In 2000, I shaved off my beard because, frankly, it was making me look older than I needed to look and we live in an ageist world. My hair has now mostly turned white rather than just greying, so I was thinking perhaps I should dye it.
Last week, I asked the suspiciously black-haired American comedian Lewis Schaffer what he thought about this.
“John, you’re bald,” he told me. “You have too little hair to color. No-one will notice. Except you will have hair color on your scalp for days after coloring it and that will look sad. Plus, when the grey comes back in, you’ll look sad.
“If you want to seem young, you should shave every day and thoroughly. At the moment, you shave like a old man. You miss the bit around the neck and errant old-man hairs come out of the tip of your nose.”
“You don’t think that’s a good look?” I asked.
“Shave every day,” he said. “It’s very important. And trim your eyebrow hair. Look at pictures of Barry Manilow’s or Elton John’s eyebrows. They look young.
“Trim your nose hair. Trim your eyebrows. Wear a suit. Lose weight. Exercise. Buy more current glasses. Or stop using glasses altogether.”
I thought this was a little harsh, as Sean Connery gets away with it, except he doesn’t wear glasses.
So, yesterday, I had a meal with my eternally-un-named-friend – well. OK, she’s an ex-girlfriend. We were eating spaghetti. I think perhaps one way to appear less old is not to eat spaghetti. I have always eaten spaghetti badly.
“Eyebrows are very important,” she told me.”A good pair of eyebrows will carry you through your baldness.”
“But my stubble,” I complained. “Lewis said I should shave every day, but all the Hollywood sex symbols wear stubble nowadays. I keep seeing them interviewed on TV with stubble.”
“But, John, you’re no Hollywood sex symbol,” she said, “and it’s clean, even stubble. Sometimes yours is stubble just because you’ve missed a bit and it’s much longer than other bits. You’ve got a tatty, moth-eaten look. The other day I told you there were three hairs that were half an inch long and you must have missed those three altogether. You can’t just have decided to cultivate them and shaved round them intentionally.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Perhaps I was trying to make a feature of them. Like flowers. People don’t complain about flowers sticking up in a garden, do they? A flower is just something that’s been allowed to be taller than the other things around it. People don’t say Ooh, when you mowed the lawn you missed that flower; chop it off.”
My eternally-un-named friend said nothing.
“And,” I continued, “Lewis said I should wear a suit. I feel uncomfortable in suits and ties.”
“Well,” she told me. “A suit looks good. I mean, you can go round slobbery in jeans a lot of the time but if, every now and then, you put on a suit, it reminds people you haven’t totally lost it.”
“What about ties, though?” I said. “I feel half-strangled. I’ve never worn ties.”
“Something smart,” she said. “Just every now and again. You wore a tie to that funeral the other week.”
“Well,” I said, “that was a funeral and he was of an older generation than me. I suppose I will increasingly have to wear ties because, at my age, I suppose more and more people I know will be dying off.”
“There’s going to be a turning point, though,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “where less people will be dying because most will have already died.”
“Can I be slobbish after they all die?” I asked. “ It might be in my interest to just kill them off as soon as possible.”
“You’ve gone weird now, haven’t you? she said.
“What’s happened to you?” she asked. “You’ve probably been reading the Edinburgh Fringe Programme again and nearly writing a blog about…”
“We’re not going to mention that!” I said.
“…marching down to the Fringe Office,” she continued, “and demanding your 400 quid back. Plus psychological damage and trauma.”
“So should I model myself after Lewis Schaffer?” I asked. “Is this wise? Is he the perfect role model, sartorially and facially?”
“No,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “but you could try to follow his advice. Martin Soan can also brush up well and he wears clothes well. You should be suggesting him to Nigel Hall as someone who could wear socks in their adverts.”
“I should?” I asked, surprised.
“You remember?” she asked. “He was sitting in Nigel Hall socks, naked, in Lewis Schaffer’s radio show the other week. Martin looks very smart in just a pair of socks. I think it could be a brilliant wotsit. It could be one of those. A brilliant thing. Advertising. You know.”
“You think I look good naked in a pair of socks?” I asked.
“Not as good as Martin,” she replied. “You’d be too self-conscious… You don’t hold yourself… ”
“When you say I don’t hold myself…” I interrupted.
“Martin can do elegance,” she continued.
“What? In nudity?”
“Yes,” she said. “Shall we write to Nigel Hall? Their advertising Dept.”
“What?” I asked. “Suggest a naked man in a pair of socks?”
“Well, Martin Soan naked in a pair of socks,”
“You’ve been around comedians too long,” I told her.
“You keep saying that to me,” my eternally-un-named friend said, “but other people who aren’t comedians are funny… often funnier… and most comedians aren’t that funny. They do it for a job because they just know how to play a room, to hit a funny bone and create a claptrap.”
“How do you create a claptrap?” I asked.
“That thing of making people realise that they’re going Oh! – a sort of thing of recognition in their emotional baggage interior whatever and Oh-uh-ho! That’s funny! and clap. Further analysis later in the cold light of day.”
“You’ve decided you’re definitely not going to the Edinburgh Fringe in August?” I asked.
“You never know,” she said. “I might turn up there, but it’s too crowded and you all get a wee bit mental. You know. Obsessive. Charging around. Busy busy busy.”
“Perhaps Martin will be wearing his Nigel Hall socks,” I said encouragingly.
“You’re going to say I have stuff on my chin, aren’t you?” she said.
“No,” I said. And we continued our meal.