Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The New Zealand Diaries: No.5 - The steepest street in the world

After having a slap-up meal to celebrate the eve before Christmas, what better way to work off a steak and chips by walking up the world's steepest street.

Baldwin Street, the official name, had been on my New Zealand to-do list ever since I started planning my holiday. Friends and relatives who had visited the South Island had all recommend a trip there, and I was eager to go and see what all the fuss was about.

Baldwin Street, in the heart of Dunedin, is hidden away from the main road, and with the town lying at the foot of a mountain, it is easy to assume that many of the roads will be steep. But Baldwin is not any old street. From a distance, it looks like any old street, with homes dotted either side of the road. Get up close however, and you will be struggle to see where the road ends.

It took an agonising one-minute to drive up the hill (definitely not the best place to start a hill start!) Once we had reached the top, the view was spectacular. Forget Everest, this was enough for me. Seeing Dunedin glistening as the sun sets over summed up the Christmas occasion. Who needs fairy lights when you have the sun twinkling off the many windows of the quaint houses.

Although I did not walk up it - they have a water fountain at the top for any visitors who may be dying of thirst once they have reached the top - just being there and driving up it was enough. And if that is not enough, the annual Jaffa race (a type of New Zealand chocolate) sees 30,000 chocolates roll down the street, and is just one of the events to look forward to every year.

Whether you drive or walk, make sure you visit Baldwin Street - the official steepest street in the World - to see magnificent views of Dunedin, worthy of a photo or two!

You can find out more on Baldwin Street by visiting the website:

Previous Diary posts:

No.4 - Food, glorious food
No.3 - Brighton Beach, but not as you know it!
No.2 - The Good Life
No.1 - Don't Fly Qantas

Blog of the Week: This is Alton

When I think of local news, I think of a weekly 'round-robbin' type broadsheet paper circulated across a small area, featuring a list of bereavements, local events and the odd incident involving a horse and a tractor. Well, maybe that is just my paper in in rural Hampshire! Yet, no matter where you are, it is apparent that local news is dwindling. It used to be the essence of communities, with talk of the local 'rag' featuring in many conversations. But with newspapers closing and shutting up shop up and down the country, local news is facing the brunt of a crisis in the media industry.

Which is why this weeks Blog of the Week offered a glimmer of hope to my local area in particular. This is Alton, a website/ blog dedicated to all the local news in my hometown, picks up from where the newspapers stalled. It contains all the latest news, along with various interviews, videos, photos and event listings for Alton.

In just a few minutes, I learnt about a new supermarket being built in the town, details on how to enter a Come Dine With Me (which is currently being filmed in East Hampshire) and the councils plans for the Diamond Jubilee. Completely independent from any media outlet, the website is regularly updated and frequently viewed by residents.

I like that it truly captures the digital era by allowing the reader to share with friends on Facebook and Twitter, and comment on blog posts. The content is of quality journalism, and the advertisements do not blare out at you.

So if you are looking for all the local news from Alton in Hampshire, then 'This is Alton' is for you. Forget paying for the local newspaper, this website truly is a gem in providing the local people with easy access to journalism. Enjoy!

You can check out the website by following the link:

Picture Courtesy of This is Alton.

Previous 'Blog of the Week' posts:
- Mode de la Mode

- Catastrophic Findings

Could Coopers be coming back....?

Here is an article I have written for the Medwire magazine, a student-run company based on the Medway campus at the university.

Coopers has changed. Like an ugly duckling turning into something altogether more attractive, it seems Coopers might be the new beacon of hope for our Medway nightlife.

