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!

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

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.

Volunteer – your community really needs you!

Just be yourself….  This has been my guiding thoughts in recent years especially after using social media for such a long time in a transparent and open way.  It is hard not to be real or your authentic self and it is where I have been bringing my true self from my local community to my global activities with family, friends and fellow professionals everywhere.   

The last few months has been challenging for me as I get to grips with the loss of my mother but it also seems to be a time when my professional volunteering and work have ramped up with some fierce momentum.  I wanted to let you know some of the main highlights of these activities, how fulfilling volunteering…and work can be, especially if you have direct impact and responsibility for your global and local communities.

August started with my colleagues and I collaborating in the British Library’s Community Engagement programme in our local borough with their holiday club with teenagers, which is part of the footballer Marcus Rashford’s holiday club programme.  We spent two days with young teenagers giving them support, tips and techniques for business ideas.  It was refreshing hearing about the innovative and cutting-edge perspectives they have for new technologies, and other new business models. There is nothing like youth to keep you on your toes!

I particularly like some of the skilful youth workers who knew how to keep young people engaged for the holiday club, and there really is an art to making sure that you connect in a learning environment with teenagers.  It was also a good time for me to be involved with our Community Engagement team in one of their outreach programmes for our local community in the heart of a busy ‘world-class’ city.  I was able to get to know the community engagement project team better and hopefully will be in a position to contribute with them in the future.  We are looking forward to hosting a sustainable theme event in future and ideas are already circulating. So watch this space!

I know that my past employers are doing community engagement, and was aware of the benefits of community from my childhood. In the Community Affairs team at PWC, I was inspired by one of the founders of the department over twenty years ago, where they implemented literacy programmes and various funding streams that were awarded to staff to help with their local communities.  It is good corporate social responsibility, and we need this in such challenging times regardless if we are a first world…or developing country. It makes great business sense to use these outreach and localised initiatives to help with digital literacy, reading and good citizenship. Therefore we can see allies and benefactors in these corporate social responsibility initiatives for our communities and citizens in general.

On a global level, I am beginning to see new ways that world challenges are being incorporated into lines of work and company missions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in 2015 by the UN for a sustainable future in 2030. These guiding principles and focus are now visible in job descriptions, research, books and information being produced in industry, science, academia, etc.  I recently attended online the SLA Europe and SLA Conference where there were great content and visual presentations for example by Elsevier on their resources. They were actively tracking the number of research outputs coming out from countries, their impact and rankings.  Personally, I think the SDGs are great for reminding us of what we should be working on collectively now, and how much more that still needs to be done whilst we sit comfortably on our mainly first world problems. The pandemic has created lots of new challenges whereby we have to be in a position to incorporate, and actively work on these issues and opportunities as a matter of course and urgency. IFLA have also produced a resources page for the SDGs here.

There has been a lot of ways that we can incorporate social good in our volunteering. There are activities in my profession that require us to reach out to others who may need that support, helping hand and lifting up.  Mentoring, informal chats or social get-togethers are great for helping us to make those connections and support systems.  There is something special when we get insights from someone who may be able to offer us guidance, and a support network whether we are looking for a new job, ad-hoc support or industry insights.  I certainly needed a bit of a sounding wall recently for my professional life, and did the same to someone who contacted me after recently moving to Ireland, and another who wanted to chat from New York.  These were held in my own time and it makes it all worthwhile when conversations are fruitful, encouraging and positive.  The pandemic has enabled more meeting by video-conferencing calls, and it is certainly one of the best times to think wider and broader with technology to collaborate with those we can engage with now, and in the future. It was only about seven years ago that I spent £18.00 on a telephone call to Germany when I was introducing a volunteer to her role in supporting me.

As we reposition ourselves in the new normal during this pandemic, it is good to remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done for social justice and equity in the profession…and also in wider society.  It is shamefully shocking how imbalances and unfair some of the societal systems are in place in a predominantly white privileged and supremacist systemic structure. In large countries such as the USA and UK, there are great levels of ignorance which is brought on by inequalities that I can identify with terms such as disinvestment, information poverty, and micro-inequalities.  It is actually very sad and disheartening to see the evidence and context of these terms in the wider context.  Yet we haven’t done enough.  Why is this? Are we given enough funds? Power to execute plans? Support and time?

