- 6 Feb 2017 11:00 AM
I feel like I live here now, with a definite commitment to my work and family life here in Budapest.
At school, the long awaited 3000m2 building extension is up and running. Something else that will make a big difference for school is a new sports facility being built now. This three storey building will have a theatre on the ground floor with approximately 200 seats, where we can have exhibitions and performances.
A large indoor gym, a second small gymnasium, and a number of changing rooms are part of the new building, so that when we ae have big tournaments visiting teams can have their own changing rooms and showers there. There is going to be a basketball court and an outdoor football field too. It will be open by autumn.
Also my wife started working in the school. That was not happening last time we met. She stepped in to help out with admissions and marketing, partly because of her vast experience with international schools, though having three boys in international schools in four different countries ourselves.
At home, fortunately not a lot has happened, which is good actually. There are two important points in our lives, my oldest son is graduating from University this summer, hopefully with a degree in mathematics and physics, and our second son is just applying for University, and so is just about to finish school in the UK.
Our youngest is still in school here in Hungary, and has one more year before he takes his GCSE’s.
2. On a scale of 1 to 10 how happy are you with your life in Hungary, and why?
9 because Hungary delivered on everything I was looking for. It has been a delight and a surprise. I was looking to move closer to England, and we are closer here than before in Asia, and I was looking for European culture and Budapest has delivered that in bucket loads.
I can't say I was looking for large numbers of craft breweries but that has been a delight and a surprise as well - that was not on my list of criteria but I think that characterizes all the surprises about this country and the city, because there is more to it that anyone would have imagined.
Budapest is a hidden gem I think. I am a very content person generally, so I do not know why it is not 10. I think if I had 36 hours per day and 8 days a week it would probably be a 10. Anyway, the city and the country are phenomenal.
3. What's the best party you've been to in Hungary so far, and why?
I am not a great party person. But I would say the recent Burns Night at the Ambassador's Residence was definitely a good one. It was the right size and I met people I never met before.
Other than that, I remember a small dinner party with a small group of friends, which started with the sunset on the terrace around six o'clock and went on until the early hours of the next morning. That was a small group of friends rather than a big party.
4. What's your favourite drink?
That is a difficult question because if I had to choose one I would say water. I have a number of favourite drinks. I think it has to be single malt whiskeys.
There are lots of different types. I really enjoy tasting them all. Lagavulin is one of my favourites, and Caol Ila - it is a very intense Islay malt. Lagavulin was gone from the market for a while but now it is back.
5. What hidden talents do you have?
I can juggle. And I am a scuba diving instructor, which is more hidden than juggling since I don’t get to dive much here in Hungary!
6. What was the most interesting travel trip you have ever taken?
From North Sarawak across to the borders of Kalimantan (and probably behind the borders of Kalimantan), initially by river then by foot, truck, Land Cruiser, longboat, whatever way we could get to try to find the original nomadic Penan tribes in Borneo - the ones that were the origins of the legends of the head-hunters. Two months of basically trying to get across jungles without a real reliable map.
7. If you were given a wish that could come true, what would you ask for?
If something, somewhere could be done to pause the accelerating destruction of our natural environment across the world. On land, on the water, in the air.
Nature is an incredible wonder and delight that's really sustained me over the years, in terms of all the trips I have done, and it drives me partly, as an educator. It is just sad that we are on the edge of irreversible change, and we are ignorant about the consequences of what we are doing to nature.
8. What's the last book you read, and movie you watched?
I just watched Trainspotting, prior to going to see Trainspotting 2. The last novel I read was ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. I always have four or five non-fiction books on the go all the time, which I never seem to finish.
9. If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?
I love quirky titles like “What am I doing here” (Bruce Chatwin). Maybe “Unfinished” would be appropriate.
10. What is the perfect pizza toppings combination for you?
Simple, it would be fresh tomatoes, good fresh basil, and a small amount of good quality mozzarella. It is all about the quality. Same with pasta, good homemade pasta, and good olive oil, perhaps a tiny amount of basil, a tiny bit of chilli and garlic. The same thing works on a pizza.
11. If you could trade places with any other person, for a week, with whom would it be?
Anyone on the International Space Station!
12. On a scale of 1 to 10 how unusual are you, and why?
I'd like to think that I am probably around 7. I am less unusual than I used to be. I think I used to be quite a rebellious teacher, riding a Norton Commando and wearing an earring, for eaxmple.
