Self-motivation for winter days and nights

There was no gentle easing into this new year as I had to actually get a head start for my new responsibilities and activities – which will be intense and full on this year.  I know I already spend time catching up late at night on my volunteering, but this will be more so in 2023.  The days were cold and dull, and the nights even more so in the last few months.  To beat the January Blues, I am having to make sure that I go out for walks in the daylight when I am not at work, and into the night and early hours, put in the extra time for organising and working as SLA President 2023.  I usually have to sit with a blanket if it gets too cold – so I really have to be self-motivated to get my daily tasks completed.  This is even more challenging with a full-on day job and a family – I had advice from a past president to make sure that I communicate my dinner times with the family.  However, I try to focus on milestones by breaking down the year in achievable timeframes.  With is in mind, I can stay focus and get through my daily, weekly, and monthly goals.  This is what I am telling myself!

“Stay away from those people who try to disparage your ambitions. Small minds will always do that, but great minds will give you a feeling that you can become great too.” — Mark Twain

Socially, I have been able to do some interesting things, and they include going to an engagement party in Dalton.  It was interesting to see the area change over the years and how a new generation of young people are now living and socialising in the area.  I liked using the new Overground lines that can save so much time – as before I probably would have had to take an underground train and a bus from where I work.  That night, I was pleased to be around friends and listen to some of their music that I probably would not hear often on the radio. And believe it or not – it was my first time on a Night Bus.  You hear so many stories of attacks and not being safe at night, for I was only willing to get on a night bus because I was with friends and felt safe to be with them.  It was also a lot cheaper than getting an Uber or Taxi.  I am usually happy to drive for nightlife in town if I know I can park legally without getting a ticket.  However, there is now congestion charges for certain times of the weekend, and so, I would only drive in if necessary. 

Another weekend, I had no choice but to drive in as I had to drop my son at university.  I had to pay the congestion charge but it seems the traffic was a bit better than it has been before the weekend charge extension.  It was great to be near the river and round London Bridge, where I worked for four years.  The area felt similar but obviously it was different.  There were still some tourists around getting photos of the illuminated London Bridge.  I was sad to see Hay’s Galleria very vacant of retail shops, but had memories of events I organised or attending in London’s Living room at the old City Hall, a fab information professional party I went to in the 1990s at the Cotton Centre, and more recently, at the News UK Building. 

I had popped into the new shop called the Whisky Exchange, which was a homage to liquors, spirits and all the memorabilia that goes with it.  There were all different types of gins, rum, whiskies etc that I haven’t seen before.  The shop does events and tasting events, and it is a must to see if you enjoy ‘your drink’.  It is the only other place I ever saw so many exclusive alcoholic drinks apart from the Duty-free section of an airport. 

I was happy to be out in dull January although I was busy – sometimes going out helps you to relax, and that in itself is a good motivation.  I finished the outing with a nice meal at a popular Bistro restaurant, but noticed that the prices have increased from a few years ago…obviously.

“Goal setting is the secret to a compelling future.” — Tony Robbins

Another way to keep self-motivation up in these cold days and nights was to spend time with friends.  I was able to try out my gnocchi recipe again, which is so delicious that I savour each spoonful.  I also make a Galette Des Rois to introduce our friends to the tradition which I have been doing with my French friend for about 20 years.  We also spent some time celebrating Burns Night at friends who also introduce us to their Scottish traditions and food. I have also invited my friends for Diwali when we celebrate it usually on cold October or November nights. Spending time like these with friends are great for dark and cold nights. 

I think it is no secret that I have put on weight in the last couple of years.  I always try to keep fit but I still have not lost the weight I put on in the pandemic.  I am motivated to each day to go out for a walk, especially if I am not in the office.  The best part of walking around is observing all the interesting aspects of community that I see.  Some of these range from a food bank popping up in a local shopping centre, to book swap areas, little free libraries and local art exhibitions.  You are never too far away from some good causes in my local community. 

“Nature has given us all the pieces required to achieve exceptional wellness and health, but has left it to us to put these pieces together.”—Diane McLaren

I am really feeling the cold as I write this blog post but what is keeping me going is thoughts of Spring and buying new plants and seeing longer sunny days.  I don’t dislike winter and I accept the changing of the season but I do have to make sure that I push myself to get on with my tasks when the nights are cold and dark. 

Once aspect of writing my blog is looking for stories, I want to share with you or topics I want to explore.  I already know what I am going to write about next month. I just need to look out for inspiration and research some of the areas I am unaware about to make sure I understand the content I am sharing.  I hope you see you soon, and this is enough to keep me optimistic and motivated!

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn

Round up of the year 2022

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here we are saying goodbye to another year.  The last few months have been very busy as usual after the lull of the late summer holidays.  I usually have a good memory for what was done in what year, but my photos on my smartphone give me a better picture – pardon the pun – on what was going on and what I was doing…where. So here is a whistlestop tour of my year.

I recently have been thinking a lot of the meaning of life since the passing of my mother in 2021, and my mother-in-law in January 2022.  They were two great strong role models for women who went the extra mile for their children, hardworking, and both had immense kindness for their close loved ones, family, neighbours and wider community.  Despite their kindness – they were both determined and followed through on their commitments and promises.  I know I was blessed to have them in my life and I certainly had abundance of respect and love for them.  It is very sad that they are both no longer here and I will cherish my memories of them forever. 

Therefore, I have been wondering a little bit more than usual on …the meaning of life?  I know some of the answers and I am aware that it is a process of loss and acceptance that I am experiencing now.  I know that I will be more upbeat again but I certainly won’t waste my time on Earth, or take it for granted.  I kinda hope there is somewhere else in the universe that is better than this troubled world. 

We were still in the heart of winter, and it was shocking and disturbing when the Ukraine-Russia conflict started in February.  It was absolutely worrying if we were on the brink of World War III – and it was heart-breaking to see the destruction and loss of lives.  I still remember the profoundly sad image of a child crying as he walked in the freezing cold to refuge in a neighbouring country.  There is always conflict in parts of this Earth (I know – depressing), but this felt different as it was all so close to Europe, images were vividly shown on the news and digital channels.  The response to support refugees and displaced people were heart-warming, and my community responded positively, as expected.  It is sad that we have now gone back to a presumably Cold War era with Russia.  I remember the Cold War in the 1980s, and the ideological differences in pop culture such as film and music [e.g. Living in America for Rocky IV, Russians (love their Children too) by Sting].  But this is not fiction – it is so very devastatingly real and wasteful.  I just wish life could be better for all those suffering and not like this.  Plus power-mad people and countries should just… relax and live peacefully. Yes – peace out.