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of caring for those near and far to us.

Regardless of the big issues we can’t control around us, I still try to do a little as I can when I can.  I recently, have been hearing from local gardeners in my neighbourhood who are busy helping with our local green spaces.  I have less to do as we have actually sorted out green spaces in our neighbourhood over the years but if left unattended…it can become like weeds (which is also good for better ecosystem really).  It has been great to bump into the local professional gardener recently as he said that he can advise me on buying a tree for the street, what soil I may need, and which supplier to use! When it is easy to search online it is so great to get this free advice from a fellow volunteer in the local community.

To sum up my last few weeks, I wanted to remember the people who have inspired me in their generosity in giving their time, effort and perhaps financial support to those causes small and big that will have an impact other people’s life, near or far.  Programmes in our local community and global organisations can all do better and more to engage us with the issues at hand from fighting social mobility, poverty, access to literacy, education, work, care and love. I recently met an ethical fashion business founder who was helping rural communities in India but who also want to ensure that their stories are heard and organic products are showcased.  By building in her story with her strategic partners overseas, she has created a better value proposition for her customers, and it is great for getting their joint story on the road to success within these global sustainable development goals.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

Do tell me that this makes good business sense.

A tribute and celebration of the life of my mother on her passing

OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.

Word meaning: Om: The primeval sound; Bhur: the physical body/physical realm; Bhuvah: the life force/the mental realm Suvah: the soul/spiritual realm; Tat:  That (God); Savitur: the Sun, Creator (source of all life); Vareñyam: adore; Bhargo: effulgence (divine light); Devasya: supreme Lord; Dhīmahi: meditate; Dhiyo: the intellect; Yo: May this light; Nah: our; Prachodayāt: illumine/inspire. Source: https://www.sathyasai.org/devotional/gayatri

I would like to honour and celebrate the life of my mother, Kamala Rampersad, by paying tribute to her life with these few words.  My mother was born in 1940’s Trinidad in a large close-knit Indian family.  I can only imagine how it was from stories, photos and tales told of that period. I do know that this was a family who kept their Indian and Hindu traditions despite being in the heart of Port-of-Spain, but also integrated with Westernisation. 
 
It was a time of great changes after the World War II, and some young girls were given newer professional roles in Trinidad at the time.  My mother completed secretarial examinations in ‘Pitman Training’ for typing, shorthand in the 1950s (later bookkeeping), started driving and working as a personal assistant for her father at his custom broking, left luggage and other businesses.  It was a pioneering time when entrepreneurship and innovation were happening at a very quick pace in the twin islands.  Close friends and other families at this time in Port-of-Spain were running businesses, and newer careers that will go on to create our national identity and culture.  Her family was known and even close to other families, such as Joseph Charles (founder of Solo Beverages), Naipaul (such as in V.S. Naipaul), and some others I won’t mention for privacy. The stories told by her and our relatives are truly great and captures the essence of the class structures in families and society at that time in Port-of-Spain. My mother would have been an active player, as well as a living embodiment of this high calibre of post-war Port-of-Spain. 


 
In the early 1960s my parents got married and this is where, even on a small island, there were stark differences in town and country.  Life in the village was very much still linked to the sugar industry and the surrounding sugar plantations.  My mother had some adjusting to her new life but she also fitted in beautifully and friendly with the other lovely people who are still to this day in the village. There are amazing stories told of life then and the way things had developed over the years.  Religion, cultural traditions and social life were very much integral to the way of life.  There were the usual support systems of the extended family, neighbour and community that pulled together.  I do believe that it was a time when the term “takes a village to raise a child” really does make sense.  I personally witnessed this in the 1970s and 1980s.  It was reassuring in the last few days since her passing I am hearing how she supported other families and individuals in the high, lows, bad and good times in their lives, as well as how some of them have been there for us.  
 
In terms of her achievements, she was able to provide support to several villagers, family and friends for functions by providing some financial support, cooking, chatting, peace-making, helpfulness and good all-round cheerfulness. It is well-known that my mother can cook in bulk and was called ‘the best cook’ and baker in many ways by many people. I will miss her delicious cooking and baking and she was certainly unique in her hand at the various cuisines. She loved music and allowed us to indulge ourselves. She loved Trinidad Carnival and witness the splendour of it in Port-of-Spain from the 1940s. She still loved going to see the mas’ too until recently.


