Last December, right before I became a dad, a friend said: “Having a kid is the best and worst thing that will ever happen to you.” I think about this every day, as there’s barely been one, since my daughter was born, that I’ve not felt both delight and despair. I can flit between each state, many times over, during one seven-minute episode of Hey Duggee. I’ll never know if it’s simply my reaction to fatherhood or a symptom of the pandemic we’re living through, because I’ll only ever become a dad once and this is my lot – but I can certainly hazard a guess. While no first-time mum or dad is ever fully prepared for the frenzied first months of parenthood – a mix of sleep deprivation, adrenaline and joy, like vodka Red Bull for the brain – they don’t usually get shunted into a nationwide lockdown straight after. Nor do they have every conceivable support rail snatched away at once. (Grandparents? Gone. Baby classes? Bye-bye. Quick decompression pint with a pal, to discuss anything but milk and soiled Pampers? See. You. Later.) Forgive me, then, for being a bit more grumpy and tired (so very tired) than your average new dad. All this whinging is my way of explaining why today’s landmark study by the Royal Foundation and Ipsos Mori doesn’t shock me. The data, following a landmark survey by the Duchess of Cambridge, shows a big spike in parental loneliness – from 38 per cent to 63 per cent – since the dawn of Covid. More than a third of those surveyed believe the pandemic will have a negative impact on their long-term mental health. Frankly, the only way these stats could have described me better is if Kensington Palace put my actual face on the press release.
My wife Alice was about eight weeks into her first pregnancy when she turned to me and said she didn’t feel pregnant any more. I didn’t realise then what a rollercoaster ride lay ahead. We’d got married in May 2014 and conceived that October, excited about starting a family together. But our dreams were shattered when we visited the early pregnancy clinic and were given the news that Alice had suffered a miscarriage. Sitting by her side, I didn’t know what to say or do. I stared at her and watched as her world collapsed. It was utterly overwhelming. As a man, I felt I had to be the strong one and be there for my wife. I tried at first to do this, as both of us sat there crying and asking why this had happened. Foremost in my mind was the feeling that I couldn’t protect her, and couldn’t protect our baby. I felt embarrassment (we had already discussed names), shame, hurt, confusion and anger. In the Duchess of Sussex’s heartbreaking account of her own baby loss, she mentions her husband’s tears. I know those tears too well, and I know the pain he’ll be going through, and that it will stay with him.
Never has Henry David Thoreau's quote about “the mass of men” leading lives of “quiet desperation” seemed so apposite. Today is International Men's Day, a yearly opportunity to highlight the challenges and inequalities that men face – and I’m struck by the thought that we’ve never needed it more than now. All around me, I see Covid and its lockdown pushing men to breaking point, exposing us to forces that threaten our work, our families and our sense of who we are in the modern world. How can we cope with the longstanding male malaise when it’s amplified by such powerful, pandemic forces? In truth, men weren’t in a great position before Covid hit. Yes, there will be the usual carping about today – that every day is International Men’s Day – but you only need to look at the suicide statistics in England and Wales to see that all was not right for 21st Century Man. Data from the Office for National Statistics found that the male suicide rate in 2019 was the highest in two decades, with men accounting for roughly three-quarters of the 5,691 suicides registered in 2019 (4,303 compared with 1,388 women). Men aged 45-49 were found to be at the highest risk, leading to the ONS to theorise that it “might be because this group is more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and isolation”. Economic adversity and isolation? You can see where this is going. As The Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland put it: “With the impact of the pandemic this year taking a huge toll on people’s mental wellbeing, we should be even more concerned. Many callers have been worried about losing their job and/or business and their finances, with common themes around not being able to pay rent/mortgage, inability to support the family, and fear of homelessness.” Already, the pandemic has permanently altered our relationship with the working world. It almost goes without saying that we’re fearful of redundancy – but there’s also been a subtler shift that has divested us of so much that we thought central to our existence. Men are no longer needed to travel to the office – we’re at home, embracing family life while simultaneously missing the release of the commute or a working lunch; the self-definition of a life outside the house. The “primary provider” instinct hardwired into men's DNA is being challenged like never before. How are we reacting? If the middle-aged men around me are anything to go by, then the answer is exactly what you’d expect: with a mixture of confusion, anger, impetuousness, feelings of betrayal, sadness – the hallmarks of deep existential worry. I know men who have sought solace in overeating, alcohol, or porn. I have a friend who’s blown his life savings on a sports car; another who’s given up his day job to write a novel he still hasn’t started. One married friend in his 40s told me how lockdown had awakened a hitherto suppressed promiscuity, leading to a string of Tinder dalliances with younger women: “I wanted to remember what it felt like to be alive” he said, mournfully. Personally, I’ve managed to avoid the more cliched tropes of the male midlife lockdown-breakdown – but I’ve still found myself awake at 4am, worrying about my place in this new and threatening Covid world. So, what can we do about it? How can middle-aged men like me fight back against the malaise we’re feeling? It’s a question I turned to while researching my new book The Seven Ages of Man – How to Live a Meaningful Life and the starting point, inevitably, is work. Men are obsessed by work: we habitually define ourselves by what we do, rather than who we are; and because we’re naturally competitive, we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. More often than not, it’s to our detriment. A good example of this is what I call Busyness Derangement Syndrome. How many times have you heard a male friend lament (or is it boast?) of the long hours he works? He wants you to know that he’s needed in the world; that he’s sacrificing himself for the noble cause of work. Perhaps, in an evolutionary sense, that’s understandable – but who, in the cold light of day, wants