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A Very Strict Barber by Snipped Sam
It was the very traditional exterior appearance of the barber’s shop, which really made me want to have a better look at the haircutting establishment, which I had just discovered. Ideally, I wanted to check it out without committing to a haircut. Perhaps the best solution would be for me to go in and ask for directions, or better still enquire about the cost of a haircut. So, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and go in and take a closer look. The barber’s head was just visible above the signs in the window, I walked towards the door and slightly nervously put my hand on the handle, then opened the door and went in. I was greeted by a rather serious looking man who was perhaps in his fifties, he was very smartly dressed. When I say smartly dressed, he was wearing a tradional shirt and tie, smart dark grey trousers, and highly polished brown shoes. I noticed that his navy-blue barber’s jacket was fully buttoned even though it was a hot day. He was cutting the hair of an older gentleman; the barber seemed friendly enough yet had an air of authority about him.
"Hello young man."
"Hello, I just wanted to ask how much a haircut would be?"
"Yes, it would be."
"Forty pence, young man."
For 1976 that seemed a very good price for a haircut, although at fifteen I still got my haircuts paid for, I began to thank him for the information, but before I could finish, he interrupted me.
"Take a seat, I won’t be much longer with Mr Jacobs."
"Oh, I don’t want a haircut today, it’s just I saw your shop and thought I would ask you how much it would be."
"You’ve not seen my shop before then?"
"No, but I will be back."
"Fair enough, and just in case you’re wondering, it’ll be a short back and sides."
The way he said it was so matter of fact, and I did not think for one moment that it was negotiable either. I said my goodbyes and left his shop, realising that he was obviously a no-nonsense short back and sides barber. I knew there were still barbers who only gave very short haircuts and steadfastly refused to pander to modern fashions.
In recent months my dad often remarked that he was wasn’t getting value for money when he reimbursed me, after I had been for a haircut. It occurred to me that this barber would more than give value for a forty pence investment and I realised that I had not dismissed the idea of a visit there. He had been clear about what sort of haircut I should expect, but I knew before I went inside that it was a far more traditional establishment. Should I decide to make a return, my thick auburn hair which had recently crept further over my ears and fell over my collar would be history. Having left the barbers shop I had wandered aimlessly up the road, without having considered where I was heading. The words "Just in case you’re wondering, it’ll be a short back and sides." kept going through my mind. Realising that there was nothing of any interest to me, I turned around and headed back. As I approached the barber’s, I crossed the road to look at it from the other side.
I had always admired shorter hair on men, liking the cuts of some of the 1940’s and 1950’s actors in the movie books which I had looked at. Mr Jacobs, who was having his haircut at the time I went in was just leaving, he looked very smart indeed. Had I taken a seat as he had suggested, it would be me now in the barber’s chair, and some of my hair already sitting on the floor of the barber’s shop. He crossed the road and went to his car; he didn’t notice me standing there. As I watched him drive away, I saw the door of the barber’s shop open and the barber came out and he stood there smoking a cigarette. It was not long before he spotted me and gestured for me to cross over the road. Part of me wanted to go over and the other part of me thought it was a bad idea.
The part of me not in favour, was due to my concerns of what my friends would say about my haircut when I returned to school after the holidays. I realised that if I didn’t go over, it would be too awkward to ever go back there for a haircut, should I decide to go at some point. I waited for an opportunity to cross and moved quickly to get across the road to avoid the cars. Shortly after, I was standing next to him and he started chatting away, first asking me what I thought of the smart sports car parked outside his shop. We stood there talking whilst he smoked his cigarette, he joked that smoking was a bad habit and I shouldn’t ever take it up. I said that hopefully I would never start smoking, but for now I was still too young.
"Mind you, had you waited to have your haircut, I’d be cutting your hair rather than smoking this one."
"I suppose you would, but as I said, I hadn’t planned to get a haircut today."
