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Head Down, Boy Pt 4 by stopfordianstationer
The Christmas holidays were great. I felt happier than I had in months and genuinely started to think it didn't matter what anyone else thought or wanted as long as it was OK with me. I spent a lot of time with Eddie, both with Jason and Carl and without, as we were all thick as thieves by now and he ‘congratulated' me on my new haircut, although the congratulations were somewhat sarcastic. He jokingly told me that I'd never be able to come round to his house again as I'd give his dad ideas. Sure enough, the first time his dad did see me, he was straight on it. ‘Hello, Danny,' he said. ‘that's a cracking haircut, you'll have to take Eddie with you next time you go!' Eddie and I both smiled and he said something like ‘No chance, dad' and Eddie was in the fortunate position of knowing that his dad would never push him to do that. Eddie also told him that I was calling myself Daniel now rather than Danny – I was still trying to remember that myself. I at least didn't have to bother too much about the Danny/Daniel thing when I went back to school as hardly anyone was called by their proper name there anyway – I would no doubt carry on being ‘Wats' to most people.
As we got into New Year though (and the 1980s no less), I began to get more nervous about going back to school and how I'd be able to stick it. I remembered what George had said the day of my haircut about that being the easy bit and didn't sleep very well the night before school started again. Because of my suspension, I had to go to see Mr Phillips before school started the next day and that prospect didn't help either. I woke up early on the day and set to getting ready, which was different to what I had been used to before. As well as making sure my hair was neat and in place as it should be, I was now also subject to George's strict school uniform standards. Although there was an official uniform, of blazer, white shirt, tie, grey trousers and black shoes, everyone's inclination was obviously to get away with as much as possible so as barely to comply. That meant dark jeans instead of trousers, black trainers instead of shoes and even on occasion white polo shirts hidden under a jumper instead of a proper shirt. There would be an occasional crackdown when the letter of the law would be enforced, but everything would then go back to normal after a few days. The letter of the law now applied to me every day, as it had always done to Jason and Carl. I had all the required items but hadn't worn any of them more than a couple of times and then not all together. Today though, I did put them on all together, as I would be expected to do in future. I had a small panic when I couldn't tie my tie properly rather than in the ridiculous massive knot that was the fashion and Carl had to show me how to do it. ‘You'll need to do your top button up as well,' he said. ‘Dad never lets us get away with that.' I did, and was reminded of the choking feeling of the paper strip around my neck when I had my hair cut. As I looked at myself in the mirror I was so smart I almost couldn't stand it, but I took a deep breath and quelled my inner teenage rebel for the moment. ‘Not now,' I thought. ‘Get the next few days out of the way and it'll start to settle down.'
George announced that he was going to come with me to see Mr Phillips. I tried to say that he didn't need to but he insisted and so half an hour before school started, I found myself outside Mr Phillips's office again, this time with George., who was setting out what he expected me to do. ‘You stand up straight, put your shoulders back, hold your head up, look him in the eye and apologise.' After we were ushered in, George introduced himself to Mr Phillips. ‘I'm George Ellis, Daniel's stepfather,' he said. ‘I wanted to see you this morning as I think it's important Daniel knows that we are all in complete agreement over his previous behaviour and what we expect in future.'
Mr Phillips nodded. ‘I quite agree, Mr Ellis,' he said.
‘You can already see a major change in Daniel just by looking at him,' George continued (not half, I thought). ‘It's not just that though, we have all seen a major change in attitude in the last three weeks and his mother and I and his brothers are all very proud of what he's done already. In fact Daniel has something he'd like to say, don't you Daniel?'
Oh, that was my cue – what am I going to say? Remember, look him in the eye and all that. I did my best to look straight at Mr Phillips rather than at the floor as I would normally have done. ‘I'm really sorry for what I did, sir,' I said. ‘It won't happen again.'
‘No, Watson, it will not happen again.' If anything remotely like that happens again, I won't hesitate to expel you. Even for more minor matters you may find yourself subject to further corporal punishment. Is that clear?'
Not what I wanted to hear. My eyes went back to the floor. ‘Y-yes, sir.'
