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Head Down, Boy Pt 5 by stopfordianstationer
I managed to get through the rest of the school year with no more major incidents and I felt like I was finally getting into my stride proper' as the ‘new' me. I was genuinely doing everything to the best of my ability as George had insisted when we first spoke and that resulted in by far the best end of term exam results I'd ever had. Even though I was doing so much more work, I still seemed to be doing more other stuff now that I enjoyed than ever before with running, swimming and football and I'd also had a few games for the school football team as well, which pleased me no end. I'd always been borderline about whether I got in or not, but once I was able to join training again everything seemed that much easier and I seemed to be a solid pick now. I think it had something to do with the extra fitness from the running and swimming, although my extra concentration in training rather than messing about all the time was probably also a factor. I did manage to squeeze a fair bit of messing about in as well though, I hadn't got that boring! A couple of days after we finished school, we were all off to Spain for our first ever holiday abroad so there was plenty to look forward to.
In the last week of school, George asked if he could have a word with me. ‘I always talk to Carl and Jason every year when they finish school about how they think they've got on in the last year and what they're aiming for in the next year,' he began ‘And I wanted to do the same with you now as well. So how do you think you've got on?'
Was this a trick question? Did he know something and was trying to catch me out? I wondered what I was supposed to say. ‘Well . . . , ' I began ‘I think I've done OK since Christmas. I've honestly tried to keep my head down and done my best. And I was pleased with my exam results.' I hoped that wouldn't be too cocky and earn me a reprimand.
‘And you've every reason to be pleased with them,' said George (phew!). ‘You've done better than OK, Daniel. I think you've worked very hard and got the rewards for that. I must admit you've surprised me – I always knew you were clever enough to get results like that but I didn't think you'd stick at it like you have as quickly as you have. You know you should be very proud of what you've done.'
Even though I thought I'd done well myself, hearing that come from someone else meant the world to me. ‘Thanks,' I said. ‘I appreciate that.'
‘But,' George went on, (I supposed there had to be a ‘but'). ‘You've got to keep it up. Next year is a very important year for you, doing your O-Levels. You need to be thinking about what happens after that as well. Are you thinking you want to go to college and do A-Levels?' I nodded. ‘Have you thought about which ones?'
‘Not really,' I replied. ‘I think I like the maths and science stuff most and that's what I'm best at, so maybe them.'
‘Well you need to think about it properly and look into it when you get back to school and then you need to think about where it might lead after that. I'm not going to let up on you now I've seen what you can do, you know. It's not to give you a hard time, it's so you make the most of what you've got.'
‘I know. Thanks.'
There is something else I need to tell you as well. Since it's going to be very hot in Spain when we're away and you'll be doing a lot of messing about in and out of the sea and swimming pools and stuff, I think it will be better if you don't have to mess about with your hair at all, so you're all going to be getting crew cuts. I'll pick you up when you finish school on Friday and we'll get them done then.'
This was a shock, and not a welcome one. I'd had long thick hair not all that long ago and now I was getting a crew cut? ‘Oh . . . ' I said. ‘I'm sorry, George, but do we really have to? It's short as it is and . . .' I got no further.
‘I'm not asking for your opinion, Daniel, I'm telling you what's going to happen.'
That was it, end of story. I knew there was absolutely no point arguing. Just have to get used to the idea.
For the next couple of days, Jason was very quiet, and didn't seem himself at all. The night before we finished school, Jason was sitting in the back garden on his own and he looked miserable. I went out to sit with him. ‘Are you OK, Jason?' I asked
‘Yeah, fine,' he replied, though he obviously wasn't.
‘Come on, mate, I know you better than that. What's up? Tell me, please.'
Jason looked at me and thought for a moment. ‘Did dad talk to you about school and everything?' he asked.
‘Yeah, he said he always does that with you and Carl as well.'
Jason nodded. ‘He talked to me as well. He said I need to think about what I'm going to do. Well, I've tried and I just don't know. What am I supposed to do? I'm not top of the class material like you and Carl are, I'm just steady, average Jason aren't I? So anything I'll do will just be a disappointment by comparison.' He paused. ‘And then, to cap it all, he told me I'm having all my hair shaved off tomorrow. Oh, I don't know. My dad's great in a lot of ways but . . . it's just hard sometimes, you know?'
