The Mighty Rooks

What’s not to like about Lewes FC, The Mighty Rooks. A ground called The Dripping Pan a stroll from the town centre. Eleven quid to get in, free for kids, quality burgers, Harveys £3.40 a pint and views of the sun-setting on the South Downs.

The Dripping Pan Lewes FC was saved from extinction by supporters in 2010 and is now a community owned club. Spectators are free to wander around the ground and change ends at half-time. The directors lounge is a portacabin and as the sun sets a flock of rooks return to roost in trees behind the ground.

The Isthmian Premier league game against fellow mid-tablers Harrow Borough was a lively affair on a difficult heavy pitch. Lewes were the better side through out. Sam and Nathan Crabb combining well down the right and their brother Matt a danger from midfield.

Lewes clearance

For Harrow Simeon Akinola showed some fantastic step-overs and drag backs during the warm up but despite being given ball in space a number of times he could make no impression.

Harrow barely had a shot on target while Lewes constantly threatened and kept Shea the Borough keeper busy. Half way through the second half they finally scored, Penny heading in a near post corner.

Boro defend Lewes corner

Penny scores for Lewes

Penny scores for Lewes

But near the end either A) Lewes were guilty of sitting back after going ahead . Or B) Harrow pressed forward because they were behind.

After a long weaving run Lucien equalised  shooting low into the corner from the edge of the area.

Both sides stay mid-table but Harrow will go home the happier. Lewes will be frustrated by their twelfth draw of the season.


Attendance 564

Not so big Sunday

The winter storms have finally ended it’s a beautiful Sunday and Brighton and Hove has come out into sunshine. On the seafront thousands are running the half marathon, taking photos of West Pier or walking the dogs and kids.


In the shadow of Shoreham Power Station twenty or so surfers bob up and down watching for waves. The surf break is Hot Pipes named after the jetty where the station discharges cooling water.


 The surf is between six and eight foot and come in clusters but many of the surfers are paddling in.

Chris a regular said: “ It’s because of the shore dump. It’s good here from low to mid tide but after that the wave just dumps.”

Waves break when their height is almost equal to the water depth. Brighton’s beach shelves deeply. The waves hit the shallows and crash.

Chris said: “When you ride one it just drops from beneath your feet and you end up in knots.”

The Brighton shore-dump is why relatively few kite and windsurfers use the city’s beaches and those that do are pretty good but even experts can have problems.

 There are three surf breaks around Brighton and Hove the best on the east side of the Marina has a reputation for localism, the most well known is next to West Pier but Hot Pipes is the most popular.

Chris says it’s a friendly place and six to eight foot  waves at Hot Pipes is not so big.

Two days in Sofia – The daily protest

Sofia doesn’t seem like a capital city it has the ambience of Worthing with wide roads, quiet shopping streets and low level buildings.

Unlike Worthing it also has huge slab like government offices, magnificent cathedrals and, since February 2013, daily anti-government protests that have brought down one administration and seen six people burn themselves alive.

At times as many as 20,000 have turned out with corresponding protests in cities throughout the nation

In December 2013  the protest has been reduced to about one hundred people they meet at 7pm outside the Presidential Palace armed with whistles and drums then march the mile or so to the National Assembly.  They chant a few slogans, mingle and chat then go home.

I ask what the protest is about. Nicolas a student says: “Corruption. The government is corrupt they must resign.” Several of the other protesters agree, two English words they all understand are “corruption “and “resign”.

The February protests were against electricity prices, monopolies and poverty. The ruling GERB party led by the populist Boris Borisov had come to power in 2009 on an anti-corruption ticket. They implemented austerity measures in one of the poorest EU countries and the poor were hit the hardest.

Boris Borisov

Boris Borisov

High electricity bills triggered nationwide protests involving 100,000 people. Six people died from self-immolation and the Government resigned.

Fresh elections in May saw GERB win 30% of the vote but a strange coalition of  the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the DPS an ethnic Turk party and tactical support from the far right Ataka party formed the new administration.

Smaller protests continued after the election concerning issues that linked politicians, the mafia and big business.

Bulgarians don’t have a lot of trust in the honesty of their leaders. In 2008 a serving MP famously said: “Other countries have the mafia, in Bulgaria, the mafia has the country.”

The coalition elected media mogul Delyan Peevski, 32, – a man without any security experience and a dodgy past – as head of national security. Major protests erupted. Peevski withdrew but the protesters didn’t.

