Lifestyle, Opinion, Travel

New Years Resolutions 2018

At some point after posting this I’ll take a look at last year’s list and accept that there are several things I want to change in my life and I simply haven’t bothered putting them into action for another year. I know it is shameful so I’ll try a bit harder this time I promise.

  1. Lose some weight by eating well and exercising more. Simple really and I have begun the New Year by starting Dry January (though I won’t be doing it for sponsorship because that’s pretty lame), walking more and starting to plan my weekly eating.
  2. At least two runs a week, fitness permitting. Obviously when I begin half marathon training this will be pretty simple to follow yet it’s the weeks after that when I need to kick on.
  3. Go out on more dates. This will likely follow the correct implementation of the above two resolutions yet it is galling that I again spent a large amount of the festive period wishing I had someone special to spend it with, especially considering how easy it is seeing how happy couples are on social media. This has to change and I’m determined that I can conquer my shyness and at least ask a few girls out so I don’t face the ignominy of telling my Mum/boss/friends that ‘Operation Tibbles (where I end up living alone with a cat called Tibbles) is going really well.
  4. Eat out more. Again, this will hopefully follow the above resolution. Sheffield has some really fantastic restaurants and I’ve barely been to any of them. Yes, I’m aware I’m a more than half decent cook but it’ll be nice to try some new eateries.
  5. Read at least one book every month. Better still, join a reading club.
  6. Get my ‘Films To Watch’ list down to at least 50 (https://letterboxd.com/wiz52/list/films-i-need-to-watch/)
  7. Limit the time I spend on my phone. After 10pm I should have it off and spend my time in bed reading
  8. Meditate every morning. It only takes ten minutes and has certainly helped my SAD as well as help manage my thinking at work, plus the Headspace app is free thanks to my work.
  9. Participate more in the arts. In December I took part in a ten day study with the University of Sheffield which measured my wellbeing against how much I participated in the arts. One of the points I soon realised was that I really need to go to the theatre more, especially as Sheffield has the Lyceum and Crucible.
  10. Take more care of my herb garden
  11. Smile more
  12. Drink more water
  13. Learn a new skill, possibly a new language such as Arabic
  14. Visit two new countries as I have the holiday days to spare; this could include Iceland, Poland, Turkey, Egypt (yes, I’ve never been) or Cuba
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Film, Music, Opinion, TV

Top Tens of 2017

This is likely not the only ‘Top Tens’ blog post you have seen in the last few weeks and now I’ll add my choices to the mix. The lists fail to include that many leftfield choices though The Florida Project was one film I read a review of then viewed on a whim and now I expect it to win a couple of Oscars (it’s a genuinely remarkable piece of work and I’d highly recommend it to anyone).

Female fronted acts have also dominated my musical choices with gig highlights for the year including the first date of Lorde’s world tour at Manchester Apollo and The Big Moon at Tramlines and Sheffield Plug. I’ve also spent way too much time on Netflix (admittedly without the ‘chill’ aspect) and managed to blitz my way through The Crown, Rick ‘n’ Morty and The Keepers in a matter of days. There’s still several series’ I hope to get through in these cold opening months of 2018 so feel free to comment if there’s anything else you think I’d like.

Films

  1. Thor: Ragnorak
  2. Get Out
  3. Baby Driver
  4. The Florida Project
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  6. Paddington 2
  7. Dunkirk
  8. Wonder Woman
  9. War for the Planet of the Apes
  10. The Big Sick

 

Albums

  1. Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life
  2. The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
  3. Alvvays – Antisocialities
  4. Lorde – Melodrama
  5. Baby Driver OST
  6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?
  7. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
  8. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
  9. Kendrick Lamar – Damn
  10. The Horrors – V

 

Television Shows

  1. Game of Thrones: Season Seven
  2. Stranger Things: Season Two
  3. The Crown: Season Two
  4. GLOW
  5. Rick n Morty
  6. Bojack Horseman
  7. Riverdale
  8. Making A Murderer
  9. Line of Duty: Season Four
  10. The Keepers
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Health, Uncategorized

Men’s Health and Movember 2017

Men’s health is in crisis and this is a conversation worth having. The Movember Foundation sets out to get mates, fathers, partners and brothers talking about it. It remains the only charity dedicated to men’s health on a global scale and raises money for research into men’s health projects. Men are dying too young and this silence has to stop. This is also why, for the sixth year, I am growing a moustache. If a month’s worth of public humiliation means getting men to talk then it will have been worth it.

