Monday 30 December 2013

Breaking Bad: Do believe the hype

During the Christmas break I've been watching the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad.

Yes I'm yet another person who's caught the Break Bad bug.

I love my US drama series but having never seen an episode of the show, I was beginning to get fed up with being a cultural pariah. Perhaps I was suffering from FOMO (Fear of missing out) but the story intrigued me.

A chemistry teacher who after discovering he's got cancer, decides to enter the drugs trade by making Chrystal meth with the aim of supporting his family.

I thought this sounds interesting.

I bought series 1 - 3 box set with the intention of getting up to speed on the series as soon as possible. I have to say it certainly lived up to the hype.

It's the first series I've watched where the main character of Walter White starts off as the good guy but by the end of the series you end up hating him as he turns into the bad guy.

I admit there were some scenes in the series that were difficult to watch. Walter's actions are so bad you're left thinking: how can I empathize or support this character when he's becoming so evil.

But that's the point of the show. It's about watching that transformation in the character, so that by series 5 Walter White the drug 'kingpin' is barely recognisable from the down trodden underachieving chemistry teacher we meet in series 1.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013: A highly skilled political operator

When I discovered on Thursday night that Nelson Mandela had died, I was saddened but not surprised. It was a day I'd been expecting for the last 3 months.

Since Thursday I've been thinking about what I wanted say about Mandela. What could I say that hasn't already been said?

I decided to look back at one of my old blog posts. It was written in 2010 to mark the 20th Anniversary of his release from prison.

Reading the post this weekend, it reminded me that Nelson Mandela has been a major political figure since my childhood. Growing up in the 1980s, I was always aware of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The protests and violence in the country were a common feature of watching the news when I was growing up.

As a black child it made me aware of real racism and discrimination in its most extreme form. I was watching millions of people with the same skin colour as me being oppressed and denied basic political freedoms.

The imprisonment of Mandela seemed to represent the worst in the oppressive apartheid regime. Here was the leader of the black opposition locked up for over 20 years.

I think because the only images of Mandela you saw were old tv interviews from the 1960s, it seemed to elevate his status in the struggle for black freedom in South Africa.

By the time of his release in 1990 the event was arguably one the biggest news stories of my life, it was up there with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here was a man I heard so much about finally being set free.

Since his release, Mandela has become probably the most revered, respected and loved political leader in the world. He's like a living saint for modern times.

Reading and listening to various reports on his life and career, I've been thinking that perhaps we should appreciate more what an incredibly skillful and astute political operator Mandela was.

This gets overlooked at times as we want to focus on his compassion, his humility and his ability to forgive. Obviously these are important qualities and go along way to making Mandela the person he was - but to achieve what he did required great political skill.

South Africa could easily have become a bloodbath. Rightwing Afrikaners were ready to take up arms against black majority rule. Elements of the black population were not surprisingly seeking vengeance against whites.

Western governments and businesses with interests in South Africa feared the worst, but Mandela through his political abilities prevented the nightmare scenario of civil war that so many feared.

I've heard many comments about how Mandela showed forgiveness against his former political enemies, but what strikes me is how he won them over.

He didn't hate his oppressors he learnt to understand them, whether it was his Afrikaner prison guards on Robben island or members of the ruling National Party Government and security forces in the 1980s.

Earlier today I was listening to Radio 5 and they were looking at Mandela's impact on sport in South Africa. We all know the story of how he decided to wear the green springbok jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand.

The Springboks were despised by the non white population and the jersey represented white domination in South Africa. What Mandela understood was the symbolic message wearing that jersey would mean firstly to white Afrikaners but to non whites as well.

For people who think sport and politics can't or shouldn't mix, this moment shows exactly why the two are always linked. A simple act won over the fears and worries of his former enemies.

It's this kind of subtle political intelligence that allowed Mandela to achieve the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

In our cynical times we want and need figures we can look up to and truly believe in. I don't think there's been a political figure in my lifetime who's achieved this in the way Mandela has.

As much as we want to remember his inherent goodness and courage, lets not overlook what skillful and intelligent political leader he was. Without that skill and intelligence South Africa would be a very different place today.

Saturday 7 December 2013

World Cup Draw: Time for England to 'man up'

Watching yesterday's World Cup draw I started feeling really excited about next year's tournament.

I've got high hopes for this World Cup, maybe because it's in Brazil it feels a bit more exotic, I've never watched a World Cup in South America. I just feel this World Cup could be something special.

As for England, we discovered we'll be in a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

A group of death? Not really, but admittedly it's a group that's going to ask some serious questions of England.

Anyone who knows my thoughts on football, will know that I now watch England with indifference. It's the way forward. I'm only going to get excited about England when they reach a semi final of a World Cup or European Championship.

It annoys me that some people are complaining we're in a difficult group. England have had so called 'easy' groups before. Just deal with it!

In South Africa in 2010 we faced the footballing giants of the USA, Algeria and Slovenia. The tournament took place during South Africa's winter which was meant to help us but we still made hard work getting out of the group.

In Germany in 2006 our group contained Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad. We qualified from it but it was uninspiring stuff. This time round we've been given a tougher assignment but so what, that's the luck of the draw.

How will England do in this group?

An opening game against Italy is tough - straight away we're up against a true footballing heavyweight. But I'd rather play a team like Italy than say a Bosnia or Algeria. Immediately, England know they have be on their game.

It's not going to be easy but Italy always start off slowly themselves. The main worry is the conditions of playing in the jungle and the fact Italy outclassed England in Euro 2012. A draw will be a good result.

Next game is against Uruguay in Sao Paulo. In 2010 I loved Uruguay, I thought they played some great stuff and Diego Forlan was superb.

Any team with Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani is going to cause problems but I'm wondering what else Uruguay have got. Maybe reaching the semi finals in 2010 was the peak for this squad.

Final game is Costa Rica. I know nothing about Costa Rica, all I do know is that England have to win this game.

It's going to be difficult

Er yes... it's the World Cup. Ok we could be in an easier group but it's time for England to 'man up' and get on with it. Stop complaining.

England embrace the challenge, it's a chance for players to prove themselves against the best on a world stage - that's the attitude I want from England.

We're not going to win the World Cup, there's no expectation so I want England to play without inhibition and we'll see what happens.

Who will win it?

Everything points to an all South American final. Brazil are obvious favourites but I've got a feeling Argentina could cause Brazilian heartbreak by beating them in next year's final.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Have you thought about crowdfunding? Try Kickstarter

Earlier this week I was reading an article in the Evening Standard about the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

If you've never heard of crowdfunding, it involves people contributing or investing money in creative projects.

There isn't a financial return on your investment - what you normally get in return is a 'reward' as a thank you for backing a particular project.

For example, if you backed someone's project to get their book published, your reward could be a free copy of the book once it's published.

Kickstarter is the world's biggest crowdfunding website. The Standard's article included an interview with Yancey Strickler, co founder of the site along with Perry Chen and Charles Adler.

I was interested in the article as a few days earlier I made my very first contribution to an artistic project on Kickstarter. It was to help a painting project in a Rio Favela in Brazil.

Check out the video below for an idea on what the project involves.

Having spent time in Rio earlier this year and visited one the city's biggest Favelas, this was a project that immediately appealed to me.

I decided to invest $15 and I'm pleased to say that it contributed to the project meeting its overall investment target.

What I received is a personal thank you message and I should receive a snapshot of the favela once it's been painted in April of next year.

So why did I decide to invest in this project?

As a writer I see myself as being a creative kind of person and it feels natural that I would want to support other creative people and projects that I think have some real use and value.

If you haven't done so already have a look at Kickstarter and see if there's any creative projects out there you'd like to help with.

