“You are old, Father William,” the young man said; and yes, I know that I am, but my mind hasn’t quite caught up with it. In my head, I am still in my prime. I have to look in the mirror to shave and so I know what the reality is, but I can still run every day on the treadmill at the gym for over thirty minutes at a pace over eleven kilometres an hour, so I don’t feel too bad. If only I didn’t look so old!
When I was young, I longed to be grown up; mind you, when I started Roundhay School anyone in the Fifth Form or Sixth Form were men to me. They had sideburns, five-a-clock shadow, and some were going bald, so to me they were so grown up. I aspired to be like them: to have girlfriends, weekend jobs and, as a result, have money. Yes, they had spots, or worse, bad acne, tended to smell and had voices that fluctuated from high-pitched to deep bass, but they were almost adults.
Now, anyone fifteen to eighteen seems like a baby to me, and I can’t get over how young the doctors, scientists and other experts that appear on the television and news are. To be an adult, with adult experiences, but without the responsibilities, was what I aspired to. Even better than the Sixth Formers, were university students. They had the even greater advantages of being away from home and parental control, were paid to study, never seemed to have to do much and were experiencing free love on an unimagined scale, or at least so I thought.
I have mentioned before that any developmental education was limited to the very barest essentials from Sweaty-Betty in biology. My parents never got involved and were happy to assume that school had that taken care of. They would have died of embarrassment if they had to deal with sex education with any of us, and we would equally have died of shame if they had tried. The entire subject was broached by my mother asking if we had covered sex at school. It was a painful experience and thankfully lasted about five seconds as I assured her that they did. The greatest cringe moment upon learning of the act, was realising that your parents had indulged. At the time, I, and probably many, assumed that it could only have been the once for each of their offspring.
As you can tell, I wasn’t really prepared well, and it was the same regarding shaving and other changes that occurred during adolescence. Like so much in life, it was a matter of trial and error, find out yourself, ask a friend or pretend that you know, when you don’t.
With regard to shaving, I seem to remember just starting to use my dad’s Wilkinson Sword razor, shaving brush and soap. The onset of ‘bum-fluff’, as it was known, was a time of anxiety, pride and anticipation. Luckily, the hair was easy to remove, but there were rumours going around that shaving made the hair grow back thicker and more stubbly. In truth, this is a fallacy, but it seemed to match the experience, but that was due to hormones, rather than shaving. For those of us who sang in choirs the age of about thirteen saw the end of our careers, as the alternating, uncontrolled pitch made us a vocal liability. Being cast out was a sharp lesson on the cruelty of life, which was almost as painful as not being wanted when teams were picked.
Physical changes matched emotional ones. The Adam’s-apple grew, spots appeared, were squeezed, and attempts were made to hide these hideously unfair blemishes that were purely designed to make us unattractive. Muscles sprouted where they had never been before, jaws became pronounced to match growing noses and, for some, unfortunately not me after the age of thirteen, growth spurts occurred. It seemed that these changes were almost instant and boys returned after the summer holidays, or Christmas break, as new beings.
In my year, John S was the wonder of late developing boys. He developed a stubble that was thick, black and put most of the teachers to shame. Some had the Peter Pan effect and remained smooth-skinned and boyish, a trait that within a few years, many of us would envy. Getting into a pub was no problem for me and most of my friends from the age of about fourteen, but for some boys and girls I knew it was an issue for them until well after the age of eighteen.
Looking older than you were was actually only a benefit for the very short period before you became eighteen, and then it was more of a curse.
The ageing process is relentless and to try and stem its tide is a bit like King Canute telling the waves to go back. For boys, losing your hair is the great worry and there was evidence from one or two boys in the Sixth Form, who lost much of their hair. I became aware of my own hair loss when the hair around the temples didn’t grow as fast as the rest. I suppose that I suspected that it was thinning like my father’s, but I remember clearly sitting in the Chain Bull at Moortown Corner and Kim, Peter’s girlfriend at the time and now wife, coming back with drinks and walking behind me and saying, “You’re going bald!” Now I am sure she was making a simple observation, but for me it was a sword to the heart.