to judge their worth by how exhausted they feel at the end of the day? Here, lockdown provides us with an opportunity. Many men latch onto the busyness bug so we don’t have to think about deeper, more existential questions. If lockdown is giving you empty days, then now is the moment to ruminate on how you might lead a more meaningful existence. It’s something I’m trying to embrace: I take time out of my day to gaze off into the middle distance, to escape the busyness bug. It’s not an instant cure – I still have those 4am moments, where I worry about my place in the world and the alienation that comes with aging – but at least it gives me space to observe the thought processes I can fall prey to. My distance gazing helps me to see midlife a bit like puberty without the spots: a stage we all go through, where feelings of sadness and anger and confusion are only natural. In time, they’ll pass. It's important to remember that even when the world appears to be spinning off its axis, things are rarely as bad as they seem. Stay grounded, foster deep connections, show gratitude, moral courage, humility and forgiveness. And however desperate you may quietly feel, remember there are others you can help, who can also help you. How to live a (more) meaningful midlife – James Innes-Smith's ten point guide Try not to be defined by your work and don’t allow yourself to become embittered by disappointments Be aware of your changing physiology Take pride in your appearance Try not to let disillusionment turn to rage Take things as they come and keep it simple Most of us feel we haven’t achieved enough so don’t berate yourself if life hasn’t turned out the way you planned. Don’t let yourself go physically or mentally Maintain a healthy sex life and don’t be afraid to seek medical help if things stop working Nurture close friendships and put other people's needs before your own Laugh at life's absurdities, observe your own silly pomposities and try not to take yourself too seriously. The Seven Ages of Man – How to Live a Meaningful Life by James Innes-Smith (Little, Brown). Buy now for £16.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514
Alfie Deyes has filmed every day of his life for the past four-and-a-half years. Just let that sink in for a minute. Or for 15 minutes, which is the approximate length of many of his YouTube videos. He broadcasts his daily movements and thoughts with a degree of detail that would be dull if it was your own life but somehow when it’s someone else’s… Well, it’s hard to know exactly what the appeal is sometimes, but it’s very easy to keep clicking. Deyes and I are chatting via videolink because he has his first podcast out. I wonder if he knows why so many people – Alfie Deyes Vlogs has 3.68 million subscribers on YouTube – love watching him go about his business. Is it simply the logical extension of our reality television obsession? “I wish I knew,” laughs the handsome and genuinely personable 27-year-old. “I don’t really know, to be honest.” There’s no drama or plotline to keep people hooked, I point out. “No,” he agrees. “With a lot of reality TV, they’re often putting things in the mix to create situations and scenarios that will be entertaining, whereas mine is quite the opposite. And the content that performs best, the videos that get the most views, engagement, comments and likes, are often the most mundane [ones].” Like what? “It could be myself and my girlfriend on the sofa chatting about a couple of programmes or films we’ve really enjoyed. I don’t know what [the appeal] is. There’s got to be a hint of nosey looking into someone else’s life, because everyone’s got an interest in what somebody else is doing.” His girlfriend, by the way, is 30-year-old Zoe Sugg, otherwise known as Zoella, an even more popular YouTuber than Deyes. Her channel has 4.8 million subscribers. Her most recent video, at the time of writing, involves her visiting a pumpkin patch. Among Deyes’ most recent output is a six-minute tour of his new office. If you were actually on the tour in person, you’d be looking to make your excuses and leave fairly sharpish. But watching it on screen is different. You stick with it, maybe because he’s so nice, or maybe because you don’t have to leave your own sofa and it’s easier to keep watching than to turn it off and find something else to do. Deyes never set out to be famous. “No way!” he cries cheerfully, as if the idea is preposterous. Yet he and Sugg are so famous among a certain demographic that fans used to pay for bus tours past their Brighton house. Deyes says he cannot sing or dance and had no interest in stardom. But you don’t need to be able to sing or dance now. When he started making videos for fun in his mid-teens, no-one was earning anything from YouTube. “I was purely enjoying creating,” he says. “Then it happened that over time different features came in that enable you to make money from the videos [such as advertising and paid partnerships with brands] and that was amazing because it enabled me to quit my part-time job and just make videos. But that was never a goal of mine.” His part-time job was in a clothes shop. When, one month, he earned 20p more from YouTube than his shop work, he handed in his notice and began making videos full time. “Luckily it worked out,” he laughs. It really did. Born in Tottenham, North London, to a mother who managed a team of social workers and a father who works in IT, Deyes is now a millionaire who’s branched into property and e-commerce and owns a creative agency called A to Z with Sugg. The couple, known to fans as Zalfie, share a seven-bedroom mansion in Sussex.
On March 8 every year, the same inquisitive/pointed questions get asked again and again, especially on Twitter. Namely, 'is there an International Men's Day?' and 'when is it?' Why March 8? Oh, because that's when International Women's Day is and certain men just can't handle the focus not being on them. But fear not, chaps, for we have the answers. Here is everything you need to know about International Men's Day. This year marks 28 years since the first International Men's Day celebration was held in Malta, and 21 years since the project was reinitialised in Trinidad and Tobago, but we'll explain a little more about the history of the event in due course. The global event encourages every man, woman and child to recognise the positive impact of men on society, to focus on men's health and wellbeing issues, and to improve gender relations. So, is there an International Men's Day? Yes, the good news for everyone is that there is indeed an International Men's Day - and it falls on November 19 every year. The even better news is that the comedian Richard Herring takes it upon himself every year to spend International Women's Day answering those questions. Typically, his replies begin politely, grow ever more exasperated, and end in a torrent of fury.
