Loving the Distance

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A case study feature on long-distance relationships. 


The Twitchhiker – an interview with @paul_a_smith

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The way I got this story was interesting and a lot of fun.

I’m on Twitter (a lot) and someone on my timeline retweeted a story about a man who used Twitter to travel across continents. I was immediately intrigued. In Transit needed an interview or first-person account for its Travel section and this would be perfect, I thought.

A little research led me to Paul Smith and I sent across an email. On a deadline, I impatiently tweeted to him as well. Twitter, how I love you. He replied to my tweet and emailed as well. I’d scored an interview!

One Skype call later I had the fascinating account of how he travelled from UK to New Zealand with the help of people on Twitter, who offered him rides, places to stay and support. Paul was terribly helpful by way of pictures as well; he directed me to his Flickr album and I had my pick of the lot (and trust me, sometimes it’s so hard to get photographs, that this was an absolute boon)!

I’m quite happy with the way the piece turned out and I enjoyed designing it as well. The map was a last-minute thing, which is why it looks a bit…rushed.

Enjoy reading and tell me what you think!

Shoot and Stay – an interview with Catalin Marin

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For the Travel section of In Transit, we decided to have a section dedicated to photographs, an interview with a photographer, an out-and-out travel piece and a piece on wacky vacations.

I remembered Catalin from Twitter (that bountiful source of information), and contacted him immediately. He was extremely helpful and agreed to talk to me. A quick interview later, I walked off with nuggets about how he got into photography, mad monkeys, Russian cowboys and so much more. The first piece I wrote for the magazine… it was fun to write it, simply because the interview went off so well and there was so much information to pick from.

My shorthand came in handy here; even though I conducted the interview on Skype, I hadn’t found a tool yet to record the call (I have one now, just in case!), so I took the entire conversation down in shorthand. Special shout-out to Kaye Carl, my shorthand teacher, who never let me give up on it.

Enjoy reading!

In Transit – the making of the cover and editor’s letter

In Transit – my dissertation project. A travel-based magazine which focuses on the lifestyle and culture of places abroad as well as hard-core travel.

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I won’t lie: it was a horror designing the cover for In Transit. Anna and I had picked out a whole smorgasbord of images, but when we showed drafts to our tutor, they were shot down. For good reason mind you…sometimes the subject wasn’t conveyed through the image, sometimes we just missed our target audience, sometimes it just didn’t click. We hadn’t even thought of using this image – the buffalo and a somersaulting Indian man – as the cover. But we were desperate and sent this one across for feedback…and our tutor Peter Genower, loved it. And so the cover page of In Transit was born.

It wasn’t too hard to get the font for the magazine though. Anna and I picked a few and were trying to compare which one fit best with our magazine. And again, we had input. Our personal tutor, Jonathan Foster, liked this font the best, even though we picked another one. He even asked Rich, the Journalism department’s IT go-to-guy, who picked this one out. It grew on us. Barbatrick was here to stay.


I enjoyed working on this page. Anna’s idea to use Polaroid-style photographs was brilliant, and we’ve kept that theme through the magazine as well. I thought it might look good with our names and details on a boarding card, although it was hard to find a decent image I could play around with in Photoshop. Overall, I do like the look of this page. But then again, I am biased 🙂


Next post: features I wrote for the magazine!

Devina Divecha, Postgraduate.

Apologies for such a bare blog for the last month. It was the push-to-shove time for me by way of the dissertation project, which I will be linking on the blog soon.

Creating a 112-page magazine is no mean feat, and I would like to thank my team-member, Anna (or @lilmsreporter as she is known on Twitter) for all the work she’s done, including sitting at a rickety internet café whilst on an island resort in the Phillipines to finish the project.

Twitterati who rose to the occasion when we had to commission pieces include: @chiragnd (Chirag Desai), who wrote our gadgets section and a sidebar for the cookery section; @TDAllonsy (Anastasia), an editor’s dream as I hardly had to edit her work, who pitched in for the book review at the last minute; @Rawat_Central (Dee Rawat) who wrote movie reviews on Eclipse and Toy Story 3.

The magazine created for the dissertation project is called In Transit, and is aimed at people between 18-35 years of age who love to travel. They can be students looking at a gap year, or people thinking of relocating abroad. The magazine focused on culture, lifestyle as well as travelling abroad. We had wonderful features in the magazine, which I will share with you once I link to the pdf online.

