Let the good times roll – taking the leads in New Orleans and Houston

Laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll

– New Orleans Cajun French

I can officially now say that I am the President-Elect 2019 for SLA Europe, and one of the recommendations from the Board of Directors was that I should attend the SLA Leadership Summit in New Orleans, USA. Therefore, I started the year with much anticipation with this trip to New Orleans – the Crescent City. These learning and collaboration opportunities don’t come by often, and as a destination, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list. I flew into Louis Armstrong Airport with Geraldine, a Swiss-British SLAer, and it was very nice to be given the pep talk by someone who has been through the role and who had some practical tips with stepping up to share with me. I have mentioned before in this blog that I have been a member of SLA since the early 2000s and still find the organisation beneficial and relevant to my work and profession. I have been able to take on tasks and responsibilities that have developed me personally, and this was an opportunity to hone in on my leadership skills and style. I also was able to fit in some great fun!

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The Leadership Symposium was three days of full-on meetings, presentations, table topical discussions, group exercises, networking, sharing best practices, knowledge, wisdom and general chat with a wide international network of information professionals. The facilitator Jon Hockman was excellent at enlightening, coercing, motivating, as well as helping us to focus our attention on our leadership missions, professional objectives, and personal goals.

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I have had some training in the past in my previous full-time and volunteering roles, but this was extra special as I was able to understand SLA better by being engaged at the symposium, participate in meetings, presentations and discussions I had witnessed – but most importantly, I was able to meet fellow professionals face to face. These all made the trip worthwhile and valuable to me.

To reach others, we first have to know ourselves. And to contact the deeper truth of who we are, we must engage in some activity or practice that questions what we assume to be true about ourselves.

– Adapted from A. H. Almaas

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I am one of those persons who actually does enjoy team building away-days and socialising, so the exercises and meeting new people are tasks that I relished. Most of the attendees were friendly and really pleased to know that I was representing the SLA Europe Chapter, and indirectly, my employers The British Library. They were excited to hear of our forthcoming autumn SLA Europe European Conference in the UK. Also, they were very complimentary and curious to know more after my short talk about our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) events and programmes that we had conducted here over the pond.

Everyone has influence in their association or organisation –

Slide provided by Jon Hockman

 

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One of the best aspects of the symposium was an opportunity to see historic and charming New Orleans! I went out on my own on Saturday to soak up the pre-Mardi Gras preparations and mood, especially as the New Orleans Saints were playing that day. For those of you who are not aware – Mardi Gras is the same day as Shrove Tuesday and Carnival Tuesday in Caribbean Carnivals (yeah – party time!). I loved the architecture, street music, art shops, galleries, musically theme bars, restaurants with Cajun and Creole foods, etc.

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I really was very contented to walk around in awe, from the modern convention district, hotels and commercial centres to the historic colonial building in the French Quarter better know as Vieux Carre (Old Square). Historic signs of indigenous names, colonialism and slavery are very apparent around the Louisiana landscape and buildings, from the shores of the Mississippi straight to the St Louis Cathedral and the Voodoo Cultural Centre. I made sure that I visited the Mississippi River for its significance and impact on American immigrant history. New Orleans is not dissimilar to parts of the Caribbean where I am from, and some of the buildings look like those you may find in colonial Port of Spain. I felt quite at home with the Mardi Gras costumes culture, music, street activity, food, and ethnic make-up in a mixed society.

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My friends and family were sending me recommendations to try various delicacies such as fried chicken in Treme, Beignets at Café Du Monde, Po’ Boy sandwiches and the lush….King Cake. Luckily the SLA Leadership Symposium had a high-quality King Cake that was ever so light and appealing to the eyes with the three Mardi Gras coloured sugars represented – Purple as Justice, Green as Hope and Gold as Power. I hope to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras this year. This will be a vintage epiphany year as I have eaten King Cake in London with my French friend Veronique, in New Orleans with SLAers, and in Houston with friends. The sweet perfume of the cakes in the local patisseries is something special too!

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and as a final treat, I went along with SLAers Ruth from Sacramento and retiree Janet from New Jersey to the Preservation Jazz Hall Band in the museum-like setting for an authentic live New Orleans Jazz show. It was an awesome, quaint, intimate and once-in-a-lifetime type of gig that I won’t forget. The musicians and singers were of a high calibre and I couldn’t help myself humming along and tapping my toes.

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New Orleans will have a lasting impact on me for the leadership training and work we carried out over the two days but also for the magical and creative influences it also has on me in terms of its’ culture, identity, and energy. No wonder the saying is appropriate…let the good times roll!

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Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

Houston was my next stop. It was easy to get an internal flight to a city I had heard a lot about from a neighbour who lived there since the 1980s. I have always been curious as it is not far away from Dallas, which is famous for the well-known 1980s soap opera. On arrival at the airport, it is clean and noticeably very high tech, where I was able to get free Wi-Fi – which is always a bonus when travelling abroad. I also saw only one cowgirl, but apparently, there aren’t many about in the city. It is not Rodeo season too when it is certainly an attraction for music, food, and entertainment from photos I have seen in the past.

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Although I saw some cows, there were certainly a lot of freeways, shopping malls, restaurants and fields of oilrigs and tanks. Houston is a wealthy city with a steady economy and ‘old money’ from the oil industry. It is also a financial centre, university city and at the cutting edge of medical research with the Texas Medical Center complex hosting 60 medical institutions. I also liked the downtown skyline, the gorgeous architecture, and homes. There were newer neighbourhoods in suburbia, where there are large and expensive homes in gated communities near lakes. My friends told me that your money goes a long way in Houston compared to other cities. It is seventh in the best largest cities in the USA.

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Houston is famous for NASA’s Mission Control Centre. We have all heard the saying “Houston – we have a problem!” from an astronaut’s message to Houston’s NASA mission control popularised in the film Apollo 13. This is synonymous with problem-solving and working in remote teams. I was really pleased to know that my friend lives close by and we were able to visit the NASA Johnson Space Center. The exhibition areas were curated with mock-ups, film, and simulations that were informative and entertaining for children and adults. I even liked hearing about the mission control problems, such as with Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano – it was a gripping real-life story of the challenges faced by astronauts and space exploration. It was an informal leadership lesson as it reminded me of the need to have strong individuals but also strong teams to help with problem-solving. One of the clips extols about the need and the steps in failure that NASA has taken so far to get that far in outer space. Their failures have enabled learning and progress.

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Like magic, that very morning the news in Houston showed a clip of entrepreneur Richard Branson speaking about his Virgin Galactic space tourism programme, and what it is likely to be when it is launched. I thought of this in the real mission control training rooms for astronauts after seeing the various space equipment and components that they must learn to use and get familiar with before they set out for discoveries in a life-challenging, harsh and dangerous space and environment. In a presentation, we were told about the Boeing and Space X programme, the latter by entrepreneur Elon Musk. We were still able to see the actual Mission Control room that is currently used for training but soon it will be used for the MARS space programme by mid-2020. We also saw engineers working on innovative robots and space equipment.

“People actually make sense by thinking about the past,
not about the future….constructing explanations about
past performance often yields new strategies, insights or innovations.”

– Jon Hockman course slide on Leadership.

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The other remarkable aspect of the tour was seeing the large equipment that has been in outer space but they were now located next to a field of cattle and cows on a heritage farm on the NASA site. There are signs for deer crossing and other wild animals that roam the site – this is ironic for keeping space explorers grounded in the countryside and natural environment in Texas. There are trees planted to honour and show appreciation to astronauts who have passed away. NASA also apparently has a local outreach and competitions programme for schools. Unite, Create and Explore is their mission motto displayed on site to encourage space exploration…and that is a good problem to have!