"Maybe not planned, but enquired about how much a haircut would be, so it must have crossed your mind."
"Well sort of, but the thing is, my dad won’t pay above a certain amount, so that’s why I asked."
I replied as I watched him stubbing out his cigarette.
"Dad requires value for money then?"
"Yes, he does."
"I’m sure he will be very happy to hand over forty pence after you have had one of my haircuts."
I knew that Dad would be more than happy if I had a short back and sides, as would my grandfathers too. My paternal grandfather could not understand why I had been allowed to have grown my hair so long. I knew that in recent months my developing a fascination with barber’s shop was greatly increasing. Which was why I had gone in to his shop in the first place. The idea of him making me have my haircut was very exciting, so I decided to give him a little more information.
"I’m sure he would, sometimes he is not at all pleased that I haven’t had enough off, as he puts it."
"Then I don’t see the point of any further delay, do you?"
This was now looking more like a reality, and strangely I was interested in finding out just how resolute he was in this.
"I’d really like to keep my hair for a bit longer, I could come back at the end of the week."
"I’m sure you would but there’s no point in putting it off."
The barber spoke firmly, and I knew his intention was not to delay.
"Shall we go in?"
He said pointing to entrance to his shop, which was more of an instruction than a question, he had left the door open when he had stepped outside for a smoke.
"But I still would rather wait until the end of the week."
"It needs taking care of today, you’ll be fine once you’re in the chair."
Of course, at this point, had I not wanted a haircut I could have just walked away, if I stepped through the door, I would be at the mercy of his scissors and probably clippers too. His directness was too much to resist, for the second time that day I entered his barber’s shop, he followed close behind, closing the door behind us. After saying "straight in the chair." He took hold of the navy-blue nylon cape from a hook by the door, as I sat down on the barber’s chair, he had already started to fit the cape. Having tightly fitted it around my neck, and tucked some tissue in the back, he moved my shoulders back.
"Sit up nice and straight, for me lad."
He instructed, as I obediently sat to attention. He then began to comb my hair, lifting it with the comb.
"When did you last have your hair cut short?"
"Just over a year ago, no maybe a bit more than that."
"A while then."
He replied in a disapproving tone, he was now holding a pair of scissors, lifting my hair at the back with his comb, he made a determined and hefty snip and I saw a large chunk of my hair fall to the floor. This was followed by a second snip and another large amount of my hair dropped to the floor. The short back and sides was now a reality, I was his prisoner. It wasn’t long before the cutting had gathered momentum and my hair was coming off at an alarming rate. I started to panic, as much as the idea had been exciting, this man was a haircutting fiend. But I knew I had placed my head in the lion’s mouth or perhaps more aptly, surrendered my hair to a demon barber.
"As I said, it’s not so bad once you are in the chair."
"I suppose not."
"I’m told most lads think the thought of the haircut and going in the chair is perhaps the worst part."
"Maybe, is that why you didn’t let me delay with my haircut?"
"I can tell when a boy has no intensions of getting his haircut, but you just needed a nudge to get you in the chair."
"It certainly worked."
"So, tell me boy, how short was your last short haircut?"
"Short at the back, well above my collar and the hair was cut above my ears like you have just done."
Taking the thinning shears, he remarked that my hair was far too thick on top. He soon set to work vigorously chopping away with them, and large clumps of my auburn hair had to be removed from their teeth every so often. Once this task had been completed, he brushed my face and head free of loose hairs. He then combed my hair in place, creating a very neat side parting.
"I think even you would admit that looks much better."
"It does looks very smart."
"Now tell me boy, have you ever had the back of your head clipped very short?"
"When I was much younger."
"Just roughly, when was the last time?"
"Oh, I suppose about two years ago."
"Quite a long time ago then."
Whilst he had been asking me this, he had been tightening the cape at the back, I had a very good idea what he was about to do.
"No surprises then, so once again, nothing to worry about."
