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 with 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.  I 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.

#ChoosetoChallenge – Celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day

It is exactly 10 years since I first celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) for the first time, and it feels right to write about the progress, changes and challenges that women are facing.  The theme for this year’s IWD on 8th March is #ChoosetoChallenge, which spans the whole month of March for Women’s History Month. I will look at some of the areas that affect women and my views on the topics as gender conversations have certainly moved on with more fluid and open discussions.  Non-binary gender identities, gender pay gaps, gender bias, feminist protests and leadership roles are some of the topics that are being pushed up the agenda and discussed in many (not all) countries to challenge the status quo and act as “agents of change”.  Like with many aspects of life, there are some countries that are performing better than others and new generations are demanding more equality and inclusivity – we can’t run away from this.  What we can do is learn from each other, support causes that we care about that affect women…and lift each other up in what is a difficult era in a pandemic.

Some of the main areas where I feel we have made progress over the last few years are in our openness to discuss in greater details inequalities in the workplace, health information, body positive images in the media (think Lizzo!), learning about key women heroines and achievements, finding places where we can network and most importantly, amplifying our voice on feminist issues. 

There are stories of the feminist movement of women rights who had led the way in the past, and they will always be great for inspiring new generations of girls and women.  I certainly didn’t know all feminist over time but some of characters that I have discovered on the last ten years – Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, Mary W. Jackson, Claudia Jones, Manuela Saenz and many many more!  The access to information on the internet and social media have made their struggles, achievements and stories celebrated with new energy and creativity. 

At university, I completed a module on women’s right from the industrial age to 1990s and therefore learnt about the suffragette movement with admiration for figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and other women who fought for the vote. It was great to actually do a tour of Westminster a few years ago where the struggles and battles they won were highlight in the living recollection in the space where their hardships and successes were made collectively to give us the vote.  This was obviously an international achievement with New Zealand as the first self-governing country to give women the vote in 1893. We mustn’t take this hard-won right for granted. I still don’t know a lot of great women but it seems the topic is covered in education in schools now, and this generation of girls and young women are able to freely aspire for greater equality, and continue to push and challenge for changes that will affect them in their lives.

The struggles are real still in many parts of the work – education and access to work are some of the basic rights that women have to still fight for in the 21st century – the UN facts and figures women states: “women make up two thirds of the world’s illiterate people”.  There are other challenges such as poverty, work, health and getting into leadership roles which are specific to locations, but generally we still have a way to go. Low literacy and education levels really makes me sad when I hear that some women don’t get the basic right to education.  My parents allowed me to leave a happy home to come to study in a foreign land when I was 18 years – because they believed in me.  I will be forever grateful for their support and help they showed me by financing my studies here. I know that this was NOT a privilege.  I haven’t had free university education – a privilege that many of my university friends may have took for granted 30 years ago. It was difficult and I didn’t see my family for four years, but at least it gave me the ability to support myself and follow some of my teenage dreams.  There is this great graph below by Statista which shows the top 10 countries which have full equal rights for women.

Source: Statista

Not all girls or young women have this option to this day.  Adult learning is possible (plus you never really stop learning), but there are still countries where the cost of education is too high, accessibility and social structures are barriers too.  The cost of higher education in the UK is so high currently that I am deterred to further my studies until I am more financially secure.  One reason I pro-actively keep up my Continued Professional Development (CPD) is because I work in a professional field that never stops serving, changing and develops with technology.  I wish the governments and organisations would value this industry so that we are not at a disadvantaged professionally.  Generally, there are less negative gender equality issues in my professional field as there are more women who work in this area, but men in the sector are usually paid more, and get the top leadership roles. 

“Companies that overlook half of the world’s population overlook half of the world’s talent. To compete effectively, we need to reflect the diversity of the world in which we, and our clients, live and work.” Sheila Penrose Fotolia. Chair of the Board Jones Lang LaSalle

According to this review by Hampton Alexander on the FTSE 350 companies, 33% of women are on UK board leadership roles. In other sectors, the glass ceilings have been smashed but the percentage is still low. In the 2000s, I heard the term ‘old boys’ network’ for the first time but it seems change is slowly taking effect in the last few decades.  Businesses need women for diversity of thought, opportunities and for understanding their customers and stakeholders. Women offer insights and perspectives which open up new markets and ideas rather than having all-male boards.  Women also make up a large amount of the consumption and economic power of business services and products, and therefore you would be missing a new era of inclusive thought if talent and insights were not brought to your business. It is great to have diversity in business as it yields better results and cultivates innovation.  Having women in the decision-making roles also correlates to better business results according to Women on Boards

Over the years there are lots of research I have seen where it makes great sense to have structures, policies and initiatives in the workplace which foster greater support for women to progress beyond their roles and to “smash the glass ceilings”.  These may include improvement in attracting women to traditional male-dominated roles, offering better working patterns for working mothers and families, being flexible, and more defined supported routes and policy such as mentoring or training.  Giving opportunities can also one of ways that women in the workplace are not overlooked. Gender pay gaps, gender bias, greater pay transparency and inclusive policies are still work in progress. It would seem rather strange if organisations still have all-male boards in this 2020s decade, and let’s hope there are more deserving women in leadership roles and better equal representation.

It is important for leaders to communicate with their teams and understand that while the pandemic has affected everyone, it has not been the same for every employee. I think the last nine months have made certain qualities of leadership come to the fore. I think empathy is the strongest trait leaders have shown and understanding that everybody is dealing with professional stresses and strains.

Victoria Head – Legal at Football Association

One aspect where women are challenging the stereotypes and making their headway for themselves is by being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. Women have always been in great roles as entrepreneurs in the past, such as Madam C. J. Walker in the film ‘Self-Made’. I also recently attend a fabulous Sound Heritage workshop where I learnt of other remarkable women such as Mary Quaint, Audre Lorde and Rene Sawyer, who fought for greater rights and fairness.

As I work in the business information sector, I meet and admire women who are creating their own businesses. They are really passionate about starting up with their own ideas and visions, being their own bosses and having the freedom to follow their own paths to success. As reported by Hult International Business School, US women-owned businesses have increased by 74% over the past 20 years – 1.5 times the national average. They harness their own entrepreneurial talents and open up a world of opportunity, and in turn are in a position to hire other talented diverse persons for their teams.

Local Business Women

Sadly, I recently read that the pandemic will have a negative impact in gender pay and also entrench imbalances, as mentioned in Italy here in the FT’s Women in Business. Therefore, with high levels of inequalities and economic hardship brought on by one year in the pandemic, the next few years are going to be tough on all of us, especially women.  It has also been mentioned that the disparities for ethnic minorities are having the most negative economic and health impact with working in health and social care. Mckinsey have also reported in ‘Women in the workplace 2020’ that: ‘For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted’.

This is a clear message that all of this research is telling us – there is still a lot of work to do for greater equality, representation and diverse policies for business cultures.

