Thursday, 26 June 2008


ITV Local and Meridian are pleased to announce a brand new blog with more photos, comedy and gossip than you could ever need! We have new links and lots of new contributors to get the local debates going. But don’t worry all your favourite posts and comments have moved with us so you can still access all you need through our archive.

Why not visit and get involved with your local community?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Experiencing the heart of Jamaica to celebrate immigration

Journalist Derek Johnson blogs from Jamaica

To appreciate the extent of Jamaica’s deep-rooted social problems you need look no further than the tag line advertisers have chosen to bestow upon its capital city, Kingston.
Billboards across its sprawling districts picture a smiling face beside the words “City Of Kingston - COK For Life.”

It is a line so awful, so plainly hilarious and ridiculous when spoken out loud (as it very often was on this trip), that you cannot help wondering if the great and the good who signed off on it at some multi-media presentation had their heads in the sand, clueless about to the way their message would be perceived by the wider world.

Something of this obliviousness exists in the official attitude to crime. All the time tourists flock to Montego Bay and the beaches of the east coast with their wallets full of greenbacks things are OK. Every time a returnee who sought their fortune abroad buys a plot of land, builds a house and pumps money into the economy, the island is doing fine.

The reality is painfully different. A taxi driver in Montego Bay said he dreamed of leaving. “There is a monster on this island,” he said. “And the monster is crime.”

On the main strip along Montego Bay, the same one American tourists waddle down by day en route to tat shops and jerk chicken emporiums, 200 people have been killed this year. Victims of gang and drug crime, shot and stabbed at night, long after the visitors have been serenaded to sleep by a hotel band knocking out Country and Western classics.

In fact there have been 700 murders in Jamaica in the first six months of 2008. The island is heading for a record death spree. It is so bad that the government has been shaken out of its COK For Life alternative reality. A minister has already resigned and the prime minister has warned that Jamaicans may have to give up some of their cherished freedoms if crime is at last to be put to the sword.

The worry, strangely, is not so much about the tourists. We drove around Kingston, saw its thriving street life, soaked up the reggae and soca sounds, chatted to passers-by and even clubbed until the early hours. And it was no more intimidating than Maidstone on a Friday night. Having said this our driver refused to go anywhere near Trenchtown, the area immortalised by Bob Marley and the Wailers - where Bob sang of meeting friends at the Judgement Yard and lighting fires in the cold night. It was so dangerous after dark these days, he said, that the police never went there. Residents blocked up their own streets with tyres to avoid drive-by shootings by rival gangs.

You see the tourists are largely confined to the beaches, the dolphin and plantation tours and the all-inclusive, pile-it-high buffets close to the pool. Concern revolves around crimes committed against returnees – the migrants who’ve returned home after decades away. The US$2 billion a year they provide Jamaica with trumps tourism when it comes to foreign exchange earnings.

The danger of losing some of this income is one of the factors causing the government to talk tough about crime. Plus they can hide their heads in the sand no longer. The recent Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference put crime and corruption at the top of its agenda, delegates warning that returnees may end up staying in their adopted lands.

It’s a fact alluded to by the Labour Minister Pernell Charles. Mr Charles has the most extraordinary hairstyle. It is a perfect split – one side black and the other white. It is so striking and original that it’s very easy to drift off while talking to him and speculate on how exactly this wonder is achieved. There are privet hedges and manicured lawns in the Home Counties whose lines are not as straight and well-maintained as Mr Charles’s hair. It is hard to think of anything else except a badger. It is even remarked upon by Edward Seaga, a former Prime Minister clearly not given to bouts of humour with interviewers and whose conversation is otherwise measured and serious.

Anyway, The Badger says that Jamaica would be in big trouble if not for these earnings from overseas Jamaicans. And he acknowledges the extraordinary fact that there are far more Jamaicans outside the country than within.

That exodus did not begin after World War Two. After emancipation from slavery hundreds of thousands left in one fell swoop for the promise of a better life overseas. As Mr Seaga says: “Jamaicans have always been a migrating people.”

But in 1948 the Jamaicans allowed 492 West Indians to board a troop ship bound for England – the Empire Windrush. It docked at Tilbury on June 22 where its passengers looked for work. The Windrush began a mass migration of Caribbean people to England. That eventually transformed our nation, re-defined the way we perceive ourselves – we became multi-cultural for the first time. It would have been unthinkable in 1948 for black, Asian and Chinese people to call themselves British whereas now it seems unthinkable that once they would have been frowned upon for doing so.

