Still water runs deep – going beyond the surface

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in his simple show he harbours treason…

No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man

Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.

– Henry VI by William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

From sunken open-air theatre in my neighbourhood to cruising river for a tour, I am still not venturing far and wide due to the pandemic so my activities are mainly focussed on being local but I have managed to do some more interesting outings than in recent months.

Unknowing to me, I found out that there is an open-air sunken theatre in my neighbour and it was great to see a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ production by the Greek Theatre, whilst the evening was still light and warm.  I was impressed by the costumes, music and acting and will definitely try to go again next year hopefully. We certainly didn’t have to worry about the virus being outside and it was great to see theatre again in the pandemic with great appreciation for the effort that this three-hour production would have taken to perfect. 

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep. – William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

We were taught Shakespeare in secondary school in Trinidad & Tobago and I love recognising his lines from his plays in everyday life.  Macbeth, Julius Ceasar, The Tempest are some of his plays seen in some great theatres by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the city over the years.  Believe it or not, not everyone likes Shakespeare.  I know some people who really like his works and some who do not.  I appreciate his work and even though I may not know all his works, you can’t help but love a good story, sonnet or play.  I hope to visit Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, and to see a play in the globe theatre in London. Shakespeare’s Globe always looks amazing long the River Thames and I have been trying to make time to see a play there for ages and recently booked tickets to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in October.

“I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Isambard Kingdon Brunel – Civil Engineer.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In the last tour of Soho we were told that the Vikings or order tribes used The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

The other excitement this month was a tour of the River Thames with SLA Europe with specific reference to the Brunel family, and their influence on engineering, construction, designs and building along the river’s rich history in the period.  On this occasion it was as if I was looking at the river with fresh eyes even though I have seen the river hundreds of times working on two riverside locations with PwC and City Hall.  Our guide was so knowledgable and engaging that I always try to jot down notes to check out the facts and references later.

Creative Commons Images. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering story and the impact on building bridges, tunnels, shipbuilding and landscape in London and elsewhere is renowned, with some structures are still standing today and in the future.  He was voted the Greatest Briton for the last millennium and that may have been for his renowned engineering, innovative inventions and ideas for the time…and being in the right place at the right time in the heart of the Industrial Revolution.  The bridges across the river tell a great story of his legacy and you still see evidence of this work as your cruise along the river.

The river itself has a long history going back to ancient times with various people living off off the banks. In my last tour of Soho, we were told that the Vikings or older tribes use of The Strand for storing their boats, with the cargo being brought up to the marketplace in or around the now Covent Garden.  It is fascinating how the river served the communities that lived in and around it over time. The British Museum had a great blog here which gives you a great idea of the types of civilised or uncivilised people who used the river way before our time.

What is interesting too in current times (pardon the pun) is mud-larkers, who scavenge the river bed to find objects that are washed up from the river beds.  There are some amusing evidences of past life and…soul of the river washing up again to remind us of those who may have gone long before us. As with rivers and sea, the underwater currents are strong and surprising, despite the exterior appearance seeming to be calm, still and controlled. The literally wash up stories for us.

I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few. – William Morris, designer, artist and social reformer.

As you may gather, water seems to be my theme this month, so I was please to see the new play area at the Town Hall in Waltham Forest where I live.  The borough council has created this space as a legacy for being the first Borough of Culture in 2019 and states on their website that it is a place for “family and neighbours to this vibrant new culture hub to experience the next chapter of our Borough of Culture legacy and reconnect with our community”. The new public square area is called Fellowship Square which is inspired by our local famous Arts and Craft designer William Morris. William Morris was adamant on accessibility and is known for the motto ‘Art for All’, so rightfully they are using the brand Waltham FORest for ALL.

The water fountain has been transformed into a new pedestrianised area for families to play with the water features choreographed to water and lights, with music being played from the built-in sound systems form the benches.  Little rant – I do think that this is a great new place for local residents but I do wish they can sort out there recycling and litter problem too!

You can’t really go too far without seeing Morris designs, his way of life and ethos are celebrated in everyday things in our local area close to the house he grew up in that is now the William Morris Gallery. There are great designs that are popping up even in a face mask or little free library to acknowledge his influence, inspiration and legacy on design and art in the UK but also across the globe.  It is amazing too that the William Morris Co is still running to this day with his classic designs and brand.

There are other waterways around where I roam, such as the Walthamstow Wetlands, Lea Valley and also the canals near King’s Cross.  These are some of the old ways of life for communities and business who used the waterways. These passage ways were obviously used before modern transportation, and it is lovely to see the riverboats that still line the routes along the Lea Valley river.  I love looking to see how people are living in these compact spaces especially in all types of weather.  I do know that the cost of them are far less than ‘bricks and mortar’ homes in London, and that you have to keep moving them after a certain time.  So ‘no fixed abode’ really does apply to these riverboat homes.

As we go into autumn, I am sure to find time to explore the city and local areas as I don’t have any plans to go far away.  It does seem that there are more people out and about in central London, and I can stay to see more in the pandemic apart from my place of work and neighbourhood. Hopefully the death rate does not increase in the colder months and no other coronavirus variants rage as we approach the two-year mark in a pandemic. I will try to still see some of the great historical sites and venues as the weather gets colder and make use of the indoor areas.  And as this recap shows, there is always a bit of freshness, wellness and invigoration being not far away from spaces with urban rivers and water.

Volunteer – your community really needs you!

Just be yourself….  This has been my guiding thoughts in recent years especially after using social media for such a long time in a transparent and open way.  It is hard not to be real or your authentic self and it is where I have been bringing my true self from my local community to my global activities with family, friends and fellow professionals everywhere.   

The last few months has been challenging for me as I get to grips with the loss of my mother but it also seems to be a time when my professional volunteering and work have ramped up with some fierce momentum.  I wanted to let you know some of the main highlights of these activities, how fulfilling volunteering…and work can be, especially if you have direct impact and responsibility for your global and local communities.

August started with my colleagues and I collaborating in the British Library’s Community Engagement programme in our local borough with their holiday club with teenagers, which is part of the footballer Marcus Rashford’s holiday club programme.  We spent two days with young teenagers giving them support, tips and techniques for business ideas.  It was refreshing hearing about the innovative and cutting-edge perspectives they have for new technologies, and other new business models. There is nothing like youth to keep you on your toes!

I particularly like some of the skilful youth workers who knew how to keep young people engaged for the holiday club, and there really is an art to making sure that you connect in a learning environment with teenagers.  It was also a good time for me to be involved with our Community Engagement team in one of their outreach programmes for our local community in the heart of a busy ‘world-class’ city.  I was able to get to know the community engagement project team better and hopefully will be in a position to contribute with them in the future.  We are looking forward to hosting a sustainable theme event in future and ideas are already circulating. So watch this space!

I know that my past employers are doing community engagement, and was aware of the benefits of community from my childhood. In the Community Affairs team at PWC, I was inspired by one of the founders of the department over twenty years ago, where they implemented literacy programmes and various funding streams that were awarded to staff to help with their local communities.  It is good corporate social responsibility, and we need this in such challenging times regardless if we are a first world…or developing country. It makes great business sense to use these outreach and localised initiatives to help with digital literacy, reading and good citizenship. Therefore we can see allies and benefactors in these corporate social responsibility initiatives for our communities and citizens in general.

On a global level, I am beginning to see new ways that world challenges are being incorporated into lines of work and company missions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in 2015 by the UN for a sustainable future in 2030. These guiding principles and focus are now visible in job descriptions, research, books and information being produced in industry, science, academia, etc.  I recently attended online the SLA Europe and SLA Conference where there were great content and visual presentations for example by Elsevier on their resources. They were actively tracking the number of research outputs coming out from countries, their impact and rankings.  Personally, I think the SDGs are great for reminding us of what we should be working on collectively now, and how much more that still needs to be done whilst we sit comfortably on our mainly first world problems. The pandemic has created lots of new challenges whereby we have to be in a position to incorporate, and actively work on these issues and opportunities as a matter of course and urgency. IFLA have also produced a resources page for the SDGs here.

There has been a lot of ways that we can incorporate social good in our volunteering. There are activities in my profession that require us to reach out to others who may need that support, helping hand and lifting up.  Mentoring, informal chats or social get-togethers are great for helping us to make those connections and support systems.  There is something special when we get insights from someone who may be able to offer us guidance, and a support network whether we are looking for a new job, ad-hoc support or industry insights.  I certainly needed a bit of a sounding wall recently for my professional life, and did the same to someone who contacted me after recently moving to Ireland, and another who wanted to chat from New York.  These were held in my own time and it makes it all worthwhile when conversations are fruitful, encouraging and positive.  The pandemic has enabled more meeting by video-conferencing calls, and it is certainly one of the best times to think wider and broader with technology to collaborate with those we can engage with now, and in the future. It was only about seven years ago that I spent £18.00 on a telephone call to Germany when I was introducing a volunteer to her role in supporting me.

