Too late to save the oceans?

The Big Question

It’s been coming up in conversation a lot recently: “Is it too late to save the oceans?”

Perhaps the Professor would answer it…

Greenwich University

With that question in mind, a crisp evening not too long ago saw me travelling twenty-one stops on the tube and Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich University. I was attending a lecture by Visiting Professor Steve Fletcher PhD, of the United Nations Environment Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre!

The lecture title? “The Future of the Ocean: Health, Wealth and Biodiversity”.

But first – the Cutty Sark!

But before hunting down the proper lecture hall, a quick moonlight inspection of the Cutty Sark.  This magnificent tea clipper was built in 1869 and recently restored at a cost of £46m following extensive damage caused by fire.

As I studied her pitched, sweeping hull, her proud masts with their triangulated rigging, I wondered at the state of the ocean when she raced back with tea from the Americas and wool from Australia.

She launched just seven years after Alexander Parkes demonstrated plastic (or “Parkesine”, as he named it) at London’s Great International Exhibition in 1862. With the arrival of steam power, the great ship was soon rendered obsolete. I wonder if Mr Parkes ever imagined the benefits and damage later iterations of his invention would bring.

Greenwich University

Greenwich University—a maritime tradition, a maritime lecture

Once inside the spacious lecture hall, I noticed that the attentive audience (to my untrained eye) contained many students and I spoke to one, well into his doctoral thesis on the oceans, who’d attended my alma mater, Oxford.

$190 billion per year

Then the professor started, by painting a rather grim picture.

Did you know that the global seafood industry is worth $190bn but only 6.4% of the ocean is protected? If fish were people, the equivalent is that every one of us would be carrying half a kg of plastic in our stomachs.

The professor discussed illegal fishing (and the link to people and drug trafficking), pollution, the cruise industry, and the damage caused by a host of other human activities. 70% of the Great Barrier Reef has now been lost.

Ghost fishing

One slide of four turtles drowned by a discarded fishing net (known as “ghost fishing”), was particularly upsetting. We were reminded of the 1992 “Warning to Humanity” by 1,700 scientists of where we were headed if things didn’t change. And all this was supported by a series of well-chosen slides.

The professor isn’t alone…

But there was good news too. Teams of politicians and NGOs, often enabled by the UN, are now meeting around the world to agree protocols, set targets, honour commitments.

…even the white spotted wedge fish is on side!

Important (for a variety of reasons) species—such as the white spotted wedge fish—are now targeted for special conservation attention. I admit I had to google that one when I got home, to discover I knew it as the guitarfish I’ve seen on occasion resting on the sand in tropical shallows.

Opinion leaders, and the not-for-profit sector are finally being heard. The general public is beginning to wake up with economic, social, political and wellbeing issues associated with the ocean at the top of the agenda. And things are beginning to happen about plastic: the UK’s consumption of plastic carrier bags has dropped 85% since the introduction of a 5p tax per bag. Make it £5, I say, and do the same with plastic coffee cups and drinking strays!

…back to the Big Question

Asked at the end whether he thought it was too late, the professor answered that he’s an optimist, and thinks we can turn this situation around. He explained that the time has come to embrace the environment and treat it as a partner.

The old model of human activity necessarily causing environmental damage should be changed to one in which there’s a mutuality. Protect the ocean and we’ll all benefit. That makes sense to me. And no doubt to white spotted wedge fish too.

3 things you can do to help save the oceans:

  • Buy a re-usable thermos for all your water, tea and coffee purchases…and remember to take it with you!
  • Use tinfoil instead of cling film (Saran wrap) in the home
  • Join a plastic clean up group. Here’s the one I chose and highly recommend if you’re in the area:



Autumn Ben-isms!

Q: Why did the chicken cross the playground? A: To get to the other slide.

I ran a marathon yesterday. Everyone got lost. Last time I organise anything.

If love conquers all, does that include conquering love?

Thought of the Day: Always buy clothes three sizes too big for you. That way people will constantly be congratulating you on losing weight.