It is safe to say that Coopers has had a fair amount of stick in the last few months. Since I arrived at the University of Kent last September, I have been a somewhat irregular punter to the on-campus bar. The ongoing staff troubles, lack of entertainment and bleak atmosphere had turned me off the idea of spending my precious student loan in the SU bar, preferring to gallivant off in the town centre instead.
But that is all about to change. Because recently, Coopers has had something of a revival. Like a phoenix emerging from the ashes in Harry Potter, the bar has changed its appeal, its menu and more importantly, its prices, in an attempt to attract those who walked away at the beginning.
A new management team are now in place, and the staff seem to be a lot happier with the new situation. The atmosphere has brightened, and it has become a much more social place to have a drink, relax and unwind from hard-core studying.
Coopers has begun to offer things we students value the most – cheap drinks and good entertainment. The new management has introduced a range of great deals and offerings to tease are taste buds with, but without denting our bank balances! A comprehensive list is printed at the end of this article, but some of the best deals include £1.50 for a pint of Snakebite, Carlsberg and Strongbow, Monday to Friday from 7 till 11pm. For a non-alcoholic beverage, J20 is only £1.25 for any flavour. If you fancy a shot, Jagerbombs are now £2 all day, everyday.
If you are feeling cold, Curry Tuesdays are a great way to warm yourself up, with a Curry, Rice, Naan Bread and Pint for only £4.95.
Besides food and drink, Coopers are now offering an exciting range of entertainment. A mix of live music, including the legendary Open Mic night on Tuesdays, is still on every week, along with all the seasonal sport matches, currently including the Six Nations and selected football matches. The quiz machine and pool table remains popular with students, and if that is not enough, the bar team are well known to show off a dance move or sing you a song. And with rumours of the Events Society teaming up again with Coopers to help publicise and organise new events in the coming months, it looks set that there will be plenty of events to go to in the not-to-distant future.
On a recent night out at Coopers, I was pleasantly surprised. It was busy, with a friendly and inviting atmosphere that made me want to stay and spend my money. I enjoyed it, so if you fancy a cheaper, more relaxed but still as fun night out, then head down to Coopers on the Medway campus, and support out student bar. You will not be disappointed.
Current Deals list:
Mon – Fri: 7pm – 11pm:
£1.50 – Snakebites, Carlsberg and Strongbow.
£1.25 – All J2O Flavours.
Curry Tuesdays!
Come Down and add a some flavour into your Tuesday.
Curry, Rice, Naan Bread and a Pint for only £4.95
Sat-Sun: 1pm-7pm
Come down and watch the sport on our TVs and see your team win!
Follow the Six Nations throughout February and March.
£1.75 – Snakebite, Carlsberg, Strongbow
£2.00 – Kronenberg and Guinness
Coopers Platter – £4.95 (Chicken Nuggests, Scampi, Garlicc Bread, Onion Rings, Curly Fries)
Coopers Brunch – £3.95 (2 Bacon, 2 Sausages, Egg, Chips, Beans, Tomato)
… Jagerbombs are now £2 ALL DAY EVERYDAY!

You can read more from students on the Medwire website:

Monday, 27 February 2012

Alex Crawford - a short introduction

Last week, I was lucky and privileged to meet, along with the rest of my journalism class, the award winning journalist and Sky News Special Correspondent Alex Crawford OBE.

Alex, who has won three Royal Television Society journalism awards, is best known for reporting live in Libya during the Arab Spring last year, where she was one of the very few journalists who was able to report, right from the centre of Tripoli in Green Square, on the uprising in the middle east.

Speaking out in front of trainee journalists at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, Alex spoke with sincerity about her work in Libya, describing how she was often in the middle of gunfire. She spoke to rebels with ease, and her reports from inside hospitals and Bab al-Azizia clearly show her determination and skill at her job. Her emotive account touched the hearts of many students in the audience, including myself, as she showed us clips from her award-winning reporting.

The clip I have added with this blog post is just a small taste of the ground-breaking reporting Alex achieved in Libya. Her ambition and approach to reporting on the conflict left the world speechless, and has left many journalists in awe. - Just one example of Alex reporting from Libya - Satirical rap between Alex and one of the rebels

A big thank you to Alex and her team for all they accomplished in Libya. They truly are a credit to the currently damaged world of Journalism.

*Alex was appearing at the Centre for Journalism for the annual Bob Friend Memorial Lecture, which is dedicated to the late Bob Friend. The lecture also presents an award to one first year journalist who has been awarded a months work placement, and their first year university fees paid for, by Sky News. Well done to Jem Collins who was awarded this years award (despite the Jourknow being shortlisted - no sour grapes!)

Photo Courtesy of The Guardian

You can read more on Alex at: and

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Film Review: The Muppets

I find it hard to understand why anyone would not love The Muppets. Their squeaky voices, slap-stick humour and cuddly nature is loved across the globe. They have been around for over half a century, and like a fine wine, get better with age.

I am not a massive fan by all accounts, in fact I would not have been able to name you more than five characters before I went into the film, but essentially, you do not need to know them. The film appeals to fans of old and new, which is possibly why it has won over the critics and reviewers, and has gained its critical acclaim, and also the reason for me going to see the film in my local cinema.

For fans of the original television and film series, it re-generates the much loved puppets into the 21st century. They essentially still have all their traditional humour and gags, the characters are the same and the ratio between puppet and human has never been so strong, but they do it with a touch of class that many Hollywood kids movies do not have anymore.

Which is why it is so appealing to new fans, particularly families. For kids, it is a little bit like a pantomime act. You have Kermit, the main hero; along with his helper, a new Muppet - Walter - who represents all the fans out there who love the Muppets just as he does. Then you have the dame; the seductive, the alluring and the diva-ish Miss Piggy, in all her beauty. How Meryl Streep got an Oscar nomination and Miss Piggy did not is beyond me! You also have the bad guys also, one in particular played by Chris Cooper, who looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. The narrative might be predictable, but it is enjoyable to watch and does not grow tired.

