Yesterday, a piece I wrote about Nicola Sturgeon and how she is being received outside Scotland as the general election approaches was published.
The premise was this: the SNP leader was judged to have performed well in the seven-way leaders’ debate last week, with one UK-wide poll suggesting she won. There have been a number of stories in newspapers since containing examples of people in England asking if they can vote for the party. Is it possible she could win over the rest of the UK, just months after the referendum that could have seen Scotland leave?
Here are some of the responses I got on Twitter. Overwhelmingly, those who got back to me online said no.
This was my favourite response
Some people said yes, but not many
The online reaction didn’t match with what I found when out speaking to people in central London for the piece. I stopped a number of people to ask them about the SNP leader. Some hadn’t heard of her and had no interest in politics. But from those who had, all bar one said they were impressed.
Here’s a couple of quotes from the piece.
“I thought she was really good… she was more sensible than a lot of the other party leaders.” Carrado Manzai, 21.
“Nicola Sturgeon had a better vision and I think that’s what our politics has been missing.” Sarah Rowe, 28.
Three times this week, I’ve felt like I was witnessing history; events that would be remembered for many years to come. As a journalist, it’s easy to get caught up in a story and treat it just as work. This week, that was almost impossible.
The first event was obviously on Wednesday, when the news of the terrible attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s office broke. I watched at home in shock, like millions across the world, as details of the events in Paris emerged. Like so many others, I was horrified that something as simple as a cartoon could lead to fanatics taking such action.
The second was Friday. I was working with the BBC World team as two sieges, one in Paris and one just outside, took place. It was hard to believe that live feeds of parts of the city looking like a police state, shutdown for hours as authorities hunted the men and woman responsible, were real. The images of police storming a kosher supermarket and people fleeing for their lives will stay with me for a long time.
In the face of such horrific events, it would be easy to have a grim view of the world. Luckily, there’s the third part of this story; the record-breaking unity rallies in France and support events in many other cities.
The sight of more than one million people gathered in central Paris in a show of defiance must be one of the most inspiring of recent times. To see such diverse groups; world leaders, individuals, Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of no faith all communicating broadly the same message, is an incredible show of defiance. The image of Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the same demonstration has huge symbolic power.
I spent this afternoon in Trafalgar Square in London, where several hundred people gathered to show solidarity to the Parisian demonstrators. I spoke to a number of people – French expats, Brits, Jews, Iranians – all of whom were determined to show their support for the French people as they face the aftermath of the attacks. Some spoke of fear about how safe our own city was, but all insisted we must remain defiant. Their message was clear: we won’t bow to terror.
When we look back on this week, hopefully the events of Sunday will be remembered just as much as the preceding days.
(Apologies for any grammatical errors, this was written in a bit of a rush to make the final…)
For me, this year’s World Cup has been the best ever. And not just because of the remarkable football we have seen on the pitch, from Spain’s early capitulation to Brazil’s late, but even more dramatic one.
I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in June in Brazil, travelling between São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Manaus. My mate Chris (who I really hope blogs about this too, because his blog is fantastic) and I, as well as the ridiculously large number of friends we made along the way, watched football everywhere from Copacabana beach to a house of the banks of the Amazon river. And we experienced first-hand some of the reasons why everyone I know who has been to Brazil speaks so highly of the country and its people.
The combination of what is surely the best sporting event on eartth and what must be one of the most hospitable and lively countries in the world made for quite a trip.
Here are five reasons being at this World Cup was a truly amazing experience.
I’ve chosen to put the hosts first because, for me, they made this tournament.
In every city and town we visited, local people wanted to help you and make sure you enjoyed the country. Men and women would stop and offer assistance if you looked like you needed directions, others would spend ten minutes trying to figure out where you were going if they didn’t know right away. On one occasion in São Paulo, a young man took a huge group of us on a 40 minute detour to find a bar we had arranged to meet some friends at but couldn’t find.