Friday 1 November 2013

James Blake: Mecury Music Prize winner

I didn't even know this year's Mecury Music Prize was happening this week, let alone the artists that had been nominated for this year's prize.

I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that James Blake's album, Overgrown, was chosen as the winner.

I've been listening to this album for the last couple of weeks, after discovering James Blake on Gilles Peterson's Radio 6 music show.

I really love this album. I was describing Blake's sound to my sister a few weeks ago. I said it's kind of singer songwriter meets electronica.

It's not a mix you tend to come across very often in music. You normally imagine singer songwriters with acoustic guitars and not downtempo beats, but listening to Blake's music I'm not sure why this hasn't been attempted before.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Should London become an independent city

Like many Londoners I’ve made this great city my adopted home after being born and brought up somewhere else. In my case Birmingham is the city I hail from.

I’m happy to admit, I’m a typically conflicted northerner. This means I’m quite happy to tell you how great my hometown is and how people are friendlier and more down to earth than Londoners; but I don’t actually want to live up there anymore.

I love living in London, it’s exciting, vibrant and interesting - I know I’m living in one the great cities of world and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Whenever I go ‘home’ to visit family and friends I’m always struck by how different everything seems outside of London. At times I feel like I’m in a different country.

This got me thinking. Has London got anything in common with the rest of the UK anymore?

Surely London has more in common with New York or Paris than it does with Manchester or Liverpool.

If London is now so different from the rest of the country, is it time to ask whether London should go it alone, become independent? Scotland is having a referendum next year on independence, isn’t it time London had one?

London dominates the UK and its dominance is increasing. When it comes to business, the economy, politics, the media, property, education London leads the way.

It’s the financial capital of the world, its economy has grown by 12.5% since 2007 and the city has created more jobs in that time than any other region in the UK.

What could London achieve without the burden of subsidising the rest of the country?

By going it alone, London could pursue its own economic and political policies, like raising its own taxes. It would allow London to grow even faster without having to worry about the rest of the UK holding it back.

Admittedly, this all sounds great for London, but what about the rest of the country?

Well there’s no point denying it; to begin with the rest of the country would be worse off without London.

What intrigues me is that perhaps long-term, without London dominating and being the centre of attention, our regional cities would have the chance to emerge out of London’s shadow.

Our cities could reclaim their former glories. Don’t forget, during the Victorian era, our northern cities were some of the richest and most important cities in the world.

It all sounds like a win-win situation for London and the rest of the country, but something tells me it wouldn’t quite work out like this.

London isn’t an island on its own. London drives the rest of the country but much of the talent London attracts isn’t just from overseas but from all corners of the UK.

It might seem like London and the rest of the UK might be living separate lives with little in common but in reality they both need each other.

Sunday 6 October 2013

The Daily Mail at its worst. Ed Miliband hits back

I think I speak for many liberal thinking, Left leaning, Guardian reading, Londoners when I say I've quite enjoyed Ed Miliband's attack on the Daily Mail.

Was anyone really surprised by the Mail's nasty article on Ed's late Marxist academic father Ralph Miliband?

It was classic Daily Mail - the only difference was that for once someone decided to fight back which is what Ed has done.

I agree that it was perfectly legitimate for the Mail to investigate the beliefs and political views of Ralph Miliband, as Ed has frequently spoken about his father's influence on his own political beliefs.

The problem for the Mail is that it overstepped the mark with its ill judged headline and tone of its article. It was nothing more than a character assassination on someone who obviously couldn't respond. Hardly surprising Ed Miliband felt the need for a right of reply.

I'm intrigued to see what's going to happen next. The Mail isn't a paper you want to mess with. Its attitude and behaviour perfectly mirrors that of its editor Paul Dacre.

Dacre is someone I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of. I've heard so many stories about him and how he runs the Mail - many of which aren't flattering.

The Mail is Dacre's personal mouth piece. He's a bully whose personality dominates the Mail - he's also a brilliant newspaper editor. Paul Dacre is the Daily Mail and the Daily Mail is Paul Dacre.

I admit I've always had a grudging respect for the Mail. I don't agree with its politics or world view which generally annoys me. However, I respect that it's an incredibly successful newspaper.

Its website is brilliant and a guilty pleasure of mine. As a writer I admire how it truly understands the feelings, values and beliefs of its audience. Something that all writers should aspire to.

The Mail has made it clear it won't back down on its article, which is no surprise. But it's good for Ed Miliband as I think he's won a lot of a support and sympathy from people.

Where he needs to be careful, is by not making his criticism of the Mail appear politically motivated.

The Mail thinks this is the case. The paper believe Miliband's attack is part of an ongoing debate on the future of press regulation; particularly on whether legislation should be passed to ensure effective regulation of the press. If he makes it too political Ed will lose credibility.

During the last week, I've been reading various comments and opinions on the story. One comment that stood out for me is one I read on the blog of conservative political blogger Guido Fawkes.

He quoted an anonymous Daily Mail hack who said the following:

“If we’d just stuck a question mark after the headline none of this would have happened”

Haha this is so true - but it's good they didn't as none of us would had the pleasure of seeing the Mail on the defensive for a change.

Sunday 1 September 2013

No British military intervention in Syria

"Aren't the British strange...In 2003 they rush to war in Iraq alongside George W Bush when no one had been able to prove conclusively that Saddam Hussein's regime still had chemical or biological weapons.

In 2013 it is clear to everyone, even the newly elected Iranian President Rhoani, that chemical weapons have been used against civilians and the House of Commons humiliates David Cameron with a negative vote"

This is the quote I read in yesterday's Times by Dominique Moisi, senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations.

It amused me, firstly as the French seem to be enjoying their new found role as America's closest ally; but secondly because it's so true.

If it's proved that the Syrian government were responsible for using chemical weapons, then there should be an international response. I think in time this will happen.

David Cameron's problem was that he underestimated the support that Parliament and the public would have for military action against Syria.

It's hard not to accept that the Iraq war has made us all a bit more wary and little bit sceptical when it comes to Britain taking overseas military action.

What's sad is that when it's eventually confirmed that President Assad's regime have been using chemical weapons, this is exactly the kind war crime that requires an international response with Britain's involvement.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

I Have a Dream: 50 years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.

It has to be one of the most famous and iconic speeches of modern times and represents one of the key moments of the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s.

One theory on why the speech has had such a lasting impact is that it made a difference, it helped change things. It contributed to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Nobody remembers great speeches that make no difference or have no lasting effect.

Like many people, I've been wondering this week how close America has come in the last 50 years to realising Dr King's dream.

Is America are more racially tolerant and equal society? Are people judged in Dr King's words by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin?

Clearly America has come a long way since 1963. Could there be any more obvious example then Barack Obama, the first black President?

Along with the President, African Americans occupy positions of power and influence in areas like politics, business, media, entertainment and sport that were unimaginable 50 years ago.

As a black person growing up and living in the UK, America has always been an inspiration in terms of what black people can achieve in so many different areas of society.

The problem I see is that although America may offer more opportunities individually for African Americans, it's hard to argue that collectively African Americans are in a better position now than 50 years ago.

When it comes to jobs, housing, education, health, and the criminal justice system, African Americans experience greater levels of inequality and disadvantage than white Americans.

I can't help but think that America is still an institutionally racist country; where being black means your life chances and opportunities are not equal to whites.

This is why Dr King's dream hasn't been realised and will continue to act as a reminder that the Civil Rights struggle is ongoing and has much to achieve.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Is Mo Farah our greatest ever athlete?

This is the question being asked after Mo won the 5,000m yesterday at the World Championships in Moscow.

He's now the double Olympic and World Champion at 5 and 10,000m. There's no question he's a true legend of the sport. One of the greatest long distance runners in history and one of this country's greatest ever athletes.

