I failed at University. Why?


I remember much of my first day at junior school like it was just yesterday. It was quite an introduction to formal education: the disappointment of discovering that my only friend was in a different class to me; the excitement of meeting up with him at break time; the bravado involved in asking the boy 2 years my senior (his name was Ben) whether we could join in with his game of football; the resultant ecstasy when he granted us permission, and the humiliating lesson in football that followed. I loved every minute of that day, and did not have a care in the world.

Now it’s time for me to be brutally honest, both with myself and with you.

Almost 16 years later, the education system has chewed me up and spat me out in the cruelest of fashions. Yesterday, on the 4th of July 2014, I was granted an unexpected and thoroughly unwanted independence. In an email received from the University of Portsmouth, I was told in no uncertain terms that my failure to make significant academic progress over the last year had left the relevant authorities with no choice but to exclude me from my course (English Literature & American Studies, for those not in-the-know) with ‘immediate effect’.

It was all rather callous, rather cold. It felt strange to not receive a message saying ‘We hope you enjoyed your four years at Portsmouth’, or even a simple ‘Thank you for your £14,000’. Not that I was expecting words of that nature, of course, but it still hurt. There was merely a short paragraph comprising of 4 sentences which spelled the end of my academic career that started all that time ago on that busy playground. I was distraught, and I still am.

Anyway, I’m lying in bed at 1.30am (it’ll probably be much later by the time I’ve finished this post)* and the rain is hammering against my window. I don’t think I’m going to get to sleep any time soon, so I want to get to the bottom of how this all happened. How did I manage to embark on a 3 year University course and, after 4 years, come out of it with an fairly meaningless piece of paper?

Academically, I struggle. In fact, since the age of about 13, I always have done. As a child, my parents and teachers agreed that I showed a lot of promise. I won an academic scholarship to my senior school, King’s Worcester, and immediately my every move became heavily scrutinised. Academic scholars were expected to set an example for others in their behaviour, work ethic and exam results. The truth was, I had never achieved proficiency in any of those three disciplines. I secured my scholarship through an aptitude for mental mathematics, a relatively good understanding of the English language and an excellent grasp on the logic behind verbal reasoning.

My behaviourial record throughout school was poor. I recall a 5 day period in year 5 when, partners-in-crime in-tow, I appeared in the headmaster’s office every day. Even at an age when I would have been expected to be showing signs of maturity, I regularly found myself sitting in detention on a Wednesday afternoon while all my friends skipped merrily home. I actually bagged myself a Saturday morning detention for snapping a clothes peg off a changing room wall, but thankfully that particular punishment was cut short by an hour due to rugby commitments.

Maybe I’m exaggerating for effect. I wasn’t a rebel, and nor was I a notorious attention seeker. I was just a bored child who was completely disillusioned with the very concept of education. My teachers were excellent, and must have despaired at my total lack of enthusiasm for their subject (ex-teachers, if you’re reading this – you were all great, thank you). Still, my academic performance was becoming a cause for serious concern. My distinctly average GCSE grades – 5 A’s, 3 B’s, 2 C’s – set in motion a drastic plan to rescue my university prospects.

Before long, an educational psychologist had been called in; I’d been instructed to spend all of my free periods in the library, I was assigned a personal mentor in the form of the (lovely) deputy headmaster Richard Chapman and I was required to collect weekly progress reports from all of my teachers.

No pressure then, Jonny.

Spending my school years in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral was an immense privilege.

Sixth form was a difficult time for me. Halfway through fifth form (year 11), I sustained a serious knee injury during a rugby match which ruled me out of all sport for a year. This came at a time when I was heavily involved in rugby, football, basketball and tennis. When the physician broke the awful news to me, I wanted to cry for days on end. Confined to the library, it was heartbreaking to watch all my friends traipse happily off to the playing fields every Monday and Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the sports that I loved so much.

Not only did my abstinence from sport hurt me mentally, it also damaged me physically. Without regular exercise in my life, I started to put on weight pretty quickly. In my younger years, I was a decent athlete. Anyone who knows me will have heard how I came extremely close to representing my county at the 400 metres, and I regularly played A team rugby and football. On one occasion, I even snuck into the A team for cricket. It was infuriating, therefore, to lose all that hard-earned fitness in my year away from sport. Ever since that year I have, until recently, put on weight. More about that in a bit, perhaps.

Back to my time at sixth form. King’s was a great place to be at school, and I’ll always be inexpressibly grateful to my parents for sending me to be educated in such a pleasant environment. I still have many treasured friendships and memories from my 11 years there – it is a time that I’ll always look back upon with much fondness. Sadly, the same can not be said regarding the decisions that I made about my future. Or, to be more specific, what influenced those decisions.

