Know what you are voting for!

With the General Election only two weeks away, you should register to vote and make an informed decision on May 6.

A good tool, that will let you compare your views against that of the parties is VoteMatch. You will be given a 30 question quiz, showing you statements on topics like Crime & Justice, Employment, Immigration, Tax, Education and Health among others. All you do is read the statement, and tick a box whether you agree, disagree or are open-minded about it. At the end, you will have to choose three parties you would consider voting, and your answers will be matched against their policies. A chart will tell you which one of the three chosen parties you agree most with, and you can then go and see whether your answer matches what you think the party stands for. It is only meant as a guidance tool, but I urge you to have a play around with it.
Ideally, you will read through the policies of all the parties, and weigh them against your own view on things. It doesn't matter whether your mum and dad always supported the Conservatives, or whether your boyfriend will vote Labour. You should make up your own mind, and vote accordingly.

Whatever you do, don't waste your vote! If you don't agree with the three main parties Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, then vote something else - UK Independence Party (UKIP), Green, British National Party (BNP), Monster Raving Loonies,... at least that way it will be registered that you are unhappy with the way things are being run. Your voice will be heard. But scribbling obscene words or paroles onto the ballot, or ticking every single box will mean your paper goes into the bin - you will have wasted your vote, so you could have stayed at home to start with.

Tonight at 8pm, the leaders of the three main parties - Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Tories) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dems) will meet in the second televised prime ministerial debate. Watch it on Sky, BBC or online, or listen to it on the radio. It should be interesting! Champion reporter David Simister will also keep you updated on Twitter about how it's all playing out.

Shoestring magazine Out Now!

My Final Project SHOESTRING MAGAZINE went to print today!!

Shoestring is a magzine for backpackers aged 18 - 30, who enjoy outdoor activities, exploring cultures and might even be thinking or taking a Gap Year or Sabbatical to volunteer or work somewhere. Exploring the world on a budget - it's exactly what it says on the tin. Students with itchy feet might not know about all the possibilities open to them, and I'd like to help there. My motto is: "Where you have been is not half as important as where you are going! Meet you there!" and I mean it.

Just like Mark Twain once said "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." I do believe that you should take your chance to travel while you can, and even though the world has been explored many times over, there are still so many hidden gems and experiences to discover!

For now, Shoestring is a 12-page magazine, but if I get enough encouraging feedback, I will turn it into a regular online publication, with more sections (i.e. city breaks, what gear, etc.) and more pages. As this issue of Shoestring is an assessment and counts towards my degree, there will only be a limited number of hard copies, mainly for those who contributed to it (printing is expensive, if you don't print in bulk). But the good news is: you can read it online either here on Conny's Corner or on, download it, print it and hopefully in the future even subscribe to it.

Click on the magazine above, and it will open in full screen modus. If you click on the page then, it will zoom in, so you can read it properly. I only ask you not to distribute it further once you downloaded it and not to pass it off as your own.

Last but not least I want to thank David Simister, Laura Heisig, Skye Macdonald, Luise Görlitz, all the photographers and everyone I interviewed for their big help!

Shakespeare's Stratford

It's been almost exactly nine years, since I was last in Stratford-upon-Avon. Back then, I was 13, in Year 8 at Gymnasium Schwertstrasse Solingen (Germany) and lucky enough to score a place on the one-week Girls' Exchange between my school and Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls. It was my second trip to the Kingdom, and our English was not good enough to read or undestand Shakespeare yet.
That didn't stop our teachers back then to take us to all the locations associated with the playwright, who was born and lived in Stratford. My exchange partner lived outside of town, and I barely saw the city or the river for that matter. We did, however, go sleighing at a SnowDome (in Royal Leamington Spa, I think it was?), horse riding and swimming.
As my placement in Windsor came to an end, I decided I'd stop in Stratford-on-Avon on my way back to Southport, pretty much as a fuel stop on the way from Oxford. However, my plans changed slightly.
After two weeks apart, my boyfriend decided he wanted to surprise me, and come down for the last night and then drive back to Merseyside with me. However, I am glad I found out beforehand, as he would have gone to the wrong YHA. As Jordans is booked for the weekend, I would have de-camped to Oxford, which he didn't know. But Oxford didn't have any spare private rooms left for the two of us, so in the end, we booked into the YHA just outside Stratford for our rendezvous.

