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.

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining – seven rays of positivity in a dark time

This month we have entered into a second period of lockdown restrictions as we are definitely in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, as is seemingly happening in many places on Earth.  I was half expecting this due to the colder winter months when infections spread more easily but I was hoping this wouldn’t happen. However in the last few weeks just as the US elections closed, the world was relieved and informed that Pfizer has created a vaccine that is has been shown to stop more than 90% of people developing Covid-19 symptoms in it’s preliminary trials. There are also other vaccines that are also due to come into the market, and therefore we are hoping that this will be widely administered with inoculation programmes hopefully by this time next year! Undoubtedly, the high number of 1000s of death is the darkest cloud in recent weeks but the roll out of the vaccine is certainly one reason to be positive, especially in the long term. There will be much needed research and organising in the meanwhile but hopefully this will be a success over the pandemic for all of us across this world.

I was inspired to write about upsides and positivity as a topic this month as I felt that going into the festive period, it would be a unique time in this dreadful year for to do things differently to what we are used to.  In addition it has been a time of great hardship, challenges, fear, loss and anxiety in most of our living memories.  As one of our darkest times, families and loved ones have died, people have suffered, work has changed, businesses regardless of size has been affected, some industry sectors are devastated and people have lost their jobs or at the risk of redundancy since the pandemic took hold of our lives in early 2020.  The level of loss is exacerbated by us not being able to freely (and legally) meeting the ones we usually meet for comfort outside our households, socialise with or to enjoy simple things such as meeting friends, going to cinemas, going out for a meal, travelling on overseas holidays without quarantine, meeting with a festival etcetera – the no-go list is long.  This is the necessary life of social distancing and public health safety measure in 2020.  There are more fallouts and negatives of the pandemic but as we go into the holiday period (and I am looking forward to a well-earned break), I want to reflect on the positives that we can take back from 2020.  Believe it or not, I was able to find like-minded content on the web whereby people are also finding ‘silver linings’ and I will share some of these, and my own, with you here.

Seven rays silver linings for:

You might find your company’s silver lining by looking internally:  fundamentally re-thinking your strategy, innovating, taking out cost, improving processes, curating talent, or leapfrogging a change initiative. Source: Forbes ‘Finding the Silver Lining in the Covid Crisis’ by Mark Nevins May 2020.

(1) Flexible Working Patterns

The landscape for businesses has changed significantly this year with as much as 26% of business affected negatively by COVID-19 – we are working from home so buildings are mainly empty or have been improved with hygiene, indoor cleaner air, improved cleaning, rubbish removals and also with people having greater appreciation of working in an ‘office environment’ when they do (or can return), as mentioned in this article on FM during a pandemic.  Undoubtedly, one of the biggest shifts and possibly long term ‘silver lining’ is the benefits and acceleration of digital transformation for people working from home.  I have seen some news about improved gender equality for women, as traditionally they were not encouraged to work from home as it ‘may interfere’ with their availability of looking after young children. This flexibility has now been tested and in most cases seems to be a success. 

The last year has definitely given us an opportunity to test these scenarios and decide our preferences for working in and outside the office.  I certainly know ways I can use my time effectively whilst in the office and physical library as well as what tasks I can do from home.  There will never be a perfect solution in my field as we need both physical and digital spaces but it certainly has brought us real life and learning experiences on how we can make most effective use of our time with these restrictions. Remote working has opened up the next normal. And our greatest appreciation to key workers and other worker who have continued to go to the workplace throughout this period of great change.

(2) Gains in Business Transformations

The economic consequences are a major concern that there are lots of people who are not working, have been furloughed or are made redundant. The hardship must be terrible and the uncertainty is soul destroying.  High street retailers, hospitality, events, arts and cultural organisations are closed…or there is only ‘so much’ that we can do online.  These business types are obviously going through one of the most difficult periods in the modern era! The prediction for the next few years is also scary quite frankly with the economy panning and borrowing levels skyrocketing.  I thought austerity was a curse-word but the current situation is worse.  However, I attended a recently EIU event with predictions on how things may change as we come out of the pandemic in the next 10 years.  It is interesting to hear how business models will change, for example with greater automation and AI.  We know there have been great strides taken with digital changes as mentioned in this article on tech ‘silver linings’ in Tech Republic – such as greater digital interactions, cyber security and greater understanding of technology with these new ways of living.

In my local area, I have seen local shops that have remained opened in the second lockdown but they have transformed the way we interact, placed and fulfil orders and services with them.  There is actually a term I saw in the following article in My Total Retail which call it ‘BOPIS’ – Buy Online Pickup In Store! Get it. This is what is better known as ‘click and collect’ in the UK but I imagine it is happening wherever we can make use of online ordering and in-store pickup.  I do think there are still some services we can never ‘click and collect’ such as hair and beauty treatments, dental services, gym, arts and leisure services etc.  However, I have decided that I would like to support some local businesses, such as this new Italian restaurant which only opened in early 2020 by order their pannettones for my friends this Christmas.  I have also noticed that a few of the shops on my high street are closed but are still being used due to the studio space that makers and designers still need for their creative businesses.

One final business silver lining, which is bittersweet, is that people who have loss their jobs due to detrimental business performances due to Covid-19, there are new businesses or persons trying to start their new ventures now.  There have been shops that have sadly closed, but also some going ahead with opening in my local area. This is good for the work I do in my current professional role and department – I know there is a lot of support if you put your heart and mind to it. Not everyone is able to be successful entrepreneurs or make their idea a success but the best silver lining is that we have the time now to research, plan and test ideas. That is a big boost for anyone who eventually wants to work for him or herself and succeed in business.

One silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic has been a rethink of the need for certain business travel; many who used to travel extensively across the country are welcoming videoconferencing. Source: Practice Management 17 August 2020

(3) Better Environment

Video conferencing has changed the way we work and also the way we are communicating with colleagues, communities, friends and family.  We have no choice but to avoid socialising in the pandemic. There is also very little to do but to enjoy the great outdoors.  The new tier system in the UK has meant that we do not want to travel anywhere far and we are also not allowed (this really is the current situation that no one ever predicted a year ago).  The best silver lining has been literally the benefits for the environment with less vehicle and air travel. We are also encouraged to shop, work and play locally within reason – the streets are a little bit busier now but looking back to the first lockdown earlier this year, there were pigeons walking around my street as there were hardly any cars.  The busy urban area where I live is definitely quieter and people are taking advance of the green spaces and places to explore nature close by.  I know once we get back to the ‘next normal’ with optimum vaccine efficacy stage, there may be a return to the hustle and bustle that we had pre-Covid-19.  I am hoping that some of these clean environmental gains, behaviours and ‘magic purification dust’ will stick around for a long time. An appreciation of our green spaces and better environment are essential for our wellbeing, physical and mental health.

(4) Social and Cultural Appreciation

Cinemas, theatres, festivals, churches, museums, art galleries, gyms, entertainment venues, bars, pubs, restaurants and sporting areas are all closed.  They have been the hardest hit in all of the pandemic restrictions.  People’s livelihoods have suffered gravely and there is still no end to the challenges they will have to face in the next few months as we get back to full confidence of being able to ‘go as we pleased’. We are drinking, socialising and eating more at home.  KPMG puts this shift as the ‘home is the new hub’ and the centre of operations. There might still be some who are getting food take-aways all the time, but I also understand we are just spending time indoors cooking, with old fashion home entertainment and leisure activities.  We can to some extent still use the television, books, music, gaming and any other entertainment, which has seen a boost in sales and consumption. I am looking at Netflix more than I ever did in these last few months.

The main silver lining is that people will gain the appreciation of new and old entertainment mediums. Perhaps when we are able to take advantage and experience these simple pleasures in life, we can financial, socially and emotionally give more support to these basic human activities that make us connected and feel good about ourselves as well as being somewhere with others outside our normal bubbles.