In the first episode of the new series of The Crown, the Queen is lunching, en famille, at Buckingham Palace with Lord Mountbatten, played with taut charm by Charles Dance. As Prince Charles ducks out to visit Camilla Parker Bowles, the Queen asks of her son: “How is he, Dickie?”, adding: “He talks to you more than anyone.” Netflix’s mega-budget series, whose highly anticipated fourth season is released today, establishes Charles’s “honorary grandfather” as pivotal to monarchical familial relations. But who was the real Mountbatten? In the same episode, Charles and Mountbatten row over the Prince’s relationship with Camilla. Mountbatten urges him to find “a bride with no past”. Prince Charles accuses his adored mentor figure of “playing for the other side.” Of being “a fifth columnist who makes a show of being a great ally.” Mountbatten, for all his contacts and charisma, seems to have spent much of his life negotiating a tightrope between meddling, manipulating and mediating. This week saw the screening of a documentary entitled Lord Mountbatten: Hero or Villain?. Charges include that he was a mendacious chancer, whose achievements in bringing forward Indian independence are hotly disputed. He was certainly a divisive figure. Queen Victoria’s great-grandson, born in 1900 and Prince Philip’s uncle, the British Admiral of the Fleet, was tragically and brutally murdered by the IRA in Ireland in August 1979 alongside other family members. The Royal family were devastated and Charles, in particular, grieved the man who was his closest confidant. Mountbatten was a major influence behind Philip’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth, and instrumental in the Royal family taking the Mountbatten name. But as writer Andrew Lownie asks in his book The Mountbattens: ‘Was [he] one of the outstanding leaders of his generation, or a man over-promoted because of his Royal birth, high level connections, film star looks and ruthless self promotion?’
Like everyone else, I was jubilant when I read the news that it looks like there’s a Covid vaccine on the way. Life could be back to normal by the spring, we're told. However, as happy as I am, I know that life won’t be back to normal for my family, or the thousands of others who have lost someone in the pandemic. My 83-year-old mum Doreen died of Covid in July, and the last months of her life were tough. She had lived alone since Dad passed away five years ago, which made shielding difficult and lonely. Usually I would drive the 11 miles to her house once or twice a week to see her – but since I am asthmatic I was under orders to shield too, and the most I could see of her was a wave from the front garden. In July, she went into hospital for a problem with her legs. Unfortunately, while she was there, she caught coronavirus. That was so frustrating to hear: it’s meant to be a controlled environment, so how did it happen? Of course, we were not allowed to visit her because of the infection risk, but we kept in contact with regular phone calls. Our family hoped for the best, and waited a few days to hear more news. Sadly, her condition worsened, and after about three or four days she started to suffer from Covid-induced confusion. She was no longer herself: she didn’t know who she was talking to when I called her, and was struggling to remember who she was. That was just really not like her – Mum had a strong personality and always knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. I could tell this confusion was causing her real distress. It was exceptionally difficult to hear on the phone from doctors about how she would be upset and trying to pull out the tubes in her arms, or fight with nurses. This went on for about a fortnight, with her getting more and more ill all the time. To their credit, the doctors and nurses tried everything they could to help her, including putting her on a ventilator at the end. Even after she died, the Covid complications continued. Mum's body had to be kept in quarantine for a week in the mortuary, and we were told not to see her. Numbers were capped to around 20 at her funeral, which meant not even all of her family was able to come. I have been left with a horrible feeling of guilt for not being able to spend more time with her in the last few months. I know logically that there’s nothing I could have done, since both of us were shielding, but the feeling is still there. I know this has been a very tough year for everyone, but I have felt very annoyed by reports of people breaking the rules. It’s really not hard to wear a mask or wash your hands, and if more people were doing it then maybe Mum would never have caught Covid in the first place. I am truly happy that lives will be saved by the vaccine, even if it came too late for Mum. As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde Read more: How past vaccines changed the world – and what their rollout tells us about the challenges ahead
If you are feeling even a slight pang of nostalgia for the cut and thrust of the working world during lockdown, you could do worse than tune into Industry, Lena Dunham’s new BBC and HBO drama about a group of young people hurled into the maelstrom of a London investment bank’s graduate trainee scheme. Preposterously long hours, hyper-competitiveness, belittling superiors, a self-destructive obsession with money, tangled workplace sex, piles of cocaine, dull grey outfits, enough screen time to make a spider go blind, and a general work/life balance that skews so far to the former it would make Margaret Thatcher look slothful… Honestly, after one episode you’ll be put off ever going back to the office again. “It depends who’s looking at it, I suppose,” says Harry Lawtey, one of the show’s young leads, diplomatically. “It’s certainly different from my world.” Investment banking may seem like a horrifying industry to be inside, but it’s compulsively watchable from the outside. Industry was executively produced by Girls creator Dunham, but its writers, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, both formerly worked in the City and based the characters on composites of real people. Lawtey, a quiet and polite 24-year-old, plays Robert, who is the kind of young banker whose expectations of his new career appear to have been formed in 1985. While other characters are studious and self-conscious, Robert is introduced as smug, sharply suited and spends as much time in nightclubs or womanising as he does observing the financial markets. It’s not in the script, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that his backstory involves applying for The Apprentice. “The only things he knows how to rely on are charisma and charm and bravado, and he has an outdated idea that the industry requires that of him. Underneath it he’s just a lost boy looking for some validation,” Lawtey says.
