Friday, 30 December 2011

My big five news stories of 2011

I've been reading a lot of end of year reviews these last few days, so I thought I should look back at some of the big stories of the year. I've decided to make a list of my top 5 stories.

In no particular order the big stories for me have been the revolutions that have swept through the Arab world this year. 2011 will be seen as an historical year in the Middle East, similar to that of 1989 with the collapse of communist governments all across Eastern Europe.

In Europe we've had the Euro crisis, which removed Prime Ministers in Italy and Greece, and is still threatening to break up the Euro altogether.

In the UK, we saw some of the worst riots in over 25 years. When I think back the event was truly shocking, it felt as if the police and the government had lost control and the mob had taken over.

Sticking with the UK, I've been following the phone hacking story for a few years now, but it really blew up in 2011. When I first heard about the story I could never imagine it would mean the end of the iconic news paper the News of the World.

And finally, it seems ages ago now, there was the huge earthquake and Tsunami in Japan in March. What made this story so big and poignant for me is that Japan is a hugely advanced and sophisticated society that was brought to its knees by this natural disaster. I read somewhere that this was Japan's equivalent of 9/11 - I thought that was a great comparison.

There's my big 5, of course there's so many more I could have mentioned, the death of Osama Bin Laden, The Royal Wedding, the 99% movement, there's been too many great stories.

Let me know your big stories of the year.



The Arab Spring

What's stood out about this year's revolutions in the Arab is that they're not the result of Islamic extremists, the revolutions have been driven by the people who want greater freedoms and democracy.

For me the most iconic and perhaps disturbing image that sums up the revolution was seeing Colonel Gaddafi's bloodied and battered body just before his death. He was the classic type of dictator that you thought would never lose power of Libya.

The Arab spring story has now moved onto Syria, which is now on the verge of civil war. It's hard to see how President Assad can return the country to it's pre 2011 state. The wind of change sweeping through the region can't be pushed back.



The Euro Zone Crisis


If the Euro Zone crisis has taught me anything its this. A lot of the old certainties and beliefs that many of us living in Western Europe have had are perhaps over.

I get the feeling that we all just believed that our economies would keep growing and as nations we would keep getting richer and more prosperous.

We all had stable democratic governments which gave us an advantage over other countries in the world. By uniting together in closer economic and political union would only make Europe richer and stronger.

Well how wrong we were.

Europe faces years of austerity, lack of economic growth, jobs for young people and a decline in living standards for millions. This wasn't how it was meant to be at all.

Europe's political leaders have let their people down. They promised and created growth with unsustainable levels of borrowing, and now the party's over.

We've seen financial markets lose confidence in the ability of leaders in Greece and Italy to impose measures to reduce their country's debts, and now the likes of Berlusconi have now been removed from office. Hardly democracy in action; what about the views of the people?

Many people in Europe and also in the UK are going to feel poorer and when you look at the likes of China, Brazil, and India it feels like Europe is in decline and our economic power won't be the same again.


The London riots

I remember turning on my tv on Monday night back in August and seeing the town of Croydon, South London appear to be on fire. I thought' "What is going on?'

There's a view that says rioting is the way of people who don't have a voice to protest. I do agree with this belief, I just don't accept that there was any political motivation in this year's London riots.

Much of it was pure criminality and people making the most of a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to rob and cause havoc.

Even though I don't believe the rioters had a specific message to say, the riots have raised a number of issues. We have a whole swath of people in this country who have been marginalized and alienated to the point that they're almost living parallel lives to the rest of us.

Many of the people convicted for rioting offences already had previous criminal convictions, it's likely that most of them have few if no qualifications, and have rarely held down full time jobs.

People like this have nothing to lose and don't believe they have any stake in society, which explains why they're happy to destroy shops and buildings in their own communities.

They're are so many things that need to be done to prevent similar riots taking place again, but I'd like to think that as a country we won't sit back anymore and happily ignore a growing underclass that has no hope or aspiration - then be surprised when start they rioting like they did in August.


Phone Hacking/Leveson Inquiry

The phone hacking is one story that refuses to go away. It's been around now for the last few years, but 2011 was the year it really made a break through in the public's conscious.

I keep hearing the opinion that when phone hacking centered around hacking phones of celebrities, people weren't too bothered. They're celebrities it goes with the territory seems to have been the view.

That all changed when it was discovered that the families of murder victims like Milly Dowler were also targeted. When I first heard about that story I immediately thought the press (well the News of the World) had gone too far!

That revelation was even too much for the Murdoch's and the News of the World was closed after 168 years! I admit I always used to read the NoW. For all the good and bad things you can say about the paper, it was a great part of Britain's press and popular culture history.

In the aftermath of the hacking scandal we now have the Leveson inquiry looking into press standards and ethics.

It's still on going, but if you asked me what we've learned so far, it's that there's a nasty, cynical, and bullying aspect to our tabloid press that's become out of control. It's been there for a number of years now, but I don't think it's been put in the spotlight in quite this way.

Despite the behaviour of our tabloid press, I still have a huge passion for journalism and the important role it can play in society. We shouldn't let one specific form of journalism taint the entire profession.


The Japan Earthquake

I traveled to Japan 9 years ago towards the end of 2001, I went to visit my cousin who lives out there.

I found Japan the most interesting and fascinating place I've ever been to. I find that whenever something tragic happens like an earthquake disaster, if it happens somewhere you're familiar with or have knowledge of, the story can have an even greater impact on you.

This is how I felt with Japan's earthquake. Here was one of the world's richest and most advanced countries facing its worst crisis since the Second World War.

Earthquakes are a feature of everyday life in Japan and there are always minor tremors, but nobody was expecting anything like March's quake. If that wasn't bad enough, there was then the Tsunami and the leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Despite some of the more critical reports in the Western media, I thought the Japanese handled the crisis remarkably well, and have dealt with disaster in a very Japanese, quiet and dignified manner.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

The lonely dictator

Earlier this week I saw this video that was featured in a report about the life of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il who died this week.


I think the video was featured on Channel 4 news, but it made me laugh - just the thought of the world's most bizarre dictator singing about how lonely it is being head of the secretive state that is North Korea.

When it comes to international relations, North Korea is like the weird strange kid at school who nobody really understands and no one wants to be friends with.

Normally a country like North Korea shouldn't cause the world so much problems, but as a state it's slightly disfunctional, nobody understands why it acts in the way it does. But being a country with nuclear weapons nobody can really mess with it.

Kim Jong Il's third son is meant to be taking over, so we shall see if under his leadership North Korea can start making friends around the world.





Monday, 12 December 2011

To veto or not to veto

I'm still struggling to decide whether or not I think David Cameron's decision to use the veto at last week's EU Summit is a good or bad thing for the UK.

I think the main problem is we just don't know at the moment and it could be months even years before we see the true consequences of this decision.

I have to say I'm not comfortable with the thought of the UK being pushed to the margins of European politics. We're now the outsider and we won't be able to take part in major EU debates where decisions will be made that will still have a huge influence on the UK both politically and economically.

Surely it's better to be inside the big tent having some sort of influence rather then looking in from the sidelines?

That's the one thing I'm not happy about, but then another part of me thinks that it's good we're excising our own independence and acting in our own national interest.

I would never describe myself as a Eurosceptic, but I do have doubts about how much economic and political integration you can have before things start to become undemocratic. I'm all for the UK being a major player in Europe but it shouldn't be at the expense of being able to make your own decisions.

Cameron's decision certainly haven't done his standings within the Conservative Party any harm.

Many on the Tory right have been sceptical about everything Cameron has stood for, ever since he become Tory leader, but by using the veto, he's managed to bring this wing of the party onside.

Obviously the main downside to this is that the Tories are in a coalition government and have the small problem of the Lib Dems to think about.

People are already suggesting the future of the coalition is at risk, but it was only a matter of time before something in Europe highlighted the differences between the two parties, so this isn't really a surprise.