As we reposition ourselves in the new normal during this pandemic, it is good to remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done for social justice and equity in the profession…and also in wider society.  It is shamefully shocking how imbalances and unfair some of the societal systems are in place in a predominantly white privileged and supremacist systemic structure. In large countries such as the USA and UK, there are great levels of ignorance which is brought on by inequalities that I can identify with terms such as disinvestment, information poverty, and micro-inequalities.  It is actually very sad and disheartening to see the evidence and context of these terms in the wider context.  Yet we haven’t done enough.  Why is this? Are we given enough funds? Power to execute plans? Support and time?

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of caring for those near and far to us.

Regardless of the big issues we can’t control around us, I still try to do a little as I can when I can.  I recently, have been hearing from local gardeners in my neighbourhood who are busy helping with our local green spaces.  I have less to do as we have actually sorted out green spaces in our neighbourhood over the years but if left unattended…it can become like weeds (which is also good for better ecosystem really).  It has been great to bump into the local professional gardener recently as he said that he can advise me on buying a tree for the street, what soil I may need, and which supplier to use! When it is easy to search online it is so great to get this free advice from a fellow volunteer in the local community.

To sum up my last few weeks, I wanted to remember the people who have inspired me in their generosity in giving their time, effort and perhaps financial support to those causes small and big that will have an impact other people’s life, near or far.  Programmes in our local community and global organisations can all do better and more to engage us with the issues at hand from fighting social mobility, poverty, access to literacy, education, work, care and love. I recently met an ethical fashion business founder who was helping rural communities in India but who also want to ensure that their stories are heard and organic products are showcased.  By building in her story with her strategic partners overseas, she has created a better value proposition for her customers, and it is great for getting their joint story on the road to success within these global sustainable development goals.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

Do tell me that this makes good business sense.

A tribute and celebration of the life of my mother on her passing

OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.

Word meaning: Om: The primeval sound; Bhur: the physical body/physical realm; Bhuvah: the life force/the mental realm Suvah: the soul/spiritual realm; Tat:  That (God); Savitur: the Sun, Creator (source of all life); Vareñyam: adore; Bhargo: effulgence (divine light); Devasya: supreme Lord; Dhīmahi: meditate; Dhiyo: the intellect; Yo: May this light; Nah: our; Prachodayāt: illumine/inspire. Source: https://www.sathyasai.org/devotional/gayatri

I would like to honour and celebrate the life of my mother, Kamala Rampersad, by paying tribute to her life with these few words.  My mother was born in 1940’s Trinidad in a large close-knit Indian family.  I can only imagine how it was from stories, photos and tales told of that period. I do know that this was a family who kept their Indian and Hindu traditions despite being in the heart of Port-of-Spain, but also integrated with Westernisation. 
 
It was a time of great changes after the World War II, and some young girls were given newer professional roles in Trinidad at the time.  My mother completed secretarial examinations in ‘Pitman Training’ for typing, shorthand in the 1950s (later bookkeeping), started driving and working as a personal assistant for her father at his custom broking, left luggage and other businesses.  It was a pioneering time when entrepreneurship and innovation were happening at a very quick pace in the twin islands.  Close friends and other families at this time in Port-of-Spain were running businesses, and newer careers that will go on to create our national identity and culture.  Her family was known and even close to other families, such as Joseph Charles (founder of Solo Beverages), Naipaul (such as in V.S. Naipaul), and some others I won’t mention for privacy. The stories told by her and our relatives are truly great and captures the essence of the class structures in families and society at that time in Port-of-Spain. My mother would have been an active player, as well as a living embodiment of this high calibre of post-war Port-of-Spain. 


 
In the early 1960s my parents got married and this is where, even on a small island, there were stark differences in town and country.  Life in the village was very much still linked to the sugar industry and the surrounding sugar plantations.  My mother had some adjusting to her new life but she also fitted in beautifully and friendly with the other lovely people who are still to this day in the village. There are amazing stories told of life then and the way things had developed over the years.  Religion, cultural traditions and social life were very much integral to the way of life.  There were the usual support systems of the extended family, neighbour and community that pulled together.  I do believe that it was a time when the term “takes a village to raise a child” really does make sense.  I personally witnessed this in the 1970s and 1980s.  It was reassuring in the last few days since her passing I am hearing how she supported other families and individuals in the high, lows, bad and good times in their lives, as well as how some of them have been there for us.  
 
In terms of her achievements, she was able to provide support to several villagers, family and friends for functions by providing some financial support, cooking, chatting, peace-making, helpfulness and good all-round cheerfulness. It is well-known that my mother can cook in bulk and was called ‘the best cook’ and baker in many ways by many people. I will miss her delicious cooking and baking and she was certainly unique in her hand at the various cuisines. She loved music and allowed us to indulge ourselves. She loved Trinidad Carnival and witness the splendour of it in Port-of-Spain from the 1940s. She still loved going to see the mas’ too until recently.


My mother was an active member of the Dow Village Hindu Mandir for decades and had an leading role in their planning, service and events committee – as well as a devotee on a regular basis.  She also volunteered for many community and social initiatives over the years.
 


 
It is the small or big acts of kindness that are the ones that we will treasure forever. I would like to mention that family life will obviously be where her kind-heartedness, gentle and loving nature would come through unconditionally, as with most parents.  As a couple, my parents were the ‘star boy and star girl’ of their generation. They were undoubtedly hard-working, committed parents and wanted the very best for us, especially with sacrificing their own wishes and time so that we can get the higher education in our younger years.  There was little educational support then for those who were average (like me) but wanted to pursue a different field than the one available at the time.  However, they still made it possible for me to ‘follow my dreams’ and to be the person I was hoping to become in London and Europe. The hardest part of all of this is that I left them in a loving family at a very young age.  This love never diminished with distance – it only made it stronger and more cherished to this day.  My parents were great to me, and through my own family I hope their memory and sacrifices will be told for years to come. My mother has been able to travel, as well as spend extended time with my brother in Canada, and most importantly, she was able to visit India twice and this was also one of her dreams growing up as an Indo-Caribbean in the 19th Century.
 
My mother had emotional intelligence and was practising mindfulness before I knew what these were labelled! She was sensitive, spiritual and careful of other people’s feelings – and this is something she took to heart in terms of the use of kind words, actions and deeds.  As she was spiritual and ‘in tune’ with her religion and spirituality, she also seemed to me to practice mindfulness in her mannerisms, thoughts and prayers.  She had a remarkable view of life in a very philosophical way, especially after losing family members, my father and sister (both between 1999-2000). I do think this gave her the ability to see the bigger picture and context of us as players in life and the need for genuine support from those around us – some have labelled her a role model, as well as the peacemaker.  These are not easy to do, and sometimes it is the harder role we take on as leaders in our own life’s way, missions, journey and story. I can tell you real anecdotes and true stories but the moral of her story is that my mother has been influential, and is truly my role model, remarkable and an inspiration. 

 
And so, this is a very brief outpouring of grief, appreciation and thanks after six months of intensive health issues with her wellbeing and health. One day I may be able to give her, her generation, family, neighbours, town and village the justice of a more in-depth piece of writing and research.
 
Today, my family and I wanted to thank all the persons who have helped and supported us recently. I want to thank everyone who has interacted, cared and loved my mother over the years.  She truly was special and she deserves a farewell that is honourable, admirable and appreciative for her way of life, actions and deeds.  I will always miss and love my mother.  I wish her peace, albeit in the after-life, heaven or paradise. It is all the same. May God bless her soul and may ever-lasting love and light shine on her forevermore. 


TVAMEVA MATA PRAYER

Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva Twameva Bandhu, Cha Sakha Twameva Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva-deva

O God, You are my mother, my father, my brother, and my friend. You are my knowledge. You are my only wealth. You are everything to me and the God of all Gods.

This mantra is usually recited at the conclusion of a prayer session, meditation, or religious function. Here the devotee surrenders his or her individuality to the Lord for his Grace.

 
Om Shanti Shanti Om

Euro 2020 – A festival of Football

I really was looking forward to Euros 2020 …last year.  As you know this is now happening in Summer 2021 as it was postponed due to the pandemic.  The football tournament really has light up social media and mainstream media channels!  It has some of us talking in real time again as we are obviously looking at the games live.  I also in typical ‘look away style’, I had one person say to me they don’t want to hear the scores as they can catch up on the game later on playback television.  Football has this magic to get fans and an occasional fan like me excited and interested tournaments, competitions and league games. It is exciting as well as reassuringly almost ‘normal’ in the pandemic to see all the national teams, players, managers, broadcasters and fans enjoying this festival of football.

