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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Fake News – fighting the information war

The news has always been exposed to manipulation to exert power, influence and score political points. It is not a new phenomenon but due to developments in the internet and social media this has been exacerbated as anyone with a smartphone has the ability to share content knowingly or unknowingly. Propaganda, misinformation and censorship are old tricks for information tactics, but in today’s world it is deemed the ‘golden age of fake news, alternative facts and post-truths’. Anyone can disseminate content digitally that may be appropriate or inappropriate. It will also hold the biases and interest of the person(s) sharing it. Sometimes it may be governments or companies that have a vested interest for profit in having us believe false information. The challenge about news in an ideal world is for us is to be truthful, open to criticism and have civilised arguments without inciting harm or violence. Otherwise perpetrators of false news should be prepared to pay the consequences.

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The Internet and social media platforms should not take all the blame – there have been positive outcomes if we look back only few years, such as The Arab Spring. Internet credibility was something we had to deal with in the last 20plus years as information and knowledge professionals. The same applies now. The current tone and mood highlights that we should be aware a lot more about ‘Fake News’.

So what is Fake News? Not surprisingly, searching our research databases in the library, there is a lot of commentary and articles on the topic in the last couple of years mainly due to political campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic (and the world no doubt).

Fake News definition:

false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting. Harper Collins 2017.

Webmaster Jeff Wisniewski at the University of Pittsburgh is on point when he writes in Online Searcher.Net Jul-Aug 2017 in A Matter of Trust: a Webmaster Perspective’ – “Fake News, information created that is either deliberately false or intentionally misleading predates our online world. Its’ become such a concern recently because the internet makes it exceptionally easy for misinformation to be created and widely distributed, which in turn makes it harder to verify the presence of the good stuff. If you think this might be problem for the young who haven’t as yet developed these skills: the old, for whom the internet is relatively recent phenomenon; or the less educated, who haven’t been exposed to academic rigor, think again”.

Here I am hoping to highlight some of the issues we all face, and as a reminder that the responsibilities lie in good ethics for companies, politicians, journalists, academics and most importantly – libraries and the role librarians play in empowering over ignorance. It is great to see that a lot of the materials I read refer to digital literacy, fact-checking and searching for quality information. Fake news may be a ‘bad thing’ but it is a blessing too to remind everyone of the underlying skills such as literacy, fact-finding, analysis and even more relevant…critical thinking, which all needs to be honed. Mick O’Leary writes in Information Today Oct 2017 in ‘Fact-checker resist Alternative Facts’– “No, it’s not all the president’s fault, although he is the leader of the pack. People on all sides subordinate facts to passions and politics. Fake news and lies abound, disseminated from all quarters and driven by greed and partisanship”.

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London Underground Train Poster

Some of the issues and consequences of Fake News is that it affects our democracy, evidence based-decisions and facts which can be harmful if applied generously. False reporting is blindly encouraging parts of the population to remain ignorant on the issues that directly affect them. There will still be people out there who would fall foul of propagating fake news, but we should not find this discouraging. It is an era of post–truths. With time, we still have the fact-checkers to verify an issue, even if points of view still remain the same. We are a free society after all.

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Free Press.

So why share fake stories? Apparently there is an interesting answer put forward by Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia. When asked recently about internet users unknowingly sharing false stories – Wales replies “Yes, well, that’s just human life. All of us have a few idiot friends and now they can share stuff on Facebook. The thing is, it is easy to be condescending about these people and to joke about these people. But the truth is, in free societies, people have a right to not be interested in the news. But when you’re not that interested in the news and you do decide, ‘hey, I think I want to find out some information,’ you deserve to get quality information. And that’s what we’ve really been lacking”. So part of the answer may lie with good journalism, collaboration and research skills.

The other issue is with the growth of social media – there is intensity and traction with our biases.   Generally, we follow and connect to people who are similar to us and therefore only see or hear points of views that we are exposed to. Social media tend to be mostly an echo chamber for our own views. We should challenge, discuss and converse with people who have a different perspective, but do try to avoid trolling.

