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I really should have stopped there... by SteDJ


There are elements of truth in this story, but some of it has been exaggerated for dramatic effect....

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"This is going to be tricky," said the barber, as he surveyed the damage to my hair.

"What on earth possessed you? You’ve taken some seriously massive chunks out of it."

"I know, I asked my girlfriend to trim it for me," I lied, "and as you can see, it didn’t go entirely according to plan."

"I assume your girlfriend is not a qualified hairdresser?"

"Not really…" I replied. I sat there in the barber’s chair, bright red with embarrassment, staring at my reflection in the mirror, tightly wrapped in the bright red nylon cape that almost matched the colour of my face, and full of regret for the series of events that had led up to this moment. I just wanted this to be over and to get out of the barber’s shop as soon as possible. I somehow knew that I was about to lose a serious amount of hair…

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It was 1985 and I was a 19-year-old undergraduate student at university. It was Saturday morning and I stood surveying the display of hair implements in the local drugstore as my attention was immediately captured by the claims made for what looked like a toothed metal comb with a razor blade attachment, priced at just £1.99. "The Hair Magician " Makes Cutting as Simple as Combing". My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to investigate further. There were minimal instructions on the package, just to use the implement like a comb and thereby create a professionally groomed result. What could possibly go wrong? I desperately needed a haircut, and doing it myself with the Hair Magician would mean I could have some fun at the same time as saving a few pounds. I sheepishly handed over the £1.99 at the till, exited the shop and quickly headed straight back to my room in my student flat.

As soon as my flat mates had gone out, I set up my impromptu barber’s shop in the shared bathroom. My swivel desk chair took centre stage in front of the wash basin mirror, and I managed to rig up a second mirror taken from my bedroom on the back of the door so that I got a clear view of the back of my head. I began to feel quite aroused as I scouted around looking for something to use as a cape. Eventually, my eyes fell on my white cotton chemistry lab smock that was hanging on the front of the wardrobe, so I grabbed that and put it on back to front, snapping the top press stud closed at the back. I then threw a white hand towel over my shoulders and tucked it in around my neck, and the effect was complete as I sat on the chair and excitedly surveyed my refection in the mirror, all caped up and ready for some haircut action. I really should have stopped there…

My centre parted haircut was fairly typical of the era " four or five inches long all over, half way down my ears, long over the collar at the back and just below my eyebrows at the front " what has since been referred to disparagingly as a mullet cut. It had been a couple of months since my last trim, and as I combed my blond locks out, I figured that nobody would be surprised to see my having received another trim. Excitement continuing to rise within me, I took the Hair Magician and ran it down the back of my head. Full of anticipation, I then examined the toothed head of the device, and was disappointed to see that it had hardly removed anything " just a couple of inch-long hairs were trapped in the teeth. "This is no good," I thought. I really should have stopped there...
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I flipped the Hair Magician round and tried again with the other side in contact with my head. Immediately I could feel resistance and a loud crunching noise as I pulled the blade through my hair, as was thrilled to see a two-inch chunk of my hair hit my towel-covered shoulder. "Wow, that’s more like it!" I really should have stopped there...

What followed can only be described as a cutting frenzy " I repeatedly dragged he Hair Magician through my hair in every direction and swooned as chunks of hair flew all over, building up in huge mounds all over the towel, down my white smock and on the floor around the chair. My hair certainly looked " and felt " shorter, and at that point I wasn’t too disappointed with the results. Taking an orange-handled pair of kitchen scissors, I snipped carefully across my fringe, taking it about half an inch above my eyebrows, across the top of my ears and across the back of my neck, taking off about an inch of hair all round. This barbering thing was not only good fun but I was pretty good at it into the bargain. It was then that my blood ran cold.

Half way up the back of my head is the occipital bone, that bit of the skull that stands slightly proud at the top of the nape. What else was standing proud were some small nubs of hair half way up the back of my head, and on closer inspection, I could see where the Hair Magician had as good as shaved a patch of the back of my head around the occipital bone down to just a few millimetres. Blind panic gripped me as I wondered what on earth to do. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too noticeable. But to no avail; however I combed the surrounding longer hair, and however I looked at the mess in the mirror, there was no disguising it. Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t. The excitement gone, replaced by abject despair, I cleared up the mess and flushed the cut hair down the toilet, put the mirror back and took off my lab smock, repeatedly checking to make sure there was no evidence left in the bathroom of my ill-fated barbering adventure.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that the only solution to this was a trip to the barber’s. But which barber? I couldn’t go to Terry’s, my usual place of choice as Terry and I knew each other too well and I would be too embarrassed about the situation. I would be embarrassed anyway, but it might be easier to be embarrassed in a place I didn’t know " and where people didn’t know me. So, I headed off to George’s Cuts, a barber’s shop on the local shopping parade, carefully covering my head with my tweed flat cap (yes, there was a time in the 80s when they were the head covering of choice among students as well as elderly northerners…)

I had walked past George’s many times and often peeked in the window to admire a fairly nondescript shop that tended towards the traditional with heavy Belmont hydraulic chairs, barbers in white coats, a revolving red and white pole outside, a net curtain across the window, but proudly proclaiming that they specialise in ‘Cut and Blow Dry’, so there was clearly a bit of the 1980s in there as well.