The Windrush anniversary was the reason we were in Jamaica. For all its troubles it is a beautiful and welcoming island where people look at you for who you are and engage you with genuine interest. And they always ask you to come back again. We shall indeed COK For Life.

You can watch the full series about the story of Caribbean migration on ITV Local.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

MPs pour scorn over eco-town plans

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

MPs queued up today to pour scorn on the Government's plans for so-called 'eco-towns'.

The idea is to build sustainable new communities, which will help to solve the housing shortage - in an environmentally-friendly way.

Trouble is, no-one seems to want one built near them.

Ford in West Sussex is on the shortlist for possible locations. There's already an impressive local campaign to fight the plans, and the area's two MPs, Nick Gibb and Nick Herbert didn't pull any punches during today's Commons debate.

They argue that developments shouldn’t be imposed on communities by central Government. Whitehall, they say, doesn't know best.

But as eco-towns were one of Gordon Brown's few big new ideas when he became Prime Minister, they're unlikely to be scrapped.

We'll know which locations have been chosen in the autumn, so Ford will soon know its fate.

But the ten eco-towns around the country will amount to just 75,000 new homes.

And that's a drop in the ocean when you consider experts say, over the next few years, the number of new homes needed in the UK is three MILLION.

Should England have an English Parliament?

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, led a special debate today calling for an English Parliament. He says it's crazy that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have assemblies or parliaments - and we don't. He says it's unfair, and it's leading to a lot of resentment.

I am not sure how this will go down with his leader Gordon Brown - well, I am actually - so don't expect Mr Wyatt's ideas to become Labour Party policy.

But the English question will be a factor at the next election, especially in the key battleground that is the south and southeast.

The truth is, Labour's consitutional changes, much heralded when Tony Blair came to power, are unfinished business. Reform of the House of Lords is stuck; reform of the voting system has ground to a halt; regional government is dead; and Labour's hierarchy are in denial about England's democratic deficit.

The Conservatives haven't come up with a coherent policy either. Traditionally the party of the Union, they're terrified of being really bold.

But Derek Wyatt is right.

England expects a system that gives it a fair deal.

Breaking the North/South divide

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

The north/south divide just got bigger.

Some of the cafes and restaurants in the Palace of Westminster are promising a special menu next week to celebrate food and drink from the South of England.

This hasn't gone down well with MPs from the north and the midlands, who are demanding similar weeks to celbrate their own regions' cuisine.

Black pudding and faggots? Can't wait.

So far, the south of England week seems to consist of just one meal: lobster, cooked in lemon, with a glass of English white wine thrown in. Price: 20 quid.

I'm not sure how many takers there will be, and I am not sure how representative of the south that meal is. Maybe they'll come up with some more recipes before the great week begins.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Another view of the Isle of Wight...

...this time from a festival old hand. I've been to more festivals than you can shake a stick at, yet this was my first experience of the Isle of Wight.

Why? well the cost of getting the ferry across for starters. Not for nothing is the Solent named as the most expensive ferry route in the world, mile for mile. And once we get there, a place in the campervan field costs a steep £250 on top of the ticket price - yikes! But I always fancied a trip to this festival, as the line-up never fails to impress.

Well, having secured media tickets and cunningly found a free parking space for the camper just off-site, nothing could stop us this year, and although I was working, thought it would be a good idea to bring the family along too (hubby and five year old son).

Casey says below that it didn't feel like work, interviewing bands and other celebs who were hanging out in the VIP area. In a way she's right, but at four months pregnant, I certainly knew I'd been working by the end of each day. My head barely touched the pillow on the rock-and-roll bed in the camper, and I'd be asleep till morning, when it all started again...

We were presented with a steady stream of bands and solo performers to interview, and in-between I tried to catch performances so I'd know what to ask them. Once I found myself face-to-face to a young rock band The Gundogs, who I knew absolutely nothing about. I had no choice to admit this in my first question and asked them to describe the music in ten words or less. They didn't seem to mind and were just happy to be part of the bill.

One surprise visitor was Mike Rutherford of Genesis who turned up on Sunday afternoon and gave us a short interview. He didn't divulge whether Genesis were hoping to headline next year, but I'm told that casing a festival one year is a good indicator of a willingness to play the next...

As festivals go, this was one of the best organised I've ever been to (and I've been to so many I've actually written a book about them!).

We've got several more coming up in the region over the summer - Guilfest, Reading, the Bestivals and more. So expect more festival updates from your increasingly pregnant news editor as the summer progresses!