It was really sweet, although it meant long travels for both of us. We decided to get take-away food from town and drive back to the hostel to watch some TV and then have an early night. The next morning, however, I insisted on having a look around. Shakespeare is not my favourite playwright, nor am I a history buff, but I wanted to see the place again, and see whether my memories were correct. Also, I have lost most of my photos from 2001, so I used the chance for photo stops.
Our first stop was Anne Hathaway's Cottage (see above) in Shottery, just around the corner from the Grammar School for Girls I attended for a week. It wasn't open yet, and I didn't need to go in. The gardens and the house are viewable from the street. Granted, you don't get to walk around a 16th century farmhouse, but then again, it doesn't really matter. Anne was William Shakespeare's wife, and legend has it that William proposed to her on a wooden bench inside (which I saw in 2001). However, I also heard rumours back then from the locals, that Anne's cottage was actually a small cottage next door to the famous building, in which case the association with Shakespeare would be incorrect.
After a few early morning shots (it was 9am on a Sunday and my boyfriend - who isn't into Shakespeare's work - was not too impressed) we headed back into the town centre, where we walked over to Shakespeare's Birthplace (top picture). Again, we did not go in, as everything associated with the bard seems to be quite expensive. Also, in 2001 I did see the inside. Decorated with furniture and household items from the 1580's it's worth a look, but probably not worth the money if you're not fanatical about Shakespeare. With an hour to spare until the parking ran out, we strolled down to the Avon, saw the narrowboats and Royal Shakespeare Theatre, before returning to our car. It's a nice place to stroll around on sunny days, with it's medieval market town flair and Tudor buildings, but you should be into Shakespeare or at least history to fully enjoy it... unless of course you look for curious little shops like the year-round Christmas Store opposite the bard's birthplace.....

The people you meet at YHAs

Spending two weeks at YHAs, you do come across your fair share of characters. There are people you share the dorm with, with whom you just "click". Others follow you around like a puppy and tell you their life story, whether you want them to or not. Some just sit in the corner, others use the YHA as an excuse to go and visit their mistresses.

I have spent quite a few weeks of my life sharing dorms at YHAs, backpackers and hostels all around the world. Just recently, I met an Australian lady at the YHA in Jordans, who was over here to research her family history and actually managed to find some of her relatives. We shared the room for a few days, and just got talking in a nice exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. She left to travel some more but came back to the hostel after I'd left the area for good (but I did leave my contact details for her) - and she just called me, saying she was sorry she missed me and wanted to say goodbye because she will be flying home tomorrow. I now have another contact in Australia, and an invitation to come and visit her when I'm next Down Under. Meeting people like her is nice. You bond, you have someone to talk to. But then, there are others.

At the same YHA, a retired man checked-in. He was there two days, and told everyone everything they possibly needed to know about his life. He just started talking and all attempts to either shut him up or get out of his way (the amount of times I got up, did the dishes, left the room, tried to read...) were to no avail. He kept following us, me in particular, around. I now know that he rides his bike nearly everywhere, has had more jobs than I care to remember, that his best friend in Germany is called Rolf, he loves the city of Freiburg, he lives just outside of Birmingham and his daugters all have taken gap years - the only thing I don't know is his name. He never introduced himself.

YHA Jordans was used as a base by many of us, who worked temporarily in and around Windsor. An actor who was working as a double on the latest Harry Potter drove to work from there, lecturers prepared lessons and other met clients in the area. Although I had to be up farily early myself, I was usually awake by 5am - the time the first dorm-sharer would jump down from the top bunk and shake the bed every morning without fail.

