Taking Mohammed beyond the mountain, to the moon

Mohammed being carried to the mountain as it didn´t go to him

They say “If the mountain doesn´t come to Mohammed then he must go to the mountain. For many of us, once we settled into the rhythm of confinement we started to take a fresh look around our immediate vicinity or even deep within ourselves which often in turn, triggered a deep-seated desire to implement some form of change.

If you want something badly enough you can either wait for the “perfect” opportunity to present itself to you (and recognise it when it does) or be proactive and force the issue as Mohammed did. Maybe your business needs to diversify, your parents or children need some different level of support, you need some more ME time or you´d like to be an entrepreneur.

Lucid Moonshot thinking has created businesses such as Microsoft, Uber and Google

But how does one start? By taking a blank piece of paper and writing down a list of crazy ideas until one of them appears less crazy than the others. Don´t let the realms of feasibility hold you back. Once you´ve approached this task with a can-do mindset, even if you don´t know how to implement your ideas at this point, you´ll be astounded at the list of potential solutions you come up with. Only once you´ve filled up your paper do you start to filter. Some of the most courageous, radical ideas have been described as Moonshots and these have propelled Mohammed to much higher heights than his original mountain.

Man smashes through barriers

The term, Moonshots was coined in 1961 when JFK announced he was going to put a man on the moon, without knowing exactly how he was going to achieve it. We all have our own individual dreams, some are easily within our reach, whilst others are distant “ideal world” scenarios that we´d like to achieve but are often forgotten as more easily achievable gains are prioritised. Now that our diaries are clearer of social engagements and non-essential errands we can carve out some time for self-contemplation and dust off our own individual mini moonshots. Please share any I can mention in subsequent weeks in the comments section or via your area coordinator.

Here is mine, many years ago when I was a frequent business traveller and women´s business attire was more formal, I would spend endless hours on a Sunday night compressing myriad suits and changes of clothes into hand luggage for a 2-3 night trip away. This led me to ponder the practicality of reversible garment; jackets that could mix and match with different trousers depending which way round you wore them. That way you could halve the garments you needed to pack.

INCnewcommers Madrid
Double trouble on skates

In addition, I wanted to produce attachable accessories of butterflies, flowers, animals or shapes that you could att ach to shoes, belts, boots, handbags or even jacket lapels to suit your mood, occasion or time of day without having to purchase separate items. And all this before the era in which “sustainable” became the watchword on everyone´s lips.

My flatmate at the time happened to a be a fashion student and she advised me to work up a prototype and tout it round the fashion houses. Unfortunately I listened to my inner critic and the erstwhile mockery of my school sewing teacher who had to staple my wrap-around skirt onto my knickers behind the scenes of our annual school fashion show because I hadn´t sewed on the waistline securely. The disappointing reality was that the reversible clothes idea was buried at the back of my wardrobe and I bought a bigger suitcase.

Two for the price of one

However, based on the exponential design concept of today´s driverless cars maybe I should be inventing clothes that walk by themselves into washing machine. I look forward to hearing about your own dreams.

What are yours?

Live from the Homefront – keep teaching and carry on

By now most of us have become quite adept at motivating our home-schooled children but there are plenty of parents who are still concerned that their children are missing out academically. My advice would be to consider the story of a former war refugee, Ira Martin, who was caught up, aged 12, in the Bosnian war when term was cut short in March 1992. Ira spent the following year swimming in the Adriatic ocean, watching American soap operas, completely disengaged from any academic curriculum.

Children in war-torn Bosnia at play

Eighteen months later she started 7th grade in the US and won a regional physics prize that same year. Meanwhile, Ira´s schoolfriends back in Bosnia spent the following four years in dark basement bomb shelters with a few paltry books and a candle for company. Despite their adverse circumstances they went on to become lawyers, doctors and professors. I hope there are similar stories going on throughout Syria as we speak.

