May the Fourth

May The 4th Be With You 2020

This is the quote that I shared with colleagues and friends on Monday, 4th of May – Star Wars Day. I have got into the habit of sharing an inspirational or motivational quote with my teaching colleagues and friends at the start of the day. Gradually the number of people that I am sending my daily message to is growing. Some people respond, and that is always good to get some feedback, but I do more for myself than anything else.

For this message I got a reply from a fellow head in the city. It was a voice message and she shared why this particular quote meant such a lot to her. This is what she said, laughing as she shared her memory:

I loved your inspirational message today because it reminded me of the days playing with a community orchestra. I was on the committee and at the start of the year we would always plan our concerts. This time of the year was when we would be doing our end of year concert and we would always think about whether we should do a Star Wars themed concert on the 4th or a cinqo de Mayo on the 5th. However, since they were both really hard to plan a whole concert around we always ended up scrapping the idea…until the next year..

How wonderful that a simple quote can bring back memories that can make us laugh – especially during this difficult time.

A Giant’s Game

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An enormous die crashed into the sand with a thud, but what number would it land on?

The die is cast and it certainly does feel as if it has landed on an unlucky number…number 19! For the human race – is our number up…or is our way of living up?

It is a number that we will long remember along with the year 2020. One of my favourite memes of recent is one that says that there were 29 days in February and hundreds of days in March…could also be said for April although I can hardly believe that, as I type, it is the 28th of April.

On Tuesday night one of the local news agencies published a supposed report from the Government. It felt like the light at the end of the tunnel. After 31 days in full ‘stay safe’ mode with only being allowed to leave the house for shopping or medical treatment we were to be allowed to go out for a walk! To me this seemed the best news and went to bed excited about walking in the park or even getting my bike out. However, like so much of what we read, this article was not quite as good as it seemed. Yes, we could go out, but only to the gardens and areas around our buildings…it is a start. One positive was that the seed shops would be open allowing the farmers to get planting the vital crops.

Last night there was another announcement – this time I made sure that the same information was consistent in a variety of sources – and from May 4th we are beginning a gradual lifting of quarantine with small shops being allowed to open along with banks, dentists and ….hairdressers. We are waiting for full confirmation on where we will be able to walk and exercise…that park across the river is so tempting.

The news from many countries beginning to ease quarantine is positive. But the news from the UK is not so good with numbers of deaths rising daily, particularly with the elderly.

And so the die has been cast again and it is looking more favourable…but have we learnt a lesson from this? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

Controlling the Weather

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During these times of uncertainty I make sure that I take some time for myself everyday to refocus and remember that although there are things I cannot control, there are many things I can.

This is a technique that I was teaching our children earlier this year – who would have thought that it would be such a valuable tool for all. The steps are easily remembered as they make the acronym APPLE:

A – acknowledge: the first step is to notice what is happening within yourself, a body scan is a good way to first recognise that you have feelings of uncertainty or anxiety that is different. Stop, scan and acknowledge.

P – pause: by acknowledging that we have feelings of uncertainty or anxiety we can give yourself the time to pause – not react as we might have panicking or taking our unexplained emotion out on others.

P- pull back: remind yourself that this is ‘the worry’ talking and this is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling and not to believe everything that your mind is trying to tell you. Thoughts are not statements or facts, they are only thoughts.

L – let go: keeping in mind that these are thoughts, not statements or facts, you do not have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud. Blow them away as you would the seeds from a dandelion clock.

E – explore: bring yourself to the present moment because at this moment all is well. Focus on your breathing: ┬áimagine you are holding a flower and breathe in it’s amazing scent. As you breathe conduct another body scan or try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and then return to what you were doing before you felt the worry.

We need to be kind to ourselves as well as those around us. There will be days when we go through rollercoaster emotions when the smallest thing will frustrate and anger us and then, like dominoes, other things will make us react in a way that is not rational.

 

Trapped

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For the past four years I have been living and working ┬áin Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Nur-Sultan lies in the north of this vast country amidst the wide-ranging and almost endlessly flat Siberian Steppe. This, along with being right in the middle of the largest land mass on Earth makes for very cold winters and hot summers. Although this past winter has not been the coldest it did come early with a huge amount of snow and lots of grey cloudy days. It is only in the past weeks that signs of spring have been showing themselves. I am very fortunate to live beside the river looking over to one of the city’s many parks so I have a ringside seat – especially in these times of quarantine – to watch life come back to the land. Today in the middle of April the river is back to a reflective glassy surface and there are hints of the palest green on some of the trees. Grass is sprouting, bulbs are pushing through the dry earth – we are no longer trapped in a frozen wasteland. The days of being trapped in a monochrome land are over for another year. However we are trapped in a different way, all be it for our own safety and the safety of our communities. The time will come when we will be able to emerge from our hibernation but we will need to continue to be patient and be kind to ourselves and those around us.

