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Dicken by Snipped Sam
It had all began with my cousin Dicken graduating from university in Canada and coming to stay for a year with my family in England whilst he attended University for a post graduate degree. I was quite excited at the prospect, being an only child and at the age of fifteen, an older cousin around would be great. When he arrived my first impression of him was that he was extremely confident, so very handsome, tall and slim with impeccable manners but was rather old fashioned in his appearance with his short hair and round tortoise shell spectacles. The year was 1972, my thick blond hair fell over my collar and covered my ears as opposed to my cousin who had his chestnut brown hair tapered short at the sides and back and his hair which was long on top combed back. He was dressed rather like a stylish school master perhaps from the 1950s with shirt and tie, grey trousers and thin summer style cream linen jacket.
The first two days were very relaxed and then Dicken told me he wanted a little chat, he had hold of my school report, which had not been good, which also applied to the decline of my recent school work,he explained that he would be giving me some extra tuition over the next few months as I had vital examinations the following year. He advised me that he had already identified a number of weaknesses from my report and we would address them. He told me that if I had any plans over the school summer holidays to basically forget them as there was work and lots of studying to be done. He then gave me what he called my prep book, which he explained would have my homework he set me listed in it and he would record all the marks I achieved from assignments and tests. He told me not to look so worried if I worked hard and was a well behaved polite pupil everything would be just fine. There was also a section where any bad behaviour would be recorded.
We started our studies straight away, it was a really long day with additional set homework in the evening. When he marked my homework the next day I day not done at all well.
“not a good start at all Simon” he said as he entered the marks in my prep book,” but I am being lenient with you to start, this week, you must achieve an average of forty percent overall total marks I will then gradually increase the average as time goes on.”
I worked really hard that day and my homework was slightly better, as he was entering the results in my prep book, I then asked him for a favour, it was my friends birthday that following day and in the afternoon and I had been invited to the cinema with some other friends.
“I am afraid that will not be possible Simon, in view of your bad School report”
“but Sir?” it had been agreed that I would call him sir when it was anything to do with study related time
“anyway, I have other plans for you tomorrow afternoon Simon” he gave my hair a tug
“time you had a trip to the barbers Simon, and that’s happening tomorrow afternoon”
“but I don’t want my haircut”
“I had a chat with Uncle Richard last night, he is very happy with the way I have begun teaching you, and I have his authority to mentor you in aspects of your development into a young man. We both agreed that you are at a very difficult age and you need a firm hand to guide you”
“I said I don’t want my haircut”
“as I just said Simon, you need a firm hand to guide you, your school work has deteriorated and we have to get you back on track, not only must you be worked hard, you must be kept in line with very strict discipline, and this will include the length of your hair”
“O.K. I’ll go and get my haircut tomorrow, but I only went there a couple of weeks ago,”
“I will be taking you to the barbers Simon”
“I wish you would clear off back to Canada “
“hand me your prep book “
I handed him my prep book, and he turned to the behaviour page, and wrote the date and a comment in.
“not the best start is it Simon?”
“I will not tolerate your rudeness; you must do as you are told is that understood?”
“yes Sir “
“three entries of bad behaviour in a week is not a good idea Simon, means you will be in serious trouble, this can all be as hard or as easy as you want it to “
“but I find some of the work really hard and I don’t like you telling me what to do,”
“I will help you with this, but there must be goals and targets for you to reach, your behaviour is entirely up to you, if you are badly behaved or lazy in your work you will be punished, now you have to agree that’s fair”
“I guess so sir”
We carried on with the work, the next day was maths all morning after lunch was a more maths, after an hour he told me to put the books away.
“time for our little trip out Simon, Uncle Richard has told me that his preferred barbers for you is Mr Castle on the Mill Road”
I hated Mr Castle, he had always been my barber until two years ago been, a much more modern shop had opened up and I had managed to start going there, and then started growing my hair much longer.
