The ‘Gumboot Dancers’ of Finetown

Video

Johannesburg is renowned for being the city of gold. Despite the countries riches from gold mining, local communities continue to suffer from poverty and high crime rate. However, one community in Finetown have found a way of using their mining heritage to boost town morale and bring hope to the people there. Please see the full report below:

 

Is voter apathy dangerous in a democratic society?

This report looks closely into the dangers of voter apathy on the European Elections.

The Parliamentarian in Brussels.

The Parliamentarian in Brussels.

Between 1994 and 2009 Western Europe seems to be coming less and less interested in the European Elections- particularly in the UK. Voter turnout in the UK has fluctuated across the years- from highs of 39% to lows of 24%. With voter turnout increasingly on the decline, just how dangerous is voter apathy in a democratic society?

I went along to visit the European Parliament in Brussels to find out more:

INTERACTIVE VIDEO: Should the UN intervene in Syria?

A debate was held at the University of Salford to discuss the legal, moral and geopolitical question of the international community’s military intervention into the Syrian Conflict.

University of Salford Law Society Debate

University of Salford Law Society Debate

Guest speakers included Dr. Mohammed Tammo, a representative of the Syrian community in the UK and world renowned human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell.

Both speakers voiced their opinions on the country’s hypocrisy, war and oppression and how we might move towards a de-escalation of the conflict in Syria.

Areas reportedly affected by 21st August chemical attack

Areas reportedly affected by 21st August chemical attack

I went along to to the debate to find out more.

To see my interactive version of the report please visit the link below (To interact with the video please click on the circles at the top left discover more).

INTERACTIVE Report

Through the eyes of a Taxi Driver

The majority of us will have probably taken a taxi at some point in our lives. But have you ever stopped to wonder what actually goes on in and between each journey? the sights you might see? and the situations that are thrust upon you? I take a deeper look into the life of a Manchester cab driver.

Taxi

To some, living the life of a taxi driver might seem drab.

From dusk till dawn, every waking minute must feel like ground-hog day, whereby life just repeats itself over and over. The continuous sound of doors opening and closing, engines igniting and aimless patter.

All of this couldn’t be further from the truth. I hit the road to discover how every fare becomes a story in itself.

Here is ‘Through the eyes of a taxi driver’…

Yvonne Ridley- In the hands of the Taliban

Photo: ALAMY

Photo: ALAMY

Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be stripped bare of your integrity? Lose all faith in mankind? And fear for your life?

At a time when the Western world had been submerged into a spectacular maelstrom of chaos and uncertainty, gutsy journalist, Yvonne Ridley, had a nightmarish ordeal of her own to endure.

In 2001, during the outbreak of the war in Afghanistan, Yvonne’s worst fears hastily became a bleak and hapless reality. She was taken hostage by the Taliban.

For many, the word ‘hostage’ might bring about bad memories of British detainees, Terry WaiteJohnMcCarthy, and the abominable death of slain journalist Daniel Pearl- who was decapitated at the hands of terrorists in Pakistan. Or perhaps the darkness and despair of Irish author, Brian Keenan, who was abducted whilst working as a teacher in Beirut, and incarcerated for four years.

There are those shunted off to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram- each prison painting the perfect picture of a concrete jungle of damnation and terror, which we, the so called ‘civilised’ west, so easily associate with being held hostage. Yvonne’s story, however, displays a very different turn of events. 

At the time, Yvonne was the Chief Reporter for The Sunday Express. She was amongst 3,000 other journalists sitting in Pakistan, patiently waiting for the war to erupt. Following in the footsteps of the BBC’s ‘gargantuan reporter’, John Simpson, Yvonne made the similar decision to go undercover, in the hope of attaining access to the tribal areas of Afghanistan. Armed with only a Burka as her cover of darkness, Yvonne made those crucial steps into the unknown abyss of Afghan. Little did she know- she was walking into a hazy minefield of ambiguity.

Yvonne explains how it was like; “wearing Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility- nobody takes notice of you- you are completely invisible…” She describes the burka as a unifying garment; “you become completely dehumanised, you have no shape, nothing to distinguish you. You become ensconced into society. You are just another burka”. Yvonne was able to tread in the same footsteps of one of the most evil, reviled and elusive regimes, (or at least that’s what she thought) without raising an eyebrow.

