Thursday, 29 September 2011

Male Grooming by my Desperate Dan dad

My dad was an old school dad. Though he was full of humour and always singing, whenever good cop-bad cop needed to be played, he was quite happy to let mum take the pleasant role.

As kids, we always worked under the unspoken rule, “Don’t get dad involved.”

If he needed to be called in to ‘mediate’ one of the daily disputes that were bound to take place in a three bedroom semi containing two adults and five children of similar ages, then it would only go one way.

Mum could be worked on, cajoled into sympathy or empathy, but dad was rigid. A closed newspaper followed by the single, softly spoken word, ‘Bed’ was enough to terminate all argument.

It’s one of the things I loved and still love about him. He was a fixed anchor point in my life. It wasn’t always pretty but you knew where you stood with him.

I used to love to watch him shave. Like all men of his generation, the notion of male grooming as something to spend time on, was completely absent from his life. Sacha Distel was the only man in England who knew what moisturiser was and he was French.

My dad’s shaving routine was rudimentary to say the least. I wet shave. I use the latest multi-bladed offering from Gilette, which shaves so close that I can occasionally see my back teeth through my skin. I fluctuate between foams and gels, searching for the best combination to give me the perfect shaving experience. My dad used to use a bag of Bic disposable razors.

I think they were meant to last a week or two, but he could get a whole year out of a ten pack. They were usually blunt after the first go. He had a proper, Desperate-Dan five o’clock shadow as well.

He didn’t bother with any sort of facial lubricant, other than to get a bit of lather off some Lifebuoy and smear it around in a cursory fashion. He’d fish into the Bic bag, pull one out and then start dragging it round his face. The noise was horrendous. It sounded like someone rubbing a pine cone up and down a cheese grater. It can’t have been comfortable but he never batted an eyelid, whistling as the rusty blade yanked out the stubble, hair by hair.

When he was finished, the Bic would get a quick rinse then be chucked back in the bag to ferment some penicillin with its mates.

His post shave routine would see him chucking on half a pint of whatever rubbish aftershave we’d bought him for Christmas. He wasn’t really a brand man. I don’t remember ever seeing a bottle of Brut, Denim or Hai Karate in the bathroom. If you can cast your mind back that far, Hai Karate was the aftershave that came with a leaflet, offering tips on how to defend yourself from the swarm of women that might attack you if you used it. My dad's aftershaves were basically white spirit that smelt nice. Putting neat alcohol on to an open wound never seemed to bother him. A quick slap followed by a stoic grimace was all you’d see.

I liked to watch him, because I’d always get a pat on the head and a wink as he walked past me on the landing.

I can feel him and the rest of the men of his generation, peering over my shoulder whenever I’m in Boots, walking along the ‘male grooming products’ aisle. As I try to decide between ‘King of Shaves’ and ‘Gilette Fusion Stealth Hydragel’, I can almost hear him saying, ‘I would’ve repaired a bike, built a wall or carried out some home improvements without planning permission in the time that it’s taken you to decide.’

In all things, more choice seems to create the illusion of happiness, whilst just making life that bit more complicated. The variety of products available to the man who has been conned into caring about his appearance being just one example.

In 1980, my parents decided which secondary school I was going to by pointing at it, so things have definitely changed.

It didn’t happen that long ago, either. When I was a young soldier, I turned up in Aldershot to make a futile attempt to pass P Company in 1987. On the first morning, our ragtag bunch were prepped and ready to go for our first run, when the Staff Sergeant taking the course, gave us a once over. He was an old school guy and had been in the army since Centurion was a rank not a tank. He paused at the lad stood to my left, pointed at his head and asked him a question. He wasn’t angry, just clearly shocked, his world rocking on it’s axis.

“Are you wearing hair gel?”

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What Would Jesus Do?

I was on my way home from work in the car the other day. It’s a largely uneventful, seven mile drive. In fact, the only thing of note that’s occurred in the two years I’ve driven this route was a couple of weeks ago, when I had to pull up at a zebra crossing to let someone cross. I took a picture.

If I live to be ninety, I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get another chance to see an elderly woman, riding a mobility scooter whilst towing a miniature horse, in the middle of Wythenshawe. I’m assuming that the horse was some sort of battery backup for the scooter or the woman was taking the words, ‘Zebra Crossing’ literally and the little black and white thing she was dragging was the closest she could get.

I’ve made the journey more than eight hundred times, but aside from tiny Mancunian nags, I usually just have the back of other people’s cars to stare at. I get to see all the usual bumper and window stickers, telling me that the driver has been clever enough to get someone pregnant and now has a ‘child on board’, or that I should be supporting the work of one pigeon sanctuary or another.