My mother was an active member of the Dow Village Hindu Mandir for decades and had an leading role in their planning, service and events committee – as well as a devotee on a regular basis.  She also volunteered for many community and social initiatives over the years.
 


 
It is the small or big acts of kindness that are the ones that we will treasure forever. I would like to mention that family life will obviously be where her kind-heartedness, gentle and loving nature would come through unconditionally, as with most parents.  As a couple, my parents were the ‘star boy and star girl’ of their generation. They were undoubtedly hard-working, committed parents and wanted the very best for us, especially with sacrificing their own wishes and time so that we can get the higher education in our younger years.  There was little educational support then for those who were average (like me) but wanted to pursue a different field than the one available at the time.  However, they still made it possible for me to ‘follow my dreams’ and to be the person I was hoping to become in London and Europe. The hardest part of all of this is that I left them in a loving family at a very young age.  This love never diminished with distance – it only made it stronger and more cherished to this day.  My parents were great to me, and through my own family I hope their memory and sacrifices will be told for years to come. My mother has been able to travel, as well as spend extended time with my brother in Canada, and most importantly, she was able to visit India twice and this was also one of her dreams growing up as an Indo-Caribbean in the 19th Century.
 
My mother had emotional intelligence and was practising mindfulness before I knew what these were labelled! She was sensitive, spiritual and careful of other people’s feelings – and this is something she took to heart in terms of the use of kind words, actions and deeds.  As she was spiritual and ‘in tune’ with her religion and spirituality, she also seemed to me to practice mindfulness in her mannerisms, thoughts and prayers.  She had a remarkable view of life in a very philosophical way, especially after losing family members, my father and sister (both between 1999-2000). I do think this gave her the ability to see the bigger picture and context of us as players in life and the need for genuine support from those around us – some have labelled her a role model, as well as the peacemaker.  These are not easy to do, and sometimes it is the harder role we take on as leaders in our own life’s way, missions, journey and story. I can tell you real anecdotes and true stories but the moral of her story is that my mother has been influential, and is truly my role model, remarkable and an inspiration. 

 
And so, this is a very brief outpouring of grief, appreciation and thanks after six months of intensive health issues with her wellbeing and health. One day I may be able to give her, her generation, family, neighbours, town and village the justice of a more in-depth piece of writing and research.
 
Today, my family and I wanted to thank all the persons who have helped and supported us recently. I want to thank everyone who has interacted, cared and loved my mother over the years.  She truly was special and she deserves a farewell that is honourable, admirable and appreciative for her way of life, actions and deeds.  I will always miss and love my mother.  I wish her peace, albeit in the after-life, heaven or paradise. It is all the same. May God bless her soul and may ever-lasting love and light shine on her forevermore. 


TVAMEVA MATA PRAYER

Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva Twameva Bandhu, Cha Sakha Twameva Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva-deva

O God, You are my mother, my father, my brother, and my friend. You are my knowledge. You are my only wealth. You are everything to me and the God of all Gods.

This mantra is usually recited at the conclusion of a prayer session, meditation, or religious function. Here the devotee surrenders his or her individuality to the Lord for his Grace.

 
Om Shanti Shanti Om

Euro 2020 – A festival of Football

I really was looking forward to Euros 2020 …last year.  As you know this is now happening in Summer 2021 as it was postponed due to the pandemic.  The football tournament really has light up social media and mainstream media channels!  It has some of us talking in real time again as we are obviously looking at the games live.  I also in typical ‘look away style’, I had one person say to me they don’t want to hear the scores as they can catch up on the game later on playback television.  Football has this magic to get fans and an occasional fan like me excited and interested tournaments, competitions and league games. It is exciting as well as reassuringly almost ‘normal’ in the pandemic to see all the national teams, players, managers, broadcasters and fans enjoying this festival of football.

