Let me take you back just over three years, my first Christmas at Microsoft, I had booked off extended time over the holidays. My last day coincided with the Christmas night out in Reading, Thursday 15th December. It had just panned out that way with the Operations Team going out for a few drinks and exchanging Secret Santa gifts in Yates on Friar Street. It felt good to be working for a team that took these annual traditions seriously, even though I would have preferred the exchange to have taken place in the office. (Who wants to carry around a Christmas gift all night). In any case, it was a double celebration for me as I would not be back in the office until Monday 2nd January 2012. More than two weeks off, I was going to make the most of my time away, including New Year celebrations across the border in Edinburgh. While trying not to give away too much information about my personal hygiene regime, I tend to shave Monday to Thursday mornings only. Allowing for a more casual rugged looked on Fridays, the dress down day in most modern offices. However, with the extended time off, I decided to stop shaving and for the first time in my life, grow a beard. The results were mixed to say the least. Some people loved it, others (including my dearest wife) not so much. As if a long weekend break to the Scottish capital was not enough, a few days later I was off on a ski trip to Austria. I have to let you know the response received once I appeared to meet up with the extended group of friends at Gatwick Airport on the Saturday afternoon of our flight. (I had given a lift to Geoff and Foxy). Emily’s direct question to Geoff was, “Who is this tramp you have brought along with you?”. Now I can understand the reason for this negative feedback, their beard was hardly maintained to any satisfactory standard, either by myself or a barber. It had been a spontaneous decision, born out of the fact that I had no need to keep a professional appearance, I would not be at work for over two weeks. I wanted to see what it would be like to have a beard, particularly as my Dad has had a beard of a varied length over the years. (Quite the fashion statement in the 1970s with his signature long hair, not sure if he was modelling himself on Des O’Connor or somebody else). The response when back in the office on 16th January was again mixed, with many of my colleagues unable to recognise me under the hairy forest. Some people said it suited me, others were not too sure, preferring the clean smooth Andrew they had grown used to for the past four months. The experiment did not last that long, after five working days in the office, the beard was removed on Sunday 22nd January and in the process, I took five years off my life. The only evidence of the beard was on my train photo pass (which I have kept as a memento) and the photographs taken by my friends on the ski trip in Mayrhofen.