Saturday, 29 August 2015

Exit, Pursued by a Bear (or "how to chase killers away, whilst naked with a cutlass")

Recently a group of very brave men leapt from their seats to wrestle a heavily armed and very dangerous man to the ground on a French train. By doing this they saved a huge number of people on that train. Incredible bravery!

It does make you think, doesn't it. What would you do if you found yourself in that situation? Hide under the seat? Leap up and attack? I don't know what I would have done. Probably hidden under a chair and quivered like a jelly. But I'm pretty confident that I know what my father would have done - he would have charged at the attacker, stark naked while waving a cutlass and screaming incoherently. How do I know this? Because that's what he did last time.

Let me tell you his story because sadly he is no longer here to tell it himself. So I will tell it. We need to tell our stories. Tua Fabula.

Some years back, in Benin City, Nigeria, where my father lived there was a spate of attacks and assassinations. For a relatively small amount of money you could hire someone to go to your business rival's house and have them bumped off (these days it appears it's more efficient to have your rivals kidnapped - much more lucrative).

So, back then everyone made sure they had high walls and strong bars on their windows. And everyone slept with a weapon of some sort under their bed. The idea wasn't to actually use said weapon, it was to let it be known that you slept with a weapon in order to put people off the idea of "having a go" at you. This is know in the business as "security theatre".

But one night, this security theatre was required to deliver a live performance. And what a performance it gave!

My parents were asleep in bed when the men came. They scaled the fence with ease and, to bypass the bars on the windows, they climbed up into the roof and dropped down through the ceiling. Armed with long, sharp knives, they made their way to the bedroom. They made no attempt to steal anything. They had come with one purpose. To kill.

Slowly the chap in front (let us call him Assassin One) pushed open the bedroom door, closely followed by his professional colleague (for our purposes we will assign him the moniker Assassin Two).

Assassin One pushed open the door and his hand holding a long, glinting blade appeared around the edge of the door, followed by the man's head.

At this moment my parents awoke in horror!

Things moved fast. Very fast.

Assassin One said in a loud menacing voice "I will KILL you"

[Aside: I think that was probably his mistake. He had not properly done his homework. My father, Mr N O Ilube Esquire, had joined the Army at the age of 14, by pretending to be 16. He had been posted to the Nigerian Military Training School in Zaria, the far north of Nigeria and drilled and drilled in circumstances that I can barely imagine. He never told me much about his time there, but the only thing I remember him telling me was that they were trained to NEVER, EVER retreat. It probably wasn't a good idea for Assassin One to state his intentions before carrying it out.]

So, Assassin One said in a loud menacing voice "I will KILL you".

Ilube immediately reached under the bed, produced a cutlass, shouted "I will kill YOU!!!" and leapt, stark naked, out of bed.

Taken aback, Assassin One took a sharp step back and bumped into Assassin Two. Assassin Two yelped, assuming that something had gone wrong and turned and ran. Assassin One, faced with an angry, naked, cutlass wielding chap who clearly had no intention of performing the traditional role of "tragic victim" and seeing his loyal assistant showing a clean pair of heals, turned and fled too. This job was turning out to be more work than he had been paid for!

In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Act 3, Scene 3 there is a line "[Exit, pursued by a bear]". I believe that the great man Shakespeare foresaw what was to take place that night in Benin CIty and wrote that line specifically to describe the event.

Assassin Two was in the lead. Closely followed by Assassin One. A short distance behind Naked Berserk Ilube waving a cutlass, screaming at the top of his voice, pursued them down the street in the middle of an otherwise silent night.

The Assassins vanished into the bushes. But Naked Berserk Ilube's blood was boiling. He ran up and down the street, scraping his cutlass along the stones, making sparks fly into the air. He shouted and screamed, demanding that the Assassins come back to face him. He shouted in English, in his traditional language, Emai, in made up noises and languages that weren't intelligible to people but probably made any bears in the vicinity wake up and say "oh boy, one of the lads is pretty unhappy about something".

Neighbours awoke in the dead of night. Candles and lights came on as scared people looked out of their windows to watch my father rant and rave. Gradually they came out and gradually, possibly realising that he was rather lightly clothed, my father calmed down and retreated to his house.

Mr Ilube got one or two funny looks and the odd sideways glance as he wandered out to pick up his morning papers the next day. But at least, he thought to himself, we are alive.

And interestingly, there weren't really any problems with attempted burglaries, break ins or assassination attempts after that.