The most incredible people were the friends we made. In São Paulo, we were lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Rafael, Tamiris, Pablo and all their lovely friends. In Manaus, our friend Victor was tireless in his quest to show us the best the city had to offer. I knew none of them when I landed in Brazil, but they all did whatever they could to make sure we had a good time and we’ve stayed in touch since I got back to the UK.
I was lucky enough to watch two of Brazil’s matches – the opening ceremony and the Chile match in the round of 16 – with Brazilians in Sao Paulo. I was amazed at how quickly they welcomed us into their home and made us part of their group (and how much they loved Franz Ferdinand and Travis).
The most obvious example here is Copacabana. Every night, tens of thousands of people would gather on the beach to watch the football at the fan fest. After the games, fans and locals would gather on the road and continue the party into the wee small hours. You could buy alcohol from the numerous vendors selling beer and caipirinhas right along the street (all for decent prices, too).
In Manaus, every night (and I mean EVERY night) several hundred people would gather in the main square outside the Opera House to drink and mingle. Here, we met numerous local people who wanted to have a chat, find out where we were from and introduce us to their friends.
In São Paulo, the best nights out we had were in the bars and club of Vila Madalena and Augusta. A perfect mix of football fans and local people soaking up the atmosphere. They were a real melting pot.
It seems a pretty obvious statement to make – Brazil has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. But what struck me was how varied they were.
In Rio, you have some of the most famous landmarks in the world – Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Lapa to name a few. I found it a marked contrast to Sao Paulo, a huge, buzzing metropolitan city that feels more like central London than Brazil. São Paulo is the kind of city where you walk around all day, without seeing a tourist attraction or having any sort of plan, and still feel like you have done a lot.
Then there is the rainforest, which couldn’t be more different. Our three day trip into the Amazon was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. This place really as to be seen to be believed, with its seemingly endless rainforest and snaking rivers. To be in Rio on day and the Amazon the next is about as stark a contrast as you can get.
I’m sure that if you spoke to other people who have been in Brazil, they would tell you of numerous other places with unique features. Brazil is a massively varied country and wherever you go, there is something extraordinary to find.
I’ve always found the advertising slogans about uniting the world a bit cheesy. But it turns out they are true.
We met and watched matches with people from all over the planet during our trip. Every night, you would find a plethora of cultures and languages mixing on the streets and in the bars. Often you wouldn’t understand the language someone else was speaking, but somehow you could interact. A few words shared and you were friends for the night.
For me, the South American teams were the most passionate and lively – from the Brazilians I’ve already mentioned, to the thousands of Chile fans who descended on Rio with their campervans before their match with Spain. The Argentineans, too, created a remarkable atmosphere wherever they went.
There were others who gave them a run for their money. The Australians travelled in huge numbers and were in great spirits where they went. Much has been said about the way in which Americans have embraced this tournament and the fans who made the trip were brilliant too.
And it gave me the chance to reunite with some old pals. Chris and I hadn’t seen each other since he went travelling 18 months ago. And I had two fantastic nights in Rio with my best buddy from my postgrad, Matt.
Hasn’t it just been great? From Van Persie’s diving header against Spain to James Rodríguez’s heroics, David Luiz’s unstoppable free kick to his subsequent humiliation at the hands of the Germans, we’ve had some wild scenes at this World Cup. I was lucky to watch some of those moments in venues including a house on the banks of the Amazon, Copacabana beach numerous random cafes and bars across the country and the homes of many Brazilians.
Some of my colleagues at the BBC have looked at the case for this being seen as the best World Cup ever. But for me the memories of those moments mean there is not case to hear. This has been my favourite World Cup by a country mile.
You might have noticed David Bowie – my favourite artist – said something on Scotland last night, in a message delivered by Kate Moss at the Brit Awards in London. Five words, to be precise: ‘Scotland, please stay with us’. A short sentence, but one that got the Internet terribly excited. His name was trending across Scotland within the hour and the comments have continued to flow in this morning.