Deylan Peevski_result

Angry at the formation of the coalition the opposition GERB party boycotted parliament. But their time in office is also subject to allegations of fraud, illegal wiretapping and the misuse of EU funds.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski may think that the dwindling protest numbers are a sign that the popular tide is turning but Nicolas outside the National Assembly said “It’s because it’s cold and we’re getting tired.”

Two days in Sofia – Sofia vs Sofia

The last game before the Bulgarian league’s winter break is the Eternal Derby between CSKA and Levski Sofia. The meeting of the  two biggest teams in Bulgaria with its history of hostility are played at the neutral Vasil Levski Stadium.

It’s a Bulgarian Cup quarterfinal second leg the first game was goalless.

The stadium is on the edge of Sofia city centre and I’m hurrying to make a weird 4pm Thursday afternoon kick off. The floodlights and chanting make it easy to find and the intimidating ranks of riot clad police helpfully point me to the ticket office.

A half way line ticket is only 14 lev about 7 quid. Nobody is sitting, everyone stands on the plastic bucket seats to keep their feet of the cold ground.

The stadium is the usual Eastern European concrete bowl an athletic track keeping play at a distance. It is only a quarter full but the atmosphere is great. The ultras at either end do their orchestrated singing and choreographed displays.


 My Xperia phone camera’s limitations are more apparent in the low light and when  compared to photo’s from the Levski Ultra’s site.

Levski Ultras

I’m  standing with Levski supporters and their team has the edge in a lively goalless first half. The only player I recognise is CSKA’s Martin Petrov the balding former Bolton left winger. His corner produces the best chance of the half but Mendy’s header is well saved by Illiev.

The sun goes down and the temp drops.

At half time a crowd gathers at the  players exit to hurl abuse at the officials and the opposition. The police raise their shields to form a protective tunnel. The sudden hostility is alarming,  a few missiles are thrown but after the players disappear, the police put away their shields and everyone wanders off together for a warm drink.

CSKA Ultras

The second half is a midfield battle. There is racist chanting from both sets of supporters aimed at the other teams black players. Every time Mendy, the Senegalese centre-back, lingers on the ball a shaven headed man climbs up the fencing in front of me to monkey chant. He is remarkably angry. The police and a few young  kids look on. It’s a bit disturbing.

I try jumping up and down to stay warm but it’s not helping. I’m dreading extra-time but it appears inevitable and duly comes.

I can recall matches with extra time drama. Both teams would recklessly charge forward then be too tired to get back. End to end excitement. Exhausted players missing a succession of simple chances.

The last time this happened was probably in the 1980s. Footballers today are too cagey to go forward in case they find they are too tired to run back. Supporters look at their watches and worry about the last bus.

The only event in extra-time was that my knees froze and stopped working.

So to penalties and Levski finally win 7-6 . As Mulder slots the decisive kick and wheeled away towards celebrating team mates I hobbled towards the exit and headed to the Taj Mahal the best and only curry house in Sofia.

Sodastream protest

Promptly at 1.00 pm every Saturday for over a year two factions assemble outside an unremarkable shop in Brighton unpack their flags, placards and leaflets to rekindle an old conflict.

The Ecostream shop is owned by Sodastream, an Israeli company. One of their factories is in a settlement on the disputed West Bank . Pro-Palestinian groups say the Israeli settlements are illegal and gather outside to urge people to boycott Sodastream. Pro-Israel groups form a counter protest

The shop in Western Road should be welcomed in green Brighton. It stocks quality household products, olive oil to detergents, many locally sourced.  It encourages customers to bring their own containers and pay for a product by weight. It also sells Sodastream’s carbonated drink maker and two weeks after it opened in August 2012 the protests began.

This September, on a day of action organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign about one hundred protesters turn up.

The pro-Palestine group were on one side of the road pro-Israel on the other. The atmosphere was good-humoured. The Israelis had the better banter. They contended that the opposition were against fizzy drinks and parties. A placard read “Bagels against Bigotry.”

There was a sizeable police presence, a van lurked around the corner and one policeman videoed the Palestinian side. He held the camera barely a foot from their faces.

Most Saturdays only twenty or thirty protestors turn up for the two hour stand-off. They mingle outside the shop many are pensioners.

usual saturdaySome chant, others stand alone holding a leaflet against their chest. There are only a couple of police present, they tell off anyone who gets too boisterous. A lone security guard stands calmly by the shop doorway.