Growing up in the 1980s, I was firmly of the opinion that cardigans were only worn by dull, middle-aged men who had given up on the idea of looking good. Until I saw The Big Lebowski, that is. Jeff Bridges’ stellar performance as “The Dude” in the 1998 Coen Brothers caper exposed a hidden soft spot for the cardi that has stayed with me. Bridges made cardigans characterful, cool and, even more impressively, surprisingly rugged. Like The Dude, I’d advise swerving slinky knits, although they can look good over a thin roll-neck (think vintage Michael Caine). Instead, follow Bridges and opt for something chunkier with lots of surface texture. Gap has a great one (the Shaker) in a tweedy-effect, 100 per cent cotton yarn, that is machine-washable. Shawl-collars are a big trend this autumn; either in chunky rib-textured knit, such as John Lewis & Partners’ wool and cashmere blend, or in cable. Peregrine has a very covetable one in an Aran pattern, crafted from 5-gauge British wool; it’s double-breasted, so can be worn as outerwear.
There are dozens of professors advising the government at the moment, but Boris Johnson might consider finding room for one more. Stephen Manderson – the rapper, songwriter, television presenter, designer, restaurateur, mental health campaigner and modern renaissance man better known as Professor Green – smiles ruefully at the thought. “Oh mate, yes,” he says, throwing his head back. “How lovely would that be? To have a working class voice like mine in the Cabinet?” Manderson, 36, isn’t about to announce a run for office, and while he doesn’t have any academic qualifications to his name (he left school at 13), he does have a lot to say about the pandemic – particularly the inequalities involved. “Covid-19 has just exposed how protected some people are and how vulnerable others are,” he says, before applauding the work of Marcus Rashford in speaking up for children who receive free school meals, as Manderson did. “You know what though? It shouldn’t just be Marcus Rashford, it shouldn’t just be me. Anybody who’s from that background and done well for themselves should be using their voice, rather than just sitting around thinking, ‘Oh, I’m glad to be here.’ “I think there’s a real issue on both sides [of the class divide], in that they don’t think our problems are theirs, and we don’t think their problems are ours. For as long as that stays as it is, nothing’s going to get much better. You can’t just have conversations with people who agree with you and expect to change the world.”
On Monday 16 November, 2015, almost 72 hours after the Paris terror attacks, principally on the Bataclan theatre, in which 130 people were killed, Georges Salines was led down the east corridor of the Forensic Institute on the Quai de la Rapée, beside the Seine, to identify the body of his beloved 28-year-old daughter Lola. She had taken a spare ticket to the concert at the Bataclan at the last minute. It was late afternoon when the family were told they could finally see her, from behind a glass screen. ‘You won’t be able to touch her,’ they were told. ‘Her body is covered in a sheet. Her face is intact, her mouth is a bit open. Her expression is calm, but her face is very red, as no embalming has been carried out and your daughter was lying on her stomach for a long time on the floor of the Bataclan.’ Georges, his wife Emmanuelle, now 62, and Lola’s two elder brothers, Clément, 38, and Guilhem, 36, held each other and sobbed as they looked on at Lola. She was known for her kindness and compassion; she worked as a book editor at a publishing house in Paris and enjoyed roller skating and dancing. ‘She seemed to be sleeping,’ recalls Salines, now 63. ‘Strangely, passing through this stage made us feel better. The serenity of her expression allowed us, and still allows us today, to imagine that maybe she didn’t see death coming, that she was too busy dancing to the music.’
A day before we go into a second national lockdown, a lot of us are wondering how we’re going to manage all over again. While most of us understand the argument for this renewed isolation, loneliness brings its own dangers – especially for middle-aged men, who are traditionally not the best at addressing that sort of problem verbally. I know, because I’m one of them. Five years or so ago, I was, by any measure, not OK – a phrase that recently went viral, and to which I will return. My marriage had come apart as a result of my own actions. Obsessed with work and increasingly pessimistic about my prospects, I had become an inadequate husband, father and friend. I was drinking too much and engaging almost not at all with the various privileges and joys life still had to offer me. I was occupying a similar mental landscape to the one from which Edmund O’Leary, a divorced father of twin sons from Surrey who was struggling to find a job during the pandemic, last month took to Twitter to send a cri de coeur. “I am not OK,” it read. “Please take a few seconds to say hello if you see this tweet.” That was it – but was enough to spark a global, spontaneous rescue effort.
Sir Michael Parkinson begins his new book, Like Father, Like Son, with an anecdote about appearing on Piers Morgan’s television show Life Stories in 2019. Asked by Morgan about the death of his beloved father John William in 1977, he described seeing his father’s lifeless body being carried down the stairs of the family home in a body bag, ‘like a parcel’. Parkinson writes that he has never been renowned as a relationship counsellor. There was not much call for them in the Yorkshire mining village of Cudworth, where he grew up, ‘or indeed Yorkshire’. Nor, he writes, is he ‘very adept or comfortable with the touchy feely side of life’. Crying in public on a national television show is ‘a definite no-no’. And it was never his ambition as an interviewer to elicit what he calls sardonically ‘the Holy Grail of the celebrity sob’. In his years as a chat-show host, by his own estimation, Parkinson interviewed more than 2,000 of the world’s most famous people, from Tina Turner to Sir David Attenborough, but he can recall only one occasion when a guest was reduced to tears – the comedian Bob Monkhouse, talking about his son Gary, who had cerebral palsy. ‘If I ever got to that stage where somebody broke down and cried,’ he tells me now, sitting in the lounge of a country-house hotel in Windsor, close to his home, ‘I’d be very embarrassed on their behalf. And I’d find a way of getting out of it as quickly as possible, because they aren’t going to make sense in that situation.’ So there was no one more taken aback than Parkinson that, in recalling his father’s death on Morgan’s show, he should have broken down in tears himself. ‘It surprised me,’ he says. ‘Because I knew what he [Morgan] was after, and being old to the game I’d prepared for it. What was fascinating to me, and still is, is that so many years after my father died there is still something lurking inside me, like some illness, that came out – and I don’t know from where.’
