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Review of 2011

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A discussion on what your year was like. What were your ups and downs. How did you feel about national and global events?

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      29.01.2012 13:41
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      What a year!

      I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on my 2011 which was quite a personal rollercoaster! Quite simply; the best and worst year of my life! This has turned into a rather long review, but I hope you enjoy it!

      == January ==

      For the first January of my 4 year Speech and Language Therapy degree, we had no exams. We did have numerous assignments plus a dissertation though, so January still started off the year as pretty stressful!

      I did manage to fit in some time for fun though! I took my cousins 14 year old daughter to see JLS 'Outta this World' tour at the arena in Newcastle and we both had a fantastic night!

      As a student representative for my course I was invited to a talk about Giving Voice, from someone from Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Giving Voice (as you may already be aware) is a campaign, led by the RCSLT, to raise awareness of the valuable role of Speech and Language Therapists. I really enjoyed this talk and subsequently became very involved in the campaign because Speech and Language Therapy Transforms Lives

      My dad turned 50 at the end of the January so we went out for a family meal at a local Greek restaurant that we'd never tried but heard was lovely. It lived up to the good praise we heard about it and we had a very enjoyable evening. A nice way to end, what was otherwise a very stressful month!

      == February ==

      My Cousin, Claire, turned 30 in February so we went down to London with Claire's sister, Kirsty, for a long weekend to celebrate. We stayed in a little hotel near King's Cross and spent our time exploring and clubbing. Kirsty's boyfriend lives in London and he took us to a different club each night (Tiger Tiger, Aura, and a Cuban bar in Camden - quite a mix!). We also went shopping in Harrods, visited the zoo, went on the London Eye and just generally explored. We had a great time; although I was exhausted when I returned, I had to launch straight back into uni work!

      A large group of us went out in Newcastle in fancy dress for Claire's birthday when we returned. This was another great night, and a welcome break from my dissertation.

      == March ==

      Most of March saw me at home writing up my dissertation. As it was intervention based, I only finished collecting data 4 weeks before the deadline so it was quite a quick turn around and proved to be a very stressful experience!

      One of the 3rd year students organised a flashmob in Newcastle city centre to raise awareness of Giving Voice and Speech and Language Therapy. I went along to support it with my parents (taking photos), Claire, Kirsty and my nephews. The event had a good turn out and it made it into the Evening Chronicle newspaper (regional).

      == April ==

      I finally got rid of my dissertation when I handed it in on 6th April (2 days before deadline!). We had an 'end of dissertation celebration' night out in Newcastle and I stayed over at one of my friends flats to save the £26 fare home. We had a brilliant night and the following morning I went on Metro Radio to promote Giving Voice (no one could tell I was functioning on just 4 hours sleep and it was a successful phonecall) - we got a number more 'likes' on our Support Giving Voice Campaign page on facebook.

      I also attended some training to become a Giving Voice Champion. This was aimed at us taking the campaign forward in our area and also to encourage us to take the lead in contacting our local MPs and councillors. Following this training I wrote to my MP to explain the campaign and to request a meeting to discuss this further.

      I travelled to Leeds for the day with two of friends from university and we attended the RCSLT Student Study Day. This was a really interesting day and I learnt a lot. After the study day we did a little bit of shopping and went for a meal before getting the train back to Newcastle.

      Easter was a nice family occasion. I organised a mini egg hunt for my nephews and niece and then we all went out for a meal at Amaretto (the Italian restaurant that is practically next door to us). I remember watching the Royal Wedding and feeling particularly proud to be British.

      == May ==

      I started my final block placement straight after the Easter holidays. It was a paediatric placement based in Hartlepool (a 50 mile journey from my house). It was the most stressful 6 weeks ever but I learnt a lot and really enjoyed it. I had my own regular caseload of 5 children plus I saw lots of other children for assessments and reviews.

      I went to see Take That at the Stadium of Light with my parents, sister, auntie and cousins and we all had an amazing time!

      == June==

      June saw me sitting my final (ever?!) exams. The Graduation Ball took place on the night of my final exam and it was at Newcastle Race Course. It was such a brilliant way to end the four years of stress that was our course. About 18 (out of 28) girls from my course went and there was a sit down meal, fairground rides, as much candyfloss as we could eat, and a DJ set from Scott Mills.