“does it have to be OLD CASTLE? I really hate him and he cuts hair really short”
“Uncle Richard said you didn’t like Mr Castle, and you would not be too happy about going back to him, but Uncle Richard has not been happy about the length of your hair for some time, he told me that recently you have been given money to have your haircut and it doesn’t even look like your hair has been cut when you return”
“I know, there was an almighty argument about it the last time”
We started the walk into the city, Dicken was reasoning with me about how I had brought this on myself by being openly defiant about the length of my hair instead of meeting my father half way sometimes and having “a bit more off”. I knew deep down that Dicken was mostly right in what he was saying, and I was beginning to realise what a splendidly intelligent and wise man Dicken was. He had told me that his mother and father had named him Dicken because it meant dynamic and independent. After fifteen minutes’ walk we reached the city centre, Dicken asked me to take us straight there, so reluctantly we trod the path to Mr Castle’s Barbers shop. We had to go through two doors which included a walk down a corridor to reach the dreaded barber, Dicken told me to lead the way. Mr Castle was reading a newspaper, he folded it and placed it on the table and stood up, Dicken first introduced himself,
“you know my Uncle Richard Hargreaves, he speaks very highly of you, and of course you already know my cousin Simon”
“yes, I haven’t seen young Simon in here for a long time, didn’t recognise you at first with all that hair”
“yes Mr Castle there is rather a lot of hair, but of course that’s why I have brought him here, perhaps you would like to take Simon first and then I would like you to give me a tidy up as well after please”
“no problem Sir, in the chair Simon there’s a good lad “
I sat in the barber’s chair, he soon had the white nylon cape all tucked in and the white cotton towel tucked in at the back, he started to comb my hair. Mr Castle was exactly as I had remembered him with his smart appearance and thick white hair which was immaculately groomed.
“I have always cut Simons hair short, as per Mr Hargreaves wishes “
“So I understand Mr Castle, and both Mr Hargreaves and I would like Simon to go to back to having his hair short, and this time we will be keeping his hair short”
“Jolly good sir, I will be happy to take care of his hair for you, any specific requests sir?”
“as I am a guest in my Uncle’s house, I am very keen to impress him and I want him to be pleased with Simons hair but of course you are his barber and have cut his hair several times in the past, so we need to work together on this one I think”
“well sir, the first thing I plan to do is cut the bulk of his hair off, once we get this lot on the floor where it belongs” he said lifting the hair above my right ear and then holding the hair which was over my collar “we have made a good start, then I can really cut and then thin his hair “
“sounds like an excellent plan Mr Castle”
“after that sir we can discuss the finishing touches to the boy’s hair”
“thank you Mr Castle”
He began cutting my hair, first the hair was removed which covered my ears and then off came the hair at the back which fell over my collar, he then started his general cutting, I remembered all too well the way he operated his scissors, his scissors always went snip snip very quickly. He chatted away to Dicken, and was really interested to hear all about Canada, where Dicken had been to University. As much as I hated OLD CASTLE, it was only because he had always cut my hair very short, he had never been horrible to me as such, always firm in his approach. For my part, as much as I resented him, I had always done as I was told and never misbehaved, always had the correct haircut money and thanked him before I left. After several long minutes of cutting he put down his scissors and then brushed away the loose hairs from my face, he then picked up his thinning scissors,
“your uncle always liked me to use these on Simon, he has such thick hair, some would say it’s a shame to thin it out as much as I do, but I think it’s the way to go “
“I guess some would, I have never had hair as thick as Simons”
“your hair looks much finer; the way you have it really suits sir”
“thanks, I like it…. just needs a little attention”
Whilst this discussion was taking place my hair was being stripped right down with the thinning scissors.He regularly stopped to pull my hair from the teeth on the thinning scissors, which joined the pile of my lovely blond hair which rested on the white nylon gown.
“Simon looks so different with his hair short Mr Castle, so much better”
“it’s a vast improvement, your Uncle was very unhappy when he stopped coming here, but he felt that he should allow Simon the chance of choosing where to go for a while, it’s just his hair had recently got so long and Simon was becoming more and more difficult about it”
“I know he told me all about it “
“as you of course realise, Mr Hargreaves has always come here, so we have discussed the Simon problem, whilst he has sat in this very chair having his own hair cut”
After an extensive thinning out he once again brushed the loose hairs off my face and head,
“So Sir, it’s time to make the final touches to Simons haircut, due to his recent disobedience regarding the length of his hair I would recommend a good clipping sides and back”
“seems fair enough to me”
“would you like me to take his hair above his hairline at the back that would mean that it’s no hair from here down, and clipped from there up “he asked Dicken, said showing him with his comb at the back.