George's response was also not what I wanted to hear. ‘You mustn't be afraid to cane him again if you think it's necessary.' Oh, thanks a lot for that, George, I thought. ‘Judging by his reaction to the first time, I think Daniel will do everything in his power to avoid it happening again.'
Mr Phillips addressed me again. ‘I have to tell you, Watson, that the punishment work you were give before Christmas and that you sent in was exceptional. I have spoken to your subject teachers and they all agree that it is above and beyond anything you have ever done before. Now we know you are capable of that standard, that is what we'll expect from you all the time. If you take my advice, you'll get your head down and stay out of trouble. If you do, you could go far.'
Head down, there was that phrase again. With that, I was dismissed to my fate and thrown to the wolves of my new class with my different look for them to get their teeth into.
The next few days were hard, very hard. I didn't mind the work, in fact I was happy to concentrate on that so as not to dwell on the jibes about ‘baldy' and ‘chopped head' and the like. Sometimes I managed to hold my tongue, sometimes I didn't but I at least kept myself on the right side of authority, just. The good thing seemed to be that, although I'd said it in jest when I came out of the barbers, people did seem a bit wary of me after what I'd done so they didn't want to push things too far, just in case. The inevitable confrontation with Frankie and his mates came after a couple of days when he had plenty to say about how I looked and ask if my new dad had made me. Fortunately, Eddie and Jason were never too far away from me for the first few days so I had some back up this time. ‘Look, I'm sorry I broke your nose,' I said (I wasn't really), ‘but that's it. I'm not getting involved with you anymore. Although if you really want to take it that far, remember your nose can always get broken again. Didn't end well for you last time did it?'
‘You can't threaten me,' he shot back. ‘If you touch me, you'll get expelled.'
‘I won't though' said Eddie.
‘Me neither,' chipped in Jason. ‘And don't ever forget that.' This was one instance where having a younger brother who was taller than you was an advantage – Jason and Carl both clearly took after their dad and were going to be very tall. Although I was slightly above average height myself, Jason had already overtaken me and even Carl wasn't far behind. Anyway, he wasn't someone to be argued with. It all seemed to do the trick anyway and Frankie and I just avoided each other as much as possible after that. When I thanked Jason later, he smiled and slightly changed the phrase he'd used to Carl after that first haircut. ‘Don't worry about it, mate. The only person allowed to bully my big brother is me.'
‘Bully me? You'll be lucky!' I replied. I did like the big brother bit though. I'd never been called that before.
After a couple of weeks, things at school had died down as predicted and I was getting on with it. The one thing that was driving me mad was no sport. When I would normally be doing that, I had to go to Mr Phillips's office and do whatever work he set me instead. That would normally be impossible, although I did my best with it. I got out at the weekend and did bits and bobs and kickabouts with the lads and other mates, but during the week I felt cooped up and frustrated. I mentioned it at home and Carl and Jason both asked if I wanted to go along with them to their regular activities – Jason went running a couple of times a week when the local club did junior nights and Carl was an excellent swimmer. I fancied giving it a go so asked George if that would be OK. ‘Of course,' he replied. ‘You're banned from sport at school, you're not banned from anything here.' I went along with both of them once a week – I was better at the running that the swimming, but it was nice to be out there doing something and blowing away the cobwebs. It was also nice to be introduced by both of them as ‘my older brother, Daniel.' Still a novelty and still a good thing to hear.
In the last week of half term, towards the end of February, I reported to Mr Phillips's office as usual to be given more work instead of doing games. Shortly before the end of the lesson, instead of taking the work and dismissing me as usual, he asked me to come in. ‘I've reviewed your work and behaviour over the last half term, Watson, and spoken to your teachers,' he began. ‘Everyone agrees that whilst you have still been far from perfect and you still can't always hold your tongue, there has been a significant improvement. Based on that improvement and the effort you've made, I've decided that you deserve to be allowed to take part in sports lessons again, so this will be the last piece of extra work you do for me,' he said. ‘Unless of course any of your future behaviour makes me change my mind,' was his sting in the tail.
I breathed an almost audible sigh of relief. ‘Thank you, sir,' I said.