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Like New Orleans, I spent some lovely time socialising with my friends and it was amazing checking out the local homes, shopping and leisure areas. There were some cows in a field but also a lot of large shopping areas with the likes of JC Penny, Guillards, Wal-Mart, Costco and very nice entertainment and restaurant areas. The food was amazing and my friends made sure that I tried some of the local dishes!

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We also took a drive to Galveston, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. I was aware of it by a couple of pop songs, and by looking at the maps of the south of the USA. It is a really nice seaside town with influences from the immigrants who came there – so you can still see French and Spanish architecture, British telephone boxes, and they were also getting ready for Mardi Gras.

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Both New Orleans and Houston have the crossroads and waterways with the past and present, the wild and the unknown – a coming together with the old and new USA and Europe. I am truly grateful for the learning opportunities and insight this trip gave me and see it as an honour and privilege to continue to serve SLA Europe, its’ board, members, and stakeholders. I hope to see some new contacts, and familiar faces I met on this trip another time at the USA annual conference in 2020.

Calendar Love – focus on time throughout the year

‘Calendar Love’ is a term I have been using for about 7 years on Twitter whereby I willingly only shared small information bites about my calendar in my home.  In the early days of Twitter, this was the only personal detail I was willing to share with persons I don’t know, haven’t met, plus I knew this information would be in the public domain. As the social media platform developed, I have since shared many photos of food, cakes, vegetables, flowers etc. I still share ‘Calendar Love’ on the 1st of each month – it has actually helped me appreciate and explore what I might know about the image, motivates me to learn more about the subject, place and artist who created it. I will elaborate below on my favourite calendars over the last few years that I can remember,  and those that I have shared monthly on Twitter. I will continue to share about Calendars like this in the New Year too…and as long as Twitter is still in existence. But seriously, modern calendars are very popular for business, fundraising, promoting the arts, artists and raising awareness.  They also are popular items to purchase in shops and online which stay with you throughout the year.

 

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After researching calendars (Romans called the first day of the month Calends) recently,  it is clear that the topic is a big deal in all ancient and modern civilisations throughout history for time management, as well as for understanding the world in terms of scientific evidence for the cycle of life. There are many reasons for us to note the importance of calendars for keeping track of time, organising one’s own life, business appointments, time management, prioritising and planning, maintaining religious and political order, festivals, navigation, travel etc.  In addition to the bigger picture universal dance of the planets on where we live.

Time has been recorded and organised by humanity over time itself and in tune with the order (at times disorder) with nature and science – be it by the sun and the moon, day and night and other environmental and cosmic energies. Early farmers and travellers would be governed by the daylight and moonlight, obviously they would have noticed the changing of the seasons and the position of the sun and moon (especially without modern electricity). This is engagingly explained in this video ‘The brief history of the Calendar and Time Keeping’ by lecturer Donna Caroll of Maastricht University. It is brilliant and has more details than I can possibly tell you! It is also excellent for nature, history, astronomy, maths and physics fans.

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Pope Gregory. Source Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

So from sundials, using human hands and other earlier timekeeping tools, eventually the Gregorian calendar, as we know calendars now, was made popular across the world. The adoption of calendars and timekeeping systems were accelerated with developments and inventions, such as clocks and compasses, which were used in navigation across the seas, and throughout the introduction and development of rail travel. The rest is history and time was standardised. We still have to rely on official international dates to keep track of time and special days from non-fixed religious to secular days such as: Easter, Mardi Gras (Christian calendar), Diwali (Hindu calendar), Eid (Arabic Calendar), Chunnak/Hanukkah (Jewish Calendar), sporting fixtures, festivals events, celebrations, anniversaries etc.

 

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Right up to date, Calendars are used digitally and/or in paper materials by most of us. There is a large market for printing and digital programming calendars for personal and business use. This brings a paper versus digital debate, but I think both formats for personal and business use have their place, purpose and time. No pun intended!

 

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I was able to find market research for the calendar industry published by William & Marshall Strategy for the UK and other global markets. It was actually difficult to pinpoint the retail sale of printed calendars in the current research sources I have access to in the library.  This is because calendars are produced under a niche market for paper products, and usually are categorised within the stationery or cards market. Nowadays, calendars can be purchased as popular presents in shops and online, especially this time of year. Some companies have actually jumped on the ‘Advent’ Calendar bandwagon to promote products. Mintel reports pre-Christmas ‘Adult Adventing’ is a thing: For brands there is also a strategic element that can come from offering advent calendars, which is exposure to various products. Sampling is a great way to drive interest and how a consumer discovers new products”.

You can also personalise calendars with your own designs, images and photos to meet new digital trends in the need for stylish and personalised alternatives. Shops in Trinidad & Tobago tend to give you calendars as gifts during the festive season, and the same with the Italian shops in Bedford, England. They mainly have religious images on them the last time I received one.

 

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Ironically, not all of us want to be controlled by calendars and time. I can’t possibly be that free of ‘time schedules’ at present due to work and other commitments, but ironically the watchmakers Quartz have blogged about ‘Improving your social life by changing the way you schedule it’. The piece explains the term Chronemics – “which studies time and our relationship to it, and how it affects communication—would call this (sic) living on ‘event time’- letting your actions be dictated by the flow of your day, or by natural events, like the sun’s rise or slow disappearance, rather than the clock’s ticking”. This lack of clock-watching or time keeping would be such a luxury…but for now, we need calendars!

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Calendar Girls

Calendars are also very good for creative businesses and we buy a design that really resonates with us.  We love creating and buying them for fundraising appeals. When I was fundraising for a local charity, our joint-chair was a graphic designer who thought of producing a calendar with major relevant celebrations and to create awareness on topics during the year. There was a lot of research work involved with all the factual information to incorporate into a calendar’s design, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No wonder that I look forward to receiving a new calendar at home each year.  We’ve heard about the film ‘Calendar Girl’ (which I haven’t seen as yet). Calendars are still a fab fundraising idea and a good revenue generator. As this Australian story of spunky firemen fundraising for local youths from the sale of their calendars. Calendars are also used effectively for raising awareness on social and politics issues, for example, the Macedonian Twitter Calendar combines nude art with information and fundraising. Now in its’ fifth edition, the Macedonian calendar has been donating the money from calendar sales to support various humanitarian causes over the years. You can also donate online without purchasing the calendar.

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Source: Macedonia Twitter Calendar http://goli.n.ie.mk/2019/gallery.html

So now you know why I love calendars! Here are some of my favourite calendars at home over the last few years that I can remember, especially since starting my ‘Calendar Love’ tweets at the beginning of each month in the last few years:

Robert Doisneau – Year 2001 was a curated black and white photographic calendar entitled ‘Playground’ with photos of children that captured the humour, irony and emotion of their everyday lives mainly around Paris. Coincidently, I went to Paris for the first time that year and was inspired to take my own black and white photos there too.

 

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Beryl Cook – Beryl was one of the first calendars I tweeted about each month and her images were funny and naughty. I frequently discovered digital artwork in online shops to link to my tweets, and also discovered a lot of art museums and online shops would have more details on the paintings about her and other artists.

Cook-Tea
Beryl Cook’s painting. Source: Wikipedia.

Alias – This German Street Artist was very edgy and used to thrill me each month as his images were very thought provoking on social and political issues. He frequently had images of children in very dangerous situations, which made me nervous but also concerned.

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Alias – Berlin Street Artist. Source – https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/alias/

L.S. Lowry – Lowry was an artist I didn’t know much about prior to receiving the calendar, and he pictures were so representative of Manchester. I saw the landscape from his viewpoint as they showed the city’s industrial setting. I found out that year that he has a museum in Manchester and still hope to visit it one day. I also discovered that his mother suffered from depression and he painted in the evening after caring for her. He also suffered depression after her death. It was great he was successful despite his struggles.

