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Returning to Mr Saunders Chair by Snipped Sam


Thursday was my afternoon off, which enabled me to take my landlord, Mr Bradley to the doctor’s surgery and then to see his barber. I had known Mr and Mrs Bradley for years, having lived near them before my family had moved North, when I was fourteen. Now twenty-four and unattached, in what was a challenged part of the 1980s with high unemployment, I was pleased to find work and somewhere to live in back in my original home town.
I managed to park outside the barber’s, which was a plus with Mr Bradley having recently suffered a stroke, which had affected his walking, so distance was a major consideration.

"Are you coming in Nick?"

"I would prefer to wait in the car, I can read my book while you’re in there."

I had already explained to Mr Bradley the night before about my feelings regarding his barber, who had been mine when I lived there before. He had been very strict and heavy handed with me when I used to go to him when I was a lad.

"But I’m not feeling that steady on my feet today, I would like your support."

"If you really want me to."

"It’s all water under the bridge Nick, you’ll be fine."

So, I stepped from my car and went round to the passenger seat and helped Mr Bradley out and he took my arm and we went in. We sat down on the long wood bench to wait his turn, just one person in the chair with no others waiting. Turned out the other customer and Mr Bradley knew each other so, the three of them were all talking away.

As I sat there the memories came flooding back, the blended aroma of hair cream, spray and dusting powder. The distinctive sound of the way he operated his scissors, the speedy snip-snip I knew so well. Then of course his bank of clippers all plugged in ready, his thinning scissors that he used to ruthlessly strip away my hair.

"Can you help me up Nick?"

I was jolted from my past memories, realising that the man was off the chair and Mr Bradley was taking his place. Having helped him up, I walked over with him to the chair, Len the barber stood there holding the cape ready.

"This isn’t one of your lads is it, Joe?"

"No Len, Nick isn’t my son, he lodging with us, and he brought me in his car."

"I didn’t think he was, Hello Nick, nice of you to help your landlord."

"Hello …. It’s not a problem"

I replied, keen to get away from the chair as it brought back some unpleasant memories.

The man who had previously been in the chair had sat himself down to join to continue the conversation. I decided to step outside for a cigarette and went to walk out the door

"Where are you going Nick?"

"Just to have a quick smoke, Mr B…leave you gents to chat away."

"You’re coming back in though?"

"Yes, I’ll be back."

I stepped outside, took out a cigarette and lit it and took a long draw, I thought to myself that old Len or Mr Saunders as I had always had to call him didn’t seem quite so bad. Perhaps he had mellowed, Mr Bradley had said to me the previous evening that I was doing him an injustice. I looked at my reflection in my car window, Mr Bradley wasn’t the only one who needed a haircut, but not from Mr Saunders. I decided to have a walk around the block, from what I could remember not much had really changed in this street since I had walked here, to get my haircut.It was time to go back in, on entering I noticed how short the back and sides of Mr Bradley’s hair now were, ever since I could remember he had been bald on top.

"Here he is, enjoy your smoke, Nick?"

"Yes thanks"

I replied to Mr Saunders

"While you were outside, these two chaps have been putting the world to rights."

"He hasn’t been gone that long Len; I think that would take all day."

I sat back down, and watched Len edging and tidying Mr Bradley’s hair at the back with his clippers, I had to admit that it did look really smart. There never had been any issue with his skill as a barber as far as I was concerned, he had just been way too strict. Having completed the job, after shaving his neck with the razor, Len brushed away all the loose hairs and applied lots of powder. Taking the mirror, he showed Mr Bradley the back and sides.

"Thank you, Len."

"A pleasure Sir."

"Theres nothing like a nice smart haircut, is there?"

I realised that that Mr Bradley’s friend was speaking directly to me.

"No, there isn’t."

"Do I hear your approval of my haircut Nick?"

"Yes, it looks very smart Sir."

I replied to Mr Bradley, it was apparent that coming here to have his haircut and chatting with the two gentlemen had really cheered him up.

"Glad you think so, how long is it that you have been with us now Nick?"

"I think its seven weeks on Saturday."

"How many haircuts have you had in that time?"

I knew exactly where this conversation was heading and I knew that I really did need a haircut, there was also something quite exciting about the idea of my landlord giving me the instruction to get my haircut should that arise. Giving him a say in what was done would probably cheer him up, short hair was coming back in anyway.

"No haircuts to date, Sir."

"I didn’t think so."

The cape had been removed from Mr Bradley and he was ready to come off, he stepped off quite confidently, stood there as Len brushed him down, then paid for his haircut.

"I think while Nicks here, it would be a good idea if you cut his hair don’t you Len."

"You’re his landlord, tell him Joe."

Mr Bradley looked over at me, he was looking quite stern.

"Nick, I don’t care if you don’t like what I am about to say, but your hair needs cutting."

"I guess I don’t have a choice then."

"No Nick, I’m afraid you don’t."

He replied as I stood up, Mr Bradley with much more of a spring in his step returned to the bench, despatching me to the barber’s chair had certainly lifted his spirits. My walk to the big chair reminded of the previous times I had taken those heavy steps. The years of constant use had taken its toll on the barber’s chair and the brown leather seat definitely had quite an indentation. No sooner had I sat down, Len was caping me, fastening it very tight around my neck. He combed my hair which was a sort of grown out mullet but had not that long at the back.