Spring brought new blossoms and hope with nature reminding us that somethings are beyond our control, and the planet is here for the giving. It is a time of year where I do feel positive with plants and getting my garden ready for summer.  I always end up buying plants and this year I made sure I was able to visit the Beth Chatto Garden in Essex, which I have been meaning to visit for years. It didn’t take long to get there and I am thinking of going again in the future.

My first big trip since the start of the pandemic was to go to Trinidad, where I haven’t been to for five years.  On reflection, it has been challenging as my mother was unwell during the lockdowns, and I was unable to visit and to go to her funeral.  Going to Trinidad was our last official duty for her death rites.  It was good to see my close family again and to visit Trinidad.  I was able to visit the Pitch Lake – which I have never been to before.  I will always have strong connections with Trinidad and still keep abreast of some of the news that I see on social media – so it is a lot virtually closer than 15 years ago! It is an end of era with my mother’s passing…but Trinidad (and Tobago) will remain special to me for always.

Back in England, I visited the seaside, some parts of town and went to the Love Supreme festival. I am certainly not back to my full-on ‘out and about’ as I was before the pandemic.  I am less incline to book tickets way in advance for social events, but the only gig I booked was to see Lady Blackbird at the Barbican in November. 

I know the reasons for my disengagement – things are expensive, I am not always in town as I am working part of the week, and I have some added work and volunteering, which will be more intense on 2023.  However, I am quite happy to listen to music on my smartphone with my headphones, or catch a film on Netflix at the weekend.  I don’t expect there will be a magic wand for me to be as socially active for at least another 20 months, when I am likely to have less volunteering responsibility.

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.

William E. Vaughan

I only had a few busy weeks at work and some summer activities on my return to London when I had to get ready for my first official in-person SLA Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The SLA Conference was a highlight of my year as I had always imagined what it would be like.  It was less busy than previous years due to Covid refrains, travel bans etc – but for me it was great to be fully there meeting people that I had only seen online or met virtually.  I had a ‘pinch myself’ moment – as I realised that I was socialising with these amazing people but as President-Elect…which comes with immense responsibility and commitment.  I was so proud to be there! The keynote speeches were inspiring, and it was great to recognise all the work achieved by various individuals and communities.  I have a lot of appreciation for the incumbent leaders and Board of Directors – plus it was also great fun! I came away feeling much clearer on what is SLA’s core offering of education and networking to members, partners and stakeholders. I left motivated for my own professional development and our goals for SLA. 

As you may recall, I also had my first trip to Florida whilst I was in the USA.  I could have gone years earlier but never came round to arranging it.  It was great to see the beautiful beaches, architecture and bus tour of Miami.  I also was so grateful to spend time with family and meet a few that I have only seen in photographs.  I know my mother would have been pleased that I was able to make contact with relatives, and it also made me feel closer to her as she was well-loved by them.  I certainly had a great time in Miami and can visit again in the future.  I am also hoping we can revive SLA’s Florida and Caribbean chapter – as it is within my remit and there is a gap on professional networking in that area.

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

This year I seem to be busy on all fronts – at work, with volunteering and at home. I am getting even better at time management but I am up late into the early hours. I am not normally a morning person – so this pattern works for me and it certainly has not hindered my performance in my day job in any way. There needs to be some changes in the coming months as there has been a lot of movement and changes on the work front with less persons around to do the work. My way to get around this is to keep my high standards with as little compromise as possible – otherwise things do fall apart. I learnt this from experience! I am hoping to update you more next year when I will be having a once-in-a-lifetime role as SLA President 2023.

The last few months, and year, have really shown a sharp rise in the cost of living – just getting through Christmas recently I noticed a lot of items are at least a third more than they cost a few years ago. I still have a youngish family that is dependent on me, and it seems we are not making any gains as things go up, and up. The last two years we had some home decorating and this costs a small fortune – I would dread to think what financial position I would be in if I was a single parent! I know it is tough for a lot of people and I hope in some way we can continue to help and support others. I honestly wish I had more to give!

As I say goodbye to 2023, I am reflecting on the positives to make sure that I can leave behind any negative energy. I will remember the heatwave in summer and the snowy December we just had (thinking on those in the Blizzards in America recently). I know I will be busy the next year but I will build in time for my own well being. So too, as we turn the page to a new year…do look after yourself and my best wishes for a Happy and Healthy 2023!

Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day.

Michael Josephson

Good Leadership – Seven Traits to Share

Understanding Leadership

Effective leaders take a personal interest in the long-term development of their employees, and they use tact and other social skills to encourage employees to achieve their best. It isn’t about being “nice” or “understanding”—it’s about tapping into individual motivations in the interest of furthering an organizationwide goal. 

by W.C.H. Prentice

https://hbr.org/2004/01/understanding-leadership

The last few years have been difficult, which is a great test for leadership development and style.  As we navigate this new world of chaos and confusion after a pandemic – it seems like we are having to expect leadership from those in our work, professional network and community.  I certainly didn’t consider that I had leadership skills, but when I look back retrospectively at my early life – I can see that I definitely took the initiative on many occasions of my own free will to achieve my personal goals.  I also was self-motivated enough to do what needed to be done without being asked to do so. 

Leadership is also instilled on us from an early age, especially if we have good leaders and role models around us.  This too can manifest itself in school, playgrounds and even leisure activities.  Childhood is probably the most difficult time for anyone to be leaders as growing up is difficult and challenging.  It is a time when we are not fully formed adults, and have lots of new things we are learning.  It takes a while for us to learn self-awareness and leadership skills – although some are natural born leaders. 

I can write several points on leadership but I wanted to note some of the main skillset and mindset that I recognised recently, and therefore I am sharing them with you here.

