Two things to remember about leadership in schools

ADVICE FOR A (NEW) HEAD OF SCHOOL FROM AN OLD ONE

For Malcolm, and all the others who have reported to me and gone on to be better at it than me:

When you reach a certain age and level of experience in any field, especially education, you realize that it’s important to mentor the next generation. Just as when karateka reach black belt level they are called ‘sensei’ which means ‘teacher,’ so too do those of us who reach senior positions in school leadership have a responsibility to pass on what we have learned. We must teach our teachers to be leaders.

It struck me this week when I said goodbye to a young man going off to head up a school of his own, how I hope I have passed on some wisdom to those who have worked with me, and for me, over the years.

I always joke to student teachers that we need them because one day we would like to retire, and while that is correct, the truth is we need to inspire them as much as we need to nurture our school children, because they will steer the next generation of students.

I told the new headmaster that he needed to remember the most powerful tools he would have at his disposal would be his own personal example and his integrity. I said to him to guard them both and make sure they always align.

The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.”

– John Wooden. Basketball Coach

It’s lonely and windy at the top because that’s where the gales are.  As leaders in a tempest, we must therefore have the strong roots of integrity and the proof of example in our branches. This is especially true now as we lead our schools through the COVID-19 crisis.

Calamity is the test of integrity.

– Samuel Richardson. 18th Century Writer

We should remember these two things:

1. PERSONAL EXAMPLE

How we deal with storms dictates what kind of a leader we are and what kind of leaders we shall inspire.

In a crisis and even on a good day, everyone looks at you if you are in charge. When I first became a head, a retired principal told me that the one thing to remember is that it’s all on you, when you’re in charge.

It’s hard, but you have to be the calm one, the decisive one, the brave one and the strong one. You have to be the one they all look up to. No matter how hard it is, you have to be a model of grace under pressure (fortunately for shorties like me, not a ramp one.) You must inspire, no matter how tired or low you feel. How you respond to everything dictates how your staff and therefore your pupils will behave.

If you haven’t run away yet, or become lost in the labyrinth of admin that may overwhelm you, remember that your vision must be clear to your staff.

If you want your staff to be creative, you have to be innovative; if you want them to work harder, you must set the pace and if you want them to be well-groomed, so should you be. (I use this one to fuel my Zara addiction.) If you want them to be compassionate educators who build relationships with their learners, you must get to know them all.

What I have learned on my own though, is that if you are really lucky, you will have a team around you, who will help you. If you empower them, they will be your eyes and ears and assist you with decisions, but you also have to trust them in their own departments so they have room to grow. I have such a team.

I may be accountable, but they make me look good.

2. INTEGRITY

Integrity requires us to truly know ourselves and remain faithful to the core values and principles we espouse. Know what you stand for… because you will be tested on it. These are what anchor your leadership tree to the ground and hold it firm no matter what the weather may be.

Your integrity will be what determines the example you set. It will describe the measure in which you lead with compassion, your style of management and how consistent you are.

Integrity is about being truthful and honest in what you say and do. You cannot be a hypocrite if you have integrity and it’s worth noting that insincerity will be spotted a mile off. So, your personal example must be aligned to what you say you stand for.  You must know what that is first though.

In my career, I have left two institutions when it became clear that we stood for different things or when I realised that what a school said it stood for, could not or was not being maintained in practice. When you run your own school, you are it. A colleague once said that when you are a head, ‘YOU are the brand.’ So aligning your beliefs and the school’s mission become paramount.

While you may feel the storm at its fiercest, at the top of the leadership tree, that is also where you feel the sun first. And it’s a place where you can look down at the glorious blossoms that are the products of your institution. Don’t forget to pass on the sunshine to those who assisted to produce the flowers and celebrate the fruit of their labours.

When you see how well your alumni do, and how they are changing the world for the better, as they blossoms in the spring, you will know you are on the right track.  

It’s also true that you may get it all wrong at some point, but just as you may have a poor harvest one year, and then produce a better yield the next, there are times when you have to do some pruning, and some shaping, some manuring and some frost-shielding. Plants grow better when the farmer is attentive.

