Monday, June 8, 2009

From Jimmy Choos to boys’ toys, men just make stuff better

The following was first published in The National on May 4, 2009

Like many men, I have often been bewildered by womankind’s love affair with the shoe. I have watched with fascination and frustration as otherwise perfectly sane human beings coo over footwear. While I am not immune to the allure of a pair of five-inch skyscraper heels, I am baffled by how they can dominate a woman’s attention and draw her unwavering affection in a way to which men can only aspire. They seem to enjoy the search as much as the acquisition. My father chalked this up to mankind’s cave-dwelling days, when the men would hunt woolly mammoth and the women would scour grocery stores looking for the best deals on roots and berries.

Women take particular pride in shopping for the best deal. It is an accepted axiom that for every man there is a woman telling him how much money she saved today. But in all fairness, men too have a love affair with “things”. We appreciate craftsmanship and have an eye for beauty. It’s no accident that so many men design the clothes that women covet.

I used this argument to explain to my girlfriend why I would be spending a day at the Big Boys Toys Super Show in Abu Dhabi last week, but she just rolled her eyes. No wonder it’s Christian and not Christine Louboutin, Jimmy and not Jemima Choo, Yves and not Eve Saint Laurent, I said: women just don’t get workmanship. Ask any man why a Ferrari is so appealing and he’ll talk about engines and suspension. Ask a woman and she’ll tell you it’s pretty and red.

For those who don’t know or are chromosomally challenged, the Big Boys Toys Super Show is a celebration of the best in four- and two-wheeled transportation, sound systems that need municipality approval to install and watercraft straight out of Q’s laboratory in a Bond movie. In short, stuff I can’t afford. But that’s not the point. Big Boys Toys is the Guggenheim for the gearhead.

Thousands of men shelled out up to Dh250 to pay homage to other men’s ingenuity. There were novelty acts, such as the Segway. No sane man would spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of looking ridiculous, but we sure want to ride on one.

Some exhibits defied rational explanation, such as the Swarovski crystal-encrusted, 18-carat gold-plated table football set. Or 18-carat gold laminated playing cards with poker chips bedazzled with crystals. These are items of conspicuous consumption that only a rap star could love. I fail to see how making something sparkle adds to its appeal, but then I don’t get Mark Rothko either. Yet enough people pay barrowloads of cash for both to make me think I’m missing out.

Less ambiguous were the motoring exhibits, from your run of the mill supercar to the elite of the elite: the one-of-a-kind Maxximus G-Force, the world’s fastest street legal car. Of course, when the car in question can carry only nine minutes’ worth of fuel, fastest and street legal become meaningless terms. But that does not detract from its appeal.

The brainchild of a chauffeur and a slightly mad philanthropist who bankrolled the project, the G-Force does 0-60 mph in 2.1 seconds (or, in Dubai, zero to wrapped round a lamppost in just under 5). Combine that speed with its retro appeal, and the G-Force made the assorted Ferraris, Porsches and even a Ford GT on display look like Volvos.

For those who find the four-wheeled demode, there was the T-Rex, a reverse trike driven by a 1,400cc motorcycle engine. It has the horsepower of a Lotus Elise but only half the weight. Driving one is supposed to be as thrilling as riding a superbike, but less likely to land you in traction.

For adrenalin junkies who relish the thought of reconstructive surgery, and brandish scars and hospital bills as receipts for a life well spent, the vehicles in the off-road section were a ticket to hair-raising, white-knuckled thrill rides. Custom-made desert buggies with 600hp engines promised to propel you over (and possibly through) sand dunes. Snowmobiles converted for use in the desert that accelerated from 0 to 100kph in 2.7 seconds offered tantalising brushes with death, if only you could hang on long enough. Since someone apparently bought nine, my investment tip of the week is to buy hospitals.

As great as Big Boys Toys was as a spectacle, it was more than that. It was a celebration of men’s technical skills and imagination, as well as their ability to make really poor financial decisions. However, in retrospect, drooling over the carbon-fibre bonnets of sports cars is no less mad than fondling a pair of satin pumps — although buying the latter is less likely to land you in the poorhouse. Maybe its real purpose was to make those half-priced stilettos appear reasonable by comparison. I bet the show’s organiser was a woman.