• Men and boats

    (Photo by Howard Roark)

    Sailing big yachts around the marinas of the world is almost exclusively the preserve of couples of a certain age. And captaining that yacht is – according to my eagle-eyed research – entirely the preserve of the man.

    It’s the end of another yachting season where I live in Malmö’s Dockan marina. That means a marina that lies dormant half the year has been full of yachts with Danish, German, Dutch and Polish flags.

    The economics and time constraints of this hobby mean that you appear to have to be a 50+ couple to even contemplate it. Almost every boat has aboard a man and a woman enjoying their silver age upon the high seas.

    Ahoy there, captain!

    And as they glide into the marina, without fail it will be the woman that stands at the bow, rope in hand, ready to leap nimbly to dockside like a good first mate and secure the yacht. At the wheel will be the captain. The male captain.

    We all know about male drivers – the propensity of husbands to drive the car. This is the almost unspoken collusion whereby the role of driver and passenger become cemented in a marriage. But this stereotype is no longer an absolute in the automobile.

    Yet in yachting, which is, after all, a higher end of the market, with much bigger, shinier and more expensive vehicles involved, the need/desire/inevitability of the man holding the helm appears unshakable.

    I’m still waiting eagerly for the first time I see a man clutching that bow rope, his wife eyeing the horizon with a steady eye as she nudges the ship’s wheel to port. Still waiting… here’s hoping…

    On the subject of men and women, have you heard about ‘mansplaining’? Let me mansplain…

  • I can explain everything

    (Photo by Dainis Graveris)

    This week, I came across the term ‘mansplaining’ – a great word for that tendency of men to explain things to women, including what women think. 

    An article in Prospect magazine cited Rebecca Solnit as having popularised the term in a 2008 essay about a man she met at a party in Aspen who explained her own book on the Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge to her. 

    The notion immediately brought to mind the brilliant ‘Amazing Invisible Woman’ sketch in The Fast Show in which a woman suggests a solution to a practical problem to a group of men (often involving cars or directions). She’s met by silence. Then one of the men repeats her advice word-for-word, and is heard!

    Early years learning

    This tendency isn’t simply the preserve of adult males. We start ‘em young. On repeated viewing of the Netflix series If I were an Animal (a generally brilliant programme, I hasten to add) with my five-year-old son, I began to notice a pattern. 

    The narrators are two children, a slightly older boy and a slightly younger girl, interacting as a brother and sister. They talk about the animals’ lives rather like young David Attenboroughs. But I began to notice that the boy almost always provided the information. 

    The girl would give each animal a name, say ‘awwwh, isn’t she cute?’ a lot, and generally gush and giggle at their antics. She would also ask lots of helpful questions: ‘Why is that snow leopard digging a hole, Tim?’ To which her brother would provide the insightful science. ‘Well, Emma…’

    After reading the Prospect article on Rebecca Solnit, I realised this innocent little dialogue has a name: mansplaining. 

    While we’re talking about little boys, turns out Boys Don’t Like Flowers

  • If life gives you cucumbers…

    Cucumber in a plastic wrapper
    (Photo by Charles)

    …write a blog about cucumbers.

    Sometimes life descends into pure farce. On a wet January evening in a shopping mall on the outskirts of Malmö. Or anywhere. It goes from the mundane to slapstick silly. 

    So I was in my local supermarket. I had my large-volume backpack on (I cycle my groceries home) and I was standing in front of the organic cucumbers. But why did I feel wetness just above my left hip?

    It was definitely wet

    I was wearing a heavy winter coat. It wasn’t raining outside. I took off the backpack and looked at it. The bottom left corner was dripping wet, as if it had been dunked in a puddle. Strange. I hadn’t put it down once. 

    I opened it. Empty. I’d come shopping. Of course it was empty. It was going to be filled. Perplexed, I put it back on and chose an organic cucumber from among the sad specimens, reflecting on how quickly my wife had eaten the last one. 

    Is that a cucumber in your backpack, or are you just…?

    I walked away into the avocado aisle. Once more, I felt the wetness on my skin. Dammit! What is this? I whipped the backpack off again and glared at it. Why? Where was this water coming from? 

