Calendar Love – focus on time throughout the year

‘Calendar Love’ is a term I have been using for about 7 years on Twitter whereby I willingly only shared small information bites about my calendar in my home.  In the early days of Twitter, this was the only personal detail I was willing to share with persons I don’t know, haven’t met, plus I knew this information would be in the public domain. As the social media platform developed, I have since shared many photos of food, cakes, vegetables, flowers etc. I still share ‘Calendar Love’ on the 1st of each month – it has actually helped me appreciate and explore what I might know about the image, motivates me to learn more about the subject, place and artist who created it. I will elaborate below on my favourite calendars over the last few years that I can remember,  and those that I have shared monthly on Twitter. I will continue to share about Calendars like this in the New Year too…and as long as Twitter is still in existence. But seriously, modern calendars are very popular for business, fundraising, promoting the arts, artists and raising awareness.  They also are popular items to purchase in shops and online which stay with you throughout the year.

 

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After researching calendars (Romans called the first day of the month Calends) recently,  it is clear that the topic is a big deal in all ancient and modern civilisations throughout history for time management, as well as for understanding the world in terms of scientific evidence for the cycle of life. There are many reasons for us to note the importance of calendars for keeping track of time, organising one’s own life, business appointments, time management, prioritising and planning, maintaining religious and political order, festivals, navigation, travel etc.  In addition to the bigger picture universal dance of the planets on where we live.

Time has been recorded and organised by humanity over time itself and in tune with the order (at times disorder) with nature and science – be it by the sun and the moon, day and night and other environmental and cosmic energies. Early farmers and travellers would be governed by the daylight and moonlight, obviously they would have noticed the changing of the seasons and the position of the sun and moon (especially without modern electricity). This is engagingly explained in this video ‘The brief history of the Calendar and Time Keeping’ by lecturer Donna Caroll of Maastricht University. It is brilliant and has more details than I can possibly tell you! It is also excellent for nature, history, astronomy, maths and physics fans.

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Pope Gregory. Source Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

So from sundials, using human hands and other earlier timekeeping tools, eventually the Gregorian calendar, as we know calendars now, was made popular across the world. The adoption of calendars and timekeeping systems were accelerated with developments and inventions, such as clocks and compasses, which were used in navigation across the seas, and throughout the introduction and development of rail travel. The rest is history and time was standardised. We still have to rely on official international dates to keep track of time and special days from non-fixed religious to secular days such as: Easter, Mardi Gras (Christian calendar), Diwali (Hindu calendar), Eid (Arabic Calendar), Chunnak/Hanukkah (Jewish Calendar), sporting fixtures, festivals events, celebrations, anniversaries etc.

 

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Right up to date, Calendars are used digitally and/or in paper materials by most of us. There is a large market for printing and digital programming calendars for personal and business use. This brings a paper versus digital debate, but I think both formats for personal and business use have their place, purpose and time. No pun intended!

 

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I was able to find market research for the calendar industry published by William & Marshall Strategy for the UK and other global markets. It was actually difficult to pinpoint the retail sale of printed calendars in the current research sources I have access to in the library.  This is because calendars are produced under a niche market for paper products, and usually are categorised within the stationery or cards market. Nowadays, calendars can be purchased as popular presents in shops and online, especially this time of year. Some companies have actually jumped on the ‘Advent’ Calendar bandwagon to promote products. Mintel reports pre-Christmas ‘Adult Adventing’ is a thing: For brands there is also a strategic element that can come from offering advent calendars, which is exposure to various products. Sampling is a great way to drive interest and how a consumer discovers new products”.

You can also personalise calendars with your own designs, images and photos to meet new digital trends in the need for stylish and personalised alternatives. Shops in Trinidad & Tobago tend to give you calendars as gifts during the festive season, and the same with the Italian shops in Bedford, England. They mainly have religious images on them the last time I received one.

 

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Ironically, not all of us want to be controlled by calendars and time. I can’t possibly be that free of ‘time schedules’ at present due to work and other commitments, but ironically the watchmakers Quartz have blogged about ‘Improving your social life by changing the way you schedule it’. The piece explains the term Chronemics – “which studies time and our relationship to it, and how it affects communication—would call this (sic) living on ‘event time’- letting your actions be dictated by the flow of your day, or by natural events, like the sun’s rise or slow disappearance, rather than the clock’s ticking”. This lack of clock-watching or time keeping would be such a luxury…but for now, we need calendars!

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Calendar Girls

Calendars are also very good for creative businesses and we buy a design that really resonates with us.  We love creating and buying them for fundraising appeals. When I was fundraising for a local charity, our joint-chair was a graphic designer who thought of producing a calendar with major relevant celebrations and to create awareness on topics during the year. There was a lot of research work involved with all the factual information to incorporate into a calendar’s design, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No wonder that I look forward to receiving a new calendar at home each year.  We’ve heard about the film ‘Calendar Girl’ (which I haven’t seen as yet). Calendars are still a fab fundraising idea and a good revenue generator. As this Australian story of spunky firemen fundraising for local youths from the sale of their calendars. Calendars are also used effectively for raising awareness on social and politics issues, for example, the Macedonian Twitter Calendar combines nude art with information and fundraising. Now in its’ fifth edition, the Macedonian calendar has been donating the money from calendar sales to support various humanitarian causes over the years. You can also donate online without purchasing the calendar.

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Source: Macedonia Twitter Calendar http://goli.n.ie.mk/2019/gallery.html

So now you know why I love calendars! Here are some of my favourite calendars at home over the last few years that I can remember, especially since starting my ‘Calendar Love’ tweets at the beginning of each month in the last few years:

Robert Doisneau – Year 2001 was a curated black and white photographic calendar entitled ‘Playground’ with photos of children that captured the humour, irony and emotion of their everyday lives mainly around Paris. Coincidently, I went to Paris for the first time that year and was inspired to take my own black and white photos there too.

 

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Beryl Cook – Beryl was one of the first calendars I tweeted about each month and her images were funny and naughty. I frequently discovered digital artwork in online shops to link to my tweets, and also discovered a lot of art museums and online shops would have more details on the paintings about her and other artists.

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Beryl Cook’s painting. Source: Wikipedia.

Alias – This German Street Artist was very edgy and used to thrill me each month as his images were very thought provoking on social and political issues. He frequently had images of children in very dangerous situations, which made me nervous but also concerned.

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Alias – Berlin Street Artist. Source – https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/alias/

L.S. Lowry – Lowry was an artist I didn’t know much about prior to receiving the calendar, and he pictures were so representative of Manchester. I saw the landscape from his viewpoint as they showed the city’s industrial setting. I found out that year that he has a museum in Manchester and still hope to visit it one day. I also discovered that his mother suffered from depression and he painted in the evening after caring for her. He also suffered depression after her death. It was great he was successful despite his struggles.

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L.S. Lowry – ‘Going to Work’ 1943. Source: Wikipedia.

Claude Monet – Monet’s calendar was very nice to have, but sorry to say – it was underwhelming sometimes as I unable to distinguish his various water lily ponds (such a philistine I hear you say). However, I know now that he had a whole series of ‘Water Lilies’, and he painted them in the later part of his life when he had cataracts. The same year there was also a major exhibition in town and it felt good to know we had his calendar that same year. I was privileged enough to see one of his paints in the William Morris Gallery recently.

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Origin Claude Monet painting now in The William Morris Gallery for the ‘Enchanted Garden’ exhibition.

Emma Scutt – A local artist from Walthamstow, Emma paints a lot of local landmarks and her attention to detail is amazing! She can be found in arts and crafts pop-up markets and her work is also stocked in local shops. I like that Emma shares her Calendar picture each month. I wasn’t even aware of her and her work before I started tweeting about Calendars but it is nice when I can rely in her timely shares, or the British Library tweeters to share information on the first of each month in true ‘Calends’ style!

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Miroslav Sasek – Sasek is a Czech artist who apparently travel the world.  His New York City illustrations calendar 2017 was a souvenir we bought from the New York Public Library shop. As usually, I didn’t know much about Sasek before obtaining the calendar but I soon realised more about his work on global cities. It was such a pleasure to discover some of his wider international work and humour. Guess what too!? …We also have his London 2019 calendar but it will not be for tweeting as there is apparently another I will be sharing information about.

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Japanese Woodblock – This was my calendar for 2018 and again it introduced me to a new style of art and the calendar actually had a short poem, which was a bonus! It contained images from masterful Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. The artworks feature elegant irises, cascading waterfalls and snowy landscapes, all created in a mesmerizing style and displayed with vibrant colours. Sometimes I think of Hokusai and how he started painting late in life – maybe one day I can too! He work is also popular and I can recognise replicates of his work better.

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The next few days I will be getting use to new calendars at home and in the office.  I will also have digital versions at hand on my smartphone as well as my office computer. There is no way I can avoid using a calendar – I need them to keep me in check, organised and plan ahead. We all do! It is a joy to see a new image every month in my arty calendars and to know that it is a fresh start, a new season or even a new year. There are so many personal and business benefits for our timekeeping systems to work. With time ticking and the 2020s on the horizon, we can only take each day at a time. But do remember to say “Pinch Punch!” or “White Rabbit” on the first of each Calendar month.