I do get a bit irritated by the Christian fish symbol ones, though. I suppose that the driver is just stating their affiliation, but I always feel that I’m getting a finger wagged at me. The car in front contains souls earmarked for saving, but my vehicle, absent the appropriate emblem, is on the A666.

“Check us out, you heathen. We’re statistically less likely to be involved in a serious RTA. We’ve got the badge and we’re with the Big Fella.”

Last Wednesday, I saw a new twist on the familiar motif. It looked like this.

There was no explanation about the letters, but the light was on red for a good thirty seconds which allowed me to work it out. The ‘J’ had to be Jesus, him being the central figure in Christianity and all that. A bit more head scratching lead me to the rest.

‘What Would Jesus Do?’

The bloke in the car might well live his entire life according to this particular credo, but the message was for me, not him, otherwise he’d have it on his dashboard or tattooed on his hand.

So I spent the rest of the evening thinking, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

When wrestling with the big philosophical questions of life or dealing with matters of conscience, I imagine it’s a very useful tool to the average Christian. Its simplicity probably eases the decision making process, but if you apply it literally it’s not so effective.

I was trying to fix one of the drawers in the kitchen. We bought it from IKEA nine years ago, so I can’t quite believe it’s gone wonky. The screwdriver I was using was a little too big to get into the gap to access one of the screws, so I took a deep breath and thought, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ It was no good to me. Even though his dad was a carpenter, people in Nazareth two thousand years ago can’t have been familiar with modular, flat packed furniture. With the best will in the world, Jesus would have only been able to give me some general advice about taking my time and not swearing, but that wouldn’t get the drawer fixed.

Later, I was trying to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, but realised that two things were being taped on Sky Plus. The box was giving me the choice of deleting Family Guy or Modern Family, both programmes which I wanted to watch. What Would Jesus Do? Once again, he was likely to be a bit stumped by the technology. By the time I’d have explained the system (as well as backtracking through the invention of television and the harnessing of electrical power), Curb would have finished.

He was able to help me just before bed, though.

I was brushing my teeth and contemplating a shave. I’d not bothered for a couple of days and on looking in the mirror, I couldn’t decide if I looked rugged or dishevelled. I thought about it for a few seconds and then chanted my mantra.

“What Would Jesus Do?”

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Novel Theft

After the recent riots, I was discussing the rights and wrongs of helping yourself to things that don’t belong to you with my son, Chester (12).

He’s a lovely kid. He’s got a nice bunch of mates and a good sense of humour. He’s polite and chatty to people who come to the house and to my knowledge, he has never stolen anything in his life. He was clearly horrified to be asked the question.

He asked me if I had and in the spirit of honesty that pervaded the conversation, I came clean about the little bit of ‘dare’ inspired petty larceny I got up to as a boy.

Having spoken to a lot of men and women my age on the subject, it seems to have been a pretty common thing for kids in the 70s and 80s to conduct a bit of five fingered discount in the hope of impressing their mates. It seems that my experience was typical.

I never had to steal anything because I couldn’t afford to buy it. My mum and dad weren’t rich by any material standards, but I had everything I needed.

I don’t remember who amongst my mates suggested stealing something from the newsagents, but it caught on and one by one, we took turns to be the thief of the day. It took a few weeks for it to come round to me, but eventually I found myself, aged 9, nervously holding the door handle of the newsagents on Platt Lane, with a semicircle of my pals giving useful tips.

“Straight in and out, Charlie.” “Go for the Fizz Bombs, they keep ‘em near the till.” “Ask for some kop-kops and when she turns around, grab a handful of Refreshers.”

I was terrified, but determined to keep my nerve. The shop was quite busy and I was in there for a couple of minutes. When I emerged, I had my swag carefully hidden in my jacket and my mates quickly surrounded me.

“Did you get something? Did you get something?”

“Yep. Have a look at this.”

I opened my coat to reveal a copy of ‘Jaws’ by Peter Benchley.

“What the fuck’s that?” cried Clement.

“It’s a book.” I replied. “It’ll be great for us all to read it,” I lied.

I wasn’t really promoting my own literacy programme. Everything else was far too risky. The assistant seemed really hawk-eyed and the bookstand had been the nearest thing to the door. My friends sussed this out in no time flat and I was roundly scorned for showing a clear lack of moral fibre.

