Decolonisation – the Quiet Revolution continues

Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.

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

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

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

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

– Enslaved TV Series 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elle Magazine October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold Tight! Autumnal Tenacity for the perilous Second Wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Vision – looking at the past, present and future

As we get closer to the year 2020 and the closing of the last decade, I have been looking back but also thinking of the years ahead. It has been a decade of great change on the political, social, technological and human landscape reflecting on what is going on in the world. There have been numerous highs and lows as expected in such a long period. The present is grounding us to what is happening now but there is bound to be a wonder with what is ahead when we look at New Year’s number ‘Twenty Twenty’ – 2020. We even have to get used to saying, writing, hearing and seeing it. This blog post gives me the opportunity to reflect, adapt and anticipate what trends may be coming our way.

Past, present and future: it makes it easier for me to look at this in these three categories to clarify what this means, mostly for my own self-awareness. However when I started researching this topic, I quickly learnt that it is an analytical and forecasting technique that is also being using to show how quickly the world is moving on major issues for example sustainability, climate change and technology due to changes, innovation and higher levels of disruptions. In my busy personal and professional life – there are great experiences and photos for me to share these three timeframes with you here.

 

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The Past

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step,

they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”
― William Golding

The last decade has seen a lot of changes for me professionally.   I was working at City Hall in 2010 with changes already happening with the arrival of the dire austerity plans hitting libraries and other public services across the United Kingdom. I hung on with our team to our jobs until early 2012 right on the cusp of the start of the Olympics. There was so much anticipation and preparation on the one hand with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then we were dropped like hot potatoes to be made redundant and disbanding of services. The heartache of seeing colleagues lose their job in the heart of London with the Olympics which was in our breath and bloodstream was very hard to get over but we survived.

We were able to experience sadly one of the defining moments of the austerity decade that thousands of people have to endure. Some of us are not better off financially and thankfully for the support of family – we are able to manage. This first-hand experience is only the tip of the iceberg of what austerity really meant for basic infrastructure to people’s health, well-being, opportunities, education, public provision (no police station with the increased crime) and degeneration of libraries in the UK. I know some of the stronger survived but it certainly wasn’t fair for many people and this is with the benefit of hindsight. I also had people cut me off on social media when I left City Hall but most importantly the ones who mattered…stayed with me. I knew this would happen from my experience in the 2000s. I was just waiting for it to happen as an ever-present information professional.

 

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Eventually I was employed again at the British Library and this has been one of the highlights of the early 2010s. I have grown and developed in many new areas but I was also able to use the experience I have built up over many years. I don’t feel so odd when I have to use old and new information and library skills. It also helps when I see the past brought to the present in exhibitions, collections and digitally in the libraries and museums world. This month I visited the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library’s exhibition on Buddhism – and you will get this point.

 

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We have also seen a lot of changes on the regeneration of my local area in the last ten years and it was one of the defining eras of new volunteering and community activism for the neighbourhood and me. Due to having free time due to redundancy, I was able to take part in the Street Party to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012…but then I never stopped!!! Due to my amazing neighbours and community spirit, we have been able to put on 8 fabulous street parties, poetry events, book clubs, Christmas parties, use social media, promote civic activism for local issues, and look after our community with great camaraderie. We literally look out for our neighbours and neighbourhood, such as creating What’s App groups and social media accounts for all of this!

 

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My neighbourhood has changed from a sleepy suburban town to a buzz hive of activity. There are negatives for this – such as Anti-Social Behaviour (ASBOs), drug dealing, professional beggars and high levels of litter. However, I was able to push myself to new activities such as writing basic poetry, organising Spring-cleaning, starting guerrilla gardening and this winter I am participating in my first pantomime in ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. This was also my inspiration for writing this blog post looking at the past, present and future!

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A Christmas Carol

I was also able to do a lot more volunteering for my profession with SLA Europe and stopped being Fundraising Chair for The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity in 2016 after 12 years. I will look back at the last decade with fondness for the new and exciting things I learnt, the new experiences I gained and also the fabulous time I spent with great people and loved ones. The holidays and travels are always a great highlight in this enormous world and are entrenched in my memories of the past.

 

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The Present

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

As in LIVE in the moment of now, it is both exhilarating as well as concerning. All the big topics I can honestly think about presently are Brexit, Climate Change and much progress already made is being damaged! Most things in my life are stable but there are still everyday worries and stresses that make me wonder what the hell is going on. Just look at some of our media and politicians! Politics is affecting all of us at present but they are very disruptive and move swifter than the previous decade. This could be a result of social media, but also the volume increase, manipulation and incensed use of mainstream media that is used to polarise us. It seems to be an on-going battle with new life and professional challenges such as data protection, fake news, privacy, racism, bullying, and various negative broadcasting. Information certainly is more intense with some people probably rightfully switching off from all forms of media. I do think that presently social media is still a very good facility for communication, and the world is generally a better place for it. Politics will affect us all and is currently in an awful state but we are more engaged regardless with an opportunity to share our views, voice our concerns and opinions with the people we want too online and offline.

 

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Climate change and sustaining our planet are hot topics that are right up the agenda in the last years and especially the last few months. We have seen young Greta Thunberg mobilise children and adults across this great big old world for environmental concerns and activism. We also all know about Extinction Rebellion. Food, travel, air quality, poverty, homelessness, diversity and inclusion etc are all various topics where work is still in progress. There are good days and bad days for all of these issues, and like so, we have to live in the moment but also find ways to make good choices that will sustain us as well as our fragile planet and environment. It’s only a few years ago we implemented the plastic bags ban, saw more of the reusable cup and ‘single use plastic’ become a no-go. Positive policy and behaviour change are possible and we should not give up!

 

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It is not all depressing in the present, I still find ways to keep my positivity flowing by exploring the new, interesting events and shows in the city. I love that you also see all the ‘live’ moments people are having around you on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, the present is not perfect but somewhere in this world, the sun is shining and a new day is dawning. I am also very grateful for every new day that I am alive to be with my family and friends in the present.

 

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The Future

“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith

As we creep into 2020, it is great to know that some things will always remain the same but it is obvious that there will be new developments and ways of living that we will adopt and adapt in our lives. After all, 2020 is just a number created to represent time.

