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Head Down, Boy Pt 3 by stopfordianstationer
I woke up some time later that night, I wasn't sure how long I'd been asleep. I checked the time on the alarm clock by my bed and it was 8.30. I moved slightly and the instant pain in the backside reminded me of my predicament. My earlier anger and bravado had now completely dissipated and rational thought was taking over again for what felt like the first time in months. This was really bad and I knew that I had think now what I could do to try to make all the bad stuff I'd done better. I thought about what had been said to me by various people in the last few hours:
‘You're a very bright boy.'
‘Come back if you ever grow up.'
‘Why can't you be more like Carl and Jason?'
If I was that bright, I should be able to come up with something. Although mum had upset me, I now asked myself the same question, why couldn't I be more like Carl and Jason? Carl and Jason were great lads, I had to admit. They were smart, clever, well-mannered and well behaved but they weren't goody-goody or holier-than-thou about it. In fact, they were both a really good laugh and good to be with and were popular at school with the other kids as well as the teachers. It would be nice to be like that, but was I even capable of it? First things first though, I didn't know if Jason would even give me the time of day any more. It was time for the first of a few difficult conversations that I knew lay ahead.
I walked quietly across the landing and tapped on Jason's bedroom door. ‘Who is it?' he asked.
‘It's me, Danny.' I replied quietly. ‘Can I come in please?'
There was a slight pause. I could almost hear him wondering whether to say yes or no. ‘I suppose so,' he said. I pushed open the door, went in and closed it behind me.
Jason was lying on his bed reading a motorbike magazine and glared at me over the top of it. ‘Come to have another go, have you?'
‘No,' I said. ‘I've come to apologise.'
Jason smiled thinly. ‘Great,' he replied. ‘This had better be good.'
I realised that I hadn't a clue what I was going to say. I also realised I had a lot to make up for so there was no point holding anything back. ‘Look, what I said . . . I was angry and upset. I know it's no excuse, but I was all over the place and I took it out on you. I shouldn't have done.' Jason said nothing so I ploughed on. ‘Everything Eddie said was dead right, I'm just a stupid little turd. You might not believe me but I didn't mean any of it. I really like having you around.' The emotion was rising again and I could feel more tears on the way. What was the matter with me, I couldn't remember the last time I'd cried before today and now I could hardly stop myself? The words were streaming out now and on I went. ‘You and Carl are not my mates now, you're my brothers, honest. I don't want to fall out with you. I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry, I'm . . .' I couldn't carry on as I was choked.
‘OK, OK, that's enough,' said Jason. ‘Don't start bloody crying on me for God sake. I talked to Eddie after you went and he said you didn't mean it as well. Said I should give you a chance even though he's really pissed off with you.' He paused before continuing ‘I, well we, Carl and me, think of you as our brother as well, that's why I was upset when you came out with all that. And you're not a stupid little turd, by the way. You can be a right dick sometimes though!'
Fair comment. I laughed in spite of the tears and wiped my eyes. ‘Don't hold back will you?! You're right though, I need to sort myself out.'
‘So what are you going to do, what happens now? Sit down if you want, by the way.'
I lowered myself down gingerly to perch on the end of the bed. ‘Well, I was thinking that I might ask your dad to help me out. You two aren't dicks so maybe he could help me not to be. Would you and Carl mind?'
‘No we wouldn't mind,' Jason replied. ‘What do you mean though?'
‘I've always thought he was strict with you, but perhaps it wouldn't do any harm if I tried to stick to some of his rules. I guess it'll be hard, but it might be worth it. I don't know. He might not be interested anyway.'
Jason laughed. ‘Good luck with that!' he said. ‘Dad's not actually that strict. He likes to make it look like he is and there are some things he's hot on, but he lets us do a lot of stuff if we're interested in something. Like me being into bikes and he lets me help if he's messing with the car. And Carl and his swimming. We always know where we are with him and even if we do something he thinks we shouldn't, he'll always give us a fair hearing before he does anything. You could do worse, you know.'