I was genuinely amazed. I'd never heard Jason like this. It was true that he wasn't as academic as Carl and me, but he was definitely above average. What could I say? ‘Jason, mate,' I began. ‘Look, there's loads out there, you just need to find out what you want and what's right for you. You'll get there. And listen to me now, you will never, ever be a disappointment. You have been so much help to me. You could have just pushed me away after all that s**t last year, but you gave me another chance and I'm really grateful for that. Your dad is so proud of you, you can tell by the way he talks about you. And as for Carl, you're his big brother who's always looked out for him. Mum thinks you're great as well. Bloody hell, Jason, you couldn't be more wrong. I wish I was more like you, in fact. You're calm, you're considerate, you always know what to do. A lot of the lads look up to you. I look up to you, and I don't just mean because you're so bloody tall!'
‘But what about all the "what are you going to do, you need to think about this, you need to think about that . . . ” he continued.
‘He said exactly the same to me, it's just how he is, he wants what's best for you. You should know that a lot better than me.'
‘He really said just the same to you?'
‘Yes, and I'll bet you any money he said something like that to Carl as well,' I replied. ‘Maybe not just the same as he's a couple of years behind, but I guess you got still got something when you were his age?' Jason nodded. ‘And what's all this about the haircut? Since when have you been bothered about anything like that? You've always said it's not worth worrying about, so that's what I'm thinking now, as we've got no choice.'
‘I've never been that arsed really, it's just I've always been the copper's son, always had to behave, always had to have short hair. You've only had all this for six months, remember, I've had it all my life. He's seemed to be easing off a bit recently and let us have it a bit longer and now all of a sudden, bang! You're getting a crew cut.'
‘Have the two of you ever had to do that before?'
‘No, never, this is the first time.'
‘Well,' I said, ‘We're all in the same boat this time at least so we'll be able to keep each other company! Maybe it won't be so bad, long hot summer, no messing about and all that. Shouldn't we be having this conversation the other way round anyway!?'
‘I suppose so,' said Jason gloomily. ‘Unless he makes us keep it. I guess you're right about the other stuff as well.'
‘I am right, you know I am,' I said. ‘You know I'm always right! We're going to have a bloody great holiday and when we get back you can think about all the other stuff.'
Jason managed a smile now and nodded. ‘Always right and modest as well, two of your very best qualities!' He paused. ‘Thanks for that, mate.'
‘Any time, my friend, any time.'
The last day at school came and went and George picked us all up afterwards. We arrived at Austin's in no time and sat down to wait as the shop was relatively busy. When it was our turn, the call went out of ‘Next in the chair, please.' It was swiftly followed by ‘Daniel,' so I went to sit in the barber's chair. All the usual preparations followed, towel, neck strip and cape until I was looking at myself in the mirror, all ready to receive the next lesson in my haircut education. We'd actually been allowed to go more time than usual without a haircut since we'd been around Easter – it was around three months instead of the usual two-ish. My hair was a couple of inches long or more with a reasonable fringe which was getting towards half way down my forehead. I was actually reasonably happy with how it looked, although as my hair was very fine, it did have a tendency to stick up quite a bit, which Jason and Carl didn't have to put up with. None of that would matter very soon anyway.
‘How would you like it cut?' Mr Austin asked George.
‘We're going for an all-off for the summer,' George replied cheerfully. ‘The usual two at the back and sides and three on top, I think. All of them are having the same.' I glanced in the mirror at Carl and Jason – Jason looked glum again, Carl was reading a magazine and didn't seem bothered.
‘No problem,' replied Mr Austin and reached for the clippers, adding a slightly longer attachment than the usual one before the clippers buzzed into life. Without further ado, Mr Austin turned the clippers upside down, stood in front of me and lifted my fringe in the middle with his comb before putting the clippers at the hairline and pushing them backwards. I could feel the top of my head tingle as the clippers chewed their way from forehead to crown, leaving a shaved strip of very short hair down the middle of my head. Another run from front to back followed, widening the strip, and then another and another until all of the long hair on the top of my head had been shaved, just leaving the longer hair at the sides, and I could get a good view of my new look as Mr Austin changed attachments. My immediate thought was ‘f***ing hell, I'm bald!' and when I look back now, I still think that the first shaved stripe of your first crew cut is the most unnerving haircut experience of all. I didn't have a lot of time to reflect on that there and then before I felt the hand on top of my head (really felt it on the top of my head this time) and heard ‘Head down, boy.' My chin was moving towards my chest and the clippers were coming up the back of my head, even higher than usual, if that were possible. This continued, pass after pass until the back was deemed short enough and Mr Austin moved around to the right side, shaved that as well and moved round to the left side to do that so that finally all my longer hair had been removed and the crew cut was fully in place. I was used to seeing my full forehead on show after my parted haircuts previously, but I was in no way used to the shortness of the hair on the top of the head. You couldn't even call them bristles like Eddie's brush cut, this was stubble that was barely long enough even to stick up at all – it was brutal, no-nonsense haircutting. And to my immense surprise, I quite liked it. I was expecting to hate it, but I couldn't deny the sharpness of it and the way it made me look completely different. A bit of blending before the outline was carved around the neck and over my ears and it was all over. The lather was round my neck and ears and then being scraped off with the razor and Mr Austin asked George if he was happy.