It’s also important to be kind to yourself and know that you can always improve and that no one reaches perfection…ever. You may have passed on some less-than-idealistic traits. You can fix mistakes you make though if you are transparent and honest, and have the will to keep growing.

Remember finally that farmers get an early night so they can be up at dawn. So make sure you find time to rest.

“Sleep. Nature’s rest. Divine tranquility, that brings peace to the mind.”

– Ovid

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South Africa records a surge in online shopping during Covid-19 ...

I heard a report on the radio yesterday that the #1 item being bought by South Africans on Takealot since online stores could sell anything (except sinful things like cigarettes and alcohol of course, but we won’t go there!) is… drum roll… vacuum cleaners.

Now really! I’m all for cleanliness being next to godliness and all, but really, if I were to go to all the trouble of ordering something online, it wouldn’t be a cleaning appliance. To me those are grudge buys, like underwear, stuff you need and which is important, but no one really sees.

Not that I am into lowering standards mind you: I wear lipstick under my mask and I have a chart for the resident elves who (in my fantasy) would clean the house like small, useful, versions of The Borrowers, but who, despite their loud, haunted-house-like groaning, do in fact assist with cleaning the Mad Mansion.

But it does leave me wondering about the hygiene of South African homes pre-lockdown. I mean, did people not clean up after themselves before? Or, worse, were they expecting someone else to do it for them without the proper equipment?

The rest of the list is pretty understandable, with folk working from home and having the littluns needing school stuff, so: electronic devices and stationery supplies, including #3 (after laptops) which is gaming equipment, as sports and entertainment go virtual.

#4 takes on a more whimsical note (treadmills and home gym equipment), however I am rooting for these gym-bunnies and hope that their initial eagerness for self-improvement doesn’t result in yard sales of dejected, white elephants by December. On the plus side, I am looking forward to seeing all these folk on the beachfront in summer, sans tops please, as we clean up all the usual blubber and slothful strollers from the boardwalks. Clearly these are the types who cannot stir themselves before the 6:00 – 9:00 exercise window on Lockdown Level 4, or else they are the same ones who placed their orders during Level 5 and haven’t even opened their toys yet. I suppose it is possible that there might be some lunatics who do both, but those are just worthy of my couch potato pity. (We all know I believe working out is a little rash though, so perhaps I’m biased.)

#10 is just sad: non-alcoholic beer! I mean, non-alcoholic wine is fine – it’s grape juice which I prefer to drink anyway, but a good lager surely requires a bit of kick? Otherwise, you’re just drinking starch, and frankly, in that case, I’d prefer a toasted cheese sandwich, thank you. Unless beer drinkers have become devilishly clever and have found a way to infuse this supermarket sludge with raw alcohol or something.

Whatever happened to online clothes shopping? These items didn’t make the list, possibly because they have their own delivery systems. I have targeted a couple of darling little items for purchase from the Zara electronic store (yes, of course I subscribe to their online magazine, although Zara models are a trifle intimidating and rather aggressively emaciated, clearly have Elastigirl genes.) But it’s not the same as the chance to see the majesty of the whole boutique in front of you, with quality lighting (dimmed to make us look better of course, along with carefully angled mirrors to make us taller and slimmer) and the hours to wander at one’s leisure, and appreciate the beauty of it all. (I think I may have a little problem, arguably worse than the country’s drinkers going through the DTs).

I suppose it’s because shopping for clothing is an experience, not a mere practical function, along with attendant cappuccino-sipping.

I bought a new phone the other day, my last having had an overnight cerebral haemorrhage (which was sudden, and came as a huge shock to me, taking with it all my treasured memories and telephone contacts, with no time to say goodbye.) I had to shop online to check out the latest devices and I found it a rather stark experience. I like the sensate experience of shopping (to the chagrin of The Maestro, who constantly parodies my wistful path through such stores, which is why it’s better to leave him in Exclusive Books while I satisfy my frivolous leanings).  Perhaps it’s the difference between men and women because Andrew was thrilled to help me the opening of the box and the setting up of the phone. I’d rather have been trying on winter boots.

