Self-motivation for winter days and nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round up of the year 2022

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

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William E. Vaughan

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

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

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

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

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

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

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

Michael Josephson

Reimagined – looking ahead with optimism

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

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

– Albert Einstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t reinvent. Reimagine.

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

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

Creativity grows out of two things: curiosity & imagination.

Benny Goodman

Summer work and rest in the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Out

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

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

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

Mission Possible – Libraries & Information Pros Collaborating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postcard from Trinidad – Coast to Coast

I have spent a couple of weeks in Trinidad, where I paid tribute to the last memorial Hindu ceremonies and rituals for my mother who passed away in June 2021.  Although I know she lived a full and beautiful life – I still miss her presence, her gentle personality, words of wisdom, spirituality, principles, motherly support, care and love for me and my family.  It was difficult to say goodbye to her virtually last year due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, and this trip was to attend the final act for her before the first anniversary of her passing that I could attend in person. I would like to thank all the family, friends and neighbours who helped us in the last year with her prayers and memorial commitments.

At the ceremony, it was great hearing from Pundit Dr Bramanand Rambachan explain the meaning of life and our place in this universe.  It is a great reminder that our life on Earth is only here for a specific time. The way of life we seek should be to find purpose, kindness and beauty in all creatures and our environment here.  We were asked to pay our respects and recall our ancestors and elders in whose lives, work and memory we offered our thoughts and prayers – in the hope that their good work and deeds will be carried on in this generation and in the future.  Going through this process in Trinidad with close family members – I couldn’t help thinking of life as my mind flicked though memories in time, as well as some deeper soul searching on what is the purpose of life on Earth for us as humans.

Death is not the end, your soul continues.

I am obviously coming to terms with the loss of my mother, and the loss of others who are no longer around in the family, network or village as time moves on.  I presume that this is the feeling I will continue to have as I get used to myself getting older.  It is good to be around younger people in this scenario to remember that life goes on, and that they also need our support and guidance to sustain them as we go through life.

It was good to see close relatives and friends after five years.  It was my first trip aboard since the pandemic disrupted our lives two years ago – I had to be extra careful in avoiding Covid before my trip to Trinidad as there were tests to do before my travel.  After the whole process of getting to Trinidad by aircraft, it proved to me that travellers needed to have a high level of digital literacy and some common sense to follow all the instructions for travelling, especially as we had to ensure that everything was uploaded, downloaded or printed for checking before and during our journey.  The 10-hour flight was pleasant but we had to keep on our masks, except when eating or drinking.  It was a relief when it was over as it was not a normal experience like in pre-covid times.

I was able to spend some time sightseeing in Trinidad and it was more for my son to see rather than myself.  One of the main highlights is a Sunday afternoon trip to the La Brea Pitch Lake, which is the largest asphalt lake in the world.  It was used by the Indigenous people of the Caribbean and it is literally close in distance to the South American mainland being located in the deep south of Trinidad. 

Sir Walther Raleigh was one of the first Europeans to encounter the Pitch Lake in 1595 (after raiding the Spanish Governor), when he used the asphalt to repair his ship – interesting blog here from Raleigh400.  The British set up an asphalt company in 1866 and the streets around the world are now literally paved with this ‘black gold’.  Today Asphalt is mined and has commercial value – and it is still good to see and visit the natural pitch lake.  It is amazing to feel and sink into the soft tar-like texture, and to walk on the water puddles with gaseous bubbles coming naturally from the ground.  The chemical composition and geology are really fascinating, and the texture and versatility of the product makes it spectacular.  I bet you will appreciate every road you every travel when you see natural asphalt like this – there are only three other natural lakes in the world. I was pleased to see international visitors from Suriname whilst we were visiting, and our official guide was very knowledgeable and fun! Do visit this natural wonder if you have the time, or think of the journey of tar the next time you see some. Instead of European getting El Dorado, they got ‘Black Gold’.

Being an island, life does not always mean that you are near a nice beach.  Some are industrialised and therefore you have to travel a long way to find a good beach.  However, we went to a nearby beach on the Gulf of Paria to spend an hour or so. This was in the deep south of the island and it was good to see rural communities and villages on a very pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Next, we went to the north of the island to Maracas, which is known as one of the best beaches in Trinidad on the Caribbean Sea.  The drive through the Northern Range hills is breathtakingly beautiful. The beach sits on a curved bay with good waves and view of the deep blue Caribbean Sea.  One must try the local delicacy which is freshly made shark and bake sandwich. It was a fun day at the beach in another beautiful place of interest – a must-see when you visit the island.

