Head Down, Boy Pt 1 by Next in the Chair by stopfordianstationer
Introductory Note - I wanted to write a story exploring some of the themes of my favourite stories on this site and the attached is the first part as it's turned out to be much longer than I intended or expected. It will probably be a bit long winded for some people and some of the language might not be to everyone's taste, but I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible for the time.
I looked down at the degree certificate I had received earlier which told me that Daniel Patrick Watson had been awarded a First Class degree in Mechanical Engineering. I had a short holiday with my girlfriend planned, after which I would be lucky enough to be starting my first proper job. I knew it would be hard work and the pay wouldn't be great to start with, but I would have the chance to go places and do things that I could only have dreamed of a few years before and the opportunity to progress if I put the effort in. Before I did any of that though, I'd be celebrating that night with my mum and stepdad, my two stepbrothers Jason and Carl (not that I thought of either of them as anything other than actual brothers) and Eddie, who'd been my best mate since I was about three years old plus our various girlfriends. In short, life was very good, and not just for me. Mum and George were approaching their much anticipated joint retirement, Jason was on leave from training to be an officer in the Royal Marines, Carl was about to start a law degree at Cambridge (he always was the clever one!) and Eddie was a trainee pilot with British Airways. It made me think again, as I had quite a lot lately, of the sequence of events and decisions that I'd made that had put me on the path to this point.
I lost my dad in a car accident when I was only a baby so had no memories of him at all other than photos and what my mum had told me. It had always been just mum and me so we were very close and that's how it stayed until just before I started secondary school. Mum met Mr Ellis (or George as I got to know him better) through mutual friends – he was in the same boat as her, his wife had died after a pretty long illness leaving him to bring up two young sons. Jason was a year younger than me and Carl another couple of years younger than that. Mum began seeing a lot of George, it never occurred to me at the time what was happening, but I suppose that doesn't occur to you when you're 11 or whatever, or it didn't in those days. Anyway, long story short, over the next couple of years, mum and George got closer, I met Jason and Carl and we all did more and more stuff together until mum and George told us they were getting married.
The wedding was in the summer of 1979, at the start of the era that has become known as Thatcher's Britain, and it was decided that rather than one group moving into the other's house, mum and George would buy a house together and we would all live in that. This was the first hint of upset for me and mum and I lived two doors down from Eddie and his family and I wasn't happy that I would be (as I saw it) losing my best friend, even though we'd still be at the same school and would see each other every day. I also wasn't sure about living with George and Jason & Carl. I liked all of them well enough, but they were somehow different. George was a policeman, and a big man and although I had never heard him raise his voice, he seemed to me to be strict with the boys, which manifested itself in particular in the fact that their school uniforms were never less than immaculate, this in a time when uniform standards were not exactly rigorously enforced across the board, and their hair was always short. To start with, not actually that short, although short by fashionable standards, including when measured against my own luxuriant over the ears and collar mop, although not long after Jason started at the same secondary school as me, he suddenly turned up with a much shorter cut that looked like it had mainly been done with clippers, which was almost unheard of at the time. He took some stick for that, including from Carl and, I regret, from me. George's own hair was always short and neat, although a few flecks of grey were starting to creep in. It must have been cut very regularly as it never seemed to look any different, but he didn't seem to get it cut when Carl and Jason did anyway.
I worried that I'd be subjected to the same standards, as mum had always taken a much more laissez faire approach as long as I stayed within the rules and didn't get into too much trouble, which I didn't in the main although I would admit to an unfortunate tendency for mouthing off and thinking I was too clever by half. It wasn't that I couldn't do the work at school, or even that I didn't want to. It just came easily to me so I thought I had to find other forms of stimulation. Other than that, I saw myself as just a normal kid, school, football team in winter, cricket and whatever other messing about I could get away with in summer.
Mum and George (especially George) were at pains to point out though that everything was not suddenly going to change for me and I wouldn't have to adapt to a completely new routine. That reassured me somewhat, but I was still unsure about going from just me and mum to a sudden family of five all under the same roof. George also called me Daniel, which I found very formal and vaguely scary as I was Danny to pretty much everybody – even mum had all but given up on calling me Daniel and on the occasions when teachers wanted to use a first name rather than the usual ‘Watson' they called me Danny as well. George reasoned that Daniel was the name that my mum and dad had chosen and if that was good enough for them then, it was good enough for him now. I did realise in the end that it was just one of George's ways, as he was the also the only person I ever heard call Eddie ‘Edward', his parents had never done that once in all the years I'd known him. In the end, I decided I would keep myself to myself as much as possible, let everybody get on with it and see how things turned out.
