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Head Down, Boy Pt 7 by stopfordianstationer
I kept the skinhead, as everyone called it, to the end of school and through college and made regular visits to Austin's to keep it maintained, sometimes on my own or with some or all of Carl, Eddie and Robbie. Jason kept his long hair for a while, but once he settled on wanting to join the Marines, he signed up for the Marine Cadets and long hair wasn't an option for him then. Carl and I couldn't resist teasing him when he finally had it cut short again. The classic line about looking like you've joined the forces after getting a haircut was given plenty of airings. George just said ‘about time.' It was nice that Jason had had the chance to give it a go and get it out of his system at least. Things seemed to be changing rapidly all the time. As well as Jason joining up, after I finished my A-Levels, I was able to go to University to study mechanical engineering to fulfil my long held ambition, and Eddie had already moved away by then and was learning to fly, literally. Carl's intelligence and hard work saw him win a scholarship to private school to do his A-Levels – irony of ironies, he went to Moorgrove, source of my nightmare weekend, although he enjoyed it there a lot more than I enjoyed my brief experience. The teacher I'd crossed swords with seemed to have gone by the time Carl started, funnily enough.
For all I loved my time at University and made some great new friends, Jason, Carl and Eddie were still the three people I was closest to. When I came home between passing my final exams and graduation, although I was looking forward to an exciting new start, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad as well. I was going to be moving to London for my new job and although Carl wouldn't be too far away in Cambridge and we'd see plenty of each other, Eddie and Jason would both be off wherever in the world their jobs took them and mum and George would be back at home, so I had a sort of ‘end of an era' feeling. The week of my graduation, Carl and I met Eddie for a drink and I was telling them how I felt. Jason wasn't with us as he'd only be able to get away for the graduation itself and we'd just be meeting him there, he wasn't coming home beforehand. ‘You're starting a new era as well, don't forget,' Eddie reassured me. ‘And it's not like we've died or anything, we'll still be around and we'll keep in touch, we maybe just won't see each other as much, that's all.'
‘And you're carrying on with what you've always wanted to do,' said Carl. ‘That's got to be a great thing, surely?' Carl had now become frighteningly self-assured and confident, but underneath all that he was the same lad I'd known for so many years. ‘Anyway,' he continued, ‘once you're off in London having a good time, you'll have forgotten about all of us in no time!'
‘Not a chance, Carl, that will never happen, you won't get rid of me that easily! I said. ‘I did have an idea though, for a kind of last hurrah, you might think it's daft, but . . .' I tailed off.
‘Go on then, what?' asked Eddie
‘Well what about one last haircut at Austin's all together, like the old days?' Since the start of my last year at University, I'd grown my hair out, somewhat reluctantly, as I knew it was maybe a bit too radical for job interviews and the working environment. It wasn't too long, but it needed cutting and I knew there was only one place I was going to go to make sure I looked my best for graduation.
‘Fine with me,' said Carl. I was going this week anyway, can't be showing you up on your big day.' Carl still had the same haircut as he got when it first became his choice, so I knew he wouldn't mind but I thought Eddie might need a bit more work as the brush cut was long gone in favour a return of the thick ginger mop.
Eddie paused. ‘I don't know, mate, don't think he really does much in the way of styling does he?'
‘Oh go on, just a bit of a trim. It'd mean a lot to me, you know,' I said.
‘Emotional blackmail, great!' Eddie sighed. ‘Go on then, what harm will it do? It will grow back, I suppose!'
I raised my glass in salute to both of them. ‘Nice one. Cheers, fellas!'
We arranged to meet up a couple of days later, the day before my graduation. Eddie rang me that morning. ‘You're not going to believe this . . .' he began. I thought he was backing out and waited for the excuse. ‘. . . but I told Robbie where we were going and he wants to come as well. Says he was part of the ‘haircut gang' as he called it.'
‘Robbie?!' I exclaimed. ‘I thought he couldn't wait for you to move away so he didn't have to go with you to the barber's anymore!'
‘Yeah, me too. But that's what he said. That OK with you?'
‘Sure, the more the merrier.'
Later, Carl and I met up with Eddie and Robbie and we walked to Austin's. Robbie was a smaller copy of Eddie as he always had been and looked exactly as Eddie had at his age. I'd not seen him for a good while myself, but he and Carl knew one another quite well from when they'd been at the same school – since Eddie, Jason and I had all left school by the time Robbie started, Carl had kept an eye out for him when he first started, to make sure he didn't have any problems. When we arrived, there was nobody in the shop and Mr Austin was sitting in the barber's chair reading a newspaper and looked up as we walked in. ‘Well, good afternoon, gentlemen,' he greeted us. ‘I see you've finally brought your brother to see me again, Carl. Long time, no see, Daniel!'
