Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

Second UK Men’s and Boys’ Conference, November 2012 – MB50 review!

Nov 27 2012

Not so much a movement, more a bunch of tribes and nomads

This one-day conference in Brighton was so vivid and varied that it feels risky to offer an overview in one blog post – but here goes!

There were lots of illuminating surprises for me at this conference.  One was learning about the extent of systematic disadvantage men face in several areas.  For example, there are a lot more support resources for women coming out of prison than men: but 95% of the prison population is male.

My impression, confirmed by this conference, is that there isn’t really a men’s movement in the UK: not in the sense of a sizeable, active, coherent group pursuing specific agendas.  A fairer description, coined by Glen Poole, the prime organiser of this conference, is a loose network of tribes and nomads.

Even the term network overstates things, but that may be changing.  Glen and others from Brighton have set up the UK Men’s Network: currently it doesn’t quite merit that description, but they are expanding their website, starting a list of UK men’s organisations, and planning an e-newsletter.

For International Men’s Day, November 19, the UK Men’s Network produced a useful list giving their view of the top ten issues for men and boys in the UK currently.  We have now posted this on the Men Beyond 50 Network, and it is on the Network website.

Another surprise about this conference was that around 20% of the 140 people attending were women.  The aim of the event was to bring together a wide range of organisations working with men and boys, and it’s understandable that some of the people doing this work are women.  I was glad to see that women delegates were joining in discussions, and made some of the presentations: there was no sense that they felt inhibited by a male-focussed event.

It was less of a surprise, more of a relief, to see the emphasis so many speakers placed on improving rights, funding, services for men without disadvantaging or attacking women.  As someone said, you can be pro-men without being anti-women.

I was surprised, excited and inspired by the diversity, vitality, and inventiveness of the organisations represented at the conference.  When someone in a plenary discussion bemoaned the impact of The Cuts, others pointed out that there were many organisations serving men which have started in the past three years, and the reductions in statutory services have stimulated low-budget, bootstrap initiatives to meet the needs.

One of the organisations which impressed me especially is CALM: A small Merseyside charity helping young men at risk of suicide.  CALM stands for Campaign Against Living Miserably.  They produce small cards, which are too cool to mention suicide, with a brightly coloured message and a list of private sector sponsors.  The card says ‘For over 10 years, CALM has been helping lads on Merseyside to get their heads sorted out.’  It gives examples of what might be ‘stressing you out’, and a freephone helpline and website.

The CALM approach is one that Max and I want to learn from for the MB50 Network.  We believe men are more likely to use a service that approaches them with style, cool, and a touch of humour.  So we intend to get serious about lightening up!




A first century achieved when I was past the age of fifty, by Joe Hackett

Sep 06 2012

Joe Hackett, born in 1946 and still playing cricket, recalls a dream come true – a first century achieved when he was past the age of fifty.

It was a sunny July Saturday in 1997. Just another game of cricket. I was 51, playing for my Devon village team, second eleven. We were in trouble, with the score at 39 for three. I was probably the most nervous player in our team. I had resumed playing when I was aged 35 and for the next few years had failed miserably. There was one sequence of seven games containing six ducks. I had slowly improved on that (things could hardly get worse!) but I was still very unconfident. I was averaging well below 20 runs an innings.

I walked out to bat. I looked diffidently around at our small field, the church visible through the trees, a couple of cows in a neighbouring field. I tried to relax, yet be alert. I tried to remember coaching books I had read about visioning success. Good theory. It was just that I couldn’t do it. Instead, all I could seem to envision was failure. True, I had once scored 93 – but that was a few years previously. I just didn’t think I had a century in me anymore. I was the oldest member of the team, by a few years. Over the hill.

The opposing eleven, a cheerful bunch, were enjoying being in the ascendent. The way I shuffled to the wicket, adjusting my glasses, my greying hair under an old green cap, the way I typically played and missed at the first few balls – all this must have convinced them that I was another easy wicket to take. There’s an expression for that in cricket. A rabbit. Waiting to be shot.

