On the agenda…Planet Earth

Om Sam Maa Sinchantu Murutah Sam Poosha Sam Brihaspatih –

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

Line from a Hindu Mantra.

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

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South East England

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Shared by my contacts on Facebook

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Steady Progress – a lifetime of learning

This month I am coming to you LIVE from my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, the twin islands in the Caribbean.  I don’t visit home very often so I will definitely indulge myself here and share some photos of the country with you.

 

 

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I am here for my 30th School Anniversary Reunion and a holiday.  Therefore, I have been thinking of my schooling and education in general.  I was fortunate to have my nursery school closeby and my first primary school, Esperanza Presbyterian School, only two houses away from my home.  The motto of this primary school is ‘Knowledge is Power’, and still is today. I was an average achieving child and the teaching focus was on Mathematics. It was fun to go home during breaks, lunchtime and even to use our own toilet.  I remember putting on my mother’s lipstick sometimes in breaks, and doing the privileged things you would do if you live two houses away from your primary school.  I quite liked the school and have fab memories of playing in the school yard at weekends and during the holidays with other children in my neighbourhood.

 

 

At the age of seven, I changed schools to attend a private school called Sevilla School for the employees of the now defunct sugar producing company Caroni (1975) Limited. I initially had some difficulty adjusting to the new teaching styles, and a curriculum that was focussed on literacy more so than mathematics. Reading out loud in front of classmates was a dread for me, but my Grade Three teacher, Mrs Lalla, recognized that I needed some extra help.  To assist me with my literacy, she allowed me to take home a book from the school library in the head teacher’s office (Mrs L. L. Mike) to read at home with my mother.  It was not all scary as my forte at that time was in mathematics, learnt at my previous school, and I distinctly remembered getting the equations finished and correct before all my classmates in that grade.  I even received an award, which was the book of the story of Heidi, in my first year in this new school for mathematics at the end of year prize giving ceremony.

The next three years at primary school I eventually caught up in my literacy levels. So much so that I received a prize for ‘Steady Progress’ in my last year, which was a book of Girl Stories which I still have.  My sister on the other hand, had adjusted very quickly to her new school and was very academically inclined.  She won prizes every year in our new school including three prizes one year for Mathematics, Good Citizenship and Perfect Attendance.  There is a Caroni (1975) Limited corporate news article on her in a family album, and I am very proud of her even today.

 

My next school was Holy Faith Convent, Couva – a secondary school for girls that has been one of the top performing schools in Trinidad.  I had seven happy and memorable years growing up and learning at this school.  Recently, our 30th anniversary school reunion was suggested and organized after most of the school mates joined a Facebook Group.  A few hardworking, committed and kind schoolmates volunteered to help plan and organize our reunion with meetings internationally via Skype, What’s App, email etc. I personally want to thank the main organisers for a terrific weekend for re-connecting with our ‘sisters’, as we fondly like to call ourselves.

 

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There are so many wonderful, innocent, brilliant and funny memories we shared at school that it was no surprise that when we all met again after 30 years a couple of weeks ago – we chatted non-stop, and carried on like we haven’t been apart for decades. Some of us have kept in touch over the years, others have fallen off the radar, and three schoolmates sadly have died.  Regardless of time, we share memories and an understanding of a special formative time in our development. Our school song was excellent for transporting us back to those days and reinforcing us with the kind ethos of the school.  Attending an event like this gives you a perspective on where you came from, the journey you made and the road ahead. I was proud to see the girls, now women, and hear about our struggles, the challenges and achievements.  It makes you realise the importance of roots, genuine friends and that basic right…a good education. Learning never really stops.

Thirty years ago our Graduation theme was a ‘Time to Remember’ (my chosen suggestion as it was a song title by Billy Joel).  Our valedictorian then and now is the Honourable Judge Marlene Smith.  Marlene reminded us of her speech and linked it back to us 30 years on to the present with her recital and understanding of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Four Quartets’ – it all seemed to make sense with time. We are very proud of Marlene and she also came from my village in Trinidad.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

…T.S. Eliot

We also had thoughts on the current way of the world, gratitude for and anecdotes on our teachers, the nuns in the school convent, praise and even some heckling for our fellow schoolmates.  There was excellent food, drinks, steel pan band, DJ, photographer, songs by students and teachers, and dancing until 2am. The venue was on the East coast of Trinidad and was great for relaxing as well as seeing each other over two days. It was utter fun and I am so glad I came to Trinidad for the reunion – do watch out as we are planning a school reunion in London and Paris in 2021.

 

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On the Sunday morning after our reunion, one of my schoolmates offered to lead us on a hike in a nearby rain forest near Salybia. It was an offer I could not refuse as I was looking for something exactly like that for my children to experience.  Akeeta Ali, our hike leader, was amazing and clear at giving us instructions from the onset, pointing out risks, tips and the promise of the beautiful Waterfall at the end of the trail. The trail was wild, muddy, wet, humid and you certainly had to watch your step and hold tight at most times – frequently using the roots of ginormous trees to pull you up or their root groves for support.  The sound of the rivers, birds, animals, fishes and the wind were also spectacular.

Like with most things in life – some of the novice hikers went at a slower pace while the more confident and experienced ones went ahead.  Certainly there was teamwork and camaraderie as we formed groups, and it was good to see the novices take the lead at times within the group.  All in all – I loved every moment of it and the experience was worth it for the beautiful waterfall at the end. We then had to make our way back with the whole exercise lasting about three hours. This is a great exercise for team building and I am pleased I had experienced this type of nature exploration as a child growing up in Trinidad.

 

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I am still on holiday in Trinidad and Tobago and there is no place like home!  A place where you have nothing to prove to anyone – you can just be yourself.  I love coming home to Trinidad and Tobago for this reason and it is very nice to spend time with family and friends you haven’t seen for a long time.  The country is also in constant development and it is amazing to see new roads, buildings, shopping malls, foods, musical styles, and reacquaint oneself with the familiar.  It isn’t always a perfect paradise here – there are high levels of crimes for a small island and litter annoys me as much as it does in London – but hopefully this can be changed with some extra pride and public awareness campaigns.

 

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As I literally switch off here, most of the year we are busy with work and our own busy interests – but being on holiday is a dedicated period when we can enjoy going at a slower pace, take it easy and to simply relax. My holiday in Trinidad & Tobago is certainly a time for me to rest, before I get ready, steady and get going again in this wild world.