Prostate cancer

The second most common cancer in men worldwide, I had no idea and I doubt many do. Early detection is vital; there is a 98% survival rate beyond five years when caught early compared to a lowly 26% if late. The risk develops with age and peaks around 45 to 50 when men really need to take a PSA test, which measures the level of prostate specific antigen in the blood. Get it done. Had any strange urinary or ejaculation symptoms? Get it checked.

Testicular cancer

Only a few weeks ago I had, what I guess was, a cancer scare which was diagnosed as an epidermal cyst and benign. Of course this meant a check-up with a doctor and a trip to the hospital for a scan yet it’s better to be safe than sorry. 47% of the men diagnosed with testicular cancer in the UK each year are aged under 35. I’m now 34 and cannot think of this ever being discussed with my mates. Yeh, it likely seems weird to ask, ‘Have you checked your nuts?’ but getting that conversation out into the open is vital.

Mental Health

75% of all suicides are men. Also, one in eight men in the UK have experienced a mental health problem and I annually suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a type of depression that mainly hits in the winter months. This results in a low mood, irritability, feelings of worthlessness and lethargy. I only let a few people close to me know and I realise I should make others aware. Vitamin D supplements help but we really should talk, ask, listen, encourage action and check in. Men really should open up to vulnerability and not feel uncomfortable about asking mates for help, but we do.

This is only Day 12 of Movember and I’ve got a long way to go yet. Men’s health also has a long way to go to improve yet initiatives like this can only hope. If you want to see my progress take a look at my Instagram (@wiz52gram), Twitter (@wiz52) and please sponsor me at https://mobro.co/omarsoliman?mc=1

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Travel

Safari Bingo at The Maasai Mara

A safari trip to the Maasai Mara must be pretty high up many bucket lists and mine is no different. Kenya’s most famous national park is teeming with wildlife and you have probably already seen it without realising. Those migrating herds of wildebeest charging across river banks, trying desperately to avoid the waiting crocodiles with commentary provided by David Attenborough. That would be the Mara River during The Great Migration as thousands of wildebeest travel from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Mara in Kenya between July and October, I went to see what all the fuss was about.

The first thing that strikes you about the Maasai Mara is its sheer vastness. Ideally this is best seen from above and there are regular flights out from Nairobi to ‘the bush’. I booked with Safarilink which has two daily flights out to Maasai Mara from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. You COULD drive out for 5-6 hours yet flying in a thirteen seater Cessna Caravan was an experience I was not going to pass up. This remains the closest I am likely to get to a private jet, albeit for an hour long flight so I sat right at the front and gazed at the confusing flight instruments. About as close as you can get to sitting with the pilot.

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Cessna Caravan

From a few hundred feet in the air you can clearly see the herds of zebras, wildebeest and giraffes meander across the plains. Then there is the topography of lush greens, pale browns intersected with ravines. Not a skyscraper or car park in sight, and you can barely make out the runways below.

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Our destination was the third and final stop making the plane the equivalent of a long-distance shuttle bus. As the plane homed in on Mara Keekorok there was clearly no terminal, no duty-free and no café; merely a local market ran by tribes members and a hut which acted as an admission gate to the park itself. Ah yes, the fees. For tourists the cost is $70USD per day which seems excessive but this is far better than your average day at the zoo.

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We were picked up by our two kindly, knowledgeable guides; Korbin and Benson, and soon enough we were away on our first safari trip. A bright lizard sunning itself on a rock and a lion family lazing under a sausage tree were our immediate highlights. After a couple of hours we arrived at Simba Lodge and were given a hearty welcome. The rooms are mainly constructed out of wood which blends into the surroundings. There are the usual trappings of a hotel room with a kettle, shower room and comfy double bed. Most impressively, the room featured an outside balcony overlooking the stream below. We really were in the middle of the bush as a hippo was enjoying the late afternoon sun on the opposite bank, only an electrified fence separated me from the wildlife. The monkeys were still lolling around the swimming pool though.

