A beard is not a thing to grow lightly; not if you have dark hair at any rate. My beard, were I to grow it, is rather a startling shade of orange which gives me the appearance of having been at the marmalade while shearing a ginger cat. It is rather at odds with my dark hair. I am doomed, therefore, to one of two fates: buying beard dye or waiting until I go grey. I'll take the latter: there's less ignominy in having the appearance of one who's been at the marmalade while shearing a badger, than one who fears the loss of his masculinity. Real men, of course, shouldn't give any number of hoots for the loss of their masculinity.
I was old enough to be permitted to take part when my father raised his beard (the opposite of razoring it, you understand). All the men folk of the family gathered and sat in solemn postures various, some stroking their chins as if in encouragement, others simply getting tight on Father's whisky. I was permitted to stand with hands in pockets and strike a nonchalant pose at the window. The women rallied round with hot flannels, which they burned outside. Symbolically, someone's hat was always sat upon, but no one knew what this was symbolic of, or whose hat to sit upon. In the end several hats were damaged in the fracas.
When he reached the Seven Day Itch, everyone took it turns to pin Father to the floor to prevent him scratching. Oh, the cries! Agonising, high pitched screams; Mother turned quite white outside where she was pacing worried sick. I'm not sure who spotted the pigtails but we knew then that little Cousin Pendula had been caught underneath him in the initial rugby scrum (she'd snuck in to see what the men were doing). The poor child had inhaled so much of Father's hair tonic that she was addicted to the stuff for years. Tragic, really; eventually tried to come off it using styling mousse and suffocated horribly.
The itching wore off, leaving Father with the glint of insanity and the nervous tic which give all bearded men the air of romance (and insanity and nerves). Having played their part, the men folk retreated to a respectful (and safe) distance, joining the women outside while Signor Trampizi the barber undertook the shaping and trimming. How that man worked! Without the aid of scaffolding, and using only crude garden implements, he sweated and strained over Father through the night and into the next morning. Mother's nerves were at breaking point as she waited, waited, waited to see how her husband would look in his new beard. 'For God's sake,' she finally broke down, 'I can wax my legs in half a day, why is it taking so long to wax a moustache!' Careworn hands led her into the kitchen where she was gently shot with eighteen tranquiliser darts.
Finally Father appeared, looking a little self-conscious and proud, and no one could say that there stood a man without a beard. Signor Trampizi was at the bedside when Mother came to. 'Madam,' he said, and I'll always remember this, 'Madam,' he said, 'it matches!' Yes, the beard was the same colour as his hair and everyone rejoiced.
The same colour as his hair.... Like most men I have cheated and grown mine prematurely; just to see. And I didn't like what I saw. What will I do if, come my own official Beard Raising, I haven't yet gone grey? How shall I face my family? Why, I shall cheat, of course, and wear a false one created by an Italian master craftsman just like Father did (he told me the secret on his death bed. He isn't dead yet, but likes to take to his deathbed when he's feeling blue devilled. It's just an inflatable mattress with a black tarpaulin on it).
But I've gone on long enough, and spilled more family secrets than I ought. Look at this damn cam... I mean, would anyone care to buy a camel, only slightly used? I had this camel in suspenders delivered to me. Had the crazy notion of making a sort of Camel Foie Gras. But have you ever tried to force feed a camel? It gladly takes everything I give it and then comes back for more. It's taken a great chunk out of the good armchair, look, and if I hadn't woken up I believe it would have wolfed the lot. Its favourite thing is gin soaked ginger nuts (and I've had to change my trousers because I didn't like the way it was eyeing them) so I'm trying to use them to lure it out of the window... it honestly looks like a pretty suicidal camel to me. The liver can go hang; I expect it's tough as old boots.
Okay, ask me something for next week... Why is the camel wearing suspenders? Well that's a damn stupid question, you'll have to do better than that. Because it looks sexy in them, that's why.