(5) Healthcare and Well-being Improvements

As you know, there are great improvements and support for our health services across this world in this mad time of Covid-19.  There would be many gains made from the insights and business practices for countries that haven’t had to deal with such a grave disease. Processes, information sharing and patient care had been one of the upmost benefits of the lessons learned in this pandemic.  Normal routine check-ups have also seen a transformation with video-conferencing with patients invited for online consultations.  I have spoken to a few people and this is now common practice compared to earlier this year when you had to physical make your way to the doctor’s office/surgery even though you may be really unwell.  Perhaps in future we would automatically be given the choice of an online consultation.  I do know that we still have to see medical staff face-to-face for certain ailments and treatments but this new way of consultation has been a shift that would have taken ages to go head if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Medical staff can also get the credit and praise the rightly deserved after many years of lack of investment and appreciation. Let’s hold governments to this!

People are now also opening being mindful and talking about mental health issues as the lockdown periods become more prolonged.  I read another great blog about finding that ‘silver lining’ in Today (Singapore) which mentioned ‘slow living’ and hygge – which was exactly we have been doing in the last few months.  The hustle and bustle, the diary packed with work, events and things to do – these have all been curtailed for time spent inside to keep us safe.  There is a brilliant explanation that we should enjoy the hygge and simple pleasures in life.   This is what the Danes do and there is no wonder that they are ranked as one of the happiness people in the world.  Perhaps we can put this label on our activities and try to remember to do this always to ensure that we have that level of happiness balance in our busy lives.

(6) Innovations in Research and Science

This virus has thought us many things about ourselves and therefore there are many innovations that have come as a result of the changes we have had to make.  We are already learning new ways to improve hygiene in public places, research, medical, digital and scientific innovations and new insights have been on of the brightest silver linings in the race to find new treatments and a prevention of the disease as mentioned in this map by Medcity.  

Telehealth is Improving Access to Health Care: Digital care interactions emerge as a silver lining to pandemic’s dark cloud.

Source – Irish Times

(7) Quality Family Time

There have been some great stories on using this time for greater connection with family and close one who live in the same household.  I know that has been a very negative experience for some families where they are not getting on or able to have the basic needs in a time of great stress, anxiety and hardships. 

Personally, there is really no choice but to make the best of the situation that we are in and some families have thoroughly love the slower pace as mentioned in this Elle article, the no commuting time and the quality time spent together.  This has mainly been my ‘silver lining’ in the last few months and I loved the spring and summer months when I was able to enjoy the outdoor spaces a bit longer.  I have also love the ability to see nature, sunlight and all the elements of the day working mainly from home and at the weekends. 

Going in the last festive month of the year 2020, I wanted to end on this high note after a year that has taken us over in urgent changes and various twists in the basic necessities of life.  I am tired from working harder in lots of new ways in a year that has been overwhelming with the pandemic, fighting for social justice and basic empathy to get through this pandemic.  However, as we go into the festive and traditionally happy month of December…even though it is dark, cold and grey, I will think and be grateful for these little gifts of hope and silver linings that are shining. 

Decolonisation – the Quiet Revolution continues

Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.

In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation.  It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post.  The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general.  All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month.  Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.

A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished.  The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now.  It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.

Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years.  Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity.  We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings.  It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon

African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.

– Enslaved TV Series 2020.

The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it.  As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history.  There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery.  You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools.  British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance.  There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies.  The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century. 

Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.

The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK.  It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom.  This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either.

With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time.  It really has no place in modern and equitable societies.  There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.

This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation.  In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written.  I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor. 

Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves.  The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom.  I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there.  It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?

It’s embarrassing that I’ve learnt more about colonial history from Instagram.

Elle Magazine October 2020

In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power.  I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.

It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.

Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation.  Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.

At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently.  Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/

It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian.  This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism.  The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.

I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European.  This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago.  In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass! 

We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.

It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.

Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day.  It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now.  We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media.  Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.

I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world.  Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality.  Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.

Hold Tight! Autumnal Tenacity for the perilous Second Wave

Often it is Tenacity, Not Talent that Rules the Day. – Julia Cameron

As we move into the winter months in the pandemic, there is a personal concern that we have left the bright sunny and warmer months in what will be a very tough year for all of us.  Autumn is not my favourite time of year but I do usually cope and settle in by the end of October for Diwali, Halloween cheer and November Bonfire night.  I do remember arriving in the UK in late September 1980s and not minding my first autumn, which was a huge change from a tropical climate I knew. One thing is for sure – the temperature is going to get colder, the physical landscape, flora and fauna will change with autumnal colours, with the nights getting longer.  If like me, you have been working from home and actually making the most of the outdoors in the Spring and Summer… things are going to be different with the possible double whammy facts of a second wave in the pandemic and Brexit unpreparedness.

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

September has already brought new changes with schools reopening fully.  The last week has been dominated with university students who are having to self-isolate in their student halls to protect themselves, and stop the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19. The news does not stop there – there is also the economic fallout in all spheres of life.  Businesses are facing further necessary restrictions with some of my friends not planning to return to the office until January 2021.  The redundancy and insolvency levels are also increasing daily with people having to bear all the hardship that comes with losing their jobs.  There are many reasons to be pessimistic.  The optimistic vibes are scarce but if you know me – I am a trouper. I do have the unbelievable capacity to be tenacious despite the negative aspects I have faced in my life (mainly professional). I do tend to focus on the important issues and despite my happy-go-lucky demeanour with a smile, I can be determined, knuckle down and get on with it! Call it what you like but it might just be tenacity.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. – Amelia Earhart

I haven’t been into the Central of London since March 14th but have returned to the office and library for one day a week since 3rd September.  It is an odd feeling getting the Tube again knowing that you have to be very careful and conscious of other passengers, the public surfaces, social distancing etc. It is quite natural to look around the carriages to see who is wearing a mask  – and who is wearing it like a dodgy condom! I haven’t had to move away or tell anyone off as yet but there are a few cases of annoying mask non-conformity on the Tube, but generally it is good to go (pardon the pun) and people are being great. 

The impact on London’s economy is obvious.  I think that TfL are going to be struggling financially this year because as an example, I have only spent £30.00 this month to travel when I would usually spend about £149.00 a month.  Of course I do not want staff to lose their jobs but it just a reminder to government that they should be more kind about raising their fares in future.  But who knows…we might still get some nasty price increases too compensate for us not using the tube in the pandemic.  You can never really win here with inflation! The fat cats executives at TfL must be a bit worried too – I know this from when I paid attention at City Hall. One positive is that the Poems on the Underground are out to entertain us, and also Dettol has partnered to remind us to maintain good hygiene. The saddest feeling is seeing how quiet the commute and shops are around St Pancras.

I have now also returned to the British Library one day a week and it has been good going so far.  There are lots of social-distancing measures in place, and the British Library has opened to a certified standard, which is great reassurance for our readers and staff.  There is a difference in the building as there are so few people in the office, public, networking and workshop areas. We are still serving people in the ‘Reading Room’ who have pre-booked, and we are very much providing digital services remotely. 

We are being cautious and it is good to be back but we also know that we are still in a pandemic and therefore most of my time is still spent working and volunteering from our little box room study at home.  It is a little more challenging as there is a family trying to study and work from home too.  I am finding this okay but I know I am fortunate to have the space and technical equipment to do this.  It is certainly not the case for many, and the digital and socio-economic divide has been discussed a lot in the last few months for most people everywhere.  This is another reason I have thinking of self-motivation and keeping up personal standards in this very challenging time.  Some things are going to lapse but demonstrating and being tenacious helps to get it done. I do look forward to return back to normal circumstances, but we just don’t know when that will be and it certainly ain’t looking like this year!

This month has been filled with several professional activities with my role as President of SLA Europe – I would be a liar if I said it has been easy.  It has been difficult especially this year as my day job is very busy and even more so in lockdown as it very intense with my digital activities and video conferencing, as well as one full day in the office.  I will have to tally the number of webinars and meetings I have had.  I do know it has been worth it still working and applying myself to helping customers and other professionals as much as can.  I do like having the flexibility to go for a walk and then catching up later, otherwise I just won’t be able to cope.  I usually catch up with volunteering later in the evening into the early morning.  I am really pleased that I am able to contribute to my professional network and take part in some really interesting events such as Reopening Specialized Libraries Roundtable Two, presented on Economic Data and Entrepreneurship, attended talks on Feminist Walk in Harlem and Veganism, Knowledge Management presentation by SLA Europe, as well as participate in a Gurteen KM Café as I had the time. The great aspect of working during this pandemic, is that it has made this year more global than I initially intended.  I will be presenting at two events at the virtual SLA Conference 2020 with the theme Driving Forward.

