fresh faced

At the age of fifteen, I looked like this. The moustache was the talk of the school, as I recall, because suddenly the last person anyone expected to sprout facial hair walked into the classroom looking like Ned Flanders’ lost son (note – this was the mid 1990s, when the Simpsons was about to hit its peak, which both interests and saddens me somewhat.) As there wasn’t much of  a craze at the time in one small corner of Preston in 1995 for anything beyond sports jumpers and oversized trainers it didn’t occur to any of the number of us suddenly sprouting like Fantasia characters to tend and care for our new outwardly indication of impending adulthood.

My homelife being as it was there was no American teen-movie moment when my fresh-faced life coach father guided me through lessons on how to shave. It wasn’t actually mentioned at all (not that I want to dust off my Jung textbooks but there’s a lot from my father which wasn’t mentioned at all, though this cul-de-sac might be wandered down another time.) One day, without warning or explanation, I became the proud recipient of one sealed packet of cheap, easily broken supermarket own-brand razors, and that was the end of the matter. Nothing said, nothing explained. And thus, from that day, I ventured into the certain, heady world of….

….not being able to shave. At all. And as I enter 2013, that’s as true today as it ever was.

Partly through sheer apathy and laziness, partly because regrowth speed of the wire-wool mass on my face is frightingly rapid, I’ve found shaving to be an utter chore unworthy of attention. Oh I’ve tried – and at times been ordered to try by office line managers – but after a week of dedication, all it takes is one day ignoring the matter and it’s back to being an unwieldy Highland explorer face-covering. I’ve carried out ‘experiments’ to time exactly how long it is from clean-shaven to face fuzz, and even passing thirty years old has not slowed down the results to around two days. TWO days, that’s it, from having nothing showing to speckles of hair growing underneath my eye-line.

Teenage years being as they are, I tried emulating the look of whoever or whatever seemed to be the way of things style wise, and as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, at least one element of that is another hate-filled rigmarole. Inevitably enough the results of tendering the beard were unmitigated disasters. The ‘chinstrap’ beloved of so many turned out as deformed question marks, and something approaching a nu-metal goatee looked less Frank Zappa, more Frank Spencer.

Right now I’m hosting something of a World of Warcraft neckbeard, completed with an unruly mega-goatee connected to sideburns via thick slabs of spiky fur. In short – it’s a mess, and it’s not a nice looking, could be resolved with a trim kind of mess either. Because I refuse to have a “proper” shave, with half the morning taken up with softly scraping a flick-knife against my throat as though that’s somehow normal behaviour, I utilise the best gunk and pencil-sharpeners available through supermarkets, which might explain why I often remove every last hair rather than sculpture something more refined. It’s partly an overhang from my dad’s utter refusal to accept that men might want to look their best once a while, and as I’ve explained before here and elsewhere it takes just two consecutive thoughts about ”fashion” for me to become incredibly self-aware of how much cuckoo-bananas it all is.

My then work colleagues assumed a few years ago that Movember would be right up my street, as it’s clear that clean-shaven me becomes the complete opposite within 24 hours so by the end of the whole thing I’d resemble a 1970s catalogue model. The result was….well see for yourself.

Of course the consequence of all this is the suffering I’ll have to endure under the blessed double-headed curse of a beard which doesn’t slow down, and my innate inability to perform upon myself any activity which results in an approvement to my appearance. I’ll forever be stuck with feast or famine, bare face or hedge-row, stuck with an inner frustration battling with natural apathy. In the grandest of all schemes, I suppose beards are now ‘in’, so the stopped-clock of my life has at least some synchronicity success for once. Not that anybody chooses to walk around with “unkempt”, do they? It’s only acceptable to grow facial hair if you can ensure there’s not one sprig out of place, not one millimetre free from attention from three types of pruning scissors and a ruler. Rather than feel ‘as one’ with fellow beard growers, I’m left once again feeling like the spare Crufts fan at a PETA meeting through not resembling Dallas Green.