[At this point, I stopped writing and went to bed. The date is now the 1st of August, and once again I am lying in bed unable to sleep. My emotions are no longer raw, and the feeling of disappointment has subsided somewhat.]

I’d always had it drilled into me that the natural way for my life to proceed after school was to go to university and get a degree. After that, everything would just slot into place. However, as my time at school began to draw to a close, it became increasingly apparent to me that I was not cut out for academia. Everyone kept talking about my ‘potential’, and how I wasn’t living up to it. The truth was, my potential never lay in school work. Notions of me attending one of the UK’s more prestigious universities started to dissipate as it became obvious that I wasn’t going to get the necessary grades. As a compromise, we started attending open days at (no disrespect intended) ‘less selective’ establishments – Northampton, Oxford Brookes, Salford, Aston, Lincoln and finally Portsmouth.

Through (limited) natural intelligence alone – I honestly can’t have done more than 10 hours of actual revision – I scraped three C’s at A level. It was enough to get me into my first choice of university, Portsmouth, but the overwhelming emotion felt on that day was relief, not joy.

Phew. Didn’t let anyone down.

Truly, I didn’t actually want to go to university. And if I did, it was for all the wrong reasons. I remember mulling over all the fun things that I’d miss out on if I didn’t go to Portsmouth, rather than being excited about the potential long-term benefits of gaining a degree in a subject that I supposedly enjoyed. I told my house tutor that I was considering going straight into employment after leaving King’s.
‘That sounds like a very sensible idea, Jonny’ was her reply; knowing smile and all. Maybe I should have heeded that smile.

Then again, maybe not. Whilst my time at university has come to an unsatisfactory conclusion, I can’t claim to have not developed as a person during my venture into higher education. I’ve enjoyed four truly brilliant years at Portsmouth, and have learned many life lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. I spent a thoroughly challenging but equally enjoyable year as President of the Christian Union, organising – and the ‘etc’ is fully justified here – a weekend away, a carol service, two weeks of events…etc! I’ve had my heart set on sports journalism for a fair while, so in more recent times I have relished the opportunity to get involved in reporting for the sports section of the university newspaper. Two of my greatest passions are sport and writing, so what better career to pursue than one that combines the two?’

The city of Portsmouth is awesome, as are the people who inhabit it. The number of wedding invitations that I’ve received for this summer serves as an apt reminder as to just how dynamic and warm the social scene is in Portsmouth, and having my Grandma 20 minutes’ walk away made for unpredictable entertainment on an all too irregular basis. Only those who have been fortunate enough to meet the aforementioned Grandma will fully appreciate my use of the word ‘unpredictable’.

However, despite all the thrills and spills of the last four years, there is no hiding from the fact that I have failed in what I set out to achieve. I’ve covered the highs and lows that I experienced at school, and you’ve heard about the positives that I’ve drawn from my prolonged and unfruitful time at university, but now it’s time for the post-mortem.

I think I lack the motivation required to complete a degree. To be more specific, I hate learning for the sake of learning. If new knowledge serves a practical purpose and provides an immediate outcome, then I’ll lap it up and wrap it up.

I could, for example, label every English county, every US state and every country in the world without looking at a map. Those things were fun to learn, and are always useful in a pub quiz. However, writing a 3,000 word essay on how African Americans turned their service in war into civil rights is not going to directly enhance my ability to write an article on Worcestershire’s latest cricketing triumph. I’m aware that this isn’t a problem for most people, but my brain just ain’t wired that way.

Last summer, after being told that I’d have to retake several units this year, I decided to find out just what exactly was causing my inability to a) self-motivate and b) concentrate for more than 10 minutes. A friend suggested I might suffer from ADHD, and after googling the symptoms I was inclined to agree with him. I proceeded to set up an appointment with my GP, who then referred me to a psychiatrist for sterner examination.

Fast forward 8 months to March this year, and I am sitting in front of said psychiatrist. He is a kind man, softly spoken and with an air of understanding about him. We chat at length about why I have struggled so much with academia but seemingly excelled in other areas of personal development, and agree to meet again as soon as possible. Two weeks later, and this time my parents come with me. An open discussion ensues, at the end of which Dr Kind, Softly-Spoken & Understanding explains that whilst I display mild symptoms of ADHD, that’s not the main cause of my inability to achieve that of which I am capable. Anxiety issues, apparently, have been the metaphorical thorn in my side for all these years.

