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The mission: Can smoothy Nicholas Barber grow a real beard - or is he doomed to reproduce his father's ginger caterpillar?

ay one: on holiday at my parents' house (first rule of beard-growing: never start the process when you're going into the office every day). I don't shave in the morning. Face is itchy by mid-afternoon. Twice I reach for the twin-blade before remembering that it's out of bounds.

Day two: six o'clock shadow at best.

Day four: Dad notices that my bristles amount to more than the usual holiday slovenliness. "You can borrow my razor if yours is broken," he quips. I reply that he's just jealous. His own attempted beard was a legendary ginger caterpillar which had to be eradicated before my mum's parents would let him in their house. He counters that he has no need to be jealous where hair is concerned, as he has more cranial coverage than I do. "Maybe you could turn your head upside down," he suggests.

Day five: Meet a friend. "Hey, you're growing a goatee," he says. He's right. Hadn't planned on that particular style, but stubble has opted to congregate around my mouth, while the sideburn regions have only three or four hairs between them.

Day eight: facial fuzz is softer now, not itchy. Could be classified as a beard, but this landmark day is marred by catastrophic news. During a routine examination, I notice several red hairs. The curse of the Barbers has struck! A sensitive friend: "It's ginger! That means, you might have ginger children!"

Day nine: it's nice to do without the daily depilatory routine, but I've spotted a flaw in the argument that bare-faced men waste weeks of their lives shaving. I currently spend at least as much time stroking and admiring my beard as I ever did wielding a Gillette.

Day 11: alarming growth spurt from my Adam's apple up to the bottom of my chin, while the front of my chin remains bald. I'm getting a neck beard.

Day 12: Trim myself a neat-ish goatee. Very satisfying. Give me a plaid shirt and I'll be ready to star in an American independent relationship movie.

Day 13: Another sensitive friend: "Are you trying to look like Ming the Merciless?"

Day 14: In the office for the first time since I stopped shaving. Wonder if anyone will notice. Greeted at the female-staffed Independent on Sunday arts desk by a collective gasp, followed by a full minute of disbelieving laughter. They've noticed. After the guffaws have subsided, though, everyone insists that they approve of the new image. Can I sue for sexual harassment?

Day 19: upset by how many people are saying that the beard looks great on me. Like when you have a new haircut and everyone confesses how much they hated your old one. "It really changes your face!" is the most frequent remark. What was so wrong with my face before?

Day 24: mission definitely accomplished, but the response has been so positive that I'm loath to resume smoothness. Girlfriend says that if I don't, she'll dump me. Not happy with the prickle factor, apparently. This in mind, I make contingency plans and chat up a waitress all evening. She seems charmed. Later, in the toilet, I see in the mirror that I have a large blue piece of lint nestling in my whiskers