Life on Marsden: Rhodri wonders what it is to be a real man

...A big hairy real man

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The Independent Online

This series of James May's Man Lab on BBC2 is making me feel inadequate and the knowledge that it's James May causing the inadequacy is shovelling on a further s**t heap of inadequacy.

One episode I saw featured him haring it over Dartmoor, pursued by other men in some Wessexian reconstruction of The Great Escape, while I sat on my sofa shaking my head and glancing at my Laura Ashley feature wall.

I'm rubbish at being a bloke. I don't play rugby; I play the bassoon. If my car won't start, I don't open the bonnet, I don't even call the RAC; I call my dad (a proper man), who wearily tells me to call the RAC.

In an attempt to pick up masculinity tips, I've been spending more time with men of late, although that decision has been made for me on account of women not being that keen. The other day I went with seven men to the cinema to watch a film about men playing black metal music to other men, which felt pretty manly.

Then I spent a weekend in Bristol with three men who offered me manly musings on life such as: "I think there should be a flavour of crisps called Cheese or Onion." Budgetary constraints required me to share a twin hotel room with one of them; I lost the battle of snoring, obviously, thus ensuring he got all the sleep while I lay there thinking about salad or something.

"Movember," as it's known to those who spend November growing facial hair for charity, piles on additional insecurity. I spurn both the moustache and the beard, despite it being made abundantly clear on internet dating sites that the kind of women I like think they're brilliant. The pressure on me is relentless. Most of my male friends have them. A website for the American National Beard Registry calls on men to sprout hair to "resist conformity, corporate culture and androgyny".

But I'm with Roald Dahl on this, if nothing else. In his book, The Twits, he wisely reckons that there must be secrets concealed behind a man's facial hair. "Perhaps that's why he does it," he wrote. "He'd rather you didn't know."

I mused on this as I went for a walk, failed to look as I was crossing the road and was called a "wanker" by a muscular van driver with a really annoying beard.

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