As with most of Bowie’s recent comments, his remarks on Scotland offered very little in the way of explanation. There was no suggestion that he doesn’t think Scotland has the right to a referendum later this year and nothing to indicate he doesn’t like the SNP or Yes Scotland campaign. In fact, the only thing that can be read in his remarks is that he would prefer Scotland to stay in the UK.
Despite working for a newspaper that covers independence every day and seeing first hand just how animated the debate can get, I was surprised that so many people felt the need to argue overnight that Bowie should not be allowed his opinion – largely because he lives in New York and isn’t Scottish.
Here are some examples:
It’s become almost inevitable that people get wound up very easily when it comes to independence. In one sense I can understand why– this is the biggest decision Scotland will make for centuries and people on both sides have some very strong views. But we also need to keep a sense of perspective and lighten up a bit. This was five words, a short sentence, a brief interjection.
Bowie’s opinion wouldn’t sway my vote and I’d be surprised if it has a significant influence on other people. But I do think he’s entitled to it because I’m fascinated by what other people think of Scotland’s constitutional debate. I enjoy David Leask’s As Others See Us pieces and, whenever I’m down in London visiting friends, I like to hear what others think of the discussions we’re having north of the border. Is it not better to hear a variety of views, domestic and international, on the subject? Is there a suggestion I shouldn’t listen to my pal from Aberdeen who lives in New York on the issue? Or my brother who is off to Spain for his third year of uni shortly before the referendum?
We need to be able to listen to people we disagree with over the next few months, even if they don’t have a vote. Whatever your politics, Bowie should be allowed his five words.
Friday will be the last day for the Guardian’s innovative local project in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds. For Guardian Media Group, the experiment has come to an end. There has been no shortage of bloggers, journalists and individuals paying tribute to the fantastic work done as a result of the three sites, some of whom are mentioned at the bottom of this post.
Many have offered thoughts on what the future for communities in Edinburgh will be online when the project ends. For what they are worth, I wanted to offer a few personal reflections on my brief time working for the project.
Firstly, tribute must be paid to Tom Allan and Mike MacLeod. Both are lovely guys who care a lot about Edinburgh and the various communities in the city. Sarah Hartley gave me my first break in journalism and I am grateful for her advice and guidance.
When the project first started, Tom covered Edinburgh in a way the capital hadn’t seen before. Multimedia, hyper-local news on a daily basis was a breath of fresh air. As a student journo, it was fascinating to see it evolve.
The project was a welcome addition to the city’s news sphere. It has not sought to replicate the work done by newspapers like the Evening News, which continues to provide important coverage of issues in the city, by trying to cover all the city’s issues.
Instead, it has provided coverage based more on issues, working with often small community groups. Given the resources available, not all the problems, challenges and issues in the city could be covered. But for those that were given attention, both Mike and Tom showed passion and resiliance making sure they were covered properly.
I was particularly impressed by Mike’s coverage of the aftermath of the climate camp after it ended.
My personal highlight was working with residents at the Flower Colonies in Slateford. After following their fight against a new development , I got the chance to spend an afternoon with them and find out how it had brought their community closer together. I also enjoyed looking at the impact of chuggers in the city centre (even if one commenter didn’t).
Another innovation, which I think has helped bring decision makers to more people in the city, is live-blogging of council meetings. Often, there were issues discussed and decisions made that would not make it into print media because of space. But these were important to certain groups and the blog was an opportunity for them to find out more about the process. Others have started doing this and I hope it continues.
Thirdly, the digital community in Edinburgh has grown over the past two years and will no doubt continue to do so. The local project has helped, giving coverage to events and encouraging its readers to get involved. I hope we find another forum through which to keep this going, such as through the social media surgeries and hacks/hackers. Perhaps it would be a good idea to organise a leaving do for Mike to celebrate the work of Guardian local and discuss what happens next?
Fourthly it has given more prominence to other hyper-local sites. I had never heard of the likes of Greener Leith or the Broughton Spurtle before Tom started to provide links to their posts. Through the Guardian local project, a number of people came to realise just how wide and rich Edinburgh’s online community is.