‘Perfect,' replied George, ‘Just what I was looking for.' I was released from the chair and stood up, all done. Even though I was used now to haircuts not taking long, this one had barely lasted over five minutes. I ran my hand backwards over the top of my head as Eddie had done after his brush cut and felt the short, prickly stubble left behind. It was another completely new experience, I'd already had so many in this place, but this was taking it to the extreme. I enjoyed how it felt and was still rubbing as I sat down on the waiting chairs.
‘Jason.' Mr Austin had already called out for the next and George obliged. Jason actually didn't move for a couple of seconds and I thought he might be about to say something, but he then let out a deep sigh before walking to the barber's chair and sitting down. Mr Austin caped Jason up as usual and didn't even have to ask this time before starting up the clippers. Jason shut his eyes, which I'd never seen him do before when he'd had his hair cut, and waited for the assault to begin.
As with my cut, the comb lifted Jason's fringe in the middle and the clippers plunged straight in at the front hairline and moved backwards. I sat and watched, as I had with Eddie, as the clippers worked backwards and this time it was Jason's dark hair that fell backwards to join the pile of my own hair on the floor. The front to back work continued until the top of Jason's head was all shaved to a number three like mine. His eyes were still shut tight as the clippers continued to move over the top of his head to get rid of any stray hairs before Mr Austin changed to the shorter attachment. ‘Head down, boy.' Mr Austin then used the clippers to strip away the hair from the back and sides of Jason's head as usual until the same uniform shortness of my own haircut was in place. After blending in the back and sides with the top and outlining the neck and ears, the clippers fell silent and Jason finally opened his eyes. To be honest, it was not that great a look for him for whatever reason and I could see he thought the same from the look on his face as soon as he saw it. After the lather and shave round the ears and neck, Jason was finished and came to sit next to me on the waiting chairs as Carl stood up to go and take his turn.
‘It looks fine, mate, honest, don't worry,' I tried to reassure him.
‘No it doesn't, it looks like s**t,' he muttered under his breath. I glanced around to see if George had noticed the swear word, but fortunately he hadn't, or if he had, he'd chosen to ignore it. By now, the long fair hair on the top of Carl's head had been shaved off and he'd just been ordered to put his head down so Mr Austin could clear the rest away, which he did in no time. As Carl's hair was fairer than mine and much fairer than Jason's, the cut looked the shortest on him out of all of us. It looked OK, if not his best look and Jason had definitely come out of it the worst, which was the last thing we needed, given how down he'd already been feeling about it. Carl finally stood up from the chair rubbing his buzzed head and came to join us. I looked at the clock and all three haircuts had taken less than 20 minutes between them.
We walked outside and Jason said ‘I'm glad I'm leaving the country, looking like this.'
I tried a conciliatory laugh, but Carl didn't help as he sniggered and said ‘Yeah, I'd be glad as well if I looked like you do.'
That made me angry, as I remembered all the times Jason had gone out of his way to cheer Carl up when he'd been upset about stuff or down or just unsure. ‘Shut up, Carl,' I shot back.
‘What's up with you? It's not my fault he's being such a girl – he's always telling us "It's only a haircut” or whatever!'
‘Just leave it Carl, will you?' I replied. ‘I know Jason's the only one allowed to bully you but I'm sure he'll make an exception for me just this once if you carry on.' I also shot him a warning look and fortunately that did the trick.
‘It's OK, Daniel . . . I'm OK,' said Jason. ‘If I have to keep it I don't know what I'll do, because I hate it, but I can live with it for a bit, I suppose. Oh, and feel free to give Carl a good hiding whenever you want, by the way!'
That was more like it. The real Jason was back with us again.