But is he Britain's greatest ever athlete? According to former distance runner and BBC commentator Brendan Foster he is.

He's in the top three for me. I think there's only two British athletes you could argue have a greater case and that's Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson.

Before orgainising London 2012, Coe was a brilliant athlete; double Olympic 1500m Champion and one of the greatest 800m runners athletics has ever seen.

I'd put Mo just ahead of Coe which feels such a significant thing to say, I almost feel guilty but he is.

As for Daley Thompson, as an 80s child he was a true legend. I don't believe there was a bigger sports start in British sport when Thompson was at his best.

I'm going to say that for now Thompson remains Britain's greatest ever athlete, purely for the reason that he was a Decathlete.

He did 10 events and was brilliant at most of them. He was a double Olympic Champion in 1980 and 1984, the first World Champion in 1983 and a former world record holder.

All this could change though depending on how Farah's career develops over the next few years. By the time Mo retires there's a strong chance that I'd place him as the very best athlete Britain has ever produced.

What does he need to do?

There's a number of things he can do to become our greatest athlete. Firstly, Mo wins titles he doesn't run fast times. There's the target of breaking the world record in the 5 and 10,000m.

Secondly, it's widely known he will attempt more marathons, possibly the Marathon at the Rio Olympics in 2016, winning this would be a significant achievement.

Finally, and more intriguingly Mo could drop down to 1500m now that he holds the British record after breaking Steve Cram's record which stood for 28 years! This is something I'd love to see, as we've struggled to recapture the glory days of British middle distance running.

Why I love Mo

I have to say Mo is one of my favourite sports stars. What I love about him is that with all due respect he was a bit middling for many years. He was always our best long distance runner but you never felt he could truly challenge the very best Kenyans and Ethiopians.

It all began to change when he did the 5,000 and 10,000m double at the Barcelona European Championships in 2010. That was the starting point.

Ok the standard wasn't as high, but it was the first steps on the journey that's taken him to being one of the greats of track and field.

It continued in the 2011 World Championships in Daegu when he won the 5,000m and came second in the 10,000, before going on to triumph at last year's Olympics.

There's been a gradual progression with Mo, he knew he wasn't good enough and went to Kenya to train with the Kenyans, did altitude training in the Pyrenees, teamed up with his coach Alberto Salazar and relocated to the States.

Mo's put the work in and made the sacrifices to reach the top and this is what I love and respect about him.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Where is Bongo Bongo land?

You might have a better idea after UKIP's Godfrey Bloom's made reference to the 'country' in a speech given last month.

Bloom was criticising the government's foreign aid policy and used the term Bongo Bongo land to describe the type of countries that receive aid from the government.

It's a perfectly legitimate debate to discuss whether the country should continue to giving aid to some overseas countries when so many cuts are taking place here in the UK.

You also want to be confident that the money going to these countries is being spent on those who truly need it and not being wasted by corrupt government officials.

But when you start referring to these countries as 'Bongo Bongo land' you can't seriously expect to get away with that.

Is 'Bongo Bongo' land a racist term? Mildly at a low level - but really it's a derogatory term to describe some nondescript country most likely in Africa.

Does anyone under the age of 50 ever use this term? I'd like to think not, but it doesn't surprise me that a member of UKIP would come out with such a term.

This is the problem UKIP have. They want to position themselves as being outsiders to the mainstream political establishment.

They want to be this no nonsense, tell it how it is, plain speaking Party ordinary people can relate to. That would be fine if we were living in the year 1955, unfortunately we're now well into the 21st Century.

UKIP have gained a lot of success in recent months but with that success comes greater scrutiny and analysis of the Party and its members.

Bloom's comments might never have been reported a couple of years ago but things are changing for UKIP and they need to mind their language.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Athletics and Cycling - Fighting the sceptics

When you think about drug taking in sport for many people athletics and cycling are the two sports they immediately think of.

Both sports are facing up to the doping questions again this week but for different reasons.

As an athletics fan I was gutted to hear that both Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell both tested positive for taking banned substances. This is the last thing athletics needs especially when it involves two of its biggest stars.

In cycling, Britain's Chris Froome is favourite to win this year's Tour de France following a series of impressive performances.

Despite no evidence of him actually taking drugs, there's an air of suspicion hanging over him. Rather than celebrate his lead in the Tour he's having to defend himself against accusations that his performances so far have been too good!

I love athletics and I'm increasingly becoming a great fan of cycling, but it seems both sports will never be able to rid themselves from the question of drugs.

You could argue both sports have only themselves to blame due to the actions of former athletes. A healthy dose of scepticism is for many the only way to watch these sports.

It's a shame as I find both athletics and cycling compelling sports to watch, there's a simplicity to both sports which I love.

It does make you wonder whether there's any point in actually winning anymore as people will immediately starting asking questions over whether you're cheating or not. It's almost as if you can win but not too well as it only give the sceptics something to talk about.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Is Britain getting too good at sport?

What is happening with British sport?

I ask this question because it feels like we've reinvented ourselves in recent years.

No longer are we the heroic, plucky loser always falling short. We've now become ruthless, determined, hard-nosed winners!

Look at the evidence - there was last year's Olympic Games, third in the overall medal table, untouchable in cycling and rowing. There was 'Super Saturday' the greatest night in the history of British Athletics.

We've had our first ever Tour De France winner in Bradley Wiggins, and we could have a second this summer with Chris Froome.

In rugby the British Lions defeated Australia at the weekend to claim their first series win in 16 years, then on Sunday Andy Murray becomes the first men's Wimbledon champion since 1936! And lets not forget we've got a pretty decent cricket team who are favourites to retain the Ashes this summer.

Where did it all start going right?

I think in the past unlike other countries we haven't used sport as a way of defining our national character or self worth.

Compared to somewhere like Australia who have used sport to remind the world of their existence, sport in Britain didn't matter quite so much. We could play the game, occasionally win, generally lose but it didn't matter.

If you think about it, Britain is a nation obsessed with sport. We invented many of the most popular games in the world and for a relatively small nation we play a huge range of different sports.

If feels like something has changed though. As a country if you look at our resources and our passion for sport there's no reason why we can't dominate and win at certain sports, why just take part, why not be in it to win.

We're seeing this now and the success of our sports stars is creating a great feel good factor for the country.

Ok, Olympic champions and Wimbledon winners aren't going to improve the economy or solve various problems the country faces, but sport offers many inspiring lessons that we can all apply to our everyday lives. That's what I love about sport.

Despite all this new found sporting success, there is one elephant in the room. One sport that dominates over all others, yet continues to provide disappointment.

What is this sport? Have a think.

That's right, it could only be football. It's frightening to think what would happen to the country if England actually ever won something, but Football is the only sport letting us down now.

Despite our failings on the football pitch, the rest of British sport has shown us a new alternative as to what we can be as a sporting nation. I hope it continues.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray Wimbledon Champion!

Finally! The wait is over. A British man has won the Wimbledon title.

For much of my tennis watching life the very idea was laughable. Then there was a glimmer of hope, firstly with Tim Henman and then with Andy Murray's emergence.

The difference with Murray, was that this hope turned into genuine expectation as we realised he was a serious world class player.

Despite his obvious talent, all the years of failure and disappointment meant nobody could believe with 100% conviction that this day would arrive. Well it has and it was fully deserved by Murray.

His success reminds me a little of last year's Olympic hero Mo Farah. Like Farah, Murray was already a supremely talented and gifted athlete - but he wasn't good enough to beat the very best in the world when it mattered. He had to improve.

Being ranked 3 or 4 in the world wasn't going to be enough to win majors. The likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have set the standard so high in mens tennis that he had to go away and improve his game further.

