10 Years With a Straight Razor | 2131


Since I have been old enough to do so, I’ve hidden my face behind a beard. Shaving with a straight razor requires the sacrifice of attention. A high price if the bill isn’t paid.

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2021/08/21/301-2131-10-years-with-a-straight-razor/

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Since the pandemic began I’ve been working through a set of writing prompts. Exercise titles followed by a short paragraph giving direction. Some of these exercises have become episodes of 301. Like The Phones I’ve Known. Or the one about the kinds of people who visit the self help section in bookshops.

This week’s prompt was β€˜Once more with feeling’. Search out a piece of old writing and give it another go. Bullet point the important bits and write it again with feeling. One of the oldest posts on my blog is entitled β€˜8 Months With a Straight Razor’. Published August 2012.

So 9 years later, let’s have another go.

10 Years With a Straight Razor

The first stage of ritual is called Entry.

I have, since I have been old enough to do so, hidden my face behind a beard. 

So the first admission is that I have never truly shaved my whole face with a straight razor. The neck, cheeks and chin, for sure. But I haven’t seen my lip for 20 years.

The second truth is that I say it’s been a decade. But all things begin with an idea. So lets just say that 10 years ago I liked the idea of shaving with a straight razor.

My life, the world, and I, looked very different back then. I was working in an office with lots of men. My boss had been in the millitary and would rip someone all day long if they wore an shirt that hadn’t met an iron. 

That was a shock. I had survived into my mid 20’s without caring about my bearing. Surfing an unseen wave of unearned privilege and the expectations of ones appearance. 

The more shirts I ironed the more I wanted to wear a tie. Very soon I was matching knots to collars: diagonal knots, the windsors, the pratt knot, the kelvin, an Atlantic knot for button downs.

Style blogs, street photography and EDC all slid into Google Reader. The top down photos of grooming sets began to catch my eye. The blades, the strops, the hones, the soap, the process … the private little ritual. 

The curve of the handle. The danger of the blade. 

They sold β€˜the event’ of shaving to me in a way that a slow motion footballer with a chiseled jaw in the shower with a plastic mach3 never could.

10 years ago my Grandad was in hospital. He asked my mum to get me a birthday present. Being the kind and thoughtful person that she always has, she went to my grandads old man barbers in the highstreet and got me brush and a bowl on his behalf.

The second phase of ritual is known as Preparation. 

When shaving with a straight razor, the water must be piping hot. The tap runs, the sink is cleaned, the site of the ritual prepared. The soap dish opened and the brush enlivened against my bare breast. 

The drawing of the basin, the wetting of brush, the lather, the ablution. The edge of the blade honed by the skin of the inside of your arm. 

There is a saying.

All rituals require a sacrifice. The most ready thing we have to offer is time.

The midpoint of ritual is known as Climax.

12 practiced, perhaps 14 mechanical strokes. The moment over.

But there is so so much more.

It is here in the climax that the ritual unfolds. 

With a straight blade you develop an intimate relationship with your face, hair and your skin. The contours of the face. The swirl of hair on my neck. The abrupt change in the grain where chin meets jaw.

The movement of metal across skin, the crackle of hair, loose and suspended in soap on the edge of the blade. 

It is intimidating to hold a very straight, very sharp blade to my throat and face. The mundane act of grooming imbued with responsibility and personal safety. 

The main sacrifice in this ritual is attention. A high price if the bill isn’t paid.

All work with mirrors must be mindful lest the soul be lost. 

A moment in life to catch one’s own eye. To clearly see oneself as the world sees you. A moment of both literal and figurative reflection.

The private erotisism of sharp edge on skin.

Attention must be paid. 

Paid to blade, to my face, to my skin, to that single wayward hair half way up my right cheek. The mind is blank when shaving with a naked blade. It is just movement, action and reaction. 

Occasionally still, my offering isn’t enough. For that one pays the bill with blood.

The penultimate stage of ritual is known as The Celebration. 

I think of my grandad, my great grandad and my ancestors. About how so many things from modernity that would confound and confuse.

Today we can shave with 5 blades microns sharp, housed in a disposable plastic cassette. Gellete’s stamped blades and safety razor saved lives in the trenches. Allowing the gas mask to seal on the face. Before that shaving was for the rich with hard Sheffield steel. The Romans shaved with bronze and sea shell. The oldest known flint blade is 1.4million years old. How long have we held a blade to the face and scraped it clean? 

The end of ritual is The Return. 

I clean my razor and wipe it clean. I wash the brush and clean the sink. I place the items one by one upon the windowsill. 


The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the audio due to time constraints.

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3 responses to “10 Years With a Straight Razor | 2131”

  1. […] 10 Years With a Straight Razor […]

  2. […] to the folks who sent through kind messages about last weeks episode. Really appreciated each of them, […]

  3. […] that since I was sick in July I’ve made some good episodes recently. I was pleased with how the show on straight razor shaving turned […]

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