In Trinidad, Cricket was the main part of our childhood sporting play regime for boys and girls in school and in our consciousness in small villages in the 1970s.  My interest in football started in the early 1980s as my brothers collected footballer profiles cards, and by my classmates too who chatted about the excitement of the World Cup 1982. Otherwise it was also seen on television as we had weekly round ups of the English Football League (shows like Big League Soccer with Brian Moore as presenter), and Italian Serie A at the weekend.  With only one television and two brothers meant that I had no choice but to sit and watch the sport shows with them.  However, it was interesting seeing the usually foggy games in cold England and the sunny glamourous games in Italy.  It is just the way it was presented. And just as the live Wimbledon tennis finals, we used to get the live coverage if the FA Cup final on Saturdays there too.  At this point, I had some understanding of the game and knew of some of the Talisman players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Zico and Paolo Rossi. The festival like opening ceremony of the World Cup 1986 in Mexico followed by the game with Bulgaria vs Italy (the defending champions) was actually the game when I got most interested in watching football.  Hereafter I tried to follow all major Euro and World Cups, as well as the Champions League, except I did actually see many games for the Euros 1992 as I was too busy being a student.

The World Cup 1986 was ideal for getting me interesting as the games started at 4pm when we were at home after school, and they went on in the evening before a school night.  My classmates in my all-girl convent school were all very interesting in the games too and we also ‘fancied’ some of the players. One classmate used to write with chalk ‘A Player of the Day’ on the blackboard. I have had several crushes on footballers over the years and I guess it totally natural to admire some of these players or even managers.  Mexico was so exciting and the players that we saw on our screen exposed me to the world, their fans and all the various cultures at the time.  I obviously loved looking at the game of football too.  I remember the Brazilian fans with their samba drums specifically and after Italy were knocked out…. I actually wanted France to win with Michel Platini was their captain.  They too lost the semi-finals and I had my first feeling of football loss and hurt when they didn’t make it to the final.  However, we all know that legendary and super talented Diego Maradona and his Argentinian Team lit up the World Cup 1986.  I remember that my school had a summer fair the same time of the final in 1986 and they used an annexe room with a projector to show the final between Germany and Argentina.  I truly was a great vintage year to get hooked on these international tournaments. 

After the World Cup 1986, I used to then love looking at the Italian Serie A TV and newspaper news roundup with some of the star footballers I got to know from the tournament and it was great to follow the league for a few more years until I moved to England.  I also remember seeing the Heysel Stadium Disaster as it was shown live in the afternoon in Trinidad, and we also had the news on the Hillsborough Disaster the day it happened.  Both of these are still sad to think about and we forgot when England was punished for participating in European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster. It also took a long time for the Hillsborough Disaster to be resolved and it is still remembered on the sad anniversary.

Fast forward a few years and the World Cup 1990 in Italy was also great.  I was by now studying in England and it was one of the best campaigns in a major competition, with the Paul Gascoigne becoming a star for English fans.  I still had (and believe I still do) like to other countries too that I take too depending on the competition.  The theme song Nessun Dorma always reminds of that campaign and I do have lovely memories of looking at it during the heatwave of 1990. One of the best take-aways of 1990s is that Gascoigne moved to Lazio in Italy and eventually lead to Italian Football being shown on Channel Four.  My brother used to look at these games but eventually I met my Italian husband whose first love is football! He told me so and eventually I also witness the same with my son.  My husband remains a bit football fan with my son and I am sure he has lots of stories if going to football matches in the 1960s and onwards when they were affordable and he can catch a train to London and still have change to food and the tickets etc. I must get him to write those stories!

Again a lot of my time in 1990s with my husband was spent looking at Italian football and other games and competition.  I had no problem looking at these games and really got into the Italian football, and the amusing Football Italia that was brilliantly presented by James Richardson in some fabulous looking Italian venue with his cocktail, or espresso.  It was exciting to see the game and stadiums live in Italy and although I have seen some live football games in the UK…. I still dream of going to see a game in the San Siro in Milan.  These were the heady days of great Italian footballers with style, flair, glamour and talent. Personally, I am sure the games tactics and fitness regimes etc were adopted by the English game with Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, etc coming to the English clubs and influencing their game.  At the same time there were also other pop culture show such as Fantasy Football which were amusing to watch.

One of the things I wanted to highlight about those 1990s stars and players that I love is that they are now currently managers of the Euro 2020 with some of them having their children playing in some of the international teams.  I checked on social media and I am not the only one who is beginning to feel old.  It is great when football is universal and inter-generational like this. I have been thinking how difficult it must be to manage these teams and to win (as well as lose) these competitions.  In must be such a demanding job but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility and insight into the game and players.  It is always interesting to see how people respond and also how tense it be!

One of the best highlights of the 1990s is Italian making but losing the World Cup 1994 when I saw how passionate my Italian relatives get about football.  I also went to a great ‘Festival of Football’ organised by a journalist on the cusp of the World Cup 1998 at the National Theatre on the Southbank where the programme had football related cultural activities and talks.  I saw interviews with George Weah, George Best and the finale was a Football theme Ballet by a Scottish Production company. 

National pride and patriotism are also evident in international football competition and there is a whole sub-culture with club football.  I do believe some people live and breathe football and swear allegiance as well as rivalry based on clubs, locations, religion, politics etc.  It is just a game of football but there is so much more at stake with the business of football.  Being a business information professional, I used to obtain many copies of football reports and reviews by accountancy firms.  The club leagues and international competition is big business.  Nations are building their countries’ national identity – think if Nelson Mandela for South African 2010 and the introduction to the ‘vuvuzuela’.

Cities with infrastructure and investment aim to host competitions as it also brings in funds, on top of the broadcasting rights and merchandising etc.  The player market or transfer market is also so unbelievable.  I used to pay attention to these topics and know that there are apps and game information etc.  Play Station games and other goods are some of the everyday items I see in my own home.  The cost of tickets is atrocious but the last game I went to was to fundraise at local Leyton Orient (I am still serious about Milan though!).

As we are midway through the Euro 2020, this has been a great way to find entertainment in our own homes.  Stadiums in the pandemic are mostly not filled to capacity but it is interesting to see how some games have adapted.  Fans are still enjoying the experience and it different to normal years.  The bars, pubs and homes in neighbourhood are also getting into the festival of football fever.

The football has been great and some of the games really make you come alive with excitement or nail-biting tension – so our emotions can go from one extreme to another.  It is great too to see technology being developed for and around the game such as VAR.  Football will continue to a world gripping sport to play…as well as to watch.  It truly is a beautiful game.

Health is Wealth – lottery or duty of care

The pandemic will leave an imprint on our lives and if there is one thing that has been the overriding story of it is Health is Wealth. I choose this title for my blog post as it really has been one of the priorities in the last 15 months. Health and wellness are key to happiness and peace in one’s life, but there are so many factors that may pose a risk as well as a ‘lottery’ on how well we are cared and treated in the places where we live. In recent months, I have been preoccupied with worry and concern with my loved ones as the pandemic adds another level of strain on our wellbeing.  Yes, we have a vaccine…but we are not there yet internationally.  There are still a lot to take this country, and world, back to a pre-covid normal.   Therefore, I will share with you my thoughts on some of the difficult situations that we are in at present, and some of the structural issues that affect us with our health.

“The first wealth is health.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is no greater time to think of one’s health than in the last year! The pandemic has been a ‘game changer’. This year started very badly with the second wave of the pandemic in the UK, and as mentioned before, I had COVID-19 at the peak of that second wave in the middle of January. I had visited the testing centres in my local area and I didn’t need any medical attention.  I did feel extreme tiredness with cold like symptoms.  It was a very cold time of the year, with all that I was able to do was self-isolate mainly amusing myself by watching Netflix. I was let off lightly compared to all the sad, devastating and horrific stories on human illness and death causes by the coronavirus.  The second wave with the UK variant was a real horror story that was only three months ago, as well as other variants spreading now to other regions in India and Brazil.  However, it seems like there is some normalising now with the vaccine roll-out and as we get ready to open back in the summer months. 

