It’s Back to School for Ben

 

It was back to school for Ben on Wednesday, courtesy of the charity “The Good Lad Initiative”!

The Good Lad Initiative targets young men (13-18 years old) with issues relating to gender equality, and aims to get them thinking differently about what it means—and how to cope—with being a young man in today’s challenging world.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a two day training course to become a volunteer facilitator for this charity. During the training, questions were posed, exercises undertaken and role playing explored in fun but intense sessions that equipped volunteers with the tools to enter schools and share thought-provoking material with all-male classes.

Wednesday was our chance to round out the training, witnessing experienced qualified programme facilitators in action.

Man-up?

I was one of ten volunteers this day who attended a charming school a few miles outside the metropolis. We watched the leaders present the syllabus to classes of up to 24 pupils. Under the watchful gaze of some of the boys’ curious teachers, our diverse teams of two addressed stereotyping, sexual assault, emotions, violence, consent, objectification, sexual identity etc.

Did you know that 75% of suicides are by men (Office of National Statistics) and that in 2016, 95% of prisoners were male (UK Govt.)? That two women a week are killed in the UK by a violent partner and that on average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police (Jaffee, 1982). Pretty disturbing stuff.

Sowing, not preaching

Sowing seeds was what it was all about. Not preaching. Discussion and participation were encouraged and I was impressed with how the volunteers handled the trickier boys. And the trickier teachers.

It was fascinating unravelling the thinking processes of the young with their unexpected answers; it was great to share their enthusiasm. At times, it looked like the boys were saying what was expected of them, but our well-trained teams had techniques for dealing with that too. One volunteer stunned me by memorising every boys’ name in five minutes—he even got the twins right (after spotting that their glasses were a different shade)!

A great day

The day was about the boys and I left with the impression that it had been most worthwhile. Their feedback slips certainly reinforced this impression.

I look forward to my next school session at which I won’t observe. No, I’ll leap boldly outside my comfort zone and participate as an active facilitator!

***

The Good Lad Initiative “aims to promote “Positive Masculinity”, and in doing so, to enable men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles and broader communities. To achieve this fundamental objective, GLI seeks to engage with organizations and individuals of all genders and backgrounds.”

Their “evidence based intervention has been developed with leading academics and experts in gender and sexual discrimination from around the world. Critically both men and women work at every level of Good Lad to ensure [their] work is accountable to women.”

You can find out more at www.goodladworkshop.com

 

 

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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…

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.

When?

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…

 

Ben Meets Mike Storkey, Toastmasters International President

Last Wednesday, I met the President… Mike Storkey, President of Toastmasters International. And in my opinion, he trumps most other presidents!

An Afternoon at Toastmasters

I spent the afternoon of this hesitant spring Wednesday at a Toastmasters event in Docklands, one of London’s shiny business centres.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. Clubs can be community based, themed (by language or profession for example), or corporate (clubs open to employees of a certain company).

Mike Storkey was the keynote speaker at this event and glided through his presentation with a pleasing Australian lilt, handling with finesse a wide range of questions in the Q&A that followed. He gave tips on how to launch new clubs, focusing on the challenges of launching corporate clubs in particular.

My Favourite Quote

When trying to persuade your head of HR to sponsor a corporate Toastmasters Club, he warned you’re likely to be asked,

“But what if we expend a lot money and effort to train someone to be an excellent speaker, presenter, leader…and then they leave the company?”

Mike’s recommended answer?

“But what if you don’t train them…and they stay?

A Focus on Leadership Development As Well

One clear message was that Toastmasters doesn’t exist just to help you improve your public speaking—though many people join for that reason. It’s there to build many different skill sets, amongst which leadership features prominently. Pathways, a new programme being rolled out across regions over the next two years, will offer a modern and effective way of helping you achieve diverse goals.

Mike made the point that because of the leadership development benefits that accrue, everyone should also consider becoming a club official: it offers yet another opportunity to build your skill-set in a safe environment. “Imagine,” he pondered, “you get old and decrepit and ask yourself the what if question: What if I’d taken the trouble to improve this or that skill? Where would I be now?”

The best speech Mike ever heard?

Of course he’d heard thousands and admitted sometimes finding it easier to remember a speaker’s face than their words. The most memorable speech for Mike, however, was one that left him thinking about things very differently: the speech given by Mark Brown at the Toastmasters’ World Championship in 1995, entitled “A Second Chance”.

Pausing, he added, “I think The Gettysburg Address was the best speech I ever read, because it was short and powerful.”

Why Ben Joined Toastmasters

I myself joined about two years ago and never looked back. As an author, I know it’s critical for me to have presentation skills – but indeed, it’s invaluable to for almost everyone, no matter what your walk of life. There are clubs all over the world. Take a look and see if there’s a club near you!

 

Happy….

Happy…Lunar Year of the Chicken!

Hurrah, we all get another chance to make our new year’s resolutions!

Have you made yours yet? I have. Mostly about fitness and getting a new book ready for release. I’ve made it to yoga class three weeks in a row and am busy editing away. I’m on my way!

What are your new year’s re-resolutions?

What plans have you made?

All the best wishes for a new wonderful year from,

Ben

Best wishes for 2017!

firework-1443831

Happy New Year!

All the best from,

Ben