Joe Average? Me?

Last Sunday I wrote a terrific blog.

I began by pointing out that increasingly I find a reluctance by other guys to answer my simplest questions with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. Instead I have to suffer a lot of smart-ass remarks, the majority of which boil down to something in the ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ or that they’re ‘considering other options’.

This wonderful blog then goes on to say that I think this resistance, or inability to provide a straight answer, is the result of the fact that we live in a world in which we find ourselves with too much choice, hence what perhaps would have been a simple decision in the past now places a greater demand on our thought process.

My blog then took a detour as I brought to my readers’ attention the fact that this inability to make a choice was not new to me. As a county bumpkin born here in the Yorkshire hills, I had a mother who had previously worked at the local woolen mill as a spinner.

One of the results of this was that she had a very working class approach to life which included a strong conviction that everyone should ‘know their place’. This was not limited to her ‘place’ but included my ‘place’, your ‘place’ and pretty much everyone else’s ‘place’.

Returning to my main theme I then pointed out that the changing ideas of ones social position in the sixties, the arrival of buying stuff with the help of credit via cheques and overdrafts and, later, today’s ‘plastic’ (all of which horrified my mother, of course), led to the rampant excess of ‘stuff’ which we all have today.

And thinking about this led me to my shirts.

I’d had difficulty finding one to wear on Sunday. None that I possessed pleased me. Now can you imagine a situation more pathetic? Years and years ago I remember distinctly that I only had two shirts, both white. If you’d’ve asked me which one I was wearing the answer was always the same; the clean one.

Nowadays, jaded and pampered, I counted them; sixty-two. Unfortunately all my ‘faves’ were away at the laundry, including my ‘bestest fave’ which doesn’t actually fit me – it’s too small, I can neither button it at the neck or the cuffs. I bought it from the Salvation Army sale for 50p.

And at that point I stopped writing. I knew that as soon as I presented it to my two writing colleagues the clever one would demand to know what the blog was ‘about’, and the pretty one would mutter something to the effect that my insanity was getting worse.

My response to these cruel jibes is to point out that I am not ‘Joe Average’ so if they want a ‘Joe Average’ blog that appeals to the

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mass mentality then don’t come to me.

But thinking about it in the early hours I’ve so far avoided presenting it for use. Is it really a load of bollocks about my mother, my shirts, my choices and/or my state of mind, bearing in mind that I recently chose to buy a shirt that doesn’t (quite) fit despite the fact that I have sixty-one others?

Or am I, in truth, a typical ‘Joe Average’ who’s as confused by excessive choice as everyone else?

The Four Letter C Word

There is a word that causes great tension in the air here at WMD HQ. It is a word that we try to avoid even uttering, never mind full on discussion. Whenever it is spoken, a fight is inevitably on the horizon. It is a word that sends our collective and individual irrationalities into over-drive.

This word contains four letters and begins with a C.

The word is ‘Cool’.

So imagine my horror when I got to the pile of potential WMD blogs this morning and the fourth word I read was ‘Cool’. Has one of my co-writers really written about this ultimate taboo? The guy’s got Balls. Either that or he has come down with a bout of insanity – how can we write about something that is so … well … unexplainable?

This latest attempt was inspired by an article in the Sunday Times wherein a stand-in writer for a regular columnist chose to use the word ‘Cool’ as a vehicle to explain the rise in property prices in those parts of London which have become newly fashionable – or ‘trendy’.

The ire this caused at WMD HQ is felt by all of us as the one area of ‘Cool’ on which we are in agreement is that the only physical manifestation which can be recognised as such is as a human being.

However, this is where it starts to get a bit murky. My colleague who reopened this discussion goes on to suggest that ‘Cool’ is a condition specifically male.

The reasoning behind this assertion is that part

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of the essence inherent in both ‘Cool’ and maleness is the recognition that to qualify for belonging you have to possess the Courage to ‘Stand Alone’. Your integrity is on the line.

This is the moment of truth when most guys fail the test. For most of them Fear induces a placement within the stale security of the crowd, one where ‘Cool’ has no place. As a result, Life becomes a ‘settle for’ programme, the one they use to measure their future levels of cowardice.

Through this connection it follows that what we identify as ‘Cool’ evolved from men’s understanding of each other. This goes way, way back to our ancestors of a million or two years ago when Homo Erectus learned to differentiate friend or foe via his Sensing powers – then a major tool of communication – which in turn led to his newly acquired ability to bond.

These instinctive skills are all that remain within a handful of (What Men Do) guys via their ‘gut instinct’ and self-belief which they retain despite the additional development of language and the spoken and written word.

There’s a pretty thorough coverage of this subject of ‘Sensing’ in the WMD Guide. This highlights that Bonding is closely related to the silence of a male ‘Understanding’ and the Sensing ‘smell’ of trust, truth

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and the depth of loyalty, plus what it feels like to be a man.

This definition of ‘Cool’ is certainly specific to males, but then on consulting the WMD glossary we are told that ‘Cool’ is: “defiant behaviour by an individual who refuses to be other than how he believes himself to be.” Does this defiant behaviour lie solely in the realm of males? Well OK, not only, but mostly.

(I’m not chickening out here, but to pursue this line of thought takes us far and wide of what is practical.)

