September Haircuts by Snipped Sam
This time of year, I always think back to the time of my youth when I would have my hair cut ready for the start of the new school year. It was a time when boys in their mid-teens like my myself wanted their hair longer but being the 1970s there was much resistance from those in authority. My headmaster made no secret of his intense dislike of longer hair, however the “short back and sides” was becoming less common among boys my age.
I remember so well the year of 1973, I was fifteen and ready to start the fifth year of my local grammar school. That was the occasion when I was given the shortest haircut I have ever had, and as much as a part of me really resented having to have this haircut, the barber who carried out the job was probably the nicest barber I have ever met.
My hair was longer than it had ever been and I was hoping to continue to let it get longer with a few maintenance trims along the way. The problem was my school report had been pretty bad at the end of last term and my behaviour also had not been the best. My father had told me that in view of my school report to enjoy having my hair the length it was, because it would have to be cut short for the start of the new school year.
The start of the new school term was fast approaching and I had been reminded a few times what had to happen. I was visiting my great uncle Robert for the day, who lived about five miles away, we had met in his local town and he took me to a local hotel where he had a coffee and I had a soft drink. He asked me how things were going, on his visit to our house the previous week, the subject of my impending haircut had been raised so he knew all about it. I explained to Uncle Robert that I had been going to a new gent’s hairstylists which was really modern and I really didn’t want to have to ask them to cut my hair short. I also told him also that since I had stopped going to my previous barbers who had cut my hair since I was a boy, I really dreaded going back to him. My old barber Mr Hall , would be thrilled to have me back in his barber’s chair and cut of all my hair.
Uncle Robert clearly understood the situation, and as he said unfortunately, like it or not, I would be having my hair cut short in the next two days. He then said as I did not like either of my choices at the town where I lived, perhaps I would like to go to his barber, who he explained was a really nice man, who he had known for years through the Ancient Order of Buffaloes. He said that Mr Lockwood could take care of my haircut without it being the big ordeal I was dreading. So it was agreed that Uncle Robert would take me there and introduce me, and whilst I was having my haircut he would go to the bank and post office to attend to a couple of matters. In one way I was relieved, although still a little apprehensive, but after leaving the hotel lounge and making our way to the barbers, I knew there was no alternative.
When we arrived, I was a little surprised just how old fashioned the barbers shop was, Mr Lockwood seemed to me to be very old indeed, but he greeted us both in a very friendly manner. He was just putting the finishing touches to the haircut of an elderly man, so it wasn’t long before the chair was free and I would be next. We sat there and waited for the man to be brushed down, helped on with his jacket and pay for his haircut. Uncle Robert then introduced us, and then stood up to leave us.
“I will leave you with Mr Lockwood like we agreed Nick, and remember what you told me you would like Mr Lockwood to do”
“Yes, Uncle Robert”
Uncle Robert left and I stood up to go to the barber’s chair.
“So how are you today Nick?”
“I’m O.K thanks”
He draped the white nylon cape around me and smoothed it into position tucking it firmly at the back, and placing some tissue at the back, I would have said there was a very good chance he was around seventy years old, he was very smartly dressed, crisp white shirt and striped blue tie, dark grey trousers, highly polished black shoes and a full length navy blue barbers coat. He smoothed the cape where it rested on my shoulders and then came and stood in front of me.
“So what is it you told your uncle you would like me to do?”
“cut my hair short” I replied very quietly
“so you want me to get rid of all this hair for you Nick”
“yes please…. Well not quite all of it”
“No problem at all my man, and as it happens I think you have made the right decision, all this long hair is very overrated, so now I’ll just give your hair a bit of a comb and get a better look at your
He took a long comb from his top pocket and started to comb my hair, it was mid brown in colour and almost touched my collar and was starting to grow a bit over my ears.
“I just need you to pop your head down for a minute or so young Nick”
So I bent my head down,
“good lad, that’s perfect”
He took a pair of scissors from the shelf in front of me, and I felt the cold metal of the scissors touch my neck, he began by cutting the hair which had almost been on my collar, I could hear big snips and I felt hair fall away, after this he began to cut my hair at the back. After a short while he said I could lift my head up for a bit, he then brushed away some loose hairs.
“you look a bit nervous Nick, try not to worry”
“It’s just a bit hard now it’s actually happening, that’s all Mr Lockwood, but I do know it needs to be short”
“I know, and once it’s done I’m sure you will be much happier”
He was now cutting the hair which had begun to grow over my ears, he was telling me that he had been a barber for nearly fifty years and he said that he thought things were much easier for lads my age before the middle of the 1960s, where there were no pressures to have longer hair to be like some of the others. He said it was so much better when every school boy had a short back and sides as a routine haircut. This conversation had followed on from me telling him I had grown my hair longer to be like other boys rather than tell him the real reason why I was having my hair cut short. I was grateful that Uncle Robert had given me that angle when he said to remember to tell him what I would like done. What I really liked about Mr Lockwood was his very gentle manner and the way he spoke to me, I was so relieved that Uncle Robert had brought me here. Mr Lockwood continued to talk about the days when all men and boys had short hair, and he said that especially in the late 1940s and 1950s when money was very tight,
a lot of barbers would give boys especially short haircuts so they lasted longer to help the struggling families.
“of course in those days we mostly used the hand operated clippers, like these Nick”
He was pointing to three sets which were sitting on the shelf in front of me.