In Trinidad, Cricket was the main part of our childhood sporting play regime for boys and girls in school and in our consciousness in small villages in the 1970s.  My interest in football started in the early 1980s as my brothers collected footballer profiles cards, and by my classmates too who chatted about the excitement of the World Cup 1982. Otherwise it was also seen on television as we had weekly round ups of the English Football League (shows like Big League Soccer with Brian Moore as presenter), and Italian Serie A at the weekend.  With only one television and two brothers meant that I had no choice but to sit and watch the sport shows with them.  However, it was interesting seeing the usually foggy games in cold England and the sunny glamourous games in Italy.  It is just the way it was presented. And just as the live Wimbledon tennis finals, we used to get the live coverage if the FA Cup final on Saturdays there too.  At this point, I had some understanding of the game and knew of some of the Talisman players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Zico and Paolo Rossi. The festival like opening ceremony of the World Cup 1986 in Mexico followed by the game with Bulgaria vs Italy (the defending champions) was actually the game when I got most interested in watching football.  Hereafter I tried to follow all major Euro and World Cups, as well as the Champions League, except I did actually see many games for the Euros 1992 as I was too busy being a student.

The World Cup 1986 was ideal for getting me interesting as the games started at 4pm when we were at home after school, and they went on in the evening before a school night.  My classmates in my all-girl convent school were all very interesting in the games too and we also ‘fancied’ some of the players. One classmate used to write with chalk ‘A Player of the Day’ on the blackboard. I have had several crushes on footballers over the years and I guess it totally natural to admire some of these players or even managers.  Mexico was so exciting and the players that we saw on our screen exposed me to the world, their fans and all the various cultures at the time.  I obviously loved looking at the game of football too.  I remember the Brazilian fans with their samba drums specifically and after Italy were knocked out…. I actually wanted France to win when Michel Platini was their captain.  They too lost the semi-finals and I had my first feeling of football loss and hurt when they didn’t make it to the final.  However, we all know that legendary and super talented Diego Maradona and his Argentinian Team lit up the World Cup 1986.  I remember that my school had a summer fair the same time of the final in 1986 and they used an annexe room with a projector to show the final between Germany and Argentina.  It truly was a great vintage year to get hooked on these international tournaments. 

After the World Cup 1986, I used to then love looking at the Italian Serie A TV and newspaper news roundup with some of the star footballers I got to know from the tournament and it was great to follow the league for a few more years until I moved to England.  I also remember seeing the Heysel Stadium Disaster as it was shown live in the afternoon in Trinidad, and we also had the news on the Hillsborough Disaster the day it happened.  Both of these are still sad to think about and we forgot when England was punished for participating in European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster. It also took a long time for the Hillsborough Disaster to be resolved and it is still remembered on the sad anniversary.

Fast forward a few years and the World Cup 1990 in Italy was also great.  I was by now studying in England and it was one of the best campaigns in a major competition, with the Paul Gascoigne becoming a star for English fans.  I still had (and believe I still do) like to other countries too that I take too depending on the competition.  The theme song Nessun Dorma always reminds of that campaign and I do have lovely memories of looking at it during the heatwave of 1990. One of the best take-aways of 1990s is that Gascoigne moved to Lazio in Italy and eventually lead to Italian Football being shown on Channel Four.  My brother used to look at these games but eventually I met my Italian husband whose first love is football! He told me so and eventually I also witness the same with my son.  My husband remains a bit football fan with my son and I am sure he has lots of stories if going to football matches in the 1960s and onwards when they were affordable and he can catch a train to London and still have change to food and the tickets etc. I must get him to write those stories!

Again a lot of my time in 1990s with my husband was spent looking at Italian football and other games and competition.  I had no problem looking at these games and really got into the Italian football, and the amusing Football Italia that was brilliantly presented by James Richardson in some fabulous looking Italian venue with his cocktail, or espresso.  It was exciting to see the game and stadiums live in Italy and although I have seen some live football games in the UK…. I still dream of going to see a game in the San Siro in Milan.  These were the heady days of great Italian footballers with style, flair, glamour and talent. Personally, I am sure the games tactics and fitness regimes etc were adopted by the English game with Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, etc coming to the English clubs and influencing their game.  At the same time there were also other pop culture show such as Fantasy Football which were amusing to watch.

One of the things I wanted to highlight about those 1990s stars and players that I love is that they are now currently managers of the Euro 2020 with some of them having their children playing in some of the international teams.  I checked on social media and I am not the only one who is beginning to feel old.  It is great when football is universal and inter-generational like this. I have been thinking how difficult it must be to manage these teams and to win (as well as lose) these competitions.  In must be such a demanding job but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility and insight into the game and players.  It is always interesting to see how people respond and also how tense it be!

