The blog in 2015: Driven by Aaronovitch and Amy Winehouse

The unlikely combination of combative Times columnist  David Aaronovitch and the tragic pop star Amy Winehouse drove traffic to my blog last year.

I doubt either have met each other but in different ways it reflects the present obsession with controversial names and celebrity culture.

The Amy Winehouse blog is three years old and is a travelogue based on the fact that I found myself and my wife staying at the same tourist complex in St Lucia that acted as a retreat for Amy when she was chilling out from drugs. I suspect the film about her has driven the traffic but the blog got over 1500 hits last year – 50 per cent more than the combined total of the two previous years taking it to nearly 2700 hits.

David Aaronovitch’s critique of my journalism in The Times led to 3537 hits when I decided to respond – though it was eclipsed by my critique of Dominic Lawson’s take on the Leon Brittan alleged child sex abuse scandal which attracted 6447 views.

Interest in the case of child sex abuse survivor Esther Baker was reflected in two high scoring blogs- at 2674 for an analysis of the challenge facing Staffs Police in investigating her case and 2096 when the first arrest was announced.

The scandal over former justice secretary Chris Grayling seeking contracts from the despicable Saudi Arabian justice system – which this blog  and Tribune broke- was a big highlight – with 4250 hits when his successor Michael Gove faced court action and 2795 when the story originally broke.

Otherwise the biggest hits were reserved for the attempt to get rid of the Speaker, John Bercow, on the last day of Parliament – with 3933 on a piece criticising William  Hague’s botched action  in changing the election rules and 2497 on the midnight email to MPs from Julian Lewis MP which alerted everyone to the dodgy deal.

The most controversial blog has been my reporting of a Northern Ireland judge’s decision to compensate a paedophile for a campaign against him by one of his victims -comments were both virulent in their hatred and support for the judge.

Altogether the number of hits  recorded by WordPress on my blog – 127,725 were down from 182,000 the previous year. I also wrote fewer blogs as I was away some of the time. But this is not the full story as the blog is getting increasing additional traffic from Linked In, Facebook and is now run on so I am not longer sure how many hits I am getting any more.

WordPress also records I have had hits from 155 countries. Over 80 per cent (107,000) is from the UK but there were over 7,700 from the United States and over 1000 each from Australia, Ireland and France. I have had just one hit from Iran, Syria, Armenia and the Turks and Caicos Islands to name but a few.

The blog’s rating on has gone up from number 62 to number 50 on the top independent bloggers This partly reflects my twitter following increasing to 8085.

For a small one man blog however it is gratifying that so many people are interested – given I do no promotion.



Discovered: The idyllic St Lucia hideaway of Amy Winehouse

Moonrise at Cas en Bas beach, Cotton Bay

Moonrise at Cas en Bas beach, Cotton Bay

If you want some peace and quiet, sun, sand and some luxury, I can recommend a week on the island of St Lucia.

I have just returned from a stay there ( No I did not disappear, Dan Hodges,  into a nineteenth century opium den,(see  But digesting the horrors of Leveson and midway through a long disturbing investigation into a historic paedophile scandal requires a break.

The hotel chosen by my wife, Margaret, from a Sovereign holiday brochure, proved to be a great find –  remarkable oasis of calm and privacy – and yet extraordinary spacious and comfortable – and by no means the most expensive venue there.

While many hotels are crammed into massive noisy resorts – this one was tucked away alongside a wild and semi deserted public beach where horses cantered along the shore with the local youth  demonstrating their bareback riding skills on Sundays.

Cotton bay; The main pool

Cotton bay; The main pool

The Cotton Bay hotel ( consists entirely of villas and apartments,  two restaurants, one attached to a bar on the beach and the other, Piano,Piano, an up market one with a resident pianist; a superb pool, good facilities for kids, a spa, and for the very energetic (unlike me) kite surfing. Built next to a mangrove swamp, part of this had been preserved with the result that the night resounded to myriad frogs calling their mates.

It's a dogs life on holiday

It’s a dogs life on holiday

But its charm was that this piece of unashamed 21st century luxury was alongside  the rest of the  Cas en Bas beach – a very public place where families drove the odd car down for a beach party, dogs were welcome to roam (unlike England) following you on hikes and anyone could bathe in the warm Atlantic ocean.

What caught me off guard was when a local driver taking tourists on a trip to see the remnants of  St Lucia’s rainforest (the colonial Brits chopped down rather a lot of it) and I mentioned Cotton Bay and he said ” You’re staying with the celebs then”.

As I knew neither Dan Hodges, Rupert Murdoch or even Barnet’s local celeb Mrs Angry had been staying there, I wondered who.

It turned out that Amy Winehouse had rented a rather large villa there for six months ( being a journo I checked this out with the hotel manager) and had also committed a remarkable feat of generosity by giving £4000 to a local coconut seller so he could have a hernia operation. See the tale in The Mirror ( ) and it appears to be true and happened on the beach! The good news -from another  taxi driver – is that the Chinese are building a new public hospital at Castres, the capital.

The hotel had many plus points. we were on half board and could dine at either restaurant and if we had  three meals, they only charged us for the cheapest one. We had one complimentary spa treatment  between us and they did not charge us for the most expensive treatment.

The ground floor apartment was more than spacious with its own kitchen, sitting room and two bathrooms ( we appear to have been upgraded!)

Cas-en-Bas beach looking towards the bar

Cas-en-Bas beach looking towards the bar

Bad points – if you were going self catering, the shop had only limited supplies, though they did run a complimentary bus service three times a week to a local shopping mall. Also it was a long way from the main road where there are cheap bus services and it would have been far too hot to walk there. Taxis, car hire  and tourist trips are expensive though the rain forest trip on an aerial tram was breathtaking.

Probably the most bizarre story there was that at one stage the forest was occupied by Zimbabwean refugee Rastafarians, who started chopping down parts of it for firewood and introduced a new species, cannabis sativa, into the forest. Our tour guide, a trained lawyer, said they had been moved and some Norfolk pines had been imported from Cuba to fill the gaps. Anything can happen in the Caribbean.