Magnificent Summer Art: roots to blossoms

The summer days are here and I have been looking forward to June with much anticipation. The reason for this excitement is the biennial E17 Art Trail 2017, which ran this month with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) theme. In cold January, some of my neighbours and I met in the pub to discuss how were going to participate in the art trail.  After a brainstorming session, we agreed that we would try to begin the process of creating a community garden in a public space that was a little nondescript, and in need of some attention.  Our title art trail submission from this garden was ‘Tree of Life’ which worked with the existing trees already in the green space, and to highlight the environmental benefits of this little oasis on the corner of a residential area and busy high street.

Earth, Wind and Fire

Sun, Rain

Wind, Snow

Hail, Sleet,

Chaos, Calm

Energy, Light

Day, Night

Earth, Sky

Stars, Moon

Out and Open to the Elements

Our Tree of Life.

by Seema.

Fast forward a few months to June and we have now created a community garden with some community funded that was kindly suggested by our local councilor Cllr Saima Mahmoud. We also found out from Cllr Saima that for the long term, we can nominate the space for a council run project call ‘Making Places’. We most certainly will be looking to develop this place further.

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In the last few months, I have relished the art elements of helping to create the garden and sourcing STEAM items, such as solar lights, wind chimes, bird nests, paints and other items to showcase the trees. We also got dirty in the process of tidying and clearing the area one weekend, and planted the garden borders another weekend.  Without a doubt – I loved coordinating and decorating the terracotta pots that were distributed to 20 residents too decorate, and then plant them with an outdoor plant.  It was even more pleasurable to get them delivered to my home one by one – it was a privilege to hold them if only temporary in my own garden before the official launch of the E17 Art Trail on 3rd June.

Bob, a local resident, also came up with a brilliant idea to create cogs with the help of the local wood turners, Nichols Brothers, to the STEAM theme.  The cogs were a hit with the garden visitors, and I frequently saw children playing with them as I went past.  I also liked that it reflected the cycle of the life of a tree.  Since then I have paid attention to many by-products from trees – paper, furniture, buildings etc.  I was even inspired to buy a wooden bracelet from a shop off Walthamstow Market that only sold wooden products.

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We placed STEAM themed poems on one of the trees to add interest to the garden especially as we are officially known as Poet’s Corner E17. We have already showcased poems and stories a few years ago, and coincidently when I was researching this idea, I saw the Royal Botanical Garden in Scotland also had poems on their trees.  John Hudson, a poet with local connections, had one of his poems displayed in their tree…and ours of course! I was also motivated to write some brief poems (some on here, be kind to me!) as they were tweeted during the art trail.

Tree of Life

Give me a…

T – Towering

R – Rejuvenating

E – Energising

E – Elasticity

o – Oxygen

f – Fibrous

L – Living

I – Indigenous

F – Fruitful

E – Evergreen (sometimes)

Tree of Life.

by Seema.

We also wanted to encourage wildlife, and so we sourced two bird nests for one of the trees. I had the pleasure of painting them with my son.  I made a point of tagging on to 1000 Swifts project to raise awareness of Walthamstow Wetlands (one of the largest urban wetlands in Europe), and Swifts as part of the E17 Art Trail. There were literally fabulous artistic Swifts all over Walthamstow that were displayed everywhere locally!  The magic and serendipity was also apparent on social media with RSPB sharing facts and figures about the importance and habits of this extraordinary bird.  Swifts migrate all the way from Africa to Europe each year, and can fly without stopping for days and months.  They became a metaphor to me – the Swifts in flight were like music to my ears…floating and gliding on their merry way, and so I was inspired to include them in the garden.

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We collaborated with another art trail project called the Bird Box Stories (@birdboxstories). There were several artistically decorated Bird Boxes that were distributed around Walthamstow, and in them they contained a notebook and pens for you to continue the collaborative story. You can also draw a little picture if you preferred.  It was a lovely to continue the story written by someone else whilst sitting and taking in the garden view in the sunshine. Some writers used the Bird Box notebook to give us positive feedback on the garden too!

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The garden will continue hopefully in the long term as we are going to nominate it in the borough’s Making Places project as mentioned above. Hopefully it will develop into a proper place for the local community, residents and passer-bys near a busy main street with phenomenal amount of regeneration in the area. We really could not leave this spot neglected for much longer.  In our ‘Welcome Hour’ for the opening weekend of the garden, and frequently during the art trail – we had positive feedback from local residents, businesses, strangers and passer-bys on how some simple low-budget items, and plants had transformed the public green space and made it into a ‘place’.  I saw people reading, chatting, reading poems, admiring the space and generally appreciative of what we as residents and volunteers have completed.  It feels very worthwhile!

In the performance art side, we also held a puppet show ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ by E17 Puppets on the road at our new street gallery. The performance was brilliant, funny, interactive and very engaging for children and adults.  Our main concern was that it did not rain on the beautifully handcrafted puppets.  This area of our neighbourhood was recently pedestrianized and it a much more pleasant area than the rat-run it used to be.

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In the neighbourhood, we certainly had some serious fun with our 6th annual street party with the New York Block party inspired theme.  We had a live funk brass band called ‘The Cracked’, salsa instruction and dancing, serious grooves with our resident DJs and fun activities on one of the hottest summer days of the year. See more photos on our blog here.  Hopefully 40 years in the future…the children will remember these fun times as I remember growing up similarly in Trinidad.

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I also attended a fab concert a St Mary’s Church in the neighbourhood to see Senegalese Kora player, Seckou Keita, who is one of the best Kora players. The instrument is beautiful (partly made out of a Calabash tree fruit) and made mesmerising music. Seckou Keita was great at telling stories whilst playing the Kora and getting us to sing back, such as in a ‘call and respond’ gospel style.

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I was so pleased that I was able to see this concert as part of a new initiative call the St Mary’s Art Collective.  The same church also had displays for the art trail which included fab women in STEM by the artist Emma Scutt, a Caribbean Windrush installation and other pieces by young artists.

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It was funny that week as I went to churches three times for art trailing and social reasons! I also went into Westminster Abbey for a work-related Summer Reception and was impressed with the 1200s era mural, Poets Corner, stained glass windows and other interesting features of the abbey.  It was the first time I went inside the abbey after remembering Prince Andrew’s and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding televised live to Trinidad, as well as other televised state occasions since then.  I also visited St Saviour’s Church in Walthamstow to see Veronique’s, my friend, art trail display.  I even bought one of her pieces and she was raising funds for a local charity she supports called Carefree Kids.

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Special thanks to all the neighbours who helped create the community garden and also for the E17 Art Trail team for giving us the opportunity to create art in a place where we live for the whole community and guests.  There is always something creative going on in my neighbourhood, where I work and sometimes at home. So I may seem relentless on social media, as some of you have mentioned to me.  I can only explain that there is some special energy where I am, or it is just me being me.

