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Remember remember… a word on Movember

As the nation’s men watch the shavings of yet another Movember disappear down the sink, I suggest sparing a thought for the voiceless few who are in increasing danger of being overlooked at this time of year.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: Movember is a great thing, and though I’m personally a little fatigued by how it fills content-starved 24 hour news channels and otherwise empty column inches, the cause is so good I’ll happily tolerate almost anything. I’ll even take on the chin the mounting inadequacy and self-loathing I feel for resisting the campaign’s call. Heavens, I might even do it myself in 2013. Actually, maybe not. But if I don’t, then I’ll at least seek charitable sponsorship for staying out of it – which, these days, takes almost as much determination as actually taking part.

But what is worth considering is the impact on the established moustache growing community: those mo-veterans who have invested months, years, possibly even whole (post-pubescent) lives in perfecting their beloved taches, only to find themselves at the unwitting centre of an annual cult to which they do not belong. How hard must it be for them in autumn and early winter, forever scrutinised as though they too are just temporary travellers on the good ship mo? Even I, with my modest stubble, once got unduly entangled in it – ‘Growing that for Movember, are you?’ they demanded – and felt profoundly awkward when I explained that whatever hair I’d mustered was solely for my own gratification. If it was bad for me, what must it be like for those with lovingly-nurtured proper mos? In October, they get pilloried for starting too early; in December, they get quizzed for not having shaved it off. As for November itself – well, even the earliest Johnny of all must feel something of a come lately.

I’m no expert – and I really don’t mean that modestly (in truth I deplore them, Lionel Richie, circa 1984, aside) – but is it possible that the art of the moustache is being devalued by its greatest advert? Although ostensibly a celebration of the tache in its myriad forms, could it be that Movember ends up achieving the opposite? Whatever lip service it pays the finer points of mopiary, the campaign largely defines itself by the goal of being shot of the things come December. For all the fun, the overarching aim is ‘getting through it’; the unwritten challenge to withstand embarrassment. What must that do to the self-worth of committed mo-bearers? Never mind the guilt they must feel for having sprouted top lip tentacles without charitable donations; what of their future? Might they end up saving face by shaving face – against their better instincts?

It worries me. (A little.) Perhaps some kind of research could reveal the impact of Movember on what might be an increasingly beleaguered community? I speak from a position of no authority whatsoever. Except that – and hence this post – the other night I was in the pub with a friend, who confessed that he had been toying with the idea of growing a moustache.

‘Movember?’ I asked, like a shot – and he shook his head shyly. With a little gentle coaxing, he proceeded to explain that the very reason he hadn’t yet chased his dream was the fear of it being misappropriated by Movember’s transience and triviality. For him, the tache was a serious proposition, but he couldn’t see it through because he wouldn’t be taken seriously.

I tell this story – no names mentioned – as a warning. Of course we mustn’t stop Movember. But its organisers have a moral duty to the moustache community, whose riches they so philanthropically plunder, to ensure no lasting damage is done to one of the last great vestiges of manhood. (Albeit one I really can’t stand.)


Fears of flatulence prove unfounded

I’ve been meaning to write about this all week, but something else has been taking up all my time.

Anyway, the point is this. Last Saturday I went to All Saints Church in West Dulwich to see Lambeth Wind Orchestra perform a neatly-conceived programme dubbed ‘Hampton Court to Hammersmith’.

I’ll confess: my pulse wasn’t exactly racing at the idea of hearing, or indeed seeing, an amateur wind band. I knew from experience how good London’s amateur orchestras can be, but some long-suppressed memory from school had my mind’s ear pre-echoing with flatulence on a frankly deafening scale.

Well, the reality was quite different. Under John Holland’s charismatic direction, the LWO was very loud at times, but never less than tasteful. The cross-capital repertoire – from Gustav Holst’s eerie Hammersmith to local composer Andrew Poppy’s hypnotic pulse-piece If I Could Copy You – was dispatched in unfailingly finessed, full-bodied arrangements. By the end, I had completely forgotten I was watching a wind band at all. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Three thoughts linger:

1. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor may not have been the greatest of all time, but it doesn’t really befit any classical composer to breathe his last at West Croydon station.

2. All Saints Church, which I’ve known from the outside for years, is a glorious building on the inside, too. Memorable as this concert was, however, the place will always be associated in my mind with the woman who sleepwalked to the top of a crane during its refurbishment a few years ago.

3. Walton’s Crown Imperial, which was the highlight of the programme, is arguably the most influential piece of music of the twentieth century. The inspiration for some of John Williams’ most memorable themes is so apparent in its stirring swagger that – London-centric though the evening was – I emerged into the Dulwich night humming a Superman and Star Wars mash-up. Which, unintended as it may have been, was a pretty good finale to a pretty fine night.

Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding

Earlier this week, I used our new slow cooker for the first time. Behold:

I was prepared for all kinds of emotional turbulence. Crunchy potatoes. Pink meatballs. Endless dithering over the feasibility of reheating two-day-old stew. Just how speedy could a slow cooker be?

What I actually got, as happens a lot when in the house alone, writing, was a jarring reminder of time and its relentless bloody march.

Slow cookers are slow, you see. In their very sluggishness, they lend themselves – rather like beards – to a sharpened awareness of time passing. Of the many sensations sparked by applying my appliance for the first time, none was more startling than the consummate melancholy of returning to the vat two, four, six, eight hours after first flicking the switch.

It wasn’t that the stew was unsatisfactory. It was just the consciousness of hours disappearing. Hours during which I accomplished… Well, plenty, as it happened, but not enough – as if anything could ever be enough – to diminish the quiet sadness of time. For sorrow is as much part of time as the minutes and seconds we use to count it. Unspecific, inconsequential, poetic. It is just there. All around us, all the time.

Oh dear. I’m sorry. It must be the continuing influence of Einstein’s Dreams. I didn’t mean to get all fin de siècle. Next thing you know, I’ll be comparing myself to the Marschallin.


Actually, to hell with it. I make no apologies. The Marschallin had her beloved Octavian to remind her that she’s getting older; I’ve got my Morphy Richards. That’s just the way life is.

Simply the best?

At work today I had to order a door handle. To wit:

This seemed like a simple enough task, so when Google flashed up the results I instinctively hurled myself on to

What could be more apt, I thought – what could be simpler? – than a website selling only door handles? I’d be done in no time at all.

How wrong I was.

For a website offering simply anything is, by definition, not simple. It’s simply specialist. It’s simply every possible door handle, in every possible material, in every possible finish, in every possible shape, ever devised by the human race. It is a vortex of variables that swallows you whole, looking on laughing while you vacillate yourself into oblivion. It makes doubters of the decisive. Its ‘everything on the table’ simplicity crushes your willpower until you’re obsessing over the minutest detail – questioning the most basic assumptions. ‘Do they come in pairs?’ I whimpered. Ten minutes later, I re-read the small print for the twentieth time. ‘Yes,’ the door handles said to me. ‘Yes, we do come in pairs.’

The moral of it all?

‘Only’ does not mean ‘simply’. ‘Simply’ does not mean ‘speedy’. may not sound so appealing  as – but by God the world would be simpler if it did.

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