Thursday, 20 December 2012

The day Ulrika died

Ulrika ka ka, my beautiful Ford KA, finally breathed her last this week. After five months of sheer bliss together (sort of), taking her for a long-distance spin when she was on her last legs spelt disaster. 

High on fumes, running on empty and having narrowly avoided several collisions, I managed to make it to Fords of Winsford, a well-known used car supermarket in Cheshire. It had taken me five hours to get forty miles.

I got Ulrika parked in the humungous car park and bundled myself through the glass doors towards reception. A friendly looking chap greeted me and was sympathetic to my plight. What I really needed at this point was a hug, a nice cup of cocoa and… well, a new – and preferably free – car.

I sat down with a man named Paul Atherton to discuss my options, and we were joined by another lovely chap whose name I’ve forgotten (I blame the fumes) who was learning the ropes. They talked me through my options and it soon became clear that I couldn’t afford any of them. No surprises there.

But Paul was undeterred. Unlike most car salesmen (sorry for the generalisation, but there does tend to be a ‘type’), he was honest, helpful and resourceful. First he arranged for poor Ulrika to be ‘reappropriated’, for a better sum than I was expecting. He haggled hard on her behalf, and I was immensely grateful.

Then we looked for a smallish car that would get me from A to B with the occasional long-distance run thrown in. We found one that was just the job, but unfortunately it was reserved for another customer. We found another and the same thing happened… it wasn’t looking good. But then, third time lucky, we found a handsome little wagon that ticked all the boxes. A 2008 Ford Fiesta Zetec without even the slightest scent of burnt engine.

There were still a few problems to overcome though. I needed to secure the necessary finance… I needed Fords to agree to lend me a courtesy car for more than a week as my car needed to be thoroughly checked before I could drive it away… And I needed to source my missing V5 certificate to prove that I was indeed Ulrika’s rightful owner. I asked about 100 questions and Paul answered them all. He even threw in a free cup of cocoa to sweeten the deal (see what I did there?).

Once the paperwork was signed, he drove the courtesy car round to where Ulrika had conked out and we unloaded my many bits and bobs, furry dice included. I gave her one last stroke and managed to hold back the tears. It was time for her to go to scrapyard heaven, and time for me to get to grips with the Hyundai I’d be borrowing for a week.

After a quick demo from Paul, it was time for me to say goodbye to Fords of Winsford and its wonderful employees. No hugs were exchanged, although I gave Paul and his deputy an imaginary one (I hope they don’t mind if they’re reading this). I drove off into the freezing fog, toasty warm and excited about my new wheels. It’s going to be hard for my family to match the present I’ve gifted myself!

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, it’s partly because I wanted to voice my gratitude to the guys that helped me in my time of need (including the lorry driver who stopped to help me on the side of the road and ended up making the problem worse… his heart was in the right place). 

And I also need name suggestions for the new car. At the moment she's called Fiesta ta ta (Fi for short), so if you think you can do better, add your suggestions in the comments section below. All sensible options will be considered! 

Finally, it occurred to me that we are bound to experience disappointments, breakdowns and losses in life. If things are going well for you at the moment, and I hope they are, be grateful! Thank the people that have helped you this year. Remember to enjoy the good times because you never know when they might end; especially if the Mayans have anything to do with it. If things aren’t going so well, I pray that the New Year will bring better times – don’t give up hope.

And with Christmas nearly upon us, let’s take time to remember why we have the fairy lights, the pigs in blankets and the warm mince pies: that Jesus, not turkey, is the reason for the season.

A very Merry Christmas to you from all of us at Sorted xxx

Friday, 7 December 2012

It’ll be lonely this Christmas

In three weeks’ time, Christmas will be behind us. The turkey will be gone, the presents will be dotted round the house in perfect piles for tripping over and every relative in the land will have been visited – probably twice. And hopefully we will all have remembered to celebrate the birth of Jesus at some point, too!

One of the saddest things about Christmas, though, is that many people don’t enjoy the perfect festive period the way some do. Many elderly people are completely alone at Christmas having lost loved ones, and a large number are unable to afford all the fancy trimmings. In fact, many struggle to cover basic costs such as heating.

Then there are homeless people, some of whom have to fight to stay alive in blisteringly cold conditions. For whatever reasons, they’ve fallen on hard times and now they are vulnerable to cold, loneliness and violence. Many are struggling with substance abuse.

And having done some work with Bristol International Student Centre (BISC) over the last few months, I’m also aware that a large number of internationals will find themselves alone and away from home come December 25. Imagine being thousands of miles away from your family and friends in a land that is cold and where the food is more than a little strange.

Finally, there are the people whose relationships have suddenly come to an end. Did you know there is usually a flurry of marriage/relationship breakups just before and after Christmas? Maybe it’s the stress of all the preparation, or the fact that couples actually have to spend time together that brings it on… Whichever way you look at it, this can make for an extremely sad and lonely time for the couple involved and for their children, if they have them.

So as you go about your Christmas shopping or plan what to wear to your office party, spare a thought for the people around you that might not be looking forward to Christmas. Is there anything you can do to help?

Maybe you could buy an extra gift for someone who doesn’t have any family around them at this time; a warm blanket for an elderly neighbour, for example. Or perhaps you could make an effort to include that person at work who is having a tough time at home. 