If you want to see my neighbourhood’s art heritage, the ‘Be Magnificent’ exhibition on the art school influence of Walthamstow School of Art 1957-1967 is currently on at William Morris Gallery. This really is a motivation place to get your creative sparks, heat and inspiration.  Like our ‘Tree of Life’ small community garden in its’ natural living form, and with future plans for development of the place – the roots are there with hope and aspiration for its’ future, and I have an inkling feeling that out of this small art project, the best is yet to come!

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Put Spring in your step

April is the cruelest month, Breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

The Wasteland.

I, The Burial of the Dead
T.S. Eliot (Poet)

T.S. Eliot obviously had his reasons for writing ‘April is the cruellest month…’ in his Wasteland poem, but it is in a puzzling and ambiguous style to remind us of Spring. In reality, it is one of the most upbeat time of the year to get outdoors in better Spring weather. It is a time when gardens are in need of some tender-loving-care (TLC) after the long and cold winter months, and so do us for our own well-being and happiness. It is exciting and compulsory to get the lawn cut, give the garden borders a new lease of life, renew with new soil, plants and ornamental features.

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I have always liked gardens and gardening. I used to help my parents maintain our garden at home and still like spotting tropical and exotic plants from the Caribbean on my wanders around London and on holiday. There some adorable gardens in the United Kingdom and Kew Gardens is am must if you are looking for garden inspiration, a place to picnic and for relaxing for the whole family.

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In March for the last few years, we have had a head start with gardening in my neighbourhood with a borough wide ‘Spring Clean’ Day. Residents usually register online with the council and are given equipment for cleaning, free compost and plants for public green spaces. The social and health benefits for this scheme is amazing for an urban environment, where residents can engage in their local communities and environment.  The results are that residents take ownership of these green areas and a positive dialogue with the local authority is in place. With this engagement in the community, we have frequent input into consultations and decisions that may affect our neighbourhood. Some residents have adopted some free spaces with gorgeous guerrilla gardening! Residents have so far transformed an alleyway, facilitated outdoor street art and changed our air quality with closure of a rat-run roadway. These little initiatives have enhanced our areas and created pride in our neighbourhood.

I do have herbs, plants, and trees already in my garden and have been a keen urban gardener for about 20 years. Around springtime, I also start planting seeds for my favourite vegetables – such as courgette and herbs. I love planting courgette as it is easy to grow, get crops all throughout the summer, and I have my own supply of courgette flowers! The Italians have been cooking and eating it for years – the flowers are delicious.  I have made so many dishes with courgettes as you may have noticed on social media! …But I am not apologising as this year there was a courgette shortage crisis. So I am very pleased that it is not some sort of silly habit of mine. This spring, I am being more ambitious with planting tomatoes, French beans and more plants.

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I have an apple tree that looks beautiful in spring with blossoms now but later in the year I look forward to making apple crumble, apple pie, tart tatin, chutney or anchar from the apples in the tree. One day, I would like to plant another apple tree too.

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My mother-in-law is an amazing gardener and used to have a very self-sufficient garden. She is a bit older now and doesn’t plant a lot but she used to produce and bottle her own year-round supply of tomato passata from her own garden! Together with her home grown basil – the Italian ragu sauce was even more amazing!

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One social media Springtime success story is the humble bluebell in woods as described by the National Trust. If like me you have seen bluebells shared in Facebook, Twitter and blogs – it is one of the greatest pleasures that you would find for free in Spring. I found out on Twitter that there is a Bluebell woods near me in Wanstead, and went there last year for the photos below. I am hoping to go there again with two friends soon. It is magical to see the ground covered in colour! One request they ask for – is for visitors to stick to the pathways as the plants are adorable but delicate. If you are a professional or amateur photographer, the bluebells in April really is a must to see.

The gardening business and industry are vast with large garden centres, independent businesses and markets too. IBIS world reports that Flowers and Plant Growing have had some recently “growth after some barren years” in the United Kingdom.  At work, we frequently get gardening startups coming into to do research for their business. A few weeks ago, I visited the Columbia Road Flower Market in Tower Hamlets. I have been there several times before, and it is best to go on a Sunday morning about 9am. Parking is restricted but you can get the bus or public transport. The flower and plant stalls are amazing to see with cockney stallholders. The shops along the sides are interesting and quirky – and you can grab a light brunch or lunch. There was definitely a street party feel with buskers outside on that sunny morning when I went recently. It was also Palm Sunday and there was an Easter Procession with a Scottish bagpiper and traditional donkey. A few years ago there were lots of Pearly Kings and Queens for an annual event. What is obviously changed is the large number of tourists that visit the market and you can tell by the various European languages heard.  They like me, were taking lots of photos of the flower market to share.

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There is a cluster of garden centres in Crews Hill, just inside the M25 in Enfield. If you are looking for that hard-to-find plant or garden ornament – do take make a visit but you may need a car for all the plants you buy!

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This Spring, I am keeping busy with our residents and volunteers in my neighbourhood to create a small urban community garden next to a busy high street in time for the launch of the E17 Art Trail with a ‘Tree of Life’ submission. We also have long term plans for this green space and will be working with our fabulous councillors to suggest ideas. We are actively sourcing plants and objects for the STEAM theme for the art trail, and excited for the long term plans to make this a little oasis of calm and beauty on a busy urban high street.

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As ongoing research has shown, the environmental and ecological benefits for gardening is for our own well-being, fitness, mental health and sustainability. The beauty, colours and gifts of flowers, plants and trees are great for us whatever the time of year. They are beautiful and naturally made…sometimes with help from us. April is just the beginning of this happy warmer season in colder northern hemispheres, and let’s remember with appreciation and anticipation that the best is yet to come with Spring and Summer blooms and fruits.

Fashion Conscious

I am not an expert, queen or slave to fashion but like most people, I have a keen interest in fashion throughout the ages. Growing up with lots of women and female cousins around me meant that we would chat, admire and pass on hand-me-downs items of clothing. I think that was such a lovely and memorable part of growing up. Again, I repeat that I come from a little island in the Caribbean but we were still in step with fashion trends. Matriarchs in my family have some fabulous photos of classic late 1950’s and 1960’s fashion, and some of these would look just as on trend today! There are two points that I like about this – the sustainability of sharing unwanted clothes with close ones, and the important creative inspiration that fashion archives are for new creations and innovations.

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It is so easy to find historic fashion on the web in various fashion archives. I follow Europeana on Twitter @Eurofashion, and I’m warning you that they frequently share real treasure designs and photos that will give you fashion flashbacks! The special thing about fashion is that it can still seem very fresh in the right context and setting. I am lucky because as I work at the British Library…and we have access to archived fashion books, magazines (Vogue archive) and even dress patterns.