‘You know, Watson,' continued Mr Phillips, ‘the work I've been giving you to do has been approaching O-Level standard over a year in advance of where you are. It's much beyond anything you're doing at the moment (no wonder I've found it so bloody hard, I thought) but I wanted to see if what you did at Christmas was a flash in the pan or not. Based on what you've done, I think you have the ability for high O-Level results, then similarly high A-Levels and University after that if you play your cards right. You've made a good start this year and given yourself a chance. Don't waste it. I'll be keeping a very close eye on your progress in every respect.' He managed to make it sound like both a compliment and a threat.
Mum and George were delighted with my news and said it was evidence that if you do the right thing you get rewarded. George also told me that we'd be going for a haircut the following night after school – ‘Must be your lucky day, Daniel,' he said. It had been a couple of months after all and he was on nights, so I should have guessed. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, but I wasn't dreading it either, it was something I knew was going to happen now from time to time. George must have been reading my mind as he asked ‘How have you managed with the short hair?' he asked.
‘It's been OK, I suppose,' I replied. ‘It doesn't really bother me now other than putting the grease on, that's horrible.'
‘Well you can wash your hair tonight and not put it in as otherwise it'll just have to be washed out at the barbers. It'll give you a day off anyway.'
Great. My lucky day indeed! I looked at myself in the mirror later on after I'd washed and dried my hair. It was much longer and thicker than it had been when it was cut, obviously, and the sides were starting to look a bit untidy, but I could still hardly believe that this was now the length my hair was allowed to get before it was all chopped off again.
The next day after school, we were all led to Austin's again and there was nobody waiting when we got there. I didn't even get to think about it this time as George decided I was going first. I sat down in the barber's chair and in no time had a towel round my shoulders, neck strip on (this was the first time I'd had the double whammy of the top button fastened and neck strip at the same time) and the cape fixed into place. ‘How would you like it cut?' Mr Austin asked George as usual.
‘I think just like last time,' said George, ‘that was perfect, number 2, nice and short on top and parted.' That was as anticipated, although I'd hoped I might be able to get away with just a short fringe like Jason and Carl rather than the dreaded grease.
‘Head down, boy.' There it was again, ‘boy.' I actually was 15 now, although I suppose he couldn't have known I'd had a birthday since the last time and the whole thing was probably much more arbitrary than a matter of age anyway. The clippers had started and I felt the hand on top of my head. This time there was no initial trimming phase as the clippers were driven straight up the back of my head from bottom to top and then again and again. A couple of quite thick clumps fell down onto the cape – was it really that long already? Then it was the sides and the outline with the clippers before a bit of blending and then wetting the top before cutting it down, parting and drying. I was surprised by the amount of hair on the cape and the floor since I wouldn't have thought there was that much to cut, but looking at myself in the mirror, it at least didn't seem to have been cut any shorter than last time, so I suppose there must have been. I had my neck and round my ears lathered and shaved and then Mr Austin asked George if he wanted Brylcreem on it again. ‘Oh yes,' replied George. ‘Wouldn't be the same without, would it, Daniel?' I don't know if I was being punished for what I'd said the night before about horrible grease, but I thought I probably wasn't supposed to answer so I didn't. The Brylcreem was rubbed in and combed into place, so I was exactly back to where I'd been just before Christmas. George approved (I wasn't allowed to see the back this time), everything covering me came off and almost before I knew where I was, I was sitting on one of the waiting chairs watching as Jason took my place in the barber's chair. In contrast to my previous haircut, where I'd noticed every experience and taken in every sensation, this had shot past in an absolute blur. I supposed that was good as it was much less of a trauma than it had been before. The next thing I heard was ‘How would you like it cut?' and George's reply. ‘Same again at the back and sides. I think we can leave the top a bit longer than he had it last time though.' I happened to be looking at Jason in the mirror and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. I still wasn't that experienced at this, but was fairly sure that the word ‘longer' didn't figure in George's instructions very often. Sure enough, when Jason was finished, what was left on top and of his fringe, although not long by any means, was noticeably longer than the severe haircut he'd be given the last time whilst I'd been waiting to have my long hair taken off. Jason winked at Carl and me as he walked back to the waiting chairs. Carl was next up, obviously hoping he'd be allowed to keep a bit more, like Jason, and he duly was. ‘Good for them,' I thought. When we were outside as usual while George was paying, both were amazed. ‘That's never happened before,' said Jason. ‘You must be the one who has to get the shortest haircut now, Daniel!'
