It’s Austerity Britain, but not as we know it

By Simon Young

“And over toFalmouthharbour where two German girls and an Englishman are getting ready to cross theAtlanticin a sailing boat that only cost £200.”

The Pathe News presenter’s clipped RP commentary anchors the news clip perfectly. It’s austerityBritain, but not as we know it. In 1955 food rationing had only just ended; the Tories were back in power and the swinging sixties were still a long way off. With an average salary of £60 a month, for many,Britainwas a drizzly monochrome.

Jim Wharram however had some colourful dreams. Born in 1928 into a working classManchesterfamily, early wanderlust saw him hiking through the hills and moors of the Peak District. He yearned to explore the oceans, but sailing was still a pastime of the rich. Young men of Wharram’s background might aspire to join the Merchant Navy, not the local yacht club. Then came a visit toLondon’sScienceMuseumwhere he was transfixed by sketches of early Polynesian sailing vessels. They were essentially twin hulled rafts, lashed together with rope. Yet their inherent stability enabled the early Polynesians to explore and populate thePacific Oceanwhilst we were still capsising our coracles.

Wharram was inspired. Despite having no boat building experience and the fact that twin hulled boats were virtually unknown at the time, he set about building a modern day Polynesian catamaran. The enthusiasm of this charismatic northerner was clearly contagious and he was soon joined by two young German women, Ruth Merseburgar and Jutta Schultze-Rhonhof. Together they built the 23 foot ‘Tangaroa’ in a hayloft for a couple of hundred pounds. To Wharram she was an object of grace and beauty, his gateway to a different world. Less visionary onlookers described her as ‘two coffins lashed together.’

Transported to theEssexcoast on the back of a builder’s lorry, Tangaroa was launched in June 1954. Sea trials involved a Channel crossing toHolland, then through the canals toGermanyandFrance. InFalmouththe following year the trio encountered a mixture of enthusiasm from locals and sneers from the ‘proper’ yachtsmen, who dismissed their planned voyage to theCaribbeanas suicidal.  If they didn’t drown they would starve. Wharram describes the ship’s provisions for the journey in his book, ‘Two Girls Two Catamarans.’  “100 lbs wheat, 100 lbs oats, 70 lb block of pressed dates, soya beans, soya flour, lentils, peas, peanut butter, cheese and honey.”

In February 1957 Tangaroa became the first catamaran to cross theAtlantic. Unfortunately the yachting establishment denied her crew the recognition they deserved.  Arriving in Trinidad in a sea weary, worm infested and arguably weird looking boat; accompanied by two young German girls; one heavily pregnant; Wharram found himself blackballed at the whites-only Trinidad Yacht Club. Thankfully a warmer welcome awaited them at the ‘coloured’ Aquatic Club. Following the birth of Jutta’s baby the four lived there for two years whilst Wharram built a second, larger catamaran. Aboard the forty foot Rongo they went on to complete theAtlanticcircuit in 1960. But that, as they say, is another decade and another story.

Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Journalism Course LondonBy Natalie Tompkins

“Stop. I can see them,” shouted someone sitting on the left of the coach as the driver pulled over. The excitement was mounting as everyone rushed to put on extra gloves, hats and coats eager to rush out into the cold night air.

After sitting on a coach for hours with our noses pressed to the window I was reassured that late February was the best time to catch the Northern Lights and, thankfully, we were not disappointed.

As everyone was assembling tripods and adjusting their camera settings I gazed upwards. There was a faint greenish tinge in the sky above the horizon that was getting brighter. Standing surrounded by snow and ice capped mountains I knew I was about to see one of the most spectacular light shows nature can produce; the Aurora Borealis.

Who could have thought charged particles in a geomagnetic storm could be so beautiful? “Aurora is the name of the Roman Goddess of Dawn” explained the guide.

The dazzling light show developed in a few minutes and soon the curtain- like veil was drawn across the sky illuminating the landscape around us. My feet were firmly on the frozen ground but the feeling in my stomach suggested I had just been catapulted into space. A still silence spread around us while we all tried to hear the ‘sing’ of the aurora.