Online or not, Lockdown is costing us, but as Oscar Wilde said in a foreshadowing of a capitalist’s dream sap.

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”

— Oscar Wilde

The Actual List: https://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/384523/most-bought-item-on-takealot-during-lockdown-vacuum-cleaners-we-kid-you-not?ref=pid:112


The Lockdown Lowdown – a dictionary of the state of the nation

4511684 #women, #model, #redhead, #Sergey Fat, #500px, #window ...

Abseil down the alphabet as I Bring you the Lockdown Lowdown to fight COVID-19

Abuse down                what the police must ensure because women in lockdown are vulnerable

Back down                  what we’re all learning to do when we irritate one another

Cut down                     what I ought to do with the chocolate I am eating

Duck down                  what I do when someone walks past and sees me still in my pyjamas

Echo down                  what the wind is doing down the empty corridors of our schools

Flop down                   what my teenage son does after an exhausting day of online lessons

Go down                     what our bank balances and businesses are doing

Hair down                  what we’re all letting our hair do because our stylists are also in

quarantine

Inch down                  what we want the infection rate to do

Jaw down                   what happens to my face at people’s stupidity, lawlessness and spite

Kick down                  what I want to do to my front door

Level down                what we want to do to our lockdown status

Mask down                 what we mustn’t be caught with

No – down                  what I keep saying to the Mad Lab who is the only happy person in the

house

Online down              what our teachers and students are getting (down) pat

Pop down                    what I miss doing to Zara

Quarantine down      what I wish for those stuck in ICU

Run down                    what the joggers are doing in the road during exercise time and what

motorists are starting to wish they could do to them

Shot down                   what the Pres. did tonight to my hopes of getting out of here soon

Throw down                what we should do with the gauntlet to this virus

Up down                      what our emotions are doing

Very down                   what we must look out for in our families in case they are depressed

Wifi down                   what we fear the most

Xenophobia down     what must happen because we can’t keep blaming countries         

Yobbos down              what the count is showing – not much litter being strewn around

Zip down                     what is happening to my clothing because I couldn’t stop eating those

Lindt balls.

8 Things I am missing during lockdown

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How many times have I wished for time off where I could stay at home and sleep! Despite not sleeping too much during lockdown due to my permanent state of angst, not uncommon I believe, there are a few things that would have made it bearable:

  1. Books

I am a touch-it-turn-it kinda reading gal. The libraries closed for lockdown too quickly for me to stock up, even though the seven books they allow you would have been finished in the first week anyway. And of course I couldn’t have used Shannon and Michael’s cards as usual because there are fines on them (again). Yes, the shame! I don’t learn. And it’s not that I don’t read fast enough; I just don’t get around to returning them, despite ‘holiday’ stamps and amnesties.

I love the comfort of holding a book, and being able to page back to check on facts or reread lyrical passages. And since I could never afford to buy all the books I read, the library is my place. Mind you, some of them do reek of old ladies’ cigarettes and there a few unidentifiable (thank goodness) food stains on them from time to time. But then to be honest, I have probably been guilty of dropping a teeny bit of avo from my pizza onto an Elizabeth George novel on occasion.

Once I had finished Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (enjoyable, even though he pooh- poohed the idea that it was actually Marlowe who wrote all the great works, or the sonnets at least) and Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (gripping with a powerful anti-colonial, anti-war message, and part of my ongoing love affair with modern African literature), I had nothing. Unless I wanted to lose myself in The Maestro’s tomes on Liszt (I didn’t), I had to do as my girls had insisted and try online.

Well. That’s been a disaster. First of all, our wifi is about as inconsistent as an adolescent love affair and the adverts… really they could make a maiden blush! I have started two books both by Harlan Coben, another favourite of mine, but I keep losing internet, which freezes the narrative at a critical moment; then the page refreshes to forty pages before where I actually am, and I have to wade back through it all so much that I need to splint my wrist from all the swiping. And I do not need to be looking at penile extensions more than once a day thank you (who does that to themselves anyway?!).