This is what I admire about Murray, the willingness and desire to push himself further to achieve his goals.

By taking on Ivan Lendl as his coach and through shear hard work and dedication he's now stepped up to that next level which has resulted in him winning the US Open and now Wimbledon.

It might still feel like a shock, a Brit winning Wimbledon. But take away Murray's nationality, look at things purely from a tennis perspective - he should be winning Wimbledon titles because he's simply that good.

I think the stage is set now for Murray to go on and win more majors including more Wimbledon titles in the next few years.

After today's result I'm just thinking about future Wimbledons. What's the story going to be now that our wait for a British winner is over?

Watching Wimbledon will never be the same again.

Sunday 30 June 2013

Wimbledon 2013 - The art of queuing

I've been watching Wimbledon on telly every year since 1985. Earlier this week I finally decided to make my first ever visit to the All England Club.

I knew what to expect, if I wanted to gain entry with a ground pass, it would require patience and the ability to deal with queuing for more than 2 hours.

I left my home in East London just after 7:00 in the morning, met my friend outside Southfields tube station at 8:20 and was in the queue for 8:30.

I was mentally prepared to queue until early afternoon based on the advice of people who'd previously queued for tickets at Wimbledon.

On entering the queue we were given a card with a queue number. The stewards told us Wimbledon had a capacity of 7000 people. It wasn't a great start to the day to be given a queuing ticket number of 8224!

We were warned it would be a long wait - maybe 7 or 8 hours! Surely they were just saying this to manage our expectations? I was confident we'd be in by at least 1:00.

I was prepared, I'd made provisions by stocking up. In my bag I had newspapers to read, biscuits, bagels, hot cross buns and two bottles of water.

By midday I realised my optimistic 1:00 estimation was way off the mark. It took almost 8 hours of queuing before we made it in at just after 4:00!

Writing about it now, I'm amazed I could queue for so long. I don't know whether I should admire my own perseverance or question my own sanity!

I certainly related to this video on the Guardian.

When we finally got in, I have to admit I loved the feel of finally being at Wimbledon.

It's a mixture of being at a great sporting and social event. So much history and tradition surrounds the place.

Did I get to see any tennis? Well yes I did.

I saw a few matches on the outside courts, but I didn't see that much. After an hour or so the rain starting coming down. Not too hard but enough to put an end to any evening play.

The original plan was to try and buy some re-sale tickets for the show courts, but when we saw the queue for these tickets funnily enough that idea fell flat.

By 5:30 my friend decided he wanted to go home as he was so tired, I was having none of it. Now that I was here I wanted a drink, something to eat and a chance to take in the Wimbledon vibe.

By 6:30 with the rain coming down and the only tennis taking place under the roof on Center Court I decided to go home. Not exactly what I imagined from my first visit to Wimbledon, but it's only made me more determined to go next year.

I won't be making the same mistake of arriving so late as 8:30 in the morning. I need to be there by 7 in the morning, 7:30 latest! I'll get it right next time.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Brazilian protests: Is the World Cup what Brazil needs?

After spending a couple of weeks in Brazil this year, I've naturally been interested in the protest movement that's grown over the last few weeks.

The protests have certainly shown the world another side of Brazil away from the usual stereotypes of sun, samba, football and carnival.

The protests have deflected attention from the Confederations Cup football tournament which acts as a test run for the World Cup.

One thing that's stood out is the growing anger and resentment towards next year's World Cup and Olympics in 2016.

This feeling is perfectly represented in this video I found by Carla Dauden. With all the problems facing the country, she explains why she won't be going to the World Cup next year - it's been viewed on Youtube more than 2.5 million times already!

Since the end of military rule in the 1980s, Brazil has made huge progress both politically and economically and the demonstrations are a consequence of this.

There's been a huge growth in the country's middle class, not surprisingly their expectations have grown considerably.

They're frustrated with slower economic growth, a decline in living standards and are no longer prepared to tolerate political corruption and mismanagement.

There's a number of countries in similar positions but the situation in Brazil is different with the two biggest sporting events taking place in the space of 2 years.

These events are only angering people further. How can a country with so much inequality, corruption and lack of investment in public services be spending so much money on sporting events.

This was a question I thought about when I visited one of Rio's Favelas in April. Our tour guide said the government is making more of an effort to address poverty and inequality but sporting events are limited in what they can do.

Brazilians want improvements in public services, health, education, schooling. The World Cup and Olympics rather than being great events to improve the country seem more like an insult to many people.

This week I read an article by former Brazilian footballer turned politician Romario, who argues many of the same points.

He originally thought the event would benefit the country, but now believes that the World Cup is only deepening the problems the country faces.

Before the 2012 Olympics we had many of the same discussions in the UK. Would the Olympics be of benefit to the country? Could we afford to spend so much money on a sporting event, when there were so many other important things the money could be spent on?

When you have major sporting events taking place in emerging countries like Brazil, these questions become even more important.

I want to believe and hope that the World Cup and Olympics will benefit Brazil and I'm sure that just like here in the UK there will be a great feel good factor.

But a country like Brazil needs a lot more than a feel good factor to make a long lasting difference to lives of millions of ordinary Brazilians.

Sunday 23 June 2013

James Gandolfini: How the Sopranos changed television

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

The Sopranos is one of my favourite television shows of all time. The Sopranos and the HBO channel it was made by changed television.

I think it showed that TV could challenge films artistically. The Sopranos explored stories, themes and characters with a depth that simply isn't available in film.

I've always been interested in organised crime and the Mafia. When I first heard about the Sopranos I knew it was something that would appeal to me.

What I liked was that it wasn't really just about gangsters. Tony Soprano was a middle aged suburban husband and father with a senior level executive job. It just so happened that rather than working in government or finance, his profession was organised crime.

There were two sides to the Sopranos. On the one side it was a show about the Mafia and gangsters, but take away the gangster element and you were left with a family drama of suburban American life.

I loved how the Sopranos showed that being a member of the Mafia was just a day job, Tony Soprano was a stressed husband, he suffered from anxiety attacks, had a difficult relationship with his mother, two typical teenage children entering adulthood, and a challenging working environment.

These were things that so many of us could relate to, even if your day job didn't involve chopping up some unfortunate wiseguy.

The scale and success of The Sopranos allowed more TV dramas to develop and take on greater storytelling challenges. Without The Sopranos there wouldn't be The Wire, Mad Men, Broadwalk Empire and so many other great TV shows.

Friday 21 June 2013

Miami Heat are NBA Champions

With the football season over, my attentions have turned stateside with basketball's NBA Finals.

This season came to an end when the Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in the deciding Game 7 match to clinch the series 4-3. The Heat led by the league's best player in Lebron James have now won back to back titles.

My highlight of the series, Ray Allen's 3 pointer in Game 6 to take the game into overtime.

I have to say this year's finals have been compelling! For most of the season, it seemed that Miami would cruise their way to another championship and Lebron James would cement his position as the greatest player of his generation.

It didn't go quite to plan. The Heat needed 7 games to beat the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and now in the finals they've come against and ageing but formidable San Antonio Spurs led by their own legend and 4 time NBA championship winner Tim Duncan.

The series has been brilliant to watch. It's been a real see-saw battle with each team winning one match then losing the next.

I've loved the narratives for a different players. There's Lebron, the superstar. Winning one title isn't enough for the critics; he has to win multiple championships.

For the Spurs the quiet legend of Tim Duncan trying to win a 5th title.

But this series was big for back up players making a name for themselves. The 3 point shooting of Gary Neal and Danny Green and the rise of youngster Kawhi Leonard, surely the future for the Spurs.

The veterans also stepped up as well. Manu Ginobili rolled back the years in Game 5, and Ray Allen's 3 pointer in Game 6 had me falling out my seat!

