It’s a seminal moment in a young man’s life when his father gives him his first shaving lesson. I was summoned to the bathroom on a chilly winter’s morning where my father had laid out my new “shaving tackle”.
He’d served time on a ship in World War 2, and this was a term I believe was widely used on board. Later, I found out it had another meaning when I asked a group of classmates in a gymnasium change room if they’d like to see my shiny new tackle. I had a tough time in high school.
In my father’s bathroom, there was a new Schick razor where the blades came in a small oblong box and required some dexterity to load, including a lot of deft wristwork. No problem for a teenage boy.
There was my very own new brush made from what I think I heard him say was the newly harvested tail of a mongoose or badger. I immediately gave thanks to this small furry animal and the sacrifice it had made for my teenage grooming.
The shaving cream of choice was a small tub of Truefitt & Hill from a gentleman’s barber and perfumer established in 1805 in Mayfair in London – the year of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Little did I know that within 10 minutes, my face would resemble one of a French sailor on the ship Redoubtable attacked by a boarding sabre.
Before working up a lather, I was told to spread a light coating of a carbolic-scented cream called Prep. To this day, it still makes my eyes water.
Then the brush, I was instructed, had to be rotated 10 times in a clockwise direction in the tub before applying to the face. With the speed of a hastily shaken snow globe, I accomplished this task, and my barely stubbled face was good to go.
My father, an expert shaver whose face in the mornings resembled a radiant melamine table top (it was the seventies) told me to initially shave in the direction of hair growth (with the grain) to prevent irritation. Then carefully do a second pass against the grain. He cautioned to let the weight of the razor do most of the work and that pressing too hard would result in cuts and skin irritation.
Naturally, I listened to none of this and after numerous strokes in the wrong direction, my face resembled the floor of a triage ward in a warzone.
His best suggestion was to apply small pieces of toilet paper to each suppurating wound. When I exited the theatre of pain, I looked like early artistic sketches for the movie The Mummy and our quivering German Shepherd puppy took refuge behind a GommaGomma couch (the seventies).
Over the years I have, of course, become more adept at shaving and the ritual is a soothing and satisfying start to the morning – until recently, when I had to purchase a new box of blades and suddenly realised the task has become impossible as the industry is deliberately trying to confuse us with choice.
And don’t even get me started on the price. Around R600 for a packet of four. Are they handcrafted by one single family with sore fingers producing one box per day? I said to no one at all, as I pondered the shelves of choice and contemplated a permanent beard for the first time in my life.
There was the new improved Platinum Wallet Drainer featuring 2,000 micro-thin layers of overpriced alloy, or the Bankrupt-o-Glide with extra-flexible hinging ensuring you feel the pinch in more ways than one.
I briefly considered the Diamond Fleece 5000 forged in the depths of overpriced workshops, with each blade edge-coated with real diamond dust, or the Exorbita Blade Elite, with an aerodynamic design intended to elevate your shaving experience while plummeting your financial stability.
I eventually opted for the Wallet Whittler XT with its patented “Whisker Lift” matrix which promised the blade would lift every follicle for an even cut, while the ergonomic grip provided a level of comfort usually reserved for holding fluffy kittens.
I briefly considered the new Silky Swipe Symphony which was integrated with harmonic vibration technology designed to play a tune as one shaved, and the Zero-Zen Zephyr with blades as light as air, providing a meditative experience.
Using my remaining kidney as surety, I put a layby amount down, returned home, phoned my broker to insure my purchase and secured my precious box in the safe, next to the melamine table (inherited).
Please could the commercial blades complex explain why the cost of their product is like that of the GDP of a developing economy? And while they’re at it, also tell me why the plastic packaging is so rigid that one needs a blade to open a box.
Silly me. It’s the economic circle theory of locked-in dependency from which men who crave a smooth countenance can never escape. DM