When Mike took over the blog, we had a discussion about the future of Guardian Edinburgh. He said he wanted to give as many people in Edinburgh as possible the chance to share their stories and views on the city. I think he has gone a long way to doing that and it’s a shame it has to end in this form.
There will be other channels through which these issues continue to be covered , such as the Evening News and STV local. But I am sure many people will miss the Guardian blog and the people who contributed to it.
The experiment may be over for site, but I think it will leave a lasting impression on Edinburgh’s digital community.
And in true Guardian local style, do comment below if you think any of these views are right or wrong 🙂
Tinchy Stryder makes no secret of the fact he is one of the smallest people in the music business. The pseudonym, he says, comes from a nickname afforded due to the fact that he is a tiny 5’1”. But that’s not to say the ego that comes with being a fairly regular mainstay of British rap and his own clothing brand indicate this is something he feels uncomfortable about. As one of the first to make his name from the crowd that has now spawned Professor Green, Tinie Tempah and Example, Tinchy is far from stunted as far as musical accomplishments go.
Tonight however, size, or lack of it, is not on his side. Despite the name recognition Stryder has and the relative shelf life that his previous hits (Number 1, You’re Not Alone, Take Me Back et al.) have given him, the Picture House is embarrassingly empty. The venue has given Edinburgh the much-needed capacity to host more established artists in the capital, but at around a third full for a self-proclaimed ‘Star in the Hood’, its hard not to question why Stryder didn’t opt for a venue that is a bit, well, smaller.
Not that our host for the evening seems to take much notice. Swaggering onto the stage clad in sunglasses and flanked by his usual troupe, many of whom are sporting products from the main attraction’s clothing range, the venue might as well be full for the energy Tinchy puts into his show.
The crowd, in part, reciprocate this enthusiasm. The 200 or so Tinchy diehards at the front are unfazed by their diminutive number and are evidently enamoured by Stryder’s performance. The rest of us perk up a bit when the hits are rolled out, though there is a feeling that a striking lack of atmosphere combines with a minimal knowledge of Tinchy’s music beyond his better publicised singles, to make for an uncomfortable time for some.
There seems little worth in discussing the merits of Tinchy’s artistic talents- if you don’t like British rappers who take themselves seriously, it’s unlikely one of them doing just that will change your mind. Tinchy shows tonight that he can rap and that he is an engaging live performer for the most part.
But the cringe effect of him standing in front of a minimal crowd asking “You louder than London?” makes it hard not to think that Tinchy might be a bit big for his boots tonight. Maybe this just isn’t his scene?
As they bring their acoustic sessions to Britain, the LA band discuss laying themselves on the line, their new DVD and maturing for their second album.
The Airborne Toxic Event don’t do aloof. The ballads that dominated their self-titled debut album – charting frontman Mikel Jollett’s breakup with his former girlfriend – are honest and forthright. Why would the band be any different?
Returning to the UK to celebrate the release of their first DVD- All I Ever Wanted- the Californian quintet could be forgiven for feeling a bit more like rock stars. They’ve built up a strong following of committed fans both sides of the Atlantic and have just played one of America’s finest music venues.
But, after two years of relentless touring as their self titled debut album went viral, they are used to talking about the trials and tribulations of their progression from touring in a transit van to hosting the British premiere of their first documentary at one of the country’s top independent film festivals.
The Pleasance is the perfect setting for first night of their maiden acoustic tour in Britain. In August, it is the hub of the world’s biggest arts festival, hosting some of the biggest names on the comedy circuit on an hourly basis. For the rest of the year, it is a students’ union, hosting sports science students nursing a cheap pint after a days work. It’s not especially glamorous, but it’s both intimate and welcoming.
This brief visit is about going back to basics, offering something different that reflects the setting. The band’s followers will be well accustomed to the high-octane intensity that has come to personify their shows. But more versed fans will also know about their youtube acoustic sessions- one take, one frame, unplugged versions of the tracks on their album. This foray is about bringing stripped down musical talent to the fore.