The girls say I am using the wrong sites. Andrew says he’ll pay for me to download better versions, but honestly, I baulk at paying for books.

2. Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunch is a tradition in our home even more important than Friday pizzas. Now don’t be mistaken we’re not being starved of our sabbath prandials (far from it – the fair Caitlin, our resident Masterchef, has stuffed us like willing Christmas turkeys with so many delectable vittles that the family scale has signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form.) But Sunday lunch at our house usually involves all the special people in our family who don’t live in the Mad House with us, arriving in a cacophony of hellos and hugs and we all catch up.

It’s when the children’s other mother, my sister Brigid, debates with The Maestro about which news channel in the US is more biased, whether capitalism is better than communism (every Sunday); she admonishes the young people about the dangers of jumping stop streets, walking alone, locking doors, and taking Sandown Road late at night. She warns Liam that Nellie is not getting enough exercise and that I work too hard. I miss her nagging love. And she always brings those scrumptious tiny Doughnuts from Woolworths.

It’s when Michael and Gabby, and Lizzy and Dylan sail in when they can and the love gets louder. Sometimes we Facetime Sean and Jordan and before he left fot the UK, Mika’s dry humour also graced our table occasionally, especially if there was lamb.

I miss my other family. My people. I miss the noise. (Ok not the noise – there’s still plenty of that.)

3. Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Haircuts

Okay so I might as well get my middle-class entitlement out of the way, but I really do miss popping into The Mugg for a cup of chatting and only News Café can make Hot Chocolate that special way – they use cream of course. And Aruna the Lion Mane-Tamer is much missed.

4. Zara

While smokers and drinkers are venting about draconian shopping rules, spare a thought for the other addicts – the shopaholics among us. I know we can shop for clothes now, but you can’t try on in most places and what’s a girl to do if she’s not sure?!

Also, I bought two darling little suits before lockdown and now I feel like a jilted bride with nowhere to wear them. Never mind the fact that I probably can’t fit into them anymore (thanks to the fair Caitlin’s culinary excellence) and will stumble around like a nerd on a first date in my high heels.

I miss dressing up.

I know I’m shallow.

But not entirely:

5. Live Mass

I miss going to mass and being physically present to worship with my community. The online thing just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like watching a film and playing church-church when we were little. I hope I don’t sound blasphemous, by saying that, but I want to be in God’s house with my family of believers.

It’s tough being on time for church now because Fr Carlo can’t see you race to your laptop to join in (or not) and the guilt of being late for mass is greatly reduced. As any good Catholic can testify to, we are a guilt-driven bunch. It also doesn’t seem quite right to be in your pyjamas in front of the Lord. (I know I know, God doesn’t mind, but still it feels unseemly). And the temptation to boil the kettle for a cuppa during the sermon quickly is quite strong…

6. Choice

I’m not crazy about exercising, as my pristine gym outfits, shiny white cross trainers and the exercise bike, formerly-known-as-the-clothes-horse can attest to, but I do like to go for a stroll on the weekends. Mostly if I walk at all though (when it is an azure, wind-free day that Cape Town is renowned for)  I amble along the beachfront path anyway: I avoid walking on the beach itself. But being told I am not allowed to put my tootsies in the icy water of Table Bay, makes the thought of being on the beach all the more alluring.

It’s the forbidden fruit syndrome I suppose.

I like being able to just pop into the shop quickly on my way home. Now I have to be home by a certain time, and the shops are closed after a particular hour. I miss the whole concept of flexi.

Normally I’d love to be told I have to work from home. Now I am bristling at not being able to go into school. I want the choice.

Mind you I am such a goodie-two-shoes I would never dream of disobeying the law. I’m blaming it on my convent upbringing combined with my rebellious Celtish forebears for making me so conflicted. I hope their inherited genes are just as warlike in antibody production when it counts.