Two days into her undercover investigation, Yvonne decided to make tracks and head back towards the Pakistan border. Here she was spotted by the Taliban, in what can only be described as a ‘farcical scene’, where she was thrown off her donkey and onto the arid side walk. In these dire and unfortunate moments Yvonne was uncovered as a journalist (or what they thought to be a spy), when her camera fell from one of the folds of her burka. Immediately, she was arrested.

Now, this was the second time I had met with Yvonne. And if I could make note of one of her defining and distinct attributes, it would be her pioneering confidence and bravery, and almost disregard for her own well-being. Yvonne came across selfless, more or less untouchable. So for the next part, hearing this came as quite a bombshell.

Following her capture, Yvonne spent her days in the darkness of Kabul prison. As she was previously confined to the caliginosity of her burka, Yvonne once again had tunnel vision. She could not see past the four walls that kept her detained from the urban safari that awaited her outside. It was this fear of the unknown that drove her to such absurd actions.

“One day I found an old razor blade on the ground, and I hid it in a bar of soap. I thought that if they torture me, at the first available opportunity I’ll kill myself!” Bizarrely, Yvonne referred to this as her ‘security blanket’. Even she laughed at the thought of a steeled razor blade being her only comfort. She said; “It was so blunt I probably couldn’t have done anything anyway, but nonetheless, I had it”. For Yvonne, having decided that these people were not going to treat her kindly no matter how she behaved, she decided to be the prisoner from hell. Literally.

In the way that a beastly and demonic creature might perform, Yvonne’s only way of coping was to spit at them, swear at them, be abusive to them. When Yvonne told me how she behaved so brashly, my immediate thought was to think that they must have reciprocated her immoral behaviour with similar tales of torture and abuse. Wrong! “Their reaction to my behaviour was to be kind to me…treat me with respect and courtesy. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why- when I was being so awful”.

On hearing this, I was in an utter state of astonishment. How could, what many conceive as the most brutal regime in the world, treat her with such consideration? Where was the disdain, the torment, the injustice? Were the Taliban as bad as westerners perceived them to be? Well, in Yvonne’s case, they were quite the contrary.

For the first six days of her time spent in captivity, Yvonne was held in the intelligence quarters in Jalalabad. Not only did her captors treat her with the utmost respect and courtesy, they also gave her the key to her own cell. She had access to a flush toilet and a shower and so was able to carry out her daily ablutions without being scrutinised. Although these are deemed to be basic requirements, for Yvonne, this sort of kind-hearted behaviour seemed unusual. “When I asked the interrogator why I had been given a key- he explained to me if anything happens to you it will be your fault, you must make sure this door is locked on a night time- and that was that”.

I began to understand that her determination to survive led her to adopt a strategy of defiance towards her captors (a sharp contrast from the subdued demeanour of Afghan women). The only control Yvonne had over her situation was food. “I went on a hunger strike! And that really upset them”. Every morning, noon, and night, they would come in and dutifully deliver her a bowl of water, and a jug. They would wash her hands, tell her she was their guest, and lay out a plate of food. Each time they did this, Yvonne would ask if she could use the telephone, and on refusal would say; “well take away the food then”. They were wholly disgusted at her low-regard and conviction towards them.

I asked Yvonne if her mind-set towards the Taliban had changed. She promptly replied by saying; “No! I didn’t trust them one inch”. She explains to me how she was only able to reflect on them with words of; “well…maybe they aren’t that bad”. But that was it. Certainly the ones that held her captive bear no relations to the ones that are now marauding Pakistan.

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley

With all this said, there is still one thing I failed to mention, that marks a strikingly unusual turn of events. “During my time in captivity I was asked to convert to Islam- apparently the duty of all Muslims when they meet a non-Muslim is to invite them into the faith”. Instantly, Yvonne disregarded this proposal. “I said I cannot make such a life changing decision whilst in prison- but if you let me go I will read your Qur’an and study Islam”. True to her word Yvonne read the Qur’an after she was released. Two years following the atrocities in Kabul, Yvonne embraced Islam.

“One thing that I have discovered is that Islam is perfect, but the people who practice it aren’t. We are judged by an incredibly high standard of non-Muslims. You know just because someone is called Mohammad does not make them a practising Muslim, but in the eyes of our media it makes them a Muslim thief, a Muslim murderer, and suddenly the religion becomes all important”.

