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Mr Herbert the Barber by Snipped Sam
Back in the good old 1970s it was considered very old fashioned by teenagers to have their hair short … yes, I knew it looked old fashioned but secretly loved the idea of a very short haircut. I also thought a great deal about going to a barber who would give me a very short haircut regardless of what I wanted. It was just before my fifteenth birthday I was talking to one of the few boys in my year at school who had a very short haircut., he went to a barber named Mr Herbert. He did not seem to question in the least his father’s decision to keep his hair short and spoke very highly of Mr Herbert. In fact, from what Mathew told me, Mr Herbert seemed to have the very approach that I day dreamed about. Mathew, the boy in question lived the opposite side of town to me which is why I was not familiar with Mr Herbert’s shop.
It was during the half term holidays a couple of weeks later that I decided to check out where Mathew’s barber was, although I had a vague idea, it turned out to be on a small terraced street. In fact, a barber’s shop in the front room of a terraced house from what I could see although of course there were signs to show it was a barber, including a red and white striped pole and a sign saying gentlemen’s hairdressing. There were green and white checked curtains in the lower part of the window and the door which had a similar curtain on glass panel with a sign which said open. I could see what was probably the head of Mr Herbert just above the curtained window. As I stood outside for a minute or two my curiosity was really getting the better of me and being a half term holiday, I needed to have my haircut at some point that week. At this point my hair was not overly long by the fashion of the day, although it had begun to grow over my ears a little and was now on my collar. My father had very conservative ideas when it came to the length my hair should be and whilst I had wanted to have my hair longer to be like the in crowd, I was also leaning towards a much shorter haircut.
With my heart seeming to be beating faster than usual, and a few butterflies in my stomach I walked up the short path and opened the door to the barber’s shop, and as I looked in it was of course exactly as I had expected, very old fashioned. I hesitated at the door, as Mr Herbert stood there with a clothes brush brushing the shoulders of an elderly gentleman who had just had his haircut by the looks of it.
"In you come and close that door behind you lad, otherwise you’ll let the heat out"
I did exactly that, with part of me thinking I should have made a bolt for it, and another part of me thinking that this was the place to be.
"Hang your coat up on one of the pegs on the coat stand over there, lad"
There was nobody waiting to have their haircut so of course I would be next, I did as he said feeling rather nervous, but Mr Herbert seemed very much in charge of the situation with his directions, when I had hung up my coat, he gestured me to the barber’s chair with the white nylon cape already in his hand. I was immediately caped in readiness and it occurred to me how quickly this had all happened, the previous customer was still there and now paid him for his haircut and they exchanged a couple of words whilst I sat there having my hair combed. It occurred to me that Mr Herbert was quite an age, he was very smart in his appearance and seemed to be friendly enough. The man left and it was time to cut my hair.
"Rather chilly out there today, young man"
"Yes, it is a bit"
Although my journey to the barber’s chair had been rapid, I had time to notice that there was a coal fire burning in the fire place, this was very different to any where I had been before, especially with the crackle from the coal fire.
"I haven’t seen you here before, are you new to the area?"
"No, I live on the other side of town, but a friend of mine has his haircut here and he recommended you"
"That’s nice that you have come a bit further to have your haircut"
"Yes, I thought it would be nice to try somewhere different"
"How does your friend have his hair cut?"
"On the short side, his name is Mathew…Mathew Wiseman"
"Oh yes, I know Mathew…a very nice lad"
He started to cut my hair with his scissors, large pieces of my hair began to fall from my head.
"When did you last have your hair cut young man?"
"I had it trimmed at the end of September so about a month ago"
"That’s not a word we allow here"
I didn’t at first quite understand what he meant, but soon realised he meant trimmed, he seemed to be light hearted but I felt certain that he was also deadly serious that trimming was not ever on his agenda. If any part of me had wanted to change my mind there was now no going back, as my hair was getting shorter with every snip, and that’s the reason why I had come there. His approach was certainly firm, although he spoke to me in a friendly tone, it was clear that he was very much in charge of my haircut. Especially in the way he moved and positioned my head, following on from his question as to when my hair was last cut, he said that once a month was fine for a haircut but four weeks was of course better and having said that three weeks was even better.
My hair had undergone a lot of cutting and was short all over, and it was now time for him to thin out my hair. Taking some antiquated looking thinning shears, he really went to town on my hair, having had my head tilted forward, I could see a pile of hair falling onto the cape, as the thinners banged against my head. "That looks a lot better" he said having lifted my head up and used a nylon haired brush to brush away the loose hairs.
He adjusted the cape at the back of my collar, first by loosening it and then fastening it very tightly, remarking "not too tight I hope" to which I replied that it was a little tight but I was fine with it. He selected a pair of manual clippers from the top shelf to the right of the barber’s chair. Knowing how short he cut Mathew’s hair I had expected he would clip, but not with old fashioned manual clippers. I remembered when I was very small being taken to a lady’s hairdresser and a very strict woman cutting my hair with them, soon after that I started going to the barbers. I watched him put a drop of oil on them, he then told me to look directly in front, placing his hand on my head he bent my head forwards. He started to hand clip the back of my head, as he operated the handles bringing them together, so the blades of the clippers were able to make my hair very short. I could feel my hair falling away, the operation was very smooth and was much quieter and gentler than the electric clippers that had been used on me in the past. He was taking them up very high on the back of my head, and I remembered noticing how short Mathew’s hair had been cut when he started the new year. He brushed away the clipped hair with his spare hand, before adjusting my head to clip above my ears, above my left ear first and then my right. Having returned the clippers to the side, after a vigorous brush down, he took a thin cotton towel and wiped my head, paying attention to my ears and neck. He then took a flat razor and shaved my neck and did a little work at the back and sides obviously to give my haircut a perfect finish.
"What a smart lad you are now"
He remarked as he took a chrome dispenser and applied some hair oil to the hair on the top of my head, and then combing my hair with a precise and severe parting. There was a lot of dusting powder and I stepped off the chair feeling very pleased with what had just taken place. He pointed to where I should stand to have my shoulders brushed down.
Following my haircut, I was very self-conscious, and it was a bit strange waking up the next morning and remembering my hair had gone. But I had a new barber to take care of my hair, there would be little comments and jokes about my hair at school…same as I had once joked about Mathew’s hair to be big and smart…not anymore.