Monday, December 01, 2008

A haircut

Haircut on Saturday, what a chore. Better than the dentist or the MOT obviously, but much worse than say, sorting the recycling. I got an attack of the nausea this time too, which I will explain in a very long-winded way.

I take a roundhead rather than a cavalier approach to the hair issue. Safe, functional, low-maintenance, short as you can get it without being too thuggish (not that looking thuggish bothers me in the least, but it does my wife). Short enough to put off the necessity of the next visit to the barbers for as long as possible. I wouldn’t want to glorify the particular arrangement of my barnet with the word ‘hairstyle’: for well over a decade now I’ve simply been going in and demanding a “number four at the back and sides and quite short on top”. Indeed, I wouldn’t have a clue how to ask for anything else. Unlike cartoon Brit my mop grows fast and wavy, which is a pest. Coming from a long male line of premature baldies I ought not to complain about this ‘affliction’, but that’s not human nature, is it?

The three Worst Things about getting your hair cut are: the waiting; the fifteen minutes of self-consciousness; and the chit-chat (here we recall the old joke about the barber asking Socrates “How would you like your hair cut, sir?” To which Socrates replies: “In silence.”) Over the years I have managed to reduce these horrors to manageable levels, but on Saturday they became serious again.

The waiting never used to be a problem because my office overlooked Tony’s Barbershop (barbers are usually called Tony) and I could time my sortie to coincide with afternoon lulls in the queue. But since we relocated a few years ago I have to take my chances on a Saturday with everyone else and hope I don’t need to spend too long sitting in the window, flicking through the tabloid sports pages or those depressing collages of juvenilia that pass for ‘men’s magazines.’

I still go to Tony’s though – wouldn’t dare risk a new barbershop, not after ten years of loyalty. Good grief, I must have spent hundreds in there – it’s almost a tenner a pop these days. When I was a kid it was only £1.50 (£2 for adults). But then that was in a small Devonshire village, and the barber (also called Tony) was a proper old-fashioned type, with a filthy, cigarette-choked shop and a dusty display of ‘somethings for the weekend’ on a high shelf. Devon Tony had a strict rule: no matter what the state of your hair, if you paid your two quid you got your full fifteen minutes-worth of barbering. The majority of his customers in that pensioner paradise were virtually bald, but Tony would work away manfully at the two or three persistent white wisps and give their owner the complete chit-chat experience (this was 80% “how’s the car going?” and 20% “been anywhere nice for your holidays?”). Admirable, infuriatingly admirable. Thankfully, being a minor, I was spared any obligation to converse and could maintain a sullen, Socratic silence.

Between Devon Tony and my current Tony’s were the studenty wilderness years, during which the hair was allowed to grow wild and free in a sort of lamely rebellious shot at a Jim Morrisson or Che Guevara, but which was actually more of a Sideshow Bob. When the girlfriend and job came that all went of course, so it was down to a Tony for the first of many number-4-quite-short-on-tops. In that respect, Tony’s represents The Man.

Or possibly, The Woman. Barbershops are thoroughly masculine havens, either in a snooty Reform Club way, or in a much grubbier football dressing-room way – probably because barbers have an over-compensatory Hemingway/Hughes Syndrome. But now it seems that Tony’s has taken on two female barbers (barbarellas?), and this, I can tell you, changes the whole dynamic of the place.

Prior to this oestrogenic invasion, the traditional Tony’s line-up – the Dream Team, if you like – consisted of a couple of vaguely Italian-looking brothers (laddish lotharios who passed the time by passing lecherous comments at passing ladies); a scrawny, bespectacled gambling addict, forever popping into the bookies next door to blow his haircutting tips on horseracing tips; and an older, balder Sweeney Todd-type with an exceptionally broad Bristolian brogue. Each had his own set chair in front of the room-wide mirror.

(In a flash, I see a speeded-up film of my Tony’s life: my figure flicks randomly between the four barbers, each one reducing my unruly mop to precisely the same number-four neatness with deft and rapid use of scissors and shaver before flashing up the mini-mirror to 'show the back' (here my head nods approval once, twice), twirling me round in the seat, thrusting a paper towel forcefully into my hand, taking my tenner, and then I'm back, hairy and wild again in another chair and the routine whirls round again.)

Over the years I have learned everything worth knowing about this Barbershop Quartet (except for a few minor details such as their names). The chit-chat problem is therefore not a problem – whichever one of the four I happen to land, the conversational routine is established and familiar. With Brother 1 the topic is boxing/ultimate cage fighting/violence in general; and with Brother 2 it is the missuses and how irrational and incomprehensible they are, God bless 'em. Football is a safe bet with the Scrawny Gambler, while Sweeney Todd is more than happy to ramble on indefinitely about his family misadventures in Cornish caravan parks.

