Monthly Archives: January 2010

Why I want a man cave.

It’s important that men have a place where they can take off their social masks and revel in masculine energy.  For many men, the bureaucracy of corporate culture can leave them feeling powerless and emasculated. Having a “man cave” at home, a place men can decorate as they please and do what they want in can give them a much-needed sense of control, empowerment, and of course relaxation.

This delightful article on the Decline of Male Space by The Art of Manliness is currently doing the rounds on Twitter.

Now call me easy to rile, but I had just un-followed someone who kept boasting about having sex, so you can tell I was not in the mood when I read it.

However it was such a lengthy and loss-filled treatise that after growling for a bit (women in the workplace ! women in bars ! ) I started to wonder if it could be true ?

Have women taken every area of male life and converted it into domestic space ? Are there table-runners where table-football once stood ? Have women started putting scented candles and zen pebbles into fire-pits? Are we really squeezing men out of bars with our sofas and Pinot Grigio ? (Actually yes and I hate Pinot Grigio, mine’s a pint, so you can have that one.) And what about the claim that women are forcing men out of the shed/ garage and replacing them with Ikea shelving units ?

I don’t have a garage and our shed is full of manly lawn-mowers and the like, so I can’t really comment, but I do have a friend who has just cleared out her garage, not to fill it with doilies but to house her three sons’ dartboard and punch-bag.

It strikes me that we could all do with a bit more space, ‘ A Room of One’s Own’ as Virginia Woolf put it. But the enemy is not the other sex, no, it’s the children.

The pram in the hall, you may remember, (Sylvia Plath) spells the end of creativity and promise.

Not for the first time the other day I was told that a family’s lovely attic conversion was not to be the adult retreat they had planned but the children were going to have it instead.

And what about my friend with the garage ? It’s now a Junior Man Cave.

Before you can say, ‘but women have the kitchen’, my kitchen is not a lady-cave, it is a place where I am compelled to make meals for those who depend on me to keep them alive. Even kitchens are ‘family space’  since Sarah Beeny urged us all to knock down our interior walls with a sledge-hammer.

So a room of one’s own ? That would be nice or what about a Tiny house ?

How to be extraordinary (if you have the time.)

When I first read about Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours I didn’t expect to be living some of them myself, minute by tortured minute.

I am having a bit of a Gladwell moment. His name is never far from my lips, sometimes bracketed by expletives, as I scrape the snow from my windscreen on the way to another of my daughter’s 6am training sessions.

For those of you not familiar with his work Malcom Gladwell has made a name for himself explaining the ordinary in an extraordinary way. In ‘Blink’ he looked at the social science of first impressions, in ‘The Tipping Point’ he documented the way ideas can go viral and in ‘Outliers’ we meet the concept of the 10,000 hours.

Basically 10,000 hours is what it takes to make someone exceptional at what they do as opposed to just talented. You can apply it to the Beatles who played relentlessly in their early years or to Bill Gates and the hours he spent programming. There are other fascinating ideas in the book but you must read those for yourself.

What interests me, is that I have a daughter, a county level swimmer, who trains 4-5 times a week and I am the one who takes her. Together we clock up hours at the pool and several more preparing to go. But I worked out that on the basis of Gladwell’s thesis my girl would have to keep this up for another ten years and would still have only have got 2,000 hours on the clock, by which time she would be 20.

This rather dispiriting calculation  leads me to the conclusion that ;

  1. Said daughter just doesn’t have what it takes to be the next Rebecca Adlington.
  2. I need to get up at 5.30am some more…a lot more.

But wait. Is this what we want ? Am I swim mom ? or just a rather tired parent trying to do her best by a child who has turned out to be quite good at something ? Just because a genius journalist/social scientist has told me why people excel above all others doesn’t mean we have to, does it ?

I think my conflicted position may be explained by British attitudes to failure (it’s not really that bad is it ?) but I know that won’t play well with the Association of British Swimmers. So to them, I do promise to try harder.

Meanwhile I am looking forward to Malcom Gladwell’s book of collected essays, in particular the one about Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan and yes since you ask, I do have a dog,no pressure then.

Why Twitter users don’t Talk to the hand

When we invent a new technology or new way of doing things we also create the possibility of being different.

There is a moment when we get the chance to change behaviour  and look at things afresh.

I think Twitter was such a moment.

A couple of days ago a Twitter neighbour @Nigeltemple asked if it was important to be polite when using Twitter. He was overwhelmed by the response. People don’t want negativity or swearing, instead they want to share their information help each other and then thank them.

