Stay sharp

This article from last Sunday’s Observer on razor blade technology caught my eye, as I’m one of those blokes who never seems to get shaving right somehow. I generally feel as if I’ve got a five o’clock shadow the whole day long, which wouldn’t be so bad if I were some hirsute hunk of mediterranean persuasion, but in my case it’s simply because I can never get a very close shave without either using a new blade every time, which would cost a packet, or going so close I’d lacerate myself. Or, more likely, break the razor, not on my steel-strong stubble but against my jaw from over-enthusiastic pressure of the handle. Attempts over the years to grow a proper beard or even some designer bum-fluff leave me looking simply as if I haven’t bothered to shave rather than in any way cool.

The article incidentally covered the issue of grip, Gillette seemingly having an entire department devoted to the way men hold their razor and how this has supposedly changed over the years as new ‘thumb skills’ have crept into everyday behaviour with the advent of texting and gaming. Personally I think this is bollox, along with most of the other stubbly issues discussed such as blade angle, sharpness and inter-blade clog factor which Gillette claims to be researching on an almost 24-hour basis, as if shaving were an emergency service rather than the daily chore it actually is.

Further, in a comment almost worthy of doublespeak, the company maintains that the reason modern blades created with technology to rival NASA’s go blunt so quickly is that they’re just so sharp – more so, supposedly, than a surgeon’s scalpel. Brilliant. My beard may be that bit tougher than it was when I started shaving a couple of decades ago but in those days you could rely on a blade to last at least five shaves, if not six or seven, thus a packet of four would last you a month (your honour). These days a packet of four Titanium Quattro blades (admittedly for a razor by Wilkinson, who mysteriously declined to take part in the Observer feature) costs £5.85 and you’re lucky if you get two decent shaves out of each one. I put my reflections on the risibility of Gillette’s claims in a letter to the Observer, which they have published today (under the heading ‘Sharp practice’). Then again, I suppose you have to hand it to Gillette for adverts which have taken the dullness off the edge of shaving (even if not the razors themselves).

The reason I can rattle off the price of a packet of blades, incidentally, is that a couple of days ago I went out to Sainsbury’s and bought some. I hadn’t bought razor blades from them before and went firstly to the bathroomular accessories section. While this might seem the obvious place to go, a while back my regular supermarket, Waitrose, in an uncharacteristic fit of kowtowing to some new mad health and safety standard, suddenly took all their razor blades off their shelves and replaced them with funny little laminated, emasculated versions of each brand, which you put into your basket in place of the real thing. That really did lack an edge, I thought, but when you got to the till the cashier would ring their bell to summon a colleague who would scurry off to retrieve the real blades. All of this seemed rather a palaver, and clearly Waitrose felt the same way, since a couple of months later the authentic items were back on the shelves again.

Thus I thought, optimistically, that Sainsbury’s and all other supermarkets had probably followed suit; however, they had not, or at least this branch hadn’t. Shaving foam, after-shave and moisturisers were there in front of me, but no blades and not even any laminated bits of card in their place which I might bring to the till. Weirdly, there was no sign saying anything helpful like ‘For safety reasons, razor blades can now be found wherever’ or ‘Please direct all enquiries about the purchase of razor blades to our Razor Blade Manager Mr George Whittle’ or whatever, so I wandered around for a bit, unsure of where I might find them (cleaning products? feminine hygiene? delicatessen?) before spotting them behind a counter with other controlled substances such as cigarettes, spirits, CDs and batteries. There then followed several minutes of toing and froing as a supervisor had to be summoned, not to verify my age (even though the signs ask you to ‘please be flattered if we think you look younger than you are’) but to actually ring the bloody things up properly. I mean, honestly… the youth of today may be up to no good but I can’t seriously see a Gillette Fusion presenting a menace to society. We all know how ‘sharp’ they are.