Sleepless nights, packets of chocolate Digestive biscuits and yummy Haribos later, In Transit was born and with the submission of my portfolio a few days later, my Masters is now complete.

Here’s to a wonderful year at the University of Sheffield, and much love and thanks to the wonderful tutors I had over the entire year: Yvonne Illsley, Peter Genower, Jonathan Foster, Mark Hanna, David Holmes, Kaye Carl and Herman Wasserman. I’ve learned a lot from them and I’m going to miss them a lot.

Retrospective posts on the course soon – especially around graduation time in January 2011 – as well as uploading the magazine and my portfolio on the blog.

– MA Magazine Journalism postgraduate, 2009-2010

Did You Make Your Vote Count?

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My 1200-1500 word piece for last semester’s portfolio. I designed it for the dummy magazine I created, Cognition – a magazine for parents with special needs children.
>Attaching the text in the designed spreads after this, just in case people don’t want to/can’t read the PDF above.

Did You Make Your Vote Count?

Apart from immigration, proportional representation and defence, there is a less considered aspect of the results of the 2010 UK elections. Polly Tommey, activist, editor and mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism, talks to Cognition about how the results of the General Election has ramifications for care of adults with autism, how she was criticized for doing something she believed in, and her plans to build an  Autism Trust in every county.

I am the mother of Billy, a 14-year-old boy with autism. When he was diagnosed, he was two and we did Tonight with Trevor McDonald and asked for help. There was no information about autism out there, and we wanted to know what to do with Billy who was very ill at the time. After that we were inundated with over 150,000 hits on the LWT site – people wanted help. It became apparent that something needed to be done. So I set up a newsletter so that people could answer each other’s issues and that turned into a magazine – the Autism File. We get many people writing in with their personal stories, so it’s not hard to put the magazine together.

Autism: The Unmentioned Word

Autism needs to be taken seriously by the main political parties and we want them to put it in their manifestoes. Mentioning the word ‘autism’ is a good start because we’ve got one in 40 boys in this country and one in 125 girls with autism. They’re going to grow into adults – what are we going to do with them? Where are they going to go?

We knew we had to appeal to the three main leaders this year, more so because of the general election. Last year’s ‘Dear Gordon Brown’ billboards, in which I wrote ‘Dear Gordon Brown, I can save you £508million a year. Please call me on my number…when it’s convenient. Many thanks’, was a success. I got my meeting with Gordon and Sarah Brown and Phil Hope, Minister of Care. Following that, they put me on an external reference group which advises the government on these matters. But this year, we want action and not just words.

The “Hello Boys” campaign follows on from that campaign. It says ‘ Hello Boys. Autism is worth over 6 million votes. It’s time to talk…’ We were advised by billboard professionals who said we had to do something that caught people’s eyes and get autism talked about and it certainly worked in that respect. “Hello Boys” is obviously talking directly to the three leaders. If it got the attention that we needed to take this to the next step, then it’s been worth it.

People from the autism community also feel that they will vote for a party that does more for adult autism care. They’re waiting to hear what I think about who it is they should vote for which puts a lot of onus on me. I’m never going to tell anyone to vote for anything; it’s got to be their decision. But I will state what it is that I feel and then everyone can make their minds up.

Reaction: Feminists and empty promises

As soon as the billboards went up, I got a fair few emails from women calling themselves ‘feminists’. They were of the opinion that it was disgraceful that I had to take my clothes off to get what I wanted. When I explained to them why I was doing it, they were fine or backed down. Well, I haven’t taken my clothes off. I’ve got a bra on. And you know what I think? I think it’s not a big deal when you deal with a cause such as this. I say to them: come and sit in my office for a week and listen to the calls we get and you’ll probably do the same if you could help these people. One mother emailed me and said she’d streak naked through Hyde Park if she thought it could help her son. It’s not like I was topless, it’s not like I was naked. I don’t think it was degrading at all.

We could have used a celebrity for the billboard campaign, but I don’t know of any celebrity that can talk about autism and that bothered me. If we got a celebrity on the board looking much better and grabbing attention, the problem with that is that they would be interviewed and I’m not sure that they would know what they were saying. I’m so passionate about what we’re trying to do; unless a celebrity has got the knowledge of autism, I don’t want to use them. If we mess this up just because we’ve used someone prettier and younger then it’s not going to help people with autism, which is what this is about.

