A brief spell of financial viability, boredom and a clear schedule conspire, towards the end of October, to propel me on one of my occasional little benders and I awake on 1 November with an erased memory and only some enigmatic clues as to what I’ve been up to around me – an empty bottle of baby oil, a memory stick with the words “Property of GCHQ” neatly embossed on it and a rudimentary tattoo (“Portsmouth FC till I die”) on my left forearm; you know, the usual stuff – but also with, and this is the crucial thing, three days’ stubble growth on my face.
I grasp the great implication of this straight away: it means I have a head start on Movember. Movember, for those who do not know, is the annual month-long event in which men who are too idle or unfit to run anywhere, or too cowardly to do anything risky, or too dignified to do anything involving bathfuls of baked beans, contribute to charity simply by growing a moustache. Hence – do you see what they did there? – Movember.
I have to admit that my reasons for wanting to participate in this event are not entirely altruistic. This stunt has fluttered about the periphery of my consciousness for a couple of years now. In 2010, I thought the idea a silly one; in 2011, as I contemplated a poster advertising the event in the gents of the Barley Mow off Baker Street, I felt a distinct pang that I had missed any chance of getting meaningfully involved – it was now getting to the end of the month and I was clean-shaven.
For, if I may admit it, one of the questions that has nagged at me since before I was old enough to shave was this: what would I look like with a moustache? I would furtively take myself off to the passport photo booth at East Finchley Tube station and then, in the privacy of my bedroom, experiment on the strip of snaps with an assortment of styles: the Inspector Clouseau, the Zapata, the caddish Terry- Thomas, and even, to my own horror, the Chaplin/Hitler. I think it was after I saw what that looked like that this period of experimentation drew to a close.
The thing is, I always remained deeply ambivalent about the idea of facial hair. It was all, I knew perfectly well at the time, about the desire to become a man. The achievement of a proper moustache, as opposed to the vague thistledown on my upper lip, was a metaphor, simply, for that moment when, in the stirring jargon of the analyst, I would achieve full genitality; or, to put it another way, finally Do It with a woman. Growing a moustache was in other words my equivalent of the cargo cultists’ building of a plausible-looking airstrip in the vain hope it would compel aeroplanes to land there and disgorge their bounty.
I knew, too, that they were also about disguise and vanity. A line, or rather half a line, from a children’s book stays with me to this day: in it, a child and his father have been abducted by a criminal gang, and sticking-plaster has been fixed across their mouths to effect silence. When this is finally torn off, we are told that it is a mercy that the boy’s father had not been vain enough to grow a moustache, for otherwise this would have hurt tenfold (I don’t remember anything else about the book except that it was deservedly recommended by the Puffin Club).
However, I also knew, from my collection of Beatles’ LPs that you could grow a moustache on a whim, as it were, to ring the changes in one’s personal journey, to signal that the composer of “Penny Lane” was not the same man who wrote “I Saw Her Standing There”; that one had acquired a certain hard-won wisdom and an appreciation of backward tape loops. And also, I could not forget the military moustache, as worn by Nicholas Courtney in his unimprovable portrayal of Brigadier Lethbridge- Stewart in Doctor Who.
It’s a scream
So, as I write this on the fifth, I find myself with a surprisingly robust tache, which is dividing the audience. The Beloved, who has made a very good argument for its removal – propriety obliges me to be vague about the details, you will have to work them out for yourself – looks on it with a kind of glazed horror. The ex-wife all but threw up into a bucket. The daughter – cruellest of all – says I look like one of the Chuckle Brothers, although she is unsure which. My sons, though, think it is a scream. Which is as good a reaction as I am going to get. Everyone else may as well be Jeeves confronted by one of Bertie Wooster’s ill-advised efforts. Well, nuts to you all, I’m doing this for charity. Which of my readers, if any, are with me?
You can donate to Nicholas's moustache fund here