Little Italy – Quarters of the world for Italian settlers

Italians have been travelling out of Italy for centuries and there is evidence from the Romans in the UK, the medieval ages, the 19th and 20th century to present day. You may know that I am married to an Italian and therefore I have been meaning to share on here all the fascinating and significant endearing stories of Italians who have emigrated from their native countries for centuries to explore, find opportunities and set up life in new and distant lands. They have travelled to places as far as the USA, Canada, Africa, Argentina, Brasil, Australia and other closer parts of Europe. My relatives migrated to Bedford in the 1950s, therefore I have heard first-hand stories and have personal experience of Italian immigrants in Bedford. Italian immigration to Bedford began in 1951 and continued until the end of the 1960s. Currently, Bedford still has the largest Italian community in the United Kingdom. With all these Italian communities scattered across the globe, there are multiple ‘Little Italy’ in quarters where the Italian diaspora and settlers now live.

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There are other communities across the globe and I am happy to feel connected to the diaspora when those opportunities arise.  I am unable to cover everything in this blog post but here are the main points and highlights for the very special Italian immigrant communities I know about personally. There are two distinct phases of Italian immigration to the United Kingdom – the first stage at the turn of the 19th century and the second stage in the years immediately after World War II when the mass immigration started.

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The first set of Italian settled in London and Manchester, and formed the famous communities of ‘Little Italy’, especially around the Clerkenwell, Ancoats and Soho areas. These areas thrived primarily thanks to the catering trade and there is still evidence and influence of that today. It was noted that they had a padrone in Britain to act as a go-between to help them with work, food and accommodation for the first two or three years after arrival. Eventually, they worked up the social classes from organ grinders to street musicians, skilled statuette makers and semi-skilled craftsmen by the mid-1850s. By the 1880s onwards, they were able to move into skilled craftwork catering and their own businesses such as selling ice cream. Some famous names I am aware of are Manze’s for Pie and Mash shops, and Rossi for ice cream. It is reported by the turn of the century they had their own Italian school, the Italian Church of St Peter’s and other Italian landmarks. There is a great article on the Italian diaspora by National Geographic here.

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After World War II, the United Kingdom needed labourers to help rebuild its’ economy and many other areas were in desperate need of new labour. One of the explanations I have read is that Italy was overpopulated and there were high levels of poverty and lack of employment opportunities so there were government policies to actively encourage emigration to new lands for opportunities and a better life. In ‘Hidden Voices – Memories of First Generation Italians in Bedford’, there are real-life stories from first-generation Italians living in Bedford which states: “The south was grossly underdeveloped and overpopulated. This had been aggravated by the fascist laws that curtailed even internal migration, let alone external movement of populations. The Italian Government was at a loss as to how to solve the immediate problem. It was estimated that at least 350000 people per year would have to emigrate for five years to alleviate, at least in part, the situation”. This is covered in some detail in books which I have used for research, and online resources such as ‘Building Italian Communities: caterers, industrial recruits and professionals’ by Our Migration Story.

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It is recorded that “a major inter-governmental initiative had led to an agreement between the British Ministry of Labour and the Italian Government, and a bulk recruitment scheme offering jobs to a large number of Italian men and women had been set up in various industries where shortages have arisen”. There were also a few thousand young Italian women who went to work in the Lancashire cotton mills. Other jobs were offered in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Doncaster and Peterborough. The most significant flow of these migrants arrived in the summer of 1951 and they were allocated to Bedfordshire Brick factories and in particular to the world’s largest Marston Valley Bricks Company in Stewartsby, which had been faced with ‘a grave shortage of English labourers’. The brickworks still now stands as a museum.

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Bedford

After World War II, like my own West Indian ancestors in the Caribbean who were indentured labourers and entrepreneurs, the move to new lands may have only been a temporary arrangement that ended up being for longer. ‘A sociolinguistic insight into the Italian Community in the UK: Workplace language as an identity market’ by Siria Guzzo states that: “the main reason why these people came to Britain was obviously not the weather; they migrated to escape abject poverty in most cases and hoped to make a decent living for themselves and their families’’. There was the chain reaction of the migrant travelling back and forth to see the extended family between Italy and Britain but not often. Most of the immigrants were initially granted four years permission to work: “They signed an agreement to stay for four years with their employer, unless they wished to return to Italy before that. Many didn’t like it here and returned home” (Hidden Voices). I have heard that the work was very heavy duty and some of the conditions were very demanding. The work was not easy for those who had never worked in an industrial environment to adapt. However, there remained an abundance of work after this post-war period and some immigrants were able to move on to other employment if they were not satisfied. The legacy of these working contracts is that thousands of Italians remained.  Bedford is one of the largest and most important Italian communities in the UK, and they make up 28% of the diverse population in Bedford.

