Having Hair

It all started over a pint of peanut butter milkshake. For the twenty-seventh time in seven and a half months, I take the piss out of Mike’s luscious locks of red hair. They reach to his shoulders in opalescent curls and have to be flicked out of his face whenever he laughs, which is often and loud. I know that taking the piss out of a man with long hair is childish and lazy, but I am both of those, so it seemed appropriate.

But there must have been something about that twenty-seventh insult because, instead of brushing it off like so many fallen leaves, he leans in over the milkshakes and says: ‘I’ll be cutting it soon.’

Like a wingey child who instantly regrets his playground cruelty, I shudder in alarm: ‘Why! It’s a part of you, Mikey – you can’t do it! How will I recognise you?’
‘Because,’ he replied, ‘I am making a wig…’
I laugh and start to say, ‘Who would want a curly ginger wig!’
But he cuts me off (pun alert): ‘…For little girls who have cancer.’
Oh. I felt so bad that I vowed there and then to do the same myself.

Little did I realise that my careless promise would involve eighteen months of hard work, as my lazy follicles strain to reach the requisite seven inches of cut-offable hair.

June 2011
June 2011

Now, as I stand on the cusp of returning to the normal world of normal hair, what have I learnt?

There are many phases to growing hair. There is the initial phase where nothing is happening. My hair was just growing, silently. I’d done a one-inch buzz cut a couple of weeks before the fateful promise, so during the first four months it grew to a normal length and nobody noticed.

August 2011
August 2011

Then I started to look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo for another month or so before something extraordinary happened. It poofed. Suddenly, without warning, my hair was cool. It stuck out all over the place and adolescent girls on the street walked past me, shouting things like, ‘Look at that guy’s hair – it’s so cool!’

November 2011
November 2011

It wasn’t to last, of course. Spring brought a growth-spurt, the poof fell in on itself and I was left with serious eye-flop.

May 2012
May 2012

Over the course of the summer it struggled manfully towards Kurt Cobain, defined as the point at which long man hair becomes cool. But Kurt Cobain is dangerous territory. It could, under certain conditions, look awesome. It could also be a total pain in the ass.

November 2012
November 2012

If I managed to eat breakfast without getting beans in my hair, it was a good day. Brushing my teeth took on a new angle: literally. I had to tilt my head to one side – like a GIRL – to flop my hair out of the reach of my toothbrush. It didn’t always work. Last night I dreamt of getting my hair stuck between my teeth, like dental floss – and it was a realistic dream. Any form of exercise had to be undertaken with a Bjorn Borg headband, which looked cool, until it didn’t.

The petty practicalities I never quite got the hang of. When to wash hair? How often to wash hair? What do you mean the hair blocks up the drain! It takes two years to dry instead of two seconds? There were times when my hair actually felt uncomfortable to wear after washing. It was dry and brittle and set my skin on edge whenever I touched it. Then someone told me to use conditioner. That helped. But it still looked puffy after washing and I was only happy with it about two days after a wash – by which time it needed washing again.

I had to learn how to brush hair – and that hurts! I learnt that if you hold the hair, then you can stop the hair brush from ripping from the root. I learnt the different in pull between a comb and a hair brush (thanks Cat for the hair brush donation). I learnt that hair gets everywhere, picking it off chairs, books, faces. I learnt about the smell of hair, the smell of grease, hanging down into my face.

Whatever my hair was doing, it wasn’t normal. I had joined an exclusive gentleman’s club of long-haired don’t-give-a-fuck dudes. Look at all those dorks who buzz cut their hair every month and for what? So they can carry on looking like every other dork on the street.

Hair on a man equals rocker, hippie, celeb, hipster – depending on where you are and what else you’re wearing. I am none of these things, so I felt like an imposter, as if I’d had a hair transplant from the eighties. That didn’t stop drunk people shouting at me in the Underground: ‘Look – it’s Allan Carr’s mate!’

Long hair was also most useful for my secret life as an undercover cop, instantly putting multiple disguises at my disposal. Hair up, hair down? Hat hair, bandanna hair? Top knot, pony tail?

I had assumed that I would become a hate figure for street urchins, but the worst came when a Tunisian lad squinted up at my beard and asked, ‘Are you man or woman?’ One of my ex-girlfriends refused to even look at me, demanding that I tie up the offending hair and squash it under a hat: ‘Better.’

More favourably, only last week I drew comparisons to Brad Pitt in the new Chanel adverts. But I still prefer the Kurt Cobain. I remember, when I was twelve years old, my sister telling me that (being blonde) I should grow my hair to emulate the suicidal pop star. I didn’t of course; I wanted to be normal as well back then. Well, she finally got her wish.