Yvonne’s plight to her religion has created huge uproar amongst many westerners. The threads of her former fabric have been unravelled to expose a new woman. One who has changed her faith. Her intrepid reporting style and continual acts of controversy have helped Muslim women embrace themselves all over the world. Yvonne Ridley is now recognised for her courageous and extraordinary actions to others, despite being, ‘in the hands of the Taliban’. 

Even after Yvonne was finally released on humanitarian grounds, following ten days of imprisonment, she still didn’t trust her captors. “They drove me to the Pakistan border. I remember getting out of the car backwards because I didn’t want to turn my back on them. I thought they were going to shoot me in the back as I walked across the perimeter”. She distinctly recalls the faces of her captors during this liberal, yet despondent moment. “There were seven or eight of them, all in line, with big black beards, all wearing black turbans- they looked scary. I remember them looking at me- they must have been thinking what on earth is this woman doing? Then I turned and walked really quickly across the border”. After that, Yvonne didn’t look back.

To this day, Yvonne is still unsure of how her release truly came about; whether it be her continual disregard and appalling behaviour towards her abductors, international pressure, or if in-fact it was a release on humanitarian grounds. I guess that we will never know. Yvonne makes light of her rebellious stance. She laughs; “I think they were just happy to get rid of me, I would imagine some of them are still being counselled now- whatever preconceived ideas they had of Western women- they probably thought oh my god, they are worse than we ever imagined”.

International Press Institute: News Innovation Event 2013

I recently attended the latest International Press Institute (IPI) News Innovation Event- held at the Guardian Headquarters in London. The event welcomed everyone from the professional, freelance, and digitally savvy to join together to discuss the latest in news innovation and hop on-board the online dialogue.

- International Press Institute Event held at The Guardian

– International Press Institute Event held at The Guardian

The IPI News Innovation Event was essentially a showcase of all the winning projects developed from the News Innovation Contest by IPI. (sponsored by Google Inc.)

Sticking to all things innovative we saw the winners from across the globe interactively deliver their projects live at the event from San Francisco to Romania.

See below links to ‘some’ of the winning projects:

  • Contributoria is a writing community created by The Guardian to help journalists via a collaborative writing process – Soon to be released!
  • Cam360 is a web platform created to help citizen photojournalists sell their pictures to news providers.
  • Reading Radar is an app that takes a deeper look into the stories behind the news.

As part of the evening we were also joined by successful journalist and entrepreneur, Mark Little (CEO of Storyful), who was interviewed by Rachel Barlett, editor of Journalism.co.uk. Mark enlightened us all into the world of news innovation and how you can slowly but surely change a concept into a reality. He explained how their is no benchmark for success, only failure.

“Psychological preparation and risk are what will make your ideas work”.

After the evening concluded I made note of the most frequently used phrases and words throughout the event to help you (the reader) also join in the emerging online dialogue of digital migration. Please take a look below to see the outcome:

-News Innovation Event 2013

-News Innovation Event 2013

For more information on the News Innovation Event please visit the IPI News Innovation platform.

WARNING: Behind Closed Doors- The secrets of Manchester’s Swingers

Constance & Eric Photograhy

Constance & Eric Photography

Sex. No matter how you present the subject matter, it always seems to come across as being lecherous or highly inappropriate. There is no easy way to evade the lewd sniggers or snorts, amongst daggers of disdain, and shudders of shock. So for the next part, reading this may come as quite a blow (pardon the pun).

If you were to ask me a month ago if I could ever have conceived of the idea of becoming a swinger, instantaneously, my answer would have been an abrupt NO! Naturally, all sorts of smutty and seedy thoughts might come to mind when you think of swinging; whether you envisage a satanic orgiastic cesspit, or a demonic dungeon of rampant twosomes, there always seems to be a common theme- but what if there is more to this than meets the eye?

The spectacle of swinging, or at least its wider discussion and practice, is considered by some, to have ascended from the upsurge of carnal activity, during the sexual revolution of the ‘swinging’ sixties. This era became synonymous with its novel, radical and subversive tendencies that continued to cultivate throughout the seventies, eighties and beyond.

This brings us to now- the 21st century. What was once a social taboo is now a thriving watering hole for the amenably minded and sexually curious. One area in particular where this audacious marvel flourishes, is the metropolis of Manchester.  Following my move to the region it became prevalent that this contemporary city had a lot to offer- far more than I had originally bargained for. Granted, in a bustling and vibrant area like Manchester, it is not uncommon to see the odd gentleman’s lounge and perhaps strip joint strewn about, however, a seedier underbelly lurks in the city’s suburbs.

