January marks the quiet beginning of the year and Fermoy Toastmasters at their first meeting of the new season at the riverside Youth Centre on the evening of Tuesday, the 15th, created a most relaxed, charming and beautiful atmosphere. It seemed a long time since our Christmas party night and everyone was glad to get back and share in the warmth and conviviality. The activities of the club are so bracing, stimulating and mind-broadening, telling of just how extraordinary and good life really is and what a joy it is to come together and be happy in friendship and mutual goodwill, sharing the fun and laughter and all the magic that goes with the celebration of the spoken world. We do not paint pictures on canvas or carved on stone, bronze or wood, but we take and utilise the ideas and talents and energies of us all to paint word pictures of the imagination which is so exciting and rewarding. And these images engraved in the mirrors of the mind can often outlast and inspire long after those fashioned of inanimate materials have faded from sight and memory.
Club President Eilish UI Bhriain bid members and visitors alike warmly welcome to our first meeting of the New Year and read out a timely and most appropriate reflection emphasising the importance of a positive and optimistic outlook as a source of guidance and illumination throughout all of the next twelve months. A special warm word of welcome was extended to John Sherlock who assumed the role of Toastmaster or chairman of the evening’s proceedings and was back to us after an unavoidable absence from several of our meetings towards the end of last year. He spoke with feeling of how much he had missed seeing everybody and all the fun and camaraderie that goes with being an active club member but was now so happy and delighted to be back and so say all of us as we look forward to sharing the sunshine of John’s dedication, commitment, kindness and very special friendship for a very long time to come.
The most zestful and creative section of any Toastmasters meeting is the topics session, which was then taken on by Tim Fitzgerald when members are asked to speak on a subject about which they have received no prior notice. Among so much else we were challenged as to what advice would you give to a newborn baby, the forming of New Year’s resolutions, should the age of alcohol consumption be raised to 21, the teaching of history in schools and meeting your favourite celebrities together with so much more. The first respondent speaks for two minutes with spontaneous one minute add-ons from anyone who feels motivated to speak further: in these follow-up contributions it never ceases to give delight and enjoyment to see ideas sparking into life and taking wing, presenting such a wonderfully varied panorama of viewpoints and fresh perspectives, building up a vibrant and eager atmosphere.
Spontaneity, quick-thinking, readiness to get involved and make a difference: we are not about hurlers on the ditch but instead everyone is called into the game at some stage or another. This makes every meeting so animated and filled with a scintillating energy. At first the responses can be a little slow and hesitant but soon all becomes so wonderfully free-flowing and effervescent. At the gym, you exercise the body; in Toastmasters you exercise the mind. And a healthy, active, stimulated mind makes for greatly enhanced physical well-being and good health also. It’s a Win Win scenario all the way.
We had just two excellent and outstanding speeches. These are not randomly chosen but follow an assignment set in the relevant communication and leadership manuals. Mary Whelan made a lovely choice from the Interpretive Reading manual which invites you to acquire proficiency in the skill of reading a section of prose so as to bring the text to life in an immediate and convincing way. Taking an excerpt from the collection of essays The Christmas Chronicles by UK writer Nigel Slater, Mary wisely avoided material now out of season but instead presented us with the author’s ideas on the pleasures of winter. In her gentle, easy listening style she read of how winter is not just a time of darkness and chill, but of exploring the great outdoors while nature is asleep, of coming to relax by the fireside while avoiding excess and oppressive heat, a restful and pleasant time for reading, reflection and coming to a better understanding of life. ‘Winter lasts too long not to be enjoyed’, was the concluding line of Slater’s essay that Mary read so nicely and effectively. Later her evaluator Johanna Hegarty remarked that another of winter’s unsung pleasures is that of coming to Toastmasters where you find the joys of springtime all year round.
Then Fanahan Colbert took on the task of illustrating an abstract concept. There is no better way of doing that than by making all things abstract into something personal, alive, warm and immediate. Fanahan achieved that very well by speaking of a subject always so dear to his heart, namely music and those who perform and compose it. He told us of the great performers of the past like Frank Sinatra who never wrote a bar of a song himself but excelled in making the work of other artists come to life. Others like Bob Dylan achieved immense success as singer-songwriters – even if Dylan was not himself the greatest singer of all time, his inspiration was powerful and vivid and carried to even greater heights to audiences all over the world by later interpreters. Songwriters are forever approaching great singers and asking them to cover their works knowing that it will lead to considerable cash inflows into their bank accounts even if the spotlight of fame tends to remain strongly focused on the performers who achieve instant worldwide name recognition even while those who conjured the fabulous sounds and lyrics out of their creative impulses remain relatively unknown and obscure.
‘Spare a thought for the songwriters’, said Fanahan, whose presentation was enhanced by his use of visual aids in the flip-chart, its pages adorned with the names of so many musical greats who have brought pleasure to millions over the generations. We all age and tire out eventually, but great music remains timeless and ageless, it is forever young and beautiful, it truly is made of the stuff of eternity. This is at the heart of its mystery and the joy that it brings. Frank O’Driscoll in his thoughtful analysis later praised this enthralling celebration of the work of the creative artists.
In his overview of the meeting as General Evaluator Michael Sheehan spoke of how it marked a promising start to a new season ahead. Evaluation is crucial for this is where speakers learn by gaining a fine positive assessment of all that they have achieved with offering further encouragement to continue on the road to ever greater improvement. We are all about building each other up as we explore personal growth and development with enjoyment and pleasure. We all have an input in guiding us in the right path but that path is followed each in our own special and unique way, in our own pace and in our own time. It is the joy of doing and the satisfaction of achievement, with success building on success towards an ever happier and better life. Every meeting is a new beginning as can be shared and discovered at our next club gathering on this coming Tuesday, January 29th, at 8.15 pm in the Fermoy Youth Centre. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 087 1228684 or log on to our mobile-friendly website toastmastersfermoy.com.