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I give up my resistance, by Sean Barnet


I GIVE UP MY RESISTANCE

BY SEAN BARNET


During the summer of 1974 my grandparents rented a holiday flat for two weeks in a seaside town, inviting my four cousins - Ben and Matt (twins, 16) Toby (14) and Alex (12), and myself - James (15), to stay with them.

My cousins were strictly brought up by their elderly father. They called him formally "Father" or "Sir", and other men were usually "Sir" too. They often dressed up smartly in jackets and ties, and they always had fearsomely short haircuts.

At that time we were used to much longer styles, and these haircuts of my cousins seemed really quite shocking. Even I found the sight of them with fresh haircuts a bit of a shock, even though I saw them all regularly both in and out of school. I wondered how they bore it.

But I have to admit that I was fascinated as well as repelled by these haircuts. Freshly cut, they were shaved clean round the back and sides. Then they went through a stage when you could see skin through the stubble at different angles as they moved their heads, and the short hairs glinted as they caught light. After a couple of weeks the skin disappeared under a layer of velvet. Then they were shaved close again.

On anyone else I think I would have found such haircuts disgusting, but all four of them were good looking enough not merely to carry them off, but even to make the haircuts themselves look good, and when their haircuts were fresh and they were dressed up smartly my cousins contrived to make the rest of us look downright scruffy by comparison.

I, on the other hand, like most other boys of my age, had the long hair that was then in fashion. I say my hair was "long", but what I really mean is that it was as long as it was allowed to be. I had a layered cut, over the ears and brushing the collar at the back. It was much longer than would have been remotely acceptable ten or even five years previously, but still neatly trimmed enough for school.

When I say that it would not have been acceptable ten or even five years previously, I say this from my own bitter experience. When I was younger I was regularly taken to barber shops to have a brusque old man shave the back and sides of my head with clippers, and then hack away at the top with thinning shears. I remembered vividly how much I hated it, and how naked and vulnerable I felt afterwards. And now, in 1973, there were reminders - not that I needed any reminders - of how things used to be. There were my cousins’ haircuts of course. Then the school corridors were lined with photographs of old cricket and rugby teams and prefects for generations back. Right up until the mid 60s they all had the same shiney, slicked back, regulation haircuts - and one or two of them still did. And, finally, there was the constant background of both spoken and unspoken disapproval from the older generation of any boy with anything other than the traditional short back and sides.

My cousins always teased me about my "long" hair, calling me "girly", and told me that "real men" had short hair, like they did in the army. Ben in particular used to tell me that I could do with a "good scalping", that it would teach me "discipline and respect" and that a "severe shearing" would be "character building". I suppose they were getting their own back for being teased about their own hair at school, but when I was with them I was outnumbered by four to one.

My grandfather too used to try to persuade me to get a short haircut, though he did this rather more nicely. "A man always feels better about himself once he has a smart haircut."

A few days before the end of our holiday my grandfather went off into town by himself, and came back with a fresh, closely shaved, short back and sides of his own.

That evening after supper we all went out for a stroll, somehow I ended up walking together with my grandfather while the others went on ahead, looking back I am sure that my grandfather had contrived this deliberately.

"Tomorrow, I shall be taking you boys to the barber shop ..." I was immediately filled with trepidation "... your cousins are due for their regular tidy ups. Now, whether you get a haircut or not is up to you, your father has given me no specific instructions. But I have spoken to him about the matter more than once, and I know he would like you to have a smart haircut like your cousins, and as you used to have until recently. I myself am very disappointed to see you adopting an unkempt look, and to hear from your father that you complain so much when he sends you to get your hair cut. I cannot imagine what the fuss is about. Now, it would please him very much if you would have a nice short back and sides like your cousins, and it would please me even more - So will you consider it?"

I had been expecting nothing like this while on a seaside holiday, and I was really rather at a loss as to what to say. "Yes, I will consider it." sounded far too much like "Yes, I will do it." So I just stood there umming and erring.

