Now, it may surprise you to learn that I am an XFactor fan. In order to watch TV I have to activate a single-button library-to-cinema conversion which is deeply satisfying and something I like to think James Bond would have been proud of had he pursued an academic career; but the combination of dramatic room-transmutation and dumb ignorance of televisual scheduling means that I don’t bother generally. But XFactor has been the exception; I enthusiastically join the ranks of fanatics. But mingled with my guilty love is a small concern, which I want to share with you this freezing, gloriously Rachelless morning.
It is not that I cannot watch the auditions, hysterical as it is to many to watch the deluded and cynically encouraged embarrassing themselves on television and experiencing heartbreak for our entertainment. This is the worst sort of insidious TV cruelty: these poor creatures (and I talk only of the terrible ones) are misled in the early stages to believe they have a chance and then paraded in a grotesque and mesmerising appeal to our nationwide sense of Schadenfreude. Since Big Brother, our young disadvantaged ranks have been offered an image of easy celebrity that is both encouraging and quietly damaging: that you can have everything you want without working for it, and that being outspoken and ill-informed are qualities to be celebrated. Making it on XFactor demands real talent, of course, but in those early stages of encouraging and exploiting self-delusion, I feel the same distaste we feel for spiteful celebrity gossip in Heat. Someone – and it was either Plato or Cyndi Lauper – said that to blame the public for ‘demanding’ so voraciously this kind of nastiness is like building a sweet shop, letting the kids flock to it, and then blaming the kids for demanding the sweet shop when their teeth start to fall out. There’s no kindness in the process, and I think kindness is a very good thing. (I’m aware I sometimes seem to do awful things to people on TV, but we go to great, unseen lengths to make sure the participants are entirely happy and exhilerated by the whole experience).
No, my concern is actually with the voting structure. It’s something of a magic trick, whereby you allow the punter to feel he has a free choice in something you can in fact control yourself from the very start. It works best when the dupe is so emotionally involved in making his own choices that he misses that he has no actual control over the outcome. Now, I don’t like to give magic tricks away, but in the same way that you know a magician will want to have complete control over the trick to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned, equally a record company behind such a successful TV show want to make sure they have their favourite, most commercial contestant do as well as possible. They’re not going to leave that to chance.
I knew one judge on a previous, unnamed show, who told me she caused a huge fuss by not towing the line and voting the way the judges had been told to that week. For my money, something odd is going on with Eoghan who has, undeservedly, not received a single criticism from any judge all through the series. Austin said in interview that Simon spent the vast majority of his time with the adventurously-haired Irish youth: clearly someone has plans for him.
But I digress. Think about the voting structure, and about the fact that the judges decide each week between the last two. If you wanted to create a show where the public would become so emotionally involved in casting (and paying for) their votes that they missed the fact that they had no actual control over who stays or goes each week, then this would be the perfect structure. It takes a slap round the face to realise how simple it is. The contestants in the final can be pre-decided before the series, based on the voting structure alone.
Then if it were me, just to really speculate, I’d put in place another unquestioned process whereby the phone lines are closed at the moment that the show wishes them to be, rather than after a count-down or some transparent means of ensuring fairness. That way, if results were neck-and-neck, I’d be able to keep push my favourite through right to the winning post.
Thankfully, if any of this goes on, it would be for no more sinister reason that to ensure the most commercial artist wins. And I trust that the non-winners have every chance of getting signed up themselves.
And as you’ll want to know, I have voted twice – once, of course, for Scott when I felt sorry for him, and then later for Diana. I think, now, on reflection, that Alexandra should win, though I love Diana and Ruth enormously. Now I’m happy to sit back and see who Simon has in mind, and I suppose I trust his judgement. What a show. I love it.
Kuda Bux was a unique performer with an unequalled act of sightless vision. He inspired aspects of the Oracle Act from my latest stage show (which should be on C4 at Christmas), and until recently it’s been very tough to find footage of him.Â
This is a tricky sort of act to pull off: generally the audience have the option of either believing in it entirely (in which case it’s utterly stupendous), or not believing it (in which case it’s just a puzzle as to how the performer can see). I’d have rather liked there to be a dramatic element here to bridge the two, which there isn’t: it’s just demonstrations of something seemingly impossible. So some will be amazed, others apathetic. But for me it’s a rare treat to see it at all.
God, I love YouTube.
Once in New York, I filled a morning by visiting an old fashioned barber’s shop (not a properlyÂ old-fashioned one, though: this had a bad eighties’ feel to it and those hysterical turquoise shots in the window of guys with perms and aviator specs) and get my face shaved. I had never undergone such treatment before: it was unnerving, pleasant, painful, relaxing and frightening all at once and at different times. But it is rather nice to know that someone has shaved you. Back in London, I decided to repeat the procedure, and visited a place near my apartment. This time it was unambiguously horrendous, and the most pain I have experienced at the hands of an older man. I was left raw, stinging and absolutely hopping mad, with spots of blood coming up all over my neck. Never again, I thought, furiously leaving a tip.
