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TRUMP

So I just got the memo that everyone had to write down their opinion on the presidential election on the internet, so here goes.

My immediate reaction wasn’t surprise, it was more like dread. But it quickly became acceptance, then intrigue, then optimism. It always seemed possible to me that Trump could win; I just hoped it wouldn’t happen because of what it would mean. It would mean that political experience isn’t necessary. It would mean that style is greater than substance. It would mean that maybe things are so bad that change is preferable  no matter what the sacrifice. But as with everything in life, there are two sides to the story.

This election has been so layered that as I digest each one, my feeling changes. There is the fact that this is an enormous win for democracy; clearly it wasn’t rigged after all, and an enormous outlier beat the establishment. But then there is the fact that Hillary won the popular vote and for the second time in my lifetime the most powerful man in the world was not voted for by the majority.

Many people love Trump. And many people hate him. But no one seemed to love Hillary. As an option she was the lesser of two evils, but never the solution. And which is better after all? Someone who a majority will grudgingly settle for? Or someone who a significant minority are passionate for?

Yes, Hillary represents the establishment. Yes, there are multiple indicators of corruption. But to me plenty of it has been blown of proportion through paranoid speculation. The best selling point for Hillary was that she was a woman. But frankly, maybe women can find a better representative? Then again; surely America as a whole can do better than Trump? His supporters will blame the lopsided media coverage; and perhaps the unfair majority was negative. But rather than shady speculation, the negative media was generated through genuine quotes and behaviours of a man who has shown tendencies to be a racist, misogynistic bigot. But I have to feel that we haven’t yet seen the real Donald Trump. He came into this race knowing that he was an outsider, and that his best chance was to cause a stir. It worked and he stuck with it. The reality will be fascinating to observe in coming months.

So in the interest of keeping things somewhat balanced: Trump certainly does speak more openly than a typical politician. As a statement, that is refreshing; I just hope the overall content improves now he has won. His acceptance speech was certainly the most humble I have seen from the man. He does represent change, and something of a voice of the people; I just hope that change comes from both sides of the political spectrum, and the people keep open minds.

This whole campaign has been based around the demonisation of the opposition. That in itself is probably the worst indicator of the status quo. Whether it is the media, social network platforms, or simply personal responsibility, most of us have lost sight of the balance that is vital to successful democracy.

Political correctness has caused a quagmire of taboo, and one that is inhuman to maintain. But it is based upon progressive inclusivity. It is wrong to vilify people based on where they identify on a gender spectrum. But perhaps it is also wrong to expect people to refer to thirty different gender pronouns.

Building a wall to keep fellow human beings out of your arbitrary patch of dirt is not a solution, but neither is abuse of borders and futile acceptance of refugees at the expense of your people.

Blindly accepting the word of government when it is entrenched in corporate corruption is not wise, but neither is blind paranoia towards a democratic system. We must be aware that power and greed and conspiracy all factor into large scale decision making, but not at the expense of faith in humanity or truth in men’s speech. Paranoia and naivety are not as defined as social media portrays.

It is easy to look around at the rates of crime and violence and unrest and think that immediate change is essential. But we must also look at the massive improvements in quality of life, education, communication and luxury that are our modern lives.

We must keep open minds to the fact that people see the world differently, value things differently, experience life differently, and know that acceptance is better than hate.

Trump represents unity to some, and division to others. A President helps to mould the mood of the people, but the people do likewise in return. The scariest thing is not currently Trump himself. There is the possibility that he will be before long, but there is no point in reacting emotionally to something that hasn’t and might not happen. The scariest thing is that even if it isn’t the majority of Trump supporters; there are clear examples of people who have used Trump as an excuse for the negative change they want. Changes like racial exclusivity and female subservience and sexual discrimination. It was the same with Brexit. There was a clear rationale for the decision; but there were those who abused part of its meaning for their own archaic ideals.

For Trump to be a president that we can all accept he needs to maintain his open honesty while promoting tolerance. He needs to bolster American pride, without superiority. He needs to represent change, but for genuine progression, and not change’s sake. He must represent America with his charisma and experience in mutually beneficial deal making… but not allow a vocal minority to use his name for the evil that many are fearing.

It is important for all of us to realise that there is good and bad on both sides. We must all maintain a view on the horizon that supersedes political wings, which is peace and prosperity for all walks of people. We must stand against those who block that progress in the long term and in the short term endeavour to see the merit in ideals which we do not personally hold.

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What would a Champion do?

