Baking – the secrets of success

Baking may be regarded as a science, but it the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends…to see them smile.

Anna Olson

There is something symbolic about cakes – they are made up of rich ingredients, made with love, beautifully designed and even better for us to taste and devour. It may be a naughty treat but we love cakes and desserts for social occasions. It is a fabulous time for us to share these fabulous concoctions with our dearest in celebration, or purely as an indulgent comfort. You may even want to eat your cake all by yourself…and that is perfectly alright too.

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The market for cakes is booming and there are lots of innovations in the marketplace too. According to Mintel market research, the market for cakes is valued at £2.23 billion in the UK and it is predicted that over the next five years sales are forecast to increase by 6% to reach £2.36 billion in 2022. The reports states that 52% of people have bought a celebration/party cake in the last 3 months to December 2017. Cakes are also considered an essential part of special occasions. And apparently, most women think that high-quality ingredients and visual appeal are the most important factors. In terms of tastes and lifestyle choices, you can now buy all types of cakes – vegan, eggless, gluten-free and the good old-fashioned ones. There are many obvious reasons that we love cake, and the high street and pop-up stalls are reflecting our love of these old and new favourites.

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Baking has so much excitement to it. It brings back childhood memories for me. I remember helping my mother and her sisters with their baking. They would give us some of the easy tasks to make us feel part of the process, such as cracking each egg individually to check if they were okay. Later on, baking cakes for Christmas was one of the most cherished memories I have with spending time with my mother. We were also told stories of older generations who baked with makeshift ovens made out of old steel drums, clay ovens or brick ovens.

Cakes are healthy too, you just eat a small slice.

– Mary Berry

Some of us may have had more baking experience in our ‘Home Economics’ classes in secondary school. I didn’t do this subject for O’Levels examinations in school but I still had a passion for baking and cooking at home, which I continued to develop more in my twenties. I have been taking photos of my earlier cakes before the advent of digital camera and smartphones. Instagram, blogs and other social media are one of the great contributing factors for the success of a new younger generation baking, and even taking up baking up as careers. Baking have also been helped with popular television shows such as the Great British Bake-Off (GBBO). I must admit I have never looked at a show but I have bought a book by winner Edd Kimber for inspiration a few years ago.

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When baking, you really have to follow those tried and tested recipes. I still like referring to old favourites that my mother and friends have shared with me.   The Naparima Girls School cookbook was an old favourite for Caribbean recipes. I have also used the Internet to search for a particular type of cake – such as walnut and carrot cake, and for this chocolate Buntz cake I recently made. British chefs Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson are guaranteed to give you ideas, as well as the technical know-how on creating your perfect cakes. I have been speaking to a few young bakers – and they say that they tweak and innovate to make recipes their own. This is a sign of a confident baker!

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There lots of competition in the market and so having your own style and brand is important. The recipe and the technical procedures for making these gorgeous creations are really important in business – they are your trade secrets. It is also recommend that you protect your brand by having your own trade mark and logos. There is the well-known case of the Jaffa Cake, which anyone can make as the initial producers McVitie’s did not trademark the name “Jaffa Cakes”, and so other biscuit manufacturers and supermarkets have made similar products under the same name.

Your recipes can also be your signature style. At the recent wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, baker Claire Ptak had her trade mark buttercream icing which makes you want to try her unique cakes. It is good to see that she had books you can buy and also the wedding cake recipe is listed on Hello’s website. I might just have to try this lemon and elderflower cake!

Cakes are also great for raising funds and other charitable causes. We had cake sales in primary and secondary school. Many schools have cakes at their fairs and a lot of organisations also hold fundraising days for raising funds for particular great causes. I am always happy to make cakes for charity and street parties. The array of cakes at these occasions make our eyes glow and our taste buds explode! Apple Day is a local community day held at the Vestry Museum in Autumn, when there are so many innovative and varied ways to create cakes out of apples.

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Cakes are also a metaphor for knowledge management. I remember discussing the recipe for cake at a Knowledge Management forum held by David Gurteen or my ex-employers – the point being is that the recipe is shared but the know-how and the practical steps, sourcing ingredients and techniques are added-value insights and skills. This type of tacit knowledge we may want to share verbally with our friends, and may even show them baking tricks. Still, we may ‘follow the recipe to the T’, but our cakes may look differently for reasons unknown. There may be other factors contributing to changes such as the oven, temperature, process, ingredients, tools etc. These challenges certainly make baking interesting.

A cake is a very good test of an oven: if it browns too much on one side and not on the other, it’s not your fault you need to have your oven checked.

Delia Smith

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Cakes are great for selling in pop-up shops, market stalls and in artisan bakeries, whether on the high street or made-to-order. Cupcakes have had a revival over the last decade and had inspired a new generation of bakers, entrepreneurs and cake aficionados. Seriously…who doesn’t like cake?

