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Unintended Consequences by stopfordianstationer
I loved my younger brother but I didn’t like him. I was pretty clever myself and did well at school but Joe was way beyond that. His trouble was that he knew it, which made him completely full of himself and he never knew when to stop and not to push his luck any further. All of which was fairly unbearable in a 12 year old. He dogged my life from the moment he first arrived when I was three years old and I suddenly didn’t have my parents’ full attention any more. Of more immediate impact was that he was coming towards the end of his first year at the same comprehensive school where I was in my fourth year. Whereas I had always kept my head down and just got on with things, Joe loved to play up and misbehave and to be in the spotlight and carried on accordingly. This had affected me as some teachers were now taking out their irritation at his antics out on me as his big brother. Unfair, but I just had to grin and bear it as ever with him.
This was the early 1980s and we had a fairly standard upbringing in a smallish town in the North of England. Dad worked as a foreman in a factory and mum was a primary school teacher. Another area where Joe had affected me was on the length of our hair. Dad had always taken us to the same barber where he went when we were little kids where we got short, but not that short, cuts (scissors, off the ears, slight taper sometimes, fringe a bit more than half way down the forehead). I never really thought much about it and didn’t mind, although it was relatively short for the time. From the age of about five though, Joe complained and complained that he wanted longer hair like all his friends. Eventually dad relented and Joe was allowed to grow it over the ears and collar and down over his eyes if it was combed right down. Trips to the barber were replaced by occasional trims at the local gents’ hairdresser. Although I hadn’t expressed any preference, it was assumed I felt the same and I found myself included in the new liberal regime. Again, I wasn’t really bothered either way as I didn’t mind fitting in, but kept it a bit shorter than Joe’s and when I got it cut it was usually halfway over my ears, slightly off my collar and just above my eyebrows. Although dad still took us, it was just a scissor trim every couple of months or so. Whilst I didn’t really mind either way, Joe loved his long hair and it was no exaggeration to say it was his pride and joy. I had not long turned 15 and was half wondering whether I should go a bit shorter as hairstyles in general were getting shorter and a couple of my mates had also gone short in the last few months. I was not ready to do anything about it yet though, at least not until the school summer holidays started, as longer was definitely the norm other than the few boys with the strict parents who were made to get short back and sides or the really strict parents who insisted on skinheads and there were maybe half a dozen of them in my year at school. Skinhead was a generic term we used for any cut wholly done with clippers, no matter how short. Once again though, Joe was to intervene.
The beginning of it all was Joe going too far at school yet again, mouthing off and claiming he hadn’t done something because he couldn’t see it on the blackboard. That proved to be a very bad move for him and set off a chain of events neither of us could ever have anticipated. I was called to his form teacher’s room and given a note to take home to our parents. I’d been roped into doing that a couple of times since Joe didn’t tend to bother when they were given to him, which just got him in more trouble. This was a Wednesday and I passed the note on to mum when I got home and thought no more about it. When dad got home a bit later though, I heard him shout to Joe to get downstairs and I could then hear dad’s raised voice although not what he was saying. Since Joe never seemed to get in serious trouble and got away with everything more than I thought he would, I thought I’d get downstairs and listen as he was getting a dressing down for once. The door was closed but I listened outside and dad was in full flow. He was pretty easygoing in the main and had never laid a hand on either of us but on the few occasions he did put his foot down he was not to be messed with.
My ears pricked up even more when I heard what dad was telling Joe. ‘You were warned the last time that if you got in any more trouble this school year there would be serious consequences. You haven’t listened so we’ll have to try to get your attention properly. So I promise you won’t have a problem seeing the board after Saturday as you’ll be getting a decent haircut. If you’re still going to behave like a little boy, you’re getting your hair cut like one.’ Joe tried protesting but dad was having none of it. I thought it was hilarious that Joe was finally getting some comeuppance as I knew that sitting while his hair was snipped shorter would kill him. The door suddenly burst open and Joe stormed out, almost stomping into me. I couldn’t resist rubbing it in and managed to laugh out loud and shout something along the lines of ‘Joe’s getting a haircut!! Snipped boy!’ before he disappeared up the stairs and into his room, slamming the door. Dad heard what I said but he was obviously still in strict mode as he then turned his fire on me.
