07 May 2021
This is the second in a series of blogs coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.
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This blog is about Joe Williams, the Leeds-born arts and heritage activist who researches the historic African presence in Yorkshire. This blog focuses on Joe’s memories of Leeds West Indian Carnival and his historical perspective on Caribbean food but you will soon be able to listen to his full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.
In Jamaica, tamarind season refers to a period of scarcity and hardship before the harvest. Invoking this in her first published collection of poetry, Tamarind Season (1980), Lorna Goodison expresses strength and optimism in face of suffering. Joe Williams echoes this motif of struggle and resilience throughout this recollections and understandings of Caribbean foodways, from Yorkshire to West Africa.
The fruit itself – what Joe calls ‘packaged sweets in nature’ – also connects Joe’s story to Goodison’s poem. In this clip, Joe recalls his sister joining the family in Leeds, from Jamaica, in 1969 and bringing fresh tamarind pods wrapped in newspaper. Joe’s evocative description of the lip-pursing – ‘makes you stand up’ – dark reddish-brown fruit provides a window onto the numerous delectable, novel and familiar items that would have been pulled out of tightly packed suitcases and trunks, as people came to join already-settled family members and friends in Britain.
The occurrence of siblings joining partially established families in Britain was common; families that been separated by the Atlantic’s economic and historic waves, what some historians have referred to as the ‘second Middle Passage’.1 Joe’s mother, Birdie Williams, a seamstress from Jamaica who had 10 children in Trench Town, Kingston, came to Britain alone in 1960. Joe locates his mother’s story as a ‘rare insight into the Windrush narrative’ that puts a spotlight on those women who bravely travelled alone ‘to create opportunities for their family’. Throughout the 1960s, Birdie’s husband and children joined her and Joe in Leeds – realising her dream ‘to get her children out of terrible conditions in the ghettoes of Jamaica, which were a legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade’.
In Andrea Levy’s Small Island (2004), the award-winning novel about post-war Caribbean migration, there is a similar narrative around food and arrival. When Hortense arrives in London to join her husband Gilbert, Kenneth – a fellow Caribbean settler – enquires about the contents of her luggage:
‘So you tell me she jus’ come from home? You know what she have in that trunk?
‘Come, let us open it. Mango fetching a good price. You think she have rum? I know one of the boys give me half his wage to place him tongue in a guava.’2
Whilst this conjures senses of yearning for the familiarity of home through foodstuffs, like Joe’s story, it evokes the personal and small-scale journeys of Caribbean produce, in pockets and suitcases.
Leeds West Indian Carnival
The longest running West Indian outdoor carnival started in Chapeltown, Leeds, in 1967. As Joe explains, Leeds’ West Indian population has a majority of people from St Kitts and Nevis – so Leeds Carnival reflects the unique cultural practices of these islands, such as Christmas Sports.3 Becoming more conscious as a teenager, Joe found his own way to carnival, describing it as a ‘welcoming and inclusive’ space where eclectic Caribbean cultures were shared.
Carnival marked an ‘opportunity to introduce people to the food of the West Indies’ from roasted corn to homemade patties. Evoking the sights, sounds and smells of carnival, Joe recalls a man with a machete chopping green coconuts. The journey of the coconut from Southeast Asia to the Americas, and its symbolic place at Leeds West Indian Carnival, reflects the complexities of Caribbean foodways. The coconut was introduced to the Americas as part of the Columbian exchange in the early colonial period, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. J. W. Bennett’s The coco-nut palm, its uses and cultivation (1836) speaks directly to the transportation of certain plants and foodstuffs across the British empire – a point that Joe echoes in his critical discussion of Kew Gardens' colonial legacies. Bennett’s book embodies practices of extraction, exploitation and disavowal. From the exoticizing narratives of indigenous practices in ‘Ceylon’ to carefree recipes for coconut cocktails, it is, essentially, a planter’s manual for the production of capital, luxury and indulgence during an era of apprenticeship – which was, in practice, an extension of slavery. As Joe’s interview explores, Caribbean food cannot be disentangled from histories of slavery and resistance.
Hospitality in the home
Throughout Joe’s descriptions of culinary commerce, there is a strong sense of resourcefulness, of what he calls ‘the culture of … survival’. This self-sufficiency was manifest in the houses that became social hubs for eating, drinking and playing dominoes, and by the creation of shebeens and blues parties. Drawing links between South African apartheid and the ‘colour bar’ in Britain, this editorial from Tropic highlighted the state’s failure to ‘put an end to the practice of racial discrimination in … public places.’ The exclusion from mainstream opportunities to engage in commercial and leisure practices meant that Caribbean communities had to construct their own spaces of enjoyment and commerce, to make money and experience joy, wherever possible. The fact that food simultaneously produces pleasure and capital means that it is an important arena for diasporic and migrant cultural-commercial production.
What Joe terms as a ‘need for flavour’ in this final clip, helps us to understand why and how the ‘brutality’ of Caribbean history has been ‘made into something beautiful that can be shared with others.’
Thank you Joe Williams for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.
Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim
Read the next blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Charlie Phillips: the story behind Smokey Joe's Diner
Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Ann Husbands: Black Pudding and Roti at Notting Hill Carnival
References / Further Reading
- Andrea Levy, Small Island (London: Review, 2004) British Library Shelfmark Nov.2005/1369
- Frank L. Mills, Christmas sports in St. Kitts-Nevis: our neglected cultural tradition (F.L. Mills : S.B. Jones-Hendrickson, 1984) British Library Shelfmark YA.1988.a.9251
- Gabriel Noble, ‘To what extent is the colonial history of botany realised at Kew Gardens today?’ Medium, 15 May 2015
- Guy Farrar, Tim Smith, Max Farrar, Celebrate! : 50 years of Leeds West Indian Carnival (Huddersfield: Northern Arts Publications, 2017) British Library Shelfmark LC.37.a.1666
- Harriet Walsh, Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1967-2002 (Leeds: Pavillion, 2003) British Library Shelfmark YK.2004.a.1560
- Heritage Corner
- Hilary Beckles, ‘British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage’, British Library, 15 June 2018
- Joe Williams, interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
- J. W. Bennett, The coco-nut palm, its uses and cultivation: as adapted for the general benefit in our West Indian and African colonies (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1836) British Library Shelfmark Digital Store RB.23.a.25211
- Lorna Goodison, Tamarind Season: Poems (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1980) British Library Shelfmark X.950/14241
- Tropic, June 1960, p.1 British Library Shelfmark P.P.7615.kf.
- ‘From Caribbean Isles to the British Isles: Home to Home’, The National Caribbean Heritage Museum
- ‘Complete Archive of aware-winning novelist Andrea Levy acquired for the nation’, British Library, 6 Feburary 2020
- Hannah Lowe, ‘An introduction to Andrea Levy’s Small Island’, British Library, 4 October 2018
1. Hilary Beckles, ‘British Trade in Black Labour: The Windrush Middle Passage’, British Library, 15 June 2018
2. Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004), p.22
3. Christmas Sports is an African-derived creolized tradition that begins on Boxing Day and culminates with a carnival on New Year’s Day in St Kitts and Nevis. See Frank L. Mills, Christmas sports in St. Kitts-Nevis: our neglected cultural tradition (F.L. Mills : S.B. Jones-Hendrickson, 1984)
06 May 2021
Louise Siddons is an associate professor of art history at Oklahoma State University and a Fulbright Scholar at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. She is writing a book about the photographer Laura Gilpin that examines the intersection between mid-century lesbian liberation and Navajo sovereignty politics in Gilpin’s photographs and related visual culture. As part of that research, she has been taking a closer look at the transatlantic lesbian press and the construction of lesbian identity. In this post, she shares the unexpected pleasure she discovered in the pages of Sappho, a British magazine that, unlike the American counterparts which advertised in its pages, routinely included comics and cartoons.
Louise will be talking about transatlantic lesbian visual culture and the lesbian gaze in a free online lecture on Monday 10 May at 19.00, Looking Like a Lesbian.
“Every group has its share of jokes,” announced “Robyn’s Page,” a regular feature of Sappho. Founded in 1972, Sappho’s mission was to build a meaningful community among lesbian women both as readers and in person. Early in its run, Robyn worried that humor was troublingly absent from lesbian culture.1
In this blog post, I’m taking a close look at the cartoons and comics that appeared in early issues of Sappho. Why should we take humor seriously? Robyn argued that, “Jokes are … a spontaneous endorsement of what’s happening where it matters most – that’s at grass root level.” The lack of lesbian jokes, she suggested, revealed a lack of group identity among lesbians. Eager to change this, she invited readers to come up with “the great lesbian joke.”2
Studies in the psychology of humor have historically focused on the role that “out-group disparagement humor” reinforces in-group identification; in other words, people mark their status as insiders by making fun of outsiders.3 But, as Robyn pointed out, in 1972 lesbian humor was still struggling to locate the notion of “lesbian.” The visual comedy published in Sappho’s early years is almost all about defining the in-group: what does it mean to be a lesbian, and how can humor help that definition cohere?4
If a brief survey of my friends last week is any indication, lesbian humor has achieved the status of a common culture, even if the jokes aren’t always great. Universally, when I asked for a lesbian joke, the first response was: “What does a lesbian bring on a second date?” (Is there any point to pretending we don’t know the punchline?) “A U-Haul.”
Groan-inducing though it is, the U-Haul joke echoes the humor presented in Sappho a half-century earlier, which overwhelmingly took couples as its subject and often poked fun at the intensity of new attachments—sometimes to make a serious point about healthy relationships. My informal friend survey, utterly unscientific and drawn largely from the same “militantly middle-class” audience to which Sappho addressed itself a half-century ago, points to the magazine as a foundational source for long-lasting tropes of lesbian comedy.5
In this 1990 interview, Sappho’s editor, Jacqueline Forster, described the board’s decision to include “photos, cartoons, articles, news stories, poems, and a list of places where lesbians can meet or contact.” As her inclusion of “cartoons” makes clear, there was an expectation that the magazine would include humor, at least some of which would be visual, under the direction of art editors Jay Francis and Murray Marr.
An initial encounter with the magazine does not promise comedy: in the first few issues, the discreetly monochromatic panel of the cover is disturbed only by the title of the magazine in a typeface reminiscent of Westminster, the 1960s machine-readable typeface designed by Leo Maggs, volume and issue information, and a small logo—the Venus symbol with two facing, vaguely feminine profiles inside its ring. Reminiscent of the optical illusion in which our perception shifts between two faces and a vase, the logo hints at the semiotic slippage that characterizes queer, and especially lesbian, identity throughout the twentieth century—without making us laugh.
Once inside, however, the conservative, technologically savvy design gave way to a hand-drawn aesthetic reminiscent of earlier lesbian magazines like the British Arena Three and the American The Ladder, inviting intimacy and openness in the reader. The first cartoon appeared on page 7 of the very first issue, and introduced “Mabel and Mildred,” a quirky, naked couple who venture out into the world with varying degrees of success. Although their adventures are slightly surreal, they offer a slice of lesbian life to Sappho readers.
In each episode, the rendering is rudimentary: Mildred, slightly stockier than her counterpart, is perennially armed with an axe, which seems as likely to endanger Mabel as protect her. Mabel, in turn, is all knees and elbows, with a shock of unruly hair. In this first cartoon, Mildred is at the top of a precipitous set of steps, while Mabel sits at their foot, badly dinged by an apparent fall. “Now Mildred,” she warns, “look out for that first step!” Is this a commentary on Sappho’s inauguration—or on the dangers of coming out in public, as lesbians?