So what else is there to do that can demonstrate tenacity? 

My neighbourhood is still pulling together with the use of social media especially with a higher increase in Anti-social Behaviour (ASBOs) in the recent weeks.  There is no support on the street from local police and we have to rely on community activists. There is also pressure on community policing still due to non-existence presence in my area of a heavily populated borough plus they are under pressure which the current Covid-19 restrictions.

I haven’t been far away except for work this month but it is great to see signs of positivity in my neighbourhood.  These include businesses that are operating old and some new ones.  I also went out for tapas with my friends a few weeks ago for a socially distant dinner.  However the most comforting and strengthening is the London Mural Festival, which took place the last two weeks.  Some of these are exceptional as they pay tribute to local heroes, as well as the artists themselves.  The best one is the one dedicated to NHS staff, which was put up a few weeks ago (and perhaps not up specifically for the festival). It is the exemplary public display of positive roles models that anyone can see on their local walks.

TENACITY, n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to the coin of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand of authority and is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in politics. – Ambrose Bierce

As I end on one of the dullest days of September, the level of deaths are rising rapidly again in the pandemic.  There are politicians trying to get a grip and scientists telling us that the data is predicting threats to our well-being with some more terrible news for public health and society…still.  My dearest wish to you is to keep well, safe, upbeat and obviously, tenacious. Hold tight.

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

An English Staycation 2020

The last few months there have been several stories of countries that are now in the quarantine list if you are thinking of going on a summer holiday abroad due to COVID-19. However, way before the summer holidays came long, we decided to cancel my flights and travel to Trinidad and Tobago. I prefer to go when it is safer to go as well as to go in a time when I can experience the beauty of the country. I probably would have to go into quarantine on my return if  I went now. So it was necessary that our flights are cancelled, and our summer holiday plans redirected to local areas and within England. It is a necessary decision has made by several holidaymakers as reported in the news. This was my third staycation in eight years, and a great way to do spend time in this country.

It is also necessary to find time for a holiday. We have been working doubly hard from home in a very challenging situation. On top of this, my volunteering is very intensive and busy this year which means that I do actually want some time to myself and to go away from the urban sights I see on most days. We all need downtime like this regardless of the current situation with COVID-19 and this blog post covers the few mini-breaks I have had in the last few weeks.

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Boudica – Iceni Briton

Earlier this month, we were still in COVID-19 alertness stage so I left it to the last minute to book some time in Norwich. I only live two hours away from the rural and quiet areas of Norfolk and Suffolk but never arranged a time to visit these areas in the past. We were experiencing some hot weather at the beginning of the month and it was really promising to visit these areas. The two most remarkable items are driving through the forest near Thetford where there were signs on the historical sites of the Iceni Villages that existed on that region. The Iceni lived there about 2000 years ago and are famous for resisting the Romans for their land and property. Boudica was the wife of their Briton leader of the Iceni tribe and the story of her battle and leadership is still legendary today. Perhaps another time I will explore the area again to learn more about their story.

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Norfolk and Suffolk Borders

I do love driving in the countryside and seeing rural scenes of crops, tractors, fields and country lanes. I am a country village girl by heart and appreciate how these rural communities keep traditions as well as provide valuable food and other suppliers to us who live and work in city centres. It is so much easier now to drive with satellite navigation and smart technology.

Our first stop with the Catholic Shrine at Little Walsingham where there was a sighting of the Virgin Mary. The shine as mentioned in this tour blog states: In the year 1061, Lady Richeldis, owner of Walsingham manor, had a vision in which she was taken by Mary and shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked her to build a replica of the house in Walsingham”. When we arrived at the Shrine, it was very hot on that day and it was great to finally visit the shrine after it being on my curious radar for a while. I said a little prayer and it has a beautiful garden and pilgrim areas for large tours but being a pandemic – it was quiet.

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My husband had also visited the shine as a child and has photos at the shrine and the seaside that was close by. The village is also known for the Abbey ruins which I didn’t have time to see and it is also great for snowdrops in spring. The village was quaint and quiet and I loved the little red building there and the surrounding countryside on the way to Wells-Next-the-Sea.

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The next stop was the northern Norfolk coastal town of Well-Next-the-Sea where it was busy with English holiday-makers during a heatwave in a pandemic. It was nice to walk around the main roads to see the high street and have some lunch. They also have this small library and it was a reminder that obviously people do live and work here with some essential buildings and shops. It really makes you think about your own surroundings and whether you can live in a quiet and quaint place like this outside the holiday season. The coast at Wells-Next-the-Sea was something I have only seen in photos or seen on Google images. The sand dunes and port were small but busy with people walking along the bank to the sea. There were also a lot of holiday homes or caravan parks all along the Norfolk coast and it was quite a quintessentially English thing to see families spending their holidays.

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We also drove along the coast to Cromer and it seemed a little bit more built up with a pier and seaside promenade. It was nice to grab an ice cream and look across at the sea just before sunset.

The sea, sand and beach huts were great to see especially at a time when you don’t want to venture abroad. If the seawater was slightly different in colour and warmer, there would be little reason to travel abroad on holiday during the summer months permanently. I always admire our Italian and Trinidadian relatives who go to the beaches in their countries without having to travel abroad. I did see some photos on social media with water being clearer, blue and warm in the English south coast. I hope to visit another time.

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The next day I spent the morning in the market town Norwich, which I have always wanted to visit. I loved the little streets with shops, river with the Norwich Cathedral steeple striking an imposing structural icon for the surrounding areas. I have a friend who said she always liked it as a university town and the surrounding countryside. I also found out about Edith Cavell, who was born near Norwich, as I went past the pub and monument dedicated to her. Edith is well known for being a British nurse who saved British and Belgian soldiers from during the First World War. She was arrested and then sentenced to death: “despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage”. No wonder there was a pub and monument dedicated to her humanity and life.

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Norwich seems like the biggest city in that area, the home of chef and food writer Delia Smith, and also Norwich Football Club. I attended a family wedding reception, which was a beautiful day. I would like to visit the Norfolk broads and also see some more of the countryside another time, especially as it is not far from London.

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I also popped into Southwold on my way back to London the next day. It was a lot busier than the last time I visited as we were in the height of a heatwave, summer holidays and in the staycation pandemic.

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I was able to walk on some of the sand dunes I have been seeing on Instagram and it really is a lot nicer when the weather is warmer. There were lots of shops serving food tp take away due to COVID-19 restrictions, and we were able to find a café for lunch for those who wanted to eat in. It was the first time we had to give our phone number and the waitress took our temperature to see whether may have COVID-19. It was also nice to finish my a few days away by just driving back home with no airport security, baggage check and long aeroplane or train journey.

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A few days away made me stop thinking of work, which is mainly in my home at present, and it also took me away from my surrounding neighbourhood, which I love but can also cause aggravations with urban irritations such as environmental pollutions such as rubbish and noise. My time during lockdown has been spent walking the lovely quieter streets of Walthamstow that has fewer people, nice flowers or homes for me to ease my busy mind, as well as part of my daily walking exercise routine. Even this time outside locally is special as I found myself having to self-isolate after having two possible COVID-19 infections, but they both were proven as negative results. It is hard staying in for those 3-5 days until you get your test results.

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There is one reason why we still go abroad on sunny holidays abroad…the weather! The last three weeks the weather has been awful with rainy summer days and colder nights. This is one of the reasons I sometimes prefer to go abroad as the days are guaranteed to be warmer and the seaside pleasures a little bit nicer. We have come to the end of August and it would have been a little bit more bearable if the weather had remained a little bit more pleasant until we reached the end of summer. Today would have been Notting Hill Carnival weekend and it is so cold…I am pleased that it has moved to online due to Covid-19. Perhaps if the virus is controlled, I look forward to a better warmer year next year.