‘Chris,’ he shouted. ‘Never mind teasing Joe and winding him up any more. Don’t think you’re too old to get the same treatment. If I hear you doing that again, you’ll be getting exactly the same cut! You’re due on Saturday anyway.’
‘Typical,’ I thought. ‘He’s in trouble but it’s me who’s getting it in the neck.’ I didn’t say anything, just wandered past dad into the living room and put the TV on.
Later that night, I started to think about what dad had said. If Joe was going back to our little boy haircut as dad had indicated, it would be scissored off his ears and up his neck and his fringe would be cut well above his eyes. That was more or less what I’d been considering myself and I came to the conclusion that it might be a good way to go shorter as that way I wouldn’t be able to chicken out if dad was calling the shots. All I had to do was get caught teasing Joe, which had the added benefit of being able to tease Joe, which was never a bad thing. Foolproof, or so I thought. The next night, I put this supposedly foolproof plan into effect. When we were eating dinner, Joe had been wheedling mum and dad and trying to get them to change their minds about the haircut but without success. Later, after the washing up was done, Joe and I were sent to wipe it as usual. There was a hatch in the wall between the kitchen and where we ate to make it easier to take food through and I made sure it was open as I knew mum and dad would be able to hear what we said. After a bit of normal bickering. I took a deep breath and then asked him ‘Are you looking forward to your trip to the hairdresser on Saturday then?’ He invited me to get lost, so I carried on. ‘Haha!! Snippety snip,’ and ruffled his fringe roughly. Surely that would be enough?
Before Joe could even reply, I heard dad call me from the other room. ‘Chris, in here NOW!’ I wandered in trying to look sheepish.
‘What did I say would happen if I caught you teasing Joe about his haircut?’
I decided to plead ignorance to try to wind him up a bit to make sure. ‘Can’t remember.’
‘Really,’ dad replied. ‘Well your memory will be refreshed on Saturday. You just talked yourself into the same haircut, young man.’
I thought about protesting but didn’t think my acting skills were up to it so I just let out a big sigh, turned and walked out of the room. I felt a bit apprehensive but quite pleased I was going to get to try shorter hair and also that I’d put one over on Joe for once without him even knowing about it. I skipped upstairs to go to my bedroom and at that point things began to unravel.
Joe was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. ‘Well done, idiot,’ he shouted at me, turning red in the face.
I was momentarily taken aback but then shot back ‘What are you talking about?’
‘You making dad say you’ve got to get a haircut. I would have persuaded mum and him to change their minds but now you’ve done that they’ll have to go through with it.’ He tried to push me but I was much bigger than him so I didn’t budge.
‘That’s just you all over.’ I was starting to raise my voice now. ‘You’re finally getting done for something but it’s got to be somebody else’s fault! It’s just a haircut, Joe, get over it.’
He still wouldn’t back down but just kept pushing as usual. ‘Well you should be a lot more bothered than me,’ he spat. ‘You’re a stupid, ugly freak and everybody will be able to see that when your hair’s shorter.’
That was the moment I finally snapped after 12 years of provocation and I punched Joe squarely on the chin. He staggered backwards into the wall and I grabbed him by the hair with both hands and pulled him up before getting hold of his arms and slamming him against the wall again. He was howling by now and I knew mum and dad would be on the way up the stairs. I put my face right into his and hissed ‘That’s it. I’ve put up with you for long enough. You make sure you keep away from me in future if you don’t want more of the same.’
‘Christopher!’ I already knew I was in big trouble before I heard dad shout my full name, which was reserved for such occasions. ‘What do you think you’re doing?! Get in your room now!’
‘Yeah fine!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll leave you with Golden Boy to get all the sympathy and attention as usual.’ I let go of Joe, went into my bedroom and slammed the door. I threw myself down onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. I did feel a sense of release and that Joe had had it coming but at the same time I couldn’t get away from a creeping sense of shame that I’d beaten up a 12 year old.
