The lady holding my foot put on a surgical mask, donned some protective glasses and cranked up what looked like a small, electric sanding device. In a couple of minutes time, she would be splattered in blood, my toes sprayed across Carnaby Street, while I screamed for mercy.
Or maybe not. “You’ll have to let me know if it tickles,” she said, rather un-ominously.
I had been sent for a pedicure, you see, because apparently they’re becoming quite the thing on the growing male beauty scene. It’s all basketball’s fault. In 2014, NBA legend LeBron James posted pictures of him mid-pedi on Instagram with the caption: “Have to take care of your dogs Men! It’s part of our life blood!”
Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal are other hoop-shooters who like to get their cuticles oiled, while David Beckham – who else? – represents footballers who love a “mani-pedi”. If you’ve been closely following the Balmain 2016 spring/summer collection – if not, what do you even do with your free time? – you’ll know that exposing your toes has hit the catwalk, too. Clearly, someone needed to investigate this phenomenon, and that someone had to be me.
So I ventured to Cowshed, where a woman called Gosia made me a green tea, placed a big, fluffy cushion on my lap and got me to lower my feet – exhausted from a whole morning’s music journalism – into a bucket of warm water. Beyond the fact that I was going to be miles better at basketball in an hour’s time, I didn’t know what to expect.
“Will you be wanting colour?” she asked. Sensing my panic, she swiftly assured me that most men opt for a simple tidy-up instead. “The ones who want colour normally go for black,” she noted.
Gosia began clipping and filing away, occasionally reaching for a long, pokey thing to get under the nails. There were numerous oils and creams, but no pain and precious little drama: even the miniature sanding device proved to be harmless – a light cloud of dry skin was all that emerged. While she finished off the session with a foot rub and a nail buff, Gosia told me that most of the men who come for a pedicure do so in tandem with their partners; it’s often a pre-holiday treat.
That made sense. My feet definitely looked smoother and shinier, and the whole thing was as relaxing as a situation can be when a stranger is playing around with your feet. But, for £55, I think you would have to be quite committed to “being pampered” to make it a regular occurrence. And, as I put on my shoes again, I wondered who would actually see the results. For all our striving for gender equality, there is one law that must surely endure for ever: that men should never get their feet out in public. Unless, of course, it’s for a national newspaper providing a vital public service.