The story is staged around Walter, who loves the Muppet. After hearing about plans to knock down the old Muppet Studio, he helps get the gang back together, by putting on a spectacular show full of humour, action, suspense and a good few musical numbers. A particular favourite had to be Camilla the Chicken clucking along to Forget You by Cee Lo Green, although some of the original numbers - including the Academy Award nominated song Man or Muppet - are equally as good, either touching the hearts of the audience, or getting their groove started.
The thing that I love the most is the mixture of live action and puppets. Kids films are so focused on animation nowadays, that seeing a mix of real on-screen drama together with puppetry and animation is somewhat refreshing. Amy Adams and Jason Segal are perfect in their roles as Mary and Gary, providing their own mini-narrative strand to support the main story. Both, albeit badly, dance and sing along, which ensures humour from the audience.

The film features loads of cameo performances to, which include Selena Gomez, Jack Black and Neil Patrick-Harris. Not only do they add to the glamour of the movie, but they take away some of the strain from having too many Muppets on screen (it can get a little overbearing at times).

What it comes down to however is 100 minutes of comedy, fun and entertainment wrapped up in a film that not only amuses the crowds, but offers a sort of eulogy to the creation and inspiration of the Muppets. The film's director, James Dobin (Bruno, Ali G, Borat), has really captured the hearts of his audience and brought the thought-to-be-extinct family of furry friends back to life through this critically-acclaimed and highly successful film.

Some people might be a bit dubious about reviving classic kids cartoons, with the likes of Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs as recent failures, but The Muppets was more than just an advertising gimmick. It was a phenomenon which is still enjoyed today. With the crowds going wild for more, I hope it will not be the last adventure we see from the gang.

4/5 Stars

Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia

Olympics 2012 - over before it has even reached the finish line?

It was on the 6 July 2005, at approximately 12.46pm UK time, that the President of the International Olmpic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, said in front of the General Assembly in Singapore - and indeed millions of others across the world - that London would be the host of the olympic games in 2012. In fact, if you want the full quote, he said: "The Games of the XXX Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of...London."

I remember being at school when the games were announced. A naive 13 year old boy with ambitious dreams to be a journalist, but with little understanding of what the Olympic Games meant. Yes, I had watched previous games, and could remember vividly cheering Kelly Holmes to victory not once, but twice in the 2004 games in Athens. But apart from that, it was merely a sports contest, which I likened to a music concert or a World Cup match. It did not seem to really affect me, and I had no idea about the legacy, the power and the change to the lives of Briton's across the country.

I look back on that moment now and reflect. I remember the cheers and jubilation of the public. The crowds in London going wild, my friends all around me going crazy; I even remember Denise Lewis jumping across her desk at the committee in Singapore, as if she was competing in the final of the 200m hurdles. A flurry of Union Jack flags, streamers and bunting collate to form a pretty important moment in our history.

And by and large, the excitement of the games has not changed over the last seven years. In fact, this year it has really hit home at just how huge this event will be for London, and indeed the country. Excitement has reached fever pitch and already, mums are busy preparing scones, lemonade and sausage rolls for the many street parties that are bound to take place.
But in seems this feeling of joy is being shadowed by a somber feeling of anger and regret as many of the public, from politicians to the media, start waking up to the reality of what the Olympics really means.

Over the last seven years, I have followed the Olympic games with a keen interest. Since the end of Beijing 2008, it is fair to say the attention has turned on London. And in the last few months in particular, it seems that, rather than supporting London 2012, there is a move to condemn and scrutinise it.

Let's start with the Olympic Park. It has regenerated an area that was badly in need of repair. In fact, I would say it has put Stratford and East London back on the map - not for gang crime and poverty, as the usual stories report - but for a location of fantastic sporting facilities, new infrastructure and a cleaner, greener landscape. It is foolish to conceit that the games have not improved the area. But at what cost? A recent Sky News investigation revealed that the true cost of staging the games had reached £12 billion, five times more than the original estimates made by the former Labour government way back when London bid for the games in 2005. Yet even more worrying was the fact, when associated costs are added, the bill could cost ten times the original estimate of £2.37 billion.
Yet it is worth it, right. Or is it? Because recent figures from Visit Britain suggest that tourism figures will only match those of last year, which fell just short of 31 million. Tourism, apart from the sporting legacy of the Olympic Games, has been the main factor in promoting the Olympics. Yet, 7 years ago when the bid was made, tourism experts claimed the Games would do nothing to help increase tourism in the UK. A recent article by The I Paper claimed that the European Tour Operators Association (ETOS) said there was little evidence from previous games to suggest tourism is boosted by the Olympics. They cited reasons such as traffic, congestion, pollution and over-crowding to be the main reasons for people being put off into travelling to London.

Transport chaos is bound to happen. Forget the worry of a security risk, a fault on the underground line is well worth a bet on. Transport for London (TFL) have ploughed £6.5 billion into transport upgrades, extensions to the lines and improvements to the service, to accommodate for the 9 million people who are estimated to be in London for the games. But with ongoing concern over rail bonuses, in which Bob Crow - RMT Union General Secretary - rejected the TFL's latest plans to give a £500 bonus to tube drivers, there are fears that the transport will not be ready in time for the summer, or indeed function. Transport bosses have warned that 3/10 journeys will be affected by traffic, with key areas like London Bridge and Canary Wharf. Even Boris Johnson, current London Major, has even urged travellers to avoid congestion spots, despite backing a recent campaign called "Get Ahead" to promote the use of public transport in London.

