Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 23

Given that all hairdressers and barbers are closed along with the rest of the world, and that I am sheltering away from humanity like a mole person, I had mentally committed during this time to taking on the hairstyle and grooming habits of prehistoric man. However, my wife and quarantine roommate made it very clear that, as she has to cohabitate with me, spend the majority of her day looking at me, and is associated with me during those few times we mingle with the public, a long matted beard and head of hair would not be the look of the season and that basic self care still applies in the time of COVID.

I am one of those men who, despite approaching his mid-thirties, is lucky enough to still sport a full head of hair. Or, as my mother so lovingly stated to my wife the other day, “You got the hairy one.” Thanks, Mum. You always know how to sell me.

But being of the hirsute persuasion does raise the question: what does one do when all professional groomers are closed? When Alex raised this question, my answer was joyous and exclamatory “You could cut it!”. 

To comprehend the exuberance behind my reaction, you have to first understand that I am someone who does not enjoy going to the hairdressers. I don’t know if it’s the intimacy of a stranger running their hands over my head, or the way they sharply angle my head from side to side and up and down, or the forced efforts of holding a conversation while my head is being jerked in various directions by a violent puppeteer. Regardless of the reason, I dread having to go for a haircut and usually delay until the point that I look like a sheep that has been lost in the wilderness for the past year. 

sheep

As such, for the past five years I have been hinting to Alex that I would be more than fine if she wanted to have a swing at trimming the follicles, you know, if that were something that might interest her, no pressure. Despite my subtle efforts at incepting the idea into her subconsciousness of her becoming my resident hairdresser, Alex has declined all such invitations and I have had to go to the barber like a proper adult. But the closing of the door that is the world shutting down due to a pandemic has opened the window of my wife attempting a home haircut. It’s all about looking for that silver lining. 

After spending the last few weeks suggesting that now would be the ideal time for her to take up the new hobby of hairdressing, what with all access to professional trimmers being denied and with all socialisation being forbidden, meaning no one would see her efforts were they less than satisfactory, Alex eventually capitulated and agreed to cut my hair. Her only stipulation was that she do so after her birthday. Given that she wanted to avoid people looking at birthday snaps and saying “You look great, but who is that homeless man who has apparently been wrestling with an active lawnmower?”, that seemed more than reasonable. Alex turned twenty-nine on Thursday and so on Saturday this guy got a haircut.

For those of you playing at home, here is what my hair looked like pre-snip:

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Alex approached the task with some trepidation, due in part to her complete lack of practical experience, her desire to not destroy my self-confidence by making me look like a toddler who just figured out how scissors worked, and because, rather than a set of professional hairdressing implements, the tools at our disposal were a beard trimmer and some kitchen scissors. I reassured her that she should just give it a shot, that it would grow back, that currently very few people would see it anyway, and that my self-confidence was not wrapped up in my looks. It is wrapped up in her constant approval, but given that Alex is locked inside with me 24 hours a day, I currently have that in spades. Swish.

We set ourselves up in our tiny bathroom, clicked on the beard shears, and got to work. We had some music playing from our bluetooth speaker, hair was falling around my feet like rose petals, and Alex was far gentler with the head angling than previous hairdressers, so I was feeling pretty good. This was until I heard a soft “Oh-no” from my wife. My concern deepened when I asked her what had happened and was met by a long beat of silence followed by what can only be described as maniacal laughter. 

Thankfully, it was only a closer than expected shave and by no means disastrous. She persevered and after a few breaks to allow the beard trimmer to recharge (poor thing wasn’t used to tackling a whole head), my hairs had all been cut. Alex even went so far as to change heads on the shears and make the back and sides a little shorter so my hair had a bit of shape and style rather than just looking like a cue tip (not a fault of my wife, more the shape of my head and my hairs’ propensity to stick straight up and out when short).

The end result was better than I had dared to dream, to the point that I am proud to peacock about and show my face in public (of course I can’t, what with the need to wear a mask, but I would if I could).