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Bedford is also a special place as it was a market town, beautiful river, park with nice countryside that was not far from London and also already had other nationalities settled in the areas such as West Indian, Polish and Irish communities. It was a melting pot for a new post-war Britain and you can still see evidence of that today.

Mainly men came first to work and stayed in lodgings. Later on, the ones who stayed sent for their families to come to Britain. There were cases where there were children left behind for a number of years. When the women came, they too started working to help with the cost of homes. It was not unusual for several families to share homes until they were able to save up for their own homes. “By the late 1950s, however, the hard-working Bedford Italians had saved enough money to begin buying their own property, especially in the areas of Queen’s Park and Castle Road where the terraced houses were situated. By continuing to work tirelessly and never wasting their hard-earned money, they began to settle and finally prosper” (Italians and Italians in Britain: A History).

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In the 1960s, there was a focal point with raising money for a Roman Catholic Church in Bedford for the Italian Citizens. And it was not until recently I found out that the church of Santa Francesca Cabrini in Bedford was specifically named after Saint Francesca Cabrini as she is the patron Saint of Immigrants. Mother Francesca as she is known in the USA is revered for her work in New Orleans and New York with Italian immigrants, children and the churches. She was the first American canonised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She also has a unique perspective for her time in her letters written from her travels and collaboration between Italy and the USA.

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In Bedford, the Fathers Scalabrini was instrumental in organising and getting donations for the building of the church. Like the St Peter’s Church in London, the building of the church was major event which involved all of the Italians in Bedford. It is recalled: “Considering that these Italian Immigrants came from many different parts of Southern Italy, some from rural areas of Calabria, some from towns near Naples or from Sicily, all speaking different dialects, with various traditions and ways of life – that was quite an achievement.  But religion and the building of their own church was important to all.  Everyone contributed to raise funds to build the church.  The church was seen by all the Italians in Bedford as theirs and a very important centre for the community.  It was consecrated on March 28th 1965 ” (Hidden Voices).

Over the years, I have also been in the church for regular service, at religious festivals but also for christenings, weddings and funerals. It is definitely a focal point and an important part of the Italian community. The Italians also have their own Italian Embassy/Consulate in Bedford due to the sheer numbers of the diaspora in the town.

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It was also a linguistic phenomenal to have various dialects and cultural traits as the immigrants were from other regions in Italy who had all congregated in one location in this strange land. This is not dissimilar to the various Windrush islanders who came from the West Indies meeting in Britain with their own dialects and accents.  For the older generation, some went along to English language classes or picked it up after a number of years in what is termed as ‘survival English’.  They are also known to switch in between two languages plus their dialects. It is a family joke when some of the phrases in Italian are mixed with English. From the early days, the workers also received newspapers or reading materials in Italian. The families with younger generations obviously became bilingual as the main language was Italian in the home and English in school.

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There were instances of prejudice, racial abuse and biases that was more rampant in the 1950s and 1960s than in the later years. Over time, the Italians integrated into British society and there is community cohesion…but also hung on to their rich traditions and culture. It was also possible for them to travel to Italy to keep those connections unlike, for example, Italian diaspora in further lands like Argentina or the USA. My husband grew up in Bedford in the 1960s and 1970s with all the swinging British popular culture and subcultures that were making the UK a vibrant place at the time. However, he also has the benefit of being exposed to authentic Italian culture and relatives when the family went on summer holiday trips to Italy.

The Italians have also built various Italian clubs which they still use for events and social activities such as New Year’s Eve and their ever-important football matches by the Italian Football teams. My own relatives also organised and took part in a football team that played other regional Bedfordshire teams. There are many articles written about Italian football fans in Bedford who understandably will always support the Azzurris. The World Cup wins in 1982 and 2006 have both been major events when the Italians have gathered en masse with patriotic flags and celebration in the town square. I think these were other defining events for the community as would be expected for any expat or migrant community supporting their nation’s sporting heritage. They also host an Italian festival in the town square to celebrate everything Italian.