It’s fair to say that, largely inadvertently, I’ve been under a considerable amount of pressure to succeed academically. I’m not pointing the finger here. Honestly, I’m not. I am solely responsible for the course that my life has taken thus far, and I will continue to shoulder that responsibility in the future. However, both my parents are both Oxford graduates, two of my grandparents were Cambridge graduates and my education cost over £100,000. I know these are things that would give most people an advantage in life, but I think the personality and mindset of the individual plays a large role in determining whether that supposedly advantageous position works for or against them. In my case, I think the evidence points to against.

Whilst these two accounts are very contrasting, they both increased the burden of expectation that has weighed so heavily on my shoulders. An overwhelming expectation to succeed, married to an apprehensive fear of failure. No wonder the psychiatrist described me as “anxious”!

I think this pressure is largely self-inflicted, a direct result of poor decision-making and misplaced motivation.

I mentioned earlier that I put on a lot of weight in my late teens. That trend continued through my early twenties, right up until about 3 months ago when I decided that enough was enough. Since then, I have shed almost 2 stone through healthy eating and regular gym visits. I am not image-obsessed, but it is important to look after oneself. You only get one body, and neglecting it will cause a loss of confidence and health. There is a well-evidenced theory that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and it’s a theory with which I agree. You can deduce an awful lot about a person by sifting through their bins (don’t worry, I don’t undertake regular litter examinations). My Grandma struck a chord when she put it like this:

“How can you ever expect to take care of other people if you can’t even take care of yourself?”

The truth is, though, that through all of the failures and successes, in all of the valleys and on top of all the mountains, there has been one constant and that is my Lord Jesus Christ. He is my rock and my shelter, and in my weaknesses and my shortcomings his perfection is magnified. The world will look at the last 4 years of my life and tell me that I’m a failure. The world will look at my future and tell me that it is uncertain. The world will stop at nothing to make me adhere to the standards that it sets. But when I come to Jesus, I know that he has already done everything that I need to be accepted, and I know that my future is in eternal glory with him! Jesus took my sins and failures, and made them his own when he died on the cross. He loved me so much that not only did he want an eternal relationship with me, but he was willing to die in order to make that happen.

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” – Psalm 139:5

So whilst I’d have quite liked my time at university to have finished in a more positive manner, I am not afraid of what the future holds. I know that Jesus loves me more than I can possibly imagine, and I know he walks with me down every path – rocky or otherwise. Sure, I’m going to have to learn how to manage my expectations and discover what stimulates my mind, but the one person whom I can never let down is Jesus because he already knows all of my weaknesses and stumbling blocks. In fact, he knows exactly what lies in store for me – how exciting is that?!

My plan now? I’m going to give my brain a rest. I’m taking a week’s holiday to Normandy with some friends, and when I return I’ll weigh up my options. I think the Lord is presenting me with several doors of opportunity, and I would appreciate your prayers as I seek his will in discerning which one to open.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading this testimony. I never intended for it to be this long, but once I started writing I just found I couldn’t stop.

Blessings,

Jonny.

 

*4 weeks later, in fact!

World Cup Whims


Once again, I’m putting my “reputation” as a “sports journalist” on the line and making a few predictions for the upcoming Football World Cup.

To win:

Spain. I don’t understand why so many people are writing off the Spanish. Their second XI would beat the majority of the teams at the World Cup, and unlike Brazil & Argentina there are no weaknesses in their team. People are making a lot out of the South American weather. Whilst Spain‘s climate doesn’t match Brazil‘s in terms of humidity, they will be accustomed to playing in uncomfortable temperatures so I don’t think they’ll be disadvantaged in that regard.

To excite:

Argentina. Definitely the team with the greatest wealth of attacking talent. In Messi, Aguero, Higuaín and di María, it’s pretty clear that Argentina‘s mentality will be an attacking one. Drawn in a group with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, one can almost guarantee that there will be goals galore. After that, a rollercoaster ride to the semi-finals, culminating in defeat to Spain, seems the most likely eventuality for the Argentines.

England’s prospects:

We’ll get out of the group with 5 points. I think we’ll scrape a no/low-scoring draw against Italy, followed up by victory against (the overrated) Uruguay and, needing just a point to qualify, secure a nervy draw against a Costa Rica side with nothing to play for but pride. After that, who knows? It seems likely that we’ll face Colombia in the last 16; if that proves to be the case, I’d fancy the South American side to knock us out. Which leads me nicely onto my next prediction…

The Dark Horse:

Colombia. Everyone is saying Belgium will be this year’s dark horse, but as fifth favourites with virtually every bookmaker they surely can’t be considered such. Should Colombia, at 40/1 to win the thing, reach the quarter finals then I think that could legitimately be considered a surprise success. With a straightforward group and the prospect of a last 16 game against England, back Colombia to make it to the last 8. I also think Russia might cause a few upsets, and may pip Belgium to first place in Group H. Oh, and watch out for the French. I like the look of their set-up.

