Who grows a moustache nowadays? Err, me
- 1 December 2010
- From the section Magazine
Who sprouts hair only on their upper lip these days? Well, plenty of men grew moustaches in November to raise money for prostate cancer charities. Among them was Patrick Heery, who reflects on the highs and socially awkward lows of the last month.
WEDNESDAY 1 DECEMBER
November is over and with it moustaches around the world are succumbing to the sharpness of a razor blade. My own tache has gone and so, I can reflect on my one and only 30-day experience of living with facial hair.
I was the least likely person to agree to take part in Movember - a fund-raising event to raise money to fight prostate cancer. I do not do weird and whacky things for charity. I've never sat in a bathtub full of baked beans, worn a red nose, run on treadmill for 24 hours or skydived out of a plane strapped to an instructor. It's just not me.
That's not to say I don't donate to others who carry out these laudable activities to raise money for worthwhile causes. I just don't do the whole charity effort myself.
But then, my children intervened. "Please dad, please - you'll be the best dad ever." And so it went on until I found myself not shaving my upper lip. How hard can it be? Very, very hard indeed.
First you have to live through the surreptitious looks and the knowledge that people are thinking: "Is he growing a moustache? Does he really think that is going to look good?"
Then come the insults - a cat could lick that off, I've seen better moustaches on 13 year olds. Next the comparisons - criminals of the most repellent kind along with Nazis of the Ilk of Himmler or Hitler. The best I managed was looking like a 1950s grocer. None of them would spur anyone on to cultivate a moustache.
I even tried adding a soul patch - the bit of hair under the chin - to add some mystique, but to no avail. I still looked out of place - a strange, military throw-back - like the brigadier on an episode of Dr Who.
As well as all that, you have to cope with the itchiness - actually it's more a constant burning sensation that drives you to distraction, the moustache care - apparently conditioner is the done thing - and the shock of catching a glimpse of your face with something unusual on it.
As the month draws to a close I have learnt some valuable lessons:
A new-found admiration for any moustachioed man. Anyone who chooses this look freely, whatever their reasoning, will always have my utmost respect. It's not an easy look to carry off, so more power to their hairy top lips.
My wife hates facial hair, I mean really, really hates it.
Never pay any attention when your children beg you to do something in return for maximum love or best dad ever status. Within a week they had lost interest. By which time it was far too late.
Movember is a growing phenomenon each year that raises millions for research into the fight against prostate cancer - one of the deadliest cancers in men. I have raised much more than I set out to do and have felt a common cause with all those other uncomfortable-looking men who you have seen on a bus or a train near you who are bursting to shout: "I know it looks stupid but it's for charity." We have lived through the looks, the smiles, the wives and partners who can't stand to look at us - even more than normal. But we have made it.
I've been compared to Groucho Marx, Brian Murphy from George and Mildred, Captain Mainwaring and a weasel from Wind in the Willows.
Some of my fellow Movembees - the Australian cricket team and the X-Factor's Wagner - have come unstuck a bit of late, so it feels like a great time to return to my clean-shaven ways.
And there is one bonus I am really hoping for. With less hair on my face, there's a chance it will re-emphasise the hair on my head. Leave me with that hope, please.
I've been grateful for all your support during what has been a very long month. Here are some of your rather fine efforts.
MONDAY 29 NOVEMBER
There are less than two days to go. I am so excited that I will soon be back in the land of the clean-shaven. I can't tell you how excited, but take it from me, it's a pretty big deal.
I still laugh out loud when I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. The only thing that has kept me going is the amount of money I've raised so far and the messages and pictures of support that you have been sending in.
The nicest thing anyone has said about my new appearance so far is that I look like a 1950s grocer. I agree it's not as insulting as being called a Nazi or a criminal of one sort or another - but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the moustachioed-look.
Well it will be gone in less than 48 hours. And hopefully my wife will start talking to me again.