Monday, 13 April 2015

I visited a brothel in a Kampala slum and I'm proud of it

 Today I visited a notorious brothel in the red light district of Kampala, Uganda and I don't care who knows it!

Do you have any idea what a brothel in a Kampala slum is like? Can you imagine being trapped in that environment, too deep in to claw you way out and not even being sure what you would be climbing out to if you could?

And what about your children? Born and raised in a slum brothel. What are the odds that your child will break the cycle and not end up in the same circumstances? Pretty slim I would say.

Except for the amazing efforts of a young lady, Harriet Kamashanyu and her team, Derrick and Allan, at Rhythm of Life.

The team work with sex workers and their daughters deep in the red light areas of Kampala. They focus on health issues for the sex workers and on trying to create educational opportunities for the children in an effort to break the never ending cycle. This really is the front line of charity work and the team deserves our support

 The Rhythm of Life team took me to the Daido Brothel in Makindye. They hand out male and female condoms, vitamins and other medicines to the sex workers and explain how to use them.

With their partners, such as a healthcare organisation called Touch they conduct HIV and STI testing and put the women in touch with hospitals if needed.

Keep in mind that the three team members are all in their twenties. I know a few young people in their twenties. Many are hunting for jobs in banking or management consulting. They think if they wear a suit and tie and go to work in a shiny office they've made it. The RoL team have more impact on real lives in a week than some of these folk will have in their entire career. But they pay a tough price. They juggle studies with this volunteer work. They face threats from pimps and disdain from some of the die-hard sex workers who just want customers. They hardly earn anything. But I've listened to them talk about their work and they are changing and saving lives one at a time. One at a time. It's humbling.

Let me tell you about being an African sex worker. If you are lucky - yes lucky - you live in the brothel in the picture. You pay your pimp/landlord 5,000 Ugandan Shillings a night to live in a small room with may be four or five other women. You pay that whether you work or not, so you had better hustle for business or you'll literally be out on the streets. So you fight for custom against the thousands of other sex workers out there. Fight. Struggle. Hustle. If you are very lucky you might hit the big time and earn 50,000 UG Shillings for a single session. Happy Days eh! How else are you ever going to earn that sort of money (that's about £12 by the way).

And you dull the pain with alcohol. So much alcohol. But not when you are working. Because you've got to keep a clear head or the customers will refuse to pay, trick you, beat you. abuse you. So they might be high on drink and drugs but you are fighting for survival so keep a clear head at night and drink in the day to forget the last night and tomorrow night.

The women we met ranged in age from 16 to 40's. Many had small children running around the slum. Some of the small children had even smaller children on their backs. A lot of these sex workers came from outside Kampala, looking for what the bright lights of the big city had to offer. It turned out what it had to offer was a tiny room in a brothel and a life locked into a cycle of alcohol, sex and survival.

One of the few signs that the world out there has not completely abandoned them is when the Rhythm of Life team turn up with supplies to help them manage their health and advice, guidance and support. And not a word of judgement. These women are where they are. They need support. Thank goodness someone is willing to give them that support as best they can. I attending one of the sessions as the women were taught how to use female condoms. These hardened women who have seen things that I can only imagine giggled like a group of schoolgirls as the healthworker explain some of the, errr, mechanics.

But as Harriet explains, even simple things like female condoms are empowering. The (stupid) men often refuse to wear condoms (can you believe it?!). And the women can't make them. But they can take matters into their own hands and use female condoms to protect themselves. So much of what RoL do is about trying to empower the women as much as possible to make their own decisions.

Sometimes that decision might be that a sex worker
wants to leave the business. But it's not that easy. What are they going to do instead? They have no or few qualifications. There are no jobs. So do you leave and starve (along with your children) or stay and work? What would you do?

I met a sex worker and chatted to her. She a young lady but already has four children, aged between 9 years and 6 months, and she's working again to keep body and soul together and feed her kids.

But when I asked her what her dream is she opened up. She desperately wants to get out. She dreams of starting a hair salon. But it's an impossible dream. She would need 2 MILLION Ugandan Shillings to set up a salon. let's be brutal about it. If she could save 10 percent of her earnings then she might need to have sex with perhaps 800 drunk, drugged strangers to turn that dream into a reality. So it's just a dream.

Except that 2 Million Shillings is about £500 ($750). Yes, £500. If you've got a spare £500 let me know and we'll stop her having to sleep with 800 more men to achieve her dream. Shall we do that? Or is that a bit much for us? How about we go halves on it?