The Flops:

Uruguay & Portugal. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this Uruguay team, and there’s no doubt that in Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani they have two of the world’s finest strikers. Look beyond the front line, though, and there’s really not much to write home about. Uruguay‘s back four are far from brilliant, Emmanuel Godín their only defender of international quality. Their midfield doesn’t look any better, relying on the distinctly average Walter Gargano and the ageing Diego Perez for their creative spark. The Uruguayans won’t make it out of the group, and won’t take points off either England or Italy.

Portugal will probably get out of their group, but I don’t think they’ll progress any further than the last 16 where they’ll most likely face Russia. Ronaldo will undoubtedly try and score at any opportunity, but realistically he has a poor shots/goals conversion record and his selfishness is likely to cost Portugal when they play against a Russian team who will be well-organised and extremely disciplined

Golden Boot: Lionel Messi

Golden Ball: Lionel Messi

Selfies – The Bigger Picture


With the ever-increasing influence and convenience of social media in modern society, exciting new crazes have been spreading across the nation over the past few years like wildfire. In case you’ve been living under a rock (in a cave, in the middle of the ocean, on Saturn) for the last year, the latest of these crazes has been dubbed the ‘selfie’. It’s a fantastic new idea which involves a creative individual taking a photo of themselves by ingeniously rotating their camera/smartphone (unless they’re fortunate enough to have a phone with a front-facing camera) 180 degrees and pulling a suitably amusing/happy/confused face for all their lucky viewers.

Except this idea is neither fantastic nor new. Don’t flatter yourselves; human beings have been taking pictures of themselves in this manner for decades. Let me say some words on the matter.

Firstly, I don’t understand why so many people suddenly think that their faces are worthy of the world’s attention, or essential viewing for their friends on a daily basis. Well, actually, I do. These people are fishing for compliments, seeking acceptance from a world that specialises in lies and disappointment. It’s a very weak place to lay your hope.

Secondly, I’m perplexed as to why we’ve decided that we need to appropriate a name to this reprehensible act. Maybe we’ve done it to try and somehow paper over the self-aggrandising nature of the ‘selfie’ by giving it a catchy name and integrating it into society via the steadfastness of the dictionary, or maybe we’re just far too lazy to say ‘self-portrait’ or ‘photo of myself’. Regardless, ‘selfie’ is something I’d expect to hear from the mouth of a 12 year-old girl, not a fully grown adult. 

Thirdly, it is incredibly annoying when a friend posts a picture of somewhere interesting but their face is filling up the vast majority of the photo. They might as well be in their bedroom, as far as I’m concerned.

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I think the ‘selfie’ is actually part of a bigger problem (I put the word in inverted commas because I refuse to acknowledge it as a worthy part of common parlance). 

Everyone wants to be idolised. There is a common trend in modern society of self-serving, self-loving and self-obsessing behaviour. This narcissism has crept into every facet of our culture, and is perhaps most notable in popular reality television shows where contestants are encouraged to ‘follow their dreams’ and are warned against ‘settling’ for an ‘ordinary’ job. It’s a message that stems from the notion that we are all the centre of everyone else’s universe, that we are all destined for fame and glory and that success is measured by popularity. The word ‘ordinary’ has become so taboo that Jessie J, Louis Walsh or *insert any other ‘follow your dreams’ celebrity* would probably kill me on the spot were I to describe someone as such.

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For the sake of the next generation, we need to change our attitude. Children are growing up thinking that they own the world and that it owes them something, which can come as no surprise when you consider the list of role models with which they’re presented. Female musicians who rely solely on sexual appeal, deceitful footballers, blasé politicians, comedians who overuse swear words and laugh at their own jokes (did someone say ‘Jack Whitehall’?), pseudo-liberal TV presenters and One Direction. Everyone wants to be looked at; the art of humility is indeed a lost one.

When it comes to ‘selfies’, I hope you can see the bigger picture. 

 

NB: I do believe the latest fundraising initiative involving self-portraits to be most worthwhile, but why not just donate £3 regardless?!

My Summer Playlist


The last few days have provided us with the finest weather of the year thus far, and although today’s forecast is promising the restoration of normality, my barbecue-filled weekend has inspired me to compile a vivacious playlist to chaperone me through the thoroughly soporific affair that is the British summer. I fully intend to ignore the inevitable shortcomings of the British weather system, and instead pretend that England lies slap-bang in the middle of the tropics. Here are five artists who will be helping me to sustain this illusion:

Ingrid Michaelson

Those who know me well will be rolling their eyes right now, but I don’t care. The effervescent, ukulele-wielding singer from Manhattan brings an arsenal of cheery, cheesy pop-folk to the party. Michaelson is best-known for playful love ballads You And I  and The Way I Am, but her lyrics contain depth that only becomes detectable after serious usage of the ‘repeat’ button. Her latest single, Blood Brothers, is a model example of how to combine serious commentary on society with fun and uplifting melodies. It’s music that allows, rather than forces, you to think. 