7. Guilt-free Rest

We’ve essentially been working every day since lockdown and have missed out on the April school holidays in the race to ready schools to morph into online institutions overnight. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some down time (especially because I haven’t had frequent interruptions – you know those – ‘Have you just got a sec?’ inserts that tend to catch you mid-email or profound thought, and result in multiple open Windows in your brain crashing into early onset dementia, never mind the software ones which make your laptop slower than morning traffic on the N1 (pre-lockdown of course).) But I cannot seem to shake this permanent state of anxiety. I think it’s guilt (blame the Catholic in me again) that I should be in my office, or with my children, or working harder, or watching a ministerial update, or doing something I’ve forgotten… like going to work.

8. Hugs

Much has been written about how hard it is for affectionate people to social-distance. How we are going to avoid dishing out such love to our school children is going to be a real challenge. But it is really hard, even for us. I touched a colleague’s arm in thanks today and felt as if I’d committed attempted murder. (I had just sanitized my hands, but the guilt was huge.) And to avoid natural gestures for a tactile person is tough.  

I suppose we’ll get used to social distancing. I mean we do that don’t-come-in-my-space dance in the shop with strangers, but it is more difficult with those we love and haven’t seen for a while.

I also noticed a weird (in a good way) phenomenon on the road driving home today: cars are keeping better following distances – it’s as if we have grown accustomed to keeping an eye on the spaces between us in queues and we have extrapolated that into traffic. Long may that last!

But I miss a good hug though.

All this missing things shows that I’d have made a terrible citizen in wartime, and I have to remind myself that eventually we shall have all these things again. This is a war though and we simply MUST. So others CAN. Altruism may be in short supply, but now is the time that those of us who are leaders should be modelling it.

There is something unique to humans, even those of us who may be champing at the bit: we can and do adapt to change. And remarkably quickly too. (The Maestro did the washing today so evolution is real). Darwin would be proud of us.

The rest is just weather. It too shall pass.

The Psychology of Uncertainty: Why I’m glad Ntate Cyril[1] gets it

We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.

Blaise Pascal

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The brain is a weird organ.

According to Dr Bryan E Roberson writing for Psychology Today and Forbes, the brain prefers to know an outcome one way or another, even if the outcome is unpleasant. According to him, scientists have discovered that job uncertainty, for example, is worse for your health than actually losing your job. British researchers discovered that study participants who were told they would definitely receive a painful electric shock felt ‘calmer and less agitated’ than those who were told they only had a 50% chance of getting the electric shock. So uncertainty is problematic.

This puts us at a slight disadvantage during the coronavirus lockdown, when even if we’d prefer a negative outcome that is certain, we cannot get absolute answers, because so much is intangible and uncertain.

For example, knowing schools will only re-open in September, horrible though that thought may be for parents struggling to teach their offspring the intricacies of long division and educators being jettisoned into the morass of remote teaching who hope parents don’t teach them old-fashioned long division methods), is preferable to this are-we-aren’t-we opening-in-May twilight zone we’re occupying at the moment.

My friend, Frank said the other day he almost wishes he could just get the virus and be done with worrying about getting it whenever he goes out. His view, though a rather desperate response to uncertainty, is not an isolated one.

Many people are recording increased insomnia, brought upon by fears of what might happen. I am battling to fall asleep of late, and upon my enquiring about her ‘wellness’ in this time, one of my colleagues told me she is waking up at 4 am worrying about a multitude of things, running a myriad of awful scenarios in her mind. Many others are similarly lying awake imagining the worst-case situations which may or may not in fact ever come to pass (what my aunt calls ‘borrowing tomorrow’s troubles’). My insomniac friend can attest to not being alone in this midnight mental morbidity, because when she goes online in the witching hour, she sees how many others in her network are also online at the same time.

And that raises another contributor to our uncertainty angst: watching too much news. I remember being in the USA after 9-11 and psychologists telling viewers to stop watching 24-hour news channels because not only do they stream permanent panic, the dramatic music and tone of newscasters and talking heads amplify stress levels. And they seldom agree with one another so the channels tend to exacerbate uncertainty.