      The day after Graduation Ball I met my MP (following the letter I wrote to him in April) to discuss Giving Voice and Speech and Language Therapy. It was a very productive meeting and he learnt a lot about what SLTs do (he said previously he knew very little). I was proud that I was able to increase his knowledge and awareness of the profession. I also left the matrix evidence report with him which demonstrates that Speech and Language Therapy saves £765million per year. I was the first Giving Voice champion to have a 1:1 with my MP so RCSLT did a telephone interview with me for the monthly Bulletin, to encourage others to do the same.

      A couple of weeks after my final exam I received an email from my personal tutor informing me that I achieved a 2.1 in my degree and I was absolutely delighted.

      I arranged a stall at a local Street Fair in my home town where we gave out Giving Voice balloons, leaflets and stickers to raise awareness of the campaign. We also had a tombola and raised money for the North East Trust for Aphasia (a charity based at Newcastle University which helps people with Aphasia - communication difficulties following brain injury such as a stroke). We raised lots of awareness and £350 for NETA.

      == July ==

      At the beginning of July my Grandma got taken into a home. We were all upset by this, especially my granddad. It's the last thing my grandma would have wanted but she was being looked after well enough and seemed content. We all visited regularly.

      I went to see 'Scouting for Girls' with my older sister, Joanne at Tynemouth Priory as part of the Mouth of the Tyne Festival. It rained lots and we got soaked through, but the rain stopped in time for SFG coming on stage and we soon dried off and warmed up! It was a really good night, even the rain didn't spoil it too much!

      I organised another stall at another Street Fair in my home town, this time my local MP came along to show his support and I subsequently got a photo and writing printed in our local newspaper. We raised an additional £150, making our total £500.

      July was also the month of my Graduation. I still can't believe that I finally made it to the end of the course! Graduation was a lovely day. The sun shone, and my parents and sister came to the ceremony. My brother-in-law and the children came into Newcastle after the ceremony so I could get photos with them. This was a lovely surprise as I wasn't expecting them! On the evening of my graduation, we all went to Amaretto for a family meal and the waiters made me stand on a chair and make a speech. They then gave me a complimentary shot of flaming sambuca! After the meal we let off a Sky Lantern and I made a wish. It was a truly wonderful day and I felt privileged to have spent the day with my amazing family, as I wouldn't have got through the course if it wasn't for them.

      Every year we have a family get together at my uncle's house, which is a chance for us all to see each other. We usually have a bouncy castle for the children but it rained last year so we couldn't get it out. We were all squashed inside the house but still had a brilliant time seeing everyone!

      I visited one of my uni friends in Durham and stayed overnight at her house. We went out in Durham on the night time, then the next day we went for lunch, then on a river cruise which was lovely.

      == August ==

      I went to Beamish Open Air Museum with my auntie, uncle and Kirsty. It was the first time I had been in years and we had a lovely day.

      For the first time ever, my parents and I went on holiday with my sister, brother-in-law and the children. We went to Tenerife and had a fantastic week. We spent our days by the pool or on the beach and the evenings dining out or taking part in the family quiz. I would love for the 8 of us to go on holiday again but I don't know if it will be this year.

      I started training to be a volunteer mentor with Northumberland Youth Offending service. I really enjoyed the training and learnt a lot. I'm interested in the links between language and behaviour so thought this would be a good area to develop some of my skills.

      == September ==

      On Thursday 1st September I went to visit my Grandma in the home (like I did often) and she seemed to be in a really good mood. It was the happiest I'd seen her in a while, although her communication has been poor for a long time, she smiled at me and held my hand. I showed her a photo that I had on my phone of us from my second Christmas and she said 'lovely baby'. She didn't seem to know that the baby was also the 22 year old sitting in front of her but I didn't mind because it reminded me of the wonderful grandma that was there when I was growing up. I went home in a good mood knowing that she was happy and content.

      Sadly that was the last time I ever saw my Grandma alive as we got a phone call in the early hours the next morning to say she was being taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack, and sadly there wasn't anything they could do. Naturally we were all devastated, but I took comfort in the fact that she was so happy the last time I saw her. As she had Alzheimer's, I feel like I've been grieving for her bit by bit over the last 4 or 5 years, as the grandma I knew as a child was slowly disappearing from us.

