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Heads or Tails? by f35h

“...and remember, you need to go to the barbers! I will not have you looking scruffy today!"

I grunted, noncommittally and turned over pulling the covers over my head. Mum sighed, and I heard the door close and her car rev up as she left for work.

It was very nearly the end of the summer term, and it was speech day at school. It didn’t start until the afternoon; I only had to get to school for 12:00. So in theory, that meant a lie in. Unfortunately, it also meant that the school had sent a letter home, asking parents to ensure that everyone was wearing the correct uniform, and specifically requesting that boys’ hair was ‘cut well above the collar and the ears, and neatly combed’.

This wasn’t exactly new. The letter was simply stating a long-standing school policy, albeit one which most boys did their best to avoid, preferring our hair as long and, frankly, untidy as we could get away with. My mother, though, like most parents, hated my long, scruffy hair, and on opening the letter, she read it out loud to me with some satisfaction.

“You'll have to pay a visit to the barbers, then." She told me, firmly. “You’re overdue for a haircut anyway." She looked disdainfully at the hair straggling over my ears and collar. “And you can have it cut properly this time. I want you looking smart, for once."

She’d spent the week since the letter arrived nagging me. “Go to the barbers on your way home, please, Andrew. And I don’t mean for a tiny little trim. Your hair is far too long, and I want you to have a proper short back and sides, like you used to have."

And I’d spent the week prevaricating, my excuses becoming more and more threadbare. This had come to a head last night, and Mum had put her foot down, spelling out exactly what she expected from me. I was to get the bus into town this morning, go to the barbers, ask for a short back and sides, and then meet her at her office, no later than 11:00. She’d then drive us both to school, for speech day.

She wasn’t explicit about what would happen if she wasn’t happy with my haircut, but it was only a ten minute drive to school, and the fact that she wanted me there an hour earlier was….. worrying.

This all left me feeling rather uneasy. Part of me was running through the usual dilemmas; I’d surely have to have it cut shorter than I usually did, but what was the smallest trim I could get away with? And what would Mum really do if she wasn’t happy with it?

There was another part, though, which had been nagging at me for a while now. I could remember exactly when it had started, it had been the day of my last haircut.


Mum had, as usual, been on at me to get my hair cut for weeks, and I’d decided it was time to appease her, before she took matters into her own hands.

I’d carefully avoided Harvey’s, the traditional barbers that Mum used to take me to, and gone to a more modern, unisex place for a minimal trim. They’d done what I asked, taken it just off my collar and out of my eyes, and my initial reaction had been relief; my hair was still long enough to avoid any micky-taking at school the next day.

I felt a little pang of guilt, though as I imagined Mum’s reaction. I’d probably get away with it, but I knew she’d be disappointed. If I’d gone to Harvey’s like she’d told me, it would have been very different. He was notorious amongst my friends for giving extremely short haircuts, even when asked for ‘a very light trim’.

That was, of course, exactly why Mum wanted me to go there. She had no time for messy long hair on teenage boys and a trip to Harvey’s was guaranteed to at least make me look neat and tidy, in her eyes.

I knew all this from bitter experience. When I was younger, I’d been a regular, if reluctant, visitor to Harvey’s, usually straight after school. Every few weeks I’d be marched through the door, still in my school uniform, my attempts at protest ignored.

“Short back and sides, please." Mum would answer firmly to the barber’s enquiry, and my heart would sink.

I would walk out of the shop with my neck red from the clippers and the little hair remaining on top gleaming with Brylcreem and forced into a rigidly straight side parting.

“That’s better!" Mum would remark. “Don’t you look nice and smart?"

I hadn’t been subjected to such a severe cut since I’d started going for haircuts by myself, but that didn’t stop Mum urging me every time I went to ‘have it cut properly, this time, please. Short and smart, and with a side parting.’

I imagined what Mum’s reaction would be if I had actually done what she wanted today, and gone to Harvey’s for a short back and sides. A little shudder ran through me as I pictured clippers running high over my ears and a fine toothed comb carving a crisp parting into my Brylcreemed hair.

Mum would be delighted at my transformation, of course, but it was unthinkable. I shook my head, wondering why I was even contemplating it. However proud it would make Mum, there’s no way I could turn up at school looking like that. My mates would never let me forget it.

I made my way home, giving Harvey’s a wide berth, to cope with Mum’s inevitable disapproval.


The thing was, since that day, I somehow couldn't get the image out of my head. Me, with my hair cut into a severely clippered short back and sides, perfectly combed and parted and shining with grease. I’d caught myself idly watching old movies on TV, and admiring the haircuts of the actors. There was something about the crisp lines, the perfect partings, that I couldn’t help admiring. I’d even lingered a couple of times at a safe distance from Harvey’s, hoping to catch a glimpse of what intrigued me so much.

Even though I really, really, didn’t want my hair cut like that, part of me really, really did. It made no sense. And although I didn’t understand it, I knew that this feeling wasn’t going away, this inexplicable desire to be shorn, to be given an old-fashioned, severe short back and sides by a strict barber.

That was why today, it felt like a tipping point. I had, if I wanted one, the perfect excuse. It was speech day, school had sent a letter home insisting on short, smart haircuts, and I had been given strict instructions from Mum. I could even tell everyone that she had dragged me to the barbers, and given me no choice. I’d get the mick taken, but I probably wouldn’t be the only one with an unwanted haircut, and I might even get a modicum of sympathy.

But was that enough? How much did I want this haircut, and how much did I just want to fit in?

I lay there, staring at the ceiling, unable to decide. Suddenly I had a brainwave. I’d let fate decide. Flip a coin. And I’d stick to the decision, whichever way it came up, I promised myself. I scrambled to my feet and dug a 10p out of my pocket.

“Heads, a short back and sides at Harvey’s." I shivered as I said the words out loud.

“Tails, I try to get away without a haircut." I knew this was tempting fate, and smiled to myself.

I flipped the coin. It caught the light as it spun through the air. But which way would it land?

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