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A lot of the Italians in all of the phases have been entrepreneurial in their outlook and making it work here in the UK. The Italians set up craft shops, bars, entertainment venues and other businesses. Food is a massive part of any Italian’s life and so some of the obvious businesses and entrepreneurial trait were to go into the catering business. “It is believed that the ability shown in running successful ethnic restaurants, coffee shops and ice-cream bars is thanks to family cohesion. Italian families in Bedford are bound together by kinship networks and their community represents a sort of extended family”. It is very easy to get Italian food stock now but it was not always as easy in the past. My relatives couldn’t even find olive oil, fresh Italian vegetables (e.g. aubergines, peppers, artichokes) and other supplies in the shops when they first moved to the UK. It is a million times better now for food supplies (but you honestly still get the best ingredients in sunny Italy). Food is still central to family gatherings and social events but the Italians in Bedford probably would try other world cuisines due to multicultural influences as compared to Italians who live in Italy. The Italians have been entrepreneurial in the various corners of the world and the ubiquitous pizza is a great metaphor for their food culture. There is a great article on the Europeana website on pizza.

There is so much to tell and so little time on here as there are decades of stories and adaption to cover in a few lines.  I am grateful, respectful and proud of the Italian heritage that is now part of my own story and life.

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This is the perpetual story of immigrants and also the need for those wishing, hoping, trying and fulfilling the dreams and opportunities that they have when they leave their own countries to a ‘better land’. I have heard these real-life stories many many times and I never get bored with them as I find them adventurous and heart-warming.  They are also part of my heritage  – Italian, Indian, West Indian and British. It also reminds me deeply and on another level to my own West Indian heritage and ancestors. Human Migration is not a new phenomenon and there seem to be so many political, social and cultural factors on its’ prevalence in the past, and will in years to come. Most migrants actually contribute to the lands they move to and the Italians in Bedford had created a very special part of Britain that will always have strong and enriched links to Italy and Europe. Since the 1950s the Italian spirit, close-knit community and way of life live on in each generation…hopefully in the future too. The community have also integrated to a very acceptable level and are able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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Information Professionals get Future Ready – Proofed and Prepared

For an Information Professional, it essential that we understand so many aspects of the customers we serve, technology, infrastructure, resources and society in general. It is hard to isolate all of the threads that make a good information service. In the last few months, I have been keeping a close eye on the role and conversations of information professionals in relation to the term ‘Future Ready’. It is a term that has been used by schools in the USA to prepare their librarians and information services for the “leading edge of digital transformation of learning”.   It also seems to have been used by other companies to signify preparedness, trends, adaptability, continuous change and innovation as shown in Accenture’s view on it.

My first recollection was in 2011, when Future Ready was launched as in initiative by SLA to prepare members for the concept with a dedicated 365 blog posts. The term was used then to motivate professionals to harness the following Future Ready ideas:

  • Collaboration to accelerate the availability of useful information
  • An adaptable skill set that anticipates and responds to the evolving marketplace
  • Alignment with the language and values of the community you serve
  • Building a community that connects stakeholders in mutually beneficial relationships

Currently, there is more information on the web on what it means to be ‘Future Ready’ for information professionals, with the most apt piece mentioned in the American Libraries Magazine stating that expecting and preparing for change is one way of being ready, but also digging deeper to find ‘change is useless without considering values’. The article elaborates: “we need to look at trends and changes with consideration of our own professional values (confidentiality and privacy, diversity, equitable access, intellectual freedom and expression, preservation) and the values that we seek to provide to our communities (a civic commons, democracy, discovery, education, literacy, public discourse). And so looking at changes, we need to ask ourselves what they might mean for intellectual freedom, for education, for equitable access, or for any of the other values that drive our work”.

 

 

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Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, has presented on what is ‘A future ready information profession’, which also aligns all the guidance I have mentioned above and the link has some great slides too. This was interesting to read as another CILIP article on the British Library leadership reiterated that our values are at the core of what we do. It is on this basis I was able to prepare for my talk on the theme ‘Future Ready’ entitled ‘Promoting and Celebrating Diversity in Delivering and Managing a 21st Century Information Service’ at the inaugural SLA Europe conference held on 5-6th September 2019 at Newnham College, the University of Cambridge. I felt I had to cover this topic in my blog this month as the conference left an imprint on me, and having researched my own speaker topic on ‘Future Ready’, I wanted to highlight this here with you. I am unable to cover the whole conference programme but there are some key points below for future proofing as an information professional.