And then there is the cost. Travelling around London can be expensive enough, and what with forking out on tickets and numerous ice creams and cool drinks (if the sun does manage to shine), there is the costly experience of trying to book a hotel room. Complaints have been made across the country of extortionate fees for rooms in the many hotels in London. By just comparing rooms at a no-frills hotel branch for example, you will find that a double bedroom in London is 500% more per night than if you were to stay in Kent.
Even the hotel owners are unhappy. Last month, LOCOG - London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Parlaympic Games - put 25% of hotel rooms in London back on sale after over-estimating how many they would need for foreign dignitaries. The travel industry now estimates that the cost of these empty rooms - about 1 million beds in total - will cause a £3.5 billion loss to the tourism industry.

Then there was the ticketing fiasco. Only a quarter of all those who applied for tickets - in their millions, according to official statistics - got tickets for the games. I was one of the unlucky ones, who despite applying for four different events, got nothing. Meanwhile, a recent Daily Mail article pointed out that one man managed to get over £200,000 worth of tickets for various events. Although the LOCOG officials claimed the system was fair, there are many disgruntled fans of the Olympics who will have to watch their favourite athletes compete from their living rooms this summer.

Moving on from the financial concerns of the Olympics, morally, the games have been condemned. International criticism has hit LOCOG after Dow Jones, the chemical giant who has sponsored the IOC since 2010, was handed the contract to build the hi-tech fibre wrap which will surround the Olympic stadium. The chemical group bought Union Carbide in 2001, whose factory in 1984 leaked toxic chemicals in Bhopal, killing up to 15,000 people and seriously injuring thousands of others. The £7 million project has ignited wide-spread anger, and has even resulted in India threatening to withdraw its team from the games. Meredith Alexander, an official for the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, recently stepped down from her post in anger over the deal.

It seems that just as London gears up for the greatest sporting event in the world, the reality of the games behind the sporting action and celebrations hides the worrying truths of just how make-or-break the Olympics is to the economy, to tourism, to national security and to us as a nation.
But no matter how serious the consequences of the above may have on the Olympics, there is no doubt that it will change our lives. Whether it be the health benefits, the sense of community or the landscape, everyone should feel part of the event.

I am honoured to be representing the games as a Games Maker, one of the lucky few who makes up over 200,000 volunteers and staff for the Olympics. Not only am I incredibly proud and eager to help towards staging this phenomenal event, I truly believe that it will do more good then bad. If you speak to people in the streets, they will tell you that they feel the same, that this year is the year for Britain. A sense of pride, cohesion and jubilation all coming together. And in this day and age, that is something money really cannot buy.

You can read more of my work, including interviews with Bob Crow and former Olympic gold medal winner Ben Hunt-Davis, on my blog:

Pictures Courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, 20 February 2012

Blog of the Week: Moda de la Mode

With London Fashion Week seeing the world's numerous fashion designers, journalists and models descending on the capital, it seems fitting that this week's Blog of the Week should be dedicated to a fashion blog.

And what a fashion blog it is. Moda de la Mode, created and written by aspiring fashion journalist and personal friend Grace Molan, is an online fashion bible that covers a mixture of features on women's and men's fashion, as well as interviews with stars of the fashion world and helpful tips on essential styles and outfits.

Like my most recent Blog post, which you can find linked below, Grace uses a mix of writing and photos to capture the attention of the audience, often using step by step guides on tips to form an outfit, or detailed description on new collections.

The blog has an arrange of features, including my personal favourite, Menswear Mondays, where every Monday post is dedicated to a post on Men's fashion.

If you want to know the latest on high street must-have's or designer collections, Moda de la Mode is your place to go. Updated regularly, with a professional look and boasting over 200 followers, it really is a unique and diverse blog in an over-crowded market.

Link to Moda de la Mode blog:
You can follow Moda de la Mode on twitter: @Modadelamode

Pictures Courtesy of Grace and Moda de la Mode

Similar posts:

Blog of the Week: Catastrophic Findings

Friday, 17 February 2012

The New Zealand Diaries: No.4 - Food, glorious food.

Wherever you go on holiday, whether it be the oriental paradise of China or the sunny palms of the Caribbean, you are bound to try the different foods each culture has to offer.

New Zealand is no different. The food may not be as exotic as the grub served in Brazil, but it is nevertheless imaginative and tantalisingly good.
 When I asked friends before I went out to New Zealand what food they might link with the country, nearly all said Lamb. New Zealand lamb is world famous, and having viewed one of the production lines at Silver Fern Farms during my visit (one of the biggest producers of Lamb products), it came as no surprise to see just how good the quality of the lamb is out there. Not only does it taste divine, but it is a damn sight cheaper than the price we pay in the UK.

