Guardian Open Weekend

Guardian Open WeekendLast weekend The Guardian opened its doors (or rather took over the conference centre below its offices) to its reader for two days of talks, discussions and workshops. It was good stuff with over 200 sessions covering journalism, digital media, environment, politics and other Guardian favourites.

It was very popular with Kings Place packed to bursting (my friend described the change over being like school corridors after the bell). All the speakers and panelists I saw were top notch and, unlike other conferences I’ve been to lately, where experts and leaders in their field. I saw Vince Cable explain how the country should run (while being careful not to undermine his government), heads of Google and Facebook argue about each others policies and Clay Shirky’s latest thinking on the digital future.

With newspapers trying to find new ways to make money it makes sense for them to move in the events space like this. Especially as they have the contacts to bring in a strong line-up of speakers. This will be harder if other newspapers start doing the same but right now The Guardian has first mover advantage.

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SkinsI’ve been a big fan of Skins since it started. While part of me watched it to ‘see what the kids are getting up to’, I knew it doesn’t reflect real life but the quality of the storyline and the emotion has pulled me along. Except for the second series with the second cast – that got dark and over emotional in an absurd way.

It took a long time to warm to the third cast. This wasn’t helped by some terrible acting. But things changed in their second series. Some of the characters felt completely different to the first series and they made the genius decision of killing off the worst actor.

About a year ago I started watching the very first episode. I was amazed at how shonky it was. The music and directing were week. That shows that it is a programme that both created and defined a genre as it progressed.

As I’m sure you know there will not be a forth cast. Skins will end next year with two-parters catching up with each cast. It is the right decision not, because it has become tired, but because channels like E4 need to keep trying new things. I’m looking forward to seeing what has happened to Tony, Sid, Cassie etc. Couldn’t care less about Effy, Cook, Pandora. I suppose there’s not enough of a break from Franky, Alo, Rich etc.

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Country Pubs

I spent a lot of last week driving around villages in Suffolk. The weather was beautiful and scenery lovely. What spoilt it was the large number of closed down pubs. It was depressing to see pubs that should be part of a community bored up. The saddest was one recommended in the Good Pub Guide which was fully tinned-up like an abandoned council estate.

There’s lots of reasons why these pubs have closed. The recession, high taxation and money grabbing PubCos are at the top. There’s also a problem with the size of the pubs. Most of the closed ones were massive compared to the size of community they were in. There simply wasn’t enough locals and passing traffic for them. The sad thing is even if the recession stopped to day and taxes were cut these places would not reopen.

The pubs that remain seemed to be heavily reliant on premium food (£15–20 mains) at the expense of being a local you can drink at. One was working hard to be a social destination with pub quizzes, live music and food nights. Others were free houses not having to hand over profits to a brewer.

People have morned the loss the village shop and post office but it’s the pub that brings communities together socially. Britain is loosing something vital and it feels like few people realise or care.