I know a lot of this has been helped along by Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents idea, but I am sure he was building on the zeitgeist that already existed rather than single-handedly creating it.

This is particularly relevant for me as I have just read Lynne Truss’s Talk to the Hand, an essay deploring modern manners and the culture of ‘don’t blame me it’s not my fault.’  She is right about the way kids now feel they have rights without responsibilities. My own daughter threatened to call Childline the other day when I asked her to tidy her room!

But Talk to the Hand also deplores the internet culture and the way we are all so ‘plugged in.’  I think she is missing a trick. Far from being isolating and atomising Twitter has created new ways of helping people.

The other day I approached a guy I had been following about the possibility of working with him in the future. I felt awkward doing it, but it was clear that because I had taken the trouble to follow him and had been doing so for some time that it was not the cold call I feared. Trust still needs to be built  but those first approaches are much easier.

Can it be possible that business manners are being re-worked and that Gordon Gekko is finally being put to bed ? I’m too much of a cynic to make such a huge claim. I think business does what business needs to do, but if that is kindness and politeness for the time being, then that’s all to the good.

Self-help without the cheese ?

I deleted a post from my in-box in anger yesterday.

It was someone elses blog and I was annoyed because I thought it was self- help and cheesy.

But as I wracked my tired brains for fresh ideas I was struck by a vivid image from this blog. It was a horse-riding analogy and exhorted us to have gentle hands and a strong seat in the saddle.

Indeed. There is no point in tugging on an idea and forcing it to work, you have to relax and let it happen naturally. (Can any disco fans name the lyric ‘Don’t push it don’t force it let it happen naturally. It will surely happen if it was meant to be ?)

But there it was again, SELF HELP, sticking it’s nose in un-invited. Did I say I wanted to write about self-help ?

Well let’s look at it then as it refuses to go away. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with Self Help ? It certainly seems to play well in blogs and on Twitter. So much that is written is advice on how to realise our potential/ dreams/ earning power and I will click on that, I know I do.

I just don’t like the cheese, the guy with the teeth telling me I can make a million by telling other saps like me how to make a million and so on down the hall of mirrors. He can keep his snake oil to himself. But there is a market for self-help that appeals to the cynics who want their help with a dose of ‘keep it real.’

Now I haven’t read it, but I think my friend Scott Solder has written such a book. It is called You Need This Book To Get What You Want and it’s already sold out on Amazon.

This may well be how we Brits like our help, shared out  in a slightly self-deprecating way.

We want help, we are happy to listen but we don’t want the cheese.

If Twitter is punk, BBC news is Abba.

Are we so in love with being our own authors that we’re over-looking good  content ?

This is a question that has started to bug me. It all began when one of my posts got a much higher hit rate than usual. It was called Who needs journalists when we’ve got Twitter ? In it I argued that if the news was big enough then it would come to you and more besides, including interesting bits of fresh news that mainstream news-gatherers didn’t have.

This still holds true but I am concerned that we are so  busy trying to ‘stick it to the man’  that brilliant sites aren’t getting their due.

It’s like punk hitting the music scene and demolishing the monsters of rock. Suddenly everyone is doing it for themselves and it’s fresh and democratic and wild. But along the way, back in the 70s, music of lasting worth was overlooked, like, and don’t laugh, Abba.

I think BBC news is the Abba of news websites. Just because we are all in the garage bashing out our own stuff doesn’t mean the well staffed, well resourced, unbiased monster of news isn’t getting it right and delivering fine content.

So let’s welcome the BBC’s new social media editor @AlexGubbay who starts his job today.

Let’s hear it for radio.

I woke up this morning to a piece on the radio about the surprisingly healthy state of British theatre. It seems our desire to be told stories has helped recession- proof the industry.

As I was pondering the whole idea of story-telling and why we seem to need it I had to stop and give my attention to the radio again. Fi Glover was interviewing Mark Radcliffe, one of my favourite broadcasters. I love his contempt for all that is fake, fashionable and ‘glamorous’.

Next I came downstairs to make breakfast and was stopped short again by a totally random interview with Elton John. Danny Baker was doing a great job. They talked about his school days and working in a record shop and I was gripped by the story about how Elton came to write for the Scissor Sisters, even his views on Simon Cowell were interesting !

Then it struck me, and I hope you are with me by now. Radio really is the perfect medium for story-telling.

Radio is my first love and was my first career but I think we all forget it sometimes. It rarely comes up in serious discussion about revolution in the media and was often overlooked when I worked at the BBC.

So let’s hear it for radio and in particular, the way it touches the part of us that needs a  story.