When Declan Marr decided to get all handy with a full-on manicure, he got more than he bargained for.
My favourite film of all time is George Cukor’s The Women (1949), in which plenty of the all-female action takes place in a high-class beauty parlour. The key scene, in which our heroine inadvertently hears hot gossip about her own husband’s philandering, happens while she is getting a manicure. She may be devastated by the news, but her hands don’t budge – she’s a woman who definitely has her priorities right. Until I visited Stephen Thomas, a man who reliably informs me he’s the only male beautician in Dublin, I could only imagine those priorities.
The nearest I ever came to a manicure was on a beach in Vietnam, where local girls filed your nails and drenched them in lemon juice for a dollar. True, it was a pleasant experience, but nothing in comparison to the kind of pampering my hands got from the lovely Stephen.
But, first things first. The Stephen Thomas Beauty Room is part of a hairdressing salon on Francis Street, and like many similar Dublin establishments it has an OAP’s day every week, when octogenarians can get their sets and perms at half price. The day of my appointment just happened to coincide with one of these. To say that I was a bit freaked out is an understatement. I had never even heard of OAP hairdressers days before and suddenly I found myself waiting, cup of coffee in hand, next to a woman and her Zimmer frame, another woman who was fast asleep and a chirpy little old lady, Tweety Bird’s grandma-style. Slowly, as my perception began to adjust, I realised the salon was packed with half-cut (in the follicle sense of the word) old dears all chattering ninety to the dozen. And they were all furtively eyeing me up and down. ‘What is that young hunk of spunk doing here?’ you could hear them think as they undressed me with their eyes.
I’m telling you, if the young Mr Thomas hadn’t rescued me sooner, I would have run for the door. It was like a scene from Children of the Dammed, with age-reversal. Stephen’s Beauty Room is a nicely appointed little haven. It’s his first venture into business, having worked for other salons he noticed there was a gap in the market for men’s grooming by men and decided to jump on the bandwagon. The business has been very successful so far and although he sometimes gets asked to do ‘full body massages with all the extras’ (which he refuses, okay?) and the like, he generally gets a gay clientele happy to have a guy do their beauty.
My manicure began with a sanitisation and soak. If there’s one skill a beautician needs its conversation. Most of the time the client has to patiently wait while procedures are carried out, so if you’ve got someone who can keep the chat interesting it makes for time halved, at least in mind. Stephen chatted away while my mitts soaked in the manicure bowl, softening my nails and cuticles. Then he treated my nails with cuticle cream before putting them back in the water for some ionisation. The cuticle is the skin surrounding the matrix of your nail, which is the live part that’s growing. Look at your nails and you can see this area as a white half moon at the back of your nail. All the rest of the fingernail is dead tissue. The cuticle skin protects the part of your nail that’s growing and it can grow too large itself or become unsightly because the work your hands go through. Although I bite my nails and have, shall we say, ragged cuticles, Stephen resisted all urge to lecture me on this and treated my nails just as if they were as normal as anyone else’s. Indeed, only a quarter way into my treatment, he had my cuticles looking like they were never torn asunder in the first place – as neat as freshly manicured lawns.
Then he filed down what was left of my nails, buffed them a bit and cleaned underneath, where all that dust builds up into a mucky mix. The next part was my favourite. Stephen may not do the full body massage, but his hand and arm massage is to die for. He spent five minutes massaging sweet almond oil into my extremities, beginning what was to be a full-on mini-regime of hand hydration. Next up was a dermopeel scrub featuring a mixture of lemon, almonds, sunflower and jojoba to remove dead skin and boost the colour of my hands.
Then I had my first (and definitely not my last) hand masque. This began with Stephen painting my hands with a collagen and elastin masque designed to hydrate with a capital H. Then I was asked to immerse my hands in a specially designed bowl of warm wax. I did this four times, letting the wax cool down and harden in between immersions, until I had big, white elephant hands, which Stephen wrapped in paper and then put in a pair of what can only be described as beautician’s oven gloves. I relaxed with them in the gloves for 15 minutes, during which time Stephen chatted away and even answered an urgent call on my mobile – bless him. After that he peeled the wax off, removed any remaining oil on my nails and gave them a final buff and shine. I was given the choice of a clear varnish, but being the butch thing I am, I declined.
As Stephen showed me the door, I marvelled at my now glowing and neater than they’ve ever been hands, holding them aloft to show off to all the ladies I passed on my way out. I’ve been marvelling over them ever since.