But being surrounded by baby lambs and friendly sheep made me feel guilty about eating lamb, although not so much as to turn me vegetarian. I was therefore keen to try new things, and this is where the friendly spirit of the kiwis helped me taste some of the island's finest delicacies.

At a BBQ, I experienced the interesting combination of fish in a 'White-bait patty'. A pancake of sorts, the small white-bait patty is viewed in New Zealand in very much the same way as we view Marmite; you either love it or hate it. I quite enjoyed it. As a savoury pancake, it was different and not as 'fishy' as I was expecting. After lamb, fish takes pride of place on the kiwi dining room table, and with so much fresh fish on offer, you would be crazy not to sample the catch of the day.

For snacking, an arrange of flavoursome snacks are available. Yams, like a sweet potato, accompany any roast dinner with their sweet, soft centre. Boysenberries - yes, that is a real thing - is a healthy option, which tastes lovely when served with plenty of cream.

For dessert, Ice Cream is a must. The world-famous Hokey Pokey ice cream is an array of colours and flavours, all brought together in what soft scoop. For after dinner, chocolate is always a winner. Whittakers chocolate is tasty and comes in a wide range of flavours. Beware fellow Britons; the Cadbury chocolate, which is popular in NZ, tastes a lot sweeter and creamier than in the UK. It was too sickly for me.

To drink, New Zealand wine is your No.1 alcoholic beverage. From crisp Sauvignon Blanc to fragrant Pinot Noir, a glass (or even the whole bottle) is worth downing alongside your evening meal. This is where going on a tour of the local vineyard is well worth paying for. For a less formal occasion, the local beer is great. Often served in a bottle, makes such as Speights or Steinlager are popular with the locals. If you fancy something less alcoholic, the national lemonade - L&P - is as New Zealand as Crowded House or the All Blacks. You cannot buy it anywhere else.

Besides the food, the New Zealand dining experience is enjoyable and varying. Whether you like a traditional Steak House (I had some of the nicest steak's ever whilst dining in Dunedin), something oriental or just a legendary cheese-roll at one of the many bistro's, eating out may be expensive, but it is a luxury that is worth paying for, and will be remembered in years to come.

And as a special mention, if you are stuck on where to go in Queenstown, make sure you visit the world-famous Furgburger. This small, yet heaving establishment offers the tastiest and biggest burgers in the South Island, and has won numerous awards for its burgers. If you get one, see how quickly you can eat it. The classic burger and fries combo took me thirteen minutes to finish!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How to smell a rat on the first date

Forget the day of love, lust and happiness we saw waft into our lives yesterday, like a bad smell. Valentines; besides the copious amounts of glossy cards, wilting bouquets and last-minute dinners is just like any ordinary day. What is to say it is going to be the right time for a first date?

We all know the first date is supposed to be romantic. Whether it be a meal and a night out at the cinema, or a picnic in the park; it is the perfect chance to get to know a boy better. But what if he is not interested? How do you tell if he has put the effort into making the perfect first impression? Here is my guide, from a boy who has done all of the below and failed at winning a girl over, on how to ditch the guy who is not interested.

If his idea of a restaurant means a meal in McDonalds.
So he has just paid for you at the cinema, and he is a bit strapped for cash. Where does he take you, McDonalds? Classy right? No. Who wants to stare into their potential bf’s eyes over a Big Mac and fries? If he cannot afford to buy you a nice meal now, imagine the next date. Ditch him.

If he uses a voucher code to pay for the meal.
Ok, so if he takes you to a fancy meal at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, it might be acceptable. But if he has you picking from a set menu at Pizza Express because it’s 2 for £10, he obviously has no money. Forget it.

If he takes you out on a Wednesday.
What’s wrong with Wednesday right? Wrong, Wednesday is Orange Wednesday. In other words, it means cheap cinema tickets and food that will keep his balance in check. In other words, he is a cheapskate. Dump him.

If he wears trainers and trackies to a date.
Imagine the pain and stress you have put into choosing your outfit, to find he has shown up in a Lonsdale tracksuit and a pair of Reebok classics. Do you really want to be seen around with that on your arm? Chuck him.

If he uses his mobile during the date.
If it’s an emergency, then of course it is acceptable. But if it is to poke a friend or tweet about the gorgeous girl sitting across from him, it is rude. It means he is bored of you. Call it off.

If he starts talking about his ex.
So you sit there talking about your life, struggling to stay conscious as you stare in to his dreamy eyes. Then suddenly the moment is ruined as he pours his heart out about his ex. If he even mentions her name, it means he is not over her. Lose him.

If he expects more than a kiss on the checkIf he is a decent, caring bloke he will know not to tread the line and simply kiss you on the cheek, and arrange a second date. But if he asks to walk you home, or goes in for the kill, he only wants one thing. And it is not to see your Justin Beiber album collection. End it.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, 13 February 2012

Blog of the Week: Catastrophic Findings

This week, the jourknow launches his new feature - Blog of the Week - which every week will feature a blog that the jourknow has stumbled upon. Providing a brief overview of what the blog contains etc, this new feature promises to uncover a variety of interesting and original blog ideas.