Now it is cut. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it next. I did quite enjoy the poof-phase, but it’s not for grown ups. On the other hand, the first comment my hair-dresser makes is, ‘You’re going bald!’ So maybe I will grow it out again, for the comb-over.

Long hair is an identity. I’d never had to identify with my hair like that before. It wasn’t an identity that I had chosen, but society foisted that identity upon me. The long-haired outsider. It was an entertaining eighteen months and maybe I feel like less of a person now I’m back with the short stuff. But then again, as my house-mate says, ‘A hairstyle is not a lifestyle.’

Now, for those of you with more patience than sense, a video of my locks being hacked. Warning: High pitched sqwarking may distress farmyard animals and the nervous of disposition.

No Money Mondays

This is something I’ve been working with for a while. The premise is simple: don’t spend any money on Mondays. This is a fairly meaty post, so I’ll cut to the chase:

Why No Money Mondays?

  • It helps me to be more mindful of money, of how easy it is to spend, and how pointless. A day without money somehow frees my mind. I feel less stressed. I’m out of the game for a day. I can look at adverts, but I’m not part of that world.
  • It helps me live more healthily. I can’t just buy a nice packet of biscuits when I feel like it; I’ve got to finish up those lentils that have been sitting in my cupboard since January. I can’t pay for the bus; I have to cycle or walk.
  • I realise how possible a day without money is. It makes me dream of a life without money and what that would mean.
  • It helps me become more creative with how I spend my time and energy. A quick thought comes into my head, like: ‘I need to buy some new batteries for my dictaphone.’ I hear myself think this, but I have to reformulate a solution. I can’t just buy some new batteries. I can take the batteries out of my bike lights for the time being.
  • It saves me money! Every day, I record my spending. Over the course of a year, this forms a fascinating record of my spending patterns. On weeks when I have a No Money Monday, not only do I reduce spending on one day of the week, but that parsimony spills over into the rest of the week. This is another good reason why I do it on a Monday, the first day of my week. (The main reason is, obviously, alliteration.)
  • I am more productive: no more time-wasting shopping-excuse excursions.
  • Monday is when I do my accounts (usually with horror). It feels good to have a money-fast after that.

The History of No Money Mondays

I’m not the first person to think not spending money once a week is a good thing. No Money Mondays used to happen every week in Britain. Not on Mondays, but on Sundays. Shops, markets and businesses were forced to shut down for a day – by law. But now Sunday trading is part of every British high street – and even if it wasn’t, the internet would provide for every fleeting desire.

Sunday trading surged forth as a result of the free market reforms of the moribund Conservative government of John Major. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 made buying and selling legal. I’ll rephrase that: before 1994 it was illegal for shops to open on a Sunday. Illegal. Those of a younger generation will find this hard to believe, but it’s true.

But Sunday trading didn’t come into Britain without a fight. It was vigorously opposed when initially put to the House of Commons by Maggie Thatcher back in 1986. It wasn’t just vigorously opposed, but it became Thatcher’s only policy defeat in the House. The only time Maggie Thatcher was defeated in the House of Commons was when she tried to let shops open on Sundays. I’m sorry for the repetition, but this seems impossible to believe today. She wasn’t defeated on the Falklands War, she wasn’t defeated on privatisation, she wasn’t defeated on emasculating the trade unions. She was defeated over her Sunday trading bill.

The Bill of 1986 was defeated by an alliance of Christian Conservatives and Labour trade unions. The Christians wanted to ‘Keep Sundays Special’, to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath, and the trade unions opposed workers being forced to work on Sundays. When the Sunday Trading Act finally passed in 1994, it was only because of amendments that protected workers rights: Sunday working would be voluntary.

I’m interested in why Sunday trading was opposed. I can see why trade unions wanted to protect their interests: a seven-day working week isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. I can see why Christians wanted to defend the Sabbath: the Book reserves Sunday as a day of Holy rest.

But is there something more? I would say yes. I would say that behind this opposition was an instinctive desire to protect ourselves from continuous striving. A day with an open shop is a day with the possibility of buying and selling. And if you’re buying and selling, you’ll profit or lose: you’ll move up the escalator or down.

Close those shops and the escalator stops. A moment’s respite from the pressing needs of survival.

The Rights of Religion

I am a big believer in religions. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a Believer (or even a Belieber), but I can see that religion grows out of an instinctual need. And these instincts are usually good for us, or serve some purpose. Religion dominates in three domains:

  1. Community.
  2. Contemplation.
  3. Charity.

These three areas are not well served by other organisations and none cover all three, all together, all the time. Large, participatory organisations like Amnesty International offer us a combination of community and charity. Certain activities, like yoga, might give us community and contemplation. But religion alone nourishes all three. This comprehensive coverage explains both the rise of religions – and their ongoing popularity, in spite of all their absurdities and inherent threats.