But I began to have some luck, which helped calm my nerves. I hit the ball in the air a couple of times, but not near any of their players to give a catch. I had another oldster batting at the other end, and we kept encouraging each each. The bowling was not great, I began to think. The boundary was near, and the ball skidded pleasingly for fours – lots of them. Soon, my score passed 50. Nothing so special about that. Then 60, 70, 80. I was middling the ball. No more playing off the edges.

I had somehow developed my own rhythm. Hitting the bad balls, leaving the really wide ones, defending the good ones. Keeping it simple. Mind over matter, plus I had acquired that magic, elusive ingredient: confidence. For the first time ever, and it never happened again, it seemed I could do no wrong. Magic!

The 100, when it came, was from a ball hit along the ground to the cover boundary. I remember it still, fifteen years later. I remember the disbelieving cheer from the pavilion. I remember feeling faintly embarrassed, as if this should have happened to someone else. I ended up on 115 not out – scored off only 103 balls. I’d hit four mighty sixes and 18 fours – 96 runs scored in boundaries! There are (younger) players in my Club who cannot believe I ever did it. One of the opposition – a fellow veteran – kindly sent me a copy of their scorebook, which I keep and sometimes refer to just to remind myself that this century really happened. I can still barely believe it myself!

Can you make friends – good, true friends – in a pub? Joe Hackett explores

Sep 06 2012

A man walks into a bar and he says ….well, what does he say?

Let’s suppose that he’s new to the area, looking to extend his circle of friends. A bar is as good a place as any to find a male friend. Pubs are a neutral meeting point. I’ve made friends in pubs – and I am not a big pub-goer. So what does this man who walks into a pub/bar do?  How does he join in a conversation, and what kind of conversation? SOME pub conversations seem almost designed to put you off joining in. Personally, I never want to talk about cars in a pub again. Car conversations can be boastful, nerdishly technical. Mine’s bigger/better/faster than yours. What’s the point? Life’s too short!

And here’s a warning about banter. As you know, some male pub chat is endless banter – which is teasing, taking the piss. The only way to join in is to out-banter the other guy – in other words, pretend that his teasing has not bothered you, be crueler and nastier than he is! I am not saying that we all have to be ultra-sensitive souls, with the thinnest of skins. I am saying that some banter is banal, and saps our energy. It leads nowhere. It is not the same as joking – which is wonderful! So, if the so-called conversation at the bar is nothing but banter, forget it.

Our brave protagonist (avoiding the car conversations, the narcissistic droning monologues of the pub bore, the competitive banter) perhaps finds a conversation in which he can join. He’s looking for a lively to and fro, listening and being listened to, conversational clues that take participants forwards. Something which stimulates.

I’d be looking for some kind of small self-revelation, which I can respond to or initiate. No need to run a mile at this idea – I don’t mean our deepest secrets, our most vulnerable issues. They can come later, if at all! No, I mean just something which illustrates the conversationalist’s particularity, his individuality. His uniqueness. I’m talking here about that person’s felt experience. Not his opinion. Opinion mongering is all too easy, goes nowhere.

And in looking for a good conversation, I’m reminded of the things which can go wrong. We all do them, to a greater or lesser extent, in talking to others. But with a bit of awareness, we can catch ourselves doing them, too.


Apparently, there are a dozen classic “roadblocks” to good conversation. Recognize any of them?

The first four come under the category of Judging:

1. Criticising
2. Name-calling
3. Diagnosing
4. Praising evaluatively

Then come conversation-killers under the category of Sending Solutions:

5. Ordering
6. Threatening
7. Moralising
8. Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning
9. Advising

Lastly, Avoiding the other’s concerns:

10. Diverting
11. Logical Argument
12. Reassuring

So, having a good conversation, especially at the start, isn’t easy! Which doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t try. The rewards are high. But, before you even plunge into a conversation, not knowing where it will lead, hoping for the best, looking for the positive, being both brave and open, there is a preliminary and very interesting question.


How important do you reckon first impressions are in meeting another man (potential friend) for the first time? How trusting are you of your own judgement? Depending upon how tuned in the group of men and the man entering are, there is a whole lot of non-verbal stuff going on, too. Don’t they say that words only convey 30% to 40% of communication?