I'm guessing there are thousands of men in a similar position, willing 30 November to come quick smart, although some might be having second thoughts about getting rid of their new hairy friend.
So before the month is out let's have all your Movember moustache pictures.
Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or text them to 61124 (UK) or +44 7725 100 100 (International) and tag them Movember. If you have a large file you can upload here.
THURSDAY 25 NOVEMBER
There is now less than a week to go. Less than a week! I find myself day-dreaming of having a bald, smooth top lip at various times of the day. I cannot wait. Pictures of your taches from around the world have really cheered me up during my moustache month and your kind comments are also much appreciated. As for your less than kind comments - since this is for charity, those have been warmly received too.
It's no secret, if you've been keeping up with this diary, that the experience of growing a moustache hasn't been entirely enjoyable for me. But not for one moment did I consider a moustache could be a safety hazard... until I got talking to a colleague yesterday.
When she was younger, her father used to have a moustache - a big, old droopy one. Now, this colleague has a very severe peanut allergy. Her moustachioed dad, was partial to the odd pint at his local ever now and then and, while having a drink, if he felt a little peckish, he was partial to a packet of nuts. At the end of the evening he would return home and, like any loving father, would have a quick look at his sleeping daughter and give her a goodnight kiss.
However, the droopy moustache had trapped enough essence of peanut that the young girl would wake the next morning with a moustache-assisted, allergy-swelling, trout pout. What more evidence do you need about the dangers of the tache.
But let's not forget this whole month is about reminding us all about the dangers of prostate cancer. The Movember website says that the moustachied men are raising awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men's health. They are also raising a lot of money. In the UK alone last year, nearly £5 million was raised. I am happy with my own fundraising efforts but am still hoping for a late push to reach even greater amounts. Now that would make the month much more bearable.
MONDAY 22 NOVEMBER
We are into the last full week of this moustache growing. Movember men across the globe must be cheering - including the fine-looking fellows below, who sent me photos of their own efforts.
After three weeks, I am feeling no happier with my moustachioed look and can't wait to be rid of it.
It has stopped itching at least but it still looks fairly pathetic and is not attracting too many compliments. Once more I can't help but feel sorry for those men whose normal look includes a hairy top lip. Everyone seems to think it makes you look like a sex offender or a Nazi. Not the greatest device for raising one's self-esteem.
I visited my father for the first time since growing the tache and asked him if he'd ever grown one. After saying I looked like a budding Hitler, he admitted that he had not, which got me thinking - where does a son learn how to look after their beard or moustache?
Someone at work told me that bearded men exfoliate, another said that to relieve the itchiness I should clean it with conditioner. Now this may all sound weird but I have been washing my bald head with shampoo for the last 25 years or so, even though it is pretty hairless. That feels more a case of old habits dying hard. I do draw the line at conditioner though.
So, I've looked up grooming tips online. And indeed, a site on beard-care does recommend shampoo and conditioner to keep my moustache soft and in check. It also says I should invest in a fine-toothed comb to keep it tangle free.
I don't think my moustache quite warrants a combing which is a real, real shame. When you haven't had anything of your own to comb for a quarter of a century, the one silver lining of moustache growing would be idly running a comb through my own hair while sitting on the settee of an evening. But I fear in the week left to me, my tache will not get the required bushiness to justify it.
WEDNESDAY 17 NOVEMBER
I am halfway through this month of fundraising facial hair, which is fantastic. Two weeks today and I will be clean-shaven once again. But is this moustache that's refusing to grow on me, growing on me?
In short, no. As I have said since the start of the month, I am not really enjoying the challenge of growing a moustache. But from the outset everyone has asked about one particular aspect. "Is it itchy?" "Don't worry, the itchiness doesn't last."
But I thought it was one aspect of whisker-growing I was going to be spared - maybe my pathetic attempt was so feeble it couldn't even muster the required bristliness to make it itch.
