I am a man.
At times I am a masculine man with a healthy and not wildly unattractive mask of facial hair.
I am, on those occasions, a man in need of a razor.
I would grow a beard. I actually did grow a beard for my trip around the world’s festivals, which begins in approximately 12 hours, but it went awry. My plan was to give both my beard and my head-hair entirely free reign, to cut neither for almost a year, from November 2010 till August 2011, when at Burning Man festival, in the heart of the Nevada desert, I would shave the entirety of my head, from crown to apple, transforming myself from feral, brutish sasquatch to creepy Krishna with no eyebrows, reborn bald as an egg, ready to be burned and blistered under a sweltering sky. From what I know of Burning Man, that would be exactly the right venue to shed one makeshift personality and start afresh with another. Sadly, not only did a full beard prove prohibitively itchy, but also, and more importantly, it was a ghastly, unsightly mess.
The older I get, I find, the less visibly palatable is my facial hair. New colours appear from nowhere after a couple of days: as well as the rat-brown of my youth, there is now Wearside Grey, Hucknall Red and a couple of other shades that don’t as yet have names. The fact is, my beard makes me look like a tramp. And now that I actually am a tramp for the first time in my life, I’m quite keen to conceal the fact.
This then was to be my last shave on English soil for some considerable time. Consequently, I was hoping for a good one.
As every man knows, shaving time is the perfect time for reflection, both literal and metaphorical. The time a man spends shaving is actually some of the most therapeutic, restorative and important time he has with himself. Unlike the other habitual chores we perform alone – the voiding of our bowels, for example, or the spilling of our seed – shaving is the only one we perform whilst regarding our own face in the mirror, unless of course we are very strange indeed. Shaving affords rare, sometimes perfect moments of introspection. You look at yourself. You see yourself. You address yourself. ‘Where are you?’ you ask yourself. ‘How much progress have you made since last you stood before yourself, hobo-faced and semi-naked? Is your life working out? Who the hell are you anyway?’
So I wanted this shave to be a good one, because I have just given up everything to travel around the world, and I have no money, and few prospects, and frankly, I am afraid. I thought a good shave might buoy me.
Sadly, it was not a good shave. On the contrary, it was a nasty shave that did not leave me, as I’d hoped it might, feeling good and right and ready to face my future, but rather, as well as leaving me, on occasion, hopping mad, it also left me wondering if maybe I’m about to make the biggest mistake of my life, and a monumental arse of myself to boot.
It was a fraught shave. What made it all the more fraught was the fact that my materials were bad: I had no shaving gel and only a couple of very blunt razors. So I ransacked my sister’s bathroom cabinets and the best I could find in a house full of electric shavers was an old, rusting can of something called Erasmic Shaving Foam.
Which was when I discovered that shaving foam has a very definite shelflife. It was no longer foam. It was more like spit, like the angry spit that collects in the corners of the mouths of raging despots. But I soldiered on.
And although I did, on the whole, a passable job, it was not a good shave. When I asked of myself the questions of the shave, I felt I came up short. I was on the verge of a life-changing, maybe life-destroying trip, and despite the fact that my time was fast running out, I still had all the organisation prowess of a drunken Norman Wisdom on a beach full of high-tech deck chairs and I was not a great deal closer to having planned for it. Also, despite having located my passport and booked a ticket to Madrid, I still had very little idea who I actually was.
I was a man. That much I knew. I was a man with a vague plan and little notion of how to achieve it.
Now, with 12 hours to go, I remain that man.
People keep telling me that they envy me. I know what they mean. I would envy me too if I didn’t have the fear of everything that might go wrong. With a little luck, I could be about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. But let’s face it, if that luck eludes me, I could go from sleeping in shop doorways to begging outside of cashpoints to selling my aged flabby buttocks in a Prague pissoir within a matter of weeks.
But no. Let’s keep it positive. Everything’s going to be fine. Better than fine. Everything’s going to be fantastic! My agent’s going to sell my novel quickly and for a giant sack of money, and some kindly sponsor is going to pop up out of the blue and give me a wonderful ongoing writing gig. I’ll be shaving my face in the Amsterdam Hilton by April Fool’s Day.
You see if I’m not.
My next shave, however, will take place in Madrid, or possibly Barcelona. After that, probably Bologna. Then, if things go well, Krakow, followed by Venice. If things go badly… nah. Let me not think on’t.
Amusingly, when I had finished this final shave and all I had to do was sit back and await the rash, I sorted through my toiletries bag to toss away the stuff I had collected but would never use, and look what I found…
I don’t remember where it came from. I expect I picked it up on an aeroplane but never got round to using it. That’s something though. My next shave, the Spanish shave, will be a King of Shaves shave. I’ll try and get hold of a new razor too, and hopefully the experience will be a little less fraught.
I made a film of The Last Shave by the way. I rather like it. I look like a mad man.