Is Britain a lagging country ?

Take a look at any other European country. Germany, France, Belgium and the rest. There is one recurring theme which astonishes me. The infrastructure. Railways, roads, buildings, lifestyle, everything. It’s brilliant. Take a look at Britain. It seems we are a country still stuck in the middle ages. Everything about the British infrastructure is a complete age behind the rest of Europe.

Whenever I visit European countries I am always, without fail, taken back by the astonishing networks of public transport. In Germany, not only do the S-Bahn and U-Bahn run on time and like clockwork, the carriages that transport the population combine the traditional in a modern environment. It’s the same story in Italy where I encountered a stunning and comfortable “double decker” train which left the platform at Rome at exactly 15:36. No earlier and no later. Taxi’s are a booming business, with the amount of tourists that visit, as are the amount of buses on the roads. And what’s even more astonishing is the fact that everything works. Buses are the right size, comfortable and actually suit the roads and passengers that utilise them. Whilst we’ve witnessed the economic crisis grip the globe, it was fascinating to see the cost of mass public transport costing very little. From one side of Berlin to the other, it cost 4 people around 8 euros.

Take a look at Britain in comparison. Trains are old, overcrowded and not suitable for the amount of people that now use them. Buses are majority single decker’s and often result in a stand up journey in some of the largest cities. Neither run on time either. Cancellations are frequent, delays the norm. It beggars belief as to how tourism can boom in Britain with such a miserable excuse of a transport network. Whilst continental fares are fairly low, the price of using a train here is rising for the eleventh year on the run. Even on a journey from Warrington to Liverpool (a short journey), it cost me nearly £10. And what do I pay for? A train that arrives ten minutes after it should have done. A train that is old, uncomfortable and the heater fixed on full. It can take up to 45 minutes to travel such a short distance. Ministers may promise on new trains arriving, but at the moment the majority are unsuitable for the capacity. It is no wonder that the European nations are taking the lead when it comes to modern modes of transport.

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What is even more fascinating than all of this is how long it has taken for the rail network to be upgraded in Britain. The Liverpool – Manchester line is to be electrified in 2014, a project which will bring many benefits say the government. But why 2014? If Britain needs new trains, quicker journey times and a more reliable network, why has it taken until 2014 to begin an overhaul of such a tiny proportion of the railway world. And furthermore, the new HS2 railway line won’t be completed, if it ever gets started, until after 2030. It’s baffling how the HS2 website cites that “high speed rail has dramatically improved inter-city transport all over the world in the last 50 years” yet Britain has very little to show for such a sustained project to rival great rail networks in Germany, Switzerland, Japan and so on. Even more confusing is that the new line won’t be open for around another nearly twenty years, by which time the UK will be lagging behind once again.

Whilst the infrastructure of continental countries is certainly miles ahead of Britain, here there seems to be very little incentive to improve what we already have. There have been failed schemes such as the scrap your car programme and some local councils offer incentives to sell a car in return for public transport costs. None of the ideas really work. There has been an extraordinary boom in the number of cyclists on Britain’s roads. It’s cheaper, healthier and you don’t have to sit in rush hour tailbacks. All very good, but there is nothing to persuade me to take up cycling. Bicycle lanes seem to be no wider than the bike itself and then they only last around 100 yards. There is still a culture of cyclists being shunted to one side by aggressive drivers. If only we could take a leaf out of the Europeans book.

I first came across the cycling frenzy when I visited Bruges, Belgium. The amount of cyclists was completely breath taking. All types of bikes, from new ones, sports bikes, old bikes, motor bikes, you name it. Little roads at the side of the main carriageway are designated for cyclists only. And if there is a collision between a car and a cyclist, the cyclist has the right of way. It is completely eye opening when you see it. What’s better is that it actually works. Why? Because everybody knows the rules. Nobody seems to be in a rush, unlike the UK lifestyle, but Belgium, Germany, France and beyond have all acknowledged the sudden surge of cycling and have responded. So why can’t Britain? For one, roads are too narrow. If London was to become a cyclist friendly city, bike lanes would be running through office blocks. Secondly, the cost of just about everything in the UK has gone through the roof and so the pay needed to employ people to create new lanes would probably be extortionate. Although there are pledges to build new style of cycling paths and new designs to roundabouts, the plans are worthless. Still in existence is a culture of ignorance towards cyclists and that is hardly likely to change. Britain was built for horse and cart, not for cars, buses, lorries and cyclists together. It is rather sad.