My local library has been busy giving out vaccines by appointment only, but also having days when they are open to people who turn up by a specific criterion.  At one point I saw about 1000 person in the queue for the vaccine. I was sent information that my local authority have appointments for my vaccines in a couple of local venues, and I choose a local leisure centre.  It was a straightforward process when I received the Astra Zeneca Vaccine and the only side effect was a sore arm for a few days afterwards.  The vaccine rollout is going great in the UK because of the health systems in place, and the state’s support and programme for medical research and vaccine development – possibly putting them in the front of the queue for supplies.  This has brought about discussions, and perhaps “vaccine nationalism” as it has been described and mentioned in the last few months.  Vaccine nationalism seems to have been tone down a bit lately, but it really was strange to watch as you know that we are not safe unless all of us are safe! A few months ago, I couldn’t visit family in Bedford, and I currently cannot travel to the Caribbean to visit family there too especially now that Trinidad has a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.  I am looking forward to when I can visit as I haven’t seen close family and friends for four years.

Access to quality care and high standards in healthcare are basic human rights but it seems to be the luck of the draw (like a lottery) in which country you are living in, and the effective policies and duty of care that is practiced from policy makers, health providers, doctors, care staff, etc.  In Britain, the NHS is praised, respected and recognised as a great health service.  Obviously, there may be some minor issues but generally the standard of care and professionalism are very high.  It is a privilege that we have exemplary care free at the point of access, and I have heard amazing real stories over the years.  There are other countries with great health systems that have performed better in the pandemic from Cuba, South Korea, Germany to New Zealand. It has been great seeing from the very beginning countries such as Cuba helping out Italy, India sending vaccines to the Caribbean, and China is now sending the Cenopharm vaccine to Trinidad. This is the spirit of collaboration and co-operation that I prefer, rather than the vaccine nationalism that was distinctive a few months ago.  There are winners and losers in the way the pandemic has impacted on countries and communities, but we really need fairer healthcare for everyone.

“Health is not valued till sickness comes.” – 

Thomas Fuller

I do feel immense sadness at the devastating impact the variants have had in India and Brazil.  However living in London, the media here has been censored with ‘mollycoddling’ of the British public. I understand that there is patient and professional sensitivity and privacy, but the UK mainstream media were quick to show dead bodies on motorbikes being transported in India! Are you telling me that it was so clean and clinical here?  The balanced news reporting is non-existent considering the number of deaths in the UK. The images of global pandemic death that we have seen in other countries is likely to make me feel compassion, concern, as well as dread for this devastating virus.

However in pre-covid times, there is much talk about the impact of inequalities in access to health, much more so in a pandemic.  Access to treatment, ventilators and hospital beds have been one of the major issues globally and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The United Nations has been working throughout this time as an arbiter in talking about the access to health for various countries that are not doing so well.  It is also a time to reflect on the current health systems in place in not only poor countries but also the rich ones! I read that in the USA there are still issues with the access to healthcare, and perhaps vaccine distribution in communities that are marginalised. The article Equitable Enforcement of Pandemic-Related Public Health Laws: Strategies for Achieving Racial and Health Justice states that: “Early data show that the pandemic is exacerbating inequities that existed long before the pandemic began. People of color face greater social, health, and economic risks associated with COVID19. Equitable enforcement can promote racial and health justice, increase community resilience, and improve outcomes during public health emergencies and beyond”.

It seems like if you have access to health insurance in advanced economies, you may be in a position to buy your way to better healthcare.  However, there is a practice of some professionals who do the basics for national health systems but expect you to pay for that enhance care in private medical care.  I know this is normal practice by consultants, and perhaps they can offer that specialist service outside of the national systems, but it is usually very expensive for patients already with a crucial condition.  It is ironic that a lot of health systems are also outsourced to private companies – without elaborating, it seems like health really is wealth! There have been enough healthcare contract scandals reported in the British press recently. Healthcare providers may also face issues with some staff that are low paid, lack the motivation to maintain high standards and ideals for patients in their care, especially if there is a profit making or racketeering initiative.  I know that things are not perfect everywhere, but this time you really do want to remind persons that compassion and a duty of care are basic human rights.

Everybody has the right to health — UN rights experts

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060372

Health care has some positive issues for us all to think about in terms of demanding higher standards, value for money, state provision of affordable healthcare, and professionals who pride themselves in good ethics and practices.  This is not a new wish-list, but if you, or someone close to you is unwell – you would be expecting the basic as well as the…best care available to help with treatment and recovery.  Although I had access to free health as a child covered by my parent’s work insurance, and here in the UK now – we should be demanding better for everyone…everywhere.  Realistically, I know this is the way of the world but sometimes you really hope that we all win, and get better health. 

We join the call given by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response that “covid-19 should be the last pandemic and with our failure to take preparedness seriously, we will condemn the world to successive catastrophes.” _ Dr Tedros

https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/05/23/an-international-treaty-for-pandemic-preparedness-and-response-is-an-urgent-necessity/

Recently I have been discussing the pandemic with other information professionals and one theme for the lessons learnt is preparedness in the pandemic.  It seems there are organisations who are willing to share their best practice with others to make health an universal wealth…regardless of where we are.  Good leadership and policy-makers will choose to make things better by helping, supporting and working together to raise healthcare standards, by providing citizens with access to enriched healthcare advice and services with investment, accountability, programming, healthcare professionals and better designed facilities. It really doesn’t matter how advanced we are as a society – the greatest wealth is health.

“Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless, your time is gold and your health is wealth.”

– Zig Ziglar

The Green Shoots of Spring

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

 – Marcus Tullius Cicero, Epistulae AD Familiares Vol. 2 47-43 BC

One of the best ways of trying to keep sane, calm and upbeat in these very difficult and challenging times is spending time outside, exercising and…gardening. After almost five months of lockdown, I can write about other pressing issues as the UK opens up on retail, leisure, cultural centres, libraries etc.   However, it will be a missed opportunity to now see the beautiful displays and sense of change that comes with the changing of the season. Without a doubt the last winter has been one of the most difficult in our lifetime which the cold spell compounded with restrictions to group festive celebrations, New Year’s Eve parties, carnival get-together and birthday celebrations.  The green shoots of spring bring us new hope of a coronavirus that is under control here (for now) and gaining some more freedom to spend time outside to enjoy the coming spring and summer seasons. 

According to Mintel report on Hobbies and Interest February 2021, the lack of commuting and space time as the lockdown took over, meant that there is more time for hobbies such as “Baking, Handicrafts, Gardening and Home Improvements”. There was also a spike on Google Trends for people researching for these topics. We also have surplus time to spend on our hobbies and exercise due to the lack of commuting time. Gardens are great places to find peace, tranquility and mindfulness.

“The power of hobbies to improve mental wellbeing is set to drive growth throughout 2020. As mental health continues to be in the spotlight, hobby operators that position their services and products as beneficial in this respect stand to benefit.”

(Mintel Hobbies and Interests – UK, February 2020)

Garden Centre were some of the shops that remained open most of the last few months were garden centres and as soon as the weather was a bit better – I went to two of my favourites in my vicinity. I spent time looking at acid compost that I needed for a Magnolia plant present I received.  I always end up spending more money than I intended when I visit that garden centre as it has some amazing plants that I do know find in the commercial garden centre.  The centre is called Northfields and has been going for a number of years and seems to have some great photos of its’ horticultural historical business.  It was really busy last summer at the peak of spring reopening in the pandemic! I plan to go back in the next few weeks to find some plants on my wish-list. So fingers crossed.

I was able to germinate some courgette seeds and I hope to plant them in the ground in the next few weeks.  I also put in some herbs and lavender plants this month. There are some local friends who seems to have access to allotments.  There photos of their progress and the ‘fruits of their labour’ (pardon the pun!) on social media is always great and inspiring to see. This allotment hobby is not a programme that happens in other countries, but our Italian cousins in Rome had an allotment with lots of impressive and delicious Mediterranean vegetables, fruits and herbs.  I used to enjoy the visit there when we went a few years ago.  Italians also process and bottle their tomatoes into ‘passata’ from the summer for next year ahead.  My mother-in-law was also doing this in Bedford up until a decade ago.  I also saw on social media that my Trinidadian-Canadian friend who is married to an Italian-Canadian doing this same tomato processing recently. I can only imagine the great flavours of the sauces they make! There must be something special about making your own vegetables but I don’t seem to have much luck as yet with tomatoes.

Over the years I have bought a few gardening books and love looking at photos in books and magazines.  About 20-25 years ago, there was a great interest in gardening design and make-over TV programmes.  It still seems to be some during daytime TV and I tend to catch up on ‘Gardens World’ on BBC iPlayer if I can’t look at it live.  It does make me feel happy to see the plants and stories from other gardeners.  The format also shows other members if the public in their gardens and sharing their tips with us.  I love the diversity of the gardens and their presenters.  I also take inspiration from some of these and can easily spend more time looking at this sort of light-hearted shows.  I may also splash out in a few gardening magazines soon.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

– Aubrey Hepburn

Due to traffic-calming and environmental improvement measures in my neighbourhood, there have also been continued guerrilla gardening in my community to help with these issues.  In our local neighbourhood, some of my neighbours are also planning a Chelsea Fringe this June as a spin-off from the Chelsea Flower Show.  And guess what? …I have never been to a Chelsea Flower Show even though I used to hear about it on the BBC World Service when I lived in Trinidad. Trinidadian horticulturalists do take part and sometimes win at the Chelsea Flower show too!