A few days before we moved into the new house, I chatted to Eddie about how I felt about George and Carl and Jason all being about the place and all of a sudden having (effectively) two younger brothers. Eddie had some experience in that he had been the youngest of three (he had two older sisters) until his younger brother Robbie came along, much to everyone's surprise it seemed when Eddie was about seven and Eddie was no longer the baby being indulged and fussed over by his parents and both sisters. ‘Robbie's a total pain in the arse but I wouldn't be without him,' Eddie said. ‘It's funny watching him doing the same daft things we used to do and thinking nobody's ever done anything like that before, just like we did. And if mum and dad are busy keeping an eye on him, they're less bothered about what I'm doing so that's another bonus. I do kind of enjoy the ‘looking out for your younger brother' thing as well, but if you ever tell him that I'll kill you. Plus, it's so much fun winding him up! You've told me you like them all, so there's no reason you won't get on is there?' That did cheer me up a bit as I looked up to Eddie as someone who knew a lot about life – he was a whole year older than me, so that obviously added up to great wisdom in my 14 year-old mind! We all moved in together at the beginning of August and after the initial upheaval things started to settle down. Even with my misgivings, I had to admit I didn't mind how things were going – I carried on as normal and nothing really changed for me.
A couple of weeks after school started again in September, George was on nights and offered me a lift home from school since he normally picked up Carl and Jason if he was at home during the day. I was happy to agree, after all why make a bus journey and walk at the other end if you could be taken directly from door to door? Things were without incident for the first three days, but on the way home on the Thursday, George announced ‘I'm taking you for haircuts now. Time for you to get a proper short back and sides, Carl, like Jason's, now that you're in secondary school.' I thought I could see Carl go slightly pale and Jason definitely smiled slightly. He also ruffled Carl's hair enthusiastically until he was stopped by a look from his dad via the rear-view mirror. My stomach lurched but before I could say anything George glanced at me and said ‘It's OK, Daniel, you've no need to worry, you're only along for the ride. I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to.'
Although I'd seen and walked past Austin's barbers many times, I would never have dreamed of crossing the threshold. As I trooped in behind Carl and Jason, who were following George, I took in the scene. Everything seemed somehow anachronistic and a decade or two behind the times. Three large red leather barber's chairs, of which only the one furthest away from the windows was now in use, a line of wooden waiting chairs along the back wall and an array of lotions, potions, tonics and cutting implements lining the counter at the front. The walls were adorned with black and white photos of hairstyles that may have been fashionable 20 or 30 years ago. The other unusual thing was the buzzing sound of clippers, which the barber (who I took to be Mr Austin) was using to cut the hair of the elderly chap in the chair. Using clippers was unheard of in the gents' salon where I got my hair trimmed. We all sat down in the waiting chairs and I was relieved that we wouldn't have too long to wait as there was nobody else there. Although I'd obviously been aware of Carl and Jason having short hair, the mechanics of how it happened had never occurred to me. As I was here, I couldn't help but be a bit interested and settled in to watch the show.
About 10 minutes later, Mr Austin finished with his customer, who stood up and walked over to the till to pay, leaving the barber's chair empty. Before he went over to take the money, Mr Austin brushed the chair off briefly and said ‘Next in the chair please,' and then walked to the till. George simply said ‘Jason,' and pointed to the chair and Jason rose, walked the few steps across the shop and sat down. When the previous customer had finished and left, Mr Austin came back and prepared Jason for his haircut – first a grubby looking red towel was draped around his shoulders, then a strip of tissue paper was stretched around his neck and stuck at the back. Finally he was shrouded in a light grey cape and the tissue around his neck was folded down over the top of the cape and Jason was sealed in and ready to go. Completely ignoring Jason, Mr Austin then turned to George and asked, ‘How would you like it cut?' It struck me as strange that he asked George rather than Jason but I was already cottoning on that this was a different world and that was the way things worked in here. ‘two back and sides high up, plenty off the top and just a little bit of fringe please,' replied George straight away. There was no further ceremony as Mr Austin combed Jason's hair briefly then picked up his clippers, put something on them (I wasn't at the stage of knowing about different guards at this point) and turned them on. The buzzing sound filled the shop as Mr Austin spoke what would turn out to be the only words he said to Jason for the duration of the haircut: ‘Head down, boy'. He then placed his hand on the top of Jason's head and positioned it downwards to make it easier for him to strip the hair from the back of Jason's head. Up and up, pass after pass. I thought Jason's hair was already short so there wouldn't be that much to come off, but the difference was clearly noticeable and seemed to be shorter than the previous haircuts to which Jason had been subjected whilst I'd known him. The clippers went on, Mr Austin going round the sides and up to the top again and then subsequently using them with his comb and to leave a sharp edge around the cut. Eventually, the clippers stopped and then Mr Austin sprayed the remainder of Jason's hair with water and set about cutting and thinning the top before taking the fringe almost to the top of his forehead. A quick blast with the hairdryer and the cape was unfastened at the back. I thought that would be the end of it, but still the cut was not quite finished. Mr Austin spread shaving cream around Jason's ears and neck and then scraped it away with a cut-throat razor. Mr Austin didn't even show Jason the back of his head in a mirror as I was used to at the salon, but looked at George and asked ‘Is that OK for you?' George replied, ‘Yes, that's smashing' and with that the tissue came off, then the towel, which was used to wipe away any excess shaving cream, and finally the cape. Jason stood up and walked back to the waiting chairs, scalped. The whole thing had taken barely more than 10 minutes, a world of difference from the half hour or more of washing and trimming and teasing I would normally receive. I shot him what I hoped was a sympathetic glance.
