Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

I feel sorry for Liam Fox and all these friendless men

If I knew Dave and Angela Dawes, who won £101m on the lottery last week, I'd be hoping I was one of their chums. The couple plan to give 20 of their best friends £1m each - a generous gesture that can only end in recriminations.

From planning birthday parties to inviting people round for a meal, it's so easy to offend mates by ranking them in any kind of pecking order. Once, a friend invited 40 people to a sit-down meal for his 40th and all I got was a request to turn up for the dancing afterwards. I've never spoken to him since.

Stories soon surfaced in the tabloids about Dave and Angela's previous lives (both have been married before). I suggest they make anyone who accepts a million sign a legally binding pledge to keep their mouth shut.

We're constantly being told that modern society is full of lonely singletons; that we have fewer friends than previous generations. Instead of chatting face-to-face, we e-mail, tweet or text.

A shocking number say they have no close friends at all, just acquaintances. Many people over 65, who live alone, say they have no friends at all.

We live in an age of over-communication alongside extreme isolation. Anyone who uses social networking sites can boast of hundreds of cyberpals, but that doesn't count in my book.

True friends are the ones that actually turn up in the flesh when you need assistance - and the Dawes seem to have adopted that as their yardstick.

The Blairs recently gave an 80th birthday party for Tony Booth, Cherie's dad, and didn't bother to invite his daughter, Lauren. His wife said "he can't stand her", or words to that effect, which just goes to show that families are often more trouble than friends.

Middle-aged men are the people (apart from the elderly) who really don't have many friends.

Women carefully stay in touch with former workmates and bother to talk to neighbours. Sites such as Mumsnet are testimony to the strong ties that bind women together socially, where they can moan, swap information and feel part of a club, albeit online.

Most men, it seems, generally only have non-sexual friendships with members of their own sex from work or schooldays. Since many of them are heading for redundancy and the dole queue, I worry about how they'll cope.

I have a strong gang of friends - perhaps because I got on so badly with my mother - some of whom go back 40 years; others I have known for fewer than 10.

We can pick up a conversation, like a piece of knitting, after a silence of months. Men can't.

All the men I have ever known have fewer than five male friends, generally from college days. They meet once a month at most and seem incapable of expressing their feelings for each other, except in silly jokes in cheap Indian restaurants, or at Bonzo Dog tribute band reunions.

Men seem lonely, worried about being superseded at work by smart women, nagged at home, anxious about money; worried about not being sexually active enough, about less hair and more waistline. In this context, I can see precisely why the former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, chose Adam Werritty as his best friend. It's par for the course. William Hague also had a close friendship with a young intern and even shared a hotel room with him.

When you've got a responsible job and you're surrounded by protocol and formality all day, isn't it great to have someone young and lively to have a few beers and a curry with?

I've met Liam Fox a few times and he's a pleasant fellow. Any discussion about his sexuality is irrelevant.

He seems to be guilty of choosing an unsuitable friend who might have taken advantage of their relationship - and we've all encountered that.

Poor judgment: it's not the end of the world.

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