Let’s suppose that our guy is pretty observant. He’ll pick up body language by sight. The group of men have facial expressions, posture and gestures. He may be even close enough to see their eyes. Are they twinkling with fun, glowering with hostility, open to his presence, capable of trusting him enough to let him in?

Then, he’ll be listening for the vocal clues. Not just the words which are spoken, but the sound of the voices, rapidity of speech, the pauses. Is one pause to let him in, like a door opening? He listens to a particular man who is speaking. Is his voice a monotone (boredom) slow, low pitch (depression), high (enthusiasm), ascending tone (surprise), abrupt (defensive), terse, sharp (anger) or what? Our guest might even turn his eyes away for a bit, the better to take in the voices.

How are the men standing? Is their circle open to allow our man to join? Or is it closed, with people’s backs turned? And if our new man is really tuned in, he’ll be checking his own body, which is reacting, sure enough, to the body language of the group. Do his shoulders feel tense, his stomach queasy, does his heart start to beat faster? All this can change minute by minute, second by second in the “here and now” of the man’s approach to the group in the pub. As soon as he walked in, things were a little different, and they will change again, and again.

Personally, I’m interested in another aspect of all this, which is actually to do with what I can only call attractiveness and intuition. The older I get, the more I reckon that after the hard work of  studying  body language of others, tone of voice and so on, I can and do trust my own intuition. Hallelujah, after all these years! I’m not saying intuition is infallible. I’m just saying that I can trust it as a “good enough” guide at an encounter between me and another man. And if it lets me down sometimes, well, I forgive it and start again.


The idea of “attractiveness” gets us onto different territory. I can meet another man, a stranger, and know pretty soon – say, within ten minutes – if he’s “attractive” – that is, does his presence interest me, pull me in? Does it make me want more of him? Does his presence say to me, here is an opportunity for fun and learning? A lot of it will be in his face, particularly the eyes. An awful lot also depends on whether I can detect a playfulness in him – a flexibility, a willingness to take small risks, the enjoyment of interplay.

Of course, there is the gay question. Attraction between men does not mean they are both gay. If they are, fine. If one is and the other isn’t fine also. I am thinking here of attraction between two men who are heterosexual. Now, we all have our own take on heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality, and this probably isn’t a big enough space to go into all that in detail.

I believe that there can be something about another guy (some spark, and it may well have to do with a sense of humour) which can pretty quickly attract me, make me want to know that person better. I think it’s a bit tragic that a lot of men actually fear that intimacy, fight that pull. It is something to do with the very limiting English “reserve”. It is also something perhaps to do with a fear which comes down to “If I get close to this guy, it must be because I’m gay/he’s gay”. Anyway, you are surely old enough to handle the “gay fear” question – which might not be said of younger men –  so that is one of the advantages of maturity. So let us assume that our man has miraculously established himself in the group of men chatting at the bar. Or, at least, on the edge of the group. He has joined in and is having a conversation and it is working. Congratulations.

Let us end with the eternal question. “Whose round is it?” This male-bonding technique so beloved of British pub goers is really, really unnecessary, I think. You don’t “have” to buy a guy a drink to show that you want to be friends. Nor does he have to buy you one. But it is a long tradition and, in the end, it is entirely up to you whether you dare ignore it. Getting stuck in rounds of buying drinks means you are, likely as not, going to end up drunk. Which might not have been your intention. Over to you.

Getting married at 50?

Sep 03 2012

Recommended – if you’ve got the right woman!

I first got married at the age of 22.  It’s painful for me to look at those wedding photos from 1971: I look so young, and naïve.  And it’s true: my experience of life and relationship was small.  No one in their early twenties can have an accurate sense of how a marriage will work out.

Let’s take a giant leap forward, to July 21, 2012, my second marriage.  How is it different, getting wed in your maturing years?  At 63, I feel a much deeper sense of who I am, who I want to be, and quite a good perspective on the years ahead.

For the record, my first marriage lasted 27 years, so you could say I have form for the long term.  Linda and I have been together for six years, and after three years of extensively knocking or polishing corners off each other, it was clear that we wanted to continue, and settle down – an attractive idea at my age.