Not all men discriminate against women, and some women also do not support other women. However, there are more inclusive practices in the workplace.  Women are also challenging barriers in various fields but they are generally under-represented in some sectors such as STEM, Tech, construction, emergency services, sports, etc.  The UN has created this great datagraphic which demonstrates the under-representation in all fields, and it is still very striking in the ratio between men and women, for example – directors at the Oscars, Nobel Peace prizes, chefs with Michelin three stars, etc. Our challenge is to continue to create structures, policies and supportive environment where young girls and women can fulfil their ambitions and careers. This may seem overwhelming at times but women do tend to support each other and this is the best way in actually working towards more equity for us all.

Sadly, I wanted to mentioned that this month has been a very sad time in my homeland with the murder of a young woman, Andrea Bharatt, who was making her work home in a taxi (falsely licensed when she boarded it). She was brutally murdered at the prime of her young life and leaves behind a lone parent. It is a terribly devastating story, and unfortunately there has been a high level of gender-based violence and murder in recent times in such a small country, as featured in this article by Brown Girl Magazine.  This has forced a national protest on these crimes and a call for a better justice system as a result of the fear and lack of confidence in personal safety felt by the general population in recent year.  It really is horrific – my contacts were sharing an outpouring of grief on social media and to say ‘enough is enough’!  This ‘femicide’ and other gender-based violence is prevalent in other parts of the world, such as I saw reported in Mexico and India recently. It is great to see that public displays of peaceful protest by women are still challenging for better policies, demanding personal safety, well-being services, general equality and…respect.

I wish you a great International Women’s Day month of understanding and finding out more stories and facts on women’s role in society.  I have always felt that there should be harmony with all genders and do believe that we need boys, young men and gentlemen to be our allies in understanding our roles in the world.  It could be my upbringing and because I went to an all-girls convent school! This is only the tip of the iceberg on the issues women encounter. However, I will continue to keep an eye on ideas, little tips and stories to help other women along the way. I also look forward to discovering new great female figures from the past and our present times this month. With this in mind, do stand up for and against the barriers in our way to greater equality, and remember to #ChoosetoChallenge for women everywhere.

A Better 2021 – Looking on the Bright Side

As we look back at the year, there are a roller-coaster of emotions and moods that have engulfed us due to coronavirus COVID-19.  The year started off normal except for the dreaded Brexit plans for cutting ties, isolating, restricting, control our access, freedom and creating havoc in our everyday lives, work and ambitions with our closest and oldest continental neighbours.  Hearing the news on Brexit was one of the worst things you can listen to in the last four years in the United Kingdom – understandably unbearable, bored stiff or semi-engaged after 4-5 years.  January was intentionally decided as the month that we left the EU with Brexiteers gathered in a cold miserable winter night in Parliament Square – good luck to them I thought! It was cringeworthy and anger inducing in great measures. Let them get what they have coming to them. It took Covid-19 to change the mood and tone a little.

Little did we know that the next few months (year in fact!) will bring about more blight, chaos, devastation and thousands of deaths would ensue. For January was also the month that coronavirus news from Wuhan started getting on our major news network in the West.  There has since been disputed evidence when and where the virus actually started. But it has dominated and curtailed our lives and world since early 2020.

In February, there were signs that things were about to change gradually.  The most significant for me was an Economist Intelligence Unit Breakfast Briefing in 13th February with first class experts give a clear understanding and forecast for the disruption and devastation to the global economy in months to come.  I honestly thought that it would affect supply chains but not the enormous negative it would have on lives and the global economy with countries increasingly having cases of infections.  Around late February, there were signs for using sanitizers in public and the office areas began to have signs asking you to use hand sanitizers in buildings. Italy was reporting ‘draconian’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus. There were more persons on the London Underground starting to wear face mask – it was then such a rare and novel feature considering that mainly travellers from the Far East usually wear them prior to Covid-19.  Little did we know that it would be compulsory in public places indoors by the end of 2020.  Even today at the end of December, I am still seeing tweets pleading with people to abide by the rules as the infection rates are still very high.  

March is usually a happy month for me as I like the beginning of Spring and so it was a time for me to go out and about where I was able to go to the theatre and meal with relatives and friends.  However by the second week in March, there was talk and signs that we needed to change the way we were socialising as the number of deaths by Covid-19 started to rapidly increase daily.  We were observing Italy’s response to the pandemicbut didn’t realise that the UK death figures would eventually be worse! It was also the time of stockpiling and shortages with supermarkets struggling with normal online orders slot.  By the 16th March, my colleagues and family were working and studying from home.  I did go into the library on 18th March to tie up some loose ends as I was on leave a few days before then. I wouldn’t return to the building until September.  

My team and I were able to thankfully transfer to working-from-home but some needed technological equipment and support to set up with working completely as a virtual library.  We all remember getting very familiar with Zoom! I have used Skype and Go-To-Meeting but Zoom seemed to be the preferred options for most work related, professional and social meetings. Soon, I would be meeting my local book club on Zoom, lots of learning opportunities I took, and other work-related meetings and events.  Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic and I have heard that it was an enabler in allowing those with access to the tech to communicate with each other.  I have held many meeting and webinars in this year and will try to tally it one day soon. 

It was really freaky being in the first lockdown with the streets and roads all quiet.  My biggest challenge to this day is the busy supermarkets and the social distancing queues.  I am still trying my hardest to keep at a distance and to avoid crowds.  It was nice, relaxing and admittedly a pleasure to spend time outside for daily exercise routines in local areas such as neighbourhoods, parks, local forest and wetlands. Nature has a magical way of reassuring and restoring.  Someone said recently that the only real songs were sirens and birdsong in Spring in a pandemic.  It is a little but like this again in December with the eventual ‘Second Wave’.

One aspect I remember is the availability of data and information on the pandemic.  I am sure when we get to the end of the virus, we will have archives and memorabilia of what it meant for us. I still try to think of what life was like in previous plagues and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu.  I was initially obsessed with the daily of cases and death and it was truly sad throughout the Spring.  The virus was under control with fewer deaths by the end of August but as I write, we are back in the second wave with a higher peak than that in April 2020!  It is truly sad and heart-breaking.  I do know of people who have lost loved ones and it is a very sad time to leave this earth with little human contact and celebration.  One of the best aspects of this Spring was the Clap for Carers where we saw our neighbours and clapped all the key workers for their hard work.  The rainbow and messages of support in Walthamstow was great to see and even now in the winter months there has been school and homes initiatives in windows to help cheer us up.

The heart of the Summer was also a time for organisations and allies to support the Black Lives Movement as well as anti-racism in organisations.  I had some of the most honest conversations with colleagues, professionals, family and friends. It is uncomfortable and requires courage to discuss these topics but it was an opportunity to finally make these deep feelings known and to work towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world.  The world is not perfect but reminding us that social justice, equality and fairness are the true balancers of good people is a win-win situation in my books. 

At the beginning of 2020, I was due to travel to the SLA Conference in Charlotte, USA and also to Trinidad and Tobago.  Obviously, I had to postpone both of these trips and look forward to the day when I can go to my first SLA Conference as well as visit family and friends again.  One think that was truly special about 2020 for me was being President of SLA Europe throughout this time and actually programming a different set of events and engagement than what we planned in the beginning. I have blogged about the challenges and achievements of this year here on SLA Europe’s blog. I also look forward to continuing our great work and supporting the new President Amy, our board and volunteers. 