It is with absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I see science gradually demonstrating the crucial importance of these three areas of life to our well-being as humans. A healthy network of colleagues and friends is an excellent marker for happiness. Purposeful contemplation, of the sort that prayer or meditation offers, is great for our physical and mental health. And charity, including volunteering our time, makes us feel happy.

To me, it is obvious that such a recurring and popular phenomenon as religion must provide the human race with some large benefits. I remain an unbeliever, but I am happy to take my lessons from religion. A money-fast Sabbath is one such.

I believe that the fight against Sunday trading in Britain, although economically indefensible, was an instinctive response to a real threat. But because it was a threat that we could not frame in a logical way, the Bill passed when all logical opposition was overcome (the trade unions’ objections to Sunday working). However, both the threat and our instinctive response to it, represented by the religious Christian Conservatives, remain.

So I would like to bring back the money-fast Sabbath. In my own irreligious fashion, I propose No Money Mondays. Instead of using laws, we will have to use our will-power, but I think it is worth it.

Grow your own charitable donation

Last week I found out why a friend of mine has long hair. I’d never thought to ask before. I’d assumed he actually liked his long, luscious locks. Sure he looks like a big girl, but I thought it rude to make disparaging comments. I like to think I’m fairly non-judgemental when it comes to my friends’ hair. At least to their face.

Turns out I should have pointed and laughed, then I would have found out earlier why he has really long hair.

I like to think the conversation would have gone like this:

ME: Ha ha ha! You look like a girl! Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: What? Because I have long hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: Don’t you like my hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: What’s wrong with long hair?
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: Seriously, Dave. I thought you’d be fairly non-judgemental when it came to hair.
ME: Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: At least to my face.
ME: Ha ha ha! Why have you got girl’s hair? It looks so stupid! Ha ha ha!
FRIEND: I’m growing it.
ME: Ha ha ha! Yeah, but WHY, man? You look like a girl!
FRIEND: I’m gonna donate it to kids with cancer.
ME: …
FRIEND: What are you doing for kids with cancer, Dave?

I am leaving civilisation for a few months soon. This seems like the perfect opportunity to grow my hair. I need 6″ of long, luscious locks, about down to my chin, for a decent wig. I currently have about 1″.

If you also want to possess the ultimate put-down response to people who take the piss out of your hair style, then why not join me? Check out http://www.littleprincesses.org.uk/Donate/Hair.aspx for more information.

Things To Do When You Don’t Have A Computer #1: Get Chicken Pox

So you were wondering how my week without a computer went, right? Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • I enjoyed how I was able to relax. I wasn’t stressing over the constant clamour of the internet.
  • I wasn’t very productive. I didn’t do much writing. The computer is where I compose most of my short writing, or at least where I edit it.
  • I didn’t miss the computer’s power of entertainment. I had the radio and a hefty supply of good (and not good) books.

But this is all academic really because I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in bed, with grown up chicken pox.

Farcical.

I might as well make this post useful, so if you’ve got chicken pox, here’s what to expect:

Days -4 to 0

  • A developing fever and a sore throat. You’ll think you’re getting a cold. Little do you know what the universe has in store for you: two weeks of ugly.
  • You are now highly contagious, but you aren’t aware of that so you give it to all your mates. They’ll thank you in 10-20 days’ time.

Day 1

  • Discover funny little knobs behind head. Think that’s odd.
  • Feel feverish.
  • Feel sick.
  • Collapse on floor in a faint.
  • Wake up sweating, inside washing basket. Wonder how you got there.
  • Discover the first pustule.
  • Pustules multiply, popping up before your very eyes.
  • A strange weight on your chest makes you paranoid that you’ve also developed pneumonia. Keep an eye on that.
  • You indulge in lots and lots of sleeping.

Day 2

  • Pustules spread to legs, arms, back, face, and multiply on chest and everywhere.
  • A few spots are slightly itchy. Not compulsively itchy, just a slight throb, a feeling of bulge that is tempting to check out. Don’t.
  • Headaches persist through the day.
  • Hard to sleep at night due to discomfort of the pustules.

Day 3

  • The weight on the chest, the sore throat and the headaches might have eased a little.
  • Neck still aches though and you’ve lost your appetite.
  • Pustules are multiplying and itching at a low level, but just enough to make you constantly aware of them.
  • You try to have a shower to clean up a little, but can’t really do much actual cleaning because of vast number of pustules on your scalp. Your hair is matted. You consider dreadlocks.
  • Notice that some have burst and some are starting to scab.
  • Your face is burning and you think you might have accidentally burst a pustule in your ear. But it could just have been general grossness as you are now the ugliest you’ve been since you came out of your mother covered in blood.
  • No chance of sleep because your face is covered with exploding volcanoes. The night is the worst time for sleeping. Get some in the morning.
  • Fever seems to alternate with itching.