However, my grandfather insisted on an answer. "You will consider it then, James?"

"But, they’re completely scalped. I mean my cousins have their hair completely shaved round the back and sides, Grandad."

"As it should be."

"But I don’t want my hair like that, it’s awful."

"It is not a question of your personal preferences, young man, it is a question of what is most appropriate, and I think you will agree that the present mess you have on your head is inappropriate. Now, will you consider it?"

There really was no getting out of giving him the answer he wanted. "Er ... yes, Grandad ... I'll consider it."

"Good lad. Give it some thought, and we shall see how you feel about things tomorrow."

"Yes, Grandad."

And we walked on.

*****

That night I had a dream:

It was dark, everyone had gone to bed except my father and myself. My father was sitting in a Victorian swivel chair in his book lined study, and I was standing in front of him.

He started by saying that now I was 15 years old I was too old to call him "Dad" any longer and from now on I ought to call him either "Father" or "Sir".

He was holding a cane across his lap, which he beat gently in the palm of one hand while he explained that from now on he would be tightening up on discipline with all of us and we would feel its effects.

Then he told me that the next day he would be taking my younger brothers and myself to the barber shop. We would be getting haircuts which were rather shorter than we were used to, and shorter, he knew, than I in particular would like, but he was relying on me to take the lead, set my brothers an example, and have my hair cut without making any fuss.

"Now, can you promise me that?"

"Er … I suppose so."

"No, James, that is "Yes, sir." if you please."

"Er … Yes, sir."

"Better, but let us have it rather clearer and more confident."

"Yes, sir!"

"No need to shout, young man, we are not on the parade ground. Try again, please, clear and confident, but at a normal conversational volume."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you, and once more."

"Yes, sir."

"And when I ask you afterwards if you like your new haircut I want to hear a nice clear "Yes, sir. It's very smart, sir. Thank you, sir." to encourage your brothers. So let me hear you say it now."

"Yes, sir. It's very smart, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Once again please."

"Yes, sir. It's very smart, sir. Thank you, sir."

And still in the dream:

The next day took us all to the barber shop. It was down a long dark staircase in a basement. We all sat down in row on the bench. The barber said "Next!", my father gestured me towards the barbe's chair, and I went, most reluctantly.

I was caped, in a black cape, and the barber swung the chair away from the mirror.

"Yes, sir?"

"Short back and sides."

"Very good, sir."

My head was pushed forwards. I heard the clippers start up and get louder and louder, coming closer and closer. Cold, vibrating blades hit the nape of my neck, hard.

I woke up with a start.

It was totally dark. It took awhile for me to get my head back together and realise that it had all been a dream. I was in bed, on holiday, at the seaside. I had no brothers - it was just me, my mother and my father - my father did not have a study, or a Victorian swivel chair, and he most certainly did not have a cane.

I gave a small shudder as I remembered all the details, heaved a sigh of relief that it was not real, and then turned over and went back to sleep.

*****

The next morning at breakfast my grandfather announced to my grandmother and the others "I have found a suitable barber shop, so this morning before we go to the beach I am taking these boys for haircuts."

Ben grinned maliciously at me. "You see, you are going to get a real haircut at last!"

"Ben, that is entirely down to James. He has his father’s permission to grow his hair over the holidays, and he can choose to have a haircut or not, as he pleases."

"And what about me then, sir, what if I do not want a haircut?" replied Ben.

"You, young man, do not have any choice in the matter. Your father likes to keep you boys looking smart, and that is how you will look when he comes to collect you on Saturday. I am not having him think that I have been neglecting you."

The barber shop was an old-fashioned place - no surprises there - with two elderly barbers.

Ben went first.

"Yes, sir, what will it be?"

"Short back and sides for the lad, please." replied my grandfather.

The barber set to work, stripping the back and sides of Ben's head of all hair. I stared fixedly as an alarmingly wide expanse of bare white skin was revealed up the back of his head and round his ears. It was extreme.

The next chair became vacant, so it was Matt's turn. Same dialogue, almost word for word.

