Monday evening, in a hotel room in Vegas. I’m standing in front of the mirror looking back at my reflection. I no longer recognise the person staring back at me.
I’ve had the beard since mid-April, when in Australia I decided I couldn’t be bothered to shave any more. I’d always wanted to see what it was like with one, and having grown up with a dad who I’d never seen his chin, I guess it was inevitable that at some stage I would entertain more than just a few days’ growth. The experiment continued even when I’d got back to work. So how did it all work out with my eight-month shadow?
Firstly, the beard itself. Every bloke is different – a lot of us can’t even grow a beard, or at least if we try we can end up in a patchy mess. Even David Beckham – one of the most stylish men on this planet – couldn’t quite pull off an expert beardy look. Luckily, Dad’s genes must have given me enough to pull off a reasonable beard. Just. A bit patchy in places, but when I just let it all go and didn’t trim it at all, there was a fair degree of coverage. It wasn’t particularly coarse – I don’t have the kind of stubble on which you can strike a match – but it joined up in the right places, aside from the sideburns which I had to grow down a little to avoid a gap that a certain friend of mine is famous for. Colour is another thing. Black is fine, but blond can look feeble and white makes you look like you’re coming to town in December. If you’re ginger, then you either have to be damn bold or damn stupid to grow one. Mine was fairly dark, but unfortunately my advancing years (which – dammit – are about to advance again next week) subjected it to a sprinkling of white here and there. Most shocking was the single ginger hair that sprouted up like a rebellious carrot in a field of potatoes. Err, if carrots and potatoes sprouted up, of course. (note to self: improve similes). However, with some targeted shaver work they were often eradicated, lest they spread to my entire face.
It started off quite bushy – I thought if you were gonna have a beard then you might as well have a proper one – but unfortunately my skin suffered. Thinking that this change must have meant a second wind of puberty (I assure you I did pass through one already) the skin under the beard kindly gave me the acne that a teenager would be embarrassed about. Yes, the beard hid a lot of it, but under scrutiny, it looked like something found in a Dominoes bin on a Sunday morning. (Probably by someone who, ironically, looked not too dissimilar). Yuck. Flash photos were a nightmare; thank goodness for the wonders of Photoshop.
So, I bought myself a trimmer/clipper for it. Have you ever used on of those? You put the guard on the shave and then work out how to do it. Which way up? Which direction do I do it? As you push down and hear the first cutting buzz, you panic and wonder how much it’ll cut off. That’s the thing with beards: one slip, one mistaken setting and you face the prospect of looking a fool for a few days or shaving the whole damn thing off. (I slipped once without the guard and created a small line under my chin that looked like a small explorer had been through on their quest to circumnavigate my face.) I did get used it, however, and began trimming. I started off with a number 9 (wow) and by my last shave it had got down to a much tidier, but still beardy 5. Result? Much better skin and less patches.
People’s reactions were interesting. My friends, predictably, took the piss. “Bum”, “Hobo”, “Beardface”, “Beardy” – all hilarious, cunningly-crafted nicknames. “Good luck in the Shipman/Sutcliffe looky likey competition” was another comment, when told of my new status by email. Others were much more receptive – an ex-colleague was over the moon to hear I’d grown one, as a self-confessed pogonophile, although a little disappointed it hadn’t reached Brian Blessed proportions. Other colleagues thought it suited me, whilst some just shook their heads in disbelief. I think Dad was quite proud, and Mum liked it, but then they’ve lived with a beard for a long time.
Funnily enough, when I had a goatee a few years back it received more attention than my beard this time. I’m not sure what I expected, and I didn’t particularly want to stand out, but most of the time when out it never got mentioned. When you look around a typical bar, a number of men sport beards now, so I guess it’s not that unusual. Tired of the jokes, bored of the constant trimming, wanting to try and steal a year of two from my looks, I pick up the shaver.
It’s like my face has travelled back in time. The wrinkles are still there (laughter lines, I call them) and the eyes are screaming Vegas! at me, but the chin is back. Hello stranger – don’t I recognise you from somewhere?