My teenage haircuts by Snipped Sam
My name is Neil White, I live in a large terraced house with my widowed mother in a large town in Lancashire, I am fourteen and its 1968. Mr Richards the lodger has been with us for six months and he works as an assistant curator at the museum, he is in his late twenties very quiet, rather old fashioned in his appearance, he dresses very much like a school master and his hair it always very short at the sides and back. He uses Brylcreem on the top and combs his hair back, I know this because I have seen the red pot in our bathroom, sometimes I take the top off and smell it, I really love the smell of Brylcreem.
I always think how smart he looks when he comes home when he has been to the barbers, my hair is a moderate length cut just above my collar and off my ears. Mrs Smith who is a friend of my mothers comes to the house and cuts my hair in the kitchen, this is something she has done for about many years, she first used to cut my hair at the ladies’ salon where my mother goes, but as I got older she started coming to the house. Sometimes it takes forever because she talks so much, especially if their friend Mrs Reese from next door is there too. I am just sitting there on the kitchen stool while she stands there with the scissors in her hand, talking away, while I am waiting for the next snip.
One day, after sweeping up my hair, I then start to make my way up to the bathroom, to wash my hair, Mr Richards is in the sitting room reading.
"Ordeal over Neil"
"Yes, it took forever as usual"
I go up to the bathroom wash my hair, then towel dry it then go back downstairs and sit by the coal fire. Mr Richards looks up from his book, and nods his head towards the kitchen as if to say she is still talking. Mrs Smith eventually walks past the sitting room on her way out, but she pops her head in.
"I will see you in a couple of weeks Neil, don’t forget I will be having my operation after that, so that’s why I am coming earlier than usual, you’ll be having a bit more off than you usually do"
"Yes, Mrs Smith, I will remember"
When she has gone, I say to Mr Richards
"I really wish I didn’t have her cutting my hair"
"Don’t you like the way she cuts it?"
"Not really, she cuts it how she thinks it should be done, I never get a choice, sit down, sit still and be quiet"
"I don’t think I’d like her to cut my hair"
"She is a ladies’ hairdresser anyway, the trouble is, mum really likes her, and she has been coming to cut my hair forever"
"I think it’s much better to have a barber cut your hair, my barber knows just how I like my hair and it’s always nice and short, plenty of Brylcreem"
"Sounds a lot better than Mrs Smith"
"You might not say that if you went there, knowing Mr Hall as I do, you probably wouldn’t get out of there without a short back and sides"
"At least I would feel like a boy, I have never been to a barber"
"She said you’ll be having a bit more off next time, you could always ask her if you can have a short back and sides"
"I think I’d still rather go to the barbers, but mum won’t want me to upset her"
"Seems a bit difficult to avoid her cutting your hair then, but don’t give up on it Neil"
The two weeks soon came around, I have tried to broach the subject with mum about going to a barber instead, but she said it wasn’t the right time with Mrs Smith having her operation and I must not upset her. Mrs Smith arrives, I am sitting in the sitting room with Mr Richards, it is usually always the same routine, she and mum have a chat and a cuppa, then I am called through. This time it was no different, she pops her head in the sitting room.
"Time for your haircut Neil"
I follow her into the kitchen, the kitchen stool is in its usual place, I sit down and she prepares me for a haircut.
"Now Neil, you know that I am going into hospital for an operation, so I won’t be coming to cut your hair for at least six weeks or so"
"Oh, I didn’t know it would be that long Mrs Smith"
"Yes, it looks like it Neil, and I warned you the last time that you would be having a bit more off"
"Are you going to give me a short back and sides Mrs Smith?"
"No Neil, but I will cut it shorter"
"How much shorter Mrs Smith?"
"Not so many questions Neil, you’re here to have your haircut and not to ask questions"
She starts to cut my hair, my mother returns from posting a letter and sits down and they start chatting, my haircut ordeal goes on for ever. I never get to see my hair until I am in the bathroom to wash it. This time it is shorter all over and she has cut my hair at the back higher. I don’t know when I will next see her, it all depends on the operation. The next day Mr Richards comes home and he has been to the barbers, his hair is really short and I think it has been perfectly cut. About four weeks have passed by and Mr Richards, mum and I are sitting in the sitting room.
"I meant to ask you Mrs White, how is your friend Mrs Smith? the lady who has had the operation"
"Oh, that’s so kind of you Mr Richards, not doing too well unfortunately, its going to be a slow recovery"
"That’s a shame, what will be happening about Neil’s hair if she is not well enough to come here to cut it?"