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I have also met many start-up businesses that are using the current research resources to plan and grow their businesses from designing and selling fashion from childrenswear, women’s plus sizes, womenswear and menswear, lingerie, shoes, handbags etc. The fashion opportunities are endless. I have also blogged about fashion along these same lines here in this link in ‘Fashion has nowhere to go but in Circles’ on the Business & IP Centre’s blog.

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Jumpsuit

Customised and seamstress dressmaking was a great aspect of growing up in 1970’s and 1980’s Trinidad. We had fashion shops, markets and shopping malls but it was still special when we would go with our specific designs to seamstresses for these designs to be made uniquely in the fabric, colour and made-to-measure for ourselves. Before the internet, we would get fashion and design ideas from television, film, music videos and American shopping catalogues too – such as JC Penny. I remember a few seamstresses that used their dressmaking skills as a livelihood and business to support their families. Presently, some of my friends are keen dressmakers at home for their own consumption, and have been creating fashion pieces in their spare time to their preferred tastes, which I think is amazing!

One of my favourite customised outfits I remember, and have a photo of, was my first jumpsuit! I was about 7 years old and my lovely grown up neighbour, Radica, took me with her to San Fernando (a city in Southern Trinidad) to get it made. I remember the cotton denim look and the little red berries pattern on the fabric. I loved it! Jumpsuits were initially a world fashion trend in the 1970s (possibly older). However even then, I remember that it was awkward to go to the lavatory in a jumpsuit. Fast forward to the present – and the jumpsuit is back as seen in these Pinterest curated photos. And I am still trying to perfect the art of using a jumpsuit at parties and festivals.

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Jumpsuit for a boat party – Summer 2016.

Continue reading “Fashion Conscious”

Diwali – Celebrating the Festival of Lights

In the United Kingdom, you can see the onset of the changing season with the changes in the environment – colours of leaves on shrubs and trees, falling leaves, perennial shrubs with winter berries, and the drying and withering of the summer blooms and greenery. As those autumnal weather and winds come in October, it signals the end of summer but there are a few celebrations that I like that make me optimistic for the new colder and darker seasons. It is the time of year that I can look forward to celebrating Diwali at home, in my small way.

Diwali may be spelt in English differently as Divali or Deepawali, but in essence it is the Festival of Lights that has been celebrated in India for thousand of years. As a child in Trinidad, Diwali was one of the highlights of the year and usually occurs in late October or early November. It is one of Indian Hindu traditional festivals that is still practised to this day in Trinidad by East Indian migrants.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, there was a slow build up to Diwali by local community groups, businesses and other official celebrations in temples and fairs. In our village, the villagers used to plan weeks in advance to cut bamboo rods from local forests. The giant bamboo rods were split for their natural groves, which were then used to rest and decorated lit deeyas (clay pots). The bamboos were cut and shaped in various artistic ways, and in arches that ran along the streets. The deeyas were light with oil and cotton wicks, then set alight at approximately 18:00 hours when the sun was setting at this time of year. It is also believed that the Goddess Lakshmi enters homes at that time with her light.

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Goddess Lakshmi

Diwali is allegedly a traditional held on one of the “darkest night of the year”. Growing up in Trinidad – our streets would be cleaned, swept, weeded, pavement white-washed and homemade paper buntings would be placed from one end of the street to the other. Our street also had a musical stage and entertainment at one end including prizes sponsored by local business for various categories such as a Diwali Queen. I am not sure if our street started the Diwali ‘streets’ celebration (I guess it was as we were the hip ones!) – however it was a tradition that was influential. Eventually most of the village’s streets were decorated with bamboo arches with lit deeyas. It was truly amazing to see and experience the beauty of the lights! There was immense energy with people in thousands walking along the streets. Seriously…there used to be traffic jams on our street with the sheer quantity of people walking and cars on the streets to see the Diwali lights. As a child, I used to love walking around the streets and meeting other neighbours, family and friends. They were extra-special times and the memories are for us to cherish!

Eventually most of the village’s streets were decorated with bamboo arches with lit deeyas. It was a truly amazing to see and experience the beauty of the lights! There was immense energy with people in thousands walking along the streets. Seriously…there used to be traffic jams on our street with the sheer quantity of people walking and cars on the streets to see the Diwali lights.  …on Diwali.

There would be visitors from neighbouring villages and towns, including my own relatives from Port-of-Spain would come to see the lights, as well as the lovely delicious vegetarian food that was prepared at home that day. It was also a time to invite friends who don’t normally celebrate Diwali. My parents would intentionally invite non-Hindus to partake of our hospitality. Personally, it is also a time for remembering and being grateful for what it means to have a home and a loving family. Probably the same warm feeling we have at Christmas, Eid or other religious or cultural occasions. This tradition continued for about 10 years in my village, and sadly I don’t think it happens now. I do know that there is a Diwali Nagar village at this time of year, which started decades ago just before I left Trinidad.

Diwali in the home usually meant a time to ‘spring clean’ the house, vegetables and sweets were prepared in advance, and any precious time was used to prepare for the activities for the day…and night. When I initially came to England, I missed home a lot due to this lifestyle, traditions and the many multicultural festivals we celebrated. It is a time that I remember family, especially my father and his unique Diwali traditions. They were extra special to me, and his way of doing things was one of the best examples of family values and homeliness.

There were parks and fields that also celebrated the festivals as fairs with displays of lights and entertainment with song, music and Indian dance. The radio frequently played Diwali songs. Companies and local communities used to host Diwali with live entertainment and food stalls with the beautifully designed bamboos in their various styles and shapes. Celebrations also included sparklers, firecrackers, fireworks and Bursting Bamboo (making loud noises with petrol, fire and bamboos which comes with a health and safety warning). These were usually held in fields and open spaces as they are too nowadays.

At a corporate Diwali celebration one year, I was unwillingly judged to be the Diwali Queen to my horror for the Caroni 1975 Ltd at Brechin Castle Diwali Celebrations! But on the positive side, I won a lovely sari and some money. I still like wearing a sari and Indian wear when possible – and Diwali is an ideal time to do so.

I was really pleased when the Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner to London, The Right Honourable Garvin Nicholas, held a Diwali Celebration at his official Residence in London a few years ago. The deeyas were from Trinidad and it was really delightful to see them lit around his official residence and for him to invite ex-patriots to his home. It was great to hear the religious ceremony, as well as to partake of the Diwali food and sweets.