Bruce Springsteen’s decision to don a classic American pilot’s jacket for the cover of his new album, at the age of 71, got me thinking. Are we ever too old to wear an aviator? Admittedly, they do tend to be favoured by men who buy a sports car when they hit a “certain age”. Yet, when teamed with a chunky roll-neck and a pair of slim-fit khakis, they can be the anchor to a contemporary winter wardrobe. Created to keep pilots warm during the First World War, the aviator has gone through countless upgrades and reinventions over the past 100 years. While the weathered-sheepskin heritage style (the A-2) that we instantly recognise as a flight jacket is still popular, there are many modern hybrids that are more versatile and better-geared towards civilian life. Tommy Hilfiger, Sandro and Gant have all adapted the classic A-2 flight jacket with contrast sheepskin collar in an easier-to-wear woven fabric. Gant’s aviator, in a soft wool-blend with recycled synthetic padding, is a boxier fit, so is great for shorter men like myself, while Hilfiger’s, in virgin wool, features a detachable shearling collar, so that it can also double up as a more formal-looking bomber jacket. Lee Jeans and Mr P have pushed the envelope further by using check. Lee’s 191J model has been reworked in an outdoorsy blanket-style plaid; Mr P’s is more refined in an elegant Prince of Wales pattern. American Vintage’s Akocity aviator is also a bit of a maverick. Made from a polyamide fabric, so it’s super-light in weight, it has a very modern edge and can be worn with a heavy-knit or layered under an overcoat. As strange as it may sound, the high street is actually the best place to find truer representations of the original pilot’s coat. Zara has a fantastic selection, including one that has Biggles written all over it (not literally) in double-faced faux-leather and completely lined in faux-sheepskin. Spanish retailer Mango has one in chocolate faux-sheepskin with a tone-on-tone collar, and another in classic black that works across the casual/smart divide. So is it age-appropriate for midlifers? Well, like most things, it’s all about context. In other words, don’t channel your inner Tom Cruise if your Top Gun days are behind you. But Springsteen has spoken, and who wants to argue with the Boss? Eight great aviators
Ten years ago this month I deployed to Afghanistan on my last operational tour as a British army officer. Nothing on that tour was any more dangerous or troubling than anything else I experienced in my career, but even after a decade it still sticks out as one of the most intense periods of my life. I left the army five years after Operation Herrick 13. Transitioning back to civilian life has not been without its difficulties. Home life was fine, as was becoming a father, but work felt flat and directionless. I struggled not to react to behaviour and values at odds with those of the close-knit teams I was used to in the army. I eventually spoke to a counsellor. It seems that after 23 years in the army I am very drawn to risk, adrenaline and conflict. Perfect for a defence correspondent, or a nightmare for an editor? Am I missing the single-minded focus of operations? Are the characteristics that enabled me to thrive in the military utterly incompatible with civilian life? I thought I’d better ask those that were in Afghanistan at the same time as me.
Dear A&E;, I want to have sex with other women. My wife and I haven’t shared a bed in over a decade. For years our lack of sex life didn’t bother me much, but a few years ago, after a health scare, I lost weight (9st) and I’ve found myself being attracted to women everywhere I go; they seem to notice me too – it’s all I think about. I have tried to suppress this for so long, but now I am ready to act on it. Although I love my wife, our marriage is over. But my son as good as told me that if I left her I wouldn’t see the grandchildren. — Hot under the collar Dear Hot, Well, this is all new for you, isn’t it? All this fitness and fantasy. New and clearly bewildering. Our first thought, upon reading your letter, was that this isn’t really about sex. The sexy stuff – the noticing women and wanting to press go on that – feels like a by-product of the journey you are on. This is about a whole life: family, identity and evolution. We all change, Hot. We are built to grow and to thrive. But it’s what we do with that change, isn’t it? And your own personal development has come on the back of huge physical change. Your clothes no longer fit and it feels as though your life no longer fits. So what now? You sound like a dear and honest soul with a tendency towards anxiety, and we don’t believe that an affair or series of liaisons would suit you very well. An affair would muddy the waters and make everything a bit grubby: our feeling is that it’s time to look at reshaping your life the way you’ve reshaped yourself. You can sense the possibilities that lie just over the hill. Now is the time to make sure that your sense of self is as muscular as your new-found quads. ‘Our’ lack of sex drive has become ‘her’ lack of sex drive. So as you’ve been charging around getting healthy and horny, she’s been living ‘our’ life. The life you both signed up to. Have you – gently – talked to her about your change in perspective? Or have you just written her off and assumed that she is content? Assume nothing. She may surprise you. Do not accept that your marriage is over without putting in the work. Therapy will help to open up a dialogue and bring her up to speed on your process. It is possible that therapy could lead to a rekindling, or at least an understanding. Even if therapy only helps formulate an exit strategy, it will still facilitate some transparency. Lies (even by omission) and a refusal to communicate act as a fertiliser for hurt further down the line. Which brings us to your son. Listen, children are precious and wield an almost sinister amount of power over us, but it is inappropriate for them to blackmail us. Bad for them because they become falsely empowered, and bad for us because it is not a wholehearted way to go about a decision-making process. Your transformation might be uncomfortable for those around you. Armchair Dad has morphed into Dynamic Dad, and if your son is making these noises then the disconnect between old Dad and new Dad must be stark. Children do not react very well when it comes to their parents having alternative lives or shifting identities because, so often and well into adulthood, they define themselves by kicking against us and our choices. It sounds as though everything he says is based on his perspective in terms of his family. Trouble is, these treasured children whom we love so are the very epitome of the unreliable witness and unhelpful counsel. They are too invested. And friends can go wonky as well: some because they take sides; others because they get the fear that divorce is infectious. A few will opt out; others will stay close – you will be able to handle it. Hold your horses, Hot. Talk to your wife. Have the difficult conversations because, if you are to embark on a new life, why not ground it in honesty? You look like the man you wanted to be; now act like the man you want to be. Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on email@example.com All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally. Read more from The Midults: My husband announced he's gay. Was our marriage a lie? Why do I always date men who need fixing?