DSC05936In order to best see the majesty of the bush it is best to get there early. With my mobile alarm set I woke to the sound of birdsong, surely the best wake-up call on Planet Earth as Attenborough would say. Then watched as the red morning light diffused from sunrise. What became obvious over the next few days was the familiarity of the bush. On the first morning we were greeted with a family of giraffes mingling with zebras. We soon found out that due to the successful policing of the poachers the animals really did not mind us. Giraffes stared at us with a vague interest then continued munching on foliage. Strangely, considering their prevalent role in The Lion King, warthogs and meerkats were easily the shyest of animals we encountered.

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As far as action went we looked to have had narrowly missed a cheetah catching his dinner as a fresh wildebeest corpse soon had its ribs exposed. On another morning all appeared serene as a pack of zebras grazed on one side of the road. On the other side a lion cub slowly crept over the brow scouting for breakfast and suddenly the zebras were on high alert. Likely due to the interests of public decency we vacated the area to let nature play its gory course.

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On several occasions we were late to the action yet even then you could see the inner workings of the bush. When the chase was over and the hunters had had their fill the other predators join in. Before carrion becomes toxic the vultures actually play a responsible role in the bush’s upkeep. Rotting corpses can pollute the land and poison wildlife, before that happens the vultures pick the bones clean. The ecosystem in perfect harmony.

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With the safari trip itself ticked off the bucket list, the next list was The Big Five or, as I like to call it, Safari Bingo. On the first day I had managed to scratch off an African lion, elephant and cape buffalo. Feeling pretty smug with a solid afternoon of safari spotting we soon went off-road. Of course, we were not the only transport on the plains as Korbin and Benson slowed down to excitedly talk to another guide. They could have been discussing the latest boxset or what they were having for dinner such is my lowly grasp of Swahili. Soon enough we edged off-road and thankfully there was a reason to suffer all those bumps. The sun was going down and soon enough we would have to have departed the park and got back for dinner. Yet the reward far outweighed the risk, within a few minutes our guide pointed into the trees and a dark grey silhouette could be seen. At last count there were three rhinos on the Mara, somehow in the 1,510 km² vastness we had managed to spot one. Only when I realised how unlikely our encounter was did I really begin to treasure it. Our return to the lodge was innocuous enough, until we mentioned the rhino. Some workers had been at the lodge for months, maybe years without seeing one, we had only been there for a few hours. The bingo card was nearly complete and the first day had ended with a buffet dinner including dessert, I was on holiday after all.

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The second day was more of the same but I could appreciate how the Mara changes during the day. From mating calls and playfighting Gazelles in the morning to herds of wildebeest minding their own business. On the second day  I took a break from the wildlife to visit the natives. The Maasai tribe inhabit southern Kenya and are resident on the game parks. Indeed, the nearest tribe was pretty much next door to the lodge and for the afternoon we got to know their local customs. We were welcomed with the males bouncing to a rhythm and soon learnt about their cattle and goat herds. Their leader, James, spoke faultless English as my Mother asked about their interaction with the wider world; the internet, education and inoculations. We were then shown their clay huts, means of making fire and a herbal remedy for all ailments which made for an insightful afternoon.

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On our final day we had a full day safari with a picnic and ventured a bit further. A thunderstorm had left mud patches across the terrain which had mainly dried out during the morning. However, by early afternoon some mud remained meaning many transports got stuck and part of the entertainment was cheering them get towed out. As we got closer to the Mara river the sheer volume of wildebeest kept mounting up but we had missing The Great Crossing as the hippos, crocodiles and Egyptian geese looked kinda bored. There was one vacant box on my Safari Bingo card and with a few hours left I managed to tick it off as we spotted a leopard lazing up a tree. I felt like shouting ‘BINGO’ but that would have woken him then scared him off.

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The final morning was also my birthday yet I kept this quiet to enjoy the majesty of the bush waking up. The giraffes and zebras grabbing their breakfast, the wildebeest slowly meandering across the plains and the lions huddling as a family. Well worth a trip, even if it isn’t on your bucket list.

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Politics, Uncategorized

General Election 2017. I Still Believe In This Country, But Not Under This Current Government.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, politics is not really my thing. Yes, I take an interest in how this country is run and how, in general, the world is becoming increasingly ridiculous. I also know people who are a lot more articulate when it comes to understanding and explaining affairs of state. Most of us get our facts from the media but my patience for impartial news is wearing thin to the extent that I do not believe it exists anymore. Since a young age I have have maintained this heavy scepticism, especially when newspapers and television become our primary sources of information when election coverage ramps up.

