I AM GROWING A BEARD. The trouble is, so is almost everyone else.
Time was, a beard was a symbol of a towering intellect. People such as Karl Marx, D.H.Lawrence or Allen Ginsberg were all liberally endowed with facial hair. They had towering intellects and thus (I argued) had earned the right to sport generous beards.
So convinced was I that a beard represented a towering intellect, I felt distinctly uncomfortable upon coming across a bearded specimen, only to discover him to be a nincompoop. The beard, I would tell myself, was there on false pretences.
I first grew a beard as my three years at Sheffield University approached back in the mid-Sixties. I grew it because I was rather a louche specimen of 21 who had wasted the four years since leaving school and was afraid that all those bright young things clutching their top grade A-Level certificates might expose me as a charlatan. A beard might just fool them.
It fooled no-one. However, the beard lasted 15 years and was only shaved off when I went to a fancy dress party as Dracula. No-one has ever seen a bearded Dracula, so off it came.
When I later removed the white face paint it was to discover a ridiculous-looking stranger beneath. It took two days to pluck up courage to leave the house and still I was convinced that every person I passed in the street burst into gales of laughter as soon as I was out of range.
Had I been able to will the beard to regrow in an instant and hide what I saw as a ludicrous face, I would have done so. I slowly got used to the ludicrous face and have thus remained clean-shaven on Tyneside for 30 years.
Now the beard is back. Then it was brown; now it is white with touches of grey. It is still as tough as a bristle brush in contrast to what remains of my hair higher up, which is thin and fine and with little more substance than a wisp of smoke.
I am intrigued just where this transition takes place. Hair growth is continuous from the top of the head down to the lower chin. At what exact point down the head does the texture of the bristle brush become that of the wisp of smoke?
No matter. Beards are now in profusion: long ones, short ones, bushy ones, close cropped ones, designer stubble ones. I know one man whose closely defined white beard descends from his chin in a long, carefully-groomed oblong shape, as if someone ha stuck a narrow block of ice-cream thereon.
Another has a beard of a long, carefully coiffured pigtail emanating from the chin centre with the rest of him clean-shaven. I want to tug it to see if it clangs a bell summoning the servants.
Footballers now have beards which somehow seems against the laws of nature. I am hard put to think of a recent prime minister, US president or Pope with a beard, nor do many of those ludicrously overpaid top executives of large corporations sport facial hair, a hangover. perhaps. of a culture which still saw the beard as slightly bohemian and counter-culture. This is in stark contrast to the moustache which has always somehow represented a stiff-backed conformity.
The belief that a beard saves on shaving time is false. Unless it is one of those huge bushy things allowed to run rampant, a beard needs careful tending. My own I would describe as dapper and petite [Readers may disagree. Comments and opinions, please, below – ED]. Others may have their own definition. I am tempted to cultivate the bottom into a point rather like Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon (though his beard of course was as black as boot polish).
Some people dye their beards. Ringo Starr seems to dye every wisp of hair round his head, including beard, eyebrows and what’s left on top. Every one of those filthy rich oil sheikhs from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere has a short dyed black beard framed under the tea towel (who do they think they’re fooling?).
A poignant moment in the recent splendid Hercule Poirot TV drama saw the dyed beard of John Malkovitch suddenly and humiliatingly start to run.
‘You appear to be melting Monsieur Poirot,’ comments his 25-year-old rival, after which the celebrated sleuth wisely gives up the pretence of youth.
My own beard is just short of one month in, and has, I suspect, reached its optimum length. Several folk have passed moderately complimentary comments. . . though I still await the first reference to my towering intellect.