Class conscious

Beards have not been acceptable in high society since late Victorian times, which is partly why I grew one over the holiday period. I let my bristle run riot in the hope of looking hard. But I didn't; I looked like a quaint, parody sort of tough: a ruffian, or a ne'er-do-well. I grew my beard for class reasons (pour epater les bourgeois), and shaved it off for class reasons, as I will explain . . .

I was in north Oxford with my incipient beard, my two sons and their Micro scooters, which I was carrying because they had both refused to continue scooting on the damned things. As we headed to where I was sure I'd parked the car . . . no car appeared to be there. After a noisy conference with the boys, we marched towards the Banbury Road, where I failed to flag down a couple of taxis. ("It's your beard, Dad," said my four- year-old glumly.)

We walked into the centre of town, where I had arranged to meet my wife. I told her I thought the car had been nicked, and she said: "Go back and make sure. We can leave the scooters in the Randolph Hotel." "OK," I said, "I'll take them there now." "No," she said, eyeing the beard, "you'll never persuade them to do it. I'll take them myself."

Back on the Banbury Road, I waved down a policeman to explain that I thought my car had been stolen, and he invited me into his car so that we could drive around and look for mine. I suggested that it might have been taken by joyriders.

"What make was it, sir?" asked the copper. "A Skoda," I said, and he began to look sceptical. He had looked pretty sceptical all along, actually, and kept staring at my beard. Politely, but with a certain steeliness, he began to question me. Why was I in Oxford? Who was I with? Where did I live?

The Skoda turned up eventually. I had misremembered where I'd parked it. I thanked the copper, and he wished me Happy New Year - yet still, it seemed to me, with his eyes on my beard and a question mark somewhere in his mind. When I told all this to the wife, she said three words: "Shave it off."

So I did.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Dotcoms will rise again