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A similar story beckons on the major roads, i.e. motorways. Autobahns in Germany are reasons why the Germans are so far advanced than us and it’s similar with the main highways in Belgium and France. The roads are smooth, wide and genuinely nice to drive. Here, motorways are things of nightmares. Traffic, tailbacks, car accidents and workers who aren’t there. The moment even a sound of car horn is heard on the M25, Sally Traffic has the unfortunate job of telling us all we can’t move anywhere in Britain. The culture of health and safety on the roads have gone too far. Not once when driving in Europe did we come across an accident or a queue on a motorway. In the UK, every drop of blood and molten plastic has to be cleared up by the so called “traffic wombles”, as described by Top Gear, who insist on closing the motorway for a year and a half. Whilst half of Britain’s imports and exports are sat in a queue on the M6, nothing is happening. It is an embarrassment to welcome Europeans to a country that to them is probably still stuck in medieval times.

There are some impressive ideas about British infrastructure, however. The approval of the new bridge to cross the River Mersey, easing congestion on the Runcorn Jubilee Bridge, will be a huge benefit I’m sure. But at a cost and at no benefit to local industry, since the steel is likely to be sourced from overseas. Other road improvements, tunnelling and bridges are in the pipeline to ease congestion around major cities and improve import and export travels. The 4G network will inevitably help businesses with internet connections in touch with the rest of Europe and the government is promising new flood defences in coastal risk towns. One thing is apparent. Time. Nothing ever seems to be underway or wanting to be completed soon by ministers and governments. The ideas are great, but there has been talk of a new bridge over the Mersey for years. Yes it’s been approved, but that work isn’t likely to start until 2014. Flood defences are promised but there is no real time scale as to when and what these will be. There never has ever been a sense of urgency and presence by these projects and so it really is no surprise when commentators talk about Britain falling behind.

It might seem a bit of a moan, but how can the rest of Europe, on the verge of bankruptcy, continue to provide and excel in their infrastructures. Mind you, there is one thing I have noticed on my travels that appears to be better in Britain than in the rest of Europe. Airports. My visit to Berlin’s national airport was underwhelming and so I hear are other European city gateways. One thing we can be proud of in Britain is the gateways in and out of the country. Manchester airport is a fantastic, modern environment with shops, eateries and space to relax. Even Liverpool’s airport, once a shed on the banks of the river, is now one of the busiest and most welcoming in the country. More people than ever are flying and so first arrivals on our soil need to impress. Plans to expand one of the world’s busiest airport, Heathrow, has been met with criticism. I say go for it. If we can’t expand then we can’t develop and so will be stuck in a timewarp for a very long time.

I always arrive back in Britain thinking how good our airports are. It’s strange, but if you compare ours to the Spanish, the Italians and others ours are far ahead than our continental counterparts. It’s a real shame that the rest of our infrastructure is just not up to the scratch of our European friends.

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A Levels – A key to many doors

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The hardest exams you’ll ever take in your education career is what A Levels are often described as. Indeed when I worked for my awards in 2012 it was a mountain of hard work and dedication. But A Levels are more than just an pass to get you into university or a job. They offer you the time and space to understand yourself and what you aim to achieve.

Last week’s 2013 results show for some interesting reading. 26.3% of students were awarded the top A-A* grades, down slightly on the year before. Despite figures from earlier in the year suggesting applications to the university admissions body, UCAS, were down, Thursday saw record number of students accepted into UK universities within 24 hours. Whilst mainstream universities still attract a huge amount of students, receiving A Level results can open many other doors and challenges.

12 months ago and I was firmly pleased with my results. I had been accepted into university but never really had the drive, interest or motivation to move into full time, higher education. Having spent what felt like a lifetime studying, revising and making notes, like many of my classmates, I felt I needed a break from it all. At the time I was already in a full time job and so began understanding what my needs were and how I could achieve my goals.

