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King of all shaves

Mark Taylor

Reporter:

Mark Taylor

King of all shaves
NO man enjoys shaving. In fact I will go one further, any man who enjoys shaving is not just a sick individual, but warped beyond belief, too. Did I mention I hate shaving? I'm not too keen on having cut-throat razors pressed against my neck and my ears set on fire either but if it means I don't have to lather up my mug and scrape it clean again for a few days, I'm interested. Chris Melkonian has just opened his first barber store in Newbury, in 8 Bells Arcade, so I went along to try out a traditional Turkish shave, expecting, well, not much; I mean, a shave is a shave, right? Wrong. Twenty minutes later, I walked out a changed man. Since the Second World War ended, our hectic Western lifestyles have seen us embrace disposable razors and foam and gel; we can slap the product on, slash it off, and be busy somewhere else in 10 minutes, itching our faces as we go. The multi-billion pound shaving industry boomed to the point razors now bear security tags in supermarkets, such is their cost and desirability for shoplifters. Companies employ teams of scientists and engineers to devise newfangled products under shrouds of secrecy, and the business has become, almost literally, cut-throat. For Syrian-born Chris, and for most Middle Eastern and western Asians, the Turkish shave is something else entirely. Put into the hands of an expert, it is a ritual, and, as I found out, it can put your mind right and make you feel reborn. 36-1912O Turkish ShaveIt wasn’t so very long ago in the ancient land of Mesopotamia that barbers were held in the highest regard by society, akin to a doctor or dignitary – and it is easy to see why their skills were so desirable. “The preparation is the most important part,” Chris tells me as he gets to work. First the hot towels are wrapped around my head. And when I say hot, I mean steaming. It is like wearing a helmet made of fire. My entire face is massaged, and is so hot it feels like the blood is pumping through my eyeballs. It should hurt, but it doesn't, it feels good. Better than good. I’m lathered up, and images of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, rattle through my head, as the cheery barber covers me in foam. Out comes the straight razor. It’s barely a tickle. At home now, I would be tutting and swearing, hacking clumps off my chin and glaring at the mirror. This is a doddle. Chris learned grooming as a youngster under the tutelage of his older brother, and fell into the family trade. He says he also hates shaving – we might have been born continents apart but there is something heartening about this unifying truth. My face is rubbed with a special stone, imported from Syria, and we go again with the foam and razor. Then, the actual fire. What looks like a cotton bud on a pair of tweezers is lit, and the tiny hairs around my ears are singed off. The pièce de résistance is the lemon cologne. I could tell by his smile that Chris knew what was coming, and from his howls of delight that the  photographer Phil Cannings definitely knew what was coming. It splashes on, and if I thought my face was torched before, this time it almost melts off as the molten aqua seeps into my pores and a scream lodges in my throat. A few seconds later it cools, and I'm finished off with another blast from the hot towels. Forget your rollercoasters, forget your cold drinks on hot days, I can honestly say I have never felt so refreshed, clean or revived in my entire life. Twelve hours later, I was still smiling. Twenty-four hours later, and my face was still glowing and felt like a baby’s backside. If you've never experienced it, you don't know what you’re missing; get yourself down to 8 Bells Arcade and strap yourself into that chair. Just watch out for that lemon cologne and the demon barber’s grin.  A traditional Turkish hot towel shave with face massage costs £11. To book, call (01635) 741665.

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