COLUMN: April 28, 2016


WHEN people are asked to think of a “manly man” they never summon up my image. Not even I summon up my image.

This is not to say that I am not definitely male. In support of this proposition I submit the evidence that all my shoes have laces, I have never bought a copy of Woman’s Weekly, and I do not know for sure which Kardashian is which.

But I would never be confused with, say, a rugby player or a marine. I am a lover, not a fighter, and even “lover” is pushing it. The last time I was in a gym Mr Farrington, my PE teacher, was in attendance. Even my chosen method of keeping fit – running – is far more suited to avoiding confrontation than facing it.

So when I am called upon to prove my masculinity and sheer bravery I am always on the back foot, because I am not expecting it, and I say yes without thinking about it.

This is how I became a fire marshal. This is how, 18 months ago, I found myself tearing along a zip wire while dressed as Batman, with the ears of my mask poking through my helmet.

And this is how I found myself faced with The Jar.

“I can’t open this,” a female colleague of mine explained to me, as I was eating a Flake. I don’t really like Flakes – they are just chocolates for people who like chocolate to taste a little like vomit and love having to clean up after themselves – but I’d typed in the wrong code on the vending machine. “Can you do it?” she asked.

I looked around. There were many other people there, but the only difference between me and them was that I have to shave to avoid having a beard. The sole time I have been in a room with a comparable ratio of women to men was when I had to go to a JLS concert.

The only reason I could discern that she was asking me to open the jar was that I am a man. And if you think I am being sexist, please remember that I am not the one who asked me to open the jar.

“Are you sure?” I said. My sleeves were rolled up, just in case I had a hole in the elbow of my shirt, exposing my bendy straw arms. There were women around me who had actually given birth, who had exhibited strength of which I cannot conceive, and she was asking me.

“OK…” I said. I stood up, put down my Flake, and took The Jar. It was filled with strawberry jam. I had as little idea as you as to why somebody in an office would need an open jar of strawberry jam, but when you work in a newsroom you learn not to ask questions. Ironically.

I gripped the lid in my right hand, and the jar in my left hand and began the task. My right hand slipped, just as Mr Sharples the music teacher’s hand had slipped when we put Vaseline on the classroom doorknob that time.

“My hand’s sweaty,” I explained to my colleague, information which she did not need and had never needed. I wiped my hand on my worryingly light-coloured trousers, and had a second go.

The lid was not budging. I gripped tighter. Now the jar was slipping in my left hand.

I looked up at my colleague. “It’s OK,” she said, “I’ll take…”


I had an idea. I bent over, clamping the jar of, do not forget, strawberry jam between my light-coloured trouser-clad thighs. My left hand went behind me to grip the bottom of the jar, while my right hand held the lid. I can only imagine how it looked from a distance.

Slowly I turned the lid. I heard the pop, and whipped the jar out from between my legs. I had beaten the jar and had succeeded in not covering my light trousers with red jam. I handed back the jar, sweat beading my face.

“Thank you,” she said.

“It was nothing,” I said, unconvincingly, and I sat down, on, it later turned out, the shards of Flake which were scattered over my chair as I stood up to take the jar.

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