“It’s different,” says Mikel. “You can say things with a whisper or a shout. It’s easy to slam on a distortion pedal and just scream, but not so much to have a song that doesn’t require tones of production.
Among their five members are Anna Bulbrook and Noah Harmon- both classically trained musicians – Anna normally found playing violin or viola at the band’s shows, whilst Noah switches between bass guitar and acoustic double bass.
“I’m really fond of being able to have these quiet moments where Anna will play some beautiful lines on viola and we get some upright bass going- I really missed those moments on two years of crazy loud Airborne touring.”
Crazy and loud may be the thing they are best associated with (if you’ve been to an Airborne Toxic gig where one of the band didn’t jump off an amp, you’re in the minority). But this tour and the show that is the focus of their new DVD are quite different.
It was two years of touring on the back of their first album that persuaded the band to delve deeper into their bag of tricks. On returning to Los Angeles in December last year, their homecoming show had to be a bit different.
They got to work on preparing a show that would bring what Mikel calls “something special” to the newly refurbished Walt Disney Music Hall- east LA’s grandest music venue, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Used to hosting the LA philharmonic, it is considered to have among the best acoustics in the world. That one concert, drummer Daren Taylor says, “took more work than any other show.”
Mikel continues: “The fact that our stupid little rock band was asked to play it was a huge honour. We really wanted to live up to it- we had one fucking record, how were we gonna play a gig of this magnitude?
“We decided to involve as much of he local community as possible- we had a children’s choir from East LA, we got dancers from LA, and we got a marching band from a high school down the street.
“We tried to turn it into something that wasn’t really about us, but just kind of about our ability to create an event for the people that were there. It wasn’t so much a question of ‘come look at us’, but ‘here’s what we can all create if we work at it.”
The Calder string Quartet playing the intro to ‘Wishing Well’ and the two-minute brass band build-up to ‘Does This Mean You’re Moving On’ show how well the band’s tracks work with wider musical accompaniment.
Combined with the striking reality of ‘Sometime Around Midnight’ and ‘This Losing’ (I admit to them that I feel like we’ve all been through the same break-up), the DVD is a showcase of the Airborne Toxic’s diverse talent and their ability to sing about young relationships as well as anybody else.
But there’s also that something new that they need to do for themselves. In contrast to the appealing reality of the first album, the past two years have been spent together on a bus. How will they keep that emotion, so characterizing of band, alive for their second album?
“I felt very conscious that this wasn’t going to be some stale second record that isn’t moving,” says Mikel.
“The title track is about dying and losing family members. We have two songs about being on tour; the sense of displacement and how you really long for things you never thought you would.
“There are some very strong ideas and passions to be found in these things as much as there is in a really though break-up with a girl. I agree with you- people like the Airborne because of that sense of connection and hard times, being honest with yourself about how difficult things were is really refreshing. The new record does that in spades.”
Darren chips in: “The new album is sort of a step in the way of maturity I guess. It’s a step away from what we did on the first album, but still related.”
And it will be accompanied by another acoustic series- the band are already planning how to keep the raw edge with their new material.
“We’re going to do a project called the bombastic which is going to be a series of web videos- one frame, one shot. There’s something honest about it. The hard thing is to just stand there and play your song.
“Everybody fakes it and you live in a world where everyone is faking it really well. So we’re like, let’s do something you can’t fake and one bombastic we’re going to do the same thing as the acoustic series, but larger productions.”
The band’s name is taken from the second part of Don DeLilo’s ‘White Noise’, a novel where there is so much information in society, it’s not clear what is real. For Mikel, their routes won’t be forgotten.
“The reason we called ourselves this is because of the cloud in the novel that comes in and is a metaphor for the oversaturation of information and simplification. In the face of that, we’re just trying to sing some honest songs.
“We’re not about posturing but much more just serving music and sharing a moment. That’s always been the idea.”