‘Yeah, I know. I might talk to him. Thanks, Jason, you're a good ‘un. And I do really mean that.' I stood up to leave and offered him my hand to shake and he took it.
‘OK, that's enough of that,' said Jason, smiling. I think I prefer you when you're being a dick!'
Mum worked some evenings at the local cinema and this was one so I knew she wouldn't be back until late. I went downstairs to see if I could find George and he was watching TV in the front room. When he saw me, he said sternly ‘Your mum said she told you to stay in your room. What are you doing down here?'
‘I know, I'm sorry,' I said. ‘Can I talk to you please, George, it's really important?'
‘OK,' he said. ‘But I don't want to hear excuses and I'm not going to help you to get round your mum.'
‘No,' I said. ‘No excuses. I'm really sorry about what's happened and what I've done and I want try to put it right.'
George looked at me and said ‘I suppose you'd better sit down and say what you want to say then.'
I sat down in the chair opposite him and wondered where to begin. ‘I know I'm stupid and that Jason and Carl are better than me and I've upset mum and messed everything up, but I want to change, really. I'm sorry.'
‘I suppose mum told you why I attacked Frankie and what they'd been saying.' George nodded. ‘It's not that I don't like you, I do and I'm happy mum's happy, but . . .' I tried to find the right words to carry on. ‘My dad was my dad and . . . I can't have another, even though I don't remember him. I'd feel bad for him. I'm sorry.'
‘It's OK, there's no need to apologise for that,' said George. ‘I understand that. And you're not stupid either, you're a long way from stupid. Don't ever say that. And Carl and Jason aren't better than you, they're just different in some ways. Listen to me, Danny, ever since I've first met you, I've seen your qualities. You are intelligent, you are kind – you were always good to Jason and Carl when you could easily not have wanted anything to do with two younger kids suddenly coming along – and you always had a kind of happy, cheeky confidence about you. OK, sometimes you went too far with that, but it was never anything nasty, which is why today came as such a shock to everybody. Then the last few months, you've withdrawn yourself and all the happiness and confidence has gone out of you somehow. That's very sad.'
That was a lot to take in, but one thing struck me straight away, more than anything else. ‘You called me Danny'.
George still looked at me calmly. I could see where Jason got it from. ‘Daniel is your proper name and I like to use that for everyone, but to you you're Danny, that's who you are. So since we're talking like this, I need to try to get through to Danny. Anyway, you said you wanted to change. Did you have anything in mind?'
‘Well I was thinking. Would you be willing to treat me exactly like you treat Carl and Jason? I know it would be hard and I'd have to obey loads of rules and I'd need to be like them rather than being like me . . .' I was rambling now and didn't quite know where I was going.
‘Whoa, just a minute,' George interrupted. ‘If that's what you really want, we'll talk about it in a minute, but nobody wants you to be like anybody else but you. I don't want you to be like robots, unquestioningly doing whatever your mum or I say, I've never wanted Jason and Carl to do that. I want to see that happy, cheeky, confident boy that we all love come back. Let me tell you something about Carl and Jason. I was always a bit concerned that they were too quiet and serious, but they've really come out of themselves since they've got to know you and spent time with you. That's a great thing and it's because of your influence, you should be proud of that. So it's not just a one-way thing that you need to turn into them. You need to be yourself. Always be yourself and be happy with yourself. It doesn't matter what other people think or say. You've got so much potential, Danny. If you think I can help you realise it, I'd be happy to do that.'
‘Thanks.' Sitting too long in the same position was making my backside sore. I shifted slightly in my chair and winced.
‘Really hurts, doesn't it?'
‘Yeah, it . . .' it took me a moment to realise what George had said. ‘What do you mean, how do you know? You weren't ever . . . Were you?'
George chuckled, ‘Oh more than once! It was a lot easier to find yourself getting the cane when I was a kid. I always said never again, but it did happen again, more than I care to remember.'
‘Well I am saying never again,' I said. ‘I'm never letting than happen again, whatever it takes. Whatever, honestly. Really.'