I was eventually called downstairs to be shouted at although I don’t really remember much of it. The word bullying was bandied about a lot and although I told them what he’d said to me, as well as using the immortal words "he started it", it was made clear I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself. I wouldn’t admit it to mum and dad but by that time I’d more or less come to the same conclusion myself. There was no way I was going to apologise to the little s**t though. It was made clear that we’d both be punished and mum and dad would be considering what would be appropriate. In the meantime, Joe and I would be getting our hair cut on Saturday as originally intended and there were to be no further arguments on the subject or else. I had been roped in to taking part at an open day at school on Saturday morning so it was agreed I’d meet dad and Joe in town afterwards. I’d tried to protest that I should be allowed to come home first and get changed but dad was in no mood to listen to anything I said so I had the prospect of sitting in the hairdresser’s in my school uniform on a Saturday which didn’t exactly fill me with joy.
The next day was Friday and the mood was tense to say the least. Joe and I didn’t talk at breakfast and we made our way to school separately although there was nothing unusual in that. I managed to avoid him during the day and he seemed to have a rare day of keeping his head down and not causing any trouble. At home time, I left to walk into town as usual as it was about a 10 minute walk to the centre of town and then a 10 minute bus ride from there. As I was waiting at the bus stop, Joe came sidling up to me, which was the last thing I wanted. He took a deep breath and I wondered what the hell was coming now. ‘Chris . . .’ he began.
‘What do you want, Joe?’ I barked at him. If you want another go, I’m really not in the mood . . .’
This time he cut me off. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered.
‘You what!?’ I was sure I must have misheard as he’d never been even slightly sorry for anything before.
‘I’m sorry for what I said about you being a stupid ugly freak,’ he continued quietly. ‘I didn’t mean it. You’re not. None of it.’
I was shocked and still couldn’t believe he was genuine. ‘I suppose mum and dad made you say that did they?’
‘No,’ he insisted. ‘I just kind of felt bad.’
Much to my amazement, I could see he actually meant it. ‘Yeah, well, I’m sorry too,’ I replied. ‘I shouldn’t have attacked you like that, no matter what you said.’ I paused, wondering how far to go, before deciding to press on. ‘Look, Joe, it’s no excuse and you’re my brother and I’d do anything for you but why do you try so hard to be such a dick all the time?’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’ve been thinking about it today. I kind of thought that if you felt like doing that to me, other people must really want to give me a kicking. I suppose a haircut’s the least I deserve. And I’ve roped you in. Sorry about that as well.’
‘Don’t worry about it. Look, just grin and bear it. Mum and dad won’t be angry forever, you know. We’ll get our hair snipped a bit shorter tomorrow and that will be it. You’ll be back to where you are now in a couple of months or so.’
‘I suppose,’ he said and seemed to cheer up a bit. ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ We chatted some more on the bus on the way home and things were actually easier between us after that than they had been for ages.
I was up earlier than I usually would have been on a Saturday to get to school for the open day. I was mainly on autopilot for two reasons: I didn’t really want to be there and my thoughts were taken up with my imminent change of look, for all I’d brought it about myself. A couple of times when I went to the toilet, I looked at myself in the mirror and brushed my hair behind my ears to try to imagine what I’d look like but I couldn’t picture it. Finally it was over and I could leave and I walked to town to meet dad and Joe as agreed. Dad was in the car so I went to the main car park in town, which was a short walk from the hairdresser’s. When they arrived and got out of the car, I was struck straight away by how Joe looked. His shoulders were slumped and he was staring at the floor, which I’d never seen before. When he looked up briefly, I could see from his red eyes that he’d been crying. I wondered what the hell had happened this morning and what was wrong now but I didn’t get chance to ask or say anything as dad had set off at a brisk walk guiding Joe with him as if he was trying to make sure he didn’t make a run for it. We crossed the main road and walked towards a row of shops that we’d pass which included a florist, the barber where dad usually went and a greengrocer and from there we’d go around the corner and walk about another hundred yards to the hairdresser as usual. I was daydreaming about getting my hair cut again when suddenly I heard a small bell ring and nearly walked into the back of dad. As I came back to myself, I could see that the bell had rung as a result of dad opening the door of the barber’s, and he was now holding it open for me, Joe having already disappeared inside. I stood stock still. This must be a mistake, surely. ‘Well don’t stand there like a stuffed dummy,’ dad said to me. ‘Inside and sit down.’
