Column: December 15, 2010

MY HAIR presentability cycle goes like this: haircut, rubbish, fine, fine, fine, fine, good, fine, fine, fine, FOR THE LOVE OF MERCY, GET A HAIRCUT.

Unfortunately, I can never quite predict when my hair will fall off the plateau of fineness, which means that there is usually a short period every six or seven weeks during which mothers pull their children away from the Big-Haired Man, because I haven’t been able to get to the barber’s in time.

The period of bouffant terror has been longer than usual this time round because I went to my usual barber’s, only to find that he had closed down. This was a small bereavement. A gentleman only changes his barber under such circumstances. Partly this is because of loyalty, partly because of fear that another barber might faff it up.

But mostly it is because he doesn’t want to experience the excruciating embarrassment delivered in the barber’s chair by those five painful words: “Oo’s been cutting your hair?”

I have no idea how barbers can tell that somebody else has cut one’s hair for a change – surely one cut strand is much the same as another – but they can. I suspect that each barber leaves their own mark in the hair, perhaps initials, or a phallic symbol. He probably does it at that point in the haircut where he “remembers” that he’s missed a bit, even though he’s used that lethal electric razor/combine harvester thing, and gives the back a bit of an unnecessary clip with the scissors.

Nevertheless, aside from the embarrassment of having one’s disloyalty found out, there is the more practical concern of knowing that one has severely cheesed off somebody who is wielding a blade about one’s head. One grumpy slip and from then on everybody calls you Van Gogh behind your back. Or by your side . . . you’d never know.

In the absence of my old barber, I had to find a new one. And so I gingerly entered a new establishment. This was a very manly shop and I am, admittedly, a man. But I am the sort of man who was not good at games. Oh, they were ALL OVER ME when it was class quiz time. But when it came to football, I was stuck in goal, precisely the worst position to put somebody who is, at best, eye-wateringly rubbish at football.

The talk in this barber’s shop was of football and boxing. This was bad. I could pick out Henry Cooper in a line-up, but that is my limit. However, there was only one barber. And that was good.

Because the worst thing about my old barber’s shop was that there was always one barber who wasn’t as good as the others, and I would pray that it was one of the better two who would finish first and usher me to the chair.

This barber would ask me what I wanted, but give me the same haircut no matter what. She would comment on the amount of grey hair I had accumulated on the back of my head, as if I wanted to know. And she would offer to shave my eyebrows, making me feel like the love child of Denis Healey and Frida Kahlo. I would stumble out of the shop feeling like the loser in a game of Tonsorial Russian Roulette.

I settled into the new barber’s chair. He asked me what I wanted, then proceeded to give it to me. He didn’t ask me who’d been cutting my hair, or about my holidays. He established in his own mind early on that he’d get little change out of a conversation with me about boxing.

For my part, I was able to discuss the relative merits of Liverpool and Everton with such fluency a casual observer would have thought that they were my own opinions, rather than pundits’ observations I’d managed to dredge up from memory.

It was, in short, the perfect haircut experience, if not the perfect haircut. As a result, he is now my barber. 

And if you see something obscene and grey on the back of my head, I don’t want to know.

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