‘OK,' said George. ‘I appreciate that but let's see if you still think like that when you know what it involves. It's not the pick and mix at Woolworth's, you don't get to choose the bits you want and the bits you don't, you're either in or out. You'd better hear about all these rules you're so keen to follow. Well, there aren't actually that many. I hate lying, so if I ever catch you not telling your mum or me the truth, you will be in BIG trouble. You never swear in front of an adult and you treat adults with respect at all times. You do your homework first thing when you get home from school before you do anything else. You can stay behind at school for sport or music or clubs if you like, but as soon as you get home, you do your homework. And most importantly of all, you give 100% effort to everything, whether it's school, hobbies, sport, whatever it is. I'll say that same to you that I've always said to Carl and Jason – however something turns out, if you can look everyone in the eye and say honestly that you've done your best, I will never ask for anything more than that. Do you think you can do that?'
That all didn't sound that bad. In theory at least. ‘I think so,' I said. ‘I'm definitely ready to try, I promise.'
‘There's another thing though,' George continued. ‘I'm a very big believer that a smart appearance encourages a person to take pride in themselves and whatever they do. You are no exception, so if this is what you want, you will need to maintain a smart appearance. And before you ask, I will decide what constitutes a smart appearance. You don't need to know the full details right now, but it will involve a proper school uniform . . .' He paused, I think for effect, and then continued to the logical and inevitable conclusion – ‘. . . and a trip to the barber's chair.'
Oh. I swallowed and said nothing. George obviously sensed my uncertainty. ‘That's it, Danny, all or nothing. You can always carry on as you are and if you do that, I'm not saying you won't sort yourself out, I can see this has had a big effect on you and I really think it's woken you up. But if you go ahead as we've spoken about, I think you'll find it really hard to start with but if you stick with it, and get your head down, the sky is the limit for you.'
‘Head down,' there were those words again which I had heard spoken to Jason and Carl. If I was going to do this, I realised I'd have to get my head down in more ways than one. I made my mind up there and then that I at least had to give it a try. For the second time that night, I offered my hand for a handshake. ‘OK, agreed. Thanks.'
George shook my hand firmly. ‘Good lad,' he said. ‘We'll have you back to your real self as soon as we can.'
Since I now knew George enjoyed my cheekiness (or so he said), I couldn't resist trying it out on him. ‘I don't suppose I'll be able to get away with a trim at the hairdressers will I?' I said ‘Or I was thinking about maybe getting it permed . . .'
George raised his eyebrows. ‘I see it's coming back already,' he said, ‘but don't push your luck. I'm sure Mr Austin will be very keen to get his hands on you after your comment last time.'
I wondered how much longer I'd be allowed to keep my hair and suspected that the answer was not much. ‘Can I ask when it will be?'
‘You don't need to worry about that,' said George. ‘I'll decide. But it will be soon. Before Christmas.'
‘OK, point taken,' I said, ‘But there is just one thing. Can we not tell Jason or Carl? I think it might be a nice surprise for them when it happens.'
George thought for a moment before replying. ‘Fair enough. I don't disagree with that.'
And so it began. After all his compliments, George then gave me a dressing down about my behaviour and said I would need to be up at the usual time for school and dressed in school uniform for the rest of the week to do the punishment work I had. As far as he and mum were concerned, I was still at school and I shouldn't consider I was on holiday. I was also not to leave the house and couldn't see any of my friends until further notice. ‘Danny' was gone as well and it was back to ‘Daniel', in fact I think that conversation was the only time George ever called me Danny. It was made clear to me that I was expected to work hard on everything I'd been given and there would be plenty of extra chores for me when it was done. I did work hard as well. I gave all of them more care and attention than I had ever done for school work. Reading up in the right books, thinking about it and generally making a proper job. It was hard work, but I was still in the frame of mind that I deserved it and I did feel a sense of satisfaction when it was done and sent into school with Carl and Jason on the final day of term. I was also allowed to see Eddie. I sent an apology with Jason and asked if he would come to see me if he was willing. Since mum and George were aware from Jason of what had happened between the two of us and that it was important to me to make it up with my oldest friend if I could (mum always had a soft spot for Eddie anyway!), I was allowed half an hour with him when he did come. Fortunately, that conversation also ended in a handshake. I got to the stage by the end of the week of being able to sit down without wincing, so the situation was at least improving and the atmosphere was getting a bit lighter.