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The Bigger Picture – challenges, benefits and celebrating positivity with Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –

Dereca Blackmon, Stanford

What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.

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SLA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Participation in 2017

I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.

I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.

Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela

 

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Found in a Venue in Tottenham

My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.

This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion.   There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out.   There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.

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Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.

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Gender Equality in STEM at the Alan Turing Institute

So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.

This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.

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Words in this blog…Diversity and Inclusion

Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.

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In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.

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The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.

Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.

There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.

I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.

In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.

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This way – Library sign in  Trinidad & Tobago

There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.

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Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.

There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.

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So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.

In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.

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Welcome.

 

All you read is love – a reading challenge

One in six adults struggles to read. Reading Ahead supports young people and adults who struggle with the written word or who don’t read for pleasure. Reading Groups for Everyone celebrates all the good things that happen when people come together to share reading and Reading Well supports people’s health and wellbeing. Because everything changes when we read.

– The Reading Agency

 

It is always a challenge to read novels for leisure if you live a busy life at work, home and socially. If you know me, it would be evident that I spend a lot of my spare time listening to music, catching up on current affairs and pop culture. Therefore finding the time to read can be scarce and finding a good book is also a task. I may also work as an information professional in a library, but we are usually providing factual information and there is no time for lightweight fictional or even non-fictional novels during the day. Despite all this, I still want to make sure I spend some of my time reading those best selling books written and sold that are frequently presented to us as books we need to read before we die in a list.

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Reading is beneficial to all of us regardless of age. So, one of my resounding wish each year is to read more novels. I obviously support reading and literacy for libraries, bookshops, the book industry and general community building. Reading challenges such as the Summer Reading challenge, and young people after-school programmes have also been set up by organisations to help children with their literacy. The Literacy Trust also has their ‘young reader programmes’ whereby corporations (such as KPMG’s Family for Literacy) help in encouraging young children to read…and it is also a good business Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) initiative.

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Hatchards, St Pancras Station

It was a real pleasure to receive a suggestion from our neighbourhood that we should form a new neigbourhood book club. We all agreed that when we joined that it was because it was not a snobby club, and we already knew each other well enough to feel comfortable to do this together. We started the book club about a year ago and it has been really good for me in terms of reading commitments to get the book completed for our discussion at the monthly book club meeting. We usually meet over some drinks in a local pub and dissect the book of the month. The books suggested by other book-clubbers may not have been ones I would have tried but after hearing pitches from other members, it helped us to decide which book to try. We do go deep into our literary critique of the characters in the story, setting, style of writing, offer any likes and dislikes about the book in question. We also catch up on what is happening in our neighbourhood, and wherever the conversation may leads us. It is only a short walk back to our homes at the end of the evening.

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Given the choice with eBooks and kindles – I also know that I still prefer buying traditional hard copy books. Some of the book clubbers use a kindle. It is also interesting that some of the books have been made, or are about to be made into films, such as the Man Booker 50 Prize winner ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. I also saw that Reese Wetherspoon has set up her own book club ‘Hello Sunshine‘ recently. All good for brilliant reading and researching material for film scripts!

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Seriously, some of the great factors for the book club have been (1) for me to read regularly as a literature fan (2) help me support local bookshops (3) pass on books to friends and family and (4) stay in touch with the lifelong learning benefits of reading. It is also an interesting sense of camaraderie to know that a group of you are reading the same book and you are going to discuss it together. It does feel like schoolwork and homework sometimes when you have to meet the deadline! Having a book club definitely is a great incentive for reading, fun socialising and for community building. There are some fabulous tips about reading groups in the Reading Agency’s website.

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I wasn’t always good a reading. I mentioned before that my first primary school focussed on maths but my second school focussed on literacy. After joining a new school at seven years old, I had to do extra reading with my mother to catch up with classmates for about a year. However as a teenager, I loved reading romantic fiction with other girls from school and in my neighbourhood. Yes, we studied serious English Literature up to A-levels but we still circulated and shared romantic novels such as Mills and Boon. I think I must have read about 1000 books in the 1980s! We didn’t have neighbourhood libraries to borrow books from then, neither mobile libraries. These books we good for light reading – but also increased my vocabulary and exposed other cultures, languages and places to me. I know that the romantic content and formulae story lines we not realistic, nor a true representation of real couples’ lives – but they were a fun way to spend a day or two reading. Another book club member mentioned that she loved reading and swapping these romantic novels when she was younger with her grandmother.

A male information professional friend who worked in Westminster Libraries in the 1990’s said that the Chinese community in Chinatown still borrowed a lot of Mills & Boon, and I think romantic novels are still kept in many local libraries to encourage writing them too. One of the book club suggestions I read recently reminded me of a Mills & Boon! Never mind. The main point is…I am reading novels regularly again.

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I am due to recommend a book for my book and may suggest ‘The Lonely Londoners’ which is currently in the Windrush exhibition at the British Library. And I can’t remember if I have read it before. Or another book to suggest is ‘House of Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul, who recently passed away. We obviously studied him at school in Trinidad and being an exceptional writer – since his death, there are a few people who have told me how great a writer he really was. It was great to see Twitter light up with tweets about his books and their importance, as well as comments on his controversial personality. In July, the British Library usually hosts Africa Writes, which is interesting for books by other diverse writers. To be honest – I always come across something interesting and inspiring to reading in the library. It’s just the time required to read these good books!

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As with everything, there are always persons who are less fortunate than us and any help with reading is a bonus. In our neighbourhood, we recently received a donated decorated reading bench and a children’s Little Free Library. It is brilliant to see people having a break to read and to receive donations. There was some vandalising of the books but hopefully this does not occur often. There are other free libraries in my neighbourhood for adults, the local library is well-stocked and the bookshop still has an immense presence and customers.

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Another neighbour hosts a Rock and Roll Book Club with talks and events in the local bookstore. These are great initiatives that help in keeping physical spaces like shops, libraries and hard copy books thriving. Digital formats and cyberspace are great for literacy but they are too broad topics to delve into now, so they are other stories for another blog post in the future.

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One good point about social media is seeing what other people are reading, or what is recommend by peers and libraries. The Orkney library (@OrkneyLibrary) always find interesting and funny trends to tweet to promote their books. In the meantime, I am happy that I am frequently reading for leisure and enlightenment with my book club – some of the books have been interesting for imagination as well as thought provoking. It also is a fun community initiative, and I get to support local bookshops.

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Read over a year

You never really stop learning and comprehending language and vocabulary. Reading new stories to understanding human behaviour is always exciting and informative too.  Therefore, there will always be a long list of books I still want to read. You may also have a list. Even if there is no book club – I’ll just have to make time, as reading should always be one of my top priorities.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Baking – the secrets of success

Baking may be regarded as a science, but it the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends…to see them smile.

Anna Olson

There is something symbolic about cakes – they are made up of rich ingredients, made with love, beautifully designed and even better for us to taste and devour. It may be a naughty treat but we love cakes and desserts for social occasions. It is a fabulous time for us to share these fabulous concoctions with our dearest in celebration, or purely as an indulgent comfort. You may even want to eat your cake all by yourself…and that is perfectly alright too.

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The market for cakes is booming and there are lots of innovations in the marketplace too. According to Mintel market research, the market for cakes is valued at £2.23 billion in the UK and it is predicted that over the next five years sales are forecast to increase by 6% to reach £2.36 billion in 2022. The reports states that 52% of people have bought a celebration/party cake in the last 3 months to December 2017. Cakes are also considered an essential part of special occasions. And apparently, most women think that high-quality ingredients and visual appeal are the most important factors. In terms of tastes and lifestyle choices, you can now buy all types of cakes – vegan, eggless, gluten-free and the good old-fashioned ones. There are many obvious reasons that we love cake, and the high street and pop-up stalls are reflecting our love of these old and new favourites.

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Baking has so much excitement to it. It brings back childhood memories for me. I remember helping my mother and her sisters with their baking. They would give us some of the easy tasks to make us feel part of the process, such as cracking each egg individually to check if they were okay. Later on, baking cakes for Christmas was one of the most cherished memories I have with spending time with my mother. We were also told stories of older generations who baked with makeshift ovens made out of old steel drums, clay ovens or brick ovens.

Cakes are healthy too, you just eat a small slice.

– Mary Berry

Some of us may have had more baking experience in our ‘Home Economics’ classes in secondary school. I didn’t do this subject for O’Levels examinations in school but I still had a passion for baking and cooking at home, which I continued to develop more in my twenties. I have been taking photos of my earlier cakes before the advent of digital camera and smartphones. Instagram, blogs and other social media are one of the great contributing factors for the success of a new younger generation baking, and even taking up baking up as careers. Baking have also been helped with popular television shows such as the Great British Bake-Off (GBBO). I must admit I have never looked at a show but I have bought a book by winner Edd Kimber for inspiration a few years ago.