I opened the door and took my place on a wooden waiting chair. There were two barbers snipping away at their respective customers, each draped in a big red nylon cape. One was an elderly grey-haired gent; the other a boy of about 15. The boy scowled as inch-long pieces of his chestnut brown hair rained down onto his cape, and the woman I assumed to be his mother told him to stop sulking and thank his lucky stars she hadn’t asked the barber to give him a short back and sides. The floor was littered with heaps of hair clippings " it had clearly been a busy morning at George’s. Time passed as successive customers were trimmed, clipped and snipped, until finally it was my turn. My hands felt clammy and my mouth was dry " not from excitement this time, but from the dread of what the barber would say and do to sort out the awful mess I had made of my hair.

"Next please," shouted the barber nearest to me, and I took my hat off, walked across to the chair and took my place on the comfortable black leather seat cushion. I gripped the arms of the chair as the barber threw the red cape over me; it billowed noisily through the air and came to rest over my shoulders and knees, completely covering me down to my feet. The barber then went to the till to take payment from his previous customer, leaving me to survey my refection in the mirror. In some ways, I had done a good job of my home haircut if you only looked at the front, and some would question the need for another haircut " if you didn’t look at the back, that is. I was sure I could feel the eyes of the customers on the waiting chairs behind me drilling into the back of my head, and I could feel my ears blushing hot.

Presently, the barber returned and drew the cape tightly round my neck, firmly tucking it into the back of my shirt collar. Taking his comb and scissors he quickly acquired a quizzical look as he took in the damage.

"Far be it from me to be judgemental, but going by the little hair clippings in your ears and the botched-up mess that is the hair on the back of your head, I would say that you’ve just been the victim of a very poorly executed home haircut. Would I be right?"

My ears burned redder than ever, and I squirmed uncomfortably under the cape.

"You could say that," I replied in a non-committal sort of way. "I wondered if you could just tidy it up a bit for me, not too much off…"

"This is going to be tricky," said the barber, as he surveyed the damage to my hair.

"What on earth possessed you? You’ve taken some seriously massive chunks out of it."

"I know, I asked my girlfriend to trim it for me," I lied, "and as you can see, it didn’t go entirely according to plan."

"I assume your girlfriend is not a qualified hairdresser?"

"Not really…" I replied. I sat there in the barber’s chair, bright red with embarrassment, staring at my reflection in the mirror, tightly wrapped in the bright red nylon cape that almost matched the colour of my face, and full of regret for the series of events that had led up to this moment. I just wanted this to be over and to get out of the barber’s shop as soon as possible. I somehow knew that I was about to lose a serious amount of hair…

"You - sorry, she - has taken it so short on the back that I’m going to have to pretty much shave it to a short back and sides to blend it in. There’s no other way I’m afraid."

"Can’t you just do the back and sides a bit shorter without the shaving?" I asked optimistically, hoping against hope that there would be a less drastic way out of this.

"I’m not prepared to put my name to a half-baked haircut, young man, so either we do things my way, or you get down from the chair and leave my shop. Frankly, I don’t think you have any choice."

"OK, then, I guess it will have to be the short back and sides." This was serious. How on earth would I be able to explain this one away…?? I sat there staring at my caped reflection and pondering the madness of what I had done and how wished I could turn back time.

I was suddenly jolted from my reverie as the barber stepped on the bar beneath the chair and raised it skywards in a series of sharp jolts to a suitable working height. Next, I felt a firm grip on the top of my head as it was sharply pushed forwards and the sickening humming sound of a big black pair of hair clippers filled the air. The barber wasted no time in applying them to the back of my neck, quickly running them almost up to my crown, effortlessly obliterating everything in their path. Initially, I could see no difference from the front, and for a moment I thought that everything would be OK, but then as the barber flicked the clippers, a three-inch long clump of hair hit my shoulder and slid down into my lap. I looked on in horror, and reached the conclusion that this was, in fact, going to be one hell of a short haircut.

Next, the barber shoved my head over to the left as he ran the clippers around the right side, folding my ear down as he steered the hungry machine close to my scalp, leaving mere millimetres of stubble in their path. He repeated the process on the other side of my head, long tufts of hair raining down all around me and gathering in my lap.

"This will make you " sorry, your girlfriend - think twice about hacking your hair at home, won’t it? It’s a long time since I’ve given someone of your age a short back and sides this short," laughed the barber, as he switched of the clippers and replaced them on the hook in from of the chair. "The good news is that I won’t need to cut the top so short " unless you want me to, of course!"

I gently shook my head but otherwise chose not to answer, feeling really irritated that the barber appeared to be enjoying this horrible situation.

Next, out came the scissors, and he set to evening out the top and blending it into the short back and sides. The scissors snipped away busily as more hair cascaded down to the cape, some of it sticking to my nose making me itch, and before long I was left with a short fringe high above my eyebrows and no more than two inches of hair on top, drastically tapered down to the stubble of the back and sides.

"Nearly done, young man," said the barber as he untucked the back of the cape and administered a spine-tingling scrape with the cut-throat razor to the back of my neck. He then went on to carve arches high above my ears into the stubble on the sides of my head before finishing off by shaving off my sideburns level with the top of each ear.

"There we go, young man, if you’ve any sense, there’ll no more home haircuts for you in future." He barber then breezily waved a hand mirror behind my head, and I gasped as I saw the severity of the cut, dominated by acres of white skin on the back and sides of my head. I then received a thorough brush down, the hair-laden caped was whipped off me and I climbed down from the chair in a state of total nervous exhaustion. I paid the barber, thanked him and bid him goodbye.

"Thank you, young man. See you again soon. Or maybe not…" followed by more laughter. B*stard.

That was the easy bit, now what was I going to say to my flatmates when I got home?












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