Uncle Clive, Part 2. by Sean Barnet
UNCLE CLIVE, PART 2, BY SEAN BARNET
I thought I might tell you a little more about when I went to live with Uncle Clive.
As you will remember from the first part ("Uncle Clive"), my father was posted to Hong Kong, and in order to complete my education in England I went to live with my Uncle Clive in Brynhaven where I attended the Grammar School.
Before I could start at the Grammar School I had to take an exam, and, having passed that exam, there was an interview with the headmaster, Mr Williamson, accompanied by my parents and my uncle. Mr Williamson was a tall man, with a powerful, deep voice, immaculately dressed and utterly authoritative. Luckily I was required to say very little, just shake hands with the headmaster and say "How do you do, Sir?" in a suitably confident manner - and it was just as well that I had been drilled in this as the man completely terrified me.
The real talking was done by the adults - mostly the headmaster himself, with my parents and uncle agreeing with everything he said. Thinking about this later I realised that my adult relatives were probably almost as intimidated by Mr Williamson as I was myself - this was a new insight for me, I had hardly been aware of their having limitations of this kind before.
Obviously, I had to have my hair cut for the interview. This was done back at home at my usual hairdresser's, so though it was rather shorter than normal it was not excessively so. My haircut was not commented on by the headmaster, nor did he say anything about any particular school haircut requirements. And as it was half-term I did not see any of the current pupils.
A few days after the interview my parents received an acceptance letter which included a form for them to sign saying they, and I, would accept all the school rules (including "corporal punishment" - the cane). There was also a code of behaviour. This said a great deal about politeness, hard work and smart appearance. Hair was to be "short and well groomed" - nothing more. My current school had similar rules, but they were not strictly enforced, so I began to relax and discount what Mr Campbell had said about the headmaster having a "very no nonsense approach" and being "strict and particular about the boy’s hair".
Arriving at my uncle's at the end of July our first trip was to the school outfitter's for my uniform. After being kitted out with a blazer and tie, school cap, games kit, gym kit and everything else down to regulation socks, the assistant began a conversation with my uncle about my hair, which had naturally grown somewhat in the six or seven weeks since my interview.
"Before you go, Sir, might I venture to offer a word of advice?"
"Yes, of course, what is it that concerns you?"
"It’s about the boy's hair, Sir. He will need to have a regulation haircut, I mean a short back and sides, before he starts school in September, Sir."
"Short back and sides?"
"Yes, Sir. The headmaster is very particular about it, Sir, and it would not be good for the boy to present himself not in accordance with school rules on his first day, Sir."
"Certainly, thank you, it will be taken care of."
"But if I might add a further word, Sir. If I were you, Sir, I would take the boy to Campbell’s on Beach Street. Mr Campbell is familiar with the headmaster’s requirements, and if you inform him that the boy will be attending the Grammar School he will do exactly what is necessary, Sir."
"Well, yes, I shall indeed follow your advice. Most kind of you."
I knew what this meant, and my heart sank.
Still, this was only July, and September was weeks and weeks away.
But as the next few days passed fear began to set in.
I knew well enough, after two visits to Mr Campbell, what his idea of a "short back and sides" might be, and I was now noticing round about the town teenage boys, like myself, with the most awful, appalling, short haircuts - obviously Grammar School boys and customers of Mr Campbell.
My uncle took to rubbing it in:
"Not long until all that scruffy hair of yours will have to go, lad."
"It will be a nice, smart, short back and sides for you from now on, Nick."
"There’s a nicely turned out looking lad over there - he must be a pupil at the Grammar School."
I groaned inwardly.
Uncle Clive obviously enjoyed teasing me, but he made no specific move to actually make me get my hair cut. Still, the teasing was enough - the very idea of going to Campbell’s was bad enough - and although September was more than a month away, my nerves would not leave me in peace.
Then one day we were shopping in town when Uncle Clive said that he was going for a haircut, and would I come to the barber's with him?
Was this finally it? His choice of words left it very unclear whether he meant that I should simply sit and wait in the barber’s shop while he had his own hair cut, or if he expected me to have a haircut myself. And I was also somewhat in doubt as to whether I had any real say in this matter of going with him, or if he was just expressing himself with his usual polite indirectness. I had already learned that it was often better to say nothing, so I nodded and followed behind - apprehensively.