Having cakes as a business certainly changes things for me I don’t now sit at home doing a cake for the fun of it anymore. But it’s an extremely happy and pleasureable business to run because people are generally buying cakes for celebrations.

Jane Asher

 

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There are some tremendous bakers out there and they are far better than I can possibly be. I still bake regularly at home when I have guests, or for a particular occasion. There are some fabulous gadgets and kitchen aids on the market and it has always been one of my ambitions to own a fancy kitchen aid. Maybe one day I will own one of those bad-boys!

Cakes are so visually appealing. I sometimes feel bad sharing photos of food on social media, but then I see other inspirational cakes by foodies. I too get inspired and want to try new recipes or flavours. The best thing about baking is that there is an interesting reward at the end for your efforts. Enjoying the occasional cake with family and friends are some of the best moments in life.

Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people;

it does for me.     Audrey Hepburn

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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.

Women’s Health – raising awareness, challenges and opportunities

“I’m interested in Women’s health because I’m a woman.

I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.”

– Maya Angelou

I am astonished that women are still struggling to have high levels of healthcare in the 21st century. Yes, we have come a long way in understanding our own bodies and the healthy lifestyles we need to lead, but despite the advances in Women’s Health – there is still progress to be made and we sometimes get a bit complacent with our own lifestyles choices. I don’t think we can ever stop improving our levels in health facilities and education. And so we will always aim to advance health programmes, especially in less developed countries of the world. There is an essential need to be open, transparent and to have this conversation. Our vaginas, breasts…and whole body need attention throughout life.

The last few months has provided a lot of inspiration for me to write this post. I have the following great examples of women helping other women, and also raising awareness in on health issues using traditional and social media to keep us engaged and to get their messages out. These are new channels to reach out to women, and girls. It is also encouragement to take the initative to have ownership of our health and bodies. With women constantly facing challenges in our life cycle – here are some of the amazing examples of positive action where women are helping other women to take control of their own lives and destiny. Some of the health issues on here are easy to write about as I feel compel to share the amazing work going on.

A gynaecologist relative, Dr Sabrina Ramkisson, proactively campaigns to raise awareness on women’s health issues, especially Cervical Cancer Screening. Sabrina regularly use tradition and social media to inform and empower women and girls to stay ahead on their health. She organised a 5K ‘Smearathon’ for women and men last August in the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. At the event, there were other gynaecologists to offer advice, on-site smear booths and some fun activities. Sabrina also successfully hosted the digital #SmearforSmear lipstick campaign to remind and encourage women to take a regular smear test to prevent cervical cancer. I was able to take part here in London, and she also shared photos of other women in Trinidad & Tobago and other countries, who smeared their lipstick.   It was a visible bond and showed support for women who took part.

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There is a decrease in the number of women and girls who are not taking their cervical cancer screening. Therefore, it is with greater impetus and purpose that campaigns like these are being transparent with much fervour. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a UK charity set up by a co-founder who has survived cancer, and they also aim to raises awareness of cervical cancer with active campaigns. The charity founded the #SmearforSmear campaign which is run in January for Cervical Cancer Awareness. It was an utter pleasure to see #SmearforSmear trending on Twitter last month as the figure for women taking a smear test was in decline.

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Only yesterday I read an article about comedian Karen Hobbs, who was diagnosed at 24 years with cervical cancer. Luckily she is another cervical cancer survivor, whose blog and performance urge you to not be embarrassed about your smear test. Karen has also been praised by The Eve Appeal for making light the serious topic of cancer.

I also know the lovely Claire Mcdonald, who is working on changing behaviours, cancer prevention and raising awareness in health. Claire and her colleague Sinead recently visited me at the British Library to find lifestyles information for women and girls for their awareness campaigns on Jo’s Trust and Coppafeel, the Breast Cancer Prevention Cancer charity. They were particularly interested in demographics that will help them target their audiences, and their health messages. They were looking at factors such as reproductive behaviours, poverty, income levels, age, geographical locations and other factors that may affect a woman’s health. These bring the questions: Do women share a bath? Would they have time to ‘do the check’ on their breasts? How many persons are having children at a younger age that may prevent cancer? Are they smokers at a higher risk level? Questions needs answers.

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Do the Check! – Coppafeel

The library is useful for helping in researching these issues. For example some golden information nuggets in Mintel’s ‘Marketing to Women February 2017’ are:

  • the age of motherhood continues to rise “although 2015 saw a slight increase in the number of live births, the average age of motherhood continues to rise, reaching 30.3 years”.  
  • social media stars are feeding a culture of health and wellness amongst young women
  • on ‘Period leave’ – the issue of period impacting on women’s sports performance with Heather Watson and Fu Yuanhui both blaming their period for their underperformance, whilst marathon runner, Kiran Gandhi chose to freeblee for the duration of the London event
  • 16-34 years old are most likely to use or be interested in using apps that help anxiety or stress management
  • ‘This Girl Can’ campaign helps to get female more active with 16 million people aged over 16 play sport on a weekly basis

Looking at these lifestyles choices and demographics inform their messages in campaigns. Claire said something touching to me on young women…”You don’t know who is coming up in the world under you and you must take them along”. The best way to prevent poor health is to inform people of good healthy moderate habits. Cancer Research also organise 5K or 10K ‘Race for Life’ runs to raise funds for research, which are very popular with women. As the old adage goes – Prevention is better than cure.