An aspiring journalist, I had always had a strong friendship with writing and providing journalistic content for my school and college. A couple of work experience placements and I was hooked on making it to a newsroom. But as I went through my education, I learnt more about how you can reach certain industries and professions. For me, work experience is and always will be key. I had advise on starting a blog, it being one of the newest forms of social and online journalism. Creating content for people to see and using the extraordinary advances in social media has allowed me to connect with real-life journalists and reporters. Believe me, that is quite an encouraging feeling.

Not wanting to bring a halt to my interest of learning new things, I decided to begin an Open University degree course. It’s fascinating that never once was part time education or distance learning mentioned in my school or college. To study with the OU has allowed me to develop my educational interests, work toward an end goal and still work (albeit part time) and drive my motivation for a career in the journalism industry.

It’s not just me with a story of another door opening in the wake of A Levels. Apprenticeships, placements, career development and young people’s services all offer training and support for those who want it. Many students feel its time for some restbite from over a decade of education and so venture on a gap year or volunteering. For those who want to have letters next to their name, education is still available in forms other than university. The Open University is, from my experience, a brilliant example. Many colleges and specialist training establishments offer BTEC’s and work related qualifications.

Even if you don’t achieve the results you were quite hoping for, there is always opportunity to turn things around or even put what results you did get towards a different qualification. It is never the end of the road.

A Levels are more of a milestone than anything else. Once you get them, doors can open in all direction and paths can lead in any direction. If there’s drive, motivation and aspiration, then any route taken can lead to a successful outcome.

Why people avoid news

In one of my recent posts, I stated that everyone should take an interest in the news. But what about those who are adamant that the news should not be consumed. Is there good reason to not follow the news? Will our lives benefit substantially by switching off all correspondence to news? There is a strong argument. It starts with Apathy.

Apathy can be defined as the absence of interest or passion in something considered to be interesting or moving. To me, the news is fascinating. No two days are the same and, as events unfold, it can certainly be gripping. It can’t be denied that the news is moving. Reports on UK poverty, overseas famine and victims of global disasters all create a string of emotional reports. Only the most heartless person would not find the images of starving Ethiopian children moving. There are always beliefs that people have. It’s possible that not having an interest in news stems further than an individual’s choice.

GROWING UP can possibly be a reason why somebody might not take note of newspapers and news programmes. I did a simple internet search to find out about children being exposed to news and presented to me were pages of advice as to how parents can shield their children from the “violence” of global events. All very well, but as an article from Children Now (http://www.childrennow.org/index.php/learn/twk_news) explains, all children will be exposed to such events through their peers, regardless how hard parents try and prevent it. Homework might involve an issue brought up in recent news; Comedy programmes might contain references to news events; Subconsciously listening to the news in the car. All are very subtle intakes. Exposure to sex, violence and crime are all to familiar on a video game and so can be very enticing for a young and inquisitive audience. There does have to be a balance of news and reality. For instance a terrorist attack in Pakistan is not reflective of society in the UK. Sometimes if balances aren’t met and children are exposed to hard news at an unsuitable ages, without explanation or appropriate guidance, then fears are likely to grow and the news will become more a source of terror and fear rather than a source of good journalism and factual references to global events.

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CONTENT of news bulletins also explain a great deal about why people choose to avoid. In 2002, research by the Independent Television Commission and Broadcasting Standards Council found that only 43 percent of TV news viewers felt all areas of society were fairly represented. The majority felt the news contained too much politics. So why would we want to watch a news programme that only focuses on celebrities and politicians? As the study shows, viewers and readers want news that matters not about celebrity culture and lifestyles. A fairly recent comment by a TV reality star stated “people my age don’t watch the news because it’s boring”. Not wanting to be stereotypical, but it was a member of “The Only Way is Essex” cast. There may be a point in the statement. The interests of a teenage and young adult audience differ from that of a middle age audience. Politics and financial news just does not create an interest or passion because it is deemed “boring”, despite the fact every decision made will in turn affect every individual. It’s tabloid news from the red-top newspapers that at the very least inspire a generation to pick up a newspaper. Although news about The X Factor and celebrity lifestyles aren’t forms of real journalism, there is a market. You could argue that such celebrity and tabloid focussed “journalism” are encouraging a generation to turn away from news that really matters and more tabloid news than ever is turning modest readers and viewers away for good.