The perfect listening scenario: Invite a few friends over for a barbecue, sit them all down with plenty of meat and sneakily put Ingrid on in the background. The ideal soundtrack to a summer evening.

Don McLean

Don McLean’s American Pie was my favourite song as a child, and may still be today. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes McLean so unique, but his voice exudes the emotion of Johnny Cash whilst maintaining the gentleness of Celine Dion. His Greatest Hits album is the singer-songwriter’s Holy Grail, a masterpiece the likes of which very few will be able to transcend. McLean is the man who Jack Johnson is probably trying to emulate.

The perfect listening scenario: Country road, windows down, mixing your thoughts with Don’s [Hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky, A dream come true, I’ll live there ’til I die]. My personal favourites for this are Castles In The Air, Wonderful Baby and Vincent.

Madison Violet

This dynamic folk duo from Canada are relatively unknown, especially in the UK, but I’m ever so glad that I stumbled upon them. Comprising of singer-songwriters Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, they rely heavily on beautiful harmonies and lively melodies to compose memorable, catchy ditties. Come As You Are and The Good In Goodbye are the two songs for which they are most well-known, but their discography has plenty of depth and variety.

The perfect listening scenario: Best for an audience of one. You’re lying in a hammock in your garden, the sun is meandering its way through the sky, you’ve got a book in your hand and Madison Violet in your ear.

I’m From Barcelona

I’m From Barcelona are the happiest group of people you could hope to meet. All 29 band members originate from Sweden and contribute to the band’s wonderful cacophony through an outrageous number of instruments. It’s impossible to place their sound in a specific genre, so I’m just going to refer to their music as “happy”. The joy that they take in writing, playing and singing is evident for all to see in the music video for their marquee song We’re From Barcelona. There is no hidden message with IFB, no ulterior agenda. They exist purely for the purpose of making people smile.

The perfect listening scenario: Get a large group of people together and crank up the volume. You’ll soon all be singing along to classics such as Treehouse, Collection of Stamps and Jenny.

Gungor

Michael Gungor’s “Musical Collective”, Gungor are a mellow Christian folk band from Colorado, US. Gungor’s music is varied, both in terms of style and quality, so I’d find it hard to recommend a full album. However, some of their songs are unbelievably good. Everything that Gungor produce is genuine, sincere and intelligent. A Christian band capable of writing lyrics devoid of cliché is a rare thing indeed. It is music from the Bible that refreshes the soul.

The perfect listening scenario: There really isn’t one, but stick Gungor’s Beautiful Things and God Is Not A White Man in your summer playlist for guaranteed smiles.

Have a great summer!

Blessings.

Poetry Emotion


I’ve recently tried dabbling in a bit of poetry. Like many other things in life, the writing of poems is something that I love to do but hate to study. Some of my worst memories from school I owe to many hours of studying poetry anthologies, and some of my best involve authoring my own limericks, sonnets and ballads [the content of which would generally be somewhat inappropriate for the classroom environment].

Writing poems has always been easy for me. Maybe that’s why I’m so uninterested in the efforts of other people – I read their poetry and conclude that I could have probably written something of a similar standard. Clearly I am being delusional if this is the cause of my disinterest; I think my year 5 teacher [you can find his blog here] will assure you that my poem about “missing the bowl when I go to the loo” was hardly Poet Laureate material. Yet it achieved its aim, it made my class laugh, and that’s exactly what I want my writing to do – reach an audience and cause them to react in a certain way.

Admittedly my poetry has become slightly more contemplative since that fateful year 5 English class. I look around me for inspiration; to the people in my life, to the people in their lives, to societal shortcomings, to creation, to the creator, to anything that makes people stop and think.

Anyway, it’s late and I can’t even remember why I started writing this post. You can find some of my poems under the “My Poetry” tab on the left hand side of my blog.

Dear Warren Gatland…


Dear Warren Gatland,

I expect you’ve enjoyed your four month break from what must be an extremely tedious, testing job. Hopefully you’ve been able to acquaint yourself with some sunshine, and have experienced the joys of  civilisation before your imminent return to the neanderthal territory of Wales [I’m kidding, of course].

I’m writing to you today with some recommendations concerning the difficult decisions you find yourself facing as regards the upcoming Lions tour to Australia.

