ET* was – still is, for all I know – what in our politically correct age one would call “follically challenged”. Bald as a coot, to use the vernacular.
Follicle deficiency has always been something of an erotic flashpoint for me. This was not because of any populist connection between hair loss and a high testosterone count. No, my susceptibility derived from an unfortunate penchant for endowing baldies with impossibly exalted characteristics based on their resemblance to the colossi of Antiquity. My siblings generally averted their gaze from my embarrassing predilection for elderly tonsured types. While no doubt privately classing their sister as a closet gerontophile, they gritted their teeth at each encounter with a cadaverous specimen of the Goya-Gone-Wrong School while I continued to date men who, it must now be conceded, could have starred in a remake of The Mummy without any need for cosmetic embellishment.
My preference for grave and weatherworn gentlemen unhappily collided with ET’s increasingly Canute-like determination to keep the ravages of time at bay. While I hankered after sartorialism of the Colonel Pickering variety, ET stubbornly bucked the role that I assigned him in our domestic version of Pygmalion.
The crunch came when ET – presumably succumbing to some sort of delayed male menopause – started to dabble with wigs and hairpieces in the belief that it was not too late to mutate into a silver fox. He was impervious to ridicule. Even when I affixed a syrup – sorry, ‘mesh hair replacement’ – to his car wiper blades, he persisted in experiments with toupees which gave him the appearance of a tubercular Griff Rhys Jones.
My anxiety levels reached epic proportions when my parents issued an invitation to luncheon at a smart restaurant. This three-line whip event sent me into a tailspin. ET wanted to wig up and unveil his new ‘brand identity’, while I was desperate to present a dignified image since I knew all too well that my family had long disapproved of our mesalliance and was not in the least inclined to view us as Lancashire’s answer to Abelard and Heloise. (My mother was so appalled, that I suspect she might have preferred Ted Bundy as a son-in-law.) I broke out in a cold sweat at the very thought of a shag-haired ET rocking up to said eaterie in the guise of Ambassador for Yoof under the incredulous stare of my parents while a supercilious maitre d’ and assorted flunkies smirked on the sidelines and yours truly skulked in his wake.
In vain did I tell ET that he needed to brush up his impersonation of Leslie Howard and that stiff-upper-lip Englishness was the order of the day…. even if that meant he resembled a 3D Pringle Diamond hologram. My pleas fell on deaf ears, though he did at least disinter a dark suit (no ripped jeans, thank God) which might pass muster in chiaroscuro lighting and carried only a faint suggestion of embalming fluid.
Wasn’t it T.S. Eliot who said there comes a point where embarrassment ceases to embarrass? Well, all I can say is that T.S. clearly never endured the gut-wrenching, buttock-clenching humiliation of a ‘consultation’ in Boots about hair thickening powder at which a white overalled slip of a girl located ET’s ‘dominant colour tone’ in the ‘Mature Gentleman’s Palette’. At such moments, I felt that a lifetime of celestial bliss could not adequately compensate me for the agonies I endured as de facto beauty consultant to a boyfriend whose bizarre resemblance to Benjamin Button was becoming more pronounced by the minute.
Cometh the hour, cometh the ill-assorted couple. ET and CT Contra Mundum. We all rattled along in a gruesome remake of Meet The Fockers. Then I became aware that my mother’s gaze was increasingly riveted to the top of ET’s head. To my horror, I realized that our choice of ‘Oriental’ concealer had been ill-advised and that the hairy topsoil so painstakingly applied by me to ET’s bonce prior to the rendez-vous had acquired a peculiar glow-in-the-dark phosphorescence. The eerie nimbus became more pronounced as the meal progressed, until even my father – who normally had custody of the eyes down to a fine art – abandoned all finesse and frankly boggled at ET’s radioactive halo (as did the staff whose assiduous attention to our table doubtless owed something to the ‘cabaret’) . ET himself, happily oblivious of the effect that he was producing, relaxed the grim taciturnity with which he normally favoured my family and luxuriated in what he clearly felt was his freshly-minted charisma. To top it all, with the arrival of coffee he whipped out his E-Cig and struck a nonchalant pose, in express defiance of my prior admonition that this should be avoided at all costs as Conduct Unbecoming. There he sat, like a death’s head skinned over for the occasion, baring his teeth in a rictus of amicability, suffused with the diabolic nimbus appropriate to a danse macabre. The oldest swinger in town.
Needless to say, invitations from the parentals dried to a trickle after this social debacle. ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was a catchphrase then much in vogue. I imagine that from my family it never failed to elicit a collective shudder.
* ET = My elderly inamorata or Elderly Termagant