Category Archives: Men and women

The Intervention

For husband and father Tom Hughes, last Sunday morning began like any other. Hot Tea and warm toast to the ready, I sauntered into the lounge looking forward to a double helping of Broadchurch on catch up only to discover my dear wife Sarah and my teenage daughters Hannah and Emily sat in wait. Wearing a benevolent, concerned expression on her face, Sarah gently relieved me of my steaming mug and buttered Hovis, sat me down and said,

“Tom, What we are about to say is said out of love and concern, nothing else.”
Then I realised what was happening, it was a family intervention! But an intervention about what? Was my customary Friday night pint of mild down the Paraffin Lamp getting out of hand? Was my chocolate habit becoming a cause for concern? What could it be? I decided to confront the issue head on.
“Listen, if anyone is wondering why all the cream eggs keep disappearing, I want you all to know that from now on I promise to share the value pack with everyone else.
A confused silence descended. My three precious girls all stared at each other. Chocolate Eggs it seemed, were not the issue. Sarah pressed on.
“We are gathered here today Tom to tell you that, well, you are a bit of a scruff.”
“A what?”
Next to pipe up was Hannah.
“Yes Dad, look at that jumper, look at those jeans?”
“What’s wrong with them? ”
“Dad, who wears hiking socks, walking shoes and a snood to the gym?
“Yes Tom, the girls are embarrassed. Their friends are talking. You need a new wardrobe, urgently.” Said Sarah.
“Well ok, I’ll go through my stuff and – ”
“Too late we’ve done it for you.” Then, to my dismay, Sarah produced a black bin liner full of my precious old clothes. My sweatshirts, my jeans and – horror of horrors- my Bruce Springsteen 2005 tour t-shirt.
“Not the Boss ! Please?”
“No Tom this lot is off to the charity shop in the precinct. Now, grab your coat and let’s go shopping! Er, on second thoughts, leave the coat, let’s just go.”
In the vast Outlet clothes store I wandered aimlessly around, fingering the rails without a clue what I was doing. Eventually I held up a pair of jeans with the pleasing price tag of £24.99.
“Sarah, what about them?”
Sarah examined my choice suspiciously.
“You haven’t just grabbed the cheapest have you?”
“Not at all I-”
“Right put them back and go try on these.”
I examined the pair picked by Sarah. To my untrained eye, they looked identical to the jeans I had just chosen. Identical that is, except for the price. Sarah’s were fifty pounds dearer .
“Why would I pay seventy-five pounds for something I can get for twenty-five, I don’t- ”
Grabbing the seat of the expensive jeans, Sarah pointed to a yellow logo stitched onto the rear pocket.
“Look! That’s why. They are designer!”
“So, they sew a little squiggle onto the pocket and they charge you treble the price? Are you being serious?”
The look from Sarah told me that yes, she was indeed being deadly serious. She picked out a second pair from the rack, handed both of them over and pointed in the direction of the changing rooms. I sloped away to the curtained off area where a glum-faced child gave me an orange circle on which was printed the number two.
I battled with the first pair for what seemed like an age. Eventually I gave up, deciding that, in the words of my Auntie Joyce they “wouldn’t go near me.” The second pair I actually managed to heave myself into. And a more uncomfortable pair of pants I couldn’t imagine. Baggy round the crotch and barely covering my posterior – clearly this particular “Designer”, in his hurry to stitch on the magic money squiggle had stamped them with the wrong size.
Outside I informed Sarah of the manufacturer’s error.
Sarah shook her head in defeat and flung back at me the cheap pair I had originally chosen. I tried them on. Of course, they fitted perfectly.
The next day Sarah arriving home from work, found me sat in my new jeans and sporting another, different purchase.
“Tom! What are you doing wearing that tatty old Bruce Springsteen t shirt? I thought I gave that away?”
“It’s very simple darling, yesterday afternoon, decided to go and do my bit for cancer research…”


My Childhood in the Seventies

I grew up in the seventies when watching rain trickle down your bedroom window was considered a hobby.
My high school was not so much a seat of learning more an obstacle course of physical and emotional pain – a nightmare of a place where the strongest survived and the weak went under. Think Lord Of The Flies meets Please Sir.
A few years ago a TV documentary sat a modern day Premiership referee in front of a video of the 1971 FA Cup Final replay between Leeds and Chelsea. The game is remembered as a particularly vicious encounter with tibia snapping tackles and violent stud-first kicks. As he observed the recording, the referee shook his head, producing card after card, confirming the view that if the contest were played today it would be reduced to a five a side kick about. Schools, football, the work place, everything in the seventies was colder, harsher, duller and if a video existed of a typical day at my school c1979, any Ofsted inspector, instead of brandishing red and yellow cards, would be writing the following in his notes; exclusion, expulsion, child psychologist, ambulance, NSPCC, police, riot squad, investigative journalist.