The crew cuts actually worked quite well as it turned out as it was ridiculously hot when we were away and we were in and out of the pool and the sea a lot and running round doing this and that so it did make life easier, as intended. After we'd been home for a bit, I remembered what Jason had said about George making us keep getting it cut like that and how worried he'd been. I wouldn't have minded that much for myself, as it seemed to work much better with the shape of my face and the type of hair I had, but I didn't want Carl and Jason (especially Jason) to have to keep it. I decided to have a word with George to see if I could persuade him to tell me what he had in mind. It took me a while to find the right opportunity, but I finally did. ‘George, can I talk to you about something?' I asked.
‘Course, what's up?'
I knew I'd need to tread carefully, so I hesitated. ‘Well, I wanted to ask . . . I mean, I was wondering . . . Do you think we'll be keeping the crew cuts or going back to normal?'
‘I haven't really made my mind up yet,' he replied. ‘Why do you ask?'
‘It's not me, honest, I'm not that bothered, but Jason and Carl don't like it that much and Jason . . .' I stopped, not knowing how much I should reveal.
‘So did they put you up to asking me?' he said. ‘And what about Jason?'
‘No, no,' I quickly replied ‘They don't know about me taking to you, but . . .' I don't know what came over me and carried on. ‘Do you mind if I ask you a question?'
‘Why do you make Jason and Carl have short hair?'
‘You know that. Because it looks smart. And it encourages them to take pride in themselves.'
‘I know. It's just that . . . do you not think they do that anyway, and they wouldn't even if they had longer hair? They'd never let you down or go off the rails, I can understand it with me because I get that you couldn't trust me in the same way as them after a few months.'
George's eyes bored into me. ‘And what's brought this on, all of a sudden?'
‘Well Jason was quite upset about having to get a crew cut and I just felt bad for him. You know how hard he works at everything, so I just thought it was a shame, but he just got on with it like he always does and didn't make a fuss because it was what you wanted, so if you'd be willing to let Jason and Carl go back as usual, even if you make me carry on, I'm sure they'd be really happy. And I'd be really happy.' I was conscious that I might have gone too far now. ‘Sorry,' I said ‘I'm not trying to be cheeky or anything, honest.'
‘It's OK,' said George. ‘There's no need to apologise. All we've done is have a polite, reasonable, grown-up conversation and I don't have any problem doing that with any of you. I'll give it some thought, Daniel, and we'll see.'
Nothing more was said until the week before we went back to school and George told us we were due another haircut, but didn't say anything else. I didn't want to push my luck and ask, so I was as in the dark as Carl and Jason were about George's plans. Jason was OK, but I could tell he was a bit nervous about what was going to happen. My hair grew a bit faster than his and Carl's tended to, so the top of mine was a bit longer, but it was still obvious that we all had crew cuts that had grown out a bit. When the time came, we sat and waited in the shop as usual until it was our turn and Mr Austin called out ‘Next in the chair please.' I thought it would be me again so was ready to stand up but George told Jason to go first. We glanced at each another as Jason walked to the barber's chair and then sat down to find out his fate. Mr Austin seemed to take an age to deal with everything at the till before caping Jason up and finally asking George ‘How would you like it cut?'
I don't know what I'd been expecting or hoping for, but George's answer was beyond either. ‘Just a trim and tidy up round the back and sides I think, number three. Leave the top to grow out, just blend it in.' He gave me a very quick sideways look and raised his eyebrows briefly before returning to the newspaper he was reading. I didn't get time to catch Jason's eye before he was told ‘Head down, boy,' and his head was pushed down, but I was really relieved for him. Mr Austin moved the clippers up and down the back of Jason's head with his usual efficiency, but with the longer attachment they left more behind than I was used to seeing – there wasn't actually that much coming off. The sides were clipped and then outlined with the clippers as usual before Mr Austin trimmed some of the longer hair left on top to blend it in with the shorter back and sides, not bothering with the spray bottle this time. He ruffled the hair on top a bit to make it look a bit better and in no time the neck shave was done and the cape was ready to come off. ‘Is that OK for you?' Mr Austin asked.
George looked up from his newspaper again and said ‘Yes, very nice thanks.' He took the cape off Jason, who stood up and walked back towards me. He flashed me a smile and I gave him a quick thumbs up before he sat down and started feeling the longer hair than he was used to at the back of his head. Carl was in the chair now and I wondered if he would get the same or if Jason was being given any special privilege because he was older. Mr Austin didn't even have to ask before George said ‘Same again please.' With that, it was ‘Head down, boy,' again and the clippers started to do their work as Carl received exactly the same haircut as Jason. As I sat and waited, I thought about what I'd be getting. I guessed it would be my usual short back and sides although I remembered what I'd said to George about me keeping the crew cut even if Jason and Carl didn't have to and wondered if he'd take me at my word. If I'm honest, I think there was even a small part of me that wanted to be made to get another crew cut, but all I could do was wait and see.