I am certainly not a clairvoyant with a crystal ball and will not predict the next day, much less the next decade. However, this is what scientific, evidence-based and good research is able to do for us. Trends and forecasting are used all the time to help us plan and prepare what may or may not become a reality. I have the privilege and access to authoritative published research in my role as an information professional, and therefore I am able to research very serious topics that will have an impact on all of us.

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I recently popped into the busy technology department of Selfridges when I went to collect an online order that I couldn’t find in local shops. Seeing all the smart technology is a great eye-opener (pardon the pun!). There are innovations and inventions that are here already and there are more to come on the horizon. Wearable technology is here and according to Mintel market research on “Wearable Technology 2019” – “There has been an increase in ownership of all wearable devices, with the most significant jump being in the adoption of smart ear-buds. As a result of the increasing popularity of these products, more and more manufacturers are offering their versions. Meanwhile, fitness bands/sports watches continue to be the wearable that consumers are most likely to own”. Consumers are also using it for controlling smart home devices, making contactless payments, monitoring security, social media, fitness etc. The smart glasses were certainly a new way to see and interact with things.

 

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One of the burning issues is consumption of natural resources and the environment. There are questions on how can we make this world more sustainable and ethical in our policies, businesses and our own personal responsibility. GlobalDataOnline has their great Trendsight predictions and analysis to tell us about the MegaTrends that will affect us all regardless if we are generations from: Baby boomers to iGeneration. In the report ‘Trendsight overview: Sustainability and Ethics – Meeting social and environmental challenges amid growing populations and energy brands’, these megatrends highlighted are: Social Responsibility, Ethical Wellbeing, Fairly Traded, Created Fairly, Ethical Luxury, Localism, Trust and Transparency, Resource Scarcity and Environmental Responsibility. These are all great topics that make my heart sing! The same report looks in great detail at the past, present and future trends. One of the great sector examples with the changes we have seen in the last few years is plastic pollution and recycling which concludes that: “in the past five years, recycling schemes were being used by several types of retail outlets, and will remain a crucial consideration for retailers in future. Retailers at present are more prominently shifting away from the use of plastic, while innovative recycling schemes will propel into the mainstream five years or so in the future”. Do make some time to look at these reports and you will be inspired or in-the-know on what is in store for the future.

 

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My own personal view, simply and most importantly, of the future is that I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I also want this clarity and vision for humanity and the Earth. I know there will be developments in technology and gains in progress with living standards but there is so much work still to collaborate and work on together as so many people are outside of these acceptable levels, struggling with being happy and healthy. I am not able to control this but in my own way, step by step, little by little, I can only hope that we keep this beautiful planet and its’ people safe and well for years to come…and certainly to 2030. Ask yourself too what you want for the future.

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Volunteer your time – it is all worthwhile

Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves – Horace Mann

In the last few weeks I have been busy supporting volunteers in my local community, neighbourhood and profession. I am what is termed ‘a frequent volunteer’ and actively volunteer in various roles and diverse causes. I also do this unpaid and in my own time. According to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2019: …“there are 20.1 million people who volunteered through a group, club or organisation during 2017/2018” with £17.1 Billion the total contribution to the voluntary sector to the UK economy. I have been fortunate to also be able to have an impact locally, as on my doorstep, but also internationally across the world as a Board Member to SLA Europe. The research by NCVO in their report ‘Time Well Spent’ quotes …“81% do their volunteering in and for their local communities” and volunteers get involved in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities. Volunteering is quite common now with a large number of us giving our time freely, and the benefits are not just for the causes we support but also for our own happiness, wellbeing, achievement, fulfilment and self-satisfaction.

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Two years ago, when NHS hospitals – among other organisations around the world – were attacked by ransomware hackers, one of the first to have their computers back up and running was the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. It did not pay the hackers a penny. Instead, Hertfordshire police provided a team of young techies from their squad of volunteers, whose employers encouraged their staff to support local charities and public services. Welcome to 21st century volunteering.

CEO Peter Keller in ‘Time well Spent’ NCVO

Volunteering is really important for the success of various causes, organisations and society as a whole. We sometimes volunteer in informal ways and do not necessarily recognise this. Most of us also volunteer to causes that we care about that are nearby but a very small percentage (3%) volunteer outside the UK. Overall we are providing unpaid help to groups, organisations and individuals that matter to us. Volunteering is one of the best ways we can help others in society.

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It has been an extra special time this month to be able to spend time briefly with past and fellow volunteers in my various roles. They were moments of celebration, an opportunity to meet old and make new contacts in the nice summer months. I will mention some of the events I have attended below. And in true connecting the dots style I will be thinking of the greater impact volunteering has in the short-term…and as well as the long term for me and hopefully for these communities.

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Plant from seeds for my guerilla gardening volunteering

I volunteer throughout the year regardless of the weather, indoors and outdoors, virtually, in groups, individually and tirelessly. I have been a frequent and addictive formal volunteer for the last 15 years, and prior to this in my childhood.

The first set of volunteering this summer was for my local neighbourhood which usually entails gardening, picking up rubbish (constantly!), sending out local notices and information, sharing news and relevant stories on social media feeds and giving a helping hand or moral support for local arts and community events. The best photos here are from local guerrilla gardens, our street party and poetry competitions. I am certainly not the only person to volunteer but there are a few hard-core dedicated people who have been doing fab things year on year since 2012. I am not sure how long all of this will last but I live here, and our neighbourhood is fully engaged in the whole process of looking out for each other and our patch. We have also missed having a local police station after cuts to public budgets, and sometimes have to literally clean up mess, anti-social behaviour and watch out for drug pushing in our neighbourhood. There are lots of families in this area yet there is a lot of worrying anti-social activity. Recently it is the worst it has been, but hopefully our community action will help us all to keep our neighbourhood happy…but also safe.

