All posts by Nadejda Vidinova

I'm an MA Journalism student at the University of Ulster. I have done some work experience at the Coleraine Chronicle and I'm due to go on a six- week placement at the Belfast Telegraph in June 2012. I have also written for the Newry Times, world film website Subtitled Online and student Magazine Ufouria. My interests revolve mainly around the arts, travel, culture and entertainment.

Public transport- a low priority, stuck in a vicious cycle

As society is becoming more environmentally conscious, the issue of public transport must be raised.

Nadejda Vidinova reports

Transport is one of the biggest sources of climate changing gases. As we all know, using buses and trains is far more energy- efficient than private cars. Northern Ireland appears to be lagging behind when it comes to public transport use and funding.

Translink’s corporate plan for the next three years, submitted to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Regional Development revealed that the company would lose £23 million if service levels are kept as they are.  Government funding for 2013/2014 will also be reduced to £25.4 million.

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) said the deficit is due to a number of factors, such as increasing fuel costs, a reduction in school transport income because of falling pupil numbers and the rising cost of concessionary fares.

A direct consequence of these issues is the increase in some public transport fares, which came into effect on Monday April 30. On average, fares have increased by 3%, except a number of Metro multi-journey tickets and discounted fares after 9.30pm.

Fares have been increased, except some multi-journey tickets- such as those for Metro

Translink’s Marketing Executive Ciaran Rogan said: “We know this is unwelcome news, but we are confident that bus and train travel is still the most attractive and cost effective travel choice, particularly given the soaring fuel prices, with Northern Ireland among the highest in Europe.”

The statistics say otherwise. Despite the rising costs of fuel and environmental concerns over carbon emissions, Northern Ireland remains a car-dependant society. A government report, Public Perceptions of Car Emissions, published in 2009 highlighted that travelling by car or van was the most popular choice for Northern Ireland residents. Just under half of those surveyed (45%), believed that reducing car use for the sake of the environment was pointless, since not enough people would take part to make it work.

There has been no significant shift towards public transport in the following years. Rail passenger journeys increased by 4%, from 2009-10 to 2010-11, while passenger journeys on Ulsterbus fell by 3%, according to government statistics.

The DRD’s Business Plan for 2012-2013 states that: “Current transport arrangements, and the high levels of dependency on the private car, particularly in urban areas, are not sustainable.”

Promoting sustainable travel and transport and encouraging a shift from the private car is cited as one of the annual objectives for 2012-13.

Yet according to the Plan, around 72% of spending and investment is going towards roads, with only around 28% going into transport.

Declan Allison, a campaigner from environmental organisation Friends of the Earth NI said: “Road building encourages travel by car, undermines public transport and will lead to increased carbon emissions.”

He suggested that reversing the balance of spending, so that public transport, walking and cycling get a larger proportion of the resources would be a way to solve the problem.

Under-funding of the public transport system is certainly a major issue.  It reflects the position that public transport holds on the priority scale, not only for the government, but for ordinary people.

It is arguable whether more money would make a real difference in the long term to public transport use. It is the social attitudes and the general infrastructure of Northern Ireland that need to be addressed first.

A car is considered by as a necessity, not a luxury. Public transport tends to be seen as second rate, for those who cannot afford to drive, or are too young to do so. This is partly because the economy and infrastructure are largely geared towards car users.

Mr Allison said: “The planning system assumes people will prefer to drive, and indeed encourages people to drive by allowing a pattern of scattered development.  Private car use has led to urban sprawl and the suburbanisation of the countryside. This scattered pattern of development locks people into car use as work, shops, services, and social activities are far from people’s homes.”

The erratic timetables outside of the bigger cities, especially in winter time and in the evenings, also contribute to the preference for cars.

Matthew Rowland, a 23-year-old student from North West Regional College said: “I think the buses stop too early, especially if you are working evenings. In that case I have no choice but to drive. I don’t think many of us really think about the environmental impact of driving”.

The fare increases are unlikely to help the situation. It can often be more convenient, and not much more expensive, to drive short distances rather than use public transport.

Mr Rowland said: “A fare increase would put me off. I’d prefer to drive, as what I spend on petrol is pretty much the same as what I’d spend if I took a bus every day”.

It seems that a vicious cycle has been created. The majority favour driving, so public transport companies lose money and infrastructure planning is done with the car user in mind.

This in turn makes many people reluctant to use public transport, which makes it a lower priority when it comes to funding. Companies like Translink are then forced to increase their fares, possibly losing more customers along the way.

This cycle must be broken, if public transport is to thrive in Northern Ireland.