I suppose after last week's historic decision, it's a case of lets see and wait until we find out whether Cameron was right or wrong.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Euro 2012 Draw: England will do well to get out of the group

Call me cynical if you want, but England's draw in Friday's Euro 2012 draw is far from easy. Remember this is England we're talking about.

Admittedly it could have been a lot worse, we've avoided playing the likes of Spain and Holland in the group stages, but a group containing Sweden, France, and Ukraine could still cause England lots of problems.

On paper we should get out of the group, but lets look back at last year's World Cup in South Africa. We couldn't even top a group featuring the football 'heavyweights' of Algeria, Slovenia and the USA!

Group D in next year's Euro's is much tougher than that. When have we ever beaten France in a competitive match? I can't remember.

We all know we never beat Sweden, despite last month's friendly result. That will end in a draw as it always does. And finally there's the co-hosts Ukraine. The weakest team in the group but with home support you can't take anything for granted.

Even if England get out of the group, we're probably looking at a potential quarter final with either Spain or Italy. Ideally you'd prefer to play Italy, but again it would require England to knock out one of the games major powers which we simply never do!

I really enjoy football's European Championships. The standard's better than the World Cup. There's no messing about - you get heavyweight clashes straight away. Holland/Germany, Spain/Italy I can't wait. It's ridiculous that Uefa has decided to increase the number of teams to 24 for 2016, thereby increasing the level of mediocrity.

England getting out the group will be acceptable followed by a respectable defeat in the Quarter finals.

My advice to England fans is don't be fooled again, we know we're not good enough. A few entertaining games and a honorable defeat will be enough for me.





Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Leveson Inquiry

In the last few weeks I've been following closely the Leveson Inquiry that's taking place looking into press standards and ethics.

We've seen a number of celebrities, members of the public and journalists give evidence, lifting the lid on some of the unsavory ways the tabloid press operates - as well as how it intrudes into the private lives of celebrities and members of the public.

Some mornings I've been in a newsagents and I've looked at the front pages of the national newspapers to see what they're covering - very few have featured the inquiry on their front pages.

Leveson Inquiry? What Leveson Inquiry? lets just bury our heads in the sand and pretend none of this is really happening. The Press make me laugh some days.

Well it is happening and the image of the tabloids and journalism in general couldn't get any lower.

What the inquiry has revealed is an element of tabloid journalism that's out of control. A bullying, intimidating nasty form of journalism that uses tactics more familiar with those used by the secret police in the old Communist Eastern bloc countries in the Cold War.

I think the inquiry has helped shift public perception a little. When it came to the rich and famous, there was an opinion that celebs shouldn't complain too much about press intrusion as they regularly court the media and the press when it suits them.

That's a fair point, but what the inquiry along with the phone hacking scandal has shown is that both celebrities and ordinary members of the public have experienced press intrusion that simply isn't acceptable, warranted or even in the public interest.

Yet despite the terrible image journalism currently has, I still feel a huge sense of passion for journalism and the important role a free press can play in a democratic society.

It's important to remember, tabloid journalism doesn't define the entire profession of journalism. To me it's almost a separate branch of journalism which needs to get its house in order following this inquiry.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic in thinking that people will separate tabloid journalism from other forms of journalism but they should.

As for independent press regulation, I'm naturally against it but the tabloids have acted so irresponsibly they've given the impression that they can't regulate themselves.

The Press Complaints Commission is charged with enforcing the code of practice for the press, and in theory this should work - the only problem is that it just isn't enforced strongly enough.

It's hard to say whether the Leveson inquiry will make any difference to the culture of tabloid journalism, I hope it does but at the moment I don't see what actions can be taken to curb some of the more unsavory actions of the press.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Gary Speed

I popped down to my local pub back in Birmingham yesterday afternoon to watch the Swansea v Villa game with an old school friend.

I got to the pub looked up at the tv screen to see the players having a minute silence. I asked my friend what this was all about, before he told me Gary Speed was dead. My first word was WHAT!!!

It's not everyday you hear news that leaves you totally stunned. For anyone who's into football, you can't think of a more unbelievable thing to happen. It makes no sense and comes totally out of the blue. The fact that he took his own life raises even more questions which may never be answered.

There's a few famous ex footballers who've had well documented problems with depression, drink and drugs. Without naming names, if you woke up to discover their death you'd be shocked but perhaps not hugely surprised.

The thing about Gary Speed, was that he appeared to be a solid, level headed and well respected professional without any previous stories of off the field problems. This is what makes his death so shocking and sad.

Gary Speed the footballer

As a footballer, I remember Speed being part of the Leeds Utd team that came up from the old Second division at the end of the 80s and took the old first division by storm, winning the League title in 1992.

He was a bit of a pretty boy footballer at the time, the type of player girls would fancy even if they weren't into football.

Throughout the Premier League era, Speed was always a permanent fixture, going on to play for Everton, Newcastle and Bolton. My appreciation of Speed as a footballer really started to develop during his later years at Bolton. Here was someone playing well into their late 30s at the highest level and not looking out of place.

To play in the top flight continuously for more than 20 years tells you a lot about his professionalism and passion for the game. I think that's what I really admire about him as a player, he wasn't a celebrity footballer, but just a great professional.

This whole story is incredibly sad.





Sunday, 27 November 2011

FENTON...FENTON....JESUS CHRIST!

My sister told me about this video that's become an internet sensation this week.


It has to be one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.

A father and son were out in Richmond Park, London filming a herd of dear, when in the background you hear the voice of a middle aged man screaming at his dog Fenton, who's started chasing after the dear.

The video's gone viral, and now there are spin off versions featuring Fenton in films like Jurassic Park and American Warewolf in London.

You know a video must be big when in today's Sunday Times there was an entire feature on the video.







Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Federer still effortlessly brilliant!

I was at the O2 Arena last night watching the tennis at the ATP World Tour Finals.

I bought tickets a couple of weeks ago for the Tuesday night session, but I didn't know who'd be playing until after the draw had been made.

Imagine my delight when I discovered I'd be seeing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing against each other!

I was expecting another epic battle between two of game's all time greats, so it was quite a surprise to watch Federer totally batter Nadal in under an hour, 6-3 6-0.

With the rise of Novak Djokovic, and fact that Federer hasn't won a Grand Slam for two years, it's easy to think he isn't the player he used to be.

After last night's performance that couldn't be further from the truth. Ok, Nadal was below his best but Federer was sensational - all his shots were played with an effortless grace, it was a privilege to watch.

I've never seen tennis played live before, but I really wanted to get tickets for this event. It's because the standard in mens tennis at the moment is so good, I felt I needed to take advantage of seeing the world's best when they're playing on my doorstep.

Already looking forward to next year. Will Djokovic repeat this year's achievements? Can Federer reclaim his number one crown? Will Andy Murray finally win a Grand Slam?

Whatever happens it's going to be another exciting year for tennis.




Monday, 14 November 2011

I'm back - A news round up!

I've been very quiet on the blogging front in recent weeks but now I'm back.

My journalism studying has taken priority as I prepared to sit my NCTJ journalism news writing exam.

Rather than commenting on the big news stories, my evenings have been spent writing endless practice news reports in preparation for my exam which I had today. Thankfully it's over, and I can return to my blogging.

Well, there's been so much to talk about. Look at what's going on in Europe, we're in an economic meltdown.

The problems with Greece have been well documented for months - but things are getting serious now, with the crisis in Italy.

We're living through a really significant period in European history, but I'm not sure whether people realise this. The entire movement towards greater political and economic integration between European countries is under serious threat.

What's really interested me is we've had changes in government in both Greece and Italy, but there's been no elections, and the people have had no say on the matter. It's the financial markets who've brought about this change.

They've had so little faith in those countries abilities to implement economic reform, that they've forced out the leaders of those countries. My question is: What ever happened to democracy?



What else has been catching my attention - The return of racism in football.

It's like we're back in 70s and 80s. We had the incident between Liverpool's Luiz Saurez allegedly racially abusing Man Utd's Patrice Evra. Then a few weeks later there was the incident in the QPR/Chelsea game in which and I again use the word 'allegedly' John Terry, England Captain, racially abused Anton Ferdinand.