Easy peasy. Imagine my distress on Saturday, then, to find two females occupying the proper places of the Gambler and Brother 1. Naturally when my turn came it was one of the gals, and my heart sank. I had no fears about their haircutting ability of course, if anything they would surely be overqualified for the mundane demands of men's hair (and let's face it, a trained monkey could do an acceptable number-four-short-on-top). Nor was this a case of simple chauvinism – I am quite at home chattering away with women in normal situations. But the haircut is not a normal situation, it is one of unusual vulnerability and self-awareness. Already denied the queue-dodging advantage that used to eliminate the problem of waiting, the other two Worst Things about getting your hair cut - chit-chat and self-consciousness - were suddenly back with a vengeance.

So as I sat being femininely snipped at, searching vainly for morsels of conversation, I found my thoughts turning to the process of haircutting itself, and I was overcome by a particularly nasty attack of the nausea. As the chopped hair fell from my head to the floor, there to be swept up by the work experience oik, I had a sudden vision of my discarded fur being clumped and mingled with the hair from every other customer, stuffed into bags, and these bags being piled up onto bags from other barbershops and then emptied into a huge, grotesque European Hair Mountain. Perhaps supplemented by rattling mounds of dental extractions and the rotting residue of the nation’s liposuctioners and by all the other vomitous flotsam of Mankind’s base and bodily wastefulness, which flows mercifully just below the range of our normal comprehension.

I staggered queasily from the shop scratching my new-cropped crown and wrestling with the inescapable fact that old hair, along with everything else in life, must go somewhere. It is too much. The mind boggles; the stomach churns.

15 comments:

monix said...

The new appearance of the blog is less pretty than the blue background but much easier on the aged eyes. I wish that I hadn't read this post just as I'm about to have my hair cut, though. That imagery will haunt me.

Simiain said...

My barber was also called Tony, and also very Italian. Hmmm.

My wife cuts my hair now, so I'm spared any monthly feelings of awkwardness and obligation (as well as the dread chore of staring at myself in the mirror for ten minutes).

However, far from making me nauseous, the sight of my hair filling up an old ice-cream tub (dont you always have so much more hair than you think?) quite impresses me... I want to do something with it, insulate the house or stuff a pillow.

Hey Skipper said...

I tell the barber / barbarella to use a number four all over.

None of that fancy nancy short on top for me.

Brit said...

You could put those pillows in the guest bedroom, Simiain. Be a nice surprise for your visitors.

Brit said...

Monix - yes, the blue was nice but reading white-out hurts, so it had to go, sadly.

Skipper, you make me feel like some sort of flouncing fop, with my 'quite short on top'.

jonathan law said...

Given the choice, I would always have my hair cut by a woman as this avoids the problem of having to admit that I know nothing at all about cars or football, without sounding as if I’m trying to sound superior about it. Luckily, the young lady who cuts my hair these days lives in a house with several hyperactive ghosts, so there is never any difficulty finding subjects for conversation.

All this talk of self-consciousness and of being “femininely snipped at” reminds me of a sharper version of these dilemmas, faced not so long ago: what do you find to talk about with the (female) nurse while undergoing a vasectomy?

elberry said...

Bad news: your hair patterns come from your mother's side of the family, so if her brothers & father etc. kept their hair, you will too.

Brit said...

The weather, Jonathan. You'd talk firmly about the weather.

Isn't that an old wives' tale, Elberry? I don't know. Certainly my father and his brother followed their father's pattern exactly.

malty said...

Brit, before or after

So this is where one idles away ones time, nice blog.

monix said...

Sorry m'dear, but all the men in my family kept their hair. They all died young, if that is any consolation.

Nige said...

Great post Brit. Me I've been twice blessed in my barbershop life by finding not one but two totally mute snippers, both apparently suffering from advanced depression, content to stare silently into the abyss as they snip. Perfect.

Ben said...

When I was a child I would visit Tony's Barbershop but would never have Tony himself but one of his many sons. I would dread going there, so my hair would be left to grow wild and (which I only found out recently) my mother would receive letters from school asking if she could get my hair cut.

Nowadays the missus takes care of the hair with the trimmer. It is much more comfortable apart from the sadistic pleasure she gets when she hurts me!!

Brit said...

Were all of Tony's sons called Tony?

Hey Skipper said...

Got my hair cut today, at a chain that does both men & women, but only the basics.

The barbarella was easily on the chatty side. Among other things, she told me she had taken her new .44 bear gun to the range that morning, only to find out it was too heavy, and had too much kick for her to use.

Kansas this isn't.

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