Way back when this all started, I mean 2011 started, there was talk of spending three months not just travelling across Europe but of undertaking one of life’s great tests; the beard challenge. I’m afraid to say that I fell at the first hurdle, within a week I’d given up, I had a shave and continued to do so for the duration of the trip. My companion, David, was fully committed to the task. He managed to come home with a substantial, and equally fetching beard, which I’ve seen him sporting on several occasions since.
Time passed. I went to North America knowing I wouldn’t succeed, I wasn’t mentally ready to undertake the task. I was still too youthful, too much a boy, not yet ready to become a man. On my journey I found perhaps the most inspiring of beards and I knew that one day I must try, at the very least, to let my facial hair grow out to its full potential.
On arrival in Australia I knew it was going to be unlikely that I would get an opportunity to get down to business. Looking for work would be easiest with a clean, clear, fresh face. That said, in November I had the chance to get involved with Movemeber. Habit ruined the chance for me as I awoke one morning and shaved as per my usual routine. Not everyone was so easily thwarted.
It wouldn’t take much longer until I realised that it should be easy to commit to the challenge. It turns out there’s nothing like laziness to encourage the growth of some substantial facial hair. The second thing I needed was time, and that was going to be readily available when I left Melbourne to complete my regional work in Curlwaa.
When I headed out with Yves, Bastien and Hans I knew the time was right. In the right light, with the right hats, Yves and Bastien were supporting beards worthy of Fidel Castro and Che Guevera respectively. Hans was in the same boat as me; every day we left our faces unshaven was another stride into uncharted territory.
My biggest fear when things really started to get going was what if I ended up looking like my father. I was sitting in a chair that didn’t belong to me, staring into the embers of a fire that I’d nursed for the evening when I realised this was of little concern. Hiking boots and business socks. Shorts that stopped above the knee and the white glare of my sun-starved thighs. A t-shirt that had been worn to work one day too many and the same jumper I’ve been wearing for at least a week under a jacket big enough to hide at least two more layers. The hairline he kindly provided me with tucked away under a blue woollen hat. I already looked too much like my father to be worried about the patchy, technicolor, pitiful excuse of a beard.
As the weeks went by I began to wonder why I’d ever bothered shaving. Having a beard is a really wonderful thing. I’ve found myself running my finger and thumb across my top lip with a sense of satisfaction before bringing my hand in on the action and stroking my chin with hat I think might be a little bit of pride. Look, it’s not a perfect beard and it certainly won’t impress anybody but it’s my beard. I made it myself and if you can’t already tell; I’m rather fond of it.
When I returned to Melbourne I knew I was in trouble. (Yes, hello, I’m back now!) Don’t get me wrong, beards are most definitely “in” at the moment. There are plenty of guys strolling through the city with their slicked back hair, square framed sunglasses and elegantly shaped beards. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve seen the above moustache as well; elegant is not a word you’d use to describe it. So, what happened? Well, there was a gift waiting for me back in the city and I reckon I was probably back for a little under two hours before I was substantially less hairy.
I can’t remember my first hair cut but I do have vague memories of battles in the kitchen before somebody was able to get me to sit still for long enough to give me a trim. Post-shave I felt like I’d lost a part of my personality. There it lay in ruins around the sink, waiting to be cleaned up and cast away. I can totally relate to kids that aren’t especially co-operative when the time comes to have a hair cut.