Miami eventually triumphed but I felt sorry for the Spurs, they were so close to winning the series and contributed so much, I didn't think they deserved to lose.

The last word has to go to Lebron James and the Heat, Lebron gets a lot of criticism some of it unfair, but he stepped up when it mattered and is building on his legacy of being one of the all times greats of the game.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

I downloaded the new Daft Punk album last week. I've finally got to that stage where I now download music rather than going to record shops and buying CDs.

It's been a long wait for this album, 8 years since Human After All which nobody seems to have any great love for. So for the likes of myself, it's been a wait of 12 years since Discovery for a true Daft Punk album to come out.

The Guardian seems obsessed with the new album. There's a Daft Punk article everyday on its website. Many critics seem to be focusing on how Daft Punk have brought back the disco sound of the late 70s. They haven't!

Those of us who know our dance music, particularly House music know that disco has never gone away. Its style and influence has always remained and it continues to be a major influence on dance and electronic music culture.

Instant Crush - my favourite track from the album.

As a dance music aficionado, I've always 'got' Daft Punk. All their records make perfect sense to me. I know all their influences and reference points because they share the same influences and reference points as me.

Their influences are in classic House music, techno, disco, soft rock and pop. I understand it all.

What I love about this album is the collaborations between Daft Punk and other artists. It's not a coincidence that many of these artist are people I've followed and loved for many years.

There's Pharrell Williams from NERD, who I love. The legend that is Giorgio Moroder most famously known for the Donna Summer classic 'I Feel Love'. Todd Edwards, one of my favourite House & Garage producers, and finally the guitar sounds of Chic's Nile Rogers on the hit single Get Lucky.

By coincidence I've just finished reading Nile Rogers' autobiography Le Freak, a truly incredible life and music career from a hugely influential musician and producer.

Any album bringing these talents together was always going to be something I would love and I haven't been disappointed!

Sunday 12 May 2013

Goodbye Fergie

We all knew this day would come eventually - but it's still a shock to see Alex Ferguson finally retiring as manager of Manchester Utd.

Watching the scenes today after Utd's final home game against Swansea, I felt incredibly emotional as Fergie gave his farewell speech.

It's not just about witnessing the end of an era at Man Utd or for English football. It's knowing that you've seen the end of something you'll never see again.

That old school British style of management of one dominate character taking a club and defining the culture, character and success of that club is over.

That managerial tradition is best represented through the likes of legendary managers like Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Don Revie, and Jock Stein to name just a few. For me Alex Ferguson is the last in that line of dominate football managers.

The modern game simply won't allow an Alex Ferguson to exist ever again. That's what's sad about him finally stepping down and why he'll remain the most successful manager ever.

There's so much to say about Fergie, I remember him becoming Man Utd manager back in 1986. They were near the bottom of the old First Division.

As a 10 year old just getting into football, I quickly knew this was unacceptable for the biggest club in English football.

Here's a few of the things that have stood out for me over the last 26 years.

The turning point

FA Cup Third round against Nottingham Forest in 1990.

It's widely acknowledged that Fergie would have been sacked had he lost this game. 4 years without a trophy, things weren't happening for Man Utd.

I watched this game at home and fully expected Man Utd to lose. Going against the form book, Mark Robbins scored the winner and Man Utd went on to win the FA Cup in a reply against Crystal Palace. This is where the winning culture first started.

Drive and determination

Regardless of the sport, when people have long and successful careers, I always look at the drive and ambition these people have. To win once is never enough, they want and need to keep winning.

This is something I've always admired about Fergie. The stress and pressure on managers is huge, but clearly he loves and thrives on this, he wants to keep winning and he's passed that drive and determination on to likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs who season after season kept on performing and winning.


Fergie never openly criticizes his players in public. You also never hear players attack him in public. Loyalty is a trait I value and I think he's always demonstrated this throughout his career.

Players want to play for him and don't want to let him down, it's this loyalty that he generates that's helped in the success of Man Utd.

Moving with the times

Football in 1986 was on a completely different planet to where the game is today. Anyone under the age of 25 would struggle to comprehend what football was like then. Yes it was still popular but the money and profile of game can't even be compared.

One of the greatest skills I think Fergie has shown is his ability to adapt to the changing landscape of football.

In 1986, players we quite well paid sports stars. Now they're mega rich celebrities. He's still managed to adapt his managerial skills to cope with the changes of modern footballers.

In 1986, the most exotic foreign players were from places like Denmark or possibly Holland.

Now we have players from every corner of the world. Players brought up in very different cultures to England and English football. Yet still Fergie has been able to deal with the new challenges of managing a multi national football squad.


Regardless of who you are, I think it's important to find something in life that you're passionate about. It's obvious that people working in football are going to be passionate about what they do.

In saying this, to be as successful as Fergie that passion has to be greater and more intense than the average person. It probably borders on obsessive but what ever you want to call it, he clearly has that little bit extra.

I've always admired Fergie's passion not just for the game but to Manchester Utd and the history and tradition of the club.

I always remember seeing pictures of him holding the Champions League Trophy after they beat Chelsea in the 2008. The joy on his face I thought it made him look 10 years younger.

Reading my thoughts back, it sounds like I'm the biggest Fergie and Man Utd fan! I'm not, what I am is a football fan.

Like many football fans there's been lots of things that Fergie has said or done which have annoyed and irritated me; but as a football fan, I have a huge amount of respect for who he is, what he's done and what he represents for football in this country.

I shall miss him.

And finally...David Moyes

I think David Moyes is the perfect fit. People can say he hasn't won anything or that he has no experience of Champions League football.

That shouldn't be held against him. His work at Everton means he's earned the right to be given this opportunity.

I'm pleased that as a British manager he's been given this chance. English football seems to always look to foreign coaches and players for inspiration.

As Fergie has shown, this country produces great managers and other British managers should be given the chance to follow in his success.

Monday 29 April 2013

Thoughts on Brazil - An amazing country

Now that I'm back in the UK and my Brazilian adventure has sadly come to an end, I thought now would be a good moment to look back on my trip.

What can I say, Brazil is a truly amazing and unique country. I don't think there's anywhere in the world quite like it.

For years I've always had a thing for Brazil. I think we all have countries or parts of the world that instinctively appeal to us, Brazil's always held that appeal for me.

It's great to visit somewhere you've always wanted to go, then when you get there you discover it's everything you thought it would be and more. That's how I feel about Brazil.

So what was so great about the country?

It's so completely different to the UK and Europe and this is what surprised me. I had this idea it would a Latin American version of Spain or Italy but I couldn't have been more wrong!

Brazil has it's own distinct culture, very Latin American but uniquely Brazilian. I felt this huge cultural gap between Brazil and Europe.

It's a cliche I know, but Brazilian culture seems more joyful in contrast to what seems like the serious uptight world of Europe. Brazilian culture seems more about knowing how to enjoy life's pleasures.

The setting

I only visited Rio and Salvador, but when it comes to natural settings for cities, you'll be hard pushed to beat these two. Rio in particular is stunning.

Not in terms of the architecture of the buildings or the design but more the natural setting, it's so beautfiful. The mountains, the beach, and rain forests, you couldn't have a city in a more perfect place.

The view from Sugar Loaf Mountain

The Language

Only two countries speak Portuguese, Brazil and Portugal.

Considering Portugal only has a population of 10 million compared to Brazil's 200 million they're really the only people in the world that speak the language - it's their own and it adds to the uniqueness of the country.

Although I don't speak Portuguese it sounds like such a rich and expressive language and I've always thought it sounded great in music.

The people

The mix of people in Brazil is incredibly, it's so diverse. You've got everything. When you hear the expression 'Rainbow Nation' look no further than Brazil!