‘But I thought . . .’ I stammered.
‘I don’t care what you thought,’ dad was straight back at me. ‘You were both told you were getting a decent haircut and this is where you’re getting it.’ I knew it was pointless to argue and my stomach lurched as the realisation dawned that my supposedly foolproof plan had run out of control at a million miles an hour and Joe and I were in a whole world of s**t now. I also realised why Joe was so upset as he’d obviously found out this morning. I had no choice. I walked into the shop and dad closed the door behind us.
Joe was already sitting on one of the waiting chairs and dad sat down next to him, indicating to me to take the empty seat on the other side of him. The first thing I became aware of was the sound of the clippers and as I looked, I could see the barber running them over the top of the head of a boy in the chair who was probably a couple of years or so younger than Joe. To my eyes, the boy looked like he didn’t need a haircut at all but the clippers were making short work of what little hair he did have. On the other chairs in the waiting area was another younger looking version of the lad in the chair who had barely any hair at all and a man who I assumed was their dad. If the boy in the chair now was the before, I guessed the younger one was the after. The barber looked up and greeted dad. ‘Alright, Tom, you’re soon back aren’t you? You were only here a couple of weeks ago.’
‘I was, Graham,’ dad replied, ‘but I’ve got a pair of new customers for you today. My boys are here to learn that their actions have consequences.’
‘Sounds interesting. Well I won’t keep you too long, almost finished here.’ After running over the boy’s head for another couple of minutes, the clippers were turned off and the cape was loosened at the back of his neck. After checking his dad was happy, Graham removed a piece of tissue paper from the boy’s neck, took the cape off and helped him down from the booster seat. The dad paid and left with his two shorn boys leaving just the three of us behind in the waiting area as Graham brushed up the clippings from around the barber’s chair. He finished and put the brush in the corner of the shop before returning and addressing us. ‘Right, who’s the first victim then?’
Joe and I didn’t move and dad’s voice chimed up. ‘Well you started this, Joe, so I think it’s only fair you go first.’
Joe sighed and got up before shuffling over to the barber’s chair. Dad got up as well and went to stand beside him. Joe seemed to be waiting for the booster seat to be taken off but Graham told him ‘Just hop up on there, lad, you’re not that big yet!’ just to add a bit more to the humiliation.
He turned to dad and tried one more time to persuade him. ‘Please, dad, not . . .’
‘We’ve been over this already this morning,’ dad roughly cut him off. ‘In the chair. Now.’
Joe climbed up and sat down so he was perched on top of the booster seat and Graham set about readying him. A piece of tissue paper was wrapped around his neck and stuck at the back before the pale blue cape was thrown around him and fastened at the back and the paper strip was folded down over the top of it. Graham then ran a comb through the long, thick blond hair before turning to dad and asking ‘OK, Tom, what’s he having?’
I dreaded what I was going to hear, knowing what it meant for me as dad’s words from the other night "the same haircut" were running around my head. I didn’t have long to wait to find out. ‘Short back and sides. Number two and just leave about an inch on top and a short fringe.’ I closed my eyes, gulped and ran my hand through my hair. Joe was going to be scalped and I had no doubt that the same awaited me when it was my turn.
When I opened my eyes, I became aware that dad had sat down next to me. Instead of going for the clippers, Graham had picked up his scissors and said to dad ‘This is properly long and thick. I’ll scissor most of the length off before I clip him and trim the rest down.’ With that, he slid his comb into the hair on the side of Joe’s head, lifted a long, thick lock and severed it with a couple snips of the scissors. At least six inches of hair, maybe more, hit the floor. The lift, snip snip pattern continued until Joe’s right ear was uncovered and a huge mound of hair was already on the cape and on the floor. Graham then came round the back and blocked my view but when he stepped away I could see the back of Joe’s neck for the first time since I didn’t know when as what remained was well above his collar. After chopping the long hair to expose the other ear in the same way as the first one, Graham turned his attention to the top. The lifting and snipping continued rapidly from front to back until the hair at the crown was a similar length as it was at the back and probably a couple of inches or so were left all over. Finally, Joe’s long fringe was combed down right to his nose. Graham put the scissors half way up his forehead and started to remove the fringe with an initial snip. Two or three more snips and most of the length was dumped in Joe’s lap to join the other long blond tresses that were already there. Now that I could see his face properly, I could also see the tears running down his cheeks as he quietly sobbed. For the first time in my life I felt sorry for him. I was also now dreading sitting in that chair in a few minutes time.