Be Organised – There are similarities with managing yourself and others really effectively but when it comes to leadership there is a distinctive difference to making sure that other people are taken into consideration but you are leading on initiatives.  There is a clear difference between micromanaging vs people using skills, tools, facility and space to manage themselves effectively.  Sometimes I am so busy keeping myself busy, I have to stop to think on whether others need my support of help.  Generally people will ask for help if they need it but in various situations it may also be useful to check in and provide clear avenues for support and guidance.  In most situations, it is good to seek the advice of leaders who have done it before, and to offer advice to those who need it.  With good organisational skills – there seems to be less chaos and more efficiencies. Therefore, try to be organised and take each step at a time.

Clear Communication – Communication is key. We have all heard this and it truly is defining feature of a great leader.  Although someone may have good communication skills, being able to effectively communicate in a timely manner, and be transparent, articulative and influential are strong leadership traits.  Even being in a situation where you are having to say ‘I don’t know’ is a position of strength, as you are unlikely to know everything.  Building relationships and relying on networks are also great communication channels that ensures that you are able to communicate across stakeholders and with external partners.  I am grateful that my first role in the corporate sector with answering queries in various format, and at various levels, gave me the confidence to speak to anyone about their information needs – this gave me a great foundation for being able to understand these barriers and how to get my message across.  Communication now means a lot more to me – in terms of getting buy-in, negotiation and convincing but also speaking with conviction and advocacy in all the topics that are necessary for my various roles…but also close to my heart.

Mentoring Others – Mentoring is also a great active listening exercise and is great for sharing insights with others – recognising the value of what they are doing and encouraging them to continue to learn, develop and reflect.  Leadership development is talked more about in the last decade, and it seems that it was just something that you stumbled upon in your early career.  I was lucky to have good people managers and colleagues who demonstrated leadership in their roles.  Team building was useful for learning from others, and for helping individuals learn from various styles and persons in a supportive environment.  It is interesting that there are now more formal ways that we can offer leadership opportunities to those who are willing to help others develop.  Mentoring is a great way to value experience, and learning from each other by listening and sharing.  I haven’t had formal leadership training in recent years but with several voluntary roles and a full-time job – there has been several opportunities to learn from and with others, and for me to help or mentor others along the way.  I would like to recognise this more in the next few years as an effective function for developing leaders and the more we do it – the better leaders there are around for the future.

Leading by Example – Leadership skills has no age limit or hierarchical structure and this is one of the most levellers for those demonstrating and acting in such a manner.  In the age of political chaos and upheaval – some of our role models on mass media are not the best examples of good behaviour or admiration.  I personally look for leadership examples from people around me who demonstrate good leadership skills, and who are setting the scene and tone for some of my own values.  In tricky situations, someone taking the initiative to provide solutions or to alleviate a crisis wins me over all the time.  It may be a person who is highly aware of themselves and surroundings, and who generally takes on the responsibility to do what is necessary and right.  There are several examples we will encounter in our work and lives, but these are instances where someone has taken positive action to make sure their leadership is exemplary, and they have also led us through difficulties, challenges and even opportunities. Heroes and heroine are normally the protagonist in these roles, and there is a little bit of this in every one of us.

Risk Taking – Changes and opportunities are great ways that leadership qualities are developed.  Many leaders who are willing to be flexible and agile are able to see beyond some of the risk barriers to the areas where improvements and performance can be enhanced.  Do the same things will give you the same results but leaders who are able to try new things, collaborate and build deeper relationships in challenging times is likely to get the best results with sheer drive and determination.  The future of work and business are always full with opportunities and you won’t be able to take advantage of opportunities without taking some risks.

Respect – Inclusive leadership is also on my mind at present.  There are lots of strong characters out there but sometimes I also look to those who are quieter in their roles and who are not comfortable with speaking their minds all the time.  There is also a lot of inequality in the workplace and in life, and respect and compassionate views should keep you grounded but also mindful of others.  It is also normal for us to not see eye-to-eye, have different opinions, and perspectives from each other but generally we must find a way to find civil discourse and consensus on how best to deal with a situation.  As with any element of conflict or disagreement – it is best to be diplomatic. There are other times when only the truth will suffice, and therefore being able to walk away with your self-respect intact – is a great position to be in! 

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Last but not least.  The world is getting better at recognising our differences and similarities, however there are so many battles to fight and so many conversations to be understood.  Over the last few years, I actually feel proud of those people who have went out of their way to make others feel welcome and accepted.  Good leadership is recognising that we must do more to make more equitable societies and organisations.  We should also make sure that there is greater representation at all levels.  Being an inclusive leader literally means taking people under your wings and helping those up the ladder.  Managing biases, developing inclusive training and cultures are a great celebration of leadership that works for all.

Reimagined – looking ahead with optimism

We are continuing to get more in person events and this month I was able to go to some social events too.  The EIU invited guests to a Breakfast Briefing with their Chief Economist on ‘The Global Economy’.  This is the third time I attended one of their Breakfast Briefings, where I tend to come away feeling much more informed of the economic situation that we have to face.  The last time I attended an EIU event was a few weeks before the pandemic with a warning of the impact of the coronavirus – but then no one could have predicted the scale of it! Now we are living in more uncertain times with a cost-of-living crisis, inflation, slow-down in economic growth, power shifts and more conflict in the world.  It seems we really have to imagine a way out of this mess once more and therefore innovation, positive change and optimism are still in our tool kit. Some of the disruptions and adjustments require us to understand the dynamics we are in now, and how we can make things better. 

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination”.

– Albert Einstein

One of the best aspects of the breakfast meeting was making my way across London early in the morning, and it was amazing to see the city waking up in the beautiful autumn sunshine.  The skyline is truly changing all the time and you can see old merge with the new.  It was a bit surreal for me as I walked from St Pauls with the World Reimagined project sculptures dotted around my walk to the Tate Modern.  I was aware of the Imagine Project as my friend Vashti Harrison came over earlier this year to prepare her sculpture. The first one I saw is placed in St Pancras Station (which I mentioned last month). However, in the heart of the city, right next to St Paul’s Cathedral, are several sculptures expressing the truth of Capitalism and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  It is a ground level project to showcase the role that the city of London played in this brutal history.  It would be great if this is taught in British school in detailed – then we can see “the place the UK can hold in the world when it acknowledges its past and we are when we can give full dignity to all”.  It was great to see the World Imagined physical sculptures in Black History Month – and do look at their great website design too. 