      I was booked to go to Amsterdam on the ferry with Claire and Kirsty on the Monday. I didn't know whether I should go or not, but as the funeral wasn't until the Friday, I decided that I should go. It was nice to get away for a couple of days and we had an enjoyable break. It was rather eventful though, on the first night a girl went overboard, so we were naturally shocked about that! Luckily they found her alive. We were a little late in arriving at Amsterdam the next so we had less time there than planned but we still had time to go for lunch and do a little bit of shopping. It rained the whole time we were there though so we got soaked! The sea was rough on the way home that night and we all got sea sick so unfortunately didn't make use of the night life. However, it was nice to get away from home for a couple of days and I enjoyed spending time with Claire and Kirsty :-)


      My sister lives near the 11 mile mark of the Great North Run and my brother-in-law was running, so we set up a stall giving out orange segments, and jelly babies. My sister and I wore our Giving Voice t-shirts to raise awareness and I had a big banner (with the aim of getting it on TV). My parents caught a glimpse of us on TV when they were watching from home, but I don't think that you'd have spotted us if you weren't looking. It rained most of the time we were outside and we got drenched but the smiles on the faces of the runners as we gave them some oranges or jelly babies made it totally worthwhile. It was lovely to see how grateful everyone was that we were standing there with oranges and jelly babies, even people that didn't want any seemed to be motivated by us being there. I always said that I'd run the GNR one day, but as running really isn't my thing I think my forte is giving out oranges instead! I would definitely do it again as it was so rewarding.

      == October ==

      At the beginning of October I went to a local ladies Over 50's club and gave a talk about Giving Voice. I organised a fun quiz and gave out chocolates and pens. I also arranged for a speech and language therapist to come along and play a song on her ukulele, which she had written herself about speech and language therapy. It was an enjoyable afternoon and I got some more publicity in local press.

      On 17th October I travelled to London with my parents ready to meet my MP as part of a Mass Mobilisation on 18th October. We stayed in a lovely hotel in St James' and bumped into David Hasselhoff in the lift and he was lovely! We went to see Shrek the Musical on the Monday night and it was brilliant.

      On the Tuesday I went to meet my MP in the Houses of Parliament and it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Whilst waiting for my MP I saw the Speakers Procession go into the house. It was quite exciting seeing John Bercow in person (after learning about the Bercow review at university). My MP and I sat outside on a patio area looking out onto the Thames and we drank tea whilst discussing the importance of speech and language therapy. It was such a fantastic experience and I felt proud to be part of the profession. More than 250 SLT's travelled to London for mass mobilisation and 90 individual MP lobbies took place.

      On the evening of the Mass Mobilisation, I attended the RCSLT Honours and Giving Voice Awards ceremony where I was awarded 'Outstanding Contribution to Speech and Language Therapy' for my work with Giving Voice. This was the most fantastic night of my life as I got to meet fellow speech and language therapists (some of which I've read their published work), MPs, John Bercow, Gareth Gates and Mark Logue (grandson of Lionel - The Kings Speech Therapist). Everyone was so lovely and I was overwhelmed to be there with some truly amazing people.

      ==November ==

      In November I started some voluntary work with a local speech and language therapy service 2 days a week. I'm really enjoying it and hope the experience I gain here will help me to stand out at interview and lead to me getting a job!

      After arranging to hold a communication chain across Gateshead Millennium Bridge on a mid-November day I was slightly concerned that it would be cold, windy, foggy and raining. I warned everyone to wrap up warm and be prepared for any inclement weather; so I was extremely pleased to see glorious sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. There certainly wasn't any Fog on the Tyne on this occasion! The lack of cloud cover meant there was a bit of a bite to the air but the sun was surprisingly warm for November. We couldn't have wished for nicer weather and it was an enjoyable morning.

      ==December ==

      In October, I started attending a ukulele group at a local pub (following inspiration from my SLT Uke playing friend). We performed in front of a small audience the week before Christmas, playing a few Christmas songs and some of the songs we'd been practising in the group. I'm still not very good yet but I enjoyed being alongside the other people playing their Ukes.

      My parents took me to see Legally Blonde the musical at the Sunderland Empire as a surprise as part of my Christmas present. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it :-)

      Christmas was lovely. My sister, brother-in-law and the children came to our house on Christmas Day (for the first time since my 14-year-old nephews first Christmas) and we went to Amaretto for Christmas lunch with my parents and granddad. It was a lovely atmosphere and one of the waiters dressed up as Santa and gave all the children a gift bag filled with sweets.

      New Year was quiet this year, a family meal in the house on New Years Eve followed by a game of Trivial Pursuit (from our Christmas Crackers!).

      == My Year - Conclusion ==

      I spent a long of time with family and friends in 2011 and finally graduated from university. It makes me sad that my grandma didn't understand that I'd graduated but I know that my grandma (the one that was there when I was growing up) would have been so proud of me and I'd like to think that wherever she is now, she still is proud, not only of me but of my whole family.

