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A Throw Back to the Fifties by Stillcropped
A Throw back to the Fifties
My work allows me to travel throughout the land and as such I get the opportunity to check out barber shops in small towns as well as cities. A few years ago I was going through a small village just as dusk was falling and as I sat at a set of traffic lights a bare single light bulb was burning in the window of a shop with a simple sign ‘BARBER' above it. The window had old adverts for brylcream and hair tonic and a wooden back drop which blocked out the shop interior. Just as the lights changed the door opened and a man left rubbing the back of his neck. As I pulled passed the shop I decided that, at the least, I would take a walk by and found a parking space about 50 yards away.
As I approached the shop I heard the sound of a bell ringing and as I drew level with the door I glanced in and another man was leaving but had stopped to have a final few words with the barber , who to my amazement, I saw, was a woman in a blue nylon smock. As I carried on walking I decided that this was a barber shop I just had to experience, I crossed the road and carried on back the way I had come and now looking across the road I could see over the wooden partition to a bright fluorescent light burning in the shop I re-crossed the road making a direct line for the shop door, my mouth went dry and my heart was beating as I reached out and turned the door handle the bell ringing as I pushed the door open. What I saw was a real throw-back to the fifties, the seating area consisted of 2 wooden benches, there were3 barber chairs two were solid wood and the other was old red leather, all the wall posters were yellowed and the shelf in front of the chairs was cluttered with a vast array of scissors, I counted 6 sets of electric clippers hanging from hooks and 2 jars of disinfectant full of combs. A female voice from the back shop called out
‘I'll only be a minute, grab a seat'
As I sat on the bench I noticed an old gas heater in the corner and a pile of ancient magazines on a side table. I heard a tap being turned off in the back shop then footsteps approaching and the female voice again ‘so what have you been up to to……..'
She stopped mid-sentence as she saw me and I realised that she was expecting to know the person in the shop. ‘Oh, she said, sorry I thought that you were, oh never mind. Ehm take a seat' and she made her way to the red leather chair before changing her mind ‘No sorry better use this one' and removed a white nylon cape from the back of one of the wooden chairs and ushered me into it,' is this your first time here?' she enquired.
‘Yes I was just passing through and saw you were still open'
‘Ah well reminded ‘ she smiled at me in the mirror then moved to the door , before she got there the door opened and a woman of about 45 breezed in . The barber greeted her with ‘Pull the blind and lock it please Margaret, be with you in a minute'
As she returned to me the inevitable question was posed, but in a manner I had not experienced
‘So how much are we leaving on then?'
Slightly taken aback I murmured ‘well I usually get a no3 on top with the back and sides tapered in shorter'
She looked at me quizzically in the mirror while running a comb through my hair which on top was about 1 inch long ‘So basically it's a crew cut with the back and sides shaved.' It was a statement more than a question but before I could answer she also called to Margaret
‘Just take a seat in the red chair I won't be a minute'
This sort of confused me as it would clearly take more than a minute for my haircut but I put it down to local terminology rather than fact but I cleared my throat ‘Ehm when you say ‘Shaved' on the back and sides what do you mean?'
‘No, no don't worry I don't mean bald! Clipper shaved that's what you want isn't it?' she said
I nodded my consent and felt more relaxed, ‘That's that settled then won't take long to get you tidied up' and then she left and went through the back shop I could hear her voice but not what was being said and less than a minute later she re-appeared with a bright pink cape and approached ‘Margaret' quickly throwing the cape over her and making small talk. Now completely confused I was just about to ask what was going on when an old man in a white nylon coat appeared behind me, when he spoke it was obvious his hearing had better days as he bellowed
‘HELLO, NEEDING A TIDY UP ARE YOU?' he ran a comb through my hair ‘SHORT BACK N SIDES WITH A BIT OF COVER ON TOP ISN'T IT?'
I nodded my approval but turned my head towards the red chair ‘Excuse me but I thought ehm assumed you would be cutting my hair' Both of them laughed ‘More than my life's work ‘the barber joked ‘No Uncle George does all the men, I get to do some boys and as his hearing's not the best I interpret for strangers, he knows every local head. Relax though he's been cutting hair for over 60 years you're in expert hands' As she spoke she also mouthed the words so Uncle George could follow he placed firm hands on my shoulders and shouted ‘SIXTY-FIVE YEARS, I'm 82!'
As he placed a guard on the clippers and switched them on I realised what had affected his hearing instead of the normal hum/buzz of electric clippers these monsters roared into life with a loud whirring and rasping noise as they were placed close to my head they blocked out all other sounds. Noisy they may have been but effective they certainly were, they were at least 3 inches wide at the cutting head and one pass from forehead to crown sheared every hair in its path down close to the scalp. As I tried to gauge what number it resembled pass two sliced another furrow. Great clumps of hair tumbled into my lap pass three and my scalp was now clearly visible this was at least a number 1 buzz, having mowed front to back he now pushed the brutal clippers across my scalp digging them in and pushing and pulling my head to make sure the clippers found their prey. As he released my head the tone of the clippers lowered and I watched as he removed the complete cutting head of the clippers selected another set from a wooden holder on the shelf and then when he fitted these, the tone again moved up a notch. He placed his left hand palm down on the top of my head and although 82 his firm grip pushed my chin to my chest, the loud vibrating clippers touched my neck and I automatically arched my head back to meet them only to receive a firm ‘TSK' from George and the grip of his hand tightened and the clippers were pushed firmly up the back of my head. Panic was now setting in I was expecting a No 3 top and 2 possibly 1.5 back and sides, I had already seen the carnage on top and now I knew the clippers were now sporting an even shorter blade which was now harvesting the back of my head. Four passes and he released his grip, at my right ear the noise was incredible but soon disappeared from my mind as I saw the carnage they were dispersing. The first pass simply wiped away my sideburn climbed up past my temple and stopped at the newly shorn top leaving stubble behind, pass 2 overlapping the first one top of my ear to high up the side, the third and last pass started at my neck removed the hair behind my ear then met the recently created bald side and removed any hair in its path. Three passes on the left side and it was now symmetrical with the right. At last the clippers were switched off and replaced on the hook. I looked in the mirror and surveyed the damage it was to say the least a brutal haircut, at best a number 1 on top and the back and sides shaved to about 1mm.
AS I was expecting the usual brush and mirror I saw George make a sign language gesture to his niece who nodded her approval. The large hand once again was placed on my crown and my head pushed down, I felt cold metal on my neck and then felt a slight ‘tug' at my hairline and a ‘click,click,click' noise very fast and realised he was shaving my hairline even closer with old style manual clippers . Thankfully they didn't go too high up the back and as he released his grip slightly I straightened my head a little which allowed him to drive the clippers ‘Click,click.click.click ‘ all the way round my ears. Finally they ‘ Click, Click, click' in front of my ear removing any semblance of sideburn and leaving a thin white line square with the top of my ear.
Finally he brushed me down and held up a mirror so that I could view the back, all I saw was scalp with a very fine covering of bristle and an angry red line a full 1 inch above my collar where the manual clippers had forcibly removed the tiny bristles.
As the cape was removed and I stood up both Margaret and George's niece stifled a laugh and complimented me ‘Very smart, maybe a bit more off the top next time?'
I paid and left the cold air paying particular attention to my now almost denuded scalp, as a got back in the car and the radio burst into life I realised that although less than 15 minutes had passed I had basically stepped back 50 years and now sported a haircut to prove it.