Liverpool’s duck submarine

On Dry Land: The "Duck" tours Liverpool.

On Dry Land: The “Duck” tours Liverpool.

That sinking feeling: One of the fleet sinks. Original Photo by Roger O'Doherty

That sinking feeling: One of the fleet sinks. Original Photo by Roger O’Doherty

Dramatic images have been released of an iconic Liverpool vehicle sinking in the waters close to the Albert Dock.

The “Yellow Duckmarine” as it’s known allows tourists a unique opportunity to tour the city, on the road and in the waters, in the converted amphibious war vehicle. Yesterday, Saturday 30th April, tourists on board the vehicle had to be evacuated from the Salthouse Dock, as water started to fill the cabin.

Images, from Roger O’Doherty, show how the iconic vehicle became fully submerged shortly after passengers were safely evacuated onto a nearby pontoon. It remains unknown at this point how the incident occurred. Having been on the “duck” myself, the speed of entering the waters may have created a powerful force onto vehicle, causing subsequent damage.

Paul Furlong, Sales Manager of the company which owns and runs the tour guides, praised the work of staff in the evacuation process. He added: ““We are looking into what happened. Our crew are incredibly experienced and they acted very quickly.”

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What is ‘ungoogleable’ ?

Can you Google everything?

Can you Google everything?

The answer to this question will possibly remain unknown after the word was removed from a list of new Swedish words, along with its definition.

An argument over trademarking gave victory for Google who had the word removed. So now there is no definition for something which cannot be searched on a search engine or Google itself. But now ‘ungoogleable’ is a search engine hit – confused?

So can anything not be found through a search engine? Even the most bizarre searches including the auction of drugs remain in search results, although quite far down the list. So is there any word which we could use to relate to google and the rate of results? Well, Cameron Hulett, Executive Director of digital marketing company Undertones said that “ungoogleability” increasingly means privacy – whilst I don’t have enough time to go into the depths of definitions and google searches, in simple terms there are companies which reduce the amount of search results for something, someone or somewhere when typed into a search engine.

It would be virtually impossible to find something which can’t be Googled, seen as though near enough every word, whether it be a noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective, compound or a coined word will have links to other websites and results. We’ve all done the process of searching for yourself in Google and more than often there are people with the same or similar names which make up the great amount of results.

So, what is ‘ungoogleable’? Well it would take a highly skilled professional to determine that. But then again, ‘ungoogleable’ is no longer a word. Perhaps anything and everything is ‘Googleable’. So go on, have a Google.

The great railway robbery…again ?

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Dr Beeching stands with the report into railway cuts.

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Virgin Trains now operate the West Coast Mainline

Today is a historic day in British transport news. Not necessarily the best news, but on this day, 27th March, fifty years ago, Dr Richard Beeching announced huge cuts to the railway industry. The decisions included closing 5,000 miles worth of track, thousands of railway stations and cutting thousands of jobs. The reason? Because Beeching saw the rival, the car, bring passenger numbers down on the railways. Today, the need for railways is greater than ever before.

Many people see Beeching as a man who destroyed the rail industry in Britain. The operator of the railways, British Rail, were losing millions of pounds per year. In fact, it was previous governments who made the decisions to go ahead with the cuts. Beeching was simply the man behind the report into the government changes, not the man who wanted them to happen. Whether he pushed for the cuts to happens remains a matter of divisions.

Fifty years on and there plans to reinstate lines which were closed, including links between Edinburgh and the Scottish borders, Cambridge and Oxford, and at last the Portishead railway may reopen to serve the people of Portishead.

Today, however, the railway industry is a very different place. British Rail, the previously public owned operator, is no more and many of the main routes in the UK are privatised. These include the West Coast Mainline running between London and Glasgow now operated by Virgin. Whilst the route remains mainly untouched from the previous nationalisation eras, the railway network is now a huge multi billion pound business with private companies competing for the most money. Increases in rail fares are a reflection on the system which requires constant upgrades and maintainance work, whilst delays and disruption also cost millions to the operators and Network Rail every year.

Soon, however, the East Coast Mainline, currently in public ownership, is to be privatised, as the franchise goes up for sale. Previous operators, National Express, couldn’t afford to run the line and by 2009, one of the main intercity routes was back in the public hands. Now it seems that companies including Virgin and First Group will be competing for the right to run the Eastern railway route. A similar previous bidding process was run in 2012 for the West Coast Mainline – After 15 years operating the route, Virgin Trains were denied the rights to run the line after the government approved a £5.5bn payment bid from First Group, who stated they would carry more passengers than the previous operators. Soon after that announcement, the government backtracked, blaming financial mistakes. The bid was cancelled due to an investigation. Virgin Trains were reawarded the line to run until 2017 when another bidding process can take place. The selling of the East Coast Mainline will take place before 2015, along with fifteen other franchises, wiping out the remaining publicly owned rail networks.