All three leaders replied to me, which I thought was promising. But what I wanted was for them to write it into their manifesto of which only Gordon Brown’s team did. Gordon Brown mentioned the words autism and dyslexia, and said he was going to put more money into schools to support autistic and dyslexic people. They also pledged £500,000 for training the public sector. I was quite disappointed that David Cameron and Nick Clegg didn’t mention autism in their manifestoes.

Labour has been in power for a while and because of that and because we’ve managed to badger them, they understand that autism really is an issue. The problem is that if the other two get in, then we’re going to have to start again. That’s why my money is with Gordon Brown because although he’s not perfect, and nor is Labour – I mean, I’ve never voted Labour in my life – I do think that we’re starting to move somewhere with them. That means that I will support them because I need to get the autism issues carried on.

Building centres of excellence for autism

The Autism Trust, which is one of my ventures, is trying to build centres of excellence for autism. We need one in every county in this country because of the number of people with autism we’ve got. Anybody who has got any problem with a child with autism of any age can come there and get the help they need – be it a nutritionist or a dentist. The main point of the trust is that people with autism can go there and work. For example, my son is very good on the computer – we would try and get him employed to test computer games. We know a 43-year-old woman with autism who is brilliant at making scarves. She doesn’t know what to do with them so we would try and sell them in our shop.

We’re looking at land in Suffolk and Dorset at the moment. We have been offered land but it’s not suitable. It’s not suitable to put my son, for example, on a waste bit of ground where there are pylons going through it and it’s next to a motorway. And you know, I don’t think they should have second-best.

Autism is an international issue. It’s not just a British issue. We have the same high numbers and same problems of where they’re going to go around the world. We’re working with Dubai and the US through the Autism Trust so that we become part of a team where we all help each other. There are no rules and regulations, no leaders or no experts on this matter, because we haven’t had to deal with this before. So the idea about working internationally is that we form an international coalition, if you like, to work together to make the future of autism work.

And finally…

What’s next for me? First, it’s either working with Labour or getting to know the other party who might be in government. We really need to keep them aware that we’re here and as far as the campaign goes, that will always continue. Next, in the coming 12 months, the Autism Trust is working on getting the land for the centres and proving that what it is that we’re doing will work.

Having an Absolute Ball

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My 800-1000 word piece for last semester’s portfolio. I designed it for the dummy magazine I created, Cognition – a magazine for parents with special needs children.

Attaching the text in the designed spreads after this, just in case people don’t want to/can’t read the PDF above.


Having an Absolute Ball

Sheffield Volunteering hosted Glo-Ball, a prom for adults with learning disabilities. How can adults with learning disabilities have a great night out and manage to mix Justin Bieber with the Beatles? Read on because Cognition will tell you how. 


The room was lit only by flashing disco lights. As the tunes of “Go Johnny Go Go Go!” deafened the ears, a couple were busy lip-locking on the plush sofa behind us.

As they came up for air, the boy’s shirt buttons clearly not doing their job, you could realize just by looking that they were not at an ordinary rave party or a prom night.

Cognition had arrived at Glo-Ball.

It’s ball season in universities. The time for formal wear, high heels, flowing glasses of champagne and condoms. Why should adults with learning difficulties and disabilities not experience the same as the rest?

Sheffield Volunteering hosted Glo-Ball at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union Fusion and Foundry halls to give these adults the opportunity to have their very own summer ball.

As Justin Bieber’s pubescent voice blared through the speakers, the attendees boogied without a care of the social hara-kiri they were committing. The Bieber is not something ordinary teenagers or 20-somethings would admit to listening upon pain of death. But these were special people.

Most were wearing fluorescent glowing sticks, handed out at the entrance by the volunteers. People in wheelchairs moved around with the aid of their support workers. Other volunteers helped some attendees to dance. Snatches of conversation included the “disastrous” coalition government amongst talk of how metal music “trumped” everything else.

Ryan Radford, 22, who has a learning disability and loves David Beckham said: “I’m enjoying myself. This is the first event I’ve been to and it seems nice.” He was with Joanne, 52, who said she was looking forward to the dancing later in the night.

They were accompanied by their support workers, Lilly Bashir and Tina Meah, from the voluntary support group Newfield View.

