What some men do when they go away

I had heard of ‘Hay Henge’ before I signed up for the tree planting weekend I went on recently. I laughed at the time, but forgot all about it. That was at least until on the weekend I met some men who proudly recounted their hay bale constructions, claiming credit for creating Hay Henge, the MCG Grandstand and the Taj Mahal in previous years.

These hay bale constructions were something they took on each year, and apparently were not well received by other people there. This year they settled on a ‘cock and balls’. While there was some suggestion that it could be vertical, they went for a horizontal set up, which could not be seen as a ‘risk’ and, despite their best efforts and claims that it was visible on Google Earth, really was barely discernible unless you knew what you were looking for. In addition, setting out many of the bales in two parallel lines was celebrated as offering a social set up, whereby strangers could find themselves facing each other over breakfast.

By the time I made my way over for breakfast a few of the bales had been moved and, while I would have noticed the hay bales were no longer in their configuration of spirals, I would not have seen any rhyme or reason in the new set up. I did not hear anybody complain or even comment. People  were not sitting facing each other along their design as was anticipated the night before, mostly because the dew which had settled in the early morning made all but the bales closest to the fire too damp to comfortably sit on.

When we dashed back from Sunday morning planting for lunch people did not face inwards, as if at a long banquet table with the table missing. Rather, we faced outwards or in rows with our backs to the sun. At the time I did not really notice myself doing this as I chose an orientation which allowed my face to point away from the strong sun.

So the hay bales did not result in anger or positive social engineering. However, this coming together over a trivial project on a weekend away from home seemed to provide an opportunity for a group of men to connect. In anthropology there is a bunch of theorising that has happened around the significance of coming together, an inversion or suspension of normal rules, and shared practices (often involving men with phallic imagery and/or their actual phallus).

These men seem to have come back on the planting weekend multiple times, leaving behind their serious jobs and kids for a couple of days. Judging by overheard conversations, they do not leave behind their post graduate education obtained knowledge, but the actual PhDs and Masters degrees they hold are only referred to for comic effect, to contrast what they are doing with who they could appear to be (on paper at least) in wider society.

Personally I found getting away to be of great benefit. Even this weekend I was told, ‘You have not been so up tight since you have been away.’ The euphoria I came back with was similar to how I felt after my big holiday over Christmas/ New Year. So I suppose (1) I did not work hard enough on the  tree planting side of things and (2) there is something in this whole ‘getting away’ business.

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