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Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Thoughts and input on anything related to wet shaving or men's grooming.

Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby BeatlesFan » Mon Jan 30, 2017 2:33 pm

Skewering a Few Sacred Cows

I’ve been thinking lately that many of my own personal shaving experiences don’t comport at all with “accepted wisdom,” or what I’ll call “AW.” Not only SMF’s AW, but general wet-shaver wisdom. Here’s a few examples.

1. Multiple Pass shaving. A good number of men at SMF and elsewhere assert, to the point where I think it could be called “AW,” that a 3 or 4 pass shave, with re-lathering in between is the gold standard way to achieve the “best” shave. Yet this methodology doesn’t work well for me at all. I find that my fussy skin kicks up if I try to re-lather in between passes and then scrape a blade over and over my face. I do a lot better with excellent preparation (more on this below) followed by one-lather, one-pass, and some touch up on a still-wet but not re-lathered face. The allegedly “holy grail” 4-pass method, for me personally, simply leads to a red and angry result (albeit a very close shave).

2. Blade vs. Electric. Clearly the AW is that blade shaving is, simply stated, closer and all-around better than shaving with an electric. I frankly don’t find this to be true. I find them to be simply two different means (slicing vs. shearing) to the same end (a close, comfortable shave). For me, the key question is not blade vs. electric, but rather thorough vs. inadequate beard preparation. Regardless of your weapon of choice (blade or electric), I find that a close and comfortable shave can only be achieved after thorough beard-softening. Consequently, if my beard has been cleansed, hydrated, and lathered, a wet-shave with a late-model Braun gives me a shave that is fully comparable to a blade shave. Once again, my personal experience quite simply doesn’t align with the AW.

3. Electric “Break-In” Period and/or Switching Back and Forth Between Blade and Electric. Another AW that I’ve never understood is this supposed 2-3 week “break-in” period with an electric shaver. Tosh. I’ve gone long periods of time exclusively with a blade, then picked up a Braun and gotten the same shave as my last electric shave months/years prior. Likewise, I’ve gone through extended periods of switching off randomly between blade and electric, on a day-to-day basis, which seems to work just as well as “fidelity.” From this, I conclude that the whole alleged “break-in period” is just pure marketing. IMO, electric shaver companies cooked this nonsense up and sold it as AW, as a means of persuading men to stick it out until they’d MENTALLY adjusted to using an electric shaver (most of which were received as a gift, by the way.) I simply don’t believe that any actual changes to the beard or skin arise from switching to an electric shaver.

4. Meringue-like lather vs. Beard Softening. I have found over the years at SMF there’s been huge emphasis on building fabulous lather as the hallmark of good beard preparation. The theory seems to be that if you whip the lather to a meringue-like consistency, and apply it carefully, then you’ve done good prep. Well. I think the creation and application of meringue-y lathers is a distraction and a side-show; the real emphasis should be on cleaning and hydrating the beard, not fetishizing the creation of monster lather. Some shaving sources (for example, the accompanying brochure to the Wilkinson Sword“Sticky” DE) recommend the exact opposite approach – i.e., using the thinnest of lathers. Further, in my view, as long as you have SOAKED your beard (shower, hot towel, etc.) for a few minutes with warm/hot water to the point where the beard is SOFT, then lather is altogether secondary (though still useful). I’m such an apostate that I’m firmly convinced you could do just as well with Edge or Barbasol as with a brush, provided you softened the beard prior to lathering.

5. Shaving Brush as Beard-Softening Device. I’m skeptical. I’ve never been able to go from dry face to softened beard just based on lathering with a brush. A brush will clearly add wet lather, which helps soften the beard to a degree. But, IMO, you’ll get a much softer beard and better shave if you cleanse, hydrate, THEN lather. The lather is probably no more important that the palm of your hand, a sponge applicator, or any other means of delivering lather to the face.

6. Shaving Brush as “Beard Lifter” and/or Exfoliator. Many brush advocates proclaim that vigorous lathering with a good brush will “lift” beard hair and exfoliate the skin. The exfoliation claim MIGHT have a grain of truth (but, given that you then drag a sharp steel blade across your face, I suspect that the brush is a bit player in terms of removing dead skin cells). However, I am beyond doubtful that the beard will be “lifted” by the brush any more than it would be by spreading lather up into the grain with your hand. And how, I wonder, might one measure such a thing?! No, this little bit of AW is wholly unpersuasive to me.