The problem with ‘Cool’ is that it defies definition. Sure, we’ve made a pretty decent attempt in the Guide – even if we do say so ourselves – but the reality is that ‘Cool’ cannot be captured by language. Like Glamour, it is an inner quality that can only be known through the instinctive (as compared to the intellectual) senses.

Its existence is certainly not found in the advertising world’s domain pushing ‘stuff’, where to be perceived as ‘cool’ (note the small ‘c’) you have to follow the ‘In’ crowd – wear those jeans, drink that brand, eat at that restaurant, and above all else, get noticed!

Such is the antithesis of ‘Cool’.

As to what it actually is …. the debate continues.

You Sure You’re Wearing The Right Shoes?

Recently I came upon a quote by the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung: “most men spend their lives in shoes that are too small for them”.

The point he was seeking to emphasise was the extent to which Fear held most guys by the nuts in its determination to keep them ‘small’.

And let’s admit

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it – it’s a time of intense frustration when you’re a teenager with your first real urges to take risks …. and this isn’t only limited to getting your end away regularly and with increasing satisfaction. At some point, usually in your late teens, you become aware of what you might call an ‘urge for Life’, an inner driving force to grow and have a deeper knowledge of ‘what it’s all about’.

But then, all too often it stops or becomes weaker and weaker until lethargy joins Fear in its determination to make a mockery of what was once called ‘Vitalism’ to deter you from venturing into the unknown.

Somewhere along the line there’s an intuitive realisation in most guys that to become the ‘Ideal Man’ requires that we summon the courage to ‘stand alone’, become the intrepid explorer of ‘darkest Africa’, up the Amazon or amongst the tombs of the desert places.

Even today the idea of finding yourself alone at the furthest point along the shore is capable of sparking the exhilaration that one might be at a place where no man has ever trodden… that’s before you discover the Coca-Cola can embedded between two rocks.

Today it seems more and more difficult to create something that would be meaningful to others for the first time … though of course that isn’t strictly true. All you really have to do is recognise that its basic requirement is that you ‘stand alone’ by setting an example yourself.

Increasingly, I believe that one thing which is truly evil is the proliferation of items of distraction, ‘toys’ whose only objective is to ‘fill in time’ being quite devoid of any meaningful purpose.

It takes time to write a book – time to write it but, more importantly, time to create it in the mind as something that only you can do. But to do that you have to ‘think big’, that what you’re about to offer may have the power to enrich the lives of others who are inspired by the new thoughts you’ve presented.

The ‘small shoes’ to which Jung refers are the books that were never written, partly because of a lack of

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encouragement to believe you had something new to say, or maybe old stuff newly presented in a different light.

As we say in the WMD Guide, to fit the shoes which are truly the right size for who you could become requires the Balls of Courage, Action, Risk and Determination. Try it and write the book. By setting an example you’ll be doing many of us a favour.

Know Your Apples

There’s a market near me on a Saturday morning. The food’s a bit cheaper than the supermarket so I tend to go if I’m able. Actually, the price is irrelevant, not than I’m loaded. It’s more to do with the feel of the place. There’s something base and gross and human about markets that I’ve always loved the feel and smell of.

Maybe it’s a bit like olives, stilton and anchovies. Someone once explained to me that it’s these kinds of flavours, the ones verging on foul, teetering on the edge of rotten, are the ones that really get our taste buds cranking.

Markets do that for my other senses. Maybe it’s the lack of branding or pretense that other, more “sophisticated” vendors offer. Or maybe it’s nostalgia, having been dragged around markets all over the north west by my nanna. Either way, I’m hooked.

And this week, my faith in the market was reaffirmed by a conversation I heard between a bookseller and his customer. The bookseller is probably around 65 years old. He was talking about – not moaning – that it’s hard for him to make a living now. Though it had never been a doddle as an independent bookseller, he’d seen the big book chains rise and fall, and was now feeling the effects of e-books on his paperback trade and internet auction sites killing off his more prestige editions.

But this didn’t really seem to phase him. What was most painful, was that now, having massed a life time of information on the value of books, both in terms of money and quality, he said that people now perceive his knowledge as worthless. Today, if someone sees a book he’s selling, they will immediately google the price to see if it’s “fair”, then they’ll check a review to find out if it’s any good. Before, he

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said that people knew he wasn’t a cheap vendour, but they came to him because his price was fair and that his taste was impeccable.

I found it incredibly sad. Not for for him, because he

clearly had the awareness to realize that he hadn’t lost anything, it was all perception that had shifted. He still had the knowledge, it was just other people who had changed.

We talk about the worth of instant “knowledge” in the What Men Do guide. In our example it’s about apples. “It only takes a few seconds on the internet and you have learned that there are currently 7500 known varieties of apple. But you still don’t know which are worth eating. You know quantity, but not Quality.”

It’s not really any different with the book seller. Online you can see the ratings from thousands of people for different books, but not one of them has any idea about you. To get that, you’d need to engage with someone in

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a conversation. And who better than a man with a lifetime of love for books.

What have apples and books got to do with What Men Do? It’s all about value. Of course business will move on, replacing the previous ways of doing things. In this case it’s mass online retail replacing independent book sellers. It’s just good to be aware of what we’re letting go of when we accept the ways of doing things. Progress has a funny way of taking steps backward when it comes to being human.