"Yes, sir?"

"Short back and sides, please." replied my grandfather.

Same again.

Meanwhile Ben's haircut was nearing completion. The barber turned towards my grandfather. "Any off the top, sir?"

"Yes, thin it down a little, please."

The thinning shears came out.

"How is that? Short enough, sir?"

My grandfather went over to inspect. "Yes, that is very nice, thank you."

"Cream or spray, sir?"

"Ben?"

"Cream, please, sir."

Ben was duly greased up and dusted down, and emerged from the chair with his hair glossy and shining, and with the back and sides of his head shaved bare and white - glaring against the holiday tan on his face and neck.

Then my grandfather looked at me and gestured towards the vacant barber's chair.

There was no way I was going to have a haircut like that. I shook my head.

My grandfather looked at me. "No?"

"No."

My grandfather just nodded, and gestured to Toby, who promptly and obediently took my place.

Ben poked me in the ribs laughing. "So you chickened out then? Girly! Scaredy cat!"

My Grandfather looked at Ben disapprovingly. "Leave James alone please, Ben.He must make his own decisions."

How Ben had guessed the truth I do not know, but he had guessed the truth - I was afraid. But immediately, I regretted my cowardice. The others did not seem bothered in the slightest by having such haircuts, and I did not like to be seen as lacking in courage.

As Matt’s haircut was drawing towards completion my grandfather turned to me again. "See how smart your cousins look with their haircuts. Now, it is entirely up to you, but I think you should get yourself a decent, respectable haircut while we are here. It would suit you very well and would be a very nice surprise for you father when he sees you."

I do not know if it was the previous night's dream, or the fact that I was riled by what Ben had said to me, or my grandfather's words (at least they provided cover, I could not be seen to give in to Ben's baiting), or wanting to fit in with the others, or in response to some deep inner compulsion of my own, but after a pause I mustered up the necessary nerve and said "Yes, I've changed my mind, I think I would like to have my hair cut after all."

"Good lad, I knew you would see sense in the end."

I sat there, heart thumping, feeling a little sick. I could hardly believe that I had said what I had. Now there would be no going back. Now I would have to submit to the same shearing as the others.

But at least I did not have long to wait in my state of nervous tension, the barbers were working fast, a smooth production line denuding us boys of all superfluous hair.

The barber cutting Matt's hair turned towards my grandfather.

"Cream or spray, sir?"

"Matt?"

"Cream, please, sir."

Matt was then greased up and dusted down, and left the chair looking exactly like Ben, back and sides shaved bare and white, and the hair on top glistening and shining.

My grandfather looked at me again, like it or not I would now have to go through with this.

I walked over and rather gingerly eased myself gingerly down into the chair - as though the chair itself might suddenly turn nasty and try to bite me or something.

My grandfather came over.

The barber eyed my shaggy locks, and then looked at my grandfather. "And this young man, sir?"

My Grandfather looked at me. "So, ready for a nice smart haircut then, James?"

I swallowed, hard. "OK ... Er.… Yes, Grandad."

My grandfather placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Good lad." And then looked at the barber. "Short back and sides for this young man too, please."

"Short back and sides, sir, just the same as the last one?" asked the barber.

"The same as the last one." confirmed my grandfather.

"Very good, sir."

The "arber pulled the cape tight round my neck, placed a hand on the back of my head, and pushed it forwards in a manner that said "Don't try anything with me, boy."

Clippers went up the back of my head, and then round first the right side and then the left.

I tried, rather hesitantly, to look up and see what he was doing, but I was told to keep still. Ashamed, I got a grip on myself. I sat up straight and motionless, and I watched in silent dismay as my beautiful hair landed in clumps on the cape and slid down to the floor.

"The parting, sir?"

"Over to the left hand side, please."

The barber duly moved my centre parting to the left, and cut the fringe at a slant across my forehead.

"Any off the top, sir?"

"Yes, thin it down, please."

The thinning shears came out.

"Short enough, sir?"