 

 

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The conference was my first full attendance at a UK conference. I reminded myself that it was extra special for me as President-Elect of SLA Europe, organised by great people who I know well, and also not far for me to travel. Newnham College was a great venue choice and the whole inclusive programming and organisation was an excellent and thoughtful experience for me, and hopefully other attendees. The setting and history of the college at this recess time was peaceful, invigorating and ideal for a conference. I particularly liked the garden tour and hearing from the head gardener about the plants, the layout of the garden, and the past and present women and men who developed the college. The college library tour was also interesting and gave us a practical insight into the working of a historic and functional library. The venue is inspirational now by past and present famous and influential women, and some men, who gave the college its’ great reputation. The college is bound to create future influential and great leaders.

 

 

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To set the tone it was interesting to have Dr Jessica Gardner, the University Librarian and Director of Library Services welcome and opened the conference on our role in organisations and society as information professionals. She reminded us of our strengths in building networks, learning together, collaborative working, our deep knowledge of resources that is transferable to other settings, and that we should aim to work well in partnerships.  I also loved the slide with the words – Integrity, Diligence, Honesty. There was a call for us to not be neutral when there are obvious levels of inequality, and the important role that information professionals have in their organisations and communities for the future of research and information services.

 

 

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The Opening Key Note on ‘A practical model for distributed digital leadership’ by Cerys Hearsey of POST*SHIFT was great for demonstrating digital leadership where it is not only top management’s responsibility but also everybody’s responsibility. I liked the example of some of the effective and open digital leaders being the ones who listened to staff that were closest to their customers, for example the leadership at the company Haier. It was also a different perspective from the digital giants we know and a very non-hierarchical approach to digital transformation.

 

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There was also a common theme of the digital archive, information services and the future of these services. I am familiar with the The Guardian’s Archive, and so it was interesting hearing Richard Nelsson on the selection of stories, the use of data mining for analytics for gauging popular keywords and how a simple historical newspaper article could lead to a more creative outcome such ’12 Years of a Slave’ film. Apparently anything on The Beatles always draw in a popular readership. It was interesting to hear about uses in past content to create new media stories.

Maria De La Pena from the IE Business School Library in Spain also spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and libraries. AI is becoming more prevalent in various walks of life and so Maria spoke about the ways it can improve and free up time for library and information staff, who may be under pressure with budget cuts, and have to use AI so that they can carry out more value-added work. Obviously there are pros and cons of more AI in the sector, but it was good to hear with some excitement on what opportunities it will bring to the services we provide.

The theme of collaboration, project management and cross-cultural services were put across by two talks by the multi-site Judicial Office of Scotland and Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs.   The speakers have all had experience in challenging projects of change, influencing stakeholders and creating efficiencies. In the library world – they are working with people, physical library spaces and also content that is paper and digital. This all requires a vast array of skill sets and competencies to offer cutting edge services.

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Chatham Library, Royal Institute of International Affairs

I love learning new topics and one of the newest I learnt was ‘Nudge in Libraries’. It is the subtle use and awareness of ‘human behavioural economics and psychology can, if channelled ethically and effectively, lead to the development and implementation of behavioural nudges which collectively enhance well-being’. I loved the Nudge techniques introduced at Coventry University to create a better UX (user experience).   I can see this being adopted with colleagues in the workplace, or even in the home, as we all need a little coercing sometimes.

The first day ended with Xuemai Li from York University in Canada sharing her experience on mindful transitioning under library structuring. She shared tips for undergoing change in roles, departments, the ever-present restructuring, budget constraints and how to still provide the same level of service and developments. I personally understand this pressure and the impact it can have your health and well-being, therefore this was a useful reminder and inspiration for me to think of mindfulness exercises that has worked for Xuemai. I had the practical session on Mindfulness first thing the next morning, and I really have to include the exercise in my busy diary daily for my own good!

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Workshop on International Standards in Cataloguing

I also attended a fab workshop facilitated by Anne Welsh of Beginning Cataloguing (@beginningcat) on cataloguing and the metadata practices. It was a fun experience to demonstrate international standards in cataloguing, and how specialised information adjust to these confines. During lunch and dinner, it was nice to get to know other delegates better in a more informal and social way. Being a member for SLA Europe for a number of years, I was able to meet old and new counterparts.

