A couple of weeks back, I was watching one of my sons play soccer (that’s about a third of my life). It was a gorgeous autumnal morning, one which Sydney is very good at providing. As we went 4 nil down (the oppo were very good) my phone rang. Well actually my portable smart device shrilled that a face time call was in the offing. I moved away from the glaring parents to seek a quiet corner of this foreign field.
It was my bestie calling. Nothing strange in that, except he is in the UK and I was at the time in the shadow of Belmore football ground, Canterbury. The first things which sprung to mind were: isn’t technology amazing, I’m about to have a face to face chat with someone who is currently sitting in a cottage buried in the Sussex countryside of the UK and I bet he’s pissed – my reasoning was that it was going to be about midnight there on a Saturday night.
Of course, I was right. It was my best mate Ollie and my other best mate, Bert, who is also my big-middle brother. They’d had a few beers but had a solid reason – England had won the six nations Rugby tournament with a grand slam. There’s nothing to swell an Englishmen’s national pride more than beating the Scots, Irish, Welsh and French in a very aggressive sport. The only exception would be beating Australia at anything, and I mean anything (one for the wife there).
Sorry, I digress. We had a lovely sober/pissed conversation for about 15 minutes and then signed off – me, to try and console my son (the oppo were very good, did I mention that already) and them, to bed and a winter’s hangover. During the conversation, Ols demanded/requested (depending on how you recall the conversation) that I mention him in my next blog – a promise I have now kept (you can thank me later mate). The conversation also got me thinking about mates and their importance, particularly to men.
I always remember, when the misses and I lived in the UK, she would only speak to her best and dearest friend (who lives in the state of Victoria, Australia) 2 maybe 3 times a year. I was shocked. I used to lambast her for being such a friend slacker. Her counter argument, and I think women have understood this for a long-time, is that they don’t need the validation of a daily/weekly phone call to maintain the friend relationship. Their friendship is so strong and secure that the busy lives they lead means that when they do find the time to breathe and have a good yarn are cherished and fulfilling moments. They are not just idle chit-chat and mundanity. I now understand this. Technology has afforded me/us the means to stay in-touch but not in each other’s pockets. I really enjoy those chats – they are one on one, face to face. It is productive and intimate.
So while I maintain contact with my friends in the UK (love you guys), that doesn’t fulfil the other requirement of friendship that men need – guy time. There is plenty of research done by charities like CALM and Movember, which shows that men, particularly married family man, struggle to maintain old friendships and make new ones which can lead to loneliness and sadly, all too often, Suicide. There are several reasons for this: work and family being the obvious blockers, but also just losing the skill to start that conversation and reach out. My head doctor, always emphasises the importance of having friends and a life outside of work and family.
Being a natural introvert (I knew I was a natural at something), I can’t abide small talk and banal chit-chat, so this can be a problem. It stops me from making instant friends (a skill my beloved seems remarkably good at), I need time. Luckily, and I thank my kids for this, through pre-school socials and the sporting field I have cultivated a group of mates who have similar interests, same puerile banter and living circumstances. Its taken time and I wouldn’t say that I have the same relationship I enjoy with Ols and Bert (yet), but I know I could call them up for a beer, opera and if need be, reach out. It has taken me sometime to realise the importance of having bloke mates. I thought my lifelong pals back in the UK would be enough. It isn’t. Everyone needs social interaction, everyone needs to move away from the couch and the family. Sometimes it’s a struggle, the can’t be arsed factor, but it’s an effort worth making. Australian men of yester year realised its importance, otherwise they wouldn’t have murdered the English language to give us the delightful noun – mateship.