You have people of white European stock who look like they could be from Northern Europe, then you have every shade of white, brown and black until you reach black Brazilians who look African.

Spending time in Salvador, the heart of Brazil's Afro Brazilian population, I saw black and brown people who looked completely different to anyone I'd ever seen before.

It's as if the centuries of mixing between black, white and indigenous Indian has created a new race of people unique to Brazil.

Coming from a place where you have an ethnic majority and ethnic minority population, I wondered what Brazil was. Is it a white country with a large black and brown population? Or a black country with a large white population?

I realised it doesn't apply or matter with Brazil - the issues of race are different there. Everyone is Brazilian regardless of skin colour or ethnic background, it's a proper melting pot.

What I learned

What I discovered is that I didn't know as much about Brazil as I thought I did.

I've loved Brazilian music for years, admired their football, seen films like City of God and read brilliant books about the country like, A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb.

I realised Brazil's still an unknown quantity for many people. There's a lot more to the country than the stereotypes of sun, sea and samba.

Of course it's not all perfect and I shouldn't let 2 weeks romanticise the country. There are big problems with the country's reputation of violence which worried me and does intimidate people from visiting.

There's also huge disparities between rich and poor which I saw first hand and which are likely to remain for some time.

But it really is an exciting time for the country. Brazil feels like it's up and coming, it's an emerging power on the global stage and for that reason it's an interesting place to visit and learn more about.

Here in the UK and Europe it doesn't feel like we're on the up. It's more like we've been on top for too long and now our position is slipping during these times of austerity.

Everything's happening to Brazil. They're holding next year's World Cup and then the Olympics in 2016.

The world will get the chance to learn a lot more about the country and maybe these events will help tackle some of the social and political problems faced in the country.

If you've managed to read this far, you've probably realised just how much I enjoyed my time in Brazil. If I've managed to wet your appetite, I suggest you look at booking a trip yourself, TAP airlines of Portugal do some great deals.

I can confidently say you won't be disappointed if you visit Brazil.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Olodum Drummers

I have to admit I'd never heard of Olodum until I arrived in Salvador.

Many of the shops in the historic centre sell Olodum clothes and merchandise and you can't really avoid seeing the distinctive logo of the group when you're in the old town.

The group was set up in 1979 by the musician Neguinho do Samba with the aim of providing cultural activities for young people centered around music.

The group looks to celebrate Afro Brazilian culture, fight racism, and raise self esteem within the Afro Brazilian community.

It turns out that I had heard of Olodum as they were featured in the video of Micheal Jackson's They Don't Care about us.

If you want to see Olodum in action, check out this video below.

You can also have a look at the collaboration with Michael Jackson.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Hello from Salvador, Bahia

After a week in Rio I've headed north to the city of Salvador.

I've been here a few days and feels like I'm in a completely different country. I'm in the Bahia region of North Eastern Brazil, this is where Brazil connects with its African roots.

Nowhere is this more evident then with the population. The majority of people here are black or brown.

Walking around the historic old town of Pelourinho, I feel as if I'm in some alternative version of Africa. But I know this isn't Africa, it doesn't feel like Africa.

The streets of Pelourinho

I then asked myself if this was like the Caribbean, but it didn't look or feel like the Caribbean.

This is Brazil it's not like anywhere else. Even the people look Brazilian in the sense that through centuries of mixing between black, white, and indigenous Indian it's created a black and brown population unique to Brazil.

You feel this African identity everywhere you go in the city and I discovered more about Salvador's African links by visiting the the Afro Brazilian museum.

What I love about being here in Salvador is that it's such a cultural and artistic place.

If Sao Paulo is where you go for business, Rio to party and play - then Salvador is where you go for culture. Whether it's music, art, theatre or dance, you'll find it all in Salvador.

Many of Brazil's most famous musicians come from the city and the surrounding Bahia region. I've been discovering more about the city's famous Afro Brazilian cultural group Olodum, known for its Samba Reggae and percussive drumming.

The city is also home to the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. I've been enjoying watching some displays of Capoeira in the city's main square.

A tourist giving the old Capoeira a go!

I'm glad I'm spending time here in Salvador. If you're going to visit Brazil, you have to visit Rio, but in visiting Salvador I feel I'm discovering and seeing another side to the country; one the rest of the world doesn't know much about.

Barra Lighthouse, Salvador

It feels like I've gone deep inside the heart and soul of Brazil. I'm feeling that African side of country's culture which is so different to what I experienced down in Rio.

I've never visited anywhere in the world that feels quite like Salvador.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Brazil: It´s all about the music

I´ve always had a great love for Brazilian music.

Latin Jazz, Bossa Nova, Samba, Rio Funk, Brazilian Drum and bass; Brazilians know how to make music.

One of the great things about being here in Brazil is being able to hear some of this music in its original setting. I haven´t been disappointed.

In Rio there´s an area called Lapa. This is somewhere you have to visit if you want to hear great live music in the city. During the day it´s a pretty rough and seedy looking area - but at night it comes a live with lots of live bars and clubs full of live singers and bands.

I spent a couple of evenings in Lapa just hanging out and listening to some of the live performers. There was a lot of traditional afro brazilian bands playing which I loved, it´s not music you hear everyday but adds to the experience of being in Brazil.

Some brazilian beats

Last Sunday I headed back deep into the favela for a night of Rio Funk.

The hostel where I was staying organizes Favela Funk nights, where they take you to a club in Rochina favela, the biggest favela in the country.

If the Samba styles of Lapa represent the folk music of Brazil and Bossa Nova the stylish sophisticated tastes of the middle classes; then Rio funk is definitely the sound of the street, the ghetto, the favelas!

As tourists, when we arrived we were given our own sort of VIP area upstairs on a balcony overlooking the rest of the club. It was fine being up there for a while, but you couldn´t really get into music and vibe as you were cut off from everyone else down below.

I think everyone from the hostel felt the same and eventually we all made our way down below to start raving with the rest of the locals.

It was brilliant night out, the music was superb and you were never made to feel like outsiders. What I realised is that it doesn´t matter where you go in the world, people are people and they all act the same.

There were moments were I felt I was at a old skool Jungle/Drum&Bass rave from the mid 90s it didn´t really feel that foreign or different.

Outside the club

If you´ve seen the film City of God, the club featured in the film is the one we went to. I loved that film and after being introduced to favela life it felt amazing to be sort of living it!

I loved the way that you get groups of guys doing their choreographed routines like they´re in a boy band, while the girls dance on the sidelines admiring the moves. Sounds strange, but it´s all very Brazilian.

If you plan on visiting Brazil, you have to emerse yourself in the music. Music is a big part of Brazilian culture and you get a better feel of the country by hearing all the different styles of Brazilian music.

Monday 15 April 2013

Life in the Favelas

On Saturday I went on an organised tour of one of Rio´s favelas.

Life inside the favela was brought to the world´s attention in the film City of God and Favela tours have become a big attraction for anyone visiting the city.

Once we arrived at the top of the hill to the entrance of the favela we were visiting, I felt as if I was entering a completely different world.

I´d go as far to say it was like I´d travelled to a different country in the space of 20 minutes.

After spending my time mainly in the areas of Leblon and Ipenema, two of the most exclusive and fashionable parts of the city - the contrast with the favela couldn´t have been greater.

Although I was looking forward to exploring the favela, there was part of me that felt a little uneasy as it could been seen as patronising for tourists to wonder around a shanty town as if it´s the urban equivalent of going on safari.

Our guide requested that we didn´t take photos of the locals which I thought was right, and he took us to certain spots around the favela where it was appropriate to take photos.

Without the guide there´s no way you´d be able to find your way around the favela. It´s a maze of winding paths and alleys - but they´re also thriving communities with shops, cafes, bars, and homes all merged together clinging onto the side of a hill.