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When baking, you really have to follow those tried and tested recipes. I still like referring to old favourites that my mother and friends have shared with me.   The Naparima Girls School cookbook was an old favourite for Caribbean recipes. I have also used the Internet to search for a particular type of cake – such as walnut and carrot cake, and for this chocolate Buntz cake I recently made. British chefs Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson are guaranteed to give you ideas, as well as the technical know-how on creating your perfect cakes. I have been speaking to a few young bakers – and they say that they tweak and innovate to make recipes their own. This is a sign of a confident baker!

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There lots of competition in the market and so having your own style and brand is important. The recipe and the technical procedures for making these gorgeous creations are really important in business – they are your trade secrets. It is also recommend that you protect your brand by having your own trade mark and logos. There is the well-known case of the Jaffa Cake, which anyone can make as the initial producers McVitie’s did not trademark the name “Jaffa Cakes”, and so other biscuit manufacturers and supermarkets have made similar products under the same name.

Your recipes can also be your signature style. At the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, baker Claire Ptak had her trade mark buttercream icing which makes you want to try her unique cakes. It is good to see that she had books you can buy and also the wedding cake recipe is listed on Hello’s website. I might just have to try this lemon and elderflower cake!

Cakes are also great for raising funds and other charitable causes. We had cake sales in primary and secondary school. Many schools have cakes at their fairs and a lot of organisations also hold fundraising days for raising funds for particular great causes. I am always happy to make cakes for charity and street parties. The array of cakes at these occasions make our eyes glow and our taste buds explode! Apple Day is a local community day held at the Vestry Museum in Autumn, when there are so many innovative and varied ways to create cakes out of apples.

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Cakes are also a metaphor for knowledge management. I remember discussing the recipe for cake at a Knowledge Management forum held by David Gurteen or my ex-employers – the point being is that the recipe is shared but the know-how and the practical steps, sourcing ingredients and techniques are added-value insights and skills. This type of tacit knowledge we may want to share verbally with our friends, and may even show them baking tricks. Still, we may ‘follow the recipe to the T’, but our cakes may look differently for reasons unknown. There may be other factors contributing to changes such as the oven, temperature, process, ingredients, tools etc. These challenges certainly make baking interesting.

A cake is a very good test of an oven: if it browns too much on one side and not on the other, it’s not your fault you need to have your oven checked.

Delia Smith

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Cakes are great for selling in pop-up shops, market stalls and in artisan bakeries, whether on the high street or made-to-order. Cupcakes have had a revival over the last decade and had inspired a new generation of bakers, entrepreneurs and cake aficionados. Seriously…who doesn’t like cake?

Having cakes as a business certainly changes things for me I don’t now sit at home doing a cake for the fun of it anymore. But it’s an extremely happy and pleasureable business to run because people are generally buying cakes for celebrations.

Jane Asher

 

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There are some tremendous bakers out there and they are far better than I can possibly be. I still bake regularly at home when I have guests, or for a particular occasion. There are some fabulous gadgets and kitchen aids on the market and it has always been one of my ambitions to own a fancy kitchen aid. Maybe one day I will own one of those bad-boys!

Cakes are so visually appealing. I sometimes feel bad sharing photos of food on social media, but then I see other inspirational cakes by foodies. I too get inspired and want to try new recipes or flavours. The best thing about baking is that there is an interesting reward at the end for your efforts. Enjoying the occasional cake with family and friends are some of the best moments in life.

Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people;

it does for me.     Audrey Hepburn

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Shake, Rattle and Roll – Dance until you drop

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, as if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the Middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.

– Rumi

I have now come to the point in life where wisdom makes me see and appreciate the more important and finer things in humanity and life – Dance is one of them. Those of you who have known me since a child would recall that I have always loved dancing. We have danced together in our homes, schools, at parties, clubs, on the street and even in our kitchens. My parents were keen dancers and even my mother showed us the steps to calypso and meringue dancing. Apparently, my paternal grandmother was a dancer, which explains a lot of my family’s enjoyment in dancing – it must be in our DNA. My only regret is that when asked by parents on whether I wanted to take classical Indian Dance lessons…I said no. Recently my mother reminded me of this to my horror and deep regret. However, it seems like every week this month I have been to a musical event or dance show at the theatre. That is exactly the way I like my social life – with some form of dance or music.

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In this post I would like to cover some of my thoughts and activities on dancing. As an art form, we should support the performing arts, venues and persons who facilitate and teach dancing for its real cultural, financial and emotional value. Dancing also helps us lead healthy lives, feel happy, keep us entertained and improve our general well-being regardless of age, background, geographic locations, ethnicity etc.

Dance is like time itself. Just like our solar system – dancing has been around for as long as humanity as an art form of performance, expression, social interaction, connection, rituals, entertainment, spirituality and a reflection of life. According to Dancefacts, the oldest evidence of dancing comes from the UNESCO listed 9000 year old cave painting that are found in Bhimbetka, India. The rock painting depicts scenes from hunting, childbirth, religious rites, burials and most importantly, communal drinking and dancing.

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Bhimbetka Cave Drawing, India

Fast forward to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks also showed proof of the development of dance in their culture – most notably at the start if the ancient Olympic Games. Dance integrated with drama in theatre, music and other celebrations through to the western world with ballet in the 18th century. Other 20th century two-person classic dances such as the waltz, foxtrot, tango, Charleston, swing, hip hop, breakdancing etc may be more familiar to us. Dance is ever evolving with new trends, moves, beats and influences. There is a 21st century fascination with popular viewing of dance competitions in our living rooms with the television programmes like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in the UK and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in the USA. We still go to see dance in theatres that tell us stories, showcase professional talent, or simply, we participate in dance to celebrate life.

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My parents would take me to see dance live shows in Trinidad such as the ‘Mastana Bahar Pageant’ and touring Indian dancers. African dance traditions are also celebrated in the ‘Best Village’ competitions that I saw on Fridays on television and inspire Carnival moves like the Moko Jumbies. There was also a Latin dance tutorial television series on Monday nights, but I can’t remember the title of the show. Dance is still very much part of the social life in Trinidad and integral to the Trinidadian psyche. There are few people there who cannot move in time to the beat regardless of background or age.

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Let us read, and let us dance.

These two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

– Voltaire

Currently, Dance is an important part of our both our everyday sports and culture without us noticing it. It makes up a large amount of a theatre repertoire with music, acting and other stage production. According to Statista, 22% of the UK population went to a ballet, a dance performance or an opera annually. In 2016, 7.9% of adults participated in a form of dance other than for fitness. Dance has also evolved and morphed into some major fitness exercises such as Zumba, Body Step, Street Dance, Soca dance etc. According to Statista, “the most common reasons to choose a style of dance fitness is the music, of which Fitsteps and Zumba appear to be on the rise in popularity among dance fitness professionals”.

In terms of my own fitness goals – I should try to make time for dance fitness lessons and will try to be more proactive about this as a new Salsa class has started in my neighbourhood. I am certainly a freestyle dancer as I have little professional experience. However, I have immense admiration for professional dancers who have followed that dream and trained long and hard.

I took salsa lessons locally between 2001-2003 every week, and even went to some central London dance venue as I got to a fairly good level. However, I haven’t taken dance lessons since then…but may take up salsa lessons locally again with ‘The Salsaman’ dance trainer. There are also a few local community dance groups in my neighbourhood that use social media to effectively promote their classes. Zumba is another fitness-dance form that has taken over the world in the last decade.

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Big business also uses dance for capturing our attention with engaging adverts. Multivitamin brand Berocca introduced a new brand character, Roccy the Chameleon, in March 2017. Their effective use of the eye-catching Chameleon dancing and body popping moves to Punjabi music, communicated how the brands supplements can help to combat tiredness and fatigue, and ended with the tagline ‘Be more Berocca’. They also ran a marketing campaign that was supported with social media activity, and ran advertisements on the London Underground to target commuters who are a key audience, according to Mintel (Vitamin & Supplements 2017). There are other fabulous creative uses of dance in advertising, such as some of my favourites like Guinness, Adidas, Pepsi.

In my work-life, I have taken part in line dancing, loved the Big Dance initiative and attended a Georgian Dance talk and demonstration. Dance is serious stuff too!

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If you are in contact with me via social media, you would see that I am frequently out ‘socially’ at local events and Caribbean parties. All good for the the nighttime economy. In the last few weeks, I have attend the following events where I was able to have a little dance:

3 March – YSBD (You should be Dancing title inspired by Saturday Night Fever) which occurs regularly at the Walthamstow Trades Hall. It is usually for adults with cheap entry fee and drinks. I also don’t have very far to go for a fabulous little boogie.

10 March – Chutney in London at Funky Brown in North London was an opportunity to catch up with my West Indian friends and to enjoy some Chutney Indian Caribbean fusion music and dance.