Two years ago I did my best ever deadlift of 200 kilos. Today, two years later, my best lift is still 200 kilos. Since 2014 I have torn the ligaments in my ankle which had me off my feet for 10 weeks and unable to do sumo deadlift (my style) for 4 months. I’ve fracture dislocated my elbow which goes without saying had me out for quite a while. I’ve had a couple of flare ups of my Ulcerative Colitis which, while they haven’t stopped me training for great periods, interrupted my programmes, and caused me to go backwards week on week. All this time I have been taking corticosteroids which catabolise my muscle making it hard to put on size or strength.

I’ve watched all my competitors get stronger and widen the gap between them and myself. I’ve watched records fall making my long term goal even further away than before. I am about to start peaking in my current programme in an attempt to qualify for nationals. But once again my Colitis is rearing its ugly head and I have to choose between upping my steroid dose (and negating all the work I’ve done once again) or pushing through the blood loss and fatigue and pain for possibly no gains anyway and a likelihood of hospitalisation. I am going with the latter for one simple reason: it’s what a champion would do.

Mantras are very useful things. A lot of people use them to succeed. Some to promote themselves or their brand. Some just to get through their day. I am using it to keep motivated. Everytime I feel like I can’t be bothered, or I’m too tired, or it won’t make any difference; I ask myself: what would a champion do? Champions have off days. Champions fail all the time. Champions have injuries and self doubts as well. What a champion always does, though, is put the work in. I have to be smart; I’ve been on life-salvaging therapy before and have no intention of getting back there. But I also know what won’t kill me. A champion would draw the line under a bad session and make the next one that much better. A champion will train when all they want to do is sleep their morning or evening away. A champion will be honest with themselves about what will make them better, and work towards that constantly.

I am not a champion yet. But if I work and act and think like one; it is only a matter of time.

“You will not have my hatred”

I am writing a book. It’s a little different from Shituation. That was all fact (trust me). This is going to be fiction; but plausible fiction. Plausible in the sense of loose logic, not a realistic prediction. It is intended to deal with many of the things that fascinate me: the Physics of the Universe, the mystery of Consciousness, the possibility of Artificial Intelligence. Potential best seller or not, it has been fun for me to work on; largely because of the research involved. Now, the Physics, complicated as it is, turned out to be pretty straight forward. It’s Human Nature that has been causing me issues.

I recently watched a documentary on the great Pyramid in Giza. In primary school I was taught that it served as tomb for the Pharaohs. But this was just an assumption. The history of Ancient civilisations is admittedly shrouded in mystery, and we have largely filled in the gaps through a cultural lens that fits our modern perception.

There is actually more evidence to say that it was an enormous battery. There is huge evidence behind this theory, in fact. And the more I thought about it the more I started to believe this was likely the case.

Now, I don’t believe in the Ark of the Covenant, astrology, magic crystals, or extra terrestrial intervention. I don’t believe specifically in the Ages of Man like the Ancients predicted either; but it seems intriguing to me that across the Ancient World, they consistently made predictions based on celestial movements. And they all predict that right about now, humanity is in the depth of the Dark Age. That was what was meant by the ending of the Mayan Calendar by the way: not the apocalypse. (In our arrogance and cynicism of past cultures we chose to laugh at rather than explore any significance of what they believed was inevitable). After all, in this age of communication, of technology, of wealth, of relative ease; how can we be in the Dark Ages compared to previous civilisations that were surely so primitive?

It’s jarring to think that could be the case when I am sat in bed, on a laptop, with food in abundance in the house, and access to information, materials, and society at my fingertips. I think we are all aware that much of our modern western lives is bad for us. We know, really, that we don’t need fame and wealth. We know that we don’t need to drink and abuse drugs. We know that the stress of work, and our diets, and our energy use is all negatively affecting society and the planet as a whole. We all know that evil is out there in the world. It is seen on the news every day, most obviously in acts of terror and war. But the Dark Age? Come on.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when I hear about unusual cruelty and abuse I am overwhelmed, momentarily, by sadness and a lack of faith in humanity as a whole.

Something I know, is that people with a lot are often very unhappy. And that people with very little can be extremely content. And something I’ve known for a while is that the end goal of any pursuit in life is eventually happiness. We make sacrifices, for ourselves and for each other, but in the end it is all done in a pursuit of happiness. But those two things when put together don’t equate to the lives we lead. I doubt I am alone in saying that I am motivated by money; not for survival, but for luxury. Even for the provision of further luxury. I want to be able to provide for my family for the rest of my life; but I could do that anywhere. I could take everyone I love with me to live in a monastery in pursuit of earthly nirvana, and know that if we all committed to existential meditation, we could be happy for the rest of our lives. We could feel fulfilled in ways that a big house, or nice cars don’t really provide.

