Monday, 29 June 2009


Is it me or are people going a bit over the top by heavily criticising the BBC’s top executives over their expenses? Director general Mark Thompson said they were "reasonable and justified" and I think he’s right. The fact is that although there were a few strange anomalies like the £14.99 QPR history book and Jana Bennett’s handbag replacement, nobody would bat an eyelid if these claims were in the commercial media sector. Yes, the BBC have a great level of public accountability as we pay their wages, but should they not be allowed to claim £200 to take out Jeremy Paxman for lunch so he signs up to another period presenting Newsnight? I think they should. The top talent needs to be protected as much of it generates the BBC’s high audience figures. I don’t necessarily agree with the size of their wages compared to most of the BBC News team, but that’s not really the point here.

I know a few people who work for the BBC in departments such as Sport, Children’s and Magazines. They do excellent jobs and I believe they all receive modest salaries. But going the full stretch and publishing details of all BBC salaries, a suggestion by the Conservative Party, would surely discourage people from working there in any position. There is not a need to scrutinize the wages of every member of the corporation, although it is important we see how much many of the top stars are being paid, as this is often 100 to 1,000 times more than the average BBC journalist. But tracking the salaries and expenses of everyone is not on. You can do it for MPs as they have all been voted in by the public and should be scrutinized, but for the average journalist? No thanks.

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Travelling on the London Underground is not the most enjoyable experience during the summer, but it can always be livened up by something a little different on a Monday morning. This morning was a good example. People in train carriages reading the Metro newspaper’s story about 20p pieces were all getting out their wallets and having a good look. Because the Royal Mint have revealed that around 200,000 20p pieces were mistakenly minted without a year on them, and so you can claim £50 if you find one and send it back. However there’s always a possibility it could go up in value as they will become very rare, so I can’t see all the found ones being returned!

I worked on a story about fake £1 coins for Five News last summer and it was very interesting. We took out a coin expert and he found some random people on a street in London had some fake pound coins without knowing it. News stories about coins are rare, but they always excite the public when released. The thing is though, despite everyone hunting around for a 20p piece worth £50 (and I bet the arcade slot machines are going to do well out of this), if the average UK citizen owns ten 20p pieces, there are 600,000,000 in circulation. This is my best guess. Therefore the chances of you owning one are around 1 in 3,000. So not great then, but definitely worth a look. And a good story to make my Tube journey slightly different to the normal “westbound service to Richmond calling all stations except Blackfriars”...

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It’s well known to regular blog readers that I support four football clubs, and in the past most of them have played each other at some point. I’m talking about Southend United, Newcastle United, Sheffield United and Barcelona (in descending order of my support)! Last season I spent £590.65 on tickets and travel going to watch 38 games over 10 months, so there’s no point saying that I’m an armchair fan who likes to hedge my bets. But this season there is going to be a momentous event, when for the first time, two of the teams I support come together in the same game.

Sheffield United v Newcastle United will take place at Bramall Lane on Saturday 31 October 2009. Where do I sit? I’ve got a Blades and Magpies football shirt (SUFC from last season, NUFC for this season) so could fit in anywhere. It’s not as if my Essex accent will give anything away in either stand. Well, my decision will be to go in the Geordie end if I can get a ticket, and it’s not too hard to say that, because I have supported the Toon Army for many more years than the Blades - and can get to loads of games at Bramall Lane over the season anyway. But it’ll certainly be weird in the away end!

Monday, 22 June 2009


“Pressure - that’s what it’s all about”, said Sir Alan. “Are you tough enough?” Sometimes I wonder whether sportsmen and women are able to get on playing without thinking about the media coverage and the fact that the whole country is getting behind them. Look at Laura Robson [right]. Yes, she had a difficult opponent in the former world number five Daniela Hantuchova, but after a flying start in the first set she crumbled. Maybe this was because she suddenly realised that everything was going well and she actually had the chance to become a legend on the next morning’s back pages. The media will argue that she’s already done her country proud by making it on a wild-card into the first round, but at the end of the day it might have been too much too soon for the youngster.

The whole situation is catch-22, because people don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on younger sportstars that will harm their progress, but good British sportspeople are so adored by the public that everyone clings their hopes to them. Look at Lewis Hamilton - a good few years older than Robson, but he almost missed the opportunity to win Formula One’s Championship last season until a last-corner overtake. But pressure is part and parcel of any game, and sport-stars must remember that as well as being good at what you do, you must have a thick skin to adverse publicity and not care what people say about you. That’s why David Beckham has done so well - he just gets on with it. How does Andy Murray cope? He doesn’t read newspapers. Now I’m not advocating that for everyone, but it’s probably a good idea in his case!