16 March – Rose and Crown for a birthday party where the DJ were playing Northern Soul Music and general British Pop music. I can always judge a fab party when I stay later than I intended.

4 & 23 March – Mirth Marvel Maud theatre for live band Dennis Rollins and Funky Funk, which eventually got us all to our feet. And Jazzy B’s DJ set, the entrepreneur and musician behind Soul II Soul, who played some fabulous soul and neo-soul music. There was one track (I wasn’t aware off) which had the crowd buzzing.

17 March – ‘Tango after Dark’ show by Sadler’s Well at the Peacock Theatre. This was an Argentinian touring group with sizzling dance choreography accompanied by a live band and singers. It was a treat to see, and reminded me of other gorgeous Latin dance troupes ‘Brasil Basiliero’ and ‘Havana Rakathan’. I also have been to see Swan Lake by Walthamstow’s Sir Matthew Bourne a couple of years ago. So do keep an eye out for Sadler’s Well shows.

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And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. – Friedrich Nietzsche

These are just simple ways I can still enjoy my passion for dance with music, and it certainly won’t be the last I mention it. Again, I find that there is so much on dance that I can write about. I am sure to return to the topic again. Dance will continue to fulfil us with joy, entertainment, inspiration, enlightenment, togetherness and connectivity with other cultures, humans and music. We should seek to support dance companies, professionals and the art form itself. If like me, you just like to have a little boogie when you can – just do it! And be sure to dance until you drop.

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Women’s Health – raising awareness, challenges and opportunities

“I’m interested in Women’s health because I’m a woman.

I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.”

– Maya Angelou

I am astonished that women are still struggling to have high levels of healthcare in the 21st century. Yes, we have come a long way in understanding our own bodies and the healthy lifestyles we need to lead, but despite the advances in Women’s Health – there is still progress to be made and we sometimes get a bit complacent with our own lifestyles choices. I don’t think we can ever stop improving our levels in health facilities and education. And so we will always aim to advance health programmes, especially in less developed countries of the world. There is an essential need to be open, transparent and to have this conversation. Our vaginas, breasts…and whole body need attention throughout life.

The last few months has provided a lot of inspiration for me to write this post. I have the following great examples of women helping other women, and also raising awareness in on health issues using traditional and social media to keep us engaged and to get their messages out. These are new channels to reach out to women, and girls. It is also encouragement to take the initative to have ownership of our health and bodies. With women constantly facing challenges in our life cycle – here are some of the amazing examples of positive action where women are helping other women to take control of their own lives and destiny. Some of the health issues on here are easy to write about as I feel compel to share the amazing work going on.

A gynaecologist relative, Dr Sabrina Ramkisson, proactively campaigns to raise awareness on women’s health issues, especially Cervical Cancer Screening. Sabrina regularly use tradition and social media to inform and empower women and girls to stay ahead on their health. She organised a 5K ‘Smearathon’ for women and men last August in the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. At the event, there were other gynaecologists to offer advice, on-site smear booths and some fun activities. Sabrina also successfully hosted the digital #SmearforSmear lipstick campaign to remind and encourage women to take a regular smear test to prevent cervical cancer. I was able to take part here in London, and she also shared photos of other women in Trinidad & Tobago and other countries, who smeared their lipstick.   It was a visible bond and showed support for women who took part.

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There is a decrease in the number of women and girls who are not taking their cervical cancer screening. Therefore, it is with greater impetus and purpose that campaigns like these are being transparent with much fervour. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a UK charity set up by a co-founder who has survived cancer, and they also aim to raises awareness of cervical cancer with active campaigns. The charity founded the #SmearforSmear campaign which is run in January for Cervical Cancer Awareness. It was an utter pleasure to see #SmearforSmear trending on Twitter last month as the figure for women taking a smear test was in decline.

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Only yesterday I read an article about comedian Karen Hobbs, who was diagnosed at 24 years with cervical cancer. Luckily she is another cervical cancer survivor, whose blog and performance urge you to not be embarrassed about your smear test. Karen has also been praised by The Eve Appeal for making light the serious topic of cancer.

I also know the lovely Claire Mcdonald, who is working on changing behaviours, cancer prevention and raising awareness in health. Claire and her colleague Sinead recently visited me at the British Library to find lifestyles information for women and girls for their awareness campaigns on Jo’s Trust and Coppafeel, the Breast Cancer Prevention Cancer charity. They were particularly interested in demographics that will help them target their audiences, and their health messages. They were looking at factors such as reproductive behaviours, poverty, income levels, age, geographical locations and other factors that may affect a woman’s health. These bring the questions: Do women share a bath? Would they have time to ‘do the check’ on their breasts? How many persons are having children at a younger age that may prevent cancer? Are they smokers at a higher risk level? Questions needs answers.

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Do the Check! – Coppafeel

The library is useful for helping in researching these issues. For example some golden information nuggets in Mintel’s ‘Marketing to Women February 2017’ are:

  • the age of motherhood continues to rise “although 2015 saw a slight increase in the number of live births, the average age of motherhood continues to rise, reaching 30.3 years”.  
  • social media stars are feeding a culture of health and wellness amongst young women
  • on ‘Period leave’ – the issue of period impacting on women’s sports performance with Heather Watson and Fu Yuanhui both blaming their period for their underperformance, whilst marathon runner, Kiran Gandhi chose to freeblee for the duration of the London event
  • 16-34 years old are most likely to use or be interested in using apps that help anxiety or stress management
  • ‘This Girl Can’ campaign helps to get female more active with 16 million people aged over 16 play sport on a weekly basis

Looking at these lifestyles choices and demographics inform their messages in campaigns. Claire said something touching to me on young women…”You don’t know who is coming up in the world under you and you must take them along”. The best way to prevent poor health is to inform people of good healthy moderate habits. Cancer Research also organise 5K or 10K ‘Race for Life’ runs to raise funds for research, which are very popular with women. As the old adage goes – Prevention is better than cure.

 

There are still so many women in the world who also cannot afford menstruation products – therefore being open and discussing this in the mainstream is great for breaking barriers.

I also know the founder, Mandu Reid, of the menstrual cup charity ‘The Cup Effect’. Mandu foundered this charity that aims to change menstrual behaviour by empowering women and girls to use a menstrual cup, and protect the environment – that is synchronicity! The charity also uses the income raised to help women in ‘period poverty’ in the UK and in other less well-off parts of the world. Mandu also takes part in active campaigning, and again it was recently publicised in this brilliant article in The Guardian newspaper. To put some zest in this good work – Mandu also invites you to come to her Cupaware Party with friends.

Menstrual Cup
An Ergonomic menstrual cup  
The invention relates to a menstrual cup (10) having a bell-shaped lower part (20), comprising a plurality of non-convex grip surfaces (22, 24) which are distributed in a substantially axisymmetric manner at least over said bell-shaped lower part (20), and designed so as to be able to be pinched by the user’s fingers in order to facilitate the removal of the cup. Source: Espacenet.

Growing up in Trinidad, the girls in my school and neighbourhood circulated a famous book on puberty called ‘Growing up and liking it’ – see the link for past versions. It was in an easy-to-read format, and was instrumental in educating us on menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and what to expect of our bodies. We were fortunate to have mothers, sisters, aunties, friends and teachers at school to inform us too. Sadly, some countries still don’t have basic adolescent and puberty education, and so these challenges still exist.

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Growing up and liking it – Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.       http://www.mum.org/GULIcov.htm

In all these Women Health issues, there are still opportunities to create charitable and profitable businesses. I have recently conducted some business research on these very issues. Again, only recently I have encountered ‘Fab little Bag’ whose mission is to stop pollution caused by flushed sanitary items: to make an awkward disposal into a fab experience…and to break down the barriers to promote female hygiene. You too might start to see their product in toilets across the country. These are the opportunities that entrepreneurial women are taking to help other women.

Women’s Health is too vast to cover as a one-off topic. As we enter the theme ‘Press for Progress’ for International Women’s Month in March 2018 – there is so much we can be thankful for in developments in research, health screening, hygiene etc. It is even better that we can rely on each other to talk, communicate, lobby, and raise awareness on Women’s Health to those near…and far to us. Pressing ahead, looking after ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves – making time for our health and happiness should be top and number one on our To-Do-List!

Ring out the Old, Ring in with the New

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

Alfred Tennyson

I am writing this at a restful festive time after Christmas when most people tend to wind down with family and friends during the season’s celebrations. It is also a time when I mentally close off the year in my mind. I sort of remember things and memories by the year it occurred (be it by association by music, smells or other unconscious triggers). It is also a great time for shopping, spending money on presents, which is great news for the retail industry. I was considering a more serious topic such as what consumer and economic trends to look out for in 2018 as forecasted in some of our business information sources in the library. However, I decided to reflect on a light-hearted look back at an average, but at times, exceptional year for me. I will leave the traditional media and magazines to tell you about the official world review of the year. I am going to cover some of the little things that mattered a lot to me – my iPhone photos are like a visual journal of the year. So, I am ready to say goodbye to 2017.