“I would of course shave above his ears, to this level”
“that’s a rather severe haircut Mr Castle “
“Yes Sir, but remember he has been very disobedient sir “
“Yes Mr Castle, I agree that Simon has been disobedient and very difficult about having his haircut, but I am saying yes to your recommendation because I think it would rather suit him “
“fair enough sir”
“I want you to realise Simon that I have brought you here for a short haircut because that’s what you need and must have, not to punish you”
“feels a bit like I’m being punished Sir, I think this is an awful decision”
This was the first time I had spoken since I had sat in the chair. I figured that there was nothing to be lost anyway, Dicken was not likely to back down.
“I’m Sorry you think that Simon….. go ahead please Mr Castle, “
Mr Castle selected his clippers from a number which hung from hooks beside the barber’s chair
“head right down for me Simon”
In the mirror I could see Dicken looking at me, why was he being so mean over this ?, yes I had expected there was a good chance OLD CASTLE would want to use his clippers, but this was terrible, he had never cut my hair this short.
“come along Simon, the sooner you bend your head down, the sooner I will let you off the chair “
“this really is not fair” I replied, but reluctantly bent my head down, OLD CASTLE had trained me from a very young age to bend my head down for his clippers, and any difficulties I had keeping my head still had been ironed out very early on. I was now sitting there in the barber’s chair with my head right down. OLD CASTLE turned his clippers on and then placed them at the back of my head and moved them down wards, he was stripping the hair above my hairline, he then worked just above my ears, this was so uncomfortable. He hung those clippers back up and brushed me down, and then selected different clippers, he then started to clip the back of my head, he was worked his way right up the back to nearly the top of my head ,he then did above my ears. He then changed clipper again and revisited the lower parts of the areas he’d clipped,.This was followed by a further brush down , he then wet the area he stripped above my hairline and above my ears , with some cotton wool, dipped in something sweet smelling, he then took his dreaded cut throat razor and shaved the lower part of the back of my head and my neck and then above my ears. OLD CASTLE then took a towel and wiped my head, he then placed it over my face and then lifted my head up, he then rubbed my head and face vigorously with the towel.When this was finished , he combed the small amount of hair left on the top of my head into place.
“hows that Sir ?”
“very good Mr Castle, very smart indeed”
“as he likes it so much,then why don’t you give him the same” I said angrily as he removed me from the chair,
“that’s enough Simon , sit there and wait quietly whilst I have my hair cut “
Dicken was now on his way to the chair,once he had sat down ,he removed his spectacles and put them in his top pocket, and then OLD CASTLE placed the same white nylon cape around him, and then combed his hair.They discussed how OLD CASTLE would cut his hair,and his haircut began, when he eventually came off the chair he looked so handsome,the back and sides really short,having been tapered with the clippers and his hair on top had been snipped but left long and then dressed with Brylcreem and groomed immaculately.
Later that afternoon, my father who was home from work early seemed extremely impressed with both our haircuts,
“from now on Simon you will be going to Mr Castle for all your haircuts and in future you will not refer to him as OLD CASTLE is that understood “
“If you say so” I replied
I was given permission to go and change into another shirt, as I went up stairs to get ready,I could hear my father speaking to Dicken which seemed like a reprimand
“ I appreciate you getting Simon in the barber’s chair Dicken ,but I don’t want you to have his hair cut that short again, I know he has been really difficult over having his haircut, but I think that haircut is just too severe for a lad his age,”
Over the next weeks, I worked hard with my studies and with the help of Dicken began to improve in the subjects I had previously struggled with.Dicken began to allow me more time off to see my friends as well.In my prep book Dicken began entering marks above an average of seventy percent, and there were very few entries for bad behaviour.
We both still went together to the barbers and although my hair was short it was never drastic like the first time Dicken took me,and the level of shortness began to be gently eased over the next few haircuts.Dicken went back to Canada a year later and sadly he died a few years after his return.
Even now when I smell Brylcreem , which I have always kept in my bathroom cabinet, I think of Dicken….remembering the sweet smell after he had just had his haircut….. I so loved that man.