Despite the amazing view over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, the briefing provided the facts and analysis which quickly brought me down to the contemporary world.  It was interesting to hear the challenges we will be facing now, and some of the long-term predictions for the world for 2050.  There has been a lot of uncertainties and shocks that have impacted on the world on recent years – there is hardship and some difficulties that we are experiencing due to geopolitical changes, costs, production and supply chains. It is good to hear about the positive impact that a country can have with immigration too, as people help growth as an economy and society grows.  It interesting to hear that some countries are also using Covid control to maintain a sense of order, propaganda and power.  The measures and mechanics used to stimulate growth is interesting to hear about as we navigate these difficult times. Perhaps knowing that the economic landscape can be fragile, we can then use more sustainable and shock-resistant measures. Hopefully we can prosper again as we develop, provide and benefit from fair and sensible economic strategies and activities.

Whilst at the Tate Modern, I also had a quick whiz around the main exhibition which was a very large art installation from the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuna called Brian Forest Quipu. It was great to hear how stories and pieces of traditional significance were woven into fabrics.  The narrative, storytelling and poems on the wall were great at highlighting knowledge systems from indigenous cultures. The installation was accompanied with sound and movement – it was truly immersive to get into the zone that the piece has created.  It made me think of cultural knowledge systems and forms – from oral history, stories on sculptures, manuscripts, various print and non-print formats. It doesn’t matter where we come from in the world – it seems that there is a natural instinct for the human condition to provide a heritage for our people in the present, and for the future. We must continue to recognise and respect other peoples’ cultures.

Diwali was last weekend. I was invited to visit a Hindu temple in North London for Diwali celebrations last weekend.  I also invited friends to my home for dinner to celebrate Diwali with my family.  It is different to what I was used to growing up. Here deeyas are contained inside homes or buildings due to the weather.  Whilst in the tropics, deeyas can be left lit for hours in the still of the dark night. 

It was reassuring to visit the temple with mainly Guyanese diaspora and second generation migrants running and maintaining the programme for the temple. It was good to listen to the teachings and to hear the music and songs (bhajans) from the group.  We also were treated to lunch and sweets (Prasad).  I like that the temple community now also communicate by digital media to inform each other of upcoming events.  There was also a focus on youth lessons and sessions to ensure that the mainly older congregation will have trained or influence the next generation to carry on these religious practices and traditions.  Hopefully their imagination will be as vivid as mine, even though years has passed since the elaborate Diwali celebrations I experienced as a child.

At work, I attended a Diwali event hosted at the Alan Turing Institute with the new Caribbean Curator at the British Library giving a talk on her career thus far. It was great to experience this diversity in what is now a multicultural city.

Don’t reinvent. Reimagine.

I am slowly getting more social since the pandemic, and one event which was totally new is a cooking lesson that was a present for my husband.  We took a while to book the lesson due to time constraints, but it was great to finally make a night of the lesson.  There were various types of world cuisine classes to choose from but it really depended on how many spaces were available and if you can make the dates.  The first time I had fresh gnocchi and pesto, it was made by my husband’s cousin in 1995 in Rome, since then it has been one of my favourite dishes.  The tutor made us prepare an aubergine and mozzarella starter, homemade gnocchi and zabaglione.  For someone who has been around Italians for almost thirty years – it was great to learn about some of the food science of the aubergine, potatoes, eggs, garlic, onions etc – therefore, heard some real wives’ tales from the chef about cooking techniques and structure.  At the class, other attendees, tutors and the facility were really good, and I would recommend it. It is just a little far to go more often, and the price is a little more than your average three course meal for two in town.  But it really is a great way to learn and hone your creativity – now I can imagine doing a class like this in the heart of Tuscany. 

I haven’t been doing many local community events recently apart from looking after some garden plots.  I have been busy with my library volunteering most of the time when I am not working.  It is still great to walk around my neighbourhood and it always surprises me when I see new shops, creative displays and inspiration activism in my community walkabouts. There is definitely a new feel as there are several new multi-story homes being built in what was considered the outskirts of London only a few of years ago.  There seems to be a lot more young professionals around as affordable homes are clumped together near the underground stations, repurposed car parks or any free land.  I know we need more homes.  It just hope we do not lose the close knit and community feel we had the last 15-20 years, when I became more actively involved in where I live.  It is reassuring that even though we are growing in numbers as a place to live in the city – there are still some who believe that we have to look out for each other, and maintain the essence of fellowship and camaradie as we go about our daily normal lives.

Creativity grows out of two things: curiosity & imagination.

Benny Goodman

Summer work and rest in the United States

A few weeks ago I went to my first SLA Conference Sourced Forward in Charlotte North Carolina.  I was due to go in 2020 but due to the pandemic, the conference was postponed until this summer.  I certainly was happy to finally be in Charlotte and I certainly didn’t envision that I would be attending in 2022 as their President-Elect 2022-2024.  As the saying goes, with ‘great power, comes greater responsibility’ – this was no less the case as we had a very full schedule with meetings and membership engagement.  It was great for leaders to meet and speak directly to attendees, as well as to attend the awards ceremony to very deserving winners for their achievements.

I am unable to comment in depth on the conference programme sessions (which I can still catch up on the virtual components) as I had other matters in hand with the board.  Obviously, I was blown away by few that I did attended, such as the opening keynote speakers, general and closing sessions. The opening keynote on ‘ReSourced Leveraging Library Infrastructure in Community Centred Projects’ by historian Dr Jennifer Garcon extolled the need for community group for finding the stories that are hidden in archives that may have been traditionally inaccessible from everyone due to barriers or power struggles.  She gave examples of building partnerships and leveraging resources to gain access for the benefit of the user ReSourced communities. Her talk also highlighted the need for digital preservation for local documents, personal stories and items. It truly was inspiring for the diversity and engagement levels of the projects mentioned.