In Autumn, we were ready for returning to the Library physical rooms with reduced hours and less staff in the office.  The most eerie was the journey there and back on the train as your try to maintain social distancing.  Remember these trains are usually packed like sardines so it is a relief that less people are using them for work journeys – however there are some annoying persons who still don’t wear masks on the underground and also in shops. I guess they are arrogant, ignorant and don’t feel they are spreaders. There is little policing going on in London anyway so you really have to think if you want to put yourself in trouble’s way. 

The Second Wave really started picking up in October with vast parts of North of England being affected and put into the new tier systems.  It was possibly due to schools and universities opening up again. I also needed to get two Covid-19 tests in September to ensure that I hadn’t contacted it.  There is the balancing of the economy with infection rates and so too pub, restaurants and hospitality were also closed again for the second wave in most of November. We were now back to working from home full time. I know I am fortunate as it is very testing for many people. I really do feel the anxiety, fear, sadness and uncertainties of those who are not working – it has been a very difficult year.  The winter months are certainly different with less daylight and therefore if I am busy, I tend to go out at dusk.  I miss plants and birdsong.  The beginning of Christmas with decorations, lights and positive messages have been God sent (pardon the pun!). 

December seasonal celebrations are certainly different, just as New Year’s Eve will be, but it really is a necessity for us all to be apart.  I usually do make the most of things and so still see this as a special year to have that quality time with family.  My neighbours are all here too as there is nowhere to go! It is strange and apocalyptic walking around in the dull coldness with closed shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and non-essential shops and venues.  There are so many woes that I see on Twitter, and rightly so, on lack of ‘Track and Trace’, schools reopening and testing, loss of jobs, dependency on food banks, propaganda, distrust of government policies, and the NHS being overwhelmed with the virus rampant in the community. We are really deep into a difficult year. 

As we end the year, both Brexit and Covid-19 are in the news headlines with one of the darkest and saddest day with 941 deaths. I am not taking any responsibility for the fallouts of Brexit! But I will certainly try to do my part and think of how we can continue to prevent loss of life and control the virus to a point to some normality. There are still problems and challenges we need to sort out…collectively.  Vaccines do offer some hope, and so does every new year. Keep well, safe and healthy. Things are not going to be normal for a while but hopefully it will be better in 2021.

Decolonisation – the Quiet Revolution continues

Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.

In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation.  It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post.  The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general.  All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month.  Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.

A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished.  The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now.  It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.

Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years.  Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity.  We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings.  It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon

African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.

– Enslaved TV Series 2020.

The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it.  As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history.  There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery.  You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools.  British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance.  There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies.  The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century. 

Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.

The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK.  It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom.  This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either.

With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time.  It really has no place in modern and equitable societies.  There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.

This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation.  In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written.  I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor. 

Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves.  The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom.  I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there.  It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?

It’s embarrassing that I’ve learnt more about colonial history from Instagram.

Elle Magazine October 2020

In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power.  I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.

It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.

Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation.  Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.

At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently.  Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/

It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian.  This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism.  The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.

I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European.  This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago.  In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass! 

We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.

It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.

Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day.  It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now.  We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media.  Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.

I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world.  Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality.  Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.

Hold Tight! Autumnal Tenacity for the perilous Second Wave

Often it is Tenacity, Not Talent that Rules the Day. – Julia Cameron

As we move into the winter months in the pandemic, there is a personal concern that we have left the bright sunny and warmer months in what will be a very tough year for all of us.  Autumn is not my favourite time of year but I do usually cope and settle in by the end of October for Diwali, Halloween cheer and November Bonfire night.  I do remember arriving in the UK in late September 1980s and not minding my first autumn, which was a huge change from a tropical climate I knew. One thing is for sure – the temperature is going to get colder, the physical landscape, flora and fauna will change with autumnal colours, with the nights getting longer.  If like me, you have been working from home and actually making the most of the outdoors in the Spring and Summer… things are going to be different with the possible double whammy facts of a second wave in the pandemic and Brexit unpreparedness.

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

September has already brought new changes with schools reopening fully.  The last week has been dominated with university students who are having to self-isolate in their student halls to protect themselves, and stop the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19. The news does not stop there – there is also the economic fallout in all spheres of life.  Businesses are facing further necessary restrictions with some of my friends not planning to return to the office until January 2021.  The redundancy and insolvency levels are also increasing daily with people having to bear all the hardship that comes with losing their jobs.  There are many reasons to be pessimistic.  The optimistic vibes are scarce but if you know me – I am a trouper. I do have the unbelievable capacity to be tenacious despite the negative aspects I have faced in my life (mainly professional). I do tend to focus on the important issues and despite my happy-go-lucky demeanour with a smile, I can be determined, knuckle down and get on with it! Call it what you like but it might just be tenacity.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. – Amelia Earhart

I haven’t been into the Central of London since March 14th but have returned to the office and library for one day a week since 3rd September.  It is an odd feeling getting the Tube again knowing that you have to be very careful and conscious of other passengers, the public surfaces, social distancing etc. It is quite natural to look around the carriages to see who is wearing a mask  – and who is wearing it like a dodgy condom! I haven’t had to move away or tell anyone off as yet but there are a few cases of annoying mask non-conformity on the Tube, but generally it is good to go (pardon the pun) and people are being great. 

The impact on London’s economy is obvious.  I think that TfL are going to be struggling financially this year because as an example, I have only spent £30.00 this month to travel when I would usually spend about £149.00 a month.  Of course I do not want staff to lose their jobs but it just a reminder to government that they should be more kind about raising their fares in future.  But who knows…we might still get some nasty price increases too compensate for us not using the tube in the pandemic.  You can never really win here with inflation! The fat cats executives at TfL must be a bit worried too – I know this from when I paid attention at City Hall. One positive is that the Poems on the Underground are out to entertain us, and also Dettol has partnered to remind us to maintain good hygiene. The saddest feeling is seeing how quiet the commute and shops are around St Pancras.

I have now also returned to the British Library one day a week and it has been good going so far.  There are lots of social-distancing measures in place, and the British Library has opened to a certified standard, which is great reassurance for our readers and staff.  There is a difference in the building as there are so few people in the office, public, networking and workshop areas. We are still serving people in the ‘Reading Room’ who have pre-booked, and we are very much providing digital services remotely. 

We are being cautious and it is good to be back but we also know that we are still in a pandemic and therefore most of my time is still spent working and volunteering from our little box room study at home.  It is a little more challenging as there is a family trying to study and work from home too.  I am finding this okay but I know I am fortunate to have the space and technical equipment to do this.  It is certainly not the case for many, and the digital and socio-economic divide has been discussed a lot in the last few months for most people everywhere.  This is another reason I have thinking of self-motivation and keeping up personal standards in this very challenging time.  Some things are going to lapse but demonstrating and being tenacious helps to get it done. I do look forward to return back to normal circumstances, but we just don’t know when that will be and it certainly ain’t looking like this year!