I’m not saying you have to invite every homeless person you meet over for Christmas dinner (although it might be that you could invite someone to share in your family feast), but small gestures can have a massive impact people who are hurting.

Many churches and charities host special services, meals and festive events for those that are alone or in need at Christmas time. Make an effort to find out what’s on offer and get involved. For example, my church has a Christmas hamper project that provides low-income families, single parents and those in sheltered accommodation with a basic meal and some treats on Christmas Day.

This is a great opportunity to share God’s love with people in a practical way. If you really can’t afford to give (and I question whether that is true if you really think about it), give of your time. Offer to help pack up the hampers or to drive them to where they need to go.

Don’t just turn up the Christmas tunes and zone everything else out. We remember at Christmas that God gave everything He had for us – His own Son – so let’s be prepared to give generously to others at this special time of year. 

Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine - out soon! There's still time to buy a gift subscription for that special man in your life...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Get yourself off to a flying start

Anyone who has ever watched Top Gun will have imagined (at least in their heads) that the planet will never be safe until their flying skills have been put to the test. 

Let’s face it, the Red Arrows would have nothing on us if we were to get behind the control yoke of a plane. I mean, our driving skills are already the envy of the roads, so just think what would happen if the cockpit was under our command…

If these thoughts have ever entered your mind, I have just the thing for you. British Airways (BA) is now offering flight training sessions in its multi-million pound, full motion Boeing or Airbus flight simulators. These simulators aren't like the ones you get a funfairs (although those can be fun too); these capsules are normally used to train professional pilots before they get to do the real thing.

It’s a bit dearer that a driving lesson, but imagine the rush you’ll get as you learn the skills that would make Maverick, Goose and the rest of the Top Gun crew stand to attention. You can take part in the training alone, take a friend along, or even arrange a corporate session for you and your workmates. The best part is, absolutely no experience is required. All you need is a passport to get through security and a reasonably clear bill of health, and the sky’s the limit.

Step one is a 30-minute pre-flight briefing in the Ground School, which will give you a detailed overview of the flight deck instruments, controls and systems. Once that’s over you actually get to press the buttons for yourself! In fact, you will be at the controls throughout the whole process, from take-off to touchdown, and all of the action takes place under the instruction of a fully trained BA pilot. The stunning visual effects, surround sound and advanced hydraulic motion systems will work together to convince you that you’re actually flying the plane.

If it’s a corporate session you’re after, various packages are available, with the potential for up to 24 colleagues to get involved. BA offers flight simulators and cabin simulators as well as conference and banqueting facilities for small or large groups. You may have been to team-building sessions with the work crew in the past, but this will blow all your other bonding experiences out of the… sky.

Corporate prices range from around £1,400 to £6,600, with flight times ranging from 30 to 60 minutes per guest. For this fair sum you get hands on experience, guidance from a proper BA pilot, refreshments and private room hire and, in some cases, additional cabin safety training. Providing your pilot agrees, you can even take pictures of the action to post on the work noticeboard.

Personal flight prices range from £399 for an hour’s session to £1,347 for a three-hour. If you’re stuck for gift ideas for the dad, brother or best mate who seems to have it all, nothing says Happy Birthday like an hour flying a Boeing 737. It could even win you a few brownie points with the father-in-law; especially if you go along for the ride. That way you get to fulfil your own flying dreams and make him a happy man at the same time. Heck, you could even hire the uniform and really get into character. Female flight attendants beware!

Read more from Joy in the upcoming edition of Sorted magazine, out soon.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Nick Vujicic goes out on a limb

Imagine being born without any arms… that would make simple things like cleaning your teeth pretty tricky. I broke my shoulder a couple of years ago and was amazed how difficult everything was with just my right arm out of action.

Now imagine being born without any arms or legs… Well that’s what happened to Nick Vujicic, who was born with a rare condition called tetra-amelia syndrome.

In place of his legs was a small foot with two toes, which allowed him to learn a number of key skills as he grew up, but early life was extremely tough for the young Australian.

Struggling to perform the mundane tasks most people do without a second thought, Nick was bullied mercilessly and became very depressed. In fact, he tells me in an interview for Sorted that he was so down as a child he became suicidal, and if it hadn't been for his parents’ deep love for him and his for them, he would have taken his own life at the age of ten.

How would he ever get a job? Or have a family? What was the point in going on?

But life certainly wasn't over for Nick; it turns out there were lots of reasons to keep going. Ever done a skydive? Nick has. Ever travelled to 44 countries to share your story with millions of people? Nick has. Ever set up your own company or written a series of books? The list of what Nick has achieved just goes on and on.

I first saw this guy on Russell Howard’s Good News. He appeared in the end section, when Russ picks his favourite good news story of the week and shares it with his viewers. In the clip he showed, Nick was speaking to a group of school kids. They were captivated and visibly moved by his courage and by his humour; it was pretty hard not to be.

What the Youtube clip (well worth a watch) didn't explain, though, was that it was Nick’s relationship with God that changed his early outlook and the way he lives his life. At the age of 13, he sprained his foot playing football and had to stay in bed for several weeks. It was at this point that he decided to focus on the things he had rather than the things he didn't have. He started to see life differently.