This weeks blog: Catastrophic Findings

If you have been reading my New Zealand diaries, following my trip to New Zealand, you will probably have realised I love to travel. I love the food, the different cultures and the climate and surroundings. Before I went on my trip, I happened to talk to someone over Twitter, who was also planning to travel to New Zealand and Australia over Christmas. A coincidence perhaps, that he also travelled to places I have visited. Her name is Ai, and you can follow her through @misochubby

Her blog, Catastrophic Findings, shares some of the same loves I have, featuring an array of posts on food and travels. She "endeavours to capture memories of my travels", and uses photos particularly in telling the story of her adventures.

Her blog has not only helped to reminisce in my adventures, but also made me think about the use of photographs in 'telling the story' of an event, or in her case, a holiday. This is something I have lately been discussing in lectures, and has re-ignited my theory that photos are just as powerful as video or words in conveying a story or news item.

If you do anything today, check out Ai's blog, and view New Zealand, and many other places, through her detailed and fantastic blog.

The link is:

Pictures Courtesy of Ai and Catastrophic Findings

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The New Zealand Diaries: No.3 - Brighton Beach, but not as you know it!

In the UK, when we hear of Brighton Beach, we think of the grand pier, sticks of rock and a thriving LGBT community.

Yet juxtapose this with Brighton Beach in New Zealand. Soft, sandy beach stretching for miles along the Pacific Ocean, empty except for the annoying, and very friendly, seagulls that patrol the beach.

I felt like a billionaire as I placed down my beach rug on the sand, beneath the blazing kiwi sun. Like Richard Branson, I had my own little island for where I could relax, splash about and ride the waves.

And boy, what waves they were! Any island/ country that is lucky enough to lie on the Pacific Ocean will no doubt have plenty of pleasure riding the waves, with New Zealand no exception. I do not surf personally, but just bobbing up and down as the waves carry you in-shore was fun enough, even if I did get a mouthful of salt water.

Brighton Beach can be many things. For me, it was a chance to relax and unwind from a stressful year, for others it is a place to explore. You can take your dog, your football, your cricket set, you can take anything.

Like a lost island, I was living my very own Swiss Family Robinson. Every time I visited  (three times in total), it was just the same. Clear skies, fresh sand, tranquil atmosphere and gorgeous blue waters, frothing with plenty of surf. Another reason why New Zealand really is an 'island of paradise'.

RIP Whitney Houston

I awoke to the sad news that last night, one of the world's greatest music legends, had sadly died of unknown causes in Beverly Hills.
Whitney Houston was a pop icon, who at her peak, was one of the most listened to female singers on the planet. With hits such as 'I will always love you' and 'I wanna dance with somebody' (my personal favourite), her catchy tunes and gospel-style vocals defined the music of the 1980's and 90's.

Behind the scenes, it was a tale of tragedy and heartbreak. Her marriage to Bobbi Brown saw her hooked on drugs and badly beaten, although no one will really understand and know what really happened.
With flocks of celebrities and fans dedicating tweets, messages and thoughts on her death, all that can be said is that she will be greatly missed. Just like Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and so many other talented artists that we have lost over the years, the rumours of trouble never fully prepare us for their ultimate death.

May Whitney, and all the others, Rest in Peace. My thoughts go to her family and friends at this truly heartbreaking time.
In memory of Whitney Houston - Aged 48 - 11/02/2012
Images courtesy of Wikipedia

Monday, 6 February 2012

What the Tweet? Why Twitter is the new global phenomenon

It is hard to imagine that I have been on the Twitter scene for just under 18 months. 18 months to write countless crappy tweets, follow hundreds of vain celebrities telling me what they are having for lunch and re-tweeting loads of statuses about being unlucky in love and why I hate you. Which is why, after tweeting my 4000th tweet yesterday*, I thought it was time to reflect on my, very personal, Twitter experience.

In all honesty, I love Twitter. I love the excitement of receiving a tweet through my phone or checking out who is kind enough (or mad enough, in some cases) to follow me. It is highly addictive, time consuming and generally of little importance to your own personal development, but it is a real catch, despite the time it takes to get settled into Twitter (I have really only started using it regularly since I started uni last September.)

I see Twitter as an opportunity for me. On one hand, it is a great way to socialise. Whether it be people you don't necessarily know, or people you did not talk to that much at college, it is really helpful and so easy to communicate with new friends. In fact, I probably use Twitter more than I do text, Facebook chat or email. On the other hand, it is really helpful for my course. As a journalist, catching all the latest news is vital to being in-the-know. By following various news outlets, broadcasters and reporters, it is essentially your primary source for news gathering. The London riots of last year showed many, for example, of just how important Twitter is in trending news stories.