After a few more rounds of this, one of the lads got caught. The 70s were a different time and extra judicial sentencing by the man in the street was quite common. He’d gone for a copy of Roy of the Rovers and got as far as the door with it. A bloke who’d been reading a paper rather than buying it, spotted him and just as he left, yanked it out of his hand and delivered an immense toepecker to his backside, accompanied by the warning.

“I know your dad, lad. If I see you or any of your mates helping yourselves in here again, you’ll be for it, coppers and everything!!”

That was enough to curtail our fledgling careers and we went back to playing football and popping tar bubbles for a few years.

I only ever stole like that once more, when I was 14. Once again, I did it to impress my mates and it backfired completely. We’d just left a museum trip to make our own way home and as we walked down the road, I was telling a few of the lads about my artistry in the specialist world of shark novel theft. Filled with bravado, I helped myself to a pear from the display of the fruit and veg shop we were passing. I hadn’t spotted the shopkeeper but he’d spotted me. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, relieved me of the pear and started marching me down the road, informing me that we were on our way to the police station.

It was only some Olympic standard blubbing and continued pleading, all witnessed by my mates, which persuaded him to let me go, probably in disgust. I was ribbed for weeks afterwards, my attempts to convince them that I was only pretending to cry, falling on the deafest of ears.

Those days are behind me now. I limit myself to occasionally hiding a sausage under the bacon in the work canteen or putting £10.01 worth of petrol in my car and offering the service station man a £20, forcing him to give me £9.99 of change or letting me off a whole penny. I’m keeping my hand in for the leaner times ahead, which I hope will never come.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lyrical Vandalism

Like most people, I’ve spent my life getting the words wrong to songs.

Sometimes I do it deliberately to annoy my wife, sometimes I do it because I think the words I’ve put together suit the song better. Sometimes it’s for comic effect, but in the overwhelming majority of instances, it’s because I’m being a bit thick and haven’t been listening properly.

The first time that I noticed the entertainment potential of messing up the lyrics was at secondary school. At Saint Pius X, a Roman Catholic all boys school, we were often press-ganged into singing the praises of Jebus and his pals. I hated hymns. They all sounded the same and most of us were incapable of generating the required levels of rapture or enthusiasm demanded by the music teacher, memorably nicknamed Adolf Walsh. It was a grim old place to try and propagate bliss. The chapel was modelled on an above ground version of Hitler’s bunker.

The tiny bit of quiet sedition we engaged in to make the songs tolerable was to modify the text. As a form of rebellion it worked most effectively during the hymn, ‘The Spirit Lives.’

Simply changing the word ‘light’ for ‘shite’ gave it an entirely different emphasis.

The Spirit lives to set us free,

walk, walk in the light;

He binds us all in unity,

walk, walk in the light.

Walk in the light,

Walk in the light,

Walk in the light,

Walk in the light of the Lord.

Due to his unashamed zeal for all things musical and holy, Adolf always assumed that we were laughing because we realised we’d be going to heaven one day.

That aside, I usually get the words wrong to songs because of a lazy ear. In a blatant effort to try and keep my blog references as contemporary as possible, I’ll just mention that I thought that Hazel O’Connor was saying, ‘Will you adjust the lightbeam, say goodnight?’ on the song ‘Will You?’ and that Paul Weller was referring to an organisation called the ‘Eton Riot Force.’

It was only when I met and married a muso with an encyclopaedic knowledge of bands, obscure album tracks and most importantly, the correct words to their songs, that I came unstuck. Whenever I sang along to something on the radio, I’d receive a quizzical look followed by the question.

“What did you just sing?”

Apparently, in her 1999 hit ‘I Try’, Macy Gray is singing, ‘My world crumbles when you are not near’ and not ‘I wear goggles when you are not here.’

It gives my wife great satisfaction to put me straight, but a bit of me always prefers my version, so I just sing along more quietly.

Always having the radio on in the car means that a new generation of lyrical fucker-uppers is being nurtured and brought through steadily. My kids have shown great potential in their ability to change the emphasis and meaning of a song completely by cocking up one of the words. In ‘Dakota’ by Stereophonics, singer Kelly Jones is recalling the special memory of a lost love. He repeatedly sings in the chorus,

“You made me feel like the one.”

Not according to my kids. Their version is altogether crueller.

“You made me feel like a worm.”

The Kings of Leon are actually telling someone that, ‘You, your sex is on fire,’ but in our car, Caleb Followill is beseeching his cab driving mate,

“Joooeeee, your taxi’s on fire.”

In both cases, the modified lyrics get my backing and long may my little group of tiny song wreckers ply their trade.