The school of life

Now is the time to focus inwards and prioritise the knowledge and values that are most important for our children and loved ones right now. By that I mean, fostering an atmosphere at home and in our communities of kindness, empathy, love, support, confidence and courage. Embracing these qualities will be stand us in great stead for the challenges ahead of prolonged distancing and as for the rest….there´s always You Tube to help you catch up when the time comes.

Remote learning is not a new concept. Children in remote regions of Australia have been tuning in successfully to lessons via radio since 1951. 

I do sympathise with teachers as funnily enough, I have been one. Fresh out of university I decided that my linguistic skills would be useful in the fashion industry so off I went to Florence….unfortunately by the time I realised that there was not much happening in terms of textiles in Tuscany I had already fallen in love with my language school´s best-friend. So, after a fast-track teaching course and a few haphazard experiences in language schools I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer at the Fashion Faculty at Florence University. 

Florence´s trendsetters

Unfortunately the nearest I got to the fashion industry was telling off my bohemian students for swapping fabric samples under their desks every time my back was turned to write something on the board.  My students displayed great creative flair for flamboyant designs but were less gifted when it came to phrasal verbs. I remember the only spark of linguistic interest was triggered when, on emergency occasions, I surreptitiously deviated from the Cambridge curriculum and asked them to narrate an imaginary script to Mr Bean´s extraordinary encounters.

Mr Bean´s universal appeal

Some parents, like me, may be pleasantly surprised to see that their children are actually learning more via self-study than they ever did in their crowded classrooms. In a country where students are often treated like geese in foie gras production, whereby knowledge is forced down their throats and then regurgitated verbatim in endless exams, some teachers have found that this methodology has even less success via a computer screen.

A biology lesson they´ll never forget

Instead they have experimented with play or humour in order to inspire their pupils to learn as opposed to force feeding knowledge to an apathetic audience. For the first time, the students are the protagonists and given a freer creative rein in which to be heard. Let´s hope these techniques are here to stay once classroom-based learning resumes.

Manual dexterity is just as good as philosophy

Spotlight on Sarah Chester

Sarah paints her rainbow Covid 19 painting of hope

This month we dip into the multi-faceted life of Sarah Chester, a UK-born, polyglot, artist and teacher with a passion for four-legged friends who has recently made a dramatic voyage of discovery to her roots.

When did you first arrive in Madrid and what brought you here?

I first came to Madrid in 1990, alone with one suitcase in hand, ready to add Spanish to my linguistic repertoire of French and German. I was 23 and it was akin to arriving in heaven, partying all night and teaching English by day.

Teaching English gave me the opportunity to travel all over Spain and get to know a lot of people. In 1994 I met my future husband while I was teaching in Fiat …and no, he was not a student of mine!

Not another international move please!

Tell us about your 2 years in Turin in the early 1990s

We went to live in Turin in northern Italy for two years where I also taught English. Italy is definitely the place I have enjoyed living the most. There’s beauty everywhere you look.

In 1997 Fiat offered my husband a job in New York and we were all set to go when, at the last minute, his boss decided Brazil would be a better fit. When we arrived at the airport in Belo Horizonte and took a taxi into the chaos that reigned in this city at this time our jaws literally dropped to the floor.

Sarah enjoys carnival in Brazil

How did you find life in Belo Horizonte, Brazil?

Seven long years passed by in a blur of (two) babies, teaching English, working with kids teaching art and crafts in a slum and studying Art at a university in Belo Horizonte which covered everything from portraits to botanical watercolors.

One of the highlights was participating twice in the Rio Carnival, decked out in the full costume, with feathers and all. We travelled all over this stunning and vibrant continent from Perito Moreno to Machu Picchu, in addition to the Caribbean-like northern coast of Brazil.  

Having fun with the favela children

How had Madrid changed on your return in 2006?

It was more cosmopolitan, more organized and cleaner with a wider variety of different cuisines in chic new restaurants with perfectly designed interiors. I taught English in the Santander head offices and began to focus on painting in my spare time.

Sarah manages to draw out her students´creative skill in her painting classes

What sort of paintings are you focussing on now?