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It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference – Tom Brokaw

In early July, I was invited to attend the celebration and retirement party for the CEO of the local charity, The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity, where I volunteered for 12 years. Pauline Thomas MBE has dedicated the last 35+ years for developing, championing and actively campaigning local authorities and local government for the provision of services for children, their families and the wider community. She is an amazing person and has a real, authentic and kind portfolio of all the work that she has fought for, won and established. She is the first one to make it clear that she has not achieved it all by herself and constantly depends on her brilliant staff, dedicated volunteers and supporters. Her leadership and committment will always be an inspiration. In this organisation, I was happy to learn so much, develop new skills, challenge myself and offer whatever time I had to assist over those years. There was also a great community affairs programme at the time at the company I worked for whereby they supported staff that were volunteering in their local community with a financial award. I was able to get some recognition and the financial reward, which went to the charity. There are several companies who do support charitable causes and communities – this is reported that there are 8000 funders giving to £8 Million in The Guide to UK Company Giving by the Directory of Social Change.

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A tip to share with you is to give incentive, encourage and display value to volunteers and paid staff. One such way is to hold fun award ceremonies for staff and volunteers. You can reward with a certificate, and those events that were held at this charity were great fun and motivating. I still have my certificates for volunteering and fundraising as they are great merits for community and charitable work. Volunteering is worthwhile not because of awards – but for the intangible skills, experience, talent, understanding and networking you gain working outside your day job. This is beneficial for my own personal development, and I gain experience in tasks and roles that I may not do in my day job. I still refer and draw on volunteering time spent with the charity. There are some good award examples for recognising volunteers on The Third Sector website.

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With Pauline at ex-employers Volunteering Award 2007

I currently volunteer mainly for SLA Europe, an international and professional organisation which the motto – ‘Connecting Information Professionals’. It is an organisation this is based on volunteer support. Events and my activities with them helps me to keep my skills and experience fresh, broad, at the cutting edge of technology…and thought leadership. I host meetings monthly, help in various tasks and activity that may arise – gaining valuable ‘hands on’ experience in the process. It is also great for my strategic thinking and professional leadership experience exposing me to experience that I may not have in my day job. Over the years, I have also grown in confidence in the roles that I have conducted in the Digital Communications Group and as Membership Chair. It has also been excellent for me to also gain regular training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) from physical and virtually events (e.g. webinars). SLA Europe and my self-development are so inter-link in my mind that I sometimes don’t see my volunteering as separate to my day job. It has a direct impact on my abilities, experience, exposure, competency and personal development. To be honest in this profession, we have to be constantly moving with the times, and in this professional volunteering capacity…I am the one who is benefiting from the time that I give freely. It was especially nice to celebrate with other members at the recent Summer Drinks and to feel rejuvenated.

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Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls – David Thomas

I am really lucky to see the holistic way that volunteering can regenerate and also create new business and artistic benefits for the local community and the wider society. The borough I live in is celebrating this year with the Borough of Culture, and there are a great bunch of volunteers over the years that initially helped the borough to achieve this accolade, funding and attention. There are many activities for this year and the volunteers were in full mode ‘Getting Involved’ at the Walthamstow Garden Party as shown in my photos.

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I still too have a lot of respect and admiration for voluntary organisations that are tackling poverty, homelessness, abuse, or the general well being of other citizens and community members. I sometimes wish I could do more but there just isn’t enough time for me to fit in more. I do like that I work full-time in a profession which helps and empower people to get on with their own objectives. You are never too young or too old to volunteer, and so I will always look to volunteer in the causes and communities throughout my life hopefully.

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.  – H Jackson Browne Jr.

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Summer sunshine – the best time to go out and about

The sun has been gloriously out the last few days and it is my favourite time of the year. I do like the when the seasons change throughout the year in this hemisphere, but for me it is better when the temperatures are a more amenable for going out more. We spend months and months experiencing rain and damp weather.  Some seasons make me cold and cooped up, although I still try to do interesting things in the colder months. I am thoroughly happier to spend time doing as much (or as little) as I can when the sun and warmer months finally arrive. The British are know for being obsessed with the weather, with even British Vogue charts the reasons for this obsession. It may still be a nice way for the usually reserved British to open a conversation about the weather. What is guaranteed in Britian is that we will be talking about it whether come rain, snow, wind or sunshine. It is also not uncommon to experience all of these atmospheric elements in one day. Regardless of the weather, we must make time to go out for our own wellness and happiness, and that is exactly what I try to do. Here are some of my recent summer ventures and delights to recall with you.

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I am not obsessed about the weather but I do tend to keep an eye on the weather forecast if I am going somewhere, or if I have an event coming up. Being originally from Trinidad, we usually do talk about the weather occasionally as it may be extremely hot, or it may be slightly cold. We rarely talk about the weather when the temperature is ideal. In recent years, there have also been frequent floods, hurricanes and earthquakes – which makes you appreciate good weather regardless if you are on a Caribbean island. For those of you who do not know, the rainy season in the Caribbean can be a big damper on your ‘summer’ vacation in the tropical islands. I had some visitors coming to see me in London this year and I was secretly praying for good weather when they visited a few weeks ago. There are several reasons for this:

  • Tourist destinations look much better in the sunshine
  • You are not cold and wet, otherwise you would have to seek comfort and warmth frequently
  • You can enjoy a lot of outdoor sports and venues
  • You get more done in daylight hours
  • Homes may have an extra room outdoors
  • Gardens look amazing
  • It is a great time to get together
  • Or have a party!

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This year as I had visitors, it was nice to see and plan some events I have been meaning to do for ages. For more of these activities, we were reliant on us enjoying the sights and venues on a clear bright day. My friends are from the Caribbean and ‘feel the cold’ a lot more than myself. Acclimatisation is necessary to feel comfortable with your surroundings but even I have to be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather. The British Council has prepared some tips for visitors. If you are not sure, layering is definitely one of my own recommendations. It was slightly different between June–to-September 2018, as we experienced one of the warmest summers in the last few decades. The Met Office recorded that: “the summer of 2018 was the equal-warmest summer for the UK along with 2006, 2003 and 1976”. It was a relief to have good weather…although there are bigger questions and concerns about climate change.

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One of the first activities in my list of things to do was to show the sights around the West End and historic London. It is handy that I live in Central London and can get the London Underground trains and buses to see most of the sights. We spent about four days in total going around seeing the sights that all first-time visitors like to see around the UK. These include Buckingham Place, Whitehall, The Southbank, The Thames, Covent Garden, The City, Olympic Park and a lot of shopping. I also had a fabulous first cricket game at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we certainly appreciated that it was a dry day to watch the match.

