Head Down, Boy Pt 6 by stopfordianstationer
I started my last year in secondary school determined to keep going with what I'd started and tried to do what George said about looking to what I wanted to do. I talked to a couple of teachers and had a look in the library and became interested in engineering. Whether I'd ever be able to do anything about it was another matter at this point, but the more I found out, the more it appealed to me and the dream for the long term was to be able to get to University to study engineering. I had no idea at that point whether I'd be able to turn the dream into reality, but at least I had the dream. The subject of our hair was a topic of great discussion between us. Carl and Jason had both firmly made their minds up. Carl was going back to the short back and sides we'd had before the crew cut, as he said longer hair was a nuisance when he was swimming, and Jason was growing his. I couldn't quite make my mind up what surprised me more about this – the lad who'd almost cried when he got his first short back and sides volunteering to get a shorter haircut than the last one his dad had made him get; or Mr ‘there's no point bothering about it' who once had a go at me for poncing about with my long hair wanting long hair himself. As for me, I was genuinely torn. I should have been thrilled to be able to go back to long hair, but a part of me associated the short hair with what I thought of as the ‘new' me or Daniel as opposed to Danny and wanted to continue with that. I dealt with this by not making a decision and just leaving it. After all, if I just did nothing, I would end up with long hair anyway. My hair on top was starting to get long enough to lie down now, but lots of bits still stuck up and I knew getting back to where I was would be a long haul.
In the first half term holiday of the term at the end of October, Carl wanted to go to the barber to get his hair cut but wasn't keen to go on his own. Carl was almost 13 now and in many ways was quite confident for his age because of his intelligence and also because he had two older brothers that he needed to hold his own with, but he was still a bit unsure of himself in unfamiliar situations. Jason flat out refused to go as he didn't want to set foot in the place for the moment. What could I do? ‘I'll go with you, mate,' I said to Carl. I suspect partly my motive was to have an excuse to go to Austin's. I also roped in Eddie, who was enthusiastically maintaining his short cut and had been given the task of taking Robbie for haircuts from time to time. Toward the end of the holiday, the four of us all went off to Austin's, although Robbie was less than enthusiastic. He was thrilled to be getting to hang out with Eddie and his mates, but not thrilled that it involved another short haircut. Whenever Eddie told him to do something though, he did it straight away and seemed unusually well behaved.
There was no wait when we arrived, so Eddie said ‘Come on, Robbie, you can go first and get it over with.' Robbie trudged to the barber's chair and sat down, he was just about big enough not to need to sit on the plank across the arms. After the cape went on, it was Eddie who was in the responsible position of being asked ‘How would you like it cut?'
Robbie tried a bit of pleading, saying, ‘Just a bit longer Eddie, please.'
‘No. And remember what dad said.' Robbie shut up and Eddie said to Mr Austin ‘A short brush cut with a number one like mine please.'
The clippers fired up. ‘Head down, boy.' Mr Austin pushed Robbie's head down and began clipping off the growth from the back and sides. As the cut went on, Robbie was doing his best but was obviously uncomfortable and couldn't help wriggling a bit, which brought a rebuke of ‘Sit still, boy,' from Mr Austin.
‘Robbie, behave,' said Eddie.
Robbie now looked on the verge of being genuinely upset. ‘I will,' he said. ‘I'll sit still, I'll try really hard, Eddie, please!'
Eddie got up and stood in front of the barber's chair to talk to Robbie and calm him down. ‘Alright, Robbie, it's fine, it's alright. Good lad.'
When Eddie came back and sat down I turned to him and lowered my voice. ‘What's the matter with him?' I asked. ‘I know you said he doesn't want to get his hair cut but he looks in a right state.'
Eddie grinned briefly. ‘Dad's told him that whenever I bring him for a haircut, if there's one word from me about him acting up, then as well as getting his hair cut, he'll also be getting his bottom warmed, as dad puts it. He grinned again. ‘So he's completely at my mercy.'
I was a bit shocked at Eddie's attitude. ‘Come on, mate, do you not think you're enjoying that a bit too much?' I asked.
Eddie stopping grinning and stared back at me. ‘What do you take me for?' he asked. He seemed absent for a moment, as if remembering something from a long while ago. ‘I got whacked by dad plenty of times when I was little and it's something to be avoided, take it from me. I'd never ever say anything to put my kid brother through that, even if he did deserve it, I'm not that much of a bastard.' He looked at Robbie in the chair, where Mr Austin was almost finished with him and said ‘Well done, Robbie, you're doing really well. Nearly done now.' Eddie turned back to me and lowered his voice again. ‘He doesn't know I wouldn't though, so he has to behave! He'll be getting a bag of crisps and a bar of chocolate as well out of the change from the money dad's given me, so I think he does pretty well out of the deal.'
I chuckled under my breath. ‘So underneath it all, you're just a big softie!'
‘Course,' he replied, ‘you know how it is. And if anyone ever laid a finger on him, I'd f***ing kill them. But again, he doesn't know that. And he won't find out from you either, if you value your teeth!'
‘It's OK, your secret's safe with me.' Robbie was climbing down by now, relieved to be finished. ‘You're looking really sharp there, mate!' I said to him. Robbie ran his hand over his head and gave me a big smile.