My main concern lies in an estimated ¾ of the current mainstream media in the UK being privately owned, ergo I don’t believe most of what is being printed being anything close to objective. The Government had an opportunity to investigate the media but dropped the Leveson II Inquiry. I do not believe the media were let off the hook without a compromise, a government able to ignore unwanted facts is a prerogative of unchallenged power. Avoid headlines. Read the manifestos and make up your own mind.

Even then it can be difficult to try to find the common good amongst all the promises. I find it easier to present politics as a fairytale; good v evil, The Force v The Dark Side, government for the few v government for the many. Thomas Jefferson saw it as a battle between aristocrats and democrats. The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe.’ Once you realise how nepotistic the media is and concentrate on policies the picture becomes a little clearer. Judging by the recently published manifestos, it is not difficult to work out which party fits which description in this general elections and why I still believe in this country, but only if the current government was removed.

I believe in a £9 p/h minimum wage and a tax freeze promise on wages for those earning less than £80,000.

I do not believe in zero hour contracts.

I believe in eradicating rough sleeping and raising corporation tax to £26bn. I also believe in Excessive Pay Leverage, in taxing the top 5% and those earning over £80,000. I also believe in giving HMRC more teeth to go after UK companies who plough their profits into tax havens. The rich must pay their dues before a social crisis.

I believe in renationalising the trains and bringing them back under Government control. I also believe in free wifi on trains and freezing rail fare prices before reducing them gradually while investing in infrastructure. Over £100 to visit London before 9am is for the few, not the many.

I believe in renationalising Royal Mail and the National Grid.

I believe in scrapping university tuition fees, a higher education should be a right and not a privilege. However, the Tories have announced plans to fund new free schools (academies and grammar schools) by raising tuition fees. The Conservative manifesto states; “We will make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools”. Universities themselves are concerned, Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, said “Universities need higher tuition fees simply because the government has cut their funding by over 80 per cent. If the fees of students are used to get more academies and free schools off the ground, this would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul but it would also side-line local parents and governors who might prefer to work with other sponsors.”

Meanwhile, free school meals for children from lower income families would be scrapped despite thousands spent on kitchens. In effect, our education system is becoming a system of entitlement.  To put figures into perspective, Tories gave a £100k tax cut p/a to 13,000 millionaires while they are removing school meals from the mouths of 900,000 kids. Dickensian.

I do not believe in a new Dementia tax for the elderly. This would mean elderly people who are receiving social care to fund the entire cost until they reached the last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep. Of course, the Tories have now made a u-turn but their intention was clear; taxing the vulnerable. The u-turn itself is also telling, going back on a repugnant proposal only because going through with it would cost them votes. The Tories even bought up Google advertisements to try and hide the ‘dementia tax’ as if the blunder was all but a figment of our imagination.

I also believe in maintaining the triple lock state pension guarantee and means-testing of winter fuel payments up to £300. I believe in caring for the elderly, not stripping them.

I believe in a properly funded NHS with free car parking, not one involving private consultancies. I also believe in restoring nurses’ training bursaries. I do not believe in dismantling the NHS piece by piece. I do not believe Jeremy Hunt has a conscience.

I do not believe in the loss of Disability Living Allowance. I do not believe in the rise of food banks. I do not believe in starving the poor and the needy.

I believe in a new Minister for Mental Health.

I do not believe in Boris Johnson as a functioning adult, can you imagine him negotiating with the EU as Foreign Secretary? The alternative is Keir Starmer LLB, QC and Barrister who is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. A man with actual experience of persuasion in a court of law. No-brainer.

I believe in interest-free loans for homeowners to improve property.

I do not believe in unethical arms exports to the likes of Saudi Arabia, not with their human rights record.

I believe in banning the UK ivory trade, the Tories removed that pledge from their manifesto. Horrifying.

I do not believe in borrowing over £700bn over seven years with zero investment.

I do not believe in taking the internet under government control but a toughening up of punishments for online abuse.

I do not believe in fox hunting, Theresa May does.

I believe in renewable energy and clean air, not fracking. Germany has it right, not wholesale nationalisation but letting councils decide how to supply their energy and not relying on a few providers.