Anyone under the age of 25 who follows English football has probably never thought about racism and football being linked.

For those of us who grew up in the 80's, racism was still a prominent part of the game but at the same time attitudes were changing.

I don't know what to make of this spate of new allegations.


And finally....A story that I couldn't ignore was that death of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier.

There was a time in sport where to be heavyweight champion of the world was the pinnacle of sporting achievement. You couldn't be a bigger sporting star. The passing of Joe Frazier, reminds you of how far heavyweight boxing has fallen in terms of prestige and significance to the general public.

When you think of Joe Frazier, you immediately think of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and an amazing golden age of boxing.





Sunday, 13 November 2011

Europe in crisis - What's happened to democracy?

I've got a feeling that in 100 years time you'll have history students in universities across Britain and Europe studying the economic and political crisis that's going on at the moment.

It might not feel like it now but we're living in historic times that academics and scholars will be studying in years to come.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about what I was going to say about the Greek crisis and the Euro, but that's yesterday's news - now it's all about Italy!

Not long ago I was thinking about how the Greek people are suffering and how they're having to put up with austerity measures forced upon them not by their own government but by the demands of EU leaders.

It made me think that decisions affecting their lives were being made by unelected leaders from the European Union - hardly democratic!

I've started to notice that this problem of a lack of democracy is being spoken about more and more by commentators.

Over in Italy it was becoming increasingly obvious, that Silvio Berlusconi had no real plans to tackle Italy's debt, but he wasn't kicked out of office by Italian voters. The financial markets did that, after they lost faith that he could introduce the economic reforms needed in the country.

In his place we have the 'technocrat' economist, Mario Monti. He might be the man to tackle Italy's debt crisis, but he's not been elected by the Italian people.

Many Italians will be glad to see the back of Berlusconi. Even as a non Italian you could see he was an embarrassment to the country, but it would still have been better if the Italian people removed him at the ballot box.

I've never considered myself to be a Eurosceptic - I'm generally all for greater European cooperation, but Europe is in a mess and greater economic and political union seems to have made things worse, particularly in terms of democracy.

I think many European leaders have let their voters down over the years, with excessive government borrowing and spending, and now tough decision are being imposed upon people who were unaware of what was really going on.

The problem is that many of these tough decisions are being made by faceless financial investors and European Bureaucrats who have never been elected by anyone.

That's not how democracy is supposed to work.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Joe Frazier - A true boxing legend

On Wednesday night, I was watching a re-run on ESPN, of the classic first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971.

It was being shown in tribute following the death of Frazier earlier this week.


The name Joe Frazier is just a legendary name within the history of boxing. His status is even greater as his peak coincided during a truly golden age of boxing in the 1960s and early 70s.

If this wasn't the case how do you explain the amount of news coverage his death has received.

Watching the fight, what struck me, is just how far boxing and heavyweight boxing has fallen in terms of sporting significance and popularity.

Not so long ago, to be heavyweight champion of the world meant you were arguably the biggest sports star on the planet, but not anymore. The way boxing is today, it's unlikely it will ever reclaim its former status.

As much as he was a great boxer what really defined Frazier was his rivalries with George Foreman but more significantly Muhammad Ali.

Within all great rivalries you need a clash of styles and personalities and you had that with Ali and Frazier. Ali and the charisma, the charm and the talk.

Frazier had none of this. He was more of your no frills, down to earth, everyman. Dare I say it 'Ordinary Joe'. Having read and heard the comments from boxing experts on Frazier's skill and bravery as a fighter, I've now got an even greater respect for what he achieved, and what he means to boxing history.



Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Are you part of the 99%

In the last few weeks I've been following the the Occupy Wall St movement that started in New York. The movement began as a response to the economic crisis in America and Europe.

It's now inspired similar protests across America and the rest of the World. Here in London we have our own 'Occupy London' protest taking place outside St Paul's Cathedral.

Last week I was reading more about the protests on the Occupy Wall Street website.

On the home page it talks of the movement representing The 99%. The 99% that 'will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.' The 1% being the likes of bankers, politicians and multi national corporations.


There's definitely a crisis with capitalism. Three years ago we saw the reckless business practices of the banks almost ruin the global economy, and we've been stuck in near recession ever since.

After ordinary tax payers helped bail out the banks with public money, it's beginning to look as if nothing much has changed.

While the 1% continue to act in their own self interest, the remaining 99% are seeing their living standards fall; cuts in public services, growing inequality and rising unemployment. Look at Greece if you want an extreme example of this!

Some people want to dismiss the protests, arguing there are no real goals or aims from the protesters, but they're missing the point.

You can't ignore the anger and resentment that's growing against the current political and economic status quo.

I've decided to come out and declare that I agree with much of what's being said.

I'm part of the 99%. Are you?

One thing that stood out for me when I watched a report on Channel 4 News was that many of the people on Wall St weren't your typical anti-capitalist/anarchist mob.

Some of those inteviewed had never taken part in any kind of political protests or campaigns before. It's people like this that should make governments and bankers worried.

It's those people that have generally benefitted from growing economic prosperity. They've played by the rules all their lives, but they're seeing those benefits disappear, while an elite minority prosper.

In America, the 'American Dream' is dying if it's not dead already. In the UK we hear about the 'squeezed middle'

It's these types of people that are making these protests so important and relevant.

All this week, I've been following reports on the never ending Euro crisis and the battle to save the Euro.

When you look at the levels of debt that are being talked about particularly in Greece and Italy, it makes you wonder how our political leaders could ever of got into such a mess.

Ordinary people have been let down by their leaders, and are having to foot the bill for their mistakes. I haven't felt compelled to put up a tent outside St Paul's, but if I was Greek, I think I'd be out on the streets myself.

The 99% are having to make sacrifices for the actions and policies of an elite few, and the longer this goes on, the more we're going to see of these protests in the coming years.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Return of the Roses

Middle aged indie Kids are rejoicing with the news that the Stone Roses have decided to reform.

Out of all the big 90s indie bands that have reformed, this was always the least likely to happen, but now it has happened it seems inevitable.

I asked a friend at work his thoughts, and he said The Stones Roses were one of those bands that define a certain time and era. He wasn't convinced they would have anything new to add to today's music scene.


She Bangs the Drum

I sort of agree, but I'm still interested in hearing any new material they might bring out.

For those of us who remember, The Stone Roses will always be associated with the 'Madchester era' of the late 80s early 90s. As a teenager in those days who was getting into Hip Hop and dance music, I tried my very best to avoid anything indie.

However, the Stone Roses along with the Happy Monday's were the sort of indie bands I could relate to. They were guitar bands that understood and embraced elements of dance music culture.

So now they're back, do we really need a Stone Roses reunion? And what does it say about the state of the music industry? A band that only produced two albums and split up 15 years ago has produced one of biggest stories in music this year.

Nostalgia seems to rule these days in music. Some of it’s understandable, there’s a lot of money to be made in live music. In fact it’s probably the only place where people can make serious money in the industry.

It’s easier for older bands who’ve had successful careers and popular back catelogs to reform and prove a success, than artists who are just starting out.

It’s like a snowball effect. One band makes a successful comeback, then other bands and promoters see the potential, and before you know it everyone’s at it.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia but does it benefit the music industry?

Music companies and artists have seen the old music business model smashed with the rise of the internet and digital downloads, the live scene offers real money opportunities, especially with so many more music festivals around today.

I’m struggling to answer my own question.

Part of me thinks too much nostalgia means new artists won’t get enough attention, but maybe we just need to should accept the changing nature of the music industry. The old certainties of the pre-digital age are gone. Maybe we should accpet that a lot of bands will split up before eventually reforming at a future date.

Let me know what your thoughts. I’d love to hear your views.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

England's football and rugby teams leave me indifferent

One of the great things about being a sports fan is the range of emotions that watching sport can bring.

There's the emotional highs and lows of following your favourite team, the real life drama that success and failure brings, as well as the thrill of watching great skills and performances from competitors.