I have noticed that there are lot more plant and gift shops in my high street and hear that the twenty-somethings are buying more plants.  There are definitely more plants in the shops in my local areas, and flower retailing were busy for Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday in London despite the lockdown.  I received a few flower bouquets as presents from friends in March and it was nice to receive them even though we could not meet.  Getting flowers by post is also something that is new to me. Bloom and Wild is a popular brand that is used for home deliveries.  Flowers are one of the treats I have been buying myself in the last year as I am home to enjoy them!

Horticulture businesses are generally doing well in the pandemic as most people are spending the time in the garden spaces that they have. Garden shops are one of the main retailers that we can still pursue at our leisure without causing too much of a commotion.  There is also the birth of the new type of business – the Lockdown Gardener called Doorstep Gardener, whereby garden centres were initially closed and persons were buying plants and seeds online.  My local supermarket was the only place where I could buy plants and seeds at the beginning of the first strict pandemic lockdown but it was interesting to see the innovations online as well as in-store evolutions. There is also Pleydell Smithyman who offered a drive through ‘click and collect’ for plants.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body but the soul

– Alfred Austin

The environment and outdoor spaces are a major part of our wellbeing and mental health factors.  I have really enjoyed my local walks in residential areas of my neighbourhood, as well as venturing to some of the greener spaces. You can be assured that you will have lots of space to social distance with the added benefit of seeing beautiful nature.  There is also evidence that we enjoy green spaces, meeting friends and family outdoor and use them as places for relaxation.  For those in urban areas, the pandemic has been bitter sweet.  We are able to enjoy a quieter city but if you lack access to green spaces at home, the parks and communal spaces have been really busy during this lockdown period.  Apparently, there are 10% of Londoners who have moved to the rural areas as there are more opportunities to work from home with less commuting time and costs.  This BBC article ‘How Covid have changed where we want to live in March 2021 explains some of the reasons why Covid-19 have impacted on property sales and moves out to the country.

Last week, I also went outside of my local area for the first time since December to visit Hatfield House Garden, which was about 50 minutes away from my home.  It was reasonably priced for the garden visit and I have been meaning to visit even thought I have driven through Hatfield hundreds of times on my way to Bedford. Hatfield House Garden was the childhood home of Elizabeth I of England and apparently, she received the news of her accession to the throne whilst reading a book under an old oak tree.  It was a lovely woodland and ornate garden, as well as a show of vintage cars on display.  The walk in the woodlands, the sundial and hew hedges were interesting to see. The Old Palace is still used as a function hall and it was fabulous to see it being used for Indian weddings. 

On our walk at Hatfield House, we actually bumped into 88-year-old twin sisters who were friendly and spoke to us on our walk.  They conveyed their love of walking in the woodland park and local gardens to find what was interesting to watch and talk about.  They were really special and sweet to share this with us as it is exactly what I do too! We wished each other a good day and safe journey to our homes.

I am looking forward to visiting some more outdoor spaces as the weather gets better such as Beth Chatto’s House in Colchester. When I am able to, I am hoping to visit Trinidad again to see family but, in the meantime, visiting places of relaxation and natural beauty are some of the few pleasures I am looking forward too and the green shoots of Spring seem to symbolise so much hope.

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.

– Luther Burbank.

Food and Drink – Elixir of Life

One year on in the pandemic, last four months of lockdown, and we are mainly in our homes.  Without a doubt, one of the essential aspects of existence is food and this has been a source of comfort in these times.  In addition as I walk in my local area, food market, shops, suppliers and take-aways are the only shops open for the last four months.  Most restaurants are only offering take-aways and because we have all the time to cook – enjoying food has been one of the most pleasurable aspects of life in the last year.  For this sustenance and pleasure in a pandemic, I have decided to write about this ever-relevant topic now as an Elixir of Life. 

Elixir of Life

As I walk along the usually busy market and high roads in my neighbourhood – they are still being use for supplying food to residents.  If we recall, we ran out of pasta last March, but it seems supplies have stabilised with local shops able to supplement some of the stock we couldn’t get from the larger national supermarkets.  In the meantime, there are other issues with supplies due to Brexit, and I have certainly noticed some items missing on supermarket shelves.  As part of my daily walking routine, I intentionally take routes that would take me past local shops that I may want to pick up some items from a variety of local shops. 

I have discovered some real great speciality shops – including Kurdish, Turkish, Asian and Caribbean.  I usually go into them to get pigeon peas, salt fish, curry powder from Trinidad, brown lentils (£1.29), and other items that is imported from far, far, away. I have been able to make dishes from my homeland such as saltfish ‘Bujol’ salad, pilau (rice) with the pigeon peas, curries and stews. Usually I buy puy lentils from the larger supermarkets but they are more expensive at £3.50.

In the last few months, I have also discovered the joy of buying fresh fish from the local fish shop. Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, it was very normal to grow up on fresh fish dishes and I remember seeing cleaning of fishes with gills and scales etc.  Therefore it is no big deal for me to buy fish like this but the shop is able to clean and slice these up if you want them to do so.  The local fish shop does have an amazing selection of fishes that I haven’t seen in ages – Trevally, Red Snapper, Sprats, large fresh prawns, shark, lobster including crabs.

Shark served in a home-made fried bread bun, known as ‘shark & bake’ is actually a real delicacy in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is famously served from the beach huts on Maracas Beach in Trinidad – we usually take a picnic for lunch but try to get a ‘shake & bake’ before making our way home. We bought some shark in January which I hope to replicate here in London.  However, this was the moment I realised that I definitely had Covid-19 when I could not smell or taste the ‘shake and bake’ I made at home.  I have been telling my friends that I was feeling unwell that morning and was in no mood to cook but as it was shark and unfamiliar to my husband – I had to cook it with other items plus could not smell or taste it as it I had Covid-19! The next day I had a test and it confirmed that I was Covid-19 Positive.

A few weeks after when I regained my tastebuds and sense of smell, I was able to buy some red snapper and fresh prawns to savour their freshness and flavours.  I made a Trinidadian Fish stew the long way with my own stock and come cornmeal cou-cou. Again one of the most enjoyable aspects in the pandemic is catching up on social media with family and friends and watching interesting cooking programmes.  The social media algorithm has definitely worked to push videos of local Caribbean cooking to me, and if I have the time, I have been looking at them.  The most popular and relevant to my cultural background is Foodie Nation. There are also some other local celebrities with less glamour and more gritty presentation styles – such as using their own kitchen or event an earthen/mud-based stove with wood burning fire, which I remember from growing up in the Caribbean. I am getting inspired to cook all these amazing dishes but I must also watch my waistline!

In a city as diverse and multicultural as London, it is wonderful having access to a wide variety of foods and supplies in local markets. I sometimes still see vegetables or products that I still haven’t seen before.  It really makes me curious as to what they are, and how I can use them.  I recently spent time looking at the BBC’s Rick Stein in South Asia, and other parts of the world.  I was so inspired by some of the ingredients I saw for the recipes, such as fresh coconut, turmeric, tamarind, lemon grass, shrimp paste et cetera. I made some of these dishes from using these raw ingredients as they are same ingredients that we use in the Caribbean.  Facebook shows fabulous videos by authentic cooks, who use social media to share their home cooking with these tropical flavours.  It is great that I can find some of these ingredients in the heart of winter in a European country.

I live in Walthamstow which has gone through gentrification…and literally upmarket in the last few years.  There are numerous hipster and trendy shops that are also mixed with the local East End London shops.  For example, my colleague Neil also mentioned that there is a downward trend in Curry Houses (Asian restaurants) as younger people adopt healthy lifestyles.  Therefore, Asian restaurants are having to adapt their menus to more healthy options to complete with these lifestyle changes.  In addition prior to the pandemic, there was also a downwards trend for Pubs in the UK – just imagine how this will also be impacted during and after the pandemic. For the last few months there has been an upward trend to go for coffee, tea or hot drinks takeaways as the pubs and restaurants have been closed due to the pandemic restrictions. 

Talking about takeaways in lockdown, we have also ordered food on Uber Eats three times for family meals from local restaurants – from local Turkish, Nigerian, and West Indian restaurants. We had a home-cooking gift from Lina Stores from Soho to make a couple of Italian dishes.