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My trip to end the summer on a high was the visit to Whitstable because the weather had been forecasted to stay sunny. I had always planned to visit as my manager lived there for many years and you always see articles of Londoners moving there, or going on day trips. I went this weekend where it was nice to see it at last! It was great to see the seaside high street shops and the library.

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I also liked the promenade to walk, stalls selling arts and crafts on the seafront. I had paella in a café but the oysters are famous in Whitstable, perhaps for another time. I also was happy that I was able to visit in a day and able to drive back home with only a little bit of a queue at the Blackwall Tunnel.

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Covid-19 has prevented us from visit places and family in faraway lands. We have had to re-think our need and purpose for travelling during a pandemic. It has given us opportunities to travel within our own countries…like we used to 40-50 years ago. I am still discovering parts of the UK and the staycation of summer 2020 has helped me tick off a few places I have wanted to see in the UK that are not very far away from me. I am still to visit Devon, Cornwall, the Lake District, rural Wales and Scotland. I look forward to seeing more of these regions in the years to come.

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Cabaret, Clubs and Art Scenes – Heart of all the Action

After the festive season, January is always really difficult to keep you self-motivated as it is a start of a busy new year, with resolutions, work targets and goals to finish off. Despite the difficulty staying focus, there will be challenges with keeping to your own self-imposed promises. However, it is also great to make time to relax and spend with good friends by going out and about in the many attractions that we have as Londoners. This year I didn’t have to do any of the social planning…I just had to join along in the good cheer, to not one or two events, but six in total! Some of them were low cost and some at the high-end of the price range but all equally enjoyable. Here, I discuss some of the fantastic ideas for making most of the cultural venues in the colder and darker nights.

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Firstly, one of my dear friends was visiting London and asked us to see the satirical cabaret ‘Fascinating Aida’ which was being shown live at the National Theatre on the Southbank. I had no idea that the show has been touring since 1983 and has a dedicated following around the country. It was also very funny, entertaining and heart-warming with all the lovely stories and anecdotes. My friend warned me that there will be a lot of swearing but mostly it was the swear word ‘Brexit’ that received the most laughs! I was pleased with that. It was also very amusing to hear the songs and engagement with a live audience in a fabulous venue on the Southbank. A great fun way to start the New Year 2020.

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The same weekend, I was able to fit in some local art landmarks at God’s Own Junkyard for the fabulous display of neon lights in their coffee shop and gallery. The William Morris Gallery also had the ‘Pioneer: William Morris and the Bauhaus’ exhibition on until recently. This was my first exposure to the Bauhaus, whereby the exhibition aimed to fully explore the common values and relationship between the English Arts and Crafts and the Bauhaus movements. The designs are truly simple, striking and recognisable. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have the William Morris Gallery so close to where I live, where I can see the new temporary exhibitions, but also to visit time and time again the permanent William Morris exhibition.

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The next amazing event I went to see was the Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’ held at the Barbican Centre with my information professional/librarian friends. It was nice to get ready early on a Saturday to catch the short train ride to the Barbican Centre (I hope to spend more time doing fun things there when I have free time). The exhibition was very interesting to see the global movement that explored the social and artistic role of cabarets, cafés and clubs focusing on global locations from New York to Tehran, London, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Ibadan. It depicted time spanning the 1880s to the 1960s in various cities of the world also with the common dynamic themes and multi-faceted history of artistic production.

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It was a simultaneous avant-garde movement where there was art from a part of the world influencing another part, such as the Parisian theatrical Le Chat Noir show influencing the Chat Noir paintings that you may know. It really was an excellent exhibition and some of the highlights for me were the art pieces, Loie Fuller who was innovative in her dancing movement with fabric staged at the Folies Bergère in the 1890s – these were truly trail-blazing with the copyright of her dance and experiments in costume, choreography, light and movement.

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We treated ourselves to delicious cocktails on this particular night before the exhibition but I didn’t realise until I was in the exhibition that there was a recreated multi-coloured ceramic tiled bar installation in the exhibition of the Cabaret Fledermaus from Vienna (1907), designed by Josef Hoffmann for the Wiener Werkstätte.

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During this period simultaneously in New York, the literary and jazz scenes flourished and “co-mingled in the predominantly African American neighbourhood of Harlem, where black identity was re-forged and debated”. And so, there was also some live American jazz and spoken word that evening whilst we held our freshly made Vienna inspired Champagne cocktail!

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For me it was also great to see and feel the artistic carnival spirit of the cabaret and the clubs – from dance, costumes, music, spoken word, performance theatre, street theatre, drumming of Yoruba, silhouettes of dangling stencils and so much more! This is not only an enjoyable night…it was life-affirming stuff of the history of artistic practises and cultural exploration.  Even artistic expressions that were different in other regions, were happening and influencing each other demonstrating the common energy of the human condition and aspirations at a very turbulent time. I will remember this exhibition and the evening for a very long time!

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My next interesting event was to see a film for Federico Fellini’s 100 centenary celebrations at the BFI in London’s Southbank Centre (again!) for the film ‘La Dolce Vita’.  I obviously knew of the film and the director, but couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the bold original film on the big screen at the BFI cinema. It truly was another avant-garde art from a period of the most iconic and cliché films on Italian life,  highlighted by the neorealism of the film movement for its time. It was also interesting to follow the life of a journalist from his own life with his encounters with all the other people he is observing. There were highs and lows, happiness and sadness, fun and fear. I thought it was very cleverly filmed, and love the crisp and familiar scenes of Italian life. I am also hoping to see ‘Amarcord’ in a couple of weeks too but this really was a true appreciation of an excellent, avant-garde and innovative filmmaker.

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And as if it couldn’t get more interesting…I went to the BFI Archive in Berkhamsted for a tour with other British Library staff. It was interesting to see the archives, film restoration, editing, and machinery but also to hear about the various items, services and content that they store and conserve. It was amazing to know that they also keep commercial news and broadcasting (including advertisements). I believe the BBC has its’ own archive. We were very lucky to be shown around by their knowledgeable staff, meet the teams and also to see some of the ephemera ranging from film such Kes, Star Wars script, and artists such as Derek Jarman and Ken Loach. The BFI is where all good films go, and the archive is the equivalent to moving image heaven.

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The month ended on a high note with evening tea at the Savoy in London. I have been meaning to go for 20 plus years, although I have been to a ball a few years ago. I certainly loved the flavours of the handmade sandwiches and teacakes with Champagne and splendid tea. It was a special treat and I enjoyed the art deco interiors in a very chilled ambience. My friends and I didn’t realise that there was going to be a pianist and a jazz band playing beautiful music – so that was an extra bonus. Instead of staying a couple of hours, we stayed longer for about 4-5 hours! The venue is such a great attraction still and was known for creating a place with ‘stardust’ by theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte being influenced by celebrities, royalty, leading actresses and opera singers of the time.  D’Olyly Carte wanted to keep that sparkle and it certainly still maintains its’ shine today.

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There are a few more January celebrations like Galette du Rois for Epiphany, and a British Library tour for SLA Europe I did with my colleague Neil, which was rounded off in the pub – both events were also nice get-togethers.

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As the dark and cold nights as here to stay for a few more weeks, it has been a pleasure to spend time in a usually uneventful January doing all these wonderful and entertaining things with dear friends, contacts and family. However, I do feel that it has been a very positive and busy start to 2020, and with more activities, I have planned for this year…it will certainly be a show and will keep me busy. Do come back here to see what action I am up to!

A Christmas Carol – Dickens’ Classic December story

‘I wish to be left alone’ said Scrooge. Since you ask me what I wish, gentleman that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry’. – A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scoorge is a miser and Christmas-hating protagonist in the Victorian book by Charles Dickens called ‘A Christmas Carol’. If you don’t already know the story, we have a classic tale of someone lacking in kindness, which is even harsher when it is told to us during the festive season of goodwill and good tidings to all men. Dickens created a character of pity, scorn and loneliness, but also one where he is able to tease out compassion and redemption by the end of the story on Christmas Eve. The themes of this story are in the forefront of my thoughts this festive season, but also due to my participation in a local pantomime run by local people for the community in early December.

