2020 was a problematic year, to say the least, with the pandemic and all the issues associated with the virus many would like to forget the year. Despite the difficulties of living in Greece during the first lockdown and then studying remotely on returning to the UK, I am thankful for the year and the fantastic images that came from it.
During the First World War, the Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian troops. There is a certain discourse in Brighton that the Indian troops loved it in Brighton and England as a whole, however, a few letters conflict with this discourse.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has finally been released after eight years in the making; the big question Is: does this amount of time correlate to gameplay? Moreover, does it live up to Rockstar’s track record?
Since the release of Grand Theft Auto V in 2010, Rockstar have put all their resources and time into creating Red Dead Redemption 2, choosing to focus on one game rather than releasing several different games. However, did this decision pay off? The answer is YES! This game is by far Rockstar’s greatest achievement to date with amazing attention to detail accompanied by lucid graphics. This is the must-buy game of the year, and here's why.
The campaign is immersive and takes a minimum of sixty hours to complete… yes, it will take at least two and a half days to complete, but most likely, a lot longer. The story starts off slowly, and if you are like me and want to pick up the controller and take the position of the greatest gunslinger in the West, you will have to be patient, as the first hour of the campaign is mainly clips and small tasks in the snowy mountains of America, but, after you descend into the western plains, the game picks up and picks up fast. Which brings me to the next aspect of the game to love; you can pretty much do anything that you want… if you feel like fishing then sure go-ahead fish, if you want to rob a train then, yep, that can be done; hunting, theatre, barbers the list goes on. But the point I am trying to make is this game really allows you to immerse yourself into the life of the Wild West during the nineteenth century. If like me, you were or still are a massive fan of Western Films then this game is a dream come true.
The attention to detail in this game creates the magnificent environment in which you play. Every part of the world reacts as it would do in real life; if you kill an animal it will decompose and attract predators, if you fail to feed your character he will become skinny and weak, but overfeed him and he will become plump and slow… it's realistic to the extent that in cold weather the testicles of horses will shrink! Imagine a game that pays that much attention to detail… some would say it’s overkill, but I say, “Bring on the shrivelled balls”, as this advancement in graphics sets a high standard for the rest of the gaming world to follow.
The game overall is a glorious creation, and is certainly worth the £50 average price that shops are asking. If you are expecting the game to dramatically go down in price over the next few months as is usual with most games, then don’t, as the online is still set to be released at the end of the month. Ultimately, there is no time like the present so if you want this game then get it, as it’s worth every pound.
There’s a group of first year students in the back of a man’s car… each handing over £450 to a person they only met that day. You wouldn’t think this was a legal or comfortable situation, however, this is the way many of the students are pressured into reserving their house for second year. This is how I reserved my current house.
Once the students (if lucky enough) manage to secure a property, the issues don’t cease. They are hit with ridiculously high guarantor fees and deposits that realistically they know they aren’t going to get back and definitely not in full. You may be wondering what they expect to receive for this excessive amount of money… you wouldn’t expect to have faeces spraying out of your sink or a hole in your bathroom floor allowing people sitting for dinner to watch you sh*t, but this is the reality of student accommodation. The majority of their student loans are being spent on under-par accommodation at outrageous prices, being pushed higher by the quantity of students living in Brighton. This needs to be regulated.
Jay Bone is a second-year student who studies at Brighton University. He told me how the estate agents took £150 as a guarantor fee, but when his mother “didn’t earn enough” to qualify as his guarantor, they then fined him £150, which she then paid. Jay thought it outrageous for someone to be fined such a large sum of money for essentially not having enough money. In the end, he had to ask his step dad to become guarantor which was another £150. I spoke to an estate agent, who would rather have his identity kept anonymous, about this situation and he told me that the “the fee will depend on the referencing company used”. He went on to explain that his company charges £90 guarantor fee and out of that £70 will go to the referencing company and the rest is kept by the estate agents. He made it clear that with the change of guarantor it is customary for the charge to be applied again, however, he did say that charging £150 guarantor fee is “pretty unreasonable”. There is hope, however, as he told me “From next year tenants will not be charged at all”, and that all the fees will be charged to the Landlord. The estate agent said that the ‘Tenant Fee Ban’ should be coming into effect in April 2019. This is good news, but begs the question; why have we been paying these fees to start with?