And with that, the government also announced at the beginning of 2013 that the plan for a new high-speed rail link between London and the North will go ahead. It will take at least another twenty years to see the completion of the new line which will see travelling times between Manchester and London reduced by a half. The government says this will be good for business’, employment and tourism. However, many of the concerns of the people I have spoken to is that there is no need for a new line which will destroy local eco-systems. Many travellers want to see an investment in new rolling stock for the mainly short, urban journeys which are undertaken everyday. Passengers say that want value for money, something they believe they are not receiving.

Whilst the railway may be an expensive mode of transport, the need for the train is greater than ever. Many lines and rolling stock are well over capacity, resulting in what some customers describe as a poor experience. The fact is that train fares will continue to rise, next year being the eleventh on a row, and whilst some believe this is unfair, the government, train operators and Network Rail claim the money is spent on ensuring the railways are safe and properly maintained. Many more increases in fares will be needed for a real revolution of British railways.

Miliband brother quits parliament.

Brotherly Love: The Milibands split from politics.

Brotherly Love: The Milibands split from politics.

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband has quit parliament to begin a new life and career in New York. Miliband who was famously pipped to the post by his brother, Ed, for the Labour Party leadership contest, said that “After a great deal of thought I’ve decided to accept the position of President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)”.

So what effect will this have on both brothers? Ed Miliband always insisted the door was open for his brother to be a part of his shadow cabinet, however David did not take up the offer, suggesting he would be a part of a “soap opera” within politics. Considering if he stayed on the back benches of the Labour party, Mr Miliband (D) said he would not be able to fulfil his role and interest in politics and serving the people of the United Kingdom and his constituents of South Shields. Clearly a very difficult decision where David Miliband has been caught in a no win situation. Quitting as an MP and taking on new challenges is probably the only way forward.

For Ed Miliband, his full concentration can now be on leading his party and preparing for the 2015 General Election, without the knowledge he would be hampering his brother’s political chances. For both brothers, however, there is the news that they are to split and reside on either side of the Atlantic. I’m sure this would be a difficult decision for any family, regardless of career and figure in the political world. What the long-term effect will be on both brothers will be will become clearer in the coming months and years.

Will David Miliband return from the United States and will Ed Miliband feel politically lost without his brother supporting him? Either way, todays decision is, as some commentators have suggested, “a touch of love”. The David Miliband exit is to allow his brother to develop further as a leader and for the greater good of his party. Former colleagues of Miliband including Lord Mandelson have hinted he could return to politics in the future; Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped it was “time out and not time over“.

PROFILE: Sir Trevor McDonald

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He is quite possibly the most recognisable face in British television news. The word ‘retirement’ is not one to be used when it comes to Sir Trevor McDonald. There are many people who inspire me when it comes to journalism and a career in the media. Sir Trevor is at the top of that list.

McDonald made history by becoming the first black newsreader in the UK, presenting with Independent Television News –ITN. His career, though, began in Trinidad during the 1960’s before producing programmes for BBC Radio. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that Trevor became a general news reporter for ITN, later becoming a sports correspondent and further developing as an expert in international politics.

When it came to presenting news programmes, Sir Trevor worked for a short time with Channel 4 News, before working on the Early Evening News and ultimately presenting the flagship News at Ten and weekday late news between the late 1980’s and 2005. Ask anybody about their first thoughts when they think of News at Ten and Sir Trevor McDonald will be a part of that.
In 2005, Sir Trevor retired for the first time, however continued to host Tonight with Trevor McDonald, a weekly documentary series investigating an individual news and current affairs topic every week. However, in 2008, the return of the News to ten o’clock also saw the then 68 year old return to prime time news, before his second retirement within the year.

Following his retirement from news altogether, Sir Trevor ventured into documentary making with productions including The Secret Caribbean and The Mighty Mississippi. His courteous attitude and genuine passion for other people’s cultures and views provided a real insight into parts of the world through different eyes. The most recent project Trevor has worked on was a ratings success for ITV.