      I'm still working part time as a receptionist to earn a bit of money while searching for a speech and language therapy job. I knew 2011 was a busy year, but I didn't realise just quite how much I'd done until I started to write about it! If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

      == Things I'd like to achieve in 2012 ==

      *Get a Speech and Language Therapy job!
      *Learn to play a song on my Ukulele
      *Do something I've never done before

      *~*~* For Grandma - the woman who taught me that life's not always easy or fair but we have to fight for what we believe in - and we've got to laugh or else we'll cry! *~*~*


      Happy New Year - hope it's a happy and healthy one for you and your loved ones!

      Thanks for reading! bluejules

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        27.01.2012 01:07
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        A horribly busy year, and now I have another one to look forward to...

        At the end of 2010, I was living in South West London and working in an advertising sales and publishing position in the City. At the end of 2011, I find myself in the same job and in a slightly different part of South West London. But it's been a hell of a year.

        January
        2011 kicked off with a photoshoot for the first of my three stage appearances this year. Our amateur production of Terence Rattigan's Flare Path beat by several months all the professional revivals of the playwright's work in the centenary of his birth. I had a supporting role in the show, as Air Gunner Dave 'Dusty' Miller, but managed to sneak into the background of the publicity photos in an awesome RAF greatcoat.

        I also had a spate of meeting heroes in January, going to a Ben Aaronovitch signing for Rivers of London, and bumping into the Verve's Richard Ashcroft (in the same pub as the Flare Path shoot, as it happens).

        February
        I had a busy February. Myself, my girlfriend, and some friends went to the SFX Weekender convention at Camber Sands. Having given up a whole lunchtime in January to meet Ben Aaronovitch, it was a little odd to bump into him in the bar, but we also got to meet Craig Charles, Steven Moffat, George Takei, Robert Rankin and Tony Lee, and saw panels from the cast of Being Human, Paul Cornell, Peter F Hamilton, China Mieville and many others. My girlfriend and I dressed up as the 9th Doctor and Rose, while my friends dressed up as two of the characters from Farscape. It was enormous boozy fun, and we're going again in 2012.

        Then of course there was the small matter of Flare Path's performance. The play, about a British bomber crew going on a raid in 1941, and the friends and family they leave behind, was drawn from Rattigan's own wartime experiences and was revived just a month later by Trevor Nunn at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. We didn't have Sienna Miller, James Purefoy or Sheridan Smith in our cast, but we did have a sell-out show every night of our five day run, and reports of real RAF veterans in tears over certain scenes in the play. Alistair McGowan was in the audience one night, and was sitting right in front of me as I spent the second half of Act Two clutching the fireplace, and we later picked up a bunch of regional amateur dramatics awards for the show.

        March
        No sooner had I finished Flare Path, but we started rehearsing Alan Ayckbourn's comedy Sisterly Feelings. I only had a small part in that show, so I was able to spend a lot more time focusing on my writing. I was commissioned to write a series of travel articles by a popular website specialising in trip advice (if that isn't a massive giveaway), and I was also a winner in a flash fiction competition organised by a Brighton writers' group. I gather my entry, Cyberstalking, may have been broadcast on hospital radio, but I don't know anyone in hospital in Brighton who can tell me.

        April
        I felt under the cosh a bit in April, what with best man's duties for my brother's wedding and writing 40 travel articles. I spent a certain wedding-related bank holiday watching a Life on Mars boxset - not out of republican pride, but because I was too shattered to do anything else.

        May
        By the time May rolled round Sisterly Feelings rehearsals were becoming really rather stressful, and work was providing a bit of a welcome release. My employer's annual conference was held in Liverpool in May, which was the cue for three days around the Albert Docks. Brilliant city, although as the taxi driver pointed out on our last day, we only really saw the nice bits.

        June
        In June I nearly had a nervous breakdown, performed Sisterly Feelings and had a well earned week's holiday in the South of France. In that order. The show went quite well, but I had to ask myself some pretty blunt questions about whether I can really juggle acting, even amateur dramatics, with a full-time job. As a result, I opted out of the November production (Guys & Dolls), and agreed to do a very small scale pantomime instead at the London Wetland Centre.

        France was great. My girlfriend and I stayed with my penfriend (we've been writing to each other for about 15 years now) and her family in the Dordogne. It was a great week of exploration, wine consumption and relaxation.

        July
        By the time the summer rolled around, things got a bit more stressful again. I'd been living in the Southfields area for about five years, but when the lease on the latest flat came up for renewal, we took a hard decision to move on. So the whole house-hunting, preliminary packing and general hassle associated with such a move kicked in. Luckily, we managed to find an amazing studio flat in the part of London where I do all my amateur dramatics, and made suitable preparations.