January – I started with a blog post about ‘Beating the January Blues’, on reflection it seemed that I actually managed to do just that! I saw some amazing Ceilidh dancing at the Southbank on 1st Jan, made my first Gallette Du Rois, celebrated Burns Night with friends, and also had fun at the SLA Europe Quiz. I will be celebrating the Gallette due Rois again, and I am looking forward to the next SLA Europe quiz at a new venue in a few weeks time. You too can join us if you really want to.

February – I seemed to have baked a lot this year going by the photos I’ve taken. I made pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, and a lemon drizzle sponge during a break in February. I attended a Guardian Newspaper supper club at the Geffrye Museum, hosted by the amazing and beautiful Eleanora Galasso, who was also launching her cookbook. Her menu for the evening was interesting and the supper club dining company was friendly. I also went to see Mario Biondi at the Union Chapel. He was great live and used the LIVE feature on Facebook, which also prompted me to use it for the first time to the pleasure of a few of my friends who interacted with me.

March – Spring was in the air and it seems I was getting ready with my neighbours for some neighbourhood spring cleaning, E17 Art Trail plans, and more baking (must do a blog post just on baking!). I also went to Cardiff for the first time for a two-day training course at the Intellectual Property Office. I have now visited three capital cities in the UK, except Belfast. I still want to visit the countryside in Wales again after visiting Monmouthshire over a decade ago.

April – The days got lighter and the spring blooms were out. There were lots of places to see beautiful daffodils and blossoms. I was already beginning to channel the ‘Tree of Life’ submission for the E17 Art Trail by our neighbourhood. We organised a group of volunteers to clean, prepare and source plants for the garden with the advice from the local councillor. I attended Jonathan and Theresa’s fabulous wedding party with the John Ongom Big Band. I went to see the E17 Puppet Show ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ at the William Morris Gallery as they would be performing a street theatre in June for us. I also had a girly R&R (Rest and Relaxation) day with friends in Essex with cream tea as a treat.

May – I prepared a lot for the E17 Art Trail garden and it seemed to go according to plan. It is amazing when you depend on people to work with you voluntary…and you do actually pull off something out of nothing! My neighbours were brilliant and created fabulous designs on terracotta pots and donated plants for our garden. That was heart-warming. It’s December now, and the last time I looked at the garden, there were only about three plant pots that were missing or damaged. The space is used more than before and we have since received further funding to redevelopment and redesign the space. Luckily we have an expert resident architect to help and advise us with the redesign.

I also went to Dublin in May and it was an amazing experience! I was warmly welcomed by my friend Lina, and also the Irish library and information professional community as an SLA Europe representative. I blogged about my trip here.  I still think of the Irish green fields I saw on my trip to and from Dublin to Galway.

June – The launch of the much anticipated E17 Art Trail and we were pleased with our participation in Poets’ Corner E17. Walthamstow went wild for the 1000 Swifts and other collaborative and community creative activities and events. We had lovely weather for the ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ street puppet show on our newly pedestrianised street in the neighbourhood. We also held a fabulous street party.

July – One of the major highlights of my year! I went home to Trinidad and Tobago for my 30th School Reunion. My schoolmates chatted, praised, danced and re-acquainted ourselves, as well as made new memories. After 18 months of planning by a small group, it was amazing and much appreciated. It was also a special time to spend with family and friends. Regardless of all the problems in the country and this world – I see the beauty in this small Caribbean island and know that it is a place I can always proudly call home.

August – It is normally depressing coming back after a summer holiday but I had the Notting Hill Carnival to look forward to. After the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy – it was a devastating and shameful reminder of the disparity in one of the richest part of London in the 21st century. Notting Hill Carnival itself was good fun on a very sunny day and I loved our costumes to the ‘First People’ theme. Two annoying factors were the real threat of an acid attack, and the false reporting of an acid attack. You can never win here.

September – It was back to school, back to work and back to routine. I baked my first Coffee and Walnut cake for the library’s fundraising Macmillan Coffee and Cakes afternoon. As I wasn’t in the office – I still don’t know how it tasted! I also went to Derby for the first time to settle my son into university. It seems like a nice city, if a little quieter than other major cities. I hope to explore more of Derbyshire next year.

October – The darker months were here again and there were Halloween celebrations in town. I went to see the Basquait ‘Boom for Real’ exhibition and Banksy’s Basquait tribute graffiti, which were brilliant. Also at the Barbican, I saw Annoshka Shankar’s live accompaniment to the digitally restored 1920s silent film ‘Shiraz’. It was an unforgettable experience. I also had luck on my side at the SLA Europe gin tasting event, as I won a raffle for three flavours of gin, which I am hoping to try soon.

November – I was lucky and happy to return to Trinidad again for a family wedding and reception. I don’t usually go often and it was worth going to see a modern Indian-Trinidadian wedding and reception. The merging of the east and west cultural influences is special. It was nice to spend time with loved ones again and I had a mini reunion with some school friends. I witnessed some fabulous wedding business ideas and event planners for our unique Trini wedding. It was nice again to dress-up, have my hair and make-up done by professionals. I received nice comments on my outfits. The bride and groom looked utterly beautiful in all the wedding celebrations.

December – Back to work and lots of activities in the library. It was also a reality check to come back from the tropics to very snowy weather. I went to the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands for a Christmas Carols concert. I had fun at the YSBD Christmas Party theme disco, and so I danced to the end of the year. I have not taken part or planned much in my community this month as I was away, and we are taking a break. Personally and honestly, I feel that something is amiss.

So this sums up an average year for me and I am grateful for the good health and happiness we have. As the days slowly wind up in December, I looked to see what would be the serious United Nations theme for 2018, but apparently there is no theme. We can make it up as we go along! But I am looking forward to their theme for 2019, which will be the year of indigenous languages (hopefully I am still alive!). We do still have high levels of poverty, inequality, prejudices, environmental causes, Brexit, ever-present troubles in the Middle East and parts of the world to keep us preoccupied.

However, we can bring in some new perspectives, peace and control with our personal New Year’s resolutions and hopes. I always try a few new things. For example, I had always hoped to read more each year…and out of the blue recently – one of my neighbours created a book club, which I am a part of. I now make time to read leisurely and have read three books. This blog was also my resolution for 2016, and thankfully I have been able to carry it on for almost two years. The feedback received is motivating and makes it all worthwhile.

‘Old year’s night’ as we say in the Caribbean, is one way to say a fond farewell to another year. I understand in Italy they literally practice ‘out with the old, in with the new’ by throwing out rubbish on New Year’s Eve to be collected. I hope to do some of that! I still hope to exercise more, learn new skills, and visit parts of the United Kingdom in 2018 that I haven’t been before. I usually spend New Year’s Eve in a house party with close family and friends. In a Princely way…we will be partying like it is 2017 as we say hello to 2018! Soon, all across the world, we’ll watch images of the skies lit up with fireworks to ring in 2018 with a bang. There is nothing left for me to do but to wish you a happy and healthy new year.

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On the agenda…Planet Earth

Om Sam Maa Sinchantu Murutah Sam Poosha Sam Brihaspatih –

May the five elements of Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Sky make my body healthy and strong.

Line from a Hindu Mantra.

We rely on the Earth for our own wellbeing, inner peace and life. In the last few months, you may have noticed that there has been devastating damage and loss to human life, property and the Earth by natural disasters exasperated by climate change. If you did not notice this in the news or social media – you must have been on another planet! I have started with this mantra as we said it at a prayer meeting which was a serene and gentle reminder that we are vulnerable mortals.  Just as nature can have a detrimental effect of loss and damage on us – we too must try to show some respect to the Earth. It is not too much for us in return to respect it and take small positive steps to sustain it for future generations and life as we know it. I will discuss some small environmental thoughts and ideas that have been bothering me.

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South East England

It seems that the environmental issues have come to a head recently with this year’s natural disasters.  Sadly, we all know that this is not the end of this type of devastation and all around the Earth… we will continue to have floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, avalanches, Tsunamis, droughts, etc. I will discuss briefly these big local and global issues, and acknowledge that it should not just be on the agenda…but remain a standing item on our consciousness.   I have little power to do much on a grand scale but in terms of raising awareness and acknowledgement of these issues, it is the least I can do.

First to note down, is the issue of plastics pollution. Plastics and tin cans are frequently dumped in my neighbourhood by street-drinkers and passersby.  Littering really aggravates me. I frequently get dirty fingertips from picking up discarded bottles, cans, plastic cups and other litter on my merry walks around town. I normally have to put them in the closest recycling bins that I can find. Plastic take away cups are also dumped near King’s Cross St Pancras as there are not many bins possibly due to security reasons.  I generally have to resist myself from picking up discarded cups left near the station’s Taxi rank.

 

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One solution to plastics pollution is the simple ethos of the three 3Rs – Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. It is better for us to practice these three Rs whether it is on a personal, commercial or larger countrywide infrastructure level.  In my initial research, I soon realized that this is not just a local level but also a global issue.  As a global community, there are already some discussions and work in progress to solve this in a collaborative and forward thinking way. We still have a long way to go on this issue.