 

There are still so many women in the world who also cannot afford menstruation products – therefore being open and discussing this in the mainstream is great for breaking barriers.

I also know the founder, Mandu Reid, of the menstrual cup charity ‘The Cup Effect’. Mandu foundered this charity that aims to change menstrual behaviour by empowering women and girls to use a menstrual cup, and protect the environment – that is synchronicity! The charity also uses the income raised to help women in ‘period poverty’ in the UK and in other less well-off parts of the world. Mandu also takes part in active campaigning, and again it was recently publicised in this brilliant article in The Guardian newspaper. To put some zest in this good work – Mandu also invites you to come to her Cupaware Party with friends.

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An Ergonomic menstrual cup  
The invention relates to a menstrual cup (10) having a bell-shaped lower part (20), comprising a plurality of non-convex grip surfaces (22, 24) which are distributed in a substantially axisymmetric manner at least over said bell-shaped lower part (20), and designed so as to be able to be pinched by the user’s fingers in order to facilitate the removal of the cup. Source: Espacenet.

Growing up in Trinidad, the girls in my school and neighbourhood circulated a famous book on puberty called ‘Growing up and liking it’ – see the link for past versions. It was in an easy-to-read format, and was instrumental in educating us on menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and what to expect of our bodies. We were fortunate to have mothers, sisters, aunties, friends and teachers at school to inform us too. Sadly, some countries still don’t have basic adolescent and puberty education, and so these challenges still exist.

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Growing up and liking it – Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.       http://www.mum.org/GULIcov.htm

In all these Women Health issues, there are still opportunities to create charitable and profitable businesses. I have recently conducted some business research on these very issues. Again, only recently I have encountered ‘Fab little Bag’ whose mission is to stop pollution caused by flushed sanitary items: to make an awkward disposal into a fab experience…and to break down the barriers to promote female hygiene. You too might start to see their product in toilets across the country. These are the opportunities that entrepreneurial women are taking to help other women.

Women’s Health is too vast to cover as a one-off topic. As we enter the theme ‘Press for Progress’ for International Women’s Month in March 2018 – there is so much we can be thankful for in developments in research, health screening, hygiene etc. It is even better that we can rely on each other to talk, communicate, lobby, and raise awareness on Women’s Health to those near…and far to us. Pressing ahead, looking after ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves – making time for our health and happiness should be top and number one on our To-Do-List!

On the agenda…Planet Earth

Om Sam Maa Sinchantu Murutah Sam Poosha Sam Brihaspatih –

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

Line from a Hindu Mantra.

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

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South East England

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Shared by my contacts on Facebook

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Information Superhighway: access all areas

The Information Superhighway was a term used when I started working in the information industry in the early 1990’s. There are also a few books published on the topic at the time and my manager ordered some for our collection in the library where I worked. Recently I was reminiscing with my ex-colleague, Lina Kouzi, about this and we discussed how revolutionary it was at the time. That was about 24 years ago…before “everyone” used the web. I had already attended lectures at university on the “information society” vision that was a precursor to the information superhighway or cyberspace, as we now know it. All of this is history, but there are two aspects of the information and library world that will remain relevant even now: (1) Some people can use web-based sources very easily for their information needs, cruise at their leisure and/or accelerate in the fast lane for such things as the deep web and e-commerce. But (2) there are also parts of society and the developing world that do not have access to this road – much less so to a superhighway. These access barriers get forgotten sometimes.

Librarians and information professionals are always keen to help users to access content regardless of format, and to provide content that is relevant, correct, critically analysed within research frameworks and standards in various fields of interest.

This month, it was such a pleasure to volunteer to represent SLA Europe in Dublin for the inaugural Information Professional Career Expo at the Dublin Business School in Ireland. I was keen to meet professionals and new graduates in the Irish Information Community and to make time to see my ex-colleague and friend Lina at the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI). I flew into Dublin City Airport early in the morning and Lina took me straight to her office at the NCBI. I have kept track of Lina’s amazing work over the years and I find the library and media services she provides to the blind and partially sighted to users across Ireland awesome and inspiring! There are many features about their services that are unique and tailored for their users, such as a collection of braille resources and various media output in audio recordings of news, magazines (journals), books, etc. Lina showed we around the purpose built office in the Dublin suburbs with traditional library storage, but also with BBC standard built recording studios and booths. It was also very nice to be introduced to her colleagues, and I made sure I told them how amazing their work is to their users.