We went to Campbell's.
- My apprehensions increased.
We sat down to wait for my uncle's turn.
- I was not happy.
There was a teenage boy in the chair getting one of Mr Campbell's demon barber specials - Why? It was now the start of the summer holidays. If he was a pupil at the Grammar School no-one would be checking up on his haircut until September. Did he have an ultra-conservative father who insisted on this? Or did he actually want his hair that way?
He grinned maliciously at me as he left the shop - "You're next!"
- This was not a good omen.
My uncle was called to the chair, and I waited on the bench, alone with my thoughts, wondering if Uncle Clive was going to summon me for a similar demon barber haircut once his own gentlemanly trim was finished - why was is that adults always seemed to want us to have hair far shorter than they ever had themselves?
The bell tinkled, the door opened, and in walked the headmaster of the Grammar School who said "Good morning" to Mr Campbell like an old acquaintance, and sat down next to me.
"Don’t I know you, young man?"
"Yes, Sir. I am starting at the Grammar School in September. I came for an interview, Sir."
"Ah yes, Hillingdon?"
"I almost did not recognise you with all that dreadful hair hanging in you face. But I take it from your presence here that you now intend to remedy matters?"
Well, no, I was not intending to "remedy matters", not now anyway, not if I was able to avoid it, but overawed by the headmaster’s dominating presence, I meekly replied "Yes, Sir."
"And you have specifically come here to Mr Campbell because you know that he is aware of the school’s requirements, and can be relied upon to give you the regulation haircut?"
Again I was too overawed to do anything except reply "Yes, Sir."
"Very good." He continued "And do I also take it from your presence here at the start of the summer holidays, rather than the end, that you do not wish to wait until September to adopt the regulation haircut, but are keen to do so straight away, and you intend to maintain it from now on?"
I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole, but there really was no alternative. "Yes, Sir."
"That’s the spirit! I like my boys to maintain the correct haircut even when they are out school over the vacations. Good man. We like a positive attitude at the Grammar School, and it is always noted."
Mr Williamson then picked up a magazine, and no more conversation was attempted. I sat trying to calm myself. The headmaster now certainly expected me to get my own Campbell’s special - right there and then. I had known that such a thing was inevitable - but I had been really hoping not right now, not until September.
But what would happen once my uncle’s haircut was finished? Would he just pay and announce it was time to leave, or would he direct me to the chair? Perhaps the headmaster would interfere in some way - all too likely.
Uncle Clive was now finished, standing up, and having loose hairs brushed off him by Mr Campbell.
Mr Williamson rose to meet him. I politely followed suit.
The headmaster shook my uncle’s hand. "Mr Hillingdon, how do you do? I think you will remember me. You are this young man’s uncle, if I remember correctly, and you came with his parents for his interview at the Grammar School."
"Yes, I am, indeed, and yes I do remember you, headmaster. Delighted to see you again."
They exchanged a few more pleasantries and remarks about the weather.
Then Mr Williamson turned to the barber and said "Mr Campbell, let me introduce you to a new customer, this is young Hillingdon, the nephew of Mr Hillingdon here. He will be starting at the Grammar School in September."
Mr Campbell looked me up and down. "I think I may have come across this young man before, Sir, but I am very glad to hear that he will now be a pupil at the Grammar School."
Mr Williamson turned back to my uncle. "Your nephew has been telling me that he is very keen to have his hair cut in the regulation school manner, so I think we should delay him no longer."
Uncle Clive looked at me, obviously unsure what to make of this last assertion. I had after all volunteered for a haircut in this particular barber’s shop once last summer - but that had been most uncharacteristic - definitely most uncharacteristic.
Given my uncle’s opinions on hair generally, I knew there was no point looking for any help from that quarter, and besides, we had obviously already passed the point of no return.There was simply no escape now. I said nothing.
Mr Williamson continued "Mr Campbell, if you are ready to oblige, this young man is eager for his regulation short back and sides."
"Always ready to oblige with a regulation short back and sides, Sir … This way, young man."
I hung back. I don’t know why. It was rather cowardly. Yes, this haircut would be repellent, humiliating, but it was only a haircut and it could do me no harm, so it really would have been much better to stride manfully over to the chair and accept my fate willingly - at least I would have retained some semblance of dignity.
Two headmasterly hands on my shoulders propelled me firmly towards the chair.