The final beach I went too was to Mayaro on the East coast of the Island on the Atlantic Ocean through various towns and villages.  I fondly remember going frequently to the coast in the 1980s with my parents and sister.  The miles of coconut plantations along the coast are truly sensational with a tropical treat to see the rows and rows of coconut trees and beaches, as well as the mangroves and rivers on the way to the beach areas.  Even as a child – it used to be special to bathe and be in the ocean where the next main land mass was the African continent. I am so glad I have these happy memories of a beautiful part of the country to cherish and the area is still beautiful.

Not all is well on this island paradise though.  The high level of violent crimes and safety issues are very sad and frightening to everyone I know in Trinidad. The days of small petty bust-ups with machetes and punches are now replaced with thieves, gangs and organised-criminals with guns.  All the official reports and travel advice I now read stress that the crime levels and risk factors are very high in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is sad, dangerous and also embarrassing.  I am not sure what it needs to stop this trajectory but it has left citizens with despair, numb and helpless from village to city.  I don’t recognise this island anymore, and it breaks my heart and hopes.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

Norman Cousins

I did manage to find time to spend with family, friends and loved ones.  It gave me a chance to catch up in person after being away for five years and I had time to see some memorable items from our family album, such as when my father received his 15 years award in 1964 – he ended up working there for 51 years.   His story with starting to work as a child is truly inspirational, and he was a very dedicated worker.  I also love seeing the photos of my parents at this glamourous and elegant time in the 1960s.  This was a holiday break for me to reflect and keep memories close to my heart. We only get one life with limited time to appreciate and love those dear to us.

I am not sure when I will return to Trinidad again but I will certainly go back as it is the land of my birth, and my family and friends are there.  I love the flora and fauna, food, humour, the culture, the lay of the land with the sea, plains and mountain.  I only hope that the economy and crime situation improve in time.  I have little faith but I am hoping that I am wrong.  Until I return again, I wish good health, wellbeing and safety to all my family, friends and acquaintances.  Keep well and safe!

Lord Krishna said: “Arjuna, everything comes and goes in life. Happiness and unhappiness are temporary experiences that rise from sense perception. Heat and cold, pleasure and pain will come and go. They never last forever. So, do not get attached to them.”  

(Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2:14)

Five Ps – reasons to be cheerful

In a time of great change, there are a few things that we can do to keep us grounded.  These usually entail a lot of thought and consciousness to remind us that change is natural, and sometimes necessary so that we all can evolve and develop. I have been quite busy with work and in my role at SLA, therefore have not had much time to spend on other things but I am due to have a more relaxing time soon and look forward to some time to reflect and re-energise.  Here are some thoughts on how I have maintained my positivity in the past few weeks.

  1. Elevator Pitching – The month started off great with the Dragon’s Den style pitching for start-up businesses for Project Remake which I mentioned in my last blog post.  It was a great evening hearing about business ideas, and I was truly impressed with the level of research and preparation that was presented to the panel of ‘Dragons’ and the audience at Linklater’s office in London.  I even learnt a few tips about how to do a great elevator pitch and some tips on business information presenting for when you have to cross examine an idea.  It was fascinating to hear the insights and advice offered from the panel and it goes to show that an effective network and support system are some of the basic ingredients for success.  

2. New Perspectives – I have been living in London for most of my life and sometime get visitors from abroad who I have to show around.  I am now at the point where I have a love-hate relationship with London, and therefore I can apply a critical eye when I see fit.  I am still forever picking up rubbish and reporting anti-social behaviour in my neighbourhood. The local elections were also on but this time I didn’t vote as I was busy with the above.  However, when I have a visitor from abroad – I try to show the city and my neighbourhood in a positive light.  There is history and old buildings here – it is good to see tourist sights and the city with these fresh eyes.  I know it is the same when I visit family and friends in other parts of the world.  I am getting to the stage where I have seen several tourist sites but there are new area to discover…even if I have been before – such as recent revisits to the Tower of London (considering it used to be opposite to my office for four years and I used to see it often) and Brick Lane. 

Reminding myself of my own enthusiasm for the city is great too.  This was the case when I went on a walking tour of the Georgian Mayfair area of London.  I remember the early days spending time around those parts and yet there is so much more to discover after hearing about the area in the guided tour.  I hope to take the Tube (underground train) again one day and have a walk around the area to admire the architecture again.  It is refreshing to see things in a new light with added context and a fresh perspective.  