 

 

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Day two presentations started with the brilliant Dr Katherine Schopflin on the use of Knowledge Management as an asset for organisations and the value that has created when this is part imbedded in the culture of an organisation. It was interesting to hear about the individuals who are the ‘aristocrats’ and the role they play in the knowledge gathering and harvesting process. It is also a valuable lesson on losing knowledge of staff when they depart an organisation, and therefore some on the advantages of capturing and re-using knowledge.  Katherine has co-written the book ‘Practical Knowledge and Information Management’.

 

 

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Good information governance, record keeping, ethics and data integrity were covered in the three morning talks. The Qatar Foundation had implemented a high tech enterprise-wide information management change management process with high levels of information governance and records management. Matthew Platt spoke about the cultural importance, significant differences and languages in the Middle East,+ but also the values of religion and family that were most important to the people in the region.

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Matthew Platt, The Qatar Foundation

Predatory Publishing presented by Simon Linacre of Cabells is also a new topic for me on scholarly communications. It is like a form of cyber-crime for academics where online publishers are abusing and presenting journal articles that are of poor quality and research. This is interesting as it showed that some rogues will cut corners in whatever field you may be in. I haven’t thought of this before and being aware of the issue will help if I need to help customers find information in future.

Presentations on Fair Data Principles (Finable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), Competitive Intelligence and Business Insight presentations also highlighted that information, data, analytics and intelligence are some of the core activities and skillsets naturally attuned to information professionals. It was interesting to see the use of metadata that is searchable but findable for the present, and also in the future. The competitive intelligence and business insights talks mentioned the use of good ethical practices although we live in the present in a mainly open source digital world. Information and Intelligence are value assets that can give you a competitive advantage and should be integral to your strategy. I also like that Lara Lopez Boronat (from Spain) mentioned that Bain & Company are using social media for corporate analysis as a lot of information is available in ‘hidden messages’. If like me, you have been working in business information for a long time – you are sure to be excited by the current practices, but also the talks and the future potential of data and intelligence mentioned.

 

 

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The final topic presentations were to highlight the diversity and inclusion agenda of the conference with a presentation on ‘The Future of Female? Exploring Patterns of Gender (im)balance in UK business, pharmaceutical and electric vehicle research practices’ and my own talk mentioned above. It was interesting to hear the call for balance in research by female – where the perspectives are not one-sided, and there is more inclusion for groups that a particular subject research may directly impact. We were both advocating for greater representation by gender, race, ability, sex orientation, well-being, minority groups…and for everyone. I wanted to cover everything that we have achieved in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and profession, but also to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work in progress. Hopefully I was able to put across my main points in 15-20 minutes and going by the feedback received, I think my talk was punchy as I intended it to be.

 

 

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The conference closing keynote was by Simon Chalpin, Director of Culture & Society at The Wellcome Trust highlighting our role in preservation, storytelling and also the importance of people in everything that we do. Simon brought all of the elements of the physical with the digital, the scientific with the cultural and the past with future.

 

 

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We ended the session with a Questions and Answer session on the Future of SLA Europe by SLA President Hal Kirkwood, SLA Europe President Simon Burton and myself as the forthcoming President in 2020. There are lots to be proud in what we have achieved with this first SLA Europe conference, our annual early and new professional awards, excellent events programme, engagement and other great volunteers who help and make things happen in our groups and board here in Europe. There is still continuous work in retaining more members and attendees, advocating and attracting hard to find persons in the profession, and also collaborations with other professional bodies such as CILIP, IFLA and other geographical chapters of SLA in the Arab and Asian regions. I already have a whole list of things to do for 2020!

 

 

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At the end of the conference, I had many take-away and learning points which will help guide and inform my work in this field. It also makes me more confident in my understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities in this sector. Attending the conference has also made me aware of key contacts in their subject fields and I know I can draw on this network should I need their expertise in future. I am also looking forward to assisting SLA Europe at the Internet Librarian International conference in October 2019, and also picking up other new, innovative and thought-provoking topics. I do truly feel equipped and ‘Future Ready’. However in the information field, there is always a mixture of experience and knowledge but we also have an adaptability for what is new and around the corner. And so with every turn, I hope and will prepare to embrace and tackle future changes head on as they come my way.

 

 

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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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Calendar Love – focus on time throughout the year

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Calendar Girls

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Beryl Cook’s painting. Source: Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful Creatures – making up is easy

‘I believe that all women are pretty without make up – but with the right make up can be pretty powerful.’