His parents were Christians, but Nick had always found it difficult to believe that a loving God could allow this to happen to him. He blamed God for his physical and emotional pain and couldn't accept that He could possibly have a plan for his life; everything was such a challenge.

It wasn't until he turned 15 that his heart towards God changed. He found himself saying: “Here I am God, use me. If you want to give me arms and legs, great. If not, use me anyway.” He felt God had lifted away the fear, sin and shame that had hung over him all his life and that he suddenly had fresh hope.

He discovered that he had a gift for motivational speaking and, while his physical condition is still problematic, he refuses to stop him doing the things he loves doing. “God is not the author of pain, but what the enemy tried to use for evil, God has used for good,” Nick explains.

He is now enjoying a fantastic career, feels he is living out the plan God has for him, and is about to have a baby with his beautiful wife. Thank goodness he didn't end his life as a child!

That’s not to say life has been a piece of cake for Nick.

He shared with me that he had been through a time of depression between 2007 and 2010 after a business venture fell through and he experienced a burnout. It reminded him that he can’t do everything in his own strength; that it is God’s strength that keeps him going. “We need to be carried by God,” he explains. “It’s about knowing Him.”

I ask him what he would say to people who make excuses in their own lives about the things they can and can’t do.

“Life is meant to be enjoyed; a lot of people rob themselves because of fear,” he concludes. 

“You don’t know what you can achieve until you try it. Fear disables people more than having no arms and no legs.”

Read the full interview in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Time to face the music

You may remember Mark Stevens as Nick Page in Neighbours… if you’re old enough to have been watching the show during the late ’80s, that is. These days, Mark is a worship leader at Abundant Life Church in Bradford and has just released his own album. I met up with him to find out about his journey to fame and, more importantly, his journey to faith.

Mark was born in Tasmania and developed a love for music at a very young age. When he turned 13 he applied to appear on Young Talent Time (YTT), an Australian variety show similar to America’s Mickey Mouse Club.

By the age of 14, Mark had started dabbling in drugs and alcohol, and getting into the party scene. By the time he turned 16, he was starting to experience the ill-effects of this lifestyle. He started to get restless at YTT and wanted a new challenge. Fortunately, his agent pulled some strings and he was offered the role of Nick Page on iconic show Neighbours.

His success on Neighbours opened doors for Mark in the UK and he came to England aged 19 to appear on the stage. Meanwhile, his life outside the show was starting to get a little wilder. He got heavily involved in the club scene and taking recreational drugs.

Shirking work
He also got a record deal with BMG and found himself touring the UK with big names such as (the one and only) Chesney Hawkes, Sonia and Take That.

By this point, Mark was heavily involved in the drug scene and several dealers were ‘looking after him’; plying him with coke, LSD and other narcotics. He was missing work appointments because he was living in a constant, drug-induced hangover, and his PA was constantly having to cover for him.

The young actor and musician decided to head back to Australia to promote the single he had just released and ended up with a warrant out for his arrest for an incident involving a policeman he nearly ran over at a crossing. He ended up back in Tasmania, living with his family and spending most of his time drunk, stoned and sleeping around.

Having sunk to new lows, Mark returned to the UK. He was taking heroin and even drinking cough medicine in a desperate bid to get high. “In my head I felt like Jim Morrison reincarnated,” says Mark. “I couldn’t work because I kept blowing it by not turning up to recording sessions, so doors just closed.”

Turning it around
Around this time, he bumped into a girl he had previously dated. She was a Christian but had been backsliding when he had first met her. After they broke up, she went back to church and got her life right with God.

He went to church and experienced a real peace that he hadn’t felt before. When he left the service he went right back to his normal lifestyle, but he started to see things in a different way.

Mark’s ex confronted him after he made a scene at a party and he suddenly became aware that he needed God in his life. The next morning he remembers the presence of God filling the room. He broke down into tears and started crying out to God.

“I don’t think I stopped crying for about three days,” Mark says. I had no money, no friends, nothing.”

One of the pastors at Hillsong London prayed for him and He was completely bowled over by the presence of God. He started going to the church regularly and got a job as a waiter in Covent Garden. He joined the worship team at church and moved in with a group of Christian guys and enjoyed just doing normal things with them, hanging out.

A brand new life
Mark later moved to Sydney to make a new start and for the next four years he attended Hillsong Sydney. As he was back on home soil, he decided to get the outstanding police warrant sorted. He went to jail for a day and had a huge fine slapped on him, but he was finally able to settle his debts and start afresh.

Before long he fell in love with a beautiful woman named Bethan Scanlon and they decided to get married. Since moving back to the UK, the couple have really got stuck into church life and the music scene at Abundant Life. They have been blessed with a gorgeous son and daughter, and fatherhood suits Mark down to the ground.

Having previously recorded music with the likes of Nik Kershaw, Nikki Graham and John Farnham, Mark has finally achieved his dreaming of releasing his own album. The album is called To Be With You and features ten fantastic tracks. Out now, it will make a great Christmas present for family and friends, or even a pre-festive-season gift to yourself! 

