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Mr Richards by Sean Barnet


This will be my last story - at least for a while. I am running out of ideas and I do not want to repeat myself. Inspiration may strike again at some point in the future - who knows?

Thank you to "Anon for telling me about sites that convert scans back into text, and so enabled me to transfer my stories from my word-processor. Thank you also to everyone for your positive comments - it's nice to have my efforts appreciated. And many thanks to the webmaster who does all the work maintaining this site.

A note about the name I chose. Most of you will know that "Sean is pronounced "shorn and is Irish for "John. "Barnet is rhyming slang, "Barnet Fair = "Head of hair.

A few other examples:
Rosie = Tea (Rosie Lee, the Gypsy fortune teller)
Noah = Shark (Noah's Ark)
Porkies = Lies (Pork pies)
Whistle = Suit (Whistle and flute)
Butchers = Look (Butcher's hook)
Bread = Money (Bread and honey)
Syrup = Wig (Syrup of figs)

There are several online dictionaries of "Cockney Rhyming Slang and a Wikipedia article.

I hope you all enjoy my final story.



When I was a teenager back in the 1970s I had a Saturday job working at a builder's merchants and hardware shop. The man who owned the place, Mr Richards, was pleased with me, so during the summer holidays I did five days a week.

One summer afternoon, on my day off, I was walking round the shops in town when I saw Mr Richards standing outside a barber's shop on the other side of the street, chatting with the barber.

He beckoned me over. As I walked up I could see that he had just had his hair cut, very smart and short as always.

"Mr Jonas, let me introduce young Harry who is working for me in the shop.

"Pleased to meet you, young Harry. The barber shook my hand.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr Jonas."

"Harry is a bright, hard working, young lad, who makes himself very useful, particularly now with the other staff all wanting their holidays."

"He must be a great help, Mr Richards."

"He is a great help, and I am very glad to have him. But there does remain, of course, the issue of this young man's hair. As a professional man, what is your opinion, Mr Jonas?"

Mr Richards had brought up the matter of my hair before. He and the other men who worked in the shop used to tease me about it regularly. My hair was not particularly long, not for the time anyway - my father made sure of that - but they all of them either said it was scruffy or that it made me look like a girl, and they would jokingly threaten me with a compulsory trip to the barber for "a proper short back and sides".

I never let on how disturbing I found this. Trips to a heavy handed barber as a small child had given me a dislike getting my hair cut at all, even at the trendy place where I went now, never mind having it cut short by a barber, and besides I wanted to look like all my mates at school.

"Well, the boy's hair could certainly do with some tidying up, I think."

"Diplomatic as ever, Mr Jonas. But give me an honest answer. If you had a free hand what would you do?

"Well, if I had a free hand, sir, I would take it nice and short, of course. In my opinion a good old fashioned short back and sides is always best. But then I am old fashioned. The world has changed, not for the better I would say, and the younger men all object to having a good smart haircut these days."

"Yes, and more's the pity."

"Indeed it is, sir."

"It's a shame the schools don't take a firmer line."

"A great shame, sir. But I blame the the parents. If they allow their sons to have long untidy hair, what can a head teacher do?

"Well, we ought to bring back National Service.

"If only they would, sir, but I don't think they ever will, not in our time anyway."

I was feeling more than a little nervous by this point, and wondering if I could make some excuse and go, but then the conversation moved on to cricket and the current England versus India Test Match, and I relaxed.

After a while Mr Richards looked at his watch and turned to me saying "So, what are you up to this afternoon, lad?"

Unwarily, l answered "Nothing very much in particular, sir, just looking round the shops."

"Good. Very good. Well, Mr Jonas, we can't stand around all day talking when there is work to be done. We have a job to do with young Harry here.

I didnt immediately understand what Mr Richards meant by this - was this some business to do with the hardware shop?

But Mr Jonas caught his meaning straight away. "If the young man has no objection, sir?"

"Objection? No, the young man has no objection. He is great need of a good haircut, he has the time, you are an excellent barber, and I am happy to pay for it. He has no objection - Do you lad?"

l hardly knew how to reply, and like an idiot I said nothing.

"You see, Mr Jonas, the lad has no objection. So, lead the way if you please."

Mr Jonas turned and went into the shop. Mr Richards gestured after him, and with a sinking heart I followed, and Mr Richards followed behind me - blocking off any chance of escape.

I stood there, in the centre of the shop, hardly knowing what to do next.

"Hang your jacket up, lad."

l took off my jacket and hung it on a peg, and still stood there.

Mr Richards pointed towards the chair.

Mr Richards was the boss. I walked over. I sat. l was caped.

"What will it be, sir? A trim for the young man, sir?"

"No, I think a good old fashioned short back and sides would be best. Don't you agree, Mr Jonas?"

"Yes, sir. Very much, sir. Mr Jonas looked at me. "So, a nice short back and sides for you, young man?

This was my last chance to try and rescue something from the situation. Do I say "No, just a trim please?" - and then get overruled by Mr Richards? I lost my last shred of will to resist. I nodded my head. "As the boss wants it."

The cutting began. Hair fell on the cape, great wodges of it.

Left hand parting, angle cut fringe.

Then came the clippers. Head right down. Don't move. Back and sides stripped down to bare skin.

"Short enough, sir?"

"A shade more off the top, I think."

Thinning shears.

"Any more sir?

"No, that looks short enough, thanks."

Then the razor, round the ears, back of the neck. The sting of aftershave.

"How's that, sir?"

"That is an excellent job, Mr Jonas, the lad looks much, much better now."

Then Brylcreem - greasy, yuck! A sharp parting, and everything combed immaculately into place.

"Thank you, Mr Jonas, most satisfactory."

Finally set free, I was handed a tissue. I rubbed the back of my neck - it was awful, all naked and prickly.

"Well done, Harry. Now, that, young man, is is what I call a smart haircut. You must be very pleased with that, eh?"

No, I would not complain. A grown man does not make a fuss about having his hair cut.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Now, Harry, thank Mr Jonas for doing such an excellent job."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr Jonas, for an excellent job. Yes, sir."

The "Yes, sirs" and the "Thank you, sirs" were coming thick and fast, I knew, but I felt just like I did after being punished at school - wanting to placate an angry headmaster.

* * * * *

My mother's comment was simply "That looks very nice, dear."

My father was a little more enthusiastic. "Now that's a proper haircut for once, lad - short back and sides! I never thought I would see the day. You've made me very proud. Well done, my son."

Luckily, neither of them asked any embarrassing questions about why I had now suddenly had my hair cut, and cut so very short, when up until then I had only ever gone to
the hairdresser's under protest, and had as little cut off as possible.

My new, sharp haircut also got a thumbs up horn my work-mates. Dressed in a grey work-coat, white shirt, neat tie, polished shoes and with a stub of pencil tucked behind one ear, I was just a younger version of all the other men now.

Some of my friends were a bit more difficult, and I had to stonewall them with "Yes, I've had it cut short - so what is your problem?"

* * * * *

Mr Richards took me to visit Mr Jonas a couple more times that summer. After that he would simply remind me when it was time to go, and I went.

I manned up.

I got used to it.

I got to like it.


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