73. Of Men and Make-Up
The Braid Hills Hotel, the scene some years earlier of that disastrous South Edinburgh Conservative Ball at which numbers had been insufficient to make up an eightsome (but how things had changed), was now to be the setting of one of the strangest dramas to be enacted in Edinburgh for a considerable time. A few days after Angus had called at Big Lou’s flat and had first met the Pretender, Lou announced to him that at long last her unwelcome guest was moving on and that there was to be a farewell ceremony for him that very night.
“It’s a ceremony, not a party,” she told him when he and Matthew dropped in for mid-morning coffee. “Robbie’s quite particular about that. Historical occasions involve ceremonies, not parties.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Lou,” said Matthew. “There must have been some parties to mark big events. The millennium celebration down in London was a big one. They had a party in the Dome, didn’t they?”
“That ridiculous tent,” said Angus. “And can you imagine the sort of people they had at the party? Every exhibitionist, superficial crooner in the business. Football players, and worse.”
Matthew thought for a moment. He would rather have enjoyed being there, he decided, but he was not sure if he should say so. And anyway, Angus had marked views on these things and nothing that Matthew could say would change them.
“I knew somebody who went to it,” said Big Lou suddenly. “A very senior civil servant. He sometimes comes in for coffee in the late afternoon. On his way home. He told me that he went to that party.”
“Poor man,” said Angus. “But I suppose that duty called.”
“No,” said Big Lou. “He enjoyed it. He shook hands with the Prime Minister of the time – and he was wearing make-up. He noticed it, close up.”
“Well, he was going to be on television,” said Matthew. “He had to. He would have looked cadaverous otherwise.”
“I don’t think men should wear make-up – ever,” said Angus.
Matthew raised his hand to his face, but dropped it immediately, as if in guilt. Big Lou glanced at him.
“Moisturiser?” she asked Angus. “Can they use moisturiser?”
Angus shook his head. “No,” he said. “Not in my view.”
Matthew blushed. He had used moisturiser for two years now, and he had felt the benefits.
He looked at Angus’s skin, which was very dry; leathery almost. It was probably too late for him to start wearing moisturiser. “If you don’t wear moisturiser,” he said quietly, “then your skin can get all sorts of wrinkles in it.”
“Aye,” said Big Lou. “Matthew’s right there. Look at W. H. Auden. Look at his face. Have you seen pictures of it?”
“I have,” said Angus. “But Auden, as I happen to have read, had some rare skin condition. Even moisturiser wouldn’t have saved him. He said his face had undergone a geological catastrophe.”
“And ended up looking like a wedding cake that had been left out in the rain,” added Big Lou. She had a large collection of Auden in her flat; in the stock she had acquired from the former bookshop there had been a whole shelf of his work.
Angus now turned to Matthew. “Tell me, Matthew, do you wear moisturiser yourself?”
Matthew shifted in his seat. He looked over towards Big Lou, who was standing behind her counter, her cloth poised in mid-wipe.
“Tell him it’s none of his business,” she snorted.
Matthew shook his head. “No, I don’t mind. To be honest, Angus, I do. I wear moisturiser. I put it on in the morning, and then again at night. Elspeth and I use the same brand. We only discovered that when we got married.”
Angus stared at him. “I see. And what did she say when she found that out?”
“She was pleased,” said Matthew. He paused. “Actually, Angus, I hate to say this, but you’re rather out of date. I can tell you of loads of prominent men in Scotland who use moisturiser and are not ashamed to say so. From every walk of life.”
Angus was interested. “Politicians?”
“Yes, of course.” And Matthew now gave him the names of three prominent male figures in politics who used moisturiser.
“And the arts?”
“Hundreds,” said Matthew. “In fact, name one man in the arts – one man who’s any good, that is – who doesn’t use moisturiser. You won’t be able to.” He hesitated. “Apart from you, of course, Angus.”
“And in business?” Angus asked.
“Naturally,” said Matthew. “Not everyone does, of course. Some of them don’t need to. But lots of businessmen use it, I promise you. I was in the New Club bar with my father once and all those financial types were talking about moisturiser.”
Angus looked thoughtful. “So it’s not… it’s not effeminate to use it? Is that what you’re telling me?”
Big Lou could not help but laugh. “Oh, Angus,” she burst out, “you’re very old-fashioned. Nobody worries about being effeminate these days. Those things don’t matter any more. If men want to wear make-up, they can. If they want to sit around talking about… about…”
“About moisturiser,” Matthew provided.
“Yes, about moisturiser, well they can. Nobody’s going to stop them. Men have been liberated.”
Angus narrowed his eyes. “They have? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” said Big Lou. “Men can be themselves now, without worrying about gender expectations. Those barriers came down years ago. You’ve been locked in that stuffy studio of yours and you’ve missed the news.”
Angus turned to Matthew. “Could you advise me where to buy it?” he said. “Or maybe you could go and get some for me.”
Matthew laughed. “And say to the woman at the cash register, ‘This isn’t for me, it’s for a friend’?”
Angus nodded. “Yes, something like that.”
They were silent. Matthew was thinking how sad it was that the news of the liberation of men should not have reached Angus before now; Angus was thinking of moisturiser, and wondering whether it would smell like shaving cream. And did one put it on before or after one shaved? And Big Lou’s thoughts had returned to the Braid Hills Hotel, and the hills beyond, whence came the Jacobites’ help.