It then got worse for Joe as Graham put down the scissors and went for the clippers. After attaching what I assumed was the number two guard, he clicked the switch and the clippers roared back to life. Graham put his hand on the top of Joe’s head and moved it down so that his neck was fully exposed. With the other hand he moved the clippers up the back most of the way to the top leaving a closely shaved stripe that was quickly followed by another. Another couple of passes up the back left only short stubble behind. I was amazed how much hair was still coming off after the damage the scissors had done. The clippers then went around the sides and up over the ears before Graham went all the way round a couple more times to make sure he hadn’t missed any stray hairs. He then started to blend the shorter hair with the hair on the top by using the clippers over the comb until everything was done to his satisfaction and he turned the clippers off. The next stage was outlining the edges with a smaller set of clippers with a more high pitched sound before it was time to finish the top.
Graham used a spray bottle to wet the hair on top and picked it straight up with the comb before snipping about half of it off with the scissors. He worked swiftly and the cut was now shaping up before it was time for Joe’s final insult. Graham had said nothing during the cut but broke his silence, asking dad ‘What about the fringe, Tom, here?’ He held the comb a bit above halfway up the forehead.’
‘Nah, higher,’ pronounced dad, provoking another sob from the barber’s chair.
Graham moved the comb up until it wasn’t far from the top. ‘Here then?’
‘That looks about right,’ said dad. With that, Graham cut most of the rest of the fringe off leaving Joe with a mostly bare forehead bar the little bit at the top. He ruffled it slightly and then dried what was left, also using the dryer to blow the vast amount of hair on the cape onto the floor.
‘Is that OK for you, Tom?’ Graham asked.
‘Champion,’ dad replied. ‘He’ll certainly be able to see the board much better at school now. Do you want to have a look at the back, Joe?’
Joe shook his head. I don’t think he could speak yet. Graham brushed him down and the cape and neck strip were taken off before he was released from the chair and the ordeal was over. As Joe turned around I got my first proper look at him and realised the cut made him look much younger than before. From being the swaggering little sod I knew all his life, he had been turned into a little boy.
I didn’t have time to reflect on that before it dawned on me that I was now going to follow him into the dreaded chair. Graham was brushing up the huge pile of Joe’s hair on the floor. All too soon it was done and the brush was in the corner. He took the booster seat from the barber’s chair and turned to me. ‘Are you next up then, son?’
I didn’t get chance to reply but started to stand up. ‘He certainly is.’ He turned to Joe who was now sitting next to him again. ‘Cheer up, Joe. The worst bit’s over for you and you can watch Chris have his go now.’ He turned to me. ‘On you go then,’ he said and motioned towards the barber’s chair with his head.
I went to the chair and sat down with a feeling of numbness. How on earth had I ended up in this position? The paper strip was round my neck and then the cape was floating around me before settling and being fastened at the back with the neck strip folded over. Graham was at the side of me combing my hair. I had seen already that he was a big stocky man who was older than dad and now I was closer to him I was also aware that he smelled of stale cigarette smoke and I could see he had brightly coloured tattoos on both forearms. He looked at dad and asked ‘What am I doing with him then?’
‘Easy,’ replied dad. ‘Exactly the same as his brother’s. Sorry you’ll need to work overtime again.’ It was what I expected, but it still increased the feeling of foreboding that bit more.
Graham combed through my hair again. ‘It’s OK, his hair’s nowhere near as thick,’ he said. ‘I’ll be able to get the clippers straight in here, no bother.’ That was it then, no further respite. I looked at myself in the mirror and waited for my transformation into a short back and sides boy to begin.