One of the best highlights of the 1990s is Italian making but losing the World Cup 1994 when I saw how passionate my Italian relatives get about football.  I also went to a great ‘Festival of Football’ organised by a journalist on the cusp of the World Cup 1998 at the National Theatre on the Southbank where the programme had football related cultural activities and talks.  I saw interviews with George Weah, George Best and the finale was a Football theme Ballet by a Scottish Production company. 

National pride and patriotism are also evident in international football competition and there is a whole sub-culture with club football.  I do believe some people live and breathe football and swear allegiance as well as rivalry based on clubs, locations, religion, politics etc.  It is just a game of football but there is so much more at stake with the business of football.  Being a business information professional, I used to obtain many copies of football reports and reviews by accountancy firms.  The club leagues and international competition is big business.  Nations are building their countries’ national identity – think if Nelson Mandela for South African 2010 and the introduction to the ‘vuvuzuela’.

Cities with infrastructure and investment aim to host competitions as it also brings in funds, on top of the broadcasting rights and merchandising etc.  The player market or transfer market is also so unbelievable.  I used to pay attention to these topics and know that there are apps and game information etc.  Play Station games and other goods are some of the everyday items I see in my own home.  The cost of tickets is atrocious but the last game I went to was to fundraise at local Leyton Orient (I am still serious about Milan though!).

As we are midway through the Euro 2020, this has been a great way to find entertainment in our own homes.  Stadiums in the pandemic are mostly not filled to capacity but it is interesting to see how some games have adapted.  Fans are still enjoying the experience and it different to normal years.  The bars, pubs and homes in neighbourhood are also getting into the festival of football fever.

The football has been great and some of the games really make you come alive with excitement or nail-biting tension – so our emotions can go from one extreme to another.  It is great too to see technology being developed for and around the game such as VAR.  Football will continue to a world gripping sport to play…as well as to watch.  It truly is a beautiful game.

Food and Drink – Elixir of Life

One year on in the pandemic, last four months of lockdown, and we are mainly in our homes.  Without a doubt, one of the essential aspects of existence is food and this has been a source of comfort in these times.  In addition as I walk in my local area, food market, shops, suppliers and take-aways are the only shops open for the last four months.  Most restaurants are only offering take-aways and because we have all the time to cook – enjoying food has been one of the most pleasurable aspects of life in the last year.  For this sustenance and pleasure in a pandemic, I have decided to write about this ever-relevant topic now as an Elixir of Life. 

Elixir of Life

As I walk along the usually busy market and high roads in my neighbourhood – they are still being use for supplying food to residents.  If we recall, we ran out of pasta last March, but it seems supplies have stabilised with local shops able to supplement some of the stock we couldn’t get from the larger national supermarkets.  In the meantime, there are other issues with supplies due to Brexit, and I have certainly noticed some items missing on supermarket shelves.  As part of my daily walking routine, I intentionally take routes that would take me past local shops that I may want to pick up some items from a variety of local shops. 

I have discovered some real great speciality shops – including Kurdish, Turkish, Asian and Caribbean.  I usually go into them to get pigeon peas, salt fish, curry powder from Trinidad, brown lentils (£1.29), and other items that is imported from far, far, away. I have been able to make dishes from my homeland such as saltfish ‘Bujol’ salad, pilau (rice) with the pigeon peas, curries and stews. Usually I buy puy lentils from the larger supermarkets but they are more expensive at £3.50.

In the last few months, I have also discovered the joy of buying fresh fish from the local fish shop. Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, it was very normal to grow up on fresh fish dishes and I remember seeing cleaning of fishes with gills and scales etc.  Therefore it is no big deal for me to buy fish like this but the shop is able to clean and slice these up if you want them to do so.  The local fish shop does have an amazing selection of fishes that I haven’t seen in ages – Trevally, Red Snapper, Sprats, large fresh prawns, shark, lobster including crabs.