Going_to_Work_-_L_S_Lowry

L.S. Lowry – ‘Going to Work’ 1943. Source: Wikipedia.

Claude Monet – Monet’s calendar was very nice to have, but sorry to say – it was underwhelming sometimes as I unable to distinguish his various water lily ponds (such a philistine I hear you say). However, I know now that he had a whole series of ‘Water Lilies’, and he painted them in the later part of his life when he had cataracts. The same year there was also a major exhibition in town and it felt good to know we had his calendar that same year. I was privileged enough to see one of his paints in the William Morris Gallery recently.

AAX
Origin Claude Monet painting now in The William Morris Gallery for the ‘Enchanted Garden’ exhibition.

Emma Scutt – A local artist from Walthamstow, Emma paints a lot of local landmarks and her attention to detail is amazing! She can be found in arts and crafts pop-up markets and her work is also stocked in local shops. I like that Emma shares her Calendar picture each month. I wasn’t even aware of her and her work before I started tweeting about Calendars but it is nice when I can rely in her timely shares, or the British Library tweeters to share information on the first of each month in true ‘Calends’ style!

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Miroslav Sasek – Sasek is a Czech artist who apparently travel the world.  His New York City illustrations calendar 2017 was a souvenir we bought from the New York Public Library shop. As usually, I didn’t know much about Sasek before obtaining the calendar but I soon realised more about his work on global cities. It was such a pleasure to discover some of his wider international work and humour. Guess what too!? …We also have his London 2019 calendar but it will not be for tweeting as there is apparently another I will be sharing information about.

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Japanese Woodblock – This was my calendar for 2018 and again it introduced me to a new style of art and the calendar actually had a short poem, which was a bonus! It contained images from masterful Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. The artworks feature elegant irises, cascading waterfalls and snowy landscapes, all created in a mesmerizing style and displayed with vibrant colours. Sometimes I think of Hokusai and how he started painting late in life – maybe one day I can too! He work is also popular and I can recognise replicates of his work better.

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The next few days I will be getting use to new calendars at home and in the office.  I will also have digital versions at hand on my smartphone as well as my office computer. There is no way I can avoid using a calendar – I need them to keep me in check, organised and plan ahead. We all do! It is a joy to see a new image every month in my arty calendars and to know that it is a fresh start, a new season or even a new year. There are so many personal and business benefits for our timekeeping systems to work. With time ticking and the 2020s on the horizon, we can only take each day at a time. But do remember to say “Pinch Punch!” or “White Rabbit” on the first of each Calendar month.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll – Dance until you drop

Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, as if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the Middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.

– Rumi

I have now come to the point in life where wisdom makes me see and appreciate the more important and finer things in humanity and life – Dance is one of them. Those of you who have known me since a child would recall that I have always loved dancing. We have danced together in our homes, schools, at parties, clubs, on the street and even in our kitchens. My parents were keen dancers and even my mother showed us the steps to calypso and meringue dancing. Apparently, my paternal grandmother was a dancer, which explains a lot of my family’s enjoyment in dancing – it must be in our DNA. My only regret is that when asked by parents on whether I wanted to take classical Indian Dance lessons…I said no. Recently my mother reminded me of this to my horror and deep regret. However, it seems like every week this month I have been to a musical event or dance show at the theatre. That is exactly the way I like my social life – with some form of dance or music.

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In this post I would like to cover some of my thoughts and activities on dancing. As an art form, we should support the performing arts, venues and persons who facilitate and teach dancing for its real cultural, financial and emotional value. Dancing also helps us lead healthy lives, feel happy, keep us entertained and improve our general well-being regardless of age, background, geographic locations, ethnicity etc.

Dance is like time itself. Just like our solar system – dancing has been around for as long as humanity as an art form of performance, expression, social interaction, connection, rituals, entertainment, spirituality and a reflection of life. According to Dancefacts, the oldest evidence of dancing comes from the UNESCO listed 9000 year old cave painting that are found in Bhimbetka, India. The rock painting depicts scenes from hunting, childbirth, religious rites, burials and most importantly, communal drinking and dancing.

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Bhimbetka Cave Drawing, India

Fast forward to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks also showed proof of the development of dance in their culture – most notably at the start if the ancient Olympic Games. Dance integrated with drama in theatre, music and other celebrations through to the western world with ballet in the 18th century. Other 20th century two-person classic dances such as the waltz, foxtrot, tango, Charleston, swing, hip hop, breakdancing etc may be more familiar to us. Dance is ever evolving with new trends, moves, beats and influences. There is a 21st century fascination with popular viewing of dance competitions in our living rooms with the television programmes like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in the UK and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in the USA. We still go to see dance in theatres that tell us stories, showcase professional talent, or simply, we participate in dance to celebrate life.

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My parents would take me to see dance live shows in Trinidad such as the ‘Mastana Bahar Pageant’ and touring Indian dancers. African dance traditions are also celebrated in the ‘Best Village’ competitions that I saw on Fridays on television and inspire Carnival moves like the Moko Jumbies. There was also a Latin dance tutorial television series on Monday nights, but I can’t remember the title of the show. Dance is still very much part of the social life in Trinidad and integral to the Trinidadian psyche. There are few people there who cannot move in time to the beat regardless of background or age.

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Let us read, and let us dance.

These two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

– Voltaire

Currently, Dance is an important part of our both our everyday sports and culture without us noticing it. It makes up a large amount of a theatre repertoire with music, acting and other stage production. According to Statista, 22% of the UK population went to a ballet, a dance performance or an opera annually. In 2016, 7.9% of adults participated in a form of dance other than for fitness. Dance has also evolved and morphed into some major fitness exercises such as Zumba, Body Step, Street Dance, Soca dance etc. According to Statista, “the most common reasons to choose a style of dance fitness is the music, of which Fitsteps and Zumba appear to be on the rise in popularity among dance fitness professionals”.

In terms of my own fitness goals – I should try to make time for dance fitness lessons and will try to be more proactive about this as a new Salsa class has started in my neighbourhood. I am certainly a freestyle dancer as I have little professional experience. However, I have immense admiration for professional dancers who have followed that dream and trained long and hard.

I took salsa lessons locally between 2001-2003 every week, and even went to some central London dance venue as I got to a fairly good level. However, I haven’t taken dance lessons since then…but may take up salsa lessons locally again with ‘The Salsaman’ dance trainer. There are also a few local community dance groups in my neighbourhood that use social media to effectively promote their classes. Zumba is another fitness-dance form that has taken over the world in the last decade.

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Big business also uses dance for capturing our attention with engaging adverts. Multivitamin brand Berocca introduced a new brand character, Roccy the Chameleon, in March 2017. Their effective use of the eye-catching Chameleon dancing and body popping moves to Punjabi music, communicated how the brands supplements can help to combat tiredness and fatigue, and ended with the tagline ‘Be more Berocca’. They also ran a marketing campaign that was supported with social media activity, and ran advertisements on the London Underground to target commuters who are a key audience, according to Mintel (Vitamin & Supplements 2017). There are other fabulous creative uses of dance in advertising, such as some of my favourites like Guinness, Adidas, Pepsi.

In my work-life, I have taken part in line dancing, loved the Big Dance initiative and attended a Georgian Dance talk and demonstration. Dance is serious stuff too!

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If you are in contact with me via social media, you would see that I am frequently out ‘socially’ at local events and Caribbean parties. All good for the the nighttime economy. In the last few weeks, I have attend the following events where I was able to have a little dance:

3 March – YSBD (You should be Dancing title inspired by Saturday Night Fever) which occurs regularly at the Walthamstow Trades Hall. It is usually for adults with cheap entry fee and drinks. I also don’t have very far to go for a fabulous little boogie.

