In the latest programme of the monthly series, Mishal Husain introduces dispatches from journalists and writers around the United Kingdom reflecting the range of contemporary life in the country.
Emma Jane Kirby, in Birmingham, reports on the seeds of magic sown by teachers there in schools serving deprived neighbourhoods - but also on the sometimes shocking realities of daily life at home for a number of the pupils.
In Carmarthenshire, David Baker explores the wide range of renewable energy projects being pioneered locally amidst a rich range of Welsh natural resources - and also witnesses a minor drama on his visit to a wind turbine. But who caused it?
Nearly thirty years after her aunt took her own life after living with depression for decades, Sima Kotecha reflects on daily life for those living with mental illness and those relatives and friends who witness it. She also considers how hard it remains for those in some South Asian communities to open up about their conditions and what the prospects are for that to change.
With buses seemingly now back in political favour across Britain, Christine Finn returns to the Channel Islands to discover how well-connected bus services are on her native Jersey - and embarks on an ambitious journey round the island to find out if she can circumnavigate it entirely on public transport in one day.
And Shaun Ley describes what it was like to be greeted by an unwelcome rodent in his home and the steps taken to deal with the visitor. But why are there seemingly more rats in our midst and why have they become bigger and bolder? The local rat catcher has some thought-provoking ideas...
Producer: Simon Coates
Malta and the Mafia
French prosecutors announced this week that say they have started an investigation into the business activities of the Maltese magnate charged with complicity to murder the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. It’s just the latest development in a scandal that shocked Europe and led to the resignation of Malta’s prime minister last month. The inquiry in Paris is a response to allegations by the reporter’s family that, Jorgen Fenech, one of the island richest businessmen, used cash from property deals and racehorses in France to bribe Maltese officials. Juliet Rix is a frequent visitor to Malta. She reflects on how the European Union’s smallest country has changed …and not for the better.
The coronavirus epidemic is adding to tensions in Hong Kong, a city already riven by seven months of anti government protests. As the number of infections rise, many are clamouring for the territory to seal itself off from the Chinese mainland. Last week, public hospital employees went on strike to try and force the authorities to close all border crossings. Some Mandarin speaking mainlanders feel unwelcome and relations with Hong Kongers are increasingly strained as Vincent Ni discovered at a delicious but difficult dinner party.
India’s once tigerish economy is flagging. And there’ve been suggestions that growth figures were over-estimated for years, hiding what’s been called by one leading economist ‘the great slowdown.’ But the government of Narendra Modi’s BJP party remains relentlessly optimistic. Lesley Curwen who’s just back from Delhi and Hyderabad has been testing the water.
Pope Francis dampened hopes among reformist Catholics that he was on the point of relaxing the centuries-old celibacy rule for the clergy – despite a shortage of priests in many parts of the world including the Amazon. There was even speculation that he might allow women to celebrate Mass. But there was no mention of such changes in the papal document. It seems, says David Willey, that Pope Francis has opted to focus not on the internal issue of celibacy but the external challenge of climate change.
There has been much soul searching about how smartphones have killed the art of conversation. The texting culture, the argument goes, is making us lazier, shallower and less literate. But sooner or later slang ends up in the Oxford English Dictionary. Andrew Harding grudgingly admits that language evolves and that common usage eventually becomes correct usage unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool pedant.
The residents of an ordinary Moscow apartment block were recently tricked into showing what they really think of their president by a prankster who installed a massive portrait of Vladimir Putin in their lift. Some of the reactions were incredulous, some angry and a few unprintable ..and they had the whole country in stitches. Yet many Russians are confused rather than amused about proposed changes to their constitution. When President Putin dropped his bombshell announcement last month about rearranging Russia's power structure, some wondered if he was looking for a smooth exit or rather that he wanted to stay in charge of his country for life. Steve Rosenberg has been to Russia’s industrial heartland to canvass opinions.
Yesterday the left wing senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary contest. He declared the night “the beginning of the end” of Donald Trump but it is just one stage in the race to unseat the President and win the White House in November. Away from the campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire voters in New Jersey tend towards the centre ground of American politics. And they’re a savvy bunch in the Garden State. Sandra Kanthal says the best place to hear about the twists and turns of the 2020 US elections is over the countertop of the venerable diner in her home town.
This week China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has drawn comparisons with the way in which the Soviet authorities handled the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Had the USSR sounded the alarm sooner, the global ramifications of the accident would perhaps not have been so severe. When Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan first tried to warn of the outbreak of the coronavirus in December, he was investigated by police and accused of scaremongering. Now he has been killed by the virus which has been declared a global health emergency. Many foreigners have left China on specially chartered flights but Andy Bostock has stayed behind in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai.