During my Gap Year, I joined impromptu BBQs in Australia, was given didgeridoo lessons by fellow travellers and went shopping with the staff of a South African hostel, before singing "Son of a preacher man" alongside Mama Fefe in Cape Town during karaoke night. I made friends with PeaceCorps members in Swaziland, witnessed how somebody staying at my hostel in Brisbane was arrested and smashed the police van, and slept in a bunk bed that had been put under a car port in Tamworth, Australia, when the YHA owner realised she had hopelessly overbooked.

The worst, but also most hilarious YHA moment happend in L.A. though. I was in a mixed, 10 bed dorm for a few nights, and noticed that some of the guys were also staying for more than two days. One guy in particular kept bringing a different girl back to the dorm every night (why you would even consider that is beyond me), but during the fourth night, one of the other guys got up (at 4am), turned on the lights and said completely serious: "We might as well just watch."

At the time, you might not be too impressed, but looking back at all the people you've shared a dorm with, it's those characters you'll remember and they make the experience very lively indeed.

Out and About in Oxford

Oxford - what a great place! I only got to spend a weekend there, but I absolutely loved it! On my weekend break from Wanderlust, I had to move out of YHA Jordans, and decided to go to Oxford. New hostel, city centre location (unlike the "middle-of-the-forest" location of Jordans) and a place I've always wanted to go to.

I spent my first morning not in Oxford at all - instead I decided to drive down to Stonehenge for my assessment and have a look around at their managing techniques. But Oxford's pull was stronger, and the whole city, at least to me, more intriguing. The ancient buildings of the halls and colleges that make up the University of Oxford reflect the city's rich history, not only in architectural terms.

As a place of learning and knowledge, I shouldn't have been surprised by the amount of books in the Bodelian library or the amount of booksellers throughout the heart of the city. Over 6 million books! And my own university couldn't even maintain it's three miniature libraries in Carlisle...

Sunday morning I was up early. I was the very first person to climb Carfax Tower that day, even before it officially opened. Not advisable for people afraid of heights (narrow, steep spiral staircase, through which you can see the ground below) and asthmatics, the tower offers views over Oxford's city centre and its Dreaming Spires. 360° Panorama views of most of the colleges, churches, chapels, medieval buildings and the city bustling underneath make it worth it all, but I was glad when I was back on solid ground as I suffer from both problems outlined above. However, I'm also such a keen photographer that I tend to ignore them until I have to turn back down...

On nice days, punting on the Isis (as the Thames is called in Oxford) or on the Cherwell is recommended. There are walks along the rivers for those wishing to stay out of the water. Walking around the medieval college buildings, the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, Bridge of Sighs is like stepping back in time. On the main shopping streets, 15th century houses lean into the streets. Many cafés are hidden away in back yards and alleys, although they really capture the atmosphere of the city. Students pouring over books and grabbing quick coffees to go.

Before I walked around Christ Church College (one of the most famous ones in Oxford), I treated myself to a G&D's ice cream. Although this Oxford ice cream parlour is not the cheapest, it is one of the best I've been told and I can testify they are pretty good! Christ Church College was amazing. To walk around the old buildings, the dining hall, the dorms, the cathedral on the grounds of the college ... and to think that students still study there, sleep in the same rooms as hundreds of students have done before them over the course of hundreds of years! I came close to transferring to Oxford University just for the sake of studying at a properly recognised uni that's well respected and established and history-ladden. Glancing up at the portraits of former students that hang on the dining hall walls, I just can't imaging UoC to ever be any competition. Full-gown dinners, taking exams in academic dress, honouring all the traditions there... just imagine!

Oxford has inspired so many people, and I can see why. I had a pint in J.R.R. Tolkien's favourite pub, heard all about Alice in Wonderland which was written by an Oxford professor and was told all about Inspector Morse. I can't wait to go back and explore some more - longer than a day next time though!

The Stone Circle and the A Road....