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I do have a car, which I do not use everyday. However, it is especially useful for going outside of London to see the countryside and other nice outdoor venues. I took my visitors to Cambridge, as it is only about one hour away from me. It was a stress-free drive but we had to make sure parking was organised, as it can be a headache trying to find parking anywhere! It certainly was cheaper to drive than the train tickets for the group of us going there for the day. Travelling in the United Kingdom is very expensive by train compared to other countries.

Cambridge is nice to visit all the universities and colleges – and has an international reputation for it’s academic facilities. In Trinidad, we had (or have) secondary qualifications and examinations that were accredited by Cambridge University, so it is one of the most well known academic institutions for any Caribbean visitor. It is also nice to wander around the town city and to go punting on the River Cam. I am also looking forward to attending and speaking at the SLA Europe Conference in Newnham College in September.

 

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Arundel was an idyllic place to visit that was not too far away from London. I also wanted my friend to experience a traditional castle for its’ history, architecture, rooms, garden and the view. I have visited before to see friends who live there and knew the town well enough to see Arundel Castle and the amazing garden. I could have spent hours in the garden but I also wanted to go to Brighton whilst I was down on the South of England for the day. As the saying goes – make hay whilst the sun shines!

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One of the highlights of the last few weeks was a visit to Paris. I haven’t been to central Paris for 18 years and it was nice to see the city again with all it’s charm and Parisian beauty. I again kept checking on my app to see if we were going to have nice weather and luckily we had some fab weather for three days of walking around and sightseeing. I have since heard that the temperatures have just soared due to the recent heat waves passing across Europe. I also liked that along the Seine, it seemed less busy and the architecture remained tradition as compared to London. I also managed to get my friends on boats three times in one week – Cambridge, The River Thames and The Seine. One disadvantage of travelling in the summer months is the length of the queues to go into Tourist attractions. I went to Eurodisney about 9 years ago and the queues were so long in July, but we still enjoyed the venue over a couple of days. On this trip, I was able to experience all the outdoor must-do’s and Paris will always be a city of love for those who want to be enchanted by it’s glory and culture.

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We didn’t spend the entire time outdoors but it was nice to visit some of the main shopping areas and high streets in London. Whilst out, you see so many shops, and shops in turn, are also reliant on the business of tourists buying their goods. Every city has the usual souvenir shops and we do tend to buy the most iconic souvenirs and treats to take back to friends and family. We mainly shopped in malls, the high street and markets as I mentioned. For my guests, we only bought one item online, as we could not find it in the shops. The outdoor markets are just as fun and become a hive in the nice weather from Borough market for food to my local Walthamstow Market for everything.

 

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If you are helping or planning community events outdoors in the summer, you may have felt panic or anxiety when have to plan for good and bad weather! There are always contingency plans for extreme weather but it is extra nice when the weather is good enough to continue as planned in the ‘great British outdoors’. This was the case with our 8th Street Party – the weather was forecasted to be raining up until the 11th hour before the party started. However like magic, we were able to have a warm and fun day outdoors without having to move equipment and all our gear indoors.

I also went to a recent Indo-Caribbean event in a Sport Centre in Ilford on one of the hottest weekends for the year so far. The heat wave from African and Europe had apparently pushed its’ way to the United Kingdom and temperature was notably humid. However, again it was uncomfortably warm in an enclosed venue but the evening was full of fun and good cheer even though we were sweaty and hot. I also spent a lovely summer’s evening in St Mary’s Church, enjoying the coolness of the ancient church to the rhythmic Flamenco all-female band from Barcelona, Las Migas, making their London Debut.

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Ascot is another event where you hope there is going to be sunshine. I went this year with friends and as soon as my friend booked the tickets, she said, “Pray that it will not rain!” It was a bit rainy this year but luckily for Ladies’ Day, there was more sunshine than rain. I have been to Ascot before in the 1990s when we were in a Marquee with corporate hospitality where your food, drinks and betting are all within the tent. It is nice too to see everyone in the open racecourse and get the general exciting vibes of the races and the entertainment provided. For ladies…and gentlemen, it is even better when the weather doesn’t ruin your well-thought out outfits and hats.

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The summer sunshine definitely improves our mood and wellbeing as we go out more, exploring our surrounding in better conditions and experiencing what’s about. It is my favourite season for going out for a number of reasons. I also love gardening (as you may know) and enjoy flowers and plants in this peak season. Ironically the summer months are also a time to look forward to a proper time to rest and relax here or abroad. Good and bad climate does and will affect us all and we should pay attention to it for our own good. For now, I think I am safe in saying that there is something special about summer, and everybody loves getting a little bit of sunshine.

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Theatreland – cue the lights, start the music and let the show begin!

As you go out and about in town, you frequently encounter posters and adverts for performances and musicals in the theatres. Social media algorithmic adverts also tend to push theatre adverts to me. It may be overwhelming to take it all in but generally they are great reminders of the spectacular array of performing arts and talent that are available to see with family and friends. You can actually make an evening and night out with the number of shows available. However it is not usually cheap to see all these shows regularly unless you look out for discounts and special reductions for last minute bookings. I always try to see shows with friends or family whenever I can.

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The performance arts industry is very important to the revenue it generates in the global economy from Broadway in New York, The West End in London and the other regions of the world. According to theatre associations and brilliant industry resources, UK Theatres and Society of London Theatres (SOLT), there are 14 million theatre attendances per annum. Their latest figures state: …“the figures reveal a combined audience of over 34m and ticket revenue of nearly £1.28bn, from a total of 62,945 performances over the course of the year in the West End and across the UK”. So it is a thriving industry with natural show closures, but with a lot of long running shows too.

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I would like to think that theatre and drama have been around for as long as humans have tried to keep themselves entertained. This is reflected in the piece I read online by London Theatre Direct: …“Arguably, theatre can be dated back all the way to 8500 B.C. considering tribal dance and religious rituals. Theatre, depending on how you define it, goes hand in hand with society as it has always been a part of life to express and perform in some way or other”.

