Author's note: The correct - and only - pronunciation is "Chinny reck-onnnn".
I have a face that's like two grey marbles sinking into a bowl of strawberry Angel Delight. I look a bit like a bewildered ghost.
You don't realise until you see yourself properly, like other people see you - not in the mirror, yawning out curry breath and wiping the grit out of your eyes; but as moving image on a screen.
I was in the local shop the other day. They used to be called "Smile" but I assume they were hauled up before the courts for breaching the Trades Descriptions Act or something like that. You'll never see a smile in there - the crouched-over alkies stumbling over to the fridge for a solitary can of Kestrel or Tennants Super; the gobby little kids stuffing lollys and chews into their coats; the thousand-yard stare of the half-dead old woman being wheeled around 'for a bit of fresh air' so the care home manager can hang the carrier bags of milk on the handles of the wheelchair. No smiles. Just repressed pain and misery. It sticks to the walls in there like cigarette smoke clings to Anaglypta.
But, as with so many shops, it has a little CCTV screen that greets you as you walk up to the counter - where, inevitably, some bumbling nitwit is trying to pay for mobile phone credit, their gas bill, their electricity bill, half a billion scratchcards and a tonne of Superkings, all with the contents of a smelly old hanky full of a coppers. As you're standing there in the queue softly crying to yourself, there you are. A picture of you, as you really are.
At first, of course, you think to yourself: Who is that balloon-headed, possibly borderline special-needs, man in the ill-fitting anorak and crumb-covered trousers standing in front of me in the queue? Hang on, there isn't anyone actually in front of me... it must be me. But, what manner of...?
And then you realise. That badly-dressed yo-yo with the Frijj milkshake and a packet of Poppets, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other while glaring straight ahead, is you.
So. Astonished by the awfulness of what I had seen, I experienced what you could call a moment of clarity. You could also call it a 'Bob Hoskins in the shower' moment, as I described it the other day when I realised I wasn't getting any younger. But more than that: not just not any younger, but actively deteriorating. And so I thought: Right, we're going to have to get through this somehow. And so I thought: what would be so wrong in trying to grow a beard?
Well, quite a few things, as it turns out. I'd forgotten - since my last beard was back in 1994, when I was a young and foolish young fool - how fucking itchy the whole thing is. How bristly it is. How annoying it is. They tell me that this phase will end, and things will get better; that I just have to push on through this awful thickety brambly nastiness, and somehow it'll turn into a Persian carpet.
I remain sceptical. And there's something else. The greyness. Oh, the greyness. My previous beard, the 94 vintage, didn't have any of that. It was inky black, and I loved it so very much. But now, no. The greyness spreads like mould. Grey, grim, old mould making me feel even worse than I did when I didn't have it there on my face at all. It's all so gently dispiriting.
But, then again, there it is, I suppose. It's there, and it's not going to go back into its box now. Might as well try and plough through this, and see where it goes. I suspect I'll be back as the sponge-faced spectre before too long, but you never know. Maybe it's really going to suit me, this time. Maybe even the grey does.