This was a once in a lifetime experience in a country that I will never forget.  Even if you are not lucky enough to see the Northern Lights you are guaranteed to see some breathtaking views.

Despite being there for just three days it’s amazing what you can squeeze in. Iceland is a geographers’ paradise with two plate boundaries running straight down the middle of the country. This means that the ever expanding land mass gives way to some of the most exceptional mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls and geysers in the world.

The city of Reykjavik is a marvel. It is where the arctic North meets the Western world which makes for one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the whole of Europe. Despite the country’s population being smaller than Liverpool’s, there are pockets of culture, museums and an adequate night life of buzzing bars and restaurants. These are all set in front of a stunning backdrop of mountains and lakes underneath a frozen sky.

Millions are facing starvation – so why isn’t it making the headlines?

Journalism Course LondonIn the Sahel region of West Africa 18 million people are at risk of hunger, yet there’s minimal news coverage. Jody Crooks looks at what creates media interest in a disaster situation and how that affects aid agencies’ ability to respond.

Erratic rains, high food and fuel prices coupled with the displacement of 500,000 Malian refugees, have combined to leave 18 million people across the Sahel of West Africa at risk of hunger and malnutrition. The situation is so serious it is “positioned to claim more lives over time than the Asian Tsunami with 273,000 dead or the Haitian Earthquake with more than 217,000 dead,” according to a children’s development charity.

Despite such shocking figures you would be hard pushed to read about it other than in media specifically focussing on global development issues. This lack of news coverage creates a problem for aid agencies to find the funding they need to respond to the situation. In April, the UN said it would need $1.6 billion to avert this crisis but had only received 43% of those funds at that time.

The British public are very generous donors. They gave over £175 million through the Disaster and Emergency Committee (DEC) following the 2010 Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods. However they can only give if they are aware of a situation. Andy Shipley, News Editor at Plan UK, a DEC member charity, talks about the difficulties NGOs face in trying to garner media interest to help them respond to emergencies.

According to Shipley, the three main criteria for creating media interest in a disaster are: “the magnitude, the connection to the readership and the availability of content”.  The huge amount of media coverage the 2004 Asian Tsunami acquired is a good example. Not only did it have massive impact but it affected British tourists and the footage was dramatic. In contrast, the Sahel food crisis is a slow onset disaster and Britain doesn’t have the same connection with the largely Francophone region.

Criticism was made of the late response to last year’s drought in East Africa. Despite early warning systems seemingly working well, the system was essentially unable to respond until people actually started dying. “It needs to be content driven,” says Andy. “The tipping point for coverage of the East Africa drought was the pictures of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.”

Andy says the media team at Plan have tried various approaches to increase coverage of the Sahel food crisis: “Foreign correspondents, video crews, celebrity and high profile visits”, but without much success. “The media feel that aid agencies cry wolf and can be insincere about the magnitude of a situation,” says Andy. “There’s a saying that NGOs have predicted ten of the last three famines.” Surely aid agencies need to predict situations in order to prepare for and avert disasters? “It’s a chicken and egg situation” says Andy.

It would appear that the issues involved in attracting media coverage for disasters are as complex as those causing this West African food crisis. Unfortunately, what is deemed relevant and interesting to readers is having a considerable impact on the funds that aid agencies are receiving to respond to this life and death situation. It looks like matters may have to get worse before they get better.

Brew Dog – beer for punks?

London Journalism CentreBy Josh Platman

Campaigning outside parliament with a dwarf to change a 300 year-old licensing law, serving 28% beer from a deer’s head, and driving a tank through London to mark the launch of their Camden bar. These are just some of the stunts pulled by Brew Dog, Scotland’s largest independent brewer. Having earned a reputation as the enfant terrible of the British beer since their 2007 birth, I met barman Jonny Bright and questioned whether, as they claim, BrewDog really is ‘Beer for Punks’.