7. Opening Pores. This is another AW (like the electric “break-in” period and “beard lifting” brushes) that seems to me to be without any basis whatever in fact. Again, the key to good preparation is beard-softening through hydration. A wet, softened beard cuts more easily. Period. How does “opening pores” contribute to a softer beard or a better shave? Of course pores open as a natural consequence of applying the same hot water that softened the beard. But open pores per se seem to me to have nothing to do with achieving a good shave. Unless somebody with a dermatology background shows me that I’m missing something critical, I would tend to strike off this particular bit of AW as being utter nonsense.

8. Cartridges vs DE. The AW here at SMF is simple on this point: DE is better than cartridges. Period. Without taking anything away from DE, the fact is that the only objective ground on which DE’s are “better” is price. (And, OK, maybe environmental issues associated with the plastic carts.) It’s true that some of us have had razor burn and/or ingrowns from cartridge razors. It’s also true that millions of men shave happily with cartridge razors without any problems; furthermore, the current generation of cartridge razors (notably the Mach 3 Sensitive and the Schick Hydro) have made significant strides toward mitigating/eliminating the problems some of us have experienced. At the end of the day, other than price and the land-fill, the supposed DE superiority is purely personal preference masquerading as AW.

Overall, Then, What Have I Learned? How can I sum all this up? I’ve learned that I need assiduous beard-softening as a prerequisite to a good shave from any type of shaver. I’ve learned that, with such prep, I can achieve a good, comfortable shave with a DE, a cartridge razor, or an electric razor (used wet with lather). I’ve learned that I have learned that a lot of AW seems to get copied-and-pasted into the collective consciousness, without much scrutiny as to factual basis, or independent consideration of how well it works for each individual. At the end of the day, about the only AWs that I’d say are of much universal applicability or accuracy would be: (1) softened beards cut more easily and are therefore likely to cooperate better in providing a close and comfortable shave regardless of shaving implement, and (2) whatever shaving device you deploy, it should be clean, sharp, and in good working order. Beyond that, I suspect we each just have to find our own way in this business!
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby ShadowsDad » Mon Jan 30, 2017 2:49 pm

YMMV. Clearly we're not all lemmings nor do we purport to be.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Gene » Mon Jan 30, 2017 3:37 pm

Well...

An interesting read, to be sure. Terms like "blasphemy" and "apostasy" swirled in my head on some of your points, but not on all of them:

1) I quit going for mounds of lather myself quite some time ago. Probably about the time I lost my second "berry bowl" from Walmart and started face/hand lathering. I never looked back.

2) I, too, could not abide a 4-pass shave. I don't do 3-pass shaves either. My personal technique is two passes, with touch-up as I go ... not a pure 2-pass shave, and probably faster than most folks drive a razor over their face - but it works for me (although lately I have been sneaking a few against the grain only shaves in - there's a thread about that around here somewhere).

3) Cartridges - I had to dig my Mach 3 out of storage a couple of weeks back. I had a new blade for it, and had the need to use it. Meh. My shave wasn't any better, it actually might have been slightly worse, but as you noted - the costs keep me firmly in the DE camp. I just got that 100-pack of Polsilvers from Bulgaria. $18.00 for 100. How much would 100 Mach 3 blades cost me? Yikes!

4) Electric - the only electric razors I ever enjoyed using were the Norelco triple head. The Remington and the Panasonic's I had were too harsh. I suspect that the Braun - being of sort of similar design, would feel the same to me. BUT - I never did try a wet/dry model, so who knows.

As we say - YMMV!

Thanks for putting your thought down for us to ponder, though.
Gene

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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby SRD » Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:28 pm

I have never gotten an even adequate shave from an electric razor so it just goes to show to each his own. Carve your own path.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby brothers » Mon Jan 30, 2017 5:56 pm

You've put a lot of thought into your post. You raise some good points. I have observed a lot of guys on several forums who are operating as if there are rules that must be followed. :D Of course, every guy should decide what works for him and what he likes. Sadly, sometimes when something seems to be going in the wrong direction, we tend to blame ourselves. It's a 50/50 chance that we were going against our better judgment or our subconscious instinct without questioning "authority". It's a lot more fun to improvise.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby CMur12 » Mon Jan 30, 2017 11:37 pm

Thanks for posting your observations/lessons learned, BeatlesFan. It is well written, well organized, and well presented. And I agree with most of your observations. It's not a bad thing to challenge the wetshaving fundamentalism found on these fora from time to time.

