Confession time – I am of the bearded persuasion, a proper, bushy beard. Not a spectacular knee-tickler, but more than just stubble with delusions of grandeur. There are a few (lot?) more grey hairs these days, but the beard is still there and has only been removed for a few special occasions over the years – my first graduation ceremony, sanding down a plaster wall in my first house, removing asbestos-cement roof panels. Beards and dust-masks just don't mix.
The thing about beards, proper ones, is that they are nature's filter and capture system. I first discovered this with yoghurt – spillage gets caught, saving another shirt, and later, when I'm ready, there's seconds waiting to be sucked out. Soup is more problematic, but porridge works fine, and what might be called 'dry' debris is readily snared.
Pick apart any good relationship and there is a layer of routine, the everyday stuff that really holds it all together. In amongst that routine are the set-piece conversations that over time can become abbreviated to short phrases, single words...
The cat's been sick.
Now, fill in the blanks. The cat's been sick, dear. Really? Have you cleaned it up? No, I'm getting supper/watching my programme/I did it last time/it's really horrible and I can't even look at it. So, shall I clean it up? Yes, dear, supper's nearly ready/it turns out Sally is gay/well, it is your turn/you might want gloves, the really thick ones...
Amongst all the other routine conversations, we have the beard category. Oh look, another grey one. The fuzz is blurring your words – can't you just trim it a little? Or the really routine one – you've got crumbs/apple/porridge/something horrible in your beard... other side... up a bit... up a bit... you'd better go look in the bathroom mirror.
And then there are the things that you never want in your beard, such as dental alginate. Elastoplast on hairy skin is trivial in comparison. My dentist at the time, and her assistant, tried to remove the stray fragments – I think they were having way too much fun. In the end, we agreed that I would pick the bits out, later.
This train of thought was prompted by a rare treat – a long day, feeling tired, jam doughnuts on special offer... I am not a regular donut eater, and the interaction with the beard is complex. The jam always dribbles out, and the beard handles that as if it were yoghurt, so no problem. But... getting it back out again is not so simple. It requires water, perhaps even soap, and more than one attempt, and warmer water... I returned from the bathroom, believing myself clean, and discovered that my beard had a surface texture like the sticky-strip on a post-it note.
My beard has been likened to many things over the years, including velcro, fungus and a scouring pad, and our latest feral cat thinks it is a toy specially made for him, but this is the first time I have been a fuzzy post-it.