Are you a dude?  I bet you are.  I bet you’re such a dude you don’t know what a dude you are.

When we were moving to Australia, I remember watching Finding Nemo on the plane.  Or, I should say, I think I remember that.  Increasingly, these days, the senior partner tells me I’ve inherited one of my mother’s strongest tendencies:  to never let the truth get between me and a good story.  It’s a curse, or maybe a gift, at the very least a family trait.  And, no, it’s not lying.  It’s just a trick of the memory which makes facts fit a better story.  So maybe it wasn’t actually on the plane but it was certainly around that time.  I know that for sure because it’s bundled closely with my perceptions of what I wanted life in Australia to be .  I wanted to become like Crush, the surfer-type turtle who helps Nemo’s dad find his way down the East Australian Current.  I wanted to be a dude.

I love the word ‘dude’.  I particularly love it when it’s used genuinely and without affectation.  During beach volleyball games there is an unwritten rule: if a hottie walks past, the game can subtly pause so all players can have a good look.  Fair enough.  It’s normally the server who introduces the lull, as otherwise your wandering attention could lose you a point.  I was once about to serve when a really hot bloke crossed the sand in an appropriately tight pair of shorts.  My team-mate that day, who clearly didn’t know me very well, looked at what I was looking at and swung round confused.  ‘Dude!’ he yelled.  ‘That’s a dude!’

Another occasion which springs to mind was when a friend rescued me from One of Those Days, got me stoned and took me to play crazy golf.  This, by the way, is a highly recommended rescue-plan.  We were on Hole 8, trying to get the ball through the spinning windmill, onto the hippopotamus and down the winding path (at least that’s how I remember it), when the kids behind us started to play through.  There were six or seven of them, excited ten-year olds who just needed telling how to behave.
‘Dude,’ said my friend,  ‘that’s not cool, just wait up, yeah?’  And then next time it happened:  ‘Dude!  Just wait back!’
‘Don’t call me a dude!’ said the affronted ten-year old.  And then, as he turned away to his mates, we heard him say.  ‘What does that mean, anyway?’

Which says a lot really.  You see, the word ‘dude’, so often confused with coolness, is actually sadly out-of-date, like a teacher dancing at a school disco.  You can only use it ironically.  Which comes to my other favourite use of the word.  It’s when I go to the ocean with my mates, who politely ignore the fact that after four years of trying I still can’t really surf.  ‘Dude, surfs up!’, as an sms, is a wonderfully sympathetic invitation.  (Isn’t it?)

But the ten-year-old golfer asked a good question.  What is a dude? Well, it’s not what I thought it was when I first saw Finding Nemo.  Crush is a dude, but not because he says things like ‘Tja’ for yes, or can surf the current, or is sleepy-eyed or low-voiced or slow-thinking or cool.  You can be all of these and still not be a dude.  Like a guy I used to know.  This guy is six foot something, slowly spoken, an awesome surfer, a gnarly mountain-biker, a fearless snowboarder.  He’s quiet, extremely good at fixing things and almost always half-stoned.  ‘Whoa’ I thought when I first met him.  ‘What a dude.’  But I was wrong.  Because, long story short, this guy turned out to be a bit of an arsehole.  And you can’t be an arsehole and also a dude.  Cool is cool, but decent is way cooler.

And that’s why Crush is a dude, because he helps Nemo’s dad find his way to his son.  And that’s why all my mates are dudes.  Some might surf better than others (most don’t surf at all), some might smoke more weed than others (I’m clean six months, two weeks and six days today!) and some of them might even be cool.  I, personally, will never be cool.  I have many qualities, but coolness is never going to be one of them.  But I will cross the street to help a stranger, I’ll always avoid a fight and I will even, if it makes the world a better place, shrug my shoulders and let myself be wronged.  All of which makes me a dude.  Because, basically, a dude is like an old-fashioned gentleman.  Or even better, it’s a modern gentleman, without the brylcream, the bias or the bullying.  And if you’re reading this – and I hope you are – then you’re probably a friend of mine and you probably behave this way all the time.  So chill out, man.  You’re a dude.  Even if you’re a chick.


Mid-Life Soft-Top

Have you had your mid-life crisis yet?  Oh wow, you’ve got so much not to look forward to.

You know, I used to object to the phrase ‘male menopause’ because ‘menopause’ means you stop menstruating, and of course men never start.  Which is half the problem if you ask me.  If we started bleeding between our legs at thirteen maybe we’d grow up a bit quicker.  But in fact ‘menopause’ is quite a good analogy, although ‘manopause’ would be a better word for what happens.  Actually, that’s great, TM it right now.  In your early forties (if not before) you go through this hell called a manopauseTM.  As in, you stop, and pause, and think about the man you wanted to be, and what you’ve actually become.  That’s an awful thing to have to do.

When I was going through my own protracted manopause, I decided that a lack of height, youth and athletic-ability was no barrier between me and elite beach-volleyball.  During this sand-blasted and frustrating time, a coach taught me a wicked little trick.  ‘If the opposition is serving well,’ he said, ‘go and ask them how they’re doing it.  “Man, that’s a great serve you’ve got going on there, what are you doing exactly?”’.  I did this a few times and it never failed.  Ask someone to concentrate on what they’re doing and of course they’re going to mess it up.  Same goes with adulthood.  One minute you’re middling along in your average job with an okay life, next thing you start examining it and everything falls apart.