As with clothes, then, with beard, and that means, “I genuinely don’t care”. It’s too late to learn old tricks and even if that were possible, it would require spending more money than is humanly acceptable on numerous formulated chemicals specifically designed by men who resemble Dadaist refrigerators for the benefit of men who look  like alcoholic monkey-puzzle trees. Quite who benefits who is anyone’s guess, and I don’t fancy looking for an answer.  

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Off the peg

I wander into the shop. A bright young thing leaps at me, eyes wide with the expectation of commission.

“You okay today?”
“Yes, yes, fine, fine. I am, yes, FINE. Fine, yea, just, yep, fine.”

He’s looking at me strangely. Am I on drugs? Maybe I am on drugs.


I’m waving my hands around like a scarecrow in the wind. Am I pointing at something that makes it look as though I’m interesting in buying a specific item? 

“Thinking of anything in particular?” Oh God, he’s dying behind the eyes
“No…just…..yes, no..Just..thinking….around…Fine. I am FINE.” Stop pointing at specific items you idiot
“Oh you’re thinking of buying that? I mean..I was thinking of Bonnie Tyler the other day but that doesn’t mean we all have to live in the 80s, does it?”

Three…two…one…..Out of the shopping centre, on the next bus, home…


Clothes shopping is an absolute nightmare, my personal Room 101, walls plastered with models and designs and preening, judgemental assistants who are more willing to make an assumption on your suitability as a human faster than the Head of HR at an interview. I’m surprised TopMan hasn’t employed security guards on the front door.

“And how old are you, mate?”
“Er…Thirty-one….”
“There’s nothing for you here, pal, move on…”

It is because of the instant deflation in confidence which comes from needing clothes that a) I indulge in round-town wanders whilst I build up the cojones to walk into a shop, and b) I  make choices woefully inappropriate just to get out as quickly as possible.

I remember a Victoria Wood sketch in which men ask for a fire extinguisher to be wrapped up in giftwrap rather than focus for too long at the underwear department of a major store; (“Yes, that one, red, it’s in her size”, “That’s a fire extinguisher, sir”, “Yes, yes, put a bow on it, wonderful, bye!”).  That’s me in most shops that aren’t Primark or TK Maxx.  In my misguided youth I meandered inside Reef (clothes made for young people who look like anime characters), scaring the assistant into thinking I was stealing. “Sorry, are you…do you want to try that on…at all…?” “No, I’m just queuing to pay!” “…Oh…”

People who get clothes deserve an award. I don’t know what the Latin is for “purchasing items of clothing” but stick “-phobia” on the end and that’s my diagnosis. I have tried the “spoonful of sugar” technique only for that to become increasingly laborious by age. Have you tried buying anything from Burtons? It’s good for suits worn as a one-off by boybands at award ceremonies, and if you fancy having the eyebrows of strangers raised in response to you merely brushing your hands across short-sleeved t-shirts.

One result of all this is my wardrobe of doom – a time-capsule for every time I grabbed-and-ran something without looking at it twice. The sky-and-cloud design shirt, the beige hooded jacket, the over-sized ‘skater’ jeans…Oh yes, and the jumper (£90, cheap at half the price) bought from    a place far fancier than I should have ever wandered into but it was either that or another meaningless confidence boost stroll around Manchester City Centre so what you gonna do?

I would like, in keeping with  the mindset of most men of my mindset, for all the horror of shopping for clothes to be improved by the actions of other people. Turn every shop into a clearance warehouse so the people I pay care less than I do. Or if it comes to it, and this goes against all my principles, get the State to provide everything. If the High Street were to be nationalised maybe I could have a chest of drawers so stuffed full of plain t-shirts it’d look like a Uniqlo store room.

Or North Korea. That’s it – instead of feeling inadequate everytime I so much as stroke my chin near Duffers, I’ll order everything I need from Pyongyang…

backstory – jumper

Preston College Students Union office, before “the troubles”. A friend of mine has suggested I am in someway showing off by turning up, head to toe, in clothes bought that weekend with my wages from my first ever job. Maybe I was. No, scratch that: I was not. Assuming it was a joke, (it was a joke), showing off was the last thing on my mind, given I was wearing a fisherman’s hat, skin-tight army-print t-shirt and a corded jacket. Jeans, certainly, but they were old. Or so I assume.

