Magnetic Willie and Other Beards

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Magnetic Willie and Other Beards

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

As a child growing up in the 50's, we had to make do with what we could, toy-wise.

The computer hadn't been invented. TVs took ages to warm up, only had one channel, which started at 6pm - and then it was all in black and white. A Chinese burn was something you gave your friends by twisting the skin on their arm, as opposed to that feeling on the roof of your mouth when you try to eat microwaved Dim Sum too quickly at Ping Pong, the going rate for a milk tooth was Sixpence (6d=2½p) and a job could be had for a Bob which was 1 Shilling (5p).

My sister and I tried to amuse ourselves with cats-cradle, a game where you stretched a piece of elastic around your fingers and then someone else tried to take it off using their fingers, but making a new pattern. I say "amused" but it wasn't very amusing (for boys). More of a girls' game and it got very boring after 2 or 3 goes.

Then there was hop-scotch. A pavement, a piece of chalk, some squares with numbers and you basically had to hop about trying to get your foot in the right square.

You can begin see why Nintendo was destined to catch on.

But one of our favourite games for the car was Magnetic Willie. And before you go all "Ann Summers" on me, let me explain. It was a piece of cardboard with a man's face on it (Willie), covered in a plastic bubble with some iron filings. You used a magnetic pen to lift up the filings and make beards and moustaches in an endless number of permutations. (There was no female equivalent as Lesbians hadn't been invented yet.) And when you got bored of your Willie, you tipped him up and started all over again.

(It's still available here, on-line, if you want to buy one

Moustaches were all the rage in those days. My dad grew one. It took him months. When it had reached the correct proportions, he "unveiled" it with a fetching brown check jacket and Trilby hat for my mum to inspect the ensemble. She looked, pondered and then said, "Can I see it without the moustache, now?" He thought for a moment, then disappeared to the bathroom, and returned a short while later sporting the same outfit and a grin and exactly half the moustache he had displayed a moment ago, so that my mum could compare the two - side by side. Apart from looking like the Two Ronnies (at the same time), it was never going to be a clever solution. She opted for "with" the moustache which meant that he still had to shave the other half off anyway and start growing it all over again.


Using L'Oreal Shampoo on Moustaches is not recommended

(nor is wearing a lampshade on your head)!

Car journeys were interesting in those days. There were new fangled things called seat belts but they didn't stretch and retract as they do now so once you were strapped in, it felt like a scene from some horror movie. And smoking was very definitely "in". Both my mum and dad smoked. My dad smoked a pipe and had it in his mouth at all times, even if it was not alight, like some kind of substitute nipple. My mum smoked cigarettes of varying degrees of novelty. First there were More, like long thin brown Matchmakers. Then there were Sobranie, which were Russian and came in all different colours so you could have fag to match your bag and shoes. Then there were minty ones. All we knew was that the car got very smoky on a long journey and in the end it was hard to see your Willie (magnetic one) in front of your face.

When we arrived at places, as the doors of the car opened, it was like ET arriving on Earth by spaceship - with billows of smoke being forced out of the doors before the lightly smoked inhabitants emerged.

Our clothes smelled like a cross between bonfire night and a kipper.

So it was with some reminiscent amusement that I read about the US army intending to ban the wearing of beards of all shapes and sizes, in the army.

Apparently, the beard ban has meant that some Muslims, Sikhs and Hasidic Jews have been unable to sign up for duty.

I am not sure how many Rabbis are destined for the US army but something tells me that they won't make the best soldiers. Jewish people (as I can tell you, as one of them) dislike violence and any kind of exercise, except a running buffet. So running up to the top of a mountain in camouflage clothing, carrying a rifle, is not likely to be high up on their to-do list. Not that they are not into dressing up. But the orthodox ones prefer a black coat, black hat and a black suit which is not very original.

The army had an answer, of course. They say that a beard might interfere with the seal of a gas-mask against your face, which is fair enough, I suppose. But how did that apply to Rabbi Stern, the man who tried to challenge the ban, who had only applied to become an army chaplain? It's hard to read a sermon whilst wearing a gas-mask and it's certainly not part of the usual "outfit" for Rabbis.

Some proponents of the beard argued that it helped troops "blend in" with the local people, in Afghanistan, for example.


Here is a soldier trying to blend in with the local people, presumably. I can't help thinking that the AK47 rifle and helicopter might give the game away, somehow. He looks more "Hell's Angel" than "Helmand", don't you think?

Now, to lighten the mood, I thought I would end with a rare beard joke.

Best friends Dave and Charlie are having a drink in a bar. Dave leans over and strokes Charlie's beard. He says "Charlie, your beard feels just like my wife's pussy." Charlie then strokes his own beard and says "Yes, you're right. It does!".


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