When taken into careful consideration, the Albanian dictionary proclaims 27 different ways in which to say the word ‘moustache’. Not quite to the magnitude and depth of eloquence that the Eskimos have for the word snow, but at least it denotes a national obsession on the matter. Amongst them you will find ‘madh’ for the bushy moustache, ‘varur’ for the droopy moustache, ‘glemp’ for the moustache with tapered tips, ‘holl’ for the thin moustache, ‘fshes’ for the long broom-like drooping moustache with bristly hairs, ‘dirs ur’ for the adolescent and meagre moustache, and the most essential ‘rruar’ for the shaved off moustache. Whether it has anything to do with the electric barbed wire fences that sealed off Albania from the world for 51 years that rendered the ‘moustache’ one of the few safe conversational concerns or whether our own English language lacks a certain poetry in comparison, it seems a bewilderment that the English mother tongue should only offer up one all-encompassing expression for the long-upstanding moustache. However, in vernacular terms the English patois has proven more ‘game on’ with the stache, tache, tash and mo to name just a few before you get into the more lyrical ‘soup strainer’, ‘toothbrush’, ‘crumb catcher’, ‘trash stash’, ‘cookie duster’, ‘pushbroom’, ‘nose neighbour’ and ‘lady tickler’. But wait, it doesn’t end there, for in style terms you have the Dali (very long, narrow and pointing up), the English (narrow and slightly turned up), the Fu Manchu (long, narrow and pointing down beyond the chin), the Pancho Villa (like the Fu Manchu but thicker), the Handlebar (bushy and pointing upwards), the Horseshoe (err…like an upside-down horseshoe), the Imperial (hair from both the upper lip and cheeks pointing upwards), the Moustachio (bushy and growing down the sides of the mouth), the Taylor/Lilibrow (thin row of fine hairs), the Pencil (closely clipped narrow and straight), the Toothbrush/Dictator (thick but only 2 inches wide, think Charlie Chaplin), the Walrus (bushy to the extent that it covers the whole mouth), the GG (bushy but shaved in the middle, named after GG Allin) and the Zappa (named after Frank Zappa, but not technically a true moustache as it contains a controversial soul patch). I could go on and on, but I’m fearful I might lose you.
I am contentedly sitting amongst the most varied sorts of moustaches at the monthly meeting of the Handlebar Club at the wonderfully OTT Windsor Castle Pub of Marylebone. I say OTT and I don’t say it lightly, for every single inch of wall and ceiling is bursting with character, encrusted with Royal memorabilia and artefacts of the many cliques that gather here on a regular basis. Signed pictures of actors, dignitaries and sportsmen hug the walls above the bar, whilst a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs preside over the space reserved for the US Department of Justice, haunch-to-haunch with the bar spot bespoken for pilots of United Airlines and Canadian Airlines. There is a corner for football-lovers, a nook for cricket-lovers, an alcove for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, a space pre-arranged for Henry and friends (shop fitters from Liverpool), a cubby-hole saved for Margaret, Della and Sug (for fascinating pitches) and even two seats dedicated to the Prince and Princess of Wales had they ever wished to knock a few back between formal engagements. Sadly, Princess Diana never made it here. She was also, ironically in this case, teetotal. However, she might have made the exception and ventured in for a diet coke had she known what a resplendent bench awaited her. Most unforeseen was the visit by the Queen Mum who even got stuck in behind the bar and poured her own pint. God bless her.
The only large table in the pub is reserved every first Friday of the month for the Handlebar Club, a distinguished group noted for their illustrious upper lip appendages. Founded in 1947, the Club was formed to bring moustaches together from across the globe for a puff and a pint. Beards are still today strictly proscribed, yet they may yet be in attendance as a ‘friend’ of the Handlebar Club, and instead of their uniform burgundy tie they are given a second place blue one. Club secretary Steve Parsons goes on to explain that in hard times certain members would still come and sit on their own in order to keep the group going. He himself joined six years ago and secured the role of secretary one year later in what he describes as a most strategic but agreeable coup d’etat. I’m not sure what the founding members would’ve perceived on the matter but there is a fair number of the opposite sex present today. Steve states that friends and family are most welcome. On this very night we also see the christening of Bill, their newest member, as he proudly knots up his new tie. Across the bar the much-respected and congenial Alan twirls his Imperial tash as he shows me his prized purchase – the Trumpers moustache comb. He tucks it safely back in his pocket as he talks me through the benefits of the different varieties of moustache wax, which I learn, is totally different from hair wax. It’s all in the density, you see. At one point he grew his tash to an impressive 48cm, tip-to-tip.
With each member required to wear their members’ tie or dickie bow, my thoughts progress to their impeccable attire. They go hand in hand, really. Alan parades his fine bowler hat and pipe (even though he doesn’t smoke) and at once I become nostalgic for the days of the refined gent. Where some may simply disregard the moustache as vanity, I would go further to say that the moustache is in fact the source for consciously taking better attention with ones general appearance. When I compare the moustache to the beard, I would say that the latter screams laziness whereas the former asserts attentiveness. Whichever camp you choose, I know which one I would choose. Every time. Before the end of the evening Club President Rod Littlewood suggests I come along to Movember, the worldwide charity event that sees men grow a moustache for a month and then compete for prizes and glory. I immediately pen it in my diary. However, having to dampen my new found enthusiasms as I walk home, I repeat the mantra from the very words of Jack Lemmon in the film ‘Some like it hot’, – “I’m a girl…I’m a girl…I’m a girl…I’m a girl…”
Winsdor Castle Pub, 27-29 Crawford Place, London W1 4LQ.