This is the paradox of modern society. We don’t have needs, so succumb to wants. We are informed throughout our entire lives that we are not enough by the irrepressible obsession of material. And  depression and, more specifically, dissatisfaction is rife wherever we look. Is it so crazy to think that homeostasis extends to our spiritual health, and that by seeking material wealth, and distancing ourselves from our own existence we are causing our very own pain?

Many Ancient civilisations also refer to a Golden Age. This was an age of enlightenment, where provision was plenty and society was peaceful. It’s not so crazy to envision. Think about a society that was self-sufficient, and not motivated by power or external influences. We presume that it was slavery, not invention, that built the Pyramids and other Ancient treasures. Even though we do not know how they would have moved so many thousands of hundred ton blocks to create such a mathematically perfect structure or such intricate gold plating. We just presume, based on our assumption that we are the greatest civilisation that has ever existed, and the fact that that’s how we would have done it. Is it so crazy to think that a civilisation that was stable many times longer than we have been could have been more advanced than we are? The world has changed a lot in the many thousands of years since then, but we have not become a different species. In a world without distraction, and with stability and insight, is it not likely, that they were capable of more?

 

I am hardly a preacher. I am the one voting for the way things are. Every penny I spend is funding profit organisations, government policies, lies and a hypocritical society. I am society. But the more I research and the more I have learned and thought, really thought, the more I am overwhelmed by how wrong everything around me is. I am overwhelmed by the fact that I don’t think there is anything anyone can do to help it. Better people than me have tried. There are campaigns of awareness every day but still we live in a world where women aren’t slim enough, men aren’t big enough, race still matters, and ignorance is growing at a greater rate even than information, and obesity and poverty are rife in equal measure, and drugs are both prohibited and promoted. Free market capitalism allows addictions to be fuelled by immediate rewards.

There is no respect, no honesty, no humility. Most of all there is no empathy. No empathy with our friends and loved ones, no empathy for those who make our lives harder. No empathy for religion, no empathy for atheism. No empathy with ourselves, or for the human condition. We vote with our pennies every day for media that reinforces our ineptitude.

We support our favourite hypocrites like heroes, voting for the best of a bad bunch, and knowing that their lies aren’t as bad as the others’. We place icons on pedestals of unattainable brilliance and are let down when they are cheats; no better at being human than you or I. We prescribe pharmaceuticals and ban natural substances. We condemn war, and those who fight against fighting. We judge everything on the snapshot of an end product and don’t care about stories, moderation, spirituality, or real life.

 

There are too many causes to choose from. There is great beauty in the World but so little of it through humanity. We play our part in natural disasters, in the appalling distribution of incalculable wealth, in the retention of power by those without responsibility.

The only cause I can control is my own. Everything we do, greedy or selfless is in the pursuit of happiness. I am not advocating we all take LSD. Or that we refuse antidepressants. Or that we revolt against Government. I am not deploring those people who shop at supermarkets, or buy magazines, fuel celebrity culture, yet scoff at “hippies” who meditate to escape the web of conspiracy theories that surround our nations.

I am imploring an open mindedness. I’m advocating an examination of our own human condition: our values, our genuine needs, our pursuit of happiness. I’m hoping for a return of human consciousness and free will. I desperately want to live in a place where children are curious about where they have come from, of what we are heading towards, of what we are made, and how best to enjoy it. I don’t call for more cynicism, but for introspective awareness that each of us can be better than what society wants and commands us to be.

We should not pity and assume that those who value spirituality have no practicality. We should not use evolution as an excuse for greed. We should open our minds to the wisdom that only knowledge worth money is saved.

Believe what you want about the Pyramids, but research first before assuming. Did you know that Nikola Tesla designed a similar structure to generate free wireless electricity? If you didn’t it’s probably because his project had its funding removed by a man who valued profit over progress.

Seeking the quick fix is human nature. The travesty is in how the system allows us to pursue it. Humans have evolved beyond the simplistic survival of the fittest. We have developed mirror neurons that allow us to have experiences based on observing others. This is how we can feel pride in loved ones achievements, and pain in others’ loss. We have evolved to empathise, to be part of a greater social organism beyond just an individual. This has allowed us to build phenomenal civilisations, and work towards our collective futures like no other species before us.