‘Come and sit over here with Carl and Daniel while I get my hair cut,' Eddie told him as he went to sit in the barber's chair.
‘You did great there, Robbie,' I said to him. ‘I hope Carl will be as brave as that when he has his hair cut.'
Carl turned to me. ‘Fu . . .' he began, before remembering we were looking after a child. ‘Very funny, Daniel,' he contented himself with instead.
I sat and watched Eddie get his haircut again whilst chatting to Carl and Robbie, although it was much easier and less spectacular than the last time I'd seen it done when Eddie's long hair had been cut off. The brush cut was soon fully back in place and it was Carl's turn in the chair. The hair on top of his head had not been touched for three months or so, so it was getting quite long. After being caped, Mr Austin asked Carl for the first time ever how he'd like his hair cut. He was lost for words for a moment. ‘Err . . .' he began. ‘Would it be OK if I had a number two at the back and sides and quite short on the top, but not too short, you know like me and my brothers had before we got crew cuts?' he asked Mr Austin nervously.
‘Course it would, son,' Mr Austin replied. ‘If that's what you want, you're the boss!'
He turned on the clippers, added the attachment and began to cut Carl's hair. I noticed there was no ‘Head down, boy,' and he chatted happily to Carl, asking about school and George, as he remembered us all being there together before. This was in total contrast to him not saying a word to any of us in conversation when he'd cut our hair before. Carl was being given a good going over and the cape was covered in his hair, but Carl was taking it all in his stride – this was his choice now, it was what he wanted. Seeing him returned to our previous neat and tidy look, I was suddenly overtaken by a need to be in the chair myself. I'd not intended to do any more than keep Carl company as I was meaning to leave my hair to grow a bit, but I couldn't help thinking ‘Well, it wouldn't do any harm to get a trim while I'm here.'
When Carl was finished, Mr Austin said ‘Next in the chair, please,' as usual. I stood up and said ‘You don't mind waiting a bit longer do you, boys?' Carl and Eddie muttered fine, whatever, so I went to sit in the barber's chair and was caped up before being asked how I wanted it cut. I was conflicted, as I mainly wanted a cut, but also partly didn't. I compromised - ‘Number three at the back and sides please like last time,' I said. ‘And can you tidy the top up a bit so it doesn't stick up so much?'
‘Sorry, son,' Mr Austin replied. ‘It's just the way your hair is, it will stick up until it grows a bit more. I can shape it all up so it will look a bit better though. I take it you don't want too much off?'
It was make your mind up time. Was I growing it or was I going properly short again? ‘No,' I replied. ‘Not too much off.' Mr Austin began trimming the back and sides with the clippers. Again there was no ‘Head down, boy,' and as I sat there, I suddenly realised that it wasn't a matter of age, it was a matter of choice. If you were there of your own accord, you were treated exactly the same way as Mr Austin treated adult customers. I also had my first proper conversation with Mr Austin, as Carl had at one point he asked if I was growing my hair now, like my other brother (Carl had already told him about Jason). ‘I suppose I am, yes,' I replied.
‘Shame,' he replied. ‘I remember you with all that long hair and I think you look much better with it short, but I suppose long hair's what most youngsters want now. I certainly don't get many your age in here.' I couldn't help wonder if he was right. He certainly did a good job now anyway, and I looked better after the cut than I did before it.
As it turned out, it wasn't just Carl who wanted some moral support on a trip to get a haircut. Jason had not had his hair cut at all since just before we'd gone back to school in September and the top hadn't been touched since his crew cut in the summer. As we were getting towards Christmas, it was getting in his eyes and his ears were partially covered. As it was just a grown out short cut though, there was no great style to it and it looked a bit of a mess. Jason sidled up to me looking embarrassed and asked if I'd mind going to the hairdressers with him to get it trimmed as I would know what to expect. I don't know what strange things he was expecting to happen, but I agreed. I knew the reason for the interest in his appearance as we were going to a Christmas party later in the week and Louise, the girl our age who lived a few doors down and who Jason was keen on was going to be there. Louise's younger brother was in Carl's class at school and Carl and I knew from him that Louise was keen on Jason as well, but neither of them had got round to doing anything about it yet. Carl and I did love to tease Jason about it and I said to him at one point, ‘Honestly, Jason, first long hair and now girls. I'm not sure I approve!'
I'd suggested to Jason that he made an appointment at the hairdressers to cut down on waiting time, so he did and we went one night after school. From the minute we arrived, Jason was nervous, watching what was going on. We had to wait for about five minutes and he asked what was going to happen. ‘Well first you'll have your hair washed . . .' I replied.
‘Washed?!' said Jason as though I'd just suggested something terrible.
‘Yes, washed. Calm down, Jason, they're not going to bite you. Then you tell them how you want it cut and they cut it, just like the barber's really but more messing about. Easy.'
‘And what do I tell them about how I want it cut?'
‘I don't know! Whatever you want, it depends what you're aiming for. Just tell her you're growing it and you want it tidied up a bit so it looks better. She'll make suggestions so that will help.'
‘Yes, Jason, they're all women in case you hadn't noticed.' I wasn't used to seeing Jason like this and I found it quite funny. Since being back at school, Jason had been considering what he might want to do after his dad's talk with him and was now looking into what options he could have for a career in the military. ‘Honestly, mate, you'll be bugger all use in a war zone if you can't even cope with a woman cutting your hair!' I said. ‘No funny business under that cape either, I'll be watching.'