This month has been filled with several professional activities with my role as President of SLA Europe – I would be a liar if I said it has been easy.  It has been difficult especially this year as my day job is very busy and even more so in lockdown as it very intense with my digital activities and video conferencing, as well as one full day in the office.  I will have to tally the number of webinars and meetings I have had.  I do know it has been worth it still working and applying myself to helping customers and other professionals as much as can.  I do like having the flexibility to go for a walk and then catching up later, otherwise I just won’t be able to cope.  I usually catch up with volunteering later in the evening into the early morning.  I am really pleased that I am able to contribute to my professional network and take part in some really interesting events such as Reopening Specialized Libraries Roundtable Two, presented on Economic Data and Entrepreneurship, attended talks on Feminist Walk in Harlem and Veganism, Knowledge Management presentation by SLA Europe, as well as participate in a Gurteen KM Café as I had the time. The great aspect of working during this pandemic, is that it has made this year more global than I initially intended.  I will be presenting at two events at the virtual SLA Conference 2020 with the theme Driving Forward.

So what else is there to do that can demonstrate tenacity? 

My neighbourhood is still pulling together with the use of social media especially with a higher increase in Anti-social Behaviour (ASBOs) in the recent weeks.  There is no support on the street from local police and we have to rely on community activists. There is also pressure on community policing still due to non-existence presence in my area of a heavily populated borough plus they are under pressure which the current Covid-19 restrictions.

I haven’t been far away except for work this month but it is great to see signs of positivity in my neighbourhood.  These include businesses that are operating old and some new ones.  I also went out for tapas with my friends a few weeks ago for a socially distant dinner.  However the most comforting and strengthening is the London Mural Festival, which took place the last two weeks.  Some of these are exceptional as they pay tribute to local heroes, as well as the artists themselves.  The best one is the one dedicated to NHS staff, which was put up a few weeks ago (and perhaps not up specifically for the festival). It is the exemplary public display of positive roles models that anyone can see on their local walks.

TENACITY, n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to the coin of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand of authority and is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in politics. – Ambrose Bierce

As I end on one of the dullest days of September, the level of deaths are rising rapidly again in the pandemic.  There are politicians trying to get a grip and scientists telling us that the data is predicting threats to our well-being with some more terrible news for public health and society…still.  My dearest wish to you is to keep well, safe, upbeat and obviously, tenacious. Hold tight.

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We are all in this together – a crucial time for information professionals in the next normal

The last few months has been very intense in our personal lives but also in our professional lives. For most libraries and information services, it has been a time for us to close our physical spaces and switch completely to digital services. We have not been closed behind the scenes – we are diligently working to re-open libraries like many other sectors with physical spaces.   For example, I have seen NHS libraries still operating in providing critical information and evidence in this very challenging and critical time in essential services. We certainly owe them for the great work they are doing as medical practitioners. I have noticed most other libraries I have seen also emphasize that they have always remained open since Coronavirus COVID-19 disrupted our global lives. I have decided to dedicate this month to looking how this has affected me in a professional capacity as it has been unavoidable for me not to think of work, libraries and the whole process of initially shutting down very quickly to… gradually opening up libraries and information services again. It really is an extraordinary experience.

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It has been four months since our official full time working from home, and initially, it was difficult to switch to all virtual and digital services. However, in the last couple of months, I actually got into a pattern of my working from home during the day, with fitting in some exercise, errands as well as family time. I was able to do some of the digital things I have been hoping for a long time, in terms of using more digital platforms and working from home tools – it has also made me super…super…busy. I am very much ‘living and breathing’ video conferencing for everything! This includes my local book club, social events and even family catch up. I haven’t been keep track of the many Zoom meetings I have attended but they have been intense for adjusting our current services, plans on reopening the physical and special resources, giving business information and advice as well as providing the face to face sharing of ideas, information and knowledge.

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We have also had to focus on Black Lives Matter as a very urgent issue. I will remember this time too for the Black Lives Matter and how it is being discussed with a new hope for genuine change within the library and library profession.

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I was also able to join a great chat up on a SLA’s Virtual Mocktails, Cocktails hangout – which was great for talking about visiting other countries, the social and cultural impact of drinks such as beer, bourbon and gin! Obviously an alcoholic drink was not compulsory for attending and it was nice to see persons I have met on my trip to New Orleans in 2019, and who I hope to meet in the future! It also made me realise – just like in my professional capacity – I will see and meet people virtually but may never meet them in real life. I still correspond with a contact in Singapore for over 25 years although I have never met her in real life.

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This really has given us the opportunity to create the digital transformation that we all wanted but never had the time or the resources to do. It has made me remember the time when I work for a global accountancy firm but even now I am learning new systems and providing different services by current technology. Since the lockdown in March, I am impressed that our wider department has implemented a new library enquiry system by Springshare called LibAnswers. I am also using Lib Chat to answer, “real live queries in the clouds”. Springshare’s slogan in their website says they are making librarians into rock stars!

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The Springshare system has lots of customer interaction and relationship features that are also used for retailers on the high street and is beneficial for global teams who are working virtually and remotely. It reminds me of chatting online with someone from the retailers Monsoon who was based in Scotland, and also when I use the ‘automated’ chat on Go-to-Webinar when I need to clarify my queries or my curiosity! These are some of the new skills that we are all learning or refining in a truly digital space. Just like retailers, gyms, cinemas, restaurants and all physical spaces – we are communicating with our customers virtually but it is likely that we are going to reopen more of our physical spaces with new safety measures, social distancing, clear signage and new ways in the ‘next normal’.

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I have only seen my local library reopen but have not been inside although we have a project with local libraries virtually in Covid-19. They are also offering a reduced service in my local branch but their current campaign is hashtag #ALLTogetherNowWF. It is ironic that I am seeing more little free libraries than local libraries in my walks. In the last few months, I have interacted and met 1000s of customers and library patrons without leaving my home! That is phenomenal.

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This a time to really learn from each other and I am really developing at a very accelerated speed in the last few months. I was asked to moderate the fabulous inaugural ‘Info Trends’ for SLA with Eugene Guidice – who is great at chatting, sharing his knowledge and making you feel at ease. We haven’t met in person but we already seem to get on great! I learnt so much from the presenters, the new virtual conference format was on the Remo platform, and it really was mind-blowing hearing of the new technological trends in the sector being used such as virtual reality, chatbots, AI, Fab Labs, search developments, social media for research etc. In hindsight, it was a great honour to participate on this global and high level at a virtual conference, and to represent SLA Europe, my current employers and the libraries and information profession here in the UK. It really was a highlight of the last few weeks and I am very pleased I was asked to take part. I will try to attend the Info Trends event next time too! I wanted to also say a special thanks to Tara Murray, Diana Shapiro, Eugene Guidice and all the SLA headquarters for the opportunity.

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And again, I was pleased to be asked by Tara, co-present with Eugene, for the Madhya Pradesh Library Association in India. I knew some of our hosts from SLA Connect virtually, and it was really nice to make new contact with professionals in South Asia. I also had to present on the very topical and important topic of ‘Libraries and Librarianship in times of Crisis: Covid-19 and Beyond’, and this was some initial finding on the bigger project I am working on as the Chair of the Task Force on Reopening Specialised Libraries. I found the session exhilarating and personally good for my development on a very pertinent topic to a very large and diverse audience. Apparently, there were about 1000 professionals registered, and they were really pleased and appreciative of our work. It was the first time I used Webex by Cisco, and made lots of notes from Eugene and Tara as we spoke for 1.5hours. My team do a lot of public speaking in our roles at the British Library but this event is really special as it took me back to my roots in India as a descendant of Indian indentured labourers to the Caribbean. My family was really happy for me, especially my mother. I hope these links made will be used again in the future for sharing insights and collaborating on professionals issues.

