To Beard or Not To Beard: Here’s What I Have Learnt Today…

I write this, cunningly disguised as a spy. Certainly not as a trendy fashionista. Actually, I write this as someone who is easily curious and far more easily bored. Let me explain: I have never been one for dressing up.

As a 10-year-old I played Pharaoh in the Cherry Burton school production of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, a role which required me to transform into Elvis Presley, or at least a character based upon him, anyway. The 3 teachers in-charge of the whole shebang made me stay during playtime to watch videos of The King shaking his stuff on stage, before forcing me to replicate his exact moves in front of them. So whilst all my friends were playing football outside the window, I was in a dark hall with 3 women in their mid-40s sitting on chairs, making me dance for them. I distinctly remember one of the three rising from her seat and excitedly approaching me, putting one hand on my lower back, one on the opposite side of my trousers and pushing and pulling, back and forth proclaiming “you are Elvis The Pelvis” somewhat excitedly. (I haven’t really thought about that in much depth before now but, well, that’s a bit weird, isn’t it?)

And so it was, with my pelvic moves fully rehearsed and my lip-curl near perfect, I was all set for the big performance. The only thing that I was lacking was make-up. Everyone else was coated in grease paint but, on account of my makeup allergy, I was sans slap. Well, that was until another teacher said she hadn’t been told I had an allergy, at which point I buckled and duly admitted that I just didn’t want it on, before having my face buttered like orange toast and being lead to the school hall floor with a complexion that made Simon Cowell look like a Geisha girl. 

I am not saying that it was this experience that has made me averse to dressing up ever since; it can’t have helped though.

The main issue with dressing up, for me, is that’s it’s not really spontaneous. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fondness for shoes (black glitter shoes and a pair of blue velvet ones are sitting in the very cupboard next to where I am typing this), and I have never been one to follow a typically trendy fashion. It’s just that when it comes to fancy dress, the preparation tends to outlive my attention span. (At a Hallowe’en party last year I turned up in an outfit that was fashioned from clothes I already owned, waxed down hair and a moustache drawn on in eyeliner as I was walking out of the door. I was deemed to have arrived as the late Freddie Mercury’s ghost and won first prize.)

When I was 10 the famous Elvis sideburns had to be drawn on in face paint (eventually). Not much has changed in terms of my ability to grow facial hair. Or so I thought, anyway.

Because 2 months ago, almost to the hour, I decided to stop shaving, just to see what would happen. More to the point, I had long been curious to see if I could grow strong facial hair at all and, if so, how long would it take and what form would it arrive in.

I want to reiterate at this point that I was NOT growing a beard. I didn’t think I could grow anything like a beard and to claim so would be disrespectful to those who put in the effort. By this I don’t just mean the fading trend of the Hipster, but genuine cultivators of the beard: men (mainly) who had made it their adult life’s work to achieve a hairy jaw guard.

I have to say that, despite my adversity to dressing up myself, as soon as the decision was made, I got quite into it. I decided to have a little browse on websites, almost secretly by way of not admitting that I actually wanted to grow a full beard. I was surprised by just how passionate beard cultivators are. Websites dedicated to encouraging people at the tricky, itchy three-week stage. Comments about not giving up should you not appear at swarthy as others you may know. (My brother-in-law is Syrian and has the sort of dark hair that displays a real man’s beard-bed; whereas I am slightly more resembling of the top of a pepper shaker when it comes to closeness of hair growing holes.) The facial hair community is just that: a community.

After about a month it was apparent that I was allowing something to happen in the skin area below my cheeks but above my neck. I went for a haircut in a place I had never been before and it just so happened to have a specially dedicated area, specifically for male grooming. I bought a moustache comb for £5. I am not entirely sure if this was/is a novelty item but I thoroughly enjoyed owning it, if nothing else. Talking to the woman as she cut my hair (sociable little tyke, aren’t I?), she asked if I was interested in buying some pomade for my beard.

The woman, a stranger (so I shouldn’t have really been talking to her, if I paid attention to my 5-year-old self), had mentioned my beard. I hadn’t mentioned it; a woman had mentioned it. A woman I didn’t even know, more to the point. I declined the pomade but did take a price-list, upon which there was a price for beard trimming: £8.95.

A week went by and I was due to visit my girlfriend for a weekend together. Always wanting to be the best I can be for her, I decided that she deserved a boyfriend with a trim beard and so, somewhat fittingly, I booked in for a beard trim.

Walking back into the grooming shop a week later, I proudly declared that I had an appointment. A fellow beard wearer looked at me, then at his appointment book, and then at me again.

“Um, are you Al?” he asked.

“I am,” is how you may well have guessed I replied. (You’d be correct.)

There was a pause. Another glance down… and then, “Are you having a beard trim?”

I always aim to be honest in these blogs, as in life, and I have to say his lack of confidence that someone had booked in the right appointment was only matched by the shattering of my thinly layered confidence that I was that very man.

Have you ever seen Monty Python’s The Lumberjack Sketch in its entirety? Where Terry Jones goes into the barber shop and Michael Palin presses play on sound effects of scissors cutting so he doesn’t actually have to cut the hair? Well…

I sat down in the barber chair and the proud expert pumped a pedal which leant me back, telling me that he would lay a towel over my eyes in order to stop fine hairs from sparking up and embedding themselves into my eyes like mini-spears of facial freedom. He then turned on the clippers and set about trimming my beard.

Or did he? Clearly he thought there wasn’t much to trim. After the clippers finished, he showed me the mirror and we both feigned appreciation. After all, this was a trim worth £8.95.

I strode over to the receptionist who confirmed the price. “A beard trim? That’s £8.95…”

“Just put it down for £4,” said the trimmer, “It’s, umm… yeah…”. Fair, I thought, and honest. Bit embarrassing though.

That encounter was three weeks ago and it’s fair to say, I could probably justify going back now. For full price and everything.

Getting my thumb caught in it is becoming a bit of a problem...
Getting my thumb caught in it is becoming a bit of a problem…

I was watching a documentary about Charles Bukowski last night and found myself studying his beard as much as his story. I have been having dinner with my girlfriend and far from being caught looking at other women, as may be some partners’ concerns, mine has caught me analysing the growth distribution of an ale-swilling biker in the corner of the bar.

It has become a thing. It’s a bit like people who share a passion for collecting bonsai trees or going to church. I feel a part of something, and I like that. But I am aware that to fully feel a part of something, I need to keep it growing. Whereas I feel the need for something new. Even my girlfriend has said, “I really like it. Especially when it was at the three-week mark.”

And so, as it stands, Here Is What I Have Learnt Today: To Beard or Not To Beard. (I appreciate that is more of a question than a lesson.)

I admire beard wearers/owners. Cultivators of follicle sproutings are a committed bunch and I have enjoyed that. There is still a part of me that wants to indulge in products and is curious to know if you really do get food stuck in there for days on end. Then, there is a part of me that misses just having the top bit of my head to dry after coming out of a shower. Being able to blow upwardly to cool my brow is something I haven’t done since late-July.

Until I am sure just how bored, or taken I am with it, I shall continue to not shave and see what happens. After all, there’s a fancy dress party coming up at the end of the month and at least this way I can just go as Teen Wolf without having to delve into a fancy dress box. (Well, maybe his older Uncle.)

Above all, it works as an excellent safety precaution. For since I first made the decision not to shave some 2 months ago, not one middle-aged teacher has rushed at me, placed her hands precariously upon my person and demanded that I make her scream like she did when she was a teenager! And for that alone, maybe it’s worth sticking with.

Al x