My visit to the shops that morning was always going to be difficult. The problem – whenever I try to buy replacement blades for my electric shaver, the shop assistants are at a loss. Their position is straightforward; they can only sell new blades if they can match them to the shaver’s model number. On modern shavers the number is printed indelibly; on mine – a replica of a vintage Philishave from the 1960s but still with its original brush – apart from a few scratches there was nothing – the number had long since gone. If there was once a number it was now invisible. 

Nevertheless, my blades have to be replaced so every eighteen months or so I go to the same store taking with me my shaver. When I explain that I don’t know the number, they scrutinise the shaver and, based on their experience, they work out which blades will do. So far, the informed-guess approach of experts has worked.  

Recently my regular shop changed hands and it now feels as though the new assistants do not see helpfulness as a priority. From a matter-of-fact woman I heard the usual opening assertion: “Without a model number I am not allowed to sell you any replacement blades.” I suggested she might get clues by looking at the shaver but she couldn’t and wouldn’t and continued: “Sir, I recommend that you buy a new shaver. With our current offers it will cost little more than a set of blades bought separately.”

Resigned, I followed her advice and as I was paying I asked if she could dispose of my old shaver and its leatherette bag. I had had enough! She refused, saying it would be a move I would regret: apart from having sentimental value the bag could contain things that might prove useful. Presumably she knew something!

My old shaver had a history. With great pride my father bought the original in the late 1960s. It was his first dry shaver and he saw it as representing modern technology. I was then in my mid-twenties and each morning enjoyed a wet shave – there is something very pleasant about the feel of freshly applied, warm shaving lather. For his part, he was determined to tell me about the modern approach. How the subject arose I don’t remember but, typical of my father, he was soon recounting the advantages of his new ‘toy’. Also, and in great detail, he told me how he had developed a post-shave protocol: after each shave he would use the brush provided (see illustration) to clean the cut whiskers from behind the shaver heads and then, to avoid the spread of infection, would dab the heads with eau de cologne. 

Twenty years later, that shaver was one of the few mementos my father left me when he died. Moreover, it was a replica of that shaver, now over fifty years later, that the assistant stopped me throwing away.

My new purchase came in an overlarge box with layers of packaging and lots of space. Inside was the shaver, a length of flex with a plug for recharging its battery and two instruction manuals. To my amazement, there was neither a new bag nor a cleaning brush. I quickly rummaged through the bag I had wanted to throw away and found the quirky, two-headed brush that I and, before me, my father had used every day for years. Rediscovering and touching the brush was suddenly very moving.

There are endless examples of how sounds, sights and smells can evoke memories. If ever I hear the sound of Soave Sia il Vento from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutti, one of the pieces of music played at my son Daniel’s funeral, my mind stops and I am once again standing tearful in front of his coffin listening to the trio. 

The power of touching is often overlooked, yet it can be equally evocative and, as in this instance, the object needs to have neither intrinsic value nor beauty. But here there was an added element. I found myself holding something that I had almost lost. I was always very aware that when I used the brush I was handling something my father handled too. Now, holding the brush that was so nearly lost made it even more precious.

I am not a hoarder but now I wonder how many other stored objects I have unwittingly jettisoned and which I would now regret.

By the way, with the new razor and it’s sharp blades the time taken to shave has fallen from a tedious five minutes to a very efficient sixty seconds. Also, I should add that I owe an apology to the shop assistant who I described as unhelpful – ultimately she turned out to be a saviour!

The illustration shows a photo of my father’s salvaged, two-headed shaver brush – it is 6 cm long.

For help with writing this blog I would like to thank Rohan and Vivien

6 thoughts on “A Brush with History

  1. Phew Joe, that was a close shave!

    I’m surprised your father’s electric shaver lasted so long, I would of liked to have seen a photograph of it alongside the little vintage brush. It reminds me of when I retrieved a cooking pot that my late mother used and every time I use it, I think and cook like her… for example I always cut onions and garlic on a chopping board, but with that pot I cut them straight into it in a more ad hoc ‘as mum used to’ way.

    It always make me smile, a bit tearful but I blame that on the onions…

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    1. Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your comments. I wonder if cooking makes for very special reminders. When scrambling eggs I always hear my mother’s advice, and when making a sauce for pasta it is my sister Susan’s advice that is played back. I also inherited two cooking utensils from Susan and she comes to mind as I use them. It is interesting. Love, Joe

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  2. Hi Joe, have just read your latest blog ‘A brush with history’ which I enjoyed very much but was very sorry to be reminded about your son who passed away – this must have been terrible for you and your whole family. We are now back swimming at Pools on the Park, although it all seems rather different, and we have to sit outside afterwards when we have our tea and porridge. Caroline and I hope you and Rowan are both well and enjoying life! Cheers, Mark.

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    1. Dear Mark, First, I am glad you liked the blog. Second, Daniel’s death was a horrible shock and horribly sad and memories come back at full pelt on anniversaries, birthdays and with odd events that serve to remind. Third, it’s good to hear that the pools are open again. I plan to be back at the gym in October. Love to you and Caroline, Joe

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  3. Very powerful Joe. It brought back vivid memories of finding my Father’s electric shaver when he died (40 years ago). It was in the bedroom with his last stubble still in it. What to do? To brush it out was to discard his last remains and too disloyal. To keep a minute amount of him in this form was too daft. To use the razor with him still in it was too weird. So the razor sat undisturbed in my drawer for years. Ian

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    1. Dear Ian, Thank you for your comment. To one degree or another your feelings must be the same for all things inherited. Perhaps sons, fathers and shavers are a particularly sensitive area, but it could be a wallet, shoes, carpets, camera and all will carry some memories and possible taboos. In general I don’t feel too squeamish. Love, Joe

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