Read the full story in Sorted magazine - out now!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Playing with Fire

There’s something about men and fire. While I was still playing with Barbie, my brother was discovering what happened when he and a friend tried to set magnesium ribbon on fire in his bedroom (answer: lots of smoke and a very angry mother).

On another occasion he and the same friend (under the careful tutelage of said friend’s dad) formulated a petrol bomb powerful enough to blow the garage door off.

So as Bonfire Night approaches, I have three pieces of advice to offer:
  1. Check out our top-ten, awe-inspiring pyrotechnic devices from Epic Fireworks so your display has your family (and neighbours) in suitable raptures
  2. Avoid blowing any garage doors off – your wife won’t be impressed and your mother may still give you a clip round the ear for your troubles!
  3. Don’t make the same mistake as the San Diego display organisers who set off 15 minutes worth of fireworks in 15 seconds (see it here on YouTube!)
Screaming Spiders
Spiders aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you will have everyone ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’ at this two-stage spectacular. First an explosion of golden tails accompanied by jet screams, glittering confetti and crackling comet tails, and then blue peonies, dragon’s eggs and strobes spring forth. Any eight-legged beasts will surely flee in its wake!

Lasting two full minutes and delivering high-decibel action from start to finish, you’d do well to ‘borrow’ your daughter’s earmuffs if you’re planning on setting this little beauty free. Its 72 massive shots, bangs, whistles, hummers, crackling comets, silver strobing stars and a cloud of crackling stars will keep you macho image intact.

Angels vs Demons
You may not have read the book, but this little gem is a work of art in its own right. If spinning golden dragon tails and large brocades with slow-falling golden glitter appeal, you’re in for a treat here. Everyone will get right in the spirit of things if you book this funky firework as part of your display.

Gold Willow
This little gem has nothing whatsoever to do with the reluctant dwarf that appears in the eighties classic of that name. In fact, it’s a firework of truly epic proportions, releasing nine blocks of five high-powered shots at a time, littering the sky with a cascade of slow-falling golden stars. Just make sure there are no evil, baby-stealing queens present.

The Brick
The Brick is a lot less dull than it sounds. Starting with red peonies, blue stars and silver glitter, it bursts into red and green comets with silver tiger tails, fired six at a time. This rapidly proceeds to whistling, spinning silver stars followed by red and green peonies and silver chrysanthemums. Another fanned section of green and silver leads onto a rapid-fire finale of crackling stars, silver spinners and loud pink and blue peonies. The dog will definitely be bricking it.

This amazingly timed piece of sky art offers golden red palms that explode with blue stars and falling strands of red and white glitter, five shots at a time. It’s sure to get things moving along nicely.

Predator 500
The Predator isn’t likely to start feeding on you, but it will certainly hold your attention. With a fast-firing array of effects including peonies, bangs, crackles, whistles and an intense finale of large glitter storms, this little beast is a real family favourite. 

Smiley Face Rocket
Your adoring crowd will mirror this extraordinary firework when it hits the sky. The purple ring of twin stars surrounding two large green eyes and a red starred smile will prompt happy faces all round. Emoticons will never hold the same charm again, and costing less than £15 it offers a pretty cheap laugh.

Sky Thriller Rocket
There’s nothing more manly than planting a rocket in the ground, lighting it, and stepping back to admire your handiwork. This one won’t disappoint. And with its single burst of giant glittering golden willow and a seemingly unending descent of twinkling stars, you’re all in for a thrilling ride.

Thunderous Finale
This is the one to save for last: a display that would make even Gandalf’s eyes water. It lasts around 60 seconds and launches 80 shots – four at a time – into the air. These shots break into huge coloured palms like exploding shells to a background symphony of electrifying crackles.

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine - out soon!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What’s your vision?

Guest blog with Tim Childs

When people have a vision, a goal, an aim, they seem to stand out; whatever that goal might be. And if they have enough drive they are often successful in achieving what they set out to do.  

When I say successful, I’m not necessarily talking about becoming rich and powerful, I mean ‘successful’ in the broadest sense: living successfully, holding down a job, volunteering some of your time; for the Christian, serving God each day with a whole heart is the height of success. 

But as well as this, success can mean making money, having a thriving business and pursuing a career in something you really want to do. I find that although my life is far from perfect in many respects, when I have a vision and pursue it, I feel a true sense of accomplishment. 

The majority of us have dreams that motivate us to get out of bed and we work towards these dreams almost every day. We hang on, hoping that we will see our dreams become reality, and sometimes we work day and night to see this dream get off the ground. 

Whether or not I succeed in what I do is less important than the fact that I am busy doing something. Of course, I don’t want to labour fruitlessly, but I believe it’s all in God’s hands anyway; as long as I play my part I have nothing to worry about.

When people lack vision, life can become rather selfish. Material things often become more important than spiritual conditions such as peace, happiness, contentment, joy and genuine wellbeing. 

People indulge their every whim thinking that possessions and other things will make them happy, but in my experience they don’t. To make up for the disappointment, they indulge themselves even more and end up caught in a vicious circle. 

One of the problems with Western society at the moment is that we have become spiritually bankrupt; and when people lose sight of the spiritual, of what really matters in life, they gravitate towards the material. As a result, all of our priorities get skewed: on a global, national and local level, but also on a very personal level.

