I have never really worried about getting older. When you didn’t think that much of yourself in your prime, you’re not that bothered about fading away. It could even be argued that a low peak makes the decline much more palatable. My eye isn’t going to get any lazier. (Actually, a quick Google has revealed that it can, in fact, get lazier, so that is something to get anxious about.)
This year, I have noticed that grey hair has begun to appear on my head and – shock-horror-yuck – in my beard. I say I noticed, but in reality it was pointed out to me by my friends, who all love to tell each other when something about them looks shit. About 10 years ago, one of my friends used a steroid cream to remove a skin tag on his head, and it left him with a bald spot smack bang on the back of his skull for about a year, as if he had nits and they had made a crop circle. Some of my fondest memories of that time were of us riffing different ways to take the piss out of him.
I don’t mind the greys on my head, although this isn’t because it looks sophisticated. It’s because most of it is on the back of my head, so I can put it out of my mind. It’s a fallacy that men age well and get all sophisticated and salt-and-peppery as they get older. Look at most men in their 40s and 50s in this country: they look like shit and dress worse. You look great as you get older if you happen to be Brad Pitt; otherwise it’s a slow descent into ill-fitting jeans and switching the lights off for sex.
The greys in my beard, meanwhile, are hideous. A sprawling grey spider, reminding you of the inevitability of death, and perfectly highlighted against my natural black. I started plucking them, but then it became clear that my chin would eventually resemble my mate’s head in 2009.
A friend suggested I try dye. It’s a simple process: you mix two pastes together, rub on to the offending area and wait five minutes before rinsing. So far, so “my wife’s definitely going to fancy me more”. I was on tour and decided to try it at a hotel. I applied the paste, experienced how long five minutes feels without the distraction of a mobile (longer than watching The Irishman twice) and then got into the shower to rinse it off.
When I got out of the shower, I was delighted with the result: my beard looked jet black and somehow tidier. I didn’t feel sexy, but the beard looked better than it had for a while.
I should have held on to that feeling, because when I looked over at the bathtub, I was horrified to see that the dye had stained the ceramic surfaces, leaving the area looking very much as if I had murdered an octopus. I remember gasping out loud and repeating the words “What am I going to do?” over and over again.
In the end I went to a supermarket, bought as much bathroom cleaner as I could carry and spent the rest of my stay at the hotel cleaning the bathroom. I scrubbed and scrubbed, driven by a desire to do the right thing and a fear of having to explain beard dye to the hotel management.
Eventually, I was done. The bathroom looked better than when I had checked in, but I had been on an emotional rollercoaster. The beard made me look younger, but at what cost? If you see me any time soon, and the beard looks awful, it’s because I’ve decided to embrace the grey spider. Not a euphemism.