An idiot abroad

Unfortunately after watching England's football and rugby teams this weekend, I was left with none of these feelings - only total indifference.

A 2-2 draw away to that footballing giant known as Montenegro, and another ridiculous sending off from Wayne Rooney.

I've given up on England challenging the world's best at football. For 30 minutes on Friday we gave the impression of being a serious football nation, before the inevitable mental collapse took place; perfectly represented by Rooney. There was no need to get upset, we've experienced this 'groundhog' day so many times.

Anyway, football was only the warm up act to the main event this weekend which of course was England's World Cup Quarter final against the old enemy France.

I've come to expect a lot more from England's rugby team. They might play a brand of rugby that for most of the time is stodgy, slow and uninspiring, but they grind out results. We occasionally even win stuff stuff like 6 Nations and World Cups.

Yesterday though was a complete disaster. 16-0 down at half time the game was over. The French were having a collective breakdown only a week ago, yet England provided them with the perfect therapy to get their World Cup campaign up and running again.

I couldn't even get upset at the end. The first half performance was so bad we didn't deserve to go through, despite a second half comeback.

The entire campaign seemed a waste of time, with poor performances and various off the field controversies dogging the England team. Sounds familiar to another England team doesn't it?

Die hard football and rugby fans have little time for each other's games but we're all united in seeing performances of mediocrity, under achievement and off the field bad behaviour ruining our teams chances.

When did our football and rugby teams become so similiar? Why do they always shoot themselves in the foot?

At least there's always the cricket.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The release of Amanda Knox....Some thoughts

After the release of Amanda Knox this week my initial thoughts focused on the following:

  • How Meredith Kercher's death has been completely overshadowed by the question of Knox's guilt.


  • The complete failure of the original criminal investigation into the case.


  • The media's obession with Knox that's turned her into a celebrity. There's been absolutely no interest from the media in her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who has also spent the last four years in prison.


  • There's now only one person that's been convicted of Meredith Kercher's murder and that's the Ivory Coast drifter Rudy Guede. There seems to be few doubts that he was involved in Kercher's death, but I'm not convinced he acted alone.






  • Thursday, 22 September 2011

    I almost saw the President

    Last night I met some friends outside Grand Central Station in Mid Manhattan. We soon realised that the main road of 42nd St which runs outside the station had been closed off to traffic.












    Here comes the President

    President Obama's been in New York this week attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

    There were a number of police officers on the street, making sure members of the public didn't break through the barriers onto the road.

    Nobody really knew what was going on, but something big was happening. Seeing how Obama was in town it was easy to put two and two together.

    Eventually we could see police sirens in the distance, a group of motor cycles passed, closely followed by a couple of Limousines.

    I'm assuming Obama was in one of the limos, although they passed so quickly you couldn't tell who was inside. After the limos passed there was more police and a couple a black vans that looked like secret service vehicles.

    It was all very exciting to think that I was only a few yards away from the leader of the free world!

    It's unlikely I'll ever be that close to the President of the United States ever again!

    Wednesday, 21 September 2011

    My New York Post

    I've already settled into a little routine here in New York.

    I leave my hotel - find a cafe off Broadway, I have black coffee, some bagels, and I read a copy of the New York Post. I'm like a proper New Yorker.

    The Post is a local New York tabloid paper owned by the media mogul everyone loves to hate, Rupert Murdoch. If you asked me to describe it, I'd say think of the Sun and a bit of the Daily Mail. Yes a nightmare thought for some of you out there!

    Generally I find American newspapers pretty dry to be honest. They're just not as entertaining or as interesting as British papers. I did however like the Post, despite not agreeing with its political views.

    It's ridiculously right wing and very anti Obama. Everyday this week there's been an attack on Obama's plans to raise taxes for America's highest earners. I already thought George Bush had lowered taxes for America's rich, but according to the Post Obama's plans are flawed.

    Other big news stories in New York this week

    New York Yankee pitcher, Mariano Rivera set a new record for the most career saves? Don't ask me what this means, I really don't get baseball. Anyway this was massive news, and the Post even had a souvenir poster of the event. When it comes to bat and ball games give me cricket any day.

    Simon Cowell's X Factor arrived in America with a two hour special last night.

    A New York housewife Barbara Sheehan is on trial for murdering her ex cop husband. She shot him using 11 bullets, following years of alleged abuse.

    And a couple from Manhattan, kidnapped their 8 children from a Foster home in Queens New York. They still haven't been found.





    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    Out and about in NYC

    As I'm only here in New York for four days, I've got a lot to pack in. Shopping and sightseeing are the main priorities.

    You can't come to New York without doing a bit of shopping. The city is one of the fashion capitals of the world.

    Shopping in many of the big flagship clothing stores in mid Manhattan can be a bit intense and full on. I found a great alternative checking out the shops in Lower Manhattan's SoHo district.





    The streets of SoHo






    In SoHo you won't find huge skycrapers or iconic buildings that are instantly recognisable. What you get instead is a neighbourhood where it's all about the vibe. It's a very cool place to hang out.

    SoHo, was originally at the heart of New York's art scene back in the 1970's and 80's. It's still got that edgier artistic feel to it in contrast to the more commercial corporate world you find in Midtown Manhattan.


    More of SoHo


    I managed to pick up a great jacket from Banana Republic for $190. Now of course we do have Banana Republic in the UK (well London) but you can't guarantee they'll have the same things in the UK as over here. I love Banana Republic, it's now officially my favourite shop.


    New York is a shopper's heaven. There's just so much on offer for people. New Yorkers are very lucky.

    I have to say, when it comes to Americans and their fashion sense, I'm not convinced. Generally speaking I don't think the average American dresses as well as people in the UK or the rest of Europe. However, New Yorkers are the exception.

    They're like Londoners, whereby any style seems to go. People aren't afraid to experiement or be different, which is something you don't always find with European fashion.

    It was strange seeing familiar shops like Top Shop and H&M in SoHo. Nothing wrong with them - I shop there myself. But I suppose for Americans they represent the very best in affordable European fashion.


    Hello Brooklyn

    On this trip to New York I was determined to spend some time away from the island of Manhattan, and explore some of the outer boroughs of New York.



    Downtown Williamsburg

    I decided to check out a place called Williamsburg in Brooklyn which I'd heard a lot about in recent years.

    It's one of those fashionable areas that's full of hip young urban professionals. The sort that work in the 'creative' industries or people who are writers and artists.

    For those of you familiar with London, Williamsburg reminds me of places like Shoreditch and Stoke Newington. Everyone on the street looked achingly cool and trendy.

    I enjoyed having a walk around the neighbourhood and escaping the hustle of bustle of Manhattan for a few hours.



    Brooklyn Bridge

    If you asked me one thing to do when visiting New York; something that costs absolutely nothing - I would say have a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.






    The Bridge links Lower Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn. As bridges go it's seriously impressive. When you think that it was completed towards the end of the 19th century it makes you realise what an incredible piece of engineering it is.





    You can find some stunning views of lower Manhattan on the bridge, although you do need to avoid some of cycle lanes, as New York cyclers will let you know exactly what they think of you, should you get in their way!



    The sun setting over Lower Manhattan







    Views of Central Park

    As I previously mentioned, walking the streets of Mid Manhattan can be intense. It's great to know that if you head far enough uptown, you'll eventually find the green oasis that is Central Park.












    One of the great features of the urban planning of New York has to be Central Park.




    Monday, 19 September 2011

    Live from New York

    I'm blogging live from New York this week.

    I'm spending a couple of days in one of my favourite cities in the whole world!

    I love New York. This is the first time I've been back since 1998. A lot's changed since then, most notably there's no Twin Towers, but there's still a lot of familiar sites.

    I arrived here mid afternoon New York time, and after settling into my hotel on 47th Street East, I soon hit the streets of Manhattan.

    The picture above was taken from one of my favourite buildings in the city, the Rockefeller centre. I arrived at a good time, as the sun was just setting over the city.