        August
        In August I left Southfields and moved to the borough of Richmond on Thames. My rent skyrocketed, but my commute instantly became a lot more comfortable (and slightly cheaper), and I was suddenly living at the heart of the community where I'd been spending increasing amounts of time over the last couple of years.

        September
        September saw the start of rehearsals for the Wetland Centre's panto, the second year I'd been involved in the show. The last embers of my past in teaching were not entirely happy with the script. Pantomime isn't as easy as it might look, and things like audience participation need to be structured carefully so that the children in the audience know what they're supposed to be shouting. Anyway, September was also spent acquiring new tech for the new flat, including a massively upgraded laptop and a 32 inch HD TV. Working in sales has its advantages.

        October
        October saw me continuing in panto rehearsals, but the worst part of the month was undoubtedly when my cat went missing for three days. People tell me that cats go missing all the time, but it was out of character for Buscemi and I got quite distraught, particularly as we'd only been in the new flat for two months or so. Obviously she turned up in the end - we think she'd been trapped in a garage somewhere as she clearly hadn't been eating.

        The literary highlight of the month was a trip to a book launch for 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs. James Bolam, Katy Manning Susan Jameson, and a huge bunch of friends and fans turned up to support Paul, which was a lovely evening in a great bookshop just off Charing Cross Road. As far as my own writing was concerned, I wrote a short story which I entered into a Foyles competition coinciding with the launch of Haruki Murakami's latest novel, 1Q84.

        November
        By November I was getting pretty jaded from a very long and busy year. I'd been commissioned to write a series of automobile articles which was a whole new area for me and took a lot of my time. In addition, the pantomime rehearsals were becoming very frustrating. Still, I soldiered on. The month's highlights included the Annual Dinner with my job, a huge black tie affair on Park Lane. I also went to see the amateur production of Guys and Dolls, and was immediately terribly disappointed that I hadn't taken part, it was brilliant. Michael Sheen's Hamlet was also incredibly powerful at the Young Vic.

        December
        The end of another year rolled round, and I had a day trip to Paris for work, which managed to be incredibly stressful (a high level meeting with an advertising agency and a bank's marketing team, all in French, with no one to help me on the specialist financial jargon), and incredibly relaxing at the same time. I also acted in the Wetland Centre pantomime, which was huge fun in spite of a troubled rehearsal period. Changes in my job mean I won't be able to do it next year, but it was nice to bow out on a high note.

        Looking Ahead
        2011 was a good year for me. I was always very aware that while I was continuing (and doing pretty well) in a nicely paid job, a lot of friends and family were having a pretty rough time. Away from the workplace, I was constantly busy, writing articles and short stories, and appearing in plays, and while that lead to the occasional crisis of time management, I'd rather have too much to do than be idle.

        In 2012, I'll be taking on new responsibilities at work, and hopefully reaping the financial benefits of that. I'll definitely be appearing in one play, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, and have committed verbally to do Tale of Two Cities in the Summer (probably in a fairly small part). I'm going to the recording of a legendary sitcom, and have theatre tickets booked for Michael Ball in Sweeney Todd in the West End. I'm going to be fiendishly busy, but it stops me getting into any trouble!

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          24.01.2012 18:11
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          Hard work and sacrifice - learning and accomplishment

          2011 was a year of beginnings for me with many long sought after ideas coming into physical fruition and the bones being laid for 2012's major projects.
          The Gate House

          I could hardly say anything about achievements in 2011 without mentioning the completion of our house. January 2011 saw my immediate family and I huddled in a stationary caravan (wagon to us show folk). Outside the snow had been relentless. We were stranded on my parents' exposed hilltop due to our local lanes
          being very difficult to pass (we don't get gritted). We struggled with frozen water and diminishing gas bottles as we trudged through snow that came up to our waists. That's where you last left me when I self-indulged in my annual reflection of the previous year's events. Outside our window and cardboard thin walls a cleared site was the only thing that resembled the promise of our new home, the one we had invested hard work and all our saving in. A reconstructed but totally out of use well was the only feature that greeted us on the approved site. I was late the last time I wrote my review, by over a week. I type this on my brand new ThinkPad laptop in my newly built house on the final day of 2011. I now live in a different world.
          The main praise for the house has to go to my wonderful mother who gave us the land in the first place. My appreciation for the area that I was largely brought up in after my family parked the circus for the final time has continued to increase. The English Cotswolds are a wonderland of beauty and inspiration. No clichés intended. You can see how this type of environment breeds writers, poets and artists. Even a lengthy trip to our nearest recycling centre is a joy thanks to the dry stone walls and preserved rural villages. The woodlands and open fields are teeming with wildlife, and the skies are clear. It's escapism at its most romantic.

