The skull beneath the face-paint

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"YOU'VE TOLD us about your clothes," a Reader writes, "but what about other things? What about your cosmetics? Grecian 2000 and Brut Body Splash, I'll be bound." Well, madam, you shall be bound indeed. The eight- strand cotton warp from Captain OM Watts, Chandlers to the Gentry, I think; about 20 yards should do the trick, and then a couple of ring-shackles and panic-snaps before it's on with the blindfold and out with trusty Viper, the split-tongued tawse, which is what happens to people who make personal remarks.

Grecian 2000 and Brut Body Splash indeed. I would have you know, all of you, that my hair is thick and naturally wavy, once a dark gold, now pepper-and-salt, with distinguished (why? Why "distinguished"? It's just a question of bodily decay) grey wings at the temples, and as for my personal aroma ... today it is a rather fine and ancient accord of styrax, labdanum and opoponax, while yesterday it was a little number called Cafe Noir and tomorrow, if I have my way, it will be Santal Imperial unless I get sidetracked by the smoky, tarry, sun-on-warm-skin scent of Sables by Annick Goutal, who, I hear, sadly died, but left an olfactory legacy which will prove immortal.

Cosmetics, though? No ... though sometimes I sigh for Leichner 5 and 9, for Crowe's Cremine and Max Factor CTV6, for my shaders and blushers, my highlighters and liners, my Pan-Stick, Pan-Cake, powders, brushes and sponges. There was a time when it was an addiction. I had more cosmetics than Madonna and Coco the Clown combined. I told myself it was because I was an Ack-Torr, but that was self-delusion; the real reason was that I enjoyed painting my face, and was young enough to get away with it. I wore foundation in the street, despite my youthfully perfect complexion, and eye-shadow too: young eyes do not bruise or bag of their own accord but a smudge of kohl, a fingerful of blackcurrant-purple Creme Powder, can give the impression of sleepless decadence. A totally false impression, I must say, because any real lack of sleep was not the result of decadence but of staying up all night reading Harald C Melville's Magic of Makeup For The Stage, which, as far as I was concerned, might as well have been re-titled Magic of Makeup for Cambridge Market Hill at 11 O'Clock In The Morning as I swished along in floor-length velvet gown, full slap, ebony walking-cane, green nail-varnish and a heavy beaten-gold earring, wondering why I didn't do too well with women but was constantly being importuned by poofs.

In due course I kicked the habit and have no idea now where my enormous yellow plastic fishing-tackle box, crammed with sticks of greasepaint and pots of colour, smelling deliriously of Crowe's Cremine and Leichner finishing powder, may have got to. A shame, really, since now I could do with it. Each morning in the shaving-mirror I glimpse a ghostly-pale, drooping bladder, crossed with furrows and pierced with small, oedematous holes representing eyes, nose, mouth and third eye, and my very soul cries out for make-up. Were I a woman, I would be one of those awful women, mutton dressed as Guernica, lipstick an inch thick and 50 degrees out of phase with my mouth. I would slap on the Lancome Bienfait du Matin with a plasterer's trowel; Guerlain would have a standing order to deliver Issima Midnight Secret once a week, in a bowser. My contact lenses would be violet, my neckline a tissue of plastic-surgery scars, my hair tart- russet, my eyes lined, their lids empurpled, my cheeks rouged, my pillow streaked with artificial tan, foundation and tears of rage.

But I can't. I can't because I am a man, and it is not manly, and women say, "Oh, we like the marks of time, of experience and savoir-faire and disappointment and bankruptcy and drinking-accidents and tricky bogeys and cigarette smoke on the face of a man," and then they introduce you to their boyfriend, Manolo, who is 23. On my bathroom shelf there are dozens of perfumes and seven types of shaving soap, four razors, four kinds of shampoo, exfoliating sponges, after-shave soother, a Stanching Stone for unexpected bloodflows, and stuff which I don't even know what it is. But no make-up. Except ... except I have my mother's old mascara and lipstick, as a souvenir. All those years when I was little and I used to watch her putting her face on. And the lipstick still bears her trademark; every woman applies it differently, and it becomes a sort of encarmined icon. But there they stand. Lipstick, mascara. I find myself looking at them speculatively. It's not much; not compared to my fishing-tackle boxload; but it's a start, and I'm sure she would have understood.