– Bobbi Brown, Cosmetics Entrepreneur

Make up has always been used by men and women to enhance our physical appearance for aesthetics and theatrics whether it is for pleasing ourselves, to attract others or to keep up with fashion. Doing our make up is not only a habit that is used to express ourselves, there has been numerous innovations throughout time in what is now a profitable cosmetics industry.

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Goddess – Roman Egyptian shared on Museum Week

In the book Painted Faces – A Colourful History of Cosmetics by Susan Steward, she writes: “In the past, cosmetics were just as likely to be worn as visible markers of social status or religious expression of gender, wealth, health and wellbeing: that is to say, the meaning beyond mere decoration. Women and, at certain times in history, men have applied cosmetics to improve. Alter, even to camouflage or disguise their appearance and have used cosmetics extensively to as a clue to their health, wealth and social status”. There is a long history of body adoration in all civilisations and make up has seen many innovations and developments in it base products. Susan Stewart continues “Dispute the rhetoric, in reality cosmetics formed an integral part of culture of the great civilisations of Greece and Rome under a variety of aromatic herbs, plants roots, flowers, woods, fruits, seeds, and gum resins for cosmetic purposes’. Even in the Roman times, beauty products were sold almost door to door by street traders as well as at regular markets in the town forums. The books presents the popularity and importance of cosmetics then: “In fact cosmetics, through increased trade brought about by the Roman Empire, became quite widely available. In short, in terms of cost and availability – there was something for everyone and everyone used cosmetics”.

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With this in mind, there is no wonder I have a natural love of making up when I can. I already mentioned in this blog that in my childhood, I used to go home in my lunch break in my first primary school, and would occasionally put on my mother’s lipstick. I also used to like when our neighbour gave me a haircut and then I would get to wear a little lipstick that day. I also loved nail polish but in secondary school – there was a strict ban on makeup and nail polish at school. It is self-explanatory why I wear them most of the time now! My mother has a lot of sisters and this too influenced me to like ‘girly things’. Seriously though, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my aunties would give us or pass on clothes, but also send packets of high-end branded makeup from Canada, such as Estee Lauder, Clinique, and Dior. I actually used to play with some expensive products then, and later realised that those products were high quality and expensive!

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Avon was also sold by women agents who came ‘house to house’ in our village. Avon are still a business that has some beneficial strengths for cosmetics sellers, as well as buyers. There direct selling models are still unique today and is particularly useful for empowering women in developing countries. Marketline ‘Avon Products Inc’ reports: “Avon is the 5th largest beauty company in the world and is by far the biggest direct selling enterprise globally with 6.4 million active representatives, who then turn around and sell Avon’s lipstick and lotions to the end user”. The company went through a period of change at the 2000s but it seems to have survived with its’ core offering: “changing lifestyle and rising disposable income are leading to growth in cosmetics and personal grooming market. Increasing demand for events and parties with an increased number of beauty conscious customers, social status and emergence of ecommerce are aiding market growth. Unique business model supported by a portfolio of well-recognised brands in the market, has been enabling Avon to sustain its competitive position in the market”.

Therefore, Avon is a business model that enables women across the globe to ‘earn something on the side’ to supplement their income. I was truly surprised about 6 years ago when a local contact asked me to have a browse of her Avon catalogue. I have a constant demand for nail polish, so I ordered some good and reasonably priced Avon gel nail polish. I bought it intentionally to support her. I also met an employee of Avon doing research in the library where I was more than happy to tell her how well the brand is recognised and commended their Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Long may they reign with their flexible business model opportunities and branded products.

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I have always worn a bit of makeup, but in the 1990’s makeup in the UK was not a big deal and I noticed that not everyone was ‘into it’. However in the last 10 years or so, cosmetics has seen a revival since the flamboyant New Romantics day of the 1980s. This has been helped with social media and the Internet. According to Global Data Online, millennials are spending more and engaging a lot on cosmetic products: “S-Commerce (social media commerce) is becoming integrated into everyday life and could be a long-term game-change”. Cosmetic fans are consuming, writing, reviewing it, promoting makeup on social media by blogging, producing videos, demonstrating live tutorials, and creating other exciting content.

Instagram is buzzing with beautiful tips and product reviews. I know that some people feel the pressure of social media and absolutely loath it, but for those who can handle its’ faults – it is great for getting creative ideas, especially for make-up. There are some good recommended blogs and web resources that are informative as well as full of inspirational ideas. Some of these are Marie Claire Best Beauty Blog, BBC Article and Guardian writer Sali Hughes on Beauty.