Even in the favela, location means a lot. The best location is usually at the top of the hill. You have a better view and the air is cleaner.

As we made our way downwards through the favela, at times it felt like you were in an underground cave. There was an unpleasant smell, and when you looked up you could hardly see the sky above

Our guide explained how the favelas started and how the people have survived with little government assistance.

There is of course the problem with drug gangs who control different areas of the favelas, but I came away feeling a sense of admiration at the resourcefulness of the people, and the ability to build an entire community for themselves.

With the World Cup coming to Brazil next year and the Olympics in 2016, this is an exciting time for Brazil. The country is on the up, but will such events make a difference to the people in the favelas?

Probably not immediately. We had this debate in Britain with our own Olympics and having major sporting events isn´t going to change decades of social inequality.

Brazil has a huge population of almost 200 million people. Despite it´s growing wealth and expanding middle class, there are still millions of poor people struggling in the country.

The same thing could be said about other ´BRIC´ countries like China and India, their populations are huge and not everyone can be lifted out of poverty.

Besides, even here in the UK and America there are huge gaps between rich and poor.

So would I recommend a favela tour if you find yourself in Rio? Definitely.

It´s an incredibly interesting and thought provoking experience that gives you another side to the sun, sea and samba image you may have of Brazil.

Friday 12 April 2013

Margret Thatcher: Politics seems to matter again

Even though I´m enjoying the sun and South American way of life down here in Brazil, I´m still keeping in touch with what´s going on back home following Mrs Thatcher´s death.

I know some of you might be thinking why would you care, you´re in Rio - but it´s still a major story and it feels weird that I´m not at home to fully follow it.

What I can tell, is that the country is split over her legacy. It´s feels like there´s a civil war going on over the rights and wrongs of her policies.

This isn´t good thing and it feels like all the old battles that were fought during the 80s are being replayed again. You get the sense of great bitterness and infighting going on.

One thing you can say is that politics seems to matter again. People are passionate about their feelings towards Margret Thatcher.

In our bland middle of the road world of politics we have today - this might come as a shock to many people under the age of 30.

Yes she was divisive and controversial but Mrs Thatcher made people care about politics and what was happening to the country and the communities which people lived in.

There doesn´t seem to be anyone or anything in politics at the moment that has the same effect.

Right, I´m off down to the beach!

Thursday 11 April 2013

Hello from Rio!

Oh my god it´s so good to feel the heat again!

I´m in Brazil for 2 weeks. I´ve left behind the longest ever winter back in the UK for life in the Sun.

I´m here in Rio for a week before I head north to the city of Salvador.

Brazil is somewhere I´ve always wanted to visit and so far it´s been everything I´ve imagined and more. Everything´s so Brazilian, so South American it´s great.

So far this week, I´ve spent time on the beaches; Copacobana and Ipenema are the two most famous, but I´m staying in a hostel 2 minutes walk from Leblon Beach which I think is the best.

I love watching people playing beach volleyball using just their heads, chest and feet. Would love to have a go but fear my English style lack of technique might just show me up!

Also gone on a city tour which included visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city and the cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

The views are stunning, in fact I don´t think I´ve been to a city anywhere in the world in such a natural beatiful setting!

Monday 8 April 2013

Margret Thatcher 1925 - 2013

Where do you begin when looking back at the career of former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher?

One blog will never be enough. I'd need to write at least 10 blog posts to cover her impact on Britain as Prime Minister. If I had one sentence to try and sum up her career I would say this:

She was the most influential, controversial, divisive, and successful Prime Minster the country has seen in the last 50 years.

If you look back at the 20th Century, only Winston Churchill could be said to have had a greater impact and influence.

One of 'Thatcher's Children'

I'm an 80's child and I grew up with Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister. Growing up in a household where my Dad was very anti the Conservative Party, I saw Mrs Thatcher as the enemy.

Some of my earliest political memories from the early 80's was hearing about the 3 million people who were unemployed. It seemed her economic policies were detrimental to many working class people around the country.

Her time in office was defined by her battles. Whether it was with her own party and the Tory 'wets'. The trade unions, the Miners, The Falklands War, battles with Europe; there was always conflict with Mrs Thatcher.

Towards the end of her period in power she'd won many of these battles, but this may have given her a false sense of invincibility. She thought she could win any battle - but as we saw with the Poll Tax riots she was beginning to think she could do anything.

By the time I reached my teens, I thought Mrs Thatcher would go on forever, she seemed so powerful nobody would ever topple her.

It was my 15th birthday when she finally left Number 10. Her leaving office was a significant moment and today feels the same.

Her legacy

I was talking about Mrs Thatcher last week with one of my friends at work. He asked me whether I thought Mrs Thatcher was a successful Prime Minister.

I said it all depends on which part of the political spectrum you stand on. For many particularly on the Left she was a disaster for Conservatives she was and remains a hero.

My argument was that in terms of implementing her policies and the affects those policies had - she was the most successful British politician of the 20th Century.

Her influence is significant. Conservatives see Thatcherism as being the defining feature of Conservatism. In truth Margret Thatcher was not a typical Conservative.

She wasn't what was known as a moderate traditional 'One Nation' Tory. She was actually a radical. Tearing up the post war consensus politics and moving the Tories to the Right.

The problem she left for the Tories is that she was so divisive - many people today simply refuse to vote Conservative. The party is still trying to 'detoxify' the Tory brand.

Secondly, she's made the Tory Pary too ideological, they've forgotten the art of winning General Elections through pure pragmatism. This was what historically made the Tories such a successful political party.

Her influence means many Tories seem unable to move on, and accept that her policies may have been right for the 1980s but now the Party needs to find a new way of connecting with voters.

The Labour Party

She didn't just change the Conservative Party, Labour were hugely affected by her time in office. Without her there simply wouldn't have been New Labour.

After a series of election defeats she essentially pulled the Labour Party to the Right of the political spectrum and many of the policies that she introduced and adopted were carried on by New Labour.

Many old Left traditional Labour members would argue this wasn't a good thing - but the party had to adapt to the new political landscape she created.

A changed country

There's so much more I could say, and in the next few days and weeks more reflection and analysis will take place on her period in office.

There's no doubt that in terms of British politics, she will go down as one of the most important and influential politicians this country has ever known.

She changed Britain on so many levels: Economically, socially, and culturally. Being a history graduate and understanding what Britain was like during the 1970s. I understand why she came to power.

I understand the battles she fought and the policies she implemented

Was Britain in a stronger position in 1990 when she left office than when she arrived in 1979?

I would say yes. She gave this country a very tough medicine to take and it wasn't always nice.

Many people will never forget the harsh treatment dished out and it's this lack of compassion and harshness that I'm probably most critical of when it comes of her years in office.

What I can say is that it doesn't matter whether you liked or hated her nobody can argue against her incredible impact on Britain as a country.

Friday 5 April 2013

What class are you?

I completed the Great British Class Calculator on the BBC website.

I discovered I'm part of the Emergent Social Worker. It means I have no money but I have a varied cultural and social life. Great!

I'm part of a group that's financially insecure, low on savings and house value but I score high on social and cultural factors.

Like many British people, I find class fascinating. It's so much more complex and interesting than in other countries. When I think about class both on a personal and general level, it's so much more complex and subtle issue to debate.

I think what I like about about this new report that's been produced, is that it tries to address some of these complexities.

Rather than having the three traditional classes of Upper, Middle and Working class - we now have 7 different classes in which to identify with.

Your have: Elite, Established Middle Class, Technical Middle Class, New Affluent Workers, Emergent Service Workers, Traditional Working Class and Precariat.

What this does take into account is people's economic, social and cultural capital and interests.

