I ONCE HEARD an edition of "Any Questions" in which the panel were asked the somewhat elemental question: is it better to be a man or a woman?

A rather difficult one to answer, I would have thought, but the panel gamely waded in. The first to speak was a Tory, a real backwoodsman whose name I have, I think, rather just-ifiably forgotten.

He said it was much better to be a man because you didn't have periods. There were actual screams of outrage at this from the women in the audience, and a female panelist responded by saying that she'd rather have periods than have to shave every day.

And, you know, I think I would too. If I have an important engagement at which I have to look my best, then it naturally follows that I will cut myself shaving. Over breakfast I sit dabbing a bundle of tissues onto this cut, wondrously marvelling after 20 minutes or so at the number of speckles of blood on the bundle... more than 50!

I sit on the Underground train, still dabbing my cut. I begin to imagine the horror of still bleeding from a shaving cut next time you come to shave, and wonder whether I've caught that thing that the Romanovs had: haemophilia, the refusal of the blood to clot. No wonder the men in that family all had beards; and how they would have quailed at the sight of one of my new bags of Bics.

Eventually, I tear off a piece of tissue and stick it on the cut. That stops the bleeding, but has the unfortunate downside of making me look like Sir Les Patterson. After a while, I gingerly pull away the scrap of tissue which, of course, makes the bleeding start all over again...

This story culminates in a fearful scab, so I'd better drop it now. Suffice to say that bad shaves have been undermining my performance in meetings for years.

I could also go on about the sheer stubbornness of bristles stuck to the sink in shaving foam (I really do feel for my wife having to clean it up), the distressingly garish appearance of plastic razors, and the sheer expense of the more substantial ones.

No, you ladies really don't know how lucky you are with your periods. Of course, the answer to my shaving trauma would be to grow a beard, but that is easier said than done.

Earlier this year I tried it, and for about a month people would squint at me and say: "You almost look as though you're growing a beard."

There are only a certain number of beard types - the Richard Branson, the Chris Bonnington, the Yorkshire Ripper, the David Bellamy etc - and no man can predict which one is latent within himself.

After a while, though, my own fate did become clear. My beard was reddish, coarse and patchy. There were no two ways about it - I was sprouting a Robin Cook. Personally, I thought it looked okay, but the wife wasn't having any of it. I reached for the Bics again.