Its a sad fact of life that, as you get older and wiser, you also get hairier. As well as growing enough springy chest and back hair to knit a scratchy jumper, rampant tufts sprouting out of nose and ear cavities like hungry tarantulas, men get balder and wider (and more likely to criticize your driving) as they age. Despite this, if they are wealthy enough, these same walking Brillo pads can marry youthful brides who do not laugh at them in public.
Women have it much worse. We get hairier too, just not in places you could hang a gold medallion. Aging's a natural process, apparently, and “better than the alternative” as people always say in that smug 'I ate kale and it was delicious' tone. But just how natural is it for a perfectly normal woman to suddenly start to go Chewbacca about the face? Left unattended, these lady locks will unite and spread, until you resemble a moustachioed cyclist wearing bike pants made of hemp. Not a look planned for iD this year, by the way. Nor is the latest fad: letting your armpit hairs grow long and dying them pink or purple. As a feminist stance communicating intelligent empowerment, this is about as effective as burning your bra while you are wearing it.
If you, like me, don't wish to frighten children at the swimming pool (“Mummy! That lady has a monkey in her pants!) one's life becomes all maintenance, the calendar marked with endless engagements involving women you do not really know ripping the foliage from your most intimate parts while chatting about the weather. Having said this, I quite enjoy a visit to the beauty parlour. Not the waxing, mind (although there are people who enjoy this, but there are also people who read dinosaur erotica – the world is full of perverts), rather the cheerful, powder room-type conversation. And I should probably make the most of it. One day, I hear, time will resolve this whole issue and the hair on my body will stop growing and start to fall out instead. One day, according to my mum, I'll have so few hairs, I'll name those remaining. When will this be, exactly? Tell me so I can cancel an appointment and save some money.
Sometimes, I arrive early. Most of the time, to be honest. I am one of those sad types who is always chronically early, spending hours of my life in departure lounges, turning up at a dinner party to find the hostess still in her dressing gown.
While I'm waiting, I can't help but notice the tumult of activity at the barber shop next door. A constant stream of men funneling past the red, white and blue stripey pole only to exit not long after, looking exactly the same. They don't even seem to have wet hair, or comb marks. One gentleman emerged with the same beard he was wearing when he arrived, carrying a brown paper bag and looking furtive. What the blimmin' heck is going on over there? Just what kind of arcane filthy rituals, what kind of secret man business is hidden behind that innocuous window display of pipes and lighters?
“Something for the weekend?” asked my stepfather, nonsensically, when I pondered this mystery aloud at dinner. Thinking themselves unobserved, the economist and he exchanged glances over my head. Something was up, alright, and like any nosy person worth their salt, I was determined to discover it, drag it out into the light and give it a good mauling.
With this in mind, the last time I left the beauty parlour, limping slightly, I lurked by the barbershop door, trying to look unobtrusive in a Nancy Drew manner (not easy when your face is bright red from recent and extreme pain). I could smell aftershave, hear the laughter of hirsute men. It seemed vaguely mocking. None the wiser, but certainly poorer and plucked-over, I was eventually forced to move off by a man in an apron and muttonchops who said, “Help you?” with an expression that suggested the opposite. Thus thwarted, I simply cannot tell you what goes on inside. I simply cannot. It is driving me crazy.