‘I actually don't mind this,' said Carl. ‘Short hair's much easier with swimming anyway and this looks OK. I think I might even like it, in fact!'
‘Nice one, boys,' I replied. ‘It's not so much the cut I mind as the stinking Brylcreem. Think I'll have to keep my mouth shut about that in future!'
Another couple of days in school and we were into half term, although that was hardly any less busy, what with swimming, running, playing football (and I'd also taken up the guitar for something a bit different). It was busy in a more enjoyable way though. Eddie and I were chatting one day and he mentioned me getting my hair cut again. After some gentle teasing, he asked ‘What's it like having short hair then?'
I could tell he was genuinely interested this time. ‘It's not too bad, I don't mind it now, I guess. Ears are a bit cold sometimes, but it is a lot less messing about. Why, are you considering it?' No answer. I decided to press a bit. ‘You are aren't you?'
‘No way,' said Eddie, just a bit too quickly. Then ‘Oh, what the hell, yeah, I am. Well maybe anyway. What about going to the barber's – what's it like doing that instead of the hairdressers'?'
This had never occurred to me. I thought he was talking about going a bit shorter at the hairdressers'. ‘It's an experience,' I replied. ‘Certainly nothing like you're used to now. No messing, you're done in no time. He's good as well, knows what he's doing as long as you want it very short! Where's this come from anyway?'
‘I've been thinking about it on and off for a bit. Remember that last time when we got our hair cut together?' I nodded. ‘She said she'd have to cut a load off so it wasn't so big and bushy. I nearly did it there and then but I chickened out. Then I thought if I was getting it cut short, I might as well go to the barber's. I always thought your brothers' hair looked OK and once you got yours cut short as well, I sort of made my mind up. There's another reason as well, but I don't want to talk about that now.' I thought I could see a bit of a sly smile, but knew better than to ask.
‘Well,' I offered, ‘I'm happy to come along and keep you company if you want.' I was actually thinking ‘this I must see!'
‘OK cheers, mate,' Eddie replied. ‘I'll see. Maybe Easter holidays if it warms up a bit by then!'
I had a couple of further bits of good news towards the end of the Easter term. Mr Phillips let me know that due to my continued effort, I was now allowed to be picked for school teams again and George decided that I didn't have to use Brylcreem any more after I stopped complaining and got on with it. I only found out about that the next time I was sitting, caped, in the barber's chair. Carl and Jason had both gone before me and received their slightly longer cut of the previous time and then George told Mr Austin I was having the same. I never thought I'd be so relieved at getting a haircut but it did make life easier (and a lot less smelly). I assumed at the time that George had relented because I'd stopped complaining, but he told me some time later that the main reason was my mum was always moaning about the grease from my hair getting everywhere and he was fed up being nagged about it! Easter was late, towards the end of April, so my conversation with Eddie had been a couple of months ago and I hadn't thought any more about it. A couple of days into the school holidays, we'd arranged to meet up without making any particular plans what to do. I called round to his house and as we were walking away, I asked ‘Is there anything you fancy doing then?'
Eddie paused for a moment. ‘You remember you said you'd come with me to the demon barber?' he asked. ‘Is that still OK?'
‘Yeah, no problem,' I replied. ‘You mean now?'
‘Well, no time like the present, is there? Before I chicken out again.'
We set off on the short walk to Austin's. ‘What are you going to get?' I asked.
‘Don't know, still haven't got that far yet.'
There was someone in the chair when we got to the shop, but nobody else waiting, so Eddie and I sat down. It had been barely over a week since I had my hair cut and Mr Austin seemed surprised to see me. ‘You're back soon aren't you, lad?' he asked. Those were the first words he'd ever spoken to me directly in all the times I'd been there, since my haircuts had only ever been discussed with George, not me.