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The rise of ‘megachurches’ across the world is a relatively new phenomenon, with big conference centres and theatres being packed out in certain countries on Sundays as people come in their thousands to worship God. I’ve been going to one of these, Hillsong Church London, for a year now and it’s made me think again about church. I was brought up in a Baptist church, which had a relatively small congregation of 200, and I go to an Anglican/evangelical church in Sheffield that usually has about 500 people over two Sunday services. Hillsong crams 10,000 people every Sunday into four services at the Dominion Theatre in west London, and before visiting it I thought that it would be completely different to anything I had experienced before.

But I was wrong - it’s the same God, and if He’s the reason people go to church then they can expect to experience Him in just the same way in congregations of 100 or 10,000. But the people at Hillsong are so friendly and welcoming that I’ve loved my time there so far, and I feel that the fantastic production and AV displays are something on the side really. If a church has the right leadership and a welcoming or friendly congregation then that’s all that matters really. I’ve heard friends say that many megachurches are simply money-making exercises with hyped-up production that forgets about the true meaning of church. From my experience at Hillsong, that’s not true. As long as God is in the centre of a church it does not matter however many people attend, and that is why I spend three hours every weekend commuting to church. It’s worth it.

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I went on the Bristol to Cheltenham train route once when I went to see Bristol Rovers v Southend United last October. However, when I say “I went on it”, that does not mean I have actually walked on it. However one 38-year-old woman decided to do just that, complete with shopping bags, walking off the platform at Bristol Parkway [right] and having a stroll towards Winterbourne. She caused a 30-minute suspension of the Crosscountry service this morning, but “was not in a disturbed state” according to British Transport Police. So from what I can gather, a completely sane woman thought it would be entirely appropriate to walk along a train track in Gloucestershire during Monday morning rush-hour. I’ve heard some excuses for train delays during my daily commute before, such as “someone’s been taken ill in a carriage”, “signal failure” or the infamous “leaves on the track”. But a “woman walking on the line”? You couldn’t make it up.

Monday, 15 June 2009


'Make sure you enjoy university', a relative told me, 'as they're the best days of your life'. They were right. In a special post, I look back at my second year in Sheffield.

I have had another brilliant year reading BA Journalism Studies at The University of Sheffield, and am kind of disappointed that it will all be over in a year's time, but also excited about what the future might hold. The course this year has been really interesting and I've got to do lots more radio and television work which is my preferred option as something to do when I graduate. But I haven't ruled out print/web journalism, and I've had a great time being news editor on the University of Sheffield newspaper, Forge Press, getting fully immersed into student politics (which can be dull and exciting in equal measure!) and always being on the hunt for a good story. It's also been fascinating this year to go and visit the Sheffield courts to report on cases, and that's an element of the course on which I surprised myself by enjoying it so much! It’s kind of put me off committing any crimes though - as I wouldn’t ever like to come up against some of those judges... I've also got involved with the South Yorkshire branch of the National Union of Journalists which has been good as it's given me a first-hand idea of how the local newspaper industry is crumbling, and also how wage negotiations work out. But, of course, I do it for the love of journalism...not money.

I've really enjoyed going to see a variety of bands this year, and it's nice that so many take the time to pop into Sheffield. I've seen The Streets (+The Metros), Snow Patrol (+Fanfarlo), Coldplay [right] (+Jon Hopkins), La Roux, 6ix Toys (+Rogue State), Chase & Status, Original Sin, King Pleasure (+Carmen Ghia) and the Hallé Orchestra. So quite a mix there. I've had opportunities to see some great bands this year, and it's really started to make me appreciate the benefits of live music. Before I came to university I would probably prefer to spend £20 buying two albums, but now I'd rather see one gig. I've been doing quite a lot of playing on the tenor saxophone in my jazz band, FriNJE, which has been good fun and I hope I've developed as both a musician and a music appreciator over the last year!