Social media platforms have come under attack with the rise of fake stories. Facebook was aware of this as they placed adverts in national newspapers on the run up to the UK 2017 general elections. Social media precaution has also been in the news recently on the related issue of the use of our data and algorithms. There is a lot of power and money in such large networks of people who are actively engaged on social media. Unfortunately, there will always be predators who want to manipulate us. I have certainly shared my point of view on the recent exposed Windrush Generation scandal. I knew it was a concerning when I saw the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London share an update about an amnesty petition in their news feeds. It was one of the saddest and biggest stories being shared by my network on social media, and not just in the UK. This is an example of my social media use for news and for when the lines become blurred between what is relevant to me, and concerning politics. I saw very little fake news on the Windrush Generation. It was mainly real news being shared on social media. All in all, it is a very sad true topic.

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Empire Windrush Records – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/bound-for-britain/source-3/

The other major issue is propaganda and censorship. In time of sensitivities – the truth gets manipulated, measured and withheld which leads to misinformation, propaganda and mistrust. It won’t be uncommon to say that there are also ‘little white lies’. It is an old technique for keeping order or even protecting us from facts, in a twisted way. Fake news may certainly be in our dialogue, but lies are not new. The liar’s tools are new but it is an old problem in the information war. It is also our own responsibility to censor and self-regulate our opinions with time sensitive and appropriate information in relation to our communication strategy, if there is one.

So where do we go from here? Most of the resources I read suggest that we build trust. I do have a personal motto to be as genuine as possible, and seek the truth where I can personally and professionally on social media. Like Jimmy Wales’s article above, Wisniewski also has some good pointers to check information that include:

  • Accuracy – The source is error-free and the information can be verified using other sources.
  • Authority – Where are the author’s other credentials? Are they qualified to write on the topic?
  • Objectivity – Is it clear what the purpose of the content is? It is fact or opinion?
  • Currency – Is the content up-to-date?
  • Comprehensiveness – What depth of information is provided?

This is an opportunity for webmasters, journalists, librarians, and other similar professions to advocate trustworthiness and credibility. It is also timely to promote digital literacy skills for Joe Public, and for students in higher educations. I saw an advert for a library training users to spot fake news which rightly stated – “Fakes News permeates our media. It’s important to learn how to differentiate actual news from fake news, as misunderstanding news can have real-life consequences”. False information is one of the dreaded crimes that a librarian can ever knowingly give to a library user.

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Facebook’s Top Tips to Spot False News

It is also the responsibility of social media platforms to monitor and prevent viral fake news. I read that Facebook have rolled out a tool to mark stories as “disputed” and shows them less frequently on users’ news feeds. Facebook also ran newspaper ads titles ‘Tips for spotting false news’. They want us to get it right as “people want accurate information on Facebook, and so do we’. Among the 10 suggestions included – look at the source of the website, check if the photos are manipulated, check the date of the content, make sure that the article is not satire and be sceptical of headlines. Should you care…if we can get these tips right, it would be good for Facebook too. I can laugh too about meme shares on Facebook like the one below, ‘fake rice‘ and real ‘fake’ people too!

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So can this really work? There is an argument that journalists embedded in political campaigns used Twitter for timely updates and analysis and therefore they can easily be found on social media in real time right in the heart of the action. Similarly scientists, authors and artists increasing use social media to communicate with each other. The point being is that not all accounts on social media will be untrustworthy. Information literacy is also a key factor for positive changes in the future.

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Mark Roquet writes in ‘What Happens Now? Fake News, the Gross Internet, and What to do about Information Literacy’ in Info Today March 2018 – “Librarians and other adults have often developed habits that protect us from some of the ugliness of our digital society… We must take some responsibility for the hate and ugliness our students encounter online and equip students with the critical skills and orientations required to fix internet ugliness rather than fall for the worst lines”. Mark also lists other fact-checking and digital skills that we can equip the youth of the future. If we up-skill the next generation, hopefully we can have radical new information literacy skills that prepares students for our current world. It may be in better hands in future.

There are counter fake news initiatives that are being provided by governments everywhere from Sweden, Malaysia, the United Kingdom – and hopefully many more countries. Companies and professionals should also understand that information is integral to the very fabric of our lives. We all have the responsibility and obligation to share and provide content that is truthful…and prevent the dissemination of false information. We may not be able to do so always in the real world, but we should keep our ideals and ethics as life moves more digitally. This is not a war we can win easily, but the consequences and responsibility lie with each one of us to remain truthful when sharing information.

