My memories of childhood are all good ones, with the odd bit of trouble thrown in, but my teenage years were a much more extreme time in my life. I suppose this was, and is, the same for many teenagers and I must have been a challenge for my parents. I did have the fortune of being the second of three boys and I think my older brother had worn my parents out so that they were more relaxed when I hit puberty. My brother had, from what I had witnessed, been quite an easy teenager, but I suppose he carried all our mother’s hopes at that time. He also wanted to become a vicar and almost did, which suggests he wasn’t a really challenging lad.
I, on the other hand, was suddenly overcome with an awakening that was far from subtle. Physical and psychological changes arrived early and my first memories are of becoming aware of hair growing in places it never had before. This became a monumental embarrassment and techniques were employed to avoid others detecting this during changing at school sport and PE. The voice also started to change and I left St. Wilfrid’s, Harehills, choir for two major reasons. The first was that Mr Benton, the choir master, weeded out the croakers and the second was that I discovered something much more interesting than singing in a church choir. Girls! Suddenly I was noticing them and the thought of having a girl friend dominated my waking moments.
As I have spoken of before, St Edmund’s youth club and Lidgett Lane Methodist youth club became my social areas and opportunity to fraternise. I have told of my belief that being dark, brooding and mysterious would somehow attract the interest of pretty girls, but of course no one had told girls that this was the case and I was just ignored. I was saved by the chance meeting with Peter, John and a new circle of slightly older boys. For some reason we hit it off and shared our passion for music, both listening and later playing. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s and the stars aligned in it being a time of musical and social revolution. The sixties believed that love could save the world and, despite a realisation that this was unlikely, music went through a hay day of creativity and technological advancement.
At high school, I was moving from the unquestioning compliance to a time of questioning. I became far more discerning and realised that some teachers were fantastic, some were not and some were pretty unpleasant and should never have been allowed to enter the profession as they despised children and in particular, teenage boys. The ‘Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom’ wasn’t the problem, it was the violence that was meted out. Part of the challenging of authority was the bending and ignoring of rules. This was the time of long hair and it was the length of hair that mattered, rather than the style. The school rule was that hair shouldn’t reach below the shirt collar and some teachers would inspect and enforce this rigorously, whereas others turned a blind eye. A warning to not return to school without it being cut was commonplace, but so was the avoiding of the teacher and hair being tucked inside the shirt collar, to offer token compliance. If you were lucky you got away with it, if not, higher authority may issue the same warning not to return without it being cut. In these cases a very light trim might occur, whilst you hoped your presence would dissipate from their scrutiny, and their focus be taken by some more heinous misdemeanour.
Looking at the photographs from the time, they did have a point. We were a scruffy, wild haired lot that I can’t imagine why any girl would find us attractive. There was no attempt at style and the hair was just allowed to explode. I was lucky for a few years. I had hair that had a wave and I grew it to the middle of my back, when straightened, but alas not for long. I still miss my old friend: hair blowing in the wind, the warm feeling it gave as it stroked your face. Mine was soft and fly away, and fly away it did in my late teens. It still is a great loss, after all these years. Of course now, in my dotage, hair sprouts from every conceivable place that you don’t want it to. Shaving ears, trimming the nose, back hair removal and two inch long eyebrows. Time offers just one mercy and that is that our eyesight dims and close up vision blurs, or is it just a cruel trick of ageing? I still remember a young teacher at the school I was principal at, reaching over grasping and eyebrow hair and pulling it out. She stood there with an embarrassingly long hair, saying, I’ve been watching that for two weeks.” “Well, I wish you’d said something two weeks ago,” I replied.
Something to cheer you up during troubled times. Filmed on the Swan River, Perth, Western Australia.
But I digress! After being one of the first to develop ‘hair’ it wasn’t long before others caught up and facial hair then became a thing of desire. It was the sign that you had become a man. It didn’t matter if it was a mere whisper of ‘bum fluff’ across the top lip, you were a man! Of course it was another red rag to a bull for some of the teachers. “Get that shaved off, boy!” became a common catch cry. There was real division between the boys with faces like a baby’s bottom, those with a bit of peach fluff and those with a thick, bristle-like stubble. One boy, John, had hair so dark and thick he needed to shave twice a day at thirteen and hair spouted over his collar from his chest, but unfortunately his head became the first to don a friar’s pate before he left the sixth form.
I remember the first time I had a shave. I just used my dad’s razor, a Wilkinson’s Sword blade, shaving brush of badger hair and his shaving soap. (Badger hair was used as it had good water retention. The bristles were three colours, which I believe is unique in the animal kingdom) I had watched him use it when I was little and copied the ritual. It was exciting but little did I realise that that was it, every day for the rest of my life. Nowadays it is disposal blades, electric razors or fancy oils and shaving foam or gel, but it was just soap in those times. With shaving came the ability to sculpt the facial foliage into patterns to attract the female species: mutton-chop sideboards, rakish moustaches were attempted, but goatee beards were a no-go as one teacher in particular had one and no one wanted to be like him. John, with the dense hair, sported a full moustache in the style of Peter Wyngarde, Jason King, and was quite dapper. To tell the truth though, I can’t ever say I was keen on my moustache. I remember it being a trap for food and drink and I don’t know may girls who found the experience of snogging a toilet brush desirable. After saying this, two of my friends have maintained their versions for most of their lives and their wives must have found them alluring, or maybe they have tolerated them. Sideboards, I felt, had more going for them and at various times they have been bigger, longer and during the eighties, pointy in the Midge Ure, Ultravox style. I have had various attempts at a beard, and in fact, I had one when I married, but I can’t say I have ever found them comfortable and the daily ritual of shaving has been maintained for the vast majority of my days so far.
Roundhay School did not like facial hair and the masters would make examples of certain boys. I am not sure why, but they didn’t pick on me very often and I attempted the full gamut of styles over the early years. After the dismal failure of the deep thinker approach to attracting females, the trendy, hairy musician did prove more successful. I don’t ever remember my parents commenting on my hair or wanting me to have it cut, but I seem to remember that my older brother suffered in this respect. Maybe it was because they thought I was a lost cause. I don’t know if my younger brother had any issues with his hair length and I must ask him next time we speak. As I have said, my locks didn’t last beyond high school, but some suffered at a younger age. At least it has saved me a lot of time with grooming and haircuts, enabled me to avoid head lice during my teaching career and of course bald men are always attractive! Angst at hair loss wasn’t helped by the 1968 musical, Hair.
All parts of the audiobook, The Moonchild, can be listened to free of charge on the soundcloud player below.