I know you probably think you’ve seen it all before, and that your tenure as head coach of a national team makes you an authority on the matter, but – please – stretch an ear my way on this matter! I’ve probably watched more rugby than you this year [I catch at least 4 games every weekend], and I once represented my school at Second XV level. Now that’s what I call an impressive CV.

Allow me to educate you.

1. It’s important to remember that just because you are the Wales coach, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to pick Welsh players. Yes, they beat England by a considerable margin at the end of the Six Nations, but which team had performed better overall in the previous four games? Which team showed more character and ability against the Southern hemisphere teams in the Autumn internationals? Obviously, it was England. Wales beat England by winning the power forwards battle [and by dodgy binding at every single scrum], but Australia’s strength lies in the mobility rather than the power of their pack so to pick a tight five based on scrummaging power alone would be a futile exercise. Look for ball winners and ball carriers, players who will do the job in the scrum and excel in the loose. I’d also like you to not select your back row on the basis of one or two recent performances, but rather on sustained form.

2. Pick quick. Given the quality that Australia’s back line possesses, it would be fair to say that they have under-performed in the last two or three years. With players such as Quade Cooper, Will Genia, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Digby Iaone, they have ability and pace in abundance. Don’t be conservative with your selections, Warren, because Australia definitely won’t be. Enjoy and take the opportunity to display the best that British and Irish rugby has to offer, and please don’t embarrass us with park-the-bus tactics.

3. Don’t be afraid to take a few uncapped players with you. Just because their national coaches haven’t put faith in someone’s ability, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. If you see someone who is clearly performing well for their club, then call them up! I’m afraid I can only comment on English players here as I don’t watch that Pro12 nonsense, but here are a few suggestions:

Christian Wade. He’s been the most exciting player in the Premiership this season, and would be the quickest player in either team were he to play for the Lions against Australia. His vision is superb, and his ability to score from seemingly impossible situations is reminiscent of a certain Jason Robinson. Whilst he may not have the dancing feet of Robinson, he’s certainly got the pace.

Christian Wade: Game Changer

Christian Wade: Game Changer

Lee Dickson. The Northampton scrum half featured heavily for England in last year’s Six Nations, but has since inexplicably fallen out of contention for the white 9 jersey. I say “inexplicably” because he has been one of Northampton’s stand-out performers this year. The manner in which he dictates the pace of the game with such authority is exactly what a mashed-together Lions XV should be looking for in a 9, and the incredible accuracy of his passing from the base of the ruck often goes unnoticed.

Ben Foden. Another England player who appears to have slipped off the radar somewhat. Whilst Alex Goode has defended, kicked and marshalled solidly for England over the past 6 months, he has hardly set the world on fire. Foden brings something different to the table. His ability to spot gaps in defenses is valuable, and his slaloming running style often causes defenses to lose their shape, opening up space for second phase runners to exploit. His kicking game has also vastly improved in recent times, and the fact that he’d comfortably fill in at scrum half if required could, should you choose to go down that route, open up another space on the bench.

Matt Kvesic. There’s an obvious vein of bias running through this letter, and I think it’s just reached its heart, but Matt Kvesic has been in sublime form all season for the Premiership’s most exciting team, Worcester. The number 7, aged just 20, earned himself a call-up to the senior England training squad for the Six Nations. Whilst he didn’t feature in the tournament, many have touted him as a future England star and even captain. His exploits on the field have earned him a contract with Gloucester next season, a move that many would consider a backwards step but one that shows Kvesic’s charitable nature and heart for those less fortunate than himself.

I hope you take these suggestions into consideration, Warren. I have many more suitable candidates up my sleeve, please let me know if you’d like me to send you my 60-page report on the matter. I’ll leave you with my recommended Lions XV.

1. Cian Healy. The “big boy” of the scrum, his form has been one of the few silver linings for what has been a poor two months for Ireland. Healy will be a reliable cornerstone in a very exciting pack.

2. Dylan Hartley. If you’d asked me before the Six Nations, Tom Youngs would’ve been wearing number 2, but both Italy and Wales brutally exposed the Leicester man’s weakness in the scrum. Hartley has been impressive when coming off the bench for England, although Rory Best is nipping at his heels.

3. Adam Jones. It really was close between Jones and Dan Cole, but Jones nicked it for me on the back of a strong performance against England. Whoever gets picked at 3, it’s fantastic to have such healthy competition at tighthead.

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

4. Geoff Parling. Jim Hamilton was a strong contender for the 4 jersey, but Parling has formed a strong partnership in the second row with Joe Launchbury and will be a vital lineout operator. I can’t recall the last time Parling played poorly.