"I will need to sort something out"
"Well I will be going to my barber on my afternoon off this Thursday, I could meet Neil after school and he could come with me, I know he is used to Mrs Smith, but I find Mr Hall is a very good barber"
"That would be really helpful, thank you Mr Richards"
"Very happy to help"
Thursday afternoon school finishes and Mr Richards is there to meet me at the gate. As we walk to the barbers he chats to me,
"As its your first ever visit to a barbers Neil, it will be better if I take charge"
"I think so too, Mr Richards"
We arrive at the barbers, there is a red and white striped pole outside, we go through the first door, and then walk down a long corridor and then through another door which has frosted glass. There are wooden chairs to sit on and one barber’s chair, Mr Richards indicates where I should sit and he sits beside me. Mr Hall is very tall, quite a thin man with receding white hair, he is dressed very smartly with a white shirt and dark tie, black trousers, a long grey protective coat, but what I really notice are his black leather shoes which are highly polished. He is cutting the hair of a middle-aged man, he looks over and warmly greets Mr Richards, and acknowledges me too, with a nod and young man. This is all very different from what I remember is Maison Doreen, the hair salon I was taken to before Mrs Smiths’ visits. There are some very distinctive smells, some sweet but mostly masculine. Mr Richards glances at a newspaper, I am a bit fidgety, and start tapping my fingers, he taps my hand with the newspaper, and gives me a warning look to stop it. The man is now off the chair, and the barber busies himself with brushing down and taking payment. He then looks over
"Who is next?"
"You go first Neil"
I stand up and start to walk to the barber
"Take your blazer off Neil" Mr Richards says quite abruptly
I stop and take my blazer off and the barber points to the coat stand, I hang it up and then walk to the barber’s chair, he holds the white nylon cover in readiness to prepare me for the haircut. Soon I am sitting in the barbers chair all ready for my haircut, he pumps the chair up to raise me to the right height for him to cut my hair, he then combs my hair.
"What’s it to be today?"
"He needs a short back and sides"
"Then he is has come to the right place, sir"
He selects a pair of scissors from the side and starts to cut my hair, In the mirror I can see Mr Richards. He is reading the newspaper, Mr Hall works quickly with his scissors, it is so very different to Mrs Smith who takes for ever because she talks so much. He is cutting my hair very short, after lots of cutting, he changes to a strange looking pair of scissors, and uses these on my hair all over they rather tug at my hair and he has to keep removing trapped hair from the teeth of the scissors. Once this has been done he brushes the loose hairs away, and looks over to Mr Richards.
"That’s all the cutting and thinning done sir, how short would you like the back and sides done sir?"
"Very short if you please Mr Hall"
Mr Hall selects a pair of electric clippers then bends my head forward, the clippers have a deep buzzing sound, and they are journeying up the back of my head, I can feel my hair falling away. He then does the same above my ears. When my head is lifted up I am shocked how bare it looks, Mr Hall uses a razor on my neck and above my ears. After checking with Mr Richards, he applies a little Brylcreem to my hair and combs it precisely in place with a severe side parting. I am released from the chair and after a brush down I return to where I was sitting. I watch Mr Richards go to the chair and notice him taking of his spectacles and handing them to Mr Hall. His hair is combed forward and then Mr Hall cuts it, his hair remains forward until Mr Hall has clipped the sides and back of his head he then applies Brylcreem and combs his hair back. During this my hand explores the back of my head where it has all been clipped, I feel rather shocked, I know that I big part of me wanted this but the reality is very different. We return home and my mother appears to really like my haircut.
Four weeks have now passed since I had my haircut, Mr Richards has gone on a training course to a museum in Cardiff, so he is away for a month. I have finished my homework and there is a knock at the front door, my mother is out so I answer it. On opening the door, I see Mrs Smith standing there, I notice that she has her dreaded bag with her, she comes in.
"How are you Neil?"
"Very well thank you Mrs Smith, are you feeling better now?"
"Much better thanks Neil, slow at first but now much better"
"That’s good, I am afraid that Mum isn’t here"
"That’s alright Neil, its you I’ve come to see"
"We’ll go straight through to the kitchen"
We walk through to the kitchen and I watch as she unpacks her bag, puts her nylon overall on, then to my horror she takes out some electric clippers.
"Where can we plug these in Neil?"
I point to a socket, and unplug the toaster for her so she can plug them in
"I didn’t think you used them Mrs Smith"
"The way I cut your hair before didn’t require them, but I understand while I wasn’t well, you went to the barbers and your hair was cut very short"
"Yes, but I really like the way you cut my hair Mrs Smith"
"Your mum really liked your hair very short and she asked me if I could be a bit stricter with your haircuts"
"Please Mrs Smith, can’t you just do it a bit shorter than I usually have it?"
"No Neil, now sit down and be quiet"
She set to work on my hair, by the time she had finished she has taken the clippers all the way up of the back of my head nearly to the crown and the same at the sides. I am then sent upstairs to wash my hair and told to towel dry it and then report back to her. On my return I am told to sit back down, now she uses setting lotion and finger waves my hair on top.
This becomes my regular hair cut for the next two years, once I leave school I am able to make my own choices when it comes to my hair until the day comes when I join the army, then the army barber will take care of my haircuts.