Inside Death Row was broadcast in January 2013 and followed Sir Trevor McDonald investigating the so called “death row” in the United States – a high detention security prison with the most violent inmates on the waiting list for the death penalty. In interviews beforehand, McDonald, now 73, stated how he disagreed with the death penalty, yet the documentary was an eye opening and insightful look at a system unfamiliar in Britain. The way in which McDonald conducted himself in his interviews with prison inmates and staff did, to some extent, show how he felt toward the system, however the genuine interest and passion for investigative journalism also counter balanced with allowing the inmates and staff to have their say. It was the genuine character of Sir Trevor McDonald which provided the success for ITV, a reliable and enthusiastic journalist, providing an unbiased and open minded approach to other world systems.

As a professional and as a man, Sir Trevor McDonald, was and still remains a heartbeat of British news. His famous tone of voice, powerful and instantly recognisable, has sometimes been the butt of jokes. He has interviewed figures including heads of states, including presidents, prime ministers and ordinary people at the centre of extraordinary news. His passionate, caring and professional approach comes across in a way that shows Sir Trevor to be worthy of his knighthood for services to broadcasting. A genuine thirst for news and journalism is what Sir Trevor stands for and his career and character is one to aspire to.

Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

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Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.

‘Breaking News’ – The snow is back.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

British news has once again been dominated by the old trouble maker herself, the weather. Again. But is it really necessary for this same old story about travel disruption, power cuts and how we are coping in the “freezing conditions” to have the worthy of nearly half the air time of an evening news bulletin? I think not.

There is a clear argument for the reports on the weather, keeping viewers informed with any disruption to their travels and whether or not their kid’s school is closed. But surely this kind of news can be kept for a short update within a local news bulletin. News of how many schools have been closed in Wales and Northern Ireland is most irrelevant to a viewer in Newcastle. There is an art of recycling when it comes to weather news reports. The standard procedure applies as follows: Top headline about snow; travel disruption because of the snow; how people have been “battling the elements”; a warning from police not to travel; and of course, the question everyone wants to know – is more on the way? I guarantee if you watch a news bulletin on a ‘snow day’ this procedure or near abouts will be the one that dominates.

When it comes to reporting on the snowy conditions and “treacherous driving conditions”, there is an element of shock. That shock, however, is that the expense of other motorists. For instance, a common report on the travel disruption begins with scenes of motorways around the country which appear dangerous and un-driveable. But then follows the repeated phrase, “a number of accidents…” which then leads into footage of cars off the road, often in ditches, recognising how very dangerous the roads are. Sometimes there will be dramatic footage from a camera phone showing a car, sometimes a bus, sliding in icy surfaces. Very shocking. But then again, why would any driver be so careless to pass through icy conditions and put their own lives at risk? The ordinary viewer, who hasn’t ventured out because of the cold, voices their opinions within the family – “stupid”, “idiot”, “why didn’t they stay at home” – So whilst the reports do highlight the somewhat incompetence of drivers who ignore previous warnings, they highlight the danger on the roads, underlying the message of the danger in the snow and NOT TO TRAVEL..(unless absolutely 100% vital, of course).

Another regular feature which appears on ‘snow day’ news programmes is the art of crossing from the cosy and warm newsroom to the arctic like conditions of the Lake District, Glasgow, Belfast, Buxton, Cornwall and Cardiff (not always used), in the traditional ‘sweep’ around the country to get the wider picture. Mainly so a viewer in the south can comment on how much snow they have had compared to the North. Then follows the ‘Live OB’ – the Outside Broadcast. “Lets cross to Cumbria and get the latest from there…” proclaims the newsreader and then follows one of the single most depressing shots for anyone who wants to be a part of news – one of the country’s brilliant TV journalists, used to battling court room dramas and breaking news, stands freezing, covered in snow and red-faced, in a farmer’s field. There has to be some admiration for these reporters who brave the conditions to bring us the details of what is happening. Although, quite a lot of the time, the closures, conditions and power cuts that are being experienced in Scotland are quite the same to those in Cardiff. It is an endless ‘arctic circle’.

At one time, it used to be a novelty to have a news bulletin dedicated to the ‘chaos’ that the snow has brought. Nowadays, with climate change and differences to our weather patterns, snow is bedding down more regular. Where I live, between Liverpool and Manchester, there have been around four different snowfalls in the past six months! Despite that the same reports and information surface – Don’t travel unless necessary; check with your tour operator; stay indoors; check on your neighbours. Compare that to the United States where snow drifts are vast and we look like a country that can’t cope with the white stuff. The news is supposed to be an operation that provides the latest new news. Although each snowfall is new the news that surrounds it is far from that.

So don’t forget to take care in the snow and of course, in the words of great journalists and presenters, “don’t travel if it’s not essential.”