DEPRESSING is a word that often describes the news. Everyday, newspapers and news broadcasts announce a death toll, somewhere somebody has been killed, a terrorist attack has left many injured and many more. Death, disaster and destruction are what news providers focus on because it is likely to gain most interest. The current crisis in Syria has painted a very depressing picture. In a tale similar to good vs evil, the events of the Middle East uprising unravel like a gripping novel. It is very sad that the plight of the people who are fighting for their cause and against a violent regime has to played out in front of millions of viewers. Now, consider if the conflict was not reported about. It is a very disheartening scene, as a viewer we see the victims speak to the camera about what they are going through. Journalists and news networks provide a base for victims around the globe to tell their story. If conflicts and wars went unreported, could we go on with our daily lives knowing that such deadly occurrences were taking place? I think not. Yes, the news is often full of dismal content, but the news allows others to tell their often harrowing and distressing stories to the rest of the world. For what comes of it, coverage, support and help, that can only be a good thing.

IRRELEVANT news is one way that interest or passion can be absent when considering news. Out of thousands of stories that are consumed have any had a real impact? Has any news story led to major lifestyle changes? Probably not, but some reports highlight the lengths other people will go to in order to help others. The death of a woman running the London marathon and a woman swimming the English channel resulted in a huge surge of donations to the charities involved and so broadcasting the story of such tragic events can lead viewers and readers to make positive decisions. On a different note, questions can be raised about the relevance of national and international news. It is often regarded that local news creates more of an interest than national news because readers and viewers can relate on a local scale. I won’t be interested if there’s been a robbery in a street in New York but I will be very interested if there’s been an incident in my town. It really is a shame that local news is under the threat of cuts. Regional print journalism is in decline, advertising costs increasing and so are the prices of newspapers. Whilst regional TV news programmes are things of beauty, viewing figures aren’t groundbreaking. Whilst some claim national programmes are bias and London-centric, even the most respected regional news programmes are accused of favouritism towards certain towns and cities. Divisions and conflicts will always appear when it comes to relevant news and sometimes that is what drives audiences away.

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ADDICTION to news can become a serious habit. Studies show that watching too much news and current affairs can lead to depression. There is no doubt that the news is more downbeat than upbeat and it has been noted that exposure to violence and scandal can leave viewers and readers becoming anxious and more negative. It’s not a reason to completely ignore news. Our brains work in a way that we always want new information and an unfolding dramatic news story can perhaps diverse an ordinary day. I wouldn’t say it was bad to be a so called “news junkie”. Knowledge of what’s happening around the world is what makes everyday conversation. Without the exposure and information people do appear quite pitiful. 24 hour news channels, mobile phone applications, Twitter and the entire internet can all feed a habit of reading, watching or listening to news. You could say it’s like a drug.

There are of course enormous lists as to why people don’t watch or read the news. Any reason from it being on too long to being on at the wrong time can be used to explain why some avoid the news. The news can MISLEAD when it comes to some manipulating of comments; PRACTISES can be criticised suggesting news gatherers are IMMORAL; Suggest you spend an hour a day watching the news and half an hour reading a newspaper. Is this a WASTE OF TIME?; Busier lifestyles simply mean people CAN’T TAKE INTEREST because they are working or otherwise occupied.

The old phrase NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS can be related to this topic quite well. A tiny bit of research led me to find that those who have less exposure to news are genuinely happier. That is good news. They might very well be happier because they have more spare time and take little note of scandal, violence, sex, corruption and affairs that dominate the world stage. I’d certainly feel strange not knowing that millions of people are suffering, not knowing what political decisions are being made. I really do think it would be harder in life to avoid news than to consume it.

I will always have an interest and passion for news and current affairs. I admire outstanding broadcast and written journalism. Whilst I absolutely despise the practises exposed in the Leveson Inquiry, there is a need for good, investigative journalism. I disagree with ideas that children should be shielded away from news. There are plenty of outstanding news programmes, including Newsround and Newsbeat which deliver news in a specific way for their target audiences. Unfortunately, it is death, drama and destruction which make the headlines because it catches the public eye and entices readers and viewers.

