This is the first post in what I'm calling A Letter from a Merry Go Round, and they're going to be slices of life that I hope you'll enjoy.
Today I cut my finger on a razor blade.
Those of you familiar with modern shaving equipment may be shrugging and thinking that it couldn’t have been too bad. Others may be wondering how on Earth I managed to damage myself despite the myriad safety features of the multi-bladed razor.
The cut was quite deep and bled profusely, and the blame lies partly with my foolish reluctance to have my eyes tested, and partly with the environment. You see, in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic that I consign to landfill, I’ve gone back to using a razor that goes beyond retro, and possibly beyond vintage. It was my father’s and possibly his father’s before him. No, it’s not a cutthroat, thank goodness, otherwise, I’d have sliced my finger clean off. It is what is laughingly called a safety razor, and it’s an elegant steel device that takes the individual razor blades (the accompanying image is a photo of the actual razor). When my father passed it on to me, I used it for years, but I gave it up when the blades became difficult to buy. Recently, I noticed that the blades are back on the shelves in my local supermarket, so to save all that plastic, and a few pennies, I went back to it.
I like the heritage of the thing. I like to recall how, as a small boy, I sat and watched my father using it to scrape the creamy white foam from his chin. Dad died back in the year 2000, but that memory is kept alive with my daily shaving ritual.
On top of all this, I’ve always harboured a deep suspicion of the multi-bladed razor. First, there were two blades, then three, now four. Why? It seems to me that if the first blade didn't cut through the bristle, then it can’t have been much good.
But animated TV ads would have us believe that our mischievous stubble likes nothing more than a high-spirited game of hide and seek, ducking down as the blade approaches, only to bob back up when the coast is clear. But I’m here to tell you that it just ain't so. My bristles are remarkably static little beasts, and I like to think that were they prone to independent movement, I would’ve noticed by now.
In my experience, one blade does the job, but if you inadvertently miss a bit, guess what, you can just go over that patch again.
But there is a downside to the old-style blades. They are easy to slide out of their plastic holder (there’s no getting away from the stuff), but they are individually wrapped in little paper packets, the flaps tucked tightly around the blade in a miniature work of origami. At least, that’s how it seems if you’re getting shortsighted and you haven't made the leap to wearing varifocal glasses all the time. I can see most things, most of the time, providing that they’re far enough way. But anything small or fiddly has shimmered into a decidedly soft-focus plane of existence. I often think that the problem is nothing to do with my eyes. My brain simply looked at the state of the world, and with a sigh said, “I’ve seen enough.” I like to think that this is an inbuilt safety feature of the human brain. It’s like a bonus scheme. You get to a certain age, and you earn the privilege of being protected from the full glare of modern life.
So my shortsightedness is all fine, unless I’m handling something sharp.
The blade bit fairly deep into the index finger of my right hand, and since I’m right-handed and spend a lot of my time typing, a fingertip is an annoying thing to have wrapped in a sticking plaster. But on the upside, the incident reminded me of one of my favourite pieces of writing. If you haven’t read Nine Needles by James Thurber, I urge you to do so. I love Thurber’s dry humour, and although some of his work contains a few references that are ‘of his time’, i.e. with casually racist or misogynistic undertones, I forgive him for that. Thurber gave us a rich fictional world that goes well beyond The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
In Nine Needles, a man is a guest in a friend’s house when he cuts himself shaving. In a bid to stem the flow, he knocks a packet of nine needles into a sink full of soapy water. He can’t drain the water, fearing the needles will block the drain, and he can’t find the needles beneath the suds. As he struggles to retrieve the needles, he loses some of the needles in a towel. Things go from bad to worse, and he knocks a variety of toiletries and other items so that they spill all over the room. Eventually, he simply takes the towel and leaves the apartment. He never sees his friends again.
We’ve all been in situations where our embarrassment has led us to act out of character: times when we were so mortified that we couldn't face up to them until later, possibly over a stiff drink. What Thurber is reminding us, here, is that these times of discomfort often become our greatest jokes. They’re the incidents that we laugh about with friends. How many times has a friend started an amusing anecdote with the phrase, “Do you remember when…” and you smiled because you knew what was coming? There’s something very comforting in the remembrance of shared embarrassments. Such tales remind us that we’re all human, and we all make silly mistakes. But they also warm our hearts with the comforting assurance that if we can recall our blunders with a smile, we can move on.
I must’ve embarrassed myself many times over the years, but I’m not sure if I can recall an event that escalated quite as entertainingly as Thurber’s tale.
I’ll put my thinking hat on, and I’ll come up with something for another time. And I’ll type it up for you…once my finger has healed.