Happy New Year!

4 Jan

Welcome to 2011 everyone! Around the world on Friday night, revelers celebrated the New Year with friends and family. And Britain was no different.

Throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, there were parties filling the streets, homes, pubs and clubs, as people welcomed 2011.

London saw the largest gathering of people, mainly based around the London Eye, where they were promised a spectacular fireworks display. They certainly weren’t disappointed, as you can see from the video below.

Not sure what the song is that the British sing at midnight on New Year’s Eve? If you are confused by any of the traditions followed at New Year in the UK, then have a look at our Guide to British Celebrations and Festivals.

Zara Phillips Announces Second Royal Engagement

21 Dec

A second royal engagement has been announced only a month after Prince William and Kate Middleton revealed they are to marry. This time around, it is Zara Phillips (the Queen’s grand daughter) who is engaged, after her long-term boyfriend, Mike Tindall, proposed on Monday.

Although 12th in line to the British throne, Zara Phillips is probably better known for her sporting achievements. She is one of the best horse jumpers in the world, and in 2006 won a gold medal at the World Equestrian Games, before going on to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Similarly, her new fiancé is famous in Britain as a rugby player. Mike Tindall has 62 caps for England, helping them to win the rugby World Cup in 2003, and is now captain of Premiership side Gloucester. Indeed, it was at that Rugby World Cup that the couple first met, and they have been together ever since.

After the announcement was made, a Buckingham Palace spokewoman said:

“The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are delighted with the news. They got engaged yesterday evening at the couple’s home in Gloucestershire and a date has yet to be set.”

They are likely to marry some time next year, although they will make sure that the date they choose is not too close to the 29th April, which has been chosen by William and Kate.

World Map Created by Facebook Connections

15 Dec

An intern at Facebook has created a map of the world simply by showing the connections between friends on the social network.

Paul Butler wanted to visualise where people live in relation to their Facebook friends and so decided to use lines to connect all the cities that had pairs of friends. The more friends between the cities, the brighter the line would be. The amazing results can be seen in the image above.

Through simply playing with the huge amount of data that Facebook holds, Paul Butler has managed to create a new type of map that reflects “real human relationships” (whilst also managing to make a mockery of most people’s internships). It just goes to show that different nationalities and countries are not as distant as they can seem.

To read his blog post about how he created the map, click here.

Things to Do in London this Christmas

13 Dec

Christmas is fast approaching (it’s less than two weeks away now!) and London is getting into the spirit of the season. Here we have a look at some of the best places to visit and things to do in the capital during the festive time of year.

Ice Skating: Every winter, outdoor ice rinks pop up all over London, offering thousands of people the chance to get their skates on in some of the most stunning settings the capital has to offer. If you haven’t experienced outdoor ice skating before, then it is well worth wrapping up warm and spending an hour two showing off your best moves. For a full list of all the venues and details of how to book tickets, visit here.

Christmas Markets: If you’ve still got Christmas presents to buy or simply enjoy shopping, then the Christmas markets in London offer a great alternative to the normal high street shops. The numerous markets offer everything from quality food and drink, to hand made gifts, to unique fashion items. Full listings here.

Christmas Carols: What better way to get into the Christmas season than to join in with some traditional English carols. Whether you would rather get involved yourself and sing your heart out, or if you would rather just listen to the pros, there are loads of options in London. You can find all the information you need here.

Theatre: Going to see a play at the theatre is a great way to spend an evening with friends at Christmas time, and London is sure to have something to suit you, whatever your tastes. Whether you fancy a light hearted pantomime, a Shakespeare classic or a modern art house performance, you’ll be able to find it at a London theatre near you. Click here to search for performances and theatres in London.

To get great discounts and offers on days out directly to your email inbox every week, sign up to our newsletter here.

Image: laffy4k on Flickr

Students Protest Against Tuition Fees in London

10 Dec

London faced its most violent protests in decades yesterday, as students from across England gathered to show their anger over the increase in university tuition fees.

It was a momentous day in British politics, as, whilst clashes between students and police grew in Parliament Square, politicians inside Parliament debated the proposed increase in fees for over five hours before voting in favour of the change.

The vote means that UK based students can now be charged up to £9,000 per year (increased from just over £3,000) to study at an English university, meaning many will be left with huge debts after they graduate. The proposal created huge rifts within the British political parties, and many MPs voted against their own party’s wishes. However, the real clashes were most definitely outside.

Throughout the morning, tens of thousands of university and school students gathered in London, ready to march through the city protesting the proposed changes. There was a huge police presence ready and expecting the peaceful crowd to turn violent at some point.

This point was reached in the afternoon, when the protesters met police barriers in Parliament Square. The crowds tried to surge forward towards the Parliament buildings, but were met by riot police and officers on horseback.