If you were to gaze past the solid skirting board that shields the city so boldly, you would discover a mystery that still remains uncovered. Past the periphery of Manchester lie the secrets of the swingers. Little did I realise Greater Manchester is home to six (that I know of), well established swingers clubs. Now on this occasion, curiosity really did kill the cat.

So here my journey begins. On a dank and dreary Saturday evening I entered the realm of the Manchester swingers. Like most, I anticipated the establishment to be off the beaten track, perhaps even ensconced into the depths of a gated suburban community- wrong! Me and my adopted beau for the evening were dropped off in a taxi on a main high-street. ‘This can’t be our stop’, we pleaded, ‘please let it not be our stop’- but it was. We were officially exposed. It was as though they had nothing to hide, almost as if they wanted all walks of life to wander in off the street and give this outlandish wonder a go. For a moment I questioned whether or not this was a good idea. Dare we enter? What sights will be thrust upon us? Might we walk in to a writhing mass of naked flesh, accompanied by a cacophony of squelching and moans of climatic ecstasy? There was only one way to find out!

Suited and booted in nothing but a pair of stockings and negligee, I finally plucked up the courage to ring the bell. Much to my dislike the faint ‘ding-dong’ was met with the uproar of applause, and hullabaloo of screams- it would seem the party was already in full swing. ‘Fifteen pounds please?’ said a cheerful chap at the reception. ‘Is this your first time?’ Presumably the droplets of sweat dripping from our pastel-like complexions, were a certain giveaway that we were completely and utterly out of our comfort zones. ‘Yes it is. We figured there’s a first time for everything, so no time like the present’, was our surprisingly assertive response. He replied, ‘brilliant- come on in let me show you around.’ Clunk! The entrance into this seemingly exotic abyss was open and hungrily awaiting our arrival. An unnerving sense of anxiety began to fester. What if we are met with aloof looks of disdain and bemusement? Might we be perceived as the outsiders of this wanton cult? Questions loitered, whilst answers escaped- before I knew it we were inside.

From the minute we stepped into the room there was a real sense of composure and calmness about the place. Heads quickly gyrated as we entered, but strangely enough this erected a sense of emancipation within us both. For starters we were the youngest ‘couple’ there,  most were of the forty’s to fifty’s age bracket, so as you can imagine we felt  a little out of sorts, not to mention the majority of folk there were dressed as either raunchy doctors or scantily clad nurses (we, on the other hand, failed to receive the dress code memo). For a split second I felt as though we had hijacked an oddly themed reunion party, where things had turned a little ‘lary’, and guests had supped on one to many pink cadillac’s.  However, much to my amazement, this mentality swiftly escaped me and bizarrely enough, I hastily found myself becoming intoxicated by the aroma of lust. We had only been in there a mere five minutes before I felt this euphoric erotica deeply consume me.

On arrival we were given a tour of the establishment. Now I would imagine most places are keen to show you around, maybe point out the nearest access points in the event of an emergency, or perhaps display where the various wash-rooms are located. This tour however, was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. We were met by a curvaceous middle-aged lady, wearing little but a thong, PVC nurse’s hat and stethoscope (which might I add, was strategically placed to hide what modesty she had left). The club was spread across four floors. The ground level was the busiest by far; here lay a Jacuzzi, sauna, pool table, bar and unique chill-out lounge (or at least that’s what I was told). In reality we were confronted with a dingy chamber filled with plasma TV’s, showcasing innumerable explicit adult movies. The first floor was home to a massage boudoir and four playrooms. Now here the clue really lies in the title. This area predominantly consisted of copulating couples amongst fornicating foursomes playing the salacious game of sexual musical beds, although this seemed tame in comparison to the clandestine levels that lurked below. 

We were taken down a narrow flight of stairs which lead to the depths of the basement, a set of stairs which were immensely difficult to navigate down, let alone trying to do so whilst tip-toeing behind an utterly starker’s unchaste ‘nurse’. In this ominous moment my stomach decided to take to the stage and perform its very own acrobatic routine- I felt ridiculously nauseous at the thought of what was to come.  A group of single males congregated at the bottom of the landing. It didn’t take much fathoming, as to guess what they were desirously ogling at. 

