Shaving myself from a lockdown beard growth of epic proportions
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As beards go it has to have been one of the best I’ve had in years, a glossy silver grey facial adornment fine enough to make Ernest Hemingway or Brian Blessed envious.
My word, with a growth like mine those old barbarians would have been proud to stick their chins out.
Ernest would do it as he settled himself in the front row of one of his beloved bullfights and Brian would throw his head back to deliver a yell of triumph on top of some mountain.
My face fungus wasn’t so bushy and ferocious as old Ernest’s nor so belligerent as Brian’s but I could claim it had a certain style, a kind of suavity that they couldn’t match and probably wouldn’t want to.
I didn’t set out to be a runner in the Hemingway beard stakes. It was actually a matter of time and chance, culminating in that little thing called “lockdown”, a situation that seems to have left so many of us with nowhere to go, nobody to see, nothing to do.
Of course, it depended on the sort of person you are which of those might have applied.
It appears to me that lockdowns have resulted in there being more beards about than ever before.
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Whereas facial fungus was once the sort of thing common among those guitar-wrecking ruffians mincing about the stage at music festivals, nowadays there’s hardly a face that doesn’t boast bristles or bushes. Needless to say, women and girls are exempted from this assertion.
For me the beard business was a kind of side-effect, more accurately called neglect.
What was the point of wielding the razor when each time you opened the front door the lower half of your face was veiled in a mask?
So I let go and let it grow, but I shan’t forget the time when I stood in a modest queue outside the pharmacy, mask in place.
A man hove to, regulation distance away, and parked his bike against the fence and, having mumbled “Good morning,” continued to regard me with interest until he said “You used to be on the telly.”
I couldn’t deny the fact but was astounded that it must have been about 20 years since I was on the box, and further astounded that his gaze had penetrated my mask, a rather jaunty effort that featured a realistic print of a classy cat.
Just as he told me that my name was Paul Barnes the queue was called forward and he said “Cheerio,” leaving me to shuffle away and wonder if he was really a conjuror and his saddle-bag contained the kit for sawing his wife in half.
Days went by until I decided enough was enough; out came the razor, on went the lather. Even with a double-bladed job the operation took 35 minutes, time enough to reflect on shaves past.
The first real shave I ever had was in a subterranean barber’s in Glasgow Central station after I’d alighted from the overnight sleeper from Euston. The shine on the cut-throat razor matched the gleaming teeth of the wee bald man as he leathered his blade to a perfect edge.
In the early days of the railways carriage windows were raised and lowered by a sturdy leather strap. As these straps were perfect for sharpening the old-time razors they were constantly being nicked.
I settled into the chair, immersed in hot towels and fluffy lather, and the blade approached, scything my jaw, carving a clean swathe in the soapy harvest.
It started work on my throat and my hands were clenched on the chair’s arms as I was visited by memories of The Untouchables, when Al Capone’s nervous barber drew a little blood and Capone’s henchmen drew large guns.
My man was a cool-handed master of his art. All I felt was a fresh lightness; my face almost said thank you as I floated up the stairs into the Glasgow morning.
There were other shaves to remember, good ones and grim ones.
And the constant attempts to sell us razors and blades.
One little piece of persuasive poetry has stayed with me all these years, a small drawing of two craggy-faced sons of the soil: “What’s the best blade for a shave, Dave?” asks one. Without hesitation comes the cheerful answer: “Seven O’clock, cock.