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Due to COVID-19, I was unable to give a Presidential talk and presentations in-person at both the SLA Conference in Charlotte USA, neither the flagship SLA Europe summer soiree and networking event. We have still put on great new and topical virtual events, which have been reactive to the current situation ranging from Mindfulness, Business Research, Mind-mapping to using Data and Insights for recovery in Covid-19.

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This year SLA has moved conferences for 2020 and 2021 to virtual events, so I am not likely to go to my first SLA Conference until 2022. I know virtual conferences are better for the environment and stretched finances, but I hope I do make it one day to meet some of the fabulous people I got to know over 15plus years. I am usually very active in SLA Europe and love going to their events, so hopefully sometime in the future we can go back to hosting events that are safe and socially appropriate. These are some of the reasons why networking in real life and person-to-person contact are still essential and part of what makes us human. I do advocate for us working together virtually but also for conferring in person to make human connections with shared missions by being in a physical space together.

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I thank my fellow volunteers at SLA Europe who give up time freely to do this in their own time and go out of their way to support the organisation, come up with great events and ideas on how we can support each other and the wider profession. We inspire and learn from each other – I would be lost without being part of this great professional community over the years!

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One of the biggest honour and tasks I have been given by Tara and the SLA Board is to chair the Task Force on Reopening Specialized Libraries. This topic is HUGE! Working as a library and information professional during Covid-19 really is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience in crisis management. It should also be a great opportunity to learn from little and large organisation, local and global libraries on how we can take the next steps in providing services to our stakeholders and customers in a global pandemic. I have since been in touch virtually with other task force members (two members I met the New Orleans Leadership Symposium 2019) and others only recently virtually. It is very interesting, developing as we speak, creating some brilliant collaborative learning, exchange of insights and knowledgeable ideas on reopening as best practices and guidance.

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Remember this is a global pandemic and has affected everyone we know, everywhere! It is very interesting learning, seeing and reading how libraries have responded everywhere. I have seen and learnt about libraries and information services, systems, processes, challenges opportunities and staff and customers safety and well-being issues that we are facing at this time. Yes, we are making full use of digital and virtual technology, but it is interesting to see how much people also want and need physical collections, spaces and our human in-person services.   You might understand and see the re-opening synergies with the way we react to retailers and hospitality in the pandemic.   The Living Knowledge Network has also hosted great webinars from public libraries in Denmark, who are a little ahead of us and Christian Lauersen is a superstar! Their talks have been great at inspiring as well as motivating me to keep on track of these necessary, and heart-warming services we provide to citizens near and far.

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So this is definitely a challenging, busy…as well as an exciting time. It is certainly right up there with unexpected changes, crisis and preparedness such as the launch of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, the Millennium Bug crashing our Library Management System, working from home due to terrorism or riots, social media introduction in our lives, and other unique watershed moments in the library and information world. I said this in my presentation to Madhya Pradesh Library Association but I have since seen it repeat by others…and we truly are in this together.

 

 

Black Lives Matter – social justice and protest during the pandemic

In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.

– Angela Davis

If being in the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the last month brought about an intensifying and urgent need for social change and activism in the short term, and hopefully in the long term. The reason for this watershed moment is the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Police in Minnesota USA, with bystanders recording the arrest showing officers restraining him and one, in particular, resting a knee on his neck, whilst Floyd can be heard pleading “I can breathe”. This racial violence was recorded on smartphones and shared on social media, which made the brutality of his death on camera go viral across the globe. You can only imagine what happens between the police and black men off the camera – hold that thought. Shocking and uncomfortable to watch and discuss. Floyd’s death has given greater coverage and a wider mission to the Black Lives Movement (BLM) from the across the USA, UK, Paris, Rome, India, Hong Kong to Oceania. In the same month, there was the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks. This has exposed the emotion, anger, annoyance and the solidarity with the BLM cause and movement.  It has made the social justice fight more obviously to everyone’s consciousness, and this is an opportunity for positive change to correct the disparities in inequality between rich and poor, black and white, good and bad. I also know that there are good cops… and there are bad cops but some reform, training and education are needed.

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Obviously, I am speaking on behalf of the black population that are marginalised and systematically oppressed over four centuries. For balance, we must also remember there are lots to celebrate in the black community’s resilience by the successes and excellence they gave and have achieved in all walks of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were more police walking the beat in my neighbourhood after having two police stations decimated about 10 years ago, and even greater reductions across the United Kingdom. However, the main issue is that Black Lives Matter, but there are high levels of the black population who are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, with little justice received by families. There are fewer opportunities for black people due to inequalities of wealth, education, employment and numerous barriers due to the colour of their skin. The prison service has a large number of black people who may not be able to live the normal peaceful life that most of us take for granted. There is a cycle of lack of opportunities and social mobility in very rich countries such as the USA and UK. In addition, there are not enough opportunities for black people in normal organisations…and higher up the corporate ladder.

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Shop Window on Wood Street.

It also seems that centuries of history of Afro-American slavery, the Americas’ and Europe’s relationship to the black community are being put to test due to the systemic, institutional racism and prejudices that continue to exist in society. We cannot deny this fact.

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The Black Lives Matter movement started about seven years ago to respond to high levels of deaths and discrimination in the Black population and has a wider remit to encompass and campaign with activism for more equality in a world, which has been shaped like this over centuries of inequality, injustice and white supremacy – especially in former colonies. The shackles of slavery to the Americas have created insurmountable inequality and racial tensions throughout the centuries – Atlantic African Slave Labour was used for consumption and industry in Europe too. The wealth and remnants of slave traders, “West Indian Trader” and merchants are still honoured in our city centres, buildings, and richness treasures – procured, stolen or extracted with human slave labour and is still very much in our midst.

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I didn’t study American history but we were taught indigenous history of the Americas and the Caribbean up to the modern-day. It is no shock to learn about the brutality and de-humanisation of slavery. There was no whitewashing of history and there is intellectual confidence in my peers in the Caribbean. Luckily I have personal insight and experience to know that the story is one of redemption, reconciliation and resilience for the descendants of slaves who still live in my homeland. The Afro-Caribbean community in the Caribbean are mainly okay now and have excelled in their chosen fields. They do not have the same levels of inequalities and barriers you get from the USA and UK. The societal structures are less rigid or oppressive, and you can have great levels of social mobility with a well-rounded education and opportunities. There was no knowledge deficit.

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Consistent. Some things don’t change for me. This is my A’Level West Indian (we did European History too) history book.

Learning about the Caribbean, and Europe, gave us a well-grounded and balanced reality, which meant we are able to rise about it. I am also the descendant of indentured labourers and business migrants from India, and so I empathise and understand with my Caribbean heritage its’ global influences. One thing the British Imperialist get wrong is the imbalances in the historical narratives – the feeling that they are better than others because of the Empire, the imperialistic pomp and ceremony, riches and splendour that accrued over time from the colonies at the expense of black (and other people of colour) lives.  You just have to look at some modern-day black lives film (e.g. Twelve Years a Slave or Selma), and TV dramas to see that it was one rule for them and one rule for the others.