When humans are greedy and selfish, they stop thinking about other people’s needs. They can become ruthless and even vicious in securing their own wellbeing, even at the expense of other people. 

We all have a selfish streak, and perhaps especially at this time of economic strife we need to stop being selfish and learn how to be practically concerned for other people; regardless of whether you run a successful business or are unemployed like so many of us are at this time.

We can all make the world a worse place, and, guess what? We can all make it a better place too. Whether we have a little or a lot, we can all play our part.

We all need a vision in life. With a vision we can overcome the most dramatic and seemingly immovable objects. Sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other, and repeating; and knowing where we want to go. 

I think if you know where you want to go, and you know what you want to be, you are half way to fulfilling your dream. I may add, the Christian has the added advantage of leaning fully on God. 

Whatever your vision is, I would encourage you to invite God into your plans. This may come as a surprise, but He might just want you to live a fulfilled, successful life too!

Read more about living a God-focused life in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Uniting in prayer to show that we care

In the wake of the tragic deaths of two police officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on September 18, Redeeming our Communities (ROC) is calling on churches across the UK to unite in prayer for police officers across the UK.

ROC is asking churches to commit to a one-minute silence at 11am on Sunday, September 30. This will represent solidarity with GMP, which held its own minute of silence on Wednesday, September 19, in honour of its fallen colleagues.

ROC has been working with GMP since 1998 and powerful partnerships between the charity and police forces across the UK have been forged as a result. 

Founder Debra Green became increasingly convinced of the importance of supporting the UK’s frontline public services following the sad death of DC Stephen Robin Oake, who was murdered in 2003.

Debra says: “The tragic loss of two young police women, Nicola [Hughes] and Fiona [Bone], in Manchester [last] week has been heart breaking. Our thoughts are with the families and with Greater Manchester Police.

“Chief Constable Peter Fahy described GMP as a family and spoke of the sadness experienced across the force. I cannot praise GMP highly enough and would ask that we do all that we can to uphold them at this time.

“I have just signed the book of condolence and feel more committed than ever before to continue our work. This loss is a stark reminder of the risks policemen and women take every day for our safety and the greater good of our communities.”

Chief Constable Fahy said: “Greater Manchester Police has been overwhelmed by the huge degree of public support following the sad deaths of two of our officers [last week].

“Our main priority at the moment is to do everything we can to support the families of Nicola and Fiona, who have an incredible amount to come to terms with. Our thoughts remain with them.

“The whole force is devastated by the deaths of Nicola and Fiona, but to know at this difficult time that the public supports what the police do and feel so strongly about the sacrifice of these two officers, is hugely important to us.”

Register your church here so ROC can keep track of those standing in prayer with members of the police service.

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

It’s all getting a bit Messi at Icons

Lionel Messi with Icons chairman Edward Freedman
Following such an amazing summer of sport, it’s no surprise that more Brits are looking up to sportspeople such as Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis. But sports memorabilia specialist claims demand for Lionel Messi goods continues to outshine all the other great names in sport.

Chairman Edward Freedman says this is because the Barcelona striker offers the full package.

“It’s a combination of everything, his success, the way he plays the game and his humility. He transcends general football rivalry. If you have a Messi signed shirt on your wall, no-one is going to argue about whether he’s any good or not,” he tells Sorted.

“He outsells the rest of the field by a ratio of four-to-one; in the UK, Spain, the US, the Middle East and the Far East, and is just as popular with men and women.”

Having said this, there’s always someone new waiting in the wings as the next best thing. “We think Neymar will be the next big thing. He plays in a flamboyant Brazilian way, will come to Europe soon and will end up being the poster boy for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil,” the company’s chairman speculates.

And his opinion counts. In the late 1980s, Edward was managing director of Tottenham Hotspur. He then moved to Manchester United and became managing director of Manchester United merchandising from 1992 onwards. Over the next six years, he transformed the commercial side of the club's operation and helped build Manchester United into one of the biggest brands in world football. He was also a key player in the formation of the Premier League.

Photo credit: adidas
We asked him why he thinks it is so important for people to have sporting heroes, and to collect items they have signed or once owned.

“Look at what has happened this summer in terms of sporting superstars, everyone has heroes, and Icons allows fans to get that little bit closer to them,” he replies.

“It’s been an amazing summer of sport for some of the stars we have on the site: Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo in the Euros; Andy Murray at Wimbledon; Jess Ennis and Chris Hoy at the Olympics; and Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France. Stellar names who have all written their names in history now.”

But for those of us who want to buy memorabilia, couldn’t we just head to eBay or one of the many other sites that sells these goods?

Edward explains: “It’s all about trust in this field. We say we’re ‘signed by the world’s best’ for a reason; we’re trusted by the players themselves, by the world’s best brands and organisations and ultimately by our customers.

“We’re sold in Harrods, for instance, and we’ve been awarded the first ever UEFA Champions League official signed merchandise licence to go with the first ever FIFA World Cup license we were given in 2010.”

At each signing event, photographs are taken to document the signature and Icons creates a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for each piece, which includes the date and venue, a picture of the product and the signing image. Each product carries a uniquely coded hologram, with an identical version being added to the COA, which is signed by the company’s managing director.