After jugglers, we met Dana Loxley, 36, support worker for wheelchair-bound Elizabeth Murphy. Elizabeth, 44, who has learning disabilities and is non-verbal, seemed fascinated by the strobe lights and loved the loud, thumping, ear-splitting music. Dana confirmed that Elizabeth loved events like these. “It gives her a lot of sensory stimulation,” Dana said.

With decorations glowing all over the venue and posters calling it a “UV Rave”, the party was certainly in full swing.

As a young boy started running and hitting himself, we sat down to talk to Norma Morgan, 67, and her adopted daughter, Bethan. “It’s my birthday today! And it’s Bethan’s twenty-second birthday tomorrow. So we’re celebrating at Glo-Ball,” chuckled Norma.

And when the highly-charged song “Sex on Fire” burst through the speakers, a new wave of energy flowed through the party-goers. Dancing with great abandon, those on the floor who could speak sang loudly along with the baritones of Caleb Followill.

Norma continued: “Bethan has Down’s syndrome. She can talk, but she’s very shy. She’s currently doing the Progression Towards Independence (PTI) course at Sheffield Mencap.”

The lead of the band on stage screamed out loudly at this point: “DO YOU LIKE ROCK AND ROLL?”

Judging by the wild screams from the dance floor, they did.

After the song finished begging Johnny to just go, the dancers applauded and whooped in approval. Then it was the turn of the Fab Four to engage the audience.

In the midst of the laughing, dancers and sore-lipped couples, it was endearing to see one man, his arms covered with intricate tattoos, getting ecstatic while holding a pink balloon. 

In the corner, Jeannette S*, 20, ran helter-skelter from one end of the room. Her support worker, Julie Shearing said that Jeannette had been to discos before with the organization ‘Under the Stars’ and enjoyed music immensely. “She likes Rihanna and Lady Gaga,” she said. Jeannette came up to us and said:  “I like this show. I like dancing.”

The atmosphere was electric as the night progressed. As the music got louder and louder, energy levels soared. Half of one of the amorous duos clambered on the DJ stand and started encouraging the crowd to sing a valedictory chorus. And tired but happy faces trooped out.




The Organizing Whiz

Andy Marsden, 31, Volunteering Co-ordinator of Sheffield Volunteering talks to Cognition about Glo-Ball.

“This was the third Glo-Ball we’ve organized and hope to run it again and build on this year’s success. There were about 150 adults and support workers, and 50 volunteers present. The volunteers definitely made everybody feel welcome. We had the Sheffield University societies involved as well. This time, we worked with more organizations and collected data from people attending the event and created a mailing list. We’re definitely in a good position to move forward.”

*Name has been changed

My brother is autistic; what’s your excuse?

[My 800 word piece for my magazine portfolio submitted last semester]

Labels are meant for jars, not people. With the words ‘mad’ and ‘retarded’ already accepted forms of insults, is the word ‘autism’ not far away from the dubious honour?



A copy of the sign I made for an autism walk in Dubai

When France’s European Minister Pierre Lellouche said that the Tories had castrated UK’s position in Europe by adopting an autistic approach and that they have a bizarre sense of autism, most people were debating about the ramifications of UK’s stand on the issue. A smaller minority expressed outrage about Pierre Lellouche’s use of the word ‘autistic’. I was one of them.

If Lellouche had called the Tories ‘homos’ or ‘niggers’, there would have been an outcry. So how did he manage to call the Tories ‘autistic’ by way of insulting them and get away with it? It doesn’t matter why he did it; his behaviour was inexcusable.

Too often people use disabilities as an abusive way of insulting the so-called normal human beings. A few years ago, my family and I were in a restaurant, my then 4-year-old autistic brother started crying and refused to calm down. A patron sitting at the next table looked over and said very loudly: “What’s wrong with these people? If they have retarded children, they should keep them at home.” Then we were asked to leave the restaurant by the management because ‘the other diners were getting disturbed’. It hurt. It hurt because my brother is not retarded. He, like thousands of other people has an autistic spectrum disorder. It also hurt because it was acceptable then (and still is) to insult someone by way of calling them ‘retarded’ and prevent them from experiencing a routine aspect of life. It’s absolutely abhorrent when one hears the word ‘retarded’ being thrown around as if it were commonplace even in classrooms in secondary schools.