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These are strange times and things that we have always taken as a staple, such as the ability to go out and get your hair styled, are no longer available. But some good can come out of these restrictions. We are being forced to adapt and get creative, and along the way people from all over the world are learning new skill sets. People are in their kitchens discovering the joys of baking their own bread. Others are playing and inventing new games with their kids. And in our house, my wife has unearthed a talent for trimming that may mean I will never have to go to the hairdressers ever again. It is a weird, surprising, and sometimes fortuitous time to be alive.

Tomorrow: Sport.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 15

Well, here we are in the fourth week of social isolation and despite the utter weirdness of it all, despite saying a thousand times to just about everyone I encounter “it’s just so weird”, the human ability to habituate to a situation is kicking in and it’s all starting to feel…normal. Which only makes sense, in a way, as this is now, on a global level, the new normal. 

It’s starting to feel normal to be in my apartment for twenty-three hours a day, every day, conducting all facets of my life from this vantage point like a spider in its web. Only, you know, without all the creepy cocooning and liquifying insects thing. 

It feels normal to have an office station set up where our dining-room table used to be and to eat every meal from our laps on the couch (to be fair, eating on the couch was a pretty regular occurrence in our house, so that bit didn’t take quite so much adjustment). 

It’s now feeling so normal to exclusively wear sweatpants that I am almost dreading the day when I will be asked to wear stiff slacks again that do not have happy and forgiving elastic in the waist.

Part of this readiness to accept the normality of it all is that there are perks amongst the sacrifices of a lockdown. I like being with my wife everyday. There’s a reason I picked her, beyond her mean culinary skills and cute butt, and that is because I like her. I like her company. She is my best friend and makes a great COVID buddy.

I also like not having to catch the U-Bahn every morning. Even before the threat of catching the coronavirus, squishing up to random members of the public was not a favourite pastime of mine. These days I can have a short lie in, slide into my well broken-in sweatpants, and walk down the hall to my place of work. The only person I have to squish up to is Alex and that is a favourite pastime of mine. 

I like talking to my family more. With everybody trapped indoors, they’re not out doing things away from their computers (like crazy people), which means the window where I can see and communicate with them is much wider. I have unfettered access to them, they have no excuse to decline, so it’s a win win!

Of course, a lot of aspects of our new normal are hard. While a video chat can scratch an itch, it’s no replacement for the real thing. This weekend, Alex’s friend Christina very kindly offered to swing by and deliver us some raspberry tiramisu that she had made (and ladies and gentlemen, it tasted as good as it sounds). We had been baking ourselves (another perk of living in the time of COVID: a surplus of home-made baked goods) and so we arranged for an exchange of merchandise. But, with restrictions in place, this exchange, of course, had to take place as carefully as possible.

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The sense that we were dealing drugs was stronger than ever (only better, because instead of drugs we got tiramisu). We buzzed Christina into the building while waiting behind the front door, watching through the peephole as she came and laid the product on our doormat. Once she had taken the required three steps back, we opened the door, snatched our score, and deposited our own goods to the mat before retreating into our hallway. Christina scanned the area, saw the coast was clear, and made the grab. We traded waves and greetings and then she was out of the building, off to deliver goods to her next customer. 

Now normally when Christina comes by we don’t leave her standing out in the hall like a leper begging for scraps, but instead invite her in, give kisses to cheeks, share a coffee, and generally behave like people who actually care about one another. But this is not normally, this is the new normal.

A recent aspect of the new normal that is proving hard to swallow is the latest measures announced by the Austrian government. As supermarkets are the last bastion of social interchange and, therefore, virus interchange, the government decided to do what they could to shore up this weakness without having to close them down all together. They have stated that only a limited number of customers will be allowed in supermarkets at any given time, that all surfaces and trolleys will be regularly disinfected, and, the pill that has the hardest time going down, everyone entering the store must be wearing a face mask.

To be clear, I admire the Austrian government for being proactive and doing what they can to demonstrate they are trying to care for their citizens. The challenging part of this situation is the sheer alienness of covering your face when in public and the apocalyptic feel that hits when everyone you see is decorated with personal protective equipment. 

The upside for Alex and I is that my mother-in-law is a whizz with the sewing machine, so, given we had to dress like it was the end of days, at least we could do it in style.

Monika made the masks with offcuts from her husband’s shirts, and as Rupert wears very nice brand-name shirts, it’s comforting to know I’m walking around in a Hugo Boss mask. Even in these trying times, I’m a slave to fashion.