ITV Local rock at the Isle of Wight

I have to admit I was slightly dubious about venturing to my first festival this weekend. I’d heard the horror stories about mud, mad rockers and worst of all, chemical toilets! But I packed my wellies, my ITV Local brolly, and a camera and hopped aboard the FastCat ready to face whatever the weekend threw at me.

As soon as I stepped through the festival entrance I knew I’d been anxious for nothing. The buzz in Seaclose park was incredible. The place was heaving, but it was packed with some of the most friendly, happy, welcoming people I’ve come across. From the headliners to the campers, everyone was there to have a good time. And most of them were willing to tell us
about it!

We met the Zutons, the Sugababes, the Cribs, Newton Faulker and many more – you can see all the interviews in full on our IOW festival page. We also met lots of groups promoting awareness of good causes - for example the sunflower-sellers raising money for the Earl Mountbatten hospice in local Newport; and the Taste of Wight team who are aiming to cater for the festival purely from Isle of Wight produce next year.

Going to the festival as press was a unique experience, as we were never quite sure whether we were really working – it seemed like too much fun! One minute we were inches away from the bands chatting to them about their own festival experiences and what we could expect from their sets, and the next they were tiny dots on a huge stage with a crowd of 50,000 between us and them. And yet I was still craning to see them and screaming when I got a glimpse!

The best part for me was soaring up above the park in the festival eye and seeing the Kooks step on stage just as we reached the pinnacle. And the food – fast yes, foul no! Delicious portions of almost every cuisine you could imagine, all ready in moments (once you’d battled the queues). I even coped with the notorious loos!
So I’ve become a festival convert. I’ve decided you just can’t beat the festival vibe and the solidarity you feel when surrounded by swarms of other unwashed and uninhibited revellers. I’ve already booked up for Bestival, the Isle of Wight’s other big music event, and may well camp out on the South Downs for the Beachdown festival. I’ve got the wellies now so I might as well use them!

See all our festival best bits here.
And see all the big stage highlights and full interviews on the dedicated IOW festival page.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 4

I think it’s safe to say that I’m failing miserably with this weeks challenge. None of my friends or family have commented on my blogs :-( I think a little bribery is in order.

With regard to my steps, the secret to my success this week has been walking up the stairs, and going for lunchtime walks. I’m really lucky that I have the pier right outside my office, so it’s easy for me to pop down for a quick seaside walk, then get straight back to work. It’s given me an excuse to have a lunch break too! And the three flights of steps up to my office are testing me. I keep trying to walk up them a little faster each day.

I have to say that I’ve found this week quite tiring. But my favourite parts have been counting how many steps I did while walking around the supermarket – I think I clocked up about 2 thousand – I was amazed! I managed to persuade my friends to walk to the pub on Friday night instead of getting a taxi. They were all chuffed they’d saved some money and I was pleased I managed to walk an extra couple of thousand steps to add to my total for that day. And my boyfriend and I had a little adventure yesterday. The weather was so wonderful we went for a walk around Preston Park and then decided just to let our feet lead the way and just see where we ended up. We walked all the way to Hove and then stumbled upon a fabulous Greek restaurant where we had a lovely meal and reminisced about our holiday. He’s enjoyed getting so much fresh air and I think he’s getting used to wearing my pedometer when I can’t fit it on to my clothes. He feels like he’s doing his bit, bless him!

I’m looking forward to taking part in the Martletts Hospice walk this Friday night, I’m fascinated to see how many steps I’ll do in one chunk. I think I’ll need to put my feet up on Saturday though. I might even do two days worth of steps in one night!

All in all this week has been a triumph – the only spanner in the works was that I forgot to take my pedometer with me on Saturday and so didn’t record any steps for that day. But I’m hoping I’ll still have averaged over 10 thousand each day. And my plan to make sure I meet my quota for next week? I’m going to borrow a dog……

Sangeeta descends on Maidstone in the Race for Life

Mission Accomplished. Ok you're right- I don't look like Beyonce but I have now successfully run and walked (30:70 for those who like ratios) my first ever 5km Race for Life. It was a bit of a dodgy start- see for yourself but to be quite honest I was surprised by how short the distance actually seemed. Even in the blistering heat of Mote Park in Maidstone- going up and down those hills when I saw the 500m- I thought this can't be it- can it? It was. Willed on by lots of really nice people- clapping- some shouting Come On Sangeeta- I crossed the finish line and felt like that other Kent Golden Girl. Dame Kelly Holmes. There was even a medal at the end of it.

