When whiskers became a growth industry

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The Independent Online

Continuing our season of summer reading stories: today, a yarn entitled "Let It Grow".

There comes a time in every man's life when he starts to wonder if he would look any good in a moustache or beard.

It happened to Sidney Gillingham when he was 26 years old, and starting to get bored with his own face. He looked at it one morning as he was about to shave, and said to himself: What if I didn't shave? What if I grew a handsome, manly beard? This is as far as most people get in the process.

But Sidney, in his mind, then ran over the faces of all his whiskered and bearded friends. There was Freddy, who had a moustache like a nailbrush which made him look like Hitler, though nobody ever mentioned it. There was Tony, who had a mini-Kaiser. (Funny that the German leaders in both world wars had had moustaches. So did Saddam Hussein.) Then there was his granny - no, it was mean to think of his granny, though she did have a perceptible hairline on her upper lip. And there was Geoff, who had a big burly beard which flopped on to his chest...

"How long have you had your beard, Geoff?" he asked him, the next time he saw him.

"Oh, I've had it up to ten inches," said Geoff.

"No, Geoff. When did you first grow it?"

"Ten years ago."

"Funny that I can remember what you really look like, before you grew a beard," said Sidney. "I bet you haven't many friends who can."

"Sidney, Sidney!" said Geoff. "THIS is what I really look like! My beard is the real me! It's people who shave who are unnatural."

Sidney had never thought about that before. He thought about it now and realised it was quite true.

"But how did you know before you grew a beard what it was going to look like?" persisted Sidney.

"My god!" said Geoff. "I see it all now. You're going to grow some whiskers, but you're just too shy to ask for advice! Am I right?"

"I'm thinking about it," admitted Sidney. "I just want to know in advance if I'm going to make a fool of myself."

"Yes, you are. We all do, for the first five weeks at least."

Later, Sidney caught sight of his face in the mirror. He put two fingers along his upper lip to make it look as if he had a moustache. But he merely looked like a man who was putting two fingers along his upper lip...

Later still, Sidney came across his passport, lying on his desk. He casually opened it to look at his photo. He thought about casually drawing a moustache on the photo to see how he would look. He thought better of it, but casually he went to get a piece of black card, and a pair of scissors, and casually cut out a moustache shape and laid it on top of his photo.

It made him look like a gay cowboy. He took the moustache off his photo.

That was funny. He didn't look like a cowboy, whether straight or otherwise, without the moustache.

He put the moustache back on again.

He looked like a gay cowboy again. He put the moustache on upside down. Now he looked like a mad Victorian vicar. This was fun!

An hour later, his passport was surrounded by dozens of little black beard and moustache shapes.

"What on earth are you doing?" said his wife Emma, when she came in and saw him.

He explained.

"I think I'd look quite good as Salvador Dali," he said.

"Hmmm," said Emma, doubtfully.

"You don't think I'd look good in a moustache?" he said anxiously.

"It's not that," she said. "I just don't think you get a very good idea of how a moustache would look on your face if you shove bits of black paper around on a photo. Look, why don't you get a piece of cellophane and stick the moustaches on to it, then..."

Soon they had the moustaches all laid out on the transparent sheet, in a neat pattern, ready for superimposition on the photo. Then they laid them across the photo, one at a time, so that they could transform him immediately.

"Look," said Emma, who was a publisher. "I've an idea..."

Nine months later, Sidney Gillingham's new book, How Would You Look With Whiskers?, complete with cellophane inlays and every kind of moustache imaginable, was the cult bestseller of the season. It was closely followed by a book for women called Could You Handle Curls?

The funny thing was that Sidney never did get to grow a moustache.