On becoming Captain Haddock when you have more habitually thought of yourself as Tintin

These last three weeks, I’ve been growing a beard.

It isn’t a holiday beard. I shaved that one off at the end of August, after the two weeks were up and it was back to work. At that point it seemed like it was time to face the future clean-shaven, rather than cling to what we neither of us were sure was past or present, let alone permanent.

It isn’t a left-over Octobeard, or a Movember moustache run wild. I’m not into growing facial hair to order, even for charity.

It’s not to insulate my cheeks and chin against the oncoming pinch and sting of winter. I like the air being so cold it numbs my face, as long as I have on my blue rollneck with its anchor insignia and my black seafaring jacket.

Shaving’s a chore, but neither is this quite a giving up beard, though perhaps there was an element of that, initially, and in the two which preceded it. I really don’t care what the people at work think of me or it, if they have any thoughts about me or it at all. I don’t dislike being liked, but I don’t mind being a blank in people’s minds, or a mystery to them, perhaps. My life is largely elsewhere. Besides, people turn up to my office in all sorts of stubbly and bearded (not to mention sartorial) disarray. No-one gives a blistering barnacle what anybody does with their facial hair.

No, this beard I kept, because on seeing it at ten days or so, she called me handsome, for the first time in five years. It’s not that I’ve been fishing for just such a compliment all that time; during it, she has called me many other lovely and flattering things, and of course she is physically as well as mentally attracted to me, bearded or otherwise. But never before has she used that specific word, the nearest equivalent of the many ‘beautiful’ arrows with which I have Cupidly peppered her over that same time. (She has in return called me beautiful, though I suspect that’s me as a whole rather than a direct reference to any Adonis-like qualities she may consider that I possess; unsurprisingly, I have never risked calling her handsome, though in many ways she is that as well as a beautiful woman.) I’ve never thought of myself as handsome, and more than that, I’ve always been sceptical that I offer much in the way of physical attractiveness at all, beyond a certain athleticism, but then I’m also aware that I’m far from alone in believing or rather disbelieving that about myself. I know that even people who are to any other eye extremely beautiful are inclined to grimace internally when they look themselves over in the mirror. It’s not even insecurity on my part, just an ongoing, unvarnished self-appraisal when judged against the many, many far more handsome/beautiful people in the world. I may still sometimes be uneasy in my mind, but I stopped being uneasy in my skin long ago.

And when the love of your life sees you with an excess of facial hair and calls you handsome, when she says that you are distinguished, sexy, that you have gravitas, you keep the beard, right? Right. Especially when she used mercilessly to mock the photos you showed her of yourself with ridiculous mutton chop sideburns, grown in the age – the era – before you met. And at least until she kisses you again, and perhaps finds it too prickly, that it obscures the Tintin-esque softness of the lips she loved to kiss. And maybe then you finally shave it off and start again. Unless, in the meantime, it gets too unruly and unkempt and itchy and you start to resemble not so much Captain Haddock as the heavily tattooed man-mountain bass player out of one of the hairier Americana bands. The great thing I have discovered is that it doesn’t take me long to regrow my beard. She could have the best of both worlds, if she liked.

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