 

Quarantine Day 25, Lockdown Day 17…the new normal continues.

We are all beginning to settle into our ‘new normal’ routines with school, work and home life. No one will deny that this has been a very challenging time for everyone. I don’t know about you, but I find it mindboggling yet somewhat comforting all at the same time that the whole world is going through this. I feel as if in some ways I am in a state of suspended animation while nature carries on with it’s awakening into spring. Hour by hour I can watch the river change from mat ice to reflective water. Gulls have come back, cackling in the time just before sunrise, and gathering in groups on the thin ice. Magpies are noisily gathering nest materials and busy pairs of coal tits chirp in the bare branches of the trees outside my window. The ever present pigeons are still taking their daily stroll along the riverside walkway constantly searching for food: no doubt bewildered at where the humans with their bags of bread have gone.

Shoots of green are appearing in the bare earth. Earth that until a couple of weeks ago were covered with deep blankets of snow. Bulbs are pushing through bravely, grass changing from yellow to green and, if you look very carefully, there are buds forming on some trees. The birches are not yet ready to show that they are awake but we know that in a short time they will be covered in bright green leaves shimmering and rustling in the breeze.

Meanwhile we are adapting to our life of confinement. We all understand the reasons and appreciate everything that the local authorities are doing to protect us. We worry about family and friends in different cities and countries yet are helpless to do anything to help or change the situation that we find ourselves in. We are all going to experience many different emotional stages during these times but not necessarily in the same order:

Optimism: This is great; we can spend more time together as a family; I can get all those jobs done that I am always so busy to do; I can learn/improve a skills; start a new hobby.

Determination: You feel less positive but you are determined to keep going and stick to some kind of routine and follow a schedule.

Satisfaction and frustration: Sometimes you get a lot done, other times you just cannot focus on anything or complete anything and you move between these states.

Depression: This is hard. Boredom begins to settle in. Your routine, or lack of routine, might not be working for you. You are restless, cannot concentrate. You reflect more on missing going out or meeting friends and family. You might feel demotivated, hopeless, a sense of despair.

Anger: Anger about the situation, the confinement, the lack of an end. Irritated by others in your house, irritated by the smallest things.

Acceptance: Carry on doing whatever is in your control and letting go of what is not in your control. Remembering that all this is necessary and that you are helping to prevent the spread of this virus.

Up until yesterday I thought I was coping well. I was asked only a few days ago where I thought I was on this diagram. I felt that I was well on the way to the outer rim… but something shook me yesterday and I have no idea what it was. In my role as a leader in a British International School supporting and guiding others is my focus. I send a motivational message to all our WhatsApp groups, remind everyone that I am here to listen. I answer numerous emails reassuring my wonderful team of what a great job they are doing, I continue to be a sounding board for those whose worries impact on our school community but are, in reality, much wider. How much support do I get? Good questions that is relevant for every senior leader whether in a global pandemic or not. Who do you turn to to vent your frustration, your worries, your doubts, self-doubts… I am fortunate that I do have several friends who are teachers and leaders and are willing (sometimes) to listen but everyone’s context is different and points of reference differ. Within my own leadership team there are two people that I know that I can count on – but have I ever really been open and honest with them? Yes, there are times when we can all share our shared challenges.

So what happened yesterday? It was a lovely sunny day…all I have said above stands about spring and the changing views from my window. I just could not shake the blanket of anxiety and stress that I felt around me. Try as I might I could not pin point what, who or why I was feeling this way. And then it lifted – I did nothing different apart from lie down and watch another episode of the Crown. Still self-searching I could find no reason for my feelings previously. I have woken today to a dull, wet morning yet my spirits are lifted and ready for a day or…the same!

How are you coping?

Day 46 of 60 – Summer 2018

A day out around Derby!

After a morning of catching up with email and general gossip we headed out to find a pub with what Pauline described as the best chilli she had ever had. Could she remember the name of the pub – no but did go for the ‘ask a friend’ option, several friends in fact as they had eaten there before. Somewhere in or near Castle Donnington…Thinking we had found the one off we set. Homemade chilli arrived: not the right chilli, average as opposed to outstanding. After finishing lunch one of the ‘ask a friend’ friends came up with the name – headed there for coffee!