‘Hi Mr A,' I replied. ‘Nice to see you. I was home for a bit and it's my graduation tomorrow, so I was wondering if you could make me look respectable for it.'
‘You, respectable?' said Mr Austin. ‘I'm a barber, not a magician! Take a seat anyway, I'll see what I can do.'
Everyone laughed and I walked over to sit in the barber's chair for what would quite possibly be the last time. The towel was dark blue now and the cape light blue but other than that the whole routine was exactly the same. Towel round the shoulders first followed by the neck strip and then the cape. ‘So what were you thinking exactly then?' Mr Austin asked me.
‘Well,' I asked, ‘Do you remember that first ever haircut you gave me back in the day, when George had my long hair chopped off?'
‘Oh, I remember it well. Back when you were a proper little hooligan before George sorted you out.'
‘Can I have something like that then, but a bit longer on the top? And none of that bloody awful grease please!'
‘No problem, coming right up.' Mr Austin picked up the clippers, put the number two attachment on and came round behind me before switching them on.
I couldn't resist wanting to hear the phrase I used to dread, just one more time. ‘Go on then, are you going to make me put my head down, just for old times' sake?' I asked.
‘Certainly am. Head down, boy!' he replied. I felt Mr Austin's hand on the top of my head and the clippers were running up the back again, although not as high up as in the old days. I remembered the reluctant teenager who'd sat here under sufferance and my eventually transformation to the crew cut lad and then adult I became. I'd had my hair trimmed a few times since I'd been growing it out but this was a bit shorter than I'd been used to going lately. When he'd finished with the back, Mr Austin moved round to the sides and clipped the longer hair from there as well. All the time we chatted away about University and what I'd been doing and my new job and moving to London and all my plans. When he was done with the clippers at the back and sides, he carved the familiar outline around my neck and ears, although I was granted short sideburns a little down from the top of my ears now. Once that was all finished, Mr Austin sprayed the top and started trimming away with the scissors, taking some of the length off and tidying up the look. He parted my hair on the left, as he had that first time and combed and trimmed some more before drying it. The cape was then loosened at the back and my neck and round my ears were lathered and shaved with the razor. Mr Austin showed me the back and the whole thing looked good – short but not too short, quite the young professional in fact. I knew I'd be looking good tomorrow. ‘Is that OK for you?' he asked me.
‘Yes that's great, as always, thanks very much.' Neck strip, towel and cape were removed one by one and I stood up. That was it, it was over.
Carl was next up and told Mr Austin he wanted to try a number one at the back and sides. ‘Since Daniel's turning into a hippy now, it's only right that he should go back to being the one with the longest hair of the three of us,' he said. I hadn't seen Jason when he'd last been home, but my new cut was obviously longer than what he was sporting these days. The clippers made short work of the back and sides and with Carl's fair hair, it really did look very short indeed. As he had done with me, Mr Austin didn't shave quite as high up as he had on previous occasions and blended in the hair on the top of Carl's head, which he cut slightly shorter than usual with the scissors. Carl was soon up, rubbing the back of his head and smiling. It suddenly struck me how he looked like a young man now, not just the kid I'd known for so many years. It made me feel very old! ‘What do you reckon then?' he asked me.
‘Looks good, mate, nice one. We'll all be looking our best tomorrow, definitely!'
‘Next in the chair please,' called Mr Austin and Carl and I turned to look at Eddie and Robbie. Eddie hesitated before pulling rank and saying ‘Go on, Robbie, you can go next.'
Robbie went and sat down in the barber's chair – it had been a long time since I'd seen him do that. ‘How would you like it cut then?' asked Mr Austin.
‘Like this please.' Robbie had come prepared and was showing a picture from a magazine to Mr Austin. It seemed that one of Robbie's favourite footballers had recently had his hair cut short and Robbie fancied giving it a try himself.
Mr Austin studied the picture and said, ‘OK, should be easy enough, I reckon number two at the back and sides and a little bit shorter than Daniel's on the top if that's OK with you, son?'