Putting this simply – the term white privilege and white supremacy was brought about as a form of oppression between classes and races that the elite-controlled to keep the status quo. The rules and infrastructure of segregation between the races were created for the so-called ‘white supremacy’ to uphold privileges and prevent integration of races. We are talking about systematic and institutional racism that still exists in the UK, and most evidently still in the USA. You just have to look at the issues with Windrush Scandal in the UK, and other major inequalities to see that this issue has not gone away. Lack of empathy and knowledge is the real impact of colonisation in the 21st Century. There is also a need for humility and recognition of injustices in the past from our white community as the celebration of Empire and colonialism had deep scars and hurt. This is one of the reasons for a call for decolonisation of history and adding Black British history to the curriculum. In recent weeks, I have seen many discussions on the lack of teaching about centuries of African Slavery in British Colonies in British schools today.

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I am not naive to think in the Caribbean and other parts of the world do not have their own racism. I also think it will not ever go away and we will need to keep reminding people to think of our privileges, unconscious and conscious biases. We must aim to be anti-racist as civilised human beings in the 21st century.

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Home – Upper Walthamstow.

It was twenty years ago that I was asked to catalogue the Macpherson report when it was released on the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence, and the institutional racism that prevented his family from getting the justice they deserved. You could say that I don’t know what I am talking about, or that I am a trouble-maker but these are the same issues we should be talking about as librarian and information professionals who are serving various communities across our countries in a global world. At the SLA Leadership symposium in New Orleans, there was a strong focus on Diversity and Inclusion with a practical exercise on white privilege. This endorsed my libraries and information professional stance. There is also a test for you to check your privilege and there are numerous resources, best practice and reading materials I have helped collated, seen and shared in the last few weeks. We are also looking to make these into actionable targets, to make a genuine change with organisation culture and in wider ways with the Black community and everyone.

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I also mentioned the Black Lives Movement and Decolonisation campaigns in my talk in September 2019 at the SLA Europe conference. It is rigid and unfair institutional racial structures, media irresponsibility and personal unconscious and conscious bias that makes humans behave this way.   In recent weeks, the sheer shocking emotions and discrimination witnessed by everyone are being discussed now and has come to the forefront of our social consciousness for social justice. It is with this momentum that I was asked to take part in the SLA Diversity Inclusion Community and Equity (DICE) arranged talk on ‘What is the reality of COVID-19 where you live now; What does the protest movement look like where you are; and what have these individual or combined epic events mean to you? ‘. This solidarity and standing up for the injustices for people in our community is not something we can just let it go by until it blows over. There does seem to be a real sea change for action and genuine empathy and understanding in the current mood during a global pandemic that is not just a few weeks old…but a couple of centuries late!

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The protest movement in Bristol a couple of weeks ago on the dismantle of Edward Colston’s statue was a defining moment in British Slave History. I don’t know much about British Slave owners in the UK but I do remember learning in secondary school about the champion of freedom such as Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Haitian Revolution and abolitionists such as William Wilberforce. It is a shame that slave owners and traders are still glorified today without some context to their supposed acquired wealth and glory. I must admit that I was pleased to see that the statue was dismantled considering the enormous part Colston played in slavery, death of Africans bound to the Americas and the pretentiousness of his philanthropy in Bristol. When we talk about plantations in the Caribbean and America – we know whose labour was used for the sugar cane, cotton, minerals etc. These products were then sent back to Europe – where there is very little to explain where and how the raw materials and wealth came to Britain. The death of George Floyd in the last few weeks created a wave of protest against institutional and systematic racism which still perpetuates today and the dismantle and vandalising of statues and buildings that glorify this dirty and seedy economic and human history are only catching up with the shady past. Obviously, I don’t encourage the damage of property but the wounds, emotion and feeling in the current generation of all races are raw as ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has given an identity and a label to this energy to make a difference just like Toussaint and Wilberforce.

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Shared on Facebook.

A lot of white people are saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ – yes they do but…the correct argument is that Black Lives are more disproportionally at risk from death in police custody, poverty, inequality, injustices, employment, promotion, reward and life chances. A young black boy may be stopped by the police 40 more times than a young white boy. The young black boy may be more exposed to crime due to the area and the lack of opportunities he has (I do know that not all young black men are into crime). The black role models in our media are lacking in the UK in positions of authority and power. Even as an adult, there are still struggles, barriers and oppression. White Privilege means that you are unlikely to experience these barriers, obstacles and constant judgement based on the colour of your skin. I am brown and I am certain that I do not encounter all the issues that a black person may experience throughout their life. You Gov have recently published a survey on 1001 BAME persons which states that virtually identical numbers of people believe racism exists in the country today (84%) compared to (86%) thirty years ago. This is the true negative ‘lived experience’ of being Black and British from four hundred years ago…to now.

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I am also grateful to see that my employers and others leading businesses have taken a stance on correcting some of the wrongs, allowing and partaking in open discussions in large groups, which is being enabled by video conferencing. On the one hand, we are still trying to work through a pandemic of COVID-19…and on the other hand, we are trying to focus attention on Black Lives Matter – a pandemic within a pandemic as it has recently been put in protests. It seems that racism within the police force mentioned in the Macpherson Report is still happening now in the 21st century. It is not enough to just not be a racist. It shows great leadership to demonstrate and work towards being an anti-racist organisation at all levels in a global community.

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There are other issues too with lower-paid and front line jobs compared to the white middle-classes who tend to have better jobs, reward packages and benefit from social mobility and better quality of life. In COVID-19, there have been higher deaths in the BAME population both for health and social care staff employees, but also for patients who have died. Inequalities, being in the front line for lower-paid jobs and racism are some of the reason for the disproportionate levels of the death being higher in the BAME community in the UK during COVID-19. We have every reason to shout BLACK LIVES MATTER!

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Only in darkness can you see the stars.

– Martin Luther King

The Black Lives Matter protest movement has been great for bringing communities together to protest and campaign for better rights, better equality, understanding and respect to the black community for their part in building societies from America, the UK and other parts of the world. For far too long the rhetoric and the ‘systems’ have been prejudiced against black persons, indigenous and people of colour. I loved seeing the Rolling for Rights protest videos last week in San Diego – there were thousands of young and mixed supporters marching for Black Lives Matter, this has been replicated in various cities of the world.

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In my own neighbourhood, the Stand Up to Racism campaign with volunteers has brought about solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter causes from the long term and new instances. It is a meeting place for young and old supporters to tell their stories of biases and what still needs to be done to improve relations and representation in a multicultural city. Multiculturalism and multiple ethnicities are the legacies of colonisation and imperialism. There is a disconnection with other cultures and the people in this world that played the part of all our shared global histories. The saddest part for me is hearing of deaths in police custody or at the hands of the police at this event. I am also not happy with the high level of deaths of young black men in the city that I live in too due to gang culture and drug dealing! I also do not like terrorism in the city that I live in. There is a lot of hatred and misunderstanding as a result of race, cultural and religious differences. In all aspects of life, we try to avoid talking intelligently and fairly about race and politics, but they have been put on the agenda in the last decade (or forever!) due to the current political and racial tensions. Race is uncomfortable for all of us to discuss but there are some tips here by the Smithsonian Museum.

