Does this beard suit me?

A Christmas present of St Frances from our son who loves kitsch!

A few weeks ago I decided to let my beard grow; a decision rooted more in idleness than any desire to attract followers. As someone with more than a passing interest in St Francis I reckon that having him share the top of a store cupboard with a jug of stock and a pile of boots (note the perfume diffuser) would suit him just fine. This whole post, by the way, is a bit of a swerve from the one I was planning which involved mentioning the last Test Match. Suffice it to say that my mind was working around the nuanced difference between law, justice and virtue. My proposed photographs included a side by side of this one of St Francis and another of the statue of justice over the Old Bailey (I think). Anyway, the thought that our daughter in law, who is Australian, might misunderstand my intention merely to point out the interesting discrepancy between what the rules permit and what virtue demands; persuaded me to walk on by and talk about the beard thing.

So, for years I’ve done the seven day stubble look which maintains the artifice of not caring whilst spending hours in the bathroom using a combination of clipper and razor. Being a busy sort of person I’d rather spend the time reading or gardening than faffing about with my chin but as the hair on top of my head has become more sparse I thought it might be a useful piece of distraction to grow something altogether more luxuriant lower down. After three weeks or so I have changed into whatever the beardy equivalent of a Twitter addict is. I can’t quite believe how fast, and how randomly it’s growing. It’s got to the point where – I’ll forgive you for smirking – I need to comb it and at least three times a day I present myself to the mirror; full face and profile, to see how it’s going.

So I’ve gone past the Lenin look and now I’m deciding between Captain Birdseye, the full lumberjack – or perhaps Karl Marx or Darwin. I hardly dare dream of Van Gogh’s postman but I modestly admit that as the knitting emerges from the pugmill in my face it is a bit curly. Madame is taking it all rather well but I find myself nervously chewing off the bits that grow the wrong way near my teeth. Right now there’s a suspicion of the mutton chops below my ears – which I’m not fond of – and of course the striking badger stripes remind me of those early portraits of dour looking bishops presiding over the torture and slaughter of heretics.

So we shall have to have the conversation and Madame (hopefully telling me the truth; she’s loyal to a fault) will point out that she’s not fond of yesterday’s breakfast clinging there nor the nesting birds which require me to maintain silence during the nesting season. Or maybe she’d like that? Meanwhile I’m investigating various oils and unguents to control the thing – which appears to be moving towards an independent existence; an expensive luxury if it’s going to leave me one day and take up residence on another chin. Or even more terrifyingly the thought occurs that it might be a kind of Honey Fungus preceding a slow decline into senescence.

My last thought is that I should get a ring in my ear and an anchor tattoo so I can sit in the corner of the bar in some seaside resort wearing my Guernsey sweater – the one with holes in – and talk a load of old bollocks about my life on the Seven Seas, while gullible tourists buy me pints of Doom Bar; but there are so many other old blokes on that gig – more even than there are retired clergy in Clevedon. Meanwhile it’s windy enough to blow your teeth out here on the edge of Wales and I need to pop into the little room at the back of the campervan to comb the beast.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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