Guest Blog

Can We Talk by Toby Butler

Men in the United Kingdom face many difficulties, but also many opportunities. Gone are the days where men are pigeon holed into acting a certain way, due to the diversity of belief and culture on our shores. For example, it has become more socially acceptable for Dads to be stay at home parents, particularly within the predominantly white middle class, gone are the days where single stereotypes fully dominate, for example you can be a poet and a huge football fan, and long gone are the days that a majority of men open up willingly to matters of the heart, if this were ever true.
What does exist clearly are big repeated messages, such as to be masculine is to have control and power in whatever context. I was made redundant recently, and it was hard for many reasons, but the primary one was that another person had control over what happened to me. I was helpless however good I was at the job. I had no power, no control, and that challenged my own perception of masculinity. I want to provide for my family. I want to say I am successful down the pub. I want to feel like I have power in a situation. These feelings are not bad in themselves, but learning to channel and nurture them well is essential. I know my temper well enough that I must speak how I feel or the steam train comes quick. Often that steam train will be directed at those who love me mosI have many different types of male friends. Some atheists, some fire-breathing Christians, some agnostics, some lower-middle class, some very wealthy and some very middle class. Whatever label one assigns to a friend, there have always been three defining factors when considering someone a close friend or not. Openness, vulnerability and honesty. I struggle to act out these factors sometimes, and I have certainly spent swathes of my existence hidden. For example, I have always struggled with the temptations of porn, with gossip and with not believing in myself. This is a side I am very good at shoving down the sofa, even though it manifests in different ways, such as running away from a challenge, lustful thoughts and speaking ill of others. I wrote the song called ‘Can We Talk’  for the Dwell Project, which is a phenomenal charity preventing domestic violence against women. (Watch this video to hear it.) 

 

 

As much as my instinct would be to give every woman a good-hearted terminator security guard, I sense that peace and transparency always wins, in every occasion, even if it comes with short-term costs. Our judicial system is set up in this way. If a murderer pleads guilty, then the charges are less. If the murderer shows signs of remorse, this is also taken into consideration. I write and ‘spit’ poetry intending to connect to the heart of an individual, and usually in the process get changed myself, as I want to be an example of a transparent heart. Here is a lyric from the single:

We know its pride when men don’t talk 

We tell the world we feel cheese when we‘re just chalk 

Inner voice speaks to us plus we trust thoughts 

Suicide rates through the roof chimney falls off

Men must talk.
When we speak out how we feel, it breaks an inner chain of cold steel silence. The darkness wants us hidden, whereas freedom calls for us to speak out! Silence always loses; a voice always triumphs, even in the shadows. Talking to each other gives a window for us to redeem ourselves through our honesty. Here are a few more lyrics from the track:

Company will define you 

Intimacy/ into me see/ come on shine through

You once desired truth/but now you hire suits

Pouring gasoline on your dreams like they fire proof

The company we keep can easily define us, and there is no worse company than only ourselves. Men are made to be connected to reality, we are designed from our core outwards to be alive to others and we were created for much more than staring at screens and smacking other beings. There is such healing in telling others what is going on in our hearts. Truth will set you free. My wife knows me better than anyone, and she knows my struggles left, right and centre, but the incredible thing is, when she sees me prevail over my inner pain she can see the work of victorious light shining through me. This in turn gives her permission to do the same, and vice versa. Final piece of lyric:

The saddest thing for me is watching all your art go 

Part you, part fake, part half fast show

But I ain’t laughing at your silence as we pass bro

It’s good for men to talk so we can both pen our chart growth

It deeply saddens me that domestic violence is so prevalent in our society. I intend to never abuse or physically hurt my wife, but I know that one of the key ways this will never happen is if I allow male friends into my life. Legends are made from vulnerable men. This doesn’t mean we have to cry and cuddle, but it means I must not lie, and I must be open to what is going on in myself and share vulnerably. Fear is silencing, whereas truth is deafening. It’s time to speak to someone, as they may need to speak to someone too. Play your part in preventing domestic violence, by killing it in yourself. In an age of endless cyber connection, lets make sure our hearts are eternally connected to another, and the fruit will not be Apple’s growth, but Adam’s nourishment and flourishing.
Bless you all
Toby
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The BBQ & the Casserole – Chef Tim Hirst Guest Blog

I wasn’t dreading going home for dinner, but I wasn’t exactly relishing the prospect either. Going to the parents’ for dinner is usually comfort food heaven: proper old school roasts with all the trimmings, or a hearty casserole that hugs you from the inside; & always seconds or even thirds of pudding. But today Dad was cooking!