In 2010, we bought a house together, where we hope to live for the next twenty years, maybe to the end of our lives: an idea I have never considered in any previous house purchase.

There’s plenty of research showing that most men are happier and healthier in a relationship than single.  The great majority of men beyond 50 that I know are in a long-term partnership, and the others are usually seeking one.  What I’d like to explore is why get married at this stage of life?  Surely it’s more flexible just to live together?

Part of the answer in my case is that Linda had never been married and she would like us to be.  I try to please, so it took a real effort from me, over a couple of years, to keep my boundaries on this and say nothing until I was really clear if I wanted to get married.

I want a partnership that’s both deep and stable over the long term, and I believe there’s more depth and stability in a marriage: depth of love, of mutual support, of potential growth for both individuals.  Plus spiritual depth: meaning a clearer connection to the highest good, and to the purpose of the relationship.

Even the wedding ceremony started to bring some of these qualities to us.  We felt bathed in the love of our family and friends: it was so strong that it melted a lot of my terror of intimacy and openness.  And we learned more about the good qualities our relationship already embodies, from the speeches, the cards, and the conversation.

I know many long-term couples who are happily unmarried, so I’m not suggesting this would suit everyone.  And there are big questions about finding the right woman, and being a suitable partner.  All this is covered in a long chapter in my forthcoming book, Men Beyond 50: Enjoying it Now!

Elders, seniors, oldies: is there a difference? Learning from Findhorn’s Experience

Apr 13 2012

My involvement in the Men Beyond 50 project has prompted me to explore elderhood: for myself and others. This is one reason for my recent visit to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.  For more about Findhorn in general, see my blog (link to Findhorn posting once published) on this topic.

There is an Elders Circle at Findhorn, and I joined their fortnightly meeting.  The first part of this is a half-hour meditation, guided by different members of the Circle each time, with a range of relevant themes.  When I was there, the focus was tuning into the guiding spirits of the community, which I see as a valuable part of the elders’ role.

The meditation is followed by sharing and discussion, and then social time at the nearby Blue Angel Café.  I found the conversation fascinating, as it centred on different meanings of the term elders.  The aim of this Circle is as a gathering of what could be called tribal elders: those who carry and offer wisdom for the community, who could be any age: see more on this below.

However, some at Findhorn, in their 50s and 60s, who have this wisdom, have stayed away from the Elders Circle because they believe it is a social group for oldies.  The discussion recognised the ambiguity in the term, and the need for different words to describe those older in age, such as seniors.

I suspect part of the problem in all this is that most people, until really advanced ages, don’t like to think of themselves as old, or even as senior, let alone elderly or aged.  Do we need a new word?  At least oldies sounds a bit more fun.

My short definition of elderhood, from my forthcoming book Men Beyond 50: Lost and Found, is set out below: most of this applies for men and women.  This broadly matches the views of the Findhorn Elders, who don’t have a written statement.  So here’s mine:

The Elder is a term you often find connected with maturing men, and I hear it in many men’s groups.  It’s a word with various meanings, and maybe each man needs to quest for its significance for him.  This is a summary of what it means to me.

Traditional tribal cultures had a lot of wisdom still relevant to our times.  The warrior had a crucial role in protecting the tribe and hunting food.  Men beyond warrior age were elders.  Although we imagine these tribes as hierarchies with a chief, many were guided and governed by the elders as a group.  The elders carried the wisdom, knowledge and history of the tribe, and were respected for this.  They guided, trained and initiated the young men.  Elders resolved disputes, dreamed dreams, talked to the spirit world, wove stores, and lived in a continuity between the present time, the past and ancestors, and the future – including their own death.

The role of the elder needs skills which many men in our times lack, but would be enriched if they learned: collaborating with other mature men, and supporting younger ones, for example.  See Chapter 11 for more on all this.  However, we don’t live in a tribal culture which makes this easy and natural.  This is one reason why men’s groups are so vital, to encourage and recognise these traditional, archetypal roles.

This is an excerpt from Alan’s book: if you would like to receive further excerpts and information about the book, sign up to this blog as a subscriber.

I hope this debate will continue!  Please feel free to comment on this blog.