Monday, January 10, 2011

My Strange Beard & Another Story

About 31 years ago, I said to my dad, who always had a moustache (or at least for most of his life), "Why don't you grow a beard?" He laughed and said that he'd never been able to grow one. He'd had various attempts when he was much younger and he had all kinds of bald spots and straggly failures. By the time I asked him, he was 50 and he added that over the preceding few years he'd noticed that he actually needed to shave less often; or to be more precise, he realised that the bald spots had grown and whenever he went a few days without a shave (which wasn't that often), he noticed that it was sparser than usual. He put it down to getting older and my grandfather confirmed this when he said he shaved less and less the older he got.
My brother Ron Junior, if memory serves me correctly, grew his first beard at 15. it took him about 4 hours. Considering we all come from a particularly unhairy family, Ronnie was (and probably still is) a hirsute freak. When I say he could grow a beard in 4 hours, I'm only half joking. He was the kind of guy, when he was younger, that would have a shave in the morning and would need another by the time he got home from work. I really used to envy this ability (no, I don't know why, either). Both Steve (my middle brother) and I were both very smooth and blond, whereas Ronnie was dark, so this probably explained why both of us had the words 'bum' and 'fluff' used to describe what little hair we ever had. Dad could grow a great Zapata moustache, Ronnie could evoke Larry Talbot, Steve and I did a good Gillette G2 advert.
Because of the ridicule I received about my lack of hair growing ability, I steered clear of trying until I was 16, when, during a rugby match, I got kicked in the mouth and walked away with a lovely split top lip. For a while I looked like the victim of a cleft pallet operation gone bad and as I'd just discovered girls, the only way to solve this massive crisis was to try and grow a 'tache. I did and naturally all of the bum fluff jokes came out with its appearance. But, it covered up this Y shaped scar enough for me to live with the mocking taunts and this was 1978 and moustaches were actually VERY common and weren't the sole property of either gay men or Ann Widdicombe.
I managed to keep mine for many years; in fact, I didn't lose my facial hair until 1993. In those 15 years it went from actual bum fluff to proper hair, but because of my light coloured hair barely anyone noticed when I finally shaved it off. I have not had a solitary moustache for 18 years; I've had beard attempts and the occasional goatee/'tache combo that were popular during the 90s and early 21st century, but the scar is now so faded and even though I'm not vain enough any longer, I would never consider having one ever again (but I did say that about flared jeans and I think I own a pair of them again).
I've attempted to grow a beard on several occasions and there's plenty of documented evidence to suggest that I can't. If you're a friend of mine on Facebook there are a number of photos that show that my beard attempts are more laughable than a Morecombe & Wise Christmas Special. Plus, I find wet shaving quite relaxing, so when I got into the habit of shaving, I sort of never got out of it. A few times in the last ten years, I've considered making another attempt, but I just figure it gets to a point and then it starts looking pathetic, with lots of straggly hair and I end up looking like the bass player out of Thin Lizzy circa 1974 and shave it off.
Then about five years ago, I noticed something very peculiar; so peculiar that just talking about it makes me feel a bit silly. Now, I've had my face for 48½ years; I've been shaving regularly for 32 of them, so I'm pretty much used to my face and its quirks; some point around 2005 or 6, I noticed that I shaved more at certain points in the month. Now, I've never really been like Ronnie, I've needed, on average, three shaves a week all my life. But towards the waxing of the moon I realised that I was shaving four times a week, but once it started to wane it dropped down to twice, sometimes three times. See, you can understand why I'm reluctant to admit this; not only does it sound ludicrous, it also paints some kind of lycanthropic subtext that I would like to avoid...
The problem was, the two or three people I mentioned this to had the same reaction to the one all of you are having, so I just shut up and got on with my odd shaving schedule. But then something really odd happened last autumn, something even weirder than having to shave more when the moon is getting full.
Now, as you know at the beginning of October I stopped smoking and a week later I had a prolapsed disc. I then went on a series of ever increasing in strength painkillers, while managing to avoid smoking. Then at the end of October, because I'd grown so bored and had become acutely aware of strange changes in my physiology - mainly because of the morphine. The weirdest thing was that I seemed to grow more stubble much faster. The wife noticed this, asking me several times when I last had a shave and looking at me slightly puzzled when I'd tell her. She was used to going a couple or three days without noticing my stubble when she kissed me; now it was happening 24 hours later and what was more unusual, I started to think it felt like I was getting stubble in many of the places that had never had it before.
I carried on shaving and carried on noticing that I was now having to shave five times a week and if I wanted to be honest with myself, I could quite easily have shaved every day and that made no sense at all. Then on New Year's Day, a few days before I was due back at work I decided to grow a beard. I could have done it at any point during the 3 months I was off work, but I didn't. It has now been 10 days and I have the fullest beard I have ever had; yes, it is absolutely rammed with white hairs, but it's also not straggly, looks like the kind of beard that Ronnie can grow in minutes and apart from itching like a bastard, is looking remarkably spiffing. I like it. it looks wrong because my face has never had this kind of beard before; but I'm growing accustomed to it.
I'm aware that the above sounds totally crazy, but if you look at the three pictures I've posted with this you will see (other than I had some really bad hair days) that all four attempts at growing a beard, on show, were done while I was an adult. The last one being taken a couple of years ago. I haven't got a picture of me at the moment, but I shall endeavour to get one taken in the next few days, so that you can see what I mean. But I can assure you, I'm not mad and I have grown hairier!


Four years ago today, my boy died. His name was Gifford and while he was just a few short weeks away from his 16th birthday and therefore had a really good and long life (considering the fact he had an auto immune disease), his passing devastated me more than losing my parents. I know that sounds almost callous, but I spent 16 years with the boy; he was at my side for every day bar one, the first time and only night he spent the night in vet hospital. That night, during December 2006, was one of the hardest nights of my life and on January 10, at 10.45pm, when we ended his life, I don't think I've cried as much. All I remember saying was 'what am I going to do?' over and over again. Six months later, I lost his sister Megan (in the 2nd picture above) and that was nearly as bad. 2007 was probably the worst year of my life...
I now have four dogs and they are slowly becoming the most important things in my life apart from my wife. However, as much as I hate to say it, I doubt these four dogs will ever get into my heart the way Giff did.
I miss my boy...

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