‘Yes, I'm just keeping my friend company, I'm not here for a haircut.' I replied. Mr Austin seemed satisfied with that and nodded. About five minutes later, the customer was finished and the barber's chair empty. ‘Next in the chair please,' called out Mr Austin. Eddie hesitated and looked at me, so I nudged him and gestured towards the chair with my head and he walked over and sat down. I watched as Eddie received the full Austin experience. First the towel went on, then the neck strip and finally the cape. Each time, Eddie's long ginger hair had to be released until everything was in place and he was ready for his haircut. ‘How would you like it cut?' asked Mr Austin.
‘Well I don't really know,' replied Eddie, after taking a deep breath. ‘I definitely want it short and really thinned down. What do you think?'
Mr Austin ran his comb through Eddie's hair a couple of times. He seemed pleased to be consulted. ‘Well, son, your hair's very thick, so it could stand to be cut really short if that's what you want. It would probably look good with something like that,' he pointed at one of the pictures on the wall. ‘They call it a brush cut. I could cut the top really short so you can brush it back and get the bristles standing up and when it grows a bit longer it would fall forward then, like your mate's over there.' He gestured towards me with his hand. ‘Or you could go for something longer than that if you prefer, although that would probably still look a bit bushy with how thick your hair is. Up to you.'
Eddie thought for a moment. ‘Seeing as I'm here, I might as well go the whole way, I suppose. I'll try the brush cut please.' Wow, this was a lot shorter than I'd even been expecting.
Mr Austin began to comb the hair off Eddie's forehead until it went straight back and down his neck towards his shoulders. He then turned back to the counter, picked up the clippers and put the biggest attachment I'd ever seen on them. ‘Don't be worried, I'm going to use this to take it down to about an inch all over and then we can go from there depending on what you want.' The buzz of the clippers filled the shop as Mr Austin turned them on. ‘Ready, son?' he asked.
‘As I'll ever be.'
Starting at the right side of Eddie's forehead, Mr Austin held the hair in place backwards with the comb and pushed the clippers in at the hairline. There was some initial resistance because of the thickness, but he managed to get them all the way to the back. Behind Eddie, it started to rain ginger hair as the first of his long locks cascaded down onto the floor. The hair left behind wasn't massively short, but it was still a big contrast from the rest. Mr Austin moved back to the front and pushed the clippers back over the next bit and continued across the top until Eddie looked comical with the relatively short hair on the top being out of proportion with the much longer and thicker hair hanging down at the back and sides. Mr Austin moved round to deal with that and clipped all the way around, starting at the right side and moving to the left until all the remaining hair was basically the same length and the cape and floor were both covered in long ginger hair. No turning back now, I thought. Everything being the same length gave the effect of looking like a very long crew cut. I looked at Eddie in the mirror and he caught my eye and mouthed ‘Wow!' He seemed to be pretty enthusiastic up to now so that was good. Mr Austin turned off the clippers and spoke to Eddie again. ‘I think the best thing now is if I do the top and get that to the length you want and then I can do the back and sides after that and blend it in.'
‘OK,' replied Eddie, ‘Whatever you think.
Mr Austin sprayed the hair on top of Eddie's head and combed it back. He held up a length of hair above the comb, probably leaving about three quarters behind of what was left and asked Eddie if that was OK to cut off. Eddie nodded and Mr Austin snipped away across the top of Eddie's head, always combing backwards until he had achieved the bristly look in the picture he's showed Eddie earlier and everything seemed to be a uniform length. ‘Is that OK for you?' he asked. ‘I think that looks a decent length to stay for a bit before it will fall forward. Or I can take a bit more off if you want.'
‘Do a bit more then please.' I don't know what had come over Eddie now – I thought he might be getting a bit carried away. Mr Austin did as he said until the bristles were a slightly shorter uniform length all over the top of his head and Eddie was satisfied.
Mr Austin dried what was left and directed his attention to the back and sides, picking up the clippers again.‘ How short would you like me to take the back and sides? Your mate over there has a number two if you were thinking about going that short. Or I could do a number three if you wanted to leave a bit more, although that wouldn't be that much shorter than the top?' he said.