As a reader, I find myself less worried about Mildred than on the effect her outstretched axe will have on Mabel as she falls—a fear exacerbated by this cartoon, just a few pages later, in which Mildred has apparently chopped off Mabel’s head. The joke here is similarly dark: “For heaven’s sake Mildred,” chastises Mabel’s severed head as it floats above her fleeing body, “don’t lose your head!”
By the second volume, the two are clearly gendered as a butch/femme pair, thanks to the artist’s pointed application of a decorative bow shape: as a bowtie on Mildred (and her axe), and as a hair accessory on Mabel. It affirms the physical stereotyping already in place: Mildred is relatively stout (and violent), while Mabel is slim, with substantial breasts that occasionally overshadow her knobbly knees and elbows.
With sly humor, this unusual level of clothing for the pair is featured in a cartoon in which the pair have joined a queue for a performance of Richard Strauss’s opera, Elektra. The four characters in line ahead of them represent various characters comically typical of performing arts audiences, all carefully disregarding the naked women behind them. Mildred, facing the viewer and thus seen frontally rather than in profile, explains to Mabel that “It’s about a disturbed nuclear family.” In Strauss’s opera, Electra is armed with an axe with which she avenges her father’s death at the hands of her mother; the myth was taken up by Carl Jung as the basis for a psychoanalytic model of the feminine psyche in 1915.
As an early example of humor in Sappho, “Mildred and Mabel” reflected the middle-class values of the editors in its expectation that readers would recognize references to Strauss and Jung, as well as in the types of activities in which Mabel and Mildred participate. At the same time, the cartoon couple embodied—literally—the paradox of middle-class lesbian existence. Asserting their cultural savvy in their choice of outings, yet persistently appearing naked in public, they thematize the struggle of queer visibility and social acceptance with irony and self-deprecation.
With the caveat that it’s outdated, a friend offered me: "What's the difference between a lesbian and a dyke?" "About $30K a year."
Class was a persistent discussion in Sappho despite its declared affinity with the middle class. In an early issue, Forster refuted the Union of Women for Liberation’s claim that the lesbianism of “a few petty bourgeois women” was “irrelevant to the economic needs of working-class women.” She regularly published letters from readers who asked for more working-class representation, and class struggle came up regularly throughout the magazine’s pages.6
In 1974, cartoonists Kate Charlesworth—now well-known, but in her early work for Sappho credited as “Kaye”—and Sue Neumann joined the masthead of Sappho as artists. They both created witty, many-layered comics for the magazine that draw on art history, public schools, tourism, fashion, and other features of middle-class lesbian experience. Alongside their carefully crafted images, a series of relatively simple images began to appear. Created by a variety of artists (none credited, although a few of the images are signed with initials), they transformed the Venus symbol familiar from the Sappho logo into an anthropomorphic character.
This had two important effects: first, it largely eliminated class-specific references—as well as racial or ethnic markers, which provoked less specific comment at the time, but are striking to contemporary readers. And second, by making visual puns that relied on the formal qualities of the Venus symbol rather than the cultural specificity of a human character, these apparently minor cartoons became surprisingly conceptual in their comedy.
The first to appear was this small bit, tucked into the corner of a page about halfway through the magazine. Two Venus signs are side-by-side: the one on the left is oriented in the expected way, but the one on the right is rotated so that the cross that should be beneath the circle is pointing up at a forty-five-degree angle, mimicking the position of the Mars sign typically used to signify male identity. The circle of the Venus on the left cracks into a speaking smile: “Stop acting butch,” she says. How are we supposed to interpret this directive?
Although Steven Dryden has noted elsewhere on the British Library blogs that the scholarly consensus is that “there was a class dimension to the hostility towards butch lesbian identities,” the illustrations in Sappho normalized butch-femme pairings. Along with “Mabel and Mildred,” “The Gailies,” for example, was a recurring strip by Jay Francis that featured a butch-femme couple, and a comic by Charlesworth replaced Tarzan with a butch Jane as she rescues a hapless femme damsel.7
The difference between “Stop acting butch,” and these other examples is that the former is stripped of any extraneous cultural markers, thanks to the reduction of our protagonists to symbols. In other words, the visual humor is based not on our ability to recognize a human type from their class/race/gender markers, but rather on a visual pun: the Venus symbol is acting out of character by rotating itself 135º anticlockwise—thereby mimicking the appearance of a different symbol.
The cartoon is immediately funny, but it also rewards sustained attention. Consider the effectiveness of the symbol’s transgressive resignification of itself: acceding to the anthropomorphism of the artist, we understand perfectly what the Venus symbol intends to represent—masculinity. At the same time, we understand the artist’s intent: to represent masculinity with a symbol that signifies femininity. The humor comes from our ability to comprehend both meanings at once, almost instantly, without this pedantic explanation. And then we realize that the artist is inviting us to transfer that awareness onto our understanding of gender: in the semiotic space of the tilted Venus, one sign signifies twice, equally effectively, because signs—and genders—are both arbitrary cultural constructions.
Louise Siddons, May 2021
1 “Robyn’s Page,” Sappho 1, no. 5 (1972): 12; “About Sappho,” Sappho 1, no. 1 (1972): 3.
2 “Robyn’s Page,” Sappho 1, no. 5 (1972): 12.
3 Rod A. Martin and Thomas E. Ford, The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach (Academic Press, 2018).
4 Not exclusively, though: there’s a cartoon with two Venus symbols sharing a snide comment as the Mars sign bumps his arrow into a doorframe—and even Mildred gets an opportunity to turn her nose up at the thought of a man as a potential mate.