3. Perennial Renewal – Just like the blossoms and bloom that come out at Springtime, I always feel quite positive at Spring as the flowers and more daylight hours allow us to enjoy more time and warmer outdoors.  I also love buying new plants for the containers that did not last the pervious winter and get some new herbs for us in the summer months.  I always have a wish list of plants that I no longer have, but sometimes even though I go to several garden centres, they still don’t have what I want. Therefore I have to look for them online or wait another year to try to source the plants.  

I didn’t get a chance to make it to Beth Chatto’s Garden last year but I would definitely like to go to see it this year.  I have also come to realised that we are still very lucky to have green spaces in such a built-up area. However I am getting to the point where I do want to be in a quiet countryside or near a beach to relax sometimes.  

For the time being though, I still love looking at all the flowers in my local area and enjoy looking at all the beautiful plants and flowers in garden and local parks.  The best things about spring are being enthuse by other gardeners and new plant knowledge, and therefore it is the perennial problem.

4. Perseverance – In times when there are too many changes or you just need to stay on the roller coast of life – it is hard to do everything to the best of your ability and that is what I am feeling at present with trying to tie up loose ends as I prefer for my first trips overseas since the pandemic.  I am having to make sure that I am really organised, as well as trying to maintain high standards for all the things I need to get through in a short space of time.  

I guess what is keeping me going is my tenacity as well as perseverance to complete the task in hand.  I can easily decide that I can give up on some of my commitments but I have only let a few slip in the last few weeks – such as not attending my book club as it is clashing with my work or volunteering.  I know that one day in the next couple of years I will have more time and therefore I would like pick up where I left off.  I miss chatting with the other members of the book club.  I am also learning new things in my leisure time and have been tempted to drop them too but I decide to continue with them for our wellbeing and fitness and trying to fit them into my work and family life is something I literally have to persevere with to ensure that I have a work-life balance.  I am fortunate that can do this.

5. Personal Development for me – It is true to say that I am being challenged on many aspects, as nothing ever stays the same.  I have recently been looking at all the areas of information and library management to ensure that I am keep abreast of all the new thoughts leadership pieces as well as the ability to set the agenda and look at new trends in my field.  I have been very pro-active with my development and do find that I am now at the stage that I do know a lot with my experience, as well as with my active life.  I do find that I am happy to take on new challenges and learn these new experiences.  I am at a stage where I am able to take these opportunities as they are presented and make them work for the best outcome on a case-by-case basis.  I probably would have been a little less able and confident to do this perhaps about 15 years ago but after 28 years working in business information – I feel confident to tackle any challenges and opportunities that may come way.  It was really great to take part on several international events last week and to showcase the breath of way that we can give value to communities on various topics and how important our role is now and in the future.  I feel utterly positive for our place in time as information professionals – and I knew this will always be required in the long term.  

So these are my 5 Ps for the last few weeks – I initially thought that I did not do much but then realised that I actually did go out a bit.  With these points in mind, I look forward to some relaxing time with family and friends as I have a holiday, rest and to raise a cheer or two! Cheers!

Life after prison – new ventures for employment and business

The last weeks has been great for me doing something new and learning about new issues – by this I meant learning about the Criminal Justice system and meeting several organisations, legal professionals, charities, leaders, academics, and persons who are committed to helping returning citizens (preferred term now rather than ex-offenders) by supporting them to resume their lives with education, business opportunities, employment skills and support. We were invited to take part in the project known as Project ReMake, which was the starting point for getting involved in this area of work.  I will discuss some of the people, organisations, leaders and programmes I have met and how I understand a little bit more on the great work, policies and the tasks still in hand to help with a very complex and emotive criminal justice system. My disclaimer is that I don’t have much exposure to prisons neither the legal system, so I am unable to speak in detail about those areas.  However, who knows, perhaps one day I may visit a prison as part of my work in libraries and as an information professional, as have my ex-colleagues for presentations in the past, and many other prison librarians. 

When I first start in my current role at the British Library, I received a handwritten letter from a prisoner who was researching kenkey (cornmeal) in preparation for starting her business when she was released from prison.  At that time, I hadn’t received any enquiry from prison before, and although I was able to find information and post it back to the person – I never met the person nor was I able to follow up and find out how the person got on with her business venture when she was released.  I still secretly wish she is doing well and even if the business didn’t happen – I admired her well-written letter asking for information on the topic. 

