My eldest, as it turns out, did have half a good idea when she suggested carrying some stones for my fox nemesis. The crap part of the suggestion was suggesting that I go out and gather stones and aiming them at the floor to scare him off, as opposed to a direct shot. The current tools were all reasonably close quarter fox ‘re-education devices’, the stones meant I could keep further away. I changed the stones to large metal nuts that I gleefully picked out, mumbling vengeance under my breath, in the hardware store. I weighed, calculated and scored the various bags of nuts. Not enough in the packet, too heavy, too light, too expensive and as Goldie locks would say this one was just right. Days later, I would set off all tooled up, early morning ‘magnificent seven style’ with squeezy bottle and metal nuts in separate pockets and ‘Enforcer’ the tenderiser hanging snugly in the waist of my shorts.
It’s a very leafy route, passing multi-million pound houses, vast school grounds and completely deserted streets. In fact, it’s very fair to say that some of the route is very apocalyptic in nature. Much of the route you would not want your daughter or wife running on her own. Every dark spot was suspiciously analysed, fences were scanned thoroughly from a distance and every single noise needed a second look. Just occasionally, I found myself taking a look back. If there was one thing normally guaranteed on this route was the ubiquitous vermin fox. I would always see a minimum of 2 or 3 of the things on this particular route and as much as eight sometimes doing their thing. I had got the halfway stage and realised something.
I had not seen a single fox. Not a rustle or tail to be seen. Nothing.
Now they were really playing with my mind. Like horror movie type playing.
That was not to be the last of the surprises I would have throughout the month.
I got a text from a friend of mine that wanted me to come and talk to his church. He said it would be an intimate affair – which translates to me that there will not be a lot of people. That’s absolutely fine for me, as you know I stopped listening to people telling me how many people they expected to attend an event a long, time ago. I remember fondly the guy that said he was basically a big wig in this church and carried some weight. He oversaw 6 different churches and was expecting a minimum of one hundred men and laid out the chairs in the hall to match. There was barely 20 people in all on the night. I smiled and just did my thing.
The church had a good number there when I arrived, approximately 30 people. The bishop saw me arrive and quietly introduced himself and told me that the service would be finishing shortly. By the time we got started about 20 had stayed behind, a good mix of both men and women. What was to follow was one of the more memorable talks I had given in a while. The audience were engaged, horrified and determined in equal measure. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and they already have plans for me to return next year.
The next talk would be in Kilburn, West London. Talking to a group of men after they have had their periodical general health checks. This community group picks up the elderly men directly from a number of local estates or they can drop in freely themselves. However, on the particular day of my talk the organisation had changed the time to three hours later in the day but they forgot to pass that crucial nugget of information to me. I turned up at the allotted time to a bemused member of staff who had no idea I was arriving. Eventually the mistake was identified and with a couple of hours to spare I joined their drop-in coffee morning. While they were having their coffee, I reverted to the sudoku and crossword I had partially completed from the day before. The organiser then asked if I wanted to take their coffee group, comprising of one man and eight women, through my presentation. I would never have offered to do the presentation to them, thinking that they would be the wrong demographic.
Well, I happily got that wrong on a number of fronts.
This merry group of single mums and pensioners thoroughly enjoyed receiving the presentation, as much as I enjoyed giving it. Before I had even taken all the questions one of them was on the phone to her brother while the others all knew someone they would be tackling with their new found knowledge, from neighbours to partners. The only person not sharing in this euphoria was the single white man in the audience. Not only did he not say a single word throughout the presentation. He never even made eye contact. Not once. Eventually he left about ten minutes before the end of the presentation and didn’t come back until they were packing up. I asked him if he had any questions and he said no. I left it there.
The group that I had actually come to see, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. They were coming in after their appointments so I had 2 to start with and another 2 joined towards the end of my presentation. I could only give them leaflets in the end but the early talk was very enjoyable and worthwhile so job well done.
A few days later and the next talk was an online affair that was going to tackle prostate cancer and mental health. They had five speakers but there was only an hour allocated. I thought beforehand that it would be tight but that was to be severely underestimated. By the time the host had got us to introduce ourselves and a very short talk about what we were doing in regards to prostate cancer or mental health, a good chunk of the time had already gone. He could only get through a couple of questions for us to answer before he opened the floor to the thirty or so men online. The first guy hogged it a little bit. No, he hogged it a lot to be fair and that was pretty much the hour up. We actually stayed on another forty minutes but the audience had shrunk to 10 men. The great thing to come out of this however was sharing the stage with my good friend David and the great prostate cancer advocate himself, Mr Errol McKinner MBE.
As if Mr McKenner hadn’t had enough of me from the online discussion, I was up in his part of the woods in North London where Brent council was having an Awareness talk. There were going to be four speakers, each with a different prostate cancer perspective and I was meant to be first, a doctor next, Errol and then another speaker. I arrived there thirty minutes late due to dodgy North London buses and was worried the event had started. I should have known better. Not only had it not started but there were less than twenty guests seated. The optimistic organiser said that we should wait a while longer as more men were likely to turn up. I thought that it was already as good as it was going to get. It was my first time meeting Errol in the flesh. He gave me a hug like we were old friends, he could not have been nicer. I joked that I didn’t know if I needed to bow or to do a secret handshake. Going back to the room, he seemed to know a good number of the people there and I’m sure the attendance was largely due to him. But you know what was really incredible, the men never stopped coming in. I had to wonder if the men had been tricked into coming by the promise of World Cup tickets in a free raffle. For the first time ever in a discussion I found myself putting out more chairs. Once the session actually started we were probably just short of one hundred men in the place.
Must be something in the North London drinking water.
If you have not read about Errol’s story, I will give it to you in a nutshell. He decided to do a PSA test as he was in his doctors at the time and saw a leaflet. Unfortunately, it would turn out that they would go on to discover prostate cancer and he would have a prostatectomy. At the time he had his own mechanic business and he decided that he would offer men a 20% discount if they would go and get their PSA checked. That’s as much as I knew. However, he would reveal on the night that of all the men he encouraged to go and get tested an unbelievable forty eight of them would go on to discover they indeed had prostate cancer and one, unfortunately, would discover it too late and had died.
The man is singlehandedly one of the greatest tools in the prostate cancer world for black men and I take my hat off to him.
It was a fantastic night.
The final talk for the month was my most ambitious yet. A building company has three sites in London and they wanted me to give a talk at each of them. I didn’t want to overstep works generosity with the time they have given me off to do awareness talks so I suggested that I could do all three talks in the same day. They were all in London and relatively close together via the underground, trains and buses. I don’t have too much to say about them, they were pretty routine. The first and second talks were on building sites. Between them a couple of questions afterwards. The third was based at the head office and the group were more engaged and animated. The numbers ranged from 8 to 15 for each talk and as much as I am glad I got the message out there by the last discussion, I was really happy that it was the last one as it was getting a little difficult. It’s not something that I would do again.
I would round off the month by having another encounter with my foxy friend. It was a couple of days after my last encounter and very near to our first encounter, I saw another mutt that not only didn’t run off but was looking at me as I was running past it.
That was enough, guilty by association, if nothing else.
I took out the metal nuts from my pocket, took off my tight fitting running gloves (I have taken note that they are not conducive for a rabid fox lunging at my throat) and took aim. The first one missed and slammed into someone’s garden. The second one, ricocheted off the floor and caught him square in the belly, making a satisfactory noise in the process. He scampered off into the undergrowth. Before I could congratulate myself another one was meandering around, too close for comfort. Come to see what the commotion is have you? The second shot got that one too and off it ran into a bush.
Tell your furry friends.
Order has been restored.