All this time I was waiting to be summoned to the barber's, but the call did not come until the following Monday, the first weekday of the school holidays and just under a week before Christmas. Mum and George were going Christmas shopping with Jason and Carl and it was agreed I'd be allowed out for the first time to go with them so I could buy presents. We all went off in our separate directions and then met up for a bit and did some stuff together. Mum was meeting a friend and the rest of us were going home. George announced as we were setting off that he thought the boys could do with a trim before Christmas so we'd go on the way home. I was half expecting it, but my heart still jumped at the thought that haircut time was now nearly upon me. Mum knew that when George said "the boys” he meant all three of us and she gave me a look and a quick nod as we were going, but Jason and Carl didn't have a clue. There was a bit of minor grumbling on the way about it being busy before Christmas and we should wait until afterwards and it wasn't that long since they'd had their hair cut, but George batted it away as usual. ‘It'll be better to go now, you'll see,' he said enigmatically and gave me a little sideways glance. I was trying not to give away how nervous I was feeling. ‘If only they knew,' I thought.
All too soon, we were walking towards the familiar sight of Austin's shop. It was getting dark now and the lights were blazing out. As we got closer, I couldn't quite decide whether I wanted a long queue so it would be delayed a bit more or if I'd rather just get it over with. The bell rang as George pushed the door open and as we all walked in my eyes went immediately to the waiting chairs, where two men were sitting and then to the barber's chair, where Mr Austin was finishing a neck shave. ‘Not just yet then,' I thought to myself. We sat down – I was closest to the door, I don't know if I was unconsciously trying to keep away from Mr Austin for as long as possible. I tried reading a magazine again and chatting to Jason and Carl about Christmas plans and school and other things, but my stomach was churning and the haircuts of the two men who were waiting before us passed by in a blur before they were both done, the chair was empty and the usual call of ‘Next in the chair please,' went out. I tensed up, waiting to see which name George would call out.
‘Jason.' I relaxed slightly, but not much as I knew I might still only be about 10 minutes from going in the chair and it wouldn't be much more than 20 at most. What was I going to look like? I'd never had the clippers before, in fact I'd never been in a barber's before until the first visit to Austin's about three months ago. Jason was soon installed, orders issued and haircut under way. Since Carl and Jason had actually been right that it hadn't been that long by normal standards since they'd had their hair cut, instead of taking the view that there was no need to take too much off, Mr Austin seemed to have decided that Jason's hair needed to be shorter than last time as Jason must be back so soon because he hadn't cut off enough then. By the time the little remaining of Jason's fringe had been cut and he was having his neck and round his ears shaved, I think it was the shortest haircut he'd ever had. I could see Carl wincing slightly in anticipation of the same treatment. Finally, Jason stood up and rubbed the back of his head ruefully. ‘Next in the chair please.' Again, I waited for the name. ‘Carl'. George was obviously saving the best for last. If Carl had been anticipating a particularly savage haircut after watching Jason's, Mr Austin was in no mood to disappoint as Carl was first clipped and then had the top chopped down to what looked like barely longer than crewcut length with the merest hint of fringe. After what was left of Carl's hair was dried, I counted off the steps one by one: Neck and ears lathered. Shaved. George's approval. Neck strip off. Neck wiped with towel and towel off. Cape off. Carl stood up and walked towards us, expecting to leave now. Jason began to get ready to go as well.