          The house would not have existed if it weren't for many individuals in my life and I will never forget them. Once all available funds had been spent on the foundations we were delayed before my parents kindly provided us with a loan from the business in order to get the house finished by December and we could get onto an affordable mortgage. I won't bore you with the details or ask you to break out violins for the hardships we endured. We aren't exactly wealthy, but we are very aware of how lucky we have been. Not only did we amaze just about everyone by getting outline planning permission first time around, but our willingness to collaborate rather than fight the local council meant a relatively painless transition to full planning permission for a building I am quite happy to live in for the rest of my life. Our house went through four designers and I am hugely grateful for the main input by my wife's sister-in-law, who came up with the shape we wanted during a crucial year in university studying architecture. I also have the extra good fortune of not only having some wonderfully supportive family members, but also the best wife a man could ask for. She took the burden of the project on her own shoulders and without her it simply wouldn't have happened. She sought out the wonderful stone that really makes the house, dealt with all the building headaches, researched everything relevant about home-building she could find and when it came to picking up a brush it was me minding the toddler whilst her far superior painting skills ensured everything looked wonderful. This is not to say we didn't have a first class builder who did the project managing from start to finish with an eye for detail and a desire for perfection that means he is still visiting here to finish minor jobs. I just think he likes our coffee!
          The house is now habitable and I write this from the study I have always dreamed about, surrounded by my large book collection - all together in one place at last! However, the story is far from over. There is much that needs completing and maintaining and that is why 2012 is the year I push myself to greater heights than ever before. You will have to excuse my corny romancing again, but there is yet another reason the house's title is appropriate (we have at least three official interpretations): It is the physical representation of a gate house to our future.

          Mo Teague's Hard Target System
          2011 saw Mo Teague's Hard Target System shift up a gear. Saudi Aramco, the world's most valuable company, booked the services of my coach Mo Teague and senior Hard Target instructor Al Cain to teach their security units in Saudi Arabia "Mo Teague's Hard Target System". I was scheduled to teach later in the year, but unfortunately our later contracts haven't materialized yet. I ended up covering five months of Hard Target weekend seminars at Response Security Systems' offices in London for the first half of the year. The majority of these sessions were attended by students training for their Close Protection (body-guarding) qualifications and were often ex-military, ex-law enforcement and regular door supervisors. I am happy to say that I received 100 per cent positive feedback from all attendees and the experiences really helped me improve my teaching standards.
          Later in the year I met up with those who attended Mo's instructor programme - an intensive five week programme of training at the World Combat Arts main gym. Aside from putting me through my paces it is always a joy to see Mo train advanced students. As I said in my interview with Michael Rosenbaum this year, Mo is a criminally under-rated coach. I am very proud to teach for him and to train under him. The man is miles ahead of the vast majority of coaches. His 2011 joint seminar with his US counterpart, W. Hock Hocheim was probably the greatest event for self-defence purists of the year. I sadly missed it due to house-moving commitments.

          Regular Classes
          My regular junior classes in 2011 saw several changes. We not only got our first brown sash in CCMA history, but also had more regular workshops. Training has included more emphasis on grappling, weapons defence and agility training.

          BTEC Advanced Award in Self-Defence Instruction
          This year saw the launch of a brand new qualification. If there was one qualification I was going to achieve in 2011 it was this one; at last accredited certificates for teaching self-defence. This is the future. I saw it a long time ago. We live in an age where black belts are two to a penny and instructorships in combative-based systems are being milled out faster all the time. The value of being a martial arts instructor or even a martial arts instructor with an advanced grade is diminishing all the time. By having a BTEC approved qualification you have something that makes you and the standards of your qualification stand outside the world of martial arts, aligning yourself with other respected professions. The experience also brought me into contact with Keith Buchard who I look forward to assisting more in 2012 with this qualification.

          KEWAP
          Steve TImperley is another individual who has greatly impressed me. He invited me to join his Martial Arts Alliance, an apolitical martial arts groups dedicated in providing support and setting standards in the martial arts community. I was granted the status of national tutor due to my accredited qualifications. Steve's Knife and Edged Weapon Programme is a very professional service and I was very impressed both with Steve's overall approach and his delivery of the course. The soft skills content and presentation is excellent, as is the support offered. I didn't take much convincing to go first for his regular instructor qualification and then his senior one, both of which I passed. I also got to meet some remarkable fellow instructors during these experiences and sadly was also exposed to a lot of the fear and bad teaching practices I have seen infect the world of reality-based self-defence.