I asked her whether she would really set up a salon if someone gave her 2m shillings. For the first time she became really clear. She said that she would rent a store to work from by that same evening. She wants out. But she dare not believe. She can't let her guard down. How can she hope and then have it crushed?

It's the children though. Rhythm of Life try to help some of the children into schools if they can. They want to break the cycle. Change the rhythm of life for these girls. Open up another route for them.

Sometimes it works. This young lady is now doing A levels and plans to study accounting and finance at University with the help of Rhythm of Life. She is a strong, delightful student and very proud of what she has achieved and so, so thankful for the help she has received.

Huge cost though. It can cost £150 a term in fees to put a girl into primary school instead of leaving them to run around the brothel. So far Rhythm of Life have managed to raise enough money to put 5 girls into schools. They would love to increase this by another five next year. But you're talking big money - that's 5 times £150 per term right there. I mean, who is going to stump up that sort of cash, just to stop a little girl from being prepared for her life as a sex worker in a Kampala slum? You? No. We've got better things to do haven't we. Have we?

I do like these stock photos of smiling little African kids. I've always wondered where photographers get them from. Well I know where this one comes from. These three little girls were playing around the Kampala brothel that we visited. So happy. Having such fun as they skipped around together and laughing at the funny looking stranger from London.

So, which way do they go? School outside the brothel and a chance at a life. Or follow in their mothers' footsteps. My call. Your call.

We can't get to them. But Rhythm of Life can, do and will if we want them too. And if we do, then we'll really touch some lives.

Some people say "what' the point, you can't solve the problem". But I'm not trying to solve the problem. I like the Starfish principle. Tens of thousands of starfish are washed up onto the beach one day. The tide goes out and leaves thousands trapped in little pools of water in the sand. A little girls picks them up one by one and starts putting them back in the sea. Worldly wise Dad says "there's no point, love, you can't save then all. It really doesn't matter". Daughter who knows no better shows him the one in her cupped hands. "Well, it matters to this one Daddy. It matters to this one"

Thursday, 19 March 2015

How I found my racist again after 25 years

It's always nice to catch up with an old friend after a long time. This week, after 25 years, I have been reacquainted with an old racist of mine.

Well, I say he's my racist but I think that's a bit greedy of me. He probably shares his racism around generously. In fact that's a bit unfair. I don't know that for sure. I only know that I was on the receiving end of it in 1988. It all played out quite predictably I suppose and he won in the end.

So, imagine my delight when, thanks to the power of social media, he was suggested as a possible contact for me! The ability to reconnect with him and chat about old times is almost irresistible. Oh, what fun we shall  have.

It's 1988. I am half way through my MBA and it's time to start job hunting. Off I got to chat to executive search folk and start the process of getting a much needed job to pay of my MBA loan.

I had a very promising chat with one firm. The lady seemed quite impressed and promised to put me forward for a few roles. Imagine my surprise when I got this letter a few days later

Gosh! What do I do now? The organisation is one of the most powerful firms in the City at the time. Do I let this pass or do I take on the fight? I've taken out a big loan to do my MBA and several people advise me that if I get in a public fight it's going to be really hard to get a job whether I win or lose. But given the recruitment consultants strength of feeling and commitment, how can I let it pass? Who is going to be the next victim of this sort of blatant racism? Someone has to act.

After much agonising, I conclude that I have to take the fight to them. I mentally kiss goodbye to my career in the City and contact the (then) Commission for Racial Equality.

It was really interested to find that I had to convince the CRE that this was a genuine case, that I was a credible person and that the organisation was worth taking on. Clearly they had limited resources so they had to pick their fights. Maximum, public impact. This organisation was a global player and dominated finance at the time. They decided it was worth tackling and took on the case.

The next step is that I am assigned a lawyer to review and prepare the case. He did a great job. We had this racist guy bang to rights and we were going to force some changes. No one, individual or organisation, is above the law. This is 1980s Britain for goodness sake not 1940s Deep South. Company policy not to hire black people? Come on, Get real! 

At least, that's what I thought.

Then, things took a slightly odd turn. My lawyer sent me the following letter after a chat with the recruitment lady...

Finally, the recruitment executive called me up. She was in tears.