10 March – Chutney in London at Funky Brown in North London was an opportunity to catch up with my West Indian friends and to enjoy some Chutney Indian Caribbean fusion music and dance.

16 March – Rose and Crown for a birthday party where the DJ were playing Northern Soul Music and general British Pop music. I can always judge a fab party when I stay later than I intended.

4 & 23 March – Mirth Marvel Maud theatre for live band Dennis Rollins and Funky Funk, which eventually got us all to our feet. And Jazzy B’s DJ set, the entrepreneur and musician behind Soul II Soul, who played some fabulous soul and neo-soul music. There was one track (I wasn’t aware off) which had the crowd buzzing.

17 March – ‘Tango after Dark’ show by Sadler’s Well at the Peacock Theatre. This was an Argentinian touring group with sizzling dance choreography accompanied by a live band and singers. It was a treat to see, and reminded me of other gorgeous Latin dance troupes ‘Brasil Basiliero’ and ‘Havana Rakathan’. I also have been to see Swan Lake by Walthamstow’s Sir Matthew Bourne a couple of years ago. So do keep an eye out for Sadler’s Well shows.

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And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. – Friedrich Nietzsche

These are just simple ways I can still enjoy my passion for dance with music, and it certainly won’t be the last I mention it. Again, I find that there is so much on dance that I can write about. I am sure to return to the topic again. Dance will continue to fulfil us with joy, entertainment, inspiration, enlightenment, togetherness and connectivity with other cultures, humans and music. We should seek to support dance companies, professionals and the art form itself. If like me, you just like to have a little boogie when you can – just do it! And be sure to dance until you drop.

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Halloween spells Trick or Treats! Money or Eats!

October sees some of us relishing going out and about in the coming winter months, but like other exciting autumnal festivals to look forward to, Halloween on 31st October is full of soulful awe too. It has been celebrated in various cultures for centuries, and so I am hoping to briefly discuss the historical and cultural value. For businesses this time of year, the celebration signals high consumer experience and retail expenditure. You Gov describes Halloween as “an old tradition with contemporary impetus” with the modern take “focused on trick or treating and dressing up in costumes stems largely from cultural influences. However, parts of the United Kingdom, notably Scotland and North Ireland have strong roots in the tradition of ‘Guising’ dress up on the night before All Hallows Day to avoid the unwelcome attention of the dead”. There is an element of mystery, intrigue and adventure at Halloween, characterised by our secretiveness and masking of our personal identity. You certainly can’t avoid the seasonal decorations too.

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Halloween Picture from the Medieval Manuscripts Blog. Source: http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/10/dress-up-for-halloween-medieval-style.html

When I first arrived in the late 1980’s to London, I noticed that the festival was not celebrated as much as in the USA.  As I walked around the streets and shops in the city, even in Trinidad we were more ‘into it’ celebrating Halloween. However, there is evidence that it is a cultural British festival (part religious) going back to the 2nd century B.C. when the Celtic Order of Druids ended on the 31st of October.  In ‘Halloween as a Consumption Experience’, the authors write “The Celts believed that on October 31st, the Lord of the Dead assembled the soul of all those persons who had died the previous year, the spirit of the departed were allowed a brief visit to their relatives. The departed souls would play tricks, so the Druids attempted to appease them with sanctices.” This is rather interesting, as it sounds very similar to the Indian traditions and beliefs of Pitra Paksha for deceased ancestors. The latter normally falls in September, and some of the beliefs seem to match those held in old Halloween traditions. They both seem to be idiosyncrasies relating to mortality and deceased ancestors, as in common with other cultures.

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It is also a time for prayers and partying. There is an explanation of the historical aspects “…in many countries of Western Europe, such as France, Spain, and Italy, Halloween is observed as a austere religious occasion with extra masses and prayers at the graves of deceased relatives and friends, but in the British Isles and especially in the United States, Halloween is primarily regarded as a night of merry making, superstitious spells, fortune telling games, and pranks (Hatch). Thus, Halloween is a curious mixture of the religious and the secular”.

Some parts of the population still prefer not to celebrate Halloween and there are negative as well as positive attitudes towards the festivities. In another reference ‘The Celtic Origins of Halloween Transcends Fear, the author Geo Athena Trevarthen writes ‘Celtic traditions doesn’t experience darkness as automatically evil or frightening. It can be the fertile dark as well as the chaotic dark – these aren’t so far apart. Many traditions such as the Sumerian, Egyptians and Cherokee see the pre-creation state as a watery chaotic, unformed darkness from which all opposites, including life and death, emerge”. The article logically elaborates “most humans deaths happens during the winter months because cold and food shortages made the very old, young and sickly vulnerable. Any livestock that couldn’t be fed over the winter had to be slaughtered. Yet this also meant it was a time of feasting…Samshian/Halloween is the ‘ultimate best of times/worst of times’ festival”.

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Globally, we are not so dissimilar to each other…and we have many common cultural values. Halloween also falls two days before the Mexican’s Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), and gradually this festival and tradition is more visible in London. The make-up styles and fashion are emulated – restaurants and shops are themed like in Wahaca, Accessorize, The Vault. Trevarthen continues, “Of course Halloween precedes the Catholic festivals of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on Nov 2nd, when people honour departed saints and relatives respectively. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations featuring vibrant ‘death in life’ images of skeletons in daily activities culminates on November 2nd. All things ghoulish remain popular as costumes decorations and settings for Halloween as well”. These traditions all seem connected to the living and our relationship with the deceased souls of our ancestors and loved ones.

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With this background and history of Halloween, there are still positive and negative consumer perceptions about Halloween. So, what are some of the figures? You Gov states that in the United Kingdom, 45% are in agreement with negative associations of Halloween being an “unwelcome American cultural import”. Despite this, it is one of the most high profile party events in the social calendar and continues to be an important date for revellers and for UK retailers.

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Mintel predicts that spend in the ‘UK is set to reach £320million with a forecast that sales for such products will rise a further 3.2% year-on-year”. Apparently too, there has been a steady increase in celebrations since 1986 as reported by ONS in ‘Five facts about…Halloween – a monster mash of data’. Global Data Online have also carried our some research in 2016 with 72% of consumers thinking that “Halloween is a much larger celebration than it used to be”.

ONSHalloween

There is a lot of detailed Halloween spending analysis in market research held in our library at work. It is generally a great time for all round family fun – “53% of all adults agreeing that Halloween is a really fun event for all the kids” according to You Gov. Our Halloween dressing up is a £78million habit and it is the one time of the year that the whole of the UK are simultaneously in fancy dress and costumes. Driving these sales are low price, wider choices and convenience of supermarkets – which is a big win for the retail sector! Party food, decorations, entertainment and stationery are also consumer goods that have high sales volumes. Fun size bags of confectionery are definitely a main commodity as people get into the trick or treating Halloween spirit.

In a nutshell, these are the things we are spending our money on for Halloween:

  • Decorations – pumpkins for Jack-o-Lanterns
  • Make-up – to look the part
  • Costumes and Clothing – ideal for fancy dress
  • Halloween Food – food and drink
  • Entertainment – music and events

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As you may know, I live in Walthamstow and there has been phenomenal regeneration in the high street over the years to bring back our local nightlife with hipsters en tote. There are a few local parties being advertised this week in the run up to the Halloween weekend already. Global Data Online also states that retailers are “posting Halloween-themed social media content through Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote interest among shoppers”. Social Media improves significant retailing opportunities, such as Fanta beverages, who are using Snapchat campaigns on their drink cans and on adverts on digital boards.

