Sometime in his late teens he became terrified of going bald. His hair was fine, and seemed to fall from his head at the slightest touch. Waking in the morning, he would immediately check the fabric of his bedclothes for fibres dislodged in the night.
There was a genealogical precedent. Both his grandfathers were completely bald. His paternal grandfather sported a Bobby Charlton-esque comb-over for much of the 70s. His father was balding, though he began to fear he would go bald before him. His uncle had lost all his hair by his early twenties, and his suffering drove his terror. If he got to twenty-five with some hair left he felt he could live with himself.
He knew of a number of boys at school who were already losing their hair. One, Chip Harker, had parted his thinning sandy locks into desultory curtains. Chip’s eldest brother already sported a gleaming dome. Another boy in his class, Richard Pritchard, had a high forehead which implied creeping baldness, but in fact was simply the by-product of the freakishly long distance between eyebrows and hairline.
His closest friends fell into two camps: those who had fathers with impregnable helmets of hair, and who would clearly never go bald; and those whose dads were bald as the proverbial coot, who had spawned sons destined to suffer the same ignominy. He fell into the latter camp.
He thought of the soubriquets and insults that would dog him for the rest of his life: slap-head, desert-head, baldielocks, hair unapparent, No-Hair Man, Mr Tefal, egg-shaped Fred, bald-headed cunt. He thought of how he would look in photographs: the bald twat on the edge of the frame, prematurely aged. He thought of the women who would physically retreat from him in bars, blinded and repelled by the glare from his shiny cranium.
He thought of the boy babies born with a full head of hair and wished them ill. (As a child he had been bald almost until his second birthday.)
He regarded with envy the politicians and news readers and TV presenters and postmen and investment bankers and artists and rock stars – especially the rock stars – whose impossibly embedded follicles would survive the ravages of time but the effects of decomposition on the human body, settling like a some grief-stricken pet upon their bony brow six feet under.
He thought of these things, and ground his teeth in resentment.
A couple of his friends were already showing the tell-tale signs of male pattern baldness: hair recession at the temples and a thinning at the crown. He compared the progression of his MPB with theirs, and they with his. Conversations were conducted at hairline level. Photographs were taken and results compared; bets were wagered over whose would go first. He was convinced it would be him.
He consulted an array of men’s magazines, with their full-page ads for Propecia and Regaine, then cutting edge of hair replacement therapy. He contemplated his hairline every evening using his two-mirror system (one to the front and one overhead), and massaged his head every night to stimulate follicular growth.
This before Advanced Hair Studios emerged with their miracle cure, vetted by former Test cricketers and retired rugby stars and other C-list celebrities who could afford the treatment; or the Premier League footballers who appeared at the start of the new season with suspiciously-rejuvenated barnets, and the grim satisfaction he felt when they failed to take hold or were blown asunder in the stadium cross-winds.
He had always disliked his hair: it was too blonde, too straight, too resistant to being styled with any hair product (and he had tried them all: hairspray, mousse, gel, wax, fudge, pomade, body lotion). Baldness should have been a blessing. Instead he grieved over those fair strands lodged on the shoulders of his jumpers and jackets, or rinsed away each day in the shower, like the spermatozoa that oozed from his fist. Never again would he visit a barbershop. No longer would he shampoo his hair into a Mohican. Never twine his lank, foul-smelling tresses into dreadlocks at university.
The very stress of beginning to go bald appeared to accelerate his baldness. The only solution that presented itself was to shave his head every week, to keep it closely cropped to deflect all scrutiny of his scalp. To beat baldness he had to become that which he feared the most: bald. Baldness self-inflicted he could live with; baldness imposed by fate he could not. Shaving his head would preserve the illusion of hirsuteness, of having hectares of golden locks lying dormant upon the barren field of his head, ready to sprout forth in great yield at the moment of his choosing. He would fight baldness with baldness itself.