I will always believe in introducing young people to the news. As I said in my last piece, the news is out there for everybody to grasp. Unreported worlds can have their stories told and government scandals and corruption can be uncovered through the best investigative journalism. To hide away from the news is to hide away from the plight and affairs that dominate around the globe.

Neighbour, what neighbour ?

“Love thy neighbour”. Originally a commandment. Today, a phrase used by few. Why you ask. Because the idea of forming a friendship with your next door resident, creating an unrivalled bond with care and affection, has been blown out of the window completely. New figures suggest that a huge 60 percent of British people don’t get on with their neighbours and 28 percent wouldn’t wish to socialise with them, according to a survey carried out by insurance group Swinton.

Reasons why people have a dislike toward the people or person living next door include blocking driveways, overflowing bins, barking dogs, partying all night and simply because they can’t be bothered to speak to them. It is evident in communities right around the country. Neighbours are no longer someone you can give the keys to whilst you go on holiday. Oh no, nowadays neighbours are more of an enemy. Or at least someone who you acknowledge has an existence.

For me, I see all different types of neighbours. On my right, I have a retired elderly couple who are brilliant neighbours. The best neighbours you could ask for. Always lively, always chatting and genuinely nice to talk to. Across the road are neighbours who don’t really make an effort and god knows who lives in the houses beyond. You could say it’s rather sad. My grandparents always tell me about their “amazing” neighbours. They often recall their days of youth and how everyone would leave their front doors open and everybody would bond. Today, I wouldn’t dream of leaving my door open. It just seems wrong in every term of social etiquette.

I have a genuine bond with my right-hand neighbours. Even a few weeks ago, I knocked on their door at 10:30 at night to tell them they’d left the car windows open. They were, quite frankly, overwhelmingly grateful. And I know they would do the same back. My neighbour on the left is in a world of his own. He’s not really an enemy or a bad neighbour, but his conduct certainly needs questioning. The photo below explains all.

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There is nothing worse than a poorly maintained house and a garden that belongs in a skip. The man next door (I don’t know his name) is probably rather pleasant. I’ve said hello to him in the one in six month appearance he makes. I wouldn’t describe him as a “hateful neighbour”, but living in a community should mean you adhere to certain conventions. Keeping a tidy garden is a must. Waking up to see a dismal display of horticulture really is most depressing. No aspiration and lack of care says a lot about an individual’s lifestyle and their approach to the community and neighbours.

Type in “neighbour complaints” into a search engine and there appears pages and pages of advice as to how you should approach neighbours who annoy you. Talking to them, calling the police and legal action are all suggested solutions. I would never take action against what is a disgraceful garden, but surely the resident in question must feel some embarrassment and shame towards what he displays and how other people see it. It does become an annoyance and a talking point. The lack of attention and affection is not just evident in the garden. It’s evident throughout all of society with more neighbour disputes than ever before. Is there any need for it?

I honestly believe there is a need for good neighbours. They can be motivating, aspiring and quite helpful. The change in social issues such as education, wealth and religion have all led to inevitable, often unnecessary, conflicts about the most minor problems. It really is no surprise that we hear stories of neighbours at “war” with one another and how many people don’t even know their neighbours. It is a sad to see dilapidating communities and neighbourhoods. A million miles away from the thriving hubs they once were.

Everyone should take an interest in news

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It’s actually quite frightening when I hear young people, similar age to myself, say they take no interest in the news. They don’t watch, read or listen to any bulletins. Many use the excuse that the news is “boring” and much of the content is “depressing” and “negative”. It really is a shame that people don’t want to take note of events happening around the world – the plight of famine in third world countries, alleged election corruption and natural disasters. All events have an effect on the viewer or reader. Whether it be just a simple opinion or an action you take to help. The news is for everyone and everyone must take a grasp.

I have always enjoyed writing, in particular factual writing. Ever since around mid-high school (around 2007) I affirmed my desire to be a journalist. Watching the “grown up” news had me hooked from the start and I began to develop my interests in news and current affairs. At the time, many of my peer group would simply shrug off anything related to the news. Even by the end of my school life, some of my group still didn’t watch or read any news. I always remember a few people, at the age of sixteen baring in mind, stating they didn’t know there was a war in Iraq or Afghanistan. By this time the Iraq war had already started and ended. These people didn’t even know about it. All to their own, it’s a personal choice whether you watch a news programme or read a newspaper, but it was really quite fearsome that some sixteen year olds had no idea about the casualties and what the war had entailed.

