Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mexican Diary #8: A Different Man

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #8: A Different Man

Last Saturday, Dolores & Alexander decided to take me to dinner in Mexico City.
I turned up wearing what I thought ‘looked the part’, in my brand new Barbados bright blue shirt with orange fish and coral on it complete with shorts and sandals. Dolores looked shocked at the sight of me and frowning sceptically asked, “Have you got a better shirt than that?” So I went and changed the shirt for a more sober, plain blue one. “Where are your long trousers?” I changed into them and not wishing to take any more chances and cause further comment, I swapped the sandals for socks and shoes. “Haven’t you got any black shoes?!” She asked. “No, I’m afraid not. I’m travelling you see.” – omitting to add that even in England I don’t own a pair of smart black shoes. “Have you got a jacket then?” “No – no jacket either” Dolores looked across apologetically to Alexander who just shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Well I suppose he’ll have to do” and off we went.
This was not the first time that I have been known to let the side down sartorially. I remembered that time that my friend Jim had invited me to the RAC chess dinner. Knowing what I was like and not wishing to take any chances, Jim had instructed his wife Penny to make sure that I knew how to tie my tie and a ‘dry run’ was organised. I demonstrated to Penny that indeed I did know how to tie my tie but she was not impressed with my effort. “No not like that – the long end has to fall far enough to reach your privates” she said. I would love to be able to say at this point, that this meant that of course the tie wasn’t long enough but I’m afraid that this would be a false boast. With Penny eventually satisfied, I was allowed to make my way to the RAC club, courtesy of the number 14 bus. I wore my one and only suit. Unfortunately it was green and Jim’s comments alluding to Robin Hood were enough to prompt me to buy a more suitably suited suit for the following year’s dinner. And there lies the rub – the only time I ever had to wear a suit was for that annual chess dinner at the RAC. It was also the only day of the year that I combed my hair – but more of that later.
In the car Dolores turned to me. “Alexander says that there are two choices: One is very expensive. Tequila will cost 60 pesos, the other is cheap so we can drink as much as we like. Which do you prefer?” I thought that the diplomatic choice was the cheaper option so I plumbed for that. However the look of disappointment that immediately spread across Dolores’s face betrayed my mistake. I quickly backtracked and she was all smiles again.
The meal was wonderful. This was the first time that I had tasted Chicharron – the huge sheets of pork ‘scratchings’ broken up and placed in tortillas with salsa which tasted much better than I had imagined possible. The main course was ‘Barbacoa’ – shoulder of lamb which was shredded and put in a tortilla with salsa – a kind of Mexican equivalent of that terrific dish of Chinese Duck in pancakes with plum sauce beloved by Tom & Mollie. This was washed down with the aforementioned tequila, the expense of which now seemingly forgotten.
Best of all though was the show, with the ‘Mariachi’ – these are the musicians dressed in national costume. Their performance along with their fellow dancers and singers was every bit as good as a cabaret show one was likely to see in a theatre. It was all very colourful, slick and professional.
“Alexander want you to say when you get home that you saw this!” said Dolores emphatically. I assured them that I would do so.
That night after a few more Tequilas, my sorry appearance finally got to Dolores. ”I give you haircut - NOW!” she said. I think that under normal circumstances I would have put up a better fight but after their negative reaction to my turn out earlier that day, along with the gratitude I felt for them taking me to Mexico City, my resistance was low.
And so it was that I found myself at 3-o-clock in the morning, stripped to my underpants sitting on a plastic stool in Dolores’s and Alexander’s shower. Alexander was very attentive throughout the proceedings and insisted on poking his head around the shower curtain at regular intervals to offer encouraging comments to Dolores and drinks to me. He was very keen that we all carried on drinking, which for me at least wasn’t conducive – I wish I could say the same for Dolores though, as her alcoholic intake played predictable consequences on her hairdressing skills.
“A DIFFERENT MAN!!” She kept saying loudly, as she pushed my hair further and further back across my scalp. I suppose she meant to say “You will look like a NEW man” but that one slight word - lost in translation – was very disconcerting. I remember thinking “I don’t WANT to be a different man – I just want to be the SAME man - ME!” By now I was wishing that it could all be over but the time taken to ‘coiff up’ seemed interminable. By now I was shivering from the cold and considering making a run for it. Eventually though I became different enough to be released.
So now after all these years I find myself applying dollops of hair gel to my locks each morning as I step out of the shower – something I never imagined I would ever have to do. How now, I deeply regret taking the piss out of my son Tom for doing the same thing – nicknaming this ‘the duck’s arse’ style – much to his sister Mollie’s amusement at least if not Tom’s. The next day at the studio I was expecting to be laughed ‘off the set’ but my enthusiastic interpreter Elizabeth was as supportive as ever: “Everyone think you look better – younger!” - She implored. I was grateful for their support but I think I’ll leave the final judgement until I get home – to those who know me best of all – the ones who knew me BEFORE I became a …‘different man’.

Martin Cheek 31.06.05

Postscript: The following comments were sent by my friend Polly. I thought this so good that I wanted to add it here:

“Hair – whether one’s own, or that of other people- can be, and often is, a subject that raises amazingly strong opinions: “Geeeeeecher ‘air cut, yer ‘orrible little man” is an old joke that was far from funny; you feeling it necessary to be horrid to Tom about hair gel: my Mother’s hair, constantly the cause of compliments from total strangers: my own hair, the style of which I have kept unchanged since my 4th birthday: the instant, and binding, feelings of derision that some of the old have for any young man with long/coloured/styled/strange hair: the feelings of pity we have for very old ladies who still dye their hair black...the reason for these disproportionately strong feelings ALL humans have about hair is that it stands on the boundary of the living and the dead, the present and the past, what is true and what is false. Only the root of each hair is alive – what we see, and admire or deride, think beautiful or ugly, feel is suitable or unsuitable – is already dead, and belongs to our past. It is the place upon the cusp of things upon which our hair stands that makes us so sensitive.
As far as hair and nails going on growing after death is concerned, I don’t think it’s for very long. Of course individuals vary: some peoples’ hair grows at tremendous speed, and others have very thin hair that grows hardly at all. I believe the average in the Western World is about half an inch a month.”DID actually know about hair being dead, my (rather strange) hairdresser makes a point of telling me this fact every time I ‘have my knob scratched’ – as we used to say in Birmingham – though I hardly think it’s a selling point for his trade – do you? Polly’s comments made me wonder how long one’s hair keeps growing after one has died. I know it DOES keep at it, but for how long? I remember from those Hammer horror films how Peter Cushing would unearth the mysterious corpse with the trailing white locks. Fingernails keep growing too – but again for how long?
This prompted me to ask Polly again, who replied:
“Hair and skin and nails all rely entirely for their nutriment upon the bloodstream, which brings to each cell all that is necessary for its growth and /or renewal; so common sense might suggest that, once the blood has ceased to function altogether as the bringer of food, growth would slow and stop. However, there are strange but well-documented stories to the contrary, and certainly my Mother can remember her brothers, as children, shaving an elephant’s-foot umbrella stand (!) in the spirit of scientific enquiry, and the bristles growing again.”

As far as criticising Tom’s hair is concerned, my defence is that he is my SON! I should be allowed to comment on his appearance. Call it parental duty or responsibility if you wish, as opposed to Dolores who had no right to interfere with me!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

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