A big thumb pressing down on my nose and I can see the straight-edge blade coming towards my mouth. I am confident of this man but not of myself. I assume a tacit responsibility for not moving a muscle lest we have a Chien Andalou situation. My face is thick with cooling white stuff, badger-brushed on. How did I get here? Well, by a Christmas gift voucher for the Luxury Wet Shave and train, tube and a walk through Trafalgar Square to the Pall Mall Barbers (est. 1896) – ‘ A mixture of oak panels, ceramic basins and open blades’.
Adrian – thickblackbearded, and not the gorgeous Erin (‘voted the best female barber in Europe’ – blimey) I’d hoped for, makes friendly chat as he prepares. Are you in town for the day? – (how did he know? did he notice the mud on my country gaiters?) – and he makes the best responses he can to my nervous streamofconsciousness about visiting art galleries, and flicks his eyes to the window each time a woman passes.
So: he starts on the face with the cut-throat. Short strokes with the grain of the beard (yes, I’d not shaved for three days – thought I’d make it worthwhile), I can hear the rasp, but there’s no tugging or snagging – it’s actually pleasant. Music playing – an extended two-minor-chord funk groove with incantatory voice over – surely James Brown about to launch into It’s A Man’s World? I can only talk when Adrian takes the razor off my face – it’s for best. Then he wipes off the remaining foam, and relathers, and shaves against the grain (two shaves then!) No nicks cuts pain of course. He wraps my face in a freezing wet towel for a while, then moisturises and aftershaves me. I breathe out, and float, cleansed but closed-pored, into the London street.