Monday, 13 January 2014

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

At various times in my life I’ve been a bearded gentleman, a pub regular and an allotment-holder with a shed. It’s just dawned on me that I’ve never been all three of these things at the same time. Therefore, technically speaking, I’m not much of a man. You know, a proper manly man. With terrible tusks, purple prickles and a poisonous wart.

The latest research on men in pubs is worth raising a glass to, although it must be noted it’s about the mental health value of friends having conversations. While that’s great, and for many years my Friday night routine involved pints of Red Kite in good company in Hootannany in Inverness, I do also value those moments where you can have a quiet half and a read of a paper. A sort of mindfulness, if you will, but with IPA instead of Tibetan prayer flags.

Meanwhile the internet literally went on fire a few months back when top TV question-asker Jeremy Paxman appeared on TV asking questions while wearing a beard. It wasn’t a cunning disguise designed to wrong foot his victim but was in fact his own facial hair. The other day he announced he’d shaved it off.

RIP Paxman’s short-lived beard. I was intrigued by the reaction, as over the Christmas and New Year break Wife-features and the Bairn gave me permission to grow a beard for my birthday in February. Another short-lived beard for our seemingly pogonophobic times.

The Pax reax included some flibberty gibbet fashion type saying beards are like friends. I’ve never knowingly talked to my beard but I have taken a bath with it. Friends take note.

The Bairn would always comment on my “prickles” if I hadn’t shaved for a day or even just a few hours. A close shave never stays smooth for long on a monkey man like me. The last time I had a beard was before the Bairn was born. I whisked my whiskers away for various reasons: I was about to become a dad so felt old and began to notice the white hairs emerging in the beard; I’d just finished five years of running a big annual event and felt a load lifting from my shoulders, signalling a fresh start; and a colleague said I was starting to look a bit like Bill Oddie.

Wife-features seems to think the face fuzz suits me but it’s zanily springy to the touch and the current version is even whiter than before.

I can’t help thinking about the great beards I’ve admired over the year. Would the voice of Berk in Trap Door have been as funny without the rustling of Willie Rushton’s facial hair? Globbits only knows.

Paxman may have ditched his but there have been some great facial hair-sporting anchormen. Who remembers the day Angus Simpson shaved off his moustache, rendering whatever he was saying on Scotland Today meaningless? My earliest memories of the news involve Alan Douglas presenting Reporting Scotland, introducing serious reports about industrial decline. Would I have paid attention to a clean shaven host? Is it any wonder Eddie Mair went and hid on the radio?

Toby Ziegler from the West Wing of the White House, who I’m pretty sure is a real person and not at all made up, helped inspire my move into politics. I too have a “watchable quality” and like pie.

Of course some beards have malfunctioned and been used for evil. Take Noel Edmonds for example. In fact, please just take him.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Cowboys & Caffeine

As I saddle up for the bucking bronco of a ride that 2014 promises to be (the Bairn goes up to primary school and there’s an indyref I’d like to help win) I can’t help swilling around a few American Western metaphors, and lobbing them into the handy spittoon of the blogosphere.

It was a quiet and relaxing Christmas for Green Dad, Wife-features and the Bairn here at the Ranch in the Honest Toun (pop. 21,900). New Year was even quieter as we moseyed on up to the Highlands to bunk with an old buddy in her new house, complete with log fire, and cattle in the neighbouring field.

The Bairn survived an astonishing 96 hours without TV. The goggle box was the least of our concerns, to be honest. Within minutes of arriving at the house the log fire was crackling into life, turning our normally brave wee Bairn into a trembling wreck. She’s never been a fan of loud, sudden noises yet somehow copes with the shrieks and general hullabaloo of nursery.

With some black belt sorcery from our friend we eventually persuaded the Bairn that the fire was nothing to be afraid of, although whether this conditioning sticks remains to be seen now we’re back in the land of central heating and unlikely to encounter another real fire until 5 November.
Not a pirate, nor a princess

Over the holidays the Bairn cemented her love of Toy Story, thanks to films on the TV and Santa kindly popping Mr Potato Head into the pressie pile. Although I’m not sure she quite gets the whole Sheriff Woody and Cowgirl Jessie thing; by contrast Buzz Lightyear the Space Ranger makes perfect sense, especially since we’ve now also watched ET, the M&M-munching alien with the magic finger.

I guess I’m not expecting my wee lassie to take a natural interest in cowboys. Not really due to gender but more to do with the era. I do feel like I’m the last of the kids that played Cowboys and Indians. I grew up on a diet of cap guns and watching John Wayne movies with my Papa. These days everything’s pirates and princesses.

The other night, to mark the end of a fortnight away from the office, I slung Rio Bravo into the DVD player. I wanted a final moment of indulgence before the return to work, and my choice of film was ironically prompted by this piece on the indyref referencing a mythical scene in a Western.

I’d forgotten what a wonderful film Rio Bravo is, and I’d recommend anyone not into Westerns to give it a shot. Directed by Howard Hawks, also responsible for classics such as the Big Sleep, it is essentially a feel good buddy movie, a romance and a comedy wrapped up in cowboy clothing. Dean Martin sings in it, John Wayne kisses an old guy on the head and how Angie Dickinson‘s legs are allowed a “U“ rating I‘ll never know.

The holidays also allowed me to indulge in reading a great American novel. Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams is back in print, following a recent surge of interest in his 1965 novel Stoner. Butcher’s Crossing is like the Searchers without the racism and Deadwood without the swearing. It’s a fairly simple story about pioneers and hunters but is written in a crisp, Technicolor style that I found mesmerising. Mind you, one of the main characters is called Fred Schneider, and it was a bit hard to read his dialogue without imagining it yelped in the sprechgesang style of the B52s’ lead singer.
The wrong Fred Schneider

I did learn a hard lesson during my cowboy-themed holidays. Always reconnoitre your accommodation and check for provisions. You see, I failed to consider that my Highland pal doesn’t drink coffee. I ended up quaffing pots of tea round the clock to minimise the crippling caffeine withdrawal headaches. Excuse me while I go lasso another cup of Joe...