As I arrive at BrewDog’s Camden bar I’m keeping an eye out for any punk signifiers that might reflect the company’s slogan. Aside from a table of very alternative-looking customers (unsurprising in Camden), there are no visual references to anything punk. Over a pint of Dead Pony Club, Bright, 27, explains that the statement is more attitudinal.

“The idea behind beer for punks is that we brew beer in a way and in a style like the way that the punks rebelled against pop culture and big corporate brands’”.

Surely having their beer sold in supermarkets contradicts this?  “We are trying to have a craft beer revolution; you can’t have a revolution with ten people, you’ve got to do it with everybody,” Bright says.

BrewDog have fallen foul of some CAMRA diehards (who swear by cask brewing) over their use of kegs. Tim Davies, ex Chairman of the Glasgow and West of Scotland branch of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) believes the way Brew Dog present itself could be a hindrance. “I’m not sure that ‘Beer for Punks’ helps them, and it could come across as a bit elitist and negative,” he says. “Ale should be for everybody, and ultimately we [CAMRA and BrewDog] both have similar goals [promoting ale over lager].” He also sees some of their promotional work as a gimmick.

“Although they are deliberately trying to provoke discussion, some of their points were lost on me, like brewing the strongest beer in the world”.

According to Bright though, BrewDog is ‘for people who want to be different, which is punk.’  He brushes Davies’ fears of elitism aside, citing freedom of choice: “It’s about drinking something that’s not widely available. A lot of people are getting really into organic foods and I always wonder why people take such care in choosing what they eat but when they drink they don’t really care,” he says.

He is also a supporter of BrewDog’s bold marketing policy, which has brought legal action against them in the past. “Sure we grab attention but there’s accolades there as well,” he says. “We held the world record three times for the world’s strongest beer. We’ve pioneered the technique of freeze distillation and many people have been very interested, wanting to know how we make beer that strong.”

BrewDog are passionate about their product, which Bright reflects when speaking about his work. “Serving craft beer is different to selling any old pint of lager’, he stresses, almost visibly shuddering when saying the ‘l’ word. “People who drink craft beer [brewed at microbreweries] are interested in what they’re drinking, the flavours and processes involved, whereas you can’t talk to someone about the intricacies of a pint of Fosters”.

By the time I leave the bar the parallels I’m drawing between BrewDog and punk are stark, entirely validating their slogan. Much like the Sex Pistols, they don’t shy away from outrage to generate publicity. BrewDog also share common punk sensibilities having unsettled the established order, broken new ground and proudly stood out from the crowd. If the beer revolution tastes this good, then count me in.

Making it

Journalism Course LondonCarving out a career in the creative industry can be a long and winding road, but at the end of it lies a job like no other, writes Gareth Martin Royle.

“The analogy I always use is that it’s like being in an abusive relationship,” says theatre director Derek Bond. “You always feel like you should be leaving, you should be doing something else. And sometimes you feel like your art is letting you down somehow, that it’s holding you back. And yet you keep on doing it.”

Bond studied drama at university, and ten years after graduating, he is directing his first full show at a major theatre. The abusive relationship metaphor is one he employs to describe a lifestyle that often asks for far more than it gives.

To continue the comparison, it’s a relationship that can be very one-sided. Illustrator Karolin Schnoor took the risk of going freelance immediately after graduating. She says: “It can be quite isolating, and there’s no real sense of being part of the creative industry as such because you’re on your own.”

But there’s something about the creative industry that keeps people coming back, despite the knocks they invariably receive.

“I know some people who think of it as like a calling, a vocation,” says Bond. “Like they’re a monk, or a priest. Like it’s something that you get called to do and you can’t not do it.”

It’s a view shared by musician Sean Harrington. After many years in the music industry, including a stint as bassist for nineties punk rock band Pillbox, he is enjoying success as one half of a covers duo. When he reached a crossroads in his life, it was music that he turned to. “I came back from a year in Australia and thought: what is it I really love doing? And the answer was: playing music,” he says.