 “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.” – Nelson Mandela

Fast forward to earlier this year, it was a nice surprise to be asked to help students in the Project ReMake project by letting them know the wealth of free resources, access to expertise and support available for business ideas and creativity from the British Library.  I was very motivated from the start after meeting project leader Judge and fellow well-connected Trinidadian Judge Kameel Khan.  Kameel was able to introduce us to the graduates from the previous cohort, as well as the large number of support organisations (from universities to charities) who would assist in the project for this programme.  The introductory session was really heart-warming and inspiring on how important the learning opportunities and support are for someone trying to restart their life after their time away from society.  This initial event happened in late February, but since then I have learnt a lot more on the organisation, people and issues for assisting as well transforming or restarting lives and communities.

The one class I attended was also very useful for me as the trainer covered Competitor Intelligence, but due to time constraints I wasn’t able to attend other classes.  However, I have since hosted about four groups of persons who have visited me at the library since the project initiation and they are amazed with our access to resources and support available for starting their businesses.  One person dubious why I wanted to help and offered to help and support him without looking or asking for something in return – I had to point out that most librarians actually are kind and do support people and businesses all the time!

There are quite a few prison libraries, and CILIP has a Prison Libraries Group. These libraries are there to provide access to education, literacy, skills and leisure, and…perhaps escape in the books that they read.  The Prison Library Group are doing great work by their Twitter feed and seems to be popular with their programme of engagement with books, reading and education. Their mission is interesting for the provision of library services to prison communities as from their newsletter in 2021, I found the link to The Hardman Directory which offers a free online access as well as ‘contains information on grant schemes and start up loans, education, employers, housing, benefit changes, debt help and mentoring; all relevant to prisoners and/or ex-prisoners and/or to people serving their sentence in the community’.  Their work is very important within the prison system and for preparing return citizens.  I do recall going to an Italian food exhibition in the early 1993s where there was buffalo mozzarella made by female prisoners in the UK.  And recently, colleagues have mentioned that there is a fashion line pop-up in Westfield by ex-offenders called Blank Canvas

Some of the criminal justice organisations I met are doing great work for restoring lives on employability and training skills for people who want gain employment or start their own business.  Some of these organisations that I encountered recently are:

  • Working Change – this is a charity who is the UK’s only employment charity solely for women with convictions.  It was great to hear the support as well as the opportunities for training and learning new skills for women.  There should be more organisation who offer employment.  One example was Capita when I attended the Project Remake event. https://workingchance.org
  • The Corbett Network – has been going for over 40 years and Lady Val Corbett was very pleased to hear about the access to business resources and support we have our library. What was more impressive – is Lady Val’s networking lunch with amazing partners organisations and leaders who are stakeholders in the criminal justice system. It was one of the most memorable networking events I went to as we were discussing persons who were still in prison and how we can support them in and outside.  Some of these programmes included Sainsbury’s employment opportunities, Meganexus Digital Academy for prisoners, and Children’s charity for highlighting the issue with children left on their own to fend for themselves whilst their parent is in prison. https://www.thecorbettnetwork.com
  • Bounceback – I was able to also meet this charity who are helping people with employment skills and turning their lives around.  There is also great at driving lots of people back into work with partner organisations with high success with preventing re-offending.  https://www.bouncebackproject.com
  • Clink Charity – The Clink Charity works to train serving prisoners in catering skills within a real-life work environment whilst helping them gain academic qualifications. They offer great menu opens by students who are working to gain skills and qualifications in the food and drinks industry. https://theclinkcharity.org

One of the main highlights from the last few weeks is the Lady Val Networking Event at the appropriately ex-court dining room at Browns in Covent Garden.  Lady Val was amusing and deeply passionate about Prisoner Re-integration with her Corbett Network… “coalition of charities, social enterprises, and non-profit organisations and businesses with a social mission. These decision-makers are dedicated to reducing re-offending by helping people with convictions find and keep a job”. 

Prison – You may be confined by it, do not be defined by it.