I suppose my love of news and current affairs goes back to before school. Quite literally. My Dad would come off his night shift at 6am and without fail would always bring in a newspaper. He still does. Whilst waiting for the rest of the family, I would take a read of the paper. If there was no newspaper, I always remember BBC Breakfast being on the TV screens. And so I was in. I would take into school and college a barrel of conversation. Discussions would take place in our lessons about some of the news agenda. Many would sit silently, wide-eyed and with a blank expression, to say they had no idea what was going on. Some just didn’t care at all. Sad. The news formed much more than an interest and passion. It developed me socially and almost everyone was aware (by the end) that I wanted to be a journalist because of my long-standing curiosity of world events.

I have always seen the news as a social tool, possibly more than a factual provider of events. I know of families who prevent their children and teenagers from watching television news because of the content. It’s too “negative” and “inappropriate”, apparently. I’m afraid that’s reality. Keeping young people in particular in some sort of bubble world will do more harm than good. Inevitably there will be discussions about news events and if they can’t answer then they look stupid. I’ve seen it happen. And more so, keeping individuals in a bubble world, away from the harsh reality of world affairs, is so very damaging and detrimental to a persons view of the world. Historic images of the starving Ethiopians, the September 11th terrorist attacks and subsequent war on terror are difficult to comprehend. Emotions run high – a mixture of anger, upset and loss all depict these images. However, if they are not broadcast, consider the impact. The need to help children in poverty is vital and without the news to display the efforts of charities and the plight of the victims is degrading to all. I am a strong believer that everybody, how old or young they may be, must be exposed to the reality of global affairs.

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There is so much content for any age group. I always remember watching Newsround. Essentially, a news programme for children. Some of the harsh realities toned down and a duty to provide realistic and tackling issues to their younger viewer. Radio 1’s Newsbeat provides a programme select to it’s audiences of teenagers and young adults. Able to broadcast the news in a non-patronising format, yet a way that tackles the audience who may not be as interested. The likes of the ITV national and regional news are for the average mainstream viewer, varying of all ages. The content is selected for its mainstream appeal, often the ‘big’ stories of the day. That in comparison to Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today programme have a selected, high end viewer/listener and so content is selective and often more specialist. Online and news providers are at their most popular. Millions of users log on to the likes of the BBC News and ITV News websites each day, whilst Twitter and mobile phone apps have become a real force for providing news. The news is more reachable than ever.

It’s not just national broadcasts that are important. Regional news is vital. Whether it be on local radio, a local newspaper or a regional news programme, the necessity for local news services are as high as ever. Take the North West for instance, my region. Granada Reports and North West Tonight are both award winning programmes with award winning presenters and reporters. Not only do the programmes tackle hard hitting news – the future of the NHS, the Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy and the Hillsborough Disaster to name a few – the programmes also form a base for local residents and organisations to promote their own hardship. Local newspapers including the Liverpool Echo, Warrington Guardian, Manchester Evening News and so forth all dedicate space to tell readers about events local and relevant to them. Work at local charities and appeals for help are made through various regional medium. And that is what is so special about local news. It brings about a real sense of community and satisfaction when reading, listening or watching. Something everyone can take a leaf out of.

There will always be people who claim they don’t watch news programmes because they are “depressing” amongst other terminology. Whilst it is refreshing when more upbeat news such as Olympic and sports success and the royal family events dominate the agenda, I always remember being told a good analogy about news. Thousands of planes land at airports around the world every hour – It’s only the plane that crashes that the news will cover. It is perhaps a rather gloomy perspective but that is what viewers are interested in. Dramatic and extraordinary events. That’s what news is all about.

I believe it’s rather sad when someone says they don’t watch, read or listen to the news. It makes me think they are perhaps out of touch with the real world, real events and real world scenarios. The news impacts on every person. Political decisions touch everybody’s life. A Royal wedding brings millions of people together. Poverty ridden countries bring emotions to all who watch. Regardless of what someone’s interests are and whether they prefer politics to technology, the news is out there for everyone of all interests to take hold of. More than anything it is a duty to take an interest in news and current affairs.