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'Sherlock, Mr Bear and the ironing ... it's a way to escape the world'


Shelf life: Alex Kane

Shelf life: Alex Kane

A picture by Alex Kane's daughter Lilah-Liberty which is in his man cave

A picture by Alex Kane's daughter Lilah-Liberty which is in his man cave

Shelf life: Alex Kane

Tristan Bridges, the sociologist who concluded that Donald Trump's man cave is "dominated by him in every respect and appears as if it is designed to intimidate" is probably right.

But that's because Trump views it as another very public manifestation of himself. It's a "look at me, look at me" show-and-boast style: no more, no less. It's designer Trump, in other words.

Bridges is closer to my style when he says, "Man caves are more of a space about fantasy than anything in particular. They are a way for men to imagine what their lives could have been."

My man cave is a converted roofspace, packed with around 1,000 items of Sherlock Holmes material: books, comics, pictures, audiotapes, DVDs, toys, trinkets, games and research material. I always wanted to be Sherlock Holmes - although I drew the line at injecting myself with a "seven percent solution" of cocaine, or peppering the wall with pistol fire.

I still read something to do with Holmes every day and I love retreating into that world of cobbled streets, fog and bizarre cases.

The man cave is also packed with my private and political diaries, going back almost 30 years. I keep meaning to plunder them for a very personal history of Northern Ireland, but - and this surprises most people - I hate writing. I hate the whole process of sitting down with a blank page and meeting a deadline, which is probably why I do most of my writing downstairs.

But I still like to read through the diaries, if only to remind myself how much Northern Ireland has changed.

I also like to iron in the man cave - and that's something else that surprises people. Ironing is a wonderfully therapeutic experience; particularly when I'm listening to something (I have three radios and a couple of CD players up there), or just running my eye along the Sherlock shelves. Ironing, like Sherlock, is another way of escaping from the real world downstairs.

And the man cave is where Mr Bear resides. He's been with me since the day I was adopted in 1961 - sitting on my new bed in my new home, a daily reminder of the difference between my first six years and the other 55.

He's been in every home I've ever lived in. There's rarely a day when I don't chat with him (and, no, I'm not crazy). Sherlock Holmes had The woman; I have The bear. No matter how low I feel, Mr Bear is my consolation; my reminder that things could have been so much worse.

The man cave is the one place in the house where I don't have to share anything with Kerri (my partner), or my girls, Megan and Lilah-Liberty. I haven't forbidden them from using it, but they all know that I prefer it if they don't.

Lilah-Liberty has just learned to negotiate the Slingsby Ladder and has made the occasional foray to "Daddy's world", where she likes nothing better than drawing on my whiteboard and scattering bits of paper around the desk.

I love her, but when she's up there it requires a lot of tongue-biting and deep breathing on my part.

Before Kerri and the girls, I always had a man cave; a place in the house into which visitors were never welcomed.

They were more or less the same as the man cave I have now, but this time I have to tell people I'm going into it: and, yes, sometimes it feels as though I going there just to escape from them. I'm not.

But I need it. It is the one place in my life where I can gather my thoughts and retreat into a world where I call the shots and make the decisions. I never go to it if I'm angry (it happens now and again), because I don't want it to be that form of escape.

Sometimes, I just sit and pick down a book at random. Sometimes, I talk to Mr Bear. Sometimes, I iron. Sometimes, I look at pictures drawn by the girls. And sometimes, just once in a blue moon, I pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. It keeps me happy. It keeps me sane. And that's all you can ask from a man cave.

Alex Kane is a writer and commentator

Belfast Telegraph