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Charles Dickens wrote the book in under six weeks in 1843, which was then published in time for Christmas. The novel gives us an insight into the poverty and urban living conditions in the Victorian ages. It is reported that Dickens was horrified after reading the government report: The Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children which showed the horrific conditions in factories. Dickens was moved after reading the report and visited similar poor conditions in Manchester. The result was the idea to write ‘A Christmas Carol’, and the most he felt he could do was to make the horror of the report more known by writing a story… “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power”. This was the conception of his now renowned timeless social and moral human story of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

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“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” – A Christmas Carol

I remember seeing on television the story in a film of Scrooge as a child in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970/80s. I even remembered miserly persons called a “Scrooge”, and so the story has a wider readership and context than a Christmas story. However, the book was suggested a couple of years ago for our book club and therefore I was happy to finally read this classic story. I didn’t realise the meaning of the simple anti-Christmas term “Bah Humbug!” until I read ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The other characters in the book are interesting and add the element of wonder and awe to what is essentially a ghost story – the business partner Jacob Marley, the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim are like a conscience for the mean, bitter and solitary Scrooge. The spirits take Scrooge on a journey through his sad life and display his obsession with money and callousness, but also with some remedial twists like Bob Cratchit still toasting to Scrooge although he is a mean and demanding employer. The spirits are there to have Scrooge’s life flash by him highlighting his wrongdoings, but also the spirit of the future brings the perceived truth of this own demise…and death should he not change his wicked ways. This is just my short synopsis but ‘A Christmas Carol’ has the recurring theme of compassion and redemption that can help us to lead better lives, especially in a Christmas story during the wintery December month.

 

This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” – A Christmas Carol

There is a lot written about the book and I am lucky to stumble upon a whole page dedicated to it on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website here. There is much to learn from the book about the historic Victorian way of life, the issues faced with publishing the first copy, and the importance of the book in cultural terms. It is just as popular as it was then as it is now!

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Dickens apparently was not protected by copyright laws, as there was no copyright legislation at the time to protect creative works. His novel was copied and performed by theatres within weeks, and there were various versions of the story being circulated at the time. It is mentioned in this Osgoode Law School blog post that he was annoyed but also one of the first advocating for copyright laws to protect creative works. You can also see how profitable the show was for its’ time by the Theatre playbills, which are available to view digitally. What is remarkable to this day is the beautiful illustration that were commissioned and created by John Leech in the first version of the book. They are still splendid and are able to light up social media to this day. Like Dickens’ story itself, these playbills and illustrations are available for reuse without fear of copyright infringement. I do hope he was able to get some financial benefits at the time for his work.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew.  “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”

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It has been an extra special experience this month to be involved in a pantomime of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a local volunteer group, Panda Pantomime Productions. Pantomime has a long history of fun and informal theatre. This year we aimed to have four performances on the streets and in local venues – I only took part initially as a payback to Tom, who had helped me with fundraising musical entertainment in the past. I was happy for him to ask me to host the pantomime in my neighbourhood but didn’t expect to actually take part in it!. We started rehearsing about eight weeks ago to a very uninspiring ready-made script but thanks to the creative writing skills of Theresa – she was able to adapt the story to our times, local area and topical issues that we can all relate to. Luckily there are no copyright issues too! In the end, I am really proud of being able to participate in one of the highlights of my year.

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We had brilliantly engaged audiences, both children and adults, and lots of great feedback and fundraising at the performances. Local businesses donated raffle prizes, the council gave us a little support, venues opened their doors to us, and a big thanks to Audi Car Showroom in Chingford for their donations and time given by dedicated staff in the pantomime. It was a great way to challenge my non-existent acting experience and also to get to know a whole new group of lovely people. I was able to live, breathe and absorb the true story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a contemporary setting.

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‘The Christmas Carol’ is one of the stories that were being shown as Pantomime across the country when I checked on Twitter. Pantomime is a great way to experience theatre in the colder months of the year and is great to keep the venues profitable – it is reported that 2.7 million tickets were sold annually (BBC Source). I also still have much admiration for the team at PwC who started their corporate pantomime in the 1980s and still put it on annually by their staff, for their staff and communities. Over the years, I have also attended a few excellent Pantomimes at the Hackney Empire, where you are able to get value for money with great actors in a fabulous historic East End theatre.

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This December, in classic coincidence, the BBC aired on the run-up to Christmas the screening of a three-part episode of ‘A Christmas Carol’. It was great to compare it to the books, and also our low-budget version in pantomime. I liked it all the same and it was extra interesting to see all the characters played in different ways by professional actors, but also to a bigger budget with special effects, elaborate costumes, makeup and in Dickensian architectural scenes in London. The use of a mixed-race family for the Cratchits, contemporary issues and dark atmosphere created a lot of conversation on social media. I only recently realised that there is apparently a good version of this classic story by the makers of the Muppet Show. Perhaps I can look at that version another time.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – A Christmas Carol

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And so with this moral tale, there is a spiritual conversion in the ending with Scrooge finding a second chance having examined ‘an intimate inspection of his soul’…bringing about regret and redemption for his past misdemeanours and miserliness. In the month of December, this Dickensian story will be around for a long time yet to entertain and warn us of the human condition. It is a great reminder that it is best to live in the present with goodwill, compassion and good cheer to others. This is a festive happy ending that will guide us in whatever time lies ahead.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

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2020 Vision – looking at the past, present and future

As we get closer to the year 2020 and the closing of the last decade, I have been looking back but also thinking of the years ahead. It has been a decade of great change on the political, social, technological and human landscape reflecting on what is going on in the world. There have been numerous highs and lows as expected in such a long period. The present is grounding us to what is happening now but there is bound to be a wonder with what is ahead when we look at New Year’s number ‘Twenty Twenty’ – 2020. We even have to get used to saying, writing, hearing and seeing it. This blog post gives me the opportunity to reflect, adapt and anticipate what trends may be coming our way.

Past, present and future: it makes it easier for me to look at this in these three categories to clarify what this means, mostly for my own self-awareness. However when I started researching this topic, I quickly learnt that it is an analytical and forecasting technique that is also being using to show how quickly the world is moving on major issues for example sustainability, climate change and technology due to changes, innovation and higher levels of disruptions. In my busy personal and professional life – there are great experiences and photos for me to share these three timeframes with you here.

 

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The Past

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step,

they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”
― William Golding

The last decade has seen a lot of changes for me professionally.   I was working at City Hall in 2010 with changes already happening with the arrival of the dire austerity plans hitting libraries and other public services across the United Kingdom. I hung on with our team to our jobs until early 2012 right on the cusp of the start of the Olympics. There was so much anticipation and preparation on the one hand with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then we were dropped like hot potatoes to be made redundant and disbanding of services. The heartache of seeing colleagues lose their job in the heart of London with the Olympics which was in our breath and bloodstream was very hard to get over but we survived.

We were able to experience sadly one of the defining moments of the austerity decade that thousands of people have to endure. Some of us are not better off financially and thankfully for the support of family – we are able to manage. This first-hand experience is only the tip of the iceberg of what austerity really meant for basic infrastructure to people’s health, well-being, opportunities, education, public provision (no police station with the increased crime) and degeneration of libraries in the UK. I know some of the stronger survived but it certainly wasn’t fair for many people and this is with the benefit of hindsight. I also had people cut me off on social media when I left City Hall but most importantly the ones who mattered…stayed with me. I knew this would happen from my experience in the 2000s. I was just waiting for it to happen as an ever-present information professional.

 

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Eventually I was employed again at the British Library and this has been one of the highlights of the early 2010s. I have grown and developed in many new areas but I was also able to use the experience I have built up over many years. I don’t feel so odd when I have to use old and new information and library skills. It also helps when I see the past brought to the present in exhibitions, collections and digitally in the libraries and museums world. This month I visited the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library’s exhibition on Buddhism – and you will get this point.