The tragedy in Orlando is not to do with religion, sexuality, or American gun policy at its very core. It is to do with a culture that breeds internal motivations, not external empathy. Every day people are working against our very own nature, against the true human condition with monstrous results. Yes, we can call for political change, and radical repercussions. But the eventual solution is trust, empathy and love. once again we should remember the words of Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the Paris Attacks last year: “You will not have my hatred.” ” We are only two, my son and I, but we are more powerful than the world’s armies. And every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom, because you don’t have his hatred either.”

Steroid Abuse

Unfortunately we live in a world where the commercialisation of sport has negated the very values for which it stands. Amateur pursuit of competition has become little more than an arms race between drug testing federations and athletes. The sad thing is that not all the athletes are necessarily corrupt; but simply trying to maintain a level playing field. Nonetheless the presentation of sport is very different from the reality and the performance enhancement that goes on behind closed doors has tainted every major sporting forum.

Drug testing agencies have their work cut out for them to enforce clean competition and there is no way they can get it right. There is no way to guarantee that every athlete is competing under the same circumstances and drawing the line of what is “natural” is very hard in the pill popping culture in which we exist.

Unfortunately for me, I am one such pill popper. I am reluctant to use over the counter drugs for aches and pains, but I have no choice about the fact that I take steroids every single day. Steroid is the term most synonymous with performance enhancement, and the particular variety I take are indeed on the banned substance list. But having lived with the side effects on and off for a few years now; my performance is anything but enhanced.

I have Ulcerative Colitis which is an autoimmune disorder that basically causes self destruction of the bowel. The steroid Prednisolone impairs my immune function to lessen its damaging activity against my colon. Without it I would need my bowel to be removed or it would eventually perforate and kill me. That sounds dramatic but, luckily for me, I respond quickly to Pred. Very quickly.

I have had three significant flare ups of my Colitis. The first was the longest, meaning I was on oral steroids for over two years during which I was housebound and generally bed bound. The second was the most intense meaning I was hospitalised and on intense IV steroid infusions for two weeks. The most recent one has been the most mild, but arguably the worst timed, coming right in the middle of my final University assessments. Another major difference this time around though, is that I am a competitive Powerlifter preparing to qualify for Drug Free Nationals. Telling people in this walk of life I am on steroids is akin to saying I murder puppies. But the reality of what the steroids do to me is very different.

The reason Pred is on the banned substance list is because the anti-inflammatory effect can improve aerobic capacity and endurance. A nice little feature, but it doesn’t help me lift more. There is also the possibility that the dose can cause some people to feel invincible as it significantly affects the brain and one’s mood. This certainly would be a big advantage in competition, but the thing is: it’s probably much more likely to make you feel unusually depressed and anxious. That’s certainly what happened to me first time round. Being prepared for the changes this time has made it easier to define exactly what this drug does to me. When I first went on it at 18 years old my body was still making changes of its own and the onset of a serious illness meant that I had no real idea what was initially causing my face to round, my chest muscles to sag, my stomach to bloat, and my skin to stretch, my body temperature to rise, my appetite to double, my muscles to cramp, my veins to bruise, and my hair to grow patchy. For the last three years or so I’ve been pretty stable so when all these things happened one week after going back on Pred, it was pretty obvious what was causing it.

It’s enormously de-motivating to have all the physical gains I’ve worked so hard to achieve for three years to be taken away in a week or two. But it’s happened before. And it will probably happen again. I got into the sport of Powerlifting with the realistic goal of one day approaching a British record. Each time I have come anywhere close to a record weight, my illness has flared. The records keep creeping higher and higher, and I seem to keep getting weaker, year after year. But I didn’t get into Powerlifting for the records. That is a goal, and it won’t change; it will just move in and out of focus depending on other factors. I got into it because I love doing it. I love lifting heavy weights. I love the training, the technique, the programming, the problem solving, the psychology, the social aspect of competition, the buzz.

It takes a long time to come off a high dose of steroid. Your body can’t just do it, it needs to slowly adapt to a reducing dose. All of this time my body will be in a state of flux. Week to week my health is unpredictable, and my body will look different, and my strength will be affected by uncontrollable factors. I have no choice but to listen to my body or I run the risk of further hospitalisation.

Now, however, I feel more determined than ever. The flare up of my condition and the drug side effects have meant that I can’t train with the intensity I normally would. When I realised this I felt a sense of desperation. Quitting was not a consideration, but emotionally it’s so taxing to keep investing so much time and effort in consistently going backwards. It’s like working at a relationship you desperately want to succeed but constantly getting nothing in return. It makes you doubt your ability to stay with it. But I examined what a champion, or record holder would do. They would work around the problem. I have changed my training to work on my weaknesses to the extent that I can.