So what do we do now?

Big and small businesses are responding to the situation by being proactive with changes and actions in their messages, recruitment and corporate culture in a world that is diverse. At my employers, the British Library, we are working on Black Lives Matter and it is on the agenda for the long term. There have been some proactive demonstrations of leadership on BLM and I hope this will be sustained in future.  Some best examples are SONY, Ben and Jerry Ice Creams, KPMG, Netflix etc – this is the best practice. It is also up to us to have a personal responsibility to be anti-racist and to check our own biases and privileges for a fair society for humanity. We should use creative arts, culture and education to connect us to our history and the myriad of colours and people that are part of the same history. We should also re-balance history with the great ancient civilisations of Africa, as I saw mentioned recently by a Black British celebrity.

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Read and be Educated on the Topic.

We should be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement just as you may want gender equality, LGBT+ equality and rights, and even white-male-bonding-without-the-racism. We should aim to make steps forward, take positive and confident action to bring about genuine change in a colourful world that is far more interesting in just black and white.

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I have had my own little battles over the years but generally do not encounter overt racism. People tend to look at me and see an Indian woman – they do not know that I am Trinidadian and I am way ahead of the game in my knowledge of slavery, my respect for black role models and black culture, which is part of my Trinidadian culture and identity. What I can do for my black brothers and sisters, is to share my insight, support and knowledge of our place in global history, the present and hope for the future. I will take personal responsibility to stay true to my authentic self, and will stand up for other races, cultures and lives in a multicultural connected world.

We may have come on different ships, but we are on the same boat now.

–  Martin Luther King.

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Cabaret, Clubs and Art Scenes – Heart of all the Action

After the festive season, January is always really difficult to keep you self-motivated as it is a start of a busy new year, with resolutions, work targets and goals to finish off. Despite the difficulty staying focus, there will be challenges with keeping to your own self-imposed promises. However, it is also great to make time to relax and spend with good friends by going out and about in the many attractions that we have as Londoners. This year I didn’t have to do any of the social planning…I just had to join along in the good cheer, to not one or two events, but six in total! Some of them were low cost and some at the high-end of the price range but all equally enjoyable. Here, I discuss some of the fantastic ideas for making most of the cultural venues in the colder and darker nights.

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Firstly, one of my dear friends was visiting London and asked us to see the satirical cabaret ‘Fascinating Aida’ which was being shown live at the National Theatre on the Southbank. I had no idea that the show has been touring since 1983 and has a dedicated following around the country. It was also very funny, entertaining and heart-warming with all the lovely stories and anecdotes. My friend warned me that there will be a lot of swearing but mostly it was the swear word ‘Brexit’ that received the most laughs! I was pleased with that. It was also very amusing to hear the songs and engagement with a live audience in a fabulous venue on the Southbank. A great fun way to start the New Year 2020.

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The same weekend, I was able to fit in some local art landmarks at God’s Own Junkyard for the fabulous display of neon lights in their coffee shop and gallery. The William Morris Gallery also had the ‘Pioneer: William Morris and the Bauhaus’ exhibition on until recently. This was my first exposure to the Bauhaus, whereby the exhibition aimed to fully explore the common values and relationship between the English Arts and Crafts and the Bauhaus movements. The designs are truly simple, striking and recognisable. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have the William Morris Gallery so close to where I live, where I can see the new temporary exhibitions, but also to visit time and time again the permanent William Morris exhibition.

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The next amazing event I went to see was the Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’ held at the Barbican Centre with my information professional/librarian friends. It was nice to get ready early on a Saturday to catch the short train ride to the Barbican Centre (I hope to spend more time doing fun things there when I have free time). The exhibition was very interesting to see the global movement that explored the social and artistic role of cabarets, cafés and clubs focusing on global locations from New York to Tehran, London, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna and Ibadan. It depicted time spanning the 1880s to the 1960s in various cities of the world also with the common dynamic themes and multi-faceted history of artistic production.

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It was a simultaneous avant-garde movement where there was art from a part of the world influencing another part, such as the Parisian theatrical Le Chat Noir show influencing the Chat Noir paintings that you may know. It really was an excellent exhibition and some of the highlights for me were the art pieces, Loie Fuller who was innovative in her dancing movement with fabric staged at the Folies Bergère in the 1890s – these were truly trail-blazing with the copyright of her dance and experiments in costume, choreography, light and movement.

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We treated ourselves to delicious cocktails on this particular night before the exhibition but I didn’t realise until I was in the exhibition that there was a recreated multi-coloured ceramic tiled bar installation in the exhibition of the Cabaret Fledermaus from Vienna (1907), designed by Josef Hoffmann for the Wiener Werkstätte.

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During this period simultaneously in New York, the literary and jazz scenes flourished and “co-mingled in the predominantly African American neighbourhood of Harlem, where black identity was re-forged and debated”. And so, there was also some live American jazz and spoken word that evening whilst we held our freshly made Vienna inspired Champagne cocktail!

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For me it was also great to see and feel the artistic carnival spirit of the cabaret and the clubs – from dance, costumes, music, spoken word, performance theatre, street theatre, drumming of Yoruba, silhouettes of dangling stencils and so much more! This is not only an enjoyable night…it was life-affirming stuff of the history of artistic practises and cultural exploration.  Even artistic expressions that were different in other regions, were happening and influencing each other demonstrating the common energy of the human condition and aspirations at a very turbulent time. I will remember this exhibition and the evening for a very long time!

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My next interesting event was to see a film for Federico Fellini’s 100 centenary celebrations at the BFI in London’s Southbank Centre (again!) for the film ‘La Dolce Vita’.  I obviously knew of the film and the director, but couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the bold original film on the big screen at the BFI cinema. It truly was another avant-garde art from a period of the most iconic and cliché films on Italian life,  highlighted by the neorealism of the film movement for its time. It was also interesting to follow the life of a journalist from his own life with his encounters with all the other people he is observing. There were highs and lows, happiness and sadness, fun and fear. I thought it was very cleverly filmed, and love the crisp and familiar scenes of Italian life. I am also hoping to see ‘Amarcord’ in a couple of weeks too but this really was a true appreciation of an excellent, avant-garde and innovative filmmaker.

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And as if it couldn’t get more interesting…I went to the BFI Archive in Berkhamsted for a tour with other British Library staff. It was interesting to see the archives, film restoration, editing, and machinery but also to hear about the various items, services and content that they store and conserve. It was amazing to know that they also keep commercial news and broadcasting (including advertisements). I believe the BBC has its’ own archive. We were very lucky to be shown around by their knowledgeable staff, meet the teams and also to see some of the ephemera ranging from film such Kes, Star Wars script, and artists such as Derek Jarman and Ken Loach. The BFI is where all good films go, and the archive is the equivalent to moving image heaven.