When Carl was finished, I didn't wait to be called, I got straight up and sat in the barber's chair to see what was going to happen. Mr Austin put the towel around my shoulders, stuck the neck strip on (I still felt like that was choking me, it was the same every time), and then covered me with the cape and secured it for the back. He asked George ‘And how would you like this one cut?'.
I waited a second to see what it would be before I heard ‘Oh, sorry, forgot to say. Same again please.' I thought I must have made a mistake and then I realised what George had said – I was being allowed longer hair as well. Before I could think any more, it was ‘Head down, boy' and the hand was on top of my head, manoeuvring my chin towards my chest. The clippers dug in and moved up the back of my head but it did feel slightly different and when the back was done and Mr Austin moved round to the sides, I could see a difference in what was left. The remaining hair I had on top was really beginning to stick up now, so I'd just have to wait until it got long enough to lie down, which I hoped might happen by our next haircut. I was relieved as Mr Austin finished up after blending everything in that what I'd said to George hadn't backfired and that he'd actually eased off a bit, but I was pleased for Jason more than I was for myself. The razor was scraping away on my neck and I was nearly done and after quick ruffle of the top, as he had done with Jason, Mr Austin released me from the chair and we left the shop.
When we got home, Jason and I were planning to go for a run together whilst Carl was meeting one of his friends, but George asked to see us for a minute before we went off to do whatever it was we were doing. ‘I just wanted to say, lads,' he began ‘that I hope you like your haircuts.' We weren't quite sure what to say, so I just nodded. George carried on, ‘and I wanted to tell you as well that as far as I'm concerned that's the last time I'll be taking any of you for a haircut.' That brought us quickly to attention and all three of us exchanged shocked looks. ‘It'll be up to you from now on,' George was saying. ‘As long as it's clean and it's looked after properly, you can do what you want. I expect you to keep up the same with your uniform as you always have, that's non-negotiable, but your hair's your own now.'
A few moments of silence followed, which was broken by Jason. ‘Really? Seriously? You're not joking?'
George laughed. ‘No, son, I'm not joking. Somebody said something to me recently and it made me think that you've always done everything I've asked you to do and you always work hard and give everything you've got to whatever you're doing, so I suppose I owe you a bit of leeway, it's part of growing up. Don't forget I can always change my mind if there are any problems with behaviour though. With any of you.' He cast a meaningful glance at all three of us.'
‘OK, we understand,' replied Jason, ‘don't we boys?' He looked at Carl and me and we both nodded. ‘Cheers, dad,' said Jason.
I caught up with George on my own a bit later. ‘Can I talk to you again please?' I asked.
‘What is it this time,' he replied ‘Am I going to be talked into something else while you're on a roll?!'
‘No. I just wanted to say thanks, you know, about the haircuts.'
‘Well sometimes you need someone else to point out what should be obvious and you were right.'
‘I've not even stuck to it for a year yet' I said. ‘Why are you treating me the same as you're treating them?'
‘I'm a big believer, Daniel, in treating all of you the same way if I can. You're right, I could have made you keep it up, or I could have made Carl keep it up because he's younger than you and Jason. But you all earned it in your different ways.'
‘Yeah, I know they have,' I said, ‘but what have I done?'
‘You sound like you're trying to talk me into changing my mind,' George laughed. ‘Are you?'
‘No, no, definitely not!' I stammered. ‘I just . . . don't understand.'
‘Look, do you remember that very first conversation we had, that night after you'd been caned and you were really upset?' I nodded. ‘Well I told you what I expected you to do and you did it and a lot of that can't have been easy. And I told you I wanted to get your confidence back to be the lad I'd got to know. The fact that you came to talk to me in the first place tells me you've got that confidence back. Also the fact that you were mainly concerned about Carl and Jason rather than yourself was really good. ‘You're getting there, Daniel. In fact, you're a very long way towards being a very impressive young man now. Remember that and keep going the way you are.'
‘Is that it then,' said George ‘or are there any more really important questions you need to ask me today?'
I smiled. ‘No, I'm fine now thanks.' I thought back to the conversation George had mentioned and I remembered that night, lying on the bed sobbing my heart out. I'd come a long way from then to now.