Wherever Alistair Livingstone goes in Ipswich, he encounters a memory. Down one street, a murder. Round the corner, a house fire. Up the road, a bank robbery. Over 18 years as a policeman in the Suffolk town, he saw just about everything. Now, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot unsee everything. We meet in Ipswich’s leafier side, at a genteel sports club Livingstone has been a member of for most of his life. Surely, I say as we settle at a table outside, nothing around here haunts him? “The death of a baby,” he says, instantly, “at a house just a minute away. I cannot drive down that road without thinking about it. It doesn’t traumatise me, but it’s just a reminder.” Livingtone, 38, is no longer a policeman. He works at a local secondary school – his old school, in fact – as a pastoral officer, guiding troubled students through the choppy waters of adolescence, with the ultimate aim of nudging them towards a life of success and fulfilment, rather than falling through the cracks. Quite a lot of them, he says, have Googled him. “They say, ‘Oh, sir, you were a policeman weren’t you!’” he says, with a smile. But search online for Livingstone and you quickly find he wasn’t just any old bobby, he was, variously, “The Supercop”, “Robocop”, and “Britain’s most efficient police officer.” Those monikers were born in the late 2000s, when Livingstone – then a 27-year-old response sergeant with Suffolk Police – made headlines for clocking up over 1000 arrests in 18 months. It equated to 1.4 per day. The yearly average for a police officer, those breathless press reports noted, was just nine.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “electric or wet shave, which is better?”. Technological evolution means they are now on a fairly level playing field, so it’s down to personal preference. Bulldog Skincare’s latest model, with recycled glass handle, tempered steel blades and pivoting head, takes sustainable design and a close-shave to a new level. Sharper blades are the focus of Harry’s new razors, updated with brighter-coloured handles and plastic-free packaging. Double-edge safety razors, which offer greater trimming precision than a cartridge razor, are making a comeback. Gillette’s new heritage-inspired shaving line, King C, has a great one, as do Aesop, Thomas Clipper and Wilkinson Sword, whose Classic model combines elegant Mad Men style with PTE-coated blades that reduce friction. Bolin Webb uses automotive-spray colours for its aerodynamically designed handles, and utilises a Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide blade. Bridging the divide between wet and hi-tech electric shaves is the GilletteLabs heated razor, which has a warming bar with adjustable temperatures. Braun, Philips, Remington and Wahl own the electric-shaving sector. Wahl’s LifeProof shaver with advanced lithium power is reasonably priced and almost indestructible. Remington’s Ultimate Series R9 is an effective rotary-headed device with multidirectional shave heads to adapt to facial contours, as well as LiftLogic blades. Braun’s Series 6 Wet & Dry shaver is a safe bet if you suffer with irritation. In my opinion, the “Rolls-Royce” of electric shavers is the Philips S9000 Prestige, a rotary-headed tool with nanotech blades and beard-adapt sensor (which checks hair density 15 times a second and adjusts accordingly). Sharp practice
For depressing reasons that I won’t go into but you can probably guess, I recently moved from a larger house to a smaller house fit for one. I took my ‘almost-too-large-but-I-think- I-get-away-with-it-actually- no-I-probably-don’t-it-just-looks-silly’ telly with me, and now it looks like I’ve smuggled an IMAX into my caravan-size living room. The TV is the first thing you see when you enter through the front door. It’s probably the first thing you see when you enter the street if I have my curtains open. And it’s certainly the first thing guests – I’ve had a few – remark on. Apparently it’s acceptable in polite society to tell the owner of a piece of furniture that it’s “ridiculous”, so long as that piece of furniture is my TV. And it is ridiculous. Firstly in terms of positioning. There’s no natural slot for it, so it lives at a kind of rude angle, jutting out between two rooms (or open plan areas), looking as foolish and thuggish as a giant beanbag at a dinner table. And secondly, it simply shows things too big. I had Eastenders on once and Phil Mitchell’s head was twice the size of mine, which is terrifying when you live alone. Horror films are a no go now: watch The Shining on my monolith and it’s like the living room is actually filling with blood. At least I’m not alone. According to a new report by Which?, decent quality small TVs are vanishingly rare – and one possible explanation is that manufacturers concentrate their resources on bigger screens, because that’s where the demand is. It used to be considered a bit garish, even uncouth, to have a giant TV dominating a room; now, we adore them so much we mount them proudly above our mantelpieces. What happened to the great British sense of understatement? (Actually, it’s not completely dead. In many of the estate agent photos of houses I saw round here, a telly didn’t feature at all. It was just a lot of living rooms with sofas facing each other. Either people like having a chat in Cambridge, or they have elaborate systems of ropes and pulleys that hide their plasma stations. I think I can guess which.)
