Monday, 25 May 2009


I would not usually lead my blog with a football story, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The demise of Newcastle United FC is a sorry tale which I have witnessed over the last few years, and their relegation to the Football League Championship on Sunday is a crying shame. Gone are the days of visiting Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge - now the Toon Army will be heading to Plymouth, Peterborough and Scunthorpe. A mixture of poor management, poor ownership and poor signings have led to the fall of a once-mighty team that played some of the most entertaining football in the world at St James Park (pictured right).

One thing that has not changed is the support, which will always be maintained as one of the best in the country, although there were far too many people in pubs over the weekend who enjoyed the sight of thousands of Geordies crying into their black and white shirts. The challenge now for the Magpies is how they get out of this mess. I have always thought that relegation to the Championship could have many positive effects and perhaps mark the start of a new era, rather than the end. Hopefully it will enable them to cut out all of the rubbish that has been filling up squadlists for the last five seasons and bring in some players who actually want to wear the shirt.

It will be an interesting summer to see who goes, but can you really see Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Damien Duff, Joey Barton and Alan Smith staying? In fact, I can’t think of any player who would want to be playing in the Championship - it’s something that most of the squad have never experienced even in their earlier careers. So we may well see a clearout at St James’ Park, which while it may see us lose some quality, those so-called ‘top’ players have never got going all season so maybe it will be good riddance. I can’t imagine Owen would be too enthralled by the prospect of Blackpool on a rainy Tuesday night.

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I’ve always been one for suggesting the Church of England should distance itself from politics. But the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (pictured right) both said last week that people should not vote for the British National Party. Despite having a great deal of respect for both Archbishops, I am siding with Nick Griffin here (shock horror)! Whilst I would not vote for the BNP myself, I respect the rights of people to vote for the party, and do not think people should be told how to use their vote by the Church. Griffin said: “It's time the Church grew up and decided to sit down and talk with us about the issues that we're getting across to our supporters.”

Well said. Instead of just coming out and saying ‘don’t vote BNP’, why didn’t the Archbishops ask out Nick Griffin for lunch and discuss his politics and parties. I believe Jesus would invite someone into his house to talk, rather than openly rejecting them. Yes, the BNP are an extremist party, but they are human beings and deserve a chance to put forward their views in civilised discussion with the Church. Instead of telling the world what the Church is against, the leaders should start telling the world what it is for - “It's time the Church of England grew up,” says Griffin.

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The Apprentice really is starting to get interesting now. After the good riddance of cocky Irish lad Ben, the competition is hotting up now and it’s wide open. Kate (my tip at the start, pictured right) and Howard both seem to be ploughing through tasks with ease, and while Kate is the more pro-active of the two as Howard stays behind the scenes, they are both playing a good game.

Others like Lorraine and James, who seem to have escaped the boardroom far too many times, are now actually providing really good entertainment. This might make good television, but I’m not sure Sir Alan wants a jester in Amstrad. Then again Simon Ambrose was a pretty fun chap (remember the trampoline incident) and he won series three. I’m still sticking to Kate as the winner, but Katie looked like a dead-cert in series three and remember what happened to her... It’s going to be close and I’m loving it.

Monday, 18 May 2009


An MPs expenses scandal isn’t great at the best of times for those involved, but it couldn’t have been worse than during a recession. Michael Martin looked weak as Speaker in front of the House of Commons on Monday [right] and there are clearly serious problems in politics at the moment. My sources on the Telegraph suggest that the paper have only touched the tip of the iceberg and there are many more stories in an investigation that could continue for months. The paper has recorded an average daily circulation increase of 100,000 over the last week which is a superb result and well deserved. So this all seems like a good time to call a General Election. Who knows what will happen? Perhaps Esther Rantzen and Joanna Lumley can show them how it’s done.

David Cameron is rightly petitioning for an immediate general election and for parliament to be dissolved, which would certainly be interesting. Wouldn’t you just love a general election at the moment? Not just expenses, but the economy is still a major issue and other topics like Gurkhas are taking up far more time than Gordon Brown would have wanted, whilst the British National Party continues to gain momentum. The European and council elections are coming up next month, which will be a good indicator of where people see this country going, but I fully expect that the results will be very surprising. Even the Green Party seem to be getting more exposure under Caroline Lucas, and it’s always good to have more choice. So go on Gordon, call an election. It’s not as if you’ve already tried to in the last few years. U-turn if you want to, Prime Minister.