I want to put in a word here about children and stress: be careful of projecting your anxiety onto your little ones. The generation of young children living through this year (and what follows) will almost certainly be somewhat scarred or unlikely to escape unaffected. Infants (and their older siblings) cleave to our emotions instinctively and know we are stressed even if we don’t know we are. They know when our toddler-tolerance has reached its capacity and they sense we are uncertain, even when we pretend we are not.

And children are still learning to process emotions so are less adept at prosaic acceptance of things. Someone on my neighbourhood Facebook group posted the other day about her 10-year-old who burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably about how afraid she was. So, talk to your children about fears. It’s okay to own up to being a bit worried, but be sure to say how you are going to overcome your disquieting thoughts, so they know it is possible to cope.

Owning your uncertainty with them also empowers them by allowing them to see you overcome being less than perfect and dealing with the nebulous nature of uncertainty. I’ll never forget when my eldest son failed his driver’s licence in matric, and shared his emotions in an inspirational speech at school. He was one of the ‘cool crowd’ and by owning up to being less than perfect, he gave so many others permission to not be perfect also. But he gave them a way out of the pit he was in (his mother bought him lessons!) and that is how we can assist our beloveds – own it and make a plan to overcome it. Just don’t brush off their fears. They are real.

‘You can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.’

– Sophie Bush

The effects of COVID-19 lockdown will not vanish when the nurseries re-open. Who knows how our children’s early development will be impaired by being surrounded by adults in masks, not seeing their smiles to respond to, or their lips to mimic sounds. Baby class educators will be torn between doubling down on face protection or only perspex covering to allow their charges to imitate them, as they need to. There are no easy answers to these predicaments, but the schools that know about these potential problems though, are the ones which will make provisions to counter such obstacles. We cannot become bogged down in these fears of what could go wrong.

There is a definite link between emotions and negative thoughts, but likewise there is a link between imagining positive outcomes and being less anxious. That makes sense of course – and my mother always said psychology was just common sense. In other words, in order to reduce our anxiety in uncertain times, we need to think of positive potential outcomes more deliberatively to improve our mental health and assist in coping with uncertainty.

The much-maligned little Pollyanna of literature, she of the count-you-blessings sunshine philosophy actually had it right when she said:

“And most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” ― Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

If you don’t believe her, Oprah said it too:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

(Of course, if your couple of ‘blessings’ happen to have two feet and two arms, runny noses and badger you with endless questions while you are trying to tele-conference, this might be a difficult strategy to reduce your stress about uncertainty – especially if Oprah’s suggestion is you’ll end up with more ‘blessings’ and you had given away the black motorbike!)

[Aside: If you don’t want surprise babies/blessings: never give away the black motorbike. I should know].

But I digress.

How can we combat uncertainty? It’s not just about being positive and hopeful, although I laughed out loud at Jennifer Saunders who declared that the good thing about the delay of the Olympics is that we now all have a chance to train in time to qualify! (Not even Pollyanna would agree with her on that!)

 According to Lorena Pasquini, Anna Steynor, and Katinka Waagsaether of the University of Cape Town, there are 3 strategies humans employ when dealing with uncertainty:

1. ‘Strategies of suppression refer to the denial of uncertainty, such as ignoring uncertainty, relying on intuition, or taking a gamble.’

People like my friend Frank who are wanting desperately to put an end to the tension of will-I won’t-I get it, are in danger of engaging in risky behaviour like purposefully not washing hands (just urgh) or refusing to wear a mask, in order to escape the stress of not knowing. This thinking also explains why some people are calmer about death when they know they are about to die than the anxiety they experience before a diagnosis; why parents of children who have gone missing in many cases suffer more than those whose deaths have been confirmed.

Gambling intuitively or risk-taking in business may be exceptional qualities in the normal business world, as exemplified by the likes of Richard Branson and his ilk, but at a time of crisis, these same mavericks are crying out for government bailouts.