“According to the traditional binary tree model, Proto-Uralic diverged from Proto-Samoyedic and Proto-Finno-Ugric.” Glad that’s cleared up then.

Builders sawing bricks outside. Incredible noise. Brick dust has settled on my lunch. On the plus side, I won’t need to add pepper.

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Toastmasters Annual Club Contest – A Record Breaking Turnout!

TFL on Overcrowding Alert
The feverishly anticipated annual Humorous Speech and Table Topic Contests at my local club came around last Thursday night. Transport for London (the city’s underground train service) issued a Code Red warning that Central Line trains to the station nearest my club would be seriously overcrowded between 18:30 and 19:00 hours — at one point the Club Committee held an emergency session to consider relocating to Wembley Stadium…

But seriously… Soon our venue was filled to bursting with enthused members, expectant guests and effulgent contestants. Judges and contestants were briefed and moments later, we were underway…chaired by yours truly.

Armed and Dangerous
Paul, our armed and dangerous Sergeant at Arms (day job: accountant), then delivered a series of rib-ticklers borrowed from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (eg: “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change”).

Humour Competition
We began with the Humorous Speech Contest in which our brave competitors regaled us with speeches that involved motor-cycle rider Dave Death, the ramifications of being rammed by a ram (in a particularly sensitive spot), all that’s wrong with squabs (young pigeons, apparently), how to survive a hangover and why touching your interviewer’s beard is unlikely to land you that dream job.

Many congratulations to Michael, whose well-structured and highly amusing “The Worst Day of my Life” pipped the others and secured him a place in the Area Final.

Impromtu Competition

My Co-Chair, Robin, successfully retrieved the secret Table Topic question, “If I could grant you one wish, what would you wish for?” from a bunker 4,000 feet below a North Korean mountain. It was cleverly and entertainingly answered by all contestants. Jeff triumphed and his ability to think and talk so elegantly on his feet will be tested again on the 27th where he will join Michael at the next Area level contest round.

It was a fun-filled and memorable evening with friendships made and new members signed. Many thanks to everyone who undertook a role. And a big congratulations to all the contestants. It was an evening in which everyone was a winner.

Ben’s Art Book 1 – Progress Report!

A project that I thought would take a week has taken several months – what with so many other distractions in my life – but we are nearly there! And the book is looking goooooood! I’m optimistically estimating that I’m 85% of the way to the yearned for (by me) release day.

A fascinating few specs…

My 94 illustrations have been split into ocean- and land-themed images (some pictures could have landed in either pile). Book One will be about the ocean.

I’ve checked the scans (300 dpi), and cleaned, resized and optimized the images. Half the scans for Book One (title reveal coming soon!) are now in the Word document that will soon become a…book. The portrait:landscape ratio is about 70:30. The text that accompanies the pictures (text on left, image opposite) just needs final editing and is comprised of (hopefully) interesting facts and personal experiences.

Most of the illustrations are traditional dark(er) images on white paper but (what I like to call my) Twilight Worlds series are white/grey images on black paper for a powerful and spooky effect.

How long does one drawing take?

I’m often asked how long a picture takes me. When I started this project, it’s fair to say I couldn’t draw – at all. Any skills I’d developed in my youth had long since evaporated through decades of non-use. But I didn’t realise this..

I embarked enthusiastically on the first picture and was horrified when, after a few hours, it bore no relationship to the image I had in my head. So, I tried again…and again… Some of the earlier pictures took many attempts before I was reasonably satisfied. Dozens of completed illustrations were discarded when finished and typically, each iteration would represent twenty or thirty hours work.

The reason they took so long is I work very, very slowly: planning, visualising, sketching, outlining, amending, filling, contrasting, completing. Revisiting short-term. Revisiting medium-term. Then, over the coming months and even years, I’d look again and find myself dissatisfied with this or that detail – and go back to work on it.

A 100 hours work per picture

I think it’s fair to say that many of the more complex pictures each represent maybe 100 hours of work…and the entire collection required several years of my time. More than a decade. But it’s nearly done! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the collection when it is released.

