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I was taught to shave by a chef. He was tall, and had a short, tidy brown beard. When he was angry he turned the air-con off in the kitchen. I don’t know why I listened to him.

He said: forget that electric razor shit. You’ve got to use hot water and a flannel. Soak the flannel and dab it on your whole face. Don’t worry about your glasses. Take them off, and put them back on once your face is proper red. Then put shaving cream on and shave. With your neck, go up; cheeks, chin and upper lips down. Be careful around the edge of your mouth, and use a razor with more than one blade. Single blades and disposables always chop you up. Pay more, get more. And once you’re done, put some lotion on. Aftershave burns and smells like a department store.

He had his arms crossed the whole time, and when he finished he nodded, said, look the part, be the part, put the air-con back on and told me to get back to work. There were dishes to be done, pots to clean. I was sixteen, a pot washer, impressionable. It was my first part-time job. I did what he said.

The next time I came in I was clean shaven. He said, I see you took my advice. I smiled. Some of the younger chefs laughed. I flushed red. He turned the air-con off.

After that I wet-shaved two three, times a week. I used his method every time, neck up, cheeks down. My face had never felt so smooth.

One night a few months or so later, I finished work late and went out with some of the younger chefs and waiters. I had an early start the next morning, so I said I’d only come for a few. I ended up vomiting my end-of-night kebab into a bush.

The next day I drove to work hungover. Or maybe still drunk, I couldn’t tell. I was shaking, pale, hot then cold. I spewed into the bin when I saw the grilled tomatoes, into the sink when I smelled the black pudding. At ten he came in, took one look at me and told me to go home.

I’d just puked again and said I was feeling better. He said, maybe you do, but you look like shit and you didn’t shave.

I touched my neck and chin and felt the little bristles. I said, neither did you.

He turned the air-con off and told me to get back to work. Ten minutes later, I vomited again. He told me to go home, I had sick in my stubble.

I said, and if I shave I can come back?

He turned the air-con back on.

The next day my face was like a baby’s.

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4 thoughts on “Hot Water & A Flannel

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