Next stop the underwear shop in Melbourne and afternoon tea in Melbourne House Tea Rooms.

Earlier today I had received an email from a good mutual friend of ours with pictures of one of her cats showing a before and after: before was of Beastie watching a window cleaner perilously cleaning windows 67 floors up in Dubai, the after was of Beastie at a window most definitely not 67 floors up with sapphire blue see and palm trees – where was she and the cats? Question answered later in the day when we had a great Skype catch up. She has left Dubai for good and found an amazing house in Northern Cyprus and, sporing a new hair cut, clearly looked very happy indeed.

I also interviewed a possible teacher to replace the one we had to say farewell to at a very late stage who is most promising indeed. She has two other offers on the table at the moment – one for Albania!

So apart from having the wrong chilli a good day: underwear, scones, catch up with S and cats and positive interview.

Cocktail for the evening is Aperol Spritz that is going down very nicely!

Day 24 of 60 – Summer 2018

Monday, 8th July

  • Mostar (104 miles
  • Sarajevo

Overnight in Astra Hotel

Farewell to the crystal clear sapphire blue Adriatic Sea, Croatia (through to the semi-finals of World Cup playing England…good luck Croatia) and Split (and Europe meaning no roaming data until Greece) as we head in land to our first stop of the day, Mostar.

Clouds are in the sky and forecast is for cooler temperatures and showers.

What do I know about Mostar? It has a bridge that was damaged in the relatively recent Balkan Wars. The city was under siege during the conflict.

Am trying to finish reading The ‘Cellist of Sarajevo before reaching there tonight but assume that most of the daily struggles in the book could be applied to any city in Bosnia that was under attack. Although fiction the book is based on the cellist Vedran Smajlovic who played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the tragic death of 22 people killed while queuing for bread. The story of this man’s courage and the daily lives for those living in the city is told through the voices of three characters: Arrow, a reluctant sniper, Dragan who works in the bakery and Kenan’s water collecting.

What a special place Mostar is. Once a place where Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews lived peacefully this ideal was, quite literally, blown away in 1993 when the town was attacked by Croatian forces. The bridge that had been the heart of the town linking the markets over the gorge and river was an immediate target followed by much of the Ottoman buildings.

Today it has been rebuilt using newly cut stone from the old quarries used for the first bridge. Where there were once 99 steps over the white shiny pavement of the bridge there are now only 93: a reminder the the year when Mostar was bombed. The once gate keepers will now jump from the bridge into the cold, deep, fast moving river for money, just as they had in days gone by for the sum of a gold coin from visiting pashas. Gone are the days when a young suitor would show his manliness by jumping to impress his loves family. To dive is a dangerous feat requiring two years training a a cold shower to prepare for the shock of the water below.

The markets are vibrant today with the sounds of copper being hammered into jewelry and the smells of the traditional cafes and restaurants. The call to prayer is a reminder of the areas strong ties to Islam and the feel of the market and the restaurants to Turkey.

Sarajevo in the rain! For the first time on our trip we are greeted by clouds and drizzle. Our hotel is in heart of the old town and an evening walked revealed bustling narrow streets with cafes and shops full of carpets, souvenirs and who knows what else. The old town has a very different feel to the old town of Split. Here you could be mistaken for thinking you were in Turkey, Jordan or even Egypt with women in hijab and Arab looking faces in the shops and in the street. The sound and smell of the hookah adds to the confusion of the senses and culture.

Tomorrow we explore the old town’s ancient and modern past with our guide. I have almost finished the Cellist of Sarajevo and seeing the acned faces of many of the old and new towns buildings facades and the closeness of the hills around brings the books new feeling of awareness. On our evening walk we passed the mark for the bakery.

Day 23 of 60 – Summer 2018

Sunday, 7th July

  • Split (56 miles from Dubrovnik)

Overnight Hotel Slavija

Beautiful drive up the coast through a part of Bosnia (more borders but no hold ups) stopping for coffee in Bosnia.

Hotel is oldest in the city opening in 1900 but the building itself is from the 14th century and was built on 4th Century ruins. It is right in the middle of the old city with its winding alleyways.

Day 20 of 60 – Summer 2018

Thursday, 5th July

  • Gjirikastra (122 miles from Kalambaka)
  • Tirana ( 143 miles from Gjirokastra)

Overnight in the Tirana International Hotel

Today we say farewell to Greece, and to The European Union as we cross the border to Albania.

First stop: Gjirokastra, the birthplace of Albania’s leader Enver Hoxha who was in power for over 40 years until his death in 1985.

Then onto the capital, Tirana.