 

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We have also seen a lot of changes on the regeneration of my local area in the last ten years and it was one of the defining eras of new volunteering and community activism for the neighbourhood and me. Due to having free time due to redundancy, I was able to take part in the Street Party to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012…but then I never stopped!!! Due to my amazing neighbours and community spirit, we have been able to put on 8 fabulous street parties, poetry events, book clubs, Christmas parties, use social media, promote civic activism for local issues, and look after our community with great camaraderie. We literally look out for our neighbours and neighbourhood, such as creating What’s App groups and social media accounts for all of this!

 

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My neighbourhood has changed from a sleepy suburban town to a buzz hive of activity. There are negatives for this – such as Anti-Social Behaviour (ASBOs), drug dealing, professional beggars and high levels of litter. However, I was able to push myself to new activities such as writing basic poetry, organising Spring-cleaning, starting guerrilla gardening and this winter I am participating in my first pantomime in ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. This was also my inspiration for writing this blog post looking at the past, present and future!

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A Christmas Carol

I was also able to do a lot more volunteering for my profession with SLA Europe and stopped being Fundraising Chair for The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity in 2016 after 12 years. I will look back at the last decade with fondness for the new and exciting things I learnt, the new experiences I gained and also the fabulous time I spent with great people and loved ones. The holidays and travels are always a great highlight in this enormous world and are entrenched in my memories of the past.

 

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The Present

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

As in LIVE in the moment of now, it is both exhilarating as well as concerning. All the big topics I can honestly think about presently are Brexit, Climate Change and much progress already made is being damaged! Most things in my life are stable but there are still everyday worries and stresses that make me wonder what the hell is going on. Just look at some of our media and politicians! Politics is affecting all of us at present but they are very disruptive and move swifter than the previous decade. This could be a result of social media, but also the volume increase, manipulation and incensed use of mainstream media that is used to polarise us. It seems to be an on-going battle with new life and professional challenges such as data protection, fake news, privacy, racism, bullying, and various negative broadcasting. Information certainly is more intense with some people probably rightfully switching off from all forms of media. I do think that presently social media is still a very good facility for communication, and the world is generally a better place for it. Politics will affect us all and is currently in an awful state but we are more engaged regardless with an opportunity to share our views, voice our concerns and opinions with the people we want too online and offline.

 

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Climate change and sustaining our planet are hot topics that are right up the agenda in the last years and especially the last few months. We have seen young Greta Thunberg mobilise children and adults across this great big old world for environmental concerns and activism. We also all know about Extinction Rebellion. Food, travel, air quality, poverty, homelessness, diversity and inclusion etc are all various topics where work is still in progress. There are good days and bad days for all of these issues, and like so, we have to live in the moment but also find ways to make good choices that will sustain us as well as our fragile planet and environment. It’s only a few years ago we implemented the plastic bags ban, saw more of the reusable cup and ‘single use plastic’ become a no-go. Positive policy and behaviour change are possible and we should not give up!

 

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It is not all depressing in the present, I still find ways to keep my positivity flowing by exploring the new, interesting events and shows in the city. I love that you also see all the ‘live’ moments people are having around you on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, the present is not perfect but somewhere in this world, the sun is shining and a new day is dawning. I am also very grateful for every new day that I am alive to be with my family and friends in the present.

 

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The Future

“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith

As we creep into 2020, it is great to know that some things will always remain the same but it is obvious that there will be new developments and ways of living that we will adopt and adapt in our lives. After all, 2020 is just a number created to represent time.

I am certainly not a clairvoyant with a crystal ball and will not predict the next day, much less the next decade. However, this is what scientific, evidence-based and good research is able to do for us. Trends and forecasting are used all the time to help us plan and prepare what may or may not become a reality. I have the privilege and access to authoritative published research in my role as an information professional, and therefore I am able to research very serious topics that will have an impact on all of us.

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I recently popped into the busy technology department of Selfridges when I went to collect an online order that I couldn’t find in local shops. Seeing all the smart technology is a great eye-opener (pardon the pun!). There are innovations and inventions that are here already and there are more to come on the horizon. Wearable technology is here and according to Mintel market research on “Wearable Technology 2019” – “There has been an increase in ownership of all wearable devices, with the most significant jump being in the adoption of smart ear-buds. As a result of the increasing popularity of these products, more and more manufacturers are offering their versions. Meanwhile, fitness bands/sports watches continue to be the wearable that consumers are most likely to own”. Consumers are also using it for controlling smart home devices, making contactless payments, monitoring security, social media, fitness etc. The smart glasses were certainly a new way to see and interact with things.

 

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One of the burning issues is consumption of natural resources and the environment. There are questions on how can we make this world more sustainable and ethical in our policies, businesses and our own personal responsibility. GlobalDataOnline has their great Trendsight predictions and analysis to tell us about the MegaTrends that will affect us all regardless if we are generations from: Baby boomers to iGeneration. In the report ‘Trendsight overview: Sustainability and Ethics – Meeting social and environmental challenges amid growing populations and energy brands’, these megatrends highlighted are: Social Responsibility, Ethical Wellbeing, Fairly Traded, Created Fairly, Ethical Luxury, Localism, Trust and Transparency, Resource Scarcity and Environmental Responsibility. These are all great topics that make my heart sing! The same report looks in great detail at the past, present and future trends. One of the great sector examples with the changes we have seen in the last few years is plastic pollution and recycling which concludes that: “in the past five years, recycling schemes were being used by several types of retail outlets, and will remain a crucial consideration for retailers in future. Retailers at present are more prominently shifting away from the use of plastic, while innovative recycling schemes will propel into the mainstream five years or so in the future”. Do make some time to look at these reports and you will be inspired or in-the-know on what is in store for the future.

 

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My own personal view, simply and most importantly, of the future is that I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I also want this clarity and vision for humanity and the Earth. I know there will be developments in technology and gains in progress with living standards but there is so much work still to collaborate and work on together as so many people are outside of these acceptable levels, struggling with being happy and healthy. I am not able to control this but in my own way, step by step, little by little, I can only hope that we keep this beautiful planet and its’ people safe and well for years to come…and certainly to 2030. Ask yourself too what you want for the future.

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Little Italy – Quarters of the world for Italian settlers

Italians have been travelling out of Italy for centuries and there is evidence from the Romans in the UK, the medieval ages, the 19th and 20th century to present day. You may know that I am married to an Italian and therefore I have been meaning to share on here all the fascinating and significant endearing stories of Italians who have emigrated from their native countries for centuries to explore, find opportunities and set up life in new and distant lands. They have travelled to places as far as the USA, Canada, Africa, Argentina, Brasil, Australia and other closer parts of Europe. My relatives migrated to Bedford in the 1950s, therefore I have heard first-hand stories and have personal experience of Italian immigrants in Bedford. Italian immigration to Bedford began in 1951 and continued until the end of the 1960s. Currently, Bedford still has the largest Italian community in the United Kingdom. With all these Italian communities scattered across the globe, there are multiple ‘Little Italy’ in quarters where the Italian diaspora and settlers now live.

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There are other communities across the globe and I am happy to feel connected to the diaspora when those opportunities arise.  I am unable to cover everything in this blog post but here are the main points and highlights for the very special Italian immigrant communities I know about personally. There are two distinct phases of Italian immigration to the United Kingdom – the first stage at the turn of the 19th century and the second stage in the years immediately after World War II when the mass immigration started.

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The first set of Italian settled in London and Manchester, and formed the famous communities of ‘Little Italy’, especially around the Clerkenwell, Ancoats and Soho areas. These areas thrived primarily thanks to the catering trade and there is still evidence and influence of that today. It was noted that they had a padrone in Britain to act as a go-between to help them with work, food and accommodation for the first two or three years after arrival. Eventually, they worked up the social classes from organ grinders to street musicians, skilled statuette makers and semi-skilled craftsmen by the mid-1850s. By the 1880s onwards, they were able to move into skilled craftwork catering and their own businesses such as selling ice cream. Some famous names I am aware of are Manze’s for Pie and Mash shops, and Rossi for ice cream. It is reported by the turn of the century they had their own Italian school, the Italian Church of St Peter’s and other Italian landmarks. There is a great article on the Italian diaspora by National Geographic here.