We asked Edward for his top three picks. He says: “We would have to say a Leo Messi signed Barcelona shirt is still top of most of people’s shopping lists.

“A Steven Gerrard signed, framed Liverpool Istanbul photo is a key part of our Champions League collection we’re launching this autumn and an Eric Cantona signed Manchester United shirt will always outsell any of the modern-day United players.”

Read the full story in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Through the keyhole... and into your prostate!

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in this country. There are around 30,000 new cases per year in the UK and the number is gradually rising. 

Few men are aware of the worrying statistics surrounding prostate cancer and even fewer are aware just how treatable the disease is.

Christopher Eden, the UK’s most experienced laparoscopic (keyhole) urologist spends his life operating on men with the disease as well as explaining just how important it is for men to get themselves checked out.

Early diagnosis is key
According to Mr Eden, prostate cancer normally affects men later in life. “It’s really a disease of ageing men; it peaks usually in the mid-60s,” he says. “What is very interesting is that we’re finding younger and younger patients with it. Last year we had three men in their 30s and over a hundred in their 40s. It’s becoming a much commoner disease.”

Despite the dangers, many men are embarrassed about talking to their GPs or are afraid of getting bad news. But early detection is paramount when it comes to prostate cancer. According to Mr Eden, one man per hour dies from prostate cancer in the UK, having overtaken lung cancer in men around a decade ago.

He explains: “The disease has the potential to shorten life, but it has a very long lead time and can be cured in most men. It’s a slow-growing cancer. If it’s removed by a high-volume surgeon there is usually very good post-operative bladder and sexual function.”

What causes it?
The causes of prostate cancer vary, but there are two major contributors: lifestyle and genetics.

Saturated fats, for example those found in red meats and dairy products, and a deficiency of antioxidants derived from fresh fruit and vegetables can increase the risk dramatically.

Mr Eden’s advice is simple. “Approximately 40% of prostate cancers are genetic. If there is a family history, people should reduce the risk by altering their lifestyle and diet,” he says.

“They should increase their fruit and vegetable intake and also get some exercise as obesity is an independent risk factor for developing prostate cancer. It’s important people know that. From the age of 40, men should be checked on an annual basis, especially if there is a family history, as the risk is two to three times as high.”

Early diagnosis is vital
Although more and more men are concerned about getting prostate cancer, few know how to find out whether they have it. The first step would be to get a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, which is a cheap and readily-available test and checks for blood bladder abnormalities. Although a biopsy is needed to test for the cancer itself, the PSA test is used as a relatively broad measure to flag up patients that could be at risk.

And those waiting to see symptoms before they head to the doctor’s should think again.

“Typically, men don’t have any symptoms. We need to identify it before they have symptoms or a lot of the time it’s too late," says Mr Eden. "Often men with urinary symptoms have benign enlargement of the prostate. They might have a weak flow or need to go to the loo in a hurry.

"These are often signs of a benign condition, but they should see their GP as prostate cancer can co-exist. They should get the PSA test, but it’s the prostate biopsy that detects cancer.”

While cancer is obviously a very serious illness, prostate cancer is one of the most treatable kinds. “The lifetime risk of having prostate cancer is 30%,” Mr Eden claims. “Having it as a clinical disease is 10% and the risk of dying is 3%. This is largely because a lot of men are diagnosed at a stage when it is curable. It’s much better if it’s picked up at an early stage.”

To find out more about prostate cancer, the diagnosis and the treatment, is to visit

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Boom and bust: the false economy

Special guest blog with Tim Childs

One of the things that has been brought to the fore in the last few years is the economy that booms for a time and then goes bust.

The boom and bust economy serves the get-rich-quick mentality. The worst aspect is that it creates super-rich people and corporations who don’t even pay token amounts of tax, while at the bottom it creates low-wage, dead-end jobs; so it only serves to increase the already large divides between rich and poor. 

But I’m not just blaming the rich; I think we all need to rein in our finances. We can all cut down and live within our means. In this age of easy credit, many people are living on money that they don’t have, buying things they don’t really need and then finding themselves in debt. That includes individuals, corporations and entire nations. 

It’s easy to get our hands on money and worry about repaying it later; and we have paid the price for this. It is my belief that no one should live on credit, and that we should all live within our means. I understand necessities are a different matter; but do we need that plasma TV? Do we need a second holiday? Do we need to redecorate the house at great expense? 

The financial hub in London was living beyond its means, and when things went bust – and boy did they go spectacularly bust – everything went with it, and we are all paying the price for it now (except perhaps the bankers who are still on huge bonuses). 

In the end, most societies’ economies are only really about the wealthy and powerful staying wealthy and powerful, and if some crumbs fall off the table for the rest of us, so much the better. 

But the reality isn’t really one of a nation benefitting, that ‘we’re all in this together’. It’s about a precious few making tons of money while the rest of us look on with no real chance of doing the same.

Shouldn't churches and responsible people be talking about this? Shouldn’t governments and parties of every political hue be trying to stop the worst aspects of boom and bust? 

Whatever happens and whatever is said, it’s obvious that until we start to look at this and the moral and even spiritual bankruptcy behind it, nothing is going to stop the boom and bust of wealthy economies. I hate to say it, but as long as rich people make money, nothing else seems to matter. 