Love for sale – taking notes

 

As I write this letter
Send my love to you
Remember that I’ll always
Be in love with you

Treasure these few words till we’re together
Keep all my love forever
P.S. I love you
You, you, you

The Beatles – P. S. I love you.

Letters are a basic form of communication that has been around since before our modern understanding of it. The style and format of our messages may have changed but we still send messages and notes to loved ones regularly – be it texts, Whats App chats or other modern means of communication. Whether it is a special time of year, personal occasion and seasonal celebrations – it is popular. We are still spending £987million just on the Valentine’s Day for gifts and cards in 2017.

 

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In ‘Letters and Letter writing’  the authors Nevala and Palander-Collin state: …‘the history of letter goes back a long way. We can still read letters written in the ancient Egyptian village of Dur-el-Medina (c1307-1020 B.C.) or in the ancient Mesopotamian city and Kingdom of Mari. Similar to the letter or emails of today, these were messages written by individuals to identifiable recipients. These letter afford us a glimpse of various aspects of the daily lives of people who lived well over 3000 years ago, including there societal organisations, business and personal relationships’.

The art of letter writing and means of sending these letters have continued…but have taken on changes with time and the development of technology.

 

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Businesses and entrepreneurs in our shopping centres, high streets, pop-up shops and online rely on us to purchase items, or engage in some way to express our feelings to our loved ones. Cards, gifts, food and drink and other love tokens are mentioned in the report ‘Valentine’s’ in Global Data Online. It was reported that there has been a drop in the buying of cards possibly due to the rising cost of stamps and a squeeze on income (it’s tough playing Cupid!). It is reported that 55.3% of consumers ‘Did Nothing’ for Valentine’s Day. However, a fair amount of you are finding the time for such activities as: staying in for a romantic meal, out for a romantic meal, watched movies, went to the pub, for a walk, shopping, saw friends, went on holidays, mini breaks or to the theatre. These are great ideas if you are still thinking of doing something romantic and in the mood for sincere love.

There are still a large amount of us who buy cards to give to loved ones, and what I can gather from the figures – apparently, males aged between 25-34 years are buying the most cards! It is fascinating reading this as I get the impression that all is well and good with ‘romantic love’, where we are dedicating time to buy, write and give cards to our loved ones in our lives.

 

As you know, Valentine’s Day falls on the 14th February and the legend is linked to St Valentine’s. The facts are sketchy but they are listed on Wikipedia here. The stories range from St Valentine being a Roman priest who married soldiers and their lovers in secret …to a Charles d’Orleans in love and in jail who would send love letters to his lover writing ‘Your Valentine’s’ on the letters. Whatever the truth, we may never know. In the article ‘History of Valentine’s Day’ in U-Wire 1 January 2018, it explains ‘whichever myth you choose to believe, St Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, and is now celebrated across the global on February 14th each year’.

I also noticed a while ago that in Italy, the patron Saint Valentine’s is still celebrated on the 14th February. The oldest surviving love letter in English is displayed here online at the British Library.

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Source – Blog: ‘I am already sick of love: Medieval Valentines’ https://sarahpeverley.com/2013/02/13/i-am-already-sick-of-love-medieval-valentines/

There are three symbols and traditions I was unaware of in my short research – such as in the Middle Ages when people drew hearts and wore them on their shirtsleeves for a week. This is where the idiom – wear you heart on your sleeve originated. There are some splendid pictures of this medieval tradition on the Internet.

 

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Turtledoves are said to choose their mate each year on February 14th, and the birds mate for life and are a symbol of fidelity and of the holidays. Other consumer goods such as chocolate, flowers and card are very popular romantic gifts. The colour of red, pink and yellow are also popular in the shops for Valentine’s. You may have noticed this already in the shops, and is part of our modern symbols and culture of love.

Hopefully you have received a Valentine’s card or given it to a loved one. I still see a card as a token of love and obviously expect one from my husband on Valentine’s Day. It is also interesting to read that more card suppliers changing to provide a more personalised card service which can be ordered online from companies such as Moonpig and Funky Pigeon. You can also order other things other than cards, such as flowers and gifts for your beloved one. Companies like these are smaller players in the market “but are growing in influence off the back of offering greater personalisation” according to Global Data Online.