The time (for those of you who like statistics) about 45 minutes- but it really is a guestimate. What is really impressive though is my training partner- Deborah Puxty who has proved you can beat cancer- was there a good 15 minutes infront of me. She had joked that she may have to give me a piggy back but as I reached for my water bottle about 5 minutes in- she looked at me sympathetically and said 'Good Luck Darling- I'll be waiting for you at the end'.
The last few days have been quite emotional actually. There were nearly 4,500 women taking part at my event in Maidstone. Hundreds more in Eastbourne that day too. All running for someone they cared for. All amazing people with stories that can't help but move you ( physically and emotionally).
I decided to run this race in the interest of telly and belly but also for Jaswant Mamaji (Mamaji means maternal Uncle in Hindi). He lost his fight against cancer earlier this year. I know he was smiling down at me.
Watch Sangeeta's report from Mote Park here

Friday, 6 June 2008

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 3

02nd June 2008 19:44
Back in Blighty

It sounds silly, but as far as walking is concerned I’m actually glad to be back from my holiday. I really found it a struggle to walk 10 thousand steps in the heat. Some days it reached 35 degrees in the shade, and I found I was dehydrated, and exhausted.
But now I’m back in Blighty there is no excuse, and I’m actually glad I’ve got the challenge to force me to exercise, especially as I’ve put on 9 lbs on holiday…..
Today was my first day back at work and although I got the bus into work this morning, I’ve managed to do over 8 thousand already while filming for the 10,000 steps challenge. I’ve enjoyed being out and about on the seafront, and I’ve made sure I’ve walked up and down the 3 flights of stairs to my office each time I’ve returned. I think I’ve done it about 4 times today so far!
I think this week will strangely be a lot easier for me. But I’m hoping to vary my steps slightly. I’m going to walk to the cinema, to the pub and I’m going to try and do a bit of running to shake things up a little bit – exciting!
Also, I’ve realised it’s only 8 weeks until my best friends wedding so I’m hoping the challenge will help me get back in to shape, and will enable me to fit into my bridesmaid's dress. Otherwise, I’m going to have a very unhappy bride on my hands!

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 2

27th May 2008 16:47
It's Too Hot to Walk!

I hadn't realised quite how little I would normally do on holiday until I came away, knowing I had to try and walk 10,000 steps a day. Last week I was led into a false sense of security... I thought to myself ' This walking malarkey is pretty easy really, and quite possible to fit into daily life'.... that was until I arrived in Crete. It's been 30 degrees at it's coolest. The swimming pool and bar are within 100 yards of my apartment and the beach is right there, ready for me to roll out of bed and straight on to a sun lounger. It would be so easy for me to walk as little as possible and do absolutley nothing! Well, that's what people go on holiday to do isn't it? Nothing, Nada, nowt! But I've had a job to do - walking 10,000 steps a day. I'm not going to lie. This week has been incredibly difficult. The temptation to lie by the pool all day with a beer has been immense, but my boyfriend and family have been really supportive of this challenge and we've tried our best to go for as many walks as we can to try and make the target. But there have been days when the heat has got too much, and on those days I've not done my quota. The worst part has been remembering to take off my pedometer when I've gone for a swim - and working out where to put it when I'm wearing a dress. One night I even strapped it to my boyfriend's waist when we went out for dinner. I figured we would both be walking the same distance, so I didn't think it was cheating :)I think when I return to Brighton and go back to work I'll find the challenge alot easier, but I'm going to try my hardest next week to make up for the steps I've missed.

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 1

19th May 2008 18:24

Well, week one has - on the whole – been a rather pleasurable experience. The weather at the beginning of the week certainly made life easier and I’ve enjoyed walking to and from work with the sun on my back and a spring in my step! I’ve been surprised I’ve managed to do the steps on most days and on others I’ve exceeded the target. I’ve even found at points that I’ve been excited to look at my pedometer just to see how many I’ve done…..
Talking of my pedometer… I don’t think it has enjoyed the ride quite so much. I think I may have dropped it a total of about 8 times, and it has nearly ended up in the toilet bowl twice. I think I need to invest in some sort of strap!
Also, I must remember that walking ten thousand steps a day is not a green light to eat and drink what ever I like, or to spend money on new clothes just because they will be ‘good for walking in’. I’m tempted to buy a bacon sandwich 4 times along my journey to work, the smell literally follows me up the London Road and then on to St James’s Street. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to hold out, so may have to find a new route.
I haven’t really done anything out of the ordinary this week, but I’m sure when I’m on holiday next week and the week after I’m going to find it difficult to reach my target…. Firstly I’m going to have to negotiate where my pedometer will sit on my bikini!