Joe Curtis : Very good barber by Snipped Sam
Seeing my nephew yesterday with his shortest haircut ever, reminded me of myself at his age some forty something years ago. Luke has just turned seventeen and the super short haircut is highly popular among lads his age, somewhat different for me when I was seventeen.
I think ever since I had been a small boy I loved having my haircut, when perhaps other boys hated it I always enjoyed a trip to the barbers. As I got into my mid-teens the pressure was on to have my hair a bit longer, not from my father but from the other boys at school, if you didn’t have your hair longer there was something wrong with you. To me the irony was if you had your hair cut short you were a sissy but I took the view with long hair surely you were like a girl. This was the mid-seventies and by the age of seventeen I was at college of further education and worked during the holidays and weekends at an independent DIY store.
My fascination with haircuts had remained and certainly increased, each day on my way to work during that summer I would pass by a barber shop, in the window was a display of photographs of haircuts. I would look as I walked past and one photograph always caught my attention, it was a young man perhaps in his mid-twenties with the shortest of haircuts, showing the back and sides clipped practically up to the crown. He appeared very smartly dressed. the photo was I imagined quite old, perhaps from the fifties.
I began day dreaming of going in and asking for this haircut, I had been to this barber before when I was about thirteen, along with so many others barber shops in the town. It was just before I had begun growing my hair to a more fashionable length, and I was very self-conscious about having my hair cut very short, and although I asked for it to be trimmed and not too short and he had cut it short, in fact I remember thinking he had butchered it. I didn’t particularly like him because he had made me wait longer than my turn for my haircut while he cut the hair of two men who came in after me. There was no appointments and I guess it was because they were regulars and I was a junior customer. I also remembered that he had been really abrupt, when I had asked him to leave my sideboards, he had been quite indignant saying "you need to have something done with them?". It had made me feel awkward, so I had replied that maybe just a touch off then, he cut them so short that they were just narrow little points.
One evening I got out my secret haircut diary, where I had recorded trips to barbers during my early and mid-teen years. It was thrilling to read my thoughts on the various barbers and hairdressers who had cut my hair over the years. There was the barber I passed on my way to work
Shorter than I asked for, cut too much off my sideboards and did the back very short, he said he’d given me a Boston, traditional shop with comfortable barber’s chair, did not him like very much, probably will not go again. Liked the Cossack hair spray. 6/10
Having only scored him six out of ten why was I thinking of going back? I had a day off coming up and this would coincide with a haircut, would it be a trip to somewhere trendy for a trim or will I be paying a visit to Joe Curtis? After a bit of a lie in on my morning off, I was up and ready, and on my way, to have my haircut, it was no surprise to me that I was going to Joe Curtis. When I arrived, I had a last look at the photo in the window, yes that’s the one for me I thought. I opened the door and stepped in, Joe was engaged in cutting someone’s hair, I sat down on the red leather bench seat, it was just me waiting. I recognised the man in the chair as being the chap who worked at the army careers office, he had given a talk at my school when I was in my last year. I felt really nervous, Joe was as I remembered him, late thirties, fairly tall with chunky build, ginger hair with thick sideburns and a square finish at the back. Eventually the army recruitment officer stepped off the chair with a really sharp haircut, he was wearing army uniform so looked really good. Joe made a big fuss of him with brushing down etc and having paid he left. I sat there on the bench waiting, Joe swaggered over to the barber’s chair, removed the folded navy-blue nylon cape which was resting on the back of the chair, stood by it and said NEXT in his curt manner, not even bothering to look over at me. I could see why he had unnerved me back when I was thirteen with his brusque ways.
I stood up and walked to the chair and sat on it, my heart was racing as Joe placed the navy-blue nylon cape in position. I was thinking how great it would have been if the army recruitment officer had sent me to Joe for a haircut. After fastening the cape tightly Joe ran his comb through my hair which was slightly over my collar and covered my ears.
"How do you want it" he asked in an abrupt tone
"Like the photo in the window, top left one please"
There I had said it, Joe said he wouldn’t be a moment and went outside to look at the photo, he returned and asked me if I was sure it was the one on the top left, he lit and cigarette and took a deep draw on it.
"That would just leave you with a little bit on top and bare sides and back"
"If that’s the one you want or I can give you a skinhead"
"Like the photo in the window please"
"Or a skinhead"
"I came here because I like the look of the haircut in the window"
"O.K kiddo, but there’s no changing your mind once I start"
"No, I won’t change my mind"
He placed the lit cigarette in the ashtray beside the chair I was sitting in, he picked up his scissors and started to cut large chunks of my hair off, not that it mattered too much is was all practically coming off. He ruffled my hair with his hand then stood for a couple of moments smoking his cigarette, he opened the steriliser cabinet and took out a fresh clipper blade and changed over the head on the clippers, he placed his hand on the top of my head and bent it right down. There were a few bellows of smoke in my direction and then I heard the cigarette being stubbed out in the ashtray. I was thinking to my myself that I would really love a cigarette, too late for that, I am being clipped as Joe is moving his clippers up the back of my head, the buzzing sound and electric clippers being pushed hard into my head, I realise that this is really it. I am concentrating on keeping my head down and completely still, Joe tilts my head and works at the side of my head, the hair falls onto the cape. Its all been done very smoothly as he lifts up my head and then brushes away the loose hairs.
"You sure you don’t want a skinhead"
"I don’t think my boss where I work would like it"
"So maybe not this time then"
Was my reply, knowing that although he is going to really like my new hairstyle a skinhead might be too much for Mr Harris who I worked for. Whilst I had absolutely no interest with the skinhead culture, with Joe obviously up for giving me a skinhead cut it was making me think about it. He took the flat topper and pushed it through my hair on top and started working away with the clippers again, having shortened it considerably, he then cut my hair very short with scissors the top. Once he had used his flat razor to tidy up loose hairs and edges, he put a few drops of hair oil on the top and combed it, it looked a bit like a grown-out crop, I really loved it. He picked up the mirror and showed me the back and sides, he had done an excellent job. I remarked that it is even better than the photograph which he seems pleased about, as he hands me the change when I pay him for my haircut he says,
"Suits you kid"
"Thanks, I will be back"
That evening for the first time in ages I wrote in the haircut diary
Really good haircut, very good barber, still very abrupt but worth putting up with that, I will be going to him again. 9/10
When I closed the book, I wondered if at some point there would be an entry where he has given me a skinhead.