But no. Yesterday, it began to itch, although it was an itch that felt more like a burn, a burning sensation on my top lip that wouldn't stop. Is that normal? It's just one more reason to add to the list of things wrong with facial hair. At least it might signal a start of more industrial growth - well I can but hope.
Tuesday was also the day I got my first compliment. "I think it suits you," said one colleague. Now I never expected to hear that. But don't worry. Compliments are far outweighed by the insults. "Do us all a favour and go and wash it off," one Newsroom wag offered. Roll on December.
MONDAY 15 NOVEMBER
Right, so we are two weeks in and I have to say I am not impressed with any aspect of moustache-growing so far.
I wake every morning hoping that my top lip will be home to an impressive bristling tache, but no - it seems to be the same patchy, frankly Velcro-like line of hair. At least it means everyone can continue to make fun of my moustache-growing ability to their heart's content.
As I've said before, it seems unfair that a man can be judged by others for his ability or lack of ability to grow facial hair. If a man's masculinity was judged rather on his power to grow hair on his back I would be up there with Arnold Schwarzernegger and Jean Claude Van Damme. Life is so unfair for those bald men, struggling to grow moustaches but with an abundance of hair sprouting in places where they'd rather not have it.
As I've mentioned before, my wife hates my putative moustache - tells me off if I try to kiss her. That's fair enough. But her reaction, when clapping eyes on the picture sent in by Lawrence Sinton [posted further down in this story] was rather less hostile. "Ooh, could you send me that picture," she asked.
A colleague suggested it was because Lawrence had a, I believe the term is soul patch - the little piece of beard under the bottom lip - that he managed to carry the look off. A dig around on Wikipedia reveals this was a look sported by jazz musicians in the 50s and 60s... which probably tells you all you need to know about why the look is cool.
So, I'll give it a go. But hang on, I can't help noticing this weekend's most prominent proponent of the tache and soul patch. The X F actor's Wagner. To be fair he carries it off well but if he's the epitome of cool, I want no part of it.
THURSDAY 11 NOVEMBER
Now, did I say I was happy with my masculinity? Well I am, but I wish this thing would bush up a bit if for no other reason than to stop the gags like: "I'll sponsor you when it begins to show."
So I thought I'd seek consolation from the comments on the site. So thanks James from South Wales for this: "Well at least at the end of the month you won't need to shave... you can just get a cat to lick it off."
And this from Jonathan Friend: "I've seen better moustaches on 13-year-olds."
Friend by name if not by nature, it seems. Thanks, though, to Lawrence Sinton (see picture, right) who has offered moral support by sending a picture of his own Mo-vember effort. "I am getting comparisons to the bad Michael Knight or Tom Selleck," he says. Hmmm, doesn't sound like he's getting too many gags about cats licking it off.
When I catch sight of myself in a mirror I wonder who my newly-moustachioed self reminds me of - a bit of Blakey from On The Buses or Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army maybe. The moustache seems to get a bit of bad press - adorning the lips of figures of fun. But there have been some taches of note that deserve a mention.
Selleck in Magnum PI is probably every man's idea of a moustache (see picture under Tuesday's entry). He would not have been the same, smooth, suave figure without his big, impressive moustache. It is manly, cool and probably inspired many a top lip to follow suit.
The moustache also seems to be the facial appendage of choice to some of the most infamous names in history - Hitler sported a paint pot moustache which helped make him look dangerous and frankly unhinged. What Charlie Chaplin once carried with humour, Hitler deported with malevolence. Stalin's effort was a much fuller, warmer tache - but once again presumably does not inspire too many copycats.
The world of sport was a happy home for many moustaches once upon a time. Australian cricketers loved them. Remember Merv Hughes - now that was a moustache. And David Boon - I think those top lips made me hate the Aussie cricket team even more than the regular drubbings they dished out. Swimmers - Mark Spitz and David Wilkie; world-class athletes - Daley Thompson - these men were in their time the epitome of masculinity as well as success.