5 “About Sappho,” Sappho 1, no. 1 (1972): 3.
6 “Militant Madams,” Sappho 1, no. 5 (1972): 9-10; Jackie Forster, untitled editorial, Sappho 4, no. 1 (1975): 3.
7 Steven Dryden, https://www.bl.uk/lgbtq-histories/articles/arena-three-britains-first-lesbian-magazine; “The Gailies” first appear in Sappho 1, no. 7 (1972); Kate Charlesworth, “Me Jane!,” Sappho 2, no. 11 (1974): 20.
02 February 2021
You can now read and listen to the Caribbean Foodways blog series starting with Ann Husbands: Black Pudding and Roti at Notting Hill Carnival
Following Riaz Phillips’s wonderful blog, I would like to introduce a new project that the Eccles Centre is launching – ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’. It is inspired by an exciting spread of food-related collection items, Steve McQueen’s Mangrove (2020) and a desire to hear your stories and have your input in collections development, here at the Library.
As Phillips describes in his blog, food has often been a battleground for survival, culture, home-making and resistance. A critical roadmap for understanding histories and experiences of migration, ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ aims to explore and highlight these histories in a collaborative way, through conversation and exchange. In recognition of food’s vital place in community and struggle, this project seeks to listen to and learn from your stories.
The British Library’s collections are stuffed with fascinating and largely untapped resources relating to Caribbean food, scattered through manuscripts, printed books, newspapers, magazines, sound and oral histories. Over the coming months we are embarking on a series of connected projects, working with communities and partners in the Caribbean and the UK, to select key collection items to digitize and make freely available online; to identify significant gaps in the collection; and to tell and record new stories and memories of food, culture and experience amongst the global Caribbean diaspora.
From Black British magazines such as Tropic (1960) and Flamingo (1961-65), to community-published cookbooks in London and colonial cookbooks published in the Caribbean, the British Library holds a variety of collection items that speak to the complexities of Caribbean food history.
Caribbean Food and You!
Through a series of initiatives, including oral history interviews, the British Library wants to engage participants in conversations about life, history and politics through food. This marks an opportunity for people to tell their food stories and memories which will inform new collection perspectives and development at the British Library.
The interviews recorded for this project will be deposited in the British Library’s Sound Archive, becoming a part of the Library’s collection forever. They will also be the basis for a series of blogs, as part of the British Library’s 2021 Food Season. In preparation for these interviews, Eccles staff will search for collection items which connect to participants’ food memories, as well as drawing up a list of new items to acquire (with public input).
There are different ways to get involved, whether the Library's buildings are open or closed:
• Put yourself forward for an interview
• Home collections: we are all the archivers of our own lives and homes, so why not explore your own shelves, photo albums, cupboards and memories to discover collection items in your own home and tell us about them
• Researching from home: we invite you to scour the British Library's online catalogue for food-related items and to write to us about items that you’re interested in. Look out for an upcoming blog on navigating the digital Caribbean collections
• Expanding the collections: have you noticed something missing from the Library's catalogue? If so, please get in touch and we can try to acquire those items
• Digitizing: we would like to expand the range of items available to view online, and would like to hear your suggestions for new items to be digitized – excerpts of books, newspapers, diaries and letters from the modern era that you think people should be able to see, for free, anywhere in the world
• Once the Library is open, come in and look at these fantastic items!
‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ is about opening up the Library’s collections and creating a platform for people to tell their own story, so that, together, we can explore the relationships between personal experience and national knowledge. For us, it’s an opportunity to listen to your stories, learn more about our collections and make them better by adding your voice.
NB: Being Interviewed: If you’d like to put yourself forward to be interviewed, please send an email with some information about yourself and why you would like to share your story about Caribbean food with the British Library. Please send your statement of around 250 words to email@example.com by 5pm on Sunday 28 February 2021. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee to interview everyone who gets in touch, but we promise to reply to everyone by 5pm on Friday 12 March. We expect interviews to take place between Monday 15 March and Friday 2 April 2021.
Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim
You can now read and listen to the Caribbean Foodways blog series starting with Ann Husbands: Black Pudding and Roti at Notting Hill Carnival
Further Online Reading/Listening
• Abdul Rob, ‘The Origins of ‘slave food’: Callaloo, Dumplings and Saltfish’, Black History Month, 20 December 2016
• Bernice Green, ‘Food: From Source to Salespoint’, British Library Sound Archive, C821/49
• Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, ‘Beyond the scotch bonnet: the rise of Caribbean food in the UK’, Guardian, 20 January 2019
• ‘Frank Critchlow’, Waking the Dead, Octavia Foundation
• ‘Is it harder to make it in the food industry if you’re black?’, The Food Programme, BBC, 5 July 2020
• Keshia Sakarah, ‘Jouney Cakes’, Vittles 2.14 – The Diversity of Caribbean Cuisines, 12 June 2020
• ‘Mangrove Nine: Directed by John La Rose and Franco Rosso’, George Padmore Institute
• Nadine Chambers, ‘The Black and Indigenous present in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean’, British Library Americas blogs, 9 July 2020
• Organised Youth, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, SoundCloud
• Riaz Phillips (editor and curator), Community Comfort, online cookbook. Tezeta Press, 2020
• Riaz Phillips’ Top Caribbean Spots, Trippin
Riaz Phillips on Caribbean takeaways, foodways and politics
When people ask me for intel on the best jerk chicken or Trini roti in London or where to visit for some Caribbean goodness when they are in a number of other cities across the country, while I do of course have some small personal favourites, the question for me always misses the point. For me the importance of Caribbean food institutions in the UK has never been about the food but rather their importance as a community hub.