So maybe Colitis has put me in a good position to be successful at powerlifting, after all. With my life being unpredictable on a week to week basis, I have to work around my condition to the extent that I can. I have to have plans for more than one outcome, and this adaptability, this auto-regulation, is key to long term successful training. A healthy lifter will have days where they are strong, days when they are weak. They will have months where they feel invincible, and months where they have no confidence whatsoever. Colitis means that every aspect of my life follows these patterns; so I have had to learn to take things as they come, and focus on the factors I can control. I know just how easy it is to deteriorate into a pattern of hopelessness. Steroids, in my experience, made this process even easier. For me, the goal of making myself as strong as I can helps prevent this, and I implore anyone who has a chronic illness to find something that does the same.

 

For more anecdotes and general thoughts on life with colitis, or taking steroids (among other things) check out http://www.shituation.net

£1 for every book sold goes to Crohn’s and Colitis UK charity: https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/

ULCERATIVE Bowel Disease

It’s been a good couple of years for me. I’ve been extremely healthy for  the most part. I’ve been able to travel, train, compete, work and learn. But as it so often does, my Ulcerative Colitis has reared its ugly head. There’s never a good time for a flare up, but starting in a period with my first national powerlifting competition, the final weeks of my University degree, and with a holiday looming; it’s not ideal. My life has thankfully changed a great deal since my last flare up, and extended hospitalisation isn’t the hopeless prospect it once was. But it is still the same old story of anxiety and misunderstandings.

Colitis and Crohn’s are invisible illnesses. Apart from the occurrences where I am rolling around in pain or unable to get off the toilet; you wouldn’t really know there was much wrong with me. I don’t sound over the phone like there’s anything wrong with me. And the real red herrings are the double standards I find myself living.

I might not be able to go to friend’s BBQ because I have two enemas to retain and the anxiety of leaving the house means I would psychosomatically need to evacuate my bowels. I might not be able to go to work because sitting upright at a desk puts me in a position that causes lots of spasm. So I say that I can’t go because I’m ill… but then will be able to do a Bench Press workout at home.

That’s the reality of Colitis. Sometimes you can be too ill to sit upright, or travel for ten minutes, but well enough to do heavy training at home.

I’m not currently in pain for twenty four hours a day. I’m not even on the toilet twenty four times a day like I used to be. It might be strange to visit a person too ill to go to Uni or work, but who can still have a laugh or a game of pool for an hour or two and appear completely fine. For many people the perception of being ill is someone lying in a bed with a fever, a weakened voice, and probably infectious and not suitable for company. This could be seen as a bonus for sufferers of Crohn’s or colitis; that we can take time off work but sometimes can still be social. But in fact this can add to the feeling of isolation.

Plenty of colitis sufferers feel like there isn’t the recognition for the genuine suffering that takes place. Believe me, there is suffering. I have written about that extensively elsewhere (www.shituation.net). But still, there is not recognition. Coming up on the 19th of May is World IBD day which is designed to raise awareness for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflammatory; not irritable.

Having interviewed many sufferers of either Crohn’s or colitis, one of the worst aspects for disclosing the condition to work, or to friends is the ambiguity between the term IBD and IBS. Irritable bowel is just a tiny fraction of the effects that Inflammatory Bowel Disease can cause. But I am not blaming an ignorant public; we are all ignorant to some degree of conditions we don’t have to deal with. But during recent research I was given a suggestion that could change the perception of the disease. It could change the anticipation of stigma for sufferers who are reluctant to disclose because of the lack of understanding. It could help eliminate the feeling that Colitis sufferers need to justify their decisions. The change is as simple as a word.

In a recent parliamentary conversation the spokesperson representing Crohn’s and Colitis mistakenly referred to IBD as IBS. This is the worst thing that sufferers could hear as we try to promote awareness and understanding for a systemic, traumatic disease. But with an acronym so similar to a condition that on the surface is so similar, those trying to raise the profile are fighting a losing battle. Half the population has IBS and manages perfectly fine, so this degradation of IBD is not the message that is needed to promote the truth. IBD can cause malnutrition and drastic weight loss, severe anaemia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain. The treatment can cause muscle wasting, osteoporosis, a variety of mental disorders, liver cirrhosis; and I am barely scraping the surface. The suggestion is to change the umbrella term from IBD to UBD: Ulcerative Bowel Disease. This might sound so simplistic, and even pointless when the focus should be on managing the significant physical impairments brought on by Crohn’s and Colitis. But managing the emotional impact of this disease is every bit as important. Changing the term to UBD could improve the likelihood for disclosure, lessen the likelihood of stigma, and increase the overall level of acceptance of this disease which can make you feel entirely alien.