5. Joe Launchbury. A vital component of England’s recent success. Still very young and inexperienced, but with that comes an adventure and commitment which, added to his good mobility and ball handling sills, makes Launchbury a nightmare for opposing teams.

6. Tom Croft. I’ll probably be maligned for proposing such an England-heavy pack, and Croft might seem a particularly strange choice at 6 – he has, after all, barely seen a rugby pitch in the last 12 months. However, Croft is more than a ball-winner; he is a match-winner. He’s one of those special players who can turn a game in the blink of an eye. Yes, Lydiate probably wins more turnovers and makes more tackles, but Croft has got the X Factor and the Lions will need the X Factor.

7. Tom Wood. The Northampton man has been played out of position for much of the Six Nations, but is a brilliant 7. Wood is the first man on my team sheet; his dominant performance against New Zealand earned him man-of-the-match, and his all-round game [carrying, tackling, breakdown] has been consistently world-class over a six month period. If he doesn’t make your team, you clearly haven’t been watching him.

8. Toby Faletau. The Welsh supremo completes a very exciting back row. Faletau has been the standout 8 amongst the home nations for a while now – his ball carrying has been vital in giving Wales the go-forward that their game requires, and he is the master of sucking in defenders to create space for his teammates. Toby will be a really key player for you, Warren.

9. Greg Laidlaw. The Scotsman has been the only consistent performer throughout this year’s Six Nations, and has really developed into a fine all-round 9. His distribution has been excellent, and anyone who is able to get tries out of a very ordinary back line is clearly doing something right.

Greg Laidlaw

Greg Laidlaw

10. Jonny Sexton. I’d prefer to put Owen Farrell at 10, but I’ll be accused of bias so I’ll play Switzerland and recommend Sexton at fly half.

11. Christian Wade. Why not? Everyone likes to see a flyer, and every team needs one in my opinion. We need a Plan B when crash ball stops working after the third minute, so why not have Wade on the wing? With powerful runners inside him, there should be plenty of space on the wing for Wade to work his magic and score millions of tries.

12. Manu Tuilagi. At a position where the Lions lack any real depth, Tuilagi seems the obvious choice. Yes, I know he normally plays at 13 but I’ve reserved that jersey for someone rather special…

13. Brian O’Driscoll [c]. Clearly O’Driscoll is past his best, but he simply has to start for the Lions. He can still run unbelievable lines and unlock the stingiest of defenses, even when the pressure is on. I can think of no-one better suited for the role of captain, and his experience will be crucial in an otherwise fairly inexperienced back line.

14. Alex Cuthbert. I don’t know whether Cuthbert plays 11 or 14 for Wales, but either way he was the best winger in the Six Nations. A great finisher, and his power will complement Wade’s pace perfectly. If his fine form continues, I think he’ll be a contender for “player of the tour” come July.

15. Leigh Halfpenny. I toyed with the idea of putting Halfpenny on the wing and sticking Hogg at fullback, but chose Halfpenny on the basis that whoever plays at 15 will be contending with a lot of high balls from the likes of Cooper, Beale and O’Connor and the Welshman has proved himself to have the safest pair of hands in the world in that regard. Then again, that flipping scrum cap does annoy the heck out of me so Hogg may yet have a chance…

England : 7 players

Ireland: 3 players

Wales: 4 players

Scotland: 1 player

So there you have it, Warren. I strongly suggest you act upon my recommendations if you’re looking for a winning Lions formula. I once captained my schools Under 16 basketball team to victory against local team Perdiswell Pacers so I know what I’m doing when it comes to big sporting decisions.

Blessings,

J.


Thought I’d share with you this excellent comment on the way we perceive death:

Broken Chariots

Thanatophobia. The word may be unfamiliar but the older you get the more familiar you will become with its meaning. Thanatophobia is the fear of death or more specifically being dead or dying; and according to those ‘Top Ten’ surveys that frequent the internet, it remains unchallenged as the number one fear most common to mankind.

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Redefining Music As You Know It


As an English student, I spend a lot of my time studying the meanings and implications of words, phrases, sentences, chapters and texts.
There are some words that are very easily defined – “candlestick”, for example, or “front door”.
Then you have words like “match” which could mean one of the following: an easily ignited cord, wick or piece of wood; to correspond exactly; to compare; a game or contest; an equal competitor; a prospective marriage partner.
And, finally, there are very subjective words. I’m going to use “music” as an example, because it’s something which society has for generations struggled to define. I’m going to put an end to any hope that we may hold for the future of good quality music by revealing to the civilised world the latest horror show to emerge from Wilson’s box of tricks – a rather scratchy cover of a Mumford & Sons song. This is my attempt at redefining [a polite word for “murdering” in this instance] music as we know it:

Let’s Face It, The Best Health Service Is Always Free


I read a recent news article about a French lady, Isabelle Dinoire, who in 2005 became the first-ever person to undergo a face transplant. Isabelle’s tale is a truly horrifying one; allow me to quote the BBC website as I tell it to you.