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Lina is also working with the local residents in a deprived community on a programme for up-skilling and training with recording items from the collection to be sent to users. I also saw the postal bags for materials that are sent out across Ireland free of postage charges, and with easy postal bags for users who may find it challenging to return items to the library. Some of her users have access to content on memory USB sticks, which are then returned in these postal bags (see photo). Library users have machines and devices for playing the audio materials that they receive from the NCBI. Obviously, there are younger users who may have smarter technology but some of them still use tradition and antiquated machines, as they are familiar with the machines. Lina created an annual report with some amazing facts and figures of their work and the valuable contribution they provide for their users and the positive impact this service has on users’ quality of life.

We both loved catching up and it was non-stop chatting on old and new stories. That is the beauty of being with an old friend – you pick up where you left off! We both quietly recalled and congratulated each other on our careers’ progress and how those early days at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) were foundations skills and learning in the ‘Books’ and ‘Journals’ sections even in a corporate library – the experience is still relevant to the services we provide today in our current roles in terms of the ‘content’, transferable and business skills that we possess.

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After a quick lunch at the Temple Bar district of Dublin, I made a quick dash in the Dublin Taxi to the inaugural Information Professionals Career Expo at the Dublin Business School (DBS). Bursting with energy and excitement after seeing my dear friend, I entered the expo in full swing to a warm welcome to meet Irish SLA Europe members and DBS contacts Siobhan McGuinness, Neasa McHale and Marie O’Neill. I was mainly here to network, exalt the benefits of SLA Europe as a global network of information professionals and to give advice to anyone who wanted to chat at our stall.  I had the pleasure of meeting a few new graduates and gave then a few tips on how they can keep in contact with SLA Europe and what we are up to by our social media channels.  I also spoke on some of the more important CPD and social events we host. I gave tips on job seeking and staying on top of their personal development and seeking emerging new roles as well as traditional ones.

In the general career mentoring area, I also met Florence Curley from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).  Florence and I (like many other geographical territories) used to communicate to exchange information and assist each other in finding information or leads for our library users.  It was nice to meet someone in person you have never met before – even if it was 10 years ago that I left PwC!

It was also a pleasure to give a short talk at the start of the SLA Europe hosted networking and nibbles, where I was introduced by Philip of the Library Association in Ireland.  Philip set the tone with any introduction that called for information professionals to be excited to “put information in the hands of their users”, but also to “fight the good fight” with all the changes in the industry. I had prepared for a light-hearted talk on my career and what SLA Europe has meant for me and my own professional development, but I went on to mention thoughts that was hopefully motivational, encouraging and praiseworthy. I also urged the room to be prepared for the fight that we face as information professionals.  There are various roles, industries, subjects and creative cultural aspects of our valuable contribution – and I made sure that point was not missed.  Siobhan has written a fab Information Professional Expo event review here.

It was really nice to meet many of the group attending the nibbles and networking afterwards for a more personal chat on issues and opportunities that they may face. It was a true pleasure to attend these different venues in Dublin with varied user experiences and professional elements, which personally put the library and information industry into clearer perspective on the roads that lie ahead.

My time in Dublin was not all work and I was able to take a nice walk to my hotel, spend the evening listening to live music in my music-themed hotel and go by train to Galway the next morning.  I have visited Ireland before about 15 years ago for St Patrick’s Day, and definitely, it is a fabulous city that is worth a visit.  The countryside on the way to Galway was beautiful and very cliche green with livestock roaming the fields.  It was such a joy to see the animals resting, playing or grazing in the green grass of Ireland.  Galway was really nice as shown in my photos and I hope to visit Ireland again one day to see more of the countryside.

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Not only did I spend time speed networking in Dublin, but I also attended the Business Show as part of the Business & IP Centre team at Excel in May.  It is amazing that information is ubiquitious and accessible night and day in the palm of our hands, but people still want face to face information or pointers for those hard-to-find information needs.  Even if it is to reassure them what they already know.  I assisted with about 15 speed mentoring sessions for the London Growth Hub at the Business Show and most speed mentees wanted information that was practical or confirmation of where they can go to find out what they were looking for. The Information Superhighway may be all well and good but there is still a need for information professionals to provide that face-to-face conversation or provide answers that some people still need…and they may prefer to communicate in person. We still do this everyday in the library where I work.

Fake News and digital literacy are other issues that have come to the forefront in the last year.  This had probably been exasperated by social media and mainstream news being manipulated by the powerful.  This is not a new issue and I have been interesting in the topic for a while but not overly passionate about it.  There is a fabulous article in Information Today May 2017 entitled ‘What’s behind fake news and What you can do about it‘ by Kate Dempsey – which gives some fabulous insight into the role of information professionals and librarians in fact-checking and preventing the spread of misinformation. Tracey end by stating “It is vital to prove your continued value, and this is a timely, powerful way to do it. It’s one thing to repeat the old trope ‘People need libraries now more than ever,’ and that is another thing to get out there to prove it”.