After paying the London prices for accommodation in Brighton, you would think the quality of the accommodation would mirror the amount of money you are putting in, unfortunately, this isn’t the case for a lot of students. It was not the case for Amy Betteridge who studies English Literature and Creative writing at Brighton University. When I spoke to Amy, she told me of the scenario mentioned earlier with human faeces squirting all over her bathroom covering a “metre distance” from the sink which also included a housemate’s leg. This situation left Amy feeling “very frustrated, especially to be told by the plumber that the sink hadn’t been correctly installed in the first place”. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. Amy went on to tell me how her “room stank of cigarette smoke” when she moved in, a problem that should have been dealt with before the move in date. The cleaning process meant she had to leave the room empty for a month, keeping all her belongings in the communal area, impacting the rest of the household. The estate agents did fix all the problems, but not always well. One plumber they sent “changed the floorboards and hammered them down onto a pipe causing it to leak, which made more holes in our kitchen ceiling and the fire alarm and light in the kitchen filled with water”, a second plumber was sent out to fix this. You might be wondering at this point, what compensation Amy received for all these issues, bearing in mind she wasn’t able to live in her room for a month. A month’s rent reimbursed maybe? No… how does £70 Sainsburys voucher sound, to be shared with the house “that worked out at around £14 each”. Amy as you would expect, thought it “disgraceful for all of the problems we faced”. Clearly there are good and bad cases, but when people are paying the amount of money they are, the bad cases should be a rarity, not common place.
You may be wondering at this point how frequently situations like this occur, so I contacted Brighton SolFed whose motto is “an injury to one is an injury to all”. They are an ‘anarcho-syndicalist union based in Brighton’ and I knew they could give more depth to this situation. James Woodrow, a member of the group told me; “every week we have people coming to us for help, this can be anything from professionals disputing with landlords over rent increases to students trying to get their deposits back from estate agents”. He made it clear that issues with accommodation are common and that SolFed is here to help those in need as they have “won over ten thousand pounds for tenants, in repairs, reclaimed deposits and compensation”. Most importantly, he wanted the public not to take the estate agents’ word as final and not to give up; “if you find yourself backed in a corner then we will help get you out of it”.
Estate agents in Brighton have a captive market. They know that every year there will be a massive demand for accommodation between Sussex and Brighton University students. There is nothing in place to prevent the increase in rent, however, there is a need for tighter regulations to prevent the decay of accommodation quality.
A group of young men, some crawling through thick mud with barbed wire overhead, scrambling over a twelve-foot wall. All in identical green uniforms, A80 rifles slung across their shoulders. The only way of recognition being the surname taped onto the front of their Kevlar helmets.
To the eye there's nothing out of the ordinary about this scene, but what if I told you one of the men is twice the age of all of us in training, married with children and with a successful civilian career.
Mark Dunkley joined the British Army at forty-five, an age you would expect most soldiers to be leaving with a full pension. Why? Now, two years later I met with Captain Mark Dunkley in the Victory Services Club, London.
Mark approached me in the reception (all the memories I had of the man returned, the repetitive drills, the endless lectures and tenacious training). He is a man in his forties, well-dressed with dark fitted trousers and a light blue Oxford button down chequered shirt. He is of medium height, with a broad figure and chiselled yet youthful face enhanced by his blue eyes and dark blond hair. His familiar smile instantly instils a sense of comfort as we shake hands as old comrades. He made his way towards the marble topped bar offering a range of British drinks, asking me what I wanted. As he ordered, I seated myself on a low leather chair with an equally low old oak table; seconds later he joined me.
Mark doesn’t look like the traditional soldier, because he isn’t one. He is part of a new heritage unit within the British Army dubbed the “Modern Monuments Men” by The Telegraph Newspaper and the Cultural Property Protection Unit by the military, which Mark referrers to as “CPPU”. Being a new unit, little has been released about its role within the British Army, however, Mark was eager to tell of how the unit’s role has been conflated with that of the Monuments Men during World War Two; ‘The CPPU are being called the “Modern Monuments Men” but the two roles are very different’. He continued, ‘the role of the modern CPPU will be two-fold, they’ll be an element of training in the UK, to make sure that every soldier in training is aware of cultural aspects, there will also be a new cultural heritage overlay, for any operational maps.’ Overall, Mark made it clear to me that it will be the role of the unit to advise commanders whether a site can be attacked and the impact of damaging sites of heritage and cultural importance. The CPPU will still perform the “conflated” roles stated in The Telegraph, such as “protecting art, and archaeology, investigating looting, bringing smuggling gangs to justice”, however, again, Mark emphasised how the role is ‘Less physical and more intelligence lead’ to meet requirements of modern warfare.
