Will the big money route pay off for eventing?

Equestrianism is taking a high-glamour big-money route to try to boost interest in the Olympic sport this weekend.

Following in the footsteps of the fast-paced new events such as Twenty20 in cricket and Rugby Sevens, the world’s leading three-day eventers are taking part in Express Eventing at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

Spurred on by the chance of winning £100,000 some of the world’s leading three-day eventers will ride all three disciplines – dressage, show jumping and cross-country – in one day.

A quick glance through the TV listings shows no mention of the event so far but I’ve been told by several people that it’s expected to be screened on Sky Sports 2. I think it’ll certainly make interesting viewing and will be interesting to see if “sexing up” the sport with big money offers pays off.

Cricket took a similar route with Twenty20 to try and gain more mass appeal. A friend who’s mad-keen on cricket still seems undecided on whether it’s strengthened or weakened the sport. Some traditionalists have argued Twenty20 waters down the sport and draws attention away from the more serious and technical arm of the sport, such as Test Match cricket.

In the horse world, Express Eventing seems to have widespread approval. So far that is. Riders taking part, including names like Tina Cook, have so far joyously welcomed the event. Well, you’d hardly turn your nose up at the prospect of £100,000 would you? Although it’s worth noting that most riders will spilt any cash prize with the horse’s owner.

Cook, who won an individual eventing as well as a team bronze at the Beijing Games, will be riding her Olympic horse Miners Frolic. She’s predicted that riders will have to make a decision to go fast or be careful to get round and added: “We might have to be quite chancy to win it and we may be holding our breath.”

Olympic team mates William Fox-Pitt and Mary King are among her rivals. Fox-Pitt knows that some traditionalists may balk at the new short-form format but he felt that it would “complement” the sport during the quiet winter season.

Organiser Stuart Buntine is hoping that the event might be taken to five or six venues overseas and possibly even create a world league for the sport. Interest has also been shown from the US, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai, he said.
Those who want to know more about Sunday’s event should have a look at The Telegraph’s Beginner’s Guide to the Express Eventing International Cup.


Does yoga hurt? No, but bad journalism does

A friend who has been listening to me ramble on for over a year now about how marvellous yoga is recently sent me a link to an article featured in Time magazine last year.

Titled ‘When Yoga Hurts’ the article ‘hightlights’ a rise in yoga-related injuries in America. So should I give it up? Is it damaging my health?

Apparently over three years 13,000 Americans were treated in an emergency room or a doctor’s office for yoga-related injuries. Now before I pack away my yoga mat, in context this means about 0.004 per cent of Americans had a yoga-related injury. Hmmm, not really very worrying?

The article goes on to say that people often injure themselves when they don’t know what they’re doing. Yes well, they would wouldn’t they? There’s no wisdom in spouting common sense. I find bad journalism very, very irritating.

Flashdance – The Musical

Flashdance - The Musical

Flashdance - The Musical

It was never going to be an evening of high culture and it was with some degree of embarrassment that I revealed to friends that I was going to watch Flashdance – The Musical.

Not being a great fan of musicals in general it was more out of curiosity and a love of all things 1980s that tempted to me blag some tickets to this particular theatrical experience.

Set in Pittsburgh, USA, Flashdance tells the story of 18-year-old Alex, a welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, whose dream is to obtain a place at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy.

The plot is cliché-ridden, from the heartless steel mill boss and his conscience-stricken nephew (played by former Hear’Say singer Noel Sullivan), through the “rich boy/poor girl” love story to the “bar dancer wows ballet school audition.”

But despite all the cliches, and the dodgy American accents, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the show. The dancers were amazing and incredibly supple – especially in the numerous pole dancing scenes.

The show was choreographed by Arlene Phillips (of Strictly Come Dancing fame) and just watching the sheer energy of the dancers made me feel exhausted.

The cast also included former Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley as the drug addicted delinquent and Bernie Nolan ( of The Bill and Brookside) as Alex’s mum.

Alex was played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who’s singing was slighting grating but she knocked the audience dead and got a near total standing ovation with her moves during the final routine when she danced for her life to What A Feeling.

A night of high culture it was not but the show was well put together with great performances and a fantastic set. I’m putting Flashdance in the category of a theatrical guilty pleasure.

Yoga turned on its head..VIDEO


Fitness crazes that start off in America always, sooner or later, make it across the pond.

Most of them the Americans are welcome to keep. For example, spinning. I can understand the appeal of such a high energy workout but spending 45 minutes on a bike going nowhere while being shouted at to “find more fuel in the body tank” by a sergeant major instructor just doesn’t do it for me.

What I do love is yoga. Which is why I can’t wait for anti-gravity yoga to makes its way over to the UK .

As unlikely as it sounds, converts of anti-gravity say the technique enables them to reach positions other exercises can’t reach, leading to a better all-round work-out.

Participants use a hammock suspended from the ceiling to carry out yoga, pilates and dance moves while defying gravity.

I’ve no doubt that were I to try it I’d look less like a high-flying circus act and more like I’d got into a fight with my bed sheet but I’d be willing to give it a go.

It’s being pioneered in the States by the US gym chain Crunch and even then it’s only available in Miami , Los Angeles and New York .

I’m certainly hoping it’ll take off (excuse the pun) in the UK soon.

Here’s a little peek…

Exorcism – a devil of a job

It sounded interesting in black and white. An exorcist hunts down demons in a world where even his own church doubts whether people can be possessed.