 

Generally in India, Diwali is still celebrated as a grateful close to the financial year, and signals the aspirations and blessings for the coming year. When I joined the British Library, it was also the start of the Mughal Exhibition. I honestly did not know much about the Mughal Empire, as our education of India in Trinidad tends to rightly focus on Indentureship of Indians to the Caribbean.

Since the exhibition, I am certainly more aware of the Mughal Empire and life in that time. It was amazing to see their artwork in manuscripts and there are several pictures with Diwali, Holi and other celebrations depicted. The opening party for the Mughal Exhibition was also a memorable experience of Indian culture that reminded me of Trinidad.

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For these reasons, Diwali is one autumnal celebration that I look forward to at this time of year. I like when contacts share current photos on social media of Diwali in Trinidad, as I still see how it is celebrated and how it has developed over the years since I left. I usually have to ask Trinidadian relatives what is the date for Diwali so that I celebrate it in unison with them. It is a public holiday in Trinidad and I usually try to ‘fast’ for a few days by eating vegetarian food. I also prepare vegetarian dishes and sweets for Diwali night. I usually make Prasad as an offering – which is a sweet delicacy. I also light candles, sometimes in decorated jams jars as I can’t find deeyas here.  It is a time for me to give thanks for what I have and yes…even say a little prayer. This is my small way of continuing that tradition, rituals and hope for light to triumph darkness for the earth and my loved ones, but also for everyone all over the world.

A Summer adventure in New York

Sometimes when I read The Guardian’s Q&A question What is your earliest memory?, I am surprised that people remember moments as late as when they were three or four years old. On this, I have a crisp memory and remember symmetry in dreams when I was a toddler. I am not sure if this is unusual. Apart from that, one of my earliest childhood memories is telling family “I want to go to New York!”. My mother would attest to that. I always dreamt of travelling as a child, and New York was on top of my list. I’ve never made it until now in my 40’s, and this was also my first ever visit to the USA.

Growing up in Trinidad in the 1970’s and 1980’s, you really could not avoid being seduced and attracted by the media images of the USA. We had exposure to numerous American television programmes and film, such as, Sesame Street (aired morning and afternoon), Laverne and Shirley, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Taxi, Working Girl, etc. There are far too many other songs, films and books that represent the country and cities. New York to this day is still tops and will always be a magnet for these creative outputs. Here are some of my highlights of my recent visit ‘across the pond’ with family this summer.

My first impression at the airport was a bit of apprehension for being fingerprinted and photographed at the immigration desk, which seems like a normal Home Land Security procedure for visitors. However, trepidation was quickly replaced with genuine awe on the first sight of the city as we approached on a Go Link shuttle bus from New Jersey. There was an amazing moon above the night skyline of skyscrapers in Manhattan – I couldn’t help thinking of the film tune Arthur’s Theme with the line ‘…Caught between the moon and New York City’. As there was traffic, our shuttle driver also took us for an extended drive around the buzzing and luminous Saturday nightlife. We saw famous landmarks such as the Lincoln Centre, Times Square, Central Park and recognisable famous streets.

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Day One – Close to the hotel was the impressive art deco Chrysler building, and it is breath-taking to see this many times throughout the next week. For Sunday brunch, we tried Scotty’s Diner on Lexington Avenue. It was very busy around 10:00am with people having breakfast, which I presume was a Sunday morning tradition. It was interesting to observe the dishes being served such as French toast and pancakes with a variety of toppings. The portions are definitely bigger there!  Therefore I stuck to a muffin in preparation for the big lunch that came later at friends.

Next was the trip to Queens to visit family friends and it was an adventure from the start. The walk to Penn Station was about seven blocks but not far away to walk. Again, it was amazing to see the shops at ground level but also to look up at the amazing architecture. It was a fabulous surprise to see on route one of the world’s most famous and tallest buildings – The Empire State Building.

It was the first time I used the city’s public transport. The Long Island Rail train ticket was reasonably priced to take us to Queens and seemed to run quite frequently for a Sunday. It was packed with young people heading to the Babylon Festival and we had a friendly couple who sat next to us. The young man even checked his app to tell us when our train was due to arrive in Sutphin Boulevard. The station exit that we came out had an amazing tribute to Jazz Legends of Queens. Apparently, New Orleans may be the birthplace of Jazz…but Queens is proud to proclaim that it is “the home of Jazz”. There is even a Queens Jazz Trail. I also noticed that ‘On the Road’ author, Jack Kerouac, was also a past resident.

It was also great to spend time with very dear friends and to see the suburban homes and gardens in the neighbourhood. There was a Punjabi celebration in a park closeby and according to Wikipedia, Queens is now an ethnically mixed community.

Day Two – We decided to use the buses and to walk around Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There were no location plotters in the buses, so you had to play attention for your stop which was considerably easy due to the street grid system. I love that about New York! I think this systematic urban planning for a new city has fabulous benefits and must have been exciting for the generations that made the modern city.

As we stopped near Bleecker Street, there was street art that resonated the social and cultural heritage, including the splendid punk band  The Ramones, and others leading all the way to Little Italy. Little Italy is a must to visit, especially if like me, you have Italian connections or relatives. This is where Italian migrants settled, and although now they may have moved out of the area – it really was incredible to see the sights, story and to imagine what life was like then. Little Italy also runs parallel to Chinatown, and therefore it was interesting to see the similarities with another migrant community.

Little Italy is a must to visit, especially if like me, you have Italian connections or relatives. This is where Italian migrants settled, and although now they may have moved out of the area – it really was incredible to see the sights, story and to imagine what life was like then. …On Little Italy. 

Next was a walk to the shore through the financial district past Wall Street. The financial district had banners up boasting that it was the Best in the World’s Capital Market. As I walked through with my business information hat on – I also thought of the Wall Street Journal and NASDAQ.

A short walk away is the station for the Staten Island Ferry, which is free to use and runs every 30 minutes. It is interesting to read why it is free now, as it wasn’t always free. The wind was blustery on the ferry but the views of the city and the Statue of Liberty are breath-taking and worth a fortune for a free ride!

After the round trip back to the Manhattan shore, we walked up to the 9/11 Memorial. As I approached the memorial, my exhilarating holiday mood changed to sombre and reflection. Taking in the scale of Ground Zero and remembering the television images on that terribly shocking and sad day kept crossing my mind. It is surreal, but also strangely connections you to those tragic moments when history changed. I was there for the thousands of people who lost their lives on that day. It was both a pilgrimage, and a duty to pay my respect at the 9/11 Memorial.

