From the editor: The Guinea Pig Club

A podcast about a brave and select group of wartime heroes got our editor thinking about what today’s working dads can learn from their experience


Like everyone else these days I listen to podcasts. (I also make some, this one in particular is of interest to anyone interested in feminism and gender issues).

A new favourite is The Town That Didn’t Stare. It’s about East Grinstead. It’s more interesting than that sounds. Some odd things go on in East Grinstead. For example I’ve learned that it’s a centre of scientology and a site where ley lines converge. The blurb promises paganism and rioting nuns in future episodes. But the latest instalment I took in got me thinking about working dads.

The Guinea Pig Club

It was about The Guinea Pig Club. East Grinstead got its nickname as ‘the town that didn’t stare’ because during World War Two badly burned fighter pilots were taken there for experimental plastic surgery. The man behind the project understood that repairing the men’s skin was only part of their rehabilitation; they needed to get out in the community and be treated as they were before their injuries. He enlisted the help of the people of East Grinstead who not only ‘didn’t stare’ but went further. They invited the airmen round for tea or provided straws in the pubs for those who couldn’t hold a beer in their bandaged hands.

The Guinea Pig Club of the title was formed by the pilots themselves. Dark humour was baked in from the beginning. The secretary was elected because his hands were so damaged he couldn’t take minutes, the treasurer got his role because he’d no legs ‘so couldn’t run off with the club’s money’.

Here was the very essence of the stiff upper lip and an old fashioned version of masculinity. Yet they supported each other. They recognised the need to help each other through difficult days, to keep in touch and share their experiences.

There’s something for today’s working dads to learn.

Dad clubs

Too often men feel it’s a sign of weakness to talk, to share, to reach out. But the reasons behind that are a bit mysterious. If the members of The Guinea Pig Club could band together, step up and speak out so can we working dads of today.

There’s a demand for dad clubs of one sort or another. Look at the success of projects like Rob Taylor’s Dads in Business in Sheffield, Dope Black Dads in London or Edinburgh’s Dads Rock.

We’ve all had a hell of a time over the last five months no matter our background, status or situation.

Just like The Guinea Pig Club it’s sensible to share those experiences, support each other and learn from them.


Just like those brave airmen we need to step out and be seen, we must make working dads – men who combine career and family in whatever proportion they deem right for them – a part of the community.

And maybe in time, if we band together, cash in the potential upsides of lockdown, support each other, then when a man is on the street pushing a baby buggy during the daytime on a week day the denizens of East Grinstead and every other town will not stare.

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