The second general session called ‘Tell me Sweet little lies: racism as a persistent form of malinformaiton’ by Dr Nicole Cooke was great for exploring the multiple ways that information is used as a power tool for misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. This is a topic I have been interested in for a long time but look at the examples and some of the multi-layered ways that information is manipulated is very insightful as well as educational on how to prevent this happening – especially if it causes harm such as in medical or racial scenarios.  The final session By Dr Travis Wagner was great at highlighting the opportunities for understanding ‘The role of information professionals in crafting a gender inclusive future’.  As library and information professional, we have a responsibility to all our customers and I certain didn’t understand all the negative aspects of collection management and access that affects genders – I was shocked but also sadden by some of the practices that library patrons encountered as well as some of the discrimination in the content held in library and archives.  These larger sessions as well as the small education ones I was able to attend really reenergised me to return to the world with reinvigorated purpose and pride.

I also have a great time at some of the social events in the evening in Charlotte to going around some of the close blocks near the Charlotte Convention Centre.  I hadn’t realised that I would have so little time to explore and really didn’t go to the some of the local tourist attractions such as the Nascar Hall of Fame or the Mint Museum.  Perhaps if I make it back to North Carolina one day – I can get a chance to seem more of Charlotte.  In all, it was a great experience and I was so pleased to see so many SLA colleagues, members, our industry partners, supporters and friends.

After Charlotte I wanted to make sure I made the most of being in the USA, and therefore took an internal flight to Florida to spend time in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  I was truly impressed with the beaches, the weather and the amazing architecture! You also see lots of different types of vehicles that you just do not see here in the UK.  There are local business and trains but I mainly stayed in local areas or went out with family. 

One of the recommended tourist sights of natural beauty and ecological interest was the Florida Everglades.  I was pleased that my hotel was able to arrange a pick up from the hotel and I was able to directly to one of the areas with facilities for tourist.  It was my first drive along Fort Lauderdale area and then on the Everglades.  I do love the holiday feel and look of this part of Florida and that the beaches were endless (apparently 600 miles of beaches).  Once we got the Everglades, it was a very hot day and the humidity was unbelievable.  The Everglades is one of the world’s largest wetlands and therefore was real delight going on the airboat long the lanes of the everglades.  It was interesting hearing about the indigenous tribes Seminoles, and how they lived around the Everglades.  The grasses, lilies, pond apples, mangrove and other plant life thrives in this wet and subtropical climate. And everybody hopes to see an alligator in the Everglades and lucky for us in the trip – we saw three alligators in the water! There was also an alligator taming show and you can actually hold a baby alligator. It was a great experience of a natural beauty and I recalled the 1970’s US TV series Gentle Ben, which had great scenes of a game warden family, his son and a tame bear who frequently went on an airboat. 

I was able to spend time with some of Caribbean diaspora at one of their local Caribbean restaurants where they were selling food, drinks, music and lots of Caribbean cheer on a very hot Sunday.  I totally get that these communities where there celebrating there Sunday with their Caribbean people, especially just after a cricket game with India.  There was music, a rhythm section and also a visit from world renown cricketer, Brian Lara. I also have some experience of the local night life by going to a Latin bar on in the Las Olas area and also in downtown Fort Lauderdale to an Italian bar.  It was great to see these areas and the night life that is famous in Miami.

The next interesting aspect of my holiday was taking a city bus tour around downtown Miami.  Miami got its’ name from the river that run through it by the indigenous tribes to the region.  Later on, Miami is the only American city that has been founded by a woman – she was Julia Tuttle known as the ‘Mother of Miami’.  The region is definitely very cosmopolitan and had a large Latinx community.  Very frequently I hear Spanish and a lot of the local shops had Latinx food or signs.  On the bus tour to the city we saw several of the Art Deco buildings that is in abundance in Miami.  The reason for the high concentration of this type of architecture is that there was a hurricane in the 1920’s which destroyed all the buildings and it seems the Art Deco style was popular at this time.  It really is amazing to see.

Cubans also exiled to Miami with the 1960s and the area Little Havana still has a large Cuban community with tobacco and coffee shops, with cool looking restaurants and musical venues.  The area is known for its cultural and Cuban community significance as well as it being a place for new South and Central American immigrants. One of the most famous and beloved Cuban-American superstars are the Miami Sound Machine.  It was great hearing one of their songs on the Hotel PA system when I was there.  The tour bus also showed us the recording studio to the Miami Sound Machine, and their funky colourful building.  I do recommend the bus tour to see all the sights without the hassle of driving and the waterways were great to see how the islands of Miami are linked up by bridges etc.  There was a misunderstanding with timings, and I was unable to go on my boat tour around the Miami islands – hopefully I can go another time. 

And while much of the diaspora has moved onto greater pastures around Miami, Little Havana continues to be a vital launch point for immigrants from South and Central America who bring their flavours, rhythm and hardworking spirit to this vibrant community.

Time Out

https://www.timeout.com/miami/little-havana

I particular liked my hotel in Miami for the ambience, the beautiful pool area, architecture and garden.  I really felt like I can visit there again someday and loved that the beach was only about 200 metres away.  The water was clean and fun to splash around in but I was not brave enough to go on any adventurous water sports or out further. It was the Atlantic Ocean and it was awesome seeing so much beautiful kilometres of beaches. 

More than anything, I was happy to finally visiting Miami after hearing about it for so long on another TV series such as Miami Vice.  It is also not far from Trinidad so lots of Trinidadians go there on holiday and have said that is a good place to visit.  I thank my family for their hospitality and for showing me around their amazing Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I certain would like to visit again and explore the region a bit more – event a far down as Key West.

Mission Possible – Libraries & Information Pros Collaborating

It seems like a long time coming but libraries collaborating is happening…again. At least for me. This month has been busy just with my work which has been great for giving me a purpose and mission. I seem to have been fighting for the last 15 plus years.  I suppose I still haven’t gotten use to just relaxing as it has never been easy for me.

We get visits from lots of people who wants to visit the British Library, which is always a pleasure to do. This month I had two visitors from the library profession from Canada and Aotorea (native name for New Zealand). It is good to go around the library with fresh eyes. The building is impressive but also the different subject areas and physical layout. It seems like people and professionals are travelling again like Te Paea and Cellia who were travelling to Dublin for IFLA’s conference. It was nice to see other professionals like Loida from USA and Kevin from the Philippines there too showing there connections and activities on Twitter.

