This is an activity which is generally reported to provide its maximum pleasure through its cessation. Having not tried it, I cannot confirm this opinion but it does have the ring of truth about it.
I have recently finished Caitlin Moran’s excellent book How to be a Woman, though readers should not infer from this that I am about to seek gender re-assignment therapy (or even start wearing frocks on a regular basis). It is funny and moving and wise and I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of the exact combination of X and Y chromosomes they happen to possess (and as I learned in this week’s Nature podcast, this is likely to be a rather wider mix than you might imagine). It is full of great advice for members of either of the two traditional sexes, though I’m not sure whether the unexpected flexibility of yellow shoes applies to chaps like myself (I have certainly yet to put it to the test). One insight was how much pleasure those (mostly) lacking the Y-chromosome gain from the removal of their bra at the end of the day, despite the utility it had hitherto been providing. I do not wear a bra – though many men in this increasing obese age might usefully consider the option (if only to avoid travelling with a load not properly tied down) – but have (what I assume to be) similar feelings about shoes. I have no desire to walk around barefoot – it strikes me as uncomfortable and would lead to wounded and very dirty feet – but there are few joys in life quite so great as removing my shoes at the end of a long day. I do sometimes muse that the shoe may have been created by our ancestors primarily for the joy that its removal brings, and its use for foot protection was just a happy accident.
Having lacked work-based meetings and flying to Scotland using only hand-luggage (which precludes the taking of razor blade and a broad range of unguents), I had until this weekend gone for quite a long time without shaving. As a result, I had developed rather more beard than is my wont – and which surely must indicate that the beard is now seriously off-trend. My beard is spared the common tendency to be far more ginger than the rest of my hair, but instead – and probably worse – is far more white then the rest of my hair. I do not think it makes me look distinguished and luckily it was razed to my face before any similarity with Santa Claus became too pronounced. It lasted a little longer than usual as a result of (a) apathy and (b) a vague idea that it would keep me a little warmer while cycling in the recent, relatively chilly weather. However, its destruction was always on the cards as possession of a beard quickly starts to annoy me – I have no idea how the generously bearded put with the things: they itch and get trapped in zips and worse. Its two-stage removal on Friday was thus most welcome, but came with an unexpected bonus. As well as taking off a whole chunk of unwanted hair, the shave also took years off me! I felt positively youthful on seeing my clean-shaven visage in the bathroom mirror – a feeling enhanced by the soft-focus provided by wisely not wearing my glasses. It is almost worth growing a beard de temps en temps for the fillip offered by its subsequent elimination. The true test would be whether the pain of its cultivation is exceeded by the joy arising from its removal – however, the plethora of confounding variables will make this rather a hard test to convincingly apply. Probably needs an epidemiological study – so over to you, the readers!