Ian McMillan: Stubble trouble got me into a painful scrape

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I RECKON that everybody likes a time and place in the day where they can cogitate and contemplate. For some 
it’s a windy walk on a beach before 
the sun comes up; for some it’s a seat 
in the garden and a drink of coffee 
from a favourite mug. A lot of contemplating is done in the smallest room in the house, and there’s a high constituency of people who like to think in bed, either just before or just after they fall asleep. I bet you’re all thinking now of where your thinking space and thinking place is.

My space is in the bathroom when I’m getting shaved with my trusty battery-powered razor each morning. I stand there. I look into the mirror, gaze deeply into my eyes, and a kind of Zen-like calm comes over me. I switch the razor on and it’s as though there’s an angry wasp or a small Lambretta in the bathroom. I move the razor rhythmically over my stubbly chops and the thinking gets done. Problems get solved, ideas get generated and projects are born that will surely generate enough wealth to allow me to live in comfort for the rest of my days. By the time my shave is done my brain is clear and I’m ready for the fray.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I went away and forgot to pack the electric shaver. I got to the hotel after a long day looking forward to a bit of cheek-buffing and had a sudden vision of the shaver on the drawers at home, looking at me forlornly. I was crestfallen: I didn’t mind having a bit of a beard for a couple of days but I knew that I would really miss the brain-training that accompanied the shave.

I went out with the intention of buying a pack of cheap razors to see me through, but then I hesitated in the shop in front of the vast rows of stubble-cutters.

Maybe I wouldn’t buy a bag of cheap chuckaway ones. Maybe they were just for lads on their first shave, maybe I wanted something a bit more mature. I began to examine the selection of more substantial razors, ones with disposable heads that would give a closer shave.

The chaps on the photos on the packet looked handsome and chiselled and thoughtful. They ran their fingers over their smooth-as-soap faces and they seemed to be saying “Come on, Ian: give the old wet shave a go!’” And I thought “why not?” And I succumbed.

Back in the hotel room, I lathered up and ran the razor over my face. It was like getting cream off a plate with a spatula and the results were remarkable: my face was as shiny and smooth as a balloon.

I felt and looked younger. I stroked my chin and it was like stroking the skin of an apple. I had to fight a sudden urge to go up to complete strangers on the street and go “Here: feel my face. Just feel it! Go on! Just feel how smooth it is!” And, wonderfully, I’d still been able to think as I shaved. The thinking was different, too. Before, the buzzy razor had given my thoughts a kind of urgency, but now the gentle stroking and the sound of the blade swooshing through foam and bristle made my thinking more philosophical, more meditative. I liked it. I was in, as the kids say, a good place.

Then, after a couple of days back at home and a bit further into my new shaving regime, I went into the bathroom, looked into the mirror and recoiled in horror, shielding my eyes and almost shouting, like someone in a cheap horror film, “What’s happening to me?” Frankly, I looked like I’d been hung. A raw red ring pulsed painfully around my neck. I was, literally, a redneck. I tentatively touched the fiery area and it hurt, it really hurt. I poked my cheeks: they were scouring-pad rough and flakes of skin appeared to be coming off.

I splashed water on my face and that made it hurt even more, making me go “Gnnn” in pain like a character in a comic. I went downstairs and put my head round the door, looking like a pumpkin man left over from Halloween.

My wife said, practically but rather frighteningly: “You’ve scraped off a layer of skin.” I sobbed. “What can I do?” “You’ll have to put some cream on,” she said, with an air of finality.

So now I’m torn (like my face) and my cogitation and contemplation space is a bit of a battleground. The thing is, I like the smoothness of the wet shave, but I like the convenience of the electric.

When I shave with the razor my thoughts are gentle and sophisticated. When I shave with the buzzy electric my thoughts are modern and decisive. Maybe I’ll do both. That’ll develop my thinking in all kinds of directions.

My neck is less painful, too. People have stopped asking me if I’m wearing a red cravat, anyway.