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Last week the Evening Standard relaunched by telling readers that it was profoundly ‘sorry’ for being such a poor quality newspaper over the last few years. Now just imagine you were a journalist on that paper, thinking you’ve put in a tremendous amount of effort over the last year as cutbacks have begun to bite, and suddenly you’ve got to apologise. I would not be impressed. The Standard is always a good read - well worth the 50p more you have to spend than getting the free London Lite or thelondonpaper - and it’s build up to the Mayor of London elections was superb, showing its influence to get Boris Johnson into power. The paper has a team of top journalists including Andrew Gilligan, who won best journalist at the British Press Awards last year for his investigative work, and it’s just not right that this should be devalued. I hope new editor Geordie Grieg manages to improve the paper, but its still a top read in my opinion, and it’s a weak effort to simply criticise what has been done in the past. Perhaps he just wants to get one over Veronica Wadley.

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You might remember the famous Monty Python sketch where John Cleese teaches a group of men self-defence lessons using fruit. He said: “First of all you force him to drop the banana; then, second, you eat the banana, thus disarming him. You have now rendered him ’elpless.” Just to clarify, this was a comedy - not for real, but an America teenager tried to rob a shop last week with a banana, then ate it to destroy the evidence. But as John Szwalla, 17, could not swallow the skin it was photographed by police in North Carolina. Reports suggest he told staff he had a gun but he had a banana. Shop owner Bobby Mabe said: “If he had had a gun he would've shot me, but he had a banana.” What a classic - some people really are phenomenally stupid. It would only happen in America.

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I really hope we get World Cup 2018 in England. What better people to launch the bid than David Beckham Brown and Prince William. Whilst Brown might be an avid Raith Rovers fan (and you thought supporting Southend United was bad), Prince William knows far more about racing about on horses with sticks [right] than kicking a ball. Surely we could have picked better people to head up the bid! Alan Shearer’s not got much on his plate at the moment. But it’s been a while since we had international football in this country during Euro 1996, and we did pretty well that time. The home nation always has a big advantage, so maybe this will be the only way in which England could win the tournament in the next 10 years. Hopefully FIFA will come to their senses and realise that this is the best footballing country in the world, and therefore deserves the competition. It’s not as if the 2012 Olympics are going to serve up that many great matches...

Monday, 11 May 2009


I do wish I had a contacts book as good as the Telegraph. It’s been a pleasure to read their continuing investigation on MPs’ expenses, which just seemed to go on and on in yesterday’s paper. I am very interested to hear that my money has been spent on duck-shaped bath sponges, jaffa cakes and a lemon [right]. As Matthew D’Ancona pointed out yesterday, that’s the thing that’s most annoying - not just the £500,000 claimed by Sinn Fein MPs for a second home in London despite never visiting the Commons. Few politicians have escaped the Telegraph’s investigation, which either suggests they are all dishonest or there is something inherently wrong with the system. In a rare move, I’m going to back politicians and go for the latter.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you had the chance to claim pretty much everything on expenses and nobody batted an eyelid, you would probably go for it. I certainly think I would. But the way in which this scandal has unravelled has suggested public shock every time a new receipt is uncovered - for example; the adult films, gardening and home cinema systems. It’s as if the media are shocked by what they are hearing. But to be honest, this has probably been going on for years and it’s a good job the Telegraph’s Freedom of Information request appeals which went on for years finally got through. Perhaps the MPs and Mr Speaker wanted to keep it quiet, not because they were worried about having to pay it back, but because they knew once the public found out about the system’s failing, there would be uproar. And here it is.

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One of the great things about reading newspapers is occasionally you see a story that you just have to tell everyone about - the ‘Hey Maud’ syndrome, as one of my lecturers puts it. Step forward Sorted, a great Christian men’s magazine on which I’m officially a ‘junior news reporter’ but haven’t actually written anything yet. Anyway, that’s not the point. They recently ran a survey which revealed male churchgoers prefer ‘proper macho songs’, and hate hugging and sitting in circles to discuss their feelings. They also get put off by embroidery and flowers. Read more here:

This is so true! I’ve been saying for years that the church has become too feminised and men do not want to be singing about how Jesus is their best friend - but rather songs like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and rousing proclamational tunes like that. The survey also found that men prefer to discuss issues like family issues and money at the pub. This is an excellent point, as women are much better at taking things in from a sermon and then discussing it afterwards, whereas men prefer to rebut points and questions as they come along - maybe over a game of paintball followed by a curry! This may be a generalisation, but it’s important to note.