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Superstar Rihanna has also created her own brand of makeup called ‘Fenty Beauty – beauty for all with a “focus on embracing products for a wide range of traditionally hard to match skin tones, creating formulas that work for all women and pinpointing universal shades”. The launch of Fenty Beauty was a sign of movement in the beauty industry, pushing more content for diversity in terms of colour, especially in foundation lines.

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In Trinidad and Tobago, we have a long standing and strong makeup brand called Sacha Cosmetics. I remember buying some items in the late 1980s, especially as the colours are suited to women of colour. The founders of Sacha Cosmetics have received awards for innovation in products and entrepreneurial substance. I was also told by my friends that the company is one of the bestselling online cosmetics and has a successful market in the Caribbean, North American and Panama. My friend recently gave me some Sacha makeup that are world-class and ethically made cruelty-free.

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Cosmetic are popular everywhere in the world and there is a thriving market for makeup artists. A lot of people have their makeup done by professionals for special occasions, and thay can come to you at your mutual convenience. Makeup artists can freelance and it is a viable business. You can also book a appointment on an app, or with a department store like Blow Ltd via Debenhams. If you prefer a more tradition make up advice or session with an expert, some makeup brands have them in store in their shops, such as in Chanel and MAC in St Pancras train station.

When I got into the music industry, I wasn’t focused on being the most famous artist or even getting a major record deal. It was just to make music on my own terms or create my own image, do my own hair, do my own makeup. – Janelle Monae

We can’t really wear makeup all the time, especially in our downtime. However, it is super that everyone can look after themselves with some TLC, and apply a little bit of makeup, if and when require. Makeup will always be important for personal and social reasons as it is a way to feel good about oneself, express individuality, allure confidence and make that fashion statement.

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Makeup Is Art, Beauty Is Spirit.

 

 

The Bigger Picture – challenges, benefits and celebrating positivity with Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –

Dereca Blackmon, Stanford

What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.

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SLA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Participation in 2017

I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.

I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.

Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela

 

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Found in a Venue in Tottenham

My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.

This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion.   There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out.   There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.

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Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.

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Gender Equality in STEM at the Alan Turing Institute

So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.

This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.

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Words in this blog…Diversity and Inclusion

Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.

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In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.

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The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.

Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.

There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.

I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.

In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.

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This way – Library sign in  Trinidad & Tobago

There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.

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Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.

There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.

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So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.

In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.

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Welcome.

 

All you read is love – a reading challenge

One in six adults struggles to read. Reading Ahead supports young people and adults who struggle with the written word or who don’t read for pleasure. Reading Groups for Everyone celebrates all the good things that happen when people come together to share reading and Reading Well supports people’s health and wellbeing. Because everything changes when we read.

– The Reading Agency

 

It is always a challenge to read novels for leisure if you live a busy life at work, home and socially. If you know me, it would be evident that I spend a lot of my spare time listening to music, catching up on current affairs and pop culture. Therefore finding the time to read can be scarce and finding a good book is also a task. I may also work as an information professional in a library, but we are usually providing factual information and there is no time for lightweight fictional or even non-fictional novels during the day. Despite all this, I still want to make sure I spend some of my time reading those best selling books written and sold that are frequently presented to us as books we need to read before we die in a list.

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Reading is beneficial to all of us regardless of age. So, one of my resounding wish each year is to read more novels. I obviously support reading and literacy for libraries, bookshops, the book industry and general community building. Reading challenges such as the Summer Reading challenge, and young people after-school programmes have also been set up by organisations to help children with their literacy. The Literacy Trust also has their ‘young reader programmes’ whereby corporations (such as KPMG’s Family for Literacy) help in encouraging young children to read…and it is also a good business Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) initiative.

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Hatchards, St Pancras Station

It was a real pleasure to receive a suggestion from our neighbourhood that we should form a new neigbourhood book club. We all agreed that when we joined that it was because it was not a snobby club, and we already knew each other well enough to feel comfortable to do this together. We started the book club about a year ago and it has been really good for me in terms of reading commitments to get the book completed for our discussion at the monthly book club meeting. We usually meet over some drinks in a local pub and dissect the book of the month. The books suggested by other book-clubbers may not have been ones I would have tried but after hearing pitches from other members, it helped us to decide which book to try. We do go deep into our literary critique of the characters in the story, setting, style of writing, offer any likes and dislikes about the book in question. We also catch up on what is happening in our neighbourhood, and wherever the conversation may leads us. It is only a short walk back to our homes at the end of the evening.