    There's so much that I want to see and do in the next few days, so things are going to be pretty hectic until I leave on Thursday.

    Tuesday, 13 September 2011

    Is this a golden age in men's tennis?

    At one o'clock last night I decided I really needed to go to bed, even though I was desperate to see the end of an amazing US Open final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

    For 3 hours I think I watched some of the best tennis that's ever been played on a tennis court.



    The standard in men's tennis at the moment is unbelievable. Last night's US Open final was another Grand Slam classic. Some of the rallies were truly breathtaking!

    It's not just the level of skill that was so impressive, it was the power and intensity of the rallies. It was brutal to watch!

    I do think we're currently in a golden age of men's tennis. Some of the Grand Slam finals I've watched in the last 5-6 years have been true epics, and last night was yet another one.

    It all started with Roger Federer dominating the game, then Nadal turned up proved unbeatable on clay before moving on to conquer every other surface. The two of them battled it out for a few years before the emergence of Novak Djokovic.

    Djokovic has always been good but this year he's been incredible, winning 3 out of the 4 Grand Slams titles this year.

    And lets not forget our own Andy Murray. I know he hasn't won a Grand Slam title yet, but that's only because of the 3 players already mentioned. He can still win a Slam but he just needs to find that extra something.

    The four of them together have helped to create a real golden period in men's tennis, I look forward to it continuing for the next few years.

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    9/11 Ten Years On

    If there's been a bigger news story than 9/11 in my life time I certainly don't know what it is.

    Even now 10 years on, watching the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing still makes me think 'Did this really happen?' I'm still fascinated and shocked by the whole event.

    As part of the generation that grew up towards the end of the Cold War, I imagined the world would be a safer place after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    9/11 made me realise this wasn't the case. You knew where you stood during the Cold War days. Suddenly there was a new danger out there, a new enemy which we knew little about and was totally different to anything we'd seen before.

    If you want to know where I was on 9/11 I was temping at the London School of Economics. Apart from remembering how boring the job was, 9/11 was the one thing that stood out from my time there.

    After getting home and watching the news coverage that night, I remember going to work the next day thinking 'What's going on the in the world?'

    I imagined it might have been like this during the Second World War. That sense of danger, knowing that you were at war with an enemy that hated you and could attack at any time. Looking back it was scary stuff.

    A couple of days later I went into a book shop at the college and bought a book called The Islamic Threat - Myth or Reality?

    The book asked the question whether Islam and the West were on some sort of collision course and if so why. Clearly after 9/11 they'd already collided, but I wanted to understand why this had happened.

    I had this intense desire to try and make sense of it all. I wanted to understand why some Muslims in the world hated America and the West so much they were prepared to fly planes into skycrapers and kill thousands of innocent people.

    So on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is the world a safer place? Has America and the West understood the causes of Islamic extremists?

    It's debatable. A few months after 9/11 US forces invaded Afghanistan to take on the Taliban. 10 years later they're still there and we still don't know what victory will look like or if it will ever happen.

    US and NATO Forces were meant to crush the Al Qaeda supporting Taliban regime and bring about democracy. The Taliban may not be in power but they're still part of Afghan society, whilst democracy is still struggling to survive.

    As for Iraq, this has been an even bigger disaster. Despite no evidence linking Saddam Hussien to 9/11 or Islamic terrorism. It still presented the perfect opportunity for 'regime change' for the likes of former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Neo-Cons in the Bush Administration.

    It's all very well having 'regime change' but what about after the change of regime? What happens next? Not much thought was given to that.

    Earlier this year we saw the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden who'd been in hiding in Pakistan. I suppose this brought some form of closure for many Americans, but Bin Laden's death was more a symbolic event. Al Qaeda aren't the danger they were, despite America telling us of their continued threat.

    If the truth be known, for most of us living in the West our lives are pretty peaceful. 9/11 was a spectacular one off - a one off that changed the course of history, but still something unimaginable.

    We have become more aware of extremist Muslim views around the world even in the UK, but much of their hatred and anger against the West has no real logic or objective. They're just anti the West because they hate the West. They have no political goals or objectives to offer ordinary Muslims.

    We've seen with the recent 'Arab Spring' uprisings in the Middle East that many Muslims aren't looking for radical Islam to change their lives, they want modern Western ideals and values like democracy, political freedom and prosperity. Extremism can't give them these things.

    Looking back, if 9/11 changed anything then it's changed the way the world sees America.

    We're seeing the decline of the world's only Super Power. In years to come we'll see 9/11 as very much part of America's decline as a major power.

    Never before had we seen the US attacked on its own soil. It reacted by starting two foreign wars with limited success, and which as a result only added to the huge financial and economic difficulties the country is currently experiencing.

    9/11 showed that America could be vulnerable like anyone else, and despite it's economic and military power it's been unable to truly defeat the causes of those terrorist attacks.

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    World Athletics Championships: A lot of positives, but still work to do for 2012

    As always I loved watching last week's World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

    This was our best performance since 1993 and we managed to reach our target of 7 medals with two golds, but for British athletics it's all about the build up to 2012.

    Head coach Charles van Commenee has set a target of 8 track and field medals. He's a hard task master and sets very high standards (I wouldn't want to upset him) but I think he's being realistic.

    I think the the best case scenario is that we win 2 to 3 gold medals, but there are no gold medal guarantees.

    There's been a lot a criticism in some quarters for Britain's performance in Daegu, some of it's been deserved, but people need to realise just how tough and competitive world athletics really is.



    Performance of the week.

    Has to be Mo Farah. In the last week, along with last summer's European Championships, he's proven that he's the best long distance runner this country has arguably ever produced.

    He was unlucky in the 10,000m you can argue that he went out to early with 500m to go, but he took the gamble and it almost paid off. Despite the disappointment of coming second he showed a huge amount of character to come back and claim the the 5000m title.

    I'm really pleased for Mo. I've been reading a few interviews with him in recent weeks, and he's made a huge amount of sacrifices to achieve his success. He's gone to Kenya to train with some of the top Kenyan distance runners. Trained at altitude in the Pyrenees and moved to America to continue his training.

    What's great is that he's proved that by making sacrifices and embracing tougher training methods, Europeans can compete and beat the very best East African athletes.


    Surprise Silver

    I have to admit I'd never heard of Hannah England until the final of the women's 1500m, but what a great performance. She got her tactics spot on and timed her finish to perfection.

    I also discovered that she's trained by one of my former school teachers, a Mr Bud Baldero. Well done Bud!

    England's announced herself on the World Stage but she needs to kick on. There's no guarantee that she'll repeat this performance next year in London. It's important that this isn't a one off and that getting to next year's Olympic final is the minimum that she should achieve.


    Where are our sprinters?

    For me the biggest disappointment of the last week is that there's no young sprinters coming through and reaching finals. Taking nothing away from the likes of Marlon Devonish and Christian Malcom, we should have a new generation coming through and replacing them.

    Our best 100m runner is still Dwayne Chambers and he can't compete at next year's Olympics due to his previous drugs ban.

    Mark Lewis Francis - I just give up on these days and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey is far too bulky and needs to lose some of that muscle weight.

    Things aren't much better moving up to 200 and 400m. It's probably asking too much to expect any medals next year but we should be getting people into these finals.


    Not a disaster for Jess

    The golden girl of UK athletics Jessica Ennis could only achieve a silver mainly as as result of a terrible javelin. I don't think this is a disaster.

    As I said before world athletics is incredibly tough and it's not easy to win gold medals. There was a danger that the British public would assume that Ennis would only need to turn up to win gold and that's not going to be the case.

    The winner of the heptathlon Tatyana Chernova won with a score of 6,880. That's 49 points beyond the British record held by Denise Lewis. Ennis's personal best is another 8 points back. It just goes to show, that she will need to raise her game for next year to have a chance of winning gold.

    I still have a lot of confidence in her and she still remains one of our best gold medal hopes.