There are times when we meet people who are similar to us even though we have not met them before.  This is also when I used the word recently to describe library and I formation work, I said mission. The same word was used by Safy Al Ashqar, Head of the University of Mosul library, Iraq. Safy was a speaker for CILIP’s conference and I was introduced to Safy by a friend from SLA Europe and lucky for me, I was able to attend a staff talk at the library. Safy described the horrors of war and destruction on the building and collection as it was burnt and bombed. It was deeply sad to hear the stories of death and devastation. The resilience and tenacity of Safy and his staff is amazing and heartwarming. His presentation spoke of the bargaining for funds and equipment with creativity and design with new ideas he picked up from his studies in Malaysia. Out of 150 staff, Safy now has about 93 with 70 of them women. He understands the need for libraries for heritage, education, creativity, community and knowledge sharing. He was totally inspired for the connections and networking opportunities that physical spaces bring. He was offered ebooks for rebuilding a digital library but he elaborated on the need for physical spaces to meet, and to store physical collections. We all know that the first casualty of war is the truth and knowledge – from the burnt building and collection, there is new hope and regeneration all driven by a man and his community and staff on a Misson to make it possible! What an inspiration!

Last Friday I also went with my colleagues to the National Archives in Kew. It was great to visit the building although I have used their digital archive and often refer people to their enquiry service for registered designs and other intellectual property. It was great to be welcomed and shown around by their staff. We were shown original patents and trade marks, maps, storage areas for records, very large maps, library and reference areas, and the 1970s Brutalist purpose built building of course. As we walked around, you can actually smell come of the collection in the temperature and light controlled rooms. There were some great displays for the 1920s and parts of the reading room was aesthetically pleasing. I would visit again it is in my part of town but I am grateful to get the tour from the lovely staff. Mark Dunton has even written a book on British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century.

I wanted to remind you that the National Archives does have an amazing collection and we can use these items to create new stories and innovative ideas from what we research. It is also a great reminder that we are here to conserve and preserve for now but also for future generations.

Last week I also spent time in filming a new video for the Business and IP Centre where I work and the UK network of libraries offering support for Business and other creative use of libraries and their services. East Ham Library was nice and bright with great use of space for studying, resources, cafe and meeting spaces. It even has Salsa Classes on a evening! There has been a few libraries that have survived the cuts from the last 15 years, and it warms my heart they are thriving as spaces for those who need them for study, work, research, learning, meetings and creativity. There was also a definite community and civic engagement feel about East Ham Library.

I was also invited to meet delegates from the British Library’s International Library Leaders Programme, which was an intensive five-day residential course bringing together emerging and established librarians from participants from countries including Australia, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia, South Africa, Ukraine and the US. I lead a tour of about 8 librarians to some of the reading rooms with various subject areas, and as expected, they were impressed with the spaces and items in collection that were displayed (there are millions we can’t see). It was great to meet socially other British Library staff working on the Oceania collection, Living Knowledge, Higher Education and the newly appointed Caribbean Curator. I met again Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, who is one of the best advocates for libraries, librarians, information profession, policy makers, civil engagement and for the profession in general. I also met with a Ukrainian librarian who has recently fled the troubles in Ukraine and it was great to here briefly what she is working on. I did pass on my concern and best wishes to her fellow Ukrainians in this difficult time.

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to participate on the request of the community engagement team in the Somers Town Festival, which is the close neighbourhood in Camden near the library. We were showing visitors on how they can use the library to start their businesses but also about the fabulous collections and spaces. It was nice to see some of the entertainment from spoken work, humanist choir, to Asian Classical dancing from an ex-staff, which I loved seeing LIVE in Trinidad or in film.

Breaking the News exhibition is also on until the end of August and I was excited to see this. I had the benefit of a group tour with a Curator who gives you the insights and stories of the items on display. I still like to let people know that information comes in various formats, and we have to still use and…preserve these for the future.

I wanted to also wish my colleagues in SLA Europe a Happy 50th Anniversary and we recently celebrated careers which my own newly retired colleague Neil Infield. I knew Neil before I started working at the British Library because of SLA but since working at the British Library he was a great popular, capable and kind colleague who became a friend. I will miss him, and the four other colleagues who have retired in my department in the last two years.

This is a big month for SLA for their Sourced Forward Conference and the associations future, as I write this in my hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will share more next month or on my social media channels. There is great responsibility in representing the profession, our members, our stakeholders and partners. I am also giving this my best shot and much gusto! Stay for the ride as we find our destination.

What is Good Citizenship?

What is good global citizenship?

I have been thinking about good citizenship recently after I heard a few EU citizens mentioned taking a citizenship exam for British nationality due to Brexit, despite living in the UK for years.  I too had to get my British citizenship through a naturalisation process about 20 years ago to ensure that I would not have any immigration issues, as I encountered in 1995 before I married my Italian husband (a long story for another day).  It has made me focus on my thoughts on what it means to be a good citizen in my view, and as I am Indo-Trinidadian – I have a very broad view of what a good global citizen represents.  We live in a very interconnected world with access to news sources all across the global right at our fingertips.  We can focus on the issues and topics of interest very easily, and therefore we must make personal decisions and responsibility for our thoughts, ideals, participation and actions as good citizens.  I have also tried to do some research into good citizenship, and in a personal, professional and corporate capacity – it really comes down to our values and identity with private and public participation as citizens.  I will try to explore some of my personal views on here now, and how it is represented in the images I shared. Do feel free to let me know what good citizenship means to you too.

Here are some of my thoughts about good citizenship:

Freedom – The Greeks where one of the first people to formally discuss citizenship where scholar Geoffrey Hosking writes:

It can be argued that this growth of slavery was what made Greeks particularly conscious of the value of freedom. After all, any Greek farmer might fall into debt and therefore might become a slave, at almost any time … When the Greeks fought together, they fought in order to avoid being enslaved by warfare, to avoid being defeated by those who might take them into slavery. And they also arranged their political institutions so as to remain free men.