Having a disease that is so consuming as this one makes it part of the sufferers identity. It is something that has to factor into every decision that gets made. And when that identity is assumed by others to be less significant than the reality; it minuses everything else by extension. It is not our choice to take time off work. It is not our choice to turn down social invitations. It might appear that way when on the surface we sufferers appear healthy, or when you think that only issue is irritable bowel. Calling it Ulcerative Bowel Disease won’t change our ability to live normal lives; but it might help us feel more normal by having a term that is clearer to understand.

 

Raising awareness is among the top issues that gets faced by the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Charity. Help achieve this by checking out my book Shituation at http://www.shituation.net ; It contains every detail from my first three years living with this illness and £1 for every book sold goes straight to the Charity whose website is here: https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

I have had enough time. Enough time to conceptually analyse Star Wars: The Force Awakens without too much emotion and nostalgia. My thoughts undoubtedly will continue to change with time, but as for now I am ready to present my opinions on the new movie.

There was so much I loved about this film. The visuals, the characters, the nostalgia, the foreshadowing; all brought something to the table that kept me excited from the text crawl until the credits. My immediate feeling was that it got right all the things that the prequels got wrong. And I still think that. It created characters that were layered and lasting, and kept the action and emotion raw and relatable.

There were also several points that I had slight issues with. Some of them, however, I believe, or at least hope, will be addressed in Episode VIII, so I shall reserve my condemnation. Just a couple, though, will be hard to rectify without significant and forced justification. The latter list is shorter, and less interesting, so I shall start with that.

The most jarring aspects of TFA were firstly how lacklustre Captain Phasma turned out to be, being easily overpowered and manipulated without repercussion. I hope she becomes a bad-ass in the upcoming films, but her impotence so far cannot be undone. She was used solely as a prop for Finn’s redemption from being a Stormtrooper; and after his exploits escaping the First Order it wasn’t needed.

Secondly, the Deus Ex Machina reactivation of R2D2 was almost cringe worthy in its execution. The only way it could have worked for me was if Rey had somehow caused it so that it could have symbolised the Force awakening the droid. Maybe he recognised her Force sensitivity after his devotion to Luke. Cheesy as that sounds, it would be better than nothing.

Finally it was the destruction of the StarKiller Base. Having essentially a second Death Star was likely to draw the ire of the audience, but destroying it so simply and in the same way made it pointless. It would have been better to have disabled the base somehow, preferably with some form of tactical sacrifice. Keeping it as a threat, and demonstrating the danger of the First Order that these decision must be made, keeps them feeling more daunting coming into the next film, and therefore puts more importance on developing the skills of Rey to topple them.

So, the further issues I have with the film I am expecting to be huge plot points in the future. The criticism of this film has largely been regarding the fact that it emulates A New Hope so strongly. I agree with this feeling, but they had the task of fleshing out the Star Wars world for the new generation, the new characters for returning fans, and establishing motives across the board. The overall direction is therefore somewhat limited; the same is not true for Episode VIII which can shock audiences in a number of different ways, and the fact that that is the case speaks to the quality of the storytelling thus far.

Many fans were upset that we never got to see Han and Luke together again. As would I be, but I believe that Episode VIII will contain some backtracking. There was so much alluding to the time between Episodes VI and VII when you consider all the back stories that at least some of it has to be covered in the future episodes. In this way I think fans will also get screen time in which to mourn Han that I know many also felt was lacking.

Another thing I didn’t like was how strong Rey was with the Force so quickly. It devalued the exploits of the other Jedi but again, I feel like this will all be explained next year. She clearly has an intriguing past given her mentions of family, Kylo Ren’s seeming recognition at the mention of a girl, her flashback, and moment with Luke at the end. If she is Luke’s daughter there needs to be a reason he abandoned her, and brings into question the mother: why is she not around, is she Force sensitive, and what role did she play with Luke’s training of new Jedi and subsequent exile? If she is Kylo Ren’s sister then why was there not more recognition form Leia and Han in TFA? Did they refute parenthood after what happened to Ren? If she is a descendant of Obi Wan then what was the timeline there? I feel like there must be reference to Kenobi in the next film given his absence of mention here, and the probable homage in the name “Ben Solo”. It can’t be coincidence that he was named after the Jedi Master and not saying it directly creates an elephant in the room scenario.