Jason went scarlet in the face. F*** off, smartarse!' he said and I couldn't help but laugh. One of the hairdressers then came over and took him off to wash his hair. He looked terrified. Fortunately, the girl was obviously used to putting nervous teenagers at ease and Jason visibly relaxed as she chatted away to him. She took a long time to talk to Jason to make sure she knew what he was after and then trimmed and shaped his hair, leaving the hard-won long hair but adding a bit of style to it. Jason did look really good afterwards and he was very happy with how he looked as we walked home together. ‘That wasn't so bad now was it?' I said
‘No, you're right,' Jason replied. ‘It was just a bit new, and different, that's all.'
I couldn't resist a bit more teasing, ‘So do you think Louise will be impressed with your fancy haircut then?'
‘Piss off.' He paused. ‘I don't think I'd know what to do if she was impressed anyway.'
I stopped walking and put my hand on Jason's shoulder. He also stopped and turned round to look at me. ‘You properly like her don't you?' I asked. Jason blushed and then nodded. ‘What does your dad always say?' I said to him. ‘Just be yourself, mate, and I don't think you'll be disappointed. Yourself's got a lot going for it.' I don't know if it was the haircut or my wise advice (I'd like to think it was the advice!), but by the end of the party a few days later, Louise and Jason were chatting away animatedly and not long afterwards they were seen holding hands. It seemed that Jason officially had a girlfriend. Top man.
The last main event of my school years that really shaped me came in the middle of the following February, the week before my sixteenth birthday. Although Carl and Jason were both moving on with their new (or old, in Carl's case) hairstyles, I still wasn't sure what to do. I hadn't done anything with it since my last trim at Austin's and it was going over the top of my ears and getting down towards my eyebrows by Christmas. It wasn't sticking up as much but I could never get it to look quite how I wanted somehow. By February, it was more than half way over my ears and I had to keep brushing it to the side else it would go right down over my eyes. It was getting to be a mess and it was annoying me, but I'd been busy with mock exams, other things at school and sports so hadn't got it cut. My idea was to get it trimmed again at some point. Carl was now going with Eddie to get his haircut, so I'd had no reason to go back to Austin's. My mock results had been really good so I was in good spirits about that and had been told that if I repeated those marks in my O-Levels in summer, I would be able to go on to do the A-Levels I wanted and if I continued to progress in sixth form then engineering at University could be a possibility. I was also looking forward to my birthday and there was excitement in our school football teams as a few of them were going to play one of our occasional matches against the equivalent teams from Moorgrove, the nearest private school to us, which always got our competitive juices flowing. The games were on a Saturday morning and the day before, all members of the various teams were called to see Mr Phillips to be told in no uncertain terms that we were all to be on our very best behaviour and that anyone misbehaving in any way at all at Moorgrove would be in unimaginably big trouble. We'd also have to have a uniform inspection before we set off and only the letter of the law would be acceptable, although that was no problem for me as it was what I was used to anyway.
I had to go to school first as all the teams were going together on a hired coach. George dropped me off before going back home to pick up Carl and Jason, they were all going away for the weekend to stay with the boys' grandparents on their mother's side. That meant there would be nobody there to watch me, even though somebody normally would when I played for the school team. I was a bit disappointed, but understood why – they usually went away to stay with the grandparents two or three times a year and the date clash was just one of those things. Football really wasn't mum's thing and she was doing a Saturday shift at the cinema anyway. On the way to school, George mentioned my hair and said that he wasn't very happy with it. ‘I don't want to make a big thing of it, Daniel, but you look a mess at the moment so you might like to do something about it before I decide I have to,' he warned me.
‘Yes I know, you're right' I replied. ‘I've just been so busy lately, I'm sorry. I'll get it tidied up soon, I promise.'
‘That's fine,' said George. ‘I appreciate you've got a lot on. Just don't leave it too much longer, eh?' We'd arrived at school now and he continued. ‘All the best today anyway, I know you'll play well as usual. We won't be back until late tomorrow night so I probably won't see you until Monday, you can tell me about how brilliant you were then!'
I smiled. ‘Cheers,' I said, ‘See you.' I then went into school and passed my inspection before joining my team mates on the coach.
The match was close and competitive and it was 2-2 with about ten minutes left. Since there were a number of matches happening at the same time on different pitches, some were refereed by our teachers and some by Moorgrove's. The First Team game, that I was playing in, was being refereed by one of theirs. He wasn't doing us any favours and some tempers were becoming a bit frayed. The ball was not far away from me and one of their players was running towards it from one direction and our captain, Joe Sherman was running towards it from the other direction. Joe was universally known as ‘Tank', not just because of his surname but because he was also a big lad and gave the sense that he'd run through a brick wall for his team mates if necessary. He was our leader in every way – there was no such thing as Head Boy at our school, but the captain of the First Team at football was the closest equivalent. Both of them arrived at the same time and there was an almighty collision with both ending up in a heap on the floor. Each of them got up quickly but Tank was wincing a bit. The ref came over and said to Tank ‘That was a serious foul by you. I'm sending you off. What's your name?'
‘What!?' asked Tank ‘It was 50:50!' He was right, but there was no point arguing, so I went to calm him down.