Leaders who respond with intuition and gamble on outcomes of herd immunity, like the leaders of the USA and Sweden at the moment may live to regret not being more measured.

2. ‘Strategies of reduction involve trying to increase information or predictability.

Some examples of reduction tactics include collecting more information, asking for advice, or delaying action until more information is available.’

This is what the South African education departments are doing at the moment: consulting, researching, delaying decisions of when and how to return to school. Companies, shops and schools will be delaying re-opening strategies until they have a better idea of what lies ahead. This is obviously a practical way forward and a more scientific approach, but can cause a hugely emotional response from clients and employees desperate for certainty. However, as New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo (one of the only American politicians making sense at the moment) said today at a press briefing:

‘Emotions cannot drive re-opening strategies; facts must.’

– Governor Andrew Cuomo

3. ‘Strategies of acknowledgement take uncertainty into accountin selecting a course of action or preparing to avoid possible risks.’

When society does unfurl itself from the lockdown-hibernation, allowing for uncertainty is so important. The plain sense of South Africa’s planned return from lockdown takes this into account, with its multiple stages, allowing for upwards and downwards movement between levels depending on changing circumstances. It involves managing change.

I am so glad we have someone with emotional intelligence and psychological insight leading us through this crisis. Thank you, President Ramaphosa!

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In the end, we are alive. And that is the whole point of this exercise.

So, be calm; think of opportunities which can be had out of this difficult time and act on them, and be grateful to be alive. Stop worrying and try multiplication at 4 am – like how many sheep are needed to make a Zara jersey – that’ll be better than counting sheep:

“But I have my life, I’m living it. It’s twisted, exhausting, uncertain, and full of guilt, but nonetheless, there’s something there.”
― Banana Yoshimoto,The Lake


