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About A Week: Beards

Peter Hinchliffe is never likely to forget the day when someone mistook him for Baldy Johnson.

I first became aware that I was losing my hair in a small town high in the Rocky Mountains.

I forget the name of the place. I cannot forget the incident.

We were on a touring holiday in Colorado, that soaring spectacular state, which has more than 200, peaks over 14,000 ft. If you are willing to negotiate a seemingly endless series of tight bends, you can actually drive to the top of one of them, Pike’s Peak.

Park by the roadside in this mountain paradise, wait a few minutes, and you are likely to see an eagle hunting for its lunch.

“I haven’t sent any postcards yet,’’ said my wife, as we reached the summit of an 11,000 ft pass.

When you come to think, holiday postcards are subtle taunts. You send one to your colleagues in the office. “Sun hot. Beer good. Think I’ll stay here forever.’’

What you are really saying is “Yah! Boo! Unlucky old you, with your nose to the grindstone.’’

We stopped at the next small town to buy, write then send off postcards. While my wife was in the post office, I waited outside, admiring the sunny scenery, thinking that life could offer no better day.

Suddenly a voice, right behind me.

“Hey, Baldy! Baldy Johnson!’’

I was the only person outside the post office. I tried to ignore the voice.

“Hey Baldy! Where have you been hiding?’’

I turned around to see an old man, who was wearing blue jeans and a broad cowboy belt.

“Say, I’m sorry fellah. Thought you was Baldy Johnson.’’

“Well I’m not,’’ said I, a somewhat pointless statement.

Hard o tell which of us was the most embarrassed.

That night, in a motel bathroom, with the help of a small hand mirror borrowed from my wife’s handbag, I confirmed the harsh truth. A monk-like bald patch was appearing on the back of my head.

I was philosophical. Perhaps it would mean that I didn’t have to visit the barber’s quite so often.

I’ve never enjoyed having my hair cut. It dates back to boyhood, and the first barber I ever visited. He gave his best attention to discussing politics with the men who used his shop as a clubroom.

Once, while making a forceful political point, he clipped my right ear with the scissors, drawing blood.

You only need to have your ear clipped once to be ever suspicious of gents who wield scissors behind your head.

Of course, barbers’ shops have changed enormously down the years. Many of them are now unisex. Men no longer use them as discussion forums, places where the world’s problems can be sorted it in quarter of an hour.

Glance across at the next chair, and you are as likely to see a woman in curlers as a fellow short-back-and-sides customer.

Shortly after being mistaken for Baldy Johnson I started to grow a beard. Now beards come in all shapes and sizes. Old Testament beards. Spade beards. Goatee beards. Designer stubble beards.

Mine was an almost-not-there beard. A wispy blonde thing, barely noticeable.

Of course, I grew it for the best psychological reasons. If a chap starts to lose hair in one section of his anatomy, he grows it in another, wishing to convey the impression that he is still virile and manly.

There was also the fact that the daily shave was a tedious chore. That business of lathering up one’s jowls. Then peering into a mirror with half-asleep eyes.

In those days, no matter how carefully I applied the razor’s unforgiving blade to my cheeks, from time to time – say once a month – I cut myself. Then I went off to work with bits of paper stuck to my visage, looking like a poorly decorated Christmas tree.

A survey revealed that 73 per cent of English women want the man, or men, in their lives to be clean-shaven. Moustaches and beards are regarded as being “scruffy’’ and “dirty’’.

“I just think beards cover a multitude of sins, and men hide behind them,’’ said one lady.

“He grew a beard once,’’ said another. “It was dreadful. Really black, very curly. He always insisted on washing it every night, so he’d get into bed smelling like a wet dog in a warm room.’’

My wife never complained about my beard, but eventually I got rid of it. Too itchy!

Now, in retirement, I don’t have to hurry when I shave in a morning. And razors have improved so much that it is no longer inevitable that one will nick one’s cheeks.

Now the morning shave is an act of meditation: an opportunity to smooth out life’s rough edges.

And the bald patch that resulted in me being mistaken for Baldy Johnson?

It continues it’s relentless march, from the back of my head to the front. But I am long past the age where I closely examine myself in the mirror.

So no worries.


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