The particular plight of the post-war Caribbean community in the UK and the treacherousness of everyday life has been wonderfully depicted in all manner of media. Favourites include Samuel Selvin’s 1956 book The Lonely Londoners to films like Horace Ove’s 1975 film Pressure. While much of focus of the Caribbean community in the UK, like in other diaspora regions such as the USA and Canada, is placed on the globally renowned subculture of Reggae, I struggled to find much, if anything, about the places and spaces outside one’s home where people congregated to eat.
In books and magazine clippings, mostly found researching at the British Library, I rejoiced whenever a restaurant or eatery was mentioned in passing. Early instances of particularly Caribbean food and drink establishments - cafés, bars and social clubs selling Caribbean food and cooked meals - date back to the late 1920s. This handful included the likes of the Caribbean Café at 185a Bute Road in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, which was the locale of the 1919 South Wales riots, and 50 Carnaby Street in Central London.1 The latter, founded by Sam Manning and Amy Ashwood, a political activist and first wife of famed Pan-African icon Marcus Garvey, was described as an intellectual hub, “guests were attracted to the rice n peas West Indian Cuisine.”2 The fact that many of these food-related histories are hard to find is why the British Library is a launching a Caribbean foodways project which seeks to amplify food stories and memories.
From their inception, these institutions went beyond simply being buildings at which to summon a takeaway box of curry goat to being places at which to politically rally, to be merry and more importantly to be free from persecution. All this - the banter, the arguments over the hottest latest musician, the comedic tiffs between nuances of the different Caribbean islands and, when necessary, the planning of political upheaval - were pleasingly depicted in 2020’s Mangrove feature film directed by Steve McQueen. However, years before this, I felt that the breadth of these spaces hadn’t truly been given the documentation they deserved in the wider story of this vivid group of people in the UK.
I like to use the word "vivid" because one thing I feel that outsiders don’t realise about the Caribbean is the great diversity of its people - from African-descendant Rastafari and generational Chinese in the west of the Island group, to Muslim southeast Asians at the other reach of the Caribbean. Be it the Ital vegan spots, the Guyanese roti shops, Jamaican jerk huts or even home cooking, foodways are the perfect route in convoying stories and memories of the Caribbean and any project encompassing this will always reveal some gems.
Riaz Phillips is a writer, videomaker and photographer. His book Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK was published in 2017 and a second edition was published in 2020.
If you would like to read more about 'Caribbean Foodways at the British Library', please read We're calling for your Caribbean food stories to find out more about the project, including information on how you can participate. We look forward to hearing from you.
1. Cardiff Migration Stories. London: Runnymede Trust, 2012.
2. C. Grant, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and His Dream of Mother Africa. London: Vintage, 2009., p. 437. British Library shelfmark YC.2010.a.1521; S. Okokon, Black Londoners, 1880-1990. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Pub., 1998. British Library shelfmark YC.1999.b.664
Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK. London: Tezeta Press, 2017. British Libary shelfmark YKL.2017.b.4909
26 August 2020
To celebrate this important anniversary, this blog highlights some of the US women's suffrage music held at the British Library.
Today - 26 August 2020 - marks the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment becoming part of the Constitution of the United States. This 39-word Amendment states: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
Although brief, this Nineteenth Amendment was the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women's suffrage. This struggle formally began in July 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where, at a convention organised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, around 300 people gathered to discuss "the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women." In the 72 years that followed, activists for women's suffrage created many organisations and used many strategies to achieve their goal. In the end, however, it was amending the Constitution - rather than persuading individual states to extend the franchise - that was successful.
To commemorate this milestone, US institutions, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives Museum, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, are illuminating the complex, challenging and inspirational story of the movement for female suffrage with brilliant online exhibitions.
In the late 1980s, I had the great good fortune to work as an intern on the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Spanning the years 1831 to 1906 this vast microfilm project – then housed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – brought together more than 14,000 documents relating to these two extraordinary women. As a new graduate student with little experience of working with primary sources, transcribing Stanton and Anthony’s correspondence and indexing their weekly newspaper, The Revolution, was priceless. Yet, even then it was clear that Stanton and Anthony’s activism was not without flaws; particularly, regarding issues of race.
What excites me today as I browse these centenary exhibitions, is seeing Stanton and Anthony's contributions as one strand - albeit a hugely significant one - of the suffrage journey and realising how much is still being discovered about all of the women and men who petitioned, organised, marched, wrote to representatives, senators, and presidents, argued with friends and family, argued with each other, and ultimately refused to give up.
Viewing these virtual exhibitions has also made me extremely jealous of the collection items held by these American institutions; but that is for another day! Today, we are simply celebrating this 100th anniversary by sharing some of the women’s suffrage sheet music held by the British Library.
Like all great American reform movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the one for women’s suffrage was imbued with songs and marches. This is not surprising, given the prominent role that music played in homes, churches and social and political gatherings at this time.
Today, historians often categorise suffrage music into "parlour songs" and "rally songs". Although the lines of demarcation between these two are somewhat blurred, rally songs tended to be well-known tunes - usually hymns or anthems - that had been given new, pro-suffrage lyrics. At public gatherings, this style of music-making was particularly advantageous since the new lyrics, printed inexpensively on a single sheet of paper, could quickly be passed around a crowd. One or two people would then kick off the melody and everybody else could join in.
