Saturday, 31 August 2013

Notting Hill Carnival

I spent last weekend at the Notting Hill Carnival and had an amazing time. 

Notting Hill Carnival has taken place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday since 1965. It was originally led by members of the West Indian migrant community in London, in particular those from Trinidad and Tobago (Trinis).

The first Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1959 in St. Pancras Town Hall as a response the racial tensions at the time, for example the Notting Hill Race Riots, which lasted a for a week during August and September 1959. This first Carnival was organised by Claudia Jones (who is widely recognised as being the ‘Mother of Carnival’), a Trinidadian journalist and political activist, and wasconsidered a huge success. In 1966 the first outdoors carnival was held, inspired by the London Free School and the hippie movement. The aim of this event was to promote cultural unity, and was spearheaded by Rhaune Laslett, a community activist. What started as a street party for local children turned into a carnival procession when Russell Henderson’s steel pan band went on a walkabout around local streets.

This was the first time that steelband music was played on any streets in England and it united the minority population, who felt alienated from community celebration. It laid the foundations for the Notting Hill Carnival procession that we see today, which starts at Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance and winds its way through the streets of Notting Hill on floats decked out with steel pan bands, followed by costumed dancers.

By 1976 the Notting Hill Carnival had developed its distinctive Caribbean feel, and was attracting upwards of 150,000 people. There were, however, still tensions between the police and the predominantly young Caribbean Carnival-goers, which resulted in riots. This was portrayed in a very one-sided way in the press, leading to fears that the Carnival could be cancelled. Thankfully however this didn’t happen, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, blossoming into the celebration of cultural diversity that it is today. In recent years it has attracted up to 50,000 performers, 38 sound systems and 2.5 million people over the weekend, making it the second largest street carnival in the world after Rio. In the years since its inception, Notting Hill Carnival has not forgotten its roots and has maintained its distinctive West Indian feel, helped in part by the establishment of over 40 static sound systems, playing everything from soca to dub, reggae, jazz, and calypso. From humble beginnings, Carnival has grown and grown: it is truly a spectacle not to be missed.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

50th Anniversary of 'I Have a Dream'

Yesterday (August 28) marked 50 years since Martin Luther King's famous 'I Have a Dream' speech during the 1963 rally of over 250,000 people in Washington DC. The speech is seen as a catalyst in the black civil rights movement, and King is often viewed as one of the greatest pacifists of modern history.

US President Barack Obama marked the occasion in Washington DC with an address from the same spot. Members of the King family and veterans of the march will also be present. Mr Obama, the first black US president, has described the 1963 protest as a "seminal event" in American history.

King made the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall at 3pm local time. Obama spoke at 3pm local time just after an organised ringing of bells by churches and other groups. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also spoke.

King's address marked the peak of a series of protests against racial discrimination that began when Rosa Parks launched the bus protests.Her action sparked a bus boycott campaign across Montgomery, Alabama.

King became a dominant force in the movement and so was called on to make the final speech at the march. He advocated the use of non-violent tactics such as sit-ins and protest marches, and was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1964. Four years later, his assassination led to rioting in more than 100 US cities.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


After centuries of dormancy, at noon on August24, 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupted in southern Italy, devastating the Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing thousands. Pompeii and Herculaneum thrived near the base of Mount Vesuvius at the Bay of Naples. However after the eruption the cities were buried under a thick layer of volcanic material and mud and were never rebuilt, leading to them becoming largely forgotten until the 18th century, when Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered and excavated.

In the time of the early Roman Empire, 20,000 people lived in Pompeii, including merchants, manufacturers, and farmers who exploited the rich volcanic soil with hundreds of vineyards and orchards. The residents did not realise the black fertile soil was a tell-tale sign of earlier eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum was a smaller city, of only 5,000 residents, however it was a favourite summer destination for rich Romans. Named after the mythic hero Hercules, the city housed beautiful villas and grand Roman baths. Many gambling artifacts found in Herculaneum and a brothel discovered in Pompeii show the true nature of the cities.

The eruption came when the peak of Mount Vesuvius exploded, propelling a 10-mile ash cloud into the stratosphere. For the next 12 hours, volcanic ash and a hail of pumice stones up to 3 inches in diameter showered Pompeii, forcing the city's occupants to flee in terror. Some 2,000 people stayed in Pompeii, holed up in cellars or stone structures, hoping to wait out the eruption.