When I look at myself, I know that in terms of my education, job and salary I'm Middle Class. Yet when I look at my background and upbringing I always associate myself with being working class.

It's left me confused as depending on the question and what mood I'm in, I will answer differently if you ask me what class I am.

Even though I still feel I come from a working class background, the working class culture I identify with doesn't seem to fit in with the chav/council estate stereotype that seems to dominate today. Yet when I acknowledge that on many levels I'm now middle class I still feel this is a class I've entered and wasn't born into.

Should it matter? On a lot of levels it shouldn't. Isn't it about

'Where you're at - not where you're from'?

You'd like to think so but being British where you come from and where you are now on the social ladder is still so important to many of us.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Paolo Di Canio - The Fascist?

It's funny that when Paolo Di Canio was managing Swindon Town nobody was interested in his political views.

As soon as he moves to Sunderland and the over hyped world of the Premier League, everyone wants to know whether he's a Fascist or not.

It's been a PR disaster for both Sunderland and Di Canio, but the question is: Should his political views have any bearing or influence on his ability to manager a football club?

Since the end of World War 2 Fascism has become a discredited political movement in many European Countries, but it doesn't mean that extreme Far right views aren't popular on the continent.

Anyone who knows anything about Italy and Italian society will know that politics is far more extreme and polarised than here in the UK. This polarisation is found in Italian football.

Many Italian football clubs have political leanings, with clubs having fans that lean either to the Left or the Right of the political spectrum.

Roma and Livorno for example are known as a Left wing clubs, while the likes of Lazio and Verona have long been associated with far right and Fascist elements. It's something we don't see in English football.

I've recently finished reading the book Calcio by John Foot. It's the definitive guide to Italian football.

When it comes to Lazio, he talks about how many of its leading players in the early 1970s were self confessed Fascists.

It's not really a surprise when you consider that Fascist politicians and political views were still prevalent in Italian society, years after the end of the Second World War and Mussolini's dictatorship.

I don't think Di Canio's political views are out of the ordinary when it comes to how things are in Italy.

Do I think Di Canio is a Fascist? Probably not.

I think when he gave his his Roman salute in a Rome derby it was the equivalent of 'kissing the badge'. He was showing his affinity and loyalty to Lazio's Ultras (hardcore Lazio fans).

Showing that he was one of them, which he is. He's from Rome and group up and supported the club as a teenager.

What I do think and have little doubt, is that Di Canio's politics are to the right of most moderate people. I'd argue he's a right wing authoritarian.

If you're a right wing authoritarian and you make the next logical step to the right on the political spectrum you end up at Fascism.

Unsurprisingly there will be elements of Fascism and authoritarian rule that will appeal to you. I think this is the case with Di Canio.

The problem he has is that Fascism is a discredited political belief - it's beyond the pale politically when it comes to mainstream politics.

Nobody can come out and claim to be a Fascist and still hold a prominent public role. This is why it would be better for Di Canio to come out and actively denounce Fascism and its beliefs.

In doing so he might bring an end to this controversy.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Budget 2013 - Perhaps there won't be any growth

After announcing in this week's budget that his growth forecasts for the economy have been downgraded. The Chancellor George Osborne has had to argue that his economic policies are still working.

Since the last election in 2010, there's been two different arguments put forward on how to deal with the economy.

For the Conservatives the priority has always been about cutting the budget deficit and lowering the national debt.

For Labour, the argument is for less severe government cuts and more government borrowing to help stimulate growth in the economy.

Here's a question for you: What if it makes no difference which plan you agree with. What if there isn't going to be any real growth over the next 10 years?

Labour can say what they like, I'm not convinced that if they were in power the economy would be in better state.

We might soon find out, as there's a strong chance they'll be back in power after the next General Election; it seems the last one was a good one to lose.

I don't think they've fully acknowledged the mistakes they made when they were in government or explained the lessons they've learned.

The impression all three main parties give is that growth will naturally come - I'm not convinced. The reality we might be facing is on of a long period austerity and stagnation with government policies having little or no effect.

A depressing thought I know. Maybe the truth is that the growth we experienced during the first decade of the 21st Century was artificially created and that now were having to deal with a tough economic re-adjustment where living standards and wages are going to decrease.

No politician is going to come out and say we have to accept we're going to be poorer and that there isn't much that can be done. That would be political suicide but I don't see anything improving anytime soon.

I really think there's a crisis amongst the political classes across many Western Governments. Nobody seems to have an idea on how to create growth.

There needs to be a serious think about what the economy will realistically look like in 5 - 10 years time, maybe for governments it will be about effectively managing economic stagnation and nothing more.

Let me know your thoughts.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Italian politics is no joke!

I had to laugh last week after the results of the Italian elections.

Former television comedian Beppe Grillo won 26% of the vote as leader of the Five Star Movement and now holds the balance of power as no party won an overall majority.

Seeing as Grillo doesn't want to form a coalition with the centre-left Democratic Party which won the most votes, it looks like Italy will be having another election in the next few months.

It's easy to laugh but is Grillo anymore a comedian than Silvio Berlusconi? His behaviour has made Italy a laughing stock for years. Perhaps last week's results show just how serious Italians take their politics.

The results raise some important questions for Europe's leaders. A number of Italian voters have rejected the political mainstream and made it clear they don't support the austerity measures introduced by Prime Minister Mario Monti.

It's another example of the crisis in politics across much of Europe and in Britain, where people are losing faith and have no confidence in mainstream politicians.

Governments have racked up huge debts in borrowing over the last decade and now ordinary people are having to suffer through policies of austerity demanded by European Leaders in Brussels.

It's no wonder the likes of Grillo appeal to voters, when he attacks the corruption of Italy's political class and calls for an end to austerity.

You can argue that voting for mavericks and independents like Grillo are wasted votes but I don't see it that way.

I don't think Grillo wants to be in government and he's probably not qualified enough. But in voting for him, Italians are making their feelings known about how broken the country's political system really is.

You can't say their voices aren't being heard. Political leaders in Italy and Europe might not like it but it's called democracy.

Many Italians feel politicians in Italy are a joke so what better way to express that feeling than voting for a comedian.

Saturday 16 February 2013

When did working for nothing become acceptable?

I was glad to hear this week that university graduate Cait Reilly was successful in her legal claim against the government's back-to-work scheme.

This is the scheme where job seekers are required to undertake some forms of unpaid work in order to continue receiving benefits.

Reilly claimed she was forced to work for free at Poundland as part of the scheme. This prevented her from continuing with the voluntary work she was already doing at a museum.

Unsurprisingly the Geology student thought her Poundland placement was a waste of time that did not help her find a full time job.

The Court of Appeal found that the government scheme was unlawful and now people who lost out on benefits because they didn't take part in the scheme could be entitled to a rebate.

What's interested me about this story is the government's response and the argument that unemployed people should be made to work for free in order to help them gain relevant work skills and experiences to help them longterm.

It's another example of the growing belief, that if you want to gain relevant skills and experience you have do it for free.

When did this become an acceptable employment model?

You only have to look at the rise of internships which I hate. Many of the creative and media industries subscribe to the internship model.

I wouldn't have a problem if internships lasted a few weeks. Many of them don't and go on for months. Unless 'bank of Mommy and Daddy' are there to bail their kids out - how are young people meant to survive?

This working for free idea needs to be stopped. we need to start paying people to do work that's available.

I'm so glad I'm not in my early 20s. As a 30 something I appreciate how lucky I am/was.

Your 20 something has been told to study hard, go to university; get a good job, graduate with thousands of pounds worth of debt. When they finish they discover there's no jobs out there and if they want experience they have to work for free!

For me it's exploitative and devalues the nature of work. If there's work that needs doing than at least pay people to do it.