The answer is for all of us to stop being greedy, quite frankly.  How many millions of pounds do you need to be happy? How many houses can you live in? How many cars can you drive at one time? 

There is a moral and a spiritual dimension to all of this. It may be legal and above board to make money while the sun shines and to hell with everyone and everything else, but there will be a price to pay.

However rich or poor you may be and wherever you find yourself in the social system, such behaviour is contrary to God’s laws.

So how does a person prosper and live as a Christian at the same time? By putting God first! I think we put God first by acknowledging that there is a spiritual and moral dimension to life, and by regarding other people as being as precious as ourselves, our own families and friends. 

Finally, is it good for people to expect so many years of the high life and then somehow always be waiting for the ‘pay-off’? I believe this creates instability simply because so many of us are expecting it to happen. The rich get richer, even the poor live well for a while, and then the proverbial hits the fan… and most of us suffer the consequences. 

This particular credit crunch might be slightly different in origin, and I’m no economist so I can’t fully understand or explain it, but the effects are basically the same; we’re all in it together through the bad times, but when the good times roll around again it’s every man for himself.

This is the bankrupt morality at the heart of so many wealthy nations and until we challenge it, beginning with our own greed and selfishness, we can expect the same thing to happen over and over again. 

Click here to read more from Tim Childs. 

You can read more on finance and other life issues in the next issue of Sorted magazine, which is hot off the press.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

How to become a legacy maker

Guest blog with Chris Spriggs, director of the Lifespace Trust

My daughter, who is five, complained to me the other day from the safety of her back seat in the car. I mentioned that the new football season was about to start.

“Are you going to be stuck to it like you were stuck to the Olympics?” she said.

She sighed. Then huffed. Her hands audibly dropped into her lap.

It’s true. I was caught in the act of being glued to whatever the Olympics threw our way. I had that brilliant 2012 Results app on my phone so I could track every lap of the velodrome when I couldn’t watch it live. I practiced my mental arithmetic with the medal table. I screamed for Jess, Greg and Mo on Super Saturday. I was at one with the nation.

The word on the street
A reinvigorated conversation is underway, and it is about the ‘L word’: legacy. Lord Coe probably has the word tattooed on his chest. Legacy was one of London 2012’s unique selling points in its bid back in 2005.

But what does legacy mean in practice for us non-Olympians?

L is for long-term lifespan
It was great to hear six-time gold medallist Chris Hoy talk about how Steve Redgrave (who only got five Olympic golds, shucks!) inspired him. And the photos of Laura Trott – two-time gold medallist in the velodrome – snapped at the age of 12 with her hero Bradley ‘mutton chops’ Wiggins, and then aged 16 with (Queen) Victoria Pendleton, each holding their bicycles.

Someone else’s story of heroism can be a powerful (and legal) drug to keep an up-and-coming athlete training through the English winter and pressing through the daily lactic acid build-up.

Like love and like getting gold, legacy takes time. What can we do now that will positively shift the trajectory back towards a society that is less corrosive and more cohesive? We don’t just want 2012 to be the new 1966, a moment we look back on and think ‘that was great, back then’.

The legacy of London 2012 can be to lift our eyes further, higher and to become stronger about what we value most.

E is for ethical impact
Of the many wonder-drenched moments, Mo Farah stands out for me; perhaps because I’m also a runner. I love the fact that in Mo’s post-race interview with the BBC, after he had clung on tooth and toe for that second gold, he started talking about child poverty. The next day, Mo is at Number 10 Downing Street talking about how to overcome starvation in Somalia.

"Winning my second gold last night was a dream come true,” he said, “but I'm here today for perhaps the most important race of all; the race to tackle hunger and malnutrition around the world.
"Last year I visited Somalia during the famine. It was shocking to see people in the country where I was born simply not having enough food to eat. My wife and I came back from Somalia determined to do what we can to help people there rebuild their lives.”
The legacy of London 2012 could be a bigger picture view, one that is not about medals and medal table position, but the influence we all have to transform other people’s lives for the better.

G is for glorious games makers
Few of the 70,000-strong games makers team saw any of the Olympics! Yet they showed individual flair, initiative and friendliness. London smiled; in torrential city rain and sumptuous August sun.

There is power in doing something freely and for free. What a contrast to the banking crisis and the fat cat bonus crew. The legacy of the games makers can be the reminder of what it is to be human, to welcome the stranger, to take the time to point another in the right direction.

A is for an athlete’s attitude
When we talk of inspiring a generation, I hope it’s not just the younger generation. I hope London 2012 inspires parents and grandparents to not just strive for a chunky piece of shiny metal to hang around their necks – hey, equestrians Mary King and Nick Skelton are 51 and 54, respectively, but to absorb some of the resilience and determination that the athletes demonstrated in buckets.

Piers Morgan tweeted his disappointment that Bradley Wiggins didn’t sing the national anthem from the podium and that he should respect to our monarch. Dear Bradley, with his clumsy sideburns, replied that he too was disappointed; disappointed that Piers wasn’t jailed for alleged insider dealing and phone hacking.