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The month ended on a high note with evening tea at the Savoy in London. I have been meaning to go for 20 plus years, although I have been to a ball a few years ago. I certainly loved the flavours of the handmade sandwiches and teacakes with Champagne and splendid tea. It was a special treat and I enjoyed the art deco interiors in a very chilled ambience. My friends and I didn’t realise that there was going to be a pianist and a jazz band playing beautiful music – so that was an extra bonus. Instead of staying a couple of hours, we stayed longer for about 4-5 hours! The venue is such a great attraction still and was known for creating a place with ‘stardust’ by theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte being influenced by celebrities, royalty, leading actresses and opera singers of the time.  D’Olyly Carte wanted to keep that sparkle and it certainly still maintains its’ shine today.

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There are a few more January celebrations like Galette du Rois for Epiphany, and a British Library tour for SLA Europe I did with my colleague Neil, which was rounded off in the pub – both events were also nice get-togethers.

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As the dark and cold nights as here to stay for a few more weeks, it has been a pleasure to spend time in a usually uneventful January doing all these wonderful and entertaining things with dear friends, contacts and family. However, I do feel that it has been a very positive and busy start to 2020, and with more activities, I have planned for this year…it will certainly be a show and will keep me busy. Do come back here to see what action I am up to!

A Christmas Carol – Dickens’ Classic December story

‘I wish to be left alone’ said Scrooge. Since you ask me what I wish, gentleman that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry’. – A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scoorge is a miser and Christmas-hating protagonist in the Victorian book by Charles Dickens called ‘A Christmas Carol’. If you don’t already know the story, we have a classic tale of someone lacking in kindness, which is even harsher when it is told to us during the festive season of goodwill and good tidings to all men. Dickens created a character of pity, scorn and loneliness, but also one where he is able to tease out compassion and redemption by the end of the story on Christmas Eve. The themes of this story are in the forefront of my thoughts this festive season, but also due to my participation in a local pantomime run by local people for the community in early December.

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Charles Dickens wrote the book in under six weeks in 1843, which was then published in time for Christmas. The novel gives us an insight into the poverty and urban living conditions in the Victorian ages. It is reported that Dickens was horrified after reading the government report: The Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children which showed the horrific conditions in factories. Dickens was moved after reading the report and visited similar poor conditions in Manchester. The result was the idea to write ‘A Christmas Carol’, and the most he felt he could do was to make the horror of the report more known by writing a story… “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power”. This was the conception of his now renowned timeless social and moral human story of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

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“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” – A Christmas Carol

I remember seeing on television the story in a film of Scrooge as a child in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970/80s. I even remembered miserly persons called a “Scrooge”, and so the story has a wider readership and context than a Christmas story. However, the book was suggested a couple of years ago for our book club and therefore I was happy to finally read this classic story. I didn’t realise the meaning of the simple anti-Christmas term “Bah Humbug!” until I read ‘A Christmas Carol’.

The other characters in the book are interesting and add the element of wonder and awe to what is essentially a ghost story – the business partner Jacob Marley, the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim are like a conscience for the mean, bitter and solitary Scrooge. The spirits take Scrooge on a journey through his sad life and display his obsession with money and callousness, but also with some remedial twists like Bob Cratchit still toasting to Scrooge although he is a mean and demanding employer. The spirits are there to have Scrooge’s life flash by him highlighting his wrongdoings, but also the spirit of the future brings the perceived truth of this own demise…and death should he not change his wicked ways. This is just my short synopsis but ‘A Christmas Carol’ has the recurring theme of compassion and redemption that can help us to lead better lives, especially in a Christmas story during the wintery December month.

 

This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” – A Christmas Carol

There is a lot written about the book and I am lucky to stumble upon a whole page dedicated to it on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website here. There is much to learn from the book about the historic Victorian way of life, the issues faced with publishing the first copy, and the importance of the book in cultural terms. It is just as popular as it was then as it is now!

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Dickens apparently was not protected by copyright laws, as there was no copyright legislation at the time to protect creative works. His novel was copied and performed by theatres within weeks, and there were various versions of the story being circulated at the time. It is mentioned in this Osgoode Law School blog post that he was annoyed but also one of the first advocating for copyright laws to protect creative works. You can also see how profitable the show was for its’ time by the Theatre playbills, which are available to view digitally. What is remarkable to this day is the beautiful illustration that were commissioned and created by John Leech in the first version of the book. They are still splendid and are able to light up social media to this day. Like Dickens’ story itself, these playbills and illustrations are available for reuse without fear of copyright infringement. I do hope he was able to get some financial benefits at the time for his work.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew.  “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”

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It has been an extra special experience this month to be involved in a pantomime of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a local volunteer group, Panda Pantomime Productions. Pantomime has a long history of fun and informal theatre. This year we aimed to have four performances on the streets and in local venues – I only took part initially as a payback to Tom, who had helped me with fundraising musical entertainment in the past. I was happy for him to ask me to host the pantomime in my neighbourhood but didn’t expect to actually take part in it!. We started rehearsing about eight weeks ago to a very uninspiring ready-made script but thanks to the creative writing skills of Theresa – she was able to adapt the story to our times, local area and topical issues that we can all relate to. Luckily there are no copyright issues too! In the end, I am really proud of being able to participate in one of the highlights of my year.

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We had brilliantly engaged audiences, both children and adults, and lots of great feedback and fundraising at the performances. Local businesses donated raffle prizes, the council gave us a little support, venues opened their doors to us, and a big thanks to Audi Car Showroom in Chingford for their donations and time given by dedicated staff in the pantomime. It was a great way to challenge my non-existent acting experience and also to get to know a whole new group of lovely people. I was able to live, breathe and absorb the true story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a contemporary setting.

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‘The Christmas Carol’ is one of the stories that were being shown as Pantomime across the country when I checked on Twitter. Pantomime is a great way to experience theatre in the colder months of the year and is great to keep the venues profitable – it is reported that 2.7 million tickets were sold annually (BBC Source). I also still have much admiration for the team at PwC who started their corporate pantomime in the 1980s and still put it on annually by their staff, for their staff and communities. Over the years, I have also attended a few excellent Pantomimes at the Hackney Empire, where you are able to get value for money with great actors in a fabulous historic East End theatre.

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This December, in classic coincidence, the BBC aired on the run-up to Christmas the screening of a three-part episode of ‘A Christmas Carol’. It was great to compare it to the books, and also our low-budget version in pantomime. I liked it all the same and it was extra interesting to see all the characters played in different ways by professional actors, but also to a bigger budget with special effects, elaborate costumes, makeup and in Dickensian architectural scenes in London. The use of a mixed-race family for the Cratchits, contemporary issues and dark atmosphere created a lot of conversation on social media. I only recently realised that there is apparently a good version of this classic story by the makers of the Muppet Show. Perhaps I can look at that version another time.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – A Christmas Carol

800px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843

And so with this moral tale, there is a spiritual conversion in the ending with Scrooge finding a second chance having examined ‘an intimate inspection of his soul’…bringing about regret and redemption for his past misdemeanours and miserliness. In the month of December, this Dickensian story will be around for a long time yet to entertain and warn us of the human condition. It is a great reminder that it is best to live in the present with goodwill, compassion and good cheer to others. This is a festive happy ending that will guide us in whatever time lies ahead.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

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