I awake to an unfamiliar pillow. I touch my face and it isn’t the face I remember. A stranger looks back at me from the mirror. The post-shower drying ceremony has an extra twist.
Yes, I’m growing a beard. Three whole weeks without shaving my chin – hair is now covering the lower part of my face. Well, more of a stubble really – certainly can’t call it a real beard yet, but the end of the prickly stage, it’s beginning to catch the wind and I am constantly reminded that there is something there.
Curiosity started it. I missed a couple of days shaving while I was away on the boat. I thought of it as an age thing – a break from the past. The last time I grew one was forty years ago.
However, I can’t bring myself to grow The Mustache. I carefully clear the area between nose and lip each day. My top lip may have all the attention but (stiff or not) it is no substitute for the whole thing. And I do miss the full morning ritual – shaving soap, shaving brush, hot water, razor.
I now know there are gels that can be applied to ‘soften a beard’. There are instruments to brush and shape them. There is a whole industry focusing on beards.
Peers with beards are beginning to look at me. Comparisons are being made.
Now I have become interested, I find that everyone is doing it. How out of touch, how unobservant I have been. Sportsmen of all persuasions have turned hairy. Footballers, cricketers – there are even beards on the Vuelta, when I thought cyclists went out of their way to remove hair for added aerodynamics. Television interviewees are increasingly bearded (sic). And there have long been religious and traditional reasons for growing beards – or at least not shaving.
My great-grandfather’s bearded generation, Bude, Cornwall.
That it may have been fashionable is, for me, a reason not to do it and the fact that it is no longer considered mainstream – (on the wane last year apparently), is good enough for me. I prefer to give the impression of being my own person – (how hard that is).
There is a poem by Edward Lear that I learnt as a child:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.”*
I can’t get it out of my mind.
Do I really want to go through with this? It’s using up time. Surely there are more important things in life.
I started on a whim. I wonder at my deeper motivation. It is certainly about appearance. Maybe it’s a gender thing – a nod to manliness. Or perhaps it is a benign equivalent of Botox or a ‘nose job’ or a face lift.
Whatever the reason, it is a gentle distraction within the rhythm of the day.
I am living with it but I have yet to own it. I feel it attached to me – not growing from within. I will give it another month. If it becomes part of me, I will keep it.
If I am still ‘living with it’ after a month, then it will be back to the shaving soap, the shaving brush, hot water . . . and the razor.
* A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear: via http://www.bencourtney.com/resume.html
Bude photograph from Alfred Petherick’s private collection.