In the modern sporting world it seems moustaches have been replaced by tattoos as the accessory of choice.
But the tache doesn't have to be the home of only the despotic world leaders or stars of the world of sport. My own personal favourites are worn by Barry and Paul Chuckle - the Chuckle Brothers. Now those are moustaches worn with style. If I end up with a Chuckle at the end of November, I'll be laughing.
WEDNESDAY 10 NOVEMBER
Yesterday was a great day in my moustache-growing journey. A colleague looked at me and then asked whether I was growing my moustache for Movember. I could have kissed him. Yes, yes, yes I was and he was the first person to realise it. That felt good. He then admitted his first thought had been that my wife had kicked me out. Wow - anyone growing a moustache just for pleasure must have to put up with a lot of questioning as to why.
The other thing I've noticed is the number of men who have a look at my nine-day growth and say: "Is that it?" or "In a couple of weeks' time there might be something to see." (Jonathan Fried, your comment from yesterday - see below - is just one of many of this ilk.) Now, I've never claimed to be some sort of Dave Lee Travis and I'm not sure I'll have the bushiest tache to show off at the end of the month. But should that cause me to question my masculinity? I've fathered two children and lost the hair on my head so I don't think I need anymore reaffirmation of my testosterone.
As I've said, I am finding this moustache growing very difficult, but it prompted me to look up a bit of info on the most common cancer in men in the UK. Some 36,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and more than 10,000 die from the condition.
Right then, let me concentrate on growing this moustache.
TUESDAY 9 NOVEMBER
I hate facial hair. I've never understood why anyone would grow a beard or moustache - I have never met a man who doesn't look better once clean shaven. When someone shaves off a beard they always look years younger, more human, just better.
I don't think I am beardist - well maybe a bit - but I've just never seen the point. I've certainly never tried to grow a beard or moustache myself. I'm not one of those men who has to shave every day and I've often thought I would struggle to grow anything resembling a decent beard. But why would I want to? I've been as bald as a coot for 15 years so if I could grow more hair I would want it on my head not my face.
But then along comes Movember - for the uninitiated, it's a worldwide fund-raising campaign for prostate cancer charities, in which men grow moustaches in return for sponsorship. Even then, it's the sort of thing I could usually resist with ease but, when my son's teachers all said they were taking part, he really wanted me to do the same and, in a moment of weakness, I wilted.
We are now eight days in and it has got to the stage where it is clear something is going on. I no longer just look unshaven, there is a definite shape to things on my top lip. It leads to my first dilemma. I want to shout out to everyone I meet: "I know it looks awful, I'm not the sort of person who would grow one of these for fun - it's for charity."
The worst thing is that at the moment, people aren't saying anything. They must see something is going on but they don't say: "Oh, are you growing a moustache?" Then at least I could say why. But at the moment everyone is being very polite and no-one is saying anything. And it drives me mad.
Thing is, when I started out I thought there would be moustaches all over the place, a brotherhood of fundraisers, all in it together, seeing who is making the most progress or looks silliest. Supportive glances across a meeting room, a common understanding. But no. I look round the BBC newsroom and mine is the only top lip with bristles on it.
I have to say, I want to shave it off. I want to shave it off so much. The razor is calling to me but there are more than three weeks to go. But I already can't stand it. It's just not me - I've been told I look like a school caretaker, a football hooligan and a porn star.
My wife hates it and I hate it. I am going to have to raise a lot of money to make this worthwhile. I initially thought £200 would be good but I would happily shave it off and stump up that sum myself. So maybe I've got to aim higher.
The only thing keeping me going - apart from the fact that it is for a cancer charity and we all have had lives touched by cancer and know what a ruthless killer it can be - is that my kids love it. They really, really love it.
So for now I'll keep going, trying to raise some cash, but I can't promise it'll make it to the end of November.