A few weeks later, and disappointed that my latest effete pursuit was to be curtailed, I got into discussion with the staff at GF Trumpers of Jermyn St, (I didn’t know the original Curzon St branch at the time) which is a quite excellent place for securing all things gentlemanly. Soon they had me convinced that they could do a better job, and after oneÂ initiallyÂ very nervous session, I emerged ever the smoothest, creamiest, most trimmed and talcumed young psychological illusionist to ever read a mind or influence a behaviour.Â
On alternate Saturdays I would return to Trumpers and receive the hot-towels and cut-throat safely and precisely. Now that I am no longer a single man and cannot pre-book half of all my Saturday afternoons to be spent in this ludicrous way, I have forgone the luxury of a professional touch and shave at home. Too nervous to use a cut-throat, I use the more pedestrian Gillette Fusion Power razor, which plays less darkly upon the imagination. I am, as you will guess, a shaving enthusiast, and I thought that you could all do a lot worse than pay attention to my shaving tips, because I have met some of you, and frankly most of you need it. I realise this may be of less interest to my lady-fans, but, again, I have stood quite close to many of you after shows, and some of those hirsute upper-lips could stand a little pruning.
So, for those who struggle with their morning toilet, my thoughts are as follows. As ever, recommendations and thoughts appreciated. I am indebted to the various barbers at Trumpers and the long discussions we have had while I was in the chair.Â
1. Preparation is all. Exfoliate in the shower, and do so every day if you can.
2. Do not use any shaving oils: they will clog up your razor. The idea is to first open your pores, (whichÂ is what the hot towels will do if you visit aÂ professional), so avoid anything cloggy. Trumpers sell a ‘skin food’, which is essentially glycerine and one of various pleasant scents, and this nicely and lightly prepares the skin for the razor without recourse to oils.Â
3. Next, lather up. You should use soap in a bowl and a proper brush, for this is where the joy of the whole experience resides. If you use cream or gel from a commercial can, you should still use a brush to apply it. This is because you wish to lift the hairs from the face: smoothing your hand down your cheeks and chin has the opposite effect. A hand-made badger brush will not moult like a machined one, and the best have firmer hairs inside which help the lather build quicker. Brush the lather in little circles around your quite exceptional face, lifting those pesky hairs, and then, if you have time, rub it all in with your fingers and start again with the soap that is still on the brush.Â
4. Hair-raised, you can pick up your razor. I use the Fusion Power, but have no idea if the buzzing function really makes any difference. I am somewhat committed to it, as I found a fancy oneÂ that has a little light on it, which I just love. Others complain that the 5-bladed Fusion brand clogs up too easily, and swear by the old Mach III. They may be right. I have shelves of faux bone-handled and chrome razors, for every brand of blade, most far more beautiful than the light-up gizmo, and would love a tortoiseshell handle for the Fusion Power… you know where to post a comment if you’ve come across anything nice.Â
Some people have hugely sensitive skin, and no amount of care seems to stop the old rashes and in-grown hairs. A dermatologist I spoke to explained that the trouble with the multi-bladed razors is that they can pull out and cut the hair so closely to the skin that if you are one of a small percentage of people to have stubble that grows at a shallower angle to the skin rather than straight out, the pull-and-snip action can actually make the hair grow again underneath the skin. So – and this advice has been invaluable to a couple of friends – the answer is to eschew these modern razors and stick to an old-fashioned top-loading single blade model. There you have it. It won’t be quite as close, but it will be close enough and might stop the in-growing if you can’t seem to stop it after taking on board all my handy hints. Â
Meanwhile, when I pluck up courage to use a cut-throat, I’ll let you know.Â
5. Start shaving. Stretch the skin where you can, and shave slowly: they shave too fast and casually in the adverts and it’s a badÂ example. Keep the blades rinsed, and go slowly and carefully. Above all, SHAVE WITH, NOT AGAINST, THE GRAIN. This is a very common mistake. It will feel closer if you go against the grain, but you’ll end up with ingrown hairs all over the place. Always with the grain. For most people, that will be DOWN the cheeks and UP the neck to meet under the jaw, but we all have our personal hair-grain maps. Be aware of any areas you tend to find rashes: usually this is where you’ve been shaving the wrong way.Â
You should be changing your blades every four shaves at the very most, but with the current economic climate and the cost of Fusion blades, you may have to make compromises.Â
6. After the shave is complete, PAT your face with a towel, don’t rub.Â
7. Moisturise your face and neck, and treat any nicks with a styptic pencil or similar product.Â
8. For a super-silky effect, go for the talc. Yeah, baby.Â
I don’t use an aftershave balm, as it’s best to minimise the number of products you’re pushing into your face every time you shave. Stick to the same products, and don’t use more than are needed. Avoid shaving every day, (every other day is best). Exfoliation is an important part of the regime, as it’s primarily all about stopping those hairs from growing the wrong way under dead skin or clogged pores.Â
Those, then, are my top tips. Do with them as you wish, but I can assure you I was raggedy-rashed and spotty before I discovered the pleasures of doing it right. And my life was poorer too, because shaving was a chore rather than a delight. I hope you’ll find your way to enjoying it too. Especially those ladies: you know who you are.Â
Right, next time it might be perfect egg-poaching.Â
Heavens, is that the time. Ner-night.