— Geoffrey Hosking, 2005. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship

It is interesting that the formal recognition of citizenship actually was birth out of the ancient survival clause to protect oneself and to ensure freedom.  I like this as it reinforces the feeling of belonging and loss of citizenship (such as with Brexit).  Yes, I gained some freedom and a greater sense of belonging (due to post-colonial history) to live and work here when I got married to an Italian but…I did lose my EU Citizen when the UK exited from the EU.  I know I could now apply for Italian citizenship but I am not looking forward to the bureaucracy, as it was apparently a lengthy process when I did try 25 years ago.  Perhaps it is easier now since Brexit. I dreamt of spending extended time in Europe as a teenager – and although I have been on the continent for holidays – I haven’t been for long relaxing periods of time (perhaps months when I retire, I hope).  I can only dream that this may happen in future.  Freedom of movement and the rights of a citizens are definitely reasons citizens feel proud to belong to their countries or nationality.  I have enough negative and positive immigration experiences on this issue to appreciate what makes a good citizen in the official sense. And I prefer to be a citizen rather than a subject in a feudal landscape.

Civic Engagement – As a child, my first encounter with the word civic was in the local Civic Centre in my village in Trinidad. This was a place where the community came together for learning, meetings, social and cultural activities.  It was also opposite a park, therefore very accessible for larger events and I do recall bazaars with stalls and music in the 1970s.  I remember my mother and other women took classes on string art and macrame in the local civic centre. These were great for building communities at that time and I am not sure if the same activities happen now there at that particular civic centre.  I do see that there are still quite a few civic centres in Trinidad and Tobago, and I hope this level of engagement carries on to build communities.

Fortunately for me, I live in a part of London which has a high level of civic engagement covering many areas in society such as – arts and craft, volunteering, activism and value-based activities for the good of the public and community. These have taken many forms, such as the local art trails, guerrilla gardening, environmental campaigning, public health and safety, etc.  Civic pride, engagement and commitment are apparent in many of these activities in local venues, and sometimes even on the street and public spaces.  Volunteering and micro-volunteering are some of the ways good citizenship manifests itself, and it really is the best way to ensure that you start being good citizens…from even within our neighbourhoods.

“Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Localism – Now if we take this same energy and widen it out a bit more we have…localism. This obviously in my context relates to being a Londoner for over 30 years – in fact, I have lived here longer than I have lived in my country of birth.  I used to care a lot about London but having worked in the heart of London – I have a bittersweet relationship on how it has turned out for me.  It really is personal.  I do get angry that there is no police station and support in my neighbourhood when we need it, the streets are dirty with litter and fly-tipping (I remember my Canadian Aunt telling me this in 1980s before I lived in London), frequent anti-social behaviour (ASBOS) and Londoners are still unfriendly.  I honestly have a friendly demeanour which was nurtured in the village and home I was brought up in.  Someone told me he thought I was on drugs when I was smiling all the time in a pub when I first arrived here.  I would like to see this as my natural happiness index

Although I have a love-hate relationship now with London, it is my home.  There are still issues we need to work through together, such as crime, environmental treats, climate change, expensive housing, travel issues, supporting local businesses, coming out of the pandemic etc – but it is great for access to international arts and cultural diversity, science and other educational institutions. I do know that I cannot live in a small town in the UK – perhaps for a little while but not for long.  I still take pride in the city where I live, and I will protect and contribute to my little corner of the world in whatever small way that I can. Yep, I am part of the metropolitan elite!

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Globalisation – In a much wider perspective, I know globalisation has negative connotations due to the exploitation of companies, resources and humans.  However, there are still positive aspects of globalisation, especially as an international and multicultural society. The result is I am a Global Citizen! If like me, you grew up in a small island in the Caribbean, looking beyond the horizon to the rest of the world – being able to work, travel, lead and participate in global activities is a privilege. My heritage, place of birth, country that I live in and the friends and relatives I have abroad – I have a personal interest in all these regions and I am certainly outward looking.  As I write, Ukraine has been invaded by Russia and the news is distressing in the conflict, such as seeing death, damage and refugees making their way to safety to other countries.  It is also heart-warming to see other Ukrainian citizens stay behind and fight for their country.  I am not sure what I would do in the same situation.

As a Global Citizen, I want peace on Earth.  I don’t want humans to suffer. I want us to live in a World where we accommodate and respect each other values…peacefully.  It sounds a bit cliché but these are basic human rights and privileges.  What happens in one region affects us all – albeit climate issues, technology, health or even good old fashion joy! We should all take more pride as Global Citizens to help one another and to work on world issues, sustainability and challenges together.

According to UNESCO, global citizenship education (GCE or GCED) ‘develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need to build a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world.’ 

Education – My deceased sister was a very academically brilliant and outgoing child in primary school.  One year in primary school, she received three prizes for her achievements – one of them included a prize for Good Citizenship. She received great encyclopedic books, I remember one of book was called ‘Tell me Why’.  I had the benefit of also using these books to gain lots of knowledge and trivia due to her brilliance.

‘I never found myself in a book’: Patricia Grace on the importance of Māori literature 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Grace

Education is one of the most important factors to make us good citizens and human beings throughout our lives. I remember doing ‘Ethics’ classes in secondary school where these principles were instilled. There seems to be different school of thoughts for history and cultural curriculum depending on what part of the world you are from, which impacts on our views. As adults we can learn to accept different arguments but encouraged to have a diversity of thoughts and perceptions on topics with access to information. We all need to remember from time to time to be kind and understanding to fellow humans to encourage engagement and exemplary citizenship. I recently saw a film ‘Cousins’ based on a book by Patricia Grace on Moari culture, where their culture was not appreciated or respected enough to encourage that relationship to be mutually respected and understood. I hope it is better today than the 1950’s when the book was based. I follow a South African activist and she inspires me with her advocacy for various causes as a global citizen. Education and great role models can teach us small and large acts of good global citizenship regardless of where we live. We do collaborate and learn from each other plus technology makes this a lot easier!

Once again I am looking at a big topic where there are several published research written for us to answer the questions and explore the concept of good citizenship. I hope working through my thoughts here on what it means broadly to me will resonate, reflect or rouse some of yours. Whatever way you look at it – we are all citizens of the world.

Lifelong learning – never stop learning

“There is divine beauty in learning…. To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.” ―Elie Wiesel

Due to the pandemic, I have been able to attend a whole lot of online seminars, training and talks, as well as having more time to do some of my hobbies with less social activities happening.  This has allowed me more time to learn new topics and do some things that interest me. Also generally in my work in libraries and information centres, there are some great aspects of doing research work with our patrons, and we are recognised in this process and cycle of information gathering, that we create a personal knowledge pool in what is known as the information society. There – a mouthful of words, but you can earn and learn!