But purchasing clothes, then and now, is not something I do with great haste or enjoyment. It is something of a chore, like buying shoe-polish or replacement lightbulbs. I remember the incident with a grey jumper really clearly, not least because my mindset (behaviour?) remains fairly similar now.

The store was Officer’s Club, which exists today but not where it once was. The original store was tucked away in another part of the Fishergate Centre, above what once was the cafe (what was this called? The Station? No…The Platform? No…It was called, WhistleStop, I remember now. There was a miniature train which ran along a track fixed to the ceiling. It did not whistle. Or stop.)

So, then, Officer’s Club. It was from there I bought a blue jumper, sky blue, with a design like a jagged rainbow on the front. “Oh Jesus,” said my dad. “Oh God,” said my sister. My dad was not one for bothering with the purchasing of clothes, with the kind of attitude suggesting that any bloke who spends more than a few minutes down the market buying a jumper is showing the kind of behaviour which would have him expelled from the army. At the back of my mind then and now such a forceful piece of Wiganer logic remains. Absent-mindedly checking out the fabrics and prices of every rack in the store is a worrying trait in anybody not a grandmother or teenage girl.

So, the jumper. I had walked in, spotted the familiar sense of feeling ‘watched’ and ‘scrutinised’, and how awkward I felt being in a clothes store, even if it was Officer’s Club with its constant discount offers and endless sales. I would have liked a grey jumper, found one, bought it, left. On discovering it was sleeveless, a kind of tank-top affair, my mother did not take “It’s fiiiiiine” for any kind of excuse, taking me back to the shop to exchange it for something more suitable. She actually said to the guy behind the counter, “He thought it was a jumper”. Maybe I looked away at this point, studied my shoes. Else I was already looking away.

Lessons have been learned, but not heeded or remembered all the time. Only two years ago I returned from a retro clothes store in Manchester with a yellow-and-blue Adidas top (and very nice it was too), in the size “oh eck this is a bit tight”. Refusal to try clothes on in store (for fear, and it is fear, of resembling someone who wants attention from staff) will forever be my downfall.

Dad was right, though.

Because packing CDs away is too easy a discussion topic…

My wardrobe, somewhat paradoxically for someone far removed from the shallow world of fashion, bursts out at all possible directions and from all containers. There’s a look of the teenage “floordrobe”, the abandoned charity shop, the transit or movement of bodies. One washing pile waits to be stored, another to be washed.

Any fair or independent audit would conclude my dress-sense is the result of starting each year with the intention of choosing a new look to follow exclusively. Checked shirts seem quite safe a choice, although the faded blue-grey graph-paper style one only seems to suit the kind of look which goes with trousers pulled up to the bellybutton while sitting in a nursing home. Plentiful Primark hoodies, zips bust on all, clutter one side; a real but in-need-of-wash Adidas jacket is the current ‘old faithful’. Before this there was a plain red woollen type affair I once wore to college as part of an entirely red ensemble which made me look like the most self-conscious eccentric in history.

There are numerous t-shirts, some creased to such an extent they could be considered awfully chic. The “Jesus 13” longsleeve affair from the kind of ultra-swish store in Manchester, back when I could afford to buy such things, served by a swept-fringe doll with the expression of a bored porn star. Smart jeans seem to be in a perpetual state of argument with tatty, well-worn comfy choices. Like men of a certain age, I am no longer drawn to the conclusion that jeans can be a cover-up for all of the sins of gluttony and sloth; if I am indeed my father’s son, I will embrace the strained button and fading colour of the old favourites.

Packing everything away in boxes, as must be done at some point in the coming months, should see me deciding that I do not need corded flares, or a plain green polo-neck jumper which looks like a surgeon’s smock, or anything like that. But like most men of a certain age, I will promise myself the time to look at them at some point further in time. I don’t need over-sized skater pants, or grey hoodies with bust zips, or tight yellow t-shirts, or over-sized pink-striped shirts still looking for cuff-links, but why not take them to another house to decide then?

Exactly.