My grandfather came over to inspect. "Yes, that is very much better, thank you."

Shaving cream round my neck and ears, then an open razor, followed by some stinging liquid.

"Cream or spray, sir?"

"What would you like, James, cream or spray?"

Brylcreem had a bad reputation amongst my contemporaries, and Gino, the barber I went to at home who did trendy cuts for teenagers, never used anything except spray. My instinct was to say "Spray, please." But Ben and Matt had both opted for Brylcreem. Perhaps Brylcreem was not so bad after all? Maybe I should do this thing properly?

"Cream, please."

The barber massaged in the Brylcreem, combed everything into place and gave me a perfectly straight parting. My hair was suddenly sleek and immaculate, and gleamed and glistened in the light. He showed me the closely shaved back and sides in the hand mirror. I could not believe how short it was - what had I done?

He spun me round, facing my grandfather. "There you are, sir, all neat and tidy now, a proper young gentleman now, if I may say so myself, sir."

"Yes, indeed, you may. A great improvement."

The cape was removed with something of a theatrical flourish, and I stepped out of the chair, grinning sheepishly at the others. I now looked more like another brother than a cousin.

"Now that is a real haircut at last!" said Ben, jabbing a finger at me "No more long hair for you, boy!"

I pulled a face and sat down.

*****

We sat waiting for Alex to be finished.

I ran a finger up the back of my head, and a shiver of excitement coursed through me as I felt first smooth shaved skin, then sharp stubble and then crisp bristles.

My grandfather smiled. "So, do you like your haircut then, James?"

"Yes, sir. It's very smart, sir. Thank you, sir." I replied automatically, just as I had been drilled to do in my dream.

It was only later that I realised I had called my grandfather "Sir", something I had never done before. I don’t even know if he noticed. He was used to my cousins calling him "Sir", and may have thought nothing of it, but it stayed in my mind. I saw how easily and naturally my cousins called him "Sir", and it seemed suitable and right - but appropriate for them, not for me.

We left the shop. I had to be alone. I made an excuse that I had finished my book and wanted to find a book shop and get another, and I would make my own way back to the flat in time for lunch.

It was the middle of summer, but the breeze on my scalp felt cold. The bristles on the back of my head stood up straight in response. Another shiver ran through me, but it was not excitement this time - I was exposed and vulnerable again, just as I had been after those trips to the barber only a few years back.

*****

As soon as we had finished lunch I went to the bathroom and washed out all the awful Brylcreem. But it didn’t help much to calm my embarrassment, the longer hair on top, now rather fluffy and out of control, served only to emphasise how painfully, cruelly, grotesquely short it now was round the back and sides.

That night I tried to make sure that my ears were flat against my head as I lay down on the pillow - a vain attempt to stop them sticking out so much.

*****

When my father came to collect me he did not believe that I had had my hair cut voluntarily. He thanked my grandfather profusely, and asked him how he had managed to persuade me to get such a good, smart haircut at last?

My grandfather simply repeated that I had done this voluntarily, and that all he had done was suggest that it was something I could do which would be a pleasant surprise for him when he came.

*****

Luckily there were a few weeks of holiday left before school started again in September, and my hair had grown back enough to avoid too many comments, and anyway a lot of my friends had fresh back-to-school haircuts, so they could hardly say anything.

*****

Then, after a week back at school, my father quite unexpectedly told me that it was time I had a haircut. Though my hair had grown a bit in the lasts few weeks it was certainly not long and I was about to protest, but before I could open my mouth to speak he added "And I want you to get a proper haircut, a nice short back and sides, just like the one you had when you were on holiday with your grandfather."

I was taken aback. He had always, until now, been quite reasonable about my wanting longer hair, merely insisting that I kept it clean and tidy and short enough to be acceptable at school.

Obviously anticipating opposition, my father continued "If you can do it for your grandfather you can do it for me - Or do you want me to ask your grandfather to take you?"

I still could not get my head together to reply.

"Well, my son?"