"You’re not thinking about clipping me, are you?"
"But everyone will laugh at my hair if you do that."
"I’m afraid I can’t help that; it needs to be done."
He replied in a very matter of fact manner as he stepped towards his bank of clippers and selected some black Bakelite clippers; I thought I might actually wet my trousers with excitement. I felt his warm hand on the back of my head, as he firmly guided it down, my heart was racing. This was the haircut that I had always loved, and I knew that it was only peer pressure which had made me want to grow my hair longer. The barber was not interested in my claims that my haircut would be the subject of amusement. In his words it needed to be done, and as far as he was concerned this was the best way to finish cutting my hair.
My head was so far down I could no longer see in the mirror in front of, the clippers began to hum, the cold metal blade touched the back of my head. He started to run them up the back of my head. The first sweep almost went up as far as the crown, this barber really meant business.
"You must keep your head very still for this part of your haircut."
I thought that I was keeping my head still for him, but his tone indicated that I wasn’t. I remembered that in the past I had been reprimanded for not staying still, both by the barber and my father.
"Simon, keep your head still for the barber." my father would command me.
So, I concentrated on keeping my head very still as he continued clipping the back of my head. Then it was time for the sides to get taken care of, he tilted my head to the left and clipped the right side of my head, unceremoniously folding my ear down, to make sure he could get at my hair and make it very short. Then the same for my left side, the blades of the clippers had warmed up considerably, after which he vigorously brushed my head down before returning it to its normal position. The clipping was severe, but the barber was not quite done as he opened the sheath of his flat razor and shaved my neck and edged just above my ears.
"Not quite the haircut you have become used to having, but a much more suitable haircut for a boy your age."
"Can I touch the back of my head to see how it feels?"
"Go on then, before I put a little dressing on your hair."
I lifted my right hand to my head and touched it, I could feel the short bristles of hair as I ran my hand up my head. I remembered the very short haircuts I used to have when my father took me to the barbers. Sitting in the car beside him, feeling the clipped finish, on the way home. I often recalled the first time he took me and my first introduction to the clippers. I had been a little scared of the barber, especially when he used the loud buzzing clippers. But over time rather than be a little afraid of them like the first couple of times they were used, I had grown to like the feel of them and what they did. The barber stood by holding a pot of Vaseline hair cream, and I realised that I shouldn’t keep him waiting. "Thanks Sir." I replied as I returned my hand back under the cape. The pot had a chrome dispensing pump and he applied it to my remaining hair on the top of my head, then combed it in and carved the sharpest side parting I had ever had.
"Would you like to see the back?"
He picked up the oblong hand-held mirror and held it first on the left and then to the right of my head, it was as short as I had imagined it would be, but great to finally look at the finished result. I nodded as he showed me and thanked him. After returning the mirror, he picked up the powder blower and the removed the tissue from the back, after loosening the cape he began to dust my neck with the powder. He then took the cape from around me, and the hair that had rested on it joined the rest of my hair on the floor. He handed me a fresh tissue to wipe my neck, which I did as I followed him to the wooden box till. Having placed the tissue in the bin, I handed over a nice shiny fifty pence coin, which he took from me and then handed me my change.
"I suggest you don’t leave it too long until you have your next haircut."
"I don’t think my dad will be leaving it to chance, but just to be sure, when would you suggest another haircut?"
"No more than four weeks."
"Fair enough Sir."
It was just under the four weeks when I reported for my next haircut, I think he was a little surprised by my return. But spurred on by arrival, and with me telling him that my dad said I had to go to him now for all my haircuts, he wasted no time in establishing a strict haircut routine for me, with the recommended frequency of my haircuts increased to every three weeks. I continued to go there until I was eighteen and had left school, he retired soon after that. My friends could not understand why I kept going there, but I said that I didn’t have a choice. Not a fabrication…If you secretly like having your hair cut very short by a very strict barber, you don’t have a choice.