Larger white goods and household trash (no fluffy word) are also frequently dumped in my neighbourhood.  Like-minded passionate environmental digital champions such as @Littergram and @CleanupWalthamForest frequently report ‘fly-tipping’ in neighbourhoods to local authorities.  This is a local problem but there are also global questions. I recently looked at a BBC documentary ‘Inside Story: A Week in a Toxic Waste Dump’ by Reggie Yates which mentioned the direct impact of our developed world consumption for white and electronic goods, which eventually leads to Third World toxic graveyards that affect lesser developed countries.  So to be clear…this is not an isolated issue.  There are reactive and circular factors that affect us and our world when it comes to consumption of goods. I visited my nearest recycling waste plant London Energy about five years ago, and it was an eye-opener on recycling, the circular economy and waste management on a large-scale urban city. We still have issues with dumping, litter and flytipping regardless of local authority run initiatives. Education and public information awareness may be the answer to solve these pollution problems, but it also requires behaviour change by citizens (culprits may be a better word).

 

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Somewhere along the way on this Earth, plastics make their way from urban and rural environments to our seas and oceans.  In Plastics waste inputs from land into the Ocean Science Magazine 13 February 2015, reports that ‘80% of marine debris originates from land with 275million metric tons (MT) of plastics waste was generated in 1992 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean’.  This horrendous amount of pollution is predicted to increase in future.

In recent weeks, plastics pollution has also been highlighted by Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster, in Blue Planet. I was so pleased to see this conversation ramped up a few octaves and is still ongoing.  Sir Attenborough said that “everyone one of us’ has a responsibility to reduce plastics ending up in the ocean.  It is one world. And it is in our care for the first time in the history of humanity for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands.  I just hope (humanity) realizes that this is the case.”

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Shared by my contacts on Facebook

Another exemplary organization I found in my research is The Ellen McArthur Foundation, which has been raising awareness on the ocean plastics issue and the circular economy.  In ‘Speaker: Recycling alone won’t solve ocean pollution’ Plastic News 25 September 2017, this foundation explains “plastic bottles caps and closures can easily become separated from their bottles and are particularly dangerous for seabirds, who see them floating and mistake them for food…..an estimate 90% of seabirds have plastics in their guts”. Seabirds are not the only species affected by plastics pollution – fishes and marine life may also ingest small plastic debris.  Apparently, Asian countries have the highest levels of plastics pollution. This may also end up in our own ecosystem and human food chain!

A paradigm shift is essential – and there is a warning that “our waste will continue to grow with the increased population and increased per capita consumption associated with economic growth, especially in urban areas and developing African countries”. Some behavioural change is required, and slowly this can change with education, positive attitudes and action. There has already been progress, for example, with the Plastic Bag ban or tariff introduced in some countries, so change can happen.

Five years ago at the London Energy tour, the Public Relations Manager told us that she felt that there was too much packaging in UK supermarkets. I always remember this too.  However, again with small steps, positive change can happen – behaviour and commercial initiatives can change pollution for the better.   For example, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched ‘The New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize’ for rethinking of the design and materials of plastic packaging – with categories in rethinking grocery shopping, redesigning, sachets and reinventing coffee-on-the-go. At their awards ceremony at the ‘Our Oceans’ conference, the commissioner reportedly said “bringing your fish home in a plastic bag one year and bring the plastic bag home in the fish the next is the reality. The rethink design awards show how innovation can inspire redesign, reduction of waste and re-utilization”.

 

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This is only one aspect of the Earth’s vulnerable environment that has captured my attention in recent months.  Climate change has also come to the front of my attention due to Earthquakes in Mexico and India, and hurricanes in the USA and in my beloved Caribbean. I tend to keep an eye on the storms in the Caribbean, but the hurricanes this year has been devastating in American and the Caribbean. The relentless and catastrophic damage to Texas, Barbuda, Puerto Rico and other countries in the region as witnessed on social media in real time was very sad and worrying to see.

 

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In the insurance industry magazine Reactions 2nd October 2017 Grappling with Irma Climate Change Link’, a Research Fellow at the University College London said that “warmer Atlantic sea surface temperatures mean more active hurricane seasons and stronger storms”. After the damage to property, lives, homes and the land caused by Hurricane Harvey, Lloyd’s of London issued a statement calling for greater industry awareness over changing weather patterns.  The statement said: “We know that climate is changing and with it traditional weather patterns.  The costs of natural disasters are on the rise, with direct losses in the past decade estimated at $1.4 Trn US Dollars globally”. There is no doubt about the financial and human cost.

All this damage is harder for smaller Caribbean Islands – there is a call for more disaster planning, a “wake up call”, a marshal plan as penned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, whose own island was affect with by the hurricane this year. It is best explained on Caribbean Intelligence’s site as “a fresh approach to coping with all Mother Nature has to throw at the archipelago of territories prone to geo-faults and Cross-Atlantic high winds”. No time for wasting, there must be a coordinated approach to helping these beautiful islands in the Caribbean…and also the US states affected by these mighty hurricanes now and in the future.

As I reflect, I have experienced a terrifying Earthquake in Italy in 2009 and a hurricane as a child in Trinidad in the early 1970s.  The earth’s environment and sustainability is a big topic for just me to battle, and perhaps for you alone too. Optimistically, it is the little actions we should aim to take as often as we can to change course. Otherwise there will be dire consequences that inaction would lead to, should we ignore it. There will be even worst results for the environment and humans…if we do nothing. The United Nations is actively working to solve some of these issues and see their #BeatPollution hashtag on social media.

However small we may do to reduce, recycle and reuse with care for our world, it would eventually have a big impact on our lives, wellbeing and future generations for a better livable environment. We currently have a responsibility of leaving the Earth in a better state than when we arrived on it.  This is the universal language that we must try to speak, understand and live by. Earth is the very thing that sustains us. Therefore, it should stay on our agenda.

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Halloween spells Trick or Treats! Money or Eats!

October sees some of us relishing going out and about in the coming winter months, but like other exciting autumnal festivals to look forward to, Halloween on 31st October is full of soulful awe too. It has been celebrated in various cultures for centuries, and so I am hoping to briefly discuss the historical and cultural value. For businesses this time of year, the celebration signals high consumer experience and retail expenditure. You Gov describes Halloween as “an old tradition with contemporary impetus” with the modern take “focused on trick or treating and dressing up in costumes stems largely from cultural influences. However, parts of the United Kingdom, notably Scotland and North Ireland have strong roots in the tradition of ‘Guising’ dress up on the night before All Hallows Day to avoid the unwelcome attention of the dead”. There is an element of mystery, intrigue and adventure at Halloween, characterised by our secretiveness and masking of our personal identity. You certainly can’t avoid the seasonal decorations too.

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Halloween Picture from the Medieval Manuscripts Blog. Source: http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/10/dress-up-for-halloween-medieval-style.html

When I first arrived in the late 1980’s to London, I noticed that the festival was not celebrated as much as in the USA.  As I walked around the streets and shops in the city, even in Trinidad we were more ‘into it’ celebrating Halloween. However, there is evidence that it is a cultural British festival (part religious) going back to the 2nd century B.C. when the Celtic Order of Druids ended on the 31st of October.  In ‘Halloween as a Consumption Experience’, the authors write “The Celts believed that on October 31st, the Lord of the Dead assembled the soul of all those persons who had died the previous year, the spirit of the departed were allowed a brief visit to their relatives. The departed souls would play tricks, so the Druids attempted to appease them with sanctices.” This is rather interesting, as it sounds very similar to the Indian traditions and beliefs of Pitra Paksha for deceased ancestors. The latter normally falls in September, and some of the beliefs seem to match those held in old Halloween traditions. They both seem to be idiosyncrasies relating to mortality and deceased ancestors, as in common with other cultures.

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It is also a time for prayers and partying. There is an explanation of the historical aspects “…in many countries of Western Europe, such as France, Spain, and Italy, Halloween is observed as a austere religious occasion with extra masses and prayers at the graves of deceased relatives and friends, but in the British Isles and especially in the United States, Halloween is primarily regarded as a night of merry making, superstitious spells, fortune telling games, and pranks (Hatch). Thus, Halloween is a curious mixture of the religious and the secular”.

Some parts of the population still prefer not to celebrate Halloween and there are negative as well as positive attitudes towards the festivities. In another reference ‘The Celtic Origins of Halloween Transcends Fear, the author Geo Athena Trevarthen writes ‘Celtic traditions doesn’t experience darkness as automatically evil or frightening. It can be the fertile dark as well as the chaotic dark – these aren’t so far apart. Many traditions such as the Sumerian, Egyptians and Cherokee see the pre-creation state as a watery chaotic, unformed darkness from which all opposites, including life and death, emerge”. The article logically elaborates “most humans deaths happens during the winter months because cold and food shortages made the very old, young and sickly vulnerable. Any livestock that couldn’t be fed over the winter had to be slaughtered. Yet this also meant it was a time of feasting…Samshian/Halloween is the ‘ultimate best of times/worst of times’ festival”.