Too many people in our national headlines are insulting rather than inspiring a generation. So many of Team GB demonstrated a spirit that transcends what we are normally subjected to by j-list celebrities. J is for junk and, happily, there is no j in legacy.

C is for coaching and clubs
For the past year, my family of five has got up at the crack of dawn on the first Saturday of each month to an event called Kids Run Free. It has rained on nearly every occasion.

Our eldest two (aged seven and five) love using the musical megaphone to start the various races with event organiser Steve and packing up afterwards. They take part in their age-appropriate races, and my wife or I do the free 5km race, which starts in the field next door.

They give 100% and so do we. Then we all go into Leamington Spa to Starbucks, relive the races and celebrate the effort. I should invite Steve along one day.

Recently, my kids donned high-vis yellow jackets and marshalled at the adult Parkrun event. Points are given not just for running but also for volunteering (that’s ‘games making’ to us enlightened 2012ers).

The legacy of London 2012 can be more of this; more ordinary Steves in XL orange tops cheering on our kids. More Parkruns, local infrastructure and grass-root funding for musical megaphones. More involvement for kids and their (fatigued) parents on rainy Saturday mornings.

The legacy can be this: to create opportunities, develop talent and reward the effort of all.

Y is for your response
Steve reminded me that the legacy from London 2012 isn’t just down to the Graingers, Rutherfords and Ennises of our world. Lord Coe is right when he says “legacy is not a one-man mission”.

If I want a generation to be inspired I have to do something. So this is what I am going to do: I am going to complete my UK Athletics coaching course. And I’m going to let my weakness for running silly distances spill over into cheering on younger people. Whether they run a mile or 100 miles.

I’m coming to terms with the fact I won’t ever win gold at a home Olympics. But my legacy – as a husband, parent, mentor, runner – is partly down to what I do today, tomorrow and after that. I want to be the best legacy maker I can be. I want to do my little bit to inspire a generation.

That’s something my daughter would love me to get “stuck” to.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What a national anthem!

I've heard lots of people slag off "God Save the Queen" for a variety of reasons.

Some people say it's boring, that no-one knows the words; others that it's too pro-monarchy. But watching the nation's top athletes blasting it out with tears running down their faces would surely move the hardest of hearts.

Having said that, Jamaica's sprinters haven't just wowed me on the track - their national anthem made me really stop and listen; not because the tune is the catchiest I've ever heard (that accolade surely has to go to the Italians), but because the words were so profound.


Eternal father, bless our land

Guide us with thy mighty hand

Keep us free from evil powers

Be our light through countless hours

To our leaders, Great Defender

Grant true wisdom from above

Justice, truth be ours forever

Jamaica, land we love

Teach us true respect for all

Stir response to duty's call

Strengthen us the weak to cherish

Give us vision lest we perish

Knowledge send us, Heavenly Father

Grant true wisdom from above

Justice, truth be ours forever

Jamaica, land we love

An anthem that asks for God's guidance? That teaches respect and care for the poor? A song that calls for wisdom and truth? That's amazing! No wonder they absolutely smashed it!

I wonder whether there's any link between the global impact the two relay runners that sang it out - Bolt and Blake - have had compared with their incredibly successful, but relatively unknown teammates - Carter and Frater. 

You may think this is a completely ridiculous observation, and it definitely helps that they are such great sportsmen and personalities, but I truly believe that God honours those who honour Him (1 Samuel 2:30). 

And as every football fan knows, you only win when you're singing... Or is it the other way round? :)

Monday, 6 August 2012

Pearls of wisdom: what a kick in the teeth

I had a wisdom tooth extracted this morning and I can’t say it was particularly pleasant. At one point it felt as though the dentist was unscrewing a section of my brain and hoiking it out through my whimpering jaw.

I’m not a brave person; in fact the thought of large needles jabbing into my gums and a pair of angry looking pliers approaching my pearly whites filled me with abject horror. Worst of all though, when I went to bed last night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t have a great deal of wisdom to spare.

Now before you stop me, I’m aware that wisdom teeth aren’t actually the source of human knowledge. But it did get me thinking about where wisdom comes from, and if it’s possible to get a top up.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of wisdom-related information in the Bible.

The first thing I learnt was that God is exceedingly wise: “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding [wisdom] is infinite” (Psalm 147:5).

Secondly, we can access this wisdom ourselves: “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

What a relief! Out of my mouth came a rather large wisdom tooth, leaving a large, tender void. But out of God’s mouth comes true wisdom; knowledge and understanding that we can read about, hear and experience for ourselves. And when it leaves his mouth, there is no void; His wisdom is infinite, so it never runs out.

Most comfortingly, God’s wisdom isn’t like ours. He doesn’t make mistakes or falter over decisions; His common sense never holds him back. I, for one, consider that a huge relief.

Because although I’ve still got three wisdom teeth in reserve, I’m fully aware that my knowledge, judgment and powers of discernment are fatally flawed. A whole jaw full of them couldn’t stop me from putting both feet in my mouth on a daily basis.

So when my head hits the pillow tonight, there will be no need to worry about where my wisdom will come from. I’ll simply be waiting for the tooth fairy to leave me a large deposit in place of my precious – and freakishly large – bit of back tooth.

I know what you’re thinking… I definitely need to wise up if I'm expecting that to happen!

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.