          Vagabond Warriors
          Perhaps my most exciting experiences outside my house is the continued development of my Vagabond Warriors courses. 2012 is the year that they should really take off at Telford's Kyushinkai Martial Arts Centre. The seminars are designed to take martial arts cross-training into a new area. Rather teaching people new techniques or systems, Vagabond Warriors aims to develop the individual promoting clarification, scepticism and individuality.


          Children's Basic Self-Defence Course
          I provided a six-part self-defence course for juniors at Kyushinkai Martial Arts Centre in Telford. The course was met with enthusiasm and the venue is brilliant. I am also grateful for the friendship I have developed with the club's owner, Sam Stewart. We have some great plans for 2012.
          Other memorable martial moments for 2011 included more workshops for Witney Boys' Brigade, which is always an interesting challenge. I also did a very lengthy interview for the new martial arts podcast, The Den Show, which was divided up into installments over four shows. As I have said before, I am big podcast fan and it was great fun being part of such a professionally produced show. I give full respect to Chris Denwood who does an excellent job presenting and creating the episodes.

          Personal Training
          Matters seemed to improve with my personal training when I joined a local club for the first time in 18 months. For a few months I got back into the formal training routine and caught up with my Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing and muay Thai. I even tried my hand at the fearsome art of freestyle wrestling. Unfortunately commitments with the house cut all of this short and I hope to re-join in the New Year once matters have settled down. Back home I experimented with a lot of high intensity training - sets of five minute rounds, the Tabata method, 300 reps and specific weight training routines.

          The English Riots
          As we had our own personal and rather minor struggles out in rural Oxfordshire, our friends in the nation's capital as well as other cities were experiencing a far more immediate threat to their lives. I was not directly affected by the riots, but I knew people serving in the police that had to deal with them. My views and opinions on the whole sad episode are detailed in an essay I started writing a week or so afterwards and recently completed. Like all national tragedies - and I include the terrible mass killings in July 2011 in Norway - we often reinforce our personal prejudices, ideals and fears by such dramatic instances as we seek meanings. I am not interesting in meanings and I see less in the way of a societal cause. This has more to do with the actions of a minority of individuals and their own personal disorders. Understanding that is more in our society's interests than in pandering to the simplistic political ideas that come out as knee-jerk reactions to such tragedies.

          Books
          "The Science of Fear" (AKA "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear") by Dan Gardner

          Gardner is a sceptic without knowing it. Recommended by combatives expert W. Hock Hocheim, this excellent study into society's growing sensitivity to fear, especially irrational fear is an excellent counterweight to that long-serving bible of self-defence soft skills, Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear". Gardner is a journalist by trade, but is a thorough researcher and backs his work up with hard scientific evidence. He reveals the dangers of intuition and the reality behind some of societies greatest fears. An essential read.
          "The Survivor's Club" by Ben Sherwood

          Sherwood's book also came from Hock's excellent book club and is recommended for the same reasons as Gardner's work. In many ways it is more relevant, as it deals with life or death survival situations and dissects the science behind why certain individuals defied the odds. The book is cites some excellent research and, again, is an essential read for today's self-defence defence coach and student. It is marred a little by the importance it places on faith in a supernatural being.
          "The Tao of Muhammad Ali" by Davis Miller

          Miller's highly original and incredibly frank biography on Ali, written as part of his own autobiography, is a thoroughly entertaining read. Some might find Miller's own story a little distracting from the usual straightforward biography, but there are few authors who really explore the true identity of this most beloved of sports and fighting icons.
          "The Tao of Bruce Lee" by Davis Miller

          The same can be said about his companion book on Bruce Lee. Although, unlike Ali, Miller never knew Lee, the author arguably penetrates deeper and strips away even more of this particular icon's mythology. Lain bare showing all his flaws Lee is no less than impressive as a human being as he was as a legend.