It must be worse for a woman who loses their hair, but for me it was excruciatingly painful emotionally. How could anyone find a man with a bald patch attractive? I know I certainly didn’t! It was about the same time as the Hamlet cigar advert. Yes, they did advertise cigarettes and cigars on the television at this time in the 1970s. The one that stuck out was the bald man with a severe comb-over trying to have his passport photograph taken in a booth. I certainly didn’t want to see my attractiveness disappearing with my hair. Now this wasn’t a time where men would have their heads shaved or cut very short, so that wasn’t an option.
Of course, there was nothing you could do about it, either at that time or nowadays, apart from wearing a wig, but the thought was abhorrent and not an option. They were starting with hair transplants, but I knew that if Elton John, with all his money, couldn’t solve the issue, then it wasn’t worth it. Even nowadays, the treatments are not really very successful. The problem with wigs is that they have to be removed at some time, and most appear to be orange, and stand out.
Now, I am going to let you into a secret, I once dabbled with hair restoration. This was when I had first started teaching, lived in Sheffield, and it was the summer holidays. I saw an advert about restoration and went into Leeds for the initial consultation. I was carried along with the hype and returned a few weeks later for the treatment. Hair restoration was actually a hairpiece that was woven into the surrounding hair. I don’t know what I expected, but I arrived and they fitted this thing, a bit like a dead hamster, and tied it into the surrounding hair. They told me I had to return every few weeks to have it reattached as the hair grew. They also told me it couldn’t be removed apart from by them. I knew it was a 200 pound sterling disaster the moment they started, but I had to sit and endure the process. It actually looked OK, but I felt terrible. I hated it and sat on the bus back to Sheffield, feeling like everyone could tell. I was desperate to get home to my bedsit. As soon as I got in, out came the scissors, and I attacked it. Within a short, painful time, I had the hamster out and I had never felt better in all my life at that point. The hamster went in the bin and I learnt a very expensive lesson. It was so liberating being my natural baldy self!
From then on, I have not tried to hide what can’t be hidden, and it didn’t stop my wife from seeing something in me. Mind you, she didn’t have the greatest eyesight, but I’m not complaining.
The ageing process doesn’t stop there though, and God, he or she, if there is one, must have a wicked sense of humour. There is nothing men want more than a good head of hair, but after taking that away from so many, they goad them and torment them for the rest of their lives. Hair grows freely in all the places that we don’t want and will not grow in the one place that we want. Hair begins to appear on the earlobes, out of the ears, out from the nostrils and down our backs in a mocking gesture. To add even further insult, our eyebrows develop thick long hairs that require constant trimming. As if ageing wasn’t painful enough, our eyesight begins to weaken and close up work requires glasses. This struck me hard as I had had such good eyesight for most of my life. Wearing glasses prevents us seeing the renegade hairs that decide to sprout at an alarming rate, like some magic beanstalk. Unaware of the offending rogue hair that is about two inches long, we confidently go about our lives, oblivious to the fact that those we work with are discussing it amongst themselves. I remember a teacher on my staff, Liza, who was talking to me and suddenly reached out and plucked a gargantuan hair from between my eyebrows. The offending hair was held up as a trophy and she commented that she had seen it two weeks ago and hadn’t the courage to remove the offending hair! I was shocked. I said that I wished that she had done, rather than let me suffer the embarrassment for two weeks, even if I was unaware.
There are so many things that happen to us as we age, but suffering from them is much better than the alternative, so I won’t complain too much. The lack of guidance we received in our youth regarding what to expect in adolescence is matched by the limited information we receive in preparation for ageing. For those my age, I am telling you nothing new, but for any younger readers, these are just a few of the things to look forward to. There are many, many others, but they can wait for another day.
Dead Men Don’t Snore
I just want to give an update on my latest novel, which is a thriller, Dead Men Don’t Snore, is now available, and it is a fast read about a holiday in the south of Spain that quickly goes from bad to worse. Set in the beautiful town of Calpe, on the Costa Blanca, with its stunning giant rock, the Ifach, it is full of enough murder, mystery and excitement to entertain most readers. I am quite proud of it and I hope many people will enjoy it. I don’t write for profit, but for enjoyment, but I do love it when people find my work entertaining. If you have a kindle, then you can read the first twenty pages to give you a taste. If you read it, then please give it a review or a rating.