Despite the great access to so much food at a reasonable price that is available in our local market in Walthamstow, there are a lot of people who are experiencing hardship to make ends met before, and especially now in the pandemic.  There have been food banks already available in our local areas as displayed by the Trussell Trust, and they are being use more so in the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic a year ago, our local charities and support systems got into motion to provide food to those shielding and vulnerable.  Now there are other challenges with redundancies and other inequalities due to the negative impact of the pandemic.   It is great to see that our local charities and food banks are being supported. One local creative gentleman created little food banks with crowdfunding for the community to leave items for donation and collection.  I have made a note to put some items in it, and will try to do so.

As we go into the Spring, I am getting ready to prepare some Easter Italian baking and also to try some more new recipes I have found digitally.  Usually when I share my own cooking on social media I get messages for the recipes. My family are foodies and do eat a lot of Italian food too! There is very little that we can do socially in these challenging times, but sustaining ourselves with good, tasty and interesting food has been one of the key pleasures we have been able to continue in the comfort of our own homes.

Glory glorious food – Oliver (The Musical)

Food, glorious food!
What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more —
That’s all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Fabulous food,

[OLIVER]
Beautiful food,

[BOYS]
Glorious food

Other Sources:

Foodie Nation – https://www.foodienationtt.com/

Cooking with Ria – https://cookingwithria.com/2011/07/trinidad-pelau.html

The Spruce Eats – https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-bake-and-shark-2137995

#ChoosetoChallenge – Celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day

It is exactly 10 years since I first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) for the first time, and it feels right to write about the progress, changes and challenges that women are facing.  The theme for this year’s IWD on 8th March is #ChoosetoChallenge, which spans the whole month of March for Women’s History Month. I will look at some of the areas that affect women and my views on the topics as gender conversations have certainly moved on with more fluid and open discussions.  Non-binary gender identities, gender pay gaps, gender bias, feminist protests and leadership roles are some of the topics that are being pushed up the agenda and discussed in many (not all) countries to challenge the status quo and act as “agents of change”.  Like with many aspects of life, there are some countries that are performing better than others and new generations are demanding more equality and inclusivity – we can’t run away from this.  What we can do is learn from each other, support causes that we care about that affect women…and lift each other up in what is a difficult era in a pandemic.

Some of the main areas where I feel we have made progress over the last few years are in our openness to discuss in greater details inequalities in the workplace, health information, body positive images in the media (think Lizzo!), learning about key women heroines and achievements, finding places where we can network and most importantly, amplifying our voice on feminist issues. 

There are stories of the feminist movement of women rights who had led the way in the past, and they will always be great for inspiring new generations of girls and women.  I certainly didn’t know all feminist over time but some of characters that I have discovered on the last ten years – Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Mary W. Jackson, Claudia Jones, Manuela Saenz and many many more!  The access to information on the internet and social media have made their struggles, achievements and stories celebrated with new energy and creativity. 

At university, I completed a module on women’s right from the industrial age to 1990s and therefore learnt about the suffragette movement with admiration for figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and other women who fought for the vote. It was great to actually do a tour of Westminster a few years ago where the struggles and battles they won were highlight in the living recollection in the space where their hardships and successes were made collectively to give us the vote.  This was obviously an international achievement with New Zealand as the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. We mustn’t take this hard-won right for granted. I still don’t know a lot of great women but it seems the topic is covered in education in schools now, and this generation of girls and young women are able to freely aspire for greater equality, and continue to push and challenge for changes that will affect them in their lives.

The struggles are real still in many parts of the work – education and access to work are some of the basic rights that women have to still fight for in the 21st century – the UN facts and figures women states: “women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people”.  There are other challenges such as poverty, work, health and getting into leadership roles which are specific to locations, but generally we still have a way to go. Low literacy and education levels really makes me sad when I hear that some women don’t get the basic right to education.  My parents allowed me to leave a happy home to come to study in a foreign land when I was 18 years – because they believed in me.  I will be forever grateful for their support and help they showed me by financing my studies here. I know that this was NOT a privilege.  I haven’t had free university education – a privilege that many of my university friends may have took for granted 30 years ago. It was difficult and I didn’t see my family for four years, but at least it gave me the ability to support myself and follow some of my teenage dreams.  There is this great graph below by Statista which shows the top 10 countries which have full equal rights for women.

Source: Statista

Not all girls or young women have this option to this day.  Adult learning is possible (plus you never really stop learning), but there are still countries where the cost of education is too high, accessibility and social structures are barriers too.  The cost of higher education in the UK is so high currently that I am deterred to further my studies until I am more financially secure.  One reason I pro-actively keep up my Continued Professional Development (CPD) is because I work in a professional field that never stops serving, changing and develops with technology.  I wish the governments and organisations would value this industry so that we are not at a disadvantaged professionally.  Generally, there are less negative gender equality issues in my professional field as there are more women who work in this area, but men in the sector are usually paid more, and get the top leadership roles. 

“Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.” Sheila Penrose Fotolia. Chair of the Board Jones Lang LaSalle

According to this review by Hampton Alexander on the FTSE 350 companies, 33% of women are on UK board leadership roles. In other sectors, the glass ceilings have been smashed but the percentage is still low. In the 2000s, I heard the term ‘old boys’ network’ for the first time but it seems change is slowly taking effect in the last few decades.  Businesses need women for diversity of thought, opportunities and for understanding their customers and stakeholders. Women offer insights and perspectives which open up new markets and ideas rather than having all-male boards.  Women also make up a large amount of the consumption and economic power of business services and products, and therefore you would be missing a new era of inclusive thought if talent and insights were not brought to your business. It is great to have diversity in business as it yields better results and cultivates innovation.  Having women in the decision-making roles also correlates to better business results according to Women on Boards

Over the years there are lots of research I have seen where it makes great sense to have structures, policies and initiatives in the workplace which foster greater support for women to progress beyond their roles and to “smash the glass ceilings”.  These may include improvement in attracting women to traditional male-dominated roles, offering better working patterns for working mothers and families, being flexible, and more defined supported routes and policy such as mentoring or training.  Giving opportunities can also one of ways that women in the workplace are not overlooked. Gender pay gaps, gender bias, greater pay transparency and inclusive policies are still work in progress. It would seem rather strange if organisations still have all-male boards in this 2020s decade, and let’s hope there are more deserving women in leadership roles and better equal representation.

It is important for leaders to communicate with their teams and understand that while the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not been the same for every employee. I think the last nine months have made certain qualities of leadership come to the fore. I think empathy is the strongest trait leaders have shown and understanding that everybody is dealing with professional stresses and strains.

Victoria Head – Legal at Football Association

One aspect where women are challenging the stereotypes and making their headway for themselves is by being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. Women have always been in great roles as entrepreneurs in the past, such as Madam C. J. Walker in the film ‘Self-Made’. I also recently attend a fabulous Sound Heritage workshop where I learnt of other remarkable women such as Mary Quaint, Audre Lorde and Rene Sawyer, who fought for greater rights and fairness.

As I work in the business information sector, I meet and admire women who are creating their own businesses. They are really passionate about starting up with their own ideas and visions, being their own bosses and having the freedom to follow their own paths to success. As reported by Hult International Business School, US women-owned businesses have increased by 74% over the past 20 years – 1.5 times the national average. They harness their own entrepreneurial talents and open up a world of opportunity, and in turn are in a position to hire other talented diverse persons for their teams.

Local Business Women

Sadly, I recently read that the pandemic will have a negative impact in gender pay and also entrench imbalances, as mentioned in Italy here in the FT’s Women in Business. Therefore, with high levels of inequalities and economic hardship brought on by one year in the pandemic, the next few years are going to be tough on all of us, especially women.  It has also been mentioned that the disparities for ethnic minorities are having the most negative economic and health impact with working in health and social care. Mckinsey have also reported in ‘Women in the workplace 2020’ that: ‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted’.

This is a clear message that all of this research is telling us – there is still a lot of work to do for greater equality, representation and diverse policies for business cultures.

Not all men discriminate against women, and some women also do not support other women. However, there are more inclusive practices in the workplace.  Women are also challenging barriers in various fields but they are generally under-represented in some sectors such as STEM, Tech, construction, emergency services, sports, etc.  The UN has created this great datagraphic which demonstrates the under-representation in all fields, and it is still very striking in the ratio between men and women, for example – directors at the Oscars, Nobel Peace prizes, chefs with Michelin three stars, etc. Our challenge is to continue to create structures, policies and supportive environment where young girls and women can fulfil their ambitions and careers. This may seem overwhelming at times but women do tend to support each other and this is the best way in actually working towards more equity for us all.

