March4Women London!

Good Lad Initiative joined the March4Women on Sunday March 4th! We started walking from Westminster, London, UK.

We marched for gender equality along with thousands of other women, men, children and pets. We marched from the Houses of Parliament over to Trafalgar Square, following the historic march of the Suffragettes.

Under Nelson’s column in the Square, speeches, music and celebrations were held to commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage in the UK.

The Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, spoke inspirational words to the crowd on the very spot where her great-grandmother made her history-changing speech.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, proudly said “I am a feminist” and reiterated his commitment to making London equal for all.

Annie Lennox televised her message to the Square from giant screens. So many musicians, celebrities, comediennes gave their time to speak and entertain. It was a truly inspirational atmosphere and a fantastic feeling to be there!

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What is the Good Lad Initiative? GLI runs workshops with trained facilitators in all-male school classrooms, for pupils aged 12-18. The workshops address issues of gender equality and masculinity. We encourage young men to talk openly using the media of role playing, games and exercises.

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Ben Performing Live: at the Hackney Picturehouse

Ben performed live at the Hackney Picturehouse

A Bit About a Rolemodel

London UK, December 11, 2017.

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He looks forward to seeing you soon!

 

BAM Festival!

Just back after a couple of days volunteering to help out one of my favourite charities, Good Lad Initiative (GLI). I helped staff a table at the 2017 Being a Man (BAM) festival, held in London’s Southbank Centre.

A packed 3 day event

The three-day BAM Festival ran talks, lectures, seminars and panel discussions addressing topics from bullying to knife crime, from domestic abuse to fatherhood, from privilege to consent.

There were early morning runs, comedians, a talk by Man Booker Prizewinning author Allan Hollinghurst, LEGO workshops for kids, a lecture on ‘How to be a Superman? Gender Equity for Boys’, a Finnish shouting choir, music,… and much more.

Good Lad Intiative

The crowd ebbed and flowed past our GLI table. I spoke to several teachers who were interested in booking us for their schools. An aspiring actor completing his Master’s in drama was looking for ideas for a 40 minute single-man performance. A psychologist dropped by: she engaged me in a discussion about male suicide (which accounts for 75% of suicides in the UK).

I took contact details for a number of potential volunteers and got to meet other GLI team members. I was impressed by the interest, the enthusiasm, the desire to facilitate change.

What does GLI do?

It trains men to run workshops in all-male school classrooms, for pupils aged 12-18, which address issues of gender equality and masculinity. We encourage them to talk openly using the media of role playing, games and exercises.

It’s fascinating to see the pupils challenging their preconceptions and peer pressure, as they articulate thoughts on various topics, often for the first time. At the end of the day, their feedback—which tends to be highly positive—is analysed. But of course, when I was at school, I’d probably have given anything five stars that replaced three hours of geography and math(s)!

Making a difference

‘Being a man’ is a huge—and until quite recently—a largely neglected topic. I’m constantly learning and questioning my preconceptions. Good Lad Intiative is one of those initiatives that deserves to succeed because it’s really making a difference.

A Spooky Tale from Ben

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Trick or TREAT:

Ben tells a spooky tale live at the

East Dulwich Literary Festival 2017.

 

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!

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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

 

 

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.

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…