    Unlucky Phillips

    I really thought Phillips Idowu was going to retain his world title when he jumped a season's best of 17.77m. It was just unfortunate that the winning jump by American Christian Taylor's was the 5th longest in history at 17.96m. What can you do about that?

    You can tell that Phillips has really emerged as a big time competitor and although it would have been great for him to win, getting a silver is still a good result. He'll be in the mix next year in London I have no doubt.


    Well Done to..

    Dai Green and Andy Turner. Didn't expect a gold medal from Dai Green in the 400m hurdles, and Turner was able to claim a bronze following the disqualification of Dayron Robles; but their success made me think back to last year's European Championships. Both Green and Turner won golds last year, but you still had people saying the standard at the European Championships wasn't that great.

    That may be the case, but winning at that level instills a winning mentality and breeds confidence. I think we've seen this with both these hurdlers. They'll be in the medal shake up in London.



    And finally

    Admittedly this has nothing to do with Britain, but I wanted to mention Usain Bolt, purely because he's the greatest ambassador the sport of athletics currently has. Secondly a word on the tiny Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis.

    This is the island where my mom's family originate from. Not only did the 35 year old Kim Collins win a bronze in the 100m; St Kitts also managed to take bronze in the 4x100m.

    Not bad for an island with a population of roughly 45,000 people!

    Wednesday, 31 August 2011

    Channel 4 what were you thinking?

    As a massive atletics fan I always associate watching major atlethics championships with the BBC.

    Imagine my disappointment and scepticism to hear that this year's coverage of the World Athletics Championships in Daegu South Korea was now on Channel 4.

    When I watch athletics I want to see and hear familiar faces like Steve Cram, Colin Jackson and Brendon Foster, what we've got instead is the disaster that is Ortis Deley.

    Why have Channel Four got him presenting athletics? After about 30 seconds of watching him earlier this week, I realised he wasn't just out of his depth, he was actually drowning! I switched channels it was too embarrassing to watch.

    It came as no surprise to discover this compilation of some his worst gaffes. Channel 4 have now decided to 'scale back' his presenting duties for the remainder of the Championship.

    The only good thing Channel 4 has done is recruit the legend that is Michael Jonhson from the BBC. His punditry and analysis is almost has good as his sprinting.

    Looking forward to being reaquainted with the BBC's athletics coverage at next year's Olympics.





    Sunday, 21 August 2011

    Not the situation Abercrombie and Fitch had in mind.

    For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you'll know I like to keep up with the some of the serious news stories of the day.

    It may surprise you to know, that I also find time in my life to watch a worrying amount of reality tv nonsense. I can probably tell you just a much about the Kardashians, as I can about the Euro Zone crisis.

    One of my favourite reality tv shows is Jersey Shore. If you haven't seen it, think Big Brother but with Italian Americans who spend their time fighting, clubbing, drinking, and shagging!

    It's been in the news this week as one of the stars of the show, Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino has been offered money by the fashion label Abercrombie and Fitch not to wear their clothes on the show.


    Mike the 'Situation' Sorrentino being the Situation.

    According to Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike the Situation, is not the kind of person that best represents what the brand is about. In there own words they have said of Sorrintino his: 'association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand'.

    I used to be a big fan of Abercrombie and Fitch, but I've gone off the label, and pretentious comments like this help to explain why. Their clothes are a 'preppy' more upmarket version of Gap. Their shops are staffed by the most ridiculously good looking people, to point where I no longer go to the flag ship London store, as I only feel fat and ugly and most of their clothes don't even fit me anymore.

    If there's anything aspirational about A&F it's about an unatainable version of beauty.

    Anyway it got me thinking about brand reputation and how companies try and manage their reputations. This week I've read reports that the sports brand Addidas has suffered as a result of the UK riots, with many looters being seen wearing Addidas clothes.

    I think A&F might have got this one wrong. It's not as if their brand has been damaged in recent months. Jersey Shore is one of the most popular reality tv shows around. Far from making the company appear cool and aspiratonal, it looks uptight and takes itself far too seriously.




    Tuesday, 16 August 2011

    'UK Riots: 'whites have become black'....er I don't think so David

    Whenever David Starkey turns up on your tv screen, you know things won't be dull.



    I've become used to his overly controversial appearances on Question Time, but been entertained by his history programmes on Channel Four.

    On Saturday I got the chance to see what he said about the UK riots in Friday's edition of Newsnight.

    I'm not going to deny that the riots have raised some uncomfortable questions about our country, particularly around the issues of poverty, class and race.

    He may have wanted to sound controversial, but to argue that white people rioting was because they've started to act black would be ridiculous, if it wasn't quite so offensive.

    As soon as anyone starts quoting Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech you begin to worry where the debate will end up.

    Starkey is arguing that black culture has somehow corrupted white british youth. There are elements of Black American street culture that have become popular amongst kids in the UK, but that's not an explanation for the causes of last week's riots.

    The problem I have with much of what David Starkey had to say, is that he's fallen into the same tired old cliche of assuming that there is only one form of black culture and only one way of being a black person.

    This is what he had to say when talking about the Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy:

    'listen to David Lammy an archtypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening on radio, you'd think he was white'

    What a stupid comment! David Lammy talks like David Lammy. Firstly he's a trained lawyer and MP, a middle class professional, why would he speak like he's from the street. But for some people that's not what being black is about.

    If you're white it makes no difference whether you're a so called chav off a council estate or an upper class toff, nobody questions your authenticity as a white person.

    If you're black however, as soon as you fail to fit neatly into the black urban/street stereotype, you're seen as not being a 'real' black person - you're somehow acting white.

    There are lots of different black cultures and experiences that both black and white people need to recognise. The black urban experience isn't any more authentic then other black experiences, and it can't be held responsible for the riots.

    If there was one point I agreed with David Starkey (and there wasn't many) it was his reference to the London street accent 'Jafaican'. It's certainly become more prominent in London in recent years.

    But you know what? That's language for you.

    Language is constantly evolving and changing. New words and phrases enter the language, others become obsolete. We can't control language whether we'd like to or not.

    Despite the controversy, Starkey has refused to apologise. I don't have a problem with plain speaking which is what he claims he was doing. But I do have a problem when people decide to resort to boring, outdated, and misinformed cliches and stereotypes, that don't offer any real explanations on the issues that have contributed to the riots.


    Stop blaming Hip Hop

    If in doubt about the moral decay of today's youth, you can always use rap as an excuse.

    David Starkey talked about rap's negative cultural influence on Newsnight, and although it's clear he knows nothing about the music, you know there's plenty of other people out there that probably agree with him.

    I've listened to Rap/Hip Hop since I was a kid. I've listened to all the different styles and sub genres including 'Gangster rap'. I think I've turned out ok - I'm a law abiding citizen that's never gone out looting!

    Gangster rap is a term that gets thrown about to describe an entire genre of music, so for those who don't know, he's a very brief history.

    Gangster rap emerged in the late 1980's and early 1990's and involved a few key artists from Los Angeles. The likes of NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Snoop Dog, and Ice T.

    The original gangster rap template was always an odd mix of lyrics about hustling, police harassment, militant Black Power politics, smoking weed and partying, and yes run ins with bi*ches and ho’s! These artists were telling their story about their own West Coast lifestyle which hadn't been heard before.

    By 1995 Gangster rap was dead. Anything after that simply became a parody of the genre, with record labels realising they could make lots of money selling a fantasy gangster lifestyle to both white and black kids.

    What started out as quite a militant anti establishment form of music, was incorporated into the mainstream, repackaged and then sold back to suburban kids.

    When people argue that gangster rap is a corrupting influence they fail to understand that a lot of rap/hip hop is simply entertainment, no different from watching gangster films like Goodfellers, Scarface or the Godfather.

    Blaming rap is just a weak attempt to deflect attention from the role that successive governments and our overall society have played in creating the conditions that resulted in the riots.


    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    The UK Riots: What is going on?

    In the last few days I’ve been shocked and embarrassed watching some of coverage of the rioting and looting that’s been taking place in London and other UK cities.