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Undoubtedly Europe has a long tradition and rich culture of theatre. The Ancient Greeks are credited for developing the Western art form, and also theatre as a place for world historic buildings and architecture. The word theatre and thespian are both derived from the Greek language, culture and mythology. The Romans are also renown for the love of theatre and built 125 theatres at their height of power. The oldest theatre ruins I have been to visit, as yet, are in Pompeii, Italy. I hope to visit other ancient relics in other continents one day. I also was told by Italian relatives that Pulcinella is actual the source of inspiration for Punch – one of the earlier forms of puppet or street theatre in the United Kingdom.

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The United Kingdom records of it’s own heritage seems to start during the Elizabethan age with various influences from other close traditions. The most pivotal for this period would have been the plays, playwrights, theatre companies and the buildings like The Globe at the time. Elizabethan theatre also is world-famous, and has the lasting legacy of the works of William Shakespeare. As an English-speaking country in Trinidad, we were taught Shakespeare for secondary level English (I also studied Shakespeare for A’Levels).

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Shakespeare statue at the British Library

The V&A Museum has a great page for resources in the period and stated at Shakespeare: “Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and numerous sonnets. It is not just the breadth of his work that makes Shakespeare the greatest British dramatist, but the beauty and inventiveness of his language and the universal nature of his writing. Shakespeare is performed today because his writing still speaks to audiences all over the world”. Ironically, the first show I saw in London was the musical ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ on roller-skates (yeah, I know!), which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. I also saw recently ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Barbican Theatre – it quite nice when you can recognise the lines from a school lesson, or phrases that are well known in their own right. I still have to attend a performance at the modern Globe Theatre along The Thames and hope to do so in the near future. Working at the British Library, I frequently come across Shakespearean references, objects and had seen the brilliant exhibition on William Shakespeare a few years ago.

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The history of theatre has developed since to various degrees such as Renaissance Theatre, Victorian Pantomime, during the World Wars, musicals, other 20th Century innovations and even digital drama. The Germans and the British theatre-lands are documented in the book ‘Popular Musical Theatre in London and Berlin 1890 to 1939’ as well as the growth of Broadway in the USA. The book states: “In the USA, traditionally more accepting of popular culture than Europe, the musical has a high cultural status, often closely connected to the formation of national identities. More than just a simple celebration, it has embodied America’s mastery over modernity in particularly amiable ways, as entertainment”.

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Musicals are good fun and there are a myriad of shows to see at any given time in London. It is great to see, hear and tap along to a good musical show. I recently went to see Motown the Musical before it closed in London. I loved the story of the entrepreneurial record company, the real life characters, the political and social historical undertones, the costumes, make-up and the music obviously. The crowd was up on their feet at the end for a sing-a-long and this show in particular was inter-generational for its’ classic soul music and relevance to musical history.

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There are large production teams required for each show and I imagine it can literally be high-pressured and intense at times. Over the years, there have been various technical developments in lights and sound – with the theatre being a precursor to film-making (which I blog about earlier this year). We tend to forget all the make-belief or pretence, and literally are transported to another world by the stories being told and the drama on stage.

 

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The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan of Miami Sound Machine

Miami Sound Machine’s musical show poster was another surprise encounter on a Tube poster a few weeks ago. I obviously loved the band and leader singer Gloria Estefan in the 1980s, and whilst sharing the photo I took of the poster on social media I accidentally found out that the band recently had been awarded and recognised at the Library of Congress for its’ contribution to Latin American heritage, culture and music. The song ‘Rhythm is Going to Get You’ in particular will be treasured and showcased for it’s cultural value and worth. Apart from listening to their music again, I also want to see the Miami Sound Machine show too!

I do like dramas too, but it requires more time to find good shows. There is also a point to stress that most plays and novels are literature, which eventually becomes plays or shows at the theatre. The two art forms feed each other with creativity. I am looking forward to seeing the play ‘Small Island’ in May and will read the book by the Andrea Levy to make sure that I have a deep understanding of the story at the live performance. I am also looking forward to the set, costumes and seeing the diverse actors.

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The industry has looked at itself for the Diversity and Inclusion litmus test, and I recently saw that exclusive research by The Stage looked at how gender and ethnicity affects the types of roles cast. The research states: “the 2019 results reveal that black, Asian, and minority ethnic performers make up 38% of cast members in the 19 commercial West End musicals counted. This figure means West End musicals are more ethnically diverse than their counterparts on Broadway, were 34% of musical casts are from BAME backgrounds, and considerably more diverse than programming on UK television, where BAME actors make up 18% of performers’. Also, I was sad when I read an article recently about La Tanya Richardson Samuel (actress wife to Samuel L Jackson) saying that she was happy to play the maid in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but it was a melancholy reflection of the little progress in racial tensions made in the fictional times as well as in real life. Samuel L Jackson reportedly said: ‘in entertainment, there is a responsibility somewhere in us to reflect the times we’re in. You can do that in the theatre…

The male character seems to get the ‘named role’ (leads) and therefore gender equality also needs to be improved. The industry has been getting better with more women writers and a better representation of the society we live in today. There is some progress but always more work needs to be done, and continuous developments in a diverse workforce in any industry. Apparently the musical ‘Aladdin’ is one of the “most widely diverse musicals”, and I am looking forward to attending the musical next month with a visiting Trinidadian friend.

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I also went to the Young Vic last year in a programme where they invited local school children to meet some of their production staff – this too is a great initiative for young persons.

Whilst I was doing my brief research for this blog post, it was apparent that theatre research has many layers to it – from the point of view in acting,  play writing, creative, production, technical to multiple art forms. It is pure and real entertainment that we still love seeing live in venues across the world. It is also has value in the cultural identity, assets and people who work in this field. And as I close the curtains… I have never seriously acted in a play but I will continue to look out for a show that I can see and enjoy with good company.

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Holi – a Springtime festival of Colour

The clocks may have gone forward to signify the beginning of Summertime, but there are other colourful signs of Spring and Summertime that are bursting from nature in this part of the northern hemisphere. It is also festival time for Holi – the ancient Hindu festival celebrated to mark the coming of spring as a time of renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.  It is celebrated with colour to represent vibrancy, fertility and togetherness associated with family and friends who have gathered to have fun. There are other significant stories of the festival such as the story of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, as well as the story of Holika and Prahlad. It is a time of vibrant celebration when people run around covering each other with the rainbow of Gulal powders or coloured liquid, the latter known as abeer. Drums known as dhol and other musical instruments are played whilst people laugh, sing and dance in the streets or fields. The festival is celebrated in India and various parts of Asia – including the Indian diaspora in the West Indies, North America and even the UK. All in all, the festival represents love and the victory of good over evil.