In the article ‘Never too late to learn new tricks’ (by Julie Winkle Guilioni in Chief Learning Officer November 2018 ), research conducted by Zenger-Folkman is mentioned on as people grow older, their confidence grows, defensiveness shrinks and receptivity to feedback expands. This allows older workers to shift from what Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman refer to as a “proving mindset” to an “improving mindset.” Additionally, the more seasoned brain is better able to absorb next-level skills and nuances.

According to John Barrett, executive vice president at Aon, “For younger employees the game is fast; they don’t see the big picture. But for more experienced employees, it’s a lot slower. They know the endgame and where they’re going … so they can take in more and learn more along the way.” This is exactly why I wanted to write about lifelong learning.  There comes a point that our knowledge and wisdom are great, especially in my profession – but nothing stays the same so we are continuously learning, adapting and applying new knowledge to the work that we do. This sometimes happen in our everyday lives too.  Learning and leadership have no age limit, and so too is our ability to learn new skills, education and new subject areas of interest to us. Learning is one of the most beautiful aspect of life and it literally keeps our hearts and minds ticking.

As a curious child, I loved learning and reading but I certainly wasn’t a bookish child – I found it a chore and was happier playing outdoors, watching television and chatting with friends and neighbours.  However, compulsory education does give you the structure to carry on learning in formal schooling in a classroom environment.  In hindsight, there were other learning context going on growing up in the Caribbean – such as cultural and religious practices, community activities, sports, popular culture and social life.  Those formative years in the Caribbean was at a time when we had frequent celebrations and activities to hear stories, take part in traditions and cultural occasions.  These all contribute to my worldview, especially for the arts and multicultural understanding.  My parents also encouraged us to go to the temple where we were taught Hindi and Indian music.  I even got to the point where we did exams up to secondary O’Levels in Hindi but I didn’t retain a lot of my learning of the language, just like my French and Spanish lessons, as the languages were not used frequently afterwards.  I had lessons on playing the harmonium but did not pursue it for long as was busy at secondary school.  Fast forward to the late 1990s, I also did Italian evening lessons for two years before I had my children. However a few decades later …and I am pleased to say that I have restarted music lessons about three years ago, plus I also started doing Italian lessons on an app (when I have the spare time).  I do hope in the next few years that my music lessons and Italian will be at an acceptable standard.  The most important aspect of this – I am doing this learning now for me. 

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Hopefully I have got you interested in what I want to say about learning. Firstly, the concept of lifelong learning implies that we never stop learning and the more frequent the opportunities the better! There are two aspects of our current lives that acts as a conduit to this:  1. Time – we have in the pandemic and 2. Technology – that has enable learning.

In the last few decades, the internet has transformed the way we are living and it goes without saying, the way we learn from online sources. Everything is a lot more accessible.  Social media has its’ haters and troubles – but I am a fan and learn so much from it.  This includes not just formal insights or programmes, but fun and international cultural aspects I would not normally see on traditional media.  Time is crucial and with the pressures of earning and living, we have little time to spending learning but with current slowdown of social interactions – I seem to have more time to read or do my hobbies.  I would still like to take up yoga and more interesting physical activities like dancing, however my time is limited and I can aim to do so in the future.  

The pandemic really has given us the opportunity in time value to slow down a bit.  In the last few months, I have been busy attending lots of seminars that are of personal interest such as a recent talk on Transatlantic Slave Trade.  Although I may have spent several hours being taught this at school, I am still getting use to new knowledge and information now and I have some time to learn.   As I work in a library and as an information professional – every day or every week at least – we learn something new.  Be it trivia or information that can be used in our work.  Enquiries from our customers also give us very interesting insights as part of the research process.  Just before the pandemic, I went to an exhibition at the Barbican’s whereby the dancer Loie Fuller was featured.  It was ironic that soon after I received an enquiry at work about how she protected her dance with intellectual property. So sometimes creativity and culture make work enquiries fascinating.  There was another query being discuss recently about a Beano comic magazine having a prior art design for a pet door opener, and coincidently there is a whole exhibition on the Beano in London.  These little references are great when you see how the present and the past can merge, and how creativity is inspired from what is gone before in the form of archives and artefacts.  Imagination is fed and watered by new learning experiences. 

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” – Peter Drucker

If you are more proactive and formal with learning – this is great.  I would love to have studied further but life got busy and trying to find the time and finance for further my education would be another challenge.  I still have a deep respect for places of learning, especially filled with students, lecturers and educators etc.  This is one of my reasons for attending lots of events in my professional roles in various employers overs the years – in the corporate sector there were talks for away days or for knowledge management (KM) forums.  When I worked at City Hall, we put on talks for the then Women’s Network and for KM, but I also attended on such topics like modern-day slavery etc for general staff. Where I work at the British Library, it is a privilege to actually attend numerous talks and events over the years.  They are not formal means of learning but they are by great speakers who are knowledgable on their topics and therefore keep me inspired, interested and happy. I am very proactive with my own self-development and continuous professional development (CPD), and therefore I would consider this a strength as I am able to gasp new topics very quickly, although I may not know all the finer details without some further research.  This all makes life interesting – so even though I may work in a library…there is always something new to learn.

As we close another year, I have felt like there are times when I could study a particular topic a bit more.  However, I have a lot of commitments in the next three years which will make it impossible for me to find the time to learn lots of new topics in detail, as well as new skills.  However I am looking forward to doing a little bit of learning as I go along in a practical way.  Recently we received a cookery lesson class voucher and although I know how to make fresh pasta – I am looking forward to making more fancy pasta shapes.  I am also keen to learn to use a pastry bag properly and also to learn more arts and craft activities.  If I cannot find the time to do these more exciting things – perhaps I will have to rely on the internet, a book and/or the television to help me learn.  The main point is a reminder for me to enjoy what I learn and to never stop!

 “There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Still water runs deep – going beyond the surface

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in his simple show he harbours treason…

No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man

Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.

– Henry VI by William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons Images. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Shoots of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

(Mintel Hobbies and Interests – UK, February 2020)

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

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

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

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

– Aubrey Hepburn

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

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

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

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

– Alfred Austin

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

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

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

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

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

– Luther Burbank.