Rocking back into Weekend Towers after my Christmas break, it was great to touch base with friends and colleagues, and generally get back into a normal routine after a fortnight of calorific overindulgence, new-dad goo-goo ga-ga brain, and Christmas film, after Christmas film, after Christmas film.
On returning to the office however, I didn't do so alone.
I've embraced facial hair in some style or another since I was 21, having shaved my beard off fully for the last time for my university graduation photo (I didn't want to look back on it and think I looked stupid... despite the Pat Sharp mullet replete with Patrick Swayze 'Point Break' highlights. Ouch). Over the years I've followed various face fuzz fashions, from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Craig-David-pencil-thin-à-la-Fill-Me-In? You betcha. Sideburns that could only be trimmed with Wolverine's Adamantium claws? Absolutely. A Robert Downey Jr goatee paired perfectly with Iron Man eyewear. Well, obviously!
Yet over my festive break from The Towers, I'd decided to embrace my facial foliage in a glorious look previously unadopted – the bushy full-face lumberjack / wildman-of-wherever / wannabe-Viking. And I'd been loving it.
The other half had made few comments, and nothing that would give away either her joy or displeasure at now sharing her bed with Roald Dahl's Mr Twit. Though the lads – most of whom are also bearded – had loved my proud new jaw-plumage. And the baby? Well for her it was just another lovely toy – rave reviews.
Back at The Towers however, opinions have been... well, mixed.
Weekend's storied gaffer was convinced I now bore a striking resemblance to acting legend Ron Moody in his iconic Oliver! role of Fagin. Another learned friend and colleague suggested I now looked ripe to be bedecked with Christmas baubles.
Other work chums were indifferent – many taking the often wise and politically safe line of just nodding and keeping schtum.
This of course is the joy of changing your look – you win some, you lose some. You're never going to please everybody – it's all a matter of taste. But facial hair is fun to prat around and experiment with, even if in your heart you know you're chosen style won't be winning you any beauty pageants.
Blokes like to tinker with things, I suppose. It's part of why we have sheds, workshops and man caves. And beards are an extension of this – something else to fine-tune, cultivate, and occasionally over-engineer.
With my 'big day' taking place this year, I will of course have a pretty monumental decision to make. Do I channel my pre-graduation thought process and lose the beard entirely, thus presenting a timeless and inoffensive look to be immortalised on the most-photographed day of my life? Or, do I keep at the forefront of my mind how ridiculous my bare chin looked in those past ceremonial pics, and uphold the razor's banishment?
There's nothing like a happy compromise, and I'm sure the way my good lady would like me to go for our pending nuptials is 'some beard, but less'. And this is probably a good way to roll. I'm a beardy guy, and we need our face fuzz like Samson needed his luscious locks, but it might be good if when looking back at our wedding pics in years to come people can actually tell that I'm smiling.
For now though, I'm going to keep the chin garden going strong, and hopefully negotiate my way into some sort of Nordic medieval re-enactment group. This would be up there with my many ideas of heaven (I was never really made for this century) and just sounds like far too much fun not to make happen.
So, though it is a rather specific request, dear readers, if anybody knows of any Viking LARP groups looking for new blood, get 'em to drop me a line.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or better yet, send me a raven.