          "The Godless Boys" by Naomi Woods

          Woods' debut novel is the first modern novel I have read in a while. I received it as an Amazon Vine customer, so it was a pre-edited release that I got for free on the condition I review it. I found the concept of an alternative UK in the 1980s, where unbelievers were banished to an island to be an interesting diversion.
          "The Caged Virgin" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

          Ali's remarkably brave critique of the religion she was brought up in is a powerful read. The Somalia-born and now resident of Holland, has had to endure a life of hardship relatively unknown outside of the developed world. Her argument for reason against even the more moderate end of her former faith is compelling and very interesting.
          "The Invisible Man" by H.G. Wells

          Low on characterization and international adventure when one compares it "Dracula" and "Frankenstein", Wells's story of a man driven to insanity through his invisible power is still an exciting read. What I found particularly refreshing was the author's straightforward style, which is pretty rare in the Victorian novel.
          "Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre

          It has been brought to my attention that pretty much all that is contained in Ben Goldacre's book can be downloaded for free off his website, but nonetheless I enjoyed reading the book on the train as I attended another Hard Target seminar in London. Goldacre's book should be a part of anyone's book collection. It provides fantastically accessible information on the nonsense being peddled by quack doctors, nutritionists, pharmaceutical companies and the alternative medicine crowd.
          "Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir" by Margaux Fragaso

          This is perhaps the most candid, personal and honest account of a victim of paedophilia that has ever been written. It distances itself from the almost pornographic tragic bios that take up whole sections of airport newsagents and book shops by its style and realism. Fragaso has shocked many a reader by trying hard to relay the genuine complexities of these types of relationships, shaping her abuser as a real human being rather than as a shadowy demon. She reveals the way families, often with their own problems, and local communities are often complicit through their denial of this type of abuse.
          Despite there being a fair bit of artistic licence - Fragaso tries to tell us word-for-word conversations we have no proof of ever occurring - there is an overall feeling of honesty. Fragaso is a talented writer and it will be interesting to read her future work.

          "The Art of Possibility" by Benjamin Zander
          After reading Steve Salerno's scathing and unforgiving dismantling of the self-help movement in 2010, I was a little ponderous about reading another book in this particular genre. The person recommended me this particular book insisted it wasn't self-help and it certainly doesn't seem to go down the route of most in the genre. Counsellor and concern conductor married couple the Zanders provide us with the lessons they learned about creating new possibilities with their clients and students. It provides some sound professional advice, often born out of the virtue of hard work and practice, as well as prompts for creativity.

          "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens
          We lost an intellectual giant in December 2011. Christopher Hitchens was an expert and feared debater. This particular book shows us just how persuasive he could be in dismantling the philosophy of religion. (my article on Hitchens and full review of this book)

          "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology" by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein
          Quite simply the most important book published on psychology in recent times. Not only is it wonderfully accessible and easy to reference, but it's meticulously documented with very thorough academic notes. If you are involved in anything that touches upon psychology - from counseling to criminology to self-help to self-protection this is a must-read.

          "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt
          Some have argued that this isn't really a book on economics. However, it provides some fascinating insights into the way people function and has the backing of some hard-to-argue-against numbers. There is the odd exaggerated story that Levitt has admitted to being too credulous on in a later edition, but on the whole the theories are pretty sound and very interesting. I read it to get the dirt on sumo wrestling, which seems to be inherently fixed to some degree. However, I quickly became fascinated at the insight into the low returns on drug-dealing, the cheating practices of teachers in response to the "No Child Left Behind" initiative and the way baby names slide up and down the classes.

          "Bad History: How We Got the Past Wrong" by Emma Marriott
          This is a wonderful little reference book on a much-needed subject. Just as science has been working hard to debunk nonsense, history has been left to hang out to dry in postmodern eras. The book gives you short chapters on a wide range of popular myths about history and helps explain why these misunderstandings about the past occur.

          "Columbine" by Dave Cullen
          There is quite simply no other book that comes close to Dave Cullen's thorough analysis of all the available material on the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Cullen has been interviewed by such a wide range of people that our hope is that the false narratives attached to this tragedy are being purged from our collective consciousness.

          "The Masters of Sit-Com: From Hancock to Steptoe" by Christopher Stevens (with Alan Simpson and Ray Galton)
          I just began reading this book at the end of 2011, so it will probably go on my 2012 list too. So far, I find it as comforting and witty as my usual experiences with Galton and Simpson's work. The book is part biographical and part compilation of excerpts of the comedy duos best and rarest scripts.

          Conclusion
          2011 was a very full year for me and it is small wonder why it seems to have passed in a blink of an eye. I have learnt a lot from a lot of people online and face-to-face. I have watched how the field outside my caravan window has changed to foundations and then eventually a fully operational house. I have a profound love for my surroundings now. I can also see a tremendous scope for change and progress in the martial arts world.

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