After pushing our way through a seething mass of undulating flesh, we found ourselves with front row seats to a full blown orgy. It was like watching a perpetual conveyor belt of bodies, one after the other entering this burning bed of passion. In one corner stood a group of men shadily masturbating, in the other you saw a carnivorous jungle of animalistic torsos riving at one another. Without a shadow of a doubt this has to have been one of the most surrealist moments I’ve ever found myself in- watching porn is one thing but switching into 3D (or should I say 36DD) is a whole other ‘ball game’, only then does it truly become X-rated.

The majority of what we witnessed appeared somewhat sordid, lewd and vulgar. This however, bared no relation towards the people who we met along the way; it was their stories that held the beacon over this conceivably dim reality.

It came as an absolute surprise to discover much of the evening rested on socialising with other couples and singles, granted the style of conversation was extremely forthright (people’s intentions to become involved in a threesome with us was pretty evident from the get up and go). But otherwise everyone was willing to talk openly about sex, relationships and such like.

One of the most remarkable points which I took away from the experience of swinging, was the people’s ability to detach the act of sex from the emotion of love. The first couple we met in the changing rooms, (‘Simon’ and his girlfriend) made it extremely clear that it’s all about talking as a couple, setting in stone those crucial boundaries of what you may or may not be comfortable doing, or more importantly seeing your partner do. I seriously began to question the mentality of westerners, or more importantly how prudishly judgemental the English society has become towards sex, and specifically how it seems a given that it has to go hand in hand with emotion. Simon and his girlfriend where very clear on what their limitations where – he isn’t allowed to get with other women, yet still favourably participates in threesomes with other men and her. His girlfriend explained to us that even though physically, she was having sex with other men, her emotions would still remain with Simon- she would take comfort from the fact she knew she would be going home with him- solely him.

The most thought provoking part of the evening was spent with Michael (for the purpose of the piece this is not his real name). Michael appeared to the naked eye as another androcentric male, looking for a bit if fun. It wasn’t till after we had sat down and evoked in conversation with him, that we truly understood his pain. Michael has been a Manchester swinger for over twenty years now; he used to come along with his wife, or at least did, before she fell ill. Now the name of her ailment escapes me, but what I do know is that it steals what many would deem a vital element of any relationship- the sense of touch. She feels pain if he touches her, she has lost all sense of sensation, yet their relationship remains strong. Despite the sexual playing an important part in both their lifestyles, they still stick together. She knows that her husband still goes along to their former swingers stomping ground, but willingly accepts that it once was a part of her life and will continue to remain a part of her husbands. It was shocking to see someone in that environment essentially laying all their deepest and most despondent feelings onto someone they’d just met (but then again, I didn’t anticipate a lot of what went on that night). One comment that Michael did say struck a chord with me and that was; “She is my world. I wouldn’t change her for anyone. And I never will”.  This comment reiterated the ‘swinger mentality’ of the physical being so dissimilar to the emotional – in a strange way it was me seeing a relationship so strong on an emotional level that compromises can be made on the physical.

Arguably the most interesting character of the night was Edward, a single macho male, with the desire to ‘bed’ anything with a pulse. Edward (not his real name) had signed up to be a swinger just a mere year ago.  You could tell from the minute he introduced himself to us that his intentions were palpable from the word go. ‘Fancy a shag?’ came shortly after the initial introductions.  Although, I guess such frank behaviour is to be expected in such a place. Now what was unusually interesting about Edward, that made him prominent above the rest, was discovering he worked with children as a teaching assistant. Imagine if parents were to find out? It would be met with colossal uproar; I would imagine most would brand him a pervert and I very much doubt he would remain in his job.  He himself confessed he could never tell anyone at work he’s a swinger, he would feel wholly emasculated at the thought of doing so. Much to my surprise Edward explained how, despite his need for sex, he does in fact seek courtship and love; however, I fear his high libido and consuming desires will almost certainly prevent him from ever finding courtship, let alone finding himself.

So there it is- the secrets of Manchester’s swingers. Before entering this world I questioned people’s motives. Why they would chose to do something so eccentric? I was perplexed at the thought of people wanting to have sex with strangers, and in doing so, adopt such a blasé attitude. For many the phenomenon of swinging adds that little bit of spice into their otherwise conventional lives. Some couples perhaps live by a monotonous nine to five day job, and maybe, just maybe, the thought of swinging eases that overbearing weight of day to day humdrum. I guess some unearthly enigmas will always remain a mystery, but if you truly are still curious, the only way to expose this secret realm, is to go and live it for yourself- only then will you really understand what goes on behind closed doors.