[1] Ntate Cyril – Father Cyril – a reference to President Cyril Ramaphosa

The Great Atlantic Crossing: Part 3 …When 10 hours feels like Eternity…

Turkish Airlines Flights Booking & Specials | International Flight ...
I don’t remember much of my family’s flight across the Atlantic, or even much of the final leg to Cape Town, despite the ambitious title of this trilogy of blog posts. Mercifully the children slept for a good portion of the eleven-hour flight to Istanbul. It was the layover that turned out to be akin to the Tenth Circle of Hell: an endless shopping mall to wander around without sleep (or money to spend) for all parents who were ever irritated by sleep deprivation caused in the past by their tiny mites… and the sinner here wanders around with five children she cannot chance losing… oh and there is no Zara in this portion of Hell! Funny term that, ’layover.’ It suggests that waiting passengers get to lie down. Not a chance in Atatürk International Airport in November 2001, where my children and I were marooned for more than ten hours on our way home from the USA to Cape Town (or any modern airport I expect:
Not my child
! Not so my squirming spawn. (As hard as that phrase is to say fast; so hard were they to entertain over this time.) A stopover is only of value if you can stop. For the record, children under nine do not stop. They are physically incapable of just being. They must do. They want to run climb jump eat (all the time, especially if they cannot do) argue with you squabble with each other (the latter two even more so when they are tired and just don’t know it); they want to explore touch roll (boys must roll) and speak (and if you do not respond, they’ll swiftly denounce you with an exasperated. Mom! Stop just saying “Hmmmn”’ when you attempt to deflect their babbling conversation.) The only one who slept was almost-two-year-old Shannon – on the grubby carpet of a vacant playroom – we didn’t care about the dirt by then! This ‘playroom’ was a place of play in name only: it had a few arcade games, all of which needed tokens or Turkish lira, and was not really to suited to littluns or their weary mom. In those days, the transit lounge had not made its way into airport culture. They were bored, my poor babes, so while Shannon snored, I let the boys playfight in the empty expanse. (And when that stopped being playing I used a couple of precious coins to make one of those ride-on animals move– I think it was a bear.) The worst thing about that room (and we spent a good deal of time there on our ‘stops’ in between tours of the facility) was that it did not have a door. I dared not fall asleep for fear of one child wandering off, or being snatched if I dozed off. So I resorted to moving as much as my pregnant belly would allow me, doing a few unenthusiastic jumps to amuse the cheeky squirts, who thought this bowling ball with legs was hilarious, but I was so tired just from being pregnant that it was incredibly hard to stay awake, and I dared not do too much because when we walked around I was already carrying so much heavy luggage in the 2 carry-on bags (like massive weights in each hand, plus the baby bag, sometimes one cut painfully into my arm as I shouldered it so I could carry Shannon as well on our slow (as slow as I could make it) trails around the airport concourse. I was conscious of the need to keep the child growing inside me safe too. I would have given my eye teeth for a trolley; yet despite countless circuits of the terminal, they were not to be had for love or money – or teeth.
Atatürk Airport was quite a hip place to be in those days and full of attractive couples, sartorially elegant in their jeans and leather jackets and their sophisticated sunglasses perched stylishly atop gleaming long, dark ponytails. What I remember most about them though was that they all smoked. The place reeked of cigarettes. We had come from the crisp mountain air of Morman Utah and before that a South Africa cleaned up by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma when she was Minister of Health, in the second clever move she made after divorcing her husband: banning smoking in public places. (Little did she know that Vape Nation would emerge to further plunge us back into the dungeon of civilization.) I had long since given up on the delights of tobacco and the odour of those strong Turkish cigarettes was overpowering. The smell clung to our clothes and hair like a bad reputation. And my asthmatic eldest child began to cough and cough. It didn’t help that the place the nippers enjoyed the most was in the food court where most of the beautiful people lounged: a little fast food outlet with a ball pond. That ball pond is the single most happy common memory of those long hours of waiting, despite the pungent smell of smoke. After making each meal we ate at the diner last as long as we could, the children all piled into the ball pond, and I could wedge myself and the suitcases at the entrance so they couldn’t leave. To be honest I nodded off a couple of times there, only to jerk away guiltily and glance around in a panic, trying to make sure they were all accounted for. But there is only so much ball throwing and ball surfing that any child can take, and so we’d pack up and trudge around the centre for a while again. There should be a memorial somewhere there, called The Trench of Col after the track we walked. After several lifetimes, we spent as long as possible, washing and changing in the bathroom, to the horror of Sean, who, at eight, was mortified to be in a ladies’ loo. But no way was he going into the gents alone, so he had to park his manly embarrassment and just suck it up. Eventually everyone was dressed in what would hopefully be deemed not-too-waif-like for our arrival at home. I zipped up the baby bag, amazed at Murphy’s Law of the Travelling Togbag, which states that the same number of items repacked into a bag, never fit in, and we began the trek to the final departure gate. Then the impish Shannon, chuckled, ‘Ooh, ooh!’ … It was unfortunately a great deal more ‘eeuw’ than ‘ooh,’ so back we schlepped and unpacked the bag again to change her again. The last flight in our odyssey began around two am local time. This time the flight was nightmarish. Sean’s asthma grew worse and worse and I worried he’d need hospitalization when we landed. He gasped for breath for much of the 10 hours to Cape Town and I cursed every one of those beautiful people and their Peter Stuyvesant lifestyle.
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But when we stepped off the plane in Cape Town, he was able to take great gulps of South-Easter and then the kindly customs official’s wrinkled brown face crinkled up even more, as he stamped Sean’s passport, and said: ‘Happy birthday, son. Welcome home.’ And we were. Home. ****************************************************************************************** Postscript: ‘Whatever happened to that little mite I was carrying inside me?’ you may ask. Well that child conceived just before the crisis of 9-11, is nearly eighteen now. And once again the world is in turmoil; this time because of a faceless microbe, COVID-19. Once again, Liam is poised on the edge of becoming, in his final year at school, and once again his world is uncertain. But this time I am different. This time I have the memoryof that moment when we stepped onto the tarmac at Cape Town International Airport and thought: ‘We. Can. Do Anything.’ We shall overcome.