It is vital to prove your continued value, and this is a timely, powerful way to do it. It’s one thing to repeat the old trope ‘People need libraries now more than ever,’ and that is another thing to get out there to prove it” – Information Today, May 2017, ‘What’s behind fake news and What you can do about it‘ by Kate Dempsey.

As with all content, we eventually will manage archives for future scrutiny, analysis and fact-checking. We are here to provide accurate, impartial and unbias information for independent research and for the empowerment of our users. This is not always easy, appreciated or even possible, but we professional won’t have it any other way!  It is our standards. So if you get away with half-truths or disinformation – we will eventually catch up with you in time!  I remember telling the attendees at the networking event in Dublin that I would have changed my career by now if I didn’t like being an information professional. I haven’t always had the “luck of the Irish” in my career…but I do feel lucky to do what I do.  Information works for me.

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Emerald – Ireland from the airplane.

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”

Pizza – a renaissance on the high street

There is an on-going pizza revolution in my part of the woods. Pizzerias have become ubiquitous with old and new pizza companies on the market. One of our favourite fast foods seem to be going through a renaissance right now with many independent shops on the high streets. This is not hard to believe as you may ask who doesn’t like pizza? No doubt about – it is popular on most of the planet!

I have always liked pizza even when I lived in Trinidad. We had our own pizza companies such as Mario’s Pizza, Pizza Boys and the familiar global brand Pizza Hut. Going out for pizzas was always something to look forward to when I went to the malls with my friend. I remember also trying to make pizza with roti (Indian flatbread) dough as a teenager. On a memorable school trip to Venezuela, we went to a Pizzeria where our tour guide suggested the ‘house special’. It was a delicious pizza with my first taste of one with anchovies and copious amount of other toppings as compared to those I had known in Trinidad at the time. I also remember a very amorous Venezuelan couple in the restaurant who had us giggling throughout the meal.  I have had my share of pineapple and ham pizzas too, and recently heard that the President of Iceland had to clarify his position on these toppings after a social media storm as mentioned in this Guardian article.

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Pizza in a Restaurant in Caserta, Italy.

Fast Forward to London where I have sampled British high street pizzas, and various other independent ones along my way. My husband is Italian and obviously my relatives make fabulous homemade pizzas. My brother-in-law also has an outdoor pizza oven at home and a pop-up pizza business as a ‘hobby’. Our friends own one of the first pizzeria’s in Bedford where they are made in wood-fried ovens, which adds some authenticity to the flavour.

Being married to an Italian, I began to hear and understand the origins of pizza in Italy. Here is a fabulous link on the history of pizza, and it explains the many innovations over the centuries from plain focaccia-like breads to the current form of pizza as we know it. Pizza Margarita was the favourite baked by Raffaele Esposito for Queen Margarita of Savoy as it evoked the colours of the Italian flag – which is topped with seasoned fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil. Buffalo mozzarella is originally from the Campania region of Italy and is the best you will taste anywhere in the world! The buffalo mozzarella is so good…it is served whole as a delicacy, and even the local Italians enjoy and savour it.

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Over the years, I try to make unfussy pizza at home which is simply made with fresh ingredients. I usually plan in advance to get fresh yeast from the supermarket bakery counter. I don’t have a wood-fired oven, but my pizzas are good and usually get positive feedback from family and friends who have tried it. Steady on though…I am not sure I am ready for large-scale pizza making! So I have no ambitions to open my own pizzeria.

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One of my pizzas.

There are pop-ups, restaurants and take-away pizzerias all over the world. The market for pizza is thriving, and there are so many ways that it can become a viable business.  I found that there are several market research reports on this, where in the UK alone – sales for pizza has revenues of £2.7Billion and there was a predictive 9.5% growth in dining-in restaurants. According to Mintel Research figures for 2016, the long term forecasts expects the industry to grow by 34% from 2016 to 2021. It is no wonder that it seems to be one of the most popular types of businesses in the food market,  and in our high streets. This insight from one of Mintel’s analysts states…

“Digital innovation and authentic dishes made from simple and fresh ingredients are transforming pizza and pasta into a destination business, helped by the expansive store presence of leading players. Independent players may be hit by competition from the swelling multitude of new entrants and deli-and-dining formats that are driving more customers into store.” – Trish Caddy, Foodservice Analyst. Mintel.

 

In the last four years, there has been regeneration of the high street in my neighbourhood, which also introduced some new independent Pizzeria players such as:

Nuovo Mondragone – a local independent Italian restaurant who make fabulous pizzas and also great calzones. Their main restaurant is situated in the scenic village area of Walthamstow.