That day ended with a last walk along Broadway all the way to 37th street. It took about two hours but it was fabulous to go past the buildings, the African Burial Ground, Dean and De Luca Deli (from the film Manhattan), various shops and New Yorkers. It was nice just to observe people going about their normal business and leisure activities. It is fabulous to look up at the very tall buildings as you walk along the pavements on the ground. Again, I kept thinking of the people who had designed and planned the city in the past and how fulfilling it must have been to create this amazing city with towering architecture.

Day Three – Having worked in libraries and information centres, the next day I went to see the United Nations (UN) Headquarters from the exterior with it’s famous block architecture and international flags. You can get free tickets to see the visitors centre but time was short to spend a long time there. For many years and even now, I still use UN publications and their website for information. I have also blogged at work about their Year of Pulses 2016.

Next we walked along 42nd Street past the Woodstock Hotel where apparently my entrepreneur grandfather stayed on a business trip in the 1950s. And then we walked to 41st Street towards the New York Public Library (NYPL) on Library Walk. There was a great build-up of awe on the street approaching the library with plaques on the ground aptly designed with heart-warming and uplifting proses, excerpts and quotes on books, libraries, knowledge and information. The Library was close to our hotel and it inspired me a few times that week.

The NYPL building itself is designed in an European classic architecture and built on a spot that was once a water reservoir. I only had time to see one of the reading rooms but spent some time in the library’s shop too. It was very similar to the British Library’s shop and I bought some souvenirs. One tip – the NYPL (Twitter @nypl) has a fabulous Twitter feed that you should follow!

Just behind the library was the fabulous Bryant Park. My first visit was at lunchtime and it was fabulous to see the park being used during the lunch break by workers, people playing chess or just enjoying the warm summer outdoors. There was also live music one evening, and it was really awesome to take it all in with lofty buildings surrounding the park.

Times Square was a close walk away and good to see during the day and night. Coincidently, there was recently a BBC Two ‘New York – America’s Busiest City’ series that explained that Times Square initially was home to the New York Times, hence its’ name. The advertising boards have been a part of its’ peppered history and seedy days, but has been recovered to be a focal point for digital advertising boards, news feeds for advertisers and live news broadcasts. Day and night – it seemed to be a tourist hotspot.

Day Four – We took the subway this time to Queens and again it was an opportunity to use public transport. Grand Central Station was not far and as you enter – you are impressed by the décor, the lights, astronomical ceiling mural and station elegance. There is an Oyster Bar apparently too, but I did not get a chance to see it. The journey to Queens was my first time on the subway and it is different, as well as similar, to the London Underground and other underground networks I have used. You literally go from deep underground to way overhead above ground rail tracks! New Yorkers were happy to help confirm and to give me directions. Knowing me, I still had time to look out for poetry, art and buskers.

I was meeting friends again and was picked up from Liberty station in Queens. It is the place in New York where the West Indies meets the East Indies. The shops represent a multicultural community – the melting pot that Trinidadian Angela Hunte wrote about in the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ sung by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The food that my friends cooked or bought were on par to that in the Caribbean. It seemed like a home from home to the Trinidadian community there.

The shops represent a multicultural community – the melting pot that Trinidadian Angela Hunte wrote about in the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ sung by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The food that my friends cooked or bought was on par to that in the Caribbean. It seemed like a home from home to the Trinidadian community there.

Day Five – After a fleeting visit on the bus to the Museum of Modern Art and a walk to Central Park, I was excited to dedicate some time to seeing the park and to having a Hot Dog! The park was created for the public health and wellbeing for the residents of the city. It is also fascinating to see in the BBC Two documentary the number of animal and plants species that have to be cared for and the enormous amount of work that needs to be carried out to maintain a park that size. The park is beautiful with lush green trees, picnic areas, street entertainers, space etc. I particularly liked the ‘Literary Walk’ with statues of favourite dead people such as Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The park is too big to see even in one day, but it is a must to see the contrast between the green spaces and the skyscrapers that surround it.  I also had a Hot Dog by the famous Nathan Hot Dog company, as recommended by one of the park guides.

Later that day we took a train to Mount Vernon in Westchester County, which passed through Harlem and over the Hudson River. I couldn’t help thinking of the negative reputation the Bronx had in the past, but ironically and more positively the music, dance (e.g. Harlem Shuffle and Break Dancing) and art that it inspires. Apparently it is still a place of contrasting communities with gentrification creeping into areas that were once neglected parts of Harlem. On arrival in Mount Vernon on the other hand, it seemed more affluent and picturesque. The best of both worlds, it is not far from Manhattan and within reach to the city for commuters.

Day Six – I had also dedicated a day to shopping at Macy’s. It was nice to spend quality time with my mother shopping. I didn’t go on a silly spending spree but it was still kind of my mother to buy me a dress in the summer sale. It was interesting to see a ‘sale checker’ in Macy’s. I haven’t seen this facility for shoppers anywhere before. It was great for checking prices when items get mixed up or are reduced further in the sales. It was also nice of the sales staff to offer us the Charity Weekend Card at $5.00, which allowed us to have a further 25% off the price of purchases. I was really pleased with the final sales and discounted prices. So the New York shopping sales is not a myth, even with the current sterling to US dollar exchange rate.

I rarely use Taxis in London, but I used the iconic Yellow Taxis with my mother. There were lots of them around, reasonably priced compared to London and are frequently used in Manhattan. The fierce competition between Uber and these traditional taxis on the road is also mentioned in the BBC Two documentary.

I also liked the SMART City initiatives and innovations I saw such as the street platforms for checking your ‘on the go’ connections, device charging points etc. There are also digital boards to keep New Yorkers and neighbourhoods informed.

The most negative aspect of the visit was the high quantity of homeless people in the city. Sadly, homelessness is everywhere in First and Third World countries. But I hope that they are cared for by the organisations responsible everywhere, especially in countries with cold winters.

On reflection, New York is one of those places where you just have to visit! I imagine it will be interesting whatever time of year you want to go, and there are many museums and shopping that would be better in the colder seasons. It is still one of the world’s greatest cities, and I hope to visit it again another time to have another bite of that Big Apple.

Eye-catching Street Art for All

In recent years, there has been an explosion of colour and creativity with eye-catching street art across the globe. I have had an appreciation of this art form for a long time as it is usually thought provoking, skilful and beautiful. This probably stems from seeing the cult hip-hop and rap movie ‘Wild Style’ set in New York in the early 1980s. Do look at the introduction to the film to understand how this stayed with me. Graffiti on underground trains were one of the first types of graffiti street art, tags, murals, stencils etc. When I moved to London there were a few to be seen, but certainly there have been an increase in the visual landscape in parts of London and other parts of the world I have visited recently.