 

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I was happy to see and learn more about the spring celebrations from past centuries in the Mughal Empire Exhibition at the British Library. The manuscripts and paintings were brilliant and capture the period in time by recording images of people, music, fashion, Holi-playing equipment, the entertainment and fun they obviously had during the celebrations. It was heart-warming to see the extravagance, elegance and details of the Mughal celebrations in the past in their regal settings. I am sure they got dirty too! I was compelled to buy a Holi celebration post card as a souvenir as the festival will always be special to me.

 

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These are some well-documented past celebrations in books with beautiful illustrations and online that show how it was celebrated by all classes in a society – from the Mughals to the people in the streets.

 

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Playing Holi / Phagwa in my village in Trinidad late 1980s.

 

Celebrating the festival of Holi is one of my best childhood memories, and it still makes me happy to see it celebrated from afar. It is a time for peaceful fun with the family, neighbours, friends and other villagers. It certainly is still very much a festival of togetherness which showcases the physical activity like a special rainbow – full of vibrant colour, music, dance and love.

 

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Phagwa, as we call it in the West Indies, is an integral part of the cultural calendar and is still very much alive considering it was brought from India to the West Indies by the indentured labourers in the 1840’s. Holi goes according to the lunar calendar which means it is usually celebrated in March. It is a national holiday in India but in Trinidad it is celebrated on the closest Sunday to the Indian date. Our local temple (mandir) is still the hub for organising and congregating for the celebration in the village, with persons wearing mainly white clothes prior to the start of the coloured festivities. With dholak drums carried around the neck and other musical instruments – the procession starts at the temple and goes along street after street, where people are invited in homes for some drinks, sweets or refreshments. This can last a few hours.

 

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It is exciting, thrilling and fun to play Holi. According to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s website – ‘A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of coloured dyes.  You can hear the strains of special folk songs called Chowtal being sung, accompanied by two instruments – the Dholak, a small hand drum and Majeera, percussive instruments.  The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, making you want to take part in the joy-filled revelry’.

It has gained popularity over the years by other non-Hindus and ethnicities. In the chapter ‘A rich blend of cultural influences’ in the book ‘Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil’, the island is described: “…but then in Trinidad and Tobago, always expect the unexpected, for this is a nation of two separate territories, many different ethnic groups and religions, and discrete and common cultures. You’d be hard pressed to find a population as ethically or culturally mixed as Trinidad’s, in such a small place, anywhere in the world”. The chapter also goes on to say: “Holi is an integral part of the cultural calendar”. Phagwa, March’s Hindu spring festival is celebrated on savannahs throughout the island to the singing of chowtal or pichakaaree songs and the drenching of all with colourful abeer”.

 

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Abeer is the purple liquid that my father would make in a bucket early on the Sunday morning of Holi. It used to be still warm from the water used to infuse the dye when we used to fill our saved and recycle bottles for the purple liquid. The buzz of getting that first spray with colour is truly joyous, fun and bonding! You certainly would not wear your ‘Sunday best clothes’ because by the end of the day your clothes will be soaked, and even ruined. In the 1980’s the coloured Gulal powder was introduced but prior to that we would use mainly the abeer liquid for spraying or drenching each other. My father would try to find some of the elders, such as Mama and Argee, in the neighbourhood to spray with abeer as a sign of respect, and to join in the fun. Throughout the day, we would look to spray our neighbours, family and the temple group as we go street to street through our special village. Phagwa is still celebrated with much fervour through Trinidad – now in schools and has been adopted by some as a national celebration and part of our identity.

 

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My Roman Catholic School – Holi Greetings on Facebook

 

My mother, family and villagers still welcome the local temple groups to our home for Holi, as do many homes along the parade in the village. I am grateful for the persons who are committed and still carry on these traditions after many years. It will always be our heritage and a true celebration of our past journeys across the seas. The message of good over evil, and the joy of life are always relevant. I am thankful to feel part of the great festivities, and the contagious happiness when I witnessed them on social media.

 

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Holi has influenced our multi-cultural society, such as when carnival band designer Peter Minshall used the spraying off colour on his masqueraders for his band Callaloo in 1984. Chutney music, which is the fusion of Caribbean and Asian beats and melodies, has been successful in creating mixed and modern music for the festivities. There is still a religious festival so there is no alcohol consumed on the day. So it is pure fun and happiness with the colours, music, dance and interaction with people.

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Callaloo – Carnival Band by designer Peter Minshall.   Source: Tumblr – http://carnival2014-blog.tumblr.com/post/46371316750/peter-minshall-callaloo-1984-photo-roy-boyke

I also can’t help thinking of Holi when I see the music video for the calypso by Machel Montano, better known as the Soca king, called ‘Fog up de Place’ with the lyrics: ‘you can’t play mas if you fraid powder’. J’ouvert and the Carnival sailor masqueraders share powder for different reasons (US sailors stationed in Trinidad used talc powder to cool themselves from the tropical heat), but the visual effects of the powder in the air is still amazing and similar. We have these festive traits in common.

 

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A few years ago, I saw that there was a globetrotting event based on Holi called Holi One Festival at Battersea Power Station in London. I also recall seeing some people on the London Underground with the powder on their once white clothes. There is a brilliant article ‘Holi One Colour Festival – Battersea Unites in an Explosion of Colour’ which explained the festival’s aimed to bring together people from all walks of life to share music, arts, fun and vitality. It was reported that: “14000 expectant revellers dressed from head to toe in white – three quarters of them women – streamed along the pavements like angelic ants, moving collectively towards one of London’s most recognised landmarks. They would leave an entirely different colour!” At the end of the event – the organisers found it promoted the ideas of togetherness and vitality that did not disappoint – “they were multi-coloured and it’s fair to say – unrecognisable mess”. A jet-wash was used for the clean up the next day. I can relate to this, as it is absolutely true too that you can still see some of the colour stains and evidence of Holi for a few days after the event. Your hair and fingernails will also bear the colours of Holi as a gentle…and sweet reminder afterwards. I don’t mind that.