“In a fit of depression in May 2005, Isabelle took an overdose of sleeping pills in an attempt to end her life.

“She awoke to find herself at home, lying beside a pool of blood, with her pet Labrador at her side. The dog had apparently found her unconscious, and desperate to rouse her, had gnawed away at her face. The injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors immediately ruled out a routine face reconstruction. Instead they proposed a ground-breaking face transplant.

Isabelle

“Dinoire’s delight at her new face, however, quickly turned sour. She was completely unprepared for the attention her case brought her. Pursued by the media, harassed by passers-by and curious onlookers, Dinoire spent months after the operation hidden away at home, not daring to venture out.

“Nowadays, people still recognise her around town, but the attention is “not as brutal” as before, she says.

“”With time I have got used to my own face. This is what I look like, what I am like, who I am. If people stare at me insistently, I don’t care any more, I just stare back!” she says, with a hint of a smile.

“But has her personality changed as well as her outward appearance? “No” she replies quickly, “I am the same, just with a different face.””

I found this account of Isabelle’s life fascinating, first and foremost because it reminded me of the 90’s film “Face Off” starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, but also because this is a suicidal woman who, in one dramatic evening, had her life turned into a living hell but has come out of her ordeal with a more positive mentality than previous. Her case is fairly unique, and here’s why.

1. Her suicide attempt worsened her appearance, yet her desire to end her life has gone. Dinoire went from having a “normal” face and feeling suicidal to having a scarred, misshapen and transplanted face but being happy to declare that she is comfortable with who she is. The general trend is that the more distinct your abnormalities are, the more depressed you become about them. Yet when Dinoire was made to appreciate where true beauty lay, she realised that maybe this life is worth a shot. Let’s pray that any inclinations towards suicide would subside.

2. Everyone knows who she is and what she tried to do, yet she pities them rather than herself. She found herself dealing with tormentors, bullies and sneering onlookers, people who took great amusement in her obvious misfortune. How does she respond? “I just stare back,” says Isabelle. “I don’t care any more.” Through her reaction to both her situation and to the attitude of those around her, she’s able to practise incredible grace and forgiveness. What a great example Dinoire is of how we mustn’t let the words and actions of others dictate the sort of person we become.

So, Jonny, it’s an interesting article but that doesn’t really explain why are you discussing it on your blog. Let me fill in the cracks. As I read through this article I started drawing parallels between this woman’s ordeal and the Christian life. They weren’t all direct parallels, but there were several thought-provoking admonitions littered between the lines. Here are three Christian lessons that I drew from this article:

1. It’s human nature to allow curiosity to dictate our actions, regardless of whether we intend it to. Sadly this can often see us imposing ourselves on others unintentionally. All too often we become the curious onlooker-turned-tormentor that Dinoire talks about – we want to know why A broke up with B, why H wasn’t singing at church in the morning, or – in this case – how this lady came to look so peculiar. It’s just a habit – we’re all on a knowledge trip, aren’t we? We live in a sea of curiosity, but maybe it would be good for us to swim up to the surface for a big gulp of perspective every once in a while.

2. When we become Christians we are different, with just the same face. That is to say, when we find our transformation through Christ, something inside us changes that makes us new, beautiful, gracious and hopeful people. Isabelle Dinoire tells us about how she’s remained the same person on the inside despite her change of face, and it’s great that she’s not allowed her operation to be a stumbling block, but when we walk with Christ we gain much more than that. The Scriptures tell us [Galatians 4:6] that “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”  Everything about us apart from our face changes [unless you’re a “shave-once-a-month” kinda guy].

3. The medicines of this world, whilst brilliant, do not compare with the miracles of God. The most advanced transplant available to this woman still left her physically scarred. Medical treatment is great, and it’s developed a remarkable amount in a very short space of time, but this article serves as a reminder that science’s best efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the supernatural feats of an almighty God. I’m referring to resurrections, the removal of lepresy, the curing of blindness and the healing of cripples. I’m also talking about the most significant healing that has ever occurred, and the only one that holds eternal significance – the removal of our sin, through Jesus’ death on the cross. Just like the NHS, this particular health service is free. Unlike the NHS, it comes with the rather generous freebie of a life in heaven with the God of the universe for the rest of time.

Beats a free bottle of shampoo and a box of tissues.