‘Come on, mate, it's no use,' I said. ‘Just let it go.' Tank was had all his weight on his left foot. He tried to stand on his right again, but winced again and I could see he was in a bit of pain. ‘Are you OK, Tank?' I asked. ‘Sit down if you don't feel right.'
‘Yeah, I'm . . .' he began, but tried to stand properly again and grimaced. I grabbed hold of his arm and helped him lower himself to sit down on the pitch.
This enraged the ref. ‘You can't stage a sit down protest. You will leave the pitch now.'
I looked at the ref. ‘What an idiot,' I thought, but I knew I had to try to be polite. ‘I'm sorry, sir, but I really think he's hurt.'
‘There's nothing wrong with him, boy. How dare you question my decision and my authority?!'
‘I'm not, sir, but I think he's in pain, really,' I said.
‘That's enough,' replied the ref. He looked down at Tank again. If you don't get up, I will send both of you off. Get up now.' Tank tried to get up because he didn't want any more trouble, but I could see he couldn't.'
‘No, don't get up,' I said. ‘You're hurt.'
That was it. ‘I said that's enough! What's your name?' he said to me.
‘Watson, sir. Daniel Watson.'
Well, Watson, you're off. Get off my pitch. Your headmaster will be hearing about your dreadful behaviour. You may get away with that kind of behaviour at your school, but you won't here.'
I wanted to snap something back at him but I bit my tongue. ‘I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to question you.' I said. Tank had managed to get half way up so I took hold of his arm again. ‘Come on, mate, I'll help you off, I said.' He put his arm around my shoulder and I took as much of the weight off his right side as I could.
‘Wait at the side of the pitch and I'll deal with you both shortly,' said the ref.
‘I'm sorry, sir,' I said again, ‘but I really think he needs to go back to the changing rooms now.'
I though his eyes were going to pop out of his head. ‘You're questioning me again?!! Fine, get out of my sight! Your headmaster can deal with both of you.'
We limped off to the changing rooms together. ‘What a bastard,' Tank said to me. ‘Thanks for standing up for me, Wats. I hope you don't get in too much trouble.'
‘Don't worry about it, Tank, it's OK,' I replied, but already I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking about how Mr Phillips had read the riot act to us all yesterday. I was already on a last warning, for all I'd got my head down and done well since. What the f*** had I just done?
What happened was the talk of the changing rooms afterwards and our games teacher, Mr McKenzie, wanted our side of the story from Tank and me. We told him what had happened and he was furious. ‘You heard what Mr Phillips said yesterday! You were both representing this school and yet you were both sent off and, I'm told argued about it.' He seemed to make a conscious effort to calm down before carrying on. ‘I'm going to talk to the referee of your game and the people who were watching and I'll see both of you at 8.30 on Monday morning in my office. Mr Phillips will not be impressed.' I felt like I wanted to burst into tears but I couldn't, not in front of everybody. I could see my dreams going up in smoke after I'd got so far. If I got chucked out now, I didn't know if I'd be able to do my exams and what would happen after that. University would be out of the window for sure. And all because I couldn't do as I was told and keep my stupid mouth shut, again. I don't think I said a word on the journey back to school. Mr McKenzie wasn't with us by now as he'd stayed behind to see what had gone on. Tank seemed to have improved a bit, but was still having some trouble with his right foot.
I got back home to a cold and empty house, which didn't cheer me up any. I would normally have got changed and put the TV on, but I just sat down on the couch and put my head in my hands. I knew that I might be expelled from school in a couple of days and the thoughts went over and over in my head. What would I do? Mum would be devastated, I'd let George down, been a terrible example to my brothers and all after I'd done so much to sort myself out. In the short term, I'd be having a miserable birthday next week as well. It hurt even more that I'd got so close. Eventually I got up and made myself a sandwich and then went to my bedroom to get changed. I took my blazer and tie off and as I went to hang them up, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the back of the wardrobe door. My long hair was all over the place, various bits sticking out and it looked terrible. I remembered what George had said that morning (God, that seemed like days ago now) about me looking a mess and I actually said out loud, ‘Look at yourself, you're a f***ing disgrace.' At that moment, I knew that the long hair had to come off now. All of it. The way I was feeling, I had a vague notion of "punishing” myself by having my hair shaved off, but deep down I also knew that I'd never looked better than I did with a crew cut. If I was going to have to beg on Monday morning, I was going in there looking my best and I knew what needed to be done. I looked at my watch – 2.30. I knew Austin's closed at 3 o'clock on Saturdays so I didn't have a lot of time. Instead of getting changed, still wearing my school shirt and trousers, I chucked a jacket on, put my shoes on and ran out of the house.
I got there with five minutes to spare. Mr Austin was working on a customer and there was another man waiting so I sat down. When Mr Austin saw me come in, he walked over to door and turned the sign round to say closed before closing the window blind. I'd just made it, last customer of the day. As I sat waiting, the events of the morning kept going round and round in my head and I was lost in thought. Eventually I became aware of Mr Austin standing in front of me clicking his fingers. I looked up at him. ‘You are awake then lad!' he said. ‘I've been trying to attract your attention for the last minute.' The other two had now gone and we were alone in the shop.
‘Sorry, I was miles away,' I said.
