with the Censos as autónomo (dar la alta), change your details, or when you cease to be self-employed (dar la baja). As is usual with legal forms, they are largely impenetrable, even when armed with a good dictionary! You can download the instructions which help a little and I completed the obvious (name, address, etc.) then asked for help as I went along to the local Agencia Tributaria and Tesoreria General de la Seguridad Social (both open weekday mornings 8.30-14.00). In the end there were many sections that didn´t need completing; here are the ones that did for me:

Modelo 037
  • 101 (NIE Tarjeta de Residencia)
  • 102 Surname, Name
  • 111 Alta X
  • 2 Identificación: Domicilio fiscal en España
  • 3 IRPF
  • 600 Alta 602 Fecha
  • 609 Estimación directa simplificada 650 Fecha
  • 4 IVA 501 "SI" (teaching is free of value-added tax)
6 Declaración A) Actividad
  • 402 "826"
  • 404 "A05"
B) Lugar
  • 413...421 Dirección (home address)
  • 422 "10" m2 (my office space at home)
  • 424 Alta X 425 Fecha

Then print and sign. There are two copies, one for you (contribuyente) and one for administration, you have to take these to your local Agencia Tributaria Censos Desk, they stamp them. Ask for "etiquetas", stickers with your bar code to be stuck on your tax returns. then you need to take a photocopy of your copy along to the local Tesorería. I print a third copy so you don´t need to find a photocopy shop in between.

OBVIOUSLY, take your NIE/Tarjeta de Residencia/passport/work permit and a PHOTOCOPY of it. Take a passport photo with you too, just in case. It´s a pain when you think you´ve got everything sorted and you have to go away and come back with a photocopy, count yourself lucky if they do it for you!


For the Tesorería take your copy and a photocopy of Mod 037 and you need to complete the TA.0521/1 Solicitud Simplificada which is your Social Security cover.


1 Datos de Solicitante: Name, address, Social Security Number.
2 Datos Relativos a Solicitud:
  • Alta X Fecha
3 Datos Relativos a la Actividad Profesional:
  • 3.2 "826"
6 1.6 X Domicilio

7 Datos Para la Domiciliación del Pago de Cuotas
  • Bank details, NIE
4 Opciones
  • 4.1 Base Mínima X
  • 4.2 Mutua No. (If you are ill, they cover you. In the Tesorería they listed the Mutuas and I chose one I knew was in my town.)
Print and sign.

Now you are registered as self-employed you will pay monthly social security (automatically deducted from your bank account) and have to do the quarterly IRPF tax return Modelo 130, which will be discussed next.

NOTE: The date you put for the alta/baja is for the date when you started work/finished, it doesn´t have to be the same date as when you do all the paperwork. When you need to unregister yourself (typically in August) you go through exactly the same process, this time marking the baja boxes.

How to Become Self-employed in Spain - Dar la alta como autónomo - as a TEFL Teacher

After a couple of years and a couple of posts as a TEFL teacher in Spain you quickly realise that the conditions of employment in Language Academies and Agencies frequently leave a lot to be desired. As a teacher you often have very little to do with your boss but have a very direct relationship with your students. If you start wondering how the sharks can take a 50% cut (or more!) and are confident with your teaching skills and ability to build a good rapport with students, then it´s time to become self-employed. Many teachers do classes off the books, in my case I prefer to give classes to adults, specialising in Business English, so I wanted to give it a go to see if I could become professional and then take on in-company classes which nowadays largely prefer above-board status.

The beauty of setting up in teaching is that apart from books, YOU are the resource, so it´s relatively inexpensive to get going. The services of a Gestor are worth it in the long run, especially when it comes to completing the annual IRPF tax return. The Gestor is a legal financial advisor who takes care of taxes and accounts making it easier to keep on top of things.

The advice I got before becoming self-employed from another teacher was to make sure that you are ready to be able to declare yourself - if business is slow, you could pay through the nose in taxes. I decided to build up a sufficient client base, become self-employed for a trial period and then when I was confident it was working employ the services of a Gestor (approx 45€/month). Gleaning information about being self-employed from the internet has obviously been important, as well as improving my Spanish and using the internet as a promotional tool.

A Gestor will charge a good 70€ for doing the leg-work to register you as autónomo - you can do it yourself. Trial and error - I always get there in the end! This is what I found out... these are only guidelines, don´t take it as bible as things change and you should always ask along the way to make sure it fits you and your circumstances!

In the next blog I´ll show you how to survive!

Friday, August 7, 2009

miedo y mierda

up and down
round and round
miedo y mierda
shit and fear

ghosts are eating my soul
afraid of my own shadow
voices behind closed doors
shadows slip down the stairs

when I look harder
they disappear
what I can´t see
I most fear

dancing with skeletons
hugging cold bones
with memories like these
I´ll never be alone

Thursday, July 16, 2009

the mystery of debirthing - things we´re meant not to understand

you can´t ever touch
the brightest jewel
like a drop of water falling
as the sun´s shining through

and I´m sending out
my healing heart
it´s covering you over
a soulful bubble of love

the wind brushes over
with the ocean´s wave
and the moon gently bobs
in the swell of the bay

the trees whisper
to the desert sand
the stars twinkle
life lives without you, man

and although you´re a million miles away
I can feel you here like breath on skin
and these things we can never explain
just feel so good kept locked deep in

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tofu Temptation

Weird stuff in the raw, like many was unimpressed by first attempts, but persistence proved it´s well worth getting a handle on. Have never got round to giving soft (silken) tofu justice, have always gone for the firm stuff, always something new to learn, I guess.

I always stick it in the freezer first, the water makes big ice crystals, making the tofu spongier and better at soaking up flavours.

After defrosting and squeezing out the water I always chop and splatter with soya sauce and leave it to infiltrate. Tofu is intrinsically bland, really bland!

You can chop it in cubes, diamonds, triangles, thick slabs - the main thing is to make sure what you add gets to soak through.

Recently I´ve also started squeezing lemons over it, it´s summer and it feels and tastes like the right thing to do!

Grill, bake or fry...
drizzle with olive oil
add a splash of toasted sesame oil to the olive oil for a nuttier touch

Marinade Madness
Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce

Coolcumber and Salmorejo Summer Soups

Two culinary revelations with style and simplicity to cool off the heatwave:

Algerian Cucumber Soup
(converts even the no-cucumber people!)
1 cucumber
4 pots of natural yoghurt (bio if you like)
1 tooth of garlic (looks more like a claw to me!)
salt, pepper
shake of any red powdered spice combo of your liking,
I used Moroccan Baharat

chop and liquidize, taste, swirl, taste, leave to chill out for a few hours in the fridge,
add iced water or cubes to texture as desired
shake over some red powder or flakes for effect

thanks to Andres "El Uruguaxo"

Cordoban Salmorejo
Lots of juicy reddy ripe tomatoes, a kilo or more
1/2 loaf Country-style bread, if it´s dry, soak it
1/2 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup Vinegar
salt, pepper
1 clove of garlic
a raw egg, or for the more careful, hardboiled and chopped

chop and liquidize, taste add taste again, leave to cool off for a few hours in the fridge
sprinkle with chopped bits of what you like!

thanks to Diego "El Cordobaño"