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When I was in the Fundraising and Events committee at a local charity, The Lloyd Park Children Charity – one of our most popular events was our annual Halloween Party and Disco. It was a great fundraiser and our family tickets always sold out well in advance! There were always interesting costumes, decorations, food (some of which I prepared), dancing and music. Our DJ would play classics like Thriller, Monster Mash, Ghostbusters, as well as some contemporary tracks where we can all have a boogie. It was definitely a worthwhile fundraiser, and heart-warming to see families dressed up in a friendly and safe environment.

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A few years ago, our neighbourly residents group also tried hosting a street party on Halloween Night. It was really busy as this was held on a street with lots of footfall. It was cold, dark and with general naughtiness that we found challenging to manage. We have decided since that it was best when children went about with ad-hoc trick or treating in the neighbourhood.

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I didn’t play Halloween as a child but my sister played with other children in the Expat community for the school we attended. She told me the tricks they did, and that they chanted the slogan “Trick or Treats. Money or Eats!”

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A few years ago where I worked, there was an advert for a group flashdance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. ‘Thrill the World’ as it is known, was organised by an American who also worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. We all met in a room at the Trocadero, where attendees where able to dress up and practice their dance routine. There were participants who came from outside of London, and they really impressed me as they knew all the moves to Thriller! This worldwide dance initiative is still planned every year and is performed in an open venue.

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Halloween is also a great time to get creative whether making cakes, costumes, decorations and great art. The Gothic imagery of skulls, spiders, vampires, and dark characters have been a fascination throughout the ages. It is a time of year, apart from Jab Jab Carnival perhaps, where you can let your darker creative juices and talent flow. There are copyright free photos from the 19th century on this British Library link if you are looking for free inspiration.

Last weekend, I also saw the current exhibition ‘Boom for Real’ by the late artist Jean Michel Basquait, and although not all gory – he had a healthy obsession with the ubiquitous skull. His art of the human body was kindled when his mother had presented him with a copy of the book Gray’s Anatomy whilst recovering from an injury from an accident as a child. Like in Basquiat’s artwork, the image of the skull is still seen everywhere at this time of year!

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Most likely this Halloween, I will see fancy-dressed commuters on their merry way to parties on my way home on the 31st October. I will be hoping to attend some local parties, may be tempted to create my first Jack-o-Lantern, and possibly make a pumpkin inspired pie. Halloween is an old tradition for us to remember the darker and…vulnerable side to the human condition, and quite simply, a time of fun for all the family! We may be at a big party event, a local venue, home or out walking in our neighbourhoods ringing doorbells for some cheerful ‘Trick or Treating’. The least we can do is offer a friendly seasonal hello and welcome.

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The Brown Atlantic – Indians crossing the seas to the West Indies

Black History Month has been celebrated every October in the United Kingdom for the last 30 years when there are many events showcasing the story and contribution of our diverse history. I wanted to write and reflect a little bit more on my own West Indian heritage. It is something I have to explain regularly.

Are you Indian? Pakistani? Mauritian? …These are frequent questions I have faced since moving to the UK. Because of my brown appearance, I have also been asked on holiday in Spain, Italy and France. In 1995, one elderly solder in Amiens, France called me over to ask me where I was from as he thought I was Brazilian. I have no problem with people asking me where I am from but it is a long story that I frequently have to repeat. It sort of goes like this “…I am Trinidadian but I am Indian by race as my ancestors were Indians who went to the Caribbean as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations after the end of slavery”. That is a mouthful! However, it is certainly a true story about Indian Indentureship as a global movement of people to distant lands in the new world that resulted in a human journey rich in history and later integration in what we now know as the West Indies. Some photos here are kindly linked from the UK National Archives image library.

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Description: Coolies arrived from India at Depôt. Location: Trinidad and Tobago Date: 1870-1939 Our Catalogue Reference: Part of CO 1069/392 This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We have attempted to provide place information for the images automatically but our software may not have found the correct location. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library

That is the short version. Here I am going to elaborate as it will also serve as a refresher in a voyage of self-discovery. There were a large number of East Indians who moved to the Caribbean as indentured labourers to provide a workforce that would replace the now freed African Slaves. Indentureship was used to entice Chinese, Europeans, Portuguese, Syrians, Lebanese and East Indians in chronological order to the Caribbean. The Fatal Razack was the first ship to bring indentured labourers from India to Trinidad in 1845 with 227 immigrants. This migration continued until 1917 and is referred to as ‘The Brown Atlantic’. There are both positive and negative outcomes of the resulting mass migration as written and discussed by academics, taught at school and oral stories told from my own circles and elders in Trinidad. I have always wondered to myself why my ancestors left India? I am still not sure what were their motives to leave India.

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Indians were brought to the Caribbean “under dubious circumstances” and lived in the same conditions as some of the former African slaves. Lomash Roopnarine writes in ‘A critique of East Indian Indentured historiography in the Caribbean’ that “Indians were treated more or less like black slaves during indenture with little or no opportunity to challenge the institutionalization of their indenture contract”. It certainly may have had its challenges after leaving Asia in what was considered a highly advanced society, had ancient religions and an already rich culture. Regardless, even though some may argue the ‘wool were pulled over their eyes’, large numbers set bound to new lands across seas and the Atlantic Ocean. Professor Clem Seecharan, at a recent event at the British Library, believes with our collective hindsight, it was also an opportunity to escape from whatever battles or personal baggage our ancestors wanted to leave behind in India. This is the similar story for all immigrants to North and South American in the last four centuries.

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Growing up in Trinidad, my elder relatives would tell stories of ancestors who came before us to the Caribbean. Unfortunately we have not traced our ancestors back to India, but these anecdotes and stories have been passed on over the 170 plus years. Ideally, it should be documented whilst we can remember the details such as in this archive by the National Council for Indian Culture. Social media has helped recently as older relatives would verify and add what they know to photos of persons and events that occurred. I recently found out that my maternal relations were most likely not indentured labourers but business migrants who came via French Martinique. They were also not based in the plantations, but in the city of Port-of-Spain. One thing that was certain – they were adamant on hanging on to their rich Indian culture, religion and heritage. Who can blame them after seeing for themselves how the colonial imprint had erased other indigenous and migrant cultures in the West Indies.

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At the time, my ancestors would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to keep in touch with their relations in India – they would eventually lose the connection with these Indian relations, their immediate roots and the location routes that they took before their arrival in the Caribbean. My mother told me a while ago that when they were growing up in the 1950’s, that they had no idea that they would go to India one day. It probably still is a dream for most Trinidadian Indians (Indo-Caribbeans or East Indians as we now called ourselves) to travel back to India one day. In the academic world in the 19th century, “few studies have concentrated on the re-integration of ex-indentured Indians to their former communities and even the second time…the reason for this discontinuity and disconnection in the study of indenture from India and the Caribbean has to do with the great distance and poor communication networks between the two locations. Discontinuity might have to do with language and cultural barriers. The culture of Indians in the Caribbean changed immensely from the original homeland. To some extent, new communities were created overseas”.

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Description: Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Sugar loading in the south of the island’. Photograph No.: ZZZ 73308 H. Official Trinidad and Tobago photograph compiled by Central Office of Information. Copyright hand stamp of Anne Bolt, Paddington, London, on reverse. Location: Trinidad and Tobago Date: [1948] Our Catalogue Reference: INF 10/359/9 This image is part of the Central Office of Information’s photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library
This is some of the challenges faced by academics, but the same applies to all descendants. It is a sad result of indentureship but also a warning that immigrants lose links with their ‘Motherland’. My Italian migrant relatives who live in the United Kingdom are considerably more fortunate in that they have only been here over 50 years – they can still speak the language, communicate by modern technology, and travel to the continent is only a few hours away to see relatives. This was not the case and still is not the case with Indian heritage – the family connection has long gone over a hundred years ago! It has only been in the last 25 years or so that affluent Trinidadians are able to travel to their ancestral India in group-organised tours. I haven’t been to India as yet, but still hope to travel there one day.