Eddie moved his head backwards, gesturing at me behind him. ‘What if I had it shorter than his?' he asked.
‘Well I can certainly do that,' said Mr Austin. ‘A number one would probably be fine with your hair as thick as it is, but that would be very short, I warn you.'
I felt like I had to say something at this point since I was the (relatively) experienced hand when it came to short haircuts after all. ‘Whoa, careful, mate,' I said. ‘You don't want to do anything daft.'
Eddie turned round and looked at me. ‘Like I said before, seeing as I'm here, I may as well go for it,' he replied, before turning back to Mr Austin. ‘Can you do the number one please?'
‘If that's what you want, son, no problem.' Mr Austin added a small attachment to the clippers and turned them on. He then positioned Eddie's head downwards (although there was no ‘Head down, boy,' which surprised me) and moved the clippers up the back of Eddie's head, taking a stripe out of what was left. And what a stripe it was, only the merest hint of much lighter ginger hair remained behind, it looked barely visible to me. All I could think was ‘I hope you know what you're doing, mate.'
All of the remaining hair was then stripped from the back and sides of Eddie's head, with only the pale ginger stubble remaining and Mr Austin blended that in with the bristly hair on top. The outline was marked over the ears and at the back of the neck before Eddie's neck and around his ears were razored and Eddie was ready to see his new look all the way round. I looked at him in the chair, my best friend for as long as I could remember, now totally different from how I'd ever seen him before. It was a complete transformation and I had to admit it looked good, or at least I thought it did. I hoped Eddie would think the same. Mr Austin held up the hand mirror so Eddie could see the back of his head. As he looked, he ran his hand backwards over the bristly hair on top of his head and then up and down the stubble on the back of his neck. His eyes lit up. ‘Oh my God, that is fantastic!' he exclaimed. ‘I love it!'
Mr Austin smiled. ‘Glad you like it, son,' he replied. I was pleased at Eddie's reaction but hoped he'd still feel the same a couple of hours later after we'd got out of there and he'd realised what he'd done. Eddie was uncaped and then paid, which also delighted him as it was considerably less than at the hairdressers' where he usually went.
‘Looking good, my friend,' I said after we left.
Eddie was still excited. ‘Why didn't I do this years ago?' he asked.
Because you wouldn't have been seen dead with short hair,' I replied, ‘Just like I wouldn't. And now it's nearly all gone. Talk about one extreme to the other!'
To my great relief, Eddie was just as keen on his new haircut the next time I saw him a couple of days later. I told Jason and Carl what had happened, but they thought I was joking until the following week when we were all meeting up to play tennis together. ‘Whoa, Eddie,' said Carl, ‘I see Daniel wasn't wrong when he said you'd had your hair cut short!'
‘Well, lads, either you can pull it off or you can't. And I just can!' We all gave him plenty of stick for that. Just then, Robbie came running out of the house into the garden and it was obvious that he had recently undergone a severe barbering himself.
I remembered what Eddie had said about another reason when we'd talked before he got his hair cut and the penny dropped. ‘That was the other reason wasn't it, you bugger?' I said, pointing in Robbie's direction.
‘Oh yeah,' Eddie replied. ‘I knew if I had my hair cut short, dad would have Robbie at the barber's within a week! Dad asked me to go with them yesterday so he could say he wanted Robbie's just like mine, so I even got to see the little so-and-so squirm while he got clipped and snipped. It's a toss-up who he hates most at the moment, dad for having all his hair cut off or me for giving dad the idea in the first place. So I get to have a top haircut and annoy my little brother as well, it's all good!' He turned to me. ‘Annoying your little brother is always a bonus, don't you think, Daniel?'
I looked at Carl and Jason. ‘Not for me, mate,' I said, looking upwards slightly at Jason as I said it. ‘I never annoy my little brothers' (I always liked to call them that since they were both going to be massive). ‘I think I'm pretty much perfect in that respect.'
Carl and Jason both pulled their faces and snorted with derision and Carl flicked a v sign at me. Charming!