It is November.
In case you hadn’t noticed.
This week, I was told-off by one of my colleagues for excessive use of sarcasm.
The moment related to a presentation I gave to a group of staff about dementia and delirium.
I used the phrase, ‘they can do what they want to you,’ Or words to that effect, implying that when an individual shifts from being a person to a patient they lose both their autonomy, that is, their ability to self-determine and their inner compass. People agree to accepting tests and procedures that in normal life they wouldn’t consider.
‘Bend-over please, this won’t hurt,’ Kind of thing. There I go again.
Apologies for the intro.
Yes, it’s November.
Or Movember if you live in the UK.
Years ago, the campaign began in Britain to raise awareness of prostate cancer. It encouraged men to grow moustaches in November, hence, Movember.
Over time this has shifted to awareness raising of all matters-male, men’s physical and mental health in particular.
And so, here I am.
Although this November is different.
This November, I have grown a sapam (שפם).
That is, Hebrew for, yes, moustache.
I have therefore a dual-purpose moustache.
It is the font of male-health, and it is also a mark of solidarity for the Israeli soldiers in Gaza.
I appreciate this latter is harder to comprehend, particularly if you are reading from the UK.
Many of Israeli soldiers, young and old have resorted to growing moustaches, primarily I suspect as an act of battle-field convenience, but also as a symbol of the old Israel, of 48 and 67 and 73, where ‘taches were more fashionable.
For some – aka, my brother, moustaches have never gone out of fashion.
Why all this talk about upper lip hair?
Before I explain, I’d like to mention a third, perhaps more painful concatenation of moustache-talk.
When I was 11 or 12 years old, living in Glasgow, I didn’t have precocious puberty per se, although I did have an early growth of hair on my upper lip. It’s a thing with some dark-haired boys (and girls). In some cultures, it is respected, in the UK it was deeply embarrassing. When you are 11 you want to be a child, not a mock grown-up.
Consequently, I was bullied.
This was ironic as I attended the only Jewish School in the whole of Scotland, Calderwood Lodge, where amongst the other children there were some dark-haired kids; I guess I was one of the darkest.
We have three moustaches.
Let’s call them, the moustache of childhood embarrassment, the moustache of men’s health and the moustache of the Israeli military.
There is of course the short 1986 novel by Emmanuel Carrère ‘La Moustache’ which tells of the existential collapse of the protagonist, who after shaving-off his moustache (and no-one including his wife noticing, realising, or remarking), his life falls-apart.
I’ve been asked jokingly on several occasions, ‘Rod, is there something different about you?’
Each time I have returned responded, ‘No, what do you mean?’
If explicitly asked, ‘Movember?’ I’ve given a non-committal reply.
Sometimes you don’t have time or energy to delve into the intricacies of your decision-making processes.
To say, ‘I have grown my moustache in solidarity with the young Israeli soldiers who are being killed by Hamas fighters in Gaza,’ would seem too complicated, particularly given that most of those enquiring wouldn’t be expecting such a serious reply, a little like, ‘How are you?’ Which is not an actual request for soul-exposition.
And, so, I have let it go.
Part of me has also felt uncomfortable with the notion that I am supporting the Israeli soldiers, not because I don’t, please don’t get me wrong, without Israeli’s army the massacre on the 7th would have become a nation-state bloodbath.
When I read the news from Israel and learn of another young man or woman killed in combat, I feel the pain. Most are in their late teens or early 20’s, most planning a life not fighting but getting-on with the mundanities of work, holiday, family.
Instead, I know there have been thousands of Palestinians killed in the armed response to the 10/7 attacks, this makes it difficult.
I do not celebrate the tragedies within Gaza.
The victims of the conflict are the people of Gaza and Israel.
The enemy is Hamas.
And it is this final point which has encouraged my hair-growth.
Israel is in a fight to the death.
Israel is being attacked from the North and the South. The Houthis in Yemen, and by extension Iran are all attacking. None of this reaches the headlines. It’s brushed under the carpet.
Hamas shelters behind and within its civilian population, it celebrates in the death of the Israelis and perversely rejoices at the death of their own.
It is a cult of death.
It is an attempt to bring Saladin-like, Islam to the world, to create an Islamic state, a global expansion of Iranian fundamentalism.
And although not winning militarily today, as opposed to 10/7, it is winning in other areas.
As described recently by Jonathan Freedland, in his piece in The Guardian, if Hamas fires a rocket at Israel and it kills Israelis (Jew, Christian or Muslim, they don’t distinguish), they have won. If Israel retaliates and kills human-shield Palestinians, they have won in the eyes of the world as Israel becomes the child-killer and the Hamasnik rides-off on his motorbike.
On UK and US University campuses, as the Left shifts further and further away from reality to being a function of fundamentalism, they are also winning.
It was only this week that I discovered the purpose of military fatigues. That is, the khaki or the green and black stripes. Although useful if you are fighting in the jungle as a form of camouflage, their principal aim is to distinguish between combatant and civilian.
According to the Law of War, during battle, it is OK for soldier to kill soldier – that is the reality, for soldier to intentionally kill a civilian (as with 10/7), that is a war crime, and, for a soldier to pretend to be a civilian to kill a soldier, that too is a crime as is a soldier dressed as a civilian, hiding behind a child shooting at an Israeli.
As moustaches are big in the Middle and Far-East, I am not sure where they fit-in.
And so, my lack of exposition about the nature of my moustache is both from a perspective of sensitivity as well as an awareness that in my country (the UK), given the broad media bias against Israel, showing overt support is contentious.
Over recent weeks, the Twitter tag ‘NHSAntisemitism’ has come to the fore. I had not considered this before.
And yet, it’s been there.
For a Muslim, Christian or Hindu to externally demonstrate their religion with a Hijab, Crucifix or Bindi is accepted. Normalised and protected religious characteristics. My moustache, I am not sure.
Over recent weeks I have thought about wearing my Magen David.
And yet, I have not.
In part because of NHS guidelines relating to jewellery which prohibit anything except a wedding band, in case of infection or objects falling-in to patients.
Radiographer to colleague, ‘I have just seen the strangest thing on the CT…’
Perhaps this is why tattoos are so common.
I’ve considered a Menorah or Star of David tattoo although that seems painful and how do I know that the tattooist isn’t an Antisemite and might draw a Swastika on my arm or generally do a bad-job – perhaps, the wrong number of branches on the Candelabrum.
Life is tricky, it is a balancing-act.
Sure, no one is actively trying to kill me, and the paranoia is self-made and yet, it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.
What will I do the next time I am asked about my upper lip? How will I respond? Maybe I could direct them to this blog, that might be easier, it might allow me to move-on.