‘Next in the chair please.' Jason and Carl thought nothing of it as a couple of other people had come in after us but I knew. I looked at the clock, which was just coming up to four o'clock. I felt just the same now as I did when I heard Mr Phillips say I was getting the cane almost exactly a week ago. The word I was waiting for was finally uttered. ‘Daniel.' Oh God. This is it. Two heads snapped round to look at me with astonishment as I stood up. I looked both of them in the eye and nodded. I would have loved to have come out with some funny remark, but that confidence that George was so fond of had deserted me so the nod was all I could manage. Knees trembling, I walked the half a dozen steps to the barber's chair and sat down in it. I couldn't look at Mr Austin and I imagined the triumphant expression on his face. He came into view in the mirror with the towel behind me and I felt my hair being lifted up at the back before the towel was draped around my neck and shoulders. There was a slight itching from the small hairs left behind on the towel by previous customers. By now Mr Austin had the paper strip and was stretching it to fit. Again my hair was lifted up to allow free access to my neck and the strip touched the front before being pulled and stuck at the back. I felt like it was choking me. Finally, the grey cape billowed around me and came to rest around my shoulders as my long hair was pulled up for what would be the last time before it came off, before the cape was tightly fastened at the back and the neck strip folded over the top. I looked at my reflection, all caped up. No escape. I had seen this sight enough times already in my few visits, but there was one very big difference now – this time it was me in the chair. It suddenly felt very warm in there.
‘How would you like it cut?' I blushed crimson as my fate was discussed as if I weren't there.
‘Well, we're looking to smarten the lad up a bit so something nice and short,' replied George.
‘No problem at all. Did you have anything particular in mind?'
‘I think the same as the other two at the back and sides, but Daniel likes to take a lot of time to style his hair (‘Eh?' I thought. ‘Why does everyone think that!?'), so I think we'll leave just enough on the top to part with plenty of Brylcreem. Only just enough though.' George obviously thought the extra emphasis was necessary, as if there was any prospect that Mr Austin was going to let me off easily.
‘Understood.' With that, I saw Mr Austin reach for the clippers and the shop was filled again with the familiar buzzing sound. I waited to be ordered to put my head down but the words didn't come. Instead, Mr Austin lifted up a length of hair at the side of my head with his comb, chopped it off with the clippers and a lock several inches long of mousy brown hair, my hair, slid down the cape and settled in my lap. It had started. This carried on for a couple of minutes or so all around my head with the same routine of lift, shear off, repeat. Long hair was now piling up everywhere on the cape and on the floor as Mr Austin reduced the length to his liking to allow him to have a proper go at it. This phase ended with the fringe being lifted from over my eyes with the comb and chopped off about half way up my forehead so I could see what was happening a lot better, although that didn't really help. Already I looked different, my hair was probably slightly longer now all over than Carl's had been before his first ‘proper' short cut that I had watched. Most of my ears was visible and a lot of my fringe was gone. I couldn't ever remember seeing my hair this short and yet that was barely the start of it. Mr Austin then reached for an attachment, put it on the clippers and walked around behind me, before I finally heard the dreaded catch phrase, ‘Head down, boy,' and I felt his hand on the top of my head. I reflected on ‘boy'. I would turn 15 in a couple of months and didn't actually consider myself a boy, but that cut no ice in this world. In this world it was simply time for me to put my head down for the clippers. I complied.
Even if I'd been tempted not to comply, I wouldn't have had much choice as my head was pushed firmly downwards until my chin was almost touching the cape. It was then that I had my first real experience of the clippers. I felt them at the nape of my neck, pressed down hard and going upwards, carving a path through the remaining hair on the back of my head. I was conscious that they seemed to have gone an awfully long way up. Mr Austin relented and returned to my nape before repeating a few more times all the way across the back of my head. I was allowed to lift my head up but the hand was then back on my head and positioning it so that Mr Austin could attack the right side of my head. He started at the temple and moved upwards until he was happy it was high enough and a quick flick of the wrist deposited a thick clump of hair onto the cape. Another pass upwards digging into the side of my head. Another flick of the wrist and another clump of hair on the cape. And another, until the clippers had worked around to the back, where they had already been. My head was then shoved the other way to allow access to the left side and the relentless march of the clippers continued, again temple first, front to back. I could now see the sides in the mirror, saw how short the remaining hair was and how high up I'd been clipped, so knew for certain that I was getting one very short haircut. The only bit of (relatively) good news I had for consolation was that at least my ears didn't stick out. Mr Austin then went all the way around the back of my head and over the sides another couple of times just to make sure he hadn't left anything behind. It was like mowing a lawn. Was this never going to end? The cape was barely visible by now, it was so covered in my hair. When Mr Austin was finally happy that the back and sides were appropriately shorn, the attachment came off the clippers and he started to use them with the comb to blend the sides in with the longer hair on top. Although I'd already lost a lot of length from the top it was still very disproportionately long and thick compared to the sides. The clipper and comb carried on for a bit and then Mr Austin moved on to the outline, cleaning my neck with downwards strokes and going all the way up the sides and around each ear to give a clear outline and arch over the ears. Sideburns might have been popular in the outside world, but there was no place for them here as the sides were squared off at the top of my ears. After a final quick check by Mr Austin, the clippers fell silent and were stowed back on the counter. I glanced in the mirror at Jason and Carl sitting behind and watching me getting the same treatment as them at last. I caught Jason's eye and he was kind enough to give me a quick thumbs up. I managed a watery smile in response.
