The shirt was crisp and new. Shoes had achieved a mirror like polish. The suit was doing it. Leaflets and presentation packed. I was so ready and excited heading out to my first solo venture for PCUK in Croydon. I got there in plenty of time and pulled up to the gate. Banners? Cheerleaders? Waving crowds? Nope, nudda and keep hoping. Instead one great big hefty padlock and chain, cobwebs and a deserted building. The word was out then about my latest talk. Oh, and not to think ‘impending doom’ but it began to chuck it down. All that was missing was thunder, Halloween type music coming from the tress, a dark sinister mist descending from nowhere and a man in a mask.
I double checked and tripled checked the address. It was definitely the right place, date and time. Before I could get the chance to take it personal another car pulled up and the driver lowered his window. He was wearing an official badge of some sort and said he was also there to also do a talk. I told him I would try the number on the website. I stood in the rain and called the number. He watched me doing this, all cosy and dry inside his car and without so much as a nod, smile or look back he rolled up his window, reversed back out and sped off. I shall put my window squeezee and water bottle back in my holster than shall I then?
I was as damp as the damp squid of an afternoon it had become. Thank you too mate! Don’t get rear ended in the adverse conditions now!
It would later turn out that someone had already been earmarked to do this particular talk but at the last minute they couldn’t do it, taking with them the change of venue address as well. Undeterred I signed myself up for the next talk coming up. The UK Black Business Show. So not only was I going to present my first solo talk I was also going to be the lead one of the PCUK teams.
Now in its second year the UKBBS was held in the QEII Centre, a large prestigious conference hall opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London. This is not some shabby or inexpensive venue but a place that means business and professionalism. This is the type of place where you would expect to see the best in the way of vendors and speakers and they certainly didn’t disappoint. It was spread over three floors, the fourth, fifth and the sixth. The fourth floor was the smaller auditorium, holding about one hundred and fifty delegates, where I and the smaller talks would be presenting. The fifth floor was the main floor with the vendors and the sixth floor had an auditorium which held around five hundred delegates.
My talk was scheduled for two o’clock and I needed to be there for one o’clock to hand over the shifts. Registration at some black events I have been to previously are either hit or miss. This event was refreshingly slick and fast. Our table was on one of the main walkways leading to and from the lift and apparently, I would not be able to miss it. As soon as I got out of the lift you could hear and feel the buzz and excitement of the event. There were approximately sixty vendors manning tables. Businesses included; high end beauty products, African attire, a radio station, a TV station, will making, solicitors, high end hair products, black dolls, finance, publishing, health & well being, cosmetics, books and greeting cards to name but a few. Each one of them displaying their products to a very high standard. The demographic of the attendees was black, twenty five to thirty five and predominantly female. With tickets at twenty five pounds each those attending were pretty serious. As well as the vendors displaying their businesses there were eighteen other speakers with topics ranging from ‘A journey from pillowcase to Buckingham Palace’, ‘How to take your brand global’ and ‘Creating diversity in technology’ to name just a few.
Manning the PCUK table was the first team consisting of my ‘heavy handed’ friend Jide from, ‘9. Prostate cancer : Men do actually talk, well sometimes’, Natalie and Sharon who I had never met before and Greville who I recognised from the hub meeting. Greville left as soon as I turned up as he had another appointment, we shook hands warmly and he left. Jide had realised that I was going to be leading the second team and contacted me earlier in the week to say that he was looking forward to meeting up. It was the first time I had seen him since my talk to the men’s ministry. He had threatened me with a visit after my surgery, which never happened of course but he did also ask me what he could bring for me. He asked me what I would like to drink and I said to him that a bottle of Malibu would be well received. He was beside himself with laughter as he handed over a miniature bottle of Malibu. Well I never specified the size of bottle apparently. I left him cackling to himself like a hyena.