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The new normal is not always a comfortable fit and bedrock change is rarely something anyone welcomes with open arms. But while we are stuck in this alternate version of reality, it’s worth focusing on the perks, on the video chats with family, avoiding sweaty commutes, having intimate time with your partner, and wearing fashionable facial accessories. 

By tolerating the hardships and allowing ourselves to see the good amongst the bad, we can navigate our way through the new normal and back out into just normal.

Tomorrow: The Great Outdoors.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 6

The worldwide coronavirus measures that are currently taking place are having fundamental repercussions across health, economy, industry, and, obviously as importantly, the world of fashion. As someone who is renowned for his keen sense of style, someone who is often looked to for guidance in what is considered “fresh”, it’s important for me to keep up with these trends and, perhaps, even set a few of my own.

One of the major shifts in the fashionsphere is that of office attire. The majority of the working world transitioning to home offices has opened up whole new racks of clothing choices. I personally have settled into the traditional home office look, that of the tracksuit pants. I move between two pairs of tracksuit pants, a classic navy and a stylish charcoal, that, as my wife is fond of saying, has the added benefit of making my bum “look cute”.

In our household, we tend to favour tracksuit pants by Tchibo, which is oddly enough a German chain of cafes and coffee retailers that also happen to make a mean set of 100% cotton tracksuit pants. I love tracksuit pants for many reasons — comfort, roominess, manoeuvrability — but probably what I love most about them is the inherent irony of the garment, that a suit that was designed for the running track is primarily worn to sit on the couch, watch netflix, and eat ice cream straight from the punnet.

Of course, this is not the sole item of clothing I adorn when armouring myself for the work day, as much as my wife may wish otherwise (she can be so unprofessional in the workplace). I chose to cover my torso with an article that first came into fashion in the late 19th century, an elegant and classic solution of what to do with the upper half of the body, known simply as the t-shirt.

I tend to pair my tracksuit pants with t-shirts custom-designed for yours truly. One such proudly bears the emblem of the previously mentioned Audiobook Club. (Yes, we have merch, we’re a real club, alright. In fact, our membership numbers have recently skyrocketed. To three. My older brother also wanted to join).

Audiobook Club

Besides the fetching model seen above, Damian also tailored a t-shirt for my buck’s night. See if you can catch the subtle reference to the evening’s events.

Buck

(It’s a buck. You know, because it was a buck’s night. Classic visual pun.)

Naturally, when it came time for his own stag do, I set about designing a t-shirt of my own. You’ve probably noticed the very cool double-exposed photo that acts as a banner on this website, the one that lets you imagine what I would look like if I were part tree, well, that was created by Damian. So when it was my turn to pick up the hammer and tongs and forge a t-shirt of my own, I decided to repay the favour and depict him with his beloved mountains.

Mountain Man

I was happy with the outcome and made sure to secure a t-shirt for myself, and find it helps when I am many miles away from my best friend to wear him on my chest. The only flaw in the design that I failed to foresee is that my wife often likes to come and cuddle on the couch, to rest her head on my chest and even occasionally give me a gentle little kiss there, only to realise afterwards that she was in fact canoodling my brother’s face. If only we could all be so lucky. 

In addition to adopting home-office-slum chic, I’ve decided that being locked away from the rest of civilisation is the perfect time to finally grab the bull by the horns and attempt to grow the long and luscious beard that all little boys always dream about. Given that hairdressers country-wide are currently out of commission, meaning I will soon have flowing blonde locks to rival my wife’s, it only felt right to bring the beard along for the ride.

Once it has sustained sufficient bulk and density, I will post a photo of my beard progress, a tantalising ticket sure to see the readership of this blog go through the roof.  

My advice during this surreal separation from society is to dress to make yourself happy, to feel normal, to be comfortable, and, above all, to make your bum look cute.

Tomorrow: Romance.

(If you liked my brother’s awesome geometric stag t-shirt as much as I do, he has a whole bunch of impressive designs featuring different animals in his tee public store which you can find here.)

(If you want a t-shirt featuring Damian’s face, well you can’t, that’s only for me. And sometimes my wife.)