A mile of stop-and-go traffic told me I was approaching my destination: Stonehenge. The stone circle just outside Amesbury is England's most famous archaeological site. Unfortunately, road planners didn't take that into account when they put the junction of the A303 and A344 about 200m away from the stones.

To be fair I have to say that Stonehenge is a lot smaller than I expected it to be. Looks can be deceiving! Don't get me wrong, it is still impressive, especially considering the effort that must have gone into building it. But visitors cannot walk among the stones anymore (unless they booked two weeks in advance and show up for either sunrise or sunset, and pay extra for the privilege), so most day visitors get to experience Stonehenge from about 20m - 70m away. Road development also means, that the A344 runs right through what is known as "The Avenue", the ancient way people approached Stonehenge and the line that points to the solstices.

The many visitors there spoil the experience a little, though. The way to the car park leads past the entire stone circle, so many people just catch a glimpse from the side of the road. But even when you pay your fee and avoid the road through an underpass, you will not be able to get a picture without tourists in it.

There are no signs explaining what it is you see, and how it's been interpreted. Good, on the one hand, as it does not spoil the landscape and just looks better in the photos, but if you can't get an audio guide (which is a possibility on busy days) you're stuck. Of course, you could always hang to the back of a guided group, providing you speak either Polish, Korean, Japanese, Spanish or all of the above.

Stonehenge is a magnificent sight - mysterious and ancient, the last remains of civilisations past. but romantic, it really isn't!

Just up the road (literally 2 miles away) is Woodhenge. Nothing but the holes of the original structure remains, but it is thought that it was quite similar to its stony sister. Today, concrete pillars mark the holes, but it's just a pasture with some pillars in it. Although there is a plan explaining the locations of the holes, it looks like a real mess from the outside. Easy to miss and not signposted, it is in a direct line with Stonehenge, and theory has it that it too was used to mark the passage of the sun.

An Eton stroll and brush with history

I have just found out that the little village I'm staying in - Jordans - is historically important. William Penn, the founder of present-day US state Pennsylvania, is buried in the cemetery of the old Quaker Meeting House right next to my hostel. The meeting house dates back to 1688, and a barn up the road is known as the Mayflower Barn - built with timbers from The Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrim Fathers to America.

As the weather was really sunny and warm today in Windsor, I used my lunch break to stroll down to the Thames and over the bridge into Eton. From Windsor Castle, it is just a five minute walk onto the High Street of Eton. Famous Eton College is just a few steps further down the road - which means that Wills and Harry only had a 15 minute walk from school to their granny's place to grab some lunch.

Windsor Impressions

Since Monday, I have been in the south of this country, and started working in Windsor yesterday. Here are a few photos of where I am at the moment:

(By the way: sorry for the bad weather, I only had my manual camera with me yesterday when the sun was shining)

Windsor Castle

The Crooked House of Windsor

Windsor Royal Shopping

Entrance to the castle

Queen Victoria statue outside the castle

Wanderlust office

Out with the team. Wanderlust founder Lyn Hughes (pink jacket)

Jordans YHA

On the road again

This morning, I set off on a road trip again, for the first time in ages. Starting point: the edge of Southport. Finish line: the small village of Jordans - at least for now.

I'll be doing work experience at Wanderlust Publications in Windsor for the next two weeks, and during the week, I am staying at the YHA in Jordans, near Beaconsfield.

Driving the Renault felt strange at first. I haven't driven that car very often before, and haven't driven a manual in a while either, so taking it on the motorway was scary at first. Luckily, Gaz gave me his sat nav for the journey, so finding the way was not that bad. It's over 200 miles, and after a while, the motorway gets tiring. But what was even more frightening, was the country lane I had to turn into... down here in the Chilterns, it's potholes and speed bumps all the way... I'm already feeling lucky I'm in the Renault, instead of a Mini, but some of the potholes can catapult you onto the other lane... not the safest place to drive around.

