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The Barber's Museum by Snipped Sam
I did not hesitate to take Mr Hales up on his offer to visit his closed barber’s shop which he affectionately had called the museum. I had met Mr Hales when I joined a rambling group, whilst it might be considered I was a little young for such a group at seventeen, I loved the outdoors and having just moved did not have a big circle of friends.
Mr Hales had explained that he had retired about three years ago and there had not been anyone interested in taking it over, the reason being in the late 1970’s the traditional barber’s shop was sadly disappearing. What Mr Hales was not aware of was my total love and interest of anything to do with haircuts, especially traditional short haircuts and traditional barbers.
Mr Hales owned the building and lived above in a flat, rather than dismantle the shop he had kept it as a time capsule of his life’s work. We had been walking all day and after the group had gone to a café at the end of the walk for refreshments, Mr Hales and I went back to his museum. From the outside you could not really tell that it had been a barbers’ but once inside I could see that the signs and the static red and white striped pole were now displayed on a wall. Clearly, he continued to look after the shop because it was in immaculate order, with the wooden bentwood chairs polished, a pile of vintage magazines on the table which customers would have read whilst awaiting their turn.
A long white barbers coat hung from the clothes peg on the door into the rest of the building, and a white cape was neatly folded over the right armrest of the barber’s chair. He proudly showed me his collection of scissors including the ones he had first used when he became a barber.
"Things lasted much longer in those days Nigel"
He then opened a drawer which had a collection of hand clippers
"These were first invented over a hundred years ago Nigel; and I am sure they were very well received"
"Yes, I expect they were" I replied
"Have you ever had your hair cut with them"
I nodded, remembering that when I was really young, I used to be taken to a lady’s hairdressers to have my haircut. I remembered that I had always had my wavy hair trimmed, but the lady who usually cut my hair was on holiday and an old woman had cut my hair very short. I remembered the stern way she told me to keep my head still while she clipped the sides and back of my head. Soon after that I started going to the barber a bit further up the road.
"Of course, the electric operated clippers were the best invention, invented by a Mr Wahl in the early part of this century and I think were patented in 1921. Of course, the electric ones are much easier if you are giving a lot of short haircuts but I still think fondly of the good old-fashioned hand ones"
He pointed to an electric clipper on the counter of a collection of four
"These are my oldest clippers Nigel which I have had since 1949"
"Do they still work?"
"Oh Yes, they have been serviced and I fire them up every now and then to keep them running, unfortunately there is not the demand for short clipper cuts these days, but so much smarter…but I expect you are probably thinking what an old fuddy-duddy I am"
"No, I am not thinking that Mr Hales and it’s fantastic that you have preserved it all"
I replied although I was noticing Mr Hales hair which was curly ginger hair greying in places with quite sizeable sideburns, thinking not quite as short as I would have expected from a man who advocates very short clipper cuts. He gave me some photographs in an album to look at, quite a few of him giving haircuts, a couple of articles about him and his shop. I read the articles as Mr Hales told me to take my time. I was seated on one of the bentwood chairs.
"So that’s more or less everything you have seen young Nigel"
"Thanks for the tour Mr Hales; it’s been so interesting"
I loved everything about what he had shown me, I felt certain that if Mr Hales was still open for business, I would pay him a visit.
"Glad you appreciated it Nigel…of course the tour doesn’t need to quite end there"
"There is more?"
I asked, although I had a very good idea of what he perhaps meant.
"You can take the steps from the chair you are sitting in now to the most important chair in the room"
I looked over at the barber’s chair, the white cape sitting there ready
"Are you going to cut my hair Mr Hales?"
"Your hair needs cutting short Nigel, that’s not just my opinion as a barber, if I was your father or perhaps in view of my age grandfather, I would encourage you to have a short haircut"
I worked in an office as a very junior office junior, I knew Mr Miles who was my ultimate boss did not entirely approve of my hair which was in fact a neat and efficient length. Certainly, a very short haircut would go down very well in his eyes, but this wasn’t all about what Mr Miles wanted, it’s what Nigel wanted it. I was aware that the jumper that I was wearing was not suitable to wear to have my haircut in, but I had a T shirt underneath.
"I think if you were my grandfather or father you would send me here Sir"
I said removing my jumper and placing it on the chair beside me, Mr Hales sat on the chair the other side to me.