Sodo Pizza Café – a London independent pizza chain who took over the building previously used for a local café (where I used to go dancing sometimes!). The pizzas are good, and I particularly like their use of social media to remind us that they have specials on during throughout the week.

Peppe’s Pop-up – Peppe has been the longest running pizzeria on our high road situated outside the local community CAMRA award winning Rose and Crown Pub. Their pizzas are amazing, and Peppe’s pizza spinning is mindboggling.

Yard Sale Pizza – And the newest pizzeria on the block is this chain in London. I haven’t had time to try it as yet but going by tweets in the neighbourhood…the pizzas look amazing and everyone is excited!

One of my best experiences of pizza dining was at the Pizza Express Jazz Club last year. It was first opened in 1969 by company founder Peter Boizot, and is still grooving strong today. As you would expect, some new and exceptional artists and musicians have played there over the years. I went to see a Motown special (yes I hear you, I know that it was not traditional Jazz!) which was upbeat and fun. The dining is intimate and cosy with dimmed lights, and the ambience as good as a traditional Jazz club.  The added bonus is that they do pizza (which I didn’t have) and the service excellent too. It might be an ideal setting if you are looking for a jazz club experience after the hugely popular film of the moment…La La Land.

I am not the only one excited about pizzas. Earlier this month, National Pizza Day was celebrated highlighting all the new independent restaurants in town, and there is also National Pizza Month celebrated all throughout the month in October in the USA. The pizza vending machine also exists! Seriously, everyone has personal pizza favourites and it really is food fit for us all to enjoy. Pizza sells itself. It will always be around for hundreds of years to come…I hope.

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This Christmas…Christmas is Love.

It’s December and most of the world is celebrating the festive Christmas season. It truly is a magical time of year and we all will have special memories, whether it be at home, school, work and in our neighbourhoods. There is so much to enjoy, indulge and be thankful, and it is great to have time in the year ideally spent with family and friends.

I grew up in a tropical island in the Caribbean but although we did not have cold snowy weather, it was just as festive and special as in colder countries. We would look forward to choosing or asking for toys that were advertised on Television, in local shops and shopping malls.  My parents actually dedicated a day for looking at the shops downtown in the capital Port-of-Spain. Schools prepared us to sing carols weeks in advance, hosted Christmas parties and performance shows that were high-points both for children and parents. In secondary school, we had a fabulous variety show at Christmas, which was a great opportunity to showcase young talent. I still remember some of the dances by students and it forms our collective memories of a time gone by.

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Homely Scene at a Christmas Show – Business Design Centre, Islington.

We had fun and special celebrations with neighbours as children too. We would go from home to home to partake of food and drink until it was too late at night – and then the next evening, we would carry on from where we left off. As teenagers in the 1980s, we also had fabulous trendy disco parties that were very popular at our house. All the teenagers would pull together to organise the Christmas party with the approval of our parents.  It was very trusting of my parents to allow us to host this and my mother would again help with the cooking en masse. Everyone would work towards decorating the back yard with coconut branches for a boogie, and set up of the DJ sound system. It was very exciting. We did this for a number of years with about a hundred people attending by invitation only, and so had hired police security too.  Quiet time spent with family was very special and some of my most treasured memories.

Trinidad is still very much into Christmas traditions religiously, spiritually and culturally. We have a large proportion of the population who are Christians but regardless of religious background –  most of the country celebrates Christmas with home cleaning, decorations, food, drink, music and song. One unique aspect of a ‘Trini Christmas’ is Parang Music.  Originally from Venezuela, it is folk music that was brought to Trinidad by migrants who were primarily of Amerindian, Spanish and African heritage. It is mainly sung in Spanish and I read that it developed from musicians and singers going from door to door and street to streets for ‘fetes’ spreading the Christmas story in song. The villagers would offer food and drink to the serenading Paranderos. This genre of music is truly amazing, upbeat and even better to hear live! I haven’t heard any live Parang since I came to London, but I still like using You Tube to listen to music (you may have noticed!). The Latin fusion beats give the music a rhythm that even though the message and lyrics may be religious – the contagious beats and joy may make you want to move your feet! The music has evolved into what is now called Soca Parang.

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Classic Soca Parang Album ‘Christmas is Love’ by Singing Francine.

One of my favourite Vinyl albums is ‘Christmas is Love’ by Singing Francine which was bought by my father. Apparently the music is still played today as it contains the classics songs ‘Parang Parang’, ‘Hurray Hurrah’ and ‘Ay Ay Maria’. I heard recently in this article that vinyls have superseded downloads in the UK, and this LP would definitely be on my Christmas wish list should I go back to playing records.

Christmas in my neighbourhood in London is buoyant with activity and community spirit. For many years, the annual Lloyd Park Children’s Charity Winter Fayre was a great way to start the Christmas celebrations with Santa’s Grotto, Games, Food, and Children’s activity and market stalls. It was always festive fun but also a good fundraising initiative for local families and the community.