For the last couple of years I’ve been painting portraits and commissions in general and teaching painting classes which I absolutely love!

Sarah and her canine friends

What is your secret Madrid?

My secret Madrid has to include one of my favourite parks, Parque Forestal de Valdebebas, where I go with my three dogs and enjoy its shades of violet and yellow in the spring. My favourite museum has to be the Sorolla museum and garden. It’s a celebration of light!

You recently had made a life-changing discovery of a series of Iranian blood relations, tell us about how this experience has impacted your life.

The craziest thing that has happened to me recently has been the discovery of my biological family on my paternal side in the UK. I have now met my Iranian biological father and two half-brothers of mine whom I absolutely love. It’s very strange meeting blood relatives for the first time when you’re adopted. You look for similarities and it’s funny how you can spot the same mannerisms and gestures.

Sarah´s versatile artistic style

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

I would be tempted to live in Asia for a few years and of course continue with my painting.

It´s a dog´s life

Live from the Homefront – from royal bloomers* to digging up our past and keeping in control of our present

A Grandmother scales the front door of a block of apartments

Many families have come up with ingenious ways of keeping in touch with their loved ones remotely to avoid screen fatigue. Some of the family meetings require some amusing planning in advance, the rewards of which are more than reaped by all the participants on screen.

For example, joke day or hat day where each member has to come up with a joke in turn or appear on screen wearing some millinery creation, or perhaps read out a poem, composed by themselves or another. Or even story day where a set of 4 words are set to the host in advance and she has to pull them out of a hat and invites the author to explain their significance. As a natural progression I can see that charades might be fun, a quiz (on the eccentric ancestors?), or even dressing up as a character or a citizen from a different nation that the other participants have to guess. Let me know what you have tested out successfully.

Susannah and her sister investigate our grandmother´s acquisition from Queen Victoria

I would probably need an extra-long confinement to exhaust the Spanish Inquisition on my forebears. Here are some of the questions I might include in my family´s quiz: “Who bought Queen Victoria´s knickers (otherwise known as *bloomers)?”, “Which male ancestor was devoured by a tiger at Ooty, in India?”, “Which relation has Margaret Thatcher´s former lavatory in his hotel?” “Who fell backwards into the swimming pool in a kilt at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town during a business meeting?” “Who checked a shotgun into the cloakroom of the Royal Albert Hall at a concert in London after a day´s pheasant shooting?” “Whose former castle featured on the front cover of a U2 album?”

As various countries start to relax their confinement rules it is becoming increasingly apparent that normal life as we knew it is not going to resume any time soon. This may be a very harsh reality for some, particularly vulnerable, people so we may benefit from adjusting our mindset to focus on our more immediate present, over which we have more control or, alternatively, on the more distant future, perhaps in a year or so from now.

This advice is echoed by a US navy vice admiral, James Stockdale, who having spent seven years as a prisoner of the Vietnam war, advocated a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mentality. If socialising or travelling is going to be restricted or inadvisable for some of us, we should plan accordingly for a longer-term constraint and consider how we can turn this situation into an opportunity to clarify what areas of our life we should focus our attentions on. This will give us a sense of control, purpose and conceivably, achievement. Additionally, our hope for a brighter future can be boosted by a daily acknowledgement of gratitude for our present.

Give me another few weeks to practise my moves

I have had a highly productive time unsubscribing from the deluge of daily emails from various so-called “just-in-case” sources that are no longer relevant to the current life stage of my family or to the circumstances I now find myself in, temporarily confined to a wheelchair. I no longer beat myself up for not answering to the daily pressurised call of baking with masa madre or shaking my booty to cardio salsa ….

Aurora shows us her foolproof recipe

Some of us, however, have been very industrious in the kitchen, such as Aurora who has posted a useful tutorial on how to make a fabulous fideuá. This is the short fideo pasta variation on the traditional paella and much enjoyed in my household as I find it more forgiving than its rice brethren.