Mr Austin looked at me again. ‘You're one of George Ellis's boys aren't you,' he asked.
‘Yes, sir,' I replied automatically. ‘I'm Daniel.'
He chuckled. ‘It's OK, son, I'm not your headmaster. You don't have to call me sir!'
I wanted to smile, but the mention of my headmaster reminded me of my situation again. ‘Sorry,' I almost whispered.
‘That's OK. If you don't mind me saying so, Daniel, you look like you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders.' I nodded. My eyes were beginning to tear up but I managed to blink them back. ‘Anything you want to talk about, son?'
Suddenly, I realised did want to talk about it and hadn't had the chance as nobody had been around, so I told him the whole lot. My original trouble, my deal with George, what I'd done since and what had happened that morning. Mr Austin took it all in and said. ‘That's all quite a story. For what it's worth it doesn't sound like you've done anything wrong to me.'
I smiled ruefully. ‘I doubt Mr Phillips will see it like that,' I said. ‘I reckon the best I can hope for this time is to get caned and it will probably be worse than that.'
‘You never know, son, you never know. George talks about you boys a lot when he comes in and how you're doing great. I think you've done yourself proud, standing up for yourself and your mate like that.'
‘I doubt that as well, but thanks. It's probably Jason and Carl he means anyway, not me.'
‘Well you're definitely wrong there,' replied Mr Austin. ‘It's always "all” when he talks about the boys, not "both”. You'd be surprised what I know about you lot! You're the oldest aren't you, the engineer?' he carried on, by way of example.
‘That's what I was hoping to do, yes.'
‘And you still might. It'll be OK.'
‘Well, we'll see,' I replied. ‘Anyway, I'm sorry to keep you for so long. Am I still OK to get a haircut?'
‘Course, I'm in no hurry. What is it, trim to make you look smarter for the headmaster?'
‘No, I want it all shaved off, a really short crew cut. Shorter than the one I had before.'
‘Oh, just a minute,' Mr Austin replied. ‘Don't make a bad decision because you're upset, son, I don't want you regretting it tomorrow.
‘I won't. It's what I want, definitely. You said yourself the last time I came ages ago that I look better with short hair and you're right. I thought that myself and I half hoped George might make me keep the crew cut but he didn't and for some reason I didn't do it myself, but I am doing now.' I could hardly wait to get in the chair by this time.
Mr Austin must have read my mind. ‘Come on then, you'd best take a seat,' he said.
I strode to the barber's chair and sat down. Mr Austin put the towel around my shoulders and then tightened and stuck the neck strip on before putting the cape on and securing it at the back and turning the neck strip over the top. It was nice to be back in the chair and all ready for another short haircut. The shortest of my life, in fact. ‘So how short did you want it then?' asked Mr Austin.
I remembered the last time had been two at the back and sides and three on top and was clear in my mind that I wanted to go even shorter. ‘Number one back and sides and two on the top please,' I replied.
Mr Austin turned to the counter, picked up the clippers and put the number two attachment on. This had been the normal beginning of so many of my haircuts, but the two was normally for the back and sides, not the top. He turned on the clippers and came back towards me before offering me one last chance to change my mind. ‘This is going to be really, really short, Daniel. Are you absolutely sure?'
I turned my head slightly and looked him straight in the eye. ‘Yes, sir, I'm sure,' I said.
Mr Austin nodded. ‘OK,' was all he said. He didn't both with the comb this time, he simply grabbed my fringe in the middle and pulled it straight up so he could see the hairline and he moved the clippers there. There might have been a very slight pause, but then they were going slowly backwards through the hair on the top of my head, leaving only the slightest hint of closely cropped hair in their wake. The contrast between the first stripe and the rest of my thick hair was striking. Another pass of the clippers from back to front and then another. The crew cut was taking shape. All the time, great clumps of my hair were falling down as I watched in the mirror. When there was nothing left on the top, Mr Austin moved round to my right side and started taking the hair off there. Up and up to meet the top and over onto the top. And again. The cape was getting covered and I was taken back to my first time in the chair when I'd been so apprehensive about losing my long hair. This was a completely different feeling. My head had been manoeuvred down by now to allow Mr Austin access to the hair at the back, which was also being removed as the clippers moved up. Mr Austin worked his way methodically up my head all the way round the back before moving around to the left side to remove the last of my long hair. The clippers made short work of that and he made a few more passes over the top and around the sides before he stopped briefly and turned back towards the counter to change attachments. It was time for the number one now, which I'd only ever seen used on Eddie and Robbie before. I thought Mr Austin might stop and ask me again if I was sure, but he was obviously convinced of my resolve by now, as he simply put my head down and began to run the clippers up the back of my head, almost to the top and repeated that process several times. I couldn't really see anything at this point and couldn't until he came round to my right side and ran the clippers up and then again. I'd wondered if there would be that much difference between the two and the one and if I'd really be able to tell. I immediately saw that there was a big difference, as the number one left behind hardly anything at all and was much shorter than the number two I had been used to before. I was mesmerised as what little was left already was efficiently reduced to almost nothing around both sides. Instead of the pang of fear the last time I'd had all my hair shaved, I couldn't have been happier now. It looked good and I knew it. As I watched Mr Austin do the little bit of blending necessary between the short top and even shorter back and sides, I knew that this was exactly how I wanted to look. This was me. This was Daniel. I remembered how excited Eddie had been when he'd had his first short haircut and now I understood the feeling. The only problem was that although I could look, I really wanted to touch but couldn't as Mr Austin was still clipping away. All that was left was the outline around my ears and neck with everything squared off at the top of my ears. Then the lather and razor, which seemed to go a bit higher than usual this time. Even the scraping of the razor blade didn't feel so bad today. In less than ten minutes, it was all done and I was shorn. Mr Austin loosened the cape at the back, took off the towel to wipe away the rest of the lather from my neck and ears and then removed the neck strip. ‘Ready to see the back then, son?' he asked.
