Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: self-image

Me and my moustache

The unexpected invitation to grow a moustache is an annunciation that should not be ignored. A moustache is a calling. There is something profoundly atavistic and mystical about the sudden and unvoiced conviction that it would be a proper and spiritual thing to allow wiry hairs to sprout like barbed wire in the no man’s land between nostril and upper lip. Though beardless since before the dawn of memory, I now feel that my sense of maleness and fullness of being require this addition, and I lay aside my shaver.

moustacheA few days’ growth, little more than extruded stubble, but already I am impressed to see that a new personality is layered onto the morning mirror. I turn my head, inclined a little, from side to side and allow my modified features to catch variously the daylight that filters through the bathroom blind. Reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite place him. His first appearance is somewhere between Captain Mainwaring (benevolent buffoon) and Alf Garnett (malevolent ditto), and on the whole, as I purse my lips and test out a range of facial expressions, I am quite taken with him. But as morning piles on morning, and as the growth begins to hint at a likely permanence, I notice that he proceeds to take on a less welcome aspect. He sneers at me when he thinks I’m not looking as I enter the bathroom. In fact, he seems positively antagonistic. There is something unpleasantly military about this stranger in my house. Where have I met him before? Who is he, and how can I have offended him?

Ah! Now I know him! I peg him in a uniform of Teutonic grey serge, circa 1920. Yes, he is an ageing oberstleutnant in a Freikorps unit of embittered veterans. Unable to adapt to the unaccustomed peace and to the national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, he has enlisted under General Avalov-Bermondt, and looks towards revenge. Soon he will make preparations for the invasion of Latvia. He is also a vain and insistent rascal, and already he gesticulates from the bathroom mirror, demanding to be given a monocle.

In a few years, I suspect, he will move to Munich, write hollow earth pamphlets, and spit at Jews and gypsies in the street.

It’s no good. Tomorrow I must shave off my moustache and put him away forever.

The failure of self-image

We all parade around with a picture inside our heads of how we think we look. It’s amusing to sit people-watching, and mind-read by decoding appearances, working backwards from the less impressive reality of the optimistic haircut and the too-young clothes. Amusing, that is, until you catch sight of yourself in the mirror …

The failure of self-image. We slip seamlessly from lamb to mutton, from Promethean to Quixotic, from the aspirational to the absurd.

On the other hand, it takes balls to wear skinny leggings, six inch heels and a plastic flower in your hair when you’re well over seventy, like the lady who has just walked into the supermarket café as I write. Respect, madam! Failures of self-image, we salute you! The absurd is always absurd, but it can take on a heroic dignity. At least we’re trying, even if our efforts fall short, as we know in our hearts that they will.

The gap between aspiration and absurdity: this is the space in which we all live.

(from 101 Unrealised Projects, a work possibly in progress)