Russell Tovey is considering what kind of ghost he might like to come back as. He looks around the empty London hotel bar where we’ve met – prior to Tier 2 restrictions – for some inspiration. “I definitely wouldn’t want to haunt anyone,” he says. “I want to be a nice energy in the universe, for people having a bad time. An angel, I guess.” He’s settled. “Yeah, I’ll come back as an angel.” It’s difficult to imagine Tovey, 38, as anything other than a benevolent spirit. In person he’s generous and funny, and on screen, whatever the project – from History Boys to Him & Her, Gavin and Stacey to Years and Years – he tends to play the most likeable, straightforwardly decent bloke in it. Even his werewolf in supernatural drama Being Human was somebody you’d have gone for a pint with. It’s part of the reason why ITV’s new thriller, The Sister, is quite so unsettling. Written by Luther’s Neil Cross, Tovey plays Nathan, a friendly married man who works for a greetings card company (so far, so Tovey). His life is upended when a creepy old acquaintance, a paranormal investigator named Bob (Bertie Carvel) turns up in the rain to inform him that the local woods are being dug up by developers and so, um, they might want to move the… you know. I won’t spoil anything else, but will just add that Nathan’s sister-in-law disappeared seven years earlier and no body was ever found.
Perhaps it’s a — perfectly understandable — craving for comfort in the teeth of a crisis. Perhaps it’s the fact that many of us, also perfectly understandably, are carrying a few extra pounds these days, given the latest government advice to never, ever, be farther than two metres from your biscuit tin, or risk imminent expiration. (I’ve got that right, haven’t I? Or is the advice to never, ever approach the biscuit tin? So difficult to keep these things straight.) Perhaps it’s nothing more than the cyclical nature of fashion, which dictates that what goes out must surely come in again. Yes, even the cardigan. Whatever the reason, the cardigan is back, in multiple styles and colours and patterns and fabrics. Evidence: Mr Porter, the smart men’s online outfitter, had 153 different cardigans for sale on the day I visited in September, from classic conservative (John Smedley’s merino wool in midnight blue, £150) to bracing contemporary (Prada’s mohair blend in shocking pink, £585) to oligarch fabulous (Gucci’s intarsia wool and alpaca blend, £4,300). And before you throw this publication at your own fluffy quadruped in an alpaca-induced rage, M&S; does a nice lambswool number for £39.50. Those who have for decades preferred their knitwear with buttons will wonder that the cardigan ever went away. The rest of us will marvel that an item more often associated with cosy middle age, like secateurs or toast racks, than with the catwalks of Paris and Milan, could be considered the pinnacle of twenty-first century chic. To avoid that “en-route-to-the-allotment” look (even if you are, in fact, en route to the allotment), my tip is to dress your cardigan up rather than down. Wear it over a button-down Oxford shirt and under a corduroy blazer, or with a smart Sunspel T-shirt and crisp selvage denim jeans, to signal your savoir faire. In short, think Percy Thrower, a man who always dressed up, even for pruning. Let’s not mince words here. The cardigan has never been a sexy item. It is more likely to have a moist hankie stuffed up its sleeve than a rippling set of biceps. That bright red stain on its collar? No, not lipstick: yesterday’s tomato soup. That fraying patch at the elbow comes not from strenuous carpet-based coupling, but resting one’s arm on the edge of the table while playing bridge. The most famous cardigan wearer I can think of is, or was, Val Doonican, the late Irish crooner. (Look him up if you’re under 40.) Unlike Val, I have never owned a wide variety of cardigans. But some years ago I had a handsome, shawl collar, cable knit number from Polo Ralph Lauren. It was my trusty companion for many a postprandial snooze in front of Sunday Grandstand. And, what with the crisis and the extra pounds and the confusing advice around biscuits, I’d quite like another. Another cardigan, that is. Not another biscuit. Although come to mention it… Alex Bilmes is editor in chief of Esquire Six of the best cardigans for men
When Mark Ormrod was told he was going to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he was crushed. In 2007, he was a 24-year-old Royal Marine on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device that tore off both his legs above the knee and his right arm above the elbow. When the dust cloud cleared to reveal his injuries, Ormrod’s first thought was: “What a prick… you’re supposed to be an elite soldier and you’ve just been beaten by a lump of metal in the ground.” He blacked out as the helicopter was evacuating him, and his fellow marines thought he had died. In hospital, the man who had stood 6ft 2in and weighed a lean 16 stone was forced to face the reality of a very different life ahead. Ormrod made a decision for the sake of his family and for all the Royal Marine “brothers” who evacuated him from that dusty battlefield: he was going to walk again. But more than that, he was determined that his life would not be defined by what had been taken away from him. He decided to find out exactly how far he could push his battle-torn body. Quite far, it turns out. The UK’s first triple-amputee to survive the Afghanistan conflict, Ormrod ditched the wheelchair in 2009, learning to walk with state-of-the-art prosthetics. He has since won medals at the Invictus games, including gold in the 50 metres breast-stroke, after stepping in at the last minute – a feat that earned him the Exceptional Performance Award and lead to Prince Harry calling him “Superman”.