Steve Ballentine is the shop manager, a Scot, he has been involved in a number of start-up projects but this is his first for Sodastream. He says he was unaware of the controversy and has had only one short visit to the factory.

Steve Ballentine

Steve Ballentine

He seems resigned to the protest but says: “Nobody has been arrested and there hasn’t been any violence but a student padlocked himself to the door and the locks have been super glued.”

Two weeks after the shop’s opening in August last year Mr Ballentine was on a Welsh hillside with his family for a much needed holiday. He received a phone call from shop staff. There were people protesting outside.

He is passionate when describing the ethos of the shop, how they searched for local suppliers, the ecological benefits of customers re-using and not recycling plastic containers.

It’s Saturday afternoon and the shop is its empty, he is aware that the protest is affecting business. Although he appreciates the Israeli supporters he says: “I don’t know if they’re helping the shop or just attracting the other side.”

Outside Susan Gleitman, 57, is pro-Israel she says: “It’s not just about supporting the shop. Sodastream employs many Palestinians and they work under the same conditions as the Israelis.”

“So how can they complain about human-rights?” gesturing towards the opposition.

John Gleisner

John Gleisner

The opposition includes John Gleisner, a retired doctor, he worked in West Bank mental health hospitals for six years. He supports the boycott and says: “I’m not ant-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist and it’s important to distinguish between them.”

He says: “ Anti-semitism is racist but being anti-Zionism is being opposed to colonialism.”

Protestors from both sides try to engage passersby but most wave away the leaflets. From across the road a middle aged man shouts: “Get a life.”  Families irritably thread their way through as they hurry to the retail delights of Churchill Square.

Distributing leaflets supporting the Palestinian cause is Grace Belinda, she is petite, dapper and 96.  She has just come back from Balcombe where she has been protesting against fracking.

She once worked as a nurse in the Gaza Strip and talks affectionately about the Palestinians. She says:“I am not anti-Jewish or anti Israeli. It’s about fairness and  fighting injustice. The land belongs to Palestine.”

Sodastream had a turnover this year of over $400 million and has released a video to contest the boycott: “Building bridges not walls .” It says it is providing equal opportunity employment to Palestinians.”

Barry Stierer from Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign doesn’t deny Sodastream employs Palestinians he says: “This has to be understood in the context of a military occupation and a largely destroyed Palestinian economy. You or I would probably make the same difficult decision if we were offered work there and had a family to feed.”

Approaching 3 o’clock when the protest is due to end both sides begin packing away the leaflets and placards. By ten past three only the security guard remains and the old conflict is over for another week.

Unreliable starlings

For my NCTJ portfolio I decided to write an article on the starling murmation over  Brighton’s derelict West Pier.

Starlings migrate from Scandinavia to the UK in winter and at sunset they gather to perform a murmation to raise their body temperature before heading off to roost..

According to all the tourist websites this is an iconic Brighton sight so the first murmation of the year is big news. Well it’s news.

The Brighton Argus cover this story every November with a photo and a short article. This is their photo from November 2011

copy the argus

So all I needed to do was get a photo and some quotes.

The first murmation of 2013 was small and although visible to the human eye was unfortunately not too clear on my Lumix camera.

A wildlife photographer, Alan McKenzie, told me that the starlings roost for the night under Brighton’s Palace Pier and this was the best place for photographs so I went there next day at sunset.


The starlings arrived in groups and didn’t get together to form a spectacular murmation some decided to just hang-out on the helter-skelter.


So I asked Alan McKenzie if I could use one of his photos and wrote this article for my portfolio.

Brighton starlings

The iconic starling murmation over West Pier has started as the migratory birds arrive in Brighton but the species is under threat in the UK.

On most winter evenings just before dusk the starlings return from feeding and gather over the derelict pier. The spectacle draws tourists and photographers.

Alan Mckenzie, wild life photographer, from Brighton, said: “I could watch them every day and never get bored.”  He said the best place to watch was from Palace Pier where they have been roosting since the great storms tore down so many trees in the 1980s.

Migrating starlings arrive in the UK in autumn to escape the harsh winter of northern Europe and join our native starlings but the murmations are smaller than the corresponding time last year.

Sophie McCallum, RSPB representative, said: “They can be erratic but the peak is usually in mid December. It may be that because of the relatively mild weather it is happening later this year.”