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Cult Film ‘Wild Style’.

Graffiti and street art are not a new phenomenon. As with ancient civilisations, humans were writing on walls to decorate them, convey messages and for pure art. In Pompeii, we have seen evidence that graffiti was written on the walls in what would have been a bustling city. In the brothels, there were graphic drawings on the walls on the types of services that were available. There are parts of the world where art must have been drawn on walls or caves with primitive instruments.

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Graffiti in Pompeii.

In recent years, there have been real stories of how street art has moved from a covert hobby to a legitimate art form. Whilst researching the topic I found the article The Law of Banksy: Who owns Street Art’ in University of Chicago Law Review by Peter N Salib, who goes into the details of street art for its social value and benefits to the community. He also discusses the financial and commercial value of street art to communities. The rights of property and creative intellectual property rights of the artists are explained in depth.

Banksy is a world-renowned artist, and so he has been keen to give voice to a world that is at times – unfair, corrupt and downright self-destructive. I love it when he collaborates anonymously and supports causes that make me think, shakes up the status quo, or that which is simply sublime. I have only seen a couple of his works close up. One of those was in Tottenham, where the artwork on the wall was removed and sold off for a large profit. I guess that is just the way of the world.

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Banksy’s ‘No Ball Games’ Street Art before it was removed in Tottenham.

There are many street artists doing this across the world as you may have noticed on social media. The Berlin Wall and Belfast have been galleries for fabulous street art and graffiti – that have changed the narrative of their recent darker past. I haven’t visited these two cities but their street art culture is very much an attraction and a valid reason for me to want to visit these cities one day.

The Berlin Wall and Belfast have been galleries for fabulous street art and graffiti – that have changed the narrative of their recent darker past. …On global street art.

I particularly like the German street artist Alias too, as a few years ago we had one of his thought-provoking calendars. I actually got excited at the beginning of each month to see what he had to offer as we turned the page each month in the calendar. To see if his art has the same affect on you – see his website for some of his street art!

The best way to see street art is to get out and take a walk. If you would like an informed guide, tours are available in clusters of London. A couple of years ago Rachel Kolsky, of Go London Tours, gave members of SLA Europe a walking tour of the East End of London. It was an added benefit to stumble across all the street art near Brick Lane. You can see the photos here on SLA Europe’s Flickr account.

In Hoxton, Shoreditch and Dalston in London – I usually have to glance at the magnificent artwork as I drive through the city. However, I have been specifically on my own walks to look and photograph street art. The whole creative energy and regeneration of the area has taken place for over a period of 16 years. I have seen changes from edgy rundown buildings to current hip venues and offices. The hoarding boards come in handy to create street art, but there are also many building walls with street art in a concentrated area.

There are many other remarkable areas of street art – such as Camden, Hackney, Islington, along the River Lea, and even closer than close, in my neighbourhood in Walthamstow!

In my neighbourhood, there has been a gradual increase in the number of street art visible around our corner. It is a fact that Walthamstow has seen a lot of regeneration, and the dreaded gentrification (which I am all for!). But also the new street art has created genuine community interest and pride in our environment. Wood Street Walls (Twitter @woodstreetwalls)  is based in my area and have worked with local businesses and buildings to add community colour, statements, beautification and identity with the local area. I can now walk five minutes to see some amazing artwork outside on walls of local pubs, cafes, shop shutters, parks etc.

As with most art forms, the community has been great in supporting artists. However funding and space for art works is still lacking, and therefore artists still require the assistance for local and central government. Street Art is fine if the walls are approved but artist also want a space for their art and therefore local authorities should be able to facilitate affordable artist spaces and studios. A couple of business engagement aspects I like are the crowdsourcing campaign by Wood Street Wall for the residents to ‘Pick Their Pattern’ of an image of William Morris that they wished to be painted on a wall near the William Morris Gallery. And campaigns that ran to crowdfund for specific art projects.

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Completed William Morris crowdsourced ‘Pick a Pattern’.

If you are without these in your environment – you can get a copy of the book ‘London Graffiti and Street Art’ by Joe Epstein. It contains great photographs of street art across London, but also some inspirational and admirable quotes from street artists and what their art means to them.

One fabulous quote in this book by artist Zaki Dee 163 – The Chrome Angelz/The Others is: “Having been born in London, and grown up here in the 70’s and 80’s, through the 90’s, I was lucky enough to have been involved in, arguably, the three biggest movements of the last 40 or 50 years. From Punk and New Wave, into Hip Hop, through to the House/Rave scenes – and it’s no coincidence that London was at the forefront of all these subs-cultures when they first exploded onto these shores. After all this time, the UK graff scene is still going strong, and in London you can see some of the best work this country has to offer.”

It is fantastic and uplifting to see street art in clusters, isolated or even in the most unexpected places. They are a joy to behold! And just to keep us hooked…street art changes over time, and so it is worth going back occasionally to see new displays that are freely available to us all.

On the beat with Community Action

It takes a Village to raise a Child – African Proverb

I was born and grew up in a village in Trinidad but I was certainly no country bumpkin! The village, Dow Village, was smallish in size but mighty in activity and life.

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Diwali Street Scene in Trinidad

We were very busy with several multi-cultural, multi-religious, traditional and modern activities, events and celebrations. As I look back at those early childhood years of village life on a Caribbean Island, I realise that we had a special community energy and participation in many aspects. We had bazaars and raffles to raise funds for various initiatives towards sports days, construction of buildings, treatment for unwell villagers, the Temple’s fund, local schools, re-enactment of Ramlila, Diwali Celebrations, Christmas, Eid-al-Fitr, Holi (Phagwah), street and house parties, and other events (please let me know if I forgot any!).  Some of the activities we held would entail selling fresh food, tea parties, Bar-B-Ques, Curry-Qs, playing games, and various entertainment ranging from sound systems to live music (such as tassa drums, Indian Orchestral to local Rock Bands). The village then was busy with life – it never felt boring or backwards.

Residents left their doors unlocked and gates open with low crime levels. Everybody knew everybody and it was used to our advantage – to build our community, to watch out for each other, to have pride in our neighbourhood.   There were bad points occasionally with fallouts but generally my village has stood the test of time. Up to now, I love my neighbours in Dow Village and I am sure that they love me too. We experienced everything from life to death and we can still touch base with each other wherever we are in the world with modern technology. Some of us may have left our villages for the wider world but David Rudder and Carl Jacobs sing in the Calypso ‘Trini to De Bone’:

“There’s no place like home some people say
Though some have to leave to make their way
But in their hearts I know their destiny
To come home and big up dey country” – Trini to De Bone.