Apparitions (BBC1) sees Father Jacob (actor Martin Shaw) play a Roman Catholic priest whose job is to promote candidates for sainthood.

In his work to canonise Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Jacob finds himself under attack from Satan. A 10-year-old girl, conceived on the night Mother Teresa died comes forward to claim her dad is possessed and begs for Jacob’s help.

There’s also Vimal, a trainee priest who was cured of leprosy after praying to Mother Teresa – living proof of her Sainthood. But the Vatican has rejected his miracle and he is taunted by demons who claim it was Satan and not God who cured him.

It all sounded soooo promising. The BBC called it “terrifying.” But in part one of a six part series everything just seemed terrifyingly bonkers.

Vimal, rejected by the Church, died bloodily in the world’s loveliest-furnished and lit sex sauna. The subsequent shot showed the victim’s skinned corpse on the sauna floor. Nice.

In another scene, the Chief Exorcist needed a second priest (Assistant Chief Exorcist?) in order to conduct an exorcism so he rang up another exorcist and put him on speakerphone. Whaaat?

Part two is being screened on November 20. I think I might just give it a miss…

The letter S

Here’s an idea from Pink Sunshine. You get given a letter and then must come up with ten things you love that begin with that letter.
My letter was S and here are my choices:

Scotland – I love Scotland and it remains my favourite holiday destination. I’ve had many memorable times down the years either staying in cottages in the Highlands or in Landmark Trust buildings.
In recent years my stays have included wonderful buildings such as Auchinleck House, in Ayreshire, one of the finest 18th century mansions in Scotland and Saddell House, in Kintyre, an imposing mansion built in 1774 which came with its own private beach and lots of logs for roaring fires. Most of all I’ve loved the great times I’ve shared in those building.
Scotland is also home to my favourite place – Glenfinnan, which lies at the head of Loch Shiel. It was here that Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his standard on August 19, 1745. Glenfinnan will always have a special place in my heart. In a time of crisis, a few years ago, I drove out there and spent the night by myself at the edge of the water, huddled in a blanket lost in my thoughts. A very special place indeed.

S – My place of work. How I feel about my job depends on the mood I’m in when you ask me. Journalism can be exciting, stressful, demanding and unsociable. But, as I’ve blogged before, I doubt I’d swap it for anything else.

Sooty! – My favourite childhood friend. In fact, it was the ONLY programme I’d watch when I was younger. Last month, a puppet used by Harry Corbett in the original 1950s BBC programme was sold at auction for £3,100. In the 1980s all my teddy bears were christened Sooty.

Salvador Dalí – I’m by no means a big art fan or critic but I love the work of Salvador Dalí. Two of his prints hang in my downstairs loo and I’ve various Dalí-realed books, postcards and ornaments.
A permanent exhibition devoted to the works of Dalí, housed in the former home of the Greater London Council, a stone’s throw from the London Eye, is always worth a visit whenever I venture “down south.”

Suetonius – Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius. A historian born between 69 and 75AD, he is a celebrated historian of the Roman Empire. He introduced me to the 12 successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar until Domitian.
My favourite translation of his work is Robert Graves’s. I’m fascinated by Roman history.

Slippery When Wet – My favourite album of all time by the mighty Bon Jovi. It’s on regular rotation in my car along with the Lost Boys soundtrack and a Frank Sinatra compilation.

Simon Scarrow – one of my favourite authors. He writes historical fiction and his popular Eagle series follows Centurion Macro and Legionary Cato on their travels with the Roman Army.
Sacrrow is also at present writing a trilogy following the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Emperor Napoleon (another period of history I’m fascinated by).

Spas – I love being pampered. Seaweed wraps, hot stone treatments and, my favourite, full chocolate body massages. If money was no object I’d have one every week. As it is all-day spas remain an occasional treat and I make do with weekly steams, saunas and jacuzzis. Boo.

Snuggling – no explanation need really.

Serenity – What I am, of course, searching for.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

Dead Set on bringing zombies to reality

Jamie Winstone in Dead Set

Jamie Winstone in Dead Set

For some time now I’ve been a fan of Charlie Brooker. His TV reviews in The Guardian often have me chuckling away and more often than not I find myself nodding along in agreement with wry views on TV, celebrities and life and general.

So when I read that he’d been commissioned to write to write Channel 4’s first scripted horror series – centred on zombies (a personal favourite of mine) I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it.

I’ve only watch one episode of Dead Set so far, number two has been downloaded on my 4OD and is waiting to play when I have a chance.

The series is fairly absurd, but then anything slightly to do with zombies generally is isn’t it? In Dead Set, zombies lay siege to the Big Brother house in the style of 24. The opening episode starts with eviction night and the start of an apocalyptic crisis across the UK. While the housemates remain oblivious, hordes of fast-moving (yes, zombies can run it seems) undead decimate the studio company.

The first episode is crammed with wicked little scenes that channel the spirit of Brooker’s scathing television criticism – the fictional producer of Big Brother using an employee in a wheelchair as a shield against one of the flesh eaters, TV presenter Davina McCall having her throat bitten out, and the spiritually brain-dead contestants mistaking the screaming of the dying outside as the hysterical adulation of their “fans.”

There are five episodes in total and all are available to download free on 4OD. Watch the trailer below and here Charlie Brooker writes about his inspiration for Dead Set.