1. Multiple Pass shaving. I've gotten my shave down to two-and-a-half passes and I'm pondering how to reduce it further. We have other members who have achieved success in single-pass shaves, so there is no reason to assume that they or you are doing anything wrong.

2. Blade vs. Electric. I have long asserted that I transitioned from electric back to traditional wetshaves for the nostalgia of it, as I was perfectly happy with my electric shaves. My old Braun electric is over ten years old (from before the self-cleaning models) and it still shaves me just as well as I can get from a blade, and generally with even less irritation. I get best results with the Braun after a shower when my beard has gotten completely dry. If the skin is still the slightest bit damp, the shaver won't glide. An electric wetshave holds no attraction for me. If I'm going to go to the bother of making lather, I might as well use a blade. The electric allows me to do a dry shave, with no mess, in less than five minutes. Foil-type electrics work for me; I've never been able to get decent results with a rotary-type shaver, so YMMV.

3. Electric “Break-In” Period and/or Switching Back and Forth Between Blade and Electric. I've never had any problem going back and forth between blade and electric, either.

4. Meringue-like lather vs. Beard Softening. My experience is similar to yours. I wash and soak my beard well before the shave, I spray water from a spritz-bottle onto my beard before each application of lather, and I get best results with a wet lather. The wet lather seems to soften the beard even further, while providing glide with little-to-no cushion. With a mild razor I don't want cushion impeding the cut and the glide provides adequate protection.

5. Shaving Brush as Beard-Softening Device. Again, I agree. I count on beard prep and wet lather to soften the beard. In my subjective experience, drier/thicker/meringue-like lather, by itself, provides no significant softening of the beard. The action of a shaving brush applying or creating the lather may cause slight softening of the beard, but I agree that this is a minor contributor.

6. Shaving Brush as “Beard Lifter” and/or Exfoliator. I don't buy this either. The beard either stands up or it doesn't. No matter how much I have managed to soften my whiskers, it has never made them fold over or lie against the skin. At the same time, in the case of men who have curly whiskers that curl back into/onto the skin, I have never heard of a brush causing such whiskers to stand. I get brush burn from face-lathering, so there may be something to the concept of exfoliation by a brush. Even so, I would think the main exfoliation comes from dragging a blade over the skin.

7. Opening Pores. I see no significance here, either.

8. Cartridges vs DE. We have had SMF members who favored cartridge razors in general, used them for head shaves, or rotated them with other razors. I have successfully used twin-blade cartridge razors, but more blades in the cartridge never worked for me. The Mach 3 always felt like it was going to catch and tear the skin, so I never got through an entire shave with one. After that, I never tried anything with three or more blades in the head. A twin-blade cartridge razor still works fine for me, but I prefer the feel of a single blade cutting through the whiskers.

I agree with your final conclusions.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby brothers » Tue Jan 31, 2017 7:57 am

I've become a devotee of the single against the grain pass with face-lather and brush or brushless, followed by a splash of water for any necessary touching up.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby BeatlesFan » Tue Jan 31, 2017 10:28 am

2. Blade vs. Electric. I have long asserted that I transitioned from electric back to traditional wetshaves for the nostalgia of it, as I was perfectly happy with my electric shaves. My old Braun electric is over ten years old (from before the self-cleaning models) and it still shaves me just as well as I can get from a blade, and generally with even less irritation. I get best results with the Braun after a shower when my beard has gotten completely dry. If the skin is still the slightest bit damp, the shaver won't glide. An electric wetshave holds no attraction for me. If I'm going to go to the bother of making lather, I might as well use a blade. The electric allows me to do a dry shave, with no mess, in less than five minutes. Foil-type electrics work for me; I've never been able to get decent results with a rotary-type shaver, so YMMV.


Your point about using an electric wet with lather is valid and well-taken: one can reasonably ask why go to the bother of "wetshaving" with an electric razor. It's perfectly cogent to decide that the hassle/reward proposition there doesn't stack up. For me, however, it is worth it to wetshave with my Braun, because I notice a definite step up in comfort (and I have very fussy skin), plus some closeness advantage (or at least fewer passes needed to achieve a close shave).

Honestly, I would somewhat challenge anybody who claims that they can't get a reasonable shave from an electric. Go out, buy a Braun 7 or 9 series shaver, set it up, go through a thorough preparation (shower, soak, lather) as per usual, just as you would for a blade shave, then shave with the foil electric razor. Assuming a very short learning curve (3-5 shaves maybe), I bet you'd get a DFS even if you have a very heavy beard. For me, a good wetshave with my Braun is comparable to a blade (and probably closer, because with my skin sensitivities I never push a blade shave to the limits of its closeness potential, which I can do with my Braun).