‘Yes please,' I replied. He put the hand mirror up behind and I could see that I'd been scalped. Only the merest shadow of hair remained. Coupled with the extremely short top, in contrast to the mess of earlier, I was now neat and tidy and looked like I meant business and I loved it straight away. ‘Thanks,' I said. ‘That's exactly what I wanted.'
‘Well,' replied Mr Austin, ‘You're very brave to go that short but I do think it looks good on you.' He took the cape off me, shaking my severed locks onto the floor and I stood up and was finally able to run my hand over my head. The sandpaper feel of the stubble was electrifying. I kept rubbing as I walked to the till and paid. ‘Thanks a lot for what you said,' I said to Mr Austin. ‘I hope you're right.'
‘No problem, son, and all the best on Monday,' he replied. ‘Let me know how you get on. I get the feeling I'll be seeing you again soon, somehow.'
I continued to rub my head when I got home as I couldn't get over how it felt. When my mum came home and saw me, she was shocked as I'd given no indication that I was going to get a trim, let alone a cut like this. ‘Gosh, love, what's happened to your hair?!' she asked.
I couldn't face going into the full story with her until I knew for certain what was going to happen, so I just said ‘I got it cut, that's all. I fancied a big change.' For all I was really happy with the new look, the euphoria of the haircut soon wore off and all the thoughts about what had happened at the match and what might happen on Monday started turning over in my head again. I didn't sleep very well on Saturday night and couldn't concentrate on anything properly on Sunday, whether I was trying to do school work or even just watching TV. I knew George and the lads wouldn't be back until late, but I really didn't want to see them so I spent most of the night in my bedroom in case they were back earlier than expected. I had a shower, checked everything was right with my uniform and even had a shave, although it was scarcely necessary, as I didn't want to leave anything at all to chance with how I looked. I read for a bit in bed and then turned off the light although I think I spent most of the night tossing and turning. By the time I woke up at seven on Monday morning, I felt like I'd hardly slept at all.
I got up and thought I might as well get ready and go straight out. I would be far too early if I went straight there, but I thought I could always kill time if I had to and it would be better if I had time to spare rather than being on the last minute. I got dressed and put my shoes on and looked at myself in the mirror. ‘Well,' I thought, ‘if this is going to be your last day, at least you look the part.' I didn't fancy breakfast so I went down and went straight out. I could hear everyone else starting to move about in their rooms, but nobody was actually up and about yet, so I managed to avoid everybody. Nobody knew a thing – George, Jason and Carl didn't even know about my haircut yet, so they were all in for a big surprise one way or the other, whatever happened. I was still turning everything over in my mind and expecting the worst. I did think about what Mr Austin had said to me but couldn't let myself believe that he might be right. My only comfort was that at least I would not be on my own this time and Tank and I would be able to back one another up. I arrived at Mr McKenzie's office ten minutes early and found a note stuck to the door with my name on it. That simply told me to go straight to Mr Phillips's office and knock on the door. ‘Oh s**t,' I thought, ‘that's not promising.' I did as the note said, walked straight to the office and knocked. Mr McKenzie opened the door a few seconds later and told me to go in. He came in behind me and closed the door. The first thing I saw was the cane on Mr Phillips's desk and my heart sank. This was going to be bad. I was also conscious that I was on my own and Tank was not there. Mr Phillips' then addressed me. ‘You will have noticed that Sherman is not here. I will be dealing with him separately.' Oh great, I thought. Can this get any worse?
I was expecting Mr Phillips to be furious and shouting, but he wasn't, he was much more cold and controlled, which almost made it worse. ‘Do you remember, Watson, when I suspended you and again when you came back to school after your suspension, what I said would be the result of any further serious bad behaviour on your part?'
‘So what did I say?'
‘You said I'd be expelled.'
‘Well, at least there's nothing wrong with your memory then.' Mr Phillips continued. ‘Do you also remember what I said to everyone I spoke to less than three days ago about how I'd regard any bad behaviour at Moorgrove?'
‘I take it then from your excellent memory, Watson, that you also remember being caned. How do you look back on that?'
‘It was one of the worst experiences of my life, sir.'
‘And yet in spite of all of that, you're back here in front of me again.' Mr Phillips was building up a head of steam now. ‘Mr McKenzie has filled me in on what he's heard from the people who saw what happened – some of your team mates, a couple of parents from both schools who were watching, Sherman of course, and the teacher who refereed your game. I've also spoken to the headmaster at Moorgrove myself first thing this morning. Given how serious you must appreciate this is, I think it's only fair that I hear from you.' The anger was rising in his voice. ‘So talk. NOW,' he shouted and whipped the cane down on the top of the desk for emphasis.