Violent clashes between the opposing sides then broke out as protestors began to throw paint, snooker balls and broken bits of concrete, and the police responded with their batons. At points police on horseback were used to push the protestors back, and eventually the situation calmed down.

As darkness fell, protestors spread to other parts of London, and attacked the flagship Topshop store on Oxford Street due to its owner’s well known tax evasion. Soon after this, events took an unexpected turn when Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were caught up in the protests in the nearby Regents Street. They were travelling to a royal event, and their car was attacked with paint and missiles, leaving a window smashed and the royals visible shaken.

Ultimately, the results of this historic day of politics were the approval of the increase in university tuition fees, and the resignation of three politicians. Meanwhile, the results of the protests were 22 arrests, 10 police officers and dozens of students injured, and widespread devastation across Westminster.

The main message we want to send to you is that this type of protests are very very rare and should certainly not be anything to worry about. No one was there who didn’t want to be and the vast majority of the area of London was safe throughout the whole event.

To keep up with all the latest news, keep checking the blog and join our Facebook page for daily updates.

Fans Gather to Remember John Lennon

9 Dec

Fans across the world held vigils yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of the Beatles band member John Lennon.

The singer was famous for his leading role in the Beatles (the most successful British band ever) before becoming known as a leading peace activist in the 1970s. However, on December 8th 1980, when the singer was just 40 years old, Lennon was shot dead by a crazed fan in New York.

Yesterday, fans gathered to remember his life; singing his songs, lighting candles and laying flowers. The largest gatherings were seen in his home town of Liverpool in northern England, and in New York at the spot where he was shot.

Beatles and John Lennon fans are still as committed now as they ever were, and nowhere more so than where the band members grew up- in Liverpool. Several hundred fans turned up, to a “very nice, peaceful, happy evening” where they were able to remember Lennon’s life, and promote his message of world peace.

Among the gatherers, was one fan, Phil Hanson, who described the atmosphere as “lovely, warm and loving”, explaining:

“He’s one of my idols. John Lennon saved my life. I’ve even got a tattoo of him on my arm”.

Thirty years on from his death, John Lennon’s life and message are still strongly remembered by his fans, and we’re sure in thirty years time the same will still be true.

 

Reality TV Shows Taking Over the World

6 Dec

Rihanna performing on The X Factor

The UK is going reality TV crazy at the moment, as three of the biggest shows are all coming to their final weeks.

If you have moved to the UK recently, then you will almost certainly have noticed how newspapers, television shows and websites all get obsessed by reality shows around this time of year. In the last few months, The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! have all been hogging the headlines, so we thought we’d do a quick round up to get you up to speed on them all.

The X Factor


The X Factor is all about creating pop stars and is the most popular reality show on British television. Contestants compete against each other by singing each week to try and stay in the competition. They are then voted for by the public, before the four judges choose which of the hopefuls with the least votes is knocked out.

The show can make or break music careers, and such is its popularity that ever since it first aired, the winner of X-Factor has had the UK Christmas Number 1 every year except last year (when a campaign to stop it was successful and rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine took top spot instead).

This year, the final four contestants have been decided and will face each other in the final next weekend. The four left are Matt Cardle (bearded, guitar playing ‘normal’ guy), Cher Lloyd (spoilt, ‘alternative’ 17 year old girl), One Direction (clean cut boys who the girls love) and Rebecca Ferguson (Liverpool girl with a great voice).

Strictly Come Dancing


Strictly Come Dancing has celebrities competing against each other through dancing. They are each given a professional dance partner to teach them and are then voted for by the public.

This year, there are five couples left after the star attraction- former MP Ann Widdecombe, was voted out this week. She was famous for being terrible and got the lowest marks from the judges every week, but the public loved her. However, now she is gone, the favourite to win is television presenter Matt Baker. The other contestants include rugby player Gavin Henson, comic actress Pamela Stephenson, and Eastenders actors Kara Tointon and Scott Maslen.

I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!


On this show, celebrities (though no one has heard of most of them) are made to live in a jungle in Australia and perform tasks in a bid to win a cash prize for charity. The public vote for their favourites and the celebs are gradually knocked out until just one winner is left. The tasks generally involve insects and bugs, which the celebs have to touch/let crawl on their faces/eat to gain luxuries for their camp mates. Above you can see an example of a task from this year.

This year’s series has just come to an end, with 2009 X Factor contestant Stacey Solomon winning it and 1990s singer Shaun Ryder coming second. Though officially the prize is money for their charity of choice, the real prize is a kick start for their careers in the UK, as the winners inevitably gain some much needed fame from their time on the show.


Whether you like reality TV shows or not, there is not much chance of avoiding them at this time of year, so the best idea is probably to choose one and start watching! After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

 

If you don’t understand the British obsession with reality TV shows, or indeed, any of the other things that seem strange in the UK, then check out our Guide to British Culture.

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