– The Corbett Network

The Chairman of Timpson, James Timpson, was the guest speaker at the lunch and he was one of the best speakers I ever heard! He obviously was influenced by his parents who fostered children whose parents were in prison.  One of his first visits to prisons was when his mother took him and his siblings with her so the foster child could meet their parents in prison.  James spoke of his leadership ethos of kindness and techniques for getting everyone on board and in work with trust, family friendly policies, as well as a real commitment and strategic focus to help ex-offenders to gain training skills and meaningful employment.  He likes people who relish the trust bestowed on them, staff recognition and had some personality to work and service customers.  He was very funny and engaging in his stories, such as have a Rolls-Royce for an employee of the month at Timpson, staff fund for hardship and support on whatever they like (engagement ring, divorce etc), having a day off on your birthday and measuring the happiness index of employees to judge moral and motivation levels.  James also mentioned other great companies, such as Greggs supporting ex-offenders.  We discussed how entrepreneurial most offenders are due to issues prior to offending, or whilst in prison using very little to get what they need (within reason obviously in prison). I was also pleased to hear James mention his roles in prison reform boards, government policy and improvement for criminal justice advocacy. I found out that The Netherlands is also offering great rehabilitation for prisoners to the point that they are closing a third of their prisons.   We certainly have a Champion and angel in him.  Last but not least – it was heart-warming and blessed to heard James end his talk on the importance of kindness, as well as love.  One man talking to room full of women about this was truly impressive and resonates with my own motto.

On my closing note about the project, I only recently was referred to Lucy Vincent from the charity Food Behind Bars who teaches prisoners to cook their own foods and give them skills that they can use when they come out of prison.  Coincidently, the British Library was hosting a Food in Prison event which was interesting to hear the motivations of their business – such as there was no one focussing on the plight of prison food or even talking about it.  Lucy also feels like she is giving a voice to people in prison.  The other panellists had great thoughts on the state of the funding and support for prisoners – there seems to be no interest in making the food interesting or nutritional as the prisons are ‘not on a holiday’. Lucy is hoping to counter this with using the great bakeries, facilities and equipment available in Brixton for making food, as prisons used to in the past.  However, they discussed health, wellbeing and hope for prisoners in happy prisons – whereby we should make better people and societies and in the long run.  This makes sense for cost and benefits analysis with less financial strain on the prison system.

We can examine the capitalist side of prisons and hope for better in future! On a few of the events – the corruption and privatisation for profit of the prison system was mentioned.  Just as I recently read about prison system in Akala’s book ‘Race Class and the Ruins of Empire’.  However, these discussions, thought leaders, activism and businesses – including Judge Kameel Khan – are inspirational and really are doing great work in giving us solutions to a very complex criminal justice system. 

I look forward to hearing some successful business stories from these graduates from Project ReMake, and great examples of good citizenship for those who are motivated to make the best of their new start and ventures this time around.

What is Good Citizenship?

What is good global citizenship?

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

Here are some of my thoughts about good citizenship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tribute and admiration to my late mother-in-law

Earlier this month my mother-in-law, Maria, passed away. She was a beloved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, auntie, neighbour, friend and worshipper at the Francesca Cabrini Roman Catholic Church in Bedford, England.

The last few weeks has been a time when I am reflecting on the loss of my mother-in-law, and therefore it seems only fit and right that I write this tribute to Mamma. My mother-in-law, Maria, was 91 years and although she had some challenges with her health in the last year – it is still unexpected that she has now passed.  I have known her for about 28 years, and in that time, there are several memories of her warm welcome, kindness, passion, love and family values which had been demonstrated and captured in my memory and heart.

Maria was born in Italy in 1930 in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Italy, which would have been very different than it was today.  She grew up during the war and apparently disliked it for all the harsh realities she witnessed and experienced.  She remembered the bombs and poverty of those days and told these stories over the years.  She started working when she was teenager in a grand house in her town. Santa Maria is a nice town to visit, which is authentically Italian – with relatives still there, I still see their way of life as classic and iconic from their passeggiata, ferragosto celebrations, wedding traditions, family gatherings, local cuisine, songs etc.  The real stories of Capua and the Santa Maria Amphitheatre are great reminders of the ancient and rich heritage that the area still has to this day. 

After the war, she met my father-in-law, Raffaele, on a day out at the Royal Palace in Caserta, where she ‘rescued’ him whilst he was working on the boating lake with her handkerchief when something went in his eyes. They made a beautiful couple and the rest they say is…history.

Being after the war, there was high unemployment in Southern Italy with many emigrating to other countries for work and new opportunities.  This was eventually the same route taken by my in-laws to Bedford, England.  I have blogged and carried our personal research into this in my previous post entitled: “Little Italy – Quarters of the World for Italian Settlers”. What is remarkable is that Raffaele came first on his own for two years as by his contract at the time, so Maria was left behind with one child. Therefore he went back to Italy after two years, but Raffaele returned to Bedford for a second time for work just before my husband was born in Italy.