‘Next in the chair please.' This time George said ‘Carl' and gestured towards the chair. I looked at Carl as he stood up and could see now that he had tears in his eyes. He walked to the chair but as he got there, he turned round to George and said ‘Please, dad.' George was not having any of it though. ‘No arguments. Sit,' he said firmly. ‘You've enjoyed teasing Jason, now it's your turn.' Carl's shoulders sagged slightly and he turned back to the barber's chair and sat down. Same routine again – towel, neck strip, cape – and then, to George ‘How would you like it cut?' Any lingering hope Carl may have had of mercy was swiftly ended as sentence was pronounced. ‘Exactly the same again please.' Carl's hair was by no means long for the time, but it was still a lot longer than Jason's had been, probably just above the eyebrows, ears and collar, but there was no comparison with the haircut that Jason had just received. I glanced over to Jason expecting to see him looking satisfied or smug or something, but his expression was completely neutral. I had come to like Jason and Carl a lot and was actually starting to think of them as my younger brothers and I realised that I was feeling desperately sorry for both of them. Carl's ordeal was about to begin in earnest and again we all heard the buzz of the clippers and the curt phrase ‘Head down, boy.'
With one hand firmly on the top of Carl's head, Mr Austin firmly drove the clippers up the back of Carl's head in the middle not stopping until he had almost reached the top and leaving a thin stripe of tightly clipped hair in contrast to the relatively long and thick hair around it. The stripe then widened with another pass and this went on until eventually the stripe was the only remaining bit of long hair among the short hair and that too was quickly stripped away with the sides following. Thick piles of Carl's hair were hitting the floor, gathering on his shoulder or sliding down the cape to collect on his lap. His fair hair was in contrast to his brother's much darker brown hair that it was joining on the floor around the chair. The hungry clippers continued as Mr Austin did the outline and then started to blend with the comb until eventually he was satisfied enough damage had been done and turned them off. Carl looked miserable but was holding it together as the spray bottle came out and the scissors began to do their work on the top. I could see Mr Austin pick the hair up with the comb and cut big chunks off each time, it must have been 2 inches or more until all that remained was the longish fringe. Mr Austin walked in front of Carl and with a flourish of his comb and three firm snips most of his fringe floated down to join the other severed locks on his lap. After a bit more working to make sure it was all even and level, Carl was done, his hair dried and neck shaved and after George had indicated his approval, a downcast Carl was released and stood up to join Jason and me.
‘Next in the chair please.' Mr Austin was looking at me and I panicked. I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't think of anything to say. Fortunately, George was as good as his word and came to the rescue. ‘No, just these two today thanks,' he replied, gesturing towards Jason and Carl. Mr Austin gave me a look of barely concealed disapproval but went no further. We all walked to the door and Jason, Carl and I waited outside for George to pay.
‘I am going to get so much s**t for this.' said Carl. I think that was the first time I ever heard him swear. ‘It was bad enough when I got it cut before, but that was nothing compared to this. ‘I'm nearly bald!' he wailed.
‘You'll get used to it,' replied Jason. ‘They'll lose interest soon enough anyway, they did when I first got clippered. And if you get anything really bad, you tell me and I'll deal with it. Don't forget the only person allowed to bully my little brother is me. '
I wanted to say something to make Carl feel better, so I said ‘It suits you, mate. Makes you look older.' It was the first thing that came into my head, but as I looked at the pair of them, possibly for the first time, I couldn't deny that they did both look good with short hair. The fleeting thought crossed my mind of whether I would look good with short hair too. ‘Don't be stupid,' I thought and that was very much the end of that.