I jumped. There was no point lying, so I went through everything that had happened and how I saw it and what I'd been trying to do and how I hadn't meant to question the ref's authority and it was a misunderstanding and I'd been worried about my team mate and trying to look after him and that I was sorry and that I would apologise to the ref and the headmaster at Moorgrove as well if necessary. My knees were beginning to shake a bit, but I at least managed to stand and get my words out reasonably well. Mr Phillips looked at me coldly all the time I was speaking. When I'd finished, he said ‘So that is your version of what happened on Saturday then. Since you remember so well what I said to you when you were suspended, is there anything else you'd like to say to try to persuade me why I shouldn't pick up the phone to your mother here and now and tell her I'm expelling you?'
I remembered what George had said to me about apologising when I came back to school after being suspended: "Stand up straight, put your shoulders back, hold your head up, look him in the eye,” so that's exactly what I did. ‘I know this is bad, sir, and I'm really, really sorry, honestly. I've tried really hard in the last year and done my best at everything and everyone has said I've improved and my mock results were good . . .' I gabbled. ‘Slow down,' I said to myself. I paused and took a deep breath before carrying on. ‘I've been thinking about University and wondering if I might actually be able to make it if I keep going. That might be rubbish, I don't know, but if I'm expelled it will all be finished anyway. If you let me stay, sir, I'll work so hard and try so hard at everything, honest. Please give me one more chance. Please, sir.' I couldn't think of anything to say so I stopped.
‘Is that it?' was Mr Phillip's only response to my heartfelt plea. I nodded. I hoped he wasn't going to string this out too long. Mr Phillips picked up the cane and pointed to the chair that I'd bent over to be caned. ‘Go and stand next to that chair.' I did as I was told. ‘Now . . .' said Mr Phillips and paused slightly. I waited for him to tell me to bend over the chair. ‘Sit down, Daniel.'
My brain didn't register what he'd said. That can't be right, I must have misheard. In my confusion I shot out ‘What?' before thinking ‘S**t, I can't talk to him like that,' and I stammered ‘W-w, sorry, I mean sorry, sir?'
‘I said sit down, Daniel.' Was he actually smiling at me? I sat down in a state of utter bemusement. Apart from anything else, he'd never once called me anything other than ‘Watson' before. ‘The first thing I need to do,' Mr Phillips continued, ‘is to apologise for my little performance just now. I'm sorry I put you through that, I'll tell you why I did it shortly. And I also want you to know that you are in no trouble at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. But before I go any further, Mr McKenzie has something he'd like to say to you.
I'd almost forgotten that Mr McKenzie was there. I was all over the place trying to take everything in. Relief was washing over me but it was mingled with confusion and also a bit of anger. ‘I owe you an apology as well,' said Mr McKenzie. I shouldn't have shouted at you and Joe Sherman like that on Saturday. I should have waited until I'd spoken to everybody involved and had a clearer picture and I should have been more prepared to listen to you both, knowing you as I do. I'm sorry about that.'
‘It's OK,' I replied.
It was Mr Phillips who carried on. ‘Joseph Sherman has broken a bone in his foot, that's why he's not here. I've spoken to him and to his parents and I understand that the doctor at the hospital said your actions helped to make sure that his foot didn't end up in a worse state than it did. They all asked me to thank you for that. Mr McKenzie has heard from Joseph and from your other team mates and from the spectators who heard what happened how you were faced with an awful situation and handled it exceptionally well. Everyone says you remained calm and polite and tried to do the right thing in the face of some unfortunate behaviour by someone who should have known better. The only person who took a different view was the referee, but you don't need to worry about him. That's why I spoke to the headmaster at Moorgrove. I believe there have been one or two incidents before, and I don't think he'll be refereeing any more football matches for a while at the very least.'
I was almost weak with relief now. I also remembered I hadn't had any breakfast and was starving. As the tension and adrenaline were going out of me I was starting to feel very tired as well since I'd barely slept the last couple of nights, but Mr Phillips was still talking so I tried my best to listen.
‘The reason I was so horrible to you this morning was I wanted to see if you could deal with me in the same way under similarly extreme pressure. I must say you didn't disappoint me, Daniel. You should be very proud of yourself for how you handled the last couple of days. It would have taxed someone twice your age but you could not have represented yourself or the school any better. And I will be picking the phone up to your mother to tell her just that.'
I thought I'd better say something. ‘Thank you, sir.' I still didn't feel particularly grateful for what he'd done but at least he'd apologised, I suppose.
‘And what you said about University, take it from me, it is definitely not rubbish. If you carry on as you are, you're more than capable of that. You know, Daniel, I give second chances to a lot of people and third and fourth chances as well in some cases, but not many take advantage of them like you have. I was very, very close to kicking you out that day, but I'm glad I didn't.'
I didn't say anything. Couldn't say anything, I think I was gobsmacked at being spoken to like this by Mr Phillips of all people. He'd paused and I assumed he'd finished, so I was just about to ask if I could go when he started speaking again. ‘There's one more thing I need to deal with before you go.' Oh God, I thought, what now? ‘Since Sherman is out of action, we need a new First Team football captain. From what I've said this morning, you are the obvious candidate and Mr McKenzie tells me that's the case based on your performances on the pitch as well. The job's yours . . .' he continued ‘If you want it of course.'