Joining the army in your mid-forties , isn’t the career path many would consider, however, to Mark it was fulfilling a missed opportunity earlier in this life; “I have always had a really nerdy interest in the armed forces (…) since going to the Farnborough air show with my dad (aged ten) I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot”, but unfortunately, his dream job was stolen from him when ‘George Younger stood up in parliament and said, “no more air crew”’ announcing cuts in defence spending, meaning he lost the chance to enrol with the Royal Air Force, even after accepting and completing a University Scholarship. Little did he know then, his degree in archaeology would lead to his specialist role within the British Army today.
Mark’s civilian career as an underwater archaeologist has been and will continue being as important and as that of his military career, however, even he understands that archaeology to many isn’t as striking; “the challenges for archaeology in general, is engaging people with bits of pot” because often a piece of pottery just isn’t as adrenaline pumped as war stories. However, Mark was keen to tell me of his find that uncovered the disturbing effects of war and eighteenth century colonialisation; “I was diving and found some human bone on this wreck site, but it was black and had been burnt and even more terrifying was an iron bracelet on this piece of forearm.” This led to Mark questioning “What had led to this individual dying in this heat?” and the answer was horrifying; “He was a slave, when the ship arrived in the harbour it was too dark to unload the human cargo, so they were going to wait until the morning to do it. One of the navel tactics at the time against an enemy fleet was to send in fire ships… So, the Dutch sent in fire ships, not realising perhaps that they were cargos of slaves, so the slave ships burnt and then these thousands of poor souls burnt to death.” If Mark hadn’t found the bone fused with metal, then this terrible event would have been forgotten to time. The piece of bone didn’t just “bring history alive” but it also had direct relevance to the population of Trinidad and Tobago now, as it is their heritage.
Marks career in underwater archaeology has given him unique speciality that the Army needs to catch up with other nations. The United Kingdom is not the last but the latest country to start a Cultural Property Protection Unit, behind Russia, Austria and Italy. Subsequently Mark was “Latched on to, and told to get himself through Sandhurst”. The aim: to prevent heritage being damaged and to limit the destruction of war on sites that simply cannot be rebuilt. This new aspect to warfare creates a debate that Mark is well aware of, as he asked me; “where do you value human life over protecting some Greek stones?”.
During the year of 2020, there has been a massive amount of disruption to university life as the majority of learning has moved online due to the pandemic. Many students are now calling for a refund from the government as they feel they have not received the level of education which they paid for.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan started on the 27th of September and a ceasefire was brokered with the support of Russia on the 10th of November. Overall, the intense fighting lasted a month and two weeks. Over 5000 soldiers were killed in the recent conflict and more than 150 civilians. With our guest today we will be discussing how the conflict as a whole was not reported and published by the UK media and how there was been very little to no information on the thousands of people displaced by the war.
I follow a few conflict journalists on social media and saw the horrific scenes as thousands of civilians had to leave their homes as the territory has been handed over to the Azerbaijanis, some of the civilians even burning their homes to not allow the Azerbaijanis to live in them. However, since seeing the mass migration of refugees leave their homes I have heard very little news on where they have gone and if they have a home to live in. There are no numbers online that can tell us how many people have been displaced.
Hopefully, this conversation with Alara will help answer some of these questions and if not then at least it may help us think more about why we aren’t getting the answers we want and need. The name of the interviewee has been changed to protect her as there has been a massive amount of cyber attacks and abuse given to those seen to support Armenia by groups such as the Grey Wolves, a Turkish Fascist group and Azerjanini groups.
I would like to thank Emile Ghessen (@emileghessen) for reporting on this conflict and allowing me to use his materials in this podcast.
Please check out these charities and give support where you can:
Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust
Children of Armenia Fund
Roof for Refugees from Artsakh (Facebook)
Women's Resource Centre
Armenia Women's Rights House Real World
Real People NorArar (Facebook)
Help us bring New Year's Miracle to Artsakh's displaced children (Facebook)