Her Director at the agency had called her in. The message was delivered straight. If the recruitment firm ever wanted to do any work for this company in the City again it would withdraw the case. If her firm did not withdraw the case, then they would send the word around the City and recruitment work would dry up overnight.

My recruitment executive was told that if she wanted to work in recruitment now or ever she had to withdraw her allegation. Her Director would ring around all the other recruitment firms and make sure she never worked in that industry again. She was ordered to withdraw.

In fact they went further. She was told to call the executive and apologise in person for her outrageous allegation and appeal for forgiveness. This she did. And I don't blame her. Was I going to pay her wages for the next 30 years? Was she supposed to go into shops and say "I'd like to buy that dress please. I have no money but I have principles"?

So, she did what she had to do and then wrote me the following letter.

And so it came to an end. My lawyer formally withdrew the case. My racist carried on with his work. The organisation carried on doing whatever the organisation does, and I put the whole episode in the file marked "It's only a bit of racist banter, what's the big deal, Don't be so sensitive Tom" and got on with the task of building a career.

Until the social media site Linkedin decided that I and my racist ought to get back together and catch up on old times. Perhaps share recommendations. I don't really do recommendations on linkedin but I'm considering making an exception. My racist is now a very senior technology guy at the same bank in the City. I wonder if he uses the same recruitment policy or if he's grown out of it. I'm surprised that I haven't bumped into him before now as most of my career has been in financial services technology. 

Fortunately Nigel Farage assures us that workplace racism is done and dusted and we don't need these silly anti-discrimination laws that people like me use to waste companies time. There are no more racists in the workplace. The young racists haven't grown up into old racists in senior positions. No, I am sure my racist has grown out of his young racist phase. It's a phase we all go through isn't it? I should give him a call. We'd have a giggle about it and may be enjoy a pint together.

Anyway, that's real life folks. We used to have proper racists in the good old days. None of this weak "I'm not sure his face fits" nonsense. A direct "He's black. We don't employ blacks. If you don't like it, go to hell."

(Shall I send him a link to my blog? Stop it, Tom. Don't be naughty :)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The First Line of your story

They say first impressions count. How you enter the room. How you shake hands. Whether you look the other person straight in the eye.

The first line of a story matters too. I have never written a story, but I imagine that authors take extra special care to make sure that very first line (okay, perhaps we'll allow them a couple of lines and call it the first phrase) says exactly what they want it to say.

I've had a look at the first lines of three of my favourite novels. In doing this, I discovered something interesting (to me). I don't have many novels. I have lots of technical books, business books, science books, history books but very few novels. Strange. I hadn't realised that before.

But I do have three books. And they have great opening lines. Here are mine. What are yours?

Smiley's People by John Le Carre

My favourite spy book. I love the slightly bemused way George Smiley wanders through the murky shadow world of cold war spying. This is the first line of Smiley's People:

"Two seemingly unconnected events heralded the summons of Mr.George Smiley from his dubious retirement"

I love this line. It introduces Smiley, but with appropriate formality as Mr. George Smiley. That tells us a lot straight way. This isn't someone you casually refer to as "George". It's Mr. Smiley to you if you don't mind.

And why did Mr Smiley need to be summoned from his retirement? Why was his retirement dubious? What are these two events? Seemingly unconnected, but how are they actually connected?

This is a slow, intricate wander through a complex world of questions through the eyes of Mr. Smiley. The first line captures the whole flavour of the story in that one opening line.

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

One of my all time favourite books. Some people don't warm to this book but I like it a lot. I think on the few occasions that I do read a novel, I like to drift away into a magical mystery world and you know from the first line that you are in for an interesting journey:

"In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world"

There is a biblical power to this opening statement. "In the beginning was the Word" is the first verse of the Gospel according to John. Here we have a river, which becomes a road. It feels alive. It is in control of it's own destiny and it has a purpose, almost a sinister purpose, branching out unbidden to the whole world. Or perhaps it has a message. Either way, it invites us to go on the journey and see what we find along this road that used to be a river.

Notice that we are not immediately introduced to any characters. Rather it emphasises that the road that used to be a river is the central character in this book. If you haven't read this book, I can assure you that within a paragraph of reading this opening, you will either put this book down and check what's on TV instead or you will be up all night, drifting as the magical road that used to be a river sweeps you along.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

I lift the huge tome that is The Lord of the Rings down from my bookshelves with great reverence. This three volume book helped me at some difficult times. I hid inside it and let the high wall of Gondor protect me. Mine is the Harper Collins edition, beautifully illustrated by Alan Lee. I hardly need to open it to quote the first line but here it is:

"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton"

Ah, so much, so much to enjoy in this line.This is an invitation to you, the reader, to attending this party of special magnificence. I dream of throwing a party of special magnificence and perhaps one day I will. When I am eleventy-one may be. I urge you to accept the invitation and come to this book's party. You won't regret it.