Sadly, I wanted to mentioned that this month has been a very sad time in my homeland with the murder of a young woman, Andrea Bharatt, who was making her work home in a taxi (falsely licensed when she boarded it). She was brutally murdered at the prime of her young life and leaves behind a lone parent. It is a terribly devastating story, and unfortunately there has been a high level of gender-based violence and murder in recent times in such a small country, as featured in this article by Brown Girl Magazine.  This has forced a national protest on these crimes and a call for a better justice system as a result of the fear and lack of confidence in personal safety felt by the general population in recent year.  It really is horrific – my contacts were sharing an outpouring of grief on social media and to say ‘enough is enough’!  This ‘femicide’ and other gender-based violence is prevalent in other parts of the world, such as I saw reported in Mexico and India recently. It is great to see that public displays of peaceful protest by women are still challenging for better policies, demanding personal safety, well-being services, general equality and…respect.

I wish you a great International Women’s Day month of understanding and finding out more stories and facts on women’s role in society.  I have always felt that there should be harmony with all genders and do believe that we need boys, young men and gentlemen to be our allies in understanding our roles in the world.  It could be my upbringing and because I went to an all-girls convent school! This is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues women encounter. However, I will continue to keep an eye on ideas, little tips and stories to help other women along the way. I also look forward to discovering new great female figures from the past and our present times this month. With this in mind, do stand up for and against the barriers in our way to greater equality, and remember to #ChoosetoChallenge for women everywhere.

My fifth anniversary of blogging – sharing stories and discovering new content

This year is the fifth anniversary of this blog ‘Connecting the Dots’ and therefore I wanted to write about this personal commitment to myself, share my experience and insights from over this time.  I am proud that I have consistently blogged monthly and although I am not sure who exactly is my audience, I do know that WordPress have a community of bloggers, I have about 120 blog followers and I do get some interaction on my blog posts.  I am very active on social media and having a blog gives me one other excuse for sharing ‘stuff’ with you. 

“If you’re uninterested in a particular topic you’re writing about, it’s probably because you haven’t stopped to think big-picture. Understanding how the topic you’re writing about will fit into a reader’s broader challenges will help you find meaning and value in any post you write, and will enable you to connect with your readers better. – Caroline Forsey, Editor of the HubSpot Marketing Blog.

I think I also need to look at it from the point of view of – What if I didn’t blog? …If I didn’t blog, I won’t be discovering stories and content myself as I do sometime have to research topics from scratch. I also won’t get to the point of feeling confident enough about it putting ‘pen to paper’ or in this instance – text and images to WordPress in a blog post! As an information professional, my own blog allows me to focus on research, professional skills and insights, as well as getting to know about the various platforms that can be used for blogging or sharing stories. 

Over this period of time, I seem to have stayed focussed on the type of content I write, and the word category is great for guiding me, but also by chance, I write stories subconsciously that they seem to have these subjects category interwoven. So it is good to think about your choice of subject content.

Here are some of my top tips for writing your own blog:

  • Stories – with your own blog, you have the creative and artistic freedom to write the stories you want to explore, discuss and share.  I work in business information and still have this professional perspective on most topics, but on my blog, I push myself to write about stories that are culturally, historically or geographically interesting to me. I can even share a memoir of my travel and family holidays with you.  It is totally up to me. Some of the most memorable is my trip to New York for which I got a lot of feedback and views.  I also have stories of my trips to my homeland in Trinidad, and even our 30th school reunion that was so great to write about.  I haven’t as yet blogged about the region of Italy where we have family but perhaps, I can do so in the future.  I have explored diverse stories such as Carnival, Holi, Diwali, Caribbean history, Immigrant cultures, the Library and Information Profession and general fun times over the five years.
  • Schedule – I wasn’t sure that I could blog regularly when I first started this blog but to be honest, having a monthly schedule and a very vague and rough idea on what I want write about is great for literary freedom.  I can set my own agenda and work towards the ideas and thoughts I want to share with my audience.  I do have deadline pressure points having to fit the blog around work and family life, but some months are better than others and my commitment to the blog means I can plan when I want to start and when I want it published.  Usually it is to the last minute but I honestly do give it some thought and organisation for at least a week in advance.  I once blogged in Wales when I was away on a training course but needed to get the blog completed. I also blogged in Trinidad when I was on holiday.  The software and equipment are easy to access so it is only the stories that need time to plan, organise and think about. 
  • Photographs – Photos are some of the best aspects of blogging as you can share context and stories but having images gives it another visual storytelling and evidence to what you are trying to convey. I am aware of copyright and tend to look for copyright free images if not using my own.  I used the images for Holi from a photographer in the Caribbean as I didn’t have access to my own photos nor where they available from the internet freely.  I have attributed them to the photographer source with their permission but I haven’t made any commercial revenue from this blog and in terms of fair use – I think I can safely say that I am just trying to tell a story.  If copyright had become an issue, I would remove the photos, but it hasn’t and I grateful to share those photos.  Being a library and information professional, I do know lots of way to get copyright free photos from archives and also from free sources but in actual fact, I use most of my own photos! I am hoping to write a blog post just about photography as an art, format and archive, but hopefully museums and picture galleries will be open again for me to get inspired! I love what the National Archive of Trinidad and Tobago are going recently – sharing amazing photos on their social media feeds.
  • Research – Setting my own agenda on subject content means that at times, it is a new topic that I may not know much about. Therefore I have to research the topic and what others have written on it.  I then decide what I want to ‘say’ and then share my thoughts or view on the topic. I usually look for articles on specialist databases and sources.  Some of these topics that I recall are online retailing and the impact of Black Friday, gender issues, decolonisation and Covid-19.   However, I do spend time researching before writing so I gain a lot more knowledge on a topic more than I can possibly convey and this is my reason for long blogs. I use social media daily for quick links and stories that I may never write about but get just excited in sharing then in short bursts of content e.g. Twitter. It has been recommended that the tone in blogs is more conversational rather than formal ways of writing.  One unique aspect is that I really do tend to write like I speak, so hopefully the text and words used are easy to follow and lack pomposity. I really don’t care about perfect grammar or the punctuation police anymore.
  • Blogging Community – There are other bloggers who actually have been successful in creating businesses, profitable income and influence by blogging.  I frequently have to convince new businesses that they should blog about their business. I do believe it is great for sharing the topics that you think your audience, and in this case, customer want to hear about.  I also try to follow persons who blog too and follow my blog – one good turn deserves another!  There is one gentleman from India who shares great recipes and I try to read them with every alert I receive. Other persons market their blog extremely well and therefore get a large and committed following and obviously have a great impact on their audience. They actually become Influencers – there are some great ones out there and they really do work their blog magic!

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” Seth Godin

  • Social Interaction – I specifically decided to call my blog ‘Connecting the Dots’ as I wanted to make a connection with the topics I wrote about.  I also had a loose idea five years ago to write disjointed topics and incidents in my simple life and then build stories around them…as if I was connecting the dots and I still use this technique to write my blog.  I literally brainstorm a topic as well.  However, the main aspect of doing it is making sure that I get some feedback and interaction from the final product on all the social networks I share it on.  I hope to literally ‘hit a nerve’ with my audience to like, comment or feedback on what I blogged about. It makes it all worthwhile when you get someone interacting with your content and it propels you to continue with blogging. Even if there was no social interaction…doing it for myself is self-gratifying as I would have thought through the topic as part of the process of a blog post.
  • Getting Help – Blogging is not easy if you didn’t have publishing experience in the past but nowadays there is so much help online, courses you can attend and support from bloggers.  I must give credit to my colleague Neil Infield (his own blog ‘In from the Outfield’) for supporting me in the beginning and for some of the other professional times I blogged before I started.  There is still so much more I can do to ramp up my blog but having a full-time job make this less of a priority for me. I still think back to when I did a course on PageMaker at university in the early 1990s and the principles still come in handy. I know most technical issues about blogging but there is always something to learn.
  • Technology and Analytics – When choosing your blog, there are lots of platform to choose and some have come in and out of flavour. I chose WordPress as I was familiar with it in the past, Neil could support me if I had any queries, and it also has a whole blogger community when you publish your content.  The analytics are also great to tell you the number of views, engagement and geographical metrics of your content. I am happy with the metrics I get and certainly can promote my content more, but my blogs can be a bit ‘dense’ and I think you have to be in a certain wave length to understand where I am going with my stories and content.  Regardless of the variety of topics and stories – I do get a respectable level of analytics to encourage me to continue with blogging.