"I take it that you haven’t just taken your jumper off because you’re feeling warm Nigel"
"No Mr Hales"
Mr Hales stood up and I went to stand up too, but he told me to stay where I was for a minute, he went over to his white barbers’ coat and put it on, he took great care to fasten all the buttons. He then slowly made his way to the barber’s chair but did not look at me at any point, he then picked up the draped cape from the arm rest
"Right Nigel, let’s have you in the chair"
I stood up and quickly made my way to the chair, my stomach was feeling full of butterflies with the excitement I was feeling. I sat in the chair, he shook the cape and it fell around me, to be quickly positioned and tucked in. He selected a comb from the counter in front of where I was sitting, and combed my hair lifting up the hair which covered my right ear, the did the same with my left ear.
"I wasn’t sure if you had ears under there Nigel…but you have and having combed your hair it’s even a little longer than I thought, with it being wavy"
He then picked up the scissors which he first had when he became a barber, I had hoped that he would use those.
"So, Nigel we are agreed that you will end up today with your hair nice and short"
"Yes, Mr Hales that’s what we agreed"
"Jolly good we had to be clear on that one, before I get down to business and show your hair whose boss"
He started to cut my hair at the back
"So, you’ve not lived in the area very long Nigel?"
"No, I came to live with my uncle and aunt so I could get a job in the town"
"That explains why this is the first time I am cutting your hair, with you not living here"
"Yes, someone in the rambling group told me you were a barber before you retired, and I thought at the time it’s a pity you were not still open"
"Why is that Nigel?"
"I wasn’t that happy with my last haircut"
"I hope you are not going to say it was too short"
"No, I just didn’t like it and it wasn’t short enough really"
"I still occasionally do a home visit for someone who is elderly or unwell and the odd friend’s hair but it’s been a very long time since I gave a young man like yourself a haircut"
"I appreciate you doing it Sir"
He carried on chatting about the rambling group and it wasn’t long before the hair covering my ears lay on the floor, and with a lot of my fair coloured hair gone I remembered that my hair looked a bit darker when it was cut short. The rambling group consisted of quite a few of people around Mr Hales age, because of my age I had been given a sort of mentor called Richard who advised me that I should not be too familiar with the older members and call them Mr, Miss or Mrs whatever their surname was. I certainly couldn’t imagine calling Mr Hales, Ernest…at this point I was thinking that he was the best barber I had ever been to. Friendly and chatty and totally matter of fact in cutting my hair really short. Eventually it seemed that the scissor cutting had been done as they had been returned to their place and Mr Hales had brushed me down.
"So, what do you think of your haircut so far Nigel…happy or not happy with what I’ve done?"
"Happy Mr Hales…it’s a bit of a shock to see it so short, but it’s only because I haven’t had it cut short for a few years"
"Yes, Nigel its short, but it’s about to get a whole lot shorter"
He opened the drawer and took hold of a pair of hand clippers,
"Something very special for you young Nigel"
"Very good Sir"
He placed his hand on the back of my head and bent it forward, I felt cold metal touch the back of my head, and heard the click-click of the hand clippers. The last time this was done I had almost cried as the old woman clipped my head, this time I was thrilled and excited, an experienced barber who had doubtless carried out the same technique on many young men over the decades. At seventeen I was on the threshold of adulthood but felt at this point so far from it, enjoying being at the mercy of the barber.
"As I said earlier Nigel, I still think very fondly of the old-fashioned hand clippers, the blades on these are so sharp, they are really working a treat, a bit like a hot knife going through butter"
I could feel the clipped off hair on my neck, I was soon positioned to be clipped above my left ear, my head was right down, but I was able to see what looked like a lot of hair fall onto my caped lap.
"Almost there Nigel"
He remarked whilst completing the clipping above my right ear, and the clippers were returned to the drawer and my head was lifted up. But Mr Hales was standing in front of me obscuring the mirror, he held an opened pot of Brylcreem and applied a large dollop to my hair. After rubbing it in and combing my hair when he stood back, I saw the completed haircut, I looked like a seventeen-year-old from the 1950’s.
"Would you like to see the back?"
He lifted up the mirror and showed me the back of my head, I had been clipped by a barber in the past where I had thought it was short, but never this short.
"Its great Mr Hales, thank you"
"Glad you like it Nigel"
"You said that you still do cut your friend’s hair... I know that I am not a friend but is there any chance you would cut mine again?"
"Well we certainly can’t have you sliding back to having your hair the way it was can we?"
"Looks like you’ve got yourself a new barber Nigel, now we meet for a Saturday ramble in three weeks, how would you like me to cut it for you again after our walk?"
"I’d like that very much Sir"
He removed the cape and I stepped from the chair, as I wiped my neck with some tissue, I remarked
"This is the shortest haircut I’ve ever had Mr Hales…not that I’m complaining"
"Well young Nigel, looks like we have your hair sorted doesn’t it?"
"Certainly does Sir"