I was caped.
I bowed my head.
I bowed my head - I knew all too well what was coming.
I bowed my head to the inevitable.
My hair was cut.
I say "cut" - "shaved" more like - the clippers bit fiercely as they went up the back and sides. They were sharp, fast, loud, and they cut close. Then there was some warm soapy water, and an open razor made its way round my neck and round my ears.
The barber then tackled the the heavy, wilful mass left on top, blending it in with the back and sides, taming it ruthlessly with the thinning shears, and parting it on the left.
I could not believe how much hair there was sitting on the cape and piled up on the surrounding floor.
"How is that, Sir?" Mr Campbell looked at my uncle.
My uncle looked at the headmaster.
"Very good, your usual splendid job, thank you, Mr Campbell." came the headmaster’s response.
"If you please, Mr Campbell." Mr Williamson replied.
My hair was slicked up with Vaseline and combed precisely into place.
Obviously pleased with his handiwork Mr Campbell picked up the hand mirror and showed me the back.
Yes, the back and sides of my head were now mostly nothing but clean white skin - outch!
The young man in the mirror gazed back at me - sleek, controlled, gleaming and glistening. He looked smart, confident, handsome, but like something from generations back.
I nodded. I was released. I stood there, gingerly rubbing a finger over the prickly nakedness.
""hat feels much better, doesn’t it, Hillingdon?"
I jumped at the sound of the headmaster@s voice, quickly put my hand down by my side, and instinctively stood up straight. "Yes, Sir. Much better. Thank you, Sir."
"Then thank Mr Campbell, young man."
"Thank you, Mr Campbell."
He shook my hand. "It was a pleasure, young Sir."
Uncle Clive went over to the till to pay. "Very nicely done, Mr Campbell."
"Thank you, Sir. The boy will need to come back here every two weeks from now on, to keep his hair up to the required standard ... Every two weeks, is that not correct, headmaster?"
Every two Weeks? Was this really how things were going to be - for the next two years?
And there was a voice inside my head answering "Yes, not only is this how things are going to be, this is how things ought to be. So don’t be such a wimp - man up, take it on board, like it."
"Yes, every two weeks is the rule." came the headmaster's reply.
He turned to my uncle. "Every two weeks, if you please, Mr Hillingdon."
"I shall make sure of it, headmaster."
I spent the next few days trying to convince myself that this haircut was not so bad after all. It was smart, it was masculine - it was military. But as soon as I had calmed down a bit, and a gentle fuzz had begun to cover the back and sides of my head, the prospect of another haircut was only a week away, and I was starting to count down the days.
Ten days passed, eleven, twelve - my uncle said nothing. Was he going to keep to his pledge to make me get a haircut every two weeks? - He was a man of his word - All during the summer holidays? He said nothing. Or was he going to wait until school started in September? He said nothing.
One thought began to dominate my mind: I did not want to be dragged off to the barber by my uncle. I did not want to be sent to the barber like a small boy anymore. To keep any show of my own autonomy I would have to take the initiative and go myself.
By the evening of the twelfth day I really could not stand the suspense any longer. My uncle might start reminding about having a haircut at any moment, and I would be back in the degrading position of being instructed to go for a haircut.
I mustered up my courage.
I tried to sound calm and unconcerned. "Uncle, Clive, I’m due for a haircut in a couple of days, but I can go tomorrow if that is more convenient for you, or I can go by myself as I did back home, Sir."
"Ah ... yes, a haircut every two weeks as the headmaster said, very good. But there really is no need for you to start doing so until September - unless that is your wish?"
I then realised that my uncle had heard nothing - of course! - of what the headmaster had said to me about how he liked his boys to maintain the regulation haircut during the school holidays.
Still, it was now too late to back down, I had to keep up the front. I swallowed - hard. "Yes, Sir. I would like to get into the routine of it straight away, Sir."
"Well, no harm in that, in fact I would say it is an excellent idea. I’ll allow you what you need. If you are happy to go by yourself you can go tomorrow morning. There is no reason, I think, why I should go with you."
"Thank you, Sir."
"And I must say that I'm very glad that you have come to take such a sensible view of the matter. And after all, a good short back and sides is by far the best and most suitable thing for a young man - eh Nick?"
And so next morning the routine began …
… and it has continued ever since.