So to the next five years! There are lots of other aspects I can share with you but for now, I would like to say that I still come across so many new discoveries and stories I have never heard before.  I like looking at old and new subjects and finding more about them.  I am curious and you can probably tell from my social media shares. I know my blog is only like ‘short essays’ but it has given me lots of confidence in the skills I need to research and note about interesting topics.  I certainly feel that given the time and space – I can possibly write a tale of fiction or fact about growing up in the Caribbean or coming to study in London over 30 years ago.  There are unique, deep and funny stories I could tell, and even if no one buys the book – it will be a memoir for my family.  We need more writers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. For example, I am loving Netflix for the story on Simon Bolivar and also La Reina de la Indias y El Conquistador – I know they are film but there are so many adventurous stories that can be told from a different perspective and experience that may be richer and more culturally diverse than those on offered in the near past. It also takes a lot of imagination to bring these stories to life but if you have lived them – they seem more real and easy to put ‘pen to paper’. Don’t hold me to this as I am not sure how the next five years will be but my blog has certainly given me an idea to explore creative writing.

“You don’t have to be big. You have to be remarkable.” – Joe Pulizzi

Thank you for reading my blogs over the five years. Do come back again and I wish you a happy and healthy year ahead in this challenging time.  

Some days you have to create your own sunshine.

A Better 2021 – Looking on the Bright Side

As we look back at the year, there are a roller-coaster of emotions and moods that have engulfed us due to coronavirus COVID-19.  The year started off normal except for the dreaded Brexit plans for cutting ties, isolating, restricting, control our access, freedom and creating havoc in our everyday lives, work and ambitions with our closest and oldest continental neighbours.  Hearing the news on Brexit was one of the worst things you can listen to in the last four years in the United Kingdom – understandably unbearable, bored stiff or semi-engaged after 4-5 years.  January was intentionally decided as the month that we left the EU with Brexiteers gathered in a cold miserable winter night in Parliament Square – good luck to them I thought! It was cringeworthy and anger inducing in great measures. Let them get what they have coming to them. It took Covid-19 to change the mood and tone a little.

Little did we know that the next few months (year in fact!) will bring about more blight, chaos, devastation and thousands of deaths would ensue. For January was also the month that coronavirus news from Wuhan started getting on our major news network in the West.  There has since been disputed evidence when and where the virus actually started. But it has dominated and curtailed our lives and world since early 2020.

In February, there were signs that things were about to change gradually.  The most significant for me was an Economist Intelligence Unit Breakfast Briefing in 13th February with first class experts give a clear understanding and forecast for the disruption and devastation to the global economy in months to come.  I honestly thought that it would affect supply chains but not the enormous negative it would have on lives and the global economy with countries increasingly having cases of infections.  Around late February, there were signs for using sanitizers in public and the office areas began to have signs asking you to use hand sanitizers in buildings. Italy was reporting ‘draconian’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus. There were more persons on the London Underground starting to wear face mask – it was then such a rare and novel feature considering that mainly travellers from the Far East usually wear them prior to Covid-19.  Little did we know that it would be compulsory in public places indoors by the end of 2020.  Even today at the end of December, I am still seeing tweets pleading with people to abide by the rules as the infection rates are still very high.  

March is usually a happy month for me as I like the beginning of Spring and so it was a time for me to go out and about where I was able to go to the theatre and meal with relatives and friends.  However by the second week in March, there was talk and signs that we needed to change the way we were socialising as the number of deaths by Covid-19 started to rapidly increase daily.  We were observing Italy’s response to the pandemicbut didn’t realise that the UK death figures would eventually be worse! It was also the time of stockpiling and shortages with supermarkets struggling with normal online orders slot.  By the 16th March, my colleagues and family were working and studying from home.  I did go into the library on 18th March to tie up some loose ends as I was on leave a few days before then. I wouldn’t return to the building until September.  

My team and I were able to thankfully transfer to working-from-home but some needed technological equipment and support to set up with working completely as a virtual library.  We all remember getting very familiar with Zoom! I have used Skype and Go-To-Meeting but Zoom seemed to be the preferred options for most work related, professional and social meetings. Soon, I would be meeting my local book club on Zoom, lots of learning opportunities I took, and other work-related meetings and events.  Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic and I have heard that it was an enabler in allowing those with access to the tech to communicate with each other.  I have held many meeting and webinars in this year and will try to tally it one day soon. 

It was really freaky being in the first lockdown with the streets and roads all quiet.  My biggest challenge to this day is the busy supermarkets and the social distancing queues.  I am still trying my hardest to keep at a distance and to avoid crowds.  It was nice, relaxing and admittedly a pleasure to spend time outside for daily exercise routines in local areas such as neighbourhoods, parks, local forest and wetlands. Nature has a magical way of reassuring and restoring.  Someone said recently that the only real songs were sirens and birdsong in Spring in a pandemic.  It is a little but like this again in December with the eventual ‘Second Wave’.

One aspect I remember is the availability of data and information on the pandemic.  I am sure when we get to the end of the virus, we will have archives and memorabilia of what it meant for us. I still try to think of what life was like in previous plagues and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu.  I was initially obsessed with the daily of cases and death and it was truly sad throughout the Spring.  The virus was under control with fewer deaths by the end of August but as I write, we are back in the second wave with a higher peak than that in April 2020!  It is truly sad and heart-breaking.  I do know of people who have lost loved ones and it is a very sad time to leave this earth with little human contact and celebration.  One of the best aspects of this Spring was the Clap for Carers where we saw our neighbours and clapped all the key workers for their hard work.  The rainbow and messages of support in Walthamstow was great to see and even now in the winter months there has been school and homes initiatives in windows to help cheer us up.

The heart of the Summer was also a time for organisations and allies to support the Black Lives Movement as well as anti-racism in organisations.  I had some of the most honest conversations with colleagues, professionals, family and friends. It is uncomfortable and requires courage to discuss these topics but it was an opportunity to finally make these deep feelings known and to work towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world.  The world is not perfect but reminding us that social justice, equality and fairness are the true balancers of good people is a win-win situation in my books. 

At the beginning of 2020, I was due to travel to the SLA Conference in Charlotte, USA and also to Trinidad and Tobago.  Obviously, I had to postpone both of these trips and look forward to the day when I can go to my first SLA Conference as well as visit family and friends again.  One think that was truly special about 2020 for me was being President of SLA Europe throughout this time and actually programming a different set of events and engagement than what we planned in the beginning. I have blogged about the challenges and achievements of this year here on SLA Europe’s blog. I also look forward to continuing our great work and supporting the new President Amy, our board and volunteers. 

In Autumn, we were ready for returning to the Library physical rooms with reduced hours and less staff in the office.  The most eerie was the journey there and back on the train as your try to maintain social distancing.  Remember these trains are usually packed like sardines so it is a relief that less people are using them for work journeys – however there are some annoying persons who still don’t wear masks on the underground and also in shops. I guess they are arrogant, ignorant and don’t feel they are spreaders. There is little policing going on in London anyway so you really have to think if you want to put yourself in trouble’s way. 

The Second Wave really started picking up in October with vast parts of North of England being affected and put into the new tier systems.  It was possibly due to schools and universities opening up again. I also needed to get two Covid-19 tests in September to ensure that I hadn’t contacted it.  There is the balancing of the economy with infection rates and so too pub, restaurants and hospitality were also closed again for the second wave in most of November. We were now back to working from home full time. I know I am fortunate as it is very testing for many people. I really do feel the anxiety, fear, sadness and uncertainties of those who are not working – it has been a very difficult year.  The winter months are certainly different with less daylight and therefore if I am busy, I tend to go out at dusk.  I miss plants and birdsong.  The beginning of Christmas with decorations, lights and positive messages have been God sent (pardon the pun!). 

December seasonal celebrations are certainly different, just as New Year’s Eve will be, but it really is a necessity for us all to be apart.  I usually do make the most of things and so still see this as a special year to have that quality time with family.  My neighbours are all here too as there is nowhere to go! It is strange and apocalyptic walking around in the dull coldness with closed shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and non-essential shops and venues.  There are so many woes that I see on Twitter, and rightly so, on lack of ‘Track and Trace’, schools reopening and testing, loss of jobs, dependency on food banks, propaganda, distrust of government policies, and the NHS being overwhelmed with the virus rampant in the community. We are really deep into a difficult year. 

As we end the year, both Brexit and Covid-19 are in the news headlines with one of the darkest and saddest day with 941 deaths. I am not taking any responsibility for the fallouts of Brexit! But I will certainly try to do my part and think of how we can continue to prevent loss of life and control the virus to a point to some normality. There are still problems and challenges we need to sort out…collectively.  Vaccines do offer some hope, and so does every new year. Keep well, safe and healthy. Things are not going to be normal for a while but hopefully it will be better in 2021.