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Given the choice with eBooks and kindles – I also know that I still prefer buying traditional hard copy books. Some of the book clubbers use a kindle. It is also interesting that some of the books have been made, or are about to be made into films, such as the Man Booker 50 Prize winner ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. I also saw that Reese Wetherspoon has set up her own book club ‘Hello Sunshine‘ recently. All good for brilliant reading and researching material for film scripts!

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Seriously, some of the great factors for the book club have been (1) for me to read regularly as a literature fan (2) help me support local bookshops (3) pass on books to friends and family and (4) stay in touch with the lifelong learning benefits of reading. It is also an interesting sense of camaraderie to know that a group of you are reading the same book and you are going to discuss it together. It does feel like schoolwork and homework sometimes when you have to meet the deadline! Having a book club definitely is a great incentive for reading, fun socialising and for community building. There are some fabulous tips about reading groups in the Reading Agency’s website.

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I wasn’t always good a reading. I mentioned before that my first primary school focussed on maths but my second school focussed on literacy. After joining a new school at seven years old, I had to do extra reading with my mother to catch up with classmates for about a year. However as a teenager, I loved reading romantic fiction with other girls from school and in my neighbourhood. Yes, we studied serious English Literature up to A-levels but we still circulated and shared romantic novels such as Mills and Boon. I think I must have read about 1000 books in the 1980s! We didn’t have neighbourhood libraries to borrow books from then, neither mobile libraries. These books we good for light reading – but also increased my vocabulary and exposed other cultures, languages and places to me. I know that the romantic content and formulae story lines we not realistic, nor a true representation of real couples’ lives – but they were a fun way to spend a day or two reading. Another book club member mentioned that she loved reading and swapping these romantic novels when she was younger with her grandmother.

A male information professional friend who worked in Westminster Libraries in the 1990’s said that the Chinese community in Chinatown still borrowed a lot of Mills & Boon, and I think romantic novels are still kept in many local libraries to encourage writing them too. One of the book club suggestions I read recently reminded me of a Mills & Boon! Never mind. The main point is…I am reading novels regularly again.

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I am due to recommend a book for my book and may suggest ‘The Lonely Londoners’ which is currently in the Windrush exhibition at the British Library. And I can’t remember if I have read it before. Or another book to suggest is ‘House of Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul, who recently passed away. We obviously studied him at school in Trinidad and being an exceptional writer – since his death, there are a few people who have told me how great a writer he really was. It was great to see Twitter light up with tweets about his books and their importance, as well as comments on his controversial personality. In July, the British Library usually hosts Africa Writes, which is interesting for books by other diverse writers. To be honest – I always come across something interesting and inspiring to reading in the library. It’s just the time required to read these good books!

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As with everything, there are always persons who are less fortunate than us and any help with reading is a bonus. In our neighbourhood, we recently received a donated decorated reading bench and a children’s Little Free Library. It is brilliant to see people having a break to read and to receive donations. There was some vandalising of the books but hopefully this does not occur often. There are other free libraries in my neighbourhood for adults, the local library is well-stocked and the bookshop still has an immense presence and customers.

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Another neighbour hosts a Rock and Roll Book Club with talks and events in the local bookstore. These are great initiatives that help in keeping physical spaces like shops, libraries and hard copy books thriving. Digital formats and cyberspace are great for literacy but they are too broad topics to delve into now, so they are other stories for another blog post in the future.

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One good point about social media is seeing what other people are reading, or what is recommend by peers and libraries. The Orkney library (@OrkneyLibrary) always find interesting and funny trends to tweet to promote their books. In the meantime, I am happy that I am frequently reading for leisure and enlightenment with my book club – some of the books have been interesting for imagination as well as thought provoking. It also is a fun community initiative, and I get to support local bookshops.

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Read over a year

You never really stop learning and comprehending language and vocabulary. Reading new stories to understanding human behaviour is always exciting and informative too.  Therefore, there will always be a long list of books I still want to read. You may also have a list. Even if there is no book club – I’ll just have to make time, as reading should always be one of my top priorities.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Baking – the secrets of success

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

Anna Olson

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

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

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

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

– Mary Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delia Smith

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

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

Jane Asher

 

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

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

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

it does for me.     Audrey Hepburn

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