Trends, in particular, can be a bit of a mix bag when it comes to information which could be relevant. On one hand, the current affairs trends are excellent at providing you with the latest stories, whereas #iloveJustin or #1Drockmyworld are just some of the more annoying ones. Various 'amusing' trends provide a little escapism, which include #animalsongs or #eastendersgameshows, where you swap say the first word of a song to form an Animal song. If enough people re-tweet your tweet, then your tweet could essentially trend worldwide.

But Twitter should not be focused on trying to gain the most followers, or write the most tweets. It might seem pathetic to have under 100 followers, but in reality, the best way to use Twitter is to follow more people. By following more people, and tweeting them on a particular issue etc, you are bound to get more followers with an interest in that field. Rather than trying to pine for followers, as some people do. Twitter really is perfect at making new friends, whether they be half way round the world, or just across the street from you. Depending on your privacy settings, you can choose who follows you and who does not. It is not like Facebook, where adding people you do not know is deemed weird and stalker-like. The Twitter community is generally one of friends and openness. People you can actually have a decent, meaningful conversation with, not one that consists of "brb" and "ly xxx".

So who to follow? Well, start off with a few celebrities. Comedians usually provide decent enough entertainment, everyone else is either promoting themselves or so vain they feel it is their right for you to reply to their tweet of: "I just bought a D&G coat, now I am off to some glitzy bash in a low cut dress so I can get papped. You're all fucking losers". Companies, businesses and experts should also be top of the agenda. I have entered so many competitions and prize draws, as well as gaining promotions and discounts on clothes and other exciting opportunities, just from clicking on a few tweets. Just be suspicious if you get any sent to you personally. Then you know they are spam.

For sharing content, it is a doddle. Once you have worked out how to keep your statuses short and concise, then literally Twitter is your oyster. You can share dozens of photos, videos, website links and loads of other stuff to your friends and the global community at the click of a button. None of this "I have to tag such and such" nonsense. Just simple upload and share. Easy peasy.

Ok, it has its flaws. As my followers list grows - I have a moderate 188 last time I checked - so do the spam tweets, with their free giveaways and weird links. Ignore these. You also get the random porn stars. who seem to disappear before I even have chance to see their profile. And yes, to some extent, I like the fact that it is still quite new in the social-networking world, and that many people do not use it. It is the only way I can slag off my family without them noticing. Once my Mother starts following me, that will be it.

So if you tire of Facebook, want to meet new people and learn interesting, and sometimes odd, new things then Twitter is for you. It takes time getting used to, but the benefits are great. It has changed my life, no matter how sad that sounds. So I can say, with pride, that I am now a a firm, proud member of the Twitteratie, along with 300 million others. Long Live Twitter!

You can follow me at: or just search @kieranwatkins

For a basic guide, the dedicated Wikipedia page has all the information needed to get cracking: (including what a hashtag, trend and DM means, if you did not already know!)

Pictures Courtesy of Wikipedia

*in the space of 24 hours, my tweet total has increased by 200, and counting!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Let it Snow!

It has been promised for the last few weeks, and with an overnight flurry of the white stuff descending on the majority of the UK, it looks like our prayers have been finally answered.

Yes, the snow has arrived. And with it, comes the flight cancellations, road accidents and numerous days off from school and work. A nightmare, some might say?

But honestly, every year the same thing happens. It snows, the nation goes crazy and we soon start to moan about the snow before it has even settled. Why? So it might cause a few problems here and there. It might mean you miss a concert, a train ride back home or mean you are stuck inside for the next few days, but does it really matter?

Personally, I love the sense of chaos the snow brings with it every year. You can guarantee, that by February, Britain is bracing itself for a coating of Snow, so thick it is going to ruin everything. Yet we never seem to truly grasp the snow by its horns. It still manages, without fail, to wipe us of our salt supplies, and ruin the public transport system.

But who cares! For kids, it is magnificent. No school, no work; just lots of snowball fights, snowangels and snowmen! And for even bigger kids, like myself, it is a chance to reminisce over your childhood, as you re-create the Spanish Civil War outside in the snow.

For everyone else though, it is a nightmare. Blocked roads, empty shops, a cold house, the prospect of spending 3 days stuck with your children. Damn you blasted weather! Every year is the same. On one side, you have those who love it. And on the other, you have those who despise it.

Which begs the question, what are the real benefits of the snow? According to a recent article in The Sun, the snow provides a £100 million boost to the High Street, as maniacal mums descend on the supermarkets. According to the paper, the amount of goods bought on the High Street last week was up 200% compared to other weeks. Marks & Spencers reported a 95% rise in coat sales, up on a year ago, and Debenhams reports a 40% rise in the number of high tog duvets being sold.

So as temperatures hit -11c, it seems the snow can bring benefits to the nation. And in these dire times of economic struggle, surely we all deserve a day off once in a blue moon, to enjoy mother nature and relive your youth. Let it snow Britain, let is snow!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friend for Friday: Margot James MP

She has recently been in the news for leading attacks on cosmetic surgery, urging ministers to review the way products and services are regulated, after the recent PIP breast implant scandal. I was lucky enough to interview her for Radio 4's Any Questions? last year.

