Two faces of Hesp – but was he right to give his hair the chop?
The subject of personal appearance appears somewhere on most people's agendas. If you are an 18-year-old fashion student then it will come at the very top – if you are a country bloke in his mid-50s then the way you look will be very low down indeed on your personal list of things to worry about.
But when this newspaper published a reader's letter which criticised my appearance in a recent photograph, I was so astonished and amused I mentioned the letter on the social networking site Twitter.
To my utter surprise, this kicked off a mini-storm in the "twittersphere" with 100s of people commenting on both my appearance and on the reader's letter – with observations coming from people as diverse as my mum and son on the one hand to Comedy Actress of the Year, Rebecca Front, and TV art critic Waldemar Januszczak on the other.
I don't know why I've separated those people when referring to the diversity – because they all said one thing: "Get you hair cut!" So I did. And you will see the before-and-after results in the pictures above.
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Now, to me, I look just old and ugly in both photos. Astonishingly so. But maybe my reaction comes from the fact that I am not in the habit of studying photographs of myself and don't even bother too much when it comes to reflections in a mirror.
Like most guys, I was vain when I was young – but somewhere around 50 every last vestige of "how do I look today?" vanished forever.
That is nature's way of protecting the increasingly delicate egos of middle-aged men, and I'll bet it applies to most males of my age, especially countrymen who spend most of their hours out of doors walking amid windswept hills with no-one for company save an unfussy lurcher.
But perhaps the lazy countryman stance is not good enough. Maybe we all have standards to keep up.
My boss recently gave me the grand title of Editor-at-Large – a wonderful old fashioned journalistic term which refers to a writer who is always out on the road collecting stories rather than being stuck in an office. It also means that I represent the newspaper across the length and breadth of this peninsula.
So why have I been content to amble about looking so scruffy? Perhaps I ought to smarten up, have short tidy hair, and wear a tie.
I am sure Michael Gray, of Exeter, who wrote the critical letter, thinks so (and don't worry Mr Gray, I took your missive in good heart – especially the bit about my looking like a scarecrow) – but I am equally certain others will feel I've let the grow-old-with-joy side down somewhat.
"You gave in too easy," tweeted TV presenter Martin Dorey (of the Camper Van Cook programmes).
"No – don't do it. You are not going all politically correct on us are you?" asked well-known Exmoor farmer, Andrew Hawkins, on Twitter.
So I am discovering this personal appearance lark is not quite so straightforward as it first appears.
Even hairdresser Paul Stevens, of West Somerset's trendy Gingerman unisex salon, was reluctant to earn his modest £6 fee when I asked for a short back and sides. "There's nothing wrong with older blokes having a bit of a mop," grinned Paul, who's been in the hair-arranging business for 30 years. "Things have changed – nowadays it's quite respectable to have longer hair in your 50s."
At that moment the village postman walked in to the salon – and his hair was twice as long as my pre-cut mop. I remember the days when a village postie had to look militarily smart with collar and tie – my grandfather was one and he delivered letters in creases as sharp as a sergeant major's.
So I would genuinely be interested in what readers think – not about me and my wretched newfound vanity – but about personal appearance in general…
We seem to live in an age in which half the population under 40 have been tattooed from head to toe – so are outlandish body-markings acceptable – and if so, what price an old-fashioned collar and tie?
My own take on the matter is that I rather like wearing a very good suit occasionally and strutting about the place as if I'm someone important. But really, it's not me. I'm a writer, a bohemian, a creative-type. So I genuinely don't care if people behind my back are saying either: "Scruffy beggar!" or "How smart he is!"
But let's start the great appearance debate here – please write to tell us how you think professional men and women should appear in public. Is smartness a thing of the past? Can we dress as we please? Does hair length matter? Or should a collar and tie be compulsory when out and about?
Write to: Keeping Up Appearances, Western Morning News, 17 Brest Rd, Derriford Business Park, Plymouth PL6 5AA or email email@example.com