It's been great to get involved in various activities this year during my term that I never thought I would touch with a bargepole beforehand, such as swing dance and salsa [not quite as dramatic as pictured, right, but getting there]. Dance is something I did when I was much younger, then revisited a bit again in my early teens, then dropped again. But picking it up again at university has reminded me how much fun it is to learn, and both a great way to keep fit and for meeting loads of new people. In fact, I've done a bit of ceilidh dance too since 2007, which is also a good laugh. But the common denominator in all of these is that I was asked by different friends to go to all three on separate occasions. This just goes to show that university is more about studying, living away from home and getting up at 2pm every day. It's about enjoying the experience of being in a strange microcosm of the world for three or more years, interacting with those around you who are there for the same reason, and just simply enjoying yourself. If you can strike the balance between work and play, you can come out with a good degree and know you had a great time too. That's the tough bit...

Sheffield is a fantastic city for sport, and as a football fan I've found it's a prime location in the centre of the country to go and visit some new Football League grounds with Southend United. But over the last season I've also started watching Sheffield United [right] and have seen them away three times. Their game at Barnsley was a fiesty match, and I enjoyed standing in the away end watching it unfold, but I've got to say that from what I saw on my way to Oakwell, that's got to be one of the worst places I've ever visited! But I've also been to Huddersfield, Chesterfield and Scunthorpe this season and they were all really nice areas near the stadium, at least. The worst ground in the world must be Rotherham United, who play on a pitch about 11.6 miles away from the fans at Don Valley, with an awful atmosphere and Drewe Broughton up front. I went there once at it was pouring down - not very fun at all.

I've got to a good few Sheffield United derbies in South Yorkshire this season, such as Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday (twice) and the atmosphere has always been cracking, kind of making me feel Southend v Colchester is a bit tame... However after the second Steel City derby of the season in February at Bramall Lane, it got a bit tasty outside. It was a 12pm Saturday kick-off, so I doubt many fans were properly drunk (although I might be wrong!) but after the game I was walking along the road with my friend - who is even taller than me at 6"6' - when we saw a Blade and Owl go head to head, followed by a call of "Get 'Em Blades", followed by a charge of supporters, followed by a charge of police, followed by me and my friend running in the opposite direction and getting out of there! My friends who were there with the Owls fans ended up in a police kettle for 30 minutes, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but overall most people were in a bad mood as Wednesday had won 2-1. Who said traditional English hooliganism had died? Yes, it was interesting to watch, but I was glad to get out of there alive! Who knows what Newcastle fans will bring to the city next season...but at least I’ll be able to see the Magpies in Sheffield at last.

BA Journalism Studies second-year at The University of Sheffield - Monday 29 September 2008 to Friday 12 June 2009

Monday, 8 June 2009


So it’s all finished. The Apprentice Series Five was definitely the best we’ve ever had on our screens, with Sir Alan, Nick and Margaret all in fine form. In the end, the final five were exceptionally strong and there were a number of crazy personalities throughout the series, which made it so memorable.

Yasmina [above] was a worthy winner, although I was a bit disappointed the job didn’t go to Kate after she put in such a great performance on many tasks, and because I had predicted she would win before the series had even started (!). Admittedly, however, Yasmina is the one who had already created a successful business from scratch, and Sir Alan probably saw some of himself in her.

There have been numerous big personalities on the show this series. Philip was a great candidate at the start, but then went from hero to zero as he started to bully other candidates (mostly Lorraine) and concentrate more of his time on flirting with Kate. He was the loudmouth Geordie of the series and will be forever remembered for the ‘Pantsman’ project which had nothing to do with breakfast cereals whatsoever.

Then we have Ben. What a great man for moments of television gold - “let me finish” - and a wonderful addition to this series. Didn’t he get offered a scholarship to Sandhurst or something? According to one of my friends who is the Army cadets, this is not actually much of an achievement at all, as all you have to do is pass an exam. But the fact he was so ignorant and amazed with his brilliance all of the time made for great viewing.

I was disappointed when Rocky went early in on the show, but when you are a sandwich businessman and you fail on a sandwich task, there is no excuse. He was unfairly treated in the boardroom when Sir Alan referenced his injury at Middlesbrough FC in the firing speech, but was just not good enough unfortunately. If he had done better in that task, he could have gone far.

Debra presented herself well towards the end, compared to the usual bossy and arrogant woman we found throughout the series. But she really seemed to have changed by the end and I was pleased to see this. She reminded me somewhat of Lee McQueen from Series Four, but at the age of 23 she can be proud of third place. I certainly would not want to work with her though!