Tim & the lobster

Mum had broken her arm & so Dad had been drafted into the kitchen. I’m not sure whether he received a guided tour, a health & safety induction, or even a map to the kitchen; but it was certainly unfamiliar territory for my old man. Occasionally, Dad would have to cook for my brothers & I when we were kids & we knew that meant only one thing: baked beans on potato waffles, maybe with some bacon if he was really pushing the boat out. The thought that my dad went nearly sixty years without ever properly cooking somewhat horrifies me. Of course, he was a product of his time. Today’s modern man would never get away with such surreptitious shirking from the stove would he?
It’s certainly true that in the age of celebrity chefs & ubiquitous TV cooking competitions it’s far more normal to see a man in the kitchen. Most fellas can happily knock together a spag bol or chicken fajitas when required. Yet, I’d argue that there’s still a distinct gender division in daily household cooking. This disparity can be represented by two cooking vessels: the barbecue & the casserole.
Men love to barbecue. Every June or July, as soon as the sun promises to keep long evenings warm a very midsummer madness descends & men who have barely buttered a slice of toast all winter are lost within a fug of smoke around the barbecue. Suddenly, cooking becomes a macho, carnivorous activity to be done with a beer in hand. Whilst the sun shines, cooking is a man’s job. What is it about cooking outside over a naked flame that entices man out of his culinary apathy? Is it a primeval instinct, some genetic hardwiring to hunt, make fire & provide; or is it collusion with a long-enduring narrative of power? Man cooks when he wants, when it suits him, when there’s prestige in it. Even as Jamie’s disciples move from the barbecue into the kitchen, climbing the culinary ladder to experiment with beef rending & pad Thai; men still tend to cook to show off. We do the glamour cooking, the Friday night dinner party or the Sunday morning pancakes.
But when it comes to 6pm on a Wednesday evening, in most households, it’s still the woman who knows what’s in the fridge, who throws down her handbag, kicks off her shoes & wanders across to the stove. And sometimes, if the man is lucky, she might pull down the well-worn stoneware casserole & put on a stew. The casserole is slow & unglamorous. There are no flambés. There’s no need for gadgets. The casserole is hearty, nourishing & economical. It will often produce enough for tomorrow as well & it even tastes better the next day. It represents feminine cooking in that it’s no-nonsense, practical & everyday. Whilst our Jamie Oliver inspired men may break out into the kitchen on a Friday night to play Masterchef, it’s largely down to the women to reliably put dinner on the table day in & day out. Despite our pretences to domestic equality, it is often women who do the shopping, plan the meals & run the home.
Research suggests that 8 out of 10 married women do more household chores than their spouse & 70% of all housework done in the homes of cohabiting couples is done by women.
Ironically, the word we have for wisely using what you have & managing the household economy well is husbandry. Wives make better husbands. So what does all this matter anyway? Shouldn’t we be celebrating man’s greater involvement in the kitchen, even if it is limited to weekend glamour cooking? Yes, but it’s not enough. In previous generations women would often stay at home with the arrival of children. It was a logical division of labour for the woman to cook at home whilst the man was out working in paid employment. But now that both men & women often work, why should it still be the woman who comes home to the responsibility of putting dinner on the table? This doesn’t seem fair, and too often it can lead to the preparation of mid-week dinners becoming a laborious chore to be endured or avoided via microwave dinners & take-aways.
If the responsibility for preparing meals was shared, perhaps we would have more time to cook nutritious meals properly & share them around the dinner table. Perhaps us men could take pride in a quick mid-week veg curry that’s tasty, cheap & gives others time to relax after a hard day at work too. The barbecue’s fun, but the casserole is indispensable. Reassuringly, it’s never too late to start. That fateful night at my parents’ house; despite nearly sixty years of kitchen avoidance, my Dad, under the careful tutelage of my Mum, made a dinner that was comforting, nostalgia-inducing & delicious. He brought a casserole to the table. Newsflash! I’ve just spoken to my Dad on the phone. This evening he is cooking, from a step-by-step recipe kit, pork & apple sausages on polenta with a blue cheese sauce. Wow, if only I lived close enough to pop over!

10 Days to Go until Chef Tim Hirst kindly hosts a Dwell Dinner at Fusion Sheffield where we will screen our #NametheAbuse videos.

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