I clearly had no choice in the matter. "Yes, Dad. I’ll get it cut, tomorrow after school."

"That's better, young man." and he handed me the money.

I could not work out what had brought this on all of a sudden. Unlike my uncle and my grandfather my father did not have a short back and sides himself, just a normal, tidy middle aged man’s cut. What was this obsession middle aged men all seemed to have with inflicting short haircuts on teenage boys?

*****

That night I had the same dream again. I woke up sweaty and panicky. I drank some water, and then lay there for ages before going back to sleep.

In the morning I woke up with a feeling of dread, which to start off with I could not place, and then of course I remembered. Did I really want to go through with this? But what was the alternative? Go to Gino's, ask for "Nice and short." and hope that my father would be satisfied with that? I spent the whole day at school unable to concentrate, churning this over in my head, with a sick feeling in my stomach.

I was afraid.

Yes, I knew I was afraid.

So, go to Gino's then, ask for "Nice and short." and hope that my father would be satisfied.

But I myself - would I be satisfied?

As soon as I had asked myself this question I realised I had to go through with this - I must demonstrate that having a short back and sides was not something that bothered me.

I had made my decision to face this, and began to feel calmer.

So, if I don’t go to Gino’s then, where else?

There was a barber shop on the way home from school, Harris’s - "Butcher Harris" we called him. Immediately, the sick feeling came back in my stomach. Did I really want to go through with this? What purpose would it serve?

I had already proved that I could do this voluntarily once, so why did I need to prove it again? But this time I was being made to do it, this time it was compulsory not voluntary.

I started to curse my father, and my grandfather, and the day I had allowed myself to be persuaded into getting that haircut on holiday.

And so it went on - all day.

Eventually the school day came to an end. I started walking home. Gino's was something of a diversion, Harri'’s was directly on my way. I came to the turn off, and hesitated, and then without making any conscious decision I carried straight on thinking I might still turn back or walk past Harris’s and take a longer route to Gino’s.

But Harris's was getting closer, and then I was there. Did I really want to put myself into the hands of "Butcher Harris"? To trust myself into his power? I could still go to Gino’s after all.

But telling myself "Resistance is futile" and feeling far worse than I had done in that barber shop on holiday, I put a clammy, sticky hand on the door-handle and went in.

I sat waiting my turn with a couple of elderly men. I caught snatches of conversation between the Mr Harris and the customer in his chair.

The barber was saying that he had a young lad in earlier who had complained that he was cutting his hair too short.

"So what did you do, you can hardly stick it back on, can you?"

"Oh, I cut a great deal more off, gave him a good short back and sides, good and proper, one my old Regimental Sergeant-Major would have approved of."

The customer laughed, "Serves him right, cheeky blighter, teach him some manners."

Mr Harris continued "It is always like that though, these days. Anyone under twenty who comes in here always complains that I cut it too short. But I'm old fashioned, see. I believe in cutting plenty off, and giving customers their money’s worth, and I'm not about to change now."

My cousin’s words kept echoing in my head - "Real men have short hair, like they do in the army." "You could do with a good scalping, it would teach you discipline and respect." and "A severe shearing would be character building." Then there was my grandfather - "A man always feels better about himself once he has a smart haircut." And, most tellingly, my cousin again - "So you chickened out then? Girly! Scaredy cat!"

My turn came, I was caped up, and Mr Harris looked at me enquiringly.

"Back and sides, please."

It seemed that my courage had failed me and I was really not up to asking for a "SHORT back and sides" - as though missing out the word "Short" would actually make any difference to how Mr Harris understood my request.

And unsurprisingly it made NO difference.

"Short back and sides?" He asked. He placed no particular stress on the word "Short", "Back and sides" was obviously just a routine abbreviation.

"Short back and sides." I confirmed, resignedly.

I sat there quietly and obediently, agreeing to everything. Mr Harris pushed the clippers in hard - as hard, I think, as was humanly possible. To say that they were sharp would be an understatement. And, to add insult to injury, I had to suffer the indignity of Mr Harris using my poor ears as handles as he moved my head.