 

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Card and letters are good for business and creativity. I honestly have not used these online gift companies but can see that there is still some magic in personalisation as in the olden days of letter writing and card making. I still believe that the art of letter writing, and then posting it off with a stamp to a loved one is still very personal, thoughtful and quite simply…sweet. I still have letters from my friends, family and an admirer (who I later married). They are some of my most treasured possessions. A letter and card are still very low cost – all you need is paper, pen, stamps and time to write. It is even better when you can deliver it in person.

Letters and gifts have also inspired fabulous pop songs such as ‘Please Mr Postman’, ‘Love Letters’ (Kettey Lester and Alison Moyet), ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Love for Sale’ (which comes to mind here). You can tell me others too!

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‘Please Mr.Postman’ Album Cover

The art of love letter writing is interesting to read and it has inspired works of creativity such as the theatre play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ (1897) about letter writing, which was made into a funny film ‘Roxanne’ (1987). Famous Romantic poets such as Keats, Byron, Shelly loved writing poems and letters to loved ones. In the book ‘In Love of Letters’, the author also has a letter writing business whereby the most requested type of letter is the…love letter! A few years ago there was a literary festival in my neighbourhood in which the library held a letter-writing event and displayed some letters to inspire letter writing. There are a few websites on inspirational famous letters.

 

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I recently went to see the May Morris’s Exhibition at the William Morris Gallery. As William Morris’s daughter, May was sometimes overshadowed by her father’s fame but she was excellent designer in her own right and made fabulous embroidery. Her handmade love letter to George Bernard Shaw fascinated me as discussed in this Guardian article here – her handwriting is so neat and the letter looks like a piece of art. How personalised is that!

 

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And just as sweet, I found this lost one-line note on the stairs at Walthamstow Central Underground train station last week. It seems whoever wrote this wants to convey their love, a genuine wish and reassurance of their emotions in a few words. By the way, if this belongs to you –I would kindly return it.

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Note found in the Underground Station

I am not sure if love letter writing will continue to be as popular as before, but digitally we are still using various communication tools to form relationships and to express our emotions. I read an article ‘How Apps Helped Log One Long-Distance Couple’s ‘Love Letters of Our Time’ on an international long distance romance on ‘Reddit’. All the angst is there as with the early stages of a relationship, and having these modern technologies makes it easier to send messages and communicate regularly…and cheaply. There will always be people out there who are falling in love who will be using Skype, What’s App, Messenger, Snapchat etc etc. Modern love is all of these things. Just imagine if Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet were able to get their letters in time. Perhaps a different ending to the play.

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Online Dating advert for Valentine’s

Online dating is another booming industry for matchmakers, cupids and lonely hearts. I have written about dating agencies in this link here. I guess that it is a whole new ball game with smartphones, online profiles and the sheer easy access to someone with whom you may want to develop a relationship. All of that is well and good if it suits you.

In case you want to keep your fire burning in this the season of love – wherever you may be – a few lines communicated to that cherished one is great. And a handwritten note too is free, creative and just that little bit more special.

 

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Steady Progress – a lifetime of learning

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

…T.S. Eliot

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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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.

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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.

Make way for more Women

 

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As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, I am already pleased to see that there has been a lot of media (especially social media) coverage on this special occasion, which also falls in Women’s History Month.  The theme for this year is ‘Pledge for Parity’ which sets the tone for us to call for more equal opportunities for women everywhere.

The library and information playing field is fairly even and predominantly in favour of female professionals, but apparently men still hold senior roles. I have no personal battles with equality in my profession and employment otherwise. However, it may not be so rosy in other lines of work and in life in general. Although we have progressed in many ways over the years, the gender inequality statistics (World Economic Forum) show the facts, barriers, struggles, prejudices, stresses, glass-ceilings and rocky-paths are still here today.

Self-worth and self-belief are integral to understanding my intentions for joining the conversation on here.  This stems from having great female role models that I have been fortunate enough to have in my early life in Trinidad. Some of these women include my mother, who is definitely a role model for her gentle, philosophical and giving nature. In the Caribbean growing up with my late sister, aunties, cousins, neighbours and schoolgirls was very formative and played a big part in the early stages of ‘The Sisterhood’. I also went to an all-girl secondary convent school established by the Holy Faith Sisters for seven years, where we had strong and intelligent teachers and nuns to educate us.  We were encouraged to do well, to achieve and to aim high in our future endeavours, before we developed into young women.  It might all be in hindsight and viewed with maturity, but this willingness for all of us to progress has made me, not just want the best for myself, but also for my friends and family. There was no easy way to get where we are today, and it feels even better when we are all achieving and progressing well. This is my reason for using Madeleine Albright’s quote below – a gentle reminder.

‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’.

– Madeleine Albright. American Politician and Diplomat.

At university many moons ago, we were asked to do a social history matrix, and coincidently, I was in the group that focussed on feminism from the 1800s to the early 1990s.  This project made us research feminism from the industrial revolution, through the Women’s Liberation Movement, and right up to the modern late 20th century.  I enjoyed researching British feminism then, and learnt a lot about Emmeline Pankhurst, and her contemporaries in the Suffragette Movement.  These women were some of our feminist pioneers, and they paved the way for huge leaps in women’s equality and opportunities not just in the United Kingdom, but across the globe.

One of the great reasons for working in libraries and information centres is that we help all types of people regardless of gender, age, colour, geography, hierarchy, etc. We must be inclusive as well as diverse in subject and access. We are an open door in a physical and virtual space for interaction, services and knowledge-sharing. I have no ‘hang ups’ with anyone on this basic service level -all that is essential is mutual respect and understanding. These are the core principles and foundation for collaboration, progression and advancement for any business, and also is essential for advanced societies.

In my work at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre, women make up a large amount of our customers. They are mainly using the Centre to research, learn, create, start and grow their own businesses. Women (and their business partners) are literally “doing it for themselves” – finding independence by owning their own businesses. They may be working extra-hard in the day-job initially but more than likely, are having to manage and balance a home-life and any other commitments. The same goes to male entrepreneurs too. All startups require flexibility and an extra dose of harmony, especially if you are in a relationship or have a family. I have heard many real stories by successful entrepreneurs where family plays a big part in supporting or defining a successful business.

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Another British Library rich resource that was launched a few years ago is the feminist Sisterhood and After archive. I have spent a few hours listening to real poignant stories of the Women’s Liberation Movement covering heavy topics such as abortion, working conditions, childbirth, education, equality, rights, sex, love etc. This is a great educational tool, and a fascinating archive for generations to come. In the library’s conference centre, I have also attended some feminist talks which were enlightening, funny and inspiring due to their historic nature and the personal stories told by real women activists.

This week also sees the return of the Women of the World  festival in London’s Southbank Centre. I attended about five years ago to see the great Annie Lennox (what a heroine and champion!), Emile Sande and Katy B in concert.  During the concert, Annie reminded us of some of the scary facts about the work that still needs to be done for women and girls across the globe. She also sweetly coerced us to declare loud and clear that “We are feminists!”. There is no doubt about it. Even if I wasn’t sure then, I said “I am a feminist!”. I saw her point in asking us together to be transparent and advocates on this serious issue.

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In our ‘first world’, life may not be so difficult as some of the stories we hear of in the less developed countries of the world, but our struggles are slightly bearable due to the opportunities available to us.

I had the benefit of attending the last Precious Awards founded by the inspirational Foluke Akinlose. It was admirable to see women and men of colour recognised in their various roles in all fields of life. Attending and nominated for their outstanding levels of achievement ranging from law, corporations, entrepreneurs, self-employed, artists, engineers and charities.  The speaker from Barclays Bank gave us some facts on the level of success for women, but also mentioned that it is even harder for women of colour to achieve in the United Kingdom. However, the great benefit of the Precious Awards ceremony was to recognise these women and men who are able to make their own luck, take destiny in their own hands and even better…break down the barriers for a successful pathway. Foluke mentioned that these winners will also be fabulous role models and an inspiration for younger generations to follow.

For International Women’s Day 2016, I haven’t planned or organised an event, as I have had in the past. I will be keeping track of community events in Walthamstow Central Library which I think will be very engaging. I will also be attending a fun talk and comedy night at a local pub Ye Olde Rose and Crown where the funds are going to support the End to FGM.  As usual, I will be secretly happy, pleased and connected online and spiritually to all the celebrations across the world.  I know that women and girls will come together to celebrate, demonstrate, protest, voice concerns, laugh, and most of all – support each other in what at times can be a cruel and unequal world as together we pledge for parity.