I left Southport at 8.52am - and got to the YHA at 1.13pm. Unfortunately, although the lady was here, I wasn't allowed to check in until 5pm. So I decided to take a look at the village, which supposedly has a 17th century Quakers Meeting House (next door to the YHA, actually) and links to the Mayflower... all I found was said Meeting house, a square park surrounded by a row of houses and a village store which was shut. So much for that idea.

So I decided to drive on to Beaconsfield, the next bigger town, 2 miles or so down the road. Not the easiest town centre to find - there's a New and Old Beaconsfield... I finally pulled into Sainsbury's parking lot. The YHA is self-catering, so I decided to do my shopping, have a Starbucks Coffee and drive around some more. I eventually made it to Old Beaconsfield as well, although the area I parked in was a bit dodgy and I didn't want to stay too long. So I turned around again, got lost a few times and found my way back to Jordans, where I parked up and sat down on a bench on the town square/park for an hour.... that's how much there is to do down here.

The YHA is nice, but not the best I've ever stayed at, but it's clean. What annoys me most is the isolation and that there is only one key for the dorm and no cupboards...

Tomorrow, I'll venture into Windsor and on the weekend I'll be in Oxford. I'll let you know how that goes.

And to think they run a Business School....

My university has made headlines yet again - they've failed to apply for a GBP 25 MILLION grant, as the News & Star wrote today:

Cumbria university failed to apply for £25 million grant
Exclusive By Phil Coleman
Last updated at 16:59, Friday, 02 April 2010

Bosses at the debt-hit University of Cumbria never applied to the Learning and Skills Council for a £25 million grant as has previously been suggested, The Cumberland News can reveal.

The LSC’s failure to hand over the cash has been cited by managers as one of the key reasons for the financial crisis at the university, which is likely to have a deficit of around £30m by the end of this academic year.
But on its last day in existence this week, LSC officials confirmed that no grant was applied for nor was funding promised, even tentatively.

The LSC’s statement provoked a shocked reaction from politicians and union officials.
Deborah Newell, the LSC’s regional press officer, told The Cumberland News that previous claims that it had failed to provide a £25m grant were wrong. She said: “Although there were initial meetings and discussions, the university did not submit an application to the LSC for capital funding support of further education facilities. Nor was any sum for grant support agreed, even tentatively.”

The statement came just a week after The Cumberland News revealed a catalogue of problems which helped trigger the current crisis, including a promise to not tackle overstaffing for two years after the university’s creation in August 2007.

That helped push staffing costs up to 71 per cent of the annual budget – the highest in the country.
Managers have suggested that another key cause of financial woes has been the continued provision of further education at Newton Rigg, which they say has contributed £5.1m to the debt.
Vice-chancellor Prof Peter McCaffery has refused to rule out selling farmland used by students at the Penrith campus.

Last week, the university’s communications boss Lynn Clark said managers must look at all areas of business “in the light of reduced student number growth and lack of expected capital funding from the LSC”.
Reacting to the LSC’s statement, David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Border, said Mr McCaffery had “inherited a pig in a poke” if the LSC was right. He said: “It’s extraordinary. We were led to believe they had applied for capital funding to the LSC, and told that the LSC had reneged on that promise. The professor is clearly not at fault but his predecessors need to give an explanation.”

Carlisle MP Eric Martlew said: “If somebody has been saying that they put in for a grant and they hadn’t, then we need an explanation. But we need to move forward.”

Wanda Armstrong, whose union Unison represents support staff, said: “I’m really shocked and quite disgusted. The lack of LSC funding was always given to us as one of main reasons that we are now in this mess.”
A university spokeswoman said: “The University of Cumbria was in close liaison with the LSC while it was preparing to submit its application to the LSC for funding.

“Unfortunately, this happened at the same time as the LSC was being forced to revisit its capital budget.
“Once the LSC had revisited its budget the vast majority of the projects that they were considering at that time were simply not fundable.

“Unfortunately, the university’s application was one of these. The very few projects that the LSC were able to fund were ready to start construction immediately. Unfortunately the UoC was not in that position.”

Why doesn't any of this come as a surprise anymore?

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