Binge drinking-women pay a higher price, health-wise

Tackling binge Drinking is on the agenda once again, with minimum pricing for alcohol to be intoruduced by 2013

Nadejda Vidinova reports

It’s an all too familiar scene around the UK- men and women, young and old alike, stumbling out of a pub or club at the weekend. Most of us know that binge drinking is bad.

We’ve heard the warnings, we’ve read the statistics, yet it all continues. According to Addiction NI, alcohol costs the Northern Ireland economy up to 900million every year, through healthcare, policing, criminal justice etc.

Over-indulging in alcohol has long ceased to be a male pastime.  Greater gender equality across all spheres of life, increasing career advancements and more disposable income mean that women are catching up in the drinking game.

Studies have confirmed that the number of women regularly exceeding the recommended daily limits has been on the rise over the last couple of decades. In 2011, researchers at University College London found that 7.7 per cent of British women binge-drink compared with 8.9 per cent of men.

For many people, it all starts in Fresher’s Week at university. Drinking games, alcohol promotions and social networks, where drunken antics can be documented and applauded, all contribute to the drinking culture.

Danielle Ross, Marketing Officer for Addiction NI said: “Bars and clubs target students and compete against each other for the cheapest shots and pints. Another issue is “freeloading” where people consume alcohol before heading out, students should be educated on the dangers of doing this.”

Females in particular are at higher risk when consuming the same amount of alcohol as men. A number of factors, such as women’s smaller stature, different hormone levels and water proportions mean that they are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

Scientists have established a link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption. It is believed that this is due to alcohol’s effect on women’s hormone levels, including oestrogen.

Despite the warnings, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of drinking too much “socially”. A glass wine after work, an alcohol-fuelled birthday, Christmas, Halloween or end-of-exam celebrations are quite common.

The special occasions never end, and being drunk in company doesn’t attract the same stigma as doing it alone. In fact, often it is seen as desirable, for women just as much as for men.

“Last night’s antics” is a popular topic of conversation the day after a party. Alcohol is often used as a social lubricant, as a way to make oneself seem more outgoing or interesting.

If a person chooses to remain sober, they are often labelled “boring” and may be pressured to drink as much as their peers. This is particularly common among the 16-24 age group, who are most likely to binge-drink, according to Drinkaware.

However, it’s not just party animals that are at risk of over-indulging. Many people buy cheap alcohol from supermarkets to drink at home, often not realising just how much they’ve consumed.

In an attempt to curb problem drinking, the Northern Ireland Executive is going ahead with plans to set a minimum price for alcohol. This would be 40p-70p per unit.

The Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “I want to be very clear, addressing the harm related to alcohol in Northern Ireland remains a key priority for my Department, and for me personally.”

Sceptics have criticised the plans, arguing that such a system would penalise those who drink sensibly, while those who binge will continue to do so.

However, it is a start. Danielle Ross said: “The Executive cannot stand by and do nothing, so we think this is a positive step and Addiction NI will be monitoring its impact.”

Higher prices would certainly affect both males and females, but it is attitudes that need to shift, before any real changes can be seen. This will be the bigger challenge.

While being heavily drunk continues to be seen as a sign of having a good time, the problem will remain. Better education and a stop to the glamorising of alcohol, by adverts and pop culture would certainly help.

Both sexes should be fully aware of the effects of alcohol, but females especially need to consider the greater damage that it does to their bodies.

We may have come a long way in achieving equality, but nature is still to catch up.







World Film Locations: Paris- Book Review

By Nadejda Vidinova

World Film Locations: Paris is published as part of the World Film Locations series, which explore famous cities through the lenses of various directors. This volume, edited by Marcelline Block, is written by a number of contributors and contains an equally varied filmography. It sets out to examine Paris through discussion of scenes, which take place in the French capital, in 46 carefully chosen films. From the oppressive atmosphere of film noir, to the bohemian youthfulness of cinema du look, this selection of films aims to show the many different faces of the city of love and its people.

The aim is not to create something akin to a travel guide, which provides mainly factual information. Instead, the locations are connected to the stories of the characters, and almost become an additional character themselves.  He imagined and the “internal” Paris is just as important as the physical, realistic Paris of cinéma verité.

The films are dealt with in chronological order, from oldest to newest. The book is organised into six sections, which discuss different film scenes and locations.  Crime, fantasy, musicals, dramas and science fiction are just some of the film genres featured.

Each section is rounded up by a longer essay called Spotlight. These provide insight into a particular topic- the work of first female film maker Alice Guy-Blaché and her quirky, working-class orientated films with peculiar titles like The Drunken Mattress and Sausage Chase; the outsider’s take on Paris, represented by émigré directors and set designers in the 1930’s- just to name a couple.