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Globally, we are not so dissimilar to each other…and we have many common cultural values. Halloween also falls two days before the Mexican’s Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and gradually this festival and tradition is more visible in London. The make-up styles and fashion are emulated – restaurants and shops are themed like in Wahaca, Accessorize, The Vault. Trevarthen continues, “Of course Halloween precedes the Catholic festivals of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on Nov 2nd, when people honour departed saints and relatives respectively. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations featuring vibrant ‘death in life’ images of skeletons in daily activities culminates on November 2nd. All things ghoulish remain popular as costumes decorations and settings for Halloween as well”. These traditions all seem connected to the living and our relationship with the deceased souls of our ancestors and loved ones.

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With this background and history of Halloween, there are still positive and negative consumer perceptions about Halloween. So, what are some of the figures? You Gov states that in the United Kingdom, 45% are in agreement with negative associations of Halloween being an “unwelcome American cultural import”. Despite this, it is one of the most high profile party events in the social calendar and continues to be an important date for revellers and for UK retailers.

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Mintel predicts that spend in the ‘UK is set to reach £320million with a forecast that sales for such products will rise a further 3.2% year-on-year”. Apparently too, there has been a steady increase in celebrations since 1986 as reported by ONS in ‘Five facts about…Halloween – a monster mash of data’. Global Data Online have also carried our some research in 2016 with 72% of consumers thinking that “Halloween is a much larger celebration than it used to be”.

ONSHalloween

There is a lot of detailed Halloween spending analysis in market research held in our library at work. It is generally a great time for all round family fun – “53% of all adults agreeing that Halloween is a really fun event for all the kids” according to You Gov. Our Halloween dressing up is a £78million habit and it is the one time of the year that the whole of the UK are simultaneously in fancy dress and costumes. Driving these sales are low price, wider choices and convenience of supermarkets – which is a big win for the retail sector! Party food, decorations, entertainment and stationery are also consumer goods that have high sales volumes. Fun size bags of confectionery are definitely a main commodity as people get into the trick or treating Halloween spirit.

In a nutshell, these are the things we are spending our money on for Halloween:

  • Decorations – pumpkins for Jack-o-Lanterns
  • Make-up – to look the part
  • Costumes and Clothing – ideal for fancy dress
  • Halloween Food – food and drink
  • Entertainment – music and events

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As you may know, I live in Walthamstow and there has been phenomenal regeneration in the high street over the years to bring back our local nightlife with hipsters en tote. There are a few local parties being advertised this week in the run up to the Halloween weekend already. Global Data Online also states that retailers are “posting Halloween-themed social media content through Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote interest among shoppers”. Social Media improves significant retailing opportunities, such as Fanta beverages, who are using Snapchat campaigns on their drink cans and on adverts on digital boards.

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When I was in the Fundraising and Events committee at a local charity, The Lloyd Park Children Charity – one of our most popular events was our annual Halloween Party and Disco. It was a great fundraiser and our family tickets always sold out well in advance! There were always interesting costumes, decorations, food (some of which I prepared), dancing and music. Our DJ would play classics like Thriller, Monster Mash, Ghostbusters, as well as some contemporary tracks where we can all have a boogie. It was definitely a worthwhile fundraiser, and heart-warming to see families dressed up in a friendly and safe environment.

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A few years ago, our neighbourly residents group also tried hosting a street party on Halloween Night. It was really busy as this was held on a street with lots of footfall. It was cold, dark and with general naughtiness that we found challenging to manage. We have decided since that it was best when children went about with ad-hoc trick or treating in the neighbourhood.

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I didn’t play Halloween as a child but my sister played with other children in the Expat community for the school we attended. She told me the tricks they did, and that they chanted the slogan “Trick or Treats. Money or Eats!”

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A few years ago where I worked, there was an advert for a group flashdance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. ‘Thrill the World’ as it is known, was organised by an American who also worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. We all met in a room at the Trocadero, where attendees where able to dress up and practice their dance routine. There were participants who came from outside of London, and they really impressed me as they knew all the moves to Thriller! This worldwide dance initiative is still planned every year and is performed in an open venue.

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Halloween is also a great time to get creative whether making cakes, costumes, decorations and great art. The Gothic imagery of skulls, spiders, vampires, and dark characters have been a fascination throughout the ages. It is a time of year, apart from Jab Jab Carnival perhaps, where you can let your darker creative juices and talent flow. There are copyright free photos from the 19th century on this British Library link if you are looking for free inspiration.

Last weekend, I also saw the current exhibition ‘Boom for Real’ by the late artist Jean Michel Basquait, and although not all gory – he had a healthy obsession with the ubiquitous skull. His art of the human body was kindled when his mother had presented him with a copy of the book Gray’s Anatomy whilst recovering from an injury from an accident as a child. Like in Basquiat’s artwork, the image of the skull is still seen everywhere at this time of year!

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Most likely this Halloween, I will see fancy-dressed commuters on their merry way to parties on my way home on the 31st October. I will be hoping to attend some local parties, may be tempted to create my first Jack-o-Lantern, and possibly make a pumpkin inspired pie. Halloween is an old tradition for us to remember the darker and…vulnerable side to the human condition, and quite simply, a time of fun for all the family! We may be at a big party event, a local venue, home or out walking in our neighbourhoods ringing doorbells for some cheerful ‘Trick or Treating’. The least we can do is offer a friendly seasonal hello and welcome.

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The Brown Atlantic – Indians crossing the seas to the West Indies

Black History Month has been celebrated every October in the United Kingdom for the last 30 years when there are many events showcasing the story and contribution of our diverse history. I wanted to write and reflect a little bit more on my own West Indian heritage. It is something I have to explain regularly.

Are you Indian? Pakistani? Mauritian? …These are frequent questions I have faced since moving to the UK. Because of my brown appearance, I have also been asked on holiday in Spain, Italy and France. In 1995, one elderly solder in Amiens, France called me over to ask me where I was from as he thought I was Brazilian. I have no problem with people asking me where I am from but it is a long story that I frequently have to repeat. It sort of goes like this “…I am Trinidadian but I am Indian by race as my ancestors were Indians who went to the Caribbean as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations after the end of slavery”. That is a mouthful! However, it is certainly a true story about Indian Indentureship as a global movement of people to distant lands in the new world that resulted in a human journey rich in history and later integration in what we now know as the West Indies. Some photos here are kindly linked from the UK National Archives image library.

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Description: Coolies arrived from India at Depôt. Location: Trinidad and Tobago Date: 1870-1939 Our Catalogue Reference: Part of CO 1069/392 This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We have attempted to provide place information for the images automatically but our software may not have found the correct location. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library

That is the short version. Here I am going to elaborate as it will also serve as a refresher in a voyage of self-discovery. There were a large number of East Indians who moved to the Caribbean as indentured labourers to provide a workforce that would replace the now freed African Slaves. Indentureship was used to entice Chinese, Europeans, Portuguese, Syrians, Lebanese and East Indians in chronological order to the Caribbean. The Fatal Razack was the first ship to bring indentured labourers from India to Trinidad in 1845 with 227 immigrants. This migration continued until 1917 and is referred to as ‘The Brown Atlantic’. There are both positive and negative outcomes of the resulting mass migration as written and discussed by academics, taught at school and oral stories told from my own circles and elders in Trinidad. I have always wondered to myself why my ancestors left India? I am still not sure what were their motives to leave India.

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Indians were brought to the Caribbean “under dubious circumstances” and lived in the same conditions as some of the former African slaves. Lomash Roopnarine writes in ‘A critique of East Indian Indentured historiography in the Caribbean’ that “Indians were treated more or less like black slaves during indenture with little or no opportunity to challenge the institutionalization of their indenture contract”. It certainly may have had its challenges after leaving Asia in what was considered a highly advanced society, had ancient religions and an already rich culture. Regardless, even though some may argue the ‘wool were pulled over their eyes’, large numbers set bound to new lands across seas and the Atlantic Ocean. Professor Clem Seecharan, at a recent event at the British Library, believes with our collective hindsight, it was also an opportunity to escape from whatever battles or personal baggage our ancestors wanted to leave behind in India. This is the similar story for all immigrants to North and South American in the last four centuries.

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Growing up in Trinidad, my elder relatives would tell stories of ancestors who came before us to the Caribbean. Unfortunately we have not traced our ancestors back to India, but these anecdotes and stories have been passed on over the 170 plus years. Ideally, it should be documented whilst we can remember the details such as in this archive by the National Council for Indian Culture. Social media has helped recently as older relatives would verify and add what they know to photos of persons and events that occurred. I recently found out that my maternal relations were most likely not indentured labourers but business migrants who came via French Martinique. They were also not based in the plantations, but in the city of Port-of-Spain. One thing that was certain – they were adamant on hanging on to their rich Indian culture, religion and heritage. Who can blame them after seeing for themselves how the colonial imprint had erased other indigenous and migrant cultures in the West Indies.

