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For this week’s big name on campus interview, Oliver Taylor joins Richard Gilbert, Manchester University’s current University Challenge team captain

Ask Keir Health tips from medical student Keir Stone-Brown

I’ve had blocked ears for ages now and they just wont clear up. I’ve put a drop of olive oil in them for over two weeks like my GP suggested and it still hasn’t got any better. I use to use cotton buds but she said that might make it worse. Any suggestions? Having blocked ears is such a common ailment that over 2 and a half million people seek help per year. It can be persistent, painful and just plain annoying but there are many ways to treat it and most of the time it either resolves itself or the treatment works. First off here’s a quick low down of the basics. Blocked ears are most commonly caused by earwax. Although it can be a right nuisance and it may not be the prettiest thing it is however pretty darn useful. It’s properties somewhat surprisingly include cleaning, lubricating and protecting your ear from dirt, bacteria and water. However, as with all of the bodies systems sometimes something can go wrong. Some people end up producing more earwax than they can get rid of and this increases the likelihood of a blockage. Also as you get older your ear wax becomes drier and this also increases the chance that your ears will get all blocked up. Another risk factor is some people just have very curvy ear canals and that causes them to get blocked more regularly because the wax has difficulty getting out.

What motivated you to audition? I was nagged by my GF because she thought I would get on and, like I say, I just assume that you needed to be of an exceptional calibre to get on but she made me go to the exam thing and it worked out quite well. Were you recognised after the first show was broadcast? No one recognised me on campus. I’ve been recognized twice by strangers who were nothing to do with university, it was at work. I’m actually quite surprised about that. I think it was because last year, contestants such as Tristan Burke were so successful and they were noticeable characters. Maybe I’m just a bit neutral. So today we’re trying to sort of interview people who are big names on campus (BNOCs), in light of what you’ve already told me, would you say you’re not a BNOC? Certainly based on what I’d expect a BNOC to go through I wouldn’t have thought so, so far nothing has changed. I know that’s what everyone would probably say, but really, nothing has changed. Do you think you have secret fans? I think I might do. Probably because after the match we had on Monday I came home and found I had half a dozen Facebook requests, which probably isn’t that many but for me it’s quite a lot, from random people. Were any requests a bit creepy? None of them were accompanied by sexually aggressive messages which I know has happened to previous team members (laughing). Can we talk to them about that? You’ll have to speak to them, I’m not sure this year’s team has gone through that however. I know there was a lot of twitter love for Mike McKenna last year. Do you think that if you were to go on and win, you’d get the same level of love? Well fingers crossed. Do you think you’d become a BNOC if you won? Well it’s the least I’d expect. If I didn’t I think I could be justifiably angry about it. Do you think you’ve inspired anyone? I’d like to think that people watching are inspired to try out because the more people trying out, the better the team’s going to be. So that would be good. Why do you think you don’t get recognised? I don’t know. I think it’s because we’re in the early stages of the competition so it has less of the profile that we would have if we got to the later stages, that certainly the finalist in last year’s team got. Maybe I am sort of less idiosyncratic than members of previous teams. Maybe they also had a rep on campus anyway so it just added to their sort of bio whether I’m fairly anonymous. If you win overall do you think you will get recognised a lot? I imagine based just on last years’ experience I will a lot. I don’t plan on escaping the fame at all; I plan on indulging on it to the max. I remember watching the first episode against Lincoln and thinking ‘oh my God Manchester, what’s going on’? Do you

think if you had lost awfully in the first round, you would be a campus hate figure? I don’t think I would be talking to you now! I think I would have almost certainly have left university. Me and my Dad were watching that round and I was thinking just what is happening. [In the first round Manchester staged a remarkable comeback from almost certain defeat in the last ten minutes.] That was the most stressful ten minutes of my life. I’d called my Mum and Dad up who’d come to watch me and they were tentatively proud. In the first twenty minutes we were being annihilated, it was just humiliation. Also we felt we were letting Stephen down, because every year he’s so successful with his team. [I was thinking] We’re the team that’s going to go out in the first round, that’s our legacy. Do you think you’d have been physically attacked by students if you had lost, or indeed members of the public? I wasn’t worried about members of the public, but certainly my close friends and family would have attacked me and then disowned me.

There are also things that you can do that make it worse. One being the use of cotton buds. These are surprising accomplices in the crime of blocked ears and make up one of the main causes. Now the treatment options. As you’ve said olive oil drops are one of the first line of treatments and prove very successful in helping people. Another great healer is time (sorry about the cliché) but more often than not nothing is needed to be done other than let your body sort itself out. However if the problems persist a treatment called ear irrigation may be used. This involves a specialist who will use pressurised water to ‘flush’ out your ear and they may pull your ear to straighten the ear canal to assist. Although it sounds slightly daunting it shouldn’t be painful but it might feel a little strange as the water is squirted around your ear. There are a few other treatments as well but they are rarely used and not really worth going into. Remember if you have any further problems or anything you’re worried about just check in with your GP.

It’s been really interesting talking to you. But to conclude, would you say that you were a BNOC at all? I might be some sort of clandestine underground BNOC, but I’ve certainly not been swamped by the fans that I expect your run of the mill BNOC gets.

Lots of my friends at university smoke and I don’t. I’m worried about their health because a close relative of mine died of lung cancer a few years ago. I want them to know just how bad for them it is but I don’t want to lecture them what can I do?

So currently what would you rate yourself out of ten? There’s no shame in saying zero. I would say that I was a QNOC – a quiet name on campus.

First off, it’s great you care so much about those around you. You’re completely right in that bringing it up can be nigh on impossible without them feeling like they’re being lectured but there are a few things you can do to help them come to their own decision to quit.

What would you be if you won out of ten? I reckon an FBNOC, a fairly big name on campus. Out of ten? There’s no shame in zero if you’re not on campus at all, most people are zero. I’d say I’m a 1/10. Let’s say 2/10 being generous to myself and that’s based solely on evidence. If you were to win what would you be? I would not stop until I was an 8/10. I’d campaign. Do you think any previous big names on UC were particularly exciting? Gail Trimble for example? Trimble was a BNUC. Alex Gutemplan as well, he was huage!

A good start is to find a friend of yours who doesn’t smoke and has the same concerns as you. It will leave you feeling less isolated when inevitably the hard part comes where you sit down and talk it through. In my opinion trying to convince a group is a lot more difficult than one or two so when you and your non smoking chum are with a couple of smokers ask why they smoke. All sorts of reasons are given for smoking such as “it helps me to relax” or “I`ll put on weight if I stop”.

You know previous winners have been asked to pose nude for The Sun. Do you think you’d get any such offers if you were to win? I’ve not thought about that but I’d certainly campaign. I’d put letters out pretending to be my own agent saying Rich is avaliable to do centre-spread.

Every reason for smoking is not reason enough to be smoking so if putting on weight is an issue say you’ll go to keep-fit classes with them. Sometimes just knowing a friend will be there is all that’s needed to help start quitting. Going to a GP with them is a good next step as they have a great array of resources to help.

Mancunion BNOC rating 2/10, potenitally rising to 8/10 if Manchester win! Many thanks to Richard Gilbert.

If that doesn’t work, don’t use scare tactics as people can get defensive and getting on their nerves isn’t going to help. Perhaps try to explain to them that as one of your closest friends you’ve already seen the worst side of what smoking can do and you don’t want to see it again.

Oliver Taylor

However it’s important to realise that no matter how much you want them to stop smoking they won’t unless they actually want to. So you’ll need to accept that everyone is entitled to their own life decisions and this unfortunately can be one of them.

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