He worked fast, and in less than ten minutes he was showing me the back and the sides in the mirror. They were shaved high, they were shaved close, and what hair there was left on top glistened with Brylcreem. It was short back and sides with a vengeance.

"How's that, young man?"

All I could do now was to master my feelings, nod approvingly, and say "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

He handed me a tissue, and let me out of the chair.

Another "Thank you, sir."

I wiped round the back of my neck, and that same thrill ran through me as I had felt at the barber's on holiday.

And I kept feeling that wonderful, prickly back of my head all the way home.

*****

I took a good long look at myself in the mirror in my bedroom, twisting one way and another to see as much of the back and sides as I could. "Butcher Harris" had certainly lived up to his reputation. The haircut was severe - shockingly severe, and when I looked into the mirror straight on there was something striking and evocative about the fact that above my ears there was all this empty space before my hair started.

I straightened up my school tie, and ran a comb through my Brylcreemed hair. My appearance was a throwback to the 50s. It was the complete opposite of everything that was in fashion, but somehow it looked good. It was disciplined, it was sleek, and it felt good.

I could not really say why I opted for Brylcreem again. It seemed like it was the manly thing to do. I was old enough to remember the days when most men wore Brylcreem, it was as much a part of being a man as beer or the Army. I had to admit it looked good, and it had felt good as Mr Harris had put it on my hair. Yes, it felt good in my hair, but touch it with your fingers and then it seemed slimy, greasy, offensive. So did a man just bear with it then, knowing that it made him look smart and well groomed as a man should look?

*****

That evening as he came home my father beckoned me over and gave me an inspection. He nodded approvingly. "Yes, most satisfactory. Well done, my son. And is this Brylcreem?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. It is the best thing there is. It will keep everything nice and orderly."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, this is what we want to see. This is exactly as is should be. An excellent haircut, I am sure you agree?"

"Yes, sir. It's very smart, sir. Thank you, sir." - the words from the dream came out again.

"Very good …. Yes, splendid, splendid ... we must keep things this way."

Why was I calling my father "Sir"? I had never called my father "Sir" before. I did not call anyone "Sir" except the masters at school, and then only because we had to. I did not like calling them "Sir", it seemed rather degrading, being constantly reminded of one's subordinate status.

But I had called Mr Harris "Si"" too, had I not?

But with both of my father and Mr Harris "Sir" had come out quite spontaneously, and it had seemed perfectly natural. For some reason it had felt only right to address them respectfully.

Thinking about it again later I realised that calling my father "Sir" made me feel more confident in myself. It expressed a different sense of myself, someone more mature, more masculine - more "soldierly". I began to think I might join the school’s Army Cadets, which was something I had shied away from previously as definitely "not me".

Anyway, going back to that evening: I had a bath before supper and washed out the Brylcreem. As soon as I went downstairs my father looked at my hair flopping this way and that and down onto my forehead, and he shook his head disapprovingly.

He beckoned me to follow. We went up to the bathroom and he took a tub of Brylcreem out of the cabinet. He dipped a finger in and took out a small blob, rubbed it over his hands and massaged it into my hair. "There you go, lad. Now go and run a comb through that. I think you will find this does what is required. And you had better take this with you ..." he handed me the tub "... you will need to use this from now on to keep it looking smart."

I went back to my room and combed everything into place, and it stayed in place. But it did not feel greasy, my father had used much less than the barber - much, much less. It gave my hair a nice sheen. It looked good, and this time it felt OK, even quite pleasant.

I had never previously registered that my father used Brylcreem, I think it must have been because he only used such a small amount.

I looked in the mirror, quite pleased with my appearance. But something did not seem quite right, T-shirt and jeans just seemed out of place. I put on some smart trousers, changed back into the white shirt I had worn for school and put on a tie. Then, feeling that everything was now more in keeping, I went down to supper.