Sign up to be the first to know when it’s released. Or keep an eye on the blog for updates. It’ll be announced here soon…

Eye of the Tiger: Ben-isms

If eyebrows developed to stop sweat running into your eyes when you are running away from a sabre-toothed tiger, why do old men’s eyebrows grow and grow…when they are too old to run. Answers on a postcard please.

Builders sawing bricks outside. Incredible noise. Brick dust has settled on my lunch. On the plus side, I won’t need to add pepper.

COOKING TIPS FROM BEN!! Brie not ripe? Simply:

  • (1) Remove all packaging. Place brie on plate in microwave.
  • (2) Microwave for 2 mins and 30 seconds for 700w microwave (allow 2 mins for 800w).
  • (3) Lie down on floor.
  • (4) Open mouth.
  • (5) Allow brie to drip off ceiling onto your tongue.

The time has come…for the time to come.

Sitting here thinking about ambergris, spermaceti, shagreen and the ampullae of lorenzini. If you’d like to start a conversation on any of these topics, Nurse Ratched will show you to my room…

The straws are collecting on the camel’s back.

Fawlty, my new basil plant, drinks so much water, I fear it’s an aquaholic.

Never had a blister THERE before.

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Coming soon: Art Books by Ben

One night in London…

One evening while looking out of my office window over the rooftops of London, I realised that while I am passionate about spinning words into tales… I also really enjoy art. I missed drawing the black and white seascapes and fantastical universes I began to create many years ago, initially for my children.

With a portfolio stretching back fifteen years, many requests, and lucky enough to have attracted thousands of Facebook “likes”, I’ve decided to put my art into two books.

What kind of books?

The first will be ocean-themed (the formatting is already well advanced), the second land-based. My art is detailed black and white magical realism, interspersed with trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye). Often I disguise a message or story in my imagery.

What I think about when I think about art…

I enjoy taking existing animals and plants and reproducing them with accuracy down to the diameter of a hair follicle or stem texture of a mature sporophyte. But as I believe in parallel worlds (or multiverses—think quantum physics), I also like to modify my flora and fauna, sometimes minutely, sometimes big time, while retaining apparent authenticity. It’s up to the viewer to spot where I’ve accelerated evolution or wandered into a shadowy recess of my imagination.

How many pictures?

Each book will have about 55 illustrations. On the opposing pages, I’ll include a few (hopefully) interesting facts about the subject matter; my personal experiences; perhaps a few lines about what I was trying to achieve with that picture.

For the originals, I worked exclusively by hand and eye—no computer trickery here! But I’ll be adding a few “digitally doubled” images—images reflected down a central axis—at the end of both books. Just for fun.


The first book is already 75% formatted. If the Great Crested Lemur, unknown in Mad-agascar but commonplace in Sane-agascar (Editor: Ben, I can’t believe you wrote that :-/ ) would just stop hopping around for five minutes and let me finish the seascape behind it, I’d be able to wrap this up soon and have the first book up on Amazon in a few weeks.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the trompe l’oeil and the hidden stories you might see in these works…


Spring Ben-isms!

It’s not every day you run 5 miles in a record time. Then write 5,000 words, edit a business plan and meet up with an old friend whom you beat at chess in eleven moves. And still manage to cook dinner for twelve. And today wasn’t one of those days.

My oeuvre needs expanding.

I hate the way auto-connect ruins all my testes.

Flat (apartment) below me catches fire (& brimstone). Smoke, eye-watering smells, fire brigade, ambulance, police, mayhem. My smoke alarm doesn’t go off. Grilling a quorn peppered “steak”. Smoke alarm goes off. Explanations please…

PHOBIA OF THE DAY. The fear of invisible words:

Facebook wants to know what my position is at “Author”. Errr…writer?

I mind that my mind thinks it knows what I’m thinking.

I signed up to a website that promised to make me happier. After several boring emails, I unsubscribed. But they kept emailing me. So I emailed them to tell them they were making me unhappy. The rate of emails increased.

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