In 1979 my school friend Sarah bought her first LP. It was The Fine Art of Surfacing by the Boomtown Rats.
Between the pair of us we had a record collection which amounted to her Boomtown Rats album, my copy of Blondie’s Parallel Lines and a 7” of The Floral Dance.
Hours spent playing the same records can do curious things to a person.
Sarah developed an unlikely crush on Terry Wogan and I became obsessed with Johnnie Fingers, Bob Geldof’s pianist bandmate.
Aspiring to play keyboards in pyjamas, I told my parents I wanted to learn the piano.
In spite of coming from an extended, East End family, nobody we knew played the Joanna. No living relatives tinkled the ivories.
But my parents were resourceful and this was Romford.
In Romford you got almost everything you owned from a bloke, or a mate of a bloke. This was how we’d come by our Triumph Herald, a dining table, four dogs and, later, an arthritic piebald gelding.
There was always someone who knew someone.
And that’s how I came to be having lessons with Mrs Chilvers. She was known to someone who knew my dad. And she was known to have a piano in her front room.
Mrs Chilvers was a piano teacher in the loosest sense.
She taught me a few scales in the early weeks of my tuition after which time I spent three years on ‘Fur Elise’, the music itself handwritten in her shaky, ancient hand.
All of this I remember. But the thing I remember most vividly about Mrs Chilvers is her eyebrows. She had shaved them, as was the fashion in the 1920s, and spent the rest of her life pencilling them in.
Looking back from here, I realise she was a game girl, and a real champion of Executive Youth, refusing to surrender to brow-bone baldness.
But, her central nervous system was readying itself for the final shut down and this made it impossible for her to maintain sufficient stability to crayon on even remotely symmetrical eyebrows.
As a consequence, though the music I played each week never varied, Mrs Chilvers’ eyebrows were an ever changing feast.
One week she looked quizzical, another stern. Some weeks they were in danger of disappearing into her hairline while in others they slid into the bridge of her nose.
They were my introduction to eyebrows as a feature of grooming.
At home my mother would occasionally take the tweezers to her brows, but the ’70s and ’80s was an era when people were less queasy about body and facial hair.
Dennis Healey’s caterpillar brows lent him greater credibility; Larry Grayson’s wiry ones operated independently of each other to comic effect and Brooke Shields’ were strong and sexy.
Brows seemed to just do their thing.
My brows did their own thing. They were fair and fine. I had no cause to think about them and no reason to feel inadequate.
But time moves on and Capitalism advances.
If we needed evidence that we are in the End Times, the Brow Bar is surely it.
At one of the many that have sprung up in the city where I work I am told that my eyebrows are sending the world a message. The message is that I’m no longer relevant!
My brows don’t represent the spirit of the times; they’re a ghost of the past.
No need to panic though. The cosmetics industry can save me.
I can ‘infill’ the blank spaces with a selection of products:
Selection of mini brushes.
Would l like to take advantage of today’s special offer because my spend adds up to more than sixty pounds?
The woman proffering this life-line is smiling, her face a flawless mask. Her thick, dark brows sit above her eyes like two black wheel arches; clearly fake.
Fake is big these days.
Maybe I can do fake.
But Sixty-something pounds?
My past self – the one with the sparse eyebrows – takes control of my inner dialogue.
Yes, you can spend this month’s Child Benefit on your eyebrows. But, as you take the pen to your eyebrows you know there can only be one outcome.
You won’t look like Angelina Jolie, Rita Ora or Caitlin Moran.
You’ll look like Mrs Chilvers.
I am a product of my time.