Anyway, onto the winner. I don’t think Yasmina performed as well as she could have done with the chocolates, but Sir Alan had made up his mind before then. Kate was a strong competitor, but maybe she was too linear and did not seem to take enough risks or be unpredictable as Sir Alan often likes. I wish Yasmina well in her role in Sir Alan’s business, and I’m sure she will do very well. I bet Kate will easily get a job from another employer anyway, so everyone’s a winner!

Monday, 1 June 2009


The David Cameron ‘bounce’ a few years ago now seems more than a bounce. We go to the polls this Thursday (4 June) for the European Elections 2009 and it will be interesting to see whether they will act as a springboard for the Conservative Party to win the next General Election. Labour could finish as low as fourth in the Euros, behind the Tories, Liberal Democrats and even the UK Independence Party (UKIP_, because voting in the Euros is often different to a national election, as it allows people to indirectly vote on whether we should stay in the European Union, giving UKIP an advantage. So the fact that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is doing badly in the national polls suggests that it can only get worse in the Euros. I can’t wait to see what happens.

The Tories are beginning to tap into some notoriously difficult areas such as the north-east, and using their council in North Tyneside as a base for this expansion. Additionally, Boris Johnson’s victory in the Mayor of London elections last year is further evidence that the tide is turning in the Conservatives’ favour, and the party could yet see a return to the strength it had under Margaret Thatcher a couple of decades ago (and you’ll know how much she liked the EU). So the challenge for Cameron is to convince the nation he is more than a gimmick and will bring real change to our country. A good place to start would be MPs’ expenses...
My bet? Tories 1st, Lib Dems 2nd, Labour 3rd, UKIP 4th
My vote? Guess who.

* * *

Well done to ITV (and Simon Cowell) for inventing a programme that has captured the heart of the nation, and given the broadcaster a much-needed revenue boost during difficult times. Britain’s Got Talent is in essence a tried and tested reality format that has had various predecessors such as Fame Academy, Popstars and Pop Idol, but have we never seen such a varied format of talent show before now. ITV is in big financial trouble at the moment, shown by the fall in its share price, although this has begun to gain ground recently on the back of the popular show. It’s another success for Simon Cowell, and has been a breeding ground for tabloid stories and good exposure.

Runner-up Susan Boyle is the best example, as she’s been the top story for many papers over the last week, thanks to the fact that she is so unusual. Whether or not she’s talented, Cowell is well aware that the papers love her story and will continue to indirectly give the show free publicity through this. Then everyone benefits - ITV get more advertising revenue through higher audiences, The Sun and Daily Mirror sell more paper copies, Boyle gets a higher profile that will ensure future contracts, Cowell gets a cut of all this in his back pocket, and the wonderful British public get a superb show. Drinks all round! The winners, Diversity, are paying for them though...

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Should they stay or should they go? I shall give my definitive opinion on cleaning up the mess in Geordie land Let’s go through the Newcastle United squad of 26 professionals as it stands...

GOALKEEPERS (x2): Stephen Harper & Tim Krul
DEFENDERS (x8): Habib Beye, Ryan Taylor, Sebastien Bassong, Claudio Caçapa, Fabricio Coloccini, David Edgar, Steven Taylor & Jose Enrique.
MIDFIELDERS (x8): Geremi, Joey Barton, Nicholas Butt, Danny Guthrie, Ignacio Gonzalez, Kevin Nolan, Damien Duff & Jonas Gutierrez.
STRIKERS (x8): Shola Ameobi, Andrew Carroll, Peter Lovenkrands, Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen [right], Alan Smith, Mark Viduka & Xisco.

Not much quality in there, you might argue. You would be right. But in the past, most of those players were worth loads of money, and the only few saleable assets left who would command a decent fee seem to be Bassong and Martins. Owen will end up going on a free, and land the Toon Army with a multi-million pound loss (thanks for nothing, Mike), and the Magpies are not going to get much for deadwood like Enrique, Geremi, Duff, Smith or Viduka.

If Shearer gets the job, which I vehemently hope he does as it will give the whole of Newcastle hope that their side can go back up, he will have to be ruthless in who to sell. Putting the whole squad up for transfer could be a good idea. It’s important that this is seen as the beginning of a new era, and if that means letting expensive players go on free transfers, so be it. Owner Mike Ashley is selling up at a gigantic loss, and the club should ensure they don’t hold onto expensive and under-performing assets any longer. They should all go - except maybe Harper, Taylor (Ryan & Steven), Nolan and Butt. Let’s start again.