Once I was cheeky to teacher called Mr Clough in his history lesson. He hit me so hard with the palm of his hand that I flew across the prefabricated classroom and knocked myself out on the wall heater. I went home to tell my Mum and she told me off for giving cheek.
If that happened today Mr Clough would be arrested, jailed and be on the local news. In 1978 – a fortnight after sending me flying – he was made head of year – go figure.*
What has all this to do with our romantic story I hear you sigh? It is this – Sarah, the future object of my desire, was going through something very similar at an all girl’s school so violent and abusive it made my own comprehensive seem like a Buddhist monastery.
We grew up twelve miles away from each other. She was in a city, I was in a town, but because we shared the same values, mores and attitudes when we met many years later, we had a similar backstory and communal points of reference that we could recall and intertwine. Remember when this used to happen, remember when you could do this ?
By rifling through our common back catalogue of lower middle class life in Seventies Lancashire we could spot-welded moments in time that we both remembered from different perspectives.
When I was a teenager my Dad would take me every Saturday to go and see either Liverpool or Everton play. He had no great affinity with either team he just enjoyed the football.
Squeezing into Anfield was always a chore. I remember me and my bedraggled Father staggering out of the Kop after a game. He used to pull his squashed Trilby out from his coat pocket and jam it back on his head. Once he attempted to wear it during a particularly tense encounter against Leeds Utd. If he got told to take his fuckin’ hat off once he got told a million times. We had not so much been to a football match as tossed about on a high sea of Liverpudlians. Weathering the storm of twenty thousand crazy scousers was very often a harder battle than the scrap going on down on the pitch.

Everton on the other hand was a breeze to enter; you could stroll up just before kick off and have your choice of seats in the half empty stands.
When we watched Liverpool, if we could get in Dad preferred the Anfield Road (the terrace at the opposite end of the ground to the Kop) because it tended to be calmer than the rest of the standing areas.
There was one game (a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town in 1979) that sticks in my memory, not for the game, rather for who I saw….

* a line from my favourite film

The difference between men and women

I’ve been reading some wedding posts on some wedding forums detailing the fraught relationships that some Brides have with their female friends and family.
Arguments between sisters, mothers, mother-in-laws, sister in laws, best friends, bridesmaids, and many others.
Reading these posts set me to wonder why women’s relationships are so different than those between men?
I’ve just read this from a psychologist website , admittedly this is about younger women but it seems to me that this is relevant to women of any age.

“Conflict in girls’ groups can also go unnoticed because it is usually indirect: the competition is for the more nebulous good of popularity (not, as in boys’ games who can throw furthest, who’s the strongest); but who is best liked, who’s most likeable, or popular, or who is closer to the girl whom everyone likes. The chief commodity in the girls’ community is intimacy. Girls monitor their friendships for subtle shifts in alliances, and they seek to be friends with popular girls. Popularity is a kind of status, but it also brings problems. Popular girls were often disliked because they can be envied, they can be the target of gossip, and they can be considered stuck up. Because the most important thing in girls’ friendship is intimacy, they cannot have masses of friends, and so a popular girl, who attracts lots of other girls, must reject some of those girls in order to preserve the intimacy in the relationships she has. This makes her seem to others stuck up.”
The article went on to say that boys play is fifty percent physical whilst girls play is only one percent physical.
Hierarchies within groups of boys tend to be clearly defined, whilst girl’s friendships are more subtle and built on shifting sands.

I have a great friend who I am always having the banter with. Some of the things we say to each other are quite outrageous but there is always a clear boundary over which we don’t step. We have argued but it’s never led to a fall out, in fact we argue all the time but it’s always forgotten the next day. Grudges are not allowed. I think the underlying reason is that there is a bond between men that is just not there between women.
Or am I being unfair?
And the competitiveness between women is different. Someone who is going to our wedding is also going to another wedding the week after. Sarah said that if this person returned from the other do waxing lyrical about what a fantastic day it was it would kill Sarah. She asked me what I would think if this other wedding was better than ours?
I searched my soul and thought long and hard and realised that I really wouldn’t give a monkeys.
Once I ran a half marathon and a pal beat me by five minutes and I was gutted. But fall out with him? There would be no reason to. Maybe that’s the difference between men and women – what we compete over, what we care about .