I came to study in London over twenty-five years ago and lived in Hornsey and Tottenham initially. I used to hang out in Holloway, Highbury, Stoke Newington and Islington. It was interesting from the offset to experience so many cultures, tribes, languages and communities in North London. These ranged from North Londoners, Cockneys, Post-Punks, Irish, Greek Cypriots, Turkish, Kurdish, Nigerians, West Indians and lots more other ethnicities. It was a new melting pot for me to take in.

I eventually ended up in Walthamstow and was sceptical to move to East London as I had grown used to North and North East London. However, the timing was right again. Walthamstow still had affordable family homes, green spaces, and convenient travel links and a community feel about it. Moving to live here was a very good decision in the long term, and so the community story continues.

Walthamstow was recorded c. 1075 as Wilcumestowe (“the Place of Welcome”) and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Wilcumestou. It does lie geographically on the edges of London and was a route between London and Waltham Abbey. Today that welcoming community spirit is still alive and kicking in Walthamstow. There are many remarkable things about the town and a few of them include:

  • The famous Walthamstow Market which is renowned for being the longest street market in Europe. I understand it has changed over the years but you can still get great bargains.
  • William Morris Gallery in gorgeous Lloyd Park, which was once the home of William Morris, world renowned designer, craftsman, poet, writer and socialist. His creations, ethos and influence are still relevant and inspiring today.
  • The Village area has old buildings and quaint houses which make you wonder about the past and the people who lived there. There lies too the Vestry House Museum which has permanent and temporary exhibitions, a community room and beautiful garden. I have been on guided walks with Joanne Moncrieff‘s Westminster Walks, who tells you all the facts about the buildings and area to bring them alive.
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Storytelling by Mike at the Walthamstow Garden Party, The Lloyd Park Centre.

There are two community initiatives that I actively contribute to: The Lloyd Park Centre charity and the Poets’ Corner Residents Associations. Since 2004 at The Lloyd Park Centre, I have been a Management Committee and Fundraising and Events Group member. After many years thinking of helping in a local charity, the timing was right to start. I was inspired to get involved when I heard that this organisation was formed by volunteers in the 1980’s and still depended on community participation in its constitution, operation and strategic direction. It is also the lifetime commitment of inspiring Pauline Thomas MBE. The organisation’s history and commitment over the years is very admirable. In my time there, it has moved from portable cabins to an environmentally purpose-built designed building, and its financial turnover has doubled. I have seen it grow from strength to strength in offering children and family services such as day care, holiday clubs, baby clinics, Dad’s Club, Twins Club, Grandparents support, Autism support, outreach and a franchise of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Mobile Library to a deprived community.

I have volunteered consistently for all these years and have been very ‘hands on’ in attending regular meetings, helping when and where I can with my skills, knowledge and most of all…my time. Committee meetings are not so daunting as you are briefed and guided by the other committee members who are already there. As time goes by, I have learnt from the organisation and challenged myself to activities that I wasn’t aware I could do – for example, I cooked for 200 people in their kitchen for a fundraiser! Generally I plan, organise and run events in my own time and all other activities that a local busy charity requires. I have to hone in on my organisational skills as this is not my day job and from my use of social media – you can see what I get up too! As with everything, nothing stays the same and the organisation is constantly evolving, improving and taking on new challenges.

I am proud that when I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers I won a financial award for volunteering as part of their Community Affairs programme (Hello David!). They have a long history of Corporate Social Responsibility. I also have won the charity’s Volunteer and Fundraiser award a few times. However, it means a lot more than that to me. Over the years, my volunteering was a team effort to raise money and my goals really were to give support, help as much as I can and to be engaged in an organisation that has made a huge contribution to the local community and families for over 30 years. The last 12 years have been fun, satisfying and helped me developed outside of my day job and profession. It has relit that community flame that I had as a child in Trinidad.

Child is the Father of Man – William Wordsworth

I was made redundant about four years ago when I needed to re-focus my energies and give back to the place where I live once again. Luckily I had the time to volunteer in my neighbourhood residents associations when we were planning our London 2012 ‘Milimpics’ street party. We have our own Poets’ Corner blog and social media channels that have been going since 2012. We have since rebranded to Poets’ Corner E17, as there are streets named after Poets and we are on a corner. We have been constantly engaged in transformational regeneration initiatives that are happening on our doorsteps!

We are also very keen to support local businesses and love our high street. I have seen derelict shops being taken over as pop-up shops to permanent retail outlets. In the last few months – there are several new high street shops emerging such as coffee shops, art shop, craft beer, chocolate shop, giftware, Italian deli and hairdressers. Local venues Ye Olde Rose and Crown, The Bell Pub and Mirth Marvel Maud are used as meeting social places and also are at the heart of the nightlife. The last five years have been amazing, heart-warming, social and definitely local.

 

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Little Free Library Project – in Poets’ Corner.

We have continued the spirit of London 2012 Olympics with many activities including an annual street party simultaneous as the national Big Lunch celebrations, spring cleaning (which has made me obsessive about dumped rubbish and litter!), crime-watching, Halloween Party, Puppet Show and fabulous Christmas Carolling on the street. We have also taken part in the magnificent E17 Art Trail which has made us work collaboratively to display Estate Agents boards as ‘Poets for Sale’ with poems in our front gardens. For the 2015 project, we created ‘I want to tell you a story…’ stories on places on Walthamstow. Residents Barry and Lesley Coidan have been the driving force for a lot of these initiatives and deserve special recognition and appreciation. Before I forget to mention – we also have two Little Free Libraries in the neighbourhood, which started in Walthamstow for the United Kingdom (original idea is from the USA).

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Why am I telling you this? I enjoy taking part in community events. I also think there is a special energy that I have been lucky to experience in my homeland of Trinidad many years ago, and here now in Walthamstow. It is very fulfilling and reassuring that we have neighbours and people in the community that we can rely on, pull together and to contribute to our society on wider urban issues, such as crime prevention, sustainability, environment, economy, culture, festivities and general awesomeness.  You just have to remember the terrible London riots of 2011 to recall what it is like when neighbourhoods fall apart and communities are at threat when you take your eyes of the ball.

I don’t have my own business but if I did – it would be based on the arts, crafts or food in the community. Volunteering has made me certain about that and myself. With Utopian and socially ethical views, I would feel compelled to consider where I live, the people it is going to affect, how we can work together to make our part of the world better for ourselves but also for my immediate neighbours.

Anyway, I really love taking part in the fun, and all the exciting energy and buzz of Walthamstow. We are celebrating our next Brazilian theme street party soon in tuned to the Brazil 2016 Olympics. And so the beat goes on, and on.