*****

The next day was school, and I had to face down the jokes. I claimed that the haircut had been my own choice, that I wanted a "real haircut" for a change, and that I really, really liked it. At least I was not the only one, there were my cousins and there were half a dozen other boys across the school who had been shorn in the same way before the start of term.

*****

A few weeks passed. I was starting to get nervous in anticipation of being sent for another haircut, but even by the end of the fourth week my father had said nothing. My hair was starting to be a more normal looking length again - maybe my father had given up on his idea of wanting me to keep my hair short after all?

But I, however, could not get the idea out of my head.

On the one hand I was full of dread at the prospect of being sent back to Harris's for another awful scalping. On the other, I could not help but feel that I was somehow supposed to volunteer for it. I was plagued by thoughts that I must prove that I could take it - that I ought to conceal my real feelings, appear quite unconcerned, and volunteer for my own punishment.

Rather more logically, I also reasoned that if I had to have a short back and sides it would be far better to have it done regularly, and avoid any sudden and embarrassing drastic changes to my appearance.

A full month passed. Nothing had been said. I had to take the bull by the horns. As my father was giving me my pocket money on Saturday I came out with it. "I think it is about time I had a haircut, sir - maybe I could go after school on Monday?"

"Ah, yes ... indeed ... excellent. And you will need some money too, of course." He reached back into his wallet.

"Thank you, sir."

I habitually called my father "Sir" now. I could tell he liked it. It lubricated the wheels of our relationship. Curiously though, get the tone right and it seemed more like I was talking to an equal, and being treated as an equal in return, or, rather more accurately, it felt like I was one grown man speaking to another, although it happened to be that he was one who was more senior. And now I found I no longer felt awkward calling the masters at school "Sir" either, well, apart from the ones I did not like, of course. I began to call my grandfather and uncle "Sir" too, and I found older men generally always seemed very pleased to be addressed in this way.

And so I had talked myself into another short back and sides - but at least this one really would be of my own choosing.

I did not think I would feel quite so nervous going back to Harris's this time, but it was every bit as bad as before. At least it seemed that way while I was waiting. But as soon as I was in the chair I threw myself into the spirit of the thing, and this time I managed a calm and confident "Short back and sides, please, sir."

"Short back and sides, young man?"

"Yes, sir."

My head was pushed right down, and I got an intense thrill as the clippers went up the back of my head.

*****

That Saturday I went into town, and walking round the shops I met one of my old teachers from my junior school, Mr Wallace.

After the initial greetings, he stood scrutinising me, exactly as he used to do with us boys all lined up before class at school.

I felt embarrassed, but I stood up straight, looked straight ahead, and kept my mouth shut, just as we had been trained to do back then.

"Now, that is a good smart haircut you have got there, lad."

"Yes, sir. Short back and sides, sir."

"So, you have given up on the long hair business have you, and you are keeping it short now?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very sensible." He looked at me again. "And you have put some dressing on it, I think?"

"Yes, sir. Brylcreem, sir."

"Excellent. I knew the old ways would start coming back. We couldn't carry on with this untidy hair nonsense very much longer, could we?"

"No, sir."

*****

Despite what I said to Mr Wallace, I still had repeated pangs of misgiving about my new appearance. One moment the short back and sides seemed smart, then suddenly it would seem too neat and too tidy - too unnatural. And that was not all. I looked very different from my contemporaries. Surely they, and any one else who saw me, must think me some kind of freak. It was humiliating.

Nevertheless, I knew I had to carry on. Duty and honour required that I took responsibility for keeping my hair short and smart - very short and smart.

I found that the only way to deal with my fears was to do exactly what it was I was afraid of and did not want to do.

But of course in the end I did want to do it. The feelings I got as I sat with my head bowed, while the sharp vibrating clippers ran up the back of my head, the feelings I got as the barber's hands massaged in Brylcreem, and the feelings I got as I ran a finger through the sharp stubble on the back of my head afterwards - these feelings became addictive, and before long I was getting my hair cut every couple of weeks, just like my cousins.

And I did join the school's Army Cadets.


THE END




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