Compilations of suffrage songs - often a combination of these re-worded hymns with original compositions - were frequently published by local and national suffrage associations as a means to raise funds. Others, including the one below, were created by single individuals:
In contrast to rally songs, "parlour songs" tended to have both original lyrics and original tunes. They enabled the singer – in the non-threatening environment of her own home – to express why women wanted the vote and the benefits this would bring to society. Many appealed to the listener’s sense of justice and fair play, including the one below, which opens with the declaration that: "No man is greater than his mother / No man is better than the wife he loves." It then lists women's qualities and accomplishments, before arriving at the surely inevitable conclusion that women also deserve to vote:
Opposition to female suffrage took many forms, but particularly common were accusations that women would become "sexless" (scathing references to "spinsters" were common) or would neglect their homes and families. These views were reflected in the sheet music of the time, including in the song below. Published in 1913, this song is full of stereotypes not only about those supporting women's suffrage but also about Italian Americans. The song's protagonist bewails the fact that since "his" Margarette became a suffragette, not only does she no longer cook or clean the house, but, worst of all, "She wear a-da pants / Dat kill da romance..."
From the earliest days, there were strong ties between those working for women's suffrage in the United States and their counterparts in Great Britain. In the 1910s, concern about the increasing militancy of the British movement was reflected not only in the American press but also in popular music. The cover illustration of the song below, published in New Jersey in 1912, depicts British suffragettes marching in their sashes while throwing bricks and breaking windows. The song’s protagonist – recently arrived from England – shares the horrors he has witnessed there and concludes in the chorus: "They’re growing too strenuous by jingo/ These women on mischief are bent/ With brick bats they’ve smashed all the windows/ And raided the Houses of Parliament/ They’re wearing men’s collars and shirt fronts/ Less bashful are these sweet coquettes/ They’re after our votes just as well as our notes/ And our trousers! Oh! You suffragettes":
In spite of the vigorous efforts of the anti-suffrage contingent, on 19 January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would guarantee women the right to vote. This Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on 4 June 1919, ratified on 18 August 1920 and officially incorporated into the Constitution on 26 August 1920.
Just over fifty years later, on 16 August 1973, Congress approved H.J.Res. 52 - introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) - designating 26 August as Women's Equality Day.
Due to Covid restrictions, some of the images in this blog are from non-British Library sources; I wish to express my thanks to these institutions.
Please note, you can read more about Bella Abzug and other women involved in the (still-ongoing) battle for the Equal Rights Amendment in my colleague Rachael Culley's evocative two-part blog inspired by the recent TV series Mrs America. Please also note that the British Library's next major exhibition 'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights', is currently on hold until later in the year.
14 July 2020
This post by Marie Ruiz is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
My research focuses on Victorian emigration societies as well as migration infrastructures such as colonial training centres for female and male emigrants. In the second half of the 19th century, the growing need for qualified emigrants to people the British Empire led to the creation of colonial training centres for gentlemen and gentlewomen in Britain as well as in the colonies.
My study mainly focuses on the British Women’s Emigration Association (1884–1919). Its periodical, The Imperial Colonist (Figure 1), being completely accessible at the British Library, my Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship allowed me to study the journal in depth and focus on the articles relating experiences of colonial training.
Opened in 1874, the Ontario Agricultural College only accommodated male students until the founding of the MacDonald Institute of Domestic Science for women in 1903. As young women increasingly left rural Ontario for the urban centres, the MacDonald Institute was expected to increase the appeal of rural life for young men and women. The objective was to sustain rural life and solve the problem of untrained immigrants in Canada. As such, this training centre addressed concerns of the time: rural depression, colonial productivity and the surplus of women in Britain. The women involved in such emigrant training ranged from the upper-working class to the upper middle-class. Many were impoverished upper middle-class or educated upper-working class women and their migration was marked by social mobility.
At the Macdonald Institute, women were taught physiology and food science using chemical testing to determine the food structures, but also food economics to improve the health of the population and overcome poverty, and a growing interest in dietetics is evidenced by the emigrants’ careers. In 1901, only 6% of British women held occupations in farming, and they were mostly represented in small-scale farming and horticulture. Advocated by female activists, one solution to the surplus of women question was to open up women’s employment in agriculture and horticulture across the Empire.
Although there were training schools for emigrants in Britain, the colonial authorities were convinced that women could learn better in the colonies. In 1909, Mary Urie Watson, director of the MacDonald Institute, wrote to the British Women’s Emigration Association to object to the training given to emigrants in Britain before departure. She proposed setting up courses supervised by colonists in Britain, completed by training in the colonies.1 So, a farm house opened in Surrey, managed by a graduate from the MacDonald Institute, and it replicated Canadian domestic conditions in a course ‘for home makers overseas.’2
The Macdonald Institute worked closely with the British Women’s Emigration Association and in 1904 a scheme was set up to train Englishwomen as housekeepers for Canadian life. Yet, the scheme was expensive and many emigrants actually only used the opportunity to gain free passage to Canada. Whereas some emigrants had signed a contract binding them to work for free at the Macdonald Institute in exchange for free education and board, many directly moved to Canada without setting foot at the Macdonald Institute.3 After the Great War, the Macdonald Institute’s training was mostly offered to Ontario students to increase the quality of life in rural homes. Similarly, British male students at the Ontario Agricultural College represented 10.5% of all students between 1874 and 1899, and this proportion decreased to 4.8% between 1900 and 1929.
Agricultural training provided higher education for women, yet it remained home-based and in keeping with the macro-narrative on women’s role in society and in the household. Hence, the Macdonald Institute may also have been founded to encourage rural marriages as the Minister of Agriculture declared in 1904: ‘I want some one [sic] to love the girls who come to the Macdonald Institute’ to which journalist James Creelman replied ‘The College boys will do that.’4 Indeed, male and female students regularly met during mixed classes in the Ontario Agricultural College buildings and at the library.
Yet, gender segmentation was reflected in the very building of the MacDonald Institute, which was on the Ontario Agricultural College campus in Guelph, but on a hill and separated from the rest of the Ontario Agricultural College campus as well as the city,5 as the map below from the British Library shows. As such, the female students were both close enough to access the Ontario Agricultural College and the city, but protected from unwanted influence.