Now it seems ‘autistic’ is the new way of doing it. Since when are mentally handicapped or autistic people not normal? They have a face, two eyes, a nose, a mouth. They look like other human beings. They even feel like everyone else. Being unable to communicate the way the majority of the population does doesn’t give anyone the right to insult them or marginalize the problems they face.

The general public doesn’t seem to have any idea of what autism is outside of Rainman. They think they’ve seen the movie and are therefore experts. Not every autistic person is a savant (a genius in some areas), not every autistic person knows how to wear their clothes themselves and not every autistic person can talk.

For me, autism is about the constant effort to wean my brother out of diapers at night. It’s about teaching him how to wear his shoes. It’s about helping him brush his own teeth. It’s about trying to teach him to do something as simple as imitate other people. The public haven’t got the first clue about the reality of autism. Until you’ve lived with autism or worked in the field, you ain’t seen nothing.

Which is why perhaps, it is not surprising that the public did not raise an outcry against the use of the word as an insult by Lellouche. One wonders if newspapers, in using his quote as their headline, inadvertently made it more acceptable to insult others similarly. I fear that, right now, people would find it perfectly normal (there’s that word again) to say: “You’re so autistic!” and mean it in a hurtful way. But I wouldn’t, in the middle of a fight, use it to be derogatory towards the other person. Because it isn’t.

Families dealing with autism did speak out about this in public forums. One father mentioned in a letter to a newspaper how his 11-year-old autistic son, who could read, had spent years building up a sense of self-esteem, knowing he was not like everyone else. The father in question threw the newspaper that used the quote as a headline before his son could see it. It is unimaginable how an autistic person would feel, reading such news and knowing that Lellouche used their condition as an insult. As if they already didn’t have enough to cope with, now their very being is deemed to be a matter of ridicule?

As for me, I didn’t have to protect my brother; he can’t read. Also, it helps as he lives in Dubai and the geographical distance meant that this did not make headline news.

Families dealing with autism know all too well that it is not derogatory to be autistic. It doesn’t make your child or you (if you’re autistic) a lesser person. I’ve found that autistic people are kind and prone to unconditional love and forgiveness.

Which is more than I can say for many of the ‘normal’ people out there.


Autism – a collection of unique disorders?

Note: As always, the work I do for my journalism portfolio for my MA Magazine Journalism course at the University of Sheffield are uploaded here. This one is my 300-500 word piece for the JNL6024 module in the spring semester. It says “Cognition reports” in the sell because as part of the module, we had to create a dummy magazine. Mine was called Cognition and was meant to be a magazine for parents who have special needs children. I’ll be uploading the designed spreads for my other pieces later on.



Electric signals sent by the brain may carry messages that could provide clues to the roots of autism, a Sheffield University psychologist says. Cognition reports.

The autism spectrum may not be a spectrum at all. Instead of a range of related disorders, Elizabeth Milne suspects the links are not as close as previously thought.

“Variations of autism – and what were assumed to be different aspects of autism – are perhaps a collection of unique disorders,” Milne, a leading researcher, said.

Autism is traditionally diagnosed on the basis of social impairments, but Dr Milne is trying to prove the importance of sensory impairments toward understanding the finer aspects of the disability.

“While sensory impairments can be recognized in some subjects, it was never universal. That seems to imply sub-types of autism, which to me is an interesting approach.” 

Autism does show variation between those affected by it – some have a higher IQ than others; some are verbal while others are not. 

Therefore, Dr Milne’s hypothesis could lead to interesting results with regard to future diagnosis.

She said: “My research focuses on sensory types of impairment that we often overlook when diagnosing autism. I really want to whether these impairments affect everyone who has autism or just some of them, and how it affects their daily lives.”

Dr. Milne is currently designing a large-scale study with a greater degree of testing measures in the field of motion perception in order to further explore her concept of autistic sub-types.

She is also using the method of measuring electric signals emitted by the brain upon the presentation of a stimulus so as to map the brain process of an autistic person.

She hopes to start recruiting participants in the next six months, with a testing sample of 40 autistic children and 40 in the control group.

Apart from publishing her findings and speaking about them at medical conferences, Dr. Milne is keen to explain to the people who participate in her study, what the aims of the research are and whether or not they have been achieved. 

“I want to feed back the information I garner from my research to the people who participate and make it clear to them. Most people would not understand medical jargon, so I would like to make results of my study accessible to everyone.”