But, to reiterate, it's perfectly fair to say that at that point, and given all the work involved in the prep, why bother? Just shave with a blade because it's no more effort and is just as fast. I guess it's sort of a philosophical point: Is the metaphysical purpose of an electric shaver to provide maximum speed and convenience (i.e., switch on anywhere, buzz of some beard, get a fast, acceptable (though not great) shave)? Or is it, like any other shaving method, (i.e., use it to get the best shave that the shaver can provide). For me it's the latter, but certainly many men think of electrics in the "convenience-only" category.

Anyway, if anyone FELT like taking me up on the challenge to see whether an electric can provide a DFS shave that's fully competitive with a blade, you might give the Braun 7 or 9 a try and experiment with its "wetshave" potential. If you don't like it, you can get your money back, so no harm / no foul. (Norelco 9000 series can also be used wet; I just don't have any experience with those models, and historically foil has worked best for me.) A good value proposition IMO is the Braun 7-740s (word to the wise: careful to buy a wet-dry model, and NOT a model with a cleaning station, as Braun is apparently persnickety about honoring their warranty if you introduce lather into the cleaning solution . . . dumb, IMO).

Finally, this isn't a sales pitch for electric shavers. I'm just trying to give fair credit to each method. My overriding point in this thread has been that a GREAT shave depends on GREAT preparation, which you can then take in a variety of directions (Straight, SE, DE, cartridge, electric) to get a GREAT shave. As indicated, I switch-hit happily between blade and electric: both can give excellent results.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Ouchmychin » Tue Jan 31, 2017 1:16 pm

I haven't used an electric for a very long time. When I did, the heads were too thick to get a close shave no matter what prep you did. In fact, preshaves were sold that added a sticky oil to your face to lubricate it. As far as lather vs prep., I don't know how much prep you are advocating. I take a hot shower and wipe my face with a warm washcloth just before shaving. I shave until I can't feel stubble with my fingertips. My bead grows in all directions and I have to shave against the grain in all of them to get no stubble. If you are content with stubble, then, of course there is no difference between a blade or electric razor. I use brushless creams about once a week. I just wet my face, smear it on and keep it wet and keep doing passes until I am satisfied re-wetting as needed. I find that lathers that are too thidk prevent my blade from shaving close, but as I do more passes the lather on my brush gets thinner. I don't seem to have any problems with skin doing this but many men do. Some with curley hair get ingrown.
I like the detail you have given us, it gave me a chance to spew my ways again. Thanks
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby CMur12 » Tue Jan 31, 2017 7:30 pm

BeatlesFan, I hope I didn't sound critical of your use of an electric in a wetshave. I think that you, and anyone else, should shave with whatever gives you pleasure, with no obligation to justify it. I was simply stating that I was happy with my old Braun for dry electric shaves and that I was not tempted by the idea of an electric wetshave. Our mileage here certainly does vary on every aspect of a shave.

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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby BeatlesFan » Wed Feb 01, 2017 8:25 am

Murray, we're having a great exchange in this thread, and not even the teeniest, tiniest offense could possibly be taken by any of your remarks.

Likewise, I hope nobody read my original posting as accusing anyone in particular(certainly nobody at SMF) of being a "lemming." I just find that a lot of things tend to get repeated and printed widely, some of which have little to no actual support or basis in fact. ("Beard lifting" brushes and electric razor "break in" periods being, IMO, a couple of examples.) So why not ask a few impertinent questions about such matters? No offense intended, certainly.

Anyway, this is just the kind of detailed (and hopefully 100% respectful) exchange that I so much enjoy about SMF. Bring on divergent viewpoints of every stripe, and let's see what we can learn from one another (+ have some fun in the process).

Meantime, all good fellowship and best wishes to you and everyone at SMF.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Gene » Wed Feb 01, 2017 11:57 am

BeatlesFan wrote:Meantime, all good fellowship and best wishes to you and everyone at SMF.


Hear, Hear!

On topic - on a lark I went online and looked up the VBraun and Norelco models that were mentioned - WOW - they are pretty expensive!

I freaked out paying $40 buck for an AC only (no battery) Norelco model about 15 years ago - guess the marketer found a way to capitalize something else.
Gene

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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby CMur12 » Wed Feb 01, 2017 12:52 pm

Gene wrote:
BeatlesFan wrote:Meantime, all good fellowship and best wishes to you and everyone at SMF.