It does make you wonder. If you think of your life as a story (Tua Fabula) what would your opening line be?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

My New Philosophy: The Juicy Mango of Life

Have you ever eaten a juicy mango? I mean a juicy mango straight from the tree. Well, if you have then my new philosophy: The Juicy Mango of Life will make perfect sense to you. If not, let me explain.

When I was young, we went to live in Kampala, Uganda for a few years. That is where I first discovered mango trees. We had some in our garden. We would circle those trees with sticks like hunters as the mangoes grew, painfully slowly. First they were green and hard. But gradually they ripened into juicy mangoes with green, red and yellow skins.

And then they fell.

Or rather they floated down whispering sweet nothings to your taste-buds. "I am the juicy mango of life. I am yours. Take me". And we did.

Eating a juicy mango is a full contact sport. You can't sit on the sidelines. You plunge your face into the juiciest part of the juicy mango. Juice dribbles down your chin. Bits of mango get stuck in your teeth. For a few moments, Man and Mango become One. The rest of the world ceases to exist as you focus your undivided attention on the juicy mango. You might hear the distant sound of your father's voice shouting "Thomas, Thomas, come and clean your room, boy" but The Mango owns you!

And so to my New Philosophy: The Juicy Mango of Life.

We work. We strive. We stress and strain. We hustle and bustle. We win. We lose. But when do we LIVE?

With the Juicy Mango of Life you seek out short, sharp moments of complete delight and you allow them to embrace you completely. You grab your juicy mangoes with both hands, plunge your face in, let the juice run down your chin, let the bits get stuck in your teeth and let The Mango own you for a few brief moments. Why? Because "juicy mango dude", that's all.

Now like all good mass movements destined to sweep the world, Juicy Mango has some strict rules passed down by Ancient Prophets of Old (by which I mean I just made them up). We call these rules MINE.

M stands for ME. Me, me, me. Juicy Mango is a purely selfish philosophy. Who ever heard of someone sharing a juicy mango? Never, never. Your brother or sister might stand there looking longingly while you gorge on your mango but you must never share. Remember: You work hard. You Deserve The Mango. That's not to say that your best friend can't sit down with you while you both gorge on your own juicy mangoes together, grinning at each other out of sheer enjoyment. That's allowed.

I stands for Interval. Leave time between your juicy mangoes. If you have a juicy mango every day you will get sick. Sick of mangoes. Sick of life. Just sick. But if you leave an interval between mangoes, you will start to look forward excitedly to the next mango and the mango after that, and so on. The daily grind merely becomes the bridge between mangoes. I suggest granting yourself a Juicy Mango every two months. You should certainly never be more than three months away from your next Juicy Mango.

N stands for Naughty. Juicy Mangoes are intrinsically naughty. Not very naughty. Not Capital N Naughty. Just naughty enough. Eating a juicy mango when, really you should be doing your homework makes it that tiny bit sweeter. Your eyes should be darting around (metaphorically) in case you are spotted enjoying your mango too much. You should grin sheepishly if caught, like waiting for your partner to go to bed, saying you'll be up in a minute, then breaking out the treacle pudding and custard only to see the door swing open as they come back downstairs to get something.

E stands for Exceptional. There are lots of green mangoes. But a Juicy Mango is special. It stands out. It's not business as usual. It's something different. It's three days at a Spa in Marrakesh. It's an afternoon off work wandering around your favourite bookshop. It's a back and shoulder massage slipped into the diary between important business meetings. It's reading a book that no-one finds funny but makes you literally cry with laughter. Short, sharp moments of delight. Three hours to three days of real joy and pleasure.

So, as you strive and struggle through the harsh realities of life, look out for the Juicy Mangoes. Seek them out and when one falls into your hands, or you knock one off your neighbour's tree with a stick, grasp it with both hands, chant "it's Mine Mine Mine" and plunge yourself into it with such abandon that for a few brief moments you and your juicy mango become one and the world and it's challenges fade into the background

The other day, me and one of my best friends were lounging in the sun on deckchairs by a pool, reading books and doing nothing. We looked at each other. "Juicy Mango, dude" he said. "Juicy Mango" I replied. Then we laughed and went back to our books and nothing.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Rule 1 of the Gym Changing Room: Dangle

January is the time of year when many of you will have joined a gym for the first time, determined to get in shape in time for strolling along the beach front this summer.