Mr Austin then came at me with the spray bottle, vigorously wet the hair on top of my head and combed it straight back so it was right off my forehead. He picked up his scissors and started out with some more blending around the top at the back and sides, snipping down the longer hair to blend in with what had been clipped. Then it was time to attack the length on top – he started at the back by lifting up a length of the longer hair with the comb, holding it straight up and then cutting with a couple of firm and decisive snips. I reckoned that took at least another couple of inches away from me. More hair rained down onto the cape, darker and heavier compared to what had gone before as it was now wet. Next section and another length lifted above the comb. Snip, snip and it was gone. I was grimly fascinated now, like they say you can't take your eyes off a road accident if you know one is about to happen, so I watched in the mirror as the haircut progressed. Next section, Snip, snip. Next section, Snip, snip. Further forward, Snip, snip. This continued until the only comparatively long hair left was my fringe, which had now been combed forward again, and Mr Austin walked in front of me to deal with that. I shut my eyes as another blast from the spray bottle came towards me. Slowly and carefully, so as to keep it as level as possible, Mr Austin cut across what was left so that my fringe now just hung over the top of my forehead. It might have been slightly longer than Carl's and Jason's but not much. A little bit more precision trimming of the top then followed to make sure everything was just so. Another couple of sprays of water confused me as I was expecting him to dry it rather than wet it again now, but the reason soon became apparent as Mr Austin parted my remaining hair on the left hand side and swept the remaining fringe away from my forehead. He then dried it with the hairdryer, using a brush to make sure everything remained in place and went in the right direction. It seemed that the cutting had finally come to an end.
It still wasn't quite over yet because Mr Austin was now leaning back towards the counter lather a brush from a shaving block. When there was enough, I felt the warm lather being spread around the hairline on my neck and around my ears, I actually found it quite a pleasant sensation. The foam was then scraped away with the cut-throat starting over the right ear and working downwards, down and across my neck and then back up around the left ear to the top. Far from that being pleasant, I think the scraping of the razor was the worst part of the whole haircut, which was saying something. The finishing touch came with Mr Austin opening the Brylcreem jar, working a good sized lump into his hands and then spread it across the remaining short hair on the top of my head until it shone. I'll never forget that smell as long as I live. He washed his hands and then combed my hair back perfectly into place one last time and it was all over. ‘Is that OK for you?' he asked George – the first words spoken since ‘Head down, boy.'
‘That's absolutely perfect,' replied George. ‘Would you mind showing him the back, just this once as a special treat?'
‘Of course.' Mr Austin picked up a hand mirror and positioned it behind me so I could look in the mirror in front of me to see the back of my head reflected in the hand mirror. Not that there was much to see, just very short hair going all the way up the back of my head and tapering down to razored nothingness at the very bottom. Everything was very clearly outlined and defined. There I finally was in all my short haired glory. Clipped, parted, greased, ears on show, bare forehead. I'd gone from a fashionable late 70s teenager to a 50s throwback in barely 15 minutes and I hardly recognised myself. If I'd not been looking in the mirror and seen the whole thing I would have thought that someone else was staring back at me rather than that I was seeing my own reflection. I felt the cape being loosened at the back then the neck strip coming off, the towel being lifted from my shoulders and wiping my neck. Then the cape came off, dumping what was left of what had been my hair on the floor, and I stood up. My mouth was dry but I was determined to behave properly this time, so I looked at Mr Austin and said ‘Thank you.' My voice cracked a little, but I got it out. He looked back at me and gave a very slight nod before I turned and walked towards Jason and Carl. We left the shop as usual whilst we waited for George to pay.