    On Monday night, I turned on Sky News to see reports of buildings on fire in Croydon, looting in Clapham, South London, I thought: ‘What is going on!’

    It felt like the police and the government had actually lost control of the streets. It still doesn’t feel like they’ve regained total control now.

    Since then, I’ve had conversations with people at work as well as lengthy email discussions with friends on the situation, all in an attempt to make sense of it all.

    That’s the difficult part - so much of the violence makes no sense and doesn’t appear to serve any purpose.

    I’ve thought long and hard over what’s been happening. I will attempt to put together some coherent thoughts on the events of the last few days. There's just so much to discuss and so many questions to ask.

    What’s going on in our inner cities? What do we expect from the police? How are young people being brought up and educated? What jobs are out there? Is the gap between rich and poor too big? Is our society too materialistic?

    It’s hard to know where to begin, but a good place to start would be with what happened in Tottenham last week.

    As cynical as it may sound, the riots that took place in Tottenham following the peaceful protest against the death of Mark Duggan came as no surprise.

    Having been to plenty of football matches at White Hart Lane, I know that High Road quite well. The whole area smacks of poverty, alienation and deprivation. It’s the kind of place where I would expect something like this to happen at some point.

    But moving on from Tottenham, the escalation of the riots to other parts of London and the rest of country totally baffles me.

    The only time I can remember or know of riots similar to what’s happening now were during the 1980s. The thing is Britain today compared to 30 years ago is a very different place. The Brixton riots in 1981 were some of the worst this country’s seen, but the political and social landscape was completely different.

    I remember watching a documentary on the 1981 Brixton riots, what soon became obvious was just how bad local community policing was back then. The police acted more like an invading army, it was no surprise that people rose up against them.

    Those riots were more about people saying they’d had enough of brutal and discriminatory police tactics. They were speaking out against poverty and the lack of opportunities, during a time of rising unemployment and social tension.

    This isn't the situation today. You can say what you like about the police, but things have improved greatly.

    This is what I don't understand about this week's rioting. Where's the political aim? There isn't one. It isn't about people struggling to make their voices heard - This is just random violence, criminality and looting.

    It’s like there’s two different countries in the UK living side by side; you have the mainstream and then you have this alternative parallel community of people who live by a completely different moral and ethical code.

    It’s been building for a good generation or so now. Occasionally you see glimpses of it, but in the last few days its as if the whole country has been confronted by this ugly underclass.


    So who or what is to blame?

    I’m not falling for the simplistic ‘it’s the government cuts’ argument. That’s irrelevant. Some on the Left might try and push that argument but it doesn’t wash with me.

    There's a number of issues, firstly poor parenting, and fractured family structures. I was telling my friend that I've been lucky in my life, as my Dad has always been around. I also had other male role models in my family, most notably my grandfather who came to Britain in the mid 1950s.

    Within two years of arriving he'd found a job, brought a house and paid for his wife and 7 kids to come over from the island of St Kitts in the Caribbean. Many kids don't have such role models in their families, particularly those from my own West Indian background. Having stable, solid family environments is crucial.


    Education

    Although we always hear about how successful kids are at passing GCSE and A Levels exams, many kids leave school ill-equipped to deal with the world of work and living in mainstream society.

    My cousin has been teaching in schools around London for a number of years, some of the stories he tells me about the education system makes me think that for some schools its more about ticking boxes. Making sure a school does well in the local league table rather than actually providing kids with skills for the job market.

    Secondly, I've heard some real horror stories from friends who've been educated in some of London's tougher inner city schools. These schools sound like breeding grounds for the types of kids we've seen on our TV screens in the last few days, the kids have no chance.


    Employment opportunities

    In some parts of the country I wonder what jobs are available for people; secondly I think many kids simply don’t have the skills or social intelligence for full time employement.

    I live in Stratford, East London, 20 minutes walk from the Olympic site. Do you think any of the locals are involved in the construction of the Olympic village? No they're not. Many of the jobs have gone to Eastern Europeans. Surely if our own youth were better educated and trained we wouldn’t need to recruit so many foreigners.

    I accept that 40 - 50 years ago there was more unskilled manual jobs available for people without qualifications that simply don't exist today. But surely we have to do better in training and educating youngsters for the types of jobs that do exist.


    Consumerism

    We live in a highly materialistic and at times selfish society. There’s a book I’ve just finished reading which I highly recommend. It’s called Affluenza by Oliver James.

    It looks at how anxiety, depression, stress and envy are increasing in Western Capitalist societies, most notably in the UK and the US. This ‘affluenza’ is now according to the author spreading to other parts of the world.

    How does this relate to the riots I hear you ask?

    Well the book argues that capitalism and consumerism are about making us dissatisfied with our lives and our possessions.

    Too much of our status amongst family, friends and society are seen through what we own, how we spend our money. If we have the flat screen TV, the car, the holidays abroad, the house in the suburbs; all of this will somehow make us happier and better people. What we own are signs of our value, our success and worth within our societies.

    Living in the West many of us experience this to greater or lesser degrees. People at the bottom of society are just as materialistic as everyone else. As a society we tell people that the possession they own make them better and more successful people.

    Some will work hard and save money to get such possessions, but as we've seen there are many who feel they don't need to do that. They feel entitled to these things.

    Since the end of the Second World War, we've experienced greater levels of wealth and prosperity, and I think as a society we have greater expectations of what governments and society should provide for us. There's a greater sense of entitlement from people.

    For many people they realise that by hopefully contributing something to society, like paying taxes they will get something back in return, but unfortunately there's a growing underclass that have this sense of entitlement, but don't feel or want to contribute to the society they're living in.

    I think I'll leave it at that for now. There's much more to be said, a lot more soul searching to be had. Don't worry, I know in the next few days, and coming weeks I'll have more thoughts on the riots and what it all means for everyone living in the UK.


    Monday, 25 July 2011

    The 2000th Test Cricket Match

    I was at Lords on Saturday for the third day of the 1st Test between England and India.

    I managed to see a good days cricket. England took 10 wickets, there was a century by India's Rahul Dravid, and I got to see one of the game's greatest ever batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar.

    England won earlier today, to go one up in the four Test series. I've been looking forward to this series since the start of the year. It was great seeing England win the Ashes in Australia, but lets be honest the current Australia team is pretty weak.

    India are now the number one Test team, and this series will be a true test of how good England really are. Judging by this first match, England could very soon become the new number one team in the world. They will do if they win the series by two matches.

    If there was one thing I loved about my Lords visit, it was this. It reminded me just how good Test cricket can be. Yes 20/20 has it's place, but Test Match cricket is really where it's at. What it's really all about. Maybe I'm a traditionalist, a purist even - but Test cricket is just more interesting to watch.

    It's certainly more interesting when you've got the two best teams in the world going head to head, and I can't wait for the next 3 games to come.




    Monday, 18 July 2011

    Phone-Hacking: Where do I begin?

    I’m so late following up on this story.

    For the last week, I’ve been thinking so much about what I want to say on this phone-hacking scandal, but everyday there’s been a new revelation, and development, you just can’t keep up.

    In saying that I’ve loved it. This is one of the most exciting news stories I’ve followed in years. Phone-hacking ticks so many boxes for me - politics, journalism, crime, celebrity, it’s the ultimate news story.

    For a media news geek like myself the events of the last couple of weeks have been amazing! The country's biggest selling newspaper shut down. The world's leading press baron Rupert Murdoch battling to save his company and reputation. Some of Britain's top police officers and even our own Prime Minister David Cameron directly involved.

    I've been following this story for two years, and it's still impossible to predict what will happen next or where this story will end.


    Rupert Murdoch

    I never imagined that one day I'd see Rupert Murdoch battling to save his media empire from collapsing. He's Britain’s most powerful newspaper owner, the world’s biggest press tycoon. How has it come to this?

    For many liberal, left leaning, Guardian reading types Rupert Murdoch is some sort of devil incarnated, but I’ve never felt that way towards him.

    I’ve always seen Murdoch as more of an ‘evil genius’ and when I use the word genius I mean that seriously.