Mali may have a reputation for armed Islamic extremists, bombs, kidnapping and violence between Fulani herdsmen and sedentary farmers. But the country is also known for its photographers and one of Africa's largest photography festivals, Bamako Encounters, which is held in the capital every two years. Now celebrating its 25th birthday, the festival is at a turning point says Fleur Macdonald with work shown not only in museums and galleries but also in people's homes.
Life in Ladakh, a region administered by India in the Western Himalayas is often harsh. Remote villages lack transport links communication and many other basic facilities. Getting an education has long been a challenge, especially if your parents are nomadic goat herders. But Andrew Eames has been to visit a boarding school determined to boost the life chances of its young Ladakhi pupils.
Jacob Zuma's Sick Note
South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has been charged with a string of crimes including corruption, racketeering and money-laundering. He denies all allegations of wrongdoing and earlier this week didn’t attend his trial saying he was too sick. But photos posted on social media suggest otherwise and Andrew Harding says its South Africans who are really sick - sick of Zuma’s excuses.
A self-described ''Asian man who's good at math”, Andrew Yang is a very long-shot for the White House. But self deprecating humour aside, the Chinese American entrepreneur and candidate for the Democratic party has lasted longer in the contest than many expected. He broke down in tears last week in Iowa, saying that campaigning for the last two years had been “the journey of my life.” Among the audience were some curious students from mainland China. Some 360,000 Chinese students now study in the US but what are they learning about the American way of voting, asked Zhaoyin Feng, the BBC’s Mandarin correspondent in Washington.
In celebration of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution next Tuesday, there will be mass rallies across the country and fiery speeches about the Great Satan – the demonising epithet for the United States. This year long simmering tensions with America reached boiling point after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. But this hostility isn’t just between countries. The government in Tehran has plenty of Iranian critics as well, both inside and outside the country. And some of them didn’t just live through the revolution – they once longed for it to happen. - Supported its aims. - Even took part in it themselves. Sadeq Sabah who was head of the BBC Persian service for some years, has his own memories of dangerous days in 1979 and afterwards.
The flow of grisly headlines coming from Mexico has been almost constant in recent weeks. A group of Mormon mothers and children were murdered at the end of last year, this week four boys were shot dead in an amusement arcade and the bodies of two conservationists were found in a Monarch butterfly sanctuary in the west of the country. But many simply vanish in Mexico’s violent drug war. With no body or any clear sign as to what happened to them, families are left desperate for information. Will Grant was reminded of meeting one such family following a different breed of criminal abduction.
Will Grant. In the early 1990s there were newspaper headlines comparing Sicily’s capital Palermo to Beirut. Following the killings of two high profile anti mafia judges in 1992, the government dispatched the army to contain what by that point had become an all-out war against the Italian state. The buildings in Palermo fared little better than residents. Palaces and villas were neglected while the mafia built concrete tower blocks in the suburbs. But recently the historic centre was declared a world heritage site and one man has helped to bring Palermo back from the brink says Dany Mitzman.
Baffled in Brittany
In Brittany there’s been some concern about how the UK’s long goodbye to the European Union will affect it’s fishing fleets. Last weekend France reminded Britain that the UK exports most of its fish production to EU countries. Post-Brexit negotiations about fishing rights, security arrangements and a host of other issues promise to be far from straight forward. But Julia Langdon finds many people in the historic port of St Malo are not that bothered about what’s just happened on the other side of the channel. They have – as it were - other fish to fry.
Two guards who worked at a prison in Yaroslavl, north east of Moscow, were jailed last month for abusing an inmate. Despite official claims that Russian penitentiaries are cleaning up their act, prisoners, their relatives and human rights activists tell a very different story. Oleg Boldyrev investigated another recent case.
The Naga, a Tibeto-Burman people made up of dozens of different tribes, inhabit the mountainous borderlands of India and Myanmar. Administered by the British from the middle of the 19th century until after WW2, at least 200,000 Naga have since died fighting for an independent homeland. Although an official ceasefire was signed in 1997, there’s still sporadic fighting between the Indian Army and Naga rebel groups. Antonia Bolingbroke Kent sensed the tension in a remote village straddling the Indo-Myanmar border.
In a small village in western Cameroon a martial arts academy has become a Mecca for local youth. With a judo area, boxing ring and top quality instructors it is a hive of activity in an otherwise sleepy rural community. Zak Brophy was made to sweat for the story when he visited but as a reward his boxing coach took him to meet his dad.
A spate of deadly bear attacks in Romania has raised fears that the number of Europe's largest protected carnivore is getting out of hand. Fatal encounters between bears and humans have become disturbingly common. Many believe the steep increase in the bear population is down to a 2016 ban on trophy hunting by environmentalists. But Jeremy Bristow discovered that the bears are far from the only danger in Romania’s forests.