I know this because exactly one year ago I joined a gym and started to work out. I have learnt from personal experience that it is possible to transform how you look within a year. I'm delighted to say that I look like a new man, as you can see from the photo. Yes, in case you are wondering, that is definitely all me. Oh yes it is!

The other thing I have learnt is how to behave in men's gym changing rooms. There are things you do and things you don't do. I offer this helpful advice to all you newcomers to the world of gyms.

The first thing to understand is that the people you share the changing room with are not your friends. They are your rivals. You are in a competition as soon as you step into the changing room. You must never forget this.

There are two distinct phases to be aware of. I think of them as pre-workout and apres-workout.

When you arrive pre-workout the focus is on life outside the gym. It is important to establish how busy you are. So make sure you arrive in a suit and tie and march in confidently. Even if you don't work in a suit and tie, keep one in your car. Change into your suit and tie in your car in the carpark, march into the changing room and then change out of them again. This will establish you as a dominant male right from the word go.

You can enhance this by striding in whilst on the phone. Obviously there doesn't need to be anyone at the other end of your call. As you bash the door open, bark into your phone something like "...and I want it done YESTERDAY. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" Then switch you phone off, sigh and smile whilst shaking your head sadly. Try to catch someone's eye and say "difficult to get good staff these days". Thus you have announced yourself to the changing room and everyone knows - a MAN has arrived.

Change slowly. MAN is not in a hury. MAN does not have to rush home to put children to bed. Besides it is important that you stretch and flex as you change. People need to know that you are pushing yourself to the limit. So look for the opportunity to say something like "damn, I shouldn't have run that 10k this morning". This will intimidate other lesser men around you who have not been out for a long run before coming to the gym. Well done!

Make sure you have an injury. Ideally this should be a leg or ankle injury. But it can be a wrist problem as well. Basically it should be an injury that you tape up. Do this carefully and deliberately so that everyone in the changing room can see your technique (you can practice this at home). The message you are sending is "Guys, I don't just exercise in the gym, I am out there doing a MAN'S sport where you get injured".

Then put in your headphones and turn your music on. But not in that order. Turn the music on first. Make sure it is hard driving music with a thumping baseline. It only needs to be on for a few seconds but they will get the message - you train HARD and by the sound of things you CLUB hard too. YOU ARE A PLAYER! (Once your headphones are in feel free to change the music back to a nice classical piece or perhaps a smooth Burt Bacharach number).

After all that you are ready to go and jump about a bit in the gym. Apparently that's important. But what's even more important is the apres-workout.

Makes sure you slam your way through that changing room door as if you are going to take it off its hinges. Because you are PUMPED after that fierce workout (even if like me you've only done 15 minutes walking on the treadmill whilst watching TV). If heads don't jerk up sharply as you barge in your are not putting the right level of effort into your entry. Practice at home but not when your wife is home or you will get in trouble.

Then peel your t-shirt off. You t-shirt must be at least one size smaller than your actual size so that it is difficult to peel off. This gives the impression that your muscles have expanded and are threatening to rip your t-shirt apart like the hulk. (Note: if you have a fat sticking out belly, don't do the tight t-shirt thing. Wear a loose t-shirt. I have a few of them that I can lend to you if required).

At this point you need to bring out your protein shake. Now I will be totally honest with you here. I don't know what a protein shake is. Or why you need to drink them all the time. But MEN do this. So you must do it too. However I have discovered that if you hold a water bottle and shake it and it makes some sort of clanking noise then everyone assumes its a protein shake. So simply fill your bottle with water, drop a (clean) stone into it and shake hard. Or you can try another drink such as  hot chocolate with marshmellow and perhaps some extra cream on top. But make sure you walk around the changing room shaking your container so that everyone thinks that you are drinking a protein shake.

Finally, go and have a shower. Now this is where you need to make a hard decision. You can't fake this and everyone knows that this is the big test. You come out of the shower. Where do yo dry yourself? This depends purely on your, ahem..errr.."equipment".

If you are "modest" then I advise you to dry in the shower cubicle. Lower your profile. Come out from the shower, get dressed and shuffle off to your car without too much fanfare.