    I got an insight into how Murdoch works as boss when reading Piers Morgan’s book the Insider.During the 1990’s Morgan was editor of the News of the World and Murdoch was his boss. Hearing Morgan talk about Murdoch, I realised that he was someone with a brilliant talent and instinct for running newspapers. As someone who also loves newspapers, I respected that.

    He’s someone who controversially revolutionised the newspaper industry during the 1980s with the move to Wapping, and changed the television landscape forever with the emergence of Sky television in particular Sky Sports.

    He’s also not afraid to experiment as we’ve seen with the introduction of paywalls for papers like the Times. Ok his constant attacks towards the BBC have annoyed me, and for too long he's acted like an unofficial member of cabinet for successive Tory and Labour governments. His influence on British political life has overstepped the mark on occasions.

    But he’s still one of those figures I have a grudging respect for. If this is the beginning of the end for Rupert Murdoch we wont see his like again for sometime.


    No way Rebecca Brooks could survive

    It took a while but it was inevitable that Rebecca Brooks had to resign as chief executive of News International.

    My opinions towards her are the same as those I had for Andy Coulson. If you’re an editor of a newspaper, you should know where and how your paper’s stories are being found and investigated. If you don’t know this, then you’re not doing a very good job as editor.


    Politicians and the Press

    You get the impression that for some MPs the phone hacking scandal has been a great opportunity to finally to take revenge against sections of the press and Murdoch’s News International.

    It’s good to see politicians taking a stand against the actions of News International, but lets not forget that for so many years both Tory and Labour politicians were desperate to court favour with Rupert Murdoch and his newspaper stable.

    A lot of people will agree with me when I say it wasn’t a good thing for politics in this country. Politicians are meant to act in the interests of the electorate, rather than on behalf of corporations or business tycoons with their own agendas. I know that sounds na├»ve but that’s how it’s suppose to be.

    One person I did think of was Vince Cable – remember him? End of last year, two undercover Telegraph reporters recorded him saying how he’d ‘declared war’ on Rupert Murdoch in his attempts to take full control of BskyB. Cable was replaced by Jeremy Hunt in overseeing the decision making process for the BskyB deal.

    Poor Vince declared war too early, now everyday there’s an MP coming out to attack Murdoch.


    A crisis for journalism

    Very few people are emerging from this scandal with any credit, and when I think about it, journalism itself as profession and industry in the UK has been damaged.

    None of this phone hacking revelations has come as a surprise to me, I read all about it 3 years ago, in the book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this book on my blog and unlikely to be the last.

    If you love journalism and the press you need to read this book. In it, Davies explains that phone-hacking is just one of many dodgy and unethical methods used in the pursuit of news stories by many papers and not just the News of the World.

    One of the reasons this story hasn’t come out before is that newspapers weren’t going to report on their own criminal activities, and as we’ve been discovering the police weren’t going to investigate, mainly because they were involved themselves. Nick Davies describes how newspapers have routinely bribed police officers for information.

    I understand that in some circumstances in order to investigate serious or sensitive matters, the normal rules and accepted standards of investigation may have to be sacrificed.

    The problem with phone-hacking is that it’s hard to justify the need to hack into the phones of murder victims or celebrities. It's a case of invading people's privacy for no obvious reason.

    Previously I thought the MP expenses scandal represented the very best in investigative journalism - holding those in power to account and unveiling some of the criminal actions of our elected leaders – this was truly in the public interest.

    Until it was shut down, I read the News of the World every week. I always enjoyed reading it, but I know that for all those genuinely good investigative stories the paper published; such as Pakistan cricket scandal, there were so many other stories that were trivial. The Max Moseley case is one that springs to mind.

    Exposing the fact that he enjoyed a bit of S&M in his private life really wasn’t in the public interest. It was just a bit of titillation about someone most people had never heard of.

    Despite this, I still bought the paper and in doing so continued to show there was a market for such stories.

    My main concern now is that many people will rightly feel that the press has gone too far with phone hacking, and that tighter regulation must be introduced.

    You’re hearing this argument from many people especially politicians. The cynic in me says it would suit politicians and those with power and influence to have a weaker press - one that wasn’t so intrusive.

    Going back to MPs Expenses would that story have emerged if we had a weaker over regulated press? I don't think so.

    Despite the actions of the News of the World, I take the view that the press when it acts responsibly is there to monitor and hold to account those individuals who purport to act in our interests.

    Ironically, by not monitoring or regulating itself properly, journalism in this country may have weakened itself significantly.

    Thursday, 7 July 2011

    The end of the News of the World - First reactions

    I'm still coming to terms with the shock that this is the end of the News of the World.

    One of my work colleagues gleefully announced the news to me this afternoon. Earlier in the week during a lively debate on this story, he politely made it clear to me his utter contempt he had for the News of the World and the fact that someone like me reads it. I've heard his arguments before, and didn't take any of it personally.

    At first I thought he was joking, but after clicking onto the Guardian's website I soon found out it was no joke.

    I said: "it's like the fall of Communism, but the equivalent for the British press"

    I say this with only a slight sense of irony. It's unbelievable, and so unexpected, you never imagined something like this happening.

    Only yesterday, I'd decided I wasn't going to buy the paper this Sunday, in protest against the latest allegations. Forget that, I'm definitely going to buy the last ever edition. It's the end for an iconic media and cultural brand in this country.

    I'm going to write about this in more detail in the next few days, but whether you love or hate the News of the World, this is an historic and monumental day in the history of the British press.




    Wednesday, 6 July 2011

    Even I'm shocked by this latest phone hacking revelation

    "If the public knew the truth about the way certain sections of the media operate they would be absolutely horrified"

    That’s a quote from former Labour party Press Secretary, Alistair Campbell, taken from a book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies which I read back in 2008.

    Well the public certainly know now, following the latest revelations in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

    I’ve been following this phone hacking story for a few years now, but even I was shocked when I heard the allegations that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler.That in itself was bad enough, but it gets worse.

    Now there’s allegations that the News of the World hacked into the phones of victims of the 7/7 bombings, and tonight on Newsnight they reported that families of dead UK soldiers from Afghanistan have also been victims of phone hacking.

    I read the News of the World every Sunday, and have done for years. I’m not going to lie to you I enjoy reading it; but I feel next Sunday it would be completely wrong for me to buy the paper.

    I’ve previously wondered whether I’m contributing to a culture of unethical journalism by buying the News of the World.

    Everytime I buy the paper I’m showing there’s a demand and interest in stories that may have been obtained using dubious or unethical methods.

    In the past I've occasionally thought about such things, before deciding to just carry on buying the paper. Things have changed now though. This week's revelations are a game changer.

    I’ve decided that if I boycott the paper I'll be sending out my own message that says these latest allegations are too much.

    Related blog posts

    Is this the end of the phone hacking story?

    Tabloid phone hacking

    Journalism back in the gutter!

    This phone hacking story has entered a new phase, it's really in the public consious now.

    Until a few days ago, this story only appealed to people like me, the media geeks out there of which I'm happy to call myself. But if we're being honest this phone hacking story didn't really hold much interest to the general public.

    That's all changed now, and referring back to the Alastair Campbell's quote, the public are beginning to find out just how the tabloid press really operate - and it's not pretty.

    For me it's interesting that stuff is coming out which I was reading about a couple of years ago in Nick Davies' Flat Earth News.

    In his book he talks about some of the darker aspects of the national press and how newspapers find out information on members of the public. This includes bribing members of the police and civil servants, all of which is done by using private investigators.

    This is exactly what we're hearing now, even though its been established practice within the press for years. This probably explains why quite a few other newspapers simply refused to run the phone hacking story on their front pages. I'm looking at you Daily Mail and the Express.

    All the heat might be on the News of the World at the moment, but this story could spread to other newspapers, and their journalistic practices could come under scrutiny.

    This could be one of those watershed moments, where things are never going to be quite the same. I've been following this story for over two years, but I'm thinking it's only now that this story has really started to take off.