Strong and stable? What about the weak and vulnerable? I believe in fairness, I shall be voting Labour.

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Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Movember. The Importance of asking ‘how are you’?

This will be the fifth occasion I have participated in Movember and it gets more important every year. Some might say the growing of a moustache is some gimmicky, hipster tradition to show the world ‘Hey, I’ll grow some ridiculous facial hair and get away with it for charity’. If you do think that, you are grossly missing the point.

I truly grasped the importance of Movember in the country where the movement originates, Australia. Over there hipsters seemingly lurk on every corner and moustaches are far more readily spotted. There does not seem to be a taboo over comical upper facial hair, but there does seem to be a taboo over men’s health.

Whenever I think of an Australian, I think of the men I met while doing my farmwork. Tough men who would work in the field all day and come in to a steak dinner. One of the phrases I often heard (though barely aimed at me) was ‘Take a spoonful of concrete and harden the fuck up’. Down under, readily talking about men’s health was frowned upon. Men would not discuss how they were feeling, they’d get their head down and carry on. This is largely the case in the UK where suffering alone is a tangible concern.

Few people ask that simple question, ‘how are you?’ My boss asks me that every so often as she knows there are times when I am struggling, whether that be with my workload or battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. She will take me a quiet area and we will have a ten minute chat where I can offload. It makes a huge difference to know that there is someone checking in on you. When was the last time you asked someone ‘how are you?’ and got a truthful response? ‘I’m alright ta’, when really you have just seen them walk in looking as if they have the world on their shoulders.

Getting men to talk emotionally is a huge challenge and admittedly there are few men I speak to whom I know I can truly offload to. Ask yourself, if you were having a hard time mentally, who would you admit that to? The statistics make for distressing reading –

. One in eight men have experienced a mental health problem

. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide

Men cannot afford to keep it all in and to borrow one of the foundations slogans, ‘Suicide notes talk too late’. Aside from mental health, there are two physical illnesses which Stand Up To Cancer thankfully highlighted last week; prostate and testicular cancer.

. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point

. Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aged 25-49

And yet, do men talk about this? Not really, which is why the Movember Foundation is so vital. Simply talking about men’s health is one huge step and if that means me growing a moustache to raise awareness then great. Happy to.

 

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Fitness, Food, Health, Opinion

“You really should watch your weight”

“You should really watch your weight”. Six words that really should not be uttered in any social setting.

That statement is such a malicious thing to say. Directed at someone who has suffered from weight issues it is a heavy statement to endure. 48 hours later and it is still weighing heavy on my conscience.

I have always been conscious of my weight, likely over-conscious. Back in school I was a fat child and was teased largely until sixth form. It was tough and the emotional trauma stuck for a good few years after. Gradually I would learn not to give the taunts much shrift though occasionally I would bite and get involved in a slanging match. Once you get through that you develop a thick skin and learn not to get emotionally attached. Kids say things without thinking then they grow up and grow out of it, they learn that to get through life you need to show respect.

When I arrived at university I decided to do something, went on a diet and lost a considerable amount of weight. The feeling I got was one of accomplishment, that I had finally joined some sort of an exclusive health club. My weight has fluctuated since then, I have always carried some bulk but have built up a core fitness over time and watch what I eat. Right now I feel comfortable with my weight, well, I did until someone told me I really should watch my weight.

You do not expect to hear any grown adult come out with those six words. People past the age of 16 should know better than to mention someone’s weight. It is such a heartless, brainless, malignant, venomous statement that the words hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. Did the person who dealt such a blow know the damage they could cause? Did they care?

I knew I should have put down the cake and walked away. I knew I should have walked outside in silence, partly out of shame that someone could say such a thing. I returned fire, insinuated that the commenter was all mouth and really did not handle it well. I simmered when I should have let it blow over me. I reacted when I should have shamed him. I should have made sure everyone knew what the troll had just said and see how it went down. Let the audience decide how odious a statement it is.

Bullies and trolls need to be ignored, starved of the oxygen and hate that fuels them. I have options. I can ignore the troll or I can make the statement come back to bite. Better still, I can use the statement whenever I grab some food in their vicinity. If the troll really meant what they said they won’t mind when I utter it amongst others, because you cannot take those words back. You should really watch what you say.

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