I think, in my position, having a variety of completely unrelated interests, passions, hobbies if you like, is more unusual than many of my Principal colleagues who are 100% dedicated to their core jobs – which is good for them.
I am 100% dedicated to my job, and I do a lot of other things too. Juggling, I think that's unusual, scuba diving, underwater photography, well, that is pretty unusual in Budapest.
I have a very unusual range of musical tastes. Everything from Led Zeppelin through to The Smiths through to Bruckner, Beethoven and Mahler. I am looking forward to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra performing Mahler's 4th symphony at MUPA in a month or so... A bit like the pizza toppings, very selective, top quality.
13. What's the best website you've ever visited, and why?
A website where they are mapping the whole of the natural World. It is an amazing expanding experience.
For example, you can click on an owl and expand that topic by tracing it right the way back to the amoeba that swam in the primordial soup. http://www.onezoom.org/
14. Who do you admire the most, and why?
This is very difficult since there are a range of people for different things. Trudeau in Canada is one of the current world leaders to firmly stand up for principles.
As did Obama. In the education world people like Sir John Jones who turned around three schools in Merseyside and was knighted for that (and he wisely shows a video of my juggling when he goes on tour).
15. What do you like best and least about living in Hungary?
What I like best is, I think despite the fact that Hungarians claim to have a rather grumpy nature, I don't think that is true. At every opportunity they close down streets and parks to have festivals.
Everything from the opera through to mangalica through to wine. It is a real sense that people want to get the most out of life here and I love that.
Least: it is not about Hungary, it is about me in Hungary. For me it is difficult to learn the language. It is not as if I am actually trying very hard, but I am sure I would enjoy it far more here if I could speak Hungarian.
16. What has made the biggest impact on your life so far, and why?
Getting married 24 years ago. I think this is going to sound really corny, but my wife is my best friend and my greatest teacher. She has changed me, showed sides of me I did not know I had, and made me better. Simple as that.
17. If you won USD 30 million, what would you do with the money?
The first thing would obviously be to take some time to decide what’s best to do about the money, to take some advice on that. Because I would never need 30 million, no one does. I would take care of everyone in my family, and for that you do not need that much.
I think from the personal point of view I would like to be able to spend some time going back those things I talked about, the natural world and environment, to be able to visit and contribute to the preservation of some of these areas, to make a difference, a high impact there and create enough publicity perhaps to inspire people to do the same thing elsewhere. That would soon get through the 30 million I am sure.
18. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
I am fortunate to have had so many different parts to my life, verses if you like. I jumped around England to start with: Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, London.
Everything from working in a cutting edge computer research laboratory, to preparing fjord trout for a Norwegian hotel, though to full-time bar and night club work, then a career in education in London, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and now Budapest.
No single song could do that justice. Must be an album. Perhaps a concept album, but that shows my age. There must be a chorus or a leitmotiv there somewhere, but I’ve no idea what!
19. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
At the moment in Catalonia, in Spain and possibly in Puerto Galera in the Philippines – to go diving, as it is superb there.
Puerto Galera has to be my favourite place in the world. It has a place in my heart because in 1992 when I worked for the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong, I had this rather bizarre idea that we were going to start a school scuba diving trip - which is commonplace these days but is was never done back then - and we took a group of 16-18 year olds diving to Puerto Galera.
Back then there was just a small shack run by an Australian guy and another from London. These trips are still running today; a school in Vietnam that I joined runs trips there, and around a dozen schools take school dive trips every year to the same place. The dive operation, Asia Divers, have expanded enormously.
They bought up all of the small fishing operations and brought them into the diving industry, so the guys there run boats for diving rather than fishing, and they created a marine reserve which just recently became a site described as “the center of the center" of marine biodiversity. And there was practically nothing there before.
20. In ten years from now what will you be doing?
I will be living in Spain and Puerto Galera and probably England in the summer. I will be consulting in schools, as I think there is more that I can offer by giving short consultancies in schools.
At the moment I work as a school inspector, so I do school inspections, and possibly through that I can do consultancy too. Plus writing a book about what I learnt about education. It’s an interesting stage of my career, it may sound arrogant but I have gathered much experience, much knowledge, and I think a certain amount of wisdom, thanks to everyone I have worked with in all the different countries.
I think if I just stop and walk away, all that would be wasted. I remember all the people I met along my career who helped me, now it is my turn. I have to give back and a book is a good way to do that. Also, I will still dive, juggle and listen to all that music in ten years’ time.