I have a beard. I have had a beard since I was about 20. When people think of me (he said in an Eeyoreish sort of way), they think of me with a beard, although a friend once said, ‘That isn’t a beard, that’s facial hair,’ which is a remark I have never thoroughly decoded.
But actually, I am not keen on beards at all. For 35 years, I have been walking about (and indeed assuming any position) with stuff on my face which I sincerely do not like. The only reason I have a beard at all is that I am lazy. And incompetent. And vain. Oh dear, that’s three reasons. Of course, if this was 150 years ago, I would be part of the majority, and perhaps the Victorians were also lazy, incompetent and vain. But I doubt it.
The laziness is the easiest one to explain. Shaving takes time. If I am to believe the various and ever more bewildering adverts for electric shavers, this is an untruth, since modern multi-head electric shavers can do the job in a nick – pun intentional, sorry – of time. They can reach 99.9% of invisible bits of stubble just by being switched on, and pointed in the general direction of the chin. But I never took to electric shavers much. I suspect my father’s influence again. I would go so far as to say that he enjoyed shaving, that it might have represented a sort of highlight of his day: the Imperial Leather shaving soap (can that be right?), the cut-throat, the badger-hair brush (which I threw away when he died, to my clean-shaven brother’s chagrin). He was, to digress, not a particularly hairy man, and my mother, in an unguarded moment (rare) once expressed a loathing for men with body hair in the chest area. Anyway, I suspect I would have, if ever I had been a shaver, held to his shaving practices, which like most of his behaviour, was based on his naval experiences. (He never used shampoo; he always used soap on his hair.)
The incompetence bit is easy. I was utterly, utterly useless with razors, including the oxymoronic ‘safety razors’ (what would an unsafe razor be? How would you market it?) When I began shaving, I cut myself left, right, left again (or is that crossing the road? It isn’t, is it… I am not very good at crossing the road either. If I had been a joke chicken, I would have never have reached the punchline). I cut myself with electric razors, for goodness’ sake. Shaky hands. Poor co-ordination. I was useless at it.
And vain. Well, that’s easy. Underneath my not especially luxuriant beard – I don’t go for a full Karl Marx – there is a chin which would match most of the Windsors, e.g. the Duke of Kent, who should definitely follow his brother’s example and start looking a bit more like Tsar Nicholas. I know this because, on one of the few – single figures – occasions when I have experimented with seeing what my face looks like when it is naked, an occasion which a play demanded, during my obsessive acting phase, almost everyone who saw me (after trying to work out who I was from their programmes) came up afterwards and, kindly, and separately, almost privately, but one after another, and said I looked like a member of the Royal Family. That is, no chin. Seen sideways, I look like a – let me search for the correct simile – like a prat, that’s it.
But as I move into that twilight when laziness is a reward, incompetence to be expected, and vanity a pointless luxury, perhaps I will do what I like. Trim. Slash. De-stubble. I will just –
No. Too drastic. That was a close shave. As it were.