‘Fine with me,' replied Robbie, and the haircut began. Mr Austin clipped the long ginger hair from the back and sides of Robbie's head as he had with mine, although he probably took the clippers a bit further up since Robbie and Eddie's hair was still so thick. Masses of hair were all over the cape and on the floor and it reminded me of watching Eddie's first brush cut. When the back and sides were done, Mr Austin wet the remaining hair on the top of Robbie's head and combed it straight back before attacking the length. It started off as the firm snip, snip I'd first heard when I had my own long hair cut short before most of the length was gone and Mr Austin started to trim more precisely to make sure everything was even and sat well and the style was in place as Robbie wanted it. He ended up with his hair drawn straight back off his forehead and slightly spiky. It was actually a bit longer version of the brush cut that he used to hate so much, but he seemed happy with it now. When Mr Austin showed him the back in the mirror, Robbie ran his hand up the back of his head and pronounced it to be ‘cool'. I smiled to myself, thinking how different things had been once.
Eddie couldn't delay any longer now and I wondered if he'd go through with it at all after watching so much hair fly already. He stood up though and went to sit in the barber's chair where he was caped as usual. When he was asked how he wanted it cut, I was surprised to hear Eddie say ‘Like my brother's, I suppose.'
‘You don't have to do that, Eddie,' I said. ‘I thought you only wanted a trim.'
‘I did,' replied Eddie, ‘but since we're here and we're getting haircuts, there's no way I'm being outdone by him!', he said, pointing at Robbie.
‘Are you sure?' asked Mr Austin?
‘Completely,' said Eddie. ‘Or I will be until I change my mind, so you'd better start clipping before I do!'
With that, the clippers were on and Eddie's head was down and once again I watched huge piles of his thick ginger hair falling to the floor as the clippers moved up and up again. It didn't take Mr Austin long to strip the long hair from the back and sides before moving onto the top and taking most of the weight off with scissors. I always thought Eddie looked better with short hair instead of the big bush, so secretly I thought Robbie had done him a favour, but I thought it would be best to keep my mouth shut for the moment. Eddie was nearly done now, his neck being shaved before Mr Austin showed him the back, Eddie said it was fine and the cape came off and Eddie stood up. We all went to the till and I insisted on paying as it had been my idea in the first place. They argued a bit, but I wouldn't have any of it. As we were about to leave, Mr Austin offered his hand to me to shake. ‘Well, Daniel, he said, good luck for London and everything in the future. Hope I might see you again one day, even if it's only for a visit.'
‘Thanks, I said,' and shook his hand. I'll be back now and again to see mum and George, so maybe. I've had some memorable times in here, so thank you for all the haircuts over the years. I'm sure George will keep you posted anyway.'
‘No doubt,' replied Mr Austin. ‘Bye then, lads,' he said, and we all left.
The first thing Eddie said as we were walking down the road was ‘the things I do for my friends, honestly!'
‘Well I told you that you didn't have to!' I responded. ‘You got a free haircut anyway, so you can't complain.'
Robbie was laughing. ‘I thought you might do that,' he said to Eddie. I was going to get mine cut short soon anyway, but when I heard you were all going today I wanted to come to see if you would as well and you fell for it. Just like dad making me get my long hair cut off after you did, so I've finally got my own back after all these years!'
‘You can't argue with that, mate,' I said, joining in with the laughter. ‘He's got you all ends up there!'
‘God, when did you get to be so smart, you little bugger?' Eddie asked Robbie, although he was smiling himself now. ‘It's a pity I can't still get dad to tan your arse!'
‘Does that mean you're not going to buy me anything now either?' asked Robbie.
‘Don't push you luck, Roberto,' Eddie replied, and then, after a short pause. ‘Oh go on then, since I didn't have to pay for my haircut.'
‘All ends up,' I repeated. ‘All ends up!'
We had a very early start the next day to get the train from home to where I was at University as we had to be there in time for the graduation ceremony in the afternoon. We all went to the hotel where we were staying before going to University, all suited and booted (or dressed up to the nines in the case of the ladies). Mum was beside herself with excitement and kept saying how happy she was and how proud of me she was as well. It was great to see her having such a good time. Eventually, I left them all to get ready while everyone else went to find their seats. The presentation itself was great and was followed afterwards by lots of chatting and photo opportunities with family and friends. I had every confidence that one or more photos from today would be joining the photo from the first time I captained the football team on display in my new place in London. It was very small, but I could always make room for a couple of photos!
I didn't get chance to see Jason before the ceremony as I had things to do and he didn't arrive until shortly before it started. Since we'd both only been at home briefly recently, we'd missed one another when we'd been there, so although we'd spoken a couple of times, I hadn't seen him for about three months. I couldn't describe why, but while he was still the same Jason, he was discernibly different somehow. It was like he was everything he'd always been but a bit more so and above all he seemed really content with what he was doing, relaxed and completely at ease. We were all milling around chatting in groups for a bit before people split into smaller groups and Jason and I were finally left on our own together. ‘So,' he began ‘They reckon you're first class then do they? Good job I know better else I might have got taken in by it!'