World Film Locations: Paris has no real narrative, but the maps, text and photographs complement each other and create continuity. The book is clearly intended for an educated audience, with some basic knowledge of film.

One of the main strengths of the book is its visual approach. Some other literature tends to neglect this element. Since film is a visual art, it makes sense to use striking images to complement the text.. The photographs used are eye-catching, although some could be slightly bigger and of better quality.

Overall, World Film Locations: Paris is a very enjoyable volume. It is informative, without being too involved or overloading the reader. The clear and concise style makes it easy to read at one’s leisure or to use for academic purposes. An excellently edited work.      

World Film Locations can be purchased on Amazon.

Author: Various

Publisher: Intellect Ltd

Get the most from a year abroad

Gap years and cultural exchanges are growing in polularity, but many students are unprepared for possible pitfalls.

Nadejda Vidinova reports

Various cases in the last few years have drawn attention to the risks that people face when studying abroad. The infamous murders of British exchange students Meredith Kercher and Lindsay Hawker shocked the world in 2007. The controversial trial of the Kercher murder suspects highlights the legal situations students may find themselves in, whether they’re the victim or the accused.

Students on placements in Arab countries, such as Egypt and Syria, have faced considerable dangers during the unrests. Those in Japan had to be evacuated following the earthquake.

Such cases are extreme and relatively rare, and by no means should deter students from taking part in cultural exchanges. The benefits outweigh the possible dangers, but people should be on their guard.

It is almost impossible to predict natural disasters or riots, but there are reasonable precautions that students can take to keep themselves out of trouble. Dr Nerys Young, co-ordinator of the International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) at the University of Ulster advised “not to do anything that you wouldn’t do at home.”

Most importantly, students should thoroughly research their chosen location. A basic understanding of the country’s history, politics, religion, culture and society are a must. Knowledge of the local language is preferable, although not essential.

A highly publicised case in the USA, which highlighted the difference in political attitudes across the world, was that of American student Pathik Root. After taking a picture of an anti-government protest in Damascus, he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy.

Although it is an isolated case, it emphasizes the need for caution while in a foreign country. It takes a while to adjust to another country’s culture, and during the period of adjustment people need to be especially vigilant.

This is especially important for students going to regions whose politics are drastically different to those of their own country. Natasha Robinson, originally from Coleraine is a final- year student at London School of Economics and spent a year teaching in China. She said: “I would never talk about politics or religion online, over the phone, in letters or in public places.”

It’s not all doom and gloom however. Most people don’t experience major problems while abroad, and the advantages are plenty.

Studying or working in a foreign country could improve one’s cultural understanding, confidence and employment prospects.

Debbie Peake, a former student of the University of Ulster in Coleraine took part in a work placement organised by the British Council. She taught English at a secondary school in Huelva, Spain and described how her experience has helped her. “My confidence in speaking Spanish has grown, as has my independence. I am now a language teacher and know that I’m a better teacher because of my year abroad.”

While safety is vital, it is also important that students explore their host country and make the most of their time there. One of the most common mistakes people make is spending too much time with people of their own nationality. Natasha Robinson advises students to “throw themselves into making friends with local people.”

On the other hand, there are hundreds of foreign students coming to Northern Ireland each year. Although they also face problems with safety and homesickness, they tend to have a positive experience.

Dr Young said: “Let’s face it, Northern Ireland doesn’t have the best reputation in the world…but it isn’t like this every day.”

One of the issues for exchange students coming to the University of Ulster is the style of learning. In many European countries and the USA, timetables are very full.

Here there is a big focus on independent learning and fewer lectures, which tends to throw people off. However, the University of Ulster has taken a number of steps to help foreign students adjust.

A pilot scheme, called the Cultural Experience programme is being launched at the Magee campus. It takes students on field trips to places such as Stormont and Donegal, allowing them to see things they’re learning about first hand.

Dr Young is keen to stress the importance of preparing people for coming home, as well as for going abroad. Many students find that they get depressed after coming home, once the excitement of the year abroad wears off.

The best solution, while abroad as well as when they come back, is for students to stay in contact with each other. They often find that everyone has similar experiences.

Ultimately, living abroad for more than just a holiday period is an experience of a lifetime.

And what better time to do it than at university, while you’re still free from ties and responsibilities?


Year Abroad Survival Guide:

Research, research, research before you go!

Make friends with the locals and immerse yourself in their culture.

Try to learn some of the language if you haven’t done so already.

Note down emergency numbers, hospitals, police stations and areas to avoid.

See as places of interest in your host country as possible.

Go with an open mind. It won’t be like home, but embrace the differences.