Until they began to beat me about the ears with a flaming skewer, the men of Ted’s Grooming Room had treated me quite well.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In London for a former roommate’s wedding, two friends and I were looking to clear out the cobwebs from a late night at the rehearsal dinner and few too many warm English beers. A traditional Turkish shave seemed like the only way forward. Ted Baker’s shop in the auspiciously named neighborhood of Cheapside looked to be the place.
On arrival, we were greeted by a pretty hostess who handed us oversize bottles of Turkish beer. This was to be our last bit of earthly comfort for the duration of our stay.
“Shave” doesn’t quite cover the battery of savage treatments encompassed by a full Turkish workup. The "efes," as the traditional Turkish barbers are known, have hit upon a formula that mixes in enough gentle abuse to make a man feel quite tough while spending an hour in the chair getting pampered.
Now might be a good time to state the obvious: As far as I can tell, Ted Baker is not a Turkish person. For all I know, he may have never been to Turkey. But he evidently knows a good thing when he sees it and has assembled a crack team of efes to man his shops.
The process began with a just-too-hot towel wrap to the face. Whimpering seemed out of bounds in such civil environs, so I elected to go with a dignified wince instead. The straight razor shave itself was executed with a certain speed and violent precision I imagine are shared only by Turkish efes and the men of the abattoir. Threading came next, a process through which eyebrows and necklines are shaped by rolling a thread over the skin. Pulling the hairs out of your face with a sewing kit is the preferred means of getting those lines just right without leaving any unibrow stubble.
Rounding out the lineup of unusual ways to remove hair from my face was the ear flaming. The sinuous curves of the ear are terrain too rugged for either razors or thread. These pesky hairs can only be smoked out. Here’s how it went down: My efe dipped a cottonball in alcohol, affixed it to a skewer and preceded to beat my ears in perfect 4-4 time, the flame alighting only long enough to singe away every last downy wisp.
A vigorous massage, with an unusual focus on the space between my knuckles, finished off the cycle. I slid out of the chair feeling tenderized, refreshed, and not a little bit relieved. Having survived a Turkish shave, I felt prepared for the perils of a wedding reception dance floor crowded with Englishmen.
As I made my way to the door, I was given what I’ve since learned to be the English barber’s traditional goodbye. “Something for the weekend sir?” the efe asked. For a brief moment I was puzzled. And then he slipped a neatly packaged French letter into my shirt pocket.