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This year in my neighbourhood known as the Poets’ Corner E17 area of Walthamstow, we hosted our first Christmas Market in a newly pedestrainised road layout. The stalls included products such as local honey and wax, graphic designers and artists crafts, charity groups such as La Leche League, and a community table with the funds going to a local charity called Haven House. We also had a programme of local talent such as Irish Dancers, Vestry School of Dance, Greenleaf School Choir and our own eager Poets’ Corner E17 Choir which was accompanied by the Salvation Army Band as shown our blog.

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Both of these winter events are not held in churches but they are great examples of market stalls, local businesses and community groups coming together to celebrate the wonder that is Christmas.

Christmas is obviously a time for selling, giving and gifting. On a commercial note, I briefly researched what businesses should expect at this time of year and there are a few prices on Euromonitor’s blog ‘Christmas Shopping Trends 2016’.  This is informative for consumer spending patterns with the top five goods shopped for in order are: (1) Clothing and Footwear (2) Toiletries and Perfume (3) Food and Drink (4) Toys and Games (5) Books.   It is also interesting to know that 86% of those persons surveyed also bought in store, and 76% shopped online. If you use the ‘Click and Collect’ shop services – you know how convenient it can be! It is nice to see there are both business cases for supporting the high street, and online businesses. My neighbourhood is also making a concerted effort to support local businesses with a free courier delivery service and shop local campaign.

Mintel market research ‘Christmas Shopping Habits 2016’ reports that November’s Black Friday, which is a predominantly American shopping day, has had an impact on UK spending and retail patterns in recent years with some shops taking part. Some shops prefer to still focus on the December sales period. Even I bought something on promotion this year for Black Friday as I got 20% of a jacket I had my eyes on.

And Christmas would not be Christmas without food and drink. I love baking at this time of year and there is something so comforting, reassuring and nostalgic about the scent of Christmas. My mother, aunties and neighbours got us into baking as children. We would help with breaking organic eggs (at the time we all had our own chickens) and then taking turns in mixing the cake ingredients. This was before my mother got a food processor which made baking easier but less of a communal fun ritual. There was something special about those cakes – not sure of it was the eggs, sugar or Trinidadian rum! I now do my own baking such as mince pies and Trinidadian Christmas Cake, but there are also Panettone around given by Italian relatives.

Christmas dishes are unique to each countries of the world but the English Christmas dishes are probably one of its’ best culinary traditions. I look forward each year to Roast Turkey, Pigs in Blanket (Sausages wrapped in Bacon), Stuffing, Yorkshire Puddings, Vegetables and Gravy with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce (which I am not so keen on). Christmas Crackers are also good fun around the table! I have grown to like Christmas pudding and it is similar to Trinidadian Christmas Cake. I love spending time with family and friends at this time of year like everyone up until the New Year Celebrations. I do miss Trinidad but I hope I can spend Christmas there one day again in the future.

There has been so much going on in our troubled world and we are still nowhere near that elusive world peace. But still…Christmas has many and the best peaceful, thoughtful and universal human aspects to it for which we can keep hope. In these reflective lines, I have given you a flavour of my own seasonal experiences. You would have your own to share I am sure. This Christmas, my sincerest wish is for you to have a jolly time, spread the joy and peace of the season. And for the coming new year – sending another wish for a Happy 2017.

 

A Passion for Good Social Media in the Digital Age

I just came back from seeing Jim Jarmusch’s film ‘Paterson’ where the sweet character by the same name stated “Life was perfectly fine before smartphones”. Whereby, his equally sweet girlfriend’s response is “But it makes things easier.”

This resonated with me as I recalled older means of communication and how life was about 15 years ago when the internet was not at its’ current maturity. Telephones calls, written letters, snail mail, printed news and tradition media was the norm then. Fast-forward and things have definitely shifted with the exponential growth of social media in the digital age. We now live in a world of citizen news, social networks, digital connections, push media – where we have to be vigilant to distinguish what is trusted content or misinformation. The broadcast model is truly smashed! The smartphone is changing the way we use traditional media, with the young using internet sources and less so by the older population using tradition media such as radio, magazines and newspapers according to this eMarketer graph. The younger crowd are going for Instagram and Snapchat and the older crowd to Facebook and LinkedIn. The share of the market by demographics is a clear indicator of who and how we are using these.

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Source: eMarketer

What about me? It has been about ten years since I started using social media but as a librarian and information profession, it is a skill set that we have been evolving naturally over a long time. We still are excellent at consuming, digesting, regurgitating, classifying, cataloguing and disseminating information for sharing, awareness and future use. Information overload is no big deal for us as we sort the “wheat from the chaff”. Don’t get me wrong! I tend to share a load of rubbish myself. I frequently explain to people that I handle serious, factual and hard-core information – so, social media is lightweight and therefore easy for me. What I try to do with social media is stay informed, self-regulate my content, be respectful and simply entertain you and myself in the process. I love sharing music, foodie stuff, art, photos and lots of fun things.