Day 4

  • Sleep in the day. Read. Twiddle thumbs. Listen to radio.
  • Get the shivers before going to bed.
  • Have heavy dreams, exhausting, fever and wake up with a headache and the sweats.
  • On the plus side: the itching is almost gone.

Day 5

  • Feel ill some of the day. 
  • Appetite definitely back as you eat a six-egg omelette with sauerkraut and ketchup (because that’s all you’ve got left in the cupboard).
  • Scared to believe that you have no new spots.
  • Try a bath with bicarbonate of soda – yeah!
  • Have best night’s sleep since Day 0. Still wake up three times for some sweats, but feel fine. Start enjoying the sweat.
  • You dare to hope that you’re over the worst.

Day 10

  • Tired with a headache all morning and afternoon. 
  • The pustules have mostly crusted over and are beginning to fall off, or get rubbed off.
  • You feel bored and lazy. This lassitude is now your biggest enemy.
  • You’re not contagious any more, but you still feel disinclined to go out in public in daylight.

Day 13

  • Worst of the scabs are falling off all over the place. Gross.
  • Your first day of full-on activity, like a normal person.
  • You’re still a bit ugly, though.
  • The worst of the scabs leaves a crater in your cheek.
  • The face ones seem to develop and fall off faster than the chest ones.

Day 16

  • Could pass for a slightly uglier version of yourself. People stop screaming when they see your face.
  • Just a few marks on your face that could be dry skin or normal spots.
  • Your chest still looks like leprosy. Don’t show anyone.
  • Still some itching against your clothes.

And still it goes on. Apparently chicken pox marks can take months to fully vanish – and, of course, some of them will scar you for life.

Enjoy!

How to Live With No Computers

As you read these words, I have been nine hours without a computer. For the first time in my life-long dependency on computers, I am going cold turkey. I’m not going to use the old bastard for the whole of the rest of this week.

Thank god.

I know this might sound like a ridiculous rich-world conceit, but I am way too reliant on my computer. It sucks into every pore of my life. I wake up with my computer, I work with my computer, I get headaches with my computer. My computer informs me, my computer entertains me, my computer frustrates me.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in – check email – breathe out.

And, to be honest, it’s rubbish. We need a break.

Why No Computers?

One of my ambitions in life is to be as self-sustainable as possible. For me, this means reducing my reliance on things that are not me. Relying heavily on external matter will only cause pain when they are taken away – as all things are one day.

I’m not saying that it’s not desirable to have these things – I rely on a lot of external things for my life and I am grateful for them. But, so far as I can, I want to know what it is like to not have. I might learn something useful through privation. What will I find to do without my time-sucking computer?

I have become so habituated to computers, that they no longer demand my imagination. They no longer get me excited. They are a default. I turn to my computer when I’m bored. I surf the net. I write an email. I surf the net again. When the internet isn’t working I might actually write something. Or play Hearts.

Without my computer to entertain me, I’ll have to think. I won’t have my default available any more. Maybe I’ll find something more interesting, maybe I’ll find something more useful, maybe I’ll find something more human to do.

So for the next week I’m not going to use my computer. It’s not a long time, but it should be enough to knock me out of my mindless reliance on the computer, stop me from taking the privilege of a computer for granted and teach me about what is really important, what is really necessary for my life.

What does No Computers mean?

  • It doesn’t mean I can’t type. I have a rather nifty little typewriter that I intend to do my writing on.
  • It doesn’t mean I can’t use other electronic equipment. I can still use my phone and camera, for example. It’s not a smartphone though, so no sneaky computer use there.
  • I’m not going to be an idiot about it. If someone else is using a computer and wants me to look, I’m not going to throw my hands over my eyes and run screaming. I’m just not going to use it myself. 
  • However, it does mean that I won’t be able to post on this blog any more this week. Not until Sunday night, anyway.


A slightly more extreme opinion on what I am doing comes from a 1987 essay by writer and farmer Wendell Berry:

“I would hate to think that my work as a writer could not be done without a direct dependence on strip-mined coal. How could I write conscientiously against the rape of nature if I were, in the act of writing, implicated in the rape? For the same reason, it matters to me that my writing is done in the daytime, without electric light.”

Extreme, but I sympathise with his argument and admire the stand he is making. Even though I’m not at total accord with his dismissal of the power of computers to spread knowledge (you can’t blame him for not foreseeing the role telecommunications would play in the recent revolutions in the Middle East) the rest of the essay is well worth a read: http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berrynot.html

This article, written for PC World around 2002, is much closer to what I expect and why I am doing it: http://pcworld.about.com/magazine/2103p119id108732.htm