19 Nov

Today - 19th November, is International Men's Day. It was news to me, I have to say, and I confess, I thought it was a Facebook wind-up. However closer investigation proved it to be true.

International Women's Day never passes me by - March 8th is my late mother's birthday and I'm not going to forget that! And I have seen it gather pace and popularity as the years have gone by, seen women climb to more prominent positions, and  receive recognition, what every they choose to do in life - if the glass ceiling hasn't shattered, it's certainly missing a few panes. But I've also become aware of a growing number of people who feel we no longer need such a day, and those who have said with a huff, "When's International Men's day then?" Well, here it is.

Not being one to live in ignorance, I have investigated International Men's Day. The opening page of it's website had me at 1st sight, with it's banner stating:

"International Men’s Day celebrates worldwide the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities. We highlight positive role models and raise awareness of men’s well-being. Our theme for 2023 is “ZERO MALE SUICIDE”. Together we can stop male suicide."

I like that. As we discussed last week on Remembrance Sunday - there are an appalling number of veterans of both sexes, taking their own lives but the men's numbers  are particularly bad. If that alone is the aim of International Men's Day - it gets my vote. But there is more to it than that and I am embarrassed to admit that the "day" has been around since 1999! Take a look at the website www.internationalmensday.com if you want to know more.  

As with many of us, my earliest and most influential man in my life was my dad. In that I know I was exceptionally lucky. A gentle, classical music-loving, avid reader, a  maths teacher by profession, a Church of England lay minister by choice, who dressed in shorts from the 1st day of the summer holidays - long before it was fashionable and despite the cries of his ungrateful of spring "Dad! You're not going out like that?" Role reversal! Dad taught me to read, when Dyslexia made me cry with frustration, by choosing stories I couldn't resist and reading them with me - he doing one sentence and I the next. He was advised to read me Enid Blyton - as she always used the same words. He did, without complaint, but we both preferred Arthur Ransom's Swallows and Amazons, CS Lewis' Narnia and of course, JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit - long before Hollywood heard of them. There were long Sunday afternoon walks too and we would go off for camping weekends in his beloved but elderly and unreliable Bedford Dormobile - not if, but when we would breakdown being part of the adventure. We knew every RAC patrolman in Somerset, who would pull up by the stricken "van" and greet him with a cheerful, "Hello, Tom - what seems to be the trouble this time?" He sang in the church choir and Barber Shop Quartet, acted and operated the lights at the local theatre and spent night shifts at a local homeless shelter, where he never had any problems even with the most difficult of customers. We lost him far too early  - at 71 - when I was in my early 20's  and my mantra is still "What would Dad do?" 

I'm fortunate to also have a wonderful bother, and a husband who had a hard at to follow. But despite at 1st seeming to be the last people to get on, husband and dad had a wonderful relationship. When he retired, Dad bought himself a motorbike - a 250cc Honda  - my husband aided and abetted him. Husband, like dad, is endlessly patient with me, my mad schemes and seemingly impossible ambition, encouraging me to "have a go and see" - whether it's riding that motorbike or going for another promotion. We have a "big" wedding anniversary coming up this year but for us it won't be a candle-lit meal at a restaurant - can't let the cat completely out of the bag but a helicopter  will be involved. I am really fortunate to have fallen in love with a motorbike outside the local pub, and finding my sole-mate was the owner of it. Sorry  - no pictures of the husband - he doesn't do photographs!

My career was spent in a man-dominated profession and I had both male and female "bosses". With one notable exception, I much preferred the men - again, I was fortunate to fall in with a generation who were accepting of women in senior role. Now I have retired and Forces Veterans Afloat came about, I am fortunate to have again got in with a truly decent bunch of blokes. Chaps - take a bow.

As you'll know, this whole thing came about through a post by Andy Flint  - asking if people would help restore a boat for a homeless person. You probably know the rest, but if you don't, it's all recorded in the early blog, "No-one will give you a boat, mate" - which Andy was memorably told, and ignored! He's a real people person, with a disarming way of getting people to donate things without even realising he's doing it - just look at all the boats we are now working on! The owner of a GRP boat, on which he lives, he fell in love with our 70ft steel and wooden flagship NB Daisy and he's bent over backwards so we can keep and restore her. At times she's nearly broken him, but he stays cheerful through it all. His boundless enthusiasm and cheerful demeanour is a tonic and when my Whatsapp rings and tells me it's Andy Flint, I always smile. No surprise that when he came across a miss-treated puppy, he rescued it - "Flinty" is now the FVA mascot. He's a great co-chairman  and we at FVA are fortunate he's stuck with it when most would have walked away. 

On the far right of this picture is our Graham. Graham lives near Andy in Nottingham and got involved with FVA in it's earliest days, helping fetch the 1st boats we were donated and working on them.  He's "adopted" Capricorn as his pet project. She needs a lot of work and Graham is steadily plodding away at her, little bit, by little bit. He's a mine of information about boats and engineering but game to learn new things. We were donated a welder. I had call to see if I could get it to Pete (more of Pete to come) who would get it to Graham and the boats at Sawley. "Didn't realise Graham  could weld?" I said to Pete. Pete grinned - "He can't  - yet!" Not in to social media - a picture of the newly restored fire on Capricorn, Graham's feet and a whole load of foil-wrapped baked spuds, still holds the record for our largest number of likes on Facebook!

And last but absolutely not least, there's Pete. One of the 1st people to volunteer his services and support to FVA, Pete is a true sailor, who has forgotten more about boats than the rest of us have ever known, all put together. A naval career behind him, he now runs  the excellent Ballinger Towage and Steerage, with his lovely tug NB Kinver. When we need a boat checked out or moved, Pete's our man. He fits in moving boats we are donated with his bread and butter work, the only one of us not daunted by the thought of moving our 70ft Daisy, was Pete. To watch him manoeuvre an powerless Daisy, backwards down 3 locks and in to a narrow marina entrance, was  a masterclass in anticipation, knowledge and unflappability. We watchers were all sure there was no way Daisy wasn't going to wedge in the entrance - fortunately Pete had no doubts and in she went, as smoothly as a well oiled machine. None of us has the confidence and skill to brave the river Severn on Amber, when we desperately needed to move a boat - but Pete and Kinver did it, narrowly making it off the river at Diglis just as the red boards went up. Pete did admit he'd had easier trips. Everything I know about locks, I first learned by helping Pete move Daisy and he's the 1st person I go to with a stupid question, which he answers with commendable patience, tempered with a bit of sailors wit, as he deals with a soldier on a boat! Pete's another not fond of the camera but here's a rare shot of the bearded Pete, at the end of his 1st FVA job - and he's still coming back for more!

So take a bow, chaps and know you're appreciated - not just on International Men's Day, but every day and FVA wouldn't exist without you.

Lizzie Lane


The Forces Veteran's Afloat Charitable Trust

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