One of the weirdest things my dad ever told me was "never trust a man with a beard". I've always wondered what happened to him that might have corrupted his view of hairy faces? He was in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War and I believe that they weren't allowed to grow beards so maybe he's always associated them with conscientious objectors. I'd ask him but we're not speaking right now because I have a three-day growth.
How things have changed. I was listening on the radio the other day to a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan. He was being interviewed because, while out there, he and his comrades had been told to grow beards in an attempt to "show respect for the Pashtun culture".
According to the Army, village elders have long beards, so the thinking is that when they see soldiers with beards arriving in their village they will assume that they are also wise fellows. When the soldier was asked whether he'd ever had his beard remarked upon he had to admit that, no, this had never happened. But, he said, on several occasions elders had made hand gestures concerning his face bush.
He didn't elaborate as to what these gestures were, but I'm pretty certain they were along the lines of, "What the hell do you think you look like,- you prat?" The Army obviously forgot that famous old Swedish proverb: "Wisdom is in the head and not in the beard."
The whole story was so ludicrous I thought it might be a joke for a moment but then I remembered that Five Live never jokes. They just rant on and on about the McCanns, occasionally breaking off to announce that a lorry has shed its skin on the M4. The Army's idea is the equivalent of an occupying force in England starting to wander around in Burberry shell suits "to win the hearts and minds of the chav population".
It's true that facial hair is a big deal in the Middle East. Growing up in Lebanon, I remember my best friend Georges, who was Lebanese, howling with laughter at me when I shaved off the first pathetic hairs on my upper lip. He grew a hideous bum-fluff moustache, because it was considered a sign of maturity. I think we were aged about 13 and it really wasn't a good look.
Beards were huge news everywhere last week: take Bin Laden's latest video message. The US compared it with his last message, more than three years ago, and it became clear that he had dyed his grey beard black. This could be for reasons of disguise but, frankly, it was a bit rubbish if that was the case.
I prefer to think that, after years of living in his cave with very little to do but look in a mirror, he's just become a bit vain. Maybe he started to worry that he was losing his looks, the chicks didn't dig him any more and, before you know it, he's ordered an underling to go get him a bottle of Grecian 2000 from Kandahar, and Robert est ton oncle, as they don't say in France. I love the fact that every time Bin Laden releases a video he screws up. The first time he did one it was outside, and the Americans got geologists to analyse the rocks behind him, then the video camera clearly broke because he started doing audio tapes while someone found a new one. Now his frightening words about us all going to burn in hell etc are forgotten because we all want to know about his beard. He may be right, we are a very shallow society.
While I'm doing everything beard-related, I have a running fascination for every new razor that Gillette releases. Each one is proclaimed as so much better than the one they said was so brilliant the last time. I've somehow got on their mailing list so I've just received the new, improved, bionic one which now has FIVE blades, an extra one on the back and batteries. It's insane. I just want to shave.
The American humorist Dave Barry thinks it's only a matter of time before Gillette invent a razor that, "with the help of a microchip can travel ahead in time and deal with beards that haven't even been grown yet". If only they put that technology into finding Bin Laden...