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

Difficult changes, after difficult changes but life goes on

This time last year I was hoping for a better year but on reflection, it was more difficult than 2021 for me. There have been changes in every aspect of my personal and professional life and therefore it has been unrelenting.  These changes may have been positive or negative, but due to pandemic, I still feel in a state of flux. I am hoping that life will resume to some normality but I also know this possibly would not happen for a while even though we are going into a new year.  I am just hoping there is some predictability and calm for 2022 – and in say so I hope I haven’t jinxed it!

As I reflect on the last year, I started off by getting Covid-19 in the peak time of the second wave of the Delta variant. I was already working from home and we were in lockdown, but it meant I had to self-isolate from my family.  I spent the time looking at Netflix as I couldn’t focus on work or read a book.  Luckily, I had my meals prepared for me and I didn’t have long covid as some of my acquaintances have a result of catching the virus.  I also found out throughout the year other persons who I know who caught the virus, as well as died from it. So the real impact of the pandemic started to reach me personally. 

The most positive aspect of year was the vaccine roll out which meant that there was some normality in the summer months.  However, only this week I saw a bunch of teenagers drunk on the underground transport not wearing masks and not socially distancing. I still try to maintain my mask wearing whilst on the tube and going into shops.  It is worrying that there is no end in sight in the near future and I am hearing more people say that it is something that “we have to live with”.  I do want to express my gratitude to those who are still working in the healthcare systems as we go into our second year in the pandemic – you all must be exhausted!  Thank you.

It is only in the last six weeks or so we have learnt about the Omicron variant and according to news reports, it is milder but we still don’t know the full impact.  In addition, it is causing positive Covid-19 cases for staff in hospitals and businesses, which will also have an indirect impact on staff, services and businesses.  I had a bad cold about a month ago but it was not the Omicron variant (as far as I know) but I won’t be surprise if I do get it from my social circle, the supermarket, going to local shops or using the underground in the. Next few weeks. Let’s hope not. Keeping mindful, wellness and staying positive are still necessary more than ever.

I believe professionally it has been just as challenging as we adjusted to the hybrid model of working part time in the office and at home.  I had another busy year of delivering information services and this working pattern does seem to work for now.  Of course I have more time with family and less travelling, but after such a long time I had gain some weight.  I am have started losing those excess pounds but I am also right in the holiday season now -so will have to resume my fitness and health eating drive in the new year.  I am just grateful that I have a continuous employment and work is good with two major projects completed this year on top of my normal activities. I have adjusted to these new ways of working and for delivering library and information services. 

It was also a very busy time with volunteering for SLA and SLA Europe.  From SLA Europe arranging a family quiz at home during lockdown, to assisting with our first Virtual Conference in June to a regular programme of webinars and two walks around London.  I was also very busy with SLA headquarters on their task force, Prep Council and when I was nominated for President Elect 2022-2024.  The process was competitive in the summer months, and therefore I had to prepare and research various new activities for the role I was stepping into.  I probably would not have anticipated this move before the pandemic and the use of video conference has really been one of the best transformations in the pandemic.  I know I am not perfect and I’m lucky to have a good set up at home (and in the office) but I have come to the point that I am just being my own genuine self and I believe it is the best I can do in these extraordinary circumstances. Taking on these voluntary roles – I am having to manage time and myself, my day job and my life around new meetings, context and content. I am extremely proud to represent my organisation, my European colleagues and our profession as I take this commitment for another three years starting from January 2022.  Wish me luck!

I also was able to make a mini break in summer but there have been family commitments and building work which meant that I couldn’t just switch off for long period of time.  I was able to get some longer rest time as the autumn months brought about calm and I practically have to use up my work’s annual leave.  I hope to see more of the UK next year too as I’m really not ready to travel abroad unless it is to see family or to go to SLA’s Conference in July 2022.  I am grateful for having access to green spaces and a garden which keep me busy in the summer months.  I always take pleasure in parks and beautiful gardens in my neighbourhood – hopefully I will be able to visit more gardens next year.  I have also been getting lots of lovely plants as presents, and this too is a source of joy for inside my home. 

I have left the hardest sentiments to last.  I miss my colleagues. I miss some social activities. Most of all…I miss my mother. My mother had a severe stroke in March and passed away in June.  I have been thinking of her and I especially miss her at Christmas for our chats and exchanging what we were doing.  Although I haven’t lived at home for 32 years – I still knew she was always a telephone call away and she had such a great positive influence on my life. I do feel a bit lost and sad without her here.  I have obviously been thinking of the meaning of life, love and loss in this sad time – it is only natural to go through this process. I do believe her life, my parents, sibling and relations have lived at an amazing historic time, and I cherish the stories and memories I have to them. I am proud of them. I am also fully aware of my own mortality and hope to make the most of what time I have on Earth.  I only wish for the wellbeing and safety for my love ones, especially in such a strange and turbulent time. 

As we go into another uncertain year, I am hopeful that we will carry on eventually and make the most of a ‘bad situation’ in this pandemic.  It will not be easy but hopefully our resilience and energies will be recharged after this seasonal break, and therefore we will be able to face the future again soon.  I intentionally chose the title of my blog post to ‘life goes on’ as my personal reminder, but I also heard the phrase mentioned recently in a film, and a business client also mentioned it in a seasonal note to me this week.  With this mood and note, I wanted to wish you all the best for the new year! Life goes on.

Lifelong learning – never stop learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still water runs deep – going beyond the surface

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,

And in his simple show he harbours treason…

No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man

Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.

– Henry VI by William Shakespeare, Playwriter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Commons Images. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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