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Over time, Indians were able to assimilate and integrate with other migrants in the West Indies. When Indians arrived in Trinidad, “on estates, residents workers of both races shared similar experiences and conditions, although tendency developed for creoles and Indians to do different, specialised tasks”. There was some recording of tensions, such as “Trinidadians of other races were not sympathetic to the new arrivals and they freely expressed their contempt for the Indian religions, culture, method of dress and family life”. In Jamaica, some Indians were “cordially welcomed by their Black brethren, generously offered them oranges, sugarcane, and various descriptions of fruit, as well as bread, cakes, and trifling articles of clothing for their children”. Yet actual conflict between the races was rare. I am sure there would have been tensions at times too, but generally many races and cultures tolerated and got along despite the circumstances. It seems Indians were also in a position to resist and organised discontent against colonial government as the years progressive.

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I still have a book we used in secondary school called ‘Social Life in the Caribbean 1838-1938’ by Briget Brereton. Reading it again does reinforce some of my own oral stories heard from ancestors such as Indians hanging on to their own traditions, culture and religion. My mother’s family told stories of having only Christian schools in Port-of-Spain, and that they were encouraged to convert but this was vehemently resisted by my Hindu grandparents. Children were also encouraged to work at an early age on the plantations to help in households such as the case with my father. Canadian Presbyterians missionaries were also instrumental in educating young Indian children but also in the hope of converting them to Christianity. Further education schooling for all children were only made compulsory later on. Despite this, it is amazing that so much of their original Indian culture has survived! Indians eventually adopted and integrated Creole Caribbean cultures too, such as Creole fashion, language, names, food, etc. Brereton states, “the educated middle class made up largely of Christian Indians grew up in both territories (Guyana and Trinidad), and was an important group from about 1900”.

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One point highlighted in my research is that there was few women heroines pointed out, but Roopnarine writes “Are we to believe that the movement of 500000 Indians from their homeland to the Caribbean and years of indentured experience did not produce one single outstanding female indentured servant? From a colonial perspective, this memory never existed.” I also read that Shaleela Hosein interviewed Indian women in rural Trinidad to determine their historical experience through their eyes – “the result is a remarkable oral narrative that exemplifies strength, stability and strong leadership among Indian women in latter stages of indentureship. It seems a contradiction to Indian migrants being subservient and submissive”. From my own family history and neighbourhood – we were told and saw women who worked extremely hard in rural agricultural jobs in the plantations to support their families. Eventually there was, and still is a push and emphasis on education for all. These migrants must have been tough to decide to leave India for the unknown Caribbean, and to make the journey across the Atlantic. This toughness must still be in our DNA. Remember that there was none of today’s modern technology.

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Coincidently at the British Library, recently I attended a talk based on the book ‘Sugar Sugar –bitter sweet tales of Indian Migrant Worker‘s’ with the author Lainy Malkani and the same Professor Clem Seecharan mentioned above. There was great discussion on this topic, and Professor Seecharan mentioned various thoughts, such as we should see indentureship as an opportunity for our ancestors from what would have been a hierarchical (caste) system in India. It gave people opportunities too to move away and get upwardly mobility. It may have also been a myth that they were not aware of what they were signing up too – some wanted to come to the Caribbean. Apparently some Indians also returned to India, but most indentured migrants stayed.

Recent article. Source: Economist.

It is also very hard to trace migrants as they came from various Indian villages and changed names etc. Professor Seecharan also shared some insight that the French governed Tamils, and they would have settled in Martinique. This also seems to make sense with my maternal ancestors. He was not that enthusiastic about tracing his own family tree to Guyana. It was also the first time I heard about indentured labourers going to work in Fuji – but I was aware of Mauritius, South Africa etc. There were lots of other questions from attendees at the Knowledge Centre event, especially for Indian descendants like myself who now live in the UK. Tracing families in India may be a tough task due to poor and inaccurate record keeping, and would require a lot of time researching through archives and records. It is great if you can trace your background as recently shown for celebrities Liz Bonin and Noel Clarke on the TV Series ‘Who do you think you are’.

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Indians weren’t always bound or stayed in plantations. Brereton continues that as time passed, Indians adopted “most aspects of western culture and their lifestyle become more and more distant from that of their parents and grandparents. They were businessmen and professionals, civil servants, teachers and clerks, based in towns, especially San Fernando in Trinidad, New Amsterdam and Georgetown in Guyana. They began to form organisations to protect their interest and first entered political life in the early 1900’s”.

It is with pride and admiration that we can now look back at our ancestors who came to the Caribbean and contributed to its’ economic, social, political and cultural development – and made it their home like everybody else. Some notable Indo-Trinidadians are listed here on Wikipedia. There is still a strong link with India for some of the population with simple things such as Bollywood movies, songs and fashion still very popular. Television helped to connect some of the disconnected just as the Internet does today. I recently saw young Trinidadian Indians singing Hindi songs at a wedding and they knew all the lyrics despite not knowing the language. Cricket is also another uniting force with India, Britain and with our African brothers in the Caribbean. Professor Seecharan said that C.L.R. James’s book ‘Beyond the Boundary’ is one of the best books ever written in English, and he obviously had admiration for C.L.R. James.

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There is much to celebrate personally. My own grandfather was a well-respected businessman by the 1950’s, and my father a dedicated worker with 50 years in the sugar industry. There are many ways that Indo-Caribbeans have contributed to the region and even to the wider world with later migration to Canada, America and the UK. Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, V.S. Naipaul, was a family friend and he has written books that make us look at ourselves such as ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. In the arts and culture, we are tenacious with our own Indian culture, but have also created our own fusions, and some spicy flavours – such as with the Chutney Music genre. Yet too, we are still proactive and keep intact our ancient religions, traditions, language to some extent, fashion, dance, food…and our homes reflect that. Indian Arrival Day is now celebrated annually with a public holiday on 30th May in Trinidad.

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Description: 23. Walker Street – the owner is not a barrack dweller. Location: Frederick Village, Trinidad and Tobago Date: 1949 Our Catalogue Reference: Part of CO 1069/401 This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection held at The National Archives, uploaded as part of the Caribbean Through a Lens project. We have attempted to provide place information for the images automatically but our software may not have found the correct location. We need your help to fill in the gaps, to unearth the missing stories, the social and cultural memories from this selection of colonial recordings. Do you recognise anything or anyone in the photographs? Do they provoke any personal or historical memories? If so, please leave your comments, tags and stories to enrich our records. If you would like to get involved in our community project Caribbean through a lens, we would love to hear from you. For high quality reproductions of any item from our collection please contact our image library

This post is just scratching the surface of years of history – colonialism, end of slavery and global migration at that! I am a product of that triangular Brown Atlantic passage, and from my perspective – it as a great way to view the world. I also wanted to highlight this rich, sometimes forgotten heritage for Black History Month in October. We know the story of Columbus heading west in his search for East Indian Spices, but his voyage ending up in what is now known as the Americas and Caribbean. Funny and ironic, that my East Indians ancestors eventually also sailed west to settle in the melting pot of the West Indies. It is also great that some of us kept our Indian names in defiance, that our culture has survived but also that there has been integration, inter-racial marriages, social cohesion, fusion, adoption and adaptability with other communities and cultures. Generally it is a great example of the positive influence for multiculturalism and mass immigration that our Indian ancestors have played in the hemisphere. They should be appreciated and celebrated for their innovations, continued development and colourful contribution they make to the region. The journey surely has not ended yet.