Another great coincidence was that the fourth member of my team to arrive was a guy called Preston. It turns out that I actually grew up with Preston many moons ago when we used to live next door to each other. His family moved away when we were about eight years old and we lost contact. We bumped into each other a few years ago but never really contacted one another. Here we are again. He had been volunteering for a number of years spurred on by friends he knew that have had prostate cancer. Natalie was a volunteer who just got into it by chance one day and enjoyed it while Sharon’s husband had the radical surgery but is also undergoing radiotherapy because of a relapse.
Within a few minutes of being at the table I noticed a strange effect the table was having on some of the older attendees that were at the event. An artificial corner had been made by a couple of vendors at the end opposite to us having erected large roll up banners. If you came that particular way you would not see our table until you went around these banners and you were then about ten feet away. I said to the ladies it was almost like a force field had been erected around the table that was only repelling older guys. They didn’t believe me. Well the next older guy to hit the corner took two steps saw the table and actually spun on his feet and did a ninety degree turn (some professional dancers would be proud of) out of nothing and slinked over to some beauty products. I smiled. The next guy hit the corner, saw the table and suddenly continued to walk with his head jammed to his right-hand side, nearly crashing into a ladies’ hair stand in the process. We all laughed.
At quarter to two I ventured down to the auditorium and set up my camera. Not an exercise in vanity but because I am not the greatest in recalling every detail and not being a natural speaker, I want to improve as I go along. There were about ten people already seated and with the bustling hoards upstairs I was a little disappointed but hey it was ten more than nothing. I was more concerned with the demographic. There were only a few men that would be directly affected and concerned with my discussion.
Then I had a decisive light bulb moment that was to change the way I would approach talking about prostate cancer going forward.
While this demographic had little to worry about prostate cancer what they did have were; fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, god-parents and family friends who could be affected. These attendees are coming from the viewpoint of not wanting to see their older loved ones suffer with prostate cancer and wanting to have the knowledge to be able to say something. Once they were informed and empowered they could then reach the typical target male group from a completely different angle,
“We care and don’t want to lose you. Dad/Uncle have you had a PSA test…. Early diagnosis is important….” etc
I was very excited to say the least with this new outlook. Here is how it went.
I was allocated a forty five minute slot but we could have easily filled the hour and perhaps much more. I presented the short version of the prostate cancer presentation which takes fifteen or twenty minutes.
The rest of the time was answering questions.
The questions came thick and fast. As soon as I answered one question two more people put their hands up for another. I was beginning to lose track of the order people were in. Not only were the questions meaningful they said a lot about where this younger audience were coming from, quite different to the questions I had heard the older target group ask. They wanted to know about prevention, testing, cause and how they could present information and what research was being done. The older audience want to know about what they are going to potentially lose and make a judgement from that. I was practically ushered off stage with my time all run out.
As I was leaving the hall one woman said she worked in the physio department at Guys and the reason why I may have never seen her is that she only works with women. She suggested that to take my pelvic floor exercises to the next level I should ‘fatigue’ the muscle. That is instead of stopping when the muscle feels tired you should keep on ‘past the fatigue.’ I shall bare that one in mind.
At the end of the corridor before the lift a guy stopped me. It was clear that he wanted to talk privately away from everyone else, so I ushered him to take a seat. He said he had noticed something was wrong with his testicles and his doctor was not taking him serious or overly interested. It was clear in his eyes that this was something that was really troubling him. I said that I had no idea about what could be happening as I have no medical training, but it was something that he has to go back to his doctor and demand that he is referred. I was not sure he could demand as such but going back with a more determined and constructive argument certainly could not hurt him. I said if he wanted to get his PSA checked then PCUK would do it free of charge and that would be one less worry off his head while he was fighting to be referred about his testicular concern. We embraced and he left looking much better than he was earlier.
Back up at the table and we seemed to have deactivated the force field and many that I had recognised from the presentation ventured along to either ask questions or comment on the presentation.
Slowly but surely the message is getting through.