Shark served in a home-made fried bread bun, known as ‘shark & bake’ is actually a real delicacy in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is famously served from the beach huts on Maracas Beach in Trinidad – we usually take a picnic for lunch but try to get a ‘shake & bake’ before making our way home. We bought some shark in January which I hope to replicate here in London.  However, this was the moment I realised that I definitely had Covid-19 when I could not smell or taste the ‘shake and bake’ I made at home.  I have been telling my friends that I was feeling unwell that morning and was in no mood to cook but as it was shark and unfamiliar to my husband – I had to cook it with other items plus could not smell or taste it as it I had Covid-19! The next day I had a test and it confirmed that I was Covid-19 Positive.

A few weeks after when I regained my tastebuds and sense of smell, I was able to buy some red snapper and fresh prawns to savour their freshness and flavours.  I made a Trinidadian Fish stew the long way with my own stock and come cornmeal cou-cou. Again one of the most enjoyable aspects in the pandemic is catching up on social media with family and friends and watching interesting cooking programmes.  The social media algorithm has definitely worked to push videos of local Caribbean cooking to me, and if I have the time, I have been looking at them.  The most popular and relevant to my cultural background is Foodie Nation. There are also some other local celebrities with less glamour and more gritty presentation styles – such as using their own kitchen or event an earthen/mud-based stove with wood burning fire, which I remember from growing up in the Caribbean. I am getting inspired to cook all these amazing dishes but I must also watch my waistline!

In a city as diverse and multicultural as London, it is wonderful having access to a wide variety of foods and supplies in local markets. I sometimes still see vegetables or products that I still haven’t seen before.  It really makes me curious as to what they are, and how I can use them.  I recently spent time looking at the BBC’s Rick Stein in South Asia, and other parts of the world.  I was so inspired by some of the ingredients I saw for the recipes, such as fresh coconut, turmeric, tamarind, lemon grass, shrimp paste et cetera. I made some of these dishes from using these raw ingredients as they are same ingredients that we use in the Caribbean.  Facebook shows fabulous videos by authentic cooks, who use social media to share their home cooking with these tropical flavours.  It is great that I can find some of these ingredients in the heart of winter in a European country.

I live in Walthamstow which has gone through gentrification…and literally upmarket in the last few years.  There are numerous hipster and trendy shops that are also mixed with the local East End London shops.  For example, my colleague Neil also mentioned that there is a downward trend in Curry Houses (Asian restaurants) as younger people adopt healthy lifestyles.  Therefore, Asian restaurants are having to adapt their menus to more healthy options to complete with these lifestyle changes.  In addition prior to the pandemic, there was also a downwards trend for Pubs in the UK – just imagine how this will also be impacted during and after the pandemic. For the last few months there has been an upward trend to go for coffee, tea or hot drinks takeaways as the pubs and restaurants have been closed due to the pandemic restrictions. 

Talking about takeaways in lockdown, we have also ordered food on Uber Eats three times for family meals from local restaurants – from local Turkish, Nigerian, and West Indian restaurants. We had a home-cooking gift from Lina Stores from Soho to make a couple of Italian dishes.

Despite the great access to so much food at a reasonable price that is available in our local market in Walthamstow, there are a lot of people who are experiencing hardship to make ends met before, and especially now in the pandemic.  There have been food banks already available in our local areas as displayed by the Trussell Trust, and they are being use more so in the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic a year ago, our local charities and support systems got into motion to provide food to those shielding and vulnerable.  Now there are other challenges with redundancies and other inequalities due to the negative impact of the pandemic.   It is great to see that our local charities and food banks are being supported. One local creative gentleman created little food banks with crowdfunding for the community to leave items for donation and collection.  I have made a note to put some items in it, and will try to do so.

As we go into the Spring, I am getting ready to prepare some Easter Italian baking and also to try some more new recipes I have found digitally.  Usually when I share my own cooking on social media I get messages for the recipes. My family are foodies and do eat a lot of Italian food too! There is very little that we can do socially in these challenging times, but sustaining ourselves with good, tasty and interesting food has been one of the key pleasures we have been able to continue in the comfort of our own homes.

Glory glorious food – Oliver (The Musical)

Food, glorious food!
What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more —
That’s all that we live for
Why should we be fated to
Do nothing but brood
On food,
Magical food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Fabulous food,

[OLIVER]
Beautiful food,

[BOYS]
Glorious food

Other Sources:

Foodie Nation – https://www.foodienationtt.com/

Cooking with Ria – https://cookingwithria.com/2011/07/trinidad-pelau.html

The Spruce Eats – https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-bake-and-shark-2137995