Claire Black: Beards are here to stay

Could beards be just a fashion fad or a re-assertion of masculinity? Picture: Getty Images

Could beards be just a fashion fad or a re-assertion of masculinity? Picture: Getty Images

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MY EARLIEST memory is of my dad biting off my finger nails and spitting them on to the grass. It was a 1970s summer day and I was probably about three. The thing I really remember is the prickly feeling of his beard the whole length of my arm as he held my bendy little fingers to his mouth.

His beard was enormous. It hung from his face like one of those thick, cotton wool Santa beards that hook around the ears. It reached halfway down his torso and was wiry and flecked with auburn that flashed in the sun.

Why this trip down memory lane? Ed Miliband. He was photographed at Brisbane Airport with salt and pepper fuzzy stubble adorning the lower half of his face. The snap has reignited a phenomenon that many people thought was incredible the first time round, never mind in a second incarnation: Milifandom. It has also provoked speculation as to whether it is a coded signal that Miliband supports the hirsute Jeremy Corbyn. I think this is a joke, but given the levels of hysteria being reached in the Labour party leadership contest, Lord Mandelson is probably hatching a plan (which will be leaked) to reveal the inherent evilness of bearded people.

The proliferation of beards on the proliferation of hipsters who, given that it’s Fringe time are filling Edinburgh at roughly the same ratio as they fill east London – they are everywhere – makes this subject a little tricky. After all, no one wants to be seen to be on the side of pretentious young urbanites drinking craft beer and wearing silly socks. But I feel torn, because I am in favour of beards. I am a pogonophile. I’ve always kind of wanted one. That’s what happens when you look like a carbon copy of your bearded father (my dad grew his beard in his early 20s to age his baby face and kept it his whole life. He promised to shave it for my 21st birthday, but he never did) and people say, “If only you had a beard you’d be identical”. Well, might as well have one then. Not really, but the longing sort of lingers.

In ancient Egypt beards were regarded as divine attributes, which is why the pharaohs wore fake ones. For Tudor men they were a sign of sexual prowess. In the 18th century they fell out of favour and were viewed as uncouth but they had a resurgence during Victorian times. In the 1970s they were folky and alternative, an outgrowth of hippy culture.

So what are they now? A nostalgia trip? A re-assertion of masculinity in the (hairless) face of rising equality for women? A foppish fashion fad? A pragmatic solution to the fact that shaving is a pain? There’s always the fact that they make some men look ever so bonnie. I am, of course, thinking of Conchita Wurst.

Whatever the explanation, we are all going to have to face up to the fact that beards are, for the most part, here to stay. Pogonophobes, you might as well get used to them.

Don’t delay law that will save lives

NEW figures from the National Records of Scotland show that 20 people a week died of alcohol-related causes in 2014. That figure is up from the year before and has risen now for two years in a row. Grim. You might have thought, like I did, that minimum pricing had been introduced to make booze cost a bit more, because it’s known that when it’s cheaper, the havoc it wreaks increases. Indeed, legislation to introduce a 50p per unit minimum price was passed by the Scottish Parliament three years ago. So where is it? Well, the matter has been snagged up in the European Court of Justice because it was challenged by the Scottish Whisky Association which claims it breaches European law. After a ruling is made there, it will be referred back to the Court of Session which will then make a final decision. Am I the only one reminded of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Bleak House? It doesn’t surprise me that people who represent an alcoholic drink oppose legislation that they reckon will hit sales of alcoholic drinks (turkeys and Christmas come to mind), but should they really be able to hold up legislation which would save lives?

Summit’s up with review

A CRACKING review came to light on Trip Advisor last week. It was not of some ailing restaurant or Fawlty Towers-esque B&B, but a mountain. Ben Nevis to be precise. The reviewer, a man from Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, who goes by the name of Grim Traveller, was not impressed – one-star not impressed. In a direct comparison with Snowdon, the reviewer found Scotland’s highest peak wanting what with it not having a train to take you to the top and with it being “too steep and too high”. Oh and if you’re ever thinking of climbing it, Grim Traveller wants you to know there is no pub or toilet at the top. Disgraceful. «

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