I was reading in these here pages Julie Burchill’s review of Candace Bushnell’s Is There Still Sex in the City? when one of Julie’s pearls struck me like a stiff left jab in the noggin: ‘Those who have persisted in carrying on creakily have become increasingly embarrassing.’ Ouch! Could she have had the poor little Greek boy in mind? Of course not, I told myself, but then again… Never mind. A little paranoia at my age is normal.
I felt better the next day when a Dutch TV crew of five arrived in the Alps to film a programme called How to be a Man. It stars one man, me, and it will be shown on Dutch national television, airing in November. Yippee! Margriet van der Linden, a statuesque Viking-like blonde, a real pro, put me through the ringer. Rarely have I been asked so many intelligent questions, challenging at times but never intrusive or embarrassing. We spent three days talking about manhood in the age of #MeToo, and filming as I mixed it up in karate training with my sensei Richard Amos.
More about karate later, but knowing how to be a man nowadays is quite tricky. If you read the lachrymose prose of, say, Roger Cohen in the New York Times, what passes as a man of good sense and taste translates into someone without courage or originality. (Actually, it’s worse: reading Cohen reminds me of a queasy teenager squeezing his pimples.) My definition of manhood? Having a sense of duty that means you never leave a wife, but also a sense of entitlement that means you never give up a mistress. The Dutch lady was very skilled at taking me through my life story — it was obvious she had read The Spectator columns with evangelical zeal because she knew all about me. She wished to know what has happened to men, and my answer was: #MeToo. Some of these brainless American female hustlers are even challenging men’s literary achievements. A female clown critic recently wrote that Zelda Fitzgerald’s madness was because her husband Scott cribbed from her. Imagine: the great Scott, author of The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and numerous other heart-rending novels, cribbed from the poor, tragic, mad-as-a-hatter Zelda. She may have been a good writer on occasion, but she wasn’t anywhere near him. Such are the joys of the American-made #MeToo bullshit.
We spoke a lot about sport. Part of the experience of sport resides in dealing with the finality of it. It’s often a kind of death. This is not true of seminars, lectures, or even reading. (You can always read it again.) The pursuit of excellence, combined with the need for courage and personal discipline, make sport unique, although most sports are now simply entertainment, the ethos of sport long gone. The money will do it every time.
The TV crew came to the dojo, where my sensei and I gave them a bit of a show kicking and punching each other. Richard Amos is as brainy as any karate teacher around and is as tough on the floor as they come. His timing and focus are such that it’s almost impossible to land a solid hit. Margriet was impressed, I could tell, and she asked him some intelligent questions. After that brief exhibition it was back to hard work and it made my week. Up early each morning, drive to the dojo, warm up and have a go. With 55 years of training experience, I cannot accept that this stage of my karate life will no longer be filled with new possibilities. Getting stronger and faster, kicking higher, were the old goals. Now I seek to move more effortlessly and look better aesthetically. The irony of this is that the more one loses one’s self in the inner, unseen workings, the better the technique becomes on the surface.
So, how to be a man? Well, Maxine Blythin — the transgender woman whose batting average in women’s cricket this season is 124 — could tell us a thing or two. As could brainless TV pundits who inform us that gender is fluid and not determined at birth. I think that a man needn’t be dominant, nor does he need to burst into cringe-inducing tears while looking at reruns of the Harry-Meghan wedding. The discussion with the Dutch lady over tournament money in tennis was spirited. If you want equal pay, you compete equally, said yours truly: best of five sets, men and women in the same draw. That’s equality, as in equestrian events. Ditto for athletics. The Dutch did not take sides on that one. Nor on anything else. They just put out their nets and I swam into them.
The mother of my children thinks that the nice Dutch crew will do a hatchet job to top all hatchet jobs on me. I actually don’t give a damn. I said what I believe and in this age of prime-time hate-mongers posing as Utopians, the worse I come off the better I’ll feel. These hate-mongers are out to do away with our past, calling it a mythology while spreading misinformation and lies about it.
We’ve had a glorious past and men have played the greater part in it because that is how God meant it to be. Today’s clowns are against nature and they will not, cannot, win. Real women will not allow it. #MeToo should join the circus.
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