 

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The Indian Bollywood film industry has helped us to appreciate the festival for its connection with the East Indies and West Indies. In the 1980s, we had neither Internet nor social media, so film such as Silsila was brilliant for us to see the visual expression and art of Holi as it is celebrated in India. We also know some of the songs, and they remain classics to this day.

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Film – Silsila 1981. Source: Wikipedia.

Holi is celebrated and popular throughout other West Indian countries such as Guyana and Suriname, where there are large Indo-Caribbean communities. I have also seen celebrations on social media in New York, Houston, Paris, Canada etc. The event in Queens, New York seems to be a merger of West Indians and East Indians, and there are Tassa drums used in the parade. The New York Police Department also participated in one of the Holi celebrations and used the opportunity to showcase their LGBT+ community. The rainbow symbol is very apt. It is a festival of time for everyone regardless of religion, colour, class, gender and age from my personal experience.

 

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A few years ago I went to the Caribbean Hindu Temple in North London to celebrate the festival and it was nice to be welcomed by the community and to play Holi again after so many years. I was going to play it this year but was busy on the day. I saw on social media that Indian students were also celebrating Holi at Middlesex University recently, and a couple of primary schools in the UK.   It was nice to see the celebrations in secular environments for the happiness and fun that playing Holi brings.

 

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Holi has been given a lot of exposure (rightly so!) by Google. Google’s logo is colourful and has evolved over the years.  In the last few years they have commissioned colourful and animated ‘Goggle Doodles’ for Holi with clearly explanatory details of the festival. In 2018, it depicted the traditional dhol drummers amongst a cloud of colour, who move from house to house, adding a musical touch to the day’s festivities. In 2019, it states that the visual excitement marks the start of spring but also offers: “a time for renewal, and a reversal of the social hierarchies among ages, classes, and castes. Holi’s also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love because it marks a time for coming together and releasing old grudges”. 

At Holi, the story of Holika is depicted with bonfires.  The bonfire signifies the demoness Holika, who tried to destroy her nephew Prahlad in a fire, but burnt herself to death in the end. Its’ meaning at springtime reminds us about the true victory of good over evil.

 

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The colourful festival of Holi is a diverse and inclusive celebration of dance, music and other rituals, which is a common thread amongst most cultures. The vibrancy, warmth and togetherness by people taking to the streets or in their community spaces, is something we all should try to experience at least once. The rainbow colours of the festival are played to the beating of songs of joy and happiness. It heralds a warm welcome to the new spring season with its’ stories, merriment, song and dance. In some form or another in human life, we can learn and admire this rich ancient celebration as we dance along to the beat of drums.

 

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Film for the 21st Century – The award goes to…

Now that some of the stardust has settled, I am sure you would have noticed that it is awards season at this time of year. From the Golden Globes, The BAFTAs to the recent Academy Awards…film awards are in full swing. The music awards were also in close succession with the Grammy and the Brit Awards being only a few weeks apart. My interest is personal as I am no expert in the filmmaking industry, but I do like looking at film when I can. Since a child, I have had a keen interest is the US-based awards shows, including the Emmys Awards, as they were usually screened lived to Trinidad and Tobago in the evening.  Without a doubt, the various awards have been on the news a lot in the last few years for the outdated stances in the industry on gender equality, diversity, inclusion, sexual harassment, showcasing professional technical roles (e.g. editing), recognition withheld when it is due, and other contentious topics. The availability of good content in scripts for a diverse representation, role models and storytelling have all been issues which needs to be addressed to propel the changes required in the global industry. These are not just hot topics – they are scorchers! I will come back to this at the end of this post, but there is much to celebrate in the international development of this art form and entertainment industry.

 

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True to the style and name of this blog ‘Connecting the Dots’, I wanted to look back at the global innovations in film making, observe the new digital streaming, and resulting industry shifts and adoption by consumers and fans. The history of filmmaking has been a long process with many observations, testing and developments through the century. Precusors to filmmaking are items such as the camera obscura, which has been around since antiquity. I was able to see this fascinating progress on a visit at the now closed Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) as one of my modules at university. It is in the same spot as the British Film Institute (BFI) now. Eventually modern filmmaking and cinematography developed with many innovations, whereby in 1895 the Lumiere Brothers are credited for inventing the Cinématograph, a combination camera and projector projecting film to a large audience. They have been widely credited for giving film the international recognition it deserves in establishing the mass entertainment industry. There is too much iteration to mention here, but some of the significant ones are mentioned on this film history timeline. Some of the obvious milestones are the silent film ‘Talkies’, the introduction of colour film, first horror film, westerns, musicals, various genres, sub-genres and sub-cultures.

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First Picture to feature sound and recorded speech. Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jazz_Singer

Obviously the industry is now digitally accessible across the globe, whereby Hollywood in the USA is the top largest producer of film, followed by Bollywood in India and then Nollywood in Nigeria. The industry is massive if you look at the film giants such as Disney, Warner and various studios. There is also a complex process to get these audio visual items distributed into our homes…and now in our palms on smart devices. Most countries also have their own local film creatives, cultural identity and unique industry traits. For example, it is interesting reading about the ‘African Film Revival’ in a brief by Euromonitor as it mentions the benefit for the local economy, the regions and the fact that a lot of film are shot and produced in Africa, which in turn promotes tourism. In the UK, the revenue generates £3.1Billion and IBIS World reports in ‘Motion Picture Production that: “the UK industry attracts a vast amount of inward investment as a result of government incentives, predominantly UK Film Tax Relief. This makes the United Kingdom an attractive location to international film producers. The top four films in the box office for 2016 were US-backed UK films, and according the British Film Institute, the United Kingdom benefited from its highest ever recorded inward investment spend, amounting to £1.35 billion”.

 

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As a 70’s baby, I grew up initially with black and white television programming showing English-speaking ‘movies’ (as we still call them), and also going to the cinema or theatre (as they still call them in the USA). We also had a few drive-in cinemas in Trinidad and that was a special treat – I used to like looking at the large outdoor screens from the highway even if we were not going.