‘Thanks for those kind words, Jason, it's good to see you too!' I replied.
‘I'm joking, you know I am. It is good to see you, Daniel, really good.' Jason paused, before continuing, ‘actually there was something I wanted to talk to you about while we're both still sober . . .' he seemed to be trying to find the right words. ‘It's just . . . since I'm not going to be around very much . . . you will look after Carl won't you and make sure he's OK? I know he's off to Uni and he can't wait and he's a genius and he's going to do great things and all that but, well . . . you know . . .' he tailed off.
‘Yeah, I know. Underneath all of that, he's still your little brother. Our little brother.' I always liked to refer to the pair of them as my little brothers since they both towered over me by now. ‘Don't worry, I'll be up there to see him as soon as he's settled in and I'll make sure he knows where I am if he ever needs to see me or talk to me or anything. I'm guessing he'll be getting to London to have some fun whenever he can as well! And you make sure you do the same.'
‘Cheers for that. Oh, I'll be down to London as soon as I can get there, no doubt about it. Don't know when it'll be, but I definitely will.'
We never really ‘talked' properly, but as we were together like this, I felt I needed to do it now. Must have been my ‘end of an era' feeling. ‘Look at you anyway,' I said to Jason. ‘My other little brother certainly doesn't need any looking after does he?' I remembered the conversation we'd had years ago when Jason was feeling down. ‘And to think somebody once told me that you were just average Jason, who was going to disappoint everyone. I know we never say stuff like this but . . . I couldn't be prouder of you, mate.'
‘Yeah, well . . .' Jason seemed to be thinking back himself as well. ‘I was lucky that I had somebody who cared to put me right, wasn't I? I might not need looking after, but I know my big brother will always be around . . . and if I'd been able to pick a big brother, I couldn't have picked a better one.' He hesitated for a moment before he went on. ‘I'm dead proud of you as well, you know.'
I could feel the beginnings of tears, so I brushed them away. ‘Sorry,' I said, ‘something in my eye.'
‘Me too, funnily enough,' he replied and we hugged. We never had done before, but for some reason it felt like the right thing to do now. As we separated, Jason said ‘Right, that's enough of that s**t. Time for a drink, I think.'
‘Yes, sir,' I replied. ‘Whatever you say, sir!' I tried a salute but didn't do a very good job of it.
Jason shook his head. ‘It's a bloody good job you're good at what you do, because you wouldn't last two minutes doing what I do!'
It turned into a long evening and night after that of eating and (mainly) drinking. We finally ended up in the bar back at our hotel and George was the last man standing as usual. Years of practice at police dos meant he could still drink all of us under the table, no questions asked. I wasn't in his league by any means, but I knew I'd be able to outlast everyone else if I paced myself a bit and so it proved. I hadn't tried to talk to George during the day as I knew I'd get the chance I did now, with only the two of us left. I was fairly drunk by now, but still lucid enough. ‘Have you had a good day then, George?' I asked.
‘I have, Daniel,' he replied, ‘we all have. A very good day, in fact.' Nice to be able to get everyone together for a change and your mum had a whale of a time.'
‘Yeah, I'll miss everyone when I go, for sure,' I said. ‘You know that a lot of this is down to you, don't you?' I said.
‘Down to me? Don't be daft,' he replied. ‘What you've done is all down to you. I might have helped to give you a bit of a nudge in the right direction, but everything else is down to your hard work. And you've done an awful bloody lot of that these last few years. You deserve everything good coming your way.'
‘You helped me get there though. You could have not bothered and left me to it and concentrated on Jason and Carl, but you made the effort. I won't forget that. And I'll always be grateful.'
‘You know I couldn't be happier today if it was Jason or Carl,' said George. ‘I look at the three of you just the same, and I mean just the same, your mum does as well. And do you know what makes me happier than any jobs or exams or qualifications that any of you will ever get?'
‘What's that?' I asked.
‘How close the three of you are, the bond you've got. When me and your mum look at you all, our three boys all together, we know we must have done something right.'
‘You did a lot right. You really did. Thank you so much anyway, for everything.' I was in danger of becoming drunkenly emotional now, so it was time to call it a night. ‘Think I'll go to bed now,' I said. ‘Night, George.'
‘Just one last thing before you go up,' he said. ‘You know what you've still got to do from now on don't you? And you'll get on just fine in whatever you do?'
‘I know what you're going to say,' I said. ‘Get my head down and do my best.'
‘Got it in one, you always were a clever lad!' George replied. He chuckled slightly to himself and raised his glass to me. ‘Good night, Daniel.'