I went through a phase in the late 1990s of shaving my head. None of your social democrat-type fluffy fence-sitting: this was real Iron John stuff, Bics at dawn, squatting with the early crows in an enamel tub each morning and beavering away until not only every last suggestion of stubble but also the first couple of layers of skin had been abraded into history like Verdun. The private display of machismo was ritually completed with a handful of astringent gunk that would make me pull the kind of face a slug, if it had a face, would pull upon salting. But then if a slug did have a face people would be much less keen to salt it. In fact, this being Great Britain, they’d probably form a Royal Society dedicated to producing stickers for the rear windows of beige family hatchbacks bearing slogans like Gastropod On Board: Drive Carefully and Salz? Nein Danke! with a cute cartoon of a cheery face-slug winking and carrying an umbrella. The astringent gunk was useful, though, in that it would not only bring out a lovely shine upon one’s defoliated bonce but also mitigate against the opportunities for resourceful bacteria afforded by an obsessive mammal routinely gouging slits in its scalp.
Routinely, but accidentally. Doubtless an apologist for the pernicious pseudo-science of psychoanalysis would insist otherwise, but the blood was an inconvenience, your honour: I do hereby swear upon the Holy Bible (the original one, not the absurdly overrated piece of sub-metal sixth-form self-harm flotsam of that name, not that I’m a particular fan of the original either) that I did not once contemplate my crimson-streaked visage and think to myself “Trent Reznor… he’s so COOL” (reader’s tip: use a blunt razor and a bit of elbow grease and you won’t spill a drop. You’ll also save money on razors.) I’ve never been able to grasp why somebody would want to get so much as a single piercing of a flabby and relatively senseless earlobe, never mind indulge in some of the more esoteric techniques of Body Art. Your time for invasive surgery will probably come. Don’t invite it in. Certainly not in the name of embellishment. You’re just fine as you are. Or you’re not, but a shiny thing in your earlobe is really not going to swing it either way.
Being a voluntary baldy has its perks. The obvious one is getting to laugh at involuntary baldies. They’re an uppity sub-species at the best of times, especially the short ones, so there’s always mileage in this: I could have a hairstyle. I just choose not to. Ha fucking ha. You silly bald fool. Etc. But there are (marginally) more grown-up perks. Once I was propping up the bar at my local low-end corporate rock venue and the man standing next to me asked if I was (the now late and, at least in my case, lamented) Steven Wells. I didn’t confirm or deny it. I can’t have denied it, because the man bought me drinks all night while I held forth upon the state of popular music. Did I do wrong? It’s an interesting question. I certainly lied. Of course I did, without speaking, by not immediately declaring that I was not Steven Wells. Not saying that I was Steven Wells counts for nothing. Doctrinaire Roman Catholics will fumble their beads here. Nonetheless it’s watertight (it has legs, if you’re allowed to mention those in front of a doctrinaire Roman Catholic). But the man got to talk to a, if not the, Steven Wells all night, and yer actual Swells got some half-decent PR without having to move a muscle. The man went home happy and I was bought drinks all night. Everyone’s a winner with the right lie.
Another perk was the unusual work you could get. South Yorkshire Police’s identity parades had made the national sidebars not long before this, when they “blacked up” some white volunteers on account of not having enough black volunteers for one particular parade, but I didn’t ask about that at the interview because I’d been assured that SYP had an irrational compulsion to give money to impoverished bald men, voluntary or otherwise, in their early thirties. I was on the dole and it was cash in hand, no questions asked, guv. So every couple of weeks I’d roll up and sit in a windowless waiting room with eleven other large, early-thirties shaven-headed men, where we’d crane at Trisha on the little television in the top left corner and thumble our antediluvian way through battered copies of OK magazine, a kind of primitive multitasking. They were scary cunts, though, these men, much scarier than most of the hapless suspects who had to stand in line with us. On one of my first parades, as the twelve of us sat regarding ourselves in a line facing the one-way mirror through which witnesses do their thing, I gaily quipped that we resembled nothing so much as a dozen eggs. Tumbleweed so profound and unforgiving that in retrospect it feels like a miracle I’m still alive. Another time, I made the mistake of reading something other than OK magazine in the windowless waiting room, and when the WPC who was our chaperone that day stuck her head round the door to explain that the parade would be delayed (the suspect had hanged his piss-weak Legal Aid representative in his cell with a pair of boxer shorts) she exclaimed “Look! He’s reading a clever book!” I don’t think she meant it kindly. I’m reminded here of my friend Cunt Nigel, who was once politely asked to leave a pub because he was reading a book, with the explanation that “we don’t do that sort of thing here”. Well, no. And quite right.
My favourite identity parade was the one where we were paid an extra something to make sure our shiny pates were doubleplusbrutal: no extra effort for me, of course, but some of the thugs were fluffies, although it’s unlikely they were social democrats. That was the same one as the one where we were obliged to wear black woolly hats that covered our entire heads. Stupid police? Probably. By thine track record shall thee be known. But a film director might be feted to Cannes and back for such attention to detail. My least favourite identity parade was the one where the make-up artist had to put her face up close while sticking a bumfluff moustache made of the kind of synthetic fibre that covers an unwanted soft toy to our simian philtra. Hers wasn’t my kind of face, too grapefruit-shaped, but that wouldn’t have mattered had she not been smellily chewing pretzels at the time.