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Once upon a time... by John Deering

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Once upon a time

This is the true story of 60 years ago. It took place in a very small country town in the south-west of England. I was spending my university summer vacation working, both for work experience but also for desperately needed spending money, on a farm belonging to some friends with whom I was staying.
I had been there some six weeks and was badly in need of a haircut. In those days, I wore my hair, as was the fashion, in what is now known as a businessman's cut with a side parting. In the hot sun it was most uncomfortable as it started to grow over the tops on my ears, brushed my collar and flopped down over my forehead. This was one of those small towns with one church, one pub, one store embracing the post office and little else. Apparently no barber. My kindly host told me that that service was rendered by old Tom, who lived round the corner in the fourth cottage on the left. One wet afternoon, when we could not work, I wandered round, and found Tom at work in what should have been the front parlour of the cottage, but was set out with a old bench, a small mirror on one wall and in the middle a wooden kitchen chair which had been raised up by adding blocks of wood under the legs. In front of the chair was a shelf with a couple of hand-clippers, a couple of combs, some scissors and a water spray-bottle. A notice above the shelf told me that a haircut cost one shilling & sixpence (the equivalent of perhaps £2 or $3 in present-day values).

When I arrived, sitting in the tall chair, was a small boy who had been almost completely scalped, as was the country fashion. Tom took off the “cape” which I suspected had started life as a bedcover or large cotton curtain, and which was plainly not in the habit of being laundered. The boy was dismissed, and Tom summoned me to the chair. The cape was thrown round me and secured and, with a particularly noisy sniff, Tom grabbed a comb and some clippers.

My head was gripped and attacked with the comb before I had a chance to say anything. I had been warned by my friend that he prefered hair on the floor to hair on the head, and to watch carefully what he was doing to me. My head was rudely shoved forward, and the clippers attacked the nape of my neck travelling far upwards with unusual ferocity. I spoke up firmly enough for him to lay off for a moment as I explained that he should not go too high with his clipping and very little off the top. This produced another of his trademark sniffs and a juicy throat clearance. The clippers battled on, at least to the level of the top of my ears. This was just about tolerable, but I was glad my family would not see me for another couple of weeks! He then took up the comb and scissors. I could just about see in the mirror what was going on. As I said, I wore a side-parting – well I had done that morning. I felt the comb digging into my scalp, and the hair being raised up to satisfy the hunger of the scissors. What had been perhaps an inch long ended up at less that a quarter. From there he worked round snipping as he went higher and higher. I had always had the hair round the crown long enough to lie down smoothly. No more. During a haircut this area of my head had always been a rather erotic spot and this nibbling round and round ever higher was having an effect on my hormones – thank heavens for the grubby curtain! Eventually, fearing complete baldness I told him that he had done enough of that. This was the cue for a more business-like pair of scissors and a bolder comb, and another outbust of sniff and cough. My top hair was raise on the comb in chunks suitable for amputation. After about half a dozen of these moves I looked at the cape, then in the mirror and was amazed how much I could lose without MPB setting in. The bangs came next, slashed into that triangular shape fashionable in those days so that they could be easily combed back off the forehead (with the help of grease or water).
At this point I had assumed that he had finished, but with a sniff and a gurgle, the clippers were taken up and my neck and sideburns were taken down with a #0. Then the scissors again, as he intended to start again, since the were no other customers to attend to. He began a little gentle snipping at the crown and top of my head ntil it was unwilling to lie flat – I had had enough.
I jumped out of the chair, thanked him and gave him the ransom money and escaped. My friend said “Well, I did warn you!”

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