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Notting Hill Carnival – free to dance on the streets

Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street theatre of its kind in Europe having been developed since the late 1950s in London. It is a great participation celebration for Caribbean heritage, culture and identity that has gradually been adopted and inclusive of other similar cultures in the city. I have blogged about Trinidad Carnival here, and the two carnivals are similar but have their own idiosyncrasies and dynamics. The background and roots of this Carnival is European. Europeans celebrated Carnival before lent for Mardi Gras in the Caribbean colonies, this was eventually practised by the African slaves who brought their own rich African traditions, dance, music and song to the party.  Trinidad carnival is the inspiration for the Notting Hill Carnival but it certainly is a different story.

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Calypso and Caribbean culture came with immigrants in the Windrush years from the Caribbean, and it is even noted that Lord Kitchener wrote the words to ‘London is the place for me whilst on his journey on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean. There was a high number of Trinidadian immigrants who settled in Notting Hill in the 1950s, which was a relatively run down and cheap area to live at the time. These black communities were intimidated by white youths from ‘Teddy Boy’ gangs in 1958, which caused the Race Riots of 1958. The first ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was organised in 1959 for the black community to help with the legal costs of the arrests made that year. The ‘Caribbean Carnival’ was the brainchild of Claudia Jones, a social activist and writer, who arranged the first carnival indoors in cold January 1959 at the St Pancras Hall in King’s Cross, London. I saw notes that it was in a cabaret style, with a Carnival beauty queen competition, steel pans and a dance hall as the grand finale. This carried on for a few years but did not last as Claudia Jones passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 1964. Eventually the Carnival moved to Notting Hill where most of the Trinidadians immigrants lived, and then was held in the summer. Fifty years on – it has become a part of the social and cultural calendar for Caribbean, Latin American and African descendants and communities. It has also been laced with race and police tensions throughout this time, which I will mention later.

This year is the 51st year of the carnival, and I will be celebrating it in Notting Hill with family and friends. It is a time of year when you will get messages asking if you are taking part in ‘Mas’ as we fondly call it. Our key community leaders chose a band theme when costumes are prepared, materials sourced, created, and then put it all together in the three months leading up to the bank holiday weekend for Notting Hill carnival. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scene, such as the registering of the band with the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprises, security passes, vehicle hire, food, drinks, DJs, sound systems, etc. We have intentionally kept our band low-key, affordable and non-commercial with a more close-knit group of volunteers and Mas players. This year we are calling our band theme ‘Mas liberation’, with our costumes designs based on Native American Indians attire. I love digging deeper – I will therefore be channelling my inner Pocahontas as we celebrate the 400th death anniversary in the United Kingdom. We have been dressed as  Cleopatras, Sun Goddesses, Sailors, Queen of Hearts, Aliens, for example in past Carnivals. There certainly is community spirit as you volunteer to help in the creation of the costumes in a team effort, and we tend to meet regularly before and during Carnival.   Generally it is good, happy fun in surprisingly…a Carnival atmosphere.

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I have honestly witnessed both the good and bad side of Carnival. It has always been a ‘resistance festival and art form’. There are times when you see scenes, and can be in a scary situation, usually later in the evening when the tension and pressure builds with youths and the police. There are some carnivals when the tension is more apparent than others – I distinctly remember the 2011 Carnival being a bit tenser as it was just after the London Riots. Our sound system truck was directed to an alternative route and it took a long time getting home with several helicopters circulating overhead – it felt like a war zone, but I was there with people who were close to me so I kept safe. With a large crowd of one million plus people, there are sometimes scuffles by youths, firm control by the police, body searches, and therefore you really should go with friends to enjoy it and to be safe. It is not all cautionary, we do dance and be merry with spectators…and the police too.

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Our Carnival Band photo used in British Transport Police Poster for 2017.

Notting Hill is great for signifying creativity, social cohesion, cultural identity and race relations in the capital. It was reported by the LDA that it brings in approximately £93Million to the UK economy. In ‘The Midnight Robber – the artist of Notting Hill’ published in 2007 for City Hall by Lesley Ferris and Adela Ruth Tompsett, the ex-mayor of London Ken Livingstone states that “London is the home to some of the world’s finest Carnival artists who are now in demand across the world serving as cultural ambassadors for London, the UK and the African diaspora”.

This Carnival has grown organically into a successful and important celebration of the UK’s history with its former colonies, and these new London communities. It should be supported, celebrated and evolve into something that has a lasting legacy rather than just the negative rhetoric that is perpetuated by an ignorant media and some politicians. The Carnival doesn’t look like it will stop in the near future, and frankly…it shouldn’t for the thousands of people who go to this part of London to enjoy it. As quoted on the Black Cultural Archives“Carnival is now part of our English heritage, it is about freedom of expression on the streets. Britain would be a very gloomy place without it.” Winston Findlay, Source: Carnival: a photographic and testimonial history of the Notting Hill Carnival by Ismail Blagrove Jr.

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Calypso, soca, reggae, steel pan, dance and now samba too are some of the other art forms that I look forward to at Notting Hill Carnival, and you get to see and be part of the crowd engagement on this grand scale. As my research reveals, Trinidadians started the Notting Hill Carnival but other West Indian countries joined in the celebrations, such as the Jamaicans with their sound systems in 1975. The Brazilians, Africans and other communities also add some spices over the years. I remember observing this difference in my first carnival here in 1990. As we know now, Carnival is celebrated all across the world such as in Canada for Caribana, Labor Day in New York, Miami, Japan and my British-Trinidadian friends have been on cultural exchange trips to China too. Rihanna has in recent years been ‘breaking the internet’ (like Kim Kardashian) with her Carnival costumes at Barbados’s Crop Over festival. Have a look at the Carnevale Network social media site too, as they are great for sharing news and longer pieces on the global Carnival scene.

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It is also a time for Caribbean artists to collaborate with their UK counterparts. I just came back from a soca music gig in London and it certainly put us in the mood for Carnival. It is amazing to see so many people dancing to soca and some dancehall, the crowd may be young British…but they knew all the words and moves to the dance tunes. This is scaled up a thousand times for the masqueraders on the road in Notting Hill.

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“Carnival is always telling you something. It is a language, if you can understand the language then you can read Carnival” – Clary Salandy, Artist and Theatre Designer.

Carnival also means art, creativity and business. Trinidadian-born Clary Salandy is one of many artists and theatre designers who has worked and showcased her costumes in the UK and internationally for various Carnivals, parades, festivals and community art projects. She engages with the local community to pass on her craft but also believes in this as an art form that includes the community as mention in ‘Incremental Art: Negotiating the route to London’s Notting Hill Carnival’ by Lesley Ferris. I only just discovered her too when I saw her featured in the British Airways in-flight magazine this summer. Clary Salandy has a great way to describe her costumes – “A costume is like a visual poem, whether you are 2 or 88”.

The current political mood and devastating situation with the fire at Grenfell in close proximity has highlighted the Notting Hill Carnival this year, and some parts of the population want the carnival to fail. However, Carnival is a symbol and beacon of hope, unity, brotherhood and Britain at its’ multicultural best. All the critics should remember that, and hope it heals rather than it hurts.

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“Notting Hill as a Place held a special symbolic significance for the West Indians who regarded it as, in the words of one leader, the nearest thing they had to a liberated territory – implicit references to battles they had fought there against white racists in 1958, and against the police in 1970 and 1976. The carnival continued to exist, its greatest political achievement being that it survived at all, in the face of formidable opposition and pressures operating to subvert it all the time.” Abner Cohen

Regardless of the negative media coverage – Carnival is in healthy hands with young designers and masquerade bands. The Internet and social media have also given traction to the positive benefits for Carnival as an art form, empowerment, freedom and cultural identity. The most difficult part is the obvious media bias, misinformation and tension created by the police and delinquents. Sadly, we know that there is some crime and anti-social behaviour – it has always been a tradition of resistance. However, I have been going to the Notting Hill Carnival and would like to advocate that it is mainly a great, peaceful and happy experience where you can feel connected to that rich heritage, and forget the past troubles. There is no better way to share the Carnival’s brilliance but in a cosmopolitan and tolerant city.