In the late fifties, Maria made her way with two young sons from Caserta, via Naples, an overnight stay in Milan with a relative, on to Paris, then a ferry via Calais to London.  Raffaele was waiting to meet her in the final part of the journey at Bedford, where they made their home for the rest of their lives, and their children’s lives.  She told me the story a couple of times with some translation from my husband for the parts that are too difficult to relay, or lost in translation.  It was nice to hear that her elder son recognised his father from the photos they had in Italy, as a child can easily forget without visual reminders.  She did tell me she was angry as he was late as there was a mix up with the ticket!

I admire her strength to take this leap with two young children and make a new home in a country where she didn’t speak the language, but also you had to work really hard in conditions that were not easy to make a home and build a life.  Their story is of all migrants coming over in post-war England at the similar time as many Asians, Polish and Caribbean migrants – the hardship they encountered, as well as the opportunities that they took. 

Obviously, although they were Italians – my husband remembers his mother being called racist names, as he was called in school too. I take comfort from the large Italian and multicultural community that still now exists in Bedford and the fact that almost seven decades on, there is still a thriving Italian community in Bedford.

By then, with Maria’s own two siblings in Italy and Brazil – I knew she felt a deep bond to them although it would have been more difficult to communicate regularly in these decades that went by. She still tried her best to keep their families close at heart.

In the sixties and seventies, there are wonderful stories of my family assimilating and integrating with Italian and British culture – from football, church trips to surrounding towns, visits to shows and sightseeing in London – my husband reminds me, such as when his mum went to Café Royale for dinner and dance, and met the boxer Henry Cooper.  My mother-in-law worked in various roles in local industrial businesses and factories, whilst raising two more children (four in total) and to continue to improve their lifestyle in the 1960s – as most post-war families were doing at the time.  It is truly a special zeitgeist. Her neighbours are still here to attest to the bonds and affection that have lasted for decades. This warmth too has been passed on to my family.  Neighbourhoods like these are still the best…when we all care for the well-being and safety of each other. 

Maria welcomed me with open arms and I grew fond of her extremely early on in our relationship.  She was one of the best cooks I have the privilege of knowing.  I bet all Italian mothers and mother-in-laws are great cooks – but obviously Maria has a special place in my heart.  She welcomed me from my first visit and I always tried to help her whenever I visited.  She gave me masterclasses in making pasta from scratch, regional dishes, wine-making, Easter and other festive cakes.  Her meatballs were truly the best! I can just about make a similar pizzagaina for Easter, pizza and calamari, but I still can’t make her stuffed peppers, artichokes etc etc…like she did. I am truly blessed to have had great cooks in my own mother Kamala and in Maria.

My mother-in-law was also well-known for her ‘green fingers’ and love of gardening.  Apparently, she grew a prolific peach tree just from a seed.  And well into her late 80s – she was still gardening every little patch with vegetables, loads of basil and flowers in the summer months.  She also had several pet cats over the years and genuinely loved taking care of these little creatures too.

As mentioned before, the Italian Church in Bedford was built by Italians in 1960’s for their community due to the large size of migrants to the town.  In addition, it is where they celebrate the cycle of life with worship for baptisms, weddings, blessings and funerals. Maria would frequently attend mass, or look at mass via satellite broadcasts on Italian TV in the later years and through the pandemic.  The Italian priest mentioned in her recent eulogy her kind-heartedness, helpfulness and commitment to the congregation. It was only right that we prayed for her at the funeral at this very church, and then on to the Bedford cemetery, where many of her fellow Italian migrants are around her earthly resting place.  We will be holding a memorial mass in February for Maria at the Italian church too.

While we are getting used to saying goodbye – we know how lucky and honoured we are to have known her and have her in our lives. We will cherish the great memories, appreciate the stories, hospitality, support and love she gave us. We will always miss and love her.  May her strong but gentle soul rest in perfect peace, and may eternal light perpetually shine upon her now and forever. Rest in peace. Amen.

In My heart

I thought of you today

But that is nothing new

I thought about you yesterday

And days before that too

I think of you in silence

I often speak your name

Now all I have are memories

And your picture in a frame

Your memory is my keepsake

– Anonymous