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At the time, my ancestors would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to keep in touch with their relations in India – they would eventually lose the connection with these Indian relations, their immediate roots and the location routes that they took before their arrival in the Caribbean. My mother told me a while ago that when they were growing up in the 1950’s, that they had no idea that they would go to India one day. It probably still is a dream for most Trinidadian Indians (Indo-Caribbeans or East Indians as we now called ourselves) to travel back to India one day. In the academic world in the 19th century, “few studies have concentrated on the re-integration of ex-indentured Indians to their former communities and even the second time…the reason for this discontinuity and disconnection in the study of indenture from India and the Caribbean has to do with the great distance and poor communication networks between the two locations. Discontinuity might have to do with language and cultural barriers. The culture of Indians in the Caribbean changed immensely from the original homeland. To some extent, new communities were created overseas”.

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Description: Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Sugar loading in the south of the island’. Photograph No.: ZZZ 73308 H. Official Trinidad and Tobago photograph compiled by Central Office of Information. Copyright hand stamp of Anne Bolt, Paddington, London, on reverse. Location: Trinidad and Tobago Date: [1948] Our Catalogue Reference: INF 10/359/9 This image is part of the Central Office of Information’s photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library
This is some of the challenges faced by academics, but the same applies to all descendants. It is a sad result of indentureship but also a warning that immigrants lose links with their ‘Motherland’. My Italian migrant relatives who live in the United Kingdom are considerably more fortunate in that they have only been here over 50 years – they can still speak the language, communicate by modern technology, and travel to the continent is only a few hours away to see relatives. This was not the case and still is not the case with Indian heritage – the family connection has long gone over a hundred years ago! It has only been in the last 25 years or so that affluent Trinidadians are able to travel to their ancestral India in group-organised tours. I haven’t been to India as yet, but still hope to travel there one day.

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Over time, Indians were able to assimilate and integrate with other migrants in the West Indies. When Indians arrived in Trinidad, “on estates, residents workers of both races shared similar experiences and conditions, although tendency developed for creoles and Indians to do different, specialised tasks”. There was some recording of tensions, such as “Trinidadians of other races were not sympathetic to the new arrivals and they freely expressed their contempt for the Indian religions, culture, method of dress and family life”. In Jamaica, some Indians were “cordially welcomed by their Black brethren, generously offered them oranges, sugarcane, and various descriptions of fruit, as well as bread, cakes, and trifling articles of clothing for their children”. Yet actual conflict between the races was rare. I am sure there would have been tensions at times too, but generally many races and cultures tolerated and got along despite the circumstances. It seems Indians were also in a position to resist and organised discontent against colonial government as the years progressive.

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I still have a book we used in secondary school called ‘Social Life in the Caribbean 1838-1938’ by Briget Brereton. Reading it again does reinforce some of my own oral stories heard from ancestors such as Indians hanging on to their own traditions, culture and religion. My mother’s family told stories of having only Christian schools in Port-of-Spain, and that they were encouraged to convert but this was vehemently resisted by my Hindu grandparents. Children were also encouraged to work at an early age on the plantations to help in households such as the case with my father. Canadian Presbyterians missionaries were also instrumental in educating young Indian children but also in the hope of converting them to Christianity. Further education schooling for all children were only made compulsory later on. Despite this, it is amazing that so much of their original Indian culture has survived! Indians eventually adopted and integrated Creole Caribbean cultures too, such as Creole fashion, language, names, food, etc. Brereton states, “the educated middle class made up largely of Christian Indians grew up in both territories (Guyana and Trinidad), and was an important group from about 1900”.

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One point highlighted in my research is that there was few women heroines pointed out, but Roopnarine writes “Are we to believe that the movement of 500000 Indians from their homeland to the Caribbean and years of indentured experience did not produce one single outstanding female indentured servant? From a colonial perspective, this memory never existed.” I also read that Shaleela Hosein interviewed Indian women in rural Trinidad to determine their historical experience through their eyes – “the result is a remarkable oral narrative that exemplifies strength, stability and strong leadership among Indian women in latter stages of indentureship. It seems a contradiction to Indian migrants being subservient and submissive”. From my own family history and neighbourhood – we were told and saw women who worked extremely hard in rural agricultural jobs in the plantations to support their families. Eventually there was, and still is a push and emphasis on education for all. These migrants must have been tough to decide to leave India for the unknown Caribbean, and to make the journey across the Atlantic. This toughness must still be in our DNA. Remember that there was none of today’s modern technology.

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Coincidently at the British Library, recently I attended a talk based on the book ‘Sugar Sugar –bitter sweet tales of Indian Migrant Worker‘s’ with the author Lainy Malkani and the same Professor Clem Seecharan mentioned above. There was great discussion on this topic, and Professor Seecharan mentioned various thoughts, such as we should see indentureship as an opportunity for our ancestors from what would have been a hierarchical (caste) system in India. It gave people opportunities too to move away and get upwardly mobility. It may have also been a myth that they were not aware of what they were signing up too – some wanted to come to the Caribbean. Apparently some Indians also returned to India, but most indentured migrants stayed.

Recent article. Source: Economist.

It is also very hard to trace migrants as they came from various Indian villages and changed names etc. Professor Seecharan also shared some insight that the French governed Tamils, and they would have settled in Martinique. This also seems to make sense with my maternal ancestors. He was not that enthusiastic about tracing his own family tree to Guyana. It was also the first time I heard about indentured labourers going to work in Fuji – but I was aware of Mauritius, South Africa etc. There were lots of other questions from attendees at the Knowledge Centre event, especially for Indian descendants like myself who now live in the UK. Tracing families in India may be a tough task due to poor and inaccurate record keeping, and would require a lot of time researching through archives and records. It is great if you can trace your background as recently shown for celebrities Liz Bonin and Noel Clarke on the TV Series ‘Who do you think you are’.

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Indians weren’t always bound or stayed in plantations. Brereton continues that as time passed, Indians adopted “most aspects of western culture and their lifestyle become more and more distant from that of their parents and grandparents. They were businessmen and professionals, civil servants, teachers and clerks, based in towns, especially San Fernando in Trinidad, New Amsterdam and Georgetown in Guyana. They began to form organisations to protect their interest and first entered political life in the early 1900’s”.

It is with pride and admiration that we can now look back at our ancestors who came to the Caribbean and contributed to its’ economic, social, political and cultural development – and made it their home like everybody else. Some notable Indo-Trinidadians are listed here on Wikipedia. There is still a strong link with India for some of the population with simple things such as Bollywood movies, songs and fashion still very popular. Television helped to connect some of the disconnected just as the Internet does today. I recently saw young Trinidadian Indians singing Hindi songs at a wedding and they knew all the lyrics despite not knowing the language. Cricket is also another uniting force with India, Britain and with our African brothers in the Caribbean. Professor Seecharan said that C.L.R. James’s book ‘Beyond the Boundary’ is one of the best books ever written in English, and he obviously had admiration for C.L.R. James.

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There is much to celebrate personally. My own grandfather was a well-respected businessman by the 1950’s, and my father a dedicated worker with 50 years in the sugar industry. There are many ways that Indo-Caribbeans have contributed to the region and even to the wider world with later migration to Canada, America and the UK. Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, V.S. Naipaul, was a family friend and he has written books that make us look at ourselves such as ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. In the arts and culture, we are tenacious with our own Indian culture, but have also created our own fusions, and some spicy flavours – such as with the Chutney Music genre. Yet too, we are still proactive and keep intact our ancient religions, traditions, language to some extent, fashion, dance, food…and our homes reflect that. Indian Arrival Day is now celebrated annually with a public holiday on 30th May in Trinidad.

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Description: 23. Walker Street – the owner is not a barrack dweller. Location: Frederick Village, Trinidad and Tobago Date: 1949 Our Catalogue Reference: Part of CO 1069/401 This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We have attempted to provide place information for the images automatically but our software may not have found the correct location. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library

This post is just scratching the surface of years of history – colonialism, end of slavery and global migration at that! I am a product of that triangular Brown Atlantic passage, and from my perspective – it as a great way to view the world. I also wanted to highlight this rich, sometimes forgotten heritage for Black History Month in October. We know the story of Columbus heading west in his search for East Indian Spices, but his voyage ending up in what is now known as the Americas and Caribbean. Funny and ironic, that my East Indians ancestors eventually also sailed west to settle in the melting pot of the West Indies. It is also great that some of us kept our Indian names in defiance, that our culture has survived but also that there has been integration, inter-racial marriages, social cohesion, fusion, adoption and adaptability with other communities and cultures. Generally it is a great example of the positive influence for multiculturalism and mass immigration that our Indian ancestors have played in the hemisphere. They should be appreciated and celebrated for their innovations, continued development and colourful contribution they make to the region. The journey surely has not ended yet.

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