I heard the clippers click on and Graham was standing to my right. He put his hand on my head as he had done with Joe but instead of moving it down, he tilted it to one side and came at my right sideburn first. I felt the clippers make contact and move up the side of my head and as I looked at my reflection I saw a chunk of dark brown hair fall down before bouncing off my caped shoulder and continuing down to the floor. The clippers zipped up the side of my head again and then for a third time and more clumps of hair fell. I then felt Graham’s hand on the top of my head as he manoeuvred my head right down in the same way as he had with Joe’s to allow full access to the long hair at the back. I felt the clippers go up and up and up and wondered if he was ever going to stop before they finally did, and several inches of my hair bounced down and into the cape as I looked down at my lap. Even as Graham moved the clippers up again, I could still feel the path that has just been chewed up the back of my head next to it. He kept my head right down as he stripped the hair from the back so I couldn’t see what was happening. My overriding focus was the buzzing of the clippers and my head being firmly held and moved around to order. I wouldn’t describe Graham as being rough but he was very focussed. I was allowed to look up again before he put my head to the other side the complete the main part of the clipping. My shoulders and lap were both covered by now in dark hair. Once he’d gone round again to make sure nothing had been left behind, Graham started the blending process by using the clippers over the comb and once that was done to his satisfaction, outlined the edges at the back and over my ears before the various different clippers finally fell silent. My fringe was combed right down so I was looking through that but I had a good idea now how short the back and sides were. It wouldn’t be long, though, before my view became considerably clearer.
Graham came at the remaining hair at the top of my head with the spray bottle, blasting away over and over until it felt heavy and soaked. After determining it was now wet enough to work with, the scissors came into my fringe most of the way up my forehead before a firm snip dropped what was left underneath the scissors onto the cape. Snip. Snip. Snip. Most of my fringe now lay in my lap and the shop lights were suddenly much brighter. I assumed I’d be having more off before the experience ended but that was plenty to be going on with. Graham then worked from front to back, returning to the same quick lift, snip, snip rhythm he’d used to cut Joe’s long hair at the start of his cut. Eventually there was barely any length left on top and he blended what was left with the hair on the back and sides. Finally the fringe was cut to the same short length as Joe’s before I was blasted with the hairdryer and there was no doubting we’d received identical haircuts exactly to dad’s specification. Although I was still shellshocked, I couldn’t deny that Graham had done a precision job. The reflection staring back at me from the mirror was unlike anything I’d seen before. My hair had never been anything like this short, not even close. My bare forehead shone and I could see my face clearly without having to peer through a fringe. I could see my ears, outlined by the velvety clipped hair at the side of my head. How long since they had been on show? I couldn’t even guess. It was unfamiliar, certainly, but as Graham loosened the cape and neck strip I tried to marshal my thoughts and came to the conclusion that I felt . . . good. My head was lighter and I could hold it up properly and unlike Joe, I thought it made me look a couple of years older. I’d have to get used to it but thought it might even be a keeper if I could make myself go through with it on a regular basis. The only downside was that I had an itchy sensation from where some tiny clippings of hair had gone down the neck of my school shirt. ‘OK, Tom?’ asked Graham.
‘Perfect, a vast improvement, I think,’ replied dad. ‘How about you, Chris, do you want to see the back?’ he asked me.
I really did. ‘Yes please.’ Graham picked up a small mirror and positioned it behind me so I could see the closely clipped sides in the mirror in front of me. I admired the uniformity and severity of what I saw and knew at that moment that I would not be having long hair again, or at least nowhere near as long as it had been this morning. ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I like it.’ I thought I saw a flicker of surprise on dad’s face. Joe still just looked miserable. As I stood up and left the chair I looked at the pile of dark hair on the floor. Had all of that really come off my head? I ran my hand up the back of my head for the first time and loved the unfamiliar bristly feeling. I knew I’d be getting a lot of s**t from my mates but I also knew that in that moment I didn’t care and I’d was worth putting up with it.
Dad still had a sting in the tail for us. After he paid and we’d left, I was trying to cheer Joe up. ‘Never mind, mate, at least it’s over now’.
Dad jumped in straight away. ‘It isn’t actually.’
Joe and I looked at each other. ‘What do you mean, dad?’ I asked.
‘Well that was your punishment for Joe being cheeky at school and you teasing him about having to get his hair cut. You haven’t been punished for fighting yet so for that, when school breaks up for the summer, you’ll both be back in the chair for a skinhead.’
I didn’t look at Joe. I heard him gasp.