The first thing that struck me as we got outside was something that hadn't entered my head in all my worries about getting a short haircut – it was December and it was bloody cold, especially round the ears and neck! I was relieved it was done and smiled, looking at Jason and Carl, who seemed to be waiting for me to say something to see how I would react. ‘Happy Christmas, lads!' I said, before bursting out laughing. Relieved that I wasn't angry or upset, they both joined in.
‘I take it this has got something to do with the conversation we had last week?' said Jason. I nodded. ‘But I thought you didn't need to look like you'd joined the army to have had a haircut,' he teased.
‘Yeah, well you do if your dad's picking,'' I replied.
‘Welcome to the club then,' said Carl, rubbing the back of his head. ‘This scalping was almost worth it to see you have your go!'
‘What do you think of it though really?' I asked them
‘A change,' said Jason, ‘and you'll cop it when we go back to school. Doesn't look too bad though, I suppose.'
‘Sod that lot.' I replied. They won't tease me that much ‘cause they'll be worried I'll beat them up now I'm a psycho!'
‘It makes you look older anyway,' said Carl, ‘just like you said to me that first time. And you'll get used to it, like Jason said to me. I wouldn't have chosen it but I have got used to it.'
‘Thanks, boys,' I said, ‘I appreciate it.' And I did.
When George came out, he flipped a jar or Brylcreem in my direction, which I just managed to catch. ‘There you go, Daniel, early Christmas present for you,' he said. ‘That's going to be your new best friend, because as long as your hair's in place and tidy and shiny, it won't need cutting again will it?'
‘Feel free to borrow it whenever you want, boys,' I said, ‘Although you two will never look as good as me!' More laughter – I think even George had a bit of a chortle at that one.
When mum saw me when we arrived home, she gasped and put her hands to her mouth. I thought she might burst into tears. I was still a bit sensitive about the whole thing so I was taken aback. ‘Thanks, mum,' I said. ‘It's not that bad is it?'
‘No, love, I'm sorry,' she said. ‘It's just . . . you look so much like your dad. I've always known that, obviously but it wasn't so easy to see when you were hiding under all that hair and now it's clear as day. It's lovely. And you're doing the right thing, I'm proud of you.'
I didn't know what to say so I just hugged her. Tears were in my eyes again, this was becoming a regular occurrence.
Later on, George collared me on my own to have a word. ‘You won't want to hear this,' he said ‘and I know today was a big thing for you, but what you've done so far is the easy bit. It will get really hard when you go back to school and you have to ignore the comments and knuckle down and get into a routine of working all the time like you did last week. Stick with it though, I promise it will be worth it.'
‘Great,' I thought. I'd barely recovered from the shock of having all my hair chopped off and now I was being told things would get worse!
‘Having said all that,' George continued, ‘I was very impressed with you today. No pleading, no moaning, you stuck to your word. Well done. Your mum and I have had a chat, and because of that and how hard you worked last week, we think you can consider yourself officially on your Christmas holidays now, so enjoy them.' He patted me on the shoulder.
‘Thanks, George,' I said. ‘I will.'
Over the next couple of days, the new look began to grow on me a bit, although the combing to keep everything in the right place was a pain. It was strange moving my head so easily and I found myself holding my head up more with no heavy hair to weigh it down. A new decade would be along soon, I thought, so that would be a good time to make a fresh start. I also made another decision to do with that and let everyone know at dinner that night when I asked them if they could all call me Daniel from then on. After all, as George reasoned, that was my name, so why not be proud of it? Mum was delighted, George gave me a little nod and the lads just said ‘fine, whatever!' New start, new decade, new (well, old) name. Maybe things were beginning to look up at last.