Tag Archives: youth

I am thinking of dying my hair. Is this a bad idea? Or am I past my sell-by date?

Could I be the new young face of 2012 British fashion?

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.

“Why?”

“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.

Martin Soan, an older man, but stylish in his Nigel Hall socks

“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.

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Filed under Age, Comedy, Fashion, Humor, Humour

The new Wild West of Eastern Europe and its new stag party capital of Kiev

Dancing the night away in the Wild West of Eastern Europe

(This piece was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Indian news site WeSpeakNews)

I was in a basement disco in Kiev a couple of nights ago at three o’clock in the morning.

Anyone who knows me will tell you this is not my natural habitat. I hated dancing and strobe lights in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people not only dressed in primary-coloured clothes and juddered in bright flashing lights, but also wore flared trousers.

I remember going to a very jolly Saturday night party in someone’s house in London around 1981. The colours, the lights, the loud pulsing music. It was very well done but, that morning I had been in the studio in Birmingham for the live three-hour mayhem that was the Tiswas children’s TV show – and I think it was towards the end of that season’s 39-week run.

For people at the party, bright exciting colours, lights and noise were a good thing. I just wanted to stare at a beige wall for three hours. Sensory overload was not excitingly stimulating; it was more of what I had already had all morning, minus the smell of shaving-foam-filled ‘custard pies’ and whatever the sweet-smelling ingredient of the occasional explosive puffs was.

Which brings me to a basement disco in Kiev at three o’clock in the morning and me being there with a runny nose and a hacking cough.

Unmarried twenty somethings with disposable incomes way beyond the wild imaginings of their parents at the same age were dancing and drinking the Thursday night away to 0730 on Friday morning

Kiev’s streets are busy with Range Rovers and other 4-wheel drive vehicles and occasional nightclubs and 24/7 restaurants.

“It’s a cross between the decadent remnants of a Communist state and the Wild West with mobile phones,” I told my eternally-unnamed friend back in the UK via Skype and the free WiFi in my very good room at the Impressa Hotel. “It’s young people with money for the first time,” I added, knowing what I meant but not knowing if that phrase communicated what I meant.

In The West in the mid-to-late 1950s, ‘teenagers’ first appeared. Before then, people in their late teens had been schoolchildren or students or a living-with-their parents underclass with no money. But then they suddenly had disposable incomes and could afford to build their own lifestyles.

Then, starting in the Swinging Sixties though the Seventies, sexual liberation added a whole testosterone-fuelled extra dimension and (a phrase I hate) the Working Class British kids found they could be as decadent as the upper classes had always been because, suddenly, their parents were going on holiday to Spain not Blackpool and ‘Working Class Yoof’ was ‘in’.

From the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union kids had a theoretical new freedom, though without the money to fuel any real new lifestyles. I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s and saw this after it started but before it fully happened – there, the change I saw seemed to be heavily-fuelled by foreigners and tourists finding an open-minded country with relatively cheap living costs.

A Brit who has been coming to Kiev since around 1992 told me: “You could really see the changes happen from about 1999 onwards.”

The old Soviet Union is the new Wild West. Not an original thought, but true nonetheless. I vividly remember being behind a young couple in 1996 who were walking hand-in-hand down Wenceslas Square in Prague. He was wearing a dark jacket which clearly marked him as working for some private security company. Out of the bottom corner of my eye, I saw something bouncing on his right hip as he walked with his left arm round his girlfriend and it was then I saw it was a handgun in a hip holster.

It really was the Wild eastern West.

There was much talk in Prague at that time of the various mafias – German, Italian, Russian – who controlled parts of the city’s and country’s economy – one mafia ran most of the taxis. There is talk today in Kiev of the mafias and a surprising number of people – taxi drivers, shop assistants et al – without prompting, show extreme verbal dislike of the current President, openly calling him a ‘criminal’.

Where all this goes, only time will tell.

I do not know if the testosterone-fuelled mating rituals in that Kiev basement disco are a sign of a new awakening or the last belated gasp of a decadent Europe before the inexorable rise of China.

When I was in Prague in the mid-1990s, it was becoming (with Dublin for Brits) the weekend party capital of Europe. In last week’s edition, the Kyiv Post was touting Kiev as the “new stag party capital of world”.

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Filed under 1960s, History, Prague, Russia, Sex