I didn't know what to say as it was, but I now added surprise and happiness to the mix of all the other emotions swirling around. ‘Me?' was all I could say. ‘Really?'
‘That's fantastic,' I replied. ‘I mean, yes, I'd love to do it. Thank you.'
‘That's settled then' said Mr Phillips. ‘I know you'll do an excellent job. I see you have a new haircut as well so you should be able to get around the pitch even better now that you're so streamlined!'
I had to take a few minutes to pull myself together after everything had gone on. I'd gone from thinking I might be expelled to being made First Team football captain in a few minutes and was almost overwhelmed. Happiness and pride began to swell inside me and soon I felt ready to take on the world. The ‘skinhead' jibes that came my way were water off a duck's back. My reply to anyone who commented was ‘Yes, I've had all my hair cut off and it looks great.' I didn't see Carl and Jason to speak to until lunchtime but Jason did see me at a distance during the morning and did a double take. He mimed clippers running across the top of his head and mouthed ‘what the f***?!' at me.
When I finally got chance to speak to them properly, they were quick to take the mickey. Carl asked me ‘Who are you? You look a lot like our Daniel, but he's got hair.'
‘And I thought I was the one who was thinking about joining up,' Jason chipped in.
‘That's very good, boys,' I replied. ‘But this is how I like it and this is how it's staying now. It's a long story anyway. It's been a hell of a weekend.' I went over it all and fielded their questions and as we talked, I realised the whole thing had been made much worse by them not being around so I could tell them all about it. I'd never have lived that down though, so I just told them ‘it was a s**t couple of days, I was in a bit of a state. I was nearly going to say I missed the pair of you, but nothing could ever be bad enough to make me do that!'
‘Well if we had been around we could have talked you out of getting that haircut at least,' Jason replied, quick as a flash.
‘Never!' I said. ‘You need to get to the barber's with that disgusting mop, lad.'
‘As if!' laughed Jason. You'll not be catching me there for a good while, I'm keeping this for as long as I can!'
By the time I got home I was absolutely exhausted. The lack of sleep was catching up with me and I'd had a full day of school followed by football training when the rest of the team were told that I was the new captain. It seemed to go down pretty well overall, which was a bonus. George was waiting for me. As it turned out, he'd taken the phone call from Mr Phillips and he'd obviously also been talking to Carl and Jason. ‘Well, Daniel,' he said ‘that's one heck of a tidy up, I must say. When I said your hair was a mess, I didn't mean you needed to go that far!'
‘No, I know,' I replied. ‘But this is how I want it. I think I've wanted it like this since I first got a crew cut last summer, but I realised for certain on Saturday so I went and got it done.'
‘Fair enough. You won't find me arguing. In fact, I think it looks so good that I'll be taking Jason and Carl to get the same tomorrow. Jason wasn't very pleased when I told them, but I've put up with his long hair for long enough now, I think.'
I remembered how Jason had looked and felt when he had his hair shaved off and knew he'd be heartbroken and it was all my fault. A look of horror began to spread across my face. I was about to beg George to change his mind when I looked at him. He was trying very hard not to laugh. ‘It's OK, Daniel, I'm just kidding!' he said, laughing away by now.
I put my head in my hands and breathed a huge sigh of relief. ‘Thanks for that George. Do you not think I've been kidded enough for one day?!' I asked.
‘Sorry, couldn't resist. I believe you've had a bit of a hard time since Saturday. And I also believe you handled everything absolutely brilliantly.'
I flumped down onto the couch. ‘That's not how it felt at the time. I thought I'd messed everything up, let everyone down, I thought mum would be so upset, that's why I didn't say anything to her . . .' I'd been holding it together all day but suddenly all the ups and downs of the past couple of days caught up with me as I remembered how I felt and I could feel the tears rising. I took a couple of deep, gulping breaths and managed to choke them down again.
‘Whoa, it's OK.' George was next to me on the couch now with his hand on my shoulder. ‘There's no need to get upset, it's all fine, it's done now.'
I composed myself. ‘I know, I know. It's all just been a bit mad, that's all,' I replied. ‘I'll be OK in a minute.'
‘You know you should have more faith in yourself, you shouldn't always assume you're in the wrong and that adults will side with other adults. I know it's not easy, but if it's obvious you're trying to do the right thing, people will support you. Look on the bright side, now you've got through that, your exams should be a doddle, nothing to worry about at all!
I managed a tired smile and yawned. ‘You're right I suppose,' I said. ‘Anyway, I'd best get on with my homework before I fall asleep.'
‘How much have you got that needs to be done for tomorrow?' asked George.
‘Nothing for tomorrow,' I said ‘just a few bits for later in the week.'
‘Well in that case I think you should leave it just this once. I reckon you deserve a night off, young man,' he said. ‘I wish I'd been there and seen what went on. 'You'd never have had all that worry then. We'll all be there for your first game as captain though. I'll even get your mum to turn out!'
They all did turn out when I first captained the team and George had his camera with him to record the occasion. Mr McKenzie took a photo of all of us together, mum and George, Jason, Carl and me and that became one of my favourite photos. I had it in a frame in my room and took it with me when I went away to University to remind me of my family and one of my happiest days. We won the game as well, but it was about so much more than that for me.