Book Reviews

Book Review: Witch Bottle

Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Witch Bottle is the story of Daniel, a man who is haunted by an event that took place in his childhood. He isn’t just haunted in a figurative sense, he is literally pursued by a shambling hooded figure that turns up regularly until Daniel places a witch bottle beneath his patio. For a while, that helps, but it isn’t the end of his problems.

The opening chapter was worrying for me, because I found it too unbelievable, and if I had been in a bookshop I probably would have put it back on the shelf. However, this was given to me as a gift, so I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

Fletcher’s writing style is clean and tight, very appealing, with a strong sense of place. I loved the ordinariness and familiarity of the northern setting, and the everyday events as Daniel goes about his business delivering milk for The Bean and magic remedies for Kathryn, his witch girlfriend. It’s clear that something isn’t quite right about the area, but the reader is kept guessing until near the end.

I recommend Witch Bottle. It does have a supernatural element that more grounded readers might find hard to swallow, but having said that, Fletcher is an excellent writer, and that kept me hooked.

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Being Bald

Being Bald and Owning It

I never really intended for this blog to be about hair loss, baldness, hair buzzing, or head shaving, but my social media is starting to recommend lots of accounts that share interesting related content, and much of it resonates with me to the point where I feel I need to share it.

Here’s a link to an interesting Q&A I found with Tim Ferriss, in which he answers a question about his experience of hair loss and going bald. He addresses this topic at 52 minutes, 31 seconds into the recording, but if you enjoy hearing Tim speak, as I do, you could listen to the full thing.

I’m not going to transcribe what he says verbatim, but I’ll pick up on a few interesting points and how I feel about them.

Hair loss is a sensitive subject for most men

One of the most interesting things he reveals as he begins to answer the question is that he has more PMs/DMs and social media notifications from men agonising over their own hair loss than on any other subject. Clearly, this is a sensitive topic for most men, and even Tim has to pause and take a sip of wine before continuing with his answer.

When you first notice you are losing your hair

Tim says he began to lose his hair at the back, and had no idea until he saw a photograph of himself taken at a barbecue while he was promoting his book, The 4-Hour Work-week. It took him completely by surprise, and he didn’t know what to do.

For me, it was happening at the front, and I first noticed it in a hotel mirror while on holiday in Florence, Italy. I remember seeing my scalp through my hair for the first time. I had recently changed barbers, and decided it must have been a dodgy haircut, combined with unfamiliar front lighting in the mirror. However, once I’d noticed, that doubt and concern started to grow.

I didn’t want to be that guy who’s combing over his five bunches of hair on one side each morning, fooling himself but fooling no-one else.

Tim Ferriss

When to shave your head

For a while Tim decided to keep the hair, but reveals that he used to shave his head as a younger man, when he was into wrestling. Back then, he found it convenient and it never really bothered him, so when the time came for him to make the decision to shave later in life, he simply told himself he “didn’t want to be that guy who’s combing over his five bunches of hair on one side each morning, fooling himself but fooling no-one else”. Instead of going for the donut/horseshoe look, he decided to “turn this bug into a feature”, and just shave his head.

Let me turn this bug into a feature.

Tim Ferriss

It took several years before I finally decided to do something. I have a client-facing job and was concerned about how I would look if I suddenly buzzed or shaved my head. I didn’t have anything as drastic as a bald spot, so I tried different things like hair loss shampoo, thickening shampoo and conditioners, and coupled those with a good barber and a neat French crop cut with a slightly longer fringe. It was enough for a while, but I knew my hair would continue to recede at the sides and thin at the front, and deep-down I recognised the path was one-way, and that I would eventually reach a point where I had to do something.

That point came earlier than expected in the form of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, when I knew I would be going nowhere for the next three months. I had been curious about trying a super-short cut for a couple of years, so armed with a beard trimmer, I buzzed my head one Sunday morning. A year later, I now shave my head completely bald every day, and love how it looks when combined with a beard.

A lot of women are into bald men

Tim says he has never met a woman who’s into balding men. The key word there is balding, suggesting someone who is in the process of going bald. What he goes on to say, is that he has met a lot of women who are into bald men. The key word there is bald, which suggests someone who is over the process of balding, and is now bald.

I can’t speak from much experience here, as I’m a happily married man, but I will say that even I have noticed more glances, smiles, and second-looks since I started shaving my head. Back when I was self-consciously trying to hide my receding, thinning hairline under an extended fringe, I never noticed any of those looks. Maybe it’s simply down to me having more confidence, and not just the fact that I’m now bald.

The key takeaway here is that men who are worried about their ability to attract or retain a partner should take some comfort in the above. Most people won’t care either way, some will be really into the bald look, and a few will be completely put off by it. In all likelihood, those in the latter category would also be put off by men who are balding, so ultimately, life would probably be better without them being part of it.

Hair loss treatments

Tim says he considered using different drugs, and even tried one treatment for a while until it had a negative side effect. He then realised that trying to rescue the remnants of what use to be on top of his head simply wasn’t worth the effort.

I never tried any drugs to treat my hair loss. Maybe my balding process wasn’t advanced enough for me to feel desperate enough to go down that road. The silliest thing I did was buy a thickening spray which added some kind of powder to my hair. I didn’t stick with it for long, as it was messy, and at the back of my mind I kept seeing an image of myself caught in a rainstorm, with dark brown streaks running down my face.

I’m good with the bald.

Tim Ferriss

You’ll never look back

Tim says he has never really looked back since taking off all his hair, and that he is “good with the bald”.

I completely agree. I have never looked back since that Sunday morning in March 2020 when I first buzzed my hair off, and now I love being bald.

If you’re a man who’s going through hair loss, or is considering buzzing your hair or shaving your head, I hope you’ll find this post useful.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Touch

Touch by Graham Mort.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Touch is a collection of twenty-one short stories by Graham Mort. The book opens with two beautiful examples, A Walk in the Snow, and Annik and Serge. Daniel was also beautiful, but sad.

There are some dark themes in the collection, such as animal cruelty (Ducklings) and sexual abuse (Why I’ve Always Loved Fishmongers). A good number of the stories are unhappy, even miserable (Rain), and at times even I felt there was too much description, to the point that I struggled to hold onto the thread of narrative.

The prose was honed and well-crafted throughout, but I was disappointed to find a couple of the stories didn’t go anywhere, ending almost as if the writer gave up, or ran out of time or words. The title story, Touch, stood out as one of these, coming to a jolting stop that left several loose threads dangling. As a reader, I felt frustrated at having invested time in reading it, when there was ultimately no point.

Would I recommend Touch as a collection of short stories? Well, the above probably reads like a harsh review, but yes, I would recommend it. If, like me, you’re a fan of atmospheric scene-setting and description, you will enjoy most of these stories.

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