There’s a section of the sentient, adult population who have self-reported some new symptoms lately: a racing heart; a weakness in the knees; a predilection for full-bodied eyebrows and long, beguiling eyelashes. Those eyelashes… Wait, where were we? Oh yes: Andy Burnham, a self-styled King of the North; defender of his land; brave advocate for “people too often forgotten by those in power”; wearer of quite nice glasses; owner of beautifully coiffed hair. The list goes on… OK, you might not completely agree. But it’s hard to ignore the number of women suddenly falling for his easy charm across the political spectrum. Rarely does a politician bubble up who inspires such warm feelings on opposing sides and becomes known by his first name only – think Boris. And now Andy.
It was the height of the Swinging Sixties and you could say I was quite infamous. From 1967 through to ’69, I arrested a series of celebrities on drug-possession charges, including Dusty Springfield, Brian Jones and George Harrison. I was 32, a detective sergeant heading up a drugs squad and always in the papers. They called me a zealot who was ‘harassing the music world’, and stars loved to hate me. People said I was ‘Semolina Pilchard’ in the Beatles’ song I Am the Walrus, and that I was the inspiration for the Monty Python character ‘Spiny Norman’. But the media at the time got so many things wrong and now, at 85, I have written a book to set the record straight. My most famous raid was arresting John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were living in Ringo Starr’s old flat in Montague Square, London, where Jimi Hendrix had been staying. I had several tip-offs that Lennon was using cannabis, but I took my time to get a warrant. Unbeknown to me they’d already been tipped off by the Daily Mirror a few weeks before. That day, I took five coppers and a police dog with me (which was standard for a bust). It was lunchtime when we arrived and they were still in bed. I put on the special postman’s hat I wore for raids, knocked on the door and called out, ‘Parcel for Mr Lennon!’. Of course, they realised who I was and were reluctant to let us in at first, so it took a bit of banter and some persuasion at the door before they opened it (both were stark naked). We took the dog around and found some cannabis resin in an old binocular case. We took them to Paddington Police Station to charge them – the press were already all over the place (a neighbour had rung them when they saw us at the flat). I certainly didn’t get Lennon to sign an album cover, like the papers said I did. The only thing he signed was the charge sheet and we left on good terms. There was a bit of fallout though. Some clown in the House of Commons stood up and asked, ‘What right did the police have to do this?’, and, ‘Shouldn’t they have informed Lennon they were coming?’. So I had to do a report for the then Home Secretary Jim Callaghan, justifying what we’d done, which left me speechless. We arrested eight celebrities in all. People accused me of doing it for publicity, when actually we had been instructed by the Home Office. They wanted to set an example by arresting famous people, but I think all it did was encourage young people to use more drugs. We weren’t deliberately targeting anyone, we arrested a long list of names, and famous people just happened to be among them. Lennon pleaded guilty and was fined £150. One result of his arrest was that he couldn’t go to the States, but it was OK in the end. In fact, we got quite friendly. He used to send me postcards from abroad, saying things like, ‘I’m in Japan, you can’t bust me here, ha, ha!’. His lawyers even sent us a case of brandy and gave me two signed album covers. Lennon was one of the nicest men I met, and he was the one who eventually changed my mind about everything. He had a life I envied in so many ways – all love and peace. He said, ‘If I want to smoke a joint that’s my choice, my body and nobody’s got a right to stop me.’ For that reason I turned my views. I sat down with my team and agreed there was no point running around 24 hours a day busting people over a joint. To make a difference we needed to go after the big boys, the dealers, and that’s what we did. Being on the drug squad was a tough old game. Five years later, I was convicted of perjury and served four years in prison. If you ask me, I was set up by the system. But that’s a whole other story… —As told to Lucy Dunn. Bent Coppers: The Story of the Man Who Arrested John Lennon, George Harrison and Brian Jones, by Norman Pilcher, is out now (Clink Street Publishing, £9.99) Norman has also signed 250 hard backs of Bent Coppers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy
It is a fact universally acknowledged that the sanity of a man even as well-grounded as Alan Partridge was tested to its limits by spending 28 consecutive weeks in Linton Travel Tavern. Although I have not yet reached that milestone, I can happily report that the 26 weeks I have spent watching Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007) once a week every week have had, if anything, a positive effect on my mental well-being. When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced six months ago, I immediately felt my grip on the passage of time being shaken loose. The usual landmarks by which I navigated my way through the week (Evensong at St Giles’ on Sunday, pub quiz at the Old Bookbinders on Tuesday, lunchtime concert in St Hilda’s on Wednesday, etc) vanished, and ahead of me lay a procession of undifferentiated days and nights. In order to take back control, my wife and I set a plan in action to restore a sense of order to our lives. Taking inspiration from a favourite podcast, The Worst Idea of All Time hosted by two New Zealand comedians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, we decided to set ourselves the task of watching the same film every Monday to create a sense of order in our lives, and to see how our appreciation of the picture developed. Choosing the film wasn’t actually too difficult. We knew that it had to be a film we would not regret being unable to watch ever again once the experiment was over (the prediction that it would ruin the film has proved unerringly accurate), and we decided it ought to be part of a series only one of us was familiar with (in order to gauge different reactions to motifs and to see how it functioned as a standalone film). As we ran through the various possibilities, my wife (who is very keen not be associated with this project by name) was intrigued by my attempt to summarize the plot of Die Another Day – how, we reasoned, could we go wrong with a film containing an invisible car, John Cleese, a chase through a melting ice palace and a machine that can metamorphose a taekwondo star into the youngest son of Dame Maggie Smith? On the grounds that if you are going to do something unbelievably stupid you should at least do it properly, we set ourselves the rules of watching the film without being distracted by our phones, of keeping an eye out each week for an extra who was really outdoing themselves, and to identify a moment in the film that sparked some modicum of joy in us (this last part has grown trickier as the weeks have rolled on).