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The gender divide real men will not cross

REAL men - so the old saw goes - wouldn't be seen dead eating quiche.

What they do surely eat are steaks the size of Texas which are cooked just this side of raw. Such men, who sit astride a Harley Davidson, chomp tobacco and admire their tattoos, are never happier than when blood is coursing down their chins. They're broad of beam and big of appetite, and bear more of a resemblance to John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway than Woody Allen and Mr Bean.

You'd never see them in a health spa or a gym or hear them utter words like moisturiser or exfoliation. They would no more pluck their eyebrows than they would pin tassles to their nipples. Moreover, they believe it is a right that should be enshrined in law to be able to belch in public. Real men, needless to say, are louder than other men. They don't know the meaning of sotto voce and their iPods play only heavy metal which they accompany uninhibitedly on air guitar.

Who are these "other" men, though? They are the kind who - to appropriate another couple of old saws - don't think that life is much too short to stuff a mushroom or peel a grape.

I imagine that many of them are enrolled as students of Waitrose Cooking School which, since the mystifying success of The Great British Bake Off and the transformation of Paul Hollywood, one of the co-presenters, into a domestic god, has lately seen a remarkable surge in male students.

Of course, men - even real men - have always baked. I myself have been known to get up to my elbows in dough, which - hot tip! - must be the consistency of concrete before it sets. But it was one thing to bake a loaf of bread - which, incidentally, is the baking equivalent of lumberjacking - and quite another to delve into the female domain of Victoria sponges and cup cakes.

(By the by, real men do not wear aprons or any other protective covering when in the kitchen. For them, an unholy mess is a sign of virility. It's worth adding, too, that they don't wash dishes. "Isn't that what dishwashers are for?" they say, pointing jocularly in the direction of their spouse.)

But as Waitrose's experience shows, men are changing, slowly, it's true, but the metamorphosis is no less pronounced for that. There was a time, and it was not so long ago either, when, for example, no man would buy his own underwear, let alone his wife's.

If a man were spied in a lingerie department he would either be lost - as Father Ted once was - and require directional assistance or be a fugitive from justice or a pervert.

Now, however, men are to be seen discussing the structure of bras as in a previous era they would have the engine of the Flying Scotsman. When I say "men", I do not include myself. Being a "real" member of the gender I know when not to cross the divide.

In my local howff we realise we are an endangered species, which is why we cluster at one end of the bar. Most of us are real ale drinkers, which is another sure sign of a man's man.

We could also survive on a diet of pork scratchings if need be. Our sole topic of conversation is sport; why, we wonder, isn't there more beach volleyball on TV?.

You may say this is evidence of rampant sexism and I would not disagree with you, especially if you are a woman.

For real men steer clear of opinionated women, who are more threatening than fellows with jutting foreheads and grievances galore.

But such is "progress", and the morphing of men into women is perhaps inevitable. In hindsight, I reckon this started when the likes of Kevin Keegan and George Best advertised deodorants and consorted with hairdressers, which a previous generation would have deemed unthinkable if not weird.

It was downhill from there. If you doubt it look now in a man's boudoir and you will see as many unguents and rejuvenators as you will in a woman's. Baking may be the last straw.

Is this what men - real men, men who dig holes, keep pigeons and grow prize-winning cucumbers in allotments - were put on the planet to do? Please tell me it was not. Otherwise I fear redundancy looms.

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