Friend for Friday: Margot James MP

A Conservative MP born and bred, Margot has recently been elected as MP for Stourbridge in 2010. Before this, she was vice-chairman of the party, with responsibility for women. With links to business and many charities, as well as being the first openly lesbian Conservative MP, I chatted to her about her time on tonight’s show, as well as her various occupations and political life.

Hi Margot! Great to witness you debating on Any Questions? tonight, how did you find the show personally?
I loved it. I have been on the show a few times now, in various different places, and this has to be the best show yet! The audience were great tonight, really engaged with the arguments and debates brought up. The questions were brilliant as well, and I thought the panel were great too…..even if Bob (Crow) went on a bit!
Now, before being elected as Stourbridge MP in May 2010, you were vice-chairman for the Conservative party, with responsibility for women. Did you find this role challenging in any way?

Well, it has to be said, the Conservatives have always had great ‘ways’ for women - we are the only party in the UK which has seen a female lead the country! I mean the role has been challenging, yes. In our culture and society, it has often been the prerogative that women have been subjected to men’s oppression (something Margot mentioned in tonight’s debate.) My focus has been to try to eradicate this injustice, and create a balance; whether it is for women, different ethnicity's or sexual orientation. However, this does not mean that I am a feminist! We have fantastic male politicians in the party and this goes without saying what a fantastic job they do, but there is still a way to go before women are treated as equals.

As well as women being a focus of debate tonight, the young were repeatedly mentioned. What are your own views on the issues young people are experiencing currently?
Well, it is a hard one really. Obviously, cuts to university spending are going to affect students, however it is needed with the tough economic climate and huge deficit we are facing. Young people are always important in society, and I do not think anyone is suggesting they are not. However, all this bad press with the strikes and what not is not the answer.

So how will politicians help the young, particularly students?
Well, there are plenty of suggestions, opportunities and benefits out there for the young. What I would suggest is that politicians need to keep hold of their ‘vital link’ with students, and work together to find solutions for issues such as youth employment and the pressure of high grades in state education. In addition, a need for honesty and clarification needs to be made too.

It sounds like you have played a part in many different areas of the political spectrum; do you ever find it a struggle finding the time to juggle these roles?
Well, I would like to make it clear that my only role now is as the MP for Stourbridge - my constituency is my pride and joy now. Apart from my partner, and various media appearances, I would not say I have to juggle around anything - I am 100% focusing on my local constituency and will always continue to do so.

Interviewed by Kieran Watkins

Picture Courtesy of

The New Zealand Diaries: No.2 - The Good Life

One thing that we British take for granted is our villages. Quaint, thatched houses surrounded by fields and woodland, with a traditional free house nestled in the centre. The local shop provides you with all the essentials, the local butcher fills you up with a succulent joint every Sunday, and the historic church with its staple ivy-covered tombstones keeps the cogs of village life ticking. As British as the union jack.
Or is it? Because, even on the other side of the world, similarities can start to be drawn. In the South Island of New Zealand – home to a population of just 1 million – family-orientated villages are all the range. Quirky styled cottages alongside neatly pruned wisteria. A friendly, welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel more of a ‘regular’ than a ‘tourist’, as you settle down outside the blazing sun for a pint of the local bitter.
On my travels, I was fortunate enough to go and visit some of these ‘midsummer-esque’ villages. If you work in the city, it is often cheaper – and a lot calmer – to live in a house outside the city. With plenty of land and views to die for, you would be mad not to want the village way of life. Chilling outside, with sheep as your neighbours, you can see why many of the locals, and even foreigners, envy the laid-back lifestyle of the NZ village scene.

where my father lives, is your standard New Zealand village. A mix of modern and traditional buildings, with its very own High Street, featuring; two coffee shops, one convenience store, three gift shops, a garden centre, two garages, a bar and a butcher. Elsewhere in the village, the various churches and halls suggest a friendly, active community is at the heart of this picture-perfect village.

Elsewhere, other villages provide a glimpse into the rich heritage of New Zealand’s culture. The village of Lawrence is a favourite for tourists, with its various coffee shops and emporiums adding a cosmopolitan feel to a place full of history. It also boasts its own museum, which is a must-see for any sightseer. On the other hand, Tapanui, resting by the side of the Blue Mountains, offered a completely different atmosphere. A quiet, peaceful place where everybody knows one another. If you do get the chance to visit, make sure you try the world-famous Hokey-Pokey ice cream from the local shop. I guarantee you have never tried anything like it before!

In an ever-changing world that we live in, one dominated by technology and mass culture, it was more than a welcoming change to go back to basics and settle for the harmonious lifestyle of yesterday’s world. Which is something we take for granted in UK, and makes me wonder if the UK village scene is all a bit superficial, clinging on for dear life. Because, with the various villages dotted all over the South Island, and across New Zealand, you will find the one that is just right for you - and they will all have their own story to tell!

Pictures taken from Outram.