For many, however, the quest to realise their dreams barely even begins. Bond talks about the fate of some of his fellow drama students: “Everyone wanted to be an actor or a director. I’d say only about 10% are working professionally in that area.” Some, he explains, have gone off in loosely related directions like teaching or television, while others have left the world of theatre behind completely. “It’s just a case of how determined you are,” he says. “Some people try for a couple of months, or give themselves a deadline. Then they go and do something else.”

Cruelly, as Harrington’s experience demonstrates, your definition of success may change according to the parameters set by ‘real life’. “When I was in Pillbox, I felt like I was successful,” he says. “But how successful is it if I’m not making money from it?”

So what is the secret to a life of creative fulfilment and financial reward? For Bond, it is about perseverance and confidence – the belief that you are good enough.

Fortune, of course, also plays a part. “I was lucky in that I got a job on a Nokia campaign right out of university,” says Schnoor. “It paid well, so my immediate financial pressure wasn’t too great.”

Those who do make it would not have things any other way. Harrington says: “To be able to do something that I love, and make the most money I’ve ever made – yeah, it is like living the dream.”

Schnoor puts it succinctly: “The best thing about being an illustrator is that I love what I do and it fulfils me.”

But perhaps the most pleasing assessment of a career in the creative industry is provided by Confucius, whom Bond quotes during our conversation: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


Derek Bond is currently directing Lost In Yonkers, which opens at Watford Palace Theatre in September.

Sean Harrington was bass guitarist for Pillbox, and now plays in several bands including the covers duo Never Mind The Bongos.

Karolin Schnoor’s illustration and design portfolio includes work for Nokia, Royal Doulton, Computer Arts and Creative Review.

Redefining paradise

London Journalism CentreBy Lucy Mizen

Lush blue sky, amazing turquoise water and totally white sand – this is my view as the plane flies in low over the island of Zanzibar. I’ve finally arrived in paradise.

In fact, initial impressions suggest that Virgin holidays have got it right: “The very name ‘Zanzibar’ evokes an air of mystery and exoticism. Lying 35 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania, it boasts crystal clear waters, glorious beaches and a fascinating history,” the brochure says.

On day one of my holiday, the beaches are indeed glorious, the waters are totally clear and apart from the sunburn, the day is perfect. This is paradise.

However, cracks begin appearing in the paradise image when day two consists of torrential rain. And yes, that’s rain all day, with no thought of stopping.

I’ve flown out for my friend’s wedding. Yet on the big day, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

“I think I’m still in England,” laughs Sarah, on her exotic wedding day in Zanzibar. “There’s thunder and lightning. The beach wedding is being called off.”

Looking back, Sarah has no regrets for choosing Zanzibar as her wedding destination; if nothing else, it kept the guest list down. However, the tranquil idea of paradise that was so pleasing to her before the wedding, was slightly dashed following the wet experience.

During my holiday, I meet a mum from England, Julie Kittow. She’s been living in Zanzibar with her family for a year now.

“Living in paradise involves; four showers a day, sweat running down your back the whole time,” she says. “Tiny ants finding their way inside a bread maker so there is an ‘ant crust’ to cut off every morning. A line of ants drinking the sweat from the pools underneath my six-month-old eyes whilst he sleeps. Power outs just as dinner has started to cook in the oven.”

Listening to Julie, I begin to think of my flat in London. Suddenly, the cold, wet English weather and grey London life doesn’t seem so bad

Two weeks after leaving Zanzibar, I still have two itchy bites on my legs. They’re growing and looking pretty nasty. Although a GP kindly tells me they’re only infected bug bites and puts me on antibiotics, I’m not so sure. After visiting the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, it turns out that I have two worms growing under my skin – picked up on a tropical beach in paradise.

There’s no doubt about it, when the sun is shining Zanzibar is beautiful. The food is amazing and it’s a privilege to visit such a place. However, next time I plan a trip to paradise, I might just find myself a tranquil Cornish beach instead.