The next post will be on or before Sunday 15th July


What follows you will probably find barely credible, but I am repeating it verbatim, exactly as it happened. Almost exactly 20 years ago I happened to be on the phone to a literary editor of a UK national newspaper for which I wrote regular fiction reviews. She was a very busy woman of course, but I was nonetheless shocked when the conversation went as follows:

SHE. Hi there. How are you?

ME (after some hesitation). Well, my wife’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

SHE (nil pause) Oh really? That’s great! That’s great!

I didn’t, as it happened, challenge her by repeating what I had said, though for both our sakes in retrospect I wish I had. Had I made the same appalling auditory error as she had, I would certainly have wanted her to tell me of it immediately. And no, before you anticipate, I wasn’t mumbling into my beard that morning and for some reason my strong Cumbrian accent tended to all but disappear when I talked to any metropolitan literati.  Nor of course, was it that this particular woman was an unthinking psychopath, it was just that her job was such a classic pressured blue-arsed fly one, that unless the topic were strictly about book reviews and final deadlines, she just didn’t listen to what people were saying.

Nonetheless, it is both an anecdotal and a provable statistical fact, that women on the whole listen to men a great deal more than men do to women.  A friend of mine recently confided to me what I would already have guessed, that the bulk of UK men she met via an online dating agency for professional people, simply talked about themselves all the time, and asked either nothing or a few token questions about herself and her career. Whenever she answered the latter as best she could (she had been a successful teacher and then a kind of university pastoral worker) she assumed they couldn’t possibly be listening to her, for they both talked over her, and, as rapidly as they could, resumed their monologues about their endearing masculine selves. This woman also happened to have a fascinating and highly refined artistic talent which any right-thinking person would have wished to ask her about till the cows come home, but no Milord The Civil (good joke) Engineer and Des the breezily Monologuing Upmarket Gym Manager never asked her squit.

We can all guess the historical reasons for this monomania on the part of numerous males, for although it is almost 50 years since Germaine Greer published her ground-breaking  The Female Eunuch, unreformed sexism is alive and kicking in places you would think it might have died a death. There is most recently the brutal coercive abuse revealed in the supposedly liberal media world, of men like Harvey Weinstein demanding masturbatory sex in exchange for career advancement, or even worse if it was withheld the woman actor would be blacklisted within the film industry. Rather like the institutionalised sexual abuse of children within the extended spheres of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, it was both the tip of the iceberg and an open secret. Everybody knew about it, and knew it was no doubt disgusting and doubtless caused endless torment to its victims, but nobody did anything about it, because everyone was afraid of those who held an inordinate amount of power and almost all of these powerful  folk happened to be men. Probably the aptest way of defining these predatory males is that they are severely infantilised individuals who do not understand adult boundaries, so think to themselves on the lines of, your body is self-evidently mine to do with as I want, if I so wish. Any truly functioning adult would be appalled by that demented equation,  but there is a whole structurally related spectrum that leads back to the starting line so speak of  those charming men we all know who think they are a hero if they make their wife a cup of tea, and would throw up their arms in merriment if expected to cook a three course meal. It is not as bad as it was in DH Lawrence’s day no doubt, where in Sons and Lovers, a sulking collier would sweep everything off the mantelpiece if it wasn’t as pristine clean as he expected it. But fast-forwarding a full century to 1990 (meaning 20 years after Greer’s remarkable book) when I was looking after my baby daughter Ione in rural NE Cumbria and Annie was working full time as a busy social work training officer, I asked the friendly health visitor who made occasional visits how many people she knew like me, a Dad doing full time child care. This infinitely capable woman was it turned out responsible not only for NE Cumbria but also rural E Cumbria around far-flung Alston and Nenthead and Garrigill. Both areas had about 900 infants each, and until recently no less than 2 anomalous infants out of the 1800 had been looked after by their Dads. But the other bloke had gradually got unbearably fed up with his job, so now I was the sole bearded carer out of 1800 ‘Mums’.

You would think, would you not, that the sophisticated literary world meaning the world of nuance and ineffable rumination and scrutiny, that it would be ipso facto educated, liberal and aware, and the last place where the sweet little doting woman would be treated as a handy attachment to her heroic chap, forever in the throes of his capricious artistic genius. As it happens the majority of writers do not have writer partners, and my wife Annie from the mid 80s onwards had high flying careers as first a social work trainer, then a private consultant trainer, and ultimately a national expert in Organisational Transactional Analysis, meaning she was a highly regarded specialist who was brilliant at helping groups of people to work together cooperatively in their jobs. Yet almost every time we found ourselves in among a bunch of poets, playwrights and novelists at a party, it was always me was asked the interesting and flattering questions about what precisely I was up to and without exception the arty-farty men there would ask my incredibly talented wife precisely nothing about what she might be busy with.

And yet, even more startling, was that it wasn’t always the arty-farty men who saw all male creative artists per se as a kind of minor which is to say a major and truly worshipful domestic deity. At one of these crowded literary dos we attended, a commercially successful woman writer on discovering that both Annie and I worked much of the time at home, turned with a worried expression to her, and more or less accused her of potentially getting in the way of the great man, by disturbing his oh so necessary pristine solitude, without which the necessary inspirational lightning would surely never strike. Annie being a wise and always gentle woman, instead of swearing at her, pointed out that we had separate offices and nobody ever got in anyone’s way, unless it were our 2 daft dogs always tripping us up en route to the kitchen and coffee. I would also have said what Annie didn’t bother to say, that her work was arguably more valuable than mine would ever be, both intrinsically in her helping people to be so much happier in their jobs…but also because it was Annie who made most of our income, and thus kept  the show, meaning me, her, and our child Ione, on the road that we travelled…




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