The End of an Era

When I started working on this nuclear malarkey I realised there would be a lot of differences between oil and gas and my new industry. That much was a given. I spent most of the time in the interview applying my considerable experience to the industry, but it is true that there is a number of massive differences between the two – the way site access is granted, the way controls are put in place for safety, the lack of a flammable atmosphere… and beards.

Bear with me on this.

I started to grow my beard back in 2007 if I remember rightly, before shaving it off a few times throughout 2008, before deciding that I should got Full Time Beard in early 2009 and letting it grow. By the time Connie and I had started chatting in late 2009 it was a fixture of my look, part of my full move to hipster before it was A Thing, and since then it has been a permanent fixture. Except for a short period in 2010 when I shaved my face fully clean and grew a “moustache” for Movember. Looking at photos of me in late November and early December 2010 I cringe at the sight of a disastrous attempt to have a moutache. I was shaving the rest of my face in vain, as my top lip slowly accumulated what could only be described as a “joke”. For my troubles I did raise a few quid for the cause, so it wasn’t all a loss. It just also happened to be easily the coldest winter the UK had ever experienced, shortly followed by a visit in Canada with even colder temperatures.

Magnificent. 

Magnificent. 

I have made having a beard part of my identity. Connie hasn’t known me without it bar that short little interlude. Frank has never had me clean shaven. Joni had up until it went never had a clean-shaven father. I made it part of my identity long before it was “hipster” to have facial hair. It suits me, I think, and if I keep it under control I am able to also appease my parents who were against it at the outset. It is just part of me, and who I think I am, if that makes sense. Mark likes music, hillwalking, writes blogs, and has a beard. It even makes it into my Twitter bio, the 21st century version of a personal manifesto.

All of this makes it just shockingly terrible when it became clear that I would have shave it off to gain access to a building on site. This is not secret information either, with the BBC backing up my problem.

The approach I took was to do it myself, at first. This seemed the easiest option, but after a quick scan through my memory, I realised that I binned my only shaver after it blew up (literally) on a US to UK transformer (I bought it in Texas for the aforementioned Movember attempt). Instead of replacing it with a full shaver, I got a beard trimmer with a few attachments. After a hunt of the attachments that I’ve never used, I decided to use the basic shaver head to trim it back.

With a few photos taken for posterity, the Big Shave started and it was traumatic. Connie was in tears, Frank was howling, a sole lamenting Trumpet call was heard over the wind and rain. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed. I turned to the mirror as the lights went out, and as I was lit by brilliant flashes of light, I cackled.

“What have you done?” Connie cried, tears running down her cheeks.  My maniacal grin widened, as my cackles grew and grew. Thunder clapped and Frank ran under a chair, whimpering.

"Oh God, what have you done?”

“It is done” I said, my voice shaking. My eyes, glinting with the fire of a thousand screaming and dying souls, surveyed the scene. One thought crossed my mind – the Devil is real.

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The face that looked back at me was one I’d not seen in six years. It was me, of course, but the me I associate with myself. It was me, a little older, but still looking younger than my 30 years. The timmer had not managed to reduce it to clean shaven, and that is what was needed. No “significant stubble” the powers that be had said. I had hoped I’d get away with it, but it was clear that it literally wouldn’t cut it.  So here’s a confession – I’ve never wet shaved. Ever. It’s just not something I was taught, or ever needed to do. By the time I needed to shave more than once a week I had already decided to grow my beard out, so it never came up. I had, therefore, no wish to try this method for the first time the night before a site visit where even a slight scratch upon your face will rule you out.

Instead I went for a hot towel Turkish shave, and as someone who has never had (or had the need of) one before, it was a revelation. I’d never had a close shave like it. At one point Sweeney Todd flashed across my eyes – I should have checked to see there was a pie shop next door. Afterwards, I checked – it was a kebab shop.

So yes, now I am nursing a stubble-y chin and cheek, with a view to growing the whole lot back. Don’t you worry, I’ll be able to buy booze and fags without ID in a few months. The next time I need to shave to get on plant I’ll be going straight to Sweeney Todd’s for a close shave and a kebab. It was absolutely worth it.

Acutally, no it wasn’t. I feel weird without my beard. My face is cold, Frank doesn’t lick me as much, and Joni was shy towards me for about four hours. Connie won’t even look me in the eye. My beard is me and I am my beard. We are legion.

Please let it grow back.