A westerly wind protected Herculaneum from the initial stage of the eruption, but then a giant cloud of hot ash and gas surged down the western flank of Vesuvius, engulfing the city and burning or suffocating all who remained. This lethal cloud was followed by a flood of volcanic mud and rock, burying the city.

The people who remained in Pompeii were killed on the morning of August 25 when a cloud of toxic gas poured into the city, suffocating all that remained. A flow of rock and ash followed, collapsing roofs and walls and burying the dead. The eruption lasted 18 hours, and by the end of it Pompeii was buried under over 15 feet of ash, and Herculanem blanketed by more than 60 feet of mud and volcanic material. The coastline was also drastically changed. Some residents of Pompeii later returned to dig out their destroyed homes and salvage their valuables, but many treasures were left and then forgotten.

In the 18th century, a well digger unearthed a marble statue on the site of Herculaneum. The local government excavated some other valuable art objects, but the project was abandoned. In 1748, a farmer found traces of Pompeii beneath his vineyard. Since then, excavations have gone on nearly without interruption until the present. In 1927, the Italian government resumed the excavation of Herculaneum, retrieving numerous art treasures, including bronze and marble statues and paintings.

The remains of 2,000 men, women, and children were found at Pompeii, who suffocated to death and had their bodies preserved under hardened ash. The rest of the city is likewise frozen in time, and ordinary objects that tell the story of everyday life in Pompeii are as valuable to archaeologists as the great unearthed statues and frescoes. It was not until 1982 that the first human remains were found at Herculaneum, and these hundreds of skeletons bear ghastly burn marks that testifies to horrifying deaths.

Today, Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland. Its last eruption was in 1944 and its last major eruption was in 1631. Another eruption is expected in the near future, would could be devastating for the 700,000 people who live in the "death zones" around Vesuvius.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Prince George and Other Baby Names

With the recent birth of Prince George to Kate Middleton and Prince William the name George for baby boys is likely to rocket sky high in popularity, and I began to take a look back at popular baby names in history. Certain names never seem to loose popularity whilst others are only popular for a very short period of time, and this fascinates me. For example Elizabeth has stayed in the top 100 baby girl names for decades, and names such as this tend to be referred to as 'timeless'. Your friend, grandparent or aunt might be called Elizabeth for example. Classic girl baby names are Anna, Catherine, Elizabeth, Sarah and Mary. Classic boy names include Andrew, David, Joseph, William and Samuel.

Other names which are only popular for a very short time, are referred to as 'period' names, such as Cheryl. After a boom in popularity they suddenly become very unpopular only a decade or two later. In the 1920s-30s Doris and Jerry were incredibly popular, but are now very rare names to find on a baby. Phyllis, Dennis and Patricia are all 1940s names that went out of fashion in the 1950s. 

There is another trend of baby names referred to as 'recycled' names, such as Emma, which were once used, then dipped way down in popularity, but are currently back on the resurgence of popularity 2 to 3 generations later. Recycled names often become popular due to family heritage, e.g. naming a child after a great grandparent, or historical films recreated by Hollywood. Noah from 'The Notebook' and Emma from 'F.R.I.E.N.D.S' are classic examples of recycled names becoming popular again thanks to the media industry. Other recycled names include Amelia (which was the most popular baby girl name for 2013), Grace, Benjamin and Oscar.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

E. Nesbit's 155th Birthday

Today celebrates Edith Nesbit's 155th birthday. Nesbit, a famous English author and poet, was born on 15 August 1858 and died on 4 May 1924. Edith wrote over 40 fiction books for children, publishing under then name E. Nesbit, the most famous of which is 'The Railway Children'. Edith was was also a political activist and co-founded the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation later connected to the Labour Party.

Nesbit lived from 1899 to 1920 in Well Hall, Eltham, Kent (now in south-east Greater London), which appears in fictional guise in several of her books, especially The Red House. She and her husband entertained a large circle of friends, colleagues and admirers at their grand Well Hall. On 20 February 1917, three years after Bland, her first husband died, she married Thomas "the Skipper" Tucker. They were married in Woolwich, where he was a ship's engineer on the Woolwich Ferry.

She was a guest speaker at the London School of Economics, which had been founded by other Fabian Society members.

Many people claim Nesbit was the first modern writer for children and was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling. C. S. Lewis wrote of her influence on his Narnia series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Most recently, Jacqueline Wilson has written a sequel to the Psammead trilogy, entitled Four Children and It.

Nesbit also wrote for adults, including eleven novels, short stories and four collections of horror stories.