In conclusion, the study of colonial training centres highlights the development of scientific education for women as a response to pressing concerns about the health and welfare of the nation. Yet, the figures show that the Macdonald Institute did not train a high number of British immigrants, but farming and gardening became career options for unmarried gentlewomen in this period. This was promoted by British female activists such as Jessie Boucherett and Frances Power Cobbe who were convinced that solutions were to be found at home before considering emigration. The Macdonald Institute represented a tool in the campaign for female emancipation and imperialist propaganda, and paved the way for women’s scientific education.
Dr Marie Ruiz, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is Associate Professor at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France.
1. ‘MacDonald Institute,’ The Imperial Colonist, April 1909, 57. (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.)
2. N. C. Goldie, ‘Overseas Training School for Women,’ The Imperial Colonist, May 1914, 79. (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.)
3. James Snell, Macdonald Institute: Remembering the Past, Embracing the Future. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003, 69.
4. ‘Locals,’ The O.A.C. Review, vol. XVII, n° 3, December 1904, 211. (Available courtesy University of Guelph: https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/13600)
5. Mary Margaret Wilson, ‘Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920’ (PhD thesis: University of Toronto, 2007), 143.
Suggestions for further reading:
Hammerton, James A. (1979) Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830–1914. London: Croom Helm. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.79088)
Opitz, Donald L. (2013) "'A Triumph of Brains over Brute': Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890-1910" Isis 104: 30-62. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 4583.000000)
Opitz, Donald L., S. Bergwik, and B. Van Tiggelen, eds. (2016) Domesticity in the Making of Modern Science. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.300766)
Ruiz, Marie (2017) British Female Emigration Societies and the New World (1860-1914). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Brtish Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.437310)
Wilson, Mary Margaret (2007) 'Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920'. PhD Thesis: University of Toronto.
13 July 2020
Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme will know of its ‘Inheritance Tracks’ feature. For those unfamiliar with the show, this is a segment where a famous person chooses two pieces of music, one which they’ve ‘inherited’ (usually something from their childhood or youth) and one which they would ‘pass on’ to later generations (usually a favourite or significant piece from their adult life), and talk about what the tracks mean to them. We have borrowed this idea for a collaborative series of blog posts with our European Studies colleagues about our British Library ‘Inheritance Books’. Colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and will explain why they’re important to us. This week, Lucy Rowland, responsible for the Oceania collections, shares her selections.
I began looking after the collection of contemporary publications from Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific in 2018 and was struck straight away by how difficult it was to really 'know' the extent of this printed collection. In previous library roles I had been able to do this by spending time wandering in the stacks, familiarising myself with the contents, shelving books, and becoming so used to the titles, colours and shapes on the shelves that a new book would become immediately apparent. But the British Library is different. Very different. With over 170 million items included in the Library's collections, 'wandering in the stacks' is not just not an option. In fact, it would take over 80,000 years to see the entire collection held at the British Library. Yet my difficulty in understanding what the Oceania printed collection entailed wasn't just due to the sheer volume of items, but also that the fact that the material involved is all over the place. I say all over the place, but I know my colleagues involved in organising and retrieving this material would say that they are in the exact place they should be, thank you very much!
What I mean is that, aside from some items kept on open shelves in the Reading Rooms, printed material is spread between the London (St Pancras) and Yorkshire (Boston Spa) sites in various buildings, including ones ruled by robots working in the dark, and basements so deep that the Victoria line runs alongside them. As these shelves are not designed for browsing, the items can be stored in ways which make more sense for retrieval and preservation purposes. Which means you won't usually find books grouped together by author or subject for example, as material is organised on the shelves by size, usage, value or rarity, arrival date, language, or even by provenance. I could never go and visit the printed Oceania collection in its entirety, but instead rely on collection guides, catalogues, bibliographies, handlists and the knowledge of my many learned colleagues to explore the full breadth of the collection.
Which brings me to my 'inherited item', as having everything all over the place means that every now and then, you get a wonderful surprise when you discover something in the collection that you didn't know was there (and give thanks to your predecessors). One of these items for me was an Indigenous Australian adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. It has never been standard practice to collect international picture books at the British Library (though UK children's books are collected through legal deposit), so it was a very welcome surprise to come across this title in the collection.
Alitji in Dreamland/Alitjinya ngura tjukurmankuntjala is a bilingual picture book in Pitjantjatjara and English, first published in 1975 (shelfmark YA.1996.a.6667) with illustrations by Byron S. Sewell. This retelling of the Alice tale is set in an Indigenous Australian context with landscape, animals and cultural references familiar to its intended readers. It was produced by the Department of Adult Education at the University of Adelaide where the author, Nancy Sheppard, taught the Pitjantjatjara language of the Anangu people from 1968-75: the first course of its kind in Australia. Primarily an oral language, the written format was only confirmed in 1987 with publication of a Pitjantjatjara–English dictionary: which makes this adaptation one of the earliest picture books Anangu children were able to enjoy in their first language. The later 1992 edition (shelfmark LB.31.a.6178), pictured above, is the more significant version in my mind as this one has been illustrated by the Gamileroi academic and artist Donna Leslie, and is more explicit in supporting Sheppard's post-colonial interrogation of the Alice narrative:
Horse (March Hare): Your skin is very dark. You ought to wash yourself
Alitji (Alice): My skin is always dark, even after washing
Coming across this book felt particularly significant to me at the time as it represented a tangible link between my new role at the British Library, where the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is held, and the place where I grew up near Adelaide in South Australia. I was taught elements of the Pitjantjatjara language in primary school by visiting Elders from the Central Australian desert region, and though I have failed to retain many of these words as an adult, the appreciation for what I now realise was quite an unusual education initiative at the time has never left me. I am pleased that my young nephews now also benefit from a similar initiative with the revitalisation of Indigenous language learning taking place in schools across Australia.
