You're a `new' man: sensitive, caring - and self-adoring

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The Independent Culture
AT FIRST glance, Dave seems to be like any other sort of bloke in a pub. In T-shirt and jeans, his pint in front of him, he surveys the other drinkers with a sort of lordly contempt, apparently at ease with himself and his surroundings. But there's something different about him. He sits with his legs slightly too widely splayed to be entirely comfortable. And when he drinks, he vulgarly smacks his lips and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

For Dave is not quite the same as other men. He is, in fact, an unreconstructed bastard.

As I approach, Dave stands up, thrusts his groin forward and shouts a sequence of seemingly unconnected chants. "Come on, you Rs. Put 'em under, lads. You're gonna get your head kicked in." He then turns to me. "What you lookin' at, then? Want to make something of it?"

I point out that I am here to interview him and offer to buy him a drink. He asks for another pint of best bitter but, when I bring it, I notice that he glances enviously at the spritzer that I have bought myself. I ask him about Pub, the organisation for which he is self-appointed spokesman.

"Pub speaks up for the ordinary bloke, the sort of guy who gets forgotten about these days. His idea of a good night out is going down the pub with his mates, getting a few down him, maybe take in a quick takeaway, then on to a club. If he gets lucky, it's a quick bunk-up - and no sleep-over.

"Protection for Unreconstructed Bastard - that's what Pub members are standing up for - when we can stand up at all, that is."

It seems a simple enough proposal. I ask Dave whether Pub has a manifesto.

"No shopping together at the supermarket, no changing the kid's nappies, no `Isn't it my turn to cook tonight, I thought I might rustle up a lasagna?', no finding a bit of time for us so that we can talk about our relationship, no waking up every morning feeling guilty, no blubbing together at Notting Hill, no sneering at men on The Jerry Springer Show just because they done the manly thing and slept with their wives' sisters, mothers, brothers or probation officers, no taking a responsible attitude to life insurance policies, no foreplay, no `Shall we go Dutch on this one, love?', no listening to drippy songs by Richard Thompson or Bruce Springsteen about the pain of being a man, no `Shall I pop down to the shops for some Bold Automatic with in-built fabric conditioner, a few sun-dried tomatoes, oh, and don't we need another packet of tampons?', and no bloody holding hands in public."

Dave looks around him like a man ready to fight over these basic Pub principles. I ask him what it was that had prompted him to speak up on behalf of unreconstructed bastards.

"Open any paper, read any book, and all you get is how nice and reasonable and understanding modern men have become. Men are building careers on telling the world about how caring they are. That Tony Parsons - I used to think he was all right, but suddenly he's joined the male sensitives, warbling on about how he's done this beautiful thing bringing up his boy and doing the shopping and washing as well as having a career."

I wonder out loud whether there was something special about boyhood these days. Before Parsons and his Man and Boy novel, there was Nick Hornby with About a Boy.

"Don't talk to me about Hornby. He was the one who started it all. Thanks to him, you can't even go to a football match these days without it being the expression of some inner turmoil of the personality. Then there's this new guy, Mike Gayle - Mr Commitment, he calls himself." Dave laughs bitterly. "With his last novel, he presented himself as the man in his twenties who could actually fall in love with a woman. Now he's back as the guy who really enjoyed getting married, who's not `commitment-phobic' at all, who likes nothing better than his lovely domestic life. He has written endless articles about his wedding-day and how happy he is now that he's committed. Because, deep down, modern guys are just really nice."

We sit in silence for a few moments. It's true, I realise, that for years women have brought children up on their own, or fallen in love, or have got married without feeling the need to write boastful novels or feature articles about how special and sensitive and brave they were to do it all. What is it about modern men that has suddenly made them so dewy-eyed and self-adoring?

Dave drains his glass and asks if he can get me another spritzer.

"Make mine a pint," I say.

Miles Kington is on holiday