My most outlandish theory, and probably least likely, is that the Prophecy was indeed misread as Yoda postulated in Episode III, and that Anakin was not the “chosen one”, but it was in fact Rey, and she is simply the offspring of the Force. Yoda backs this up once more in Empire by saying “there is another”. We assumed he meant Leia, but it could be turned into meaning Rey. This all raises the issue of Anakin’s parenthood, but That could be explained by exposing another mystery…

Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? I didn’t like his appearance at first as it felt almost like a scene from Prometheus in that huge chamber. But this can be compensated by giving him an amazing origin. The most likely theory for me is that he is Darth Plagueis. Whether it is musical cues, the use of the adjective “Wise”, the scarred humanoid appearance, or the elegance of linking the canon, I can see no other option. I don’t see him being Sidious, or even Vader, a good guy turned evil, or God forbid: Jar Jar Binks.

If that theory is correct then we know that Darth Plagueis has the ability to bring others, and possibly himself, back from the dead. Is it possible that he is responsible for the inexplicable birth of Anakin Skywalker as the puppeteer of the rise of the Dark Side? He was also opposed to the Rule of Two, in having only two Sith at any one time. Could there be another Sith Lord waiting in the wings that will play into Kylo Ren’s insecurities?

Episode VIII will likely be the most anticipated film in history, and that is credit to The Force Awakens. We will need to see Luke wield a Lightsaber, we will need to learn Rey and Ren’s origins, we will need to understand the role of Lor San Tekka who I believe must be the lynch pin that holds the answer to many questions, we will need to learn about Supreme Leader Snoke, and the Force as a whole. Did its awakening influence Fin and R2D2 in some way? I also want to see more of the complexities in the character motivations from TFA. I want internal strife within the Resistance and the First Order alike.

The Force Awakens got everything right that the prequels got wrong; the next film needs to get right what TFA did not. And having delivered the adequate nostalgia dose that was necessary, and introduced the new characters, I think there will be more time to spend on telling a simple, layered story that sets up the Trilogy’s finale.

 

 

EdUKtion

I like to think about the future. I like to think about my future children and what I might want to teach them. I think about the lessons that I had that helped make me who I am, and the lessons I wish I’d learned earlier. Once upon a time, and not that far away, I wanted to be a teacher. And along those lines I used to think about my approach to the challenge of teaching kids. About getting and keeping their attention. Gaining their trust and respect. Imparting knowledge along the way. And inspiring them. I think that’s the key point.

I was actually thinking about this a lot recently. During the General Election I thought a lot about education, as I think it is the most important issue of any to discuss in the context of our nation. And then I watched a programme about Chinese education which also got me thinking. And then I heard all about GCSE and A Level results day on the radio. That got me thinking too. And the main thing I’ve been thinking is just how bloody wrong we’ve got it.

Content, style, approach, attitude, discipline. None of it seems right. I’m no educational guru by any means. I am not qualified to elicit change; but I think the idea of change is one that needs to be nurtured. Since the National Curriculum was introduced the state of England and the UK has moved on a great deal more than has its education. I am not calling for evolution, but revolution; and with a subtle and fragile thing as is a child’s education, that is a scary word.

There are so many issues I want to raise it is hard to know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with the approach.

The Chinese method I have seen recently has been a prescriptive method of lecturing and writing things down. It is simplistic, it is efficient; but it is far from holistic. It is not engaging or inspirational, and I sympathised with the lack of focus and enjoyment on behalf of the kids. This sympathy only took me so far, as the lion’s share was reserved for the Chinese teacher’s who faced a shocking lack of discipline. Shocking to me now; but at their age, it probably would have been funny. I wasn’t a badly behaved student; but I wasn’t exactly dialled in to lessons, per se. I suppose this suggestion is the least radical: there needs to be a balance between discipline and freedom. The Chinese nurture their students through a sense of competition. After school they need to get jobs because they cannot rely on a welfare state. I work in a GP surgery so I could talk about welfare enough to fill multiple blogs of frustration; it certainly is something else that needs to change. And just so you know, this is coming from someone who was unable to work for nearly three years through illness so I’m not just on a high horse here. ANYWAY. Chinese students know they have to do well in school. In the UK we do not. In China they need to pass physical aptitude tests as well. Here we do not. We can blame all the factors we want, but if it works in China it could work on our tiny island.

The main thing that I think will draw the balance between the Chinese method of competition and discipline, and our method of welfare and pandering, is rewarding effort. Genuine effort. If anyone, anyone, makes genuine effort; they will improve. And that really is that simple. Rewarding effort is the simplest way of inspiring our kids. And that is the key point- remember?