Item to pass on
How to choose? There are so many titles worthy of this merit, so I will go with the most recent item (another Australian item I'm afraid) and what was one of the hardest to obtain (see below): a special issue of the Northern Territory newspaper, NT News. The Thursday 5th March 2020 edition of this tabloid paper included an 8 page insert of toilet newspaper with the headline "Run out of loo paper?". This special edition was produced as a very Aussie tongue-in-cheek response to the panic surrounding shortages of toilet paper across many states in in the country at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this lighthearted joke now feels somewhat callous in hindsight, at the time of publication in early March 2020 the virus had not yet been confirmed as a pandemic and no-one could have anticipated the devastating scale of the crisis yet to come. As such, this special issue will now take its place in the Oceania collection as an example of a moment when Australia, like many other countries, was not yet aware they were balanced on the precipice of a global disaster, and were still able to make light of the behaviour surrounding a virus which has since killed more than half a million people worldwide as of July 2020.
I was alerted of this issue by a colleague and tried in vain to obtain a copy from the newspaper office in Darwin (who incidentally had apparently received numerous requests from libraries). In the end I resorted to besieging friends and family in Australia with requests to track down a copy for me. Luckily an old friend living in Darwin came up trumps and went to the office herself to collect one (thanks Jo!) and promised to send it over. This was early March 2020 and the world (including the postal system) was coming to a standstill, so I had almost given up on receiving this when it finally arrived over 2 months later. By this point the British Library had been closed for some time, which means I am sadly not able to provide a shelfmark as yet.
Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections (post-1850)
For other posts in the Inheritance Books series so far see:
05 February 2020
Nearly forty years ago, on 13 June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney was assassinated. Family, friends and fans across the world mourned the loss of Rodney. This grief expressed itself privately and publicly – through poetry, letters and protest. Traces can be found in the British Library, particularly in the archive of Andrew Salkey. P.D. Sharma – a Guyanese comrade – wrote to Salkey shortly after hearing the news. He wrote of being ‘paralyzed with grief, shock and disbelief’ as expressed in the poem below; such moving remembrances of Rodney’s continue to this day:
WALTER RODNEY IS DEAD (13th June 1980)
Weep people, cry Jesus
And drown the earth above us
Flood the oceans
Liquidify the mountains
The Eastern star is blown
No more the fairest of twinkles
Done the kingdom and the king.
Now the sun will never catch the night
The falcon god soars
And shadows we be
Our world is out.
How infinite was so brief
Too much and only but few
Except that grey men
With infants on their laps
Shall tell to eternity
Of the light that once,
Breathless and bedamned
Questioning the open
But if, what might …
(Letter from P.D. Sharma (LA) to Salkey (Massachusetts), June 1980, Walter Rodney File, Box 21, Andrew Salkey collection, The British Library)
Walter Rodney’s intellectual energy, praxis and commitment lives on. It lives on through Black liberation struggles across the world and the action and commitment of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA (FHALMA). Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the Huntley Archives is made up of Jessica and Eric Huntley’s documents, photographs and recordings. It also holds the files of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications (one of Britain’s earliest black publishing houses) that they collectively founded in 1968, following the banning of Walter Rodney from Jamaica.
On Saturday 22 February, the 15th Annual Huntley Conference: Rodney's Enduring Legacy will offer a space for activists, scholars, students and families to engage with this legacy through a day of discussion, film, lectures and archive tours. Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the LMA and the Museum of London, it brings together some of London’s key cultural heritage institutions. It also builds on an ongoing collaboration between the British Library, LMA and FHALMA as part of the mass sound digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
Volunteering for FHALMA and helping to organise this conference has offered a brilliant opportunity to extend my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership beyond the British Library and UCL by connecting with archives and community groups across London. Related to ongoing research on Caribbean publishing as activism, the conference provides an important space to discuss the history and legacy of Caribbean intellectual thought.
Notably, the conference will include roundtable sessions called 'Groundings' which are modelled on and inspired by Rodney’s practice of talking plainly about human rights, identity and Black history directly with grassroots communities. These intergenerational conversations will explore themes of Black liberation, solidarity and class, whilst considering the role of youth, academics, communities and creative producers within historic and contemporary struggles.
Professor Patricia Daley's keynote, 'Walter Rodney: The Black Academic and the Importance of the Study of Africa for Global Black Emancipation', will reflect on Rodney's impressive contribution to radical scholarship on Africa and consider his understanding of ‘groundings’ as a form of academic and political practice, central to black emancipation globally.
Walter Rodney continues to challenge us through our archives. You can find Rodney in the British Library’s Andrew Salkey collection, from recordings of memorial lectures to Bogle-L'Ouverture book launches. Rodney also speaks to us through his many texts - published both when he was alive and posthumously - including: The Groundings with My Brothers (1969), A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (1970), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and Walter Rodney Speaks: the making of an African Intellectual (1990).
Suggested further reading/listening:
- Bogle book launch (1985), Andrew Salkey collection, C1839/62.
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited. Barbados: Canoe Press, UWI, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2005.a.8199).
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. Mona: University of the West Indies, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 99/13124).
- Manning Marable lecture (1987), Andrew Salkey Collection, C1839/45.
- Colin Prescod, ‘Guyana’s socialism: an interview with Walter Rodney’, Race & Class, 18 (1976), 109- 128. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6236.a).
- Kate Quinn (eds.), Black Power in the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.16051)
- Researching Walter Rodney in the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archive.
Works by Walter Rodney:
- The Groundings with My Brothers. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: X.709/10382)
- A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 72/14824)
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1976. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 82/24897)
- Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118)
Naomi Oppenheim is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL researching Caribbean print cultures and the politics of history in post-war Britain. Follow her on Twitter @naomioppenheim
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