"Well young Nick how do you want to play this?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you and I can talk about what’s to be done, or we can bring these gents in too, as fathers they have arranged a few haircuts in their time, they have an experience."

"We can ask them what they think."

This really did remind me now of when I was a boy, coming here with my dad, with his precise instructions to Len on how he wanted my hair done, then his approval before I came off the chair. If I came on my own, Len always knew what dad wanted done and dad still inspected my hair that evening.

"Gents our young man here invites you to advise, comment and suggest what needs to be done."

"Joe, you’re his landlord, why don’t you go first."

"Well for a start, I think you should have it cut in proportion, and not short on top and long at the back."

"I agree with that."

"The gents think you should lose the mullet Nick."

I was quite surprised that Mr Saunders knew what it was called, but I guess he would have to keep up a bit with what younger guys were having.

"Fair enough."

With my agreement to this, he took his scissors and snipped away the long hair at the back of my head, the longish hair dropped to the floor.

"Well, that is a very good start Nick, and now I think we should steer you towards a short back and sides."

"It’s a long time since I last had one of those Mr Bradley."

"Len will guide you."

I looked at Mr Saunders,

"Okay boss."

He produced a tray with guards on, and asked me if I was familiar with them, to which I replied I wasn’t.

"You need to pick a number so I can do the sides and back, four will give you half an inch."

"Four sounds good."

"The gents might prefer a two."

"Is two longer or shorter?"

"It’s shorter Fred, will give him a quarter of an inch on the sides and back."

"Sounds better to me."

"Based on that I take it there’s a one, and that will give an eighth of an inch."

"That’s right Joe."

"Just asking out of interest, I’m not saying Nick should go for a one, his choice of four seems a step in the right direction."

"I’m with Fred on a two."

Replied the barber.

"I only said a two sounded better, seven weeks is too long to go in-between haircuts, I say let’s make it a one."

"What do you say Joe, that eighth of an inch will make all the difference."

"Well, I did promise his father that I’d treat him like a son, and no one knows better than a father what haircut his son needs."

"One it is then."

Len replied snapping the guard onto his clippers, he soon had placed his hand on the top of my head and guided it right down. I felt like a schoolboy once again at Len’s mercy, soon the clippers were humming loudly and he was running them up the back of my head. I could hear those little teeth munching through my hair, making it really short. Whilst Len clipped away, Mr Bradley and Fred discussed a certain football players exorbitant transfer fee. I remembered visits on a Saturday morning and if I was on my own, Len would make me give up my turn for another customer, sometimes three or four men would come in after me, yet get to go before me. Unfortunately, dad didn’t tell me in advance of when I was getting a haircut so I could have gone after school. Usually at breakfast on a Saturday morning he would tell me that I had to go to Mr Saunders to get my haircut.
Len unceremoniously moved head to the required positions, as he attacked the sides of my head, after an extensive clipping and brush down my head was restored to the normal position. I sat looking at the stripped sides and no visible hair on the back of my head.

"You want his hair nice and short on top Joe?"

"Please Len, short and thin would be good."

I had gone in a few short minutes from being the young man who had driven a frail Mr Bradley to have his haircut, to the boy which Mr Bradley had brought to have his haircut. I sat there as Len snipped away with his scissors, then tore at my hair with his thinning shears. Having brushed me down and combed my hair into a side parting he asked Mr Bradley.

"Is this short enough for you Joe?"

Standing up he walked over to the chair to have a look.

"That’s looks a bit more like it doesn’t it, Nick?"

"Yes Sir."

Was my reply, sensing with mixed feelings, Mr Bradleys temporarily restored vigour and strength from having this responsibility.

"That’s a big improvement Len, but I’d like it a bit shorter just above his ears, so it won’t be growing back too quickly."

"No problem, Joe, and maybe you might want me to take a touch more at the back while I’ve got the clippers out."

"Yes Len, I certainly think a touch more would be good."

Mr Saunders selected his mean black Bakelite clippers, and with no guard edged above my ears, creating an arched effect, which would certainly slow down my hair from touching the tip of my ears. He then pushed my head firmly forward and started to work on the back of my head, it felt very uncomfortable as he clipped away making the back more than a touch shorter. Next came the flat razor, scraping away, giving that final clean finish.

"Anything on his hair Joe?"

"I think maybe something shiny and a bit sticky to finish off the haircut."

The next think Len was plastering my hair flat with a large blob of Brylcreem.

"Nick, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t put your head against of the armchairs, or you will be in big trouble with Mrs Bradley."

"I had better be on my toes then."

After brushing away all the loose hairs and a good dusting with powder, Len picked up the mirror and showed me his handywork. It looked like I had been given my start of a new term haircut, I thought I would probably die with embarrassment, returning to work the following day with all my hair gone. Having stepped from the chair and paid for my haircut, Mr Bradley and I left and I held my car door for him to get in. As I walked around to the driver’s side I felt the bristles on the back of my head, and as I sat down in the seat, I was examining my haircut in the mirror.

"You will soon get used to your new haircut Nick."

"I’m sure I will Mr Bradley."

"Len’s not so bad is he."

"I suppose not."

"Best you get used to him being your barber again, because you are going to be seeing quite a bit of him over the next few weeks."

So, my hair returned to being cut short, and has never changed since that day.




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