My manopause started at forty-one.  The first symptom was an inability to listen to music on the radio.  Anyone who got played on the radio was younger than me and – by default of being played – more successful.  Why would I want to be confronted with that when I’d never achieved anything in life, never reached my full potential and might as well have been buried at thirty-two?  I write those lines now and smile, but at the time it felt very real.

Of course, the ‘bling’ factor kicks in massively during the manopause.  Not that my bling is the same as yours.   Mine was a strange obsession with ‘cool’ (see how mad I was?) sports and glamorous travel.  Yours might be a convertible car (what the senior partner calls a ‘mid-life soft-top’) or an inappropriate blonde.  A sudden urge to visit a gym, or get a tattoo, or wear clothing you can’t afford.  Whatever symbolises what you thought you were going to be.  Because, let’s admit it, we all thought we were going to be either Jonathan Hart or Captain Kirk or James Bond or Indiana Jones or, or, or.  The list of unlikely candidates is endless.

And it really doesn’t help that whoever writes movies and TV shows clearly despises us office-workers.  As a result, we are portrayed as either evil in dramas, or losers in comedies, or both in both.  Name a profession where you actually know what a person does all day and that’s different.  Be it a bin-man or a doctor, those people are venerated in popular entertainment.  The rest of us, shirts and ties, we’re just schmucks.  Look at me, I work in an office, I could have done so much with my life.

I hope you’re not reading this thinking I have any advice.  I really don’t.  Other, perhaps, than to recognise the manopause for what it is, and grin and bear it whilst it lasts.  It starts with 1) realising you don’t really care about the meetings you go to, then moves onto 2) realising no-one else does either  3) this isn’t what I wanted 4) is this all there is? 5) why did I just buy a Porsche?

But don’t worry.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  One day you wake up and suddenly it’s all fine again.  Just like that (if ‘just like that’ denotes between six and twelve months of insanity).  Yes, this is all there is, but that’s all there ever was.  The only difference is now you know the price of things, and you can decide if you want to pay it or not.  Yes, a job / marriage / lifestyle, but maybe not this one, or maybe – all things considered –  this one’s not so bad after all.  Hart, Kirk and Bond were always fantasies, and even Richard Branson thinks he could have done something more with his life.  So don’t worry, things go back to normal.

All you need to do now is pay off that Porsche.



Sorry, but how many watches am I supposed to own?

Every time I buy a magazine or a newspaper or walk through an airport, the plethora of watch adverts implies I should own a few more.  Now, I know marketing is never a sensible gauge of reality, I honestly do.  I know buying a Breitling won’t make me look like David Beckham (even though, presumably, buying his aftershave will make me smell like him).  And I totally get what Patek-Philippe are doing when they say ‘You never actually own a  Patek-Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.’  They mean, go ahead mate, spend an outrageous amount on your watch, it’s not selfish or materialistic.  It’s the founding of a dynasty!  Do it for your grandchildren if for no-one else.  (And, by the way, shouldn’t you be off to fetch your suspiciously well-groomed ‘son’ off the Orient Express?).

But what I don’t understand is this.  Here I am, a gentleman of a certain age and a certain income, and all this advertising is presumably directed at people like me.  Yet if you divide all the adverts by all the me’s, that adds up to at least eight watches each.

But maybe even eight isn’t enough.  There’s a great scene in ‘The Bling Ring’ (heavily recommended, the best-ever sneer at a younger generation) where one of the thieves takes a box of twelve Rolex’s from Orlando Bloom’s house.  He sells them for a total of five thousand dollars, the joke being his joy at this amount when each of the watches is worth at least double that.  The Rolex’s are kept in a kind of male jewellery box, three rows of curves with a watch wrapped around each, so Orlando can peruse them as he wonders which one he’s going to wear today.  I’ve seen plenty of these boxes for sale, glass-topped, tastefully-wooden, none of them made for less than ten watches.  So it’s not just my bad maths with the adverts (unless I came in too low).  There’s a conspiracy out there to make us feel watch-deprived.

Last month, for example, GQ had a whole Free Mag Attached dedicated to the subject of watches.  Over fifty pages of glossy timepieces alongside articles about the history of the manufacturers.  Even if you didn’t see it, I’m sure you can imagine all the pictures of little old men with magnifying-glasses screwed to their foreheads, bent under the weight of their Swiss craftsmanship.  Funnily enough it didn’t mention that watchmaking is consolidating so fast it will soon look like the car industry (eg Swatch own Breguet, Longines, Omega, Piguet, Rado, Tissot and countless others).  What it did have was the price of each watch and the addresses of where you could buy them.  You should get a few, it was saying, really, you need them.  (That’s the great thing about GQ, it tells you what you need to be a real man.)

A few years ago the senior partner bought me a very nice watch for my 40th.  It’s a bit blingy, if I’m honest, but it’s waterproof, scratch resistant and, hell, it even tells the time.  I like it, I hope to own it for life.  I can’t imagine ever needing another one.  So I’ll resist, I really will.  Even if there is a very nice TagHeuer out there which, if I wear it around my fingers, will make me look like Leonardo di Caprio.  So tempting.