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Egoist or Altruist

I am reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. In one chapter he talks about Elon Musk’s innovative car company Tesla and its two models of self-driving car: the Tesla Altruist and the Tesla Egoist. The concept being that in an emergency the Altruist model will not hesitate to sacrifice the owner to save other lives whilst the Egoist model will not hesitate to save the owner at all costs.

Which one would you choose?

Do you add salt to watermelon?

I saw this question on someone’s FB post yesterday. One of those posts with random questions that you are meant to fill in and pass on. Usually I ignore them but this caught my eye. Salt on watermelon? The persons whose post it was had answered with shock…what a preposterous thought. However, it made me think and then search Mr Google to find out if this was, indeed, something people do.

Watermelon is big here at the moment – perhaps I should say that the watermelons here are big! They are simply enormous, weighing in at 5kg for the smallest. I love watermelon and although I do buy these bohemuths, I prefer to buy the slices otherwise my whole fridge is filled with bright red slices and squares which never seem to go, no matter how much I eat. Although the thought of having it with something savoury seemed odd at first, watermelon is often served with feta cheese, a salty cheese. An appetiser that I would choose if on the menu. It appears that the salt brings out the moisture and flavour. So for breakfast I added a pinch or two of pink Himalayan salt to some watermelon – it certainly did bring the melon to life. We have salted caramel that is a very popular flavour at the moment and chocolate with sea salt so the idea of salty and sweet is not so unusual. I do like some freshly ground black pepper on strawberries. Had a conversation about this last night with my mother – she insists it should be the finely ground white pepper on strawberries but then she eats banana sandwiches so we shall agree to disagree on this as well as the correct ripeness of tomatoes…that is for another post!

So what other fruits are enhanced with seasonings? Pineapple is one that salt brings out the flavour of and even chili salt is recommended. Who doesn’t like avocado on toast – a pinch of salt is essential to bring out the flavour. Who would have thought of sprinkling salt on tart green apple slices? As for tomatoes – I had always thought that adding salt to tomatoes was not advised as it turns them mushy. However, if done just before eating, salt is a perfect partner to tomatoes.

It appears that just about any fruit or berry’s flavour can be enhanced with some salt or pepper! So instead of reaching for sugar to make your fruit sweeter, try a pinch of salt or a grind of pepper…you never know what new flavour bombs you will find.

Is there anything better than breakfast?

Life Quotes And Words To Live By : winnie the pooh quotes ...I love breakfast. There it is, I have made my affirmative statement for the day. There is nothing better than a leisurely breakfast and it does not even matter what the weather is like. Today it is looking pretty grim out there. The dark clouds are gathering and I do not want to say it as it is only mid August…there is a not summer chill to the air. Even the impending thought of the end of summer does not dampen my enthusiasm for breakfast which I am eating on the enclosed balcony of my apartment overlooking the Ishm River in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Here in Kazakhstan, breakfast is a daily ritual. We even serve it at school and children and staff will come in early for a bowl of porridge (I never knew there were so many ways to make porridge) and eggs in some format. Without a bowl of porridge, nothing will be achieved here – have even heard of a near protest when our sister school in the south of the country proposed a menu change removing ‘kasha’, the generic name for this essential morning food.

If you travel in Kazakhstan or any of the neighbouring ‘stans’ such as Uzbekistan make sure that you stay in local ‘homestays’ as you will experience breakfast at a whole different level – even the best hotels that I have stayed in around the world cannot compete with the variety of breakfast delicacies that will greet you on these vast tables. Of course every breakfast starts with ‘kasha’ whether the weather be hot or cold. It might be made of seven grains, oats, rice, quinoa…the ingredients seem endless but it is sure to be delicious. On the table will be some fresh made bread. In Uzbekistan it will be there famous round breads with the bakers stamp baked into the centre. The bread that Timur’s soldiers marched on, the bread that build the great cities of the Silk Road and filled the Mongal raiders. Although delicious on it’s own, it can be eaten with fresh butter and the local jam. This jam I have had in many places and is not like any other jam you will have tasted. It is made from the berries gathered in the mountains and the steppe and has a freshness that brings your taste buds alive. It is runny so you have to dip bread rather than spread the jam. The table is already laden with different jams and bread but suddenly another course appears – it might be an omelette or fried eggs or fresh cottage cheese wrapped in thin bread and fried – whatever it is, it is quite simply irresistible. Lashings of green tea, black tea or tea made from the herbs and flowers gathered along with the berries completes the breakfast of nomads, Mongal warriors and Silk Road traders.

Of course, breakfast always tastes much better when someone else has made it for you.

One of the perks of travelling is breakfast and trying different breakfasts as every culture has a different breakfast cuisine. Being Scottish, the fry up is part of our breakfast culture – although the country was built on porridge too. You can see it on menus as a ‘All Day Breakfast’ with the possible addition of chips to make it a more appealing lunch or dinner option. Key elements of a Scottish fry up as opposed to an English fry up are the square sausage, black pudding and either the fried pancake or potato scone. Baked beans are not a traditional accompaniment. Square sausage is also called Lorne sausage. It does not have a sausage skin and is, as the name suggests, square. Black pudding – the ingredients may not sound too appealing but it’s slightly spicy flavour cut through the salty bacon and rich creamy eggs and is essential to the overall experience. A fried potato scone – or sometimes a pancake, depending on where you are – is a delight. Even on it’s own, popped into the toaster with butter dripping off it, a potato scone is particular Scottish delicacy. You can make them yourself but it is near impossible to recreate the fluffiness and softness that the bakeries achieve. A friend of my mother’s did have the magic touch. Was it the way she cooked the potatoes – baked or boiled?

What’s your breakfast culture cuisine?

Stilt Town

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Is this our world today? Everything that we thought was stable and would never change has changed. Nothing is for certain anymore. Words and phrases that were unknown or unfamiliar to us just six months ago dominate our daily conversations.

Who else has left the house and then suddenly reaslised that they have forgotten their mask? – not their keys, purse or phone although we do still forget them too but not with such consequences. I did this only yesterday. However, as most of you will now have, I had a spare mask in my bag…in fact two of them. I am building up quite a collection  to suit my mood:

  • the cat print one for planned trips
  • the one with ‘goodbye’ in Kazakh for walking along the street
  • the one I have hand crocheted (close knit with a pocket for additional filter) for meeting friends
  • the blue one to match a different colour palette
  • the pack of surgical ones that are in every bag and pocket
  • the one with large covid type virus cartoons and the message ‘if you can read this you are too close’ for days when I just cannot be bothered

I also have a face shield – thought would be good for communicating with people. It is only when you cannot see someone’s facial expressions that you realise how much you actually read faces. Having said that, you can still read an amazing amount from eyes. However the shield is really only an additional protection along with a mask. I have seen some masks on Amazon with a clear plastic part at the mouth – for working with children, this would be essential.

Of course the other challenge is for those who wear glasses or if the sun is actually out and sunglasses are needed – they mist up from your breath, your hot steamy breath seeping out from your mask. I remember from my scuba diving days that you could stop your mask from steaming up by spitting in it…wonder if the same would work with glasses?

I do wonder in amazement at how quickly we have adapted to this new normal life. Sure, we are all still living on a roller coaster of covid emotions but somehow we are carrying on. The stilts of our lives might have seemed precarious when we realised that our world was having to redefine ‘normal’ but they are actually strong and flexible.


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:  imagine 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.



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For the past four years I have been living and working  in 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?