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Endlessly… Content is King.

Now let’s look at the show-stopping current figures for social media platforms. The market research publisher Key Note summarizes “that in the United Kingdom alone, the UK population have become intertwined into the daily lives of many consumers, facilitating what has been described by observers as the digital revolution. Social as a phenomenon is both immediate and ubiquitous, making it a compelling, and potentially viral, marketing platform for both large and small companies”. The figures for users are phenomenal too with Facebook having 1.55 billion users active per month, You Tube 1 billion, Instagram and LinkedIn 400 million each, Twitter had 320 million and Google+ had 300 million (but currently falling off a cliff). There are important and valid reasons for using social media, such as for the following:

  • Communication Tool
  • Customer Engagement
  • Product Development
  • Increase Revenue and Sales
  • Increase Brand Recognition and Credibility
  • Grow an Online Community
  • Be Transparent and Trustworthy
  • Word-of-Mouth Recommendations (such as our likes, comments, feedback)
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Source: Wikipedia Brian Solis and JESS3 -theconversationprism.com

Social media makes businesses as smart and connected as the world we live in.  But you might have guessed that my personal favourite uses of social media are for current awareness, news, hot topics (a Knowledge Management term), to connect with people and to stay in touch with family, friends and acquaintances. Some of the regular activities we conduct on smartphones are listed as:

  • Read or send emails 60%
  • Visit social networks 52%
  • Browse websites for personal interests 42%
  • Download apps for free 39%
  • Online banking 38%
  • Watch video clips on sites such as You Tube 35%
  • Purchase goods or services online 34%
  • Download/stream music over the internet 24%
  • Use instant messaging services such as BBM 20%
  • Watch catch-up TV 14%

Source: eMarketer – note ages 15+; in the past 3 months Source: Ipsos MORI, “Tech Tracker: Q3 2015,” Sep 2, 2015.

If you are connected on social media to me – you would know that I am a prolific social media user. I am quite unique (but similar to other business librarians!) in that I have managed information on some HEAVY subjects (as I say…A to Z of subjects) and these are built into my psyche, consciousness and allows me endless mindfulness to share information and knowledge. This uniqueness is enhanced and highlighted as I work at the British Library, whose corporate motto is ‘The World’s Knowledge’. Enough said – there really is no stopping us here. There is enough soul, momentum and forward thinking content to keep us on our toes, fingertips and therefore to share constantly on multiple social media channels.

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Connectivity of Social Media

You may have noticed that I am passionate about life and find immense pleasures in sharing the best of humanity, good work and love that I encounter in my simple life. I would like to proclaim that I am a social media champion. I had spoken seriously at CILIP almost 10 years ago on Strategic Library Services – Global Collaboration and Business Benefits’ on the finer points of using collaborative technologies. I also spoke with a panel of health professionals for Social Media Week 2012 on ‘Collaborating on Cancer’ at City Hall London. I have also been delivering with my colleague Neil Infield our ‘Social Media Masterclass’ Workshop and Webinar at the Business & IP Centre,  where we aim to demonstrate the various social media platforms and give you tips on how to use them effectively to engage customers to increase sales and brand awareness.

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As I conclude, the sheer speed that social media is moving in the world means that you MUST be active in using these to be au fait with all the functionality and features…or you will get left behind. In the short space of time, we have seen Google+’s launch to its current demise, Instagram grow, Twitter fade, Facebook saturate. I am still playing catch-up with Snapchat, What’s Up and whatever else will come our way.

The sheer speed that social media is moving in the world means that you MUST be active in using these to be au fait with all the functionality and features…or you will get left behind. …On Social Media.

Before these media shifts in communication, Sean Williams writes in ‘Connecting in the Social-Media Age’ U-Wire (University of Utah) – “people had to pay for expensive long distance calls. Social media makes it easier to send messages to thousands of people at the same time, all at no cost”. I remember being a foreign student and not being able to call my parents in Trinidad for months on end, and when I relied upon letters by airmail! This is no longer the case. With smartphones in the palm of our hands – the key is in the convenience. It is the game changer.

There is no letting up in technological advances and we must continue to use these platforms for businesses, but also for social good. Some irresponsible politicians deliberately choose to divide us and appeal to negative attitudes and menial behaviour. We must not let that deter us from all that is good and positive about social media. Personally – I think it will be quite boring if we were to talk about business or politics all the time. We can aim to continue to discuss our connected world, deepen our knowledge on issues and find innovative solutions to real problems. So what are we waiting for…let’s get on with it and have some fun!

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Share the Passion!