So here are the Top 10 male-friendly hymns according to the survey: Onward Christian Soldiers; And Can It Be; Guide Me O Thy Great Redeemer; All People That On Earth Do Dwell; Be Thou My Vision; How Great Thou Art; Amazing Grace; Eternal Father, Strong To Save; Our God Reigns; and Forgive Our Foolish Ways. Spot anything sentimental or emotional in there? No, neither did I. Maybe that suggests this survey is spot on! Well done Sorted.

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I’m fed up of iTunes. It’s slower than Windows Media Player, you can’t download anything directly to an external device, anything you pay for can only be put on an iPod and it’s awkwardly sorted. I would use YouTube for listening to music online but again it’s often difficult to find the right thing, and the sound quality is poor. So thank the Lord for Spotify. If you haven’t seen Spotify, it’s a legal program that allows you to stream pretty much any album or single that’s been commercially released over here. Every now and again, you hear an advert in between songs, but these are so rare that it doesn’t bother me at all - especially when you have access to loads of music for free! I’ve now got access to the whole back catalogue of all my favourite bands without having to spend a penny, which is brilliant.

But does the signal the death of music as we know it? Well the fact that I ordered the new Bloc Party and Maximo Park albums on Amazon this morning would suggest not. You can’t download anything for free on this site - it just streams things whilst you’re online. So if you want to put a track on your mp3 player you still have to download it or purchase the CDs. Since I listen to lots of music when I’m on the move, I’ll still purchase albums. But now I can stream pretty much any song I want online, I will be using this program a lot! Make sure you sign up at: Just to clarify, this is not a shameless piece of promotion for Spotify - I do genuinely love it!

Monday, 4 May 2009


It’s not a good idea to mention Margaret Thatcher much in Sheffield - they don’t really like her up here. Many a late-night discussion in halls was had in my first-year with local friends complaining she ruined their parents’ lives. One complained last week that Thatcher should never be given a state funeral when she dies because of all the damage she did to the northern economy. I think they would rather have a state party. This is in slight contrast to many of my friends back home in the south who actually quite like what she did for this country. I only mention this because it is 30 years since she came into power and saved this country from going down the drain.

Just watching videos of her exchanges in parliament with the Labour opposition are enough to make anyone appreciate that she was an exceptionally good public speaker. This one’s a good place to start: The basic point of angst for people from the north is that she closed the mines and marked the end of British industry as we knew it. The basic economics that many people from the south quote is that if an industry is failing because of better overseas competition, you close it down and concentrate on something else. If people are striking for whatever reason, and you don’t agree with this as a government, then you should not give in. No, no, no. ‘The Lady’s Not For Turning’, as she famously said, and that was why she was so successful.

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I was very interested to read how a four-year-old girl gave evidence in court last week that resulted in the conviction of Baby P’s stepfather for rape. I’ve been to lots of court cases in Sheffield Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates Court over the last few months as part of my course (I haven’t been in loads of trouble for football hooliganism) and often see witnesses break down under the pressure and emotion of giving evidence. But asking a toddler to talk in detail about being raped two years ago was unprecedented at the Old Bailey, and would rarely happen at any other courts. There has been some argument in the press over whether such young toddlers should be subjected to questioning, but I think if it’s necessary for justice, then it has to be done. It would have been uncomfortable to watch that trial though, and the legal system must be praised for the way in which it handled the case.

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Ah well, we thought we were safe after it was announced the economy was beginning to show signs of recovery, but it seems we’re all going to die anyway of swine flu (if you believe the Daily Express). So what is the biggest crisis? Is it the economy going down the pan, many people losing jobs and investments plummeting - or - people being isolated, a major panic over a pandemic and fearing for your life? At least the share prices of face mask and Tamiflu manufactures have risen over the last few weeks. My conclusion is that most people would rather be alive during a recession than dead during healthier economic times. But let me know if you disagree!

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I was devastated when the last episode of Skins Series 3 finished on E4 as I just didn’t know what I was going to do on Thursday evenings at 10pm. Thank goodness therefore for The Inbetweeners! For those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to watch it, the series follows a group of four male sixth-formers through a series of events. They are completely different personalities, which makes the show an absolute joy to watch as it reminds me of lots of people I used to go to school with, and situations which I’ve found myself in over the years.

Much of it is exaggeration, but this helps the drama to highlight how funny life can be as a teenager. However, I would like to point out that although I can relate to some of it, I have never stuffed a wig down my trousers, borrowed a tramp’s shoes outside a nightclub, or been thrown into a pond after a day’s work experience. OK, so the series isn’t that realistic, but it’s meant to be a comedy more than a drama anyway! If you haven’t seen it already, don’t miss this Thursday’s episode at 10pm on E4.