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.