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I clearly recall that Carnival was used as a positive showcase of multicultural and tolerant Britain in the run up to London 2012. It seems to have changed since then. Ferris states, “Many felt that London’s successful bid for the London 2012 Olympics was enhanced by the Carnival art, which demonstrated a vibrant artistic diversity in the nation’s capital. But there is still a long way to go.”

Understanding, acceptance versus bias and other cultural differences means that it will continue to be controversial in this country (have a look at the news and hashtag #NottingHill on Twitter!). Carnival is not mainstream in this country (as it comes out of European Roman Catholic traditions), but Carnival is still celebrated by various communities across the UK, such as in Leeds, Birmingham and other cities holding annual Caribbean Carnivals. We know that we lack funding and support, but for those who understand and want to be part of this special festival and celebration – we ask that you join us in making a new happier and diverse history for generations to come. It is our time to be free and identify with what is ours too. What better way than with everybody dancing on the street!

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Magnificent Summer Art: roots to blossoms

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

Earth, Wind and Fire

Sun, Rain

Wind, Snow

Hail, Sleet,

Chaos, Calm

Energy, Light

Day, Night

Earth, Sky

Stars, Moon

Out and Open to the Elements

Our Tree of Life.

by Seema.

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

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

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

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

Tree of Life

Give me a…

T – Towering

R – Rejuvenating

E – Energising

E – Elasticity

o – Oxygen

f – Fibrous

L – Living

I – Indigenous

F – Fruitful

E – Evergreen (sometimes)

Tree of Life.

by Seema.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Put Spring in your step

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

The Wasteland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fashion Conscious

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

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

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

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Jumpsuit

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

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

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Jumpsuit for a boat party – Summer 2016.

Continue reading “Fashion Conscious”

Beat the January Blues – starting the year with a Bang!

robert-burns
Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We’ll tale a cop o’ kindness yer

For auld lang syne

Auld Lyne Ayne by Robert Burns.

 

It has been a few weeks since we sang those words by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, but it is an appropriate reminder for how we want to carry on in the New Year. Christmas and the festive cheer are finally over but its’ excess can make us feel down and a bit underwhelmed in January. The weather is still cold, but like a lot of us – you may want to get going and set some self-imposed resolutions you want to try. Some of these recur every year and personally I always hope to get fitter, read more, eat less, save more, spend less, be kind, more volunteering, etc. I am not sure about you, but I am still trying to stick to these at the end of January! Stacia Pierce @StaciaPierce, a life coach to women entrepreneurs, is one of my Twitter followers and shared this motivational new year goals picture below and blog post on ‘Focus: the key to reaching our goals’. I quite like it as a visual reminder.

resolutions
Photo: Stacia Pierce’s Blog

However in January, there are still a few celebrations that are great for beating the well-known ‘January Blues’ that I am going to mention on here. Firstly in my neighbourhood, we had our second all-day soul disco party around my corner on new years day! It is a great way to start the new year in a local family friendly environment. I popped in the last two years for a boogie, and it was so nice to see people in the community dancing away the beginning of a new year. This is usually arrange by local deejays and community organisers in the Walthamstow Trades Hall.

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Next, I started celebrating Epiphany after over a decade ago when my French friend, Veronique, introduced us to La Fetes Des Rois with the cake Gallette Des Rois (King’s Cake). It is a national celebration in France and some continental European countries have a public holiday on the 6th January for Epiphany. It is a delicious cake and represents the arrival of the Three Wise Men who brought presents for baby Jesus on the 12th Day of Christmas.  The Gallete Des Rois is a fairly simple cake to make and you can find the recipe easily on the web. The best tradition of the cake is sharing it with close ones over a cup of tea or coffee. We play a fun game of getting the youngest child go under the table to randomly choose who should get the next slice of the cake. This is good fun as (1) it normally holds a token of good luck for the year ahead, and (2) you get to wear a crown for that day. It is a sweet tradition, and I am so grateful for my friend for introducing it to my family and I. It is not dissimilar to ‘Twelfth Day‘ which is another tradition that used to be practiced in the United Kingdom with coins in puddings.

This year, I made my first Gallette Des Rois to celebrate at home with Veronique. It will probably be a tradition I will continue after celebrating it for more than a decade. If you would like to try the Gallette Des Rois – you can order the gallette in advance from the French Patisserie Paul. I also saw this month that there are a few restaurants in London that were celebrating it – so you can give this feast a try next year.

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Another January celebration that I now look forward to is Burns Night, which is held in honour of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns on or around the 25th January. Robert Burns is Scotland’s most revered and famous poet – he is the same poet of ‘Auld Lyne’s Ayne’ as mentioned above. In the year 2001, I had my first experienced of a magnificent Burns Night party at the Waldrof Hotel. The venue was stunning with a live Ceilidh Band for some ‘Highland Fling’ dancing. Some of the men were dressed in Kilts and it will remain a memorable and fun experience for my colleagues and I at the time. Coincidently, on New Years Day this year, we stumbled upon the Winter Festival at the Southbank Centre with the Ceilidh Liberation Front band and dancing en masse in the foyer (see main header photo).

More recently, my Scottish friends invite us over for Burns Night and usually make the national dish – Haggis, mashed swede, mashed potatoes and cranachan with some of their own lovely traditions. Haggis tastes like spicy mince and it deservedly gets all the attention on this auspicious night! Robert Burns wrote many literary greats including his ‘Address to a Haggis’,  whereby the haggis usually is brought into the room by the chief, lead by a piper followed by toasts, poems and song, ending in the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

If you would like to celebrate this next year at home – Delia Smith has some tips on her website, and you can buy haggis from some supermarkets. There were also a few Burns Night celebrations in London, such as at Kerb Street Market. There is no excuse for you to join in the Scottish fun!

Burns Night is also a night when you can get in the spirit to partake of a “wee dram” of Whisky – the great Scottish export reliant and successful in international trade. The Scotch whisky industry has a “reputation as a global powerhouse, accounting for the largest volume of exports in the Scottish Manufacturing sector”. The current revenue is £5.1 Billion with 151 businesses whereby the spirits industry expects to grow by 2% in the current year as the depreciating pound lifts exports, according to the report ‘Spirits Production in the UK’ 2016 by IBIS World. Let’s toast to that!

Whisky – the great Scottish export reliant and successful in international trade. The Scotch whisky industry has a “reputation as a global powerhouse, accounting for the largest volume of exports in the Scottish Manufacturing sector”. Spirits Production in the UK – IBIS World 2016.

And my final January celebration is the annual Winter Warmer SLA Europe Quiz. It is a great time to meet friends, guests and fellow information professionals with a lot of fun, food and drink in an informal networking event. An excellent and funny quizmaster called AskTony runs this quiz. The general knowledge questions are hard (some are easy), random and themed with video and music clips – a librarian’s dream. I always come away with learning all those useless facts I didn’t know before! The connections quiz round is the one that make your brain cells frizz with excitement or dread! I have been lucky to be in the winning team for a few years, and win or lose…it is a brilliant night that I can recommend to you for your friends or colleagues.

So, I have had a lot of ‘January’ fun and I seem to be celebrating non-stop this year already. However, it is a time when I also think of serious goals for myself such as those mentioned in my opening paragraph. They are resolutions that I recycle each year and I am forever trying to adhere to them – but honestly it is difficult. Last year I made a resolution to myself to start my own blog. Evidently on here, I am pleased that this is my first full year of blogging. I am grateful for your comments, feedback and positive encouragement. I am happy and will continue to share a bit of my world with you, and together we can keep those ‘blues’ at bay.