She said the numbers of breeding Starlings in the UK fell by 82% between 1967-2003 and was put on the Red List of Conservation Concern. The reasons behind this are not yet fully understood but increased use of pesticides and a shortage of food and nesting sites are believed to be contributing factors.

Jess Price, Conservation Officer Sussex Wildlife Trust, said over the past 50 years many common birds have dramatically declined.

She said people can help birds this winter by providing high calorie food in their garden to help them keep their fat reserves up. Bird seed in feeders left on bird tables and hanging fat balls can all make a difference.

Starling Murmurationgimp

Palace Pier starlings copyright Alan McKenzie

I find planning applications interesting

I’m taking a  trainee journalism course NCTJ in Brighton. I had big plans to keep a blog going but there is so much else to do. I’m playing catch up .

I’m not complaining. All the else I had to do. Looking for and chasing stories, researching obscure stuff. I spent three evenings on Palace Pier waiting for some starlings to show up. It’s not work.

A few weeks ago we had a lecture on how to report  council committee planning meetings. The committee decide on the whether a range of projects can be built. They make decisions on multi-million pound developments to PVC window frames in a heritage area.

For our lecture we looked at the BHCC website.  There was one stand-out application to discuss.

Ex-drug addicts were going to be housed in shipping containers.

The application was actually a practical solution to a difficult problem. Brighton and Hove has a drug problem and a housing shortage. Recovering addicts have nowhere to live.

Shipping containers have been adapted to apartments and used as student housing in Holland. They have the advantage of being temporary and quick to assemble.  If it becomes a problem it can be closed and moved.

The sketch for the project looked promising. I wouldn’t mind living there.

Shipping container 2

I cycle past the site every day. It’s at the bottom of a hill on the corner of a busy junction. A railway line runs behind the trees.

The site used to be a scrapyard and on the corner  the Cobblers Thumb pub.

The pub had been listing for years, despite desperate attempts to keep it upright it  was condemned and demolished,

I don’t know much about urban planning but there is a reason you have a scrapyard and a pub on a busy corner where trucks start to grind uphill. Next to a railway line.

It’s because nobody wants to live there.


Good luck to them.

I need to find something to write about

It’s the third week into my  NCTJ and I haven’t written anything yet. Luckily I live in Brighton and there is always something happening. So on Saturday afternoon I checked the What’s On listing and went out with my camera.


Just down the Western Road there is a protest outside the SodaStream shop. I talk to a few people and learn that Sodastream have a factory in the disputed West Bank. I also learn that I need to improve my photography skills. Photography tip- don’t have a bus and communal rubbish bin in the centre of the picture.Image

I don’t have time to stop because I’m going to the Dome where there is a Kachin day of celebration. The Kachin are an oppressed people from  north Burma known for their communal dance -Mytkyina-and traditional costumes. Unfortunately the Kachin day of celebration only lasted from 1 to 3pm  and I missed it. The Kachins were wandering around the Dome museum taking photos of each other. Here is a Kachin man trying on a South Pacific burial mask.


Klaus is a regular street performer in Brighton. When I spoke to him he was lounging around having a smoke then he leapt up,  plugged his CD player in  and turned Eye of a Tiger up loud.


He had spotted some opposition setting up just down the road and was protecting his patch.


The Brighton Digital festival is coming to the end. I can’t get exited about digital music or art it just seems soulless but I went to the Mutant exhibition at the Phoenix which is a collaboration between biologists and digital artists. It didn’t do anything for me.


There are so many people  who have a passions and beliefs  and  spend their weekends doing stuff outside the British mainstream of shopping, sports and drinking. I went to a  anti-racism workshop where they were making an anti-racism quilt and then to crafts fair. Anthony makes and  sells hand painted picture frames. Photography tip – check subject has eyes open.


As I am happy being British mainstream I had an idea to write a  ” Cheapest pint in Brighton” article. This was inspired by being charged four quid for a pint at the Blind Tiger. It was only a few years ago that only ice cold Guinness cost over three pounds. Like the four minute mile in reverse the four pound barrier once broken will herald a surge towards a fiver.

Obviously this would take a great deal of research and the only place to start is the home of the cheap pint and the all day drinker, Wetherspoons. The barman said the cheapest pint was John Smiths at an incredible 1.79 but they’d run out so I had a Carlsberg at 2.21.


As there are more pubs than people in Brighton I think this survey is beyond me.