But if you are "substantial" then (and I have see this with my own eyes) stride out of the shower stark naked and dripping wet. Take your time. When you reach your locker, place one leg proudly up on the bench in front of you and DANGLE. Yes, my friend, DANGLE  and let your rivals know that they are in the presence of A MAN!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Coat of Arms: Tell Your Story

On 17th January, 2015 we were granted a Coat of Arms by the College of Arms in the City of London.

Creating a coat of arms has been a fascinating and thought provoking process, in our case under the skilled guidance of the Windsor Herald, a post that has existed since 1364 and is currently occupied by William Hunt.

Historically, coats of arms were used by medieval knights to identify the wearer in battle and tournaments, so that you didn't bash someone on your own side over the head! Today I look at a coat of arms as a way of telling your story. Hundreds of years in the future one of your descendants might wonder who you were and what you and your family stood for. The challenge that I and my brother, Roland, faced was to come up with a heraldic design that tells our family's story and that is what I feel we have achieved.

I will explain the various elements to you, but first and most significant is the fact that it was granted today, the 17th January. Today is our elder brother, Jim Stanfield's birthday. If you know me at all you know that our big brother died way too early in 2012 after a short illness. But he is still our guide and inspiration and we wanted to anchor this coat of arms to his birthday so that forever more if anyone wonders what the roots of it are, it will lead straight back to the great man himself.

At the heart of our Arms is a Griffin. A griffin has the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. My brother and I and also our father are leos, born in July/August hence the lion. Our father was Nigerian and even though the eagle is not the official national bird of Nigeria, it is closely connected with the country - even the football team are the Super Eagles. So a griffin captures us well.

In our case we have a Sinister Griffin i.e. it faces left instead of right. It is very unusual for the central beast on a coat of arms to be sinister, because if it was on a shield and you were riding into battle your fearsome beast would be facing the wrong way and look like it was trying to escape! However, we don't actually plan to carry shields into battle (perhaps the occasional meeting...). We chose a sinister griffin because both my brother and I are left-handed.

Above the helm is a stag. The stag represents Richmond upon Thames. Richmond is know for stags and deer in Richmond Park. We are a Richmond family. Our great grandparents moved here over a hundred years ago. Our grandparents grew up here. Our mother grew up here. We grew up here. Our children are growing up here. Five generations in the same borough and no plans to move! We love the borough and wherever any of us travel in the world we always find our way back here.

The stag is holding a lightening bolt and has its hoof on a ball. The lightening bolt represents me and my career in technology and my fascination with science. The ball is a cricket ball and represents Roland's lifelong passion for cricket.

On one side of the griffin is a oak branch with acorns. Acorns are used to signify learning. Education is a theme that runs through our family, starting with our mother who was a teacher for over 30 years in the UK, Uganda and Nigeria. Literally hundreds of students have sat in her classrooms and she taught in a teacher training institute for many years so her impact is being felt by generations of students.

There are five leaves on the branch. They represent the five brothers and sisters, Liz, Jay (Jim), Sue, Tom (me) and Rol. We are a tight unit and always will be, even though Jay is no longer with us.

On the other side of the griffin is a branch from the Okha tree. My father was born in a tiny village deep in the countryside in Nigeria called Uokha. This means "near the Okha tree" so this branch represents him and his roots. Actually I wasn't sure what an Okha tree looked like so I contacted Kew Gardens and asked them. The librarians at Kew did an excellent job in researching the question and sent me diagrams and explanations which I forwarded to the College of Arms to produce the design.

We have chosen the colours carefully too. Red and white is for England. Green and white is for Nigeria. Black, gold and green is for Jamaica because co-incidentally both Roland and I married British women with Jamaican origins, so Jamaica has become very much part of our family.

We wrestled for months, literally, with the motto before settling on Tua Fabula which is Latin for Your Story.

It is really hard to sum up ones philosophy of life in three or four words. try it! I ended up going back to a parable that I occasionally bore my children with (just to watch them roll their eyes!). It says "until lions have their own storytellers, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter".

If you don't tell your story, someone else will and they will tell it from their perspective. But Tua Fabula goes deeper than that. We want to encourage our family to live lives full of stories worth telling. Don't be boring. Never do what you are "supposed" to do. Go out there, explore the world and everything it has to offer. Live, love, laugh and be fabulous. Fill your lives with stories and then tell Your Story.

Tua Fabula