 

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At home, we saw film programmes at the weekend, in particular ‘Family Theatre’ with a different or series of dedicated family-friendly film, including Hollywood classics such as ‘Laurel and Hardy’. We also had a three-hour slot for an Indian movie on Sunday afternoons. This not only exposed us to the whole Bollywood genre and industry…but also connected us to our very important cultural heritage and identity. My mother frequently took me to the local cinema to see an Indian movie on a Tuesday afternoon. I still see some of my contacts share clips of old Indian movies on social media, just like other English-speaking movies. My relatives have been encouraging me to look at Bollywood film as they are apparently not as melodramatic as they used to be. They are still brilliant for dance choreography, song, Indian fashion and culture. It has a lot of cultural references that an Indo-Trinidadian can relate to, although I am not fluent in the Hindi language. Some of my Black-British friends also said that they look at Bollywood movies, and love the singing and dancing! I obviously went to see other popular films in different genres throughout my childhood with family, friends and my school. We were in the hayday of other popular genres such as Westerns and ‘Kung Fu’ Chinese film.

 

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I like looking a European film in their native language and have no problem with subtitles, especially with my Indian movies exposure. In the 1990s, we used to frequently go to the cinema to see European film but these were hi-jacked by family-friendly film outings for a while when my children were younger. I have been trying to change this recently by going to see the beautifully produced international Polish-French award winning film ‘Cold War’ at the cinema.

 

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One of the local heroes in my neighbourhood in London is the world famous Alfred Hitchcock who was born in Leytonstone. He is regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema and is well known as “the Master of Suspense”. His film repertoire is worldclass and classic, and one tip is that you can also spot him in some of the cameo parts he played in his own film. This year, there is apparently going to be an Alfred Hitchcock Festival in my borough. There are some local film groups who have been hosting film festivals for a number of years and I am sure they have already celebrated this giant of a local hero!

 

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Thankfully, we also have had developments in home entertainment with the introduction of film in cinefilm, video, cable, DVD and now in film subscription streaming with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Netflix has been pioneering, and is a dominant figure in the global industry by providing streaming direct to customers. They are breaking into the mainstream cinema-going clientele with their own production of the popular film ‘Roma’ – which is in a foreign language, caste and black and white. There is a new impetus for Netflix according to Statista for: …“Netflix’s ability to adapt to changing technologies and consumer demands which made it so successful. This ability to adjust has continued in recent years with the success of the company’s original content and increased focus on providing content around the world. As long as Netflix can continue this trend of innovation, the company will remain an important voice in the entertainment industry”.

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‘A Star is Born’ DVD in the supermarket

I was recently reminded about use of film entertainment in air travelling too. I saw ‘Gone with the Wind’ and some recent releases on my trip to the USA. In-flight entertainment is so popular, that airline Emirates are top at seemingly providing their diverse customers with the latest selection of in-flight movies with its expansive film library. I noticed that there were Bollywood movies in my British Airways flight from Houston – I had never seen that before.

I recently saw at my local cinema the brilliant ‘BlacKkKlansman’ directed by Spike Lee, and also ‘The Green Book’ directed by Peter Farelly. It was super to see these two film with mixed representation but they both received negative press for one reason or another. ‘Black Panther’ was praised and awarded for a number for reasons, and seems to be a remarkable film released recently, but I haven’t seen it as yet.

 

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Free Postcards for the Academy Awards Best Picture 2019 – ‘Green Book’.

Unfortunately the film industry has been in the news for negative and discriminatory practices. The gender pay for women has been highlighted for women actors compared to their male counterparts. Only last week there was a piece about women having less roles and opportunities. The industry seems to be structured to benefit those in a privilege position in societies, whereby it does not reflect or take into consideration the demographics of the countries they represent. We may remember the hashtag #OscarssoWhite. Andrew Dickson writes in 2016 ‘New Statesman’ that the British addition to period drama is driving away some of Britain’s best actors: …“a major issue… is the apparently unshakeable addition of British TV and film to corsets-and-cleavage period drama, which has left many BAME actors locked out of the audition room. The BBC is in the middle of a run of literary spin-offs, from War and Peace to The Moonstone. Over on ITV, we have had Victoria and the invincible Downton Abbey”. Dickson also pointed that US cable and online subscription are even more courageous withOrange is the New Black’ which…”has an ethnically kaleidoscopic cast and plotlines that vaults across almost every conceivable question of gender, sexuality, body image and politics”.

 

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In the UK in 2017, another piece in the Hollywood Report entitled ‘BAFTA so White (Again)? Insiders say diversity at the U.K.’s biggest film event still isn’t where it should be’, Alex Ritman writes that “BAFTA didn’t get the diversity memo”. Shame. Two years on, there seems to have been some progress at the 2019 BAFTA awards I looked at LIVE on TV, and as reported by the news at the Academy Awards. Of course the industry is not going to change overnight but industry talent and tired audiences like me are restless – there needs to be change. We will have to rely on adventurous industry leaders and creatives for brave and fresh content, script writing and casting. This will enable filmmaking professionals and actors opportunities for a true reality in film roles to ensure that there is a visible balance of everyone’s ability, talent and stories. However, at all costs we should avoid these changes to be just as a token ‘tickbox’ diverse person or statement. Changes should be inclusive and fair by default for a world and audience that are both colourful and diverse. It seems there is a powerful voice calling out for these changes in the press, social media and the public, and rightly so.

 “What we need now is for a change to come, I think the talk is done”.

Actor – David Oyelowo.

It is a very hard discussion to have on all of these issues and it requires a lot of banging on doors, breaking barriers and hard work to create and seek out new, relevant materials and best practices. Hopefully not much more time will be wasted with this knowledge and conscious awareness in the industry. And so, there will be a change in the right direction.

 

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As ever, we will all continue to enjoy the film entertainment industry in one form or another with all the rich cultural, artistic and social benefits it brings to everyone in the near and far corners of the world. I am so looking forward to seeing some of the film that won…and lost awards at the various awards ceremony this year. We have a world of choice cinema available to us on various mediums, and a true reflection of the stories around us certainly makes it all very magical.

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

Laissez les bon temps rouler – Let the good times roll

– New Orleans Cajun French

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

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

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

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

– Adapted from A. H. Almaas

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

Everyone has influence in their association or organisation –

Slide provided by Jon Hockman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodore Roosevelt

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

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

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

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

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

– Jon Hockman course slide on Leadership.

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

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

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

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