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After World War II, the United Kingdom needed labourers to help rebuild its’ economy and many other areas were in desperate need of new labour. One of the explanations I have read is that Italy was overpopulated and there were high levels of poverty and lack of employment opportunities so there were government policies to actively encourage emigration to new lands for opportunities and a better life. In ‘Hidden Voices – Memories of First Generation Italians in Bedford’, there are real-life stories from first-generation Italians living in Bedford which states: “The south was grossly underdeveloped and overpopulated. This had been aggravated by the fascist laws that curtailed even internal migration, let alone external movement of populations. The Italian Government was at a loss as to how to solve the immediate problem. It was estimated that at least 350000 people per year would have to emigrate for five years to alleviate, at least in part, the situation”. This is covered in some detail in books which I have used for research, and online resources such as ‘Building Italian Communities: caterers, industrial recruits and professionals’ by Our Migration Story.

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It is recorded that “a major inter-governmental initiative had led to an agreement between the British Ministry of Labour and the Italian Government, and a bulk recruitment scheme offering jobs to a large number of Italian men and women had been set up in various industries where shortages have arisen”. There were also a few thousand young Italian women who went to work in the Lancashire cotton mills. Other jobs were offered in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Doncaster and Peterborough. The most significant flow of these migrants arrived in the summer of 1951 and they were allocated to Bedfordshire Brick factories and in particular to the world’s largest Marston Valley Bricks Company in Stewartsby, which had been faced with ‘a grave shortage of English labourers’. The brickworks still now stands as a museum.

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Bedford

After World War II, like my own West Indian ancestors in the Caribbean who were indentured labourers and entrepreneurs, the move to new lands may have only been a temporary arrangement that ended up being for longer. ‘A sociolinguistic insight into the Italian Community in the UK: Workplace language as an identity market’ by Siria Guzzo states that: “the main reason why these people came to Britain was obviously not the weather; they migrated to escape abject poverty in most cases and hoped to make a decent living for themselves and their families’’. There was the chain reaction of the migrant travelling back and forth to see the extended family between Italy and Britain but not often. Most of the immigrants were initially granted four years permission to work: “They signed an agreement to stay for four years with their employer, unless they wished to return to Italy before that. Many didn’t like it here and returned home” (Hidden Voices). I have heard that the work was very heavy duty and some of the conditions were very demanding. The work was not easy for those who had never worked in an industrial environment to adapt. However, there remained an abundance of work after this post-war period and some immigrants were able to move on to other employment if they were not satisfied. The legacy of these working contracts is that thousands of Italians remained.  Bedford is one of the largest and most important Italian communities in the UK, and they make up 28% of the diverse population in Bedford.

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Bedford is also a special place as it was a market town, beautiful river, park with nice countryside that was not far from London and also already had other nationalities settled in the areas such as West Indian, Polish and Irish communities. It was a melting pot for a new post-war Britain and you can still see evidence of that today.

Mainly men came first to work and stayed in lodgings. Later on, the ones who stayed sent for their families to come to Britain. There were cases where there were children left behind for a number of years. When the women came, they too started working to help with the cost of homes. It was not unusual for several families to share homes until they were able to save up for their own homes. “By the late 1950s, however, the hard-working Bedford Italians had saved enough money to begin buying their own property, especially in the areas of Queen’s Park and Castle Road where the terraced houses were situated. By continuing to work tirelessly and never wasting their hard-earned money, they began to settle and finally prosper” (Italians and Italians in Britain: A History).

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In the 1960s, there was a focal point with raising money for a Roman Catholic Church in Bedford for the Italian Citizens. And it was not until recently I found out that the church of Santa Francesca Cabrini in Bedford was specifically named after Saint Francesca Cabrini as she is the patron Saint of Immigrants. Mother Francesca as she is known in the USA is revered for her work in New Orleans and New York with Italian immigrants, children and the churches. She was the first American canonised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She also has a unique perspective for her time in her letters written from her travels and collaboration between Italy and the USA.

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In Bedford, the Fathers Scalabrini was instrumental in organising and getting donations for the building of the church. Like the St Peter’s Church in London, the building of the church was major event which involved all of the Italians in Bedford. It is recalled: “Considering that these Italian Immigrants came from many different parts of Southern Italy, some from rural areas of Calabria, some from towns near Naples or from Sicily, all speaking different dialects, with various traditions and ways of life – that was quite an achievement.  But religion and the building of their own church was important to all.  Everyone contributed to raise funds to build the church.  The church was seen by all the Italians in Bedford as theirs and a very important centre for the community.  It was consecrated on March 28th 1965 ” (Hidden Voices).

Over the years, I have also been in the church for regular service, at religious festivals but also for christenings, weddings and funerals. It is definitely a focal point and an important part of the Italian community. The Italians also have their own Italian Embassy/Consulate in Bedford due to the sheer numbers of the diaspora in the town.

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It was also a linguistic phenomenal to have various dialects and cultural traits as the immigrants were from other regions in Italy who had all congregated in one location in this strange land. This is not dissimilar to the various Windrush islanders who came from the West Indies meeting in Britain with their own dialects and accents.  For the older generation, some went along to English language classes or picked it up after a number of years in what is termed as ‘survival English’.  They are also known to switch in between two languages plus their dialects. It is a family joke when some of the phrases in Italian are mixed with English. From the early days, the workers also received newspapers or reading materials in Italian. The families with younger generations obviously became bilingual as the main language was Italian in the home and English in school.

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There were instances of prejudice, racial abuse and biases that was more rampant in the 1950s and 1960s than in the later years. Over time, the Italians integrated into British society and there is community cohesion…but also hung on to their rich traditions and culture. It was also possible for them to travel to Italy to keep those connections unlike, for example, Italian diaspora in further lands like Argentina or the USA. My husband grew up in Bedford in the 1960s and 1970s with all the swinging British popular culture and subcultures that were making the UK a vibrant place at the time. However, he also has the benefit of being exposed to authentic Italian culture and relatives when the family went on summer holiday trips to Italy.

The Italians have also built various Italian clubs which they still use for events and social activities such as New Year’s Eve and their ever-important football matches by the Italian Football teams. My own relatives also organised and took part in a football team that played other regional Bedfordshire teams. There are many articles written about Italian football fans in Bedford who understandably will always support the Azzurris. The World Cup wins in 1982 and 2006 have both been major events when the Italians have gathered en masse with patriotic flags and celebration in the town square. I think these were other defining events for the community as would be expected for any expat or migrant community supporting their nation’s sporting heritage. They also host an Italian festival in the town square to celebrate everything Italian.

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A lot of the Italians in all of the phases have been entrepreneurial in their outlook and making it work here in the UK. The Italians set up craft shops, bars, entertainment venues and other businesses. Food is a massive part of any Italian’s life and so some of the obvious businesses and entrepreneurial trait were to go into the catering business. “It is believed that the ability shown in running successful ethnic restaurants, coffee shops and ice-cream bars is thanks to family cohesion. Italian families in Bedford are bound together by kinship networks and their community represents a sort of extended family”. It is very easy to get Italian food stock now but it was not always as easy in the past. My relatives couldn’t even find olive oil, fresh Italian vegetables (e.g. aubergines, peppers, artichokes) and other supplies in the shops when they first moved to the UK. It is a million times better now for food supplies (but you honestly still get the best ingredients in sunny Italy). Food is still central to family gatherings and social events but the Italians in Bedford probably would try other world cuisines due to multicultural influences as compared to Italians who live in Italy. The Italians have been entrepreneurial in the various corners of the world and the ubiquitous pizza is a great metaphor for their food culture. There is a great article on the Europeana website on pizza.

There is so much to tell and so little time on here as there are decades of stories and adaption to cover in a few lines.  I am grateful, respectful and proud of the Italian heritage that is now part of my own story and life.

