While living in the rural Alpujarra, I’m frequently reminded of a chapter in the excellent book, ‘Ghosts of Spain’ by Giles Tremlett, in which he discusses “men and children first”.
Harking back to the Titanic, Joseph Bruce Ismay, former owner of the White Star Line, allowed himself to be rescued from the sinking ship ahead of his passengers. Allegedly, women and children were left on deck while he commandeered a lifeboat for himself. Ismay subsequently lived as a recluse, thanks the public disgrace caused by this lily-livered behaviour. In rural Spain, it is the norm to leave women and children behind while the men do as they please. I’m really not sure what would occur in the case of a Titanic incident and I wouldn’t like to see.
Here, men’s club culture prevails. I’ve affectionately named a whole demographic and its behaviour “Club Hombre”. People have approached me at parties and asked, “what is Club Hombre”? So, let me explain…
Club Hombre isn’t – as a friend has suggested – a noun alluding to a particular individual. Rather, it’s a proper noun for a collection of men, of macho disposition, who spend maximum time with male friends engaging in manly pursuits. Hence, a man can be “a member of Club Hombre”. Club Hombre can also be used as an adjective, as in “that behaviour is very Club Hombre” – perhaps if they bang their fists on the bar to request another drink or congregate in a group eating ‘choto’ (baby goat).
Not all men are Club Hombre members, but all Club Hombre members are men. It can be tricky to identify a member by appearance only, but there are determining factors.
Typically, members of Club Hombre like to do each other favours. No favour is too great! It’s fine to tend the goats of male friends or family who are indisposed, as an unpaid job, even if the herd is riddled with several thousand fleas. Never mind if the fleas piggyback trouser legs and make your sofa their new home!
However, if a woman – sometimes referred to as “la hembra” (“the mare”) – asks for a small favour, such as “can you fix the broken shower rail” or “can you pick me up from the village bar”, this elicits a different reaction. It is “una molestia” (disturbance) and an unacceptable distraction from vital activities, such as drinking beer while watching TV programmes about bulls. The Club Hombre member will then stride around muttering “me cago en dios” (look it up for yourself) before stomping off to roll a cigarette.
Another feature of Club Hombre is the distinctive social gatherings. In the great tradition of the Hellfire Club, Rotary Club or Freemasons, secret society must be maintained. The problem is that Club Hombre thinks its meetings are clandestine, and that “las hembras” don’t realise the men are getting drunk together on someone’s ‘campo’ (land).
Sometimes, the “hembras” will try to track down Club Hombre by mobile phone. At this point, the male in question will slur that he is “working”, while his friends clank beer glasses and snigger in the background. The men will then turn off their phones for the rest of the day or, at very least, until they have set off home.
Although she might be discouraged from attending ‘secret’ gatherings, “la hembra” is a handy designated driver for fiestas and dinner parties. While waiting for the men to finish drinking, if she’s lucky, there might be some discarded plates and beer glasses to wash up. Anyhing to make time pass while the second bottle of J&B whisky makes a possibly unwise appearance.
Club Hombre members who aren’t married – or are separated/divorced – love their mothers and will live in the family home well into their 50s. ‘Casa Mama’ is a place to avoid causing “molestias”, except that Mother is expected to wash the underpants and socks of her adult son, no matter how disgusting these personal items might be! Turning on the washing machine is a task that no self-respecting Club Hombre member claims to – or wants – to understand.
The Club Hombre culture is widespread but it doesn’t encompass everybody. Some males of all ages say they share household tasks and will even iron clothes and make beds. If you’re lucky, they might make your kids a packed lunch (anecdotal example!). Maybe some of them do household tasks quietly and don’t admit it to their drinking buddies. Or they avoid the bar, where such behaviours stray from the prevailing norm. In which case, they are part of a slightly different culture that might include something healthy, such as mountain biking or hiking on a weekend, rather than, for example, drinking.
More on Club Hombre will be coming in future postings, by popular demand…