Hear, Hear!

On topic - on a lark I went online and looked up the VBraun and Norelco models that were mentioned - WOW - they are pretty expensive!

I freaked out paying $40 buck for an AC only (no battery) Norelco model about 15 years ago - guess the marketer found a way to capitalize something else.


Then again, I have to admit that I have spent WAY more on traditional wetshaving tools and supplies than the price of the most expensive electric. :oops:

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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Gene » Wed Feb 01, 2017 1:36 pm

Well, yeah, so have I.

But not all at once in a single buy.

I don't think.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby brothers » Wed Feb 01, 2017 2:15 pm

I think we would be shocked if we understood how many people give up the cartridges and go straight to an electric razor, and price is almost no object in those cases. They bypassed the wet shaving altogether and have no desire to try that. Or, in the alternative they have never tried cartridges or double edges or any of the wet shaving methods and have never used anything except electrics and never will.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Ouchmychin » Wed Feb 01, 2017 5:24 pm

Yes, and today's cartridges are very good too. I could use them exclusively but the members here keep me interested in the old traditions. I think that is one of the secrets of the charm of SMF, tradition and civility.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby oldjoe » Wed Feb 01, 2017 7:54 pm

2 passes with a sharp blade. I mean a really sharp blade. And some buffering or touch up. Can't be beat. 3 passes for me not necessary. Could I do it with a cartridge. Probably but it just wouldn't be the same. Not nearly so comfortable. Find the blade for your razor and face. Done and done!!!
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby Rufus » Thu Feb 02, 2017 4:07 am

Ouchmychin wrote:Yes, and today's cartridges are very good too. I could use them exclusively but the members here keep me interested in the old traditions. I think that is one of the secrets of the charm of SMF, tradition and civility.


I use Mach3 and Sensor cartridges exclusively. For years I tried and tried to like DEs and SEs, but never found they gave me as close and comfortable shave as the Mach3 or Sensor regardless of the blades or razor head I used. I've been shaving for +50 years and get my best shaves ever from my Mach3 and Sensor cartridges. For all this time I've used badger brushes and shaving cream, but I'm not a fan of shaving soap since I find cream gives me a more comfortable shave; again this has been learned over a life-time of shaving. I've tried most things when it comes to shaving (other than a straight razor, which strikes terror into my heart) and have found what suits me best. This is what we all should strive for, conventional wisdom be damned.
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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby drmoss_ca » Thu Feb 02, 2017 4:16 am

In some miserable future there will even be shaving forums dedicated to the dying art of cartridge shaving!

I can't argue with much of BeatlesFan's post, and agree with a lot of it. Some of it isn't contentious (opening pores, lifting the beard), and some of it is standard procedure (soften the beard properly). Personal opinion is definitely allowed. The point is to enjoy shaving rather than have it be a chore, and to have a shave that suits your needs, which might vary from the 1980's beard trimmers that allowed a continuous presence of 2-day growth, to looking respectable, to being so smooth that no inner thigh, however sensitive, could object (well, not to the stubble, anyway).
I don't mind if someone wants to use a cartridge or an electric shaver, though SMF isn't for discussion of the latter (don't quibble about wetshaving including waterproof electrics, which remind me of Churchill's question "But what if our child had my looks and your brains?" - a combination of the worst of both worlds rather than the best). Even then, it would probably be better than the Gillette Techmatic which was given to me as my first razor. I have used a shaver for two periods in my life, when first coping with spending every other night and weekend in some tiny on-call room that I rarely managed to sleep in, and when my counts were so low during chemo. My favourite cartridge was the Sensor Excel, and I used to do a single against the grain pass with Edge gel, so help me. I'm very happy I saw the straight-edged light and came to shaving nirvana. Ours is a broad church and we can accommodate all these things.

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Re: Curmudgeonly Skepticism of Accepted Wisdom

Postby BeatlesFan » Thu Feb 02, 2017 1:26 pm

SMF isn't for discussion of the latter (don't quibble about wetshaving including waterproof electrics, which remind me of Churchill's question "But what if our child had my looks and your brains?" - a combination of the worst of both worlds rather than the best).


Or maybe wet electric is the BEST of both worlds...? Granted, you do have to do the preparation, lathering, etc. But then you consistently end up with a close, comfortable shave. And for sure it won't nick or cut you. Finally, for me personally, it's probably the least skin-aggravating of any shaving option I've tried.

So how's that for "broad church" (presumably in the ecclesiastical, rather than the feminine sense of the term)...?!
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