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This is the perpetual story of immigrants and also the need for those wishing, hoping, trying and fulfilling the dreams and opportunities that they have when they leave their own countries to a ‘better land’. I have heard these real-life stories many many times and I never get bored with them as I find them adventurous and heart-warming.  They are also part of my heritage  – Italian, Indian, West Indian and British. It also reminds me deeply and on another level to my own West Indian heritage and ancestors. Human Migration is not a new phenomenon and there seem to be so many political, social and cultural factors on its’ prevalence in the past, and will in years to come. Most migrants actually contribute to the lands they move to and the Italians in Bedford had created a very special part of Britain that will always have strong and enriched links to Italy and Europe. Since the 1950s the Italian spirit, close-knit community and way of life live on in each generation…hopefully in the future too. The community have also integrated to a very acceptable level and are able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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Sicily – a Spectacular place in the Summer Sun

Finally the summer holidays are here!  Italy is one of my favourite places on Earth, and there are so many beautiful parts to see. I can’t get bored of ever going there on holiday and I was super excited to finally go again to Sicily in Italy. I have been to Palermo for the day as part of a cruise a few years ago, but it was a real delight to plan this year’s summer holidays in the spectacular east coast of Sicily.  A few years ago some friends visited the beautiful resort of Taormina for their honeymoon, and their photos were so amazing that I thought I would love to visit there one day. I have been looking at the hashtag #Taormina on Instagram prior to going on holiday this year as it seems just the ideal place to relax and enjoy ‘La Dolce Vita’ …the Sicilian way. After an early morning flight, it was phenomenal to see Mount Etna just before landing in Catania. Mount Etna is an active volcano and dominates the skyline from miles away along the east coast of Sicily. Like Vesuvius in Napoli, it is amazing to see people living in the path of the volcano and accepting the natural beauty as well as the potential risks as part of their lives. I didn’t have time for a Mount Etna trip, but may do so another time as I was so charmed by Sicily, I hope to visit the region one day in the future.

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Sicily as an island is also shaped with three-points and therefore is known by the symbol Trinacria, which is also on the Sicilian flag. First stop and our based was the beautiful hill top resort of Taormina, which was an hour’s bus drive from Catania. Taormina has been attracting and welcoming a lot of people from the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Phoenicians, Normans, British on the ‘Grand Tour’, Hollywood figures, to current tourist ranging from Italian-Americans, Russians and other international tourists. The buildings and the architecture have stories to tell from the ancient to the modern and still is a magnet for worldly glamour, natural beauty, culture, holidaymakers and sun seekers.

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One of the main highlights of Taormina was seeing the Greek Ancient Theatre, which was built in the 3rd century. It is constructed on the hill in a natural setting with views of the Ionian Sea, the beaches, towns and Mount Etna. It is still a functional theatre and concert venue to the present day. I was in the adjacent garden when I heard the crowd singing along, and also saw fabulous laser light emanating from the theatre at night. The sun was striking at that height when I visited during the day aand great for lighting and the views.  I understand why it is on top of everyone’s list to visit, and a must to share photos on Instagram.

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Isola Bella, when translated means ‘Beautiful Island’, is a little island in Taormina. It was bought in 1890 by English noblewoman Florence Trevelyn and remained in her family until 1990. It had since been turned into a natural reserve, has a few buildings and museum. Florence Treveylan eventually married a Sicilian Mayor of Taormina and lived there until the end of her life. Florence was from Hallington, near Newcastle and a keen gardener before living in Sicily.   She was instrumental in creating the beautiful public pleasure garden ‘Hallington Siculo’ or Sicilian Hallington. The municipal garden is still beautiful today which is situated just under the Greek theatre and with breath-taking views of the sea and Mount Etna. Her contribution to the life and economy of Taormina has been recognised in books, film and there are tributes to her in Isola Bella and the public garden today. Isola Bella is a fabulous beach, and the walk down to beach and the cable car up is a must-do experience.

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The rail service from along the coast of Sicily is reasonably priced and the trains ran regularly. The local bus service was also well serviced to nearby towns and villages. It was nice to use these modes of public transport, as I didn’t want to drive in Italy this time. We decided to go north to Messina for the day and left early for the hour-long train journey along the beautiful coastline. I knew that we will be able to see the coast in most parts of this holiday but I didn’t realise that you can also see Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland with your naked eye. Messina is less of a tourist destination than Taormina and seemed more relaxed with normal activity of life. I had my first Granita (which is a little bit like Trinidad snow cone) from a mobile vendor on the street, and also a fabulous lunch inside, especially as the weather was very hot outside. The views are great again over the city and across the strait of Messina to the mainland. After seeing my photos, our relatives on holiday in Calabria three hours away said that they felt that we close to them in Messina! Messina is an important gateway and port and the Piazza de Duomo, War Memorial and Church were all very impressive buildings to see.

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A few days later we also went south to the historic city of Siracusa, which is Syracuse in English. The have seen many television documentaries on Syracuse as it was an important place and played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean. The Greeks inhibited this part of Sicily and it is famous for the culture, architectural ruins, ancient history, and for the important mathematician and engineer Archimedes who invented the theory of Pi. The city is proud of this heritage and there are monuments to celebrate Archimedes. I loved the architecture, marble piazza, quaint streets leading to the sea, art shops, market and excellent restaurants. There was a nice buzz and bohemian feel about Syracuse with a modern vibe to it, although it is now a Unesco World Heritage site. I hope to visit Siracusa one day again.

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When I decided to go to Taormina for a holiday, I didn’t realise that it was also the setting for the Italian scenes of the well acclaimed The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola. The book is based in Corleone, on the other side of the island but I had always wondered where in Italy the film was based – it was great that I actually visited the setting for real!  I eventually found out via the Internet that you could visit the villages of Savoca and Forza D’Argo on a coach tour known as ‘The Godfather Tour’. The coach drive to these towns where very very steep… hand in heart and acute corners for passengers but the drivers all seem very able and used to the landscape. Our Dutch tour guide was also excellent at telling us various anecdotes and stories about the local people, the film and region. The two villages were both very charming and medieval in their layout. It was also nice to see people who lived in these villages getting on with their daily normal chores. Savoca still has the famous Bar Vitelli where the young Michael asked for Apollonia’s hand in marriage, and the church where the got married. The main piazza where they danced at the wedding reception is still the hub of the village.

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I was also in Taormina to relax and enjoy the summer holidays, and to mix the cultural as well as the fun things you can do in Italy. The Italians do know how to enjoy life and also the weather makes a big difference. We spent a few days at the beaches in Taormina, the next village and a day at the pool. I could easily spend more days lazing around on the beach but would need more vacation time to do this.

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Sicily is also amazing for its food, restaurants, markets, ice cream, sweets such as Cassata and Cannolis. The food was just divine to taste fresh in Sicily – it is are a million times better there!

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It was also a pleasure to spend some evenings going for a meal in the many restaurants, even though meals seems a lot more expensive in Taormina…and with the Pound Sterling performing so badly. However, everything was sooo delicious and the Sicilian arancinis and local delicacies you must try! I could believe that a simple almond granita could be sooo delicious and I can’t wait to try an authentic one again. The Italian evening habit of going for a pre or after dinner walk know as the verb ‘Fare una Passeggiatta’ is a highlight of the evening where you can look at the stylish people of all ages, browse the shops and enjoy some fabulous sweets or their world famous ice cream.

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The last few times I went to Italian were to visit relatives and so there is no need to check where you are going or to research places as we rely on local and family knowledge. This was the first time I was able to fully use my smartphone to find restaurants, read reviews and also for using Google Maps for navigating the streets as pedestrians in the cities. It was great to use a smartphone to check for bus and train times too. I know we are able to do this with smartphones but it is still brilliant that we can access these features on the go. It might be another story in another remote place with no network signal.

To end the trip, we spent a day in Catania. The city was very cosmopolitan and exciting to walk along the long promenades, though it was extremely hot during the day for a walk although we saw the bustling market and piazzas. However after a rest, we went out in the evening when the locals and tourists in Catania were walking around and going out for the evening. There are many parts of the city still to see, and Sicily as a whole has been really captivating to me. It is great to see spectacular seas, hills, Mount Etna, the towns along the hills, coast and most people enjoying life in the Sicilian sunshine. There is a lot to do and quite a bit to keep it exciting. I truly hope that I will be able to visit Sicily again, and I will hold that dream of a place and life in the sun until then.

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