“yes, I have seen them before, my friend’s mother uses them on their dog”
“oh, they can be used for dogs, but these are certainly not for dogs, I still prefer to use these as opposed to the noisy electric clippers and of course I think it’s better when the barber operates the clippers by hand it’s much more skilled”
“I know what you mean about the electric clippers, they make such a noise”
“sounds like you are not keen on the electric clippers then young Nick”
“oh I hate them, not just the noise but what they do as well”
“you mean you don’t like a nice clipped finish on a haircut”
“No Mr Lockwood, that’s much too short, I used to have it done like that a long time ago, but not anymore”
“you are already having it short Nick and you’ll be starting school again next Monday, I could make you look really smart”
“I really wanted to just have my hair cut short Mr Lockwood, but not very short, and without any clipping being done”
“and you are a good lad for having your hair short Nick, a very good lad, and of course I am only recommending”
“I know Mr Lockwood, but I hadn’t planned to have the clippers as part of my haircut”
“Its fine Nick, although of course if your Uncle Robert was here we would have probably included him in the discussion”
“I think he would be happy just with it being short “
“but of course Nick if he was asked he might also have to consider how your father would like your hair finished”
“I think it’s just as well he isn’t here then Mr Lockwood”
“whys that Nick?”
“well, dad has some rather old fashioned ideas when it comes to my hair”
“I expect he just wants you to look smart that’s all Nick”
Mr Lockwood was now using his thinning scissors on my hair, it seemed strange seeing the amount of my hair that was resting on the cape. The door opened and it was my Uncle Robert returned from his trip to the bank and post office, and remarking that for once there were no big queues in either. I was now feeling a bit nervous about our conversation regarding the clippers
“that’s such an improvement Nick, looks like Mr Lockwood is doing a first rate job on your hair”
“I know Uncle Robert; it’s a big improvement”
“It’s refreshing to have a boy ask me to cut his hair short, much better than a boy who clearly doesn’t want his hair to be cut”
“I was really pleased when Nick mentioned about going back to have his hair short again, I know his father will be pleased as well “
“Yes, Nick mentioned that his father prefers his hair to be shorter”
“that’s right, when his father used to take him to the barbers, he always got the barber to cut his hair really short, so although this is short, I have seen Nick with his hair a lot shorter”
“I have been trying to persuade Nick to have the sides and back of his head done short with the clippers, he was telling me that he doesn’t like the electric clippers especially the noise they make, so I have shown him my hand operated ones”
“I think it would look very smart Nick, especially to have Mr Lockwood operating the clippers”
“all you would feel is a little tickle Nick”
“but I really don’t like the look of them”
“as I said Nick just a little tickle”
“just think how impressed your father would be if I tell him you asked to have the clippers”
I really wished that there had been big queues in both the bank and the post office and that Mr Lockwood would have finished my haircut without the clipping. Uncle Robert would have been very impressed with my hair the length it now was and there would have been no need for this conversation. Then it occurred to me that the conversation still might have taken place and I would have found myself back in the chair, in the mirror I could see that Uncle Robert had definitely made himself comfortable in the wooden chair.
“but Uncle Robert, I think this is short enough”
He picked up a newspaper from the chair beside him,
“we both know what your father would say if he was here Nick, so why not be a good lad”
And he started to read the newspaper, I looked at Mr Lockwood and nodded meekly, he selected the hand clippers he was to use and gave them a good dusting with powder and he then dusted the back of my head and above my ears. He placed his hand on the back of my head and bent it forward, the cold metal touched the back of my head and he started to operate the clippers. They had a definite clicking noise though much softer than the shrill of the electric ones. He kept my head in position by resting his spare hand on my head, the clippers felt so close to my scalp and I could feel the hair falling away. He regularly stopped to remove my hair from the teeth of the clippers, I understood this because he had explained what he was doing, the first time he stopped. I was getting really anxious about how high he was clipping, it seemed like he had almost reached the top of my head. He then tackled my hair above my right ear, tilting my head and holding it firmly in place, then after that above my left ear. Again this was almost to the top of my head, he bent my head right down and then put the clippers back, although I could not see anything I knew that he had selected something else. I felt my head once again being steadied by his hand, and the very uncomfortable sensation of the scraping on my neck with a razor. He also did the same just above my ears, after a vigorous brush down, he restored my head to its normal position. Now I could see exactly how my haircut looked, the sides of my head above my ears looked completely bare.
“would you like to see the back in the mirror Nick?”
“please, Mr Lockwood”
He took the mirror from the side and proudly showed me the back in the mirror, I had never seen my hair so short, although when I had been taken to the barbers and been clipped it had never been as short as this, it just looked as though I had been scalped. Although I was absolutely horrified with this haircut I knew that Mr Lockwood had done it with the very best intensions. He really believed that he had given me the prefect haircut. Perhaps the most ironic thing was although Mr Lockwood had told me that his very short haircuts lasted longer, I found myself back at Mr Hall’s my original barbers less than four weeks later.
“Nicolas is returning to you to have all his haircuts from you from now on and he must go back to having the sides and back clipped every time he has his haircut”
“very good Sir, it will be as if he has never been away” the barber replied
Whilst my Uncle Robert had even suggested on my behalf that I could perhaps go to Mr Lockwood which of course was for me better than going to Mr Hall. My father decided that from now I would go to Mr Hall for all my haircuts. Although he very much approved of the haircut Mr Lockwood had given me, there was a five-mile distance and as he said, he wanted to be able to send me to the barbers at short notice.