    Then I clicked. The side pocket. The long, thin side pocket. I unzipped it, thrust my hand in, and slowly drew out… what? 

    A long, thin plastic codpiece, containing the remains of an organic cucumber bought at this same supermarket the week before. It was now half liquid, and the top half was a phallus without gusto. 

    I held the dripping member in my hand and stared around the shop wild-eyed.


    I saw the headlines already.

    I scurried to the organic cucumber section and flung it on the pile. Then thought, Noooooo! What am I doing? That’s disgusting. I picked it up again and ran with it dangling in my hand. 

    Finally, God placed a wastepaper bin at the foot of the kumquats. I was saved. I slam-dunked it. I straightened up. I looked hastily around. Act casual: Oh, two paw paws for only 20 kroner. A surprisingly good deal…

    If you enjoyed that, try Talking To A Three-Year-Old

  • Long hair spells danger

    Why do we cut boys’ hair? Because girls have long hair and boys have short hair, that’s why. But why do we do it? That human hair grows is natural. It just happens. So why the scissors? Is baldness to blame? 

    As Canned Heat observed in 1968:

    The police in Denver, they don’t want none of them long hairs hangin’ around

    Some things don’t change much 

    I had a haircut today. You may have noticed I often like to wear my hair long. It goes right back to my teens, when I realised that the act of not cutting, but growing male hair was one of the most rebellious inactions available. 

    Grow your hair

    It was free. It was easy (it just happened). It was passive, which was useful if you were a pretty shy, retiring kind of kid. It was a way of yelling loudly at authority without actually yelling loudly at authority. 

    Now, I just like the look. My son is a mini me, so is often mistaken for a girl (My stubble gives me away). But it regularly reminds me how we culturally link hair length to gender by pruning our children accordingly. 


    It wasn’t always so. Look at Samson and his strength. Jesus Christ and all his disciples, wafting their locks. 17th century gentlemen and Indian braves. But somehow, ever since we began delousing soldiers with short back’n’sides, that’s been it for men. 

    Rather like the Western suit and tie, it’s gone global. When I do return to hairdressers, it’s with a hint of trepidation. I await the: I only do one kind of men’s cut, and that’s all coming off, son! 

    But of course, that’s only in my head. Right? Here’s to hirsute variety. After all, remember kids: 

    All hairdressers are in the employment of the government. Hairs are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit them directly into your brain. This is the reason bald-headed men are uptight.

    Danny in Withnail & I

    While we’re on the subject of what boys should like, Boys Don’t Like Flowers

  • Boys don’t like flowers

    The first flowers of spring

    My son says to me: “Dads and boys don’t like flowers.” We’re standing in a carpet of crocuses and snowdrops in our back garden – the first flowers of spring.

    He’d heard it from a boy at nursery. I say, “I like flowers.” He says, “I do, too.” It’s a fleeting victory. I will lose the culture war. Men and boys don’t like flowers. But it was not always so.

    Red roses for me

    Whenever powerful men of the Persian or Ottoman empires were portrayed by painters, rather than a horse or a sword as a prop, they would invariably be holding a flower to their nose – often the rose.

    Floral scents were highly prized in the region – as, indeed, they are everywhere on Earth. To smell of roses, rather than of the more unsavoury things of life, was seen as civilised and, more specifically, gentlemanly.

    To give Western culture its due, the buttonhole lingers on alongside the floral tie as nods to a gentleman’s love of flowers – but these feel rather dated cultural expressions nowadays.

    Be sure to wear flowers in your hair

    When I read Robert Byron’s majestic 1930s travel book The Road to Oxiana, I came across a passage about his arrival in the western Afghan city of Herat that struck a similar chord. 

    He observed young Afghan tribesmen from the hills swaggering into town together, rifles slung over their shoulders – the epitome of young manhood. But they were also holding flowers in their hands or tucked behind their ears.

    I love this image. It seems inexplicable to me that nature – and beauty more broadly – should be disliked by men. Is our appreciation of beauty meant to end with women? 

    Next time you’re walking the dusty road, into Herat, or wherever, to sure to smell the roses…