The guest speakers on the radio who were talking about results day spent most of the time spouting the message: Don’t worry, I failed, he failed, they failed, and we’re all doing fine. Examples are everywhere of people who failed their exams and of course did perfectly well, or even greatly succeeded. Does everyone need to pass their exams to have a fruitful life? No. But is that really the message we should be conveying? The Chinese are perhaps wrong in the modern day to reward only results. But the UK have got their system so wrong that we reward only results, yet preach that they don’t matter.

What does matter is the effort. And effort towards an English and Maths GCSE that you aren’t going to need in a career is not effort wasted. It’s a lesson in itself.

The UK teachers’ points of view of the Chinese method was unsurprising. They feared and dreaded being shown that it was the best way to teach, because it was none of the things that modern education should be: engaging, inspiring, enjoyable, and holistic. On the other side of the coin they were saying that the reason the children misbehaved in class was because of this monotonous delivery. That may be the effect, but it is not the cause. The cause was a lack of respect for the position of teacher. The cause was a lack of desire to learn. The cause was a lack of repercussions for doing poorly, and a lack of discipline that will be a gaping hole in an otherwise holistic education. The children did not care about getting in trouble, they did not care about the struggles of the teacher. They were not embarrassed to be singled out, or even have their parents contacted. This needs to change.

Moving on I want to talk about some ideas about the content of the curriculum. You might have noticed that I enjoy writing. I didn’t at school. I am writing a book in my spare time that includes a lot of Physics within the story. I find this interesting; I did not at school. I have grown up to enjoy learning about History, and Music, and many other things that didn’t interest me in school. And the thing is: I haven’t changed, the way I’m learning has changed. As an adult I can pursue the items that are interesting, inspiring, at my leisure. Now obviously this isn’t an available option for children. There needs to be a certain level of prescription; but in the UK, you guessed it, we’ve got it all wrong.

My memory of History is learning how to compare primary and secondary sources and give balanced arguments. That is something a Historian does. Someone who has chosen to pursue History because they were inspired in spite of school. My interest in History stems from comparing cultures and lifestyles, and things like art, architecture, and religion across time. Because the Egyptians and the Romans were interesting. Learning about them would make me want to learn History. And in so doing I would be inspired to pursue it, and develop those further skills.

My memory of Physics is wiring batteries, and calculating voltages and learning triangular equations for exams. My interest in Physics is based upon the fascinating marvels of the movement of planets, the Big Bang, and the fundamental particles that dictate everything we see and experience. Those things are interesting. Learning about them would make me want to learn Physics. And in so doing I would be inspired to pursue it, and develop those further skills.

We learn from a very young age what it’s like to be a professional in these different fields. But when I was young I didn’t want to be a professional; I wanted to be inspired. If you hook my imagination then putting the work in becomes a process rather than a battle.

Teachers will say that this is how education is moving; but it still isn’t quite right. My experience struck the wrong balance between application and inspiration that had me leaving school with decent grades, but no direction.

We need a more considered approach to choosing a curriculum that inspires people. We need to give slightly less consideration to the skills people need for careers and slightly more focus on what makes each subject worth learning in the first place. At least from a young age.

By the time they reach GCSE, many kids are so switched off from education that they can’t wait to leave. The ones that do stay on are frequently confused and anxious about which subjects to pursue. And having gone through University twice: let me give you a rundown of my personal educational progress:

By GCSE I had learned all about the nitty gritty of the subjects at hand, and found none of them particularly interesting. I chose the subjects that gave me the broadest base of career to choose from because I had no idea what I wanted to do. In Sixth From I was told in greater detail about the nitty gritty I had learned at GCSE. I didn’t learn anything particularly new or interesting. At University the first year was spent largely recapping Sixth Form.

When I pulled out of University I was so relieved to have time on my hands that I could spend constructively. Rather than hammering home facts for a degree I didn’t need for a job I didn’t want, I learnt by myself. I learnt how to write by reading books that looked interesting and writing for a hobby. I learnt about Sports Science through an interest in improving my own performances via nutrition, programming, psychology etc. I learnt about Music by trying to emulate some of my favourite guitarists. I even learnt how to cook properly, rather than just how to kill an hour baking a cake I won’t eat.

I know that maturity has a large part to play with how receptive and willing I was to learn; but if you can grab the attention of a child, you can achieve special things.

By GCSE everyone should know what makes each subject worth knowing. At A-Level you should start to learn how they can be applied to a career. And at University you should be expected to put in the leg work to bring to fruition.